Kristen and I are out on a 4 week tour to the Pacific Northwest. We are out for 31 days on the road with 3 days off from shows. Fun! One of those days off we were in Montana and we had a great time in and around Helena, MT- the state capital! Helena was very briefly the largest town in Montana at just the right time to become the capital, before Butte far surpassed it in population. Helena is an old gold mining town and is surrounded by natural beauty. We spent our night off camping at a MT State Park on Canyon Ferry Reservoir, which is about 20 miles west of Helena. After checking out all the campgrounds in the area, we picked Chinamen Campground: $10 a night, swimming and boating launch, mule deer friendly, and with no showers. Who needs showers!? (We found some down the road at a Kim’s Marina, though.)
We are currently having our last day off of the tour. Unfortunately, not quite as fun this time as we are broken down in Hot Springs, SD. We spent the day waiting for a part for the Lady Van which will hopefully get her fixed up and rolling tomorrow. I guess it’s good luck that we are off today since that means no shows canceled because of the van, but still might have been nice to go to the Badlands National Park as planned. Hot Springs, SD is a fun historic town though!
Bolivia may not have a coastline, but that doesn’t mean it lacks for geological diversity, stunning landscapes, or fun places to go swimming. Last week we took a jaunt to Villa Abecia in southern Bolivia for a new library inauguration with Biblioworks and tacked on a tourist weekend in Tarija. Both towns are in Bolivian wine country, so we did our best to taste the local vintages! This is high altitude wine country, with some award winning wines that allegedly have higher antioxidant levels than wines grown at lower altitudes. Drink up!
We started out the trip with a six hour ride south. There were seven of us from Biblioworks going so we rented a minivan taxi just for us. The road, like most in Bolivia was extremely windy and involved unpaved “shortcuts”. Our driver, like most in Bolivia, drove like a maniac who felt no need to stay on either side of the road, obey any speed limit signs, or pull over when our ten year old passenger got carsick and vomited into a plastic bag…numerous times. Thank goodness for headphones and podcasts!
Biblioworks is a non-profit organization based in Sucre, Bolivia and Asheville, NC, USA. They help fund, set up, and train librarians for small rural communities. Some of their libraries are in schools and some, like this one in Villa Abecia, are run by the municipality. The town chooses the librarian and runs the library with Biblioworks as their adviser. Eventually, the libraries are meant to become self-sustaining without the aid of Biblioworks.
After Villa Abecia we took a cab south to the city of Tarija. Lonely Planet guidebook calls the town “laid back”, and I’d have to say that I agree. Unfortunately, we got there after dark with no hotel reservation, so after our cab driver dumped us unceremoniously on the side of the road no where near downtown, we did our best to find a room for the night. Since we are cheap, I mean, on a tight budget, we ended up at not the nicest place in town, the Gran Hotel Londres. It seemed like it had lot of potential since the lobby looked like this:
Well, we ended up packing up and finding a new hotel in the morning, mostly because the mattresses where like tiny gym mats that couldnt’ have been more uncomfortable. Oh, and there were buzzing mosquitos around all of our ears all night. Somehow I escaped without any bites but Kristen was covered. Rough night, not worth the $7 a night even with the cool decor. Check out Hotel Miraflores instead. Same price but slightly better mattresses and less bugs.
After getting set up with our new hotel, we booked a wine tasting tour for the afternoon. We went with Viva Tours, which was priced the same as all the others but came recommended. For some reason they told us to show up at 1:30, I guess so we could wait on the deserted street corner for half an hour, but otherwise the tour was fine. They say you will swing by a cool canyon for a scenic overlook/photo opp but this was no the case on our tour.
The next morning was a little slow due to Halloween shenanigans. We hit up our favorite breakfast spot, Gatto Pardo for the third time since they had real coffee. Then we tried to see some more waterfalls in the nearby village of Coimata. We took a bus headed to Tomatitos then caught a trufi from the bridge there. At the bridge were many ladies selling congrejos, which are tiny freshwater crabs. We tried one but hangover belly wasn’t having more than that.
The van ride from the bridge was very entertaining, with many local woman getting on and off with bottles of strange substances and bags of brown liquids and terrible smells. a teenage girl wanted to question us about our origins, hair and eye colors and what languages we could speak. Finally, we reached the waterfalls, and although it was too chilly to swim, but had a nice time hanging out.
Well, that was our trip to Tarija more or less. We took an overnight bus back to Sucre that night. I think we went with the bus line Expresso or something like that, with reclining seats for 140 Bolivianos. The driver was a mad man, blasting tunes all night long, passing other buses on curves, and causing the woman behind us to panic. At one point she tried to get us to yell at him since she already had. I declined, knowing it was pointless. Luckily, we survived and made it back to Sucre in about 10 freezing, terrifying hours. The bus left us near, but not at, the bus terminal? and we went back to Casa de Javiers for a long nap.
Kristen and I have been in Bolivia for a couple of weeks now. Part of the reason that we came to Bolivia is to volunteer with an organization called Biblioworks. Biblioworks is a nonprofit organization founded by a Peace Corp volunteer who started a library in the rural town of Morado K’asa. The demand for more such libraries was high so Biblioworks has helped open 12 small, rural libraries to benefit the people of the Bolivian countryside. While we are in Bolivia we will go to three or four of these libraries near Sucre and try to promote literacy through music. The first library we visited was in the town of Yamparaez. We spent five days in this pueblo reading to the children, writing and playing songs together, and being cultural ambassadors for the USA. It was quite first week!
So there are some deets from our first week of volunteering with Biblioworks. Our Spanish is getting better, even though much is still very confusing about Bolivia to us 😃 Next week we will be taking the workshop to the pueblo of Pampa Aceituno. Should be fun!
I think it´s safe to say that the highlight of our time in Peru was our trip to the Amazon. We took an overnight bus from Cusco to the city of Puerto Maldonado. This was another long, winding Peruvian road in the dark down from Cusco to the Amazon basin. The geography of Peru is just incredible, going from the mountainous heights of Cusco at 11,000 feet, down to Puerto Maldonado at 600 feet in just a couple hundred miles. Our bus was ok, but since the new highway opened between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado a couple of years ago, all the bus companies now have connections between the two cities. We took Movil out there, which was not that great, and then Tepsa back, which is a much more comfortable busline in my opinion. Of course, Movil only cost 40 Soles ($12.50) while Tepsa cost us 65 Soles ($20), there´s that something to think about if you have a tight budget.
Puerto Maldonado is HOT. You´re in the jungle! Everyone rides motorcycles and the taxi cabs are little covered carts attached to the motorcyclea, if you have luggage, or just the back of the motorcycle if you don´t have luggage. We stayed at the hostel in town called Tambopata Hostel. It´s a nice enough place, although the walls don´t really attach to anything and are made of thin wood, so there is no privacy. This hostel also organizes tours to the jungle for cheaps, and we read good things online so decided to go with hostel´s organized tour. We went for 2 nights and 3 days to Lake Sandoval. It costs $175 each, all taxes, fees, room and board included, which was totally worth it. You can pay much more and see more areas of the Amazon and stay at much fancier places than we did, but this was in our budget and did not disappoint. Here are a bunch of pictures of what we saw:
So, there you have a little peek into our trip to the Amazon. There is Amazon in Bolivia as well, where we are now, but it about a 12 hour bus ride to reach it from Sucre and I´m not sure we will have the time or patience for that again. Our hostel in Puerto Maldonado was nice enough to store our luggage while we went into the rainforest and let us shower when we got back. Of course, there was a school group of about 40 ten year old children when we got there so the line for the shower was long, but luckily we weren´t in a rush!
No, we didn´t drive the Lady Van to Peru. We aren´t sure she would have enjoyed the ride, and the way things have been going, she probably would have been stolen by now. Rut roo, everyone has a different experience traveling abroad, but ours happened to begin with a stolen bag so confidence is low that we would have been able to hang onto a whole automobile…. Regardless of our vanless and bagless status we are trying to keep our chins up and enjoy our travels outside of the states. Here are some highlights thus far in Peru:
Ceviche in Lima. Ceviche is s delicious raw fish dish made with lime juice, red onions, chiles and amazingness. We got ours with mixed seafood, which seemed like the right thing to do since we were literally on the coast with fishing boats in view We went to the place on the tourist map provided by the hostel and it didn´t disappoint. It´s in the Barracas neighborhood and I think it´s called El Muelle. This sampler plate set us back about $20 and included some yummy paella and fried fish.
Sea Lions and birds on Islas Ballestas. We took a boat ride out to these islands from the little town of Paracas, which is about 4 hours south of Lima. This was the bus ride when Kristens stuff was stolen so be more attentive than us when taking the Soyuz bus. OMG- such an awesome wildlife experience in Paracas though. Wish the binoculars hadn´t been stolen but you still get so up close with the seas lions, it´s a bit worrisome.
Bike riding through Paracas National Reserve. We rented bikes for the afternoon after we saw the sea lions and biked through some amazing coastal desert. Unfortunately, we hadn´t replaced our stolen sunscreen so we got a bit burnt. Sorry about the skin in the next couple of photos, we did get sunscreen since.
Sandboarding in Huacachina. I´m not really sure what I thought sandboarding or dunebuggying would be like, but I soon found that it is terrifying. Crazy people drive tons of gringos over the dunes at high speeds and then provide wooden boards to slide down the dunes face first. I´m proud of myself for doing it, but I think I´ll pass on doing it again. 🙂
Eating cuy in Cusco. Cusco is a great city, but we mostly did shopping there to replace Kristen´s stolen things. They have great North Face knockoffs for next to nothing! On Saturdays there is a pirate market we wish we could have been around for, because apparently that is where a lot of the stolen gringo gear shows up. We ate guinea pig though, had lots of pisco sours, and managed to somehow see the same Peruvian cover band at two different bars. They called it destiny but I´m not so sure…
The death cab to Machu Picchu. We decided not to take the overpriced train to Machu Picchu so that involved taking a speeding rocket of a minivan down a dirt road with no guardrails and steep dropoffs into ravines and rivers. I was glad I´d already been scared to death on the dune buggy because this turned out to be a breeze. The drive to Aguas Calientes, and the 3 hours walk along the train tracks after the road ended, was one of my favorite parts of our trip so far!
Machu Picchu. We decided to hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu instead of taking the overpriced tourist bus (are you seeing a Machu Picchu overpriced theme here?) Anyway, the hike was mostly stairs and then when we got up there we hiked to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain which was even higher than we already climbed. And we´re not talking switchbacks here, the Inca liked stairs. Tons of stairs. Neverending stairs. But what a view at the top!
hanging in Ollantaytambo. There are ruins all around this old Inca town, so we skipped the expensive entrance ones and went to free ones instead. It is a great little town, although the Peruvians love to take advantage of gringos as much in Ollantaytambo as they do in Machu Picchu. Watch out for the burritos and head straight for Blue Magic Restaurant for alpaca.
Thanks for sending us good vibes, we could use some. We had some bad luck in Ollantaytambo because some dorm mates took Kristen´s phone in the night on accident and we are still trying to figure out a handoff to get it back. In the meantime we are off to the Amazon- never a dull moment! Love from Peru to you!