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!
Well, we have had some time to reflect about our 6 weeks in Bolivia and write some blog posts of our impressions. First, I had to get off my chest what annoyed the crap about of me about Bolivia. Now it is time to write the happy post about all the things I really enjoyed about Bolivia. It is a very interesting country. You can decide for yourself whether or not you want to travel there, I´m not going to recommend it or discourage you 😉
#1. DOGS! Everywhere You Look! This might not be everyone´s cup of tea, but it was one of my favorite things about Bolivia. There are dogs everywhere! And they are, for the most part, friendly. The ones that don´t approach you for love or meat, will just ignore you. We didn´t have any dogs bark at us or growl, unless we approached them, which we probably shouldn´t have done 🙂
The thing about street dogs in Bolivia is that a lot of them actually have homes. The Bolivian method of dog ownership being somewhat different than the American way, it is normal to leave your dog outside all day while you go to work. The dog then strolls the neighborhood, or just sits on your doorstep, waiting for you to come home and feed him at the end of the day. In this way, most of the street dogs are well fed and happy, albeit totally dirty. Lots of Bolivians have purebreed dogs as well, and these ones you will not see on the street wandering, especially the girl dogs. Of course, with all these dogs wandering around, there is a lot of poop everywhere as well, so watch your step.
#2. The Price is Right Bolivia is cheap. You can go out for all your meals and take Spanish classes and rent a nice room for very little money. It´s fun to be traveling and not have to worry about money. Of course, there aren´t a lot of nice things to buy so sometimes you just want to pay for a fancy hotel room and you can´t find one anywhere, but whatever, you can save your money for another country.
#3. So Much Sugar to Eat 🙂 and Potatoes
There are some really delicious things to eat in Bolivia, although I might have tried to convince you otherwise in my last post. Most of the extremely yummy things in Bolivia are made of sugar. These people are crazy about sugar. There are candy and snacks everywhere and everyone is eating them. There are also a lot of dentist offices….
They do also make some tasty things about of potatoes. My favorite is the papa rellena, or stuffed potato. It´s more a less mashed potatoes that are formed in a ball around some filling. The filling could be meat and veggies, hardboiled egges, cheese, or platains. Then the ball is dipped in batter and deep-fried. Yum! The lady across the street from our house sold these covered in a delicious stewed onion salsa and accompanied by cole slaw. So good. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was too busy eating.
Another typical Bolivia dish is called Pique Machado. It consists of 3 or 4 different kinds of meats, mine had beef, chorizo, and hot dogs. The meat is piled onto a dish of french fries (never forget the potatoes) and covered in fresh tomatoes and onions. Oh, and there is hardboiled eggs and fresh cheese surrounding it. Yes, and the whole thing is covered in delicious gravy. Yum!
#4. Oh, the Wonderfully Genuine People You Will Meet
If you get past the tourist rabble, offering you questionable tours of things they think you want to see and hear, you will meet some amazing people in Bolivia. The staff at Biblioworks where we volunteered was the nicest group of ladies around. The kids we met at the school were incredibly sweet and kind little beings, adding beauty and light to the world.
#5 Sucre is a Kick Ass City
Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, and while I´m not sure what that means exactly, it is an amazing city. They really have everything you could need in a little city and it´s beautiful, clean, relaxed, and normal there. It isn´t overrun with tourists, but tourists are a part of the city. It has a vibe of people just living their lives. It has a university and lots of young people. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so it has lots of history and charm. There are great grocery stores, a movie theater, fun bars from all cultures, and amazing natural beauty all around.
#6. There is a Ton of Dinosaur Stuff in Bolivia
The dinosaurs were here! The area that is currently Bolivia used to be covered in dinosaurs and there is lots of evidence of that still in the area. Plus, they love dinosaurs so there are lots of parks and fun dino themed things around. Kristen is a little obsessed with dinosaurs so this was a big plus for Bolivia.
#7. Bolivia has Amazing Natural Beauty
There are a ton of beautiful natural places to see in Bolivia. We didn´t even make it to the Amazon part of Bolivia and we were blown away by it´s natural splendor. Here are some shots of what we thought was a pretty amazing country to see, even out the window of a dangerous busride along a windy road.
It might be hard to get to Bolivia, and kind of annoying once you do finally reach Bolivia, but still, it is quite a beautiful country. We have moved on to Chile and are now in Peru. It´s hard to believe that 3 months have already gone by on the road on our South American adventure. We will be back in the USA next week!
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!