Taking a Day Off in Helena, Montana

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.)

Lady Van loves a nice flat camping spot with a view of a lake.
Lady Van loves a nice flat camping spot with a view of a lake. Well, this is actually a reservoir, but still… 🙂
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Kristen on a little hike around at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
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Can you smell the sagebrush?
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OMG, you guys, I love the water! It was a Monday in early June, so we practically had the place to ourselves. The water was beautiful, a little bit of algae but I was more concerned about the huge fish. Yes, I know they are more scared of me, but still! The water temperature was refreshing in the 85 degree sunshine. 
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We called this the gay beach since it was just us on this stretch. There three guys on Sea-doos going back and forth, back and forth across the reservoir all day, also some water skiers. Zoom!
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We saw so many mule deer at the Chinamen Campground. I love seeing wildlife, especially cute and friendly wildlife. In the morning, a mule deer munched on yellow flowers while I wrote my morning pages.
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There was amazingly a good deal of firewood in our fire pit when when we showed up at the campsite. We took advantage and grilled sausages and veggies over the fire. Nom nom nom!
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Sunset around 10pm 🙂
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Skipping stones! The reservoir was totally surrounded by smooth flat little stones. I even managed to skip them.
A beautiful historic building in downtown Helena.
A beautiful historic building in downtown Helena.
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Blackfoot Brewing in downtown Helena is where we played a show and where we drank delicious beers. Montana state law only allows 48 oz of beer per customer at a brewery and they have to close at 8pm!
A statue of the Bullwacker in downtown Helena, MT.
A statue of the Bullwacker in downtown Helena, MT.
Look at this crazy elaborate church they have in Helena!
Look at this crazy elaborate church they have in Helena!
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Kristen having fun on a historic trolley in downtown Helena, MT.
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There I am at the top of  Mount Helena, which is a great hike that starts right in the city. It climbs up the peak so you can gaze down onto Helena. At the summit we found a toy sword stuck into a hole in the rock and took some fun shots.
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Kristen’s turn with the sword at the top of Mount Helena.
There are tons of wildflowers in bloom in Montana right now. Gorgeous!
There are tons of wildflowers in bloom in Montana right now. Gorgeous!
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Thanks for the good times on our day off, Helena!

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!

CATvsOWL 2016 SXSW showcase lineup at Cherrywood Coffeehouse 3/17/16

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Listen to the playlist!

Join us Thursday, March 17th from 12pm to 10pm at Cherrywood Coffeehouse 1400 E 38 1/2 St Austin, TX. All ages and No Cover. Here’s our 2016 lineup of 19 amazing artists!

12:00-12:50 Stood with Ghosts/Joey James/Shani Rose 

Stood with Ghosts indie- Portland OR

http://stoodwithghostsmusic.bandcamp.com/releases

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Joey James– Country- Ashland OR\
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Shani Rose– pop- Los Angeles
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12:55-2:00 Bose Troubadors in the round Jeff Campbell, Jamie Kent, Megan Slankard, Matthew Szlachetka
Jeff Campbell– San Francisco- singer songwriter
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Megan Slankard– San Francisco- singer songwriter
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Jamie Kent– Nashville- singer songwriter
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Matthew Szlachetka– Los Angeles- singer songwriter
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2:15-2:45  Future Kings 
 Future Kings– Kansas City- indie rock
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3:00-4:00 Hip Hop afternoon featuring Genesis Blu, Neak, High Strung, Feezarelli

Genesis Blu– Houston TX- hip hop
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Neak– Chicago IL- hip hop
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High Strung– San Antonio-hip hop
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Feezarelli– Flint MI- Hip hop
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4:15-4:45  BAST 
Bast– rock- Atlanta GA
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 5-5:35  The Head 
The Head– rock- atlanta GA
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5:50-6:25 Rachel Mallin and the Wild Type
Rachel Mallin & The Wild Type- indie rock  Kansas City, MO
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 6:40-7:20 Kristen Ford 
Kristen Ford– indie rock-Nashville, TN

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7:35-8:15 Violet and the Undercurrents 
Violet and the Undercurrents– Indie rock- Columbia, MO
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 8:30-9:10  Remanon
Remanon Prog Rock San Antonio TX
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9:25-10:00  Kwame Binea Shakedown
 Kwame Binea Shakedown– New York City
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12:00-12:50 Stood with Ghosts/Joey James/Shani Rose 

10 min change

12:55-2:00 Bose Troubadors in the round Jeff Campbell, Jamie Kent, Megan Slankard, Matthew Szlachetka

15 min change

2:15-2:45  Future Kings 

15 min change

3:00-4:00 Hip Hop afternoon featuring Genesis Blu, Neak, High Strung, Feezarelli

15 min change

4:15-4:45  BAST 

15 min change

5-5:35  The Head 

15 min change

5:50-6:25 Rachel Mallin and the Wild Type

15 min change

6:40-7:20 Kristen Ford 

15 min change

7:35-8:15 Violet and the Undercurrents 

15 min change

8:30-9:10  Remanon

15 min change

9:25-10:00  Kwame Binea Shakedown

To RSVP visit http://tinyurl.com/catvsowl2016

http://do512.com/events/2016/3/17/2nd-annual-catvsowl-showcase-during-sxsw

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/catvsowl-2016-showcase-tickets-22244324373?aff=efbnreg

For Sponsorship, Media Requests and High Fives, email Promoter Kristenfordmusic@gmail.com

Thoughts on Bolivia Part II: It´s a Wonderful, Magical Place

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.

Sometimes extremely friendly dogs will appear in the altiplano for snuggles and food. These ones live at a nearby army outpost, but hang out at the tourist overlook being cute.
Sometimes extremely friendly dogs will appear in the altiplano for snuggles and food. These ones live at a nearby army outpost, but hang out at the tourist overlook being cute.
Kristen was especially susceptible to their cuteness.
Kristen was especially susceptible to their cuteness.
Sometimes there are adorable street puppies with busted legs that you really want to take home and it´s heartbreaking.
Sometimes there are adorable street puppies with busted legs that you really want to take home and it´s heartbreaking. Why isn´t it easier to bring dogs back the USA?
There are a lot of really big dogs in Bolivia, and when they look at you like this, you probably shouldn´t pet them.
There are a lot of really big dogs in Bolivia, and when they look at you like this, you probably shouldn´t pet them.
This puppy found us out on a hike! We almost brought her home, but then her owner saw her downtown following us and took her home ;/
This puppy found us out on a hike! We almost brought her home, but then her owner saw her downtown following us and took her home ;/ Chao She-ra!
It´s a little hard on the heart seeing all these dogs on the streets, but they seem to have an ok life of it.
It´s a little hard on the heart seeing all these dogs on the streets, but they seem to have an ok life of it.

#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….

There were three fabulous ice cream and cake shops in a row on the main drag in La Paz. We hit up Brosso and I got this amazing chocolate cake.
There were three fabulous ice cream and cake shops in a row on the main drag in La Paz. We hit up Brosso and I got this amazing chocolate cake.
On the main plaza in Sucre, we were enchanted by the artesenal ice cream place numerous times.
On the main plaza in Sucre, we were enchanted by the artesenal ice cream place numerous times.
Ahhhhhhhh!  Weird fried dough things abound in Bolivia. Yippee!
Ahhhhhhhh! Weird fried dough things abound in Bolivia. Yippee!
Empanadas and api. Api is a drink made of corn and it is warm and super sweet!
Empanadas and api. Api is a drink made of corn and it is warm and super sweet!

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!

Pique Machado. I didn´t take this picture, but it is from the same restaurant we went to in Potosi (4060) and looked just like this, beer included. So good!
Pique Machado. I didn´t take this picture, but it is from the same restaurant we went to in Potosi (4060) and looked just like this, beer included. So good!

#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.

We met Oke at a bar in La Paz. He went all the way home to get his guitar so he could hear Kristen play.
We met Oke at a bar in La Paz. He went all the way home to get his guitar so he could hear Kristen play.
One little sweetheart, making our time in Pampa Aceituno more inviting.
One little sweetheart, making our time in Pampa Aceituno more inviting.
All  the kids loved playing the guitar, it was amazing to see their little faces light up for the music.
All the kids loved playing the guitar. It was amazing to see their  faces light up for the music.

#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.

Overlooking the city of Sucre from a cafe.
Overlooking the city of Sucre from a cute cafe.
The main plaza in Sucre. They have people dressed up as zebras helping kids cross the street (and adults too).
The main plaza in Sucre. They have people dressed up as zebras helping kids cross the street (and adults too).

#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.

This vertical surface is covered with hundreds of fossilized dinosaur tracks. It used to be the shore of a lake where dinos walked to get water. Now it is a museum discovered by a concrete factory in Sucre.
This vertical surface is covered with hundreds of fossilized dinosaur tracks. It used to be the shore of a lake where dinos walked to get water. Now it is a museum discovered by a concrete factory in Sucre.
Dino statues of South American dinosaurs. Kristen was impressed.
Dino statues of South American dinosaurs. Kristen was impressed.
Hanging out with all the kids at the dinosaur park near our house.
Hanging out with all the kids at the dinosaur park near our house.

#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.

Ancient ruins on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca-
Ancient ruins on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sheep grazing on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sheep grazing on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sunset over the mountains driving south to Tarija.
Sunset over the mountains driving south to Tarija.
Just another view out the window of the bus, driving to Potosi.
Just another view out the window of the bus, driving to Potosi.
The Cerro Rico silver mine behind the beautiful city of Potosi.
The Cerro Rico silver mine behind the beautiful city of Potosi.
The train graveyard outside of the Salar de Uyuni.
The train graveyard outside of the Salar de Uyuni.
Playing with perspective in the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.
Playing with perspective in the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.

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Cactus island, Incahuasi, in the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Cactus island, Incahuasi, in the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Flamingo lagoons in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
Flamingo lagoon!
Look at this adorable animal called a viscacha!
Look at this adorable animal called a viscacha!
Interesting rock formations in Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Interesting rock formations in Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Laguna Colorada, one interesting lagoon in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Laguna Colorada, one more beautiful lagoon in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
A long way from anywhere.
Greetings from Bolivia! A long way from anywhere.

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!

 

A Wine Weekend in Bolivia

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Proudly Bolivian. This dog is definitely giving off that vibe.

 

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!

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The first thing we did when we arrived in Villa Abecia is hit up this bodega to taste the wines. We ended up buying a bottle of sweet port, bringing it back to our bed and breakfast and drinking the whole thing. Don’t worry, there were four of us so it wasn’t too much! Yummy port from Don Tomás that is available for sale in Sucre, if you don’t make it to this tiny town. The B&B we stayed at was right behind this building and is called Cepas de Mi Abuelo. I definitely recommend it. It’s a beautiful place with vineyards and lots of cute pets, including a friendly horse named Sargente..
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Here is a view of Villa Abecia from the balcony of the municipal building. Its really a beautiful little town.
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Here I am in a giant wine barrel in the town square. We had to blow up tons of balloons for the library inauguration to give out to all of the children who came. Guess how long they lasted? Pop!
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Kristen brought the guitar to lend some musical ambiance to the festivities. Then this guy with an accordion turned up to MC the event and a jam session ensued. He also played a men guitar 🙂 In front is the dog from our hotel who we named Sigue and saved much meat from our meat heavy lunch. Our new best friend, but he needs a bath!
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The inauguration of the new library in Villa Abecia. Everyone was pumped!

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.

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The library inauguration involved much speech giving and some poetry recitals by the children. Bolivian poetry recitals involve many choreographed movements it turns out.
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We found some waterfalls to swim in with the local children. It was a hot day and luckily there was water in these potholes as it is the dry season still.  Not the cleanest water but so refreshing.

 

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The crew from Biblioworks: Megan, the volunteer coordinator, Maritza the director, and Kristen the guitar teacher.

 

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:

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Jesus crucified in a skirt and an alter to San Roque? Sweet!
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I mean, doesn’t this place look like it might be in a Wes Anderson movie? Just a little bit?

 

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.

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Our first stop was Campos de Solana, which is one of the most widely available wines in Bolivia. We are fans 🙂 They started up in 2000 but already have won many awards and have some $3 table wines that are perfect everyday wines. And yes, we usually have wine everyday since the beer is so atrocious.
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Kristen and Megan waiting for our winery tour.
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Inside the Campos de Solana winery, perhaps the cleanest place we have been in Bolivia, and it smelled good too!
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Kristen, me, and Megan, ready to drink some wine. Unfortunately, their idea of a wine tasting at this winery is to make your whole tour group come to a consensus on one type of wine to share, and then you open a half bottle together. Someone needs to tell them about pouring lots of little shots of wine and then pushing the hard sell. I mean, no one even suggested we buy some wine… which is really too bad. Maybe we didn’t look thirsty?
Next we hit up Casa Real to see how singani is distilled. Singani is made of grapes kind of like cognac or pisco, but is distinctly Bolivian. The tasting here consisted of cocktails at the end. Ok, yum, but could we just try singani straight? The Casa Real black is delicious and apparently they export it to the USA!
Next we hit up Casa Real to see how singani is distilled. Singani is made of grapes kind of like cognac or pisco, but is distinctly Bolivian. The tasting here consisted of cocktails at the end. Ok, yum, but could we just try singani straight? The Casa Real black is delicious and apparently they export it to the USA! The traditional drink is singani and ginger ale, called a chuflay. The distillry equipment here is from France and really cool looking but no photos please!

 

Our last stop was at Casa Vieja, which is a small winery in a 400 hundre year old house. This place was nuts, mostly because it was over run by Bolivian teenagers who were in town for a soccer tournament
Our last stop was at Casa Vieja, which is a small winery in a 400 hundre year old house. This place was nuts, mostly because it was over run by Bolivian teenagers who were in town for a soccer tournament. The tasting here was pretty crazy. About 40 teenagers and us in a circle, 9 glasses of wine poured and then passed around the circle in rapid succession. So all 40 of us drank out of the same cup and tried a bunch of different wines all within about 3 minutes while the winery owner told us to hurry up. Kristen was horrified and wouldn’t participate which wasn’t much of a loss because the wine was pretty much terrible!
We decided to hit the town in Tarija because it was Halloween. We meant some very friendly Bolivians at a fun bar called La Bifuracda. This guy Alejandro got us passed some tight security at a nightclub called The Blue Parrot. Fun times dancing on Halloween.
We decided to hit the town in Tarija because it was Halloween. We met some very friendly Bolivians at a fun bar called La Bifuracda. This guy Alejandro got us passed some tight security at a nightclub called The Blue Parrot. Fun times dancing!

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.
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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.

Volunteering in Yamparaez, Bolivia

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!

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Bienvenidos a Yamparaez! It is very common to write messages in stones on the dry, rocky hillsides around here. Yamparaez has about 1000 residents and lies around 20km outside of Sucre. Each day was an adventure getting there and back. We even managed one lift in the back of a pickup, which was great until it started to rain…
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The streets of Yamparaez generally look like this, although sometimes there are more dogs. Not much going on!
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Here’s Kristen in the library leading the kids in song. I read a book to them and then we have some prompts to help us all write songs using ideas from the book. We also have some small percussion for the children to play. They LOVE music, Kristen could just play songs for them and they would be content. The point is to try and get them reading more, though, so we do our best to get them interested in the library. Here we’ve asked them to describe their neighborhood to us, which mostly lead to a long list of animals one can find in Yamparaez.
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A rare moment of concentration before all hell breaks lose! It would be difficult for Kristen and I to control 30 eight years who spoke English- but we are doing our best.  Perhaps the teacher might have accompanied this music class…
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After reading and singing a lot of the children wanted to take a shot at playing guitar.
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I have no idea if any of these kids can understand my accent but luckily they were reading along.
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If we had extra time we would do some drawings of our songs.
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This is the main plaza in Yamparaez where Kristen and I hung out in between workshops. A couple of years ago they found a giant fossil here, which they thought might be a dinosaur egg but turned out to be the shell of this giant armadillo-like mammal called a gliptodon. Egg or shell, they were still pumped enough to make this statue.
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Hanging out in Yamparaez! I’m learning lots of new chords on the guitar during our down time.
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Here is the exterior of the library. I’m not sure what the downstairs room is for, but the library takes up the upper floor. The library closes for siesta so we waited outside for the return of the elusive librarian.

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!

Confronting Our Fears in the Amazon

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:

Two ladies ready for the jungle.
Two ladies ready for the jungle. The first step of our journey to Lake Sandoval was a 45 minute boat ride up the Madre de Deus river.  We were joined by gringos from all over the world, but no other Americans.
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Ok, so there are a lot of animals in the jungle, but my favorite part was the plethora of butterflies. There were always butterflies flitting around at all times, even though the ones at night were moths….
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After the powered boat ride up the Madre de Deus river, we had to hike for about an hour along a muddy trail though the Amazon. After that we all got into this canoe and went out onto the Lake Sandoval. Our guide, Angel rowed us all around in this boat, very slowly, looking for wildlife.
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Kristen´s favorite animal to spot was the monkey. There are 5 different kinds of monkeys living around Lake Sandoval and we saw 4 of them. Not that I can remember their names, but I think this is a capuchin monkey. There were tons of these guys eating fruit and being cute, right on the edge of the lake.
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Lake Sandoval has four local families that live along the lake. They are the only ones allowed to farm, hunt, or fish in the natural reserve around the lake. We stayed with one of these families, at probably the least fancy of the eco hostels. We didn´t see much of them, but they made all of our meals and even caught piranha from the lake for us to eat for breakfast one day. Yum!
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This is our little shack at the eco hostel. Hammocks are necessary because it´s way too hot there to touch anything but the slight breeze. These shacks were not much protection from the elements, and by elements I mean bugs. We took a lot of time each night inspecting the cabin for spiders and then tucking in our mosquito net really well. Luckily, there were no mosquitos, but the net felt like a sheild against the giant insects.
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Time for a dip in the piranha invested lake full of alligators! For reasons unknown and unexplained, the area right near our dock was supposedly safe for swimming. So, swim we did! It felt amazing in the lukewarm bathwater of Lake Sandoval. Finally we were wet because of water and not because of pouring sweat.
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The best thing to do while swimming in the lake, besides looking for colder spots, was watching the butterflies annoy the turtles. The butterflies would land on the turtles to eat the dried algae off of them, and the turtles would swat at them in frustration. I never knew a turtle could move his little arms so fast!
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We saw a ton of birds around the lake and our guide knew all their names, but I forget them all. Maybe this is a leopard heron? Cool looking though!
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Sunset on our first night in Lake Sandoval. We took the rowboat out in the dark and pointed high power flashlights along the shore looking for the glow of caiman eyes. So many ´gators out there!
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On our first night, after dinner, we went on a nighwalk in order to scare the shit out of ourselves. The tarantula was actually kind of cute compared to most of the spiders and giant insects we saw. I didn´t take many pictures because I was mostly staring at my feet and pretending I was somewhere else.
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This trip involved getting up ridiculously early in the morning to see what was happening at dawn. The first dawn we watched birds at a clay lick. These parrots eat the minerals out of this dead tree in order to neutralize the toxicity from all the fruits and plants they eat during the day.
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A howler monkey making it´s creepy howler monkey noise. Seriously, you should google the noise of the howler monkey and listen to it, because it is something otherworldly and very present in the Amazon. It´s like a human thunder, and they make this noise at dawn, dusk, when it rains, and when they feel their territory threatened.
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Here´s Kristen and our local guide, Angel. He was showing us how the natives use a flower to dress up during dances and ceremonies.  Angel could see anything in the Amazon, so we called him eagle eyes.
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Here´s an example of Angel eagle eyes finding an insect that looks like a leaf, hanging out on a leaf.
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Leaf cutter ants! We watched their interesting fellows climb down a huge tree trunk with their little bits of leaves, trample their own path through the forest floor, and then disappear into giant ant mounds. The leaves they let rot so a fungus will grow on them, then they eat the fungus.
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Sunset in the Amazon. We stayed out paddling in the dark, getting bombarded by moths and the bats attempting to eat them. Every time we turned on the flashlights to look for caiman, hundreds of moths would swarm. The piranhas would jump out of the lake to eat the moths as well, but still the lake was covered in white moths in the morning when we set out to look for giant river otters at dawn.
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More nameless birds we saw croaking at dawn at our dock when we set out to look for the otters.
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We found the otters! These guys are cute but deadly. They are at the top of the food chain at the lake, and will even take out giant caiman when they work together. We watched them from an appropriate distance through binoculars as they swam and chowed down on piranha. Such fierce teeth!
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Kristen checking out Coco the Caiman. This was probably the largest alligator we saw and Angel named him Coco so the danger feeling kind of receded a little bit.
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Here´s another example of Angel eagle eyes, finding a frog that looks like a leaf, hanging out on a leaf.
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We did a lot of swinging on vines during our jungle walks. I wasn´t particuarly good at it, but I gave it my best shot…  Tarzan!
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Most of the rainforest we trekked around it, is second growth forest on land that was once used for farming and is now natural reserve. Here´s a big tree we found though. The natives take a plant drug called ayahuasca to commune with these trees. The trees will tell them what plants in the forest will cure their hurts and diseases.
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One of the most fun things to do in the Amazon is poke things with a stick. Here we are poking a tarantula whole with a stick so the tarantula would come out chasing the stick away. I couldn´t believe I saw Kristen, Miss Big Spider Coward, poking a tarantula hole with a stick. Confronting our fears!
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More birds! These silly chicken looking birds where all over the place. I forget what their actual name is, of course, but their nickname is asthmatic birds because they make a funny wheezing noise all the time. You can always hear them out in the jungle.  Four in a row of these silly fellows!
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Here is the Madre de Deus river as we were leaving the rainforest and heading back to Puerto Maldonado. We had really nice weather for our jungle trip, but on the way back a big storm hit us on the river. Fun! This is what raincoats and pack covers are for though!

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!