Sunday, May 31, 2009

Random Travel Update 43

Last locations: Quito, Ecuador
Arrival Date: May 25, 2009
Departure Date: May 27, 2009

Current location: Tucson, AZ
Arrival Date: May 27, 2009
Departure Date: May 31, 2009

Next Locations: Amsterdam The Netherlands, Cairo Egypt
Arrival Date: June 1, 2009
Departure Date: Undetermined

While Jon and I were enjoying some falafel and baba ghanoush at a Lebanese café in La Paz, it occurred to me that being in South America was, for me at that moment, like sitting through a movie just after seeing a trailer for another movie that I would much rather be watching.

If you read the back cover of the Lonely Planet’s guide to South America, you will get the following review, “Challenging? Check. Rewarding? Beyond your wildest dreams. South America is made for travel—the griping, spine-tingling, adrenaline-charged type of travel you live for.”

In reality, the most challenging part of travel in South America is remembering not to flush your toilet paper down the toilet. Or, moreso, trying to get off of the gringo trail…a near impossible feat. And as for rewarding, sure, but so is every destination if you arrive with the right mindset.

South America is definitely made for travel. It is as if the whole continent were taken up by the tourism industry, thoroughly chewed and regurgitated for the travel-hungry masses to enjoy. And there are masses. While Americans are at home working hard at their careers and enjoying their annual two-week holiday, the English, Israelis, Germans, Dutch, Swiss and Aussies seem to have sent the majority of their youth out to go “discover themselves” for months at a time on the beaches and bars of every country with a good beer-to-euro ratio.

As for griping, spine-tingling, adrenaline-charged, in reality, South America is pretty laid back. And while you can adventure sport to your heart’s (or budget’s) content, the truth is that adventure sports tend to be griping, spine-tingling, and adrenaline-charged regardless of what continent you do them in.

That being said, do go to South America, just maybe don’t do it the way we did. There are many destinations that would be worth spending two-to-four weeks in and getting to know the local community and environment. Better even would be to study or work there. Cities and towns that I could really see myself staying for several months or more include: Buenos Aires, Santiago, Valparaiso, San Pedro de Atacama, Sucre, Samaipata, and La Paz.

I don’t have much time to finish this. In just over two hours Jon and I will get on a plane headed to Egypt by way of Minneapolis and Amsterdam the latter of which we will be for ten hours.
New photos of Bolivia are up and Jon has several new blogs in the works. Visit and



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Travel Update 42

Last locations: Tiwanaku BL, Lake Titicaca BL, Machu Picchu PE, Nazca Lines PE
Arrival Date: May 10, 2009
Departure Date: May 19, 2009

Current location: Lima, Peru
Arrival Date: May 19, 2009
Departure Date: May 20, 2009

Next Locations: Mancora, Peru
Arrival Date: May 21, 2009
Departure Date: May 22, 2009

Machu Picchu: √ (check). Like Disneyland but with less rides and real stones, Machu Picchu is one of those magical places that I'd be happy to never visit again. In an effort to salvage at least part of the experience, we opted for an alternative trek to the Inca Trail, which is littered with 200 tourists and 300 porters a day, few of whom care significantly about their immediate environment or the act of trekking in general.

Still, paying hundreds of dollars to trek with guides, pack mules and eight other foreigners at half the pace we would otherwise choose, is pretty distant from my idea of fun and adventure. The scenery, however, was breathtaking (as was the altitude at times), we met local indigenous people along the way, and the food, though it took the cooks hours to prepare, wasn’t half bad.

As for Maccu Picchu, it was every bit as incredible as people make it out to be and almost every bit as crowded. The photos taken cannot do it justice, and I don’t blame the hundreds to thousands of tourists who arrive each day to marvel in person at what must be one of the world’s most spectacular archeological sites.

Another cool archeological site in Peru is the Nazca Lines. We saw those today via a sobrevuelo (overflight) in a four-passenger private aircraft. They were impressive, but the three of us (me, Jon and Jon’s friend Aaron) agreed that they are much smaller than we were expecting.

Backing up a bit, our last few days in Bolivia, before our miserable overnight bus ride from Copacabana to Cuzco, were some of our best. The ruins at Tiwanaku were surprisingly calm with few tourist groups. While the city itself needs a lot of rebuilding since the Spanish plundered it in the 1500s, the stone-carved artifacts that have been found on the site are very impressive. The Tiwanaku civilization is thought to have predated the Incas by thousands of years and is perhaps the longest continuous societies in the history of the Americas. The surviving ancestors of the Tiwanaku are today called Aymara, while the descendants of the Incas are Quechua. Also present in Bolivia are the descendants of the Amazonia people, today known as Guarani.

We spent our last night in Bolivia on the Isla del Sol where the sun is said to have been born in local Aymaran folklore. We supported the local economy by taking a private boat to the northern shore which allowed us to see all of the archeological sites virtually untouristed since most visitors have to hike two to three hours up to the north shore and either spend the night or hike back down the same day. We were able to see all the north shore sites that evening, eat dinner, spend the night and wake up before sunrise the next morning to hike down to the south shore and explore our hearts out before the others were even awake. It was one of the highlights of our trip and very much somewhere that we hope to return to someday.

And return we will. In the meantime, Jon and I have decided to save the rest of our South America tour for the future. Instead of going on to Colombia and Venezuela next month as planned, we will be taking a flight out of Ecuador next week, spending a few days in Arizona to repack and upload photos (my hard drive is full again), and then catching a plane to the Middle East from where my Random Travel Update will be based for the following six weeks.
Keep keeping in touch.



Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Random Travel Update 41

Last locations: Santa Cruz BL, Asunción de Guarayos BL, Samaipata BL, Cochabamba BL, Torotoro BL, Yungas Road BL
Arrival Date: April 10, 2009
Departure Date: May 1, 2009

Current location: La Paz, Bolivia
Arrival Date: May 2, 2009
Departure Date: May 9, 2009

Next Locations: Tiwanaku BL, Lake Titicaca BL, Cuzco, Peru
Arrival Date: May 10, 2009
Departure Date: undetermined

First, in regards to Swine Flu: Please, stop supporting confined animal agriculture. As complicated as the media tries to make the issue, it is no mystery as to how these epidemics come about. Anyone who has ever witnessed a modern day animal processing facility will attest to the filthy, overcrowded warehouse environments that breed such disease. The contemporary method of raising pigs, cows and birds for slaughter is not only cruel and environmentally degrading; it also poses a serious threat to public health.

To learn more factory farming and the current epidemic visit:

CNN also ran a news story highlighting this threat:

The most effective thing that you can do as a concerned citizen is to boycott the meat industry. For tips on eating vegan visit:

We really like Bolivia. It is rugged, moderately undeveloped, colorful and cheap. Taking a bus is still an adventure here. Our first bus ride from Uyuni to Sucre included 10 hours of unpaved, unmaintained road, five river/wash crossings, countless sharp turns on narrow roads bordered by steep drops and passing vehicles, a guy who threw up two times, a three hour wait in near freezing weather at 2am for a transfer bus with no bathroom access. Following that, we learned that planes are actually quite a good deal in Bolivia, costing less than the same distance in Argentina by bus in cama or super-cama class.

The Bolivians may be some of the cutest people in the world. On Sunday we went to something called “Cholita Wrestling” which involves cholitas (the diminutive form of “chola” which refers to indigenous Bolivianas who live in cities rather than in rural indigenous villages) wrestling cholos (masculine form) in a boxing ring. Though not specifically about Bolivia, the movie “Nacho Libre” would provide you with a very good idea of the nature of the event. Or you can watch a match on youtube. The Cholitas tolerate getting beat up pretty bad before they come back to win the match. If your interest is spiked regarding all things Cholita, the Travel Channel has an episode dedicated to them.

Today we did a super-touristy thing and biked the ¨World´s Most Dangerous Road¨ proclaimed as such in 1995 by the Inter-American Development Bank in reaction to its record annual death toll of 200 to 300 passengers. A few days ago, we rented a car (Jon´s idea) and headed out from Cochabamba to the very rural town of Torotoro to explore caves, canyons and dinosaur prints. Previous to arriving in the desert college city of Cochabamba (not unlike Tucson), we spent ten days in the beautiful town of Samaipata where we spent our time taking Spanish lessons, meeting with locals, and volunteering at an animal refuge. Before that, we attended the Biennial
International Theater Festival in Santa Cruz, during which we learned acrobatics (pictures to come). And, previous to Santa Cruz, we stayed in the charming city of Sucre after the completion of our 3-day tour by jeep of The Reserva National de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa and the Salar de Uyuni; the highest, largest and most impressive salt flat in the world.

There is more to say. I think Jon plans to elaborate on each activity in his next blog post. Look out for it next week at For about half of the Bolivia pictures, check out Check again next week for more.