Journal: day 11

 In the Sacred Valley 

In the Sacred Valley 

So I've missed a few days of writing, particularly due to a few busy days in Cusco dealing with Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. We also saw Lake Titicaca. I'll touch on that later.

Yesterday, we left Cusco at 16:00 on a bus said to arrive in Lima at 11:00 the next day. We just happened to share that bus with the world's most unpleasant baby, who cried and screamed for hours and hours straight without any caretaker addressing the problem in any way. Hours of continuous wailing is a clear sign that a baby needs something.

On top of the baby, as we made the full pass over the Andes mountains in the middle of the night, the windows began to ice over on the inside of the bus. That means that it was clearly too cold. I found myself in the fetal position, head and arms pulled inside two wool jackets (and a third covering my legs), a bandana over my mouth to keep the dry mountain air from ravishing my throat, wearing two hats, and two pairs of pants. For as little as it did yo keep the cold out, it wasn't even a possible position to maintain, because as our driver zoomed through sharp switchback curves, a body not well-braced would be thrown off the seat. It was a long, long night, and I ended up doing most of my sleeping as we passed by morning along Peru's southern Pacific coast, some of the least attractive landscape I've ever encountered.

Now, allow me to backtrack substantially, and recall some of what we've experienced in the undocumented days before today. We spent an entire day in La Paz out and about to see such the spectacular city. As it turns out, in passing conversation with a taxi driver we had hailed from the bus terminal upon arrival, he offered to take us the next day on a tour of the major sites of the city for 40 Bolivianos - just a big more than 5 US dollars. We made the deal and sure enough, there he was the very next day, waiting at 9 am out the front door of out hostel. He was a short man of feeble stature (and who's name escapes me), fluent in Spanish, Quecheua, and Aymara, two major indigenous tongues of the Americas.

 George and the driver

George and the driver

So with our driver we passed through a richest neighborhoods that fill the lowest basin of the bowl shape of La Paz, then went up to all the highest points of the crest around to find all the most spectacular views of the massively expansive, surprisingly modern city scape built on such an impossible mountain grade, seemingly a still photograph and an entire metropolis just poured, cascading down the sides of the mountain and collecting in a fine shamble of tall and colored glass buildings, set in front of complimentary rugged, rough, dangerous, and unconquerable mountain-scapes towering behind. 

 Dried baby llamas

Dried baby llamas

He even took us on a quick 20 minute jolt from the city center to the Valley of the Moon national park, a preserved landscape of eroded mud fenced of in the plain center of a residential area.

So our 3 hour voyage ended back at the hostel, where we spend time exploring the witches' market that lay outside out door. Common fare includes, but is not limited to, dried llama, frog, and bird carcasses, carved amulets meant to remedy any ailment, a smorgasbord of dried herbs, ripe to be smoked, brewed, or rubbed on the skin, and various forms of preparation of certain psychedelic cacti. 

The next morning we found ourselves on an early bus out of La Paz to Copacabana, the Bolivian border town on Lake Titicaca. We ferried to cross a skinny outcropping of the lake, and traveled on a bus atop a rickety metal flat boat, floating amongst wooden fishing ships and sailboats. Upon arrival in Copacabana, we bought bus tickets several hours in advance for a trip to the Peruvian border, and headed up several hundred meters to a stone monument and lookout over the lake. For an hour we climbed an impossibly steep slope with no real marked trail, wondering how many people could commonly visit this place, only to find, upon reaching the top, a massive stone staircase pouring down the other sided.


The view of the lake, needless to say, was spectacular. With such dry, clean, clear air at such a high altitude, the water reflects brilliantly the color of the sky, creating the illusion of no distinction between the two. Except, of course, for the mountains on the horizon. Although, the horizon seemed for some reason to fade away around its intersection with the water, leaving only visible floating mountain peaks, fading up out of the horizon and into the sky. Quite spectacular, indeed.

Then from Bolivia onto Cusco, Peru, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Cusco is an odd city, being both the Americas' oldest continuously inhabited city and a major destination of international tourism, there is a visible dichotomy. In the tourist center, the same dish available for 17 USD is sold literally two blocks away in a place where travelers don't often wander, the same thing is sold for a dollar. Cusco has Disney tours as well. You can book a trip with Disney and go to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I found that striking.

Then we also went through the sacred valley and up to Machu Picchu.


Journal: day 5


We've come out of the sky. How many places in the world allow one to take a bus that passes through 4700 meters elevation, and in two hours bottoms out at 1,525. But that's why Bolivia rocks. After getting into La Paz, which is quite possible the most...

Shit it's raining. I'm outside. 

Yes, we have fallen victim to a tropical shower here in the principle steps of Bolivia's Amazon Basin. Anyway, La Paz rocks; I'll get back to that later.

We took an early bus this morning down the mountains, finally making our way off the puna. Coming over the Andes outside La Paz, we peaked at 4600 meters in a wide rolling yellow highland tundra widely inhabited by llamas. Llamas also rock, and it hurts me inside to know that I may never see so many all together in one place again. Towering above this llama haven, we finally caught a good steady glimpse of those stereotypical Andean peaks we'd been looking for from Ushuaia to Bariloche to Mendoza to San Juan to JuJuy to Tupiza to Potosi - unbelievably massive, sharp, jagged rock peaks that actually rise up above the clouds that swirl around them, totally devoid of even the smallest hint of life. That's the kind of think one sees in documentaries and in magazines, but never imagines he will get to stand in front of and feel. I am humbled to see a creation so awesome.

Just like that, we hit a very definite point where the bus began to head down...    down, down, down nearly 4300 meters directly to Bolivia's slide of the Amazon Basin - an amazing change of terrain to witness in just 2 hours. Where else on the planet can you descent from snowy tundra crawling with llama set before such massive rocky peaks to a cloudy tropical forest 4 kilometers directly below? Probably nowhere.

Our chosen path of descent carries with it the title of "the most dangerous road int he world," a name inspired by the high fatality rate of travel on its paths, no doubt due to the lack of guard rails as the gravel road plummets down the sides of mountains. Descending, just as the yellow grass and mosses began to grow longer and greener, we entered the clouds - a major milestone in a a road trip down from the heavens. Riding along mountain ridges and looking over the edge, the forested earth just faded out to white in the near distance, giving rise to the question of whether or not the ground actually exists below us. We continue, and as the mountains above use disappear into the sky, we hit the breaking point of the clouds. 

And just like that, we've left the realm of the sun and stars and clouds and moon and in front of us lies the massive expanse of the tropical rain forest, rolling on an infinite sprawl of hills channeling countless streams and rivers between them. The forest sprawls on as far as can be imagined, and the road improved to cobblestone as we re-enter a realm in free from strictly prohibitive slopes, and thus one again rich in human settlements. 

Now, I find myself perched atop a mud brick wall in the forest outside Coroica writing these words to be read. We spent our day off the bus eating a delicious meal of spicy river fish with fried bananas, then took a walk to feast on the abundance of tiny wild tangerines that grow on the broad-leaf trees. My discoveries of the day are two-fold: First, the rain forest floor does no lie where it appears to, but rather a good meter or so under crushed subdue vegetation that will swallow you up if you don't step just right, and second, it rains a lot in the jungle.

Journal: day 4

Making our was back to Sucre was quite an adventure, and as we came to realize that, contrary to what the locals had told us, there would be no trucks returning to where we'd come from that day. We ended up hitch hiking with some workers for a health organization, and with them made the high twist trip back. Its a good thing we found them, too, because there were neither many leaving vehicles or many sleeping accomidations available in that little town. 

Even better is that I spent all last night with a horrible fever having hallucinations and puking out our 2nd story window.

Journal: day 3

Two hours in the back of a freight truck has landed George and me in a small and apparently nameless indigenous village at around 3600 meters above sea level. Our decision to come here was made purely by considering the quality of all vehicles departing the truck stop (a seemingly random open dirt plaza where any truck could come by and stop to pick up passengers), then carefully choosing the worst, and getting in. We were loaded into the wooden bed behind with another 30 or so passengers, all local campesinos making their way back out of town, carrying fares of birds, potatoes, and babies. There was little room to stand, and certainly no room to sit down, I resorted to the gut-wrenching ride one can experience perched atop the wooden walls of the truck bed looking down over the cliff our clumsy truck traversed so well.  

After ascending into the mountains surrounding Sucre and penetrating much farther into nowhere than I ever believed to exist in the US, my knuckles began to fade into white as I gripped the metal framing of the truck that I clung onto to keep from falling off the wall, and down the 300 meter drop that lay just centimeters from our wheels.

But, we hopped off two hours later at the first seemingly pleasant and hospitable town, where we ate a meal of some soup and spicy chicken for 10 bolivianos. Notable qualities of our restaurant included their manner of meat storage - on a table by the wall. Really the only difference between this village and any ancient ruins one may find around these parts is that ancient ruins were built long ago. Other than that, the architecture and manners of construction has not changed at all. From adobe mud walls, to stone terraces, to straw roofs, it feels like falling back in time. 

We were taunted in Quecheua (or so we came to conclude) by a large group of native Bolivians as we wandered the town, up to a large rock hill about a kilometer outside of the center of the village center, where the entire yellow glowing basin becomes visible under the closer-than-ever shining sun. I told George, I think we've done pretty well for 17 and 18 years old.

Journal: day 2

We're eating in the terminal in Potosi, waiting for our 17:00 bus to Sucre and the day is ending just a bit roughly. The combination of 4100 meters of altitude, 2 night night each allowing 3 hours of sleep on a bus, and spending various hours below ground breathing in dust and smoke in the mines while drinking 97% alcohol with the minors really packs a punch. I guess that's understandable. I personally, though I don't enjoy the feeling of having your head torn apart from the inside out, do appreciate it. As a firm believer that man has reached a point, believe himself now to be everything-proof, I feel that it does some good to every now and then throw one's self at the mercy of the planet and recognize how helpless we really are. 

In our lengthy crawl through the mines today, we saw some pretty spectacular things. First of all, they were mines not meant by any means for touristic purposes; the were fully functional, fully staffed, and come packed with dangerous activities like running from a recently lit stick of dynamite then cupping your ears and opening your mouth so the rush of pressure through the mines would not pop your head.. George and I experienced that one first hand. We crawled through tunnels to hang out and drink with our guide's minor friends, who I suppose were supposed to be working. 

We dished out the coca leaves we had brought as gifts in exchange for them welcoming us into their work place, and they instructed us on how to serve the 97% cane sugar alcohol that is common fare for the minors. Mix half and half with juice in a tiny glass, then throw out three splashes - one for the Pachamama, one for the Tio, and one for the minors around you, then drink it down. And the ritual continued time and time again, all in nothing but the light that our headlamps offered.

Sitting and drinking with burly Bolivian minors, some 55 years old wearing 30 years of work in the mine - one as young as 15 and just starting to work - is quite the experience, though George and I did have to fake quite a few laughs at the minors' jokes, and eventually began to throw shots over our shoulders and pretending to wince at the burn. At one point our minor gang got the idea to go show us the place that we work, a destination reached only through several tall muddy ladders and crawls through skinny, near vertical shafts, all whilst our guide announced in broken english that he was 'teepsy.' That was comforting.

Journal: day 1

-06:00 brings us into La Quiaca where the elevation really starts to get to your head. Breath slowly, breath deeply, and hold the air inside your lungs. Day 1 has officially begun, and waiting here in the Bolivian border town bus terminal/refugee camp feels to me like our big step into the world we've been looking for. 


Last night as I got on our big rickety bus and sat down, I just arbitrarily got this swelling feeling of extreme contentment to be doing what I was doing - just to be where I was. Sitting next to George on a bus to the gateway of our adventure just conjured feelings that top easily those of anything one could ever smoke or drink in search of the sensation. Life is good. George feels sicks. 

- Upon getting up on our first Bolivian bus, a supposed 12 hour ride which cost US$3.12, I was a bit disappointed to find that it wasn't actually as horrible as Bolivian buses seemed to be in the stories I'd heard. It had seats, windows (albeit covered in tape), and most other expected qualities of your standard low-quality bus. Then, it left the terminal of Villazon, traveled a bit more than a block, and broke. Hooray Bolivia and its buses. I guess I'm happy with that. We've now been waiting an hour by the side of the road for a new bus to come. Bolivia rocks.

-On the evening of day one, George and I find ourselves at 3000 meters looking over Tupiza, Bolivia, chewing ojas de coca y bicarbonato to maintain healthy breathing patterns. The altitude is cruel. If hiking 2 km to 3000 meters hits me this hard, its hard to think of taking on 4700 meters above Quito, Ecuador. But thats in 2 weeks. We have time to develope ourselves into full-fledged Incan highlanders. We never actually planned to be here in Tupiza, but after our bus broke down we really had no other choice, so a 21:30 departure tonight will bring us into Potosi at 05:00 tomorrow. It's kind of nice to be here, though; its quite a ways off the beaten path, and obvious reasons to be here don't quickly present themselves. In fact, when we asked a local man what kind of things are cool to do here, he showed us a map and said, "Well a lot of people like to go walk over here, and also a lot go to walk over here, but also its popular to go walk over by the river."

Tupiza - and excellent place for walking.

Our bus seriously didn't take a single paved road to get here, and that rocks. The entire path here was punctuated by large, half dug holes in the road, almost as if the Bolivian government has some sort of initiative to at all times sport the world's greatest quantity of unfinished road work.

This town its self sits in a small valley (about 2 km wide) in between some jagged red rock mountains brushed with yellow and orange. The people and the buildings and the landscape and the mountains all converge here to make exactly what I'd hoped to find in Bolivia: a 3-course meal with desert for US$1.40

Journal: Day 0

Day zero comes to an end. The idea thusforth will be to write at least something down every day, but we'll see how that goes.

We've made a 13-hour sprint from Cordoba to JuJuy on those nice fancy Argentino buses, and that brings us now to a food stand at midnight in the bus terminal of JuJuy, awaiting the 01:00 departure to La Quiaca and the Bolivian border.

The day carries aptly the name 'Day 0' because it really isn't so much a part of the adventure, and more of a big leap out of Argentine. We said goodbye to Oliver and Antoine today, catching yet another last glimpse of friends out the window of a bus...  and now I cant sit still. It was the same all last night and all day today. The energy is just jerking at me. I couldn't get the idea of heading out on the road out of my head. The thought stands right out from the start as something you know you'll remember your whole life, so all of a sudden every moment matters a whole lot more, Some day when George and I are old, pathetic, and incapable, this reminiscence will be a big chunk of fuel that keeps us going through those distant days. We're working on a painting that will hang in the near background of our lives and memories prominently and forever, so we've got to do it well, yes? Check back in tomorrow.


What I'm Wearing: sweat pants, jeans, cotton socks, wool socks, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, wool sweater, big jacket.

Letters back home: Bolivia

Hey, I'm in La Paz right now, which out of everything that I've seen thus far likely makes the top of my list of 'Things Everyone Should See Before They Die.' The entire city is literally hanging off the side of a mountain and pouring into a valley, kind of like if someone to a still shot of a massive man made mudslide. It’s really an amazing thing to see, and on top of it, looming not far at all from the city are massive glacier covered peaks.

Yesterday we took a bus through what my Lonely Planet guide deemed the 'Most Dangerous Road in the World,' mostly because it made a nearly 4000 meter descent in about 2 hours, straight through the clouds and along the very edge of massive Andean Peaks. Up from La Paz we passed over a pretty dizzying 4800 meters to get out of the city's crater, and then started down the long steep descent out of the Andes Mountains. Looking out the window, it look like we were in an airplane, because you saw the road, a couple rocks beyond, but then the slope just faded away to nothing in the

Looking out over the fringes of the Amazon basin in Coroica, Bolivia clouds, kind of making you wonder if the ground was ever even there. As we got lower and lower and breathing got noticeably easier, the mossy mountain slopes started to sport grasses, then bushes, and then trees until the vegetation grew massively think and them bam, in a second we were out of the clouds, over looking a nauseatingly steep drop in the road and down on the Amazon basin. We drove on for quite a while through Bolivia’s prime coca and coffee growing region, and then got off in a town called Coroica, where it rained several times and hour and the washed out building were piled up along the steep slope covered in jungle. We picked wild fruits, ate river fish (a good meal here costs US 56 cents, a massive one costs US $1.40), and tried our hand at a short walk through the jungle, which proved very difficult because the ground is actually about a meter below the piles of old vegetation that you sink into.

     So we came back to La Paz at night. Now we have a hostel in the low part of town right in the 'Witches Market,' where they sell everything from trippy cactuses to (literally) dried baby llama carcasses.  

     We're leaving tomorrow morning for Lake Titicaca and Perú.

Letters back home: the Atacama

We have a morning departure heading 12 hours into northern Argentina, from where we'll directly take another 12 hour bus getting me into Jesús María on the mid morning of the 3rd, so I can spend Saturday and Sunday with my family, then I head out super early Monday morning and I guess I have about 2 days of transit. So that’s the deal.

 I'm in the Atacama Desert right now. Today George and I rented bikes and road 36 km through 'the valley of the moon.' This place is pretty fantastic; it looks like another planet - mostly because there is not a single trace of life. No cactus, no grass, no moss, no animals, just multi-colored sand and rock. This is likely the closest to being on Mars that I will ever be. On top of that, it’s the driest place on the planet, and in it entire history of human inhabitance it ha never once rained. Their yearly millimeters of water come from minimal condensed humidity in the air.

Unfortunately though, it gets up to like 80 degrees in the day and drops below freezing at night. That makes for a confusing day in which I wish for cold water all day, then hours later at night I have prepared myself delicious hot chocolate. Things are freaking expensive in Chile. Really, it’s like being in the US, and when you include bus and hostel costs it’s a really good thing that we've kept our time to two days here. 

     I am about to shower for the 3rd time this month, and shave for the first time. Getting clean becomes an adventure when you never do it.