Archive for December, 2008

It’s been a while since we’ve last updated, and there are several reasons for that. Mainly it’s that we’ve just been busy being, well, being not very busy, if that makes any sense at all.

We did so much and moved at such a fast pace for the first 2+ months of our trip that we are just enjoying being in one place, having our own apartment (with our own kitchen!!), that we are just getting back to a kind of normalcy (as much as that is possible being that we’re in a city of 12 million people in December, where the temperature is in the 90’s).

But I digress. We have been in BA for about a week and half. Christmas was a great time, albeit a bit weird, again this whole weather thing is really throwing us off. How can it be Christmas and New Year’s, and we have to have the air conditioner on in our apartment? It just doesn’t seem right.

We did end up having a wonderful little Christmas though, complete with a staggering amount of fireworks when it hit midnight on Christmas Eve, a la the Fourth of July. It was an interesting way to see Christmas celebrated. But we also got a chance to Skype and talk to a lot of our family, which was awesome and made being away for the holidays a bit easier.

We had a great steak dinner at “home” on Christmas Eve, then wandered around the city on Christmas Day, knowing that it would most likely be the least crowded the city would be. It was nice to get to see the city without all the pedestrians, cars, buses, and cabs that normally zip around Buenos Aires on a given day.

We have also been taking Spanish classes for the past week, which have been great and really challenging. We have been going for four hours a day and coming home with our heads spinning from all the new information. It’s a slow process, but the fact that we are hearing only Spanish (our instructors speak Spanish, even when trying to explain things that we are confused about) for those four hours a day is helping us immensely with getting used to the language. It’s been a great experience, and the people at the small school we are going to are great.


First Day of School

Tonight, we were lucky enough to be invited to our friend Maru’s parents’ house for New Year’s Eve. Maru is a friend of our good friend Angie, and she is a porteno, or native of Buenos Aires. We’ve hung out with her several times so far, and she has been so gracious and welcoming. When Maru was telling her parents about us and how long we were staying here, her mom insisted on inviting us to their New Year’s Even festivities. It’s a little different here in that most people hang out with their families until late, around 1 or 2am, then the younger people head out with their friends until the wee hours of the morning.

Not sure if we’re in the younger demographic anymore and will be doing that, but we are so very grateful for the invitation to the get-together, and it will be a great experience for us to see how a different culture celebrates the holidays. Not to mention that we’ll get a chance to really use our Spanish as Maru is the only person in her family who speaks English. It should be a great night!!

One more thing to catch everyone up on is our itinerary. Until now, we were working on a very rough itinerary that didn’t have much planned. When we got to BA, we knew we were going to have to start making some decisions because we were heading to Patagonia next, and it’s high season, so things book up in advance. So we have been spending a lot of time researching exactly where we want to go in Patagonia. We are starting to solidify some plans, but nothing is set in stone, yet. We’ll update as soon as we get some things booked.

But we do have some exciting news about our plans for after Patagonia. We had been kicking around several different ideas for after Buenos Aires. First, it was spend a month in Patagonia, then head up to Ecuador and Colombia before heading to SE Asia. Then we cut Ecuador and Colombia because it was just too out of the way. Then we were talking about coming home for a week or so before SE Asia because it would have been cheaper to fly home first than to fly straight from here (for some reason flights from S. America to SE Asia are ridiculously expensive). Then we started kicking around New Zealand. Then Colombia came back into the picture because we have heard absolutely nothing but GREAT things about that country. Seriously, everyone who we have met who has traveled extensively around S. America and been to Colombia has stated Colombia as their favorite place. And people are starting to catch on and realize that it’s not the dangerous drug haven it once was, and it’s going to become a tourist destination sooner rather than later. So by going now, we would be catching Colombia at a special time, and we feel we can’t pass that up.

So after an entire afternoon of checking different carriers and all of our options, we were lucky enough to stumble on a series of flights that will take us to several new destinations that we are really excited about. And we booked our flights yesterday, so the next phase of our trip is starting to come together.

Now we will leave Buenos Aires on January 19th. We will have 42 days in Patagonia, both the Argentine and Chilean side, until we have to be in Santiago, Chile on March 4. From Santiago we will fly to Bogota, Colombia (by way of Miami… how convenient), where we will have a little less than a month in Colombia. I can’t tell you how excited we are of going to Colombia.

Next, we fly from Bogota to LA on April 3rd and 4th, with a one night layover in Miami. Then on April 4th, we fly to Auckland, New Zealand, where we will have a little over a month. New Zealand came into play when we cut Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, thus freeing up some money because of the expense of the Galapagos. We figured that there probably won’t be a time soon when we can spend a month traveling around New Zealand in a spaceship (and what is a spaceship? you may ask, well, check out the website, http://www.spaceships.tv/; it’s our mode of transportation and our “home” for a month in New Zealand).

After New Zealand, it will be off to Bangkok, Thailand, where we just found out my Mom and sister will be joining us for TWO weeks, which is really, really exciting for us.

All of this means that we definitely will not be coming home for a mid-year break, which sucks. But honestly, as much as we would have loved to come home for a week or so, it really would have been difficult to leave again and head back out on the road. And besides, next October will be here soon enough, and then we’ll be there for good.

Sorry for the length of this post, but you know me, I can be a bit long-winded at times, and it’s been a while since we’ve updated.

We both send a Happy New Year’s to everyone back home and anyone else who might be reading this. We love and miss you all, and we will no doubt be thinking of all of you at midnight tonight (8pm your time, so give us a toast around that time if you think of it ;)).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! And here’s to a healthy, wonderful, and exciting 2009!!!



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Our humble abode

Our humble abode

Full Disclosure: I haven’t been able to listen to the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” without getting misty eyed.  (OK, full disclosure: I haven’t actually made it all the way through the song, yet. I have to turn it off before the description “misty-eyed” is replaced by “blubbering mess.”)  We knew before we left on this trip that being away for the holiday season was going to be tough.  So we decided that we would choose a place to call home for the holidays–a place we could unpack our bags, get to know the neighborhood, find favorite restaurants, basically just get comfortable.

We have now been in Buenos Aires for three days, and we couldn’t be more excited about our decision. We are staying in a studio apartment in San Telmo, one of the few barrios in the city that still features a significant amount of colonial architecture. This gives the neighborhood a much more old-world feel than many other parts of the city.

Lucky for us, the inside of our apartment doesn’t continue the old-world vibe–it has a full wall of sliding glass doors that open out on to a balcony and another full wall of exposed brick, giving it a modern feel. Even more exciting for us, it has a kitchen! A kitchen that doesn’t have anyone else’s food or dirty dishes in it! A kitchen we don’t have to share with any other backpackers! A full. sized. refrigerator. One that we can put our groceries in and not have to label or hope that someone else doesn’t eat them. This is our new definition of luxury 🙂

Adam, hard at work

Adam, hard at work

Adam is back in his element and we’re having a great time experimenting with the local dishes. Behold, our attempt at empanadas (savory pastries), an Argentinian specialty:


Homemade Empanadas

More Empanadas

More Empanadas

I promise we’ve actually done more interesting things than unpack and cook, though.  We had a wonderful day on Saturday with a new friend who was just fantastic–she showed us around the town, we drank entirely too much delicious wine and ate entirely too much delicious food, had lots of laughs and learned some solidly offensive insults in Castellano (Espanol to everyone but the Argentines).  It was a great day and an amazing start to our time in Buenos Aires.

Tomorrow morning we begin Spanish lessons, so hopefully within the next few weeks, we should be able to communicate beyond our recently-acquire ability to say very unkind things about your mom.  🙂

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Iguazu Falls

We have been in Puerto Iguazu since last Saturday. The main reason for coming to Puerto Iguazu is to see the famous Iguazu Falls, which was one of the four must-sees for us on this entire trip. Instead of writing a super long description of what we did and what we saw, I’m going to upload some video we took from the Falls and plenty of pictures and let those speak for themselves. It’s really difficult to find the words to describe this monstronsity. If you have ever been to Niagara Falls in the States, this absolutely dwarfs them. It makes Niagara look like the faucet in a bathroom.

Iguazu was absolutely brilliant, so without further ado, here is a short video clip I took with our small point and shoot camera. This was taken at the “smaller” part of the Falls just to give you some kind of reference as to how HUGE these were.

And here are a bunch of pictures taken from around the same area. They had several hiking trails that took us to different vantage points for the falls. Again, these are of the “smaller” parts of the Falls.













After spending the morning and first part of the afternoon hiking around the “smaller” parts of the Falls, it was on to the most popular area after lunch,
Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). Again, the pictures and video tell the best story here. It was deafeningly loud, and to think that this was a natural phenomena was just amazing.









Obviously the Falls themselves were amazing, but the entire week was great, too.  The hostel we stayed in was fantastic.  We had air conditioning, which was a necessity since it was 90+ degrees, and a nice pool to chill out in.  We met some great people, including the wonderful owners of our hostel (Hostel Residencial Uno) and their absolutely adorable litter of seven 5-week old puppies running around everywhere.



All in all, it was a great week.

Now we are in Buenos Aires.  We just checked into the apartment that we will call home for the next month.  It is very nice to have our own place, complete with a kitchen and full refrigerator that is all ours.  It’s going to be great to settle down for a while, unpack our bags, put the backpacks away, hang our clothes up, and just feel a little normal for a while.

Our computer is also working great here, so we will be able to update often.  So until then…


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That about sums up the four nights we spent in Cafayate, Argentina last week before heading to Iguazu Falls (where we are now).

Cafayate is a small little town about three and a half hours south of Salta. We took a bus there last Monday morning, and it didn’t take long to fall in love.

There were several things that appealed to us about Cafayate, one being that it is known for its wineries. Being that it’s summer here and the weather is beautiful, we figured it would be a great time to go drink some good wine in a charming little town. We also decided to do as the locals do and rent bikes to get ourselves around to said wineries. We spent a lovely day riding around town and checking out the local wine, enjoying the free tastings, and buying bottles from the wineries for as low as five dollars. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.






Another thing that brought us to Cafayate was the Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas. This area is just north of Cafayate, and it is a series of rock formations that were formed by a river. There are several canyons, also, and these rock formations were amazing because of the multicolored sands and sediment. Again, much like some of the landscapes we saw in Bolivia, the multitude of colors was amazing.

We went on a half day jeep tour the first day we arrived in Cafayate. It left at about 2pm, and we rode in a little van/bus type hybrid, stopping and hiking at different points along the way. It was fairly relaxed, and it gave us a chance to see all the beautiful scenery.


In addition the wonderful wine and scenery in Cafayate and the surrounding area, we started to find out why Argentina is so famous for their beef. Argentines love their beef, as it is on every single menu in many different varieties.

One of the things we tried and have continued to have on an almost daily basis (much to the chagrin of our waistlines) is a lomito, which is a sandwich typically served for lunch. This sandwich starts with about an 8 inch piece of french bread, then a small, thin piece of steak, topped with cheese, then ham (they put ham on everything here), then the secret ingredient of a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and your choice of sauces, usually mayo, mustard, and hot sauce. YUMMMM!!! It is fantastic, and I can see myself eating these quite often as we are here for about three months.

We also had steak for dinner one night. I had a sirloin steak that was nearly a pound, and Megan had a filet mignon, about a half pound. I also had a liter of beer, we had an appetizer, and she had a soda, and our bill was about $22.

Yes, Argentina is going to be just fine, just fine indeed…

P.S. One more thing, since we’ve had internet again on our laptop since we’ve been in Iguazu, we’ve been able to get a bunch of pictures uploaded to our Flickr account, including all Inca Trail and Machu Picchu pictures (and a very small sampling of our trip to Iguazu Falls yesterday, which we’ll post about next), so here’s a link to our main page for the trip, and then they’re organized into countries, then cities from there. It’s pretty self-explanatory.


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Salar de Uyuni (Part 3)


The main attraction. The Salar de Uyuni. When we first started planning this trip and decided on spending a good chunk of the time in S. America, this was one of four main natural attractions we really wanted to see, along with Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls (which we are at as this is posting), and Patagonia. When US relations turned sour with Bolivia over the summer and early fall, and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to go to Bolivia, we were less than thrilled. Luckily for us, things turned around, and traveling in Bolivia proved not to be a problem, which was fantastic because we found this country to be quite magical, and the Salar de Uyuni was the perfect conclusion.

We awoke on the fourth morning only a few kilometers away, so less than a half hour into our day we saw the world’s largest salt plain, at 10,500 square kilometers, with flats made up of eleven separate layers ranging in thickness from two to twenty meters. When first driving across it, we were quite happy to be on solid, flat ground that was not bumpy. Then we looked around us. “WOW” was the preferred term of the day for our group. The vastness, brightness, and whiteness was truly awe-inspiring. Nature truly astounds me sometimes, and again, as in much of Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni didn’t disappoint (this place is so vast and white that my mother-in-law told Megan that when looking at it on Google Earth it was a huge, white, glaring section of the map, and remember, this is a picture from a satellite).




After driving for a bit, we came to the Isla del Pescado, which was formed of chalky rocks and coral. This was an island in the middle of the Salar, which was a little disconcerting at times because the flats looked like water, only there were cars driving on it, and we could walk on it. But then there was an island, and it was just bizarre, and once again, I had to question what planet I was truly on. We had the chance to hike to the top of the island, which provided some moving views yet again. The cacti that dotted the island, the morning sun, the surrounding mountains on the horizon, and the blinding whiteness of the Salar itself all added to the magnificence of the scene.







After taking it in from the island, we got the chance to have our fun. When researching the flats before we came, we always came across the same pictures. Because of the uniqueness of the Salar, people can take pictures that fool the eye, and Megan, Steve, Lisa, and I were ready to act like kids and have some fun. It was time to let loose, act silly, and goof around at a place that we would most likely never be again, and a place that was like no other on Earth. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story (all the pictures from this post show up in the gallery, but there are a bunch of the ones like the one below, so be sure to go through them all).


Even though this was not exhausting like hiking the Inca Trail, we were all pretty tired after spending four straight days in a jeep. The sheer brilliance of our surroundings was somehow taxing as well, and I was mentally spent after reflecting and thinking about everything I had just seen over this tour. We had a five hour jeep trip back to Tupiza, and we knew that we were heading to Argentina the following morning. One leg of our trip was ending, and it was a little depressing. Peru and Bolivia were quite different than Argentina, and we knew we were entering a place that, although close in proximity, would be completely different than the places we had been. Bolivia had been a country that we wanted to go to now while we were young because we knew it would be a challenge. It was the most developing of countries either of us had been to with the poverty and the difficulty of traveling. But with the prospect of leaving in our sights, we became nostalgic about our time here, wishing we could stay longer, and vowing that we would someday return.

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I don’t know how many times I said the following phrase while on our tour, “I really feel like we’re on another planet.” Now I’ve seen mountains many times over the years, in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, upstate New York, Vermont, Switzerland, and now Peru and Bolivia, but I have never seen the differing landscapes and colors that I saw over our tour of southwest Bolivia. Every corner we turned provided new landscapes, differing colored mountains, volcanoes, geysers, and even a rock that looked like a tree.

On the first day, we found ourselves describing our surroundings like the American Southwest. The rock formations were very similar to a part of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah called the Fiery Furnace (only they weren’t red).



As we went along on the tour though, the landscape changed. There were mountains, and they reminded us a bit of the Painted Desert in Arizona, only much more dramatic. All four of us found the scenery breathtaking. It was funny to hear everyone try to describe what we were seeing. The plethora of different shades of colors on each separate sandy mountain was a sight to see. Steve described it as one of those different colored sand things framed in glass. Megan described it as someone kicking several different colored cans of paint down the mountain. I described it as God taking a package of colored chalk, throwing it on the mountain, and stomping on it with his foot. All were apt descriptions. And the thing was that every mountain was different. Some had different shades of reds, oranges, and yellows, some had different shades of grays, whites, and blacks, some greens and blues. And it was all surrounded by desert, which provided a great contrast to the mountains.








While the previous pictures provided us our scenery for much of the middle two days of the tour, like I have repeatedly said, it was constantly changing. Towards the end of the second day, after we saw Laguna Verde and drove through much of the area from the above pics, we came across the Sol de Manana Geysers, which was a first for either of us. This area was 5000 meters above sea level, and we saw the power of the Earth (or at least I think it was Earth) up close. This area was intensely volcanic and the temperatures within the bubbling, steaming mud pools can reach up to 90 degrees Celsius (over 200 degrees F).



Another interesting part of our journey was the Arbol de Piedra in the Desierto de Siloli. We arrived here on our third day. The Arbol de Piedra is a tree shaped rock formation, which has been formed over the years by sand and wind driven against its sides to give it its distinctive shape. While the Arbol de Piedra was impressive itself, again, we were greeted with great views from every direction. The formation we came to see was surrounded by all different types of other rock formations, which was set in the middle of a desert, and then surrounded by differed colored mountains like the ones above.





While I was continually impressed with everything we saw over the four days, the reason we came on this tour (and the one main reason we came to Bolivia, even though we soon found out there’s so much more to this wonderful country) was the Salar de Uyuni itself. But that deserves its own post, and it will have to wait for next time.

Until then…

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No, we’re just in Bolivia.

I found myself asking this question multiple times on our four day tour through the Salar de Uyuni. First, the tour name is a little misleading as we didn’t even see the famous Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) until the morning of our fourth day. It would be more accurate to describe this as a tour of southwest Bolivia.

On this tour that brought us through a good portion of the southwestern part of the country, I was constantly astounded at the uniqueness and beauty that surrounded us. The entire country of Bolivia has been this way, but it was never more evident than in our four day jeep trip. This tour brought us through such a myriad of landscapes that the four of us (Megan and I, and Steve and Lisa, from Australia-who were fantastic traveling companions for this four day trip) found ourselves using words like “lunar” and “Mars” to describe our surroundings.

So instead of the usual chronological posts about a trip like this, I have decided to change it up a little bit. I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of everything we did from day one until day four. Instead, I’m going to break it down into three different posts intertwining all four days that I feel will accurately depict what we experienced over this four day tour: Lagoons, Landscape, and Salar de Uyuni.


On the morning of the second day of our tour, we came across the first of many lagoons that we saw over the course of the trip. This particular one was the Laguna Morejo, which was at 4855 meters.


The great thing about the lagoons was that they were all different. Every one we saw had a certain uniqueness to it, which really became the theme to the four day tour. Every corner we came around, every direction we turned, it seemed as though it was completely different. I have never experienced anything like it before. We have been fortunate to see some beautiful and unique things throughout all our travels since we have been together, but I have never been as speechless as I was during the Salar de Uyuni tour (and for those of you who know me, “speechless” usually isn’t how people describe me).

Another great thing about the lagoons was the wildlife that was abundant in them, particularly the pink flamingos. We first saw them at the first lagoon named Laguna Hedionda (there was a second lagoon of the same name on the third day). There were at least a hundred pink flamingos chilling out in the shallow lagoon, most sticking their heads underneath the water eating. We tried to be as quiet as possible approaching them so we could get some good pictures, but once they heard our presence, they all took off flying. At first we were bummed, but luckily Megan was ready with camera in hand, and she managed to get some great pictures of the flamingos flying off in unison, their reflections in the lagoon below. It was a fantastic sight to see.



(Aside: In the above pics, you will also notice clumps of salt in the lagoons. We saw salt in bits and pieces as we set out our first day, and as went along and got closer to the Salt Flats themselves, more and more clumps and piles of salt came about.)

Soon after we left Laguna Hedionda, we came across another lagoon and our first salt flat. It was kind of odd that one was called a lagoon and the other a salar, as Kollpa Laguna didn’t much look like a lagoon as it did a huge lake of salt, and Salar de Chalvari looked more like a lagoon, but hey, they didn’t ask me to name them, so I’ll try to refrain from criticism. As you can see in the pictures below, Kollpa Laguna almost looks like a frozen lake in the wintertime that has been covered in snow, but there is no snow, only salt. There were so many different colors evident in the salt as well, which created a very interesting and unique look.



The Salar de Chalvari was a stopping point, first because there was a hot spring for us to relax in, as we had been working so hard sitting in a jeep for six hours, and then for lunch. In the Salar de Chalvari pictures, you can notice the steam coming up from all around the water, and at the front of all three pics, there is a small pool, which is where we all got to hang out for about a half hour before lunch in the almost 100 degree water. It was quite relaxing.





Near where we stayed on the second night was Laguna Colorada, which is where we spent the first hour or so on the third morning. Again, flamingos were everywhere at this lagoon, and there were mountains all around, some reflecting in the lagoon. Salt was again everywhere, and some of the different minerals around us gave parts of the lagoon a reddish hue. Again, the rainbow of colors was astounding.





We were lucky enough to see many flamingos in the lagoons, but the second Laguna Hedionda provided flamingos that didn’t seem too scared of us. At one point, I was about 10 feet away from some, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. This lagoon wasn’t the most spectacular, but it did afford us the chance to get several up close and personal pics of the flamingos.




While Laguna Colorada was a great way to start the day, we saw the most spectacular of the lagoons the day before, Laguna Verde. Verde is the Spanish word for green, so we knew we were in for something out of the ordinary while driving there. When we were driving towards what we thought was Laguna Verde, we saw a lagoon that was kind of green, but it was a bit of a letdown. Then we turned the corner, and I heard my wife gasp. Like I stated earlier, turning corners became quite exciting because we knew we were most likely in for a treat every time we did so. This was no exception. We had jumped the gun, and the first lagoon we saw was not in fact Laguna Verde, because once we turned this corner, there was no doubt where we were. The rich color in the Lagoon is caused by high arsenic and magnesium content in the water (see, I told you it was like we weren’t even on Earth anymore). The pics look good, but honestly, it was much more dramatic in person. The pictures, while great, really don’t do it justice.





While the lagoons were impressive and provided some beautiful scenery for the four day tour, to me, the constantly changing landscapes and abundance of differing colors in the mountains and rock formations awed me most, but that will have to be saved for next time.

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