Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Metro Cable - Medellin

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Salento/Valle de Cocoro, Colombia

I have been slacking. A lot has happened since I've written last. I left Bolivia on October 7th.  After as sleepless hell ride from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz I flew to Lima, where I had an 18 hour lay over. My goal in that 18 hours was to eat ceviche and try to see some of Lima. I failed. Peruvians don't eat ceviche past 5 so the best ceviche places were closed when I arrived around seven. Total bullshit, I know. The cab driver I paid to take me to a predetermined hostel decided to take me to different hostel named Shablul. Shabul means snail in Herbrew. Shablul has a hebrew name because it is a Jewish hostel. I figured this out when everyone in the Hostel was speaking Hebrew. They all figured out I wasn't Israeli or Jewish pretty quickly.

My one night in Peru was spent with a group of Israeli soldiers, eating shawarma, talking about Rahm Emmanual and learning Hebrew. It was an authentic Israeli/Peruvian experience. I did enjoy myself.

I arrived in Bogota on the 9th. I met a few friends from Chicago and spent three days wandering around the city. I'm not writing about Bogota yet. I'll be back there in a few weeks with my brother Bart and some other friends. 

From Bogota we went to Salento. Salento is coffee country. It is lush forest, ferns, mountains, banana trees and coffee plants. The views are spectacular. The weather is rainy but temperate.  The town itself is quite touristy but the surrounding country side is well worth the trip.
A Coffee Farm

Colombia exports the majority of its good coffee, which sucks when you are in Colombia but great when you are in the states. We did a coffee tour and learned the in's and out's of producing coffee from a 19 yr old that drinks about 20 cups a day. He must have been drinking decaf the day of our tour because he was half asleep while he guided us around the small farm. 

Sad Fact - The average cup of coffee in Colombia is pretty mediocre.

View from the Hostel. Cows and Bamboo.

Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley)/Cloud Forest
Most tourists come to Salento to visit the nearby Valle de Cocora and its cloud forest.

Hiking through the valley

Wax palm trees

Just really happy to be in the cloud forest

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lake Titicaca and the end of Bolivia

I have left Bolivia but I still have a few things I'd like to share. 

A llama trying not to get hit by our bus

My last week in Bolivia was spent in Lake Titicaca and Cochabamba. Lake Titicaca is the biggest lake in South America and sits 12,500ft above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. Highest commercially navigable lake? WTF? The birthplace of the Inca sun god wasn't enough? 

Isla del Sol

We spent one night on the Isla del Sol (The Island of the Sun).  The island is full of ancient Inca and Amayra ruins and is known as the spot where the Inca sun god was born. The island was a sacred site during Inca times and thousands of Incas made the journey from Bolivia and Peru to see visit it.

Lake Titicaca

Over 800 people live on the island. The majority of the families make their income catering to tourists needs and/or fishing. 

Ernesto "Che" Guevara statue in El Alto

 "Ernesto Che Guevara stayed here"

In Sucre we stayed in the same room "Che" stayed during his fatal visit to Bolivia in 1966. With the help of the CIA, the Bolivian army captured Che on October 7th, 1967 in southern Bolivia. The majority of his fellow guerrillas were killed as well. Che was shot on October 9th in the town of La Higuera. A Bolivian friend of mine says his hands were cut off to be sent to Washington, D.C. 
Che's Bolivian campaign faced a large number of setbacks. His predominately foreign group of guerrillas failed to recruit the Bolivians necessary to build a rebel movement, especially key leaders from Bolivia's Communist Party. Several Bolivians I spoke with, who were teenagers then, said Bolivia was too apathetic to the rebel cause when Che and his comrades arrived. Che had plans of a continental wide revolution.  

Ernesto "Che" Guevara is a polarizing figure. I've always been fascinated by the man and his impact on pop culture, which can't make him too happy.  

Fun Fact - Ernesto Guevara picked up the nickname "Che" while in Cuba. Che is a word used in Argentina to say "dude" or "man.".  After hearing Che use the word che so many times the cubans bestowed upon him the now famous nickname.        

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chola Style

Chola is the name given to women of mostly indigenous descent that have moved from the country to the city. There are Cholas in every city in Bolivia. There are Cholas in Peru and Ecuador as well.  Cholas are usually found selling snack foods, fresh squeezed orange juice and Chola Sandwiches. I've been fascinated by Chola culture since I arrived to Bolivia mainly because of the Chola outfit.  The three basics to the Chola outfit are the skirt, shawl and hat. In Cochabama the Cholas tend to wear to wide brimmed sun hats. In La Paz the Bowler hat reins supreme. A large majority of the Cholas have gold teeth.  Cholas also tend to be 5ft tall. I'm not sure as to how this early Spanish colonial dress came to dominate the fashion scene of indigenous Bolivian women but I likes it.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Mile-High-City aka Denver sits at 5,280ft (one mile) above sea-level.  As a Chicagoan I had always thought this altitude to be impressive.  La Paz sits at 12,000ft, making it the highest capital city in the world. This translates to heavy breathing, light headiness, dry skin and intense hang-overs.
I'm trying to concentrate on the altitude because I don't know what else to talk about. I don't think three days in a city is enough to justify a completely negative opinion of place, so I won't go that way.  La Paz has some rich history. Evo Morales lives and works here.  There are some great ruins near by. We found a bar that played the Bears/Packers game. I just never got into this city.  The tourists areas of La Paz were packed with 19 year old British/Australian/Irish backpackers. I'm a backpacker too, I know. I just don't like most other backpackers. I carry a knife for that reason. 
 These backpackers come here to party in between their Manchu Picchu run and their trip south to the Salar de Uyuni.  You could go your entire time in La Paz without hearing any Spanish. Our three days here were spent in ok museums, plazas and a few different (gringo and non-gringo) bars. We at some pretty mediocre food and defended America against the rants of lazy eyed Englishmen.  I'll stop whining now

La Paz is shaped like giant bowl. The key is to always be walking down. What I enjoyed most about the city were the views.  On ever corner you are given a new look at the sprawling neighborhoods that climb into the clouds.  At certain angles you can see the mammoth Mount Illimani looming over the city.

 Mt. Illimani over La Paz
(photo taken by Mark Goble via Wikipedia)

Plaza Murillo
The historical center of La Paz. The plaza is named after General Murillo, a hero from Bolivia's Independence movement. 

The Congress Building

Government Palace  
Where Evo Works
If you squint your eyes you can see that the soldiers guarding the Palace are dressed in red uniforms. Fun Fact time - The soldiers  are wearing the same uniforms that were worn during the Pacific War (1879-1884), in which Bolivia lost all of its coastal land to Chile. For Bolivians the loss remains a sore issue and political relations between the two countries are still shaky. While I found different accounts as to the why a tenth star was added to the Bolivian flag on the internets, we were told during a tour of the Casa de la Liberated that the star represented Bolivia's lost coastal territory and the desire to one day take it back. Does Chile really need more coast line? No, they just want the land because it is rich in mineral-deposits. 

The Witches Market - where you can get hippied out like everyone else! Cool bro.

The Coca Museum
Actually a very interesting museum on the history of the coca leaf.  The tiny museum gives a detailed and even handed history of the coca leaf's journey from being a traditional medicinal leaf chewed by the Incas to suppress appetite and altitude sickness to its transformation as the breakfast of choice for stock-traders (see photo above).

Wall of Bolivian Hats 
For you Mom

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Street Food in Bolivia - The Chola Sandwich

The chola sandwich (I will explain more about cholas later) is my favorite street eat in Bolivia. Roasted pork, pickled vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, mayo and hot sauce on a bun. These things are lethal, both for the stomach and the arteries.  The one I ate in Santa Cruz may have been hanging out in the sun for several hours but it was delicious. No regrets. I just wouldn't eat before getting on a long bus ride.

A chola preparing a chola sandwich

 There was no fat trimmed off this sandwich. My heart doesn't like it when I eat these.

This sandwich also came with some fried pig skin 

Roasted pork sandwiches sold from a small street stand- Its good thing

More Salar Photos

Fun Fact - The English word jerky (as in beef jerky) comes from the Quechuan word charqui (which means meat dried in the sun). In Bolivia and Peru charqui is eaten everywhere, especially llama charqui.

Laguna Hedionda

Sally (England) B (Peru) and Shola (Nigeria or America, depending on who he is talking to)

The majority of our three day trip was spent in the car. Traveling from spot to spot took anywhere from 40 minutes to 3 hours. When we weren't getting made fun of for being American or making fun of England, we would talk about the profound beauty of the passing landscape. 

The Red Lagoon
Red sediments and the pigmentation of the algae give the lagoon its red color. The white spots are clusters of borax. Most of the year the lagoon is full of flamingos that come to feed on the algae, (which makes the flamingos pink, duh!!!!).  There are not many people swimming here.

Flamingos in the Laguna Colorada
The photo was stolen form here -  Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it 

No one is swimming here either

Fish Island
Named by locals who say the island takes the shape of a fish from a distance.  Lots gigantic cacti, petrified coral rock and sun. We spent a few hours walking around the island while our guide made inappropriate comments about the shapes of various cacti.  The dictionary says you can use cacti or cactuses to pluralize cactus. I went with cacti because I like saying cacti. I think of George W. saying it in that little twang of his. Cacti. Just sounds right.

These cacti are thousands of years old

Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde or the Green Lagoon is a salt lagoon that sits at the foot of the volcano LicancaburIts colour is caused by sediments that containing copper minerals.  A pretty consistent wind stirs up the sediments.

A three day salar trip is on every backpackers to do list while in Bolivia. The three day trip is well worth the hundred dollars (very cheap), even if you have no intention of taking goofy photos of yourself . In the end you will want to swear off cars and salt for a few months but that's ok.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Salar de Uyuni

 The salt flats of Uyuni are otherworldly. Everyone says that. It is true. It doesn't feel like earth.  Shola and I talked about drugging a friend from the U.S, flying him down to Uyuni blindfolded and letting him out in the middle of the salt flats, just as people dressed up as aliens are sacrificing a llama. A good way to shake a man up. I imagine mars to look something like this. 

The Salar de Uyuni is impressive. It has been a hotspot for adventure tourism in Bolivia for years and gringos from all over the globe come to see the blindingly white salt flats, green and red colored lagoons, cactus islands and flocks of brightly colored flamingos.  They also come to take stupid photos (examples below). I had seen the photos of a few friends who visited the Salar before me and knew that taking photos of your friends sitting on wine bottles or fighting toy dinosaurs was part of the deal. I didn't know that huge chunks of time were devoted to the taking of these photos.  If you google Salar de Uyuni photos you will see thousands of photos of people in goofy poses, usually jump kicking or holding giant cigarettes to their mouths. And then there are those salt flats in the back.  I still don't know how feel about this. I've been watching to much Bourdain lately, he's making me a negative traveler. 

Click the first link to read a great article on the salt flats, lithium dreams and Bolivia under Evo Morales. Lithium Dreams - New Yorker Article

 The salts flats of Uyuni are the largest in the world, they cover a distance of  4,086 sq miles and sit 12,000 ft above sea level. 

Our tour group - Notice Jeff's mean air guitar

Jeff, Shola y Yo

We spent three day packed in a land rover driving through deserts and mountains and salt.  It was well worth the visit. Photos of the Laguna Verde/Colorado and Flamingos to come.