Location: Alton, Canada
Well for those of you still checking in - we are home and have been for about 3 weeks now. While I don't believe either of us has any regrets about our trip, we are both very happy to be home. Clean sheets and hot water have not lost there appeal, and we both have a new found love for our country and being Canadian.
Thanks for all your comments and support.
Dan and Erica
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Wanted to let you know that I just ordered a huge steak with mashed potatoes and bread while Erica enjoyed fresh cheese and herb ravioli and we split a 1/2 liter of Argentinean red wine. The bill totaled $8.08 CDN. I love this city.
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Let me preface this update by letting you know that there are two more new updates below. If you are interested in catching up, you should start at the beginning. Our apologies again for not updating sooner, but we have been busy with the home stretch of our adventure.
So, we finally made it out of Buenos Aires, although I have to admit we were settling into a bit of a groove and could have stayed longer. Since heading south proved very difficult and expensive (only first class tickets available), we decided that we would do something we seldom do - head north. We booked round trip bus transport for Puerto Iguazu, home of the world famous Iguazu Falls. We also took the liberty of taking the executive class bus for the 18 hour journey, it seems that our patience for long bus rides is growing thin.
That said, the overnight bus ride was by far the best one yet. The seats were easily equivalent to first class airline seats and the ride included blankets, pillows and two onboard meals. We were cruising in style. We arrived in Puerto Iguazu the next afternoon and spent the day relaxing by the pool (heading north = warmer weather) and hanging out at the hostel.
In order for you to fully understand what happened the next morning, I need to take you on a quick aside back to the Buenos Aires bus station
As Erica and I went to purchase our bus tickets (the day before leaving to Iguazu) I went to withdraw the necessary amount from our bank account and the machine in the bus terminal ate my card. Now, this happened on a Sunday so contacting the bank (although we tried) was out of the question. Furthermore, we have heard on numerous occasions that thieves can rig the machine to eat your card and then come back and steal it later. Needless to say, we weren't much in the mood to be robbed, and since Erica still had her bank card we decided to place a quick call back to CIBC and cancel my card. No problems there. Here's where it gets fun. After walking around for a half hour or so Erica and I finally find another ATM and she withdraws the money, but forgets HER card in the machine! In Erica's defence, the bank machine's DO work differently and do not spit out your card when finished
a situation that begs you to leave your card behind. Nevertheless, bad timing, I know. After a call to Bank of Montreal her card is now canceled and we are left with only my credit card for the remainder of the trip. Here's to hoping.
Ok, lets fast forward back to Puerto Iguazu, where we arrived with only enough cash to cover one of the two nights we had planned to stay. So, like good little travelers the first thing we did upon arriving is find the local bank - which closed for the day at 1:30pm! No problem, we can pay for one night at the hostel and get up early the next morning, head to the bank and be back before check out.
So, our second day began with me getting up early, leaving a note for Erica (still sleeping)and sneaking out of the room and into town to get our banking out of the way. Arriving at the bank I am told their system is down and rudely directed to the ATM machine, which is of no use as I don't have a PIN number for my VISA. Plan B - I locate the other bank in town, which coincidently has a massive line up. After waiting in line for about 45 minutes I reach the counter where I am again instructed to use the ATM machine. Realizing at this point that I may not make it back for check out, I flip Erica a quick email (we have wireless in the room) letting her know what's up and continue trying to access my money. I returned to the original bank and received the same cold "no hay sistema", translation; there's no system. I then headed back to the internet café and placed a call to CIBC's VISA services to try and access my PIN; they cannot give out that information over the phone I'm told, would I like it mailed out? A quick "no thank you" later and I was back at the bank pleading my case. Finally, they agreed to call and authorize the cash advance manually. Good news. But it was ten o'clock and I figured Erica would be getting worried. Well, it took them over a half hour to finish the paper work and process my card before I was handed a sheet of paper and told to get in line and see the teller for my money. No problem, except the bank again had a massive lineup.
It was nearly eleven by the time I made it back to the hostel, and almost four hours after I left. As I approached the hostel I noticed Erica sitting on the steps looking wrought with worry. She had not got my email and was terrified that I had been robbed, kidnapped, or worse. The poor girl had waited for me for 3 hours before finally asking the hostel reception for help. With no money, or passports (I had both) there was nothing she could do but wait and worry. She was literally seconds away from calling the police and my father - her breaking point was eleven o'clock. After much apologizing and explaining we sheepishly paid for our room and continued with our day.
Our afternoon was spent at the falls. They really are incredible, tons of water cascading off sheer green cliffs in a hundred different places. It is impossible to capture the whole thing in one photograph. The park's well designed tourist walkways (and boy were there tourists) allow you to navigate through the jungle and view the falls from several different vantage points. It was a long day in the sun, but a very enjoyable one.
So here we are, after another 18 hour overnight bus ride, back in Buenos Aires. With four nights booked in town we have a number of things we want to see. From the popular tango shows to the even more popular Boca Juniors futbol team, it will be a busy few days.
Dan and Erica
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Hello from Buenos Aires,
Well, it's been a little while since our last update and I wish we had a better excuse other than the fact we have been enjoying life in Buenos Aires and nothing much eventful has happened. Here goes
Our trip out of Bolivia consisted of a short flight within Bolivia and a connection to Buenos Aires. All very easy, except that there was a five hour wait between the two flights in the tiny Santa Cruz airport - this made for a very long day.
Arriving in Buenos Aires that evening we were almost instantly relieved. The airport and the city were distinctly modern, and unlike anything we had seen outside of the United States. The only hiccup of the whole trip came as our cab driver misheard which hotel we asked for and took us somewhere completely different. Some grumbling from the driver and a denied tip request later and we were checked in and ready for the city.
Our days in Buenos Aires have been spent wandering from café to café and shop to shop enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city. We have also made several visits to travel agents trying to arrange a flight down to the Patagonia region and Tierra del Fuego, but so far our efforts have been fruitless. It seems that the combination of Easter and Aerolinas Argentinas being the only airline flying south of Buenos Aires has created a major ticket shortage.
No worries though, there is lots for us to do here. Beside roaming the streets, there are a number of neighborhoods we haven't yet visited, not to mention the museums, football matches and live music venues. We won't be bored.
Until next time,
Dan and Erica
Location: La Paz, Bolivia
Hello from Bolivia,
I think it is safe to say that Erica and I are feeling a little better about things these days. The sting of the robbery is nearly gone and we have begun to turn our attention towards enjoying the homestretch of our trip. Tomorrow we fly south to Buenos Aires, thus entering Argentina and the final country of our journey (we may pass through some of Chile in a week or so, but I would hardly consider it a visit). More on that in a moment.
Erica and I arrived in Bolivia (Copacabana) slightly ill and very under-slept, neither of us were in the mood to do much of anything. Our two nights in town were spent mainly resting and roaming the quiet streets. The town itself, nestled in a valley on the shores of Lake Titicaca (the world's highest navigable lake - 3800m), isn't spectacular but does have a nice quietness to it. The town's primary tourist attraction is an Inca site located on nearby Isla de le Sol (Island of the Sun) which is an hour's boat ride away. Although we had both planned on visiting the island, upon viewing pictures of the scenery and taking stock of our health, we decided to pass. We had seen plenty of Inca sites in Peru and neither of us were feeling up to another day on the tourist circuit.
We left Copacabana after our second day and took a 'tourismo' bus bound for La Paz; Bolivia's defacto capital, famed as being the world's highest capital at 3600m. The drive around the Lake between Copacabana and La Paz offered some amazing views of the lake's clear blue water. Much to our surprise the route even included a lake crossing where everyone gets out, the bus drives on a barge, the tourists load into a boat, and everyone zips across the lake, watching our bus float along beside us. I don't think either of us saw that coming.
Pulling into La Paz we were not terribly impressed. The road in to the city passes through a large hilltop barrio (El Alto) which is rife with poverty and incredibly disheveled. Down further in the valley, the city itself is slightly older and more run-down than most other South American cities we have visited. In fact, I would say it more resembles some of the Central American cities we visited. And the people, well, they're everywhere. I can't recall being in a city more choked with people. It's not all bad though, in fact, I think it grew on us with everyday we spent here. Sure, it's busy, crowded and isn't as aesthetically pleasing as say Lima or Medellin, but the food is cheap and delicious and it actually seems a little more laid back than some of the other cities we've been to.
Did I mention it was cheap? Erica with her sights on home, has picked up 27 DVD's in four different trips to the pedestrian market since we have got here. The DVD's run for 10 Bolivianos, or about $1.40CDN each. What a deal.
I, on the other hand, had a different plan. Just outside of La Paz sits 64 kilometers of twisting descending mountain road. A of number tour companies run mountain bike excursions down it everyday (participate at your own risk). Known as the World's Most Dangerous Road, the one lane, two way, road owes its famous name to the absurd number of traffic accidents on the route every year. According to our guide an average of 35 trucks per year go off the road and down the sheer cliffs, adding to a recorded average of 100 deaths annually.
The day started with a quick ride out of town to the beginning of the road. At the 4700m (or over 14,000 feet) the beginning of the ride was cold and windy. The first 25km on pavement provided a nice warm up, figuratively and literally, and after a quick break the mountain passes began. The remainder of the ride entailed a 3700m vertical descent through rainforest and jungle and was incident free (for me at least, one poor girl did a face plant putting her tooth for her lip, but made it out ok). In all, the ride sounded a lot more difficult than it was; the gravel road was in good shape and the tour company kept the pace slow. At the end of the day it was an enjoyable ride with spectacular views.
The following day, our last in Bolivia, was filled with wandering the streets of La Paz enjoying the less crowded Sunday streets. After one last minute stop for the last of the DVD purchases and it was early to bed, we had an 8:30 flight the next morning.
Buenos Aires mañana!
Dan and Erica
Location: Copacabana, Bolivia
We've arrived in Bolivia, but the transition from Peru was anything but pleasant. For a change, I, instead of Dan am writing this update―because, unfortunately, as the next few paragraphs will account, it was me who was the victim in the last 24hrs' goings on. To put it briefly, I was robbed
again. This time, the third time, has left a bitter taste in both our mouths and has quite possibly pushed us closer to home and closer to moving up our departure date. Here's the story.
For our last Peruvian night, we boarded a bus at 10pm headed for Puno, the closest town to the Bolivian border and where we were meant to change buses to another that would take us to Copacabana―home to the famous Lake Titicaca and our first destination in Bolivia. The ride went off without a hitch, until I awoke to the bus pulling into Puno's station and discovered that my backpack had disappeared. Dan and I had both fallen asleep with our big packs in cargo and our small packs placed carefully under our feet, but now mine was gone. Frantically, I woke up Dan, took a quick look around and immediately knew what had happened: it was stolen. I ran out of the bus looking for someone, anyone, in charge. To my surprise, no one cared. The security guard listened dopily to my story and replied only with "es una problema," and then did absolutely nothing. Eventually, we were led by some locals to a small police station, but at 5:30am no one answered our knocking on the door. Later some fellow riders informed us that the bus driver had let on some passersby without tickets, for a small profit of course, one of which slept on the floor directly behind my seat and, after snatching my bag, had got off at the last stop 20 minutes earlier. The fight was over as we soon realized that nobody was able (or willing) to do anything about the theft.
What was stolen was nothing incredibly important, since Dan carries our documents, money and passports. But in my bag was my iPod (sorry Mom), our South American guidebook, a great alpaca sweater I had bought in Peru and (ironically enough) a book I was 200 pages into entitled Humanity, A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. With any luck, a sliver of guilt might pass through my bag's new owner when we pulls that book out from my belongings
but I doubt it. Perhaps with good reason, in most all places down here the moral code resembles more a dying tradition, if it exists at all.
Apart from the loss of backpack, which passed fairly quickly (everything stolen is replaceable after all, though not with my current finances), what's most disappointing is the feeling of being cheated. I've spent five years in university studying the politics of poverty and social justice making a concerted effort in trying to understand development in these countries and how to improve their quality of life. Our trip was a short hiatus in these studies before going on to make a career in the same field. But, at the time of writing, my passion to pursue these ends has greatly diminished.
As anyone who has traveled in Latin America will tell you, it takes a thick skin to explore this area of the world. The people here can be very aggressive and conniving and will attempt at every opportunity to profit from your innocence. We have lived amongst this for over six months working hard to see the good―in the people, their culture, their world. And because the countries in Latin America are beautiful, fascinating, and full of wonder it has been more than worth it. Recent experiences, however, have begun to wear on our spirit. After being robbed three times and cheated at every corner, to be honest, we've nearly run out of patience. Dan and I both left behind our lives in Canada and have spent a great deal of time, money and effort exploring and appreciating these very different cultures. We traveled to Latin America looking to understand the world from an alternate perspective and to be visitors, immersing ourselves in these strange and foreign places. And though beautiful, sadly, they've not always lived up to expectations.
Despite our waning spirit, we will try and maintain some level of respect and appreciation for the way of life down here. We can only hope that, by some stroke of luck, that our opinions will somehow be changed for the better in the short time we have left.
In travel as in life there are good days and bad. Today was one of the worst. Losing faith in a culture is not an easy thing to grasp. I think it is safe to say that we are seriously considering accelerating our pace through the remainder of South America as our patience and enthusiasm has taken a major blow today. We'll keep you posted.
All our best,
Erica and Dan