Archive for July, 2004

My First Milonga

Saturday, July 31st, 2004 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

So I’m here in the ‘Aires loving life.

I’m taking at least one tango class a day. As painful and humbling as starting a new dance is, after a week of classes, I went to my first Milonga (a tango party/club) last night, and I danced a few songs and I didn’t feel totally lost :). It’s a start. Now to just keep it up.

Monday I start an intensive Spanish class that will be 3/4 hours 4 days a week for the next month. I’m very excited as my spanish is already 10 times better than it was when I got to South America and I really want to become totally fluent. This is supposed to be a really good school and the month of classes is going to cost me a whopping $100US.

I love Argentina.

Good Morning Buenos Aires

Friday, July 23rd, 2004 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

I’m here

I’m finally here.

After hitchiking from Chile to Jujuy, and then taking a 23 hour bus from Jujuy (that was actually 3 buses, some with movies…when did Steven Seagall get all old and fat?) I finally arrived in Buenos Aires at 5am yesterday. I was SO ready to get here.

And it’s awesome.

This city is some weird mix of Manhattan, Paris, and London. The people are wonderful, so cariñosos, warm, passionate. I asked a bus driver if he was going to an address on my map, and actually took the map and spent two blocks figuring out where it was best for me to get off. Cab drivers, random people on the street, haircutters, everyone is so cool.

I wanted to get some sleep last night, but I wound up getting talked into going out to a neighborhood bar, 2 hours later, I was falling asleep, so I came back to the hostal (around 2?) only to find the next wave of partyers who dragged me to another club. Needless to say I got up after noon :)

And of course there’s the dancing.

I already talked to some swing dancers here, and it would take probably the end of the world to keep me from going out to a swing venue on Sunday. There are like 20 tango classes a day by different companies, and in 9 minutes, I am going to try my luck at one of them…

This city is going to eat me alive…and I’m going to love every minute of it.

La Paz

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

Wow…

What a whirlwind. Trying to do an entire country in a week makes for a crazy journey.
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The first thing they always tell you about La Paz is that as you approach it, there is nothing, only a vast plane, and then, all of a sudden, it opens up beneath you as you see a huge bowl carved into the plane and an enormous city crawling up the sides.

La Paz is like nowhere I’ve ever seen before. I didn’t do any of the touristy things there. I didn’t mountain bike down the most dangerous road in the world. And I didn’t go to the prison that is run like it’s own little city, where they have wealthy and poor, where you pay prisoners to give you tours. What I did do over the 3 days I was in La Paz was walk through the city.

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There are miles and miles and miles of markets. Stalls selling everything you could think of and many things you couldn’t. Prices are cheap unless you’re near the tourist centers, but even then, compared to the states, they’re lower than rock bottom.

The people in La Paz, Bolivians, are different again from Colombians are even Peruvians. They are harder, not quite as friendly, they live in really, really cold weather and they have a bitter side to them. Bolivia has gotten screwed by pretty much all of its neighbors at one time or another, and they don’t like any of them, especially Chile.

By chance, the last night I was there was Bolivia’s Independence Day, and the party raged all night, with tables set up just to serve alcohol and the streets, over 20 blocks of the streets clogged with Bolivians drunk and celebrating. I will say, Bolivians know how to party.
——=Trek from Uyuni

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Then took a bus down to Uyuni, for it was fair… The next stop along Bolivia’s “Gringo Trail” is Uyuni. From there you can do a 3 day trek starting with the Salares. The Salares were supposed to be amazing, and they didn’t disappoint.

At a stunning altitude of 4,000+ meters, in prehistoric times, there was a vast lake. All that remains now are the Salt Plains: freezing and vast. Bolivia harvests salt from them and of course sends truckloads of tourists through every day.

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We stopped for lunch at the Isla de Pescado, or the Island of Fish. It was amazing, though no one seemed to know where it got it’s name from. Climbing to the top of the island proved good exercise, but from the top we had stunning views of the surrounding Salar. There were also a couple pretty birds that we got to see.

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I forget the name of this lake, but we stopped here for Lunch our second day. Hundreds of hundreds of flamingos. And the lake itself was so weird lying on top of rich mineral deposits as it did. The flamingos didn’t seem to mind us, and we all got some pretty amazing pics.

And then the landscape changed, actually it had been changing, but I was struck by how much parts of it looked exactly like the desert surrounding my home city of El Paso, Texas. Granted it felt nothing like it, in the dead of winter in El Paso, there are a couple days, if that many, that come close to the biting cold of the Salares during Bolivia’s winter. But definitely the landscape with it’s small desert shrubs and sand looked like they belonged in Texas at places.

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What were out of place were the amazing rock formations. These looked more like Coral than anything else, and looked like they belonged underwater. Chances are they probably were underwater at some point. This is called the Arbol de Piedra or the Tree of Rock. You can’t tell by the pic but it’s pretty huge, easily 3 or 4 stories.

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The second night we stopped at a hostel on the side of the Laguna Colorado. A very strange lake, at this point mostly frozen over, but where there was water it was a red color, not unlike the surrounding sand. It was very strange to see birds here, but here they were. Sleeping here most definitely requires a sleeping bag in addition to all the blankets; we were at almost 5,000 meters.

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Ugh, it’s 7am and we’re supposed to be up and OUT. To see the geisers first. Wow, these are amazing, and HUGE. Easily hundreds of feet in the air. Be careful though, apparently there have been tourists that have fallen through the thin ground near the base of some of the geisers and sustained serious burns. But they are so beautiful, and only add to the feeling from yesterday of being on another planet. The landscape on all sides just seems so alien to us all.

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Finally, the last stop on our trip. The Laguna Verde. A strange lake that steams in the early morning cold. Parts of it are frozen over, parts of it are truly warm as some brave tourists strip and enter a pool at a corner of the lake that is heated naturally.

After taking some pics of the lake we are off to the frontera where we will take a minibus into San Pedro, Chile…and WARMTH
——=Wrapping it up

So San Pedro…doesn’t belong in Chile, it belongs in California, just north of Monterrey. It’s chill, laidback, and overpriced and full of tourists just like Monterrey. A backpacker coming out of Bolivia can not HOPE to afford anything at all there and I couldn’t wait to leave. Of course there are buses out of it only 2 days a week, and the next day’s were full, so it was going to be 3 days…

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Or…

…I could hitchhike.

I spent a good 17 hours in the 4×4 that’s just behind the cab. So hey, now I can say I’ve hitchhiked in my life. It was a lot less exciting than I had hoped, although, I suppose that’s a good thing. A lot of time to think, a lot of time to sleep. After a whirlwind 3 weeks getting to Buenos Aires, both of those were good things :)

Voting In Australia

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Have you ever heard of Compulsory Voting?

What about Preferential Voting?

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No? Neither had I. But I just had the most wonderfully informative conversation with an Aussie about them, and they seem like amazing ideas. I’m actually a little upset that I’d never heard about them.

Australia, ‘encourages’ everyone to vote by fining people $50 if they don’t. This is Compulsory Voting. They have a voter turn out in the high 80’s because of this. In contrast, we in the US have a turnout around 50 percent. Half our population is not representing themselves??? And which half is it? That half would include minorities, twenty something year olds, people that NEED to be represented.

Preferential Voting allows people to pick more than one choice, they get a first, second, and third choice. Australians use this to go ahead and vote for the party they really wanted elected even if they know that party is not going to win without “throwing their vote away”. This would have changed the last presidential election in the states I think. People could have voted for the Green Party and still had their votes count for Al Gore. The other thing that’s nice about this is that it let’s the big parties know if their voters start looking in other directions, so the Democrats can start going more green if 50% of their constituents are voting that way first.

Cool stuff.

Lake Titicaca

Monday, July 12th, 2004 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

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Was AMAZING.

Lake Titicaca is proported to be the highest navigateable lake in the world, and it is very very big. On the Peruvian side has 2 actual islands that you can visit, and many, many floating islands. We stayed the night in one, and visited the other real one and a couple of the floating ones.

It was so beautiful. The water reflects the sky perfectly and kind of fades into it in the distance. And while we were there, the weather was perfect. Very sunny, with a few clouds. We experienced what is I think one of the most beatiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and we got to taste a bit of the culture of its people as well.

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Puno——
My bus got into Puno a couple days ago, and I quickly found a good hostel, the Hostel Europa, and actually booked a tour of the lake and a stay at one of the islands through them for 45 soles, about 12 USD, not bad for 2 days. I then walked around for a bit and got some food. I like Puno, especially after being in Cusco for so long.

Puno lies on Lake Titicaca and is the only real choice for a base if you wanna explore the lake. It’s pretty small and while there are quite a few tourists there, it’s really easy to escape them :) They’ve got tons of markets and lots of restaurants with good Peruvian food. I also enjoyed some of the discotecas. I have to say I’ve never seen anyone line dance to a techno song before… Weird. Some salsa, and a lot of indigenous dances as well as ones that are a bit more recent but very specific to the indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia.

So anyway, I was out till 4am…
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The Uros——
…and then I was woken up at 7am to meet everyone for the boat. Ugh. But totally worth it.

After 3 hours on the boat, our first stop was one of the floating islands. Smaller than I thought they were still pretty impressive, they are built out of a plant that grows on the lake, and more is added on the top every few months as the bottom rots away
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Manzanita——
We then headed to the bigger island, where all the gringos were taking in by different families to spend the night. Very cool, we all ate homecooked food (if way too much of it) and had a good chance to talk to our families. The island itself was charming, the houses and paths were in better condition than I’ve seen anywhere yet, if a bit primitive.

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The island is about 4000 people, and their economy is agriculture, they used to sell their food, but now it is just for their own consumption. Tourism is obviously a huge source of their money now, but they’ve been amazingly smart and opted to NOT build any hotels, and instead they rotate for who gets to take in the tourists and get paid. This is awesome because it means everyone benefits from our dollars.

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Around sunset we walked up a REALLY, REALLY long path to the temple of the Pacha Mama. And the sunset…was indescribable. From the temple, the highest point of the island you could see water everywhere and a sky that was different everywhere you looked. In places fiery with the sunset, cloudy, or distant and done in pastel, with snow topped mountain far away.

I Woke Up

Saturday, July 3rd, 2004 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

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To go to the bathroom. Curves…bags sliding all over the place, pain in the butt. We must be pretty high now. I open the window in the bathroom.

Wow.

The full moon stares down through some thin clouds at a valley by the side of the road with a river at the bottom. These are the Andes. I stick my head out of the window and take a deep breath.

Wow.

I get to be here. I get to experience this. It’s so beautiful. I wish I could share it, oh wait, camera, right. I am so doing some hiking when I get to Cuzco. And when I get to Argentina…Patagonia here we come.

I’d forgotten.

That’s God out there.

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