The Wild, Wild West (of Bolivia)

After helpful Spanish lessons, feeling like locals in Sucre, and a quick stop in Potosi, it was time to make our way to Tupiza. This is where we were going to organize our tour of South Western Bolivia, which of course included a visit to the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat, and Bolivia’s most famous tourist destination).

Prior to our tour we had a some time to hang out in Tupiza and explore the area. The city is a pretty tranquil town, and the surrounding mountains were breathtaking and made us feel a bit like we were at home. Also, if you like mediocre pizza, you’ll love that every restaurant here seems to offer their own version.

At the mirador overlooking Tupiza.

There are two big tourist draws to Tupiza:

1. Go horseback riding through the canyons.

2. Book a tour through the Southwest Circuit and to the Salar.

We did both.

Now, at one point in our adventures, we said this would be the last horse ride, but when it only costs five dollars five per hour, how could we refuse?

We walked to the farm where we would embark on our horse ride and we met our unassuming guide. He was around 15, sported floppy hair, converse, and tight jeans, not of the Wrangler variety.  We were especially impressed with his ability to wear skinny jeans and yet still have them sagging a little too low.  He was not what you would normally consider “a cowboy,” but he seemed more than proficient in readying the horses.

We suited up, mounted the horses, and were off. Every now and then, our horses would get excited and take off running for a bit. It was thrilling to race through the canyons on the back of a galloping horse.

This area of Bolivia looks very similar to Utah or the Grand Canyon in The States. The surrounding hills are deep red and the landscape, while barren, is striking.

Canyon Land - You got to be tough tree to make it around here.

Kristen and her trusty steed.

Dry riverbed and great hills.

We rode into two different canyons and each time, we left the horses to explore deeper on foot.  It was nice to give our legs and backsides a break from the saddle, while we hiked the canyons.

Kris riding through, like the horse riding pro she is.

The water has cut its way through the canyons and has left some really cool rock formations, with plenty of places to explore in between.

Joe feeling extra short.

Not quite as fragile looking as the Delicate Arch.

Oh red rocks, you remind me of home.

This area is near where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were killed after a raid, so Joe was looking everywhere for lost treasure. (We need to find something to keep paying for this adventure.) No luck. Guess he’ll just have to go back to work at some point.

Will we fit through there?

We made it back to town just as huge and dark clouds rolled in, and luckily, we weren’t quite as sore as we were after our ride in Colombia.

Now, on to the start of the Southwest Tour (which ended up being one of our favorite things in Bolivia)!

First, we were told by many people (and travel guides) to start our tour from Tupiza and not from Uyuni for a few reasons.

– It’s best to have the last day be at the salt flats, as opposed to the first day – True

– Tupiza is a better city than Uyuni – Very True

– You don’t feel like cattle (as much) when going on the trip – True

– There are actually things to do in Tupiza as compared to Uyuni – True

– You get an extra day on the tour to see lesser known sites – True

– The tours are of better quality – True to our knowledge

If you are in a major time crunch, Uyuni will work in getting you to the salt flats, just be prepared for hundreds of tour operators offering the same (and seemingly mediocre) service.  Tupiza only has a few tour operators, and most have better reputations, which leads to fewer headaches when booking a trip.

From Tupiza we were able to organize a 4-day trip, leaving from Tupiza and ending in Uyuini.  Along the way, we would passed some breathtaking vistas and at times felt so far removed from everything.

The entire trip was done in a Toyota Land Cruiser which carried extra fuel, a pick axe and shovel (luckily, we never needed the pick axe or shovel), and good 4×4 (a MUST for driving in the wet season!). All these precautions were necessary because we traveled around 12 hours per day on rough, muddy roads, and climbed mountain passes at altitudes greater than 16,000 feet.

We are ready to roll.

Our tour group consisted of the two of us, two girls from Argentina, the cook (Naomi) and the driver/guide (Segundino). Our guide was great, and he was always safe and attentive to our needs. Our needs mostly consisted of pulling over to stop so we could take yet another picture. He never took any chances, and was always tinkering with the car whenever we stopped. He was quick to spot wildlife, and seemed amused by us and the scenery. At no point did this Bolivian guide pop any adult beverages, unlike someone else we all know and love.

As we climbed out of Tupiza in the Land Cruiser, we were treated to some amazing canyon views.

Canyon view

View of Sillar: So all we have to do is cross that?

Joe, Kris, and the Cactus - Like how Joe positioned himself to be taller?

Joe jumping at Paso del Diablo - We will talk about the broken leg later.

Our first day on the tour was fairly straight forward with just a few lookouts along the drive. The amazing part was that it seemed like were in the middle of nowhere; we didn’t even have cell phone service!

View from San Antonio de Lipez, where we spent the night.

The accommodations along the trip were basic at best, but they suited our needs. All of us  shared a room and dined together.

Typical accommodations

Typical accommodations.

Also, the food was pretty good on our trip, even if our cook was very sick the first day.

Our second day started off very early (4:30am), as we had a great distance to cover, and the “road” was in rough condition because of the previous night’s rain.

Shortly after the sun came up, we stopped at Ruinas de San Antonio, a ghost town. This town was built around the 1600’s when the area was very wealthy from nearby mining, but there are conflicting reasons about why it was abandoned.

The old church

Deserted town in the clouds

This was an eerie place with all the old ruins, and we were the only ones there to explore them. Some resourceful animals have moved in to the area, and now call the town home.

Viscacha, the new town rodent, I mean, resident.

Are those really parakeets? We are at like 16,000 feet and it is freezing

Are those really parakeets? Not a bird you expect to see at 16,000 feet and freezing.

After this pit stop, we headed to one of the highest stops on our trip.  There was a nice view of a lagoon in the distance that was stuffed full of flamingos.  Unfortunately we did not get close enough to take pictures of these birds.

Kris trying to stay warm at 4,855 meters above the sea.

We descended from the high altitude we headed into another beautiful valley.  Again, this reminded us of the Grand Canyon, but had its own unique beauty.

More canyons

Kristen was VERY excited about the huge number of baby Llamas we saw. This is the time of year that the Llamas are giving birth, and Kristen was more than happy to take a lot of pictures of these cute little guys.

Brand new and already best of friends. Try to hold back the awwws.

We even found a baby llama, which our guide said was only a day or two old.

Okay, it is fine to awww here.

We have many more pictures of these adorable guys as it is impossible for Kristen to resist so much cuteness.

So far, the Southwest has been a blast to explore. With all this open space, it was initially hard to believe that this is a major tourist destination.

Lonely road

There is still much more to come from this tour, including thousands of flamingos, bumpy roads, beautiful lagoons, and the world-famous Salar de Uyuni.

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Spanish in Sucre and Feeling High in Potosi

Even though we had already spent more time in Bolivia than we had anticipated, we decided to spend a week in Sucre and take more Spanish classes. We both felt that we had improved quite a bit since our first class in Otavalo, so this time, we wanted to focus more on our conversational skills, which are still quite halting at best.

Shhhh, I am practicing my Spanish! (Crazy phone booth in Sucre)

We had gotten a recommendation for a nonprofit Spanish school and a great hostel (Thanks awesome family from New Zealand!), so we set ourselves up to spend some time learning, volunteering, and exploring.

We attended Fenix Spanish School, and we would both would highly recommend it. We took four hours of classes everyday and we loved our teachers (Tatiana and Grover). They were patient, funny, and did a great job of individualizing lessons for us. Each day, the four hours just flew by (at least they did for Kristen as she could easily spend all day learning new words and conjugations).

The entire staff was very welcoming and friendly. One of the other teachers led a cooking class one night. We practiced conversing in Spanish (and tried to sneak in a little English) while learning to cook quinoa with meat and veggies. Kristen got the unfortunate task of chopping about 20 onions. Her Spanish practice was definitely limited as she had to fight back the tears, but the meal turned out to be delicious!

We also wanted to volunteer in a local school, but due to the fact a lot of people were on vacation, this was a bit trickier to coordinate. Finally on Wednesday, we were taken to a hospital which has a special wing for pre-teens and teens with special needs. For three days, we spent the mornings hanging out with the kids there.

On Friday, our last day with the kids, we were told that we were going on a field trip. This instantly filled Kristen with nerves, because as a teacher, she knows that field trips are not as much fun for the adults as they are for the kids. We were told we were going to visit a farm, and we combined with the group of younger students and piled in to a bus that was probably not meant to hold that many people.

Imagine our surprise when we pulled in to a military base. We weren’t exactly sure how we had messed up that translation so much, but were redeemed when we saw that this base did actually have a farm that we visited. Well, if you count one sheep, 5 pigs, 3 rabbits, and some lettuce as a farm. We walked around the base with the kids and they highlight came when the military band began to play and many of the kids started dancing. It was a blast.

At times working with the kids was a bit hectic, but we settled in nicely and enjoyed the week. At the end of our week there, we both wished we could have spent more time with the kids. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to return on day.

On our last evening in Sucre, the teachers invited us to come play Wally/Wallyball, a Bolivian version of volleyball. In this version, it is played on a racquetball court, and you play off the walls and roof, and can use your hands, feet, head, or whatever to play. It’s easy to learn, quite the workout, and actually a ton of fun to play. (Google it if you’re interested in seeing it in action.)

This is probably the most fun Kristen has ever had playing a group sport. Why? Because she could hit the ball any which way she wanted and didn’t have to worry about it flying way out-of-bounds. Even with her minimal skills, as long as she prevented it from hitting the ground, one of the better members of her team could make it in to a workable play.

Once, she wasn’t paying enough attention and the serve hit her smack in the face! Luckily, two of her local teammates were quick to respond and get it over the net.

We are totally bringing this sport to Colorado! You can see the other players are expecting a great serve from Kristen.

The two hours went by in a crazy fury, and we were exhausted and sweaty at the end of it, but it was an absolute blast.

While spending so much time in Sucre we started to feel a little like locals.  We were able to find some amazing meals while we were there, and we enjoyed the nice architecture that is found around the city.

Picque Macho, a uniquely Bolivian meat dish.

Amazing Chorizo Meal.

A little known fact is that Sucre is actually the capital of Bolivia (not La Paz like most people assume).  Unfortunately for Sucre, all the country’s administration offices and the Presidential Palace have been moved to La Paz, causing a little tension between the two cities.  Regardless, the city has a lot of personality along with nice old buildings and churches.

Sunset over Sucre.

Old Government Building.

Church- Continuing the theme of "White Buildings."

As with any nice city in South America, there is a great town square.  This town square always seamed to be busy with people enjoying the shade on park benches.  You need to be careful this time of year however, as the kids like to keep water balloons at the ready to celebrate the arrival of Carnival. (FYI: Nailing a Gringo with a water balloon is worth double bonus points, but luckily, we made it out without getting wet.)

Hitching a Ride in the Square... Not quite as high (or scary) as the ones in London.

The place to hang out.

This town had several nice parks and even one with a Eiffel Tower replica.  Our Spanish teachers told us that a man built this park for his wife in the early 1900’s, because she loved Paris so much.

Just a little shorter than the real thing.

Not quite as grand as the one in Paris...

We were lucky enough (at least Kristen thinks so) to see a dance performance next to the plaza.  Actually, it looked more like they were shooting a commercial, and it was entertaining to watch them do take after take with camera men running around.

The girls.

The guys.

Not to be out done by these dancers, on another day, we stumbled upon a parade.  They were all dressed in local garb, and singing and dancing, but the funniest thing is that most of them also had a beer in hand to fuel them for the long walk.

Notice the Paceña beer.

Like most parades in South America, we were not sure what it was for, but it was fun to watch.

Beautiful dresses - Get down with your bad self!

Even the guys were into it.

We could have easily stayed in Sucre for years, and we will surly return one day, but the salt flats were calling our names, so we continued on.

On our way to Tupiza, we stopped in Potosi for a few days to take in the history and eat some soup.

Potosi is the highest city in the world at 13,418 feet.  Now for you fact checkers out there, there are communities/towns higher, but they are not actually cities. Another grand claim based on pure semantics, but we’ll take it.  Regardless of its ranking, one thing is for sure, you will be struggling for your breath the entire time you’re here.

This area also has a rich, but dark, history with silver mining.  At one point in time, Potosi was one of the largest cities in the world and produced more silver than anywhere else.  The mines have terribly poor work conditions, and their 300 year history, some 3 million slave workers have perished here.  There are tours you can take of the working mines, but we opted not to breathe in the toxic fumes.

The famous silver mine mountain.

Because this has historically been such a wealthy city, Potosi has an insane number of churches. For a city of 160,000 people, 86 churches seems a bit excessive.  There appears to be one on every corner, and they all are works of art.

Main church and town square.

Beautiful door of another church. Most of the churches had intricate designs like this. Incredible.

Potosi is also known for a delicious soup called kala purca.  The soup alone is worth the trip because it is so tasty with its thick broth, bits of meat, and great vegetables.  It is also  famous because before they serve it to you, they drop a hot lava rock in to the bowl, causing it to steam up like a volcano.

Yum.

The lava rock was successful at keeping the soup nice and hot, and if you weren’t careful, it was also effective at removing the first three layers of skin from your mouth.

Potosi was a good short pit stop on our trip to Tupiza, but it was nice to leave and head down to somewhere where it was a little easier to breathe.

On to Tupiza and the start of our four-day trip to Bolivia’s star attraction, Salar de Uyuni.

Posted in Bolivia | 6 Comments

Bolivia’s Beer and More…

Bolivia has not exactly been the beer lover’s retreat, probably because there are only a few national brands. But one good thing about getting further south on the continent is that the wine is starting to get cheaper, better, and more available.

Depending on which region you are in, the beer popularity changes. There is one major brand in Bolivia, but they make two beers, Paceña, which seems to be popular in North/Eastern Bolivia, and Huari which is more popular in Southern Bolivia.

Peceña and (one of) Joe's favorite hot sauces from home. He almost couldn't decide which one to drink.

Huari Beer

Each of these beers are nearly the same, but some people claim that the Huari is the better of the two. Either way it is yet another beer you would want to drink cold on a hot day.

While in the Amazon, they had the most interesting way of serving the beers to ensure that they stayed cold.

Two Cold Beers... Just the way we like them!

It was so hot and muggy in the Amazon that the beers would literally sweat just as much as we did and lose all their coolness rapidly. We found that the only way to combat this was to drink them quickly (and order another).  But keep in mind that this was all done in the quest to keep the beers at the proper temperature.

Now being budget travelers, and generally cheap, we would also spring for the cheapest wine on the rack, usually around $2-$3 bucks a bottle of Bolivian wine. Now there are some outstanding wines from Chile and Argentina, but we were won over by the much lower price point of the Bolivian wine. OK, so it wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but it did offer a nice relief from the beer.

Introducing: Teresa the Human Bottle Opener!

What Bolivia might lack in interesting and cool beverages, they made up for with tasty street snacks and desserts.  While Teresa was visiting, it was not too uncommon to share a bottle of wine and a few slices of cake.  It was the perfect answer to the lunch call.

Cake and Wine... a lovely combination!

Don’t worry Tee! We carried on this tradition after you left.

Tee with a fine glass of wine, good cake, and a hammock. It doesn't get much better than this!

Bolivia had an amazing selection of cakes at almost every corner store. Now that we are reflecting on all the treats that we consumed over the last two months, I have decided to only included one more picture to avoid feeling too bad about ourselves.

This was seriously our dinner one night.

There also is no shortage of fresh juice joints to get your vitamins, but don’t worry, you can add a sugary treat to counter balance all that nutritional goodness.

Juice and a churro, what could be better?!

If you ever find yourself craving a tasty snack, and you are in Bolivia, just head to the closest local market and you will be guaranteed to find something amazing. I can count how many times we were blown away with the quality and quantity of food you can get for just a few bucks. The chorizo is my favorite, and it would come in a small sandwich with fresh toppings, and cost less than a buck.

Notice that she is giving me that "You want another one?" look...

Bolivia has a national cheapy brand, similar to Costco’s Kirkland, Safeway’s store brand, and it is called KRIS. Kris was more than excited that her name was well represented, as normally it is only Joe who finds his name everywhere. There was even a whole KRIS store, and they even had her favorite, KRIS ketchup.

KRIS Products

Now for my biggest drink mistake in Bolivia. Originally, I thought I was buying a premixed rum and cola (who wouldn’t love that?), but this drink turned out to be coke colored rubbing alcohol and the bottle was mislabeled. Crazy Bolivia.

DANGER!!!! Use with extreme caution...

This small bottle was hard to stomach, it’s hard to imagine that they sell two liter bottles of it. If you find yourself with this product in your procession, I would suggest not drinking it, but you could pour it on any open wound, and you will be guaranteed to be free of infections.

What Bolivia lacks in beer, it more than makes up for with cheap wine, good snacks, incredible desserts, and entertaining people.   Bolivia has been one of our favorite stops on our adventure around South America, just don’t expect any of the beer (or “Cuba Libres”) to knock your socks off.

Posted in Bolivia, Joe's Chips and Beer | 1 Comment

Toucans, and Condors, and Monkeys, Oh My!

After our amazing experience in Torotoro, we took a 15 hour-long bus ride (not quite as much fun) to Bolivia’s largest city, Santa Cruz.  We only made a quick stop in Santa Cruz, prior to heading to Samaipata, but were still able to tour around the city.

Santa Cruz is located in Eastern Bolivia, and is another great for jumping off point to explore The Amazon.  It is also a great place to get more sweaty than you ever imagined could be possible.  It was just as hot as Cartagena, our first stop on our this adventure, but Santa Cruz was missing that refreshing ocean breeze.

Santa Cruz has a huge town square, and the whole town comes out to enjoy it when the sun goes down.  We visited this place during the day once and it was an absolute ghost town.  Guess all the locals know it is better to swing in a hammock in the shade during the heat of the day, instead of wandering around the sweltering city.  Maybe one day we will learn this also.

Santa Cruz's main square. This place was packed when the sun went down.

The hostel we stayed at had a resident toucan “guarding” the premises.  This guy was a riot as he would hop around the hostel and entertain the guests.

Simon with his amazing blue eyes.

He would love to sit on your arm and lightly chew on you. Honestly, it was the stories we had heard about his adorableness that brought us to this hotel in the first place.

Joe like to call him Sam, after the Fruit Loops' Toucan.

His beak was absolutely amazing- it was as light as cardboard, not quite as heavy and thick as we had imagined.  He would often click his tongue against his beak to get your attention as he cruised the grounds.

Kris with Simon

We could have stayed for weeks playing with Simon, but not wanting to melt in the heat, we made an escape to the small town of Samaipata, about 2 hours away.  Samaipata is also located about 4,000 feet up a mountain, so the weather was perfect- warm (but not sweltering) in the day, and cool at night.

We originally were going to cut this area out, but Sarah and Luis (who we met in Torotoro) highly recommend Samaipata, if only for the breakfast at the hostel, La Posada del Sol.  Bolivia is not know for its wonderful breakfasts, but our hostel was run by a Texan who knew how to make a great breakfast (and pretty decent Mexican food).  He also somehow managed to get cheddar cheese, something we had not seen much of in over 5 months.  Joe might have even bene quoted as saying, “The cheese alone has made coming to Samaipata worthwhile.”

Besides enjoying the wonderful weather and food, we visited an animal rescue, saw another Incan site, and hiked to a condor viewpoint.

The “zoo” (actually an animal rescue) was a lot of fun because they took in all sorts of animals which have either been abandoned or injured.  It is all run by volunteers who try their best to educate the visitors and keep Simon, the resident spider monkey, out of trouble.

The little trouble maker, Simon

This wild pig found Joe and decided he would make a good itching post, or maybe he just liked Joe’s smell.

Joe and his stinky new friend. (Pay no attention to those fake tattoos.)

As with most animal rescues in South America, this one had a lot of very entertaining monkeys.

Joe thought this old guy looked like Elvis.

There were two howler monkeys here as well.  If you have ever heard how loud these guys can howl, you would imagine it was coming from something the size of a gorilla.

This guy didn't want to be out staged by Kristen and her constant chatter.

Having a Howler yell in your ear was an experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and might be an experience you want ear plugs for.

Later they made up and it was all cuddle time.

Can I take him home?

Joe even got a little time with Kristen’s new best friend.

Two pals - Notice the tail choker hold!

The other Howler was a cute juvenile, who mostly kept to himself. He did occasionally join in on the howling, but for the most part, he kept his distance.

Baby Howler

Simon, a Spider monkey at the rescue, took on many different roles, and when he was not making trouble (trapping other monkeys in the hammock rocking them back and forth), he sometimes gave rides to the smaller monkeys.

Simon and his little buddy. (This was after torturing him in the hammock.)

Usually different types of monkeys don’t socialize in the wild, so it was interesting to see them interact with each other in this unique environment.

The rescue was full of many other amazing animals like ocelots, jungle rodents, and many birds, but they were not as willing to be photographed.

Macaw doing some cleaning.

We could have come back every day to hang out, but there was more to see in Samaipata.

The next day we went to El Fuerte, another Incan site.  The actual use of this site is unknown, but the ideas vary from gold washing center, to space ship landing strip, to religious ritual site. We were undecided which theory we liked best, but the area proved to be a decent visit.

El Fuerte - Joe like the space ship landing idea best.

The whole site was carved into this rock, and is supposedly the “world’s largest carved rock.”

Kris and the carved rock

This was not the most impressive site we have ever visited, but was interesting enough to walk around and check it out.

Our final adventure in this area was a hike to a condor viewpoint.  In Peru, we did a “hike” in The Colca Canyon to see condors, but they were just small dots in the distance.  This area boasted that it was the best viewing point of condors in South America, so we decided that we couldn’t miss it.

It turns out they were correct, as this viewpoint and the condors were both outstanding.

Viewpoint

We had to hike up the mountain for about two hours before reaching the top, and of course, Kristen found the only muddy spot on the entire hike.

Ahh, don't worry I am sure that will come right out.

Our guide, Santiago, was great in spotting the condors as they came into view.  Some would fly by quickly, while others would spend some time floating in the thermal directly in front of us.

Condor cruising by.

We got great views from below them, as well as from above.

Riding the thermals.

You are clear for a fly by.

These birds were so huge you could see them for seemingly miles as they flew away. They also could fly so high that they should have to check in with flight control.

Two condors up high.

As if the condors were not enough, the view from the lookout was beautiful in its own way. This turned out to be a great place spend a few hours and enjoy some more of the amazing things Bolivia has to offer.

Joe enjoying the view and cool breeze.

Samaipata was a great stop on our adventure in South America and is highly recommended, and not just for the breakfast.  The views and the weather make it a great place to spend some time, or possible move to in the future.

Posted in Bolivia | 4 Comments

Torotoro: Take Three

On our final day in Torotoro we went out for another amazing hike in a different canyon. This one was not as deep or as vast as the first one we visited, but it was just as spectacular. Our time here was growing shorter and shorter, and we dreaded leaving, but this was a nice way to end our time in Torotoro.

On this hike we ascended to the top of a waterfall (located half-way up the canyon), explored the canyon below, and viewed some cliff drawings. This waterfall is fed from an underground river, like the one visited previously, but during the dry season it is possible to explore a small cave at the mouth of the waterfall.

Great Canyon

Joe enjoying the canyon

The canyon was beautiful, and getting to the waterfall was a lot of fun, and a bit adventurous. Once we got close to the falls, we had to do some tricky footwork along a cliff face for the last few feet. There were no ropes this time (although we all agreed it would have been helpful), and yet again, Victor was waiting half way down the steep incline to catch us if we fell. Victor was very brave standing by to save us, we just wondered how effective he would have been. Chivalry is not dead in Bolivia.

Kristen climbing

Joe looking real serious

Being on top of the waterfall was great as it had spectacular views of the canyon below and the falls itself. Erosion has made interesting little holes for you to put your feet in and enjoy the cool water.

Kristen cooling off her feet

Joe getting close to the edge in a hole

At one point, Kristen slipped and fell into a hole (go figure). But don’t worry, she was okay.

Okay so she didn´t fall, but I am not sure what she is looking for

We all enjoyed our time up here taking in the view, but we all secretly worried a little bit about the climb back out. It always seems like going up is easier than going down. Kristen dazzled us with some fancy footwork and even had time for a quick picture.

Smile for the camera

From the waterfall, we hiked down into the canyon for more great scenery and to the find the cave paintings. We walked along a gorgeous river and over many boulders.

Joe needed Kristen´s help to get back up.

With so many natural pools and slides, it was hard to resist jumping in for a swim, but the water was a little too cold and churned up from all the recent rain. If we had more time in Torotoro, it would be a great place to hang out, swim, and enjoy the amazing surroundings. Guess we are just going to have to come back.

Natural waterslide

Great swimming hole

Our trusty guide Victor always with his bag of tricks

After boulder hopping, avoiding quicksand-like mud (El Fango), and passing a snake (Sorry, Cindy no pictures included), we arrived at the cave drawings. There are a few different locations of drawings in the Torotoro area, but this was the best one we visited. They seemed to depict mountains, some other natural elements, and a few of their gods.

Rock paintings

Our hike ended in the big city of Torotoro, where we visited one of the weirdest museums ever.

Big city of Torotoro

Church in Torotoro

We went in expecting a museum. Instead we found a house decorated with every type of fossil or weird rock the owner could get his hands on (and here we were so concerned with not taking any). This museum was painstakingly built by this enthusiastic man for over 30 years.

Dinos made out of rocks - Who has this kind of time?

He must have spent a ton of time scouring the local area looking for the perfect rocks.  He had covered all the room walls of his house with all these rocks, making it strangely beautiful.

More interesting decorations

He gave us a tour of the “museum,” but instead of telling us the names of the rocks or fossils, he just told us what they looked like to him.

He was also very excited about his pet dinosaur which he would put on your shoulder and insist you take a picture.

Don´t worry, it is not a real dinosaur!

To top it all off, he had his granddaughter and granddaughter’s friend do a traditional dance for us. It was a little strange, but luckily they got Kristen and Sarah to join in, which made it more hilarious.

Kristen was lucky that her years of dance instruction helped her keep up.

Our time in Torotoro was quickly winding down, so we drove back to the hostel for showers and one last amazing meal. We all hated to leave so much, that the driver just about had to pull us, kicking and screaming to the car.

Torotoro is such an amazing place, with so much to see and do that it should be a must-do on any trip to Bolivia. We also had such a great time hanging out with Sarah and Luis, which we are sure added so much to our trip.

Sarah, Luis, Joe and Kristen at the waterfall

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Torotoro Part Two- So there were dinosaurs here once…

Torotoro’s main draw is the amazing number of dinosaur footprints that can be found in the area. During our time there, we went to a few different places where you could find them (Cerro Waylas and Carreras Pampas had the most), and they were pretty incredible. It is fun to stand in the exact same area where a dino once stood.

I wouldn't want to mess with this guy.

I wonder where he was headed.

At each set of footprints, Victor (our guide) explained what type of dinosaur they think left the track. Looking back on all the pictures, we probably should have taken notes about what he was saying, because now we can’t remember which print belongs to which dinosaur. We did learn that prints with pointed toes were from carnivores, and prints with rounded toes were from herbivores.

It also helped when Victor had little plastic dino replicas that would help show which dinosaur had left the tracks.

We loved the little plastic dinos! (And no, the shadow is not our guide getting hammered... just one of us quenching our thirst.)

As we walked around, we kept finding different types of prints.

Some were teeny-tiny.

Others were HUGE!

All the prints were left when the dinosaurs stepped in mud, and then the mud solidified in to mudstone. The tectonics in this area were really active at one point because some of these plates shifted and the tracks look like they are running uphill.

These are from a heavy four-legged dinosaur, but this area was flat when he walked around.

The shape of the mountains in the surrounding area really show how plate movement shaped the landscape.

Crazy mountains.

This was once all flat ground.

Our favorite print was this one- of a pterodactyl, the flying dino! It is kind of hard to tell, but the front two marks are the footprints and the two marks behind are where its wings touched the mud.

So weird to envision a pterodactyl landing here!

After getting our fill of dino prints (we won’t bore you with more pictures), we set off on a little hike through the mountains on a trail called Las Siete Vueltas (The Seven Turns).

Beautiful day for a hike!

We lucked out with Victor as our guide because as a child, he walked this path every day to get to school since his family lived at the top of the mountain. He had interesting stories for us like the time he saw a ghost, the time there was a mule and salt accident, and the legend of the rock known as “The Devil’s Mouth.”

Joe checking out "The Devil's Mouth."

After hiking for a while, we came to an area COVERED with sea-fossils. These were even older than the dinosaur footprints! They think that these fossils date back 350 million years, from when this whole area was an ocean.

Some sort of ancient sea plant with shells mixed in. (And yes, you could pick them up.)

We "heart" Torotoro!

Just a few of the many marine fossils we found at 10,000 feet above the ocean.

So many fossils, so little time. It was difficult to resist the urge to take some with us.

So as if the fossils and dino prints weren’t enough, one day we were told to put on clothes we wouldn’t mind getting dirty.  We were taken to the Umajalanta cave system, which is supposedly the largest in Bolivia.  We figured we would just enter the cave and have a little look around, but it was much more complicated than that.

Kristen at the cave entrance, in her cool protective equipment. Joe tried to tell the guide that she didn't need a helmet because nothing could hurt her hard, Italian head.

It turns out that we had to climb, shimmy, and crawl our way to an underground waterfall, and the home of a rare blind catfish.  This ended up being a serious caving adventure, and a ton of fun, but it was a very different experience than caving in Colombia (no swimming in this one).

Along the way we found many amazing stalagmites and stalactites. All the different formations had different names based on what they looked like.

Joe standing next to the "Tree."

Kristen was especially excited by a formation which looked like a big pile of chocolate, but turns out it didn’t taste so great.

Almost looks good enough to eat. This one was "The Christmas Tree."

Nothing like taking a picture in the dark to give you that startled look.

The cave continued to get tighter and tighter, at one point we had to “army” crawl and wiggle our way through.

Joe making his way through a tight area.

This experience was more challenging than we originally thought it would be, but it was a blast the entire time.

Kristen happy she doesn't have to army crawl anymore.

Seriously? We have to go through there?!?

We made it to the waterfall, but unfortunately did not see any of the catfish while we were there.

Again, Victor challenged us with some ropes and tricky crossings.

Kristen climbing in the cave - Stop smiling and pay attention!

Dirty, tired, and happy, we safely found our way out of the cave and enjoyed being reunited with the fresh air and blue skies.

Happy to see the outside of the cave again!

Each day we were in Torotoro, we grew to like it more and more.  The absolute beauty of this area, combined with the amazing activities, make it a special place that more people should visit.

And there is still more to come!

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Torortoro – More than just dinosaur footprints.

There really are dinosaurs here!!!! Run, Joe, Run!!!!!!! (Interestingly, there is no evidence that the T-Rex was found here, yet it is their plaza statue.)

From Rurrenabaque, we made a quick pit stop in La Paz before heading south to Cochabamba. Cochabamba was just a quick layover to help us organize a tour to Torotoro National Park. We didn’t know too much about this park (other than it has dinosaur footprints- enough for us), but it looked like it would make a good stop. It ended up being one of our highlights in Bolivia (and maybe South America), as it had not just the dinosaur footprints, but also marine fossils, amazing canyons, caves, and great hikes.

There isn’t a lot of information about Torotoro in books or even on websites. Luckily, we stumbled across Hotel El Molino in a travel forum (www.elmolinotorotoro.com). We contacted Rigo and easily arranged a 3N/4D tour of the national park. He even had us combine with another couple making the 4 day tour (for 4 people) cheaper than the 3 day tour for just us. We were stoked that we would get more time in the area for less money and El Molino takes care of EVERYTHING: transport (to and from Torotoro and to all the sights), guides, accommodations, and all our meals.  Although we normally like to do a lot on our own, this package deal saved us time, hassle, and even money.

Once we had the tour booked, we were able to relax and explore the local area and taste the incredible cuisine of Cochabamba. This region is well-known for their excellent food and we were not going to miss out on any of it.

Cochabamba is also known for their Cristo de la Concordia statue. This is a statue of Christ that stands 34.2 meters (112.2 feet) tall. Somehow this statue is .2 meters taller than the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro. I am sure it was purely an accident that it ended up a smidge taller.

Cristo de la Concordia y Jose - And yes, Joe is 6 feet off the ground.

While we were at the statue checking out the 360 degree views, some adorable little girls found it more interesting to hide behind Joe while we were taking pictures.  They would peek their little heads out and giggle like it was the funniest thing in the world, this made Joe giggle, I mean, laugh manly.

Joe and his new friends

The statue is positioned on the top of a hill, overlooking the city. It had great views of Cochabamba and the surrounding area. Joe even spotted a golf course from up here and it made his heart skip a beat.

Kris taking in the views (she wasn't as excited about the golf course).

Early the next morning, we were picked up for our tour and we met the other couple that we would be spending the next four days with. From past experience, this is somewhat of a nervous time, as you never know with whom you might end up. This time, we totally lucked out when we met Luis and Sarah. They are from England and were also traveling around the world for a year. We ended up all being the exact same age, and we knew right away that this would be a good trip.

We piled into the Land Rover and started the four-hour journey to the town and national park, Torotoro. We rode over bumps, around curves and even through a few rivers, but we safely made it our amazing hotel. It was situated on a few private acres, and it had a river in the front and mountains in the background. The house had a great sitting area out back, comfortable rooms, and plenty of places to relax.

Our hotel and trusty "steed" (as Sarah put it).

But, we were not here to relax, we wanted to see everything! First, we had an amazing lunch (by the way, all the food at the hotel was really good), and then headed out for our first activity, a hike in the area known as Vergel.

After picking up our guide, Victor, from the town square, we took a quick drive and started the day’s adventure. We hiked down through a riverbed, past dinosaur footprints and amazing rock formations.

Natural Rock Amphitheater

This area is known for a few natural rock bridges, and you can actually walk on some of them. (Take that Arches National Park.)

First Natural Bridge (not sturdy enough to stand on)

Kristen crossing the "Friendship Bridge" by herself.. Kind of ironic.

At one point during the hike, we came across an amazing bridge hanging out over the canyon. We spent a lot of time taking in the scenery in this massive canyon. We were surprised that we never saw anyone else during our entire hike; something that would never happen in a national park back home.

Joe on another natural bridge. (Ok, ok, this one was probably manmade.)

Amazing canyon

This canyon is also home to a very rare species of the macaw, the “Red-Fronted Macaw.” There are only an estimated 1,000 left in the world and we couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted two flying around the canyon.

Red-Fronted Macaw

These guys didn’t seem as big as the ones found in the jungle, but they were just as impressive.  It was incredible to be above them while they were soaring- it’s not often you see a bird from a bird’s-eye view.

Their colors are unbelievable!

After enjoying the view over the canyon, we hiked down into it, boulder hopped around, and ended up at an incredibly lush waterfall. This waterfall doesn’t look like your typical cascade, but it is fed from an underground river, so its water source is a bit of a mystery.  This waterfall is the first point where the water sees the light of day.

Kris getting behind the waterfall

We had the option to swim, but Joe could only muster getting up to his knees as the water was “muy frio.”

Joe testing the water. Waterfall in the background.

We then hiked back out of the canyon (not quite as easy as it was going in), and went back to the hostel for dinner, relaxing, and chatting.

Day One in Torotoro: complete success!

The next day, we went to another canyon/rocky area, Cuidad de Itas, to explore some cool rock formations. This area was used by cattle robbers many years ago to hold their stolen cows, and there are many myths about the cattle roaming through the caves.

We didn’t see any cows, but the rocks were more than enough to keep us interested.

Joe looking for cows. (I think you might have better luck spotting them if you take just one more step backwards.)

Once in the canyon, the caves have a very cool tear drop look to them, and once again, we were the only ones there to explore.

Tear drop caves

It was a little bit rainy and cloudy when we showed up, but it seemed to give the place a mysterious look.

Joe and Kris watching the fog roll in.

Our guide, Victor, knew just where to take us and also had a good stories to tell us as we walked through the caves.

This cave was so exciting that Kristen could barely stay on the ground.

One cave we went into was pitch-black and we decided to take a picture in the complete darkness. Not knowing how the picture would turn out, we counted to three and Kristen snapped the shot.

This was the result…

Joe had no idea what he was pointing at in the dark.

For the entire trip, our guide was carrying a bag with him. We all assumed it was just water or supplies, but it turned out to be a very important rope which we would use to scale a small cliff face on the way out of the caves.  Who knew this would be a full body adventure?!

First, climb the "ladder."

Then, use the rope to scale the rock face. (Notice all 135 pounds of Victor standing by to "catch" Joe if he goes tumbling down.)

We were enthused by our mini rock climbing adventure, and from this point on we always wondered what Victor had in his bag of tricks.

This area was quickly becoming one of our favorite places in Bolivia. We are not sure if it was the stunning scenery of Torotoro, the great conversation with Luis and Sarah, the ease of having everything taken care of, the lack of tourists (or people in general), or a combination of all of the above, but we were already totally stoked that we decided to trek out here.

More to come from Torotoro, including our main reason for coming out this way… dinosaur footprints.

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Welcome to the Jungle!

After our time in the Pampas, we spent a few days in Rurre before heading out in to the “real” jungle.

Rurre is just about as touristy as a town can get, but unlike in other countries (ahem, Peru), the people here don’t constantly pester you to buy this or that, or go on their tour. Even when you ask for information about a tour, there is zero pressure to book. Refreshing. It is one of the many things that makes Bolivia a great place to travel.

During our time in Rurre, we didn’t do anything too exciting. The hammocks at our hotel were way too relaxing to leave for very long, and it was so hot we didn’t want to leave the shade.

We did celebrate the New Year by buying some cheap fireworks and letting our inner pyromaniacs have some fun.

Cheap Fireworks! Happy New Year to Us!

Finally got to use the "Fireworks" setting on the camera!

One evening, we went up to the mirador above the town to check out the sunset. We enjoyed a few cold beers and some snacks while taking in the expansive view over the Amazon jungle.

Put the beer down before hang gliding!

Sunset

Following our insane Pampas experience, we decided to check out other companies to explore the jungle with. After receiving many recommendations, we decided to go with San Miguel del Bala, a jungle experience that is run by a small community that lives in the area. We opted for the 3 day/2 night experience: one night at each of their camps (one right outside their village and the other deeper in Madidi Park).

Our trip started from Rurre, heading out in their canoe, and up the river to the first camp.  The ride was amazing; the river seemed to have sliced its way through the jungle and mountains.

Boat ride into the jungle

When we arrived we met two friendly students from The States, were treated to an amazing lunch, and then shown our private getaway.  It was about a five minute walk from the main part of the camp and it truly felt out on its own.  It also turned out to be one of our nicest accommodations, with its own porch, sitting room, and bathroom.

Our home away from home

The first excursion of the day consisted of a tour of San Miguel de Bala.  The tour company is completely supported by this town, and the people were proud to show off how they lived.  At one point we enjoyed fresh cane juice after Joe and the guide ran it through the manual press.

Fresh sugar cane juice = Hard work (Joe and the guide working hard. Where is Kristen you ask? She is in the shade taking pictures.)

This juice (guarapo) was very refreshing in the hot heat of the jungle.  The key to making it extra special is a smidge of lime (just in case you are making some at home now).

Next, we watched a local woman make a basket-like container and fan out of palm fronds faster than it took to type this sentence.  It was amazing to watch her hands move so quickly while making such an intricate weave.  The fan turned out to be worth its weight in gold because it helped keep us cool during our time in the sweltering jungle.

Inside of the basket. This seriously took her about 5 minutes to complete.

During the second part of the day, we hiked through the jungle for about two hours towards an amazing canyon.  Our guide had us walk about 50 feet apart so we could “try” to find some wildlife.  I think if anything was within 100 miles, it could hear us crunching through the foliage and ran for cover.  The jungle is a much harder place to spot animals because of its dense foliage, and I’m sure the sound of us walking was not helping anything.

On this hike we only discovered a few insects and butterflies.

Big Butterfly

We reached the canyon without being mauled by a puma and started exploring.  Our guide informed us we might see bats, spiders, and snakes. Why did we want to come here again?

Entrance to the canyon.

At first the entry was pretty mild, but soon we were wading through waist-deep water and scaling boulders.

Joe holding the walls up

It was amazing how dark it was down there; what light the jungle didn’t swallow up, the canyon did.  We also suffered a loss during this trip. While passing Kristen’s camera between each other, it fell through our hands and decided to take a swim (and no, it wasn’t in the handy waterproof case we have been carrying with us for five months).  We did find it in the water, but needless to say it just didn’t want to work for us anymore (luckily the memory card still worked after drying off).

Last known picture from the Canon... Rest in peace little buddy. (Side note: got to love the look of shorts and rain boots!)

In the canyon, we were “lucky” enough to see huge spiders, many bats, a dead snake, and even a rat, which Kristen was convinced was going to hop on her for a ride through the water.

A few things to notice here: 1. Joe's camera is dangerously close to the water, 2. A big spider behind Joe magically floating, and 3. That is not a snake in the water, at least we hope so.

While leaving the canyon, we had our first run in with “El Fango” or a type of quicksand-like mud. Joe found it first and quickly sank down to his knees. Once he wiggled his way out we boarded the canoe and headed back to camp.

The next day we again boarded our canoe and headed up the river for three hours and into the Madidi Jungle National Park.  We spotted many beautiful macaws, parrots, and even a Capy lurking by the river.

Jungle Capy

After arriving, we took off into the jungle to see what we could see.  It was rainy season so the need for the trendy black boots was a necessity. Unfortunately, the animals don’t have these boots and they tend to hide out during this time of year.  We were lucky to not actually get rained on during any of our hikes, but the mud proved that this place gets its fair share of rain.

Now we might not have seen many animals, but we found many signs of them. This might not look like much, but it is the footprint of a jaguar.

If we had been here two days earlier we would have scored (or perished).

The lush jungle was amazing and it seemed like it could swallow up anything.

Kristen being eaten by a tree

Kristen being eaten by "El Fango" (again!)

The landscape was so lush and full that it was really breathtaking.  We were lucky enough to spot some Leoncito monkeys from a distance.  Good thing for the guide, or we would have walked right past them.

Monkey hanging out

Our hike ended at the river on a mud/sand bar, where we tried our hand at some Amazon fishing.  No luck in catching any fish, but we had a good time trying to not get eaten by the mud.

Trying to get dinner (I think we need to purchase some of these boots for home).

That night we headed out for a night jungle hike, and our guide again did a great job in finding caiman, frogs, and bats.  At some points he would have us just sit and listen to the sounds of the jungle.  It was a little eerie to hear all that was going on without being able to see any of it.

When we returned to the cabin we realized the wildlife tour was not over as Kristen found this friendly guy trying to get into her bag.

He seriously could fly away with a small child.

During the night, Kristen awoke to some fluttering and realized that a bat was trying to get into her mosquito net. She tried to alert Joe, and he responded by continuing to snore  (he claimed the next morning that this was the best way to scare the bat away).

During our last day in the jungle, we explored an amazing place where Macaws and other parrots nest in a clay cliff face.  When we showed up, we were amazed at the sheer number or birds flying and roosting in the wall.

Macaw in flight

Macaws nesting in the cliff face

Joe wished he had a bigger lens to capture the birds closer.  They made such an amazing sound, which our guide would reproduce, and it would cause all the macaws in the area to clammer at him.

Two very colorful macaws landing in the distance

Pictures do not do this place justice as it was one of the most amazing places we have ever seen.  The incredible number of these beautiful birds was mind-blowing.

We ended our trip in the jungle with a boat ride down the river back to Rurre.  The ride again was enchanting and it gave us time to reflect on our jungle experiences.

A true banana boat

If you are ever in Bolivia, the Jungle and Pampas cannot be missed.  They are truly something special.  Just make sure you bring plenty of bug spray.

Off to find dinosaurs in Torotoro.

On a side note, I would like you to meet our almost dog, Lover Boy.  We met our new friend on New Year’s Eve in a bar when Lover Boy (LB) came and put his head in Joe’s lap (that’s how Joe gave him his name).  He then hung out with us for the remainder of the night and met us at the hostel to walk us to our Pampas trip.

After that, we didn’t see him and assumed that LB found some new gringos to hang out with. However, on our last day, while waiting for the bus to the airport at 5:30am, LB again showed up and ran over to Joe (the song “Reunited and it Feels so Good” was playing in Joe’s head).

Joe thought this was the end until LB snuck onto the bus to spend just a little more time together.  If only we could have figured out a way to sneak a dog on the plane, travel with him for 5 months and 4 more countries, and then sneak him back home, Rurre would be missing a dog.

Joe and Lover Boy saying goodbye before the Pamaps trip. (And yes Marlene, he does kind of look like Golden Baby).

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The Pampas- We couldn’t leave South America without at least one Drunken Guide Experience.

**We would like to apologize for the delay in Blogs, E-mails, Tweets and whatever else requires the internet.  The internet has been slow (at best) in Bolivia and finding a reliable signal outside of a major city is a chore.**

We traded the cold, mountain climate of La Paz, for the sweltering heat and high humidity of Rurrenabaque. Rurre, (as the locals call it) is located in the Amazon and was the home base for our adventures here.

As usual in Bolivia, getting to our destination was part of the adventure. We decided to spend a little more money in order to avoid a 24 hour bus ride, so we instead took a 35 minute flight. Once we arrived at the airport and saw our plane, we knew this was going to be a little different from your ordinary flight in The States.

The plane was in need of a fresh paint job, and the pilot and co-pilot looked old enough to only have driver’s permits, but we threw caution to the wind and boarded. This plane held only 18 people, and the co-pilot doubled as the flight attendant by making the announcements (luckily, there was no snack and drink service). We were fortunate enough to be in the front two seats, where we had great view of everything that was going on in the cockpit. We could literally see through the front windshield!

Inside the flight to the Amazon - Joe was ready to jump in and help if needed. After all, he does fly remote controlled helicopters.

The flight was somewhat rough and mostly a decent, as we left from 13,000 feet and would arrive at 500 feet in 35 minutes. Soon the peaks of La Paz disappeared and were replaced by a carpet of lush jungle. On approach, we could see a little runway cut into the trees and we nervously watched the pilots concentrate as they landed. I’m sure it was everyday stuff to them, but it was slightly nerve-racking for us.

The Rurrenabaque airport could only handle one plane at a time on their dirt taxi way, and a screen door was all that stood between you and the plane. (Got to love the security.)

Major Hub of Amazonas Airlines - Rurre Airport

Once in the town, we easily booked a hotel for the night of the 31st, but we soon found out that most places had no vacancy for the following evening. Instead of sleeping in the plaza, we decided to just leave for a Pampas (the grasslands) tour on the 1st of January. The early morning start following a late night of New Year celebrations, made Kristen a little hesitant, but we seemed to have no other options. Joe assured Kristen that nothing would go wrong, and in time, he would regret saying that.

We met our driver and guide from Bala Tours early the next morning, and it quickly became evident that our guide had a really good time partying on New Year’s. When we first met him, he seemed to be very hungover, but after a few slurred sentences in Spanish, we realized that he probably walked here from the nearest bar. Our driver was totally with it though, so we felt confident in departing as planned. We figured we had a three-hour drive ahead of us prior to arriving at the Pampas, and that should be plenty of time for our guide to brush it off and catch up on some sleep.

Wrong again. Our guide did sleep on the ride (more like passed out), but it seemed to only give him fuel to continue the party. Once we arrived at the river, we boarded a canoe to ride the rest of the way to the camp. While watching some of the pink dolphins play, we turned around to see him drinking from a bottle while driving the boat. He “cheersed” us, “Feliz Ano Nuevo,” took a shot of who-knows-what, and Kristen shot Joe “the look.”

We arrived at the lodge unscathed, had a delicious lunch, and enjoyed a few hours of down time. The rest of the staff did everything they could to make us comfortable. We again assumed our guide would take advantage of the free time and getting some much-needed rest.

Wrong AGAIN. When we reconvened in two hours to do an exploration with the boat, it seemed that the only thing he had accomplished was finishing that bottle.

Not to fear, the camp owner elected his son to drive the boat, and our guide slurred incoherent sentences at us on the boat ride. It seems all of his English knowledge flew out the window and his drunken Spanish was pretty difficult to decipher. He tried his best to point out animals and tell us about them, but his finger had trouble pointing them out.

Guide: "These birds have 3 stomachs, like a cow." 10 seconds later: "These birds have 3 stomachs.... como una vaca." Repeat 3 more time in 2 minutes, and you get the idea of what that boat ride was like.

Our young driver looked horrified and tried to fill in the gaps where he could . At one point, our guide insisted that the driver turn off the motor. Our driver ignored his multiple requests, so our guide got up and turned it off himself. He then began paddling with an oar, but that quickly went awry, and our driver had to restart the engine.

He insisted on taking our picture. Despite telling us not to worry, "please don't drop the camera!" was all that we were thinking.

At some point in our journey, he must have realized that he was in big trouble. He then told Joe sorry at least a thousand times, and that he would make it up to us. He kept saying this was a practice, and he would give us a “full day” tomorrow. “Full day tomorrow,” became his new chant as we started to return to camp.

Enjoying our boat ride in the Pampas.... wasted guide (behind Kristen's head) and all.

Kristen mentioned that capybaras are one of her favorite animals, and our guide instantly perked up and he claimed to know a spot where they were always found. We instantly sped off and then docked at a little piece of land not far from our camp. The driver walked with us and we scored right away in finding two capys.

First Capy spotted

Our guide was distracted and didn’t even notice the capys. He headed off a little ways and decided that he needed to answer nature’s call. While he was mid-stream about 100 feet away, one of the capybaras that we were looking at loudly grunted, causing our guide to turn, throw his fist in the air, and cheer himself for finding them. Kristen shot Joe another look, but this time while suppressing her giggles at the absolute ridiculousness of the scene.

To say we were a little discouraged was a bit of an understatement, especially after booking with the nicer and more expensive tour company. Even after the day’s events, we held out the hope that he would deliver the goods the next day.

It seems like every tourist that we have talked to has had their own drunken tour guide story, so I guess this will be ours (and hopefully our only one).

Here’s the good news: he totally delivered the next day. We spent 11 hours in our motorized canoe with a sober guide who actually found an amazing amount of animals. He was bound and determined to find every type of animal for us to make up for the day before.

It turned out that he was great at spotting and describing the different wildlife, and he actually made a decent guide. We don’t think he is going to win the guide of the year award, but he more than made up for his previous blunder by taking us to places that people don’t normally get a chance to explore.

We again took far too many pictures, but here is a little photo safari showcasing our day on the river and some of the amazing animals we spotted.

Kristen amazed at the wildlife and beauty

Our guide encouraged us to dangle our feet in the water and splash around when the dolphins were present. When a dolphin came up and touched Kristen’s foot, she shrieked and the dolphin then blew a bunch of bubbles.

Pink Amazon Dolphin

Pink dolphin nose

Another fresh water dolphin.

We also saw many different types of monkeys on our trip.

Red Howler Monkeys

Squirrel Monkey

Mom and Baby

One curious guy

Red Howler

We never thought we would be bird watchers, but on this trip we have encountered so many different birds that it hard not to become one.

Blue and yellow Macaw - from far away

Macaws in flight - No, not a Barn Swallow.

Owl

Amazing Heron

Crazy three stomached bird in flight

We also saw a few Caiman and other swimming creatures.

Little Caiman eyes

Big Caiman

Turtles

Always room for another of Kristen’s favorites.

Capy (The world's largest rodent!)

Beautiful view on the river. The water during this time of the year creates a perfect black mirror. (And yes, just thinking that got the Arcade Fire song stuck in my head.)

Amazing reflection

Our greatest find was made by Kristen on our way back from our long day. This three-toed sloth was only a few months old, and he was making his way up a vine for a snack (or more sleep).

Young three-toed sloth

Once the sloth was spotted, our guide was satisfied that we had seen everything there is to see (minus a jaguar), and we headed back.

Later that night we took the boat out to look for caiman.  When you shine a light at the caiman, their eyes have an amazing glow, and it was a bit eerie to see the reflection in absolute darkness.

Caiman eyes glowing in the distance

One of the biggest adventures in the Pampas was just heading to the bathroom in our camp.  You were guaranteed to find at least three frogs per stall, and sometimes more.  Using the restroom while trying not to get eaten by mosquitos or have a frog land on you was a new and “interesting” experience.

Friendly shower frog

Tree frogs were found in the bathroom too!

One night Kristen happened upon a tarantula which was as big as her hand.

A bit blurry, but I was shaking taking the picture.

This is not the actual tarantula Kristen found, but after some teasing from Joe about the “actual” size, she was determined to locate another one.  This one was found under some stones and was truly as big as your hand, if not bigger.

The Pampas turned out to be an incredible place, even after our rocky start.  Although starting on New Year’s Day was risky, we didn’t see many other people and we seemed to have the whole area to ourselves (which is quite different from most other travelers’ experiences in the Pampas).  The wildlife was great and the Amazon lived up to all our expectations.

For more pictures of animals spotted in the jungle, feel free to check out www.joeandkristenfry.shutterfly.com. (More pictures from the Pampas are in the Bolivia folder.)

Now, off to the jungle.

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A Very Quime Christmas

For Christmas, we decided to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and head to a small and quiet country town called Quime.  The town is located about 6 hours by bus away from La Paz, as it turned out that getting in and out of the town was a big part of the adventure.

We missed out on the direct bus from La Paz to Quime, but we were assured it would be no problem to take the “other” way.  So we hopped a bus from the La Paz main bus terminal to a highway town named Konani.  The directions were simple, ride the bus for about two hours and get off after the third toll plaza.  This part went off without a hitch (the driver was very helpful), and the next step was to catch any bus or colectivo to Quime.

This part is where we had a little trouble.  It seemed that due to the holiday, everyone was heading to Quime and we could not find a ride. Each time a bus came into a herd of people, including us, would run to the bus and beg for a seat.  Bus after bus, and hour after hour passed with no success.  We got a few chuckles from the locals as we are probably some of the few gringos to pass through this town.

Finally, Kristen luckily spotted a collectivo before anyone else and secured two seats.  It poured for the entire ride, and we watched small landslides come down, but we made it safe and sound, but a little wet.

There really was not too much to do in Quime which was perfect for us after so many months of craziness.  We stayed at a great family house located about 10 minutes uphill from the town square.  The house is made for relaxing with a great outdoor feeling, amazing movie selection, great views, and an interesting host to chat with.

Big town of Quime - From our hostel

We spent Christmas with our host, Marco, and two of his younger relatives. They did a lot to make it feel like Christmas, including bringing in a plant from the garden and decorating it.

Kristen by the Christmas tree

Not only were we dazzled by the “Christmas tree” and few other decorations, they made a large assortment of cakes and sweets.  We all ate until we felt dangerously full.

Wonderful homemade cake - Just one of the amazing desserts

To pass the time during our Christmas escape we read, slept, and played a lot of Monopoly (or Monopolio- the knock off Bolivian brand).  Yes, I said it and am not ashamed, we played Monopoly, and a lot of it.  Turns out it is a much faster game with only two people and we found ourselves playing twice a day sometimes.

Monoplio Marathon - Joe just scored Boardwalk

We did break away from the Monoplio one afternoon for a hike to the oldest church in the town.  I guess it is not hard to be the oldest church in town seeing how there are only two, but we were still impressed.  This area has many hikes, but unfortunately the weather was not the best during our visit (it is the rainy season after all), so we weren’t able to explore as much as we would have liked.

Quime's oldest church - Kristen checking for mass times

Beautiful Mountains

We also spent some time walking around the town square, which was not that big, but we still had a fun time people watching and getting watched by people.  Quime is so far off the tourist map that people are still somewhat intrigued to see Gringos wandering around.

Quime's Town Square

One of the most exciting adventures we had during our Christmas break was leaving Quime.  It had rained all throughout the night before, and the road has a large section of dirt, so the crews were constantly clearing away landslides.  We spent a few hours sitting in the town square waiting for a cab or bus who was brave enough to make the trip.

Finally a cab showed, and six of us piled in a small sedan to make the trip and Joe got to ride in the back.  The road was soaked and the dirt portion had turned into a nice muddy mess.  A few time we had to get out of our taxi so the driver could charge through the mud and hopefully not get stuck.

The mighty cab that could - Notice our bags on the top.

At one point, we came upon a river with another cab stuck in it and a large truck waiting to go through.  Again, we were all ordered to get out and forge the river on our own while the cab sped across.  We waited for the stuck cab to free itself from the river’s grasp and  we all wondered how we were going to make it across and stay dry.

Stuck cab - Not ours

Once this cab was free, the big truck started across the river.  A local on the truck urged us to jump aboard (about a 3 foot climb) to stay dry and cross the river.  All went well forging the river, until we realized the truck was not going to stop once on the other side.

We quickly realized that we were going to have to jump from a moving truck or risk riding on the back to who-knows-where.  We’re sure it didn’t look graceful, but we managed to get back to the road before being whisked away. Our cab raced through the river like one of those rally cars and we continued our journey.  The rest of the trip was relativity easy and we made it back to La Paz a little muddy, but in one piece.

We had a good time being the only Gringos in Quime and spending Christmas there.  We missed our family and friends during this special time of the year, but we sure enjoyed all the relaxing.

Off to the Bolivian Amazon.

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