23 June 2010

Quick Note

Kristin and I are in the Lima airport, enjoying free wi-fi and four sources of free chocolate samples. Dark chocolate covered macadamia nuts are the clear favorites. Between researching things on the internet and trying to scoop a few more pieces of chocolates, the five hours have passed pretty quickly.

From here we fly to San Salvador then to San Francisco, where we arrive at midnight. I cannot wait for some good food from Bonne Sante and Copenhagen Bakery (Burlingame) and Trader Joes. Then, the Davis Food Co-op and Davis Farmers Market. I think I will regain all my weight, if you still think that I have lost any!

The plan for the next few weeks? A few days in the SF area, then around two weeks in Davis. I will probably escape to Shasta to guide a trip or two. I'll also be editing and uploading photos, adding backdated blog posts to include a few missed adventures, and share my thoughts on our nine months in Latin America.

And of course we'll keep ya'll updated as to our travel plans for the next year.

17 June 2010

The Last Overnight Bus

Our time spent in Bolivia was too little. Surprisingly, our travel plan actually went more smoothly than we thought it would, and we have landed in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile earlier than anticipated. I thought I might like San Pedro, but after a 3-day tour through the Salar de Uyuni, I cannot find a strong reason to stay around. We could see more: desert, odd-colored lakes, salt flats, and dry, brown and red volcanic mountains? Or, we could return to Santiago a few days early and see our friends there.

The answer is obvious. In an hour we will be boarding our last overnight bus. Twenty four hours to Santiago. I know we have spent at least a dozen nights on buses, and have been on sevearl 24-hour buses. It is no big deal anymore. Moreover, Kristin and I are excited to have some time to read, write emails on our netbook, and talk. We have a lot to plan for. In one week we will be back in San Francisco, rushing about like lettuce with our head cut off as we try to mmet up with friends and family while simultaniously planning for the next year of our journey.

We are excited to see our friends in Santiago, just as we are eagerly anticipating the fun times to be had back in California. Our Latin American adventures are almost over . . . nine wild months on this diverse continent has taught us a lot. We will continue blogging about it as our thoughts are collected in the coming weeks. I also have a boat load of pictures to share. Some of our best adventures have not been shown yet.

The twenty four hour bus ride would be torture to most people, but for us it will be the calm before the storm.

14 June 2010

La Paz and the Cordillera Real

After Lake Titicaca, we arrived at the lung-busting capitol of La Paz. Brady, our friend from Sacramento, met us there. Together we explored La Paz, which is a gritty, messy city, but still has some great museums, markets, and decent culinary options. We gave Brady only one day to acclimatize to La Paz's altitude of 4000 meters, before we skuttled off to Sorata to begin our four-day trek in the Cordillera Real.

Brady got the real deal. Everything about the trek was true to South American form. The transportation was cheap, scary and uncomfortable. Maps were hard to find, outdated and still expensive (we bought a German-made map from 1987 for $10 - one of the better deals we have gotten for maps here). The trail was really a hodgepodge of animal tracks, locals trails, and such. We hired a driver to take us to the trailhead, but he drove us to a completely different area. The views were unbelievable. The hiking was difficult but rewarding. We camped by ourselves every night and rarely saw anybody, local or backpacker. There were many mines throughout the mountains, legal and illegal. We never got to our final destination but had an excellent time nonetheless. The diversity of what we saw, made this one of the best hikes we've had in South America. Still, we only saw a small portion of this range and I'd love to go back and spend two weeks there.

We returned to La Paz on Friday with just enough time to buy a few souvenirs and feast at an amazing Arabian restaurant, run by the cutest old couple. Brady flew back Saturday morning. Kristin and I stayed in town to explore some great museums, eat well, buy a few hard-to-find products for the next week of traveling, catch up on emails, and research our future travels (this week and post-California July). You know, the usual.

Today we leave for Oruro and Salar de Uyuni. In a week or so we will be in Santiago, Chile and then back in San Francisco. I don´t have my pictures up, but you can check out Kristin´s blog for photos of our trek in the Cordillera Real or our time in La Paz.

11 June 2010

Lake Titicaca

Things are moving quickly now that we have only a few weeks left in South America. We recently left Arequipa, Peru, which had been our base for visiting the Colca Canyon and Mt. Chachani. We arrived at the bland town of Puno on Lake Titicaca. We didn't stay long as the tours seemed generic and the city was uninviting.

We continued on to the Bolivian border, where we had no problems but had to pay the $135 USD visa fee. Bolivia started charging Americans in 2007 in reciprocity for the charges the Americans charge Bolivians for US visas. Even though we don't like paying such an exorbitant amount for a visa, it is valid for five years and is in response to a US policy. We can't complain.Chile and Brazil have the same reciprocal charges and Argentina has just initiated it for flights into Buenos Aires.

We spent the night at the Bolivian "beach" town of Copacabana, which was much prettier and friendlier than Puno in Peru. We did not stay long though as we took a boat to the largest of 70 islands in Lake Titicaca - Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).

There are three towns on this island, but we stayed away from them and instead reveled in some fantastic hiking and wonderful views. We stealth camped at the summit of the biggest mountain on the island, at some 4200 meters. From there, we had the peak to ourselves an experienced one of the best sunsets AND sunrises.

After returning to Copacabana and devouring a very tasty meal, we bused four hours to the capitol of Boliva, La Paz. Our friend Brady was to arrive that same night . . .

Hmm, the view from Puno, Peru. Like I said, not much to see here.

A friend on Isla del Sol, with the other-wordly sheen of the lake in the background. 

An indigenous woman who lives on the island.

One of too many sunset pictures, on the summit.

Yeah it was cold. Dropped below freezing that night, which seems to be standard for everywhere we are camping in Peru and Bolivia. It's the winter here - dry weather, warm days, and bone-chilling nights.

Sunrise in one direction. We had 360 degree views. 

Early morning.

Incan irrigation still works.

The setting of Copacabana. You can see why we preferred it to Puno. Also, there is a more famous Copacabana beach in Rio, Brazil, which is named after this Bolivian town.

06 June 2010

The Slow Speed of Progress

Or, the slow speed of internet and the difficulty in even finding a connection.

We noticed a marked decrease in internet speed when we entered Ecuador and Peru. Now that we are in Bolivia, we are prepared for even slower connections, if we can even get a connection.

Our first town in Bolivia was Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca. We loved the town, found some great hiking and island camping nearby, and an excellent restaurant. Our hostel, however, did not have internet. In fact, no hostel in the entire city did.

We have just arrived at our hostel in La Paz. If we are going to get internet, it will definitely be in this, the capitol city. Alas, our hostel has internet, but no wifi. Within a five block walk is supposedly a cafe with wifi (not, as you would think, an internet cafe).

This, mind you, is not the end of the world for us. But having our amazing little netbook and not having wi-fi is a bit unusual. At least 95% of our hostels have had wifi. Every friend we have stayed with has wifi. Hell, even some of the campsites had wifi. It has been so easy to upload photos, blog, email, make reservations, research travel options, and of course check Facebook.

So consider this a warning - for the next few weeks, we might not be blogging, emailing or sharing photos much. We´ll try to catch up when we return to the states at the end of June.

On the same topic of this blog title, Kristin and I have become really interested in the development, or relative lack thereof, of countries in South America. Ann in Guatemala insisted we read Open Veins of Latin America, but we didn´t follow through with that until Janie gave us her copy in Colombia. That kick-started our research. We have since read The End of Poverty, Bad Samaritans, and parts of The Lexus and The Olive Tree. If you have any other recommendations along these lines, please share! I will post my thoughts after we have traveled through Bolivia, which is the least developed country in South America. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

02 June 2010

Mt. Chachani - 6075m

Yesterday, Kristin and I reached another high point in our relationship - 6075 meters (19,931 feet). It was an accomplishment that brought us both to tears. It also marks our the second anniversary of when we started dating.

As great as that all is, the day mostly sucked. We were above 5500 meters (16500 feet) for more than nine hours. We were dizzy and tired and wind-burnt and eating dust. The trail was a mix of solid rock, ice and mostly loose scree. There was only one other group on the mountain, so we had the summit to ourselves. Even that, though, lacked amazing views as there weren't many other high mountains around. Instead, we looked out upon the dusty, dry desert surrounding Arequipa.

So why did we climb Chachani? Well, in the famous response from Sir Edmund Hillary on why he climbed Everest: "Because it is there." Actually, the truth is we wanted to celebrate our anniversary. Chachani is very close to Arequipa and is one of the easier 6,000 meter peaks to climb. We thought it would be a good test of our physical abilities.

And it was. I have spent most of the day in bed, trying to recover. As soon as we took off our crampons, Kristin stopped whimpering, and seems to be perfectly fine today. I do not think she will try mountaineering again after this trip, unless there are skis involved.

I feel like mountaineering has a very steep learning curve. Until you get good at it, each trip is just a long sufferfest. My first trip up Shasta in 2006 was that way. I was completely stressed, uncomfortable, tired, and dehydrated. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I distinctly remember saying that mountaineering was not for me.

Two years later I climbed Shasta in a day. It was freezing cold and windy at top, but I still enjoyed it more than my first trip. Particularly the ski descent.

With more training and more trips, I eventually felt comfortable on that mountain. Shasta is about 4300 meters. Jumping up in altitude was the biggest challenge on Chachani. We hiked to the top of Illiniza Norte, in Ecuador, which stands at over 5100 meters. We hiked over half a dozen passes in the Huayhash that were higher than 5000m. On Chachani, though, we were above 5500 meters for so long that the altitude really had a debilitating effect on us. This trip has reminded me how to appreciate the first mountaineering experience for climbers that I guided up Shasta last summer with Shasta Mountain Guides.

Tomorrow we head to Lake Titicaca, which we will explore for a few days before meeting up with our friend Brady in La Paz, Bolivia!

Scrambling on ice-covered rocks with a steep cliff below us. Good vantage point for the sunrise!

The summit.

All smiles at the top. Remember, the summit is only half way there.

Oh, the barren landscape. Most of Peru seems to be a very dry and desolate, even in places where people live.

My amazing wife, seemingly floating in the heavens yet firmly planted on the ground. Thank you Kristin for the last two years. This is just the beginning . . . but next year, let's plan something FUN on our anniversary.