Molting gentoo penguin
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Looks like he posted some more last night in the wee hours while I was asleep! (I really want to know how he found so many totally clean penguins. All the ones I saw were covered in mud.)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Here's what we got recently:
Hope you enjoy!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Chilean Mummy at San Juan de Rosario Museum
We also learned more about how the pre-Columbian religious beliefs have been incorporated into the Catholicism that most Bolivians ostensibly practice. For instance some number of Bolivians (I'm not an expert, so I can't say for sure.) believe in Pachamama and leave offerings to her in bowls called kerus in a ceremony called la Ch'alla. The offerings are ... cooked or smoked, I guess you'd say, not actually burned and the supplicant can wish for success in business, school, love, etc. The day afterwards, the bowl's contents are buried. The offerings usually include things like candies, coca leaves, llama fat, and so forth. In some places they use dried llama fetuses (we saw some for sale in the Witches Market in La Paz). The usual day for making offerings is Tuesday, although there are other days that are more significant holidays. I must confess that I did not entirely follow what I heard and I'm not sure if these holidays are related to Pachamama or some other entity. I seem to recall that one of the more important holidays is when they plant the crops to ensure a good year's harvest.
After we finished up in the museum, we hit the road again on the way to Uyuni. We drove through colorada red earthen fields, which were swollen with water that had come down the night before. Eventually the fields turned into a lake of sorts, near Julaca. I jokingly referred to it as Lago Julaca and Frans came back with "Later it will be Pampas Julaca." It was a little alarming because the road bed was flooded in places and crumbling in places, so we had to go fairly slowly in order to make it through safely.
Driving Through Lago Julaca
Eventually, we got to a larger road and I realized at some point that we'd been on proper (if dirt) roads all day instead of the 4x4 roads we'd been following.
After a while we got to our next stop, the Uyuni train graveyard outside of Uyuni. Just as we got near the place, the skies opened up again and it rained for a while. When we arrived it was still raining a bit, so I got out my Kata rain hood for my camera and rolled out into the drizzle to look around.
Uyuni Train Graveyard
The graveyard is not all that big, not as big as I had expected, anyway. It has some nineteenth century train engines that were given to Bolivia by Chile as part of the settlement of the War of the Pacific, in which Bolivia lost its only access to the sea. Then later Bolivian governments decided that they would scrap the existing trains and replace them with more modern trains. Except that they failed to do the replacement part. Very sad. BTW, there is train service from the Argentinian border in the south to Oruro (via Uyuni), but Oruro is the end of the line. I shot pictures of the cars and engines and bit of scrap lying about for a bit before Noelle let me know that we had to go because we'd misjudged the time and we needed to get to Uyuni proper to get our visas.
Uyuni was a bit of a surprise to me because it is, um, less paved, than I had expected. The recent rains made a bit of a mess of some of the streets, but the main street was paved and dry. The immigration office in Uyuni wasn't open when we arrived, so we got some lunch at a local restaurant in hopes that they would be open when we were done. Which they were, thankfully. The visa process was a little stressful, as it turned out, because while we had all the paperwork needed and more than twice the $270 USD needed for the visa, the officer in charge carefully scrutinized our money for the smallest tear and kept rejecting bills until I started to worry that we would not have enough left to pay for the visa. Fortunately I had a couple of hundred dollar bills that passed muster and our guide Daniel helped convince the officer to take enough of the rest of the money so that we did get the visas. There was a back and forth in Spanish that I didn't entirely follow, but the immigration officer pulled out a drawer filled with US money a couple times that evidently was money that the banks refused to accept. I am not sure why Bolivian banks are so fussy about US dollars, but I guess the moral of the story is if you have to make the land crossing into Bolivia, bring crisp, unfolded, untorn money in an envelope with you or you might have a tough time getting in. (I have heard that people going through the airport at La Paz have had fewer problems, but I don't know for sure myself.)
After the excitement of dealing with immigration, we headed off to the Salar, which I had been looking forward to since I saw Art Wolfe's Travels to the Edge episode on the altiplano. We drove through Colchani, where they do final steps of salt processing and manufacture souvenirs out of salt. We were supposed to stop there, but we ended up not going because we were at the Salar too long. But it was completely worth it, as it turns out. We got to the Salar which was really a gigantic lake at this point because the water accumulates on the Salar during the rainy season.
The Salar de Uyuni
I had been told when I booked the trip that traveling across the Salar was not possible during the rainy season because it's not safe to do so. I thought we'd go to the edge and take a few pictures, but when we got there we saw a bunch of people wading out quite a ways. There were also some trucks heading out into the water, but Daniel said they were older vehicles, whose owners didn't care about the damage the salt water might do to their trucks. As it turns out, the water only went up to our calves so we decided to go see how close we could safely get to a pile of salt off in the distance. It took a while but we actually go right next to it. The pile was left over from the previous season, when the workers left because of the rain.
Uyuni Salt Pyramid
They even left some tools behind because who's going to take them way out there.
Uyuni Salt Extraction Tools
We must have walked the better part of a mile. I was surprised that the depth didn't really change, but I guess the Salar is really uniformly flat. After we waded back to the car, Frans (who had stayed behind) informed us that we could drive the truck out on the Salar if we wanted. Boy, did we! I really wanted to be out there around sunset and some of the other tourists said that sunset was in a half hour or so. So, slowly and carefully we drove out into the small inland sea that was the Salar. We probably drove a couple miles before we stopped near a small set of salt pyramids slowly melting into the water. Off in the distance the sun was settling behind some clouds before making its reappearance at sunset. The clouds were also periodically illuminated by lightning as another thunderstorm moved into the area. We got out of the truck and waded around, taking in the fantastic scene with a childlike sense of wonder. I knew that this might be the only chance I might ever get to photograph on the Salar at sunset, so I got my tripod out and set up near some of the pyramids in preparation for the sunset. I took as many pictures as I could before we had to go. It evidently can be dangerous to be out on the Salar after dark because it can be hard to tell the land from the water, so we had to make sure not to be there too late.
We drove back to Uyuni mostly in silence, stopping in Colchani a couple times because Frans' wife wanted him to bring home some salt. Everyone was closed, so Frans was out of luck. We got dropped off at the hotel where we were to wait a few hours before our train. Frans would come back later in the evening to take us there and make sure we got away safely. We were really tired from our day which felt really long by the time we got to the hotel. We said goodbye to Daniel and thanked him for being our guide on this incredible altiplano experience. We hope to hear from him him again. Noelle gave him her Moo card, but I neglected to get his e-mail address before we parted, so fingers crossed. The hotel had a hot shower and a place to go to the bathroom, so I will give it that. It also had a peculiar odor in the shower (mildew I think, my sense of smell was diminished during our trip through the altiplano). And the bed was hard. Think a slab of wood with a thin sheet of plastic surrounding it hard. But we had a chance to clean up, repack for the train ride, and nap for a bit before we left. We got a call that the train, which supposedly had been delayed, was back on schedule so we had a one o'clock pickup. That's one AM. The train heading northward only runs a few times a week and for whatever reason, run really late at night. Frans came by and packed our stuff up into the Lexus and drove us through the deserted streets of Uyuni to the train station. When the train arrived, a bunch of people got off the train and wanted to get their luggage. Then we could get our luggage loaded, which Frans helped us with. It was a very chaotic scene and we were really grateful for his help. Once our luggage was on board, he helped us find our coach and made sure we got on board and to our seats. We were incredibly grateful for his help as it might have been interesting to do on our own, given our limited Spanish.
Around 1:45 we rolled out of the station on our seven hour journey to Oruro, where we were met by another driver who would get us the rest of the way to La Paz. The train did not have sleeper compartments, but the seats reclined and we were as comfortable as you can can be when you can't actually sleep lying down. I was impressed at how many times the conductors went through cleaning the coaches. The train takes a little longer to get to La Paz than driving, assuming the bus doesn't get stuck, which I guess happens from time to time. However, it's cheaper and more comfortable than the bus, so I think we made the right call.
And that concluded the altiplano portion of our Bolivian adventure. I don't think we will ever forget the amazing things we saw there or the experiences we had, whether wading through the Salar de Uyuni, watching thousands of flamingos feeding in the Laguna Colorada or looking at the myriads of stars in the sky outside the Hotel del Desierto. Frans and Daniel were invaluable in our trip. They got us safely from the frontier to our hotels to our train to the north. They were patient with all our questions about wildlife, the names of places, how one says things in Spanish and so forth. They even let us play our iPods in the truck. I think one of the more surreal experiences for me was driving through the puna desert, listening to "Pistolero" by the band Juno Reactor while looking out at the landscape. They were also great people that we were happy to have met. I personally consider this one of the most amazing trips I have ever had. With a little luck, perhaps someday we will return.
Monday, March 7, 2011
We watched the DVD, or what of it we could get to play, that we were given by Quark at the end of our cruise and I was sort of sad. I missed the people, the ship, the penguins, and the ice. I get why sailors love their ship. The Vavilov was like home to me for a couple of weeks, and a symbol of safety when we were out in some really extreme locations. The people on it were a single-serving family for a short time, and everyone really cared about each other. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of people in a once-in-a-lifetime place that will live happily in my memory from now on. I hope everyone that sails aboard her has as great of a time as we did.
South America is really mis-understood up here in the Northern Hemisphere. It's really easy to forget about and to dismiss, since so much of what we focus on happens in the North, but I think that that is a mistake. It's really just beautiful down there. The people are wonderful, the architecture is beautiful, and the landscapes are breathtaking. I have never met a set of people who were harder-working, and willing to go the distance to get the job done as I did, in general, down there. Things move more slowly. Getting things done takes longer in some ways, and in other ways, they happen much more quickly. Things are in some cases much harder, and in a lot of others, much easier. It's a unique experience to be able to spend so long, and at the same time, it was not nearly long enough. I was totally ready to come home, and I was also totally ready to stay there forever.
All I can say is that if you can, you should go. I would recommend everywhere that we went. There's not a single stop that we made that I would tell people to skip. There are certainly places that deserve more or less time than we spent there, but they were all worth going to. Antarctica is a really emotional topic for me, because of how special it is, but even though I sort of want to tell people to stay out because I don't want it to be spoiled, I can't recommend it highly enough. If you can only go to one place, go there. Take a cruise that is good to the environment, be respectful of the life that is there now, and go. It will change the way you see the world.
I would not say that the trip changed me in some life-altering way, but I would say that it changed me in a lot of really small ways, just as any new experience does. It was worth all the money, all the stress, and all the time. I hope that someday we can go back down there and do more of the top 1/2 of the continent. I'd love to do Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil at some point. But for now, I will go back to work, hopefully earn more money so I can go somewhere else awesome, and simply say that it is totally worth it, and that you should really go see all of it for yourself. You won't regret it.
After going to sleep after our magical starlight visions, we thought the worst was behind us. As it turned out, this was not the case. First of all, the lights came on abruptly at 5 or 6 in the morning because we'd neglected to turn the switches off at lights out the previous evening. Ow. I guess they turned them back on because another party was departing early that morning. I had slept pretty well until that point, but Noelle had slept quite poorly all evening. I couldn't really sleep after the lights had come on. After a while we gave up on sleep and tried to get going. It was around this time that we came to the conclusion that Noelle was now suffering from altitude sickness and I didn't really feel that great myself (headache and weakness). We took a pass on breakfast as neither of us felt up to eating and we needed to get packed to hit the road. Noelle was feeling nauseous and went out to the lobby to get some fresh air. I spent some time getting ready and eventually I went out to the lobby to see what Noelle had gotten up to. I found her out there with Daniel, who had provided her with some of the emergency oxygen. She was feeling a lot better after getting the oxygen and we talked about how we were feeling. We came to the conclusion that the heater, while keeping us warm, had also been stealing valuable oxygen. This was why we couldn't light any matches in the evening. I took a little air and felt my headache ease a bit. We managed to get all of our stuff packed despite feeling lousy.
After getting back into the truck, we drove back out the way we came. Daniel pointed out a beautiful polychrome mountain which he explained that was called Cerro de Los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors). Frans joked that it used to be eight colors, but they lost one. We drove up to a crossroads of sorts (a place with many tracks, but not a road in the sense that Americans would understand) to get a view of the mountains and take some pictures. Then we drove down a particular track that turned into an arroyo which had a fairly healthy stream running though it at the time. We were a little nervous about driving through (not across, but actually downstream with the current) the stream, but Frans seemed to know what he was doing, so we trusted him pretty well. The earth actually rose above in a rocky cliff probably about 20-30 feet high at some points. Frans stopped the car abruptly and we weren't sure why until he rolled down the window and threw a piece of fruit out the window. Very shortly a Viscacha came running out. I had mixed feelings about feeding the animal, since I generally think habituating wild animals to receiving food from humans is a bad idea. We were especially concerned when they pitched some cheeto like snacks out, which the Viscacha evidently prefers over fruit. How like humans. Anyway, the food was already out there, so there wasn't much we could do at that point other take pictures. Such cute animals!
Viscacha feeding ended eventually and we headed onwards to another vista of the mountains to stop and take pictures. The mountains, sky, and earth are so incredible on the Altiplano! The blue and white of the mountains and sky contrast starkly with the puna grassland, especially when the soil is the red earth. As we got ready to go, Noelle realized that she didn't have Traveling Man with her. Traveling Man is a hat she got on a road trip several years ago that she always takes with her on the road for good luck. If you've seen a picture of Noelle traveling, you've probably seen Traveling Man in the picture if she's outdoors. He gets his name from the mysterious figure on the hat. We searched all over, but not find him anywhere. We could only conclude that he'd gone missing at the first photo stop, many miles away. We were both very sad, since he'd played a part in so many of our travels. In my mind, I constructed a story where Traveling Man was actually from Bolivia, so he had slipped away to go home. This story made me feel a little better, despite being a complete fabrication.
Sadly we moved on, to a series of four Lagoons: Laguna Honda, Laguna Chirkota, Laguna Hedionda (Lake of Bad Smells), and Laguna Cañapa. We saw a number of Vicuña and flamingos on the way as well as the fantastic Altiplano scenery. Unfortunately, we would suffer from headaches and nausea from the altitude sickness for most of the morning, well into the afternoon. Periodically we'd take a little oxygen and that would help for a while.
For a while after the lagunas, Frans and Daniel appeared to be taking us offroad. We had mentioned that we would really love to see some zorros (Andean foxes) and they appeared to be trying to find some zorro habitat. No luck, though, so eventually they gave up. We contiuned to decend, little by little, and we marvelled at the marvelous scenery and also how the road seemeed to twist and turn like a serpent. A rocky, treacherous serpent that made us (me at least) a little worried about getting down, but eventually Frans negotiated the descent and we were back on the road (such as it was) again. Off in the distance we saw full size tour busses driving. Daniel said that the road over there wasn't really much better than the track we were on, which made me feel sympathy for their passengers.
A little before lunch we stopped at a field of volcanic ejecta from a far off volcano called Ollague which we could see emitting steam off in the distance. The earth there was a colorada red and the landscape is covered with these rocks that were initially formed by magma, ash, and pumice layering together from volcanoes in the area (presumably Ollague) and then being weathered by wind and rain into a collection of bizarre shapes. We saw this also in Chile near some other volcanoes, but in Bolivia we got to scramble over them and explore for a while. Daniel showed us some examples of llareta (aka Azorella Compacta), which had been described as a fungus to us by several people, but is a plant according to wikipedia. Anyway, this stuff emits a kind of pitch which can be used as a cure for kidney problems according to the locals. It's bright green and grows like corals in the Altiplano in various places. We also learned that a similar plant, llaretilla is the flat green plants that grow all over the ground in the altiplano that look like squashed llareta. After we had looked around for a bit, we had a bit of lunch. I was skeptical about eating as the altitude sickness had left me pretty nauseous all morning and my previous experiment with a bit of Clif bar had not been promising. However, the lunch prepared for us made me feel a million times better and I enjoyed the afternoon a lot more after that. Not that I hadn't been enjoying it, but it was more like: "Ugh I feel like crap. Wow! Look at that crazily cool thing!" where the coolness managed to distract from the sickness most of the time. Noelle felt similarly, I think, but had gotten more out of the Clif bar than I did.
Anyway, after lunch we drove through the desert for a while, eventually reaching the Chiguana salt flat. We stopped at one point when train tracks mysteriously appeared out of nowhere to take a few pictures. From looking at some maps, I believe that was the line from Uyuni to Calama, Chile. We saw some enormous cacti of the Echinopsis family. These cacti grow very slowly, only about 1cm a year. We saw some that were at least 5 meters tall and I guess they can grow over 10 meters tall. Their needles looked really beautiful in the afternoon sun.
We were almost to our destination for the day when Daniel announced they had a special stop for us. We drove through some quinoa fields (we'd see a lot more of those in the coming days) and we came to a place called Saints Village or Ikala. Evidently the Chilean army had occupied and destroyed a nearby village of San Pedro de Buena Vista, raping and pillaging-style. The villagers fled and formed the Saints Village where they lived undiscovered by the Chilean army until they left fifty years later. The Saints Village is in a hidden valley, but honestly it's only 5 or 10 km, max, from the old village where the Chileans were, so I have to think the Chileans were either dumb or really, really unmotivated. The Saints Village had no water supply (the old village had the only nearby spring), so the people had to travel great distances to get water, on foot. We looked around,
rang the church bell (They built a church! While in hiding!), and left when the skies opened up and gave us a summer rain.
We drove the short distance to San Pedro de Quemes (or Quemez?), the new village that the villagers created after the Chileans left and by the time we got there, the rain had stopped. Our hotel for the evening (Tayka Hotel de Piedra) was a welcome sight after a long day of driving. While we unpacked we made an exciting discovery: Traveling Man had fallen behind the back seat where we could not previously see him! And there was much rejoicing. We got settled into our room (the honeymoon suite, with a view of the village and a pen with a few llamas in it immediately adjacent to the room) and then Daniel led us on a walking tour of the ruins of the old San Pedro village, which were just a short distance
from our hotel. The villagers had not wanted to return to the old area because of the bad memories associated with it and instead built further down the hill.
The rain restarted around dinner time and the lightning off in the distance kept me distracted during dinner. I think there were thunderstorms or lightning in the distance every night we were in the altiplano and nearly every night we were in Bolivia. One more day to go in the altiplano.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
I have already gone to the symbol of American Superiority, the golden arches*, and gotten myself a breakfast sandwich.
*For people who may not know me, I'm being sarcastic here. For the most part, I thing McDonald's is gross, but I do like me a good breakfast sandwich now and then.
Sent from my iPhone
Saturday, March 5, 2011
The last couple of days have been hectic as we went on a tour to Isla del Sol on Lake Titcaca yesterday and to Tiwanaku today for a "1/2 day" excursion that went well into the afternoon. I now sit in my room, on my hard, hard bed, listening to drunk Bolivians scream-singing (Carnival starts here tomorrow, just in time for us to get the heck out of here!).
So, Titicaca (which means "gray cat", much to my disappointment) was beautiful, and some of the journey was really lovely country-side, but, basically, we traveled for 10 hours (5 hours both ways) to go visit an Inca temple that isn't much to look at for 30 minutes. It was cool to be where Inca were and to see their temple, and the boat ride there was awesome, and we drank from a spring of eternal life, and we got to do a little shopping and had a great lunch. There's also the very beginning and the very end of the trip, where you go through the city that feeds into La Paz, called El Alto, where you sit in crazy traffic, made worse by preparations for Carnival and the anniversary of the town celebration, where you really just become so on-edge that you become exhausted, so it's sort of a even-out day for me at that point. I think that Chris is in about the same boat. However, now I can say that I have sailed on Titicaca, been to Copacabana, and visited Isla del Sol, so I consider it a day well spent.
Oh, also, our tour guide is kind of insane. We had him all 3 days and he firmly believes that dinosaurs and people walked the Earth at the same time, that crop circles were made by aliens, and that the rapture will happen in 2017 and that FOR SURE something bad will happen next year (2012). By the end of the day I was really trying hard not to tell him that he was nuts, but I managed to make it. It was amusing for a while, until it made me start to think that I should really consider pretty much every other thing he was telling us about where we were and the culture and stuff, and sure enough, Wiki has proven him wrong on a number of accounts. Still, I am happy to have seen what I have seen in person. *sigh* We Have piece of paper with lots of interesting facts in Spanish that he wanted us to read. I think we are going to translate it and post it here after we get back as an amusing exercise.
Bolivia is actually really cool. I don't feel unsafe here at all. Most of it is really beautiful, and some of it is a positive slum, but you have to expect that in a 3rd world country. La Paz is possibly the most beautiful city that I have ever seen at night. El Alto is insane and I would not ever think to go there without a handler. The landscape is simply stunning here though and people should not be afraid to come and see it for themselves.
Here's some sights from the Titicaca trip.
Copacabana and Titicaca (don't be confused, the lake is so huge that you can't see the other side, this is just a small passage to another island):
Candle offerings in the Copacabana church. One of these candles was lit for a dear departed friend, The Whew, who left us while I was away:
Reid Dragon Boats:
4,000 year old terracing, that is still in use:
Inside the Incan temple:
Today we went to Tiwanaku, which is a culture thousands of years older and before the Inca. I think the place had bad ju-ju because I entered the area, got a really bad stomach-ache which stayed throughout the whole time that we were there, only getting worse, and disappeared minutes after we left. :-) Anyway, the temple was largely in ruins thanks to the Spanish tearing it down to use the stones of a 3,500 year old building to build a church (damned conquistadors!). However, some monoliths were still in tact and the site was very interesting, given what was left. The Bolivian archeologists are rebuilding some of the walls, and excavating a bunch of it, so as long as funding keeps showing up, they should be able to do really great things with the site. Then we came home in the afternoon and packed up to come home.
Here are some sights from today:
El Alto traffic from our car. This goes on for miles:
Sun Door (evidently, it's a calendar):
Monolith action (these are calendars):
Circled-up, chanting, ritual-making people who our guide (of course) thought was contacting aliens (I'm pretty sure the Tiwanakans would have somehow made these folks into a calendar too, if they were here):
Here's a wall:
and a door:
These poor folks were just trying to get ahead (in the temple of the underworld):
Some Bolivian ladies:
and some men (they were getting their blessings before Carnival so were in their Sunday finest):
And lastly, this is just a cool pic from the side of the art museum in La Paz:
Anyway, that about rounds out this adventure. I think Chris has a couple more posts to do about the Atacama, and I'm sure he'll post here when he uploads pictures from this trip, or possibly been others that we have done in the past. I'll do a wrap up at some point when I decide to reflect on what I have seen, so if you are RSSing, keep it up, and if you are checking in, well, it might be cool to check in every once in a while. We intend to use this blog for all of our trips, so there should be more content rolling in from time to time. If I get wifi in the airports, I will update about our progress for our 23 hours of traveling back home, and I am sure that you can expect a post on how much I love my bed! So, stay tuned!