Monthly Archives: November 2005

Major Culture Shock

November 28, 2005
Day 61

Today I wanted to leave Sajama and the only bus out of town left at 6:30 in the morning. I got up really early and waited in the freezing cold with the other tourists and a bunch of locals for the microbus to arrive. Finally it showed up, we packed about twenty adults into the van intended for ten, and took off. Luckily for me, I only had to ride the bus to the border nearby, whereas everyone else would be stuck on it for hours.

I got to the border at about 7:30, but it didn't open until 8:00. There was already a bus waiting to cross, so I tried to get on it, but it was full. I had to wait until the next bus arrived. Finally, one showed up at 9:30. The driver was very hesitant when I asked him if I could ride. There were no seats left, but I agreed to sit on the floor. The conditions didn't matter to me; I just didn't want to wait at the border all day.

After getting my exit stamp on my passport, we left the Bolivian side of the border. It was easily ten miles to the Chilean side, whereas the crossing from Peru to Bolivia was more like 100 yards. I felt like a refugee stowed away on the floor of the back of the bus when we made the crossing. Finally, at around 10:30, we entered Chile and were on our way to Arica.

Arica is only about 75 miles from Sajama, but it might as well be on the other side of the Earth. Sajama sits at 4200 meters above sea level. Arica is at 0. Sajama is very hot all day and freezing at night. Arica is warm during the day and slightly cool at night. Sajama has no electricity or running water, and is a very poor place in general. Arica might as well be Beverly Hills by comparison. Sajama's population is 100% native and everyone wears traditional clothes. Arica doesn't appear to have any native population, and there are even a lot of people of pure European descent.

The other major difference here is that Chile is an hour ahead of Bolivia right now because Chile has daylight savings time, but Bolivia doesn't. The conversion was very strange for me because I went straight west, yet it became an hour later. What's even stranger is that I can travel literally ten minutes north into Peru and it will be two hours earlier. When I started my trip, I was just a few hundred miles up the coast and I was in the same timezone as at home. Now, I'm three hours ahead.

I can handle most of the differences pretty easily. It feels like I'm in California, which isn't too hard for me to adjust to. The only difference that is going to be tough to get used to is the sticker shock. Everything is very expensive here. My room last night was $1.25; my room tonight is $13.50! The good thing about the prices is that the exchange rate is so strange, I usually can't figure out how much stuff costs. One US dollar is equal to 540 or so Chilean pesos. When I paid 7000 pesos for my hotel room, I actually had no idea how much it was.

After I had gotten over the initial shock of how different it is here, I saw a familiar sign a few blocks from my hotel: It was the golden arches of McDonald's! My biggest food craving could finally be taken care of. As soon as saw how close I was, I skipped all the way there thinking about the Big Mac I was about to eat. The menu said that that a meal cost $4200, but I didn't know or care how much it was. The food was exactly the same as in the US. The only difference was that the drink was smaller and there were no free refills. It tasted great, but half an hour later, it felt like I had a rock in my stomach. I probably hadn't eaten that many calories at one time since I left. Not eating fast food has made me thinner and healthier. Maybe I should stay away from it even when it's available.

After my fast food meal, I walked to the oceanfront. Seeing the ocean, and just being at sea level, for the first time in a month and a half was a great feeling. Not only can I now breath freely, but I feel like an Olympic athlete because I'm getting so much oxygen. The coast is beautifully aligned with palm trees, a yacht club, several fishing boats, and a lighthouse. Chile is very different from Bolivia, but I think I'll get used to it.

A Long Day of Walking

November 27, 2005
Day 60

I had only been in Sajama for a little more than a day, yet I had already exhausted almost all of my options for stuff to do. I couldn't attempt to climb a mountain because it's spring here, which means that the snow and ice aren't solid enough to climb. I already went to the hot springs yesterday. I didn't even want to think about attempting to see the geysers again. The only thing left for me to see was the Huañacota Lagoon.

The lagoon is 12 KM (7.5 miles) away from Sajama, and the only realistic way to get there is to walk. This would be a long haul even under perfect conditions, but it was a hot and sunny day, and the path to the lagoon is 4300 meters (14,100 feet) above sea level. Still, Luise and Sanja walked the whole way yesterday, "And besides," as they put it, "What else are you going to do around here?" I agreed and started walking early, knowing that the trip would take all day to complete.

I walked for about two hours before reaching the lagoon. It was a beautiful place with a lot of wildlife.
Flamingos dotted the lake along with vicuñas and lots of other animals. Mount Sajama was still in the background, but I think the view was even better than from the town of Sajama because no other hills were nearby. Perhaps best of all, I didn't see any other people the entire time I was there. I stayed at the lagoon for a few hours before heading back.

Along the way back, I stopped again at the hot springs for awhile. They were 2 KM (1.25 miles) off the main road, so my entire trip for the day was 28 KM (17 miles). I don't have any stories to tell about getting lost today; it was just a lot of walking. Finally, when I was about ten minutes from town, a car passed me for the first time. The whole day, I had been hoping that a vehicle would pass me so I could catch a ride, but I didn't even bother trying to stop this one because I was so close to being back in town. This place is really in the middle of nowhere.

Tonight was freezing cold again. I've been at high altitude almost my entire trip, so I'm starting to get tired of it. Tomorrow, I'm heading to Arica, Chile, which is on the Pacific Coast. I look forward to not needing to use my sleeping bag and being able to walk more than five minutes without running out of breath.

The photo album for this entry is here.

What Does a Geyser Look Like?

November 26, 2005
Day 59

When you travel long-term, there are bound to be good days and bad ones. This was one of the bad ones.

I ate breakfast at a local man's house. Afterwards, he asked me what I was going to do today. I told him that I was thinking of visiting the geysers. The owner said, "Sounds good. You can walk to them in an hour and a half." I made a slight frown when I thought about how far it was. "Or, he slyly inserted, you can rent a bicycle from me and get there in thirty minutes." Even though I knew he was being quite the salesman, I liked the idea of expending less energy and time to get there. "How much?" I asked. "$2.50 for the whole day." I wondered why I would need a bike for the whole day just to see the geysers, but I didn't ask any more questions and went for it.

I went back to my room to get my camera and a few other items for the day, and returned to see that the bike was ready for me. It wasn't exactly something Lance Armstrong would endorse. In fact, I think most street bums would reject it. The bike had a rusty frame, crooked handlebars, and no suspension to speak of. And with only one gear, I figured it would be almost impossible to ride up hills. Still, I had already agreed to take it, so I decided to try and make the best of the situation.

I didn't have a map of the area, so I asked the owner for directions to the geyser. "Go to the church," he said. "From there, you'll see a small bridge. Cross that bridge, then follow the path to the right. Always stay to the right, and the path will lead you there." That sounded easy enough to me. As I took off, he said, "Suerte," which means "luck," a common saying people use right before embarking on a journey. As it would turn out, luck would not be on my side for this trip.

I easily found the church and the small bridge at the bottom of the hill, but that's where my "suerte" ran out. As I coasted down the hill, I noticed that the ride was very bumpy, the bike seemed to steer itself wherever it wanted to go, and the brakes barely worked. That's what you get when you pay $2.50 to rent a bike for a day in Bolivia. Still, wanting to make the best of the situation, I crossed the bridge, ready to follow the path to the right, confident that I was on the right track.

The problem was that there was no path to the right. The road turned to the left, and there was only a soccer field to the right. There were no road signs or people nearby from whom I could ask directions. I thought the road leading left was surely the wrong path, so I went across the soccer field, thinking that the path would pick back up on the other side. Partway through the soccer field, the ground turned from a solid surface to one with loose dirt two inches deep. When I tried peddling, my bike sank into the ground, so I had to push it instead.

At the other side of the soccer field, I saw what I thought could be a path. I started pushing my bike down it for a few minutes, but then it ended. I could see a long distance, but I couldn't find a path. There were only massive fields with grazing llamas nearby. I then realized that I must have missed the path somewhere around the soccer field.

At that moment, I had a brilliant idea. The bicycle owner said that I had to keep moving to the right, so surely I was heading in the right direction and simply had to find the path. All I needed to do was to walk perpendicular to the path to find it. I turned left and walked for about fifteen minutes. Still no path. Frustrated, I turned around and walked the other way until I ran into a river.

The land looked flatter on the other side of the river, so I thought the path might be in that direction and maybe I crossed the wrong bridge at the beginning of my trip. However, the river was too wide to cross, and the prospect of turning around and walking all the way back to the bridge made me angry. I started walking along the river until I found a spot narrow enough to jump across, but I still had the bike with me. I was getting very mad by that point, so I picked up the bike in both arms, swung it back and forth a few times, and threw it across the river. It barely made to to the other side, making a loud noise as it came crashing down. Next, I thew my backpack over, then I got a running start and jumped across.

My "leap of faith" seemed to go without a hitch, but as I began pushing the bike again, it made a crunching sound. I had bent the wheel out of alignment a bit when I threw it over the river. I kicked it back into position and continued pushing, too frustrated to care what kind of condition I returned the bike in.

The ground may have been flatter on the other side of the river, but it still was impossible to ride on. In fact, the dirt was so thick that pushing the bike required all of my strength. Not only that, but the entire area was littered with little bushes that spread spikes across my legs whenever I touched them, which happened constantly because they were everywhere.

I thought I was heading in the right direction, but I still had no idea where the path was. Eventually, I saw a town in the distance. "Somebody there will surely know where I should be going," I thought. When I got to the town, though, there was not a person in site. It looked like it had been abandoned years ago.

Not sure what to do anymore, I kept walking with my bike at my side. Finally, way off in the distance, I saw someone riding a bicycle. I walked in that direction and ended up on an actual road! It was nowhere near where the bicycle owner had described, but at least it was a route that led somewhere.

I was finally able to ride a bit, but it was still very difficult. The road wasn't paved, so my bike still sank down about an inch whenever I tried riding it, making riding more difficult than walking. On top of that, the seat on the bike bent backwards after a few minutes of sitting on it. The front of the seat went straight up, causing enough pain downstairs for me to stop worrying about having children. From that point on, I had to pedal standing up.

After riding for about half an hour more, a truck finally came toward me. I flagged it down and it was full of park rangers. "Where are the geysers?" I asked. "You're getting close," one of the rangers responded. "Only about 300 meters to go." I was very happy that I was almost there, even though it had already taken longer than it would have if I had walked.

A few minutes later, I saw what appeared to be steam in the background. The road also forked off in that direction, so I headed down it. After awhile, the road split up again. Luckily at that point, a local man approached me on a bicycle and I asked him where the geysers were. He pointed toward the steam, but said that the road he was on led to the hot springs. I figured that as long as I was nearby and getting tired, I'd stop there first and relax.

I had to walk through a huge llama grazing field, but eventually I made it to the hot springs. I didn't even care that the entire pool of water smelled like sulfur. I relaxed in the hot water for a long time, then decided to find the geysers.

I rode/pushed my bike toward where I had seen the steam earlier. I saw it again after awhile, and went toward it. When I got close, I realized that it wasn't a geyser at all. It was a burning pile of llama shit!

It was around that time that I really wished I had brought some water with me. Luckily, there were a couple houses nearby, and a guy was standing outside one of them. When I asked him if he had any water, he went into his house and emerged with what appeared to be a gasoline canister. He grabbed a cup, filled it with something that resembled water, and handed it to me. I asked him if it was purified, but he didn't understand Spanish. Too thirsty to care anymore, I slammed it down and asked for another cup. He obliged and I drank it too. I handed him two boliviano's and continued on my quest, feeling somewhat refreshed from the water.

After walking/riding a bit more, I looked around and didn't see anything that even remotely resembled a geyser. I found some kids nearby and asked them where the geyser was. When they told me that it was nowhere near there, I wondered why the park rangers said it was so close. It had been such a long day already that I gave up and headed back.

I made my way back toward the main road, but another big problem emerged: I had to cross the river again, and there was no bridge along the path. I didn't know it at the time, but the path made a tiny detour leading to the bridge. I was completely focused on not dying as I quickly rolled down the hill on my bike, so I didn't see the small trail that split to the left.

I started walking along the river, again looking for a bridge or a spot where the river was narrow enough to cross. After about half an hour, I found a prospective location, but it wouldn't be as simple as the last time because there was an island in the middle. First, I threw my bike onto the island, then, I ran and jumped, barely making it. Next, I threw the bike as far as I could, but it landed in the mud just short of the other side. At least it didn't float away. Finally, I tried to get enough momentum to make the jump myself, but the last step I took, which I thought was on solid ground, turned out to be in a bunch of mud. My entire shoe, sock, and pant leg were covered.

So, with my muddy foot and barely-moving bicycle, I plowed my way back to the main road, sloshing on the ground the entire way. When I got to the road, I started riding again, but, as the bike had no suspension to speak of, it was very bumpy. Still given the choice of either walking in the thick dirt on the side of the road, or flying three inches in the air every two seconds on the corrugated middle of the road, I chose to chose to get back faster and sit on an ice pack later.

What I thought would be a leisurely two-hour trip turned out to be a six-hour nightmare. When I got back into town, I immediately returned the bike. The owner's wife was there, and she asked if I saw the geysers. Not feeling like telling her the whole story I said "No, I couldn't find the path and went to the hot springs instead." She asked if I wanted to keep the bike for awhile longer and go to the geysers in the afternoon. I said, "Lady, if I never see another geyser again, it'll be too soon," and walked back to my room, glad that it was finally over.

Sajama Is Reachable Somehow I'm Sure

November 25, 2005
Day 58

After vegging out for a few days in Oruro, I was ready to move on to the Sajama National Park this morning. I had no trouble finding a bus to Patacamaya because it is on the way to La Paz, the biggest city in the country. The bus was roomy and comfy, and the ride was smooth over a paved road. If only every bus ride could be so nice.

I got to Patacamaya at 1:30 and immediately began looking for a bus to Sajama. I quickly learned that only minibuses (the big vans that are normally reserved for urban transport) went there. After asking around for awhile, I found a driver who was going to leave at 3:00. I had lunch and waited around for awhile. The town of Patacamaya consists of a few houses and bus terminals along the highway, so there was nothing else for me to do.

When 3:00 rolled around, I was ready to go, but there was only one problem: I was the only passenger on the bus. The driver wouldn't leave until he got at least fourteen passengers, so it looked like it would be a long day. We drove around town a few times, trying to find people to come along. Finally, the driver agreed to take detours to other towns near Sajama. Several people jumped aboard at that point, all of whom were going to the other towns, and we left.

The driver dropped off everyone else first before finally taking me to Sajama, so I didn't get there until after dark. The small town of maybe 100 residents located in the Sajama National Park didn't have electricity or running water, so I couldn't get a lay of the land until morning. Someone had to walk me to a place to stay, then to a place where I could get dinner because it was pitch black outside.

There were three other tourists eating dinner: Luise and Sanja from England, and Claudia from Italy. I hadn't seen any foreigners since leaving Uyuni almost a week ago. After eating dinner hanging out for awhile, I had a difficult time finding my way back to my room. The entire town was pitch black and I still hadn't seen what it looked like during daylight. I was told a story of a girl who was staying here at one point and froze to death because she couldn't find her way back, either. I don't know if it was true, but it scared me a little. I eventually figured out where I was and crawled into bed.

Questions Answered, Part II

A few weeks ago, I answered some of the questions you had asked me about my travels. Several people told me that they enjoyed it, so I decided to put together part two of "Questions Answered." Here goes:


1. Why are you still in Bolivia? Aren't you worried about the elections and the riots that most likely will follow?

It's true that I would rather not be in the country during election time. There's a good chance that there will be roadblocks, riots, and possibly even violence against foreigners. However, the exact date of the elections was one of those areas where it was difficult to get accurate information from outside the country. Everyone I talked to seemed to think that the elections were in mid-November, but I found out when I actually got to Bolivia that they won't be until mid-December. I have been in the country longer than I thought I would because of this fact. So far, I haven't experienced any political violence in Bolivia.

2. Why do you wear your jacket so often?

Other travelers have asked me this more than my friends back home, but I'll address it here anyway. Usually, I wear my jacket. The only times I don't wear it are when it's really hot and when I go out late at night. The reason I wear it so often is because it has inside pockets. They are where I keep my wallet and anything else I don't want to get stolen. It's much easier to pick-pocket someone who has money in an outside pocket, even if it's their front pants pocket, than someone with money on the inside of their jacket, which would require unzipping two zippers to steal. I generally don't carry anything valuable in any outside pockets for that reason.


3. How's the beer?

It's not too bad. Most of the beers here are watered down (similar to Miller Lite), but they still taste pretty good. It seems like every big city has its own brand of beer. Cusco had Cusquena, Arequipa had Areaquipena, Sucre had Sucrena, etc. The only thing I don't like is how foamy it is. Whenever you pour a glass, it's almost all head. The main theory as to why this is amongst people I've discussed it with is that the beer is brewed at a low altitude and shipped to a high altitude, so there is more air pressure inside the bottle than outside, causing it to foam up. That might just be complete BS, though.

4. What have been your favorite and least favorite meals?

Food generally tastes better the more you pay for it, so my favorite meals have also been the most expensive ones. I'd say that the best-tasting meal I had was a seafood and pasta plate with a brilliant sauce from the first night of my trip. The plate alone cost $5 (probably the most I've paid for a meal so far), though, so I don't think I can call it my favorite meal. That award goes to a simple, but good spaghetti and meat sauce meal complete with asparagus soup, bread, and mate (a tea-like drink made with coca leaves), which I got in Copacabana, Bolivia for about sixty cents. It's funny that right down the street from that restaurant was a trendy tourist place where most of the food was ten times as expensive.

For my least favorite meal, it's a tie between the fried guinea pig I ate in Huaraz, Peru and the infamous empanadas with chicken and beef I ate in La Paz, Bolivia. The guinea pig tasted bad and the meat was really tough, but at least there were no repercussions later. The empanadas tasted fine going down but did not feel good coming out. I don't think I'll ever eat either of those again.

5. Which foods from back home do you miss the most?

The single most food item I want more than any other is a Big Mac. I haven't seen a McDonald's on my trip since my first day in Lima. Back then, I didn't want to have anything to do with American food, but now I crave it. I have been to cities with more than a million people, but I still haven't seen any American restaurants since Lima. I guess I can understand why. A basic meal at McDonald's costs $5, but a basic meal here is only fifty cents, and it's a lot healthier. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll find a McDonald's in Chile.

The other food I miss is cold milk (I know, milk is actually a drink). The only types of milk you can get here are straight from the cow (or goat, or llama, or whatever), or in powdered form. The straight-from-the-animal variety is hard to find in the cities, and I've been too afraid to try it anywhere else. The powdered kind, as you can probably expect, tastes horrible. I used to drink about a gallon of milk per week, but I haven't had any since leaving. My bones are about to start breaking apart as I write this.

6. Do they have pizza?

You can find pizza in just about any city here, but it's not the same as at home. Pan pizza doesn't exist; everything is hand-tossed. Sausage and pepperoni, which are practically requirements on American pizzas, are almost impossible to find here. The main ingredients they do put on pizzas are ham, mushrooms, olives, anchovies, and tuna, so for the most part, they are pretty disgusting. The only pizza type I normally get is Hawaiian, which includes ham and pineapples. That's always a safe bet.

7. Is coffee the same there?

They have something called "coffee" (cafe in Spanish) here, but that's where the similarities end. Generally when you order a black coffee here, you get a cup of hot water and a cup of sludge. The sludge is a very concentrated coffee that, if drunk by itself, would turn anyone into Cornholio in seconds. You are supposed to combine the right amount of sludge with the right amount of water to make the best tasting coffee for you. The problem is that it tastes bad no matter which combination you choose. At least they still have sugar, though.

Things get even stranger if you order a coffee with milk. In that case, you get a cup with a combination of hot water and lots of powdered milk with your sludge. The milk itself tastes like chalk, but when mixed with sludge, it tastes like a piece of chalk dipped in a combination of lemon juice and Pepto Bismo. I still have a hard time believing that one of the world's biggest coffee producers could have the world's worst tasting coffee.

8. What does a typical lunch and dinner consist of?

Most of the smaller restaurants in Peru and Bolivia have a menu. This is not the same as a menu in English; that's called a carta. The menu is a single dish that the owner of the restaurant has decided to cook for that meal. He or she will cook enough for several people and serve it to them as they ask for it. It almost always includes a soup and a main dish, and sometimes it also includes a drink and/or dessert. Since the dish is cooked beforehand, it's usually ready within a couple minutes. That is the typical food that locals eat here.

There are also regular restaurants that have large menus (the English word "menu," that is). These restaurants tend to be much more expensive, and usually only tourists eat at them. It's very common to see a nice restaurant packet with tourists right next door to a small, basic restaurant filled with locals that serves almost the same food for 10% as much money.

Next "Questions Answered" session will include questions on the economy and other odds and ends. Keep firing away the questions!

Happy Thanksgiving

November 24, 2005
Day 57

The main thing I did today was work on the last week's blog entries. I'm finally caught up after falling way behind. Also, it was Thanksgiving in the US, so I figured I should have a decent meal for supper. I haven't seen a restaurant serving turkey yet (although fried chicken and french fries are absolutely everywhere here), so I had pizza instead. It may not sound like a great meal, but pizza is one of the most expensive things you can buy here.

Tomorrow, I'm finally going to leave Oruro for Sajama. I went to the bus station tonight and found out that there aren't any buses that go directly to Sajama from here, so I'm going to have to go a bit further north to Patacamaya and try to catch a bus from there to Sajama. I haven't planned this out very well, but that's half the fun of it for me. I feel like I've been following the Gringo Trail for too long, and it's about time I hit some places with slightly less tourists.

After traveling for almost two months straight, I needed a break before moving on, and my stay in Oruro has been perfect. There's almost nothing for tourists to do here, but I've gotten caught up on my writing and sleep, and I watched a good amount of TV. I feel refreshed and ready to go now. I can't wait to start making my way south toward Usuaia.

Oruro Museum and Zoo

November 23, 2005
Day 56

I wanted to do some sightseeing today, so I got a map of the city from the front desk at my hotel. For the first time since getting here two days ago, I found out that I was in the southeastern corner of the city. The first place I went was the Plaza 10 de Febrero, the plaza at the center of the city. Full of trees and aligned with park benches, it was a peaceful place to hang out for awhile.

I spotted an Internet cafe just outside of the plaza, so I figured I'd check my email and maybe stay for half an hour or so. When I saw that the computers had Windows Millennium (probably the worst operating system ever invented), I figured I'd be out of there in ten minutes. However, I quickly changed my mind when I saw how fast the connection was. In record time, I had installed all of my necessary software and was uploading photos three times faster than on the Windows XP machine next to my hotel. Maybe I'll have to rethink the whole Windows Millennium sucking thing. I ended up staying for over three hours and got all of my pictures uploaded.

The only other things on my map that looked worth seeing were the museum of anthropology and the zoo, which were located right next to each other, although they were on the other side of town. I thought about taking a taxi, but I figured I could use the exercise and started walking. According to the map, I could walk almost straight there from where I was, but part of the map was removed so they could print the title. Still, I was on a street called “La Plata," and that street was listed on the other side of the gap, so I started walking down it.

After a few blocks, the street started to slant uphill. The further I walked, the steeper it got. Soon, I was at the top of the city. The problem was that the street appeared to end at the top of the hill and I had no idea if I had walked too far because none of the cross streets had signs listing their names. Sometimes it's almost impossible to know what street you're on here.

Out of options, I walked back down the hill to a street on the map that didn't get cut off. Soon I realized that the museum was on the other side of the hill, so I had to walk around it. From now on, I'll have to remember that if a city map in South America has an area that is cut out to make room for the title, that part of the map is a huge hill that I should avoid.

Eventually, I made my way to the museum. I could definitely tell that this was not a tourist town when they charged me three boliviano's (32 cents) to enter, the same price they charged the locals. If this had been La Paz, I probably would've had to have paid 80. The museum was pretty small, but it and had a bunch of ancient artifacts and textiles from the area. Maybe I've gone to too many similar museums, because I didn't really enjoy myself there.

The zoo was only a block away from the museum. It was much smaller than the zoos back home, but it only cost 25 cents to get in, so it was worth checking out. The best animal on display was the panther, but they also had lots of birds, monkeys, and cats. I even finally got to see what an Andean condor looks like! Well, kind of. About half the zoo was closed off, so I imagine it will be much bigger in the future. At least the guys doing arc welding on the ground right next to me as I walked passed them seemed to think so.

Still feeling somewhat restless, I made the long walk all the way across the city back to my hotel. I spent most of the night working on my blog. Now that I've seen what Oruro has to offer, I'm definitely ready to leave town.

The photo album for this entry is here.

More Relaxing

November 22, 2005
Day 55

I didn't do much of anything today. TV can be a very dangerous thing because you can waste your whole day watching it. Almost none of the places I've stayed at so far have had TV, so I hadn't watched any in almost a month. My current hotel room, however, not only has cable, but it also has HBO, something I didn't even get back home. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time vegging out today.

I also spent nearly eight hours on the Internet, mainly trying to get my pictures uploaded. The computers here are better than the ones in Uyuni, but it still takes forever to get anything done. At least it is possible to get something done here, unlike Uyuni.

I originally planned on spending three days in Oruro, but I just realized that Thursday is Thanksgiving, and I'll probably want to make some phone calls home that day. Not wanting to be in a small town without any phones (yes, some of the towns I have visited here have not one phone), I decided to stay here for one more day and leave on Friday. I'm already getting bored, however, so I'll have to find something to do tomorrow. I'm not too optimistic, though. I have yet to see one other tourist in town, so there's probably not much to do here.

Need To Catch Up

November 21, 2005
Day 54

The road from Unyuni to Oruru was almost all unpaved. The first few hours of the bus ride went well, but suddenly we had to stop. A semi was stopped ahead of us. Our driver went to talk to the semi's driver, returned to the bus, and we pulled ahead. I thought we were out of it, but we quickly stopped again behind another bus. I thought we had hit a roadblock, which Bolivians who are unhappy with their government frequently set up. Several people started getting out of the bus, but they seemed calm. I wanted to know what was going on, so I got out too and looked around.

It turned out that a semi heading toward Uyuni had gotten stuck in the mud at the bottom of the hill, blocking the road. Several kids with shovels suddenly ran past us to dig out the semi. After waiting about thirty minutes, the semi was finally freed and we were able to continue. The entire route was littered with huge potholes and standing water. I was surprised we didn't get stuck too.

As we entered the city of Oruro, I saw pavement for the first time in five days. It was a great experience. The bus I was on was continuing to La Paz, so it dropped me off in the middle of the street at about 3:30 AM. Several other tourists also got of at Oruro, so I wasn't too worried until I learned that all of them were continuing on to Cochabamba right away. I rang the buzzers of a few hotels, but nobody answered. They were all closed for the night. I would have to wait until morning to find somewhere to stay, so I went into to the bus station, figuring that it would be safer than waiting outside because I had to pay a tax of about thirty cents to get in. A few people were walking around selling tickets, so I didn't think I was in any danger, but I did have to listen to people shouting "La Paz," "Cochabamba," every ten seconds. I waited until about 6:00, when the sun had risen and I couldn't take the constant screaming anymore, to leave the bus station.

I found a hotel nearby that looked clean, cheap, and best of all, had cable TV in the room. After doing so much moving around, I needed to take a few days off to relax and catch up on my website, and this seemed like a good place to do just that. After Oruro, I will go to Sajama National Park for a few days, but I don't expect there to be much there as far as Internet access is concerned. After that, I will cross over into Chile, which everyone I've talked to so far has loved, but it's also the richest and most expensive country in South America. Bolivia is the cheapest and poorest country on the continent, so it makes much more sense economically to relax here.

Tonight, I got to watch the Green Bay Packers for the first time on my trip because the TV in my room had ESPN. I see that I haven't missed out on much because they suck. Still, it was fun to watch because the graphics and stats were in English, but the announcers spoke Spanish. Every time a stat appeared on the screen, the announcers quickly had to translate it to Spanish. Then, they'd cut to the announcer on the field, but they'd turn her microphone down and speak over the top of her because she spoke English. At one point, they showed a bunch of people in the crowd with signs that made puns for the Packers' new running back, Gado, that said things like, "We Gado Win!" The signs didn't translate very well, so the announcers had a really hard time explaining them to the Spanish-speaking crowd. The Packers lost, but considering that it will probably be the last football game I'll watch all year other than maybe the Super Bowl, it was still worthwhile watching.

Salt Flats Tour Day 4

November 20, 2005
Day 53

We were in no rush today. We only had about five hour left, including all of the stops for the day, so we got to sleep late, eat breakfast, and throw the Frisbee around some more before taking off. I began to see why going all the way back to Uyuni in three days was a route that a lot of people chose, but I didn't mind the relaxed pace because I didn't have any deadlines.

Our first stop was at the Valle de Rocas, which, as the name implies, was just a valley with a bunch of rocks. Next, we drove to Villa Alota, a tiny town in the desert. It had a nice looking church and a few other buildings to look at, but the streets were empty. I wasn't sure if anyone actually lived there, or if was just a ghost town.

Next, we went to San Cristobal, which was only slightly more lively. There was a small market, but there wasn't much for sale there other than food. The town also had an empty soccer stadium and a church made completely out of stones. Most of the towns we stopped at had no electricity, running water, or entertainment other than the occasional soccer game. Needless to say, I wouldn't want to live in any of them.

We got back to Uyuni, which seemed like a sprawling metropolis after the previous towns we had stopped at, early in the afternoon. I decided that I wanted to go a bit north to Oruro next to relax for a few days before heading to Sajama National Park and Chile. The problem was that the only bus going to Oruro arrived at 3:00 AM. I don't particularly enjoy arriving in unfamiliar places by myself in the middle of the night, but I didn't have much of a choice, so I bought a ticket for tonight.

I still had a few hours to kill before my bus left, so I went to an Internet cafe to try and get some of my pictures uploaded. That was a really bad idea. Not only was it expensive, but the computer I used was horrible. I have to learn to check the computer's statistics before attempting to use it from now on. Sorry for the techno-speak, but a 200 Mhz processor and 64 MB of RAM are not sufficient to run Windows XP, Firefox, and a Java Applet for uploading photos. I wasted two hours on the Internet and crashed on the tour agency's couch until it was time to leave town.

The photo album for this entry is here.