Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just Can’t Get Enough of Bolivia

After 11 days in southern Bolivia, we feel we barely scratched its surface. But what we had was an experience of a lifetime. EVERY DAY was tough, memorable and eventful in Bolivia – it felt like an adventure traveller’s dream and nightmare at the same time. Here are some made-us-stronger moments:

Border crossing through the Gran Chaco. We battled endless dust, sand, trucks, construction. Q and Casa had terribly hard work from the get-go.


Camping in a ranch under racks of fresh meat, which were taken away for dinner by the time I took the following photo. The whole night we were surrounded by the farm residents like dogs, pigs, chickens, cats, goats, sheep – you name it.


It was no easy matter to claim to have visited Potosi. Situated at 4000+ meters, it is as one of the world’s highest and most dramatic cities. After feeling constant nausea and headache for three days, I have added “suffering high altitude sickness” to the list of must-dos for adventure travellers.


Visiting Uyuni salt flat.  Just like Iguazu Falls, this is another top attractions of South America. And yes  it was salt – I can taste to that! Click here for the photo album.


Camping on the salt flat was not easy with gusting wind and dropping temperature, but it was most rewarding.


Watching moon rising on the salt flat. It was another magical moment on our trip. Opposite to fading sun, we witnessed the moon appearing in the eastern horizon so modestly and peacefully.


Riding through beautiful Tupiza canyons.


Savoring llama chops lunch platter for 1 Euro, including corn, veggie salad and various potato roots. And in case you are wondering, llama meat tasted GREAT. It has a much leaner texture than beef, but with just as much taste. YUM.


Having a flat tire outside beautiful Uyuni. We had a quiet and vast land to ourselves for a couple of tiring hours. Bless or curse – who can tell?


Enduring corrugated roads for days. I never knew my teeth can tap dance so well!


We are back in asphalt-lined Argentina now. But just like all our clothes still layered with Bolivian dirt, all my mind and senses are still filled with colors, taste and smell of the country. I want to say we will have to figure out a way to get back there, but I am also hesitant because it has been such a grueling challenge. Maybe take it in small doses somehow?

Anyway for now my puzzle is how to fit one of these under motorcycle helmet. I love ‘em little cutest Bolivian hats!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Day in Bolivia

Today is 17 September. We woke up in Tarija, a southern city of Bolivia. Our goal today was to travel up north and go half towards Potosi. Although the city was only 300 km away, we were told it takes 12 hours driving to get there. The rather long drive was a curious case since we were told by several locals that the road was “asphalt”. The following is a time capture of our day – yes, it’s a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea before continuing.

7:30 am – Woke up and went for the included breakfast. We were rather disappointed with it considering we splurged on the *4-star” hotel room – it was USD40 per night, five times what we paid for  the previous night. The room itself was quite a luxury relatively speaking, even though we never got the fridge working and the toilet seat kept on snapping down on our backs the moment one sits down, but just some minor details.

10:00 am – Finally finished packing and left the hotel. To replace the broken GPS unit, Q tried to get one of our cell phones working instead. A moment of excitement when we thought it worked, only to realize later at the end of day that it wasn’t configured correctly and so the day’s driving was not captured, but excitement was good while it lasted.

10:16 am – The joy of asphalt only lasted 15 minutes, we were told at the check point there was a 50 km of mountain pass that will take us two hours.


10:57 am – The road ascended quickly and continuously. It was tough, but still much better than the ones we encountered in the first couple days in Bolivia.


11:04 pm – We were in the Andes! Gorgeous view of the mountain range with some abandoned civilization trace.


12:05 pm – Ascending for 2000 m later, we have altiplano and asphalt! Q sends a big MUAH to the road.

12:19 pm – We stopped to replenish food and water. I picked up cocoa leaves and tried to use them as the locals do. They are supposed to reduce fatigue and effect of high altitude.


12:32 pm – The altiplatos (high planes) opened up to us. It is hard to believe we were cruising down at 3000 m in altitude.


12:39 pm – Heading into another mountain pass, which means the road becomes unpaved again.


12:42 pm – Again gorgeous view and by some miracle the road turned paved.




1:31 pm – Stopped for lunch and fuel. The gasoline was only available from container, and cost 5 Bolivian pesos/liter (about 70 US cents), about 30% more than service station. Fuel is subsidized by the government in Bolivia.P1000664

1:56 pm – A curious villager got Q into a half-understood conversation during lunch.


2:11 pm – Unpaved road after lunch. Blech! But at least we aren’t walking!

P1020439 2:22 pm – The sign announced “Pavement in 5o m”!


2:46 pm – Q was lo-lo-loving it!


3:19 pm – Came to a village that is half way to Potosi, and entertained the idea of staying for the night, but nah, we felt pretty good and wanted to make some extra mileage, so we got back on Casa and marched on. It turned out that was a bit of mistake – we should’ve quitted while we were ahead of game.


3:23 pm – Yikes.


3:41 pm – There was a detour that was even worse than the unpaved road if you can believe it.


4:03 pm – Back on pavement. P1020464

4:09 pm – …And we were off again.


4:50 pm – Finally came to another village and tried to find accommodation – but no luck! Had to continue on and with the sun start setting, we started regretting not stopping earlier.


5:10 pm – Another detour and this time it was wet, muddy and slippery from construction. The effect of high altitude was already quite notice-able as I panted from a short walk-up.


5:19 pm – The unpaved turn looked so evil and cool. Should we love it or hate it?


5:40 pm – We stopped at another village, considering camping out, but was told by a villager that there was hotel half an hour down the road, so we continued on, anxious about the sunset.


6:04 pm – Discovered one of the two screws holding head light in place was gone! That’s what the Bolivian roads do best! With time being the essence, we quickly derived a temporary solution with a smaller screw and some rubber. It worked and we are on.


6:13 pm – Told by a small construction village that we came across that there was hotel another half an hour away. No choice but to continue. No sight of any village or hotel as we were told.


6:34 pm – Accommodation at last. It was behind a small shop/restaurant in a village, but it will do. Plus, it cost just under 3 USD. Q said it’s possibly the cheapest he’s ever done.


As we started unpack, we discovered more broken things: the chain guard has been knocked out of place, the right pannier (the big metal luggage things) has a loose locking mechanism, AND our portable hard drive is making funny noise. I think Bolivian roads shake loose every nuts and bolts that we can or cannot imagine.

So this is our day 3 in Bolivia and it is one of the better ones. To be honest riding in Bolivia is a lot more challenging than we expected, but we are adapting, taking it easy, and most importantly keeping our spirits high.

No dull moments here! Wanna join us? :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Gran Chaco

Our decision of heading up north after Buenos Aires is driven by the weather factor. Argentina was still rather chilly coming out of winter and we were drawn to warmth.

They say be careful of what you wish for.


Casa’s display reads 36.5 degree celcius – and this is with complete overcast.

We are in The Chaco, northern frontier of Paraguay.  It has a nasty reputation as the “Green Hell” – harsh and unpredictable weather condition rules the region. We decided to make a day trip and see for ourselves.

It started off quite well: some uneven and unpaved roads but apparently considered well by the locals.


Then the road condition deteriorated rather quickly with thick sand masking hard rocks.


Next thing we knew all of us were flat out covered in sand.


Fortunately all of us were unharmed (Thanks to Q for making sure I wore my protective gears), except for, wait for it, our GPS.


YIKES, with a broken antenna, our GPS would not be very useful for our navigation into Bolivia tomorrow, not to mention the rest of the trip.

Later today while I was glancing through our travel guidebook, this caught my attention. Apparently the annual three-day Rally Transchaco motorsport is considered “one of the toughest on the planet”. Wish we read that earlier!


Update: Above was written about three days ago, we couldn’t post the blog because of lack of internet. Will send new post soon, but here is a preview of our border crossing into The Gran Chaco part of Bolivia.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Iguazú Falls

Q said he had never heard of Iguazú Falls before arriving in South America. And I have only read about it in some travel literature – that it is one of the world’s largest water falls. With the little knowledge we had, we made it our first stop after leaving Buenos Aries.

And boy, were we in for a treat! Iguazú Falls were pure heavenly and magic…







As a Canadian, I am embarrassed to admit that the Iguazú Falls was far better preserved and presented than Niagara Falls.

In addition to the magnificant falls, we were also pleasantly surprised by the exotic plants and animals covering the area. (click below to view bigger image.)


It has been a pure eye candy and we simply couldn’t get enough. Such was a privilege.