Monday, July 30, 2012

Glamorous

It was 35 degrees in my hotel room last night. And they were all out of space heaters or extra blankets. I really hate my travel agent right now.

I can handle lots of things while traveling. Cockroaches, 'squatty potties', no electricity or running water - I've done it all before. But cold? Oh hell no! Unless my lodgings are actually made from ice or snow I like heat and lots of it.

On the plus side I made it safely (and with all my luggage) to Cusco, Peru. Tomorrow I see Machu Picchu and I have all day today to try to find some place a bit more civilized to sleep.

Also on the positive side, the earplugs I bought are absolute champs. They completely drowned out all the annoying backpacker sounds that would otherwise have kept me up all night. As it was, I was able to picture myself camping in the (arctic) wilderness, miles from the nearest human.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Top of the World

Well, this is it. My internship ended yesterday. It's been a great ten weeks and a perfect introduction to my new job. I loved the people I worked with and I can tell now why they say that the people make the post. La Paz wouldn't have been half as fun without their generosity, humor and patience.

I am still quite literally, on top of the world. I don't have any vacation pictures to show you this time, but I wanted to crow a little bit about the work trip I took this week.

As you may or may not know, the embassies donate books to towns and schools around the world, and I had the opportunity to participate firsthand in one of our donations this week. And not only was I participating, but a certain intern I know got to write and deliver the speech on behalf of the Embassy, and it was a really inspiring experience. I have never felt more like I was representing my country (and more proud to be doing so) then while presenting the books to this town that didn't have a library until now.* It was the best way I can imagine to end my internship here and I am very grateful that my supervisor trusted me with that kind of responsibility. I can't show you pictures of the ceremony, since I feel like that crosses some sort of line, but a few pictures of the town can't hurt, right?
Oh, the cuteness...
 Some little girls joined us in a traditional dance after the ceremony. Needless to say, they were better dressed than we were, but I'd like to think we held our own with the dancing.


Sorry for the picture quality on this one, but I was supposed to be working after all. I just wanted to show you the guinea pigs the town raises.
Before lunch.

During lunch.

Yes, it's worse than eating Bambi. But, I have to say that I thought it was pretty tasty stuff (though not very meaty) and no one from the embassy got ill from it, so it was a smashing success. Although out of respect for several of my former pets I think I won't be cooking this dish at home.

I love the scenery in these little towns.


The next time you hear from me will be ???? I'm spending a couple weeks traveling and I have no idea how good my internet will be. All the best!


PS - Thanks for the comments! I love them and I have every intention of responding once I can do so from the comfort of somewhere other than the internet cafe. It's great to know that someone's reading.



*And just so you are aware, we donated over 200 brand-new, classic American children's books, all translated into Spanish. This is a bit of a step up from some of the 'donations' I've seen in the past, where people are just getting rid of their old, unwanted stuff. I guess when the embassy does things it does them right!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sucre (in pictures)

...and very few words.
View from the recoleta. Amazingly off balance as usual. (I should really get my eyesight looked at...)

Our hotel. Isn't it gorgeous?

Church where we accidentally walked in on a wedding (oops). Actually it happened twice this weekend. We're either very lucky or very oblivious, not sure which.

Cretacic park. Strikingly well done, especially for Bolivia. It's the home to some dinosaur footprints and several giant replicas. All they're missing are some rollercoasters.

Street. I love the old part of town, with the white buildings and the colonial architecture. I highly recommend a visit if you're in Bolivia.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wish you were here!

Hello from Sucre, the other capital of Bolivia. It also happens to be a major chocolate producing city for the country. Clearly I'm a strategic traveler. Mostly the idea this weekend is to see and do nothing. I've only got one week left in Bolivia before I leave the internship and start my entirely-too-ambitious tour of the region. So naturally I have to start conserving my energy now. Sucre is the perfect place to do it too. It's quiet, beautiful, and relatively free of 'sights' to distract us. We saw one small museum, strolled through the market (and ate one of everything for sale) and have spent embarrassing amounts of time reading on the roof of our gorgeous hotel. *sigh* It's a good life. No pictures til I get back, but until then I hope your weekend is as peaceful as mine!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Salt - and lots of it.

This weekend I saw one of the most beautiful places in the world (and certainly one of the most unique). As I mentioned several months ago, the Salar (salt flat) of Uyuni was right at the top of the list of things I wanted to see while I was here, and it didn't disappoint.


The only downside of the trip is that it is a little bit grueling. We started out at 5:45 am on this tiny toothpick of an airplane. To give you a sense of how much adventure we're talking, I'll just say that there was no door on the cockpit. During the entire flight you could peer over your seat and watch the pilot at work. Perhaps even more telling was that the airport in Uyuni was just an empty shed. There were no toilets, no electricity, no anything. The best part was the fact that there was no security at all and we actually could stand on the tarmac and watch little propeller planes take off and land. When we arrived the airport guys (all two of them) just set the luggage in a pile on the tarmac and we crowded around to pick up our stuff. This is the way all flying should be.

 I suppose I should note here that both the flight and the hotel in Uyuni were just what everyone had promised us - utterly freezing. Bolivia doesn't seem to have discovered the joys of central (or any) heating and Uyuni can be pretty bitterly cold. Fortunately for us once the sun came up it was actually great outside. But just be warned - if you visit, dress like you're going skiing. And splurge for a hotel with heat and hot water. You won't regret it.

Okay, back to the trip. These montons above are piles of salt, drying in the sun. (Yes, we tasted them. And yes, they were very salty.)


Our landcruiser. The town of Uyuni must have half the world's supply of landcruisers. It's a testament to the size of the salar that even with a small army of landcruisers setting out each morning we spent the whole day in almost total isolation on the salt.
Fun fact: The salar is 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Its area is 4068 square miles - for comparison, the land area of Rhode Island is 1045 square miles. (I guess that explains where all the other tourists went.)
View from the island of Incahuasi somewhere in the middle of the salt. It was comparatively crowded, but worth a visit.


The salt flat is obviously really good at reflecting sunlight. So much so that I imagine you could do some permanent damage to your eyesight if you didn't wear sunglasses.
...
I also imagine that it would be an excellent tanning bed, though I didn't have time to investigate that possibility.
(Once again, I just can't hold a camera straight. Apologies.)


And of course, there were llamas.  In fact, we ate one for lunch...

Sorry buddy.


Amazingly, as remote as the salt flats are they are a comfortable weekend trip from La Paz. (And if they worked the flights out right it could actually be a day trip.) If you are anywhere in South America I highly recommend a stopover in Uyuni. This was easily one of the highlights of my summer and is tied at first place (along with Lake Titicaca) for the coolest thing to see in Bolivia.

Oh, and happy La Paz day. I'm off work and spending the day recovering with my radiator cranked up all the way and the TV on.  It's a good life. Two more weeks of my internship!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cochabamba

(to be sung to the tune of the flintstones song)

Last weekend I neglected to update the blog (at least with pictures) because I was hard at work in the city of Cochabamba. I won't get into the work part of the trip because I'm still a little rusty on the rules about that sort of thing. But I did want to share all the adventures I had in my free time.


So. Cochabamba. Have you ever heard of it? My guess is no, and so you might be surprised to know that Cochabamba is home to a sight that will look pretty familiar.
That's right! It's a big Jesus on a hill! Just like in Rio de Janeiro. BUT this big Jesus is actually the tallest in the world. It's a bit of a surprise in this dusty town in the middle of Bolivia, but as long as I was in town I had to go see it. Especially since I discovered how much the visa fee is for Brazil and decided not to do a long weekend in Rio after all.
You get to the top in these cute little tram things.

Then it takes about ten minutes (and I'm being generous) to circle the statue and get some good shots.*
I wonder if Cristo Redentor is also kind of a disappointingly short trip?

Anyway, after Cochabamba me and the work people took a very long bus ride. First we stopped at some Inca ruins, called Incallajta. There were lots of facts that they shared about these ruins, of which I don't remember anything (sorry). They are pretty extensive, but not nearly as well preserved (so I hear) as Machu Picchu. Still, if you're looking for something a bit further from the beaten path this is it. It's so deep into the middle of nowhere that we met zero foreigners at the ruins. So thanks to the embassy for giving me a cultural experience I definitely wouldn't have had otherwise!

Finally we made it to our destination, the city of Totora. It's a colonial city with beautiful architecture. I would have loved to take half an hour and photograph every building in town, but you know, work happened. Anyway, I managed to get a few shots as I was running back and forth through town.

Mostly I took pictures of people though. (With permission, of course.) I'll have to post more pictures when I'm back in the states with super awesome internet.



So there you go! My first 'authentic' small town Bolivian experience.  I had a great time, froze myself into a popsicle, and learned a lot about the power of diplomacy.

I love my job. ;)

This weekend is (thankfully) set aside to rest and do some more celebrating for the 4th of July. I worked the embassy events (yes there were two, and today is the third) on the actual 4th, so I'm excited to have a chance to just chill and enjoy the company of all my intern and officer friends. Happy Independence Day!

*I have no idea why there are holes all over the statue. I'm guessing it's a structural thing, but don't take my word for that.