Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!!!

Hello from Rio de Janeiro! We have been here since the 23rd, but first a recollection of our voyage from Iguaçu. What was supposed to be a 22 hour ride was punctuated with technical difficulties, a flat tire around two AM and a "broken" accelerator around noon. We finally got in around 3PM, only about five hours late. We got comfy in our new apartment, and hit the beach. It has averaged around 95° every day, hitting 115° one day, so the beach is a welcome necessity. A few days after our arrival Sarah's brother Jeremy and my friend Justine arrived in Rio. Earlier that day we had gone to the national history musuem and learned about Brasil's history. We also saw some very old vehicles, both internal combustion powered and horse drawn. Our friend and local guide, Alessandra, was kind enough to take us to her family's Christmas party where we basically ate all night. We also got to practice our Portuguese. In the past few days we went up the Sugar Loaf Mountains, and Sarah went hang gliding! We also have discovered açaí. It is much tastier here than what you get in America, I'm not sure why, but I intend to figure it out so I can continue eating it at home. On Christmas day we went to a live concert on the beach featuring a local Brazilian star, Gilberto Gil and Stevie Wonder! It's great that the city puts on free events like this and supposedly over a million people attended.

You'll be excited to know that Sarah has purchased a new bikini to fit in with the locals. I have not. We have also eaten a lot of the meat that Brazil is famous for, as well as experiencing enormous portions. Five of us shared a churrasco for two and there was still a pork chop left over! As I write this I can hear the firecrackers starting to go off. In a little bit we will be on the beach enjoying a cold beer, some champagne and NYE fireworks.

Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

No end of the world in Foz do Iguaçu!

Well, dear readers, it would seem the world hasn't ended after all, much like we knew it wouldn't after having visited all the Mayan ruins in central America.   We've spent the last two days in Foz do Iguaçu, the town on the Brazilian side of the beautiful Iguaçu/Iguazu/Iguassu Falls that border Brasil, Argentina, and Paraguay.  The place is HOT with a subtropical climate, meaning VERY humid (yes, the caps are necessary!).  Yesterday, we crossed to the Argentinian side (yay, more passport stamps!  That's 8 stamps from Argentina for those of you counting at home, 6 from Chile, 4 from Honduras, and just 2 from everywhere else, except only 1 from Nicaragua and El Salvador which has zero... not to mention several commemorative stamps), where you get a very upclose look at the waterfalls.  We started by taking the train up to La Garganta del Diabo, the Devil's Throat, which is a large horseshoe shaped collection of incredible waterfalls with about an 80 meter drop.  They have built some impressive bridges so you can walk over the river to see the falls. This is normally where I would put in some pictures, however, Matt decided to shoot in RAW format, so they are too big to upload from the ipad!  If we are able to find a locutorio, we will try to upload them from there. We then hiked the upper and lower circuits, which were more bridges that allowed us to see several falls from the bottom and top, respecitvely.  It was quite hot and we worked up quite a sweat, so the spray from the falls felt nice!  We had wanted to take a ferry over to San Martin Island for some more hikes and up close views, but unfortunately, the island was closed yesterday for an unknown reason.  We decided instead to do the allegedly challenging Macuco Trail to see another falls.  We walked about 3 kilometers and saw a lot of great wild life on the way, including coatis (racoon like animals with long snouts), capuchin monkeys, tiger ants (they are about an inch long and emit a sort of smelly acid), and some very large lizards, that may have been tigus or monitors, we are not sure.  So after walking about 45 minutes on a relatively flat trail, we got to the spot where you shiuld descend to see the falls, however, the bridge had been washed out and the trail was closed!  We were so bummed and had to walk the whole way back without having been refreshed from the water.  We then walked back to the visitor center and checked out the small museum before heading back.  All in all, I reckon we walked about 12 kilometers, about 7.5 miles.  We were quite lucky with the weather, because it started thundering as we exited the park, but the rain didn't hit until we were already in the van.  It rained off and on all night, cooling the air to a much more pleasant temperature. This morning, we headed to the Parque das Aves, the Bird Park, where we saw an incredible number of beautiful and exotic birds.  There were several walk-through aviaries where there was nothing between us and some very large-beaked toucans, pheasants, cassows (not sure on the spelling), macaws, and other birds.  They was also a butterfly and humming bird walk-through and a reptile portion of the zoo; they don't let you into the Anaconda pool though, I wonder why?  We also a Carrowary, a bird I am pretty sure is the direct descendant of the Velociraptor; it's like a raptor and an ostrich had a baby that mated with the baby of a hen and a peacock.  (Definitely need to post a picture of that one!). We ended by getting to have a Macaw perch on our arms for a photo. Around noon we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls, where you can really see the entire set of falls at once.  It's truly breath-taking!  We then followed a path to a bridge which takes you right out into the falls near the Devil's throat - water protecttion necessary!  There is a strong wind from the falls and the water that gets pushed up gets everyone wet!  Just as we were finished walking along the path, which is much shkrter than the Argentinian side, it began to rain again, so we caught the bus back to the entrance of the park and then another bus back into town.   Tomorrow, we catch a bus to Rio de Janeiro, a 22 hour trip, and arrive there on Sunday.  We've rented an apartment in Copacabana which we'll share with my brother, Jeremy and our friend/his girlfriend Justine, who arrive a few days later.  Rio will be our last city in South America, and it is so hard to believe our trip is nearly at an end!  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Uruguay by the Numbers and another Oi from Florianópolis!

Oi again from Florianopolis. As you might imagine we have been very busy on the beach here studying Portuguese. Here are the numbers from Uruguay. We entered the country on November 15th, and left December 2nd. For some reason they didn't have the month right on the sta,p out so it says we left on November 2nd instead, but no we did not time travel in Uruguay. This gives us 17 days in the country in total. We entered Uruguay with only $27 and left with $111, most of which was in USD. We withdrew $1336 giving us a total spend of $1252, roughly $73.65 per day. Uruguay is one of the more expensive countries we have been to, and our last bus into Brazil really put it ovee the edge as it was $175 per person. Witthout that bus trip we would have only been at $53 per day, but we had to leave somehow!

So in Florianopolis we have been taking it easy. We ate at a local all-you-can-eat sushi place which incidentally had different prices for men and women. Quality was about what you would expect for a sushi buffet. We are staying in a small fishing village called Barra da Lagoa, and on the weekends it turns into a magnet for beachgoers. Everyone has been very friendly especially with our limited language skills. Yesterday we finally bought a new SIM card for our cell phone and apparently Brazil makes foreigners jump through some hoops to register the phone number. Luckily the lady who sold us the chip was kind enough to use her ID number so we could avoid going through the process. On Tuesday we will be heading to Iguaçu Falls, and in the meantime, more beaching!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So much to catch up!!!

Hello dear readers, friends, and family, Let me apologize for the long delay in blogging. Quite a lot has passed since we last wrote and I hope to catch you all up today. When we last wrote, we had just arrived in Montevideo and wete staying in a neighborhood called Pocitos. All we did there was relax on the beach and eat some delicious Uruguayan food, as we waited for the arrival of my mother and Matt's parents, who were coming to join us for Thanksgiving break. As before, I will let the mothers tell about our trip. Take it away, ladies: (Cue Belinda) It had only been 5 months since we had visited Sarah and Matt in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, but we couldn’t resist the urge to spend additional time with our children, so the “Moms” (Matt’s mother Saralyn and me, Sarah’s mother Belinda) planned another trip to South America. Based on our availability and the availability of tickets using our miles, we decided on Montevideo, Uruguay over Thanksgiving.  Then Allan (Matt’s father), decided he wanted to go, too, so he bought a ticket on the same flights as Saralyn and me and our trip was on! We left Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 20th and arrived in Montevideo on Wednesday, the 21st.  Our taxi took us from the airport along the Rambla, the road that goes along the Rio de la Plata, to Pocitos, a residential area along the south facing coast of Montevideo.  Sarah and Matt were waiting for us at our hotel, the Punta Trouville Suites. We walked along the Rambla in the afternoon, took an obligatory siesta and then had our first dinner in Montevideo at a local restaurant that specializes in empanadas. On Thursday we went to visit the Botanical Gardens, Matt and Sarah leading us on local buses, but unfortunately when we arrived we found that the Botanical Gardens were closed due to a labor strike.  We did find a nearby rose garden open and spent a bit of time there until the rain started.  We made it home on the bus, but not before getting a bit wet!  That evening we had a typical Thanksgiving dinner: Parilla, Uruguayan grilled barbecue meat, at a nice restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. On Friday morning we went on a Jewish tour of Montevideo.  We started in the old city and saw the synagogues that were built by the city’s Jewish population at the turn of the last century, the Holocaust Memorial along the banks of the river and then visited the Jewish Community Center in Pocitos.  Saralyn and I ventured out to the Shopping Montevideo mall by ourselves that afternoon, taking a bus there and a taxi back.  That evening we had dinner at Raffi, a Mediterranean restaurant that Allan and Saralyn found when out walking.  Excellent kabob! Saturday we took a walking tour of the Old City.  Our guide, Maria, took us through the pedestrian shopping streets and pointed out various landmarks along the way.  We ended up at the Port of Montevideo and had lunch at El Palenque…incredible fresh salmon!  After siesta we returned to our favorite Pizzeria for dinner, this time trying another local dish, Chivito. On Sunday, Sarah led the group to the “Ferria” in downtown, which was a flea market spread out over several blocks.  Everything you never wanted from every garage and yard sale you’ve ever been to!  But Sarah was able to successfully trade in some books that she and Matt had already read for some new ones that she could read in the remaining time on their trip. On Monday we took a trip outside of Montevideo to the Bouza Bodega Boutique Winery.  Originally an old farm, it was purchased by the owner in about 2000 and made into a lovely small winery.  After touring the winery with winemaker Ana Laura and her assistant, Gus, from Holland of all places, we had an incredible lunch at the winery’s restaurant and sampled two of their wines, the Albarino and a Merlot-Tannat blend.  Both were really good and we’re hoping to find a store here in L.A. where we can buy them. Tuesday was museum day.  Saralyn and I started at MAPI, a museum for pre-Columbian art which also had a temporary exhibit on the second floor. The exhibit included photographs by two different artists and an historic musical instrument display.  Allan, Sarah and Matt enjoyed a cold beer at “Beatles”, a local cafe, while we enjoyed our art education! Then we all went to the National Bank Building and a church across the street which are currently being used to display works of art.  All of the exhibits were very interesting and the architecture of these old buildings was an extra added attraction.  We had lunch in the market at the Port again, enjoying various items from the grill. On our last day, we checked out of our hotel and took a long walk along the Rambla again.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant right next to the water and just enjoyed sitting outdoors and being with each other.  We made one last stop at Matt’s favorite ice cream parlor, Venezia on the Blv. Espana and went back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and say our good-byes to Matt and Sarah. We flew overnight to Miami, and returned to L.A. on Thursday afternoon. (cue Saralyn) ...And now it is Friday, November 30th. Allan and I have just driven back to Scottsdale, AZ, where we live, from our restful overnight at Belinda and Mike’s home in L.A. More than anything, our trip was memorable just because we had the opportunity to visit with Sarah and Matt again. This was quite different from our trip to Galapagos and Machu Picchu. On that trip, we were on the move almost every day, constantly exerting ourselves with very little “down” time. This was a more “laid back” trip, with lots of time to visit with each other, time to stroll, and time to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of just one city. We never tired of Sarah or Matt discussing the similarities and differences between the cultures they’ve visited, their thoughts and concerns for the futures of these countries and their people, telling us about the friends they’ve made throughout their travels, and to feel their love and excitement for the adventure they continue to have before they return to the states in just under six weeks. Montevideo is not a particularly beautiful city, but it is very easy to get around, people are very friendly, and there are any number of interesting things to do and places to visit. I was particularly impressed that, for the most part, people are polite and kind to others. When you are riding on a local bus, folks move over in the seats so you can sit down, there is no pushing and shoving, and people seem to be patient even when it is crowded. People didn’t push and shove in the marketplace. Montevideo is, simultaneously, a combination of quiet, calm areas, and vibrancy. The area in which we stayed, Pocitos, is very residential, so it was a great place to walk; browse in the neighborhood shops and grocery stores (more like our “mini marts”); enjoy a visit to the neighborhood hair salon, as did Belinda; and people-watch in the local environment. Yet, like any other major, international capital city of a country, consulates are scattered throughout the city, and Montevideo is vibrant with business and a huge port. The city sits at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, which is so big, it looks like the ocean itself! And, of course, a very important “plus” is that you can drink the water and eat raw fruits and vegetables!! On the whole, Montevideo is a very pleasant city. Of course, that’s not to say that everything in Montevideo is pedestrian friendly! You take your life in your hands when you step off the curb if there is a car anywhere in the vicinity! Stopping for pedestrians is not on the local drivers’ radar screens! Basically, though, Montevideo is a big city with a small city feel, and is a really nice place to visit. Thank you, Sarah and Matt, for sharing your experiences with us. We had a wonderful eight days, seeing Montevideo through your eyes and in your relaxed manner of touring. We wish you all the best, much fun, and a very safe journey as you continue on this last “leg” of your adventure! Savor every moment as you continue on your trip of a lifetime. We love you and can’t wait to see you again, in January! Belinda, Saralyn and Allan Well, there you have it. As you can see, we had our hands full that week, playing host to our parents and discovering Montevideo! After our folks left, Matt and I headed to Piriapolis, a beachtown an hour and a half up the coast. It's a cute sleepy beach town, unfortunately, the prices were a bit high as the high season is starting. The beach was nice but the water was cold and it even rained one day, cutting in on my suntanning time! After three nights, we headed back to Montevideo to catch our bus to Brazil! The ride was 18 hours from Montevideo to Florianopolis, Brazil, and though the bus did not have wifi as promised, it did have free whisky, so we weren't complaining. When we arrived on the island of Santa Catarina, we met a local tour guide who helped find a simple one room apartment on the east side of the island, at a beach called Barra de Lagoa. Costs here are surprisingly low considering it is high season, but it is certainly more expensive than some countries we've visited. The sun is shining bright all day long, so we're spending plenty of time on the beach, and there are lovely vegetable and fruit markets in town, so we're eating healthy, too. Yesterday, we had a Tejila do Açai for breakfast, which was a sort of yogurt made from the açai berry, very popular here, with granola and banana slices. After a few days of portunhol, we decided it might behoove us to learn some Portuguese, since we were having trouble communicating. As it happens, there is a school right across the street from us and yesterday we had our first Portuguese lesson! It is fitting that we are starting school again just as we started our spanish school this time, last year. It's a nice relaxed life here on the island and we're planning on staying and continuing classes until the 18th or so, with our next destination being Iguazu Falls. I am sure when you see the next pictures of us, you won't believe how tan we are! But don't worry, we wear sunscreen every day! Well, that's all for now. See you next time and I hope we'll write sooner this time! Tchau! (yes, that's how they spell it here!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Uruguay and Argentina by the Numbers

Greetings friends, first Argentina by the numbers. As you will recall we entered Argentina on October 23, and left a few days ago on November 15. We were in the country for a total of 23 days, and withdrew $2144. We left with a mere $27, most of which was in Chilean and American currency, and we had entered Argentina with about $217. In total we spent $101.91 per day on average. Obviously, this makes Argentina the most expensive country of our trip so far. Some of this seemed justified, Argentina is a fairly modern country with all the high-tech amenities we are used to, however they are having some severe economic difficulties. There are strict currency restrictions preventing locals from changing their pesos into dollars. This has lead to a parallel market which gives a 30% markup in the value of the dollar. For someone traveling to Argentina from their home country it would make much more sense to bring dollars or Euros, or whatever other currency and then change it on the street in Argentina and get a much better rate. Given our style of travel, it did not make sense to carry around thousands of dollars through a dozen countries in anticipation of our arrival, so we really just had the chilean pesos when we crossed the border, where we got the black market rate (which is called bludolar in Argentina) but otherwise we used the ATM and got the official rate. Additionally, Argentina has been experiencing 20+% inflation over the past few years, so it looks like it will only get more expensive, especially as they limit currency transactions, although from what I read it looks like another default/currency devaluation may be in the near future, so as always, check the news before you visit.

Last thursday we said goodbye to our friend Paula and got on the boat from Buenos Aires to Colonia. We opted for the Colonia Express boat which was slightly cheaper than the competition. After undergoing the usual immigration formalities, and getting two more passport stamps, we settled into a cheap hotel in Colonia. Colonia is a very small town with a lot of colonial history both from Portugal and Spain. It is also a major tourist destination for day and weekend trippers from Buenos Aires. Many restaurants and businesses accept Argentine pesos, but the rate is even worse than the bludolar rate. On Thursday we went up to the top of the local lighthouse, and also ate an Uruguayan specialty, chivito. Chivito is served in two varieties, on a plate or on bread. We opted for chivito for two on a plate. Basically we got a plate covered with french fries, with some salad and potato salad on the side. On top of the french fries were two steaks. On top of the steaks were slices of ham, stacked on the ham were slices of cheese, on top of the cheese were fried eggs, topped off with slices of bacon. Obviously this is a very heart healthy meal. On Friday we went to a few different musuems. There are 9 small musuems around town that are part of a single ticket, so we bought that ticket and went to three of them. We also checked out the aquarium and an old naval musuems. All of the musuems are quite small, but there is an entire whale body that had washed up on the shore a long time ago, as well as some exhibits about the indigenous people of the area. Friday was another culinary experience. I ate gramajo which is a mixture of french fries, ham, cheese, onions, and peas in stir fry form. Saturday we took the bus to Montevideo, where the central bus terminal is also located in a giant mall, so after shopping for a bit and grabbing lunch we came to Pocitos (a beach neighborhood) and found a place to stay. As some of you know our parents are coming to visit us in a few days, so we have been given strict instructions to become experts of Montevideo before they arrive. We have already found the beach, and also found a delicious artisan ice creamery. We have also tested the local Uruguayan beers, so far they have a very good porter, more to come on that front later. Today we will be exploring more of the city, we will report back later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Buenos Aires

Greetings from Buenos Aires! Since we last spoke we have had a great time touring around Bs As. On Saturday night there was a city-wide event known as Noche de los Museos, or night of the musuems. No folks, it's not like that Ben Stiller movie, none of the exhibits came to life, but basically most of the musuems in the city are free from 8:00 at night until 3:00 the next morning. It is a really neat idea, although in practice it seems like the city was a little overwhelmed by the turnout. We originally were going to go to the zoo, but the line was about ten blocks long, so we figured we would go to the planetarium instead. The planetarium also had a very long line, but it seemed to be done in groups since the tour started with a video. After visiting the planetarium, and finishing up around midnight we decided to grab some comida arabe and call it a night. Saturday morning, before resting up for our trip to the musuems, we went to a seaside neighborhood called La Boca. La Boca is a very touristy area selling artesania and other interesting handmade items. There are also a lot of touristy restaurants, you can get your picture taken with a tango dancer, etc. After wandering around for a little bit, we had seen pretty much all there was to see, so we had another adventure on the bus getting home. In Buenos Aires, the buses have an electronic payment system where locals swipe their card and money is taken from their account, however for travelers, you must pay the fare. The buses are only equipped with machines that accept coins, and rather inconveniently there is a coin shortage in this country. Luckily we barely had enough metal in our pockets to cover the ride home.

On Sunday we ventured to the Casa Rosada (pink house) similar to the American White House, although the president doesn't actually live there. We also went to the San Telmo neighborhood where they have a street fair. Again, we saw a lot of artesania and standard tourist merchandise, although there were some interesting antique shops as well as vendors selling bills and coins from Argentina's prior currencies. Monday we went back to the Casa Rosada and took a tour, as well as walked to the Congress building. Yesterday we walked to a very nice neighborhood called Recoleta, which is also home to a cemetary for many of the cities wealthy and elite. Many past presidents and generals are buried there, and we recognized many of the names as they are also names of streets, neighborhoods, and towns that we have seen in our travels. We also passed by Evita's crypt.

This morning we went to the local zoo. Although not quite as elaborate as the zoo in Cali, it housed a great deal of animals. Also, they have brought in some of the rabbit/kangaroo rodents that we saw in Patagonia and they are hopping all around the zoo. Tonight we are planning to watch some tango, and then tomorrow morning we have to be up bright and early to catch the ferry to Uruguay! See you in Colonia!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cordoba to Buenos Aires

Hello dear readers! We've had a fun and relaxed few days, so let me bring you up to date! Tuesday, we headed back to the art museums that had been closed the day before. We started at the Museo de Bellas Artes Emilio Carrafa, which features several modern art installations. Some were very interesting, including a photography exhibit of gun owners in Switzerland and another featuring the winners or a national young artist competition. We then headed to thw Palacio Ferrerya which featured more traditonal classic art as well as an exhibit of art featuring some atrocities from the dictatorship. Some other couch surfers came to stay with our host, so we spent the afternoon talking to them and sharing our various adventures. Wednesday, we were quite lazy, enjoying the heat, and had another delicious pancho (hot dog) for lunch. That night, we boarded our bus to Buenos Aires. Here in BsAs (prounounced bees-ayz), we are staying with our friend Paula, whom I know from Los Angeles who is now studying for her masters. She lives in the very hip neighborhood of Palermo. Of course, we were quite tired from our night journey and spent most of the day resting, though we did venture out to explore the neighborhood cafes and had lunch. Last night, there was a large protest downtown, but it was peaceful we heard. The forecast for today was rain, but when we woke up in the morning the sky was clear, so we decided to head out of doors until the rain arrived. We wandered through the Jardin Botanico and then went to the Museo Evita, about the famous Eva Perón. When we exited the museum, the sky had turned dark and it was quite windy. We weren't too far from home, so we thought we could get home quickly, but the rain was quicker. It started POURING! We were soaked from head to toe by the time we got home! Matt ran quickly across the street to buy some empanadas and sandwiches for lunch, then we dried off and have enjoyed the rest of the day indoors. It's still raining, so we'll just stay in for the night and continue our adventures tomorrow! That's all for now, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Greetings from Córdoba! We left Puerto Madryn last Thursday and grabbed a night bus to Córdoba, arriving a little late on Friday morning. We had made plans to stay with a fellow couchsurfer here, and called him when we arrived. We still hadn´t yet purchased a SIM card for Argentina, so while we were in the locutorio we inquired in that regard. We decided to pick up a $5 SIM card (a little over $1 US) so that we could communicate while we are here. Carlos, whom we met on couchsurfing, picked us up and took us to his apartment before he went back to work. We relaxed for a little bit, then made plans to meet up with our friend Paula, who is a university student here in Córdoba. We wandered around the city a bit until we met her and then she gave us a walking/driving tour of the city. We saw many important buildings, as well as the University City. There are a lot of universities and colleges here and the city has a very youthful feel to it. It is also significantly warmer than the last few places we have been. We have even had to use the air conditioning, a welcome change from the snowy Ushuaia.

On Saturday we explored the city some more and in the early afternoon we decided to escape the heat by watching a movie. We saw the new 007 movie and I think it´s fair to say that we were the only people not reading the subtitles judging by when we laughed and when the rest of the audience laughed. We went out to dinner with Carlos and a few of his friends and tried some interesting new empanadas. On Sunday we took the bus up to the Sierras around Córdoba. In the Sierras there are a lot of quaint little towns and villages and it seems like a weekend/summer getaway for a lot of the city dwellers. We hiked around for a little bit and eventually settled down on a ¨beach¨for a few hours. This beach is actually the bank of a river, and there were plenty of hippies hanging out with their juggling, guitar-playing, substance-smoking selves. After a quick lunch at the Argentina standard lunchtime of about 4:00 PM we grabbed a bus back to town.

Yesterday we made the superhuman effort of waking up early so that we could go see a few musuems in town. We went to the Cabildo, a municipal building sort of like city hall which has a musuem and then ventured to a few other musuems in the city only to discover that they are closed on Mondays! We had no other choice but to eat. We found a nice little cafe in the square and I had a few medialunas (croissants) and Sarah had some cold cuts. We came back to Carlos´apartment for a brief siesta, then took our books to the park for an afternoon of reading. On the way we decided to get a pancho, which is Argentine Spanish for hot dog. As you might expect, a hot dog here is nothing like a hot dog in America. My hot dog came with olives, onions, cheese, chimichurri sauce, a ¨rain¨of french fries, and chopped up tomatoes and onions. Sarah was less adventurous with her hot dogging, but redeemed herself with a trip to the ice cream truck next door. It was so hot in the park that after reading for a little bit we decided to go to a little cafe and have a beer to cool off. Today we are going to try to get to the musuems again, and tomorrow we head off to Buenos Aires!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Last Day in Ushuaia to Puerto Madryn

Hello from Puerto Madryn. Since we last wrote we spent our last day in Ushuaia going to the Presidio which is now a musuem. It was originally a Spanish fort, and later housed a prison. There is an entire wing devoted to some of the old ships with very accurate models and a great deal of old maps from the first explorers.

This guy was hanging out outside of the musuem.

Here we have a map of Patagonia.

This was one of my favorites, note the "island" of California.

As this building used to be a prison, there were several exhibits about famous prisoners, how they were treated, their crimes, etc. At the time there was only a small village in Ushuaia, and some of the prisoners' families would come and live nearby. One wing of the prison is left completely as it was originally, and it was quite cold inside.

This guy was convicted of poisoning and killing his family and trying to cover it up in order to inherit a lot of real estate.

There were very few escape attempts from this prison. Those who did manage to escape were often found dead nearby, or trying to steal food from local villagers. It is said that some escapees even voluntarily returned to the prison as conditions outside were too harsh. As you can see, the guards were very serious.

After visiting the musuem and prison, Sarah was a little spooked by the prison-iness of it all. We decided to calm down by eating some cordero fueguino, or Fuegian lamb. This is basically traditional lamb grilled over an open fire. We also had some smoked lamb prosciutto beforehand. All was quite delicious. Afterwards we picked up some snacks for the bus ride the next day from Sarah´s personal shop.

Saturday we woke up bright and early to catch a 5:00 AM bus from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos. This was a relatively short 12 hour trip through some gorgeous countryside. It snowed during the first few hours of the trip, but that didn´t stop the driver from screaming around high mountain passes with nothing but snowy cliff face below. Upon arrival in Rio Gallegos, we bought a ticket on to Puerto Madryn and had about an hour to kill in the bus terminal. They were kind enough to provide free wi-fi in the bus terminal while we waited. We then got on the bus at 6:00 PM headed for Puerto Madryn. 18 hours later, at about noon, we arrived. After a combined 30 hours on buses, we decided to relax a little bit. Also it was a Sunday, so much of the city was closed. Monday we did our usual city wander to orient ourselves, and we also checked out a few travel agencies since there is a lot of wildlife to go see nearby. We compared prices at a few agencies to what our hostel was offering and decided to go with our hostel yesterday to Peninsula Valdez. This was an all day excursion and we saw all kinds of animals.
Penguins swimming.

A dead whale being eaten by other local wildlife.

Here is a whale waving at us.

Taking a breath of fresh air.

No whalewatching trip would be complete without this view.

A little whale mating party.

A curious penguin.

Elephant seals and sea lions.

A really neat green Patagonian lizard.

There is the possibility of seeing orcas and poisonous snakes, however we did not come across either of those. We eventually came home last night and decided to try our hand at cooking some Argentine beef. Not surprisingly it was extremely delicious. I don´t even know what cut it was, we basically just got whatever the guy before us had ordered from the butcher. Needless to say, we now understand why Argentina is so famous for its meat. Today we were planning to take a walk down the beach. Supposedly there is more wildlife about 4 km down the road, however it is looking pretty cloudy right now, so we may change our plans. Tomorrow we head to Cordoba as the adventure continues. Happy Halloween everybody!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Punta Arenas to Ushuaia!!!!! (and Chile by the numbers)

We are in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world!

First, we must catch you up. After we last wrote, we went to Seno Otway near Punta Arenas to visit the penguins. This area is protected by law and the penguins come every year to breed and hatch their young. You can visit either in the morning or in the afternoon because the penguins are out hunting during the day. We got to watch them come back from the water, dry off, and then penguin-walk to their little caves.

The view from Seno Otway

Penguins drying off

Penguins at the starting line, racing to get to the best cave

This fellow came by to say hello

Being a penguin is very tiring, I think this guy is yawning

We also saw some rabbit-like creatures on our way out

After our trip to the penguins on Sunday, we took it easy on Monday. We went back to the restaurant we had eaten seafood at and decided to test their meat selection. Turned out it was also quite delicious. A steak with two fried eggs on top is an excellent meal at all hours of the day. We also wandered about town for an hour or two, stopped by a few stores just in case we would find any necessary supplies for Ushuaia. Everything was really expensive, so we decided to stick with what we had. The next day we got on a bus at 9:00 AM and headed for Ushuaia.

After a few hours, we had to get off the bus and the bus drove onto a ferry along with other waiting vehicles, we also got on board, and crossed onto the island that is Tierra del Fuego.

The ferry is pretty full

Sarah is the king of the world!!

We got back on the bus, drove off the ferry, and continued on our way. Eventually we crossed the border into Argentina, and had a slight mishap on the unpaved section of the road. We got a flat tire, and had to switch buses to another bus from the same company going to Rio Grande. They apparently didn´t have a spare on our bus, and wanted to keep the weight down as it followed us to Rio Grande where they repaired the tire. After about 45 minutes we got back onto our original bus and continued to Ushuaia, arriving at about 8:00 PM.

Yesterday we got up and ate our hostel-provided breakfast and finished just as it started snowing. We had originally planned to hike up the nearby glacier, however with it snowing, we decided to take it easy. Luckily it stopped snowing about an hour later and we changed our minds and decided to climb it anyways. It is about 7 km outside of town, up a hill, then there is a chairlift and a small hike from the chairlift. We decided to take a taxi to the base of the chairlift, which is closed due to maintenance anyways, and hike up from there. After about an hour we got to the top, just as it started snowing again!
Here is Sarah on the way up

The Glaciar Martial

Sarah, the chairlift, and Ushuaia down below

So here we are in Ushuaia, at the bottom of the world, just in time for the one year anniversary of our departure tomorrow. We are still considering taking a last minute cruise to Antarctica if we can get a rock bottom deal, but that is proving to be difficult. In the meantime, we will spend a few more days here checking out the musuems and the old Spanish fort.
Now for some sobering numbers from Chile. By far Chile was the most expensive country we have visited up to this point. That said, the quality of life is much higher, it is a very modern country and you end up paying more for that. We also did a lot of tourist activities which only added to the overall cost. We left Chile on the 23rd of October after entering on the 2nd, spending 21 days in the country. We entered with $86 and withdrew $2053 while inside the country. It got interesting when we changed money into Argentinian Pesos, the official rate is about 4.7 pesos to the US dollar, however the black market rate is closer to 6. We also got the black market rate when changing from Chilean pesos. So we ended up leaving the country with about $217 using the official rate, which we will unfortunately get from local ATMs. Our total spend in Chile was thus $1922. That gives us a daily spend of $91.52! Someday we will have to go back when we have a larger budget and can eat nothing but delicious shellfish all day.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Valdivia to Punta Arenas

Hello dear readers, have I a tale to tell you!

Tuesday in Valdivia we ventured forth to see old Spanish forts that protected the sweet waters of the city.  There were originally 17 or so that protected the entry to the river, but time and earthquakes have claimed all but three. 

We entered the Castilla de Niebla and were greeted by a tour guide dressed in pirates clothing.  He told us about the construction of the fort and, more importantly, how the allegedly unbeatable system used by the Spanish was defeated by Chilean and Argentinean revolutionary forces, thanks to the help of a Scotish pirate!  After this hearty adventure, we helped ourselves to another lunch of delicously fresh fish.

Wednesday morning, it was time to depart and we took a short, 4 hour bus ride to Puerto Montt.  From there, we discovered that the next bus to Punta Arenas was not to leave until the following day, so we bought tickets, found a hotel, and wandered about the city.  Puerto Montt is a growing port city that does have a very nice, newer side of town including a pier and shopping mall where we enjoyed a lunch of "Doggis" hot dogs!  We loaded up on snacks for our upcoming 32 hour bus ride, like apples, chips, bread, cookies... You know, health food!  The following morning, our bus left at 11 am and made a few short stops in the first hour, but then we got really going.  We crossed the border into Argentina around 4 pm and entered through a national park that had stunning mountain views and snow on the ground!  We stopped for a short dinner of empanadas then hit the road again.  The bus showed a bunch of cheesy movies, dubbed in spanish, of course.  Luckily, the bus was not very full and most people were able to take two seats to themselves to stretch out (a little) and sleep, but honestly, it isn't a very restful sleep.  The next morning, we were on a very flat and windy region of Argentina where we saw huge flocks of sheep and even ostrich until we crossed the border back into Chile in the early afternoon.  The roads were clear the whole way and the border crossings very quick, so we arrived a few hours ahead of schedule.  We walked around until we found an accomodating hostal, then explored the city.  Our hostal has a kitchen, so we decided to cook our own dinner.  Apparently, there is a kind of local turkey that is very affordable here, so we bought two giant legs and some veggies and rice to make a sort of Jambalaya that was delish!  As you may imagine, we slept pretty solidly that night, after the poor sleep on the bus and an afternoon around town.

Today, we explored the town further and booked our excursion to the penguin colony for tomorrow.  Matt is very excited about the penguins!  We also booked our tickets to Ushuaia for Tuesday, since the busses don't go there every day.  For lunch, we headed to a restaurant specializing in local cuisine.  As it is very Cold in these parts, Matt ordered a Paila Marina, or seafood soup, to warm him up.  I had to try the Centolla, or king crab, as it is reputed to be extra delicious here.  I ordered the Chupe de Centolla, which I was told would be like a "pastel" or pastry, so I was expecting crab cakes.  What came was a bowl of a mixture similar to crab cakes, but baked, not fried, and topped woth some large pieces of crab and a boiled egg.  It was, simply, amazing.  And very rich.  I think we can safely say that we have eaten more sesfood, especially shell fish, in the lsst two weeks than we have in the last 5-10 years!  And all so fresh, so delicious, and affordable!  After lunch, we wandered down to the Staight of Magellen which is the "beach".  As it is 50 degrees farenheit and extremely windy, we just took pictures and did not go in!

It is such an exciting time!  Our one year travel-versary is coming up and how fitting that we should be in Ushuaia to celebrate!  Of course, the reward for all this cold weather will be to return north to Buenos Aires and eventually Rio de Janeiro, to warm up again!  That's all for now, dear readers, so be well and look forward to many penguin pictures soon!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Santiago to Valdivia

Good afternoon from Valdivia! We just ate a delicious lunch followed by a kilo of fresh oysters. Next time we will hopefully have the self-control to wait until we get home to eat the oysters so that we can wash the sand off! But anyways, since we last wrote, we couchsurfed a bit in Santiago. We spent two nights with Paris and Jaana, our hosts. We started off Thursday night with a classic Chilean "once" which is a light dinner mainly of avocado and bread then watched a Chilean "western" film called Sal. On Friday they had to go to work so we explored more of the city, and we went to La Chascona. La Chascona is one of Pablo Neruda's homes, named after his third wife who lived there. We learned a lot about the life of Pablo, I never knew how active a communist he was, and how much trouble that got him in with regards to the various Chilean governments of yore. All the books, furniture, and other accoutrements in La Chascona were brought there later on because this home had been sacked and all the contents stolen many years ago. Many of the items had been brought in from his other homes in Chile or Europe. After our visit to La Chascona, we went to two of the markets to get some supplies for the typical American meal we were going to cook for our hosts, hamburgers! Luckily, finding ground meat isn't too difficult in Chile, and the other elements are easy to come by anywhere. We ended up meeting some other friends of our hosts and hanging out until very late/early in the morning. On Saturday we slept in and took a walk to the sculpture park. Here there are a few permanent sculptures as well as some temporary pieces of artwork. We also went to a very delicious Peruvian restaurant where Sarah had corvina en salsa de jaiba, or Chilean sea bass in crab sauce.

Saturday evening we caught a night bus to Valdivia and arrived early Sunday morning. We headed to the fish market and had a quick breakfast of sopapillas, which are sort of like fried bread donuts (very healthy) in sandwhich form. We bought a couple fish filets for lunch as well as some accompanying vegetables. That said, we ended up napping in the early afternoon and eating lunch very late, just in time to go to the annual beer festival! We tried many of the local beers, from small microbreweries and from large breweries like Kunstmann. All were delicious, and Sarah got to wear a really cool hat! We had a quick snack afterwards, and went to sleep after chatting with some other travellers for a bit.

This morning we had the excellent breakfast provided by our hostel (which has a very friendly pet duck for some reason), and then went down to the central market for lunch. We had something called a pullmay, which is basically a steamed bag filled with shellfish, chicken, beef, and sausage. That wasn't quite enough so we ended up buying a kilo of oysters for about $6 and eating them right on the water. Next time we will take them home first as we learned that when oysters are that fresh they tend to have a bit of sand in them them still. So here we are in Valdivia, still haven't decided exactly where we will be going next, but when we do, we will let you know!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

La Serena to Santiago

Hello loyal readers! We've been extra touristy these past few days and have done so much! Let me dive right into it... After a rainy Sunday in La Serena, my hopes of seeing the stars from the famous observatories in Chile were dashed, but with great luck, Monday was suddenly sunny and clear. We made our reservation to head to Mamalluca Observatory, outside of Vicuña, about 45 kilometers from La Serena. We left town at 7:15 and drove to Vicuña. Our driver became nervous as some clouds started to fill the sky, but the observatory assured us we could continue with our tour. It turned out to be wonderful! We saw Mars, two nebulas (M17 and M27), Beta Cygnus (which is actually two stars), Alpha Centauri (which is actually THREE stars, and the closest stars to our solar system), and two star clusters (M7 and NGC 104, I believe) through two pretty large telescopes. We also looked at some constellations in the sky, such as scorpio, and learned a little about Incan and other pre-colombian constellations, including the "dark" constellations, which are not made by stars, but rather seen in the space without (visible) stars in the Milky Way. I also learned how to find south by using the Southern Cross constellation. (Once you´ve located the southern cross in the sky, look at the long axis (head to foot as the guide said, as opposed to the arms of the crucifix), and go 4.5X of the length of the cross away from the head and that is the approximate location of where the southern star would be if there was one (opposite of Polaris). Drop a perpendicular line to the horizon from there, and that´s south!) Though it was quite cold, the tour was spectacular and I am really happy we had a chance to make it out there. Tuesday, we meandered over to the Japanese garden and took in the tranquil scenery in the morning sun. We also made friends with a Chileno couple staying in our hotel that gave us their Bip! card to use in the Santiago metro. Since they "never" go into town, they seemed happy to make a present out of it! That night, we took a bus to Santiago, leaving at 11 PM and arriving here at 6 AM. Thanks to our new Bip! card, we were able to take the metro from the central station straight to a new hostel in a really hip area known as Bellas Artes. We took a walking tour of the city with Spicy Chile tours at 10 AM and saw many different neighborhoods and had a great time. But by the time the tour was over at 2, we were exhausted from lack of sleep and all the walking! We headed back to the hostel and took some naps. Wednesday nights our hostal offers FREE wine and pasta dinner, so you know we took part in that, as well as some rousing conversation with fellow hostalers helped along by the wine. Speaking of wine, we decided to check out the infamous Chilena Wineries in the area, and headed to the Valle de Maipu to check out the Viña de Concha y Toro. Again, we used our Bip! card to take the metro to the south of Santiago, but had to taxi it the final leg. Luckily, our taxi driver was very knowledgeable about the area and pointed out many interesting sites on the drive. The tour cost 8000 pesos (about $16) and included two tastings and a tour of the properties. We learned some interesting things about growing grapes in Chile, such as how the natural barriers protect the grapes from diseases that plague produce in other countries. Concha y Toro make the "Casillero del Diablo" brand, and we tried their Carmenere varietal, as well as a cabernet sauvignon and shiraz blend (The Carmenere is fruity and a little sweet, while the blend was more robust - both were enjoyable!). On the way home on the Metro, the train had to stop for a minute and we couldn't understand the muffled explanation given over the speakers. When we got back to the hostel, we learned there had been an earthquake, magnitude 5.7, in Valpairiso, but shaking could be felt in Santiago. We didn't feel it and there appears to be no damage here. After our tour, we headed back to the centro for lunch in the Mercado Central, well known for its excellent and fresh seafood. When we first entered, we thought this was a standard market, with fish on ice and fruits in baskets, ready to be sold and brought home. But once we entered the center of the market, we realized this was no ordinary market! There were fine and fancy seafood restaurants set up in the center! Serving gourmet and fresh seafood, with less expensive and more rustic restaurants set up around the edges. Imagine if McCormick and Schmicks were set up in the middle of Pikes Place Market in Seattle, and you have an idea of what this market is like! We picked a smaller, and let's be honest, less expensive, restaurant on the side and shared a Paila Marina, which is a traditional Chileno seafood soup, with crab, clams, mussels, and fish in a hot broth. YUM!! After, we topped ourselves off by heading back to the Bellas Artes neighborhood for some gourmet ice cream. We are about to head out to meet a couple who will be hosting us for Couch Surfing for two nights. We bought them a bottle at the winery, so we hope for a good experience! Thanks for reading and we'll be sure to write soon!

Monday, October 8, 2012

San Pedro de Atacama to La Serena

¡Buenas tardes de La Serena! Since we last wrote, we have had a lot of fun! Wednesday afternoon we went sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama. Sandboarding is a lot like snowboarding, except on sand. The board is the same, and the ski lift is human powered. After just a few runs, Sarah was already a pro.

I immediately brought back all my old snowboarding skills, haha.

Our sandboarding instructor, Pablo, is your typical San Pedro de Atacameño, even though he is from Valparaiso. He brought us some snacks and of course a Chilean beer to help us enjoy the sunset. We also managed to take this very safe-looking picture...

We ended up grabbing a drink with Pablo later that night, probably not the best mixed drink we have had on our journey. It was called a terremoto (earthquake) and was basically a combination of wine, ice cream, magic earthquake sauce, and chemicals. Not recommended, it´s called a terremoto because that´s what you feel when you get up to use the baño. However, should you find yourself in San Pedro, definitely take a trip sandboarding with Pablo.

Thursday we caught a bus to La Serena, leaving San Pedro at 2:21 PM, buses run on time here in Chile! We arrived in La Serena Friday morning and checked into our hostal. We did a quick walking tour of the city on Friday, noting that there was going to be some sort of festivities in the square that night. When we returned, it turned out that the festivities were something of a Korean music festival with a bunch of high schoolers dancing to what looked like a Korean Justin Bieber (maybe it was a girl, maybe it was a boy, these things are so difficult for me to discern). Anyway, we ate some empanadas and decided to call it a night.

Saturday morning, we had breakfast and then began our trip to PENGUIN ISLAND!!! After about two hours in a bus, we got on a boat to Isla Damas, an island in the Humboldt current, filled with penguins, cormorants, sea lions, and other animals.
Here is a local human.

Here we can see the penguins and cormorants forming an army in their preparation for world domination.

Here are some penguins just hanging out.

This guy just ate a fish.

The dolphins also tried to take over our very seaworthy vessel, but their attempts were all in vain.

Apparently Flipper and his family now live in the South Pacific. After taking the boat back to the mainland, we had a delicious lunch of fish and drove back to La Serena. Yesterday, we met up with some friends of Sarah´s family who live in the area. We got to meet their 2 year old son who is 2 year old proficient in English and Chilean Spanish (¿Que pasa perro?) and had a delicious home-cooked meal. Today we had originally planned on going to the Japanese garden and the archaeological musuem, however they are both closed on Monday, so we wrote a blog post instead. Hope all is well for those of you in America, I heard there was a debate between Bill O´reilly and Jon Stewart...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bolivia by the Numbers and Our Trip to Salar de Uyuni

¡Bienvenidos de San Pedro de Atacama! Yesterday we arrived in Chile in the small desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. First, a brief budgetary update. As you know, we entered Bolivia on August 24 wih $321, mainly to pay our $270 in entrance fees to the Bolivian migration authorities. Other than that, our only major expense was our trip to Salar de Uyuni, and things in Bolivia were generally very affordable. We left the country yesterday, completing our 39 day stay. We withdrew a total of $1731, and left the country with about $86 in US money, Bolivianos, and Chilean pesos. Our total spend was thus $1966, across 39 days yields a daily spend of $50.41. Keep in mind that really means we spent much closer to $40 a day had we not had to pay the entrance fee, although we did talk our way out of the exit fee - more to come on that later.

Our trip to the Salar began with a 4 hour bus ride from Potosí to Uyuni, as you know we had a few transportation issues and ended up not being able to leave for a few days, but finally on Saturday we escaped and got to Uyuni that afternoon. Uyuni is a very small town, mainly focused on tourism and salt production. The biggest attraction aside from Salar tours is the Uyuni clock tower, yet the clock didn't work. Anyways, we found a hotel right next to our tour agency and checked in. Since we had booked the tour with an agent in La Paz, we called her partner in Uyuni who said that she would be in her office in half an hour. Lucky for us her office was right next to the hotel so half an hour later we go wait outside her office. Then we wait some more. After about an hour has passed I call her to see what's going on and she informs me that she won't be coming to her office and to just show up the next morning at 9:00 AM. Not exactly a good way to start our tour, but we are used to rolling with the punches and wander around the city buying some supplies for the trip and exchanging some of our Bolivianos. We actually had a little trouble exchanging Bolivianos into Chilean pesos as the first two casas de cambio didn't have any pesos. We finally found one that did and the rate was slightly better than we saw online so it was like we got free money!

The next morning we went to our tour agency, Sol de Mañana, at 9:00 AM and the tour agent wasn't even there. Around 9:45 I called her and she said she would be there in five minutes. Finally she showed up around 10:15. Needless to say we were not thrilled about this. Not to worry, we asked her a few questions, most specifically if we would need any money to buy optional things. We already knew we needed 180 Bolivianos for national park entrances, but we wanted to know if there were any other things we would need money for, optional trips, etc. to which she said no (a complete lie). Then we went to the immigration office to get stamped out of Bolivia, interestingly he post-dated the stamp so it has the correct date on it. He then asked for a 15 Boliviano "fee" to leave the country. We talked our way out of paying it, basically by saying we would pay at the border, knowing that he was trying to cheat us and we would probably just walk across the border without any trouble. We meet our driver/tour guide, Mario, as well as the two of the other travelers in our jeep. We head out to the train graveyard first where one of the trains was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and has the bulletholes to prove it.

After the train graveyard we stopped at a different hotel to pick up two other tourists who had started a four day tour before us. We then drove to a salt factory where they grind up salt and mix it with iodine by hand. This salt is then bagged and sold for 15 Bolivianos for 50 kilos, less than 2¢ per pound for you Americans.

They also build their homes and structures out of salt bricks extracted from the ground.

We took a lot of pictures in the salt flats, it really is extremely flat and almost like being on another planet.

We then visited the Isla del Pescado, or fish island, which has some cactuses which are over 1000 years old.

We also fixed a flat tire and tasted some of the salt from the ground.

We headed to our refugio, a very basic hotel made of salt, where we would spend the night.

Next to the refugio there is a small mountain with some caves that cost 15 Bolivianos to go visit (something that Edith, the tour agent at Sol de Mañana swore would be free). Oddly enough we were originally told at the refugio it would be 10 Bolivianos to go into the caves but somehow the price went up during the walk over. We decided not to do the cave tour and hike up the mountain. We had some amazing views, and the Salar is amazingly flat, no wonder they test GPS satellites on it. Additionally, at the refugio, hot showers were available for 10 Bolivianos, something our tour agent again neglected to mention. We actually were expecting not to be able to shower at all, but the other four in our group had been told the showers would be free, so they were quite unhappy about the situation. Anyway, we watched the sunset, ate dinner and got to bed early.

The next day we left the salar and saw some really amazing landscapes. We also crossed over the train tracks that still carry the occasional train to Chile.

We went to a mirror lake and saw three different types of flamingos. Some of the flamingos have black feathers and black legs, as well as the pink flamingo everyone is familiar with. We visited some very interesting rock formations including a tree of stone caused by wind-powered sandblasting and got too see a few rabbit-like animals called vizcachas.

That afternoon we went to the Laguna Colorada, a lake that is red in color. The redness is caused by algae in the water that activates in the wind. Luckily the wind was quite strong and the lake was very red.

There were also some vicuñas near the road which are a sort of wild llama/horse and are a protected species (so we couldn't have them for dinner).

The last morning we woke up very early and headed to an area with a lot of underground activity. Sulfur was bubbling up from underground, there were numerous steam vents, and Sarah almost blew into the air from a geyser. It was like Yellowstone without the fences. Our guide informed us that we shouldn't get too close as tourists have fallen in and burned themselves.

After the geysers we drove to a hot spring and finally got to take a nice warm bath, oddly enough, the lake next to the hot spring was frozen over. Then we went to the Laguna Verde, or green lake, however the algae that make the lake green are also activated by wind, and since there was no wind, the lake was not green. For some reason all the tours go here in the morning when there is no wind, normally it is windy at night, so only the lucky few get to see this lake when it is actually green. At this point we were about an hour from the border with Chile and our driver dropped us off at the Bolivian checkpoint. We just walked past the checkpoint and got into the van at was waiting at the other side for us. Thus, we avoided the 15 Boliviano fee which some of the other tourists in our van ended up paying. The van took us to San Pedro de Atacama where we went through Chilean border formalities, and then we found a hostel.

Prices in Chile are significantly higher than in Bolivia, our dorm beds here are 5600 pesos a night, about $12 US per person. This afternoon we are going sandboarding, and then tomorrow we head on to La Serena!