Thursday, March 15, 2012

From Chile to Panama!

We just realized today that is has been over a month since our last blog so I will do my best to catch up!

The remainder of our time in Chile turned out to be really special - we spent some time in Valdivia eating fresh seafood, in Villarrica with the amazing family of Jessica and Hartie, and Santiago with our good friend, David.

We ended up skipping Puerto Montt after our thirty hour, backtracking bus ride - we ¨jumped ship¨ at Osorno and made our way north to the college town of Valdivia where we experienced some of the freshest seafood that we´ve had in a long time! Afterwards, we weren´t quite ready to give up the mountains for the beach so we decided to head to Villarrica instead of our original plans of Valparaiso.

Upon our arrival to Villarrica we were met by Jessica who offered her backyard to us as a campsite. This turned out to be the best place ever! We spent the next four or five days cooking local dishes with her family and really getting to know the Chilean spirit. The time spent with them will forever be remembered - thank you again to Jessica and Hartie for so kindly opening your home to us!
Hartie & Mark Roasting the Pig

It was hard to leave Villarrica, but we knew we wanted to spend a few days in Santiago before leaving Chile. Luckily, we met David while in Villarrica and were able to spend a day with him exploring the city of Santiago - thank you to David for a great day in Santiago filled with lots of walking, laughing, a funicular, and rose-flavored ice cream!

Our flight to Bogota was a real treat compared to our hundreds of bus-rides previously taken - with lunch, wine, movies and more all included, we were tempted to stay on for the connecting flight to Miami! But, of course, we were also excited to explore the beautiful country of Colombia.

La Candeleria Neighborhood of Bogota
The Plaza de Villa de Leyva

For not being an originally planned destination, Colombia turned out to be an excellent last-minute decision! In total, we spent three weeks exploring the capital Bogota (thank you again to Joyce & her mom for such a wonderful day!), the colonial buildings of Villa de Leyva, the beaches near Santa Marta, the serenity of Palomino, and the historical sites of Cartagena. Something about Colombia and the people is truly special and you really feel alive there!
Beautiful Beaches of Palomino

Old Town of Cartagena

Due to real dangers in the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, we were left with two options of transportation from South America to Central America: Fly or Sail. We chose the latter for the chance to experience the open seas and to check out the San Blas Islands! What started out as a five-day adventure quickly turned into nine days as we made our way from Colombia to Panama. We chose the Ave Maria sailboat captained by Paul and ended up with an amazing group of nine people to make the journey with.

Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong! We were without an engine after Day Two, seasick in bed for a good couple of days, without a toilet after about Day Five, and just about to run out of water and food by the time we arrived in Porvenir, Panama. But, despite all of this, we turned out to be the fortunate ones after hearing that another sailboat had actually sunk during it´s crossing (everyone survived, thankfully). Plus, how can you not have a good time when you are surrounded by beautiful scenery, fun people, and experiencing an adventure of a lifetime? If given the chance, we would do it all over again! Thank you to Paul and the crew for a wonderful (for the most part) nine days!
Miraflores Locks - Panama Canal

We have been in Panama now for one week and have visited Panama City and Boquete. We met up with our sailboat crew in Panama City for a night out and also spent a day at the Panama Canal (I wish you were there, Dad!). This Sunday, we arrived in Boquete and have found it hard to leave! The town is really beautiful and is situated between many forested mountains. So far, we´ve enjoyed a great coffee plantation tour at Cafes de la Luna, Finca dos Jefes and a zip-line tour through La Amistad National Park.

Boquete Tree Trek - Zip Lining!

Today, we are heading one hour south to David to spend the day at the International Fair, which is supposedly full of street markets and rodeos! We will return to Boquete for a few more days (for some hiking) before heading to the beaches of Bocas del Toro.

Our countdown to our return home has begun - we have less than one month to go! But, until then, we will be ¨living it up¨ in Central America!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Te Amamos, Patagonico!

When we first started planning our trip to South America, there were two things that we absolutely had to see: Machu Picchu and Patagonia. Now, we can check both off of our list and happily say that both places are absolutely amazing and worth the trek!

We left Bariloche on January 2nd and headed south to the small hippy-town known as El Bolson. While the town was pleasant and the artesanal fair interesting (the foodtrucks are the way to go, yum!), we still felt that something was missing. We stayed for three nights in a campsite near the town center and spent our days at the arts fair, exploring the town and Mark spent half a day at the Bosque Tallado forest.

After El Bolson, we took a 23 hour bus ride south to El Chalten. We arrived to a small town, nestled in the valley and surrounded by mountains - now, that's what we're talking about when we think "Patagonia"! The town is fairly spread out with one main road, San Martin. We walked towards the mountains and found a great campsite, El Relincho, right off the main drag. After fighting the winds, we finally got our tent upright and our bags inside. We sat, looked around, and smiled - we made it to the "real" Patagonia!

View of Fitz Roy and Cerro Solo from El Chalten
Our first night there we went to a Brewery called ¨La Cerveceria¨ near our campsite. We had some great draft beers, delicious and salty popcorn and our new favorite salad called ¨La Patagonia¨! 

We had planned on spending the next day in town and then heading out to the mountains the day after. However, we woke up the next morning to clear blue skies and, after talking to the Park Rangers, realized that these blue skies don't come around very often! So, around 11am we ran back to our campsite, went grocery shopping, and packed our bags to go out on the trail as soon as possible. By 1pm, we were on the Fitz Roy Trail and started the four hour hike to Laguna de Los Tres.

The hike in was fairly easy and had amazing views of Fitz Roy! We had lucked out with such a beautiful day and spent plenty of time at the lookout taking photos. Neither of us had expected it to be so amazing, but it truly was a jaw dropping moment when we first laid eyes on the entire beast.

Cerro Fitz Roy
The campsite ended up being three hours into the hike, so we set up camp, dropped our bags and continued the hike to Laguna de los Tres. The hike up was fairly steep with uneven ground so we had to pay close attention to where we were stepping. It felt great to have the packs off and we were rewarded with a closeup of Fitz Roy and a beautiful, crystal clear laguna! We spent about half an hour there before hiking over to the other laguna, which was a deep turqoise color.

We spent one night at Camp Poincenot before heading to Camp Agostini for our second night in the park. We got there at a decent time in the afternoon, set up camp, played some cards and then headed to the Mirador to check out Mount Torre. The whole time in the park, we thought we were looking at Mount Torre - we took a ton of pictures in front of it and thought it was the greatest thing! Come to find out, we were looking at Mount Solo the entire time and actually never even saw Mount Torre! Just goes to show, it´s good to do some research ahead of time so you know what you are actually looking at!

The next day we hiked out back to the town of El Chalten and quickly set up camp. We decided to treat ourselves to another night out at ¨La Cerveceria¨ and this time brought our cards too. After a few games and a ton of popcorn, we ordered dinner - this time Mark got ¨Locro¨, a popular local stew, and I stuck with ¨La Patagonia¨ salad. Another fun and delicious night out!

La Cerveceria - beer, popcorn, and cards!
We left El Chalten the following afternoon headed to El Calafate where we had plans to climb on the Perito Moreno Glacier. We ended up staying for about five days in Calafate due to the date restrictions for the climb, but actually really enjoyed our time there! We climbed on the glacier, met some great people from Argentina, and found our favorite Parilla Restaurant, which we went to twice!

Perito Moreno Glacier

From Calafate, we headed south (far south!) to Ushuaia, which is known to be at the ¨End of the World¨ and as far south that roads go on earth. So, just for that, we had to go! We decided to camp again in Ushuaia and lucked out with an amazing campsite, great staff and a warm cabin to hang out in. During our stay in Ushuaia, we decided to head to the Tierra del Fuego National Park for a day and night of camping and hiking. We hiked Mount Guanaco and, from the top, had the most amazing views of Ushuaia and the surrounding mountain cascades!

Cerro Guanaco
Since we had made it all the way south, we had only one way to go - back up! So, we booked a bus and headed to Puerto Natales, Chile. We have been in Puerto Natales for about a week now and have spent most of our time on a hiking/camping trip in the Torres del Paine National Park. Fortunately, it has re-opened despite the forest fire, but still parts of the park are closed. However, we were able to do most of the ¨W¨ trek, which we were very excited about!

We have spent the last five days in the park hiking to Campamento Cuernos, Valle Frances, Campamento Torres and to the amazing Torres del Paine. We spent each day hiking (long days!) and were taken away by the great scenery there. On our last day in the park, Mark convinced me to wake up at 4:00am to watch the sunrise on Torres del Paine, which turned out to be beautiful, but brief! We really enjoyed our time there and hope to return someday to complete the ¨W¨ trek once it re-opens. 

Valle Frances

Sunrise at Torres del Paine
All in all, Patagonia has completely met, if not exceeded, our expectations. We plan on returning someday, but with a much better camera next time! Patagonia, we will miss you!

We leave Monday morning to Puerto Montt, Chile. From there, we will head north to Santiago to catch our flight to Bogota, Colombia. We are saying goodbye (temporarily) to our hiking and camping days, and hello to beaches, scuba diving, bon fires, and rum! Needless to say, we have absolutely no complaints here in South America!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Studio Llao Llao

During our stay in Peru, we decided that it would be nice to settle down for two weeks during the holiday season. We found a small studio (in our price range!) with views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and located 23km outside of the big city, Bariloche.

After a short bus ride from San Martin, we arrived in Bariloche in the afternoon of December 19th. The city was much bigger than expected and not quite as cute as we had hoped for. But, the Swiss influence on the main street was beautiful and the city offered plenty of restaurants, cafes and supermercados. We found our bus, Bus 20, that would take us out to km 23. The bus ride to Studio Llao Llao took about 40 minutes from the city center.

We weren´t sure what to expect from our little studio, but fell in love the instant we saw it. With beautiful views and a big, comfortable bed, we were more than content! Having a kitchen of our own was definitely a plus and Mark was excited to make good use of it during our stay.

Studio Llao Llao and Lago Nahuel Huapi
Our two weeks in Bariloche were spent cooking, reading, relaxing and celebrating the holidays. We rented a car for a few days and drove around Llao Llao, to Villa La Angostura (unfortunately, it was covered in ash) and Mark taught me how to drive a stick too! We had a great time talking with our neighbors, bringing in the New Year (Happy 2012!), and BBQing in the yard.

View from Cerro Campanario
Our Christmas dinner was one to remember - we stuffed ourselves full of prime rib, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and Malbec Wine. And, as always, it was the best meal made by Chef Mark...I would have to say, eating dinner made by Mark is always better than going out to a restaurant!

Christmas Dinner 2011
During our time in Bariloche, we made a slightly impulsive decision to change our travel plans. Although we enjoyed laying low for two weeks, it was really hard for us to sit still when all we want to do is keep on moving, doing, and seeing! We started to think about our plans in Chile and how we originally planned on spending almost two months farming there. We had heard such great things about Colombia and felt that we still had more of the world to see - so our new return tickets go from Santiago to Bogota, Colombia! From Colombia, we will sail the Caribbean to Panama and then bus to Costa Rica. If we have more time, we will go to Nicaragua as well! But, to our past employers, families, and friends - not to worry, we will be back in the States by April 11th!

We are currently in Ushuaia, Argentina - as far south as roads go on earth! More to come on the next blog...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lanin National Park

Our one week in San Martin de Los Andes was spent mostly on our five day camping trip near Lago Lacar in the Lanin National Park. Mark and I set out on a sunny Tuesday morning on a boat headed for Quila Quina, a small town 26km from San Martin. After a thirty minute boat ride, we arrived on the shores of Quila Quina. The tourist season had yet to begin and all the shops were closed, but we managed to find signs pointing to the campsite.

After walking for approximately an hour, we came across the Mapuche ran campground situated directly on the lake with amazing views. We were just about the only campers for the night so we got our first pick on a campsite; we chose the one on the peninsula closest to the water. We set up our tent quickly and immediately changed into our bathing suits ready to jump into the cold lake water. We found a nice rock to sunbathe on and spent the entire afternoon lying in the sun, swimming, and talking.

Mapuche Campsite, Lago Lacar
Dinner that night was one of Mark´s camping concoctions - instant mashed potatoes, hot dogs, corn, onion and cheese. We had to get pretty creative in order to cook for two people in our JetBoil, but after a bit of research and preparation, we feel like we ate pretty well for the entire trip!

One of the campsite managers, a younger guy raised near Quila Quina, asked us where we were headed to next. After telling him, ¨Vamos a Lago Escondido¨, he gave us a worried look and wished us good luck dealing with all of the recent ash from the Puyehue Volcano in Chile. We didn´t think much of it and set out the next morning to Lago Escondido, an approximately six hour hike from our location on Lago Lacar.

The hike to Lago Escondido turned out to be quite the ordeal - with no markers or signs pointing in the right direction, we got turned around a few too many times. The two maps that we had did not match up to the roads that we were on and we had to stop many times to ask the locals which way to go. After being led through people´s yards and to roads that we never knew existed, we finally felt like we were on the right trail. 

We came to a house, with a gate and a sign that everyone had told us to look for. We knew that from there it would take at least one more hour to reach the lake. We came across a deep river without a bridge or rocks to cross, and we thought, ¨There´s no way in hell this could be a part of a trail!¨. But, after checking out our other options, we decided to make the crossing wading knee-deep in water to get to the other side. Again, we came across a Y in the road, and after coming to a closed gate, we backtracked and went the other way only to find another river with no bridge or rocks to cross. 

At that point, we had been walking through the ash-covered roads for over six hours and weren´t really sure if we were headed in the right direction or not. We decided to go back to the house that we saw near the gate to see if we could either sleep there for a night or possibly get the right directions from them. On our walk back, we ran into (almost literally) a man with his two dogs and a horse.

He told us to sleep near the river and that he would come back the next morning to escort us to Lago Escondido. We were so thankful to have found him, but not so thankful to have to sleep in cow country! The entire trail to the lake is surrounded by land owned by individual cattle ranchers. These cows are not the everyday mom n pop dairy cows that you see nicely fenced in and minding their own business. These are big-assed, free roaming, balls and horns attached, bulls that stare you down as if they want to make your day miserable. Needless to say, we will be asking about wildlife on all upcoming trips!

Alberto Casanova is a local rancher who owns over three hundred cattle and fifty horses. As promised, he was at our campsite at 8:00am the following morning and led us, with his horse and two dogs, to Lago Escondido. Turns out, we had been going the right way but the trail was actually almost two hours instead of the one hour as expected.

Alberto Casanova
Lago Escondido is a beautiful mountain lake with crystal clear water and jumping fish. Mark crafted a makeshift fishing pole and spent most of the day trying to catch a mid-afternoon snack. But hikers beware, the most aggressive flies we have ever met live in this part of the woods. At one point, we had about twenty of them circling us. The locals say that the more you swat at them, the more they bug you, but it was so hard to resist!

Sunset at Lago Escondido
We spent one night at Lago Escondido before heading back to Quila Quina. We knew that we would have to face the cows for one more day - we practically ran down the mountain! We saw Alberto on our way out checking on his cows and said hello to him.

We made it down from the main trail and were making our final corner before reaching the campiste when all of a sudden, we saw it - a bull walking down the road! I practically jumped off the road into the bushes below, telling Mark to join me. The bull started to pick up speed and I thought ¨Oh, shit!¨. Around the corner came a little girl, who looked about twelve years old, chasing the bull in her bathing suit. They both ran passed us and the girl leapt in front of the bull bringing him to a halt before wacking it on the ass to direct him up the hill. After witnessing this little girl man-handle the bull, I felt slightly embarassed crawling out of the ditch where I was hiding. The next day we walked past the cows like we had been doing it all of our lives.

The highlight of our trip was meeting Alberto and getting a glimpse into his life as an Argentinian cattle rancher. We will always remember this trip as our first real encounter with bulls and meeting the most annoying bugs of our lives. But, we will also remember the friendliness of the locals, the amazing scenery,  and the celebration beers.

We are currently in Bariloche celebrating the holidays in our small studio overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi. We will be going out for a Christmas Eve dinner tonight at a Parilla restaurant called El Boliche de Alberto. Christmas day will be spent at the cabin cooking prime rib, mashed potatoes, plus all of the fixings and a nice Malbec. We wish all of our families and friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Vino in Mendoza

From Buenos Aires, we took a bus cross country to wine country in Mendoza, Argentina. We decided to try out our brand new, bright red, beautiful Bike 2 tent out during our stay and found a nice campsite called Parque Suizo. Arriving at the bus station midday, we walked across town to find the 114 bus on Ave Sarmiento.

Situated about 30 minutes by bus from the city center, Parque Suizo is equipped with showers, bathrooms and laundry facilities. We settled in quickly and were so proud to be owners of our beautiful new home - the red tent!

Home for the next 4 months
After a quick walk to the local minimarket, we cracked open our boxed white wine and started playing Spite n Malice and Farkle. The night was spent at our campsite playing games, eating dinner, and relaxing.

We woke up fairly early the following morning with plans to take a bus out to Maipu for our bike ride wine tour. Unfortunately, by the time we got everything figured out, it was too late to make the 45 minute bus ride out to Maipu so we decided to stay local in Mendoza and check out the city center.

After reading a few free magazines, two glasses of orange juice and a bottle of water, we felt like we had a good idea of what we wanted to do that day - wine tasting. What else do you do in wine country?

We found a great wine tasting room near Plaza Independencia called The Vines - we highly recommend it! The staff were extremely friendly; they poured us some great wine and talked with us throughout the tasting about the local wine industry. Mark had the Malbec tasting, which Argentina is famous for, and I had an assortment of reds and Torrentes. They told us about their property in wine country where single investors can purchase the land and they will grow the grapes, harvest, etc. for you - a great, fairly inexpensive way for all of the wine lovers to grow their own wine! Too bad Mark and I are on a budget or else we would be grape growing land owners by now...

Mark at The Vines
After a few hours at The Vines, we checked out a bit more of Mendoza before catching a bus back to the campsite.

The next morning, we again tried to wake up really early to get our Maipu winetasting in! We ended up having to wait for the bus for about 30 minutes and then the bus for Maipu as well, so we didn´t get out there until after noon. We were dropped off on the main road and from there you can choose from many different bike rental companies. We chose Orange Bikes - he was a very helpful man who ran the company from his home. He gave us a map, recommended a few wineries and wished us luck!

Our first stop was a chocolate, olive oil, jam and liquor shop that had tastings for 20 pesos. We felt a bit rushed due to our lack of time, but we still enjoyed some delicious snacks and drinks there! We tried the beer vodka liquor mix, which was extremely high in alcohol and pretty awful! We don´t recommend wasting 1 out of your 2 liquor tastings on it.

From there, we pedalled as fast as we could to our first winery, Trapiche. This winery was founded in 1883 and has been recently refurbished.Wine tastings are much longer in Argentina than we are used to in the States, this one took about two hours! The tour took up the majority of the time, with only about thirty minutes dedicated to wine tasting. I think we all would have been happy to just have the wine - it was amazing!

Trapiche Winery
After the tour, we had only one hour left to go before all of the wineries closed! Again, we pedalled as fast as we could to our next winery where we were hoping to get some lunch. Unfortunately, due to it being a national holiday, the winery was closed. By then, we were pretty worn out and knew that all the other wineries were closing shortly at 5pm. A bit disappointed, we began the bike ride back to Orange Bikes stopping off at La Melesca for a late lunch.

Most bike rental companies include snacks and wine after the tour, so we were sure to take advantage of it! The owner greeted us and brought out some chilled red wine (a bit strange for wine country, but perfect for a hot day) and snacks from cheese puffs to some sweet plums! We were joined by two American girls from D.C. and Chicago, who we got along with great. We spent a little over two hours talking and drinking wine before all catching the bus back to Mendoza together.

Vino and snacks at Orange Bikes
We spent one more night in Mendoza before heading southeast to Neuquen, Argentina. Neuquen was not what we expected so we stayed for only one day, which consisted of eating Parilla and hanging out by the river. For all of those expecting to visit the dinosaur museum in Neuquen, it is not there, but instead 100 km outside of the city. Unfortunately, this was something we found out after we arrived!

From Neuquen, we hopped onto the earliest bus Sunday morning and came here to San Martin de los Andes. We love this little town and are so happy to be near the green mountains and lakes again!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Viva Argentina

From reading the last blog, it appears that we have been in Argentina for almost three weeks now and had no idea that so much time had passed by! We have explored the greater part of Northwest Argentina, Iguazu Falls and currently, Buenos Aires.

We ended up taking Ieuan and Kerry up on the offer to share a rental car for six days. We had the chance to explore the Southern and Northern Circuits that surround Salta on the roads less traveled. The towns along the way in the Southern Circuit were picturesque and the scenery was beautiful! We spent the first three days exploring the small town of Cachi, winetasting in Cafayate, and hiking Rio Colorado.

Wine Tasting - Cafayate, Argentina
Throughout the first three days, we were subjected to extremely bumpy and twisting roads. They were so intense that when we rented the car the saleswoman gave us an estimate of how many curves we would be encountering. We had no idea the extent of the curves, which turned out to be many blind corners and some very slow going!

Road from Cachi to Cafayate, Argentina
Hiking Rio Colorado was a highlight of the Southern Circuit and took approximately three hours. We met a tour guide at the bottom of the trail, negotiated a price and then headed into the mountains. The trails started out gradually until we reached a spot where our guide reached down into some chalk-like substance and motioned that it was ¨for climbing¨. Little did we know, he decided to take us the hard way a.k.a rock climbing because we were ¨young and could do it¨. Looking back, it was a great experience but I don´t think that any of us have ever clung onto a rockwall like that before in our lives! Mark would like to get back into rock climbing when we get home and I´d like to try it out with him, with more appropriate gear next time!

Rio Colorado Hike
After our first three days out, we spent the night in Salta to get ready for the Northern Circuit. The circuit was, again, filled with some crazy, bumpy roads but the ¨Road to the Clouds¨ was great and we really enjoyed the town of Tilcara where we spent two nights playing cards, eating dinner, and drinking wine. Even our day adventure out to Iruya, a small town tucked away in the mountains, was well worth the drive!

Last night out - Tilcara, Argentina

We returned to Salta a bit exhausted, but thankful for the six day trip with Ieuan and Kerry! It´s a trip that we will not forget - thank you both for making it so great!

Our adventure out to Iguazu Falls lasted four days and was worth every penny of the pricey bus ride! We stayed at the Guembe Hostel near the bus station and loved exploring the rainforest town. Our first two days we experienced torrential downpour, the kind of downpour that only seems to happen in the rainforest! We made it out to the falls on our second day and spent the day hiking and viewing the amazing waterfalls. We even saw some crazy rainforest creatures including monkeys and giant bugs!

The falls were better than we expected and made us feel like we were Jurassic Park. The intensity can only be felt when experienced, but we tried to capture it with our camera as well.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Garganta del Diablo
We spent the remainder of the time in Puerto Iguazu checking out the shops, laying by the pool, and eating our first Chinese food since we left home. We were both so excited to find some different flavors and jumped on the opportunity to eat some Yakisoba. It was delicious! 

From Puerto Iguazu, we took an overnight bus to Buenos Aires where we have been now for over one week. We stayed in the San Telmo neighborhood for one night before moving to the Palermo neighborhood where a lot of the restaurants and shops are. We´ve checked out the impressive Recoleta Cemetery, Puerto Madero, and many of the parks. Today we will be going to our first Polo match, which we are both looking forward to experiencing! We plan on checking out the San Telmo Sunday market tomorrow before heading to Mendoza on Monday. And for all of the foodies out there, we have had some delicious Parilla during our stay here as well!

Our tent has been bought and our plans are coming together for Patagonia. We have rented a cabin for two weeks in Bariloche, Argentina where we will be enjoying the holidays in our cozy 250 sq. ft cabin! We are planning on a lot of hiking, camping and adventure in the upcoming months down south.

Happy Holidays to all of our families and friends back home!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chaotic Bolivia and Beyond!

With painstakingly slow and semi-costly internet in Bolivia, we decided it was best to hold off on blogging until we got to a more internet friendly city. So here we are in Salta, Argentina ready to resume our blogging hobby!

We left for Bolivia a couple of weeks back with one goal: to see Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia. We made a few stops along the way including Copacabana, La Paz, Oruro and the small town of Uyuni itself. In total, we spent almost 2 weeks in Bolivia exploring the streets and travelling from city to city.

Copacabana is a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca - the highest altitude lake in the world. The lake looked more like a small ocean with islands throughout. We arrived by bus and quickly found our hostel which had a great location and even a private bathroom for a low cost. Our 4 days in Copacabana were spent playing cards in the sun, drinking a few cold beers (Huari was our favorite), and visiting Isla del Sol.

Our visit to Isla del Sol included the boat to and from the island, approximately 3 hours each way, and costed only 2 USD. We now know that going the cheapest way to an island via boat may not be the safest way, which, in hindsight, we should have already known. On the way out to the island, we were all cold as it started to rain. Not only did it rain and get a bit choppy, but our boat actually started to leak! If that wasn´t alarming enough, it was increased when the captain´s son ran to the front to grab himself a life jacket! We wanted off the boat, but knew that we had a couple more hours to go and had to stick it out. Thankfully, we made it to the island and spent the afternoon walking around and eating a delicious steak and egg sandwich on the shore.

We spent quite a bit of time in Copacabana steaking out the best trucha aka trout in town for Mark to enjoy. We found it on the last day in the local food court where all the locals went for fried trucha, rice, potatoes and salad. Mark really enjoyed it while I had a bite just to try it out! Best trout yet...

All in all, Copacabana was simple and relaxing. We ate local popcorn that they sell by the bag with a light sugar coating on it. We spent hours playing Spite and Malice and drinking beers by the water. We had the best burritos in town. And to top it off, we had a great view of the lake from our hostel. Each night, we fell asleep to rain pouring down and woke up to beautiful blue skies.

Eventually, we felt that it was time to move on to the next big thing: La Paz. We hopped onto a local bus and for a few USD made our way to the capital. Arriving in late afternoon and a bit overwhelmed by the hustle and chaos of this city, we took a taxi directly to our hostel, the Adventure Brew Hostel located by the bus terminal.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the hostel is located by the bus terminal. As we all know, that is usually not the best part of town and that was the case in La Paz. We were across the street from a gas station and located in a dodgy area (or so it seemed). Exhausted from a sinus infection, I was not up for much during those few days. Mark explored the nearby areas and reported nothing too positive, so we decided to catch the next bus to Oruro where we could take a train to Uyuni. Talking to others, there´s plenty to do in La Paz, but it just wasn´t in the cards for us this time around.

We arrived in Oruro and immediately felt better about the situation. Oruro is known for being an industrial city and where the train tracks start in Bolivia. We wandered the streets for a bit looking for a hostel. We found one and are pretty sure that we were the only guests! Rooms were simple with HBO which turned out to be a life saver as the city seemed to close down early. Our time spent in Oruro consisted of a chicken for lunch, train tickets bought to Uyuni, and a few good movies on HBO.

Taking the train to Uyuni was a good experience - we saw the desert landscape throughout the country and, again, watched some movies. We aren´t sure why, but they decided to play 3 American action movies: Top Gun, Air Force One, and Casualties of War. The last one was horrible with way too much gore, but the first two weren´t so bad! Mark, in particular, enjoyed them.

Uyuni is a small town with one main street which is also the plaza. We spent our first night at Hotel Julia - overpriced and they didn´t even provide toilet paper! Thankfully, we had been collecting toilet paper throughout Bolivia for just this reason. We switched over to Hostel Cactu, with parrots and dogs in the courtyard and simple, but clean, rooms. We had a great time walking around the city, which has a lot of street vendors and small shops. We bought our tour group tickets to Salar de Uyuni, which included a 3 day, 2 night tour of the salt flats and nearby volcanoes, lagoons and mountains.

Salar de Uyuni was absolutely breathtaking and a must-see for anyone visting Bolivia! We lucked out with a great group of 14 people and 2 excellent drivers. The salt flats are still mined for salt daily - our tour guide told us that the workers receive only 30 Bolivianos per day for an entire truck full of salt. When you think about it, that is less than 5 USD per day. Pretty shocking.

We spent the first day on the salt flats driving throughout and having lunch at a salt hotel, which is no longer used as a hotel due to the negative impact that it had on the salt flats. There, we spent almost an hour taking fun pictures on the flats. We took one picture where a Snickers bar was in the foreground and it looked as though we were sitting on it. It sounds completely ridiculous, but the pictures were pretty awesome! We wish we could share them here, but unfortunately our camera was lost during a horseback ride in Chile - more on that to come!

We shared the SUV with some people from Switzerland and Germany, while the other car was mostly couples from England, France and the Netherlands. It was a great group! Our first night was spent just outside of Salar de Uyuni in a hotel made purely of salt. The ground was even some type of mineral and you could literally taste the salt while breathing. We had an interesting dinner that night; it was some type of casserole made with french fries, hot dogs, onions, beef and hard-boiled eggs. It literally looked like they took whatever they could find and threw it all into a pan! We ate it anyway and had some good laughs over dinner.

I failed to mention earlier that our guide literally left us on the first day and returned to Uyuni. He said that our new guide would be meeting us at the island in the middle of the salt flats, which turned out to be completely false. He tried to hand us over to a guide that he never met before - the other group had paid quite a bit more and were not about to share their guide with us. We spent the next 2 days without a guide and were left with our 2 drivers, which at least knew where they were going! However, we didn´t learn much about the lagoons, flamingos, volcanoes, etc. that we saw.

A highlight of the trip was the thermal springs that we visited on the 3rd day. That morning had been brutally cold at -15 degrees celcius, but we braved the cold and got into our swimsuits and made the plunge! Well worth it and actually ended up warming us up quite a bit.

We made it to the Bolivian border where we said good-bye to part of our group and hopped onto the Colque Tour bus to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We were accompanied by our new friends from England and France, which was great! After crossing into Chile, Yohan, Jessica, Mark and I wandered the streets (again!) looking for a hostel. We ended up at a small place called Hostel Florida with hammocks in the courtyard and a great little kitchen for cooking. San Pedro is an adorable town with adobe buildings and dirt roads. It is located in the driest desert in the world and has the friendliest local people around! 

That afternoon was enjoyed partly in the hammocks reading books and then later at a restaurant for happy hour with Yohan and Jessica. We all decided that we should go horseback riding and the next afternoon we did just that.

We booked a guided tour on horseback through a company near our hostel for a 3 hour ride through Death Valley in the Atacama Desert. The ranch was located less than 1 mile from town and had 14 horses. We all were assigned our horses and took off into the desert. My horse was particulary slow, which I didn´t mind, and Mark´s was a beautiful tan horse that seemed to be extremely calm. We crossed a desert and went into a canyon before crossing the road into Death Valley. It was a beautiful sight with tall, rock walls surrounding us gradually opening up into huge sand dunes. We climbed to the top of a sand dune where we rested, took pictures, and then continued back to the ranch. I will forever remember my horse using me as a itching post and rubbing it´s head up and down my leg to get rid of the itch behind his ear!

Heading downhill, there was a rock formation that we crossed over before heading down again. My horse either spooked or was just having fun, and took off into a gallop! I said a few choice words and held on for my life before bringing it to a stop. I swear it was bucking, but Mark insists that it wasn´t. Unfortunately, this is when we think that our camera flew off the horse and into the endless sand! Along with it, all of our pictures from Salar de Uyuni and the horseride as well. What a bummer! Our guide went back to search, but with the desert being so big, was unable to find it. The upside to it is that we have my oldschool camera as a backup and will be using that until we find a reasonably priced camera here in Argentina.

We said goodbye to the beautiful horses and went back to our hostel before all meeting up with Ieuan and Kerry for some dinner and drinks. Later that evening, Yohan and Jessica took off to Peru for their last few weeks of vacation so we had to say goodbye to them as well. There may be a trip to France in the near future!
A great night out - San Pedro de Atacama
We spent the night drinking Pisco Sours and Mojitos which turned out to be a fairly late, but very fun evening! We had some great laughs and our server, Diego from Santiago, was very friendly and helpful!

We had to wake up early the next day to catch our long bus ride to Salta, Argentina. I was lucky enough to sleep most of the day, but Mark stayed up for most of it watching movies. We went through two immigrations for both Chile and Argentina which took up a great deal of time. We arrived last night around 9:00pm in Salta. With no money or a hostel, it was a bit stressful but we ended up at the Sol Huasi Hostel where we will most likely spend a few days.

Our plan is to meet up with Ieuan and Kerry tomorrow and possibly rent a car to check out the surrounding cities and outdoorsy spots. We are excited to have some freedom apart from the usual bus ride and to spend some time with new friends.

For the next couple of months, we will spend our time in Argentina visiting Iguaza Falls, wine country and down to Patagonia while making a short stop in Uruguay to lounge on the beach. We are looking forward to some hiking, camping and gigantic steaks!

All the best!