Tuesday, February 26, 2013

La Paz, Bolivia – Carnival!

We had been on the bus from Salar de Uyuni to La Paz. It had been 16 hours and we were starving. We had completely forgotten to bring snacks on the bus which is important when travelling in Bolivia in case of delays which happen frequently. It was 12pm when we finally arrived to the beautiful city of La Paz, Bolivia. As Bryan went looking for a map of the city, I realized I had left our Bose headphones on the bus. I would have started crying if it weren’t for the fact they were pretty much almost broken…but still, it was sad.

La Paz is nestled in steep hills about 3600 meters (11,900 ft) high, and it is stunning. It just also happened to be Carnival weekend, so we were excited. The city is built in a valley, right into the mountainside. Buildings cling to the cliffs, looking like they’re going to slide down. It’s the world’s highest seat of government, and the altitude takes its toll. There’s hills everywhere and moving around can be troublesome, especially when Bryan had a cold.
We made it to Adventure Brew Hostel near the bus station, thank goodness. Comfortable beds, friendly people, and one complimentary beer a night made for one awesome hostel. After unpacking, I soon realized we had also left both our good, quality raincoats on the bus. This was a heartbreaking moment for me as that raincoat has been with me throughout all of our travelling. I can’t write about this anymore or I’ll start crying…so anyway. We’ve done a good job of hanging onto stuff in general. This one bus ride was not good.
We were pretty tired from the travel day, so we stayed in our hostel room, watched movies, and ordered pizza. Good times with my love.
Then it was time for carnival. We hadn’t really expected to do much this day because Bryan wasn’t feeling very good, but when people are throwing water balloons, buckets of water, and handing out free beer and shots from the balcony of your hostel, it’s hard not to participate.
Carnival is CRAZY. We watched the majority of the procession from the balcony of our hostel three stories above the street below. People lined the sides of the streets in chairs while a huge parade of colorful and not so colorful costumes passed below us. Kids ran around with squirt guns and vendors were selling cans of soap-foam. The entire crowd was drenched with water and foam. Most everyone, especially kids, carrried the foamy soap spray can and used it whenever they felt necessary. Bryan and I got sprayed with this stuff multiple times, including my camera. By the way, my camera has been through a lot lately, and I can only hope it will make it home.
The hostelers threw water balloons off the top onto the crowd below and at one point the hostel staff started throwing entire pitchers of beer over the edge of the balcony. It was crazy.
The rest of the night was spent on the balcony eating, playing cards, drinking, throwing waterballons, and someone may have ended up dancing on the bar. For the record, the bartender was quite toasty himself and told this certain someone and three others that it was the necessary thing to do.
We went to bed shortly after that.
Carnival was going on all weekend in La Paz, and as a result, we were foamy all weekend. The main street near our hostel was packed with graffiti, parades, beer, street food, and costumes. It was hard to get from point A to B sometimes but it was worth it.
After being in high altitude for so long, we were pretty much used to it by the time we arrived in La Paz. However, you still feel like an old person trying to walk up stairs or hills. I literally had to stop 10 times when going up to the balcony in our hostel because I was out of breath. Let me tell you, it is not easy living high. I will never take for granted living at sea level ever again.
The rest of our time in La Paz was spent exploring the stunning city and buying Bryan an awesome North Face jacket. It was the real thing (this was a shock coming from S.E. Asia) and so much cheaper than at home, and I still can’t figure out why.
Fortunately, cheap ponchos were for sale for those who didn’t want to get their clothes wet, so we purchased a half dozen of these for later use. We then walked the streets with them, which seemed like a good idea. Turns out, wearing a poncho is almost the exact same thing as putting a bulls eye on your face. I got hit in the face with so many soap-foam containers that I counted it as a face-washing.
We ended only staying in La Paz for a couple days, but I kind of wish we would have staying longer. However, we were really looking forward to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. Okay, we weren’t really looking forward to Copacabana but those two places just go so well together. Next stop, La Isla Del Sol, the island on Lake Titicaca with a stopover in Copacabana.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Salar de Uyuni – The World’s Highest Salt Flats

It had been hours since we had seen another jeep. Franklin and the cook Sofia were in the front seats of the six-seater land-cruiser. Otto and I were in the second seat while Leslie and Sara were in the back. Otto was a 23 year old Finnish veteran of Afghanistan and Sara was his girlfriend.

The dirt roads were bad, the mountains were steep, we were well above 3000 meters high and it was raining… hard. For reference, Denver, the “mile-high-city” in the USA is only 1,600 meters above sea level. The car started to fishtail through the mud and the muck, causing my heart to beat a little faster. Leslie, Otto and I were nervous, but Sara seemed to be quite zen-like through the whole experience.
Franklin was quite experienced, having driven for seven years, so I told myself not to worry, we were going to be fine. We started to lose control, sliding towards a cliff, but Franklin steered one way, controlling the sliding jeep and then the other. We got to the top of a crest and stopped. Franklin looking down the muddy path, figuring out his route. Then he popped a couple more coca leaves into his mouth, crossed himself and we were off.
We started a little verse of Bobby McFarin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy.
After a few hours driving through the muck it started to level out, and we got to start taking in the surroundings.
We were on a four-day, three-night trip through the Bolivian Altiplano or high-planes. For reference, Denver, Colorado, the “Mile High City” that is famous in American sports for seeing players suffer from altitude sickness is one mile up, or about 1,800m. We were above 3000m the entire trip.
The Lonely Planet talks a bit about altitude sickness, which is not a disease, but problems that are associated with thin-air. There is an extreme lack of oxygen. Altitude sickness is a constant battle in Bolivian, especially for people who live at or near sea-level… meaning us.
But there’s a great reward for those who brave the Altiplano. Salar de Unuyi, Laguna Colorado and some of the most magnificent landscapes on earth.
Each day saw a ton of driving in the jeep, but day one was by far the furthest distance travel and most difficult in terms of sliding around. It wasn’t long though before interesting sites started to appear.
The vegetation was small, meaning that wildlife was easy to spot. Otto had an especially sharp eye for spotting interesting things on the road. He attributed it to Afghanistan. Your eye trains quickly when your life depends on spotting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) on the side of the road.
Not all wildlife was difficult to spot though. Llamas were everywhere. The long-haired variety famous for its wool would wander the countryside, many with brightly colored tassles hanging off the tops of their ears which we assumed were for identifying them for llama herders.
Armadillo-like creatures with hard-shells but a bit of fur were everywhere, but much more difficult to spot. Otto found one though and Franklin said they make guitars out of the shells.
We also spotted a Andean Ostrich, which looked like a slightly smaller ostrich, but still mean enough that you wouldn’t want to get too close.
And of course, the flamingos. If there was water, there was flamingos. Thousands of the creatures were in every lake that appeared on the altiplano.
The other constant companion was coca leaves. Yes, these are the raw ingredients that turn into cocaine. That said, they are used constantly throughout Bolivia. They are considered a natural remedy to alitude sickness and can be consumed either by putting a pack of them in your cheek (don’t chew them) or putting them in hot water and drinking them as a tea.
    Coca leaves were in our cheeks as often as not as soon as we hit 3000 meters. There is no “high”. Effects include:
  1. Apetite suppression
  2. A slight energy boost, more mild than caffeine. We didn’t really feel this.
  3. Reduction in altitude sickness effects
  4. You have to pee a lot.
  5. We also heard that its healthy for you. Vitamins and whatnot
The only travellers I met that didn’t put them in their cheeks were constantly drinking coca tea. The Brits don’t think tea is the solution to everything… but…
Our “group” was actually two jeeps with the other jeep being a driver and five travellers. A Swede, who was also an Afghanistan vet, two Danish girls in their late teens, a Mexican woman on a three week vacation and an Israeli guy. We saw them occassionally throughout the day, but would usually stay in the same hostels at night.
Day two saw the end of massive amounts of driving through the steep terrain and instead saw us begin to see sites. I made a major mistake when I saw a good picture opportunity. I thought I’d get to the top of a rock, but didn’t want to make everyone wait to long so I started running. Usually, this is no problem, but on this day, I immediately regretted it.
I was out of breath by the time I reached the rock and started walking slowly back. The slow walk soon became a trademark of mine.
We reached the next lake, which was probably about half a mile wide, with thousands of flamingoes. Otto, Sarah, Leslie and I got out to walk around, take pictures and check out some old Inca ruins. Unfortunately, I was again walking slow.
On the way to the next lake I began to feel more light-headed. I moved my hand in front of my face and began to get trailers. I would see three hands moving behind the other ones. Then, my head started to throb like a baloon that had been overinflated.
We soon reached the highest point of the trip. 4,900m high geysers. That’s over three miles above sea level. Airplanes pressurize the cabin at 3,800m. Still, it was beautiful. Huge shoots of sulfer-smelling gas shot up out of the rocky ground. There were no trees, as we were well above the treeline. Even small bushes had stopped growing. I could see nothing that lived here naturally. Big chunks of white snow fell all around us. We got out to try and take some pictures.
I tried to take a step towards the geyser but fell to the left and had to scramble to keep my feet under me. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, made it to the geyser, glanced in, peed and returned to the jeep.
“Are we going down now?” I asked. We were, but it would be a long time before we got below Denver. It would be another 24 hours before we got below where planes pressurize.
About 1/100 people suffer from altitude sickness. It’s rare, but can be fatal. Specifically, you can have an artery in your brain burst, so I was a bit nervous when I felt two arteries begin to throb in my forehead. There was nothing I could do about it at this point but put some more coca leaves in my cheeks.
We soon reached Laguna Colorado, the Red Lake, where we were going to stop for the night. It’s called that because the lake is, well, red, although Leslie thought it looked more orange. I made a beeline for the bed though and laid down while Leslie went exploring. I poked my head out a few times, but every time I did I got winded. The air was just too thin. After a few hours though, Leslie came back and I decided I was going to give it a go.
We had to walk about a third of a mile and up a four story rock to get to the viewpoint, but I was going to make it. It was the slowest I’d ever walked and I soon learned a few tricks about moving around in high-altitude. Go slow. Starting and stopping is tough, so keep a steady pace. Think about smooth steps, the less jarring you can walk the better.
After turning a ten minute walk into a half hour walk, including the arduous task of jumping across some stepping-stones in the lake, we made it to the viewpoint. We got some good pictures, but sunset was a no-go as the clouds swept in.
The next day saw us check out some more lakes, but most importantly for me, we went down. One of the cooler sites was the Railroad Graveyard, which was colonial-era Spanish trains that had been abandoned. We ended up in the town of Uyuni, which was well above Denver, but below the cabin-pressurization point. As soon as we reach Uyuni I started to feel better. It wasn’t 100% mind you, but I no longer feared a walk across town. I just took it a bit slow.
The next day saw us head out before the sun was up to the highlight of the trip, Salar de Uyuni, the world’s highest salt flat. The salt flat, was huge, made of salt, and … uh… flat. It looked a bit like a huge flat snowfield.
In actuality, it was layers upon layers of salt. Ten feet of salt followed by a layer of water, then another ten feet of salt, etc. I don’t know how many layers it is, but there’s holes in the salt where the water comes to the surface. These are called eyes.
If the whole thing sounds a bit unstable to you, you would be correct. Our driver told us that in the seven years he had been driving three jeeps had been swallowed up whole by the Salar.
The colors coming off the salar were quite vibrant. The white made everything contrast mightily. Pictures ten minutes apart would be different colors, with a ton of different shades of blues.
We also drove into one of the places where the water had come up above the salt. It was only a few inches, but as a result, you could see reflections of the sky everywhere.
Finally, we had some fun with perspective pictures and we were off.
When we were back at the hostel we made the decision to head to La Paz next. It was the highest city we would go to, but it needed to be done. Needless to say, I wasn’t too excited, but it was necessary if we were going to get across the central portion of South America without heading into Chile (too expensive) or hiking through the Amazon.
We planned on hanging out in the hostel until that night, but they actually kicked us out, so we ended up hanging around the small town of Uyuni for the next few hours before getting on a night bus to La Paz.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Wild West of Tupiza

We arrived in La Quiaca pretty early in the morning and it absolutely sucked. I drank so much water on the bus to help with the adjustment to the high altitude, so I had to pee like every hour on the bus. In other words, I didn´t sleep at all. The town was quite small as evidence by the small bus station, but I didn´t really feel like doing anything other than sleep. We put on our backpacks, started walking, and instantly felt a difference in the air. We were both out of breath after just walking for a couple minutes. We decided to stay a night in the little town in order to avoid overexertion, but who am I kidding, I just wanted to sleep. It ended up being a good day because we saw two movies in English in our little room and ate at an excellent local restaurant located right next to the hostal.

Crossing the border to Bolivia was probably the most annoying border crossing ever…for US citizens. I read online that US citizens had to pay $135 per visa in US dollar only. We were told we could exchange in La Quiaca before crossing…not true.
We went to the border anyway to try our luck. They wouldn´t accept Argentinian peso or Boliviano. I threw my fist in the air and said, “why.” They ended up allowing us to cross illegally to Villazon, Bolivia in order to exchange our money. This would have been amazing if it weren´t for the horrible exchange rates. After an two hours of trying to find better exchange rates, ATM´s, and get a copy of our passport, we finally got our ridiculously expensive Bolivian visas.
We immediately purchased bus tickets to Tupiza and went to eat at a local restaurtant. We went in and asked for a carte (menu). She said there were no menus and listed off about two things they were making for that day. Sounded good to us and it was.
After only three hours on the bus we made it to Tupiza which looked like a town from the wild west. Supposedly, Butch Cassidy and Sundance were killed by the Bolivian army near this town. It was really quite cute, so we decided to splurge on a private room and bathroom and stay for a couple days.
The next day we walked around the town, relaxed in our room, and a came across our first experience with carnival. I won´t say too much because our best carnival experience will be written in the La Paz, Bolivia blog, but it involves a million water guns, some sort of soap spray can, masks, and parades.
We decided to go horse back riding the next day and explore more of the wild wild west properly. I really felt like it could have been the late 1800′s until I looked at Bryan with our huge Nikon camera. We saw some cool rock formations, did a bit of galloping, and met some cool people, including an Irish guy who had never been on a horse before. He did surprisingly well when we all started galloping.
After two hours on the horse, our butts and upper thighs were really starting to hurt and we were all thankful we didn’t have to ride across country. We then went to lunch and later dinner with our new Irish friend and then went to bed early in order to prepare ourselves for our three night four day jeep tour to Salar de Uyuni. This was really fun, tiring, and I had the opportunity to squat pee several times a day along the lonesome roads of Bolivia.
P.S. We probably won’t be able to post anymore pictures as we are so behind and the internet is pretty crappy everywhere we’ve been so far. sorry.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cafayate – The Small Mountain Town that Was

On the bus ride from Mendoza to Salta, Argentina we decided that we’d go to Cafayate, a small town in the northern Andes. We’d heard it was a small mountain town in wine country. This was the second time we’d made the attempt to find one of these, as our last attempt ended up putting us in a pretty large city.

Fortunately, this was much more promising. We woke in Salta and immediately caught another bus to Cafayate. It was three and a half hours outside Salta. Two hours in, we hit the mountains, making us both much more convinced we made the right decision.
Mountains in this part of the world are very different than the mountains we’re used to in the Pacific Northwest. The entire mountain chain is clearly sedimentary rock, with layers of rock easily visible on the cliff faces. There were no trees, leaving the rocks exposed to the elements. Not all the layers were flat, many of them running along with the mountains and cutting off at cliff faces. The only plant life was sparse weeds, aloe-vera and a lot of cacti. These mountains were very different than the mountains I was used to.
There really wasn’t a bus station in Cafayate. I was a bit nervous that we would have difficulty finding a place, but there were a few hostels that were handing out flyers outside the bus. We checked out a couple and soon had chosen a place to hole up for a couple days.
Thankfully, this small mountain town was exactly what we were looking for. Walking from one side of town to the other took about twenty minutes. The whole town was centered around a main square. It was a large grass plaza with walkways, benches, trees to provide shade and a central statue. At night, people selling kettle corn and other snacks out of carts appeared, as did street performers.
We decided to rent bikes to ride to some wineries, this was going to be the third time in our lives that we decided to do this.
The first time, we were in Napa Valley, California and decided to ride across the valley. The bike rental place assured us that we could just put our bikes on a bus if we got tired. They forgot to tell us the buses only come once an hour, and more often than not the bike racks were full.
The second time was couple days earlier in Mendoza, Argentina, where we decided to rent some bikes. The bikes ended up being such a poor quality that it soured the whole experience.
Nevertheless, we trudged on, convinced this “wineries on bikes” thing was going to be fun. In fact, we were so convinced it was going to be great that we rented a double-bike.
Umm… yeah.
We started by dickering with the guy renting the bike over price, eventually getting a deal because we were going to rent it for the whole day.
Leslie climbed on the back of the bike and I started on the front.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
Next thing I know I’m pushing down on the pedal, trying to move us forward, and we were off.
“Bryan!” I hear behind me, clearly more than the two feet she should have been behind me. After a few attempts, we finally got going.
“I need to work on keeping my arms still,” said Leslie, “and you need to work on not throwing me off.”
Soon, we had crossed the six blocks to the edge of town and were riding out into the mountainous wine country. The bike was moving us forward okay, but soon, Leslie’s backside was starting to hurt. Couple this with the fact that first winery we found was closed and it didn’t look like we were off to such a good start.
Then we made it to the second winery, which also had declined to open for tastings that day. We turned back to town a bit disappointed and Leslie was hurting pretty bad. We finally found an open winery on the edge of town and got to go in for a tour.
We’ve been on a plethora of wine tours, so really just wanted to taste some wines. We weren’t too interested in another tour of a factory, especially one run in Spanish. Nevertheless, we ask the woman where the tour starts and she directs us to the beginning of the tour, not mentioning that we needed tickets. We miss the first group and catch on with the second, at which point we go on a wine tour, where I’m desperately trying to understand and give Leslie an idea of what they’re saying. I got a few things, but not much. I did learn that they mechanically separate the grapes and feed the non-fruit part of the grapes to the goats.
We made it to the end of the tour, where we were quite excited to taste some wines. They gave us two tiny tastes. We were quite frustrated at this point.
Leslie decided she wanted to try being in front of the double-bike, hoping that this would help alleviate the pain. Instead, it helped throw both of us off the bike. I think I’m too much dead-weight, as when she tried to get up and start us off she fell off, then we almost made it up, but instead ended up meandering dangerously into an intersection. Running across the street we decided to give up on the double-bike and returned it early. Instead, we went to Casa de Empanadas and had some excellent pastries stuffed with different bits of meats, veggies and cheeses. The blue cheese based ones were our faves.
The next day we went out in a tour with 15 people from a couple different hostels around Cafayate into the Quebrada.
Argentina is quite well off as a country. One way for judging how well a country is doing economically is to watch for the domestic travellers. On our day tour of the quebrada. Quebrada is a word that is somewhere between valley and canyon. For us, it means “dry mountanous land that has cool geological things to visit.”
Highlights of the tour included a massive, natural ampitheater that saw the Argentinians do some dancing while one of the girls played guitar. The end saw us climb a steep set of rocks, which was not too difficult for Leslie and I, but was rather arduous for a woman who was probably in her late 60s, early 70s. Her family and the guide helped her up and down again.
The next day saw us do a different sort of wine tasting with a woman from Germany named Simone. We walked around to a couple of the local wineries, which was great. There was no falling off in traffic, no long rides on difficult bikes and some fun little wineries.
My favorite was one where the woman behind the counter was the daughter of the one of the five brothers that ran the place. She didn’t speak any English, but we all had fun trying to communicate.
We enjoyed the little town of Cafayate, but soon, it was time to go. We packed up our things and got on the bus back to Salta to catch an overnight bus to the Bolivian border.
We picked up some coca leaves on the way, which are the locals remedy for altitude sickness, a potentially fatal problem that occurs when people aren’t used to the lack of oxygen in the air so far above sea-level. We thought we were both in pretty good shape, so there shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Next stop, 3000m above sea-level.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mendoza – The Small Mountain Town that Wasn’t

We left Buenos Aires with the goal of finding a small mountain town in Argentinian wine country. We had heard that the best place to find this was the city of Mendoza, so we ended up on an overnight bus.

The bus station was much more like what we would consider a train station. It was two stories and about forty different bus companies offered services that would take people all over Argentina. When we got our tickets they had a range of gates, meaning our bus was expected to show up somewhere between gate 55 and 67.
We had heard that the Argentinian buses were nice, but when we got on we were quite amazed. The seats were a baby blue and looked like something out of a cartoon. The seats looked as if Dr. Seuss had been hired by Lay-Z-Boy. We had gotten a “Cama Ejecutivo,” meaning this was the second-best class of bus that included full food service. There’s strict laws that define how far back a seat must recline to be considered “semi-cama”, “cama”, or “cama-ejecutivo”. Our seats reclined 85 degrees, meaning they were almost flat. There’s also a bus that contains suites, where you actually have a private cabin. Leslie, who dreads the night buses, actually decided this was comfortable, and was willing to do it again.
There was actually some disappointment when we got off the bus as it was quite comfortable and we could have slept a few more hours.
Then came the second round of disappointment. Mendoza is the name of the state, with Mendoza being the capital city. The book we had made me think that it was a smaller city in the Mountains, but in actuality it wasn’t small, the wineries were another bus ride away and we could barely see any mountains.
That’s not to say that we didn’t like Mendoza, it was a great place, but it was not what we were expecting.
Long ago, Mendoza experienced an earthquake that destroyed much of the town with falling rubble killing people stuck in narrow alleys, so when they rebuilt they decided that they would make the space between buildings really wide. In the center of town, one of these walks has been blocked off for cars, making it a great place for cafes, bars, shops and the community to come together. Trees like the walk, making it shady and giving it a nice air.
We ended up eating a couple meals in these cafes, with a few incidents sticking out.
There didn’t seem to be much difference in the cafes when we started, so we just picked one and sat down. The meal was going well, but soon, I felt something wet on my arm. I looked down and realized it was bird poop. I wiped it off, but two seconds later I got another present on my other arm. Leslie thought it was quite funny… for about two minutes. Then, she got something wet on her face. She freaked out a little bit trying to figure out what it was, but we soon figured out that it was just wine. The bird had hit directly into the wine glass and Leslie got the splash on her face.
There were another time where a pack of dogs came running down the alley, chasing a bike. These dogs weren’t like the dogs in Asia. They were strong, healthy and looked like they could be a threat if they so chose to be. They kept chasing every bike that came running through, once they got a little close and forced the guy to stop. He just had to put his feet down, resettle himself and start again, but he looked okay. The dogs circled and barked, but that was it.
We did make it to wine country one day. We took a bus a half hour outside to Maipu, which is known to be quite bike-able.
We rented bikes from a man with a huge belly. He was quick with a smile and even quicker with his Spanish. His wife spoke a bit better English, so she ended up taking us through the maps before we headed out onto the roads in the small town.
Riding bikes around wine country always sounds like fun, but always turns into a disaster.
The bikes were horrible. Not just bad, but horrible. We’ve rented some pretty bad bikes on this trip, but these had to take the cake. One bike was really hard to pedal and the second had a seat that was tilted way too forward and wanted to dump you off. We should have refused them and gotten better bikes. Hindsight is always 20/20.
The best restaurant was a bit of a ways away, but it was the only place that we had heard anything about, so we made the effort to get there, despite the terrible bikes. The food was great, and we spent the time planning the route that would consist of the least biking.
On the way to the next winery, some people stopped me and asked for directions. Thankfully, I knew where the place was and gave the directions in Spanish, I was proud. We then double-checked our map and realized the place we were going was the most expensive winery in Maipu, so ended up heading towards the same winery as the people we gave directions to.
It was another decent ride, but we just kept it slow and it was fine. We ended up learning that Spanish was a second-languange for the group we talked to as well. The three of them were from Switzerland, Holland and Germany. We all ended up on the same tour, although the vast majority of the tourists were Argentinian.
We decided there would be time for one more winery and we would go with the three Europeans we’d met. This is when we realized they had actually rented decent bikes. Their relaxed pedaling with proper gears left the two of us huffing and puffing to keep up, but we ended up doing a pretty good job.
The next winery had some decent wines, but one of the better views we’d seen, with a nice porch looking over the vineyards and the Andes in the distance. This was much more like what we were looking for, but it was the end of the day, and we had a good trip ahead of us to get back to Mendoza. The Europeans wanted to rush to one more winery, and we took the opportunity to seperate, not wanting to have to move at their pace.
We began our slow ride back, when a police officer started following us. I was wondering if we’d done something wrong, but he said he was going to escort us back. I thought it was a bit odd, but guessed that they must have had some trouble with robberies of foreigners recently. It was odd being followed by a policeman, but eventually we struck up a conversation and he seemed like an okay guy.
He dropped us back at the bike place, where the family was quite welcoming. They gave us some juice and we chit-chatted with their son, who was studying English. His parents seemed more interested in his English studies than he did. Soon, we were on the bus back to Mendoza.
We got close to doing a mountain tour, but the price was quite expensive and it looked like 9 hours of bus riding for a 3 hour hike, so instead, we spent a day relaxing, backing up pictures, and eventually shipping off a package to Bellingham.
So Mendoza didn’t end up being what we expected it to be, but it was quite a nice town. We booked another bus north to Salta, which is a northern hub. When we got on the bus, we weren’t quite sure where we were going. We were debating between Cafayate, which we thought was a small mountain town in wine country, or just giving up on the Argentinian Andes and heading to Tupiza, Bolivia. Either way, Salta was the first stop.
Next stop… uh, north.