South America Pt. I: Tay & Nicole Adventure again- toothaches, sodium sunsets, hell on a rainbow lollipop and a trainwreck
As if now, I’m back in Alaska.
Back in Alaska and not even home a week and I’m already on a plane as I type. But only to Fairbanks from Anchorage. So I’m not leaving the state yet…
For a little bit at least, until August 29 that is. Then I’m off to Tajikistan to kick off my partial Silk Road adventure, so far by myself. You know because 90% of people around me have never heard of Tajikistan, most no one can point it out on a map, and well most everyone around here assumes ‘Stan=death. Mostly in part to the fact that the only two ‘Stans they’ve heard of are Afghanistan and Pakistan, which we all know have marred reputations. I’m pretty sure most people in the US aren’t even aware that there are any other countries that end in ‘Stan.
So as of now I’ve been back at work, I’m scrambling trying to learn as much Russian and Persian (Yes, Tajik is related to Persian, or so they say is a dialect of it along with Dari and Farsi, and Russian is still widely used since it was part of the good ol’ USSR) as I can before leaving so I don’t look like a moron over there. Although I probably will anyway since I don’t have the memory capacity to retain much of any language I’ve attempted.
So let’s talk about my South America trip that just ended…
As you probably noticed, over the course of nearly two months of traveling I only managed to post twice \_(ツ)_/ (I would have used that Kanye shrugging ‘just sayyyin’ GIF here, but I don’t know and don’t care to search for a GIF that I can freely use. Plus I think on that Facebook trending thing a while back I saw the motherfucker is broke and bankrupt. And his loins are most likely quivering at the prospect of a lawsuit. Although the joke would be on him seeing that I don’t have the money some big site would have, you know like Buzzfeed, Matador Network or Elite Daily who love to post clickbait garbage.)
Yup two posts. That’s all I could do. Much of the trip I was exhausted, in pain, having too much fun or didn’t want to deal with the snail-paced Internet to update everyone. Plus let’s face it, I paid my own money to go there. Only a couple of activities were sponsored and I made a point to fulfill my obligations to them. I wasn’t on a press trip, so again \_(ツ)_/ .
I started by flying to Colorado for roughly 22 hours to pick up Tay before carrying on to La Paz, Bolivia. We landed at 5:30 in the morning, cleared customs and hopped in a taxi bound to the city center to find a hotel room to crash for a couple of hours. Driving into La Paz at sunrise is a must-do. I don’t feel as though I need to describe it, just do it sometime.
That very same night we were headed down to Uyuni on an overnight bus to start our 3 day Salar De Uyuni tour. The Salar was just as strange and vast as it looks in the photos, well maybe a little more so in person. The real magic happened at sunset out there, don’t miss that part
The next couple days included a canyon, strange rock formations, even that fairly famous one you may have seen: Arbol De Piedra, a drive up into a volcano that gave me my first tryst with altitude sickness, the Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde.
The tour? Definitely worth it. However, with that said, I’m not sure that I’d go back. And not for any bad reasons, I just saw it and I’m good. Ok, so a big part of this is the fact that I don’t hold up too well in extremely dry arid locations. And this is about as dry and arid as it gets.
Yes, I wound up with a sinus infection due to the dryness. Yes, it was unpleasant. Plus, it also masked the horrific toothache that would really come to fruition the day we hiked Machu Picchu… But I’ll bitch about that a little later as well as find a dentist near me to get it sorted as soon as possible.
After the Salar, we went back up to La Paz where we based for a couple of days. Most everyone we met in the Salar was traveling from Colombia down to Chile or beyond, so they had already experienced La Paz. We’d only had a short half-day exploring La Paz before the Salar tour, so this was our time to really see it.
I actually liked La Paz
There’s so much hate and dislike for this city. Yeah, the pollution sucks, the dust doesn’t help and the constant blockades and government protests make for gallivanting the city to be a giant pain in the ass. But once you look past that, La Paz is a magical place. It’s where I got my first taste of South America… Well ok, maybe second- We had a layover in Lima on the way to La Paz and some asshole farted on the bus that takes you from the plane to your gate. Like a rotten egg, make your eyes water with a side of mucho caliente bean and cheese burrito kind of fart. My mouth was open. That was my first taste of South America technically, it was unpleasant and slightly traumatizing.
But anyways, La Paz is interesting in a frenetic, chaotic, firecrackers and maybe a rifle shot in the air kinda way.
The must do’s if you’re in La Paz is definitely the Teleferico (cable car) to the top- El Alto at sunset, El Mercado De Las Brujas (the Witch Market) and just have a wander around. The graffiti is pretty cool too.
Next, we shot down the Death Road with Baraccuda Biking as a day trip. I think that was 100% worth it. But I love dangerous things, probably at a slightly unnatural level.
Then our final stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, no not the one from the song. That one’s in Brazil. This one is on the highest navigable lake in the world: Lake Titicaca. This was yet another place that seemed to get a bad rap from people we met further south in Bolivia.
Ok, maybe we liked Copacabana a lot more because we stayed in what is, in my opinion, one of the coolest hotel rooms ever at Hotel Cupola. Remember this place if you’re planning to visit. We had a small kitchen a nice comfy bed, beautiful windows that looked out over the lake, a stained-glass skylight, oh and a fireplace. I thought this was a steal for what we paid (split between the two of us, of course). They have a dorm if that’s out of your price range though.
We went out in these human zorb ball like things on the lake and laughed hysterically like 5-year-olds. We hiked Cerro Calvario for sunset, and late at night too to shoot the Milky Way. And we went to Isla Del Sol, but we did that the wrong way so don’t do Isla Del Sol how we did. Go for a full day! We went for a ‘half-day’ in the afternoon. Huge mistake. This only gives you about 45 minutes on the island. We spent more time on the ferry than on the island. We should have researched that better. You live and learn, right?
From Copacabana, we headed over to Puno, Peru on the other side of Lake Titicaca. Another place we were told to not bother stopping for.
Here’s my take:
Really you can see Puno in one day. You should spend a day there. It isn’t that bad. Plus the floating islands are pretty amazing. I think max two days in Puno though. Any more and I’d probably be clawing my way out. We did, however, meet two awesome ladies in Puno from Washington and had a blast with them. Especially after we ended up at Pacha Mixology Bar. They have these weird shots that look like egg yokes and all kinds of other fun drinks. We’d later meet up with them in Cusco and Aguas Calientes as well.
From Puno we made way to Cusco. And we all know why everyone goes to Cusco!
We wandered the city, we took the bus to the ruins of Tambochay and walked to Puka Pukara, Qenqo, Sacsaywaman and a stop at the Cristo Blanco before walking right back down into Cusco. We spent a different day with Alex, who we met in our hotel and went to Chincherro, Moray, and Maras with her.
Then came the Rainbow Mountain. I think Vinicunca was the highlight of Peru for me personally. Don’t get me wrong Machu Picchu is indescribably beautiful, but there was just something about the Rainbow Mountain. Maybe that it’s so unique and strange and well, unknown. But not for much longer, it’s been found out and people are headed there in droves. I’m glad I got in when I did. With that all said, I’m not sure that I’d return to the Rainbow Mountain either. It’s amazing and I have nothing bad to say about it. But the altitude is brutal up there. The highest you’ll go to view the mountain will land you at just under 17,000 feet. I live at sea level people. I know earlier I said I had my first tryst with altitude in Bolivia, but this is where I could really feel it. I wasn’t up long enough to truly get sick, but when your hiking, sweating and feeling like you could puke, spray diarrhea and pass out, you know it’s coming.
Before chaos ensued we were back at the bottom, had lunch and were back on our way to Cusco. A white-knuckled ride on a narrow road just inches away from sheer vertical drops down the side of a mountain. I’m so glad we slept on the way there.
Next we headed off to Aguas Calientes, in order to do Machu Picchu
Yes, it really does look just like the pictures. It lived up to all the hoopla and more. Tay was getting pretty frustrated with the lack of enthusiasm about going. I lack enthusiasm on purpose though. What if you build something up in your mind, then get there and it doesn’t live up to your expectations? You get disappointed. So, my theory is that if you’re just consistently pessimistic, you’re more often pleasantly surprised. Which Machu Picchu was a very pleasant surprise. But you wanna know what was unpleasant? The toothache I hiked it with. There I was awake at 4 am with the most intense pain I’d ever felt radiating from the top of my head to my collar bone. I have an extremely high pain tolerance, and that was unbearable. But I had two options: A) deal with the tooth that day and forfeit my only chance to go to Machu Picchu or B) suffer through and take care of it tomorrow.
I opted to procrastinate. Do I regret it? Not a bit
The next morning we were back on the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. This time sitting across from a chipper young couple who was way too excited about birds. I about died laughing when the boyfriend leaned over and said ‘that’s a nice female’. You two have got to be virgins. I know that sounds judgy, but hey more power to you guys. At least you made me laugh, that is before we got in a trainwreck.
No, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We just hit a vehicle that happened to be on the railroad tracks. It was enough to jolt everyone awake, send a few bags flying and tip over the coffee and teapots. No casualties.
Once back in Ollantaytambo my mission was to find a taxi to take us straight to a dentist in Cusco to get my tooth ripped out of my head. Bueno dentista por favor, muy dolor. He knew.
In record time we were dropped on a street corner in Cusco and motioned upstairs to a dental office. 3 hours later, lots of anesthetics, $30 and a high five later I was one tooth lighter and about to plant my ass on a bus for 17 hours to Ica, Peru.
But really, don’t have a tooth abscess on a trip. It’s the worst.
Finally the next morning we arrived in Ica, from there we’d hop on over to Huacachina where I’d go do dumb shit considering I had a tooth pulled the day before.
I only really planned to slowly walk up the sand dune so that I could look at the little oasis of Huacachina below. Well, I did that, then Tay talked me into a dune buggy right, which unbeknownst to us included sandboarding, which I did too. Probably the worst part of it was that the dune buggy had zero suspension. How I didn’t blow the blood clot out and get a dry socket I’ll never know.
After Ica and Huacachina we made way to our final destination together, Lima.
We didn’t do much in Lima. Which was okay, we were both exhausted. Plus I wasn’t so motivated. It was just so dreary and gray out. We wandered around Miraflores a little, we ate, we went and peered over the edge of the cliff down to the beach. We planned poorly and forgot to make a reservation at Central to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world. We even found the infamous cat park in Lima. We weren’t too upset though. From here we split ways. Tay went back up to Colorado. And I made a short jaunt north of the equator up to Panama. I booked it the day before I left, I wanted to spend a few days somewhere warm before I headed back south to Ecuador to meet Grant and finish the trip.