2010 Central-South America
Jan 11 Monday
Hopefully our leaving will continue the warmer weather in SD. We want to thank Sandy Robinson for taking us to the airport in Sioux Falls. Since we were flying over-seas we had no luggage charges. We met Kim Cassel who works for the Extension Service at SDSU and had a nice visit. The flight to Denver was smooth. We had about a 6 hour lay over at Denver which seemed to get long. We had a nice visit with a couple from Rapid City who were going to San Jose to do some mission work. The plane to San Jose was crowded and since we were so late there was no food, just water or Soda. We have had a lot of long flights but I would rank this as one of most uncomfortable. As is normal we slept very little.
Jan 12 Tuesday
Things went well at San Jose with immigration and customs and our Caravan airport representative met us and we were taken to our first hotel in a bus and they had a room ready for us even though it was about 8 am in the morning. We spent the day resting and got some dinner at the hotel as that was all that was available. It was outrageously expensive. It was a buffet and I was not that hungry so it was really a waste for me but Edith was hungry. We should of just had her eat. It reinforces the idea one should always ask ahead of time exactly what things are going to cost and in the case of taxis and other situations write it down so there should not be any argument when it comes time to pay. Our Caravan tour guide had our Introduction Meeting and did a nice job. So often these meeting drag on and on and say little but Fausto did a great job. We had our first tour meal. We finally got some water. Things were messed up with us getting water in our room. Our room was hot and we could not set the thermostat. We had no Wi-Fi free access. We found out about the terrible earth quake in Hati.
January 13 Wednesday
We had breakfast with Ted and Marie from Saskatoon SK and were ready to get on the bus at 7:30 pm We went through San Jose to the Volcan Poas. It is in the cloud forest and with all the recent rain on the east coast and cold front it was raining and very windy, about 35 mph From the visitors center it was about 700 yards to the crater. It is just under 9000 feet elevation so that always takes some getting used to. It was solid fog and rain so we could see nothing but there was a nice picture at the look out so one could get a good idea. Back at the visitors center there was a good video that showed the volcano which just had a small eruption on Christmas Day. It showed the lagoon, an old crater and another old crater.
This is the most visited National Park in San Jose. Probably one reason is that it is very close to San Jose. Going up the mountain are the coffee farms and then ornamentals being growing under screen and toward the top are dairy farms. We had a noon lunch overlooking San Jose and had a local ceremonial show. Back in San Jose we looked at several cultural sites in town and went the the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. There was an amazing amount of gold for ancient sites on display. We got back to the hotel about 3:30 pm and found out how to set the thermostat down from 22 degrees C. to 18C. Tomorrow we head for Tortuguero leaving at 9:30 am. We may have to take a longer, higher route because of all the rain which was supposed to clear out today. We are hoping to see lots of wildlife at Tortuguero.
It was a lazy start. We left at 8:30 am. We seen a lot of towns and agriculture. As you go toward the coast the economy is not as good. There is a lot of influence from the Caribbean. With 3 weeks of rain we had to take a different way in with the bus. The last 20 miles or so was pot hole gravel. We seen lots of banana plantations. CR is the big supplier to the USA. The Chiquita company had a bad reputation here while Dole and Del Monte have a very good reputation. It has to do with how they treat their workers. A bus had slid off the road but we were able to get by it. There were two tractors there trying to pull it out. The canals were at flood stage and we went by boat on the La Suerte canal which normally would not have enough water but other than being narrow with trees and buses on both side there was plenty of water. We we got on the main water we could open our plastic curtains. It was misting and humid and foggy but the jungle was interesting. Since the only way in and out of Tortuguero is boat or small plane we seen lots of boats. We were told going back we would take a longer boat ride to the south as the bus would be able to make it to the normal spot by then. We got checked in to our somewhat rustic accommodations but they certainly are fine. The food is excellent and with Wi Fi I get free internet. I have to get a password. Those using the hotel computers have to pay $4.00 for 30 minutes so the netbook has done well. I had quite a bit of junk mail as a few days had went by but I got it all cleaned up.
January 15 Friday
We had a two hour boat ride looking for wildlife. We are really blessed is this is the first day in 3 weeks it has not rained all day. We seen lots of water birds and Hollar and White Faced Monkeys. When we got back went to the Green Turtle Center and seen a nice video. This is the oldest and primer place for saving the Green Turtles. We then walked down the beach where they will lay their eggs in a few months and went into Tortuguero. It has about a 1000 people and it is wet and humid and not very nice although it is safe enough. We then had another 1.5 hour wild life boat ride. We seen the third and last monkey species the Spider Monkey and we seen a couple of Caimans and some Tucans up closer so we seen pretty much everything other than crocodiles. We had good English speaking guides and we had one hour of music each night
.January 16 - Saturday
It rained hard during the night but they get 200 inches of rain a year so it is typically not a big deal but they have had so much rain the past 3 weeks the water levels are really high. It had drained down enough the past couple of days that we could go to were we would of went to come in which is Canal Blanco. We went through Tortuguero NP on the Tortuguero River and then turned off on Canal Negro and then through an area called the Haul Over and seen the Caribbean in the distance for the last time. We then went on the California River which has some shallow areas due to a earth quake a few years ago. We then to the Canal Parisnina to our docking point. The bus had to drive a about 1 foot of water some places but it was all rock fill so it was very, very solid. It was a long gravel road out and with all the rain had a lot of pot holes. I expected it to be a lot better than the way in but road wise it was not and it was a lot farther.
We toured a Del Monte Banana plant and plantation. The bring the bunches in on a zip line, cable track a lot like a ski lift. The wash the banana's and then spray them to prevent them from ripening and then bag bunches and fill boxes with the bunches. We had a good noon lunch and some Caribbean dancers. In the afternoon we toured a Pineapple Plantation. We learned that there is a lot of mis information about picking out pineapples. Actually it is best to pick out one fairly green, We did not get to Arenal Mano our hotel until it was getting dark. It is nice and if the clouds go away we can see the volcano from our rooms. We have free WiFi here and we can get it in the room. I just had to get the password from the desk.
January 17, Sunday
Today we went to Negro Canal wildlife area near Los Chiles CR right on the border of Nicaragua. We seen Caiman, Holar Monkeys and lots of birds. We had a show of native dancers and our guide told us a lot of the history of the relationship between Nicaragua and CR. Back at La Fortuna we went to the Baldi Hot Springs, The pools were from 110 degrees down to the high 90's F, We were very please to see on the Internet that the Vikings beat Dallas 34 to 3. We have had some nice visits with a number of pe8ople on the tour.
January 18, Monday
From Arenal we went to the Hanging Bridge Reserve. There was a 90 minute hike in the rain forest with six swinging bridges supported by cable. Some were 150 feet below the bottom of the canyon we were crossing. They were quite long with most of them being about 75 meters long. One was especially nice as you could look up the canyon and see a water falls and another swinging bridge way above that. We climbed on up and crossed this high bridge and we could see the one below but it was not a spectacular as looking up. It was very pretty and special looking up as there were some hanging clouds but not enough to effect the vision much. We then drove along Arenal Reservoir which is quite scenic. Up about 3/4 of the way there is a community area where a lot of people from other countries and the USA live. They have a lot of communication with each other. The climate is a so called eternal spring the year around. We seen the wind surfers on the upper windy section of the lake. They are right at the end of the lake as it is a world class wind surf site. There were a number of wind generators on the hills over looking the lake in this area. Up on the hill and a little more to the west is a town called Tilaran which is where our guide Fausto and his family lives. It looks like a true TICO town of about 10,000 people and looks to have everything you need. It is close to where it starts to dry out so I would almost be sure you would get more sunshine and not so much rain. It would be a good spot to visit or live but it might be expensive since it is close to the lake. From there we went on across the mountains which quickly became much drier as we were entering the dry season for a few months. We drove west to the Pan American Highway to Canas and then went north about 25 miles to Liberia which we visited last year on our way to Portero. Here in Gauncaste it is hot and dry this time of the year. We then traveled past the turn off to Flamingo Beach where we turned last year and on down the coast farther south to the JW Mariott. It is a $425 a night hotel so Caravan Tours obviously did not pay this much but it is what it would of cost us on our own. It is the nicest hotel we have ever stayed iu and is considered a 5 Diamond Hotel which would be above a 5 star hotel.
It is right on the ocean with a white beach. I will relate more about the hotel tomorrow night.
January 19th Tuesday
At the JW Marriot and went on the dry forest tour which was near the hotel. It was right along the Pacific and there were some waves breaking over the rocks and it was quite scenic. Up the coast to the north a bit was Barcelo. Farther north is Tratmando which is a popular spot. A few of the things that Fausto showed us were Thorny Cedar and White Ash which has very good wood for making things. Also there were Guanacaste Trees and Naked Indian. We seen a sea turtle nest, some birds. One hopped from branch to branch like a squirrel and had a common name of squirrel bird.
We walked the beach for a ways on the way back. The brown pelicans were diving for fish. There were a group riding horseback. We go back to the hotel about 11 am and noon lunch was at 1:00 pm so we walked around and went down to the hotel beach. After lunch we went swimming in the various pools and layed on the pool chairs. There were complimentary drinks from 1-4 pm for Caravan people.
January 20th Wednesday
We had breakfast and left about 8:15 am. The JW Marriot had fabulous buffets and lots of service. We got some pictures of the rooms, pools, etc. which will likely be posted on the web site. On the way to San Jose we stopped at a Caravan spot and had Marimba music and they had pottery for sale for the local clay. A Coke was $2.10 so we did not have any. Coke has been unreasonable every place and in fact over all prices are way higher than the should be. One has to go to a local grocery store and even then prices are high for food. We crossed the Friendship bridge and in fact from Santa Cruz on were on the same road to San Jose as last year. Near Montevideo was stopped at a Mennonite outlet for their cheese and ice cream. It was reasonable but again the Coke was $2.00, way to high. We then got to the outskirts of San Jose and went to a handicraft market called the Ox Cart where they have build them for over a century and had noon lunch there and we got a free Coke. Since this was the last stop of the Caravan Tour a lot of people were buying things. They had some nice stuff. We got into the Holiday Downtown Inn about 4:30 pm and our last supper will be at 7:30 pm.
I worked hard on getting a room on the Internet for, tomorrow night, Thursday. We finally got a room at the AAA Melrost B&B near the airport for $65 of a double plus taxes. We arranged with Fausto to use the Caravan Shuttle to the airport at 12 noon. This will be the last one and Kindra and Jose will be on it with use. The Melrost B&B will pick us up at 12:30 noon at the arrival pick up area, also called the second floor. We have a telephone number and rough directions just in case. Everybody put down their e-mail address so we should have them. We gave our card to a couple of people who wanted to see our travelogues. If they send me an e-mail I will add them. They can see our previous and future travels on the web page.
We had a nice departure supper on the 17th floor Mirador restaurant. Fausto said we were a good group with everyone getting along, being on time and not complaining. He said we ranked in the top 10 groups. We said good bye to everyone.
January 21st, 2010 Thursday
The free internet here works well and it really was essential for getting a room for tonight and getting things coordinated for a pick up at the airport. I worked on the travelogue and we did the Caravan evaluation. We still get a free Caravan breakfast and we leave for the airport at noon and should be in the lobby at 11:30 am. Hopefully we will get the e-mail list and fausto will know what bus we need to take in March to get to Bocas del Torro.
Things worked out great. Caravan took us to the airport to the arrival gate and the Caravan Airport Representative who we met previously called Melrost B&B and they arrived shortly and took us to the hostel. It is $55.00 which for San Jose is good. It has Wi-Fi, TV, free transportation to and from the Airport, It has a large living room, big kitchen furnished with microwave and stove and utensils. Two bed rooms and a decent bathroom. We will stay here when we get back from SA and then we will go to Bocas Del Torro and come back here before flying home. Melrost is near the International Mall about 2 km from the airport. They will give us a ride to the mall if we want it. The best phone number for Melrost is 506 2431-0909
The bus to go to Limon and on to Bocas Del Torro is Estacion de Buses Los Caribenos.
January 22, 2010 Friday
We spent the morning at the Hostal getting organized. Things went smooth getting checked in.
We had about a 3 hour wait in San Jose.
January 23, 2010 Saturday
Things were busy in Bogota, Columbia. We did not have a jet way and had to take a bus to the terminal. We got a much bigger plane to SCL. We arrived in SCL in the dark and got through immigration with out having to pay another $100 entrance fee as it should of been. We got a taxi to the San Borja Bus station. It cost about $10 more than I think it should of. I got money at the ATM at the airport, We found it was 24 hours to San Pedro De Atacama so it was all day and all night which is a long time. The coast is very scenic as you go north on the Pan American. We seen a number of beaches. Farther north it gets more and more desert and the economy is poorer until you get into mining country and even there it is either rich or poor.
January 24, 2010 Sunday
We arrived at Calma when it was light. It seems like a lot of poor buildings. The trip to San Pedro de Atacama is desert with no plant life. We arrived about 9 am and headed toward down town. With it being the week end a lot of places were full. Since we want to watch the Vikings and New Orleans tonight we need a place with good Wi-Fi so we can watch it via Curts Direct TV and using "Slingbox" to feed it over the Internet.
We stayed at Hostel Lickana which is on the street from Tur Bus headed for Carcoles street. It is on the right side as you walk toward Carcoles street. Cactus Tours is just down Carcoles a few buildings so the Hostel is just a little west and then north on the west side. It it a real decent place with a good breakfast and Wi-FI It is located about 5 blocks from the plaza. Really the only downside is it is fairly expensive at about $77 a night but then everything is expensive. About the only thing decent that we seen that is cheaper is the International Hostel but it was full.
As always breakfast is tricky because if you go on tour or leave early you don't get it. Also luggage is tricky if you have a late bus. We were able to extend our check out time to 2 pm and then store our luggage here until later as our bus will leave late.
We spend the day looking around, getting money, getting our tours lined up and the bus tickets to Arica, Chile. We ended up using Cactus Tours which was recommended in Lonely Planet and we were able to do two tours on Monday. They have good English speaking guides and will take credit cards. The receptionist could speak perfect English and they offered a refund it you changed your mind yet today. We were impressed. They cost a bit more than some but they don't farm you out to other companies and do a good job. The bus to Arica was a disappointment. Frontier only went at 2045 so the means we travel in the dark and have to wait a long time! We decided to pay a little more an use Tur bus. We found out they have lots of buses all day long but only the one at 2045 goes to Arica, bummer! We had the local food for noon lunch. It was the plate of the day and was reasonable. Unfortunately Coke, water, etc. was outrageous. We just waited until we got back to our room 1.6 liters cost 1000 peso's are about $2.00. Actually the water here comes from the Andes so they water supply is OK as long as the Andes has moisture. We decided to watch Indianapolis and the New York Jets. We were fooled by the game times as the actual start was about 2 hours later. Anyway things were working well with the slingbox connection over the Internet to Curt's Direct TV receiver and we could change the channel OK and Curt said the games were on Channel 5 and 10. We started to watch the game and we got an error message and the computer gave a fatal error message. We I rebooted it acted like the hard drive was bad as it said to use other media for start up. It was looking very bad indeed! Not only would we not see the games it appeared the netbook computer was down and out for the rest of the trip. After some messing and pushing a reset button on the bottom of the computer it did boot up into windows!!! What a relief!!! I am not sure if the reset button did it or not??? Anyway this happened a couple of more times with a lot of messing to get it to boot up so then I decided to install slingbox on IE rather than Firefox. It installed on IE and worked much better and in fact I thought the problem was fixed. A couple of times we got some buffering problems but it came out of it OK. Eventually we got another fatal error. I then spent a bunch of time discovered on slingbox one can drop the video quality down one step and this is supposed to help connection problems. That seemed to be the magic combination at least for the speed of the Wi-Fi here. We never had the fatal error again for the rest of the colts-jets game so we were ready for the Vikings game. I thought I might have to use the graphic on NFL.com
which we used to see how a couple of games turned out last week end.
Anyway the Vikings game started and what a game it was. About 10 minutes to go to the half I lost the connection. I discovered I had lost the Wi-Fi signal. I reconnected and moved the computer around some to get a better signal and we were back in business but then with about 5 minutes to go before the half the electricity went off, The computer went on battery and to my amazement the Wi-Fi did not go down but just before the half the Wi-fi went away. I assume it was on a battery. We had a couple of battery backup lights outside. They lose electricity quite a bit here so I suspect they had some sort of backup protection on the computer and Wi-FI ie a UPS supply. We sat in the dark and hoped the electricity would come back on. After about 30 minutes which seemed forever it did come on but unfortunately the Wi-Fi did not want to work. Eventually after about 5 minutes it started working. I don't know if the battery got charged enough or they rebooted at the office. Anyway it worked!!!! The game got over here about 12:15 am and we have to be up tomorrow at 5:30 to go on our first of two tours.
It was quite a game but in the end the Vikings had to many turn overs and Brett made a bad decision on a pass which cost them a chance at a field goal. I guess we won't have to be as concerned about watching the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks which may be very tough to do in Bolivia unless Curt has his slingbox going and we can find a good wi-fi. I will have Jack tape it and we can watch it sometime.
January 25, 2010 Monday
We were up at 5:30 am and out by the gate of the hostal at 5:55 am. It was a very short night with about 4.5 hours of sleep at the best. The Cactus Tour van picked us up at 6:10 am and we ended up with just six of us. The other were back packers from Europe but there language of choice was English rather than Spanish so that made it very nice as the guide Ron spoke excellent English!!!
We first went to Solar De Atacama which is the third largest salt flats in the world. It was at Luguna Chaxa. Here we seen Chilian and Andrian Flamingos. We were the first ones there as Cactus tours has this all planned out. were quiet and got very close to them and got some great pictures. They are very colorful when they fly but this is hard to get a picture of with a digital. In the winter there is the James Flamingo here. We were at 2300 meters or about 7000 feet. The water comes from the Andes Mountains underground. The salt plain is from 400 to 1400 meters deep and it trapped between the Andes and CORDILLERA DE LA SAL range of mountains to the west.
We then went farther south to the Laguna's Miscanti and Miniques. We got to 3400 meters here which is about 11,000 feet. We were 98 km south of San Pedro de Atacama. We walked from the one lagoon to the other and the elevation did not seem to bother much.
We seen several areas that looked a lot like Death Valley in California with the colors from minerals in the rocks.
We seen Andrian Flamingos, llamas, endangered Coots and a predator of the Coots and some smaller birds. The luguna is about 45 feet deep and it mainly freezes over in the winter other than where it is fed with hot springs from the Andes. There are a number of inactive and a couple of active volcanos in the area. The seem to spew some small material every few year but have not caused a problem. We toured a couple of villages, had nice visits with the others on the group and seen a historic church and bell tower. Lithum recovery is the big business around here and of course tourism. In the broader region copper is the big thing. They are building a solar observatory to the south of here up on a 4000 meter plain which should be done in 2013-2015. More likely 2015. It is here because of the high, flat location, over 340 clear days, low man made light, low pollution.
We got back in time for a 30 minute break before our Valley of the Moon tour. It is very rugged moon like terrain. We walked down a canyon and visited a cave called Chulacao caves . We seen the natural formations that look like three people praying (tres Maries) in what is called Death Valley, seen some sand boarding and got some nice sunset pictures. We were with a couple form Austria so again the language was English and William our guide did OK. Besides the rugged moonlike terrain and highest salt cliffs in the world there are lots of big sand dunes.
January 26, 2010 Tuesday
We slept in trying to catch up from the small amount of sleep the night before and lots of walking yesterday. We had a nice breakfast and when we went to check out the lady said we could stay until 2 pm rather than 11 am and then we could store our luggage in the office at 2 pm. This will make it much nicer as we can walk around town and get some pictures with out our luggage and then pick it up about dark and go to the bus station and wait for our bus at 2045. I spent the time until 2 pm catching up with e-mail and working on the travelogues. Tomorrow morning we should be in Arica and hopefully can go to Peru. There is some talk about a transportation strike in Peru. With the all night bus ride we need to catch up on our sleep, check out the town and near by volcanoes and most importantly check out the Peru situation
January 27, 2010 Wednesday
We had a hot, tiring ride to Arica. There was no Air conditioning and people here must be very cold blooded as the don't open a vent or window at all. We could see in the moonlight that it was desert all the way. We got to the bus station. They have really been poor about announcing where they are at or being helpful. I was surprised we were at Arica as we were supposed to have breakfast and we seen them load it on the bus at an earlier stop so apparently there was some stuff going on where the breakfast meals were being paid for but we were not getting them.
Being it was just getting light it made no sense to try and find a place to stay this early. A guy ask if we wanted to go to Peru but I told him we needed sleep but he was insistent and we did need to go to Peru. We got to the desk and a young German fellow who could speak a lot better Spanish than I offered to help. Since the price was so reasonable and it was going to be a big hassle to stay over night at Arica even though we had just ridden 10 hours in the bus we decided to go for it. We had to fill out Peru Immigration papers. Sometime during that process and talking to Zooie the German and the ticket guy even though we had our bags right beside us someone managed to snag our red day pack as we suddenly noticed it was gone.
It turned out it had the Satellite phone and extra battery, bathroom bag, Ediths camera battery charger, some of our clothes, the Lonely Planet Chile guide book, our towel and some of our travel papers. If they were going to get a bag this was the best one to lose as the only bad thing was the satellite phone and Edith's battery charger. That may be very hard to find down here. We may just have to buy another camera. Something like this disrupts you for a bit but you just have to not dwell on it as it is all over and done. We will make some additional adjustments. From now on when one is being distracted, ie have set down a pack on needs to automatically put your foot through the strap or set it behind there counter. We are looking at a security bag that is wire mesh with a cable and lock. One could lock it to your belt or likely it would be more feasible to lock it to the big back pack which you could have right in front of you between your legs.
Anyway the procedure was that a taxi with a driver to help us through the process took us to the border which opened at 8:00 am. We were toward the front of the line. We checked out of Chile and then drove about 1 km to the Peru entrance and got stamped in and our luggage checked. The taxi driver then took us to Tachana and got us our bus tickets to Puno and found and ATM machine. At the ATM machine place he sent us back with a taxi driver friend. It turns out the girl in the taxi was Courtney from Seattle how was doing the same thing as we were but had a different driver. We paired up and rode the bus together all the way to Puno. Her and Zooie can speak very good Spanish. We had a loud bang on the bus trip and came to a stop. It sounded like a broken axle but it turned out to be a broken rim and tire so they were able to fix it in about 30 minutes so we were fortunate. We got to Puno in the dark but we met a "business" guy and they got us a very, very nice hostal for $10 a person a night and we have internet, no wi-fi, and breakfast. We also have some low cost, good tou s in this area and we have a tour to Cusco on Saturday. It looks like we might not make it to Machu Pichu as rainstorms and mud slides have trapped many people there. We hope to tour some other things in that area and then head back here to Puno and east to Bolivia. We need to take a break as we have already done two 24 hour straight bus rides which are very tiring and hot.
We can really notice the 12000 feet elevation here so that is another reason to stay awhile and get used to that. We are doing internet stuff tomorrow, a 3 hour afternoon tour and figuring out what we need to buy from what is stolen. It looks like we need a comb, can use the straight edge for a razor and forget about an electric one. I notified Curt to turn off the authorization for the satellite phone. We need to look as to what we can do about Edith's camera situation
January 28, 2010 Thursday
We are going to stay here three nights. We had a very good reasonable supper last night. Basically with the included breakfast and some crackers to snack on we just eat supper so that makes the per day cost very low.
We had a good breakfast. I find several wi-fi signals but none I can get into. I need to check with Curt to be sure he got the message about the satellite phone. We need to get some Soles, Peru money and do a little shopping before the tour this afternoon. We walked around and got some Soles and then we looked for a camera battery charger for Ediths camara. A fellow and his wife and children heard us talking and answered in English. He suggested the black market to get a charger. They were so kind and walked us to it which was about 10 blocks. They said they were headed in that direction anyway. We found lots of cameras and found the exact charger for her batteries so we are set. We also got some Ibuprofeno for Edith. We got bathroom supplies that we lost. I think we are down to an travel-alarm clock. We got word from Curt got the phone de-activated. We will find out tomorrow if any calls were made.
We went on the tour at 2 pm. A young girl came into the lobby but she was hard to understand but I finally figured out so was leading us to a spot for the bus to pick us up. We had to wait a bit at the Plaza for the bus. The guide spoke Spanish and some English. We went to an over look over the city and he gave us a lot of information about Puno and the area.
It started to rain and rained hard. We bought two Alpaca sweaters which kept us warm and dry as it rained some when we finally went on the tour.
The tour went to Sillustani on laguna Umayo peninsula. The funerary towers here are very old. The Colla people were very early here before the Inca's and used these for burials and were mummified a. The towers are called chullpas and are amazing cut rocks with no motar and they are huge and buried with things. The tallest tower reaching 12 meters. How they got these huge cut rocks this high no one knows. Later structures were build by the Inca's. You can find more infomation by searching for Sillustani. The elevation is a challenge here and really makes you short of breath. So far Edith and I have not got altitude sickness! We have been drinking coca tea which seems to help.
January 29. 2010 Friday
We had our breakfast on the 5th floor and I did some computer work. We went down about 15 minutes early for our tour pick up which was a good thing as they were about 10 minutes early. We picked up others and went to Lake Titikaka and got on our boat. We had some local music and then found our boat would not work so we had to transfer to another boat.
The guide knew some English and at least we got a decent idea between the Spanish and English. On the Floating Islands trip everything seems to center around a type o f reed that grows in the lake. They make boats out of them, the floating islands and there houses. The islands truly are floating. The start with a root material and then lay down the reeds alternating the direction and it get very stable. The do anchor the islands on the four corners so it does not move around. They have a clinic out there and school and a trading place as they fish but trade that for other things at the market. The close in islands are very touristy as they are trying to sell craft stuff. They do have solar panels so they have radios, TV's etc. but no Internet.
We went to a second island where they concentrate more on fishing. There are many, many floating islands on Lake Titikaka and they have been there for centuries. It is the biggest lake in South America and the highest in elevation in the world where there is commercial naviagation. It is a scenic view back toward Puno. Puno is about 150,000 people and has virtually everything. It has scores of taxis and the streets are very narrow. We met a German couple that are living in Uruguay and wants us to call them when we get there. They are going back to Germany in a couple of years. They could speak very good English. Oliver firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com 7122031. After the tour I sent an e-mail to the Amaru Hostal in Cuzco to see if we could reserve a room there and get a pick up and they have tours. I then went to the black market again and found a travel alarm clock. Edith rested and when I got back I had a reply from the hostal that they would pick us up at the Inca Express Bus Tour station tomorrow evening when we get in. They will have a sign for their hostal and our names. They have internet; hopefully wi-fi. Hopefully the Inca Express tour will pick us up at the hotel at 7:00 am.
January 30, 2010 Saturday
We were down in the lobby at 6:30 am and our friends were there but no one showed up and we were getting concerned but at about 7:14 our contact that should us the tour packages showed up with the tickets. He got us a taxi and we made it with a little to spare. There was some mis communication but it worked out. It was a nice trip as we made 5 stops, learned about a lot of things and had a relaxing dinner with local music and the food was a buffet with a wide selection and was very good.. The highest elevation on the trip was La Raya at 4335 meters. There was some snow there. One lady got altitude sickness and they put her on oxygen. She was really wiped out. Our first stop was Pukara which was a pre-Inca site. Next was La Raya and then Raqchi which was an ancient Inca site. The last stop was the church at Andahuaylillas.
Amaru Hostel II was there to meet us and it is a nice hostel and we have wi-fi so I got caught up and a number of things. We have a Sacred Valley Tour in the morning at 8 am which is supposed to last all day with a pick up here and return. More on that tomorrow.
January 31, 2010 Sunday
We had a good breakfast and they picked us up for the tour and fortunately the guide spoke good English so we had both English and Spanish. Normally they have different tours for English but with the flooding the tourist numbers are very, very low. It was a great 10 hour plus tour. We got within 22 km of Machu Pichu where from Ollantaytambo you have to take the train but with the terrible rain the train route is washed out for a month or so. We talked to a Canadian who came out via helicopter. He said the food was getting short.
We went to the church at Cinchero which is the high spot and then you go in the valley at Urubamba, We went to the Pisac Inca and pre-Inca site. We had a great noon meal at Yucay. Last was Ollantaytambo where you can find a lot about this important Inca site by a internet search.
Once again we learned on should have the address where you are staying as they wanted to drop us off a ways away and we would of had to take a taxi which is not good without and address. We did know the name Amaru II. Anyway they ended up taking us to the hostal. I gave the guide a good tip as his English was good and he had lots of interesting information and spent a good deal of time explaining it in English. He showed that when the Inca's fled Ollantaytambo some went to the Amazon and this was discovered 5 years ago and is called Pusharo. A high altitude tea is from Munce
February 1, 2010 Monday
We got a taxi to the Cusco bus station and got a bus at 10 rather than the 9 am one as it did not exist, I took all day. We had to argue with a guy about the Joya Del Titikaka being full. These guys lie to try to get you to go to where they get a commission. We finally got to the hotel, the traffic was horrible. As expected the place was nearly empty and it is a nice hotel at a very reasonable cost. We went to eat at our favorite restaurant and they recognized us. We had pizza. We had a ticket for La Paz that we purchased when we got to Puno and we needed to be at the bus station at 7 am.
February 2, 2010 Tuesday
We had breakfast at the hotel at 6 am and got a taxi and was at the bus station before 7 am. It turned into a long day as the bus was coming from Lima and had lots of trouble and did not arrive until about 2:30 pm which really makes for a long wait. Actually the loaded us, our luggage and food and met the bus to save time. We got to the Bolivia border about 6 pm and there was no direction but a gal from Argentina spoke English and we found the Peru exit place and got stamped out. The guard took our picture by the bus and we got Peru and Bolivia boarder pictures. We then walked to the Bolivia entrance and the bus gal found out we needed VISA's and got us in the special office. It all went well as the form was straight forward and we did not need pictures, our yellow fever certificate or proof of tickets-financial responsibility, just money, $135 each. We then needed to take the paper work and passports to another room to be officially stamped. We had our 5 year VISA's and our normal entrance paper. However we needed photo copies of our front page, Peru Exit stamp and Bolivia VISA stamp pages. I went to have copies made and could not find a place. I found the bus gal and she took me back over the border to Peru and it took three tries to find one open. We had a problem as we couild not find the Peru exit stamp. She finally found it as I could not see it in the dim light and the stamp had light ink. Just a lesson to note what page they stamp. I did not have small change so she paid for the copies and we paid her back plus some later on.
On the way back to the bus I go horrible cramps and had to go to the bathroom instantly. You are not supposed to use the bus bathroom except to pee but I had to go. I got in the bathroom but I could not hold it. It was pretty dark but I had some paper so I managed to get my boots off and throw away my shorts and get cleaned up. It turned out way, way better than you can imagine. It turned out we did not hold the bus up as some people had trouble with entrance with young children. We got the La Paz bus station about 9:30 pm. It is a huge city on high hills. We could find no bus out so we talked to the tourist information gal who spoke English and found we could stay at a hotel across the street very cheap and it was safe to walk there. We did that and got a great room for about $22 with breakfast.
February 3, 2010 Wednesday
We had breakfast and went to the bus station and got more money from the ATM that I had used last night. We talked to the tourist representative and found nothing left for uyuni until late so we decided to go to Oruno so we could see some of Bolivia. Oruno is a mining and ag town and quite a mess with lots of recent rains. We got tickets to Uyuni to leave here at 8 pm. It seems no matter what you do you end up traveling at night to go to here. There was a hotel in the bus station and I found we could get a room for about $15 until we leave tonight. This worked out great as we could take a nap, not have to watch our stuff, read up on uyuni and going to Paraguay and work on the computer. Since we will arrive at Uyuni about 5 am I will report on that tomorrow.
February 4, 2010 Thursday
The trip to Uyuni was a tough bus trip. The bus was late and it had no step so it was really high for Edith to get in. We met a girl from Brazil. She and us we the only tourists and the rest were local. The buses in this area serve as a major way to transport goods. It gets to the point you can not get your luggage under neath. It turned out the bus was way over booked but fortunately we had our seats but the aisles were full of people standing or laying. The road is rough gravel and dirt and wash board so it was horrible noisy and hot with all the people as there is not A/C and it seems everyone has a coat on and does not want any ventilation. The bus stopped running but after about 45 minutes they got it going. I think it was a bad electrical connection. Anyway it happened a total of 4 times so an 8 hour trip ended up taking about 12 hours. It gets very cold at night here and amazingly warm in the day time. There had been a lot of rain and it froze during the night, yet during the day it gets to about 80 degrees.
The girl from Brazil and I helped Edith off the bus. We walked down to the plaza but it took us a long time to figure out the directions on the map. We were looking for some recommended ones and found Oasis. We soon found that virtually no place has English speaking guides. We decided to sign up since they were not going until a little after 10 am so that way we did not have to get a room and pay for it. When it was all said and done we have another couple from VA in the USA Bryce and Kelli and a couple traveling together from Spain and Germany. They are Subina and Hiyo and Subina helps us with what we miss in Spanish so we are very fortunate. The trip is 3 day and two night and cost us $250 for the trip, meals and acomodations and our only additional cost will be a park entrance fee. We are all getting along well. We went to the salt flat of Uyuni which is the largest in the world. It has some water on it from the rain. We just drove through the water and went out to what is a salt hotel and had a great dinner. We had llama steaks and lots and lots more. We got to eat at a table inside the salt hotel. Before we went on the salt flat we visited a small salt factory where they mine and dry the salt and mix it and bag it in small bags which are sold for 1 Boliviar or abut 14 cents. It is only sold in Bolivia.
After lots of pictures and reflection pictures we went back to Uyuni and they had to wash the salf off the car so we had a short break. We then looked at the train cemetery outside outside of town. The train stuff there was about 60 years old. We then headed south to get ready to see tomorrow's sights. We seen lots of break downs along the road. It was all dusty but the last half was much smoother. We have a decent place to stay and a shared bathroom and showers. We got tea and a snack and supper. It looks like it is going to be a great trip. We know a good place the El Salvador when we get back for $11 a night and we have our bus ticket to leave for Sucre at 10 am on Sunday.
February 5, 2010 Friday
We had a great breakfast and got on the road about 8:15 am. We drove much slower as apparently he was in a hurry yesterday afternoon as we were running late and he wanted to be sure we had a place to stay. We entered the Valley of the Rocks where there were many unusual shapes. One was called the Condor. From there we seen a number of great mountains and volcanos. The outstanding one was one with many, many mineral colors. It it most impressive we have seen with the closest being Death Valley and in Namabia.
We saw a lagona with many Flamingos.
We seens lots of colors mountains and snow covered one and many unusual rock formations. We had a great lunch and there was a Rock Rabbit. We saw the famous Arbol de Piedra (stone tree). Next was Laguna Colorada with a great red color and the most Flamingos yet.
We had lodging in the park and it is very pleasant with an enclosed porch where you can look out over the lake. As yesterday we had tea and a great visit with our group.. We then worked with our pictures and travelogue. Like last night this place has some solar power so we shoul d get a chance to charge our batteries for the cameras. Hiyo has a Canon 30D digital camera which would be great except for the size and weight.
Things were not nearly as crowed most of the day with us often being be ourselves at a nice scenic spot by our selves. If there were others it was not that bad. We have a nice bathroom here but no shower. We have a real decent room. The elevation here is 14035 feet and we can tell we are definitely getting more used to the high altitude.
February 6, 2010 Saturday
We had to get up at 4:30 and were supposed to leave at 5 am but the rest of the group got caught by the fact that the lights suddenly went out at 10 pm. They were not told about that so in the dark they just went to bed figuring there would be light in the morning and there was not so it took them a lot longer using a flashlight.
Our first stop was t geyser Basin Sol de Manana is listed as being 4850 meter which would be 15912 feet. We actually went a fair amount higher on the rim of the geyser basin. Our high point was 4912 meters or 16115 feet. This is definitely the highest I have been in a vehicle and would be higher than most mountains in the USA. They were actually venting steam and other gases and are not geysers like you see in the Yellowstone or in New Zealand. There was of course lots of sulfur gas and some mud pots and bubbling pools. We got some sunrise pictures. The next stop was Agua Calientes where there was a large outdoor hot tub with thermal water at a temperature of 104 degrees F. The outside temperature was likely in the low 40's with some wind. While waiting for breakfast much to our amazement was the girl from Brazil. We thought she was going to just see the salt flats and go home but bless heart she got her courage and enthusiasm up and booked at 3 day tour with a company some people from Brazil had recommended to here. She had went swimming at the pool. This was the girl we traveled with on the horrible bus ride from Oruno to Uyuni; We had a great visit and parted after hugs. We had breakfast here and the food continues to be awesome. While Nellie was cleaning up and getting noon lunch ready we went to the Laguna Verde. Here is where you can go to Chile and San Pedro de Atacma. We seen several great muli-colored mountains because of the various minerals. When we stopped for Nellie and the gear,. again the girl from Brazil showed up. She was having a wonderful time and was really liking the food on the trip. Before the trip she hated the trip. She said the rest of Bolivia would have to wait but she was having a great time and loved the scenery. She always told us how impressed she was with our travels and told us to be safe. We parted again. We then headed back to Uyuni but it was a circle route and we were more to the west than on the way up. We went out of the NP a different way. We ended up joining the road we went up on just north of the town we stayed at the first night so we got to see a lot of new country. It is not as impressive as the way up but in the distance were lots of volcanoes and multi-colored mountains. We stopped at a special formation on the edge of the Valley of the Rock and the girl from Brazil showed up. We got her picture and exchanged e-mail information. She is in the Sao Paulo area. It was her idea to exchange e-mail and is excited to hear about our travels and we are to hear about her travels. The Road was good for aways but then really was wash boardy!!! We stopped at San Chistobol for a short bathroom break and who shows up but Bianca . Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
We got back and exchanged information with Hiyo, Sabrina, Bryce and Kelli and gave good tips to Nellie and Gonzales as they really, really deserved them as much as anyone has on tours we have taken. This is obviously much more work with all the food, desert conditions and very, very rough roads. It has been a great trip and was more than I ever expected and I expected a lot. Later I need to take the map and guide book and provide more details and background on what we seen. We got into the Hostel El Salvador for just under$13.00 a night. It is just across the street from where our bus leaves tomorrow for Sucre. Hopefully from Sucre we can get to Paraguay as that would be much closer. Hopefully we don't have to go the Santa Cruz which would mean going way north and then again way south. We also hear they has been a lot of raining and flooding there.
February 7, 2010 Sunday
We had breakfast at the hostel and had to pay for it. We left on the bus at 10 am. Much to our surprise we were shortly in the mountains and we in them all the way to Sucre. They were very high and many had lots of mineral colors and unusual shapes. We seen a number of mines. In some of the valley's there is some farming but other than that the land supports nothing other than a few llama's. We had to change buses at Potosi which has the nicest bus station of the trip. We got to Sucre about 9:30 pm in the dark. The bus picks up and drops off passengers all the time so it takes a long time. It is tough traveling as people are standing or laying on the floor. A lady who spoke some English suggested a hostel as the bus terminal was basically closed. That worked out well. We quickly turned on the TV and much to our pleasant surprise the Super Bowl was on Spanish FOX and we seen the last quarter. This keeps our streak alive of always seeing the Super Bowl since retirement while traveling. The last two years we did not see the whole game but in each case we seen the ending.
We have a decent room here and the cost is just under $30 which is about $8 then most places but we understand things cost more in Sucre. This is one of the nicer towns in Bolivia.
February 8, 2010 Monday
We had a good nights sleep and a good shower other than the water could of been warmer. I went over to the bus station and found it is going to be way to costly to go east of here to get to Paraguay. It is a scenic way but all bad roads and lots of time and no special hook up to Paraguay so we have to go to Santa Cruz which costs about $14.29 total where the other way would be $200.00. We will have to pay from Santa Cruz to Camiri where we have to get our Bolivia exit stamps. I learned that flota means basically directo so if I understand correctly we have just three stops and will not be picking passengers up and letting them off along the way. It remains to be seen when we get to Santa Cruz if they will just go to the bus station or drop people off. We leave at 4 pm and arrive at 7:30am. This is the earliest any bus leaves. Buses go a lot at night which we don't like but when that is all there is you have to deal with it. Night buses mean you can not see the scenery, you don't get much sleep, you have an issue with the luggage while you wait for the bus and you have the issue of getting a room very early when you arrive. If you continue on traveling the next day it really gets exhausting
Our plan is to stay in the hotel as long as possible so the wait at the bus station will be cut down to 3 hours. Meanwhile I was able to check our e-mail and send a couple. We note a lot more people here smoke. A big fad is for the kids to have big water guns and shoot water at vehicles; especially buses. As in other third world countries cell phones and Ipod type devices seem to be everywhere young and old. I seems most of the men have the cell phone in a front pocket and the women put it in their bra. We were an hour late getting started with the bus. It continued with lots of mountains north of Sucre. The front seat was still tight in the bus. There was a 3 year old across from us and she had him laying in the center aisle a lot. The cleanliness here is pretty bad. He was eating with his hands all the time and he had touched everything, including picking up some food he dropped on the floor. He had chicken and rice, what a mess.
We also notice soda pop is every where along with other sugar candy and energy drinks of sugar. They buy the big 2 liter bottles a lot. The USA is concerned about obesity but it is a real problem here. Although this is the poorest country in SA there seems to be plenty of money to buy all kinds of junk food and most people are over weight.
We made a supper stop in a very busy town. Nearly all the stores were open.. We could not find a bano so it is tough traveling on a bus with no bano and having to depend on precious few bus stops. It is especially bad with digestive problems with diarheia. We did not eat anything as it seemed highly likely anything would run a high risk for us. We had some crackers which we often eat in these situations.
February 9, 2010 Tuesday
We did not get much sleep as the road was just a dirt trail and wound around the mountain and often seemed to follow creeks. It was washed badly in many places and there were a lot of bus and truck traffic. Several times we or others had to back up to find a place two vehicles could pass. After supper the bus would not start but as usual they looked at various things and found the starter was not getting electricity and fixed that and it started right up. The bus crew usually are two drivers/mechanics and a young bus boy, sometimes older but here in Bolivia usually a boy.
The mountains continued all night. It appeared to not be real wet based on the trees and cactus. As it started to get light it was a much wetter area and was tropical. It was very scenic and it sure would of been nice to see things better at night. There were a number of red cliffs and other rock formations. It reminded us of Laos as there were also hanging clouds. For some reason Laos seemed a little more impressive but this would run a very close second as the scenery is very
impressive. We did not get to the bus station until about 9:30 am so we were about 2 hours late with a one hour late start and an extra hour to get there.
We were in the front so we got off first. We had a luggage tag which was the first on in Bolivia. With no luggage tags someone could easily claim your luggage at previous stops when you are on the bus. About all you can do it try and watch out of the window and don't put anything valuable in the bag under the bus. We noticed last night everyone was leaving there things on the bus which was a change when we were in the big tourist area going and coming from Uyuni and in the La Paz area. The elevation is still high but now at Santa Cruz it is going down.
I just got off the bus and a young fellow wanted to know if we needed a taxi. I told him we needed to go to Paraguay. He said he could help but then disappeared and returned with a fellow who could speak quite a bit of English. He said there were two buses to Paraguay and lead us to them. He was a representative. We decided to try a better bus with a cama seat. It is an international bus and will stop for exiting Bolivia and entering Paraguay. It has a bano which will be the first other than then the one to La Paz. We get some food and I am not sure about air conditioning. We can go tonight and he walked us to a good hotel with a $11 rate so we got some lunch in the restaurant, a shower, nap and charged batteries and worked on the computer. He told us we can get off at the Filidelphia bus stop and there will be taxis there as they know when the buses come. It is about 4 km into town. Our ticket is for Asuncion so we will waste some of it but there is no way around it. We should be at Filadelfia about 2 pm tomorrow. We got about an hour late start but things were decent with the bus as we did have nearly full cama
a bano and a little AC but soon turned into having the windows open.
I wanted to mention that in Peru we seen a lot of Indian-native people but not nearly as many in Bolivia. .In Bolivia Rural Electric is a big thing as nearly everyone has electricity. This was not true in Peru.
February 10. 2010 Wednesday
Going south in Bolivia we were mostly in rolling hills and some mountains. It was dark so it was a little hard to tell. We met David from England and his Spanish is good. He teaches English for one year in Asuncion. We arrived at the Boliva exit place which was outside with a roof over one place where they did the stamping. Most people on the bus were Bolivains so they had to fill out a form. They just stamped our passport and took our exit paper. It was strange as just before they check all our passports against the list the bus had. We then went about a ½ mile and did the exit papers. We were at Ibibobo which did not fit our guide book which said Camiri. It was quite an experience standing pretty much in the dark with a few candles and a small generator running a few lights. We then traveled quite awhile before we got to the actual border. We had breakfast there and a inspection and then down the road a ways another inspection. We had a redone gravel road for a ways in Bolivia on the TRANS CHACO. It likely will be oiled by 2011. When we got to Paraguay it became a good oil. It eventually had some potholes but by Filadelfia it was getting a lot better. We had to go about 2 hours into Paraguay for immigration and we were only about 80 KM for the parada for Filadelfia. I think it was Fotin Tte. F. Ochoe but I need to check that out. We lost our black day pack. It was obvious the inspectors took it out of the bus. The bus driver thought it got underneath with the rest of the luggage but it was not there. We got David to help as his Spanish is good and we went back over where the dog smelled our luggage and the main guard said it was there and we found it. What a scare! The lesson is to take all your bags off the bus and stay with them. The bus let us off at Filadelfia and we waited with some others and a taxi came along. He did not charge us and dropped us off at the Hotel Florida. It has a pool and AC. It is $38 a night. I walked around town and Edith tool a swim. It is a nice safe town and it appears people stealing things is not a problem.. I got a map, money changed at the bank, found the super market, college and directions to the bus companies. I also found the café for steak. I got the wi-fi to work outside but not in the room. I got caught up on e-mail and the computer. Tomorrow we can check out going to Loma Plata, the bus connections and take some pictures and send out some travelogues.
February 11, 2010 Thursday
We had a great breakfast with the room. All the juice you wanted. We then walked around town before it go hot and also it had rained a bit and was cloudy. We took pictures and toured the museum where they found someone who spoke English. He had been to the USA and Canada told us a lot about the history. He asked if we had seen the stuffed animals which we had not. Again they found a lady who spoke English. Most of the animals and birds from the Chaco were on display and also a large display on the native Chaco people. In the early days a new language of low German and Spanish was created and used to communicate. It still exists today however the common language between the two is Spanish. The Chaco people get paid the same as Mennonites and are treated as equals. Alcohol does not seem to be a problem. The last tribe came out of the jungle in 1964. A few still just live in the jungle. They have moved in around the Mennonites as they get health care and good wages and there standard of living is good. They seem to do a lot of the work h so we will just see it on the way through rather than make a special trip. We walked around for 3 hours ere. We found the bus station and find on the way to Asuncion it goes through Loma Plata and I walked to the entrance to town to get a picture of the entrance memorial. We went to the super market and bought more water. We then took a nap and then I got bus tickets and had a wonderful shower. I then worked on the travelogue which was long since it was the first since being in SA for 19 days. We had supper at the Hotel Florida restaurant and I sent the travelogue from the lobby where I have a much better wi-fi signal. We leave for Asuncion at 7:15 am. We can get our breakfast in the morning.
February 12, 2010 Friday.
We got a good look at Loma Plata on the way through. It is very similar to Filadelfia, maybe not
quite as nice. It is really spread out and looks like it might have more businesses in it. With the
windows open in the bus it was not to bad. As we headed toward Asuncion the Chaco very, very slowly got less harsh but it was similar. We seen few crops, mainly grass and cattle. It was hot at Asuncion showing 100 degrees on several thermometers and it felt like it. In the bus station we got a ticket for Bella Vista which is on the border of Paraguay and Brazil. The bus was late and there was a big mess as the bus was over booked and they said we did not have seats for us. They said we had to got the next day, ie 24 hours later. Most people were getting on anyway. Someone came late and they were letting him on. I got on the guys case but he was saying he should be able to get on but not us. At that point we just got on the bus.
The problem was there Spanish is so bad, worse than Chile so I could only get a few words and they did not seem to be able to understand me. It was frustrating to know a lot of Spanish and not be able to communicate.
On the bus one of the passengers put our big bag at the back of the bus. There really was nothing the bus company could say as many others had got on with out seats. In fact on the bus from Filadelphia at times there was barely standing room. It happens all the time. I guess with the Spanish problem and all they just were not going to let us on as they had already sold other tickets for our seats. Fortunately a young boy gave up his seat for Edith and they set three in two seats. About 8 men and a women was standing with her kids. They had some seats and were rotating. It was about 7 hours standing. I tried setting on the floor but that did not work well as there was nothing to learn against. Sitting on the one clothes bag worked for awhile but it would flatten out. Over all standing leaning against Edith's seat worked the best. We got to a town up north and a lot of people got of the bus. Nothing was said and we had a seat but then apparently from the list they knew we were going to Bella Vista and came and got us to get on another bus which is where the others had gone. This was a much rougher road and was not paved. Something happened underneath the bus and they went back about 5 miles to where we got on and worked on it. It was never correct as they had to work on it several times to Bella Vista.
Paraguay here in the eastern part as we went north of Asuncion was very populated and you could tell the rain fall was much greater and it was cooler The terrain looked pretty flat but with a lot
more crops. During the last stretch on the gravel it was gentle rolling and more grass with some trees. There were some forage crops, There looked to be plenty of moisture and cattle.
February 13, 2010 Saturday
We got to Bella Vista in the light and ended up at the bus station which was a looked building. A lady and two kids were there. This did not look good but at least I could understand this lady's Spanish to some extent and see could understand me. She was doing some calling and said a taxi or motor cycle was coming. In reading the guide book I finally figured out when we changed buses for Bella Vista the I had bought the ticket for the wrong border town. We should of bought a ticket
for Ponta Pora which is a much, much bigger border time and have much better immigration facilities. I offered to pay for a taxi so we could all go together and got to the Paraguay aduana and stamp out and go to Brazil. The problem was when we actually went the Paraguay aduana was closed to the week end and the same for Brazil so we went to the Brazil bus station.
We noticed immediately that things were much more prosperous in Brazil and there were nice buses. I thought the lady was going to Jardim which was on our map and I thought she and the kids were going to do immigration there. People kept saying there was no need to do exit papers from Paraguay. I bought tickets but then found out she was going to Ponto Pora where we should of went. I did not want to waste the ticket but in hind sight which is always easier I should of tried to change the ticket and if that did not work just waste it but I did not. We were off to Jardim which took about 1.5 hours. The bus was wonderful and the nicest one we have been on since we got to SA and the air conditioning worked great. It was cattle country with lots of lush grass and some forage crops and soybeans. We are in Moto Grosso do Sul which is one of the biggest soybean growing areas in SA. It was a nice ride and the bus station in Jardim was real decent. On the ride I soon realized I had screwed up and should of went to Ponto Pona so really the only cure was to buy a ticket from there at Jardim and go there so we could properly exit Paraguay and enter Brazil. It might not hurt to leave Paraguay without stamping out but our entrance was done before Filadelphia and our passport was taken in a building and stamped so I did not know if we were entered on a computer or not?? We entered Paraguay at Mariascal Jose Felix Estigarriba I thing but I have to research this.
We got to Jardim and I bought a ticket to Ponto Pora which left at 3 pm so we had about 4 hours. It is now all Portugese so it was a challenge but everyone was nice. They would not take Paraguay money even in Bella Vista but fortunately they took VISA. I needed some Brazil money and walked into town and Edith stayed with the bags. I did talk to a guy in a grocery store who could
speak a little English. He said the banks would be open but they were not but they were not. I founda Cirrus ATM but I could not figure out the Portugese but way on the other side of town I found a HSBC bank and it said VISA Cirrus. I got it so it was in English but then I messed up the amount and in trying to correct it things got messed up. Eventually it re-booted to XP Windows much to my amazement and was trying to boot back into the program. There was another ATM beside it and I was able to make it work. It asked me to put my ATM card again to confirm the transaction and I got my money and a receipt. I am pretty confident nothing happened with the other transaction since I did not put my card in a second time.
I walked back to the bus station and told Edith I seen a place to eat about a block away. It turned out to be a great experience. It was a steak barbeque place. For about $7 each was had all the steak we could eat with lots of other stuff and agua frio. They showed up they had two choices on by writing it out and showed what they were by what others were eating. It was all Portuguese. It was great and everyone was nice. It was very sanitary.
At the bus station we had to wait about 1.5 hours and I found Coke was high priced I went back
to the restaurant and it was a lot cheaper but still high priced at about $3 for 2 liters using 1.7 as the exchange rate. Later I discovered it may be about 1.9. The bus came and we returned to Bella Vista and then headed back out of town the same way we came in but eventually we turned. It was
rolling hills, a few trees, lots of white cattle and few others. We seen more soybeans. Lots and lots of grass as you could tell it rained a lot as there were lots of ponds with water in them. We finally
got to what we thought was Ponto Pona and got our bag and was talking to taxi guys about the border but the bus lady heard us and said we needed to get back on the bus as it was farther yet. WOW did she save us!!!! What a blessing as we must of been 20 miles for Ponta Pora!!! We eventually got there and again thanked her over and over, We checked on buses to Miranda, Bonito and Campo Grande. According to the Lonely Planet we won't be able to do the immigration paper work until Monday. We got a taxi to take us to a hotel near the Paraguay border. He must of understood our Spanish enough as he got us there. Unfortunately the cheaper hotels were full and we ended up at the Hotel Barcelona at $80 a night but since we did not have a room the previous
night it averages out and we really had no choice. It was a real decent room and had a nice hot
February 14, 2010 Sunday
We slept in and had our breakfast with the room. It was the best breakfast yet in SA We then put
our valuables in the room safe and went walking. We soon figured out the Lonely Planet map as Hotel Barcelona was on it. We found the border to be wide open. You can just walk back and forth for miles and miles. This seems to be real common between Paraguay and Brazil. We found all kinds of shopping on the Paraguay side which is a big attraction to people from Brazil as at is a lot cheaper. I don't know why but it is quite cheap. I bought a 128 gb. flash drive for about $7. We could not find a decent hotel in Paraguay but we went to the first place that was full last night and found it to be half of what we are paying, ie $40 and he took Paraguay money. It is real decent and they have wi-fi and he speaks Spanish. We found out about the immigration plaees and since check out time is 12 noon we can take a taxi and get it done in the morning. We spent the afternoon putting pictures on the flash drive, e-mail and travelogues. I went out after the rain and
everything was shut down. In Brazil there were people all over and they were playing loud music from there vehicles and there were water ballons flying every where with 1000's of broken ones
one the street. There was lots of beer drinking. Lots of people were getting out of the vehicles with beer. Hopefully the driver was not drinking. There were some police with riot shields but they were just observing and did not seem concerned and there was no reason for them to be.
February 15, 2010 Monday
We had a great breakfast. Cake seems to be a big thing for breakfast as there was all kinds of it. We found a taxi and were blessed that he could speak Spanish. He took us to the Paraguay aduana and we got stamped out. He waited for us and we went to the Brazil Federal Police where they
stamp people in. They said they were closed until 9 am but I rang the buzzer and they said they would be out. The taxi driver waited and after about 10 minutes a guy showed up and took our
passports. It took him about 10 minutes but he checked us in and we have 20 days. The taxi driver took us to the hotel and we got our bags and he took us to the bus stations and got us to the correct
window for tickets to Campo Grande from which we can go to Miranda and the Pantanal. He was very nice and for the amount of time he spent and the help he was it was worth the $20.00. We only had to wait about 45 minutes and we were on the bus and on the way. It was rainy but we got some good pictures. It started out with lots of pasture and cattle but soon there were lots of soybeans and sugar cane and some fruit and vegetables around houses. We seen a big sugar cane plant and a big soybean plant. Many farms had stiff legs and a grain setup with bins. Things look
like they had been more prosperous 20 years ago. As we got closer to Campo Grande it got more hilly and more trees and it was all cattle. Campo Grande has a new bus station on the edge of town so our Lonely Planet book was out of date. We found the ticket place for Miranda and got them bought and decided on a hotel and talked to the taxi guy and they knew where it was. He spoke just a little Spanish. It was a long ride to the hotel and cost about $11.00. We were blessed as the hotel reception guy speaks Spanish. We got a room for $35 and we have wi-fi. He told us where a Pandaria was at so we got some rolls and cold water. He said it was safe and we found a steak place that opens at 7 pm We brought the check book up to date and checked our e-mail and did our travelogue. We don't have air conditioning here but we have a huge fan so we will be fine. We had a hard rain while we were at the bus station and one more shower when we got to the hotel. It seems typical of late afternoon rainy season rain. We have breakfast with the room tomorrow and the bus leaves at 10 am so we will not have to hurry that much in the morning. It should be about 5 hours to Miranda.
February 16, 2010
We again had a fantastic breakfast. They keep topping each other and this one was definitely
the best yet! They had everything!!! The even had a machine called a zuama which made orange juice by squeezing oranges which were fed from a bin. I got some pictures. We got to the bus
with lots of time to spare and I found the fare to Foz Do Aguazu was about $60.00 and left at 6:30 pm and arrived at 7 am.
We met a guy who worked at the bus station that knew a lot of English. He was helpful and nice! It took about 4.5 hours to get to Miranda. The bus helper as per the request of the fellow who spoke English gave us the high sign that it was Miranda but we seen the sign.
The bus station was small and the town is not all that big. Unfortunately there were no taxi's, just
phone numbers so without a phone and not knowing Portaguese we were in trouble. What was even worse Miranda is not in the Lonely Planet so we had no map. We decided to start walking as the town did not look real big hoping we could find a hotel and something about Pantanal Tours
as there was nothing about tours at the bus station. It appeared we were getting closer to el central. Everything had pretty well been closed in the previous town and her. We found out there is a fiesta or holiday so they would not open. It was not for a siesta. I seen three guys in the shade and out
of the rain visiting. They just understood Portugese but one understood the word hotel and pointed out where it was and also el centro which was in the same direction but left. The information was good and soon we were at the hotel and out of the rain. I talked to reception and she knew some Spanish and said there was a ranch that had tours but they did not have an office. She then remembers Aquas de Pantanal Tours which had a office and drew me a map. I left Edith and started walking. It was about 1 km. I did not find it where the map said by I looked around the area and found it. There was a lady inside who was the boss, her name was Fatima and in Spanish and a little English she explained they had rooms here, an late afternoon tour of the town and in the morning they would take us to Frenza San Francisco and we would have two tours, fishing, noon lunch and if we took the night tour we would get supper also. The wife of the owner is from California. The guide will speak Portugese and a little Spanish.
There is breakfast in the morning and they have wi-fi. It cost 145 Real each and 130 Real for transportation divided by the number going. I suspect it will just be Edith and I. I said OK and we take their car and went and got Edith. We had some juice, checked into our room which is very nice and we got a discount on it so it will be about $70 a night. We seen a video on Mato Grosso Do Sul and Frenza San Francisco. Louiz gave us a tour for about and hour and we seen some birds and he explained the area in some English and Spanish and taught us a little Portugese. Actually his English was better than his Spanish. We spent the evening watching the Olympics and working on the computer and getting packed up for the trip tomorrow.
The bottom line is that most tours for the Pantanal is lined up before people come so there is really not a presence here in Miranda other than this agency. One would be best to line it up with them and they could meet you at the bus station given the poor taxi situation. The Santa Cruz Frenza is about 40 KM from here to what I believe to be East. Again one would need to make arrangements. I think there is some presence of tours in Corumba but I am not absolutely sure. It is no doubt the rates here are better than what you get when you book from outside. If one were do a tour from Corumba I would want to have it lined up before hand in case the situation is the same as here. We understand the chance of seeing a Jaguar at Frenza San Francisco is about 65 % and they put up
with them eating some cattle and off set it with there tourism business. The Pantanal should be full of water from huge rains about 2 months ago when there was lots of flooding. Buses leave several times a day for Campo Grande.
February 17, 2010 Wednesday
We were up before7 am and had breakfast and our driver was there by 8 am and we headed out for
the San Francisco Frenza. It was about 36 km and I would say about 20 of it was on the oil to Corumba and the last 16 were good gravel to the east. We arrived before 9 am and had some look
around time before the first tour. The morning tour was on a truck with seats the got higher with each row toward the back. Much to our surprise we met to men from Louisiana and they had a friend from Brazil that had been an exchange student with them so he do some interpreting for us. The ranch is about 15000 hectares of which 4500 is rice and 3500 for cattle. The have the Brahmas and also some cross breed American cattle from the USA. The rest is reserve land they leave wild. They use irrigation for the rice. The lady is from CA and I think married a Brazilian and they have done very well. The son now operates it and we talked to Becky there daughter who speaks English. They have been in tourism for about 12 years and are doing well.
They have a big, long dike that keeps the Pantanal from flooding there land. We seen a fair amount of wild life. The biggest rodent in the world, Caimans, Ocelot, lots of birds, and deer, We had about a half mile walk on a raised board walk in the Pantanal and drove on edge of the Pantanal for many miles. It has about 3 foot of water now and 3 weeks ago it had about 5-6 feet in areas where during the dry season there is no water. They have a system of gates and tubes they can use to flood the rice. The rice harvest was finished. Back at camp we had a talk on the wildlife and in
particular Jaguars. They protect them and let them eat some cattle. After the noon meal we had
some free time and then it rained hard but we had the boat tour anyway. On this tour we seen Caiman and birds and fished for Parahna. I managed to catch one. They hit the bait like crazy but nibble at it so they are hard to hook. We got back and had lunch and our friends left but others stayed and new people came. We met a couple from Israel who could speak good English and they had been there a day and had been on one night tour so they knew what was going on. We ate supper togther and when it got dark we headed out. New animals we seen were Giant Anteater, Fox, racoon, and two Ocelot much better and an owl. We seen deer and the giant rodent again. The people from Israel said this tour was much better than the night before. We decided to get the CD of the pictures of the day since our camera's did not work in the dark His camera did a good job and we got a number of excellent pictures. Our ride from Miranda was there and we got back about 11 pm
February 18, 2010 Thursday
We discussed Bonito and decided not to go as we have swam with fish twice at the Great Barrier
Reef, A great reef in NW Australia and twice in Mexico. We have seen blue limestone water and there were the caves in the Yucatan and we have seen many waterfalls so we felt it was to much of a duplication of what we had seen. Also the sites are spread out and things are not cheap in Brazil
so we decided to head for Iguazu Falls. After breakfast Louiz took us to the bus station and we went to Campo Grande. One but to Foz Do Iguazu had one seat left and the other had six so we were fortunate to get a ticket. The one with one seat left at 4:30 pm and the one we had to take left at 5:30 pm and would take cash only which about cleaned up out and the ATM would not work.
It cost $200 Reals so about $100 for the two of us so quite expensive from what we are used to
paying in SA but still it is a long ways and a lot cheaper than flying. We should be into Foz Do Iguazu about 7 am and we will have to get money. Hopefully we can go to the falls and put our luggage in a locker.
There is more to the story as the bus did not show up and the ticket agent never showed up to tell us anything, We talked to a lady but she only knew Portugese but she got a friend who could speak Spanish and we were told the bus had an accident and much rain and it would not make it and we would have to go tomorrow. We went out of the bus area and back to the ticket agent and he was there. He spoke Portugese and just a few words of Spanish. He tried top find someone who could speak Spanish but had no luck. We wrote it on paper and understood the bus would still show up today at 7 pm plus or minus. He got us back outside without another exit tax fee but not easily. Some of these people just don't use common sense and are not helpful at all. The bus did show at about 7:30 pm and we got under way. It was not long and we stopped for supper but we were out of money as we had to pay cash, 200 Real for the tickets and the ATM did not work at the bus station. The ATM did not work here either but they let us use our credit card so we got something to eat. It was a long night on the bus but the air conditioning did work.
February 19, 2010 Friday
We took a pretty direct route and actually passed pretty close to Ponta Pona. We arrived at Cascaval about 8 am and stopped for breakfast. The took off with the bus like they did the night before we assumed to fuel. It showed up again and we noticed it was a different bus and then we seen our two bags in the bus baggage compartment was not there. No one spoke Spanish or English but we finally got them to realize we did not know we were supposed to take them off the bus. We noticed a few people had but we assumed they were getting off here. What a mess!!! The bus assistant made a phone call and said the bus would come back with our bags plus we had Ediths walking sticks in Portugese had left stuff on the bus. They got pretty anxious to get going but the bus assistant called on the bus. Well it turns out there had not informed people as about 5 others who speak the cell phone and indicated they were getting close. The key words were otra bus, they understood them and we had our claim tickets. The bus showed up and I got Edith's walking sticks and our coke and then went to check for our bags and they still were not there but Edith yelled at me that she had told them which two bags and they had alreadly moved them to our new bus that was going to Foz Do Iguazu. Wow what a relief!!! What happens is there make and exchange to two different buses that go two different places and they did a bad job of telling people about it. A few took their stuff off but we think only because they had made the trip before as others who were from Brazil did not know about it!!!!
We got to Foz... about 11 am and still no money. We found an ATM in the bus station and got money and they had an information person who could speak English and Spanish. We looked at taking the bus to the falls but it would take to long. We took a taxi and got him down to 40 Reals. He could speak a little English but Spanish worked well. He got us right to where we needed to be. We got a locker. They told us there would be a person with a key but it was bad English and I went back and they showed us we needed a token. Unfortunately I had to pay twice as I forgot my camera in the lock and of course needed another token to lock it. We got into the park to 37 Real and got on the bus and used the Lonely Planet and got off at the third stop which is perfect and we walked the trail and we were amazed at how wide the falls is. It must be nearly a mile. You get a great panoramic view from the Brazil time so we sure were glad we had our VISA's. There is the Devils Throat where you can really get close to the water coming over that part of the falls and a walk way where you can go right out in the middle. It is impressive and then you can take the elevator up and look down on all that. We took turns going out on the walk way as you get soaked. We could see the people on the Argentina side mostly at the top of the falls. There you don't get the panoramic view. We seen lots of Coati which have ring tails and are a relative of the racoon.. We caught a bus to the Bourbon Hotel, spelling not quite correct and then walked across to catch a bus to Argentina. We decided to take a taxi to make it easier to deal with customs, getting money and getting a hotel. It think the day of going to Brazil at the falls without a VISA is over as there is an active booth and I think you now have to change buses but I could be wrong on that. You can do it from a car, in our case taxi when leaving Brazil and entering Argentina. We seen lots of people lined up at a desk entering Brazil. The driver could speak a little English but we used Spanish which he was good at. Immigration went well and was done out of the taxi window. Cambio was slow but we got our Paraguay and Brazil money changed and found a second hotel the Carmin they had room and a free breakfast and supper and wi-fi and pool for $68 so we were satisfied. We can take the bus to the Argentine side of the falls tomorrow and leave our stuff here and the next day take the taxi to the bus station and head for Uruguay. We are going via Argentina so we don't have to go back to Brazil. It is ok when things go well but with no Portaguese it is not good when things don't go well..
The hotel had a great buffet with the main dishes being chicken and meat balls
February 20, 2010 Saturday
We had breakfast at the hotel and it seemed to be included as part of the room. We have had conflicting information on the evening buffet. We found at the hotel and at the park in Argentina there are places you can get purified drinking water so you can buy water and then use the bottle. Water was 10 peso's in the park but after we each bought the one bottle we were set and we are now set at the hotel.
I got $50 changed to Argentina pesos which was a life saver as the cash machine was beyond the gate and not having enough peso's would of been a major problem. We were going to take the bus
but ended up sharing a taxi with a couple from Canada who have been spending the winter in BA. You pay out of the car for the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls. Everything seems a lot more helpful here and much more service orientated. You can get a second day for fifty percent if you get you ticket stamped. There are signs every where telling you this. The bus stop is just to the side of the entrance. We took the green trail but did not see much other the plants and go on the train and went to the Garganta del diablo (devils throat). I think Saturday made it busier as there were
lots of kids. The San Martin Island was closed due to the high water level. It is a long walkway out but it is well worth it. This gets you right in front of a huge falls. You can not see this one from the Brazil side as there is to much mist. We could see across to Brazil where we had been yesterday. There you can get in front of that falls but farther away and there is so much mist we could not get a picture. You would need a camera that could take a lot of water. There was some mist but one could use the camera but we had to wipe the lense off several times. We then took the train back to the upper and lower trails. We did the upper trail first, it was hot and we drank a lot of water. Much to our surprise we were able to get a panoramic view of a number of falls, not as many as on the Brazil side but a lot more than I expected. Off setting the panaromic view is the fact that you are right at many, many of the falls. We then did the lower trail and were able to fill our water bottles. It was hot and tough walking for Edith but there a shady places to rest. This trail is much longer and you are down low so again you get a Panoramic view of a lot of the falls and you are right at the bottom of several. The bottom line is that both sides have there advantages but you get a lot more for your money on the Argentina side as there are six free trails and four major ones to see the falls. We got to do three as the island was closed. The boat to the island is free. It seems on the Brazil side they want money for everything but the one trail.
On the Argentina side they give golf cart rides to the handicapped and elderly for free. There is a long wildlife hike on the Argentina side that you could spend at least 3 hours doing and it is free. I would say to spend two days on the Argentina side and not spend the money for the VISA unless you do like we did and travel in Brazil. You could do the Argentina side in one day but it would be a long tiring day so two would be much nicer. BTW it would be best to do Brazil in the morning for taking pictures and the pictures would be better in the afternoon but are not bad all day long on the Argentina side as you are taking closer shots most of the time.
We left about 3 pm as Edith was getting hot and tired. Our Hotel Carmin is on of the first ones when you leave the park. The park is quite large and starts just a couple of KM beyond the hotel and is about 17 KM.
We rested and worked on the computer and had a good buffet supper. Tomorrow we will take the taxi to the bus station and head for Uruguay.
February 21, 2010 Sunday
We visited with the folks from Canada at breakfast. He had gotten to much sun so they were not sure if the were going to the falls again. They are planning on going to Salta Argentina and the two parks with the red rocks to the south like us.
We took the taxi to the bus station and ended up getting a Cama bus for about $6 more each. We decided to go to Concordia Argentina which is the most northerly crossing into Uruguay. It was really hot at the bus station so we went to the café there which was the nicest bus café we have seen so far in SA. We had coke and then a pizza and water and more coke and managed to stretch it out for about 2.5 hours. They had plenty of room although it got a lot busier at noon hour. Another fellow ordered sandwiches and drank at least 4 big bottles of beer doing the same thing. I ended up getting a tee shirt quite reasonable and much cheaper than at the park.
The bus ride in Northern Argentina went through evergreen forest until dark. Lumber was the big business with lots of saw mills, lumber stacked up and on trucks. We seen some cattle and some fruit and vegetables. There were a number of pineapple stands. It got dark but from what we could see it stayed the same for most of the way. The cama seats were great and there was a gal from Alberta sitting ahead of us on the bus. We did get food on the bus. One down side with cama is there are no over head bin but it is like a first class seat on an airplane so you have a very wide chair and your own arm rest for both arms and much more leg room. We had hot and cold water we could get and a bathroom which was pretty much our own and was quite decent.
I ended up not sleeping as I was concerned about knowing when we got to Concordia. I should of slept as our last stop was about dark and we had stopped maybe six times before dark and had identified where we were on the map. We seen some big lakes from dams. Anyway after the stop as it was getting dark we never stopped again and when we got to Concordia they turned the lights on and one would of definitely woke up and the bus station had a sign but that is hind sight. We talked to the information place and buses went to Uruguay at 7 and 11 later. We got a taxi and went to a hotel. We had to knock on the door but got someone up. He was very helpful. The taxi guy wanted $25 to take us to Uruguay. The bus ended up being about $6.00.
February 22. 2010 Monday
I could not get to sleep but most of slept some. We got up and was down to breakfast about 9 am. We then checked out and went to the Plaza for some pictures and came back to the hotel and had her call a taxi as we could not seem to get on flagged down. We talked to information and found
the 11 am bus. He said we had to go to Montevideo and could not go across to Punta Del Diablo. He keep trying to get me to go to Montevideo. There was another fellow from England and he was just going to Salta which is just across Uruguay Rio in Uruguay. I decided to do the same thing.
We had a nice visit with him on the bus and he said he liked Columbia. Immigration took awhile and much to our surprise Uruguay and Argentina do it in the same building on the Argentina side. We crossed on the big hyro-electric dam. It was interesting the once we got to Uruguay about 3 guys were unloading boxes and boxes of stuff the bought in Argentina. They were looking around and quickly getting things out of sight and made stops at three places. It was obvious they were concerned about importing but they got by with it.
At the bus station we again were told we had to go to Montevideo and then we could go up the coast. I still think there must be some local buses but maybe it is car only to some of the interior towns or small buses. We could not get a bus until the next day and that was fine as we needed sleep. We got our bus tickets which was a good thing as they were only about 4 seats left. We got a lot of help from the information center with maps, what hotels and El Central. We shared a taxi and went to the4 same hotel. We will share a taxi tomorrow and ride the bus together. Edith and I walked along the main street Uruguay and walked down to the river. On the way we met the fellow from England and he already had been to the river. Edith had enough sun so when we got back to the hotel she went to the air conditioning. I walked a long ways the other way and back. It seems here like so many places we have been that 20 or 30 years ago it would of been very nice but now the infastructure is really showing its age. It would really be expensive to refurbish things. It will be interesting what happens in the future. We had trouble getting a lot of money from the ATM so we had to use the ATM down town. We ended up paying more ATM charges than normal because of this. We found a Paradilla to have some beef tonight. It does not open until 8:30 pm which is typical with people eating very, very late. BTW at 4 am in the morning in Concordia people were out and about. You could tell a lot of them had been drinking. Edith got some good pictures at the Plaza here in Salta. There are free tours of the dam but it is 30 km round trip so the taxi fare would be quite a bit. We took a nap to catch up and did computer work and read up on Montevideo.
February 23, 2010 Tuesday
We were up early and at breakfast early and they had it ready like they said. We took a taxi and before long we were at the bus station and off to Montevideo. It was pretty much a direct bus and we made great time. The land is virtually all agriculture going from Salta to Montevideo. The main thing is pasture and beef cattle and some dairy. There were a lot of soybeans and they appear to have been dry earlier but more recently have had to much rain as the rivers are out of there banks. There was some corn and sorghum and some fruit and vegetables. It was gentle rolling ground and there were some dams on the rivers. Most of the places looked poor but there were a few nice farms. We seen grain handling and toward Montevideo quite a but of manufacturing. It is a big town with high rise buildings and the ocean is right here and there is sea port with loading and unloading. We could not get to Punta Del Este until after dark so we bought a bus ticket for in the morning and Micheal and Edith and I took a taxi to the Plaza Indepencia and got a hotel. We walked over to the old town to an area where there are nice restaurants and had a very late lunch. The is a lot of restoration going on. It is not a real safe area at night but it is OK in the day time. By the Plaza Indepencia it is safe all the time. After we got back we did computer work and I e-mailed the hostel Tranquilo at Punta Del Diablo. It should be fine if it is not to noisy.
There are a lot of very unusual and artistic building here and they have started with restoration but it is going to take a long time. I suspect it will appear old and faded for a long time to come but at least it looks like it is going to improve quite a bit.
February 24, 2010 Wednesday
Taxi's are cheap in Montevideo. We got to the bus station about one hour ahead of time and looked around the modern shopping mall upstairs. On the way to the bus station as we left the old part of town the streets go a lot wider and of course the building looked in better condition. As we left on the bus for Punta Del Diablo things looked even better but there still was a lot of poop buildings and houses. Much to our surprise the bus never stopped until it got to Diablo so it only took about 4 hours. We got off with some other back packers. It is a fairly small town but is sprawling with things built in a mixed up fashion. You can immediately tell it is a resort area. There are some nice places and lots of junky places. We certainly would not want to live here or for that matter stay that long as the only attraction is the ocean. The ocean is muddy out about 1 mile until it gets deeper. We checked at Hostel Tranquilo but they were full but the had room at there other facility and it was cheaper. We got a room with a bunk bed for $52 a night. Erin grew up by Chicago so here English was perfect. She checked and confirmed we would have to go back to Montevideo and no buses went across west to Argentina. We got a very late dinner and spend a couple of hours on the beach. We then worked on e mail as I have wi-fi in the room. We heard from Mario and he had things lined up. It looks like it is going to be best to go from Montevideo to Parana and then to San Martin.
On a side note the hotel gives a good rate to change US dollars to pesos and we have the bus schedule to Montevideo figured out. It will be about $30 total. Things are not cheap here so we are going to use the super marcado tomorrow and make sandwiches.
We have noticed that nearly all the cattle we see in Uruguay are Herefords with some Holsteins. W) also not that all the thistles have been sprayed so they must have some tough weed laws. Most of the ranches do not have a lot of buildings and they have a small house. We see a few big houses. It is a very agriculturally oriented country.
February 25, 2010 Thursday
We have noticed along the ocean that is is quite cool and it has been windy since we got here. It may be the season or it may be all the time. I think there is surf here most of the year,
We slept in which is the first time in a long, long time. We had some breakfast and visited with some people from the Yukon. Tbere are a lot of people here that speak English. We walked to the bus station which is about 1 km and got our tickets for Montevideo for 12 noon tomorrow which is check out time here so that will work out good. We then went to the beach and walked about 1 km to the north. There are areas that are rock and it was to rough for the surfers here but they went in behind the point and there were quite a bunch. There were lots of people walking the beach or sitting or laying along the beach. It is the main attraction. On the way back it was noon hour so we stopped at the store and had them slice us some jamon (ham) cheese and we had dinner back at the hostel along with some orange pop. It figures out to about $3.50 a meal as we have enough for supper yet. It certainly is a lot, lot cheaper than eating at the resturant. The hostel has a kitchen and refrigerator so the ham and cheese will keep. We took a nap and a blanket felt good as we had the door open to our second story patio and it was a cool breeze. One downside here is in the main area there are a lot of flies, likely because of the kitchen. There are very few flies in our room. We spent so time on the wi-fi and with the travelogue.
February 26, 2010 Friday
We are getting rested as we did not sleep in as long. After breakfast I did some work with the internet. We checked out about 11:15 am and walked to the bus station. I stopped taking the one prostrate pill as it was making me dizzy and seeing black spots. Things were well today so the pill was the problem. I will try it without the pill or reduce the dosage. I suppose maybe since I am not eating much it has more effect. The bus was about 20 minutes late and we found going back we had a lot more people on the bus and it stopped a lot. The bus died once but started right up. Later on at Pan de Azucar it died again and would not start. We were outside the bus for about an hour and finally another bus from a different company stopped that was headed from Montivideo. Most of use got seats. About 3 of us had to wait awhile to get a seat. We were supposed to try to get a bus from Montivideo to Parana for1800 and we got there about 1805 and I rushed inside and asked information but when I got to the company they said there was nothing until March 3rd. Anyway if there was a bus today it was gone. I tried another company that said Parana but they said no and referred me back to the first company. Since I was not coming up with anything I went out and got Edith. We decided to try and get tickets for Paysandu which is on the border with Argentina and one crossing south of the Concordia/Salta crossing we used to enter the country. We got tickets for 9 pm. With the savings time it was still a little light when we left. The bus stopped often to let people on and off. It is very safe in Uruguay and that is testified by the fact we let many young ladies off along the side of the road where they walked home or more often called on the cell phone. Sometimes someone was waiting.
February 27, 2010 Saturday
We were supposed to get in about 2 pm but it was 3 pm with all the stops. There was quite a few people waiting but according to the signs none of the companies opened until 8 am and we could not see any bus to go to Argentina until 1930 and it looked like it would be toward night on Saturday when Fletcha Bus would go to Parana. This looked like a big wait so I found a taxi driver who would take up to Argentina and do the border crossing for $35 which seemed fair enough as it would be about 20 miles round trip and take awhile. He said he could do the border and take us to the bus station. We checked out of Uruguay and into Argentina on the Uruguay side. I was a bit concerned we were really checked into Argentina but we were. There are hard to understand as they talk so fast. I paid the taxi with the rest of our Uruguay money and the rest in US Dollars. He was happy and so were we. Fortunately here at Colon a couple of the companies were open and buses were coming and going. We got Rapid San Jose for 1 hour later for Parana. Our clock changed an hour so the bus left at 0430. The bus showed up and we were on our way so getting the taxi really paid off and saved maybe a day. This bus stopped often to let people on and off and everytime they did this they turned the lights off so we could not sleep. We realized south of Colon we were at Conception Del Uruguay and this was the town Mario had mentioned the bus goes through and eventually gets to Crespo. Sure enough we started tracking it on the map and after about 1 hour it started getting light. We stopped at all the towns along the way which involved going off the road and driving in to the bus station. Fortunately the towns all had signs with there names so it was easy to track where we were. The bus assistant indicated we would eventually get to Crespo which we did at about 10 am. We went inside and found the bus for San Martin de Liberator left in 5 minutes so we had just made it as it would of been quite awhile to wait for the next bus as they don't run very often on the week end.
We got to the bus station and there was Mario much to our surprise!!! It turns out this was the bus he had suggest to use from Parana to get to San Martin De Liberator even though we had not found a bus from Montevideo to Parana but used his second idea and caught this bus on the was through Crespo. After nearly 24 hours riding the bus it was great to be with Mario. We had a great visit and Mario's sister Melba cooked up some food and then we got about a 3 hour nap which really felt good and then a shower and I shaved for the first time in several days. Alex was excited about our Netbook. Mario filled us in on getting Wi-fi which involved trying several antennas until he got one that worked. He had to use RG-213 as that is the best he could find here.
We are staying in the upstairs bungalow for a day or so until the one we stayed in before is finished being refurbished. It will be nice to be unpacked and have things were you can get at them. We found out there was an earthquake in Chile and the possibly a tunnel is closed on the road through the Andies Mountains on the way to Santiago. Tomorrow we will get groceries and wash clothes and help Mario as fortunately he is going to take the first couple of days off in March as Feb his month off is a short month. Ana is gone to Rosario to Avana. Alex has sure grown in the last two years. Ana got home and we sat outside and then went to the bowling alley and had pizza and used the wi-fi. I replied to messages asking if we were out of the bad earth quake area in Chile which we are by about 600 miles.
February 28, 2010 Sunday
As this is a Seven Day Adventist town things are closed from Sun down on Friday until Sun down on Saturday so that is why things are pretty well open on Sunday. Mario is having trouble with and old water tank and has gotten some of it removed. Hopefully I can help him.
If we spend 11 days here it should be very economical as there will just .be the room cost and food so it should be under $50 a day.
We spent most of the day putting the first of two steel I beams to support the roof of a cement building that had a water tank on it. The water tank was in very bad shape so Mario and Alexjandria had torn the tank down which was a lot of work They had done this last week. They found the roof or platform that the tank was on was weak. They had put on a new plastic tank on top. The two I beams should support the roof which is made of steel and concrete beams and brick and then plastered. We made a hole in the wall right by the ceiling and was able to put the beam in next to the ceiling and then we used a jack and pole and pressed the beam against the ceiling. We were able to raise the bow in the roof so it was level and then we cemented the beam in place. We will let the cement cure about 3 days. We left about 4 inches of the I beam stick out on each end so if need be the beam could be supported on the outside of the wall on both ends. I doubt if this will ever be necessary but it would give an additional option. The east wall toward the top needs plastering as the present. plaster is old. Mario has a fellow coming to do that. We will have to plaster some bad areas of the ceiling.
Tomorrow we will go to Crespo and get the second beam. We won't be able to cement it in for at least 3 days as we have to wait for the cement on the first beam to get strong so we can take the jack out.
We moved from upstair to downstairs where we were in 2007. They just finished a major remodeling so we have a new hot water heater and refrigerator and things have all been fixed and painted. It will cost $30 a day where upstairs was $20 but we have 3 times as much room and we have a kitchen which we really did not have much of a one upstairs. We can lay out all our stuff in the bedroom on the extra bed and in the cabinet so it will be much nicer after always having to dig in one of our bags to get something.
After we finished the tank work we went to the bank and were able to get 1000 pesos and then we went to the grocery store. It seems like a lot of money as prices are by the kilo which is 2.2 pounds and then it is about 3.85 peso to $1.00 so when it is all said and done we only spent about $22 for quite a lot of groceries. The butcher shop was closed so we will have to get our meat tomorrow. As I said before we are going to be able to live here very reasonably. I would say with a little eating out and cooking it will be about $45 a day and certainly less than $50
March 1, 2010 Monday
It is amazing how good Mario's English is. His memory is very, very good as he can remember so many words as there really is no one else here in San Martin to use English with and he has not been on the radio much but he does listen to English TV and reads English books. The VX7 I gave him has a problem so I will take it back and see if I can get it fixed and his cousin can bring it here when they come and visit in July.
We headed off for Crespo about 8 am. We got the I beam for the water tank building. It was a cooperative and they did things a lot like Menards where you order and then pay for what you want and then to to a different building and pick the things up. The difference is that it is not self serve so you give your invoice to a worker and they go get the stuff for you. This is true to some extent in Menards but a lot of it is self serve. Here things are more crowed and they bring things by hand or if it is heavy by a fork lift.
We were driving away and Mario said I think I have a flat tire. Well it was not flat but it was way to low to drive. We put on the spare but it did not have enough air. He walked to the tire shop and they let him use the air tank and with it he was able to pump it up enough to drive to the tire repair shop. He got it fixed for 18 pesos or about $5.00. We went to another place and priced a new tire and it was $800 pesons or about $207 which was very expensive I thought. We then got hair cuts. We had a good time and the fellow that cut my hair could speak some English but he says he does not get any practice speaking so he can understand better than he can speak. The other barber had been cutting hair for 50 years. Mario says he is the best in Crespo.
I learned some new words: fractura is invoice or bill, Pela is hair Vella is body hair, Peliqueria is hair place, Tire or tiro is throw, Arrojar is throw, Shave yourself is afeitarse, I need a shave is Afeitanse., cola is a line of people,
Some is algunos Yo quiero algunos papa's por favor Yo quiero un poca clavo's
Deme un vaso de letche.
A donde dispues a donde proximo
We got the Costa Rica pictures and the SA pictures pretty much selected for the web page. We got the Costa Rica one sorted but have to sort the SA ones yet.
March 2, 2010 Tuesday
I worked on the computer and visited with Mario as it is his last day of vacation. Right after noon lunch the dentist called and wondered if we could come today and we said sure. It was at 4:45 pm and Mario went with us. It is a good thing he did as the dental work turned out to be a lot more complicated than expected. He could not fill the two teeth because my teeth don't come together correctly and it would put to much pressure on the filling and they would just break. He said the best would be to put a six tooth bridge on top by removing the small one. I had to have a couple of root canals done and on the bottom put crowns on so they would be strong enough to take the pressure. It would cost $1700 and Edith would have to have a crown and some filling and a root canal and hers would be $380 so the total would be $2080 which is a lot of money but it figures out to about 38% of what it would cost at home so the saving will easily pay for the airline tickets down and back and then some. He did the bottom teeth.
March 3, 2010 Wednesday
We were at the dentist at 9:30 am and I was in the chair for 3 hours straight and he got all the work done. I will have to say both times there was virtually no pain and no pain later when the novicaine wore off. Edith came back at 2:30 pm and had part of her work done. So goes back next Wednesday to finish up and then we both go back at 12 noon on March 15th Monday to have the bridge and crowns installed. I have a temporary bridge and crown. In the afternoon I went to the internet café and got the Costa Rica part of the web page uploaded. It was slow even with the soccer game not that many were on the computers. I will try some morning when no one is on and see what the speed is. If it is still slow I will have to forget about doing the rest.
March 4, Thursday
I walked around the hospital and University this morning and picked up my cap I forgot at the dentist. Edith has lost here pen and can not find it. I tried getting money at the bank but the line was to long. I tried again in the afternoon and one machine was out of service and I could not get a 1000 peso's out of the other.
Edith got some groceries and I went to the Internet café with the Pantanal CD and was able to figure out how to copy it to the flash drive. With the Spanish and then not being able to find my computer or internet explorer is was not going good but I finally found what was called Mini Internet explore. I still could not read my flash drive but then I found a place on the shelf where there was an external USB plug in and got things transferred and got our e-mail.
Back at the bungalow I got all the Pantanal wild life pictures into the SA ones and figured out the names of most of the animals and birds. I then heard Mario working so I went over and he was working on wash machines. I was able to help a bit. We then took the jack out on the first beam and it held perfectly so we installed the second beam and cemented it in. We had steak for supper.
March 5, Friday
I walked about 1.5 miles and was able to get 3,000 Peso's from the ATM but it was 1000 Peso's at a time. Anyway we have enough money to pay for the dental work. We will have to get 2000 more Peso's to pay for the room and a few more groceries. I looked at touring the two parks in western Argentina but given we should spend a little time here after our bridges and crowns are installed to be sure they fit right that does not give us enough time to comfortably do this so we will stay here until Thursday March 18th which will give us a couple of extra days to get to Santiago. If we ever come back to Argentina we can go to Salta, visit these parks and spend some time in Mendoza and south and visit Mario again.
Before dinner I visited Pepe the neighbor. We looked at our trip pictures. He speaks Spanish very slowly and clearly so we were able to communicate quite a bit.
I got a lot of work done on the web page. Mario got home from work and I went over while he was working on wash machines and got his OK for a radio schedule on Sunday afternoon. I went to the Cyber Café and sent an e-mail on the schedule. Mario went to Crespo for parts for the wash machines and finished one up. We got groceries as things close at sundown and don't open until Sunday. More on that tomorrow. Mario came over in the evening and we had a nice visit.
March 6, 2010 Saturday.
Since this is a Seventh Day Adventist town there Sabbath is from Sunset Friday night to Sunset Saturday night. We went to church with Mario and Ana. The church service was nice and I understood some of the Spanish. It was good Spanish! Sunday school was groups spread around the church and it was very, very noisy and hard to hear our group leader. He spoke very fast and with the noise and my lack of ability with Spanish I was not able to get much. We did listen to a church service in English on TV during our noon lunch.
I worked on the web page and got all the HTML done for all the pictures. I then went to work and loaded the page and I only have about 12 pictures that did not load correctly. I made the necessary
changes in the HTML code and fixed those. I found quite a few grammar and spelling errors that I fixed. On Monday I can go to the Cyber Cafe early and see what the upload speed is? It it is very good I will upload the pictures. I may do it over several mornings. However if it is to slow I will just wait and do it when I get . I will have a few pictures to add as we travel to Santiago and some from Costa Rica on the way home.
I got some exercise and it was hot today. Hopefully it will start to cool down during the days. It has not been real bad at night but hopefully it will get cooler.
March 7. 2010 Sunday
We spent most of the day visiting while Mario worked on a wash machine. We spent some time working on Spanish and Edith had Melba help here with learning how to Tat. One it cooled of Mario and I walked 4 miles on the path down to the bridge along the road. It was a good work out. There daughter Ivana from College came home tonight. I had a schedule with W7XU, N0ARU and K0HW on 21.310 and even though it was the contest it worked out that Arliss and I had a good QSO. He said it had hardly had been above freezing since we had left. It looks like it will be above freezing just a little bit the next couple of days.
March 8, 2010 Monday
I spend a couple hours at the Cyber Café with e-mail and uploading. The rest of the day I spent walking 4 miles and studying Spanish.
March 9, 2010 Tuesday
I spent a couple hours at the Cyber Café again with e-mail and uploading. It was fairly fast until about 10 a.m. so I am going to try and go at 7:30 a.m. when they open. I spent the rest of the day walking, got some money from the ATM and studying Spanish. The cap on the bottom right side came off while eating a cracker. We spent some time visiting in the evening. Mario and Ivana had their teeth worked on this evening so we did not spend to long visiting.
March 10, 2010
I got up early and went to the Cyber Café and the speed was not much faster at 7:30 a.m. but shortly thereafter the speed got real good. Over all the speed was much better today as I stayed on until 11:30 am. I thought Edith's dentist appointment was later but it was 11:45 so she was gone. I went to the dentist office and asked about the crown on the lower teeth that came off and he said to not be concerned about it. I had gotten all the files loaded and most of them that was jpg change to JPG like I have in the HTML code. I did some work with the computer and got it to show the file type. I could then determine that Edith's Kodak names them .jpg and mine .JPG. I need to do some searching on the internet and see if I can come up with a way of changing one or the other. I pretty much determined I can not change what the Olympus does. I can check the Kodak but again I doubt if I can change that. The download program does not seem to give and option for changing the file type. It would be nice to come up with an automated way using word processing to change and replace for the thumbnail pictures and the .jpg. If not when I rename the thumbnail pictures I can also change them to .JPG. It would make more sense to change them all to .JPG before uploading them to the web page.
Edith dental work went good.
I walked at least 4 miles today. We had a nice visit while Mario worked on a wash machine.
March 11, 2010 Thursday
I went to the Cyber Café early and finished our web page for our trip so far to Costa Rica and South America. I sent out an e-mail that it was done and took care of the e-mail. We went out for the noon lunch and then I walked the trail and took some pictures. After that I studies some Spanish and then went over to visit Mario and helped mow the yard with an electric mower and we worked on some Spanish. We just had tea for supper since we had the big meal at noon.
March 12, 2010 Friday
I printed out the airplane schedule at the Cyber Café and did my e-mail and checked a few things on the internet. We got some fish, chicken and beef. I walked my four miles and then studied Spanish. Later in the afternoon we got some vegetables, etc. for the week end. Mario put shocks
on his pickup and we visited.
We worked on Spanish and listened to music on their small computer while, Mario and Ana sang
while Alex and I worked on Spanish. Alex knowledge of English is better than I expected. He seems to be able to sound out English words quite well. I find here that "Y" is pronounced with a "J" sound. I don't think this is so true of Castillano Spanish but I will have to check that out. It
was very good experience hearing Alex pronounce Spanish words and have him listen to me and repeating it until I got it correct.
March 13, 2010 Saturday
It was the coolest night since the second night here for it was good for sleeping. We went to church with Mario and Ana but we did not go to the study hour as last week it was so noisy with all the groups it was impossible to hear anything. I was able to read quite a bit of the bulletin and get some of what was said. I need to have a quicker recognition of words and remember instantly what they mean. I also need to know more words.
Edith spend the afternoon reading and I took my walk and studied Spanish. We visited with Mario and Ana in the evening.
March 14, 2010 Sunday
Mario and Ana cleaned the museum so we went along. It is the house of the first doctor in town and was quite interesting. Everything was well labeled in Spanish of course. I walked my 4 miles.
I studied Spanish at at 5 pm had the schedule on 15 meters. Bill N0ARU and a nice signal
but I could just tell W0GKE and WB0VBW was in there. Harold HP3HSG from near David joined us. It turns out we met Harold last year at the March meeting at David. He is going to pass greetings on to Louis and Jay HP3AK. I went walking again with Mario and Ana..
March 15, 2010 Monday
I spent some time on the internet with e-mail and also found I had not subscribed to email@example.com and therefore when I used Ipower to send to the two Yahoo groups that appear to have been sent but they were not. I got subscribed to both groups and was successful sending to jvandenbos. I did not see the messages appear yet on eetravel so I will see if they show up later.
I confirmed our reservation at Melrost B&B for San Jose and made a reservation for March 19, 20, 21 for the Imperio Hotel.
Edith had a cap that is on the bottom right(her right) 5 from the center or third one from the back.
She had four front ones fixed and 3 root canals, two of which were filled and the one had the cap. Edith had some cleaning.
Second one from the back on the bottom, right side and third on from the back on the top left side.
Ed had crowns put on the outside bottom two teeth. Both of these had root canals. The top, outside on the right had a root canal. There was a 5 tooth bridge on the top starting at the right side. The was one individual crown on the outside, top right side. It was separate for cleaning purposes.
The dental cost was $2080 of which $1700 was mine and $380 was mine based on some quotes about a year ago at Salem the cost would be 38% of what it would cost there. If the price has went
up in the last year then it would be less.
I walked my 4 miles.
Unfortunately this morning we were looking for the Costa Rica money of which we had about $700 US $ value and we figured out it had been in the red bag that was stolen at Arica, Chile at the bus station. We remembered we had put the money in the case for the binoculars which were definitely in that bag. The lesson learned here is to carry all money, camera memory cards, flash drives, passports and health certificates, credit and ATM cards and anything else like this on your body in a body belt, money belt or your shoe.
The next line of defense is to have a back pack that has wire mesh so it can not be cut and that has
a cable tie with a combination lock that you can lash to the rack in the bus or when left in a room can be lashed to a pipe.
We will just eat soup tonight and take it very easy on the new teeth. Gabrial the dentist said we could eat after two hours but I also understood him and his assistant to say to take it easy today, We will stay tomorrow just to be sure the teeth are OK. I have a new bite with mine that is better than before. We will leave Wednesday morning which will be 18 nights here at 120 pesos except the first night in the upstairs room was only 90 pesos. We appear to have enough money left for the bus, food and two nights lodging while in Argentina. We will need to get money for Chile for food and taxi fare.
March 16, 2010 Tuesday
We went to the Internet together and I got the travelogues sent but I still could not figure out how
to solve the problem so I could send to jvandenbos and eetravel from firstname.lastname@example.org. We then had dinner and then I walked the 4 miles. I then went back to the internet and forgot my glasses but Edith seen them and brought them. We asked for some Naranja but they did not understand. It turns out in Argentina they don't say the J as H but rather pretty much a J sound. I finally figured
out the problem with not being able to send to eetravel. I had forgotten that this is the only group I have set up where only the moderator and post! I did that so people who don't understand groups very well don't send me a message or send other messages that are just for one person but go to all 65 in the group. To get around this I just made email@example.com a moderator and then I can post from that address and it works. I do have a problem with IE not wanting to recognize my Yahoo
user name of firstname.lastname@example.org and my password but Firefox works so it may be with the cookies in IE or I may need to delete email@example.com and re-subscribe and use firstname.lastname@example.org and not email@example.com. I may have to get rid of that Yahoo account all together.
We had a nice visit with Mario tonight and got a wash machine and one of the fellows had spent some time in Boston and was quite good at English. It turns out the used machine he had bought has quite a few problems. Mario and Ana will be at the bus station to say goodbye.
Edith gave the owners of the bungalow a cutting board for use in the kitchen we have rented as it needs one.
We charged camera batteries and Pepe was kind enough to fix my belt by putting in rings and adding two holes.
March 17, 2010 Wednesday
I checked for the voucher for the room at Santiago but it was not there. She did not charge me at
the Internet. I got the Poxilina and Fastix from the farm supply store. We paid for the bungalow which was a good deal. The only downside was we did not get much bedding or towel service, maybe once a week which is pretty bad. I think the problem is they are used to people not staying long so they just clean and change things when they leave but since we stayed 17 night they were not used to that. The price was right and everything else was fine. The hot water was hard to regulate as it seemed to be to hot or cold in the shower. Toward the last we pretty much had it figured out. We would turn on the sink faucet until the gas instant water heater would turn on. Then open the warm faucet on the shower wide open and just open the cold a tiny little bit.
We went to say goodbye to Pepe but there was a note on the door he was gone for 30 minutes. We were disappointed by this as we did not have time to wait. At the bus station Mario and Ana seen us off. It is always sad to leave. They said to to La Practica in Parana and get the 12:20 bus to Cordova. It was a nice 1 hour and 25 minute ride to Parana. It is all very agricultural with mainly soybeans and some pasture and alfalfa and a little corn. There was quite a bit of dairy and some beef. We got the La Practica bus and get the upstair first two seat which I think we only had once before. It is really nice for the scenery and taking pictures. Parana and Santa Fe are big towns. There is a tunnel under the Parana River. We seen the Walmart just before Santa Fe so we took the same road as 2007. It is total agriculture all the way to Cordoba. We did see more corn than we had so far but still it was quite a low percentage. We got our ticket for Mendoza for 6:45 am and got directions for the Hydi Hotel but we had trouble finding it. A fellow at a sidewalk café seen us looking at the map and helped. He could speak a few words of English but with our Spanish I totally understood his directions and we found it with no problems. We got beef Loma and papa fritos which were greasy but the beef was excellent. The Cordoba Hills are to the southwest
and goes about 100 miles. You can do a search for them on the Internet as it is a scenic
area of hills, trees, rives, dams and streams. Other areas that are nice are Salta to the north and the National Parks to the north of San Luis or west of the Cordoba Hills
March 18, 2010 Thursday
Today was one of those days you have to keep telling yourself it is an adventure and not a horrible day. We were at the bus station in Cordoba 30 minutes early watching platform 20-30 and we checked out everything that looked like it might be going to Mendoza. When it was all said and done at about 7:30 I went to the ticket office where we bought the ticket as we never seen our bus. However I could not get any help other than it should come.
I went to the tourist office which fortunately was open and she could speak some English. She suggested I go to the bus control office, ie a big bus station has a control station like an airport control tower. I found a person who spoke good Spanish and he could understand me. He took
me to the same ticket office. He confirmed that the bus had been at platform 20. It apparently had a different company name on the bus and did not say Mendosa. With the language barrier I am not totally sure what happened but anyway for the first time in 10 years of traveling we
missed a bus. He said see would get us on another bus. It took her a long time, like 40 minutes but suddenly we were supposed to be at platform 01-10 at 8:30 and it was 8:25. I happened to run into the guy from the control office and I told him I did not understand. He took me to platform 12
which had El Rapido bus with a sign to Mendoza. It was outside the range of 0-10 so you can see
things are not always accurate here. This has not been our experience elsewhere with platform
numbers being very accurate. I ran and got Edith and they let us one. We were in first class but we did not argue. After about an hour down the road they were asking questions. I think the stub they had said 6:45 the original time so we gave them the one where it was written in for 8:30 and he was happy except we did not have any tickets. Things went Ok until San Luis about 3/4 of the way and some one had our seats but they moved us upstairs. Back to the lady who was really
a grouch at the ticket office it sure sounded like she wanted us to buy another ticket but I think I out lasted her as she finally left for about 10 minutes after telling me to wait and that is when she had me hurry and make the 8:30 bus as they knew we were coming so she had to have made the arrangements. As the day went on I was clear the people on the bus knew what was going on.
Anyway we are in Mendoza which is a lovely town!!! A business guy got us to TUR BUS and we have tickets for Santiago for 9:46 and will get to Santiago about 4:30 pm which is perfect and the hotel voucher showed up on the internet.. He had a hotel he sent people to and we took a taxi and it is a nice one and he had called that we were coming. For the room and taxi both ways will be $42.00 and there is free WI-Fi here. The hotel was Condesa. This is a nice, safe town. I could
definitely stay here a few days! We had a wide selection of meat at a local Parrilla for a late supper. This was our best of all of them so far for price and high quality cuts.
It is a challenge to keep your cool and try and speak good Spanish when they don't seem to be able to understand you and you understand little from them. It is really strange because the fellow from bus control and I got along just fine speaking in Spanish and the gal at the ticket office it seemed like I just as well could of spoken English as it would not of been any worse
There are days when it definitely takes a positive attitude and accept it as an opportunity to learn!!!
March 19, 2010 Friday
After a tough day yesterday this was an easy, pleasant day. The taxi diver could speak real decent
English although his grammar was not at all correct which is no big deal. We congratulated him and he was very appreciative of it. We had a good breakfast at the hotel.
Great day today, beautiful scenery in crossing the Andes. It was a lot clearer and we got a lot better pictures than in 2007. There was less snow this time I think because we made the crossing about 5 weeks later and more toward winter. Things has changed quite a bit at the border with much road work and the Argentina and Chile aduana all it one building an TUR BUS had really were good about helping us get through fast. There is a special line for buses so our bus was all together. We met persons 6 and 7 from the USA on the bus. They were from CA, they had never rode a bus in SA before and they knew very little Spanish. They had a travel agent line up everything and they have some getting them on the airplane and meeting them with a sign. There was some one at the bus station today to meet them.
BTW the people on the bus were very nice and helpful. They seemed to mostly be from Chile and were coming from Mendoza back to Chile. One fellow helped Edith get some good pictures I think one was of the highest mountain is the western hemisphere, Aconcagua as it had lots of snow on it and it really was tall and we were at about 10,000 feet at the time. Anoconcagua in in Argentina and is about 22,800 feet above sea level.
We came in to the TUR bus station which in Santiago was new to us but we went to the information office. It was all Spanish but we got along fine. See showed us on a map where the hotel was and where we were and that the street we needed was right there and which direction to go. We went about a block and I started to see things I recognized for 2007. We got to the the hotel where we stayed in 2007 and they had no record of the reservation which I never was able to print out but it was on the computer. I fired up the laptop and we found out the company in Florida had screwed up and made a reservation at Hotel Imperio Suites and not Hotel Imperio. Fortunately they were just a couple of blocks on down the street and one of the persons at Hotel Imperio walked us over. He warned about hit and run theft which we know about with Edith being robbed in 2007. I think the two hotels are owned by the same company but I could not find out for sure. We had to show the voucher on the computer again as they needed the companies name in FL. We have a nice room and Wi-Fi and a safe. It is really a large room with a decent bathroom and a huge bed. I has a room safe and it is $55 a night including all taxes. It has breakfast with the room. For the other meals we have to go elsewhere. We will be her 3 nights. We will be here all day tomorrow, Saturday and all day Sunday and will take a taxi to the airport about 5:30 am on Monday morning and fly to San Jose via Bogata. We will do web page work on the computer and do a little looking around.
Here at the Hotel Imperial Suites the reception gave us two small bottles of wine for the check in hassle and sent the hotel bell boy with us to guide us to a restaurant that was about 5 blocks away on a side street. We did not have as much Chile money as I thought but they took US dollars at a decent exchange rate. We had a big T Bone steak and split it. We ordered french fries but there were potatoes with the steak so we would not have had too. We find soft drinks to be high priced here. We paid a little for a safe in our room so we can leave our valuables, passports, etc. there and that worked out great.
It cooled off nice so we opened the window which cooled the room down quickly and we are far enough from the street the noise was not bad. It got chilly after awhile so we shut off the fan and used the sheet and eventually closed the window to keep the noise totally away.
March 20, 2010 Saturday
Breakfast is on the 7th, top floor with a good view of the city. It is a good breakfast well above average with lots of things so we will not need a noon lunch. We met a fellow at breakfast from here that could speak a little English.
We got back to our room they were cleaning so we decide to go get water, some snacks and money.
We found a lot of Red Bank ATM'S but they were Spanish and we were not sure if they did foreign transactions and there were about 10 choices and we were not sure which was correct. We found a grocery store, the same one we shopped in 2007. We found a bank which had a different
type of Redbank ATM and again there were a lot of choices and it was all Spanish and I was just
ready to give us and I noticed a new choice foreign transaction which gave us a choice of English
and we got $200.00. I made a mistake here as I meant to get $100.00. It is tricky as $100 is 50,000 peso's as it takes a little over 500 peso's here in Chile to equal $1 US dollar. Prices are typically
listed as say 5.000 which is really 5000 but it look like 5. Basically for rough figuring you take the
number or numbers before the period and double that number an you have the conversion to US dollars. We got some ice cream and headed back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the day working
on the computer and using the Wi-Fi here which is a bit weak and goes away sometimes. Since
we have some money now we will have the Parrilla tonight which had a wide selection of beef and
some pork. It turned out the T bone steak was better than the mixture as a lot of the mixture were
lower quality cuts so in hind sight we should of each ordered a T bone or just got one and split
it like we did the night before. It takes some experience at a restaurant to know as the mixture
at Medoza was all high quality cuts and was great so we assumed this would be the same but it was not nearly as good.
March 21, 2010
We seen a building that had a collapsed roof this morning that might have been from the earthquake but I don't think it collapsed enough for anyone to have gotten hurt. It looked like
a warehouse building. We got some tape to tie Edith's walking poles to our big bag that we check and got a few groceries and had ice cream at McDonalds. We found the Imperial Hotel where
we were going to stay until the booking company messed it up has a restaurant and it will be open tonight so we will go ther. I found I can get a good connection from some other unsecured site up on the 7th floor. Ultimately I found on the seat outside our door I get a good connection so when I need the internet more reliably than I can get it in the room I can just go out there.
March 22, 2010 Monday
We were up at 4:30 am and out of the hotel before 5 am. The taxi was there and in the early
morning it is expensive costing about $30.00. We found the airport was all in temporary
tents and buildings and the main building were closed due to the earthquake and may well have
to be destroyed and rebuilt. The had limited check in spots so even at this early hour the lines were very long and did not move very fast. We seen no place to change money which we later found out
was a bad thing and we should of changed at the hotel even though the rate was not good
It is quite a long flight from Santiago to Bogata Columbia and the plane was full so it was cramped. We found no place to change money there. We had to leave the room we were waiting in as it was used for check in to another flight. They pretty well checked us in at the hall way. It was about a 3 hour lay over. The exchange rate was 1870 peso to $1 US. I don't know what went
on as a can of Coke would of cost $5.00 US. Either the exchange rate was messed up or things are
priced outrageously.. The flight to San Jose was much shorter, about 2 hours and we each
had a window seat. The area north of Bogata is rough jungle and looked very sparse for population. We could see quite a bit of the time but as we got toward SJO it got cloudy.
We found we could not change Chile money at the airport. Our one checked bag did not show up which really turned into a frustrating mess. There was no representative from Avianca at the baggage area. Finally another companies agent was kind enough to call them They told her
they would be there in 10 minutes and it was more like 30 minutes. Right away we decided to
have Edith go out and see if our ride to Melrost B&B was there as we were already 15 minutes late.
That presented a problem with customs but then we came up with the idea of using two custom forms so I could get out if the bag showed up or even if it did not they needed a filled out form.
The representative showed up but we hit a snag with the address and phone number where we were
staying as it was in the bags. He said he would go upstair to the Avianca office and I would get
the address from Edith and the people from Melrost if they were there. I exited and found them
and apologized for the long wait and got the address and telephone number and went to take
it upstairs. I had some problem getting in the building with no ticket but explained the situation
and they let me in. I went upstair and found the office and he was not there. They knew about it
and took the address but I needed a copy of the triplicate I signed as that was the only proof we had a bag as he had the claim sticker. They said he was downstairs by the entrance but I could not find him and no one was at the Avianca counter so back up stairs I go and no it is approaching 50 minutes the people from Melrost had been waiting. The call around with no success so they send a person to go find him and I went along. I was not happy and let them know. She ended up
having to talk her way back into the departure area and we found him and I got my copy. I told
him is was most dis-pleased that he had not kept his word. He could of at least left the triplicate
form in the office so they could of just gave it to me after they got the telephone number and address. Hopefully it will show up and they will deliver it to Melrost.
We went to Melrost and got checked in and also added March 29th to stay here as well as March
30th. We went to the mall and checked three banks and they would not change Chile money. We got something to eat and came back. We had a nice visit with the staff here and they will take us to the Caribbean bus terminal cheaper than a taxi and there may be a private place to change the Chile money so we will check that out. I got an e-mail from Louis from Panama with information on getting to Bocas Del Toro and places to stay. We also got information from Claudio of Hotel Angela that Louis recommended. Melrost will pick us up at the bus station if we give them the information for the return trip.
March 23, 2010 Tuesday
Melrost took us to the Caribe Bus station. It took about 45 minutes. We got our ticket for Sixaola and had to wait about a hour before the bus left. We got some shaving cream, a straight edge and some deodorant and it cost about $18.00 which was outrageous. I am going to just have to always ask. The problem is often time things are not priced and they don't know until they scan them but that is just to much money!!!
We sat by some interesting people on the bus. One was a young German girl visiting CR and studying Spanish, another a well traveled lady from Toronto Canada and a local from San A
going to his ranch near the Atlantic Coast south of Limon. He has a son and foreman that runs it
and he lives at both places. His wife loves San Jose and not the farm while he loves the farm so he
compromises. He has lots of potatoes and banana's. The short cut road had a mud slide so we had
to go via Limon. Pretty much everyone on the bus was going to Puerta Viejo which is really growing and Europeans and Americans living there. We got to Sixaola on the border after it was closed. It is a "DUMPY" town but is safe and people are friendly. We found a place to sleep but
there was no restaurant so we for the day we only had breakfast and a coke and donut at one of the two bus stops. We got up early and got a candy bar and was at the border at 7 am. It is 8 am in Panama. There were guys wanting to help for "TIPS" that could speak English. They have a think here that you need a ticket out and proof of financial solvency to get your VISA. Anyway in Panama we got a ticket from Changuinola back to San Jose. It is supposed to be a nicer bus than we came down on and it will take us across the bridge that we walked across this morning. They wanted $30 for the two of us to go to Changuinola and then as we understood it we needed to take a taxi to Almirante and the boat to Bocas or we could wait for more people and lower it to $25.00. I grumbled and said this kept amounting to more money and I understood the ticket we bought would get up to the boat and back and we just had to pay for the boat each way at $4 each. It finally turned out we could get a taxi all the way to the boat for $25 total for the both of us which was a much better deal and much more comfortable and convenient. For going back we can get a taxi from the boat to Changuinola for $15 for two of us or if we can get 3 or more it will be $5.00 each. We need to be at the bus station before 10 am.
The boats run every 15 minutes to 30 minutes and it is $4.00 each and it takes about 30 minutes to get to Bocas Town. I think they start at 6 am and go until 6:30 pm. We had a nice ride and got directions to the Hotel Angela. A business guy walked us there as he said he worked for Claudio but I thing he just was trying to get "tips" and although he knew Claudio I don't think he worked for him. We did not give him much of a tip because of his mis-representation. The reception lady knew about us and the e-mail from Claudio but he was gone for the day. Anyway we got a retired persons discount and the room came to $35 total for the both of us. We have a great Wi Fi signal in the room and it is a nice room other than it is a little small. The A/C is very good. There is no breakfast with the room but the café has breakfast and supper so we will eat there some as the hotel is right on the water and the restaurant is over the water. They have tours. The wife of the chef said to use the restaurant like home and feel free to spend time there. We got some water, crackers and banana's which are 20 cents each and had a nice snack there so that is what we will do for lunch.
Food is medium priced here at the café's and fruit and vegetables are cheap. We went to the ATM machine at the bank and got American dollars as that is what they use here. We don't have to worry about having money when we leave as we can use it in the US. It is fairly warm and humid here but in the shade with the sea breeze it is nice. The people are friendly and we see quite a few tourists and most of the locals speak some English and many speak good English. The town certainly is not over run with tourists and seems quite laid back and relaxing. The tours look to be reasonably priced. Hopefully the seafood will be good here at the restaurant or we can find another place that is. I sent an inquiry to Louis as to a good place to eat seafood. Hopefully Claudio can fill us in with some information tomorrow. I did e-mail. The e-mail of Cheryl from Canada is firstname.lastname@example.org She also suggested couchsurfing.com We did have good fish here at the restaurant and we can cut up a pineapple there.
March 25, 2010 Thursday
We had breakfast at the restaurant and found out Claudio would not be around until tomorrow so
we booked the # 3 tour that goes to Star Beach, Bird Island and Boca Del Drago. They picked us
up at the hotel and we had a nice group of 7 and a nice guide who could speak good English.
There were lots of Starfish at Star Beach and Bird Island had two tunnels washed through it and some nice birds. The sea was rough but we were on the back side away from the waves. We has
a nice relaxing meal at the restaurant at Boca Del Drago and they had a lot of sea food but the prices were not cheap at about $15 a meal plus something to drink. We stopped at two spots to snorkel over corral on the south side of the main island of Colon. We also went over to Hospital Point for snorkeling. We went on shore and seen a Whip Snake and Red Dart Frogs. They are
different colors on different islands and here they were a bright Orange.
The people on the trip were all well traveled and we exchanged a lot of ideas. Two girls from Canada had just come from Columbia and they said as tourists they were really welcomed. The said it was safe and the buses were good and there were plenty of ATM machines but the money limit was low, say $50 US. Food and hotels were quite reasonable and there are plenty of hotels as the Columbians travel a lot. The tourist are just starting to come as it is now safe and they are very happy to see them.
They suggested Villa De Leyva, Bariclara, Popayan, Terra Adentro. Vaeso Tombs. Silvia Market on Tuesday, Salento, valle de Cocora-coffee farms, San Gil adventure tourism.in Columbia.
The latest edition of Lonely Planet for Columbia is good.
Also recommended was Palawan Is. in the :Philippines. Can look up the 10 UNESCO SITES
Finca Los Monos (Monkey Farm) has a tour tomorrow at 8:30 am for $10.00 each and comes
March 26, 2010 Friday
We went to Finca Los Monos for the tour. It is very nice with everything well labeled and Lin does a wonderful job. We seen monkeys and many, many plants from all over the world. It lasted the full 2 hours and we had cold lemon grass tea afterwards. Taxi's cost $1 each.
In the afternoon we went to the Smithsonian Research center which was free and it is worthwhile. The tour started at 3 pm. One needs to be positive of the times for these two tours as there are only a couple of times a week and there is no waiting area at Smithsonian. There is a nice area at Finca Los Monos once someone lets you in the gate. We seen the Jacana bird that walks on lilies.
I checked out the tours for tomorrow. We had our pineapple today and it was super. The Americans that have the restaurant are very nice and let us use their stuff to cut it up.
Len at Finca Los Monos said she wanted to go to the jungle between French Guyana and Brazil where there are flat table top mountains.
I met Cheryl again and she had not gotten my e-mail Here address is email@example.com
March 27, 2010 Saturday
We took tour 3 today and went to Dolphin Bay, Cayos Zapatilla(National Park) costs $10, and Crawl Cay Reef. The park has nice beaches and if it were calmer some nice reef area.
We got in at about 4:15 and met Claudio. He tried to line up a sailing trip from tomorrow but the one he knew of does not go until Monday. There were some locals at supper and the girls that were on our first tour and at Finca Los Monos. The chef her said Los Providencia which belongs to Columbia is a nice island. One of the fellows on the trip today whose wife is from Columbia suggested Cartagena or Catajena on the Caribbean. We got some donuts for 25 cents each for Monday. We got an e-mail from Cheryl
March 28, 2010 Sunday
We went to the bakery and had some pineapple cake and coke after breakfast while they cleaned up our room. I spent the day working on the web page. We had a nice supper with Michael and Babette Garfield and splurged and had cheesecake with blueberries. I really have enjoyed the new potatoes here. He has a special way of preparing them. Babette said if we leave by 7 am we will be in good shape for the bus at Changuinola and there is a decent restaurant across the street. They water taxi starts running here at 6 am. Michael said they use the chicken feet for special seasoning. They are quite chrunchy as one could imagine. The internet for this section of town seems to come and go starting yesterday evening.
March 29, 2010 Monday
We were up early and at the Bocas Marine and Tours by 7 am and got to Almirante by 7:30 and got a mini-bus rather than a taxi since it was there and ready to go and it was $5.00 each where
with a taxi you needed three people to get it down to $5.00 each other wise it was $15 to go to
Changuinola. The girl from England that had been with us on the Finca Los Monos tours showed up. She had came over on Taxi 25. She said she paid $7.00 and it wa $4.00 for us. I think those
are the only two companies that run a water taxi from Almirante to Bocas Town. We met a young
fellow who had lost his passport and the was going to try and talk his way in that he was going to the embassy. The bus Tranporte Bocatoreno which we had tickets for actually left about a block
from the bus station. There is a café across the street. There is a sign hanging up high above the sidewalk on an overhang. The bus leaves at 10 am so we had about 1 hour and 30 minutes to wait. The usual guys were there trying to earn a tip. We got to the border and had to walk to immigration which had a long line. It is irritating as many of the Central Americas cut the line. They start talking to someone and just stay there. It is also hot. Going out of Panama is easy as there is no requirement for a ticket out as you already showed that when you came in and for that matter we were with the bus out although they took our ticket. The big thing we found out about the ticket from Transporte Bocatoreno is that is not good to use as often as you want a year like we were told by the "tout". We just have to learn not to believe people down here as they will]
tell you what you want to hear or make things better than it is just to get a tip!!! It is nasty!!! Anyway you can use it only once for up to a year to go back to San Jose from Changuinola but in reality because of the 90 day VISA limit it is highly unlikely you would use it after 90 days unless
you left a different way and came back later at another time. It is not a bad deal in that it is
about same price as a ticket from Sixaola and that would be for a certain time and date so it
gives you more flexablility. On the Costa Rica side I found the "TOUT' and he said he did not
say you could use it over but Edith and I both remember he did. He also said the bus was air conditioned and it definitely did not. It was not even equipped for it. I let him know I did not
appreciate his lies. We had to show our airline tickets out of San Jose to get into Costa Rica. I don't know what you would do without that. The only thing I can think of is to buy a bus ticket for Panama for a later date showing you had a ticket to leave Costa Rica but never use it and later
decide how you were leaving.; All in all the Sixaola crossing is a pain in the butt until you have done it once or read this!!! It would still be tough if you don't have an airplane ticket out On both sides they say they require proof of financial responsibility but they never asked for it. It is really not fair as the other border crossing does not ask for tickets. I assume a credit card would
suffice. The amount of cash required was not huge so you might have enough with you are could find an ATM machine although I did not see any so I strongly suspect that is not an option. The bus had some trouble and they changed a belt and it made the trip.. They did stop 3 times and work on it. We had two police inspections, the first just outside of Sixaola was a real shake down and we had to stand in the hot sun for a long time while they checked all our bags, documents, went through the bus in and out with a drug dog. We had a second but it was not as intense. All in all we ended up about 2 hours late in San Jose but we were able to take the short cut through the mountains which made the trip much quicker than going down. We could see where there were mud slides. We ended up with the bus terminating in San Jose at Hotel Cocori which is not in a very safe part of town so one should get a taxi and probably lock the door and hold on to things very tightly and be with others. Anyway the locals told us it is not a good part of town.
The taxi from there to the International Mall which is close to the airport was $20 or 12,000 colonies. The people here at Melrost are really nice. They had our bag that Avianca had brought and they had gotten the Chile money change to Costa Rica money. The money exchange place was no longer there but they found a bank that would do it. It turned out that bank had an office
in this area when it was all said and done. After we got checked in we had supper at the food
court in the mall. One farther thought about Bocas. It is about $70 a night for two people but we
managed to get the Pensionado rate which may of been because of Louis and Yadi our Panama
friends from Boquete who know Claudio the owner because in the past we have had no success
in getting the discount as you seem to have to have the Panama Pensionado card. The discount for us was about 50% which made it about $35 a night and we could pay with the credit card. One option to cut down the food expense is to eat at the John's Bakery which had reasonable prices and had air conditioning. This cuts the food price by about 70 % from the other restaurants. One can also buy bread and cheese and bananas, etc. quite reasonable from the grocery stores.