Monday, November 30, 2009

Doin' the New Passport Dance

We're back in La Paz, for the third time! This is two times more than we expected (OK, wanted) to be in La Paz, but here we are. We will fetch my passport and enjoy cheap street eats one last time before we bid farewell to Bolivia and make our way to Argentina on Wednesday.

We've been killing time on various tours throughout the country, from which I will post pictures shortly. Also coming soon: A post with highlights from our many bus rides so far. To whet your appetite, here is an anecdote from our 16 hour bus ride last night from Tupiza (a nice little town in the south of Bolivia) to La Paz. As we were just on the outskirts of Tupiza, the bus stopped, apparently requiring some maintenance. We pulled into some sort of maintenance yard and Ken, who had the window seat, gave me the play-by-play as he watched a guy go over to a pile of scrap metal to look for something. Possibly something to fix the bus.

"What do you see now?"

"Apparently the piece of metal was the wrong shape so he went back to the pile to find another one. But he was distracted when his shoe fell off and when he bent over to put it back on I got a nice view of plumbers' butt." Pause. "They're not just hairy on their heads."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I can't thank you guys enough for your supportive comments (on UFF and Facebook) and your beyond-generous offers to send me replacement items. Seriously, you guys helped put this loss into perspective. The world is full of bags and books and sweaters. I think Caroline put it best when she wrote, "It helps me to think of all of the unexpected things that have walked INTO my life, balancing out all the things that have walked/(been walked!) OUT of it." Word. And while I'm still angry as hell at the fucker who took my backpack, I'm also supremely grateful that neither of us were injured in the process.

Just last weekend I was chatting with Bri, and told her, "I could spend a month in [Bolivia]... it's so interesting." Be careful what you wish for, right? We're back in La Paz and after a couple of visits to the Canadian Embassy we learned that it'll take at least two weeks (and $240! aboo) to get a replacement passport. So... it looks like we'll be in Bolivia a bit longer than we expected. Fortunately we like it here, and it's the most inexpensive country we'll visit on this trip, so we'll just add a city or two to our itinerary.

Did I mention thanks? You guys rock. The most. Unlucky moments notwithstanding, I feel really lucky to have you in my life.

P.S. While I love gifts almost as much as I love getting stuff in the mail (i.e., A LOT), I don't think we'll be anywhere long enough to receive anything, and anyway, I wouldn't count the postal services around these parts for much more than post cards. Thanks for the offers though, so much.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why I Love Ken: Reason #463

Tonight, after my backpack was stolen and I was lamenting the things I lost, including my passport with its plethora of stamps (including Machu Picchu!) from South America, Ken hugged me and said, "We have a lifetime to collect more stamps."

We had just boarded a bus to take us from Potosi to Uyuni, about a 6-hour journey. The bus was very small (our knees touched the seat in front of us), and as a result I made the unusual (for me) decision to stash my daypack in the rack above our heads. A few minutes (5? 10?) later, I stood up to help someone else squeeze in a bag, and realized my pack was missing. Gone. Here's the thing about buses in Bolivia. When they're not moving they are full of people, travelling or not. People selling empanadas. People singing songs for money. And, apparently, people who board the bus a few minutes before it leaves and then get off said bus with a bag to which they don't rightfully have ownership.

Just after I noticed it was missing, another passenger confirmed that someone had indeed sat beside him for a few minutes, then stood up, grabbed the pack (my pack! my super-comfortable Osprey Talon-22 daypack! in citron!), and left. I grabbed my remaining possession (a water bottle, PET, 2L) and headed onto the chaotic sidewalk, hoping to catch a glimpse of my bag, but of course it was long gone.

The rest of the evening was spent checking into a hostel in Potosi, filing a police report, making weepy phone calls (to credit card companies, and my mom), and downing a couple of litres of beer. Tomorrow we'll head back to La Paz to find the Canadian Embassy so that I can get a replacement passport (...I know).

Regularly scheduled programming will return after I've finished mourning the loss of my favourite Lululemon zippie and a book that I was REALLY into.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Catching Up

Internet access, especially reliable wi-fi, is bound to vary from place to place, especially when by "place" you mean "the cheapest possible accommodation with something resembling a bed." Fortunately the Ireland-France soccer match this afternoon means that we're comfortably ensconced in a Dutch bar in Sucre, Bolivia, with smokin' Internet access. Here are some recent highlights.

1. The Bob Marley Effect
When we were in Brazil a few months ago, people frequently greeted Ken as Bob Marley, shook his hand, and/or offered him something to smoke. Not one of our five days in Cuzco passed without Ken being offered some illegal substance or other ("Smoke? Sniff?"). Several times I've noticed someone taking a stealthy picture of Ken, and twice we've been stopped by someone who'd like his or her photo taken with our favourite Bob Marley doppelgänger.

2. Hostels
As we anticipated, $2.50 per night for our room in Copacabana was too good to be true. After a brief, half-hearted negotiation we paid about $4.25 per night (still a bargain, obviously, for a private room). On the Isla del Sol we paid just under $6 per night for a private room, and here in Sucre we're splurging: $13 per night, and we even have our own bathroom. Generally the hostels are safe, clean, and warm, and even have hot water (although my showering standards are certainly on the decline).

3. Monk Mode
Monk Mode (i.e., a budget) certainly makes things more challenging, but it has its advantages. I'm pretty sure we eat less ("1 Boliviano [15¢] for cheese? Forget it!") and bargaining is more fun when you're willing to walk away from a scarf that with an asking price of $3. (Inevitably you'll get it for $2.) Yesterday we boarded the "Dino Bus" to see some fossilized dinosaur footprints just outside Sucre, and soon learned that the 15 Boliviano (each!) ride didn't include entrance to the Dino Park and its 8 dinosaur replicas (30 Bolivianos! Each!). We took the bus ride anyway and amused ourselves with the dino replicas outside the park while we waited for the rest of the group. How frugal!

P.S. More pics from Peru and Bolivia are on Flickr.

Fruit of the Day: Tumbo

While most of our food shopping so far has been done at outdoor markets, we did stop in at one supermarket in La Paz. That's where we picked up the tumbo. It's small and oval, a lovely pale yellow, and very subtly fuzzy.

I cut a tumbo open length-wise to discover a very pretty orange, passionfruit-like cluster of seeds and pulp. (Turns out another name for tumbo is banana passionfruit - how appropriate!) I tasted the fruit as I would passionfruit: by eating the pulp around the seeds. At first I wasn't a fan. The taste is mild but a bit chalky, and certainly not as juicy as I'd expected. A few more seeds in, though, and the tumbo was starting to win me over. I've since seen tumbos stacked up at juice stands and I'm curious to try them blended and strained and maybe mixed with a little sugar (or pineapple juice).
UFF Fruit Rating:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tasting Notes: La Paz, Bolivia

First, a map! The pins indicate where we've been so far: Lima and Cuzco (both in Peru), and Copacabana and La Paz, Bolivia. Click to enlarge.

Yay Geography!

We've been in La Paz for three days and as usual, our favourite part of the city is the food, especially the street food. On our first morning we passed a woman selling fruit salad: chunks of papaya and banana piled into small plastic cups. I bought one for a single Boliviano, or a whopping 15¢. (It turns out banana is especially delicious when it's marinated in papaya juice.) Fifteen cents will also buy an ice cream cone (with a scoop each of grape and banana or vanilla and coconut, and drizzled with chocolate sauce), a good-sized hunk of banana bread, a slice of the sweetest watermelon ever, or a cinnamon popsicle. Or you could use that same 15¢ to buy a couple of oh-so-fresh donuts, made by a woman sitting on the sidewalk with a pot of hot oil, a bag of dough, and a shaker of powdered sugar.

We've also enjoyed fresly-squeezed grapefruit juice (45¢), salteñas and tucumanas (delicious empanada-like pastries originally from the Salta and Tucuman regions of Argentina, respectively) for about 30¢ apiece, and this afternoon we ate a tasty pork sandwich replete with carrots, tomatoes, and spicy pepper sauce. It ran us 3 Bolivianos--the equivalent of 45¢.

Our favourite breakfast is at the Lanza Market, where a dozen or so women each have small stands, each with a table about the size of a diner booth tucked in behind it. Any of these women will make you a mean fried-egg sandwich with avocado, garnished with slices of ripe tomato and fresh white cheese on a crusty French roll. Two of these with a couple of cups of café con leche can be had for just over $2.

Tonight we splurged on dinner at our Irish-run hostel, and ordered up some very non-Bolivian bangers and mash. The huge (and very delicious) plate set us back $4, and it was worth every Boliviano.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Layered Dresses and Bowler Hats

Yesterday around lunchtime we arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia (not to be confused with Copacabana, the beach in Rio, or Copacabana, the club in NY). It's a small town at a high altitude (3841m) in a peninsula on Lake Titicaca (go ahead and giggle; I still do every time I say the name). Lake Titicaca (hee) is gorgeous, and tomorrow we're going to hike 17km to a place called Yampupata, from where we'll take a boat to the Isla del Sol, and maybe stay a night there. My browser capabilities are currently limited, but you can find a map here if you're so inclined.

Our accomodations here are by far our cheapest yet--we reserved 2 nights, online, for $5 (for both of us!). We expect there'll be some haggling over the price when we check out tomorrow, which is kind of a tricky situation: Even if it cost twice as much it would still be a bargain for us, and at the same time we don't want to be taken advantage of as gringos.

The food here is delicious and cheap. For breakfast today we had coffee, bread, and freshly-fried donuts (bañuelos) with syrup for about $1.50. Lunch was grilled lake trout with french fries and rice and ran us under $3. (We later splurged on a brownie with ice cream that cost as much as the trout!) Most of the women here don't come up much past our waists. They all wear layered dresses and bowler hats, and the majority have a baby slung on their backs.

More updates when we get to La Paz; as one might expect, $1.25 per night doesn't include wi-fi.