Friday, July 31, 2015

Bring Out The Potatoes (Food in Bolivia)

I didn't know what to expect from Bolivian cuisine. There wasn't a lot of familiar fastfood chains when I wandered around the streets of La Paz. It took me a while to find an ATM that accepts my card so that I could get more Bolivianos. I was hungry and I picked up the delicious scent of friend chicken. Sold!

Pollos Copacabana

With my hand gestures and limited Spanish, I ordered a meal set with a sad chicken leg, sad plantains, soda and some fries. It was a sad meal for BOB 27. That dang fried chicken scent!

Sad chicken meal.



We stopped at Mercato Lanza during the walking tour. has a lot of stalls that serve fruit salad, fruit juices, fruit shakes and fruit sandwiches. There were also stalls that serves meals but we didn't go there. I learned that Bolivia grew 600 different types of potatoes. For someone like me who loves fries...that...is...awesome.


Fruits fruits fruits

Hostel Review in Uyuni: Hostel Oro Blanco


I was looking for a place to stay on the day of my flight from La Paz to Uyuni, and the night when I return from the Salt Flats tour. I though it would be good to catch some rest when I arrive and before I leave Uyuni. Somewhere with heat: hot water, heater rooms and hot breakfast.

Hostel reviews in the Uyuni area are mixed - some sing praises while throw curses in their reviews. I went with Hostal Oro Blanco. Booked 2 nights in Booking.com ($29/BOB 200 per night).  This is quite expensive for a backpacker like me but I've been travelling for a while so comfort and warmth are a must as this point - I'm not 21 and backpacking for 8 months, ya know. ;P . The hostel is just a couple minutes away from the small Uyuni airport. Taxi fare from Uyuni airport to Uyuni town costs 10 BOB.

The frontdesk staff spoke limited English but we managed. There was one helpful guy who spoke above average English and he came to the rescue when I ran out of hand gestures.



I had the room facing the street during my first night. While I could hear jeeps during the day, there were no noise at night. Anyway, jeeps in Uyuni are not a lot, so there are no "city sounds".



The selling point to me was the existence of heating in the rooms. I suffered nights in Cuzco and La Paz and some warmth would be nice before I head off to a 3-day tour of the Salt Flats.

The bed was comfy

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Salt Flats Part 3: A Steam, A Pool and More Rocks

I had another restless night. I fell asleep because I tried to lull myself to sleep while reading. I tossed and turned around because I has wearing four layers of top and two comforter blankets. And I was in a winter sleeping bag. Brrrrrrr.

Our third and last morning started as cold, as expected. With chattering teeth, we brushed our teeth, had a quick breakfast then packed our stuff to the ever reliable Toyota Land Cruiser. Seriously, I have a whole new respect for Land Cruisers nowadays. That vehicle has a lot of traction that can withstand the terrain of Uyuni. 

After an hour of driving (wherein I spent my time sleeping), we arrived in the geyser area. We were warned to be careful because we might slip and end up in the geyser. You don't want to end up in the geyser because the nearest medical facility is miles and miles away. 

Geyser in Uyuni

Not a lot to do there. We were still sluggish and it was freezing cold even with all that geyser smoke. I took some photos but none were notable. So back in the warmth of the Land Cruiser. We arrived at my favorite destination that day: the hot springs. (Cost: BOB 3)

The from the hot springs

I skipped bathing for just a day but I felt I've accumulated enough dirt and grime for 3 days. Ewwwww. I tested the water's temperature with my hand - it was just so-so warm. But when I got in, it was nicely hot. My jeepmates and I happily soaked in the hot water. My Filipino blood was relieved that I got to bathe. *sigh*

There was a small (and damp) changing room for males and females. There was a girl who was collecting a fee for the usage (I think, from what I grasp of her Spanish). But we were not sure. Anyway, we already paid the BOB 3 to an older girl before. I'm glad we were ones of the first to arrive. The crowd grew as the morning passed. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take shots of the pool because I was so excited to jump in. For the group photos, I didn't get my copies. That is the problem when photos are not taken in your camera. Boooooo.  

Brrrrrr....wet hair in the cold

After that very satisfying dip, we drove to this frozen lake with a mountain background. We were supposed to spend some time here but I think everyone was still high and hungover from the warmth of the hot spring, we didn't feel like hanging out here. A couple of photos and we were back on the road. 

Not interested in the frozen lake. Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns on frozen lakes, probably?

Salt Flats Part 2: Pink Flamingoes, Arbol de Piedra, Laguna Colorado (I Froze in Bolivia)

I woke up early.
I was able to sleep but I was not able to rest.
After a quick breakfast and toilet time, we hauled our now salty bags back to the vehicle. Here comes Day 2 (here's Day 1). 

We were miles and miles away from the Uyuni (Funny how I use miles and miles as an expression but I have a better idea of what a kilometer is vs. a mile. It is not nice to say kilometers and kilometers away).


Good morning Uyuni view.


We drove so early in the morning and stopped in these tracks.

Our driver told us to get down from the vehicle because he had to get over this train track and we were heavy (He said that in Spanish)

It was a beautiful sunny and cold morning in Uyuni.

Here's my lying-down-in-the-tracks pose. I should've ditched the bag.

We drove for almost an hour to our next time. The landscape in Uyuni reminded me of the Savannah in Indonesia, but it is emptier. And definitely colder. 



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Salt Flats Part 1: Train Graveyard, Salt Flats, Isla Incahuasi

You are here!
I peppered this post with a lot of photos. 
It will probably take a while before they are all loaded but do stay with me. 

After countless hours of research and a whole day of preparing for the 3-day trip, I was still worried about... lots of things. Looking back, those were all useless worrying.


The strip of restaurants and travel agencies in Uyuni are busy and bustling from 9:30AM to 10:00AM everyday. The tourists just keep on coming and it seems that the supply can meet the demand. I saw Toyota Land Cruisers scattered all over, piling up the stuff of the tourists for the next 3 or 4 days.

 


I met my jeepmates (what should I call them?) for the day: me, Julia - a female fresh graduate from Canada, Maud and Julian - a couple from France, Jairo - a male professor from Columbia and a couple from…I cannot recall, but the guy spoke English and they both spoke Spanish. That makes 7 of us in the van. A typical Uyuni tour consists of 6 pax only. The couple is just with us for the day and were replaced by another tourist after (more of that below).

It can get stuffy in the jeep.

Be friendly. Your jeepmates will be your companions for the new few days. You will be sharing the space in the jeep, the table and the dormroom. Better get along. The best way to get along is to smile & laugh with them, and don't be whiny.

English was not our common language:
Me: English. And I can count and tell the time in Spanish. Maybe a couple of words too.
Julia (Canada): English and Spanish
Maud (France): French and Spanish, a bit of English
Julian (France): French and English
Jairo (Colombia): Spanish and some English
Ced (France): French (I think some Spanish too?)

We got along pretty much by talking in Spanish and English. Some French too for the French peeps. I would say I couldn't completely understand the Spanish conversation but I got most of the content. Most of the Filipino words that you know are probably Spanish ones.

Just 20 minutes after we left Uyuni town, our jeep halted at this Train Graveyard.
Toyota Land Rovers all over the place.
My rust-colored socks really popped out

Uyuni Salt Flats Preparation Day: What To Bring, What To Wear, How To Choose An Operator

South America is a huge continent, with countries differing in their terrain. With all the variety that the continent offers, choosing which countries to visit can be daunting.

Matt Harding dancing in the Salt Flats convinced me to choose Bolivia. 

Matt Harding of Wheretheheallismatt


Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat.

The Salt Flats. Uyuni, Bolivia.

That is not best photo to capture the magnificence of the Salt Flats. Magnificent is an understatement to begin with. I wasted a couple of minutes trying to select what photo to put in here. 

Getting to Uyuni is not easy. Getting to Bolivia is already a challenge, from where I live. While there is an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni (which is is only around $30), I was scared of bus robbery, and I was a female travelling alone. I bought expensive tickets from La Paz to Uyuni airport via Amaszonas for BOB 2,272 (approximately $330). As far as I know, this is the only airline that flies from La Paz to Uyuni. 

PRICEY, I know. If you have the time and patience, go for the bus. 

The plane that took me to Uyuni

Four seats per line. A very narrow aisle. Huge backpacks cannot fit those overhead cabinets. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hostel Review: Hostal Ananay

Hostel Ananay was an easy choice. They have high consistent reviews in Tripadvisor and they have a website (this is important for me). I also appreciate how they responded to all my emails swiftly.

The hostel's location is perfect to explore the city. The cobblestone street is a picturesque sight. Every major sight is walking distance from here. The hostel gave me a map and showed me some city tour flyers. Wifi was spotty, so don't expect to be online for a long time. It also worked in the common areas only. The staff was really helpful, spoke good English, and warned me about scams.

 

One particular scam is the fake Bolivian police scam. Someone approaches you, claim they are also a tourist, chat will you, try to gain your favor, and they speak good English. Then a person pretending to be the Bolivian police approaches you and asks you guys to show him your passport for inspection. Your new tourist companion (the accomplice of the fake police) says that's normal and they do it all the time. They inspect your passport, your belongings, then return this to you. But you'll find some time later, that they took something - money, watch, or important items. Scary. 

As for the room, I already knew that there would be no heating so I was prepared. There were thick blankets anyway. I stayed in a private ensuite room. But the room had no window so it could get really stuffy in the room especially after you take the shower.

Bare walls but bright sheets


Hot water and water pressure was really good, and the room came with towels, soap and & shampoo. The divider between the room and the toilet did not go all the way up to the ceiling so you can hear and smell whatever is going on in the toilet - something to note if there's two of you in the room. 

Now this has a bright wall. I also like that they have a clothing rack and some furniture.
Toiletries included.

Monday, July 27, 2015

One Fine Day in La Paz, Bolivia

Next country: Bolivia.
Do you know anything about Bolivia? Nadah? That’s fine.
I didn’t associate Bolivia with anything either.
Then I learned about the Salt Flats from Matt Harding’s video in 2006.

When I saw this, I asked, IS THAT REALLY IN EARTH?

I am not kidding here. I got inspired and motivated to go to Bolivia because of this video. I saw this video in 2008. Seven years later, I stepped foot in Salar de Uyuni. 

But I'm getting ahead of the Bolivia series. Before that, La Paz first.

I was extremely happy that there was a direct flight from Cusco to La Paz. No need to fly back to Lima to catch an international flight Most backpackers, who have a lot of time, travel via bus. The bus does a stopover at Puno and some spend time in Lake Ticticaca. If you have time and you want to visit some places in between, then by all means, take the bus. 

Peruvian Air. 

I did not have time. So I spent $128 on a one way flight from Cusco to La Paz via Peruvian air. I left Kamila Lodge very early and hopped on the cab I pre-arraged the evening before that took me to the airport. Fix rate costs 10 soles.

Cusco airport was small and uneventful.
The plane ride only took an hour. I enjoyed looking over the terrain. 






The El Alto airport in Bolivia is also small and uneventful.



Quinoa and Alpaca, Anyone? (Food in Peru)



1 Peruvian Sole = approximately 15 Philippine Pesos

Peruvian cuisines vary per region. It depends on what crops the region grew. Peruvian cuisine is influenced by the Spanish, German and some Asian techniques. I didn't come to Peru with a food gameplan, so I relied on recommendations from my hostels.

Shortly after I arrived in Lima Backpackers, Marco, a really awesome host, brought us to this restaurant blocks and blocks away from our neighborhood. Marco ordered his usual soup and appetizer order while the rest of us went for the authentic Peruvian options.
The appertizer is this some type of dried corn, which tastes like popcorn.

I ordered the meal combo calamares + rice + ceviche. I ordered a lemon slush while most of them got a beer. Ceviche is raw fish flavored in lime, lemon, salt, pepper and other spices. In some variations, ceviche can be lightly cooked. 
Lunch plate and drink for 27 soles

Ceviche can seriously put kilawin out of business. It as sooooo good I was sad when I finished mine. Everyone else liked theirs as well. Oops, walang tira.

For meat options, they have a lot. That fuzzy local animal called alpaca is cooked and served by restaurants. Don't get too attached to the alpacas. I saw them, then had one, during my first day in Ollantaytambo.


Blue Llama is Pisac market. It has a Tripadvisor sticker so that's a good sign.



I've been consciously decreasing my animal intake since January. Eating this llama was a conscious exception I made. I was okay. Just okay. I would say you can skip it entirely. It has a different texture and feel, but very much like pork.

Alpaca lunch is 31.50 soles

Another meat dish is called cuy. We passed some vendors selling the local delicacy called cuy. This is a roasted guinea pig. Much like lechon, but a smaller version. Price starts at 60 soles. That's quite a steep price and a lot of guinea pig for one person. I wasn't craving for meat, so I completely skipped cuy.


My hostel in Ollantaytambo, Hostal Iskay, had Il Piccolo Forno in their map. Dragonball anyone? :P


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Accommodation Review: Kamila Lodge Cusco



I like staying in dorms. They are cheap and you get to meet a lot of new people. But I scored a nice deal at Booking.com for Kamila Lodge. I got a double room for $30 for two nights. That’s $15 a night, cheap enough like a dorm, and I get my own bathroom. 
Charming cobblestone streets, but lined with street vendors

The location is perfect: near Plaza de Armas (a 10-15-minute walk, some uphill) lots of restaurants, ATMs, money changers, supermarket laundry and souvenir shops. The guy at the reception was very helpful in giving me tips and spoke good English. The lodge is in a preserved part of Cusco, I believe, so the building is quite old. I got here by taking a taxi from Poroy station for 30 soles. 

The gate. Looks can be deceiving. They have a pretty nice area inside.



Now for the room. The room had no heating – they did mention that when I booked. I was here during winter so it was really cold! I asked for an extra blanket because it was so cold.


Charming Cusco

I arrived in Kamila Lodge in Cusco shortly before midnight. If not for my hunger, I would’ve snuggled into my bed but my appetite wins. Almost all of the restaurants I passed by was closed so I was so happy that there was still a restaurant with their lights still lit-up.

I got educated in Disney popculture. I learned that Kuzco is a name of a character from The Emperor's New Groove.

I started the day late. Very late, that I missed breakfast. I drank the free tea and grabbed some of my snacks from my emergency stash. That's enough fuel to get me to the next food stop.

Now for the Cusco gameplan, I wasn't really into creating one. I was tired from the Machu Picchu the previous day and I've been travelling for a week. I decided to take it easy. While other sites in the General Touristic Ticket can be visited from Cusco, I decided to skip the temples and museums. After Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, temple burn out kicked in.

The hostel gave me a tiny map. I got a bigger map from the brochures I brought me with me from my Ecopackers Machu Picchu. I found my way to the plaza and walked around.

It was a sunny day in Cuzco but it had a winter chill. See all those people in jackets?

Peru was also colonized by Spain. The Incas were colonized from 1531 (ten years after Magellan landed in the Philippines) to 1820-something (I can't recall). That's almost three hundred years of colonial rule. The Philippines was colonized for almost 400 years. I can't help but compare how a lot of Spanish architecture was retained in Peru compared to the Spanish buildings that we have in the Philippines. Well, we have Intramuros. A fried mentioned that perhaps Spanish-inspired monuments were destroyed during World War II.

I like it that people just come to the plaza and hang out. It is really pleasant, as long as you can tolerate the weather.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wasting Time Around Machu Picchu Pueblo (or Aguas Calientes)



I got back in Aguas Calientes at almost 1PM. I was soooo hungry at that time, I needed real food. I didn’t have the energy to scout for the best-authentic restaurant in AC so I ended eating where I had dinner the previous night. I ordered the same thing. Their trout was that good – it costs 22 soles but as I said, this is a touristy town.

Why not have trout and fries again? With Inca Cola this time.

My train going to Cuzco departs at 5:23PM so I had hours to kill. Aguas Calientes is not a big an interesting town. It is touristy. If you’re thinking to spend another night in town, choose a nice hotel. There’s not a lot to see. 

 
Hello guard dog

My hunger was sated but I was suffering from this hygiene guilt, caused by my Filipino habit of starting the day with a bath. I’ve conquered MP but I haven’t had a bath. I grabbed stuff from my backpack and headed up up up to the hotsprings. 

The town
 
The town is really called Machu Pichu Pueblo but earned the nickname of Aguas Calientes because of the hot springs. 

Uphill uphill

Hostel Review: Ecopackers Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu town or Aguas Calientes is the gateway town to Machu Picchu. As expected, this is a very touristy place. The town thrives on tourists. I just selected whatever accommodation fit my budget. Booked a night in Ecopackers. 

The hostel's location is pretty nice. Easy to find and the bus station to MP is 5 minutes away. Reception spoke pretty good English. 


I stayed for 18 hours at a 4-bed girl dorm ensuite. Room costs $19. They were a bit choosy with the dollars they accept. The bills had to be new with almost no crease.

The beds were comfy, there was heater (a must a night!) and hot water was really hot. There were 4 beds but only 2 were occupied for the night. Lucky me.


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