Western Bolivia / Argentina

July 1st, 2003

Subject: So long Latin America....
Current Location - Buenos Aires, Argentina
Local Currency - Peso - (2.8p = $1us)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 60ish
Song defining this leg of the trip - Welcome to the Jungle - G'n'R

Too much movin', man, too much movin'. I booked my ticket out of La Paz a while ago, and it was going through 2 cities that I wanted to visit, so I stopped in each for 3 days. In both cases, it hasnt been enough time and it leaves me feeling rushed around. 5 very different cities in 2 weeks, starting with.....

Rurrenabaque, and my flight back to La Paz. I had 4 days before my flight was leaving La Paz bound eventually for Europe. My initial plan was to head out to the salt flats of Uyuni, which everyone who has seen them states that they are the most amazing thing they have seen in Bolivia. I was torn weather or not to make the 1.5 day (each way) trek, which would give me just a day to see them (3 day tours are the norm). In the end, the miners went on strike and blocked the roads stopping all ground transport in Bolivia for 3 days, and effectively making my decision for me.

So I stuck around La Paz and chilled out. Ben and I walked to the fruit market to get the most amazing 70-cent fruit salad you could ever dream of. On our way walking back to the hotel, there was an entire courtyard full of fortune tellers. Most were telling your fortune by melting tinfoil, then dropping it in a bucket of cold water. They'd then pull out the hardend tin to see what shapes it made and tell your fortune by it. There was another guy telling you your future by reading the bubbles in a glass of beer. I would have my fortune read if my Spanish was better, just so I could look him in the eye, and say, "I can see both our futures, yours involves an empty glass, mine involves a full belly."

I went with Ben and another friend to the Valley de Luna, which was an amazing park with mud spires sticking up out of the ground. They look like stalagmites, but there is no where for them to have dripped from, so its kinda eerie. Neat to see though.

I also took on the monsterous task of trying to buy jeans in the "jeans market". I would walk around to the jeans stalls, explaining to them that I wanted to find a pair of jeans similar to the ones I had on but without the newly-ripped knee (stone-washed blue, standard fit), and theyd offer me a pair of black super-wide leg jeans that rappers would wear. This is where I had to start from. Most of the places had a hard time comprehending that I wanted a certain style of jeans. I mean, jeans are jeans, right? Whats the diff? But what I wonder is... does that work with the locals? Do they walk up and ask for jeans, have the sales person offer them something and they just take it? Surely someone must have requested a certain style before.

It was the same with trying to buy a gift for the wedding I am going to. I went in to stores saying that I wanted to buy a gift for someone, and they'd start showing me things like llama heads. None of this asking "is it is gift for male, female, child, adult?". Just "here, buy them this."

On one of my last days in La Paz, they had the festival of San Juan. San Juan is traditionally the coldest day of the year. Well, its the middle of winter anyway. So for years people have lit fires in the streets in observance. These days, they just light off fireworks. Cool little festival, and it seems like they have a different festival every week in La Paz.

Upon leaving La Paz, I really reflected on how you can get very comfortable in a city after such a short time. In La Paz, I had my favorite internet cafe, my favorite empeņata (meat pie) vendor, favorite resturant, and you know the layout of the city well. It makes you not want to leave. I also liked the hotel I stayed at a lot. It was always packed, despite the fact it is in none of the guide books - a hard task to do. But they go totally on recommendations. The Hospedaje Mileneo is a cool little family run place that has one of the warmest feels of any place I've stayed. And everyone I met there was just awesome. It was especially fun hanging out with Ben - we were similar travelers. Made me wish we were heading the same directions, but I was going south.

So I caught my flight to Santa Cruz. When I booked my ticket to Europe (Madrid) I had 2 stopovers. One in Santa Cruz, and one in Buenos Aires, each for about 2 hours. That would have made about 24 hours total travel time. I asked the agent if I could stop for 3 days in each instead with no extra cost, and she said yes.

Arriving in Santa Cruz, it was so nice to be somewhere warm again. I was prepared by being in shorts and a t-shirt on the plane. I landed and asked a taxi to take me to the hostel that I had read about. It was full, and as I didnt have a guide book (lost it in the jungle), I had to take his recommendation on something else. "Something else" turned out to be a rather posh place called the Hotel Bilbosi. I am not a big fan of posh places, generally because there are no backpackers there, and you dont meet people. But I decided to stay for a night and find somewhere else the next day.

Walking around that night, I felt very awkward. Well, kind of, but not really. When you leave a city you know well, and head to somewhere new and you're solo, its a weird feeling walking around. A bit of a feeling that people are looking at you - and maybe they are because you're walking around with that look like you dont know where anything is. Its odd, because you know after a couple days you'll know the place better, and walk down the exact same street with a completely different outlook and a completely different feel.

The next morning, the Residencial Boliviano had a vacancy and I moved in. It was a really awesome hostel with a good vibe and some really cool Toucans as pets. They'd hop all over the place, hopping from tree to tree (yes, Toucans hop rather than walk). They're amazing birds, friendly, and amazing to look at and watch. At one point we were having a discussion about them while sitting around the courtyard table, and one of the four Toucans jumped in to the only open chair as if to want to join the discussion.

I was able to get a run in for the day, as Santa Cruz is much lower in altitude than La Paz. In fact, Santa Cruz is techically in the jungle. Santa Cruz is what Rurrenabaque could be if it had about 100 times more poeople and was situated on a major highway. Santa Cruz is a jungle town that has no resemblance to what you'd think a jungle town would be. Lots of amazing stores and an incredble nightlife with high-priced clubs.

A group of us from the hostel went out to eat the first night, and at the last minute a girl from Peru wanted to join us. Just about an hour earlier, we had all been saying how as a traveler, we never get to practice our Spanish staying in hostels where everyone uses english as a common language. But with our non-English-speaking Peruvian friend, we all now needed to speak Spanish, which was great.

Afterwards, we headed out to Equipetrol. Equipetrol is a section of town where there are a lot of outdoor bars that face the road. We picked one and sat down. Now, before I came to Santa Cruz, everyone that I had told I was going there had made some remark about Santa Cruz having the most beautiful women in Bolivia. I have to say that after going to Equipetrol, they were right. It was rather amazing.

Later in the evening, we met some people who said they were going to bed and they asked us if we wanted to come. Wha?? B.E.D. happens to be the name of one of the larger clubs in Santa Cruz. We went and had an amazing time. Great music and an awesome club.

The next day, I toured and shopped with my friend from Nicole in the hostel. Deciding that I needed more than one shirt to go out to the clubs in, I went and bought a couple more shirts. My backpack is already too heavy, but with only a couple more stops before getting to Europe, I figured I can take the extra weight. Being as everything has been so cheap in South America, I also figured I could afford the extra cost of getting a couple nice shirts. For reference, I think I spent more in Tommy Hilfiger in 20 minutes than I did the entire country of Peru in 3 weeks, and the shirts werent even that expensive.

(So, Rick, do you think there is a different gravitational pull in Europe? Why do you not care if your bag is heavy when you get there? Well, I have made arrangements to purchase a VW camper when I get to Pamplona in a couple days. http://www.travelhead.com/trip/journal/van/)

After the shirts, I decided it was time to finally chop the mop. I hadn't had a haircut in 8 months now and it was starting to show. I was tragically stuck somewhere between a bad 1970s cut and a bad 1980s cut. So, I found a cool salon and got the best $3 haircut I've ever had. Ok, the ONLY $3 haircut I've ever had.

The gang from the hostel went out for dinner in honor of Nicoles birthday (holding the cake/candle below), followed by another round of Equiptrol-BED.

Again, I really didnt want to leave Santa Cruz. 3 days wasnt enough. I should have picked either Santa Cruz or Buenos Aires and stayed 6 days in one, and none in the other. I dont like the feeling of having to leave somewhere when I dont want to. However, I am very excited to be going to Europe. I have friends there that I havent seen in a very long time, and I am excited to see them, as well as excited to be starting a new chapter in this crazy tale.

But Buenos Aires. Amazing city - bad timing for me. Buenos Aires is a party town. People eat dinner at about 11pm, then go to the clubs at 2am. However, the clubs here are not open Sun-Mon-Tues, the 3 days I am here. Which is fine in a lot of ways. However, most people from the hostels are on that schedule, so they stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning hanging out in the hostal common area. As fun as that is, I'd rather be out seeing the city, so I head to bed early (by early, we are talking 4am) so that I can get up while its still daylight and see the city.

This city is the South American New York City, no doubt about it. It has all the style and culture and feel of New York. Taking a taxi or walking down any street or area, it just has that feel. The Argentinian economy was doing fantastic until about 2-3 years ago, so they had everything that came along with a booming economy, and still do, just now its much cheaper for people traveling here.

I have taken advantage of that by buying some nice clothes for the wedding I am going to in a couple weeks in Italy. Man, that bag is going to be heavy!

So tomorrow, I am on a 14-hour plane ride to Europe. Leaving behind Latin America. It seems quite strange to be honest with you. Its been 7 or 8 months now that this part of the world has been my surrogate home. Yeah, 8 months.. December to July. Or is that 7 because July just started? You can do the math, I'm too tired. I've really loved it. If anyone would ever think about making an extended trip to these parts, I'd highly recommend it. Talking with other backpackers, it seems the generally accepted budget is $10k/year. And thats doing the odd tour/climb/cruise/ride here and there. Less if you skip that sort of stuff. Great people, great scenery, great times, and a really affordable place to travel. Yep, I'm going to miss it.

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