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Salento

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Ok, first off, Armenia as a city is very skippable, and they don´t really have any budget hostels, so if going to Salento, its better just to sleep in Cali the night before and take the four ride ride there instead of what I did which was a night bus to Armenia, overnight in Armenia, and then 30 minute ride to Salento. It was just a pain driving around looking for cheap hotels. Salento was a beautiful city and definitely worth going to, especially to experience the coffee zone.

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The hostel, Plantation House, is a great option since it´s relatively cheap and located on a coffee plantation, so the views are really great. The town is quiant with a few busy streets filled with different artesenal stores and a nice view from the top of some stairs located behind the main pedestrian street. The hostel offered a 2 hour tour of their plantation which I definitely recommend since it only costs $2 and Tim, the owner, gives a really great demonstration and explanation of everything coffee bean. A nice day trip to take, which is one of the more popular attractions of the area is a visit to Valle de Cacora, known for their gigantic wax palm trees. Mark and I joined a group of 4 australians and its about a 5 hour trip total of walking through some jungle areas, spending time with lots of hummingbirds, climbing to the top of a mountain, and then heading back down to the jeeps for the return trip. It´s very inexpensive to do and the park has some nice trails and obviously the trees are pretty cool. But as discussed in Cali, the rain was pretty heavy in Salento as well, so it started to rain on us towards the end.

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After the first day of relaxing and exploring the city, and the following day trip to the Valley plus the coffee plantation tour I was ready to head out that night for Medellin. So Mark and I took a 10:30pm bus that got us in around 6am.

Posted by STEVO1285 16:37 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Cali

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I didn´t realize it once I arrived in Cali Sunday night, but apparently that Monday was a national holiday, which means, don´t venture into the center plaza. Apparently its pretty dangerous during holidays since the only people walking around the streets are drunken bumbs. So after checking into the hostel Sunday night and grabbing a quick bite, I went to bed and woke up with nothing really to do. I met a kid travelling around from NY, so we hung out all of Monday, walked up to the top of a hill behind the city for nice views and he came along as I began digging into my first bites of Colombian food. Ive actually been travelling with Mark ever since I got to Colombia, which has been a nice change from my daily routines. There´s been a few instances that we had planned to split off, but we´ve kept going. We´ll probably end up going our separate ways once he starts the trek to the Lost City near Santa Marta, which I don´t have time for. The wife of the owner at the hostel ( Pelican Larry, really good hostel) was really nice and helpful about all things Colombian, especially the typical foods, and she wrote down all of the foods typical of each region of Colombia, which I still refer to in every new city. Unfortunately, I was a little dissapointed in the foods I was trying, but have recently discovered, that it wasnt necessarily the foods that weren´t good, but just the places I was eating at. There are tons of vendors along the streets that all sell the same standard fried foods, but they just sit out there all day long, and unknowingly, those were the people I first went to. At this point, I have re-tried the typical stuff, but when freshly cooked, and its pretty tasty, and way more different then the other previous countries.

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After the first day, a group of 8 of us left early in the morning for San Cipriano for a day to check out a few attractions. I realized pretty quickly that I can´t travel with large groups, I was getting a bit frustrated at how slow everyone was moving and progressing....but anyways...Its about 3 hours away and the only way to get to the small town is by train track. Yet they´ve set up a nice little system involving a motor cycle and a wooden board for people to sit on during the ride - it takes around 25 minutes to reach the village. From there, it´s a pretty relaxed place with nothing too much to do. We had a very long lunch, since one lady had to cook for all of us, and then afterwards we rented tubes and went floating for about 2 plus hours down the river, which made for a good time and the water was crystal clear. If I did the trip over again I would have definitely brought a lot of beer for the ride since the waters were pretty calm. I had been told before that the rafting only lasted 20 minutes, so alcohol wasn´t a necessity, but for 2 hours or longer it always ends up being a little more fun. At least from my one other experience in Austin, except Drew wasn´t with me to lose his car keys in the water. That night I hopped on a bus headed for Armenia, which was the first stop necessary to make before going to Salento, part of the Zona Cafetera (coffee zone).

All in all, my first experience of Colombia was a decent one. The weather wasn´t as nice as I thought it would be. I later would find out that they have been experiencing the most rain during these months then they´ve had in over 30 years, which is great luck. But as far as Cali goes, I actually didn´t end up spending anytime in the city, so I can´t give any advice on whether its a skippable place or not. But it´s known for its salsa and party life, but I can´t speak from experience. Next stop....Salento!

Posted by STEVO1285 15:22 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Quito

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Its been a while since my last post, but I have some time now so I´ll get them all done at once...and quickly. I was only in Quito for a few days since I was really eager to take the bus over to Colombia, so I had two things on my mind while over there....walk both the old and new city while trying as much Ecuadorian food as possible and visiting the Equatorial line. The weather wasn´t spectacular the two days I was in Quito, but it held up enough to walk the entire first day. I had a list of foods I wanted to try so I went to the market in the old city for breakfast and then the other market for lunch. The food was pretty tasty in Ecuador, they had their unique dishes, but a lot was similar to Lima and Bolivia. They had amazing juices with coconut, mora, alfalfa, and a few others that they blend together with a raw egg to thicken it...really tasty. They´re pretty popular with goat dishes and sea food, so I had to try those as well. But it was pretty easy to tell that staying in Ecuador, although supposively very beautiful, would be pretty similar to the last two countries in terms of culture and I was really ready for a change. The next day I headed over to the Equatorial line, which was a lot of fun and highly recommend it. There´s actually two museums to visit. The first one, which has all the tourist attractions and restaurants inside it, isn´t actually where the true equatorial line is located, only where it was first thought to have been discovered many years ago by some French scientists. A few years back the US and Canadian military showed up with their GPS systems and calculated the equatorial line to be about 150m away from where the original museum is, and that´s where the second museum is now located.

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The second museum is much more interesting and worth the money, since for 3 dollars you get an hour tour with fun experiments they do along the line. Believe it or not, is up to you, but I got a kick out of it....we did experiments with balancing an egg on a nail, toilet draining, resistance, and balance. All pretty interesting if there weren´t any scams involved, which I dont believe there were. They also show you a 150 year old shrunken head on display and describe how they shrunk heads back in the day which was also pretty interesting. After getting back from both museums I caught a bus to Tulcan, which is the boardering town of Ecuador and Colombia. By the time I arrived in Tulcan, the two boarder controls were already closed so I had to get a hostel room in Tulcan and wait until early in the morning to make the crossover. Word of advice, get to the boarder control really early in the morning. I think it opens around 7am, but its best to arrive close to 6am. I slept through my alarm and didn´t arrive until 8am, and the control in Ecuador is notoriously slow, so it took about 3 hours to finally get my stamp out of Ecuador and a total of 5 minutes to receive the entry stamp into Colombia. From the border I quickly caught a very uncomfortable bus for the 10 hour drive to Cali, during the day.

Posted by STEVO1285 14:55 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Huaraz

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Entering Huaraz I was also a little nervous because I was recently told me how rainy it is at this time of year, and once again, similar to Patagonia, I was faced with the decision of whether it was worth it to spend the time and money to hike if the weather wasn´t going to hold up, or if I should just go for it and see what happens. Obviously I went with the second, and similar to Patagonia as well as the Inca Tek, the weather held up nicely and the hike was brilliant. It´s tough to compare which hikes I´ve enjoyed the best since they´re all different for multiple reasons, but I´d say this ties Torres del Paine, with the Inca Trek coming in third. The scenery is very different, but just as stunning, and the only reason I have the Inca Trek last, which many people would argue with me about, is because I much prefer to hike without a group and guide, being able to set up tent and cook just adds a more interesting dynamic to the trip. Anyways, so I arrived to Huaraz early in the morning and pretty much spent the entire day finding companies to rent equipment from, and getting prepared to leave bright and early the next day.

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The Santa Cruz trek can last for however long you want, but the typical duration is around 4 days. You can either choose to start at Vaqueria or Cochapampa and work your way to the other, I chose Chochapampa for a number of reasons: It´s a little more challanging, since there´s more uphill portions, the more impressive mountains are always in front during the hike instead of behind, and the control (which makes you pay 65 soles) is at the end, and I was told a solid way of avoiding the cost. I don´t promote it, since the fees do go towards maintaining the trail, but at the time I had very little money on me and just simply didn´t have the funds for it. It´s a pretty savvy concept which pretty much involves bribing the bus driver to hide your bag so you can tell the control you´ve only been there for a day, which costs 5 soles. Or if you pay the driver enough he´ll just speed by the control all together. Once again, not recommended, but can be done if necessary.

So I met a group of 5 people from Cornell right as I was starting the hike, and although I didn´t walk with them, they were at the same camp site as me for the first two nights before we split off. The first two days were relatively light, waking up around 6:30am, starting on foot around 7:30 and finishing around 1 or 2pm, right before the rain started. The first afternoon, it rained for pretty much the rest of the day, while the second afternoon (a much higher altitude) it actually started hailing, but only for a few hours. The third day was the most challanging. Although the second day of the Inca Trail was harder, I still had to hike up to 4700m, about 500m more than Dead Woman´s Pass. It took a few hours and had a few other hikes near by to make it to the top. Once at the top I made some lunch and then headed down to the next base camp about three hours more. Once camp was set up, there was a side hike up to another mountain close by I decided to do which eventually brought me back to my campsite at around 4:30pm...so a long day. The third day was the highlight of the trip! The weather was unbeliavable as well as the views at the top peak. It also didn´t rain for the entire day which made for a much warmer night.

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The fourth day was spent hiking to Vaqueria, where myself and a group of 2 other guys from Canada had to take a grueling 4 hour caravan ride down the mountain to a small city where we could eventually take another bus back to Huaraz. The ride down was bumpy and nauseating, but unavoidable.

Once again, an amazing experience, one of the best things I did in Peru, and some of the best views since Patagonia. Just be careful of the water while on the hike, cause that´s what kept me on the bed the following day. Hope all is well. As always, keep me up to date on life! Love you all

Posted by STEVO1285 15:27 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima

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Lima, Lima, Lima. For the longest time, or roughly, about 4 days before my birthday I had been planning on skipping Lima altogether from all the horror stories I had heard throughout my travels. Lima is dirty, foggy, boring, sketchy, cultureless, etc etc. So with those words constantly flowing in and out of my head, I figured it would be best just to skip the city and never look back. However, since I spent Christmas in Cusco and definitely did not want to stick around for 5 more days waiting for my birthday and new years, I figured Lima would be a good place to celebrate the occasions since it is a big city and all big cities have fun nightlives. A few people I met right before heading to Lima suggested I only stay in Miraflores and not even bother with central Lima, as Miraflores is much prettier and there´s more to do (ie geared towards toursim), so I took there advice and ended up spending all four days in Lima, without stepping outside of Miraflores. And I´m gonna be honest with you....I really enjoyed my time Lima. I´m not sure if it was because of the beautiful weather, amazing food, great night life, fun people, or just the first time being in a cosmopolitan city since Buenos Aires, but overall I had a great experience there. The first thing I said when I arrived to my hostel was along the lines of ¨All I´m here to do is party for my bday and new years and eat as much as possile¨and that´s pretty much exactly what I did.

Lima is known as one of the continent´s food capitals and definitely the food capital of Peru, boasting some unbelievably famous chefs and restaurants, with their most known dish being Ceviche. So I pretty much spent a majority of the days just relaxing in the park or beach with friends and going to the markets, trying as much local food as possible, and it definitely didnt dissapoint.

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I´ve definitely come to the realization that some places just have so many activities that it almost doesnt matter who you´re with, you´ll have a great time regardless, but for most places I´ve visited so far, the biggest factor in determining how I percieve a city will depend on the people I´m with. And in the case with Lima, which doesn´t have any natural beauty to brag about or too many activities to do, it´s really important to find a good group of people to roll around with in order to really enjoy yourself, and I was lucky to have met the people I did at the Loki hostel. I hung out with them for pretty much the entirety of my stay including the birthday and new years, and they definitely made the visit much more enjoyable and were a big factor of why I had such a fun time in Lima.

Also, in Lima and later in Huaraz I discovered the most unbelievable dessert....churros, but not just regular churros, churros stuffed with caramel/dulce de leche...speechless...that´s how good they were. They´re even better in Huaraz and about a third of the cost!

Anyways, after Lima I headed to Huaraz for the 4-day Santa Cruz trek, but afterwards returned back to Lima for a flight to Quito. While back in Lima I stayed with some friends of family friends, who live in an area called San Isidro, near Miraflores. There´s not too much to do there, but the family was wonderful, took amazing care of me, especially when I had some stomach issues the first day I got there, and treated me like one of their own. So I´m very greatful to them. I leave tonight at midnight for Quito, so unfortunately it´s time to say goodbye to Peru and hello Ecuador (for two days...)!!

Posted by STEVO1285 15:02 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Rushing Through

Nazca, Huacachina, Ica, Lunahuana

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Considering my timeline and wanting to make it to Lima at least a day before my birthday, I had to quickly visit the hot spots of Peru on the way to Lima. Those places and activities include: visiting the nazca lines in Nazca, sandboarding in Huacachina, and whitewater rafting in Lunahuana.

I left Cusco at around 6pm and arrived in Nazca early in the morning, around 8am. Immediately after getting off the bus I was approached by a travel group offering different flights over the Nazca lines. While on the bus, which was heading to Lima with stops in Nazca and Ica, I was still trying to decide whether Nazca was worth the time or cost since I met a few people in the last month that didn´t speak to highly of it. However, it was in one of my travel books I swear by so I figured I should give it a shot, especially since I would be passing the city anyways. So long story short, the prices for seeing the Nazca lines have about doubled in recent years do to an increase in safety and money spent on planes after a French couple crashed some years ago. For that reason, it is very pricey to see the lines! At first, the guy was offering flights on a three person plane (which is the most expensive) for $100, I eventually brought him down to $60, and decided that was a good price for what type of plane and experience I would be getting. I met other people that payed around the same amount for a much larger plane and others that spent close to $85 for the same trip. Anyways, after you spend lots of energy hassling prices and watching a quick video describing the enigma of the Nazca lines, you are taken to the airport to wait indefinitely until your plane is ready. Now, I didn´t really have too much interest in seeing the lines since I didn´t know that much about the Nazca people or really have much interest in paying lots of money for a quick 25 minute ride, so I think for those combined reasons plus the fact that the flight sucked (haha but seriously) all contributed to my dissapointment. Some people really enjoy it, so it just depends on your mindset I guess, but I didn´t enjoy being on a plane with about 5 seconds to see each figure below before heading back to the airport. Also, because of the composition of the desert, every line formed will remain there for centuries, so for that reason, there are tons of other lines from trucks and people that cover the sand, some about twice the size as the Nazca images, so I think because of those lines, it made the pictures seem a little less impressive than what I was anticipating. Anyways, I guess I can now check that one off the list, even though I would have rather skipped it all together. But by all means, go at your own risk!

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Immediately after the flight ended I was taken to the bus terminal where I hopped on a bus headed to Ica, around 2 hours north of Nazca. I arrived in Ica, took a quick taxi to Huacachina, and signed up for the sand boarding trip leaving the hostel about an hour later. Huacachina is a pretty cool, relaxed oasis like town surrounded on three sounds by massive sand dunes. If I had been with a group of friends, I could easily see myself hanging out there for much longer. The hostel, Hotel de Arenas has a nice swimming pool and BBQ each night for 20 soles including all you can eat buffet and all you can drink pisco sours and cuba libres (rum and coke). But I was only there for the sand boarding, so the following morning I left for my third destination. The sand boarding was a ton of fun and I definitely recommend it a hundred times more than the nazca lines. Heading down the sand dunes was very fun, either attempting to stand or just going head first, but the other really fun part was the driving. The sandbuggy drivers are absolutely crazy and they turn the whole driving experience into a roller coaster. A few girls behind me were practically screaming the entire time. I knew I was in for a treat (I was up front), when just before accelerating up the first part of the sand dune, our driver crossed his chest as if God was really gonna play a role in our safety, I do think I muttered ¨Oh god...¨under my breath, so maybe I had a little faith too. So that was a lot of fun. Hung out that night with a bunch of people from Argentina and Spain...there just happened to be an unusually large amount of spanish speaking people at the hostel that night. Also spent some time with a group of kids from South Korea, getting to learn all about their customs.

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An Argentenian I met had recommended another place to visit, Lunahuana, which is a bit unvisited by gringos but has really good white water rafting at this time of year, so I decided to take his advice and check it out. It´s a bit complicated to get there, but I managed. You have to take a bus to Cañete and then a small van to Libertad before hopping on another van that takes 45 minutes to get to Lunahuana. That costed around 5 soles not including the bus ride, or you can just take a taxi from the bus station, but that costs around 50 soles, so depends on finances.

When arriving to Lunahuana, I was slightly dissapointed in how tourist oriented they are, but it´s only because there isn´t much to do except white water raft, cycle, or go on 4 by 4s. So for that reason, there are a ton of agencies surrounding the main plaza area. I immediately joined a group from Lima for the 1hr rafting trip when I arrived, and the class wasn´t as rough as I thought it was going to be, but still really fun nonetheless, and apparently in about a month, some massive rocks that were completely visible in the water, will be completely covered as the class of rapids reaches 4.5 and 5. So I think January is the best time to head there. In the main plaza there were about 5 different pisco vendors making all different types of drinks with Pisco and giving free tastings of championship brands for a very cheap price, which was a nice way to pass the time. Later in the evening I ran into one of the rafting tour guides and we hung out for a bit, and he took me to a very cheap local place for dinner that night which was nice and tastey. I left the following morning back to Cañete for the bus to Lima.

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So all in all, these days were very activity filled and exhausting. It´s pretty cool to think that in only a short time I could be in Cusco one night, the next morning on a three person plane over the nazca lines, later that afternoon cruising down a massive sand dune and then rafting the next day, finally arriving in Lima where I immediately sat down to a refreshing plate of mixed ceviche. Not too bad for a whirlwind trip of Lima´s coast!

Posted by STEVO1285 13:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Christmas in Cusco

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Ok, I´m not gonna lie, I really didn´t do too much while in Cusco, or more specifically, visit all the different areas around the city such as the cities within the Sacred Valley and activities like white water rafting or bungee jumping. Cusco during the peak season has some of the best rapids in the world, but unfortunately at this season, those rapids are a little too good and therefore the 3 day trip is closed off. That´s one reason I didn´t partake in rafting since I figured for the cost I might as well wait for a future visit to Cusco in order to attempt the really great rapids. As for the bungee jumping, Cusco does boast one of the highest points in the world to jump from, but I just kept forgetting about it, and had other concerns on my mind at the time. As for the following days leading up to Christmas, Cusco was a mad house. All the campesinos from the mountains come down each year for Christmas Eve to sell all sorts of items and each plaza within Cusco is completely packed with people and tents selling all different items festive for that time of year. My favorite part of their Christmas tradition is the food they offer within the markets and all around it. A favorite drink of mine that they only serve during the holidays is called Ponche de Habas or Ponche de Almendras, which is a very warm, thick drink consisting of water, ground almonds or ground fava beans, cinammon, and cloves. It might sound kinda wierd, but on a cold day, it´s perfect, and I spent many nights searching for long periods of time trying to find people selling it on the streets. Another dish, very typical to Christmas is called Chiriuchu, which is a dish of cuy (guinea pig), sausage, dried beef, turkey, corn bread, fish roe, corn, and a few other foods stacked up high. I had heard about it from a few other people before the holidays, so it was definitely something I had to try. I wasn´t a huge fan, but it wasn´t terrible. With the many stands serving that dish, there were tons of other women selling all other types of foods common to Peru such as anticuchos de corazon (heart skewers), lomo saltado (beef stir fry with french fries, onion, and tomatos), rice with fries, fried bananas, and fried eggs, chicharrones (fried pork served with mint, onions, potatoes, and corn), and lots of different deserts. I pretty much spent the entire time back in Cusco leading up to Christmas just wandering around the markets, trying as many different foods and drinks as possible and just people watching. They were also serving a lot of Chicha, which is probably the most popular drink here in Lima which consists of fermented corn, cinammon, and cloves. It´s more of a refreshment, but some places can turn it into a beer made from either corn or quinua.

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Christmas eve night was a lot of fun. I moved into the Point Hostel where some of the kids from the Inca Trail were staying, so we just stayed over at the bar for the night. However, it quickly turned for the worst when apparently a drunk girl at around 4am decided to pee in the dorm room I was staying in, and since I had my pants on the floor next to my bag, those pants plus some other people´s stuff got a little soiled, and in the process of workers coming in to clean the mess and another person grabbing all of our stuff to have it washed, my wallet managed to magically dissapear. It´s lucky that I´m Jewish or I probably would have killed that girl, considering I spent all of Christmas day searching every possible area of the hostel and asking everyone if that had seen a wallet, which they obviously hadn´t. So my Christmas was ruined, but I was less concerned about that and more about my wallet which had all my cards in it. Luckily my great mom :) wired me enough money to last while I wait for new cards to be sent over to me in Lima. It could have been worse, the situation was fixed relatively easily, it´s just one of those annoying things that would be better not to have happened. But a good lesson learned, spend all your energy saving money and keeping guard of your stuff on the streets and then being a little more relaxed while in a hostel is a bad idea, so now I´ll be more vigilant about my stuff even in places I think are relatively safe from theft. After that whole issue I left the next afternoon for my whirlwind of adventure that would last the next few days before arriving in Lima.

Posted by STEVO1285 13:03 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Inca Trail

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Finally, the Inca Trail post. I´ll put up pictures once I get them on CD, so bare with me for the time being. The Inca Tral was a lot of fun for multiple reasons. The group I went with consited of about 14 people, half from Germany, Poland, and Switzerland and the other half from Australia and Canada, plus me. Even though it was a slightly larger group than I had originally wanted, it ended up working out perfectly since the group from Australia were the same age as me while the other half were a bit older, so it was nice to have the big group just for variety. Also, I was first considering going with a group called United Mice, since they are on a slightly different hiking schedule than all the other groups, so during the day they don´t see any other people but themselves, which is a nice aspect. However, the cost is about $100 more, and since everyone in my group was at different athletic levels, during the days if you walked quickly enough you could easily separate from the rest and act as if you were doing the trek on your own. From my experience in Patagonia I personally enjoy hiking without a big group or more specifically, without a guide and cook, since its a little more adventurous to complete the trek by yourself, carrying all the equipment and cooking each meal. But I will admit, the porters that carried everything were amazingly hardcore. These guys would carry around 20 kilos of equipment on their backs and get to the campsites in about half the time as the rest of us only wearing sandals. But they do live up in the mountains, so they´re used to it, but still crazy. I didn´t want to pay the extra $70 USD to have a porter carry my things so I just rented a small bag with all my clothes and snacks, not too hard and definitely worth it for saving that kinda money. There was a decent range of prices that people payed for the trip, with mine being one of the lowest. A few guys from Australia were kicking themselves cause they booked the trip back in Australia and payed about $500 while most everyone else sacrificed somewhere in the range of 200. I used a group called Nice Tours, and their office is located right next to the Loki Hostel. The owner of the company was a longtime guide for the Inca Trail, so he definitely knows his stuff, and they have all the equipment necessary to rent if needed. He´s a really nice guy, helped me out a lot, and he said the price for everyone that stops by in these next few months is $240 and $200 with a student card. Ok, now for the hike...

The first day is considered a very light acclimatization day with a few slight uphills, but the majority of the hike being flat. The weather really worked in our favor the entire trip as it either rained just in the night or right after we´d finish our hike for the day. In this instance, it was raining all the first day while we were on the bus heading to Km82 (the starting point) and even during lunch, but immediately when we started the hike the rain ceased. We saw a few inca sights that first day, but none were too interesting to note.

The second day we all woke up to a hot cup of coca tea in our tents, and then were saved breakfast before heading out on the hardest day of the trip. Crossing Dead Woman´s Pass is quite a challanging experience and I can easily see how people that just arrive to Cusco and start the Inca trail soon afterwards could have some serious problems with the altitude. Overall, the entire group finished the grueling 1200m ascent from 3000m to 4200m in around 4 hours, but me and a few others finished it in around 2.5hrs, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views and rest up before continuing on. The last 30 to 45 minutes is literally just climbing uphill steps until the top and by the end both my legs were cramping up, but luckily that didn´t occur until the final minutes, so it wasn´t bad. The rest of that day was a downhill stroll to our campsite where we arrived at about 2pm for lunch. The rest of the time was spent playing cards, relaxing, and waiting for dinner.

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The third day was definitely not as hard as the second, but still challenging for the very first part which was all uphill. After the first hour or so until the second pass where on a nice day you can see the Machu Picchu mountain, the rest of the day was downhill, about 1.5 hours. A few Australians and I wanted to see how quickly we could make it down so we ran the whole thing finishing in about 30 minutes. At the final campsite there was a restuarant where our meals were served as well as showers. I spent the 5 soles for the crappy shower, but we later discovered a pretty cool waterfall to wash off in near the final Inca ruins, so that´s what the Australians used as their cleansing. The ruin site next to the final camping area was by far the most impressive out of all the others we saw up to that point. It was a very well kept structure with massive terraces marking the agricultural district. It was an optional part, so others didn´t bother, but it was definitely worth the quick 5 minute extra walk.

The last day our group woke up at 3:30am in order to be the first group through the Sun Gate and to Machu Picchu. We almost made it, but ended up being second at the control stop before continuing on. Actually, the first group were all there from Alaska. The only part throughout the entire trip where I really felt the overtourism of the Inca Trail was at the Sun Gate, but that´s only because the view of Machu Picchu was covered by fog so everyone had to wait around for the clouds to dissapear which allowed for all the other groups to catch up. Besides that one instance, there wasn´t too much interaction with other groups, and even in Machu Picchu, there weren´t a ton of people, at least not the amount that normally crowd the different landmarks and temples during the high season.

Machu Picchu was very impressive. Compared to all the other ruins we passed along the way it was by far the most impressive, without a doubt. Included in the cost of the Inca Trail is a 2 hour guided tour of the ruins, where the history of Machu Picchu, the people that lived there, what it was used for, why it wasn´t discovered by the Spanish, how it was first discovered, etc etc. is discussed, followed by a walking tour tour of all the different temples and important sites along the ruins. After thetour, we got our tickets to Wayna Picchu for the very steep hike uphill that we were all dreading in order to get a nice view of Machu Picchu from the opposite side. The hike was steep but short, so it wasn´t too hard, around 20 minutes. Definitely a must do while visiting the site, but they only give out 400 spots a day so you have to get there early in the morning.

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Besides the tour, we didn´t end up spending too much time around the ruins. After climbing down Wayna Picchu we caught a bus to the town Aguas Calientes and hung out there for the rest of the day before getting the train back to Cusco.

In summary. Great trip, definitely a must do if in Cusco during the off season, since it doesn´t cost too much more than just going to see Machu Picchu for the day. If visiting Cusco during the high season, I´d probably suggest doing one of the alternative treks which I heard from people were also a lot of fun, and a little less traveled such as the Lares trek, Salkantay, and Inca Jungle.

Posted by STEVO1285 12:02 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Cusco

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So I´ve only been in Cusco for a few days, but it´s very easy to see why everyone I´ve talked to speaks so highly of the city. I don´t know much about the Incas, so I´m doing a little research on the subject, but the history and culture to this city is fantastic. One downfall is that it is extremely touristy. Pretty much the whole city is filled with restaurants serving local and international cuisine and small shops offering artesanal crafts and art. You also have to deal with everyone asking you for either a tattoo, massage, or inca trek. But, if you´ve spent a bunch of time in more 3rd world areas, it is a nice refuge to spend time in a place very much catering to the traveler. Since I´m planning on staying here until at least Christmas, I´ve spent these last few days just trying to organize my life and figure out my future travel plans. But I was able to sign up for the Inca Trek, luckily, since I pretty much finalized the plans about 5 minutes before the deadline. I´m heading out for the trek tomorrow, the 20th, and I´m extremely excited since everyone raives about it. I have heard that it is a bit touristy since you see tons of other groups along the way, but it´s still one of those trips you might only have one chance to do, so I had to take advantage of it. I was considering at first doing an alternative trek, ones a bit less traveled, such as the Lares or Sarkantay trek. But since it´s technically the off-season of Peru, the Inca trek only costs around $200, whereas during peak season, most people payed around $400-$500, so it was worth the cost to go with the true Inca Trek. In terms of companies to choose, just go with a reputable one, they all do the exact same thing, so the only difference is in price. I heard that United Mice has a slightly different route, which makes the experience a little more authentic since you don´t see as many people on the trail, but it´s about $100 or so more expensive, so just depends on priorities.

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I´m looking forward to spending Christmas here as I´ve heard great things about the festivals they hold, but for now, there´s not too much to report on, since as I mentioned above, these lasts days have been all about getting my life on tract. I´ll write back later about the trek and my last days here before I head on west towards Ica and Huacachina for the sandboarding. Hope all is well. Love you all.

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Posted by STEVO1285 08:32 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Floating Islands

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A friend I had met in Potosi, Bolivia over a month ago had given me an email address to a family living on the island Utama, that he and some friends had stayed with and highly recommended the experience. So while I was in La Paz, I sent them an email in English, not realizing that only the wife speaks English, so it took much longer for them to get back to me than had I written them in Spanish, but I was in a rush at the time. So I hadn´t heard from them as I was heading out of Copacabana, and the only reason I was gonna visit the Floating Islands was if I were to have stayed with them, cause I´ve heard from numerous people that the tourist route is completely over-commercialized and too toursity that it loses its aspect of intrigue. However, once I received their email I realized it was a once in a lifetime opportunity since not many tourists have this experience, so I went with it, and it was absolutely worth it!

The morning after arriving to Puno, I met up with Nelson (the patriarch of the island) along with a Columbian (who had already spent 4 nights on the island and was heading to Lima that day). We first went to the market to pick up 10 kilos of trout and other ingredients for the restaurant they just recently built on the island to cater to hungry tourists, and then Nelson and I went on his motor boat and drove the 30 minutes to his island. On the way, we stopped to pull from the water a massive net that he uses to catch small fishes for the soup they make.

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All of the islands are clustered together, and look pretty much the same, each containing slightly different attractions for the tourist groups that arrive everyday at different times. The islands are indeed floating, which is very cool. Nelson gave me the complete description of how the islands came to be, and exactly what material is used and how the islands are anchored down. When boats drive by, you can see the small islands moving with the waves, quite surprising at first.

Nelson, his wife, and 2 yr old boy are unbelievable. They are extremely nice and go out of their way to make sure you´re having a great experience. Nelson will also take you out on his boat to visit all the other islands, and let you use a small one person boat to paddle around on your own, if you so wish, but it´s pretty difficult, since the paddle is pretty much just a long stick. They will also happily answer any and all questions you have about Los Uros, life costoms, etc. Most of the peole have ventured out past Puno in their lives. A full day costs 35 soles including all three meals and lodging, a great deal. Breakfast consists of a hot drink, bread, jam, cheese, and whatever else, lunch is really fresh trout that they serve their customers, and dinner most likely changes but I had soup with chicken. There´s not too much to do on the island, since it´s pretty small and they don´t have many of the basic necessities, but just being there and interacting with the family, is a unique and worthwhile experience, if you ever want to visit the islands. I just happened to be the only person staying overnight when I was there, but when I arrived there was also a group of 4 people that were just leaving the island after staying a night, and another group of 4 arrived as I was leaving.

Everyone has the option of staying the night there, so a majority of the people will take the day tour and then decide to sleep over. But it´s much better, if planning on visiting the islands, to email Nelson directly, cause he´ll pick you up at Puno and you can bypass all the costs of entry fees and public boats, which makes it a lot more affordable. The family´s email address is ncoilalujano@yahoo.pe, so please if visiting, send him an email, cause the boat drivers and tour guides are pretty corrupt in the islands (I asked Nelson about it), so they decided to close their island to the main companies, therefore, all money spent goes directly to them and maintaining their island instead of other unknown people, so it´s also doing a service to their amazing family to go through them directly. Just trust me and do it!

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Later in the afternoon on the second day, Nelson drove me back to Puno where I grabbed my things and headed on the overnight bus to Cusco.

Posted by STEVO1285 08:09 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa

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After leaving Copacabana, I arrived early in the morning in Arequipa and immediately took a taxi to the hostel Home Sweet Home, recommended in Lonely Planet, and crashed for a few hours before getting up to walk around the city. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and it has a ton of great places to eat and visit. I didn´t end up doing too many touristy things while in the city such as a visit to the monastary or tour of the ice princess, which I heard were both very good, but instead I spent the first day trying to decide which tour group I wanted to use for the hike to Colca Canyon, and I had a list of different foods typical to the area that I needed to get through. Foods typical to the area are Rocoto Relleno, Cuy, Anticuchos de Corazon, Pastel de Papa, Alpaca, Lechon del Horno and others. A great restaurant recommendation to try these different specialties is La Nueva Palomina - large portions, very tastey, and reasonably priced. I was originally wanting to do the hike to Colca Canyon, which is famous for its lookout point to spot Condors and it´s about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, on my own, but ended up deciding to do a guided trek with my hostel since a group of 5 others had already signed up. Also in Arequipa are tons of other activities to do and the city is surrounded by a few volcanoes that can be hiked up as well. I met one person who attempted it, but only made it up part of the way before getting altitude sickness since it´s about 6000m to the top.

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The canyon hike itself is very beautiful and definitely worth doing; however, I highly recommend finding at least one other person and hiking the canyon on your own since it´s a much better experience and half the cost. Doing it with the hostel was a pretty big waste of money and we didn´t even get to see any condors cause we arrived at the crossing too late.

The first day was spent hiking 7 hours, taking a route that is apparently ¨more difficult to manage on your own,¨yet is completely unnessesary since the views don´t change at all along the trail, so a shorter route would just as easily suffice. And by the time we reached the oasis with a nice pool, which we were all looking forward to, the temperature had already started to drop and we only had a few hours of daylight before going to bed in order to wake up at 3am to hike straight uphill 3 hours to get out of the canyon - so we didn´t end up being able to relax at the oasis. Lunch wasn´t bad the first day, but dinner was miserable, pretty much just plain pasta, which probably would have cost 50 cents to make on our own. And as I mentioned, after eating breakfast and taking a bus to the Condor Crossing, it was already too late, so we didn´t end up seeing anything which was pretty unfortunate.

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If I can give any advice it would be to either hike straight down the canyon, which takes a few hours and just chill out for the day at the oasis, and then either early the next morning hike back out and catch a bus to see the condors, or even better, spend three days in the canyon. The first day arrive around noonish, hike down the canyon and stay in the oasis (5 soles), relax, fish for trout, and then the next day lesuirley wake up, and at a decent hour before it gets too hot, climb out of the canyon and stay the afternoon and overnight in the town (which is a very cool authentic pueblo), and then very early the next morning, possibly sunrise, grab a bus to the condor crossing, and your chances of seeing a condor increase dramatically. That´s what I would have done. The travel agencies will say it´s dangerous to do it on your own, or no one speaks spanish, just quechua, and that there´s no gaurantee that hostels in the oasis are available cause there´s no way to communicate with them, but all these reasons are false and they just want you to sign up with their group. The trip with a guide costs around 185 soles, while doing it on your own is around 80-90 soles including the tourist ticket, which costs 35 soles.

After the hike, everyone admitted that I was right, and that we should have done it on our own, but oh well. It was still a very nice experience and I was happy I did the hike, just would have done things a little differently if I could do it over again. After getting back that afternoon from the trip, I walked more around the city as well as the following day, waiting for the bus to Cusco later that evening. However, the next day, I received an email from a family living on one of the floating islands off of Puno on lake Titticaca, and quickly changed my plans and grabbed a bus to Puno that night instead of Cusco.

Posted by STEVO1285 07:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Copacabana


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Alright, so after I left La Paz with a bit of a cold, I was ready to soak in the sun and eat some trout in Copa. It´s a very relaxed beautiful city with, as I mentioned, tons of restaurants that sell Trout, which is what they´re known for, and lots of places to relax and enjoy the views. Luckily I brought enough cash with me cause I was unaware that there aren´t any ATM machines around, and I ran into a few travelers that were pretty upset because they had to leave early for lack of money. Anyways, I just spent the first day wandering around the market and streets before hiking up to the top of a high hill to reach the mirador for the city. I´m pretty sure the hike up used to be a sort of pilgrimage for the locals as there are tons of crosses and religious imagery at the top, but either way it was pretty tough getting up there with the altitude and my lack of conditioning, but very well worth it. The next day I woke up early and joined a tour group for the Isla del Sol, or the birthplace of the Incas. The views were beautiful from the island, but the actual day was pretty boring. A guide shows you a few Incan ruins, some of which were a little ridiculous, such as the ¨Sacred Rock¨ which apparently has the face of a god inscribed in it, and as the guide pointed it out to us I almost laughed at how much time must have been spent desperately trying to find something that resembled a face, cause it was pretty tough to decipher, and you can pretty much find the resemblence of anything in a rock, oh well. After that, the rest of the day was spent hiking all the way across to the other side of the island before getting a boat back to Copa. Some people stay overnight at the Island, which I would highly recommend if with a significant other, but as a solo traveler, it would have been pretty boring, since there´s not too much to do there. But I´m sure the sunset and sunrise are awesome from the island, and I met a few people that stayed overnight and highly recommended it, so by all means. That night I bought a ticket to Arequipa, in the south of Peru, and although crossing the border was a bit of a hassel, I made it peacefully to my first destination in Peru at 4am, and quickly found a hostel to crash at. Next up....Arequipa!!

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Posted by STEVO1285 17:11 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

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Well this posting will be very short. La Paz was a craaazy city with lots to see and do. Unfortunatly I´m not gonna divulge in much of anything, but yeah, it was a lot of fun, but I´m glad I´m finally in Copacabana so I can rest a bit and get healthy again before heading to Cusco. The markets were great in La Paz, The Most Dangerous Bike Ride down Death Road was a very stressful experience but definitely a must. The San Pedro jail tour was also very intersting for multiple reasons. And the underground bar scene is pretty unique. Alright, hope all is well again, and get prepared for a whole new country, Peru, coming up soon!! Bye!

Posted by STEVO1285 14:51 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz / Rurrenabaque

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So I was only in La Paz just for a day before heading to Rurrenabaque Monday morning, but I´ll be heading back there soon for just enough time to do all the touristy things I want. But even so, that one day there was sufficient to comprehend the craziness that is La Paz. Once I arrived from Cochabamba early in the morning I had to crash for a few hours since I hadn´t slept too well on the bus ride. I spent the day trying to see as many of the sites as possible, mainly the different plazas, markets, witches market, and miradors; however, I only made it to a few of the markets before I ran into a wedding party out on the streets. While I was taking pictures a group of Bolivians, drunk as usual, spotted the little gringito and the next 3 hours were spent being fed beer and hanging out for the festivies. This is about the third or fourth time this has happened to me since leaving Sucre, and I definitely can´t complain, but really shows the nature of the people here and how friendly they are, especially when drunk, at least compared to the Argentineans. So after that nice encounter, I went back to my hostel, where I met some other people from Ireland and England and pretty much just continued on for the rest of the night. Crazy coincidence though...a kid Jon and I had met in Bariloche whom we did the seven lakes route with and gave me the advice to take classes in Sucre, ended up being at the same hostel as me, so we hung out for the majority of the night. I think he´s on his 10 month or so in South America, so he definitely has spent his fare share in Bolivia. The next morning I left for Rurrenabaque planning on spending a day in the town and then doing the pampas tour the following day. However, there was a group of three canadians and a german ready to leave that day, and one of the tour groups asked if I wanted to join, so I figured I might as well. The trip was absolutely amazing.

The three hour bumby jeep ride everyone has to take to the river and back wasn´t too pleasant, but besides that, every minute of the trip was insane. The amount of wildlife was saw was as if we were in a zoo. The first day was spent driving to the river and then slowly boating to our camping grounds for about 3 hours, stopping or slowing down to take pictures of all the crocadiles, caymans, tons of cool birds, and capibaras (largest rodents on the planet). As is typical in the pampas it started pouring out of no where about 2 hours into the boat ride, which left us with a nice long hour of coldness, but it wasn´t too bad, since it´s pretty hot over there. On the way we also saw an anacanda that was resting near the water, but it was badly injured from a fight it had with a crocadile days before. The water level at this time of the year is pretty low, which makes the trip even more entertaining since the crocs and caymans come up very close to the boat. We had a tour guide with us along with a private chef, who was very good at what she did, with buffet style meals every day. That first day after we arrived to the campsite we headed over to a lookout point / bar for some beers and the sunset, there were a few other groups there as well so we hung out with them before heading back for dinner.

The next morning we headed out in search for Anacandas. It was about a 4 hour hike into the woods in order to find a few, but we were very lucky cause lots of groups search for hours without finding anything. We saw for only a few seconds a huge anacanda before it scurried back into its whole, but got a great glimpse of a baby one close to 4 or 5 feet long. We also saw a cobra along the way and a Toucan. So overall it was a very successful hunt, and right as we finished lunch at the campsite it started raining, which was perfect timing for our siesta. At around 3pm we woke up to go Piranhas fishing (the part I was looking forward to the most), and even though the weather was still pretty ugly, it was the highlight of the trip for me as well as a majority of the rest. We drove off to different locations along the river with a string, hook, piece of wood, and meat in hand. It was by far the most entertaining fishing I´ve ever done as it takes zero skill or time to wait in order to catch the fish. They are vicious and within second start devouring the bait. Overall we ended up with about 21 fish, mostly Piranhas with a few Sardines in the mix. When we got back I sacrificed one of the Piranhas in order to make some ceviche cause I was interested in trying it raw. But unfortunately there wasn´t any lime or lemon, just some soy sauce, but it didn´t taste too great. But that night with dinner we feasted like kings, and the fish was pretty delicious even though there wasn´t too much meat per fish.

The last day, had the sky been clear, we were planning on waking up for sunrise to see certain animals, but it was still a bit overcast, so we slept in and woke up around 8am to go swimming with pink dolphins. There´s one deep, safe area in the river where everyone goes to swim, and there´s a handful of dolphins that swim somewhat near the tourists but always out of reach. There´s also a crocadile named Pete that hangs out on land which all the groups feed some fish and get to pet which was cool. And I was able to take some nice close up pictures of the guy as well. So that was pretty much the trip in a nutshell. Afterwards we got our stuff, road back the jeep, and drove the 3.5 hours back to Rurrenabaque, where our group hung out for the night and grabbed dinner and some drinks. There was a storm the day before so a lot of flights out of the town were cancelled and people were moved to flights for today, therefore the only available options were take the dangerous 18 hour bus back to La Paz or hang out in Rurr for the day and leave on an early flight Friday morning, so I chose that option.

During the day in Rurren I met a group of three people - dude from Norway, Israeli, and girl from Alaska that were trying to recruit a fourth person to join them on a 10-day trip into the jungles. After spending time with them I was very very close to considering joining them cause the trip sounded amazing, unfortunately it would have just been too hard to get all my stuff organized, and I don´t really have that amount of time to spend, cause there´s still lots more I need to do before February. The trip though would have been a once in a lifetime experience....6 or 7 days hiking in the jungle with a machete in hand searching for wildlife and plants, then spending a few days with an indigenous tribe chopping down trees to build a boat in order to float down the river back to basecamp, fishing the entire way. I know, sounds incredible, but unfortunately it just wasn´t in the cards for me. But maybe somewhere down the line, I´ll get another chance at something similar.

Also, tooooons of Israelis here! An israeli guy was the first person to start the tourism bug in Rurren, so at the beginning the only tourists were Israelis, but now it´s caught on to others. But still, I wouldn´t be surprised if every single Israeli in South America stops by here on their trip. There´s even a guy on the street that sells Falafels. Also, everyone is obsessed with this one French dude that makes the most amazing pastries and other really great foods such as pizza and quiches each morning and walks around selling them to the hostels. Alright, that´s it.

Hope all is well, and I´ll keep you all up to date on the rest of my time in La Paz and then Copacabana. Love you all, and let me know how things are going!! Bye

Posted by STEVO1285 07:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Cochabamba, Villa Tunari

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Now that I´m stuck in Rurrenabaque for a day before heading back to La Paz, I have some time to update the blog...

After leaving Sucre by plane, I arrived in Cochabamba around 6pm. I ended up only staying there for a few days, the main reason for my visit being Villa Tunari. which is about 4 hours by bus from Cochabamba. So early the next morning I took a bus over to the Wild Life Refuge so I could play with some monkeys and other animals. It was humid as all hell during the few days I stayed there. There wasn´t a single place that had a fan or air conditioning so there was zero relief from the hot sticky weather, so therefore I was pretty much sweating 24/7 while I was there, but I wasn´t too concerned cause everyone else was as well. Villa Tunari is a very very relaxed place with not too much to do there besides see the national park. A lot of tourists stop over and spend at least a few weeks there volunteering as a cat or bear walker, which sounds pretty cool in theory, but I definitely wouldn´t wanna stay there for that amount of time, so you really have to love it in order to get through the days. But for a couple of days, it was definitely worth the trip. Each time I went to the park I got to play with tons of monkeys as all the animals are free to roam around as they please. So multiple instances occured where monkey were climbing over me from head to toe licking the sweat off my face and even cleaning my hair - pretty cleansing. I also got to see the one bear they have at the park, which was pretty cool as well. After my time there I took a bus back to Cochabamba to spend the day before heading to La Paz that evening.

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Cochabamba was actually a really cool city, I think its about the thirds largest city in Bolivia, but it has amazing food, lots of universities, and great culture. So during the day I walked around all the different markets that were each really cool and with lots of great food - the best salads I´ve seen so far and really tastey fish, which was a nice substitute for steak. They´re really into a dish called Pique Macho over there, which kinda reminds me of Poutine a bit, and it consists of french fries stacked high with about 5 different types of meat including Tripe and drenched with mayonaise, mustard, and ketchup. For dinner I went to a restaurant that offered duck and rabbit, which are also two animals Cochabamba is known to serve. I had the duck braised in wine and it was f*cking good. I also ran into some luck while there as apparently every end of November students from universities around the country gather in Cochabamba for an almost 8 hour parade around the city, dancing to music, and all the different groups dress up in different traditional outfits, so that ended up being a great way to pass the day. But once again, Cochabamba was a really pretty city, and because of its size, there´s lots to see and do there. So I highly recommend it. Alright, next is La Paz and Rurrenabaque.

Posted by STEVO1285 06:56 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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