Looking North   1 comment

Hey Friends,


Life has been very busy for us, so I will give you a quick update on our travels.  The Foz Du Iguaçu were certainly one of the biggest highlights of our trip so far. This can be testified to by the 3 hours we have spent at the internet cafe so far uploading photos.  The falls are certainly a wonder. Eleanar Roosevelt is on the record as saying ¨poor niagra¨when she first caught a glimpse of the falls. They are remarkable for the context- a lush jungle setting teaming with wildlife. The falls are actually numerous falls that spread about 2 kilometers with the devil´s throat being the most formidable of them.  I hope sometime to have pictures uploaded for you. After Iguazu, we took an overnight bus down to Buenos Aires. While we only planned on catching another bus there, I´m glad we stayed the night. Buenos Airies is a remarkable city for its colonial architecture, its pedestrian streets and its friendly and inviting waterfront. It certainly puts Toronto to shame in every way. We also experienced first class hospitality as a traveller we had met earlier in our travels who lives in Buenos Aires arranged for us to be hosted by one of his friends. Not only did this save us a nights worht of accomodations, we were generously cooked for, given a bed and our laundry done not to mention a great night of chatting. Certainly Randell and I were blown away by the incredible hospitality of someone who just met us.

After Buenos Aires we took another bus to Mendoza to visit the the wine producing region of Argentina.  Unfortunately we arrived on a saturday and all the Bodegas (Vineyards) were closed until Monday. But we enjoyed the two days rest.  Initially we had only planned to visit them on Monday we loved it so much we did it again on tuesday.  We ended up biking Lojan de Cuyo region of Mendoza which featured stunning views of the Andes in the background.  The region is known for its Malbec type of wine, which is a very fruity wine that comes from thin skinned grapes.  At the varies Bodegas we visited we were given a tour of the wine making process as well as a nice wine tasting afterwards. It was quite a fun and educational time. I learned much about the wine making process as well as how to taste a wine.  We also did some research and learned about the big problem in this region of underpaid, overworked illegal Bolivian workers who come for the harvest.  Very few of the wineries acknowledged the shady backsides of their productions. For us however, we were able to understand the experience of Bolivian workers in Argentina as being similar to the plight of Mexican workers in Canada.  Unfortunately even in a beautiful region like Mendoza (or Niagara), the dehumanizing force of globalization and the poverty it creates were at work.

Afterwards we took a bus up to Salta and from there into Chile into the town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the Atacama desert, the driest in the world.

A quick note on Argentinian buses- they are extremely luxurious coming with Cama seats, service, meals, as well as wine for dinner and champaign for dessert. Its been a little hard readjusting to Bolivian buses after such experiences.

San Pedro de Atacama was extremely touristy but we managed to do a day trip on bikes into the desert to watch the sunset. The scenery was stunning as were the stars on the bike ride back.

From San Pedro de Atacama we took a tour that took us through the Andes to the Uyuni Salt Flats (the largest in the world). While the trip was a little more driving than we would have liked- we visited some remarkable sights including Geysers,  white capped mountains, plentty of Lagoons, a rock shapped like a Condor, wild llamas and pink Andean flamingos. The last part and highlight of the trip was the Uyuni Salt Flat- 2000 square kilometers of salt left over from a dried lake. The scenery reminded us of a winter scene in Canada, and we took some great photos.

And now we are back in La Paz, planning our next adventure.

Hope all is well




Posted April 12, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

Moving East   1 comment

People have claimed I am too cynical in my blog posts, so I`am going to try  a different approach with this one. Here is a few highlights since the last post.

Brazilian Visas:

We made the decision to go to Brazil, however it proved to be more challenging then initially anticipated.  The Brazilian Consulate in Cochabamba was incredibly unhelpful, and unwilling to work with us in our limited Spanish abilities. They said it would be about a month before we could get our visa as they only process 2 a day. The consulate was deserted both times we were there, so we still have a hard time understanding why they would need to take so long. The other challenge is that we would need a ticket out of Brazil. We could only get plain tickets as buses didn`t issue tickets online. But we didn`t want to fly out of Brazil. After a few days of pondering and Carnival- we headed for the warm city of Santa Cruz. There the Brazilian Embassy processed our visas in less then a day, as well as our ticket problem was solved by my counterfeiting abilities.

The Death Train:

We took the infamous Death Train from Santa Cruz to the border, however contrary to its name it proved to be a very pleasant experience with functioning washrooms (a rarety in Bolivian transport) as well as amazing views of the Bolivian Pantanal region where a huge variety of trees, plants, birds, aligators and mosquitos could be seen from the train. The Pantanal is actually a very remarkable area that Randell and I are really sorry to not have spent more time in.

Seat Sales:

In Brazil, Randell and I were fortunate enough to get some great seat sales which saved us days of travelling, we were able to hop from Campo Grande to Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte, and from Rio to Foz du Iguaçu. Apart from the rough landings which Brazilian pilots seem to pride themselves on, it was great.

Sao Paulo:

A huge city (bigger then New York), Randell and I really enjoyed this city whiich is suprising given how huge and busy it is. The city is remarkable for its apartment buildings which spread as far as the eye can see in every direction. The buzzing noise of helicopters is common in the city because travel by helicopter is the first choice for the city`s rich folks.  Randell was reunited with Jackfruit in this city, another highlight.

Belo Horizonte:

A lifeless concrete jungle, but the hospitality of Rita (randell`s friend) made our stay here the nicest in Brazil. I was excited as at the end we were invited to a Brazilian BBQ at a Penthouse suite in the city. Eight types of meet over many hours made me a happy man.  Certainly one of the highlights of my trip so far.

Rio De Janeiro:

I like the city´s english name January River, better. Named after the month when the Jesuits landed there, the city is very interesting. The beaches and weather there is certainly very nice. It was march, autumn and hot in Rio. Three things that I don´t normally associate with each other. Apart from the famous beaches we also went to a Samba club on saturday night. Even though the line stretched 2 blockes, we were able to get in. The huge club was 3 levels decorated with many antiques and people of all ages came to dance and sing Samba. The energy was just pumping. As Randell observed: its way diferent from a North American club experience. People of all ages were there to dance to a type of music that has way more history and class than Lady Gaga. The city was pumping with alot of culture, although it itself certainly has not escaped the plagues of Brazil: corruption, urban decay, polarization between rich and poor. As the Olympics approach Rio has started a program of pacifying its favelas. This usually involves elite police entering into these slums where they shoot first and ask questions later. Its been interesting connecting some of the common concerns we encountered in Vancouver, with Chicago´s  (now failed) olympic bid, and with Rio de Janeiro.

Now we are at Foz du Iguaçu, tomorrow we take in the Brazilian side and then the next day we head to Argentina to take in their side. Its been quite the ride


Posted March 29, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

A few random photos…   Leave a comment

Divine break


poor ruth

john in the midst of a foam and water ballon water

Waterfall hike


lots to be found on witches lane in a market in la paz

some of the war zone at carnaval

Posted March 9, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

Reflections   Leave a comment

We are now in Bolivia- the land of high altitude and low prices. Here´s a few reflections of interest:

La Paz sneeks up on you. You drive over a ridge and the city which is largely hidden hidden in a valley shows all itself. Its quite spectacular. For a capital city La Paz gets points for having grown at a sustainable pace over the years. It lacks the large slums seen in Lima. It loses points as its a city in a valley are vehicles emit extra exhaust as they drive up the hills. The smog combined with the the thin air from the high altitude makes for an interesting breathing experience.

2 other points of interest on la paz:

1) the vehicular traffic in the city consists of really old transit buses, combis, and taxis.There is next to nothing in terms of personal vehicles in the city.

2) The shoe shine boys all cover their faces with belaclavas and wear hats. While they can look very intimidating,  upon doing some research I´ve learned that they do this for two reasons. One is the social stigma attatched to doing the job and the poverty associated with it. The covers give them annonymity. Secondly, they have a certain awareness of class and the covers provide a sense of solidarity.

Now on to some Cochabamba:

Although there are many ways in which Bolivian society is ´backward, in Cochabamba and the country as  a whole there is a good tradition of civic participation and protest. We are currently witnessing it in the wide-spread demonstrations against the raise in Combi prices. The protests currently take the form of spontaneous road blockades. This has meant for us that for the time being we are stranded in cochabamba as the main routes out are blocked, as well as we do alot of walking as taking a taxi is not always feasible given the location of the blockades. Apart from some incidences of drunkeness and violence as well as the blockades are currently preventing aid from reaching some flood devestated areas of the country, I see this form of protest as being positive. I can´t help but think of the situation in a city like Toronto where transit fares have been raised quite substantially in the past few years and transit expansion in both Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo are being essentialy halted by middle class concerns over higher taxes. A bit of popular protest and road blockages in those cities- particularily by those most effected by such decisions (the poor) would be a very beneficial thing. Something so essential to the populace as transit is currently in Canada being largely controlled by government bureaucracy with the right wing hoping to give control of it to business elites.  My hope is civil society will step in and take greater control.

Another interesting example of this is in south america is in venezuela. Despite my mixed views on Hugo Chavez and his bolivarian agenda, i think its quite unique the way the poor of the country rallied to restore him to power after he was removed in a military coup a few years ago. Can you imagine the poor in Canada or the US rallying to do that for any western leader? There is certainly a sense within many of these countries that self-determination is possible.

Posted February 24, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

Food to die for…   Leave a comment

I wish I could use that expression the way I would at home, but I´m afraid my update is of the opposite nature. More of a gripe, clearly coming from a privledged person, but I´m going to do it anyway.

Almost all, actually without even exagerating I can say ALL the meals here are double or triple carbs only, and those carbs are also typically fried and everything dripping in grease. Breakfast and dinner are usually plain sugary bread and then lunch or a bigger dinner  will consit of; soup with potatoes and rice (and some sort of rubbery animal part that´s not normally edible), followed by a second plate with rice (very oily rice for even that is fried), fried potatoes, fried banana, a piece of fried to chewy unidentifiable piece of meat and sometimes bread. Ocssionally it will be frien egg instead, but the egg will have been fully submerged in oil and fried for at least 15 minutes so that it is barely cutable.

If only I could say street food was my saving grace, but on the street all you can find are empanadas etc. which are very tasty but also have deep fried innerds with a deep fried shell. Everything else is either bread or sugar- the yoghurt, the drinks, the juice, snacks are all sooo loaded with sugar. So options are always only sugar, bread, white, fried things.

Wow let me tell you how much my body loves all of this! So full of veggies (of which they have plenty I don´t know why they don´t use them) and healthy fillings! Gaahhh what would Matsen say! All my months of not eating this very list to get healthy and now i´m running backwards…. oh sigh. My positive departing note- there is usually lots of yummy fresh fruit to find.

Posted February 24, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

Lago Titicaca   1 comment

A Lake named for it’s tiger shape (CaCa) and it’s grey colour (TiTi) The Quecha people have long lived on the worlds largest high altitude lake and are host to a life rich in tradition and hard work as they live off the land in the harsh high altitude.

Of however our trek to the islands had to start with a glitch, what good stories don’t for that matter? We woke very early to hop in a boat to float us amidst these beautiful islands. We found one leaving ‘soon’ and crowded in, and like every other mode of transport the boat was packed so full we carefully calculates the best way to escape if it sank from all the weight.

And when every inch of floor space, roof and lap are full of people and goods in flies the captain through a side window into his seat and chugg ugllghhg chugg goes the motor over and over. Of course to get to the motor which is in a hatch at the back of the boat, people and goods have to be completely re-arranged while someone rescues our floating boat and reattaches it to another. And voila another early morning wake up and rush for extensive waiting and a departure two hours later…

We switched boats as easily, quickly and gracefully as a pack of sardines would hop from one can to the next but we did it and off we went.

Our first stop was in the Uros islands, floating islands, literally made of reads and anchored down as to not float into Bolivias waters. The Uros are a people who were originally fleeing Inca rule, someone came up with an innovative idea to escape when they said ‘lets go make islands out of reeds and boats and houses and everything with reeds!’ To this day their oddly brilliant idea remains home to many Uros families. They pull the reeds from the lake and have a system in laying down fresh reeds frequently on top while the bottom ones rot. Quite squishy beneath your feet, very intricate workmanship and a hospitable (albeit touristy) people with some of the cutest childern I’ve seen.

Our final destination was an island called Taquille (not an Uros floating island, an island inhibited by a Quechuan group). A very small, yet towering island above the glistening lake. We were greeted by several families who strolled with us up the steep and never ending path as we puffed panted and asked questions. We decided to stay with Thomas and his adorable family. The island is quite self sustainable but the only income it has otherwise is tourism for better or for worse. The community has developed it’s own roster system though and rotates families to host the tourists to ensure equal income, most follow with a few shunned people who try and jump que.

Despite the tourism the tiny island hosts, its culture and dress seem to have been largely unchanged. Both the men and women’s dress were extraordinarily beautiful. The women wearing knee high skirts made of  layers and layers of colourful fabric and the men with a ornate white shirt, short black vest and wide brilliant woven belts. Additionally social status is displayed within their dress- the men have hats that connote whether they are single, married, dating, ambiguous an island leader etc. The single hat if flipped to the right means dating, to the left is single and to the back is ambiguous, so much info in a single hat pom pom. If they are married their wife also weaves their own hear into her husbands woven belt so he always has a peice of her on him.  The children, both boy and girl wear the ‘child’ hat until 8 years and then are initiated to the men’s hat or the women’s mantle. A women has a black mantle which is worn as a shawl, for warmth, for carrying things, over the head to block the sun and many other uses. A pom pom also connotes a women’s status. Bright huge pom pom’s on the corners are that of a married woman and smaller less brilliant colours are that of a single women, but the women don’t have to tell in their dress if they are dating or not…watch out boys. Additionally if a women is married to an island leader all her clothes are red and black. Two years ago the island also introduced its first woman leader, my feminist self was happy to hear that even women on such a small island in a machismo culture so far from the great education we typically associate with such progressiveness were fighting to be included in decision making and leadership.

Our family was very sweet, Thomas and his wife several years younger than us with three adorable kids who we enjoyed playing with and having dinner with. The little boy of 3 years old really loved to sit on Susie’s knees but that only lasted a day after he peed on her lap, and he was always wearing the exact same outfit so you either had old dry pee or a fresh pour to perfume your clothes. Considering we had no amenities, electricity or running water that was the last time he sat on her lap, a close chair became the substitute.

One part of traveling I particularly enjoy is the surprise, both in not knowing a location or its people before you arrive, but also when something special is about to happen and you have no clue. We happened to arrive on Taquille a day before the Festival de la Virgen de la Calendaria (the anniversary of the virgin mother essentially). So we happily watched the festivities for the day which involved waking up to the ‘band’ playing wind pipes which are a lovely instrument, however I don’ t think this group got to practice much together. They only had one song and wow what stamina they have for I didn’t stop hearing them play until the same time the next morning. A full 24 hours (with short breaks for shots of booze-there had to be some fuel) of playing the exact same song. Additionally there were dancers in beautiful dress who spent the day dazzling the groups watching at the main plaza. The whole day was spent chilling with locals, watching the dancing and music and being amused watching the days scenery change as all the men of the island got progressively more tanked. The day was started (as well as continued and ended) with a homebrew of 80-90% alcohol in water bottles. People would go around to everyone (including us by mid day) and pour you a capful. We were sitting next to this poor old guy, very cute, toothless and obviously struggling to take any more- but he always did, Maybe that was his secret to his long life. After a day of the sunshine, festivities and beer (also being passed around, shared and free for all- we think the tourist tax we payed to get on the island probably pays for the communal beer…) we skipped out on the evening after party to have dinner with our family as it was our last night there.

The next day we found a man willing to take us over to another island, so a private boat ride with him and his family, a beautiful sunny day and a new adventure- we were happy and feeling so lucky to be where we were. Amantani was a similarly sized island but with a way larger population, way more influenced by modernization and tourism with some parts of the island having electricity and many people with cell phones and a very different atmosphere. We explored this island one day as we had at Taquille and both offered a good workout with their very hilly rocky paradise. At the highest point of both islands were ruins and a view like no other; 360 degrees of stunning perspective inducing scenery of the lake, islands and Bolivia’s Cordillera mountain range. Her white peaks jutting out from the clouds and reaching high towards the sun which at dusk was casting a hue and light shadow. It made me think about all who had lived and come to this place long before us, and yet that scene made life seem timeless. Of course the Islands were also full of cobblestone paths, cows, sheep and the luscious greenery that has learned to coexist so well amidst the rocky terrain. As well as people working hard in their fields at cultivating the one crop they would get that year with only one rainy season (as opposed to other regions which get about 4 crops a year) could be seen far across the island. 

Luckily enough we got to see another celebration of the same festival on this island, except it was completely different. Waaaayyyy more people, both in crowd and performing. It was much more parade style with various dance groups and marching bands going through the square (often there were at least 6 playing at the same time. The costumes were very shinny, all very different, with many great hats to observe and a plentiful amount of felted, sequined, shinny crazy heels too. I discovered their secret to dancing for 16+ hours in heels, they freeze there feet with anesthesia so they can’t feel the pain or the cold… wow dedication and I imagine a lot of pain when the feeling comes back at the end of the day.

Again it was a day full of beer, men pissing wherever and everywhere for we’ve learned here that if you’re a man anywhere is really at your disposal to relieve yourself. This can range from the sidewalk, out of a store onto the sidewalk and people if they get in the way, stairs, seats, you name it and its peed on.  We also danced part of the night away with some new friends we made who were in the festival earlier and now very very drunk, we too drank lots of beer and hung out with our new great french friends who were staying with the same family as us. Another great memory of a day we felt so fortunate to be a part of.

Our final adventure was returning to puno, we work early again,  climbed down the island in the rain and found a boat. we asked the captain ¨ direct to puno?¨ to which he replies ¨yes¨ we ask a couple of other people and great we settle in and off we go. We land about an hour early though and not in puno but everyone is getting off the boat. Apparently this boat only goes to this random penninsula in the middle of nowhere. So we grumble and get out and then have to catch a bus, well of course there are no buses here in the middle of nowhere so we ask a local for a phone and call a taxi. after a long time of standing in the rain and jumping out of the way of a small landslipe in front of us it come. we pile in with Celine and I in the trunk (as we´re sharing it with some locals and it´s very full) and the car won´t start. After half an hour of tinkering with it we cut our losses and decide to walk, eventually reaching a small town that has collectivo´s back to Puno. After harrowing ride of barely dodging people and herds of animals we surprisingly and thankfully arrived alive back in a busy stinky exaust filled and ugly city. With memories of the tranquil and gorgeous islands behind us we moved forward to try and find a hostel in the festival crazed full city.

Posted February 24, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized

gahhh internet soo slow photos won´t work   Leave a comment

Sorry everyone we keep trying to upload photos but no luck internet won´t support it!

we´ll keep trying!

Posted February 7, 2011 by Randell and John in Uncategorized