Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quest for Brazil, with a little waterfalls on the way

                                                               The cruise ended and we were back in Buenos Aires. We had spent a few days here before the cruise, and I would have loved to spend a few more days here, but we needed to make it up to Salvador for Carnaval (the biggest street party in the world), just a few days away. We had heard horror stories from other travellers about trying to get Brazilian visas after already leaving your home country. I had heard it could take from a week to ten days, time we did not have. I also heard that you must have proof of your onward travel, accommodation booked for your whole stay, proof of funds to sustain you there, a contact in Brazil, and that the visa could cost up to $250. Of course we didn't have onward travel booked, as we change our minds often, had only booked the hostel for Carnaval, had no bank statements printed out, knew no one in Brazil, and need our visas the day after we got there if we were going to make it on time for Carnaval.

Our trusty guide book suggested that the easiest and fastest place to have Brazilian visas processed was in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. I wanted to see the world famous waterfalls anyway, so we crossed our fingers and jumped on a bus bound for Iguazu. The bus ride was surprisingly uneventful and went by quickly.

We arrived in Puerto Iguazu without a hostel booked. It was a small town and we thought we could easily find somewhere to stay. Well, turns out every gringo in Argentina had the same idea as us and was hoping for a quick visa to Brazil. We wandered for quite some time before we found a place that was cheap enough and had beds for us. We dumped our bags and made a dash for the Brazilian consulate to see exactly what we needed to get our visas.

Turns out it wasn't too difficult to complete the application process. We needed to fill out a form online, print it, pay 276 pesos (about $70) in EXACT change and give them a passport sized photo. As long as we got this all in before 11 am, we would receive our visas by lunch time the next day. It was only 9:30 now, so we got to work. We went to an internet cafe so we could easily print the applications when we were done. Other travellers were there trying to get their visas in as well. And then the problems started.

First, I could not open the website where the application form was. I tried 32 different ways but nothing worked. Laurie was able to get to the application form and spent 20 minutes filling out all the minute details. When it came time to hit send, and put the application through the internet cut out. Just to tease us, it would cut back in and allow her to fill out the form again but always stop when she needed to send it. This went on for 45 minutes. Now it was 10:15...we had less than 45 minutes to complete the application process if we wanted to leave tomorrow. We went back to the hostel and used their wireless connection to get the application forms in, but had no way of printing the forms we needed. We tried to take the computer to the consulate with our reference numbers for our applications, but they refused and said it must be printed out. We went back to the internet cafe to try and print them out there. While Laurie tried to get the applications printed, I went on a mission for the exact change we needed to pay for the visas. In Canada, change is not a problem. In Argentina, change is a precious commodity. No one willingly hands out change, and often a shop will refuse to sell you something if you only have a big bill.

With 10 minutes to the deadline, Laurie was struggling at the internet cafe because the program that her computer used to save our applications was not compatible with whatever South American shit the internet cafe was using. So close, but so far, we were nearly pulling our hair out. The internet came back on in the cafe and the lady was able to go online and retrieve our applications on her computer. She got one printed out before it cut out again. Miraculously I had managed to return with the proper change. It was 11:10, ten minutes after the deadline that we finally had both pages printed. We ran down to the consulate anyway, hoping maybe he would give us a break and let us submit our applications a few minutes late.

It was 11:17 by the time we arrived there. No deal. The only thing to ever run on time in all of South America seems to be the application deadline at the Brazilian consulate.

It was not the end of the world; one more day meant we could spend an entire day at the waterfalls. The next day we were up early to make sure our applications were in with plenty of time to spare and then headed to the falls.

Iguazu falls was beautiful! We started at the bottom and worked our way up. The bottom circuit provided a close up view of the falls and the certainty of getting wet. The upper circuit gave a spectacular view from the top of the falls, encompassing much of the surrounding landscape. Devil’s Throat was an amazing show of how powerful the waterfalls actually are, with water spraying everywhere and the deafening thunder of crashing water. We had a great day at the park and were exhausted when the day was through.

Too many tourists on the lower circut

We awoke early the next morning and checked out of the hostel. We had to wait until lunch time to pick up our Brazilian visas and we were crossing our fingers that they went through ok. In the meantime we went to the bus station to find out how we could get to Salvador. None of the bus companies seemed to go direct to Salvador, so we were looking for tickets to Rio where we figured we could get another bus to Salvador. After 4 bus companies told us that buses to Rio were sold out for the next 3 days, my heart sank in my chest. We were already going to be missing the first day of Carnaval, something that has been on my life’s to do list ever since I had a list, I did not want to arrive for only 1 night of the giant party. We searched a little more and eventually found a company that offered non stop service to Salvador. The good news was there was a bus leaving that afternoon. The bad news was that it was not a luxury bus, it was going to take 52 hours, and it was ridiculously expensive.

We picked up our visas without a problem, made some sandwiches for the bus journey and later that afternoon set out on what was sure to be another adventure.

Up next…Carnaval Salvador Style…Partying in the streets with 2 million people.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Larry did it!!! I have one more to go!!!

                                                                     Laurie (aka Larry) and I have been on a quest to travel all 7 continents. She has finally achieved the goal!!! I asked her if she would please write a post on how it feels to have accomplished a goal that once upon a time was a drunken pipe dream. She replied that she cannot write (but her mom says she is a good writer), so we decided to do this interview style.

Crissy = BOLD

Ok, here we are with Larry from Balzac (Alberta), an avid traveller who has been to all 7 continents, and who just so happens to be my travel partner.
So Larry, where have you been?

I have been all over Canada, the USA, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mozambique, Egypt, England, Scotland, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Poland, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Antarctica and Uruguay. Over the next two months, I will also add Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.

Larry, what inspired you to travel in the first place?

It wasn't so much an act of inspiration as an act of ….ummm…I just needed a change. I had finished university, was working a “real” job as an industrial research coordinator for a large commercial real estate company. I was unhappy and bored with my life. I wanted a challenge. I wanted a change. I wanted to travel but couldn't afford it, so I reviewed my options of ways to work and travel. I came up with the idea of teaching English in Japan. I never expected it to become what it has become. It was only meant to be a one year contract, not a never ending lifestyle.

Were you scared to leave home for the first time?

No. I really wasn’t. It felt surreal. It didn’t really feel like it was happening even as it was happening. But I was never scared to leave.

 Do you miss home at all?

Not really. When I first got to Japan, I missed the music and the bars of home, but I never really missed home. I missed my dog. But recently, since I have been doing this for fucking ages, wait….don’t say fucking…my mom reads this…… within the last 6 months or so, I miss home more than I ever have up to this point. But I have been away from home for nearly two years this time.  My toes feel soft.

What inspired the idea of travelling to all 7 continents?

It was while I was in Australia the second time, we were planning our lives and decided that we needed some direction to our travels. So we made a goal of all 7 continents. Seemed like a crazy goal at the time, but still fairly achievable….it may have been a drunken idea….

What do you think of your partner in crime after all of this time? (heehee that’s me!!!)

We still get still get along perfectly fine. We never fight or argue. We make a great team as one persons strengths balances out the others weaknesses. Crissy is the planner, I’m the navigator. We’re a winning combination and I couldn’t do it without her. I’m sure she is what has kept me going as long as I have.

Tell me what it feels like to have accomplished such a huge dream.

Doesn't feel like anything. No…ok….. I am proud…I am proud of what I have achieved. I am pretty young to have done and seen as much as I have. And I am proud of myself, because while it has been fun, it hasn’t always been easy and it is a big accomplishment.

What has kept you motivated to keep travelling for all of these years?

Uuummm…having a goal has really helped. And having awesome friends who are similarly situated in life acting as my travel companions. They’ve kept me focused on my travel goals and what “life planning” really means.

Describe some of the life lessons you have learned as a backpacker.

Ultimately, all people, doesn't matter their nationality, culture, ethnicity, whatever, are basically all the same. I think people are ultimately good. I've learned how to be resourceful and how to live on nearly nothing. School is overrated. Life experiences can teach you so much more. I’ve also learned that 3 day old, 48 degree meat sandwiches are still good to eat. And sometimes its ok to have wine for breakfast and ice cream for dinner.

What has been your lowest travel moment? The highest?

My lowest moment was probably when I was stuck in Japan, I was jobless, squatting in my apartment, with all the time in the world, but no money to do anything. I was alone in a foreign land and I was miserable. The company I was working for went bankrupt and I was jobless. There were a lot of negative feelings associated with that time. 

My best moment was…..I don’t know. Being able to reflect on all the places I’ve been and done and seen. There’s no one moment that supersedes everything else. 

Larry you have seen more of the world in your young 25 years than most people will see in a lifetime. Do you have any words of inspiration for those who dream about seeing the world?

You can do it……..! Don’t let anybody tell you that it is too scary, too expensive, too different, too hard, too whatever………… is not that scary, it is not that expensive, it is not that hard. You will learn so much about yourself and others, and travelling has the potential to be one of the best experiences of your life. So just go for it! Basically don’t let anyone else tell you you can’t do it. It is just there for your taking.

Any regrets? Anything you wish you would have done along the way? 

I should have stayed in Australia longer the first time. I wasn’t ready to leave when I did. Though looking at where I am now, it has all worked out in the end.

So now that you have seen and done it all… what’s next?

That is a good question Crissy, (in her best interviewing voice). The joke now is outer space (Larry, it is not a joke!!!!  Google “Virgin Galactic“). Maybe to see if I can extend my travels to span 5 years…….but I don’t know….I figure it out as I go. Maybe eventually my amazing travel partner and I will open our own hostel.

That is all with Larry for now, but stay tuned as we continue our adventures around South America!!!

Laurie and giraffe in South Africa, AFRICA

Laurie sea kayaking in Victoria, AUSTRALIA

Laurie wearing her favorite Dutch shoes in Amsterdam, EUROPE

Laurie in Hiroshima, Japan, ASIA

Laurie and friends (including me!) in Niagara Falls, Canada, NORTH AMERICA

Laurie at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, SOUTH AMERICA


Up next, Iguazu Falls and the quest for Brazilian visas!!
Join me (and Larry) as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY!!!!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011


                                                                    The first two full days of the cruise we spent at sea. We were still in the tropicalness of Argentina, so we spent our days laying by the pool and drinking margaritas.

 Every evening we would have a cocktail and watch the sunset over the Atlantic with absolutely nothing to impede the view. It was spectacular.

After two and a half days on the boat, Laurie and I were excited for our first port of call, the Falkland Islands. This little island in the middle of nowhere actually belongs to the United Kingdom, so they speak English and use the pound as their currency. That is pretty much the most exciting fact about the Falkland Islands. That, and the fact that sheep out number people 3 - 1. We didn’t have anything planned, so we just wandered the little town, and were done in only a few hours. It was probably the most boring place I have ever been.

Our next port of call was Antarctica. I was a bit disappointed because when we originally booked the cruise, we were actually going to be docking in Paradise Bay, Antarctica but changes to the law now prevented us from doing so. Antarctica is the most untouched place on the face of the earth, and it is important to protect its ecological surroundings. As of 2012, large cruise ships are no longer allowed to enter into Antarctic waters, to help preserve its environment. We were the last cruise ship of the 2011 season and therefore the last cruise ship ever to sail to Antarctica. Tourist boats are still allowed, but only small ones. When we were looking at prices, these trips ranged from $16,000 to $25,000 for 10 days. Way too much for me…I could travel the world for a year with that kind of cash!! Tourism to Antarctica has risen exponentially in the last 10 years and has left a lasting impact on the pristine environment. These recent changes will help preserve the ecosystem, but will drastically increase the prices for tourism to Antarctica. To date, of the over 7 billion people on this earth, only 600,000 of them have ever been to Antarctica. And I am one of those people.

We were going to be cruising by Elephant Island, Antarctica at 7 am, so we put on nearly all the clothes in our bags and were up having breakfast by 6 am. I did not want to miss a thing!! One look out the window and my heart fell in my chest. It was so cloudy and foggy you could not see anything but grey haze out the window. We ate breakfast and then got a spot inside on the observation deck.

Laurie bundled up...inside. It was that cold!!

 As we got closer to Antarctica, the fog started to fade away. My first glimpse of the last continent was a bright white iceberg that seemed to glow in the greyness of the sky.

The water was rough, tossing the huge ship from side to side. Chunks of ice floated all around in the water, bobbing like rubber duckies in the bathtub. The fog lifted even more, and I could see the barren land of ice and rock. It looked absolutely inhospitable and amazing.

I could not stand to be looking at this through the window any longer. I pulled my toque down, nearly covering my eyes and zipped my jacket up to the top. I was going to brave the Antarctic weather. I ran up the stairs to the outdoor observation deck and was nearly blown off the boat.

Being blown away...and wearing nearly everything in my backpack

 The winds were so strong that I could not breathe if I faced into it. But this was a once in a life time experience, so I stared out at the end of the world and turned my head when I needed to breathe. It was beautiful and intense. Most people in the world would never get to see this sight. That alone was awe inspiring. The land was nearly black, mountainous rock; the snow was stark white and made for such a sharp contrast. There was an ice sheet that jutted out of the land and stretched on for miles and miles. It is difficult to describe in words and impossible to capture in a picture. It truly is one of those things that you need to see to understand.

Ice sheet

Looking off one side of the ship, you could see a dark and scary storm cloud moving in at an alarmingly fast pace. It was moving faster than the ship and was quickly impeding our view of Antarctica. When we couldn’t see anymore, Laurie and I decided to have a nap while we cruised our way to Paradise Bay, Antarctica.

That damn cloud!!!

 I awoke a few hours later to an announcement. Due to a storm, we could not venture any further into Antarctic waters. The waves were 24 feet high and were going to get higher. Paradise Bay was experiencing a blizzard and visibility was zero. It was not safe for the ship to proceed. With no visibility, we risked hitting an iceberg, destroying part of the fragile environment, and possibly suffering the same fate as the Titanic. That storm cloud I saw earlier was the reason I could not make it any further into Antarctica.

At first, I was really upset. We had paid so much money for this cruise, and I had not been able to see what I wanted to. After speaking with other guests, I came to understand, that because Antarctica is so extreme and remote, this happens often. You put your fate in the hands of the weather, and cannot win every time. At least I was lucky and was able to see anything at all. So, even though it was not everything I expected, I checked Antarctica off on my list of continents. Six down, one to go!! Then I proceeded to look into Antarctica trips from New Zealand. I need to see more.

Since we had turned back early from Antarctica, we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina a day early and had two days to explore the little town. Ushuaia is considered “the end of the world” or “fin del mundo” in Spanish. It is the southern most city in the world.

There was a lot to do here, and we spent the first day wandering around, taking a tour of the city and marvelling at the beauty of this little town. On one side it is framed by the beauty of the Atlantic, on another side the breathtaking, snow capped Andes and on the other side, the National Park of Tierra del Fuego.

The City of Ushuaia

On our second day we went on a tour to Beagle Channel (where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet). We set sail on a yacht, decked out in some serious boating gear, consisting of pylon orange, XXXL water proof jackets and pants.

 The first stop was an island where sea lions and flying penguins hung out. The flying penguins are apparently penguins that got part way through the evolution process but not all the way. They look exactly like the non evolved penguins, but had reached the evolutionary point that allowed them to fly.  We went for a hike on an island and learned about the natives, who were nomadic naked canoers. Westerners killed them off with disease and guns.

As we left Ushuaia, we sailed around Cape Horn, Chile. For some reason, the cruise gave us certificates saying that we have been to Cape Horn. Not sure why…or why we didn’t get them for Antarctica too.

We had a few more days at sea, then reached Puerto Madryn, Argentina. We were back into the tropical weather and finally, for the first time on this trip, I was able to put my toes in the sand. We spent most of the day walking along the beach.

Next we headed over to Montevideo, Uruguay. It was the 21st country I have been to. We walked around the city, saw the touristy sights and walked along the beach boardwalk. It was a Sunday and most things were closed, so we were only there for a few hours.

 The next day, we were arriving back in Buenos Aires and were no longer going to be living in the lap of luxury. It was back to the backpacker life, with cramped dorms, dirty bathrooms and chocolate-less pillows.

Up next, Iguazu Falls and the quest for Brazilian visas.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Life on a Boat

The Celebrity Infinity

There is only one way to describe it. LUXURY! After months of broken down buses, having no idea what you are really eating and bathrooms that made me physically gag, the cruise ship was pure and utter luxury. As soon as we stepped foot on the boat we were greeted with champagne. The crew called us “madam” and showed us to our floor. There we were greeted with more champagne and our stateroom attendant showed us to our room. Stateroom attendant - we had a guy who’s only job was to make sure we had everything we ever needed at every moment of every day. Such a change from waiting 20 minutes at a hostel reception desk to complain about a drunk guy who peed in the corner of the 20 bed dorm 4 hours ago and no one has yet to clean it up.

Our room was spacious, had a window looking out over the sea, comfy beds, bathrobes, was cleaned twice a day, and we never had less than half a roll of toilet paper. I do really wonder what they did with all those partial rolls. 

Our stateroom

After we got over a fit of giggling like little school girls over the decadence of it all, Laurie and I went out to explore the ship. It was a pretty large ship, carrying 1950 passengers and 550 staff members. It was like an entire city had been shrunk down and put on a boat. There was a movie theatre, a library, a casino, a spa, a gym, multiple restaurants, hair salon, indoor and outdoor pools, a shopping area, games room, internet area, cafes and lounge rooms, a running track, a playground, a dance club, 4 hot tubs, a stage theatre, observations decks and a buffet area. You could even get botox on the boat!!! 

Outdoor pool area

The food…oh my god the food!! I could write an entire post about the food. The buffet area had enough food to stop world hunger, every day from 6 am until 10 pm. At breakfast you could have 8 types of bacon, eggs of every variety, fruit, waffles, grilled veggies, muffins and anything else you could possibly imagine. During lunch you could eat from the carvery, the Asian station, the Indian section, the English section, the healthy area, the soup and sandwich stand, the salad buffet, the grill, and I could go on for ages. There was an equally diverse selection for dinner. Dinner was also served as a formal sit down multi-course affair. The food there was fancy, presented exquisitely and amazingly delicious. Every night we could choose from the standard menu which included things like caesar salad, french onion soup, lobster bisque, sirloin steak, and grilled salmon. There was also a full menu that changed every night. It had 5 appetizers, 4 soups, 6 entrees and 5 desserts to choose from. They were all 5 star restaurant quality, using some ingredients I have never heard of, and fancy sounding French words to describe to the dishes. There was also an ice cream stand that was open for 14 hours of every day. And if you were still hungry after all of that, there was a comprehensive room service menu available 24 hours a day. One night there was even a CHOCOLATE BUFFET…have two words together ever sounded so sweet??? Needless to say, I gained weight on the cruise. But it was worth every delicious calorie!!!

Ice sculpture / mimosa station at brunch

Chocolate Buffet

More chocolate was never ending!!!

Every night after we returned from dinner, our room had been tidied, our beds turned down and a chocolate on our pillow. Once our stateroom attendant learned that we liked the orange chocolates the best, we always had a handful of orange chocolates on our pillows. He also left us the next day’s program so we could lay in bed and plan the next day.

During our days at sea, there were plenty of things to keep us busy. There were poker tournaments, trivia sessions, karaoke, joke-a -thons, bingo, bands, liquor tastings, painting classes, seminars on everything from teeth whitening to nutrition to diamonds. There were bands playing, pool volleyball, games of family feud, catch phrase and pictionary, napkin folding and cooking demonstrations, line dancing classes, Pilates and Yoga classes, and if eventually you got bored, there was a bar on nearly every deck. Every evening there was a show. Sometimes it was a musician, other times a Broadway type production, sometimes dancers and cirque de soleil  type fiyers. Every time it was amazing. The crew also aimed at getting the guests involved. I participated in a jewelery fashion show, where I paraded around in thousands of dollars worth of diamonds while others oohhed and ahhhed. Other guests put on a play. At the end of the cruise there was a show put on entirely by the guests, showcasing some of the best karaokeers, joke tellers and photographers. 

Tango show

Me and more than $8000 worth of black and white diamonds. If you are wondering what I want for Christmas......

The crew on the boat was beyond amazing. They worked so hard and so many hours to ensure that our cruise was everything we wanted it to be. Anytime we needed anything, it was brought to our room within minutes. Everyone said hello to us every time we passed. They held the doors for us, offered to carry our trays in the buffet area, and took our plates away as soon was we were finished. I have not been treated better anywhere and loved the living the pampered life.

We met a wide array of people on the boat, but no one quite like us. We were younger than most, by nearly 20 years. Many had been going on cruise vacations for years and years. We met some people who had been to all 7 continents on cruises, others who were on a family vacation, some who were just there for the party but no other backpackers. A lot of people were interested in why “people like us” were on the cruise. I think our lack of formal clothing gave away the fact that this was not our allotted 3 weeks of annual vacation. There were the die hard trivia junkies who attended every session and argued if they got an answer wrong, the Aussies who always had a drink in their hand, Steve-o, who was the life of the party where ever you went on the boat, and ancients who could barely walk and you knew this would be their last vacation. 

All in all, the cruise was a fantastic experience. It was so different from the way that Laurie and I usually travel, and gave us a glimpse of the non backpacker travel life. Although I loved every minute of the luxury, I still prefer roughing it with my backpack. I won’t be upgrading from the backpacker life to the life of luxury anytime soon.

Up next, the ports of call (where we stopped) on the cruise and my ANTARCTIC EXPERIENCE!!

Happiness is… A first class bus

Mendoza, Argentina.

 Finally we were back in the real world, where at least half the bathrooms had toilet paper. After another confusing bus ride (which I won’t get in to here as I am sure you are tired of reading about one terrible bus journey after another), we arrived in Mendoza. Mendoza is wine country, and I could not wait to eat a big chunk of Argentinean beef and drink a fish bowl sized glass of the local wine. Looking around the area, I knew I loved Argentina already. The shops had clothes I would wear. Restaurants and cafes lined the streets with tables and chairs on the front patio. Our hostel was clean and had a pool. Finally we had escaped the Bolivian-ness of South America!!

Our hostel was great and we met some of the other travellers. We went for dinner where I ate the best steak of my life and drank red wine until nothing more could fit in my belly. We hung out by the pool, drank more and headed out to a club. It was a great night, until the over indulging caused me to be face first in the bathroom sink at the hostel. The steak was amazing going down, but not so great coming back up.

The next day we were supposed to go on a winery tour. I didn’t make it. The girls said it was ok, but just like any other winery. I have been to many, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on much. Two days was enough for Mendoza, so the next day we checked out and booked a ticket to Buenos Aires. After all the crazy bus adventures, we decided to splurge and take a first class executive bus. It was a bit more expensive, but we were over due for some luxury.

In the meantime, we had a few hours to kill. Laurie and I wandered around, and came across a beauty salon. A month in Bolivia is enough to make anyone’s feet start to look like the locals, so we were in dire need of a pedicure. Of course no one spoke English, but we pointed to our feet and they could see we needed a pedicure. Everything was just like a pedicure from home, but I did notice that the girl hadn’t pumiced my feet. I wasn’t too concerned until she left for a minute and came back with some sort of industrial looking tool. She plugged it in and it began to whirl at top speed like a drill. I was terrified. Turns out, it is like a sander and does a great job on the bottoms of your feet. And all for only 7 dollars!

1st class all the way!!!!!!!!!

The first class bus was more than worth it. I felt like a rock star. We each had giant leather seats, big enough to be comfortable for even the most obese person. Pillows. Blankets. Snacks. Two course dinner. Unlimited wine. Then unlimited champagne. Movies in English. Coffee. Tea. Wi-fi!! Fully reclining seats…they actually became beds!  And so much space between the rows that you couldn’t even tell if the person in front of you had reclined their seat. Breakfast. I had a great night’s sleep, and when we arrived in Buenos Aires at 7:30 am I didn’t want to get off the bus.

Buenos Aires

We spent the weekend in Buenos Aires, shopping, eating, drinking and clubbing. Just 2 days in Buenos Aires was not enough to get a real feel for the city but we knew we would be back. We said goodbye to our Newfie friend, Octavia. She was staying in Buenos Aires for a few more days, so we were back to just Laurie and I. Now, our long awaited cruise was upon us. Booking it 8 months ago, it seemed like a pipe dream that I would actually make it to Antarctica. It was really happening; I was on the brink of seeing my 6th continent and coming one step closer to my goal of visiting all 7.

For now, we were leaving the grungy backpacker life behind and were going to be bathed in the kind of luxury we can almost never afford while travelling. I was excited to be able to communicate in English, having the good old American service standards and to sleep in a private room.

Up next………I had anticipated this cruise for the last 8 months.  Would it live up to my expectations??


Sunday, March 13, 2011


                The only buses to Villazon, the Bolivian side of the Bolivian-Argentinean border, were local buses. No chance for the fancy tourist bus this time.  But it was cheap for the 20 hour ride. It was pouring rain when we left Uyuni, and we crammed like sardines into the tiny bus terminal. We left about half an hour late, which was pretty early for Bolivian time. I was so happy to be leaving Bolivia and was very much looking forward to the more developed Argentina.

We got on the bus and Laurie and I were near the front of the bus. It was cold and dark and smelled like the typical Bolivian buses (armpits, urine and the third world). I was used to the smell, but I could not get used to the cold. I was layered up in every sweater and jacket in my bag. I took a sleeping pill and fell into a deep chemical sleep.  In the middle of the night, I became aware that the bus had stopped and that we had been stopped for some time. The sleeping pills were strong enough that although I noticed, I didn’t care and slipped back into my dreamless sleep.

I awoke in the darkness to the sound of Laurie gasping for air in the seat beside me. There is a door that separates the driver’s area from the passengers. It’s usually locked to prevent passengers from disturbing the driver while on the road. But it should have not been locked while we were stopped in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, it was now locked. Laurie needed to get off the bus ASAP. She was breathing heavily and I thought she was going to vomit in my lap. She was pounding on the door, but no one in the driver’s area moved. Finally, after minutes of non-stop, near window breaking pounding, they opened the door. For some reason there were about 6 people crammed up in the drivers area. They didn’t seem to understand how badly she needed off the bus and didn’t move. Finally once they realized that they had to move or risk being thrown up on, they got out of the way fast. Laurie was ok after a little fresh air. Blame it on the altitude.

As the sleeping pills wore off, I woke up annoyed. Something was dripping on me and I was freezing. I looked up. Some fat old man had opened the roof emergency escape and rain was pouring in on me. Octavia tried and tried to close it to no avail. The fat old man who had opened it just watched her. The sun had come up by now and we could see other buses parked around us. We had been here for hours and hours by now. I could see what held us up. The road was flooded. But basically it was a big puddle. None of the buses were brave enough to see if they could make it through. Another typical Bolivian bus ride; our 20 hour ride was going to be 30. I could almost get used to that fact. What I could not get used to was the fact that I was freezing cold, wet and continuously being dripped on. I was miserable. Easily the worst bus ride yet.

Finally in the late hours of the morning, one bus dared to try the puddle. Our bus was right behind him. Of course we breezed through with no trouble…the water was maybe ankle deep. Fuck Bolivia, I could not wait to get to Argentina! I spent the rest of the ride in cold miserable silence.

We finally arrived in Villazon and contemplated what to do. Our original plan was to get straight on a bus for Salta, Argentina, but after that hell ride, we needed a break. We looked around Villazon and still saw Bolivia. We needed to cross that border. We spoke to an Argentinean who was on our bus and he explained that we could just walk to the border and cross on foot. We were desperate to get out. We walked for 10 minutes to the bridge that led to Argentina. Just across that bridge and we would have escaped Bolivia to never have to return!! I wanted to just run across. I was sure the air would be fresher, the people would be nicer and everything would work the way it was supposed to, just across that bridge.

Well others must have felt that too, because the line up to get in to Argentina was huge!!!! We got in line and hoped the border wouldn’t close before we got across. That kind of thing would happen to us. Looking around, the road out of Bolivia kind of summed up the country. Under the bridge was a mostly dried up creek, where a trickle of nearly black, dirty water ran through. The banks were covered with garbage. Heaps and heaps of it. Some fat pigs, they must have weighed nearly 100 pounds, feasted on the filth before them. Stray dogs sniffed around. And through all of the garbage, we saw some Bolivians skipping out on the immigration process and making a border dash for Argentina. And |I don’t blame them!! As we waited on the bridge, Octavia threw a cigarette butt over into the garbage creek hoping to burn down the whole country. As far as I know, it didn’t work; once I got out I never looked back.

To pass the time, we watched the people. We laughed about the line up to get into Argentina and the lack of line up to get into Bolivia. In typical Bolivian fashion, it didn’t take long for us to find something so stupid that it fascinated us. We watched as a Bolivian mother put her infant on the top railing of the bridge to change its diaper. The railing was maybe 6 inches wide. The best case would have been a 4 foot drop onto the cement where the mother was standing. The worst case would have been a 50 foot drop into the garbage heap and a decent meal for a pig. The mother did not even keep a hand on that baby. One squirm or an attempt to roll over and that was a smashed baby. Thank god, I did not see a baby die that day. After changing the baby, she scooped it up and they were on their way. Of course she left the shitty diaper just sitting on the ledge of the bridge.

When we were very close to the front of the line to Argentina, Octavia realized something. We hadn’t gotten our Bolivian exit stamps!!!! I waited in line as her and Laurie made a dash for it. When they got back I made a dash for it and made it back in just the nick of time. With ease, we were stamped by the Argentina immigration and had escaped Bolivia!!!

Just a few steps outside of Bolivia. I swear, the sun shone brighter. The air smelled fresher. I was in Argentina!!!!

Up next, living the good life in Argentina!!!