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The Uyuni Salt Flats

Most of you have probably never heard of the Uyuni Salt Flats, but they are a pretty popular tourist attraction when you actually get to Bolivia. There is something like a couple million tons of salt in a huge expanse of the Bolivian desert (even though it’s at an altitude of like 15,000 feet). I had booked a four day tour of the salt flats, along with the really weird geographic features of the region (like smoldering volcanoes and green, blue, blood red, and yellow lakes) and after a 12 hour bus ride, me and 7 other people were bouncing around Bolivia, seeing what we could see.

Day 1:

Well, after a pretty uncomfortable bus ride from La Paz, I made it to Uyuni at about 5AM. I had had a heater right under my feet (of all places), which made it impossible to move my legs and really hot, despite the fact that everyone else froze. I met some New Zealanders and two girls from Israel (but originally from Russia). I already had my trip booked when I arrived but as it turned out, the bus wouldn’t take me to my hotel since it was too far so I hung out with the Russian girls in a different tourist agency while I waited for my agency to open. I took a shower for 5 Bolivianos and got some breakfast, and when my agency finally opened I found out that the hotel I was to be going to wasn’t worth the trip and that I could leave from the agency. I took a nap on the couch and waited and waited and finally, we took off in a rickety old Toyota truck about two hours late. I was talking to a girl there and she said she took the same jeep the day prior on a one-day excursion and as they were driving in the salt flats, she heard a thump and the back left tire went rolling off into the distance. The driver stopped and chased after in, but couldn’t find the nuts that had fallen off, so he took one off of each of the other tires. I went outside and looked. Sure enough, each tire was missing at least one bolt.

So once on the road, we checked out where they process the salt (which is a small time operation, to say the least) and then took off in the vast white expanse. Periodically, the driver would stop and make sure all the tires were still on. And he ignored our questions about “that burning smell”.

The flats are pretty incredible. It looks like snow for miles and miles in every direction and the landscape is dotted with little mounds of salt that the Bolivians create to make it easier to load them up into the trucks.

Periodically, you see little two-inch deep lakes of crystal clear water (I think, albeit probably pretty toxic) which some kid attributed to the fact that water is underneath all the salt flats. Eventually, we made it to La Isla de la Pescadora, which is unique in that it’s a dirt hilly island filled with cacti and caves, right in the middle of the salt flat. To say that it looked out of place is an understatement. We explored it for a while and had lunch and then continued on. We were shortly joined by a Japanese guy who (from what we gathered from the Japanese girl in our group who was talking to him) had been riding a bike all the way from Alaska, down to the bottom of America. So that meant he had gone all the way down the US, Mexico, Central America and much of South America and we just happened to see him riding away on his bike in the middle of one of the most desolate parts of the world for quite a distance. Pretty crazy, eh?

So after another few hours of driving, we made it to a quaint little town where we were to stay the night. The town was dirt poor, mud and salt buildings (yeah, they make salt bricks and construct buildings with them – and we had actually stopped at a hotel made completely of salt earlier that day), with dirt roads and all. There were llamas grazing in the distance and after watching them for a while, I joined another tour group in the dining room (if you want to call it that). I had heard the English accents and knew there would be beer present so I went in and asked if everyone had been to the pool with the waterslide, yet. One guy, Simon, caught right on and said he hadn’t yet, but I was going to have to make a decision between drinking and swimming because beer wasn’t allowed at the pool. His girlfriend got excited because she wanted to go swimming, but eventually realized we were joking around. Anyways, we all had a great time chatting, went and saw the sunset and then called it a night.

Day 2:

We got up early, had breakfast and then continued our trek. We were traveling in dirt now, as the salt flats had ended and we eventually made our way to an active volcano. It was snorting a bit of smoke from the top and from what I gathered, although it could erupt at any time, it hadn’t for a long, long time. We explored the rock formations for a while then continued on. We drove for a long time after that. I was the only one with a Discman, so I had the luxury of listening to music and dozing off while the countryside zoomed past us. It was quite interesting, with multicolored and lakes (filled with flamingos) and mountains (yeah, the mountains were made up of quite a mixture of colors), wild llamas and vicunas roaming around the hills and little houses made of mud.

We eventually came to a strange formation of rocks with these strange little animals that lived in them. They looked like rabbits but had long tails and, although I’m not sure what they ate, seemed curious and agile enough. We then took off to see the “Arbol de Piedra” (tree of stone), which was pretty cool. It looks like a tree but is just an eroded rock. From there, we went to some military station where we paid 35 Bolivianos and then continued on to a really small town where we were to spend another night.

This place didn’t have the luxuries of a store with beer or a flushing toilet (you had to pour water from a big tub into the bowl and change the water by gravity) and we played some card games, had dinner and stayed up chatting.

It turns out that our guide was trying to weasel out of a deal he had made with a girl to take her back a day early (which the agency had promised before her leaving) and she didn’t speak very good Spanish, so I stepped in to get it squared away. I don’t know if you have ever argued with someone in a different language, but it isn’t easy. It’s strange learning another language while living in another country because you don’t really notice that you are getting better at speaking…it just kind of comes out with less effort. Eventually, we got everything as sorted as we could (he refused to write down a time table for her because he would then be a “slave to hours”) and we were all pretty frustrated. This tour was turning out to be a pretty dodgy experience, which bad food, unreliable transportation, a guide that was in a hurry and never told us anything about the stuff we were seeing and was pretty obnoxious to boot. No worries though. We eventually got to bed.

Day 3:

In the morning, we got up really early and took off to see the sunrise. We ended up only being able to watch it from a really bumpy jeep while hauling ass to the hot springs. I think the altitude was really getting to me because I felt really ill, but the sights were pretty cool just the same.

We stopped at a place where the steam boils out of the ground. Bubbling mud and the overwhelming stench of sulfur made a walk around the site pretty interesting. From there, we continued on to the hot springs where natural puddles of water range from warm to boiling hot and some people put on their swimming trunks and jumped in the natural spas. My buddies and I settled for just dipping our feet in and chatting (as it was still freezing cold and didn’t want to freeze to death after getting out), and after breakfast we continued no to the Chilean border to drop some of the people in our group off. I said goodbye to my buddies in the other group (the group I wished I had been in, since my group was pretty lame) and then we took off into the countryside leaving them behind. They were to take a bus to Chile and continue on from there, whereas we still had a day left in our tour.

Our guide then took us on a “shortcut” through the dustiest part of the countryside yet and we eventually arrived at another small town. I took the opportunity to go out and play basketball with the local kids and was pretty quickly assaulted for some candies. The kids in the countryside don’t ask for money like the kids in the city. Instead, they want candy – something I can totally understand.

After a pretty fun night of playing cards and eating dinner, we hit the sack.

Day 4:

This day was nothing really special – just driving. We drove and drove, eventually seeing the famous Rocks of El Salvador Dali (I think), who was an artist who put all these rocks on the side of some hill. We continued on (and on and on) and came to a town called San Christobal, where we snapped a photo of the church before continuing. After another long while, we got to the train cemetery of Uyuni, where they dump all the trains that have had their day. It was pretty cool to walk around and through the trains and see these massive machines that were probably incredible in their day, but now were left to rot in the desert.

Five more minutes drive and we were in Uyuni, which was like a ghost town, but with people – with old and dilapidated and half finished buildings and deserted streets (although it did have quite a number of roads, unlike most of the one-road towns we saw).

We got our filthy bags off the top of the jeep, bid our guide farewell (without a tip, as I was completely dissatisfied with the quality of his work…his name was Nestor, if you ever do this and want to enjoy your trip – meaning: avoid him), and I booked myself into a hotel and got a warm shower. I spent the rest of the night on the Internet and wandering around Uyuni chatting with people from the trip. My train was to leave at 2:30 in the morning, so after dinner, and trying to call home (which got accidentally connected to Japan – “Mushi Mushi?”), I took a nap before heading to the train station. At 2:00AM, there is was no one around and the I had a hard time getting out of the hotel as the front gates had been locked. I eventually got someone up though and walked across the street to the train station.

The proceeding train ride was in last class, with about 100 people in a car that should have only had 20, and was one of the most suffocating, claustrophobic and miserable experiences of my trip so far (although the last half was incredible after I paid for an upgrade and switched cars for the last few hours of the trip to the Argentinean border). But…that is another post in itself, so in the mean time, enjoy the pictures and expect another post from Argentina soon!

SALud from Uyuni

Well, I just got back from a 4 day trip through the Bolivian desert (which was up to about 15,000 feet in altitude at times) and am really tired. I’m in this town called Uyuni, which isn’t too far from the Uyuni Salt Flats, and that’s what we explored on my trip. I have some pretty cool pictures, but seeing as the internet is really slow here, I will upload them when I get to Argentina (tomorrow). I will also post a new log entry recounting all the crazy adventures (and there were plenty) of the past few days.

Time to take a nap. My train leaves at 2:00 AM and I need to be alert.

The most dangerous road in the world.

Wet. Cold. Fast.

I am zooming down a mud road (well, more like a path) and the rain is stinging my face like a thousand pissed off bumble bees.

Shit, I just barely missed a pothole which could have sent me and my bike flying – maybe over the edge.

My sunglasses seem to be helping, but they are fogging up and the water is making thing very hard to see. It guess it´s better than having the water sting my eyes though. Faster and faster I go, but it´s hard to slow down. My hands are so numb that I can barely pull the brakes – and the fact that the back brake doesn’t really work isn’t helping matters. I´m wet. Very wet. With every movement, I can feel my water logged shoes squish. I´m wearing sponges on my feet.

A tree branch smacks my helmet really hard.

The guide said that we only had a few more hours of this. Some people are wearing shorts, some don´t have jackets. Some don´t have gloves. But we all continue on, zooming down the mountain.

When a bus or truck is coming up from the opposite direction, we pull off to the side – but I can barely even see, so I just tail behind everyone and stop when they stop. While riding, I can see the 100-1000 feet drops off the side (and there is no guard rail) but sometimes (and perhaps for the better), the canyon views are obscured by clouds. I dodge a pile of rocks in the road. How have the buses been getting past this, I ask myself? They haven´t had to. The side of the mountain had *just* collapsed and as I zoomed by, I could see some tiny bits still falling.

My bike hits a rock and the front tire dances around while it decides whether it wants to send me flying or not. It straightens out and I sigh in relief.

I can´t believe how fast everyone is going. Are they crazy? I speed up to catch up and splash through a waterfall dropping straight onto the road. Oh well, I can´t get any wetter. Right after, we cross a small river. My foot instinctively crashes down into the water to keep from falling. Again, I can´t get any wetter. Just a few more hours…just a few more hours.

Yeah, it was a pretty hardcore trip. When we finally arrived to the base of the mountain (4 hours later, because the guide broke a rib), we rinsed off and had lunch. We were all literally caked in mud. The tour agency hadn’t suggested that we bring a change of clothes, socks and shoes, so we had to wear our entire muddy and soaked attire the whole four hour ride home. The road we had biked down is called The Most Dangerous Road In The World, and after this, I can believe it. The best part about the whole thing was: on the way back, we got to ride back up it to La Paz. I figured that if I didn’t sleep on the bus, I would at least sleep in the canyon when the bus fell off the side (but for a bit longer).

But we survived. And when I got back to the hostel, I can assure you, a hot shower never (ever ever ever) felt so good in my life.

And the cold, wet, and muddy clothes got to sleep in the corner of my hotel room. I´ll worry about those later.

Coked out in La Paz

After a night on the town in Copacabana (which did´t last very long since everything closes at about 10PM), Martin and I got up early to get some breakfast and catch the 8AM bus out of La Paz, Bolivia. The proceeding bus journey ended up being one of the most uncomfortable bus rides yet. The seats were so packed and my knees were forced to jam into two bolts in the chair in front of me and I couldn’t really sleep because the kid behind me kept opening and closing his window about every 10 minutes which prevented my head from resting comfortably against my own window. We did, however, get some incredible views of Lake Titicaca and about halfway through the journey we ended up actually crossing it. They load the bus onto this big raft (yeah, a raft), and the passengers onto another and everyone arrives at about the same time to the other end. You see, they used to not make the people get out, but then the bus sank once and they decided to change the policy. So back on the road, and after another few hours, started getting close to La Paz. You can tell you are getting close when everyone starts getting anxious and throwing all their trash out of the bus window into the street (hey, what can you say. It´s their country, right?). La Paz is in a huge trough surrounded by mountains and as you descend, you get some pretty awesome views of the city. You can see the city deep in the center and there are thousands and thousands of multicolored houses completely surrounding the sky scrapers in every direction. The houses make the mountains look like someone dipped a huge paint brush in a bunch of different colored paints and then spun around in a monumental epileptic fit. It´s quite a challenge to take everything in.

After we got to the bottom, we got our bags out after the bus stopped at a street corner – which was no easy task, since we had cars honking at us from every direction wanted to get past the bus (and they told us that this was a light traffic day!). A cabbie solicited a ride and we took him up on the offer and we were at our hostel before long. We got settled in and headed out on the town to get some stuff. We ended up getting some pizza and trying to figure out what were were gonna do. Martin only had a day more in La Paz and most of the museums were closed. We decided to go check out the Black Market. Yes, the black market is a very well known region of the city where you can get designer brand named clothes (that actually aren’t), music CD’s for a buck (with photocopied covers), DVD movies, software, knives, porn, food, toys, trinkets, etc… . We ended up leaving with quite a few CD’s and DVD’s between the two of us and I was sporting a pretty bad ass 3″ switch blade knife (which cost me two bucks – WITH holder). We then went and got a haircut by a real pro. It was almost like this guy just snipped his scissors as fast as he could and before you knew it, your hair was done. He cut me, though, when shaving my neck so I opted not to tip him. We headed back to the apartment and listened to music before going out to dinner. We decided to go catch a movie after dinner and when we were through with our feast (which cost of $5 each for food, salad bar, and beer at a really fancy restaurant) we saw the movie SWAT. If you go see it, make sure you don´t buy any popcorn. The corniness of the movie will be enough to satisfy any craving you may have. We then went home and got some sleep.

In the morning, Martin and I packed up and I moved into a different hostel. I was pissed at the first hostel. When Martin and I were out exploring, we ran into Nic (the English guy I met on the bus to Copacabana) and when we tried to bring him up to our room, we got yelled at saying that it was a $100 dollar fine to do so. Yeah…I´ll take my business elsewhere. That´s a lame ass rule. Martin was to leave in a few hours and we wanted to check out a few museums before he had to leave. We got some breakfast and checked out the archaeological museum first. It was pretty cool and fairly interesting. The officials at the museum kept encouraging us to take pictures and I ended up getting my shoes shined by some kid wandering around the museum soliciting his services (the guards just had theirs’ done).

After that, we checked out the Coca Museum. This museum is dedicated to letting you know anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the coca leaf. The leaf has quite a history. It has been used by the locals to help them get through their boring and hard lives and is now given to tourists to help with the altitude.

We all had a bag of it on our trek to Machu Picchu and it did help quite a bit. It doesn’t really have a noticeable affect (but is supposed to make you feel better) since it takes quite a few more chemicals to turn it into the well known drug, cocaine. We wandered around for a while after eating a Coca leaf candy and then went out to get some lunch.

Over chicken, Martin and I discussed our travel plans for the upcoming weeks and then headed back to the black market to get some last minute stuff (he wanted a jacket and some more jeans). Then it was time for him to go so we headed back to the hostel, got his stuff packed into a hostel and bid each other farewell. It´s really weird saying goodbye to someone with whom you have been traveling for a while. You always talk about meeting up again, but the reality is that you probably will never see each other again.

Then I went for a walk to contemplate some of the stuff that had been on my mind since I arrived.

La Paz is a fairly big city and it has a ton of poor people. Some are selling things, some are begging, some have just given up and are just sitting in an alley staring at the wall. As you walk along the streets, it´s hard to focus on anything in particular. There are so many people biding for your attention that you can´t really think. There is so much to see. In any given stretch in the city, you can see people cooking things on the sidewalk, selling meat or nuts or fruit on little tables they set up (yeah, people buy unrefrigerated and uncovered meat from people on the side of the street), booths selling toys, postcards, belts, books, purses, suitcases, sweaters, gloves, pens, DVD’s (pirated), CD’s (pirated), software (pirated), knives, candy, beer, water, and soda. Smells and music from restaurants, little kids tugging at your leg and old ladies holding out their hats for money, shoe-shine boys in ski masks (don´t ask me why, and yes, it is kind of creepy), tourists and locals bumping into you and cars zipping by making it virtually impossible to cross the street or step into it (which is sometimes unavoidable) all work together to make a simple walk an energy draining experience.

But what really bothers me is the poverty. What do you do as a tourist here? You can´t help but notice how little everyone has and how dependent everyone is on the tourists. They both beg and offer services, both of which leave you in a catch 22 if you contribute.

If you give them money for nothing, you are encouraging the kids and people to not work and not put any effort into making their life something positive. If you give money for shoe-shines, for instance, you are encouraging the kids to not go to school, thus perpetuating a cycle of ignorance and poverty. Parents here send their kids out on the street to make money so the family can survive (and not starve to death) and their take is, why waste your time in books when you could be out earning money and feeding your family.

You even worse by just ignoring them. When you have 6-11 year old kids come up to you, one after another after another, asking for money “so (they) can eat”, you can´t help but feel bad. How do you proceed? Martin made the comment that all the Indian women look either very old or very young. I attribute it to the fact that they just look sad. You can look around and see people in suits, the same age, that look like they have a mission. They have somewhere to go and you can see it in their faces. The Indians here have no future and nothing. They look old and sad and I am sure there is a stage after your first kid where the reality of this hits them and changes how they look forever. One Boliviano (about 16 cents US), could probably buy one person a meal, but you can´t give money to all of them. It may but them a piece of bread but what do they do next? You could spend all the money you have “helping”, but when you’re done, although people ate for a few days, they will go back to the exact same predicament after. You can invest in “programs” via charities that help the people help themselves, but many of these people don´t want to help themselves – they just want to eat. They aren’t interested in getting higher education and getting out of the run, as they can´t afford it. The sadness and desperation, in conjunction with the fact that everything is moving so fast leaves your head spinning and your mind in the state of constant exhaustion. There is no quick fix here and it´s virtually impossible to even wrap your mind around the complexity and the magnitude of the problem.

So anyways, I´m going on a downhill mountain bike riding trip tomorrow. I don´t know what to expect really but I’ve been told that you go down a very long vertical distance in a very short horizontal one. It costs $30 bucks for a whole day, bike rental, breakfast, transportation, snacks, lunch and dinner, helmets and a bus to follow behind the group with your gear. Pretty cool, eh?

Haha, I said Titticaca.

Well, with much reluctance, I had to leave Cuzco. I really liked it. Cheap food and hotels, cool stuff to do, nice bars, cool people, and a lot of personality. Instead of getting harassed by the kids, I bought some postcards and before they could come and badger me to buy them, I would tell them that I was selling postcards and they should buy them. I charged 7 soles for each one (they charge one each) and used all their own lines on them.

“No, you need a postcard from ME!”
“Maybe later?”
“For you, my friend, 6 soles.”

It got rid of them much quicker. Martin left the morning after our Cuzco drinking binge off to La Paz and we had planned to meet up in Copacabana in two days. I was planning on taking a bus the next day, but after a quick lunch (and a delicious one, at that), I realized that I would have to leave that very evening if I were to get there as planned. The bus ticket was 15 bucks for a 12 hour trip in a reclining sleeper chair on a double-decker bus. So I got my stuff packed, went out to dinner with Simon, Kat, and Erick (some friends I had made from the Inca Trail) and then headed off for the bus station. Once there, I got my ticket, sat around for a while and then, once boarded, I was on my way. On the bus, some lady was selling some chicken sandwiches and this English guy next to me (Nic) bought one (which takes quite the nerve). She went on blabbing at us for about 20 minutes before leaving and we finally got some sleep.

Invariably, however, the 12 hour bus ride ended up taking closer to 15 and we finally arrived in Copacabana in the afternoon. I must say, I am really fond of this town.

It is very small and very, very inexpensive to live here. I have had several meals so far, all of which have been less than $2.50 US for a bread, an appetizer, huge bowl of soup, the main course (I’m in love with the fresh garlic basted trout) and then dessert. I have my own room and bathroom, overlooking the lake, for $2.75 a night. I met up with Martin, and today, he, myself, and Nic (the guy from the bus) went to see the Pre-Incan ruins on the Sun Island off the coast of the lake. We hiked around for several hours after seeing the ruins and then headed back to shore. The trip cost us a whopping $3.00 for a 5 hour boat ride to and from the island. When we got back, we bought a few CD’s (about 7 for 6 bucks off some guy with a little booth on the side of the street) and went to get some dinner. They advertise free movies while you are eating at this one place, so we went in and after the waiter put in the movie, some furious German lady came storming over yelling at us for being so rude. She said that she came to this country to listen to the music at dinner and she would never behave in such a manner in a country she was visiting. I don’t think she realized that the waiter was the one who put the movie in for us and that we had no idea that she was listening to music (the DVD player was playing the music before) but she wouldn’t listen and stormed away.

Had she politely asked us if she could continue listening to the music, we would have gladly obliged – but since she was a total irrational bitch, we continued with the movie. As they say, the show must go on! I am still in dismay by her rudeness, but hey, that’s part of the fun of traveling.

Copacabana is very charming, and besides one specific German lady, I am really enjoying every aspect of it. Things seem to move very slowly here and it is very refreshing. Tomorrow, Martin and I head to La Paz after breakfast and I am excited to get out and see everything.

Wish me luck, can’t wait to see all that this place has to offer!

I forgot!

I forgot to recount one last funny story of Santa Cruz before I leave. So as I said in my last post, I went to this place called Samaipata in the mountains for the weekend. In the morning, everyone except me had a hangover from the previous night of drinking (and shooting bottles with slingshots and cooked corn as ammo) and eating (a lot). So Aldo and I decided to do a little hiking. He told me it was about 30 minutes to get to a point from which you could see the entire city so we set off. I get to the top in about 10 minutes, and in about 20, he shows up (he’s a little out of shape, so it seems) and we sit there for a while and he decides to turn back and I continue hiking. I climb up this trail up the side of this mountain/hill which looks more like a drainage path that anything, but I finally get to the top after about 30-40 minutes and take some awesome pictures. Then I’m hiking around on the top and decide to go back down the mountain a different way – right down the side of it, with canyons on either side (protected by barbed wire). There is no trail, so I am taking my time going down, jumping from rock to rock, knee deep in brush, and I finally get to the bottom where I think I can cross the little valley, but it’s too deep and I don’t think I can get out if I get in, so I go a little further, thinking that it will be easier, but then the barbed wire starts and that made it less appealing, so I go to the other side (the two canyons on either side kind of converge) and I can’t find a place so I start traversing back up and finally find a place where I can jump between two rocks over to the other side. Then I had to wiggle under some barbed wire to get to a trail and I’m walking in a forest of eucalyptus trees. I knew the house was a little higher, so I started hiking up this hill in this little forest of trees and I get to a dirt road, but I don’t know where the cabin is. So I wiggle under some more barbed wire to cut through this yard and when I get half-way through, three dogs start running after me barking and I turn around and run as fast as I can back to the gate and slide under the barbed wire – but my pants get caught on the wire and so I am frantically trying to get them undone. Luckily for me though, the dogs backed off (lazy Bolivian dogs…) and didn’t follow me all the way and so I’m standing there drenched in sweat still lost. So I hike higher hoping to see the house from a higher point and then finally find the trail back to the house and make it just in time for lunch (and a shower).

It was OUTTA control.

Goodbye, Santa Cruz

Well, it’s time to say goodbye to Santa Cruz. I leave for Peru tomorrow and will be returning to Bolivia soon on my way down to Argentina, but not to this region.

We just got back from a weekend trip to Samaipata, a small town in the mountains – away from the humidity and pollution. My buddy Aldo has a house up there and it was a weekend of relaxation, eating and drinking (as if there were anything else to do in Bolivia). The ride up was very interesting: a snake of a road with bits and pieces missing and a few signs before hand warning you to merely be careful (no joke, a sign says “be careful of the road” and about 100 feet later, there is a whole lane missing for about 10 feet, leaving a massive hole into the canyon below). Sometimes roads just disappear in Bolivia.

So what are my impressions on Santa Cruz? Well, there really isn’t that much to this town, although it is one of the biggest in Bolivia. Driving down the streets, you see the same things (stores, statues, markets, poor people) over and over again. Bolivia faces a big problem with being land locked (not having a coast with which they can easily import and export goods) and having a major portion of its population extremely poor and uneducated.

With ignorant and unhappy masses, civil unrest is always looming and this does not look good for foreign investors. The police are very corrupt here (you can buy yourself out of anything for anywhere from $6-$12 US and most of them don’t even have guns, for fear that they will sell them). People are very scared of crime here and there seems to be nothing here to protect them or prevent it. No one pays taxes here except big corporations, and that leads to anger and tax evasion, and leaves very little money for Santa Cruz (after the politicians have taken their cut). Santa Cruz is also very lacking in the customer service area – the products sell themselves (for whatever price you look like you will pay) and everything closes from 11-2 during lunch, even though that is when most people can go out to buy stuff. And after lunch, on the way back to work, you can always be sure you’ll see a guy relieving himself on the wall in front of a crowded intersection. It’s also very hot and humid here every day without rain about once or twice a week.

On the good side though, you can drink the water out of the tap (hey, that’s quite an accomplishment). I am very glad I got the opportunity to live here with a family and that I also got to work here.

When you are rich, the not so great things about this country aren’t really as prominent and when you are a traveler, you merely take note – they are more interesting than anything. This really is a different world. It is not until you get to really experience life in someone else’s shoes that you can even begin to understand their perspective. I won’t get this opportunity for the rest of my stay in South America, as I will only be spending a maximum of about 1-3 weeks in each of the countries I visit next, with leaves very little time in each city. And I will never forget the hospitality of the family that took me in and my buddy Nick. This has truly been an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.