More updates!

I promise this will turn back into a travel blog at some point, but there’s been a lot going on since arriving back in Zürich last week. 🙂

Aside from standard moving back to Switzerland stuff (eating lots of amazing Swiss bread and cheese, registering with the state, setting up health insurance, getting to know the temporary neighborhood (we’re lucky enough to have a place to stay for a couple of months while we sort ourselves out), visiting friends and family, apartment hunting, apartment hunting, apartment hunting and more apartment hunting), I’ve been prepping for a new job (!!!) that starts TOMORROW!

It’s corporate but seems promising in that it involves topics that I’m actually really interested in and in some convoluted way, it actually kind of ties in with this blog and aspects of what I love most about traveling. I’m really excited for it!

I will be writing loads more and plugging the heck out of it in a post later next week, but for now, I’m mostly wondering how I will manage to walk around in heels all day tomorrow after two and a half years of wearing mostly sneakers, flip flops and comfy boots! 🙂

With all the change that’s been going on, I’ve also updated the “about” section of this blog. Take a gander here.

Klutziness on the high seas and a resort review

So, now Roman is in Switzerland and I am in the States. Here in Connecticut, it’s the coldest week we’ve had all winter. We’re talking optimistic highs of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows much lower than that. The skies are clear and the sun is out with full force – everything outdoors is beautiful: frozen, brittle and glittery in the glare of the bright light. I’m happy to observe it from indoors and to let my mind wander back to the warmer climes we enjoyed in the Philippines.

Coral Bay: a retreat from the world

My last post on our time in the Philippines was about its capital city, Manila. We had a great few days there but our main objective in the Philippines was to get some beach time in, do some diving and r-e-l-a-x after our jam-packed time in China.

So our next destination after Manila was chosen very specifically with those goals in mind. We were heading to Coral Bay Dive & Beach Resort, an intimate, rustic resort on a wee island in the midst of an archipelago surrounded by beautiful blue ocean.

Back when we were actually there, I did a quick illustrated post on how to get there: Getting to Coral Bay

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 9.01.34 PMThis place is in the middle of nowhere; the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was a cast away on a deserted isle. Popototan Island, where Coral Bay is located, is inhabited only by the resort staff and by one seclusion-loving European in a private home. Most of the islands in the area are uninhabited.

Here’s the link to the map – you can click and zoom out to see just how small this island is!

Being so far from anything, the resort is by necessity – and by choice – a bit rustic.

DSC_0115Accommodation is in the form of simple bamboo huts furnished with the basics – a bed with mosquito netting, bedside tables and lamps, a basic bathroom, a balcony with a hammock. There is a generator that supplies electricity from 6 at night to 6 in the morning. Water for showers is not heated. Hearty, home cooked food is available, buffet style, at prescribed times in the open-air restaurant. WiFi is available in the resort’s office only: the goal of this place is to provide its guests with a chance to unplug and appreciate the spectacular surrounding nature.

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Aside from spending all day in a hammock by the water, Coral Bay offers activities: snorkeling, kayaking, island hopping and diving. The snorkeling is one of the place’s best features. Grab the gear from the dive center, hop off the pier, swim a few yards and you’ll be floating above the resort’s private and pristine reef, where thousands of beautiful creatures make their home. Roman and I did this nearly every day we weren’t diving. Floating peacefully just above the fish, clams, anemones and corals all doing their thing – it’s just magic!

Not a great shot, but this is one of the resident lion fish hanging out by t he dock

Not a great shot, but this is one of the resident lion fish hanging out by t he dock

For my personal preference, the cottages could have been a bit better furnished – the bed and seating weren’t as comfortable as would have liked. And the food was a bit on the stodgy side for my taste – very carb and meat heavy and a somewhat limited selection. But this was the case for us everywhere in the Philippines. This country is NOT known for healthy eats… On the balance though, the minor discomforts were well worth the chance to spend time surrounded by so much beauty!

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Moments I want to remember

It’s been a walk down memory lane going through my photos from our stay at Coral Bay. Since these things fade over time I want to make sure I get them down in writing now. 🙂

– We arrived from Manila at Coron, the only town on the big island “closest” to Popototan. We had time to kill before our boat for Coral Bay was leaving, so we got to wander the town, have a snack at a cute little restaurant, and check out the local marketplace. Always one of my favorite things to do. Coron was teeny tiny, sweet and welcoming in the warm sunshine. I wouldn’t mind going back some day to get to know it better! 🙂 Here are some of my favorite photos from our short visit there.

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– One of our first nights at the resort, Roman and I went to the dock to look at an inky black sky strewn with a thousand stars. Suddenly, the hotel’s generator broke down, and everything was cast into total darkness except the glimmering stars above. Looking at the water below, we noticed that there were little lights flitting about – fish with phosphorescence no doubt! We ran our hands through the water below the dock and little specks of glowing lights trailed behind our fingers. Nature lighting up the heavens above and the waters below!

Coral Bay's mangroves at night

Coral Bay’s mangroves at night

P1050721– We were on the island for Thanksgiving. One of my friends emailed and suggested we share photos of our turkey-day grub with each other. So me, my friend in Atlanta and my friend in Poland were together in spirit. And that day, the buffet had roast chicken and potato on the menu – probably as close as I would have come to Turkey and mashed potatoes anywhere in the Philippines anyway. 🙂

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– I loved the silence on the island. No traffic, no TV, no machinery, meant lots of space for the sounds of nature. Every night, once the sun had set, there was a slow-paced concert put on by the local geckos which was just awesome. Check out what it sounds like in this post: Interlude from the Philippines: Sounds of Coral Bay

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No pictures of this memory, thank God!

We did a bunch of dives while we were at Coral Bay. It was my first time ever wreck diving. Things seemed pretty relaxed in the Philippines; I’m not sure we were technically allowed to do wreck dives with our open-water certification. The dives could have possibly been a bit more professional, but we still had a great time and it was a good experience.

Batfish lingering around a wreck

Batfish lingering around a wreck

I had some challenges with the diving (I did a post about it when we were there: Paradise surrendered: lessons from the sea) but once I got past those it was a great time – aside from my klutziness, one more my less admirable characteristics that comes to the fore from time to time.

Somehow on the day in question I had equal parts luck and klutziness going with me which was definitely a good thing or else I may have gotten swept out to sea!

During the first dive of the day I managed to somehow dislodge one of my flippers. The thing disappeared and no amount of searching the area around the wreck was able to produce any trace of it. So I spent the dive swimming lopsided and wondering what sort of insane fee we would have to pay for losing the hotel’s gear. Happily though, the flipper had floated to the surface just next to our boat and one of the crew had rescued it. Win number one!

The bigger fail/win came on the trip back to the resort.

We were on a small boat. It was simple but I assumed it was pretty sturdy. After a day of diving, we were relaxing, watching the horizon as the sky changed colors in advance of the sunset. I borrowed Roman’s camera to take a few snaps. I walked to the prow of the boat for a better view. Trying to get the optimal angle, I leaned against a beam – not realizing that the piece of bamboo was being held in place only by the canvas roof bracing it against the bottom of the boat.

Was the shot worth it? Awesome storm clouds over an island

Was the shot worth it? Awesome storm clouds over an island

I guess I leaned too hard, because the next thing I knew, I was toppling over. My feet flew above my head, my torso plunged over the side towards the water speeding below, and my hands grasped! In some sort of divine instinct, they found their marks, and I managed to grab hold of Roman’s tumbling camera in one hand and a bit of thin rope that – thank God – was securely attached to the ship in the other. The camera and my head stopped thanks to my hold on that rope about five inches above the water and the crew ran forward and hoisted me back onto the boat.

My sarong had dipped into the salty brine, I had a rope burn on my left hand (I still have a slight scar from it today, over a year later) and my dignity might as well have been flung overboard too. The sarong that I’d been wrapped in flew over my head as I fell I have an awful mental image of my pale, flabby body in a bright green bikini flopping around for all the crew to see – poor guys!! But I escaped an unplanned dip in the ocean, or worse, and I even managed to save Roman’s camera. So I guess that’s a fair trade off for being embarrassed to the point of utter mortification!

Full circle

I don’t have anything insightful to write. Only I want to make sure I mark the date.

Today is January 17th. Actually, by the time I post this, it’ll technically be the 18th, which is Roman’s last day in the US. His last day of our epic journey.

After ten weeks and two days driving a rather lopsided oval through the United States of America, we’re back where we started – that is, my childhood home, staying at my parents’ house in Connecticut.

US Road Trip

We’ve been here for coming up on two weeks now. When hit the road to head west back in the Fall, we were still fresh from our Southern Hemisphere adventures. Australia, New Zealand. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Galapagos. What an awesome hemisphere!!

And exactly a year ago today, we were here in Connecticut as well, still reeling, trying to get our heads and hearts around the jam-packed 15 months of travel through fabulous Asia.

Two years ago today, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we were trying – there as well – to get our heads and hearts around all we’d just experienced in our three months in India – the spectacular first stop of our grand odyssey.

Tomorrow, I’m driving Roman to the airport, where he’ll head to his first (my second) home – Switzerland – for the first time in 850 days. That’s well over two years since he left Zurich, since he’s seen his family and friends, since we’ve covered all this ground and since we’ve made a third home of the world in general. Why be a citizen of just one country when this whole planet has so much to offer?

That being said, I’ll follow him to Switzerland in a month or two and am lucky and grateful that we have a chance to try and make that particular corner of Earth home again.

Although at the moment, I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like or feel like.

Mostly, I’m focusing on helping Roman pack and tomorrow’s coming goodbye and wondering what it’s going to be like for him to take those first steps in the Zurich airport, to see his mom and step-dad waiting for him, to smell that distinct, familiar and oh-so-comforting Swiss air as they drive away from the airport.

But when I stop and think about our huge road trip, about where we were a year ago, and two years ago, about all that we’ve seen and done, I do get rather bowled over by it all. Hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more articulate about it all at some point once I’ve been able to digest it a bit better.

For now though, I think it’s bedtime. There’s one more flight yet before the Journey’s over.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

At a pooja in India

At a pooja in India

Zip lining in Thailand

Zip lining in Thailand

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Chilean desert!

Chilean desert!

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

Galapagos!

Galapagos!

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Holidays on the road

The year is almost out. The last time I wrote, Christmas and my birthday and nearly the whole month of December on the road was still to come.

Now it’s a rain-drenched night in Nashville where I’m sitting and tomorrow morning we leave for our final destination of this month/year (nearly the final destination of our road trip – of our epic journey – but that’s a though for another day), where we’ll ring in the arrival of 2013 holed up in a cabin in the Virginia woods, cut off from internet and, most likely, cell phone reception, where I plan to watch movies with Roman, cook, eat, nap, read, sit by the wood stove, nap, write if I get ambitious, walk if the weather cooperates and nap some more.

And it’s not a moment too soon.

The past month has been AWESOME.

December first saw us leaving San Fran for a couple days on the pacific coastal highway. Then there were all the dear friends we got to spend time with in LA. A rollicking drive through twilit Death Valley to a surreal stint in Las Vegas. Zion National Park. Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon.

DSC_0738a rare bit of sun along the pacific highway

DSC_0837Seasons greetings from Disney on the “It’s a Small World” ride

DSC_0951Rodeo drive all blinged out and sparkly for Christmas

DSC_0381Las Vegas’ take on the holiday spirit….

DSC_0798Zion for my birthday! 😀

DSC_0295Stunning Monument Valley

DSC_0867We visited the Canyon on a snowy, blustery, cloud covered and beautiful day

DSC_0944In the canyon

Reconnecting with my most favorite friend from college in Phoenix. Meeting her husband for the first time. Less than 24 hours in Santa Fe. A long drive to Amarillo, Texas for a surprisingly snowy and bitterly cold Christmas.

DSC_0040Christmas lights and cacti in Phoenix

DSC_0421Ceramic Santas in Santa Fe

Oh, and we got to watch the Hobbit in 3-D Imax at the movie theater next to our hotel – one of two places we could find in Amarillo that were actually open for Christmas. The other being the Big Texan, home of the 72 ounce steak, where we out of necessity and an appreciation for the kitsch factor ate dinner both nights we were there.

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And finally, two long days of post-Texas driving changed the landscape dramatically and brought us to Arkansas and now Nashville.

We’ve been on the road trip for just over nine weeks now. In the month of December alone, we covered 9 states, made 11 stops, spent time with lots of people I love dearly, saw lots of new stuff. And now I am TIRED.

This afternoon I crashed. We’d gone to see Jack White’s Third Man Records. I was so excited to be there. I took bunches of pictures, chatted with the friendly lady working the counter, fed the automaton monkey band a quarter so they would play a White Stripes jam.

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All smiles. Then I headed out of the studio door and walked head first into a big fat wall of grumpiness.

Suddenly I was just done. At the moment, there’s not a single thing more I want to look at, hotel I want to research or book, place I want to go, history or natural wonder I want to ponder or regional specialty I want to eat. Sometimes with travel this happens. You just get full up. Any drop more would simply be too much.

I’ve been watching sit coms in a horizontal state in the hotel room all night and it seems to have helped – I’m over the grumps at this point. But I’m still SO glad it worked out (in the last minute!) to rent this cabin that – from the looks on google map – is pretty much literally in the middle of no where. There will be nothing to do but chill. I mean, the closest Starbucks is an hour and a half away! 😉

And that’s exactly what I need. A few days to digest all that the past month – two months really – has been. And a few days during which the future – 2013 and the end of the trip both – can wait.

I hope December has been good to everyone out there. Once I have space to think again, boy will I be excited to see what 2013 brings. 🙂 Happy New Year everyone!!

Looking for America

Where’s she been?

Time has passed – nearly a month since my last post. As always happens, I get easily, wonderfully distracted when I’m in my hometown. There’s never enough time with friends and family and, knowing that, I greedily try to fit in as much as I can every visit, which means that most other things fall to the wayside. Like the blog. So what was meant to be loads of posts catching up on the last 10 months of travel has ended up as simply silence and now Roman and I are on the go again!

So this is an unofficial announcement to say that I will keep endeavoring (begin again to endeavor?) to catch up on past travel even as we are plunging into our final chapter of the big trip: the US road trip. Expect the usual mish-mash of what ever I feel like writing about. 😉

Hope for the United States

 

Prior to this final chapter of our big trip, we’ve spent months and months and months exploring countries and continents I’ve never been to before. Asia, Australia, South America. Cultures and places I had assumptions, dreams, ideas about, but places I really didn’t know. Places that amazed, confounded, surprised and enchanted me.

Not a single country we visited ever matched the picture I had for it in my head. Places I was nervous about, that seemed so foreign and intimidating from the place I was sitting before arriving – my assumptions on the outside – never ever lived up to any of my projected fears or disappointments. I loved the transformation a location would undergo – from unknown fantasy to something real and much more complex and amazing than I could have ever expected.

Traveling mostly in developing countries has changed my perception and projection about my home country, the US, as well. (For example after traveling in South America, I’m allergic to calling it “America”, since of course that could refer to South, Middle or North, and none of those places are the country of the United States.)

Seeing the States more and more from a global perspective, I have to say, I have developed a huge chip on my shoulder about the place. Returning here after all this travel, I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with my own country.

US history was always one of my favorite topics in school. I have a romantic view of our genesis story, the founding fathers amaze me to this day and I can get teary-eyed-patriotic thinking about the declaration of independence and the bill of rights.

But, after being welcomed with open arms in so many places, I hate how unwelcoming, bordering on hostile, we are to foreign visitors (at least at JFK airport! It is the pits!). I despair over our arrogant stance on the world stage. Watching the debates on TV as the presidential election cycle reaches its apex makes me heartsick.

I was really apprehensive when we traveled to China. Based on its rep on the world street, I thought I wouldn’t like it very much and I braced myself for disappointment. It ended up being one of my favorite countries.

I’m a slow learner sometimes but I have been through this enough with the travel now to dare to hope that this road trip might heal my broken heart. A country’s current politics and foreign policies is NOT its people. It’s not its landscapes, its cities, or its history. It’s not its essence or its soul.

I arrived in China nervous because of everything I’d read about the country in the news; I left having fell completely for its incredible nature, it’s unique people and its rich culture. If China can transform completely for me in two months, I think I stand a chance of rediscovering plenty to love about the US again too. Here’s hoping anyway! 😉

Victory lap!

There’s more to this leg of the trip too. Roman and I will be driving a big loop through this country, from the east to the west coast and back again. There’s plenty of “big stuff” we want to see – famous cities and some of the typical tourist sites.

But for me I’ll also be reconnecting with some of my dearest friends in the US, some of whom I’ve not seen for years and years.

So after all we’ve seen and done out there in the world, this last bit of travel is really feeling like the icing on the cake for me. Such a big treat. Driving at our own pace, in a culture I’ve grown up with but in a country I’ve been longing to explore for ages, and on top of that, I’ll get to spend time with people I adore. Am feeling tremendously grateful at the moment.

Just a moment

(Back on the mainland! Will get back to the Asia catch up in my next post, but first, this…)

It’s my last night in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve just left the Galapagos Islands, where, if we’d faced north and the wind cooperated, we could have spit and just about hit the equator.

Tomorrow morning, pretty much six months to the day we flew from Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving for the first time ever on the under side of the world, I’ll be boarding a plane that will fly me north, north, north, well above the equator, for the final leg of this grand travel adventure.

Aside from how I feel about this flight escorting me to the final chapter of travel, I’m a bit verklempt about leaving this magical hemisphere that’s been gracious enough to share some of its riches with us this half year. Experiencing winter in (what for me is normally) summer, seeing old friends, making new ones, encountering amazing animals up close and personal, learning a bit of Spanish, getting into a deeper groove of traveling with Roman and finding so much to share, to delight in, to laugh over together…

There’s so much to write about, to record before the memories start to slip from my consciousness, but for now I just want to remember this moment of gratitude for the Southern Hemisphere.

¡Gracias y besos!

A wobbly view of the Southern Cross above a store roof in Peru. I’ll miss the southern hemisphere constellations!

Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

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It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

Glimpses of rural life on Titicaca

We’ve been in Peru for five days now already!

We arrived in the southerly city of Puno from La Paz, Bolivia, after a scenic but precariously windy (precarious for my stomach, that is) bus ride skirting the magnificent lake Titicaca.

We’ve done some of the touristy stuff, (and there is plenty of it – Titicaca is the second major tourist destination in Peru after Machu Picchu) since arriving in Puno, but starting yesterday we managed to get off the beaten track a bit with an overnight tour with Cedesos, an NGO in the area that works with local communities to develop sustainable tourism.

We were able to see LOTS in our jam-packed two days (and I’ll write more about all of it and Cedesos in a later post), but the juicy filling in our Titicaca-tour-sandwich was a home stay on the Chucuito peninsula.

This is Cedesos’ map – hope they don’t mind me using it. 🙂

Chucuito is home to a handful of small farming communities. We visited Karina, a village of about 80 families, located directly on the shores of Titicaca.

We stayed with the Fernández family. Efraín and his wife Tomasa are born and raised in Karina. They have seven children. The three youngest sons are still living at home although the older two will soon leave to study and work.

Like most of the families in Karina, they are subsistence farmers. They work so they can eat and live – growing crops, keeping livestock, fishing, weaving, knitting. They produce a lean excess that is sold for a profit, but mostly what they grow is what they eat.

Tourism in the area is about three years old. Efraín is the head of the tourism association in Karina. Eleven families are prepared to receive guests for over night visits. Working with Cedesos and a few other organizations, the association manages the reception of outsiders to the community and makes sure that all the families participating get a chance to play host.

Efraín is enthusiastic about his role with hospitality development in Karina, and it seems clear that the additional industry provides a welcome financial boost to the participating families. As far as we could tell, opening to tourism seemed well-balanced and positive for Karina. It certainly was a positive experience for us!

Learning some basic farming techniques, helping in the kitchen, eating food grown in the Fernández’s backyard, warming ourselves around a dried-cow-poop fire under a starry sky while listening to local ghost stories, experiencing the first rain marking the end of the dry season, sleeping under blankets hand-woven from wool from the family’s sheep, hiking to an Incan funerary tower, and simply spending time with the family – the short visit was so full!

Geraniums grow outside our room

Decorations over the entrance of the house

Tomasa showing me how to separate wheat from chaff

Efraín and Tomasa gathering wheat

Delicious home made fried bread for breakfast (made from home grown, hand prepared flour)

The boys caught a huge trout in the family’s net – seven kilos! Efraín was so excited!

Everyone has to pose with the fish.

During the hike to the Incan tower, Efraín explained some of the local plants to us. This one is crushed to produce soap, used for laundry and as shampoo.

Efraín taking in the view

Telling us about a dream he had in which the Incas of the lake were calling to him. Apparently this is a phenomenon that occurs in the area; people have been known to sleepwalk into the lake and drown. Drunks sometimes “see” a city on the lake and walk towards it, meeting the same fate. Efraín was able to realize what was happening in his dream and woke up before anything happened, but he said it’s dangerous to nap too close to the water.

This cactus helps locals with their farming. Efraín explained that because the cactus had grown so close to the ground, the season would be late this year, but the vibrancy of the flowers means the crops will be good.

Looking down on a farm in the valley

A view of Karina from the hill

Efraín explained that locals believe this plant is good against epilepsy.

A boy brings his cows to the lake shore for a drink

Outhouse

One of Efraín’s sons helps clean and prepare nets for fishing

Some of the family’s quinoa crop

Efraín seems pretty proud of his donkey!

This is a special breed of corn that has adapted to grow in Titicaca’s high altitude and challenging climate

A neighbor milking her cow

Tomasa’s skirts drying on the roof

The back door (made from a what I suspect might be a flattened oil drum) to the house. The tire is apparently on the roof to help against lightning.

Saying goodbye

Breathless in Bolivia

Greetings from La Paz, the seat of Bolivia’s government and, at an elevation of around 3,650 meters/11,975 feet, the world’s highest de facto capital city! Phew!

We’re both literally and figuratively out of breath. We’re having a whirlwind journey through Bolivia. We’re only in the country for a week (if we manage to book the bus ticket that we are hoping to this afternoon, that is. Fingers crossed!).

The trip that took us from the edge of Chile and through the barren, rugged and mind-blowing landscapes of Bolivia’s southwestern corner was, in a word, awesome. Three jam-packed but peaceful days. Time got stretchy. We saw SO much, but also managed to just sit and attempt to absorb the mind-bending vastness and awesomeness of nature.

This map is actually oriented west-east, instead of south-north, but I like it cause it gives you a sense of the altitude. 🙂 Source: http://www.boliviabella.com/geography.html

We’ve been battling colds and dryness and dust and the altitude. Nothing like a few extra thousand meters to make a girl REALLY feel out of shape. 😉 The temperature shifts in the elevated desert have been extreme and I’ve actually had to wear MORE layers than I did when we were down in Patagonia and Tierre del Fuego, relatively close to the South Pole. Roman makes fun of me but if it takes three layers of pants, four pairs of socks and as many shirts as I can while maintaining a degree of mobility to keep warm, that’s what I’m gonna be wearing. Yes, I am a wimp. 🙂

Mostly we’ve been laughing about the insanity of it all, including the truly insane amount of tissues we have been and still are going through a day. Gross. 😉

An overnight bus ride from the dusty town of Uyuni dropped us off at La Paz early yesterday morning. I’m quickly and easily falling for this small, scrappy city, clinging defiantly to the rugged mountain peaks. I’m grateful that we have at least a bit of time here.

Tons to write about (as per usual……), but not today – it’s our only full day in La Paz and we have loads to see and do. If all goes well we will be in Peru by tomorrow night.

But I will take advantage of having internet again to share these few photos from our time in the desert. These are some of my panoramic shots, so click for a larger view. See why I’m in awe? 🙂

 

A quick “where we’ve been, where we’re going” post

And suddenly here we are at the end of our time in Chile. It feels like just yesterday that we were crossing the border from Argentina on refrigerator posing as a bus down in Tierra del Fuego, but we’ve been in Chile for over a month now already.

It’s been a full time, and the past days have been among the busiest. We’ve been rambling all around Atacama, the massive (we’re talking 40,600 square miles massive) plateau desert in northern Chile. The driest desert in the world. A place of extreme and harsh and incredibly beautiful nature. It’s been just awesome, and a lot to take in. The vastness of this place, the isolation, the stark beauty. The immense valleys that grow to sky scraping mountain and volcanic peaks in the far distance. The endless sky. The powerful sun that roasts us even as the chill of morning lingers in the shadows. The clarity of light and sound in the dry, clear air. The milky way swirling above our heads at night.

We’ve done and seen as much as we could fit into our time here without totally exhausting ourselves before our next adventure – Uyuni.

We are leaving Chile for a quick foray into Bolivia. We opted to travel to Peru overland, rather than by plane (would have involved returning to Santiago), and going through Bolivia seems like a good way to do it.

We’ll be leaving the extremes of Atacama for another insane and awesome environment – the world’s largest salt flat. We’re going with a driver and the journey from here in San Pedro de Atacama to the town of Uyuni, not far from the flats in Bolivia, is going to be three days of travel with what promises to be rough conditions. Basic accommodation and nights that go down to about -10 degrees Celsius/14 degrees Fahrenheit. This may require even more layers than Patagonia! 🙂

There’s loads more I want to share about Atacama when I have time, but until then, here are just some visual impressions from our time in this amazing place: