Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I am thinking again (surprise!)

The recent taxi story I just posted has got me thinking, how convenient is it that I'm a guy and that I can do things like argue violently with the locals at 5:30am?

Imagine if Charlotte was by herself. Would she have argued with the man for $1 instead of just paying up? Would she have even taken a ride from a random car at 5am in a city she just arrived in? Charlotte weighs like 110 pounds and isn't exactly muscular although can be very tenacious.

It's amazing what size and male genitalia buys you sometimes when traveling. There are many situations where the situation is ok only because of who I am. I have more freedom in some ways just because I'm a guy.


The town in the day was far different than our impression with the taxi guy at night. The area reminds me of a old western cowboy town, but with Bolivian buildings of course.

Most people seem content to sit around in the sun and relax or sell their goods, whether it be food, gifts, or household goods.

There are quite a few gringos in the area planning their trips to Salar just like we did yesterday.

We had about 4 ice cream cones each for about a dollar total throughout the day. We sat around in the sun. I blogged while Charlotte wrote in her diary.

We walked around to several travel agencies asking about prices and itineraries for Salar. I mad a call to a bank in the states because I lost one of my ATM cards a couple days ago to cancel it.

Right before we got some amazing pizza for dinner at Minuteman, we booked our trip to Salar with a travel agency called Andes Salt Expeditions. It's got one of the best reputations on the internet. The cost was $85 for 3 days and 2 nights but we decided it's probably worth it to pay a little more and hopefully get a better experience out of it, because there are a lot of bad stories from people about Salar trips gone wrong (bad food, bad vehicles, freezing at night, that sort of thing).

So this morning I am getting ready for 3 days of sun, salt, lagoons, rock formations, and hot springs. We are headed out at 10:30 and when the trip is over I will be in Chile again in a city called San Pedro de Atacama.

I chose to exit into Chile so that I can take Chilean busses back up to Cuzco for 3x the money and be done with Bolivian ones. Trust me, it's worth the money. :)

Bolivian wake up calls

Today in Uyuni I am waking up to the sounds of the military band practicing over the wall from our hotel room and extremely bright sunlight coming through the window right into my eyes.

I couldn't take a picture of the music but those are our windows. Conveniently no blinds or curtains, and so I can only go inside my covers and throw the blankets over my head.

Sunblock will be needed over the next few days for sure.

(Almost a) taxi fight

We arrived yesterday morning at 5am off the night bus from Potosi in Uyuni. Uyuni is where the great salt flats are located and where we will be starting our tour.

When we got off the bus, it was SO freakin' cold. Seriously what a change from Potosi. It's warm during the day when the sun is out but once that starts going down it's like being in Moscow. It's extremely dry here as well, but if there were any precipitation in the night it would be snow for sure.

Back to the story: we get off the bus and try to get our bearings. There are no taxis at that time. We walk around the corner looking for some kind of vehicle (there are many unofficial taxi vultures in Bolivia) and find a guy driving through that stops and offers us a ride to our hotel.

We tell him we want to go to Hotel Avenida and we ask how much. He says $1.50. That's a lot because I know the city is small but it's 5am and I'm about to cry from the cold so we say yes and get in. Normally we should have only paid like $0.50, to give you an estimate.

We get to the front of the hotel, Charlotte asked the driver to wait while I went to the door and asked if there's any room. An old lady opened a tiny square door at eye level when I rang the doorbell. She said hi and told me there's no room left.

So I got back into the taxi and we asked the driver to take us to another hotel that is less than half the distance of the first drive from the bus station to the first hotel. We're talking like 300 meters here.

When we got there, I rang the bell again and asked for a room. The lady told us there is room so we unpacked our bags from the car and the taxi driver asks for $3. We're like "what?". That's just way too much. $2 is the price of a 3 course dinner at the central market.

I argued with him that it was too much while Charlotte took her bags inside the hotel. I pulled out $2 to give the man for driving us to 2 places. He kept arguing with me that it was 2 trips for 2 people so I owe him $3 which is double of the original $1.50. I knew that was just bullshit so I just gave him the $2 and started picking up my bags to head inside.

He continued to tell me I owe him another $1. I was starting to get impatient. I told him a solid "no" and picked up my last bag, which he grabbed and tried to pull away from me.

We were playing bag grabbies at this point. I was slowly dragging him toward the hotel door. He was a decent sized guy but he wasn't going to be able to compete with me in a physical match.

I told him to let go. He was yelling at me to pay up. We were playing tug of war with my spare bag that contained alpaca hats in it.

I lost my patience after about 10 seconds of struggle. I realized I was going to have to beat his ass, so I started putting my big bag down inside the hotel entranceway and then my backpack.

My plan was to drag him into the hotel foyer and then take him down and then ask for the police, but right when I was about to tug him into the hotel he suddenly let go and walked right to his taxi without a word, put the car in drive and left. Not another word from him. Like it was all a show.

So then I realized he probably does this bullshit with every tourist that might get intimidated enough to pay up without wanting to fight at 5:30 in the morning, but it's not worth $1 to him to get his ass beaten.

I'm so glad I didn't pay the extra dollar to the scamming coward. I think it would have been fun to have an excuse to kick somebody's ass but I guess it's better that no actual violence happened.

We had to wait until 6:30 in the foyer for our hotel room so that we didn't have to pay for 2 nights. That was 1 very cold hour even though my adrenaline was pumping for a while.

Charlotte was so cold and tired (physically) she had been talking to the hotel lady asking about the room, so I don't think she realized how close I came to kicking him in self defense, which in restrospect, was kind of a funny situation. After the guy left and while I was thinking about what just happened, she said to me, "we have to wait until 6:30 for the room."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

10 year old waiter

I was served beer by a kid today in Uyuni. Like, literally a kid. He would stop at a table and do homework in between serving the different tables in the restaurant.

I wish I could have helped him with his homework.


Yesterday we took a pit stop in Potosi for the day on the way to Uyuni.

We stopped there to visit the local mines nearby. We left on the 7am bus from Sucre and arrived at 11am to hunt down travel agencies that were providing tours in the afternoon.

We were not planning to stay any nights in Potosi, so we just wanted a couple hours to see the mine and get out. We had heard that Potosi was not that interesting of a city in itself, although for some reason it is a Unesco world heritage site. (We never figured out why, Sucre is much more beautiful)

We did get several ice creams from the walking vendors in the city's main plaza. They were only 14 cents each but the ice cream tasted too watery and they were small. But my ice cream craving is hard to satify.

We walked to the convent nearby to see the inside but it happened to be closed during the hours that we were there, so we could only stare at it from the outside. I've heard that in Peru and Bolivia (and it may be the case everywhere) that the women who are in the convents are basically in that building for life (like a voluntary jail) and live out the rest of their lives there for the sake of god and humanity.

I think that's crazy.

Got new sunnies in La Paz

These are actually halfway decent.

Cost: $5

Picture taken on the streets of Uyuni, Bolivia.

Museum of Contemporary Art in La Paz

Charlotte and I visited this museum on our 2nd full day of La Paz along with half of the city on a long walk.

The paintings and sculptures in this place were beautiful, but it was more of a gallery than a museum. Most of the items on display were for sale from local artists in the area.

I really enjoyed the artwork in this place, such as the one you see in the picture above. Seems that my choice in art meshes with the Bolivian opinion.

They had also purchased quite a few works of art from other countries, including a original looking bronze sculpture from Remington Steele of the famous cowboy on a raised horse pose. I was surprised to see that there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pink toilet paper

Yup. The toilet paper in Bolivia is pink. Don't ask me why. It just is. Maybe it makes the bathroom smell better?

Vino Caliente

I drank this glass of hot wine in Puno the second night while ordering a small pizza for myself. It was super tasty. It had orange juice in it even!

Cost: $1.50

Semana Santa

In an earlier blog post from Lima I wrote that the holiday "Semana Santa" in Peru probably had something to do with Easter. Well that was exactly what it was, except in Peru they celebrate all week long. Semana means "week" and Santa means "saint" in Spanish.

I watched Peruvians celebrate Semana Santa from Lima and then from Cuzco. Both places were alive and kicking in the most central parts of the cities. Each had a Plaza de Armas that had lots of people in it during the daytime shopping, walking around, socializing, and eating food off the vendors. Both plazas had a large cathedral where parades were held in honor of Easter with people carrying large models of Jesus on the cross and other religious stuff like that.

In Cuzco, I watched hundreds of dancers in the parade wearing traditional clothes dancing along. I took a short video to remind myself later of what I saw. I felt pretty special having witnessed this event because it´s supposedly one of the biggest celebrations in Peru every year, which I found out after I read my lonelyplanet book.

Picture of my skin wound

Here´s my wound from the Death Road. I was the only person who got hurt on the ride down, so I think that makes me special?

It´s already healing pretty well. There was a bruise under it that was a little painful but that´s going away too.

The Death Road

There´s a road here in Bolivia from La Paz called ¨El Camino de la Muerta¨ which basically means the road of death. It´s a bit outside the city and heads into the Bolivian jungle. The name comes from the fact that it has been dubbed the most dangerous road in the world by some public agency a couple of years ago. It´s basically almost all downhill and it includes dropoffs of about 600m off the side if you happen to be so unlucky and fall off.

At the top of the hill where the ride starts, there´s a sign that states that 43 people have died so far this year on the road. That´s quite a lot for a 2 lane mountain pass. haha

From La Paz, you can book a ride downhill on this road for 65km. I did this a couple of days ago and would have been completely fine except my back tire had 2 flats. When the 2nd flat happened, they decided to change bicycles for me temporarily until we reached a resting point to fix the flat tire on my bike. Well, I was stupid at that time and forgot that not every bike is the same, and so instead of learning to gauge the new brake system, I pulled on it on a turn hard like I needed to with the first bike and slid out. The rear tire went under my body and I ended up sliding on my right forearm for a couple of feet, which was enough to scrape up my arm pretty good. I´ll show you guys the picture on the next blog post when I upload it from my phone.

I had so much adrenaline pumping through me that the wound didn´t even hurt at first. There was a small flap of skin on my arm where it went in deeper but that´s about as bad as it gets. After we finished the trail down, I put some alcohol on the wound to clean it and that hurt like HELL. I almost had to scream as I applied the alcohol on myself.

Overall though, the ride was exhilarating and the view was amazing too. Sometimes the road got pretty darn narrow and there was fog blocking the view and so it felt pretty dangerous but of course I did it anyway, like always. I took some cool pictures and after I upload those I will display them on here, like always.

Because of my lack of planning on Bolivia, I didn´t even know this road existed until I got on the bus to La Paz and met Charlotte. She told me she was going to do this tour and so I basically joined her on the fun. It sounded somewhat dangerous, mildly expensive, and adrenaline filled so I couldn´t say no.

Something very funny happened about halfway down the hill. Charlotte somehow lost the nut and bolt that was holding her seat to the bike frame, and so her bike seat just fell off in the middle of the ride. To come down behind her and watch the staff picking up the seat and bar off the ground and looking for the missing screw was simply hilarious.

If you want to read a little bit about the road, you can click here.

Light electrocution never hurt anyone

There has been quite a range of shower quality here in South America in the hostels and hotels that I´ve stayed in. One time I saw a metal pipe coming out from a wall horizontally that just leaked out water when you turned on the water. They called that a shower in Bolivia.

A lot of the showers in South America have small electronic heater systems attached to the faucet end where the water comes out. Because they are electronic though, they require power from the wall and so they have electric lines tracing along the shower pipe all the way to the end where the water comes out.

I don´t know exactly why this happens, but they have installed these water heaters in a way that whenever you touch the knob to turn the water on or off, you get a mild shock of electricity running through your body. The only way to prevent it is to stand on the little rubber mats they give you on the shower tile floor so that you don´t slip. That way, no electricity runs through your body and into the floor.

It´s crazy in a way but also stupid too. I think it´s because they haven´t properly grounded the electric charge but I guess they don´t feel they need to either. I´m surprised I haven´t been electrocuted yet while showering. But hey, maybe it won´t do anything even if I did since I´ve already been sort of hit by lightning once in Manaus.

Lost a couple of things

2 days ago I went out to a bar in La Paz with a friend named Charlotte (Canada) that I had met on the bus ride into La Paz from Copacabana.

The ratio of foreigner to local in the bar was 50-50, so I sorta felt safe enough to leave my black polyester shell jacket on one of the tables while I was dancing. It was there for most of the night (I checked frequently) but at the end when we were leaving, I forgot to pick it up and about 5 minutes into the cab ride home, I remembered that I had left it. I went back to pick it up and it was already gone. *sigh*

It was a loss but not a big loss. I don´t think I will need that inner shell anymore except maybe in Cusco and Machu Picchu, but I have a sweater and a long sleeve shirt that I can layer under my green jacket instead for temporary purposes. The black jacket had already sort of been ruined by some inconsiderate laundry service in another country somewhere. It was stretched to the point where it looked too big and awkward on me and if I had gotten home with it I would have donated it to somebody instead of putting it on.

Yesterday I was walking around Sucre with Charlotte and ordered some ice cream to eat on a picnic bench. I had found an ice cream flavor named ¨durazno¨, thought it was peach, and wanted to look it up in my english-spanish phrasebook that Yan had let me borrow. I looked up the word and then must have left it on the bench when I got up because I went back to find it a little bit later and it was gone :( This one was a sizable loss because Yan had given it to me as a gift and it meant a lot to me.

Not only just that, right now I don´t have a dictionary to use until I get back to Lima and find a store that sells that sort of book. I don´t want just a cheap small dictionary, I want a book that will help me learn some grammar too.


is what I had to pay when I entered Bolivia in Copacabana because I was American. I was the only person on my bus that had to pay it. No other Americans on my 50 person backpacker bus was from the states. I think we know why now :) I´m guessing the $135 is just like Chile´s ¨reciprocity¨ fee of $131 that they force us to pay because we charge them that much just to turn in a visa application for the United States. That would be the reason why there´s hardly any Bolivians in the US too. $135 for a typical Bolivian is about 2 week´s worth of wages.

I had only $110 in American dollars in my money bag and not enough Bolivianos, and so I had to complete the other $25 by handing over most of the leftover Peruvian Soles that I had as well. I´m lucky I had those because otherwise I don´t know what else I would have done.

Worst case would have been that I would have had to turn around and go back into Peru to get money out from a bank and take a bus back to the Bolivian border.

Along with the $135, I needed to ask the guy next door to make copies of my passport and my vaccination card for 30 cents, and then fill out a long 1 page form too. Everyone else on the bus had to wait for me to finish the process. I felt bad for them.

I was traveling with Anita (Australia) at the time and she was an angel and stood in front of the bus to prevent the driver from leaving so that I could get back on. The driver couldn´t understand that she wanted him to wait for me until another lady inside the bus who was fluent in Spanish and English came outside and talked to Anita.

The bus driver then came into the immigration office and watched me complete the rest of the process. He looked at me and asked why I was from the US when I was obviously Chinese. Just like I have done this entire trip, I said I am a US citizen and my parents came from Korea. The men at the other end of the table all raised their eyebrows at that announcement as if it´s never happened before in their lives.

I think I felt a tinge of sympathy from those guys for being American and having to pay that enormous amount of money.

If Anita hadn´t been around I would have had to get my bags off the bus and finish the process alone and take a cab into the city by myself later on.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I have entered Bolivia

I´m currently in Sucre, Bolivia. I didn´t originally plan on visiting Bolivia but several people along the way told me that Bolivia was their favorite South American country, and so I felt like I needed to see it.

There are a couple of things in this country that I´ve planned to see already. I already visited Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, La Paz, and now Sucre. Did you guys know that Sucre is the actual capital of Bolivia and not La Paz? Apparently La Paz has unofficially usurped Sucre in terms of governmental power but the capital is still in Sucre.

Tomorrow I am planning to take the bus to Potosi to see some famous mines there and blow up some dynamite. That´s gonna be pretty awesome.

After Potosi is Uyuni, a city on the edge of the salt flat high desert in Bolivia. Salar is the name of the salt flats there. After a 3 day tour of that area, I will re-enter Chile by road and head to San Pedro de Atacama and then take a bus up straight to Cuzco to do Machu Picchu.

I´ve only got slightly over a month left on my trip now, so I´m moving a bit faster to get as much in as possible before I head home. I will be doing a lot of moving (including plane flights) in the near future to speed things up a bit, which means more money, but that´s ok for now.

Friday, April 17, 2009

High altitudes

By the way, right now, I'm in Puno at 3800 meters. Cuzco was at 3400 meters. On the way from Cuzco to here, the bus went over some mountains that were at 4400 meters.

These are basically the highest altitudes I've ever been to in my life.

Tiger leaping gorge in China was only 2800 meters.

When I first got to Cuzco, there was a small hill I had to climb up to meet Jill, a Canadian girl I met in New Zealand originally. The hill wasn't that steep but I felt that I was getting cardio tired a bit quicker than I normally would have. My skin has been a bit drier because there's no humidity here.

Other than that I haven't really noticed any altitude effects.

Puno, Peru

Holy crap Puno is a cold place in the evenings. It's gotta be near freezing and it's still fall here. I think it could be deadly to venture here in the winter.

I made it down here yesterday by bus from Cuzco. Puno is a town on Lake Titicaca that you can get to the floating islands from.

As you can probably already tell, I postponed Machu Picchu because the railroad that takes you partways up to the temple had workers on strike for the last 4 days I was in Cuzco, and so getting up there and coming down would have been a drag and could have resulted in an extremely long layover somewhere.

I will be doing my Machu Picchu hike when I get back from Bolivia. I am entering Bolivia tomorrow and plan to be back in Cuzco in 12 days.

Tomorrow morning I will be visiting the Coca museum here and then taking a bus into a city called Copacabana, Bolivia. From there I will visit the Island of the Sun and then head into La Paz.

Also while I was in Cuzco, I met up with Ronald again (met him in El Calafate), and Nicole again (also El Calafate). Also I met 2 cool girls, Anita from Australia and Inka from New York. I am traveling with Anita now for a few days.

Yes her name really is Inka. How funny is that? Especially because the Peruvians use the word Inca and Inka interchangeably. She took pictures of half the signs that said Inka on them as we toured Cuzco.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Box wine in Cuzco!

Woohoo! $6

The newest wonder of the world

No I'm not talking about Machu Picchu. Guess who's eating Korean food in Cuzco?

This town is awesome! Haha!

Star Peru airlines

I am headed to Cuzco this morning. When I get there I will be meeting up with several solo travelers that I have met previously on this trip that happen to be there now. Also I will be doing some research to figure out which way I want to head up to Machu Picchu.

It should be fun :)

Things I saw yesterday in Lima

A man taking pictures with a Polaroid camera
A Payless shoe source store
A completely packed Plaza de armas (biggest public square in Lima) due to it being Saint week, which is probably related to Easter
A 5 year old begging for money with a small plastic white cup
A Target store
~50 chinese restaurants

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The Latin American Spanish phrasebook from Lonelyplanet that Yan let me use has been incredibly useful. I've learned so much from it. It's just nice to stick it in my left pocket and look up words as I walk around and see/hear them. That seems to be the most effective method for me, just-in-time learning.

Just like names, I seem to have a much better memory if I use what I've learned right away.

I'm getting good enough at travel Spanish that I noticed the book is lacking in explaining future and past tense. Everything I've seen so far in it is present tense, and so while talking about "need" subjects has been ok, I have a hard time socializing in some ways because I don't know how to use past tense verbs very well. So for example, I don't know how to say "I lived in Korea for 3 years before moving to the US."

So far I just get by with terrible grammar by saying (for example), "I live in Korea for 3 years. I live in US for 28 years." It's bad but I get through it.

I don't know how to say "went". So instead I say, "yesterday, I go to the store" And just hope that the other person understands me.

On a side note, the book has been through so much with me (aka gotten wet like 10 times), it doesn't look too good :) shhh don't tell Yan

Dolares o Soles?

I'm getting accustomed to the layout, customs, and language of another country today. It hasn't too difficult, since it's South America still and Spanish is still spoken here.

I've already seen some Spanish differences though between here and Chile. Internet cafes are called cybercafes in Chile but here they are locutorios, like they were in Spain.

In Lima, they take dollars or nuevo sols (local currency) at most establishments. How cool is that to have a currency called new suns? Haha

I saw someone paying with dollars earlier at a supermarket and it pleased me to see them, even though I don't really like to admit it. It just shows me that I'm getting closer to home.

Lima has an irregular layout with many diagonal streets and 6 way intersections, although it's still not *that* difficult because most of the streets are in a grid pattern. Walking around the streets in Miraflores, one of the young trendy areas, it feels a lot like east LA. Middle class suburby, with lots of low small buildings of different colors but nothing flashy and lots of metal gates in front dividing personal lawns from the sidewalks.

Their supermarket called Vivanda is seriously excellent. It looks like an upscale American supermarket inside with a whole deli bar and people making sandwiches and pre-made salads. I was very impressed in there. Higher quality than the ones I saw in Santiago even.

My hotel happens to be close to the ocean. I saw it today during my cab ride to my hostel. It was a beauty, even if it's not a beach. I'm such a sucker for the ocean. It's almost like a drug.

Street sponsors

I first saw this in Buenos Aires, and now here. The streets are all sponsored by some company or another. Some of the streets here are sponsored by American Airlines.

Pretty interesting way to raise money, I say. I wonder if they actually help pay for the upkeep of the specific streets or just in general.

Claro is a big mobile network company in SA. I think I saw it in Spain too but not sure.

Dinner tonight

Is steak and potatoes and some salad with avocadoes. It came with some yellow sauce and some red sauce on the side.

The yellow one tastes like mustard with lemon and the red is a lemony salsa with a hint of shrimp sauce or something very thai tasting. Love them both.

The dressing on the salad is super lemony and tastes so good (since I'm into sour stuff).

The meat is omg super salty, like in BA, but still tastes great.

I'm eating at a very local-person place on a street near my hostel. Total cost including beer? $5


I would like to formally curse the taxi driver who was an asshole to me this morning and proceeded to rip me off using my good nature against me. I really liked Santiago until this happened, and now it's just a bad taste in my mouth. I hope he died on the way back from the airport, or at least got a flat tire.

I feel better now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free dogs of the world

I have had an extensive amount of experience on this trip of what street life would be like if we didn't pick up stray dogs with no tags and kill them in 3 days in LA.

Several countries I've been through have had a seemingly pooch non-control policy, including Brasil, Argentina, Chile, and Thailand. The dogs are all over the place. One on each block corner. Also they lay down in place like a bum would. I've never seen such relaxed dogs lying around.

Every dog my family has ever owned jumps all over the place and wants to hump legs constantly. I'm guessing these street dogs do that for a couple of weeks and then realize there's an infinite number of legs to hump and so it's pointless to do it all the time, so they relax.

I've also never seen so many smart dogs that know how to cross streets properly like jaywalking pedestrians. They wait for a break and then run across when it's saf(er). Don't get me wrong, there are dumb dogs too that get hit by cars.

I've yet to see any dead dogs, so I think somebody cleans up the corpses somehow. I'm guessing the governments do that when people like me are not looking.

In the evening when the traffic dies down, the dogs come out to the asphalt and chase cars down the street while barking their heads off. I assume it's their way of entertaining themselves. They don't get hit like American dogs do. They're smart about how they chase. It's also helpful that the drivers are better drivers on average than Americans as well.

Sometimes when I'm walking home late at night, there are like 5 dogs following us. I don't know what they do that for exactly, but I'm guessing they're looking for some attention or maybe they have been trained to beg for food that way. They literally follow me all the way until I enter my hostel. Last night they followed my buddy and me until we got to a late night restaurant, then waited for us to finish and then followed us again.

I don't dare ever touch them because they're probably filthy and might have diseases (I decided to not get rabies shots before I left), and sometimes their barking and chasing cars that go by is very annoying. I don't try to stop them because I assume that's fruitless, but I do catch myself hoping sometimes that they get hit by a car just so the barking will stop and well, I think it would be (in the long run) interesting to see a dog get hit by a car. I mean I would be sad afterwards, but still my morbid curiosity is overwhelming.

Is that sick? I'm not sure. Maybe it is. But I have now already seen someone die in front of me on the road, so I guess seeing a dog die won't be as alarming anymore. I still never want to see a human die of trauma ever again.

Update to the speeding bus driver

During the bus ride back to Santiago, the driver happened to go over 100kph, and when he did the LED sign up front started beeping and then flashed telling the passengers to note the time, driver, and location and feel free to report any irresponsible driving to the ministry of tourism and ministry of transportation.

Wow. Talk about being strict on your drivers. I don't think anyone would report it but what a pain in the ass that rule would be if I was a driver. That kind of policy alone would make me want to quit.

Thank you Sheraton Providencia

Yesterday was a hot day in Santiago, even out of all the days that had great sunny weather. So in the morning, Rod and I had decided to walk outside and venture south because we hadn't gone that way before. Everything touristy is north, east, or west from the city center (Bellas Artes) where our hostel is located.

But after walking a km or so, we felt that the weather was hot enough that we could go swimming. There are several public swimming pools in the city that are pay per use. We went back to the hostel and searched for an open swimming pool to no avail. They were all closed for the season already.

Rod had the idea of going to a nearby hotel that either of us had status at and "borrowing" their swimming pool for a couple hours. I didn't mind the concept, but I didn't want to go through the pain of going all the way there and then getting booted out fruitlessly by security. He convinced me though, and in 30 minutes we were on the subway headed to a Sheraton in a nicer part of town called Providencia with our swim shorts on.

When we got to the hotel, we walked in as if we belonged there. Unless you knew what all the guests looked like, you would have never known that we were visiting.

The first thing we did was head to the bar to get a drink and scope out the area. We asked the waitress where the pool was. She told us it was on the roof of the building. That made me think we wouldn't get past the elevator security, but we finished our drink and soon we were in the elevator going up to the 9th floor.

There was no card slot in the elevator at all. Anyone is able to go up to the rooms. We exited at the 9th floor and loitered for a few minutes to prevent some suspicion, and then walked back into the elevator and took it to the 12th floor, then walked around the corner to the stairwell and walked up to the roof.

The pool was small but there was a jacuzzi and not a single employee, so we freely sat in the tub and dipped ourselves in the pool for a few hours. That was really nice. The pool water was so cold we could only sit in it for about 30 seconds before we had to get out. I realized why the public pools in the city were all closed. Only crazy people would be swimming in a non-heated pool.

Other guests came and went. Even a security guard came up. We said hi to him and continued our conversation. Our plan if we were questioned was to flash Rod's Sheraton status card and tell them we were just using it for a little while.

I took a few pictures from the roof area because the view was nice.

After we were done, we dried off, took the elevator, and walked out the front door. :) I'm sure I looked funny walking out with wet swim trunks on but it turned out to be effortless. We didn't even feel that bad, since the beers we had were $6 each because it was Sheraton.

The pool was just what we needed that afternoon. Thank you to Sheraton for the opportunity :)

Hi, we're speeding

On Chilean busses, they have an LED speedometer sign near the front of the bus that tells the passengers how fast the bus is moving at all times.

I'm not sure what the point of it is. Someone once told me it's because there are strict rules against speeding in this country, but I guess I still don't see the point of showing the passengers that the bus is speeding.

Off to Valparaiso

My legs are sore today from running 2km last night with a guy named Rod from my hostel in Santiago. He's an American on vacation from work for 2 weeks and was doing Argentina and Chile during that time. I met him 3 days ago and he left this morning on his plane.

He acts pretty mature for his young 24 years of age and so we got along pretty well. I went out a couple nights with him and walked around the city with him too.

I'm not sure if it will be easy for me to walk around town today but I'm headed on a bus out to Valparaiso, Chile. It's an ocean town about 1.5 hours from Santiago. It's supposed to have some beautiful city layouts because it has a lower town and a part of the town on a hill, so I put a fresh battery in my camera and I'm headed out to catch some good pictures in the beautiful weather that has so far been Chile.

In the last 8 days I've been here, it hasn't rained once and the sky has been blue without a cloud in the sky. Santiago has smog like LA, and that's really been the only issue. If I look at the moutains that border the city (the Andes), they look a lot like the San Gabriel mountains in LA. Their color and the amount of green bush vegetation is similar to that of the hills in our city.

The weather is similar as well. It's April right now, which is like the beginning of winter and it's 30 degrees outside with low humidity. It's really nice and comfortable here.

I'm going to view Valparaiso just for the day, and then get back to my hostel tonight to get on a plane tomorrow morning to head to Lima and the rest of Peru.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Almost jumped out of a plane again

The morning after hang gliding, we woke up and was lazing around the hostel, when a girl we met at the hostel but had moved to another one, Aimee, came and told us that she was going to go skydiving that day for $100. I was shocked at the price when I heard it.

It´s easy $300 in Thailand to do a skydive, but in Brasil it is $100? I had a weird feeling that it was too good to be true, but we asked Aimee again, she said she was sure it´s $100. So right then I told Vero to do the jump that day because the price was unbelievable and there was no reason to wait until she got to Thailand.

In fact, soon after that the 3 swedish girls we were hanging out with in the hostel decided to do the jump, and then I decided that I was going to jump again because $100 was impossible to pass up.

We agreed to meet Aimee at her hostel in about an hour. We all got ready and walked over there, where we found her at one of the hostel computers. We got her attention and she told the hostel staff that we were all there and ready to jump.

After a bunch of discussion in broken english and portuguese, we found out that the hostel employee had confused hang gliding with sky diving in english and told Aimee the wrong price more than several times. It was actually going to be near $300 and the jump was lower elevation than average (only 10,000 ft) so it wasn´t worth it at all. I can pay that much and get a 15,000ft jump in New Zealand.

I told Vero to wait until Thailand. None of us decided to do the jump after all, we just changed into our swimsuits and headed out to the beach for a fun sun day. I had been so excited in the morning though, all of a sudden knowing I was going to skydive again in a couple hours! What a letdown!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I had wings for 15 minutes

We decided to go hang gliding in Rio because the price was good and it seemed like it would be fun. It´s also something that I´ve been wanting to try for almost my entire life.

We picked the quick tandem jump option through our hostel. It cost us about $90 each to do it and the pictures cost $11 extra. The flight lasted about 10 minutes for me and about 15 minutes for Veronica, because she´s lighter (by a lot!).

Here I am in my birdie suit:

This is the ramp we jumped off of:

We practiced our positions pre-flight:

Floating in the air!

The experience was great and makes me also want to try paragliding too. We were going pretty fast in the air but you just feel like you are floating the whole time. You can only really tell you´re moving if you look at the ground below and watch it pass by beneath you.

How to use a lavatory (for a man)

Let´s just say I´ve used my fair share of lavatories while traveling, including busses, airplanes, and trains. I´m quite the expert at the use of these facilities. This post really only applies to busses and airplanes though, because trains happen to be quite a bit more stable while moving, unless you´re in a country like Thailand of course, then the wisdom in this post applies as well.

Trying to urinate in a moving vehicle is not an easy task. There are several goals happening at the same time:
1. Relieve yourself completely.
2. Don´t pee on yourself.
3. Don´t let the pee splash from the bowl to your clothes.
4. Don´t miss the toilet and piss off all the women in the vehicle.

Trying to meet all these requirements usually requires some combination of acrobatics, gymnastics, and luck. Here´s the optimal position that I have found to meet all 3 requirements. See the multi-angled diagram below (and my amazing MS Paint skills)

If the center of the toilet bowl is flat and shallow, pee aimed at the side with as small of an angle as you can get to the side. Do NOT go perpedicular. It WILL splash!

If the center of the bowl is completely round and deep, then you don´t need to worry as much, just pee into the center as usual.

A good rule of thumb is to always start with a lighter spray just to test the physics inside the bowl so that you can see what will happen if you go full spray.

At the end, always flush. And if for some reason you are a rookie and make a mess, don´t worry about it, let a woman or a janitor deal with it.

That concludes our lesson for the day. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email me.