SOUTH AMERICA ADVENTURE: 4 MONTHS - 11 COUNTRIES (Letters 13-17)
Dec. 29, 1998 Peru to Bolivia
Hello to everyone and a Happy New Year. My last week has been so eventful it will be hard to describe everything in a letter, but I'll try. arrived in Cusco to a beautiful city that is rich in Inca and Spanish culture. The city is 3326 meters above sea level. The city of Cusco has four large Cathedrals in the main plaza and is surrounded by buildings that have a base of Inca masonry. Coricancha is the colonial church of Santa Domingo and its base is of Inca stone. At one time it was the richest temple of the Inca empire and its walls were covered in 700 sheets of gold each weighing 4.4 pounds. Whole blocks of large asymmetrical stones were perfectly fit together to make 6 to 8 foot walls that have withstood many of the earthquakes to this area.
A problem that occurs in Cusco is Acute Mountain Sickness. I didn't have any problems with altitude sickness, but met other travelers who had problems with breathlessness, dry, irritative cough, severe headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting which can progress to more severe symptoms. The treatment is to drink fluids, rest often, eat light carbohydrates, and drink mate de coca. This is a tea made of 3 or 4 coca leaves in boiling water and sweetened with sugar. This is a medicinal use of coca leaves and legal in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Although I must admit that we would become breathless with minimal exercise.
I traveled by local train to Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes I took a bus that travels 22 switchbacks up to Machu Picchu. This is the grandest Inca ruins. This site is surrounded by high mountains in a beautiful rain forest setting. Every direction has spiked mountain peaks and deep canyon valleys with waterfalls spattered intermittently. The clouds would start at mid- mountain and you could watch updrafts move around the peaks making it very magical and spiritual. You could almost sense the history of the Inca empire as you walked through the ruins dating from the 12th century to the 15th century. Machu Picchu had 16 ceremonial baths, royal palaces, Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock ( this is where the nobility was mummified), Temple of the Sun, natural rock caves, step altars, tombs, terraces, and many windows with a trapezoid shape that was perfectly honed. Every stone wall was fit perfectly (an ant could not have slipped through any of the seams). My second day at Machu Picchu, I hiked to the top of Huayna Picchu. This hike took 1 1/2 hours of straight up steps on the edge of a mountain. At times a cable was needed just for safety and I couldn't look down without getting nervous. At the top I crawled through a passageway and looked over the edge to see a Peruvian bear and her two cubs playing. The markings had tan circles around the eyes and light colored nose. This is a rare sighting this high on the mountain. I looked for condors and didn't see any although there were sightings the first day. I could go on and on about these ruins, but tour books, pictures, guides, etc. do not do it justice. FANTASTIC!
On the train I met a delightful lady (Delcy) and had 4 hours of Spanish lessons. She invited me to spend a very special Peruvian Christmas with her family in Cusco. The family has a countdown to midnight when sparklers are lit around a large nativity scene, which includes incense in a miniature volcano, Peruvian animals and birds, hugs are given to all and an exchange of Feliz Navidad. I then ate a large meal starting with a chicken yucca soup followed by cinnamon oreo cookies, colored marshmallows, then mouth watering roasted turkey, and fruit salad followed by a cup of hot chocolate. It was very emotional and I want to say a big thank you to Delcy Olivera Gutierrez, her parents Julio Axel Olivera Fernandez and Nancy Gutierrez de Olivera, Roxany Olivera Gutierrez, Anahy Olivera Gutierrez, Julio Axel Olivera Gutierrez, and Sebastian D. Olivera. You opened up your hearts and home to make me feel very special and make Christmas special. MUCHAS GRACIAS! PS...Delcy...E-mail me because I lost your E-mail address.......firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the 25th I headed south from Cusco to Puno, Peru. It was a high altitude drive along the altiplano. I saw herds of llamas, hot springs, a little snow, sod houses, Aymara culture and costumes and were lucky enough to stop at a small village where they were having a dance festival. The whole community was in colorful dress and derby hats. The dancers would tell a story with their dances, hoeing and sowing seed, love stories, times of drought, etc. I was the only gringo, but they offered me beer and many warm smiles........I am not sure how to describe the beauty and big smiles.
On the 26th I traveled onto Copacabana, Bolivia. The border crossing cost me $3.00 and many warm welcomes. It was the easiest border crossing of the whole trip. It was especially fun to reminisce about my childhood, remembering Lake Titicaca, family trips, the altiplano, etc. (I was born in Bolivia and spent my first 12 years in Bolivia). This was my first time returning to Bolivia in thirty five years. I stayed at the hostel La Cupula.......fantastic! It looked over Lake Titicaca and had great vegetarian food. The next day I took a boat trip out to Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna to see the first Inca ruins. Lake Titicaca is at 3830 meters and different colors of blue and greens.
Two days later I drove from Copacabana through Lapaz, Bolivia, driving northeast to Caranavi, Bolivia, to visit Paul and Jay Mikaelsen (my brother and his wife). The drive was incredible. I climbed to 15,000 feet and then descended to 2,000 feet in 80 miles along the most stunning and dangerous section of winding road of the whole trip. Many places the road was only wide enough for one car and I would have to back up along a cliff for 200 yards to where a truck could pass. A bridge had been knocked out so I ended up driving through a raging river with water up to our door handles and coming over the front of the hood. The good old Toyota kept running. I found a vacuem hose broken on the Toyota later and realized I had gone through the river without 4-wheel drive. Ignorance is sometimes bliss!. I went from the cold high Andes mountains to hot, muggy, 85 degree jungle temperatures. Wow! It was an amazing change in vegetation, flowers, smells, waterfalls, giant turquoise/yellow butterflies, and many birds....(help Mike and Kathy). It was so great to see Paul and Jay.
I'm going to spend a few days here visiting.....so will write more of my adventures soon.
I wish you all a Happy New Year filled with peace and kindness. Ben
Jan. 4, 1999.....Caranavi, Bolivia
I traveled northeast to Caranavi, Bolivia. Paul and Jay Mikaelsen, my brother and sister-in-law, run Radio Caranavi, youth projects, and are just starting a television station for this area under the World Mission Prayer League. They are also helping to set up a cleft lip and palate medical team for this fall. I am looking forward to returning to see them later this year.
On New Years eve, Paul and Jay's friends invited us over for a Parrillada (Bolivian grill-out). It started with ribeye steaks, followed by ribs, then a slice of roast, on to ubre (cow's udder), and then tripe (grilled intestines). This was complimented by a cheese rice casserole and fresh vegetable salad. I have never eaten so much meat in one sitting in my life...................You probably want to know what umbre tastes like?!?! It is tender, the texture of a hard cheese, and didn't have a strong taste. I must admit I only had a few bites. The next cuisine adventure was tripe................a little bit more tender than a salty rubber band and I managed to get one mouthful into my stomach and it stayed there. The evening was spent with fire works and at midnight everyone placed 12 grapes in a glass with champagne. At the stroke of midnight you drink the champagne and eat each grape making a wish for each of the 12 months. New Years is a festive time for friends and family that lasts for 2-3 days continuously. I swear Bolivians never sleep.
I took a side trip north/northwest to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. This is in the lowlands of the amazon. It took me seven hours to drive 160 miles with only one flat tire, one landslide, and some very big pot holes. You have to see the roads here to believe them. They are very dangerous, traversing along shear cliffs and are often closed or blocked by mud slides and swollen rivers. Some days you can only make 100 miles in a full day of travel. The weather is very hot (85-90F) and humid because the rainy season has started. I took a guided boat tour through the jungle and savanah. I saw parrots, macaws, eagles, raptors, many colorful little birds (sorry, but I don't have a bird book with me), butterflies, spider monkeys, capuchina monkeys, howler monkeys, snakes, alligators, 5 jochis.....you have to look that one up because I don't know what it is in English....., amazon porcupine, and much more. The area was teaming with wild life, flowers, and green vegetation. All I can say is fantastic! My guide caught an alligator and let me hold it and look at it. They are incredible creature.
Tomorrow I head to LaPaz, Bolivia and tour other parts of Bolivia with Paul and Jay. I hope to write soon, but email has been very erratic. Sorry, but I have not been able to send pictures because of how slow Peru and Bolivia's email has been. Hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year.
Travels in Bolivia
Hola to everyone
I have been traveling Bolivia with Paul and Jay Mikaelsen. It has been a trip in memory lane for Paul and I. We spent a few days in LaPaz to get the car tuned-up, wash clothes, and visit the markets to find alpaca sweaters. January 6th is called the Day of the Kings. We were downtown to see hundreds of people at San Francisco Catholic Church participate in a special celebration where many people buy an infant Christ child in elaborate finery and take it to the church to be blessed by the priests and then to their own traditional spiritual leader for blessings so that they will have their needs and wishes met for the new year. It is and interesting mix of religion and tradition.
I departed from LaPaz heading southwest across the high altiplano to Cochabamba. I am driving at 13,000 to 14,000 feet. You can see herds of alpacas roaming the slightly hilly terrain and pink flamingoes in the small lakes. I then started to descend through very steep mountain roads. All along the way are dogs sitting at the road side (a well fed dog every mile or so). These dogs receive bread from the motorists for safe travels. I did have some stale old bread and tossed it to a couple of kids and dogs.
I arrived in Cochabamba, the altitude is 8,000 feet and still tropical. The next day Paul and I toured our old boarding school called the Bolivian Indian Mission School. We both told stories of the past that had us all laughing and a few sad ones, too. The school has a small museaum collection that included mummies wrapped in baskets, pottery, butterfly collection, and pre-Inca tools. It was very interesting! From here we took a drive up to the Inca-Rakiny ruins. We climbed to 15,000 feet and had one of the most beautiful vistas of sharp Andes mountains and the river valley of Cochabamba.
Our next adventure was onto Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We climbed out of Cochamba to 15,000 feet and then dropped down to sea level. We had a few pens break and yogurt cups pop. Santa Cruz is in the savanah. It is very hot and humid. The sun is intense and is almost unbearable during the mid day. We visited
friends from the past, explored the most modern city in Bolivia (it even has a Gap store), watched the silver grey slothes that live in the park square eating leaves on the the tree (it is true....they move very very slowly and have 4 inch curved claws, and had a McDonalds Big Mac, fries, and coke(and by now it tasted fantastic...just like the states). We also spent an extra day visiting the Bolivian Air Force looking at a T28 and discussing some T6's for all you airplane fans.
We decided that instead of heading to Sucre we all needed to get on with work and travels to Chile so we expedited our return to LaPaz. I plan to depart for Arequipe, Chile tomorrow and will let you know how my adventures are progressing.
January 20, 1999 I have traveled from LaPaz across the altiplano at 16,000 feet. The air is so thin and clear. I can see stars,the biggest milkyway, and the Southern Cross. I arrived in Arica tired, but very happy. Chile is very clean, modern, and the people are very kind. I am now traveling the coastal area which is high sand volcanoes and beaches. There is a festive air to the people and a calm disposition. I am now in Santiago arranging for the rest of the trip south and homeward passage for the car and myself. I am definitely homesick, but love Chile.
Hugs to all and will write soon, Ben
January 25, 1999
Chile and Argentina Travels
Traveling Chile and Argentina is like icing on the cake. I am able to camp anywhere. These two countries pride themselves in a word called tranquilo and I love it. I left Santiago, Chile and drove down to Puerto Montt, Chile through farming and dairy communities. The road sides are filled with small stores selling melons, onions, potatoes, and cheese. Puerto Montt begins the Camino Austral. This is a road that travels down through national parks to the southern tip of Chile/Argentina and is often referred to as Patagonia. I drove one-hour southeast on Ruta 7 to Hornopiren, Chile where I loaded on a car ferry to Caleta Gonzalo in the Golfo de Ancud. The views were unbelievable with a turquoise ocean, snow capped mountains, a few small glacial fields, beautiful horses, cowboys with wide brimmed hats, and grazing sheep everywhere. I arrived in Caleta Gonzalo, Chile where Dennis Tompkins (ex Esprit magnate) has a very controversial and large
private park. It is a spectacular and rugged area with many backpackers and local loggers. From here I traveled south to Chaiten, Chile, to Puyuhuapi, Puerto Aisen, Coihaique, and Puerto Ing Ibanez. I then took a two-hour ferry across with winds that were howling (50plus miles per hour). The winds were at my stern and caused just a little bit of rocking. And I can not describe the beauty. Wow! There are glacier lakes, trout streams, mountains and trees making it one of the most beautiful drives of this trip. I arrived in Chile Chico, Chile in one piece and ready to head south. Since coming down from 16,000 feet in the Andes of Bolivia, the car has been starting a bit rough. I hope that maybe in my next life I'll be lucky enough to be a mechanic!
I did a border crossing into Argentina at Los Antiguos, which was a breeze compared to Central America. At Perito Moreno I found out that the country people were staging a protest and all the paved roads are closed so I headed south on the gravel roads to Bajo Caracoles, Argentina. This area is pampa, which is made up of sand and desert-like vegetation. I only saw 5 cars in 7 hours of driving. The road is made up of fist sized chunks of jagged rock. About half the cars I saw during these days of travel had broken windshields. When I arrived my back left tire was getting very low. (the tires are all chewed up from all the sharp gravel and stone. they have good tread, but this gravel is worse than Quinn Creek.) The next morning I head out for
Gobernador Gregores on Ruta 40, then onto Tres Lagos, then west to El Chalten to see Roy Fitz the most respected Chilean mountain for ice and mountain climbing. You could see huge glacial fields of very deep blues flowing into the valley above the city of El Chalten and another one below the city into the lake, Lago Viedma. There were a few icebergs floating in the middle of the lake. This lake stretched for over 50 miles in length. I then headed south to El Calafate, Argentina where I will take a boat trip into the glaciers in the morning.I will let you know how that is in the next letter.
PS. Another tire going down this evening, but am about 10th in line at the tire repair shop.looks like I'm not the only one. I also feel lucky that I still have all of the windows. (knock on wood!) Cars pass me with netting over their windows and cardboard over their headlights. Another flat tire this afternoon....this
gravel is undescribable and putting me in a bad mood.
Hope everyone is well. I will write as soon as e-mails becomes available. Sorry that there aren't any pictures e-mail is very slow and expensive.
Feb. 3, 1999
El Calafate, Chile to the tip...Station Moat, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile (THE END OF THE WORLD!)
A big hello to everyone! This letter finds me both sad and excited. I'm excited to be headed home after three and a half months and eleven different countries. I'm also sad to be closing a chapter in my life that has challenged and rewarded me beyond my wildest dreams. There is so much to tell you in this newsletter about the final leg of the trip.
I spent a day in El Calafate, Chile, exploring the Moreno Glacier on a boat. There are three glaciers that meet in a triangle at one end of Largo (lake) Argentina. Each of these glaciers is calving icebergs and making sounds and wave patterns that are indescribable. I was able to see five Condors circling the mountaintops. It was fantastic to see a bird that was once on the brink of extinction alive and flying free. Their wing tip feathers are like long fingers sticking out as they ride the mountain air currents. They rarely flap their wings (like gliders). They have up to 8 foot wing spans, eat only dead meat, and build nests in high mountain caves.
Next my travels sent me south on some rough and stony gravel roads that are really starting to cause me ulcers and hair loss. I have had 4 flat tires in 4 days. Half the cars I pass have their front windshields broken. Some have heavy metal mesh over their whole front. I headed to the Atlantic coast and Rio Gallegos, Argentina, where I had tires fixed, hit an upscale supermarket, and then headed south to the Chilean border and Puenta Arenas, Argentina. The vegetation is pampa, sand dunes, and high winds. I visited a penguin preserve at Seno Otway, just north of Puenta Arenas, Argentina. The penguins are molting and there are feathers everywhere. I arrived in time to see the penguins switching places, some are snuggled in the grasses and they switch with the penguins that are playing in the ocean. The penguins are gray and white or black and white and use their upper arms to keep balanced and walk in a side to side motion in little paths to the sea. When they jump off the banks, they sort of plop! I could have spent all day watching their activities.
In Puenta Arenas I took a two-hour ferry across the Straits of Magallanes to the border of San Sebatian, Chile and Rio Grande, Argentina. I then drove straight south to Station Harberton and then to the very southern tip (55 degrees latitude) at Station Moat. The official end of the Pan American highway is highway 3, southwest of Ushuaia, Argentina, but I wanted to also drive to the farthest point south that you could drive. This was an Argentine Coast Guard post at Station Moat. Three Coast Guard men live there and monitor all the ships and weather for the Beagle Canal. These three great gentlemen took pictures of me (for posterity), then invited me in for a very large supper of ribs and steaks at 11pm at night. Of course it was still daylight out. (These southern countries love their meat and eat very late at night!). I provided the wine and had a great visit. I camped on an overlook of the Beagle Canal and awoke to wind, seagulls, upland geese, rocky beach, and sea salt. Trees down here grow at a 45 degree angle because of all the wind. The sun rose to give me a fantastic sunrise at 5am. This time of year there isn't much night around here.
On the way back I stopped at Station Harberton to visit a working sheep ranch. I was able to see the shearing sheds where the wool is sheared off in one piece and then pressed into 100-pound bales to be shipped. I also took a boat trip to a nearby island with more penguins. I had a great time photographing the penguins from the boat and visiting with the biologist and captain about penguins, cormorants, and albatrosses. Did you know that penguins mate for life! If one dies, the other will often stay single the rest of their life.
I then hit Ushuaia, Argentina and camped in the Tierre Del Fuego National Park near the end of highway 3 and the end of the Pan American highway. I spent three days hiking through peat moss, lengue trees, and watching the bird life along the rivers and lakes. It snowed everyday and then the sun would shine bringing 70-degree weather. It is so easy to get sunburned down here because of the direct sun, ozone depletion, and the old timers say that the weather has warmed the last few years.
I am shipping my car home on a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina to Seattle. I'm ending my trip a little early because of the ease and early shipping date. The car was driven into a container and locked by a customs agent. It is so hard to leave the car and head by bus back to Puenta Areana where I have a direct flight to Santiago and then onto Miami. I have a great sadness to see the end so close. It seems like it has gone very quickly and then again I'm homesick for my pets, clean water, comfortable beds, and friends. I have made so many new friends and hope they will visit Montana so I can return their hospitality. Good bye to all. My heart has been touched by your kindness.
I also want to say a big thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible. A very special thanks to Phil, Holly, Jay, Amy, Shannon, Steve and the Hoadley gang, (I couldn't have done it without you).
I will be getting pictures of the last part of the trip on the web site if you want to see penguins and the southern part of South America. If you have questions about my travels I will be home within a week... e-mail me at email@example.com.
Adios y muchas gracias para todo, Ben
Feb. 5th....wow! I was able to ship the car home Feb. 2nd and fly out of Puenta Arenas the next day. I flew from Puenta Arenas, Santiago, Chile, to Miami, and then to Bozeman, Montana in 26 hours straight. I am definitely road weary but can't tell you how great it feels to drink fresh water out of the tap, a hot shower, comfortable bed, and even better seeing friends and family. It feels great to be back in the U.S.
Good bye for now....Ben