A Travellerspoint blog

The Misadventures of Raccoon and Rabbit

A Children's Story

Dear Ms Mouttet's Kindergarten class,

This is a true story I heard from a group of very peculiar penguins when I was visiting the South of Argentina several weeks ago. Penguins, as you may know, are very strange but very clever creatures, and know a lot about the world. They probably know more about the happenings of Trinidad even than YOU do!
As such, they witnessed a very strange happening between two friends, one a raccoon, and the other a rabbit, who had travelled far from home for an adventure.
This is their story.

Chapter 1

Once upon a time there lived a Raccoon and a Rabbit in a small corner of a quiet forest.
All the animals in the forest thought that they were the perfect pair. Raccoon was especially handsome since the dark circles around his eyes were darker than any other raccoon in the forest, and he made sure to trim his tail into just the right amount of bushiness.
Rabbit had the shiniest teeth in the whole forest, and she was very careful to keep them pearly white. She ate only the freshest vegetables, and brushed them 10 times a day so that they shone like diamonds.

One day while drinking a cup of tea, Raccoon turned to Rabbit and said, "This forest is very nice Rabbit, but I am soooo bored! I think it's time for an adventure!"
Rabbit sipped her tea slowly, making sure not to get any stains on her shiny teeth.
"I was thinking the exact same thing!" she said, "And I know just the place to go!"

So off they went. They sold their cosy little treehouse and their fancy china tea set, and set off for an adventure!

They travelled very far, and came to a large city on the other side of the world!
"Well this is certainly beautiful!" said Rabbit, smiling a big smile that showed her bright front teeth. "I think this will be a great adventure!"
"Hmm," said Raccoon, squinting his eyes into the distance so that they seemed to disappear in the black circles around his face, "Looks like we're in for a big storm! We should find some shelter."

The two friends searched and searched but there was no room anywhere for them to hide from the storm. The wind blew stronger and stronger, and they felt it begin to pick them up off their feet.
"Hold on tight!" yelled Raccoon as he grabbed Rabbits hands. But no matter how hard they grasped, the wind was too strong and picked them up, and threw them far away up into the air.
"Rabbit!" shouted Raccoon.
"Raccoon!" shouted Rabbit.
But it was too late. They were seperated by the storm and blown to opposite sides of the land.

Chapter 2

When he woke up, Raccoon found his face covered in sand. He was on a beach surrounded by the strangest looking creatures he had ever seen, but with no Rabbit!
The animals were penguins, but since Raccoon was from the northern part of the world, he had never seen such birds before. Luckily for him, these were a special group of penguins, called Magellinic penguins, who left their homes every morning to travel the whole world, and come back every night to tell the others what they had seen. Because of this, they were very wise, and knew most everything that happened from the North pole to the South.
But Raccoon did not know this. He was just too worried about his friend Rabbit.
"Have you seen a Rabbit around here?" he asked them slowly, "She has a fluffly cotton tail, and big shiny teeff" He said as he pointed to his butt and then to his teeth.
The penguins just stared at him and Raccoon was sure they didn't speak his language. But then a very peculiar thing began to happen. One especially fat penguin came waddling up to Raccoon and began to sing in a strange voice.

"Over mountian high and babbling brook,
That is where you'll have to look,
Through jungles dark, and sands like fire,
to find the friend that you desire."

Soon, all the penguins were singing this song merrily and began pushing Raccoon away from the beach and onto the great big grasslands, waving goodbye as they continued singing their funny little song.
"Well, that was very strange!" thought Raccoon. "What very strange creatures they were indeed!"
Knowing that doing nothing would certainly not help him find his friend, he began walking in the direction the penguins had pointed to him.
Soon he came upon a large farm. In the farm, behind a gate were a bunch of horses, and just outside the gate was another strange looking animal he had never seen before. It looked like a strange mix between a sheep and a horse, like it couldnt decide what it wanted to be more. It was, of course, a llama, another animal that only lived in the South. The horses were laughing at the llama with loud neighing guffaws.
"Hmph!" said the llama as he stormed away from the fence, "I'll show them!"
"What will you show them?" asked Raccoon politely, curious about this strange animal he had never seen before, and wanting to know a bit more.
"It has always been my dream to be a great cowboy's horse!" said the llama, "But as I am not a horse, they refuse to let me try. Still, I know this land far better than any of those horses. I would never let my rider get lost, or thirsty, or hungry! I would be the best cowboy companion in the whole land!"
"Well then," said Raccoon, who had just had a fabulous idea, "Why don't you let me ride you. I will be your cowboy! I am looking for my friend and a group of penguins told me to look for her Over the Mountains... do you know where the mountains are?"
"Of course I do!" shouted the llama excitedly, "Hop on! I'll be the very best horse-that-wasn't-really-a-horse that you've ever seen!"
And with that Raccoon jumped on top of the llama, yelled "Yeehaw!" and they galloped westwards into the sunset.

Chapter 3

After many days of riding through the grasslands, Raccoon and his trusty llama came across the terrifyingly large mountains.
"Oh my!" cried Raccoon, "These mountains are so very big! How am I ever going to be able to search them all?"
"I don't know," replied the llama, "I only know the plains, not the mountains. But I think I remember there was a path over there that you could start on."
The llama pointed out the path with his nose and Raccoon jumped off to begin his climb.
"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Llama. You really are the greatest horse-that-wasn't-a-horse I've ever met."
"It was my pleasure!" replied the llama grinning the biggest grin, so that even his back teeth were showing. "Now I can go back and boast to the other horses that I am as good as they are!"
And with that, he turned around and galloped away, with Raccoon waving goodbye.

"Well. Best be starting the climb!"
It took Raccoon a long time to climb the first mountain, and when he finally got to the top he was very tired, so he sat on what he thought was a soft bush to rest.
"Phew! That was a long climb." he sighed.
"It certainly was," said a high pitched voice behind him, "Too bad you dont have wings, then it would be a breeze."
Raccoon was so scared he almost jumped right off the mountain. He turned around to find himself face to face with the largest bird he had ever seen! He had accidentally sat on its nest, and began to apologise.
"I am so sorry!" he begged. "I didn't mean to bother you."
"No worries," replied the bird as he began cleaning his giant black wings, "I was just going out to look for some dinner, but it looks like dinner has come to me instead. Although... you are a very strange looking creature. I dont think I've eaten something like you before. I wonder what you taste like."
Raccoon was very afraid, but he was also very clever. As quickly as possible, he bit the bird on its leg with his sharp teeth.
"OWW!" yelped the bird. "Now you've made me mad. Time to eat you and be done with it!"
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said Raccoon calmly, "You may not know this, but I am one of the most poisionous animals in the North. Very soon you'll be dead from the bite I just gave you. BUT... if you help me I can cure the poison, and you'll be fine. Your choice."
Even though this was a lie that Raccon had told, the bird did not know, since he had no idea what sort of creature the Raccoon was to begin with. He began to squawk and scream in panic. Finally he calmed down and said, "Ok, ok. I'll help you. Just cure this poison fast!"
"Well," said the Raccoon, "I am looking for my friend Rabbit. I met a group of penguins who told me to search 'Over mountain high and babbling brook'. I am on the highest mountain and I cannot see her. Do you have any idea where she is?"
"Absolutely not." said the bird in a huff, but then he soon remembered the poison and continued, "Although, I do know where there is a great brook that loves to babble. I am a Condor, you see, and I can see better than most animals in the whole world. You may not be able to see it, but ther is a great river far across the horizon. Perhaps if I fly you there you can find your friend, and in return you can heal my leg."
Raccoon thought about this for a while. He decided it was a good idea, if only to get as far away from this giant bird as possible. He didn't want to turn into dinner just yet!
"Ok," he said, "It's a deal."
So the Condor unfurled his giant wings flapped once, twice, three times and then took off into the air with Raccoon gently held in his great big claws.

Chapter 4

The Condor dropped Raccoon off at the edge of a massive waterfall. Raccoon licked his leg and said, "There! The poison is cured. A deal is a deal!"
"Thank you so much." said the Condor. "From now on I am going to be very careful about what I eat." And off he flew, back to his nest.
"Oh no! That reminds me of Rabbit." sighed Raccoon, "She is always so careful about what she eats. I hope she is ok."
"Rabbit?" growled a large voice that seemed to come from the waterfall itself, "I only just saw a Rabbit not two days ago!"
Raccoon did not know where the voice was coming from, but got very excited about the chance that Rabbit was close by.
"Who said that? Where are you? And where is Rabbit?" he asked all at once.
"I am the spirit of Iguazu, also known as Great Water. I rule the whole forest from the desert to plains. And I have seen your friend Rabbit very recently pass through my jungles. She was happily eating all the fresh fruits from my trees." roared the waterfall Iguazu.
Aha! thought Raccoon, This must be the Babbling brook that the penguins talked about. I must be getting close.
The waterfall continued to babble on, chatting about the weather, and how much he liked the rain, and which were his favorite coloured butterflies, and so on and so forth. Raccoon wanted to be polite but was just too excited to listen!
"Excuse me, Great Water Iguazu, I hate to interrupt you, but can you help me find my friend. Which direction did she go in? The penguins told me I needed to Climb mountain high, cross babbling brook, jungle deep and sands like fire. I have climbed the highest mountains, crossed this babbling brook... and this is certainly a deep jungle," said Raccoon pointing at the tall trees, "but where is the desert? I cannot see anything but green for miles!"
"Hmmmmmmm," the waterfall murmered, "Yes, indeed. You would certainly get lost in my forests. A problem indeed."
Just then dozens of butterflies began fluttering around him, landing on his bushy tail and tickling his black eyelashes.
"These are my friends," growled the waterfall, "They will lead you through the jungles and to the desert. Goodbye and goodluck!"
"You too, Iguazu!" waved Raccoon, "I hope you get all the rain you wish for!"
"Hmmmm," sighed the waterfall dreamily, "I hope so too."

And with that Raccoon headed through the thick jungles, following a trail of blue and white butterflies.

Chapter 5

Raccoon followed the butterflies for a long time through the jungles of Iguazu, until he reached the very edge of the desert. There was sand for miles and miles. The butterflies swirled around his head and then flew away, back to the deep jungles.
"Thanks a lot," he waved. He touched the edge of the desert with his toes.
"Ouch!" he yelped, "It's so hot! The penguins were right. It is like fire! How am I going to cross this to find Rabbit. I will burn my feet so badly!"
He sat at the edge and thought and thought.


He looked around and saw lying on the edge of the forest a long plank of dried wood.

"Aha!" he said out loud. "I've got an idea!"
He took some vines from the trees and tied them around the wood like straps and stuck his feet in, making sure it was firm and tight. Then he grabbed a large banana leaf and held it up like a sail. He shuffled over to the edge of the desert and looked down at the large sand dunes. He made a loud whooping sound and pushed off the top, surfing down the sand like a wave!
"Woooo! This is fun!" he shouted as he felt the warm desert breeze blow through his fur as he sped down the sand, pulled by the wind with his large leaf sail.
Very soon, he spied in the distance a little green drop in the middle of the yellow sand. It was an oasis, a pool of water in the middle of the desert.
"I should stop for a drink." he thought. So he curved his sail, and turned his makeshift boat towards the oasis.
There he found a little pool of water surrounded by tall palm trees giving shade. And guess what else? Rabbit! There she was lying down on the waters edge taking a nap, looking as happy as can be.
"Rabbit!" Raccoon yelled happily, waving his arms in glee.
Rabbit opened her eyes and a smile flashed across her face, her two front teeth shiny as ever.
"Raccoon!" she laughed back.
"Oh my!" said Raccoon, "I've looked for you everywhere!"
And he excitedly told her the story of the penguins and the llama, and the condor and the butterflies. Rabbit giggled happily.
"Well, I've been looking for you too. But now we are finally back together, so now we can actually start our adventure!"
"Start?" asked Raccoon, "Trying to find you was an adventure in itself! I need a rest!"
"True!" laughed Rabbit, "And this is the perfect place to do it."

And so Raccoon and Rabbit relaxed at the edge of the oasis, swimming and playing and napping in the shade of the palm trees for a long time. After a while, Rabbit turned to Raccoon and said,
"This oasis is very nice, Raccoon, but I am in the mood for an adventure."
"I was thinking the exact same thing," Raccoon replied, "And I know just the place to go!"

And so, the two friends set off together for another exciting adventure.


Posted by 4ccamacho 15:57 Comments (3)

City mouse and Jungle rat

La Paz--Rurrenabaque (Amazon)

We built this city on Rock....and Roll

I arrived in La Paz feeling pretty confident I had understood everything there was to understand about South American cities. They all were flat, had a central plaza, (undoubtably), an Avenida San Martin/Colon/Independencia as their main artery, shitloads of cheap food (unadvertised) sitting right next to the heavily neon-ed and expensive (relatively) gringo restaurantes. La Paz, however, was nothing like that.
It's situated up in on the altiplano, as name suggests a high altitude plain, that drops suddenly into a deep gorge before rising back into the 6000m Andes range on the other side, and then sheer cliffs that drop towards the jungles of the Amazon. (I've flown this route now in a small prop plane and it is just awe-inspiring). The city, therefore, is unique. In all the world, I can't imagine another La Paz.
The main downtown sits IN the gorge, so that the central road is the valley bottom and everything is an uphill climb, which is extremely difficult when its 3500m above sea level. Walking around the city is quite the slow, exhaustive process, so its nice that cabs are dirt cheap. Nonetheless its a beautiful place, despite all the horror stories I'd heard from travellers beforehand (granted I stayed solely in the downtown touristy areas and didn't stray out to the altiplano at all, so who knows...).

I finally met Alyssa here after 6 weeks apart, and made plans to head to the jungles on the other side. "But first!" I said, "I am going bike-riding!" ...so thats what I did.

There is a trail, known as the Death Road, that winds its way down the Andes to the jungle (65km long, almost 4km vertically downhill) that has recently been closed to vehicular traffic and is now open only to walkers or riders. The road is cut into the cliff, maybe one car-lane wide at the widest points, and someimes with cliff overhang that scrapes the tops of cars. When it rains, dozens of waterfalls cascade over the road, turning it almost into a river. Point across yet? Its a really, really dangerous road...for drivers. For us tourist bikers though, whatever. Send the gringos speeding down for a couple hundred Bolivanos. So thats what we did...

My crew from the Salt Flats (still together in La Paz) headed out early in the morning to race the Death Road. We got up to 5000m and realised the weather was bad. Did we want to go anyways? Sure, why not! We donned our gear and began. It was awful. Fog everywhere. 5 degrees. Every.Single.Part of your body soaked.... It was looking like it would be a horrendous waste of money and time... and a silly way to die. But after about half hour we began descending onto the real dirt and gravel, where the air was warmer, and it was... AWESOME! Long story short: We raced each other down this mountain in 3 hours, and because of the rain the waterfalls were epic, and the scenery was epic, and knowing that we survived the death road... epic. A great adrenaline rush that lasted all the way back up to La Paz.

I bid farewell to my group in epic fashion (a night at a Dutch pub for Queens Day...in the midst of the Bolivian's capital) as they left the other day for Lake Titicaca. I met Alyssa and we bgean planning for the jungle. We ended up taking the expensive way (by plane) since a farmers union in the North were forming a blockade of the only roads there. "No problem!" we thought, "We'll fly in, do our thing, and fly out. We don't need to worry about farmer's with dynamite! Not our concern." ...so thats what we did.

"Welcome to the Jungle!"

As I have detailed above, the flight to Rurrenabaque (Rurre), was amazing, so that an hour later when we landed on a mud track in the middle of the Amazon I was like a wound up toy of excitement. What I did not expect, and that hardly dampened my spirits the first 3 days, was that without road access this little village was literally being starved to death. No gas, no food, and since the electricity was run on diesel generators, rationed wattage! This made for interesting circumstances. No gas meant no boats to the jungle-proper, and no food meant we couldn't really stay there for too long. So we waited... and bartered... then begged. Finally, on the 5th day of rationed food and getting re-accustomed to heavy wet thick air by lazing around in hammocks swatting mosquitoes, we were able to make plans to leave on a 4 day hike. We were off to the Amazon!

(Note about Rurre: Despite sitting on the Rio Beni, a tributary of the Amazon, the place was identical to a small Trinidadian coastal village. It was strange after almost 3 months of weird vegetation and weirder landscapes--I am thinking Salt Flats, deserts and patagonian forests--to suddenly see hibiscus, a mango tree in every yard, pommeracs in season, etc. It was stranger since I was hoping to access the amazon from the Bolivian town of Trinidad, for namesake only, but in the end I ended up accessing it from a place that looked exaclty like it instead. 3 months of travel: Nostalgia only brought on by pommeracs... goddamnit.)

Day 1:
We boated up the Rio Beni away from Rurre into Madidi National Park- touted to be the most biodiverse protected area in the world (since it ranges from Andes to Amazon). After 3 hours weaving around sand banks and through gorges, we reached our base camp in the middle of the jungles: a collection of thatched roofed huts in a clearing near the river. Dropping our backpacks in the 'sleeping' hut, we met our guides Diego and Jose and had a quick hourlong hike into the jungles to learn what were allowed to touch, and not to touch (Pro-tip: Touch nothing and hope nothing touches you). On the way the guides demostrated the appropriate way to climb trees in case of jaguar attack; which trees contained fire ants; what mushrooms we could eat if we wanted to go on a vision quest to see what our deaths would look like (some would actually finish the job off one time); and how to MacGyver vines into just about anything that you needed.
At some point in all this chaos, I realised I was sick. I assume this was from some emapandas the day before that a woman sold me on the street for half price. I had not ever gotten sick on my journey from either the food or the water (which I have drunk everywhere from the tap like a true citizen of the third world), but it seemed to have finally caught up with me. Melted cheese had melted my iron belly, and I was a mess.
We teturned to camp and I went to bed, so I am not sure what the rest did for the next 14 hours. I lay there completely exhausted, drifitng in and out of sleep, afraid to fart. At some point Diego woke me up and gave me some tea made, he said, from some powerful Amazonian medicinal roots from the jungles he went to fetch himself. I had known this man maybe half a day, but I still thought it wiser to accept his generosity rather than turn down the black, smelly drink. "Whats the worst that could happen?" I thought, "Maybe this turns out to be malaria and I will die tomorrow... this tea cant be anything worse." So I drank it and promptly passed out.

Day 2:
I woke up from a sleep of the dead feeling wonderful. Magic Amazon roots indeed! I awoke to the sound of pouring rain. Cat and dog rain. We got to the 'eating hut' and had our breakfast and talked about the plans for the rest of the time there. Diego turned out to be grossly misinformed as to our itinerary and seemed confused as to where he was supposed to take us. Not good. After some bdebating back and forth, we got him to begrudgedly take us on the long, 3 day hike into the jungles that we got the feeling he was NOT in the mood for. He claimed the rain was not going to let us get as far as the other river 8km away, but we insisted we try anyways.
So we loaded up our bags with food (Here again, Diego had no clue and gave us enough for 10 days in the Jungle rather than 3) and we set off slipping through the mud and vegetation to find the other river.
...Then there was the wild boar attack...
We were in the jungles...lost (according to one very professional hiker we had with us with a GPS), and Jose goes missing. Suddenly there is all around us the sound of wild boars screeching. Diego flashes us a look of horror and tells us to get back. So we rush back, trying in vain to find the path again, and wait in a clearing for about 30 minutes while Diego looks for Jose amidst the territorial brawing of a pack of wild boars. Wonderful. I thought this rather exciting, but the others began to talk of mutiny. Apparantly, in my absence the night before they had deduced that Diego was not the best of guides and didnt have a clue as to what we were supposed to do. NOT something you want in the Amazon.
The guides returned, and we were told it was too late to reach the river. Flashes of dissent rippled through the group. We had to make camp at some other halfway point. Whatever, we decided. We had skipped lunch due to wild boar attack, and we were being pissed on by the rain. We were not in the mood for a fight just yet.
We got to the campsite, strung up our makeshift tent, gathered some wet wood, and two hours later amidst REAL whispers of mutiny, we ate and went to bed.

Day 3:
The rain didn't stop all night, and as a result our camp flooded. Waking up and stretching our stiff, waterlogged muscles, wringing out our sleeping bags, and pulling mud out from every orifice did nothing to qualm the tensions of my hiking mates. Diego admitted defeat. The mutiny was a success. We were hiking back to the main camp, and GPS-toting Manolo would check our route. I felt bad for our guides, who were trying their very best to make it a fun experience for us, and for me it was, but 2 against an angry 5 and a neutral 1 is bad odds... thats how Germany lost WW2.
So we set back in the still rain (Note: It is always raingin in the Amazon, but the rain hardly makes it down to us. We can hear it pouring above, but we barely feel a drizzle due to the thickness of the canopy. Nonetheless, we were permanently wet).
About 50m away from our camp we spotted jaguar tracks: a stark reminder that while we bitch and moan like spoilt tourists, this is NOT a safe and secure place to be...Diego and Jose know this well, as they relate stories about 2 guides who had died recently (one by jaguar, the other by wild boars).
We make it back to the main camp in half the time, setting a pace that Alyssa almost died from.
That night we ate like kings, the surplus of the food we had toted back and forth through the jungles unneccessarily, and headed out for a night hike with Diego.
Night hikes are different. For those who go scuba diving, it is almost exactly like doing a night dive. There is nothing, except 40ft underwater, like the total blackness of a jungle at night. You become extremely focused on your one flashlight beam, and the background hum of animals becomes like a roar. Its amazingly transcendant. Like a completely different world. We went for 2 hours to a drinking hole, hoping to see some jags or tapirs, and whatnot, but all we got were bats and spiders, and one monkey. We returned a little disappointed, but somehow refreshed and exhausted of the residual anger of the previous 2 days. It had somehow seeped into the jungle, and the jungle had somehow seeped into us...

Day 4:
"No more hikes!" we all begged when we woke up and it was STILL raining. So we mulled around camp for a couple hours and made native jewelry from seeds and sticks, watching as Mother Nature (the bitch) allowed the clouds to pass and the sun to finally shine, exactly when we were done!
We got on our boat that afternoon and snoozed as we gently putted downriver and back to Rurre, bitten, itchy, wet and stink.
All in all, I enjoyed my time in the Amazon. There were moments of real... nirvana?... when we breaked on a ridge to drink water, or turned off our flashlights to plunge ourselves into true darkness, where I thought... "This is a Jungle. This is the AMAZON! This is Nature's jewel!" And I was content.
Our plane ride back to La Paz (and then onwards to Lake Titicaca) is tomorrow. It cost about 4 times as much as expected, and was at least twice as frustrating... but worth it.
I am excited to head on... but I am beginning to have to fight against a strange current on the trail. The Gringo Trail, as most people do it, runs around from Rio de Janiero in Brazil over carnival, down to Patagonia and climaxes at Cuzco, and Macchu Picchu. The vibe of the travellers here is one of climax. Everyone is saturated with their trips, and excited to be finishing. I am beginning to absorb this excitment, which is not a good thing for the 2 months I have after my own Macchu Picchu adventure. Something I am going to have to readjust over the coming weeks.

Well then, readers. Another month, another entry. Sorry to be slowing it all down, but blogging is becoming more difficult for me. Writing in general. Gloria has barely been touched in weeks... not something she will enjoy. I think its because I have been travelling in tandem with other people for too long... not enough solitude. Something to remedy over the coming weeks too, I suppose.
Until then, then!
Ciao amigos.

Posted by 4ccamacho 12:29 Comments (0)

Salty Des(s)ert


  • Disclaimer: I would like to spend hours upon hours on this post, considering its been several weeks of non-stop stuff to fill you all in on...HOWEVER, I am in Bolivia now and internet, while cheap, is slow and clumsy. I am going to try and literally just give an overview. Sorry for this being the longest, most boring post of the blog... Funnily enough, it felt like the shortest, MOST exciting period of the trip thus far.

"Shit... thats a lot of Sand"

It was barely dawn when I made my way to the Salta bus station several days (weeks?) ago. I was excited to leave Argentina and bgein a new northward track to Bolivia and beyond. The curse of the gringo trail found me pretty soon, and I literally had a full on reunion with my Mendoza wine-drinking team: Tim, Ashleigh and Jamie. All headed to Chile. Shocking.

The crossing was fairly uneventful, having a Chilean stamp already this time. We got our first taste of altitude sickness going over the Andes, symptoms including headache, stomachache, and complete lethargy and fatigue. By the time we entered San Pedro de Atacama (2000m), the oasis in the middle of the world's driest desert, we were beginning to overcome the altitude. Thankfully.

I got off with Jamie and Ashleigh (Tim was headed further on to the coast) and booked a hostel and hit the streeets of town. It resembled the spaceport of Tatooine (non-Star Wars fans need not worry about this reference), except that EVERY little cactus door along the mud walls was tourist-serving... bars, tour agencies, hostels, internet cafes, etc. This oasis existed for one reason only: To serve the mad wanderers who wished to cross the Atacama.

We slept well in our adobe house that night and the following day booked a 3 day tour for the following day, thus giving me time to explore the desert on my own. Now... biking is not my favorite thing, but I have inadvertantly grown quite fond of it since being here. So I hit the town's agencies to find the cheapest deal on renting equipment to ride to Death Valley to sandboard for the day. There are already 2 things wrong with the above sentence... you clever people may have figured this out before me, but it took me an hour to realise.
1) Good things aren't cheap, and cheap things aren't good.
2) Biking in the sand... not wise.
The ride to the dunes was fairly difficult... uphill... in sand. The sandboarding was...interesting. My cheap deal made sure that I ended up with little more than a piece of plywood with velcro straps, that didnt fit my shoes.... so I sandboarded barefoot.
It was not successful since I couldnt turn properly. I basically sped down the dunes, then panted in the thin, dry air as I climbed back up. I hope to re-do this in Peru with grewater results... but otherwise an exhausting and unfulfilling experience.
The bike ride back was great, riding through the canyon of Valle de Muerte was my first experience of true off-roading on this trip (to be superceded by my Bolivian downhill... see later)
That night we went stargazing in the desert, with some awewsome telescopes. Its amazing to see entire glaxies, planets and such through these things in the high altitude, clean desert air. Beautiful.

"It's the Altitude"

The next morning, bright and early, the Brits and I headed to our meeting spot to join our tour of the Atacama and head into the Bolivian altiplano. We met the other half of our group, a triad of Canadians. We hit it off really quickly, and happily set off to the Bolivian border* and our 3 day jeep trek.

The tour was amazing. One of the best so far.... scratch that, one of the top ten experiences in my life. (I have begun putting things into Top Ten categories now, since its impossible to say things like "The Best"). I could spend a long time detailing it... but then this post would take you hours to read... so a quick overview:

First Day:- Drive uphill through the desert to some salt lakes that change colour depending on the wind; Geysers and hot springs; Flamencos and llamas galore; Sleep in what is essentially army barracks at 4900m up; 2 of 4 of us had MASSIVE altitude sickness. I was perfect.
Second Day: 4 more lakes; desert rocks; volcano; and a small town where we spent our second night. Excellent company, with excellent music, and excellent times.
Third Day: Sunrise on the world's biggest Salt Flats. Gorgeous. An island on the lake (its a massive saline lake with a thick white crust that you can walk/drive on). 2hour long photosession playing on the salt falts; salt museums, salt hotels, salt factories... etc... Finally, to Uyuni (the town on the other side) and an afternoon of beer.
(I know this doesn't sound very exciting... I know I am lapsing in my promise to give you beautifully described details... But chalk this one up to too much. Too much to be detailed, too much to detail. Needless to say, it was one of the most awesome things I have seen/done in my life.)

Our new sixsome, having bonded over the tour, decided to then head to Sucre, a colonial town in the center of Bolivia. First impression of the Bolivian bus system: awful. It took us along bumby roads, through rivers (seriously), but after 20 hours we made it to Sucre, more or less unscathed.

"BOOM! Dyno-mite"

The following day, we (the boys plus Leanna) decided to take a cab ride to Potosi, the highest city in the world, to investigate the mines there. The Potosi silver mines were the reason for Spanish colonialism, and basically was the center of South America for centuries. When silver dried up, trhe mines kept operating looking for zinc and tin. When those minerals had price collapse in the 80's, the government washed their hands of the mines, and fled. This left an entire city, nestled under this massive mountain, without a source of income. Currently the moutnain is operated as a co-operative, and the conditions are just abysmal.... Thus, they made it into a gringo trail attraction, which seems really strange to me. However, the miners don't feel emploited by the tourists since its customary for us to take them coca and soda and such as gifts. SO in a way, they appreciate the exploitation of their misery... an awkward and eye-opening experience nonetheless.

The mountain, as I mentioned, has been worked on for centuries... so its literally like a massive chunk of swiss cheese. A crazy dwarvian labyrinth. We went shopping in the miner's market for gifts, donned mining gear, and walked on in. The tunnels range from 6 foot tall, to 1. Sometimes we had to lie down and crawl through little openings just to pass. The air is dense with zinc particles, thin (its 4500m up) and damp from the rains. For an ashmatic, this is not good. As we all agreed after the tour it was a great experience, but we would never do it again.

Post-tour, the guides took us to a little zone and let us play with dynamite.
Short explanation: One of the gifts you can buy for the miners in the market, is dynamite. 15 bolivianos (2US) for a stick, plus some Pink Floyd (ammonium Nitrate to enhance the explosion). What we didnt gve away, we get to blow up.
There is nothing cooler after being trapped 1 km into the heart of a moutain, than playing with explosives. All in all, a successful day in Bolivia.

The reunification of Ernie and Bert

After a couple days more of Sucre, we headed over to La Paz (in a far nicer bus... thus proving that first impressions aren't always right). Here I intended to meet Alyssa, whom I started the trip with 2 months ago, but who I "lost" for 6 weeks. I playfully refer to the two of us as Ernie and Bert, firstly since the trip we are on was inspired by Che's (Ernesto is his real name) Motorcycle Diaries, which is his memoir of his travels with his friend (Alberto). Ernesto and Alberto. Secondly, the main difference in our personalities can be summed up by the sesame street pair: I am always looking for a laugh, take almost nothing seriously, and enjoy just be-ing. Alyssa is very serious, principled and is constantly "tutting" at my antics. For example, she detests that I call her Bert (which is very Bertish), and I think its hilarious how her eyebrows cross when I do it (typically Ernie). The dynamic works.

Well, this is enough for this boring entry. Look at the pictures maybe, and then it will be more exciting... reading it over even I am falling asleep. My current travelling companions (the English/Canadians) are leaving me behind today, while me and Alyssa head (or hope to--If the striking Bolivian fruit farmers will stop blowing up the road with the same cheap dynamite) for the jungles in the north. I'll try and do a second, more interesting post before I leave Bolivia sometime within the next 2 weeks.

Until then... La paz (Peace) from La Paz.

  • I had a little Border problem from Chile to Bolivia, and I promised I would talk about it here... so here is a short(ish) story of it: Through my research, I had seen that I didn't need a visa for Bolivia.... but my research turned out to be very wrong. I didn't need the standard visa, but a secondary "Classe 2" Visa that I was supposed to have organsied beforehand. Needless to say the border officials weren't pleased with me showing up in the middle of the desert without it.

1) They confiscated my passport, put it in an 'envelope' (a piece of folded paper stapled together), and gave it to our driver, making him promise to take me to immigration when we reached Uyuni, the town on the other side of the desert.
2) After we reached Uyuni (on a Sunday) the office was closed. Shit. Working some magic, Marcos (the driver) called around and got the officer to meet me later in the afternoon anyway. He gave me my enveloped passport and drove off.
3) When I met the officer, he unwrapped the passport, took a glance and said. "But I don't have any class 2 Visas here." What??? What now? "Go to Sucre or La Paz and figure it out.
4) I head deeper into Bolivia (still not legally) to Sucre. After 3 days I find the Immigration office and after 3 hours of running around town, the guy takes the stamp, rolls back the date 6 days, and stamps me into Bolivia.

Posted by 4ccamacho 15:59 Comments (1)

Farewell to Argentina

Dear Reader,

This is a poem (Gasp!) that I wrote in farewell to Argentina, that I have loved alot. If you do not like poetry, especailly unrefined poetry, avert your eyes now.

The inspiration of this started, I guess, in January. My cousin (Geoff) and I had a long drunken discussion about poetry, namely the Beat Poets of 1950's America. He had been reading Kerouac's 'On the Road', and I had been reading him. I remember telling him that the greatest thing about the Beats was how well they got the whole travel thing; Kerouac being the hero of travel writers everywhere. It was then that I decided to write a blog about this trip, so in a way, this poem was pre-destined to be written since the very first post.
I had occasionally, on this trip, been reminded of this little ability of Beat poetry but it wasnt until I started becoming bored with writing the blog and looking for ways to make it more interesting to myself (i.e. Iguazu and my attempts at stylistic variety), that I decided to try and mimic the greatest Beat Poem ever (Allen Ginsburg's 'Howl') as an ode to Argentina. This is that attempt. It did not turn out exactly as it sounded in my head.... the rhthym needs work and some of the metaphors are wilted and cliche, but I think it is still worthwhile posting...if only because I spent an hour writing it.

Sometimes I dedicate posts to people, whether they are named or not, they usually know its about them. As this is just me entertaining myself, a work of literary masturbation if you will, I dedicate this post to myself ... and all those fragmented parts of my own soul. As voyeurs to this act, I request that you do not comment on it, lest it becomes publicly embarassing. If you really feelthe need to comment or critique, send me a message, email or strongly worded letter instead.
Right on... lets begin then!

The Author

Farewell to Argentina

The screen blinks and whirs softly, yawning its boredom as we stare at each other.
"Do something", it seems to say, watching the dark circles deepen under my eyes as we wait, hopelessly, for a spark of inspiration.
"If only" I mumble back. "But how to begin to describe 2 months of this?"

Of a city of millions, with a pulse of one.
Of the pale artistry of expensive graves and the riotous colour of river slums.
Of a city that never sleeps, except for siesta, when the birds in the Parques sing their hearts out above the roar of the traffic.
Of being kidnapped by a kindred spirit and taken to her nest above the trees to learn the 72 names of God and be taught the appropriate way to get mellow off of Mate.
Of the markets of tourist junk amidst the markets of local junk: fruit, wine and antique clocks and antique matchbooks, whose hands don't move and whose flames don't catch, thus proving their value.
Of the raw sexuality of a tango on a faded rug in a shaded plaza, calf and arm and upper lip taut with a tension stolen from the loose jaws and gaping eyes of a circle of voyeurs;
Of the two tangos! That daytime tango of work and play, and her bastard sister, that nighttime tango of despair and exctasy;
Of brown-skinned armies picking through the trash of their blue-eyed neighbours under the dull yellow-light of streetlamps at dusk;
Of the nightly patrol of scarred whores, blank-eyed staring at the nothingness beyond the spaces of the universe, begging to trade their fucks for fuck-all;
Of old drunks, hearts broken at the impossible distance of heaven, gazing eastward from gutters for the anesthetic certainty of dawn.
Of the morning migration of the clipity-clop of high heels on the cobbled streets of San Telmo, tired dancers returning home sweaty and content;
Of young drunks, having found heaven in the 2 oclock bar, the 6AM boliche, stumbling out of cabs, hands shielding faces from the fierce arrows of Apollo, hunting for breakfast while laughing their exctasy into the Good Air.

Of running away on shivering working class trains, and coffee sessions of socialist gossip and Argentine anger;
Of God's waste-paper basket smoothed out in fields of gold and green with sweat and dirt and caked on dust.
Of a shower, finally! Hallelujah, Amen!
Of the terrestrial basement dwellers, the braying penguins and aquatic elephants like fat nudes lying lazily on a Spanish Riviera while the surfing Orca hunt with prayers for seal infanticide.
Of getting lost and loving it. Of flash floods in the desert and the smell of damp earth mixed with fresh horse dung and fancy Welsh tea parties in Patagonian oases.
Of Patagonia! Of space and space and space! Of inhaling a universe in a breath. Of eternal freedom and the oppressive weight of infinty.
Of the nighttime depths of solitude and loneliness, staring out bus windows at Argentina lying naked on her back, sighing deeply, her warm breath a milky fog against the cool, black dome of the sky, stars like silver drops sliding slowly towards the horizon.
Of sleep... and of dreams.

Here's to seeing mountains, Gandalf! Mountains! To each jagged vertebrae in the Andean spine;
To the gigantic groans and thunderous cracks of ice racing slowly from the harsh frozen spires of the summits;
To racing winter and winning by a nose, feeling her tight grip on bones in the night, forcing northward retreat;
To the magic of a sunrise on the sheer face of bare rock, pink makeup worn only at waking;
To sudden hail storms on the top of the bottom of the world and shouting "I am here!" into the abyss and hearing the roar of the wind's laughed response;
To azure lakes of fine blown glass and alpine slopes painted evergreen;
To swimming in cold rivers and soaking in hot springs, Japanese style! Oh yeeaaaaahhhh!;
To short trips to Chile and long American rock ballads and half-way climbs up awe-some volcanoes;
To aging bicyles pondering sunsets on vineyards, the last of the season's grapes and the final cutting of grass, surrendering its scent with the sigh of a tired soul welcoming the soothing embrace of winter;
To dreamy foreign gods and jealous forest spirits. To falling water and a kaleidoscope of rock;
To the epic, the epic, the EPIC!

To fellow wanderers and the harmonious cacaphony of the Brotherhood of Babel, a shared desire in an orgy of mistranslation;
To drunken Dutch dancesteps after Argentine asados, Hebrew hookahs and Hawaiian hand-rolled cigarettes;
To getting stoned with brown-eyed, with green-eyed, with blue-eyed Jews, puffing smoke through our noses like dwarf dragons, our heads filled with helium blowing into each other's ears to see if we could drift away and giggling hysterically when we don't;
To the bearded denizens of France and Spain, Germany, Sweden and the United bloody Kingdom;
To Canada, Colombia, Chile and the Czech Republic, and that one guy from El Caribe;
To hippie villages and organic farming of fresh berries, dark chocolate and home-made beer;
To Beer! Sold by the dollar, drunk by the litre;
To Wine! Fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it has become my spiritual drink!
To Meat! Cows and sheep and their succulent young, pink and tender and practically free;
To a life of luxury on a dime! To Life! To Life! To loving Life!

O Che! I will miss you,
When the change in my pocket is heavy and unwanted.
O Che! I will miss you,
In the hot sticky nights of the Tropical Amazon, wishing for a cool breath on my warm bones.
O Che! I will miss you,
With each bite of beef and every sip of red wine forever more.
O Che! I will miss you,
When I no longer go "Como?" to each slurred Spanish phrase.
O Che! I will miss you,
in the absence of the words 'Chan!' 'Es un Flash!' and 'Buena Onda'
O Che! I will miss you,
If the yerba supply ends, and my Mate cup runneth dry
O Che!
"Never change!" I scream, though change is inevitable. "Live, breath, grow, love, lust, scream, moan and die only to be reborn again! Everlasting and Infinite!"

...I finish typing, and the dark circles are darker yet. My head feels light and my heart, heavy.
"Goodbye, Argentina." I say.
She says nothing. She doesn't need to.


Posted by 4ccamacho 18:06 Comments (0)

The End of the Road


Decisions, Decisions…

After satiating myself on the Waters of Iguazu, I took out my guidebook, my massive map of South America and my trusty notebook, to plot my course to Bolivia. I had missed roughly 5 weeks of meeting points with Alyssa, something she was NOT pleased about, and we had eventually decided to make a final attempt in La Paz. It was now imperative that I make it on time. The problem: How to get there?
As the continent widens the further north you go, so too the Gringo Trail begins to split into multiple streams. I had roughly three options:
1) Cross Iguazu again into Brasil (legally this time) and take a 5 day boat up through the Pantanal (world’s biggest wetlands) to Bolivia. Pros: Snorkeling with paranha and wrestling caiman.
2) Cross into the Northern Argentina scrublands and traverse the kaleidoscope of canyons northwards. Pros: cheapest and quickest.
3) Head to the Chilean Atacama, the world’s driest place, and rent a jeep to take me across the desert to the Bolivian salt flats. Pros: sandboarding, salt lakes, and desert bonfires.

Needless to say, much to the chagrin of Alyssa, I opted for the long way around through the Atacama desert and into the Salar de Uyuni. I headed to Salta, the Northern-most city of Argentina, to pay my final respects, and after a couple days spent hitchhiking through ancient ruins and ancient(er) canyons, I booked a ticket to head West towards the Atacama.

Salta, Quilmes and the Quebrada de Cafayate

I arrived in Salta in the morning, alter what felt like a ridiculously short bus ride (only 22 hours… nothing!), and found myself a place to stay. Salta itself is far more similar to what I expected of South American cities. It has narrow streets, loud buses, cheap living, and a much higher mestizo to European population ratio. The food just may have traces of spices besides salt and oregano, and the people are slowly losing the castellano way of pronouncing the “ll” and “y” as as a “j”. (not really J, but I can’t figure out how to type the appropriate sound). The nightlife is good, and the daylife is cheap, so all in all, not a bad place to stay for a while and take in the culture. However, I don’t have a little while to spend, so after walking the streets, and climbing the hill (it seems every city has a hill with a mirador to showcase the city), I talked to the people in the bus station and figured out the best way to Cafayate in the morning.
Cafayate is a town about 3 hours south of Salta, in the mouth of a canyon and the outskirts of a desert. For some reason they make really good wine here, especially whites, and the town itself, situated in the mouth of the canyon, is quite picturesque… and dirt cheap. Score. After spending the evening touring the town's bodegas (wine cellars) I spent the night in a hostel “downtown” for 20 pesos, the cheapest yet, and caught some tight zzz’s in anticipation of a long day.

The following day started later than expected (not a surprise, really), with a local bus heading south towards an old civilsation’s ruins. Called Quilmes, I felt it appropriate to visit them, since for almost 2 months I had been drinking a beer named in their honour. I got to the dirt track that led into the ruins along with 4 other tourist backpackers from Cafayate. An old man, leaning on his rusted pickup and chewing on tobacco, greeted us with a toothless smile. Would we like a lift to the ruins, he asked, just 5 pesos. Otherwise we would have to walk 5 km down the track. In my mind I heard an eerie music playing like the beginning of a bad horror movie. 5 young people, just met, all with radically different personalities (judging from the look of us) jumping into a pickup and driving down a dirt track. Yep. A horror movie plot if I ever saw one. And here I was, just the day before, lamenting to a friend that my trip was so far too smooth a trip, and that, as a Camacho, I needed something to go wrong if I was to believe it was real. This was going to be it! Taking a good look at the other folk assembled there, I was pretty confident that I would be the one to survive the upcoming slaughter. One character always survives. So we got in the pickup and I waited for fate to dish out the worst.

After a couple minutes, we anticlimatically got out the tray and paid the toothless man his money. Me, begrudgingly. The ruins were pretty cool. The Quilmes people lived alongside the Inca at the southern end of the Empire, and their civilisation only collasped alter fighting several decades of war with the Spanish. They were then completely slaughtered, and the remaining 4000 forced to walk to BsAs without food or water... needless to say, they didn't survive. The site I went to was their final stand, the last fort to fall back in the 1600s.
After climbing yet another hill, and chilling in the desert for a while, I began the trip back to Cafayate by dedo: finger. Not too long down the dirt road a couple of porteños picked me up and I joined them back to Salta (stopping in some bodegas on the way). By the time I got back to Cafayate, I was emboldened by wine to try and make it all the way back to Salta that night, thus giving myself a day headstart to Bolivia. I booked a ticket to the Quebrada de Cafayate, (The Gorge between Cafayate and Salta) and headed into the canyon.
It is a beautiful place. One of the coolest places in Argentina so far, which is saying alot. I thought alot about rocks, and art. Bizarre thing to say, I know... but in the straitions of the rocks you can see the earth literally folding and faulting, which reminded me of Miss Perkins geography class and having to draw tectonic plates. And the colours, holy shit... the pictures do NO justice. There are hundreds of shades of red and brown and yellow and green. Its like an artists dream.

After walking through another Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), I donned my backpack and hit the road with thumb extended. The sun was setting pretty fast over the western edge of the quebrada and I was just beginning to be worried I would be stranded when a couple of aging hippies picked me up. The man saw me and laughed loudly. You’re the guy from the bathroom! Hey, Honey! This is the kid from the bathroom! (Quick flashback: In the bathrooms of the ruins, I went to pee and standing right next to the urinal butt naked was this guy, apparently changing his clothes) Shit. I was now stuck in the car with creepy-old-naked-man and his wife. Both turned out to be truly, and refreshingly, nice people. Fuly dressed, creepy old naked man wasn't so creepy, and was actually quite a jokester, judging from the fact that he and his wife laughed the whole way to Salta. I didn't catch alot of these jokes, but the atmosphere in the car was great nonetheless. A whirlwind trip well spent.
Leaving Argentina

I booked my ticket to Chile today, after another half hour of phone consultation about passports and visas. (The Chilean customs people are alll jackasses). I leave tomorrow with a mix of emotions.
I will miss the asado, the good wine, the epic scenery and the castellano accent (which I think I might be cursed with)
I will NOT miss the constant lack of coins, the long bus rides and the complete lack of spice (if you go to a restaurant and there are 2 salt shakers on the table... both of them will be salt. Pepper of all sorts does not exist here)

Argentina will have a nice little place in my heart forever, and I am almost sure I will return at some point in my remaining 56 years of life. I Am sad to leave this place behind, but excited to continue my journey upwards and onwards!

So... ciao for now, Argentina. Buena Onda!

  • A Note on Pictures: I have currently taken 2000 pictures. A lot of them are just me playing around with the settings of the camera, and are thus shit. I upload what I can, but its very slow, so not a lot go up. I also don't like putting too many photos into the blog itself, as I find it distracting. SO! If you haven't already figured it out, there is a photo gallery on the right of your screen. I suggest you view the pictures in Large format, since although often they dont truly catpure the reality of the place, when it comes to pictures, bigger is always better.

Posted by 4ccamacho 15:40 Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 23) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 »