São Paulo and Ilha Grande, Brazil, September 24 to 30, 2003 — We traveled by jeep from the Pantanal to the city of Campo Grande, where we took an overnight bus to São Paulo — arriving about 29 hours after we left the fazenda. It was very strange to be in a large, modern city for the first time in several months. It was great to have real hot showers, fast internet, art museums, and lots of restaurants full of meat/sushi/ice cream/etc (it was Brazil after all), but we didn’t fall in love with São Paulo. Nothing was wrong with it, but we only stayed for a couple of days and surely didn’t get to know it nearly well enough. From there we headed back to nature: Ilha Grande — an island off Brazil’s Emerald Coast (Costa Verde). It was a beautiful tropic island, with a charming fishing town and very quiet beaches. We discovered moqueca (brazilian coconut fish stew) at a restaurant on a secluded beach, where we also heard Adriana Calcanhotto playing on the radio for the first time (check her out at http://www.adrianacalcanhotto.com; you’ll love her if you like jazzy singer/songwriters). Other highlights included watching an unbelievable thunderstorm blow in (and out) during our first night there, and hanging out by ourselves at Lopes Mendes beach (and building our very own sand girl a/k/a Sandy).
The Pantanal, Brazil, September 17 to 23, 2003 — Our penultimate day in Bolivia were spent in Potosi where we visited a coal mine. It was one of most depressing place I’ve ever been, but I got great photos. I swear. Unfortunately none ever made it out of my camera as the memory card failed (I was using a microdrive, which was an early version of a compact flash card, but not nearly so reliable). Then we were off to Sucre, Bolivia, where we did one of the cheesiest things for the year … we took the DinoTruck to Cal Orck’o. Cal Orck’o is actually fairly cool; it’s a a huge vertical limestone wall that supposedly has the largest concentration of dinosaur tracks in the world. But the DinoTruck is really cheesy.
From there we took a series of flights (where we once again ran into our friends Barry and Renee) and a shared a beat up taxi to the city of Corumba, on the Brazilian side of the border with Bolivia. It was like we entered a new world. It was hot, seemingly for the first time in 3 months. And the people dressed in t-shirts, shorts and sun dresses; not traditional costumes like in the Andean countries. I took my camera out in the evening and got shots at dusk (and beyond) on the streets of Corumba. By modern standards (i.e., our standards 10-years later), the pictures are optically awful — my Canon 10D was terrible in low light situations. But looking back, I like the way the photos look, in part because of all the noise and lack of detail. The grit fits the subjects.
From Corumba, we booked a tour of the Pantanal, an enormous tropical wetland that sprawls across Brazil. We stayed in a fazenda (farm) that had been converted into something of an ecohotel, and each day guides took us out exploring the region by any means of transport necessary: jeeps, canoes, horses, etc. Highlights included fishing for and catching piranha and then swimming in those same rivers (looking back, I’m not sure why I was brave/stupid enough to do that), and diving to the ground at the guide’s orders when a slight buzzing sound in the distance turned into a terrifying cloud of bees that flew over us and literally darkened the sky. There are no pictures of the bees, but I did get a cool one of the piranha I caught.
La Paz and Uyuni, Bolivia, September 10 to 16, 2003 — Because of the bus strike, we couldn’t leave La Paz, even though we were tired of staying in the city. So, we took a taxi to the outskirts of town, a place called Valle de la Luna — a relatively wealthy area with a surreal lunar landscape. We stayed at the Swiss Hotel Oberland, which promised tennis courts and a swimming pool, but turned out to be missing both (though looking at their website 10 years later, the hotel appears to have caught up to their promises). I explored the terrain while Sherri wrote, and scaled the wall to a golf course which claimed to be the the highest in the world at 3,342 meters (10,965 feet — over 2 miles in the sky). I booked an extraordinarily expensive (by Bolivian standards) 18 holes for the next day, which was Sept 11 (sidenote: 2 years after 9/11 it still felt somehow direspectful to be playing golf on Sept 11). Playing golf at 2 miles in the sky should have been amazing, with tee shots going forever. But I hadn’t played in many months and had terrible rental clubs, so it wasn’t quite the highlight reel I was hoping for (I lost 4 balls on the first 5 holes).
From there we took a train to Uyuni, Bolivia’s high desert, for a three-day Jeep tour. Uyuni takes surreal to a whole new level; it even has a section called the Dali Desert, named after the painter. Uyuni is best known for its salt plain (the Salar de Uyuni), which is an immense white desert. But it also has red, blue and green lagoons (depending on the mineral content in that section of the desert), crazy rockscapes, and beautiful mountains. There are very few animals in the desert, except of course for bright pink flamingos to add to the overall weirdness of the place.
At night, temperatures can drop as low as -20°C. We stayed in small hotels that were barely heated, but we were given plenty of blankets to stay more or less warm. One evening I left the hotel to take some sunset photos, and though I was probably no more than 1/2 mile from the hotel, I literally thought I was going to die on my walk/run back because the temperature dropped so precipitously once the sun had set. It may have been a bit of a panic attack (I don’t remember ever having one before or since), but with the cold temperatures and thin air, I couldn’t catch my breath and my heart started racing to the point where I got light headed and was worried I would pass out. But I managed my way back and survived to share these pictures…
Coroico and La Paz, Bolivia, September 3 to 9, 2003 — I can’t really recall why (and our travel diaries don’t say), but for some reason my camera barely came out of its bag for a few days, including on a beautiful ferry and bus ride from Lake Titicaca to La Paz. But I do remember that La Paz made me a bit nervous; it was a place I didn’t feel terribly comfortable showing off a very fancy (for its its time) digital SLR on the street.
Our point-and-shoot camera did come out (as did the SLR for a bit), however, as we took a mountain biking tour down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” from La Paz to Coroico. It was a long, often dusty, ride — mostly downhill — along a narrow mountain road known for the frequency with which buses drive over the edge. But it was plenty wide enough for bikes, so it was more a beautiful bike ride than an extreme sport. The tour group took a bus back to La Paz, but we decided to stay in Coroico — a dusty town without much charm set in a gorgeous mountain setting. And we found a truly lovely hostel on the outskirts of town that had a swimming pool and a pool table, so we happily spent a few days of R&R there.
After a couple of days, we took a minibus back to La Paz up the Most Dangerous Road (a bit unnerving, but it wasn’t too scary). It turned out that we were fortunate to get back to La Paz, because the farmers were protesting and closing down roads all over the country, so there would be no getting out of La Paz for a few days. (These protests would culminate in the resignation of the country’s president in just over a month, and would continue until Evo Morales was elected two years later). We ran into a large street protest, made up mostly of indigenous women, and I grabbed a few shots. But large-scale presence of riot police and all the warnings about how dangerous La Paz could be made us nervous, and we didn’t linger long.
The last day of the week was spent trying to get a bus out of La Paz to Cochabamba. But all the buses were on strike, so we gave up and stayed in La Paz.
Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Peru, August 27 to September 2, 2003 — After I finally recovered from giardia, thanks to cipro prescribed by a doctor who made a house call to our hotel room, we headed to Puno, a town on the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca. In Puno, we bumped into our friends Barry and Renee (with whom we crossed paths all over South America). All 4 of us then took a tour of Los Uros, a series of floating reed islands inhabited by the Uru people, and the nearby Amantani Island where we were stayed in a local home. It was touristy, but fun as we were invited to join the night’s dance and music activities. The local people are of very small stature, so we felt like giants (see picture of Sherri with two locals — they dressed Sherri in giant hoops skirts which made her look enormous, which was seriously exaggerated when she stood next to the local women). From there we finished our tour the next day on the island of Taquile, where the men famously knit. We finished the week in Bolivia, at city of Copacabana along Lake Titicaca. On the first day in Copacabana, we wandered upon a huge celebration at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana, where priests were blessing new cars. And in the catacombs of the basilica, we watched people use drippings from wax candles to draw their prayers on the walls.
And here are the pictures of the week:
Machu Picchu, Peru, August 20 to 26, 2003 — Though the photography was left a bit wanting thanks in part to gray, foggy weather through much of the trek, the Inca Trail and our visit to Machu Picchu were among the highlights of our trip around the world. There’s a reason why Machu Picchu is considered one of the places you have to visit sometime in your life — when you enter the ruins it’s like being transported back to another world, and the Andean setting is spectacular. The only downside for me was I got a horrible case of giardia on the last night of the trek along the trail, so I felt truly horrible for the last 2 days of the adventure. Nevertheless, I felt great during the trek, and got over the 4,215 m (13,829 ft) Dead Woman’s pass without too much problem. And I even managed to climb Wayna Picchu (the peak overlooking the ruins) while suffering from the effects of the giardia (enough said about that).
Photographer/Writer’s Note: So….my “pictures of the day blog” has obviously slipped sadly into near oblivion. Moving apartments (and into a whole new state) set me back, and work was crazy in the fall and winter, so catching up started seeming impossible. But 2014 is here, and I refuse to allow the blog to fall further behind. So, today it returns with pictures of the week, until I catch up.
Sacred Valley, Peru, August 13 to 19, 2003 — We left Cusco behind by public bus to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas on our own. Our first stop was an unexpected (off the guidebook) delight. The town of Coya was having its annual festival. It was a very local affair, with many of the festivities literally occurring in back yards. But the town drunk Jose, who spoke mostly Quechua and a little (slurred) Spanish adopted us and took us around, showing us the insider’s view. From Coya, we went to see the ruins at Pisac, and then on to Ollantaytambo. Though we had seen these town with the official tour bus a few days earlier, exploring on our own allowed us to see them without the crowds of the tour and without being herded into shops where (presumably) the bus driver and guides received kickbacks. We also managed a long hike to Moray and Maras. Moray is the site of the ruins of enormous terraced circular depressions, whose purpose remains unknown. And Maras contains spectacular salt pans that have been in use since Incan days.
Cusco, Peru, August 12, 2003 — Day 66 was my birthday! Go me, go me, go me! We celebrated first at a bar with a couple of Brit friends we had made along the way, then had dinner at the Inka Grill, one of the nicest restaurants in Cusco. I finally had the guts to dine on cuy (aka guinea pig), but I wasn’t brave enough to try it the traditional way (aka with the head still on). Sherri was justifiably very proud of herself because she managed in Spanish to arrange ahead of time for the restaurant to bring a cake decorated with my age, indicated by a 2 and a superscript 5 (yes, I turned 32, 2 to the 5th power). The photos from the day kind of suck, but it was a great birthday.
Boca Manu, Peru, August 10, 2003 — The rains stopped eventually, but the tour staff had little to no information about when (or if) our plane would come. We hung out at the grass airstrip, where the “air controller” used a CB radio powered by a car battery. When Sherri opened up our Mac to write, every staff member was stunned. They lived amongst gringos much of the time, but it was still shocking to see that the photos I had taken were already on the computer. (Of course, 10 years ago digital technology was still very new, and we were the only backpackers we saw for the entire year who were traveling with a laptop). When the planes finally arrived, they had priorities other than tourists. So it took some arguing, screaming and cajoling, but we managed to get on the last plane out of Manu that day, arriving safely back in Cusco in time for our next adventures.
Boca Manu, Peru, August 9, 2003 — We arrived back in Boca Manu, the town that sits at the entrance to the park. Boca Manu has a small airstrip, where we were supposed to get a flight back to Cusco so we could begin our trip to Machu Picchu. But no flights arrived at 11, and no flights at 1. And then the torrential rains started, and we were told there would be no flights. Instead, we spent the day in what was basically an empty village of rickety log buildings, one of which turned into our hotel when we all set up our tents inside. Did I mention torrential rain? That’s why there is just one picture (and not even close to a good one).