Posted on September 12, 2015
Not the blog I was hoping to write, but uncontrollable circumstances (ie. my stupid body) have warranted otherwise.
As soon as we arrived in Santiago I crawled into bed and was stuck there for the next 2 days with a low-grade fever, sharp stomach pains and chronic diarrhea (I know, again!). Only plus was Aaron was able to locate and purchase me an iPad 2 Air, which was a big help with enduring the slow passing of each hour. Having had enough of this we checked into the ER at Clinica Alemana on the 3rd morning and were finally officially admitted to the hospital 8 hours later. Everything always takes so long! Thankfully they have a good hospital system here in Santiago and honestly compared to Bolivia this is the Hilton. Plus they made every effort to communicate with me in English.
Over the next 4 days and many tests, scans and examinations they concluded that I have an upper bladder infection and bacteria in my stool (a highly resistant strand of travelers diarrhea), excess liquid in the abdominal area around my organs and surrounding my heart. All bad things, but the major issue is the low kidney function, about 50%.
There was even a question as to whether or not I actually needed the appendectomy in Bolivia. What?! Tough call, since they couldn’t deny that post-surgery I was a bit better on a lot of levels, at least for a little while. The Chilean doctors were pretty upset, and not too impressed with the Bolivian doctors to see that lab tests from my stay there showed kidney problems and should have been addressed right then in Bolivia, but we heard no mention of it. So scary.
In Santiago I had a knowledgable and concerned team of doctors that believe I have progressed from my former diagnosis of Lupus SLE to Lupus Nephritis, which affects the kidneys and is more serious, awesome!
It’s amazing how exhausting laying in a hospital bed can be. Every part of my body hurt, ached, throbbed, you name it. Not to mention that I’ve got more holes in me then then a lawn sprinkler. Hook me up and turn me on! To help curb my loneliness and provide some companionship each night when Aaron returned to our rented apartment he surpised me with a new little pal; his name is Kidney Bean. He’s the best.
On the plus side the view out the window was awesome and from what little I could see this city is in a pretty beautiful location. Aaron seemed to be staying pretty comfortable! Haha, but he earned it. He spent hours everyday contacting our travel insurance company, World Nomads, researching how to get immediate U.S. insurance coverage, sending updates to family, friends and doctors, arranging travel arrangements and keeping me emotional sane. Not an easy task and all with out a single complaint. I love you Aaron.
We were finally discharged mid-day on the 5th day and caught the red-eye flight flight home that evening to Grand Rapids. Unfortunetly our bad luck continued when we discovered we had the last 2 seats on the plane in the last row where it was extremely loud, bumpy and the seats didn’t even recline. That was a long uncomfortable 11-hour flight; I’m not sure Aaron even slept that night. We had 2 tight connections in Toronto and Chicago but thankfully we made it, our bags, not so much. Oh well, at least the important part is home. Upon arrival we headed directly to the ER and continued this long process of treatment and recovery.
We are both super bummed to miss out on the 2nd half of this trip (and honestly the part we were both looking forward to the most) but we knew this was the right and safe thing to do. Hopefully someday we can come back and explore Chile and Argentina when I’m feeling healthy and strong again.
Thanks to all who followed along on our travels. We hope to be back at it again soon.
~Aaron & Lindsay
Tour de Clinicas World Tour Dates:
August 14-17, 2015. Hospital de Clinicas La Paz, Bolivia
September 7-11, 2015. Clinica Alemana Santiago, Chile
September 12-18, 2015 Grand Rapids Spectrum Health Grand Rapids, MI USA
September 19-Oct 5, 2015 GR Spectrum Health ENCORE Grand Rapids, MI USA
Posted on September 9, 2015
We had a few days to fill so we continued north for 3.5 hours by bus along the shoreline of Lake Titicaca until we reached Puno, Peru. Plus who doesn’t love a few more stamps in the passport, huh!
The floating islands of the Uros people were originally built as a defensive mechanism with the idea that they could move them if need be. All together there are approximately 42 different islands with around 10-30 people living on each one. The islands are build on floating blocks of reed roots and then reinforced with 3 alternating layers of fresh cut reeds. The whole thing is about 3m thick and the reeds need to be replaced every week. If built well the island can last up to 25 years before starting to sink. The specific island we visited housed 3 different families and the primary school. We opted for the opportunity to take a short ride in one of their ceremonial dragon reed boats and checked out a few of the other islands in the “neighborhood.”
Our afternoon was spent on beautiful Taquile Island which is a natural island with approximately 2,200 native people living on it. Their community is run by collectivism where everyone works for the good of the other islanders, pays taxes and does mandatory civil services. Taquileans are known for their handwoven clothing and textiles, and their culture is still deeply rooted in how they dress, celebrate and raise their families. We enjoyed a late lunch while watching a few locals perform a couple of their traditional dances for us. I guess not too surprising since the whole island is a basically a hill but there are no cars or donkeys on the island and everything must be carried on the locals backs. Some of the loads the older woman were carrying were unbelievable. I could hardly, and I mean hardly, make the 2.5km walk from one side of the island to the other just carrying myself. Again I would not make it as an Inca woman.
Back in Puno we found a great place for dinner that served Peruvian cuisine with a French twist. La Table Del Inca is worth dining at if you find yourself here.The next day we boarded a bus back to La Paz. We were told it would take 7 hours and there would be a bathroom on the 2 busses we would be riding on. Things never seem to go as planned. No bathrooms and we were unlucky enough to get on a bus with a group of 23 American missionary young adults who ALL needed to get Bolivian visas at the border. Please note we applied for ours months before leaving the States. The planned 30min border crossing, which was plenty of time for the other passengers and us to cross turned into a 2 hour ordeal. Ahhhhh, so frustrating as we just sat there and waited, half the time locked out of the bus in the freezing cold night. If you have a group of people that big, plan ahead just a little bit better please or at least make accommodations for private transportation. I can’t believe the bus waited for them.
Posted on September 9, 2015
The bus ride from La Paz to Copacabana took about 3.5 hours. We found a good deal through Bolivia Hop and it only cost us $15 each. At one point along the way we had to disembark for a short trip across the lake. The bus literally went on a small raft just big enough for the bus and we rode separately across on a speed boat. Kinda crazy but funny to watch too.
Again Aaron found a gem of a place to stay in Copacabana. I would consider Hotel la Cupula to be in the top 3 places we have stayed on this trip so far (next to Illha Grande and Santa Cruz). Milking this whole surgery recovery thing a bit longer we treated ourselves and went with their best room ($55/night). We were definitely not disappointed when we arrived. It was beautifully designed in with a Mediterranean sort of feel and had 360° views of the town and lake below. We had a giant king sized bed, fireplace, seating area, kitchenette and the best part, and what I had been looking forward to the most, was the large 2-person jacuzzi tub! All the windows were stained glass and it just seemed so relaxing and luxurious compared to some of other other accommodations we have stayed in. There are 4 separate well maintained gardens for guests to relax in with lounge chairs, hammocks and benches, but the funniest and most clever part was the “Inca lawnmowers”!
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at12,507 ft and is located in the Andes Mountains on the border with Peru. Inca religion believed that the sun god was born in this lake and therefore is considered to be sacred. Although the town is quite small it has a large 16th-century cathedral, called the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana who is the patron saint of Bolivia. Every year hundreds of Catholics flood the town for a big festival in early August.
It’s been tough as I’ve had to pick and choose what activities to do, but a hike to the top of San Christòbal mountain was something I easily passed on. Plus I was I didn’t mind a couple hours alone in peace and quiet.
This section as told by Aaron: The trail began just at the top of the street we were staying on, but it was still very steep, and only got steeper. At the end of the road was a stone path that led to the start of the trail. The trail itself was more of a staircase, winding back and forth with cross statues at each switchbacks all the way up the side of the hill. At the top, the air was thick with the smell of wax from people burning candles for relatives, and there were a row of crosses leading to a large alter with a statue in it. Of course, the sides were lined with vendors, how did they get all that stuff up here?!? It was about 20 minutes to sunset, so I decided to wait and enjoy the view, and what a view it was! Both the city and the lake were beautiful!
Back to Lindsay: To fill some time one day we visited the small yet informative Museo del Poncho ($2/each). It was actually pretty interesting and only took about 20-30 mins to see all the whole exhibit. It was a nice change to focus on menswear for once since most museums stick to showing the more elaborate woman’s wear. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed in the museum.
We were going to have to move hotel rooms for 1 night so instead we decided to catch a boat to the Isla del Sol. It was a 1.5 hr boat ride to the main town in the middle of the island called Yumani where we stayed 1 night at Hostel Jacha Inti. The town is built right into the side of a large hill and everywhere you look there are stairs, stairs and more stairs! Thank goodness our hostel was not too far up and had absolutely gorgeous views of the port and Lake Titicaca. We enjoyed the sunshine from our balcony while playing yahtzee and drinking coca tea before having dinner at the hostel restaurant. There are no cars, much less roads on the islands so walking and/or donkey is the main mode of transportation. I had to laugh when in the morning I was woken up by a donkey instead of a rooster!
Since I am still trying to take it easy I decided not to join Aaron the next day on a hike to the south end of the island. With the altitude and my lack of strength still these days it just didn’t seem worth it to kill myself over. I stayed back at the hostel and relaxed in the sun, caught up on emails/blogging and enjoyed the gorgeous views. Plus, I figured if I could just look at all the pictures Aaron took it’d be just like I was there with none of the effort, right? If only it was that simple. I can’t wait till I’m 100% again; I feel so lame.
Back to Aaron writing again: I assumed that since the main thing to do on the island is hike, the trail to the Sun Temple would be pretty obvious. It started up a large, staircase flanked by two giant statues of inca natives and lined with beautiful fields of flowers. There was even a small stream (or gutter) to one side of the trail providing nice sounds as you climbed up the first section of the trail. After a gate, the trail became a little more typical, winding back and forth through some small houses and hostels. A few vendors were out, but less than usual since it was Sunday. After about 10 minutes, I was at the town and the trail split into a series of roads. There are no cars on the island so, maybe I should call them paths though. I kept going on the largest trail, past a church and between some terraced fields. Donkeys kept looking at me as if I was very much out of place. I began to agree with their assessment. I was definitely headed north, and the sun temple was south. I turned around and headed back into town, but because it was Sunday, everyone was at church and not available for pointing me in the right direction. Finally, I found someone and they pointed down the road to the south. Ok, at least now I am going the right direction. The path slowly narrowed to a single footpath winding through a small forest, past some small houses, and then to what seemed to be a donkey trail through the fields. This was definitely not the correct path, but I still felt like I was going the right direction, so I continued on. The trail led along the southern ridge of the island, weaving through the terraced fields, giving great views all along the way of the mountains, and waterline. I also had a great view of the trail I should have taken.
After I climbed to the southernmost peak of the island, I began heading downward to the other trail. There wasn’t really a clear path, so I just followed a donkey trail down the side of the hill. Finally I met up with the main trail and found the sun temple. It was well worth the effort. A cool smiling rock greeted me at the entrance to a series of rooms, some very dark, others leading through to deeper parts of the temple. It was awe inspiring that this was built before Inca times. After exploring the 10 or so rooms, I headed back.
Back in Copacabana we returned to the same room we had been renting the last couple of days at Hotel la Cupula. We didn’t miss a chance to enjoy yet another soak in the jacuzzi and a beautiful sunset overlooking the lake. This place does seem to have a bit of magic to it.
I need to make a special mention of an excellent nonprofit restaurant we found called Pan America Bakery and Pizzeria. It’s owned and operated by a lovely couple (Jeff and Debbie) from Chicago, IL and all proceeds go to support local service and sustainable economic development projects of Mision Fronteras. It was warm and inviting inside and the handmade pizza was absolutely delicious. Oh and not too mention the homemade granola chocolate chip cookies we got too!! It was fun to talk to someone that knew where we were from, as it was just sort of comforting and refreshing. They even have a house in South Haven, MI that they visit a couple months a year. This really is a small world! (Queue up “It’s a Small World After All” on repeat in your head, you’re welcome)
Posted on August 30, 2015
We are typically the plan ahead type of people, but with the Salt Flats tour and no internet access we were lucky to have found such a great apartment last minute. The apartment is part of the Lhamourai Living Apartment Group owned and run by Marina and Fernando. They have been so helpful and accommodating and concerned about my medical issues and even let us stay an extra week in the apartment. Wish we would have thought to contact them while actually in the hospital to help with translation. Only downfall of the place is it’s on a busy street corner with honking cars and minibuses starting about 6am.
We took advantage of the local shops right in the neighborhood and did a lot of grocery shopping and cooking at home. Aaron was quite proud of the delicious tuna casserole he made, I’d like to think I whipped up a pretty tasty stir-fry one night and of course Aaron hit a home run every morning with a great breakfast scramble. We love being able to cook for ourselves as eating out for 3-meals a day can get old (and expensive) real quick. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a bit of normalcy in our lives again.
As I slowly gained my strength back we were able to leave the apartment for longer amounts of time and do more and more activities. A museum visit is always a great slow-paced activity, so we visited the National Folklore Museum ($3/each, $3 more if you want to take pictures, closed between 12-3pm). Four floors of a wide variety of exhibits ranging from weaving and crafts, photography, festivals, economy, currency, local birds, and ceremonial masks. Unfortunately none of the descriptions were in english, otherwise we could have spent all day there. Even without translations we were still able to appreciate the deep culture surrounding this country.
One day we walked through the old San Francisco Church ($3 each) and admired the details and effort that used to go into building religious buildings. Too bad the chapel itself was not open that day but still it was an interesting stop.
The streets are steep and packed with people; add that to all the honking cars and minibuses and this city is one hoping place. We wondered around the tourist shopping streets and purchased a few souvenirs for ourselves and a few presents for loved ones back home (don’t get too excited guys!). We had decided we would try to mail a box of stuff home to Michigan so we took the chance to buy a few fun things. We ended up with 6.5 lbs of stuff and it only cost about $60 to get it home. That may sound like a lot but added to the minimal amount we spent on the stuff and the fact we do not have to carry it for the next 3 months, it was money well spent.
On another outing we visited the creepy and eerie witches market. Everywhere you looked there were baskets full of died llama fetuses, piles of dried herbs, rows and rows of statues, every imaginable homeopathic healing remedy, hanging from the ceilings were stuffed baby llamas, stacks of incense and piles of “powerful healing” rocks. It was a bit overwhelming not only in sight but in smell too. Needless to say we did not purchase anything at this market!
We had read about in a few different travel books and had seen advertisements around town for something called Cholitas Wrestling. Supposedly it’s a local La Paz special, so we felt we had to give Andean Secrets a try and book tickets for a Cholitas wrestling match ($7 each). The price included transport, snack of popcorn and soda and a small souvenir (we got a pin and a mini stuffed Cholitas wrestler doll). We arrived at a large gym like building and took front and center seats. Ring side baby! I wish I had been told it was semi-outdoors as it was very cold and I shivered for the next 3 hours. If you go bring a warm jacket, hat and/or blanket to sit on.
This was one experience we won’t forget. The arena was filled with people, loud music and flashing lights as the 1st wrestlers emerged from behind a curtain. It was very similar to what you see on WWF. Interestingly the 2 rounds of opening wrestlers were all men wearing crazy outfits, makeup and masks. I do have to say some of the stunts they performed were pretty impressive. Flying off the top ropes and throwing each other out of the ring. It was hilarious, stupid and entertaining all at the same time. Their crowd interactions were great too! One of the guys picked up Aaron’s half finished soda, took a mouthful and spit it on his opponent.
The best part for sure was the actually Cholitas (woman) wrestlers. They entered the ring wearing traditional clothing and accessories in all different colors and looked like any other woman you’d see on the street. I was quite impressed with the fact that they could do just about everything the men did while wearing full skirts and sandals.They too were launching themselves off the top ropes, flipping each other over and smacking each other around. Right after I got a great picture with one of them, she leaned over the railing and gave Aaron a big smooch on the mouth! If I hadn’t just had my appendix out, I may have jumped in the ring myself! It was almost mesmerizing to watch the colored skirts swirl around as the match went on. There was a lot of theatrical bits to the show and sometimes annoying as it was all in Spanish and really we just wanted to see the woman fight. We are not violent people I swear, but this was a pretty funny and cheap evening worth of entertainment.
NOTE: Read about Aaron’s crazy adventure down Death Road here.
I spent the day running a few errands (printing/photocopying, stopped by the hospital, mailing our insurance claim, last minute shopping) and relaxing at home on the couch. It was nice to have a day to myself after 2 months of constantly being together. Don’t get me wrong I love Aaron more then anything, but really can 2 people spend this much time together??? Hahahaha, if this doesn’t build us a strong marriage I don’t know what will.
Our last day in La Paz was basically spent trying to find a computer store that sold a small external hard drive and Ipads as we are contemplating purchasing another device so we can both be online at the same time. We are looking at this as a sort of investment in our marriage! No more fighting over who gets to use the computer and it would be really convenient and useful. We generally aren’t the mega chain store type of people but where is a Best Buy when you need one? We wandered around in circles and waited for shops to open post lunch as most shops, markets, museums and even some restaurants close up between 12-3pm. In the end we basically accomplished nothing besides wearing ourselves out, so frustrating. To avoid a total flop of a day we headed to the Red cable car called Mi Teleferico ($6 roundtrip each) that rises up to the top of the surrounding hills and has a spectacular panoramic view of La Paz. I didn’t realize it was so big and had SO MANY houses cramped together. The brown color of the bricks that 90% of the houses are made of make the hillside look like they are covered in rocks not homes. Very different from the neighborhoods we grew up in. It was a quick and inexpensive activity and I think worth the beautiful view.
Posted on August 26, 2015
WARNING: Blog content may be disturbing to some readers.
For 2 weeks I had been feeling more and more sick. I kept blaming it on the high altitudes we were at (although I’ve never had a problem with this before) and then thinking I just had a really bad cold. I should have known better having Lupus and being told repeatedly that if I feel bad I need to seek medical attention. That said, I know that if I had been back in the States I would have gone to the doctor. Unfortunately our situation here in Bolivia did not allow for that. So what exactly had I been experiencing? Extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, headaches, dry mouth, extreme thirst, sleeplessness, sinus pain, runny nose, cold and light sensitivity, diarrhea, high fevers (99-102F), cuts and sores that would not heal, and a general feeling of crappiness. Fun times, huh? The last few days in Uyuni were extremely hard for me to handle and after traveling for 30 hours to LaPaz I was ready for a nice big, clean bed and spending the next couple of days just laying in it!
Things don’t always go as planned, by 6:30am I was at my wits end, and I woke Aaron up saying I HAVE TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL NOW!. He quickly responded and rushed outside to hail a cab and despite having a hard time communicating to the driver “hospital emergencia pronto!” we finally were on our way. He dropped us off in front of a set of unmarked metal doors and just said “aqui.” Aaron and I both look suspiciously at each other but I was in so much pain we decided to give it a try. We entered the emergency hallway of Hospital de Clinicas and at first only saw a few closed doors. We peeked inside one room we heard voices coming from and found a nurse typing on a typewriter (yup you read right!) next to a moaning woman on a ripped up plastic covered table. She waved us into the room and told us to sit down and wait despite It being freezing cold and I was visibly shivering.
NOTE: I went back a week later to have my stitches removed and took a few pictures of the hospital.
Here’s where things start to get a bit graphic so I am sorry if I offend anyone, but I think it’s important to understand the whole experience. I had been having bouts of diarrhea all night and when I asked if I could use the bathroom the nurse replied NO. What! I’m literally having an accident right now and I can’t use the bathroom. Oh my goodness, what do I do? I started begging and crying and she took pity on me and allowed me to go into the actual emergency room to a small bathroom in the back corner. Here’s where it gets fun. No door knob, no toilet seat, no toilet paper and no faucet. I stepped out and asked a nearby nurse for paper and they said there was none and by this time I had no option but to go anyways. I returned to Aaron in tears and with a look of horror on my face where he did everything he could do to comfort me. Eventually I replaced the woman on the plastic table and the chivalrous man that Aaron is gave up his own coat to cover me up. Unfortunately I was beyond warming up at that point and we both just sat there freezing.
Finally a doctor came in and examined me by looking at my unhealed cuts, pressing on my stomach, checked my blood pressure and listened to my heart and then ordered a number of tests for me to go have done . We still did not really grasp where we were and slowly made our way outside and down the open air hallways to various departments. This was all done painstakingly slow as I could barely walk now from pain and exhaustion, was covered in diarrhea and shaking so bad. We stopped first for blood tests, then a urine and stool sample (of course again the bathroom facility was just a toilet) and then across the way to radiology for an abdominal ultrasound. Each step of this process required a lot of time, patience and figuring out. This proved to be a bit difficult as we were both extremely stressed and scared. If only we spoke Spanish!
I continued to have accidents throughout this process, with no help from any nurses, and I was beyond mortified and embarrassed with how I looked and smelled. I can’t thank Aaron enough for his support through all of this. After completing the tests we returned to the emergency room and they admitted me into the actual bed area. Now don’t go thinking this is an improvement on on the situation. I was still wearing my soiled pants, laying on a ripped up plastic bed with no sheets, pillow or blanket. Thankfully Aaron was eventually able to beg a nurse for a blanket which helped a bit. The only funny thing about this situation was the woman in the bed next to me that sounded like Fozzy Bear! We shared a much need laugh over this. Around 2pm a surgeon paid a visit and informed me of my appendicitis and the need for immediate surgery. The one plus to this was they planned to do it laparoscopically if possible. This was quite a shock and not what we had been expecting to hear. In preparation for surgery they changed me into a paper-thin see through gown and struggled to get an IV in. This was so unbelievably painful as they used a piece of rubber tubing that I was pretty convinced was going to squeeze my arm off. Not too mention the multiple failed attempts as getting the vain so they just repeatedly stabbed me until they got it. I thought I was going to lose it. Finally around 7pm they took me down for surgery and it all happened pretty quick (at least for me that is) but it was a long 2.5 hours of waiting in a cold hallway (with no chairs) for Aaron.
Since this a pubic heath care hospital nothing, and I mean nothing, is included or easy to do. For every test, procedure, or supply that I needed Aaron had to make a trip first to the cashier with the prescription and then to the pharmacy to get my needed supplies and then back to the doctor. Unfortunately the hospital pharmacy was undersupplied and therefore he had to go outside the hospital to a pharmacy across the street to get the supplies. He even had to get all of my surgery supplies (medicines ,IV tubes, saline, needles, etc. and blood for a transfusion) and deliver it before they started. So different then in the U.S. Oh and you can only pay in cash which required multiple trips to an ATM as well. What a trooper he is.
I awoke the next day in a large room lined with 24 hospital beds. This was obviously the woman’s recovery ward and I had made it through surgery. Phew! I was experiencing a bit of pain at the incision sites and I was still having a lot of diarrhea which again was a major problem since I couldn’t get out of bed without a nurse and still had no toilet paper. I had spent the night lying in my own urine and diarrhea. I never would have never expected a hospital to be so bare-bones. It was the family member’s job to supply the patient with all needed toilet paper, drinking water, extra blankets, food other then 3 small bland meals, toiletries, and soap. Of course we did not know this and visiting hours were not until noon (and only till 5pm) so that first morning I was left to just sit and wait for Aaron to show up. Thankfully the woman next to me named Marta gifted me a few squares of toilet paper and a “muy grande” pair of depends to wear. Awesome, I have officially lost all dignity. Not even in the hospital can you get away from the street vendors as once a day a woman would walk through the ward selling toilet paper, nuts and popcorn. Too bad I didn’t have any money.
This place was like being in a 1920s insane asylum. Weird noises, metal beds, loud groans for across the room, a loud flickering TV I don’t understand, florescent lights and other patients just shamelessly staring at you for hours. There even was this scary orderly straight out of a mad scientist movie with clunky rubber boots, elbow length black rubber gloves who just stomps around, grunting, banging things and constantly scowling. She honestly scared me! I have to give the hospital a little credit for being quite resourceful as they found a way to repurpose a number of items. For example, used needle sharps doubled as push pins, plastic bags were ripped into strips and used to tie things up or together, and the empty plastic saline bottles became drinking cups, puke trays, bodily fluid (blood, urine) collection containers, and lab specimen holders. One afternoon a nurse dropped off a bottle on my table and just walked away. Aaron and myself looked at it and questioned if it was a local bottle of Bolivian tequila with a worm in it? When he asked the nurse if I was expected to drink it she busted out laughing! Nope, that was my appendix and we needed to get it to the lab. Ha ha ha! Stupid Americans. Too bad the lab was closed for the weekend and it would have to sit next to me for the next 2 days. Something I found kinda disturbing about this hospital was the fact that the nurses locked up and left from about midnight to 5am each night. What were you supposed to if you needed help in the middle of the night? Such a different experience then in the States.
I have to mention a special nurse that made my time so much more bearable. Her name is Nalita and I referred to her as my “spanish mamacita”. She was so sweet, took extra time to help me and made sure I was as comfortable as possible in the horribly confining beds. She would caress my hand and speak soft gentle words to me when she could tell I was scared or lonely. She even invited her 15 year old daughter Vanesa in to talk with me for a while one day. She wanted to practice her english and thought we might be able to be friends. She was absolutely wonderful and it was comforting to be able to talk to someone and ask a few questions about what was going on. She was even able to translate a bit for her mom and me to talk. When I asked Vanesa about her plans for the future she told me she hopes to go to Canada in a few years and study engineering. She says it’s easier to get into Canadian schools then U.S. schools but just wants to study hard and do well in school no matter where she goes. I couldn’t help but wonder if she might be able to go to Grand Rapids Christian High School for the next few years through our International program??? Any GRCHS people reading this? She also has a younger sister who is 12 years old and hopes to follow in her sister’s footsteps. She is absolutely wonderful and I think she would thrive at GRCHS. Think about it….
One of the many doctors we came into contact with notified Aaron that this was the poorest of all the hospitals in La Paz. Great, glad we know this now! (We also later found out there was a nice private hospital even closer to our apartment!!! Ugh! ) I already mentioned the lack of anything included at the hospital, but a few other observations include the fact that the nurses hardly ever wore gloves, all documents were done on typewriters and their charted record keeping was all hand written. One major downfall to this was that they could never seem to get my name right. I have paperwork with all of the following names and patient numbers on them: Petersen Lindsay Anne #90403505, Peterson A Linsay Annet #90403614, X Petersen Lindsay Anne #90403503, Peterson A Linsay Annet #318427. Hope my request for a medical record summary goes through all right. Not sure this is how I would have normally done things, actually I know that it isn’t, but I guess the upside to a poor hospital is that the cost of having your appendix out is super cheap. All said and done we figured it out to have cost us approximately $600. That wouldn’t even buy you a night in a U.S. hospital! And I got 3, lucky me. You know me always looking for a way to save a penny. Let’s just hope that all they took was my appendix!!
Posted on August 25, 2015
The small, dreary, ghost-like town of Uyuni (“U-knee”) is located in the southwest region of Bolivia a few hours north of the Chilean border. It happens to be the coldest area of Bolivia and has a record low temperature of -45F. Average temps are between 40F and 50F year round and yes, it was really cold! Not to mention the constant blowing wind and the sudden dust storm straight out of a movie that coated everything not only outside but inside too. The other unfortunate part about Uyuni is all the trash which blows around in the wind like tumbleweeds.
Red Planet Expedition came highly recommended as a reputable tour company so we booked a 3 day/2 night ($180/each) tour of the salt flats for the next day. We met at the office at 10:30am and were introduced to our guide Bismar and driver Jasmin. Joining us in the newer then we expected Toyota Land Cruiser was a young guy named Joe from England and a French couple, Philippe and Christine. Bismar told us that these trips are so hard on the trucks they have to replace them every 3 years. The French couple were avid picture takers and I didn’t think it was possible to out shoot an Asian, but I guess it is. It was a constant click-click out the window of the same thing over and over again. Sometimes they even had to fight over who got the best shot through the window. It ended up being really annoying.
Our first stop not far out of town was the Train Cemetery. Starting in 1930 retired trains were abandoned here and only later become a sort of tourist attraction. Supposedly it is more expensive to disassemble the trains than just leave them in the desert and it creates a bit of a Disney like feel. The tracks run from the mines in the mountains, through the salt flats and all the way to the coast (which now belongs to Chile). Only small portions of the tracks are still in use today. .
We passed along through small villages with fields growing red and white quinoa and raising llamas. I tried to get close for a picture but the darn things just kept running away. Stand still, I just want one picture!
The small town of Colchani is where the locals bring the salt for processing, packaging and shipping. Also useful is the fact that they can extract lithium from the salt to produce batteries for electronics around the world.
The Salar de Uyuni used to be a lake but eventually dried up over time. Evidence of petrified sea coral and aquatic fossils are visible and it is still considered to be the largest salt lake in the world. The salt can reach up to 400ft thick in the middle and strangely it’s always clear skies above the flats even if the surrounding towns are stormy. One awesome nerdy science fact is that there is no cell reception or compass usage on the flats due to the high concentration of minerals. Weird!
Hiked around Cactus Island ($4/each to visit) which has about 4,030 cactus on this small island in the middle of the flats and the oldest cactus is over 100 years old and 50ft tall. Keep in mind that they only grow less then a half inch per year. Now those are some old cacti!
Finished out day 1 by watching the sun set over the salt flats before heading to our accommodations for the night in a salt block sort of barracks. Of course there was no heat, but we did get some delicious warm food and once you crawled into your sleeping bag it was pretty warm. Too bad Aaron’s sleeping bag zipper was broken! We both slept with all of our clothes on from the day and then some. I’m not sure I took any of the 3 coats or wool hat I was wearing off the whole trip.
Day 2 started 30 mins late as the French couple overslept and we had to wait for them to pack up and to our horror demand to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee before we departed. Such selfishness and not even an apology to the rest of us. Probably the most interesting stop on this day was the Rock Tree which was made famous by Salvador Daly paintings of the dessert. Funny thing is though that he’s never actually been to see it, someone just showed him a picture of it once and he liked it!
Through out the day we passed by multiple lagoons with beautiful pink flamingoes, seagulls and other various birds resting in them. We drove past emus, llamas, and small native deer grazing on the high alpine shrubs. Lunch was a chilly picnic at 13,800ft overlooking 1 of the 2 active volcanoes in Bolivia. We made a brief stop to look at some bubbling geysers and to experience what it feels like to be at 16,400ft (5000m) above sea level. My observation: cold, windy and and to breath! By far the best part of the day was visiting the hot springs after being so cold and dusty and worn out from the long day. It was a lovely experience for sure (between the getting in and getting out parts). Brrrrrr!!
Our last day of the tour was basically a 6-hour drive north back to Uyuni. Aaron and me had been sitting in the cramped 3rd row for the past 2 days and today I demanded a seat switch. I had had enough crawling in and out of the back, I wasn’t feeling well and was just plain grumpy and annoyed with the French couple always getting their way. Unfortunately this plan didn’t work out as perfectly as I hoped as Christine had a “bad knee” and had to stay in the middle row with us. This wouldn’t have been so bad except that she smoked at every stop and smelled like a dirty ashtray. yuck! I was almost beyond myself as the dust had picked up and you could visibly see it swirling around inside the car as we bounced and jerked our way down the dirt roads. Trying to catch a decent breath I rode a portion of the way with my coat over my head; it didn’t really help. I was not a happy camper and ready for this tour to be over. My advice would be to just take the 1-day tour of the salt flats, which is the highlight of the whole trip anyways. The rest of the trip is just a lot driving, wind, dust and cold but with some pretty great views too. You decide, but I think the negatives may not outweigh the positives of the 3-day trip.
Back in Uyuni by 4pm we had until midnight to kill time before catching the overnight train/bus to LaPaz. We found a hotel that would let us rent a room for 2 hours (I can only imagine what they thought we wanted it for!!) and we took a much needed super hot shower, changed into the cleanest clothes we could find and repacked our bags. We walked around the not so exciting town for awhile and then returned to a restaurant called Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza we had found our first night in town. This place is AMAZING and the pizza can rival any U.S. pizza joint!! It’s owned by a Massachusetts guy and his Bolivian wife and it just so happens one of the first pictures we saw on the wall when we walked in was of 2 guys standing in t-shirts in the snow next to a Holland/Grand Rapids highway sign!!!! Who would have thought the chances of this? We took advantage of the free wifi and booked our accommodations for LaPaz, yes a little last minute we know, but we knew we’d have time to do this once back in Uyuni. By midnight we were ready to be moving on and quickly fell asleep as soon as the train left the station.
Posted on August 20, 2015
It took us a three hour bus ride up winding roads with nice valley views on a pretty comfy bus, with lots of dust, humidity and weird smells to get to the mining town of Potosi (“poe-TOE-see”). We weren’t even sure we’d actually be able to come to this town as over the past month the entire city was in lockdown over a miner driven community strike. Thankfully, the week before we arrived the strike was lifted and the miners and government where starting negotiations. At 13,343 ft (4,067 m), we were barely able to make it up the 4 flights of stairs to our hotel room, where we promptly collapsed on the bed and rested for a while. I felt as if my heart was going to beat right out of my chest. Am I really this out of shape?
The hotel we booked online, Hostal Tukos La Casa Real, looked decent but upon arrival we were quickly disappointed. No heat, and super dingy, the 1-pane windows in our room were not sealed and allowed enough air through to blow open our room’s door. The completely disgusting carpet was wet and had visible mold from a leaking old (not working) radiator. The shower did not drain properly so you stood in ankle deep water, there were long black hairs attached to the wool blankets on the worlds most uncomfortable bed with lumpy pillows. To top it off, the breakfast consisted of cold hard rolls, unappetizing fruit and tea we choked down while wearing a down coat and hat. When in Potosi we would not recommend staying here.
Don’t get me wrong, despite the high attitude and sub-par accommodations Potosi is a pretty neat little town. Lovely Spanish architecture, old ornate churches and winding little streets. It’s pretty exhausting with all the up and down but there are some cool shops, and a fun central mercado to explore and beautiful plazas to enjoy. One bummer about the time we were visiting is that with the national independence day holiday (which they were boycotting) and the strikes we found it hard to find restaurants that were open at night for dinner. We generally try to avoid doing this but ended up eating at a great place called 4060 two nights in a row. Warm, cozy, great food and close to our hotel.
Our hotel helped us book a silver mine tour of Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”) through Big Deal Tours. Our guide, Wilson, spoke great english and you could tell he really liked being a guide. He himself started working in the mines at the age of 8 years old and continued to do so for the next 21 years. He recently made the switch to leading tours and enjoys telling his and other miner’s stories, not working such long hard hours in the mine and mostly staying in the healthier non-underground conditions. After being picked up from the hotel we headed to the local miner’s market at the base of the mountain. Every morning the miners stop here to buy needed supplies for the day. Things like water, soda, coca leaves, dynamite, miner’s cigarets, clothing/tools, and even bottles of 95% alcohol to drink. Yikes! They do not eat in the mine and only take a short 2 hour break (still in the mine) to rest during their 10 hour shifts. We purchased some soda and coca leaves to carry down to the miners as a gift for letting us see their daily lives.
Next stop was getting suited up like the miners since this is an active working mine and we needed to protect ourselves and be as safe as possible. Rubber boots, pants, jackets, hard hats, lights, and face masks completed the look. Already I was hot and we hadn’t even gone down in the mine. We made a brief stop by the mineral processing plant to see what happens once the mineral ore is removed from the mountain. This would have never passed safety regulations in the US as a bunch of clumsy tourists just busted right in, ducking and weaving between crazy loud, scary and dangerous looking machinery and hoping not to fall into the rock crushers! Some people amaze me with what they can put up with for a job on a daily/yearly/lifetime basis when necessary.
Ok, finally we are on our way to the bowels of the mountain. We drove up the winding dirt road moving periodically out of the way to let loaded down trucks of rocks headed to the processing plant pass us by and pulled up to a pretty non exciting hole in the side of the mountain. Llamas are sacred here to the locals and are often times sacrificed to bring good luck. That said the entrance to the mine was splattered with dried llama blood which made for a creepy start to the tour.
Almost immediately we had to start bending down to fit through the tunnels and at 15,827 ft(4,824 m) above sea level, with even less oxygen inside the mine shaft, this was no easy task. The altitude was really affecting me and in general I wasn’t feeling well so to start the day so now I was a stumbling, head hitting, slow moving mess. After just 10 minutes I though I feared I may get stuck down here if I could’t make it all the way through! We followed along the rail cart tracks and had to find little nooks and crannies to stuff ourselves into as the miners would come past with carts loaded with rock. It was so dark, damp, dusty, hot and miserable and I now know without ANY doubt in my mind that I am NOT cut out for mining. Darn, there goes that dream.
We continued on in the mountain either bent over fully in half or even crawling on hands and knees through small passageways. We took some time to talk to a few of the miners and learned that they can make twice as much working in the mines in a year ($430) as in town ($210). Only problem is they don’t live as long and you could tell they sacrificed themselves for the good of their families. In the last year they had 4 mine accident deaths (supposedly some irresponsible new miners) and another 16 were health (lung) related due to years in the mines. They were so appreciative of the gifts we brought and I can only hope it brightened their day at least a little in such a dark place.
Throughout the mine we saw beautifully colored stalactite formations covering the roof and passed by some creepy underground demon statues. The one pictured is the main guy and on the 1st Friday of every month (the same day we coincidently were there) the miners come and make offering to ask for health, safety and good luck with mining. In the mine they have what is called “the rule of twos” used for good luck. Meaning they do everything twice. They shake both hands, take 2 drinks the 95% alcohol (which Aaron did!) and sacrifice 2 llamas. On a gross note, there was a decaying llamas fetus at the foot of this statue as an offering. Ewww! Another funny tradition in the mine is no matter the day or time the common greeting is “buenas noches” or good evening/night. Haha, pretty clever.
I was particularly ready for the tour to be done as a whole hour underground was enough for me (and my back and thighs!!). We headed back to the hotel where we showered and quickly fell asleep for the afternoon. I was still not feeling well by the evening and Aaron insisted that we leave Potosi a day early for Uyuni, which also happens to be a few thousand feet lower in elevation in hopes that would make me feel better. Aaron quickly negotiated with the hotel to check out in the morning and gave us one thing to appreciate about the hotel…they did not charge us for the night we cancelled. Finally something good to day about them.
Posted on August 6, 2015
We are both feeling better and adjusting to the high altitude (9,214 feet above sea level) here in Sucre (pronounced SUE–cray). The thin air makes it harder to breathe and any small amount of incline feels like you’re dragging a dead cow behind you! It is very dry and a bit cool in the mornings and evenings but perfectly comfortable and sunny all day long. Sucre- ‘la ciudad blanca’ or white city, gets it’s name from the municipal regulation that all buildings in the center of town must be whitewashed once a year. We are staying 4 nights at Hostal CasArte Takubamba in a private double room with ensuite and balcony. Clean, comfortable and the king sized bed is an added bonus. The evening we arrived we grabbed a quick dinner at Abis Patio which was a nice place, especially sitting out back in the garden, but we weren’t really into doing anything, since we were still adjusting to the altitude so we just ate and went home to bed.
The center of town is located at Plaza de Mayo 25. A well kept flower-filled park around a stone fountain. It acts as the meeting place of friends, playground for children and a spot for couples to stroll at night. Oh don’t worry we took a night stroll there and we even held hands! Eww gross! Right off the plaza is a great place called Cosmo Cafe. We stopped in for drinks and a bathroom break and gladly used the free wifi while watching the people go by outside. Bonus points earned for having clean bathrooms, free and fast internet and a decently priced menu.
As I write this it seems like all we do is eat, but for lunch we went to a small restaurant called La Taverne and sat in the inner courtyard. Nice place, good food and well priced, so we were happy. After lunch we explored the central market and had so much fun seeing all the unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and spices. It’s always one of my favorite activities in a new town to see what their daily live is like and especially when it comes to food. We had a few laughs over the fact that most practices in the market would never fly in the States. i.e. dog chewing on chicken foot in the aisle, no refrigeration for meats, and people camped out on the dirty floor in front of other venders trying to sell their own goods. It’s a crazy place and a fun way to spend an hour.
Came across the Ethnographic and Folklore Museum as we wandered around town, Not much there, but sort of interesting and free so I guess no harm done. The collection of cultural masks featured traditional headwear of the area tribes and was definitely the highlight of the museum. Here’s a tip, when visiting Sucre keep in mind that museums are closed between 12:00 and 2:30pm so plan accordingly. Cafe Restaurant Florin was our choice for dinner and we just split the ensalada de Van Gogh which was excellent! Great little pub atmosphere and nice beer selection. Finished off the night with a final drink at Bibliocafe Classic and were happy to crawl into bed.
Booked a half day Horseback riding tour through Joy RIde Tourismo ($45 each). After 3 hours in the saddle our butts were super sore especially with all the totting and galloping we were allowed to do. We saw beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and a first hand look into the small villages outside of Sucre. It was disheartening to see all the trash, poverty and hardship and so sweet to see the kids come running to wave and say hello. Things got a bit crazy when we had to avoid packs of barking dogs, pigs, chickens and even some charging bulls! Our guide Johnny was very nice but did not speak english; luckily one of the other riders knew enough and we were able to get by.
Per a Tripadvisor review we ate dinner at a newer restaurant called The Red Lion English Pub. It is a cool space with a very friendly owner that just moved from England a few months ago. On a Tuesday night, however, it was not very busy. The food was excellent and really hit the spot after a long day out on the range. If you get the chance eat here when in Sucre.
We happen to be in Sucre on the 190th anniversary of the Bolivian Liberation from Spain so every day there have been parades, street vendors and performers and a general sense of excitement. I imagine it would be like visiting the US on the 4th of July. We keep laughing as the bands are continuously playing “The Ants Go Marching On” and Europe’s “Final Countdown” which are now permanently stuck on repeat in our heads. Probably the funniest thing we’ve seen so far on this trip are the dancing Zebra crossing guards around town. No lie, people dress up as Zebras and help the school children get safely home. I can only imagine the uproar the public school unions would have if they mandated teachers to do this in the US!!
We planned to go to the Casa de la Libertad (House of Liberty Museum) but it was closed due to the parades and celebrations. So instead we stopped for coffee and soup at the Cosmo Cafe again. We did some research, worked on the blog, listened to the never ending parade (after 3 hours it was still going strong!) and made plans for the rest of our day.
We painstakingly hiked up the steep narrow streets to the Museum of Indigenous Art– ASUR ($25 each) and we were glad we did because it as it was a very interesting and informative museum. There are 3 main cultures here in Bolivia and each have their own unique designs, patterns and colors. One is focused on the sky or heavens, another on real life or earth and the last one on the underworld. Unfortunately they don’t allow cameras inside, so you’ll have to see it for yourself!
Just a few yards past the museum is the lovely Cafe Mirador. Large umbrellas and sling back lounge chairs allow for optimal relaxation in the bright sunshine while we enjoyed the sweeping views of the city below. A wonderful place to rest our tired legs and enjoy a beer.
Posted on August 3, 2015
Our trip to Bolivia started with spending the first 2 hours of our 8am flight sitting on the plane still parked at the gate in deep fog. Ugh, glad we got up so early. Thankfully the plane we were on was the same one scheduled to go onto Santa Cruz, Bolivia from our layover in Paraguay. Good news for us as we were 1 hour late and still made our connection.
Our airbnb.com host, Carlos, had pre-arranged for a taxi driver to bring us from the airport to the edge of town and we were happy to see he was still patiently waiting, holding a sign with our names on it, when we exited customs. It was a crazy hour-long ride through town and down dirt roads swerving around people, dogs, cattle and avoiding giant potholes and piles of dirt? Yup, dirt! Only a few of the main roads are paved the rest are dusty dirt paths. Needless to say we were coated in dust by the time we reached the entrance to the Lomas de Arena Regional Park where Carlos was waiting with his Range Rover 4×4 truck. From there, it was a another adventure getting to the lodge piled into the front cab of the truck, plowing through puddles, gunning it up sand hills and bouncing back and forth through all the tire tracks. Oh and not too mention the grazing cattle and horseback cowboys which we had to avoid. I’m pretty sure the cows would win in a stand off!
The lodge is like an oasis in the middle of a savannah of blowing grasses and sand dunes. The main house is decorated with eclectic and unique traditional and historical Bolivian finds and the separate guest house provides adequate privacy and comfort. The pictures online do not do it justice. Carlos is incredibly handy and built the houses himself 15 years ago and is a talented metal worker in his spare time. His son David and his wife Evelyn and their 2 children live next door and help with the running of the lodge. Carlos only hosts 2 guests at a time so the place was basically ours.
Evelyn is super sweet and wonderfully hospitable, but unfortunately she speaks English like I speak Spanish so our conversations were limited to when Carlos could translate. We opted for the full board option ($25/day/person) as there are no restaurants or stores nearby and we were not sorry we did! Although with the amount of food they serve we would have been fine with just the half board (breakfast/dinner). For our first meal we had steak, fries, rice and a delicious onion, tomato and pineapple sauce on top. So so soo good. From there our other meals continued to amaze and delight with breaded steak, roasted chicken, sausage spaghetti, 3 sausage and chicken paella, tortillas de patatas, fried plantains, rice, potatoes, salad, fruit, vegetables, fresh bread, just to name a few. So much food, and every bite was incredibly flavorful. We left here with a few extra pounds for sure, but that may not be such a bad thing for Aaron!
With 4 dogs, 3 cats, 1 rooster, multiple chickens, a flock of geese and many wild birds it can prove to be quite loud around the house at times and is like living in a zoo. Most of the time it was quite entertaining except for when the rooster would crow in the middle of the night, and Aaron found out the hard way not to try and pet the chickens. They are better observed form afar or on your dinner plate. The yard is full of flowering bushes and fruit heavy trees and the fresh bouquets around the house made such a warm and inviting place to visit.
Our king-sized breakfast was appreciated on our 3 hour hike in the morning to the sand dunes. The sun was high and hot and walking through sand is tough on the calves. Not too mention the lack of physical training between the 2 of us! We watched some other tourists try their hand at sand boarding, but we stuck to running down and hiking around the top of the dunes. We came across a crystal clear lagoon next to the dunes and were so happy for the opportunity to wash off the blowing sand. A wonderfully refreshing and fun activity. Upon returning to the lodge we spent the afternoon napping and relaxing in the hammock. Another full day of having fun and we slept well under our mosquito net, or as I like to think of it as a princess tent!
It’s not an uncommon thing to have a brief power outage which meant we got to enjoy our breakfast by candlelight one morning. This only seemed romantically appropriate as it is was our 6 month wedding anniversary!
We wandered along the riverbed up the road from the lodge for a bit but when we tried to cross we got stuck in quicksand up to our knees! We never did find a path to follow and our legs ended up pretty scraped up by bushwhacking through waist high brush, plus we started thinking about the possibility of stepping on a snake and quickly hightail it back to the road. The winds were picking up and making it uncomfortable with all the blowing dirt so we headed back to the lodge and spent the day booking the next week of our travels, napping (seems to be a common thing here!) and reading in the hammock. At night we opened the bottle of mead (honey wine) that we have been carrying around since we began this crazy adventure to celebrate a great start to our new life together. Our wedding guests received a bottle of this wine in January and were instructed not to open until January of 2016. Trust us, it continues to get better each month you let it age.
The next morning we took another 3 hour hike and enjoyed watching all the beautiful birds and butterflies. We took a different route through a more forested area and had to maneuver our way around some large mud puddles and downed trees. To our surprise we had looped back around by the sand dunes from the other day and we were happy to have the opportunity to go swimming again. As we started back towards the lodge we caught a ride with a Bolivian and his German girlfriend in their truck. This was a welcome bonus as the sun was beating down and it was getting hotter by the minute. We really have been blessed to have met so many nice people in this country already. No surprise we spent the afternoon relaxing, Aaron worked on the blog, played a few games of cribbage and rounded out yet another great day with a movie in bed.
Arrived at the airport a little early (Carlos insisted we needed to be there early) for our flight and unfortunately both of us were feeling a bit under the weather this day. I spent a few hours wishing I was in bed instead of on a stained bank of chairs in the airport and Aaron tried to entertain himself and ignore my complaining! On the positive side, Aaron was excited to finally find a place to buy a Bolivian SIM card for our cell phone. We only have a limited amount of data but it should come in handy when wifi is not available and we are in need of directions/info/etc. Plus we can now make local phone calls. It was a tough decision (not really), but we opted to purchase the 35-minute flight for $52/person opposed to the 8-hour unreliable $10/person bus ride from Santa Cruz to Sucre. We are getting too old for long bus rides!
I had the pleasure of sitting next to a crazy first time flyer on the plane. She was constantly fidgeting, using my tray table and reaching across in to the seat pocket in front of me. She read every word on the safety card, twice, and retightened her seat belt about 10 times. Not to mention the constant chatter and high pitched giggles despite my best effort to explain that I did not understand! Oh the funny people you meet while traveling.