Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lima Peru

Currency Soles - $1.00 US = $2.77 Soles
Cab from Bus Depot to Downtown - $12 Soles
Hostel Downtown - $16 Soles per night
Cab Bus Depot to Mira Flores - $12 Soles
Hostel Mira Flores - $27 Soles per night
Bus Trujillo to Lima - $75.00 Soles (Night Bus)- 7 hours
Bus La Paz to Lima - $75.00 Bolivianos - 34 hours

I was in Lima twice. The first time I stayed downtown in one of the most bizarre hostels yet.

Although strange it was a very cool place. An old mansion that had been converted to a hostel. Lots of rooms and very cheap called Hotel Espana. Very old world, lots of statues and old paintings. 3 floors, the dorm room was on the top floor off the massive outdoor patio. Hard to find the door for the plants, in the picture it is where the huge foliage is. There are also a couple of birds, the little dude pretended to be friendly but once he was on your shoulder if you tried to get him off he got mean. Great little restaurant and an awesome view of the old city from the top floor. Lots of nooks, crannies and staircases to strange places. I highly recommend you give it a go if you are in Lima.

Hostel Downtown Lima
The location was awesome, only a few blocks from the presidential palace and great restaurants and bars in the area. Tons of museums and shops lots of old streets to get lost in.

On my second trip in I stayed in Mira Flores, it is the tourist district, lots of casino’s and shops including a mall built on the cliff. Ocean front so some good walking and pretty scenery. The place to stay if you want to surf. The hostel was nice, Nomade Backpackers a few dorm rooms and a kitchen, good common areas including a bit of a patio on the ground floor. Nice location a block from the water front and a 5 minute walk to the main square.

Out of the two I preferred old town but I do love the musty old stuff. I was there for mother’s day so there was a big party at the presidential palace for some select mom’s and kids. There is a heavy military presents but I think it is more for show than anything else. I spend days wandering the streets, there are some very cool areas including a china town. Almost felt like home, got a Chinese food fix in and it was really good after 3 months of not having it. I also found a very cool free museum, the oro it is in an old bank, it is all about the early civilizations including the Inca’s. What used to be the vault has been converted into a gold room, everything shiny and gold is in there, it must be worth a lot of Soles. In order to get in you do need to bring your passport and they have really odd hours but well worth the visit. Can’t explain where it is but ask a local and they will point you to it. Lots of coffee shops so I could get my latte fix, all with patios so great people watching. The San Francisco church is also worth the price of admission, you get to go into the tombs under it. Not for the very tall as the ceilings are really low. Seems those wily Franciscan monks would put people who died remains down there, tons of disassembled skeletons & bones.

San Fran Church
 Do be careful about cabs, there are some really bad taxi drivers. They will tell you a price & when you are 1/2 way there they want more money or they will ditch you on the side of the road, usually in a bad neighborhood.  Don't put anything in the trunk, that way you don't have to argue with them, just agree to pay the extra that they want and when you get out with your stuff pay them the agreed upon price & walk away

How do you find people you met on your travels that you have lost contact with? Don't have a full name? Place an ad to find them on Lost Trekkers and international people search in classified ad format.

Main Square

China Town

Main Square

Hostel Room

Hostel Roof Deck + Critters

Mira Flores

Mira Flores Shopping Center

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rurrenabaque Bolivia

Currency: Boliviano $1.00 US = $6.97000 Bolivianas
Taxi hostel La Paz to airport - $50 B
Flight La Paz - Rurrenabaque + Pampas Tour - $1500.00 B
Moto Taxi airport to town - $8 B
Hostel - $25 B
Park entrance fee $150 B
No ATM take enough $'s for your time there - Bank that you can get Visa cash advance

In the jungle the mighty jungle... awoombawap awoombawap

The ride to the airport takes about 45 minutes, traffic is pretty horrendous so it is slow going through parts. There is an awesome statue of Che just before the airport made out of junk, his hair looks like it was made out of shredded tires, an awesome piece of art. Che died in the jungle in Bolivia so the people feel a kinship with him and his legacy. Tourist shops have lots of Che memorabilia, I bought a Che Bolivia T-shirt.

The airport at La Paz is pretty straight forward, the security check was pretty easy except I forgot I had a knife in my backpack. I left my big pack at the hostel in La Paz so I could just do carry on, I thought I had put the knife in it but apparently not. The folks at the airport were not amused, they went through the whole bag after that.

The flight to Rurrenabaque takes about 45 minutes and it is on a little 12 seater plane, my plane left about 30 minutes late, was suppose to go at 2pm. I got a front seat, I could reach out and touch the pilot and co pilot. A little freaky, when the plane takes off all sorts of alarms go off, apparently because La Paz is so high according to the instruments we are 4000 meters up but about to hit ground. The air strip in Rurrenabaque is dirt, landing was a little bumpy but a pretty uneventful flight. There are 2 airlines that fly into Rurrenabaque Amaszonas which is the one I took and TAM which has bigger planes and is run by the army.

There is suppose to be a bus at the airport to take you into town but I didn't see one. There are locals there with motor bikes that you can hire to take you in so I opted for that option. The locals are awesome, quite the sense of humor, I picked a driver and the rest promptly started some good natured heckling about how he just learned to drive and did I mind dying. About 1/2 way into town I started thinking they might not have been joking. 60k on cobblestone roads, no helmets. As previously mentioned I have issues with motor bikes and although I have gotten somewhat less freaked by them there is still a bit of fear.

I got into town the day before my tour was to leave, I could have waited a day and gotten the 1st flight out of La Paz but I Didn't want to chance not making it and this way I got to sleep in a bit. I had not booked a hostel so I had my moto driver drop me in the center of town, I had one in mind that Lonely Planet mentioned so I wandered until I found it. Rurrenabaque is not very big so even I could not get lost here. There are tons of hostels so unless you are going during a holiday you don't need to pre-book. Tons of tourists, this is the jumping off point for tours into the Amazon basin so lots of  tour companies, restaurants, bars and Internet cafes. There is no ATM so take enough cash for your stay. I found Hostal Touristico Santa Ana on the main strip towards the park. An awesome place, I got a private room, bed, desk and fan with a shared bathroom for $30B a night. Lots of hammocks and gardens, great layout, a chair and table outside every room. Makes for great socializing with other travelers. The family that owns it are really nice, always asking if everything is okay..


After check in I went out to explore the town, hit the internet cafe and grab some food. Cute town and nice people, lots of 2nd hand shops you can buy everything from used rain ponchos to towels. I found a restaurant/bar by the hostel called Monkey Bar, ice cold beer and live music. Food is pretty much North American, had some pizza and a couple of beers. Early morning, the tour was leaving at 8am so back to the hostel were I made friends with my neighbor, a Swiss guy who was off to do the Jungle tour the next morning.

Up at 7am and in search of coffee, found a restaurant by the tour office so I checked in with the tour company, Indigena and got some breakfast. Turns out we left late, they were waiting for a spare tire from the tire shop so we didn't leave until almost 10. There were 9 of us on the tour; guy from the Netherlands, a guy from Denmark, a couple from Denmark, a couple from Israel and a couple from Poland. The Pampas tour is 3 days and 2 nights.In reality 2 days are 1/2 days if you take off the jeep travel time. It involves a 3 hour jeep ride followed by a 3 1/2 hour canoe ride to get to the lodge on the river. The jeep ride is extremely dusty, the road is dirt and our jeep had a window that wouldn't go up, by the time we got to the river we were all coated in a thick layer of dust and coughing up brown crap. It is also not good for visibility, the road eventually goes to Brazil so there are lots of trucks on it creating even more dust. At one point we almost had a head on collision with a semi, our driver was passing another truck and because of the dust he didn't see the other truck coming, missed by a couple of inches, a little heart stopping action. Part way through the ride they stop for lunch, it is paid for as part of the tour. A quick 15 minute drive and we were at the gate for Parque Nacional Madidi were there is a $150 B fee to enter the park. The jeep part of the trip ends at Santa Rosa, we had to stop for fuel and we noticed there were huge line ups. Our jeep was diesel so we got to skip the line up but... Our guide told us that gas only comes in a couple of times a week and people are limited to 5 liters at a time. Explains why there are no cars and everyone has motor bikes.

The drop off point for the canoe part of the adventure is the same for all of the tour companies so there are 6+ jeeps dropping off people and supplies at the same time, organized confusion. We all helped unload the jeep and load the supplies in the canoe then we were off. Almost as soon as we left the river bank we entered a completely different world. The wildlife along the river was incredible, caymans everywhere including black caymans, monkeys, birds, turtles and the largest rodents in the world called carpinchos. The park has the most species of birds in the world. It is very important to make sure you don't leave anything or disrupt anything while you are there. It is a very sensitive area and tourism could be it's downfall if people are not careful about choosing a reputable tour company. Words can't explain the beauty of the place so I'll just include lots of pictures.

The lodge is pretty cool, it houses the sunset bar, some of the other tour companies bring their folks by at sunset for a drink. Amazing sight, the sky, the sounds of the jungle, had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it was real. The accommodations are bunks with mosquito netting, basic but adequate. There are a couple of outdoor showers and a few bathrooms. There are usually 2 tour groups there at a time there, so there are 2 dorm rooms. There are a couple of private accommodations, 1 of the couples opted for that choice.  The food was incredible, hard to believe you can get better food in the jungle than in most towns. I kind of assumed that since it was included in the cost of the tour they would cheap out but not so.  I have always love monkeys and there are a ton of them around the lodge, mischievous little bastards, don't leave your cloths outside your room hanging to dry, they may go missing, I lost a pair of socks to the monkey god.

During our time there we got to go piranha fishing, ugly little suckers and not much meat on them. The lodge will cook them up for you. I went swimming with pink dolphins, probably one of the coolest things ever and we went hunting for anaconda and found a huge black one. For the anaconda hunt the lodge has some rubber boots that you have to wear as it is pretty wet in the pamapas. Some of the tour company guides bring the anacondas out with them in bags (without the tourists knowing) and release them, yell that they found one and then let the tourists hold them. This is so wrong, the anaconda population is endangered so touching them is very bad, it can damage their skin as everyone has insect repellent and sunscreen on. I knew our guide didn't do this because he was nowhere near were the snake was spotted, 1 of the tourists saw it first. I only got a quick glimpse of it cause my boots were too big and they got sucked into the mud, I was having problems walking without my feet coming out so running was a little difficult, by the time I got there I just saw the tail end of it as  it slithered into a hole. All in all a most excellent adventure, the amount of wildlife was amazing,  the scenery incredible. The crew at the lodge and our guide where great, I loved the monkeys they were everywhere and constantly chatting.

It was raining pretty bad when we left the lodge to head back, it was warm rain so not really horribly bad. When we got to were the jeep was to pick us up it was a torrential downpour. The ride back took longer because the road was now just a huge mud pit. There were 5 of us booked on the 6pm flight out that night and it was looking like we were not going to make it. The driver told us it was raining in Rurrenabaque and that as of that morning all flights were canceled but it could change at anytime. We got back to town 15 minutes before the flight and ran to the airline office, the driver was right all flights out were canceled (dirt runway). There was a huge lineup of people trying to re-schedule, I got a flight time of 3 days later, that was the soonest I could get. Very  important if you go to Rurrenabaque make sure you factor in a couple of extra days incase you get trapped. Some of the other folks had flights they had to catch or tours they had booked for the next day so some of them got together and hired a van to La Paz. The bus is 20 hours so it wouldn't have worked for them. I had a few days before I had to worry so I decided to wait it out, worse case I could get a bus out if the rain didn't stop. I went back and got a room at the same hostel again and just kept checking at the airline office every day to see if I could weasel onto an earlier flight out. Because I only had my small pack I only brought 2 pairs of pants and a couple of shirts, all of them a little more than dirty. There is a laundry mat in town but because I wasn't sure when I was leaving I was reluctant to give them my cloths. Luckily everyone on the flight out I was on was in the same boat, felt sorry for the pilot, we were a very stinky bunch of people. The cab driver in La Paz was probably not very impressed either. When we got back to La Paz I shared a cab from the airport with a couple of German guys so yeah less money for me. I got them to drop me off at the Rover, reclaimed my big pack and had a very long shower before putting on clean cloths.

I highly recommend that if you are in Bolivia you take a trip to Rurenabaque. You can probably get the tour cheaper if you book it once you are in town and shop around but really the tour part of it was only about $65B and it was with a company that cares about the sustainability of the places they go.  Be wary of taking the cheapest one as they may not have the same standards.

Monday, December 6, 2010

La Paz Bolivia

Currency: Boliviano $1.00 US = $6.97000 Bolivianas
Bus Copacabana to La Paz - $25 B
Boat across Lake Titicaca - $10 B
Taxi Bus Depot to Hostel - $15 B (for 3 of us)
Hostel La Paz - $55 B a night (4 bed dorm) - Wild Rover
Hostel La Paz - $15.00 US a night (private room) - Republica

The bus from Copacabana to La Paz takes about 4 hours. Part way through we had to exit the bus to get across Lake Titicaca. The bus is loaded onto a barge to go across and we are sent over via small boats. It takes about 1/2 an hour for the bus to get across, looks totally hilarious, hard to believe all vehicles go across that way, looks like the barges will sink at any minute. There are stalls that sell drinks and food so it's a great place to grab a snack and watch the fun.

The first view of La Paz that you get coming in via bus is from the road above, it is amazing, a huge bowl crowded with buildings all the way up the side of the mountains. Hard to believe some of them can stay up, not an inch of wasted space. It is an amazing sight.

The bus depot is relatively new and it is huge. It is located pretty close to the center of the city and taxi's are plentiful. I had found the Wild Rover Hostel on line and thought it sounded pretty good. Good location, clean and with a fun bar. Turns out it was also the residence of a former president at one time. The people I shared a cab with were booked at the Loki which it turns out backed onto the back of the hostel I was in. The Wild Rover is located 2 blocks down from the presidential plaza and is within walking distance of pretty much all of the sites. If booking a room at the Rover I recommend asking for a room in the back of the building. There is a weird outside annex part way in the back, gets no noise from the bar. The ones in the front of the building and by the bar are extremely noisy & the bar is open until 2ish. When you check in you get a wrist band, you can choose to pay cash for booze & meals or you can charge it to your room and pay when you check out. I did find that both times I stayed at the Rover there were extra charges on my bill that were not mine so, if in doubt ask to see the tab. On the up side they took them off as soon as I pointed out that they were not mine. There is a travel agency located in the hostel and free computers and wifi. It was a fun place to stay, lots of interesting folks and as it turns out I ran into a guy that I had done the Machu Picchu hike with that I had not seen since Cusco. He was heading to Buenos Aries from La Paz as he was on a short 1 month whirl wind tour of South America.

In Cusco I had met a couple that told me if I had time to take a trip into the Amazon basin via Rurrenabaque. The bus trip takes 20 hours and I was on my last 2 weeks before I had to fly home out of Lima Peru so I chose to fly in and out. I had also been told that the roads are often blocked by protesters so it is very likely that you can be stranded for a few days waiting for the blockades to come down. I booked both the flight and the 3 day pamapas tour via the travel agency in the hostel. The cost was $1500.00 B. There is also a jungle tour, I was told that if you like plants take the jungle tour if you want to see animals take the pampas tour. I booked a couple of days in advance so I could spend a few days exploring La Paz. When I came back from Rurrenabaque I had 3 more days in La Paz before I had to head back to Peru.

La Paz is a crazy city with a lot of history, it sits at 3500 meters above sea level and is the highest capital city in the world. There are street markets everywhere and traffic is horrible, I don't know how people drive there. As an added bonus the city is built in a basin so almost everywhere involves going up steep hills. There are tons of restaurants and shops, the witches market is totally bizarre, lots of lama fetuses, seems they are a good luck charm. When you buy a new home you bury 1 under the front porch for good luck. The Bolivians are a pretty superstitious people, catholic with a bit of witch craft thrown in. They also love a good party, I was lucky enough to be there for their annual Gran Poder parade, the streets are blocked off and unfortunately so is the view. They put up barriers that block the parade view and sell tickets for seats if you want to watch, tickets are pretty cheap, people were offering them to me for $20 B. There are places you can see it for free if you go up the hill by the witches market or from the overpass. The parade starts at 8 am and goes until around 1am. Lots of music and colorful costumes, the dancers go for 5 or 6 kilometers a lot of it up hill. Not sure where they get the energy from. I bought a couple of beers and pulled up a piece of sidewalk with the locals in their lawn chairs and their coolers of beer to watch for a few hours. Totally amazing, if you can time your visit to see it I highly recommend it, no set date it is usually at the end of May beginning of June. I so love that you can by beer on the street and drink it while you walk/sit, takes some getting used to when I get home where that is totally illegal.

Price wise it is a pretty cheap place, I got some happy pants (backpackers will know what they are) loose colorful pants for $35 B and I picked up a necklace and earrings in silver with a reversible stone (1 side blue 1 side purple) for $100 B. If you are doing Peru & Bolivia defiantly do your shopping in Bolivia, way cheaper than Peru, I saw the same necklace/earring set in Lima for double the price. I spent a lot of time in the presidential plaza, there is a park and it is a great place to people watch. Also lots of history, if you take a close look at the walls of the buildings you can see lots of bullet holes from when the police and the army went at each other in 2003. At no time did I feel unsafe in La Paz but keep in mind that there is still a lot of unrest. There is lots of poverty and unemployment, and they are under a lot of pressure from the US in regards to Coca plants. Unlike Colombia they have not allowed the US to dictate or interfere with their harvests so there fore no aide from them. There were protests pretty much every day and on 1 day a big one in the presidential square. I had heard it when I left the hostel to meet a friend for dinner, lots of yelling and chanting. On the way home from dinner I cut through the square and it was eerie. No one but solders there and a haze of tear gas and damaged vendor stalls. When I came into the square the soldiers motioned at me with their machine guns to stay in the middle of the square and away from the buildings. I must be getting jaded, having guns pointed at me doesn't even faze me anymore. It is a different world, it looks scarier than it is but things can change at a minutes notice so it is best to avoid angry crowds of people and protests. The day after the big protest you would never have known anything had happened, the plaza was crowded with happy families going about their business.

Lots of great street eats especially by the San Francisco church, tons of food stalls and if you are facing the church go through the front courtyard to the right and down the stairs, more street food to be had. Other than a couple of nights I pretty much survived on the stuff. Hit 3 or 4 booths and put together a tasty meal for under $2.00 US. No ill effects and a great way to meet the locals, grab a stair and chow down.

When I came back from Rurrenabaque I stayed for 1 night in the Wild Rover (I had stored my big pack there when I went) but I was in a front room and I wanted a little more quite so I moved myself over across the street to Hostel Republica, also a former residence of a past president and still owned by his family. I got a private room with a shared bathroom for $15 US a night. A little pricey but it is locally owned and all of the staff are locals unlike the Rover where all of the bar staff were backpackers. I like supporting locals as much as I can and the room was really nice, people were nice and it also had free wifi so I was okay with the price.

A tour that is not advertised but is well know among the backpackers and used to be in the Lonely Planet guide is the San Pedro Prison Tour. An illegal tour of one of the worlds most bizarre prisons, there are no guards inside, wives and kids live with the inmates, stores and restaurants operate, food must be bought and inmates have to purchase their cells and can upgrade, furnish and modify them. One drug trafficker has built a 2nd story onto his cell so he can see over the wall and have a view of the city. The inmates govern the prison, elected inmates make and enforce the rules, they are much stricter than any guards and the penalties are a lot rougher  You can read all about it in a book called Marching Powder none of the hostels will give out any information on the tours, according to the government they no longer exist. Hypothetically if one were to go they would find it a very strange trip indeed, pretty much what is in the book is what you would see with the exception of the cocaine factory. With no guards you would be relying on 4 inmate guards to protect you so tipping would be a must and hope you tip them enough to save your ass if you need them to. Strangely Coca Cola is a major sponsor, signs and umbrellas with their logos are all over the place, so I have heard. Due to the extreme poverty families live together in the prison, the wives can't support themselves and the kids on the outside without the men. Rather than take the tour if indeed you can figure out how to do it and who to bribe (something I am not going to share, lots of tourist lose their money with nothing in return) I would suggest you read the book then make a donation to help the kids living in prison

The death road bike ride is a very popular adventure. Sadly I didn't have time when I got back to La Paz to do it but I met lots of people who did. I had done the 50k downhill ride in Peru so I picked the Amazon trip instead. Heads up people, this is not something you go bargain shopping for, pay a little more for a company that has good bikes. It is extremely dangerous, an Israeli girl died (went off the cliff) about a month before I got there. You want to go with a reputable tour company with good bikes, excellent brakes are a priority. Most of the accidents that people survive happen in the last mile of the ride, people get cocky and bite it. A guy I roomed with had road rash down his face, both forearms and both legs, he did it on the last bit of the ride. A pretty good feat considering they put you in a suit and helmet. In the hostel there where 3 or 4 people at any given time who had some kind of injury from the ride. Your travel insurance will not cover these injuries, if you really mess yourself up (as in need to end your trip and fly home).

While in Rurrenabaque I met a Swiss guy who was a hard core backpacker. He was on a year journey doing the camping in the jungle thing when he could. We arranged to meet up in La Paz and hang out for a day, he was doing the couch surfing thing. An awesome way to go, if you have not heard of it, it is a web site where you can hook up with people all over the world and find free places to stay with locals. He had a sweet deal, the apartment was across from the prison, a really nice building and he had a bedroom to himself. His host was not home when I was there but the maid was there, great lady kudos to her for putting up with mi mal espanol. Defiantly worth checking out if you are going to cities/towns, a great way to hang with the locals and learn about the culture and places in town that tourists might not normally go. I think I will give it a go next trip, the only thing is you have to know exactly what days you will be somewhere and have a pretty good idea of your arrival time.
I had a killer bus trip ahead of me, La Paz to Lima, I only had 3 days before my flight home so no stopping in between. There is a sort of direct bus, the cost was $75B and the advertised time of the ride was 26 hours. As it turns out it was more like 36, I thought it would never end. I bought the ticket at a travel agency up the hill from the San Fransisco church.

On my 2nd visit to Bolivia the next year (2011) I made it on the Death Road Ride. Took Gravity Assisted Biking, great company bikes are great, staff was awesome. Video here.  Ends at La Senda Verde Animal Sanctuary I did a 2 week volunteer stint there. Playing with monkeys & birds all day, an incredible experience.

I also took the train to Oruro to Uyuni (3 hour bus ride from La Paz - Oruro cost about $3.00) did the 4 day 4x4  tour, salt flats/mountains (600 Bolivianos), also great then the train from Uyuni to Villazon (boarder to Argentina). Incredible scenery and cheap. Faster than the bus and no potholes.The roads in the south are not the greatest. Don't buy a bus ticket for Argentina on the Bolivian side, people will hit you up at the train station. You will still have to walk across the boarder and take a taxi to the Argentinian bus depot. They will charge you more for the bus ticket in Bolivia and your bus may have already left. There is an hour time change when you cross the boarder, they know you won't be coming back so they will screw you over. Had a few people fall for it that I ran into. Just walk to the boarder, cross and grab a cab (short 10 minute ride) to the Argentinian bus depot & buy your ticket there. Flecha is a good company. Save yourself some headaches.