Monday, March 25, 2013

Salar de Uyuni

The vast majority of my trip will involve lengthy bus rides of 4 hours at a minimum and with 8 to 12 hours not uncommon. A 6 hour bus ride brought us from Potosi to Uyuni - a small town which has become the tourist hub for tours to the Salar de Uyuni. After securing a room for three in a cheap hostel, we commenced to inquire around at what appeared to be the most economical tour agencies knowing the range in prices for basically the same tour was vast. A food intermission was in order and presented with tourist priced food and street food of hamburgers, salchipappas (sausages on French fries, I ended up with an egg sandwich (a hamburger minus the hamburger) and an empanada. Having decided upon our tour, we returned to our room to get the rest of the money and went to secure our spots with the trip.

The next morning we were departing at 11 am, giving us more than enough time to
eat street food of a fried bread (bunuelo) and cafe con leche, as well as pick up some snacks for the route (of which are some incredibly cheap cookies that I am just now finishing several weeks later)

The tour group consisted of 6 people in a 4 wheel drive, led by a disgruntled guide who is in need of a change of jobs (he does the 3 day tour two times a week and his displeasure shows). Our group consisted of people from Spain, France, Germany, Ecuador, Argentina and the US. Some of us knew English and our levels of Spanish all varied, thus our conversation was 98% in Spanish.

The first stop was at an old train yard not far from Uyuni center. There was an abundance of rusty, old trains and I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to do a photo session at the site.

Then we toured to a tourist spot with clothing and gifts made of salt to buy. (Or to not buy in my case).

And onwards we wet through dry dirt, until we got to the first sight of the Salar and we were presented with the view of an abundance of white ground. There were heaps of salt in some regions and primarily dry salt everywhere. We drove over this vastness of white and reached a salt hotel (a hotel made of salt) surrounded by nothing but white ground, and tourist groups. This is where we stopped to walk around as a lunch of quinoa, pork, egg frittatas, vegetables and potatoes was prepared. People jumped and made strange poses for photos all over the place, and Daniel, Vale and I strayed away and decided a couple of nude photos were absolutely necessary, so in a flash we tore off our clothing and took a few photos before returning to the group.

The theme of the trip truly was driving,but the view as we drove from this stopping ground to an island where we would stay for the night was absolutely stunningly white and beautiful. We went near the end of rain season which meant there was too much water to get to one of the spots, but could at least traverse to this island for the night. Most of the tour groups continued back to Uyuni and were taking a different route, but we had requested a route which didn't include that return, thus at this point our route was away from other vehicles. At one point the driver stopped so we could step outside for photos as the salt was a wet lake of about knee deep height with nothing but salt and sky in one direction and salt and mountains in the other. There was an area with hardened and dry salt that initially we stood on. The driver decided to drive to the hotel to prepare and told us he would return in an hour and a half. So there we were in the middle of this Salar, four of us with our shoes besides us and two without. And we had an over abundance of time and beauty at our disposal. Four of us decided to take advantage of this situation, peeled off our clothes and we experimented with a session of photos with 2 guys and 2 girls. The two who were more modest documented this all. I am not too certain what we would have done had me not been liberal enough to do these photos, but it was absolutely entertaining and I know some are rather visually pleasing. I did not have the opportunity to get photos on my own, so until I get back these photos, there is no proof. After some time, we started to walk towards the island and with chaffed and red feet and legs, we were finally picked up by the driver.

The hotel we were staying at was a salt hotel with salt on the floors and walls,z after a quick tea, a few of us trekked up the mountain behind the hotel, marveling at the cacti, rocks, fading sun, and of course the vastness of salt reflecting the sunset. Once back on ground and on the path, we encountered a woman who had been out searching for a specific cactus fruit and she shared a taste of a rich cactus fruit black in color and with sweet morsels of seeds that I had never tasted before. Dinner was vegetable soup and fried chicken and fries, much like many of the Bolivian meals. After dinner we shared singani and sprite (singani is a traditional spirit of Bolivia, made from grapes and strong and sweet) and gazed at stars.

On the morning of Day 2 we woke at about 5 am to watch the sunrise before breakfast of bread, coffee and tea, and heading out. That day consisted of several hours of driving, then a pause of 15 or so minutes to view a specific sight. We saw flamingos, lakes, rock formations, a rock in the form of a tree and a vastness of diet and mountains. Near the end of the day we reached an area where we had to pay park admission for much of what we had seen, and there we saw a huge, red lake which got its color from phytoplankton or something of that sort (I truly would remember details better if I wrote more up to date, but I don't...).

The hotel for that night was sparse without running water or electricity aside from a lamp in each room, thin blankets and cold during the night. We had arrived at 5 pm and had hours at our disposals so we played cards until time for dinner and to pull out our overpriced wine we had brought. With our pasta dinner we were also given a bottle of wine and all were in good spirits.

The next day we were due to leave around 4 am to see geysers and drive to a natural hot springs for breakfast and a short soak in warm water. By the previous day I had decided to take the opportunity to visit San Pedro de Atacama in Chile since Daniel was headed there and I could easily cross the border to see this area, then return back to Bolivia to head north, so after our time in the hot springs, I transferred my belongings to another car and by 9 am was on my way to the Bolivian and Chile border.

In my mind this was more of a two day trip, rather than a three day tour, seeing as I was part of the tour for 48 hours, but semantics will be semantics. The area is absolutely spectacular, and having such a good group to travel with and those few hours in the middle of the Salar without a car in sight made the trip amazing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

A short drive from the hot springs and we arrived at the border of Chile and Bolivia. I had to show a piece of paper from my original entry to Bolivia and my departure date was stamped. Time in Bolivia is rarely exact and after waiting an hour for the car that would transport is, we were on our way. In Chile there are paved roads unlike in Bolivia, so the route was fast.

Once in San Pedro de Atacama we went trough the border control, and in a breeze were admitted in, our passports stamped and dropped off at the bus terminal. The touristy nature of the pueblo was immediately apparent and the difference between this Chilean community and Bolivia huge.

We exchanged a bit of money as I tried unsuccessfully to take money out of an ATM, later learning that the ATMs often are without money by weekend. The heat felt a little oppressive after the harsh cold of the night and morning before, and I was glad when a place to camp was located and I could put down my packs. This day proved to be super tranquil.

In San Pedro de Atacama, most of the destinations are attainable by biking and the bikes available to rent are in remarkable good condition. One day we went biking with a French guy named Gwendel, heading to see nearby ruins and a mirador (an overlook of an area) at Pukara de Quitor, before continuing to see the valley of the dead, which is sprawling rocks and dryness and involved uphill biking on a dirt path that tested my fitness abilities. After the valley was a tunnel and the descent began. Then we were biking on more rocks and sand for many kilometers and appeared to be biking in the middle of nowhere as we did not have this region on our map. Part of this time involved me walking my bike when the uphills and sand got to be too much for me. After a grueling time in the sand, we saw the distant outline of a car and confirmed that we had found the road. Once at the road, biking got easier but I was exhausted. Finally we spotted another mirador from the road and the view was majestic. And the direction back to town was a triumphant downhill from the mountain.

During the day we snacked on grapes, peaches, bananas, bread, crackers, granola and water, so a dinner of salad and meat and rice, accompanied by beer and live music was a welcome end to the day.

The next day we hitch hiked the 30 km to the nearby pueblo Tocanoa, and were picked up by a woman driving a bus who also picked up two young girls to transport them. When in town we took one of the girl's lead and headed to lunch at a place packed with locals had pork, rice, potatoes and bread (perhaps by now you are seeing a trend in the diet).
While walking to valle de jere a dog joined us and he followed us all the way to the entry way and into the place. Max became our dog for the day, following by our side, eating grapes and bread, playing in the stream and napping in the sun and shade with us. The day was delightfully relaxing with the hardest part a trek up a super steep sand dune. In the area we found fruit trees and tried a fruit that is somewhat like a dry pear, ate grapes from a vine and even had a fig each. Getting a ride back to San Pedro started to seem bleak, but a friendly Chilean man picked us up.

That night we bought groceries and I cooked chicken legs on the stovetop of the hostel and made a Greek salad (mini the cheese) for the three of us.

The next morning we rented bikes again and headed to Valle de la Luna (moon). The bike ride for the day would be 32 km round trip with part of the ride pavement to the valley and the majority within the amazing area. There was an area with salt flats which continually look like snow to me, and mountains of rock and sand and salt of course. There was a point where we had to leave our bikes and walked through caverns with one point absolutely devoid of light. When we got through the darkness, there was a part which truly felt like we were on the moon as the rocks were decorated with white salt and stretched out continually. Then we reached an area with steep walls of rock and I was convinced that the place became more and more beautiful with every step. After this portion we returned to a steep uphill bike ride and rock formations to view all around us. Near the end of the park there were some strange formations to be seen but we stopped briefly, preferring to head to a mine that required us to bike on a salty route. The mine was immense and the ground surrounded by quartz crystals. Sun was going to fade in an hour and and we headed to one more spot before returning to a grand mirador to watch the sunset. And wow, the view was gorgeous and the winds strong. Unprepared for a cold night and darkness, we turned around and biked back while there was still some light. The route home felt exhilarating with down downhills, beautiful sky and when there was finally darkness all that remained was 6 km of paved, flat road.

That night there was a party at the hostel and we joined in with the wine drinking after eating a mountain of spaghetti.

The hostel had a goat that behaved like a dog, and every day I watched him push open the windows to enter in the kitchen. The goat was adorable. During the party the hostel owner's friend got unruly and grabbed the goat (Herbacious is his name) by his horns and jerked him around. The police were called over to help with this and watching the police mainly try to talk reason into this drunk man reminded me just how different our cultures are. Our police would have had cuffs on the man in a hurry.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Potosi - traveling with new friends

On my final day in Sucre, my Spanish teacher and friend Andrea was meeting up with two couch surfers who were in town for the night and invited me along since I was continually keen on meeting people. We met up and shortly went to dinner at a churrascuria which used to be more of a locals place but had heaps of tourists eating there. The food was delicious even if I was a bit hesitant to eat too much of my chicken which seemed pretty much undercooked. But more importantly, the company was great. Andrea was teaching a bunch that week and headed home, but Daniel, Vale and I headed to a bar to socialize and drink overly sweet drinks during happy hour. As sometimes happens with travelers who are on their own, the two of them met through Couchsurfing in Santa Cruz and were traveling to Sucre, Potosi and Uyuni together. As I am traveling on my own and was planning to depart Sucre the next day for Potosi and Uyuni as well, I joined up with Daniel from Ecuador and Vale from Argentina the next day at the bus terminal.

And to Potosi we headed. After about four hours in a crowded bus, we arrived and did the customary seeking out of hostels. Vale and I found a place for 20 bolivianos a person, and although the room was a bit dim, the communal bathroom suspect and of course there was no shower at all, for the price we were satisfied. The difference in budgetary restrictions between a person from Europe, Australia and the USA is sometimes interesting because for me $1 difference in a room is not too important, but for others it truly is. Then again, I will be traveling for a long time and need to be budget conscious whenever possible so I'm often keen on finding low priced food, transportation, activities and of course, rooms.

After securing the room, it was time to feed our bellies and Vale and I headed to a vegetarian place for a delicious bowl of quinoa soup.

The main two things in the city in terms of tourism are the casa de moneda, a museum about the "plata" or money in Bolivia, and the mines, which are still active. The city is rich with history as well and walking around this is evident and on the first night we went to view the entry way which separated the Spanish from the original inhabitants of the city.

Vale had previously been to Potosi and headed out on her own while Daniel and I trekked up the hill to the mines. Taking a tour was an option, but the price overly high. The route up to the mines was arduous because of the steepness, heat and worst of all, the lofty elevation of Potosi in general. I was fairly convinced I was not going to make it because of how little air I was pulling into my lungs and imagining making that trek to work in the mines added to my understanding of the mine experience. The miners we met in their chamber getting ready to enter were surprisingly friendly and when offered some money and coca in exchange for giving us a tour, we were given boots and helmets with lamps to enter the mine. And as we trekked in, the damp, dark, closed in feeling that is part of their daily workday was immediately apparent. We had to crouch down and walk at an extremely brisk pace to keep out of the way of the other teams who were busy working. The miners continually suck on coca during their shifts to help with the elevation and exhaustion and we took part as well, but I still found myself feeling lightheaded at one point as we sat and talked about the mining existence, with me primarily listening. When it was time to depart I was more than ready. As we left, at one point they shouted something and one team of miners had throw over their empty cart to make room for a full cart being pushed down the path at full speed. The fact that we were in the way and that working in the mines is arduous and dangerous was very clear as the empty cart was rather close to our feet and on running out we were hurried to make way for more activity. The miners earn a fairly good wage compared to the cost of living in Bolivia and I was surprised to learn one of the two miners who brought us in was a history teacher but chose to work in the mines for the time being because of the comparatively high wage. As working in mines is extremely dangerous and detrimental to health, in addition to being grueling work, this miner was going to quit within ten years maximum in order to maintain some health.

For the walk back to town after the mines, we took the long and easy route and paused to eat bread, super salty cheese (like all of the cheese in Bolivia), tomatoes and banana (food which is very much a staple during days out and about away from cities.

That early evening we went to the money museum and although there were a few things of interest there, like my previous experience with Bolivian museums, I found the place to be rather lacking in information. Additionally, the drastic price difference for admission for a Bolivian verses someone from farther away always rubs me the wrong way and our tickets were four times the price of the other tickets. The building itself impressed me far more than the content of the museum, and the tour guide who spoke in monotony and hurried the group through some of the rooms.

In a search to find Internet in the evening, the three of us found Potosi to be a ghost town by the early hour of 10 pm with hardly a place open in the city center, let alone a place which offered wifi. That night we decided that we would head to Uyuni the next day to visit the Salar.

Hitch hiking

Fast forward two weeks and here I am in Argentina. Returning to this country was not on my list for this journey, but neither was Chile and I was there until early morning hours yesterday.

Let me preface this with a fact - hitch hiking is not so uncommon in Chile and Argentina....

Two days ago a Couchsurfing friend from Ecuador and I commenced our attempt to "ir a dedo" or hitchhike from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Jujuy, Argentina. The trip of about 500 km involved the crossing of country borders which is not necessarily an easy feat. On Thursday Daniel and I tore down our tent and packed up our backpacks and departed from our hostel. Chilean money was exchanged to USD since the bank exchange rate and the black market exchange rate of USD to argentine pesos vastly differs ($5 to 1 rather than $8 to 1), a hefty meal of pork, salad and French fries was eaten, fruit and bread purchased for the journey and by 2 pm we found ourselves outside of the Aduana (customs building). Over the course of several hours, or rather 5 hours, we asked all the the few drivers if they were headed to Argentina and if they had room. There was little activity at that hour and although there were a few cars headed to Argentina, by 7 pm we knew we had to return the next morning and try again. Enough of the truck drivers claimed 4 am was when the trucks to Argentina departed, that we left to procure a camping spot and consume a bit of beer to calm our spirits. At 4 am we were greeted with nothing but darkness and cold. A one driver could transport one of us, but in general the drivers refused. All we needed was one "yes" and we could go, and a bit before 9 am we were putting our backpacks in a car that was part of many cars being transported in a truck to Paraguay, and climbing into another car . We had procured a ride.

For a portion of the ride the two of us were in a car on the truck bed, and at other times we joined in the cabin where the two guys from Paraguay primarily talked to Daniel as they spoke in a mix of Spanish and Guaranie and had strong accents so my understanding was rather limited.

At the border of Argentina and Chile was a whole new set of issues. There is a reciprocity fee for US citizens entering Argentina at all borders now. When I last went to Argentina the fee was for flying only and valid for ten years. I had already paid this fee upon entering and theoretically this should remain valid, but as the law change and my old passport expired, I had no proof. And the argentine authorities apparently have no reason to be organized enough to allow people like me to submit old passport information or flight information in order to find proof of payment. So I had to pay again, but had to pay again prior to entry and on a computer, and when I went to do so the Internet almost did not work. After a lengthy period of trials I was able to pay and knew I had no need to cry - I had already shed another $160, I could keep my tears.

At the border we were asked our mode of transportation and had to check in with the Paraguayan truck drivers since they had brought us. Watching the way the authorities acted was abhorrent - with a long line of people to check in, the authorities were siting around watching tv and taking pauses to watch even while checking in people. None of the drivers could go until the entire paperwork and truck check was complete for the entire group, so basically they had to wait around for 4 to 5 hours for a process that should have taken only an hour or so maximum.

After this ordeal was complete, we were on our way again, this time riding in the cabin. For a portion we returned to a car so we could nap, but near the end we returned to the cabin because authorities frown on people riding in cars being transported. At one point the guys purchased food for dinner and we shared bread, tomatoes and delicious pork sandwiches. The generosity of these people and their willingness to help us was absolutely amazing. There was talk of wine and hot cooked food, but when we were dropped off in Jujuy at the side of the road around 11 pm, the drivers planned on driving on many more hours.

In Argentine time, 11 pm on a Friday is absolutely not late, so we were able to find a payphone and later borrow a phone to call some local couch surfers. With luck, we had a room for the night and are still here and about to share some beers and cook dinner together after a relaxed day of exploring the city.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Learning Spanish Day by Day

Note: for some reason this did not publish when I tried to publish a month ago, so this entry is two weeks overdue. And yes, I still speak like a gringo. Blah

One month. That is exactly how long I have been in Bolivia now. Three of those weeks have all been in the same town, Sucre, where I have studiously embarked on my Spanish journey with lessons. Tomorrow will be my final lesson as I have much to practice and am well aware of what I need to do to keep developing my foundation.

What do I need to do?

Becoming more familiar with been conjugations is high on the list. This will involve hours upon hours of spoken and written practice to learn the rules of the irregularities (of which there so many). I currently speak like a gringo and although my "t" and "soft r" are slightly improved (at least for short words with the "soft r"), my "R" which requires rolling of the tongue is a disaster (and embarrassment). Pronunciation is something I work on as I speak to people, listen and read out loud. And through reading I can improve my vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure. I have also started writing a little, which will improve my vocabulary and overall understanding of the grammar, but will need to seek out someone to proofread my writing so I can learn what errors I am making (want to sign up for that job?).

And of course as I navigate through my travels and seek out opportunities to speak to people, I will develop my skills as well.

Enough of this writing in English - time to continue with reading Pahlo Coelho Aleph (in Spanish with a dictionary at hand of course).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Family life

One thing I truly love about the South American culture I have seen thus far is the importance of family here. Right now there are about ten young children eating fried chicken and french fries and soon to be enjoying cake as a birthday celebration. I am fairly certain the birthday girl is a niece to the family I am staying with, and this evening I have met grand parents, cousins, nephews and nieces before shirking off to my room feeling a bit awkward down by the children's party.

Various relatives live right around the corner from this family, and for lunch an aunt literally enters the home through a kitchen entrance. Lunch is the important meal here and in this family the 19 year old daughter, her mother, an older aunt, and young cousin, combined with the son if he is back in town from work, all join together to share a meal.

I love my family but have never truly felt a strong presence from my extended family. My immediate family always ate dinner together and now that us children have grown up we have become closer, but here it is more than just the basic family that is close. Clearly distance and number of individuals in a family influence how many people can be close and how often they can join together, so this is not a criticism of typical American families, but rather a recognition of the strength of family in South America.


I have just now returned to my room after rejoining the party after more people had come and the eating had morphed into social hour. The extended family where I am staying is full of some lovely people, even if one of the one year olds had recently discovered the joy of scraping legs with his tiny nails. If you saw my legs, you might believe I had been attacked by a cat.

Sucre wine drinking rambling a (perhaps not so different from coffee rambling)

In Sucre, happy hour at places is two for one and beverage happy hour is late in the evening, which means that if I want to sit down and have a beverage at 7:30 or 8 pm and study, my next drink at 9 pm is really two drinks. So by the time I go home tonight I will have either had three cups of wine, made a new acquaintance to give one to, or left one on my table. Tonight I was going to learn about Bolivian dancing but couldn't bear to drag myself back to the hostel to hear the presentation, and the timing was wrong as well, so straight to Cafe Joyride to study I went (okay, as is typical with me, I deliberate with "should I go or not?" And walked back and for adding in a stop to buy crackers before heading to the place where I currently am).

I almost always carry around a book in Spanish, but this time I left the two books I have on my bed as I had not planned to be out and about drinking wine and writing. Next time I will not neglect to throw a book in my bag.

I have been in Sucre over two weeks now and have decide to depart for Salar de Uyuni on Monday or at latest on Tuesday. I have been enjoying my lessons and feel I have been getting much from them, but the time to journey on has come. I do not quite feel right here and other than my lessons have no real reason to stay.

My host family is good, the lunches a hearty Bolivian cooking variety and the people friendly, but I do not quite feel I belong. A friend of mine back in the states asked me how I was feeling and if I felt less isolated. And other fried has inquired about my progress with Spanish and my quest towards fluency. No language can be learned immediately and I have only just commenced my journey. As for my sense of belonging, I can communicate and the community here is not super large, but even in a city of millions of people like NYC, some people can feel alone.

Where I am staying there is no Internet, but I kind of enjoy the break from my developed tendency to check my email first thing upon opening my eyes. I find it rather disappointing how much we all rely in our Technology world when in reality so few people actually send personalized emails to one another. I am accustomed to using Internet for networking for work, but since my flight home is not scheduled for October, there truly is no real need for me checking so often. Which is good, since I do anticipate some periods of days far away from Internet connection. I do feel myself wishing I had brought a tent, but I haven't actually had to turn down an opportunity due to the lack of tent, yet.but I do need to find myself in wilderness at some point in time - I am carrying around malaria pills for some reason I am sure.

I have now consumed another half a glass of wine - I won't be taking any bets on if I will drink all my wine or not. I do have to take a taxi back to where I am staying later tonight as this city is not without tourist theft and I have to walk all the way across town to get home tonight. Usually I prefer walking, but I also like keeping my possessions so I will heed the advice of the locals. With Spanish class at 8:30 am , I will not be up terribly late, that much I do know.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

First weeks in Sucre

Time for a news update before my Internet access becomes more limited. I am headed to a homestay here in Sucre, with the goal of reducing my English speaking for the next week or so while I continue my lessons. I have enjoyed the great vibe and general cleanliness of my hostel, as well as my weeks getting to know the co-operative of young women running the place, but many of the guests are far more fluent in English and we speak in English. I have nothing against my mother tongue, but do want to experiment with having the first and last words out of my mouth on a day be in Spanish. I am not doing much other than studying while in Sucre and know I will soon feel the pull of "onwards."

A group of 10-15 from the USA just arrived this morning, so I believe I have timed my departure well. If only I was not feeling so sick this morning, packing my bag of belongings would feel less arduous.

I am a little fearful my new place, which is a taxi ride away if at night, or a long walk during the day, will have me feeling isolated since I have now built certain desires into my Sucre experience. I may find myself happier if I journey forward and study again in a few months once I have a bit more speaking experience accumulated from my travels.

I have been battling a sore throat, sinus infection sort of thing and stomach problems for a week now. Some days I have felt almost normal, and have payed no heed to what I ate, but as of yesterday, I know I am far from better. I will not be eating today, but will get myself back on rehydration. Physically, I feel a mess. Apparently acclimating to the diet and sanitary levels of a third world country can be as difficult as some people believe.

My past couple of weeks were spent I the beautiful town of Sucre, Bolivia. Upon finding a hostel with a vibe I felt comfortable with, I started Spanish lessons with a girl my age (who has a free in English and is from Sucre) and since then lesson study has been the purpose of my being here. I studied Spanish in high school ten years ago, and practice again in Argentina two years ago, but am certain there are huge gaps in my understanding. As a native English speaker, we have one form of past tense, while here there are three and only now am I beginning to understand the proper time to use each. I have much left to review and am certain I will not stay in one place for that much longer, but some of my lessons seem incredibly valuable for setting up some basics. I am sure I can look up lessons in the Internet to continue teaching myself, or take lessons along my route, too.

I have done more than study while here, too, even if that was my focus. On my first day I ended up spending time with a Spanish guy I met on the bus and the two of us went to a park centered around found dinosaur tracks. The slate of tracks was neat, but overall we were amazed at how little information there was for such a well visited place. My first Sucre morning and following few I are breakfast in Mercado Central, having a roll and a cup of coffee and taking in the surroundings. One morning there I met an Argentine man who took a fancy to me and that day he showed me Recoleta, the Miradore, which is a place with a beautiful view of the city. I have since then learned that if I continued walking uphill, I would see the city's Christ. That is now on my to-do list. I met up with this man on several other occasions for lunch, as he was kind and we were communicating in Spanish, and by the end of one week I think he was overly smitten as he returned to Argentina.

On a few occasions I have gone out for drinks with couch surfers, or friends from the hostel. The local drink is singhani which is mixed with tea and called T con T. I'm not certain the youth prefers this drink, but not so unlike a hot toddy, I enjoy the mellow, warm taste of this beverage.

My weekends have been when I have removed my from from just being studious and last weekend I went out to dinner with my spanish teacher and her friends, had a drink at Cafe Berlin, a drink and danced at Cafe Florin and continued onwards to Mitos for late night dancing. On Sunday I went to a festival in Yamparra and was one of only a few tourists present, so that felt special until I felt incredibly sick. The festival was in memory of those who died in accidents before their time, and included the building of a huge form with food from their communities and part of a cow carcass, and dancing in community groups around this form. Their colorful traditional robe was festive to view. There were also lines of food booths set up and a judge trying all of the food (I looked in horror at the thought of trying so much food). Fruit was set up to sell, and I had learned that selling and donating something from each community was compulsory.

Yesterday's activity was less cultured but absolutely relaxing. A group of staff from the hostel and some of their roommates (who are travelers like me) went to Las Palmas, a swimming pool in a small town about thirty minutes outside of town by taxi. With shade covering and grass to lay on, I was rather contented. Two of the girls had been working incredibly hard at the hostel (as they are two of the founding members) and this was their first day off in a long time. I am glad they chose this place to relax for the day.