Bolivia Salt Flat Tour: Day 3

Rock formations in the middle of deserts, flamingo-filled lagoons, and more mountains filled our third day of the Uyuni Salt Flats Tour. That evening we had our first really good night of sleep in a little hotel made completely of salt that was vacant except for the four of us.

Before heading to the hotel we were shown human remains and some small artifacts of a now extinct indigenous group that had once inhabited the area. They were of a slight build–probably not much more than four feet tall. The woman in charge of the “exhibit” wanted to turn it into more of a museum once she could raise the necessary funds, but at the moment it seemed there wasn’t much known about these ancient folks.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour: Day 2

Day two of our tour brought blue skies, pink flamingos, a soak in a hot spring, and many spectacular photo ops.

Bolivia Salt Falt Tour: Day 1

After trying our hand at mining in Potosí, we headed to Tupiza in order to start our much anticipated 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour, Day 1 - Llama

We were highly satisfied with the company we chose, Ciudad del Encanto Tours. It’s a family-run business where you communicate with the son to get everything set up and the dad is your driver, tour guide, and even cook when his wife needs to tend to their llamas at their home, like during our tour.

He was laid-back and professional and such a hard worker. His days started early and ended after we fell into bed. The food was delicious, the company was welcome, and the scenery was quite spectacular.

Potosí, Bolivia

After Sucre we buzzed over to Potosí, a small town known for its mining. You may have even heard of the documentary, The Devil’s Miner, which is about the lives of the miners in Potosí.

Potosi, Bolivia

We even got geared up and took a tour inside Cerro Rico, the mountain they mine. It was crazy to walk around inside the damp, low-ceiling mine and see real live miners going about their job, pushing little carts of minerals down a track just like in a movie or cartoon.

Our guide explained how the miners had to chew on coca leaves all day to keep up their energy and stave of their hunger. After all, they couldn’t go Number 2 down there without creating a toxic environment.

We also learned about their making offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) as well as El Tío (name they give to the devil) to ask for their safety and more as they work away in the mines.

We just spent one night in Potosí before moving on to start a 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats, a highlight of our traveling so far.

Sucre, Bolivia

After jumping through some hoops and trying in three different cities, we finally got our tourists visas to visit Bolivia. With that excitement under our belts we were thrilled to have an easy and painless border crossing into Villazon, Bolivia.

Allison entering Bolivia at Villazon

From there we headed north to Sucre, where we’ve spent the last number of days. It’s a charming town filled with white buildings, pristine gardens, chocolate and plenty of coffee shops. But the best part is, it’s the place we met up with Marvin and Eve, Isaiah’s brother and his wife, who we’ll be traveling with for the next two weeks.

Jujuy, Argentina

In Salta we visited an archeology museum dedicated to the Incan culture. Specifically, their claim to fame is the discovery of three young Incan children in a mountain range near Salta, Argentina. They had been placed in a sort of tomb and were accompanied by special items and dress that were customary for the high-up families of the time.

Isaiah in Humahuaca, Argentina

Allison in Humahuaca, Argentina

Upon examination it is estimated these children were placed there some 400-500 years ago. What’s astonishing is their impeccable preservation, from their hair to their skin to their clothes. It’s thought that the altitude, the cold temperatures, the limited amount of bacteria, among other things is to be given credit for their preservation.

Woman working at market in Jujuy, Argentina

Market in Jujuy, Argentina

Best (and cheapest) tamales in Jujuy, Argentina

Church in Jujuy, Argentina

From Salta we headed north to Jujuy. We spent time in the city of Jujuy, as well as traveled out to a few smaller towns within the Jujuy department: Purmarmaca and Humahuaca. Both were small, quaint, and beautiful arid mountain towns.

Church in Purmamarca, Argentina

Cemetery in Purmamarca, Argentina

A highlight from our time in Humahuaca was riding with a native Incan man to La Quebrada de Humahuaca. The mountain range was stunning but it was equally fun to chat with the driver on the trip there and back.

City of Purmamarca with the Hill of Seven Colors as a Backdrop

Allison and Isaiah with Hill of Seven Colors in Purmamarca, Argentina

His take on the three children that were removed from the mountain and are now property of the museum in Salta was quite different than that of the museum. He said the museum should have no right to those children.

Hill of 7 Colors in Purmamarca, Argentina

Blue Skys near Hornacal in Humahuaca, Argentina

Worse yet, he explained that those children were not dead, but just sleeping. (How else would they have absolutely no sign of deterioration, he explained, in the hundreds of years they had been there?)

The Hornacal in La Quebrada de Humahuaca

Cemetery near Humahuaca, Argentina

The children were specially selected to see the other side and one day were destined to return to this world filled with great knowledge to share with their people. He explained that when the archeologists removed the children from their place in the mountain, they killed them, so now the best he could hope for is for their bodies to be returned to the mountain so they could rest in peace.

He didn’t like how the museum was using the children of his people for profit-gaining. When we pointed out the great cost of meticulously keeping the bodies preserved, he rightfully responded that their spot in the mountain had been doing that free of charge. It was incredibly interesting to hear his perspective, especially after having visited the museum and seeing the situation from their side.

Allison and Isaiah in front of Hill of 14 Colors in Humahuaca, Argentina

Purmamarca, Argentina

It’s true what they say about their being at least two sides to every story. I’m glad we had the chance to hear his.

Salta, Argentina

From bustling Brazil we crossed the border into northern Argentina and headed to the mountainous town of Salta.

We recommend:

1. Eating a delicious, juicy, tender steak at Viejo Jacks.

2. Hiking to the top of San Bernardo hill and taking in the views of the city. (There’s also the more leisurely gondola option.)

3. Visiting the archeology museum along the main plaza to learn about the Incan culture.

4. Buying a footlong hot dog for around 50 cents at one of the many stands and asking for a “rain of shoestring potatoes” (lluvia de papas) on the top.

 

Brazil

We said our final goodbye to the good ladies selling warm chipa to hungry bus riders as we headed out of Paraguay two weeks ago and into the land of Brazil. Now, after learning Spanish for the past two years we were feeling pretty confident in our ability to travel and communicate easily in South America. Lest we forget, however, that Brazil’s language is Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are pretty similar though, right? While that’s true to a certain degree, it was the overflowing grace and warmth of the Brazilians, not our Spanish, that got us through the week and a half we spent in Brazil – specifically São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Alegre.

Allison and Isaiah on top of Morro Dois Irmaos in Rio de Janeiro

Case in point, one afternoon in Rio we decided it was time to take the still unfamiliar journey back to our Couch Surfer friend’s apartment that was a ways outside of the city center. We got to the bus stop and must have looked a little lost because a Brazilian woman in her 50s approached us and asked us where we were trying to go (in Portuguese). We attempted to explain our destination to her (in Spanish), and she led us to the bus that would take us there – the same one she was using. As we three waited in the bus line, a particularly aggressive panhandler caught back up with us still demanding that we give him some money. She told him something in Portuguese and kept a keen eye on him as he circled around us once more before heading off. She offered us candy while we waited and chatted pleasantly about something that we understood very little of. Once on the bus she explained to the person taking money where we wanted to go and asked that he help us get off at the correct stop, as she would be getting off before us. Later, as she stood to get off at her stop she wished us luck and reminded the money taker to look out for us, which he dutifully did.

 

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That is just one story in dozens we could tell of people approaching us to ask if they could help, with no ulterior motive. It seemed we just needed to scrunch our noses in confusion as we looked up at a street sign and some magic little helper would appear, ready to pull up Google Maps on their cell phone if they or those around them didn’t recognize the street names for which we were searching. It was amazing and made me question my patience with people in the States with limited English. The Brazilians definitely have me beat on that front. And oh, the mountains and shores were pretty great too.

Your Cards Live On

We treasured all the mail we received from you guys while we were living in Paraguay. We’d often attempt to hold off on opening something until we got home to make a production out of it or, if we were lucky enough to receive more than one item on a given day, we’d give our self-control a run for its money and try to space out the unveiling of the cards.

We even created a space for these special possessions: our card wall which spanned our living room and was often marveled at by each new visitor.

Card wall

When packing up our house in preparation of moving on from Paraguay, we debated what should be done with these paper items that had brought us so much joy and served as a daily reminder of our community of support from back home.

Reusing Cards of Love

We decided that carrying them with us didn’t mesh well with our strict desire to travel light and free (just one big backpack each) as we slowly make our way home. So we came up with a solution to let the magic of the cards live on.

Reusing Cards of Love

After pouring over the notes and messages one last time, we packed up the mound of cards (you guys were good to us!) and headed to the soup kitchen ready for a special craft project. After all, it was Friendship Day, which is celebrated widely in Paraguay, so it made sense for the kids to create friendship cards out of the cards we had received from family and friends.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

I underestimated what a hit it would be. Eyes lit up and squeals were heard as I laid out the cards (or at least the front covers) on the tables before the kids. They selected their favorites (quickly, before their neighbor did) and then waited impatiently for their turn with the limited number of glue sticks we provided.

Reusing Cards of Love

They cut and pasted and designed their own friendship card for someone special in their life. They asked us what the words meant and practiced repeating them. Even the cook got excited at the cards and scurried over to the work table to snatch a few up for herself.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

She selected one that said, “For My Granddaughter” and said she would save that for when she had neitas of her own.

Reusing Cards of Love

We did this project on one of our last days at the soup kitchen, so I was well aware of the limited time I had left with these young children who managed their way right into the depths of my heart.

Reusing Cards of Love

Looking at Isaiah watching the crafting go down, I knew we were both struck by the sacredness of seeing our worlds mixing and the love of our friends and family back home being passed forward on that Friendship Day to our friends in Yuty.

Thank you for being part of it.

 

Paraguayan Landscapes

After saying goodbye to our community in Yuty, we welcomed a big blue moving truck to our house on August 1. The two men packed it full of all our belongings, which were to be delivered to a new Peace Corps couple, Genny and Stephen, who had visited us while they were still in training.

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We had arranged to get a ride with the truck so we’d be able to see what would be Genny and Stephen’s home for the next two years. When two men instead of one showed up to do the loading, we weren’t sure it would be possible. Until they suggested setting up a cozy little place for us in the back of the truck.

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Before anyone worries, it all turned out great. The furniture was super stable and we were comfortable on the thrones of our blue patio chairs. It was perfect. We climbed aboard and began slowly driving away from our home, through the town. In doing so, we waved huge goodbyes to our neighbors as we passed. We passed our corner store and waved to the daughter there, and then her mother ran outside and waved and waved with both hands to give us a real farewell.

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Next we passed the municipal building where a group of familiar men were standing, laughing, and sharing tereré and sent us away with huge smiles and waves. I mean, it was just perfect. We made it to the edge of town and passed the big yellow house where we spent the first 6 months and then drove onto the main road heading out of town.

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From the back of the truck we could look out on the expanse of landscape that was our home. The home we likely won’t see again for many, many years. As we bumped along the dirt stretch of the road the beautiful scenery became blurry and unrecognizable with my tears. And then came the outpouring of tears and the deep sobbing from the soul that came from the recognition, if only for that moment, that this stage of our life is really coming to an end.

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Isaiah took my hand and together we rode along in our private cocoon for the next 8 hours, surrounded by our things, taking in the sites of Paraguay as the sun set and the night stars shone. To add to the serendipitous moment, a fellow volunteer we know was strolling down the street of his town right past where we had stopped to get gas.

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Eventually we arrived at Genny and Stephen’s host family’s house and spent the evening and next morning with them before heading on again. What a memorable way to pack up and move on; one we’ll not soon forget.

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