Monday, March 1, 2010

Overdue Update

Okay so today is March. I've got a solid two weeks of events to describe, but soon the sun will come up and it will be Tuesday, our last day in Buenos Aires. We have been here since Friday morning, and expect to return after our journey down to Ushuaia and back up through Patagonia. However, I will start where I left off.
We spent one day and one night in Potosi.

We arrived at midnight, and Cappo set the alarm early to be sure we'd find a tour of the old mines. This is a place where all the miners are self-employed, selling what they personally find for personal profit. Apparently there were years upon years of tragic working conditions in these mines. With no canaries, the average expected life-span for a miner was 6 months. No kidding. Okay so sure, book the tour, no problem. We shared breakfast and bad coffee with another English-speaking individual who was going on the same tour.

Time to go, we stash our bags and go to the door, and what do you know, they left without us. There could not have been more than four people booked on this tour, and we were two of them, and boom, gone. The dude we ate breakfast with apparently neglected to mention that not everyone was there. We grabbed a cab and tried to catch up, but that was a wild goose chase, so we wandered through the market for a while, and watched a woman slapping the severed head of a boar with a dull knife. I politely asked for a picture, having practiced my sentence in Spanish with Cap first. But she said no, so we went back to the hostel and demanded to redirect our funds toward tickets on the next bus moving South out of town. It was at this time that Cappo traded his pop-fiction novel for L. Ron Hubbard's classic original, Dianetics.

To top things off, the clever guy at the desk who 'helped' us book the tour sent us to the wrong side of town to catch our bus. Luckily, we were still operating on Bolivian time (which is simply Bolivian time, except when it's not), so being 45 minutes late for our bus was no problem, right on time.

This bus brought us to Uyuni, a mostly nondescript town with lots of hostels and pizzerias, but the jumping off point for multi day tours of the salt flats and surrounding areas. Before attending dinner with 4 gorgeous Chileñas we encountered in our hostel, we booked a three day round trip tour. This basically meant 3 days sitting in the way-backseat of a Toyota LandCruiser, watching spectacular landscapes slide by. This area of southwestern Bolivia is otherworldly. The salt flats act as a mirror for the sky, and it is nearly impossible to distinguish between earth and horizon. The mountains in the distance appeared to float on air. We captured some miraculous photos of us levitating. Observe:

We found a hostel on the side of a mountain, and thank goodness they had many bottles of wine available for sale. Unfortunately, this was Bolivian wine. It seems that, regardless of proximity, there is no substantial import market for Argentinian or Chilean wines in Bolivia. Truly tragic, and acidic, and overripe, and, ugh... But yeah, so we played drinking games with some boring British girls, end of story. Got up to see the sunrise. Words fail. Two days followed, full of multicolored lakes and stunning mountainous landscapes. Our driver owned two tapes, one of painfully dull, repetitive calypso music, which was heavy on the pan-flute, and one of ancient American disco. Both of these were fine the first time around, but once the repeats got into the double digits, we started to go a little stir-crazy. Eventually it was revealed that he also had a tape adapter which could play an ipod. Ben Harper helped us home.

Back in Uyuni, we hopped a bus bound for the border. Villazon is on the Bolivian side; Jujuy is in Argentina. There is a fifteen minute walk from the Bolivian bus station to the bridge which is the border. It took us four hours to cross this bridge (it was Saturday), but it seems we might have got across much faster if we had been a bit more bold. There were people cutting the line left and right, and as soon as the border agents saw our US passports, they expedited the process and shuttled us right through, thrilled to see us. If only we had had the sense to claim we had a flight to catch, we could have cut our wait time in 4. Oh well.

Flavor country! First order of business was to find a steak. We have been eating as much steak as possible, since the state subsidizes it and you can seriously have a top-class steak dinner with wine for 12 dollars. The cuts are excellent, but the preparation, we have found, is amateur at best. They love to cook it brown, so much so that even when we ask for it rare, bloody, very little done, it comes out at least Medium. It is a bit infuriating because there is so much flavor available, and they just destroy it. This is not to say the steak is not delicious, because it is, but these cooks refuse to allow it to achieve its true potential. So anyway, Cap and I have invented a 20-point rating system in order to keep track of how much and how great our steaks are. Our highest score so far is a 15. We maintain the highest of expectations. We can't afford not to.

Salta is a 6 hr bus ride from Jujuy, and there is beautiful scenery to be found in the surrounding areas, but we were on a tight schedule, and were unable to go off for 2 days to look at multicolored mountains and such. These were rather tame days and nights.

Okay I have to sleep now, there is no other choice. After Salta it was Córdoba, then Capilla del Monte, then Buenos Aires. I'll try to cover it all soon as I can. There is a lot to say. Many things happen every day. Life is fun. I may never come back.

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