Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We woke early, but Louisa suffered from jet lag and was up by 4:00am. Our friendly driver was waiting for us at the hotel at 7:00am, and we checked out of Hotel Plaza Francia for the last time. Traffic was nonexistent and we made it to the airport in less than 30 minutes, despite occasional heavy rain. The flight schedule had changed, so we were at the airport a full 2.5 hours early.
We tried to be productive with our time, but LAB, British Airways and United ticket counters were closed. We finally called the latter two to check on our itineraries for the second half of the trip, but neither had done any work on them.
By 10:00am we were more than ready for our flight to Santa Cruz. The flight had about 30 people on it so we headed to the back and each grabbed a row. One oddity about the plane was that the seats on the left side of the aircraft were about 4 inches closer together than the ones on the right side.
Tom's stomach had been mildly upset the last few days, and because of the rain, the ride was very bumpy, so he was not a very happy camper. Finally the ride smoothed a bit, and he managed to sleep for an hour or so, while Louisa worked on updating this journal.
When we arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, immigration and customs were very easy. Santa Cruz did not sound appealing, but we thought we had to spend the night. While Tom got Bolivianos from the airport ATM, Louisa found out that there was a flight to Sucre in 3 hours. Better yet, the airport had internet access for about $1.50 an hour. We spent much of the time catching up on email, grabbed a sandwich at Subway, and boarded our flight to Sucre.
The short 35 min hop was uneventful, and we soon arrived in Sucre. We hailed a taxi and headed for a hostel recommended in the book. Unfortunately, they didn't have rooms, so we went to another recommended by the taxi driver. That one didn't have double beds, so we decided to try another from the book. No dice. Another one, nearby, no room either. This was getting ridiculous. Finally we found one, and went to look at the room. Louisa noticed that they had a Guatemalan-style electric water heater in the shower - ugh. We decided to try one more. They had a room, but only for one night - we needed 2. As a last resort, we tried the best hotel in town, one that was referred to in hushed tones as "having a swimming pool!" They showed us an executive suite (really just a big room) for $50 a night - needless to say, we gratefully took it.
After tipping our long-suffering cabbie well, we relaxed for a few minutes. We needed it - we were huffing and puffing from the effort of climbing one flight of stairs in this altitude of about 9200ft. Tom napped for an hour or so to the sounds of his gurgling stomach, while Louisa explored locally, and then we decided to go for a light dinner.
We had plates of so-so pasta at Bibliocafe, and returned to our room, exhausted from jet lag and altitude. We went to bed around 8:30, and although we woke up several times, slept reasonably well all night.
We asked about the hot water, and the man got it to work - it was backwards from our usual custom, and also required several minutes to get hot. Once we got it, though, we both had great showers - a 10 on any scale, and about a 14 for Bolivia.
We hit the tour office first, which charged us 10Bs for a photocopy of a map. Then we got money and headed to a travel agency to research getting to Uyuni. They turned on a hard sell for the salt flats tour. The Uyuni agency they represented was one of the two recommended, but the hard sell made us wary, so we decided to think about it.
We headed across the pleasant and crowded Plaza 25 de Mayo to the cathedral. It is necessary to enter through the church museum, which is tucked behind the cathedral. The museum has some amazing ecclesiastical objects, candlesticks and crucifixes made out of gold and adorned with precious and semiprecious stones. There is also a famous figure of the Virgin Mary in a separate chapel adorned with thousands of gems - a bit gaudy, but a testament to the riches of those who used to live near here. The rest of the museum was only interesting in that most of the paintings were anonymous because they were by natives not considered worthy of remembering, despite the fact that their paintings were better than the Spanish.
We took a taxi across the city to El Huerto, where we had a terrific and leisurely lunch. The day was sunny and perfect, and the food was excellent - Tom picked his dish by asking the waiter what the great smell was, and ordering that. We then taxied back to town and hit a slow internet cafe for a few minutes, since everything else was closed for lunch.
By 2pm we had taxied up to Recoleta, a Franciscan monastery on a hill in town. We had a great view of the city while waiting for the tour to start. We also met a couple of other Americans, Bill Garson and his wife, who were touring on a break from business. In a weird small-world story, Louisa had once been in a business meeting with him, 3 years ago.
The two tourism students who conducted the tour were very nice and knowledgeable. The only problem was the "translator" with Bill, who continuously and rudely interrupted the guides to translate into English. While it was occasionally helpful to us (we still get about 75% of what they say), the distraction was not worth it.
The monastery is currently occupied by 15 monks, some of whom were working in the fields that had been originally terraced by the Incas. Their collection of art was great, and also included many pieces created by natives. We enjoyed the tour, and would recommend it.
We decided to walk back to the hotel, since it was downhill - we were feeling some of the effects of "soroche" (altitude sickness). We felt better after relaxing in the room for a few minutes, so we headed out again to find some dinner. First we stopped in at an internet cafe that advertised very cheap calls to the US - $3/hr! Of course, it was via the internet, and their connection was not fast enough to permit a real conversation. After a frustrating time trying to get a fax number for AmEx, we gave up and went for pizza.
They have a funny tasting cheese here, perhaps it's made from llama milk. Anyway, the pizza was pretty good - real pepperoni. We then went back to the place from last night for banana crepes, which were almost great, but still pretty good. Then it was time to go back, pack, and fall asleep, very tired.
We arrived at the bus terminal a few minutes later. Upon arrival we were accosted by many women selling bus tickets. We hurried down the corridor to the office of the bus company to Potosi directed through the maze-like terminal by a very helpful little boy. They checked our luggage and directed us through the building and down some stairs to the bus At this point it is about 10 minutes to 7:00.
We start back through the terminal when a strange man starts yelling at us something about a man looking for us. We are completely confused and continue towards the bus loading area. All of a sudden the man from the hotel is in front of us. He had written something incorrectly on the credit card form and needed to rewrite it. We had quite a crowd, the hotel man, the little boy who was still with us due to Tom's tip, a random woman, and our taxi driver from the first day, who was very friendly and concerned about us making our bus (again, thanks to Tom's very generous tip).
Louisa realizes that it is 6 minutes to 7:00, and asks the taxi driver to direct her toward the bus. He leads her down the staircase when they see the bus pulling out. She runs toward the door which they are locking, forgets all Spanish in the panic, but yells enough that they stop the bus. She hops on and they want to pull away, but she insists on waiting for Tom. The driver and attendant assure her that the luggage made it.
It seems like an eternity before Tom shows up, but in reality it was only about 2 minutes. He dealt with the hotel, and the little boy ran with him for the bus, luckily. Others yell at him to run for the bus, but the boy points him toward the tax desk which it is necessary to pay.
The bus pulls away at two minutes before 7:00 with our hearts racing. Meanwhile two more travelers have come running out as well. The bus has 5 passengers, until we pull out and pass the front of the bus station, all of a sudden the bus stops and about 6 more people get on, including the woman who collects the tickets.
Ah yes, we are back in Latin America. The bus begins to stop almost anywhere to pick up passengers waiting alongside the road. Tom checks on the luggage at one point, we rest more easily and start reading our books. The road is windy but paved, so we are relatively comfortable.
No more than 30 minutes into the 3+ hour trip, the woman in the window seat in front of Tom leans her head out of the window and vomits. Oh joy. For once Tom did not have his window open! She continues to get sick every 5 minutes for at least the next hour. The window is covered in streams of vomit.
It is mountainous country, as might be expected since we started at 9200 feet and ended up at 13,000ft. The people live in slivers of land that try to be flat, although their fields sometimes approach vertical. The houses tend to be made of brick and have a brick wall that surrounds the property. Many houses appear to be abandoned or unfinished. Frequently high brick walls surround plots of land that do not contain any buildings.
Somehow, the land appears to be higher. The air is clean and crisp, very refreshing, if a bit thin. We have had very sunny weather and not very cold with temperatures probably in the high 60's or low 70's.
The bus terminal was on the other side of Potosi so we drove through town. It did not appear to be the colonial beauty that we read about. The streets were filled with people, though, which made people watching interesting.
We walked to main square, about 20 minutes uphill. We stopped to rest in a small plaza that was busy with people in front of two churches, one with an ornate and attractive facade. The steps of the cathedral in the main square were filled with university students demonstrating. They want the government to give the university more funds. The woman we talked to indicated that it was a hopeless case - the students can demonstrate all they want, the government just doesn't have the money to increase educational funding.
We found lunch at a vegetarian cafe since it was open. While we waited for lunch we chatted with another American, Tim, who just arrived in Bolivia for his 2 year stint with the Peace Corps. The town where he lives is four hours, by micro, from Potosi. He was studying Quechua because he plans to help the indigenous people build irrigation canals and improve their farming techniques.
After lunch we wandered around the center of Potosi for awhile. Almost everything was closed for the siesta, which made the streets very tranquil. Remainders of colonial wealth exist, but only with a keen eye. It is strange to think that Potosi was the wealthiest city in the Americas in the 17th century and is now the poorest part of Bolivia, which probably makes it one of the poorest cities in the Americas.
At 2pm we took the guided tour through the Casa de Moneda with Julio, the English speaking guide. Julio loves his job. He possesses extensive knowledge about the mines, colonial times, mint procedures, etc. He walked us through the beautifully restored Casa se Moneda which possesses art from the colonial period, as well as the mint equipment. We were most fascinated with the two story wooden equipment used to roll the silver ingots into sheets 3 or 4mm thick from which the coins were stamped. Strangely enough, today Bolivia does not produce any money. Her bills and coins are printed in Europe.
Afterwards we went to Cherry Cafe and talked them into making us a veggie pizza. It was their first, and quite good. With full stomachs we hurried down the hill to the bus office and loaded onto the bus for Uyuni. Unlike the morning, the bus took off a few minutes late. While we waited, we chatted with Bergitta, a German woman, who is on our same tour for the salt flats.
The bus was nicer than expected. The seats are farther apart, have foot rests and recline. This made sleeping very easy, which we did almost from the outset. We stopped at a strange little "town" for a break after 3 hours. There was no electricity, which made it appear very ominous. A couple of houses have small tiendas where they sell candy, cookies, soda and water. We stretched our legs and hopped back on the bus.
After this it started to get very cold. We did our best to stay warm. Tom laid his fleece over the two of us, but Louisa did not get warm until she slept with her head under the coat. Tom was actually shivering.
At one point the one lane dirt road was blocked by a huge truck. The truck had broken down. The men in our bus had many discussions with the men from the truck. There was much commotion. All of this resulted in our bus pushing the truck along the road. After a few 100 yards the truck started again as was able to pull off into the desert and let us pass.
Sometime later, the bus got a flat tire. After a while we came upon a town that had electricity, as exhibited by its 3 street lights. We parked under one for an eternity while the driver and his two helpers clanked and banged around changing the tire. Surprisingly, they didn't make us get off, and most of the passengers didn't even wake up.
We finally arrived in deserted Uyuni near 2am. It was very eerie. We asked a local where the Hotel Magia was and they pointed us in the right direction. We did not have a map of the town, but we found it fairly quickly. We woke the proprietor who ushered us to our room and said that we could take care of registering in the morning.
Tom, especially, was a bit short of breath, and headachey which we attributed to the high altitude. We were both cold from the freezing bus ride and the walk through the arctic streets. In an unusual change, Tom was the colder of the two of us and it took a long time to warm him up. The hotel, while the nicest in town, did not have heat so we piled 4 blankets on the bed. Finally we went to sleep.
Tom awoke frequently throughout the night, as his breathing became more labored. At 5am we both could hear water gurgling in his lungs, and he was only able to breathe very shallowly. Louisa attempted to find a phone, but was unable to either leave the hotel (the front door was padlocked} or awaken the proprietor. We waited an hour or so, with Tom taking some ibuprofen for his headache, and breathing a little better when sitting up.
We suspected the problem was "soroche" or altitude sickness, more particularly a mild case of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). Treatment is easy: go down. Our main problem was that Uyuni is near the exact middle of the altiplano, so there was no lower altitude to go to within hundreds of kilometers. Our only real choice was to take the bus back to Sucre, 10hrs away and 1000m lower.
About 6:30, Louisa succeeded in waking the man to let her out, but he would not let her use his phone. Louisa needed to call the doctor, so she embarked on an early morning nightmare trying to find a phone. There were hardly any people on the streets and the ones that were looked fairly unsavory. After several phones that only took local phone cards, and another that didn't work, she spotted one. On par for the morning, even collect calls are 1bs per minute, so once she got through, she only had time to tell Dr. Carlin the symptoms, and then got cut off. She borrowed some more coins from some Americans who were up early, and called again. Dr. Carlin told her to administer prednizone, and descend immediately, indicating that the condition can be life-threatening if not treated. She got cut off again, but told him she'd call back when the phone company opened.
The prednizone helped Tom's headache almost immediately, but he was still breathing very shallowly. When the proprietor heard Tom had soroche, he did offer to help us get tickets to Sucre. By 8, we had breakfast and bus tickets. We slowly walked to the phone center to call WorldClinic again. Dr. Carlin was pleased that we already had the bus tickets to Sucre but we all wished that we could reach the lower altitude sooner than 8pm. He suggested that we also look for Diamox. No pharmacies were open, although Louisa did later get one to open for her, and failing to find Diamox, bought a local soroche remedy instead.
We shouldered our bags and slowly walked the 3 blocks to the bus company. We got the last 2 seats on the bus, packed in the back corner where there were 5 across. We settled in and began bumping our way slowly up along the dirt "road" to Potosi. Now that it was daytime, we could see the spectacular scenery we had missed the night before. Uyuni is on the edge of a huge white salt flat, and looks pretty small and lonely in the middle of the barrenness.
There are huge mountains in the distance, a few snow capped. They jut out from the barren, flat altiplano. It was bizarre how far that one can see here. Not only is it flat, but there is hardly any vegetation except some short cacti. Frequently it was possible to see an Incan road that continued parallel to our route.
We chatted with the Bolivian campesino man sitting next to Louisa. We were 5 across in the last row of the bus. When Louisa saw the local Bolivian head for the middle seat next to her she groaned fearing that the man might smell. However, we were rewarded with a kind, noon-smelly man who pointed out a few things along the way.
Hundreds of llama were grazing on the sparse vegetation. It was fun to see so many llamas together, some in the wild. Other animal sightings included alpacas and sheep. There was surprisingly little cultivation considering the remote country, but this was driven by the desperate lack of water. In fact the rainy season had just ended in April, yet many of the creeks were dry, and rivers low. The dirt road has no bridges. Whenever the road reaches water, it just splashes across stream trickling down wide dry river bed.
Most woman along the road wore traditional clothing. The dress is a very full pleated skirt that goes to just below the knees, an unmemorable blouse, a cardigan, and a wide brimmed suede or leather hat. The woman have long, long hair which they wear in braids decorated with black yarn tassels on the ends. Babies are tied on their backs in a swath of the local woven fabric which is quite colorful. As they walk along, or ride the bus, they transport their goods tied in large bundles in the colorful woven fabric. In town the adult woman tend to wear traditional clothing also, but it is quite rare to see a woman in her thirties or younger, except perhaps a girl child. However, we commonly saw women in traditional dress and their children in modern clothing.
Men do not have a distinctive clothing style. They tend to wear what appears to be a polyester pants, or the younger ones colored jeans, a long sleeve button down shirt of a thin fabric and a V-neck sweater.
The houses are made of mud bricks made out of the red, clay land. Most houses between Uyuni and Potosi had thatch roofs. If the houses had corrugated tin roofs, the tin was held in place with large rocks perched on top. These earthen dwellings of the Bolivians looked remarkably like the ones that we saw in South Africa. We noticed that the construction of, size of, and land surrounding the houses improved significantly on the other side of Potosi once we were on our way to Sucre.
Halfway between Uyuni and Potosi we stopped in a village near one of the largest rivers we saw. The dwellings that lined the road offered drinks and food to the passing travelers. Chickens and dogs wandered the streets pecking at crumbs, or begging for food. We climbed the hill on one side of the road and looked back into the town. It had about 3 streets, lined with the mud and thatch constructed houses. There was hardly a local person in sight. It felt like a ghost town. In fact many dwellings and "farms" appeared to be abandoned.
An additional torture with this bus ride that rather than being terribly cold as it had been last night, it was ferociously hot. We guessed that it would be warmer, but not hot and were overdressed. Additionally, since we had such a sudden change of plans, we did not have much food. A few stands offered candy or street side food, but the latter seemed to be certain sickness. We snacked on the dulce de leche cookies given to us by Laurita and Damien in Buenos Aires, a few pringles, and a snickers bar.
On arrival in Potosi we hoped to have time to scout for food, but the bus to Sucre was waiting. We quickly changed buses, got better seats and were on our way. Unfortunately Potosi is actually at a higher elevation than Uyuni, so Tom was not feeling any better. Thanks to the glorious prednisone, he was not feeling worse either. At this point we figured it was three hours to relief.
The drive was gorgeous. We watched the sun reflect off of the red mountains and tried to get some good pics, but the moving bus did not cooperate. As Louisa's ears began to pop she quickly asked Tom about his breathing. It was improving!
On arrival in Sucre at 8pm, we found the same taxi driver who had taken us from the airport,to all of the hotels. We went to the new Hotel Glorieta for a room since it looked the most American and modern. We decided to eat dinner there to make things easy. We were the only diners, the food was just fair, but easy! After our quick meal we went to bed with Tom propped up with lots of pillows.
We strolled around charming Sucre for the morning. We walked through a food market. Inside tables were piled with chicken parts, entire pigs, and other assortments of meats. Other tables held cheeses or vegetables. It was quite colorful and entertaining. Outside were the fruit stands. The fruit looked amazing. As we continued along the street, Louisa scouted out silver charms for her bracelet. We had great success with a llama and a campesino woman. We continued through two parks. The first plaza was lined with the Supreme Court, the Grand Theater and a beautiful church turned into a hospital. We relaxed on a park bench in the shade and watched the locals interact. We continued on to the main park, Simon Bolivar. A couple who have a candy cart heard us speak English and called us over to read for them. The smoke Camel cigarettes and had a pack with a Camel Buck in it. They wanted t know what it was, and what it was worth. I was a funny interlude to the morning.
We tried to have lunch at a jazz cafe that looked interesting, but it is closed for lunch on Sunday. The only place open was Eli's New York pizza near the main square. They advertise NY style pizza and delivered delicious pizza, stromboli and stuffed pizza. It was a treat!
Our loyal taxi driver took us to the airport. The porter at the airport recognized us as we approached and pushed another aside to help us, hoping for another generous tip.
The flight to Santa Cruz was short, but it was a clear day and we had great views of the mountains. We stayed at the Gran Hotel Santa Cruz. Recently Crowne Plaza purchased it and is redecorating and upgrading everything. It had an incredible gym, the first we have seen in South America.
We walked around the main square and surrounding neighborhood, but nothing was open on Sunday. Nothing. We did find the Entel office (Bolivian telephone company) and called Amex about travel arrangements, but Entel cannot send a fax on Sundays, weird. The hotel could not send a fax either.
We relaxed a bit with Tom feeling 100%. Not much was open for dinner, at lest near the hotel. We headed out for an Italian restaurant that the books had written up well and the hotel recommended, Michelangelo. The service was terrible, the food poor to fair, and took terribly long. We were thrilled to be out of there!
We worked out in the hotel's new; it felt great. Next we walked down the block to the main Entel office to call the docs. They could not believe that Tom had worked out this morning (oops!) and shared lots of ideas and tips for how best to try altitude again. Today Entel could send faxes so we sent those off. It took awhile for the lines to connect. When they finally caught we cheered from outside of the booth to the entertainment of the Bolivians who were waiting to send their faxes.
The gray clouds did not burn off and it started to sprinkle as we walked around. Tom needed an adapter in order to be able to upload the journal (problem for last 4 weeks) so we went on what turned out to be quite a long mission. Every block has at least one computer store, we have never seen such a concentration of computer stores, but they do not seem to carry adapters. In the midst of the search, a clothing store caught Louisa's eye. She found "the perfect" skirt, but not in her size. Not to worry the designer of the shop, Veronica Zapata, had more fabric and offered to make her one for tomorrow with the last of the fabric! All for a whopping $30.
We continued to walk all over the center, and finally spotted the adapter we needed in a shop window. We were throw off a little because the shops priced items in US dollars. We puzzled over it, but could not quite figure that one out.
Time for lunch! We walked toward the market "Los Pozos" thinking it would be a good place to eat some good fresh food. Crowds of people were in the sidewalks which were lined with stalls, on both sides of the sidewalk. We were entertained by the interesting happenings. The market contained only clothes, no food, so we were out of luck. Although we were intrigued by the compilation of goods and stalls in the market. It is a veritable department store, but made up of dozens of individual vendors.
As we continued in search of a restaurant, we bought 4 huge bananas from a wagon on the street corner for 1Bs. She was willing to sell us the entire bunch of 22 for 2Bs, but we could not figure out what to do with them, so we got ripped off, but 15 cents did not seem too bad.
We continued to walk all over the center of town, but failed to find one restaurant that looked clean and appetizing. Soon we were close to the hotel, so we asked there and went to a tex mex joint. Only one other table was there, but we were too hungry to care. This was fortunate, because the fajitas were delicious.
Refueled, we headed to the LAB office and bought tickets for Cochabamba (8500 feet) the next day. They offer a discount on domestic tickets purchased for family members traveling together which was a nice bonus.
We stopped in at an internet cafe that charges $.84 per hour. We were dubious, but it had a great connection. We surfed around the net for awhile researching the second half of the trip and Tom worked on adding more pictures to the site (Thanks, Harris!)
It was time, so we walked over to Veronica Zapata's to try on Louisa's skirt. Her Mom was there, so we chatted while Louisa tried on the skirt. It fit well, but was not finished since the original plan was to be around for part of the next day. We explained the early flight tomorrow. Veronica decided that she would bring the skirt to our hotel late at night. Incredible! Louisa tries on a dress that kept catching her eye. It fit perfectly and therefore just had to be bought.
We walked back to the hotel with Louisa thrilled with the purchases and pondering how to get future access to Veronica's clothes. After relaxing for awhile we headed out for more Italian food since carbohydrates are supposed to help prevent altitude sickness. We walked the few blocks to Bella Napoli and were the only ones, but sat down anyway. The pasta was delicious, much better than the previous night.
We checked email quickly at the hotel, and found the mail not working. Hmmm. Tom spent 2 hours fixing it, while Louisa packed everything. We went to sleep about 11, which was later than hoped.
The alarm went off at 6 for quick showers and final packing. Checkout turned into the usual Latin American nightmare. They were hopelessly unorganized and inundated with slips of paper. Further, they charged us $15/hr for the hotel internet! We thought it was 15Bs($2.52), which is still outrageous since across the street was 5Bs($.84) an hour. With much insistence, they changed it. We ate a quick, lame breakfast and were off in a taxi to the airport.
Check-in required the usual two lines, one for seat assignments and baggage check, and the other for the domestic airport tax. The flight to Cochabamba was short and uneventful. The Hotel Aranjuez was cute, but our room was kind of small. Tom rested, but Louisa decided to wander around the hotel. While exploring beautiful gardens, Louisa spotted a better room, we changed and then walked to lunch near the plaza Recoletta. It was almost deserted making it all seem very weird. Once more, the vacant streets were an inconsistent sign, because we had a marvelously delicious lunch of Bolivian food at Campo de Casa. In fact they brought more food than we could imagine eating.
We walked a few blocks more, then headed back to the hotel. We both slept for three hours solid. Wow! In fact we almost slept later than the tour of the palace. We walked one block to the Palacio Patino for the tour in English.
It is not really a palace, but an amazing house built by tin billionaire from 1915 to 1927. Amazingly, he never saw it even though he lived until 1947. The very baroque house was designed by a French architect, contains furniture made of Lebanese wood, and most walls, ceilings and banisters are ornately decorated by the team of 40 European artists imported for the house.
The family still owns the house, along with some other estates in Bolivia. They visit occasionally, but live in Europe. The house is used for conferences, as well as a cultural institute. It houses an extensive library with tens of thousands of books, and has a great modern art gallery. The buildings are complemented with beautiful gardens, designed by a Japanese gardener, and are still well maintained.
We wandered to the center for dinner, but got sucked into an internet cafe first. When we made it to the restaurant street, it was crowded with university students in bars. It seemed odd to see so many people after seeing hardly any to this point. A couple of restaurants were closed which was surprising, but we had a good dinner at La Cantoneta, an Italian restaurant. It was expensive for Bolivia, and full of gringos, but the food and service were good. In fact, they serve the best lemonade we have ever drunk.
Filled with pasta and lemonade, we felt great and decided to walk back to the hotel. It was almost too far, but we slowed our pace which helped. When we reached the hotel we were ready for more sleep.
The overall feeling is one of pure capitalism. Competition, supply, demand, fluid prices (no item has a price on it) and fierce bargaining are all major components of each day for these people. Tom made the point that intellectually we may believe that unregulated capitalism is an ideal to strive for, but when confronted with it in all of its power, we yearn for our nice stores with guaranteed quality and stable prices.
We left the crowded market for lunch up town at a vegetarian Indian buffet, which was fairly good and a welcome change from pasta. Afterwards, Tom returned to the hotel for a nap while Louisa hit an internet cafe. We came fed up with the amount of luggage that we were carrying, so we packed a box to send home. It felt great.
We walked to DHL, which is also Western Union. The latter had the office hopping with locals anxiously anticipating the arrival of some money. The price to send our box home was outrageous. The taxi man out front told us that Fedex was cheaper, but first we stopped by Entel. Grandma Henry got another birthday call, but again she was not home. The visa expedientor gave us good news that it will only take 7 or 8 business days to get our 4 visas. Yes!
Next, we walked across town to Fedex, where all of the workers were frantically working. We filled out umpteen forms, and finally they told us a price. It was outrageous. We balked at the price, and they reacted with a huge discount. Alrighty then, box sent home and our packs became lighter. (Although Louisa seemed to interpret this as an opportunity to shop.)
On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped for dinner at McDonalds. Then to the Aranjuez to pack. They were very cooperative and brought us breakfast to our room at night since we had to be up and out by 5:30. With everything ready, we slept.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on