It’s Monday morning. I’m lying in bed with my laptop right now. In my pajamas. And I don’t plan on doing anything else but blog and create photo albums today. We’re really behind!
This whole week we’re in Cafayate, which is a famous region within Argentina for its Torrontés grape. It’s a large, yellow/green colored grape that makes some of the most delightful white wine you’ve ever tasted! Yesterday we went to a winery for a free tour/tasting and tried the best one yet. A bottle is $7 — we’ll go back today and get one.
Most of the winery tastings are FREE here. We even tried to tip someone and they refused. The tastings have between 4-7 wines. There are about 7 wineries (or bodegas, in Spanish) within walking distance of our hotel — the first day we went to three bodegas and had such an awesome time just walking from one to another to another. We had lunch at the third one — and a half bottle of wine — before heading home in the afternoon for a nap. It was a perfect day!
Restaurants in Argentina don’t open until 8 or 9pm. We went to one that opened at 8, but were told there wouldn’t be any food until 9! The food here has been so, so good, and cheaper than we expected. We even ate at the #1 rated restaurant/winery in Argentina and with an appetizer, two drinks, and two entrees, it was still only $50.
That was yesterday, actually! We rented bikes and rode to the top-rated winery in Cafayate, Piatelli Vineyards, and that’s about 4-5 miles from here. Uphill. The ride there was horrible. Such a hard ride. We both had to walk part of the way. The way back was a breeze, though, thank goodness. We got massages last night that helped us relax — Ben said it was one of the best massages he’d ever had, and they cost just $30 apiece.
Speaking of our place — the place we’re staying is awesome! A welcome change to the hostels of Bolivia. We splurged a little on the #2 place to stay on TripAdvisor. The #1 place was too far out of town and much too expensive. This is a bed and breakfast called Villa Vicuña. The breakfast is delicious. We have an enormous king-sized bed (I swear it’s bigger than any other king-sized bed, ha). It’s two blocks from the main square and has a nice, quiet courtyard. I think we were meant to be here because I found a Clive Cussler adventure novel in the tiniest of book exchanges here. Those books are great for long bus rides!
Book exchanges are one of my favorite parts of traveling so far — I left the states with one book, and have continued to trade when I find a book exchange. I’ve read about 20 books since we’ve been traveling … that’s more books than the last 3 years combined. Since I don’t proofread for my main income anymore, I actually want to read for pleasure, whereas before, after a day’s worth of reading, all I wanted was to watch TV 🙂
So what’ve we been up to the last four weeks? A LOT!
Leaving Ecuador for Peru (October 12 – 28)
It seems like ages ago we left Ecuador. We now talk about it nostalgically like it was another lifetime. BTW, I can’t believe it’s November already … time moves faster when you’re traveling. Or is it, time seems to stop, but really doesn’t? I don’t know.
We had the same butterflies in our stomachs that we had leaving Orlando when we left our apartment in Cuenca. We got on a 4-hour bus through The Cajas to hot, humid Guayaquil. Just for one night. We had a 5:00am flight and we needed to be at the airport at 3:00 — ain’t no way we were going to take an overnight bus to Guayaquil and just get on a plane straight away. Even just 5-6 hours of sleep was better than none.
Our flight was to Lima, and we only had one night there. We booked our 16-day tour in Peru through PeruForLess.com and we’re so glad we did. Every step of the way there was someone to pick us up and take us to where we needed to go. It made traveling so much smoother — no need to worry about finding a taxi who wouldn’t try to rip us off, and there was always a friendly face waiting for us whenever we got off the plane, bus, or train.
Lima is HUGE. And beautiful. I wished we had more than one night there, but we made the best of it. We had a delicious lunch at the seaside mall (which felt very much like home) at an ASIAN restaurant. I had Korean bibimbap (a rice bowl w/ veggies in a sizzling stone pot). We did a city tour which gave us the highlights of the city.
The best part of Lima was stumbling across Kennedy Park, by accident, which is full of over 100 cats. They are well taken care of there, although some people abandon their cats there thinking it will go unnoticed. I loved seeing soooo many cats everywhere — in trees, in people’s laps — they were a delight.
Click to see our Lima Photo Album
We were picked up from our hotel bright and early the next morning for our flight to Cusco. We had fun manipulating the systems to avoid overweight baggage fees as much as possible. We have two GINORMOUS duffle bags, so for our first flight what we did was packed just one of them heavier than the limit, and crammed a bunch of stuff into our smaller suitcase (we’ve given it the nickname The Brick) that we used as a carry-on so we’d only get charged one fee for one overweight bag instead of having too many bags. It worked!
Side note: flying is scary. Some of the overland flights have been downright terrifying with lots of turbulence.
Cusco was fabulous! We loved the tiny, narrow streets, and the food was great. Our first day we ate a 3-course meal at a vegetarian place for about $2 a piece. It was nice to eat lots of veggies for a change — in Ecuador, most of the meals are rice, a wee bit of salad, and a main dish (beans, for me). The room we stayed in was spacious and the breakfast was good.
We had 3 nights in Cusco. Massage is very popular in Cusco; everywhere you turn someone’s asking you if you want a massage. We’d actually talked about it and decided to just book with the first person who asked us. We were quoted $12.50 for an hour, so we figured what the heck. Well, you get what you pay for! It was one of the worst massages we’ve both ever had, ha. I don’t think they had a clue what they were doing!
We ate at this ice cream place called Qucharitas … we found it by accident and later saw it was one of the top rated places in Cusco. They froze the ice cream right in front of you on these metal disks!
We visited the Inca museum and saw some mummies (creepy … ) and had a city tour that included some awesome ruins on the outskirts of town.
After our time in Cusco, we had a group tour of the Sacred Valley — lots and lots and LOTS more Incan ruins to be seen. We were with a small group of folks from Denmark and from Argentina on the tour, and we had a laugh because when lunchtime came, we had a choice to eat at a restaurant with a $20 buffet lunch or at a restaurant with a $11 buffet lunch … and out of our whole group, we were the only ones who chose the cheaper option, HA. It was plenty good, too, and the location was lovely.
We overnighted in Ollantaytambo which was our last stop before Machu Picchu (the correct pronunciation of which is MAH-choo, PEAK-choo, interestingly enough!). The hostel had a cat named Pichi.
One note about hostels in Peru — you’re lucky if they give you a bar of soap, and even luckier if they give you a packet of shampoo. We started collected the unused shampoo for use in hostels where we didn’t receive any, and it’s done us very well 🙂
We had to get up at 4:00 am to get to the train station to Machu Picchu! The only Americans we met or saw during our entire time in Peru was on the train ride to Aguas Calientes, by the way. It was crazy! We met SO many French, Dutch, German, Australian, Canadian, even Israeli travelers … but no Americans.
The train ride was awesome. Such a scenic ride. The “cloud forest” landscape is lush and beautiful, and the photos we took will not do it justice!
Machu Picchu was really crowded because we were there on a Sunday, when it’s free for all locals. It felt like a theme park. We still enjoyed it, but we would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if there weren’t sooooo many people there. Our bus tickets were pre-purchased, but because the line was hours long to get back to Aguas Calientes (and we had a train at 4:00!) we decided to walk down the mountain. It proved much, much harder than we expected. First we just followed the path the buses took and were overjoyed to find stairs … until we realized how many, and how steep, they were! And dummy me had done a hard leg workout a few days prior so every stair made my quads quiver!
Drenched in sweat by the time we finally made it back to Aguas Calientes, we had some time to spare before our train back. We had a beer 🙂
Our train ride was about 4 hours because it was taking us back to Cusco, almost. We had one more night in Cusco before we left for Lake Titicaca.
OH — RIGHT after we left Cusco, we heard the entire town went on STRIKE! No one was allowed in or out via train, plane, or bus. We were so lucky to have gotten in and out when we did. Our travel booker guy, James, was freaking out trying to fix everyone’s itineraries for the folks who were stuck in Cusco!!
We were on THE NICEST BUS on the 10-hour ride to Puno. I couldn’t believe it. Nicer, larger seats than even the first class airline seats we’ve experienced. I didn’t want to get off. They served drinks, snacks, the whole nine yards. It went by really fast, too, because the bus stopped for various ruins, tours, and lunch. None of the other buses we were on the whole time in Peru could even be compared to this bus, ha. I wished they were all that nice.
Lake Titicaca is huge and it was AMAZING. We took a boat tour to the Uros floating islands — an entire neighborhood of families who literally built their own islands out of reeds and reed roots (which float). The weather was perfect that day. We paid a little extra to take a ride on a real reed boat.
Colca Canyon and Arequipa
Colca Canyon was next — we overnighted in the Canyon and continued our tour the next day. We did a little hiking and saw a bunch of condors at a lookout point. They are HUGE birds who glide more than they fly (meaning they rarely flap their wings). Their wingspan can be up to 9 feet.
We had five nights in Arequipa, which was our favorite town in Peru that we visited. It was so CLEAN and nice, and we had time to relax. The best museums and places of interest are there, and the weather was heavenly. Breezy, sunny, and NOT COLD 🙂 We were able to get laundry done, and the breakfast was really good at the hostel we stayed in.
Arequipa is called The White City and it’s named such because many Spanish people settled there (and they are whiter than the natives). The Cathedral is white, too, and the stone it’s made from is porous. Earthquakes have destroyed the cathedral on numerous occasions, and each time they’ve rebuilt it — it was neat to see during the tour the evidence of the earthquakes and the changes they made to the construction after each one.
There is a large convent within Arequipa called Santa Catalina. We had a tour through there. It was so cool. Apparently, 15 nuns still live there. I was like, PROVE IT! They don’t come out, and until recently, there were no pictures of the nuns because they felt it was too vain. In fact, there are portraits of nuns who lived and died there, but the portraits were painted only after they had died, so they have their eyes closed. One had their eyes open because she died with them open. BIZARRE and CREEPY, but cool. The convent was like a little town — it had streets named after cities in Spain and everything. The nuns make chocolate and handicrafts. I bought some milk chocolate with coconut cream inside that was decadent!!
We also took a tour through the Santuarios Andinos museums, a must-see when in Arequipa. So you know how the Incas sacrificed children? This museum collected all the frozen bodies of the children, and there is one on display called Juanita, the Ice Maiden. We watched a neat video about how/why the Incas sacrificed children. Basically, the Incas believed the mountains, especially volcanos, were gods. So when there was a natural disaster, they thought the gods were upset and they made it part of their culture to appease them. The most beautiful children were raised specifically to be sacrificial offerings. At around 12-13 years old they were brought up to the mountain/volcano, a journey which took several months, and a ceremony was performed. They dressed him/her in nice clothes, gave the child a hallucinogenic drink, then delivered him or her a deadly blow to the head with a club of some kind and left there in a grave with other offerings like pottery and cloth. It apparently was a great honor for the child to be raised as a sacrifice; they were even treated like royalty. I still feel bad, though — I know the culture is well-respected for how technologically advanced they were, but for being so advanced, I must admit I find it odd and sad they believed they had to kill children to appease volcanoes :-/
We had to go back to Puno before transferring to Bolivia. It was an all-day bus journey to La Paz.
First, we had to change money and the lady ripped us off for $13. We gave her $16 in Peruvian Soles and she gave us back $3 in Bolivianos. I didn’t notice until it was too late. First I was mad but then I shrugged it off; she’ll get to eat on me for the week 🙂
Crossing the border was NOT FUN. It was crazy. Leaving Peru, I had lost my migration card and even though I had a copy which I was told would be fine, they made me buy a replacement for $7. At the Bolivian migration area, luckily, we were the only Americans so there was a separate line for us. ALL the preparation we did in advance for the border crossing was for naught. We printed application forms on Bolivia’s website — but they don’t use them. The guy handed them right back to us. I WAS SO MAD. We found out early in the morning the reciprocity fee had gone up from $135 to $160, and we didn’t have enough USD! Luckily I got some extra USD out of the ATM at the bus station so we were fine. They also wanted photocopies of our itinerary for Bolivia, which we didn’t have, and photocopies of our passports, which we didn’t have — we DID have everything the Bolivia website said we needed, though … they just didn’t want any of it. So we had to leave the office and go pay to have copies made. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever experienced and did not give us a good first impression of Bolivia. We did meet some Americans with another tour who didn’t have evidence of their yellow fever vaccine, so they were in a worse place than us (we had evidence). If they couldn’t find evidence, they wouldn’t be allowed in and would have to stay in Peru.
We had to change buses in Copacabana which is where we had lunch (really good tacos). The coolest part was taking a ferry across Lake Titicaca. They put our bus on a wooden platform and floated it across the lake. It looked like it would capsize at any moment — reminded me of “caulking the wagon” in The Oregon Trail game 😀
We finally reached La Paz, a lot later than we expected. We didn’t do much in La Paz but got to eat at some nice restaurants. The food there is top notch — we went to a Vietnamese place and the red curry was out of this world. We actually worked most of the day we were in La Paz, which was a good thing because we would be without Wi-Fi for four whole days soon 🙂
Bolivian Salt Flats Trek
This. was. amazing. Bolivia is ROUGH, y’all, but I think everyone should go there to see it. It’s beautiful.
Our first day was smooth driving on a rather nice highway … until we hit a traffic jam that turned out to be a STRIKE! Seriously. When taxi drivers get upset, they just block the roads and refuse to work for the day. Real productive, I know. Our guide navigated the back roads (which was just dirt, really, who am I kidding) and eventually figured out a way around the blocked roads.
We were spoiled the first night of our trek — we were the only ones in the hostel and we got to upgrade to a private room for $8 … and it included an electric heater. It was FREEZING in Bolivia so we felt it was well worth it 🙂
Other than that, in the hostels we stayed in during the trek, the amenities were nonexistent! The bathrooms were disgusting, the showers equally so. The other hostels we stayed in we did have our own room but had to share a bathroom. One of them had a bathroom but it had a padlock on it. I inquired how much we’d need to pay to be able to use that bathroom and they said $35 extra, which is absurd for Bolivia. I said, in Spanish, “For one night, that’s way too expensive.” They just stared at me. It was weird. Didn’t even try to bargain. I was like, Do you want some extra money, or NO extra money? Clearly they were content with no extra money.
We were fine with baby wipes and Old Spice 😀 In the mornings we had hot water for tea, and we used the hot water to wash up a bit.
During the days on the trek we spent a LOT of time driving on unpaved, rocky roads. It was worth it. The scenery in Bolivia is breathtaking. Like another world. In some parts, it looked like MARS.
The Salar de Uyuni or the Salt Flats of Uyuni was magnificent. Freezing, but oh so BRIGHT at the high altitude, I actually got a migraine on the first day we visited, but I had medicine so it wasn’t so bad. What was fascinating about the salt flats was that it’s actually a gigantic, evaporated salt lake. Underneath the salt you will find tons of water, almost like a reservoir. We visited an island with cactus and coral formations. The coral was petrified and millions of years old. I had a fun time imagining what it might’ve looked like when it was a lake. Driving along the salt flats, you could see the mountains with the old water lines etched into it — the line where the water reached before it was evaporated. So, so, so cool. Apparently there were no dinosaurs in the area. The salt content was far too concentrated. You could stick your hand underneath the salt into the water and the water would dry almost immediately once you took your hand out… but your hand would still be covered in salt. Our guide dug into the salt to find crystals in the water — these were perfectly shaped somehow (we don’t know how!) and a beautiful unexpected treasure to find in the “White Desert”.
We saw tons of vicuñas, my new favorite animal. They are a member of the llama/camel family but are very small and their fur is soft. They are a protected species. It’s illegal to kill them. They are captured and shaved for their fur, though, but only during the warmest months of the year.
We also saw thousands of wild flamingos — three different kinds — and even an ostrich! There were also these rabbit/cat-looking creatures. It had the body and tail of a cat but the head and ears of a rabbit. The guide said it was part of the chinchilla family. Really cute little things.
Our tour guide and cook were a husband-and-wife team, Edwin and Mirtha. They were close to our age, too, and we had fun practicing our Spanish with them. They did not know English, so we were forced to! I could understand about 85% at best. The food Mirtha cooked was quite good, especially the soups. The first night, though, I got a plate with potatoes and tomatoes on it … all cold. Lol.
6 Things We Can’t “Rough It” Without
The Salt Flats tour was a trying experience for both of us. It was rough. Here is a list of things we are SUPER glad we traveled with while roughing it in Bolivia:
The P*Style !!! ($13) — It’s not just me who loves it — Ben loves it, too ’cause it makes me a much happier camper 😀 The most disgusting bathrooms/toilets on the face of the earth are in Bolivia, I swear. Because we spent so much time on the road in the middle of nowhere on the trek, we have gone a whole day without seeing a toilet. For Ben, that was no problem, and thanks to the P*Style, it was no problem for me, either! When the hostel bathroom was packed at night, I just went outside in the dark. When we had to go while on the tour, we’d just tell the guide and he’d stop, we’d get out, and we’d both pee right there behind the car in the middle of the gravel road, lickety split. No trees, nothing. We stopped in a few places that were, unfortunately, littered with used toilet paper. You don’t need TP with the P*Style, though! I couldn’t imagine, in that freezing windy weather, having to drop my pants and bare my ass to squat n’ pee … but so many poor women were doing just that ’cause they don’t know there is any other option. I recommend to all female travelers to get one of these … it made my life so, so much easier on a trip like this, and you don’t need to worry about having TP.
extra camera battery for our Olympus Tough ($11) — so glad we got one of these. Some places we stayed didn’t have any power outlets we could use, so we wouldn’t have been able to charge the battery for our camera, anyway. When the battery died, we just popped in the other one and went on our merry way, and charged the batteries when we had an outlet.
universal travel adapter with USB ports ($16) — this allowed us to charge our computer, iPads, and phones all at once. We plugged in a computer, used its USB ports for phone and camera, then used the USB ports on the adapter for our iPads. The type of outlet in Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina are different — especially in Argentina — so the adapter has really come in handy.
Sunland travel towel set ($20) — these are awesome, especially in hostels without towels (they do exist). They’re great for drying your face, and they’re also great if the pillow quality is gross or if the fabric is rough. I draped a towel over the pillow many nights we were on the road. They’re SUPER soft. We even used these in Ecuador as our regular bath towels. Our apartment wasn’t well ventilated so the regular towels would get wet and stay that way, whereas the travel towels dried in just a few hours. The big one was even used as a blanket at night in the jungle.
iPad mini 2 ($229) with lots of free iBooks — I am a big fan of the free books section on iBooks. While we were on the Bolivia trip, I read one or two books a day. I couldn’t always get to a book exchange, either, so the iBooks bailed me out.
baby wipes — we made sure we had plenty of these before going on the trek because we knew the shower situation would be bad. Thankfully, these left us feeling pretty fresh each day so it wasn’t so bad not having a shower for four days!!
Old Spice — I ended up throwing away the deodorant I had — just wasn’t cutting it. Ben had an extra stick of Old Spice I started using, and it actually helped me feel fresher during the trip!
Border Crossing to Argentina
We had two nights in Tupiza. One of the nights we actually got for free because the tour company messed up our itinerary and we were behind a day. There was ANOTHER strike in Tupiza where the roads were blocked and we thought we might need to take the train out instead of a car, but luckily it resolved and we could get out 🙂 That’s THREE strikes we’ve encountered since leaving Ecuador!
Our booked package included transfer to the border and bus tickets for the 7-hour trip to Salta.
The owner of the hotel, Roberto, (with whom I’d emailed in Spanish a lot when planning the trip) accompanied us to the border and it was first-class service!! He actually helped us totally skip the super long lines (he said he just told them we had a bus to catch, which we did!). He got us our bus tickets and even gave us his leftover ARS (pesos). We were so impressed with his level of service. I gave him a huge hug and almost cried when we said our goodbyes.
The buses in Argentina, so far, have not been all that nice. I think only the overnight buses are the super nice ones. We’ll let you know soon, as we’re going to take an overnight bus from Tucuman to Mendoza this weekend, eeek!!
Everyone expects a tip who loads your bags onto the bus in Argentina. They also expect a tip when offloading it. About 2-3 pesos per bag, so it was about 7-10 pesos for our three bags, which is about $0.70 – $1. It’s really not a lot of money, but we were surprised by it is all.
About halfway through the trip, the bus stopped and everyone started getting off. It was a checkpoint! We had to load our luggage off, have it checked by the patrol, then load it back on. It was crazy. The line was separated into men and women, and Ben’s line was moving faster — I recruited my mad Spanish skillz and asked the control guy if he could check mine too since we’re together. He just waved me forward and didn’t check the bag at all.
I could’ve smacked the family next to us on the bus — they had two young kids and were allowing them to scream, cry, and literally run the length of the entire bus like it was their own personal playground. The parents did nothing. Occasionally one of the kids would stop at my seat and grab my arm for balance mid-play … if this was a short bus ride, I would not have minded so much, but it was an all-day ride and they were really getting on my last nerve.
We actually did not have a reservation for a place to stay in Salta. It was one night and our plan was to get off the bus and just find a place. Well, a place found us. A sales guy from a hostel approached us getting off the bus and asked if we needed a place, and we did, so we just went with it. The convenience was amazing. For $35 we got a taxi ride and a night’s stay in our own room. The room was one of the less nice places we’ve stayed, but for a night it was fine :-).
We definitely expected prices to be more expensive in Argentina, but so far it’s been cheaper than Peru … for our dinner the first night in Argentina, we split a pizza and a giant 1 liter beer, and the total was only $10.50. We didn’t even finish the pizza!
We had a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Cafayate after our night in Salta. Ben threw up. The last bit was pretty twisty-turny. I even felt a bit sick!
Once we got to Cafayate we had no idea where we were, so we just found a taxi who got us to our place.
A bit more about this wonderful place. In the Quechua language, Cafayate means “Place that has everything” — and that’s about the truth. We love the hotel we’re in, the town is clean, the weather is beautiful, you can walk to many of the vineyards, it’s not too high of altitude (it’s in fact the lowest we’ve been in for longer than a day in our entire four months on the road!). You can get a glass of very nice wine here for $1.50. We’re taking advantage of that, believe me 😀
Empanadas are the specialty here. We found a local place that serves all kinds of empanadas — you can get 12 empanadas and a jug of wine for just $14. AND they have a cat there.
Homemade pasta is the other specialty I’ve really enjoyed. So far, I’ve had spinach ravioli, arugula tortellini, and homemade fettuccine with sun-dried tomatoes. It has been soooo delicious. The food in Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina has had a lot more flavor than the food in Ecuador, although the hot sauces in Ecuador are some of the best I’ve ever tried, and I miss them!!
How is Our Spanish?
My Spanish has markedly improved since we left the states — even since we left Ecuador. We spoke mostly English in Ecuador, but have been forced to speak Spanish for the last month and I’ve finally gotten to a point where I don’t have to think for five minutes before I say everything. Argentinian Spanish is something else, though, but even after just a few days, I’ve gotten used to it a bit. It’s just more garbled and a LOT faster than the previous three countries.
Ben has been using more words and understanding more, and in the last week or so, I’ve translated a lot less for him! He has made a lot of improvement. I think the trek in Bolivia was really helpful — it was nothing but Spanish for five straight days!!
Business is doing great. Sales have climbed every month since we’ve left. Proofread Anywhere is officially one year old now! In October, we had our first month with zero “zero” days, meaning we had income from the business every single day of the month — even when we had no access to Wi-Fi. The streak is actually still going 😀 It’s been really fun talking to other travelers about our business. We’re often the youngest people wherever we go, and everyone wants to know “HOW?!” we can travel for so long.
I am working with a partner on two more online courses, the first of which we’d like to launch by the end of the year 🙂
On Friday, we’re heading to San Miguel de Tucumán. It’s a 6-hour ride from here. From there, we’re on an overnight bus to Mendoza, where we’ll be through the holidays until mid January.