A Travellerspoint blog



Right from our very first day in Bolivia, there were many surprises. Our lack of research strikes again. We crossed the border from Puno near Copacabana on the edge of Lago Titicaca. The Bolivian side of the lake was clean, the water was clear, and people were swimming- something you would never dream of doing in the Peruvian side. Copacabana offered our cheapest organized campground to date at 10 bolivianos (1.20$). Hell yes. I could get used to this. Lots of hippy travelers were hanging out and it gave the town a pretty awesome relaxed feeling. With the route we chose around the lake onto La Paz, our map showed a gap in the road beyond Copacabana. When we rolled up, there were all sorts of wooden ferry boats carrying vehicles across the lake. Though they looked super sketcky, transport trucks, buses, and all sorts of heavy vehicles were making the trip, so we trusted our little captain and rolled right on. Only once in motion did we realize that the few boards where our wheels were resting were crazy thin. Sometimes you just have to trust that the people running the show have made it work enough times to put your worry at rest.



Once in La Paz we promptly got lost. Our navigation system is not the most sophisticated. We have a single map of South America that serves as our highway guide. Once we get into bigger cities, we use the maps in the guidebooks. To find the campsite we wanted to stay in, we were given a set of coordinates from some other travellers, and attempted to navigate the city without a proper map, going only on the waypoint. Domestic dispute ensues. La Paz is a steep, hilly, deserty, complicated city. We had to use four low to get up one of the steeper pitches, and once we were at the top we asked directions and were sent right back down. Shucks. We deployed one of the tricks we had often talked about, but never used. I got into a taxi, and Paul followed. Damn lucky we did this because the coordinate was eight kilometers off. Pffffft


La Paz was surprisingly interesting and we accomplished a lot in not a lot of time. On the ‘to do’ list we had: get a new internal hard drive installed in Paul’s netbook, get some car parts, get insurance, and check out some of the central markets. Everything was going well until our last day. We had it all planned out, we were going to pick the insurance up, then head to the computer place to pick up the netbook, then swing by the parts street and be home in the afternoon. Of course, nothing works like it is supposed to. There was a city wide taxi strike and the proprietors of the unionized taxis were roaming the streets with sticks and belts beating on the taxis and minibuses that were working through the strike. I didn’t take photos because I, being a client to one of the ‘scabs’ feared for my safety. We had to team up with some Bolivians to get downtown (we realized how much we had been getting ripped off on fares after paying the local price) and once we got downtown we found gridlock for kilometers. The minibuses and taxis had all flocked to the centre and were demonstrating against a new proposed tax on passenger fares. We walked a lot. After all the errands were done, and we had sufficient blisters, we retreated back to the campsite (12km from the centre) employing yet another scab taxi driver. If anyone reading this is going to La Paz, and needs to buy any car parts, I recommend you head to the Calle Rigoberto Peredes in the San Pablo neighbourhood. Great deals to be had.


We made our way south to the salt flats stopping in the town of Huari (where the nationally distributed beer is brewed). I am pretty sure the brewery is the only employer in the tiny town of Huari. We were a bit ‘fish out of water’, but as it often is in small untouristed towns, the people were friendly, and the prices were incredibly cheap. We got our cheapest hotel the trip. 5.60$ got us a room with two single beds, and another 1.20$ each got us a two course dinner. The room came complete with parking, a bag of coca leaves, a bucket of someone else’s urine, and some bloody Kleenex. We felt classy.




From Huari, it was a straight shot to Uyuni. We expected to see flamingos in the remote southwest corner of the country. Who knew that taking a secondary road would lead us to a garbage dump full of them? They kind of lost their mystique when we saw a scummy ass lake filled with bottles and bags inhabited by dozens of pink flamingos. From there, we hooked into a super sweet 4x4 route through the desert at 5000m above sea level. I cannot stress enough how awesome this route was. Picture perfect lakes, elaborate rock formations in the desert, sand dunes, alpacas and vicunas, and wide open spaces. Even though there are lots tours leaving Uyuni in LandCruisers and blazing through the desert to the border crossing at Hito Cajones it seemed pretty remote. Many times we were glad there were other people on the route, because of the deep sand and difficult driving. It was the most beautiful drive of the trip, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting South America. We camped out alone in the desert at 5000 m above sea level before crossing into Chile the following day. The southwest circuit was kickass. DO IT!













As with many prices in Latin America, the price of fuel in Bolivia is negotiable. A local person, or anyone with Bolivian plates, pays 3.45 a litre (about 45 cents). Foreign plates are asked to pay 9.26 per litre (about 1.35$). The system doesn’t seem airtight, because of the varying degree of legitimacy of fueling stations. Some are very legal, and insist on entering your plate number and providing you with an official receipt. Those are the ones we don’t go to. We did what any deal hunter might do, and bargained the shit out of each and every gas station we frequented. The most effective strategy was to ask for the gas without a receipt (sin factura) and insist that you only ever pay 5. I know that the gas jockey is pocketing the difference, and I am okay with that, but I like to meet them in the middle. Some asked for 7, and some gave us local price, but it was always a matter of bargaining, and pleading our case. Some flat out refused to sell to us. It is a delicate balancing act, and though it was a pretty big hassle we could not get discouraged, and celebrated the fact that we never had to pay gringo price. It is also illegal to fill jerry cans. The laws, and the practice are totally different though, and it was just a matter of lining up for an hour and being discreet. The southwest circuit should not be attempted without sufficient fuel.


Posted by SusieMiller 11:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Southern Peru

Gringos on the gringo trail

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but we didn’t go to Machu Picchu. If we were to have gone there, it might look something like this

So here’s the deal, seven years ago I came to Peru and backpacked from the south to the north. Upon revisiting Peru, I have found that a lot has changed. The ticket to enter the ruin site of Machu Picchu has quadrupled in price, and the amount of people allowed to visit the already crowded site daily has more than doubled. Paul and I strive to be the type of tourists who don’t put ourselves above touristy stuff. We enjoy being tourists of tourism, but this seemed like too much. This might make us sound kind of redneck, but when we are at ruin sites, we both sometimes leave wondering if we were supposed to get more out of it. Perhaps our lack of research, or accurate historical information might leave us with an impoverished experience. Maybe we should hire guides? Perhaps my merely visual appreciation for these historic works of functional art is not enough? I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the fact that I have already seen Machu Picchu, and that Paul doesn’t place a high value on ancient ruin sites, was enough to strike it off our list. My idea of a rich cultural experience is eating and drinking with local people. Sharing stories and laughs as well as inevitable cultural misunderstandings is what really makes a trip for me. In southern Peru we struggled with being on what is known as the “gringo trail”. We wanted to enjoy all that it had to offer but often didn’t quite know what to make of this particular type of tourism.

We decided to go budget and bought a sacred valley multi ruin site ticket (it still set us back 50 USD a piece). I don’t know why there has been a spike in price over the past eight years, but I sincerely hope that the Incan people whose ancestor’s cultural sites are on display are benefitting. With this price, we were allowed into ten ruin sites, and six museums. We did our best, but got pretty ‘ruined’ after only six sites. My favourite site was the agricultural centre of Moray. This was a half day’s drive out of Cuzco. The Incan terracing was apparently used as a scientific testing ground to determine and utilize optimal growing environments for their crops. It looks pretty damn cool.





We both liked the site of Ollantaytambo as well. There were some impressive rock works, and part of this site’s charm is the quaint town which the ruins overlook. We spent the night in Ollantaytambo happy that we waited out the rain and the parade of colourful poncho-clad tourists to check out the site a half hour before closing. Parades of tourists are, for better or for worse, part of the Incan ruin experience.




Paul’s favourite site was Tipon. It consisted of large terraced fields surrounded by functional aqueducts- one good thing about visiting the highlands in the wet season. This site was a little bit out of the way, buses cannot drive the steep road up to the site, which helped to make it a lot less busy when we got there.





We did what any reasonable tourist would do in Cuzco, which is eat. Paul and I discovered alpaca meat. For those of you who don’t know what an alpaca is, it is pretty much the most wonderful animal ever. It is super cute, its wool is warmer and softer than sheep’s wool (and doesn’t itch) and it tastes delicious. Our alpaca steaks were excellent. They were tender, not too gamey, but also incredibly well prepared on a bed of quinoa risotto. We liked them so much we went back to the same restaurant for the same meal two nights in a row. How’s that for a restaurant review? Cuzco was good for what it was good for: oogling colonial buildings, checking out ruins, and spoiling ourselves with extravagant eating and shopping. We also found mezcal for the first time since Guatemala. Though Cuzco and the Sacred Valley have changed a lot since my last visit, it remains an excellent place to visit, and has a lot to offer. Mom and dad- you have to come here with me someday, you would love it.





Posted by SusieMiller 14:10 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Northern Peru

zona de dunas

It has been a while since we have posted anything on here, and we have now been in Peru for a couple of weeks. So much has happened, and there is a lot to talk about. Starting with our first day in Peru, this country has had a whole different feel. We got into the border town of Tumbes, took out our first batch of Nuevo Soles, and went out for lunch. What to order? I asked the waitress what the restaurant did best, and she recommended the ceviche. For those of you who have not tried a Peruvian style ceviche- you are missing out. This is truly a life-changing culinary experience. Our first taste of ceviche was made with mixed seafood (mariscos mixtos). It included black conch, fish, octopus, scallops, prawns, and various other delicious bits of unidentifiable seafood- all raw. It is doused in a lime-heavy sauce, and served with aji- a spicy pepper specific to the area. According to me, it has the most amazing texture, as well as the perfect mix of tart and spice. Tumbes is known for its regional spin on the national classic so it’s not surprising that whenever we try to order the same dish, it’s never the same. We are chasing the dragon all down the coast and the sheer amount of raw seafood we are consuming is sometimes making us sick. Definitely worth it though.



Another surprise Northern coastal Peru had in store was its arid climate. We had thought we were headed into the wet season, only to learn that Peru’s coast is a desert. Paul had his sights set on catching some waves, so we explored the northern coastal surf towns, unfortunately in the midst of all of South America’s summer vacation- crowded. Though towns were pretty busy, we did stumble upon a strange scene in Lobitos. We rolled into the town’s ‘campground’ which turned out to be a bombed out warehouse. In fact, the whole town looked abandoned. We had to drive around the area and ask at least five locals about where to camp before we actually found the spot. There were ugly-ass hairless dogs (apparently highly prized in Peru) wandering about adding to the eerie feeling it gave of. Luckily the owners and the rest of the campers (mostly Chilean surfers) were incredibly friendly, making it strange and wonderful instead of strange and creepy. We also checked out the alleged world’s longest left hand point break in Puerto Chicama- unfortunately not really going off during our visit. We tried to surf it, but mostly just ended up flailing in the almost flat (now surprisingly cold) water. We are not in Central America anymore. Full wetsuits required.








Northern Peru has brought us our fair share of firsts as well. We had our first break in! Ironically, this happened when our truck was in plain view. Someone jammed a screwdriver (or something like it) into our back lock while we were eating lunch. Our truck was parked on an angle, and the only door we could not see was the back. The thief(s) had just enough time to get in, and make off with our toiletries bag before we finished eating- good thing we eat fast. We were partway down the road before we noticed the back door was open, and another few kilometers before we noticed anything was missing. The biggest piss-off was getting the lock fixed. I guess it’s a good reminder not to become complacent and we were lucky that that’s all they got. It has go us thinking a lot about how our truck must look to other people, and that even though we know there’s nothing of high monetary value in it, it’s still a 4x4 with foreign plates, which will necessarily turn heads in a place like Peru. We also had our first encounter with a corrupt police officer. It was bound to happen eventually. When he pulled us over, he was on about us not having daytime running lights. We chose to make him believe we could not understand, and kept insisting that yes, our lights did work. He eventually got frustrated and showed us a picture of a man paying money to a cop. We pretended not to understand. He threatened to write us a ticket, and take us to the bank. We pretended not to understand. At this point I broke out my best impression of awkward Spanish with a rough American accent and insisted that if he was going to write us a ticket, we wanted to go to the police station. I asked him his name, and his police number and started writing it down. Paul played dumb and shook the cop’s hand introducing himself with an overenthusiastically naïve “mucho gusto”. At this point he was convinced we were complete idiots and a waste of time, and just walked away. SUCCESS! We later learned that some friends of ours had been pulled over for having daytime running lights… shmarmy.

We fought our way through Lima and entered Southern Peru, missing the start of the Dakar rally by a week. Paul was pretty crushed. We headed to a national park on the coast upon recommendation from our friends James and Lauren. Paracas National Park is absolutely incredible. It is a desert playground surrounded on three sides by beautiful coastline. Because we brought our own 4x4, we could drive all over the park- and camp anywhere. Roads are more of an idea, and navigation is easier based on general direction and proximity to water. You really have to see it to believe it. Paracas has changed my opinion of desert camping. I am starting to see the appeal of arid, dry, and vast spaces. When you are away from the water, the sand seems to stretch on forever. There is no reference point to where you are going and where you have come from except tracks in the sand. The contrast of the barren landscape and the rich ocean teeming with marinelife is pretty impressive as well. The marine protected area is home to sea lions, penguins, and countless species of birds, fish, and crustaceans. We bombed around for a day and a half, and ended up hanging out with a large party of Peruvian vacationers. One dude was improvising songs about us while his friend accompanied him on the accordion. At this point when things had just begun to get awkward (when asked, I should always tell people that we are married), who would roll up over the crest of the dunes, but James and Lauren! Paul ran out from the crowd of our new friends flailing the beer bottle that happened to be in his hand chasing down their 4runner. What random luck to run into our buddies in a park so vast. We rolled around for the next couple of days together. Hope to make it happen again.











Al and Laurie- If you want to read my brief captions, go to the photo gallery

Posted by SusieMiller 13:07 Archived in Peru Comments (1)


time to make time

We are trying to make some time in our trip, and unfortunately that means we are going to have to skip seeing some places along the way. When we set off this year we were a month later than expected because of hot and dry fall conditions that allowed us to work until the end of October. This is a bit of a double edged sword. Financially, it was super helpful because we got a month extra pay to fund the trip, but time wise, it cut a month out of our already tight six-month journey. When we got to Ecuador, we knew we were going to have to sacrifice seeing the coast, and the jungle and make time on the Pan-American through the highlands.

The border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador was so simple, so fast, and the best part was- free. I did unfortunately witness many Colombian travellers being turned away at the border. It seems that Colombians have to be out of Ecuador for a certain amount of time before they are allowed back in. Some of the unhappy vacationers had some rather loud arguments with with customs agents raising the tension in the room. For us, the formalities were straightforward, the border guards were super helpful though they gave us a hard time and were visibly disappointed when we said we were only going to be spending a week in Ecuador. Despite that, we had no trouble getting our paperwork done and clearing customs in less than an hour. Hopefully this will be a trend in South America.

Our first impressions were good. Ecuador uses the American dollar as their currency. The set lunch menus here are never more than three American dollars, this includes a soup, and a main (rice, fried plantain, meat and salad), and often a fresh fruit juice as well. Damn good value. Another big change was the price of fuel. 1.45 USD a gallon. This is insane. The price is less than a quarter of what is costs on either side of the border, and works out to about 35 cents a litre! Though I was super stoked about saving money, it kind of made me wonder why it`s so cheap, and what kinds of destruction/ subsidizing is going on to keep it that way... More research required.

Unfortunately Ecuador got the chop, but it seems like a great place to visit on its own. None of the distances are too far, and you can find a bit of everything- mountains, coast, and jungle- all within a day or two's drive... now we continue south.






Posted by SusieMiller 13:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)


People back home have lots of ideas about Colombia. When we told our friends and family about our plan to drive the pan-American, Colombia topped the list of countries they were worried about in terms of safety and security. It has been interesting to travel in a place I previously thought innaccesible, and to set some of the stereotypes straight. In terms of preconceived ideas, I was preoccupied with safety concerns involving narcotrafficking, guerrilla forces, land mines, and kidnappings. We decided that it would be too limiting to beleive everything we hear about the risks of traveling in Colombia, but also unwise to completely dismiss it. As we entered Colombia, our strategies for dealing with security risks were the same as always: don`t drive at night, ask and trust the locals about safety risks, don`t park on the street overnight, and trust your gut instincts.

As we stepped out of our lancha into the first Colombian town of Capurgana, we noticed that everyone seemed incredibly happy. There was music.. LOUD music. People were drinking in the street, and there was a soccer match on in the middle of town. This had nothing to do with the images I`d had of a shady little border town in an innaccesible part of the Carribean coast. In fact, all through our time in Colombia we were constatly taken aback by the overwhelming friendliness, and hospitality of Colombian people. One time, I went to take out the trash at our campground, and ended up in a 30 minute conversation with an older couple that ended in a photoshoot and an invite to their hometown which was 100 kms away. People were super excited about the sole fact that we were traveling in and enjoying Colombia. At a routine military checkpoint we were pulled over, and the only questions asked were: how long have you been in Colombia, and how do you like it. The extent of my surprise and enjoyment of Colombian hospitality need not be confused with naivety. Simply watching the news, or looking at the paper reminded me that I was in fact in a nation still very much in the midst of political turmoil. It is very hard to decipher facts amongst news stories that are so sensationalized. It is very difficult to gauge the real risks from the perceived ones. What I do know experientially is that tourism is definitely on the rise in Colombia, and that the beauty and divesity it has to offer are unbeatable. People are not yet worn out or jaded from the constant flow of foreigners through their home towns, and are still excited to talk to tourists about their lives, and yours. It is inspiring and refreshing to be around people so passionate about their country.

The parts of Colombia that we were able to visit were incredibly beautiful and diverse. We went from 34 degrees and sticky humid on the coast, to cool weather at 4000 meters above sea level in a national park which hosts the headwaters for three rivers heading to three different drainage systems. We checked out the nation`s capital, a city of 8.5 million, and spent 100km on our way out of town in stop and go traffic. We spent Christmas in the quaint mountain town of Villa de Layva, and New Years in the southern city of Pasto where local people burnt manequins in the street at midnight. In total, we spent just under a month in Colombia, but exploring it to the extent that it deserves would take years. It is a place I could easily see myself returning to again and again, and always finding something to surprise me. Here are some photos from our few weeks in Colombia.







Posted by SusieMiller 12:21 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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