Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sun Screen Can't Save You now, My Pretty.

Cartagena, my friend. How you wow us with your crashing ocean waves, twisting narrow streets, impenetrable (and centuries-old) city walls and beaming sun. Oh. That sun.

Kristin and I started our adventure yesterday at 9 am, by which time it was already 90-degrees. We enjoyed a leisurely (and relatively quiet...cabbies were still sleeping, I guess) walk to Castillo de San Filepe de Barajas, a fort built in the 17th (ish) century on top of a tall hill and once was the strongest, most impenetrable fort in South America. It was incredible (internet isn't letting me post pics. See KC'S Facebook).

The fort had seven main fortresses with different lines of defense and an intricate network of tunnels, so with purposeful dead ends. Kristin enjoyed exploring the tunnels. :)

We wrapped up the day in "old city," which is the section of Cartagena enclosed in stone walls. There are tons of museums and cathedrals to keep two girls entertained, so we elected for the Church of San Pedro Claver, which was both a museum and cathedral and features the skull of San Pedro himself at the altar. It was super cool. He was also a small dude. The museum is connected to the church and used to be where the monks and such lived (including the quarters of Pedro who lived and died there). Now it's a museum (obviously) and a neat little indoor/outdoor courtyard with the cities cutest two parrots (Pedeo and Claver).

After all that, KC and I were toast. Literally. No amount of sunscreen is any match for the Cartagena sun and heat. So we regrouped at the hostel for a few hours before heading out to dinner.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tap Water Gamble and Beach Bum Paradise

Hola! (See? My Spanish is already improving) from Cartagena! KC and I wrapped up the night in Barranquilla with a casual dinner at Uncle Benito's, where we both enjoyed tex-mex-with-a-Caribbean-twist meals and took a gamble on a tall glass of house water. Probably a mistake, but we're going with it. After that, we hit the hay.

We departed from Barranquilla this morning on a little bus ride to the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, known for it's beautiful colonial architecture and beaches. We grabbed lunch at a hole-in-the-wall lunch restaurant. Kristin had a fish thing, I had rice.

After a brief walking tour of the beautiful city, the heat got to us and the beaches were calling. We spent the afternoon lazing about on the beach. We both enjoyed full body massages, salt water and people watching. :)

We're chilling back at the hostel now, killing time before dinner, and are hoping for decent weather tomorrow so we can take in more of the sites.

Okay, check in with you later!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beans Sisters Getting Unlost: Barranquilla, Colombia

Bonjur! KC and I made it safely and uneventfully to Barranquilla, after three plane rides and 17 hours of journeying. Made our way in the dead of night in a speeding taxi with a driver with only one eye to our hotel, Barahona 72, on an unassuming street in the El Prado district.

After sleeping like logs, we enjoyed watermelon juice, scrambled eggs, papaya and a club sandwich for breakfast (weird but good) before venturing out into the now awake and lively city of Barranquilla.

If I had to compare Barranqilla to a US city, I would call it a Cincinnati. Not a huge city, no world-known attractions, overshadowed by other bigger-and-better places, but full of character, characters and micro-cool activities.

We decided to play it low key on day 1 and walked down a main artery for about an hour before landing at the Museo del Caribe (Museum of the Caribbean), which was a six-level bunker-looking square structure filled to the brim with Colombian/Caribbean information. The muesum was newly built and the exhibits were very techie/interactive. We had a great time, guided by a personal English-speaking (thank gwad) guide.

First regret of the trip: not brushing up on my Spanish. The accent is so different and thick here that it may not have made a difference, but we have found ourselves in a few different situations that would've been more efficient (but way less fun) had we been able to converse a little better.

But that won't stop the Beans Sisters. :) After the museum, KC enjoyed some carne asada (beef set lunch), which included veggies-and-bone-marrow stew, thin steak (I was going to call it a "meat thing" but KC edited), rice, french fries, salad and a creamy chickpea salad (all for $3) while I enjoyed a Clif bar. :)

THEN, WE TOOK PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION! Like it was nothing. Instead if hoofing the hour walk back, we caught the R2 bus (thanks to recommendations from our museum guide and smiling gestures from the bus metrotransport ticket lady). We felt empowered. We're just about to head out to dinner/evening activities, so I'll wrap this post up here. To be continued.  :)

Tomorrow we're taking a 10am bus to Cartegena, which will be a totally different backdrop from Barranquilla.

Weather here is so-humid-it-is-hard-to-breathe hot. My hair is huge. I actually broke a sweat on our morning walk. But we love it. It's what we've been waiting all summer for (no thanks to Polar Vortex).

Okay, that's it for now!

Picture descriptions:

1. Outside of the Museo del Caribe

2. Word wall on the 2nd level of the museo. Features words only used in Barranquilla/Caribbean spanish dialect. Personal favs are "chevero", which means "cool/nice", yuca, which means potato, but is used as an insult for people with big feet and "guayabo" whuch means "hangover"

3. Kitten sitting under KC's chair at lunch.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last day in Lima

Wow! So much to tell! I do not yet have pictures (hopefully before the weekend!).

The Inca Trail / Macchu Picchu was simply amazing. Incredibly challenging, but amazing. We started hiking around noon on Friday, hiked from about 6 am until 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday and hiked 4am until arriving at Macchu Picchu at 7:30 am on Monday.

Macchu Picchu itself is jaw dropping. But it meant even more for us trekkers because, well, we weren't just trekkers. It felt like we were pilgrims (since we walked the pilgrimage trail). So that was pretty awesome.

So much to tell, but I will have to stop here (the computer spell check is set to Spanish so every word I type has a red underline...for those that know me, you can imagine how upsetting this is. haha)

Anyways, Veronica and I are heading home on a midnight flight. We should be back home in 24 hours. Until then, we'll be dragging our blistered, aching bodies all over Lima. Yay!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hello, Peru -- Our time in Puno

With heavy hearts, Veronica and I said goodbye to Bolivia. We took a bus to Puno, Peru (the border crossing went smoothly...hurray!) and arrived in Puno Tuesday around 2:30 Chicago time. We spent the rest of the day adjusting to our hotel, the new city and our upcoming days.

On Wednesday, we kicked off the day with a trip to The Floating Uros Islands. We knew going into the trek that, once upon a time, there were a group of people living in the Puno area who fleed to Lake Titicaca to avoid the violence between tribes on the mainland. These people literally built their houses and communities on floating reeds.

Sounds cool, right? Sadly, the whole thing was a load of bull. Okay, that was a little harsh. They are kind of like a working historical society. You know, the ones that have people dressed in old clothes churning butter? Once we arrived on our island, we were shown demonstrations of how these islands were built, operated and maintained. Then we were kind of stuck there for a painful 20 minutes while the fake locals tried to sell us cheap tourist trinkets.

Interesting but a bit of a bummer.

But we ended the day on a definite high-note. We visited a historical ruins site called Sillustani (see-you-stah-ni), which is home to these huge ancient ritual sites and burial grounds. Puno is 3,800 meters elevation, but the site was over 4,000. It was quite breathtaking, both literally and figuratively.

After an hour hike up (with several breaks along the way) we came to the top of the site. See the pic below (it just does not do it justice)

There were several masses of rock scattered across the site similar to the one in front of me in the picture. These are tomb markers. The tombs on the highest peak (like the one pictured) are actually for children. Kind of sad, but I suppose I would choose no other place to be laid to rest.

On our way back home, we stopped at a typical country farm. Once again, like The Uros Islands, this was more of a sample museum; no one actually lived there. They showed us where they plant stuff and where they cook stuff and where they sleep....then they showed us.....

The guinea pigs!!!!!!!!!!!!! They had llamas and alpacas, too, but you can bet that I was busy fawning over these Domino look-alikes. (I wanted to set them free, but Veronica held me back).

So, overall, nice day in Puno. I do not like Puno as much as Copacabana, but had a great time all the same. Tomorrow we take an early and lengthy bus to Cuzco. The bus is kind of a tour and makes several stops at ruins along the way. From Cuzco on Friday, we will start hiking the Inca Trail! Wish us luck!

Happy thanksgiving to everyone at home! We will both be thinking of you!

Pics from Copacabana & Isla del Sol

Here are some pictures from our time in Copacabana:

This is at the big cathedral in Copacabana. The cathedral is home to ¨The Virgin of Copacaban,¨ who is revered as the Virign Mary who is dedicated to the Sacred Valley (area around Lake Titicaca). The altar for this virgin is insane! We couldn´t take pictures, which is a shame. The altar was just stunning. An entire cathedral wall of gold and ornaments.

On day 2 of Copacabana (Monday), we visited Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). The island lived up to the name. Once we arrived to Isla, we walked about 5km to ancient ruins. Here is a pic of Roni at a lookout point along the way. Fun tidbit -- We learned that Lake Titicaca was originally Titicalka, but took on the name Titicaca when the Spanish invaded.

Back at Copacabana, I snapped this shot on my way back to the hotel of the sun setting behind mountains on Lake Titicaca. Our hotel room looked out at this view.

This is what I had for breakfast the day we left Copacabana. From left to right: Orange juice, coca tea, (behind the coca tea) toast with butter and jam, pancake with chocolate sauce and (in the far corner) fried eggs. Yum!!

Hope you enjoyed! The pictures I post here are the ones that I take on my phone. I have so many more on my camera (especially from Isla del Sol), so be sure to check them out on Facebook when I get back. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Copacabana and the Island of the Sun

Picking right back where I left off, Veronica and I traveled by bus from La Paz to the border city of Copacabana on Sunday morning. The bus ride was simply stunning.

La Paz city is kind of in a valley. The trip to Copacabana was on the ¨Altiplano,¨which is the super high-altitude plateau surrounding La Paz. Honestly, words cannot even describe. I have never seen a sky so big. We were literally on top of the world. And the! It was as if I could reach up and swipe my fingers through them if I had a good enough jump. I have pictures but, due to technology restrictions, I won´t be able to post here. Check Facebook in a day or so.

Copacabana is a city that sits right on Lake Titicaca. It is quite rural, which is a wonderful change of pace from bustling La Paz. So quiet!

After checking into a really cute (and...ahem...rustic) hostal, Veronica and I headed to Copa´s main attraction: a huge, stark white cathedral. I´ve got some awesome pictures of that, too. The Cathedral is the home to ¨The Virgin of Copacabana,¨which, from what I´ve pieced together is a big deal. Apparently, a piece of wood washed up on Copa´s shores with what appeared to be a lady carved on it. Despite the Spaniard´s attempt to discredit this artifact, many Bolivians today believe that the virigin specifically watches over Bolivia. We haven´t actually seen the virgin yet because there was a mass in service when we were there. We´re hoping to go back tomorrow before our bus to Puno, Peru.

We finished the rest of the day with a hike up to a ¨wishing¨altar on top of a mountain. Sounded like a good idea while we were standing at the bottom of it. Several puffs of the inhaler later, Veronica and I were sitting atop, making wishes (due to come true in a year).

I wish that this story had a happy ending that did not involve Veronica getting a nasty case of food poisoning (we suspect a meal of trout is the culprit), but...that wouldn´t be very South America-like. While she recovers, I wonder if I shouldn´t make another trip to the top of the wishing altar to wish for my health.

But she is a true champion. Today (Monday) we took a boat to the nearby Isla del Sol to look at, besides amazing views, old Inca ruins. Incans believe that their god was born on the island and created the sun and moon here. Again, words cannot describe. Pictures are only marginally better. Hopefully I will be able to post pics tomorrow once we arrive in Puno.

We´ve hiked a lot the past couple days (of course the Isla del Sol ruins were on top of another mountain), so we´re hoping the next couple days leading up to our Inca Trail hike will be restful.

Side notes: (1) The hot chocolate here is unbelievable. They literally grind chunks of cooking chocolate into a steaming cup of milk. (2) Pepto-Bismol is a godsend. (3) Listening to a tour guide describing a sacrifical ceremony in a foreign language is equally as challenging as entertaining. (4) The weather has been outstanding. (5) The sun is 500903479 times stronger up here -- Copacabana is roughly 3,800 m above sea level.

Can´t wait to get back and tell you more!