From Zero to Hero

Published: July 10th 2010
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Since leaving Panama City I met up with Kayce in her voluntary home for the last two months of La Paz, Bolivia. While there she was volunteering in various medical facilities, all of which were based around her interest in pediatrics. In addition to her volunteer work, she was also getting one-on-one Spanish lessons 5 days a week and has jumped wayyy past me in her ability to converse, debate and of course barter. And for an explanation for the title of this blog, I went from the shores of Panama City at sea level to a whopping 12,000’ in a matter of hours. La Paz is perched near the peaks of the Andes and owns the title of highest capital city in the world. Game on.

After a couple nights catching my breath in La Paz, eating some phenomenal llama fillets and meeting all of Kayce’s teachers, doctors, friends and family we set off for the infamous Salar de Uyuni in the southwestern corner of Bolivia. The trip was comprised of a 3 day, 2 night 4wd tour in some of the most vast, desolate and beautiful terrain I have ever seen. Leading us on our journey was “captain” Max and his cholita wife and our cook, Anna. Really cute couple who stopped at nothing to make sure our trip was as enjoyable as possible. Also joining us was a couple from Norway, a young Chilean guy and a really funny Chinese expat who had been living in La Paz for the past year. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hanging out with a Chinese person speaking Spanish, I highly recommend it.

Our journey began in the Salar (massive salt flat) which is the source of the surreal photos you’ll find in this blog. The endless horizon that is offered up is similar to that of the ocean as it stretches as far as the eye can see, but it’s all salt. We got as creative with our props as one can in the middle of nowhere and the pictures came out to be quite funny. Other highlights of the first day were hiking up to the top of an “island” peppered with cactus trees and staying in a hotel made out of nothing but salt. We’re talking salt bricks, salt mortar, coarse salt floor, salt chandeliers……..ya. Pretty cool.

I also have to mention dinner for that evening. In all my travels I try to just go with the flow when it comes to food, especially when it’s being served by someone I have gotten to know. Well for dinner that first evening Anna served up chicken soup. Simple enough right? It was cold out and everyone was very excited about warming their bellies with the menagerie of chicken, veggies and rice. Kayce got first scoop and I noticed her picking around some of the pieces of chicken that didn’t look like your typical chicken soup (darker meat, maybe a tendon or two and some bones). Manageable enough. When the pot reached me I began taking my scoops and even trying my luck with some of the “meatier” parts of the soup. While doing so, I fished out a long, fleshy chicken foot about 4’’ long. Admittedly, I shuddered at the sight and put it back down into the soup. However, this wasn’t before the Norwegian couple glimpsed it and requested I pull it back out for a closer look. As I did so Kayce, who had already begun eating, caught the sight of it and I couldn’t tell if she
Salty Building BlocksSalty Building BlocksSalty Building Blocks

Sawn out out of the flats to build with.
was going to lose her dinner or just break down crying. Priceless. After a minor breakdown she did end up eating all of her dinner that evening but it was definitely a dining experience I won’t forget.

The second day we ascended out of the salt flats and into the HIGH desert. On this second day we saw numerous glassy lagoons filled with Andean flamingos, had a 2 hour pit stop when one the vehicles blew out it suspension and even saw an Andean fox. Also notable for that day was our topping our at 16,500’. I know I mentioned the elevation in La Paz and didn’t say anything about altitude sickness. Well, about the time we crested 16,000’ I did begin to get the headache and drowsiness that are symptomatic of the elevation. Captain Max came through in the clutch though and offered up some of his coca leaves to alleviate my discomfort as he brewed up a nice, hot cup of coca tea, the proven remedy of the locals. I should also mention the cold, the low temperature for the trip was a bone chilling 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The third morning was arguably the best of the trip. We woke up extra early (5am) to catch the sunrise over a field of erupting geysers. There must have been thirty of them and combined with the sunrise it was really special. Following the geysers we stayed with the theme of hot water as we hung out in thermal baths on the shores of a lagoon. We had literally shivered our way through the previous two nights and the hot springs were paradise!!!

After three days of no showering, shaving or really changing clothes, we pulled into the northern Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. My best way to describe this town (correct me if I’m wrong) would be to describe it as similar to Yuma, Arizona. Charming, small and very touristy. This also happened to be the site of my 25th birthday (Vegas last year, Chilean desert this year. Go figure). In the morning my group, made up of 5 countries, did their best to sing Happy Birthday to me in Spanish and Kayce made the best of the circumstances by taking me out to a really good, 4-course meal with a main of Chilean sea bass.

I am now on the other side
21,000' Mt. Illimani21,000' Mt. Illimani21,000' Mt. Illimani

The peak that towers over La Paz, making its second appearance in my blog.
of the Andes drinking bottomless wine and sitting next to a fireplace in Mendoza, Argentina. Can't wait to share that story with you soon.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 26


Maracuya fruitMaracuya fruit
Maracuya fruit

Tart, sweet and oh so ugly.
Awe Struck!Awe Struck!
Awe Struck!

Three filets of llama with three pepper sauce. Truly a delight.
Check out that car jack!!!Check out that car jack!!!
Check out that car jack!!!

Captain Max proved to be quite the helper as he was waved down by the other drivers that BLEW out their shocks.

10th July 2010

Well you two are having the trip that most people only dream of. I have had elevation sickness and I know what you went through Johaan. Johaan, to be a real hero you be sure you are carrying all of your stuff plus lots of Kayces'. Enjoy the rest of your trip and we look forward to seeing you in August. Love, Dad
10th July 2010

Yea boy!
Sounds amazing, keep it coming!
11th July 2010

"If you’ve never had the pleasure of hanging out with a Chinese person speaking Spanish, I highly recommend it." This was my favorite part.. HA SICK DUDE
12th July 2010

Your photographs are awesome!!! As are your adventures. Keep writing Yo - I'm living vicariously through you and Kayce.
13th July 2010

Dynamic Duo
Johaan - you and Kayce are unbelievably adventurous to spend 3 freezing days in the salt flats and eat chicken feet stew! Glad you were able to make up for it with the sea bass birthday dinner. I really enjoyed the pics - great blog. Miss you!
13th July 2010

Wow, it still sounds like such an amazing trip. Im glad you are having such a great time, can't wait to see you both in august!

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