Chile & Bolivia (including Mendoza, Argentina, Tacna, Peru & Easter Island) 1989

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South America » Chile
April 15th 1989
Published: May 15th 2010
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Mendoza, ArgentinaMendoza, ArgentinaMendoza, Argentina

Wine country in Mendoza. Photo from
If you put your cursor/hand on the map above, you can move it around - Peru is to the north; Santiago, Chile to the south; Mendoza, Argentina to the southeast.

This is a continuation of my putting our old travel journals onto this blog site. See previous ones: Guatemala 1988, which is the first in this series; Costa Rica 1989 (w/Christmas in Cozumel, Mexico and last days in Guatemala), which is the second; Cuba & Mexico 1989, the third; Argentina (w/Uruguay, a bit of Brazil & Paraguay) 1989, the fourth; and this will be the fifth. Again, I am relying on photos I happened to have scanned and ones people have sent to me as I do not have access to my original photos. Thank you all who sent me photos - much appreciated! When we return to the states (this is being written in Germany where we are living this year) I'll add/substitute original photos.

Victoria & MarcelaVictoria & MarcelaVictoria & Marcela

A recent photo (2010) of twins Vicky & Marcela Sahade - our Argentine daughters


Originally written May 1989 while in Sucre, Bolivia

Leaving Argentina

April 15-16, Mendoza, Argentina, Population 60,000 (80 F/27 C & Sunny). We had a lovely farewell breakfast with the Sahade family in Córdoba. Vicky’s two brothers were not there as one had school and the other work. We had said good-bye to them the night before when we took everyone to dinner. Lots of laughs and wine that night. Note: Dinner for nine, complete with wine, appetizers and desserts came to $32!!

After breakfast the family and two friends took us to the airport. It was sad to say good-bye to everyone, but Vicky was the saddest. She was constantly in tears and clung to us. Everyone
Sahade WomenSahade WomenSahade Women

In Mexico last year - Mom Rosa on left, Vic, older sister Andrea, Marcela
waited until we boarded the plane. As they waved to us from behind the glass partition, I did not see Vicky. She had slipped us a note, which we read on the plane. The note said that our visit was a dream come true and our love for her was an inspiration - she was going to apply herself in university and excel at journalism with hopes of returning to the U.S. I don’t know what we did except expect a lot from her.*

*Vicky has remained an important part of our lives, as has her twin sister, Marcela. See prior blog Exchange Daughter Reunion/April 14 - 21, 2007. Vicky did complete her master's degree in journalism and worked in the field for a time. She now is a masseuse living and working in Spain, mostly Ibiza.

It was only an hour’s flight to Mendoza. Two of Vicky’s cousins met us at the airport and took us to a nice hotel. We had declined an offer to stay at their home. We didn’t know this branch of the family and I felt we would be intruding.

Map of Chile & PeruMap of Chile & PeruMap of Chile & Peru

With Argentina to the east and Easter Island 2,200 miles/3,540.5 kilometers out in the ocean to the west

The hotel was a great old one on a beautiful park. There were trees throughout Mendoza, wide boulevards and clean streets. This is the major wine area of Argentina. The grapes were mostly brought by Italian immigrants, so the wines are reminiscent of those early grapes - particularly the reds. Many were amazingly good.

As usual in wine country, the weather is wonderful - lots of sunshine and cool evenings. In Mendoza the vineyards (and other crops) are irrigated because there are over 300 days of sunshine per year.

Vicky’s mom, Rosa, was raised in Mendoza. Her father established one of the first vineyards in the area. The family has been a prominent one in Mendoza for generations.

Rosa had given us the address of her family home where she had grown up, and which is still owned by her family. Wow - only your typical STUNNING, white marble mansion! It sits on a 100-acre park. Must have been a very comfortable childhood.


April 17, Mendoza - Santiago, Chile - through the Andes by bus. Definitely the best bargain of this trip to date was the bus to Santiago. We had a
Easter Island MoaiEaster Island MoaiEaster Island Moai

In Anchorage there is a night club that has a comedy show. In the show they have a slide presentation of people with cans of Spam all over the world. I took a photo of me kneeling in front of one of the Moai in which I've sent a can of Spam in an eye cavity. This photo from
first-class, greyhound-style bus complete with bathroom and steward service. A snack was served soon after departure. Lunch was an airline-style meal, and beverages were also available. All of this for $5 per person. Bernie was in heaven. Total elapsed time was six hours and 45 minutes. We had a one-hour stop at the border and a 15-minute break when we changed buses.

The scenery was outstanding. The Andes are impressive, but had no snow yet. Bernie wants to go back to ski in the future.

April 17-18, Santiago, Chile, population 3 million (68 F/20 C & Sunny). Not a bad city, but I think we’ve had enough of cities for now. Lots of nice walking streets and sidewalk cafes, and I love that combination. Sure miss the wonderful coffee of Argentina. They wouldn’t dream of giving you anything less than espresso and/or good drip coffee in Argentina. In Chile the usual is instant - what a drastic letdown!

April 18. A little excitement today. The government workers had a general strike. We knew something was afoot because we saw armored personnel carriers all
Quarry MoaiQuarry MoaiQuarry Moai

These are some of the huge heads/moai that were left in the quarry incomplete. Photo from
around town and lots of police/army activity.

Everything was normal as far as we could see; no businesses were closing. At noon there was a commotion in the street outside our hotel and people marched by. They were chanting and clapping in unison. We looked down from our seventh-floor balcony to see perhaps 50 people marching. It had sounded like so many more because sound reverberates off the stone buildings and cobbled streets. As we watched, some people in a window across from us threw water down on the marchers.

That evening there was a power outage caused by the protesters. It lasted approximately 15 minutes and the people in our hotel knew it was going to happen - they had given us candles.

The next morning we read in the newspaper that there had been some bombings in connection with the protest and one person had been killed. We never did find out exactly what the protest was about; the newspapers did not make it clear.

Note: This was at the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship when there was a lot of pro-democracy
Easter IslandEaster IslandEaster Island

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activity. Travelers who visited Santiago after Pinochet was deposed found it a warmer, happier city. When we were there, there was palpable political tension.

April 19 - 21, Easter Island, Chile (80 F/27 C & Sunny) Claim to fame: the most remote spot in the world. Still hard to believe we visited Easter Island, land of the Kon-Tiki and National Geographic specials.

Easter Island is 2,200 miles/3,540.5 kilometers off the coast of Chile. Its nearest neighbor is Pitcairn Island to which the crew of The Bounty fled from Tahiti after the famous mutiny. Their closest cultural and linguistic ties are with Tahiti.

What Thor Heyerdahl tried to prove with his balsa-wood boat, Kon-Tiki, was that the original settlers of Polynesia (of which Easter Island is a part) came from Peru (pre-Inca). He sailed the Kon-Tiki from Peru to Puka Puka (4,200 miles/6,759 kilometers). However, it has since been pretty well (but not totally) proven that Heyerdahl was wrong and the settlers first came from Micronesia.*

*Modern DNA evidence shows the Rapi Nui people of Easter Island are related to Polynesians/Micronesians, just as
Atacama DesertAtacama DesertAtacama Desert

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they had always maintained.

Easter Island is important because of its archaeological significance, particularly the hundreds of giant stone heads (moai) that sit atop altars/burial chambers all around the island. There are over 800 such sites, and approximately seven have been restored and have heads standing. At the other sites the heads remain knocked down. Only one site is not by the ocean; all the others sit in outrageously scenic coastal spots. Each site has on average four to seven heads, with a few having many more. The oldest head was made around 1100 AD, and the newest around 1680. Nowhere else in the world have statutes of such size and number been found.

One of the most exciting sites was the stone quarry. There were over 200 heads in various stages of carving still in the quarry. About 20 were standing. The island heads averaged 20 feet/6 meters tall, but at the quarry much larger heads were being sculpted - the largest being near 70 feet/21 meters high.

Why? Seems head sculpting was a clan’s way of showing strength. The ruling clan
San Pedro de AtacamaSan Pedro de AtacamaSan Pedro de Atacama

Talk about 'blending' into your surroundings! Photo from B&
during the sculpting era was the Long-Eared Clan; all the statutes have long ears. The sculpting ended abruptly when the Short-Eared Clan conquered the Long-Eared Clan. A period of destruction followed and is why so many statutes were toppled.

There are about 5,000 people on the island; approximately 3,000 are Rapa Nui (indigenous) and speak the Rapa Nui language.

We stayed at a small hotel run by a local couple, both Rapa Nui. Our host, Martin, worked for Thor Heyerdahl in the 1950s and also for the archaeologist Mulloy who did most of the digs on the island. Martin never went to school because when he was growing up on the island schooling was not deemed important.

Until 1964 the only regular contact the island had with the outside world was every six months when a boat stopped on its way from Tahiti to Chile. In 1964 a small airstrip was built and some irregular contact was established. In 1966 NASA put a satellite tracking station on the island and paid to have the airstrip improved to commercial grade. Now two times a week the Chilean airlines stops on the island on its way to and from
Atacama Desert, Valley of the MoonAtacama Desert, Valley of the MoonAtacama Desert, Valley of the Moon

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We were very moved by Easter Island and wish we had spent more time there; two days is not enough and a week too much - those were our only choices.

Our first day on Easter Island our host Martin took us out. We really had a hard time understanding him as neither his English nor his Spanish was very good.

The second day we had a wonderful guide, a local boy with an MBA from UCLA and perfect English. Easter Island history was his passion and he knew it well - all the local legends and latest scientific theories.

April 22 - 24, Back to Santiago to hole up and wait for our mail. We had hoped it would come on Saturday, but had to wait until Monday.

We never did find any really good restaurants, so one of the bonuses of a big city eluded us and colored our appreciation of Santiago.

Mail day was great. It took us hours to go through it all and we enjoyed every minute. Of course the effect lasted much longer
Antofagasta, ChileAntofagasta, ChileAntofagasta, Chile

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than a couple of hours as we discussed the news, our family and friends.

We wanted to mail our latest journal from Santiago where we had heard the mail was reliable, so we stayed up late writing letters and giggling over funny kid stories our friends had related.

April 25, Calama, Chile, pop. 88,000 (75 F/24 C & Sunny). The big industry here is copper and related mining. Chile’s population is concentrated on the coast, but we wanted to see some of the inland, high-desert area.

Calama is surrounded by the Atacama desert, which is said to be the world’s driest desert with zero percent rainfall annually - doesn’t get much drier than that!

April 26, Chui Chui & Chuquicamata. These are settlements near Calama and we got up early to explore them and the desert. We had rented a car because public transportation was almost non-existent there.

We drove to the nearby native village of Chui Chui, founded in 1540 by the Spaniards. Chui Chui is an oasis and they were harvesting carrots. It was a very typical adobe-walled village.
Iquique, ChileIquique, ChileIquique, Chile

Surfing in Iquique Photo from
The wood they used for building and ornamentation (lamps shades, for example) was cactus wood - very unusual and attractive.

We later drove down a road that ran along a green valley. The rest of the area was dry-as-a-bone desert, but the valley people were growing corn, spinach and asparagus.

Along the road, on rock outcroppings, were pre-Inca petroglyphs. Our guide book said they were arguably the best petroglyphs in Chile. I’d argue about it. Of course not being anthropologists nor archaeologists, we MAY not have grasped their full significance.

After a picnic lunch we drove to the Chuquicamata Copper mine, billed as “The Biggest Open-pit Mine in the World.” It is a big operation and the pollution from the smelter could be seen fouling the air. The mine built its own city complex, complete with hospital, theaters and gym. We were going to go on a tour of the mine, but could not find the tour departure area. After getting confusing directions from several people, and having driven around in circles until after the time for the tour to begin, we gave up.

April 26-28, San Pedro de Atacama, population 2,500 (75 F/24 C &
Lauca National ParkLauca National ParkLauca National Park

Lake Chungará. Photo from
Sunny). After giving up on the mine tour, we headed 100 kilometers SE of Calama to San Pedro - another oasis.

The road signs around Calama were so terrible we had a hard time finding the road to San Pedro. We drove in circles again with dust penetrating our every pore and got very frustrated. We finally found the road and headed into the desert.

How to describe what we drove through? One area was called Valley of the Moon. It all looked like the moon to us. Not one piece of green - brown, gray, rust and more brown. Vast flat areas of sand and rock, then hills and rock outcroppings showing various colorful layers. More sand and then mountains rising out of it. In the distance the snow-capped Andes were visible. The air in the desert and high plains is incredibly clear.

It was eerie. The sand had drifted onto the sides of the road giving the impression of an uneven ribbon snaking out before us. As I drove Bernie dozed beside me. To keep myself awake and entertained I pretended I was Princess Leah on my way to save Luke and R2D2 from Darth
Lauca RodentLauca RodentLauca Rodent

Chinchillidae found in the Atacama desert - the 'long-tailed rabbit' I mentioned - see what I mean? Photo from
Vader. It was so easy to believe I was on another planet.

The town of San Pedro was your typical abode-walled village, but our hotel was a real surprise. In the middle of this nowhere-land there was a hotel with a swimming pool, small zoo, store, good restaurant, camping area and tour guides. It was run by an Aussie lady and beautifully managed and maintained.

April 27, Tocanoa, Chile. I’ll start by telling you what we didn’t do that day. We did NOT see thousands of flamingoes and we did NOT have a good time.

We got on the road early to drive to a salt lake where thousands of flamingoes feed. The lady at our hotel told us to check with the police in the next village of Tocanoa about the road to Flamingo Lake. We were driving a small Japanese car and needed to be careful of getting stuck. We checked and were told “no problem,” so we found the road and cheerfully headed toward the lake. Not 200 meters/218 yards down the road we came upon a big truck (18-wheeler) stuck in a sand drift in a low place in the road. Wind-created drifting
Tacna, PeruTacna, PeruTacna, Peru

Boys at the Center for the Working Child which is associated with Cristo Rey Catholic School. Photo from
is a constant problem. We couldn’t get around the truck, so we tried to help him get out. No way José. His trailer’s front wheels were darn near buried. Another truck from the same company came to help and we took off in search of the alternate road we’d been told about. We found the road, and had a short debate on whether it was wise to proceed. Decision was to try and if it looked or felt soft, we’d turn back.

Approximately 300 meters/328 yards down the road we hit a low spot and got stuck. Hum, something familiar about this scenario. We were in a small car, so no problem right? Wrong. The sand was so soft that we ended up high-centered every time we tried to move. We must have done the same routine ten times: jack up car, remove sand so not high-centered, dig out tires, put down rocks under and in front of tires.The problem was that as soon as the car got to the end of the rock bed, it sunk axle-deep into the sand again. Because of the heat, the engine kept stalling too. Our alternatives were to make a rock bed all the way back to the main road - no thank you - or go for help. Fortunately we were only a few miles from town. I volunteered to stay with the car and let Bernard stroll into town. Big of me I know. You have to understand that I was severely injured by now. I had broken three fingernails and the digging had ruined the polish on the rest of them - pale pink, very tasteful for the desert. So you see I couldn’t possible walk into town, being traumatized the way I was. So I tried to find shade while Bernard, with his handkerchief (he’d forgotten his hat) tied on his head, walked into town. Luckily he got a ride part of the way. Once he got into town he located two guys in a truck heading out to assist the truck we’d attempted to help earlier. Bernard and the two guys were able to practically lift our car out of the sand trap and I drove it to the main road.

Boy were we dirty. My hair looked blond it had so much sand in it; you couldn’t tell what color our clothes were. Needless to
Road to Coroico, BoliviaRoad to Coroico, BoliviaRoad to Coroico, Bolivia

This was at one of the 'wide' spots in the road - one of the few places vehicles could pass each other. Photo from
say, we didn’t make another attempt to find Flamingo Lake. We headed back to the hotel, pool and food. We had water and food with us, but had given it to our two rescuers who were going to miss lunch and perhaps dinner while digging out the other truck.

High on the list of activities around San Pedro is to drive through the Valley of the Moon at sunset to see the light on the rock formations and salt deposits - superb. I was a bit apprehensive at first, however the manager at our hotel assured us that the road was rock and we wouldn’t get stuck. She was right; it was fantastic. Impossible to describe the surreality of the valley with the changing light - did you know salt sparkles? I hope our photos do it justice.

April 28. The little village of San Pedro continued to surprise us - it had a first class museum. It was professionally done with outstanding displays. The most impressive are the mummies, about six of them wonderfully preserved. Five were women and still had skin, teeth and hair perfectly braided. Mummies from the desert are well preserved because they are
La Paz, BoliviaLa Paz, BoliviaLa Paz, Bolivia

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‘sun cured.’ The indigenous Chileans did not use chemicals, but instead let the intense desert sun dry the flesh after removing the viscera. The mummies are positioned sitting with their knees under their chins, then are wrapped in llama skins or other material. A few of the mummies still had llama skins around them.

When we asked what such a wonderful museum was doing in the middle of nowhere, we were told that San Pedro de Atacama was the third most important archaeological area in the world (?). Sure, Egypt, Africa and San Pedro de Atacama, everybody knows that. The same person told us that the highest radiation spot on the planet earth was behind our hotel. Lots of extremes here.

Note: In the register at the museum we noticed that there had been five other people from Alaska there within two days. Do any Alaskans stay home in the winter? Do any of you know these people: Tam Agosti & Hans Gisler*, or Scott, Lindsey & Joyanne Bloom?

*When we returned to Alaska, some Polish friends, Stan & Barbara Niziol, connected us with Tam Agosti & Hans Gisler, a Swiss. We had a lovely dinner and
Merilyn & Roger Merilyn & Roger Merilyn & Roger

A fairly recent photo of Merilyn & Roger from Australia - we met them in Bolivia and are still friends
discovered that we had shadowed them for most of a year, just missing them on several occasions.

After the museum we headed into the desert again to a mineral hot-springs. We wanted to take the cure (Bernie’s eczema and my tendonitis) at the baths. We drove for an hour before the road gradually disappeared and we couldn’t drive any farther. We decided to walk, but when Bernie stopped the car to look at the map, he opened the door and a portion of the map was ripped right out of his hands. It was an hysterical sight to see Bernie hoofing across the desert chasing the map. He had to run full-out too, but even though he retrieved the map, it didn’t help us pin-point the baths. Foiled once again, we headed back to the hotel pool before driving back to Calama and our plane to Antofagasta later in the day.

April 28-29, Antofagasta, Chile, population 190,000 (80 F/27 C & Sunny). Antofagasta is on the coast and we had expected green. What a surprise to find that it was still desert - the sand dunes go all the way to the water’s edge and large sand hills
Bolivian HatsBolivian HatsBolivian Hats

Bowler hat worn by women in La Paz. One of the funniest sights was seeing them take off their hats and protect them from moisture. It actually sprinkled a few times and the women would much rather their hair get wet than their precious hats. Photo from
surround the city.

This is another mining town and quite prosperous. The city center was crowded with people strolling and socializing.

The beach is the main recreational focus of the town. It has a tremendous beach park - tennis courts, soccer fields, swimming pools, restaurants, an amusement park, playgrounds, dressing rooms, bathrooms, benches in and out of the sun, a protected ocean area for swimming with a big float for diving. Green grass everywhere, trees, flowers, bushes and all beautifully maintained. Volleyball nets on the beaches, and the beaches were very clean.

We only had one day in Antofagasta and spent it at the beach, no surprise there.

April 30 - May 5, Iquique, Chile, pop. 150,000 (75 F/24 C & Sunny). Another beach/desert town identical (even to the beach park) to Antofagasta, except all the old buildings were wooden and very interesting.

Our main reason for visiting Iquique was that it is a free port and we needed film. Our luck failed us. We arrived on a Sunday and the free port shops were closed. Monday turned out to be a holiday and the free port shops remained closed. We left on Tuesday before
Witches Market, La PazWitches Market, La PazWitches Market, La Paz

Notice the dried llamas at right. Photo from
the shops opened. This town never ‘came together’ for us.

Funny Sight: On the way to the airport we saw the Iquique Golf Club - basically one large sand trap. It looked so strange to see tee flags sticking out hither and yon across the sand dunes. They had lime lines to delineate the holes; that was how we guessed it was a golf course. The course ran right down to the ocean.

One evening we had dinner with a couple (he was Peruvian living in Chile and she was Chilean) we had met on the bus from the airport. His English was perfect as he had studied (MBA) at the American University in DC. We had a very enjoyable evening and got filled in on all the political thinking of the Chilean middle/upper class, plus valuable tips on visiting Peru. They were visiting Iquique to surf. Yes, we had by accident stumbled upon one of the few places in the world where the breaking waves have a left-hand curl and is the number one surfing spot in Chile. We could hardly believe our luck.

May 2 - 5, Arica, Chile, pop. 150,000 (75 F/24 C &
Potosí, Bolivia HatsPotosí, Bolivia HatsPotosí, Bolivia Hats

The hats in Potosí were much taller than the bowlers of La Paz. photo from
Sunny). No rain in these desert places winter or summer. We treated ourselves to a wonderful beach resort hotel - cable TV, pool, great beach, patio w/lounge chairs, ocean view, lulled to sleep by the sound of waves.

I actually got Bernie to spend an entire day lounging in the sun. Our tans had faded, but it is amazing how quickly we browned up. It is mid-winter here so the sun is not intense and we didn’t burn at all. The sun was warm and the breeze lovely. It was cool in the shade and there was no humidity. I think I like this climate.

Lauca National Park, Chile (14,625 feet/4,456 meters elevation). We went with a tour (seven of us) to the park and to Lake Chungará, the highest lake in the world. Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian-Peru border is the highest navigable lake, but Chungará is actually higher.

I should (but won't) let Bernie tell you about this trip as we will have totally different memories. I got a fairly severe case of soroche (altitude sickness), so all I remember is wanting to die. It started with a dull headache at about 13,000 feet/3,962 meters
Sucre, BoliviaSucre, BoliviaSucre, Bolivia

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and developed into a migraine complete with dizziness if I tried to move, and then vomiting to the point of dry-heaving. Naturally the vomiting made the headache worse. This condition lasted the entire time we were in the park and didn’t ease until we were practically at sea level. This was a 12-hour excursion, so I was miserable for a long time. Every time I closed my eyes I’d get nauseous and yet I kept drifting off and being awakened by nausea. Sometimes my head would hurt so much it would take my mind off the nausea.

I don’t know if the local remedy for soroche, chewing coca leaves had helped or made it worse. The tour agency gave us coca leaves and told us to make a tea from them the night before the trip, which I dutifully did. Bernie did not. I didn’t feel any affect at all from the tea, and slept like a baby. On the drive to the lake I chewed perhaps ten leaves and that seemed to help the headache. The taste of the leaves is not so good, hence I didn’t chew too many. After that I got sicker, but don’t know if there was a connection. Another girl chewed some when she started to feel bad and it helped her. Another man got dizzy. Bernard had no affects whatsoever.

I was really surprised at my reaction because I’d been to 14,000 feet/4,267 meters skiing and felt nothing at all even though exerting myself. We were told that past experience is no guide as even indigenous Andeans can get soroche after visiting the low-lands and returning to the mountains, and it doesn’t necessarily happen every time.

Now for the positive side of the trip. The lake was beautiful and surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. There were flamingoes, geese and other waterfowl aplenty. Along the way in the high plains we saw vicuña, guanaco, alpaca and llama. Also saw some very strange rabbits with really long tails.

On the way down we visited a quaint village with a wonderful old church. For lunch in the village (I did not eat; tried to sleep in the van) they served alpaca steak. Bernie said it tasted similar to beef. All I remember is the group coming out of the hut/restaurant and smelling so awful of strange meat that I immediately started vomiting again, well, dry-heaving as Bernie held me from behind so I didn’t fall. I know, lovely imagery.


May 5, Tacna, Peru, pop. 46,000 (75 F/24 F days & Sunny; nights 35 F/1.6 C). A friend we’d met in Guatemala, Michael, was teaching at a Catholic boys’ school in Tacna so we went via collective (a taxi that takes up to five people) from Arica, Chile (40 miles) to Tacna, Peru (cost $2).

We stayed with Michael at the school, which is a wonderful place. It is a big, well-maintained complex (grades 1 - 12, 600 boys) with beautiful gardens and grounds. As we approached the school we passed a green soccer field where a game was in progress and two llamas were munching grass on the sidelines. What a sight. Now a green soccer field may not seem so unusual to you, but in this desert community it was the only grass field we saw.

Cristo Rey is a private school so mostly kids from wealthy families attend. Connected to the school is an organization called The Center for the Working Child. At the Center volunteers like our friend Michael (from Boston College mostly) work with children 6 - 14 (although there were some younger, notably one three-year old) who are from poor families and must work to support themselves and/or their families. The boys are usually shoeshine boys and the girls sell water for flowers in the cemeteries - talk about enterprising! The Center provides a hot, balanced lunch and some basic education. Since it is religious based, it offers catechism classes and mass on Saturday evenings, among other things.

The theory behind the Center is to teach basic morals and help the kids improve their lives through work. Private donations were used to pay the tuition for shoeshine boys from the Center to Cristo Rey school for a year. There were three such boys that year and Bernie and I felt fortunate to have sponsored one.

In the morning we took a bus ride through the pueblo jovens (shanty towns) of Tacna. So hard to describe the cement block structures (usually roofless) the poor people are putting up by the thousands all around Tacna (everywhere in Peru actually). The people will someday get titles to their homes from the government. When a pueblo joven is substantially established (i.e., enough houses have been put up), the government puts in electricity and water. The economy in Peru is failing so quickly, however, that the government is hard-pressed to keep up with the construction because more and more indigenous people are leaving the countryside and moving to the cities.

As we were getting off the bus, the shoelace hook on one of Bernie’s boots caught in a little old lady’s wicker basket in the bus aisle (yes, again!! - happened in Guatemala too). This time Bernie noticed the basket, but couldn’t manage to get free of it. The owner kept trying to grab the basket while Bernie tried to kick it free. I was laughing so hard I was in tears and the entire bus was roaring with laughter by the time Bernie disengaged the basket and got off the bus.

To complete this strange morning we were walking by an old building that had a bronze plaque which read ‘Casino of the Civil Guard.’ We stopped to admire the building and figure out why the Civil Guard needed a ‘casino,’ when a man learning on a car beside the building invited us into the casino, which just means club, to look around. As we were admiring the woodwork, an officer whose son is in Michael’s class spotted us and came to greet Michael. Next thing we knew we were being ushered toward the club restaurant where we found Father Fred, also from Cristo Rey School, talking to the chef, Nino, who used to work at the school. Nino insisted that we stay for lunch. No amount of courteous refusal did any good. We ended up eating a meal of ceviche (marinated raw fish - a Peruvian speciality). Nino barely let Bernard refuse a beer, but absolutely wouldn’t let me refuse. So I, who does not drink beer, had one anyway. Nino was right; it was great with ceviche. Nino further claimed that drinking anything but beer with ceviche was very bad for your health.


May 8 - 12, La Paz, Bolivia (12,000 feet/3,658 meters, the highest capital in the world), pop. 1 million - 70%!I(MISSING)ndigenous)

In Tacna at 5:30 a.m. we got up and caught a collective back to Arica, Chile and then a plane to La Paz, Bolivia.

La Paz is a city that grabbed us right away. Driving into town from the airport we could see how La Paz is built in a basin and how houses reach far up the mountain sides.

The population is 70%!i(MISSING)ndigenous, so the colorfully dressed indigenous women with their bowler hats perched atop their heads are everywhere. They wear full skirts with petticoats to make them fuller and shawls with or without babies.

The indigenous women are definitely the engine behind business in Bolivia. Almost every sidewalk vendor is female. Every street is lined with vendors. The things they sell are so incredibly varied - from toothpaste to clothes hangers, shoe insoles, aspirin & valium, coca leaves, switchblade knives - you name it and they sell it.

The most interesting group of vendors was in the witches’ market. In this market the women sell herbs, feathers, porcupine quills, and a multitude of things we didn’t recognize. One strange thing we did recognize: a container with dried llama fetuses.

May 10. Hired a guide for a city tour. We went into a really nice residential area, the black market area, the witches’ market again, out to the local Valley of the Moon and to a museum.

The black market area is where thousands of vendors sell goods ranging from boom-boxes to clothes driers. Somehow they get the items duty free and can thus sell them at low prices. Most of the goods come from Argentina, Chile or Brazil. They also sold bogus merchandize, such as phony Rolex and Cartier watches for $2.

The witches’ market was much more interesting with a guide to explain some of the uses for the different ‘charms.’ The llama fetuses are used in a ‘house warming’ charm. It is put on a platter with many other items such as llama fat and coca leaves. This charm is presented to the new homeowner before the house is built. The charm has to be put in the foundation of the house to ward off evil spirits.

May 11, Coroico, Bolivia. Up at the crack of dawn again to catch a bus to the small town of Coroico. The bus ride was touted as one of the most beautiful in the Andes. Indeed it was.

The width of the gravel road was one bus width, but there were places wide enough for other vehicles to pass, if done with care. In the three and one-half hour trip we probably jockeyed with ten vehicles - either passing or being passed, and each time I doubted the successful outcome.

The closer we got to Coroico the narrower the road became. I gave up looking out the window because most of the time I couldn’t see the road even when pressing my face to the glass. Talk about an adrenalin rush! There were several times everyone on the bus shrieked over a close call.

I kept thinking how lucky we were that there hadn’t been any rain lately because as we came down the mountain to Coroico and into lush jungle area, streams crossed the road and caused noticeable erosion. At one place the road was almost washed out because waterfalls were falling directly onto the road.

It really was a beautiful trip. We saw lots of llama and alpaca grazing in the highlands. Coroico is much lower than La Paz and the tropical climate is delightful. They grow bananas, avocado, papaya - just about every kind of tropical fruit. The weather was perfect: 70 F/21 C during the day and only around 65 F/18 C at night. That was a welcome change for us - the warm nights that is, because in the desert in Chile and the highlands of Bolivia it goes below freezing at night frequently. Most of the hotels do not have heating, but do provide tons of blankets. In our hotel in La Paz it was hard to move at night because of all the blankets we had on. Several nights we opted to sleep together in a single bed because we were so darn cold. Worked well actually.

Coroico was a small colonial town, but nothing special. The bus trip was the main attraction. We stayed overnight and headed back to La Paz the next morning.

May 12, Back to La Paz, but this time to a room with a double bed and heating! I thought I was in heaven. For whatever reason we hadn't realized this option was possible. Unfortunately it was only for one night as we were headed south by train to the mining city of Potosí in the morning.

We did have a good evening though as we had dinner with an Australian couple* and another American couple in a Bolivian restaurant that catered to Israelis. Quite international, huh?

*We are still in touch with Merilyn & Roger who live on the Gold Coast of Australia. We visited them in Australia several years later. We actually met up with them (and the American couple) again in 1989 in Quito, Ecuador and celebrated Dian's 30th birthday (June 13) and my 38th (June 15) together.

May 13 - 16, Potosí, Bolivia, pop. 103,000 (13,250 feet/4,049 meters; 68 F/20 C days and 30 F/1 C nights). La Paz to Potosí by train, 12 hour through wonderfully scenic country. A fairly uneventful trip. Only funny thing was when the young man sitting behind us asked if we were on our second honeymoon - must have been too many PDAs (public display of affection). Bernard said his whole life was a honeymoon with me. Aaaaah.

The train trip was rather cold because we were still at altitude. We should have been worried when we got on the train and saw everyone with down sleeping bags or wool blankets. Hummm, gonna get cold ya think?

Potosí is even higher than La Paz and we could feel it - turning over in bed would leave us panting and a flight of stairs was killer. Naturally the town is built on a mountain side so the streets are all inclined. We did a lot of walking, but very slowly.

Potosí is a UNESCO monument with wonderful buildings and churches, many of which were undergoing restoration.

We were walking down a narrow side street and came upon a really interesting chapel. A young man, José, about ten years old, was at the gate and we asked if the chapel was open. José told us it was under construction, but we could look if we wanted and he’d accompany us. Turned out that José was a great guide. His father was the head carpenter doing the restoration and José was the apprentice. He gave us a detailed tour and explanation of the architecture and art. He took us behind the main alter and showed us the underground passage to the silver mines. We went up on the roof to the bell tower for a spectacular view of the town.

May 15. As I had a rather severe reaction to something I’d eaten or drank the night before, I spent the whole day in bed and Bernie went touring. I’ll let him take over here.

Sick - from both ends at once; good coordination necessary. (I didn’t write this; I’m only the typist 😊 K)

I took a miner’s bus to the Pailaviri mine above Potosí. This mountain is ribbed with tunnels. It supplied most of the silver taken by the Spaniards out of South America - some $2 billion worth. It was the largest silver deposit ever found. Today it is mostly tin, but also silver, zinc, lead and sulphur. On the tour with me was an expatriate Pole living in New Zealand, a Swede, an Israeli, and four Spaniards, two of whom had climbed Mt. McKinley. Now remember Potosí is at 4,070 meters/13,353 feet. Give the mine another 200 meters/218 yards and there is not much air. Add to that the terrible air in the mine and I thought I would pass out at any minute. I was so glad Kathy didn’t go. Made me feel better that most of the group was having the same reaction.

There were no lights in the mine tunnels except our battery-powered headlights. Good to have helmets because I hit my head hard in several spots. I had never been in a mine, so it was interesting, though we didn’t visit the men working. At the levels they were working the temperatures can go to 100 F/38 C.

In the afternoon I visited the old mint, which is now a museum of art and preserves also old coins, and the dies and machinery to make the coins back in the 1600s. Potosí was founded in 1545. The building had to be one of the largest I have ever been in - two square city blocks. High ceilings, huge rooms with huge locks on the huge doors and everything of stone. Cold.

May 16. Kathy ate some, but is still very weak, which is not helped by the altitude. Hard to believe how one huffs and puffs at this altitude. I took a walking tour of the city. All the streets are paved with rock or cobbled, are very narrow and some sidewalks only wide enough for one. The indigenous women wear tall hats, whereas in La Paz they wear the bowler. We’ll take a bus this evening to Sucre, four hours, $5 per person.

May 17, Sucre, Bolivia, pop. 80,000 (70 F/21 C & Sunny, 9,000 feet/2,743 meters) Left Potosí by bus 17:00 yesterday evening because we wanted to wait and see if I (Kathy) was up for a long bus ride. It was actually a very pretty drive because the setting sun on the mountains and valleys was mellow. After the sun went down there was almost a full moon, so we could still see quite a bit.

Sucre is lower than Potosí or La Paz and we could really notice it in the temperature and ease of breathing.

Sucre is the capital of Bolivia, but in name only. All of the governmental functions, except the Supreme Court, actually take place in La Paz. However, Sucre has the look of a capital - beautiful buildings, the university, grand parks and plazas, statutes, fountains and nice restaurants. It is not a very big or busy city, but a delightful one.

May 18. Just before noon we visited the Supreme Court building and asked about a tour. A man who spoke English told us to return at 14:15 and he would give us a tour.

We returned at 14:00 but were refused entry by an army officer. We tried to explain that we had an appointment, but he kept insisting that we go away until after 15:00. We waited on the steps hoping to see our English-speaking gentlemen from the morning returning from lunch.

As we waited we noticed posters and large murals being posted to trees and set up long the sidewalk of the park directly across from the court house. The murals had writing which seemed to indicate a protest about the lack of action in prosecuting the army officers who were involved in the disappearance of people during the military regime which ended in 1984.

Next thing we knew a truck full of gun-and-tear-gas-canister-toting army officers pulled up in front of the building. Half of the soldiers ran into the building and the other half took up positions around the park and in the intersections.

Dense as we could be in reading ‘cultural’ signs, this looked suspiciously like a big demonstration developing. We decided to see the Supreme Court building another day, thank you very much, and moseyed off.

May 18. Finally got a tour of the court building. Bernie says now we can write off our whole trip.

May 19. I have to stop typing now and prepare for mailing. We plan to go back to La Paz via Cochabama. We’ll spend a few more days in La Paz and then go via bus & train to Cuzco, Peru and Machu Picchu. Tentative plan is to do Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands after Peru, around the middle of June (happy birthday to me!).

It is so strange, we have six months left in South America and yet are beginning to feel like we don’t have enough time to do and see everything.

We sure miss all of you guys. We talk about coming home and what fun it will be seeing you all again.

Stay healthy & happy,


15th May 2010

Que buenas fotos!!!
Increíbles las fotos!! Muy lindo!! Que bueno que el desierto de Atacama! Realmente muy loco!! ¿Cuándo vienen por la zona?? nuevamente!! Del 26 de mayo al 22 de julio estaré en UDINE ITALIA... ¿Ustedes dónde estarán? ¿Nos podemos ver? Besos

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