Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Destroy a Car?

Since we have arrived in Ushuaia (about five days ago now), we have been trying to sell our car. This turns out to be very difficult, since Argentina wont let anyone import used cars. This means we either have to sell it to someone who wants to leave the country with it (another foreigner) or someone who will drive it around illegally. We have had lots of interest in the car, but no one wants to take on the risk (even though we are selling it for very cheap). No one wants it for parts either, since pre-2004 Hondas aren't very common around here. We have found a couple of sketchy guys that just want to "trade cars" with us. I'm not sure why they think we will do this, but it's been offered more than once.

So what do you do with a perfectly functioning car you can't sell? You destroy it. We are trying to come up with ideas that aren't going to be too bad for the environment (the customs guy suggested we burn it, we said no), so we probably wont be driving it into the ocean or off of a cliff. Any ideas? Let us know!

PS We are flying out Friday. Can't wait to get back to San Francisco.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ushuaia, Argentina or the end of the earth

We finally made it! We have been in Ushuaia for two nights now. It's absolutely beautiful and surrounded by snow capped mountains and a bay. It is cold and windy here. The actual end of the Pan-American is in the Tierra del Fuego national park, so we went there yesterday.

End of the Road, Ushuaia, Argentina

The park was beautiful, but it's hard to hike in the cold with such strong winds. This is the actual southern point we could get to in the park:

Tierra del Fuego Park, Ushuaia, Argentina

The park also had lots of wildlife. There were supposed to be beavers that were brought in and are now an invasive species, but we only saw dams, no beavers. I guess it's okay since we can see them in the US.

Red-headed woodpecker, Ushuaia, Argentina

We are now trying to sell the car (if you know anyone that wants to buy a car for cheap in Ushuaia, let me know!), which because of Argentinean import laws is proving to be very challenging.  Argentina will not let citizens import used cars, unless they have been out of Argentina for more than six months. Even those that can import, there is a duty of 78% on the car. Because we only have a temporary import, we can only sell to an expat or someone that will drive it illegally (or figure out how to import it). Our chances of selling it to an expat in Buenos Aires would be better, but that would mean having to drive back up there. So right now, we are taking our chances selling it here, maybe for parts. 

Prison Museum, Ushuaia, Argentina

Another problem with hanging out in Ushuaia is that there's not much to do outside of skiing and boat trips. As I said we originally wanted to go to Antarctica and we even went to a travel agent to ask about it. At first she told us they had a trip leaving October 29th for only $2900 per person (the normal cost is almost 5k)! It turns out that boat didn't actually go to Antarctica, only to the South Georgia Islands, the boat to Antarctica didn't leave until November 11th and was for 18 days. So, we will not be going. We did however check out the prison museum in Ushuaia, which turns out was originally a penal colony. The museum was a strange mix of art, history of the town, maritime museum and prison museum. Not only was it a prison museum, it was a museum of other prison museums. Someone had gone to prison museums all over the world and taken pictures. Crazy how many of them exist. 

More pictures soon when I have better internet! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

So Close

I am writing from Lago Fagnano, just about 50 miles north of Ushuaia, Argentina (also know as the end of the earth). Because of timing, we will not be making it to Antarctica (boats will not leave til at least mid November and even then it depends on weather). So, Ushuaia will be our final destination. After spending some time in Ushuaia, we will need to figure out what to do with the car. Argentina does not allow import of cars older than 10 years, so we will most likely be selling for parts or to someone in Tierra del Fuego that will only use it for going around town. It will be a bit sad for our trip to be over, but I think A and I are both excited to get back home and to normal life. Enough blabbering, some pictures and things we've done since my last post!

Shoe destruction, Argentina

1. We saw a glacier! A friend from work T and his wife L were actually vacationing down in the glacier park, so we decided to stop by and say hi (as well as see the glacier, which was totally worth it on it's own). Was great to see some friendly faces.

Glacier Moreno, Argentina

2. Penguins, I wrote about this and will totally upload photos soon, but here is me putting a penguin in my purse.

3. The way to get to Ushuaia and the Tierra del Fuego Islands in Argentina is via Chile. There is a small section in which you have to exit Argentina, take a car ferry across the water and drive on a dirt road for a few hundred kilometeres (even though all the other roads in Chile are paved) and enter back into Argentina. There is almost nothing on the road, no gas and no food. We were prepared for this, but it was still a very long day. We had planned to make it all the way to Ushuaia, but we saw a sign on the side of the road for a Hosteria on a beautiful lake so we decided to stop. Turns out the owners are a young couple (Juan and Ajalin) who have done almost the same driving trip than us, just in reverse! I would definitely recommend staying in their lovely hotel if you visit the area. Their hosteria is called Kaiken and is right near the town of Tohuin.

View from our Cabina, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

My camera ran out of batteries, but I will upload tons more glacier photos and penguin (and Ushuaia) when it's charged!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Argentina, Southbound

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

It's been a long time since I've updated (but I did post some pics on G+!), my parents met us in Buenos Aires, so we were busy running all over the place and eating everything. I think I finally got my fill of steak and wine. Buenos Aires is definitely a very european style city, full of small butcher shops, fruit vendors, little cafes, etc. My father has all the Buenos Aires pictures, but I will try to post a few soon. Some highlights of Buenos Aires (besides getting to see my parents for a week):

1. All of the amazing restaurants, including steak, pastas, and even a great french place.

2. Staying in a place where we could cook. We even got to have pancakes! We stayed in the neighbordhood of San Telmo, which was super cute (it's known as the Tango neighborhood,  but we managed to avoid Tango entirely) and we were able to park the car on the street easily.

Antique shop, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

3. Seeing not one, but about 15 capybaras at the Buenos Aires zoo. We even got to see the less awesome side of capybaras, when one ate its own poop in front of us.

Capybara, Iguazu Wildlife Refuge, Argentina

4. Being in a real city again, without the car! It was nice to walk/take the train places again. Although, on the subway someone tried to pickpocket my father.

Penguin, Punto Tambo, Argentina

Since Buenos Aires, we've been trying to make good time down to Ushaia, although yesterday we stopped by a Penguin Colony. We got to see a billion penguins up close, they are pretty cute. Unfortunately the babies aren't around til the end of the year, but we did get to see their eggs. Almost immediately after that, we ran out of gas on the highway for the first time. Turns out everyone we interacted with was super friendly and helpful, way more than required. The next gas station was about 30 miles away, oops. I did get to ride in a truck for the first time, though.

Here are some more photos from the past month or so:

Llamas in the road, Argentina

Machu Picchu, Peru

Making Chocolate, Cusco, Peru

After staying with D in Cusco, we somehow got zero pictures of us together. We had a great time in Cusco though! We do seem to have tons of us making chocolate!

Tropic of Capricorn, Argentina

Monday, October 1, 2012

Random Things

1. We saw a dead bear on the highway in Peru. Rigor mortis dead. I wish we had gone back for a picture.

2. We found our new favorite song on Bolivian radio.

3. We have descended off the mountains to sea level, this now means there are cockroaches. I'm totally freaked out. But, the sunsets are beautiful here.

4. There are two speed guns in all of Mexico, Central and South America. They are located on one road in Bolivia. They are unfortunately susceptible to non Spanish speakers.

5. Argentians love: bidets, camping, sandwiches and mate. Seriously go read the wikipedia about it, the strangest part is not the fact that they drink it, but that they carry around this stupid little mug with a metal straw to drink it out of. Along with an enormous thermos full of hot water. They also have this whole ritual around drinking it that is strangely drug like.
*Photo from Wikipedia, not mine.

6. We saw Iguazu falls, which is larger than Niagra. We only got to see the Argentinian side since to see the Brazilian side we would need a visa which costs $135 (USD). It was pretty spectacular even though we went on a horrible rainy day. Pictures to come when I have better internet.

7. We went to an animal preservation site and got to see three(!) capybaras. They call them carpincha here. We didn't know they were around this far south, but apparently they're all over South America. Here is a video of one chewing.

8. More to come soon when I have better internet to upload photos and such (that are not from my phone).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Puedo ver lo?

We have made it to Bolivia, and so far as not been much better than Peru. With the exception of seeing D, K and C in Cusco (which was fantastic, we realized we hadn't had a conversation with anyone besides each other since Colombia), we didn't like much about Peru. Since Cusco was a big tourist area, I was even able to get a salad. The only thing they seem to eat in Peru is really salty roasted Chicken and french fries. I told A that I'm on a strict diet of french fries, chicken, coke and white rice. Sometimes they'll put a single slice of tomato on the side.

Cell Phone Pic of Machu Picchu, Peru (better ones to come)

We even went to see Machu Picchu (will post more photos from my camera later), which while beautiful is very expensive to get there and all of the tourist stuff around is unimaginably irritating. First of all, there is no direct road to the town of agua calientes (the closest town to Machu Picchu), so you must take a very expensive train to get there. On the train they will play music at ear splitting levels and try and get you to buy their llama sweaters and such (this is after paying $55+ one way per person). Then the town of Agua Calientes is a terrible tourist trap (since you pretty much need to stay over night there to see Machu Picchu). The food is expensive and horrible, there is almost no where to walk or go. The hot springs are filthy and overrun with drunk people. If I were to direct other people doing this, I'd suggest spending the $300 dollars for the night and staying at the lodge right at Machu Picchu, this way you avoid Agua Calientes all together and can get to Machu Picchu first thing. Machu Picchu is provably the most breathtaking ruins (because it is on top of a mountain set in the middle of nowhere) in terms of location, but was not as interesting to us as Copan Ruins (Honduras). 

One thing we haven't figured out is older Peruvian (and Bolivian) women from the Mountains where a traditional outfit which includes a felt bowler (or top or other strange style) hat. 

City Street, Peru

As per the title of this post: In the United States, I have never asked to see a hotel room before staying there. I guess you could, but there is some expectation of quality and services based on the price. In Central and South America, that is not the case. It is definitely necessary to see the room before choosing to stay there. This is also why we don't book hotels in advance. Things we typically ask about before even seeing the room: parking, wifi, hot shower (or AC depending on climate), toilet seat, and towels. 

Parking: Sometimes they say they have parking, but it is blocks away in a dirt lot that our little car cannot get up, or they want the keys so they can do some car shuffles (we don't give anyone the keys to the car), or it is not actually in a secure lot, etc. Having access to the car right on the hotel site is useful for many reasons. 

WIFI: They will say they have WIFI, but it is only in the lobby, unfathomably slow or is not actually theirs.

Hot Shower: This is the big one, almost every place tells you they have hot showers, some of them look like the picture below (note these type of showers will shock you if you put your hand too close).  We have now learned to turn the shower on and make sure, mostly they will say "oh it takes a few minutes to heat up." While this is sometimes true, it is not true when it's one of the electric shower heads. Also important: pressure. You will almost never find American shower pressure, but you need to make sure the shower is more than a small drip. Now hot showers have only become a problem since the Southern part of Colombia, where is became cold. In Cusco, it was so cold people where enormous jackets at night.

Terrifying Electric Shower Heads

Air Conditioning: This no longer applies since it is freezing out (and no one has heat here, not even fancy hotels), but even places that appeared to have air conditioners, sometimes those air conditioners just blew hot air. 

Toilet Seat: You will almost never find a toilet seat in a public restroom (even if you are paying for said restroom) anywhere in South America. I'm not really sure why. They don't have squatters like in China, but they seem to be fine without a toilet seat. This is important to check in hotels. Even some nicer hotels don't have them, I cannot understand why. We have even considered buying one to carry with us. 

Towels: Now in hotels, since there are two of us, we are paying for a "matrimonial" room. This means there is one larger bed for two people. This implies two people are staying. Many places will try to only give you one towel, you seem to always have to ask for a second. In Aguas Calientes, they even went as far as to try to charge us for a second towel. Also, the towels are tiny and often smell funny.

So those are all the things we check, other annoying things about bathrooms in Central/South America:

Cleanliness: They range from filthy to clean-ish. You will always find hair all over, even in nicer places. There will often be standing pools of water on the floor. 

Shower Curtain: For some reason they don't seem to mind when water gets all over the bathroom floors. Many places will not have shower curtains and when they do, sometimes they will not be long enough or cover the whole area. There is almost never a lip dividing the shower either, so either way the whole bathroom is wet. 

Shower Drains: Shower drains almost never drain, leaving you standing in a pool of filthy water and hair (see cleanliness). This also means even if there is a dividing lip between the shower and  the rest of the bathroom, it will overflow getting water everywhere. 

Bath Mats and Hand Towels: I'm not sure we've seen these since Mexico. Since the entire bathroom is covered in water anyway, why bother?

More about Bolivia and it's corrupt Policia and Aduana soon!

Friday, September 14, 2012


Peru has been strange so far and certainly has not been our favorite country. It turns out it is many thousands of kilometers of desert along the coast, sand seems to blow up from the ocean and cover everything. These deserts are then covered with shanty towns. In the northern part of Peru, you could drive for 100km without seeing anything. To make it even stranger, the roads are in perfect condition, and you will occasionally come across a toll both, which will not be excepting tolls in the Southern direction. We didn't believe they collected tolls until we had to pay one closer to Lima.

Playa Tortuga, Peru

It doesn't help that it is winter here, so the beach towns are all closed up. The other night we were driving on the highway and it got dark and it took forever to find somewhere to stay. There were hundreds of little beach towns, but they seemed all boarded up and some only consisted of fancy condominiums. We finally pulled off to one of the towns that had a paved road, there were a few hostals (which is Spanish means small hotel, not somewhere with bunk beds and guys with dreds). A went into one to ask about it, there was only a child there, he had to run and call his brother to see how much to charge. I guess this should have been our first sign, but we were desperate for somewhere to stay and since it's winter, we were guessing it's just the off season. When we went up the stairs, we were greeted with this little scene:

Hostal, Cerro Azul, Peru

Everything seemed fine though, except until the next morning when we tried to leave and they had LOCKED US IN. The woman who I guess was overseeing the place decided to go run some errands and locked the front door. She did not bother to tell us she was going to do this. It was one of those locks that would be supper illegal in the US, that you need a key from both sides. We spent a while going through the whole place looking for keys, eventually she returned, but we were about five minutes from smashing the glass to exit. I can't imagine what was going through her head when she did that, but I can't say this made us enjoy peru any more than we already did. 

Drive to Caraz, Peru

We did have one enjoyable hike, up in the mountains. We wanted to do a hike near Huraz called the Santa Cruz trek. It is 4 days/3 nights and was supposed to be totally safe and doable without a guide. After it took us two days of trying to get there, we decided to just do one day. I will post pictures of that when I get a chance to upload from my camera. Probably the worst part of the hike (other than being very steep uphill) was discovering how bad sand flies bite (and later discovering you can get a horrible disease from them). I'm usually not too bothered by misquitos and such, but right now I feel like I'm gonna itch my legs off, it's horrible. 

Drive to Caraz, Peru

Another strange thing about Peru is the Chinese influence, we had noticed a lot of people look vaguely Chinese and the supermarkets had a Chinese produce section, but we really noticed it yesterday when we stopped at a small restaurant off the highway and they served us chicken in a star anise sauce with pickled radishes. Turns out in the 1850's Peru was importing Chinese laborers as essentially slaves. Reading more on it, seems like different people estimate it differently, but at least 5% of the population has some Chinese origins.

We are very excited to make it to Cusco, to see A's friends as well as D (oh and maccu picchu and stuff).