I’m sitting here looking out over the rooftops of the Barranco and Miraflores neighborhoods of Lima, Peru and I’m expecting myself to somehow reflect meaningfully about the experiences of the past year. First of all, WHAT A YEAR! Audra and I successfully (knock on wood, we’re not home yet) traversed the globe. We’ve:
But I’m ahead of myself. One of the purposes of this blog is to remember things for posterity’s sake. And how can I forget about the past two weeks in Bolivia and Peru?!
The Highs and Lows of Bolivia
Let’s start with the Lows. We booked a tour from Chile to take us into Bolivia and drive us around the altiplanos (high plains) and the salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) for a few days. We woke up at 6 in the morning to catch the bus to take us to the border. To our surprise, amongst 20 or so other passengers, we were singled out. Apparently, as the only Americans crossing the border, we had to do something no one else did: apply for a visa for entry into Bolivia. We hadn’t done so because the tour company never told us we had to (and they knew we were American when booking). Somehow, we needed $160 each in crisp US dollars to get into the country. They didn’t tell us until we were at 15,000 feet at the border where ATM’s and Wifi don’t exist. Luckily, a guide came prepared for just the occasion. He loaned us $320 and we had to pay him back. We got a visa (valid for 10 years!), continued the tour, and paid him back several days later when we finally got to an ATM.
Sure, as savvy travelers we should have looked up visa requirements before entering the country. But we trusted that the tour would have told us that information. We gave a bad review because of this (even though the tour was incredible!). What hurt even worse was that if we applied for the visa in the embassy in Santiago (a week earlier), it would have been free… Lesson learned.
Since entering Bolivia, Audra and I were sick almost constantly due to a few things: extreme sun from the desert of Chile, cold nights in the desert, and an average altitude of 15,000 feet in Bolivia. We had head colds added to headaches and dizziness that comes from being at altitude. But the worst came when we were almost leaving La Paz (the capital). Audra contracted some sort of food poisoning. She made it the whole year and finally got it in Bolivia. I also had a touch of it, but nothing compared to the constant cramping and bathrooms that Audra had to visit, right before an overnight bus to Peru.
While packing up for our entry into Peru we also noticed that, in addition to someone stealing our $50 e-reader in Chile, someone else snuck into our desert tent and stole $20 from Audra’s wallet and two Chilean bills (only about $5 worth). What sucks so bad is that I’ve been collecting money from every country and now I don’t have any Chilean bills. If anyone ever goes to Chile, please bring be back at least a 1,000 peso bill!
Now, let’s talk about the highs, literally. It’s hard to describe the grandeur of the high planes of Bolivia. We saw geysers at 16,000 feet and lakes at 15,000 feet which were white, green, or red based on mineral contents. Down at 14,000 feet we got to see the largest and highest salt flat in the world. Our driver took us racing across it, even driving through small shallow “lakes” that perfectly mirrored our surroundings. We stayed in a salt hotel, made entirely of salt. You can lick the walls and test it. We climbed rocks which had Incan paintings. For three days, it seemed that we probably encountered 15 different planets, all the while surrounded by the majestic Andes Mountains.
You might think that wildlife was scarce at such high altitude, but you’d be wrong. We encountered foxes, vicunas (wild relatives to the llama), pairs of Andean geese, tons of flamingos, a few rhea (South America’s answer to the ostrich), and more llamas than you can imagine.
Then we entered La Paz. To date, this is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. At over 12,000 feet, it’s the highest capital in the world (although it’s one of two capitals of Bolivia). This bowl shaped city has houses build all the way up to the top of each hill. But walking the city can be challenging, especially at elevation. So, there is a system of “ski”-lifts connecting the various neighborhoods. By far the coolest public transportation we’ve ever seen. They plan on doubling the network in the next few years. Good thing we have a 10 year visa!
On our way out of Bolivia we drove through (yes, through, by way of ferry) Lake Titicaca. This is the largest lake in South America, and at 12,507 feet high, the highest navigable lake in the world. It was surprisingly beautiful to see such a large lake with the backdrop of the snowcapped Andes.
Our Return to Peru
We went to Peru about a year and a half ago to meet up with our friend Mick and Kim to hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. It was an incredible introduction to South America, the Andes, and Peruvian history and food. So, on our second trip, we really spent our time relaxing and mentally prepping for our return home. We stopped off in Arequipa, a beautiful white colonial city at the base of three volcanoes before heading to Paracas, a wonderful beach town known for islands full of sea lions and penguins. Then, we found our way to Lima, the capital where we found and AirBnB with a gym and a 17th floor balcony for $20 a night. Perfect spot to work and work out before heading home
But I can’t forget about Peruvian food. Sauces galore (yellow, rich, spicy aji is my favorite) cover pastas and potatoes. Have a layered potato dish called causa before wolfing down the Chinese influenced “jumping beef” dish called lomo saltado. Or maybe you’d like to try the famous Peruvian ceviche with raw seafood “cooked” in lime juice served over sweet potatoes, corn, red onion, and diced spicy Peruvian pepper. We did… four times! Of course, when in Peru, wash it all down with a Cusquena (beer), a chicha (sweet purple corn juice), or a pisco sour (made with pisco, lime, and a whipped egg white). As far as I’m concerned, Peru has HANDS DOWN the best food in South America. That’s a fact.
Back to the USA
In two years, we’ve been to 23 countries outside the United States: Panama, England, Iceland, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Qatar, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. As I write every country, I’m flooded with memories. It’s impossible to reflect adequately on the whole experience. So, I’ll let the previous blog posts speak for themselves.
Now, with full hearts, a deeper understanding of the world and its people, and a marriage that’s stronger than ever, we’re ready to return. To our home, our dog, our friends and our family: we miss you all and will see you soon! Bring on the next chapter of our life!
Audra and Kevin Arendt: Digital Nomads, World Travelers, and Midwestern Americans. To learn more, see About.