A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas Eve in Miami

Christmas 2013

After two months of living in Bolivia, I packed my bags and left on December 24th, arriving in the United States on December 25th.

Hey! That's Christmas! Why would anyone fly on Christmas!?

I know, right? I don't know why people fly on Christmas. You'd assume that everyone is busy being with their families and nobody is out flying. But, surprisingly, there were plenty of people flying on Christmas. I guess because airfare is cheapest on Christmas.

After two months in Bolivia, I was glad to finally get home. Setting all "politically correct" statements aside, Bolivia was ghetto, and I wanted to come home. To come home to clean streets and people. But then again, I knew that I was going to miss Bolivia. I had made close friends and gone on awesome adventures there. Bolivia is by the far the most unique country I've ever visited, with it's very distinctive topography and culture. La Paz had begun to grow on me, too. A part of me began to love Bolivia. But still. I was glad to go home :)

Here's a photo of Bolivia as I flew away.

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Now here's a photo flying into Miami International Airport, MIA.

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The contrast between those two photographs could not be bigger. Now everyone can understand by I was pretty glad to fly into a country where roads are paved, the streets cleaned, and the laws enforced.

I can't help but think of the friends I have in Bolivia. Or China. Or Ukraine. Or other friends that live in third-world countries. They didn't choose to be born into a corrupted nation with significantly less opportunities than me. And then, it begins to dawn on me how unfair the world is. How unfair it is it that I was inadvertently handed the longer end of the stick of life, while so many people have the short end. What is it that I can do to help them?

The answer creeps up on me like the cover of darkness. Nothing.

I'm not influential, successful, or overflowing with bundles of cash that I can just hand out to everyone who is poor. I just came back from spending two months in Bolivia, volunteering at a hospital for burned patients, at a children's home, and at an organization that helps kids living with cancer. Two months had passed with me volunteering my ass off, only to realize that there isn't much that I can do to change the situation of the world.

What if I was a kabillionaire and gave all the poor kids a big bag of money? Well, that wouldn't work. As everyone knows, anyone who receives free money obviously is going to spend it on booze and end up worse than before, right?. What if I took all of my energy and spent it on ONE poor child in some third-world country. One kid. Taught him how to be hard-working, kind, just, successful. Then he can grow up and inspire others, just like I inspired him, and that way we can change the world, right? Well, realistically, that being third-world country, more than likely that kid is going to get involved in some drug related crime and get shot and killed by some gang member. And all of my inspiration and hard work will be dead. Just like that kid.

I'm tired of playing this charade that "anyone can change the world, if they really want to." It's too late to brainwash me with that idea now. I've been out and about and I've learned that the world is ginormous, with more people living on it than my brain is capable of imagining. And if "I can make a change, no matter how small," who do I go to help first? Because obviously, I can't help everyone. Where do I start? Who will be the lucky ones that get my assistance? What organization do I start volunteering at to make me feel as though I am making a difference in this huge-ass world, so huge that most of the people on it don't know who I am, and will never know that I volunteered and tried to make the world a better place. The world is so messed up that I don't even know where to start to help fix it.

Here's my resolve:

All I can do is continue to live my life, and pretend that those poor people who've received the short end of the stick in life don't exist.

Hell, that's what everyone else is doing. That seems to be the easiest solution.

(Until, of course, they cross illegally into your borders in droves, looking for a better life and opportunity. Then, Houston, we have a problem.)

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WOW! What an incredibly negative story! That doesn't sound like you Dan. You should be energetic, and upbeat, and jolly! Well, sometimes I don't feel like being jolly. Sometimes I feel sorry for the world and it's unfairness. Sue me for being honest.

Oh, and here are my pictures from Miami. I was planning to write a completely different story, about how much fun I had with another traveller I met named Mortiz. But I got a little carried away, and spilled out my deep feels instead.

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Posted by DanPan 11.07.2014 00:32 Archived in USA Comments (1)

FOOD, Part 2

Before travelling worldwide, I never paid much attention to food. I'm a college student. Therefore, I've never given much thought to foods that exist beyond the spectrum of sandwich or cereal.

But what traveling has done for me, is give me the keys to a brand new world. The world of food. And not just food food. But FOOD food.

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When I was living in Japan, I wrote a post about the food in Japan. However, after living in Bolivia for two months, my world-wide-food knowledge has increased and I feel compelled to write more about food, especially the food of Central South America.

In Japan, I don't remember eating anything that wasn't delicious. Everything was savory. In Bolivia, unfortunately, I think that half of the things I ate were unsavory. I'm not sure if that's because Bolivians have different tastes, or if La Paz's 11,000 foot altitude messes up the food, or if maybe I ordered the wrong food each time. But it seemed as though a lot of the food I ate tasted bland. The only saving grace was that all food was super cheap - so I could eat as much bland food as I wanted.

It even looks bland, doesn't it?

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In Asia, steamed white rice was the center of every meal and vegetables were the side dishes. In Latin America, the center of every meal is meat - usually a big fat piece of chicken. Interestingly, the chicken is eaten with a knife and fork. In the US, eating chicken gives you automatic permission to eat with your hands. In Bolivia, even a drumstick is eaten with a knife and fork.

The sides that come with your big piece of chicken are almost always rice and potatoes. The portions of the rice and potatoes are usually big, too. So I guess it would be incorrect to call them sides, since the rice and potatoes are just as important as the meat. Rice, potatoes, and meat. It's the love triangle of every South American dish.

And, every meal in South America is accompanied by a bottle of Coke. Or Sprite. Or some other carbonated drink that has made the leading cause of death in Latin America to be diabetes. While the main beverage in Japan is green tea, the main beverage in Bolivia is sugary death.

No food? That's okay. As long as you got Coke!

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Usually in the United States, if you don't want to drink coke, you have an option of juice or even mineral water (which nobody ever touches, except dieters.) In Bolivia, the only alternatives to soda is a different flavor of soda. Or sometimes, juice, which has so much sugar that you might as well just drink the soda.

Back to Japanese food. Although Japanese food is healthy, nutritious, and delicious, a piece of fruit on that island nation costs an arm and a leg. And although the meals I ate in Bolivia tended to be unhealthy and not always delicious, Bolivia had a lot of cheap fruits, the food I love most!

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Because they are so expensive in Japan, fruits are usually given as gifts. But in Bolivia, they are cheap and available at every marketplace. Fruit vendors sell smoothies and fruit salads for about a dollar.

Interestingly, South America has fruits that I've never even heard of. Like most Americans, I've spent most of my life thinking that fruits consisted of things like apples, bananas, cherries, berries, and grapes. But what travelling has taught me is that there are fruits out there that I've never even heard of. Fruits that seem to have been taken out of a Dr. Seuss storybook.

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The fruit pictured above is called a "Granadilla". It's similar to passion fruit; it has a hard orange shell that you have to break to get to the dark, gelatin seeds inside. The easiest way to get them out is to slurp them out of the fruit. It's quite fun.

Other interesting fruits that are common in that part of the world include cherimoya (a cross between a pear and pineapple), lucama (a fruit that tastes like maple), and camu camu (small fruit, fun name.)

If through this post I happened to discouraged you from eating South American food, you should at least go for the fruit. They're amazing. The fruits of Bolivia and all of South America are a tourist attraction in themselves.

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Posted by DanPan 10.07.2014 23:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca and The Death Road

Bolivia Most Interesting Attractions

Bolivia is home to a well-known lake with the funniest name ever.

LAKE TITICACA

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Haha, lolz. Right?

I'm not sure why it's called that, but Titicaca means "Stone Puma" in the indigenous language. Apparently because the lake is shaped like a puma.

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[Map courtesy of Google]

I personally don't see how the lake's shape looks like a Puma. But, the South Americans Indians said it does, therefore it must be true. Besides, they were right about human sacrifices and the world ending in 2012, right? Of course.

Technically, only half of the lake is in Bolivia, and the other half is in Peru. Maybe the Bolivian part of the lake looks like a puma? I don't know. But the lake is super big and super blue. It's famous for being the highest navigable lake in the world. And also because it has a funny name.

I wanted to swim in the lake, so that I could say, "I swam in Lake Titicaca!" But the water was pretty cold, so I didn't. I just took off my shoes and walked into the water. So, technically, my feet swam in the water. And because my feet are attached to my body, that means that I swam in it too.

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I also found this really funny bathroom at the lake:

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It says "Papachos" for men and "Mamitas" for women.

I don't know why, but I found that really funny. I feel like seeing those bathroom doors alone is a good enough reason to visit the lake.

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Lake Titicaca is cool and all, by far the Bolivia's BEST and probably my FAVORITE tourist attraction of all time is called El Camino de la Muerte - THE DEATH ROAD.

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The Death Road was never intended to be a tourist attraction. It was just a road in Bolivia that is so steep and dangerous that an estimated 200-300 people fall off and die every year ...

...and I went on it. Because I'm crazy. And I'm glad I did because it was FREAKIN' AWESOME!

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Notice the white cross on the left side of the photo.

This road starts somewhere 15,000 ft / 4,000 meters above sea level, waaaaay up in the plains of Bolivia. It ends at 3,000 ft / 1,200 meters above sea level, deep in the Amazon jungle. That's a descent of around 12,000 feet! The road is chiseled out of the side of the mountain and is super narrow, hardly wide enough for one car. If you fall off, it's 2,000 feet to the bottom. No guard rails. Bye-bye.

There are multiple tour groups in La Paz that take you down the road on bikes. Before choosing a group to go with, make sure to ask if anyone has died on their tour. If they say no, then you can go.

There were 22 people on my tour, and we each got a helmet, a bike, a cool outfit. Notice, the weather is foggy, it's cold, and everyone is wearing layers of clothes. As we continue down the road, the weather gets warmer and the weather nicer. Suddenly, the paved road ends, and the dirt road through the jungle begins.

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To make a long story short, I didn't fall off and die. No one in our group did. A tour van followed us bikers the entire time in case of an emergency. But even if someone did fall off, I'm sure there is little that the help van could do. Emotional support, I guess.

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The rode is so steep, that you don't even have to pedal. Just use your brakes and maneuver away from the edge. It isn't difficult and it's pretty safe if you focus. I heard that the last person to die was a Japanese tourist who attempted to take photos while biking.

[For the record, I didn't take these photos while I biked. All the photos were taken by our tour guide and given to us later. I was smart enough to focus completely on the road.]

Eventually you begin to pass under waterfalls and find yourself in the middle of the Amazon jungle.

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The experience was so awesome that I knew that I wanted to come back and do it again WHILE I was still doing it. It was that amazing. Sure, there is a touch of danger, but I encourage you to try it if you're ever in Bolivia. You can drive as slow as you want and take your time. It's really safe if you're not crazy.

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In the end, the entire group is taken to a restaurant, were you eat and go swimming. It's funny, you start freezing 15,000 feet above sea level, and you finish at 3,000 feet, swimming in the pool and soaking up sun. Absolutely amazing.

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Posted by DanPan 29.06.2014 15:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

The Devil's Miners

Cierro Rico, Potosí

In southwestern Bolivia, 13,420 feet [4,090 m] above sea level, there exists a city called Potosí. It was once considered the largest and wealthiest city of the Americas back in 1600. Funny, because no one knows about it today.

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When the Spaniards colonized the New World, they found silver inside of a huge mountain at the foot of Potosí. They quickly began mining and the city became Spain's #1 supplier of silver and most important city.

Unknown to the rest of the world, in this city strange things happen underground. Literally.

You see, millions of people, mostly indigenous slaves, have died mining for silver inside of that mountain. By the 1800's, the mountain's silver supply was completely depleted. Gone. No more silver.

BUT.

To this day, Bolivians still continue to mine in that mountain. Why? Because they have hope of one day finding silver and becoming rich.

Because Bolivia is a Third World Country, these miners still use equipment and techniques that were used in the 17th century. It's dangerous business. Miners don't live very long. Those who don't die in a mining accident usually contract silicosis and don't live beyond 40.

I learned that a tour company takes tourists down into the mine to see how miners work. In retrospect, it seems unethical to exploit poor Bolivian miners as a tourist attraction to white gringos. But, it only cost $15, so I went.

The first thing we did was change into some heavy-duty miner clothes.

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Next we went to the market to buy gifts for the miners. The tour operated on the premise that, because the miners let us visit their mine, we bring them gifts - mostly soda to drink and cocoa leaves to chew. Also, 91% alcohol. Miners believe that if they drink pure alcohol, they will find pure silver. They'll also find serious liver problems, but that's beside the point.

It's interesting to note that they also sell dynamite at that miner's market. A stick of dynamite - $3. It comes with a baggie of ammonium nitrate, which you use to blow it up with.

Our tour guide showing us dynamite.

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That seemed so awesome to me. To buy dynamite for $3.00. No permit, no regestration, nothing. It was no different than buying candy. I even considered buying dynamite to take home, but the TSA probably wouldn't enjoy that too much.

Posing with my stick of dynamite. Ammonium nitrate in my right hand.

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The inside of the mine was dark, stuffy, and cramped. As you preceded through it, the walkway became narrower and smaller. At some points, we had to crawl on our hands and knees to get through. One European guy in our group began to hyperventilate.

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We stepped aside to let a couple of Bolivians, their cheeks full of cocoa leaves for energy, push a cart past us.

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The mine was dusty and it was hard to breathe, so I used a bandanna to cover my nose and mouth. I thought of the miners, some of them children, who had to spend 8-10 hours a day in these mines. I had no reason to complain about my 9-5 job from that point forward.

What made being inside the dusty mine worse was the fact that there were harmful chemicals flying around in the air. I remember the tour guide mentioning arsenic and sulfate, which I'm pretty sure I learned to be hazardous in my college chemistry class. I'm positive that having to breathe these chemicals for 8+ hours a day violates every single labor law in the world.

But then again, it's Bolivia. No labor laws here.

Interestingly, the chemicals have begun to leave a colorful blue-green residue on the walls. Pretty dark green stalactites hang from the ceiling. Looks are deceiving, though, and our guide told us not to touch them because they were harmful.

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In retrospect. We were in a dark mine, dusty and filled with deadly chemicals and safety hazards. It was full of miners, some of them kids, who work for hours a day searching for silver that isn't even there. It sounds like hell on Earth. That is why I wasn't surprised when I learned that there is a

statue of the devil that the miners worship inside the mine.

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It's a hideous statue. Back in the 1600's, the Spaniards created it to scare the indigenous slaves, telling then that "El Diablo [the devil] will kill you if you don't work harder." Over the years, this statue of "El Diablo" became "El Dio" [God], whom the miners now call "Tio" [uncle].

Over the years, the miners began to serve this statue. Regardless of the fact that most miners are Catholics, they say that "God rules on ground, but the devil rules underground." They offer cigarettes to this statue of the devil. They sprinkle him to cocoa leaves. They offer pure 91% alcohol to this devil statue, because they believe he will help them find pure silver.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that people still, in the year 2013, worship and offer sacrifices to idols. Legit idols. No offense, dear Bolivian miners, but you're not finding any silver and are instead dying of accidents, chemicals, and diseases. I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions. The God of the universe is almighty. And he is a jealous GOD.

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I pray for God to have mercy on these miners, who've made a God out of a graven image and so plainly violated the 1st and 2nd commandments.

As we were leaving the mine, we passed a few miners who were using hammers and picks to break down the walls of the mine. No jackhammer. Our guide told us that the work these miners do in two months can be completed in 14 hours if they had modern equipment.

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...so I gave them my dynamite. Glad to help.

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Potosí Mine Tour. I would recommend it.

It'll help you realize how good we have it at our boring desk jobs.

And help realize how sinful this world is before God.

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Posted by DanPan 27.06.2014 19:07 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni, Part 2

World's Largest Mirror

As previously stated, Salar de Uyuni is a majestic place. It's out of this world and there's no other place like it. The best part is that for a cheap South American price, you can spend days touring around while making new friends and memories.

But the best thing about Salar de Uyuni happens at nighttime.

What happens is magical. It begins to rain. I realize that doesn't sound magical, but in Uyuni, it is.

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After the rain passes and the sun comes out, the place becomes a gigantic mirror. The sky reflects off of the water below and it looks like you're no longer on Earth, but someplace in the heavens.

To see Uyuni in the morning you need to book another tour that leaves at 2:00 AM. I booked it once I returned from touring the desert, and surprisingly all of the people on in the tour were Japanese.

2:00 AM at the Salt Flat. Complete darkness. My Japanese tomodachis and I couldn't see a thing.

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We sat around and chatted for a while, and I showed off my impressive Japanese skillz. Spending a year in Japanese really does have its perks. You never know when you'll find yourself stuck in complete darkness with Japanese tomodachis!

And then it happened.
Sunrise.

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Pure magic. Inspiration. Beauty. Something came over me. Everything was so beautiful that I began to take pictures of everything. Like a teenager in front of a mirror. Or Asians on vacation. Or a Russian lady with a flower.

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I took some fun photos with my Japanese tomodachis too. Below we're spelling out " U Y U N I " with our bodies.

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And then I went back to taking more pictures of myself.

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My Japanese friends liked the jumping idea so much that they began to do it themselves.

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One Japanese guy named Shun asked to take a jumping photo with me. He complemented my jumps and said that he wanted to jump like me. Well, needless to say, we became quick friends. Praising my jumping skillz is definitely the way to ask for my hand in friendship.

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If someone wants a unique experience, Uyuni is definitely the place to visit. Moreover, it should be visited as soon as possible. Besides salt, the Uyuni Salt Flat is rich with vast lithium reserves below the surface. Although unlikely at this time, there have been talks with foreign companies who want to extract the lithium from Uyuni in order to make batteries for electric cars. I honestly think that it would be a shame to waste such a beautiful landmark. But whether or not lithium mining actually happens, Uyuni is a must-seen for every wandering traveler.

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Posted by DanPan 16.06.2014 17:31 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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