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CHOLITAS – THE OBSESSION CONTINUES

A RELAXING DAY IN LA PAZ AND FINAL GOODBYES

sunny 22 °C

After a very busy couple of weeks exploring Peru and Bolivia we finally had a day with nothing on our schedule. This is actually the last day for our travel companions as they leave very early in the morning. We fly after midnight tomorrow night.

Since we were all exhausted we opted to take the morning to relax at our hotel which was great. At lunch time, we headed out on a little itinerary planned by Lorna. We started by heading to a restaurant for lunch, only to get caught up in a local protest. It was harmless minus the constant firecrackers. The protest appeared to be by medical professionals and along the sidelines were local protesting against them. It was without incident.

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After lunch we returned to San Francisco Cathedral hoping to get inside. It was still locked so we decided to visit the church museum. This turned out to be awesome as we ended up guided through alleys that took us to the balcony overlooking the inside of the church and to the bell tower and even up to the rooftop. The tiles on the roof were actually molded by the thighs of the workers. It was gorgeous and a complete surprise. It is definitely underated in the guide books.

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Next was a stroll through the market and some last minute shopping. And of course some Chola or Cholita stalking ( one week it is the geisha, next the cholitas). Lorna sent me a great article about the history of this dress code and their role in society. You can actual watch them wrestle on Sunday nights. I checked it out on YouTube and I don’t think we missed much.

If you want to read about the Cholitas, click here

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Can you see the wad of coca leaves in her cheek?

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We came back to the hotel to relax for a few minutes and then the adults went to a nearby museum that featured a textile exhibit, mask exhibit, traditional hats, history of the people of Bolivia, artifacts from the region and much more. Very well done.

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We came back and fetched the kids and grabbed a bite at the museum restaurant. I have barely had time to write anything about some of our impressions but I can tell you that we have been less than impressed with the food. Both Peru and Bolivia have over 22 types of quinoa and while I love it, I don’t care to see it for a very long time. The other local favorite is potato and it can appear in any of the over 100 varieties, not all good.

Then it was back to the hotel to say our goodbyes.

Six years ago, I traveled alone with my son for the first time. I was nervous. I booked my first ever tour, a family adventure through Costa Rica. I wasn’t sure I would like a tour. I wasn’t sure how Isaac would manage with other families, being without his dad. But fate took over. Our tour was unique, off the beaten path and showed us things we would have never discovered on our own. It was fun, it was relaxing. More importantly it was shared with just one other family. A single mom, Lorna with her two kids ( Kajal and Jackson), both slightly younger than Isaac and her mom, Sharon. Two incredibly strong smart ladies who shared so many interests with me. After two weeks, we were the best of friends and were already planning a second trip together in 2 years. That trip was just as successful. Vietnam and Cambodia remains one of my favorites and believe it or not, we were once again the only 6 booked on that tour. Two years after that we traveled to Kenya and Tanzania and decided there that we should tackle a 4th continent together. Well that trip is now complete and I have just said good bye to this special family. There are no future trips planned. Isaac is off to college in the fall and so life is about to change. I can only say that I am so grateful that this family was in the right place at the right time and I will never forget the special memories we have created together.

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Posted by curlygirl 18:28 Archived in Bolivia Tagged san francisco la paz chola chilota Comments (1)

TRANSPORT, TOURS AND TANGO

WITH SOME CHIMICHURRI SAUCE ON THE SIDE

sunny 30 °C

Our morning at La Bamba started pretty much the same way as the previous day ended. Overeating. After insisting that we were all tired of eating and all tired of dulce de leche, we found ourselves in another beautiful setting eating a delicious breakfast. I have no idea what put us over the top, whether it was the fresh squeezed orange juice, the homemade croissants or the large jar of homemade dulce de leche that goes brilliantly with apples, strawberries, and a spoon. It was crazy but the service at this place is outstanding.

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The ranch was kind enough to set up a tour of a small traditional nearby town, San Antonio. This was something I wanted to do before I arrived but wasn’t sure it would work out. It was a real delight despite the exciting ride into town. Our taxis were two decrepit Fiats that didn’t look like they would move let along hit 80 kilometers an hour on a bumpy dirt road. The drivers rode hot on the tails of the cars ahead of us and made some risky passes that involved a “too close for comfort” moment with a transport truck. I had Ellen and Isaac with me and they were wide eyed for the 30 minute ride.

Our tour was with Magda, a very energetic and enthusiastic local history teacher who has lived her life in the town and knew absolutely everything and everybody. This town is rich in history and every shop looks like a museum. The buildings have been carefully restored and are full of antiques in every category. Its greatest charm, however, is the in preservation of the artisans. We went in shop after shop where the owner had been creating products for many years or were the son and daughters of those who had perfected the craft before them. We met a silversmith whose handmade silver jewelry was like nothing I had ever seen. The detail was incredible. There were leather workers and a lovely gentleman that hand spins wool to create pashminas and mohair sweaters. We had little time to shop but I made one purchase for a gift that I am not sure I will part with. Magda was an excellent hostess who made sure we were adequately fed and safely on our bus back to Buenos Aires.

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Perhaps what she didn't know was that our bus may not have been that safe. Starting at about 20 minutes into the 90 minute drive the bus simply cut out. Cut out completely while in motion. Sherry tried to question the driver when he rolled to the side of the road, but she got the hand saying, ‘wait, wait”. Sure enough, he got it going and off we went until it happened again, again and again. At one point we were dead in the water as he could not get the clutch in and he was on the on the phone speaking frantically to someone who appeared to know what to do because we once again were on our way and made it into Buenos Aires. All was good until Sherry noticed that we were almost to the airport. She was certain this was wrong because there is a large stretch of shanty towns as you approach the downtown area and we did not pass them. Her spidey senses were right. The driver thought we were headed to the airport and had to turn around adding about another 40 minutes to our drive. You just have to laugh at this stuff, or stay home.

So we were back in BA, late in the day and wishing we had just gone on to Mendoza because our plans to tour the city were a bust. In addition to our late arrival, it is Good Friday in a very Catholic country so most things were closed. But the dynamic duo (Shelley and Sherry) got on it and made a plan. We choose one of the restaurants recommended by Marcelo, which one again proved to be celiac friendly, and was known for its great lomo, or tenderloin. Yes, I was sick of meat too but yet, as a non-red meat eater, found myself having red meat for the 3 time in 36 hours. The restaurant in San Telmo, was very casual and filled with locals and tourists. The waiter was excellent and spoke great English and the 10 ounce tenderloins for $15 were delicious. Sherry and I opted to share one and we still rolled away from supper. I have been accused by my travel mates of leaving out some of my eccentricities from the blog. Apparently, I have shown a more than “normal” amount of enthusiasm for the chimichurri sauce in this country. How can I not? This blend of herbs, vinegar and oil is outstanding and I love it on everything. The sauce in tonight’s restaurant was the best. So good, that the waiter sold me the herbs and gave me instructions to make it at home.

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Our next adventure was to try and find some local tango in the city that created the dance. Opting out of the touristy tango shows, we elected to go to a Milango. A Milango is a local bar where people go to dance the tango. We found one near our restaurant and decided to go in. Well although I was thrilled with the atmosphere, the place was empty. I was told that people don’t start coming to dance until 11:30 and the live band starts at midnight. While I was gung-ho, my companions were not. They are still recovering from the travel and a night of erratic sugars (Ellen is diabetic). Even though we did not wait for the band at midnight, we did stay long enough to see some dancing. I loved loved loved it. It was so amazing to me that it was mostly young people in casual clothes who were wandering in with shoes in hand. They would greet friends with a kiss on the left cheek and hug, as most Argentinians seem to do, change their footwear and began to tango. What a beautiful and sensual dance that appears rather complicated. The bar was nothing fancy but it felt authentic.

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My last taxi story of the day, was our ride home. Once again, I had the kids so ended up in the front seat. From here, I could watch my driver surf facebook at the stops with his iphone propped up on the dash behind the wheel. What could possibly go wrong?

I was so pleased that we had one last night in this magical city. Sometimes things just work out.

So my plan was to come home and sleep, and blog tomorrow at the airport but I was so inspired by my evening that I had to get it written while I could still feel and smell the atmosphere. Hopefully the upload goes better than last night when the pictures kept distorting and going grainy. This is not always an easy task when you are at the disposal of any available internet.

My favorite room at La Bamba

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Posted by curlygirl 21:02 Archived in Argentina Tagged san tango antonia milango Comments (2)

OH WHAT A CIRCUS, OH WHAT A SHOW

BUT THE GABRIELS HAVE COME TO TOWN….FINALLY!

sunny 29 °C

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My first text of the day was from Sherry saying that they had finally arrived in Buenos Aires but were busy filling out baggage claims. Could anything else go wrong? Well yes a few more things but at this point things had turned into to a complete gong show. Still we were delighted to see them arrive as we went down for breakfast this morning. To be honest, they looked good and were in great spirits and were determined to make the most of the day.

We met our guide Bernadette and she was determined to help the Gabriels but she could not make the bags magically appear so we headed out for a very short tour of the city. It really reinforced the value of Marcelo on Sunday because although she was informative, in four hours you really only have time to drive around and not explore. We did get to visit the Recoleta graveyard again, which I love, and I got see the neighborhood, La Boca. But as my mother says, “it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good”. Because the tour was short, I had time to attempt to reschedule my photo course and Bernadette was most helpful in sorting that out, making calls between stops.

Argentina is known for protests and we saw a peaceful one by dance students today who were losing their funding

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Tango dancers

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We got back to the hotel in time to grab a quick lunch. I went for the closest restaurant and almost had Isaac in a “house of ill repute”. I didn’t get very far before I notice this place had only woman, lightly dressed, and none were eating lunch. So we opted for a sandwich from the food court across the street. I gave Isaac a 30 minute rest before dragging him off to our photo afternoon but he will tell you it did not disappoint even for him who has no interest in photography.

We took a rather long ride with our lost taxi driver back to La Boca to meet up with my course instructor, Lisa. La Boca is not a neighborhood where you want to get lost or just jump out of a taxi. Although it is considered quite safe in the day, that safety net only extends to about a 2 block radius which is filled with most of the tourist attractions. The area has a distinct charm with its bright colored houses, the sounds of live music and the unique characters moving about the streets trying desperately to make a peso in any way possible. The area is quite poor as it was originally settled by the immigrants who came primarily from Italy and Spain with nothing except the promise of jobs. They built homes from scraps, including the tin from the boats and used whatever left over materials to create a home for their families, although these homes rarely amounted to more than a room in a community structure. They remain the same today. The bright colors arose from the left over paints from the ships. It is truly spectacular. I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to explore this place with my camera.

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So my street photography tour was with a company I found on trip advisor called Foto Ruta. I had originally booked a private tour for Isaac and I which had been cancelled because of the strike, so when we rebooked short notice we were joined by a lovely couple from Zambia, Ian, originally from Kenya and his wife Sue who hails from the UK. Our instructor Lisa, was a charming and knowledgeable young lady from Germany. Lisa began by giving us some pointers on things to look for and challenged us to work differently that we normally do. For me, that meant shooting entirely in manual. It was a great learning experience and while it was challenging getting the shot while fumbling with new settings, I do think this is something I will continue to work on. I may not love all my pictures but I loved the experience! Not only did we get constant advice, we got great explanations of the history of the place. Awesome.

Ian and Sue

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From there we jumped on a bus and made our way to San Telmo which you may recall is the neighborhood once occupied by rich but abandoned during the yellow fever outbreak. Isaac and I were here on market day which was amazing but the feel today was also incredible. The architecture was elaborate but the streets had a much more bohemian feel. Houses once occupied by one family, now house many sharing bathrooms and kitchens. It really saddens me just how spectacular this city must have been in its prime, as the 8th richest country in the world, to now where locals can barely make ends meet. Health care and education are free but the government can’t support it so the entire system is failing and the city is at risk of crumbling both economically and aesthetically.

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Our tour ended with a coffee and a lovely traditional coffee shop and a review of our pictures. It really was a great experience for both of us and I am already trying to find time in Santiago for another half day. The company operates in Buenos Aires, Santiago, London and Barcelona.
We ended up walking home because no taxi would take us. Thankfully Lisa was around to explain when the taxi driver refused to take us (did I mention there is virtually no English here?) because the roads were blocked into the city center so no more cars could enter. Isaac guided the way and it only took about 20 minutes. His sideways feet are holding up brilliantly.

Our fantastic day ended with meeting up with the Gabriels, who had just gotten their bags, and enjoying a spectacular meal at a nearby restaurant discovered by Ellen. Can you say MEAT? I had lamb and had enough for 4. Isaac was delighted to be reunited with his travel buddies and we all look forward to many relaxing and fun days ahead. We are off to the ranch in the morning. Yee haw!

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Posted by curlygirl 20:56 Archived in Argentina Tagged san la buenos aires boca telmo Comments (9)

WHAT’S NEW BUENOS AIRES?

"I'm new, I wanna say I'm just a little stuck on you"

sunny 27 °C

Hola from beautiful Buenos Aires

We are just back at our hotel resting our feet before dinner after a wonderful start to our holiday.

We arrived at our hotel around 5pm yesterday after 26 hours of straight forward travel. The worst part was the 6 hour wait in Toronto but even that wasn't too bad since we were in the lounge. Isaac was asleep immediately upon sitting on the airplane and despite his insistence that he doesn't sleep on planes, he slept almost the entire flight. I slept well too. It was great that we had an empty seat between us. We had an incredible view of the Andes as we approached Santiago, Chile. We had about an hour there to stretch our legs before continuing on to Buenos Aires.

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After an eleven hour sleep we woke at 8:30, grabbed some breakfast and met our amazing guide, Marcelo. We spent some time in the lobby planning our day and asking questions before heading out to our first stop in the downtown area, and the Plaza de Mayo where we were introduced to some Argentinian history. Marcelo is a wealth of information and I hope I get most, or some of this right since I promised to send him copy of this. We saw a beautiful church (Metropolitan Cathedral) that looks like any government building, and could easily be missed. It is the main church where many officials speak and holds the mausoleum of San Martan, who liberated Argentina from being a Spanish Colony. Ok, here is one of Marcelo’s interesting facts. Guess where most of the people of Argentina emigrated/originate from? It would explain the all the pizza and pasta shops around. You got it! Italy. Marcelo says we must eat pizza, pasta and ice cream here. Two down already. The architecture in the square looks very European and was in fact build in the early 1900s influenced by the country’s booming economy and European background. I found this street to look like the Champs de Elysee in Paris.

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The square also tells an amazing story of a darker time in history during the late 1970s and early 1980s under a dictatorship rule (known as the dirty war) when many of the educated and outspoken simply disappeared. Two mothers, later joined by thousands, began to march one afternoon a week for many years trying to bring attention to their missing children. Eventually when the marches ended, symbols of their cause were painted in circles where they walked in the form of their handkerchiefs.

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Next we saw the famous Casa Rosada where Eva Peron stood on the balcony speaking to the people of Buenos Aires. Of course I sang a little here. For some reason, they wouldn't let me on the balcony to do my wave so I had to stand below. Seriously, they must not have realized I was here. They let Madonna do it, after much controversy, during the scene in the movie. Anyway, I did the next best thing and went inside and did my pee.

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From there, as per Isaac’s request, we hit the San Telmo Sunday market. San Telmo is the oldest barrio (neighborhood) of Buenos Aires. It is a well-preserved area of the Argentine metropolis and is characterized by its colonial buildings. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line the streets. At one point the Jewish population lived here but during the yellow fever outbreak moved to another barrio, Recoleta. We walked the market for quite a while poking at the shops and getting some money exchanged at the blue market rate. The blue market rate is widely quoted here in prices. The official rate is about 8.5 pesos in a US dollar, the rate I got today was 12 pesos so it makes quite a difference. The economy is in bad shape and so the demand for US dollars is high as their purchase is restricted and government controlled here. We also visited a fruit and vegetable market.

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I wanted to buy one of these old soda bottles.

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One of the oldest pharmacies in BA preserved but filled with modern products.

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Next we jumped in a taxi and went towards Recoleta. Our first stop was at a restaurant for lunch. We elected to eat at a local joint that served only pizza and empanadas. My first memory of empanadas are the ones Marina Hilario would make and as I was telling Marcelo about the Filipino empanadas, he told me that the Philippines were also a Spanish Colony at one time. Any way, he also recommended a slice of the most popular pizza in the restaurant. It was an onion pizza with cream cheese. Although Isaac was reluctant he went for it and it has become his mission to find one of these again before we leave. I had the empanadas and they did not disappoint. I feel bad for my celiac friend who will be joining us in a few days. Yummy flour products.

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Recoleta is the most affluent of the neighborhoods which was immediately obvious. The atmosphere was completely different. After viewing some of the local mansions we made our way to the very famous Recoleta cemetery. There is no way to describe the beauty, elegance and incredible architecture of this place. In this working cemetery there are 14 acres of above ground tombs. Each tomb is purchased by a family and the head of the family gets the main floor but each tomb is built with 2 stories below for family members. The tomb is the responsibility of the family which means they must clean and maintain it. If they run out of room, any family besides the mother and father on the main floor may be cremated and put in smaller boxes to make room. It the town taxes are not paid after 40 years (1% of the tomb’s value), you are kicked out and the tomb can be sold. I found one I liked that is for sale for $250,000 usd. It isn't a big one which explains the deal. I am taking collections. I told Isaac if that doesn't work out, he has to cremate me and take my ashes to all 7 continents. I figure that is a good deal for both of us. Marcelo figures I need to leave him enough money to do it flying business class. Cost of the tomb is determined not only by size but also by whether or not you have a main alley or a side street. It is seriously like a city. We visited the most famous tomb here, but one of the least spectacular, the tomb of first lady Eva Peron who ironically is buried in the Duarte tomb (her family’s). Did you know her body went missing for 12 years and was found in Italy? That’s another amazing story. We loved having a guide today. So much interesting information.

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My life motto represented on many tombs. A word from the dead.....Time Flies, enjoy life now!

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After saying good bye to our guide, we wandered the Recoleta market, where tons of people were enjoying their Sunday. Since today was Palm Sunday there were lots of people carrying and selling leaves. Not palm leaves but what seems to be the local representation of the palm leaf. We then stopped at the recommended ice cream place for a rest and a snack. Yum. Everything comes with Dulce de leche, even my coconut ice cream.
From there it was back to the hotel for a rest and finally supper nearby.

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As you can tell we had a very busy day. We would never have covered so much or learned as much without Marcelo. It was a great investment. I am sure I have forgotten many other wonderful things but he told us that was ok as long as we remember and understand the whys of this magnificent city.

One of the biggest surprises was just how gorgeous and clean this city is (besides seeing all the Italian food) Sigh. Looking forward to sharing this with the Gabriel’s when they arrive on Tuesday.

Pizza

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By the way, if you don’t get today’s blog title, you may need to brush upon your Evita lyrics ‘cause they may show up again. These are from the song, “Buenos Aires” which I have been humming and singing all day.

“What ya gonna get in me? Just a little bit of star quality”…….

Posted by curlygirl 19:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged san buenos aires recoleta eva evita peron telmo Comments (11)

BUTTS UP AND PANTY RIPPERS

A DAY OF CAVE RAFTING AND CELEBRATION IN THE CAVE BRANCH RIVER

sunny 32 °C

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We have had the most wonderful day with perfect weather. There were three options for the day. Two were cave climbing excursions and the third, the more leisurely, was a cave tubing tour. We went with option three which meant we didn’t have to be ready until 10:30 am. This gave us time to have a leisurely breakfast although we are seriously missing the Guatemalan coffee. We decided to walk back down to the market and to the river where we swam yesterday so we could take a couple of snaps.

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It was close to 11 am before we headed off on our 1 hour drive to the Cave Branch River. Our day of tubing started with 45 minute hike in beautiful jungle, crossing the river and into some small limestone caves.

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From there we hopped into our inner tubes and basically floated with headlamps into two large caves. It took about 3 hours to get down the river and over two hours of that was in the dark. It was so much fun. There were a few shallow spots that required us to bring our "butts up" but otherwise was relaxing, peaceful and a welcome break from the high humid temperatures.

There are few words that captures what these pictures show. I took the risk of taking my camera in a dry bag and periodically, using one hand to grab a few shots as we bobbed and spun around.

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I even managed a selfie, although I clearly lack the skills of my travel companion Gayle who has mastered the art.

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The day ended at about 5:30, just in time to get back to the hotel for the happy hour drink of the day, “Panty Rippers” which ironically is made from my favourite liquor, coconut rum. Did I mention the poster in the door of the hotel from lobby that lists why beer is better than woman? Political correctness has not yet arrived in San Ignascio.

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We have really enjoyed the relaxed vibe here in this town and this evening we enjoyed a great meal down town while being serenaded by the town piper. We also met a few other colourful characters along the way including our cabbie who assured us the men are best in Belize.

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We are headed out on the local bus at 7 am tomorrow. That aught to make for a good tale tomorrow.

Posted by curlygirl 20:50 Archived in Belize Tagged san cave g belize tubing ignacio Comments (2)

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