Friday, July 31, 2009

Art and Scribbles

Palermo, Buenos Aires

Traipsing around the city of Buenos Aires is a daily activity. There are errands to run and new parts of town to discover, cafes to try and window shopping to amuse us as we wander.
We wake up late (around 11am) and take our time making tea, oatmeal with apples, or eggs with toast. We leave the house around one and walk around for hours before finally heading home as the sun goes down and the air gets cold. By "we" I mean Rachel and I, as Lily flew home on Monday and Adam wakes up early (before 8am) to head downtown for his Spanish classes. He spends four hours a day on Spanish grammar and conversation while we drink cappuccinos and play.

Our little one-bedroom apartment is perfect. Full of light, comfortable and in a great part of town. We can walk to anything, or just walk the few blocks to the Subte (subway). Adam and I are still enamored with the hot water in the shower, and are enjoying not having to repack our things. Rachel brought me a suitcase of "city clothing" which I packed before I left. I had her remove half of it before she left, but it is wonderful to have a few more options including my pretty boots and pink coat.

Woody headed out last week, and his last night he came back from a long day at the shipping office (getting his motorcycle packed up and off to the States) with a few bottles of wine and all the fixin's for his famous beef and ginger dish. We had several conversations on our Bolivia trek talking about our favourite foods (longingly) and he had promised to fix the beef and ginger if I made apple crisp. Unfortunately, I didn't get to take part as Woody, Adam, and Lily enjoyed the wine and the food. I had food poisoning (I think) and was dry heaving and laying on the bed feeling miserable. Blech.

Woody left Wednesday, and Rachel came in on Thursday morning. We had a fun weekend, and Sunday went out to a late lunch with a couple of friends Lily had made. We started out with champagne at Cecily's apartment and after Rob showed up, the six of us headed to a lovely restaurant to enjoy three course meals, drink wine and act silly. It was a good day.

Rachel's cousin Amos and his friend Ariel are visiting the city from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel and Wednesday night the three of us met up with them for dinner and drinks in Las Canitas, a little sub-neighborhood of Palermo. We ate an amazing dinner at Las Cholas, whose candlelit tables and friendly staff set the tone for a long, luxurious dinner discussing Israeli politics, the California budget problem which includes cutting up to $4 billion from Education (and that's just the start). Yikes.
Adam headed home just after midnight, and the four of us crossed the street to share stories at bar Mona, a pretty place playing bad 80's music (shockingly, it does exist) and with fun, chatty bartenders. We came home around 3am, early by this city's standards.

Last night Rachel and I met Ariel at a local live venue called La Cigale, where we had read about some fun local bands who were to play. The bands didn't start till nearly 1am, but we had fun sitting at the teal-tiled bar sipping beer and watcing the local hipsters with their pretty hair and lyrical accents. We watched Agustina Paz and then Rosaria Ortega whose voice was reminiscent of Feist and whose band played cover songs with some serious pizazz. If you visit, check out this bar. The sound is beautiful, and it is a great, low-key place to hang out. We plan on returning.

Tonight we will go out to dinner with Amos and Ariel, and after the last place they took us I am pretty sure the food will be fantastic. Tomorrow we take a bus ride to Colonia, Uruguay for a fun day trip to wander the markets and add a stamp to our passports!

Yesterday was three years since our first date, a Manu Chau concert at the San Diego Embarcadero. It was the night of our first kiss, and the beginning of great things.

Grace and Adam

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


For those who are interested, we kept a detailed account of each expense over the last 6 months and I have attached a graphical summary by country and expense type below. If anyone has a more specific inquiry please feel free to e-mail us for details. Enjoy.

A few notes about the graphs:
1) We only spent 48 hours in Hondurus and paid $70 USD to enter (due in part to corrupt border officials). This is why the average daily expense is inflated.
2) Guatemala was surprisingly expensive.
3) The "Adult Beverages" category only includes when we went out to a bar for drinks. In the numerous cases that we picked up our Firewater at a market the expense was rolled in to "Groceries."
4) The Transportation category includes all of our taxis, buses, boats and trains. The vast majority of this category was the $1050 we spent to cross from Panama to Cartegena on the Stahlratte (
5) Before putting together the expenses we both would have readily told you that Mexico was the cheapest country to travel in Central America and Bolivia the cheapest in the South. Costa Rica the most expensive in Central and Chile/Argentina in the South.

Two for the Road Expenses

Cameras and Comments

Buenos Aires, Argentina

There is a massive thunderstorm raging outside, lightning flashing, rain pouring down.  We are keeping cozy indoors and trying to think up a plan for the day.  Most days we spend hours walking around to different parts of the city, exploring.  Today each time I look outside or see the flashes of electricity light up the apartment I am less and less tempted to rouse myself and head out.

One of my sisters who has commented many times on our stories and photos told another sister (who hasn't) that she should make some comments because we like them so much.  I would like to add that, yes, we really really do appreciate all the comments people have left, the little notes via email, and the overall enthusiasm for our trip.  It's so nice to know that you were there along the way, peeking in on the outcome of our hours uploading photos and typing out adventures.  We literally spent 3-4 hours side by side working on each update, often on unbearably slow computers.  Not that I'm asking for pity or anything.

I've just been perusing our photo library on Picasa 3 and thought I'd give a little nod to our cameras for all they've been through.  Mine finally died when it got slammed face first into the sands of the Bolivian South.  It's been difficult not to have it in my pocket as we walk around the city, so many photo opportunities passing by!  For anyone who's interested, my camera is a Canon SD1100 Powershot 8.0.  She's been lovely, takes great photos, great video, and fits snugly into almost any pocket.  Adam's camera is a Nikon D40X with a Nikor lense, 18-55 mm.  Not small, but takes beautiful photos and definitely worth bringing along for many of the grander vistas and photogenic moments.  I won't tell you which photos came from which, because that would be crazy.

Until next time,
Grace and Adam

Saturday, July 18, 2009


(San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - Buenos Aires, Argentina)

We made it! After 5 1/2 months, 12 countries, several bouts of illness, many long days and many fantastic adventures, we have arrived at our destination. Buenos Aires, inspiration for our trip in the first place, the eventual goal. Our last couple of weeks have been incredible, a bit strange knowing we were nearing the end and honestly not sure if we liked that or not. As we've become accustomed to living with very little, having our goals be a distance and our hours our own, I can only imagine that the transition back into life with apartments and bills may be a bit of a struggle. Someone suggested we get rid all of our things in storage and just start fresh. I must say that simple living, one pair of jeans and no thought needed about what to wear has been pretty nice.

Perhaps inevitably we feel ourselves pulled to do more trips and see more of the world. There is so much to see, and even with twelve countries under our belt (if one can even count our one day in Chile) the curiosity button has been activated.

After spending just one night in Chile, we headed towards the Argentinian border. There is nothing out between the border posts except for a few lonely border guards who seemed to take an especially long time on purpose just for the company. As we waited for them to do their thing, two young, bearded French guys came walking out of the wilderness wearing backpacks and using high tech walking sticks. They are apparently using their six months of vacation to walk their way around South America, --about 25-30 km a day- because (as we overheard them tell the border officials) "It's a much better way to travel."
At some point in the afternoon we finished up at the Frontera and entered Argentina. Excited, we headed toward the nearest town as the sun dropped ever lower in the sky and the air chilled. Adam tried to keep his hands warm-ish by holding them against the engine as we drove, but I'm pretty sure it didn't work well enough. After a few hours we ran out of gas in our main tank and Adam switched to the reserve. The furthest we've ever rode after switching to reserve was around 30 miles (50 km). Not knowing how much further it was to our destination we began driving slower and trying to conserve our fuel. Five minutes later we saw a sign marking the next town at 68 km. I groaned inside. The road turned from long and straight to switchbacks down a steep mountain. As the sun disappeared we strained our eyes to see as the headlight dimly flickered the way ahead. It was very cold. I was wearing two pair of wool socks but as I curled my toes in to try and warm them up a bit I could feel ice breaking between them. Sitting behind Adam I definitely enjoy some respite from the wind, so if ice was forming in my boots I can only imagine how cold he must have been. Luckily, Argentina has a stronger government infrastructure than many of the other countries we've visited, so every 5 miles or so there were SOS stations with phones to call for help. This didn't exactly make the situation any better, but at least there existed the potential for rescue. We were both sure we'd end up out in the frozen waste with no shelter, but luckily for us around 7pm we finally made it into town. Adam laid down on the bed and went to sleep immediately, as I took off his boots and socks and held them against the heater trying to get him warmed up a little. He then slept for 15 hours straight.

Our ride across Argentina was quick. After San Antonio de Los Cobres we headed toward Salta, the road winding out of the mountains on a beautiful stretch of asphalt and out onto the plains. Four days of grazing lands, cane fields, and cows. The land is amazingly flat and wide. We stayed one night in Salta which was a neat city with fun restaurants and pretty shops. We found ourselves at Hostal Tierra Oculta, which was cheap-ish, heated, and had wireless internet. It also had hot showers with gas heat! By cheap-ish I mean it was only $20 a night, but after Bolivia which was typically about $8/night for the two of us it seemed extravagantly priced, and even now we are trying to adjust.
The next night we stayed in Santiago de Estero where we had our first gas station sit-down cappuccino breakfast at an Esso station. They have wifi and espresso machines, fresh croissants and it is strange.
Our fourth night we arrived at Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires, which we've been hearing about since before our trip began. They offer a machine shop and expertise on motorcycles for travelers with a couple of bunkbeds in the back with a kitchen. We knocked at the unmarked grey door, heard keys in the latch, and when it opened, there was our friend Woody who we'd left in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile! He'd decided to save Southern Chile for another trip, and had arrived a few minutes before us. There was also an Australian couple there, Hannah and Owen, who had bought a KLR 650 from a friend we'd met on the Stahlratte from Panama to Colombia, and were gearing up for a 1 year trip around South America. It was fun to hear about their preparations and share a little of what we've learned along the way.
Two nights there, and then we got up early to get the keys for our little apartment! Woody came along to see it, and after moving our stuff in we met him down the street at a little cafe for cafe con leche (cappuccinos) and fresh pastries.
The next two days we filled the cupboards with food, I cooked three meals a day and we settled in. We also did laundry and wandered around the city learning our way around the neighborhood. We have a great place with a lovely view and easy access to the Subte (subway lines), the Train, and an amazing network of buses.
We spent two lazy evenings drinking Malbec and enjoying home cooked food. We turned the heater up and took long, hot showers. I enjoyed several containers of small, crunchy pickles and Adam made himself comfy on the couch taking naps and curling up with blankets. It was a good start to our stay.

Lily arrived on Wednesday, and we headed out to Recoleta Cemetery. We've filled the last couple of days with city walks, sitting at cafes, and cooking dinner while sipping wine and listening to music. Woody joined us last night, and I made chicken stroganoff with rice and apple crisp. A bottle of decent wine is about 5 pesos (less than $2) and that's fun.

There are street markets and tango shows on the weekends, and we're planning on taking some more Spanish classes. As for the hours in between, I'm sure we'll find something to do.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Willy the Penguin

(Uyuni, Bolivia - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)

Well, it took Willy the mechanic about an hour and a half to remove and disassemble the carburator, identify and fix the problem, and put it all back together again, all while Grace waited for us in the temperature controlled comfort of the Salt bar. It turned out that the carb float plunger needed to be slightly adjusted because it was overflowing the float chamber and fouling the spark plug. He charged me $6 for his time. Awesome.
After closely examining our intended route to the South we decided that both of the bikes were gonna need to re-fuel about halfway to Chile, and as far as anyone knew there was no place to purchase gas on the way. We decided to buy two 30 liter jerry cans and send them ahead of us with one of the tour groups to be dropped off at a predetermined meeting point. We had already made friends with the tour organizer at "Ripley's Tours" just off the main plaza and the guy spoke good english and appeared to understand our instructions, so we decided to try our luck with them. We filled up the cans and dropped them off at the office with plans to rendesvous with them at a Hostel on the edge of Laguna Hedionda, 2 days out of Uyuni.
We paid him $10 per can for the transport and honestly gave ourselves about a 50/50 chance of ever seeing the gas again. Although very friendly, we started to question his ability to make it all happen when he started to explain how GPS is useless in the Salar because it's some sort of Bermuda Triangle of cosmic forces. (FYI: Our GPS worked just fine.) We later found that there was a little store in Laguna Colorada that had gas for sale for 5 Bolivianos per liter. We wouldn't have made it that far before running out, but it was nice to know that we wouldn't have been entirely on our own if the drop-off hadn't worked.

The following morning, on our 3rd attempt to leave Uyuni we finally met with success and sped out across the salt flat towards the Isla del Pescado, a cactus covered land mass that stands out of the salt as a marker in the sea. It took about an hour of high speed riding to reach the rock and by the time we pulled over for a break we were chilled to the bone. Woody pulled out his camping stove (which later proved to be the most indispensable item on "our" packing list) and heated up some tea. Meanwhile, Grace and I ventured out into the barren expanse of white to have a little fun with some perspective photography.
We had been anticipating this opportunity ever since arriving in Bolivia and hearing stories from other travelers. We even picked up a couple props at a toy store in Potosi which we planned to incorporate in our fun. Have a look at our photos to see how they turned out.
It cost 50 bolivianos to hike around on the island so we decided we were plenty happy to just hang around and relax out front. When we arrived around 11:30 there were only a few jeeps lined up out front, but by departure time an hour and a half later the island was surrounded by 4 wheel drive tour groups clamoring over the rocks and joking around in various languages at their lunch tables.

We headed South towards the edge of the Salar, this time following the tour company route. It's marked very clearly by the bits of rubber that over time have been ground into the salt by a thousand land cruisers passing the same way each day. This black road led us to a well worn dirt and sand road at the edge of the Salar that wound it's way into the red and brown hills. Thus began the misery.
For the remainder of the day we were either riding in deep, unpredictable sand or chattering our way along spine compacting washboard. Honestly, you may think that these two conditions wouldn't happily coexist considering their difference in consistencies, but they turned out to be truly spectacular bed mates. We pulled into San Juan after a dusty and tiring afternoon ride and settled in for the night at Alojamiento Sol de MaƱana for 30 Bolivianos. Woody whipped up some rice and tuna with asparagus sauce for dinner on the camp stove and we crashed out.

The next morning took us South, once again fighting our way through sandy ruts and rocky hillsides. The tour companies generally spend a 12 hour day driving all the way down to Laguna Colorada from San Juan but we had decided to divide up the trip and stop for the night at Laguna Hedionda. We were planning on meeting up with our reserve gas tanks at the hostel there and we decided we would spend the night as well.
The beginning of the day was slow going and resulted in a couple low speed wipe outs in the sand before reaching a wide and flat East-West roadway that had the appearance of asphalt highway ground work. We picked up the pace and drove East through some incredible rock piles that Grace claimed looked like giant prehistoric remains. After a short time, at the suggestion of our GPS, we turned off the highway onto what would be the most violent road we had yet to ride. The unavoidable rocks embedded throughout the roadway were a true test of our suspensions and caused more than one headache.
As we reached a particularly tough section, Woody realized that his camera was missing from it's case strapped to the gas tank. The camera had all of his photos from Peru and Bolivia and would be a tragic loss. Luckily, after walking 20 minutes back down the road with his eyes peeled, he found it on the roadside at the start of the rocky section. The lens was filled with dust and didn't want to open, but at least all the pictures were there. Another 3km down the road I noticed that our GPS had fallen off as well! I backtracked on Pete while Woody walked the trail on foot and luckily I found it upside down on the trail. Two close calls in a row that would have been major downers for the day.

After one or two more minor crashes, one of which tore a sizable hole in our side case, we pulled into the Laguna Hedionda hostal with about an hour or two of daylight remaining. We were thrilled to find our gas tanks waiting for us in the corner of the restaurant, but were thoroughly dismayed to hear that the rate for staying at the hostal was FIFTY US DOLLARS PER PERSON! Now, this may not sound like the craziest number in the world, but considering we hadn't been paying more than 3 to 5 dollars per person in Bolivia thus far, we found it absolutely outrageous. Thus began the bargaining. We begged them to work out something more reasonable and we eventually agreed to pay $7 per person to sleep (with the bikes) on the floor of their restaurant. They provided some cheap cushions and Grace and I shared a sleeping bag. We did not get a good nights' sleep. The hostal owner locked us in for the night and told us to wake him up if we needed to use the restroom or get outside. This knowledge did NOT sit well with Grace and I ended up peeing in a plastic bottle at 1am.
Before heading out the next day we traded our fuel jugs for a few snickers and some processed donuts. We made a quick pace on wide open deserts, bouncing in and out of the tour jeep ruts trying to stay upright. We learned it was far easier to ride at an angle than trying to ride down a single groove. The mountains rose up in amazing shades of orange and red that reminded me of the glass sand swirl artwork on my grandma's mantle piece that would create beautiful shapes in black and white when turned over in my hands.
We slipped into the national park at Laguna Colorada without paying the 50 boliviano entrance fee and skirted the edge of the lake to take pictures of the flamingos strutting about in the bright red waters. With a little help from one of the tour guides that was parked at the lake's edge we were pointed in the direction of Huallajara where we spent the night.

One final cold night in the mountains and we were on our way to Chile. We dropped off our paperwork at the Bolivian Aduana about 2 hours north of the border and headed for a natural hot spring to soak our weary muscles. The water was spectacular and the timing couldn't have been better. We had lunch at the little restaurant there and set our sights on the border. We already had our passports stamped in Uyuni so we didn't have to do a thing as we entered our 11th country. About 5km in we hit a smooth asphalt highway that we followed 40km West and 2000m down into the warmth of San Pedro de Atacama.
Checking into Chile was a piece of cake and, just as we were getting ready to search the town for a place to stay, we ran into a fellow biker named Eric on a KTM 950 Adventure who showed us down the road to the cheapest Hostal around. Twenty-seven US dollars (Booooo!!!) got us a double room and we settled in for the night, happy to be out of the mountains safe and sound.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Beautiful Nothing

Before we post photos and tell stories, this last week deserves a little posting all its own. We have been challenged and frustrated, awed and thrilled. I am listening to Madeleine Peyroux, thinking of the frozen wilderness of the Salar de Uyuni and the way South toward the Chile border. The roads are a dismal combination of washboard and sand that tossed both of the bikes over several times a day, and bouldery rocks that shook bones and rattled bolts. Truly the most challenging few days of riding on our trip, and the most satisfying to have come through. I'll never forget the mountains with their vibrant colours, the high desert landscape like nothing I've ever seen. We crossed frozen rivers and ancient seabeds and saw hardly a soul for four days.

That said, yes, there will be photos. And yes, we might have starved without Woody and his little stove. Thanks Woody, for an incredible ride.
Just beginning to warm up,
Grace and Adam

Friday, July 3, 2009

Below Zero, Wow.

(Potosi, Bolivia - Uyuni, Bolivia)

Well, gee. We are spending our third night in Uyuni (nights composed of sub-zero temperatures, literally) due to some unforeseen and not-quite-understood engine problems with Peter the Girl. Poor little motorcycle.
We arrived on Wednesday and as we hit the central road into town, there was Woody coming back from a little jaunt out onto the Salt Flats of the Salar de Uyuni! Dinner was burgers at a local pub whose floors are 5 inches thick with salt and fun to crunch around on. Also, their walls are covered with photos from other visitors to the Flats, taking surreal and funny shots, playing with perspective.
The next morning we had a list of things to take care of, including washing the bikes and covering them in WD40 to help shield their parts from the highly corrosive Bike Killer Salt. Woody was having anti-freeze issues (due to a sneaky mechanic in Colombia) which meant taking apart his KTM 950 and draining then re-draining the fluids, and replacing them with a proper ratio of water to anti-freeze. I feel like we had some problems with Peter, too, but I can 't remember what they were. More on that later, I guess. Finally, around 3pm, we headed out to see the Train Graveyard just outside of town. We ate sandwiches on top of an old cargo car, and then headed out toward the white. It is amazing. You can see things far off in the distance as if they are rather close. Driving toward the Salt Hotel (made nearly entirely out of blocks of salt) we could see it from the moment our tires hit the salt, but it would be another 45 minutes before we 'd reach it. Woody camped out in the freezingness, testing his hardiness. We were very impressed, but chose to return to Uyuni to sleep at the hotel.

This morning we woke up around 7am, packed the bike, ordered some takeout egg sandwiches for our breakfast (and Woody 's) and planned to head to the little town of Colchani about 40 minutes away meeting Woody at 9am. The bike 's been having a hard time starting in the freezing cold air of morning, so Adam parked her out in the sunshine hoping it would warm her up. Nope. Trying and trying to start her ended in a dead battery, and apparently no one in town has jumper cables. Finally a guy rolled up, took out his battery and held it up to our so we could try and charge it. Unfortunately, his battery went dead too. Two hours after we were meant to meet Woody, he came rolling up. Just as his tire went flat, having been pierced by a FOUR inch nail. Crazy! Adam changed our spark plug, charged up the battery at a nearby mechanic shop (which took 1 1/2 hours), Woody changed his tire, and it was 3pm. Finally, we loaded up and put our helmets on, ready at last. It was then that we found out Woody 's battery had died. Sadly, his bike won 't jumpstart going less than 15-20 miles an hour, and his battery was now strapped in under a whole lot of gear. They tried to push with Peter, then by just running behind and pushing, and finally he unloaded all of his gear and they jumped it. Woody has jumper cables.
So! After all of this we were at last under way. We headed along a little sandy road and were within about 1/2 a mile of the salt 's edge, when Peter 's engine shut down. We couldn 't get it started. Luckily, we were only 9km from town, but after about an hour of trying everything they could think of (I watched and took photos, of course) and with the sun heading downward we decided to head back to Uyuni. Again. Woody had a few lengths of rope and straps and towed us back to the hotel.

Now they are outside on a sidewalk somewhere, getting help from a mechanic who thinks it has something to do with the carborator. It is after 7pm, dark, really extremely cold, and getting colder. Night temperatures are below zero, and I just hope they figure it out soon!

As for me, I am heading to the pub with the salt floor. They have heaters and boozie beverages, and since I can 't help with the motorcycle stuff, it sounds like the best place for me.

If all goes well we 'll finally head out tomorrow and continue South. It 'll be an exciting and rugged road, as we head for the border with Chile at San Pedro de Atacama. I 'll let you know how it works out.

Cheers! Grace (and Adam from his icy little workspace on the sidewalk)