Wonder of the World #1 – Machu Picchu

We woke up at 4am. We then waited in line for an hour to get on the bus that would take us up to Machu Picchu. I have never seen so many people wait in a line at that hour of the day. But it was more than worth it.

We were lucky to be some of the first people to enter the park. There was another option to hike up to Machu Picchu but as we had another hike ahead of us, the bus was the best option. We spent the next hour wandering the ruins and listening to the tour guide, me catching every fourth word in Spanish.

We had an entrance ticket to Wayna Picchu at 10am. Also known as Huayna Picchu, only 400 total can climb each day, 200 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon. We had the 10am pass so as long as we started our climb before then, we were guaranteed entry.

I thought getting the ticket was the hard part but little did I know, I was gearing up for the hardest climb I had encountered yet. Oh, and did I mention I had a backpack with a computer in it? Yea, word of advice, use the lockers outside of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately I didn’t know about them until it was too late.

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The beginning of the climb.. you have to go down to go up.

The next hour would be spent climbing steep stairs with people crossing up and down. It was hard. You stopped asking people how much longer because you truly did not want to know. I was out of shape, but I was even more impressed by some of the people doing the climb who were three times my age. What happens if someone had a heart attack or broke something during this climb? Must think happy thoughts….

Some people brought oxygen along the way. You also forget that you are quite a bit above sea level (7,972′) and simply breathing is a challenge in itself. We had some coca leaves which helped you to keep going when you wanted to quit.

All said and done, it was so so worth it. If you take all the time and money to get to Machu Picchu, make sure you plan well enough in advance to climb Huayna Picchu as well. I can’t say enough good things. All I can do is give you a taste of the victory you will feel when you reach the top.

 

It was exhilarating. It is clear why it is a wonder of the world and why it is on seemingly everyone’s bucket list. I would do it all again in a minute.

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one last look…

What are you waiting for?

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Uyuni Day 1 & 2: The beginning of Bolivia

We started the next morning at 8am at the location of the tour office to be picked up. The first half hour was just driving to cross the border and going through border patrol in Chile and then in Bolivia. Both were pretty simple but it was already a bit chile and we hadn’t even reached altitude. We had a brief breakfast before our first stops, Laguna verde y laguna blanco.

The views out here are incredible and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

The next stop was the thermals which was amazing! If there was any place I’d be quite content for hanging around for a few hours it would surely be this one. The view out of the baths was breathtaking and the water was a perfect temperature. The sun was shinging and you were surrounded by mountains. Not sure what more you could ask for. You do have to pay a nominal fee to enter but for 6 bolivianos or just less than a dollar, it is worth it.

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

We then headed off (somewhat reluctantly) to the Salvador dali desert where the landscapes resemble something out of his art. I think we stopped at a few other lagunas and some geisers along the way but they all seemed to pale in comparison to laguna Colorado. We had our lunch first and settled into our rooms for the night but then we took our own walk around the lake.

Laguna Colorado seems to appear out of the middle of no where. There are so many flamingos as well. You can hike up a relatively minor hill and then look out over the whole laguna. There is also a mini lookout point where you can learn some information about flamingos.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

After some nature viewing, we headed back for tea and then dinner. During the tour, you are with the people in your car the entire time. You become pretty close. My car had a couple with one being from Michigan and another from New Zealand, and another couple from France. I had a great car and everyone was so friendly and easy to talk to. I even learned a new card game from Italy called scopa.

The next day we left around 8 and crossed more of the Uyani area. The Uyuni area of Boliva is huge and you just stare in awe a lot of the time at how much space and untouched nature there is. We stopped at a few more lagoons called the altiplanos lagunas. Who knew there were so many lagooons in the middle of the desert? As we decreased in altitude the weather got a bit better and not quite as cold. We were at almost 5000 meters the night before. That night we stayed at the hostel de sal. It is right outside the salt flats.

We had hot showers and electricity and after some time without these now accustomed to luxuries, they felt amazing. The next day was the main feature, the Salt Flats.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Supposedly one of the driest places on earth

I was immediately nervous coming into San Pedro. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and when you arrive at the bus station all you see are little shacks on the side of the road. There are barely any street signs when you arrive so finding where I was staying was not the easiest task. I fortunately had 3G service still (kind of crazy in the middle of the desert, thanks T-mobile!) and was able to map my way to the hostel.

For those of you who are not familiar with San Pedro de Atacama, it is a desert town in the northeastern corner of Chile. It is surrounded by the Atacama desert and is very remote. The buses only go every other day from Argentina and that is mostly for tourists. It is one of the driest places on earth, although it seemed to rain at least a bit every day I was there. It also is one of the places on earth with the least light pollution making it a prime spot for those who enjoy star gazing.

San Pedro de Atacama is not much of a town. It is pricey compared to other parts of Chile and South America (as everything is brought in) and it consists of only a few blocks. Even more so, most of those few blocks are filled with tour companies. It is overwhelming. Especially for someone like myself who likes to do too much research and overthink options.

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One of the main streets in San Pedro de Atacama. The downtown consists of around 5 x 5 blocks.

I should have done a bit more research before I left. I ultimately planned on staying only two nights and heading to Arica, Chile before heading into Peru. This is one of the best things about solo travel. You can change your itinerary in the course of a few hours. That is exactly what I did.

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I basically decided on which tour I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do Geisers and I wanted to do something that took up most of the day. I ended up settling on Salar de Tara for 35.000 CP (~55 USD). We (other people on the tour) were picked up at our hostels just after 8am. We then headed to the only road out into the middle of the desert where luck would have it, was closed do to a bit of snow, which they aren’t really used to here.

The tour guide took us all back to our hostels and told us if he wasn’t back by 11, we wouldn’t be doing the tour. Well, I went back to bed after waking up at like 6am. An hour later, still asleep, a knock on the door and I was whisked off again for this tour. The road had opened.

Our first stop on the Salar de Tara tour. The landscape was unlike anything I've seen before.

Our first stop on the Salar de Tara tour. The landscape was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The drive out was pretty long. We stopped at the first lagoon to have breakfast which consisted of Avocado and cheese on bread. We then proceeded to drive through the desert. This was the first time I had done something like this. The views were amazing and it was very cool to see the driver just follow other paths in the rocky sand or make his own path based on previous knowledge. We eventually arrived at the stone cathedrals, where we took some pictures and just stood in awe of the power of water and wind.

The Salar de Tara and myself. It was pretty incredible to see this oasis in the middle of the desert after driving for over an hour.

The Salar de Tara and myself. It was pretty incredible to see this oasis in the middle of the desert after driving for over an hour.

The next stop was the Salar de Tara which is not the typical Salt flat you imagine. It was a bit more of a lagoon like oasis. There were flamingos and what stood out the most were the colors. The Salar de Tara is amazing. It is a gorgeous site and we stopped and had our next meal there.

The stone monks in the middle of the desert outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

The stone monks in the middle of the desert outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Our last stop was the entrance to the national reserve which had the stone monks, or tall stones standing alone once again carved by wind and water. It is beautiful out in the desert and amazing to see so much untouched land after so much time in cities. This last stop I was once again told I should go to Uyuni in Bolivia and I couldn’t miss it.

That pretty much sealed the deal. I couldn’t avoid Uyuni. Everyone was telling me to go. I felt like I was missing out if I didn’t, and the original Visa fee I didn’t want to pay, was less than half what I anticipated. Given the facts, I arrived back in town around 7 that night and began my research. To be continued.

The one thing you should do in Salta, Argentina

They call Salta la linda because it is so picturesque and lovely. When I arrived it was raining a bit. So I can’t say I had the best first impression. I also used couch surfing for the first time. It ended up being in a hostel called Loki Salta, or a famous party hostel in South America.

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

That was the mistake of Salta. I should have stayed closer to the city and at a hostel that didn’t try to nickel and dime you for everything (food, drink, etc.). I mean it was free so how much can I complain?

If you know me, quite a bit so I’ll just focus on the city. I am not a good tourist. I get really tired of the touristy things. I enjoy eating and walking in a city more than anything else. Salta is a great place to walk and explore. The food was a bit harder and I ended up eating quite a bit just at the hostel. Convenience won in this case.

The only thing I really did, partially due to less than great weather, is hike up the hill that had a great view of the city. It was about an hour walk up and another hour walk down. You can take the funicular but that takes most of the fun out of it. This is the one thing I recommend doing above all in Salta. 

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

I think pictures can say more about Salta than I can. I heard the areas around Salta are nicer but I didn’t get to do an excursion. Maybe I did not give it enough chance, but I think I prefer Cordoba.

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Salta, La Linda

Salta, La Linda

Sierras de Cordoba – Alta Gracia y Villa Carlos Paz

Cordoba is surrounded by mountains called the Sierras de Cordoba which makes Cordoba a great base for those who like nature. I did not venture too far from Cordoba but I did have a chance to visit two nearby cities. It is quite cheap to venture out, around 20 pesos each way, or just under $2 dollars which makes it an affordable day trip.

Alta Gracia is known for being the childhood home of Che Guevara. Che is known as  a revolutionary. He was born in Rosario, Argentina. (Can you guess what other famous figure calls this town home?) He then moved to Alta Gracia with his family where he grew up which helped with his asthma due to the cities many green spaces and clean air.

A statue of 'Che' as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

A statue of ‘Che’ as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

‘Che’ as he was called (also a slang term of endearment in argentina, kind of like saying guy) went on to tour Latin America where he connected with locals and the indigenous. He studied medicine so he spent much time in leppar colonies. Later in life, he met Fidel Castro and fought beside him to overthrow the leadership in Cuba. He was honored with a Cuban passport and a position in the government. Later he fled to Bolivia where he also focused on gathering troops as part of the guerrilla war. Later, he was found and killed by the local Bolivian government, supposedly under orders from the U.S..

Che's Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Che’s Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Given that I am from the U.S., and Che’s given disdain of all things American and our influence around the world, I am torn on the topic. It is clear that Argentineans love Che and I believe many of his ideas are good, if not idealistic. However, I still love and appreciate my country and the opportunities it has offered me. It would have been very interesting to see what Che thought of Cuba in the present day, Argentina during the dictatorship, and various other occurrences after his death.

I’ve gone completely off topic now. The museum of Che’s childhood home is a must though. Although, they do charge differently based on where you are from. Basically, don’t say you are from the U.S. I think any other country would be better, and if you speak Spanish, say you are from Argentina.

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It is a nice city to just walk around as well. There is a small river and a few other museums if you care to check out.

Villa Carlos Paz was the other town I visited. This town has a larger lake, a casino, and a kukuclock which is much smaller than I expected. Carlos Paz is a nice place to escape the crowds in the city and just chill out. There isn’t a ton to it so if you skip it, you aren’t missing out.

There are some other towns around Cordoba such as Villa Belgrano and La Cumbrecita that are supposed to be lovely but I ran out of time to check out. I recommend exploring a bit outside the city of Cordoba in order to get a real taste of the area and the beauty that surrounds it.

Ramblings on Happiness

Coming back to Barcelona is like coming home. There are so many emotions. I get so excited. I just love being in that city. What makes it doubly nice is that I actually know people there too. I spent most of my time just wandering around the city that I love. Which also, allowed me to visit just about every Zara the city has and thanks to some of the amazing sales going on, I just had to buy a few things.

Cafe con Leche y un croissant is also a must have every time I return to Barcelona, for me.

Cafe con Leche y un croissant is also a must have every time I return to Barcelona, for me.

I left a few things behind in Barcelona, like my heart. JK. I really left behind like a jacket and old shoes and sweaters. But seriously. It was so hard to leave. I was so sad. The days went by so fast. And it was so good to see friends I hadn’t seen in years. But new adventures await and without change, without growth, we’d become bored, or worse, boring ourselves.

I’ve spent a bunch of time in Barcelona so I apologize but I won’t be making a post about touring the city. I highly recommend trying to get to know the locals as they will give you the best advice. I went to a restaurant with my friend and they were out of the potatoes. My friend said she would give them a 1 star on Trip Advisor to which the manager responded, “Please do, Tell everyone it is the worst.”. This is the world we live in. Somethings are meant to be special and not exploited online. So I will not be sharing this wonderful place. But if you find yourself in Barcelona, you can message me and I’ll tell you if you are lucky. It is dominated by locals. (the Place was amazing and I had some of the best Rose Cava).

In Barcelona, it is hard to find a good place for salads. However, Flax & Kale is amazing for the vegetarian and salad lovers.

In Barcelona, it is hard to find a good place for salads. However, Flax & Kale is amazing for the vegetarian and salad lovers.

On the plane ride over to South America, I watched a film called Hector and the Search for Happiness. It was a bit corny at parts but I could relate. This man, a psychiatrist, leaves everything behind in London, and goes on a journey to ask random people what happiness is to them, and if they are happy. Long story short, he finds out that the journey is more important than the goal of being happy, that the journey was really about him being happy, and that happiness is the result of challenges and changes.

Barcelona is definitely one of my happy places. What is yours?

Barcelona is definitely one of my happy places. What is yours?

I know this too well. Someone will ask why I’m not happy. And you can’t just explain it. Troubles aside, which always seem to come and go, I have a conscious feeling when I’m not living up to my expectations. I could feel myself becoming stagnant at home. I tried to do things to change things up, but after a month or two, I’d become bored and go back to the easy life. I can’t just be happy. It is certainly the results of action. Like when I booked my flight. I was giddy. Straight up so excited. The overwhelming potential, the realization that it was happening, and the fact that I had previously worked hard for something I wanted and I could finally reach the finish line (one of many that are sure to come throughout life).

You alone are responsible for your happiness and you have a right to it. You alone, can figure out how to be happy, or what will bring you happiness. Some people need the stability of a home. Some need the adventure of the unknown. I need that unknown. That hope that something greater than my wildest dreams could happen. Because in honesty, that was how I initially felt about Barcelona. Believe it or not, when I finally settled on Barcelona during college, I was a bit sad and suspicious. I had wished MSU had a program at Madrid, or wondered if I would have liked Mexico more. Little did I know, I was going to a city that I would forever be having a neverending love affair with.

So the bottom line? Take the chance even if it scares you. Do something unknown, even if you aren’t sure if you will like it. Because you will never know, if you don’t make a decision. You will never grow, if you stay in the same spot. Life is meant to be lived in full color and motion.