Leaving For La Paz

April 18th, 2014 by Calvin Sun


Feeling a little dizzy from the altitude sickness that everyone experiences in La Paz, so I’ll make this entry as straightforward as possible…

The 11 of us woke up at 5:30am this morning in Valparaiso and pre-booked 3 cabs to pick us up from the hostel for the bus terminal:

 

Paid about 2400 Chilean pesos ($4.50 USD) per person for the 2 hour bus ride to Santiago via Tur Bus. Left at 6:46am and got there 8:35am:


There I had my friend from Richmond, VA — Julie Bravo — meet us for breakfast! She’s doing a study abroad here for the year at Universidad de Catolica on Latin American studies, so I figured, why not meet up if we’re in the area?


Afterwards we hopped on a 1700 Chilean Peso ($2 USD) Tur-Bus for the airport, which took about a breezy 30 minutes. Then we got on our LAN flight and flew to Iquique for a brief stopover:

View over Santiago

Landing in Iquique, Chile


At Iquique, we were asked to get off the plane to go through immigration formalities exiting Chile:


Then we reboarded the same plane for La Paz. The whole process took about 45 minutes:

La Paz Immigration Control


Once arriving into La Paz after 45 minutes in the air, almost everything started to go wrong:

  1. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, and its El Alto Airport is the highest international airport in the world at over 4000m (11,000ft) above sea level. So all 11 of us immediately started to feel severe symptoms of altitude sickness the moment we got off the plane: light-headedness, dizziness, headache, etc. Some of our lips have turned purple.
  2. They didn’t have enough immigration visa forms for us to fill out so we ended up waiting an hour for them
  3. They took only USD cash for the visa ($135 USD) which many of us didn’t have
  4. When trying to get money out of the ATMs for the visa (which was on the other side of the airport), one of them ate Shanika’s card
  5. Karthik realized he left his memory card (that has all his photos of the trip) back in Chile

On the bright side, their airport has free (and FAST) wifi! Here’s hoping that the rest of our stay in Bolivia gets better.

- At time of posting in La Paz, it was 48.2 °F -

Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 9km/hr | Cloud Cover: haze

Aftermath of a Disaster: iFuerza Valpo!

April 17th, 2014 by Calvin Sun

This was Valparaiso 4 days ago:

Photo taken by AFP and reported on BBC; Fire rages in Valparaiso, Chile – 12 April 2014

And Valparaiso is where we are right now:

The region affected by the fire when we went

It’s been all over the news. And little did we know what we were going into (backpacking can take your mind off of the TV and current events for quite a bit) until yesterday when one of my friends living in Santiago gave me a heads up about it.

Relief efforts for victims of the fire

By the time we all fully digested how bad this was, we were already on our way to Valparaiso.

Our stay here in Valparaiso surprisingly was unaffected by the fire. I wished there was something we could do for the city, but it seemed that when I asked around, the government didn’t want foreign tourists to get involved and that they had the situation fully under control.

So we did our best to enjoy Valparaiso as much as we could, and support the residents of this wonderful city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. iFuerza Valpo!

So Valpo, how pretty are you?

We started our day by trying to take money out of the ATMs, whereby I was able to convince my bank to unblock my ATM card — the one that got skimmed in Rio — for a few minutes so I could take out some cash. Instead it would then get eaten by the machine — as in, it was confiscated and presumably destroyed. How fitting.

As I was trying to sort this out, I let the group go ahead, but slowly.

But I would lose them anyway. They had both my maps so I wandered blind around Valparaiso for about an hour alone.

Didn’t mean I couldn’t find great sights myself:

 

I managed to bum wifi off from a nearby museum (500 Chilean pesos if you’re a student), and managed to find my group at a nearby café.

From there we began exploring. And that is essentially what you do in Valparaiso: walk and explore. It doesn’t matter what we tell you about where to go…just let yourself wander aimlessly here and the city will reward you in kind.

 

Part of the must-do in Valparaiso is to ride the old school furnicular ascensors up the hills instead of climbing endless stairs. They’re a 100 Chilean pesos each:

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- At time of posting in Valparaiso, it was 53.6 °F -

Humidity: 20% | Wind Speed: 17km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a

From The Atlantic to The Pacific: From Buenos Aires to Valparaiso

April 17th, 2014 by Calvin Sun

In our 2nd day in Buenos Aires, I led the gang up to check out Recoleta Cemetery. Afterwards, they continued onwards to the parks of Palermo while I found a cafe and caught up on work. We rendezvous’ed back at the hostel in the late afternoon and began our 30-hour journey to Valparaiso, Chile, located on the other extreme side of the South American continent.

Yes, we literally just crossed an entire continent — east to west, edge to edge, from the Atlantic to the Pacific – in 30 hours.

Here’s what we saw:

The Argentine/Chilean border in the Andes Mountains just got served

Navigating our way around the streets of Valparaiso in the dead of night

We started our journey on the Buenos Aires subway: 

 

Got out at Retiro Train Station:

 

…And headed over to the Retiro Bus Terminal to catch a 08:30pm overnight CATA International Bus to Mendoza:

On the bus, we kicked back in our Royal First Class Suites…check out these digs (including 180 degree reclining beds, personal TVs, steak for dinner, and decently fast but spotty wifi):

Woke up the next morning in Mendoza with a 09:30am arrival:

Spent about 20 minutes “checking out Mendoza” (as in, walking a circle around the bus terminal looking for a way out of the wide avenues and overpasses surrounding the bus station) before running back and catching a 10:30am Andesmar bus to Santiago:

Passed by the famous vineyards of Mendoza:

 

But then, about an hour later, we were treated to possibly one of the most beautiful drives in the world: The Andes Mountains. To get to Santiago from Mendoza, you have to drive THROUGH the Andes Mountain ranges, which means you’ll get views such as these for the next 6-7 hours:

 

We then approached the famous “Hills of 7 Colors”:

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- At time of posting in Valparaiso, Chile, it was 59 °F -

Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 17km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

Back to Buenos Aires

April 15th, 2014 by Calvin Sun

 

The gang at La Cabrera

 

Taking a 7pm bus leaving from Puerto Iguazu the night before, we arrived into Buenos Aires at 12:45pm the next day.

Fun fact: at this point I would have arrived into Buenos Aires in all 4 modes of transportation (air, train, ferry, and bus) within a span of 5 months (yes, cool story bro).

It’s good to be back so soon.

Leading the group by subway to our hostel

 

While everyone else went exploring on the same itinerary I did 4 months ago, I went to Galerias Pacificas to go shopping for some missing and broken items on the trip: iPhone 5 charger ($75 USD!!!), light waterproof jacket ($110 USD!!!)…even with the peso in freefall, things can get expensive in BA!

After reconvening at the hostel at 5pm, we then headed to La Cabrera in the Palermo Soho neighborhood for the 40% off happy hour (40% off all menu items and wine!) from 6:30-7:45pm. Unfortunately, we missed the happy hour by half an hour so we settled for regular dinner instead, which wasn’t so bad: their malbec house wine goes for $10 USD a bottle, and a ribeye steak for 2 goes for about $30 USD:

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- At time of posting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it was 53.6 °F -

Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly clear

Iguazu Falls And 3 Countries In 1 Day

April 15th, 2014 by Calvin Sun

Every single person and guide book out there tells you that if you’re going to visit Iguazu Falls, you *must* spend one day EACH on either side (Brazil and Argentina). Well, in true Monsoon fashion, we decide to do the impossible and not only do BOTH sides in one day but also cram in room for a side trip to Paraguay before having to catch a 7pm overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

Could we do it? Let me show you our one epic day in a nutshell:

Iguazu Falls and a random American tourist in my way just got served

Iguazu Falls just got served

The Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

Panorama of the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

Then we got into Paraguay without anyone checking our visas or passports…!

The ‘Supermarket of South America’ just got served

The Argentine side of Iguazu Falls

Here’s how we did it:

BRAZIL

 

We started off our day early by waking up at 7:30am at our hostel in Fos de Iguacu, Brazil (at Iguassu Guest House). We booked it to the 8:15am Bus #120 from the Fos de Iguacu Bus Terminal to the Iguazu Falls entrance (about a 30min bus ride, costing 2.85 Brazilian Reals):

At 09:00am, the ticket booths opened and after storing our luggage in their left luggage facility and waiting about 10 minutes in line, we paid the 50 Brazilian Reals entrance fee which included a bus ticket straight to the falls:

And with a hop and skip away, we were immediately at the entrance of the falls by 9:40am:

You have seen nothing yet

 

From there you begin a 1km hike. And somewhere along the way a band of opossums attacked Chris and stole his food:

We trudged onwards, undeterred by Chris’ defeat:

 

You’ll see a catwalk leading directly to the opening of Devil’s Throat. Walk it.

 

And then you’ll gape at where the river descends into…

Trace your steps back to the beginning of the catwalk and head up into the viewing elevators to your right:

At this point it was about 11:00am.

PARAGUAY

Returning to the entrance of the Brazilian side of the falls at around 11:30am, we split the group into the daring vs. the not so daring. With the limited amount of time that we had, I figured we could throw sanity out the window and also include a brief visit to neighboring Paraguay…because why not?

So the 4 of us (Natasha, Ben, Karthik, and myself) found a cab driver willing to take us not only to the border but through it and back and then to the Argentina side of the falls for a mere 300 Brazilian reals (split among the 4 of us, it wasn’t a bad deal.

So off we went:

After passing through the Brazilian border with nobody stamping our passports exiting the country (I guess they assumed we’d be coming back anyway?), we began to cross the Friendship Bridge between Brazil and Paraguay at around 12:00pm:

We then approached the Paraguay border:

And then an unbelievable thing happened: our car just literally went through Paraguay passport control without being stopped. That’s right, nobody bothered to check for our visas or passports! We felt like we had just violated international law. But it’s really not our fault if nobody bothered to do their job…

And immediately past passport control is the city of Ciudad del Este itself, famous for its contraband goods from all over the world that would earn it its nickname “The Supermarket of South America.” It was as if we accidentally descended upon an apocalyptic ghost town; literally nobody was around and we were probably the only tourists within at least a 5 mile radius. For once, we felt we were doing something off the beaten path.

Definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

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- At time of posting in Iguazu Falls, it was 55.4 °F -

Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

A Night in Fos de Iguacu

April 13th, 2014 by Calvin Sun


Flew into Fos de Iguacu via TAM airlines, and at one point during the 2 hour flight I went to offer my medical expertise to help a passenger that appeared to have had a seizure. There also happened to be 3 other U.S. trained Emergency Medicine docs on the plane as well, so he was in good hands. Random story, but like I had to mention it.

We also played a game of musical chairs on the flight prior to take off that ended up in my making a new friend who sat next to me as we talked about travel and what it means to us. It was one of those travel moments that reveals some kind of force out there that compels people with similar energies/wavelengths to connect. I’m glad it happened this early on the trip.


We touched down at around 7:30pm and took Bus 120 to the city center (about 2.85 Brazilian Reals, taking about 30min):

 

After dropping off our stuff at our hostel — Iguassu Guest House — we walked 5 minutes to their version of Costco to go shopping. We’re preparing a long day of hiking tomorrow:

Yes, this is a real shopping cart that I used!


We then pigged out on some Brazilian Churrascaria all-you-can-eat BBQ at Buffalo Branco. It’s about 70 Brazilian Reals per person, but you get a 20% discount if you’re staying at Iguassu Guest House (which we did):


Noms. That’s all I can say:


So we’re turning in early tonight as we got a big day tomorrow: We’re doing Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides in 1 day instead of the recommended 2. So call us crazy…yeah that’s it. We’re crazy.

- At time of posting in Fos de Iguacu, Brazil, it was 64.4 °F -

Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: mostly cloudy

The Last of Rio

April 12th, 2014 by Calvin Sun

Christ the Redeemer just got served

 

After a late night out on the town last night, we woke up fairly late for our Day 3 plan in Rio. We still needed to see the Christ the Redeemer statue (i.e. the newly voted “7th Wonder of the Modern World”) and Copacabana Beach.

Luckily for us, the government recently set up a constant bus service that takes you to the Christ the Redeemer statue from 3 different places in Rio for only 51 Brazilian Reals (which includes the round trip fare and the admission fee). The buses come and go on a constant basis to accommodate a continuously growing throng of people:

The Mochado pick-up spot

 

All you have to do is show up at one of the 3 sites and buy your ticket, line up, and head to the statue. Depending on traffic, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to get to the top. The bus service will take you directly there:

 

All you have to do when you get up there is to climb a few flights of stairs (or use the newly constructed escalators on your left!):

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- At time of posting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was 95 °F -

Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear