Salar de Uyuni – The Largest Salt Flats on Earth in Pictures

Words.  Sometimes they can be used to paint a picture so vivid and clear they are almost better than a picture.  In Uyuni, Bolivia home to the largest salt flats on planet earth I couldn’t possibly begin to describe the sheer beauty my eyes were lucky enough to take in for a few days.  Only a camera can come remotely close to portraying the strange landscapes of an ancient sea that dried up to form massive plains of salt surrounded by natural wonders that can only be described as out-of-this-world.  With one sentence per picture I present to you the great Salar de Uyuni…

An ancient island of the Incas, now a peculiar cactus riddled land mass poking out of a never-ending plain of salt.

People come from far and wide to splendor at its wonder.

Flamingos glide above the glasslike puddles stretching toward the salt and mountains.

Llama and Alpaca graze along the grassy wetlands at the foot of a volcano.

The path to adventure…

An altitude where the desert meets the snow.

One the shores of murky red waters.

No animals should exist in this barren world where the flamingos thrive.

An endless desert where even a shadow appreciates a cold beer.

But also needs a place to use the bathroom.

A great place to reflect on things.

The journey, that’s life…

Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll

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Being Sick in Paradise

When you aren’t feeling good doing much of anything is far from a fun experience.  Especially when it’s the type of sick where your not sure whether the food entrance or exit hole is going to release what I like to refer to as ‘the demon.’  Unfortunately this is a reality when traveling abroad, especially when you love eating street food in third world countries.  A question I unfortunately discovered the answer to during one of my bouts with ‘the demon’ was, ‘Does being in paradise lessen the effect of being sick?’ It’s a reasonable question as being in a gorgeous place makes a lot of situations better, like waking up early or doing boring work. However, I can honestly tell you that unless your paradise is a comfortable bathroom then it does not improve your situation.  The following tale is my experience with ‘the demon’ in one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen.

Tayrona National Park on the surreal Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia can quite truthfully be called a paradise.  A thick, lush jungle covers mountains for miles, ending in a series of beaches so beautiful you need to rub your eyes to make sure they are real. The coastline is dotted with gargantuan, perfectly rounded grey rocks that look like something of a different planet.  The place has a raw and ancient natural presence where it seems like dinosaurs still might actually live.  Equipped with hammocks my travel buddy and I took off intending to camp in the national park for a few nights.  After an amazing short trek through a dense jungle containing spiders the size of my face and the horrifying sounds of howler monkeys we arrived at a beach so amazing we decided we must sleep on it no matter what the cost. Now technically it’s illegal to camp outside the designated camping areas which cost money, but there wasn’t a soul around, the sun was beginning to set and sometimes adventure means breaking the rules.  Our hammocks were equipped with mosquito nets which were more than necessary in a land where the mosquitos carry dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria.  The jungle was so dense leading up to the beach it was hard to find any trees far enough apart to hang hammocks, but eventually we found two adequate palm trees. The problem was that there was only one good spot to set one up a hammock on the whole beach so we came up with a creative solution, bunked hammocks!!!

As we weren’t supposed to be spending the night on the beach we refrained from making a fire and ate a dinner of canned tuna, crackers and fresh coconut water under the light of a couple headlamps.  We used rocks and fallen coconuts to throw at the fresh coconuts on the tree above our hammock and managed to collect quite a bit of the delicious nectar.  After a restless night sleep trying to get comfortable on the ‘top bunk’ hammock surrounded by mysterious jungle sounds and high winds, I awoke to an extremely distraught stomach.  My travel buddy was experiencing the same phenomenon and the beach didn’t look quite as beautiful as the night before.  As we packed up our gear and set off into the jungle ‘the demon’ started churning our stomachs and we had to take frequent jumps into bushes to do our business.  The walk to the next campsite took nearly the entire day and was nothing short of spectacular from a scenery perspective, but our condition would not allow us to enjoy even a minute of it.  An extremely strong sun, lack of toilet paper and the ‘huge spider web’ phenomenon were all contributing to our extreme discomfort.  This phenomenon is when you are walking through nature and you accidentally run into a spiderweb.  Now unless you are petrified of spiders this isn’t usually such a big deal you usually just brush it off and even if the spider managed to stick to you somehow it’s small enough that you probably won’t notice.  This is simply not the case for Colombian jungle spiders.  These things are literally the size of your entire face, so you can imagine when one of us broke through a web on our way to release ‘the demon’ in the bushes we involuntarily did a dance, screaming “Is it on me!?? ”  After a couple naps on various beaches we made it to another campsite, but not wanting to pay the fee we snuck off deep into the jungle, set up our hammocks once again and tried to ride out another night.

The next morning we awoke feeling slightly better which was a good thing because it turned out to be a strenuous 5 hour hike to get back to civilization.  The funny thing about this adventure is that whenever I’m talking to someone about my time in Colombia they often ask me if I visited the notorious Tayrona National Park and wonder what it was like it.  When I respond that it was absolutely gorgeous, but one of the most miserable experiences of my life people are often confused!  To this day I’m not sure if it was the canned tuna or the coconut water that brought on ‘the demon’ and unfortunately I find myself avoiding both whenever I can…

Drinking Beer and Traveling Across South America

A friend and I traveled from Panama City, Panama to Buenos Aires, Argentina by bus, boat and train.  The journey was unbelievable and lasted nearly 6 months.  From hammock camping in the Colombian jungle to couchsurfing across Paraguay the journey had one thing in common, drinking beers in cool places!  Whether we were in the desert or atop a mountain we made sure that beers were always within arms reach.  Please check out our Beer Travel video below!

Tejo, a Colombian Drinking Sport

Here’s how I think the epic sport of Colombian Tejo originated.  A couple guys were pretty buzzed drinking aguardiente (a famous Colombian spirit) on a Sunday afternoon trying to think of what to do.  One guy suggests they throw rocks into a pit of mud from quite a far distance.  As more and more aguardiente is consumed the competition heightens and one man suggests assigning points to whoever can get their rock closest to the middle.  The drunken male brain is often an easy thing to predict, so the logical progression from rocks, mud, and competition would quite logically be explosions. So when one of the founders of the sport suggested placing firecrackers that explode on impact in the center of the mud pit, Tejo was born!

Modern Tejo has developed significantly since its origination.  All throughout Colombia one can find Tejo courts.  These consist of two square shaped pits across from each other.  They are equipped with a metal ring stuck in the center of the thick mud and a firecracker inside of it.  Rocks have been replaced by heavy weights and there are now tools to flatten the mud after a shot and boards to keep score.  The object of the game is to get your weight  in the mud pit and closest to the circle. There are large bonuses if you get it in the center circle or create an explosion with the firecracker. The distance in which you throw is shockingly far, especially because everyone is inebriated and throwing weights at head level!

I had a number of experiences playing Tejo in a variety of cities throughout Colombia, but one in particular sticks out in my mind.  Down south in Colombia resides a sleepy little town called Silvia where there’s not a whole lot going on.  The town is known for it’s colorful indigenous people who wear bowler hats and come into the city from the surrounding mountains to trade goods.  One evening a friend and I decided to go out and see what the locals of this little down do for fun at night.  After asking around to see if we could find a Tejo spot, we were directed to a shady dark road with a building under construction.  A narrow alley opened up to a large dirt floored area where a number of people were playing Tejo. The games seemed to stop for a moment when these two strange gringos entered, but then some friendly locals came and asked us what we were doing. They were shocked that we even knew what the game was called, so when we told them we were experienced they were quite amused.  We were told we could play a game if we bought a drink, so we ordered a couple beers.  To our dismay when we mentioned beers the guy in charge looked at us as if he’d just caught us in bed with his daughter.  He firmly told us that only aguardiente was to be consumed during Tejo, and that we should purchase a bottle.  We didn’t really have any choice so we obliged and continued to play a couple rounds of Tejo. Not sure why, but two local guys were assigned to us.  One guy held the bottle and poured us shots after every round (while taking one for himself) while the other fetched the Tejo (weight) for us. Tejos were flying through the air and in our case often sparking against the concrete instead of plopping in the mud, but the locals were friendly and tried to give us tips to improve our technique.

Marlboro Furniture for Kids!!??

One day on a sunny afternoon in the gorgeous high-altitude, adventure Capital of Huaraz, Peru I stumbled upon something that perplexed and slightly disgusted me.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a kid’s furniture store with logos painted on them.  First I noticed a car bed with a Ferrari logo painted on it, then my eyes were drawn to a chest of drawers with a Vodafone logo which seemed strange.  To finish the set were three different chests painted red with a white Marlboro Cigarettes logo on them.  I literally had to do a double take to see if my eyes were deceiving me, and I struggled to grasp how and why children’s furniture would have this deadly logo.  At first I played with the idea that Marlboro had some secret campaign to get kids comfortable with their logo at a young age so when they become teenagers they will smoke to remind them of happy childhood memories.

The truth is that Marlboro is probably not behind this or even knows about it at all.  The sad reality is that because it is an iconic logo that is popular in the States, the maker of this furniture probably just painted it on their to make it seem ‘cool’ and ‘trendy.’  American logos are often seen as a symbol of status and wealth in foreign countries and from the Playboy bunny being a popular symbol on children’s clothing in Thailand to Marlboro furniture in Peru, its not the meaning behind the symbol as much as it is just a recognizable American Logo.  To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if the painter of this furniture didn’t even know what Marlboro was at all!  Even if this is the case I still think that there are plenty of other popular logos to choose from. I also can’t believe that not one person involved in the furniture construction, marketing and sales process didn’t realize the negative aspects of cigarette logos on children’s furniture. South America is an extremely laid back and fairly disorganized part of the world, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse…

Below is a short clip of the astonishing children’s furniture!

Eating a Guinea Pig

Eating an animal that is considered to be a pet in your home country is always a bit strange.  While I’m all about trying new things, I’m generally not scouring the menus of local restaurants in foreign lands searching for kittens, ponies or puppies.  That being said when I found out that Guinea Pig was considered to be a local delicacy in Ecuador I was slightly disgusted and slightly intrigued.  The guinea pigs are prepared by first being speared through the bum with a long metal rod and deep fried whole.  Their thick rubbery skin is left to dine on along with the little feet and eyes that remind you of one of those guinea pig calendars you see in the mall.  They are hacked up into large pieces and the whole thing is served to you, organs and all.  How exactly you are supposed to eat this creature I wasn’t exactly sure, but I tried and can honestly say it will be the only Guinea Pig I ever consume.  The locals call them ‘Cuy’ and below you can watch a clip of me munching on my first Guinea Pig.  If you currently have or had Guinea Pigs as a child this video may disturb you.

Ecuadorian Goat Milk – Hangover Cure!?

Ibarra, Ecuador is the first midsize town we came across after our nerve-racking border crossing from Colombia.  We only planned on staying a night to break up the trip to Quito, but the good, cheap food and laid-back vibes caused us to stay until the weekend.  Friday night rolled about and having seen a number of interesting watering holes for consuming drinks we decided to give Ecuadorian night-life a try.  Beginning with a bottle of Colombian Rum and some College drinking games we found ourselves out on the street asking young locals for good spots to go drinking, dancing and hopefully chatting with some pretty Ecuadorian chicas.  After clearing up some brief confusion with a local student who was trying to point us in the direction of a brothel rather than a local bar we found ourselves in a nice little club called Tsunamis. With our stomachs filled to the brim with liquid courage we approached the first two pretty Ecuadorian chicks by the bar and had a fun night of dancing and trying to chat them up in Spanish.

Bleary-eyed with a dry feeling in my brain I awoke the next morning to the realization that checkout time was soon, I still needed to pack my stuff up and I was soon about to sit in a bumpy bus to one of the largest markets in South America.  With a bad hangover, heavy backpack and sweating profusely I made my way to the bus station in search of anything that would cure my terrible hangover.  I stumbled upon some goats near a railroad who I thought might be able to help me.  Could my stomach handle the goats gift – watch this video and find out.