Tag Archives: South America

Goodbye South America

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Today I started a new adventure. I left South America for a different America. No, not quite the States but I am in Mexico where I will receive a 300 hour yoga training course in a beautiful community and with my lovely friend Carolyn from California.

It makes me sad to leave so soon, even though its been over 15 months. The memories I’ve shared in each country have provided me with enough love, inspiration, hospitality, motivation and respect for a growth and appreciation.

I can’t stress enough how precious life truly is. How important family is and how simple life can be. Somewhere along the way we’ve complicated things by comparing and contrasting, by working too hard or by going to fast. I do it too, thinking I need things when they complicate thins or I don’t need them. There is happiness in simplicity and there is value in being present and being nice to everyone you meet.

The way the people of South America have treated me is as if I was one of their family members. Open arms, open house, and so willing to go out of their way to help me.

Many have taught me that every person matters and every person you meet can be a chance to learn something. You can turn someone’s day around just by asking their name and smiling. It’s incredible how human connection really can connect as one. However we must open our hearts and mind to it.

Thank you South America, this definitely is not the last time I say goodbye! I guess I have to change the address of my blog name huh?

Sailing with “Imvubu”

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I was fortunate enough to sail throughout the Chilean channels for a second time. The sailboat was called “Imvubu” (significance is a hippopotamus in Zulu). It’s a 54 foot South African steel boat that was only launched 5 years ago.

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Owner Ralf Dominick offered my friend Jimmy and I positions to crew in exchange for food and lessons in sailing.

Click Here for more information on Imvubu

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SAM_3552Ocean waves escalate up and repel down…up and down, up and down. 54 ft steel vessel “Imvubu” handles the waters with ease.

Swells swimming in from the open ocean push us to 1.9 knots and gusts of 45 knots against the currents and winds. Up and down. I feel thankful I don’t get seasick.

Patagonia is breathtakingly beautiful, with waters tinted a pale glacier green and mountains soaring and diving into the sea with mossy patches and happy green trees.

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My favourite part of sailing is when we are not moving. Anchored in a  cove. This is the best part.

One can hear all around the nature untouched and vibrant. The thick smell of the trees dancing with the shoreline. The sea mixing with the heavy winds creating a whimsical misty spray that follows the design of the erratic shifting winds.

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The sounds are chilling as birds voices echo throughout the forests and the stillness of the bays and coves consume one with purity of the air and open sky. If your lucky you can see pockets in clouds with striking stars in all their radiance and beauty with sometimes their only chance to say hello.

Weather changes quickly and the cove is alive. Alive with chaotic calmness as this change is frequent and can send the boat dancing with the clanky anchor chain.

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Sailing is not as romantic as one may believe.

Sailing takes a toll on your body as energy used to maintain balance is sucked away and one can feel helpless and useless at times. Sleeping becomes a routine in the daytime and eating becomes a highlight. The romance lies in the seam of the nighttime and the assurance in being sewed back together in the stillness.

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I learned a new language while sailing. New manoeuvres, parts and functions of a sailboat. Not only that but the importance of wind direction, strength, wind angle, and interaction with the boat. Navigation, meteorology, currents, cloud patterns, and air all play a vital role. You must be constantly aware yet the slow pace of the boat makes you want to drift to sleep. It’s quite the difficult balancing act.

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5 am or 6 am we wake up and anywhere from 6 pm to 11 we arrive to a cove to anchor for the night. Dinner, a drink and off to sleep. It’s become routine but almost mundane. No sailing is not as romantic as they say.

45-80 Nautical miles a day, 8, 10 and sometimes 12 hour days.

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Coffee and tea become quite the treat, as it takes time to make such a thing. When you have a warm cup and are in the crispy wet conditions it can warm a heart and body right up!

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Try cooking in conditions with open water swells and strong winds blowing. It takes 3-4 times to make anything.

Overall, I don’t get along with sailing too well. I think I prefer meeting new people, walking and exploring.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a wonderful experience but I think I was made for a different lifestyle.

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Meanwhile feeling grateful and appreciative for the openness and willingness the sailing world provided for me. There are always lessons to be learned in every experience.

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Here is a look inside of the boat!

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Sailing around Cabo de Hornos, Cape Horn.

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Rivers of ink tell the tale of Cabo de hornos, Cape Horn with silent witness of tragedies, victories and illusions. Modern boats, strong tides and weather forecast help present day sailors to round the infamous rock in relative tranquility. The way there can be long and tough with thousands of miles of rough waters and shifting winds, faraway harbors and far from the trades with easy routes. The barren and windswept rock is one of the highest symbols of mans challenge to the unknown.

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Here is the city of Ushuaia, Argentina from the sailboat.

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Again I found myself on yacht Northanger, about to embark on a 7 day sailing adventure with the goal of sailing around Cape Horn, the most Southern tip of South America and known to many as the true “the end of the world”. Many explorers and adventurers have died while trying to round it throughout the last and now boats have more technology and weather knowledge to be able to easier predict the forecast.

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On January 22 Captain Greg and I met up with clients at 8:00am at the docks with luggage. We proceeded to check out of Ushuaia, Argentina to head to Puerto Williams, Chile. This requires a bit of paperwork and passports. Five hours worth of sailing through the Beagle Canal and we reaches Puerto Williams and had to check the Chilean Armada.

This took a little while so we decided to stay in Puerto Williams for the night.

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On January 23 we left early at 5:30 am into the Beagle Canal and sailed till 8 pm. This was the first time I felt sick but when you are heading into fierce winds only moving sometimes 2 or 3 knots against huge swells I’ve never experienced before. Didn’t ever get sick but definitely the pounding pressure hour after hour made me feel crazy. You literally always have to keep a hand on something otherwise you can really hurt yourself. On deck we had a harness and were clipped onto a line because the deck is slippery and the weather unpredictable.

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This part also had a passage with no land. I prefer the coast but this sailing day was different than all I knew.

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We eventually anchored in Caleta Martial, which was the most strong I have ever experienced wind in my life. Apparently in the cove it got up to 60 mph and around the horn the same day to 80 mph. The wind was so strong it was creating whitecaps only 100 meters off shore where the wind was blowing from behind the mountains. The boat next to us in the cove “commitment” actually has their anchor drag about midnight and were sent into a 5-6 mayhem trying to keep the boat safe in unbelievable winds. If the anchor drags you could potentially be thrown into rocks or roll. It’s also hard to navigate as the wind makes it hard to breathe and the winds create a white mist making it hard to see. Boy was the wind impressive that night and made me really respect it. Northanger was on a night watch in case the anchor was to drag. Scary stuff you have to be super careful.

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The wind has a fierce potent punch with unbelievable noises. However the energy I found to be cleansing and healing the land. This is a different world here.

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The next day, January 25 I felt a little seasick over the big swells that later much longer than the waves I was used to. We went around the horn this day and it was rather calm wind-wise with huge swells from the wind the night before. Rounding the horn was a great experience but not as incredible for me as some thee places in the channel. The clients we were with enjoyed it and was essentially why some of them came to Patagonia. But for me, they were rather barren, sharp rocks, and not a lot d beauty. Nonetheless I feel super grateful for the experience. We found a different cove to anchor that night.

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The next day January 26 we took it easy and went for a hike and met the little armada post which had a Chilean family and a pet king penguin. The children were super cute and it was good for me to speak Spanish again after two weeks of English. The hike was gorgeous and the cove made for a great place to relax.

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The next morning January 27 we left on a 50 km sail for Puerto Williams. Had some wind against us and we had to stop in a cove for lunch and wait for it to die down a bit. We made it to Puerto Williams about 7 at night.

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January 28
We headed for Ushuaia Argentina with a 5 hour sail and competed the full circle.

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In Patagonia for the most part there are charter boats which offer tourists and visitors a chance to experience the area and they get paid for taking them. Then there are private boats that typically are travellers themselves maybe making a first time trip to Antarctica or sailing around the world. It makes for lovely conversations on the docks and you meet about every type of person. This is one if my favourite parts of sailing, making these relationships.

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Sailing Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams

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Boat rocking cradle-like in sea of tranquility. The sea comes with a switch to an instant storm with gusts of wind and rain. There is a battlefield of albatross attacking seals and wind blowing waves forcing the sailboat dead into the wind at a standstill. Coves, bays, channels and passages lined beautifully with jagged mountains varying in colour, shape and snowfall. As nighttime falls, it gently grips me into a deep healing sleep as the neon black sky light up the stars to shine enough for vision.

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Life is all around and untouched by humans leaving a pure sense of energy and peaceful reflection.

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Stillness, rivers talking, full moon glowing and tiny droplets of aguaditas steaming my face gracefully playing with my sensations. Crispy cold fresh air yet I am warm as I am swarmed with a deep sense of connection. These glimpses of untouched land give me a sense what explorers must have felt when they first chartered these untameable waters. Fierce joy in the wind, music in its touch, twirling, spiralling, and running through my mind and entire body. It is cleansing.

Time lasts for eternity yet creeps into existence as the sky changes from dirty pink electric sherbet to soft jet navy lined with a twist of light blue.

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We sailed from Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Williams, Chile, through the stretch of Magellanes and Beagle Canal on the boat called “Northanger“. Northanger is a 54 foot Damien II, lifting keel, steel ketch New Zealand owned.

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The strait of Magallanes is “the stretch links the pacific and Atlantic ocean through an S-Shaped 310 miles cut through the South American continent. It’s waters give access to countless channels, inlets, and bays, a unique feature of the area. The stretch is a feature cut in the Andean Range, the vertebrae backbone of the S.A. Continent. Deep cuts were created by result of the last ice age 20,000 years ago, with effects still lasting another 10,000 years. Before the area was covered a huge ice cap more than 1,000 meters thick in places countered on the cordillera Darwin. From here a long series ice tongues spread in all directions downwards into the ocean giving birth to the wide and deep glacial valleys and rolling hills of Patagonia. The big last change happened 15,000 years ago when the ice caps began to melt, there were tons of sediments, rocks and deposits shifting the land into Tierra del Fuego. As time passed and water eroded the natural forming dams and opened the valley to ocean waters thus creating the large Tierra del Fuego.” (Rolfo and Ardrizzi).

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My journey started before the water, while the boat was still on land in Punta Arenas which is about 116,000 in population, pretty industrial. I worked a couple weeks preparing the boat, cleaning and making the boat come to life after 8 months of sitting in the ship yard. The boat was located 8 km outside of town so we did a lot of hitchhiking back and fourth.

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Here is Duncan and Renee who helped prepare the boat with us. They were visiting form Newfounladn, Canada and had some time to spare to help! We enjoyed making food and drinking coffee together. I am glad they joined the journey.

The Armada or “navy” of Chile is quite controlling and specific about sailing on the waters and makes all boats fill out paper work and check in everyday via radio. You must go to the port captain to get cleared to leave and once stamped you have to wait for approval. This became quite the process.

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Finally on January 11th we moved the boat from from its cradle with the big boat moving machine (never found out the proper name for it) and ready to be moved into the water. We had one more night until it was going to happen.

There I met Eduardo had a tiny machine linked around his neck that he loved being in control of. He was telling me to stay in Chile and work with him at the ship yard, I passed.

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We went “provisioning” which means getting all food and things necessary for sailing a week. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cans. There is one thing for sure since being on Northanger and its that I had never ever been hungry. We eat delicious vegetarian food and are always trying new recipes and eating together. I’ve really come to appreciate and love the simple act of eating a meal with others. It doesn’t take too much time but the quality of life improves and you are in charge of what is put into your body. I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now and since then, I love to cook!

On January 12th we launched the boat into the water at night, 10:30 pm from the cradle with a big rope and greased planks as Eduardo and his team pushed it off the stand and shot it into the water as we all stood on deck. Eduardo shouted to me a couple time to stay with him in Punta arenas saying “no te vayas!” Which means, ¨don’t go!¨ Funny. Greg had his friends in the dinghy the whole process ready to dive or help out in case anything happened.

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We anchored in the port Punta Arenas and I have to admit the boat transformed into a different creature as it slide into the water. The waterline surprised me the most, as it was within reach of the deck. I was surrounded by water on all sides and willingly forced into a subtle back and forth motion that gives me sea legs when I go to land. The hatch that we had to go through to get to the galley reminded me of the TV series ¨Lost¨ everytime. Could not get over it. Above was my bunk!

On January 13 there was wind, wind and more wind; I had never seen wind in Punta Arenas like that. We took the dinghy to land and can’t believe how the strong breeze can make one fall over into your Neighbor and not have enough time to say excuse me because you are trying to not be blown away. The navy closed the ports because it was so strong but this didn’t make sense as outside of the ports were much safer for us to be in then in. In this time I learned how to tie some knots- clove hitch, stopper knots and the bowline. We ultimately decided to wait another day before heading south.

 On January 14 at we motored to Cabo Froward against the wind to almost a stand still and had to turn around as it was too rough. We anchored at Sani Ciedro in Aguila Bahia (Eagle bay). The bay was named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville after her ship “L Algile”. We encountered three Israeli guys on the beach who flagged us down. They were on the well known Cabo Froward trek and needed help because own guy was super sick. Wasn’t much we could do but I think they thought we were going to rescue them or something.

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On January 15 what a windy night! We waited till the wind was to doe down by visiting the lighthouse where I had previously been before. There we met the beautiful couple living there that made us coffee and big doughnut type treats. Rosita even put my name in one of them!

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My friend Marcello radioed us to give us a weather report and say hello as he sailed past us in the strait. The boating/sailing world is surprisingly small and can be a comforting place where other boats soon become friends and you look after each one another.

We went for a hike through the muddy forest and onto beaches lines with whale bones showing remnant of a processing plant for whale oil. The plant was open from 1906-1907 and just in that year killed over 449 whales.

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We took off at 5:30 pm and sailed through San Pedro Canal. Mind you here it is summer so the light starts at 4am and lasts till sometimes 11:39 pm. The canal is named after Pedro Sarmientro de gamble who sailed his ship called “our mother of waiting” in 1580. We put out our first shorelines to the beach around trees in the most calm water I have seen yet. We anchored in “Caltea Cluedo¨ a large long bay on Isla Clarence opposite of Isla seabrook and we collected water from a waterfall in the cove via practicing driving the zodiac.

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I practiced driving the zodiac going fast and reversing as a brake when you get to a certain spot and holding it long enough for someone to tie a line. This has become one of my highlights of sailing. I got to take it out to get water from the waterfall near by!

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We went for a hike later that night, it was raining but it was beautiful! Saw the lake where the waterfall came from and this is where I wrote the entry for the blog. If I had to chose a favorite spot this would of been it.

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On  January 16 it was the birthday of one of the woman on the boat, Renee. We made a pancake, plantain and fruit smoothie breakfast while along the way sailing. We did have to motor a bit because there was no wind at all, leaving a reflection of the landscape on the water mirror like. Above is a shot of the sky on the water and below is the panoramic view we had, just like a calm lake.

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Sailing is turning out to be much more tranquil and slow paced than I imagine. The boat only goes 3-7 knots an hour so you’re not flying any means. It forces you to be present and really take in the scenery. Sometimes you can see a mountain and and hour later still be staring at the same range and horizon. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sail in the middle of the ocean without the landscape. The land you greet sailing really for me is one of the best parts. We sailed through San Pedro passage and Canal Acwalisnan (Paso o Ryan).

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On our arrival to the cove where we were to anchor there were. 1, then 2, 4, 6, 8 dolphins that played with us dancing and moving friskily through the jetting water off the boat. They are called ¨Peale¨ Dolphins.

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On January 17 we sailed all day 10am to 10pm.There were dolphins all the day again this type is called a Peale dolphin which are known to be slow and quite playful with the boat. Grey with a white underside. Oh how I love the dolphins! We had dinner late and on the way I made lentil burgers with honey Dijon mustard!

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We anchored at Caltea Laguna (Lake Cove) with again, shorelines. This day I learned how to the steering works on the boat, practicing zig zags and circles getting a feel for it.

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On  January 18 we were in the Beagle Canal, full on 7am-5pm sailing day. The Cordillera Darwin Mountains show signs of the once melting ice cap through fingers of glaciers. The range towers to the North at elevation of 2,000 meters (6,574 ft). Rivers, ice crumbling into the sea and electric neon pastel glaciers named Roncagli, Bove, llaha, and Frances.

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You could see storms roll in far away and when the catch up with you how the energy changes and becomes alive. I learned how to take down the anchor and at night we anchored in Caleta Olla (Wave Cove).

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On January 19th we left at 10am from the cove and came out into the beagle canal. Passes through the town of Ushuaia where we saw cars and planes for the first time in a week. East winds and sails were up. I learned how to drive while putting a sail up, timing it into the wind and holding it while the sail rises. I learned how to make some homemade bread!

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20 miles later and we arrived in Puerto Williams that had a nice yacht club with bar and maybe 20 sailboats. Met lovely people and got to stretch my legs! I never thought I would of made it this far south, let alone in a Sailboat. Its been a special experaince. You can also see the picture above is of a little Seal friend. There were many of them who met the boat along the way, so curious.

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Below you can see the view of Puerto Williams from us pulling in, it is super small. The mountain range is called ¨Navarino de los dientes¨ and is a well known trek you can do for a couple of days.

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What a stunning journey. Couldn’t of asked for a better trip! It was full of beauty, challenges, new experiences, and constant lessons to be learned. I feel super grateful to Greg and Northanger for letting me come along. It created a reality I didn’t know to exist and I feel fortunate.

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I want to give credit to a book I received tons of information from that was on board of Northanger called “Patagonia Tierra del Fuego” by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi. I paraphrase a lot of their information in this post but it’s a phenomenal book about the channels. If it wasn’t for their book I wouldn’t of been able to understand all the history of Tierra del Fuego or the specifics to each anchoring.

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Mural Making in Punta Arenas, Chile

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Where: Punta Arenas, a buzzing city that is just four hours south of Puerto Natales on the Magellan Straight in Patagonia, Chile. Filled with cruises, sailboats, murals, sculpture, wildlife and high pitch windy shores.

I found a homey Chilean restaurant called ¨La Marmita¨ which means the cooking pits owned by Lorena and Alfredo.They immediately took warmly to me and this was the first time as well that I was marketing myself in person as opposed to using email.I told them I would be around for two weeks, showed them my images of my work on my phone, and told them for food and money we could do an exchange. 3 days later and I got a call from them saying that they would love me to paint a border around a blackboard for them. I agreed, seemed reasonably small and after I took a look at their vegetarian menu we had a deal.

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The exchange: 10 hours of work for $60USD, and meals from the restaurant (included desserts, juices, and coffee). I ended up taking showers there and using their WIFI as well because I was camping or staying on a sailboat and did not have an access to those luxuries!

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What: A mural border around a ¨to be¨ chalkboard which will showcase the specials for the day. My instructions were limited and the direction was rather free. Lorena said she wanted a colorful border with birds and flowers and that she trusted me. I love when clients trust me, it makes for such better work. She gave me a lot of space, and freedom to do what I needed to do. Very accommodating.

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What I learned: Never take for granted the love and support someone gives you. Accept kindness and let love in. The couple really made me feel at home. They always told me to treat the restaurant like my own house, made me lunches with their 9 year old son an just treated me with love and respect. I learned how to accept all of it and be present with them every time I was at the restaurant. Acceptance.

Psychedelic Car Mural in Puerto Natales, Chile

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A new mural in Puerto Natales, Chile and it is my first piece in this beautiful country. It also marks the start of something special for my mural making path. I tried spray paint for the first time and on a car for my first time as well. I had a lot of chances and time to experiment with the new medium. But first a little about Puerto Natales because the energy of the city really inspired and influenced the way I painted the car.

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Puerto Natales, Chile is where the sunsets at 11:30pm for the start of summer begins here. The mysterious glimpses of light disappear not too long after 12:30pm. The crisp air looms wisely amongst the mountains that are landscaped over a cold windy lake. Here the tony black and neon birds play and flutter together.

The town is small. The people here know each other and you are never too far away from meeting another adventure seeker. Beyond the super touristy mask of Natales and away from the boardwalk or Main Street is a lifestyle of tranquility, oozing with peace, long gorgeous trekking, rock climbing and a clean energy.

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Where: Erratic Rock Hostel, owned by Bill native of Salem, Oregon who has lived in Natales 15 years. The hostel has simply a wonderful vibe, homey energy as the Erratic family definitely knows how to make a person feel welcomed. With a limitless supply of classic movies on VHS, a cozy gas fireplaces, homemade bread and peanut butter, Sunday brunches and a wonderful network of interns who work and commit to helping out in the hostel for a couple months a year make the place a unique home that just happens to be a hostel. It’s a special place.

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Here is everyone that volunteers and helps out at the hostel, we took a lovely bike ride against the wind near the coast. Just stunning views, good people, and the outdoors. While my stay at Erratic Rock we went biking, I learned how to crochete, and we never went without an empty stomach or cup of black coffee.

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Side note, I was able to paint a guitar while staying the the hostel as well for a friend. Here is a little peek.SAM_2178

The Mural – Progress Shots and Process

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I was super nervous to start painting, more nervous than I have ever been to start a piece just simply because it was a new medium and a new canvas. Here you can see the hesitation, and just me learning how to use a can. But I knew that I had to keep moving with the piece and not think too much! Here above is when I first just started the piece and I washing the car on the side walk. The police were upset and came to tell me to move the car and wash it in the river. Go figure.

The story of how I got the van gig: I was renting gear for the Torres del Pine trek at Base Camp which is a rental store just next to Erratic. It is actually owned by Paul, Bill’s younger brother. So the rental store wast open at 10am on a Saturday so I had to wait for them to open.

I was walking away from the rental shop when I saw a friend I had made in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. He waved and signalled me to come into the hostel. The first thing I was greeted with was the manager Julie, also from Oregon who said “Want a cup of coffee? You can’t have a real Sunday morning without black coffee.” I immediately was intrigued. Well after 1 hour of playing cards and chatting with one of the employees, Ruth, she mentioned that they had just bought a van needed someone to paint it. I volunteered immediately and made plans to stay at Erratic after my 5 day trek into the national park. It was seemingly simple and effortless. !

Accommodation: Mural in exchange for a bed, food and rental gear. I rented quite a few things from the owners brother, Paul, next door called “Base Camp”. It is a great little business: a bar and rental store which is super successful and a nice pairing to his brothers hostel.

What I learned: How to use spray paint, and more importantly how to use it effectively in the Patagonia wind. What an experience. Because the wind was so strong and it rained quite a bit it was quite the challenge or maybe an excuse to stay longer. The first couple of layers were hard as I was experimenting and getting used to the medium. Once I got rolling and more comfortable it was fast, so much faster than painting and in a different. The concepts of color, content and design are the same, but the process is different and there were shortcuts and tricks I learned.

At first, I kept wanting to put my fingers on the car and change the outcome but the paint dries almost immediately and this was hard to get used to. I realized how much I love using my hands. This is why I like painting so much. The paint brushes and the way the bristols move.

Anyways, with spray you just use a finger, nothing more. Maybe some stencils if you want. Literally my pointer finger and my thumb on my right hand were super sore after the third day painting. Pretty crazy to think that’s what created the whole piece. Just my finger!

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Length of time: Almost 2 weeks including 5 days where I went trekking through Patagonia to get experience. I painted maybe 2-3 hours every other day or so. I will return to Erratic for Christmas. My second Christmas away from home and today marks the first day of Sumer here in Southern Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Pretty crazy how South I am!

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After I painted the van, and ironically on my last night we got to take the van out (me and some of the volunteers) to go camping. We ended up driving to Lake Sofia, about 45 minutes out of town and I got to sleep in the car. I was so happy that I was able to get into the car, and experaince the van outside of Puerto Natales and on the road. What a gift!

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I feel super fortunate for the experiance. I love all the people that I have met from Erratic and feel super special to be apart of the family there in Puerto and for those friends who live all over the world. Thank you Erratic and watch out for more spray painting murals coming soon! I even went back to Erratic Rock for Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone!

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The ¨W¨ Trek, Patagonia Chile

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The ¨W Trek¨ of Patagonia in Chile is home to the most special landscape that I have ever experienced in my life.

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This trip to the National Park of Torres del Paine was full of growing glowing blue glaciers, wise tall majestical mountains, roaring snowy peaks, tiny crunchy pebbles, rocky paths, crisp fresh stream drinking water, granite climbing, rock diving, 70 mile an hour winds knocking you off your feet blowing, sleeping on bare cold earth dreamy, pasta with soup and squished bread eating, awe inspiring energy filled 5 day trek. The trip gave me a new backdrop for my dreams.

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The Cordillera del Paine mountains soar above 3,050 meters above sea level and you can feel how large they are because the paths are at the base of these massive mountains. You can literally understand what a mountain that large feels like. These mountains also join with the Curenos del Paine and well known lakes – Grey Lake, Pehoe Lake, Sarimiento Lake and Nordenskiold Lake. The colors of these lakes ranging from deep dark blue to grey silvery turquoise.

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The park in total is 181,000 hectares and is located about 112 kilometers from Puerto Natales. It was easy for me to get to the park by hitch hiking and avoiding the $30 USD bus that takes twice as long. Only 3 Chileans cars picked me up but I met a farmer, a dentist and a park ranger who were able to drive me. I never waited more than 5 minutes for a ride in the blistering wind. It was absolutely worth it.

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The park rangers dropped us off at the pay station where we discovered was the eastern side (the side less travelled to start the trek) and we were off to start trekking. $36 USD for the park entrance fee and we headed into the Mountains towards the first free campsite which was 6 hours up hill.

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Day 1: When you start off trekking your backpack is super heavy and you think that you cannot even hike up a steep in grade. However, after an hour or two you get warmed up and it gets easier. Really you start to think about the things you have on your back and what you really need versus what you really want. It puts things into a healthy perspective. That same day we found the free campsite, went to bed early.

Day 2: We woke up at 4:00 am the next day for the famous ¨Tower Sunrise¨ where you can see the Towers of the park. They are three pillars that stand high on the mountainside overlooking a blue and green lake. It’s a 1 hour morning climb straight up to the highest part of the whole circuit.

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It was well worth it as until 7 am we watched the sunrise and then the sunlight hit the towers.  We got super lucky as they say, there are four seasons in one day in Patagonia so we were expecting the worse, and head there was a lot of rain and wine. We had no rain and no wind; it was perfectly sunny, a little chilly but so still that the water made a reflection of the towers perfectly for us, just unbelievably beautiful.

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One of my favorite parts about this trek is that you can drink the water from the streams that you stumble upon at least every 30 minutes. You don’t need to have the heaviness of water because you can just fill up as your go and the water tastes so refreshing and wonderfully amazing.

That same day we continued to trek 13 hours in the hot hot heat, which is unusual to have such good weather in the park. I got sun burnt and we had a fabulous lucky day for the long way.

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We trekked to the next free park. We passed through fields of singing birds, wild flowers I’ve never seen, and gigantic mountains with wise and enormous energy just radiating intensity. This part of the trek was not so famous but one of my favorite parts because it has 360 views of lakes and the 3 mountains at once. It was so peaceful and not so many people were on this path.

Later that day, again we called It an early night and cooked some pasta, drank more stream water and slept tightly in the tent with rough sleeping in the grueling wind.

Day 3: The next morning we woke up at 8am and it was raining and hailing. We were going into the French Valley and heard there were some beautiful 360 views. Unfortunately it was raining and then the rain turned into violent windy snow that would burn your face because it was cold. It was an odd balance between being cold and being warm because you have so many layers on and your core is hot because you are working out. There was a lot of exchanging of taking off clothes and putting on clothes.

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In the French valley we saw baby ducks learning how to cross the raging powerful river, fields of trees frozen in a windy blown shape from the wind, electric blue glaciers pouring off the mountains, and foggy views. The birds were still singing and the views were still incredible, even though we were not able to see everything.

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It was hard to face the cold for a long time so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we wanted to, but well worth it.

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After we got down the 6 hour hike we packed up our stuff which was hard to do as we were cold and freezing and we moved onto another 3 hour hike to the next camp where we were exhausted and called it another early night, but made some delicious hot chocolate from chocolate bars and powdered milk. Some of the camp sites even had free gas stoves and inside areas to cook.

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Day 4: The next morning we start at 8 am again and headed to the glacier! The glacier was about a 5 hour hike to the view point and then 5 hours back. I never thought I would ever see a glacier in my life. The views were incredible, the sounds were stunning, and the emotions I felt were heart melting and almost overwhelming for me.

The paths passed alongside a river where you could see the wind currents across the top of the water. Pools of mist would gather and spray you as it crossed in circles in all different directions and running off the water onto the land.

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This part of the trek really made me sad as you could tell the effects of a 2011 fire. 3 Israeli men were trekking and lit toilet paper on fire and it got out of control and set 20 percent of the National Park on fire for 3 days just devastating effects. The after effect was horrible as whole mountain sides were burnt to a crisp. However, interestingly enough there were some trees that were able to regenerate and were forming buds at the bottom of their roots, almost giving life to seeds as it was dying. This was pretty impressive.

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Now, the parks require that you only have tiny gas camp stoves and cook in certain areas that are allowed in the park. The rules for camping are quite strict as well, and for this many of the campsites are crowded because you have to park in specific parts. After trekking all day again, my body was getting sore and I was ready for bed. I did the trek in running shoes which, with a pack and extra weight, was super intense. It gave me a lot of blisters and affected my body differently than if I had strong shoes. Not to mention all of the rain, wet, and mud that I had inside my shoes. I loved it because it is what Patagonia is really like and I was enjoying just being in the middle on 70 mile an hour wind. Just beautiful.

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Then we were off to the Glaciers! I had never seen one before in my life, and I was super excited for this part of the trek. I really was not prepared for what we were about to see.

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The glacier in the park was huge named Glacier Grey. There was also Glacier Pingo, Tyndall and Geikie which along belong to the same Southern Patagonia Ice Field. This ¨Field¨ was stunning, with chunks of huge ice bergs falling off the glaciers into the cold blue waters and floating around.

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Also, last but not least, as we walked 5 hours out of the park onto the main road to hitch hike we got saw some pretty amazing animals. A private jet pilot picked us up from the road hitch hiking and we were able to see some animals from the car which was exciting because we found 3 baby foxes. I couldn’t handle all the babies we saw, because it is Spring time in Patagonia. How beautiful!

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This W Trek is really what backpacking is all about! Food for five days, sleeping bag, tent, stove, utensils, clothes for wet and dry, and whatever else you need for 5 days of 8-13 hour days of walking. It is one thing to walk 8-10 hours but with a backpack its another story! I survived and definitely am addicted I would like to do a lot more trekking in California and Washington when I get home. Maybe I will do one more in Patagonia before I leave here. For the next couple of weeks I will be painting in Puerto Natales, a hippy van of the wonderful Oregon family of Erratic Rock (erraticrock.com) and am looking forward to spending more time in Patagonia as the air is clean, the people are friendly, and the scenery is spectacular. Feeling refreshed.

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Here is a look at some of the wild flowers that I could not stop taking pictures of because I had never seen such flowers before in my life. On all the trails they had these flowers, even in the parts of the park that were affected by the forest fires had bright patches of flower life.

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Puerto Madryn Mural, Argentina

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Where: Puerto Madryn which is the start of Patagonia and known for whale watching, seals swimming, kayaking and visiting the beautiful peninsula where you can see penguins and if you are lucky orca whales (which actually are a species of dolphins and not whales) trying to attach the lazy seals on the beaches. Apparently, it is one of the only places in the world where you can see it happen. I went on a whale watching boat tour where I saw gigantic whales jumping in and out of the water and even a mother and her baby! Did you know that whales are solitary animals that only are found together the first year when a baby is born (mother and child) and when the whale’s mate (female and male). Pretty crazy, they are solitary other than that. After a year the mom just leaves the baby and they never see each other again.

The hostel was called La Casa de Tounens, owned by a young French man and filled with many travelers from all over the world.

What: A large outdoor mural, on concrete and done with acrylic latex house paint. The mural was influenced by the boat tour I took and I found the space perfect for this large whale of a tale.

The length of time: It took one week, about 4 hours a day.

Accommodation: Free food and bed. I was in a 6 person dorm. There was great hang out spaces and a movie room which was lovely to catch up on some movie time.

What I learned: Headphones and music are not always better. I have an idea that I need music to work, but here the birds were so loud and there were not too many people outside hanging out so I worked without music and found a new source of inspiration from it.

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Train -Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca to Puerto Madryn

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When I heard that you could take a night bus to Puerto Madryn that takes 9 hours I thought, “Are you crazy? I need to cut that trip in half and take my time!” Well, you could say that’s what I did…but a little more than what I wanted.

The experience of taking a train is one that I have always wanted. I’ve never been on a long distance train or an overnight train so I wanted to try it. Maybe I over romanced the idea, but it was something I was determined to do. The train was also 1/4 the price as well.

$95 AR Pesos ($11 USD) is what it cost contrasted to the $430 AR Pesos ($53 USD) for a bus. It was only 4 more hours and for all buses I’ve endured the last year I was up to the challenge.

When I arrived early to the train station (which was gorgeous and made me nostalgic like i had seen in movies) I found my seat next to two people, and thank goodness next to the window. The weird thing about the seat was that it was more of a bench because we were all sharing the same cushion. You could feel everyone adjusting and moving.

No problem I thought. But as more and more people started piling on the train the hot neon lights and noise was making me feel claustrophobic, maybe 150 people were in one car and it was the type of train that had some seats facing each other. So much energy and chaos.

I had a moment right before we left where I thought to myself “Should I just get off now? I know there’s a night bus I can take and it’s just a mere $95 pesos and subway stop away. You have time go go go and get off!!! Go go go! There is no way you can stand this for 12 hours!”

Then the other part of me calmed me down and said “You wanted the train experience don’t cop out and fail before you even try”. So I stayed. Mistake? Some could see it that way. I look at it as an experience I can learn from.

Well sure enough as the train starts slowly, the noise and chatter gets louder. “Surely it will get more quiet as we make our way into the night.” I thought. Argentinians can stay up all night and never get tired I swear. Even the children are up at 4:00 am. So it’s super loud, I had headphones but I could still hear and smell the newly paired couple who were sitting next to me kissing and telling each other their life stories because they were falling madly in love with each other and did I mention smoking cigarettes? So I opened the window but then the surging neon lights were attracting flocks of bugs from outside so now bugs were lining my face waiting for a shot at the light. Calm. Calm. Calm. I told myself. Only 12 more hours. Calm. Everything changes. I kept saying.

I got up to use the bathroom and when I finally entered the bathroom it’s hot boxed with cigarettes and weed and there’s just a whole in the floor which was the bathroom. Yikes.

I didn’t sleep at all. The train turned into 11 hours then 12 then 13 then 13 and 30 minutes then 14 and finally and we arrived. I couldn’t believe that I made it. I really couldn’t. BUT with all that said I am proud of myself for taking the train. I followed my rule of “Don’t let anyone tell you if something is good or bad. You must figure it  out by your own experience.” I got my train experience, I got what I wanted. Now I appreciate buses. Now I understand how beautiful it is I have your own seat and how a dark and quiet bus is paradise.

Then when I got in at 11:00 am the train terminal I had to walk 15 blocks to the bus terminal. Found out there was only 8:30pm buses so I knew I had to stay in Bahia and kill almost 10 hours waiting!

The ticket was $321 pesos ($37.5 USD) and almost 10 hours. Easy breezy ride and trust me I slept the whole time!

The Big Modern City – Buenos Aires

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I planned for one or two days in the city of Buenos Aires before arriving. Well, as most of my travels it turned into 3 weeks. I stumbled upon a lovely friend named Emilia, a native of Buenos Aires; she offered to take me in for ¨one night¨. The universe sends us what we need in the right time and Emilia was it for me. I was feeling tired, I wanted a travel buddy and was thinking I wanted to change a little bit how I was feeling. Emilia was not exactly what I expected, but so much more than what I could of imagined. You could call her a ¨soul friend¨ as we just clicked and I was recharged. Nights out, theater parties, coffee dates, going to plays, dressing up, dressing down, potlucks, cooking meals together, going through a break up together, going to her cabin, meeting new friends, hanging out with her family and just plain living life in the present together, we both found a friendship that will last lifetimes. Really beautiful.

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 I celebrated mother’s day with her family, her mother’s birthday and just little visits with her grandmother, uncle and extended family. Being in Buenos Aires for me was more like a vacation for travelling. I felt so at home, and like I was visiting a family. They really took me in and I could feel all the love and sincerity.

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Emilia changed the way I look at travelers and opened me up to be more accepting and nonjudgmental of people. She has inspired me to take couchsurfers (people who crash on your couch) when I go back home and she gave me a new inspiration to travel and a zing back in my enthusiasm for life! I hope to meet up with her in the North of South America.

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Emilia lived in the neighborhood of Palermo, great area. Super trendy, cafe shops that I would hang in for hours, really interesting murals and great energy. Oh and she also had a cat named ¨Luz¨ (light) who became my good friend.

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At first Buenos Aires reminded me so much of being at home in the States because of its fast paced, stylish and modern lifestyle. The transit subway ¨Subte¨ throughout the city is super easy to use to get around and the city is also bike friendly lined with green pathways. There is a strong Spanish, French and European influence. The architecture is modern; some parts reminded me of San Francisco and some of Times Square in New York. There is a street called 9 de Julio that is the widest street in the world. Huge! I could not believe I was in Argentina. So different than the rest of South America!

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The animals in BA are treated differently as well. It seems as if everyone has a pet and there are tons of dog walkers. I could not handle how amazing it was to see these dog walkers. So serious.

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My friend Courtney from preschool ended up coming to travel and visit with me for a little over a week. We explored parks, saw some an amazing play and a horrible play and it was beautiful to catch up. She stayed in the same place I was, at Emilia’s.

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The two of us stayed at a Yoga Farm for a couple of days. We worked 4.5 hours in the morning, got 4 vegan meals a day, yoga and meditation. The farm was called “Eco Yoga Farm” and was located about 1.5 hours from Buenos Aires by bus and taxi. It was a nice break, met some cute animals and worked hard hours. We only stayed a couple of days but it was nice to get out of the city. Being with a friend who I have known since I can remember was also a great reminder of home and to see how much each of us has changed was incredible.

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On a logistical note I broke my guitar a little while ago and I got it fixed in BA. It takes five days. It broke while I was travelling. Probably from a corner that I knocked into. So for $200 AR Pesos ($22 USD) and got the whole thing fixed! The front part of the guitar, just snapped in half.

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How to get to Buenos Aires from Cordoba: There is a 9 hour bus for $320 AR Pesos ($36 USD) from Cordoba to Buenos Aires. Left at 9 pm and arrived at 7 am. There is also a bus called “ounce” which is cheaper $270 AR Pesos but adds on about 3-4 hours. Depending on if you have time choose wisely!

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Cheese and Wine Country – Cafayate, Argentina

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Just 4 hours outside of Salta, Argentina the adorable town of Cafayate is settled in the dry area great for making wine and goat cheese.

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I took some cheese tasting and wine tours and had a lovely time playing my guitar in all the beautiful nooks and crannies this place had to offer.

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We rented bikes for the day $70 Pesos ($9 USD) a person and hit up as many winery’s and cheese farms we could. Many places were cheap and wine and cheese starting at $15 Pesos ($1.85 USD) a pack or bottle.

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There were tons of baby animals, cats, dogs, sheep and goats. The cheese was some of the best cheese I have ever tasted, and I must admit, some of the best priced as well.

The land around Cafayate is dry, dry, dry. They get rain every 6 months so all is dirt roads and seco (dry in Spanish) plants. Because of this, the grapes produced in this region are one of a kind. Unfortunately many if the wineries we went to only export within South America as they are small and there is no need to send them far.

I want to be just famous enough of an artist to be able to draw on walls of the places I go. Just to draw on walls.

I want to be just famous enough of an artist to be able to draw on walls of the places I go. Just to draw on walls.

I loved Cafayate if I had more time this would for sure be a place where I would spend it. I fantasised about making a mural here. Maybe in the future!

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Cordoba, Argentina

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Have you heard of couch surfing? It’s a online website that connects travelers all over the world with local people that will provide a bed for free. It’s free to use and a great way to mix up traveling as you get to know the culture at a deeper and more intimate level than a hostel beaches you stay with locals. The website is couchsurfing.org and I would highly recommend it.

The lovely couple that let me stay with them a couple of nights

The lovely couple that let me stay with them a couple of nights

There is also another website I used while on Cordoba, only because I was traveling with a cyclist. It’s only for people who travel with a bicycle and its called warm showers. Warmshowers.org is the same as couch surfing just exclusive for cyclists.

I stayed with my cyclist friend Lukas and we joined up with Luciano and Sole who are from the Cordoba county and they are artists. They both own a company called Cassiopeia Ceramics and make beautiful cups, vases, tea sets, hanging pots, bowls, and more. They have a tiny khelm and make all the work in their house.

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When we arrived they were hosting a Ferria (art show) and they had all their friends over, good food, mate to drink, and group dinners. It lasted the whole weekend and they were still so willing to host Lukas and I. I am so constantly blown away at how willing the people are to take care of foreigners. I’ve never experienced this kind of trust and hospitality. Cooking food for us, treating us like a old friend with such love and respect. Makes me think twice about all that I have and how sharing makes everything better. Such a wonderful lesson.

Luciano every other Wednesday goes to one of the local radio stations and draws while the radio announcer sings. Once a week Sole teaches a pottery class in their house and loves to teach people. I feel so inspired by this couple and they do all because they love to, not because they have to.
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While in Cordoba for 5 days we went to parks, cooked a lot, made some ceramics, went to the river, attended art fairs in the streets, and walked all around the city.

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The two will be off with their bicycles next month north through South America and Central America. I wish them nothing but the best and feel so grateful for such light and inspiration.

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Vipassana Retreat at Dolores, Argentina

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Oh the beautiful country side and valley outside of Cordoba, Argentina.  Skin-crackling dry, scattered-spotted playful rivers, lovely local artisan stores selling olives, honey & olive oil, and friendly people all with the infamous Argentina accent (which I am finally getting used to).

In this region I went to the small pueblo of Dolores for yet another dose of Vipasana Meditation. This time is was three days instead of ten but the same rigarous schedule of meditating 12 hours of a day 4am-9:30pm with no talking, no writing, no reading and no contact with the outside world or others. What a beautiful inward journey to spend time alone in silence. You would be surprised how much is revealed whilst meditating.

Many people think meditation is about not thinking, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. Your mind is almost impossible to keep quiet as our daily lives provide stress an responsibilities. Our society has programmed into our conscious little voices that remind us constantly, “be productive,” and “you should be doing something!”. Essentially mediation is looking at the way the brain functions and thinks and learning how to control the reaction to the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. That comes with time and isn’t the goal. The goal is to let everything happen naturally, observe and not react.

In fact, meditation is a lot of thinking, constantly judging and craving for outside things and material objects. In a way, we have forgotten how to live in the moment. Meditation provides our minds with a tool in order to remain calm and harmonious with all that our brain conjures up. If you have a “to do” list type brain then through meditation you learn to be confident in the process rather than the ultimate “check off” at the end. If you always have to be moving and can never sit still, you learn how to become peaceful and embrace this over-active part. You start to become a master of your own energy and of that around you. You thought learn how powerful we really are. The best part about it all, are that all the answers that you’ve ever pondered or wanted to know are inside you. We just have to remember how to listen.

When I tell people about meditation they respond always along the lines of “Sitting and meditating that long? I could never do that!” And I respond the same, “Well then you of course you cant and never could, with that attitude!”

It’s simple. All is simple yet we make it complicated. You say you aren’t good enough, then you are not good enough. You say you can’t do it, well of course you can’t. You say you hate your job, why would you expect to love it? When we create simple thoughts in our brains they manifest themselves throughout our life. Be careful what you think and how you spend your time. If you meditated over it for more than 12 hours you would come to realise as a experiential truth that a single thought can transform into a reality.

There are so many things in this life that are dull an full of suffering with oozing negativity. Those things will always exist, all our job here is to do is to focus on the positive. Life will always be negative if you see it that way. But there is always positivity that is waiting to be tapped into, it’s just a matter of choosing to come out of our own misery that we have created. We created it, and we are the only ones that can come out of it. No one else can do it for us. It’s just a matter of our free will and choosing to accept the responsibility.

I don’t think anyone is really ever “ready” to do this course. Just like we can’t prepare perfectly for traveling the world or for death, you are never really be “ready”. But that’s what’s so wonderful about life, you never will be perfect enough, ready enough, sufficiently prepared. All you can do is be who you are and accept every part of that. In this way all the truth will come to you and all the things you do and encounter will become bliss rather than misery. It’s a choice to make!

If your interested in attending a course it’s all run by volunteers and there are courses in every country almost once a month. Free food, bed, and course. They are based on donations and thy require you to stay the full 10 days. Think you could be ready to start listening to yourself on a deeper level? 10 days and your whole world could change.

What the heck is Vipasana? Click Here for more information

Dharma Vipasana Website

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Uyuni – Salt Flats

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This part of my journey was the most majestic, magical, tranquil, serene, silent, breath-taking days. 3 days in salt flats, smooth mountains, flowing rivers, playful streams, frolicking emus, decorated llamas, profound canyons, winding valleys, wind blown snow, hot heated sunshine, freezing cold, dust filled cars, one way bumpy roads, land cruisers, and a delicate full moon against ranges of a sherbet sunset. I was in La Paz for one week with no plans.

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The Salt Flats of Uyuni are the largest salt flats in the world at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It was transformed through perhistoric lake transformations. The Altiplano is the area where the Salt Flats are and are is a high plateau, which was formed during uplift of the Andes mountains. The plateau includes fresh and saltwater lakes as well as salt flats and is surrounded by mountains with no drainage outlets.

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My experiance before heading to the salt Flats: I was thinking of going to the jungle, or maybe to perfect my Spanish east in Sucre, I couldn’t make up my mind. Late one night I met some friends and one of them when asked what he was up to the next day replied, “I’m driving to Uyuni and doing the 3 day Salt Flat tour in the South Eastern part of Bolivia. I responded “that sounds amazing, can I join you?”. Because he has a car I knew it would be cheaper and we could go to more places and take out time. Three days later and I could not of imagined what was to unfold those upcoming days.

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On the Salt Flat tour we saw a bus turned over, these guys were definately stealing some of the bus parts.

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SAM_0548We left from La Paz at 10 am, one hour out of the busy city and we encounter patrol stop number one. The government official would not let us through because we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the car. After convincing him we were to go and buy one, he finally let us pass. Next was gas. Bolivia gives a special price to foreigners for buying gas. It’s 4-5 Bolivianos a litre for Bolivians and 9.75 for foreigners. You can get turned down from gas stations too as many gas attendance don’t want to fill out paperwork for that and could potentially get into trouble if they give you a cheaper price.

Eventually after being turned down twice we were able to get gas for 7 Bolivianos. Most of these people end up pocketing the extra gain. 9-10 hours later we arrive in windy, cold, buzzing Uyuni and found a place to crash for $30 Bolivianos ($4.4 USD).

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In the morning we were ready to leave but I realised I lost my debit card, and ironically so did my friend. We ended up staying another night as well because we had issues filling up not our car, but the extra 70 litre tanks. Apparently they think we were going to go to sell gas at the border. So we leave the next morning at 10 am, start out for the salt flats. Anyways, after a lot of hassle and wasting time we finally were off. We didn’t have a map, or the slightest idea of where we were going. The salt flats are huge, I am grateful we did not get lost.

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Many people warned us against going alone on the circuit and we were convinced that we could do it ourselves. The next three days were full of bliss. Two hot spring stops, hundreds of mountains ranges, such varying sizes of lakes and colours. There are four different types of pink flamingos living in the area, and just the silence of the wind blowing through the flowers as literally not a soul in sight for kilometres and kilometres. You become apart of the landscape and it was so easy to connect to the land. The energy, the movement of the breeze and the stillness. I get chills thinking about it. That scenery was the most gorgeous landscape I have seen yet on my travels, I would absolutely go back to these flats and hear that it is even more stunning in the wet season as the whole flats become a lake and you can see perfectly the reflection of the sky onto the lake. It is something I want to go back to.

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For every way to get to a new mountain or river, there were always 2-5 different ways to get there. The roads were so bad, some literally had drop downs into dried up rivers. It could of potentially be dangerous. We did get 3 flat tires, including one that happened when we were close to 50 mph winds and the sand was being blown in our faces. Well, on the bright side, I now know how to fix a flat tire.

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If you go alone: bring a GPS with coordinates already mapped up and downloaded. GPS does not work in the middle of no where. Makes sure you bring enough food and water for the days you go into the circuit. There is no place to buy food, except one touristy place that was an overpriced restaurant near the hot springs ¨agua termales¨.

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We camped, which was crazy cold, probably the coldest I have ever been in my life. I could not feel my numb feet and have never shivered that much. I would recommend bringing fire wood if you can so you can build a fire. If you go by yourself make sure to bring AT LEAST 2 – 70 liter gas cans on your roof rack. There are no gas stations and if you are lucky in San Juan or other small towns you can knock on doors and ask the locals if they are selling any gas. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Tire

Here is John fixing the second flat tire, with such crazy winds it blew the jack off the car!

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Here was a toll that one local town decided to make for cars to pass through and pay. Some towns even have a string or rope to make cars stop. Does not seem legal! This one he is using a rock to raise the toll.

In the end, after 3 days of travelling, getting lost, finding our way again, stumbling upon majestic rivers and pink flamingos, running out of gas, getting 3 flat tires, being too cold to sleep, loosing more things on the 3 day trek than our entire travels, and just being unprepared made for an eventful Uyuni tour for me. I would recommend taking a 3 day circuit from Uyuni to the Chilean border. There is so much competition out there, and tons of horror stories that I head. Like they say in Bolivia, what you pay for is what you get!

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Sucre Mural – BeeHive

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Sucre – Spanish influenced city with clean streets, beautiful parks, energetic plazas and with a modern twist. This is where many foreigners come to learn Spanish. The bus system is simple and slow, the streets are busy with more people begging for money than I have seen in all my travels, and the same old hectic markets and fantastic handmade milk ice cream can be found.

I tasted the best food I’ve had so far at a spot called Condor Cafe. It is a vegetarian non profit that support local communities outside of Sucre. The first time I had their panini sandwich it made me want to stay longer in Sucre. The owners are from Australia and Switzerland and find themselves working part of the year in Europe to sustain to project. Dedication!

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I learned how to make an artistic cloth that the local woman make. It takes patience and more patience.

I can see why people stay in Sucre for so long, it’s clean and calm. Honestly this is one o my most favourite large cities. I was pleasantly surprised. I almost missed out on Sucre and am glad I didn’t.

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I loved the texture of the paint in Sucre, there was so much contrast.

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SAM_0680Where: Sucre, Bolivia at “BeeHive” Hostel. Not your average hostel as many people stay long term and there is a wonderful sense of community. The two founders, Amanda 28 from California and Suzi, 30 from Sucre. The BeeHive works with local woman of the community through projects such as workshops and volunteering to help woman gain more confidence and financial stability.

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Length of Time: 3 days, 4-5 hours a day and 5 nights I stayed in Sucre.

What: A tree mural logo that will eventually be turned into a “giving tree” where a passport sized picture will be placed on leaves or roots depending on how much you donate to the project. This mural was pretty quick in terms of stay and was a ¨logo¨ piece.

What I learned: You can always plan a mural last minute.

Visa for Boliva, Crossing the Peru-Bolivia Border

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Travellers from The United States must apply for a visa before entering into Bolivia. The U.S. is one of the few countries who are required to do so.

Here are all the requirements one must need for getting into Bolivia, keep in mind that you can stay for 90 days and the Visa is good for 5 years.

  • Pay the Bolivian Bank $160 (or $130 depending where you pay, I paid $160 in Puno) crisp US Dollars
  • Copy of your passport – this means just the page with your information and picture on it.
  • Copy of your passport picture – this does not mean making a scan of your passport again, this means purchasing and taking new photos. Don’t worry there are places everywhere to do this and you can even take one with the Virgin Mary or change your clothes on the extra pictures your $5 soles takes you.
  • Copy of the Malaria Vaccianations
  • Bank Statements – 2 months will do
  • Itinerary – make something up about where you will go on what date and be sure to include in it where you will be staying etc. You don’t have to make reservations just create a word document and make it look like it’s from a tourist agency.
  • Completed application from the Bolivian Consulate.

Then, after they give you your passport and bias you must make a photo copy of it and give it back to the consulate.

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Puno is about 2.5-3 hours away from Copacabana, making it quite an easy border crossing. It was only $20 Soles for a bus ticket. The bus waits for you to stop in the police station and border control then to walk across the border and get your entry stamp into Bolivia.

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La Paz, Bolivia

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Busy, fast, zippy, old and smoggy type of city. At an elevation of 3,650 meters (12,00 feet) with a population of 2.3 million. My most favourite thing about Bolivia so far: The Zebras. That is right, Zebras. I am not talking about the animal, I am talking about the humans who are paid to dress up as Zebras in full body costumes and be the patrol for the pedestrian crossings. Not only do they dance, and flail their arms everywhere, but they also give hugs and little notes of encouragement to people that pass by. There are murals throughout the city in dedication to the Zebras. It is in many Bolivian cities and they are well known and loved by many (including children who I saw hold tightly onto the Zebras). It was just too cute and I could not stand just being friends with these Zebras.

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La Paz was where I went walking and walking and walking and walking. Market after market, stores for buying local clothing, bread, electronics, corner stores, liquor stores, teenager stores, bead stores, string stores, shoes stores, leather stores, and endless amount of stores. Funny thing is that every single store that is similar to one another and sells the exact same thing is always found next to their competition. I still do not understand why they do not separate and get different parts of town and make more money. But this is how it is, one street for one thing in particular. However this makes shopping easy and you can compare prices without having to go far as well.

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One of the markets that was the most interesting was the largest outdoor market in South America in La Paz called “El Alto” which is located just above La Paz and could be considered (but not technically) another city of its own. Many people tell you to not go alone, to not bring a camera, and that people would rob us; but like everything else in South America, people are scared for no reason. We had no problems, only met nice local people, and never felt unsafe. In fact we decided to walk down from El Alto after through the city and that was one of my favourite parts of the while La Paz experience.

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During my visit I went to Mount Chacaltaya at 5,420 meters above sea level. It used to be the highest ski lodge in the world until…about 15 years ago it stopped snowing. Can you say global warming? Now it barely snows there and the ski lodge is abandoned. If you start sneezing, you know that the altitude is getting to you as your brain starts to swell and this is how it releases pressure. The view was stunning and actually the mountain that we saw was the same mountain that Paramount Picture uses in their opening reel. Try running in elevation that high, you cant. Try breathing full breaths, you just cant.

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The same day the tour continued and we continued to the Valle de Luna which was a lake that dried up about 9 million years ago. Walking at the bottom of this lake is incredible as the water formed beautiful statues and sculptures that mirror what the moon would look like if you were to walk on it. It was absolutely incredible to see first hand in one day how the climate changes over time! Mountain weather changing and huge lakes drying up.

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I decided to get a new prescription for my eyes for glasses and contacts as my one in the United States is up. Bolivia is super cheap for getting anything health related and it cost me $30 Bolivianos for an appointment and $120 Bolivianos for glasses. In total costing $13 USD.

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I painted a little canvas with a friend and we installed it at Cafe el Mundo where we would constantly drink coffee and eat delicious food. My friend Roberto is from Sicily and it was nice to be a little creative! We also found some friends to help us paint as well. I think they caused more damage than good, but it was nice company.

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Isla de Sol and Copacabana

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Shimmery glittery glazed sunshine upon the worlds largest and highest Lake, Lake Titicaca. Swarmed by white mountain tops and fluttery joyful birds, Inca ruins, lazy talking llama and sheep-filled fields, the Isla de Sol ¨Island of Sun¨ was a nice break in between two cities, not too expensive and so different than anything else I have seen on my travels.

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The town of Copacabana is where you can leave for the Isla de Sol tour. The town itself has one small touristy street, 6th de Augusto and this can be easily avoided. I stayed at a nice hostel, Sonia Hostel, for $30 ($2 USD) Bolivianos for a private room.

Copacabana is on a little peninsula and you can see the lake from all sides of town. There are tons of sites to see and things to do for day hikes, including one that was 3 hours along the lake. There are ruins in town, and rock carvings, Inca seats where supposidly the Inca empire would sit out and view the lake, and tons of great places to enjoy the views. I did a lot of exploring.

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The first day I was there I decided to go to the ruins around Copacabana and go to all the mirradors, where surprisingly I did not see a soul in sight. I think most people only stay one night and go straight to the island. Here at the top of this look out point there were 3 rocks that were used by the Incas to navigate the stars and decide when the seasons would change. The rocks are still there.

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Llama encounter! The Spanish word for Llama is Alpaca and they are all over Bolivia. What I didn’t know is that they can spit, they have an incredible range for spitting at tourists, especially when they are pissed off. I tried not to get too close but they just look so regal and feminine  I could not help myself!

To get to the Island of Sun there are little boats that go really slow about 3 hours to the North or South end of the Island. It was incredible, named this because the Incas believed that the island was where the sun came from. They also believed that another island just off the Isla de Sol was where the moon came from. Many say the birthplace of the Inca Empire was founded here as well.

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These islands are situated in the middle of this gorgeous lake that almost looks like an ocean because it just keeps going as far as you can see. It’s stunning landscape and turquoise shores remind me of Greece. Is this really Bolivia?

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I’ve been warned about Copacabana- “Don’t go there or the island of the sun, it’s too touristic!” And like I always say, don’t believe everything you hear try it out for yourself.

Copacabana is where all the Isla de Sol boats leave from. The town I will admit is touristy but you can get around it but not going down 6 de Augusto where you are bombarded by people selling bus tickets and telling you to eat in their restaurants. You can avoid it!

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I didn’t want to go from one big city to another so I decided to take my chances on it. This place was definitely worth visiting and Isla de Sol, Island of the Sun was one highlight of my trip. The island was touristy on the south end where people can stay…but nothing compared to what I have been warned about.

I met a man from New Zealand, Mark, and we explored the island through 4 hours of walking discovering ruins, a sacrifice table, and hundreds of lookouts out onto the bright blue water.

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There were three check points where you have to buy a ticket and the money goes to the local community. I was fine with this but it was the children you have to watch out for. They will take a look into your bag at the quickest chance they can. They also ask for money or candy. This was the first time I had seen children like this, interesting to say the least.

I stayed the night on the island, watched the sun set and then woke up at 6:00am for the sunrise over the Island of the Moon. The contrast was just stunning and so breathtaking I did not mind waking up so early!

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Here are the friends I met while on the Island. The boat ride was just beautiful and so lovely to chat with friends and get out of the city. I could not believe how beautiful it was there.

The boat ride there is super slow and was $20 Bolivianos ($2.9 USD) and back was $20 Bolivianos as well.

Auywaska Mural in Cabaconde, Peru

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The Mural: 2013 Sept.    Ayuwaska – Cabanaconde, Peru – Pachamama 

The hat inspired mural snuggled inside of the restaurant/bar and the focal point of the room

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About the Mural: The inspiration came from the native woman’s dress of the pre-incan town of Cabanaconde and Colca Valley region.  The my mural showcases images of the birds, flowers, trees, cows, corn, food spirals, North, South, East, West, depicted in then tiny stitches of the indigenous Cabanoconde woman’s hat. While painting the mural, woman from off the streets would stop in the hostel and watch me paint. They were in awe of these images blown up onto a wall and with the images of the mountains in cooperated as well. The woman wore incredibly stunning hand made garments. Each town has their own specific hat, yet all tied together by the center image, the 8 pointed start. The women would work in these clothes and I admired how dramatically detailed each stitch was.

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I never sketched anything, I just like to draw directly onto the wall with paint. Below you can see the progession shots. I like to start with the focal point, the star, and then add lines to create movement. Of course, all the detail is done free hand and just by looking at the hat. I found tiny symbols and would make them larger and enclose them with designs. I had an idea of what I wanted, but the final mural is beyond what I could ever sketch prior to painting. In many ways that is why I love to paint, to create and feel. Sketching can make me feel limited as I, in many ways, set up expectations as to what is going to look like. I always have a general idea, but never exact.

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Time to Paint the Mural: From 10:00am-4:00pm I would paint for a total of 1 month. At night I would help them work in the bar from 5:00-10:00. In total I stayed 1 month at Pachamama.

Accommodation: Free room (private) and breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Amazing pizza and vegetarian food – salads galore!

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What I learned: The difference between latex paint and acrylic. I’ve only worked with water based acrylic paint so working with latex was my first time. It’s much more thick and rubbery. It’s smooth and has a plaster texture to it, also smells more toxic. It is often difficult to work with paint that I have found in South America. The paint is different quality and I am getting better at adapting to the different kind.

In addition I learned that communal spaces are difficult to paint, because the energy constantly changes from travelers coming and going. However, I made the best of it and it worked out well in the end.

I learned that Cabanaconde is a good 5 hours from the nearest paint store and to probably plan a little more in advance in terms of buying paint. Saves a good 10 hours of travel and a couple of days in the big city!

I learned to be careful to agree to paint when a hostel is under construction, only because I got suckered into painting more than I thought. I could not resist all the white walls!

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Colca Canyon – Cabanaconde, Peru; Deep canyon filled with tiny rivers and pre-Incan roots. Earthquake ridden and cobbled stone and dirt roads led by donkeys and children playing volleyball in the street. Horses greeting neighbors, blue skies and the worlds second largest canyon at 10,725 meters deep “Colca Canyon”. 3 days of trekking in the canyon will lead you to hot springs, potential quakes, mud baths and waterfalls.  The town basks in the basks in the midst’s of alpaca, dry mountainous curves, green cactus budding tiny yellow flowers and enclosed in a mountain circle. It is a small is size, yet booming with beauty. The people of the town know the definition of community. It was home for one month and thanks to the family I made at Pachamama, this was one of the highlights of all of my travels. Small groups of brick and concrete houses, hidden in the embrace of the Canyon, home to the largest flying mammal the condor, glazed with snow capped mountains with echos of volcanic remnants and earthquake energy, I could not help but fall in love with it all.

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It is the type of town where you will not find internet, everyone knows each other, dogs are friendly and so is the way Peruvians treat them. I went for a stroll around the outside of town and was called into the corn fields to drink local brews with the farmers. I sipped Chicha with the locals and talked about the harvest season for corn and the large parties to follow the next couple of days.

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The local families would play volleyball in the streets and have to take down the net every time a car, horse or elder passed through. On one of my last days there was a celebration at the school. Every class dressed up and put on a traditional dance. I played volleyball with some of the students and got to know a handful of them pretty well.  It was incredible to  to see their school and meet their teachers. The dress wear for the celebration of the start of school were vibrant and thought out.

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I was in love with the traditional wear of the local woman. I was so impressed at the weight which they carry around with them. I felt so privileged to be able to try on one of the dresses. One of the women at Pachamama was going to Arequipa after work so she had the outfit with her, and so kindly asked if I would try it on. I could not stop smiling.

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I painted two murals: the first is inspired by the hats the woman wear of Cabanaconde and the second by Nazca drawings found in teh central part of Peru. There was a man who worked at Pachamama for a bit who gives tours of the Nazca lines and mummys so I was inspired to paint these drawings.

Pachamama was the perfect home, with a vibrant energy. It had a restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and pizza and pasta dinner, all by candle light and guitar playing. The pizzas were some of the best I have had in South America, so it was more than amazing to eat there every day. The staff was friendly, the spanish was flowing, and there is no other hostel like this one.

Below is the mural at night, you can feel the atmosphere of the bar and the tranquil yet buzzing energy of the place.

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The owner, Ludwig is from Peru. He has owned the hostel for the last 7 year and was by far the most accommodating, tranquil and easy going hostel owner I have ever met. He was very appreciative and even helped paint a bit.

Pachamama was remodeling so I had many opportunities to paint. Below is Ludwig working away cooking in the kitchen and to the left is¨Sweetie¨ one of two dogs from Pachmama. I could not get enough of the dogs as they would just climb up on your lap and give you kisses, it helped in staying warm too!

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Below is the bar, which has an oven for making pizzas. I stayed during high season here, so the tables were always full every night. Hey since I was bartending this was a great experience for me.

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Thank you to Pachamama and Ludwig for allowing me to stay as long as I did. Also thanks for reading! Now I am in Bolivia and had to say goodbye to the Pachamama family. There is no doubt that I will be back to pay a visit, and I wish them all the best! That is all for now!

Colca Canyon Trek, Peru

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The Coloca Canyon: Earthquake country, flying condors, loney dirt-cactus filled paths, getting lost, running raging rivers, playful dangerous gysers, stray dogs panting medicinal hot springs, striking mountains as far as the eye can see. This is my kind of Peru.

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Located in the Southern part of Peru in the second deepest canyon in the world, this 3 day hike was one I waited 3 weeks to take. It was one of the reasons why I came to the small town of Cabanconde, and well worth the wait.

The trek started in Cabanaconde, and the first leg was criss cross, zigzag deep into the canyon. We headed steep deep down into the valley about 1,000 meters. When the altitude changed, so did the trees, birds, temperature and life surronding us. It took us about 4 hours down to get to the Colca River at the bottom of the canyon where we met a geyser that was exploding before our eyes. Without hesitation we decided to test all the tiny pools of water the swirled with the cold mountain river, and eventually swim in them. It was potentially dangerous but worth the thrill as it was the highlight of the hike for me. The canyon was actually created from an earthquake as it seperated the canyon into two.

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Next stop was an hour to small part of the river called Lluar, barely a little town, more like one hostal was settled next to the Colca river at the deepest part of the canyon. Little ducklings learned how to swim upstream from their parents, hot pools of medicinal thermals, polar bear diving into the cold rivers (going from one hot spring into the cold river and back again), and light hints of eucalyptus saturated in the rainfall which was the first we had had in months filled the air with a thick smell. So much beauty.

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There was a little friend, named Pepe who was a 7 month old Alpaca (llama) that lived outside of our dormitory. He was quite friendly and frequently would blow snot on you. He was very photogenic and made for some good photos and laughs. The owners were planning on getting a female llama and starting a family for what they reffered to as ¨decorations¨.

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After a good nights rest we headed out to hike 1,000 meters back up the canyon on the other side to San Galle, known as the Oasis of the canyon that had pools in about 5 different establishments to choose from. This was quite surreal as we were so tired from the heat that these pools were the perfect way to end our day.

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I forgot to mention, since I work at the Hostel Pachamama in Cabanacond,e the whole stay at the hostels I was at in the canyon were free as well! Food at some places was half off or free as well. I found it so lovely to have those connections from my work, feels like I have a big family in the canyon. I feel so lucky, and not just another tourist but much more calm, tranquil and appreciative of the different towns and people who are so welcoming in them.

While in the canyon we felt 2 earthquakes. They were small and barely lasted seconds but it was quite the experiance as the roads leading around the canyon are so small and dangerous that you could hear and see rocks falling from the canyon. But not to fear, we were safe and stayed away from the danger.

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We hiked back up to Cabanaconde at 6:00 am the next morning and it took 3 hour up, up, up on a tiny path that literally went through one of the steepest parts of the mountains.

SAM_0418For lodging in Lluar called ¨Lluar Lodge¨ the price is usually $20.00 Soles ($7USD) for a dorm and $10.00 Soles ($4 USD) for each meal. In San Galle I stayed at Las Palmeras and the price for a dorm was $15.00 Soles ($6 USD), meals were the same price $10.00 Soles ($4 USD) and these prices are considered expensive for the canyon.

SAM_0415If you go to the canyon make sure to bring water as it is $3.00 Soles in town and $10.00 Soles in the canyon. I would reccomend packing bread and avacado and snacks. You have to stay at least 2 nights, although I have met people who do it all in one day and eventually get sick from altitude or need to recooperate for an entire night. Take your time if you go to the canyon. I believe its a place to really enjoy slowly and apprecaite. It is not going to be anything crazy, there are not many tourists, and the hikes are hard. If you dont like hiking I would not reccomend it. Although there was an option to take a donkey for $60.00 Soles (25 USD) up the mountain or a 4 X 4 for $200.00 Soles ($80.00 USD), make time to enjoy!

All in all when I returned to Cabanaconde I was beyond thankful and happy for the people at Pachamama and my mural that I made there. I have been bartending at the hostel as well, and it just made me appreciate everything more being away for a little bit.