driving south america

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Concerned about which way to enter Brazil we started asking all the Bolivians we came into contact with what the roads to Paraguay (option 1 to get to Brazil) or to the Bolivian / Brazilian border (option 2) were like.  The response was that the roads were good but that the road to the Brazilian border was better than the one into Paraguay.  Perfect, now we knew which road to take.  We continued asking around and when we were about to leave Sucre we asked our lovely hostel owner if the road was really ok…

Si, she replied, si es transitable.

So we headed east.

The road from Sucre to Saimaipata was bad, the road from Samaipata to Santa Cruz was worse and the road from Santa Cruz to San Jose de Chiquitos …. oh lordy, it was the most excruciatingly painful road we have driven in this ENTIRE trip.

Transitable = a bone-jarring 10 hour drive to go 250 km, frustration,  no gas stations, instantaneous irritability (the kind when someone talks and you immediately get angry for no apparent reason, it’s just that they have spoken…to you), thoughts of calling the whole trip off, borderline breakdown tears (me not Tom) and to top it all off we watched a semi fall over right before our eyes.

It truly was an exercise in patience as well as a huge test for us as a couple, which we passed since both of us are still living and we have decided not to go our separate ways after being trapped in the car together for probably the longest 10 hours of our married life.

Semi down on Joydrive's worst road ever

Semi down on Joydrive's worst road ever

For more about driving in Bolivia (and it’s awesome roads) as well as other tips about driving the Americas click here.

After a few long days of shuttling back and forth between the customs office in Cartagena, the port and our hotel, aptly named Casa Marlin, we managed to free our car along with his buddy Cabello from their container in Cartagena’s port.

Happy to have our little red rocket back we headed out to check out some of Colombia’s countryside.

Dreamy village of Barichara

Dreamy village of Barichara

After a long 13 hour drive (check out a map to see just how large Colombia is in comparison with all of Central America) we landed in the most charming village called Barichara. Founded in 1705, this small town is lined with cobbled streets and white-washed stone buildings.  It feels whimsical and fairytale-like, complete with running school children, the friendliest townspeople and a sense of joyful separation from the rest of the world.  Try the empanadas from the small panaderia (bread and pastry shop) on the corner of the main plaza.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva

Next up was playground of Bogota’s elite, Villa de Leyva, where the weather drops in temperature but the trendy restaurants and art shops increase considerably.  We happened to arrive during the week which led to room in a hospedaje (a small hotel) for much less than normal complete with hot showers! The Plaza Mayor is just that…major.  This huge square is covered in cobblestones and surrounded with white colonial buildings – it is also the perfect place to drink too many lattes, people watch and enjoy the sun.  There are a few museums to check out but we ended up wandering the streets and enjoying some downtime.

A whole town of crafts

A whole town of crafts

The following day we took Marlin to visit Raquira, a town known for its good-quality pottery, and as it turns out the entire town is dedicated to artesanias and you can buy much more than just pottery from this host of colourful buildings.  Somehow, though we don’t have a lot of  space in the car, we came away with a set of 6 typical stone-polished bowls but, for some reason, none of these:

Pre-painted cermaic pigs

Pre-painted ceramic pigs

So I have to say that although I loved the sailing I was pretty happy to be on dry land again after a fairly rough couple of days in the open water – some of the bigger waves going right over the top of the boat… not really my cup of tea, kind of dashed my romantic notions of sailing round the world.

Old City Cartagena

We spent some time hanging out in Cartagena waiting for the car to arrive. Founded in 1533 Cartagena became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast, treasure plundered from the indigenous peoples was held there until the galleons could ship it back to Spain. In response to numerous pirate attacks the Spanish constructed a massive wall that encircled the town and helped the port withstand many sieges.

Best Juice Ever

I think the old part of town has to be the most beautiful city we’ve seen so far, apparently it is one of the finest surviving examples of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture and it remains relatively untouched since it’s construction. Narrow cobbled streets and stone arches with funny wooden balconies perched above. Rambling bougainvillea and palms and hidden courtyards and spontaneous dancing in the streets. The people are very friendly and Kelsey is in fruit heaven – her latest infatuation is the maracuya (passion fruit) juice… she had three in one day!

Dancing in the Streets from Kels M on Vimeo.

The holiday season has finally taken hold of me and I have to admit I have been thinking about Christmas at home, snow and the Boney M Christmas album (nothing feels more festive than disco Christmas songs).

Finding useful and cool gifts for people who love to travel can be a difficult task but, lucky for you, the Travellious team has put together a really amazing set of gift guides: one for the First Time Traveler, The Urban Traveler and, of course, one for The Backpacker. I couldn’t stop drooling over some of the items they have listed, especially those for the Urban Traveler. If anyone is wondering this is on my wishlist!

Happy Shopping!

When we are not in class filling our brains with Spanish we have been happily hanging out with the students at ICA. There is a broad range of students from all over the world and it is a treat to get to meet all these really great people.

On American Thanksgiving one of the students offered up his apartment for a full-on Thanksgiving meal. Everyone seemed keen and before long the potluck list was full of traditional dishes. This was probably partly due to the fact that more than a few of the students are finding the Guatemalan meals a bit tiny! The dinner was amazing and everyone (about 25 or 30 people) happily stuffed themselves with real turkey (thanks Ben and Krista), mashed potatoes, veggies, gravy and stuffing among other tasty dishes. Pumpkin and apple pie finished off the evening.

This past weekend we set out to see the yearly festival of a local town called San Andres Xecul. The town boasts a technicolour church covered with saints, angels, animals and vines as the background complete with neon lights on the inside. A small fair is set up in front on the church where rides, like the ferris wheel, are hand-operated! Apparently at some point during the weekend there is a pole-climbing contest, which I would assume, is rather interesting judging by the amount of alcohol being consumed. During the afternoon, a long speech by a town leader was followed by (as with all festivals here) a ridiculous amount of fireworks. And then the real party started…dozens of people dressed as conquistadors and animals came out to dance for the crowd. The theme of the Mayas being conquered by the Spanish is a recurring theme in most of the festivals. It seems they have not forgotten.

Getting to and from San Andres Xecul was taken care of the by the local buses fondly known as the, “Chicken Buses”. Take your regular old cheese-wagon from elementary school, pimp it out with chrome details and religious iconography and cram as many humans onto it as possible and then throw in a few more for good measure. Add in your host for the ride, the ayudante, who will scream out the bus destination 20 times in under a minute and call it a day. Welcome to transport Guatemalan style.

All the chicken buses have female names — rumour has it that the buses are usually named after the driver’s mother or daughter. Though they have prayers for safe passage pasted to the windshield they are actually a rather unsafe form of transport due to the umm…driving style and it is not unheard of for backpacks to be swiped when you aren’t paying attention. I have to admit traveling by car beats the chicken bus hands down. But they do look really cool.

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