Tag Archives: report

Brighton Beach, Little Odessa

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New York City Mega Post

9-11 Memorial

We visited the 9-11 memorial. We got our tickets online, joined the queue and got searched by security. The site was pretty impressive. The foundations of the two towers were transformed into massive waterfalls with the names of the victims etched into the side. It’s was good to see how international the names were showing it wasn’t just an attack on the US but the whole world.

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South Street Seaport

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Katz Delicatessen

It was filled to the brim with tourists but still maintained an authentic feeling of a an old classic deli. We had the beef brisket with gravy on rye bread.

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McSorely’s Old Ale House

After eating at NYC’s oldest deli, we grabbed some beers at NYC’s oldest bar. I liked that there are only 2 types of beers on tap ( light and dark) and with amazing prices for NYC ($5 for 2 beers). It really is old and so is allot of the decoration. You can feel the stories and history in the walls. Plus the beer is good.

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Times Square

Even though it can be annoyingly busy and touristy. I think it is my favorite people watching spot in the world. So many different types of people all gathering in this one place blasting your senses into an overload of lights and sounds.

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Prosperity Dumplings and Chinatown

I visited this place a couple of years back and remember they had some fantastic dumplings. You can see 3 ladies in the back making the dumplings by hand and you can really taste the freshness. I got a bit greedy and ordered 10 fried dumplings and 10 steamed ones ($1 for 5 dumplings, amazing deal) and somehow miraculously we managed to finish them all.

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St Patricks Day Parade

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All Over the City

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San Miguel del Bala; Jungles of Bolivia

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Jungle Observations

River water looks like chocolate milk. Will it also taste like it?  I am not sure. Dilemma.

It’s been raining heavily the past few days and the river is high. Everything in the river floating looks like a crocodile. Or does a crocodile look like floating debris?

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We visited a canyon in the jungle. There was water flowing through it, it was narrow and humid. It reminded me of the King Kong scene in the valley, filled with centipedes, bats, frogs, spiders and weird bugs.

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Our guide Wilmer doesn’t speak his own Tanaka language. He and many other Bolivians used to be embarrassed to speak and to be identified as indigenous. Now with Evo Morales as their first indigenous president people are starting to  learn their languages again.

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I asked Wilmer if he had visited the capital La Paz before. He said he didn’t like it as it was too cold and noisy at night. He said he prefers the jungle noise.

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Wilder is from the Tanaka tribe and they own the eco lodge and a lot of the jungle land. All the profits go into improving their village and way of life.

On our second day Wilmer is walking barefoot through the jungle to show us a waterfall. He gets bitten by a poisonous spider. Very calmly he kills the spider with his walking stick and gets  a knife out to cut the bite and bleed out some of the poison. He explains that the next ten hours for him will be very painful. He explains the pain won’t be in the bite, but rather the poison which will gather in his glands. He points to his balls. I guess glands are in the balls. I am not a doctor nor have basic knowledge of the human biology.

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After a few days in the jungle surrounded by pure nature Facebook activity seems mundane an irrelevant. I still check though as soon as I get back.

We both get so many bites that aren’t from mosquitoes but I have no clue what kind of insect causes these bites. Every itches and nothing hurts.

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Ants come in all colors and sizes and they are everywhere. Some are tiny and harmless and some are called Fire-ants and Bullet-Ants and Face-burn-ants for a reason.

The noise coming from the jungle is never-ending and it’s amazing how much about the jungle I don’t know. Some sounds could be from a bird or monkeys but for the same money they could be from a huge beetle.  Either way I think they are trying to come into our porous wooden cabin.

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All trees look the same to us, but some contain rubber or glue or a fuel like substance. Others smell like garlic and can be used for cooking. Most modern people have no clue about nature.

We ask which mushrooms are tasty or great for a nice psychedelic trip and we are disappointed to learn that all them except one will send you directly to the afterlife. We never get to see the edible mushroom.

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There are communities of spiders that work together and weave huge webs that are basket like.

We learn that there are hummingbirds that are so small and light that they built their nests on the leave of a tree.

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We see a wild papaya tree with its trunk completely covered in large spikes to prevent monkeys and vegans from getting to its fruit.

Wilmer warns us not to leave any damp clothing outside  to dry ( I don’t think anybody has any non-damp clothing). Flies, spiders and other bugs love wet clothing and will use it as a nest overnight and you will wake up in the morning and find your New Balance socks covered in spider eggs or bug larvae. If you don’t notice the larvae or the eggs, these can hatch and once you wear them they will bury themselves in your skin and flesh. I asked Wilmer if he was kidding. He assured me he was not.

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I found out how a certain type of tarantula live in hole in the ground. So off course every hole in the ground around our camp was filled by my imagination with all types of creatures ready to attack me.

Wilmer was surprised to learn that seas have regular tides. Because he is so used to rivers and they only rise and fall when it rains. I tried explaining how the moon influences the ocean tides, but my Spanish and general knowledge were sorely lacking. I think I may have left him more confused.

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Critters and Creatures in the Bolivian Jungle

The jungle is filled with life. We aren’t really wildlife people but this was really fascinating. We didn’t get to see any large animals like a jaguar, since most large animals are nocturnal and we are very much dayturnal. But we did get to see a lot of bugs. So here we go:

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This is a scorpion spider. We saw a whole bunch of crazy spiders and centipedes during a hike through a canyon. But this one was the coolest. The guide said this one is really dangerous and also preys on the other large spiders for food.

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This was an awesome Capybara we saw from the boat with a bird on his back. A capybara is the world’s largest rodent (rat cousin).

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There were so many different kinds of ants in the jungle. It was pretty crazy. The thing the guide told us to watch out the most for were fire-ants. He was more concerned about them than spiders. Interesting fact time : When combined, all ants in the world weigh about as much as all humans

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Howler monkeys. Very loud and very wild. This was a close as we got.

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Paw print of a jaguar in the mud. That’s as close as we got to a jaguar.

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Find the grasshopper.

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Tarantula we found in the jungle. It was pretty fast. I was taking a lot of pictures of it until our guide decided to put his toe beside it to show us the scale. I don’t know if that was the smartest move but at that moment a frog appears and the tarantula goes after the frog.

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Another huge ant. Tasted a bit sour.

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

The Uros are a pre-Incan people who live on forty-two self-fashioned floating islands in Lake Titicaca Puno, Peru and Bolivia. The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake.

Here are some titbits I remember from the Tour I got on the floating islands:

Sixty percent of Titicaca lake is Peru and forty percent is Bolivia

They understand now incest is wrong and people don’t marry within the same island anymore. There are  forty-nine separate islands.

Every island gets garbage duty. Once a week they go around and collect garbage from all islands and bring it to the main land.

Each island has a “president” He is also the judge. If one family doesn’t contribute enough they saw of their part of the island with their house and let them float away and they can join another island if they choose to.

All the islands are anchored otherwise they could float down to Bolivia. None of the islanders have a passport.

At age 50 they often develop rheumatism due to the humidity of living so close to water their whole lives.

Toilets are holes in the island with a long floating bag containing chemicals.

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Taquile Island

The people don’t wear wedding rings but belts. Male belts contain a piece of hair of their wife.

Only island to follow the traditional Inca rules of life.. No lying, no stealing and don’t be lazy.

Because of no stealing there are no dogs on the island. Since there is no need to use them guard dogs

Females believe direct eye contact can take life energy from a person and tend to cover their faces.

People don’t shake hands when meeting for the first time but rather exchange coca leaves. Coca leaves symbolizing the energy you give to each other.

Couples live together for 3 years to see if things work out. They do this because there is no divorce.

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Cucuya: Our own Personal Tropical Lodge

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“Turistas” yelled one of the children outside playing while we were in our room upstairs. I hoped it wasn’t true and that we would remain as the only guests of Cucuya Eco Lodge. We’ve had a wonderful time so far at this lodge in Puerto Quito. We had our lunches and dinners downstairs surrounded by 3 wonderful dogs (Bingo, Rocco and Zorro) and the manager’s kids coming and going always wishing us a “buenos dias” or “bon provecho”. Marcello the owner of the resort took us in his personal car to the Cascadas Azul (blue waterfalls) which was really special as I ended up being the only person swimming in the natural pool underneath the waterfall. This place was ours and ours alone.

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On our way back we stopped in the middle of downtown Puerto Quito as there was a parade going on. Isn’t it nice of the people of PQ to throw us a welcoming parade. It must have been for us as I couldn’t see any other tourists or visitors around. That night Gabriel (the manager of the lodge) showed us the process how you go from a cacao fruit to actual chocolate. We had fresh fruit with hot all natural chocolate and it was we didn’t have to share this experience with anybody else. When we went for a tour on a fruit farm we didn’t have to wait for any other people or be restricted by their dietary restrictments. We attempted to make some rings out of palm nut wood and when our ineptness at manual labour showed Gabriel took over and made us some shiny new wooden rings that we still wear.

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So when I looked out the window and realised there were no new turistas coming and we had the place to ourselves I smiled and laid back down in bed again.

Practical Information; Cucuya Eco Lodge.:  Their website

The Potosi Mines: Dynamite, 96% Alcohol & Coca leaves

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We went on a tour of a fully functioning silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. This isn’t some leisurely sightseeing trip. We passed miners working in terrible conditions. We went from freezing cold to places so warm I wonder if we had walked into hell.  The few times you can walk upright your back thanks you but most of the time is spent crouching through the tunnels. We followed the train tracks of the rail carts the miners use to pull the raw material out of the mines. Sometimes you are knee deep in water which is better then when it is pure slippery mud or when it is completely dry and the dust flares up making it hard to breathe.

Our guide explained the mining conditions used to better with the state owning the mines. We saw unused water tanks formerly used to sprinkle the mines to keep the dangerous dust to a minimum. There was health-care for the families and it was mandatory for the children to go to school. These days children often follow their father into the mines to help out. They start out working in the mines around 13 and 14 years old. Some try to go to school at night. Most don’t and alcoholism is a big problem. The drink of preference is 96% sugar cane alcohol. It helps them with the cold. Deeper into the mines the men smoke hand rolled cigarettes as the smell of various minerals can be very intense.

The mines are currently run by coops. These are groups of miners that pay to use the mine. The infrastructure in the mine is minimal and safety has no real priority. In the tunnels there are water pipes held up by t-shirts,  electricity cables put together by tape and broken wooden support beams everywhere. There are no engineers in the mountain. There is no overall map. Everything rests with the experience and intuition of the miners.

The miners who work with transporting the raw materials can make 100 Bolivianos ( less than $13 per day). But they have to transport 5 tons of material per day or they don’t get paid and they often have to work very long days to hit this number. The average wage in Bolivia is 800 bolivanos per month and the money does make mining an attractive option.

There are two foreign companies (Canadian and Swiss) that operate in the mines and have much better conditions. Bolivia doesn’t have processes to refine the raw material to anything other than silver. Foreign companies buy the waste material to refine other minerals out of it.

Our guide explained that El Tio “The Devil” is the main deity in the mines. Most miners are catholic but down in the mines there is no religion, there is only El Tio. Our guide also explains that especially during February El Tio gets “hungry” and “eats” the miners that do not respect and bring him offerings. During Carnival El Tio is celebrated and even family members enter the mines to give alms to the Uncle.  His cave is decorated , music is played, there is dancing and much drinking.

Miners are superstitious and if the coca they are chewing doesn’t feel right as they enter the mine they will exit, spit out the coca and get some fresh one. There are 15,000 miners active in Potosi and 500 women but they aren’t allowed to work in the mine since miners believe they would bring bad luck.

There are no lunch breaks, there is only coca. Which relieves the feeling of hunger cold and gives the miners energy. But somehow I don’t believe coca is a very nutritious meal. We came across two miners on their lunch break and they didn’t even have anything to drink, they just had coca leaves.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real  problem and they carry a special lamp to detect this. Dynamite accidents are also common. Various pieces of dynamite are set but don’t always go off. So when the miners go back to check the results one piece of dynamite can go off killing the miners. The safest would be to let that area of the mine alone for 24 hours but miners pay rent to use the mines and can’t afford to wait. The most dangerous part is Sylicosis, dust Life expentency for the miners is around 40. No masks are used or provided. After this tour it is really difficult to complain about any aspect of your job.

At the end of tour there was a 4-year old boy selling a rock. I imagined what it would be like if in 9 year he would have to go and work into the mines. I felt bad and bought his rock.

Some of the miners would have a quick chat as we passed them but most were quiet and focussed on their work. One asked me how I was doing and I answered “muy calor” he joked back:, haha, si una suana”. Pretty amazing to keep your sense of humour in these depressing conditions.

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The most impressive museum we visited in South America was La Capilla del Hombre ( the Chapel of Men) by the Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin in Quito. His center ceiling piece was dedicated to the slaves who died in the mines of Potosi. It is estimated over 8 MILLION slaves died during the 450 years of existence of the mine. The unfinished piece represents the slaves seeking the light, the way out of the mines and slavery.

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Outside the mines. We were at about 4300 altitude. The mountain reaches 4800 altitude( it used to be over a 100 meters high, but lost height, due to mining). Our guide gave the lady walking down the road some of the coca leaves we bought for the miners. I wasn’t really sure what she was doing so high up the mountain.

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Part of the original entrance built by slaves. It is sad that this segment is one the best constructed parts of the mines.

A miner is repairing one of the containers they use to haul raw material up and down several levels of the mines.

Miners working on the rail carts they use to transport the raw material. There is little space in the tunnels and we often had to squeeze to get passed by the working miners. Safety isn’t s a high priority and such a tour would be unimaginable in most other countries. I asked our guide what the miners thought of tourists wandering around their area of work. She replied they didn’t mind much as part of our tour price goes to their coop fund.

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El Tio (aka the Devil) the ruler in these mines. There are over 600 of these statues spread over the various mines in these mountains. The 15,000 workers pay their respect to El Tio in order to be blessed with the riches of his mines. He is not there as a symbol of protection. His offerings include, coca leaves, alcohol, a lit cigarette in his mouth and once a year on a special feast he gets to enjoy fresh llama blood.

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Much of the crouching we had to do on this 2 hour visit of the mine.

Our guide talking to some miners. This particular section of the mine was incredibly hot. Just standing there and breathing the hot dusty air air was hard. I couldn’t imagine how doing hard physical labour would be. I asked the guy on the right how long he had been working in the mine and he said he had been there for six weeks now.

Note: Due to the extreme hot and cold conditions of the mine my camera had issues with condensation and most of these pictures were taken by Heejung.

Useful information: We booked our tour through our Hostel Compania de Jesus, we paid 60 bolivianos each. This does not include the offerings and gifts to the miners, that was an additional 20 bolivianos. The tour company was right across the street from the hostel.

The Capital of Colombia: Bogotá

Random thoughts about Bogotá and Colombia in General.

The majority of public bathrooms (which aren’t free) don’t have a toilet seat.

Colombia has a weird obsession with the Simpsons. Lot’s of Simpson merchandise everywhere and Duff beer is even sold as a real beer in liquor stores.

Colombia is the country with the most personal display of affection I have ever been to. Lot’s of making out and kissing no matter the age of the couple. Pretty cool.

Also breastfeeding isn’t something that’s always done in private. Baby gotta eat.

Some of the items street vendors sell leaves me wandering who is buying this stuff. It’s mostly the only item the seller is carrying like USB sticks, motivational posters and tv antenna’s. My favorite is the person with a scale who is looking for customers who want to weigh themselves.

 
 
 Street Karaoke, pretty innovative.
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 Overlooking a forest on the other side of Bogotá.
 
 Giant maze of Bogota as seen from above.
 Guard in a door-frame at the free Botero Museum in Bogotá.
 
 
 
 
 
 Can’t judge love.
 
 
 
 
 
 Calentado, before and after.
 
 
 
 

A Honest Look into my Thoughts; Banos Jungle Tour

7:55am I am loving this desayuno continental. $2,25 for 2 fried eggs, bread with cheese, juice and a milk coffee? Yes please, just wish they would add some pieces of bacon or sausage links. Actually I wish they would add that to any meal. Who is this “they” I am talking about? All the restaurant/food people in the world?

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10:01am What an amazing view of the river, the mountains and cliffs. I just wish there was somebody risking their lives and hiking down alongside the river so I it would add scale to my photo. A photograph just doesn’t capture the grandness of it all and neither does my weak writing.

10:24am I like how the tunnels around Banos aren’t finished with cement walls. You can still see the exposed rock that has been cut through this mountain. Cold water drips from the ceiling onto the road and makes people aware that they are driving through a freaking hole dug into an insane mountain ! Why am I yelling in my thoughts !?!

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11:40am Just arrived at the monkey rescue center. Our guide Carlos just explained I need to take out all my belongings from my pockets, don’t bring the backpack, wrap the camera tightly along my hand and be careful of my glasses as the monkeys tend to steal anything thinking it might be food. Is this a monkey pickpocket/mugging academy? That would be kinda cool. Maybe pick up a small spider monkey specialised in stealing iPods or photo camera’s. Or go big and get a gorilla who just mugs the hell out of people. I mean how do you explain that to the cops? I think I just gave some savvy jungle business guy a great idea.

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12:34pm The indigenous village we are visiting just opened up their traditional hut/tourist shopping destination center. Lots of handmade earrings and bracelets, not much for the modern male. Just tried out a blowpipe and I hit the wooden bird straight up in its wooden heart. I am a natural at this. Carlos our guide almost hit the German tourist, would have been an interesting trophy to bring home

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2:41pm Lunch doesn’t look like much but it tastes pretty good. This yucca is crazy filling, I think it is actually expanding while in my stomach. The guide showed us a yucca bush, I don’t know people figured out this was edible. There must have been some dude, trying every single root. And must have failed so many times. He was like the Edison of Roots. Thank you amazon Edison for discovering the Yucca and Potato.

4:48pm There is allot happening in this jungle. I ate some sour lemon ants and their eggs, got a flammable plant like-petroleum smeared on my nostrils, chewed on anaesthesia-leaves that left my gums numb, tasted the leaves of a cinnamon brush( what’s the point, the wood itself is where the good stuff is), learned about a tree that can move about 20 centimetres per year, Carlos mentioned natives living isolated in parts of the jungle who killed some Colombian FARC members some years ago with basic weapons, learned about a death tree that uses vines to kill strangle nearby trees and touched a plant that closes it leaves as a form of defence against insects. Fascinating place.

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5:14 Trying to stay above the water in this pool underneath the waterfall. The amount and speed of the water is pretty crazy. Literally. Well, not really literally. But the sheer force is awing ( causing a state of awe) and to think this continues 24/7 without a lunch break.

 

9:12pm Gotta love a cold beer and papacarne (French fries with a hamburger patty) for $3 at Panchos. This place has a way too nice interior to be a regular fast food dive. On the other hand it’s nice to eat cheaply in a place without fluorescent lighting and a blaring TV in a corner.

Practical Information: We took the one day Jungle (Selva) tour by local operator Geotours. It was $50 for the whole day trip which was from 8:30am to 8:30pm and included lunch. They have their own website at http://www.geotoursbanios.com/ Everything was very professionally done with Rubber boots for the jungle walk provided.