A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Broken Road

After a day longer than I'd hoped in Coyhaique, watching an endless drip from the sky drowning my hopes of progress, I woke to parting skies, bone-chilling cold and a fresh layer of snow on the surrounding peaks.  I left town smothered in down and was soon drenched in sweat, climbing the small sprints only to have it freeze solid to my body as I barreled down the backsides.  Despite the added weight on my bike, thanks to a couple of over-zealous shopping excursions anticipating lonely roads ahead, I found myself screaming along with the help of a gale-force tailwind from the north.  My grins of good fortune were perhaps a tad premature though as, 60km into my day, I finally stopped to inspect an odd knocking sensation that had finally achieved this-isn't-going-away-on-it's-own status coming from my crank with each revolution.  Thinking it was a pesky pedal bearing that had been dogging me for several months, I went to give it the jiggle I usually do that makes it go away for another week or so (out of sound, out of mind, right?).  As I grasped my pedal, the usual firmness of my well tuned machine played sloppily in my hand.   Another tug and I felt my whole crank, indeed my immediate future on the road, wobble like a drunken man on a unicycle.  With a terminally ill bottom bracket, my options were suddenly limited.  I pondered this for a moment, trying to imagine exactly how I was going to employ the use of my rations of duct tape and baling wire to solve this problem and suddenly realized that, in short, I was screwed.  Return from whence I came (headfirst into the hurricane force winds I had just been enjoying) or continue on, take the shortcut across Lago General Carerra and hope for some miracle in either Chile Chico or Los Antiguos, the last two towns before beginning the long stretch into nowhere on Ruta 40.

I chose option two and, after a long night enduring winds that I have only heard tell of in movies like Twister or The Wizard of Oz, caught the morning ferry to Chile Chico.  My enthusiasm for this grand lake I had been looking forward to circling for so long was tempered by the fact that I was missing a fantastic ride around the lake by taking the ferry across it and also by the realization that I would be a fool to continue on in the face of the pending failure of my bottom bracket.  Upon reaching the other side, I paused in the small, cozy town of Chile Chico to ascertain the likelihood of finding a modern-day splined bottom bracket in a small touristy border town.  After visiting most of the twelve or so buildings that make up the town, it became apparent that there was none to be had as the most modern bike in town looked to be about as old as me. 

I again reflected on my journey, where I was and where I wanted to be...two very different places.  The glory road in soutern Chile is the Careterra Austral, the best part being from Coyhaique south bisecting glacially carved valleys and passing through impossibly remote countryside.  Due to extreme weather conditions during most of the year, critical ferries connecting the route run only in the peak months of December through March, thus making the route virtually impassable the rest of the year (this theory has recently been debunked by our friend Sarah and her compadre and will again be put to test by another road brother in the coming months).  As a result, the adventurous off-season cyclist is left with no option but to endure a week or so of some of the worst conditions a biker can imagine on the Argentina side following Ruta 40; horrible roads, extreme distances between food and water supplies and unfathomably strong cross winds that often make cycling impossible (let alone setting up a tent, using a stove, etc.).  

A long night in Los Antiguos left me more sure than ever that it was time to pack up, swallow my pride and cut my losses.  This trip has never been about the destination, but about the journey; the getting there, anywhere; the adventure of never knowing where we were going to end up when the wheels stopped rolling.  I felt that, for the moment at least, the wheels had stopped.  The weather was tickling me with the promise of much colder days to come, my bike was hopelessly ill and I had lost some crucial motivation.  I vowed to return as soon as the weather and Kirsten's schedule allows, hopped on the once weekly bus out of town and headed north. 

So, that's where the story ends for now.  Nearly 11,000km, 317 days and a world away from where we started, I was back home.  Stay tuned for more tales from the road when we return in mid December.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Patagonian Wonders...

The cool bite of fall wrapped tightly around me as I left El Bolson, the nostalgic combination of rotting leaves and fallen, fermenting apples taking me back to Octobers of my childhood. Solitude enveloped me as I said goodbye to pavement and entered Parque Nacional Los Alerces, the land that time forgot. Magnificent rivers of sparkling emeralds flowed smoothly and swiftly into lakes of impossible greens, flanked on all sides by monolithic rocky peaks. Stands of massive old-growth coihues reached high amongst them, pushing skyward on near vertical slopes, their deep red color dripping down the mountainsides like fingers of fiery hot lava burning its way through the forest. The rivers were a fishermans´ paradise, pulling me from the road again and again with their promise of the prizes of my dreams. What I wouldn´t have given for a float tube and a pair of waders as the frigid glacial waters kept me on the banks, mostly out of reach of the man-sized trout I could see loafing about. After 2 days, the cool weather and the pull of the south kept me on the move, back to Chile. My friendly crossing at the border, on the Chilean side, turned somewhat sour when the man searching my bags came across my kilo of popcorn, meant to sustain me for the coming lonely stretch of riding on the Careterra Austral. He held it up to his boss, both with a twinkle in their eyes. We´ll have to take this, they said. I rode off dejected, swearing I could hear the popping of my sweet maize on their raging fire behind me.

On through the Futaleufú valley, along another epic river of the same name. I stopped in town to stock up and inquire about fishing with an old guide I met. They won´t be biting, he promised, but come look at my record fish. An impressive creature it was - 18kg of brown trout (that´s almost 40 lbs!) and over 4 feet long. A chilean record, he said as he told me the story of catching it in the river and the hour and a half long battle. It was his pride and joy and hung on his wall as a monument to possiblity. I was jealous.

My welcome to the famous Careterra Austral consisted of rain, mud and a long, lonely stretch of road. Due to a malfunctioning ATM in Futaleufú, I had almost no money and thus very little food leaving me tired , wet and hungry and profoundly unimpressed with this road that for many is a destination itself. Still, even a rainforest sees some sun and after 2 days of misery, the clouds parted and nine seperate rainbows brightened my mood. I stopped for lunch alongside a river bank and as I finished the last of my cheese, I threw a small chunk into the water, where it was immediately devoured by a large trout. Hmm. Still waiting for my introduction to a Patagonian trout, and in spite of what the wise old man had promised, I pieced together my rod that I have luged across two continents for exactly this moment. My first cast...WHAM! My small 4 weight rod double over with the weight of a fish far to large for it. It was gone in seconds, taking my fly and half my leader with it. I quickly tied on another and again, snap. Four flies and several meters of leader later, I landed my first beauty, a spectacular sea-run rainbow. In the next 3 hours, I would have one of the most incredible days of fishing ever, losing count at 12 after the first hour or so. For every one I caught, I lost 2 or 3 more, my stash of flies fast dwindling. The fun ended with the loss of my last fly. They hit hard, on nearly every cast, and fought like whales. What a day!

The road climbed steeply from there and as the air grew frigid, I found myself surrounded on all sides by huge, glacial-capped rocky peaks, reminding me of why I love to ride and taking my mind off the seemingly endless mountain I was climbing. At long last, after 9 days of almost continuous gravel and mud that makes up most of the Austral, I finally reached the one paved section that would lead me on a windy and rolling path into Coyhaique, the capital of southern Chile. Surrounded by sheer granite cliffs and large snow-capped peaks, it is an adventurers´ paradise and a perfect spot for some days of rest before beginning the next leg south, back into Argentina and into the national parks Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. A few more weeks will find me deep in the south amongst icebergs and penguins and the end of the world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Greetings! Time has somehow escaped me and I find myself gone for more than 3 weeks without an update. I´ve come a long way since then! My departure from Santiago and its associated Ag/Industrial corridor of enormous viñeyards, apple orchards and kiwi plantations took the better part of five days. The riding was fast but boring to say the least and good camping was at a premium, always an endless stretch of barbed wire seperating me and my tent from a scenic, peaceful nights sleep. When the preferred lake or river side epic was not forthcoming, a gas station always proved to be a sure bet, with grassy stretches in back, hot showers and well stocked coolers of cold beer to relieve the pain of a long, hot day of riding.
It was a grand relief to finally depart the madness of freeway riding and the solitude and lack of traffic I was immediately afforded was much welcomed. I took a day off in Villarica, a quaint little tourist destination in the shadow of the magnificent Volcan Villarica before making my way east towards the Argentina border. I left Coñaripe, a small town in the hills and my last stop before the border, hoping to make Argentina that day via a little used route over Paso Carirriñe, but it was not to be that day. The rains began soon after leaving town, pounding so hard that continuing on on the dirt (mud) didn´t seem feasible. A deserted house, dry and cozy in a bombed-out-house sort of way appeared at the perfect moment and I made myself at home for the night. All that night and the following day, rain in heavy sheets turned the already mushy dirt into full on soup. I left amid ongoing drizzle upon realizing that in southern Chile, if I don´t ride in the rain, well, I´m not going to get very far.

The last 20km before the border were the worst, the road becoming unrideable with ankle deep mud on crazy steep slopes, my stubborn mule refusing to budge. I pushed and prodded, yelled obscenities, threatened abandonment and finally dragged her most of the final 10km to the Carabineros (Chilean police). I had some idea of how I must of looked, but the sympathy in the eyes of the men who came out made me realize just how pathetic I looked. They were obviously excited for some company (I was the first person they had seen in 3 days) and after processing my papers showed me the way to the kitchen with a raging fire, a bottomless cup of coffee and the conversation of 3 lonely guys. After a couple hours of warmth, it was tough to leave the that room to get back on the road, the rain now heavier and colder than when I arrived. Don´t worry, they said. There are hot springs 10km up the road. Just knock and someone will let you in.
It was about dark by the time I pushed my way to the entrance of the hot springs and sure enough the gate was closed and all the lights were off. Two men appeared just as I was giving up hope of the steaming bath I had been dreaming about for the last 3 hours. Sorry, it´s closed, they told me. Again, my pathetic appearance must have appealed to their better halves because after looking me up and down, they told me to follow them. Down a path, into a deserted bog onto a small wooden platform. Just make sure you close the gate on the way out, they said before leaving...oh, and don´t tell anyone we let you stay. No problem! I spent 2 hours roasting in near boiling thermals, marvelling at my good fortune and defrosting my fingers and toes.

The land beyond was remote and untouched and I got the feeling I could be passing through 500 years ago and it would all still look the same. Huge old-growth coihues (a type of native beech) and monkey puzzle trees towered over me, silently reminiscing about a life from long ago. Several epic looking trout waters got me drooling, but the continuing drizzle zapped my motivation to stop moving. Somewhere ahead was the Argentina immigration building with another hot fire! Sure enough, after a few frigid hours, I came upon it and recieved another dose of comfort from a lonely pair of Gendarmerians.

San Martin de los Andes was my next stop and is the Aspen of northern Patagonia; a skiing mecca and a pricey destination by a poor bikers standards. Still, a cozy hostel with friendly travellers and staff kept me warm and dry and when it was raining even harder the next morning, I opted to kick it for another day. The 2 days following San Martin pass through the infamous seven lakes district and I was hoping for good weather but, again, it was not to be. A slight break the next morning lasted all of an hour and by mid morning I was soaked again with a long day ahead of me. If there were fantastic views, like everyone says, I didn´t see them. I tried to use my imagination...but to be honest, water was about the last thing I was intersted in. Still, there is a threshold, a point at which it is impossible to get any more wet. I met that moment early in the day and from then on, I was like a five year old playing in the rain, hitting the biggest puddles at full speed, daring it to be deeper than I thought. Shouts of encouragement from the many construction workers I passed as I barreled along kept me smiling and after 7 hours of insanity, I finally reached pavement and yet another cozy little lake town. I have never been so willing to shell out money to camp. I took three long, hot showers in the few hours that followed my arrival and enjoyed the first night in six without rain. The trend continued on into the next morning when I woke to blue skies and a beaming sun. Yeah! I made the short ride to Bariloche for a day of rest and to make some much needed bike repairs before heading south again to the hippy capital of Argentina, El Bolsón, where I am currently. Fall is in full swing, the cottonwoods glowing magnificent shades of gold as the cold bite of winter is reaching out a little earlier each afternoon and holding on a bit longer each morning, leaving me wondering what another month or so and several more degrees of latitude south will bring.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sweet Home Santiago

Greetings!  This will be the final post for the next month or so as we have taken to the sedentary life of city dwellers and are learning the ways of the Santiago warriors.  How quickly things change.  For the past 8 months, our lives have been defined by the strokes of our pedals and our minds have been shaped by the worlds those pedals took us through, our days beginning and ending dictated by the rising and setting of the sun.  Gone are the days (for the moment) of peaceful hours of riding, lost in our thoughts, engrossed in the wonder of wherever we might be, imagining what might lie around the next bend in road.  That tranquility has been replaced by the raucous madness that is downtown Santiago. Riding a bike here is something of a game of chicken, a sort of russian roulette on wheels, never knowing when a car will turn, or when a pedestrian will pop out of a roadside store.  This isn't a land where pedestrians rule, where crosswalks offer some semblance of security. No, city life is all about survival.  Hard as it is for us to believe, this is home now and we have begun our adjustments. 

Our welcome to the city was about as warm as one could hope for.  We pulled into the Plaza de Armas midday on a Saturday, filled with emotions as we laid to rest a life we had become so accustomed to.  Never more (for now) to wake with the rising sun, to pack a tent still damp with morning dew to begin another days project on wheels.  Still, so much unknown and adventure lay before us as we opened ourselves to a life completely foreign to us.  We got off our bikes, soaking in the sights, the smells, the incredible quantity of people.  We stopped at a nearby cafe for a much needed moment of rest and an even more urgent giant plate of food. Moments later, an overflowing, overwhelming mass of food arrived, only to disappear within minutes.  As we sat, contemplating what we had just accomplished and where we were going from there, two men sitting behind us invited us to their table for coffee and conversation. A retired police chief and volunteer firefighters both, our conversation soon expanded to include their familes and before long, they were insisting we join them for lunch (never mind the huge plates of food we just ate) and we began pushing our overloaded bikes down the pedestrian mall, trying to keep up with Luis and his family as they led us to the delectable plates of Chilean ceviche and wine they had just finished describing (the real thing is better...you'll see, they told us).  We arrived at the crowded indoor market and as we sat outside pondering exactly what we might do with our massive machines, there was Luis (a teddy-bear of a man reminiscent of "Da Bearss" guy on Saturday Night Live) already well inside the market shrugging off our concerns about our bikes and motioning frantically for us to follow him.  Still a little skeptical, we struggled to keep up, weaving our awkward loads down the skinny aisles among stalls of raw fish and the hundreds of people milling about, most of whom were offering us curious glances and the occasional snyde remark.  No worries though...we are with the former chief of police and he knows everyone.  Before long, he has negotiated a secure storage locker among frozen fish for our bikes and has bypassed the long lines to find us a prime table while ordering a mass of food, wine and pisco sours that arrives like a desert oasis in front of us.  Our small group has now expanded to include a good portion of the Octava Company fire department and Luis' wife.  We were welcomed warmly into their world, treated to a lunch we might only have dreamed about and we parted ways feeling like old friends and veterans of a city we had just hours ago pedaled into for the first time.
We have just returned from a brief yet joyous reunion with our families in the states and are settling in to life in the city.  Stay tuned for more tales from the road as Seth embarks solo sometime in mid March for the epic wonders of Patagonian Chile and Argentina to the south (penguins!!).
Keep in touch all of you!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Paso de Agua Negra

We are quite proud and a little relieved to announce that we have just conquered the last, monolithic obstacle on our quest to Santiago (and eventually to see all of you), Paso de Agua Negra: 4780 meters. For those of you already rummaging around for a calculator, that´s 15,682 feet. This leg of our journey was the greatest point to point elevation gain we´ve made in the shortest amountof time. We started from approximately 600 meters above sea level and completed the climb (190 km)in three days...Thats over 30,000 feet of elevation gained and lost! Eat that, Lance Armstrong! Our journey upward was energized and motivated by the ongoing parade of fan club members that passed us by with waves, smiles, thumbs-up, fistpumps, tobacco tin finger-slaps, musical honks and applause. There were few passersby that didn´t at least give us a friendly wave. A river followed us most of the ride up the canyon, collecting snow melt from the capped peaks and melting (too bad) glaciers. The mountains were void of vegetation, but full of electric colors, contrasting golds, reds and shades of grey. We fell under the good graces of the wind gods for most of the climb, until about 15km from the top of the pass, when hurricane force winds blasted us head-on and we struggled to keep ourbikes upright and moving in a forward direction. One slow kilometer and hairpin turn after another, we arrived at the international border with tears of joy in both of our eyes and a little less breath in our lungs. We struggled to keep from being blown off the mountain as we took photos before bundling up for the steep descent. The next morning, we awoke frozen to the bone and rode in hats, mittens and down jackets until the sun rose above the mountains a few hours later. We abrubtly met the infamous Pacific-to-Andes wind that we had been hearing so much about. Sure, we can handle wind, we thought. At least we´re going downhill. Ha Ha! Not much is worse for the psyche than struggling (hard) to pedal downhill. We passed fairly efficiently through Chilean customs and immigration and rode nearly 100km down, into the wind. Beaten, battered and hungry, we pulled over to locate the first town on the map to buy food. (At this point, we were completely out of food less the powdered milk, tea and mermelada that wasn´t confiscated by customs). A car pulled over to ask us if we wanted help and they ended up turning around and 4 adults peeled out. They offered us water, bread, cheese and Cola de Mono, a drink like Bailey´s Irish Cream, to give us energy they told us. They invited us to stay at their house and this time, we took them up on the offer. So, we bustled as fast as we could another 30km, found their house in the dark and they offered up the greatest hospitality. They sent us away this morning,with cheese, homemade apricot jam, bread and fruit. We feel so grateful. Incredibly, the second Chilean we met today invited us to his house, too! We have just seen the Pacific Ocean from La Serena, about 500km north of Santiago. We plan to hit the beach and indulge in a little Chilean seafood and wine this evening. We are thrilled to be here. You wouldn´t believe the amount of fruits and vegetables in season! We thought we saw a lot of grapes in Argentina. There is little earth that is not covered in them here. As we rode down yesterday, the valley looked like Jean-Claude and Christo´s fabric wrapping, because they hang curtains of fabric over the vineyards to protect them from the wind and sun. Our panniers are currently filled with strawberries, plums,watermelon and lots of veggies. They probably won´t last through the night. Anyway, that´s enough from the Chilean coast. We look forward to seeing you all soon. Put the champagne on ice...we´re coming soon to an airport near you!

Argentina - Land of Plenty

"We better keep an eye on the bikes, in case the river comes alive" I said to Kirsten with a grin. "Yeah right" she countered. The riverbed was dry as a bone and looked like it hadn`t seen water in a year. It was our first night in Argentina and, still riding the lunar-like altiplano, could find nowhere else out of sight to camp. So we trudged our bikes upstream, laid them against the steep wall of the riverbank and threw our tent down on a sandbar. We crawled inside and within seconds, the black clouds we had been racing against were upon us and made there presence known by unleashing a thrashing for the ages. Our tent shook violently as the inches of hail piled up around us and the water begain seeping into our now less-than-waterproof abode. For 15 minutes the madness continued, the tent exploding with bright flashes every few seconds as the lightening bolts cracked all around us. As the rain subsided, we sat back to enjoy that post storm calmness when everything is strangely silent and the air is fresh and pure. Except...What`s that noise? A strange new gurgling sound that wasn`t there before now emanated from outside the door. With uncomfortable looks, Kirsten unzipped the tent to peak outside. To our amazement, a full raging torrent of black, muddy, sandy, crap-infested water was gushing by, just inches from the edge of our tent. My joke of 15 minutes past had suddenly become a nightmare of reality and our bikes were helplessly sinking. The water rose before our eyes, first to our pedals, then well above our axles, the small logjam of foam, sticks and other crap another foot higher threatening to breach the top of our still-connected rear panniers and drenching their contents. Without considering the importance of documenting such an occasion on film, something I regret as I write this, I stripped down and jumped into the nów knee deep flood waters and wrestled them across from the far side. Every nook and cranny from hub to hub was crammed full of sand and sticks and muck and it would be several hours before they would be rideable again. Lesson from day 1 in Argentina...Beware of Flash Floods!

The high altiplano that we had become accustomed to would soon become a distant memory as we began our descent into the Humahuaca Valley via the Quebrada (canyon) de Humahuaca. The valley was lusciously green, given life by the meandering chocolate brown Rio Grande, the surrounding hills draped in a dozen shades of red, brown and purple and the thin vegetation consisting mostly of the forests of giant, saguaro-like cacti. The canyon soon dissolved, giving way to the lowland forests of Jujuy and Salta. With a 2500m loss of elevation, we were suddenly battling heat we hadn`t known since the Sechura Desert in northern Peru. We pushed on to Salta, passing up a generous offer to stay from the first man we met in Jujuy, the rolling and winding road through thick forest in stark contrast to the long, straight monotonous stretches of the altiplano. We paused in Salta for a much needed 3 day rest as we were generously and warmly welcomed into the home of Ramon Marin and the other 6 members of his family. Another `Casa de Ciclistas`, they welcome any travelling cyclist to stay, with an entire separate part of their house devoted to cyclists. We brought the new year in with them all, in addition to 5 Belgian cyclists who arrived shortly after we did. 14 of us in all, it was a rowdy night, capped off by Ramon`s 75 year old mother setting off fireworks in the back yard...go Tina!

The beautiful countryside continued south of Salta as we followed the historic `Ruta del Vino` (Route of Wine) through the Quebrada de las Conchas, a remarkable canyon they call `the Grand Canyon of Argentina`. Heavily carved sandstone walls of varying shades of red with towering rock monoliths left us in awe. As would become a custom in Argentina, we found ourselves the subject in as many photos as we were stopping for, nearly every car snapping pictures of us as we passed by. As abruptly as the canyon began, it disappeared, with thousands of acres of grapes taking their place. It seemed every house had its own mini-vineyard along with the 6 or 7 large vineyards that dominated the valley. A brief stay in the picturesque town of Cafayete offered us our first experience with the municipal campgrounds of Argentina (almost evey town has one). They are a rowdy bunch, prone to all night parties and to be sure, we prefer the quiet solitude of our usual campsites, but we met some cool people and had another to-die-for plate of Argentine steak and killer wine. From here the road straightened again and at times we could see so far ahead it almost felt like we were looking straight into tomorrow. Though the landscape seemed monotonous, wildlife was spectacular and we encountered some unusual creatures, including grasshoppers over 5" long! If the dinosaurs stood with grasshoppers, surely they were this big...
As midday temperatures rose to the boiling point, we took a cue from Argentine life and began taking siestas in the afternoon. We`d ride until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, find a shady spot, pull out the hammock and devour watermelons, make popcorn and nap for a few hours until the sun had dropped to a tolerable point. On again into the evening to finish our day. After 7 long, hot days we rolled into Chilecito for a day of rest. A cute town, we found ourselves at home in a place that has an ice cream shop on every block! Still punching out 100-130km every day, we arrived in San Jose de Jàchal, our last major stop before Chile and where our last big Andean conquest begins. Only 160km and nearly 4000m of elevation gain separate us from our new homeland.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Commerce in Bolivia

Although Bolivia was a quick passing in our Latin America riding adventures, it was spectacular at times, frustrating at others and deserves a closer look into the inner workings of its day to day business transactions. Outside of the cities, the scenery was breathtaking and suprisingly free of the litter that pervades LA. We rode through landscapes that reminded us of the desolation of Nevada, the canyons of Arizona and the red rock formations of Utah. Along this stretch of deserted road to the Salar Uyuni in SW Bolivia, only three cars passed in our direction in three entire days. The road was very challenging as we pushed our bikes through sand, shook and girated through washboard and screamed (Kirsten) obscenities as we humped our bikes back and forth from the horrible main road to the nearly as horrible frontage road.

We met a number of incredibly friendly Bolivian women on the road that engaged us in conversations about the history of their towns, their families and had a genuine interest in our curious form of travel. These encounters by far trumped the much left to be desired food and shady business deals in other more ¨touristy¨parts of the country. As we crested a hill in the desert altiplano, we saw kids rush towards us on the road to greet us with their hats upturned, hoping for some coins to walk away with. Panhandling is often directly aimed at us gringos, but we much prefer this less invasive approach to the other common demand, ¨Gringo, Give me money!¨ Within the next 3km, we saw dozens of women scattered along the road selling cheese. There was not even a town in sight, though there was a smattering of mud brick houses way off in the distance. The women shouted, raised their arms in a desperate attempt to lure customers out of their cars and off their bicycles for a sale. Yet, every person was selling exactly the same thing! We think they need a serious economics lesson in supply and demand. It happens this way all over the countries we have visited. Dozens or more selling exactly the same product and they end up aggressively recruiting customers to fight for business. Not a wise economic plan. Remedial math skills would be beneficial, too. 99% of the financial transactions we make are counted incorrectly, often in our favor. If they could count better, maybe they would be more financially stable. That´s some bonus points for education!

Frequently in Bolivia, we´ve entered little stores to purchase food, handed over the bill to pay and they respond in kind with a puppy dog look and whiny tone, ¨Don´t you have anything smaller? I don´t have change.¨ When we say no, they ask us, ¨Don´t you want to buy something else to make up the difference?¨ In turn, ¨No we don´t, but thanks anyway.¨ Often times, they said they didn´t have change, but we could see that they had buckets full. They just didn´t want to disperse their precious change, because they´d run into the same problem somewhere else. Occasionally, they thought it was our responsibility to get change then come back if we wanted to buy something. How absurd! To make matters worse, nothing was ever labeled with a price so we had to blindly trust that we weren´t getting ripped off too badly. Seth went to pick up our laundry one morning, bringing a $50 boliviano bill, about $7USD. She didn´t have change so she wanted to give the bill back to Seth, but keep our laundry instead.

In Uyuni, the day after Christmas, we went out for coffee, ice cream and a few rounds of cribbage. When we went to pay, the waitress told us what we owed, but it was a little more than what we had counted up from the prices on the menu. She insisted that Seth´s coffee was 8 bolivianos. So Seth picked up the menu and showed her that it stated $6. No exaggeration here when she picked up a pen and attempted to change the price on the menu right in front of us. That was a no-go for us. We were flabbergasted! It doesn´t end there, as we were continously being cheated of minutes on the internet, getting skimmed on either side and constantly had to count change in ALL money exchanges. Shady dealings bit us like summer mosquitoes in Minnesota.

Despite these challenges, we didn´t leave Bolivia with a bitter taste in our mouth. In South America, it´s a dog-eat-dog world. Still, we were relieved and excited to enter the modern world in Argentina and we are still adjusting to the welcome changes.