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October 20, 2004

Well, as always, it's sad when a project runs down and it's time to leave.  We've had a GREAT time in Bolivia and met some more "friends for life".  The hardest thing to leave is the people we've met, and always a slight case of fear of the unknown. 

Mike will be off to Armenia on Sunday night, I ain't leaving until the 30th of October, so feel free to call!  I'll be staying at my folks in Holland after Sunday.   Email me if you need the phone number, plus I'll be trying to activate my world phone in Michigan.
 
 

October 15, 2002

OOOhhhh Boy, you can tell it's time for a new country.  Haven't been here in way to long.  For those who don't know, we leave here a week from today (October 22nd) at 6:45 am and arrive in Grand Rapids at 9:45 pm.  Then, Mike leaves for Armenis on Sunday at 7:30 pm, so not a lot of time at home.  I'm still shopping around for the best airfare for me, looks like I might be leaving as soon as Tuesday, though. 
 
So, next stop, Yerevan, Armenia (I hear atlas pages flipping!!! LOL)
 
Monday of this week I visited Tiwanaco with Gary and James (my tour guides of LaPaz).  This is a stretch of ruins discovered in 1920 ish that predates the Incan empire (and the Mayan, Egyptian, Roman, etc).  They really don't know a lot about it, but it's fairly impressive, although not very excavated yet.  There is apparently a large pyramid underneath a mound of dirt that all the tourists crawl upon, but they haven't uncovered it yet.  Strange.  A very monumental archealogical discovery, but under developed in my humble opinion. 
 
Here's a couple pics. 

October 4, 2004

Haven't been here in a while . . . must mean my life is getting boring!  Hope you all aren't too bored, wherever you are!  This past weekend we had a birthday party on Saturday afternoon for a guy that works at the Embassy (Kevin) which turned into quite the BBQ and booze event.  Arrived at the party around 1:30, got home around midnight!  What a day.  I took it easy on Sunday, but Mike went into work.  Yuck.
 
Today, Gary (who owns the Britannia Pub here) and his son (who's visiting from England) picked me up at 8:15 in the morning to go to Los Zongos and to Chacaltaya.  At Chacaltaya is the highest ski resort (?!? a slope and a chair lift that wasn't working) in the world.  We hiked up to the top, about killed us.
 
Photos posted on PHOTO page, for those interested.
 
Looks like our next stop is scheduled to be Yerevan, Armenia (I hear atlas pages flipping).  We are supposed to be there on the 18th of October until the 24th of December.  I think we are coming home for a day or two first, at least I am!  Of course, it's only 12 days away, so we're not BETTING on anything. . . heehee.
 

September 23, 2004

Not much to report this week!  Been doing some shopping, but just become confused as I look at piles of sweaters and scarves and such.  So, I do what's easiest - buy for me!  heehee. 
 
I got my leather outfit - in taupe instead of purple as the purple was "not good leather" according to the man - and it just needed one alteration on the pants.  Get them back tomorrow, hopefully. 
 
Went to the black market on Wednesday with Gary (owner of British Pub) and his 19 year old son.  Got lost.  Always interesting to visit this part of town.  It's amazing to buy Levi's and leather and liver all on the sidewalk! 

Our friend Ron is coming tomorrow from Chile to do some work here, and as of now we have no definite plans for the weekend.  Bummer. 
 
For those of you with speakers and a microphone on your computer, download www.skype.com and we can make free phone calls!  My user name is rickistout.  Been using it to call home for a couple weeks, works well.
 
Also, if you want to mark my webpage to notify you when changes have been made, go to the HOME page and at the bottom there is an option for this.
 
Have a nice weekend everyone!

September 16, 2004

Congratulations to my friends Andrea and Bob Toole on the arrival of their new baby girl, Avery Rose on September 11!  Cool!.
 
No plans for this weekend, just going to TRY and play golf on the highest golf course in the world.  Will be up to Mike to arrange with a member from the Embassy.  Hopefully it will work out. 
 
No news on our next location yet.  Planning on doing some shopping today and tomorrow. 
 
Having a ball in Bolivia, though.  Going to hate to leave come mid-October. 
 
I have just discovered my website has finite space, so I've had to delete some things, including the archived photo section.  I'm too cheap to pay $150 a year for more space.  Plus, I have the pictures on MY computer, so no loss to me. . . heehee.
 
Love to all!  Drop us a line if you get a chance.

September 13, 2004

We returned from Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun last night around 6:30 PM, had a quick dinner and hit the hay.  These weekends are wearing us out!  Once again we were up early and busy, but we did have a little more free time than last weekend in Peru.  Please click on the Navigation Bar where it says Lake Titicaca for the rundown and photos of our trip. 

September 9, 2004

Yesterday, I got my first Bolivian haircut!  My last haircut was in Thailand in July!  And, this truly was the first time in four years I had my hair cut without speaking ONE WORD of the same language (my hair Spanish is limited to short, blond, and HAIR), and/or without an interpretor.  Turned out okay, though.  Hey, not like my hair ever looks great anyway!
 
We decided to bite the bullet and go to Lake Titicaca this weekend, so we leave on Saturday morning at 8 AM and return on Sunday at 6 PM.  Should be fun, but I know we were both looking forward to some rest this weekend.  Anyway, will have pics on Monday.
 
We had some leather manufacturers over last night, they are making Mike a "walking coat" and me some matching pants and a jacket.  I need to loose 10 lbs before they come back for the final fitting - yea, right.  Kind of fun to have leather clothing custom made for your body, though.
 
Other than that, just the same ole, same ole.  Stayed in last night a watched a movie, might do it again tonight, it felt so good!
 
 

September 7, 2004

We made it back from Peru, and what a trip it was!  Four days in Cusco was a dream (and a nightmare).  It was a dream because it was far more beautiful than I imagined, and more so than Bolivia (at least from what I've seen), and a nightmare because we didn't hardly have a minute to ourselves.  Plus, the entire town and all the sites were completely over run with tourists and all the souvenir vendors and hawkers they bring.  Of course, I EXPECTED that we would be the only tourist there. . . heehee.
 
I kind of mislead everyone into thinking that we were going only to Machu Pichu, however our tour involved so much more than that.  In fact, we were only at Machu Pichu one day (yesterday).  So, to see a chornicle of our trip, click on the navigation bar above where it says Peru.  If you are bored with piles of rocks, you might want to skip it, but I tried to take some good photos.  Of 368 pictures, I should have got a good one or two!
 
The worst part was what a whirlwind the whole thing was.  If any one is planning on going, let me know, I'll give you some pointers on what NOT to do.  The best part was having the unbelievable opportunity to go there.  What luck!

mphigh.jpg
Machu Pichu from above (on the terraces, what a climb!)

September 2, 2004

Not a lot new to report from La Paz, just the usual routine for the last week.  We didn't make it to Lake Titicaca last weekend, but we are set to go to Peru over Labor Day to visit Machu Pichu.  For the last week we've just been in a kind of rut, though.  Will be nice to have a change of scenery this weekend, and sneaking off to Lake Titicaca is easier than going to Peru.  So, stay tuned for photos from Peru, will post on Tuesday! 

August 26, 2004    My Birthday - YIKES!

Yesterday was an interesting day here in La Paz.  Late last month there was an election on a natural gas referendum.  Forgive me, but I'm not quite clear on what the issues are, or who won the referendum, but the folks on the losing side are not taking it laying down!  Mike was unable to go to work all day, there were road blockades set up by the "opposition" all over town, literally shutting down all traffic into and out of La Paz, and cops everywhere.  We watched the news (in Spanish) and saw people being shot, tear gas being launched and lots and lots of mayhem all over the country.  Most of the violence was up near the airport in an area of town called El Alto (the high), but even down in the Zona Sur (South Zone) where most ex-pats and rich Bolivians live they were blockaded and the police were launching gas into the crowds. 
 
Needless to say, we stuck tight to the hotel for the day and night.  Today things look like they have returned to normal, at least here in La Paz.  Need to find out from the Embassy if we will be allowed to travel this weekend.
 
In four years of travel, this was the first time Mike was not able to go to work due to local protests.  He was, however, in Romania in 1989 (?) during the coup and needed to flee his hotel to the Embassy in order to be evacuated.  Fortunately, we didn't have that kind of excitement here!
 
Tonight we are going to dinner at "the nicest" restaurant in La Paz - La Bella Vista.  It has a 360 degree view of the city and is on top of the Hotel Presidente.  And, I'm having dessert!  Happy Birthday to me!
 
 

August 23, 2004   MIKE'S BIRTHDAY!!

Back from our weekend in Cochabamba. . . what a nice city.  I officially recommend they move the Embassy here (all government officials take note!).  After our original 6 PM flight was cancelled and changed to 8 PM, it was a quick plane ride down the mountain to this town of about 600,000 people.  TJ's friend Daniela picked us up from the airport and we checked into our hotel and went to dinner at 11 PM, then off to a dance club.  Mike and I made it til 2:30, the "kids" stayed out til 5 AM.
 
On Saturday we woke to some clouds and light sprinkles, so we laid low most of the morning.  Had a bite to eat at a cafe.  Weather cleared off later and Daniela and Inez took us up to the reservoir/dam for a picturesque view of the mountains and Lake Eden.  We stopped on the way at a roadside stand to have Empanadas from some Bolivian Indians.  A staple food here, they are like the Bolivian version of a grilled cheese sandwich.  Very filling. Then off to the go-kart race track for a nice display of male testosterone and bumper banging.  After  tossing ourselves around on the track we went next door and bowled for about 4 hours.
 

cochgokarts.jpg
Very cool go-kart race track, they suit you up like real racers with suits and helmets. This is Sco

Sunday broke warm and sunny and as the children had went out dancing til 6 AM, Mike and I grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and a cab to the Teleferico, which is the ski lift/gondola contraption that takes you to the top of the mountain where the Christo de Concordia is. This is the largest statue of Jesus in the world, yes, even larger than in Rio at Sugar Loaf, just not quite as an impressive of a location. But, the view was lovely and the sun very warm. By the time we returned to the hotel, the kids were up and we went and had some lunch (we found some buffalo wings that rival BW3's), then back to the go-kart track for a rematch and THEN back to the bowling alley for two more quick games. Our flight left at 7:40 PM and at 6:45 we were still bowling! Mad dash to the airport (arriving at 7 PM), race through security and onto the plane. TJ almost didn't make it, he was the last one on the plane. Some kind of mix up with his belt. And, the only one who didn't get his luggage upon arrival in La Paz.

We had the option of climbing up the mountain to the Christo de Concordia, about 900+ steps, so of course we went with the "teleferico" tram ride up the hill.  Lazy Americans.

Our best estimate was that Jesus was around 6-7 stories high.  Pretty impressive except for all the holes in Him . . . must be to make Him wind resistant?

This is a view of the east (?) side of Cochabamba where the lake/swamp is.  Much prettier from the top of the mountain than driving by.  This is not the same lake that the damn was by.  For more pictures, see our photo page.

The taxi ride down the mountain from the airport in La Paz is not so fun in the dark. I think I am getting more chicken as I age. Had the death grip on Mike's knee most of the way. Someone should teach the Bolivians about guardrails! Anyway, arrived safe and sound, got a good nights sleep, and back to biz as usual. Off to Lake Titicaca next weekend, so that should be cool.

August 19, 2004

THINGS I LIKE ABOUT BOLIVIA: 
 
1.  You can get a shoeshine every three feet for the equivalent of about 13 cents, no excuses for bad looking shoes here. 
 
2.  Saltena's!  These are little pastry turnovers who's shells seem to be made out of some type of gourd paste or pumpkin with either chicken, beef or vegetable's inside.  They're deep fried, so the chances of getting sick are minimal and they are also available about every three feet for 13 cents.  Nice when you are out wandering and get a little snacky.
 
3.  Blue skies.  Everyday I'm amazed at the color and clarity of the sky.  It's beautiful.
 
4.  Walking slow.  I'm so used to walking fast, but here it's not only a necessity to walk slow (due to the lack of oxygen, for anyone who just tuned in), but actually quite interesting to see and hear all the sights and sounds of La Paz.
 
Just a short list of a few things I can think of right now.  This weekend we are planning a trip to Cochabamba, the second largest city in Bolivia.  It's a 35 minute plane ride (and get this, we're flying first class - figured we might as well, as it's about the only first class flight we can afford).  A couple of the guys are going with us, as they have girlyfriends there.  The have a "Christo" (large statue of Jesus on the mountain) that's larger than the one in Rio.  It will also be warm (in the 80's in the day) and have more oxygen!  We leave Friday night at 6 PM and will return Sunday night around 8:30.    So, should have some good pictures to post on Monday.
 
I went to the black market to shop on Wednesday, that was a very overwhelming experience.  I have been to many black markets before, but never at a 60 degree incline.  Best to start at the top of the hill!  You could buy ANYTHING here, from toilet bowls and urinals to Frosted Flakes to laptop computers.  All the prices are in American dollars, and they don't really bargain.  Most of the goods are shipped in illegally from Chile, and seemed quite reasonable.  This market just goes on and on and on, though.  I think I only covered about half of it before giving up and going home.  Not exactly the best place for souvenirs, but I did find a few things I just "couldn't live without". 

August 15, 2004

We have survived another weekend in La Paz, but it was tough.  Had a nice dinner on Friday in front of the fireplace at Mongo's, then went and played darts and pool til about 1 AM.  Saturday was cold and windy, so we laid low all day in preparation for the big party we were attending that night.  Had a wonderful time with a lot of cool people, eating, dancing, drinking.  They even put on a traditional Bolivian dance show for our entertainment.  They had the dinner at a large banquet hall, and it was VERY formal, to our embarassment, as this is the FIRST trip I didn't even bring a dress along.  Wouldn't you know it.  Oh well, after a couple rum and cokes, it just didn't matter. . . heehee.
 
Today we took the double decker site-seeing bus through the southern zone of La Paz and out to the valley of the moon.  The mountains are just incredible, not only in size, but variation of color, foliage, and the erosion from the wind and the rain.  There just phenomenal.  Some of the pictures I took don't even look real!  This is a cool place, kids!

August 13, 2004

It's Friday the 13th. . . whahahaha. . .
 
My Dad is home, safe and sound, and glad to be there.  He's navigating the condo in his wheelchair, but I don't think we need to watch for him at the Old Kent Riverbank Run anytime soon.  Glad he's home and doing well.
 
It's the weekend, again!  We don't have a lot planned, just an Embassy dinner tomorrow night for the FSN's (foreign service national's - basically the Bolivians that work for the Embassy).  Should be fun and give us an opportunity to meet some more of the locals (who obviously speak English!).  We were thinking of taking a mountain bike tour down "The Most Dangerous Road in the World" but after visiting the website, I'm chickening out, I think.  I've posted a link on the Ramblings page so you can vote on whether we should go or not.  My biggest fear is the height thing.  I don't want to freak out half way down the mountain!
 
We've been having fun this week, despite a slight problem with sleeping and our intestines.  I think the bacteria has a free reign around here.  They tell you not to drink the water, then they wash our dishes in it. . . hmmmm.  Not a scientist, but seems a little off.
 
Maybe I'll talk Mike into going souvenir shopping on Sunday.   Anybody want anything???

August 9, 2004

Okay, first my Dad is doing as well as can be expected.  He is being moved to a in-house physical rehab facility to learn how to get in and out of his wheelchair, move his right arm more, and basically gimp around.  He should be home by Wednesday or Thursday.   He does have 3-4 months of healing ahead, though, so pray for strength for my Mom (who will be his "primary care giver") and my Dad to keep his spirits high through this tough time.

I also want to extend a big THANK YOU to everyone for all the supportive emails we received during this "crisis".  We really appreciate all your kind thoughts and prayers. 

We had a pretty fun weekend (it was a long one, as it was Bolivia's Independence Day on Friday).   We are planning a Labor Day trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu.  It's only about an hour flight, so would hate to be so close and miss it! 

I can't wait to get out and explore some of the countryside here.  You see backpackers coming in and going out all the time, so there must be something worth it out there.  Not sure I actually WANT to go backpacking. . . maybe just some "cushy" tours designed for non-trekkers!  Mike is really excited about being here, too, so that makes it nice.
 
Some beautiful leather handicrafts here, as well as Alpaca sweaters, scarves, etc.  Will probably do a LOT of shopping to make up for the lack of it in Tokyo.  Also nice to have APO mail privileges here, so I can send stuff home instead of packing it!
 
 

The shorter building in the middle with the white sides and orange strip down the front is our hotel/apartment building.  We have thought about moving, but it seems that many places have no HEAT.  You know that won't fly with me!

August 7, 2004

Forgive me for not posting all week.  It's been an eventful one.  As many of you know, when Mike and I got home on Wednesday night, I received an IM from my brother informing me my parents had been in a motorcycle accident in Holland.  My Mom was fine, bruised and banged and in need of some stitches, but my Dad broke his collarbone, shattered his ankle, broke his leg, got a hole in his lung and injured his liver.  He is in the hospital in Grand Rapids and had surgery on his broken bones on Thursday afternoon.  The lung and liver should heal themselves and the tests so far as showing this to be the case.  He is supposed to be released on Tuesday.  I know I started a "global prayer chain" on Wednesday night, and want to thank all of you for your support and emails.  I am feeling much more peaceful now, and counting my blessings to still have both my parents around!
 
On a lighter and more fun note, La Paz has been quite a treat so far.  We have discovered many nice restaurants very close to our apartment, a cool pool hall with a dart board, and a British Pub. 
 
Today Mike and I jumped in a cab and went to the Witch's market and artisan fair, saw San Francisco church, the main square, a semisubterranean temple and them climbed up a big hill to get a wonderful view of the city and the mountains in the distance.  It was nice to get out and around a little bit, get a feel for the town and our relation to everything. 
 
The money here is called Bolivianos, and the exchange is about 8 to 1.  They have 16 BS stores, which is a crack up.  Haven't been yet, but you know I will!  Local beer that we like the best is called Huari, and is 4.5% alcohol.  They do have another beer called Bock that has 7% (I didn't know that when I bought it, I think we'll stick with the Huari!).
 
Like mountains everywhere, they are beautiful, but hard to capture in a photo.  As you can see, I've tried, but just never does justice.  The whole city sit in a bowl, with the mountains all around.  The elevation varies from about 13000 feet (at the airport) to 11000 feet, where we are, to 9000 feet, which is about a 20 minute cab ride down the mountain.  I sure hope they have some kind of monitoring system in place for these taxis that make them get new brakes and such every certain amount of miles!  These are some steep hills.  Nothing in the whole city feels very flat.  I think of those wooden sleds we rode down the street in Madiera and what a wonderful tourist attraction that would make here.  You could do it on every street!
 
Haven't had much problem with the altitude, nor Mike, so we feel lucky about that.  Just get a bit winded walking up hills, makes us walk slower.  The Bolivians have a saying on how to adjust to the altitude.  "Eat lightly, walk slowly, and sleep alone."  So far so good. . . heehee.
 
Lots and lots to see and do in the surrounding area, including Lake Titicacca and the Valley of the Moon.  We are also going to do a downhill mountain bike run into the rain forests next weekend.  Will be reminiscent of Haleakala in Maui.  So nice to be among good friends here, too.
 
So, here's a few pics and I'll put more on the photo page, too. 
 

August 3, 2004

Okay, we finally made it to La Paz, Bolivia.  Have been here all of three hours and I'm already on line!  YEA!  Now, I just have to download about fifty pictures so I can keep you all happy!  Will post a few pics here and on the photo page regarding our trip to Miami (inadvertant as it was) and Key West.  Will also throw up some pics of our time at home.  Check the Rambling's  page for updates on what South Florida is all about.  Email me when you get a chance, I know I have been terrible in responding lately, but will remedy that situation now that I'm back on 24/7 internet!

July 28, 2004

Boy, can't believe I haven't been here in soooo long!  We are just doing final preparations to leave for La Paz, Bolivia tomorrow.  We have been back in Michigan since the 10th of July, and have had lots of fun seeing friends and family, golfing, enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer.  But, we are both ready to leave and looking forward to a good time in La Paz.  Have heard some wonderful things, so looking forward to keeping you all informed.  Will post some pics from our time at home this weekend, and hopefully a few from Bolivia, too.  Stay tuned!