July - August 2015
  • Day30

    Rio de Janeiro - 6 to 7 August 2015

    August 7, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    So we arrived in Rio fairly early in the morning and immediately got a taxi to our hostel. The room wasn't ready yet, so we didn't get a chance to rest...which really sucked because we both wanted a short nap since neither of us slept much/well on the bus....

    We did decide to take a city tour while waiting though.... The tour started in the afternoon and took us to a few notable Rio tourist attractions. Our first stop was the Christ statue where we fought the crowds for some pics....

    Afterwards, we drove through an area called Santa Teresa, saw a cathedral, hung out in the Lapa Steps and then went up to Sugar Loaf to see the sunset.

    The Lapa steps were pretty cool...they were created by a Chilean artist. Apparently the love of his life died and he started collecting tile from around the city. He created murals in her honor. My description doesn't do it justice....so I suggest you Google it...it really is neat...

    I don't remember much about the cathedral, but it was the weirdest church I'd ever seen...and Sugar Loaf is a peak with great views of the entire city...so we were definitely fighting crowds for pics there as well.

    We had some interesting humans on our tour...

    We had a group of obnoxious Australian girls...who ended up being extremely rude to an Argentinian couple who happened to be a few minutes late back to a checkpoint...

    We had an obnoxious English couple that thought they were special. They sat in our seat and tossed Jaime's sweater back to her...Jaime did not appreciate this maneuver. They also took more pics and took longer than anyone else.

    There was also an American. He grew up about 5 minutes from Keith in Atlanta, but he too was obnoxious....Jaime informed Keith he was being rude after Keith quickly started ignoring him. Keith did not know he was being rude, but was ok with it after this fact was brought to his attention. Keith felt like the guy was an asshat...and it turns out Keith is usually right about these things.

    After the tour, we went down to the beach and had a nice dinner. We attempted to have a repeat of the fish stew that we enjoyed with Drezza amd Patrick...unfortunately, this version wasn't nearly as good.

    We called it an early night since we were still short on sleep from our night bus and got ready for the next day.

    Our final day had us lounging on the beach enjoying cocktails and walking around the beachfront. We left for the airport in the late afternoon and after a brief haggle with the taxi driver, we caught our flight to Miami. There were no issues with our connection to Atlanta and we are currently back in the states.

    It was a good trip, though it truly was exhausting. I'm finishing this blog about 36 hours after our return and we are both still a little sleep deprived. Also, apologies if this entry isn't as entertaining...but the writer takes solace in the fact that you will get over it...

    This blog doesn't address every facet of the trip, so please email us know if you have any questions.

    We hoped you enjoyed reading about our adventure....and surprisingly, we enjoyed documenting our trip...but remember....if you learn one lesson from our trip, please let it be this...

    STAY OFF OF SOUTH AMERICAN BUSES!!!!

    Blog concluded.
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  • Day28

    Vitoria, Brazil - 4 to 5 August 2015

    August 5, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    So we caught our flight from Iguassu and made our connection in Sao Paulo with no issues. We landed in Vitoria, grabbed our bags and met Jaime's friends Andrezza (Drezza) and her boyfriend Patrick (pronounced Patreeka). Jaime and Drezza had a hugging reunion and introductions were made all around.

    (The trip to Vitoria (a coastal city about 8 hours north of Rio) was made early on during our trip planning when Jaime made it clear she had a goal of visiting one of her Brazilian friends she met during her time in New Zealand. Both Jaime and Drezza were ecstatic that everyone's schedule was able to come together.)

    After we left the airport, we headed back to their apartment and dropped off our bags before heading off to a traditional Brazilian steakhouse....aka the kind of place where you eat meat until you're ready to explode...

    It was late by the time we arrived at the restaurant....about 9 o'clock at night. But the food was delicious. We had various cuts of beef, bison, pork and chicken....plus, we had a great salad bar with a bunch of seafood dishes and other sides. The highlight of the meal was Drezza insisted we have chicken hearts....apparently, she loves 'em...

    Both Keith and Jaime agree to have them and this is when the entertainment really began. It's actually a shame, because words cannot do justice to the images that resulted from Jaime eating a chicken heart....but Keith had trouble remembering the last time he laughed that hard...he's also very upset he didn't document the incident with any pics....

    So this is how it played out...

    Keith received the first chicken heart...at which time he ate it without much ceremony. He was expecting the texture and didn't give any outward signs of an opinion as he knew Jaime was watching him like a hawk....looking for any clue as to what he thought. This is most likely because Jaime was looking for a way to NOT eat a chicken heart...

    So Keith chewed and chewed...it was actually a little over cooked. Jaime asked him how it was and he gave a very informative "not bad"... or something equally noncommittal. At this point Jaime placed the chicken heart in her mouth....

    She stated it was "terrible" even before she started chewing...this was when Keith and the rest of the table started to smirk...

    Immediately thereafter, Jaime began a dry heaving extravaganza...but that didnt stop her...it merely slowed her down. She was a trooper and never gave up. She fought long and hard trying to swallow the chicken heart and she incorporated a couple different techniques in an attempt to get it down. She did the "quick chew"....in that she chewed very fast (think Bugs Bunny eating a carrot)...and she did the "hand wave"...in that she waved her hand in front of her mouth and face very quickly while she had her eyes closed tight. Her eyes watered and she finally used half a glass of red wine to finish it off...

    Her first words when she could finally speak coherently were to ask Keith why he did not tell her it was awful...

    This is when Keith really had a good laugh.... Jaime couldn't understand how Keith could keep a straight face while he ate the chicken heart. Once he stopped laughing....Keith calmly explained that he had known what to expect and that he kept his poker face on purpose because he wanted to see her reaction. An objective observer could allege that it would have been possible for Jaime to have 'appreciated' this response a little better....but since no one is perfect, we move on...

    Like I said, the dinner was awesome....the food and beverages were amazing.

    After dinner we were given a tour of the city...including the waterfront. Drezza and Patrick explained how they like to paddle outrigger canoes and Jaime was immediately making plans for her and Keith to do that the next morning.

    After our tour, we went back to their apartment and hung out on the balcony...this allowed Jaime and Drezza a chance to catch up. Stories were told and laughs were had...and drinks were consumed. Needless to say, too many drinks were consumed and the canoeing never occurred.

    The next day we woke up and were given a full breakfast....unfortunately, we were all still full from the night before. We then ran a few errands (laundry/atm) and explored the city. We saw the Vitoria government building, the cathedral and a mountain overlooking the city. Later, we had a lovely fish stew lunch (local delicacy) and then hung out at the beach. Late that afternoon we visited a convent on another mountain outside the city...the views were awesome.

    After our long day, we went back to their apartment and ordered a couple pizzas. Keith drank some beers Patrick recommended (Ashby Weiss)...and they were delicious. Jaime polished off a bottle of cabernet sauvignon...and some beer.

    It's now approximately midnight and we are on another night bus...this time to Rio de Janeiro.

    (I know, I know...you thought the buses were over....I promise, I did too...but it was cheap and the timing worked out...I promise there won't be any more lowbrow poems...)



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  • Day28

    Iguassu Falls

    August 5, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    So as you could tell from the award winning poem in the previous post, the road to Iguassu was less than awesome. Not only was the ride rough, it was long. I won't rehash everything, but we thought the ride would be about 12 hours...it ended up being about 20. Needless to say, our time in Iguassu did not go as planned....

    We had originally hoped to arrive around 7 or 8 in the morning. Not sure what our driver did all night, but he didn't make much headway....because we didn't arrive till after 2 pm...

    We wanted to spend all day at the falls, but as the bus ride kept taking longer and longer, we realized that we would have to immediately go to the hostel...drop off our bags...and the rush over to the falls. Luckily for us, we got there and we were actually ready to leave before everything closed down. We got some great views and pics of the falls...

    Afterwards, we decided to use the hostel kitchen and cook our own meal. After Keith's nerves went to pieces because Jaime took too long shopping in the grocery store, we headed back to actually do some cooking.

    The hostel itself was really cool...if not a little crowded. It was called the Tetris Hostel because it was made out of old shipping containers. There were a bunch of people staying there and it seemed like everyone wanted to cook...luckily for us, we had some wine, cheese and crackers. These snacks helped Keith deal with the stress of waiting forever to eat....

    We made a roasted chicken/pasta concoction that was delicious....except for the extremely bitter 'spinach' we put in there....well, we thought it was spinach, but it wasn't....needless to say it was even more delicious after we picked out the 'spinach'...

    We went to bed shortly thereafter since it had been a long night/day and we had a plane to Vitoria to catch the next day....which went off without a hitch even though we found out at the last minute that Iguassu is one hour ahead of EST...which meant that we had to rush a little the next morning because we didn't want to miss our flight....
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  • Day25

    Bus to Iguazu Falls

    August 2, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    "My Hell"

    A poem by Keith Schellack

    I'm on a night bus,
    Going to Iguazu,
    This ride is awful,
    And I really don't know what to do.

    The kids are screaming,
    This is my curse,
    I'm sitting next to the bathroom,
    So I thought I'd write this verse.

    We got last minute tickets,
    And wanted to sit next to each other,
    But the last row we got,
    I'd rather sit in another.

    Jaime is sleeping,
    As she is prone to do.
    I had an ambien,
    But I apparently needed a few.

    The engine is rattling,
    And the volume is too high,
    The way the driver shifts gears,
    Makes me wonder "WHY?!?!?"

    The Agua is back here too
    And people are coming to drink,
    They keep rubbing up against me,
    There's so many I don't have time to blink.

    A woman just changed a diaper,
    And had her daughter throw it away.
    It now smells like baby shit back here.
    Can you say "YAY!!!!!"

    She used the bus trashcan
    which is right next to me,
    We were at a rest stop when she did it
    How dumb and lazy can you be!!!

    Just walk it off the bus
    And throw it away there.
    Now I have to smell it
    This hardly seems fair.

    It already smelled like urine
    Soaked through and through,
    When will I learn to fly, not bus
    I haven't a clue.

    This bus nonsense is ridiculous
    It really needs to stop.
    I can't take this much abuse,
    I'm so tired I could drop.

    I'm trying to vent here
    And create something funny,
    So I don't go postal
    And then feel all crummy.

    I want buckets of hand sanitizer
    And maybe a bath with soap.
    If I have to pay for tickets for a bus again,
    I'll feel like such a dope.

    As a way to relax
    and maybe calm down,
    I tried to play solitaire,
    Hoping my stress level would drown.

    It worked for a while,
    Till Jaime wanted to play.
    So I sat there in disbelief,
    Not knowing what to say.

    This poem is over,
    But this ride has just begun.
    Who knows how it will turn out,
    maybe it'll be fun.

    But that's not what happened,
    That's certainly not my luck.
    I'm doing my best
    And trying to not give a 'crap'.

    I was very proud of this poem
    And wanted it for Jaime to read.
    She wasn't ready to wake up yet,
    It was a warning I did not heed.

    Now she's cranky and tired,
    And the blame is all mine.
    Had I thought for 2 seconds,
    I wouldn't have to hear the whine.

    This is how my night is going,
    But hopefully it gets better.
    Though if it doesn't,
    I may have to write another letter.

    So comrades, help me,
    Your assistance is needed.
    Give me advice,
    Though I can't promise it'll be heeded.

    I don't see a solution here
    And I'm running out of words to rhyme,
    But thankfully this ambien is starting to work,
    And just in the nick of time.

    So while this bus is my home,
    It's also my prison and personal hell.
    I'm hoping that when I wake up,
    All will be well....

    Part 2

    I just woke up,
    Not knowing where we are,
    Much to my chagrin
    We haven't made it far.

    It's 5 am
    And I didn't get much sleep.
    I had people banging into me all night,
    They didn't even try to creep.

    I'm still just sitting here
    Waiting for this hell to end.
    Arriving at Iguazu Falls
    Would allow my soul to mend.

    I don't know why this ride is taking so long,
    I wish the driver would pick up the pace,
    I just got a another wiff of excrement,
    Someone please shoot me in the face.

    Babies are crying again,
    It's only going to get worse from here,
    Who said 5 am is too early,
    For one to need a beer.

    This is the roughest ride ever,
    With holes all over the place.
    The driver is swerving to hit them all
    He is certainly no ace.

    Jaime is still sleeping,
    She slept all through the ride.
    It's nice to know it isn't as bad for her,
    Even though I wish I had died.

    The smell is constant
    And for which there is no rebuke.
    please just ignore me,
    If it looks like I might puke.

    That's enough for now,
    I think I've captured the scene.
    If Jaime makes me take another bus,
    She will certainly be mean.
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  • Day24

    Bonito - 31 July to 2 August 2015

    August 1, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ 🌬 12 °C

    This town is awesome. It's a tourist destination centered around a bunch of natural springs. The water is crystal clear and vegetation and fish are everywhere. The locals take great care to keep it natural and clean....so much so, that you can't even wear sunscreen in the water. We decided to swing by because a lot of other travelers raved about it. We also had some flexibility with our schedule...plus, the Brazilian guy at the consulate in Atlanta actually told us about it when we got our visas....so we thought, "why not???"

    So we arrive in Bonito and find accommodations...we initially tried to stay where our Russian associates from the Pantanal were staying, but that hostel was full. The guy working the desk was kind enough to call around and find us a room....Jaime fell in love with the city right then. We hadn't had that much customer service help in a while and the language barrier in Brazil is definitely harder than the previous countries. Portuguese is unlike anything we have ever heard before. It sounds like gibberish to us and we can't make it out...

    Anyway, like I said, he found us a place.....unfortunately, it was about a 25 minute walk away. So we set off with the plan of checking places on the way, since we were tired and hungry...luckily for us, we found a cool one that had what we needed (a/c, wifi, breakfast, etc). Bonus though....they spoke English. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner...

    We also got a cheaper room because we scheduled our tours through them. Everything was super easy. They even helped call and schedule our follow on transportation.

    So we decided to do a cave tour in the morning and a snorkeling tour in the afternoon. There was also a winter festival going on in town, so we were excited to check that out....after we booked our tours and were settled in our room, we took the owner of the hotel's suggestion and headed to a specific restaurant. Short version - it was delicious. The area is known for fish and we got fish, local beers and Jaime got a dessert. I say Jaime got a dessert because she did not want to share it. She allowed Keith a few bites, but she criticized each fork full he got and after his second bite, decided to commandeer the whole thing. Once completely in her clutches, she ate the rest of it like a prisoner expecting someone was going to try and steal it. She was definitely guarding it from attack....it's almost like she thought she was going to go hungry. Apparently she forgot that Keith had shared the rest of the food evenly. It would appear that shared portions don't count when it comes to dessert.

    Anyway, we headed back to the room after dinner and got ready for the next day.

    The cave tour was kind of cool...we were under the impression that we'd get to walk around a cave with a crystal clear blue lake at the bottom. Instead, we walked down some stairs and looked at the lake from a platform. The whole tour was in Portuguese, so we didn't understand anything. Luckily for us we met a Brazilian guy who went to college in Hannibal, Missouri (I know....super random huh...)...

    So we made friends with him and his new wife (they were on their honeymoon) and we actually made plans to meet them for dinner later that night. The guy was also super excited about a famous Brazilian band playing later that night and he said we should check them out....so we traded contact info and went on our way....

    After our tour dropped us off at our hotel, we grabbed some lunch and got ready for our snorkeling tour. Again, the tour was in Portuguese and we didn't understand anything. There were a bunch of old guys in our group and they took turns trying to interpret for us. The tour guide would talk for 5 minutes and one of the old guys would tell us "don't stand on the bottom"...or "Stay in a single file line". I'm pretty sure we didn't get the full translation. Regardless though, they were nice guys that tried. Aside from the fact that they were atrocious swimmers and kept stirring up the bottom, they were very helpful.

    The water was incredibly clear and there were fish everywhere. I wish we had underwater pics to show the clarity, but it was the clearest water either one of us had ever seen...at least till the old Brazilian guys stirred up the bottom.

    At the end of the tour we thanked the guys for helping us and that was when he informed us that they were in a band and they were playing the festival later. They invited us to come check them out...turns out, it was the same band the guy earlier had talked about. Apparently they are a big deal in Brazil, but we had never heard of them and even now, we have no idea who they are...oh well...

    So we got done with the tour and made plans to go to dinner with the couple we met earlier in the day.

    As an aside, Keith had not shaved his face for about a month...and both he and Jaime thought that enough was enough...his face is now freshly shorn.

    So we met the couple at the festival and had a delicious dinner. It's amazing how much better an experience can be when you know the language...or you know someone who does....

    We ended up buying their dinner as a way to say thank you for helping us. We were also joined at dinner by the owner of our hotel and his girlfriend. Drinks and a good time were had by all....too many drinks actually....

    Keith woke up with a headache and the 'grumpy muffin' moniker returned. As another aside...it really is a terrible name that should be banned and never repeated. And trust me...there's no bias on the writer's part at all...

    Alas though, our time in Bonito has come to an end. We are now sitting in the Campo Grande bus station waiting for an all night bus to Iguazu Falls....should be fun....

    Note - you may notice that we haven't posted pics in a while...I'm not sure why, but for some reason they won't load. We'll keep trying....but just use your imagination for now.
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  • Day22

    The Pantanal - 28 to 31 July 2015

    July 30, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    For those that don't know, the Pantanal is a vast wetland/savanna area in Brazil near the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay. We elected to go here instead of the Amazon because we heard that there were more wildlife sightings here...mainly because the vegetation in the Amazon is a lot thicker...

    Day 1 (28 July)

    So after we coordinated with the tour and ran the errands mentioned in the previous post, we headed out to the Pantanal. We rode with the owner of the tour company and a Bulgarian - Canadian named Vincent.

    The first day of the tour consisted of us riding out to the Lodge in a truck and having to stop and take a ferry across the Paraguay river. Frequent readers will know that Jaime spent her time making friends with the mangiest of dogs. There was also a piglet she tried to befriend...

    Anyway, as we were driving out to the lodge, we saw multiple cayman, capivare (spelling?), birds, lizards and probably some other animals I don't remember. Also, a capivare is huge South American rodent...just think of the 'rodents of unusual size' from Princess Bride....most were actually bigger than Jaime's dog Sierra....if that tells you anything.
    As we were waiting on dinner, we got to chat with an older Korean gentleman. He was traveling by himself and his English was not very good. He was very impressed by Jaime and gave her the Korean name 'Lena'...which apparently means 'beautiful' in Chinese. Needless to say, Jaime liked him immensely. He nicknamed Keith Yong sun...which he said meant 'clever' in Korean. Keith thinks this claim dubious and is probably the Korean equivalent of 'asshat'. Jaime and Keith nicknamed him Sawyer, as he wanted an American nickname. He liked Sawyer and since Jaime and Keith are both Mark Twain fans, they thought it appropriate. (As an aside, it turns out Keith is the Mark Twain fan as Jaime just has a few books on display to make her 'look smart'...)

    After dinner we went on a night safari. A 'night safari' is a fancy way of saying 'we sat in the back of a truck and spotlighted animals with a massive flashlight'. Keith's friends and family are likely familiar with this technique. Jaime's friends and family may not be as familiar. Keith thinks that it's nice that redneck activities are popular all over the world.

    Day 2 (29 July)

    So we woke up on day 2 and went on a river tour....we traveled up one of the local rivers and saw cayman and other animals....mostly birds though. After about 45 minutes we stopped and drifted downstream for a bit. While we drifted, we did some piranha fishing.

    In our boat we had two Koreans, Vincent, ourselves, and our two Brazilian guides. The fishing contest that ensued was won by the Brazilians...it was not even close. I think they caught 7 or 8. The American contingent was 2nd overall with 3....and to be completely fair, the American success was entirely attributable to the efforts of Miss Jaime Parker. Keith caught nothing. Had this been prehistoric times, Jaime would have been the hunter and Keith would have been sent off to pick berries or nurse the babies...it was also very nice of Jaime to make sure Keith knew who caught the fish. Keith would have probably forgotten about his poor luck and atrocious fishing skill, but Jaime was kind enough to keep him reminded....

    When we came back from lunch, we found out our next activity wasn't until 3...so we had time for a siesta. At some point during our snooze fest, the power went out...and with it our air conditioning unit. Jaime was less than thrilled. Keith is pretty sure the only reason Jaime eventually stopped mentioning the fishing statistics was because her focus (wrath) was focused elsewhere....namely on Paolo, the manager of the establishment.

    As far as customer service skills, Paolo had none. He also did not enjoy questions of any type, though especially from women. When Keith asked him a question, he got a round about answer that didn't address the query. When Jaime asked a question, she was told she needed to calm down and that he didn't work for the electric company. For the record, Jaime just asked for an update about the electricity.

    The convo went very much like this....

    Jaime - "so do you have an update on the electricity?" (And to be clear, she didn't even say it with an attitude....like the way she talks to Keith when she thinks she is just asking a normal question)...

    Paolo - "Amiga! No need to get angry...I no work for the company"

    (Keith's inner thoughts - "oh you poor bastard...you have no idea...you think you do, but you really don't. That wasn't an attitude. I know about the attitude you're about to get and I'm so glad it's going to be directed at someone else....best day ever. Ring side seats and everything....)

    I don't have direct quotes from what Jaime said, but she made sure that Paolo knew he did not answer her question. Jaime also made sure Paolo knew she did not appreciate his tone....and she repeated her question in a very condescending way. Paolo answered the question and was nice the rest of the trip...and by nice, I mean that he avoided us as much as possible....(except when it was time to load our stuff to leave...he couldn't get us out of there fast enough.)

    But enough about that...

    In the afternoon we went 'trekking'...this is the term non-Americans use for hiking/walking. We walked through a lot of standing water in the search of animals. We mainly saw cows, but we saw a bunch of birds and some howler monkeys. It was crazy hot outside and the mosquitoes were abundant. At one point we walked through standing water that was chest high. It was at this point that Jaime asked Keith to take a picture. Mind you....Keith was already carrying both pairs of shoes, the water, and Jaime's backpack. He was holding all of these things above the water so they wouldn't get wet. Keith politely informed Jaime that it was a terrible idea to get one of their smart phones out and that it was just asking for trouble....Jaime grew frustrated with Keith's lack of additional hands and had Vincent take their picture.

    We had a cold shower when we got back and had a lovely dinner with an Italian couple and Vincent.

    Day 3 (30 July)

    Day 3 consisted of another trek, though this one was much longer and because it was earlier in the day, it was cooler with less mosquitoes. We ended up walking about 7.5 miles and saw more monkeys, birds and some native pigs. Jaime started to get tired at one point...Keith was aware of this point because Jaime started tripping on sticks and not watching where she was going. The comments about the heat and how she was 'over it', also served as important clues. Her constant tripping eventually led to a couple scratches. When the wading in water resumed, Jaime began reciting segments from her microbiology studies. Keith learned a lot during this period as the lessons Jaime shared were repeated often.

    After lunch, we went horseback riding with a group of Russian English teachers. We were told to be ready at 1...and we were. Much to his immense joy, we actually got on the horses at 3...the experience was fun, though the trotting was not good for Keith's back, or for Jaime's neck, which she had irritated earlier in the trip.

    At one point, Keith's sunglasses fell off and he had to maneuver his horse back down the trail to get them. Jaime was under the impression that his horse was taking him in the wrong direction, but his horsemanship skills became readily apparent after he grabbed his glasses and came galloping back across the prairie. Had he been wearing a cowboy hat instead of a plastic hardhat, he would have looked impressive. Unfortunately, the plastic hardhat is incapable of making someone look impressive....so, instead, he continued to look like what goober....

    That night, we had our best Brazilian meal yet. The best dish was a chicken concoction served over crispy hash browns. It was delicious. We also dined with a French couple. They had all sorts of questions about American politics and our view of the world. They also asked Jaime a lot of personal questions...Jaime was quite pleased since she loves when she is the subject of the conversation.

    Day 4 (31 July)

    Our last day had us fishing for piranhas in the lake by the lodge. We each caught 4 fish so Keith was able to redeem himself a little. Jaime was kind enough patronize him (just a little) and let him know how proud she was of his 'cute, little fish'....

    After fishing, we went back and relaxed before lunch. We left after lunch and rode in the back of a truck for about an hour and a half at which point we got another shuttle to Bonito....we actually spent a lot of time in the back of trucks in the Pantanal. Keith enjoyed riding in the back of trucks going too fast down bumpy gravel roads. Jaime enjoyed it to a point...Then her safety concerns kicked in...

    We're now in Bonito and are having a great time....more on that later.
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  • Day20

    Santa Cruz to Campo Grande - 27 -28 July

    July 28, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    "Sometimes people are just @$$ holes" - Keith Schellack

    "I wish I could go back and punch that guy in the face" - Jaime Parker

    So the plan changed a little...we were supposed to take a bus from Santa Cruz to the border, then continue on to Campo Grande....that was where we were going to start the Pantanal tour that we hadn't booked yet...

    Instead, we got to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and were told we had to take a taxi to the border. In truth, 'we' weren't told anything. Jaime made friends with a trilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) young lady. She's the one who informed us of our fate... Jaime also made sure she adopted us...

    With her help, we were able to get to the border and clear immigration. We had already gotten the visa so everything was super easy. Well, everything aside from our transportation to Campo Grande that is...

    We eventually got tix to Campo Grande, but they left a few hours after we were initially told. This prompted the above quotes....this is in addition to us paying more for a nicer bus, then sitting on a less nice bus. All in all, the guy who sold us the tickets was an arse who apparently deserved a punch in the face.

    Because we're so good at making lemonade out of lemons though, we decide to hop in a car with some random Portuguese speaking Brazilians at the border and go to their tour company. It turns out we were already right outside the Pantanal, so it didn't make sense to go to Campo Grande and then have to double back...

    We got them to take us to the bank (so we could pay), the grocery store (so we had wine), and the Internet cafe (so Jaime could at least touch base with her mom before we left for a no wifi zone)...

    Anyway, I'll leave the details of the Pantanal for the next post....
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  • Day18

    Santa Cruz - 26 to 27 July 2015

    July 26, 2015 in Bolivia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    An 18 hour bus ride...that's what we asked for and that's what we got. I want to tell you that it was awful, but it really wasn't that bad...well, for Keith anyway....

    So we left an hour late and after riding for about an hour or so, and after working on the previous two blog posts for a bit, Keith decided to take a sleeping pill. Right before be was about to crash, he went down and inspected the bathroom for Jaime. He found that prior to leaving on an 18 hour ride across the country, the bus company thought it would be a good idea to embark without a handle on the outside of the door. Passengers had to use coins to squeeze the knob together to get it to turn. Keith saw no other issues once inside however...it was actually fairly clean. This was probably due to the fact that very few people could get in to use the facilities....

    All of this information was relayed to Jaime. Keith even set her up for success and gave her the materials needed to open the door. He also assisted her in getting everything she needed prior to walking downstairs....including putting tiger balm under her nose to assist with any less than desirable smells.

    At this point I would like to inform our readers (or remind them...whichever is more appropriate) that Jaime hates public bathrooms. Hates them. To the point she will make herself miserable in order to avoid using one. But this was an 18 hour bus ride...so she knew she had to do what must be done.

    So Jaime sets off down to the bathroom with Keith quickly succumbing to the effects of the sleeping pill. Had he known what was going to transpire, he would have accompanied her and tried to help. Instead, after about 20 minutes, Jaime came back crying and borderline hysterical. Over the next few minutes, Keith was able to do figure out what happened. He got even more clarity the next day when Jaime was more ready to discuss her escapade....and he wasn't about to pass out waiting for her to get back.

    It turns out Jaime couldn't even get in to the bathroom and had to get someone to help her. Once inside and after she was done, she attempted to return to our seats. Fyi...it was a double decker tour bus and we were sitting in the very back in the top...while the bathroom is in the middle on the lower level.

    When she tried to unlock the door and come out she realized that the door wouldn't open..she played with it for a few minutes and then realized that it wasn't just her inability to open the door...something was broken. It was at this point that she started banging on the door. She later informed Keith that she knew he had taken a sleeping pill and that it was an 18 hour ride and she didn't know how long she'd have to be in there.

    Her banging eventually got the attention of some Bolivian Military Police who happened to be along for the ride and they started trying to help. They found a lady to tell Jaime 'one minute'...but Jaime started getting more and more into panic attack mode. This was because everyone else was speaking rapid fire Spanish through the door and Jaime couldn't understand what was happening. Due to her predicament, Jaime was unable to understand the Spanish and she was only able to speak English...this created confusion on both sides...

    They eventually were able to pry the door open with some screw drivers and allowed a sobbing Jaime to return to her seat.

    When Keith saw Jaime walking back to the back of the bus with a quickness, he realized something was wrong. When she got back and was in tears, he tried to figure out what went wrong. She couldn't understand why Keith couldn't hear her banging on the wall over the sound of the road and the diesel engine. Keith felt bad, but luckily for him, the sleeping pill completely kicked in a few minutes later. By the next day, Jaime was able to laugh about the incident....her words 'if this had happened to anyone else, I would have thought it hilarious'...

    Anyway, that was the highlight of the trip...we did stop and Jaime gave away some of our leftovers to a bathroom attendant who appeared to be lusting over our pasta dishes. She also gave some of our oranges to some kids at the train station once we arrived.

    It took us 18 hours to get to Santa Cruz and once we arrived we bought another bus ticket to Campo Grande, Brazil...this will be our longest leg yet and will put us close to the Pantanal....a wetland wilderness known for the abundant wildlife.

    Once we got to our hostel, we dropped off our bags and walked around. We had a late lunch and then decided to have some ice cream.

    At this point, Keith would like to point out what a nightmare it is to take Jaime out for ice cream. This is because Jaime gets overwhelmed from all the choices and literally freezes up and can't make a decision. (No pun intended). She takes what should be a 30 second decision and drags it out for 20 minutes....

    Luckily for Keith, her eventual decision was delicious. The ice cream was so good and so abundant that Keith and Jaime bypassed dinner and just walked around the square and people watched. More of the same is likely in store for tomorrow.

    We get to hang in the city during the day and then we catch our bus at 8 pm tomorrow...the plan is to drive 10 hours to the border. Spend a couple hours at the border crossing taking care of the paperwork, and then drive 7 more hours to Campo Grande....we'll see if there are any more bathroom incidents on the bus. So far, Keith and Jaime haven't had the best luck with the bus bathrooms on this trip.
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  • Day17

    La Paz - 24 to 25 July

    July 25, 2015 in Bolivia ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    So like I said, we left Puno at around 7 in the am...this is when the nightmare officially began....we just didn't know it yet.

    That's actually a gross overstatement. The bus ride and our fellow passengers were awesome....but the border crossing left a lot to be desired. Let me explain....

    So we arrive at the border and are given no instructions whatsoever other than the fact that the bus is going to drop us off on the Peru side and then pick us up on the Bolivian side.

    Now Jaime and Keith have both seen their fair share of border crossings...Jaime insisted that she had seen more and Keith cannot dispute this fact. Regardless, the Peru - Bolivia border crossing on the way from Puno to La Paz is one of the biggest clusters either on of us had ever seen.

    Luckily, some Japanese passengers and Jaime knew what to do....and the rest of the passengers followed suit. We go into a nondescript building on the Peru side and get our stamps....that portion was easy enough. We then walk over the border battling thousands of people walking and pushing carts in both directions. It was like two herds of thundering mud turtles were going the opposite directions...

    We finally make our way through the melee and get to another nondescript building, this time on the Bolivian side of the border. There are no signs where to go, just throngs of people standing and sitting in what appears to be a line of some sort. Also, please believe me when I tell you that calling it a line is stretch. So we finally figure out which side to stand on and we start walking to the end of the 'line'...and we kept walking.....and kept walking....and kept walking. We finally get to the end of the line and we are absolutely dumbstruck by how long it is. We can still see the building, but we are easily a few hundred yards from where we need to be. We end up standing in line for almost 3 hours. We finally get towards the front of the 'line' and the Policia realize we're Americanos and so we need a visa. We expected this and were prepared. So we go through the door and see there are only 2 people stamping passports. We go over to the visa lady and hand over our forms and cash and watch her inspect each and every bill we handed her. We also decided to drool over her baby a bit in the hopes of expediting the process....this only moderately helped.

    So we get our visas and walk over to get our stamps. Jaime went first and tried to helped a British citizen from Hong Kong. The Bolivian border personnel must have missed out on the British/Hong Kong relationship in their history class because they didn't understand....long story short, it eventually got worked out because another tourist was able to give them a history lesson. So Jaime got her stamps and the border guy then told her he needed a photocopy of her visa and passport....and he wouldn't return her stamped form until she got one. This was not a normal procedure....and Jaime, who never misses a chance to question authority figures in a foreign country, started to ask why. Her questions and the language barrier prompted multiple Spanish speakers to ask why as well since the bureaucrat was clearly holding up progress. This caused the Policia to help us even more to get us out of there asap...

    So she follows the directions of the Policia and runs over and gets one, with Keith following close behind. We get our copies and then head back. We hand him our copies and the arse doesn't do anything with them, he just sits them to the side and hands over the form. It's also interesting to note none of the other humans had to make copies. I guess it's nice to know there are asshole bureaucrats all over the world. So after we get through that, we walk to the bus and enjoy some leftover pizza we had brought with us. Trust me when I tell you that having that pizza was a clutch move as we were starving.

    After we got everyone on board, we made our way to La Paz....

    Bolivia is poor...like really poor. It's also covered with trash by the roads and cess pools/canals leading into the city. The countryside is beautiful, but is also littered with trash. It really is a shame.

    So we got to La Paz and found out where the hostels are. Jaime had the taxi drop us off at the bottom of the hill so Keith had to drag the 'fuzzing' rolling duffel bag all over creation. Keith has come to despise the rolling duffel bag...

    So they finally make it to an affordable hostel and check in. Jaime originally found a very expensive hostel that Keith would have stayed at, but she wanted something a little more affordable. She also insists that Keith is the one that said that it was too expensive....but I digress....

    So we drop off our bags in the room and get ready to go out and explore the town. We walked a couple of miles and during that time, we saw the witches market, another huge market and the lights and sounds of the Bolivian capital.

    We stopped at a nice restaurant and had a delicious meal, even though they brought Jaime the wrong food and they avoided coming to our table...these issues did not annoy Jaime in the least (sarcasm)...

    So we go back to the room in the hopes of crashing since both of us are exhausted....Unfortunately, there was a smell in the bathroom. That's actually not a fair description. It actually smelled like something died in the pipes. It was awful. Jaime tried to brush her teeth, but started dry heaving. Seeing her gag and smelling the bathroom also made Keith dry heave. It was a 'beautiful' moment...

    So we decide to notify the management and they promptly gave us another room. This one was much better. We fell asleep and got ready to explore the city the next day.

    When we woke up we walked around some more and had breakfast and spent the day walking around shopping and getting ready for our bus ride to Santa Cruz....a city in eastern Bolivia. So we show up to the bus station on time and the bus was delayed.

    I'm currently typing this post on the way to Santa Cruz and more details regarding this 18 hour ride will come later....
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  • Day16

    Puno -23 to 24 July 2015

    July 24, 2015 in Peru ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    So we decide to take a night bus to Puno...we left at around 1030 at night and arrived in Puno at around 5 am. We both took some sleeping pills, but the bus was so cold that neither one of us were able to get much sleep. We had even paid a little more for the first class section....the ticket costing the equivalent of about $20 American.

    So we arrive at 5 am and since Jaime is morally opposed to using the bathroom on the bus...and since we both didn't sleep well...we were fair game for the tour agency that leeched on to us when we got off the bus. Turns out that it worked out really well because there was a day tour of Lake Titicaca that left at 7 am....so we signed up for it and it was a great day, even though we were both exhausted.

    We took a boat out of the harbor and visited one of the floating islands. The natives have used the reeds to build floating islands for centuries and we got to walk around on one and even took a tour in a reed boat. We talked with the 'president' of the island for a bit and he explained that about 20 people lived in the island and usually about 4 or 5 families live there. After our chat, we l left for another island.

    This other island was natural and we got to hike up to the top and have lunch. We got to walk around that island a bit and learn more about the people and the native plants.

    Turns out the lake is the 2nd largest in South America and the 19th largest in the world. It's at a very high altitude so walking up to the top of the island definitely made the lungs burn.

    On the return voyage, Jaime and Keith postulated on the likelihood that the people on the floating islands...didn't actually live on the floating islands. These two naturally cynical humans watched the islands where there was so much activity earlier and found a lone human sitting on the island. Also, while there were two boats (with outboard motors) on the island earlier, only one remained. This could have been a guard left behind or the others could have been in the huts...who really knows....

    Regardless, Jaime and Keith felt obligated to discuss their theory with the other passengers. The other passengers and tourists were taken aback and couldn't understand why the islanders wouldn't actually live there. When the monetary benefits were broken down for them, they too questioned whether or not the islands were truly still inhabited...

    We tried to take naps during the boat ride portions and we're back at the dock around 530 pm. We met a cool Brazilian couple and we talked with them about Brazil and they were the first to mention that there was a strike on the Peru side....it turns out that it wasn't really a strike so much as the smugglers in that part of Peru were tired of the police cracking down on them and they wanted to prove a point. Luckily for us, we were able to buy a bus ticket and left on schedule. We left Puno at around 7 in the morning and headed to La Paz, Bolivia....
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