Dobbs Away II

Joined April 2017
  • Day439

    Medellin

    July 19 in Colombia

    Another quick flight and we arrived in Medellin.
    Most famous, in recent history, for being devastated by Pablo Escobar and the out-of-control violence that was part of life in the ‘80s up until his death in ‘93. Given the impact this had on the country, and the world, we wanted to learn more and took a private city tour with a father-daughter guide duo who explained how their family was impacted by Escobar’s “narco- terrorism”. There was a time when hundreds of bombs were going off in the city every year and young kids were hired by the narcos to assasinate people, making the police likely to shoot young kids who they thought were working for the narcos. Our guide had a memory of being lined up against a wall by the police as a kid, and was only saved from execution by his grandmother rallying the neighbors to come and stop the murder.
    Today, it’s a city that’s doing a wonderful job reinventing itself with many new buildings, clean and (generally) safe streets, and a mayor that locals seem to love. We thought San Francisco had hills, but much of Medellin is built on very big, steep hills. Walking here can be a major workout. We’ve enjoyed drinking in the local coffee culture here and walking through the leafy, green neighborhood. Even Christy is gaining a taste for cold-brew coffee with sparkling water added to it. Delicious!
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  • Day435

    Cartegena

    July 15 in Colombia

    A quick flight brought us to Cartegena - once the main port for shipping Spanish plunder to Europe and an incredibly rich city in its’ day.
    The original city walls are still intact and make a stark contrast between the old, stately Spanish architecture vs. the huge high-rise apartments that dominate the nearby shoreline. While the city is very beautiful, it was stinking hot (up to 100 degrees some days), so we limited our time out-of-doors to morning and evening, when it was still hot, but almost bearable. The feel of the city reminded us of New Orleans, with lots of horse-pulled carriages trotting through the narrow streets, and many, many restaurants and bars with some people walking through the streets with drinks-in-hand. It also reminded us of Galle in Sri Lanka, with its’ spectacular walls and beautiful old buildings. We particularly enjoyed eating delicious ceviche and indulging in a few very well-made martinis in several of the city’s charming, old bars.Read more

  • Day433

    Bogota

    July 13 in Colombia

    A short bus ride took us back to Bogota, which is a massive city of ~8 million people. The city is surrounded by scenic, green mountains and is very hilly in some neighborhoods (our Uber driver said some apartments were as pricey as NYC), though the bulk of it is built in the flat valley.
    Our time here was short, but we managed to get to two excellent museums: The Gold Museum - highlighting an incredible array of pre-Columbian gold not melted down by the Spanish, and The Botero Museum – Columbia’s most famous artist known for his rotund statues and paintings of people and animals.Read more

  • Day429

    Villa de Leyva, Columbia

    July 9 in Colombia

    Our middle-of-the-night flight out of Bolivia landed before 7am in Bogota. We hopped in a cab to the bus station and ~4 hours later arrived in the ridiculously charming colonial town of Villa de Leyva.
    We were immediately struck by how clean, well-developed, and vibrantly green Columbia appears. And this little village was a wonderful soft landing as it’s one of the most picturesque parts of the country and we were staying at a beautifully restored villa-hotel. Luxury!
    We love South America’s colonial cities. We recognize they were (sadly) mostly built on pillage and oppression and they can feel a little Disney-ish because they are just that perfect. Still, we can’t resist their charm.
    Apart from wandering through the cobblestone streets and enjoying some delicious juices, coffee (for John) and good food, we had to deal with a few annoyances. First, John threw his back out while playing with the adorable resident boxer (dog) and ended up in bed for a couple of days, unable to walk without discomfort. Luckily, it only cost ~$40 for a doctor to visit our hotel and give him a shot so he could get back on his feet. We also got attacked one morning by small biting insects that managed to bite Christy at least 40 times, and John a bit less. The bites are the worse we’ve experienced in terms of itchiness and swelling. We still don’t know what they were, but yuck. Otherwise, we loved this town!
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  • Day425

    La Paz

    July 5 in Bolivia

    La Paz is a big city of ~2.3 million people and built on some seriously steep ridges and valleys. It’s definitely not a beautiful city as the buildings are mostly unfinished brick and there doesn’t seem to be very effective building codes or city planning – it looks like parts of India in that way. Despite this, we’ve really enjoyed it here. It’s one of those cities that has lots of hidden treasures behind ugly walls and we’ve found some wonderful cafes, restaurants and museums in courtyards that you’d never realize were there. It also has a very inventive public transport system - Mi Teleferico - a network of gondolas that offer great views of the city and are surprisingly quiet and relaxing.
    The restaurant scene has also been a surprise. We enjoyed an incredible meal at Gustu – a restaurant started by the former co-founder of Noma (yes – THAT famous Danish restaurant). This is a concept that aims to train a new generation of Bolivian chefs to showcase their unique ingredients and culture. We loved it…we have to say we thought the food was much better than at Peru’s Central.
    It’s been a surprise to us how much we like Bolivia. It’s our favorite country in South/Central America. There’s such a good diversity of experiences you can have here, the people are great, the culture is interesting and seems so much more authentic than many other places we’ve visited...and it’s incredibly affordable. The only downside it the altitude. We’ve been fine, but it does wreak havoc with your basic bodily functions such as breathing and digestion.
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  • Day422

    Copacabana

    July 2 in Bolivia

    A short flight to La Paz helped us avoid a dangerous (because of roads/cliffs and bad driving) and uncomfortable 12+ hour bus trip. When we arrived at the airport we took a taxi to the bus terminal and hopped on a bus to Copacabana. It was an easy 4 hour trip, that was only slightly delayed when the police realized there were two foreigners (us) on the bus and blocked the bus from leaving for 30+ minutes while having heated discussions with the driver. We think the issue was that the bus company let us board without taking down our names/passport numbers since we bought our tickets outside instead of at the ticket office. Eventually, we were on our way.
    Copacabana is set on the beautiful Lake Titicaca, a very spiritual place to many Andean people who believe it’s the birthplace of the sun. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world (>12,500 feet) and massive. The town itself is a little ramshackle and not as clean as other parts of Bolivia, but we enjoyed our time here. It helped that our hotel was up on the hill with a fantastic view and we found the town had a lot of charm. The town is dominated by The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana - a very large 16th century church famous for the Virgin of Copacabana and a major pilgrimage site for Bolivians. It’s also the go-to-place to get your car blessed and it was fun to see cars and shuttles outside the church decorated with flowers and hats be blessed with champagne or Coca Cola by the priest.
    Our favorite experience here was a daytrip we took to the small village of Sampaya to do some hiking. We took a taxi to the tiny stone village with only dirt paths, then walked through farmland and over a ridge to enjoy some amazing views. After finally finding a path down to the road back to Copacabana, we flagged a share-taxi back to town. It was a beautiful day and we didn’t come across any other tourists on our hike, only some local farmers working in their fields.
    We had intended to take a boat out to the Island of the Sun to hike across the island and visit Inka ruins, but an unfortunate dispute between the island’s North and South residents has essentially closed the hike down.
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  • Day414

    Sucre

    June 24 in Bolivia

    Our arrival in Sucre, meant to be a 7-hour trip, turned into a 10-hour journey after our bus broke down on the way from Tupiza to Potosi. Fortunately, we arrived safely in the early evening after a harrowing ride in a shared taxi next to very high cliffs with an insane driver who enjoyed careening around corners at top speed.
    Sucre is possibly our favorite city in South/Central America so far. It isn’t too large or small (~300k residents) and is incredibly inviting with beautifully preserved/restored colonial buildings, plenty of clean city parks and squares, good food and culture, and super friendly people. The climate is also very pleasant as it’s in the high desert (9200 ft.) and doesn’t get too hot or cold. We were lucky enough to spend over a week here and enjoyed strolling the streets and hills of this great little city. We also visited some excellent museums including the Treasure Museum (about mining, Bolivia’s primary resource), the Textile Museum, and the Liberty Museum (Bolivia’s Independence Hall). A highlight here was a daytrip to the small town of Tarabuco to see the very colorful Sunday market. While there is a tourist element to the market given that handmade weaving is something for sale, it’s much more of a local affair where people come to buy, sell and trade, dressed in their best traditional clothes.Read more

  • Day411

    Tupiza

    June 21 in Bolivia

    We took a bus from Tarija over very high (14,000ft) and barren mountain passes to Tupiza. The road was paved more than half of the way and we were lucky to get a very cautious driver, as some of the drop-offs were scary. Our driver was also a softie as he bought several loaves of bread he broke up into small pieces before we set off that we saw him tossing out the window to dozens of stray dogs we passed on our route. When he ran out of bread he waved kindly to the dogs that missed out, probably thinking I’ll feed you on the way back. When we’d bought our bus tickets we’d asked if the bus was new and had been told “more or less”. It was definitely the latter as the driver’s co-pilot was continuously pouring water on the engine so it didn’t overheat going up the steep hills.
    Tupiza is a small city known for beautiful red rock landscapes. We hired a driver for a day and were able to see most of the famous (we use the term loosely) rock formations, which were very impressive and reminiscent of parts of Southern Utah, though without the crowds. We only saw one other tourist the whole day! We were told this was less because of it being winter and more because everyone had stayed home to watch the soccer Worldcup.
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  • Day408

    Tarija, Bolivia

    June 18 in Bolivia

    Our first stop in Bolivia was the center of wine and food for the country. Bolivian wine?? We were actually very impressed with the quality and the price (~ $4-5 for a very good bottle of local Tannat).
    Tarija is very quaint and seemed fairly affluent given the cleanliness, quality of buildings and the fanciness of the cars driving around the town. It was a nice town to wander around, especially after siesta when the town’s squares are packed with school kids and office workers grabbing a quick bite before returning to their long day. We can’t imagine breaking up the work or school day this way, but apparently it gets too hot to do anything during noon-3 in the summer (though it’s winter now and very chilly given a total lack of heating in any of the buildings). The food was also good and we even enjoyed some delicious street food here (we tried quesadillas and churros – Mexican food is popular). One of the things that impressed us was a new, 3-story central market the town had built that contained fresh produce and meat on the ground floor, little kitchen stalls rented out for restaurants on the 2nd floor, and a 3rd floor that rented out stalls to vendors selling clothes, soap, etc. It was a very lively place and such a great model to encourage small businesses.Read more

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