Off the Road Again

On one of our endless bus journeys in Africa we met an Israeli man who explained to us how he, after months of travel filled with glorious experiences, lost his awe and wonderment at the creation around him. It was then he knew it was time to throw in the towel, head home, and wait for the wonder-lust to rebuild. His words resonate with us now. Maybe we've seen too many wonders, maybe we've been on the road too long, or maybe we know the finish line is within arms reach. Whatever the reason we have lost our wonder-lust and now the mundaneness of regular life like, sleeping in the same bed, brushing our teeth together, and regular access to TP sound exciting.

After exploring Machu Pichu we boarded yet another bus, this one bound for Lima. Twenty-one hours later we stumbled off the prison in search of a home for the night. We quickly found room at the Stop and Drop Hostel and meandered towards the beach. To our chagrin the beach was hundreds of feet below us as we peered over the edge of a rocky cliff. We chose to wander the corridors of the cliff side mall instead of paying the taxi fare over the edge. We headed to the airport, and ultimately Panama City, the next day after whiling away the hours in coffee shops eating churros and playing cards.

With only nine days in Panama we had one goal: get our chill on. The first two days of "chill" were forced on us as we had that all too familiar gurgling down below so we hung around our hostel. With Lyle still feeling a little "unsettled" we boarded our final over night bus bound for the sunny islands of Bocas Del Toro.

Bocas proved to be a beautiful Caribbean beach setting. In our efforts to take it slow we stayed four entire days, our longest in one spot since our safari in Namibia. Our general pattern is to take a very long bus ride to a new place, usually over night, arriving with very swollen feet and bad breath then spend several hours walking around until we find a satisfactory (which means cheap) place to stay which greatly helps the swollen feet. Finally, we spend one to two days max exploring the local attractions in the area before we move on with another long bus ride and repeat. We found four entire days an adjustment but Bocas provided plenty for us to do. We visited several beaches where snorkeling offered a great view of star fish, sting rays, and a plethora of fish. We also went treasure hunting for shells and coral. During one of our snorkeling ventures I found a Queen Conch shell that was not only new, radiating a beautiful color array of white, pink, orange, and yellow from its underside, but still had a creature living inside. My excitement was obvious as I have always wanted to find such a treasure. We also spent several hours walking one island in search of a cave we had heard about from a fellow traveler in Uyuni, Bolivia. We had very little success, although we did eventually find a cave, but not the one we were told about. What we did find in our walks was a sloth with baby clinging tightly to its chest. Lyle even helped free one of its hands that had gotten stuck between some branches. It probably got stuck in its haste to climb the tree upon being scared senseless by our presence, but at least we saved it.

Besides our run-ins with nature we spent a great deal of time relaxing; reading, journaling, sleeping, scratching bug bights and going for swims across the channel just off the dock of our hostel (which we found out is illegal when a local law official waved us into shore near the police station and informed us we had to take a water taxi back to our hostel). Swimming the channel was too dangerous, therefore illegal. We thought about swimming it again in an effort to get our names in the paper, but we figured it wouldn't be big enough news to make it all the way to Anchorage (sorry Jon).

On the morning of day seven we took the same ten hour bus ride, returning to Panama City. The last activity on our list was visiting the Panama Canal. We chose to see the canal by train, traveling the hour from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Caribbean side. The train ride to Colon was nice, but not as exciting as we had hoped. Colon was a different story however. As soon as we disembarked a very large man, speaking ghetto English to our great surprise, began trying to sell us a day of adventure in Colon lead by yours truly also doubling as our body guard. Although he was entertaining, his price tag was far to high for us and we explained this to him. We only wanted to walk around the town, get some breakfast, see the canal, and take a bus home. He promptly informed us that we couldn't walk around town. "As soon as you leave the train station men will jump out of those building over there and they will cut you for a few dollars and then run back in. It's like a maze in there. The police don't even go in there," he said. I had my suspicion he may have exaggerated just a little to ensure our business but Lyle's research on Colon the night before confirmed the town was "barely under police control during the day and not at all at night". So, still unable to afford the day of adventures, we simply asked for a ride to breakfast, which the big man reluctantly gave us. When we entered the chosen eatery, a simple buffet joint, we found a police officer with a sawed off shot gun with a pistol grip swinging ever so slightly at his side looking ready for instant action guarding the door and then we were convinced this was no place for a couple crackers. We ate breakfast, took a taxi to the bus station and found a bus heading back to Panama City all within an hour. We were back in Panama City by 11 am looking for the next adventure.

With the extra time we visited the Panama Canal museum and watched sailboats and huge freighters pass through one of the locks before returning to our hostel for the night.

We packed our bags for the final time this morning, our eight month trip around the world has come to an end. As I think back on all we have done, seen, and learned I am extremely thankful for this time. It has been a tremendous blessing for Lyle and I. The lessons God has taught me and the moment when I see and feel Him loving and caring for me are numerous and will be continuing to work themselves out in my life for months to come. Traveling is such a gift, we don't want to take it for granted. We have loved every minute of it. But now we are ready to go home, which is another blessing as our flight leaves in four hours! I hope there will be more travels for us in the future but for now we will be happily singing "off the road again, can't wait to get off the road again . . . " changing up Willies tune a little.

"I'm itching myself all over. I feel like a monkey."
Our new Israeli friend


The Big Push

Twenty four hours on the double decker bus with restless leg syndrom and a terrible sugary cookie to nibble on. In South America you´re not supposed to flush TP. Who knew there was a road all the way up to Machu Picchu? Don´t put all your cash in one place. The Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world, four times the size of Lake Iliamna, ¨islands¨ in the lake have coral formations covering the rocks and the flats are 11,995 feet above sea level!! I have a bladder the size of a mustard seed.
With a day to kill in Salta, Argentina we decided to obtain our Bolivian visa, a wink and a nod allowed us to recieve them the same day! After wandering the streets and climbing the local statues and sipping sweet drinks in the the town square we made our way to the bus station in the dark to spend our second night on the bus, this time destination Uyuni. We again hit the ground running, sucking the marrow out of the day as I like to say. We found accomodations and then set out to find someone to show us around the joint. By night fall we had a deal secured and we were off after sunrise for a journey into the barren hinterlands of the Salar de Uyuni. These meager pictures have trouble showing the vastness and ruggedness and brutality of these barren wastelands that are so full of gentle life and quick to judge those who don´t take it seriously. Words and pictures barely scratch the surface of the extreams of the place, vast seas of brilliant white salt flats, pink flamigos acting like life is so good at 13,000 feet in orange water with green grass; blue skys; and blistering white salt flats, volcanos jutting up in all directions, islands in the salt flats with ancient coral encrusting the rocks with cactus growing out of them and mini ostretch type birds pecking around miles from the nearest inhabitable land.

After three days of touring, sleeping in hotels made entirely of salt and huddled in a Land Cruiser with six other chaps we were on sensory overload and were almost greatful not to see another mind blowing vista. Fortunately the schedule in the train station didn´t match up with reality in our favor and we had an extra day in Uyuni to digest the previous three. After the burning cold of night set in we huddled in the train station with the other tourist heading down the trail and the locals sleeping on the benches scattered around. As expected the train was an hour or two late and we whiled the time away talking about different trails explored with the other tired travelers.
The train was pleasant and a few hours of sleep were afforded to each of us and soon we were rolling into a town called Oruro where we had the challenge of finding a bus to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. We quickly found a bus through La Paz, which a local boy kindly sent off in style by peeing on the back tire. Again my expectaions were blown out of the water as we passed the shores of the giant lake. It was even bigger and more beautiful than I had expected with the Andes mountians in the distance and tiny hamlets dotting the shore in cozy hilly niches. Copacabana was an unknown to both Heidi and I and we were taken with the town immediately and decided we could spend more time than we had exploring the place. Sailing was on tap the first day and we used several hours out on the lake figuring out how to run the ship and getting every inch of exposed skin brilliant red despite the layers of sun screen applied. The following day we rented bikes and peddled down the road seeking the floating islands. Heidi´s bike broke on the first hill, half the handlebar ripping off the center post. A little Alaska modification and we were off again albeit a little unstablely. The floating islands turned out to be a tourist trap, literally, they were all trapped there. So we enjoyed the view and the sore bottoms from the hours of riding and headed back to town just in time for yet another bus taking us to Cusco, Peru.

Saving a few bills on a hotel we slept on the bus as we crused towards Cusco in the dark. We woke to giant terraced mountians drifting past our windows and wondered at these people´s tenacity to farm such steep rugged ground. Cusco bustled with activity and all the vendors salivated as we passed their doors baiting us in with the different deals of the hour. Machu Picchu was firmly in mind as we avoided all the touts and found our way out to the small town of Aguas Calientes where we would search for the old city. On the train ride we fell in line with a couple Yanks and ended up staying at the same hostel, enjoying dinner together and exploring the ruins with them. The highlight of the tour was climbing Wynupichu, the mountian on the far side of the city, and immagining how they built the lower city let alone the terraces and watch towers on this far spire. Simply amazing in scope and detail of the craftsmanship and location of the whole place.
Sensory overload set in long ago and I am struggling to take in yet one more incredable and unfathomable sight. In all our wanderings and traveling people ask us over and over what our favorites are and again and again we come back to people. Relationships are what make this whole deal worth it, they are the only things that will last. Heidi and I think back over the months and so many people come to mind, Mona, Muhamad and Mason in Egypt, Dave, Karen and the gang in Burma, Dave and Mark in Mexico, Yuval in Malawi, so many strangers we call freinds. Why has God allowed us this opportunity to go and to see. A vast majority of the people we meet could never and will never have this opportunity and yet we do. A verse Heidi and I repeat over and over ¨to whom much is given, much is required¨.
¨Dont buy any sunglasses within 150 mills of the ground, in La Paz I saw too many dogs cocking their leg towards them.¨

Peter the Kewi