Jun 102014

I’d ordered a car from the hotel the night before, and it was maybe $10 more than the going taxi rate if I remember right, but could be charged to the room and would be ready…so was more than worth it.  Checkout was nice and easy, and soon we were on the way to the airport.  Contrary to the trip to the hotel, the roads were absolutely empty, and my driver decided he was auditioning for a formula one race.  Ran one right light and FLASH…he started cursing up a storm.  Who knew that Quito had red light cameras?!  Did this stop him though…no, about 15 minutes later, he decided to run another red light…and FLASH…another red light camera ticket.  Some people just don’t learn their lesson.

Got to the airport in plenty of time, but unfortunately the agent was only able to print out my boarding passes as far as Cancun.  Since US Airways had left Star Alliance, they said they were unable to check me in for their flights, and with only 1:42 to connect, change terminals, clear immigration and security, and check-in in Cancun, I knew my chances weren’t very good of making the connection.

Immigration and security in Quito were a breeze, and I had about 30 minutes to kill in the business lounge.  Nothing special, but had a decent coffee machine and lots of bottled beverages as well as adequate outlets, so it more than met my needs.  Soon, it was time to head to the gate to board.

This is where I saw my very first…what I can only assume was local, complete with headdress and military surplus jacket complaining about his seat assignment.  Note in the background of the (sorry blurry) pic a few African guys also waiting for the flight.  They were from DR Congo, didn’t speak a word of Spanish or English, and were a group of 9 who were “in Ecuador looking for houses to buy” based on the translation I tried to help the gate agent with.  She was holding their passports as well so I’m not sure of the full story, but by the looks of them when they boarded they’d never been on a plane before.  They couldn’t understand, for example, that 22F meant 22 rows back…no matter how many times it was explained to them.  The concept of numbered places was completely foreign.  How they got to Ecuador in the first place was beyond me….


Boarding was pretty quick, and we pulled back from the gate right on time.

COPA Airlines flight 210
Quito, Ecuador (UIO) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 6:08, Arrive 8:04, Flight Time 1:56
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1539CMP, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2B

Although the flight was only booked to 8 of 16 in business class when I checked in, we ended up leaving completely full.  The breakfast choices were “eggs” or french toast, so decided to go with the eggs, which came scrambled in some sort of a pastry shell that was completely unnecessary.  Definitely one of the less amusing and tasty meals I’d had on COPA.


Not too much else to say about this short flight, as I slept most of the rest of it.  We arrived in Panama right on time, and I had a little time to spend in the absolutely packed COPA club.  I tried again to check in for my US Airways flights here, but there was once again nothing the agent could do.  I also Skyped US Airways Chairmans Preferred line, but try as they might, the best they could do was note my record that I was on a tight connection.  Something to do with the COPA flight not leaving yet was preventing them from checking me in either.  I would just be trying my luck once I got to Cancun.

The lounge was packed, so I used the rest of my short connection to walk around the airport a bit and just people watch, until it was time to board. At least we boarded on time, and pushed back from the gate 10 minutes early.

COPA Airlines flight 324
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Cancun, Mexico (CUN)
Depart 9:45, Arrive 12:28, Flight Time 2:43
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1536CMP, Manufactured 2009, Seat 4A

Luckily, there were only 8 of 16 seats taken on this flight, so I was able to move back to row 4 and have the entire row to myself.  Made for a nice, quiet flight up to Cancun.  So, why Cancun, Panama, etc?  When I booked with miles, this was the only routing available.  After booking it, I actually sort of was amused at the strange, but not all-that-out-of-the-way routing that would take me back.  Then, US Airways upgraded Cancun-Philly to an A330 and I was actually excited for it.  That is, until I saw that changing planes in Cancun is not straightforward.  Oh well, at least it would be an adventure.

View on takeoff from Panama:



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Jun 062014

It was nearly 7:30pm already by the time I reached my hotel, the Sheraton Quito. Nice touch number one: was met carside by the valet/doorman with an umbrella, so I didn’t get too terribly wet in the downpour. Now that’s service…and from a Sheraton! Check-in was pretty slow, taking nearly 20 minutes, but after asking if there might be any suites available for upgrade, they did find a nice junior suite for me.

It was happy hour, and I had lounge access, so decided to go check it out since it was still pouring rain.  I was the only person in the lounge, and had a few small munchies and a couple of glasses of wine while I waited for the rain to let up.  The hour I was there, I was the only person in the lounge…which kind of made me wonder why they had it open.  After an hour of browsing the local area for places to eat, and the rain letting up to a steady drizzle, I decided to first go for a walk around the block.  Couldn’t find either of the places I was looking for, but did manage to find a local ripoff of the Pinkberry frozen yogurt chain in DC.  Or maybe this came first…not sure.


Didn’t find anything in my wander, so headed to the huge shopping mall near my hotel.  Nothing that looked special there, and so far a TGI Fridays was looking like the best bet.  It was almost 9pm at this point and I was getting seriously hungry.  One more loop around the block, and I found a Chilis, lol.  I was hungry, and it sounded good…plus the rain was getting heavier again, so I went in.  Are you serious….a 2 hour wait for a table…maybe 90 minutes at the bar?  I’ll pass.

Kept walking back towards the hotel and came across a little steak place right across from the Sheraton whose name I can’t remember.  But hey, they had sangria, so all was not lost:


Unfortunately, my steak was terrible.  It was way overcooked, and way too gristly.  I guess my expectations were just too high after having great steaks all over south america.  Oh well!  At least it was filling.  Decided to skip on desert, call it a night, and get up early to explore.


Still managed to sleep in until nearly 9am, just in time to go up and grab breakfast in the lounge.  A decent selection of hot and cold items, and plenty to fuel me for the day.  Once again, I was the only person in the lounge.  I was beginning to wonder what was going on.  There were wedding decorations all over the hotel, so clearly it was pretty full, but for whatever reason nobody was using the lounge.  Oh well!

Went downstairs and asked the bellman to get me a taxi to go explore, and he highly recommended using a hotel car and negotiating a rate for all the stops I wanted to make.  I had three stops planned, and the driver was more than happy to negotiate a flat rate for 6 hours.  Sold…I wouldn’t have to worry about finding cars, leaving things in the car, etc.  Maybe cost $20 or so more in the end, but well worth it to not have to think about safety/etc.

First stop was the TelefériQo (get it?  Teleférico and Quito combined?  Clever) which is a cable car that starts at about 10,000 feet and rises to nearly 13,000 feet and was supposed to have great views over the city.  Paid my $8.50, and got a Sacagawea in change…I never even see those in the US, but apparently they’re alive and well in Ecuador.  This was one of many times I got one.


There was absolutely no line, got my own gondola, and up I go.  But first…let me take a #selfie


Great views of the city from the Gondola…I was getting a bit of fear of heights at this point….


At the top, I paused briefly to catch my breath…and start a hike further up the mountain.  First stop was a small church:

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Jun 032014

After Judd and his wife dropped me at the airport, they were also kind enough to wait while I checked in to made sure there was no drama…which of course there was. A “VIP” decided they wanted my pre-selected seat, so it had been given away. I was having absolutely none of this, and made it known…and did get my seats back. Said our goodbyes, I changed a little bit of leftover security, and headed for the gate area.

I had been warned there was no lounge in the international terminal, so made a point not to arrive too early to the airport. By the time I’d cleared immigration and the painfully slow security checkpoint it was only about 30 minutes until boarding. There was a fairly nice waiting area filled with outlets for charging phones/etc so that was nice. There was also a small, but decent variety of places to eat and shop. Overall not bad for a smaller airport. We boarded about 20 minutes late, and only about 15 minutes before scheduled departure which was worrisome, since I had barely 40 minutes to connect in Panama.

COPA Airlines flight 646 operated by COPA Airlines Colombia aka Aero Republica
Medellin, Colombia (MDE) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 13:22, Arrive 14:38, Flight Time 1:16
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration HP-1562CMP, Manufactured 2007, Seat 2A

Even more shocking for a short flight once we were airborn, there was not just a meal on this flight with a flight time of 52 minutes, there was a choice of meals! I went with the chicken.  It was decently tasty.  One thing I remembered on this flight, COPA always makes a point to turn the glasses to face you when they serve, so you can read the writing.  Small touch, but adds a tiny bit of class!



I asked for a second glass of wine after the meal, but it was too close to landing…but that wasn’t a problem.  They just served it United-style!


Landed in Panama right on time, and of course with a short-ish connection the flight was clear across the airport, about a 15 minute walk away.  Wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, except even with the air conditioning it was hot.  And with the humidex it felt downright nasty:


We boarded right at scheduled departure time, so there was really no reason I had to rush. I was only slightly concerned, because in my experience COPA is incredibly punctual, and even though it’s a small airport I figured they would almost certainly be on time.

COPA Airlines flight 159
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Quito, Ecuador (UIO)
Depart 15:24, Arrive 17:20, Flight Time 1:56
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1531CMP, Manufactured 2006, Seat 2B

Boarding took…forever. Business was supposed to be full, but it appeared there were only 4 seats taken in total. How odd. Boarding was delayed because there was a group of 50+ American teenagers and their chaperones going to do some sort of missionary work in Ecuador. Packing away their giant backpacks, guitars, combined with the typical inefficiency of boarding planes for Americans, meant we finally left the gate about 30 minutes late. Would have only been 20, except we waited another 10 for the remaining six business class passengers who were all connecting from the same delayed flight. Turned out I really didn’t need to worry!

First things, up in the air, immigration forms were handed out.  Straightforward, but I wasn’t sure what the “date of bird” was?  Is this like a Chinese Zodiac thing?  😉


Once again, there were two choices. I don’t remember the other one, but it sounded unappetizing, so I went with the generic “salmon” which turned out to be a salmon bagel. It was quite mediocre:


Once again, however, the glasses were turned properly!


Landed in Quito just over 30 minutes late, and had a relatively short walk to immigration.  The line was nearly an hour long, and I ended up chatting up a mid-50s Canadian couple from Regina (who made sure to inform me how to pronounce the city…yes, yes, I’m not an ignorant American) who were on their second trip to Ecuador.  They’d gotten bad altitude sickness the first time, and had to abandon the trip and head home rather than go to the Galapagos.  Up until this point, I hadn’t realized that Quito is still at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level.  Coming from Bolivia it felt absolutely wonderful to be able to breathe easily again!

Rather chatting immigration agent, but soon I was through and in a taxi to the hotel in a torrential downpour….which took nearly two hours since it was rush hour.  Oh well, that’s one way to get a brief preview of the city I suppose!

Jun 022014

Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures for this part of the trip. I’ll chalk it up to good conversation and not really “playing tourist.” Despite that, I got a fantastic intro to Medellin!

It was nearly 3pm by the time my taxi safely delivered me to my hotel, the Four Points Medellin. The taxi fare was fixed from the airport, so there was no need to negotiate or anything. So far, I was enjoying Medellin – all the people I encountered were quite pleasant, and the city seemed quite green, clean, and fairly orderly.

Got to the check-in counter, where I had to wait more than ten minutes to check in due to just two other customers in front of me. Then, ran into part one of the problem – neither of the front desk workers were willing to (or were unable to) speak any English at all. I finally got my point across to them: I wanted to check in, I was an SPG platinum member, and would prefer an upgraded room or suite with one bed. Unfortunately, the hotel was completely sold out, and the only room they could give me on my cash and points rate was a basic room with two beds. Ugh. After discussing for a bit they told me to go up and use that room, and they would see in an hour what they could do.

Got to the room, and it was clean and comfortable enough, with plenty of outlets/etc, and the air conditioning worked quite well and the room was a comfortable temperature. More importantly, the speed of the WiFi was quite good, and I had no trouble doing a high-bandwidth teleconference for work. After about an hour they called back, and they had indeed found me another room. Would I like a room with a patio and a king bed? Absolutely…and they sent staff up to get my bags and do the move for me. Quite a nice touch, although still not a single word of English was spoken by anyone.

The view of the patio in the upgraded room:


Unfortunately, I got stuck on several work calls in a row, and it was after 5pm when I was finally able to venture out and explore. First stop was a quick trip to the mall/grocery store around the corner to stock up on water and a few basics. It was a very modern well-stocked store that would have been at home anywhere in North America – I was incredibly impressed.

After I got back to the room, I managed to get in touch with Judd, a member of FlyerTalk who I’d been getting some advice from on things to do. Unfortunately it was really to late to go explore the city, but he was walking over to my hotel, and there was a good place to get a beer within walking distance. Count me in! He’s an Australian who’s been working in Medellin for a couple of years, and had some fantastic insights into the city. I love meetings like this, because you get a much deeper appreciation in a much shorter time when someone who knows the city well offers to show you around.

Found a nice quite place for a beer maybe a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel, or two…or three. I forgot that Australians consider drinking a competitive sport! By this point we were quite hungry, and it had started to rain, so we hopped in a cab to find somewhere to eat. I’ve forgotten the names of all the places we went, but hopefully Judd will chime in and I can update this post. We ended up for dinner at a brewpub type place, that had hundreds of bottled beers on the menu, along with their own homebrews which were really quite good. Add in a quite good burger and it was the perfect end to to a long day. No, I didn’t get to go out and play tourist, but with work running way longer than planned, I still feel I got a nice intro to the city…and can’t wait to go back!

After a good night’s sleep I was up early for a short run around the neighbourhood, and it was nice seeing the city come to life. Check-out of the hotel was slow and inefficient, just as check-in had been, but the staff were incredibly friendly and tried hard. They just seemed very new and unsure of how to handle some rather basic procedures.

Mid-morning Judd and his wife picked me up at the hotel, and offered me a ride to the airport…with a stop at a local restaurant for breakfast on the way. It was absolutely delicious, good local food (including chicharrón – YUM) and supposedly the President (I believe it is?) stops by here when he’s in Medellin as well. Good, local, non-pretentious cooking…and it was the absolute perfect ending to a short into to the city.

I’m incredibly grateful to Judd and his wife not only for showing me around, but also for the lift to the airport. Their generosity made this short stop so, so much more than it would have been otherwise, where I would have been at the whims of TripAdvisor etc! Soon after a late breakfast they dropped me at the airport, and it was off for the next stage of the adventure!

May 302014

Thanks to the hotel, had another “taxi of death” experience up to El Alto, where the driver showed absolutely zero fear weaving in and out of traffic as he worked his way up the side of the mountain to the airport.  There was no traffic at this hour, and we made great time.  Got to checkin, and only had to wait one person to get an agent…who was so uncomfortable in English that we carried on the check-in in Spanish.  I mean, I really appreciate all the practice, but I was blown away by just how reluctant Bolivians were to speak English.  All four boarding passes came out, and I was set for today and tomorrow.  Then, it was off to passport control.  There was a 15 minute wait or so, but no problems at all…but again, the whole thing was conducted in English.


Most surprising, was after exit immigration…there was a luggage check.  Open it up, and go through everything.  Not too sure what they were looking for, but I got really good at the phrase “es ropa…sola ropa!”  (it’s clothes, just clothes!) on this trip…and they let me go with a fairly minimum check.

Headed into the lounge, which was surprisingly nice.  Juice, water, etc and a few small munchies on display, but more importantly there were outlets and a comfortable quiet place to wait for the flight.  I could have used Priority Pass to get in, but Avianca business class also did the trick.


When it was time to board, the lounge agent came and got us, and escorted us to the plane.  The jetbridge had an entrance from the lounge, so there was no need to go back into the terminal.  A very nice touch which I never would have expected in La Paz!

Avianca flight 908 (Operated by TACA Peru)
La Paz, Bolivia (LPB) to Lima, Peru (LIM)
Depart 8:00, Arrive 9:05, Flight Time 2:05
Airbus A320, Registration N492TA, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A

OJ and water offered prior to pushing back, and a view of the airport:


There was a great graveyard of old planes, but unfortunately with the sun and earlier rain, it was hard to get a good shot:


A view of El Alto on climbout.  It was really unnerving taking off from El Alto, because with the high altitude the plane takes what feels like forever to get off the ground. I was hoping we’d go over the city to get a shot of how it sits in the valley, but no such luck.  I was so excited to take pictures that I asked for a window seat, something I rarely do.  Didn’t matter, because the aisle ended up staying empty.


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May 202014

I wasn’t really expecting this daytrip to leave at 6:30am…it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that in advance, or I might not have booked it.  I was beginning to seriously run on fumes by this point in the trip, but hopefully seeing Lake Titicaca would make it all worth it.  I had to admit, though, as anyone who wasted time watching Beavis and Butt-head as a kid, every time I hear Lake Titicaca I still think of the Great Cornholio…lol


Anyways, enough stupidity. Got to the lobby of my hotel at exactly 6:30, and there were no signs of life stirring yet. There was, however, a petite Bolivian looking lady wandering the lobby looking puzzled, so I asked who she was looking for. Yes, she was my guide…and the driver was on the way. This was all in Spanish, because up until this point she seemed extremely reluctant to speak English. She eventually warmed up, and we were underway.

It was about a 90 minute drive to Huatajata where we would pick up the hydrofoil across the lake.  Although this was scheduled to be a group tour, there was nobody else booked from La Paz today, so I’d have the van to the hydrofoil all to myself.  Additionally, the hydrofoil ride would be all alone, and we would pick up a large group of…you guessed it….Swiss tourists coming from Peru in Copacabana for the second part of the trip.

We made it Huatajata on time, after a long drive through the sprawling expanses of El Alto.  Once there, there was a “museum” to see before starting the trip.  When I was booking this, I discussed with several Bolivians I knew, and they all recommended to make the booking with Crillon Tours.  Seems they had built much of the tourist infrastructure on the lake, including the hydrofoils, and had all the connections to make the trip the best possible.  They’d even built a museum on Huatajata telling a bit of the history around Lake Titicaca, both before and after the arrivals of the Spanish.  I was given 20 minutes to check out the museum while my guide got everything sorted for the hydrofoil. First highlight of the museum, a burial mummy:


…followed by the arrival of the Spanish:


Manco Capac, the first Incan incarnation of the Sun God, and his sister and Mama Ocllo in a traditional boat….


Outside the museum were some friendly alpacas (or are they llamas?)  just hanging around….


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May 182014

Originally when I’d booked the trip, my flight back from Uyuni to La Paz was scheduled for 9:35a, which would allow me to sleep in slightly, and still get to La Paz in time to have a nice relaxing day to see the city. Unfortunately, once again, Amaszonas had other ideas. Points to them for communications, but 48 hours before my flight I got an email that the flight had been moved to 6:45am. Are you KIDDING me people? UGH.

This meant instead of getting breakfast and leaving for the airport at the sane hour of 7:45 or so, I would have to leave for the airport no later than 5am. Yes, this meant another 4:15am wakeup call. UGH.

I went out front at 5:15a as agreed with my driver, and he was there…sleeping in his car….with heavy metal music blaring. I was slightly disturbed, but after knocking on the windows to wake him up, we had a safe 30-40 minute drive to the airport. All the stars were out, and it was gorgeous in the complete darkness.

There was already quite a long queue to check in which took 15 minutes or so in the semi-open air terminal, and I was stuck in the back of the plane this time. No big deal. The problem was, after security, we were in a waiting room that was semi-open to the elements and it was -5C outside. It was absolutely freezing, and I hadn’t brought a jacket. I sat hunched up in a little ball for about 30 minutes and ran for the plane the minute they let us board. There was absolutely zero to see or do in the airport, except freeze and wait for the plane.

Amaszonas flight 301
Uyuni, Bolivia (UYU) to La Paz, Bolivia (LPB)
Depart 6:45, Arrive 7:35, Flight Time 50 minutes
Canadair CRJ-200, Registration CP-2733, Manufactured 1998, Seat 11D

This flight was completely full, and I had the pleasure of an overly chatty Indian seatmate from Mumbai who insisted on talking for the entire 50 minutes. Even when I put in my earbuds, he prattled on and on. Ugh. Not at this hour, please. Impressively, for a full flight of 50 people and only 40 minutes in the air, the flight attendants made two full passes with drinks. I was impressed! The Coke Zero was the only thing keeping me going.

Landed in La Paz right on time, but there was one problem.   It was rush hour, and it took nearly 90 minutes to get to the Radisson.  Fortunately I knew the fair price this time, and the taxi driver was happy to accept it.  Got to the hotel just after 9, but my room wasn’t ready yet…so they invited me to go up to the executive lounge for breakfast.  Well, that was nice!  Had a small breakfast, and by the time I was done my room was ready.

They’d upgraded me to the executive floor for some reason, which was slightly nicer in furnishings than my previous room.  I collapsed on the bed, and caught an hour nap to try and feel somewhat human.

After I woke up, I headed out to walk the city.  My first stop was the office of Crillon Tours, where I had to pay for my trip to Lake Titicaca the next day.  The walk there was about 15 minutes, and it was a good chance to watch the city going about its business on a week day.  There was, once again, nearly no English spoken in the office when I got there, but eventually I found the person I needed, got the tour paid by credit card, and I was off to walk some more.

I was headed to the old part of the city where some colonial buildings still stood, but on the way I ran into a group of…zebras?  I have no idea what this was all about….


Just ten minutes further along, I ran into a chain gang of prisoners doing some hard manual labour repairing a road.  And being supervised by….a police dog?  I was beginning to wonder about Bolivians and animal costumes….


Finally, after a 20 minute walk uphill, and stopping frequently to catch my breath, I reached Calle Jaen, where some old colonial buildings stood.  The streets were narrow, and the angle of the sun made it hard to get a good pic, but this was my best attempt:


I kept walking back through the city, and my next stop was the Mercado de las Brujas – the witches’ market.  You could by all sorts of interesting “ingredients here” including dried llama fetuses.  Supposedly when you’re building a new building, be it a house, office, or whatever, you bury one of these dried llama fetuses in the foundation for good luck.  Go figure….

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May 162014

When I’d originally booked this trip, the flight from Bolivia to Uyuni was at the annoying hour of 6:30am.  That would mean getting up around 4:30a at the latest to head to the airport on my second day in Bolivia.  UGH.  Just as I was leaving DC I got an email…the flight had been retimed to 5:35am, and the reason was given as “due to a maintenance service in the International Airport EL ALTO in La Paz city and will be closed at about 4 hours, from 12:00 pm to 16:00 pm during all month MAY.”  Uh, exactly how does that affect a 6:30 flight?  No clue.  However, I resigned myself to a 3am wakeup call to get to the airport no later than 4:30…an hour before my flight, and hopefully a little sooner.

Woke up, out the door in about 20 minutes, and soon I was queued up to check in at El Alto.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen an airline bragging that they fly a “new fleet of CRJ-200s.”


Check in was super quick, although I was kicked out of the bulkhead I’d reserved online, because I was told my Spanish wasn’t good enough to be sitting in an exit row.  Boo hiss.  It was still about 1:15 before the flight, so I had time for a quick (and pretty awful) coffee in the check in area, with a much better chocolate muffin.

Security was completely painless and took maybe two minutes, and soon I was in the rather decent departures area:



Boarding was called about 30 minutes before the flight, and we walked probably 300 meters across the tarmac to our plane:


Upon boarding, the flight attendant handed each passenger a goody bag:


Amaszonas flight 300
La Paz, Bolivia (LPB) to Uyuni, Bolivia (UYU)
Depart 5:35, Arrive 6:35, Flight Time 1 hour
Canadair CRJ-200, Registration CP-2742, Manufactured 1997, Seat 2F

Upon boarding, for some reason, the seats on this plane looked and felt really familiar.  Only when I pulled up my phone to check out its history did I see why…it was a former United Express plane, and still had the United Express seats.  So, this is hell.  My least favourite aircraft (the CRJ) with vestiges of United Express.  Great.  Door closed about 5 minutes early with the seat next to me empty…and we started to taxi….a few minutes later, we headed back to our parking position and opened the door.

A rapid stream of spanish followed from the cockpit, with the simple english translation of “something wrong with the plane.”  Great!  Well, ten minutes later “something” was fixed and we were off!  The flight was a quick 45 minutes or so, and the flight attendants did do a quick beverage service from the trolley.  Can’t really complain…beats United Express!

Landing in Uyuni, it was cold.  Really cold.  -4C or about 26F according to my phone, and I was just in jeans and a lightweight pullover.  Brilliant planning Jason, brilliant.  I’d prebooked a driver/tourguide for the day, since I’d been told there were essentially two options in Uyuni:  hang around town for one of the 6-people-packed-into-a-Landrover backpacker trips for about $50 a person, or book a private driver.  Since I only had one day and no clue when I’d come back, I opted for my own driver so I could do what I wanted and stop however long I wanted.

My driver was waiting in the arrivals area as the sun rose, and we threw my backs in the vehicle and were off.  He waid we had to wait for a permit from the police in town, so we had about an hour to kill before we could head out.  We headed into a small restaurant/cafe for coffee and a light breakfast, and slowly after us it began to fill up with backpackers who’d taken the 10+ hour overnight bus from La Paz.  They all looked like death, and I was beginning to think the extra money I’d paid was well well worth it.

Permit obtained, we headed out to the “train cemetery” at the edge of town.  Not much to see, but since it was featured in just about every travel article I read on the town, I figured we should stop.  At least it was a cool contrast with the brilliant blue skies:


Stopped in town to pick up some snacks and waters, and in the centre of town was this…unique…sculpture:


Next stop was my hotel, the Hotel Luna Salada.  It’s a good 30 minutes out of town, right on the edge of the saltflats.  The hallways/common areas are open to the elements, so it got very very cold.  This was the walkway to my room…note the floors, which are made entirely of crushed salt:



We were set to head out on the tour at 10, so I had an hour nap which made me feel much better after having gotten up at 3am!  The hotel was cold…quite cold….since the salt walls don’t really insulate things much and it drops below freezing at night.  There were electric blankets on all the beds (a first for me) and they kept me nice and toasty warm!

The drive to the salt flats (with the obligatory 15 minute stop at a local craft market along the way) was pretty good…and upon entering the salt flats the driver really gunned it.  It felt weird to be speeding across the salt with no roads, no markings, just a sense of direction.

I’d told my driver I wanted to see an area where water had gathered, to get a pic of the salt with the reflection.  He knew right where to go, and we found an area where water was a few inches deep.  We had to drive very slowly in this area, because supposedly if you drive too quickly the water splashes up on the car’s undercarriage, and will corrode things, shorting out the electrical systems due to its high salt content and stranding you:



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May 062014

Through immigration and customs in less than 10 minutes, and had to find my way out of the airport, which was easier said than done due to lack of signage.  Fortunately, I found an ATM on the way, so I could stock up on cash for the next few days.  Got a taxi for 80 bolivianos (which I now know is a ripoff – 60 is the “real” price) – but getting ripped off by $3 on day number one in a country is nothing to get too upset about.  Now, the fact he drove 140kph on the switchbacks down the mountain, that’s another story.  Checked into my hotel the Radisson by 3:15, and was out cold by 3:30.  Woke up the next morning to a fantastic view of La Paz out my window:


After about an hour to get moving and adjusted to the thin air, decided to start on a walk.  I seriously don’t know what we did before google maps.  I decided to slowly head down to the main tourist area, and was stopping every 2 blocks or so to catch my breath.  13,000+ feet above sea level kinda hits you hard.  Along the walk, I saw a restaurant with a name that sounded familiar.  Checked TripAdvisor, and sure enough I’d seen it there, advertising great breakfasts.  Plus, Cafe Il Lampu had a fantastic seat on a little second floor mini balcony to people watch from:


Fortified with some espressos, toast, and my new vocab word of the day “huevos duros” or hard-boiled eggs, I was ready for some more slow wandering.  After another 10 minutes or so, I came upon the church of San Francisco, which had a fantastic plaza to camp out and people watch for a bit . Are you catching a theme here?  It was lots of stop and go walking in the thin air for the first several hours:


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May 062014

Got to the airport in plenty of time, since the US Airways app refused to let me check in online. Was rather shocked when the agent was able to print out all four boarding passes up front. Went through the northern most checkpoint, since that’s where TSA precheck is located, as well as being the pier that my flight was supposed to leave from. The US Airways club is pretty grim, however, so I took the shuttle bus over to the middle terminal to use the American lounge. On the shuttle, we had to stop, because an HonorFlight was coming in, filled with World War II Veterans coming to DC for the day to see the memorial:


Made it to the American lounge, home of the best airport bloody mary anywhere.  To quote the bartender:  “I make them from scratch and I’m gonna get you there before your flight does!”  He wasn’t lying – they were delicious!


Then it was time to take the shuttle back to the terminal and board the first flight on time:

US Airways flight 3264 (Operated by Republic Airlines)
Washington, DC National (DCA) to Charlotte, NC (CLT)
Depart 11:00, Arrive 12:32, Flight Time 1:32
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N128HQ, Manufactured 2008, Seat 3A

Pre-flight beverages were offered and I had a water to offset the bloody mary, and soon we were off to the north, with a gorgeous view on takeoff:


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