Thursday, November 1, 2007

Photos from Brazil

Nous sommes de retour sur New York, depuis une petite semaine et il nous reste encore quelques photos a mettre en ligne. Pour le moment voici nos photos de:
Paraty (Brazil)
Pantanal (Brazil)
Salvador (Brazil)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bogota: A pleasant surprise

We had low expectations for Bogota, but suffice to say, it's substantially safer and more pleasant than we imagined. In fact, thanks to smart urban planning over the past 10 years, its among the most livable cities in South America (in my opinion).

- Like New York City, street names/numbers are based on a cartesian number system.
- The city has extensive bike paths (designed as an alternative commuter transportation system), numerous parks, and practically every street is lined with trees.
- The city's TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit System is a clever, low-cost alternative to rail-based public transportation. Similar in concept to the Silver Line in Boston (but far more extensive), it consists of low-pollution buses with dedicated "busways" and whose system is managed and operated by public/private sector partnerships that promote competition. Its implementation is so successful that the US Department of Transportation recently comissioned a report to determine which of its characteristics can be applied in the US.
- Unlike Shanghai's Old Town, which is practically Disney-like in its authenticity, the streets and buildings of Old Town Bogota have been restored tastefully and retain much of their colonial charm. Also, the area has been rehabilitated to provide its residents with access to modern power, clean water and transportation.

From a security perspective, Bogota reminded me a lot of New York City around 1993-1994. Completely safe it is not; but certain areas (particularly in the north of the city) are perfectly safe; and its clear that broad efforts are being made to improve things.
- There are there are a lot of policemen patrolling the streets;
- Slums are being reclaimed and developed into parks and public plazas;
- Significant investments were made in public education, which resulted in a 30% increase in students attending school and, more importantly, a reduction of violent deaths by 42%.
- Security for international flights leaving Bogota is insane. They unpack your suitcase, 3 X-rays, and they pat you down twice.

Obviously all is not perfect
- This is a country that has endured a civil war for many, many years; and only in recent years stabilized.
- Air pollution is magnified at the high altitude.
- There is a large wealth divide, which contributes to petty crime (ie, pickpocketing) still being a problem.
- Ground transportation (e.g, bus, car) outside the city still isn't safe, thanks to the FARC and guerillas.

Random Thoughts
- You would think Colombia's capital would be warm, but considering its altitude of 8661 feet (2640 meters) above sea level, its not. We wore sweaters everywhere.
- Obviously I have no credibility on this subject, but the city has a lot of great restaurants (Astrid y Gaston in particular).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The golden arches gone global

Anyone reading this blog probably knows that America's 42nd president and I share an unhealthy (literally and figuratively) obsession with McDonalds. Not surprisingly, over the duration of this trip, my lovely wife has severely restricted my consumption of this fine "food". Oddly enough, this has had a positive effect on my waistline. But, that didn't stop us from noticing, in passing, some differences between the restaurants in the US and around the world:

Decor - While US stores are clearly targeted at children (cheap, cookie-cutter design, lots of hard plastic), non-US stores appear to target a more affluent customer. Seating areas have stylish, modern furniture, wi-fi/internet kiosks, flat-panel TVs, powerful fans that whisk away the smell of burger grease, and less humiliating staff clothing.

McCafe - Presumably to attract affluent customers while fending-off the impending arrival of Starbucks, the company created "McCafe", a high-end coffee shop that resides within a dedicated section of each restaurant. Here, you can drink speciality coffees and pastries, read newspapers and/or magazines, and listen to hipster background music. We tried this once, and it really did taste as good, if not better than Starbucks (disclaimer: I know I have no credibility on this subject).

Desert only stands: As burgers are priced out-of-reach for most consumers in emerging markets (particularly those in warm climates), we noticed numerous standalone desert-only stands/kiosks, where you can purchase lower-priced items such as ice cream cones, sundaes, and McFlurrys.

McDrive and AutoMac - other names for Drive-Thru

There is so much sugar in the hamburger buns that the government of Australia classifies them as cake.

Speciality foods

India: There are no hamburgers (religious beliefs); Big Mac is replaced by the Chicken Maharaja; more veggie friendly options.

China/Malaysia: Lots of chicken options (fried chicken, chicken teriyaki, etc.)

South America: We saw signs for Especiales del Chef, which are haute-cuisine versions of McDonalds classics created by chef Pablo Massey (their equivalent of Emril).

South America: McNifico burger (looks like a Whopper)

Buenos Aires: Kosher only restaurant in a food court

Rio de Janeiro: Super Big Mac (Big Mac with 3 patties of beef)

Countries we did not see stores/franchises: Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia.

Bottom line: Rest assured, I know how pathetic this posting is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Colombia for our final week

So, we've reached the last week of our trip, and after much deliberation, we chose Colombia as our final destination. We also considered Ecuador and Venezuela, but supposedly its a bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands (too cold), and more advanced planning is required to truly enjoy Hugo's place. The clinchers were recommendations by our friends Andres (of Colombian descent and who constantly raves about his motherland) and Fred (who recently returned from a 2 week vacation there).

Is it safe?
Both Fred and Andres claim the tourist trail is perfectly safe, as Alvaro Uribe, the country's president, has blanketed it with police and military personnel. Our first impression at Bogota airport: There are cops everywhere. And in Cartegena, we didn't walk more than 100 yards without seeing a policeman. Also, we saw police randomly search through the locals bags.

Getting around:
- The travel books claim renting a car is a bad idea, as is traveling by bus at night.
- If you're traveling wihtin Colombia, consider flying AeroRepublica: It is owned by Copa Airlines/Continental Airlines, and its fleet consists of brand new (and very comfortable) Embraers and ex-Continental aircraft.

Bottom line: We never felt unsafe during the day. Walking at night was a different story, which we don't plan on repeating.

As soon as Colombia is removed from your country's "don't go there" list, Cartegena is going to be swarmed with tourists. And with good reason: it is an absolutely stunning UNESCO designated historical town. Yes, we know we say that about many places we've visited, but in the case of Cartegena, its our second favorite city (after Luang Prabang, Laos). Walking around really feels like a 16th century town -- far more than Old San Juan, and considerably more than Paraty, Salvador and Cusco.

Santa Marta/Taganga:
We next went to Taganga, a small fishing town on the northern coast. I'll let Marie tell the story about getting there and our initial impressions -- but suffice to say, it was rather nice in the end; a relaxing day on a decent beach, seeing lots of local families, very fresh fish, and all quite inexpensive.

Random thoughts
- Colombian coffee is really good. Even the coffee on our flight was good.
- Colombian elections are just around the corner, and its really wild to see how supporters get the word out. Guys walking on stilts with posters, screaming into megaphones, marching bands -- all part of the "Vote for ..."
- In the town of Santa Marta, practically every cab is a 1980s vintage Renault Alliance (shocking that they actually run).

Famous Colombians:
- Carlos Sanchez, the actor that portrayed Juan Valdez, the purveyor of fine Colombian coffee, retired in 2003. But, the Juan's legend continues to live on in the numerous Juan Valdez Cafes.
- Pablo Escobar, the purveyor of fine Colombian cocaine (so we're told), was killed by the government in 1993.
- Considering the Colombian contingent that came out to support him at the US Grand Prix, I would have expected to see more Juan Pablo Montoya, the Formula 1 turned NASCAR driver, paraphanaila.
- We saw plenty of street performers gyrating like Shakira, the singer/dancer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Derniere semaine

Nous sommes toujours au Bresil. Mes parents et mon frere sont venus nous rejoindre une semaine pour visiter la region du Pantanal ainsi que Recife. Nick et moi sommes ensuite partis a Salvador, ou nous sommes aujourd'hui.

Le Pantanal est la plus grande plaine inondee du Bresil -- et peut-etre du monde (a confirmer). La faune du Pantanal est extrêmement riche, sans doute la plus riche de la planete. On y trouve plus de 650 especes d'oiseaux: herons, ibis, aigrettes, jabiru, jacana, toucan, etc...

Nous avons egalement vu de nombreux cochons d'eau (capybara), des singes, des caimans et peche de nombreux piranhas (plus d'une centaine !). Nous avons eu la chance de ne pas rencontrer d'anacondas, presents en grande quantite dans cette region (je deteste les serpents !!).

Apres plus de 15 jours au Bresil, nous partons aujourd'hui pour la Colombie, ou nous allons passer notre derniere semaine de vacances.

Monday, October 15, 2007

New Photos!

Comme nous etions en vacances en plein milieu du Bresil et sans acces a internet, nous avons une fois de plus pris un peu de retard avec nos photos. Voici donc enfin nos photos de:
- Iguazu Falls (Argentina and Brazil)
- Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
- Ilha Grande (Brazil)


Sunday, October 14, 2007

American Football vs. Brazillian Football

As Marie mentioned in her post, while in Rio, we went to see a soccer match against the Flamengos (their equivalent of the Yankees) and the Atleticos (average team). While there, I scientifically broke down the differences between American Football (NFL) and Brazillian football. As Marie mentioned in her post, its PASSION:

Pre-game: Equivalent - both include tailgating outside the stadium, lots of unhealthy food and beer, booing other team when they take the field.

Brazillian Football midfield play = NFL timeout. Brazillians are cheering optimistically. Americans are ZZZZZZ....

Brazillian Football Corner Kick = NFL Field Goal: Americans are happy they scored some points. Brazillians are equally happy they are one/two kicks away from a shot on goal.

Brazillian Football Shot on Goal = NFL Touchdown: Americans are extremely happy they scored maximum points. Brazillians are extremely happy they ALMOST scored.

Brazillian Football Goal = NFL Playoff Win: Crowd is in a frenzy, fireworks are set off in the stands, etc.
Brazillian Football Game Win = NFL team making it to the playoffs.

Post-game: Equivalent - Absurd amounts of traffic, drunk people in the streets, etc.

Commercial breaks: NFL: Time to get food/beer and use the restroom. Brazillian Football: What sport has commercial breaks?

Halftime: Similar, except no on-field activities in Brazillian football (since its the only stoppage in play, everyone is at the food stands/restrooms).

Penalty against your team: NFL: The referee is blind and/or an idiot. Brazillian Football: The other player is an actor, and the referee is betting against our team.

Events we did not witness, but can infer:
Scoring a goal against your own team:
- NFL (Example: Leon Lett): The bum should be released (dropped) from the team.
- Soccer: The idiot should be shot. (On a serious note, its one thing to say that in the heat of the moment -- its another to actually act on it, which sadly happened to Andres Escobar in Colombia in 1994)

World Cup Win There were more people in the streets celebrating when France won the 1998 World Cup (they were the host country) than when Paris was liberated at the conclusion of World War II.

Catching up

Sorry its been a while since our last posting. As Marie mentioned, we met up with her parents and brother, and visited Brazillian flood plains where there was no internet access (or TV).

Iguazu Falls:
- Coincidence? The world's 3 major waterfalls lie on sovereign borders (Niagara Falls - USA/Canada, Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe/Zambia, Iguazu Falls - Argentina/Brazil/Paraguay)

- Its pretty impressive; the best part was taking a boat ride up to and under the falls (and not surprisingly, get soaked). We wish someone would have told us to bring a towel!!!

- If you have only 2 hours, visit the Brazil side (great panoramic views). If you have a full day, visit the Argentina side (get closer, more activities, etc). The ideal is to allot 1.5 days and visit both. No views from the Paraguay side.

- Safety: Many of the locals claim "Rio is like any other big city; you just need to know where not to go." We disagree -- its a lot more dangerous (you don't see residents walking around with pistols and sub-machine guns in other big cities). Apparently drug lords have a lot of power in Rio, and government corruption is rampant. Unfortunately, they severely limit the areas of the city you can visit.

- Fashion: Whether you look like Elizabeth Hurley/Brad Pitt or Mimi from the Drew Carey Show / Dom Deluise, the mantra appears to be "show the world what you're made of". Women wear (not a lot of) tight-fitting lycra, and on the beach, guys wear Speed-o's and nothing else.

- The locals worship the sun: Our first day in Rio was cloudy/rainy -- and the town really seemed quite depressing (no one outside, gray buildings, unsafe, etc.) But the next day, the sun was out and the city was transformed -- everyone was riding bicycles, rollerblading, walking, drinking capirinhas, etc. And on the beach, many people were swimming, working out, playing volleyball (both the regular version and a soccer-like hands-free version), etc.

- Recycling: You can't go 100 yards in Rio without coming across a set of waste disposal bins. Each set has a bin for organic waste, plastics, glass, etc. Its really a nice system that simultaneously reduces litter and encourages recycling.

Ilha Grande and Paraty:
- Marie disagrees, but to me, Ilha Grande appeared very similar to a Caribbean island in that its quiet, has decent beaches, and a few unremarkable shops and restaurants. While its certainly nice, if you already live close to or have access to decent beaches, its probably not worth a special trip (whereas Pulau Perentian in Malaysia is).
- On the other hand, Paraty is a very unique, historical town. While not a UNESCO site, it is protected from over-development by Brazillian law, and has a unique 16th century Brazillian/Portugese charm. The buildings are all one or two story and constructed of colorful plaster; only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed on the cobblestone streets; lots of art galleries, good restaurants, bars, music, and harbors with yachts that wouldn't be out of place in West Palm Beach, Florida.

- We met up with Marie's parents and brother, and spent 4 days in Pantanal, a huge flood plain fed from the rains in Southern Bolivia and Paraguay. If you like sustainable travel (nature, bird watching and fishing, staff/guides are locals), this is the place for you. We went kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, and pontoon boating, during which we saw hundreds of birds, alligators, (capibar), cows, and horses. Also, to to Philippe's delight, in 4 hours of fishing, we caught roughly 100 piranhas and catfish.

Other stuff about Brazil:
- Brazillians love the soccer (football). Every restaurant, from the nicest to the dumpiest, has at least one television showing a football match.
- We thought Chile had a wide disparity between the wealthy and poor -- but Brazil takes it to another level. There are many Brazillian businesses that are doing very well (Banco Satander, Embraer, etc). In fact, according to Goldman Sachs, Brazil’s economy (in terms of size) will surpass Italy by 2025; France by 2031; UK and Germany by 2036. However, there is a HUGE community that is being left behind due to government corruption, lack of education, lack of security, and the influence of drug lords.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

We haven't met the girl from Ipanema, but...

We've crossed the border between Argentina and Brazil about a week ago, at the Iguazu Falls. Having visited some of the world largest waterfalls (Niagara in Canada / US, Victoria in Zambia / Zimbabwe, Selfoss in Iceland and now Iguazu), I can't really tell which one is the most impressive, but the setting of Iguazu and the surrounding wildlife definitely makes these falls worth the trip (our photos will be online soon).

We then took a plane from Iguazu Falls to Rio de Janeiro, where we spent 2 days. At the beginning, we were a little afraid to walk in the city by ourselves. All the travel books said that it is one of the most dangerous city in the world, and just before we got there, we shared a taxi with an Israelian couple who told us they got mugged on their first day in Rio, in the middle of the day.
The first day, we took it easy -- walk on the Copacabana beach, and in the evening we went to see a football (soccer) game at the world famous Macarana stadium. Even if only about half of the 90000 seat stadium was full (mostly due to the rain and the low importance of the game), the atmosphere was electric, making any American football or baseball game very dull (oh I know I am not going to make friends by writing that, but it is very true). Here football is like a religion. People are extremely passionate about it.

The day after, we decided to go and visit the infamous Rio favelas with a local guide -- a lady who started an association about 15 years ago, to allow tourists to visit the favelas and at the same time train local young people to the tourism industry and therefore create opportunities for those kids. The money we paid for the tour help finance to local school. She said that after so many years, she is starting to see some changes. Kids do not beg anymore for money; they call her to ask for work. It was quite an experience. We walked on some very narrow streets where young kids were carrying guns and machine guns. She told us to avoid looking at them and just keep walking, as they can be a little distrustful, thinking we could be undercover cops (!) or journalists. For those of you who have seen the really good, but shocking movie City of God, which was filmed about 1 hour from Rio, we were told that the movie depicts the life of the favelas very accurately.

After the visit, we decided to be adventurous and went handgliding. I was very anxious at first, yet very excited. It was the first time I did anything remotely like this (the other time was parasailing in Cyprus when I was 12...). Nick was more familiar with this type of stuff as he went skydiving a few years ago (ask him about it! It's a pretty funny story... Not sure he'll do it again though). We jumped from the Sao Conrado mountain on top of Rio, about 500 meters high and went up to 800 meters (thanks to the wind that was very good that day). It was an amazing experience to see the city that way (Copacabana, Ipanema, the Christ the Redeemer...)

After Rio, we took a bus to Angra dos Reis (3 hours) and then a boat to Ilha Grande (2 hours). We spent 2 days in the paradisiac island of Ilha Grande, where we did a bit of kayaking and a lot of sleeping!

We are not in the little fishing town to Parati, a preserved Portuguese colonial and Brazilian Imperial town, where we are enjoying the laid back atmosphere, the good food and the local drink (caipirinha), which actually made me pretty intoxicated last night...

Monday, October 1, 2007

3 new albums online!

Avec un peu de retard, nous venons de poster 3 nouveaux albums:
- Patagonia (Chilean side)
- Mendoza (the wine region in Argentina)
- Buenos Aires


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Buenos Aires: What's not to like?

Of all the cities we've been to on the trip, the one that will meet with the most universal appeal is Buenos Aires: Its a really beautiful, cultured and CHEAP city.

Food: Combine high quality French/Italian/Argentinian recipes and wines, farm-fresh ingredients, cuts of meat even larger than a good American steakhouse, and cut the price by 2/3. (3/4 si vous habitez en France).

Architecture: 19th century European architecture; brownstone houses with 15 foot ceilings; lots of outdoor cafes, parks and museums.

Infrastructure: Tree-lined cobblestone streets, large boulevards, a subway/metro system based on those found in Germany/Austria, lots of taxis and buses.

People: 90% of Argentinians are recent immigrants of European descent (various nationalities, including Italian, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Russian, etc.) and have done a nice job of blending cultures while retaining their own identities.

Style: Those who take their cues from the fashionistas of Paris, Milan or New York will find themselves quite comfortable in this city. The shops in the neighborhood of Palermo looks identical to New York's Soho. And unlike Peru, there is no "native" clothing to be found anywhere.

So, what did we do? Walked around, ate a lot, drank a lot and slept a lot!

Freaky political coincidences
Both the US and Argentina have presidential elections coming up, so political information and posters are everywhere. But check out some really freaky coincidence regarding two candidates:

- is a former attorney/current senator that will more than likely be the presidential candidate for one of the major parties;
- is a former First Lady (her husband is a former governor and president);
- met her husband in law school in the 1970s;
- is often referred to by her first name only (but occasionally with her maiden name);
- claims that she will bring change to a dysfunctional government.

If elected, she'll be the country's first woman president.

Who are we talking about? Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mendoza: Ville de France en les 1970s

Bonjour, et bienvenue ma 2me post en Francais. Just a little bit of English beforehand.

Our journey from the Patagonia region of Chile to Mendoza consisted of 8 hours on bus (including 5 hours on one that reeked of spoiled-milk), an 8 hour layover in an industrial Argentinian town, and 2 red-eye flights. Believe it or not, this was the safest way to travel.

Arretter l'anglais

Je ne rappele pas France en les annes 1970s, mais je pense que Mendoza ressemble une ville typique de France de les temps.

Le ville est composee de rue de cobblestone, beaucoup de parcs, vignobles, et bonne restaurants avec menu Europeanne (et boeuf!!). Il y a magazins de France (Carrefour, 5 a Sec, Etam), et TOUT les voitures sont marques/modeles vieux de Francais. Nous avons vu beaucoup de Peugeot 404 et 504, Renault 11 et 12, Citroen 2CVs et Fiat 500s!!! Seulement 10% de voitures sont nouveau Peugeot 206, Renault Clios, Fiat Stilos et Chevrolet (Opel) Corsas.

For the Americans, think lots of 60s and 70s vintage French cars never exported to the US, as well as a lot of Ford Falcons, and the award-winning Renault Alliance, Encore and Fuego (yes, they actually run).

Beaucoup de residents sont Europeanne (Italianne, Espagnole, Francais), les persones sont blanche de peau. En une restaurant, un enfant a marche a mois, touched ma face et il dis "No blanco".

Pour les vignobles, nous avons pris une excursion sans guide de bicyclette (s'appele Bikes and Wines). Vous conduisez pour 12km et arret a 10 different de vignobles. Nous apprendons les raisins pour le vin Malbec (les specialites locale) est tres similiar a les raisin de le vin "Cote". Les rues sont beaucoup de traffic, allors c'est tres importante ne faire pas comme les Bretons et bois beaucoup!!! Mais, c'est tres jolie et tres bien.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Some more photos of Chile

Nous venons de mettre en ligne nos photos de la region des lacs au Chili.

Check out our photos of the lakes district in Chile... and us, climbing the volcano!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fire and Ice

Well it's been a veryyyyy long time I haven't written in the blog. Believe it or not, we have been very busy. After spending a few days in Santiago, where I got pretty sick (stomach virus), we headed down to the lake district of Chile (9 hours by bus). Buses in Chile and Argentina are very numerous and quite comfortable. We stayed in a town called Villarrica and rented a car to explore the neighboring lakes, volcanoes, hot springs and mountains. One of the highlight of our trip was climbing the snow-covered Villarrica volcano, which took about 7 hours up and 3 hours down. We left early in the morning, supplied with waterproof clothing, crampons, backpacks, ice picks and a protective helmet. While extremely rewarding (it is not everyday that you get to see the crater of an active volcano), it was also very tiring to climb, in the snow, for that long. The inside of the crater was black, rocky, smoky (my lungs hurt for a couple of days after inhaling the fumes), and full of lava jumping up in the air every few minutes. Anyway, I think this will remain one of the most memorable experience of our South American trip (and not only because all the muscles of our body ached for the next few days).

After this, we headed down to Patagonia, where we explored the glaciers in Torres del Paine national park and around Puerto Natales by boat.

Now I am going to finish in French...

Apres avoir visite la Patagonie, nous avons traverse la frontiere entre le Chili et l'Argentine en bus. Ce fut une tres longue journee: 7 heures de bus, 8 heures dans la ville de Rio Gallerios et 5 heures de vol, avec escale, jusqu'a Mendoza ou nous nous trouvons actuellement.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Photos of Santiago and Valparaiso

Cela fait un sacre moment que je n'ai rien poste sur le blog. Je comblerai ce manque bientot. En attendant, voici nos photos de Santiago / Valparaiso.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Santiago: A throughly modern city set in a stunning backdrop

Coming from La Paz, which is as third-world as you can get, Santiago, Chile is nothing what we expected it to be. While not a beautiful city, its is thoroughly modern and would not be out of place in Europe or California.

Similar to Europe:
- The metro (subway) is identical to that in Paris, with the same carriages as "Les Lignes 1 et 6", ticketing system, and very similar station designs.
- The most popular vehicles are the Peugeot 206, Renault Clio and Opel Astra.
- The Autopistas (highways) use European signs and are comparable to France's Autoroutes in quality (and tolls!!!).
- While its not a terribly attractive city, walking in the streets has a distinctly European feel to it (we compare it to Berlin).

Similar to San Francisco:
- Geographically, the city is close to both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains, making it excellent for wine production (whites in particular).
- The ocean, mountains, and wineries are all a 1 hour drive from the city.
- Its by far the most expensive city in South America, with the price of goods and services comparable to San Francisco.

Random thoughts:
- Que? Chilean Spanish has to be the most unintelligible version of the language out there. Lots of idioms, shortening of words, rapid speaking and mumbling. Think the combination of "New Yorker", Louisiana Bayou" and "Cockney" English.

- Since when did Samsung start making cars?

- 11 de Septiembre: We noticed Santiago has a road named "11 de Septiembre", although its not for the reason we initially thought.

Despite its long history of democracy, Chile has a vast divide between the wealthy and poor. To address this, in 1970, the people elected a Marxist socialist, Salvador Allende, as president. His goal was to improve the lives of the poorest Chileans by nationalizing certain businesses/industries and redistributing the wealth accumulated from the mining of copper. Well, a Marxist socialist running a Latin American country didn't sit too well with the US Government (especially with everything going on in Vietnam at the time). So, the US flooded the copper market, driving down the price -- which severely hurt the Chilean economy, as Allende didn't diversify the economy. As we all know, nationalized business + no wealth to distribute = no food + unhappy people protesting in the streets. So, on September 11, 1973, Army General Augusto Pinochet led a coup against the government, and claimed himself president. Pinochet, much like Stalin in Russia, greatly strengthened the country's economy, but through brutal rule, and the killing/torture of tens of thousands. Bottom line: We received very different answers when we asked locals about Pinochet. Some are thankful for his economic reforms; others can't forgive him for his brutality.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Coca Si, Cocaina No" vs "War on Drugs"

In La Paz, we visited the Museo de Coca, which, in Lonely Planet's words "gives an educational, provocative and evenhanded look at the sacred leaf and its uses". In a nutshell, the problem is coca leaves, which have been an integral part of Andean culture for centuries, is the primary ingredient in the production of cocaine.

The scientific community broadly agrees that the raw coca leaf is a mild stimulant that provides the following benefits, all of which are important for high-altitude living (such as in the Andes):
- Stimulates the respiratory system;
- Increases tolerance for work;
- Inhibits the development of platelets;
- Regulates the metabolism of glucose; and
- Does not inhibit the consumption of nutrients.

Today, Bolivians export coca leaves for major corporations, such as Coca-Cola (hence the name), and pharmas (for pain killers). But, its the primary ingredient for cocaine and crack, which is a pretty big deal. Bolivians counter that cocaine and crack isn't a problem in their country -- over 50% of the world's consumption is in the US.

The UN, US and Bolivian governments all agree the production of cocaine and crack needs to stop, but they have very different approaches to stopping it. As part of the "War on Drugs", the UN and US believes in stopping it at the source; and provides South American countries with millions of dollars in "development aid" (read: cash) and "trade agreements" (read: allows them to sell goods in the US) to facilitate the eradication of coca farms. In its place, the US Gov't teaches the farmers how to grow fruits and vegetables for export.

What is often not mentioned are the provisions that allow Coca-Cola and the pharmas to continue receiving their supply of Bolivian coca leaves -- just not the Bolivians!!! As you could imagine, the locals are none too pleased about this. Hence why the current Bolivian government is proposing to address cocaine use at the consumer level (a common slogan is "Coca Si, Cocaina No"). Their take is (my paraphrase) "coca leaves have been helping our culture for centuries -- don't eradicate the leaves just because a few bad people make cocaine out of it". The US counters "If Bolivian police didn't accept bribes to allow coca leaves to be used for cocaine production, we wouldn't need to eradicate them".

Sunday, September 9, 2007

La Paz and finals thoughts on Bolivia

La Paz:
Its a 3.5 hour bus ride from Copacabana to La Paz. Other than having to hop off and on the bus while a ferry takes the bus across the lake, its a reasonably uneventful trip.

- Walking around is tiring. The city is built in a bowl-shaped valley at an altitude between 9,951 and 11,930 feet and there are very few flat areas.
- Anyone who has lived in or visited India will feel right at home in La Paz. Between the noises, the buses, the traffic and the street vendors, there is so much controlled chaos.
- Like Copacabana, its cheap. We ate at the nicest restaurant in town; 3 course meal with wine was $9/person. A haircut was a $1.40, and spanish lessons are $3/hour. One could fly/stay here as a tourist and take lessons for 6 weeks, and it'd still be cheaper than taking lessons at Berlitz in New York.
- Saltanos - La Paz's answer to the donut: Take the pastry crust of an Indian Samosa, the filling of an Argentinian empanada and a little green chili. Sooo good, and it only costs about 40 cents.
- Crime is increasing: Check out what the US State Department and French Government websites say about Bolivia. While Marie felt reasonably safe, I was, at times, rather uncomfortable.
- Like many South American cities, shoe shine boys in the street are plentiful; however, La Paz's purveyors have an interesting twist: they all wear ski masks.

About Bolivia:

- Political Instability: Since its independence in 1825, Bolivia has nearly 200 different presidents. The latest, Evo Morales, is the first indigenous leader and a former coca leaf grower. Like Hugo Chavez and many other South American leaders, he is moving the country strongly towards the left, taking control of the petrol fields and other businesses.
- Modern, low-cost housing in Bolivia is often times constructed of bare brick and cement. Most westerners will think the buildings are unfinished (needs plaster, paint, etc.). But, the locals seem to like it this way.
- Global Warming: No country is more a victim of global warming than Bolivia. Much of the Andean glaciers, which supply the country's drinking water, and 80% of its electricity, have melted away. By 2009, scientists predict the demand will exceed supply. Doesn't help that its a landlocked country. While the rest of the world debates the effects of global warming, and the percentage of human contribution, this place is living it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Our photos from Bolivia

Ca y est, nous sommes enfin a jour (ou presque). Nous venons de poster 2 albums photos de Bolivie:
- Lake Titicaca
- La Paz

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

New photos online!

Voici nos dernieres photos (2 albums):
- Machu Picchu
- Travel from Peru to Bolivia