Posts Tagged ‘vacation’


Natalia with the kite at “midday”

Yesterday off we finally went to a beach near Cumbuco, just outside of Fortaleza, with our instructor Luciano Cordeiro from 30 Knots, the school we are working with in this project. Fantastic experience!

Getting there took a little while – Luciano arrived at just before 11am – he had on the preceding day say 9am, but apparently the winds were pretty poor in the morning so when we called him, he gave us a new time. At first we were a little suspicious as Ceará state, as is pretty much the entire northeast of Brazil, has a quite a reputation for the laid back attitudes to punctuality, but when we got the beach an hour later, it seemed that we were the only second group on the beach for the day.

Ben with the kite at 9 o'clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Ben with the kite at 9 o’clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Luciano was very methodical and straightforward – starting from the beginning, the way I guess you should: unravelling the kite and the strings, pumping up the kite, and then tieing the knots from the trapezium to the kite, and then the basic positions of the kite… from “midday”, with the kite directly above us and the wind coming from behind us; 9 o’clock, with the kite off to the left side, and 3 o’clock over to the right. We just stayed on the beach by a lagoon practicing the control of the kite in these positions, rather than going on to a board where we would have the extra concern of staying afloat. For me the easiest part was at “midday” when there was very little pull from the kite, as off on the sides, I felt it easier to move out of the right position and the pull on my body increase. Moreover, for a big kite (12 metres), it was amazingly sensitive to any adjustments from the hands.

The time we had playing around with the stunt kite was actually pretty helpful, with the principles behind the wind dynamics being very similar – when the kite was in the three positions, there was relatively little pull from it, though any forced movement from our part and we instantly felt ourselves being pulled along. This went against our natural tendencies as when we felt like we were losing a bit of control, we had to ease off on our pressure on the kite bar, rather than trying to grip it and force it back under control. This would just make matters worse, and Natalia felt the consequences of that, when she was pulled from the beach and into the water. Fortunately it was okay and when she let go of the kite, she soon came to a halt without having any damage. Quite funny to watch and unfortunately I didn’t have the camera out at the time!

The three hours sped by all too quickly, and I think we did a decent job for our first time, so here’s looking forward to the next lessons!


Beira Mar small

Walking along Beira Mara, Fortaleza… somethings never change…

Back up to the northeast of Brazil, in the city of Fortaleza. Definitely nice being back – lots of good memories from here, and difficult not to feel a bit nostalgic. We have been staying with Natalia’s cousin, Jeane. When Natalia was younger, she lived with Jeane for a year or so and I guess it has been a good 15 years or so since they saw each other. So lots of catching up there.

We got here at 3am, but decided to stay at the airport until around 8am as didn’t want to wake Jeane and her family up… slightly too early for that, but not worth getting a hotel. The hours went by extremely slowly, especially with the airport television system playing the same clips over and over and over and over again, and no comfortable places to lie down. At least we managed to break my brother-in-law’s record on the Magic Alchemist (thank goodness for the iPad!), though, so something good came out of it! At 8am, we popped over to 30knot’s Wakeboard Park  and registered for our Kite Surf lessons, and then headed over to Jeane’s…

Since meeting up with Jeane, and getting introduced, not much has happened. Have been feeling pretty tired, though last night we went for a walk along Beira Mar – one of the main tourist avenues along the city beach front. A few changes with the addition of a “Japanese Garden”, a small Japanese-style park, though much of it all remains the same as I remembered, with a huge artisanal market along the beach. Nice ice creams as well!

Today we will have our first kite surfing lesson. The guy said yesterday that we would head off at 9am, though we called him a bit ago and he said “because of the winds” we won’t be heading off until 11am. Not sure how much this is due to the winds or to the slightly laid back way of Ceará state life… but still, hopefully we will be on our way in an hour or so. It will just mean that we will be surfing under the midday sun, which is pretty hot up here just three degrees below the equator…

Photo: Rsrsrsrs!!!!

A long way to go to the 13 million score of the global first place… but on our way… who knows, with another 5 hours at an airport, we might get it a little better…!


Posted: June 1, 2013 by Ben Weber in Training
Tags: , , , , ,

At airport at 4am…. Easier staying here than going to hotel… Not much company around though!


For the kite surfing, though the nice tropical beaches and hot weather will be an added bonus! I lived for a year or so in the city back in 2000, though I hear much has changed in that it has got ever larger. Will be great to be back and catch up with some old friends and definitely looking forward to the coming week. The city isn’t the most beautiful in the world in terms of architecture etc, and it does have its problems – harsh inequalities, crime, and it is not safe to be out away from the tourist places at night. However, it is an enjoyable place to be, and I do miss the ocean breeze, its accessibility and walking along the Beira Mar promenade. Will certainly be the warmest training project (and arguably the most fun…. but then again, every project we have done so far has been challenging and the rewards of managing to complete them have certainly outweighed any “suffering” we have had to endure in the process!!). But yes, flight at 11:30pm on Friday night and back in São Paulo next Sunday. Here we go!

buenosaires-natBuenos Aires is a wonderful city, and a welcome escape from São Paulo – and going to the San Telmo market on a brisk morning is certainly one of the highlights.


Okay, it has taken us a little while to go through all the video we got from Bolivia – quite a massive amount of content gathered, and so many hours in the day to go through it all, work at the office, and train, and organize everything. I hope you can forgive us!

This is just a short clip from the top of Huayna Potosi, the first time we had ever been above 6,000 metres, and only the third time we had been on mountains summits higher than 5,000m. So it was a pretty nice achievement, and I still feel pretty chuffed about managing it, though it wasn’t anything massively technical. At that altitude, every step is painful so, technical or not, a lot of work goes into it (and the body loses about 700 calories an hour!)

While it was exhausting, it was still amazing and had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains of the Bolivian Andes. As I guess I have mentioned a couple of times, however, my head for heights is pretty awful. I don’t like them! I have got used to the heights involved in climbing rocks, and that took a bit of practice… So going down the mountain was, with the knife-edge ridge down from the summit at least, absolutely terrifying. Makes me wince just watching this film and I hope you like it!

Thanks again to Casa de Pedra for their support with this project – and again to Kirk, for giving loads of help on the way down!

The World is our oyster… or at least it can be, if we dare to fulfill our dreams…

So it is about a year ago since the day I first started really thinking about this idea as a whole. Time has just gone by incredibly quickly and it is difficult to really go through all the changes and developments that have happened in this year in a short post.

Depois do sim hora de comer o bolo

A lot has happened over the year since this..!

The first time I mentioned the ideas to Natalia, just about the time of our wedding, it was more about speculation – why do people, when they think about going around the world, always think about going from east-to-west? Surely going north-to-south would be, though much more demanding physically, just as (if not more) interesting? From a geographer’s point of view: extremely interesting as we get to see the full range of climates from the tropical heat through to the polar cold… and then how people and animals cope and adapt to these climates. From the environmental point of view: because of the changing climate and how the very areas we will be going through are being threatened by these changes. From the cultural aspect: how the cultures change as go through the different countries and locations… and much more.

From influential bears…

At the first discussions, it was all just a pipe-dream, based on these interests and also childhood dreams and hopes of being an explorer. Further inspired by more recent adventures in British Colombia, seeing the bears there, and travelling through the Galapagos Islands. After more discussions and a lot of research, it became evidently possible: People have crossed the poles before – you just need a massive amount training and dedication to get to the right levels of fitness and capability to cross them. People have cycled through the Americas and through Europe and Asia before… again, training and dedication to be able to do this. It was a big step putting this website up at the beginning of the year though – this was something that really committed us to this project… No going back from then on!

…to mountain tops!

And so to the training… over the past year in preparation for this project, the transformation in our general fitness from pretty much average people to actually in pretty good shape now (still plenty more work to do though!) has amazed even ourselves. We have gone to Bolivia, climbing mountains of over 6,000metres – massive challenges for people who had just been used to just regular hiking at best; we are cycling at least 100km at least once or twice a week now, getting to know parts of São Paulo state where we wouldn’t have known otherwise. We are climbing at the Casa de Pedra gym in São Paulo during the week and maintaining regular fitness training at the gym there to get us into better shape. And shortly, we will be cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. In winter – to help prepare us for some of the tougher conditions we go through before we get to either of the Poles. Then next winter, we will have our polar training up in Baffin Island…

It is all exciting, but it wouldn’t have been possible without support from Casa de Pedra and our climbing, training and equipment from them, and now, with Atticmedia and the development of our new website and logo. To be able to complete it all, we will of course need further sponsors – the Poles are not so easy! Though this is a fantastic start – just plenty more work to do over the next couple of years before we leave São Paulo on this circle…!

For more about our time in each of the places, see our posts…

The Yungas “Death”) Road (English) / (Portuguese)

La Paz (English) / (Portuguese)

Salar de Uyuni (English) / (Portuguese)

One of the places we didn’t get chance to write about before the mountaineering started for real: Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

At just over 3,800 metres in altitude, this was a pleasant day out from La Paz, with not too much of an altitude gain. It is only an hour and a half or so away from the city so pretty easy to get to. The lake was the cornerstone of the Tiwanaku civilization  the main city of which was situated on the former edges of the waters. The civilization is said to have fallen into decay when severe, prolonged droughts caused the waters to recede.

At the lakeside, we stopped off for a few minutes by a couple of houses where Cholas tried to sell us their wares of Llama and Alpaca jumpers (lovely material – incredibly soft and warm) as well as other souvenirs. The place where we were was maintained by the people who had helped Thor Heyerdahl construct the reed and balsa wood boats he used in expeditions across water bodies such as the Pacific Ocean to prove the concept that immigration across these was possible for early “primitive” peoples. There were plenty of miniature “dragon” boats for us to buy as well, made in replica of Thor’s vessel. While we were looking, a small launch was prepared for us to sail over to the Isla del Sol… not one of the reed boats though, rather a faster, smaller vessel made from more modern materials.

The journey to the island going over to the island was lovely. We could see the mountains of the Cordillera Real appearing in the distance and towering above the lake, and the water sprayed occasionally into our faces. The water was quite calm and clear, though I did end up feeling a little queasy with all the bumps of the boat on the water. The island itself was like something out of the medieval period. No vehicles, a mixture of mud brick houses and more recently made, painted buildings surrounding an old, traditional church; goats, cows, pigs and chickens all loitering around the houses. Fishing men and women on little boats in the water. The environment seems pretty harsh, with just rocky, hilly and dusty terrain – doesn’t seem like it rains too much there. Quite amazing to go through and there is a museum there with relics found from the Tiwanaku civilisation, which is definitely worth a visit.

We also went to a small island a few hundred metres away with views over the bay and also ruins of Tiwanaku graves – though just about everything had been raided by conquistadors and colonists, so not too much to see. Back on the mainland there was a stop off at a restaurant which cooked fresh trout from the lake – definitely worth it as the fish was really quite delicious.

We ony had a day at the Lake, and it was a bit of a rushed day. We had to get back to La Paz to organize everything for the mountaineering that we would start on the following day at the Condoriri. There is, however, a lot to do there and you could easily spend a week exploring the islands and their communities. Other islands include the Urus islands, Amantani, Taquile, Isla del Luna and Suriqui. If you have the time, definitely take it to explore some more!

Thanks Augusto for letting us use your photos!!!

While we were in La Paz, in between mountains and hiking, we had opportunities to explore and find a number of different restaurants, some of which we really enjoyed and others that… well, we just went the once. A quick word in that service is, in general, not like anything you will get in Sao Paulo, the UK or US – most places take an eternity to get the food to you, so you will most likely need a bit of patience… but it is normally worth the wait. For two people we usually paid between B$100-$150 (main course and drinks, and occasionally dessert), though you can eat for less if you need/want. Here is a quick overview of some places which stick out in the memory.

Thai Old Town

The first night after meeting with Caleb, Kirk and Augusto, we went to this Japanese/Thai/Indian place just off Sagarnaga. The waiter was a Bolivian who had lived in New York for goodness knows how long and had a strong Italian/American accent and wasn’t afraid to show it. Nice guy. We ordered a mix of food – I had a gentle Indian curry which was nice, while Natalia had Japanese food which she enjoyed. We didn’t go more than once, though this wasn’t because it was bad – indeed, we would recommend it to anyone who wants to try different foods in the city and it is worth going to. They accept card, but at the end of the night when we left, they preferred that we paid in cash.

Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub

This is a reasonable place on Sagarnaga and is also at the same place as an agency that organises Yungas Road bicycle trips, and there are plenty of gringos here. We went there three or four times – quite a nice vegetarian lasagna (b$55) – large portions though very heavy. Spag Bol is b$35. Natalia did come down with further stomach problems the night after going there the last time, though not sure if this was due to the previous bug she had resurfacing or if due to the food here; I was fine though I ordered and ate the same food as she did. The owner is pretty friendly.

Restaurant Layq’a

On the opposite side of the street to Luna’s is a more traditional Bolivian restaurant. The atmosphere and ambient are… strange, to say the least. There are large satanic-like paintings on the wall, one rather graphically showing a food orgy with demons stuffing food down the guest’s throat… The food is okay though quite small portions, and there is a complimentary salad bar. We were quite late eating (after 9pm) and this bar had depleted somewhat, though Augusto went another time in the afternoon and said it was much better. We didn’t go back more than once.

The Steak House

Most definitely for the tourist. Expensive meat place – quite nice though after living in Brazil for the last five years, it is nowhere near as good as a good Brazilian churrasco. They serve Argentine steak which I found a bit tasteless but not bad. If you order the Jack Daniels Steak (or “Mega Jack Daniels”) you get a big steak which they pour JD over and set alight in front of you which is pretty neat. The Mega Jack Daniels is 600 grams, so go with an empty stomach if you want this! When we were there it was a bit smokey as well, which wasn’t great. The waiters speak English well and can easily help with your order. Accepts card.

Sol y Luna

A Bolivian-Dutch Pub on Calle Murillo with the corner of Calle Cochabamba. Probably our favourite place with the best food, very comfortable and a good selection of beers. Reasonable service as well and quite an eclectic selection of music. The order we enjoyed the most was the Fillet Steak; the steak is great and the veg and sauce that comes with it are also fantastic. Went back a couple of times (and watched Germany-Greece there as well), bringing Augusto and Kirk on one occasion and I believe they liked it too. Definitely worth going to. Accepts credit card as well.


A very cool place at the bottom of Sagarnaga, near the San Francisco church. As you go in, there are Cholita skirts hanging from the ceiling, and further inside you can find these fantastic masks hanging on the wall. The sandwiches are great (The Banais Sandwich is superb with meat and avocado as well as mushrooms and onions), as are the soups (which come with garlic bread though may lack a little salt but this may depend on the chef at the time) and also the main courses are pretty nice. Accepts cards.


Cafe Berlim

Mercado, 1377 (Central). Not a great place; very heavy food. Not great service either. Natalia really didn’t like it, so no we didn’t go more than once.

Hotel Torino

Calle Socabaya, 457. Great courtyard where the main tables are and there was a tango band playing when we came in (quite loud and they played Happy Birthday at least four times in the hour we were there). Buffet lunch which you pay a fixed price and have two or three choices of main course, along with a salad bar. Food is reasonable and it is worth a visit.

Alexander Coffee

Nice little cafe which has a great llama meat platter as well as a good selections for breakfast, coffees, desserts. There are a number of these cafes in the city (we went to one on Potosi 1091) and they have small stands at the airport. The Spinach and Cheese croissants are nice though slightly heavy. They did forget our orders once so we waited quite a while, but we wouldn’t hold this against them and would probably pop in if we were to pass the place if/when we go back.

The Ritz

Yes, I know…. how decadent of us to go to The Ritz (down near Calle Hermanos Manchego). Let me explain… this was for breakfast early in the morning when we got back from the Salar de Uyuni and the guest house we had booked in had nobody around to let us in, answer phone calls or… anything really. We were hungry and tired, and it just so happened that The Ritz was around the corner. The prices weren’t actually that bad at B$35 for the buffet breakfast, including juice and coffee. It was a nice hour or so we spent there in a pleasant environment. We didn’t go back for dinner or lunch, and the prices are probably much more expensive… but if you have the time and cash on you, it might be worth it.

* * * *

There are plenty of random restaurants you can find in the city of La Paz and we went to a load more than what’s detailed above. Just experiment and be adventurous… you will find some great places. As a side note, we also got Saltenas in the street – chicken ones and also beef ones. They are great! With the beef ones… a bit like steak and kidney pie with sweet pastry… strange at first but definitely morish. Generally you get them in the morning, though some places will serve later.

Unfortunately, we only had time to go on a one day (two night) journey to Salar de Uyuni  – massive salt flats stretching over 500km from north to south and 300km from east to west. We had to get back to La Paz in order to meet up with our mountaineering team, and also this Saturday there is the Gran Poder festival  – a massive festivals which Bolivians see as on par with the Rio Carnival…

But back to the subject. The Salar de Uyuni is a good 12 hour bus ride from La Paz… a long way to go for one day. You can also get a train there, which will get you there at 2am. We went with an agency rather than completely on our own – due to the time limitations we thought that this would be best. I would definitely recommend going by yourself if you have a good amount of time to play with as some of what the agency told us about the tour was blatantly at odds with what we actually saw on the tour itself. But, ultimately whilst we did not see as much as we were led to believe we would see, it didn’t detract too much from our time there.

We got there at 7am so time for breakfast before we met with our guide. The last three hours of the bus ride had been spent going along an incredibly bumpy road, with things falling everywhere in the bus, so not much sleep there. It was freezing when we got out – basically the Salar is a desert, so while it gets quite hot during the daytime, at night it can go down to well below freezing. The breakfast was welcome, especially with a nice big mug of hot chocolate.

The basic itinerary was first to the train cemetery – an area in the desert behind Uyuni town where old trains were left to rust and decay – then into the Salar, where we saw people digging up salt into piles to be taken away for industry and export, and to the Incahuasi island – a rocky island in the middle of the salt flats, with giant cactuses and a great view of the Salar.

It was a bit of a rush. The guide only gave us 15 minutes to go through the train cemetery, to take pictures of all the old rusting locomotives and train cars – really interesting to go through, and fortunately at the end of the tour we had time and I got the guide to take us back there: just before dusk, so the light from the lowering sun was lovely.  Still would have liked more time though, but ah well.

And then there were the flats themselves. Just white salt flats in every direction as far as the eye could see, with some mountains in the background. Extremely impressive. Everything becomes distorted on the flats and you have no sense of depth – it was quite fun playing with the camera, showing Natalia “holding” people who were behind her. The dry season meant that very little water around to get the mirror effect, but it was still amazing and well worth the journey. From the “island”, it was nice to sit down and just look pretty much in awe at the whole massiveness of the place.

So then to dusk, an evening meal, and back on the bus which was super-heated by the driver as we drove over the bump road. We were happy when we eventually got back to La Paz, though definitely intend to go back to experience more of the flats and its sights.

The streets of La Paz

Posted: June 1, 2012 by Ben Weber in English
Tags: , , , , , ,

La Paz is really one great city to wonder around in. It is busy – lots of pedestrians, lots of cars; police in the streets whistling at the traffic; lots of hills to walk up and down; hundreds of buses (probably more than have ever seen in one place at one time); loads of people in buses yelling at the people in the streets about which direction their bus is going in; musical cash machines; so many ladies dressed in traditional clothes, with bowler hats on at slanted angles, balanced on top of their heads, and long flowing skirts as well as decorative showls… it is difficult not to find something of interest whichever street you end up going along. The fumes from the traffic can be difficult to take – the black, unfiltered, smoke does poor into the street – but, with the exception of when we got fumigated along the main avenue going towards the city’s bus terminal (if there is a next time during our time here, we will get a taxi to this place… but mountaineering is starting soon, so I doubt this will happen!), fortunately these fumes haven’t taken too much  away from our enjoyment of the place…

Whilst we have been in the city, we have spent much of the time in the northern region around the San Francisco Church, where we initially went on our first full day here. To the left of the Church (as you face up the hill) you can go up the valley sides to a load of different side alleys where there are a hundreds of little stores with handicrafts (and also the Coca Museum for anyone interested in the history of Coca). So much colour, it makes it extremely photogenic (though be careful about the time you go for photography as the contrast between the light and shadow is extreme, making it difficult to meter the light properly (HDR images could be a good idea). We also found a mountaineering store a few blocks up called Tatoo – very good place where we were able to pick up some last minute items.

We also found Calle Sagarnaga, which crosses the main trunk road going from north to south. The street is a bustling commercial area, which features street markets at night as well as plenty of shops during the daytime. On one part of the street near the municipal theatre (at the moment at least) there is a series of four strange metal-structured-cows. Very bizarre, and quite fun to see how they were made. Also the street leads into a plaza with government buildings and churches. Jaen Street – an old, quaint and extremely picturesque street, with four museums and some nice café-bars. One of these, Mistiso café bar, whilst providing us with one of the worst ice-cream-coffee experiences ever (just go for a normal latte… much safer!), has a great selection of music during the daytime and also has great character – looks like it will be good to spend a Friday or Saturday evening there, so we will be off there later tonight.

At night the area behind the San Francisco Church really comes to life with a huge street market sprawling across the streets on both sides of the main avenue. Plenty of foods, cheap products and interesting bits and pieces as well as a lively atmosphere can help you while the hours away as you go through all the stalls.

La Paz is high. Over 3,500 metres (and the airport at El Alto is at just over 4,000 metres) – coming from São Paulo at around 760 metres above sea level, this is a bit of a change. Altitude sickness starts to become more common for travellers reaching 2,400 metres, so we are a bit higher than this.

During my time in Tibet and also Colombia, I had been to some pretty high places and had generally got by okay with standard acclimatization – relaxing for a few days before doing anything strenuous. Natalia hasn’t had quite so much experience and when we were in Quito last time, it was slightly harder for her, so this time she also prepared by taking Diamox (a drug for Glaucoma but also commonly used for helping climbers with altitude sickness). When we arrived in La Paz on Monday evening, we were prepared for an environment which would leave us slightly breathless.

We didn’t feel much at first – though we did just stroll along at the airport, and then it was a taxi to the hotel. It was an amazing view, by the way, as we came down from the airport. El Alto looks a bit of a slum and hides much of the city of La Paz, but as you start descending, you get a fantastic view over the city down the valley, with the snowy peaks of Illimani a beautiful backdrop to the place. When we got to the hotel, I carried both the bags for a while and that certainly left me short of breath. We both noticed quite quickly that our mouths became dry very frequently and we definitely needed to keep drinking plenty of water.

After having been shown around the hotel, we just relaxed and rested for the night in our room. I read for a while, while Natalia slept. A rather alarming thing happened in that Natalia got up to go to the bathroom, and she said that she was thirsty. When she was walking, it looked like that she was drunk, and then when she got back, she closed the door behind her and tried to switch on the light. But she collapsed and bashed her head against the door handle. Fortunately, she was okayish, though she couldn’t remember exactly what happened. I gave her more water and she recovered – just a bit of pain on the side of her face. Not sure exactly for the reasons for this – whether it was due to the altitude, maybe she needed more water (though she didn’t see dehydrated), though at the same time I noticed that one of the side effects of Diamox is confusion/disorientation – climbers have commented about how on the first day of using Diamox, they felt like they were climbing after having had a few drinks. Everything turned out okay in the end though.

So yesterday, we just wondered around La Paz – up the main trunk road to the San Francisco Church – a former convent that was constructed in the mid-16th Century (quite splendid inside, with an amazing chapel and a host of religions paintings as well as an impressive exterior which features a host of catholic and indigenous carvings in the stone) – and enjoying the restaurants (Llama meat was really very nice!). Bolivians seem to like their fried chicken and desserts (a hundred metre queue for one dessert shop was quite impressive – though we didn’t wait in line to find out what the delights there were really like. We probably walked steadily over the day for about six hours or so (with breaks for sitting, eating etc), and while we were occasionally short of breath, we felt okay on the whole and were pleased with the way things had gone.

As a note, the difference between being in the sun and the shade was quite impressive – really felt quite cool in the shade and we needed our fleeces, though we were easily able to walk in just t-shirts in the sunlight. But something I forgot from my time in Tibet was how bright the sun can be. Even with the pretty dark mountaineering sunglasses (with side protection as well to make sure that the eyes are full protected from snow-blindness while out in blinding white snow conditions) my eyes hurt a little and I was grateful to have taken them with me just for a day trip.

Finally, one of the … more interesting… parts of the day was at a cash machine, and we thought we would record a little for prosperity… (speaking in Portuguese, but it should be quite easy to see what was happening…)

It all started off so well. A great day to travel on; everything packed and organized; hotel booked for first few nights; saying our goodbyes to everyone and then Natalia’s brother giving us a lift to the airport, and arriving there two hours before the flight…

Things began to look a little strange when we couldn’t find the check-in desk for our airline in the terminal wing. We asked around and people said that we were in the right place, so we should go round the back where the offices of the airline companies are located. We found the office for our company, Aerosur, though the second bad indication came with the fact that this office was locked with no staff in sight. Bemused and slightly worried we went around to find an information desk… On the way there, I looked up at the flights board and… third bad sign: our flight was not listed. I double checked the dates and we were definitely on time and on the right date. And things began to look even worse when we spoke to the person at the information desk who, when we mentioned the name Aerosur, gave a sigh and said we should go an speak to the Airline Regulatory Authority, ANAC. In doing just this, we were told about how the airline was no longer operating.


The lady told us to speak with people at BOA – another Bolivian airline – who were taking Aerosur passengers. Unfortunately their flight had left earlier in the afternoon and they didn’t have another flight until Tuesday… and they couldn’t guarantee we would be fitted on to it. Extremely difficult to keep the temper in check; after all the time, energy and investment we have put into organizing this training expedition to Bolivia, the thought of it not happening just was not really appealing to either of us. At all. The only alternatives we could think of would be going by bus, which, if we had longer before the expedition started would have been a decent alternative, or getting another ticket with another airline – which is what we did with in getting tickets with LAN. Fortunately they had a flight this Monday morning (via Santiago). Unfortunately, they cost a minor fortune.

So we bit the bullet. We will have to work out how to get our money back from the initial ticket when we get back to São Paulo (though I suppose we can start making in-roads with that in the next couple of days as we need to relax with the high altitude here in La Paz).

The new flight left São Paulo at 7am, so we got to the airport for 5am. Check-in was fine; grab a coffee and a bite to eat… fine… withdraw some extra cash (we had already withdrawn some on the preceding day, but I wanted some more just in case of emergency)… and, inexplicably, the card is blocked. Won’t even let me put a PIN number in. Call my bank, Itau; get asked a hundred security questions and again trying not to let my temper get the better of me… then once I have convinced them that I am really me, the attendant can’t answer my question and has to put me through to another sector. Couldn’t be more clichéd if we had tried. Oh, and then the line went dead. Call again, and apparently I need to go to a bank branch to unblock the card. Problem is that nothing is open that time of morning and there certainly won’t be a branch in Bolivia. Bite my lip and hang up. By now am just tired and want to get on the plane.

Fortunately, everything else (in São Paulo at least) was nice and smooth. Straight through immigration; great sunrise as we headed to our plane on a bus, and no delays. In spite of everything, we were off!

New York in pictures and numbers

Posted: May 17, 2012 by Ben Weber in English, Equipment
Tags: ,

Finally got a few of my photos sorted out from New York , and thought that a brief summary of the trip would be good…

Weight of bags upon leaving São Paulo: 5kg

Days spent in New York: 2.5 (1 day of actual tourism)

Kilometres walked: 30

Metro journeys: 6

Number of taxi journeys: 3

Number of great chats with taxi drivers: 3

Number of people asked for directions: 15

Number of people who did their best to help: 15

Number of rude people encountered (aside from security / airport immigration staff who don’t count because this is pretty much universal): zero (actually the officer when leaving the country was in pretty good humour – called me Captain Weber and joked a couple of times…)

Number of times overheard Brazilians speaking: 25

Percentage of Brazilians overheard in B&H Photography: 90% (I don’t blame them – taxes in Brazil are ridiculous!)

Number of separate items bought (aside from food): 74

Number of different languages heard speaking: At least 9 (English (though from a number of different countries), Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese

Number of stereotypical big rappers with long American football shirts and hats walking in the street listening to loud music: at least 20

Number of stereotypical youths demanding money from another guy in the street: 1 (reason unknown – I, like others who saw, didn’t really hang around to listen in too much)

Number of times I didn’t understand a word someone said because they were speaking at a ridiculously fast speed: 4

Number of times people didn’t understand my accent: 7 (I guess it is the heavy British accent – “Almond Croissant” was a particular problem… but still, at least I didn’t get an omelette when I asked for salmon like what happened in Vancouver a couple of years ago…)

Number of times I cursed in Starbucks when I saw Manchester City had won the premier league: 10 (I was kind of expecting this)

Number of times I cursed when I saw they won 3-2 when if they had drawn, Man Utd would have won: 15 (So close…)

Number of times I cursed on 7th Avenue when I saw they won by scoring two goals in last couple of minutes of injury time: 350+

Weight of bags upon leaving New York: 36kg