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Illegal in Bolivia

Bolivia is cheaper than Peru. Taxis are also cheap – about 10-15 Boliviano (USD$1 = 6.7Bolivano) for a 20-30minutes ride. Copacabana was my first stop in the country, much nicer than Puno in Peru. I did the half a day tour of sun Island. This island is so beautiful; hiking up the island was not easy. Some old guy I met on the boat happily gave me the tour of the Island. He explained the difference between the Sun Temple and the Palacio de Inca. The former is a spiritual journey while the later is physical structure with great significant for the Incas. The food in Copacabana is not so great.

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La Paz was fun. I stayed with a couchsurfer in Miraflores part of town. I went winter shopping in La Paz in a market called La Feria del Alto. I needed winter clothing for my upcoming visit to Salar de Uyuni (Salt Lake). I got a winter jacket, thermal base layers (top & bottom), sweater, leg warmer, winter hat & pants and socks 200Bolivaros (USD$30)– cheap, right? And the winter jacket is Ralph Lauren.

 

I left La Paz after 2 days for an Afro-Boliviano town in the Yungas region. The town is called Tocaña – about 3hours from La Paz. To get there, you have to go through the ‘Death Road’; it is called this because it has the highest number of death (caused by accidents) in the world. Well I made it up and down the death road. The road to this village is not paved. The houses are sparely located on the steep hill and there’s abundant of forests in between houses. I had fun in Tocaña, the people in the community were very pleasant.

After Tocaña, I went to Cochabamba. I had mixed feeling about this city because folks from La Paz and Tocaña told me Cochabamba is the most dangerous city in Bolivia, so I had reasons to be scared. I arrived at the bus terminal in Cochabamba at 5.30am but waited to 7.30am because that was the safest option. Folks from my bus also waited in the terminal until it was day light. My friend’s mum picked me up from the terminal. She is pretty cool, I stayed at her house and she made me the most delicious food so far from this trip. I also met up with Sandy – an Afro-Bolivian I met last year August in Honduras at a conference. We hung out for a few hours then it was time to leave Cochabamba for Uyuni.
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There is no direct bus to Uyuni, so you have to catch the bus to Oruro then take either the bus or train to Uyuni. I decided to take the train, we arrived at Uyuni at 2.30am in the morning and it was freezing cold. I woke up 6 hours later and booked a 3 days tour of the Salar de Uyuni. The tour starts at 10.30am and I booked mine at 10am which left no time to shop around and bargain for good price. In the end I paid 800Bolivanos (USD $114) for the tour. The tour includes accommodation for the 2 nights, food and guide. The only thing not included is entrance to the 2 parks.

The tour was amazing. I had a great group (there are 6 people in the group) and we had fun. The weather was freezing – sometimes below 0 with no heating. On the first day, we visited the train wreck, the salar and isla pescador (fish island). By the way, it wasn’t an island nor did it have any fish.

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On the second day, we visited some volcanoes and 3 lagoons. It was warm during the day but extra freezing as soon as the sun went down. The hotel we placed in was very basic compared to the first night. On the first night, we placed at this really cute place made from salt. There was no floor made of cement, instead the floor was salt. All six folks from your group stayed in the same room. On the third day, we went to a thermal springs – a pond of very hot water in the middle of a very cold place. Amazing but I did not dare go into the hot springs because of the freezing weather one would experience as soon as you come out from the hot springs. After this, I changed jeep so I could transfer to Chile.

 

Things you need for the 2 or 3 or 4 days tour of Salar de Uyuni:

Very warm clothing – wool everything: socks, hat, sweater, thermal base layers, a real winter jacket, wet wipes (it is almost impossible to take a shower, so you need this), toilet paper (bring your, the hotel/hostel never have one), enough cash (there is no ATM or Casa de cambio) and medicine for attitude sickness – the elevation go up to 5800. I paid 800Bolivianos but I met others than paid 580Bolivaros, so give yourself a few hours or even a day to shop around for a good price – there are 80 tour agencies in Uyuni.

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As for the title, I was in Bolivia illegally. US citizens have to pay a fee of USD $135 to enter Bolivia. I didn’t want to pay that so I decided to use my Nigerian passport. I checked with the consulate in Peru and I was told I would get a visa with my Nigerian passport on arrival. Well, that didn’t happen, the immigration folk at the border said I have to go back to Peru which offcourse I didn’t want to. After arguing for almost an hour, I paid $20 to enter Bolivia (illegally because my passport was not stamped). And off course, I had to pay another $20 to leave the country – the price was negotiated from the $80 fine I was told I have to pay. Would I do this again? Probably not! Next time I would get all necessary visas on my Nigerian passport (that is if the fee for US citizen is high) before getting to my travel destination.
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Puerto Rico: Delicious Street Food and Amazing Architecture

Like everyone else, I imagined PR to be just like the US (whatever that means). I’ve been told by folks who have been to PR that PR is very modern and at the same time underdeveloped.Well this is my opinion of San Juan, PR. To a certain extent, it can be compared to Miami. However, to me it is very comparable to any Caribbean country or the Caribbean coast of any Latin American country. Comparable in terms of the developed infrastructure in place for tourists, the vibe, the old town/colonial zone and so on.

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I stayed in the Old San Juan and I loved it. I am easily charmed by Old towns/Colonial zones. The architecture is amazing, people watching, shopping, good food, insightful museums and local attractions were all worthwhile.

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The architecture of the walls-castle-morro surrounding old San Juan is the most impressive I’ve seen so far. The ones in Cartegena, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Santo Domingo, Nassau is nothing compared to that of Old San Juan. It is breathtaking – I walked along the walls, the castle and morro 3 times. That’s a lot given that I was in PR for only 4 days.

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The food was delicious as well – Mofongo is the typical food here. Mofongo is made from ripe plantain and your choice of chicken, meat or pork. I had another delicious food made from ripe plantain (I don’t remember the name now) in Piñones. Piñones is outside San Juan and the place is famous for the best street food.

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I couchsurfed and met up with another couchsurfer. My host was cool and the girl I met up with was pretty cool as well. I think I’m in love with couchsurf – I’ve met really awesome people through this. Another thing that made my trip remarkable was meeting up with a group of amazing folks. Three of them are originally from Liberia and one originally from Jamaica but they all live in the US now. I hung out with them and I had a blast. Plus the Jamaican and one of the Liberian can cook :), I know this because both cooked and the food was GOOD!.

Quien es la ultima? (Who is the last person in line?)

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My second time in this Caribbean island! What can I say, sometimes I love it here and sometimes I feel so frustrated that I can’t wait to leave. But I keep coming back – can’t explain.

Since my last visit here (last year March), things seem to have changed or maybe I just didn’t pay attention before. Now, there are (1) more new car models on the streets; (2) more street begging; (3) folks are more vocal about their dissatisfaction with the government; (4) Cuban men are way too sexual and direct.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still lots of veryyyy old car model around, but more new car model as well especially Kia and Volkswagen are on the road. More street begging in that once they know you are a tourist, they ask if you have clothes, shampoo, lotion e.t.c……….. Majority of the folks I spoke to no longer whisper when they talk about the government. Gosh, the Cuban men got on my very last nerve. Within minutes of meeting you, they ask for a sexual relationship.

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I went to Santiago de Cuba. Yup, I took the 12 – 15hours long bus. One advice, make sure you take the 6.30pm bus – it is direct and 12hours. The 3pm bus stops every 1.5hours and it is 15hours long. Santiago is very laid back and less touristy than La Havana. Also less hustlers and more friendly folks. We went to El Morro, hmm a very spectacular view, cost about USD$14 for round-trip taxi and USD$5 for the entrance fee but I think it totally worth it. We also visit the cuartel monada and the 26th of July museum – both important historic site showcasing the revolution.

I met up with a girl and guy from couchsurf here in Santiago. Both worked so I hung out with them after work. Pretty cool folks. Check out Lianne and Nelson on couchsurf – Santiago de Cuba. They will be happy to show you around.

In Havana, I revisited some places and explored new places. Callejon de hammel is still a cool place to be on Sunday from 12noon to 3pm. It is an alternative gathering celebrating the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion. I also hung out with folks from couchsurfing here in Havana.

I also hung out with Nigerians. Some students and others diplomats – I feel important. It’s always feels good to meet Nigerians when I travel.

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Did you know Cubans call papaya -fruta bomba (Bomba Fruit). I was told Papaya means a female private part here in Cuba so remember to ask for jugo de fruta bomba and not jugo de papaya.

Stuff that surprised me, in Santiago at least, restaurants have two menus – one in CUC (currency used by tourists) and the other in Moneda nacional (the currency citizens of Cuba use). So if you are a tourist you will pay 8 CUC (about USD$10) for a plate of rice and chicken. If you are a Cuban citizen or student studying in Cuba, you will pay 50MN [(2CUC) about USD$4) for the same meal.

Most people in Santiago thought I was from Jamaica, not sure exactly why. Maybe because of my dreads or because Jamaica is very close to Santiago and most Jamaicans end up visiting Santiago or they simply can’t see the big a** Nigerian map tattooed on my back.

As for the title – there is always a line here in Cuba. A line to use the internet; a line to change money or use the ATM; line to buy snack; a line for everything and anything. So folks just asks ‘who is the last in line’, they take notice and go do something else. There is never a single straight line, folks just stand around.

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Ask me what is the most frustrating thing about Cuba and I’ll tell you the INTERNET. I have never used anything that slow and scarce before. The hotel’s cybercafé opens from 8am to 6pm; the government’s internet café opens from 8.30am to 7pm. Sometimes both hotel and government’s internet café are out of the internet cards which means there is no internet until they get more cards. You have to purchase the internet card to use internet– it has the username and password you need to get access to the internet. 30 minutes cost 3CUC (about USD$5).

Though I’ve had great experience with folks from couchsurf, be careful in Cuba. It has come to my knowledge that some guys and ladies in Cuba use couchsurf to prey on tourist. For example if you are a female tourist, a male from couchsurf might be exceptionally nice and friendly with you in the hope that you fall in love in him and spend your money on him. Some of the Cuban guys make a living from this. They are called jinteros and their female counter path is jinteras.

Okay that’s it for now on Cuba. Enjoy the photos. If you need information on Casa Particulares in Havana and Santiago, let me know. As usual am happy to answer your questions on Cuba.

Haiti: Feels like home!

Everything you heard about Haiti is probably not true. For one, everybody is not dirt poor and the country (at lease Port au Prince) is not crumbled. There are still buildings standing. Yes, some of the folks that lost their houses to the earthquake are still living in camps. The cholera epidemic is gone. I think you should visit, assess the situation first hand before making a judgment. If you ask me, I would tell you Haiti is just like any of the country I have visited in Latin America.

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I had a good time in Haiti. In fact, Haiti just replaced Colombia as my favorite country! I traveled with four of my friends from the university and we met up with another friend that graduated from the same university but now works in Haiti. I couchsurfed – if you don’t already know about the great site), our host was the best. Her family went beyond to make us feel comfortable and she lives in an interesting house. When next you find yourself in Port au Prince, Haiti – look up Poncia on couchsurf and she’ll show you a great time.

   hait5We ended up being 7 beautiful ladies in PAP (Port au Prince) and we had fun. Our friend who works in Haiti did an awesome job organizing everything. We took the party bus and bar crawled. The first bar we went to was my favorite, the setting was pleasant and one would write on the wall. The second bar – Press Café – I believe it’s the name was filled. Entrance fee was USD$10 but the music was good. Our first night we went to a live music event – RAM is the name of the place and band. The group was Awesome and the vibe was good. They play every Thursday. We also went to a youth live music concert at the French institute – another couchsufer member took us there.
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My friends went to the beach for an overnight stay but I stayed over in PAP because am a city girl. I hung out with Poncia and her friends. At night, we went to a house party that played just ‘house’ music throughout. The neighborhood was really cool – all the houses were mansion and gated. I look forward to going back to Haiti. This time for more than a week so I can visit other parts of the country like Cap Haitien .

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Yes, there were still people living in camp. and Yes, poor people do exist. However, there is another side to Haiti you never heard or see in the media. The side that picture middle-class and working class folks, the rich culture and diversity.