Friday, December 28, 2012

Home for the holidays

¨Where will you be for Christmas?¨ became the most common question we received from family, friends, and fellow travelers as we approached the holiday season.  Most of us head home for the holidays and, as we no longer have any home, people were curious as to our plans.  Since our first day without a permanent base, we have pondered what ¨home¨ really means to us.  We have always known that at its essence, home is so much more than a roof and walls.  Rather, it is a concept about comfort, security, love, and people.  Home is definitely ¨where the heart is¨ which means for us, as we tote our backpacks around the world, that our concept of home is more closely aligned to those described in nomadic cultures.  Our homes are the places that provide us a sense of mental and physical security and comfort.

The actual locations or places we call home during this peregrination are incredible in their variety.  We have stayed in simple hostels without water, heat or WiFi but with a bed and friendly staff.  We have stayed in incredible two-story luxurious handmade condos with kitchens and views of mountains, glaciers and lakes.  We have been in small hotels, eclectic bed and breakfasts, and slept in buses with and without reclining seats.  Each has often met our personal definition of being home as we find comfort, security and love.  Some have introduced us to new friends such as Karen and Stuart, a wonderful couple we met in Arequipa.  All have introduced us to new people, cultures and ideas.  Only one had bedbugs.

A few days before Christmas, we found ourselves at a bed and breakfast called Pire Mapu Cottage in Puerto Natales in Patagonia.  From the moment we walked in, we realized we were in an exceptional home with exceptional Chilean and British hosts.  We had found the place to stay for Christmas (which was not our original plan).  Fabiana and Bren made us feel as if we were long lost friends rather than two strangers intruding into their home.  They offered us their kitchen, fireplace and gorgeous dining room table as our setting for a salmon meal on Christmas Day.  Perhaps even more special, they gave us their company for our Christmas meal.  While we missed friends and family during the holiday, we found a very special home for the holiday.

Top image is of the dining room at the Pire Mapu Cottage in Puerto Natales, Chile; middle image is of the table we shared during our homestay on Taquile Island, Peru; and last image is of a simple hostel bed in Costa Rica.  

Posted in Punta Arenas, Chile

Monday, December 17, 2012


The pain of a brutal past is obvious in Maruca's broken jawline, her twisted and battered nose, and in her slow ambling gait up the path in her current home within La Senta Verde near Coroico and the jungles of Bolivia.   She is one of 350 refugees who receive daily care at the facility.  Many arrived confused, ripped with violence from their homes, afraid of men, women, or children depending on past abuse or negligent treatment.  With good nutrition, daily medical treatment, and the gentle ministrations of more than a dozen volunteers from all over the world, the refugees have found a safe respite and new home.  Bolivia's governmental policies are such that is illegal for them to be returned to the jungles and plains of their original habitat.

Maruca is a spider monkey, and she and her fellow primates (including almost a dozen howler monkeys and dozens of incredibly cute and intelligent capuchin monkeys), two endangered Andean spectacled bears, over 100 reptiles, and birds of every shape and color, make up the community of animals rescued by Vicky and Marcelo Ossio.  The couple originally operated an ecolodge, mainly serving mountain bikers who road 69 kilometers from La Paz down "the world's most dangerous road" with the Gravity Biking Company.  About 8 years ago, they received their first capuchin monkey, Ciruelo.  Today they have the only licensed animal refuge in Bolivia and with the care of a wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Adriana Orellana, a great staff and many volunteers, they now receive dozens of animals a month.  Most are casualties of illegal pet trade or habitat loss due to ingress into National Parks and conversion of land to coca fields, activities encouraged by current governmental policies.

We were touched in deep and meaningful ways by the people and their animal refugees at La Senta Verde.  One young female, Wara, spends her days foiling human attempts to lock her out of buildings.  She is a rascal, but when Jess sat by her, she snuggled close, laying her head in Jess's lap.  Pimienta, another female spider monkey, recognized in Sally a kind and gentle soul as she climbed her for a long hug, a walk, and consolation as the young female spoke insistently into Sally's ear. Pimiento's sorrow was clear as was her need for reassurance.  The Amazonian parrots and macaws called out for attention as they mimicked both Spanish and English words, dog barks, cat meows, and sounds of video games.   All of the animals receive daily attention from a young and growing group of international volunteers.  Many soon to be volunteers first experience the refuge after an adrenaline-filled bike ride ending in lunch and a site tour.  Some cannot forget the sight of so many animals in such great need and come back for a week or two and stay for months or years.

Some people give of their time and others give money.  The needs of the refuge are significant.  Carrying capacity and beyond have been reached on this small 22 hectare site.  New enclosures, flight cages, quarantine areas, and clinics are being built for the ever growing group of animals in need.  Feeding the animals  and providing the medicines are costly as well.  It is a time of year we seek to give to others.  Instead of buying a materialistic object for someone this year, consider making a donation in that person's name to this worthy endeavor of human compassion for lost animal refugees.  You can donate to the refuge by PayPal or direct deposit.

La Senta Verde Pay Pal account -
Bank of America  TX2-563-01-01, Acct. Number 488036101948, Virginia Ossio
Website with more donation information

Posted in Bahia Blanca, Argentina

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bolivia: Land of Contrasts

Contrasts are all around us as we travel through South America.  We see it in the cities where the well to do go about their daily lives and pass by beggars in dire need of help.  We see it in the brightly colored clothing worn by the rural Andean women and the dark business suits worn by the city professionals.  We even see it in the dogs within each community.  Some are well cared for, dressed in coats, and have distinct collars while others are thin and ragged as they search for food among discarded garbage.  We also see it as we travel in the various buses from one place to another.  Some are comfortable, with reclining seats, movies, and meals.  Others show no movies, and the ride is so rough it is more a teeth chattering four-wheel drive excursion without suspension or shocks.

One of our most vivid experiences dealing with contrasts has been the tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats and its surrounding environments.  Landscapes here are so vast and different, they are difficult to describe.  One day, we are looking at a highly eroded, overgrazed valley with llamas, vicunas and goats around every turn.  Another day, we are amazed at the multiple colors of the mineral rich mountains where alluvial fans spread like glaciers from the mouths of drainages.  An additional day brings utter fascination as we try to understand the Mars-like scenes before us with steaming volcanoes, vast hills of red and huge, bizarre rocks that are remnants of volcanic eruptions, some not so long ago.

The salt flats themselves are an endless sea of white, where the natural geometric patterns of sodium chloride produce a cloud like crystaline quilt across the ground.  Small, distant islands within the salt flats provide a stark contrast to the sea of white, as giant cactuses rise up from the depths perched on the thin, rocky, volcanic soil in the midst.  The contrast between earth and sky fades as the flats produce mirages.  The cactus islands appear to float and the horizon disappears in a shimmer of merged land and sky.

Throughout this journey, we see so much that is new to us, much of which is incomprehensible.  The people, their food and culture, and the landscape are contrasts to what we have known for most of our lives.  In all of these contrasts, we find growth and enrichment and occasionally confusion or pain. What we seek in this journey is much like the mirages as anticipation becomes reality and each day shimmers and disappears.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia