A Travellerspoint blog

November 2007

Flight troubles

La Paz to Lima to New York to Kuwait to Mumbai

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Our planned American Airlines flight was set to leave La Paz for New York City, via Miami, early morning of the 14th of November. We reconfirmed the flight two days prior, just to be double sure. At 5 am we turned up ready to travel at El Alto airport. Unfortunately, there was now (another) strike on in Bolivia, and the flight was cancelled. Such things happen, but as we had a connection to catch in New York on the 16th, we expected American Airlines to get us out of Bolivia one way or another. They gave us the option of waiting three days for another flight, as all planes were fully booked till then, or to pay our own way to Lima in Peru ($300 each!), and then they could get us a flight to New York from there. No offer to put you up in a hotel or anything. This is the most appaling service I have ever heard of from an airline - they were basically leaving lots of people stranded for days in La Paz, and not doing anything to ease this wait - nothing. In the end we argued and pleaded our way into having them pay for the flight to Lima, as we had a connection and could not afford the extra $600 expense - but really, this was the least they could do!

So, we made it to Lima, and then sat down for a 13 hour wait. We got quite nervous we were never getting out of there, as we were hearing that there was also a strike in Peru, and the ground staff of certain airlines was apparently striking. In the end though, we made it onto our LAN Chile flight and headed for New York over night.

Landed in New York early in the morning of the 15th, half a day late, and then we waited for our luggage to turn up on the luggage carrier. And waited... And waited... It never did. Then we ran around the airport, spoke to the LAN rep, went to the baggage services office, spoke to the TACA rep. The two airlines were both blaming the other, and no one had a clue were our luggage was. Shit. In the end, we filed a claim with LAN, gave them a forwarding adress in Mumbai, and several contact numbers, and then went on our way.

We checked into Hotel 31, which turned out to be in a really great location for the price. Then we went out walking around New York. Seems like a really great city - has a nice buzz to it, and all sorts of different people. We had to lauch when we saw what to us is such an American thing - a hotdog and pretzel seller, and he was yelling out "Pretzels - hotdogs, pretzels - hotdogs!" in a distinct Indian accent. Great.

Being that we had such a short time in New York, we decided not to try and cram too much stuff into the day and a half. Instead, we took it easy and just walked around the central area, and got a feel for the place. We saw some of the central sights, like Macy's, Empire State Building etc.



Also, we managed to do a bit of shopping - a necessity since we literally had no clothes, toiletries or anything. Macy’s was great for this - they had a sale on in most departments, and for visitors there was an additional 11% discount off these sale prices. It was a huge store - Alan actually got blisters on his feet from the amount of walking we did in Macy’s alone.


Also in New York, we had some great pizza slices, and we had bagels for breakfast in a diner. So all in all we had a great New York experience, although very brief.

The next day, we went to the airport about five hours before our flight, to try and retrieve our bags, as we had had no word from the LAN Chile rep. We were told by a helpful girl in baggage services that American Airlines had our bags on hand in the airport. We were ecstatic, and ran over there. They did indeed have the bags listed as on hand - but only two of them were in the storage room. They seemed quite perplexed as to where the other two might be - which made us quite worried. In the end, we had to literally sprint to the other terminal, and we very nearly missed our flight. American Airlines promised to deal with the issue from here on forward, and to ship the missing bags to us in Mumbai - the girl promised to send an email to us with a reference number for the case, which she never did.

With a rather long stop in Kuwait, we eventually made it to Mumbai (Kuwait Airways was not the greatest airline - they must be undefended, because the planes were run down, the seats dirty, and the entertainment system did not work). In Mumbai, we went to the house of a friend of Alan’s dad - which was the address we had given to the airlines. They did not have space to put us up, but they send us to the house of his sister in law, who said she had space to put us up for a few days. This was a great help, as it meant we could stay much closer to the airport, and as they had internet, we could also call around on skype, rather than using phones. We stayed with Lena and her son Glenn for about five days, all the while calling all the airlines we had flown with, trying to track down our bags. Disturbingly, we were informed that the case had been closed and the bags were listed as delivered. In the end, we found a helpful guy at Mumbai airport, who works for Indian Airlines, and he managed to track down one bag.

In the meantime, we did have a good time in Mumbai - a very busy, slightly overwhelming city. It is a city that really shows the current Indian development, and there was a lot of affluence, but also still a lot of poverty, all next to each other.



After retrieving one bag, we decided to head off to Goa, and just continue to call the airlines from there, hoping to track down the last, and most important bag, containing the underwater housing for Alan’s camera.

We caught an early morning train to Goa, which took around 8 hours.


The train was a bit delayed, but by the afternoon we made it to Margao, and then caught a taxi to the village of Maina, where Alan’s auntie Philo lives.

Posted by monkyhands 23:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

Goodbye South America

The Asia trip begins!

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So, the American part of our trip comes to an end! Tomorrow morning, we are flying to New York City (via Miami), here from La Paz. Then a two day stopover in NY, and then on to India (via Kuwait). And at long last we will be able to eat food that tastes of something - oh, I would kill for a curry!!!

So, look for more info from our Aisian trip - coming soon!

Here's our route so far, and untill India:

Central and South America have been great, although South America, and especially Argentina, was a lot more expensive than I expected. So, it will also be good to be back to Asian prices. But, it has definetely been an unforgettable experience, although I doubt we will ever come back here.

Posted by monkyhands 13:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Salta to Bolivia, and the South-West circuit

Out of this world scenery!

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On the 24th of October, we arrived in Tucuman in Argentina at 8 am. We waited an hour for our connection, and by 1.30 pm we were in Salta.

From October 25th to October 27th, we chilled out in Salta. We tried to find Alan a dentist, but none spoke any English, which made it hard to understand what they wanted to do to him, and most were fully booked. We gave up on that, and decided to wait till India. We had the camera cleaned - cost a fortune, but it was necessary as there was lots of dust on the sensor.

On October 27th, we caught an early morning bus to La Quiaca, then crossed the border into Bolivia, Villazon. The landscape along this trip was dominated by coloured mountains - very cool to see, and we snapped some pictures from the bus.



After waiting for a few hours in Villazon, we managed to catch a bus on to Tupiza.

On the 28th, we hung out in Tupiza and tried to get a tour together for the salt flats. The tour is normally done from Uyuni, but the reverse circuit from Tupiza finishes with the salt flats and ends in Uyuni, from where we will be closer to La Paz, so it suits us perfect.
Amazingly, when we returned to the hotel, we ran into Curtis and Caroline, whom we had first met in Bariloche. They were looking to do the tour the next day as well, so it could not have worked out any more perfect. Four people in a Landcruiser, plus driver and chef, is enough for four days. Some people do it with five or six people, but we preferred to pay a bit more and be more comfortable.

So on the 29th, the four of us, along with driver Javier and chef (and supposed English guide, who spoke no English) Victor, set off on the four day circuit of the Bolivia South-West region. On this first day, we travelled through the red mountain scenery that surrounds Tupiza, which is also the area in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once robbed a payroll - they are supposedly buried in the mining village of San Vicente, outside Tupiza, though noone has ever found the right grave. The rock formations in this area where amazing - eroded by wind and rain into crazy formations.



We spent the first night in an adobe hut in a small village called San Antonio de Lipez. The beds were comfy, and we had plenty of blankets, so the night was fine. I woke up with a banging headache though, because of the altitude - we were sleeping at around 4200 meters.

On October 30th, we embarked on the second day of our journey. We drove for hours and hours through empty country and ever-changing landscapes of mountains, rivers, shrubbery, plains, and eventually dry, dry desert. The one thing that never changed, was that the landscape was completely harsh and unforgiving. The sun at these altitudes is so strong it burns you before you realise, and at night the temperatures drop below freezing - in the winter as low as -20. And the wind blows incessantly. How anything can live here is a mystery.




We stopped at several places of interest today. In the morning we visited a ruin town known as Pueblo Fantasma, sitting at 4690 meters. (Ruins which were built simply by "the people", according to our articulate guide Victor luckily he makes up for the lack of info with some decent cooking). Javier the driver stepped in and explained that the site was originally settled by the Spaniards as a mining town, because the surrounding mountains are rich in various minerals. However, they nevr succeeded in extracting these, and later abandoned the city again. Now it is simply inhabited by little vizcachas (cross between rabbit and chinchilla by the looks of them).




Later, we also visited Laguna Verde - a brightly coloured turqouise lake, coloured by high concentrations of lead, sulphur, arsenic and calcium carbonates. Behind the lake towers Volcan Licancabur, which straddles the border to Chile.


On the route away from here, we passed through a desert area, which looked like it had been neatly raked. Across the surface are dotted collections of volcanic rocks, spewed there by an eruption from Licancabur. They look surreal in their ordered placement, and they are aptly named the Rocas de Dali.


Later we passed a small salt plain, sulphuric lakes full of flamingoes, some hotsprings, and the interesting Sol de Manana geyser basin. The basin sits at 4850 meters, and is full of steaming, bubbling, stinking mud pots.




After a long day, we reached our overnight stop near Laguna Colorada (4278 meters), at a spot called Huallajara.

On October 31st, we took a closer look at the brightly red Laguna Colorada, on the banks of which we had spent the night.





After that, we e once again spent the whole day driving. Most of the day we drove through desert landscape, completely dry and empty, with vicious winds whipping across it. This desert is called the desierto Siloli. In the middle of this desert we once again came across volcanic rocks, thrown there by one of the many volcanoes in the area. The rocks have been eroded by the wind into odd shapes - one of them into the form of a tree, the famous stone tree. It was a lot bigger than I expected - very impressive.



After this, we once again drove past numerous coloured lagoons, with flamingoes dotted around their shores. We saw a still active volcanoe, Ollague, and admired the desolete landscape.




We spent the last night at a hotel built out of salt, on the shore of the Uyuni salt flats, where we had the first shower of the trip - soooo gooood.

Last day of the tour, November 1st, was all about the salt flats. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world (12.106 sq km), and its sits at 3653 meters. We set out before sunrise, watched the sun come up over the salt flat. As we were here in dry season, the place was just a huge expanse of blinding white, with a tall blue sky above and fringed by looming volcanoes.





After sunrise, we headed to an island in the middle of the salt for breakfast, called Isla de los Pescadores. The island is inhabited by vizcachas and huge cacti, one of which is supposedly over 1200 years old (cactus, not vizcacha).




Later we did the obligatory silly shots on the salt flats, although most of them didn't really work.




At closer look, the salt flats are divided into hexagonal tiles, apparantly caused by the "respiration" of water and air through the salt - beneath the entire salt flat is a layer of water, which evaporates, and then gets refreshed by the rain in the rainy season. Strange as hell.



Finally, we stopped at a salt hotel turned museum, and at the village of Colchani where salt is extracted for consumption.




In the end, we headed for the town of Uyuni, and by the evening we were on a bus to La Paz, exhausted by exhilirated.

Posted by monkyhands 13:13 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

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