Taiwanese-American blogging about his travels outdoors and occasionally his thoughts on life.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sunset on the Salar de Uyuni

The final stop on my tour was to witness a sunset on the Salar de Uyuni.

To fully capture its beauty, we were taken to a part of the Salar where a shallow body of water covered the plains. The effect was that the ground looked like a giant mirror. With an hour to spare before sunset, our guide instructed us on how to take advantage of this special place and the pictures to take.


 
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Incahuasi Island, Uyuni

The next stop was Incahuasi Island. By this point, I think everyone was feeling pretty fatigued. Not just from sitting in the jeep all day, but from being under the sun so long as well. Our guide gave us an hour here to explore and rest.


The island requires a fee to enter. There is a developed bathroom as well as some small shops serving beer and food. The value of paying the fee is being able to go on a short hike around the island and accessing a nice panoramic view of the Salar. However, if you choose not to pay the fee and rest near the shops instead, I don't think it'd be the end of the world in terms of missed-out experiences. Coming from Arizona, the pitch of seeing giant cacti was not as impactful on me as it might have been on others.



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Salar de Uyuni


After lunch, our next step was entirely dedicated to getting those infamous Uyuni perspective shots. Out in the salt plains, because the plains are so flat, it's easier to create the illusion that certain objects are much larger than they seem when taking a picture. As a result, you can now find an assortment of creative pictures online.

Here are some examples:




Here are some examples of pictures that we took:




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Salt Hotel, Uyuni

The next major stop on the tour was the Salt Hotel.

As you can already surmise, the Salt Hotel is called so because it is a hotel built entirely out of salt blocks. There are rooms for you to rent, bathrooms for you to use, but no showers. There is also a dry sauna, a steam room, a saltwater pool, and whirlpool baths!

When you arrive at the Salt Hotel, you're immediately greeted by a huge sign of Bolivia.

If you notice above the word Bolivia, there is also the word Dakar.


A little bit about Dakar:

  1. The Dakar rally is annual rally raid organized by the Amaury Sport Organisation. It's a race open to amateurs and professionals, but is usually made up of amateurs competing. 
  2. The race is an off-road endurance event and the terrain that the competitors traverse on consist of off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. 
  3. Each stage vary from short distances up to longer distances (500–560 mi) per day. 
  4. The event was originally held from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal but because of security concerns in 2008, the race was moved to South America.


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Colchani, Uyuni

The second stop of the tour was the town of Colchani.

Colchani seemed like a ghost town and I felt the real value of this stop was if you were interested in buying souvenirs. Other than that, there didn't seem to be anything else to see. There were a food vendor on the side cooking something delicious, but I was cautioned against eating.

The jeep stopped here for at most an hour before moving on.




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Train Cemetery, Uyuni

The first stop on my Salar de Uyuni tour, organized by Salty Desert Aventours, was the Train Cemetery. Located about 2 miles outside the town, the train tour is what it is: a train cemetery.

Uyuni used to be an important transportation hub, but after the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the trains were just abandoned. Since then, salty winds have corroded the metal and most of what was valuable has been long vandalized.







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Traveling to Uyuni, Boliva

On the suggestions of Andres' family and friends, I decided to book a ticket to Uyuni and visit the salt plains. The Salar de Uyuni is special and worth visiting because of two reasons: one, similar to Antelope Canyon in Arizona and Crater Lake in Oregon; there's just something special about the whiteness of the salt plains, the vastness, and the evening colors; and two, at 4,086 sq miles, the Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat.


To get to Uyuni from La Paz, I bought a round trip ticket through Amaszonas (total $151.67). You can take a bus down there which is dramatically cheaper, but it also takes a lot longer. The flight took about 45 minutes and was very comfortable.



To get from the Los Pinos area of La Paz to the airport which is located in El Alto, the easiest, and possibly safer option for tourist not great with Spanish is to schedule a pickup with the official taxi service. They usually arrive on time, pre-agree on a price, and call in intervals to update you on their location.

Upon flying over and landing in Uyuni, you'll notice right away the smallness of the town. So much so that I would not be surprised if tourism provided the majority of the town's revenue. To get from the town airport into town, you could probably walk in from the airport (if you're really strapped for cash), or you could just talk with the attendant at the information desk in the terminal for what current prices should be to avoid being ripped off.


Knowing the popularity of the Salar tours, I decided against booking a trip in La Paz before flying into Uyuni. Instead, upon landing that morning, I just walk into an office on the main street and asked if there was any openings left in their jeep.

The agency that I ultimately decided to go with was called: Salty Desert Aventours.

Tours typically leave around 11 so if you land in town anytime before that, you'll easily be able to secure a tour. Because of competition, I feel most agencies probably offer you the same level of service and quality of tour.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

First Morning in Bolivia

When we landed Friday, it was about 1am in the morning. Andres' fiance and her father came to pick us up at the airport. Twisting and turning down the hill, by the time we got to home, it was 2am. When we entered, Andres' friends and family surprised him in the kitchen. It was heartwarming to see how many people were excited about his return.

The following morning, Andres left to take care of wedding matters. In his absence, his family took care of me and showed me around the neighborhood. The highlight of the trip had to be the fruit market down the street. Andres' mother had me try a variety of fruits I didn't recognize and drinks I didn't know, all of which were delicious.




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Traveling to La Paz, Bolivia

On October 12th, I flew with my roommate to Bolivia to celebrate his wedding.

The itinerary was tight, took place almost immediately after my final test, and did not afford a lot of room for error.

To cut costs, we bought a Southwest flight into Los Angeles first and then another ticket to Bolivia (Avianca Airlines). The time between landing in Los Angeles and flying off to Bolivia was 1.45hrs. I ended up landing in Terminal 1 and nervously jogging to Terminal 4.

In total, my round trip ticket cost me: $844.47.

$844.47 = RT LAX-Bolivia: $673.52 + RT PHX-LAX: $170.95

My trip to Boliva marked my first time into South America. Years ago I had a chance to visit Brazil, but graduate school had be pretty occupied so I didn't go.

To be frank, I didn't know what to expect when I landed in the country. I think my only impression was that Bolivia was a tiny Spanish-speaking country nested deep in South America.

In all, the flight over to Bolivia was quite fast. Although it took about 20 hours of transferring from country to country and layovers, I was in good company and had a lot of things to watch on the plane. I ended up having a pretty great time in Bolivia and in total spent about 10 days there.

Our flight path: LAX in Los Angeles to Juan Santamaría International Airport in Costa Rica. Then from Costa Rica to Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima Peru. Finally, from Peru to El Alto International Airport in La Paz, Bolivia.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hiking Bell Trail to the Crack - Wet Beaver Creek, AZ

During the hotter months (90-120F), which can start as early as March and run til October, a visit to a swimming hole can be a perfect way to get your mind off the heat. In my case, I decided to visit the Crack up in Wet Beaver Creek, roughly two hours north of Phoenix..


Trail Description 

Length: 7 miles round trip
Elevation Change: Small incline. Mostly flat. Roughly 300 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back

Dogs Allowed

Directions



Directions to trailhead is easy; if you're in the Phoenix valley, make your way towards highway 17 North and head North until you hit highway 179. Once you get to highway 179, take a right and head down the partially developed road. There are two lots you can park at to access the trail. The Bell trailhead lot and the overflow lot which provides access to the Bruce Brockett trailhead. The Bell Trailhead lot is small and fills fast on a weekend. The overflow is much larger by comparison and only one street before (on Soda Springs Rd). If you park in the overflow, you will begin your hike on the Bruce Brockett trailhead. Hike it to connect further down on Bell trailhead. It doesn't add much of a difference to your trail length.


The Hike


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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hiking Stuart Lake, Leavenworth, WA

The town of Leavenworth is a great place to spend the weekend, as well as a good place to grab a beer and enjoy some live music. However, it's also an ideal place to go hiking! After all, it was the alpine majesty of the mountains that inspired Ted Price and Bob Rodgers to invest in the town.

In short, the hike to Stuart Lake is an absolutely incredible experience. There is so much to see on this trail. From the interesting mix of plant life, the roar of the river beside you, the diversity of plants and trees, to the lake itself; all of the aforementioned is what makes Stuart Lake such a fun and challenging day hike for anyone in the area.


Trail Description 

Length: 9 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 1,984 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Moderate- Difficult
Trail Type: Out and Back

No Dogs

Northwest Forest Pass required to park

Official Site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fsbdev2_027010
You can buy it at various vendors. Annual is around $30, day pass is $5 and can be purchased at the lot. Have exact change if possible. Overnight passes available at the Leavenworth Ranger Station.

Directions


Directions to the trail head are simple:

  • Drive west along hwy 2 out of Leavenworth
  • Turn down Icicle Creek Rd, continue down the road until it takes you along the mountains
  • Continue to drive along Icicle Creed Rd for about 8 miles while looking for Eight Mile Rd.
  • Drive south onto Forest Service Road #7601/ Eight Mile Rd for about 4 miles on unpaved road until you reach the trail head parking lot. Be careful that you don't park at the wrong trail head. Read the signs. The parking lot is developed and has trashcans and toilets.
  • ***Stuart Lake Trail head is popular because it's also an entry point to the popular Enchantments hike. For this reason, parking may be problematic depending on the day and time you get there.


The Hike

Once you've paid for your permit, take some time to look at the message board and take in any messages that's relevant to you. Here, you will need to fill out a hikers tag.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Bavarian town Leavenworth in Washington

About two hours east of Seattle is the small town of Leavenworth. Partially inspired by Solvang in California, the town reinvented itself in the early 60's to take on a heavy Bavarian influence. Now, Leavenworth serves as a popular weekend getaway for both tourist and locals alike all throughout the year.


Home to the famous Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, Leavenworth is a great place to visit because it's not too far from Seattle, there's tons of beautiful hikes to explore on the way there, and ample hiking and climbing opportunities once you're actually in town.

To get there, you can either take highway 90 or 2. Either option seems to take about the same amount of time.


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Monday, August 21, 2017

Hiking Franklin Falls, King County, Washington

Taken from WTA's site because I felt it summed up the hike perfectly: "At just 2 miles roundtrip with 400 feet in elevation gain, Franklin Falls is the perfect destination for any hiker looking for something easy and beautiful."


Trail Description
Length: 2 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 400 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back
Dog Friendly - Must be leashed

Northwest Forest Pass required to park
Official Site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fsbdev2_027010
You can buy it at various vendors. Annual is around $30, day pass is $5 and can be purchased at the lot. Have exact change if possible

Directions

From Seattle, E on I-90 to exit 47. Left off the freeway. Right at T in road for .4 miles. Left on FSR 58 for 2.5 miles to FSR 5830. Turn left and park before bridge, trailhead is just before bridge on the right -- Taken from AllTrails.


The Hike

I didn't look around too much when I was here, but my impression of the area is that it's a great place to camp for the weekend with family.

Although Franklin Falls is located right underneath the I-90W highway, it doesn't really take away too much from the area. It's still a neat little fall and perfect to have lunch at and let kids play in the water.

The hike from the parking lot to the falls is not difficult at all. It's a mostly flat 1-mile hike  straddled by the river and the road. As such, it's not uncommon to see people park their cars alongside the road rather than in the paid lot to avoid paying $5.


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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hiking Snoqualmie Falls Trail, Washington

A wee bit past Issaquah and just outside of North Bend, lies Snoqualmie Falls. Easy to access off the 90-E, Snoqualmie Falls is a great place to visit, especially if you want to take a dip in the river.


Trail Description Length:
1.4 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 250 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back

Dog Friendly - Must be leashed

Directions:
Snoqualmie Falls is such a popular location that any map app should be able to locate this attraction. Just drive along the 90-east until you reach Northbend.

There are a few places to park: the main lot, the upper lot, and the lower lot. The main parking lot is a fee lot, while the upper and lower lot are free. I personally prefer parking at the lower lot. I start by looking at the falls from below, hike to the top for an alternative view, and then return down to the lot and hang out by the river for a bit.




The Hike

The walk to the bottom of the falls is not difficult at all and suitable for all ages and sizes. It's a flat walk towards some stairs that eventually lead to a walkway along the river.



And the end of the walkway, there is an area for people to take pictures. It's small however so be prepared to wait if you want a picture without other visitors in it.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hiking Wallace Falls, Snohomish County, Washington

Close to the city, easy on the knees; Wallace Falls is a great day hike if hanging out near the river and looking at waterfalls is your thing!


Trail Description
Length: 5.6 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 1300 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back
Dog Friendly - Must be leashed

Discover Pass required to park
Official Site: http://discoverpass.wa.gov/
You can buy it at various vendors. Annual is around $30, day pass is I think $10.

Directions

From the city, make your way towards Highway 2 east. Drive through the cities of Sultan, Startup, until you reach Gold Bar. There, make a left on 1st, a right onto 1st Ave/May Creek, and drive until May Creek becomes Ley Rd. Continue on Ley Rd, over the Wallace River, and follow it as it curves to your left. From here, follow the signs to the Wallace Falls parking lot.

The lot isn't small, but it isn't large either. Definitely try and get here early.


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Climbing at Exit 32: Blackstone, Washington

Left around 11am for Exit 32, a.k.a., Little Si. Not surprising, both lots were completely full when we got there.

We parked at Tanner Tanding Park, another lot right before the bridge over the Snoqualmie River. Parking at Tanner Park adds roughly another mile to your approach which consist of walking along the street to the Little Si parking lots. It's a good option for climbers and hikers who can't find parking or for those who don't want to pay for the discovery pass.


For directions to the parking lot alternative, see below:



Because we had never climbed with each other before, me and Stefane decided to take things easy and just climb at Blackstone. Blackstone is but one of many attractions at Little Si for climbers. In addition to Blackstone, you have the ever popular World Wall I & II, The British Isle, and AWOL, to name a few.

Getting to Blackstone is incredibly easy. Just get onto the Little Si trailhead and hike until you see the giant wall to your left. It's perhaps about 1-2 miles in and you have to walk a bit past the wall to access the path to the wall. Once you see the black wall on your left, just keep wlaking and look for any well worn path off the Little Si trail. It should all be very obvious.

Blackstone only has 8 routes, almost all below 5.10. For more information on those particular routes, check MP: https://www.mountainproject.com/v/blackstone/105827415

That day, we led a few 5.9s and I led a 5.10c. All in all, not too challenging, but a safe way of measuring each other's belaying abilities.


I met a lot of other local climbers that day and exchanged numbers.
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Monday, August 07, 2017

Hiking Big Si, North Bend, Washington

Mt. Si is probably the most popular hike to do near Seattle, Washington. Akin to Phoenix's Camelback Mountain, it's popularity stems from it's proximity to the city, the difficulty, and the time required to complete it. Parking is a bit tough on the weekends, but if you make it up the mountain, you'll be rewarded with beautiful views of the valley. That is, if the clouds let up.


Trail Description
Length: 7.5-8.0 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 3277 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Moderate
Trail Type: Out and Back
Dog Friendly - Must be leashed

Discover Pass required to park
Official Site: http://discoverpass.wa.gov/
You can buy it at various vendors. Annual is around $30, day pass is I think $10.

Direction

From I-90E, take exit 32 and head north on 436th Ave SE. When you hit SE North Bend Way, make a left and turn right onto SE Mt. Si Rd. After crossing the metal bridge, you'll pass by two parking lots. Those are the lots for Small Si. Ignore those. Drive for a few more miles down the street and eventually you'll come to the large parking lot. There are so many signs that you shouldn't miss it. The entrance to the lot should be between 464th Ave SE and 461th. Alternatively, you can just Google "Mt Si Hike" and you'll find it.

Parking is not as difficult as it is at Little Si. Mostly because the lot is much larger.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Climbing Multi-Pitch at Exit 38: Far Side, Neverland Area, Lost Boys

On July 3rd, I did my first multi pitch route at Neverland. Having never gotten around to doing multi pitch, I figured my temporary stay in Washington would be a good opportunity to change that.

Directions:

Finding the Lost Boys in the Neverland area can be tough, especially if you've never been there before. It's not impossible, but it's definitely tricky. Here are some pictures to help you navigate your way there!


From I-90E, take exit 38 and continue East on Homestead Valley Rd. You will pass the South Fork Picnic area and Ollalie State Park on your left. About a mile after the picnic area, take a left and drive under the I-90 highway, there you'll immediately find Exit 38 Far Side parking lot.

You'll need a Discovery Pass to park there. The fine for not having one is $99.00. The cost of a day pass is I think $5-10. The cost for an annual pass is $30. You do the math.

From the lot, walk north along the road across the bridge, over the Snowqualmie River.


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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hiking Little Si, North Bend, Washington


Trail Description 

Length: 4.7 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 1300 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back

Directions



About an hour east of Seattle, in the North Bend area, is Mt. Si.

Mt. Si is a popular hiking destinations for visitors and locals alike and is moderately trafficked out and back. There are two popular ways to hike Mt. Si: one is to hike up Little Si, the other is to hike up Mt. Si proper. Dogs are able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. Bathrooms are at the start of the trail.

If you get there too late, parking may be tough. The car lot isn't very big.


Little Si is a good start for anyone interested in hiking Mt. Si but is unsure whether they can handle the mountain. It's a much shorter hike and can be used to gauge your fitness level.

Near the beginning of the trail (0.3 miles, 0.5 miles), there is an opportunity to get on the Boulder Garden Loop and merge with the more challenging Mount Si trail.
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