Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 12 January 2009

Life blurs in constant motion

It’s been a while since I posted. I know. And much has happened. If I had the time, I would give each of the following events the time and webspace they truly deserve. But, alas, the life of a wanderer that I am currently living doesn’t often allow for such luxuries.

Since returning from Sajama in early December, I traveled to the Yungas region of the La Paz department (think: coca, cacao and mangoes!). The town of Chulumani (read: Coroico minus the tourists) is the center of the small Afro-Bolivian minority population living in the fertile lands on the steep Andean slopes in this transition zone. It was a great contrast from the stark beauty of the altiplano. Beauty in the Yungas comes in the form of fruit so fresh and delicious, it melts in your mouth; people so friendly you can’t stop yourself from chatting; traditional dancing to a drum beat hauntingly rooted in West African rhythms…


A few final days in La Paz, a final 18 hour Bolivian flota ride, then a few sweaty days in Santa Cruz to meet up my my parents (first time I had seen them in almost a year!), and we were off for the next adventure: getting to Samaipata from Santa Cruz in the rainy season! Getting there was an adventure. Being there was a relaxing dream. Getting BACK was epic. I was proud of my parents for wading across a river, crawling up and down the river banks with their rolly suitcases, and walking across a landslide on the way there… I was speechless after our journey back. After an all day rain (on Christmas Day, no less), the road conditions worsened for our journey home. All in all, the should-be 2 hour journey took us about 8 hours and included 2 taxis, 1 truck bed, 1 10km section on the back of motorcycles, 1 river forded, and one 500m long recently fallen mudslide with knee-deep quicksand-like mud crossed while mud and rocks continued to fall from above. A true Bolivian transit adventure. But, true de form, Bolivians ALWAYS find a way through. And we followed them. 🙂


On the way to Samaipata. Still smiling! No idea what they were about to get themselves into. Mom and Dad learned the hard way that rolly suitcases are less than ideal for Bolivian travel! 🙂


Helping Mom across the river on the way there.


Walking across the landslide on the way there. No big deal.


Samaipata was beautiful and relaxing, and certainly worth the trek. This “garden salad” sealed the deal, however. And it’s officially the most beautiful (and 100% edible!) salad on Planet Earth.


Mom and I enjoy her world famous caramel brownies in the back of the truck bed on our epic journey back to Santa Cruz!


This picture in no way conveys the magnitude of this mudslide. It was truly catastrophic.


Mom, muddy, but happy to be on the other side of the mudslide, gears up for the next part of the adventure: motos!

After our adventures on the Samaipata-SC road, we headed to Sucre. My parents tried to get to Sucre 35 years ago, but never made it because their rainy-season flight was cancelled…for the whole season. The airport runway has since been paved to allow for rainy season departures and arrivals, but it still lacks landing radar, so, if it is too cloudy, no take offs or landings are permitted. Our fingers were crossed as we waited for our flight to be called in the Santa Cruz airport. Seems as if our bad travel karma was used up on the Samaipata road, and we made it to Sucre without a hitch. Just a 35 minute delay. Well, 35 years and 35 minutes in my parents’ case. 🙂

It was wonderful to be “home” in Sucre for a week. It’s my favorite city in Bolivia, and it was great to share it with my parents. It was sad to leave, but I am so glad to have been able to go back one last time. I will miss La Ciudad Blanca.



Night and Day time views from the roof of our hotel in Sucre.


Tarabuco style weaving.


Jalq’a style weaving.


We were fortunate to receive a visit from my godfather, Jim Rudolph, who lives in Lima! Here the four of us are on the road from Sucre to Potosi, posing in front of the Pilcomayo River, which forms the border between the departments of Chuquisaca and Potosi.


Mom and Dad in front of the Cerro Rico during our day trip to Potosi.


We visited La Palma one day and my self-proclaimed in-site mother, Doña Justina ran up to greet us enthusiastically informing my mother that in fact she was now my mother, and my own needn’t worry about me anymore. It was pretty hilarious. And awfully bittersweet. Crazy as she may be, I love and miss that lady.

On January 4th, I bid farewell to my beloved Bolivia. I flew through clear skies to the Good Airs of Argentina and met up with friends Kelley, Chuck and RoK… all of Adventure Links fame. We spent some time wandering through the various neighborhoods of BA, then hightailed it up to Puerto Iguazu on the Paraguayan and Brazilian borders. Puerto Iguazu sits just 15km from the infamous falls of the same name.

Iguazu. It truly is breathtaking. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the Falls actually fall (hah) in Argentinian territory. Brazil only has about 10 or 15% of the falls in its territory. What Argentina does lack is the full panorama, as seen from the Brazilian side, but it certainly makes up for it by being able to stand mere feet from the base of some of the cascades and literally get drenched by just the spray. An incredible place.


RoK, me and Chuck in Buenos Aires.





Adventure Links crew in South America. RoK, Kelley, me & Chuck at the “Throat of the Devil”, the largest single wall of water at Iguazu. To describe it in a word: deafening.



Inspiration for the word awe.

I now find myself in Asunción, Paraguay. One of the more unique places I have been in South America. I cannot say that Asunción reminds me of any other place in the world. It is not a particularly beautiful or interesting city, but it is certainly unique. I am visiting some Peace Corps volunteers that transferred here after evacuation from Bolivia. It’s been wonderful to see some familiar faces, meet other volunteers and get a more local perspective on an otherwise uninticing city. I very much look forward to getting out to the campo over the next few days to explore more of this infrequently touristed nation. We are hoping to get to visit one of the least visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world–the Jesiut Mission Ruins near Encarnación, in the south of Paraguay.

Whew. That was a lot. I won’t even get into all the stuff I left out. That would take, well, about a month. 🙂

Love from Paraguay. Love to Bolivia. And love to you. Yes, you.



  1. Woah there Mama and Papa Rortvedt! There’s just one word for you guys: Badass. 🙂

  2. Helen’s mom knows now just how good an adventure coach Helen is; she would still be on the other side of the big landslide — the one with knee-deep sucking mud — without Helen’s encouragement and guidance. It was a great adventure to visit Bolivia and we were privileged to get to see Sucre through her eyes and feast on the best saltenas in the world with her. I’m waiting for H. to post the photo of me with muddied and bloodied knees perched on the post-landslide motorcycle…

  3. Hi Helen, my boyfriend Ben and I (Tilly) met your Dad (Hi Dick!) on the ‘Camino de Santiago’ last year, we shared sandwiches and some delicious things your Dad had called Scout cookies…I think. I just found the address for your blog written on his business card in my pocket and decided to look it up, what a fabulous and well put together blog! And the photos are excellent and really creative, digging it!

    Anyway, just thought I’d say hello and ‘Wow!’. I’ve travelled a bit in Ecuador and Peru and used to live in Colombia but my photos are no where near as good as yours.

    Sounds like your parents had a great time on their adventure with you, not quite as leisurely as the Camino?!! Fond memories, was great to meet your Dad, please pass on our regards,

    Take care,

    P.S. Look us up if you ever need a place to stay in Galicia, Spain or Sydney, Australia! Email address attached.

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