It was the best of times, it was the… best of times. In Tupiza, a small town 2 hours north of the Bolivian / Argentinian border, 8 travelers convened for what they thought to be a simple 4 day tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats. Little did they know that the next 3 weeks would see them formed, shaped, and molded into a tight-knit band, a platoon of backpacker greatness, a crime fighting sect of superhuman greats… err… well, so what if I exaggerate? These people are the real deal. These people are Team Mongrel.
Brad and Nichola
Before this trip, New Zealand was known for a few things: Lord of the Rings, The Maori Haka, and Flight of the Conchords, not to mention being one the most beautiful landscapes on earth. Unbeknownst to us before we met Brad and Nicki, New Zealand is also known for being a top world competitor in sailing, and for having ‘heaps’ of sheep, namely 12 sheep for every New Zealander. Every sheep we saw said ‘braaaaaaaaad’ and then rapidly ran the other way. Both world class sailors, Brad and Nicki are about to end their 2 year stint away from home, spending time living and traveling all over the world. Brad worked and sailed on a boat for 6 months, with a semi-permanent port in the Caribbean, and then met up with Nicki in England, where they both lived and worked for around a year. On their way back home, they took time to travel through Europe, seeing more museums than then ever wanted to, and then headed to South America to meet the coolest people ever before ending back home in New Zealand for the holidays. We have all adopted ‘The Brad’ when taking photos – thumbs up, standing sideways with a ‘sheepish’ grin – and we have all stolen Nichola’s photos, and henceforth named her official photographer of the group. With their vicious Perudo and 500 skills, insults such as ‘drop balls,’ a tutorial on the importance of dust (video link to follow), phrases like ‘heaps of…’ and ‘I reckon,’ and ending every other sentence with ‘eh,’ we are
relieved actually sad to see them go. We were told to see the New Zealand film ‘Eagle vs. Shark.’ We will hopefully see them soon, be it in Santiago this month, in New Zealand next year, or when they undoubtedly visit Boston because they miss us so much.
Bram and Selma
Babyface Bram (pronounced ‘brahm’), with his better half Selma the Doctor, hail from sub-sealevel Holland, land of the dikes. Like all the other Dutch travelers we have met, they each speak four languages, and successfully dabble at others – an unspoken requirement for the Dutch. Bram is also fluent in Dutch-Ovens, but not to worry – Selma can wither him and make him shave his travel beard with naught but a look, reducing him back to his babyfaced status. When not ‘Selma-ing’ out of the landcruiser (read: vomitando), being surprisingly nonchalant in the Potosi mine, and ordering cocktails at 2pm, she can be seen hilariously stating that ‘Honeybadger don’t care!’ and restating one of Team Mongrel’s many mottos, ‘It takesssss, what it wantsss!’ Yes, when we showed her the honeybadger video, it changed her life. Bram, when not mentally constructing Holland’s newest form of expansion, the floating islands (he is an architect), can be found reveling in his own success at Perudo, reveling in other’s failures (‘Alright!’), and telling Selma that unsafe things are ‘Totally safe.’ Fun fact, he can also stick a cigarette through his ear-piercing, and once had a friend smoke it as thus. As Nichola put it, ‘Selma, your boyfriend is SO cool!’ Their trip – about three months as well – started in Argentina, went to Bolivia, and is now taking them towards Machu Picchu and further north, finally ending with a celebration of Christmas in the Caribbean with Bram’s family. Have fun in Ecuador and Columbia, guys! It’s Totally Safe!
At about 6:30am, I rolled over to the sound of movement in our hostel in Potosi, and mumbled out a ‘Morning, Jacob, how’s it going?’ He pranced over to the side of my bed, leaned in and ecstatically announces, ‘SUPERFINE!’ If this doesn’t characterize the crazy side-burned German, I’m not sure what does. Though he constantly suffered ‘a bit of a headache’ during our time in the elevation, he kept us on our toes with his high pitched ‘Gracias! Ciao!’ and his persistance to wear a hat when swimming. His knowledge of technical, chemical terms in spanish (he’s a chemistry teacher in Germany) was widely helpful during the salt flats, as many of the awesome colors and formations we saw were due to various different minerals in the ground. For the first few days, we were confused because the German refused to have a beer. What?! But, once we left the high altitude, he restored our faith in Germany’s love for tasty hops, though the hostel worker was not too keen on his escaping at 11:30pm to grab another brew. Gracias! Ciao!
“Eh-hem… Gentlemen…. To the Queen!” How could we not toast as such in the presence of this Brit?! Just having graduated from Uni in England, Amber has one of the stronger, more posh british accents we have encountered thus far. Everything was ‘actually,’ ‘literally,’ ‘bloody terrible,’ and ‘the pants.’ Her contagious and abundant laughter, her knack for locating and creating incredible Wee Views, mixed with her endless recommendations of good new books to read (to be expected from an english lit major) made Amber the life of the party. She has begun to shatter my notion of Brits and their teeth however, since her perfectly aligned chompers did not represent a World War II battle field. Bravo! Amber was the first to break off from the team, heading to a small town instead of joining the rest of us to La Paz, which gave us our first taste of the bitterness of goodbyes. She, like most of the rest, is heading to Peru and then north. We hope to see her again shall we ever venture across the pond and end up in the land of tea and strumpets.