Sunday, May 16, 2010

Uyuni Trip

I had been trying to organize a trip to visit the Uyuni Salt Flats before leaving Bolivia. This trip was kind of on my 'bucket list' for the year. I am still not quite sure how the trip fell together, but it did somehow. On Friday morning at the travel agency, I was told to await a call the next day. So Saturday afternoon rolls around and I am told that I would be leaving at 9:30 Sunday. Okay! I literally knew nothing about the trip plans, except that they fit the rules Rotary had given me and that I would be seeing the famous salt flats.

Jorge brought me to the travel agency at 9:30 am, Sunday morning. He was hesitant to leave me as we still didn't know what was going on, but about 30 minutes after he left I got the full run down of how the trip would work. I left Sucre as the only tourist in a Jeep with a driver and tour guide. We spent all day driving up through Potosí and arrived in the small town of Uyuni by 6:30 that evening to stay the night before the long day ahead. I got dropped off at a five dollar hostal(*cough*prison cell) with shared bathroom and no heat, and I was told to be waiting there tomorrow at 10:30. Okidoki, I thought. I can do this. So I partied the night away with a bottle of Jack and some sexy Aussies! Kidding. Totally kidding. I scoped out the town for the best pizza in my fleece, sweater, and down coat, trying not to look too lonely as I shivered off half the weight I have gained throughout the year. By the time I made it back to my prison cell, the only thing I could think to do was sit on my bed shivering in the hopes of warming it up before crawling under the 5 layers of blankets. I ate a delicious Kit-Kat Bar in the process as well. It was glorious. I didn't manage to heat up my bed at all, but I slept like a rock and was surprisingly warm. The day was hilarious. I was clueless, but it sure was memorable.

By 7:00 the next morning, I was ready to go and headed out for a walk around the town. I would be so full of myself if I wrote that the town was charming and clean and happy. I am pretty sure the only reason it still exists is for the tourists. The town was completely void of life with the exception of dogs. The fog and the railroad track running right through the street made me feel like I was in a motion picture, and the numbness in my toes and fingers is what reminded me that I wasn't in a motion picture. The liveliest parts were the two dogs that attacked me(seriously) and the rotting goat leg on the outskirts of the town. Super awesome! I ate a massive breakfast and met back up with my driver and guide at 10:30 as planned. After a stop at the market, we headed South for a long, gorgeous day.

We were to drive until the town of Hito, or at least I thought it would be a town--a town with a hotel and food and maybe even a fat chance of heating(just keep reading). At noon, we passed through the mining town of San Cristobal--the last town of the day. The scenery was stunning. I was in heaven and took every chance I could to snap a decent photo. The landscape is very mountainous at times, and then very deserty and flat in between. It had snowed days before, and the mountains/volcanoes were speckled with the remnants. This part of the country is famous for its 'lagunas.' We passed Laguna Colorado first at an altitude of around 14,000 feet. It is impressive for its distinct red coloration due to minerals and the flamingos that thrive in its waters. Google it, seriously. After crossing some more mountains we reached Laguna Verde at 16,400 feet. Apparently this laguna/lagoon/lake(not sure exactly what a lagoon is) appears very green, but only when it is wavy. Those were the two main attractions, but there is so much more to SW Bolivia than just those two lagunas. The land is just incredible.

By 5:00 pm we stopped at what I thought would be a quick little checkpoint. We ended up staying the night in a 'village' that consisted of two buildings: one was an inn for tourists and the other was for the police. I was told by Maribel, the guide, that we would head to 'Hito' at 8:30 the next morning. I was shown to my 5-bed room by a young man and I sat there in silence for a bit. It was getting pretty cold already at 16,400 feet, and I did not come prepared for sleeping in those conditions. Thank Goodness I only had to share the room with Maribel, because I was able to steal the blankets from two other beds. After sitting in the cold for 2.5 hours, dinner was sirved. There was a group of Swiss bikers that I got to converse with over dinner. I am certain they are insane as they planned to spend 12 days biking from 'Hito' to Uyuni in the cold and high altitude. They were pleasant to talk with, but we all wrapped things up and I was in bed by 8:30 due to boredom.

I didn't fall asleep until probably 11:30 because I was having troubles breathing properly. I am not sure if this was due to the extreme cold entering my lungs and making me panicky, or if it was the 3 comforters and 6 heavy wool blankets crushing me. It could have been the sensation of my toes going numb even though they were wrapped in socks, wool socks, and a down coat that served as a sleeping bag for my lower half....and yes, they too were under 9 layers of heavy blankets. I woke up at 1:30 and never slept again that night. A boring night. At 8:00 I got out of bed and was literally ready to go as I hadn't changed clothes once the entire trip so far. All I needed to do was wipe my face down with some cold water and brush my teeth. I had to use my drinking water because apparently water freezes there at temperatures of -4º Fahrenheit. :) Fun times.

Finally!, after paying way too much for the stay, we headed out for a ten-minute drive to 'Hito.' Haha...Hito. Ooohhh Hito. 'Hito' consists of one building--immigration for tourists entering from Chile. We were right on the border, sitting all alone in our jeep waiting for the other cars to come rolling in. Maribel and my driver left with their tourgroup while I was left to wait outside for my next Jeep to pick me up. I was given his license plates and his cell number, but there was no hope of cell service. I stood out in the frigid cold hoping for my jeep. Eventually it showed up a half-hour late. I was indifferent to his tardiness as my toes were already numb before we even left the 'hotel' that morning.

Henry was my driver, and I was sharing the jeep this time with a family of three from La Paz, Bolivia, and Vlad from Russia. This time I was heading back to Uyuni, and very excited because I wanted to find a nice hotel with a shower. This was Tuesday morning. The last time I changed clothes and even laid eyes on a shower was Sunday morning, and I wouldn't have a chance to shower until that night! I was lookin' kinda nasty. By the time we made it to Laguna Colorado, I struck up some real conversation with my Jeep partners. I was traveling with a mother and her two adult children. The daughter(36) is currently living in Los Angeles as a health inspector for Nestle's Hot Pockets, and she previously lived 7 years in Nebraska. She has numerous Bolivian friends that go to school at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. I didn't learn much about her 26-year-old brother, but he was the fun one. Mostly I laughed at his adorable Bolivian accent when he tried to speak in English. He was a sweetie. And he had an awesome hat and sunglasses. ;)

At 1:00, we arrived in the charming village of Villa del Mar to eat lunch. There was a wide stream running through a grassy flat between the village full of llamas. After spending 20 minutes walking amongst the llamas and snapping photos we all sat down to the lunch table. At this point I learned that the three Bolivians in my Jeep are very close friends with some of my host family here. Proof of how dang small the world really is. By the time we left Villa del Mar, I had three wicked cool carmates and some great fotos of llamas.

Only a short ride from Villa del Mar, we stopped at the 'Valle de Rocas'(aka Rock Valley). Basically they were just lots of really really big boulders at the base of the mountains that were formed due to erosion and volcanic activity. Nice for climbing had I been given more time. I snapped a couple Kodak Moments and we headed for Uyuni. By 6:30 we were stopped in Uyuni. I got a photo with my 3 Bolivian amigos and we went our separate ways.

After paying for a hotel room with a private shower, I eagerly headed out for a pleasant evening of more pizza and tourists. I was thoroughly enjoying being on my own until I got back to my room and found out the shower was semi-cold. That put a damper on my happiness, but at least my hair looked decent and I was warm enough for a change of clothing. I slept VERY hard that night and was awake and ready for my Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. As no tourist agencies would be open until 7:30ish for purchasing my day-tour of the actual salt flats(Salar), I sat contentedly reading The New Testament in my bedside table for a while. To the surprise of many, I quite enjoyed what I read. "For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." Now who can't appreciate that? I'll return a changed woman. :)

Feeling all wise and refreshed, I bundled up and headed outdoors in search of a tour of the Salar. I was successful in my searching and headed out of Uyuni in another full Jeep by 10:30 that same morning.

As we all crowded into the Jeep, I took toll of all the countries. We had 1 Aussie(Natalie), 1 Hollander(Fokke), 2 Italians and 2 of Spain. I was quite worried for the next hour as not one person spoke. While stopped in Colchani, a very small salt-mining town, I bought an adorable hat which you all will probably believe to be quite hideous, and I saw a giant llama made out of Salar salt. It was here too that both Natalie and Fokke found their voices. We all kind of simultaneously decided to stick together that day without actually saying so. We headed off from Colchani for the Salt Hotel--yes, this is a hotel made of salt blocks from the Salar. Thrilling, right? After touristy photo-taking with Natalie(21) and Fokke(31) and talking about our travels, we headed for the main attraction, Isla Pescado.

On the 45-minute drive to Isla Pescado, I sat in front and broke the silence by getting to know our driver, Waldo. He does the same day-long tour EVERY SINGLE DAY for the last 18 years! Driving across a sea of salt, seeing the same thing every single day for 18 years. I couldn't do it. Thankfully Waldo is willing. When we arrived at the island at 1:00, we were told to look around and be back at base for lunch in 20 minutes. Fokke and I headed off on a mini hiking excursion and spent WAY more than 20 minutes. We hiked to the top of one end of the island and followed the ridge to the other end until a sort of 'plaza.' On the descent, we saw a kind of cave and explored that for a long while. There was kind of a natural bridge of rock over the top of the cave that we both had to climb on and take photos of. Fun times with Fokke(I am guilty of chuckling at his name when Natalie introduced us, but he claimed to be used to it. I am still immature in that respect.). Eventually we climbed back down to base and ate some lunch with the rest of our quiet crew. The highlight of the day was right after lunch when the three of us spent at least one hour taking súper-cheesy photos on the salt.

The huge expanse of salt seems to seep into the sky and you are left without any depth of field which makes for some goofy photo opportunities. The three of us took advantage of this and had some great fun. Go to to see photos of me on a giant can of Pringles, Natalie and me standing on Fokke's outstretched hands, and a giant Natalie crushing a mini-Me. We had a great day, and Natalie and I talked the entire way back to Uyuni. Once in Uyuni, we stopped at the famous(or infamous) Uyuni Train Cemetary. It was the subject of great laughter at pizza that evening, but nice to see it just so I can say I have been there.

After piling out of the Jeep, Natalie and Fokke and I met up with a group of Natalie's friends to go for pizza at a remarkable restaurant. Our table included a Canadian couple, two New Zealand guys, and the three of us. It was so nice to sit down in a great warm place to share great stories with great people that I knew I would most likely never see again. I just felt so open and free to laugh until I snorted...and I did just that. It was hysterical hearing about life from so many great different perspectives. We parted ways after a couple amusing hours. They all headed off for a night bus out of Uyuni and I looked forward to a hotel room that I made sure had a hot shower.

The pizza place was great, and I vowed to return the next morning for breakfast. My last morning, a Thursday, I headed out early to buy a 10:00 bus ticket for Sucre and catch a great breakfast to end my wonderful trip. I was thrilled to see pancakes on the menu! I was even more thrilled to get them and not have them be crepes! Real pancakes with apple and banana slices heated in a bath of cinnamon butter. Made My Day. The owner of the restaurant is a middle-aged guy from Boston that fell in love with a Bolivian and moved to Bolivia. He built the restaurant from the ground up. It is his baby. The perfect spot for some tired and hungry tourists that just want a short break from the harsh life of backpacking. A taste of home. I ordered a sandwich for the road and just laughed when he asked me if I wanted it on whole-wheat bread. I haven't heard 'whole wheat' since I got to Bolivia. The sandwich was great on the bus trip, and so was one of the five massive chocolate chip cookies I had him throw in a bag for me. Uyuni was great. It is definitely not easy travel, but I saw some unforgettable things and met some great people. I loved the trip and can't wait to do some real world travel some day--hopefully with showers at least every other day though.

My bus left Uyuni at 10:00 that same morning. My bus partner was a man from Potosí that works in the mines of San Cristobal. He works 14 days in San Cristobal and then buses back to Potosí to spend 7 days of rest with his family. I imagine it is a hard life, but he very humbly claimed that it is very interesting and beautiful work, that it isn't dangerous, and that he enjoys it. Good for him. Just outside of Potosí our tire popped and we had to wait 25 minutes, which didn't bother me as I figured we would be stranded for the night(it seriously wouldn't have surprised me). After a long day of travel, I was back in Sucre at 9:00. All I wanted was my bed and warmth.

A great trip. It makes me feel very proud of myself knowing that I can travel like that and enjoy myself. I have found strength in being alone. I can be happy sitting alone in a room in frigid temperatures at high altitudes in the middle of nowhere with no resources. All you have to do is loosen up and have a willingness to do things you normally wouldn't do. Talk to the locals. I can be happy sitting in a prison cell without a bathroom(yes--frigid temperatures and no resources again). I can be happy eating pizza or searching for bus tickets and tours with no one else around to speak with. I can be happy being sad if that makes sense at all. I have found a way to find good and happiness in every situation. I don't always do so, but I am capable of being happy all the time. Traveling and having the last 9.5 months to be alone with my thoughts has proven this is true. Just be happy. Just be proud of yourself. Just go. Just live.

Great trip. I almost can't wait to step foot in corn fields and roast marshmallows at the bunkhouse and hug my friends and family. Not much time left. Bittersweet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lake Titicaca!

Where in the name of God do I even begin?!

I had been planning a trip to Lake Titicaca for some time now with Forest Jarvis, a fellow exchange student. I thought it would be impossible to convince Rotary, but we finally got everything worked out, and we shipped off for Lake Titicaca on the night of Friday, April 23.

Forest made it to Sucre by around 2:15, and we spent the day running all over town in the rain. Forest found a toothbrush, I kept myself from eating chocolate, he ate a burger...and my gyro, I forgot our luggage, and I laughed hysterically. Nightfall came quick, and we headed to the bus terminal(with our luggage). We miraculously made it to the right bus and did everything perfectly. By the time we rolled out of Sucre at 7:45, we were laughing and comfortable--well, I was at least. For those of you that have seen my monstrously tall brother, well, you should know that Forest tops him. At least Forest's shoe size is human though. I ended up picking the two worst seats for Forest's legs, and after kindly begging nearby passengers to change seats we just gave up. Bolivians aren't too friendly about that kind of thing. So I lulled myself off to sleep eventuallly by saying randomly ridiculous things to Forest. Thank goodness he could laugh at my stupidity instead of getting too annoyed by it. I guess I slept until about 2:30, while Forest sat uncomfortable on a quiet, smelly bus. We stopped then in Oruru and switched seats, which allowed Forest to get some sleep and me to get no more. By 7:30ish we arrived in La Paz, found an 8:30 bus to Copacabana, and continued our travel. The 3-hour drive to Copacabana was pleasant. We saw the lake for probably 2 hours of the trip. We had to stop in a tiny town to cross part of the lake on a barge. I was too tired to remember much of that point, but there were lots and lots of tourists that Forest and I got to laugh at.

By noonish we were in Copacabana searching for decent bathrooms and a real meal. The town was charming and quiet. After eating a quick lunch and laughing at the nearby germans(german sounds like english cuss words), we headed up to the cathedral and scoped out a few Kodak moments. Eventually Forest decided to get my touristy self on track; we bought some bus tickets for the return to La Paz, and scoped out a boat for the trip to Sun Island(Isla del Sol). All the boats had left, so we had to pay for a private boat. One guy offered us 300 bolivianos, but we eventually got a trip for 150 bolivianos. By late afternoon Forest and I were seated atop El Cisne in the cool, open air awaiting our arrival to La Isla del Sol.

After two hours of rocking back and forth on Lake Titicaca and getting wind-burned cheeks and lips, we pulled up to the southern end of the island. I was super excited for the hike to our hostal, but I seemed to lose that after 2 minutes of hiking. Forest Jarvis. That kid knows how to hike. His long legs and 0% body fat served him well. I, however, wasn't doing too well. Literally two minutes in, I was panting. The altitude, my ridiculously out-of-shape Bolivian body, and my three bags were slowly killing me. I stopped at least every minute of that hour-long up-mountain hike to inhale some desperately-needed Lake Titicaca oxygen. In my favor, we were going at a ridiculous pace. I kind of expected the hike to be a little more relaxed and pleasant, but the sun was setting quickly and hell if Forest the Fotographer was going to miss out on that. :P At long last, my butt reached flat lands. And my butt was happy. So were my lungs. And my back. And my feet. And my legs. I about burst out laughing when we got the keys to our rooms and Forest said he was going to hike up the next mountainside. 'Is he kidding?!' I left him and his camera alone while I organized my room. After a while I gave in and decided to do a nice little hike as well in time for the sunset.

The village was adorable. Filled with hostals and food joints, but incredibly quiet. Every other pizza place had a donkey and some women knitting behind customers. Typical Bolivia. The weather was pretty chilly, but perfect for such hiking. Again, I eventually made it to the top of my next hill/mountain, but that included a fair amount of stopping and panting. There was a small band practicing halfway up that managed to put a little spring into my lazy step. Every time I stopped to appreciate my surroundings, the view got better. The view changed so much every ten feet of rise. It got better every time. The lake is HUGE! Immense. Gigantic. I don't have the proper adjectives to help you all understand just how impressive and big the lake is. There should be another word invented just for that lake to represent something between the size of a lake and the size of a sea. I sat at the top among other tourists as the sun set and the day was pretty well over.

Our second day began very early. As tired as I was, I somehow awoke at 3:30 a.m. By the time 4:15 rolled around, I was bundled up and headed up the mountain. The stars were killer, and the air was crisp, but the hiking kept me cozy enough. I took a break halfway up to sprawl out under the stars and play zampona--mostly because I was tired and unable to see with just the light of my cell phone lantern. :) When I became cold again I just kept right on walking until I found a nice cranny at the top of the mountain to shield me a bit from the wind. Around 5:30 I heard the crunch of footsteps nearby. Sure enough, it was Forest. We were both having trouble sleeping, and the idea of a sunrise on Lake Titicaca seemed to suit us better than a warm bed. So we sat and waited for the sunrise. It was gorgeous, but it would have been better if my toes weren't nearly numb. By 7:00 I was bolting back down the mountain to the warmth of my bed, and I understand that Forest was right behind me once his camera started getting loopy due to the cold.

So we started the day early. I got a quick nap between 7:00 and 8:00 before going down for a breakfast of two hot chocolates and two deliciously dense pieces of bread with jam. Soon after breakfast, Forest and I were headed out of the village on a hike. We curved down one side of the mountain through another village. Eventually we lost track of the path and did our own thing. I slipped more than a few times and all-out fell at least twice. We regularly crossed paths with quiet natives and always greeted them with a friendly 'buenas tardes.' Most times they responded the same. There was an abundance of pigs, donkeys, sheep, and llamas on leashes during the hike. Much to Forest's amusement, I had to stop regularly to baby-talk to them as I have been missing pets and animals dearly. At last we made it off the steepest part and ran into a group of farms overlooking a happy little bay. I managed to make it down through streams and sloppy animal pens without getting dirty, but I am not so sure about the condition of Forest's shoes.

The bay was stunning. There was nothing in sight but the clear waters and gorgeous mountains on a distant shore. To our backs we were surrounded by a village and farms running down the sides of three high hills hugging us. The braying of donkeys, the mooing of cows, and the oinking of sloppy pigs reminded me that I was actually in Bolivia and not skipping through pages of a travel magazine. A cute 3-year-old native Aymara boy took a break from his life to skip rocks on the lake with Forest while I took off my shoes and hunted for pretty rocks along the shore. I think both Forest and I were in heaven at this point. I could have taken a nice long nap on the beach, but lunch was nearing and we didn't have much in the way of food.

We continued the hike after a couple hours of serenity, wrapping up the sides of the hills surrounding the bay and passing through another village. As we crossed from the east side to the west side of the island, we ran into random villagers doing laundry in a stream or herding their sheep. Every child we passed asked for candies, food, or money to take a photo with them. The only food we had was my two packs of crackers, so I willingly whipped out one pack to give to a sweet little girl. She saw the other pack and asked for that as well. I couldn't say no, so Forest and I were left with just a little water to tide us over until a very late lunch. We made it back to the hostel around 1:00 or 2:00, so lunch was sounding like a good plan. We scoped out a pizza joint of the many to choose from. It was completely void of customers, but it had an umbrella and a fair view of the lake. Moises, the owner, popped his head out of a door after I called out a few times in search of service. He was so eager to serve us. Overly friendly. We only had once choice of pizza, but it sounded delicious so Forest and I said yes. Moises was so eager to explain that it might take a while as he makes the dough instead of purchasing it premade in Copacabana. He just seemed so happy to have a customer and to make us happy. I really didn't care how long it took. The sight was too charming to think about the wait, and I made up for the wait in stupid laughter, blonde moments, and great conversation. Forest explained that his host-grandfather was a guerilla way back when, but I heard that as 'gorilla.' That resulted in some nonstop laughter. Then I just randomly burst out in hysterical laughter for no apparent reason at times. We just kind of lazed around that afternoon and it was really great.

As we wrapped up lunch, I opened my bag to pay. Moises chuckled when he noticed my zampona sticking out. I was so happy as this opened up a great opportunity. I had been hoping to run into someone to teach me a zampona song typical of the area, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I asked him if he could teach me a song, and he seemed eager to engage yet again. I lent Moises my zampona for him to practice a bit while Forest the Fotographer headed out for some Kodak Moments and I relaxed under the sun. Finally Moises decided he'd had enough practice, and we all stepped into his restaurant. I was absolutely delighted to film him playing two songs that I have yet to learn, but the best part came later. He started playing a song I recognized--the first song I learned on zampona, 'Alturas.' We did a horrible-sounding duet of Moises on cana(another wind instrument) and myself on zampona. I don't even care that we sounded horrible because I had such a great time being able to converse and share music with a random man on an ancient island in the middle of a lake named Titicaca. How many people get to say they have done that? I like to believe I am one of very few. We wrapped it up as the sun started to fall behind the mountain. I was feeling quite giddy and rejuvenated as I stepped out his door.

That was pretty much a day, and Forest and I split up to lollygag around the village after sunset. I was left without an appetite after a late lunch; I offered the leftover pizza to Forest, settled for a banana, broken crackers, and water, and hit the sack early in the pursuit of decent sleep after a very long day.

Again, I managed to wake up at 3:30, but this time I stayed warm in my bed until the sun came out. My anal self had everything pretty well organized and packed the night before, so there wasn't much to do on our last morning. I sipped hot cocoa before checking out of my room and simply sat outdoors in the chilly air, appreciating the last hours of my stay on La Isla del Sol. Forest wrapped up his morning and we headed out early for the hike back down to the boats. I think I managed to fall once, and my legs were quivering from the steep down-mountain hike. I claimed to prefer hiking up that mountain versus hiking down it, but Forest knew better. He had to listen to my whining all the way up two days earlier, and apparently it was far more exaggerated on the upward hike. :)

We arrived at the bottom, bought some tickets, and laid in the shade while waiting for our 10:30 departure.

Before coming to Bolivia, I would have been sad to descend the island. I think Forest and I both agreed that good-byes have become much easier. Too easy. I have come to see that good-byes don't have to be forever, and more often than not they are most definitely not forever. So instead of taking crappy last-minute pictures and being sad for the tail end of a trip, I just keep the trip going until the end. I don't waste time being sad, but appreciate each part of the trip for what it is. Then end is no different than the beginning. I am certain I will be returning to Bolivia and its natural wonders some day, and if I do not return then it will be because I am doing even bigger and better things with my life. On the last two hours of our bus trip to La Paz, I started to realize that I would have to say chau to my kick-tushy travel partner at some point. Again, instead of getting sad, I just took advantage of what could possibly be my last two hours with him and threw in what remained in my storehouse of randomness, stupidity, and non-stop laughter. We hopped off the bus, gave eachother the hugs we promised at the beginning of the trip, and walked in other directions. It was almost too easy to say goodbye, but that is the way life goes I suppose.

I walked to the bus terminal, bought a 7:00 bus ticket, and the rest is history. I had a great trip. I feel so lucky to be here in South America! Rotary youth exchange is the best. I don't know how I ever would have been able to handle a trip like that so well were it not for this opportunity that Rotary has given me. I feel like I am prepared to continue my life and do so happily. If a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old can plan, execute, survive, and enjoy a trip alone in a foreign country, then that must mean something. And at this point in the paragraph, I quit beginning each sentence with "I." :)

Good morning, good afternoon, and good night. Be happy, peoples....and go see my fotos of the trip at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Late Aprilish

Here is a little randomness for the end of April before I head out on a trip to Lake Titikaka this Friday.

Line started playing zampoña as well, so we have gotten together a couple times to share our knowledge. We spent one afternoon in the plaza with the plan to play, but we were surrounded by questioning children and adults the majority of the time. It was quite enjoyable however, and Line was very pleased to get some of the insider information I have been learning from René.
There was a great concert last Saturday, and I went with Line and her friend Gemma from Canada. There haven't been any concerts in town for the last 3 or 4 months, so I was thrilled to finally go out, and the concert was absolutely incredible. Los Kjarkas was the group that everyone in Bolivia adores, but Line and I agreed that Kala Marca was the best of the three groups that played that night. As almost everyone knows, I hate dancing; however, I was dancing like crazy at the end of Kala Marca's set. There is something about traditional Bolivian music that just gets to me. I hear a zampoña and a bass drum and I am hooked. So the concert was great, and the company was as well.

In my last post I commented about Jorgito's occasional immaturity, and I imagine I sounded kind of harsh. I would like to make up for that in this post. I adore him. We were driving home Sunday night and he was exhausted. He just looked at me and then plopped his head on my lap and made himself comfortable for the rest of the ride. I love how childlike that is(not childish). He isn't afraid to show affection. It made me very happy inside.

Jorge's cousin, Claudia Brita Calvo, and aunt, Gladys, from Chile are in town this week. I had been in contact with Claudia via Skype for the past 5 months, so it was nice to finally meet her in person. She is quite outgoing. She is opening a boutique in Chile, so she brought back a boatload of clothes to sell to all the women of Sucre. I see nothing wrong with clothing in Bolivia, but Bolivian women go absolutely nuts when they can spend way too much American dollars on fashion. Bolivian women. As I have said before, I fit in much better with the men. I just don't get it sometimes.

Abu, my grandmother, had an accident last night. She is an older woman and doing well, but she should not be wearing heels still. She picked up Jorgito from tennis and fell. Somehow, she dislocated her shoulder. Instead of going to the hospital, she went to her home. Finally Vivi took her to the hospital, and Abu was put under for a 10-minute surgery.
Abu seems fine, probably because she is on twenty-dollar pills. I was worried about Jorgito. I would be terrified if I were that young and my grandmother fell like that. He shrugged it off when I asked him if he was okay, so I will never know I guess. I really hope Abu will quit wearing heels...but I doubt that will come true.
On a more amusing note, I had to do a double take when I saw Abu at lunch today. She had pink eyebrows! Well, not really, since she doesn't have eyebrows at all. She has tattooed eyebrows that are thin and dark blue-gray. Normally she will put on brownish liner, but I think the twenty-dollar drugs altered her sight as the liner was pink today. I am not being mean or vicious, but I find it quite endearing and hysterical. I think she mistook her liner for lip-liner. Am I mean, or is this slightly amusing? Abu, Abu. I love that woman.

I had an incredible morning at the Psicopedagógico today! Heyde is one of my favorite children. She is in a wheelchair, but she never wants to sit in it. Every recess, I know she is just dying to sit next to me on the bench. So for the past month, I ask random workers if I can take her out and seat her next to me if I watch her carefully. A couple times, the workers just brush me off with an iffy 'no,' but most times they just completely ignore me. This makes me really mad when they do that, because I really feel like they don't care about the children. The kid wants to walk, so why aren't you trying to teach her?! Seriously! Finally, this morning I asked the director, and she was very sweet and open about it. She just grabbed Heyde out of her seat and set her next to me. I was so happy to be respected, and I know Heyde was too. She was beaming! Absolutely thrilled to not be the handicapped girl in a wheelchair. That wasn't enough for her though. She wanted to walk! I know no words worthy of explaining how happy I was for Heyde. Line helped Heyde walk around while I got some great snapshots. I plan on doing this every morning with Heyde. I am almost mad at the people that work there, because Heyde has been expressing a desire to do this for a long time now. Instead of helping this determined and intelligent girl learn to walk and eat alone, they sit and talk amongst themselves. They pretend to be blind to her desires. Instead of being mad, I am just going to keep doing this with Heyde while hoping she improves before I leave. I will get a special folder of Psicopedagógico pictures up on soon. I have gotten some really great photos of these children. They are really inspiring.

This month has been incredible, and I will be ending it with a bang. This Friday Forest Jarvis will be flying in from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to go on a trip to Lake Titikaka with me. I am súper excited. Forest is a fellow Rotary Youth Exchange student that I got to meet when he came to Sucre earlier this year. So he flies in Friday morning, we take an overnight bus to La Paz. Saturday morning we take a 2-hour bus trip from La Paz to Copacabana, and then from Copacabana we take a boat to La Isla del Sol(Sun Island). We will stay overnight on the island both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday morning we go back to La Paz. From there Forest flies back to Santa Cruz and I take an overnight bus back to Sucre. I can't wait to step foot in a lake whose name I once laughed at in 8th-grade Social Studies. Seriously?! I love Rotary!

Chau until my next blog, which I am sure will be all about Lago Titikaka.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Early Aprilish

This is an email I wrote to my mother on Easter Sunday. It pretty much explains everything that was going on at the beginning of the month.

Oh my goodness today was great. We didn't really do anything for Easter, but the week before was 'celebrated,' if you wan't to call it that. Vivi didn't eat beef the whole week, we had a really yummy seafood soup for lunch on friday, and Vivi made two batches of arroz con leche. Arroz con leche=rice with milk. It is a dessert. Today was elections for mayor. My uncle Fernando is running, and though everyone thought he would lose he is actually at a close tie for first but running second. I doubt he will make it. So I walked a mile with my family, Lucho and Sandra and their son Danny, and our neighbor and her daughter this morning to the poll booths. They use ink and fingerprints for voting. There were absolutely no buses,cars, or anything on the roads, so it felt like the Apocalypse again with the streets filled with people walking. After voting we got back to the house and I helped Sandra prepare lunch. Everyone came over and I just got home now....Jorge and Vivi are still there. Jorge has consumed a lot of alcohol, and I find him quite amusing. He slurs his words together. And cusses a lot. He is funny. And he always drinks with Julio, who is the brother-in-law of my Aunt Sandra. Julio is awesome. He is going to take me out four-wheeling on the mountains and stuff sometime. Everytime he drinks he speaks in English with me. He wouldn't stop pointing at the newspaper and saying "my newspaper!"tonight...he is the owner of the newspaper in Sucre. He is hilarious, and you should be forewarned that he will be visiting us in Iowa in a year or two....I kind of invited him. And you can bet that he WILL come. Which is a great thing because he would fit right in down at the bunk house with our family. He would love it....and you would love him. And his english is super good too. So his tushy is coming to Iowa. Ummm....I love talking to him and Jorge when they are drinking. Tonight we talked about the Amazon and piranhas. He loves the jungle and would take me on a trip there if I had more than two months left. He went fishing in the amazon and a guy he was with swam with the piranhas, but they didn't even harm him because he had no wounds. But apparently they caught a whole bunch of piranhas, went back to the hotel, and had a wicked-awesome chef prepare them. I didn't know piranhas were very good to eat, but apparently they are amazingly delicious. What more....ummm, I officially understand everything when the adults are talking in groups. I love family get-togethers so much more now. Jorge and Julio are a riot. You need to come with me to Bolivia some day. I swear I am going to be furious if you don't. I swear.
So I am happy. Yesterday I spent all afternoon baking oatmeal choco chunk cookies at Laura's home. The first batch sucked, but we got it all figured out and they are really yummy. We had fun as usual, but it was even more fun when her grandmother came down and chatted with us...well,'argued' with us would be the proper description. Blunkie is her nickname. She is psycho, but I absolutely adore her. Our conversation started with cookies, went to the existence of aliens, and then to the latest invention of the atom smasher and how the aliens put the idea into our heads, and then to gay people, and to how gay people have to do artificial insemination, and I didn't understand her spanish so I thought she was saying that gay people are gay because their 'reproductive systems' don't work, but then we got that clear. Then we talked about how hyper Laura was from eating all those cookies, and Blunkie said she can't eat lots of sugar or she gets worms, and then we argued about the teas that Laura's mom brought from the states as a gift for Blunkie, and I miraculously convinced Blunkie that the Chai tea was amazing and she promised me she would give in and try it. Laura and Blunkie argued the whole time while I sat there and laughed at them. I mostly went against Laura every time just so Blunkie would keep talking. That woman is a hoot. If you spoke Spanish, she would be another reason for you to come to Bolivia.

This is a good month. I absolutely could not believe that I had only two months left at the time of writing this letter. Now I absolutely can not believe that I have less than two months! It is insane how quick the time passes, and it will be passing even quicker now. A week from tomorrow I will be going on a trip with a friend to Lake Titicaca for a few days. I will get back from that on the 27th. Then I will be spending my last few days with Line, a great friend I met through volunteering. Perhaps we will be making a trip to the jungle on the first of May, but that is unlikely.

Line is a Danish sweetie. She started learning zampoña as well, so we are going to get together and teach eachother some songs tomorrow. We did a really long walk through Mercado Campesino, one of the 3 main markets here, the other day and were warned by some women that a guy was trying to rob us. That was great, so we flew out of there pretty quick. We went there to find 'pito.' René told me that I have to try pito before leaving Bolivia. I guess I would compare it to MaltOMeal. And I like MaltOMeal, so ya. At the end of my lengthy walk with Line, I had a pain in my leg. Line, being an occupational therapist gave me a detailed account of what it was and how to get rid of it. She said it could last for amonth, but I think it is getting better already. I went to aerobics the morning after the pain started, and that was really really really unintelligent. It was horrible and hilarious. I couldn't even lift my leg up steps without grimacing. Getting into Jorge's Pathfinder is amusing as well. I literally had to lift my left leg into the car with my hands. It feels much better now though and I think it will be fine for hiking all over Lake Titicaca's islands in a week!

Jorgito has to win everything. He is very competitive, but not really, because if he loses he is a baby. So he always is competitive over really really stupid and annoying stuff like sitting in the front seat of the car or beating me to the door of the house when we get home every day. Really annoying, but whatever. He is 9 years old. He had a national tennis tournament last weekend and played very well. I was really proud of him the first match because he lost and left the court with a smile. He never once started crying or throwing his racket like he did when I first arrived in Bolivia. He has improved much in that aspect. The second day he came back and played really really well. I am proud. It is a big thing to overcome in less than a year. It took me years to get over my poor sportsmanship.

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to meet up with a woman named Daniella. She is a young mother of two and in her last year of college studying foreign languages. She wants to have tea tomorrow and work on her English. It is very random, but she seems harmless and sweet and it could be a good chance to make a friend.

René, my music teacher, just turned 24 a while ago. I had been wanting to explain to him my history with music and all that crap that I wrote in my last 'cheesy/sentimental' blog because he is a sentimental person as well and we are often 'on the same page.' So I wrote a letter and had Oriana help me in translating it to Spanish. Oriana loved the letter. She is just as sentimental as I am, if not more so. So though I was nervous about expressing this stuff on paper, she had me convinced that it would be the best gift in the world. Reluctantly, I gave René the letter on his birthday. Turns out, I probably shouldn't have given it to him. He has never said a thing about it. Not one word. The lesson after I gave him the letter, he brought up the topic of age. He kept saying I was really young and that he is 'un viejo'--an old man. Afterward I was thinking, 'hmmm, does René think I have feelings for him?' He was being weird. Plus, he is in a very very serious relationship and will probably be married in a year or so. So much time has passed since I handed him that very heartfelt letter, and not a word has been said. No way in hell will I ever bring it up to him either. Yes, the guy is gorgeous and I think he is an amazing person, but really?! What the heck! Can't a girl just appreciate someone without them getting the wrong idea. It is things like this that lower my self esteem and make me hide who I am. But whatever. René can interpret it how he wants. Not my fault he assumes a little girl might have the hotts for him. I was told by someone that the way to fixing this possible problem is to tell him that I have a serious boyfriend. Sounds alright, but I just can't do it. It would be a flat out lie, and I would not even be able to embellish it accurately due to lack of experience. Oh my. What an amusing predicament. Sigh. That wasn't at all what I intended by the letter, but I guess that is just how people take things like that anymore. I would have done much better back in Shakespeare's world.

On the topic of Easter Sunday. Abu kept attacking me about not being Catholic one day, and then Vivi caught on. She assumes I am atheist just because I am not Catholic. They kept attacking me with questions. "If you don't believe in God, then how did you get here?" Honestly, it kind of pissed me off at the moment. I have been nothing but open to their customs and lifestyle, but everytime I try to explain my lifestyle I end up having to defend it from their judgements. It is hard, but I am not going to change their views. They can believe what they want. I still love them.
That is all the randomness I can think of for the moment. I am really happy here, and super super excited to step foot in the Omaha Eppley Airfield on June 9. I swear I am going to be a big hugger when I get back home. I really really crave hugging and contact.

Speaking of hugging, I am reminded of Laura's family! Laura went on a trip to Argentina with her real family and then they all came to Sucre for a few days before heading back to Oregon. I made sure I got to meet them, and we went out for a great lunch at El Huerto. They were everything I imagined. If I ever get back out to Oregon some day, I will be making a stop to visit them in Bend. They are absolutely hysterical. I got two great hugs from her mother and father before we parted ways, and it felt great. They were great substitute parents for a day, but it did make me a little mellow for the rest of the week. I missed my parents after that. I am fine now, but it gets a little bit difficult again as my time here comes to an end.

I just realized I should fill you in about my uncle Fernando and elections. So he ran for mayor, and he lost. The interesting thing is that the whole family was happy that he lost. Why? Because, had Fernando won, he would most likely have 'disappeared' or been jailed for opposing the wonderful Evo Morales. This is so typical Bolivia, and I think it is fascinating to be a part of it. I am not kidding either. Since the elections, I think 5 people have either disappeared or been jailed. It is horrible.

I will try and post pictures on picasaweb, but I am just too lazy right now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Trip to Tarabuco.

I had an absolutely splendid weekend. Jorge had been telling me that I have to take a weekend trip to la Candelaria some time before I leave. The Candelaria is a property/hacienda/ranch that belongs to the family. One of Jorge's cousins, Liz, runs weekend tours to the property through her mother's travel agency. It isn't hardly publicized and is really a hidden gem I would say. The property is just an hour and fifteen minutes past the town of Tarabuco, which is famous for its Sunday market. There was a big fiesta in Tarabuco for the weekend, so it was the perfect weekend to take the trip. I hadn't planned on going until the last minute. Liz called Jorge and informed him of an opening they had on the tour for one more person so I jumped at the opportunity.

Jorge dropped me off at the home of Liz, her mother Eli, and Eli's mother. Liz has two teenage children, so there are four generations living together in one home. Incredible. The more incredible thing is that the great grandmother took the long trip with all of us as well. She is not in the greatest of shape, but she doesn't let any tourist on the property unless she is there too. I love it! A woman very strong of heart. I waited in their home until the small bus pulled up with the other travelers in tow. This included Linda from California, Erik and Caroline of Switzerland, Amanda from England, Neil and Ivette from Seattle, and Kathleen from the States as well. A great group of people that I am so glad to have met. I was the baby of the trip, so it was quite an experience for me just to be in the presence of such experienced and knowledgeable people. I spent the majority of the trip chatting with Linda, who was probably the easiest for me talk with. We made a short stop in Tarabuco to buy some fruit and check out a very gory statue before continuing on to la Candelaria.

The drive was stunning and mountainous/hilly. Pure countryside. At last we made it to the hacienda, and I was absolutely in love. It isn't in the best of shape, but it was certainly charming. Liz showed us all to our rooms. Mine was absolutely massive and held five beds. Linda had a room attached to mine that was much the same. We shared a bathroom, though I ended up getting it to myself as Linda was not a fan of the lack of running water. Haha. Our toilet wouldn't flush either. We were given a huge tub of water that was safe to use for face-washing and such things, but it also served as our toilet-flushing water. Linda opted for sharing a bathroom with the others. :) Understandably. That evening I was just laying down to sleep like a baby when I heard a scream from Linda's room. "Are you okay?" I shouted hesitantly from my bed. No reply. I quickly ran to my door and knocked, shouting again, "Linda, are you okay?!" That got a response at last. I opened the door to see her bed fallen to the ground. She crawled into her second choice of the five ancient beds and it collapsed beneath her! She opted for her original choice after that, but it was pretty much the equivalent of sleeping in a hammock. I am guessing Linda was happy to go back to a newer bed in her hostel last night. Not to rub it in, but I slept like a baby. Pitch black out in the countryside. Nothing better.

When we made it to the ranch, we had lunch pretty quick and got a tour of the property. The cutest part was walking out to the chesnut trees. I felt like we were living in an old-fashioned movie the whole stay. Sitting under the chestnut trees at sundown gazing into the horizon. Adorable. A very small portion the ranch is still used for farming and it still maintains various animals. The land reform in 1952 made the size of the ranch MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH smaller than it once was. The property was charming. After the quick tour we headed into the village.

In the village we entered the homes of some weavers. Tarabuco and the surrounding villages are famous for their amazing and intricate weavings. As we were walking, I talked with one of the local women that was walking with us. She had a spindle and some wool in her hand and was making thread with that. Her name is Sabina. I asked her if I could take a picture of her working, and after explaining that I would like to put it on the internet for the SeeVida project on Flickr, she was thrilled. Normally villagers don't want their picture taken even for money, but she was eager. I felt really honored to be able to speak with these women. They speak Quechua naturally, but also speak Spanish equally well. I didn't feel like a tourist once we got going. Once you talk to them all barriers are down. It is a great feeling. When we entered Sabina's home, I chose to buy a weaving from her. It was only part way done, but I thought that was cool. It will be a fun piece to have, and it felt personal buying it from her. I got a great photo with her and the purchase as well that will be posted on picasaweb. The other great thing about the trips that Liz runs here is that the tourists can barter and buy directly from the makers. There is a museum in Sucre that sells weavings. This has been a great thing because the tradition of weaving was turning into a lost art until the museum jumped in. It is cheaper for the villagers to buy American clothing instead of making their own. The bad thing about the museum is that they make a boatload of profit that doesn't all go to the weavers. Tourists with money buy a very expensive weaving at the museum instead of a cheaper one of same quality directly from the maker. I am not sure if the weavers know this or not. So it was nice to know that my money went directly to the producer, and that I actually met the producer. Much more intimate and real.

After walking the entire area of the village and talking with a few weavers, it got dark and we headed back to the property. I practiced my zampoña for a little bit while everyone else was relaxing with tea in the kitchen. At this time I met Karina, the daughter of one of the women living on the property. Karina was a cutie. She spoke Quechua, but she understood a little of my Spanish. She sat next to me while I practiced and played with a plant. A sweetie. After a while I felt a need to be social and take advantage of being able to speak in English, so I headed for the kitchen. My mother would absolutely die to have that kitchen in the bunkhouse! It was so cozy and intimate, and there was a great group of people to chat with. The dogs were running in and out, bothering the great-grandmother that was seated peacefully in a chair next to the stove. In one corner the grandmother was working on slicing carrots while chatting with us. All kinds of pots and pans were hanging on the walls, and the millions of delicious smells churning out from the pots cooking over the wood-burning stove distracted me from conversation. After having tea and eating another delicious meal, we all stayed in the kitchen and relaxed in conversation. Liz, the daughter/granddaughter, started talking about her experiences with politics in Bolivia and we were hooked. It was very interesting to hear Liz's side of the story in English. I haven't a clue how much time we spent in the kitchen, but it was great. Romantic.

We retired to our rooms and Linda's scream came just moments later. :) I think we all slept like babies, and I woke up around 6:30 the next morning. We planned breakfast for 8:30, so I washed my face and changed my clothes to take a walk around the charming property with camera in hand. By the time I made it back to my room, I was informed that Sabina had come with the weaving I promised to purchase. After speaking with her and getting a few Kodak Moments I sat in the kitchen with Neil and our bus driver to chat a while. Finally breakfast was ready and we all had a great time of it. None of us were apparently raised with dinner-table manners. Neil showed us how to split an apple in half with just bare hands the day before, so we of course had to start a tradition. At breakfast he split an unpeeled banana in half with bare hands, and then Ivette and Erik showed us their ways of cutting an apple into a puzzle. Amusing.

After breakfast we got a last little tour of the cathedral and the buildings where crops and grain are stored before packing up and heading off for Tarabuco. For some reason the hour drive to Tarabuco was far more incredible than I remembered it being the afternoon before. The land is just immense and impressive. So simple. We arrived near Tarabuco and did a little walk before arriving on the outskirts at the "donkey parking," as Liz put it exactly. Only in Bolivia. :) We spent a good hour walking through the famous Sunday market of Tarabuco. Every Sunday morning the people gather at the market to trade, buy, and sell their crops. After getting through all the food we wrapped around the town to the clothing and supply section of the market. As we got closer and closer to the town's center, the makings of a party were clear. There were small bands and dancers every so often, and as we wrapped around to the other side of town the market had ended. We followed the massive crowd and headed down to where the party was. Basically, there is a huge and dusty soccer field. In the center, is the Pukara. The Pukara is a very very tall structure to which the people tie cans of fruit, bottles of alcohols, streamers, and even a half of a cow was at the very top. So there were tall bleachers absolutely packed with people along one entire side of the area. The inside of the entire area was packed with different groups of dancers and bands, and of course with both fellow gringos and Bolivians. So pretty much everyone just stands there watching whichever group dancing. There were really only two types of dances there. The Pujllay is Tarabuco's famous dance, and also my favorite traditional Bolivian dance. The other one was the Tinkuy, but I only saw one group dancing the Tinkuy. The Tinkuy might be my second favorite Bolivian dance. At one point the vice-president flew in with helicopter and danced around the Pukara for a while. I was informed by Liz that he is a 'maricón,' which means gay. Apparently the people are quite amused by this, because I told Jorge he came and the first thing Jorge said was "the maricón?!" When it became unbearably hot and we had seen the basics, we headed to a building where Elie, Liz's mother, was cooking lunch for us. As usual, the meal was delicious. After yet another amusing meal, we had 45 minutes to walk through the market and make last-minute purchases of weavings or whatever. I purchased all kinds of pins in the hopes of being able to fill up my Rotary blazer before leaving Bolivia. I also ran into Robbie and Hannah. Robbie is the director of Los Masis, and Hannah is a German volunteer there. Both very nice people. Nice coincidence, but I am surprised I didn't see more people I knew there. The festival is huge now, and people go from all over Bolivia.

We put the great-grandmother on a cart and paid two children five pesos to push her uphill to the other side of town where our bus was waiting. That got a few glances. We headed out and I was starting to get a little bummed about the thought of having to go our separate ways. I really had a great trip, and it was nice for me to be able to speak with people that have been doing some real traveling. I was the baby of the trip, and I stayed quiet most of the time, but I soaked up every little thing these amazing adults had to say. Pretty fun and unique experience for me. We arrived to Sucre's main plaza, gave good-bye hugs, and I headed to Liz's and Elie's home to call a taxi. Soon after I made it home and started the task of editing photos. Simple as that. Nice short trip. Elie invited me to come back with her any weekend I want, so I will definitely be taking advantage of that offer.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

People Pleaser

I had a zampoña lesson the other day after an absence of two weeks. For some reason, I was nervous. I didn't realize I was nervous until I started shaking. René noticed. Neither of us could understand why I was nervous, so we kind of chatted for a long while. René is amazing. I understood all of what he had to say, but it made me sad. Very very sad. All of what he was expressing is a thing of the past for me. I once felt for music in the same way he does now. I still do feel the same for music, but I have put music out of my life for the past year. And that has proven to be a very good decision, although an accidental decision it may be. I never mentally decided, 'Enough with music. It will no longer be a part of my life.' That just kind of happened.

Without my music mentality, I have been really happy. I have discovered many things about myself. I have changed in ways that I still can't believe. I have changed for the better. I have found this sense of peace. I have lived the last few months of my life without worrying about the external things in life. I have discovered "self-referral," as Deepak Chopra puts it. Instead of seeking the approval from others, I have found approval within myself. I never had that once in my life before I made it to Bolivia. This is a very powerful thing. When I started zampoña lessons here, I was doing very well. I didn't make perfection my goal. I wasn't looking for praise. I wasn't ever trying to please my teacher. I was just in it for the fun. And with that new mindset, the praise came anyway. It came more than it ever came when I was doing music in high school. More than when I was trying so hard to please everyone in the first place. When I quit worrying about things outside myself, everything around me improved. I quit trying to control everything. I quit trying to control the reactions I got out of people. Hell, I quit even caring if I got a reaction at all.

I lost this powerful way of thinking in my lesson the other day though. I think I know why. René started that amazing talk about music. He doesn't know my past with music. He has no idea how much I just wanted to sit there and cry. Cry because I understand everything he was talking about. Cry because I really do miss being able to sit in the band room and practice alone until 11:30 on a school night. Cry because he is so inspiring to me and he doesn't even know it. Every little thing he said held some place in my heart, but I forgot about those things until he reminded me. He dredged up some old feelings that I thought I had put behind me. After crying myself to sleep that night, I woke up pretty hideous the next morning. And I felt pretty crappy all day. But I didn't let it get the best of me as I would have done before Bolivia. I just kept myself busy. I thought a lot. And I organized my thoughts, thanks to my mother and a good friend. I left from volunteering the next morning and felt really happy. I had forgotten about my worries while I was working with those children.

I think that I was nervous because I was trying to please René. I lost my new mindset in that instant. Instead of being just something goofy to do while in Bolivia, zampoña turned into something more serious for me. I wanted to play really well, and I wanted René to recognize that. I was searching for his praise because he turned into something more special for me. René became someone more important thatn just 'my zampoña teacher.' He is René now. He is a person I am happy to be acquainted wiht. He is a person whose thoughts I understand. He is a person I want to keep in my life. He is a person I want to make happy. So with that change, everything fell apart. I just tried too hard.

So I know I love music. I know that I can't force it out of my life, but it can no longer be the focal point of my life either. I have officially made the decision to put music behind me, and I am happy with that decision. I have no plans to pursue music. Before Bolivia, that confused me. If I wasn't going to pursue music, what would I do?! Oh my goodness! I have no future! But now I do have a future. And it is really positive. I was introduced to a great new major called Global Resource Systems. In short, I get to help the world with that major, and I am really excited. Through volunteering with some amazing children, I have realized how selfish I have been all my life. I spent four years of high school positively hysterical. I never once did anything to help anyone else. I was constantly planning my future and thinking only of myself. That is so horrible. Here, I have actually experienced the beauty of helping others instead of just thinking about helping others and believing that made me a good enough person. Now, I feel like I really am a good person, and I want to keep that feeling for the rest of my life. Before, I was sad about leaving music behind, because I never saw an alternative. I felt confused and lost. Now, I have an alternative. And it is really great. I am excited. I am not confused. I can have music in my life, but I can't let it rule my life. I can't always be searching for praise. Instead of searching for praise, I am now giving praise. I am not quite so selfish. It feels amazing.

In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, it is stated that being "immune to criticism" is a good thing. I agree. My only problem is that it was never mentioned that being immune to praise might be a good thing as well. I believe that as soon as I quit searching for praise in all my relationships, I will truly find peace. When I quit worrying about the approval of others, "there is an absence of fear, there is no compulsion to control, and no struggle for approval or external power." When I do that, the approval comes naturally.

So I woke up this morning and was refreshed. I can't explain it. I always say that I am high on life when I get really happy and giggly with my close friends. Right now, I really mean that quite literally. I sat at the computer this morning and simply existed. My mind was quiet. I didn't want to be at the computer. I didn't want anything exterior to tamper with my frame of mind. so I just sat there all empty and such. I felt blissful. Simplistic. I experienced "infinite silence." And then I emailed Brad Bonner to tell him I am high on life. :) Then I realized this morning would be the perfect time to start reading Deepak Chopra's book. I was feeling all loopy and philosophical. I was in the right frame of mind for a little deep thinking. so I thought. Then I put some of those thoughts into this blog. And now I am just happy and content.

I think this blog has been really great for me. Writing my feelings has always been so much easier than saying them. It feels less personal and less intimidating. I am not afraid to be completely honest in my blog. Probably because I know I won't break down crying half way through it. :) I don't feel pressured to express my feelings in a different way as I would if I were saying this face-to-face with someone. I simply say what I feel and then hope later that you won't think I am insane. And if you do think I am insane, then go right ahead. I'll feel good all the same.

I also want to say that I think self-help books are a really funny thing. I believe they are only truly useful to those that have already experienced what the book has to offer. Such books serve merely as guidance along the way to awesomeness if you are already on that path. Every time I start to feel awesome and learn some of life's mysteries, I usually whip out the philosophy. Only at those times do I really understand what a book is talking about. If I have experienced it already. The books really just organize what I am already experiencing. I think very few people pick up a self-help book and decide to make changes according to that book. You gotta do that stuff for yourself. Plus, we're all too skeptical to really believe what a self-help book has to say until you experience it anyway. They are like infomercials. And who doesn't love laughing at infomercials? They are full of caca half the time.

Also, and I only half-apologize for being so blunt, but if I ever go through 9 months of pregnancy, the pain of pushing 8 pounds out of my vagina, and then raising that 8 pounds, I am shipping that 8 pounds out on a Rotary Youth Exchange as soon as that 8 pounds is of age. And that 8 pounds shall be required to do volunteerism. I refuse to bring another selfish human being into this world.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

February Randomness 2.

Bolivian mothers. I have reached the conclusion that all Bolivian mothers are certifiably insane. I love my Viviana--I really do, but I would go insane if I had to live here for my entire childhood. I am sure of it. Bolivian mothers are very strict know-it-alls. I am a know-it-all as well, so we often clash. Thankfully, I have learned the art of agreeing even when you don't truly agree. This art keeps me sane. I finally reached my conclusion after speaking with Laura at our Rotary meeting last Friday. I knew my mom was nuts, but the combination of Laura's mom and grandmother takes the cake. A couple months back, I only ate soup for lunch as my stomach was a bit queasy. Vivi told me it was from eating chocolate. I knew this was not so as I had not eaten chocolate all that week, but I simply agreed with her anyway. A fight I was not going to win, and it wouldn't have mattered if I won it anyway. So lunch ended and I grabbed a tiny little cherry twenty minutes later as I head upstairs to see what everyone is up to. As soon as Abus sees me, she laughs and accuses me of eating "more chocolate!" I defended myself this time and showed her that it was an innocent piece of fruit. At that, Vivi jumped on board. She said that cherries are bad for your stomach and that I shouldn't be eating it. Sorry, but one stinking cherry is not going to do anything to my stomach! Yet again, I just nodded my head and walked away to eat my cherry in peace. As with everything, it is my fault in Viv's eyes. Got a cold? Well, that is because you walk around the house in sandals. Your stomach hurts? Well, that is because you ate one piece of chocolate. When I got my ear infection, I didn't tell her my ear hurt until she was going to the pharmacy one day and asked me about my symptoms. After I told her the full extent of my cold and misery, she got mad and asked me why on Earth I didn't tell her about the pain?! Well, Vivi, judging from past events, you would have just told me the pain was my fault. so instead of complaining to you about my ear pain and having to hear your excuse for why it is my fault, I just chose to keep quiet. So as you can see, my Bolivian is hilariously harsh. I can laugh about it, though it doesn't seem so after having read all this. This paragraph is the release of nearly 7 months of keeping quiet, so I know it must seem sassy. I find humor in it however, and I do love Viviana. After all, she is a Bolivian mother. A different cookie.

I did mention Laura's host mother and grandmother earlier, but I just got so swept up in my rantings about Vivi that I forgot. Laura told me some great stories the other evening. We both feel like we are walking on pins in our homes when it comes to our mothers. The other night, Laura's mom was baking. laura wanted to help add some sugar, and her mom reluctantly allowed it. Her mother, Rosemary, is a magnificent baker and takes it very seriously. As the got going along, the recipe wasn't looking quite right. Rosemary asked Laura if she was feeling jealous about anything. Laura, understandably confused at the randomness of this question, simply answered no. rosemary proceeded to explain that her real daughter is a very jealous person, and whenever she is in the kitchen while Rosemary bakes nothing turns out. so therefore, jealous people can't bake and their presence ruins anything someone else might be baking. Laura was taken aback at how serious Rosemary was when she asked Laura to leave the room until she finished baking. I still can't believe it. Is that the craziest thing you have ever heard?!

This story moves on to Blunkie, Laura's grandmother. so Laura bought a different tea the other night and offered some to Blunkie. Blunkie asked if Laura had ever consumed that tea before. Apparently, Blunkie had a friend that drank the same exact tea all her life. One day she tried a different tea and her insides literally ate her alive and she died. So Blunkie has concluded that drinking any tea other than that which she has been consuming all her life will kill her. No worries, I assure you all that Laura is alive and well. The great thing about Blunkie is that you can argue with her. She is stubborn and you will always lose, but you can have a hilarious argument anyway without offending her. With Viv, you just shut your mouth and go on with life. Bolivian mothers.

And now I will round out this post with the quickies. One day, Oriana and I went to a museum. As we were leaving, we saw a very old indigenous woman walking down the sidewalk. She was obviously blind as she kept walking into a corner of a building that jutted out into the sidewalk. I was going to keep going, but Oriana stopped without a thought. She grabbed the woman's arm and started asking where she wanted to go. The woman did not understand as she spoke Quechuan, but thankfully there was a man nearby that spoke Quechuan and gladly took over. Ori and I continued on, but only five steps later I stopped and started crying. I just stood there dumbfounded and stared at Oriana. "Oriana! You are such a good person. You are the only person I know that would ever do that!" I was saying this all while literally sobbing. Then I just kept laughing and sobbing at the same time like I always do when I cry for no reason. She kept laughing hysterically and giving me hugs as I just stood there and cried and laughed. It was positively hilarious. Ori is an amazing woman. Just a good person at heart.

I forgot to post a random detail from a few months ago. As we were driving through cities on our drive to Chile, I kept seeing cows and all kinds of animals on leashes attached to stakes in the ground. It was just like we would do with our dogs in the back yard. I think this is goofy. A cow on a leash.

The weather here has been pretty awesome lately. Right now we are currently making up for the lack of rain earlier on in this rainy season. It rained all yesterday evening, all through the night, and all through the morning. It finally let up to sprinkling off and on this afternoon. Anyway, I went upstairs to the computer to do some work and opened the big window. It was unusually cold out. The coldest it has been here yet. Then I looked and thought it was snowing. It was a very strange rain. Like a very heavy falling mist. The strange combination of cold and unusual rain reminded me of winter. It was kind of a heartwarming feeling. I will shut my mouth now as I can imagine what you all are thinking. Heheh! You are all suffering a horrible Iowa winter and I am enjoying the rain. Hah! I love it.

Mayra, the maid, is absolutely hilarious. She is seventeen, married, and a mother of a two-year-old boy. I haven't even had my first kiss, and she has a kid! Whoa. Anyway, we were making huminitas last week. Huminita is one of my favorite foods here. It is made with mashed choclo(white bolivian corn that looks like it is hopped up on steroids) and ahí and yummy cheese made in Sucre. The mashed product gets dumped into the center of a boiled husk and wrapped neatly. By tearing leftover husks lengthwise and tying the ends together, I helped make strings to hold the wrapped husks shut as the huminita was cooked. It was kind of a fun afternoon. I snapped a few pictures that will show up on sometime in the near future. I adore Mayra. The other day she was laughing at Jorgito as he drew for a homework assignment. I couldn't help but laugh right along. She was just so funny! It felt great to laugh that hard. And we couldn't stop. Oh Mayra. What a sweetie.

Last item. The earthquake in Chile. No, the earthquake was not felt here in Bolivia. I wish it were though. How cool it would be to experience an earthquake, though not of a dangerous extent of course. I could not stop thinking about myt vacation to Chile just months earlier. I do not believe Iquique was really affected as it was so far north, but I still have all these images in my mind of Jorgito and me following the Tsunami Evacuation signs and running up the side of a sand dune in terror.

That is all I've got for this month. It has been a crazy month with Carnaval and being sick and getting started with all my activities, but I am ready to get organized again. I am over my cold and ear infection, and this coming week should go fine...if I don't take Bus F. :)

Happy birthday, Mother! Enjoy your red velvet cake for me.

February Randomness 1.

Is it really the end of February? Time must be kidding me. It is officially decided when I will be coming home. June 9. Once March 9 rolls around in just over one week, I will have exactly three months left here. Craziness. This month has been pretty chaotic, so the title of this post is fitting. I have all kinds of random stories to tell. Some are longer, and some are short. I will cover the lengthier stories in this post and then follow up in a second post with the short quickies. I find many of them to be quite amusing, so enjoy. I am sure I will love reading this post years down the road and laughing affectionately.

First item on the list is my schedule. Every morning at 8:15 I go to aerobics with my Aunt Elena. She is an absolute riot, and the class is very enjoyable. The teacher was a total jerk my first week because I have gotten so darned fat that I couldn't do anything. I am kicking some tushy now and he at least acknowledges my presence. The class is full of middle-aged to older women mostly, with a couple girls and guys mixed in. Elena just talks up a storm withall the other ladies, which infuriates the teacher even though he secretly adores them. So aerobics is great, and I think some ab action might actually be visual now. Miracles! From aerobics, I walk to do volunteerism with physically and mentally handicapped children until noon every day.

This form of volunteerism is like nothing I have ever done in my life. It is hard to see sometimes, but then there are moments that just make me so happy. One of the kids I work with is named Heyde, and her name sounds much like mine when everyone says it. She is my favorite. She is probably 3 years old and in a wheelchair for reasons I am not sure of. She can't talk and has limited and spastic control over her body. She is by far the most intelligent child there, even though she can't speak or do normal things like many of the other children. She understands every single word and can respond with nods. The girly knows what she wants. She likes this plastic toy that is basically a tapered cylinder that sits upright. Eight different-colored rings of varying diameters all rest in their perfect sport around the cylinder. Not one of the other kids with normal brain function and coordination ever stacks the rings properly. Heyde, however, gets it spot on. I take all the rings off the cylinder for her and place them around her. She points at the biggest one since she is unable to reach them. Purposely, I grab one of the smaller ones. She gets angry every time I do that. So I hand her the one she wanted in the first place and help her lift it up to the top of the cylinder. From there it falls off her hand and fits perfectly where it belongs. We do that until we get all 8 rings on, and she does it perfectly. She absolutely lights up when a ring falls back into place. The other day she reminded me of when Courtney Sorensen and I are together and laughing for no reason. Heyde laughs at everything. Her smile just makes me want to melt with affection. She is so intelligent and amazing and happy. With volunteerism and aerobics, my mornings are busy.

In the afternoons I still have zampoña lessons, and that is going great. I sit on the front steps of Jorge's office downtown every afternoon at 5:45 to practice. Then at 6:30 every night I simply walk down the block a few doors and go to paint lessons. I am just getting started on an oil painting of one of the photos I took down in the valley. It is fun, and I already met a nice guy named Jaime. He is just one year older than me and going to the university here. We have fun chatting and learning random things from eachother. Though I am not attending school here, my days are busy. I enjoy it, but this month has been very chaotic and I can't wait to get back on schedule for this week. Life should be pretty tame for the month of March.

I recently started utilizing public transportation here. I always preferred to call taxis before, but they do get quite expensive for a girly on a budget. Now I just walk five minutes from the house to catch a bus. As I am new to the bus system, I have had some ups and downs figuring it all out. I have been sick the last couple weeks and generally feeling exhausted and down. This affects a persons common sense, and the other evening I had zero common sense whatsoever. So I walk to the bus stop near my home, and I hopped on Bus F. I had never taked Bus F previously, but I knew it would have to pass the market at the city's center at some point, so I hopped on anyway. I had only taken Bus 1 before that evening, and it takes a straight route for the market. Well, Bus F doesn't do that. It curves all over the city before it gets to the market. I was already running late for my paint lesson and was not too thrilled about having taken Bus F. So we finally make it to the market, and instead of getting off and walking six blocks, I chose to continue going a little ways. I figured it would just make a big loop around the city center, and if it went in the opposite direction I could always jump off before it was too late. So I kept going and the bus started looping just like I expected. We got to the other side of the center and I was just two short blocks away from my destination. What did I do? Well, I kept going of course! Again, I figured it would take a turn and just go to the other side of my location and be only one block away, and if it didn't do just that then I could jump off. So we kept going, but we turned the opposite direction. For some reason, I just didn't get off. I kept going and going and going. We kept climbing up this steep hill and it was getting dark. The people just kept piling off and no one got on. This worried me when we got clear to the top of the hill and the last person got off. After trying to explain my situation to the bus driver, he just got all grouchy and cantankerous and told me to get off. So here is a blonde foreigner in a not-so-safe neighborhood in the dark and stranded. At first I started sobbing, but I stopped literally 2 seconds later. I just chuckled. I knew exactly where I was. I simply covered my goldie lockes with my scarf and walked the straight path down to the city center. Everything was fine, and I made it to my paint hour late. I didn't even stay for painting and rather walked to the supermarket to buy milk and cereal. From there I called a cab home. Summation: I sat on a smelly, crowded bus for 45-50 minutes. Then I walked for 25 minutes. Then I talked to my paint teacher and left without even doing what I came to town for in the first place. Then I bought food. Then I sat in a stupid, expensive cab for 15 minutes thinking about a bowl of cereal. That was a ridiculous evening. And the blame rests with me because I was too dumb to just get off the bus and walk. I was sick, tired, and not in the right frame of mind. Bummer. It was pretty funny though. I shall remain an advocate of smelly public transportation, but I wil never take Bus F again.

This next story is priceless. I just want to die laughing right now. As a prelude to the story, you must know what locotos are. A locoto is a very very very very very hot pepper, and we have a big bowl of them sitting in our fridge. So anyway, yesterday afternoon Vivi and Jorge were next door at a party. I was working at the computer while Jorgito watched television in his room. He kept crying and randomly hollering, so I went and asked him what was wrong. "My eyes burn!" He kept saying that while sobbing and kicking and hollering and rubbing his eyes. After asking him if he wanted me to get Vivi, he just said no and assured me he would be fine. Okay, so I went back to work. Five seconds later he was hollering even harder. I went next door for Vivi and she talked to him for a bit. I comforted Jorgito while Vivi went downstairs to get warm tea-water for him. At that point, he calmed down a lot and even opened his eyes to watch television. He noticed how I was looking at him, so he started kicking again an dpretended like his eyes were shut while he watched television. He was being a kid at this point, and I knew it. Vivi came back up and, of course, he started panicking and crying again as she rubbed his eyes with water and put in eye drops. Throughout that process, Vivi kept asking Jorgito if he had rubbed the locotos in his eyes. Side Note: I once watched Jorgito rub salsa in his eyes to be macho when he had a bunch of friends over. It wasn't strong and didn't hurt though. Jorgito had a friend over that morning, and I was certain he had done that same thing with the locotos. He denied it every time Vivi asked, but not whole-heartedly. When he calmed down, Vivi smelled his hands. She knew Jorgito had touched the locotos. Jorgito knew that Vivi knew so. At that point Jorgito just got really quiet. He no longer refused, but he didn't own up to it either. He just shrugged everything off. I had to leave the room at this point because I was going to laugh. And I did just that. Jorgito had rubbed the locotos in his eyes, and I knew it. How hysterical is that?! Everything about this story screams 'child.' Every little detail has something adorably childish about it. The great thing for me though is that I understand all of Jorgito's childish quirks. He is exactly like me. This is probably the funniest thing that has happened to me all year. I will never forget this. I will be sure to remind Jorgito of it ten years down the road when he learns to handle some good old-fashioned joking around. Geez, I love that kid to death.

I think that covers all the lengthy stories for this month. Priceless. Check out February Randomness 2 for the quickies.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rough Day.

Oh. My. Sweet. Jesus. Yesterday afternoon was almost as bad as waking up at 1:30 a.m. with this rotton ear infection. For that reason, I feel it is worthy of telling and remembering.

I took the day before yesterday and yesterday morning to stay in bed and recoup from a bummer cold, and though bedrest didn't help at all, I set out mentally refreshed for the afternoon. I had much to accomplish and I was determined to be cheery about it. In my cheeriness I slipped on my floor-length white cotton skirt and a bright green racer-backed tank top. Though the combo of that outfit and my long, curly blonde lockes screams tourist, it makes me feel happy and free. I headed for town with Jorge after lunch excited for my zampona lesson, but my teacher never showed up. After calling him with no answer, I left 15 minutes after my arrival and walked to a shop for art materials I would need for paint class that evening.

The art shop was closed, but I opted to wait there a while with my spare time. I noticed something weird about everyone while waiting. They were staring at me like they always do, but this afternoon it was more of a probe. Everyone turned their heads whether they were walking past me or on a bus. They didn't whistle as usual, but just look perplexed. Sometimes they chuckled and grinned amongst eachother when in groups or pairs. I simply could not figure it out. I knew I looked pretty touristy, but there are all kinds of tourists in Sucre. I started to become a bit self-conscious, but decided I didn't particularly care. Eventually, I noticed a younger man walking down the sidewalk toward me. He was kinda gorgeous actually. He walked past me with that weird probe, but then he suddenly turned around. "Te acompano?" he says. "Que?" "Te acompano. You want company?" "No. Gracias." I was caught off guard at first and didn't understand him. So here is little miss blondie getting hit on by some creeper guy that won't go away. He doesn't take no for an answer, so he whips out a silver chain necklace from nowhere and asks me again if I want company while muttering some other things I am sure I should be glad I didn't understand. This time I am terse, and a little disgusted. "NO. Chau! " I couldn't even throw in a 'gracias' at that point. After saying 'chau(goodbye)' a few times, he finally got the signal. Well, sort of. He had to caress a strand of my hair and give me that nasty nod before taking off in the other direction. I was absolutely disgusted. He kept glancing back before he leaned against the crutch of a short tree and urinated as random people walked past. All I could do at that point was laugh. Eeew! What a creeper. So at that point I just convinced myself that everyone's stares were because they liked my touristy outfit--enough to caress my hair and give me silver jewelry anyway. I don't really care either way, but I am probably not going to wear that skirt again.

Finally!, the store owner showed up and I made it in and out as a happy woman, though she didn't have one item on my list. From there, I had plans to go meet Wonderful Laura at the tennis courts. From there, she was going to accompany me to the doctor. Thanks to Carnaval and being soaking wet 5 days straight, I had a pretty miserable could. This cold recently turned into a very painful and exhausting ear infection that was keeping me up at night. For that reason, I chose to go to the doctor at last. Laura gladly said yes when I asked her to go with me. She had already been to the same doctor and knew how to get there, and plus I just wanted someone to be my mother for the afternoon. We made it to the office of Dr. Luiz Angel Diaz del Castillo and all went well. He put in some ear drops and we chatted for awhile. Thankfully, Laura and I get him for free as he is a Rotary member. I think he is more helpful than any Rotarian here. I love the man! Anyway, he wrote down a prescription and told me very specifically what to do with it. I was to take that prescription to a specific pharmacy and purchase that exact medicine. The expected cost was 70 bolivianos. With the receipt of that purchase AND his prescription, I was to go to a different pharmacy and receive two free pills. Well, Laura and I left happily from his office, but I am sure you can already guess that the happiness wasn't maintained.

After leaving his office, we headed for the pharmacies. I just chose the pharmacist I always go to and told her I needed three pills of the exact medicine in the prescription. I made this very clear, just as Dr. Diaz made it clear to me. She gave me the medicine for 20 bolivianos. Now of course, you are thinking 'Hmmm, it was supposed to cost 70 bolivianos.' Well, you are smart. I am not. That thought didn't really cross my mind. I thought I simply got lucky, so I purchased the pills and thanked her graciously for the cheaper price. Dr. Diaz told me to take one of the pills right away after I purchased them, so I did just that as Laura and I set off for the other pharmacy with receipt in hand. Of course, there we were told that the medicine I was given was NOT the exact medicine on the prescription. No free pills for me. So Laura and I had to traipse all the way back across town to find the right pharmacist and spend 70 bolivianos more before I could get those two free pills. We did just that. The only problem now was that I had already taken one of the wrong pills. This meant that I had to call Dr. Diaz for the third time that afternoon and ask him what to do. I was humiliated by my stupidity and simply exhausted. As we left the pharmacy, I walked right out into the street without looking and almost got my butt run over by one unhappy cab driver. That really lifted my spirits. I almost got run over! Woohoo! For some reason, I laughed about it and ran to the other side of the street, but it caught up with me a few seconds later. I was teary-eyed over my stupidity and exhausted from my cold, ear infection, and having to walk all over the entire city while people stared at me obnoxiously. Finally, we found the correct pharmacy and bought the exact same pills as the prescription. With that receipt, we started the trek back to the second pharmacy. I was grouchy, irritated, and sad, and I was getting some really strong gut pain. I let everything get to me, and I was just mentally out of it at that point.

Laura knew I had reached my limit, so she decided food was the cure. She offered to buy me my favorite orange cake from the market even though I had no desire to eat with this new gut pain. We took a side trip through the very busy and notoriously dangerous market in search of my cake before going for those two free pills. Somewhere along there, I noticed my coin purse was missing. That irritated me even more. Only minutes later, I noticed my cell phone was missing too. That really irritated me. After going through every item in my bag, I knew I had been robbed. We stood on the other side of the market and I just felt defeated. Me and my stupid skirt. Me and my stupid exhausted self. I put those things in an outside pocket of my bag which does not close. I deserved to be robbed. I was a stupid tourist. Somehow, Wonderful Laura made me forget about it and we kept on toward the pharmacy.

From this point, we made it to the pharmacy and got those two free pills after running around all afternoon. It was getting late though, and I was relying on a ride home from Jorge. Laura and I headed for his office, and I would have called and asked him to wait, but for obvious reasons that was not an option. Thankfully, he was staying late that night. We walked in while he and Jorgito were talking on Skype with Majo. I put on a happy face at that point. Somewhere along there, two of my awesome aunts came into the office. I had to explain that I lost my phone to one of them, and they expressed that to Jorge before I even had a chance to tell him, and then I had to explain the whole afternoon, and then I just gave up. I started crying. Of course they were all smiling, which is why I love them. I love my aunts Rosario and Elena for their love and compassion, and Jorge fits in there too. We were all just kind of sitting there and laughing as I explained the afternoon through teary eyes.

I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep. I knew I had a paint lesson to go to that night, but that was the last thing on my mind. Plus, I didn't even have all my materials! Ugh. During the ride home I was fine mentally, but I just randomly burst into tears every so often. Every time I cry over stupid things, I laugh just as much. I suppose it is because I know how ridiculous my tears are most of the time, and I don't want anyone else to take my tears seriously. So I laughed and I cried, and I finally went to bed and expected some sound sleep with my new meds.

Oh boy was that a bad assumption. That was the worst night of sleep yet. I woke up at some random time(I wasn't sure what time because I didn't have a cell phone to check) with the worst ear pain yet, some really really strong stomach pains, and I was freezing cold while sweating at the same time. Ick. I think I spent more time in the bathroom that night than I did in my bed, but I will spare you all the wonderful details of that. At some point, I must have just become too exhausted by all of that misery that I finally fell back asleep while seated upright in my bed. What a horrible and lonely night. This brings me to this morning, in which I chose to stay in bed and sleep. And sleep I did. Like a rock.

This afternoon I made a trip back to the doctor. He just smiled when I told him how horrible my night was. The antibiotics kicked my butt harder than the actual infection I think. After giving me some more ear drops and chatting a bit more, I left his office happy to know that I didn't have anything else to do. I hopped on a bus, made it home, and was thrilled at the smell of home-made huminitas. Nothing better than yummy warm food to cheer me up. :) I think right now I shall go eat another one before taking my splendid antibiotics for the evening.

So that was my horrible afternoon. I still haven't found much positive in it. I did learn a lesson, so I suppose that counts as something positive. Actually, 2 lessons. Number One: Don't dress like a stupid tourist. Number Two: Don't let one bad thing get a grip on you. I let one crummy moment get to me, and it just started a snowball effect. I gave up. I felt defeated. I was defeated. Everything bummer thing about that afternoon was my fault because I was being lazy both physically and mentally.

Thank goodness I enjoy writing. I think now I can put that afternoon behind me and laugh about it. Now I just have to buy a phone and borrow Jorgito's for my alarm clock. :) And it would be nice if I could sleep decently tonight, but either way I will try to make tomorrow a better day. And now I sign off to eat a delightful huminita.

But I forgot one thing...Laura. She is my Wonderful Soccer-Mom Laura. Thank you Laura for taking the role of mommy that afternoon. She had a boatload of homework to do, but put it off for me instead. Though the afternoon sucked royally, it was nice to have someone there to share the misery with. Gracias, Laura!

Okay. My huminita!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I couldn’t really tell you the official dates for Carnaval, as it was really more of a month-long party. Carnaval happens in places all over the world, and in various cities in Bolivia. The most famous is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the best in Bolivia is in Oruro. Sucre’s carnaval floats my boat just fine though. About 3 weeks before Carnaval really starts, all the teenagers celebrate by throwing water balloons. Everyone avoids walking near the main plaza after 4:00 in the afternoon, as that is when the kids get out of school. It doesn’t matter who you are, you get wet. It was worse for me as my blond hair and pale skin is an easy target, but it is all in good fun. Once Carnaval really begins, everyone goes to the streets with alcohol in hand and marches all afternoon with a band in small groups. It took us about 45 minutes to cross town one day because you simply have to wait for all the slowly-moving bands, but that is the norm and there was no complaining. For about two weeks before the festivities, you can see vendors on every single street corner filling and selling water balloons. But if you are smart, you buy a water gun so you can get people wet in cars as they drive by with their windows down. So pretty much you drink, you dance, and you get wet during Carnaval.

The first official day of Carnaval was a Thursday called Comadres, in which there are big parties in town for only women or teenagers. I went with a group of friends and ended up seeing about every single girl that I went to school with here. A hotel hosted the party and we basically stood in a pool all afternoon with our clothes and shoes on while dancing and drinking ‘Leche de Tigre,’ which translates to ‘Tiger’s Milk.’ Tiger’s Milk is an alcoholic beverage only served during Carnaval. It consists of Singani(an alcohol unique to Bolivia), egg, milk, and something else I can’t remember. It is actually pretty tasty, though I didn’t partake in any excessive consumption of alcohol for this festival. ;) Around 7:30, the parties leave to the streets to dance to the plaza with a band. I was honestly a little terrified at one point because a bunch of rowdy girls, too much alcohol, music, and tight spaces makes for a not-so-great situation. It was kind of scary being pushed so hard into a hall that I wasn’t even using any effort to stay upright anymore. I was just limp, packed into a hall of drunk girls while waiting to get to the street. When we finally got to the street, every guy in town was waiting to throw water balloons at us. It probably took us two hours to dance two blocks to the plaza, or at least it felt like two hours since I got the duty of looking after my drunk friend. I had drunk people telling me to take care of a drunk person. Whatever. It was an experience, but I was very greatful for Comadres to reach its end.

I slept like a rock that night, and it was necessary to prepare for the rest of the weekend. I walked into town Friday afternoon, but that was a stupid choice. Friday must have been the festival day for the guys, and staying dry was not an option. I had no choice but to walk through the main street where all the partying was to get to my destination. Every 5 seconds for 10 blocks I was pelted with water balloons. A few times I was doused by buckets of water from windows above the street. I walked right through a partying crowd and one guy flat out asked, “hey gringa, can I get you wet?!” Of course I said no and grimaced, knowing full well he would soak me no matter what my response. And he did in fact soak me. Whatever. I finally got to my destination but was completely soaked. Oh well, that is Carnaval.

On Saturday, the family and I headed over to the old/ancient family farm where Jorge and his brother are working on building an apartment building together. This was the second of two parties we have had in honor of his building. It is called a Challa in Quechuan, which is intended to bring good luck on the building. We at chicharron by hand with all the workers and family members. After eating, the hose came out. Everyone but Abu were soaking wet. Vivi lit up once she got Jorgito’s water gun in hand. I soaked Jorge, and it was well-deserved. Everyone was soaking wet and drunk by the time the band came. I was really happy to see most of the members were playing zamponas, but Jorge made me play. This made me cringe a little bit as the tubes were covered in green spit from their chewing coca leaves. It was nasty, but I tried anyway and failed miserably. At some point, a few workers decided they wanted to dance. I was among the few ladies present at the party, and the only with blonde hair. I danced with ONE guy and refused the rest. I do kind of like doing traditional dances though, but I wasn’t going to dance with 25 different workers. I searched for Jorgito and his friend after dancing and saw them jabbing some long stick at something. I headed over and discovered they were trying to kill 6 little frogs. I was mad and told them to stop it, but then I remembered they were little kids. They promised they would stop, but they went right back to it as soon as I left. I don’t understand how a kid can hate frogs. I remember when I used to go swimming in the creek on the farm and I loved the millions of tiny frogs that it was full of. Whatever. That was a fun afternoon. The building is on the 6th floor and they only have 6 more to go. We headed back home after that to rest well one more night in preparation for the next day’s party. You must be wondering how many party’s I went to. A lot.

On Sunday we headed to Yotala where our family friends, Maricelo and Monica, have a cottage. It was pretty much the same exact party as the day before, but in a different place. There were lots of children, so it was quite fun for them. Late afternoon, the water fight really began, but the young children had already changed into dry clothes. They thought that meant they were officially off limits, but they thought wrong. Jorgito kept spraying me with his water gun, so I grabbed him to throw him in the kiddy pool. I wasn’t really going to do it, and I set him back down when he started yanking on my hair. 5 seconds later, a friend told me to grab his arms while he got the legs and we made a nice, dry Jorgito one very angry little boy. He marched off with the biggest frown I have ever seen. I felt horrible, but of course Jorgito was over it in 5 minutes. Everyone but the mothers were soaked that afternoon. They were chickens and stayed inside. We headed out yet again in hopes of a good night’s rest to prepare for…….? Another party! Imagine that.

On Monday, we drove down to the valley where my aunt Sandra has their cottage. I had a bit of a rough start. We were lazing around when Jorgito sprayed me in the back again. After the same thing yesterday, I decided to throw him in the pool again. I mean, my friend justified doing so yesterday when he told me to grab his arms. It was fine to do so judging from yesterday’s events, right? Apparently not. This pool was a bit deeper, and I learned very quickly that Jorgito doesn’t really know how to swim. It was fine. He just grabbed my hand and I pulled him out really quick, even though he was sobbing into Jorge’s arms immediately afterward. I was confused why nobody said anything. It wasn’t at all a fast process, and Viviana or Jorge could easily have said NO. If you know me well, you know how horrible I felt after that. I punished myself with my own guilt, but moved on eventually. Jorgito was fine, and he even trusted me to teach him how to swim that same afternoon. Life moves on. The rest of the afternoon went well. There were a couple other girls there my age that I got along well with. We walked to the river and swam there a bit. It was great. I got a pretty bad sunburn, but this time I didn’t peel. I am one tan woman now. Good afternoon, and I was glad all seemed well after the incident with Jorgito.

Once again we slept like rocks for the LAST day of Carnaval. I woke up Tuesday morning exhausted. Vivi came down early and asked if we could talk. That is always a bad sign. I will NEVER forget what she said. Ever. “Hayley, a mi no me gustado NADA de lo que has hecho ayer.” She said it in her strictest voice and with a pointed finger. That translates to ‘Hayley, I didn’t like what you did yesterday ONE BIT.’ It was absolutely terrifying. I immediately started crying. I knew she was referring to throwing Jorgito in the pool. All she said after that was that she knows I have never had a younger sibling, and that if he is bothering me then I need to tell her and not throw him in the pool. She left as quickly and surprisingly as she came. That was the end of it to her, but I was sobbing and hyperventilating in my room for the next half hour. I went to wash the dishes and had to stop and dry my hands after every dish because I kept crying and had to wipe the tears away. After thinking a bit, I calmed down. I know realize this was my first real encounter with a culture difference. She is a strict, loving Bolivian mother. She did not know how it went down the day before in Yotala, and she can’t read my mind. I am new to Carnaval. After the previous day, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to throw him in the pool. I did not know he couldn’t swim. And nobody told me to stop because they didn’t think I would do it anyway. I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt for what happened, but I do feel really bad even though it was intended to be fun. Jorgito had to have been terrified. For the first time, I had to just suck up what Vivi had to say. I know I am not in the wrong, but she doesn’t understand everything the way I understood it. This was a learning experience. A tough one. We never said a word about the incident after that morning, and continued with the day just fine.

That same day, the whole family gathered at the Casa Rodriguez for one last day of partying. There was food, there was family, there was water, there was alcohol, and there was music. We left to the streets and danced around the plaza and called it a day after that. Everyone went their separate ways to wind down before going back to work the next day. I was exhausted. 5 days of being completely soaked is just too much for me. I slept like a rock and was one grouchy lady. That was enough of Carnaval for me, and I am happy to be back on a regular schedule. It was good experience, and I say that if I ever make it back to Bolivia some day it will be during Carnaval.

I forgot to mention the day I finally found someone to go throw water balloons with. None of my girl friends wanted to go, but I finally ran into one of the guys I graduated with. We planned an afternoon of it and I had a blast. I missed the testosterone. We met up at Juan Pablo’s house to fill water balloons and headed to the plaza by 5:00. I ended up being to scared to throw them at anyone, and we all ended up using the balloons on ourselves anyway. As usual, I was a main target, but it was much more fun this time. The other funny thing was how they fill their water balloons. I kept laughing when they asked me if I knew how to fill them. What kind of question is that, right?! Well, bolivian boys do it different. They gave me a lesson on how to make them really tight so they hurt when you were hit, but that shall forever remain a secret to you all. Mwahahahahah. And they do hurt super bad…I speak from experience.

I think that is all for Carnaval. I walk into town and still am a little paranoid that a water balloon will strike me from out of nowhere. I got pretty good about being discreet after a month of dealing with that paranoia. Thank our good lord Jesus that is a thing of the past. I am exhausted just writing about all that. I do have some pretty good pictures you will have to check out on as soon as I get them posted. Cheers!