Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Final Impressions from South America

This will be my last blog post from South America. It's been twelve weeks and (to quote a fellow travel partner) two scoops of fun. I made it back to Bolivia for a little over a week and then did the big schlep back to Lima (30 hours by bus). Sadly, for some reason when I plug in my camera pictures past New Years don't show up, but check out facebook in a few days and I should have added them. My last thoughts on this pretty spectacular leg of the adventure:
  • For countries that are remarkably inefficient, local people certainly are impatient. Surely no one expects the bus to leave on time, but that doesn't stop people from jumping in front of you in lines once the doors open, and it certainly doesn't keep them from stomping their feet and banging the windows when a stop takes too long.
  • Based on my interactions of late, all of Argentina is on summer vacation in Peru. All of Brazil is in Bolivia.
  • Also, for a place that regularly crams people into small spaces, they aren't really fans of having to squish beside me. Now, I am 5´10" and have recently been weighed in at 135 pounds with my hiking boots on, so other than my legs I don't take up much space. But if that didn't keep two Andean women in Bolivia getting into a cat fight about having to share a 3-seat bench with me on one bus ride. Here's an idea: shed one of your 18 petticoats and put at least one of your three massive bags of stuff on the roof rack. I don't think I can slim down much more without having serious health risks...
  • The spanish language, as I have come to know it, is pretty great because they use one word for multiple things that aren't usually related. For example, "que" can mean "what," "than," "to," and probably a number of other things. A less common word like "llama" can mean the animal, flame, or to call someone. This makes vocabulary pretty easy to learn. Unfortunately, some words also sound remarkably alike. For example, "vacuna," which means "vaccine" also sounds like "vicuña," which is a cousin of the llama. Be careful when you walk into a clinic and say "Necessito la vicuña" (I need a little llama cousin) when you mean to say "Necessito la vacuna" (I need the vaccine).
  • Like many places around the globe, expect to pay for the bathroom in South America. In some cases, they will even give you a reciept. For those of you familiar with the comedian Mitch Hedburg, this immediately cued: I cannot imagine a possible scenario in which I would need to prove I used the bathroom. Hey man, don't even act like I didn't use the bathroom. I've got a reciept to prove it...
  • Catching a bus here is remarkably easy. Just hang out at the bus station, or a corner, and wait for someone to yell your destination. Even in established stations where the counters list the possible destinations, people still feel the need to yell "LaPa-LaPaaaaaz" or "Arequiiiiiiipa, Arequiiiiipa."
  • I think I will survive if I never again hear a pan flute cover of an awful song. "The Rose" is bad enough in its original form, let alone in pan flute. These pan flute covers are popular to play on buses anywhere.
  • La Paz, Bolivia is built in a canyon, which makes for some pretty spectacular hills. Basically, it is like San Fransisco at 12,000 feet. Yeah, that'll take your breath away for sure.
  • I have found that even in cushy seats, 30 hours is destined to make your bum sore (especially if you have a little less padding than you used to).
  • I arrived in Lima, the first time in 12 weeks that I have been below 8,000 feet - the oxygen kind of made me nuts. So despite having spent the night on a wobbly bus I went for a 4 mile run just to wear off some of the energy. Nothing like 12 weeks of elevation to get you into outrageous shape.
With any luck, I head out tomorrow night. Back to the states to re-pack the bags, see a few folks and then on to Africa - the final frontier for full adventure.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Holidays and a Little Titicaca

Just 2 weeks to go in the South American portion of the peregrination! The last week or so includes time in Cusco for both Navidad and the New Year (with a few days of Lake Titicaca thrown in between). Both, I have learned, are celebrated with absurd amounts of fireworks. The fireworks have yet to cease entirely, which means I often find myself ducking for cover while trying to walk down the street. I hope to venture back into Bolivia by the end of the week (I hear Evo rescinded his order to raise gas prices 78% and so the people have stopped rioting) for 10 days or so before schlepping back to Lima for my return flight to the States.
  • One pretty fabulous Christmas tradition in Cusco involves nativity scenes. On Christmas Eve, they block off traffic and open the main square for a huge market. You can find the usual wool gloves, alpaca scarves, and leather keychains. You can also find, however, an entire section dedicated to DIY nativity scenes. People (mostly women) are selling the wooden frames, little figurines including llamas and wisemen with chollos (wool hats with the earflaps), and any earthen material needed for adequate manger bedding.
  • On Christmas Day, there are vendors lined up outside of the church in the main square selling whatever you may need for a DIY Jesus-cradle. This means people are selling the little baskets, little Jesus dolls, and clothes for the little Jesus dolls. During Mass, people put their Jesus cradles on the steps near the altar and get the Jesus cradles blessed. They just love the DIY-Christmas spirit around here!
  • After Christmas we headed to Copacabana and Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. On Isla del Sol you can eat one of two things - trout or pizza. Our favorite place we found was called Las Velas (the candles) and had no electricity. We were wooed by the sign on the path that claimed "Organic pizza made by gourmet chef." When we finally found the restuarant tucked back into the grove of eucalyptus trees, the guy who took our order was wearing a cap with a rather familiar logo - Domino's Pizza. I guess he's trained with the best? (The pizza was actually far better than Domino's.)
  • We tried to leave Copacabana for La Paz, but Evo Morales raised gas prices 78% and people were a bit upset. The civil unrest made La Paz impossible to get to, so plan B was to return to Peru. If our bus didn't leave, our plan C was to steal a swan paddle boat and just peddle across Titicaca. It would've been a great escape story...
Celebrating the New Year with Karin and Liddell in the Plaza!

Copacabana, Bolivia from a nearby hillside

Sunset over Lake Titicaca