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balance (2): November 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

i didn't ever quite make it to the nightlife last night, as i determined i am not in the right kind of neighborhood for me. i am staying in the trendiest part of BA right now, where apparently you need reservations and no less than $30 a plate to eat. i found this out by going door to door for 2 hours, being told there was no room for a single girl. :( finally i found a friendly steakhouse and had a delicious steak and glass of malbec (apparently a good wine, not that i would know) on an interesting streetcorner. but i think i learned my lesson about palermo.

this morning, after another lovely breakfast (peaches and cream, hot french bread loaves with blue cheese, fresh cofffee and orange juice) in the garden with the bohemian dutch couple i have managed to eat with every morning thus far, i decided to take a walk to the art museum (MALBA). i compare everything to NY, so of course it couldn't match up, and i would say only about 55% of the art was worth viewing in my opinion (a lot of modern art is pretentious crap). but some of it was great! i saw an original frida kahlo (love her honest appraisals of herself) as well as a diego rivera (love the story of their relationship), as well as some artists who were new to me like antonio berni, who i liked a lot. there was a featured argentinian artist named carlos(?) bony, who for the most part i couldn't care less about, but he did a series called "suicides", in which he took sepia-toned photographs of himself, blew them up life size, framed them in steel frames, and took a gun and shot precise bullet holes into himself. pretty interesting. (i hate that art museums won't let you take pictures and i always get yelled at by the guards for trying to sneak them anyway!) what i liked best though was the museum shop, which had loads of art books and weird knickknacks. i noticed again the lomography manual cameras which seem to be popping up everywhere, and i think i really want one! they have cool filters for colors and multi action frames, etc. but they are around $100 right now.


MALBA art museum

anyhoo next i wandered off to the zoo! i love zoos, i mean of course it has nothing in particular to do with argentina, and the buenos aires zoo is kind of wimpy, truth be told, but it is a very nice thing to wander around on a hot day sucking lemonade under big shady trees and looking at curious animals. i took loads of pictures, as you do for no reason, and in an effort not to waste them, i will give you your own personal snapshot of the zoo!:

















...this evening i decided against my better judgement to go out in palermo again for dinner, to a place that the dutch couple recommended called 'osaka'... it is japanese-peruvian "fusion" food, which should have raised flags, but i am glad i went even though my meal was $45 this time (simply can not go out here). the food was totally average, but the wine was great (a chardonnay this time)! and the sushi chef who stood smashing rice and chopping fish in front of me and i got talking for a couple of hours. he was from uruguay but had travelled all over the world including to the small town i live in in thailand. he was also pretty cute. he invited me to go out with him tonight for his supposed "birthday" after work, and gave me his phone number, but to be honest he was just a tad too aggressive for me! his nickname was "tony" after tony montana, if that tells you anything. still, the attention was nice and i came back to my room on a happy buzz. all along my neighborhood people were out walking their dogs and sitting in cars with their radios blasting 80s new wave music... it feels like (well i suppose it is) summertime. :)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

buenos aires

i am sooo happy to be in buenos aires.


first impression of buenos aires

i couldn't take another night in la paz watching "girls of the playboy mansion" (did you know hugh hefner had 3 live-in girlfriends?), entertaining though it might be. after spending 4 hours online in a crappy internet cafe in bolivia tearing my hair out trying to convince my travel agent that yes taca airlines does too have a flight leaving nov 27th to BA, she finally admitted defeat and got me on it. i also finally managed to find a room last minute which was an amazing feat! apparently BA is completely packed and i had just resigned myself to sharing a room with 7 other people in a crappy hostel (can't move into the apartment i reserved til saturday) when someone forwarded me a link to bernarda guest house in trendy, tree-filled palermo. it is an amazing house, 3 stories with lots of nooks and crannies, exposed brick, paintings all over the place, and best of all, a lovely garden and pool. breakfasts there have been the highlight of my 2 days here so far.

basically BA is very like NY, except calmer and prettier, not as much action. NY will always be #1, but (especially since it is cheap!) this could easily be one of my top 5 world cities. impressions so far:

-there are so many dogs everywhere! and not sickly, starving dogs like in thailand, but big, macho dogs who drag their patient owners down the streets, and leave huge glops all over the sidewalks. i am ok with that. i like to see dogs being treated well.


dogwalker

-the taxi drivers are even worse than in bangkok. they drive like absolute maniacs! all of the drivers i have had so far ride peoples' backs at 150k/hr., running them nearly off the road, fail to stay in their lanes, and continuously watch me in the mirror while they talk to me and nearly slam into stationary vehicles. my cab from the airport was reading a map while he was driving 160k, i kid you not! i couldn't even breathe let alone ask him to slow down, and there were no seatbelts. i have learned i just can't look at what's going on. i have to just watch out the side windows, don't even glance to the front, because if i do i will have a panic attack.

- the boys in argentina are not that hot. they are "cute", rather. they dress very nicely. they have light hair and european profiles! very few look spanish. they are also extremely aggressive! they will stop and stare you down, yell, whistle, even follow you down the street to get attention. it is pretty offputting but kind of funny.

-i don't think they have siesta here, but it seems like every food place is closed from about 2pm to 8pm. i learned this when i walked all the way to the other side of palermo yesterday at 5 to get a good steak, only to find dinner wasn't until 9pm! yes, 9pm is the dinner hour, and bars/clubs get going at about 12. it is going to be hard to not make excuses and just go to bed!

the first day i got here i decided to walk to the parque 3 de febrero (which is named after my birthday). i found the street it was on but a security guard gave me totally wrong directions that threw me completely off track. so i gave up on walking through the japanese gardens and the zoo and got a cab to calle florida. it is a pedestrian street full of normal argentinians shopping. i could have found hundreds of similar places in the US, of course, but it was still nice to be in a modern place after the past month in peru and bolivia. there were lots of kitschy street performers, kiosks of newspapers and candy, and loads of sidewalk cafes (this city seems to be one big sidewalk cafe). later on i tried to stay up until 12 to go out, but gave up at about 10p and bought a bottle of norton champagne (wholeheartedly recommended by x who has become an alcoh-oops- a connoisseur of champagne). i passed out soon after in my nice bed.


calle florida

today i decided to forego the cabs and try the subway (easy peasy and 5 rides for a dollar!), and i headed to plaza de mayo (in the same area i was in yesterday). i had a delicious cappucino at cafe tortoni, which is famous in tango circles. the cafe was ok, covered in paintings of famous people i didn't know, with nice jacketed waiters, but i was more interested in my coffee, which came with little chocolate petit-fours to drop in. it was very yummy. then i did a quick run down calle florida again to pick up some havaianas (yes the shoes, only $10 here), and then hopped in a cab to la boca. my guidebook went on and on about how la boca was overrated and contrived for tourists and whatever, but i loved it! it used to be the main port in buenos aires (according to my very loquacious driver), until the italian immigrants moved in and took over. it has a notorious reputation for having been an area of mafia action and brothels for years. it is still rather dilapidated around the edges, but it's a very photogenic place full of brightly colored buildings with a particular style of signpainting unique to this area. there are loads of touristy shops of course, but there are also really nice cafes lining the streets. i sat in one for a couple of hours drinking wine, and was so smashed by about 2pm that i almost gave in to dance the tango with the guy working there. luckily i didn't though, as he was a professional, but i did get a big fat crush on him and his girlfriend when they danced. tango is quite possibly the sexiest thing on earth. the musicians backing them up were brilliant as well. afterwards i staggered towards the public bus to the subway, and back to my room.


la boca, corner of caminito


tango dancers


mural


la boca sidestreet

tonight i plan to go find a steak for real this time! the steaks here are world famous and cheap too! after that, if i don't get too drunk again on the ubiquitous good wine, i will try and go and check out the excellent nightlife i keep hearing about.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

abracadabra

i finally managed to get a ticket out of la paz and into buenos aires, so that is where i am now (thank the lordy for civilized countries!) ...far too tired to update properly now, i will do so soon.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

trapped in la paz for real now

aaaaaarrrrrgggh. supposed to fly to sucre tomorrow, but of course the worst riots in years have escalated there (directly in front of the hotel i have reserved in fact) with a revised draft of the constitution in bolivia. see here. so my flight is cancelled, i probably wasted $150, and i am stuck in la paz until i can finally get the hell out of here on dec. 3rd. no idea what i am going to do for 7 more days here! maybe i can take a sidetrip back to copacabana or something, but to tell the truth i just want out of this country!!!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

p.s.

... you know, after a few glasses of wine in a snooty candlelit restaurant, spilling filet mignon juice on the tablecloth and flirting shamelessly with (hideous) bolivian flute players, even nowhere seems not so bad. i should really drink more often! ;)

ciudades

okay... i guess i just have to stay in cities from now on. i can't take the backcountry bullshit, at least not here. looking back through my blog i can see though that this feeling strikes me occasionally in arbitrary places... for instance nepal is a very poor, undeveloped country, but i found my niche there and had the time of my life. not to mention thailand, which goes without saying. but places like south india, peru, and even to some extent vietnam have made me insanely grumpy. no niche for me i guess. i lied when i said i am over travelling- i will never be over travelling. but next time i am going to buy more flexible tickets so that when i realize a place is not for me i can just get the hell out of it and on to the next place.

being stuck in la paz is not so bad though. the novelty wears off pretty quickly once you have been to the witch markets and such, but i have a nice little routine here. the guy from luna, where i drink my yummy capuccinos, flags me down on the street to say hi to me now when i pass. as does the lady who sells sopapillas (or whatever they are called here) at the corner of plaza san francisco. i have my favorite pirated dvd shop, my favorite internet cafe, my favorite place to down a beer by the window, my favorite decrepit beggar and sloppy street merchants... plus during the day there are plenty of little shops and museums to explore. i am not worried about crime so much now as all the taxi drivers i have taken thus far have been ridiculously nice! though i have been scammed twice now by ATMs that said my transaction couldn't be completed and still took money from my account- sigh. my spanish is coming along really well too- it's so cool to be able to communicate with people in another language! i can't do so as well in thai, unfortunately. anyway i finally snagged a hotel room with wifi so i can catch up on things like getting my bank accounts squared away (my main bank, unfortunately, just failed!), and updating this blog, and making up with x who can't be blamed for being madly in love with someone else i guess.

i bought a ticket to sucre in south bolivia leaving monday morning. it's another city ;), and a university town too if i remember right, so hopefully i can find some stuff to do there to kill time before i head to buenos aires.

p.s. all the pics i have taken lately turn out horrible! i think there is something wrong with my camera... i will have to post more later.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

nowhere

i always always end up in the wrong season, in the wrong place, by myself. i don't enjoy it. hotel esmeralda is nice enough- but here's the thing: it has a gorgeous sauna which is closed for the season. it has a pool which is too cold to swim in this season. it has a barbeque area but i cant barbeque alone. it has a pool table, foosball tables, and dart boards but i can not play alone (though i did mess around with the darts a bit). it has an outdoor bar which is closed for the season. it has extensive gardens which are being worked on and thus can not be walked through. next door is a horse ranch but i can't go riding without a group. it has taxi service to the surrounding areas but they won't take a solo person. it is about 20 minutes' walk to town but there are numerous warnings not to walk alone as there have been rapes and robberies and dog attacks here (besides it's raining). on top of that the staff is completely unhelpful, tries to overcharge for every little thing, and have advertised falsely that they offer high speed, wifi internet and cable tv (still irked about that). so much for my attempt to chill out in a cool place with other travellers. the only redeeming quality here is that the views are amazing and the buffet meals ok. 'god' knows how i can get the hell out of here tomorrow on the now flooded roads, back to some semblance of civilization in la paz. i suppose until then i will just do yoga!

but again, i come back around to the realization that even when i get closer to "civilization" i don't care about poor, stupid countries any longer. they don't have much to offer in the way of comfort and the stimulation is only of a novel sort. i just don't get it- what is so great about trekking into the middle of nowhere (or riding a crappy bus for 15 hours) to observe people who live in squalor? who aren't even smart enough to build fireplaces in their houses to keep warm, or proper beds to sleep in? sure they can weave with pretty colors. sure they can grow their own food and build with mud bricks- such accomplishments! but to be honest, i feel lately like one 3rd world place is not that much different from the other, geography excepted! and because of their lack of education and financial means, they are boring people! they have nothing to offer but a long history of toil and trouble! they don't seem to like us staring at them, there are slurs against capitalist tourists painted all over la paz for instance, there is always an us vs. them thing which is frustrating when you only have a few weeks to see a place and you know you never will really "see" it.... and in fact many of the people here seem to feel travellers are personally responsible for their poverty and should be giving them handouts, and if not they are quite happy to just take them by force. if a young, well intentioned woman can not walk down the street alone at night without being seen as someone to exploit and harm, what is the point of contributing to this sort of society? i have gained nothing by travelling all the way across the world and spending thousands of dollars to witness this.

woah there elocin, what's with all the jadedness of late, this sense of entitlement? i know i know. i guess i have just changed in the past couple of years. travelling is not a priority any longer. or at least, this type of travelling. partly i innately despise indian culture and history as it was shoved down my throat when i was a kid in the west (no offense to the indians really, it is much the same feeling i have against religion as it was also force-fed to me), and i simply chose the wrong places to visit. and partly i suppose it springs from having lived in a 3rd world country for the past 3 years. what i have learned from it is that people trap themselves in these situations. if they want out of them, they should get out of them! it is as simple as changing their mindsets, as swallowing their pride in a lot of cases, being brave, and making more intelligent decisions. i know they don't have the benefit of american optimism and education to motivate them to do so, but some manage to get out anyway! i am only interested in the upper echelons of the world's population, who manage to effect change, make their lives and the lives of those around them better, produce something of worth besides another woolen hat or some god-awful music used to kickstart a square dance of hillbillies drunk on local brew... besides these intelligent few i feel the rest of the world is just a stockyard, and can't be bothered with them, and that goes for all of the fat, dull people living in suburbs with too many kids and depressing office jobs in the US as well, before anyone accuses me of racism. a lot of all this is in a large part thanks to my ex boyfriend ot (of my wanderlust blog), who comes from a vibrant, fun culture, and showed me many valuable things... but was too stupid and lazy to even consider a way to get out of his miserable financial situation other than depending on others to prop him up. i no longer have pity for people like that- i have done everything alone, why can't they?

phew! there you go, i obviously have a lot of anger to express. certainly my attitude has been crap lately, and it is probably unfair to the nice people here. i mystify myself even, not sure why it's coming out now. i guess i am tired of having to do everything alone because everyone else "can't" do it with me. i guess i am a little pissed off at overcoming my own obstacles only to find that it has completely alienated me from everything. and i am seeing that actually, i still have a lot further to go. i am also torn between the desire to just be happy and live a nice simple life (thailand) and the desire to challenge myself and get my fingers into the pie and make/do/see more before i am too old and decrepit (new york). and i am projecting my guilt onto others.

who knows but i think i should get out of bolivia before my brain corrodes.

oh, and my current bad mood wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the love of my life, x, who i have been trying to see for 3 years, once again has dropped his plans to meet up with me so he could go chase after another girl.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

bolivian time

after my breakfast at luna's with a nice boy from finland(! -my favorite, except unfortunately he wasn't gorgeous), i had to tramp all over town to find an atm that would work. finally, cash in hand, i checked out of my hotel and into a taxi towards villa fatima, a chaotic, rather sketchy neighborhood in which i had to wait quite a while (dodging pickpockets and wayward touts) for a bus to coroico. there was a tiny puppy choking on it's leash, and to make things worse some stupid little bolivian girl kept picking it up by it's neck. i snatched it away from her and it snuggled up against my belly to keep me warm as i waited. the little girl ran to tattle to her parents, who ignored her, and i smirked and stuck my tongue out at her at every opportunity for the next hour. finally, an hour after the bus was scheduled to leave (apparently completely normal in bolivian thinking), i was able to board the bus. i was the only white person and a subject of much fascination. and then we were off... for about ten minutes before we stopped again, for no apparent reason. and then off! again for another ten minutes before the next stop. hoardes of old women in plaited hair wearing thick skirts came running towards our windows carrying baskets of fried chicken and plantains. i was seriously annoyed at the fact that i couldn't get my window open so i could purchase some. i sulked as the driver hopped in and off! we went until the next stop, another ten minutes later, this time for a drug check by ominous policemen carrying huge rifles and mace. finally we were off for real. coroico is a city set in the yungas, a semi-tropical area in the mountains beyond la paz. it is famous for being reached by the world's most dangerous road. i don't think that was the road we were on until the last 10 kilometers or so of my trip, but those 10 kilometers were quite enough for me thank you. otherwise the trip, though set along dizzying heights overlooking deep, lush canyons, was really beautiful. the fog clung to the mountain peaks and huge condors kept swooping in and out of the clouds. the cliffs were lined with fruit trees and assorted flora. about halfway through the ride a thick waisted lady plopped down with a happy little infant wrapped in about 18 layers of woolen things. only her pink cheeks poked out, under dark, serious eyes. she alternated between staring at me with her goofy grin and grabbing at her mother's swollen, proffered breast. i begrudgingly liked her, and her mother with her gold capped smile (a trend in rural bolivia, apparently) was pretty endearing too. she and another old lady kept patting my shoulder and saying what a nice gringa i was.


view from my hotel balcony of coroico

finally we arrived in coroico, a small town perched at the edge of the cliffs with amazing views! i hopped off the bus and into a taxi up the mountain to my hotel- esmeralda. my room is pretty amazing, with a balcony overlooking the canyon. there is a spa, a pool, a game room, and a decent buffet restaurant which i can visit at any time. i was grumpy though that both their wifi internet (which i had been anticipating for a week) and their cable tv were not working. my plans to indulge in both were shattered. with no good book to read either (a serious lack of english reading material so far in south america), i was feeling greatly at a loss. i stuffed some good food down my throat and stomped off to my room just as the fog rolled in and it began to drizzle. turns out no tv and internet is a good thing- who'da thunk it? i ended up going through my computer reading through old writings, including the backbone of an autobiography i have been meaning to flesh out for years (but what would i do with it? i learned with this website long ago that if you put yourself out there completely you will be scavenged for all you are worth! i am tempted, though, not to be bothered by that fact). i also read back through old letters between x and i, smiling nostalgically and feeling excited that i may be able to take a little side trip from buenos aires and go meet him in rio in a couple of weeks. i also looked over a few old websites i started and never completed, and realized that i waste a lot of my time these days online and watching tv, and there are many other things i could be doing with myself. lesson learned. i went back downstairs for dinner to find the dining room full of candlelit tables around which were loving couples and large families. i felt way too awkward sitting alone amongst them so i pretended to look for something at the other side of the room and ran back to my little room feeling absolutely foolish, and hungry. decided nevertheless to sleep it off.

Monday, November 19, 2007

hum

decided to take it easy today after mailing a small box of souvenirs back to thailand for $80! i chose for lunch to take the advice from the chapter of 'frommer's' guide to bolivia that i had stolen from someplace along the way, and went to eat lunch at the top of the hotel presidente, which has a glass wall with gorgeous 360 degree views of la paz. it was quite posh and i felt a little silly being there, but it was excellent. i ordered the most succulent grilled trout i have ever had, with boiled potatoes, a great soup and salad bar, and even a buffet of desserts included. definitely the best food i have had on my trip. i left stuffed to wander around the city a bit.


view of la paz from the top of hotel presidente

ran into reynaldo, the grubby artisan boy (man really) who has appeared around just about every corner of every place i have been since cusco, wearing the same gray sweater. i wondered absently if he was following me. i haven't let him get too close but i think he likes that. we sat on the steps at the top of the hill across from some curious, rosy cheeked vendors, his meager offerings of twisted silver wires and stones of inferior quality laid out on the road to meet the indifference of passersby. i have met a thousand reynaldos in my travels, but that doesn't stop me from falling in love with every one. we had a good chat. i kept getting frustrated by my inability to string together complete sentences in spanish, and he would pause and stare at me until i was uncomfortable. he told me i had "ojos locos" (crazy eyes) but insisted this was a good thing in latino culture, of which i was skeptical. people kept stopping by to say hi to him, including a cracked out, skanky girl with food in her teeth from buenos aires, a couple of smiley bolivian artisans with long scraggly hair and sandals, a pregnant gringa wearing an alpaca poncho and no makeup, and toting the requisite local boy. i declined all offers of food and drink and left reluctantly with a lot of things unsaid when my shivering became too big an obstacle for further conversation. i could tell he was frustrated that i was noncommital about meeting again. it didn't occur to me until i got back to my nice room that i am the only one reynaldo hadn't tried to sell something to, and i wondered sadly where he was sleeping at night. if i see him again i will unobtrusively slip him a bill or two... not so much out of pity as friendship.


view of san francisco cathedral from my hostal window

Sunday, November 18, 2007

bruja

woke up to a crappy breakfast again (in both peru and bolivia the free breakfasts are gross, everything is always ice cold and the coffee is instant), so trudged up the very steep hill outside my hostel and got a real, delicious cappucino and oatmeal with fruit at a cafe called 'luna', run by a very nice bolivian man who charmingly tried to practice his english and kept failing miserably. then i set off to look around. it was sunday so most of the shops were closed, to my disappointment. i headed to the coca museum, knowing it would be open. it was small but pretty interesting- just a few rooms of displays. the owner handed me a notebook of information in english to read as i navigated the hallways. it explained the history of coca in relation to bolivians, who have used it therapeutically for centuries, especially in mining areas. it showed how to chew the leaves for the maximum effect. it explained the difference between the coca leaves which are chewed and made into tea (even today) and consumed by about 90% of native bolivians, and cocaine, the drug, which is of course more concentrated, addictive, and processed differently. also it mentioned the western influence on drug laws here, the resulting drug war, and the (mis)treatment of addicts. there were several pictures of different products made with coca throughout history, including at one point, coca-cola! overall, they tried to impress upon visitors that coca leaves are harmless, in fact even quite healthy, and should not be vilified as the drug cocaine and it's offshoot, crack, are, and bolivians should not be persecuted for the harvesting of coca for their personal consumption. i of course agreed.





next i wandered in the direction of the 'mercado de los brujos' (witch market), which is what i had been anticipating most about bolivia. i was dissapointed at first to see just a few stalls along the streets with a few novel trinkets, but when i explored further i realized that behind the small holes in the wall were large emporiums of witchery! i spent a couple of hours here, as it was all pretty fascinating. they sold normal medicines and antidotes, but also customized herbal concoctions in pulp fiction boxes with names like "polvo de odio" (hatred powder?) and "llueve dinero" (raining money). there were sections on black magic with ominous looking candles and statues. there are stone amulets in the form of llamas and turtles (health and long life), condors (for luck on journeys), owls (for knowledge and intelligence), snakes (to prod you in the right direction), and pumas (to help you achieve victory against enemies). there are also dozens of dried aborted llama fetuses, taxidermied birds, and dead toads and such for use in magic spells. i bought some little bottles of colored stones containing miniatures of things like taxis, houses, money, etc. which are supposed to bring you luck in all those areas.





after the witch market i wandered through the artisan shops all along the alleyways. bolivians have a reputation for being insular and unfriendly, but i like them better than peruvians. i like how they retain their culture- in a huge, relatively modern city next to students and sharply dressed business people, the women still wear their traditional thick petticoats, embroidered shawls, and bowler hats. they have so many nice things to buy that i was a bit overwhelmed. i did get a woven hammock (for thong nai pan), a couple of woven placemats (since i can't carry blankets and wall hangings!), and a nice alpaca sweater and shawl. i ran into the same dirty artisan guy that i had met in cusco, on the street. he invited me to go travelling with him to a nice town named 'sorata', but i am not so stupid. i still had a nice chat with him and his friend while he tried to hawk his pathetic jewelry.

my next stop was the 'museo nacional del arte' (art musuem). i had to walk to a less touristy area of town for that. i was a bit disappointed, the art was pretty amateurish, of course compared to NY. some of it was just plain ridiculous. but there were a few pieces that i found worthy of being in a museum, and it was a nice way to spend an hour or so.



by that time it was dark and rainy, so i popped into a chinese cafe called 'jackie chan' and had some horrible noodles and a decent beer. i had planned to stop into a nearby bar but that, too, seemed to be closed on sundays, so i trudged back home to sleep in front of cable.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

to bolivia

this morning i hopped on a bus from puno to la paz. it was a very long trip but i had some nice people on the ride with me. we stopped at the border to get our stamps. we were told we had to visit 3 separate immigration offices- 2 on the peru side and one on the bolivian side. i went to 2, for the life of me i couldn't find the 3rd one. but i did have both exit and entrance stamps which i figured was all i needed so i shrugged it off. i was chatting to a canadian kid who was in the same position while we waited for our bus, and suddenly an immigration officer came stomping up to me and demanded my passport. i handed it over, flushing with embarassment. he looked it over, said "no problema" and handed it back. apparently they thought because i lived in thailand that i was thai and needed a visa, but my passport is american. anyway, when my heart started pumping again i realized that whatever i was missing from office #3 must not have been too important because i got off scot free at that particular check. so off i went on the bus again, towards copacabana.


the shores of lake titicaca as seen from copacabana

copacabana is actually quite nice. i am not sure if it is the copacabana of the barry manilow song or if that one is in brazil, but nevertheless it feels cool to say i have been there. it is a small town set on the banks of lake titicaca (bolivian side). it was much more interesting than most of the parts of peru that i saw right off the bat- a lot of hippie artisan types perched on the curbs selling their wares, and lots of little chill cafes and bars. i had a couple hours til my next bus connection to la paz, so i stopped and had some excellent fried chicken and fresh squeezed juice at a little outdoor cafe with the canadian guy. he was more of a "backpacker" than i am- he stayed only in fleapit hostels and took local busses, etc. there are both benefits and drawbacks to that. by taking local busses and eating in local spots, he gets closer to the people than i do. but i do not envy him the dirtiness, loudness, and lack of privacy in the hostels. i think i prefer to be alone in a decent place actually! we debated about whether or not to mountain bike down the "world's most dangerous road" in coroico... which seems to be the thing to do. but really, i am not so much a reckless adventure enthusiast (i prefer to live), and as x says, if i haven't become any more coordinated in the past couple of years since he has seen me, he strongly would advise against it. so for now i have decided "nay". the canadian guy was unsure as well, as he read that something like 46 busses a year (almost 1 per week) go over the cliffsides there, sometimes taking cyclists with them.


on the way to la paz

anyhow, got back on the bus for four more hours towards la paz. the scenery was again pretty desolate, but a lot more beautiful than peru. lake titicaca is a gorgeous navy blue next to the soft brown hills and terraced farms. and then we came into la paz from the top of the mountain, which amazed and intimidated me. it is a pretty large city, and as we got more and more into the thick of it i was shocked at how crowded and busy it was! our bus stopped in the middle of all the chaos and the driver unceremoniously kicked us out. canadian guy looked terrified and was like "what do we do?"... i was no help to him. the streets were teeming with honking vehicles, men and women pushing carts of goods, little shoeshine boys in masks (who looked like 3 foot murderers), taxis, and stall upon stall of various goods. i am terrified of taxis here as a good percentage of them are fake and are paid to take you to an isolated place where you are mugged at gunpoint, but i sucked it up and caught a taxi anyway to my hostel. the driver was very polite and helpful and i felt a little sheepish. my hostel (naira) ended up being very nice... a big warm bed, cable, hot water and a balcony that opens up over sagarnaga street (a popular tourist area) and the gorgeously lit up san francisco cathedral. i was happy to be settled and slept deeply my first night in bolivia.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

better now

while i still think peru is highly overrated (i would choose the similar mountain culture of nepal any day over peru), i did manage to get over my morosity and have a good time on my trip to the islands on lake titicaca.

24 people on a small boat is usually a nightmare for me but it was surprisingly cozy and i got to know everyone in my group pretty quickly- a couple of cute japanese guys, a hippie couple, some nice old women from utah, and a large group of french people. our guide, marita, was really intelligent and funny and narrated in both spanish and english. we navigated through the thick reeds poking up from the water to the uros islands first. these islands are actually made from the (totora) reeds, mashed together and floating upon (we measured) 38 meters of water. it's a strange way of life. the islands are always disintegrating and the people have to constantly replenish their piles of reeds. when you walk upon them there are spots in which you feel like you will fall through. there is also always the risk of fire- apparently there have been a few horrific ones there in recent history. nevertheless, they carry on building their houses, boats, and various knicknacks from the dried reeds. they even eat them! it is sort of a peaceful life- drying and stacking reeds, fishing, cooking, rowing the kids to school, weaving, and taking pictures with the tourists. it did have sort of a zoo-like atmosphere to it though. i stopped and chatted with one girl (belinda) for awhile, and she developed a desperate little fixation on me that made me a bit uncomfortable. she was trying out her sales pitch on me as they all do, but it went beyond that- she had such lonely eyes. she was 18 and i got the feeling she wanted to get out into the world and see new things like i was seeing. i wondered sadly if that was a negative effect of tourism to these parts.



uros islands






anyway after a little ride in a reed boat with a puma head, we jumped back into our motorboat and headed to amantani island. to be honest, there was nothing much spectacular about this island, except for the fact that we planned a homestay with the local families. when we docked the boat we were met by dozens of fat, rosy-cheeked women in their traditional costumes. we were divided into groups and each group was sent off with their "mother". i was assigned an irish girl named julie who was also travelling solo. our mother was a crone, and not especially friendly. she tramped off and we followed uncertainly, across various fields and through several garden gates. we finally arrived to a modest clay house of two stories, with a nice garden overlooking the lake. i had been worried about the quality of accomodations, fearing a hole in the ground, but julie and i actually shared a nice room, and the beds had thick alpaca blankets. the bathroom even had running water which is one step ahead of my house in thailand!



my room in the homestay


julie and i sat on the beds and chatted for a bit (she was a pretty conservative irish catholic gal but nice enough). not sure what else to do, i napped until mama knocked on the door for dinner. we peered our heads into the little dark kitchen room to see a woodburning stove and some benches. the papa (who seemed to like me a lot) and a shy son and daughter were already eating. mama brought out some really delicious soup, potatoes and cheese pancakes, and tea made with fresh cut herbs. it was the best food i have had since i got to peru! julie and i walked around a bit after dinner (such a quiet place! no vehicles, no animals, no electricity- the stars were amazing!)... then mama called us in to dress for the "fiesta". we had to wear their traditional clothes! they were thick petticoats with a wool skirt over them, an embroidered white shirt with a wide woven corset-belt (couldn't breathe), and a black shawl embroidered with bright floral patterns. i felt like an idiot. none of us had working flashlights or candles, so we traipsed over the fields and gardens again, this time tripping every couple of steps in the very dark dark. the candlelit community center was full of similarly ridiculously dressed people (from our group). the boys were all wearing woven ponchos and colorful hats. there was a cute little band of local boys playing and everyone was pulled up to dance. the songs were interminably long but it was a pretty fun time overall. after a few giddy rounds julie and i forced our mama and papa to make our exits, and we went back "home" to sleep very comfortably.



mama and papa on amantani island



me and papa at the dance


the next morning, after another delicious breakfast of fried pancakes and herbal tea, mama (who we realized was just shy) walked us back to the boat (knitting a hat along the way) and waved us off. our group re-grouped and off we went (on a rather scary ride in big waves) to the next island, taquile. taquile was more modern than the other islands, with really nice houses, restaurants, and farms, all terraced along the hillsides. we took a 2-hour walk all around the island as marita explained the traditions of these really insular people. it was quite peaceful and beautiful, if not very spectacular. we had a big lunch of grilled trout and potatoes during which a nice man modeled the local dress, and then we tromped down 500-so steps back down to the dock for our boat ride back to puno. it had been such a nice couple days that everyone in the group said affectionate and emotional goodbyes to each other as we headed off to our respective hotels.



taquile island


i reached my hotel (puno terra) to find they had given my room away to a tour group despite the fact that i had made a reservation days before! it wasn't that big a deal but i really needed a shower and it was pouring rain and cold outside, so i just plopped down and refused to leave until they did something to compensate me. (not usually like me). the unapologetic manager got really frustrated with me but i was pissed off that they treated me like my patronage wasn't important. i told her she had the only rooms with internet access in them in the city and i wasn't leaving until i got one. an hour later, after pleading with me to leave before the tour group who was getting my room arrived, she finally agreed to pay for a room at a very snazzy hotel down the road. it didn't have internet but it did have a huge, hot bathtub with a headrest, and luxurious beds with down comforters. i fell into mine quite pleased with myself and slept wonderfully.

enjoying one last night in puno and then off to bolivia in the morning!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

1/3 life crisis?

before i do anything else i want to plug the hostel i was staying in in cusco, home sweet home, as the staff (catherine and oleg) there were lovely and it really was a great place to stay-


(not to mention i had developed a crush on oleg by the time i left)

...i had reserved a nice first class tourist bus to puno today, but the agent who was supposed to pick me up and drive me to the station this morning failed to do so, so i missed that bus and was stuffed unceremoniously in the deep dark corner of an inferior bus that broke down along the way in the middle of nowhere. out the window during the drive were some of the most bleak and dreary towns i have ever seen ('god' forbid i ever get stuck in juliaca). peruvians still make their houses from mud mixed with straw and baked by the sun into bricks. it gives everything a very earthy feel, but it is also very monochromatic (brown). most of the buildings are left unfinished and dust and rubbish are the prevailing themes here. occasionally with an incongruous splash of rainbow colored shawls on women crawling out of the holes in the wall to gather sheep, or a splatter of paint promoting 'votes for eduardo' or forming crude inca grafitti. i liked the various animals- everything woolly; the sheep, dogs, donkeys, cows, llamas, cats, and even the chickens look more substantially feathered than normal!

puno is a very high (12500 ft or so) mountain town overlooking lake titicaca, which upon first glance did not impress me in the least. it's not as bad as people say though, i actually find it quite modern compared to the other towns i've visited, and there is a big university from which pours groups of students dressed in cute, hopelessly outdated "alternative" get-ups. i swear i saw a kid wearing ska suspenders (braces as the english call them) with a 'pantera' patch on his shirt. i was starving so i ate a very weird dinner at a place called ukuku's- basically a mish mash of various things piled on top of each other; grilled trout with avocadoes, fried cheese, papas frites, pineapple and ham, rice, grilled plantains, mango, and lettuce! it was actually pretty damn good, and i washed it down with a cusqueÑa beer listening to an (ubiquitous) american tourist family talking about their adventures doing a homestay on one of the nearby islands, before i came back to my hotel (which has heat!!!) to crash.

and crash i did, i guess. poor x! he got the full brunt of the weird little life crisis i seem to have found myself having. i think, as he said, that sometimes a place is just not right for you and it will bring this sort of feeling out. that being a feeling of being lost, lonely, no idea of what i want from life. peru is definitely not my type of place. i HATE the cold, i am not into trekking (see india and nepal entries in which i avoided trekking), not into adventure sports, don't feel safe alone in 3rd world countries, don't like staying in hostels (need my privacy) and thus don't meet many people... basically i am not sure what i am doing here other than fulfilling a (self-imposed) obligation to "see" it. and honestly, i can't see things getting better as i move towards bolivia. i really am more of a cosmopolitan city or tropical island/jungle type- into sociology and culture, art, music, food, film, language, wildlife, more than history and monuments and desolate sprawling mountain scenery. i think i made a bit of a mistake in my planning, and it has depressed me a bit. i feel isolated (doesn't help that there are large happy groups everywhere i go- how do people get their entire families or groups of friends to travel internationally with them and what's wrong with me?!?!) and old and like i am floundering a bit ...anyway i am headed to bolivia after lake titicaca nonetheless, and i may fast track it so i can get to my apartment in buenos aires more quickly, which is where i feel i ought to be. sorry for all the negativity of late- peru is really nice! i think i am just totally out of my element.



cafe wall

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

cusco

now that i am no longer puking my guts out i am quite enjoying cusco. it's a great little town. there are lots of little nooks and crannies from which i can peep out at the goings-on. i have moved to a cheap hostel (home sweet home) which is much better than the snotty expensive hotel (rumi punku) i was in previously, despite the fact that it has no heat. it is at the top of the mountain in the residential area, with an amazing view of the city, and the peruvian staff are great! the first peruvian guy i have yet been attracted to is building their website to the tune of strange spanish punk all day. there is a big woolly puppy (aside from the hairless dog in my last entry, the peruvian dogs are more like sheep!) who keeps me warm and bites my toes.



sheep-dog


navigating the narrow, steep streets of the city can be difficult with the uneven cobblestones, the insane taxis (in which city are taxis not insane?), the necessity of dodging llamas, dogs, beggar children hawking postcards, old ladies lugging sacks of various trinkets made from alpaca wool, massage girls, groups of students on field trips, and of course, bumbling tourists.



typical street



typical buildings


there is so much i would like to buy but i don't want to have to carry it for the next month, so i settled for a silver ring made with a real coca leaf and some tiny dolls in native costume. i hung out for awhile on a balcony overlooking the plaza de armas and practiced my spanish with the waiters (not bad except i keep mixing spanish with thai!- "donde es el hong nam, khap khun oops gracias")...



alpaca fashion


tomorrow i am headed to the town of puno which is on the shore of lake titicaca (a pretty funny name- the peruvians insist their side of the lake is the "titi", and the bolivian side is the "caca", which means "shit" in spanish).


more pics-



me with baby llama (cost one sole)



statue in one of the many san blas galleries



view from my hostel balcony

Thursday, November 8, 2007

ill

went to machu picchu yesterday, which really felt more like an obligation than anything else as i am not a history buff or into ruins at all. still, it was a really gorgeous and sort of mystical place, with a beautiful train ride to get there, and i had a very good guide who explained everything to me along the way. the jumping off point is a town called aguas calientes, which is really cute and touristy, with a quaint train station and lots of little coffee shops. i spent some time sitting on the benches in the little town square, watching the people go about their day. i tried a 'papa rellena' which is a deep fried stuffed potato, a local specialty. i also got a free 'pisco sour' (really delicious brandy concoction with egg whites, lemon juice, and cinnamon) from my waiter, who sweetly practiced his english with me and wanted to take me dancing when he got off work. i declined (with regret) as i had to be up at 5 am to get the bus up to machu picchu. spent the rest of my night trying to wedge things under my hotel room door as the creepy nightwatch guy kept trying to get into my room(!).

i did pretty well climbing mountains considering i flew in from sea level. the site was full of americans. i just couldn't stay there all day like everyone else wanted to... so i hopped on the bus quite early back to the town. i had to wait 7 hours, so i paid to change my ticket to an earlier train back to cusco. it was the vistadome, and it was great! the walls are glass so you can see everything along the way- we passed villages of mud houses with dirty kids chasing piglets and old women doing their laundry in the streams. and halfway through the trip the waiters on the train put on costumes and did some bizarre fashion shows to techno music... pretty funny. i started to feel really dizzy though and thought it was the motion of the train, but by the time i got back to my hotel i felt like hell. actually, it became one of the worst nights of my life- i was more sick than i think i have ever been. won't go into details but i thought for sure i was gonna die. tried to call the hotel desk to ask them to get me a doctor at about 1am but they weren't there. this was very bad news as well because i had forgotten to buy bottled water and had nothing at all to drink, and nowhere to go to get anything. i got so dehydrated that my tongue was stuck to the top of my mouth and i couldn't move without wracking joint pains. i had to wait 6 hours for the hotel to open before i could stagger down and get a drink. meanwhile i must have purged my entire insides out. luckily i had some antibiotics that i brought with me from thailand, but another day has passed and i am still miserably ill. my hotel is very nice so i am just going to lay here and moan until i get better.

kind of over 3rd world travelling, especially alone. hopefully after i get better my attitude will change a bit because honestly i just want to race ahead to argentina, which is more civilized. peru is nice and all, but it doesn't touch me.

here's some pics!


machu picchu ruins


more ruins


huayna picchu


plaza in aguas calientes


native peruvian (hairless) dog (poor thing)


train to cusco

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Monday, November 5, 2007

cold = grumpy

spent yesterday on a tourist bus (not, admittedly, my favorite way to travel, but convenient as far as transportation is concerned) traipsing all over cusco and the sacred valley with a large group of talkative, camera toting americans. i did manage to ignore that fact and have a good day.

don't really feel like writing but here are some pics:


view of the sacred valley


market man (or woman?)


pisac market


outside the church


ollantaytambo ruins


town

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