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Under the Surface

under the surface

I don’t know what it is about this photo, but it soothes me. I snapped it walking on the – I don’t know what you call it. A ramp thingy? A walkway? It was a bunch of boards nailed together, hovering inches above the surface of Lake of the Gray Puma, that we had to walk across to get to the ferry that would take us from Copacabana to Isla del Sol. I was in awe of how clear and lovely the water was, so I took this silly little picture. I just made it the wallpaper on my desktop because when I look at it, all the anxiety and stress I feel at work all day long softens at the edges, just enough that I feel I can take a deep breath and keep going.

Trekking Isla del Sol

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We woke up on Isla del Sol around 5 a.m. covered in frost, as you can see by the picture above. We had no idea at the time, but this would easily be our most comfortable night and warmest morning. We broke down camp under the light of a full moon and were hiking by six a.m. along the ridgeline of the island, surrounded on both sides by Lago Titicaca.

(Side note: When we were first planning this trip I couldn’t say “Titicaca” without snickering. I’ve said it so many times by now that I’m used to it, but it helps to have found out that the literal translation of Titicaca in the Aymara language is “gray puma”. As in, Lake of the Grey Puma. Isn’t that lovely?)

It was our first morning on the trail together, Dave, Michael, and me. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to start hiking so early – we couldn’t see a thing. At first I was frightened of the shadows, worried some horrible thing would jump out at us. The moon was so bright and the morning so quiet. We came upon a house and two dogs barked furiously. A man appeared, a silhouette against the darkness. He’s going to ask us for money to keep going, I thought. But instead he called out, “Buenos dias, amigos! Es temprano para los turistas. Eso es bueno!” And we laughed and said, “Sí, al principio es bueno!” and kept going. I felt bad for thinking the worst.

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Around seven the sun began to crawl into the sky over Bolivia to our right, while the moon hung stubborn over Peru on our left. For the next thirty minutes, the sun turned the clouds pinker and pinker as it rose and the moon slid slowly into the horizon. There was a brief moment when both sun and moon faced each other, and we knew why the Incas called this island sacred. (And I knew why someone would want to hike so early in the day.)

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Moonset

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Sunrise

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Breakfast that morning was a box of crackers, split three ways, but we didn’t care. We were giddy from the beauty that surrounded us. The road we hiked was an ancient Incan road, though for a long time we couldn’t tell. And then it changed from dirt to huge, flat stones, interlocking to create a smooth path, thousands of years old. After a few more minutes we passed a large, square-shaped stone table, surrounded by smaller, nearly perfectly cube-shaped stone seats – a ceremonial sacrifice table.

Then we came to the Incan ruins, a maze of stone walls, still and quiet as the night. We dropped our packs and stooped under the entrance. I closed by eyes to see if I could feel the history, hear the whispers of ancient voices, but there was only a soft breeze.

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8

9

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The Incas were much smaller than Mike.

It was a wonderful morning. We spent a long time wandering in this ancient, revered place. We hiked to the top of a nearby hill to get a better view, forgetting our cameras in our packs down below. It was early still, not yet eight-thirty, and we were the only people for miles. I started getting hungry but there was no food. We had a full day of hiking ahead of us if we wanted to hike the rest of the island (per our plan), and no guarantee of food anywhere along the trail. The day before we’d pre-paid for a private boat to take us from Yumani to Yampupata and it would leave with or without us at 3 p.m. With these things in mind we decided instead to hike the four hours back to Yumani where we knew there were plenty of restaurants allowing plenty of time for a leisurely meal before we needed to catch our boat. We dug through our packs and discovered we weren’t completely out of food; we found peanuts, a few more crackers, and a couple of mandarines. Dave gave me two Cliff bars he had saved from the day before, so we knew we would be fine for four more hours.

…to be continued…

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Copacabana

Isla del Sol en las Fotografias

Isla del Sol en las fotografías

What I can’t believe is that a) we’ve already been home from The Big Bolivian Adventure for over three weeks and 2) I’ve written five posts about the trip and I’m still only telling you about the second day. Alright, the fourth day if you count our first two travel days, BUT STILL. At this rate, I’ll be writing about Bolivia for the next year. If I can even remember everything for that long.

Hold on. Bolivia. Is that near Mexico? I can’t remember anymore.

If you’re counting from the day we left Los Angeles, day one was all air travel, day two was air travel, day three we puttered in La Paz, and day four we traveled from La Paz to Copacabana to Isla del Sol, where we commenced our first afternoon of trekking. It was a wonderful day and I wrote about it here. Now how about some pictures?

Wait, one more thing. I hate to say it but I have to: I’m incredibly disappointed by my photos of Isla del Sol. It was, without a doubt, one of the loveliest places I’ve ever visited. However, my photos portray a rather bleak and dusty little town. None of the charm exists in my digital renderings. There’s none of the bustle and beauty, the breeze and the sun and the sound of bleating sheep are glaringly absent. They’re just photos of stuff that barely hint at what was real. Like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, when the enchanted rose wilts and begins to die, all the magic wearing out. My photos are a wilted version of what I saw in real life.

For example, I took the photo below of a family washing their laundry because, in person, it was exquisitely picturesque. Mama washing the family’s clothes on the shore of Lago Titicaca, Papa laying out the clean clothes to dry in the sun, the little children clambering up and down the rocky slopes, their shrieks and squeals of glee echoing off the island’s surface. It was lovely. And it does not translate. (Also, can we ignore the fact that I’m totally romanticizing a very mundane chore, made arduous by the fact that these people don’t have a laundry facility? What is wrong with me?)

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In the next photo, you’ll see Mike sharing the road with a pack of mules. Or, mulas, as they are called en español. This was exciting because, mulas! On the trail! Right next to us! I like totally grew up in suburbia and like have totally like never seen like a mule up close before! Like omigawd!

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***

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Here we are, Mike and I, grinning and happy, Lago Titicaca behind us, two boxes of crackers in front of us. Dear readers, should you ever choose to spend extended periods of time hiking in the Andes, or even hiking on an island in the middle of a lake near the Andes, do not assume that you will be able to eat locally just because your copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ says you can. When the guidebook says there are stores that sell basic provisions, what they mean is there are stores that sell toilet paper, eggs, liters of soda, and llama wool sweaters. Please do not mistake “basic provisions” for “food you can safely carry in your backpack and eat on the trail.” If you do, you will go hungry.

Those crackers? That was all Mike, Dave, and I had to eat for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch the next day. Two boxes of crackers do not three meals for three people make. Why didn’t we buy more than two boxes of crackers? Because we’re americanos tontos. That’s why.

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And what is that? In the photo above? IT IS A RESTAURANT. In fact, it was one of a string of wonderful little mama-and-papa* restaurants that we stumbled upon as we climbed up the steep and curving road out of Yumani, towards our campsite (three-plus hours away) for the night. And did we stop for lunch? HELLS YEAH WE DID. We’re not that tantos. Not only did we eat lunch, we ate a two-course lunch of incredible, rich sopa and fried trucha and it was heaven. It was also the reason why we got away with eating only three crackers each for dinner that night.

*Mama took our orders, cooked our meals, and breastfed her baby while she waited for us to finish. Papa was in the garden, tending the animals. While we ate, donkeys wandered past the window. One even stared at us. I think it wanted my sopa.

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The people are not at all interested in having their picture taken, so I snuck this one of a family out for a late afternoon stroll with their pig. It’s a little bit hazy because I was zooming in from a bajillion feet away. (I am sneaky. Or disrespectful. You choose.)

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Un gatito! *photo courtesy of Dave

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Una niña! *photo courtesy of Dave

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Don’t you just want to fall over dead when you see those mountains? I later climbed them, yes I did. You may bow to me. I won’t mind.

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Tricia found a dead thing! *photo courtesy of Dave

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The dead thing that Tricia found. Hint: It’s a guinea pig. No, I do not know what happened to its other half.

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These sheep made me cry. Alright, it wasn’t entirely the sheep’s fault.

You see, we had been hiking along for several hours and we had eaten a very large lunch because we didn’t know when we would eat our next meal, when suddenly, I needed to go to the bathroom. (If you know what I mean.) Only we were hours away from the nearest bathroom, which meant that now, for the first time ever in my life, I was going to have to poop somewhere that wasn’t a bathroom. Which would have been fine had we been hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere, but we were hiking on a road, passing trekkers, tourists, townspeople, and sheep herders every minute or two. This was a very populated road. There were no trees, no big rocks, no privacy anywhere. The longer I hiked the more uncomfortable I got and before I knew it I was hiking with tears streaming down my face. Not tears of discomfort, but tears of “oh my goodness I think I’m going to have to poop in front of a sheepherder.” Mike and Dave both tried to convince me to climb off the path, they swore if walked far enough away from the path I’d have enough privacy to do what I needed to do, but when I tried, THE SHEEP. THEY FOLLOWED ME. And I just couldn’t do it. After an hour or so we finally came upon a small patch of trees and Mike walked me off the road into a secluded cluster and once the deed was done I decided that in fact? Pooping in the woods is kind of awesome. Carrying poopy toilet paper in a ziplock in my backpack? Not awesome. But doing your business outdoors in the breeze is sort of fantastic. Not that I’m going to start doing it on a regular basis or anything, but really? It wasn’t worth the tears.

PS. On our last day of hiking in the Andes I got really sick and actually dropped trou behind a rock next to a farmhouse. Because it was that or shit my pants. And then guess what? I only had gas! The worst gas in the history of the universe, but it was only gas. I dropped my pants next to someone’s house for a fart. So. freaking. embarrassing.

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We made camp that night about ten minutes away from where I had my first outdoor pooping experience. You can’t tell at all, but this was a beautiful campsite. We were high up on the ridge of the island, surrounded on both sides by the lake. We made camp, gawked at the scenery, ate three crackers each, and were in our sleeping bags and asleep before dark. Warm, cozy, and only a little bit hungry.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Copacabana

Copacabana

Copacabana. The name brings to mind balmy nights, pisco sours, and long afternoons stretched out on the beach while people play drums on the sand. It’s almost just like that in real life. Except colder. At least in winter.

On our second day in Bolivia we traveled five hours by tourist bus from La Paz to Copacabana, a beautiful little beach town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The plan was to trek six hours to Yampupata where we would catch a ferry to Isla del Sol, then trek another however many hours until we found a campsite for the night. It didn’t work out that way, but it ended up being perfect. I described the day in detail in this post, written once we had returned to La Paz, so I’ll let our photos fill in the blanks.

llamas

Are they llamas or alpacas? Your guess is as good as mine.

important dude

I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t read the plaque underneath, but I’m guessing this dude is super important.

coca mate

Dos tazas de mate de coca y una taza de café con leche. Además, de la coca no es una droga.

at lunch

Those smiles are because they know lunch is coming. (And also because of the coca tea.) (De la coca no es una droga!)

tourista

main drag

shops

wc bano

side street

tienda

ferry ride

I tip my hat to you, Copacabana. Hasta luego! Vamos a la sagrada Isla del Sol.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Cementerio del Distrito

Cementario District

This is where we believed we’d be catching a bus to Charazani later in the week. (We found out later that wasn’t the case at all.)

graves

We were told these stacked graves are rented for a maximum of ten years. When the time is up, the bodies are moved elsewhere and the grave is purchased by another family, for a different beloved, for ten years more.

Papa

Graves are tended by living loved ones who keep the key that will unlock the glass door to the graves memorial. Inside the memorial you leave tokens of love, fresh flowers, glasses of liquor, photographs, gifts, and letters.

beloved

If you have money, you may line the memorial with granite, using intricate carving or gold letters to display your beloved’s name, title, date of birth, and date of death.

dried flowers

But if you don’t have money, you’ll make use of what you have, scratching your words of love in wet cement, and leaving the tomb memorial open to the breeze and the birds.

paloma

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

La Paz = Love

Our first day in La Paz was fabulous. We had planned to spend the day running errands, gathering gear we couldn’t bring on the plane (fuel for the camp stove), things we’d forgotten (gloves for Mike, contact solution for me), and of course, taking it easy so we could acclimate to the altitude. The airport in La Paz is the highest airport in the world at 13,000 feet. The city itself ranges between 10,000 and 13,000 feet, depending on where you are. Our hotel was at about 11,000 feet. So we took it easy. We woke up early, ate the free breakfast at our hotel (coca mate, fried eggs, fresh yogurt, peeled fruit, and French toast with strong, sticky honey instead of syrup), then we set out for the day.

la paz waking up

street 01

When I wrote this at the end of our first day in the city, I couldn’t find words to describe it. I still can’t, not really, nothing that comes to mind is even close to accurate. It’s not a particularly beautiful city, though the old Spanish colonials, decrepit and grimy, are still lovely. It’s not a clean city with green parks or shining skyscrapers. It’s gritty and dark in places, woven with narrow cobbled streets draped in bad wiring. But it throbs with the heartbeat of life, pulsing with so many hopeful, hardworking people. Once a grand metropolis, it is terribly aged and crumbling, yet surviving, living, breathing, strong and proud.

streets 1

streets 2

For all our years in New York, Mike and I were stunned by the cavalier way in which the people dart across the street, weaving between cars, no mind at all for oncoming traffic. We saw few streetlights, no stop signs at all, and no one gave any thought to the hundreds of cars barreling down the streets. Men, women, children alike walked directly in front of oncoming traffic, expecting drivers to slam on their brakes, and they did. Then the pedestrians, placing a hand on the car that had stopped for them, would continue on like nothing. Dogs would run back and forth, across streets, and the cars would slow, stop, let them pass. The sidewalks are lined with stalls selling everything from sweaters to toilet paper, so there is no room to walk on the sidewalk. You walk on the streets and by god the vehicles make room for you. They better, as they are outnumbered a hundred to one by the people. So many people! I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my life. Like Times Square on New Years Eve, only every day, all over the streets of La Paz. It was breathtaking.

I tried to photograph it, wanted so badly to capture the frenetic energy and the masses of people, but you can’t really tell. In person, trust me, it is much more impressive.

streets 3

streets 4

We wandered. We explored. We walked across the city to the Casa de Cambio to change our U.S. dollars to bolivianos. For lunch we ate salteñas and drank Fanta at a little place in the fancy shopping district, across the street from a men’s underwear store called “Adam”.

adam
This one is for you, Adam.

We walked to the bus station to try and buy tickets to Copacabana for the next day, but the bus station was only a collection of privately run tourist companies selling tickets at inflated rates. We wanted to take public transportation, like the locals, not a tourist bus. If we wanted to take a tourist bus, we could take the bus our hotel ran every day at 7 a.m., at a much better rate than anything we would find at the station.

We visited the cementerio district, where we would need to pick up our bus to Charazani later in the week, but couldn’t find any place that looked even remotely like a bus stop. The cementerio, however, was beautiful.

We sampled street food, peeked into the witch’s market, and ate dinner at a little chicken stall where we were the only tourists and the waitress (who was also the cook) clearly did not care to have our business. We ate the Bolivian special, broasted chicken with peeled fried potatoes, rice, and citrus mayonaise. We fell asleep that night with full bellies, happy, showered, and eager for the next day’s adventures.

merkado

chola

mannequin

The mannequins in La Paz had the strangest faces (and the largest breasts) of any mannequin I’ve ever seen ever.

snacks

elephant door

zebra traffic control

The guys in the zebra suits are Bolivian traffic control. Bolivians like a little comedy with their traffic.

evening street scene

twilight

good night la paz

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

Besides our parents, Mike, Dave, and I are probably the only people in the world who care about these lengthy  vacation play-by-plays. I realize that. Especially since (so far) I’m not providing any useful travel information or regaling you with funny antics. I’m like that annoying neighbor who invites you over for dinner and then forces you to sit through a slide show of crap you don’t care about. I guess I could start making stuff up, wacky and zany stuff that might make you laugh, but then it wouldn’t be real. I mean, there was some funny stuff that happened, and we’ll get there for sure, but for now it’s just blah blah, look at this picture, blah blah. The good news is, you totally don’t have to read this! You can just scroll through and look at the pretty pictures. (Still forcing you to sit through the slide show, but without the benefit of a home cooked meal and a fattening dessert.) (I’m a jackhole.) (But Bolivia was so pretty!)

We woke up on Tuesday morning as the plane was descending into Lima. For breakfast we ate empanadas and drank cafe con leche at the Lima airport. I was tired, grumpy, and in need of a shower. I’d had it with airports and airport security in general. They made us collect our baggage so they could search it in both Mexico City and Lima, we had to go through customs in both airports and we were frisked and x-rayed in both airports (an obnoxious display of what I like to call Security Theatre). We had taken off and landed three times already and there was still one more layover in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, before we landed in La Paz. I like traveling, I just don’t like traveling.

Note to anyone who might travel with me in the future: I am significantly less grumpy with a belly full of empanadas. Coffee also helps.

Lima Airport

That’s Sergio. Perfectly lovely and not at all a ringer.

The flight to Santa Cruz was short and easy and they let us stay on the (air conditioned) plane while various people disembarked and others boarded. It was an hour-and-a-half to La Paz from Santa Cruz and we had a fantastic birds-eye view of the Cordillera Real and the city on the way.

Cordillera Real

Our first glimpse of the snow-capped mountains we’d soon be hiking.

La Paz

Hello La Paz!

The La Paz airport was great. We were in and out of customs, newly purchased visas in hand, within minutes. Our hotel had sent a car for us, so we were greeted at the luggage carousel by a friendly man holding a sign with my name scrawled in black marker. Sergio had been so helpful that we offered him a ride to the city center, so all four of us piled into the car. As soon as I saw the city up close, any thread of fear I still had melted away completely. It was absolutely vibrant. Alive with activity, swarming with people in bright clothes, shops spilling goods onto packed sidewalks, Spanish colonial buildings towering on every corner, all at once gritty and decrepit and gorgeous. I had the same feeling I felt when I first arrived in Paris; a swelling of the heart and a feeling of kindred love, like I belonged there, I was meant to be there, it was perfect.

street scene

Ave. Illampu

welcome

Check out the mountain in the background. What? Can’t see it? Let me help you with that.

tigo

Holy balls, right? Also, the zoom function on my camera is out of this world.

Our hotel, a three-star hotel located in the heart of the city, was beautiful. Much, much nicer than I imagined, very comfortable, hot water guaranteed daily. (We had no idea, at the time, what a luxury that would be.) We checked in, a bellhop took our bags to the room, and we went right out to find a place to eat. A little intimidated by our options, we chose a place on the corner with an enormous menu. We were welcomed by two women who’d been sitting behind us on the plane from Lima, Canadian travelers who happened to be staying at the hostel next door to our hotel. We chatted over beer, hamburgers, sopa, and arroyo con pollo. They travel in South America every year and had recently hiked the Incan road to Macchu Picchu. When they heard we were trekking the Apollobamba South, they urged us to hire a guide.

“And make sure you get mules to carry your gear. You’ll have so much more fun!”

They were so not kidding.

don't take my pictures

“You don’t need to take my picture.” But I do! Otherwise no one will believe we were here.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

This post comes to you from BlogHer ’11 in beautiful San Diego, California. And yes, I realize this is the longest post EVER, but whatever. I promise I won’t only talk about Bolivia from now on. But I do need to talk about it, if only so I can go back years from now and reread all about this wonderful (and sometimes awful) adventure. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed (except for sometimes) living it.

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Getting ready to leave for the airport, July 11, 2011

For all the nerves and anxiety and fear that plagued me in the weeks before we left for The Big Bolivian Adventure, I was as cool as a cucumber the day we left. I’d made up my mind a few days before that I was going to live in the moment and make the best of it, whatever it happened to be. So even though I ripped one of my toenails off (by accident) the night before we left and even though when I brushed my teeth that morning I spit mouthfuls of gooey red blood into the sink, I was perfectly calm. Eerily calm. Excited even.

We made it to LAX, checked our bags, and walked through the rape-scans with two hours to kill, so we stopped at a Wolfgang Pucks and lunched on delicious giant salads, knowing full well we were eating our last raw vegetables for the next three weeks. The flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City was uneventful. Mike and I reread the State Department warnings and Dave made friends with the young man sitting next to him, who was also headed to La Paz, and who happened to have all the same connecting flights as us. When Dave finally introduced him to me and Michael, I was highly suspicious.

A note to anyone who may travel with me in the future: Do not make me read the travel warnings, or the State Department warnings, or any other warnings. I take them very seriously. Very. Seriously.

Me: Don’t you think it’s weird that this guy has the same connecting flights as us?
Mike: No. I don’t think a lot of planes fly to Bolivia.
Me: But why did he fly out of L.A. if he lives in Vegas? That’s weird. His story isn’t lining up.
Mike: What are you talking about?
Me: The state department says not to talk to other people claiming to be tourists. He could be a ringer. He could have drugs on him and then fake police will come and fake-arrest us and blindfold us and steal our money and cut our throats.
Mike: I really don’t think anyone is going to go to the trouble of finding a “victim” in Los Angeles, just to follow them all the way to La Paz, so they can rob them and kill them. It doesn’t make sense.
Me: Yes it does.
Mike: That’s ridiculous.
Me: But the State Department says –
Mike: Look! A mall!
Me: Is there a Starbucks?!?

Sergio turned out to be perfectly lovely, a genuine tourist indeed, and the fact that he spoke fluent Spanish was one more point in his favor. While we were stuck in Tapachula for an hour –

Let me back up. We were supposed to fly the red-eye from Mexico City to Lima, Peru, but before we left Mexico City, the pilot announced that we would need to make a stop for fuel. He said they couldn’t fuel up in Mexico City because of the altitude.

I don’t know what the altitude of Mexico City is, but that is the stupidest excuse ever. There is no way they couldn’t fuel up in Mexico City. There was something else going on that they didn’t want to tell the passengers. Like a guerilla coup. Or an electrical problem with the plane. Or maybe one of the engines was loose. Who knows? NO ONE.

So we land in Tapachula, which is a Mexican city on the border of Guatemala, and they have to turn off the plane to “fuel up”. It’s the middle of the night, the plane is packed full of exhausted passengers, nothing but emergency lighting illuminating the aisles, and no air conditioning. A lot of strange noises and twenty minutes later, the pilot announced that we would not be able to take off because the runway was wet. And he didn’t know how long it would take for the runway to dry.

I wonder if, in Mexico on the border of Guatemala, they don’t let cars drive on wet streets?

The passengers started getting angry. I couldn’t blame them. I’ve been on a lot of planes but this was by far the most miserable I have ever been on a plane in my entire life. People were shouting and making all kinds of noise. It was hot and stuffy. We were all tired. Next to me, a mama was trying to take a little sweatshirt off her baby boy, but it was stuck around his head and no matter how she tugged it wouldn’t come loose. And he was so tired and so hot he just sat there, his hands limp in his lap, sobbing. When she finally pulled it loose she hugged him and rocked back and forth, saying over and over as she held him, “Lo siento! Lo siento, lo siento…” I wanted to hug her and tell her it would be ok.

That was when the captain made another announcement: The plane was too full, twelve people would need to disembark. The crowd went wild. People were jumping out of their seats, hollering who-knows-what in Spanish, pounding sweaty fists on sticky knees. Then, from the middle of the plane, came a flood of laughter. It sounded like the laugh-track on an eighties sitcom. Someone was telling jokes, lifting the mood of the people around him. Sergio told us that there was a famous Peruvian comedian sitting there, and he was making jokes about the captain to the passengers. Then the flight attendants started coming around with cool water for the tired and over-heated people and in a little while, (over an hour after we’d first touched down) we were taking off again.

They didn’t make anyone get off the plane after all, but we never did find out why they took so long to take off. It wasn’t the runway, it wasn’t too many passengers, so was it a problem with the plane? A guerilla coup? We don’t think so. We think they were either taking on, or unloading, cargo they weren’t supposed to be carrying. Like drugs. Or weapons. Or disease infected monkeys. (Or else there was no exchange of unauthorized cargo, but simply regular, stupid, airline politics. We’ll never know.)

Treasures

llama skull

I found this beauty right on the side of the trail on our last day of trekking. It was one of a pile of bones I picked up along the way, but it is by far the most beautiful. I didn’t think I’d get my treasures through U.S. customs, so I tried to mail them, but the post office refused me. Then I tried to FedEx them, but FedEx said it was impossible. So I narrowed down my collection to two vertebrae and two skulls, wrapped them in clothes, and U.S. customs didn’t give me any trouble at all. It’s a good thing too, because if I’d been asked to give them up, there would have been tears.

Here’s the original collection:

treasures

The beach glass and the little smooth rock come from Lake Titicaca. The picture doesn’t show it, but the smooth rock is actually a beautiful shade of turquoise. I’m sorry now that I didn’t try to smuggle in all of my treasures, but I feel good about having left them as an offering at Tiwanaku. More on that later.

Screwing My Head On Right

clouds roll in

Last night, after an hour of messing with the computer to get it to talk to our new camera, we finally managed to upload the 1,076 photos (3.3 GB!) we took in Bolivia. Now comes the arduous task of sorting them, determining which are actually good enough to show off, and finally, posting them. In order to save battery power and memory card space, Dave and I intentionally did not take pictures of the same things, so I’m still waiting for his pictures so I can add them to mine for a complete photographic log of the trip. He said he’d put some discs in the mail for me this week, so let’s cross our fingers he isn’t too buried at work to keep his promise. Basically what I’m getting at here is that while I do intend to bombard you with Bolivia pictures, it will not happen all at once.

The photo above was taken on de dos días of our trek through the Andes. I know the shot was taken around 1:30 p.m. because that was the approximate time every day when the clouds would roll in, wrapping us in soft white, rendering us nearly blind. The clouds were Reason #1 why hiring una guía was a life-saving measure.

For the record, our Lonely Planet guidebook says that a guide is “strongly recommended”. I plan to write Lonely Planet a letter and let them know that they should revise their Bolivia book, for several reasons (all of which I will list) but mainly because a guide is not “strongly recommended” but mandatory. Mandatory, I say! Now bend to my will you cretins!

But seriously? I cannot stress enough how absolutely obtuse it would have been to attempt this trek without a guide. More on that later.

We got home Saturday afternoon after a thirty-six hour cross-continent trip home. Our fourteen-hour layover in Peru was made heavenly by the day trip we took into the city. Mike not only planned a visit to catacombs where I was able to ogle real human remains, but then he took us to a giant mall built into a cliff. He knows his valley girl wife so well. We ate three meals in the city, each better than the last, and even though we rode in three taxicabs, we never got robbed, raped, or stabbed. Success!

Since we’ve been home we’ve been cleaning, scouring, nesting, unpacking, laundering load after load of laundry, grocery shopping, and basically trying to recover. I’m back at work and a little overwhelmed (when am I not overwhelmed?) and day after tomorrow I leave for BlogHer 2011. One of these days (I hope, I hope) life will calm down a bit and we’ll get into a regular routine of living a quiet, simple life, but for now things are still hectic. Not as hectic as they were before we left for Bolivia, but almost. I think I need a vacation from all my vacations – a week where I can just sit in peaceful quiet and write and write and write and write…. maybe what I need is retirement. Too bad that’s like, a million years from now. Not that I’m complaining! I’m really not complaining, I love our life, I loved our vacation, I’m super excited about BlogHer, I just wish I had a little more time to pour over our photos and write down the memories we made on this trip before they begin to slip from our heads. They are like tiny bubbles and I can feel them beginning to float away. I want to trap them here in the pages of this website so I can relive them years from now. All in good time, I suppose.