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Eight Hours to Charazani

view from my bus window

The eight-hour bus ride to Charazani was uneventful. It was not a modern tourist bus like the one we took to Copacabana. This bus was at least as old as me, if not older. There was no heat and it was very very cold. The people who shared the bus with us were wrapped up in warm blankets – they’d known how cold it would be. They were not tourists, but native Bolivians traveling for work, traveling for family, traveling for Festival, traveling for a better life somewhere else.

I slept most of the way and when I wasn’t sleeping, I watched the landscape slip past the window. I tried not to look down because when I did, I saw nothing but the steep slope of jagged mountainside. The road we traveled was narrow and our bus hugged the edge so that it seemed one sharp turn would send us spiraling down the mountain in a flurry of stone and dust. Every few miles we came upon a herd of cattle and more than once I was sure we’d barrel right through them, but they always scattered in time. Two hours in we made a stop for food and toilets. Dave and Mike got off the bus to pee and came back with fried chicken and french fries. Possibly the best fried chicken and french fries I’ve ever tasted in my life. After that, the bus only stopped to let passengers off and never for more than a moment.

waiting for a different bus

roadside cattle

sheep grazing

8 hrs to Charazani

Midway through the trip they played a movie on an ancient little television. An American sci-fi movie dubbed in Spanish. A little boy, maybe six or seven, stood in the aisle gripping the armrest of Mike’s seat, eyes glued to the television as it lulled him into enchantment. His eyes were so wide, so full of awe, his mouth hung open just slightly and when the bus hit a bump and he lost his footing, he’d grab Mike’s shoulder or arm and hang on, eyes never leaving the television screen. I wanted to scoop him into my lap, bury my face in the top of his head, nibble the sugar at the back of his neck.

road to Charazani

Charazani from above

We saw Charazani long before we reached it. A cluster of brick buildings pressed into the mountainside. The closer we got, the less inviting it looked. When we finally pulled into the town square, my whole body was tense. I told myself it was because I’d been on a bus for eight hours – I just needed to get off and stretch my legs. But that wasn’t it. It was the people in the square who stopped what they were doing to watch the travelers disembark. Who froze in their tracks with slack faces and cold eyes and stared.

It was hot and I was sweating. Tired, hungry, bladder bursting, and sweating. We pulled our gear off the bus, now crusted with a layer of dirt, loaded it onto our backs and started walking. We knew there were three hostels in the village. The first one we tried was locked up, deserted, so we moved on. I only wanted a clean place to pee, a hot shower, and meal. After that, I didn’t care what happened.

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

Back in Copacabana (Finally)

Electricidad

El Alto

Dinner in La Paz

In the Hours Before Dawn

In the hours before dawn

It’s been weeks since I posted about Bolivia. Partly because life has been getting in the way and partly because this story was sort of difficult to write. It starts on our seventh day of travel, the morning of our fifth day in Bolivia, as we began the full-day journey that would lead us to the first day of our Andean trek. This was where things really started to get adventurous. If you’ve missed the previous posts, there is a list of all of them at the end of this post.

Our wake-up call was late the morning we left for Charazani. We’d asked for 4 a.m. but it was 4:25 when they called. We brushed our teeth, dressed in a hurry, stuffed our still-damp laundry in our packs. I was last out of the rooms, left to do a final idiot check, and by the time I made it to the darkened lobby we were checked out and our cab was loaded. Ten minutes later we were getting out of the cab on the pitch black streets of La Paz’s Cementario District.

We had visited the Cementario District our first day in La Paz and were enchanted by the sunny, bustling, charming area of the city. But two hours before dawn it might as well have been another planet. Most of the street stalls were closed up, their hulking forms casting dark shadows on the sidewalk. A few streetlamps leaked pale yellow spots of light that made the edges of shadows seem darker. Two buses were parked at the curb and people milled around. A woman called out, over and over, “Charazani! Charazani! Charazani!” It sounded like a song the way she chanted it. I was nervous. I feel uneasy in large cities in the early hours before dawn. It is, in my opinion, not a good time for tourists to be wandering about. I looked around and saw young mothers, babes at breast, and little old ladies with huge bundles on their backs. There were old men with oily faces who lurched and shouted and smelled of stale liquor. Young men skulked in the alley, their shoulders stooped and their eyes hard. We stood out with our pale skin and brand-new Patagonia clothing. My mind flashed to all those damn State Department warnings I’d read and I whispered a prayer for our safety.

We bought our bus tickets from the woman who chanted, “Charazani!” at the top of her voice. In his pidgin Spanish, Mike confirmed that our bus would leave at 6:30 a.m. The cabby that had dropped us off was idling by the curb, so Mike pulled me in for a quick kiss and said, “Our bus doesn’t leave for over an hour. You stay here with Dave. I’m going to take the cab back to the hotel to get that nalgene.”

That stupid nalgene. In our hurry to leave the hotel, it had been left, full of clean filtered water, on the floor of the hotel lobby.

For those of you who don’t know what a nalgene is, it is a type of refillable water bottle that hikers like to use. Nalgenes are about twenty bucks a pop; expensive, yes, but probably not worth leaving your wife and brother on a creepy South American street at 5:15 in the morning and nearly missing your bus to Charazani for. In Mike’s defense, he was sure it wouldn’t take him more than twenty minutes and he thought he had over an hour to kill. But still.

Mike’s cab melted into the dark and my stomach knotted. I helped Dave load our packs onto the bus and then he suggested we look for something to eat. I didn’t want to walk away from our gear. The luggage compartments were hanging wide open. Anyone could walk by and snatch something. We only packed necessities – we couldn’t afford to lose a thing. (Not even a nalgene.) We stood on the dark sidewalk and tried not to think about the giant targets stamped on our foreheads. I trained my eyes on our packs and stewed over Mike taking off. I was about to start bitching about it when a man, swaying and bleary eyed, staggered towards us. He stared at me, opened his mouth, and leaned in.

Read more…

Dinner in La Paz

It had been a pretty big day. We spent the morning trekking, had breakfast on a floating island, lunch in Copacabana, took a bus ride through El Alto, and finally landed in La Paz around 4:45 p.m. I was ecstatic. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier about anything in my life. Hotel Rosario, the place we fell in love with our first night in the city, was booked. They recommended Inca’s Room Hotel. They were guaranteed to have hot water at least most of the day. (This is a real amenity.) Mike checked us into a double and booked Dave a single. How cute is this little room?

Incas Room Hotel

And how killer is this view:

mike and trish in la paz

Whoops! You wanted a picture of the view, not an adorkabley cute photo of us kissing in front of the view. My mistake! But real quick, I’d like to point out that we had not bathed in three full days. People were afraid of us on the street, that’s how bad we smelled. And now, the unobstructed view:

unobstructed view

Is that not absolutely awe-inspiring? It still takes my breath away. Mike and I did not have this view. Our window faced a brick wall, but we did have a private luke-warm shower in a clean bathroom and a room to ourselves for the first time in almost a week, so we were very, very, very happy.

la paz - tigo

la paz 2

roof top laundry lines

We checked into our hotel around 6 p.m. and I took the most wonderful, albeit kind of cold but not terribly cold, shower I’ve ever taken in my life. Michael bought me a single-use shampoo packet from the hotel lobby and the girl at the reception desk loaned me a hair dryer. We washed our filthy camp clothes by hand in the sink and wore what was still clean to dinner. I felt like a pampered princess. While we waited for our dinner reservation, Mike and Dave went foraging for the next day’s breakfast and I posted this. I was ecstatic. Drunk with happiness. Life had never felt more exhilorating.

That night we feasted on llama, lamb, regional cheeses, quinoa sopa, and sparkling water. We went to bed clean, comfortable, with full bellies and happy hearts.

la paz 3

windowless sky scraper

la paz 1

la paz

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

Back in Copacabana (Finally)

Electricidad

El Alto

El Alto

desolate beauty

We left Copacabana around 2 p.m. and rode the tourist bus four hours back to La Paz. Just outside of La Paz is El Alto, a new city founded in 1987. If La Paz is crumbling, El Alto is ramshackle. Built from steel rods and hollow ceramic brick, the structures are simple and utilitarian. Many of the buildings are unfinished. Windows and roofs are amenities most people don’t have. Those who can’t afford an apartment with finished windows live in tents. Where there are rooftops, there are dogs pacing across them. Security? Who knows.  As in the outskirts of Copacabana, livestock grazes in dusty, garbage-strewn fields.

windswept

When I asked Mike how he would describe El Alto he said, “Windswept. Desolate. Bleak. Bustling and abandoned.”

roadside

The population of El Alto is around a million. It is the actual location of the La Paz airport, and seemed to me to be the gate of entry to La Paz. We were told the people say, “El Alto is not Bolivia’s problem. El Alto is the solution.” We drove through El Alto at least a half a dozen times, maybe more. On this particular afternoon, there were people dancing in the streets.

dancing

Over the course of our time in Bolivia we would come to believe that always, somewhere, it was festival. Nearly every town and village we visited was celebrating a festival. This was El Alto’s.

dancing in blue

festival

The road that leads to La Paz is edged by a great wall painted blue and decorated with the most provocative murals. I tried to snap them but it was difficult on a moving bus. Here are two:

el alto graffiti

graffiti

I don’t know if you know this, but the great Che Guevara was executed and buried in Bolivia. Months before his death he wrote his own epitaph: “Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this our battle cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.” In 1997 Che’s remains were found in a mass grave. That October he was laid to rest with military honors in Cuba.

Che

Che is beloved by the Bolivian people today. This statue welcomes all who cross from El Alto to La Paz.

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

Back in Copacabana (Finally)

Electricidad

Electricidad

close up on cables

In Bolivia, the electricity runs at 220 volts at 30 amps, giving you four times more current than the U.S. household current. It’s the same current you would get in a giant appliance; the funny plugs here are the regular plugs in Bolivia. It’s an absolutely lethal current. If you touched one of their electrical wires, you wouldn’t get a shock from it. It would kill you. Fry you up like a french fried potato. Which is why it’s so amazing how cavalier they are with their wiring. The risk of fire alone is insane. But it’s as if it doesn’t even cross people’s minds. They don’t even notice. We were on this double-decker tourist bus our last day in Bolivia and I was ducking every few minutes because I was certain one of those electric cables was going to smack me in the face. Not only would I have been electrocuted, but the whole bus probably would have exploded.

cables cut the sky

criss-crossed cables

Mike wants me to point out that many of the junctions were just knots – everything was wired together the way you’d twist speaker wire together. And lots of the cables weren’t even insulated. The city was draped in naked, lethal cables, left swinging in the breeze.

electric drapery

I love how on this building, they’ve used the electric cables as an accent on the facade. Don’t touch the black draped wires. You’ll die!

junction

stoplight

sundrenched and electric

the corner near mama coca

I thought they were beautiful. Like a rattlesnake, up close and personal. Dangerous, frightening, electrifying. (Har, har.)

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

Back in Copacabana (Finally)

Back in Copacabana (Finally)

This week was gangbusters. Work was crazy, but I got through it quite successfully. Not perfectly, but overall it was pretty fantastic. And look what I have for you!

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Lake of the Gray Puma

Pictures from Bolivia! Yay! (Much cheering ensues.)

These were taken on day six of our travels, day four in Bolivia, day three of our first trek, right after lunch on the floating island. The next few hours of hiking were easy. It was around eleven when we left the floating island and we were trying to get back to Copacabana to catch a one-thirty bus back to La Paz, so we walked fast. On a dirt road in the sun with thirty-five/forty-five/fifty-five pound packs on our backs. There aren’t a whole lot of pictures because, while not completely miserable, it wasn’t the nicest part of our hike. But here are some highlights:

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Awwwww! Aren’t we the cutest? We totally are. Dave took this photo of us. When I look at it I remember how lovely it was to walk hand-in-hand like this. Even on a dusty road carrying heavy backpacks in the hot sun after a breakfast of fried fish Mike made me feel all romantic inside.

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una vaca

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dos ovejas

tres llamas

tres llamas

(Actually, two of them are ovejas, not llamas, but whatevs.)

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This is me after I collapsed in a heap on the outskirts of Copacabana. I could have slept right there. Have you ever been so drunk that you thought it was perfectly acceptable to sleep in a telephone booth? I was that drunk. Only I hadn’t had a drop of anything in weeks. I was drunk with exhaustion. It would not have been safe for me to operate a large piece of machinery. My feet were tired. My knees were tired. My shoulders were tired. My butt was tired. My hair was tired. Even my teeth were tired. Also, see how crispy my left arm is? It was lobster red. That happend during our trek around Isla del Sol the day before. Just the one arm. The sun was beating from one direction, clearly.

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While I took this photo for Dave’s wife, I chanted: “Touch it touch it touch it touch it! Peer pressure! Do it! Do it!” But he did not. Which was probably wise.

Walking into Copacabana through the outskirts, where village blends into city, I was a little bit nervous. It was intense. The houses were made of mudbrick, just like the farm houses, only these houses didn’t have any windows. Or any doors. Some of them didn’t have roofs. Trash overflowed from the three-foot deep gutters into the street. There were people living in tents. There was livestock, but it grazed in muddy fields strewn with broken bottles and dirty diapers. We were trying to find our way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, but when we stopped to ask for directions in broken Spanish, the people just stared at us and shook their heads like they had no idea what we were talking about. We could hear a sermon loud and clear in the alpine air so we knew it was close by. I had to pee worse than anything so we found a baño público and dropped our packs. Mike stood guard while Dave ran ahead to find the basilica and I ran to pee.

This bathroom was… it was not an American bathroom. It had a real flushing toilet which was awesome, I am not complaining. Lots of places don’t even have that. None of the toilets had seats, but not a big deal. One can simply hover, that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the method by which the toilets were flushed. While many of the baños público we visited had toilets that the user could flush by pushing a small handle on the basin, these toilets could only be flushed by pouring a bucket of water into the toilet bowl. The buckets, old two-gallon bleach bottles with their tops cut off, were stacked, dozens of them, next to a cluster of filthy garbage cans, each brimming with thick, murky water. But, dear readers, I did not have to soil my pretty American hands touching the grimy buckets and scooping the germy water. The little girl to whom I’d paid un boliviano did it for me.

It was awful. I tried to do it for myself, but the girl shook her head, said something in Spanish and shooed me out of the way. She couldn’t have been more than six. I watched while she draped herself over the edge of the garbage bin, hanging by one arm to the lip of the can while she scooped water with her other arm, her little feet in old leather shoes dangling inches above the floor. I wondered if she’d ever fallen in. Or tipped over, sloshing muck and brown water all over her dress. I thought about what I did when I was six. How I spent warm October afternoons singing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go while I swung on black rubber swings under old shady trees. I wanted to pick her up and carry her out. She’d just barely fit in my pack if I dumped all my gear on the street and I would have gladly dumped every piece of gear, every cracker, every bottle of water to take her home, give her a life of swings and shade trees. Except obviously I was not going to do that. I’d be arrested and hauled off to a Bolivian prison where I wouldn’t be surprised if they frequently put kidnappers to death. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. So I walked away.

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Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana

Guess what happened next? FOOD. Glorious, beautiful, wonderful food. And lots of it.

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We’d crossed from the questionable side of town to the tourist side of town where everything was bright colored, beautiful, and for sale. Everywhere we looked the streets were lined with food. Nuts, dried fruits, broasted chicken, salteñas. OH MY GOODNESS THE SALTENAS. Salteñas are basically Bolivian empanadas. They are baked in a wonderful crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside cornmeal shell and stuffed with chopped meat, potatoes, apples, a hardboiled egg, and one olive. The kind with a pit. And everything is soaking in an incredible, rich broth that is both salty and a little bit sweet. It is manna from heaven, I kid you not. We bought three salteñas, several bags of roasted nuts, chickpeas, beans, and dried bananas. Not the dried bananas like you buy at the market but real, dried-in-the-sun bananas. You have never tasted such treasures as these.

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Mi amor with a salteña and a Coka Quina. If I could buy Coka Quina in the states, I might drink it exclusively. It’s Bolivian cola, but it has ginger in it, so it has a wonderful gingery-kick to it. I wish I had a Coka Quina right now.

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It’s killing me that I can’t remember what these tiny fried fish are called. Ipsy or Isspi or Ippsi, I have no idea. We ate them several times but these first ones were the best.

6090426810_851d83c103_b

Please pardon the gargantuan blister-like pimple on my cheek. That is I-haven’t-showered-or-washed-my-face-in-three-days-but-I’ve-been-applying-sunscreen-every-two-hours acne. I had asked Mike to be on Pimple Patrol. “Please,” I begged him,”If I grow something horrible on my face, tell me and help me take care of it.”

“Of course, dear. Anything you say, dear.” He replied.

I had no idea that thing was living on my face until the end of the day when we finally checked into our hotelroom in La Paz. I almost died when I saw it.

We have a really lovely life, Mike and I. There are little children in the world who spend days they should be in school flushing public toilets with dirty water, but we go on vacation and worry about pimples and complain about the public bathrooms. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer all of a sudden, it’s just very strange. And it’s inspiration to be a bit better of a person in the day-to-day and to pay forward some of the gifts in my life.

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

The Village Awakens

It was day six of our travels, day four in Bolivia, day three of our first trek. We woke early and packed up our roadside camp in the light of the full moon. I was eternally grateful that we had not been bothered by anyone in the night, but I was still on edge. I do not like wandering around in populated areas at such ungodly hours. One never knows who or what one may run into.

Also? I was really freaking hungry.

We hiked down the steep slope of the hill we’d slept on and back toward the road. Something in the sky flashed.

“What was that?” I asked.

Neither Mike nor Dave had seen it. Something flashed again.

“Seriously? You didn’t see that?” They had to have seen it.

“I saw it that time.” Mike answered. “It could have been lightening.”

“It wasn’t lightening. There’s no storm anywhere. It was probably just blah blah blah…” Dave gave a very scientific-y answer to what he thought the flashing light was, but he lost me after “it was probably just…”. I decided it must either be aliens or a serial killer trying to scare us with some sort of flashy light thing as a precursor to torturing us and murdering us.

The light flashed again. I started praying, furiously, for safety. We hiked along the road, in the pitch black, in complete silence, for another thirty minutes or so before the sun began to rise. We never saw the flashy light again, and we never figured out what caused it, but even Mike agrees with me that it was incredibly weird. (I still think it was most likely aliens.) As soon as the sun started coming up I began to relax. The village we hiked through transformed from dark and foreboding to quaint and lovely. Lights were coming on in windows and we could smell cook fires. We hiked with rocks in our pockets because each time we passed a house a dog would charge at us, snarling. None were tied up, but none ever left the safety of their unfenced yard. They didn’t want to fight, they just wanted to make sure we didn’t get too close. We abandoned our rocks.

The village was beautiful. Nestled in a valley, hugging the lake, it was idyllic. We began to see people, a few at a time, working in their fields or tending their livestock in the pink early hours of the morning. I imagined their homes inside, warm and spare, a hot breakfast of quinoa in fresh milk with a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon. Maybe a steaming cup of coffee. I was very hungry.

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I love this house. Do you see the way the balcony is set up? It’s hard to tell in this photo, but this house is actually two stories and you’re looking at the second floor. That is their balcony, with no sides, not even narrow side railings. It just sort of hangs off the side of the house so you better not let your kids out there unattended. And yet? It is so perfectly picturesque.

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“Welcome to Titicachi and visit the floating island cultural center of Isk’a Huata.”

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This is brilliant. This house (and we saw several others set up the same way) was built below the road, so again, you are seeing the second floor of the house from this view. Only this family included a doorway at road-level, then propped a long plank of wood to serve as a pathway to the road. This way, one does not need to push one’s cart of goods up and down a steep and rocky slope to get to the road. One can use this clever pathway. We saw one house whose plank was warped and looking very old and fragile. I imagined that whenever the family used it, the wife would say to her husband, “When are you going to put down a new plank? I’ve told you over and over, we need a new plank! One of these days it’s going to snap in half! How many times do I need to tell you?” To which he’d roll his eyes and say, “Ay, Mami! I’ll do it, I’ll do it. Cut me some slack, will you? I’ve been working all day!”

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The people we passed on this cold early morning seemed a little suspicious of us, but we smiled and said “Buenos dias!” and they smiled and greeted us back. Mostly. Though it had been, at this point, eighteen hours since our last meal (not counting the cold, nearly raw 1/2 cup of quinoa we shared at camp the night before), this hike through the villages of Lake of the Gray Puma became one of my favorite events of the entire trip. Watching the village wake up in the early hours of the morning was enchanting. It was story-book beautiful. Irrational fears of murder and mayhem aside, I would absolutely recommend the hike from Yampupata to Copacabana, as long as you do it in the very early morning on a full stomach.

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

Evening in Yampupata

llama

When our boat landed at Yampupata, the beach was completely abandoned. I was very grateful that we had scrapped our original plan to hike from Copacabana to Yampupata the day before because there wasn’t anywhere we would have been able to catch a ferry to Isla del Sol. The beach was abandoned. There were boats tied up, but not a single person anywhere. There was a house on the beach and in the yard a big dog barked furiously. Barked and barked and barked and then charged Michael, tearing down the beach toward him, all teeth and froth and fury. Mike swung at the dog with his trekking poles and I started throwing rocks. We managed to scare it off.

Adrenaline pumping through our bodies, we tried to read a large map posted nearby, to figure out the road we should take back to Copacabana, but it was useless. (This is where I should mention that we didn’t have any maps with us, not because we’re idiots [although one could argue that we are] but because there are no reliable maps of Bolivia. Sure, there are some maps of the cities, but not the areas where we were hiking. The best map of the country was drawn at the turn of the twentieth century and though it was updated in – the nineties, I want to say, but don’t quote me – most of it is gray, unmapped space.) We were standing at this giant map on the beach, trying to make sense of a faded squiggly line printed on a peeling blue background, when a bus pulled up and a stream of people poured out. They were loud and laughing and blowing kisses at us. They made me nervous. Everything made me nervous. The empty beach, the barking dog, the fact we had no map, the locals blowing kisses and laughing at us. They climbed onto a nearby boat and sailed off. In five minutes it was as if they had never been there.

pumping water

We sat on the shore of Lake of the Gray Puma and pumped water to fill our bottles and bladders. It was very hot in the sun. Dave took this opportunity to go for a swim and just as I had convinced myself to strip down and dive into the icy water, a family settled down next to us and began washing their laundry. They were dressed in traditional clothes and I couldn’t bear to strip down to my sports bra and hiking panties, showing that much skin to people whose women never even show their ankles. It felt wrong for a million reasons.

We pumped fifteen liters of water, five for each of us, sorted out our gear, reapplied sunscreen, and began trekking up the road that led away from the beach. As empty as the beach had been, we were surprised when the road wound into a bustling farming village. It was late in the day, maybe four-thirty or so, and everyone was working hard. Men were building houses out of hollow ceramic brick, women were carrying bundles of harvested crops toward home, children were playing in the street.

“Copacabana?” the people asked us.
“¡Sí!”
“¿Necesita un paseo?”
“No gracias. A pie.”
Then they would grin at us and wave good-bye.

One little boy on a bicycle rode in circles around us. “Copacabana?”
“Si. A pie.”
“¡La bicicleta es mejor, señor!”
You’re right, kid. A bicycle is WAY better than hiking on foot.

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We hiked for about two hours along a winding road. We knew there were campsites somewhere between us and Copacabana, but we didn’t know where or how far away they were. It was getting late, we were exhausted, and we were – wait for it – getting hungry. (Again with the hungry!) It was decided that we would camp on a hill above the road. I was not happy with this plan. We could be seen by any car driving past in three directions. It was, in my opinion, the Bolivian countryside equivalent of sleeping under a freeway overpass. But I was out-voted. It could be hours of walking until we found a respectable campsite, so we would make due with this.

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We set up camp, dropping to the ground whenever we heard a car pass. We weren’t camping on anyone’s land, as far as we knew, but we didn’t want to advertise our presence. I changed my underpants, which, having not had the opportunity to do so since we’d left La Paz, felt like an unbelievable luxury. Mike fired up the camp stove to cook the quinoa we’d purchased earlier, but soon realized that quinoa makes for poor camp food. We burned through almost half of our fuel canister and yet we ate a cold dinner that night. Cold, unseasoned, and practically raw. It was freezing out. I was shivering in my woolen underlayers and fleece outer layers, so we crawled into our sleeping bags long before the sun set. At twilight, that moment when the sky is still light but your field of vision is dark, a group of children herding llamas crossed a hundred feet from our heads. Twenty minutes later a man walked by, saw us and stared. I worried all night that someone would come tell us we couldn’t camp there and make us move, or rob us, or kill us. Because that’s where my head goes, of course.

Hours later when the moon was very high in the sky, I woke up to the sound of drums beating in the distance. First drums, then faint strains of music threaded through the valley, up the road, into my ears. Half the sky was cloaked in gray clouds and half was clear as it could be. The moon shone so bright it all but drowned out the stars. Dogs howled in the distance and the music grew louder. Anyone else would have found it beautiful and serene, but I was sure we were done for. The music? That was the townspeople gearing up to hunt down the stupid white tourists sleeping on the land by the road. Oh Trish, I reasoned, of course they aren’t coming to hunt us down. They’re just enjoying some sort of celebration, playing music, dancing, getting drunk. Getting drunk. What if a bunch of local men got drunk and decided they didn’t want the stupid white tourists sleeping on their land they decided to come kill us? What if there was a serial killer in the town, a serial killer who’d never killed before because he knew he’d get caught if he killed in his own little town, but now he’d heard about the stupid white tourists and this was the perfect opportunity to satiate his desire? Or what if he killed someone in town and then blamed the stupid white tourists? We would end up in a Bolivian prison FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

It’s a wonder I ever fell back asleep, what with the absurd dramas I played out in my head on that dark, quiet night.

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

This post is a continuation of this post.

On the hike back we began to pass other trekkers, as well as women and children herding sheep. When we came upon the house where the man had told us we were early for tourists, we realized it was not just a house, but also a shop selling soda and water. The man was nowhere to be found but there was a little boy behind the counter who sold us four liters of water and let us feed crackers to the round little puppy who scrambled after us.

rolly polly puppy

We were warned not to touch the animals because they could be rabid. This one definitely looked dangerous.

Further up the trail we stopped to eat the raw peanuts, mandarinas, and the rest of the crackers we had scavenged from the bottoms of our packs. We spread our gear out to dry in the sun because when the morning frost melted, it left our sleeping bags and bivy sacks soaking wet. We took off our shoes and let our feet breathe. We shared news and recommendations with the morning’s ferry-load of trekkers who began to stream past, mostly students and grad school graduates, young people from all over the world.

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I took this picture to remind myself of this moment: I was exhausted, hot, sweaty, and hungry. Mike and Dave were flying up that hill and it made me mad. My muscles burned. I felt like I couldn’t possibly go on, I would never make it up that hill, not with this heavy pack on my back and the sun in my eyes. And then I remembered something Marie told me about her three-week backpacking trip. She said that when it got hard and she thought she couldn’t go on, she would tell herself, “I can take one more step.” And then she’d take another step. So that’s what I did. I can take one more step. I can take one more step. It became a rhythm I could move to. One more step. One more step. One more step. My mind would drift with the rhythm, one more step, and I wasn’t thinking about the sun (one more step) or the pack (one more step) or how steep the hill was. One more step. One more step. One more step.

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Look at the hillside to the right of the photo. See how it’s cut into so many lines? Those are terraces for farming. The Incas did that – terraced all the mountainsides – and the people who live there now keep working the terraces, farming the land, pulling the rocks out, leveling, fertilizing, growing, feeding their babies generation after generation.

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These women hike these hills day in and day out, babes on their backs, full skirts, patent-leather flats.

One more step. One more step. One more step.

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If you look at the left side of the house, you can see where they did not stucco over the mud brick. Nearly all of the houses we saw while we hiked around Lake of the Gray Puma were made of mud brick. When your house begins to wear down from years of rain? You build a new one, right next door.

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I said “nearly all” the houses were made of mud brick.

By the time we arrived in Yumani we were ravenous. Our last real meal had been almost twenty-four hours earlier. You burn about 5,000 calories in a day of hiking and we’d probably only eaten about 500 calories. Even our hair was hungry. (At least mine was.)

Yumani was a ghost town, not a soul anywhere. The restaurants and hostels were abandoned, except for one pizza place with a television blaring in the corner. Dave and Mike were not interested in pizza and I was too hungry to argue. (Interestingly, pizza is HUGELY popular in Yumani. Almost every restaurant boasts pizza and Italian food.) We found a tienda and bought a bag of quinoa we thought we could fix for dinner that night. A little closer to shore there was an open place with four tables that offered sopa, sandwiches, trucha, pollo y papas, and coca mate. They even had a clean bathroom, though we had to use our own toilet paper and hand soap.  It felt like an oasis. I ordered a cheese sandwich, expecting something wonderful and melty. What I got was dry bread with wet farmer’s cheese and sliced tomatoes. My mouth watered at the sight of those perfect, red fruits, but they were off limits. Raw vegetables and fruits = diarrhea that sprays out your bum and won’t stop. So I picked the tomatoes off and prayed I wouldn’t get sick from the little bit of juice that soaked into the bread. (I didn’t.)

It never ceased to amaze me, not nine days on the trail, how happy and refreshed I would feel after a short rest and a simple meal. I could be absolutely falling-over exhausted, but thirty minutes off my feet, some bread and some cheese, and I’d be ready to go again. After lunch we hiked for another thirty minutes or so, all down hill, through the town, toward the shore. It was only two-thirty, so I stretched out on the grass by the dock and napped in the sun while Michael and Dave chatted with other travelers. We caught our boat at three sharp and I slept all the way to Yampupata.

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*photo courtesy of Dave

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

Trekking Isla del Sol

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.