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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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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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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

All Sorts of Thievery

In reference to Kim’s comment on this post, yes. I do think robberies are that common, but only in the big cities. But you know big cities. I’m surprised I lived in NYC for four years and never got mugged. (But I did get masturbated-on in the subway.) Thievery and crime are common in big cities. My blue-haired niece was mugged in Paris this spring. She and a friend were at an ATM in the middle of the afternoon when they were accosted by a gang of kindergartners who got all their money out of the ATM and ran off. You just have to be careful in big cities.

We’ll only be in La Paz for a few days and we will be very careful. As for while we’re on the trail, I read that we might run into some ranchers with guns who make us pay a “toll” before we continue on, but as long as we pay they will let us go, no problem. For the record, I am getting all of my information from the U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. You can read it yourself and tell me if you think I’m running big colored crayons over reality. I might have a habit of doing that.

Besides. If we really have to worry about anything, it’s altitude sickness. (Do me a favor and don’t ever google “altitude sickness” when you’re getting ready to spend three weeks over 10,000 feet.)

This is very likely going to be the last time I post until … some time after we get back. It could be weeks. I have no idea what work is going to look like. I know I’m going to BlogHer ’11 less than a week after I return. No, I could not have planned those trips a little further a part, really, I would have if I could have. But it’s going to be fabulous and I am very excited about it.

I expect the next two weeks are going to be insane as we try to wrap up work, household, and last-minute Bolivia things. I just can’t keep every plate spinning, so I’m letting myself off the blogging hook. If I really had my sh*t together I’d have planned for some guest posts or re-posts of old favorites, and maybe I will magically pull my sh*t together enough for that before I leave, but I’m not going to bet on it.

Now would be a good time to add me to your RSS feeder if you haven’t all ready. Or if you don’t know what an RSS is, email me at aseriousgirl [at] gmail [dot] come and I will email you when I get back to the states and start blogging again. I mean, you’re going to be DYING to hear all about how this trip turned out, aren’t you? Won’t you just be quivering with anticipation? I sure would be.

And now I present to you:

712map

A map of South America. That I borrowed from this website. (I’ll take it down if they ask, I swear.)

Do you see Bolivia? In there between Paraguay, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, et al? That is where we’re going. Eleven days from today. (We’re going to have a safe and wonderful time. We’re going to have a safe and wonderful time. We’re going to have a safe and wonderful time.)

(This is me breathing.)

P.S. Dopey is in Kenya this month, helping to build a school for orphaned children. Dooce just back from Bangladesh, where she helped pregnant and birthing women who need medical care. I’m going for a freaking hike and I can’t even breathe. I think (hope!) this trip is going to be very good for me.

There’s A Lot Going On

I have an intern. She’s fifteen, green-haired, and brilliant. She’s taken over RonAndRobertOnDivorce.com. In fact, she’s manning our entire social media campaign. The kid is so smart that half the time when I’m looking over her work I have to consciously hold my mouth closed or risk my jaw falling into my lap.

For the record, she’s also a lot of fun to work with. She’s smart and funny and she wears Doc Martens and listens to the Pixies and rocks her faded green  midnight-blue-with-turquoise-streaks* hair. She is one of the raddest chicks I’ve ever hung out with. And I hang out with some pretty rad chicks.

So I have an intern and that is fabulous. What else? Last weekend Mike and I catered a private film screening in a gorgeous house in Malibu and it was a huge success. I am super proud of us for pulling it off. The food was incredible – Mike planned the menu and cooked everything himself. His presentations were stunning. I cannot forgive myself for failing to take photographs of the table because you would have died. He served everything except the desserts on hand-painted Italian china and the desserts were served on antique silver. He cut beautiful, flower-like garnishes out of lemons and tiny red, gold, and green peppers. I’ve never seen anything like it. My husband is a god in the kitchen. Here are some crappy snap shots I took with my Blackberry while he was practice-cooking earlier in the week:

stuffed tomatoes

These have a fancy name but I can’t remember it. They are little tomatoes stuffed with lamb and goat cheese. So. Delicious.

endive salad

A little endive salad. These were so beautiful – the endive leaf is shaped like a little boat, and it’s filled with baby arugula, radiccio, sliced figs, goat cheese, candied walnuts, and a sprig of fennel.

He also served gorgonzola-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed mushrooms, made-from-scratch spanakopita, crostinis with fresh tapenade, and the crown jewel was an onion tarte. For dessert there were lemon tarts and fruit tarts. Made from scratch. I’m telling you. Kitchen god.

We are both exhausted. Between last week’s catering gig, our jobs, social commitments, training for Bolivia, and planning for Bolivia, we are working from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep.

Last night Mike and I took a night off from everything and watched four episodes of The Gates. It’s a ridiculous soap-opera about vampires and werewolves and it is mind-numbingly delicious. So we took a night off and watched four episodes while we gathered all our gear and cleaned it and folded it and sorted out what clothes need to be washed, packed our backpacks, ate dinner, and folded clean laundry.

See? Even when we take a night off we don’t take a night off. Though in all honesty, last night was perfectly lovely. It was fun to sort through our gear and I discovered all kinds of wonderful secret compartments in my hats and my backpack where I can stash emergency money in case we get robbed.

Which reminds me. We have to make our fake wallets. That way, if we do get robbed, we can hand over fake wallets with fake credit cards and fake drivers licenses and enough cash to make the thieves leave us alone. Brilliant, right? As long as they don’t search our bags. And if they do, we cross our fingers they don’t find all the secret compartments.

We’re going to be fine. I just have to remember to breathe.

*Ed: She changed colors. She’s a chameleon, that one.

Nervous Wreck

I have about fifteen minutes before I need to get back to work, but I wanted to pop in and say hi. I’m not going to bother editing this after I write it, which is something I have not ever done on this website ever. Not once. Please forgive the grammar, language, spelling, or other resulting ridiculousness.

We are very busy getting ready to leave for Bolivia – we leave exactly one month from today. I am nervous. Incredibly nervous. We haven’t done much training since Mount Wilson. I’ve practiced yoga a few times and we’ve been running three times, but that is not adequate training for a three week adventure in one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

Then there’s that. We’re about to spend three weeks in one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m all pissed off right now because we can’t afford health care, but you know what we do have? Two bathrooms. Air conditioning. Indoor plumbing. Paved streets. Weekly trash collection. Urgent Care clinics on nearly every block. We’re going to be staying in “hotels” in towns with fewer than six hundred residents and dirt floors. And none of us speak Spanish. Which actually doesn’t matter, because these Bolivians don’t speak Spanish either. They speak Aymara. Ironically, we’ve been advised not to talk to anyone who approaches us speaking English because they are most definitely a criminal who will take you to a pretend Official Looking Building where pretend police officers then force you to hand over your wallet, your passport, everything but the clothes on your back. Then they let you go.

We could have gone to Peru instead, but then we found out that in Peru, they don’t let you go. They cut your throat instead.

Anyway, I’m a little nervous. The good news is that the crimes happen in cities, not in the Andes, which is where we’ll be. We’ll stay in La Paz for a few days, but these crimes generally happen to people who are traveling alone. There are three of us, we will not ever separate (seriously, Mike is planning to accompany me even when I have to go to the bathroom – we’ll have reached a new and unfortunate level of intimacy after this trip) and because we are aware that these (and other) schemes occur, we’ll be more likely to avoid them.

I’m lucky that I’ll be traveling with two tall, strong, smart, careful men. I say “tall” and “strong” first because sometimes burly strength is more important than smarts. Sometimes.

Anyway, I’ll say it again. I’m nervous. I’m nervous about crime, I’m nervous about the altitude, I’m nervous I won’t have trained enough, I’m nervous about leaving work for three weeks. Ohemgee I am nervous about leaving work. That singular thought alone turns my stomach upside down. I’m a bit of a nervous wreck. How many more times do you think I can say nervous in this paragraph? Nervous. Nervous! NERVOUS. Ner-vous.

And…. that’s enough. Thanks for listening. I’m going to go do a couple of sun salutations.

Quinoa Comes From Bolivia

Quinoa comes from Bolivia.

Wikipedia says:

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or ‘mother of all grains’, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’. During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians’, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies. In fact, the conquistadors forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.

While Quinoa is a particularly wonderful thing to eat, I don’t just want to eat it, I want to know it. I want to know more about it. Where does it come from? I’ve done lots of Internet searches trying to find out more about this wonderful little seed and the land from which it comes, but other than a few articles, I haven’t found much. Sure I’ve found information, facts, crime stats, but I want to know more.  I want to know what the stars look like from that part of the world.  I want to smell the streets of La Paz. I want to use the public restrooms, buy food from the vendors, cozy up to the locals. (But probably not really because apparently they really like to steal your wallet and they aren’t shy about it either.) I want to spend a day (or 5) trekking the Apolobamba, pooping in holes I’ve dug myself, and using llama dung to fuel the fire that cooks my evening meal. I want to know where quinoa comes from.

This July, Michael, his brother, and I will make the journey from Los Angeles, through Mexico City, past Lima, Peru, to La Paz, Bolivia, where we will learn all about where quinoa really comes from.  We will spend a few days tooling around town before we take a lovely (two day) stroll from Isla del Sol to Lake Titicaca.  (No, I won’t ever be able to say that out loud without chuckling. Titicaca. Titicaca!) After that we’ll take a bus from La Paz to Charazani where we hope to stay in a hotel, take showers, and possibly shave my legs if Mike will let me bring a razor. (I’m only allowed two pairs of panties so I’m guessing a razor is out of the question.) (What? We’re backpacking. Would you want to carry all my extra pairs of panties?) Our goal is to hit Charazani’s winter fiesta (it’s winter there! In July!), but I guess maybe their town has limited Internet because there’s no website or anything, so we don’t know what the exact dates of the festival are. We’ll spend a day or two in Charazani either way, and when we feel nicely acclimated to the 9,600 foot altitude, we’ll hike from Charazani to Pelechuco, which should take four to five days. And it will probably kick our asses.  Apparently, there’s going to be a lot of walking up and down hills. While carrying forty-some-odd-pound backpacks with all of our food, water, and other supplies. And also ziplock bags full of our poopy toilet paper. Because we don’t want to litter.

It’s going to be a Very Big Adventure.

mummybag

Omg, do I really have to sleep in this?