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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.

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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

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)

Other People’s Photos of Bolivia

This is something we might see in Bolivia. A shop vendor and her child at the witches’ market in La Paz. They are selling dried baby llamas for good luck:

La Paz

Please forgive me, I can’t remember where I found this photo. If it’s yours, let me know so I can give you credit.

I found some beautiful photos of the trek we’re doing, the Apolobamba South, on Flickr. I won’t post them, but you should check them out. I’m still really nervous for a million little reasons, but oh my goodness. As long as we are safe and healthy the whole time, this is going to be an incredible trip. (I might be starting to get a little bit excited.)

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?