25.04.2012 - 27.04.2012 64 °F
On my third day in Sucre, Bolivia, feeling safe and ignoring fancy hotel´s restrictions on poor neighborhoods, we took a local bus ($.15) to what we were told would be the start of the 7-cascades hike (seems there is a 7-waterfalls hike in every self-respecting town in South America).
Indeed, we soon left the shining white walls of Sucre´s gorgeous colonial city center, driving through chaos of the central market where the bus rattled through rows of hanging cows, stalls selling batteries, socks and cellphone pouches, and nearly kissing the many carts filled with mandarinas, without anyone even blinking.
The doors of the bus were always open with people of all ages carrying heavy sacks or babies on their back hopping off or on with seeming disregard for the movement of the bus.
I just clutched my little backpack and avoided eye-contact with incoming old ladies for fear of needing to give up the safety of my seat.
The bus came to a sudden stop, letting in about 15 boys between age 4-6, and with a slight nod of the head, the driver made it clear the ride was over , leaving us a few kilometers off from the hike's start.
We started walking through the village leading to the hike´s start.
The village could have been anywhere where modernity forgot its touch. Humble huts. Women in old fashion skirts sitting on the stoops, lots of dogs, chickens, pigs.
Almost immediately we were joined by a little girl who had taken the bus from the school back home.
She was about 8 or 9 years old. It was 10:30 in the morning. The school was done for the day. She said it took her 30 minutes to ride the bus home.
Unlike most girls we had met, she was not timid and boldly made a point to walk together with us, stealing occasional glances at me.
Where do u come from?" she asked. France, answered my friend. ¨And she?¨, she asked pointing at me? She was adorable.
We were walking down unpaved road, avoiding occasional puddles, potwholes and angry dogs.
"Who do u want to be when you grow up?" I asked. "An accountant. I like math" - she said without hesitation. Surprising, no...?
We walked a little more.
¨Have you heard of Justin Beeper?¨ She gave me a puzzled look. After a few minutes, she smiled, big smile, and nodded, ¨Justin Timberlake, I know him.¨
¨If you could, what place would you want to visit?¨ She seemed confused. "Nuevo York, maybe?" I asked. She shrugged and soon turned off to run to her house.
"Do you really think she would have dreams of travel?, that's very western thinking" -- my friend commented.
I thought of myself in Moldova at her age. This was the age when I had met my first foreigner, tasted a juice in a box with a straw (big wow) and heard of ice-cream colors other than black or white.
What was my big dream then?
Was a trip to New York so out of realm of possibility that it was better to dream of buying a big house next door with a freezer stocked with yellow and pink ice-cream cones?
Maybe my friend had a point.
Two days later we went on an overnight hike that took us into more remote villages.
We met many old people, all speaking the indigenous language of Catchua -- the ancient languange of the Incas.
There was no way of telling their age: wrinkled and toothless, they carried heavy loads on the back, bending low to the ground and chewing coca leaves behind one cheek.
A woman spilling with energy and cooking outside in a fire fed with fresh wood carried in by her husband turned out to be in her 80's. Another one living by herself in the harsh conditions of a high altitude village and tending a store serving tourist hikers like me was 96.
Everything needs to be lifted, brought from the fields on their backs and prepared in the bitter cold of the evenings. Although at 40, they seem to have faces scared with heavy wrinkles and harsh conditions, at 90, most still have the energy of an American in his late 60s.
There is no television or hot water, they don't eat processed foods or non-organic meats. But looking at the kilos strapped into a blanket and wrapped across their backs, the idea of reading a book in an easy-chair off a kindle when I am 80 doesn't seem so bad, even if that means giving up on developing hercules' strength.
The utter lack of modern comforts of these villages was pushed in our faces (literally) when in the middle of the second day, our guide proposed that we take a shortcut and aovid a difficult mountain crossing by catching a ride on a truck.
40 minutes later the truck appeared. It was one of these smaller wagon trucks where you would expect a horse or a donkey to be transported.
One horse only though, animal rights people would surely decide there was no room for more.
Our guide motioned for us to climb in.
That is, find a space in the truck's 3-tier barrier to climb up and then down. Or so I thought. As I climbed up, to my bulging eyes, I realized the truck was filled with a sea of people.
I mean, not a millimeter of space free. Old ladies in tall hats, children, babies suckling on their mother´s breast, a guy in chic sunglasses.
There was just no room to go down.
The only possibility was to join boys and hang off the 5-millimeter wide railing on top of the truck.
To anyone who knows of my fears of unsafe driving, this was a blazing fire of hell for me.
I asked, twice, pleeease, let´s walk.
The guide ignored me, sattling in on the round railing (yes, 5-mm wide).
I clutched my knuckles white onto the railing and the truck took off.
Off we went, down the narrow path on the mountain: lean to the left, and you are facing a big abyss, lean to the right, and you are kissing the sharp needles of tree branches.
¨Uh, a pothole¨ -- I realized as I felt my butt leave the railing and luckily plop back on, but barely.
If I fall back, a guaranteed death under the truck´s tires.
If I fall forward, I will certainly crush the 4-foot old lady directly under my shoe.
Oh look, a totally naked 6-month old, his pee clearly projected in my direction.
And that´s when the American bitch woke up in me.
¨That´s it,¨ I said loudly, in heavy accented Spanish, with everyone´s head turning to look at me.
¨I am done.¨ ¨Tell the driver to stop. We are walking.¨
A few more breathtakingly scenic potholes, and the truck finally stopped to let me hop off.
And, what do you know, we walked for 20 minutes, only to gain in on the truck, now broken, and a sea of people inside waiting for the driver/mechanic/priest (must be a man of god for them all to make it down alive).
Thank you life, thank you sun, thank you my American bitch?!