A Travellerspoint blog

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¨El Potito¨ A La Volcano

sunny 83 °F

I learned a new word. El Potito. A Chilean endearing name for the butt. A timely lesson, as it turned out.

I was back in the south of Chile, in the town Pucon, rightfully considered the capital of outdoor adventure.
From rafting to zip-lining, thermal hot springs, waterfalls, Pucon has it all.
But the crown jewel of the town is the rather active Volcano Villerica.
This Volcano seems to have been pasted straight out of a children´s book because it is picture perfect. A perfectly shaped conical mountain with a sliced off top that blows steam.
I spotted the Volcano as I stepped off my overnight bus from the steaming-hot Santiago and it felt like stepping into a surrealist painting.

My bubbling excitement was soon chopped off by the Canadian girl who had also arrived that morning to the hostel, and who flatly refused to become my BFF, curtailing my by-then spun off plans for the two of us to dash off into the wilderness of Pucon.
But as I wondered into a travel agency, my sulking mood was about to change as the gates of traveler´s karma flung open and I met a Chilean guide who was passing through, with a car and plans to go for a hike, and who was in a dire need of a lovely female company, and off we were, not even 4 hours into my Pucon stay, climbing for 2.5 hours up a steep hill to the top where three gorgeous and very swimmable lakes awaited us.
With no time to dry off, I had to descend with quite a wet butt, which is how ¨eL Potito¨ came into the picture.

And the next day, El Potito was used, a lot.
Like everyone else who comes to Pucon, I decided to climb the irresistible Villerica. Clad in clunky tall boots made for cramp-ons, with big snow pants and jacket, we climbed for about 4.5 hours amidst shiny snow dancing under the sun´s rays to peer into the crater of Villerica. Wow. Sulfur steams coming out of the wide neck of the volcano, with the views of several layers down and around us, evidence of the most recent eruptions. Incredible.

But then, I put on an expanded diaper looking thing, was given a spatula the size of the butt, sat onto my Potito, and wheeeeee, sled ALL the way down. Oh Yes!
The Pucon people finally got it right, why labor down or carry up a heavy sled when you have a lovely el Potito to head the way.

Posted by Ritka2 13:48 Archived in Chile Tagged volcano volcan pucón villerica potito Comments (3)

White Man´s Burden

sunny 88 °F

Last time I checked, this is 2012 and a I am in a very developed and fast progressing Chile, with iPhones, a superior bus system and drinkable tap water in every remote corner of the county.

But more and more I have been observing episodes of many ex-pat gringos reenacting British colonial attitudes toward the Chilenos.
As if the words ¨us¨ v. ¨the natives¨ are about to come off their lips.
There is an unspoken social classification, and the gringos planted themselves at the top. At least this is how they seem to perceive themselves.

I had spent a week in a hostel run by about 30 hippies, half of them California transplants, with the hostel marketed as an eco-friendly, sustainability oriented place. With a vegetarian restaurant on premises that serves one of the more affordable meals in town, it smells ¨kumbaya, save the whales¨ all over it.

And I am torn, because the same gringos took really good care of me, adopting me for the week and driving me to hikes, beaches and remote places that I wouldn´t have been otherwise to see.

Yes, these are the hippies that were picking up trash left by rowdy Israeli hikers as we were walking across volcanic ridges, and were raising money to save the rivers surrounding the town.
But I also had watched them over and over again treat the Chilean wait staff with obnoxiously demanding and condescending attitude, make snide remarks at the passing villagers and in general, act with superiority that echos the 19th century European edification of the ¨lesser cultures.¨

After a particularly nasty episode of a number of them repeatedly expressing annoyance of needing to wait 10 minutes for their breakfast to be served by ¨these slow Chileans¨ (whom these very people pay no more than minimum wage and who are severely understaffed, I am sure all in the name of saving water or some other hippie love-the-world motto), I ate a steak for dinner and got the hell out of there.

Posted by Ritka2 19:03 Archived in Chile Tagged society pucón colonial status vegetarian classes hippie Comments (2)

Altitude, Attitude and Aconcagua

snow 13 °F

Aconcagua. The highest mountain in the Americas.
Back in Boston, on one of those hot summer hikes, it was wistfully mentioned to me by another hiker.
And Aconcagua stayed. It stayed in my brain, slowly and surely planting its web until I eventually realized that I had to face it.
And, it seemed like such a good idea.
I would be traveling in Argentina, with all the time in the world to do the 16 day trip up the Normal Route to the 6,962 m (22,841 ft) peak.
So, I found a reputable agency, bought some impressive gear and signed up. While still in Boston, while it was still warm and beautiful.
I was due to begin the climb on January 6.

Almost as soon as I began the trip, the thought of nearly 7,000 meters began to dawn on me. And unlike before with other mountains that I was planning to hike, there were sprinklers of definite fear mixed in with the looming excitement. The mountain, even from Santiago, looked big.

And then, they began. Clear, unmistakable messages. ¨Don´t do it
I tried to ignore them, dismiss them.
While in Patagonia, when we were caught in a crazy snow blizzard, my brain received a pronounced directive ¨NO!¨.
I dismissed it.
A few days later, on the way to a bus station, I met the only Russian I was to meet until Aconcagua. We had met at midnight, before my 12:30 am bus, and somehow the subject of Aconcagua immediately came up and he told me a horrible story of his failed assent.
Could the Cinderella message be anymore clearer?

A few weeks later, as January was fast approaching, I was biking from a lake, thought of Aconcagua, and had a vivid flash back to a nightmare headache I had felt on my way up to Kilimanjaro.
Then I met a guide, who told me about a client of his who had died.

Ok, Ok, I got it. I called my agency, and switched. Fast.
Forget the peak, ¨no¨ to the 16 days.
I will take the 5-day trek to the base camp instead.

So, on January 18, I arrived to Mendoza, gear check on the 19th, and on the 20th off we were.
Of the 12 in the group, only I and the ¨flako boy¨ were not aiming for the top.

The first day, we were taken up from the safety of 800 m (2,600 ft) of Mendoza to Puente del Inca at 2,725 m (9,000 ft), where for dinner we were served a milanesa: a breaded and fried piece of beef, topped with cheese, topped with ham, topped with a friend egg -- No Joke.

Next day, we trekked through mind-blowing sights of magnificent cliffs amidst multi-color valleys framed by snowpeaks, all the way up to camp Confluencia at 3,300 m (11,000 ft).
Should we be soo tired after only a 3 hour trek.
Being the slackers of the group, flako and I made another trek in the afternoon. Wow. my heart, loud pangs. Ok, ok, at dinner, we all rested, exchanged stories and our small but tight English-speaking part of the group found ourselves panting from fits of giggles that one experiences when in the back on the tent one sees the rising and rather menacing view of the ¨cumbre¨ the peak!
We slept. Mostly ok. 11,000 ft is after all only the beginning.

Next day, an acclimatization trek to Plaza Francia at 4,000 m (13,125 ft).
Again, absotely stunning sights of red, yellow, green, and all shades of grey peaks, striking lines made by gusty winds, ever changing views of rising peaks. Gorgeous.

Oh, did I mention, to acclimatize, one needs to drink at least 4 litters of water per day.
Me, well, remembering the piercing headaches of Kili all too well, I drank 6 litters per day. No Joke.
So, naturally, the trek to Plaza Francia was numerously interrupted by runs to the nearest rock.
Run. Pee. Pant. Rest. Look around. Walk. Pee. Wow, tired. Rest. Look around. Pant. And so on.

Day 3. Trek to the base camp. Plaza de Mulas at 4,350 (14,271 ft).
The sign showing directions said 8 hours.
8 hours on the dot it was.
The first 4 hours, again, absolutely gorgeous. We walked through several valleys brimmed by ever more gorgeous peaks.
Some gusty winds to add to the panting. The never ending runs to the rock also increasing the panting. But overall, so fun.
Next 4 hours, a climb, up.
You know those moments when you hear your heart loud and clear.
Well, for the next 2.5 days, I heard my heart very loud and too clear.

We got to Plaza de Mulas. It was snowing (did I mention, back in Mendoza, same day it was 33 degrees celsius (98 F). Brr. It was cold.
We ate. Another fit of giggles with the English speakers, now integrated with the universal language of panting done in English, Portuguese, French, African, Australian, Spanish and occasional Russian (of course).

At night, in the tent, the thermometer showed -4 degrees.

Freaking 6 liters. ¨Must go out, must get up.¨ So I did. And the sky. Sheer milky way. Incredible. Lit up with innumerable stars and constellations. Beautiful.

But c´mon. Freaking Cold.

Back in the tent. Ok. Sleep. Wow, is that my heart. No. That´s my truck driver breath. EEEEh. EEEh. That is loud.
But that´s ok. My tent mate turned onto the other side and is now panting just as heavily. A chorus of EEEEh EEEEh.

Next day, we are supposed to have a rest day of acclimatization.
But clearly, as the slackers of the group, flako and I had to venture out.
We walked, no more than 3 hours.
We got back. I was doubled over, panting.
During the by-day oxygen, pulse and blood pressure check with the doctors, my oxygen went down. Of course.
I was running a fever. My head doubled in size and ¨What, what did you say?¨, couldn´t hear a thing. Great!
And it got cold.
And the group slowly started looking, well, not so hot.
Sagging skin, big circles under the eyes. Panting.
And rapidly rising fear as we looked at the sights of the peak hanging over the base camp.

And the Fear rose even more as I was told by the guide and the returning climbers about the fate of the expedition that took off on January 6 -- Had I Gone:

They started off nicely, just like we did. And after 5 days at the base camp, they moved on, as planned. The weather turned. 3 days of bad weather, followed with more bad weather. That happens, a lot, on Aconcagua. A lot.
To try for the peak, they had spent extra 2 days at the highest camp, at 6,000 m (19,685 ft) -- basically they slept on the peak of Kilimanjaro. It was -42 degrees, with 90 km winds. They couldn´t move on. They couldn´t try for the top, they went down.
But imagine, 3 days at that height. In that cold. With so little air.
Thank you messages. I was ecstatic.
Best decision to not try for the top.

And while at the base camp, I swear the team was plainly jealous that I was returning down after 5 days, sparing my body from the titanic effort of the climb.
And it looked like a titanic effort.
Those few who we met who had made it and were descending looked, well, horrific. Wind-burned, dazed, confused, none were smiling. They were exhausted.

And after 5 days, my ever-loud heart and truck driver breath, I was also exhausted.
As we were bidding good-bye to the rest of our now sicker group, I was anxious for them, scared.
I certainly had no desire to stay and try to the top.
The double-boots, the jackets rated to -40, the liners, the double gloves, it all seemed just not enough to spare from what they will be facing.

So happily, I began to walk down.
31 kilometers of down.
Into increasing air.
Less panting.
Take off the balaclava.
And 8 hours of fast down, we were back in the 30 degree heat of Mendoza.

Posted by Ritka2 06:43 Archived in Argentina Tagged camp base de plaza cold altitude aconcagua mulas Comments (7)

La Cumbrecita

rain 89 °F

How do I put this into words without sounding new-age.
Whenever I arrive to a place, it either accepts me or not.
I feel it immediately and it happens much too often, and too clear, to be a coincidence.
It´s as if the land likes me and permits me to enjoy it to the fullest or it just rejects me and it all goes haywire wrong.
Maybe land is not all that different when we walk into a room and immediately either like or dislike a stranger. I don´t know, but this is how it´s been.

After leaving Mendoza, I arrived to Santa Rosa de la Calamuchita, a place 2.5 hours from Cordoba and a mere 15 hour bus ride from Mendoza, where my guidebook promissed plentiful overnight hiking opportunities in a serene mountainous environment that sounded glorious.
I arrived to Santa Rosa and I knew it didn´t like me.

On my way there from Cordoba terminal, I got robbed by an old man on a small urban bus off my trusted music shuffle (containing gifts from Zhenya, Sanjay, Elina, Julian, Nico and Flako), classic scam of playing on my good manners when I got up to give up my seat to an equally old woman, I was sent off on a humid and very hot day for 3.5 hours in search of accomodations, shameless being hit on by a hotel receptionist with octopus hands, as I was walking around I realized that in Spanish, Viernes is Friday, not Thursday, the day I should have bought my ticket for Buenos Aires (I had bought it back in Cordoba 2.5 hours from where I was now), and as I was unpacking my backpack, a zipper broke.
Oh, and that´s not all. I had come to Santa Rosa to hike, only to be told that yes, there are lovely refugios, and yes, quite lovely hikes, but that there is not a single guide leaving until the weekend (the day after I leave) and that the rivers are strong to be crossed by someone who doesn´t know the way. Remembering the icy cold river crossings in Patagonia, I gave up.
I had some really crappy pizza, washed by dress that never dried up because of humidity and the next morning got the hell out.

I decided to go to another village, La Cumbrecita, 2 hours away. And I knew it liked me.
As I was trying to get to the bus station in Santa Rosa, there was a downpour (how else) and not a single taxi was available to come until after the scheduled time of my bus (if this didn´t happen to me, I think this is a badly written slapstick comedy), but I thought of Cumbrecita, and miraculously a taxi pulled up, I haled the driver, and off we were.

As I got to Cumbrecita, the hostel (only a 10 min walk) had no one else in my 3 person room. While it was forecasted to rain and the tourist office strongly recommended against any hiking, I got lost a bit and somehow found myself on a hike, the hike that I wanted to take. There was a trail, unmarked but I knew I´d know the way. As I was walking, I discovered fields and fields of mora, blackberries, mmm, and I as got to the top, without any other sole in sight, it was gorgeous, vistas of alpine valleys sunk under heavy gorgeous clouds, it was heaven.
I returned and in a shop buying empanadas found a guy that not only spoke English (I was the only foreigner in this very touristic and pedestrian-only village that somehow escaped the backpackers´ trail), but oh yes, he also spoke Russian as his grandparents here from Yugoslavia.
He hooked up me with a guide, and next day (after dining on a perfect watermelon), off I was, climbing.
The only thing is, they forgot, or I didn´t understand, that the hike involved descending into subterranean rivers, i.e. caves filled with cool stones to climb over with waist high rivers.
Well, I got wet.
But who cares.
As we returned with only 30 minutes to get to my bus, that turned out to be sold out, but with, ¨oh, you are from Russia¨ squeezing me and my big pack in, it was all swell and good.
Cumbrecita liked me.

Posted by Ritka2 16:05 Archived in Argentina Tagged la santa de rosa cubmrecita calamuchita Comments (5)

Iguazu Falls

sunny 100 °F

Iguazu Falls -- enough said.

Posted by Ritka2 20:20 Archived in Argentina Tagged water rainbows wonders falls amazing iguazu Comments (3)

Alone ... In A Sea Of People

Big City Travel

sunny 86 °F

What is about a big city that makes you feel so alone?

I have been in Buenos Aires for 2 weeks, walking the streets, watching beautiful people wear beautiful clothes, shoes, make up.
The feeling is strange, a touch of heaviness, a touch of dread, all mixed with the thankfulness for having such wonderful big cities.

There are people everywhere.

And as I walk, I can´t help but become unsettlingly aware that they are walking in pairs, and I am not.
It is as if I am back in high school and all the popular kids are sitting together sharing their lunch at a noisy, happy table, and I have to stare down at my tray, picking around the healthy diet options.

Is the feeling internal or borne out of the odd looks people give you when you ask for a table for one?

I tell myself, in a city, people have their rhythm, time is squeezed tight, making people rush to fulfill their set out routines, without much room left to welcome a transitory stranger.
I understand that my continued solitariness is not a reflection of my lack of socialness and there is no big ugly pimple on my nose to deter strangers from proposing to hang out.
But, I can´t help but become very aware of my aloneness and wonder if I belong, if I am one of them, one of those happy, laughing rowdy groups as I read my book over a grilled trout with baked potatoes a la provincial.

There is no such dilemmas in smaller places. The mountains make our own smallness too obvious, and the awe of the beauty of nature makes bonding simple, natural.
In the nature, we come there to witness it, to be part of it, to join the beautiful flow.
But in the city...
In the city, the communications become more narcissistic, needing to fulfill, to confirm some part in us that bring out our insecurity and make us feel vulnerable, open, easily pushed away.

But I am happy to have the city.
I bought a dress, and a sexy t-shirt, and I like wearing them, noticing approving looks of strangers.
I like drinking good coffee out of pretty cups and seeing lights and bustling, and the ornate rows of buildings.

And I also remind myself that I have a big city, where I have my group of happy rowdy friends, with whom I can share tasty bottles of wine.
My, something about that word is just so good to say.

Posted by Ritka2 05:45 Archived in Argentina Tagged travel city lonely buenos aires alone journey solo Comments (4)

Sleepless in ... Buenos Aires: Tango´s Waking World

sunny 72 °F

Somehow I am on my week 6 in Buenos Aires.
My sightseeing efforts ended on day 5.
What do I do?, all this time, here.
It feels like a dream.
Yes, it feels like I am floating in some kind of a dreamy world.
Partly, that is because I don´t have time to actually dream.
Funny, but yes, in a period when time is plenty of what I have, I just haven´t made time for sleep.

I have 2 pairs of shoes.
2 very pretty pairs of tango shoes.
I wear the nude colored ones during the afternoon, to the 2 tango classes I take.
The black sparkly ones, I put on at night.
And when I mean night, it´s Buenos Aires time zone.
The night in the tango world begins after 12:30, all of the seven days a week. The band comes on around 2 am. The peak hour hits at 3, and the tango clubs, the milongas, stay open till 5 on weekdays, till 6 on weekends, and yes, they serve breakfast.

Most women dance tango with their eyes closed.
The dance takes place in a very close embrace, and to be able to follow the many intricate moves and weight shifts of the leader, it´s easier to close your eyes.
So I do.
And when I do, I am transported into this dreamy world.
Especially, since I am always sleep deprived.
Right about after 3 am, every dance feels like a descent into Morpheus´ realm, into its mesmerizing sweetness.
And it´s addictive.
I think I am addicted to that feeling, that close your eyes and walk into your partner´s energy field to be twirled and moved, smoothly, to the gorgeous sounds of bandaneon.
And at the milongas, the live orchestras are just incredible.
Typically, 3 guitarists, 3 accordion players, a violinist, a piano -- you feel like you have stepped into a different era, because surely, is this really happening to you?

Posted by Ritka2 03:25 Archived in Argentina Tagged tango buenos aires nights milonga dreams bandaneon Comments (4)

Silence Of The Llamas: Bolivia

sunny 54 °F

I have now spent a full week on Bolivia and everything about this country is a loud contradiction.

The minute you cross the border from Argentina (on foot, walking 20 minutes from where the night bus romantically drops you off at dawn), you are plunged into color, age and chaos. Women dressed in traditional garments seeming to have jumped off the pages of a travel magazine, streets that never seen asphalt, houses of all colors cramped on top of each other at various heights and shapes that give the place a real gaiety and charm.

If you swallow a bit of water or eat the leaf of lettuce uncannily served with your lunch, you are guaranteed 3 days of urgent bathroom meetings.
Yet, the cars you see on the streets are an impressive and healthy variety of American and Japanese 4x4.

In the remote villages that we visited, electricity is restricted to a few hours at night, yet they have solar panels and all the toilets I´ve seen (no need for details, but at 4+km altitude and drinking 4 liters a day...), they all flush and not a single one was just a hole.
Toilet paper is never free but a luxury suit at a 4-star hotel is $40.

On the way to Salar de Uyuni we stopped at a number of indigenous villages (apparently, 60% of Bolivian population is indigenous, compare to only about 5% in Argentina). Most of them set at 4km altitude. During the day, it´s burning-skin hot, but none of the heat seems to be retained by the dark, solemn huts where I slept in a sleeping back and under 3 heavy wool blankets.

Compare to the people, I finally felt tall, and like a creature from a different era.
But what stayed with me about the people, the toothless men, the women in tall hats and with long, charcoal black braids (the phenomena of graying hair seems to have entirely skipped these people), the children going to school dressed in a uniform, is that they are silent people.
They don´t talk much, often not at all.
When the Argentinean girl in my 4-people jeep (Lexus), asked about the use of what seemed to be a smoking pipe sold by a 60+ woman in a tall hat with a sack on her back the size of her whole body, the woman after some time starring at her answered: ¨If you don´t know, don´t ask.¨

Not much can grow by these villagers.
Most people attend to flocks of llamas that run around grazing in the rock slopes -- 100% organic, free range.
Oh, and the llamas.
Surely they take the top 3 crown for the cutest animals.
They come in all shades of tan, often half of their bodies perfectly divided into white and brownish/grey.
But, when they run, it just doesn´t get old. They are so awkwardly funny, as if you are performing a bad imitation of a galloping horse that looks more like a baby camel on wooden stilts.
Unlike the flamingos that flocked many of the colorful lagoons that we saw, the llamas were not afraid of us and let our giddy selves approach as they purposefully hopped to some surely important bush of grass.

At 5km altitude, we came upon geisers -- pools of bubbling liquid that to me looked like spilling vomit.
They say you can watch water and fire forever, but, also, you can stand gazing at a boiling vats of vomit wondering when the alien´s hand will finally reach for you and end this futuristic nightmare.

But of course the highlight of the 4-day trip that made the 10-hour daily jeep rides on Bolivian ¨roads¨ worth it were the salt flats: Salar de Uyuni.
We decided to treat ourselves and spend the chilly night at a luxurious hotel ($55 per person for a suite), entirely made of Salt.
The walls, the sofas, the tables ... You get the picture.
In fact, even our bathroom walls were made of salt, but in an afterthought were covered with plastic shield, for obvious reasons.
And yes, of course I had to sample the various objects in the hotel to confirm that, indeed, they were entirely made of salt.

We spent the evening watching the sunset descend on the flats, where the vastness of the salt fields played a trick on the eye and it seemed like you were standing on the edge of a sky, about to fall down.

After dining on the stake of llama (yeah, yeah, animal rights, vegetarian lifestyle), I was the only one to wake up and watch the sun rise, sitting on a table made of salt, wrapped in a blanket stolen from my suite.

And then, we drove into the flats.
Kilometers and kilometers of white salt. Nothing else. Salt. Just salt.
Our guide said that the salt, in layers of salt and water, goes 100 meters deep, and then he reached down, made a whole in the watery part and peeled off balls of crystallized salt.
I felt shaken and actually frightened; like this was some kind of foreshadowing of what the future Earth will look like.

But now, I am in the town of Sucre, with its white rows of pretty houses with red roofs, winding up narrow streeps up steep hills that open up onto breathtaking vistas of hills, mountains and quaint white churches. Come to think of it, Sucre remarkably look like Siena, Italy.
I guess that´s Bolivia.
I drink my 50 cent cafe con leche at the super touristy cafe at the top of the hill, and the land of luxurious Argentina, with its drinkable tap water and clean, tasty empanadas seems like a sci-fi planet from the future.

Posted by Ritka2 14:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged geisers tour bolivia salt llamas lama jeep indigenous altitude uyuni salar sucre tupisa Comments (4)

Whas Was Your Big Dream?

sunny 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?!

Posted by Ritka2 08:45 Archived in Bolivia Tagged mountains trek death hike trail truck humor coca dream danger inca age sucre wrinkles catchua Comments (1)

Romantic Encounters On Isla Del Sol

Lake Titicaca

sunny 63 °F

Lake Titicaca.
It´s one of these names that embodies exoticism, dreamy distant lands that are to be visited perhaps one day, some day.
That, coupled with its main town Copacabana, well, the imagination just spins.

So, after the gorgeous Sucre, I got on the overnight bus, got to La Paz, hopped on another bus (16 hour journeys have become ¨short, a nothing, even a restful way to sleep to the rockings of the old (and in Bolivia´s case, very very old) bus turistico), and off I was to lake Titicaca.
The bus ride was Bolivian´s style, at some point we all had to get off, get shepherd into a small boat, no particular order, instructions or directions where given, and then us, and the bus on a slightly larger boat where moved onto the other side -- Fun.
I took a risk and bought a plate of corn and boiled potatoes off a woman in a bowler hat, saying politely ¨No¨ to the fried cheese and some other unidentifiable edibles on the plate.

And then we arrived to Copacabana.
Copacabana, Bolivia that is.
Nothing, I imagine, that compares to its sexy Brazilian cousin.
For being situated on such an incredibly gorgeous lake, the town is quite slumpy. Not so much dirty as completely lucking any coziness or cuteness.
Yes, the cathedral at the top is nice, but to get there, you have to pass on a narrow street filled with stalls of selling identical artesania crowding your space and your view.
Oh well.
At least every place serves excellent trout, grilled, with a choice of delicious spice ´a diablo.´

But, looking at the lake, bathing in beautiful sunset, and seeing a number of islands, it was clear: leave the misnomer of Copacabana, go to the islands.

In my hostel, I had met 3 fun Swiss (ok, of course one of them was German, had to be...), and after agreeing that the day after I will meet them at the top of the inca stairs, I was off to the Isla del Sol, the sun island in the middle of lake Titicaca.

Our 1:30 boat left punctually Boliviano time, an hour later.
A little scare when 30 minutes into the ride the engine stopped, but no worries, 20 pulls at the starter, and we were cruising as if no issues faced us at all.

Arriving at the Isla del Sol, the north side, you are faced with a decision, where to sleep.
Well, luckily every house is a welcoming opportunity, with steep pricing of $3 per night.
Dinners are $3 for the full course.
The boat to get there is $3.
Well, you get the island´s currency system.

I found a place, and set off for the ruins at about 4:30 pm.
I must have some great angel support or some kind of divinity looking out for me, because everytime I set off on one of these romantic walks by myself, i.e. glaring opportunity to get very lost, I get rescued.
This time the rescuers were 2 French guys. I met them as they were sprinting onto the high grasslands, escaping a cow looking animal but totally white and with small horns. Apparently this cow-ish thing didn´t fancy them.

So, we set off for the ruins, your run of the mill sun worships and of course the sacrifice table. Eeh, spoiled by the Machu Pichu, god, I am terrible, but I really felt, ¨Eh. Cool. But look, a beautiful hill, let´s go there...¨
So, the 3 of us (and then a Polish couple that we ran into) climbed the hill, as the sun was beginning its descent, and wow.
Isla del Sol. In all its magic.

Surrounded by the glazing waters, that perhaps because of the thinness of air (at 4,000 meters altitude) looked especially chrystal clear and perfectly reflected the peaks, the clouds and the sun´s lowering rays.

Turn to the left and you see green hills with grazing mules and lamas.
Turn to the right, and there are the snow peaked mountains touching the clouds with what looks like the end of the world behind them.
The sky filled with all shades of gold and red, but not just in one spot, a 360 degree view, shades of color everywhere around you.

And then, and then we saw 4 lamas.
Two of them were facing the sun, looking very much as if enjoying the sunset.
They stood there for a while, turning their curious heads to face the sun.
And then, one, as if touched by the romantic view of the evening, timidly approached the other, and ... kissed it, on the lips, the way we kiss.
I wonder if this was their first kiss....
An incredible view, we have a picture (assuming my 2 french amigos will forward it to me) to prove it.

Ah, the paradise of Isla del Sol.

Next day, the gods of directions again smiled upon me and I soon joined the Australians on the 3 hour walk to the South side of the island where I was to meet my Swiss-German friends at 12 at the top of the inca stairs.
We soon caught up with a local Quechua woman who was leading a family of donkeys to graze: father donkey, mother donkey and the little baby.

The thing about the locals on the Isla del Sol is unlike the rest of the Bolivians, especially the indigenous population, they actually admit your existence.
Moreover, they speak to you, greeting you in an extremely polite Spanish and even sending you off with a warm smile. A true rarity among their countrymen.
We took advantage of this and walked with the friendly woman and her donkey family. Clad in traditional skirts and hat, she would break out into a great full belly laugh whenever she liked our questions or was confused by them.

"What's the secret to your beautiful thick never greying hair?" I asked. She greeted the question with one of her belly laughs.
"Oh, I don't know. When I was little, I washed my hair with soap, now there is shampoo. But yes, my father is 80 and has no white in his hair."
"No children?" she asked.
"No. Not even a husband." "But I can travel to Isla del Sol." More belly laugher, this time surely out of confusion. She never even asked us where we were from, only what kind of animals we had.

Soon the baby donkey sprinted into the below greenery, hilariously nearly loosing his footing on the uneven stone road, and we said goodbye to our sweet matron, only to realize that her husband was walking the entire time behind us, without having said a word.

We walked more, discovering fantastic views of the lake, the bay and the green cliffs. Even the few clouds in the sky were scenic.
We passed a few simple huts, empty, the place seemed rather deserted but serene.

As we walked, more animals.
Family of little pigs, all light brown with darker spots -- pig dalmatians?
Tiny white baby lamas, baby sheep making that sound from kids animal audio books.
A cry of a donkey startled us. Poor thing kept shrieking for a good 5 minutes.
This was a world far from Boston that indeed seemed to be basking in the sun.

Posted by Ritka2 05:56 Archived in Bolivia Tagged boat sunset temple the of lake sheep sun trout del llama humor pig bolivia titicaca kiss lama sol donkey isla inca sacrifice quechua Comments (3)

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