Published: February 25th 2008February 3rd 2008
Gabs really liked her panoramics. Old town Potosi.
I feel I am living in multiple worlds with the same language. Well, more or less, the Argentineans speak castesshhaaaanno and I don´t have a freaking clue what the Chileans are uttering but on paper it all looks the same. It turns out you really cannot know much from paper, this is something I have been slowly finding out since I began medical school. The trees the paper came from, however, know how to speak to me...
Below is some jibba jabba from different points I glazed over or have not submitted. I will try to make it as anachronous as possible in the spirit of the chaos I feel on this end:
Somewhere around two weeks ago.
Back in La Paz again, I arrived about a week ago and a fantastic week it was, overflowing with good food, better people, water balloon evasion maneuvers, and enjoying the little chores that I spend too much energy lamenting at home. A new friend from New York showed me where to by some fantastic coffee this morning; I think I´m in love. Yesterday I took my bike on its maiden voyage, up to La Cumbre, then about 50Km
Mine dance party 2K8
The four of us before we got hit with the freight train.
down hill, first on pavement, then on... the road of death (Duunn dunn duuunnnnn!!). It was formerly the worlds most dangerous road, now a 65 dollar downhill bike course lined with several hundred meter precipices and waterfalls cascading into your lap as you descend from 4700m to somewhere around a 1000. Although it was not quite as scary as the name ¨Death Road¨(Du du dun) implies, the ability to see so many ecosystems in a period of about an hour is pretty incredible. Death road! (Du) Had to get that in there on more time.
So, to the side trips, in :
Oruro, Carnival. Whenever Carnival was.
I came with 8 Bolivianos with all the banks closed and a pin-less ATM card. At first it appeared it would stay that way until the reopening of a functioning economy in four days. After some imploring looks and a few ¨I´m appealing to your humanity¨ speeches, however, I was able to purchase 50 dollars from a hotel with my credit card and was on my way. Carnival! Street vendors, miles of parade with brightly colored satanic masks and both christian and Incan folklore fighting it out with dance and
Playing dump truck with thousand kg push carts. These are the spacious tunnels
flash. The streets were packed with kids armed with spray foam (chemical warfare), supersoakers, and water balloons (biological warfare, quick W, bring the troops). It was glorious. By 3pm, though, far too many beers, a ludicrous quantity of street food, and the soaking of my last set of dry clothing told me I did not want to spend another night in the bus station (the town was full and you can imagine the nights at 4000m) so I headed back to my home away from home to finish the celebration.
Potosi. Sometime before whenever Carnival was.
Potosi is a wee colonial city entirely out of place on the barren mountain tops of south-central Bolivia. It also happens to boast loads of fun facts. For instance, did you know it is the highest city in the world at 4,824m or that in its day in the 16th century it was population-wise as big or bigger than London or Paris? Less fun fact: most of this population was comprised of indigenous and African slaves used by the Spanish as mules to dig up silver to fund the lavish lifestyles of the slave masters in Potosi and royalty at home. Or,
hundreds of tons of chemicals used in ore extraction are still being pumped directly into the river systems. This all becomes still more confusing when you see the actual process. A group of friends and I took a tour into the mines and it turned out to be one of the more profound experiences of my life. We went hundreds (?) of meters into the mountain and four levels down. At times it was necessary to crawl the passageways were so small. There was some compressed air in some of the tunnels but with the combination of the particulate content and the altitude it felt like we were suffocating for almost three hours. This is the environment in which Potosian miners spend 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I say miners I mean kids aged 12 and up working alongside their brothers and fathers, but not for long. They top out in their forties if they are lucky; the average life expectancy is somewhere around 15 to twenty years in the mines (not confirmed). I have this incredible recurrent mental video of this 30ish year old man in one of the terminal tunnels slamming his axe repetitively
His twelve year old son was ten feet to my right loading rocks in a push cart. My friend Jenny was hyperventilating sitting next to me until I pulled her bandana off.
into the rock ¨whack, whack, whack¨and with it the ¨whooohh, whooohh, whooohh¨sound of his forced expiration. He had a barrel chest and every sort of accessory breath mechanism going strong, lips pursed. There was no forced air here and I was nearly hyperventilating just sitting there. Do you know where he is right now? ¨Whack, whack, whack... whoohh, whoohh, whoohh.¨ And they take so much pride in what they do! I came out of that pit into the light feeling more detached than I can ever remember. Whack! Whoohhf! I promise you, if you saw it you would permanently loose the right to complain about bureaucracy and paper cuts.
Uyuni, sometime between the last two.
The Salar de Uyuni is the world largest salt flat. I won´t bore you with statistics but golly it´s a big´un. Right now it is full of water and so is one of the worlds largest mirrors, making some pretty spectacular and optical illusions possible. Anyone feel like feeling small for a while? Bolivia is the place to be. I also took a 3 day tour with these two Canadians and three rad chicas de Buenos Aires. It ended with the hot springs
I am holding a lit piece of dynamite for effect. We blew up some rocks with it. I could could barely stand to have my picture taken and was even closer to the edge watching the American tourists´ destruction-lust post explosion.
of my dreams at 5000m along side a lake with flamingos skimming through the mist and a sunrise over Andean volcanoes. ´nuff said. (I´ll post pictures when they come rolling in from some friends)
Hmmm, what else... ok. So my stuff arrived, one of my paniers was stolen at a bus station with all my clothes and maps, an ancient campesino woman to whom I gave my bus seat stole my ipod, and now I´m in Salta, Argentina. And the girl with the coffee? Yeah, that´s Annie. It turns out we did fall in love a few days later on a park bench in La Paz. Then three days in the mountainous colonial town of Sorata. Now, she bought a bike and is heading down with me. None of that is in any order but welcome to my world, it makes perfect sense to me. She is meeting me in Salta in...well now, I gotta go. Love you guys, keep in touch.
p.s. Don´t bother sending your condolences on my things lost because they are only that, things. I was going to have to pare down my baggage anyway for the bike trip and now these decisions have
Annie and me in Sorata
And this is me happy and appropriately blurry.
been made easy. Anyone who has ever tried to order dinner with me knows I can´t make a decision like that to save my life, so in essence it was a blessing. I replaced the clothes with two retro vests and a t-shirt that would leave you to believe I was a hell of a flag girl in the late nineties. The ipod was replaced with a harmonica. I bought a map. I feel light and aerodynamic am I´m finally ready to head out.