RoD, AP, and Grandma (Day 3)

Sorry for the delay – trying to wrap up a school year, take a sub-par Master’s class (offered by my school through the prestigious Buffalo State University – not sure why in the world I signed up for it), and take care of an exigent chocolate lab tends to suck time out of a day.  But I am back, and the lab is outside crying to get back in.

Well, my friends, where were we?  Ahh..yes, so I was relaxing in my hammock, defeated in my efforts to find Josh and Jen, but content to wait for them in their last known whereabouts…

At last, they appeared. However, Josh was a bit disappointed because he wagered with Jen that they would hear my laugh before actually seeing me – not sure if that’s a good thing, for the mind tends to immediately jump to the conclusion that one possesses nothing short of a hyena laugh.  It was strange, as if I was in a sleep, and waking up to think, “Oh, Josh and Jen are here, right where I left them.”   The fact that we were meeting each other, a year and a half since our last reunion, in the middle of the Bolivian jungle, did not appear to be odd to any of us.  Perhaps that’s a sign of a good friendship.

After introducing Pat, we went shopping (Pat needed a long sleeved shirt for the river trip – which I am not sure we REALLY needed, but he was very pleased with his 20 B purchase).  The real finds, however, were a pair of leather product (because I’m not quite sure what they are actually made of) cowboy hats that Josh and I made our trip hats.

Note the long sleeved shirt and the hats.  Trip booty. 

    After an afternoon of catching up around Rurre, trying to cash in our free “Welcome Drinks” at the Moskkito Bar and being told that they weren’t good until 7 (how welcoming!), playing another embarrassing game of pool while sipping Huari in the humid afternoon air, we went back (for the third time) to Casa del Campo.  We had to introduce our friends to family.  So, in a grandmotherly way, the owner welcomed Josh and Jen, told them how proud she was of me and Pat, how she hopes that we’d hurry up and get married, and other such grandmotherly banter.  We dined on more ginger honey Dorado and a jug of jugo de maracuya y otras frutas.  (sounds a lot fancier when you write it in Spanish!)

We removed the hats out of respect. A gesture of substantial weight.

After dinner, we returned to the Moskkito Bar, where we found it packed with tourists either about to embark on (relatively clean, for backpackers) or just returned from (fly swarmingly dirty) the jungle.  Both groups were enjoying the libations.  Not a whole lot to be said other than the Moskkito Bar is to Rurrenebaque what Jim & Nick’s BBQ is to Atlanta.  If you go, you won’t have a bad time, but surely there are much better options if you look past the neon lights. Drinks were weak and overpriced, but when you spent what we spent just to get to Rurre, you can’t wax stingy.

In homage to the first night’s success, we retired to Luna Lounge for another game of pool (we really aren’t billiard players, there were just that few things to do in Rurrenebaque besides drink your face off), had a few more Huari, and called it a night.  We had to be on the boat at 8 am to head to Chalalan.  It was good to be with friends.


Advertisements

A Road of Death, Amazon Pigs, and Grandma (though not necessarily in order)

Why hello old friends!

I am back from my spring break trip to La Paz and Rurrenebaque in one piece, but with many pieces missing thanks to the ravenous sandfly of Bolivia.  In order to organize my thoughts, and make this post a bit more manageable, I’ll divide up my trip report by days.

Day 1: Saturday, April 16

I taught my English class at church and then packed up for my late afternoon flight to La Paz.  Upon arriving in La Paz, Patrick, my traveling companion and coworker and I checked into the Adventure Brew Hostel.  We ate dinner at La Cueva Mexican restaurant (hey, you can’t fault me for not eating Bolivian – Santa Cruz has very few good, gringo-y restaurants).  It was packed with people (especially Brits), but we found a table.  I had a margarita and chicken tacos, as well as split some guacamole.  The poor waiter was the only one working and it was a struggle to get the order in.  However, being patient does pay off, because after the droves paid their cuentas and left, the waiter brought us out free tequila shots.  Not only that, but he also put a glass of what-seemed-to-be salsa on the table.  I asked him what it was, and he pretty much listed all of the ingredients to your standard salsa recipe.  However, he informed me that if you take a drink of it after taking the shot, it would cut the bite of the tequila.  And the man was right.  We then headed to Oliver’s Travels, the self proclaimed “5th best bar in La Paz.”  Met up with some coworkers, Mike and Seth, where were were told jungle horror stories from Mike, who had  already been to Rurrenebaque a few years back.  Called it a night after cashing in our free beers at the bar at the hostel, where my Spanish was tested trying to understand the slurred speech of the intoxicated patrons/workers.  Made a great friend in Jhon, the concierge at the hostel, who gave me some very useful advice about dealing with Bolivian police.  Then watched 2 of the guys at the bar fall back and crash onto the floor. At that point we knew that it was time to call it a day.

Day 2: Sunday, April 17

Woke up after a bad night’s sleep from the altitude in La Paz (11,942 ft).  Had pancakes in the bottom floor of the hotel and headed to the airport.  You know you are going to the right place when they give you vouchers for free drinks upon arrival to your destination.  In fact, our lucky streak continued because the guy checking us in actually gave us 2 vouchers a piece.

The plane was on time and we walked out to board the 20 seat prop plane.  I was in the first row, which meant that I had to lift my feet up to ensure that they didn’t get caught in the bulkhead door when they closed it.  The 35 minute flight was spectacular – we took a left turn around the snow capped mountains that surround La Paz and descended rapidly into the jungle.  Upon landing, we parked in the middle of a field and a mini-bus filled with departing passengers quickly met us.  It was so hot and humid that I immediately started shedding the layers I had worn in the cold weather of La Paz.

Our backpacks were extracted from the plane, put on top of the minibus, and we headed into town.  No airport (there is one, apparently), just a direct trip into the plaza.  Pat and I walked over to the Chalalan office to let them know that we arrived.  We checked in, then headed to Hotel Oriental, our home for the next 2 days.

We went to lunch at Casa del Campo, which was packed with Israeli tourists (some of which proudly with their shirts off).  Apparently there is a book about an Israeli lost in the jungles of Madidi that draws droves of Israeli backpackers to Rurre.  Again, Pat and I were patient and friendly to the waiters (who are actually the husband and wife owners of the restaurant), and our patience was rewarded.  I had a delicious dish of Dorada fish in a ginger honey sauce.  More importantly, the wife kept on expressing her gratitude to us, while also calling the previous diners “terrors” – a sentiment I heard repeated about Israeli tourists repeatedly throughout the trip, but I did not observe such behavior personally.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in hammocks.  I recommend this.  Surrounded by fruit trees and other reading tourists, I read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.  Not a good book, but by no means did it detract from a fantastic afternoon.  That night, we ate at a French/Italian cuisine restaurant. I had chicken stir-fry.  It was surprisingly good, and with large portions.  The same large group of Israelis was also there – they still had their shirts off.

We finished the night with a game of pool at Luna Lounge, which lasted way too late due to our poor skills.  Overall, a great day.

Day 3: Monday, April 18

I woke up, had breakfast at the hotel, and resumed my position in the hammock, finishing The Art… and then upgrading to Bill Bryson’s At Home.  I am in the middle of reading it presently and it is fantastic.  It will make you feel like the smartest guy in the room.  Throughout the day I anticipated Josh and Jen’s arrival sometime in the afternoon.  

We tried to wait for Josh and Jen before we went to lunch, but once 1:00 rolled around, we went back to Casa del Campo, where I got a bacon (REAL BACON!  A delicacy of which I am not used), avocado, and tomato sandwich with mushroom soup.  It was as good as it sounds.  We also split a pitcher of maracuya juice.  

We went back to the hotel expecting to find Josh and Jen, but they were not there.  I then asked the cleaning lady and she said that we just missed them.  An hour of circling the 3 blocks of Rurre ensued to no avail.  Of course, I retired to the hammock and waited it out.  

My Favorite Poem

Just thought I’d share.

I held you in the square
by Ben Okri

I held you in the square
And felt the evening
Re-order itself around
Your smile.
The dreams I could never touch
Felt like your body.
Your gentleness made the
Night soft.

And even if we didn’t know
Where we were going,
Nor what street to take
Or what bench to sit on
What chambers awaited
That would deliver us our
Naked joy,
I could feel in your spirit
The restlessness for a journey
Whose beauty lies
In the arriving moment
Of each desire.

Holding you in the evening square,
I sealed a dream
With your smile as the secret pact.

Enter Title Here

Listening to Ray LaMontagne’s new album right now.  No drop-off detected.

Not really sure how to entitle this, so let’s write and figure that out later.

Here is not the forum to discuss it, but wanted to quickly mention that I broke off my engagement to Vanessa.  In short, it was the best decision for both of us.  I still love her very much, but it was time to have the courage to recognize that it wasn’t working. That’s it; that’s all.

That being said, I have recommitted myself to two things about this blog (neither of which are blogging all that regularly): 1) stop overanalyzing every word and sentence and let you forgive me for a misplaced modifier here or the lack of a semicolon there and 2) try to convey the humorous side of life again without worrying about people claiming that I am making fun of Bolivia.  If you look at my blog that way, don’t read it (plus, we’re probably not friends, anyway).

Wow, “New York City’s Killing Me” is fantastic.  Listen to it.

We need eachother.

Well, you can’t listen to Langhorne Slim for a prolonged period of time before your thoughts turn philosophical.  “I’d forget all I learned and go back to the wild.”  Just genius, really.

This year is off to a good start, but rather unexpectedly.  I am teaching 6th and 7th grade, which is where I belong, and my lack of dread of going to work each day bears witness to this.  However, despite my misery,  I have grown from my experience, which is cliche, I know, but it makes me reflect on my hesitation to look at life as a continuum in the good and the bad.  Momentary misery leads to an overall development of something that we are destined to be.  And really, we will never truly get there, but continue to be refined and remolded, that is, unless we decide to crumble.

I don’t know what to tell people who go through terrible seasons of life, and the “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” phrase provides little to no comfort.  But really, when we have decided that we’re going to accept the misery that circumstances provide us so freely, it’s up to us, in the middle of depression, despair, anger, to decide what course of action to take.  Easy to say when you aren’t in one of those places, but it just seems to be.  Life is a continuing, winding, nosediving, surprising thing.  And if we don’t reach into the darkness and pull each other out, I think we’re missing the point.  And I think that’s how God generally operates – he sets those around you in action to get you out of those places.  We must refuse to accept despair in ourselves and in those around us.  How else can we grow?

2009-2010 Year in Review

Well gang, it’s been a long, long year.

I say that not because this year has been bad, but just so eventful.  It was so full of things, both good and bad, that just trying to recall events of last July and August makes it seem like it happened 2 or 3 years ago.

Now, I have been accused of belittling Bolivia and being a bit snobbish about things.  Let me assure you that that is not the case. There are many, many fantastic things about living here, the sense of community and limitless travel opportunities for starters.  I just find that it’s more fun to write about the idiosyncrasies that make life different and quirky are much more entertaining.  So, let me be clear, I really do like living in Bolivia.  Got it?  Good.

But I’m still going to write about the quirks.  This blog would be rather boring if I didn’t.

Birthdays

This year I have had the unique opportunity to attend a bunch of them.  I even had my own birthday party, so I feel like I can speak rather intelligently on the matter.  Birthdays are a BIG deal here – much bigger than in the U.S.  People spend lots and lots of money on the party.  Phone calls are also customary.  I was surprised to even receive a phone call from Vanessa’s parents in Spain.  It’s pretty fantastic – I was just expecting a few Happy Birthdays on my facebook wall.  If you are someone who loves your birthday (Jillian), you should seriously consider celebrating down here.

Travelling

If I am here longer than 2 years, one of the major reasons will be the incredible opportunities to travel.  So far, I have been to many places in Bolivia – Amboro National Park (rainforest), Samaipata, Salar de Uyuni, Sucre, Potosi, Tarija, Oruro, and a few more, and they all have a distinct flavor to them.  Bolivia is a bit like the US in that the different parts are SO different.  And the people are too.  The beautiful thing is that it’s relatively inexpensive to travel and nobody really knows about all of the incredible places, so prices are very reasonable.  If there’s one place you should go, it’s Salar de Uyuni – for me, it’s on par (and maybe a bit better) than the Grand Canyon.

Work

This has been the hardest year for me in my teaching career.  It really has been a lesson in humility.  After experiencing the success that I had in Atlanta, I thought teaching was going to be the easiest part of my life down here.  It actually turned out to be the most difficult part.  Without getting into too many details (of which I will gladly share with you in a private conversation), teaching at my school was incredibly challenging.  Teaching in a new culture (both in the community and the school’s own culture), I realized quickly that things that I took for granted (rigor, consequences, etc.) are not the norm.  So, coming from schools which excelled, it was very, very hard to adjust.  Many times I found myself frustrated and at the point of burnout.

The good news is, though, that I am teaching what I know, Middle School, next year, which will make my life a lot easier and, at the end of the day, I really like Middle School kids better than High Schoolers.  Also, I now know the balance between work and my outside life – which is not easy to do since many times your coworkers are your social circle.  Thankfully, I have made many friends outside of that small group, which adds a healthy separation between my worlds.

Community

By far, the biggest blessing that I have had down here is the community of Trinity International Church.  I really don’t know how I survived down here for the first few months without it.  I started going there in September, and almost immediately, I knew that I had found a group of people that are like-minded and willing to support each other.  What is more, almost every night of the week, I am with people from church – Mondays – Fronton, Tuesdays – Men’s Small Group, Thursdays – Bilingual Small Group.  Oh yeah, and Sunday, too.  Really, just a church filled with amazing people.  I could go on and on.  I am so thankful.

Ministry

I came down to Bolivia planning on working with the missions of my friends – mostly orphanages around and outside of the city.  However, work took up so much of my time that I found myself frustrated.  Over time, I realized that my “mission” in Bolivia might actually be in my school.  I teach a culture of students who, overall, are driven by egotistical things and have very, very little in there lives to show them that this outlook on life might actually be wrong.  My coworkers are a group that includes many people who are running from something – responsibility, divorces, pain of the past, and have serious questions about God.

I feel that God has put me in this school, as frustrating and infuriating as it can be, to be the salt and light that he speaks of.  Do I that I have done a particularly great job being the salt and light, not really.  But more times than not, I have found myself stumbling into conversations about Him and being able to answer and resolve questions that people have about God and his nature.  I am hoping that next year I will be able to serve Him even more and continue the work that I have been given.

Country

I cry when I hear the national anthem.  I’m not ashamed to say it.  I can’t explain it, but I never did it before, but there’s something about living somewhere else to make you feel intense pride in your homeland.  I don’t consider myself an intensely patriotic person, but when I hear the national anthem, all that is good about the United States wells up in my eyes.

Friends

I have made some incredibly good friends here, and realized even more how much my friends back home mean to me.

Well, one year down.  I’m off on Sunday to a trip that might just end up being a trip of a lifetime.  Vanessa and I are flying to Cusco, Peru to meet up with my Dad and my friend Jay to hike 4 days to Machu Picchu.  From there, travelling on to Arequipa, Peru, Arica, Chile, Lake Titicaca, and La Paz.  It will be a LOT of time on busses, but it will just add to the experience.  Stay posted for blog posts.

It’s been an eventful year, my friends.  Thanks for staying with me!

Taylor B.

Back from Tarija and Rashless

Generally doctors do not recommend chaperoning 9th graders on overnight trips as a way to recover from 2.5 days in the hospital with a mystery ailment.  Somehow, that’s the situation that I ended up in this week, which capped off a fairly traumatic 5 days for my household.  Muddy was recovering from being spayed and I looked like I used poison ivy bedsheets.  We were a pretty pathetic crew.  Thankfully, Vanessa was our Florence Nightingale and cared for both of us – me in the hospital and Muddy when I was in Tarija.  I know have a sackful of medicine to take (Bolivians love to overmedicate), which is seeming to eradicate my rash.

Tarija is a small Bolivian city located towards the south of Bolivia near the Argentine border.  It’s famous for its wine, but that’s about all that I knew about it.  You know you’re in another world when you are bringing 25 9th graders to go visit vineyards (vineados).  Actually, as it turns out, the vineyards were probably the least interesting part of the field trip, but they caused the most headaches for me and the other chaperone.  Having to explain to 9th graders over and over again why they a)could not sample the wine and b) could not buy any wine got to be a huge headache.

As it turns out, though, there is more to Tarija than I thought.  There was an incredible archaeology museum that had mulyiple pieces that could easily be the centerpiece to any American museum’s exhibition.  The incredible thing was that all of the pieces were pretty much just sprawled out on a bunch of tables.  Flash photography?  Sure.  Can you touch the mammoth bones?  Ok.  Do we mind if you slip that 1000 year old figurine in your pocket?  Ok, but make it quick.  This is a trend that I am finding down here – there are multitudes of undervisited and underfunded museums that have priceless pieces just laying out on tables.  Feel free to continue the debate over whether artifacts should stay in their home countries on your own.

In all, Tarija is worth a visit – but save yourself the headache of getting phone calls from the front desk at 3 am about kids sneaking out and don’t go with high school students.

Wuau! Your skin is very hard!

Well, living in a developing (formerly known as thrid world) country has finally caught up to me. On Friday, I started to think, “Man, my armpits itch, maybe I should buy a new stick instead of scratching out the remains that are on the plastic.” So, I bought new deodorant – I started itching in other places.
All night I itched, but I really didn’t think anything of it, until morning came. I took off my t-shirt and, to my surprise, I was covered in red splotches.
So, Vanessa went to buy some medicine (prescriptions are not necessary here), which stopped the itching temporarily, but it came back about 4 hours later. I took the second of the 2 pills she bought and started to get ready for a wedding that night.
As the night went on, I became more and more feverish and the rash was like ivy covering my body. On the way to the reception my arms were fine – an hour later I rolled up my sleeve and red splotches dotted my forearm.
So, Vanessa and my friend Lauren (who spayed Muddy on Friday) went to a pharmacy – kind of like a CVS.
Vanessa explained what was happening to me, and was handed some medicine and a syringe. It was do-it-yourself, but for a mere 2 dollars more, I could have the lady who was fast asleep in the side-room patients’ bed stab me. So, I splurged to have someone with experience do it.
It took about 5 minutes for me to muster up the courage to knock loudly enough to wake her from her slumber (my knocks and “Senoras” getting embarrassingly louder until she popped up.
I was informed that the shot would go in my behind, so I pulled down my suit pants to give her a nice, big target, closed my eyes, held my breath, and then endured excruciating pain. It turns out she didn’t pierce flesh. Her response, “Wuaua! Su piel es muy duro!” (Wow, your skin is very hard!). She had to do it again.
Bracing the bed with both hand now, what felt like a number 2 pencil enter my right buttocks. The mix of sickness and pain put me in a trance where I knew I was going to pass out. Luckily, I saw it coming, laid down, and the next thing I know, Vanessa and the lady are staring bewilderingly into my face.
I finally came to, and decided that I was ok to go back to the wedding. So, Lauren, who recently drove Muddy to and fro from the animal hospital, was carting around the other member of our humble household.
After being back at the wedding for about an hour and feeling like you-know-what, I decided it would be a good idea to go home ASAP. I don’t remember going to sleep, but I do remember being woken up by Lauren’s text asking how her 2 patients were doing.
Vanessa came over shortly after, took one look and my increasingly red torso, and immediately called a cab to take me to the hospital.
You know it’s bad when the emergency room doctor shudders a but when you demonstrate your calamity. So, he shot me up with 4, count ’em four different liquids (adrenaline, cortisone, IV, and something else – I think it was the same stuff as the night before because it also went into my behind).
Slowly, the rash went down, but it was not until this morning that it seemed to make real progress. However, as I write, I can see the red blotches coming back.
I have absolutely no idea what I did or ate to get this, and, until now, I thought I had no real allergies to speak of. I have to eat the blandest of the bland foods for the foreseeable future and get tested in a month or so. Thankfully, I have The Wire season 2 to keep me occupied. Hopefully I won’t be in here so long that I’ll have to start season 3…If you can stomach it, here’s a photo of my chest from last night:

Where does your salt come from?

This question was posed to me by the wife of our guide on our trip on the Salar, the world’s largest salt flat. At first it seemed like an odd question, since I have never stopped to consider where any of my condiments (is that what salt is?) come from. However, the more I thought about it, the more the chasm between the consumer happy land of supermarkets on every corner and places like Uyuni, which depend on the salt production for not only exports, but imports of thousands of tourist dollars every year. With the exception of reading a few chapters of the book Salt, I had never stopped to contemplate the importance of the white stuff that sits next to it’s grey brother on almost every table in the world. So, after a few false starts at an answer, I had to admit to Barbara that I had no idea where my salt came from. She replied with a trailing, “Ohh…” as if to hide her shock at my ignorance. It’s a bit awkward when you have to admit that you take for granted something that is a livelihood for someone else. Now, I just need to remember to not go to a Frosted Flakes Flat next.

Back on the road

It feels good to be a traveler again. 

I am writing from an internet cafe in Oruro, Bolivia ‘ a tin mining town that experienced its heyday about a century ago.  While the plaza hints at wealth long since gone,  the rest of the city is pretty bleak.  I suspect sometime in th e  1970´s someone said, ¨Hey, we need to do something with these dilapidated old mansions.  Let´s tear them down and push th envelope on just how ugly we can make our beloved city.¨

Despite it´s less than pretty appearance, it does have a certain charm.  I actually had someone stop and welcome me to the city, a gestured so unexpected that I immediately thought he was trying to con me into following him to a dark alley.  I wish I could go back and apologize, but so it goes.

I think anyone who really holds Oruro in contempt for not being prettier or having more to do for tourists is being innately selfish, however (and I do not pardon myself of this offense).  That would be like us thinking Syracuse or Scranton or Schenechtady (tried my best in spelling that, gang) out to make a more concerted effort to be a tourist town, therefore deeming it worthy of a visit.  This is a city that is making due with the little economy it still has left and they are doing it the best way they know how.  I can´t fault it for not having a Machu Picchu or Six Flags for my own personal entertainment.  Life will go on just as normal when I leave, and the few dollars I spend here won´t matter a whole heck of a lot (or it might spark an economic boom, who knows…)

Actually, the one thing that Oruro does have going for it is Carnavale –  the Latin American Saturnalia.  It is said to be the biggest celebration besides Rio de Janero.  This is a bit like saying Poughkeepsie has the biggest Forth of July parade outside of Washington D.C.  In fact, it is so big that literally 4 days sustains the economy for the year.

I suspect that since there is such an investment in Carnavale (costumes run upwards of $5000, people see the most expensive thing that they will ever own and  want to put it to use more often.  As a result, Oruro is parade-crazy.  Although I have been here less that 24 hours, I have seen 2 parades.  For all you non-math majors, that´s an average of a parade every 12 hours.  I assure you, it was not the same parade, either.  Hey, it´s culture.

Our group of 5 leaves for Salar de Uyuni tonight on an overnight train that leaves at 7 p.m. and gets in around 2 a.m.  Very excited, but a bit apprehensive about altitude sickness.  I had some preventitive oxygen last night and am taking altitude sickness medicine.  Yesterday, in a cab from Cochabamba to Oruro, we passed a sign saying that we were at about 4,500 meters (convert it online for an eye-popping surprise).  Oruro isn´t quite that high, but the Salar is. 

As I said before, it feels good to be back on the road. I miss Vanessa and Muddy,  but I´ll only be gone for a week.  If I run into another internet cafe  along the way, I´ll update you on my trip.  But, in the meantime, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.