julio 26, 2004

Finals in the time of Cholera (take II)

Argh, so not understanding much about computing in general and blogging in specific, I lost my original post and will clumsily recreate here in much less time as I am now hungry.  This is my first real blog post, as most of the others on this site traversed tortuous cyberspace and untold inboxes before arriving on the blog.  Which leads me to some obligatory existential reflection on how weird it is to type this message into seeming oblivion and know that my dearest friends can check in on some of my deepest thoughts willy-nilly and I'll never be the wiser.  My mind is set towards reflecting on the fragmented postmodern, cyber and TV world we live in because I just took a final on the theoretical framework of popular culture (did you know ANYTHING can have a theoretical framework?), but not so much popular as in Britney Spears, as in popular social and economic classes.  The people you see on the street doing and saying things you don't quite understand, who interest you, but yet you deny giving them change, or shy away when it looks like they might be approaching you, but wonder what their house must be like and if they'd cook you a nice soup if you were to become friends.  But could you become friends, especially here where you are less so than in some places, but still ostensibly foreign, and may never really understand? 
This final was the last one.  I feel almost obligated to punctuate with exclamation points having arrived triumphantly at the end of the study abroad endeavor, and since in Latin America the possibility of undertaking and successfully finishing even the smallest errand can be slightly better than miniscule (i.e. We got our ticket refund!!!!!).  Though that success wasn't without costs, as we spent 185 hours on busses of varying degrees of misery in three weeks and I conquered cholera!  (see, exclamation points?)  Of course not knowing what demonic bug I had and not wanting to risk a hosptial in Bolivia, I just knew I had 'get the hell out of my way, I'm headed back to the bathroom.'  But with the help of the Internet, Randy and I discovered that it was, in fact, cholera (http://www.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/cholera.htm).  It turns out to not be as bad as the big name made me think it would be, and since it is a big name disease, is kinda fun to *have* had. 
Now with Randy still laid out sick and no finals to distract me, I have nothing to do but contemplate the poignant and bitter and sad yet excited-to-talk-about-my-adventure feeling that's permeating me knowing I have to leave in ten days.  Coming home from vacation sucks enough, but going back to an old home after having made a new one in another country sucks bad.  Since I'm a compulsive list maker, maybe sharing a list of all the things I have a burning need to do again and for the first time will somehow purge me of feeling sorry for myself. 
(In no particular order, save that this is the one they occurred to me in)
- Visit ecological preserve near the port
- Take another tango lesson with Fredo
- See Che's Motorcycle Diary movie
- Eat at pizzeria with Boca fan waitress and busty waitress
- Get takeout from Miguelangel
- Buy wine from Wine Guy whose name I can't remember
- See flamenco show at restaurant belonging to Wine Guy's wife
- Sit in park drinking mate watching dogs try to make love
- Make out in park as do all other Argentines of any age
- Walk down annoying pedestrian mall where all vendors try to speak English to me just for novelty
- Maybe watch Madres de la Plaza de Mayo parade again
- Manage to stay up at bars all night without leaving shamefully at 4 or 5 when others are still arriving
- Eat lots of empanadas, starting right now.

julio 21, 2004

In an earilier post, I did some nasty talking about who could otherwise be very nice people.  However, in my studious internet browsing on Precolombian Art (T-minus 45 minutes till exam), Randy found a name...and as promised, I will call by name all the Raliens-loving, wanna-be reincarnated Inca, earth-mother white people:
http://www.labyrinthina.com/order.htm  It will speak for itself.

julio 15, 2004

Violence and Filth, in Brief

we don´t have much time now, since we have to get on a bus in half an hour, but here is the short version of what´s happened in the last couple days, with more to follow when we get home.
we ran into a human roadblock at one in the morning in the middle of bolivia, a sometimes-violent thing the state department warns about in trying to discourage overland travel in said country.  we were the first vehicle blocked, and after failed negotiations/bribes we ended up spending almost 7 hours sitting in a dark, freezing bus with campfires all around, falling asleep to the sweet sounds of chanting and guns fired into the air.  by morning we had been joined by 24 other trucks and busses, and about 8am a huge armored truck broke through the roadblock from the other side.  we seized the opportunity, gunned the engine, and raced toward the disentegrating line, dodging running people and crashing through barriers, with all the passengers (we were missing a quarter, but they would hitch rides on other busses and catch up with us later.)  wildly cheering on the driver.  i was staring out the window with eyes like dinnerplates at the people scrambling to get out of our way when i realized that what i should be doing was what all the other people were doing:  ducking and covering their heads.  the bus was being bombarded with rocks thrown from the hilltops on both sides!  lest you think this is a great exciting adventure, this part was really scary and kind of sucked.  but we made it through relatively unscathed, and the cheering erupted again, and we had a rather uneventful rest of the trip to the border, save for a flat tire and some frightening cliffs.
in other news, both of us are violently ill, probably because there is no sanitation in bolivia.  imaging seeing a pile of chickens for sale on the sidewalk, in a spot where you´d seen a kid pee the night before, knowing that you were probably going to eat that same chicken for lunch....
take care,
randy and anna

julio 14, 2004

And now, a word from Ben in Junin

It's a winter wonderland here in Junin. Jimena built the Fortress of Jimeland for the post-lunch snowball fight with Andres. She and the stuffed subjects of Jimeland have amassed a large arsenal of Weapons of Minimal Destruction and will not be easily defeated. The outcome of this conflict remains to be seen...

Last weekend we went to the mountains north and west of here and stayed in an A-frame cabana(~). We saw mountain peaks in Chile (about 5km to the west). There was about a foot of snow on the ground at the slope. Sue and Andres have cross-country skis and boots and two pairs of snowshoes. The cross-country rental boots had all been stolen over the summer, so Jimena and I used the snowshoes. The spanish word for snowshoes is quite descriptive: raquetas. I always thought the old style snowshoes looked like tennis racquets with foot straps. We got some good pictures of all of us in the snow and some really cool trees the dinosaurs used to eat (Auricaria sp.?). Andres and Jimena also rented these little plastic things called "culipatines" lit. "buttskates". I wanted one of the big round garbage can-lid-type sleds intensely at that point. "I could do that but I would freeze in the truck soaking wet for three hours." The culipatines are nothing but a plastic butt shape with a handle-loop in front and they seem to get left part-way up the hill as often as not.

After a round of antibiotics, two boxes of kleenex, gallons of hot tea and two or three cartons of what passes for juice in this country, I have basically recovered from my cold. I had a fever my last night in the city and went to the doctor with Andres about the third day I was here. I must admit I was disturbed to learn that I had placas in my garganta (sores in my throat). It is much scarier when you dont know what a placa is.

julio 12, 2004

Stunning but Not Mystical

Alas, dear friends, Machu Picchu is, in fact, at least all it's cracked up to be...

Mix equal parts of: three hours line-standing (during lunchtime), $180 of the precious refund dollars, waking up at 4:45 AM, and having to wear wide-brimmed tourist hats over shamefully white tourist skin...
Add Machu Picchu (see below), and find it obviates the aforementioned combination.

Having wanted so much to find no joy, no shameful Club Med-esque pleasure in the well-orchestrated tourist scene of Cusco, we found that Machu Picchu is not only the most beautiful place in the world, but also worth all the trouble. The train ping-pongs its way up the mountain so you're not sure whether you're in a forward facing or back facing seat for over an hour when the cars begin huffing down from the top of Cusco's valley setting. The mountains change from modestly rugged desert or temperate around Cusco to damn near Smokies-like, complete with tiny wood houses puffing smoke from their chimneys on the riverbanks. Within ten minutes you're surrounded by children harvesting coca leaves on the banks of a now roaring river with toothy, jungling peaks soaring directly overhead. (in fact, the more expensive train comes with a bubble dome top) Tunnels come from nowhere, tightly hand cut into the bare rocks; sometimes you weave in and out of the same tunnel for minutes getting glimpses of Incan terraces still in use through gaps in the rock face. It is almost worth it by the time you get there, but then you arrive. Fifteen minutes of nail biting bus ride above 1000 foot sheer drops later.

It's so appealing both to write about stunning places and to take their pictures (guilty on both accounts), but so horribly inadequate. The terraces go up and down as far as you can see on both sides of the mountain, which is a sliver perched over two river gorges with that world famous big, pointy rock in the background. The "big, pointy rock" in the background was a guard tower, thus proving that the Inca had something going for him and was a horribly cruel man; I'll vouch for the second part having scrambled and panted my way to the top of it. Wayna Picchu (the rock) is at least three times taller than you can see in pictures of the place and is completely vertical for all of its unbarricaded height. The main ruins and hundreds of tourists seem like merely ants from that height and you can even watch the tourist groups parading around in single file lines!
Somehow, though, its so majestic in scale and setting that even hundreds of pasty tourists with their socks pulled to their knees can't dampen the experience. "The" photo of Machu Picchu, although a good angle, is less than a tenth the view, with uncountable peaks all around spearing the clouds, terraces as high and as low barely excavated from the jungly mass, and the original Inca road vanishing off to the south.

Lest I sound too awed for you cynical readers, I will stop to poke a little fun. I have no qualms with Machu Picchu; none. Nevertheless, it was actually not a spiritual headquarters, as some people prefer to believe. Yes, there is a temple to the sun, and the moon; as there were in ALL Incan cities. In fact, right now I am parked on a much holier Incan site writing an email. Because I love you all, please, please, NEVER worship at Machu Picchu (at least don't tell me about it). One tourist group whose name I would name if I could, came to worship at the ruins. Not indigenous people, not the inheritors of the Sun Kingdom, but pasty tourists with big hats and socks to their knees. I caught a bunch of them touching and moaning at one of the temple's walls and another man fanning himself with crossed arms as if he were a butterfly. I think synchronized breathing was involved. Because I love you, please do not confuse beauty with spirituality. They are both fine, both lovely, but not the same. We also saw a pair of llamas chase each other around the main plaza trying to mate for an hour; that was good. Now we're getting on the bus for four days straight. Less beauty...more smells...

enjoy the summer, we're freezing!

anna and randy

julio 08, 2004


greetings from the most expensive city in the hemisphere!

so, we were too late in trying to book a ticket from la paz to cusco on wednesday. fortunately, as anything is possible in latin america, we were able to persuade the ticket person that we were in a hurry, so she found us "seats" on an already full bus. The bus was taking 50 or so peruvian delegates back to their country, and was a big bus, with plenty of room up in the cab. so we got to wedge ourselves in between the two drivers where there were actually no seats but plenty of leg room and a great view. it was really more like being on a road trip with friends than a bus ride, sharing stories and drinking coffee. the drivers were kind of like tour guides, pointing things out to us, and would even pull over if we needed to buy things (i got a paper). The best part is that you don´t have to watch the movies, and instead have a stunning 180 degree view coming down out of the mountains to lake titicaca, and then up again into the highlands, in hills soaring above the deep blue lake below. At one point we had to cross the lake-a hands on operation- with the bus bobbing up and down in one little barge and all of us in another.

well after nightfall (four hours late) we arrived in disneyland...er...cusco. Cusco is a sprawling city, but tourist maps only show one barrio, san blas, while pretending that the rest of the city simply doesn´t exist. it seems that tourists never leave this part of the city. Arriving after dark, one notices that on every block stands a discreet security guard, watching the peaceful night. During the day the "city" is perfect. There are just the right number of colorful, interesting "locals" who all speak english, and just the right number of colorful, unobtrusive bums so as to make it seem "authentic" without actually being as annoying as really living in a city like this. prices are mostly in US dollars and things cost what they would in the states. Granted the city has more than its share of inca ruins and beautiful colonial architecture. Also fascinating blends of the two on top of each other. its really exactly what a rich, cautious north american or european would love to write home about, but its a far cry from the peru that we saw from the bus window, with wide open spaces dotted with thatched-roof mud huts and happy if sometimes ragged shepherds guarding their llamas.

Machu Picchu seems the same kind of tourist money-trap, but by all accounts is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so we´re going to go anyway. This is our Big Treat since...::horns and thunder:: we actually got our ticket refund! Besides, in ten years machu picchu will probably be covered in a huge glass bubble visible from two kilometers away for $500 a pop. It's sinking -- better get while the gettin's good.

oh, one omission in the last email. i did, in fact, get puked on in the bus.



julio 06, 2004

Not for the Weak of Stomach

Bolivia is a completely different world than any i have previously visited. when you cross the border from argentina you notice that the streets have come alive; there is color and music everywhere, and the streets are lined with markets and 500 pound bags of coca leaves that you can buy for $2 per kilo to chew. The population in bolivia is 7 to 3 indigenous and thus anna looks like a freakshow on parade (her comment) and besides that is full of unbelievable cultural differences. the women here dress mostly in the traditional manner, with aprons, many-layered skirts, the huge colorful bags tied around their chests, and tiny bowler hats perched atop their heads.
the bus ride to la paz was another plethora of cultural surprises. busses cannot leave for their destination until they are completely full, including sitting or sleeping in the aisles, under the feet of those who have seats, and on the roof racks. midway through the trip we discovered that we even had a stowaway kid hiding under the bus above the wheel. the first 10 or so hours was unpaved through the mountains, and we would bounce along under the full moon inches away from precarious cliffs, winding our way along at full speed seemingly heading straight for towering walls and just as the people in the front row would start screaming (no kidding) we would plunge into a tiny hand-carved one-lane tunnel and then shoot back up into the high mountains.
The bus did not come complete with bathroom, so we would stop every 4 hours or so and all 40 of us pee together in a field. (sanitation is a monumental problem in this country. i shy away from the gory details in this email, but suffice it to say that cholera is endemic here for a good reason)

We arrived in La Paz some two and a half hours late. the final leg is on the flat altiplano, which is kind of like driving through ohio except that there is a pretty snowy mountain range in the distance and a huge peak that grows bigger and bigger in front of the bus. then you enter city, and think to yourself "hey, this is weird, i thought la paz was *in* the mountains" and then suddenly the bus literally falls off the end of the earth and you are on top of the peaks, with the city spreading out like tentacles in the ravines below.

The bus can hardly make it through the streets, which are shared equally between the millions of people and the tiny minivans that serve both as taxis and short-distance busses, since nothing else can navigate in the crowded, narrow streets. The markets encroach on the streets on both sides, and anything you can imagine is sold. Walking through the witches' market we encountered everything from toads to dried birds to llama fetuses and condor talons for good luck. In the meat market they sell all manner of unrefrigerated products. there are piles of cows' legs with hooves and flayed infant pigs and whole ears and snouts and chicken feet, and there was one lady completely surrounded by a huge pile of bloody severed sheeps heads. ok, anna's turn...

On a more pleasant note, this morning we boarded one of the minivans with 16 other people and a pile of luggage that made us look twice our height for Tiwanaku. It was especially interesting for my (anna's) dorky side since I took a precolombian art class that spent a good week on Tiwanaku, which happens to be the pueblo continuously occupied for the longest time in the Andes. A lot of the modern houses look more historic and ruinesque than the almost pristine, towering fortification around the plaza. It's really beautiful and pre-Incan and I kept boring Randy by telling him about the iconography. There's also a cool catholic church from the end of the 16th century that's incorporated statues from ancient Tiwanaku into the front entrance and façade.

Tomorrow we're off to Cuzco, crossing Lake Titicaca! This vacation touches most of the most beautiful places on the continent, and yet, we're inordinantly preoccupied with the states of our rears and our bladders. Currently we're at 95 hours on the bus in the last ten days, and rack up twelve more tomorrow.

Randy and Anna

p.s. we made it here just in time. we heard on the radio today that the route we came by is completely impassable due to snow.