little sarah Big World

Month: June, 2012

Home Stay

~OR~

I Could Not Have Danced All Night

As I mentioned, I was sick and bummed out on Amantani, during our home-stay. But it wasn’t all a bust, Friends! It was also very peaceful and relaxing at times.

Moreover, it was really cool to get to meet this family that I wouldn’t otherwise have met–Catalina and her 4-year-old son, Anderson (her older daughter and husband were away on errands for the weekend)–stay in their home and eat meals with them.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and for that I’m grateful to have braved extreme exhaustion, lung tremors, and cultural commodification.

Oh, and did I mention…the food?!

This was honestly the best I ate the entire time in South America. Lunch was a brothy quinoa soup (with quinoa they’d grown in their own yard–I’d never seen that!) followed by roasted corn and root vegetables (including a variety of potato that was sweet yet hard, like a carrot) with fried goat cheese. We washed it all down with fresh lemon-balm tea made with whole, recently harvested herbs.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Dinner was a similar soup, followed by starch-on-starch crime–pasta and potatoes with a side of white rice. Still, though, it was home-cooked meal, and very satisfying.

I spent most of the time trying to get to know our hosts, though Anderson was shy and Catalina was having none of it. She seemed very used to having guests in her home (she’s been doing it nearly 10 years) but kept interaction to a minimum. I wanted to know, more than anything, how she felt about this experience, as to me it was such a unique clash of cultures.

But to Catalina (as I finally managed to ascertain), it’s just an easy second job, which means that she doesn’t have to work outside of the home. They host two guests, once a week, and the ends meet. Simple as that.

Then the rest of the time she can knit, talk with friends or family, and farm.

And I suppose she likes it like that? I don’t know. I spent less than 24 hours with her, and I’m reluctant to generalize (though I’m sure I already have). I guess what I mean to say is that I hope she’s happy with the arrangement. And I think it will be interesting to see the impact the constant influx of foreigners has on Anderson. For now, he seems pleased. And shy.

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Amantaní Island

After visiting Uros, we arrived on Amantaní, where we would be spending the night with host families. It was a peaceful farming land, divided into different communities, each of about 1,000 families. Ours was Occosuyo.

Everyone on Amantaní grows their own food, for the most part, so there are fields and sheep and cattle everywhere, and everything is drenched in sun and long, quiet hours as people go about their business, stopping to say hello. Occasionally a man will ride by with a little radio tied to his donkey, but even that had its charm.

Though peaceful, this stay was not restful. We were allowed a few hours to decompress and eat lunch, but then it was time to hike to the top.

…which I wouldn’t have minded except (have we forgotten?)…I was sick! So sick! With some sort of respiratory infection, and we were at a higher altitude  (12,507 ft/3,812 m) than even Salt Lake (4,226 ft/1,288 m), and climbing! I honestly thought my lungs might collapse; they kept doing this strange shivering tremble, and my heart rate would suddenly spike. I suppose it was all worth it for the view. And the delicious, warm, Peruvian beer I enjoyed at the top.

There were men, women and children trying to sell us hats they’d knit, chocolate bars and beer all along the hike. Just in case you thought we’d escaped the tourist trap aspect of the trip, we hadn’t.

Later, after dinner, we had to hike up again (though not as far, yet my lungs still spasmed) to go to a “customary” dance night, dressed in the traditional clothing of our host families. I suppose it was supposed to be fun, but again, I was just kind of bummed out. They put on these cultural experience nights nearly every night–not the same families every night, but it’s the same community and center–basically “on demand” for the tourists to have an authentic experience, yet it didn’t feel authentic to me. It felt more like a hollow shadow of what once was, reanimated in order to make ends meet. They can’t be happy doing this, right? Right?

I never quite found the answer to that question.

And then it was time to go.

Artsy Fartsy

~OR~

I Once Was Found, But Now Am Lost

I used to surround myself with art and artists, going to dance concerts, the symphony, gallery strolls, exchanging essays, attending open mikes, listening to works in progress, sitting in black box theaters…

…and now I don’t. Not really, anyways. Maybe it was because I was in college then, surrounded by a frenetic, creative spirit and other young passionate artists, musicians, dancers and writers. In college, this is what you do, and these are the things you’re working on–you and your friends and everyone else. So maybe it’s easier to get wrapped up in innovation and aesthetics.

Or maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.

I went to my friend’s art show tonight. She wasn’t even at a point yet to be selling things, but wanted simply to show her work. There were other artists and designers, as well, and young tattooed and/or pregnant people, eating snacks and mingling.

And I was there, but it wasn’t the same as it once was. I didn’t feel a part of the creative whirlwind.

Perhaps there are some things which, once lost, can never be recaptured, moments in life so fragile they can’t be held…

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Lake Titicaca

~OR~

Things We’ve Been Giggling About Since Gradeschool

So. After much travel, we arrived in Puno. The bus ride was brutal, but Josh slept the whole time, giving me and Brett a chance to talk through some things and then just…talk. It was nice. Like old times, us giving each other relationship advice and teasing and being open.

But then Josh was a total dick to me at our hostel, so much so that I immediately signed up for an overnight tour that left at 7:30 the next morning, despite still being sick, just to get away from him. I may have also gone to a locutorio to call Kevin and cry. And then cried myself to sleep. Okay, yeah, both those things definitely happened. I was just so, so tired, Friends. So exhausted, and both Brett and Josh snore like chainsaws, and it is draining to stay positive in the face of so much cruelty and illness and stress. This was probably my lowest point, the point at which I most regretted having gone to South America in the first place. It was a long, dark night.

Sleep found me at last, however, and the next morning I was up and at ’em, on a boat with about a dozen strangers from all over the world.

Lake Titicaca, a place that my tittering eight-year-old self could never have dreamed I’d actually visit one day.

That green stuff growing in the water is totora, a reed that the people of Uros use to make just about everything, including their floating, movable homes and boats.

They have to continually replenish their islands, adding a new layer of freshly-cut totora over the top of the old dried stuff every week. You can also eat it, which of course I did. The taste is pleasant, somewhat reminiscent of jicama, but with a more fibrous, watery texture.

We stopped off at one of the islands, where we were given a demonstration (using miniatures) of life on Uros. They used to make domed houses, which last longer, but also take a lot longer to make. So now they make A-frame-type houses. They also make boats out of the totora, but filled with recycled plastic bottles, to help them float and cut down on the reeds needed, a detail that I found hopeful–using the trash of modern society to improve upon age-old trades and traditions.

All was not hopeful, however, as there was a pervasive sense that we were there to GIVE THEM MONEY. A lot of pressure to buy tchotchkies, trinkets, souvenirs, etc. Basically, the whole of Uros floating islands depends on tourism, and don’t they know it. It was sad to see them essentially whoring themselves out to a constant stream of tourists in an attempt to reconcile their culture with a modern economy and disconcerting (to say the least) to be seen as a walking ATM, though my fellow boat-mates didn’t seem to notice or mind.

When it was time to go, the women and girls of our little island for the day lined up to sing us a song, first in Spanish, then in Quechua (their native language). At the end, they said “Hasta la vista, babies!”

Everyone laughed, but I wanted to cry.

What can I say? I’m a sensitive gal.

I did, however, enjoy riding on a totora raft while young men from all over the world rowed and reclined, in turn, glistening in the sun.

Just so you know I’m well-balanced.

Sick Day

Home from work today. You know the drill–headache, sore throat, runny nose, overall crummy feeling. I’ve been spending the day reading, napping, drinking miso soup, eating popsicles, and watching bad rom-coms about people who think they can just be fuck buddies but inevitably find out that love always prevails.

So…yeah. I feel pretty worthless. This is what happens when I get sick, every time: I’m too sick to really do anything, so I don’t really do anything, but then I feel like shit for having just sat around all day not doing a god-damned thing. I mean, what am I doing with my life, anyways, if I can just waste a day like this? Is watching TV really conducive to healing? Where is my motivation?

It’s pretty much an existential crisis every time.

*       *       *

In other news…I’m about to prep-n-post a shit-ton of photos from South America. You know, to feel useful. So what if I have to be constantly productive in order to affirm my self-worth? It could totally be worse. I could value my self-worth in terms of physical appearance and do crazy shit like not eat for ten days.

Oh. Wait.

Tacna, Peru

~OR~

What 24+ Hours of Travel Looks Like

After San Pedro, we were headed to Puno, Peru, which would take about 18 hours if you could drive straight there. But it took us over 24. And why is that? Border crossing, bus schedules, and lies. Or, “the story of Peru.” Basically, there is no direct route, and so we wound up passing a few hours in Tacna, the first town after you cross the Chile-Peru border.

We left San Pedro at about 8:30 at night and arrived in Arica, Chile at about 5am. Then we waited for the border-crossing to open at 8, while I talked to an old French guy about his various lovers spread throughout Europe. Anything was better than being ignored by B & J, I figured, and plus I got to practice my (rustier-than-I’d-thought) French.

Once the border crossing opened up, we took a 5-minute bus from Arica to the border, where we got off and went through various lines and inspections. (Fun fact: my lime didn’t make it through but Josh’s orange did). Then we got back on the bus and drove another 5 minutes or so to Tacna, where we spent the morning walking around, eating, and buying snacks in the market for our forth-coming bus ride to Puno.

Brett and Josh pointed out that the market in this little border town (which Lonely Planet doesn’t seem to think very much of) was nicer than any market in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital. It wasn’t a bad place to spend a few hours, and we met some nice people at the tourist agency (our first) who basically made our trip to Puno/Lake Titicaca possible.

From here, the bus ride was supposed to be only 5 hours, but we didn’t arrive in Puno until long after dark–tired, cold, and hungry. It was on this bus ride that I resorted to ripping blank pages out of the book I was reading (Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert) to blow my nose.

Which is equal parts sad and resourceful.

Meanwhile and Right Now

~OR~

I See Blue Skies

Oh, it’s not all South American grumblies, Friends! Sometimes it’s Salt Lake City grumblies!

Just kidding. Things are lovely here, just look at that view! I get to see that most every day.

I’ve been fascinated with the sky lately. So expansive and mighty, like an infinite, ever-changing fresco-ed dome.

I guess “dome” makes it sound oppressive or confining, but lately I find it to be optimistic and welcoming, telling me that this world and my life are Big (Immense, Towering, Colossal)…and there is so much left to do! What will I make of this life? How will I spend my days?

Because honestly, Friends…(blue skies aside), I’ve been in a bit of a rut, creatively. Feeling stalled, stagnated, stuck. It’s not so much “grumblies” as “blahs,” or what I’m sure many would dub a quarter-life crisis.

I just know that I want something else, something more than this, what I have now. But I don’t know how. All I know is that things have to, and will, change. And I get hope from the sky, little glimmers of possibility, images of late nights writing, mornings baking, weekends at the farmers’ market, epic runs, afternoons reading in bed, long walks, better photographs, crafts and projects and more music. So much music.

Now I just have to figure out how to fit those delicate, soft little pictures together, to make a life.

I think Ariel can say it better than I can:

“I don’t know when
I don’t know how
But I know something’s starting right now
Watch and you’ll see
Someday I’ll be…”

And I do watch. I watch the sky.

Laguna Cejar

~OR~

Fueled by Fury

When we last left off, I was thinking of separating from Brett and Josh, and our day-trip to Laguna Cejar was a big factor in that. Example: I took the above photo after Brett pointed out that you could capture the mountains reflected in the water. He didn’t mention this to ME, of course, as they had already begun to treat me like a stray dog following, but he did point it out to Josh, who responded “That’s gay.”

Yep. This is what I’m talking about. Who even calls things gay anymore? I honestly hadn’t heard that in YEARS. So, take talk like that, add Josh’s super inflated ego, the fact that they were annoyed (at best) by my vegan diet, and constant reminiscing over drunken binges during Peace Corps…and you’ll see why I felt like I was traveling with a couple of frat bros, WHICH I TOLD THEM, and to which Brett took great offense.

*sigh*

The day of the laguna was the day after we’d arrived, and I was still pretty sick. But I still rose and shone for a 3 hour round-trip bike ride. Josh took his sweet time, but Brett took it out on both of us. I might have been more sympathetic to how long it takes Josh to get ready, if I’d already read Mindy Kaling’s opinion on boys taking for-f***ing-ever to put on their shoes. But I hadn’t.

And they just went so fast, Friends. It was partly to make up for our late start and partly because Josh wanted to get back in time for some other excursion. I was literally left in their dust, to fume and pedal all the way to the lagoon.

At least the sunshine felt good.

I could detail more injustices, but that would be petty. Or at least more petty than what I’ve already said.

It’s just such and extreme bummer to feel so wrong and receive no vindication or validation. I suppose there are people who face that on a much larger scale daily, so I should keep things in perspective.

PLUS…(plus), I really felt like I became such a pro at Positive Mental Attitude this trip. While the boys felt that being hungry, tired, cold, or sick gave them license to be grumpy like children and treat others poorly, I felt that I could bounce back from most anything. Like how I got up early to ride a bike for 3 hours while sick.

Do not mess with this.

San Pedro de Atacama

~OR~

Back to South America

Not literally, of course. Who knows when I’ll go back? Maybe never. I’ve fully submitted myself to the whims of chance. Mostly out of laziness, but still.

The point is, I will now be writing about my adventures in the past tense (and damn glad of it, but more on that later).

*       *       *

When we last left off, I was on top of Macchu F***ing Pichu! What?! YES. And before that I was in La Serena. But we’ve skipped a part, Friends! Lots of parts, actually, so don’t get too set on more Macchu Pichu photos right this instant. You’ll have to wait for those. Patience, Friends.

Anyways, in addition to sunbathing and reading, Brett and I enjoyed other activities in La Serena. Namely, getting sick. Brett spent most of the time in La Serena sleeping and grumbling, while I went for runs and read outside and took photos. Then I woke up with a sore throat, the day that we left, and followed that with the most miserable overnight bus-ride of my life. Only to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama (pictured above), with aches and chills.

Let me tell you, the Chilean desert is not a great place to nurse a sore throat.

But there were kitties!

And there was an overpriced barbecue which I signed up for mainly for the 3 glasses of wine. Because drinking when I’m sick eases my symptoms, although Brett’s friend Josh unkindly informed me that it’s “really bad for you.” Whatever. He also said that your lymph nodes under your neck are tonsils, so…

The hostel we stayed at (pictured above) was actually not too bad a place to be sick–plenty of sunshine, hammocks, hot water for up to 3 minutes, etc. They organized all sorts of excursions and events, like the barbecue, and we met friendly and interesting people from all over the world–a Chilean astrophysicist/musician, an English couple who’d saved up for years and then quit their jobs to travel together for a year, some pleasant girls from Iceland…lots of stories there.

The astrophysicist was named Sebastian, and he gave me my first charango lesson then cancelled plans with his friends to have dinner with me. I wrote in my journal that I was pretty sure he was into me, but that I just wanted a change of company and a solid, vegan meal.

You see, it was in San Pedro that I began to seriously reconsider traveling with Brett and Josh. But that’s another story…

*       *       *

To be continued!

Random Curves and Colors

I’ve been seeing these around town lately. Not sure what they’re about, but they are so colorful and curvaceous. They please me every time.

I’m hoping to finish showing (off) my South America photos to you, my dear Friends, in the next week or so. Get ready!