Thursday, May 28, 2009

We Are All Running From Something . . .

1. During my TEFL course and travels, it has been a great comfort to meet other travelers in similar places in their life, at crossroads and in limbo, traveling and opening, living more simply, giving themselves time and giving themselves to time. Out of a job and into TEFL, out of college and diving into life in Peru, traveling before making decisions regarding jobs and college . . . people tell me about the circumstances that brought them here, and many people I have met made the decision quickly, in one night, to come to Peru, but the idea had been brewing for a long time. Some people I have met are alive and awake in their new life, and they express how they love how simply they are living, and everything that they are experiencing. Others are jaded from long careers that stretched them thin and tight, or love gone sour. The traveling cliches are true. We are all running from something. I like to think, as well, that we are running toward something. Or maybe the point, above all things, is not that we are running from something or to something, but that we are running. Present, lungs pumping and feet pounding pavement and red dirt and the bright white salt flats. Awake to our surroundings, to what keeps us from sleeping. Not sure, exactly, where we are going, but knowing, feeling to our bones, that our legs will take us there. Running, present, here. Wherever we are. Because one time I read on a candle, ¨If you can´t see the truth right here, where do you expect to find it?¨

2. The kindness of strangers is immense when one is traveling. Without a community, the new towns and new people are your community. It is amazing how people reaching out can affect you. After Santiago, which was gray and swallowed me as big cities often do, I felt withdrawn. When I arrived in Valparaiso, the kindness of a taxi driver (have I mentioned how much I love taxi drivers?) put flowers in my cheeks. All he did was smile at me and tell me I didn´t need a taxi, and then pointed me in the right direction. It is not so hard to be kind, to be decent. The waiter at this wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Valparaiso, Jarden de Profeta, didn´t hurt, either. He was intuitive and sweet, as all good waiters should be, and offered me a shot glass of post-meal bitters.

3. It is easy to be lonely when you are traveling by yourself, and it is easy to feel suffocated when you are traveling with others. Taxi drivers and hostel owners become your friends, as well as your sources of information. I am in Chile without a guide book. At first I tried to find one. I was tenacious, but it could not be found. Now I ask taxi drivers and waiters about geography and sites, population and weather. It frustrates me not to have all of this information in one place, in one tangible book, but I had to let go of this guise of control. I am depending, instead, upon others.

4. Traveling is transient, and you learn to make friends with small comforts like pizza, which is universal, and hot water, which is not. Walking alone down city streets I feel too toursity to look at my map or to take pictures, but I am not from here. Everywhere I go is never where I am from. Because of my pride, today I missed out on newspaper confetti scattered on top of old cars on the sideline of a protest in the Valparaiso streets.

5. Everywhere I go is never where I am from. That is the beauty. That is the truth. But here I am, headed back to Cusco, which is now one of my homes, which is where I have a nest of community and friends, familiar places and faces. I am from a small town on the Oregon coast and I am from not owning a TV and I am from gardening on Saturdays and sometimes forced Catholic church on Sundays. I am from a family with three brothers. I am from toasted marshmallows on saltine crackers and apples with tomato soup. I am from the United States, which I thought would be this bone of contention, but I haven´t run into any trouble so far. I am from England, it is in my blood, and I am from parents with different pasts and family backgrounds. I am from the white speckled sunglasses at the mall and theatre camp. Everywhere I go is never where I am from, but I am continually finding new ways to connect, to be here, where I am.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


In Iquique, Chile. Gritty ocean air backed up by muted mountains. Fishing boats and sea lions, salty shells and jewel green seaweed. I am so happy to be in a hotel and not in a bus. The sides of buildings are spraypainted and there are holes like mouths in the sidewalks. Breasts nearly fall out of shirts worn too tight on hot Chilean ladies with their boyfriend´s hand around their hips. Toddlers in sailor suits, handsome and kicking toy cars down the street. Men barking, helado, helado, helaaado, and then when we walk by, ice cream, good price. Blankets line the boardwalk, selling cartoon stickers and coloring books, jewelry and flashy blouses. People are friendly, charming, speak quickly and ad ¨cito¨to the end of everything. An older man called me ¨baby¨and I called him ¨Abuelo.¨ Empanada boys asked D to marry them, claimed she was the love of their life. We didn´t get free empanadas out of the deal, but everyone was laughing. This is how I envisioned South America.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oh, Bolivia

Bolivians couldn´t give you a headache with all the kindness they could muster. In my humble opinion. Writing from an internet cafe in the bus station in La Paz.

How did I get here? Let´s take a look. First, I took an overnight bus from Cusco to Bolivia on Friday night with some Maximo teachers. I feel like I have been pretty on top of it this trip, prepared with practical shoes and a sleeping bag, hand sanitizer and almonds, but the one itsy bitsy baby thing I forgot was the 135. I needed to cross the border into Bolivia. Ok, so, no big deal, I have a BCP card (local bank account after I left my mondedero in a taxi the other week) which works in Peru as well as Bolivia. The border holds my passport (sketchy, right?), I cross into Copacobana and .... the only ATM is directly connected to a local bank. I can´t use my BCP card, and I can´t access my benjamins. Lots of time is spend stressing, asking people for help and advice, trying to convince Copacobana that, yes, actually, it does have an ATM that will accept my card, and finally deciding that all I can do is go back to the border to collect my passport, take a bus back to Puno, Cusco (3 hours way), withdraw money at a BCP ATM, and bus back to Copacobana. At this point, three of my Maximo teacher-friends are in Copacobana, and I have already paid for a hostel, so I leave sleeping Nathan with a note (Hey Nathan- I´m going to Puno to get money. Back around 7. Jess) I´m not back around 7. I have to stay the night in Puno, paying for another hostel, and the bus back in the morning as immigration closes before my bus would get back. I can´t contact anyone because our phones don´t work in Bolivia. I watch shitty TV and sleep.

I arrive in Copacobana the next morning, bussed out with greasy hair and a mouth full of unbrushed teeth and walk back to the hostel in hopes with meeting up with Nathan, but he´s gone. After a mediocre breakfast I went back to the hostel to collect my bags and as I am walking around Copa, kindof aimlessly, I hear,¨JESS!!!¨ It´s my crew, with two new additions, Dee and Venla Kokko (volunteers from Maximo on their way out of Peru and on to other places). Guess where my travel-buddies are going? PUNO! In 30 minutes! We had lots of quality time together, from the hostel Nathan and I paid for that I never slept in, to the overnight bus in which I was on the upper level and they were on the lower, to all of the time we spent not together in Bolivia. :)

However, Dee and Venla sweetly offered to sneak me in to their hostel, which was warm, and added the spice of adventure my trip so far is obviously lacking. They are rad, and we got warm on hot chocolate with rum in a local hippie joint. We also had a game-playing marathon, including jenga, crazy 8s, go fish, and pick up sticks, which was so much better when I was five. Not how I remembered it at all! All in all, it worked out wonderfully, and I gained two new cool girls to travel with. Venla, by the way, told me to write that she is this ¨charming, clever, beautiful girl you met that sometimes can get quite drunk.¨ It´s pretty accurate. Dee is the sassy mama-bear with an honest sailor mouth. We´re a magnificent team, and I am so glad to be bumming around Bolivia with them.

Now we´re in La Paz, chilling in the bus station until our overnighter departs for Uyuni. We´re going to tour the salt flats, which I am excited about. Although... since Friday night, I have been on buses for a total of approximately 23 hours. I´m exhausted, and disenchanted with Bolivia, which is beautiful, but the kindness of the people I have encountered so far is nothing compared to Peru. The girls I am traveling with are from Finland and Ireland, and they are getting equally cold treatment, so it´s not just that I am from the EEUU. I am so spoiled by Cusco, where people are helpful, friendly, and genuine, going out of their way, again and again, to help me out and show great compassion. From my travel agent friend´s coworker who walked me to a cheap hostel when I was fresh off the Quillabamba trip and wandering around hostel-hunting in the plaza, to the taxi driver named Felix who is was just the most genuine guy you could ever meet and would, without a doubt, drive me out of any sort of trouble I was in, if only I knew how to contact him... I love Cusco, and I´m looking forward to going back.

For now, I am happy to be in good health and in good company, exploring Bolivia and this new culture and scenery. Pictures will come. I am trying to keep an open mind. At least this makes for good blog material, I hope...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Plans changing and then coming together...

Leaving for Bolivia tomorrow night.

Coming back to Cusco in June.

Studying women and plant medicine as well as Spanish and Quechua. I love my professor, and this contract is right up her alley. I´m incredibly excited because one of my favorite people/Spanish teachers here at Maximo, Jorge, is a native Quechua speaker and has agreed to give us (us being me and some friends, mostly Maximo teachers) weekly Quechua lessons! Whoo!

Today I found an apartment close to Jenna. It´s cute, sunny, with a panoramic city/mountain view. Plus, bonus, I get to choose the paint colors and tile. I am thinking something hot and Latin. I still need to firm up details, but I am excited about having a place in place for when I come back from Bolivia in June.

Off to get my bus ticket to Bolivia. Ciao!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, and the Joys and Sorrows of Towels and Toilets.

On Thursday night, I took and overnight bus to Quillabamba with Susanmi and her mischevious almost-three-year-old to visit her family. Quillabamba is a hot, humid, rainforesty town. Susanmi's family graciously welcomed me into their humble home, a two-room concrete house, complete with chickens. My first morning, I woke up to chickens strutting around the house. It was tough for me to have to poop when the bathroom was three feet away from the kitchen and divided by a sheet. There was no way you could pull the run-the-water-while-you-go trick because the only water in the bathroom was in the shower, and we all know you can't fool someone into thinking you are showering and shitting at the same time.

More on toilets: I know I am adjusting to life here in Peru because I am conscious of bathrooms, as in I'm always taking advantage of clean bathrooms (or just anywhere you can actually sit on the toilet seat), and I rejoice when I come upon a particularly wonderful bathroom. I've also become a tp/napkin thief. It's necessary for my survival. One time, when I was desparate, I used an old ATM receipt after I peed at the beer garden.

I would also like to note that although I am quite capable of roughing it (I think), it's pretty hard to shower without a towel. Like, you would think it wouldn't be so bad, you could just shake off like a dog, but it doesn't work like that.

Other Quillabamba happenings to note:
  • Swimming in the river
  • Visiting the saddest "zoo" ever
  • Super beautiful waterfall adventure
  • Food, food, food with the family!
  • This "sex shop" that offered potions of all sorts. I didn't nab a picture, and the regret is going to haunt me til the end of my days.
After three days in Quillabamba, sticky and sweaty, I boarded a combi (my mantra was "cool as a cucumber") and made my way to Machu Picchu. I combid to the train station, where I walked along the tracks up to Aguas Calientes (MP-town). I walked with this annoying Canadian girl, who was walking as opposed to taking the train because "it's like such an authentic experience or whatever."

We misjudged the time, and walking to Aguas took longer than we thought, so as it's getting dark, she says to me, "I think maybe we missed it." (Mind you, there is NOTHING ELSE on the way to Aguas Calientes except for train tracks, river, and natural beauty. No way we could have missed it.) And then, she says, "I think we should turn back." In the dark? And walk for two and a half hours back in the dark to the train station? I don't think so. Eventually, when I've talked her out of turning back, I see signs of life (a.k.a. a town) and point it out, joking that I might be hallucinating. At this point, Canada-girl tells me that she did coke last night, in Peru, for her first time. "Well, maybe that's why I felt so sick this morning, but I don't know, I am about to get my period, and my stomach always hurts a few days before that," nervous laugh nervous laugh. Yeah, much more likely it's your menses and not THE COKE FROM PERU YOU SNORTED LAST NIGHT! Oh my gosh. She wasn't even cool, or cooky, or grungy like you would expect a coke-snorter to be. I know I am being completely judgmental, but just wait. It's about to continue.

Sometimes I can't stand travelers, with all of their boastful adventure stories and the snobby ways they have about them. This is what I have to hear all day (and some of it comes from my own mouth):
  • I don't have a guide book.
  • My plan is not to have a plan.
  • I haven't showered for xxx days.
  • Oh really? I woke up with chickens this morning.
  • Well when I was in Bolivia...
  • It's like, such a unique experience or whatever.

Also, for clarification, I also love travelers, but Matt Vail summed it up perfectly:
"there are many kinds of travelers
some are looking for material for their first novel
some are looking for cultural capital
some are looking for stories that will shock their friends and families
and others are there by accident
some others have a genuine passionate need to see something they've read all about
others had nothing better to do"

Okay, and so maybe I am going to sound like an annoying traveler right now, but when I arrived at my hostal in Aguas Calientes, after smokin' hot Quillabamba, combis, and my three-hour train-track trek, I was sooo glad to have a shower and a towel that I shrieked delightfully in my room, and took a picture to document the joy. I have never been so happy to have a towel in my life, clearly. If you're ever in Aguas Calientes, Hostal Adela is nice, comfortable, and cheap at 15 soles for a private room, not to mention they provide breakfast and the staff is super-sweet.

In the morning, I met my tour guide and group and got my Machu Picchu on. I have to say, I wasn't WOWED. I wasn't AWE-STRUCK. I wasn't . . . impressed? You can hate on me, but what can I say, I'm a truth-teller. I know it's impressive, grandiose; those Incans were mighty ambitious. Throughout my trip I was itching to tell someone (or maybe I was itching from my mosquito bites, hah!), to confess that I didn't feel like all the other visitors, the ones who I am sure, upon leaving, made this deal with god, like, "Okay, now that I've seen Machu Picchu, you can take me. I'm ready, because I've been wowed. I've been wowed, and I've been humbled. Whoo lordy take me away!" But I just couldn't bring myself to do it! I can see it now, me confessing, secretly, with ginger-lips, and getting trampled by all of the other Machu Picchu lovers, pelted with their Kodaks and Canons, thrown off the bus and into the river.

Regardless, here I am, at good 'ol Machu Picchu.

I mean, I may not look impressed, but I don't look bored, do I?

It also didn't help that our tour guide informed us that MP might not even BE the lost city of the incas, and that there are other, cooler, more impressive ruins, but MP is famous only because there is a train. Maybe I need to visit those other, cooler, more impressive, more lost-city-er ruins. I'll look into it.

For now, I am home, back in Cusco, figuring out my summer plans. My life's pretty awesome. I'm all free from my TEFL course, and doors are opening, always. I have roots here in Cusco, friends and places I know, a home base. I think in soles, speak Spanish more naturally (more and more each day) and I have lots of opportunities ahead of me. I am remembering (or trying to remember) to count my blessings, reserve judgment, breathe, take each experience for what it is, live presently, take pictures even though sometimes it makes me feel like a dork, ask questions even though sometimes my questions make me feel like a dork, let go, move on.

Until next time.