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Posts Tagged ‘random musings’

Still Alive!

Aaaand, it’s over.

We’ve been home for about 3 weeks now, and it’s finally sinking in.  Those first few days, we were sort of in a daze–I would wake up in the morning and think that I was still asleep and dreaming when I saw our bedroom. It’s become a lot more real since then, but there are definitely still those odd moments.

We’ve been going nonstop (or what feels like nonstop to us) since we landed in St. Louis.  It’s been amazing, emotional, and frankly, disorienting.  As anyone who read our few posts from India can tell, we were ready to come home.  We had enjoyed a great run and were ready for a break from the effort of constant travel.  Even more than the fatigue, we were eager to see all of our friends and family in person.  And coming home was every bit as great as we expected to be.

Nonetheless, any dramatic change in routine is going to leave you feeling a little off-kilter.  Some of the strangest transitions were the smallest things.  After a full year of unfettered freedom in our schedule, making plans sometimes felt like a challenge.  We were so excited about visiting with people, but once, when trying to make plans in advance, Adam looked at me and wondered, “How am I supposed to know what I’m going to feel like doing tomorrow?”

And while being in Southeast Asia and India, where English is common, made the transition back into English-speaking culture a little easier, there were times when everything felt so distracting.  When you’re in a place where you can’t understand the language, it sometimes just sort of fades into the background, even if the volume is at 11.  Once we got home, I could understand everything!  I could barely focus because of all the snippets of conversations I kept hearing float past me.

Other times, the polar opposite would strike us as strange.  After the past five months in countries where you are dealing with an extraordinary number of people smushed into a remarkably small land area, we were used to loud.  Really loud.  Car horns, rickshaws, shouting, talking, cows mooing, dogs barking, music from temples, horns, horns, horns–we had honestly grown accustomed to it all.   A few days after we got home, we were stopped in a gas station in the middle of the day and found ourselves whispering–everything was so peaceful, we felt like we were going to disturb something  by talking in a normal voice!

These are tiny adjustments though. The transition has actually been so smooth that sometimes I stop myself and say “Did that really happen or was it just one really amazing dream??”  The beauty of the whole thing though, is that when I feel like that, all I have to do is pause for a moment and conjure one of my favorite memories from the trip, or flip through some photos to remind me that yes, it was real, and yes, it was amazing.

For now, we’re going to focus on the people we love and have missed so much, spoiling my nieces and nephew rotten, playing with our cool new dog, and just generally loving life at time.  I promise promise that there will be some photos from India forthcoming, along with the possibility of some photos from our trip to southern California, to which we are en route right now.  (Yes, I’m posting from the plane–in-flight wi-fi!  God bless technology.)

~Meg

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Ten Things: Vietnam

Vietnam, in ten long-winded observations.

Love: The People
We may have mentioned (oh, once or a hundred times) that before we came to Vietnam, we had read and heard accounts of the Vietnamese people being extremely aggressive.  To the point of being unkind.  I would usually write off a few bad accounts–chalk it up to that whole every-party-has-a-pooper syndrome–after all, some of our favorite places have been cities that people profess pure unadulterated loathing for.  HOWEVER, we heard and read so many accounts of people vehemently disliking their time in Vietnam (I actually heard the phrase snake pit!!!) well, I’m not going to lie, I was nervous.

Well, we’ve been here for three weeks now, and I honestly don’t know where these people were.  I know that everyone has different likes and dislikes, but seriously, who were these people talking to??  I have all but fallen in love with some of the people we have met here.  From children who pop out of doorways and race up to you to shout “HELLOO!!” then run away just as quickly to teenagers who can’t stop giggling when they sit down next to you on the local bus to beach vendors who plop down on your chair with you and proceed to have a 30 minute discussion with you about their kids, your family, etc, etc, etc., to the teenage waiter who sat down with me at the market stall and filleted the whole fish that had just been barbecued for me under the watchful eye of his father, these people are charming.

In my observations, the Vietnamese can be a bit more aggressive than in other cultures.  Sometimes that’s entertaining: the woman who walked up to me in the Dalat market and whacked me on the arm to try to get my attention to sell me some plums or the lady who gave me a great big smile and a good-natured pinch when I ran by her on the beach; sometimes not so much so: the elderly lady who was shockingly strong and almost knocked Adam down the stairs of a train because, well, he was in her way.  In most cases, it really comes across to me as a cultural thing, and not at all as a malicious thing.  To me, it’s just one more thing that keeps our visit to Vietnam interesting.  That said, on the whole, the people have just been lovely.

Love:  The food
You know those people who eat food because otherwise their bodies won’t go anymore?  Those people who look at food as fuel only?  It has become clear to me on this trip that Adam and I are not Those People (not that I ever really entertained any notion that we were).  Vietnam is like a paradise for people who love good food.  You really cannot beat a country that serves delicious food on every street corner, some of the strongest coffee you’ve ever tasted, smoothed out with a shot of sweetened condensed milk and glasses of bia hoi (fresh beer) for the equivalent of a quarter.  Every dish has contrasts of texture and temperature and flavor–crunchy and soft, hot and cold, salty and sweet, spicy and tangy.

Sweet Delicious Iced Coffee

Sweet Delicious Iced Coffee

We often start out the day with a steaming bowl of Pho, the quintessential rice noodle soup.  Volumes have been written about Pho, so I’ll simply say that when this is done well, it’s better than I ever thought a soup could be.  If we tire of soup for breakfast, we can have a baguette and still rest easy that we’re eating the local cuisine–thank you French colonization.

The options are endless for other meals–curries, stir fries, noodle dishes, rice dishes, seafood, oh the seafood (god bless a country with this much coastline!).  To add to it, each area or city has their own local specialty.  Hoi An, home of more tailor shops per square inch than any other place on earth,* is also home to what just may be my favorite dish in the world–White Rose.  It’s a delicate rice paper dumpling stuffed with prawns.  The flavors are subtle and delicate, but never bland, and while the dumpling just melts in your mouth, the shrimp stuffing provides enough texture to keep it interesting.  The beauty and the sadness of the whole thing is that you cannot get them anywhere but Hoi An.  Oh I want to go back already.

Hoi An was also home to the teenage server I mentioned above who filleted my garlic, lemongrass and chili flavored fish (barbecued inside a banana leaf) and whose father eventually came over to the table to supervise and ensure that we had gotten all the meat out of the fish.  These people appreciate food.

*Yes,  I made that up, but it just might be true…

Love:  Chubby babies
Need I say more?

Love: The Sense of Community and Family
My favorite times of day in Vietnam have quickly become the very early morning and the mid-evening.  That is when the entire town, regardless of where we are, seems to come together.  In Hanoi, it was around the central Hoang Kiem Lake.  In Nha Trang, the beach was the meeting place.  We were amazed to find the streets and beaches absolutely teeming with people in the wee hours of the morning.  There were senior citizens doing Tai chi, teenage boys playing football, women playing badminton and teenage girls walking arm in arm, gossiping away.  In the evenings, as the heat begins to dissipate ever so slightly, the families come back out in huge groups.

In the beach town of Nha Trang, we were astounded when we lazily looked up from our spots on the beach to see thousands of people filling the previously empty sandy stretches as the sun went down.  It seemed that regardless of what else was happening, the people gathered.  To play, to talk, to rest, to just be together.  It really is remarkable.

Nha Trang Beach in the evening

Nha Trang Beach in the evening

Love:  The Traditional Dress

Nowhere more than here have I noticed people wearing the traditional dress as part of everyday life.  Not as a costume for the tourists, but rather, because, in the case of my two favorite pieces, the ao dai and conical hat, because they are beautiful and practical, respectively.  The ao dai is a beautiful dress-like top featuring a high neck and long sleeves with front and back panels (split at the waist), fluttering down to mid-calf length, worn over loose long pants.  It’s elegant and graceful and there’s nothing so quintessentially Vietnamese to me as the image of a woman buzzing by on a motorbike with ao dai fluttering around her.  (Well, maybe the cigarette smoking cyclo driver, but that’s not nearly as pretty of a picture.)

My other favorite is the conical hat.  Nearly anyone who works outside sports one, as it is just the perfect form of sun protection.  And, as with everywhere we’ve been in southeast Asia, the people here are seriously concerned about sun protection.  The very sweet girl working at our hotel in Dalat was worked up nearly to the point of hysteria reminding us not to leave the hotel without hats to protect us from the sun.  That is, until a friend of hers, a westerner, reassured her, “Don’t worry, they’re not Vietnamese, they like the sun, like me!”  She smiled bashfully and told us to have a nice day.

Vegetable sellers with conical hats in Dalat Market

Vegetable sellers with conical hats in Dalat Market

Love:  The passion for all things kitsch
The people have an unabashed love for all things kitschy–it is not unusual to find a statue of Buddha in a pagoda adorned with neon halos, nor to see a crucifix on top of a catholic  church outlined in neon.  In the town we’re in right now, Da Lat, there are huge stores of stuffed animals for sale, paddle boats shaped like swans and the opportunity to have your picture taken with Vietnamese cowboys.  Also, it’s not at all unusual to see a grown woman wearing a Minnie Mouse sweater or a shirt decorated with rhinestones and glitter.  It may not be my style, but they embrace it with such gusto, I can’t help but love it.

Neon Buddha

Neon Buddha

Love:  Lotus fields
Quite possibly the most beautiful crop ever–I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing water-filled fields dotted with huge vibrant pink flowers as we drive through the countryside.

Do Not Love: The Honking
The traffic in Vietnam is madness.  It is crazier than anywhere we’ve ever been, even in the smaller places.  To combat some of the chaos created by rivers of motorbikes and bicycles flowing in all directions and on the sidewalks, cut only by steel-nerved pedestrians and racing buses, the horn is used as a defensive and  offensive driving tool.  It can mean anything from “No, I will not be slowing down while flying through this intersection, thank you kind sir!”  to “Oh, shit, I‘m about to crash into a bike carrying three kids under the age of six!!”  to “Hey foreign tourist, want a ride on my motobike??” to “I have a refrigerator tied to the back of my motorbike, can. not. stop!!” to “I drive a very large bus and could squish you flat, but I’m doing the really neighborly thing and warning you as I overtake by blaring my obscenely loud horn just as I pass, you’re welcome!!”

Not only does it have so many varied meanings, but many have tricked out their horns to ease the exertion necessary to make a whole lot of noise–one quick punch to the steering wheel and the horn honks once at full volume, then echoes down to nothing, about seven or eight times.

For the most part, the traffic, despite its madness, works well.  Most of the people here have been riding motorbikes since before they could walk.  They can anticipate what the guy riding into oncoming traffic is going to do next and they can accommodate it.  We have seen a couple of crashes and a few near-crashes, but never seen anyone seriously hurt.  I can understand why the horn is actually a necessary driving tool.  However, sometimes the  noise is purely gratuitous.  When two buses going in opposite directions are passing each other on an otherwise deserted highway at 3 am, why must you honk so many times?  When I am crossing the street and you have lots and lots of room to go around me on your motorbike, why so many fierce blasts of your horn-trumpet?  My ears are starting to ache from sleeping with earplugs.  No sir, I will not miss the horns.

Most Striking: Unstoppable forward progress
You get the sense, as you explore the cities and towns, chat with locals and just generally observe, of a feeling of unstoppable progress towards the future.  It’s difficult to describe, but as much as the past is clearly revered (for example, ancestor worship is common in Vietnam), there is still an energy that is focusing on moving forwards, rather than dwelling on the past.  The best example I can think of is that as we’ve traveled the country, I have never once gotten the feeling that anyone has given a moment’s hesitation to the fact that we’re Americans, despite the devastation caused by what is known here as the American War.  I was a bit nervous about that before we came here–would people react badly when we told them that we were from the USA?  The answer  is an emphatic no.  We’re regularly asked where we’re from, and upon telling them that we’re from the US, people are always eager to know exactly where we live and to tell us about any family they may have living in the states.  We’ve not had one single instance of people displaying any kind of coldness.

Do Not Understand: The Censorship
With everything having been so wonderful here, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a communist country.  The most prevalent reminder of this is on the television–even the cheap hotel rooms have satellite TV, but it’s nearly impossible to watch a movie.  Entire scenes are regularly deleted–anything with any measure of nudity, profanity, or whatever else might strike the censors as inappropriate.  I couldn’t even watch Hamlet, for crying out loud (and yes, I know Hamlet’s family was one messed-up group, but c‘mon, it‘s Shakespeare!!)

The TV was my first reminder of the control that the government exercises over the people.  I was reminded again later when I read a news story about the government’s crackdown on members of the democratic party.  In the past month or so, several outspoken activists have been arrested for spreading propaganda against the government.  The idea of being in a place where one can’t safely speak out the government is a scary thought.  I suppose the one upside of this is that, through the internet, both sides of these stories are available to the Vietnamese people, rather than the one-sided accounts that appear in the local media.

All in all, we are having an absolutely stellar time and loving Vietnam.  We leave the cool temperatures of Dalat for the madness of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this afternoon.  We’ve been busy and have lots of stories and pictures to share–until then, I’ll leave you with one photo for those of who were wondering if Adam was ever going  to shave again 🙂

~Meg

Happy wanderers

Happy wanderers

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Sook Sun Wan Gerd, Adam

Adam, post bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand

Adam, post-bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand

As Adam and I were preparing for this trip, people would say to us “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”  This phrase often meant, “Are you prepared to be living out of a backpack, spending half your time on buses and, well, let’s just say, reevaluating your standards of what constitutes acceptable living conditions?”

But just as often, the subtext was, “Can your relationship survive this?  Are you going to kill each other after spending all your time together for an entire year?”  These were questions we always answered on faith, yes and no, respectively.  We had never done something like this before, so we couldn’t speak from experience, but we were as sure as one can be: “Yes, our relationship can survive this.  No, we won’t kill each other.”

Now, with the halfway point of our trip over a month past, and having spent approximately the last 5200 hours with just each other, I can confidently say that not only will we not kill each other, but that there is no one on earth with whom I would rather be sharing this experience.

Adam is the person who makes this amazing trip even more spectacular on the good days and so much easier on the trying days.  I rest easy knowing that we form a really good partnership–that I can always rely on Adam, no matter the circumstances.  Even more important than that, I feel so lucky to have found a person whose enthusiasm moves me on a regular basis, someone who has passion for things that would probably escape my gaze entirely, someone who both shares my interests and opens my eyes to new and exciting ways of looking at life.

Thank you Adam, for taking this leap with me and very simply, for making life better.  Sook Sun Wan Gerd (Happy Birthday)!!

~Meg

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With our time in Buenos Aires coming to a close, I’ve been reflecting on some of my favorite things about this city and favorite moments during our time here. We have adjusted to our routine here with such ease that much of what we do hasn’t necessarily seemed Blog-Worthy.

I debated if anyone would want to hear about the afternoons we’ve spent in Parque 3 de Febrero in the Palermo neighborhood, lounging in the grass and laughing at god knows what until our stomachs hurt and I have tears rolling down my cheeks; about our excitement upon finally finding a bookstore filled with english-language books; about our frustration with figuring out the bus system (so comprehensive that there hundreds of separate lines and so complicated that the system is described not with a route map but rather with a whole book) and then the feeling of triumph upon realizing that “holy-shit-we-just-hopped-on-a-random-bus-and-got-ourselves-home-intact;” about sitting in a restaurant until nearly four a.m. talking about our plans, for this trip and after; about renting bikes and riding around the beautiful Coastanera Sur Ecological Reserve and hearing, to our horror, that there had been a fire the following day that burned hundreds of square meters of the reserve; about Adam holding my hand and keeping me calm while my dad had surgery back in St. Louis and about our elation upon hearing that the surgery went well; about my solo visit to the impressive Museo de Arte Latino Americano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), about how odd it felt to navigate the city buses and subway system on my own and to wander the museum alone after spending approximately the previous 2000 hours with Adam at my side; or about how hilarious it was to watch Adam attempt to touch his left elbow to his right knee while playing “Simon Dice” (Simon Says) in Spanish class.

Each of these tiny moments, though individually commonplace and generally pretty ordinary, taken all together, make up my memories of a wonderful month in Buenos Aires. We have just loved our time here, and I hope you’ll forgive the month of slow posting. We’re off to Patagonia soon and will be resuming our busier schedule, so should have plenty of stories of glaciers and trekking and sleeping in dorm rooms and tents. In the meantime, the Flickr page (always accessible through the Photos tab at the top of the page) has been updated with some additional shots from Buenos Aires. Also, Adam will be back tomorrow with a look back at our first three months on the road.

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2008 in Review

I’ve been reading year-end wrap ups on my favorite blogs for years now. I never really had much desire to participate before now, but this year, the blog combined with an excess of time for reflection allowed me to indulge my inner lemming and join in the fun. (I put this together a few days ago, but we were more excited about our plans for the next few months than about a retrospective on the previous year, so that post went up first.)

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?

So many things–2008 was a big year! The biggest and most obvious answer here: I took a leave of absence from my job and headed out to travel the world for an entire year. That was definitely a new experience.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My one resolution last year was pretty vague, but I definitely made progress. I have made resolutions for 2009 and am excited about them. I didn’t used to be a big fan of making resolutions, but I like them now—the idea of taking advantage of a clean slate appeals to me.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes!! Not only did my lovely sister give birth to an adorable little dimple cheeked girl, Julia, several of our friends are now parents as well. It was a baby-tastic year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Sadly, Adam’s grandfather passed away this year.

5. What countries did you visit?

Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Woo-hooo!

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

This goes along with number 27 below.  I racked my pea-brain for days on this one and  I simply can’t think of anything important that I lacked in 2008.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

October 15, 2008 was definitely the most memorable day of the year—the day we left on our big trip.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting the hang of the electric showerhead and managing to make it through Bolivia without getting electrocuted by one. Yay me!

Seriously though, this one comes back to the trip, too. Actually following through with our plan to go out and see what the world had to offer was definitely my biggest achievement. Until we left, I had a nagging fear that something would happen and we wouldn’t be out here right now.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Letting myself get stressed out by things I can’t control.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully, nothing serious. My digestive system rejected Bolivia in general, but that hardly qualifies as “suffering illness”.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Our first plane tickets from St. Louis to Lima, Peru. Once we booked those, I felt like we were really committed to the trip and there was no chickening out.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Without a doubt, I am so proud of the American people this year. The presidential election presented us with the opportunity to make a statement about the kind of leadership we want. Not only do I celebrate the approximately 65 million people who voted for Obama, but I was so excited to see the renewed passion for our political process, regardless of whose name was checked on the ballot.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Yikes. This one is too depressing to contemplate.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Easy. Traveling and saving for travelling.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Again, an easy one: our big trip and the election. Sensing any themes here? 🙂

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

There’s no one song that was my soundtrack for the year. According to iTunes, I listened to a lot of Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson and Yael Naim. Stronger by Kanye West will always remind me of training for the 5k I ran in the spring.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Happier

b) thinner or fatter? Thinner

c) richer or poorer? Poorer

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I wish I had continued on with photography classes.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Watched less TV. I spent a lot of valuable time bonding with the DVR.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

I spent Christmas in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the 90 degree heat. To celebrate the holiday Adam and I did some sightseeing on the nearly deserted streets of Argentina’s capital and cooked a steak dinner with delicious Argentine filet steaks. Yum. We also added a new twist to our New Year’s Eve meal tradition: empanadas!

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?

Without a doubt. I fell head over heels in love with my niece, Julia, and fell even deeper in love with my amazing husband.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Total guilty pleasure: Gossip Girl. Yeah, I admit it. Gossip Girl. I also loved 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother and Eli Stone.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No, no.

24. What was the best book you read?

Nonfiction: Footprints Guidebook to South America (I check this one out daily 🙂)

Fiction: This is a tough one, so I’m going to pick two. My favorite collection of short stories was No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July. My favorite novel was The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Does it count as discovery if you first hear the artist on an iPod commercial? If so, then Yael Naim and Jesca Hoop. Otherwise, just Jesca Hoop.

26. What did you want and get?

A leave of absence and the opportunity to return to my job when we get back to St. Louis.

27. What did you want and not get?

Nothing of any importance.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Not sure if it qualifies as film, but I have some good memories of watching Jesus is Magic with Kimmy. Good times.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was lucky enough to turn 28 this year while on vacation in Florida with my parents and sister’s family. We celebrated by spending the day bike riding, relaxing on the beach and cooking a stellar seafood dinner in. I also went out with friends to celebrate when we got back to St. Louis. I’m a lucky girl.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

“Immeasurably” is a tall order. Things were already pretty great, but I’d say more time with my friends and family.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

Snoozer. The only new clothes and shoes I bought were for the trip and were far more functional than fashionable.

32. What kept you sane?

Writing.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I tried to type Sarah Palin, as a joke, but I couldn’t even type the name without gagging a little…

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one issue. As I mentioned before though, I was and am moved by the renewed interest in the leadership of the US.

35. Who did you miss?

Oh, so many people.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I have been lucky enough to meet so many new people this year while traveling. I don’t think I can pick just one.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.

Cheesy but true: people really are the same, no matter where you go or what language they speak.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Travelin’ Light, is the only way to fly
Travelin’ Light, just you and I
Way on down to ecstasy
Way on down and our own way
Travelin’ Light, is the only way to fly

Travelin’ Light, and you can catch the wind
Travelin’ Light, better let your mind pretend
Get on down to paradise
Maybe once, now maybe twice
Travelin’ Light, is the only way to fly

Get on down to paradise
Maybe once, now maybe twice
Travelin’ Light, is the only way to fly

–Travelin Light, Widespread Panic

I hope everyone’s year has kicked off to a great start.  Ours has been wonderful so far–we’ve been taking advantage of our long weekend break from Spanish classes and have been out exploring the city so we should have something more interesting to replace my navel-gazing shortly.  🙂

~~Meg

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Scenes from a bus ride

You know you are on the right path when, for no particular reason, you find yourself thinking, “God, I love this place!!”  Bolivia has worked its way into a soft spot in my heart.  I love the sense of freedom I feel here; I love the simplicity of the small towns and the excitement of La Paz.  I love the varied wild landscape and the wide range of opportunities for exploring. 

This torrid affair between Bolivia and me began in Coroico, the afternoon following our bike ride.  (Yes, after.  Not during or before.  Most definitely after.)  It reached a fever pitch last week during our pampas tour, and we are so eager to share the details of that time.  However, we want to do it justice and include lots of pictures—an obstacle at this point J  We’ll hopefully be able to have those pics up next week.  In the meantime, the following is a collection of observations I jotted down after our bus ride from Coroico to Rurrenebaque.  I hope that it can convey even a small portion of how overwhelmed (in a wonderful way) I was feeling.

***

We leave Coroico and are deposited at a place called Yolosita—shown as a town on the map in the tourist office, it turns out to be little more than a row of vendors selling cold (!) drinks and snacks, and a toll booth, consisting of a large gauge metal chain blocking the road and a sign informing drivers that if they want to continue down the road, they had best get out of their cars and pay the toll.  We have already purchased our tickets for our bus ride to Rurrenabaque and have been given the make and color of the bus and the license plate number, along with assurances that it will be passing through Yolosita on the way to Rurre.  We can just flag it down.  This must be Bolivia’s version of a bus station.

***

The scenery is immediately jarring.  I feel like I’ve been dropped on another planet.  I search my brain for other words to describe green.  Lush, verdant—words that I’ve never felt were appropriate before now.  So many different shades of green.  So green, so alive, almost aggressive in its fertility.  The plants seem to be pushing each other out of the way to reach the sky and sun.  The occasional silvery-white tree trunk hoists a flat-topped tree beyond its neighbors; other plants simply overtake those nearby, growing into one tangled mass of vines.  The spectrum of green is interrupted only by riots of red and purple flowers and by sheer cliffs supporting only monstrous agave plants, giving the impression of huge pale green spiders climbing out of the valley.  The only dullness in view is the dust-masked plants lining the roads.  I think, “This place could use some rain—to keep the dust down.”  As soon as I form the thought I realize that if the jungle is given any more nourishment, it will consume the road on which we are carving through the green: a narrow slice of dusty brown, clinging to cliffs, teetering over the river valley.

***

The air cools noticeably as we descend towards the river.  We round a bend and I notice movement in the river.  It is full of people: bathing, washing laundry, just lazing on a scorching Sunday afternoon.  My eyes settle on a middle-aged man in the river, slouching forward on a large rock, watching a woman wash clothes.  When he looks up at me, I realize, embarrassed, that I was staring.  After looking away, I glance back at him and find him still staring at me.  I am struck with the realization that he is looking at me with the same expression on his face I was embarrassed about moments before.  I—a windblown, dusty, pink freckled face staring out the last window of a Bolivian bus—elicited the same reaction as a large middle-aged man sitting completely naked in a river in Bolivia.

***

There is consistency in the homes—they sit in rows along the road, leading the way through each small village: a row of single-room, mud brick squatting sentries, nearly identical, differentiated only by their roofs.  The well-heeled buildings are topped with corrugated metal roofs, clean-seamed and firmly attached.  Those apparently lacking resources also have corrugated metal roofs, except they are constructed from scraps of metal, each tiny piece held in place by a brick, stone or wooden board.  Despite the rough conditions, all of the homes appear to be dropped into the same Eden-like garden.  Who needs to go inside when your yard is shaded by banana and mango trees and bursting with flowers in all shades of pink and purple?  The locals cover their faces when the bus passes and stirs up a monstrous cloud of dust, scattering the ever-present gang of dogs and chickens.  Rushing inside wouldn’t make a difference—there are no coverings over the windows.   

***

***

We are leaving La Paz on Sunday to head for southern Bolivia.  We expect to be in Tupiza by Monday morning and will hopefully be leaving on a tour of the Salt Flats on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday.  As always, we have no idea how connected we’ll be, but hopefully we’ll be able to get those pampas pictures up soon!

~Meg

 

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Thanksgiving 2008

thanksgiving-hammocks

This was the first Thanksgiving either of us has ever spent away from our families and friends.  We were terribly sad to not be able to spend this day with all of our loved ones, but if we have to miss great times with family, good food, football and parades, we figure this is a pretty good place to do it.

Rather than parades to start the day, we went on a sunrise boat ride to look for monkeys.  Instead of time spent in the recliner or on the couch, we chilled in hammocks, swinging lazily to keep cool.  Instead of ignoring the football game on TV, I caught part of a spirited game of mud volleyball in our jungle camp, then went swimming with pink river dolphins.  And instead of pigging out on mom´s awesome Thanksgiving banquet, we had pizza and fresh orange banana juice.  It´s certainly no substitute for family and friends, but again, if we´re going to be away, this is not such a rough way to do it.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to be here! 

We are having an amazing time in Bolivia and will be updating again soon with lots of alligator and monkey pictures from the past few days.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all!

–Meg

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