day of the filet mignon

August 30, 2006

I just had filet mignon, two pieces, wrapped in bacon with a mushroom sauce, veggies and french fries for less than four dollars. We are staying in a place called the Grand Hotel and it costs less than 15 dollars each night and it is fantastic but hey, let´s get back to the point, I don´t have a lot of time and Wham´s Careless Whispers just started on the internet cafe radio so…

Potosi was insane. There was a festival called Chútillios or something like that with large brass bands with drums and colorful dancers going down the main streets for hours, people drinking the awful local beer like it was their last day on earth. It was somehow related to the festival in Uyuni but much bigger. We stayed in a pension called Compania de Jesus and for 10 bucks we had a nice room but cold with a tv which we could watch the second half of Titanic in Spanish our last night there. We saw so much crazy shit, but stuff that was becoming commonplace, like young boys wanting to shine your shoes, people peeing in the streets and the smell of urine overwhelming you around some corners and the poorest old women you have ever seen wearing the most brightly colored clothes and people with horrible toe nails sticking out of their old sandals. Trust me, I don´t have pretty feet but these people have been through the spiritual ringer. I would feel bad for them but then it would never stop and I would have to give money to all of them or just sit down, overpowered by the discrepancy of the people with some money who have two maids and others who don´t have jack squat and I don´t mean, damn, I have to eat spaghetti again for dinner, I´m talking about kids about 6 years old, after you´ve turned them down for a shoeshine, ask you for 1 Boliviano which is about 12 cents so they can have a coke. We´ve been giving them little candies lately, but mostly to ease our souls.

We went on a mine tour yesterday morning. That might not mean much to you but remember that 8 million people have died in those silver mines over the past 460 years since silver was found just lying around in 1545. One writer called it the ¨mouth of hell¨and for 15 bucks a person, we got a private tour with a guy named Jorge. We went up the hill, bought some coca leaves for the miners, along with soda, pure alcohol and, are you ready for this, dynamite! Apparently it´s the only place in the world where you can buy the stuff and they are indiscriminate about who gets it. We donned yellow rain pants, jacket, boots, helmet and headlamp and went up to the mines. We went inside and had to get out of the way as a boy of about 14 came running by with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. They collect a truckload of the stuff, about 8 tons and get 800 Bolivianos for that. 8 tons of excavated material, mostly zinc and tin and that is worth 100 bucks. They had a small shrine to the devil in there but they called him “uncle” and they gave him offerings of coca leaves and each Friday drank some of that pure alcohol in his honor. He had a relatively large penis and the guide told us there are only men in the mines and that they are machoistas or some other similar Spanish word. Assiyeah just laughed at my big penis line but hey, it was true! We explored a few different holes and would hear footsteps coming through with a faint light and then whoosh, one of the dudes would go by with a wheelbarrow.

We had lunch at the market, some soup and chicken and soda for a buck total and then waited at the bus station for the Dutch guys who never showed and so we ended up getting a taxi to Sucre with a nice Italian couple. Our brakes were having problems halfway into the 2 hour ride and it sounded like the brake pads were worn down but hey, what do I know? We got into town almost 3 hours after beginning and met our host, Wolfgang but he was already full with guests so he was nice enough to take us downtown to look at a few rooms before deciding on Hostal Vera Cruz for 120 Bolivianos per night, 15 dollars. It was nice enough, with cable tv but then, after a fitful night sleep, we got ready to shower and bam, no hot water. We packed up, walked back to Wolfgang´s and after some coffee and bread, his partner made a phone call for us and we headed back down the hill to our now super charming hotel right in the center but we have yet to try the hot water so cross your fingers!

We have another day here and then on Thursday we are flying to La Paz. There ain´t too much more to add, or rather a shitload more and I wanted to surf the net a bit before our time is up. I´ll be in touch! peace…

p.s. Assiyeah got a kick out of Bush´s speech for Katrina victims and survivors yesterday when he said, “I was struck by the beauty of the beaches.” Indeed….

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day of the sunrise

August 25, 2006

How does one sum up the past four days? Well, we left Tupiza at 9am on Tuesday was it and slowly left the smallish town and soon were climbing improbably on bumpy dirt roads, something that would become more than just a theme on this journey to the fabled gringo trail experience that is known as Salar de Uyuni. The first day was not so oh my god interesting but involved 7 hours of driving higher and higher and then lower and seeing some llamas in our path and basically being out in the absolute middle of nowhere and concentrating on our breathing. Those folk with us were Geraldo and Cristina, our driver and cook who were a couple and had been doing this relatively epic journey 3 times a month for the past 4 years, Alan from the US, Chris and Selena from England and Sylvian from France and of course Miss Assiyeah. The 8 of us were squeezed into a Bill Clinton-still-smoking-pot-era Toyota Landcruiser painted pea green and somehow devoid of the kind of shock one would think necessary on an journey through a country that has ten percent of its roads paved. We have yet to see one really since entering the country but that´s neither here nor there. We were puttering along, quoting movies, speaking mostly in English with some Spanish sprinkled in and about an hour to dusk we´ll pulled into our accomodations for the evening.

Picture yourself in the winter time at 14,000 feet in a valley, a village with a few hundred hearty inhabitants clinging under the wing of a mountain just hundreds of feet higher than they receiving visitors. It sounds rustic, doesn´t it. The few kids we saw were playing soccer on the basketball court somehow as we were getting winded just walking around lazily trying to soak in how remote from reality we were. We saw our room. The 6 of us were to sleep in a dorm room which is fine. It was already getting cold. The room was cold. The walls were white, the beds spartan but Cristina, who was to become a taken for granted little savior on our trip soon appeared with choices of hot tea and coffee, some crackers and cookies. No heater. Some blankets arrived. Our dinner was Milanesa, which is a pounded meat that is breaded and fried and mashed potatoes. About an hour after that the lights went out. They didn´t come on until 7pm, a time we had been reading, drinking, talking by one candlelight and the far off glow of Chris´Ipod and small speakers and poof, they came on. Three hours later they were gone and we were in the dark. A good thing too, because we had to wake up at 6am the next day.

I had slept in long johns top and bottom, sweats, a tshirt and my jacket, gloves (which I had bought from a woman who had knocked on our door the previous evening wanting about 2 bucks for some wool gloves she had made) and my beanie. Come morning I was warm but not doing too hot. After going to the bathroom, my visited extended itself. I got on all fours and prayed to the porcelain god. This was my first real experience with elevation sickness, an experience I was to repeat two more times in the next 8 hours during our day. I was sort of okay in the morning for the first couple of hours of our driving, past a village that had been abandoned in the 16th century after gold was found and then past some more small remote villages, with just quick glimpses of almost empty dusty streets with the one story houses made of an adobe the same color as the streets and a woman with a heavy load or a curious child watching us go by, sometimes waving back as we dusted his view of the future.

Then it happened again at a checkpoint which put me down for the count and then when we got to the thermal baths, I opted to ¨sleep¨for an hour while everyone enjoyed hot water and ate and as soon as it was time to go, I went outside about 10 feet away and yakked again. Three times the charm baby. The rest of the day is just a blur of missed photo opportunities with cool names, like Laguna Verde and something something Geysers.

Our accomodations that night had a heater in the main room. It was a step up like Eastern Europeans in the early 1900s making their way to start Hollywood felt like a step up. The walls were painted, but I couldn´t enjoy any of it, I was just lying on my bed the whole night and even slept in my jeans without brushing my teeth that night. It was a rough day.

Day 3 started much better, after being hot sleeping and waking up at 3.30 and realizing I had 3 more hours to sleep, we had breakfast and packed up the bags and drove about 15 minutes to Laguna Colorada, a shallow lake with high red mountains around it and borax (stuff used in soaps I think) piled up like little icebergs throughout and flamingoes. I swear to god you would never in a million years picture flamingoes in such a god forsaken place but there were 3 kinds even and we took a bunch of photos of them. Got more chances too, I hope they came out good. I was doing better that day and enjoyed the Rock Tree thingy we visited next, a large rock the size of a big truck but shaped differently that was yes, shaped like a tree, with the heavy end of the rock up in the air. There were other rocks in the area and it was interesting to see such an array of stuff in one general area. All dirt roads, don´t forget, some with rocks the size of watermelons placed like Uboat mines throughout, their smaller but devlish cousins even more frequent.

We had lunch at a place that translated to ¨bad smell lake¨from the sulfur I think and more flamingoes! We had our roughest and bumpiest stretch of the trip as we glimpsed our first salt flat but it took us almost twenty minutes to bump and hop and jump and tilt and carefully baby us past the rocks and uncomfortable angles to the salt flat and then bam, it was smooth as a baby´s but. Too bad it only lasted about 15 minutes and then bumpy again. We passed through a village at 4pm and then by 5.30pm were in our last accomodation, a small charming village on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, all 12,000 square meters of it. We snapped some shots, tried to shower in the absolutely blistering hot water and had a spaghetti dinner and were in bed sometime after 10pm.

We were awakened at 5.15am and were soon driving on the Salar de Uyuni which is a salt flat fairly slowly as the reddening to our right got bigger and bigger. We stopped to snap some shots, then a bit later for the actual sunrise and got some sweet shots, the kind that go on the front page of the photo album afterwards and then visited the Isla del Pescado, so called because from the air it is shaped like a fish. It was a nice little 45 minute leisurely hike around cactus and ancient coral and then we went to the Salt Hotel, where the whole place was made of salt! I forgot to mention that our last night´s accomodations had beds made of salt (no, not the blankets and pillows silly, but the bed frames and what we basically slept on that was underneath that mattress and there was salt on the floor or rather, was the floor)! It was crazy seeing whole rooms made of salt with bright South American blankets on the beds. We then went outside and started taking crazy pictures because there is no sense of perspective on the salt flat so we got someone to go 50 yards away and then act like they were hanging on the arm of someone else that was standing closer to the camera. You get the picture. We were like kids with a new toy. A quick finish of the salt lake which included highlights of Chris´determination to pick a good-sized salt crystal from one of the small holes with water in it and after lunch, we got dropped off in Uyuni, we being Assiyeah and I, in front of a closed tourist office in a windy, dusty, barren looking place. Ciao, adios to our new friends and now what.

We looked for the nice hotel that I had promised Assiyeah. Booked. We walked around the corner and found a nice place for 20 bucks, including breakfast and hot water. Hey can´t take that for granted. Then it turns out that today is the biggest day of the year for this village of 15,000 people (as fireworks just went off outside the internet cafe door again, the bass drum and horns fading out as a new set will fade in within a minute or so), a festival to their patron saint or the virgin for this town, it´s hard to say. I got some money at the Western Union and we checked out the brightly clad teenagers and kids, wearing what looked like where coats with dragons embroidered, or cowboy boots and special dressed for the day or panda bears or god, it´s just too weird. We took a taxi out to the Cemetery of Trains, the first set of trains that were in South America and now they´re all rusted and graffiti but make good pictures, came back and watched more of the parades, just had a fat dinner for the two of us which included a pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice, steak with mashed potatoes, chicken and french fries and a hot chocolate for Assiyeah, all for about 10 dollars including tip.

Tomorrow we are off to Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4,000 meters. You do the math. We´ll be in touch. My lips are chapped, I´m exhausted but glad to have just experienced this and brought to you in your homes or wherever you are. Cheers.


day of the lip

August 21, 2006

My lip is f*cked. I got like a sun and wind blister on it and it looks like I got me some herpes! haha

We are in Bolivia and there is quite a bit to tell. I had a photo exhibition two nights ago in Tilcara, Argentina. There were 7 pictures in the cafe/bar and we had homemade gnocchi for dinner and met some people from spain and finally around midnight the place got packed and some live music started. I sold one of my photos to an architect from Madrid named Rowina. Unfortunately she couldn’t take the photo with her because our host in Tilcara/owner of the bar where we were in wanted that one and so I will have to mail it to her in October. She got a steal, just 10 bucks for it but I just wanted to make a sale and also things are much cheaper in Argentina. The live music was like an Argentine Jack Johnson and it was fantastic. Too bad we had to leave at 1.45am because we had a bus in the morning.

Our bus left at 11am and we travelled across highlands, pampa I guess it’s called, about 10,000 feet and it’s hard to believe that people exist in that element but we saw some settlements along the way and wihtout much hoopla we arrived in La Quiaca, the border town with Argentina and Bolivia. Immediate a young boy asked if we wanted a guide across the border. I said, heh? I went inside to ask the tourist office about walking across the border and she gave us info and then I asked about the little kids asking us about guiding us across the border and she said that they only want to rob you. Oh thanks, I said.

We met an English girl who wanted to walk across the border with us. She’s been travelling for a year and a half and it was amazing to hear her casual explanations of places she’s been. Then we got the chance to meet another girl, this one from Australia while we were all waiting in the line to cross the border. This will officially go down as the slowest border of all time! It took about 90 minutes for a 45-person line to get through and all the while these little boys of 6 or 8 years old are asking us for food, money, to help us. Piss off, was basically my answer. I try and have compassion but piss off was still my answer.

We walked across a small bridge that had a sign, one sign which said Argentina and the other Bolivia and I thought that was cool. We crossed the border and walked up a tiring hill to the bus station. Just as we were getting close, a piece of shit looking bus stop, yelling out Tupiza. Tupiza! That’s where we were going. Hey, are there still seats for us, I asked. Of course, she said and we got on the bus but people were sitting on the arm rests and had to get out of our seats when we got on. Not really sure what that was all about but it was a dirt road. 90% of the roads in Bolivia are unpaved and it felt like a constant jiggle with the occasional bump of major proportions because of a lack of suspension. We also got a flat tire about an hour into the journey, which last 3 hours and cost 1.25dollars.

We got to Tupiza, walked to the hostel, got our room, walked around this quiet town that is at 3.400 meters and we had dinner at a place called California. I ate llama meat and it was pretty good! I took a long hot shower last night and slept like a rock, something I needed dearly and today the weather is beautiful and we just booked our first tour of the trip!

We will go on the Salar de Uyuni jeep trip for 4 days and 3 nights. All the food, drink, hotels *if you can call them that*, entrances into the national park and driving for 100bucks per person. We are going with the English girl we crossed the border with, a guy from Colorado and a dude from English who were on our bus yesterday from the border and a guy from France I think.

My lip, as i said, is dry as hell and for the rest of the day we are going to buy some warmer clothes because it is going to be freezing in our cheap basic accomodations they called it and some lip stuff. I may not be able to give an update for a few days but at least you know why.

Check ya later!


day of the humahuaca

August 19, 2006

Howdy from Tilcara! What a place, it reminds me of an old Arizona mining town. None of the roads are paved, there are about 5000 people here and I just saw my host walking past the internet cafe on his way to his bar, a charming little place called Los Tientos.

It was strange, leaving the civilization of Salta and a wonderful beautiful house and getting to what is essentially a village on a road that leads from civilization to the middle of nowhere. Our host, Josema, is a super nice guy and we had beers and Italian food at his bar last night. He also showed us coca leaves and how you chew them to help with the elevation. We didn´t quite get it right but we´ll try again tonight. Don´t worry ma, it ain´t cocaine, okay?

We took a bus to Humahuaca today, about an hour away, another of these villages further down the road to nowhere (actually bolivia). It was much more touristy with paved roads and all but we had a great time.

I may actually have a photo exhibition tonight in Josema´s bar, it´s not for sure but we talked about it last night and it could be fun, that is if I can stay up late enough. We ate dinner at 11.15pm last night and people didn´t start coming to his bar until about midnight!

My lips are chapped, I bought some of my first real souvenirs today, a small silver ring because I lost my black o-ring in Salta, a cool woven belt and also a small tapestry to hang on the wall.

We are off to Bolivia tomorrow, pretty exciting. This trip is not easy but I am enjoying every single second of it, especially because of moments like earlier when we asked for directions to visit the pre-Inca ruins above the village and ended up having homemade yoghurt and granola snack there. HmmmmMmmmmm. The people have less in general and in a way it makes them much more willing to give everything. I like that, it is really inspiring.

Much love to ya´ll, go Dodgers!


Day of Publication

August 17, 2006

guess what? I got published today. It is not a big thing and it won”t even cover the first payment on that car I do not even need but still, my problems the German authorities have finally begun to bear fruit and boy oh boy are they tasty, kind of a mix of Bundesliga meets Mr. Beamter. If you do not get the silliness at that attempt at humor then you do not live in Germany.

Anyhoo, go to www.expatica.com, choose, Germany as the country of choice and then to Relocation where the article should be displayed with the fairly alarming title, Screwed by the System.

Enjoy. Off to Tilcara today and by Sunday afternoon we should be in Bolivia, the 30th country I will have visited. For any students reading this blog, that was correct usage of the future PERFECT (edited from ´present´because I can be stupid at times! hahaha)tense. Learn it, live it, know it. By the time I come back, you will have learned it, right? Look I did it again.

Adios


day of the dog

August 17, 2006

We have had a day and a half in Salta, a wonderful colonial town without a whole bunch to do but that’s okay. We had to change buses on the way here and it was a cold day and it felt like our time in the sun was over, so to speak. When we arrived here in Salta, we took a taxi to Dieter’s house which was about 5 minutes away. We were a bit shocked, to say the least, when it appeared that they had the nicest house in town. He greeted us, introduced us to his wife, Carola and son Sebastian and then showed us to our room which was at least as nice if not nicer than any place we have ever stayed at with hospitalityclub. We felt like we had just stolen the opposing team’s mascot and were harboring it at the Waldorf Astoria. We were happy.

We grabbed some stuff, aka camera, guidebook and some water and walked into the center of town which was about 8 blocks away. It was still gray and so not perfect for taking pictures but we got a glimpse at the church on the main squre, with it’s glorious sun-like gold statue way in the back and the warm blue and mauve colors that pervaded the celings between the arches. As mass was underway, we didn’t stay too long to investigate so we went outside to get our bearings. A young guy walked up to us and was pointing at my shoes, half laughing. He was a shoeshiner named Alexander and he had chosen the most creative way to get me to have him shine my shoes. Apparently he was 17 years old and and already had a child. When he learned we were from Germany, the price changed from 3 pesos to 3 euro. We of course didn’t find it as funny as he did, because he knew he was joking.

We checked out the busy shopping streets near the main square and then discovered an extremely obvious but beautiful church down one of the streets leading away from the main plaza, the Iglesia San Francisco. An extremely ancient woman informed us the church was still closed for siesta and would open in an hour or so. All right. We were hungry and didn’t get very far. There was a restaurant kitty korner from the church that had an all you could eat buffet for less than 6 bucks. We ended up chosing other things from the menu and what good choices we made. It was one of our best meals that Assiyeah and I have ever while traveling on our own. It was so good we took the leftovers with us.

I lost most of this post and was able to recover a small part so here is what I have the energy to retype:

I fell asleep early last night and so of course was up early today. We had a great breakfast, like a German Sunday breakfast while on holiday, slow and leisurely with the all important coffee. We dropped off some postcards, went to the cable car which took us up on the hill overlooking the city, later had some empanadas, a nice second breakfast in a way with coffee, croissants and OJ for a buck fifty, walked around a lot, went to the city’s historical museum where we saw old pre-columbian stuff, carriages, weapons and oil paintings of early local leaders.

We checked out the church again and were after accosted by two different shoe shiners, one being a bigger asshole than the other. The red and gold Iglesia San Francisco was full of people and most of them seemed to have dogs. Never did find out why. I bought some sole supports because we’d been walking so much and on the way home we bought 3 avocados, an envelope to mail our roommate’s birthday gift and a birthday card. We ate the leftovers tonight and are just chilling now. Sorry for the abruptness but I just had no desire to really get into it again after I’d typed some fascinating takes on a nice place in the NW Argentina. Okay, maybe it was fascinating but we’ll never know now, will we?

ciao


day 18

August 15, 2006

at a small internet cafe by our host´s house and only have a few minutes. Nothing to add, actually but life is good here, we have really had a good time on this trip and it is hosts like we had in Asuncion and here in Tucuman that seem to make this place seem less, well, strange. It´s the same as america and europe in the respect that as a tourist you walk around, take pictures, sit and have a coffee, write postcards, eat something, go to a museum, take a taxi, watch people, the whole nine yards but the people here are used to living with much less than where I am from. It makes me feel a bit guilty in a way, me coming from the suburbs between LA and San Diego, essentially having everything a person could ever want in life, seriously, everything and even my childhood was relatively normal for that area. It has made me appreciate where I am from, where I live now in Germany and maybe that is one of the main reasons to travel, to remember how good you have it back home.

Oh yeah, I got an email from the Foreign Authority today, they have granted me another 90 days until the end of November, telling me that my case is on the back burner until then. That´s great because I will be in the middle of all of my work at that time and not only will it be difficult for me to get to the Foreign Authority to discuss this with them because I will be working so much but it is very hard to believe that they will try and make me leave in the middle of a semester. I may even tell my companies, the ones that know about my problem that I will work for free during this time and if everything works out then I will ask for back pay but just to make a statement. This is one of the first times in my life that I have something to really fight for and I feel righteous for doing it. I´m sure they´re not trying to screw up my life, they just want to follow the law but sometimes that is the problem with laws, people only see them in black and white and not the gray area where my case falls squarely in the middle of.

Anyhoo, much love wherever you are, please tell other people to read the blog, we are all living lives and that is the most important thing. Much love and peace!

jason