Ah, my eternal stress with not being committed to blogging. Plainly I have not let this concern me overmuch, as I’m finding my attention span is such that all I have are scraps of ideas anyway so I can’t get too worked up because I’m not this century’s Pepys.  This blog has been silent for over a year… just over.  Not on purpose, but just when I finally got going there, I derailed myself.  

Something about me to be stated with complete clarity is that I’m a perpetual self sabotager.  I can say this without any hesitation but writing it… well it makes you confront the words and then it’s like “oh. shit. I totally do that” and it’s a problem for a number of reasons.  Last I posted I was super pumped about “being defensible” and yes it ended up going quite well. So the Master’s happened. Yay!  But right around the time that I was wrapping everything up and making really good progress on having some actual time to sit with myself and do some good work on being a better person, I got nervous and actively created a barrier to my success: I decided to move in with my friends.  

Yes, the mind with the benefit of hindsight (or just more consistent rationality) has a hard time understand why I, a full on adult with a job and money and no actual reason to have roommates, would decide that just when her life calmed down long enough to breathe, she would move in with people.  After living alone for YEARS. And not just move in with friends, oh no.  Move in with a married couple.  Oh Christ on a cracker…

I probably realized the enormity of the mistake that I’d made about the exact same day as I defended my thesis.  And it was solidified on the day that I moved in and was presented with a “congrats” gift by the female friend of the couple.  It was a beautiful gift, a really simple Pandora bracelet.  This friend works at a jewellery store and has excellent taste and knows just what to pick for someone who doesn’t even know herself.  I was really touched and felt really cared for – and then her husband chose this time to gripe about their money situation.

This is significant because when we moved in together, actually from the very start, the deal was that we would find a 2 bedroom place and split it.  Me paying 1/2 and them paying 1/2 the rent.  That is still a decision that I stand behind.  The decision that makes no sense to me is the one where I said that they should have the bigger room with the en suite bathroom.  They totally used my “people pleasing” against me and I agreed that “well they’re married, they should get the better space”.  Getting the bigger room has NOTHING to do with being married or single.  It SHOULD have to do with how much rent you pay. I pay way more than my share (essentially totally paying for the third person to live there) so I should get the bigger room.

But I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I continued to not stand up for myself.  Even when the three of us would have direct conversations about being honest, I held things back.  I ate shit every day but the two of them never initiated a conversation with me about how I really felt.  Despite that it is not their job they HAD to know I was really unhappy, but I refused to bring it up because I had “made a deal”.  I feel less friends with both of these people because I feel I was treated poorly.  We never had a real “fight” but I seethed in my small room a lot.  And for a really big rent bill, that isn’t a good way to live.  

Of course, I’ve never said any of these things out loud, but I wonder what would happen if I did.  Or if I told them about this blog.  I wonder what they would say if they were to read my honest words.  Words that I sheltered them from for almost an entire year.  They’ll never see it… and we won’t hang out anymore. They moved to Toronto and they’ll chalk this year up to a life experience.  I’m staying here in Ottawa, and I’ll chalk it up too but I’ve learned a takeaway lesson.

You teach people how to treat you; if you start off as a doormat, you’ll never be anything else.  Doormats have their purpose but I really don’t need people wiping their dirt all over me and then walking away.  I’m sure someone else said that, but I think it’s appropriate.

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It’s Monday night and two of my favourite people have just left my apartment after a very tasty dinner & movie combination.  Why don’t I watch Moulin Rouge more often?  The past few days have been epically lovely.  I am being reminded by life, I think, that when you slow down and create space for the joy that it will come to you in abundance. 

Last week I had a migraine for three days.  I don’t mean some silly little headache that I’m calling a migraine to make it sound more interesting. No, I had a vision losing, nausea inducing, vomit fest that prevented me from enjoying a shred of those 72 hours.  In fact late Thursday night as I lay in complete agony, utterly impotent to ease my own pain, I thought to myself “I should go to the hospital – they must have SOMETHING to end this”.  I didn’t because my own common sense prevailed and no, there is nothing, and yes, I just had to power through it; however, my Friday started out to be day four of pain and I thought I was going to throw something at my coworkers, when I got a message.  

This was a literal message.  It was from my thesis advisor and it said that both members of my committee had submitted their evaluations of my paper and that they were “very positive”.  Now Jonathan is a little bit prone to hyperbole, so I decided to open up the scanned attachment of the evaluations and see what the critiques were and what I would have to fix.  Neither of the committee members wanted me to fix anything.  No revisions.  I let that wash over me and could not believe it – my thesis is good to defend without changes.  I am defensible!  Oh. Wow.

And suddenly the pain drained out of my eye, down my jaw, through my left arm and out my fingers.  I felt it leave me as all the stress over the waiting that I’d been subconsciously carrying just evaporated.  And good timing too because I was just about ready to cancel the get together I’d planned with friends later that evening.  Friday was a delicious day and Friday evening, my house was filled with people I care about, some of whom had exciting news of their own to share.  

Saturday I got to spend time with some other dear friends and I got to drive to Kingston to pick up a piece of art from another very special person.  I had purchased it at his first solo gallery show at the beginning of July and had not been able to get to Toronto to pick it up.  Here is the new addition to my home:

Image

 

Pretty awesome, hey?

And then the rest of the weekend (Sunday and today, because I took a day off work) was spent working on one of the best productions I’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying.  My future roomie Tim, and his wife Sarah and their gang of rowdy film people are some of the more professional folks ever and the whole 17 hours of shooting was a complete delight.  I have never felt more pleased about a shoot, ever, despite that it was really long.  Pros, all of them, and I cannot wait to blog more about that project; I just want Tim’s permission first, as he should be the one to decide what kind of “buzz” this thing gets.  All I have to say is check out http://www.slipintoit.com – seriously, go do it now!!

I am so blessed and so happy to be engaging in these things that make my soul sing.  I need to nourish that creativity that comes from taking in and participating in art of all kinds.  There will be singing soon I think… and no, it won’t feel strange anymore.

Who knows, right? I’ve been remarkably non-committal to this blog.  In my defence, after attempting to post my travel journal I went and started a Master’s program.  While working full time.  And once I finished the classwork I got down to business and wrote my thesis in 6 months. So it’s not that I haven’t been writing, it just hasn’t really been about “my” stuff.  Although to be fair, a Master’s thesis is pretty indulgent and if not “my” stuff it’s no one’s because my topic is really esoteric.

Anyway, I feel more urge to write about stuff these days.  On a day where my head doesn’t hurt quite so much (seriously it NEEDS to thunderstorm – the pressure is so heavy my left eye is going to come out of it’s socket!) I’ll write a coherent post about something interesting.  Just to keep you all interested (because there’s SO many people out there who’ve been waiting 2+ years for the next installment of my musings…

For the record, it feels really nice to write here again.

Tonight one of my friends posted a link on Facebook to a letter, written from a father to his son, essentially disowning him in a weird ultra formal way.  It was so hateful to read and even as a totally outside observer reading it with zero personal investment, it broke my heart and raised tears in that little place in my throat (you know, the one that makes it a) hard to breathe and b) impossible to sing when you cry?). My only articulate reaction was “really?”

But then I thought about it more and thought about how painful it would be to read something that is essentially colder than the proverbial break-up post-it (pop culture reference the 2nd, just in case anyone is counting) from the man that raised me.  

Anyone who knows my Dad knows how kind, tolerant and respectful he is.  While he may not agree with everyone or feel uncomfortable, personally, about certain stuff, he has never once been judgemental about any person I brought home.  And I mean nothing – I think he maybe made a sketchy gay joke once when I was in high school and was met with my stare of wrath, thus learning not to say things like that in front of me.  I’m sure he jokes around with the boys in the shop about that stuff, but he’s totally respectful of diversity around me and would never be rude or judgemental to anyone I cared about.  Race, sexual orientation, whatever; both of my parents always always always encouraged all of us to be good people and treat others well (not because someone in a book said so but because that’s the right thing to do – those are some GOOD parents, yeah?).

So out of this upbringing, it is not a wonder that I get totally confused when I read something like I did tonight.  A father just shutting the door on his son… what does that feel like for the cold hearted door shutter, I wonder? And how could you tell a child that you brought into the world that they were anything less than the most amazing thing around?  I can understand being real with kids about their abilities and stuff but to tell someone you raised that their very spirit and character were not acceptable to you, as a parent, there’s got to be something painfully wrong with your empathy button.

 

And this brings me to that… empathy.  It’s not an inherent trait, it is learned.  People who do not have empathy patterned for them have a pretty hard time practicing it.  But the decline of the presence of empathy in modern life is astonishing.  This jackass of a man’s letter to his son is a pretty good example of a cyborg-like lack of empathy, pity, compassion… the list goes on.  

 

I guess my ultimate frustration is that anyone with the right, functioning equipment, can produce offspring and raise it (successfully or not, as the circumstances dictate) but there is no requirement or manual to read beforehand that sets out how not to completely mess with a kid’s confidence, self worth and self esteem.  I guess that’s why the distinction between “mother and father” and “Mom and Dad” is so important… one is a biological function and one is a relationship.  

 

Fingers crossed that one day I’ll have children of my own and the odds are pretty good that they won’t be biologically mine, which is totally fine with me.  But I will be goddamned if I don’t love the hell out of every single thing they do, praise every effort that they make and tell them at least once a day that I am proud of them.  Not to artificially inflate their little egos and create spoiled hellions (that’s a different set of parenting skills all together), but to arm them with a strong sense of self, and a strong moral compass so they can survive the ridiculous world we are living in now.  

 

There’s just no good way to end this post, because honestly this letter left me so deeply disappointed in humanity that I’m going to have to go look through a bunch of feel good tumblrs to restore my deeply held belief that we are all basically good people, just some of us forget how to be sometimes.  Folks like the letter writer are really few and far between – they just get more publicity because everyone likes to read about someone they can compare themselves favourably to.  At least I really hope that’s the case.

We are now just getting set to leave Potosi for Sucre, a three house bus ride away. The day yesterday in Potosi was really eye opening – all of the guide books had prepared us for the mining tours, saying that they were not for the faint of heart and that the conditions would be really shocking for western eyes.  The guides were not lying.  It was really something andI will definitely be thinking about what I saw for a long time.

Our tour left the hostel around 9:30 and our first stop was a weird little place in the back of a butcher shop where we got pants and jackets to protect our clothes and big rubber boots as well as construction helmets.  We then drove to a place called the miners market and it was here that we bought gifts for the miners that we’d see working.  Its sort of a respect thing and despite that the gifts aren’t really things that I would normally give, they make the miners lives more bearable and for that reason I don’t object because these men really don’t choose that life.  They have very limited options.

So we purchased little packets with bags of coca leaves, cigarettes, dynamite and crackers, also 96% alcohol which is what the miners drink.  We also tried coca leaves.  The miners are contractors that work for themselves so they have to buy all their own supplies, including dynamite which is essential.  As a result they are very thrify with it and use just portions of each stick for every blast.

So once we stocked up on gifts we headed to the mines.  Our van took a bump ride up “Cerro Rico” (rich hill).  The mines were founded in 1545 and right now there are over 5000 separate mines with 15,000 workers.  Some are larger and more industrialize but many, like the one we visited, are “collectivos” of about 100 workers, mostly from a few families.  The mine areas are sort of handed down through the generations the same way farmers work the same land and pass it down from father to son.

When we arrived at the mine we were given lights for our helmets – the guy that tied the battery belt around our waists asked all the girls “baby? yes?”  I think that was his little tourist joke.  Once were were all suited up we headed underground.

The darkness and narrow passages immediately made me feel a little uncomfortable.  Not enough to really be concerned but it was definitely not an environmennt I could last a long time in.  The first miners were met were a father and son, along with another young guy.  They filled up wheelbarrows at lightning speed and the father who had to be at least 40 was running out with the full wheelbarrows to load the truck.  Each wheelbarrow weighed around 80 kg and they did not stop for a break.  Some of the guys in our group tried to lift the wheelbarrow and roll it out – only Toby made it all the way out and he was wiped out.  The reality of how taxing the work was really hit home and it was clear that the coca leaves they chewed were actually pretty essential to their work.  As unhealthy as it is, the coca allows them to do the hard labour and given that they start in the mines as young as 12 they need to have stamina.  The two younger men were only 20 and 25 and had years of experience.

Next we went to this location in the mine where there are statues of Tio Jorge (Uncle George – aka the Devil) and Pachamama (the indigenous Mother Earth).  The statues dated back to when the mine first opened in the late 16th century and had been featured in National Geographic. Each Friday the miners go down and have toasts to Pachamama and Tio Jorge by dropping some of their 96% alcohol on the ground for Pachamama and dripping some on the Devils arms and legs (to keep strong and fit) and on the statue’s huge penis (for good luck and good production – both in the mines and in the family).

We saw another miner chiselling a hole to lay dynamite – he was just using a hammer and chisel.  Our guide said it would take him about three hours of chiselling to get a good hole for a piece of dynamite.  He was already sweating hard and the hole was just about 1/2″ deep.  We then met another miner who was just about to set off his dynamite – he was working his sector alone because the member of his family that had been working with him had died.  He was only 17 but had been working in the mines for 4 years.  Our guide said he’d be alone for the next 6 months or so.

He set off his blast using some dynamite we bought so we all had to go into this little cavern to keep safe and turn out our head lamps.  Being in the complete darkness underground was kind of scary but the explosion really surprised me.  It wasn’t really loud but it shook everything and reverberated through my body.  Really crazy.  At that point we had to leave the mine but to get out we had to climb down these rocks, across a narrow log and then lower ourselves down this rock face on a pretty sketchy looking rope.  I was completely terrified but it wasn’t like there was a second choice so I just did it.  When I got onto solid ground I was totally shaking and just ready to cry with relief but I held it together.  Then it was just a narrow passage to get out of the mine. 

It was then that these two little kids accosted us to get us to buy rocks.  David gave the little boy 20Bs for his rock so we had to give the little girl something too – even though they just pick the rocks off the side of the hill. Their smiling face were grateful and really 5 Bs is like 75 cents so its not like we’re parting with a lot.  It makes a huge difference to them and it barely even registers for me… so in that way I’m fine with it.

Its a huge moral dilemma, the tourist thing.  One could argue that without tourists the families would make more effort to let those rock selling kids go to school.  But if the families can’t pay for school anyway and this gives them some extra income, is it really bad?  Others say that maybe without the tourism there’d be more reason for a large company to standardize labour practices, but then the collectivos would be gone and many of the men would lose their jobs to machines – like the traditional vs factory farm.  These mining areas, like farmland, are these mens birthright so to change their labour practices just because it offends our western sensibilities isn’t all that fair.  I’m definitely glad I went and I think it will be on my mind for quite awhile.

When we arrived back in Potosi most of us were ravenous so we did a quick clean up as we were filthy from the mines (gloves would have been a particularly good piece of protective gear) and then we headed for a late lunch.  This was lesson 1 in Bolivian restaurant service – we had been warned it would be slow but until we experienced it I don’t think any of us thought we’d wait over 1.5h for lunch.  Our order were super simple and there were 3 people working for only 9 customers.  I guess that can be filed under “idiosyncracies”.

Our last stop was a cactus walk, which was amazing despite that flip flops were clearly not the best footwear. We were walkng right in amongst the cactuse through the sand and then the land got rougher.  Our guide had us scrambling over rocks and climbing around like crazy to get to this beautiful little area with a rocky waterfall and an overhang that we kind of had to climb down into.  It was kind of hard going with the flip flops but Katies and I were just laughing at ourselves and having fun.  I didn’t want to miss out on any experiences because of my own mistake.

As we got back to the bus from the cactus walk, our guide (Davide) came over to me and whispered in my ear “what are you doing tonight?” I was really flustered and was all blushing and I think my response was something lame like “oh, it’s our groups free night” and I just got on the bus.  About 5 min later as we’re ready to go I was just getting comfy in my seat and was bent over stretching my back when he leaned over again and whispered “ok tonight I have plans for you.”  Um, what?! So he goes to do his tour guide thing and Katie who is beside me was curious about what he’d said and so I told her and the ride back to town was a lot of discussion about he meant by that.

When we arrived in San Pedro and we were all getting off the buses, Davide says to me “you meet me in the plaza, 10 pm” and walks away.  Less of an invitation than a command… hm.  I’m thinking, ok this guy is really really good looking and he’s a tour guide so he’s probably hooking up with foreign girls constantly, so I’m not going to go.  But then I’m thinking, this guy is really really good looking and it could be fun to have  a little date – not like I’ll ever see him again.  But at this point its just 1pm and 10 pm is a long way off.

So we all go back to the hostel and clean up and then Toby, Katie, Lucy & I decide to take some stuff to the laundry and then spent basicaly the whole afternoon on a patio having lunch and drinking beers.  I loved San Pedro and could definitely have stayed longer but unlike Valparaiso it’s not a place I’d want to go back to.  Once you’ve done the tours and seen the sights there’s not much going on in the town.  That said, it was a great place to chill out and relax.

That evening we all met up at 8 to discuss the following day’s border crossing and the upcoming desert crossing.  Everyone was pumped about the coming days and we all went out to eat feeling very excited.  A few of us hit upa really neat place that appeared to have been carved out of a fossilized tree.  I couldn’t tell whether we were sitting on stones or a big carved tree stump but our table (that comfortably seated 5) was definitely a tree stump.  I enjoyed another very interesting set meal. There were a few translation problems but nothing major.  Food was really tasty and really reasonably priced (for San Pedro, that is).

After picking up laundry and having dinner everyone went off to do some errands for the next day.  Since it was just 10 I thought “well, I’ll go to the plaze and if he’s there we’ll see what happens” so I went over and got out my camera to take pictures and look like I wasn’t waiting for someone.  After 10 minutes I decided he wasn’t going to show so I left.  Probably for the best becase while I figured his plans would be going to one of the zillion bars and having a drink, he may have had other things in mind, so again probably for the best.

I ended up meeting some of the gals and we got some supplies for the next days journey to Bolivia because heading back to the hostel.  Well believe it or not this bus ride is done! Its just 4pm andwe have arrived in Potosi.  I am shocked that I have only managed to catch this record up until Sunday morning – I’m still 4 days behind.  Although the past days have been unforgettable I’m going to jot down some key words to remind me when I do a proper recording:

  • border visa surprise for H&A
  • flamingos
  • meeting our drivers
  • little Lady
  • lagunas
  • real thermal pools
  • meeting the Ottawa family
  • altitude sickness part I (the headache from hell)
  • day 2 desert crossing
  • rocks shaped like trees
  • unbearable heat and resultant heat rash
  • the party 4×4 with David’s iPod
  • salt hotel
  • 5L of red wine (and then some)
  • day 3 desert crossing
  • hangover & altitude sickness part II
  • skipping most of day 3 to sleep (me & Katie, knackered again)
  • Samay de Wasi, our palace hotel in Uyuni
  • talking with the lady who sold me peach juice
  • Minuteman pizza
  • amazing scenery from Uyuni to Potosi
  • big debate between private bus and chicken bus
  • Philip taking the chicken bus
  • Potosi: the highest city in the world

Ok, so it’s later on and I’m all settled in to our hotel in Potosi. The highest city in the worl.  So far everyone has been feeling fine and my stomach has completely settled (see note re: altitude sickness, round II) which is fantastic.  Its amazing how hilly it is and how bustling the streets are.  Certainly far less traditional than Uyuni.

I have made the executive decision that the point form notes will suffice to cover the 3 days of desertcrossing (aka “everything you always wanted to know about altitude sickness but were afraid to ask”).  As much as I as looking forward to the crossing and as many great things that I saw, those few hours on Dec 6 when I thought my eyeballs were bleeding from headache and the entire day yesterday (Dec 8 ) of throwing up SO violently, really kind of coloured the trip.  I definitely am glad that I’ve seen the Atacama and the Salar but I think that it would have been a more pleasant experience to do it as a series of day trips, so you are always sleeping lower than your highest altitude that day.  However, I have truly learned a great deal – probably the biggest lesson was how alcohol impacts at altitude.  I know that Toby and David still are not convinced that were that sick from the drinking because it really wasn’t that much (in fact for David I’m sure it was light night!) but as we’ve learned altitude does crazy things.  Us with stomach issues, Steve with the scary fever – even iron stomach Heath was having tummy troubles.  In fact the only people in the group that I can think of who weren’t affected were Darrel (Mr Fitness) and Tom, who I just think is impervious to pain (being Swiss and all).

Despite that it’s only 20 to 10 I’m going to sleep.  I really want to be fully rested and ready to party (ie see the sights) tomorrow.  Hopefully I’ll get the money situation sorted out as well. I figure that I’ll take American out of the ATM on my Visa and just suck up the bank fees. Then I’ll just keep a big stash of American in my money belt and convert as necessary.  Things will work out – I have ten days left and I won’t spend one minute of that time fretting about issues that will be solved when I get back to London – just taking it a day at a time.

Wow – its only been 5 days since I’ve written in here but it feel like I have about 5 months to catch up on.  When I cut off lask week we were about to arrive in San Pedro do Atacama – what an amazing place.  I have never been in the desert before and when we got of the bus the heat ust hit us all like a ton of bricks.  Very different that the humid Ottawa summer heat – just super dusty and dry and hard to breathe at first.  Funny though, because the heat did not last into the evening and it takes awhile to get warm in the morning.

No sooner did we get off the bus and get to our hostel then most of us were on another bus taking us out to Moon Valley.  We barely had time for a shower as we only had 40 min to spare, but I felt so scrungy after over 24 h straight in the same clothes.  I mean, I know when travelling you have to expect to be kind of grotty, but seriously, there’s only so much grime this little lady can take.

Our bus to Moon Valley showed upand we were writh another large group.  The tour guide was a super hot local guy named Davide and he was definitely an impressive part of the tour for many of us girls.  We walked around the first stop taking pictures but the heat was so strong that all of us sort of wilted.  I think this is where we began to notice the altitude as it was really hard to catch my breath walking up the sandy hills.  I don’t htink that first stop had a specific name but the photos don’t capture how amazing it was.

Our next stop was Death Valley, apparently the driest place on Earth.  Davide sad that many of the areas hadn’t seen rain for 47 years and in San Pedro they only get about 20 mm spread out over several days.  Amazing that people live like that – but they probably think our changing season are super crazy.  Death Valley was cool, and it was where we started to notice the salt in the rocks.  We paused at this one areas and Davide asked us all to just be silent and listen.  All around us there was cracking, as it the rocks were going to come crashing down.  Very creepy.  He told us bcausethe salt heats up and expands during the day the cracking is caused by contractions when the temperature goes down at night.

Our last stop was Moon Valley and this is where we climbed a sand dune to watch the sunset.  Wow that was hard work!  We ended up wlking out further onto this rocky area, which was cool but kind of dangerous.  I glanced beside me at one point and got a bit of a head rush because the cliff just completely dropped off.  I was a bit more careful with my steps after that.

The sunset was beautiful but I think that everyone saying how amazing it was going to be built up my expectations so that I was a little unimpressed.  Not to be a cynical tourist but I think I’ve seen nicer sunsets at the cottage, or even from my old apartment.  However, the experience was still cool.

When we arrived back to town all of us were starving and we really needed to get something to eat quickly because we all had to be up at 3:45 am for a 4 am tour of the geysers.  We found a nice little place that had a set menu for a good price and I enjoyed a really nice veggie lasagna.  My camera ran out of power during the Moon Valley susnset so I had meant to track someone down to lend me a charger but unfortunately I didn’t manage to have the camera ready in time so I have no photos of the geyser tour.

4am came very fast and all of us were pretty groggy.  Katie and I were very focused on the hot springs we were going to get to swim in so we thought that flip flops would be the best choice of footwear.  It was a cool morning in town, but not terribly cold so we figured we’d be fine… well, not so much.  After 2 hrs on the bus we reached the geysers just after 6am.  We were quite a ways up, about 4300 m, and the temperature was -6 degrees.  Flip flops = not so smart.  Both K and I were having a rough time and we got a lot of weird looks.  I mean, there were people with full on parkas and hate and mitts and here we are in flip flops?!

Our tour guide was the same as the day before and he was really having fun teasing us about our feet, pretending to go and warm them up and stuff.  Nice guy – from Easter Island (he calls it Rapa Nui).  Amazingly fit – you’d have to be the Energizer bunny to do tours one after the other like that – and a total clown, always showing off with back flips and things.  He said he’d been doing the tours in San Pedro for 7 years – wish I’d asked how old he was (could have been anywhere between 25-35).

Anyway, the geysers were pretty cool – they only erupt early in the mornin which is why we left so early.  Again, because of the talk beforehand I kind of expected the eruptions to be huge and crazy, but they were still really neat as I’d never seen anything quite like it before.  Part of the price of the tour was a picnic breakfast and I so grateful for the warm coffee and the Chilean version of grilled cheese.  Definitely welcome warmth for many of us who didn’t quite get the message about dressing smartly.

Our next stop was the thermal pools and all of us girls were very excited to go for a warm swim.  These were somewhat lukewarm, but every so often some super hot water would come in and you had to watch not to burn your back.  Of course there were not change rooms so getting out of bathing suits was an adventure.  Since there were lots of us it was just a big laugh, making sure we watched out that no one showed their bums or boobs too much.  I still think that several strangers got a good look at both my butt and breasts.

We had a chance to walk around that area for a bit after our swim and see more geysers, only these were much smaller – more like little pools.  After that our next stop was on old Mapuche village where were were able to walk around and buy llama kebabs from this old man who was cooking them over an open fire.  That was really tasty; although the meat was chewy the spices and marinade were incredible.  At this point a couple of people on the tour (no one from our group) were really suffering from the altitude and very sick to their stomachs.  I felt quite fortunate not to be affected, that is for sure.

As this entry is getting up over 1200 words, I’ll quit for now.  Staying tuned for the next entry which will cover the end of my time in San Pedro, our infamous desert crossing and our first few days in Bolivia.

When we were heading to bed around 1 am all of a sudden we heard jackhammering.  Apparently no time is inappropriate for road work in Chile. Maybe the workers took a break to watch soccer and had to make up their time?  Who knows.  Just one of the many idiosyncracies here in Chile.

When we awoke yesterday morning we found out that the nightbus we were supposed to take to San Pedro had its departure time changed so instead of leaving at 4pm and arriving in SP at 9am we would not be leaving until 10pm.  This gave us an extra full day in La Serena, which was unexpected but fun – we all ended up just chilling out.

I just waled around the neighbourhood on my own in the morning then met up with the group for lunch at the supermarket (cheap: tasty empanadas). We checked out the museum of archaeology and the artisan market. Toby nearly bought a very cool Indiana Jones hat but decided at the last minute it was impractical.  We watched a street artist make a really cool painting using only spray paint and some putty knive.  That was incredible – I don’t think people will believe me when I describe it.

We did some more walking through market stalls and Dawn, Lucy and I bought scarves for a good price.  We went to the post office and gof out stamps and mailed our cards, which was good timing.  At that we were pretty worn out and stopped for coffee on a patio.  Next we check out a department store and found some really great bags.  Dawn had seen them in Brazil for a lot more money and they were 40% off.  She and I both bought one – hers had butterflies and mine had those little Russion stacking dolls.  Very cute.

Our next stop was the ATM and a couple of us got out some more money to ensure that we’d have enough in case the ATM in SP was not working (apparently this happens a lot).  This is where I learned that Chilean ATMs work differently from those in Canada (and pretty much everywhere else).  In Canada (etc) ATMs give you back your card before they spit out the money and they usually beep at you if you’re not paying attention.  In Chile things work differently and the money comes out first, then the machine gives you the option for another transaction and THEN you get your card.  Well, I gues I was distracted and not paying close enough attention, so I took the money the machine spit out and just walked away, completely unaware that my card was still in the machine.  I didn’t realize until much later…

After hitting the back we went to get groceries for our bus ride and to stock up on wine for our time in San Pedro.  When paying I didn’t notice my missing card.  Then we dropped everything off at the hostel and I went to send some emails. Again, when paying (because I used small change) I didn’t notice my missing card.  We headed out to dinner as a big group for our pre-night bus supper at a place with a lovely courtyard that some of us had passed earlier.  I was only when we were showing differences between passports and drivers licenses that I noticed my card was missing.  I thought back to the bank and thought that I might have put it somewhere else in my bag but after taking everything out it was clear my card was gone.

With 1 1/2 hours until we got on the bus I really wanted to get everything sorted before something bad happened so Renata showed me where a phone was (across the street luckily!) and got in touch with TD to cancel the card and try to arrange for another to be sent.  Unfortunately because I’m moving cities so much there was no safe place to send the card so I am now without a debit card for the remainder of the trip.  Oh well – I’ll just pay the cash advance fees I guess.  Or maybe I can just put the group dinners on my credit card and get the cash from people. That actually might be a better strategy and I just came up with that!

Anyway, that dinner, after getting all the banking sorted, was my best in Chile so far.  It was  a really tasty cheeseburger with tomato and avocado.  With homemade chips on the side.  I was very happy as I ate (part of it was probably knowing that I wouldn’t have a proper meal for quite awhile – unless we have time for dinner after our tour tonight, which could happen).

Following dinner we headed to the bus station to get on the bus to San Pedro that we’ve now been sitting on for nearly 14 hours.  I’m really hoping tat the next couple of hours consist of some sleeping for me – didn’t get enough last night at all.  But I’m feeling fine.  Guess I just need to make sure to keep eating healthy and sleeping when I can.  We’ve got lots lined up for our day and a half in SP and then our 3 day desert crossing goes from there.  The next 5 days will be pretty special and I will hopefully get a chance to write soon.

Before I finish I should tell a bit about my travelling companions.  Of course there is Renata our tour leader from Brazil who is awesome.  Then there’s Darrel the other Canadian.  Toby & Katie & Lucy from England and Lyn from New Zealand.  We all joined the group in Santiago.  Dawn from England has been travelling on a series of toure with Renata since Rio.  David from Ireland, Philip from Australia, Steve from England, Julie from Cypress and Tom from Switzerland as well as Heath & Amy from Texas have all be travelling with Renata since Buenos Aires [ed: in fact all except Tom started in Rio].  Many of them are continuing on after La Paz to do the Inca Trail in Peru and some are continuing to Quito.  David is going to go through central America with Gap as well after Quito and then fly to San Francisco.

A lot of the others have already been travelling extensively.  Lucy has been gone for 9 months through India, SE Asia, Australia & NZ; Heath and Amy have been on the road since August I think and Steve & Julie since April.  Tom has been travelling for almost 2 years, including over a month on a cargo ship through the Pacific and Lyn has been all over the place – Egypt, Ethiopia, in many, many place.  I think she plans to return home to NZ after doing the Inca trail. Philip has also been travelling since February including 6 months in Japan and doesn’t really have a plan after his Inca trail trip ends.  Toby & Katie have been working on farms in Australia and they both seem to have been away from home for quite awhile.  All are extremely nice – well, a couple of the guys are kind of aloof – and I think its a really nice group.  Probably because so many have already been together for so long.

Ok, just over three hours left.  Hope I make it 🙂

So hopefully everyone’s enjoying the travel stuff.  Just thought I’d pop my head in for a minute and write about some stuff that is happening now (a full month and then some after these travels).  January is proving to be awesome and I have that amazing feeling that 2010 is filled with potential.  I am super excited about a ton of new stuff – two main things though. First, I got a little p/t job (totally on the spur of the moment) at this awesome little independent bookstore across the street from my house (not precisely, but it’s literally a 3 min walk).  I’ll be at Perfect Books on Wednesday nights, at least for Feb. We’ll see what the future brings!  It’s so great to be around people who care about books and want to discuss.  And its a great way to recharge after being a cubicle troll all day.

I think that I’ve confirmed that I’m an extrovert.  I need to recharge my batteries by being around people.  Yes!  Which brings me to thing 2 that I’m really excited about.  I have finally started going to yoga class.  Yep, there are some lovely teachers at this studio, again about 50 steps from my front door (serendipitous, no?), and I feel very at home there.  The first class that my friend Angie took me to was a ‘yin yoga’ class.  Not a practice I’ve taken before but one that I think I really like. It’s all about opening the heart space and all about being open to good things.  I am aware, all the more acutely after a conversation with my good friend Jessica, that I am carrying around a lot of anger. The reasons for this, I am aware of, and aren’t really relevant for this blog.  What is relevant is that I feel very empowered to not only deal with this anger, but deal with it in a way that will enrich me and who I am.  And probably benefit other people in my life.

So.  There that is.  Also, I finally bought a guitar.  After years of talking about it, I now have my musical game face on and have purchased this instrument that I think will be really helpful for me to channel more ‘feelings’.  Oh emotions… I am reminded of something AV used to say: “eat it emotions!”  He’s right – sometimes we need to just shelve them.  Sometimes though, for the benefit of ourselves and of the people we care about, we need to cut through the bullshit and help ourselves out.  I’m ready.

Also, I’d like to start planning a summer trip.  I hope we get to go down to MD for a 2nd “small” family reunion.  The big one was last year, and will come again in 2011 but I hope that the immediate 4 families get together again.  It was awesome to be down in the States and save the Fs some travel.  We’ll see.  Of course I would plan around it, but I’d like to go to England and do a train journey all the way north.  See the C-Ts and the GAP girls… yeah, let’s looks into that.

PS –

  1. Movie recommendation: Manic (with my favourite actor,  Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, and the incomparable Don Cheadle).  Totally excellent, and anyone who has ever dealt with anything mental health related will probably be stunned at how accurate it is.  I wept. 
  2. Book recommendation: Finnie Walsh by Stephen Galloway (Cellist of Sarajevo, Ascension).  This was his first novel and it is brilliant.

Well here I am in hour 11 of the epic 17 hour journey from La Serena to San Pedro de Atacama and since I’m a bit captive, might as well put the monotony to good use.  Last I wrote, we were about to arrive in La Serena and I must say that I really enjoyed this little town a lot more than Santiago, despite the fact that the hostel we were staying in was a complete dump. La Serena had a ton of personality, the people were super friendly and seemed just really genuine.

A strange thing – and this is kind of an aside – that a couple of us noticed, is that there seemed to be a really high proportion of disabled people in the town.   I noticed specifically blind people and kids with Down’s Syndrome, but quite a variety of palsies and problems.  Will have to do some reading and find out if there is a specific issue in La Serena that would cause this.

Anyway, once we got checked in to our grotty hostel and had a chance to clean up after our 7 hr journey (which now seems like a complete walk in the park as I approach hour 12 on this godforsaken bus!) we were visited bu this sweet little tour guide, Andrea who told us about some tour options.  As well, this local gentleman came to tell us about his restaurant and practice his English.  He was a real character and we decided to go and eat at his restaurant later that evening.  I really wish I’d taken a picture with him because he completely embodied this idea of barrier free engagement that, from what I’ve seen, the Chilean people really care about.  This fellow, and many others, didn’t care that we didn’t speak Spanish and he was just going to communicate and try and make an effort.  It seems like most people are really keen on tourists, which is cool and I’m happy that I’m with  group that is respectful and also tried to engage just as well.

Dinner was all we really got up to on our first night in La Serena (we also waited in line to buy soccer tickets for the next night) but the next day was super packed.  Many of us went on the full day tour of the Elqui Valley.  We left with Andrea, our very sweet tour guide, at just after 9 in the morning and stopped to pick up 2 more women from another hostel.  They were doing a really similar trip to ours with a different tour company, but in the opposite direction, so they were giving us some tips about what to expect in Bolivia (and in Peru, for those on our trip going further afterwards).

The first stop we made was at a papaya factory to see how the Chilean papayas grow.  They are really small and yellow and very fragrant. They have to be cooked before being eaten (I guess they are usually boiled) which seems funny because they smell so tasty, as if you could just bite right into them.  Very different from the large orange papayas they sell back home (and in the States and England from what my fellow travellers said).  We got to try some papaya jam and many of us bought bottles of papaya juice before heading to our next stop.

We travelled for quite a while through Elqui Valley before arriving at a dam.  I never got the proper spelling and Andrea always said the name too quickly for me to catch it.  It was really amazing to see how big it was and the huge lake on one side contrasted with the dry valley below.  We were able to walk right across the dam and I took loads of pictures.  It reminded me of something out of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, all the steep cliffs and cactuses everywhere.

After taking pictures at the dam we headed to the pisco distillery for a tour of the grounds and to have a taste of the finished product.  Seeing the vineyards was really neat and how they grow the grapes in sort of a canopy is really neat.  The distillery we went to is very traditional and they make the pisco using very few mechanical processes, doing as much as possible manually.

When it was time for the tasting the first cup we were given was 80% alcohol – wow, was it ever strong.  I could only manage one sip.  The other was an oak aged pisco that was an amber colour.  It was far less harsh but still really strong.  It was cool to see the difference between the liquor but I think I’d prefer it mixed in pisco sours or with mango.

Our next stop was lunch at a really cute restaurant in the hills.  We got a full three course meal and got to spend some time relaxing in the beautiful backyard of the property.  The day was very very hot so getting to dip my feet in the cool swimming pool was great.  There were hammocks as well and a beautiful little swingset/slide.  I think I could have spent the whole afternoon just chilling out there!

Oh! I forgot something – before we stopped at the distillery we visited a little town called Vicuna.  Like La Serena it had a really pretty park as its town centre and I loved taking pictures of all the trees and flowers.  The reason I remembered Vicuna is because the next place we went after lunch was another small town called Pisco de Elqui.  It was basically the same as Vicuna.  A park, a church and places to buy crafts.  I did buy a few postcards so that I could mail one to John & Kel and give a bunch out back home.

After Pisco de Elqui we stopped along the road at a lookout/mausoleum dedicated to the local poet Gabriela Mistral, who won the  Nobel prize for literature many years ago.  She’s a bit of a hero in the Elqui Valley.  At several other points we stopped at various lookouts to take pictures, and at a roadside stand to taste some fresh Chilean grapes – super sweet and cold. From there we headed back and got in about 6:30pm.  It was a long day but we were able to see a lot – I loved the experience.

After a quick shower (refresh break) the soccer watching gang head out to the 2nd Colo Colo v La Serena game of the series.   The La Serena stadium was much smaller and “rustic” than the stadium in Santiago.  Through coincidence we ended up sitting in the Colo Colo section, which was huge.  I couldn’t believe that so many people would make the 7 hour trip from Santiago… or maybe the team has a wider appeal around the region.  Either way, the Colo Colo cheering squad was out in full force – not the same as the paltry number of La Serena fans at the match we saw in Santiago.  This game was much more exciting and the energy of the crowd was even more electric – probably because we were packed in on concrete bleachers instead of chairs.  Colo Colo won 3-0 nd we all had a great time cheering them on again.  Getting home was far less of a problem too and since the home team lost, the streets were pretty subdued.

We were able to do some sneaky work, thanks to our tour guide, Renata, who came with us to the game.  She fast talked the gate guards so that we could sneak Lucy, our friend who thought she could buy a ticket at the game, inside.  It was awesome to walk Renata work it in Spanish 🙂  Once inside, our timing was perfect – the bus carrying the Colo Colo players pulled up and we were in the front row to watch them enter the stadium.  Two things stuck out for me about this: a) those guys are SUPER hot, like REALLY and b) I’ve never been somewhere that sports heros are just able to walk through the crowds.  Security for these guys was pretty lax and many of them were laughing and shaking hands with people who were wishing them good luck as they walked into the stadium.  There was something special about that for me – made me think of the purity of sport and how here in North America we “value” players and teams and stuff monetarily but there’s pretty little heart in it. In Chile, soccer is literally IT – they don’t have other sports to distract them – so the fact that there’s still this essence of purity about going to a game is really great.

Ok – I am aware that reading a 15oo word blog post is not exactly fun.  So this is getting split up.  Part 2 b) is coming… Let’s hope I can maintain (increase?) readership??