Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sometimes getting back on that travel email-blog horse can be less thangraceful. For example, the responses to my last dispatch included afair number of you who expressed concern over my sister's foot.

Let me be very clear: SHE IS GOING TO BE OKAY. It is a bunion, thereis no threat of amputation, I was just being (apparently) a little TOOcasual in the´`ole blog email.
On a side note, I do not want to freak anyone out more about pregnancy...it is scary enough as is, and props to you brave folks who undertake it.

But really, keep having kids people. If you are me, or one of myfriends, then obviously you are in a select genetic pool and we need tomake the most out of it. I know, I am such an arrogant jerksometimes. But at least I have good taste in those with whom Iassociate, right?
So, onto the next topìc on which some of you may need clarification...Iam not a prescription drug addicted coke fiend.

Just had to put that out there. Sometimes you never know how peopleare going to take something, especially anything I said last time.

But I must admit, it is very nice of so many of you to express concernand send best wishes to my sister.

Right now I am in La Paz, spending a few days here before working myway over to Lake Titicaca and Peru.

I got in last night and bumped into some friends I met in Chile, so wedecided to go out and grab some dinner. Usually in Bolivia this meansspending two or three dollars and getting chicken, rice, potatoes, witha little more chicken rice and potatoes.
Was I in for a surprise. Nadia is Canadian, and she heard about thisFrench-Canadian restaurant called Quebecois here in La Paz, and shereally wanted to go. Erick, this scruffy american from michigan wasthere too and we all headed off.
I was not sure what F-C cuisine was like, but I was thinking friedbadger and cheese curds, beaver pelts on the wall, etc.

We show up to white tablecloths, vivaldi on the sound system, lowlighting, and 8 pieces of silver per place setting. Mind you, I havenot showered in 36 hours, Nadia is wearing steel toe boots, and Erickis sporting a Quicksilver t-shirt and 8 days growth.

They don't blink an eye and seat us...we end up having one of the most luxurious traditional French dinners this guy has ever had, Asparaguswith Parmesan gratin and Ceasar salad to start, Medallions a la Dianne(wine mushrooms shallots cream) an inch thick and perfectly rare,chocolate mousse and crepes souzette for dessert, and a bottle ofexcellent chilean cab, impeccable service, all for about...11 bucks a person.

Yeah, I was into it. Rich, fatty, delicious, and inexpensive. Anyonewho makes it down here I will take you out. Just to put that on the table.

The conversation was interesting, I found out that on Sundays in La Pazthere is professional wrestling. Erick went and was thrilled to talkabout midgets dressed up as Chucky wrestling other midgets dressed upas ninja turtles, then other midgets wrestling Cholitas, the women whowear the blankets and bowler hats that you see everywhere in Bolivia. I swear I am not making this up.

Disturbing, disgusting, trashy, yes, and somehow fascinating in all ofit's horrifically bad taste.
I may go just to write about it and see what my tolerance fordisturbing reality really is. I probably won't, since I am sure itwould scar my thoughts for at least a few years, but again, you allwanted to be part of this experience.

Which raises the question, does it get any more real than aindigenously dressed bolivian woman body slamming a midget dressed as Chucky?

more later.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I feel like my funny is broken.
The keyboards here are stickier than the floor at chuck e cheese.
Internet connections make getting an American Visa look speedy.
Well, those are just some of the reasons that the Boardman travellingpress has been offline lately. I actually set a new record for myself, three days completelyunavailably by phone or email, even if I wanted to be, which I did not. I certainly am not missing my celphone, TV, or job, but I do miss myniece, my pans, knives, shallots, and of course those of you receivingthese emails.

Speaking of which, I started to get the first inkling of wanting toreturn home recently. Found out the sister is having her foot, like,amputated or something (the closest I get to being a doctor is selfprescribing otherwise prescription only medications in Bolivia, whereeverything is OTC) . She is probably going to yell at me forbroadcasting this, but she has some foot problem from being preggo withmy niece.

Well, that is what she gets for going and getting herself knocked up.

But really, she and the J-man did make a hell of a cute baby. I guessshe is good at more than terrorizing me during my youth, editing resumes, and remembering birthdays and anniversaries with a consistencythat a Swiss Watchmaker would admire.

So, between my peeps in the states and the sirens of exceptionalkitchen equipment calling to me, I am starting to finally consider areturn. Probably June. Maybe July. Staying in Argentina for the WorldCup is enticing, since it is more important to them than, well,everything. There could be a plagues of locusts, jock itch, andspontaneous combustions, but if Argentina is playing in the CopaMundial that day they would just lock their screen doors, scratchthemselves through their light blue and white clothing, and watch theTV with Fire Extinguishers handy in case one of their friends lit up. No promises, but I'll keep you posted.As for me, I spent two weeks in Santiago with Hervey and Paula and evendi a couple job interview there. The first, for an English Teachinggig, screamed of Being John Malkovich. Comically small, low ceilingedoffice, theatrically awkward british guy -non stop nervous laughter,only looking at you while his head was pointed a different direction-who at one point referred to Santiago as a "cultural backwater,"despite the fact he was trying to talk me into working for him in, youknow, Santiago.

The other was for this Latin American News Service. I wanted a writing gig, they wanted salespeople who would work 50 hours a week for about $1000 a month. I walked out of there knowing one thing-Santiago was not the rightplace for me, at least right now.The next day I bought a bus ticket to San Pedro de Atacama, which is inthe extreme north of Chile. 24 hours on a bus, which was still betterthan 8 hours in an office, later I arrived having made friends withhalf the folks on the bus, particularly two Dutch girls Jolijnd andLottie (extra credit to anyone able to pronounce both) I spent the nextfew days taking tours aruond the area with.

Geysers, salt flats, hotsprings, caves I rented bikes and rode to, the Valley of the Moon,crazy geology, marginal altitude sickness, and desert sunsetscharacterized my time there. It rocked.

From there, everyone heads to Bolivia. I had no plans to go earlier,but after asking around I found out about and booked this 3 day tripvia Land Cruiser to Uyuni Bolivia, home of the Largest Salt Flat in theWorld. I also could not get "Going to Bolivia" to the tune of "Coming toAmerica" stuck out of my head for two days. Now you can't either. Three days overland, stopping at lagoons that were white, blue, green,rusty, and stop sign red respectively. Rocks out of a Dali paintingbursting from the sands of the desert, hotels made completely out ofsalt, driving across a lake on the salt flat, more hotsprings, andtalking with the 5 Europeans (two spaniards, three frenchies) with whomI shared the ride.

The guide, Simeon, is from Uyuni, one of 5 sons, has a wife and threesons himself. He loved Bolivian Music. to understand Bolivian music,think about the music you hear blaring out of lowered early 90's nissansentras with chrome hubcaps and "Guitierrez" written in GothicLettering and a virgin mary sticker on the rear window, then addpanpipes. He also liked modern Bolivian Music, which is exactly thesame as traditional Bolivian music except produced only with asynthesizer.He wore this funny hat that accentuated the fact he looked a bit likean Ewok.

On one particularly long stretch I helped him learn moreenglish by writing out in both Spanish, English and then phonetically. Between that and the fact we learned after a day and a half (of nonstopaural bludgenoning from the aforementioned Bolivian music tapes) wefigured out we could hook up my ipod to the stereo, I was his favorite client.

Boy did I feel popular. I may write an article on "iPod diplomacy." It can really make you friends. I already knew that by sharing anearbud on bus rides, but At the moment I plugged in and cued up BillieJean, the Euros in the back seats were ready to forgive not only thespread of McDonalds but Bush's re-election just to hear something otherthen "Lo Mejor Canciones de Bolivia" on repeat one more time.Their tastes tended towards more MJ, Guns N' Roses, and Jeff Buckley,which suited me fine, but I did make them listen to "Also SprachZarathrusta" as we watched the sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni. Theyloved it.

For those of who you know what I am talking about...Cheesy, maybe.Awesome, definitely.

So much to say about that trip. If you want more, invite me over afterI get back.From Uyuni I went straight to Potosi with the Spaniards and two of theFrenchies. It was not until this trip between Uyuni and Potosi, in the middle ofthe night 7 Hours in a bus Suburban sized bus with 30 people allwearing neon blankets and bowler hats, over bumpy dirt roads where wewould only slow down to ford rivers in the middle of the BolivianAltiplano desert that, yes, I am really OUT THERE. At the same time, Iam really glad I had a bottle of water and an Ipod.

But back to Potosi: It was there we took a tour of the mines, 3 hoursunderneath a mountain of rock learning about how guys spend 30+ yearsdoing a combination of shovelling rocks, picking up rocks, blowing uprocks, and pushing/pulling carts full of rocks hunched over, breathingtoxic air, in the dark for 8-12 hours at a time. Since these guys are so hardcore and we are just tourists paradingthrough watching them do their backbreaking thing, the guides advisethat it is customary to buy gifts for them to hand out during thevisit.This is where it gets good.First, I bought two bags of coca leaves-yes you can buy them here onthe street, and yes I tried some, and yes they crank you up but they doreally help with the altitude-and homemade cigarettes and a two literof soda.

For extra credit, I went ahead and bought what is referred toas an "Armada" which means "enough boom to blow up, well, damn nearanything." It was the extra value combo of the mining world, a stickof dynamite, a fuse, and a baggie of ammonium nitrate just for a littlemore kick. No they did not check ID. I did not have to sign anything. It was"Quiero una Armada" then they said "15 bolivianos (2 bucks)" and then Ihad the boom.I went ahead and bought another stick of dynamite just because I could. It was awesome.I stuffed all of this in my jacket, but after entering the mines I gavethese away the second it finally hit me that, oh yeah, I had beenwalking for an hour and a half with two sticks of dynamite in my shirt.

Still, Bolivia is a great country. I am in Sucre, and heading to LaPaz tonight, and then off to Lake Titicaca (Shut up, Beavis) and ontoMachu Pichu. Would love to hear from you, and Happy Easter-eat some good chocolatefor me!