23 diciembre 2006

valió la pena

I've been in Bolivia for a little under a month. I'm now in Uyuni, about 10 hours south of La Paz, as the bus flies. I've just finished an amazing three day jeep trek south through the altiplano to the border of Chile and back, which I did a bit reluctantly, but after hearing much from other travelers. It was the sort of trip that could have been made or ruined by the weather, or by the rest of the travellers, with whom I was stuck in a jeep for three days. Among the others were a pair from Belgium/Holland, who had just finished a several-month stint on the most recent iteration of Belgium's version of The Amazing Race. He was a cameraman, and she an executive producer. The other notable character was a Marcus Reynerson clone from the Vancouver area. It was a good group, and I think I'll wind up meeting up with at least one of them on their way south to Patagonia after the new year. Many photos soon to come.

Before this trip, I had been staying in La Paz with the family of my most recent Spanish instructor, Gabriela. It was with great remorse that I wrote Ivan to tell him I'd finally been introduced to the infamous subjuntivo. The week was an interesting one, and for the most part relaxed. I explored what I could of a labyrinthine La Paz-- a city which is 85 percent marketplace-- during the busiest and most commercial time of year. I made a couple local friends at a little bar down from where I was taking classes, and whiled my afternoons stumbling my way though conversations about futbol and women. I took naps in the park. I attended a surprise birthday party for a friend of Mae Lin, my Bolivian hermana por una semana. Get the gringo drunk is apparently a wildly entertaining party game. It is nice to be cared for, however. I've got some photos and video of the live folklorica in the kitchen.

This evening, I train back to La Paz to spend Christmas with the family, which should be fun. Then, I've got to pick a path back to Buenos Aires, where I've arranged for a room in an apartment not far from the congress (con cama matrimonial) for a couple weeks.

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Those who know me well know that I am a sentimental man. But perhaps only Dan will understand when I recount the tears which welled in my eyes and spilled onto my sun-burned cheeks during a dark, Bolivian bus ride when, just as Aulë was about to bring his hammer down on his beloved, his newest and greatest creations, the dwarves, Iluvatar replied, "Thy offer I accepted even as it was made."

I read only about forty pages of the Silmarillion in Oxford before Dan wrenched it from me at the end of our last summer there, and only recently came across another copy, accidentally, on the shelves of a hostel in Sucre, Bolivia.

Lord forgive me, caballeros y damas, but with nothing to trade in the book exchange I sneaked off with the only book worth reading...

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After spending a few days in Sucre, we arrived in La Paz where we participated in our second organized tourist event, when we mountain biked the Dead Road, just outside of Coroico. Considering how well publicized it was, it was remarkably dangerous. Val, who has since left us (but not before having her wallet and credit cards stolen on her last night in La Paz), banged her knee up pretty good on the Dead Road, but that was our crew's greatest casualty.

After that first stay in La Paz, Erica continued on to Copacabana, on the eastern shores of Lake Titicaca. After a few days there, Erica and I decided to split for a while, and I went back to La Paz. That about brings us up to date.

If I weren't being pulled back to Buenos Aires for the new year, I would probably make a home around La Paz for a while. It's a city in which I can easily imagine myself living. Despite its unorthodox transit system, and inhospitable car traffic (the worst symptom I've seen of the automotive hubris ubiquitous in South America), everything La Paz works on its own bizarre (but somehow beautiful) internal logic. Not unlike Buenos Aires, it is possible to get within three blocks of anywhere in the city in a very short amount of time. But unlike Buenos Aires (so far as I can tell) the system in La Paz, has no central organization. It's based mostly on the trufis, minibuses or cars, which follow a set of standardized routes through the city. The result is that the trufis run every 4 minutes or so, are fiercely competitive (with designated callers to yell out the stops to people on the street), and crossing the street along the prada is like trying to swim across the Mississippi river.

And yet the people are genuine, and excited to share what they've got...

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Happy Christmas everyone. I'm tired of this internet place. Hope you're all well.