Posted by: Mo | April 5, 2011

Those batting velvet lashes

It all started beautifully. I smelled the strong smell of acetone as I started to inspect my bag. Me thinks my nail polish may have spilled. And so I go to inspect and see that I am correct. And my solution was to take the bottle out and start wiping it with my hand. This certainly solved the problem of the bottle being covered with nail polish. No it´s just my hands. Covered in red nail polish. I count myself lucky that red is so sexy.

But, generally the bus ride was uneventful. In the bad sense. The bus smelled terrible, but I only had to pee once and brought my own food, so I didn´t really suffer. I arrived and was able to exchange money and get a cab to the hostel. No robbery. No harassment. I forget to give myself credit sometimes. I´ve arrived in so many cities, that by now I at least kind of know what it´s like. And it was still light out, so that paranoia was unfounded.

La Paz is a city built in a bowl surrounded by craggy snow capped mountains. As you enter the city, you wind down to the bottom of the valley through the twisting streets built up the steep mountain sides. It´s a city at 13,000 feet, so the impoverished are located further up the mountains where the air is poorer and the rich are located near the bottom, where there is at least a modicum of extra oxygen. I arrived feeling pretty light headed and tired. Not the greatest feeling in world. And despite warnings to the contrary, I cracked open a beer, feeling it the only thing that was going to at least mentally comfort me, even if I physically continued to feel like shit. But that seems to be the standard when you´re travelling. Something always seems to be going wrong with the body, whether fatigue, being hungover, food poisoning, general malfunction, cuts, bruises, cigarette burns… The list goes on. And I suppose it doesn´t help that I don´t have a center and have spent the last two months sharing rooms with total strangers. My privacy consists of the short showers and pee breaks I take throughout the day. And these don´t even feel completely private. Sometimes the stalls are in the larger shared bathroom, or it always seems someone is watching you go in and out. At times it´s feeling like I´m just a pawn in 1984.

But, back to the bus ride. I went from Arica in Northern Chile to La Paz in Bolivia. La Paz is located on the altiplano amidst the dusted Andes mountains. Arica is the driest city in the world. Literally. So I went from an ocean side desert with absolutely no vegetation, just piles of dust accumulated after years and years of no rain and eternal spring. Winding through the dust mountains, we got to a national park where the vicuñas hang out. These are little cousins of llamas and are so fucking cute I actually squealed with delight. Luckily I´m white and the only gringo on the bus, so people expected strange behavior. And also didn´t give a shit, unable to peel their eyes away from the spanish dubbed Jackie Chan movies. But the soft lashes and fur of those little buddies hopping through the hills. So adorable. And it only got better as the bus made the border crossing from Chile to Bolivia, sandwiched between two volcanes around 10,000 feet, I couldn´t have asked for a more scenic way to shell over $135 to the Bolivian government. They were luckily nice and the bus steward made sure I got to the front of the line of Bolivians running to be first to get stamped out of Chile. Lines are nothing here. It´s all about pushing and making sure the gringo is last. The fact that I tower over everyone only makes the situation more difficult: I either don´t see them or feel bad pushing a ´5 1″ older woman in order to get the turn I´ve already waited for. But, I have nothing but time and work too hard to keep patience to sacrifice it on some person who´s apparently got somewhere to be. Or thinks his or her time is more precious.

Cross over into Bolivia and all of a sudden the mountains turn red. With streams flowing and the most lush greenery just popping out of the red dirt. The sky is the most vivid azure and the clouds seem so close at this high of an altitude. In the distance you can see ominous snow covered peaks hididing behind the clouds. The colors. I´m still wowed. And to think all I paid was $15 and 8 hours of my time. I´m so happy I took this route. Maybe I would have seen something similar coming from the desert, but I like to have the different story. I always want to go the route that I haven´t heard everyone take. Which, they probably see amazing things, but for some reason I can´t bring myself to do it. This led to be taking an 18 hour hell bus through the Laotian highlands instead of a booze soaked boat trip down the Mekong. Which is better? I´m not sure, but going with my gut has always seemed the best thing to do.

The bus finally makes it to La Paz. I´m so excited to think that the whole trip went without one break down. Right before I left Arica, one of the men who worked at the hostel was telling me I picked the worst bus line. He complained about the food and bathrooms (which were terrible) but I could understand if he was saying anything that was bad, as he was telling me in spanish. As long as the buses were going to make it, I didn´t really care. And I was even able to use the bathroom and not pee on myself, in spite of choosing the most jostling time to empty my bladder. I managed to hold the swinging door shut and aim, all while the bus sped up and passed some truck that was apparently going too slow for the bus drivers liking.

The bus rounds the corner to reveal the coliseum of a city. It´s such a difference form the flat cities I´ve seen so far. The streets wind, people are dressed in the exact traditional outfits théy´re always depicted in. This does feel like the South America you imagine. Complete with a not being able to drink the water warning. I brushed my teeth last night, wondering if I was about to inject myself with a nice dose of traveller´s diarrhea in the name of dental hygiene. I didn´t care. I was too tired. And if I can brush my teeth with the water in Cambodia, I don´t think Bolivia is going to take me under. Knock on wood. But, really, damn this altitude. I was so tired. I couldn´t even read. My brain was a complete mush. I slept last night and am feeling better today. As I walk by the oxygen tanks, I don´t feel like I´m going to need them anytime soon.

And so far I´m undecided about this hostel. I think it will be fun, but I was so overwhelmed yesterday. The hostel is massive and known for it´s parties, which usually means a younger crowd. And being that I´m more prone to being curmudgeonly, this doesn´t always jive well. But I can do it. Even if it has a room full of bean bag chairs and people wearing Beer Chang shirts from their gap year trip to Thailand. I´m not an asshole and everyone has something of value to teach. Sometimes the experiences just seem so diametically opposed. Or experience. The few years difference lends so much to the general bank of wisdom or things survived and of interest. I´ll get wasted and stupid and have no opinions whatsoever. The beds are incredibly comfortable and free coffee. The breakfast leaves much to be desired. I hate standing in line for food with everyone´s hungry eyes and feigned civility. You are one step away from just pushing through and tearing into those rolls. I can´t handle it. I feel like I´m being herded. And for what? I sacrifice this dignity of humanity for a free roll of white bread? I said this once already, but it makes me feel like an 18th century french peasant, waiting for the limited handouts. I will kill the person next to me for that modicum of food and nutrition.

Well, I think people are likely waiting for the computers and I have yet to experience La Paz today. Plus I´m getting high off what smells like Kerosene fumes in this computer room. One more quick note: I know I´m going to get really annoyed in a place when people leave shit lying around everyone. Empty boxes of cigarettes, glassware. As though other people are responsible for their shit. Drives me nuts and is such evidence of youthful naitivete.

This is a bit garbled and probably rife with mispellings, as my reliance on broken english and broken spanish has caused my general vocabulary to devolve at a rapid pace. Hope you all are well and miss you terribly.


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