Thursday, June 17, 2010

and so it begins

It is upon us! A time when entire countries become vastly less productive in order to watch a group of their compatriots battle against another country. That's right, the MUNDIAL (World Cup)!!

I'll admit openly that I have never really understood the need to watch sports. They are boring and just an excuse to yell for hours. (I have been forced to go to enough football games in my life, that I feel I have the right to make these bold statements.) But here in Chile, I am all about the experience. About a month ago I went to my first fútbol (soccer) game in Chile and I was hooked! It was such a new experience. Never before had I been to a sporting event with flares, barbed wire, and the national guard. I decided right then and there that I might have been judging sports a little too hard. Maybe there is something to it after all.

There are two teams in Chile, el Colo Colo and La Universidad de Chile. I am a proud hincha (fan) of La U. see?

The most exciting part of the fútbol, for me, is the chanting. All of the fans know the same, intricate cheers and they all sing them together the entire game. It's beautiful. The cheers can get rather racist and sexist as they yell things at the other team or the other team's fans, but if you just ignore that small percentage of the cheers (89%), you will find that the rest of the cheers are really uplifting and the fans even cheer themselves on. With spirit like that, who needs cheerleaders?

As you can see, people actually do care about soccer in some countries. And here in Chile, they have been gearing up for the world cup for weeks. It has been all anyone talks about. The first game for Chile was yesterday at 7:30 in the morning. I have a class at 8:30 in the morning, so I figured I would just have to miss it. Ooohoho no. Evidently, fútbol comes first. It's like going to a catholic school on holy days. You may not be catholic, but you sure like those saints when the half days come around. Yeah, here everyone, even those that don't care about fútbol, fought to get the class either cancelled or moved back. And it worked. But it wasn't only that class. The library was closed, and all of the other classes that morning were moved back. Even the elementary schools and high schools were closed until around 10am.'Esteemed patrons: We inform you that Wednesday, June 16th, the library will open it's doors at 10am.'

Seeing the preparations for the game, I knew it was going to be big. A couple of my friends from the class that was moved back until 1:30pm invited me over to stay up the entire night and watch the game in the morning and of course I was down. We managed to stay up until around 4, but then the sleepiness set in and we passed out for a few hours.

I awoke at 7:40 to the sounds of the fútbol game on the television in the next room. I quickly ran in and settled in to watch the game. We blew up balloons and drank coffee while we watched. I'll save the blow by blow for another post...meanwhile...look it up: Chile vs. Honduras and we won 1-0. Woot Woot!! This was the first time that Chile had won a game in a mundial for about 70 years! Even though we were dead tired, my friend, Max, and I decided to go to Plaza Italia where all of the celebrating goes down.

The police were redirecting traffic because there were so many people in the Plaza throwing confetti, drinking, spraying foam, and cheering. "¡¡¡C-H-I (CHI) L-E (LE), CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, VIVA CHILE!!!"So much happiness all gathered in one place. And so much nationalism. There were a ridiculous number of Chilean flags everywhere and I'm pretty sure I was the only one not wearing a lick of red. There was even a point when a little boy was being thrown in the air on the chilean flag by a large group of worries, i'm sure all safety precautions were taken.

By this time we were starving, so we ducked into a diner that was showing the Spain vs. Switzerland game. Let me remind you: this was at 10 in the morning. So I feel like it is normal that I was a little bit surprised that EVERYONE was drinking beer. I felt like a wuss ordering water. hah. But I managed to sneak a pic of some guys at a booth next to us complete with beers and festive hats.perfection.

Anywho...we ate huge sandwiches like this one: and then we started to see people running away from the plaza. Evidently the police had decided that it was time to open up the streets again and they were using whatever force was necessary. Oops...i had almost forgotten we were in Latin America. Thanks for the reminder. So we decided that it was as good a time as ever to leave and we walked calmly to the car. Meanwhile, people around us were running with their children dressed from head to toe in red and blue from the cops who were now spraying people with guanacos (big trucks that spray water at people...they are called this because they spit like a llama aka guanaco). I didn't find out until later that 81 people were arrested. It really got out of hand.

That was only the first game. Now there are two more and I imagine that those will be even more intense because they are against harder teams and they are at normal times of the day. Guess we'll just have to find out...(1313)

there's no place like santiago *click, click, click*

So to refresh the memory, I am in Sucre, I just found out that I have to wait another day for a bus to go to Argentina, I have very little money, and I have just met a woman that will let me stay with her for free.

We walked to the market because she needed to buy some corn and cheese to make humitas (kinda like tamales only drier and just with cheese inside). I got to see real market bargaining in action. Now, I am normally all for bargaining. But this got to be a little bit ridiculous. She was buying from an indigenous woman sitting on the street with all of her corn strewn around her. And she was almost yelling at the woman to give her a better deal as she went through EVERY single piece of corn to make sure it was big enough. We were buying 50...needless to say, we were there for awhile. But we finally made it back to the home of her parents.
(this is a random picture of me on an eiffel tower-like thing that was in a park in sucre)

I was feeling really sick, so after peeling lima beans with her dad and having some tea, I slept the rest of the day away. I woke up that night and sat with the woman who invited me to stay (i've completely forgotten her name...oops. let's call her Maria.) and her mother. Let me just give you an idea of what this looked like. The grandma was laying in bed obviously in pain from her cancer, María was talking about her grandma's great pain and about how the doctor should have been there hours ago, the grandpa was sitting playing guitar and singing to himself by the window, and I was sitting uncomfortably watching images of the earthquake's destruction in Chile on the news. It was kind of strange. And then the grandpa brought me a wall calendar of sucre to remember my trip by which was really cute. Only he didn't speak to me at all. He literally, WHILE I WAS IN THE ROOM, asked Maria and his wife if they wanted the calendar...if they had anyone that they wanted to give it to at all. When he found out that they had no use for it he then continued to ask them to tell me that he was giving it to me as a gift. And he handed me the calendar. It was a nice gesture...but i can understand spanish...and had just been speaking to him earlier that day. huh.

Luckily, Maria told me that her kids were going to come by and pick me up so that we could go out that night. Little did I know this night was going to turn even more awkward, but I started to get the feeling when her kids showed up and one of them was literally my dad's age. SUUUUUPER AWKWARD. Ok, to be fair, he was actually only in his thirties and the daughter was 29, but still. And then it got weirder when we went out and got in a tiny sports bolivia. Going from seeing tons of indigenous people everywhere, to sitting in a sports car? weird. I'm not going to lie and tell you the night ended up being a lot better than i had thought. Picture a young traveling poor girl wearing a llama fur sweater sitting at a table with working age professionals in leather jackets and even one guy in a suit. I can't stress enough how weird this was. However, we ended up going to two different bars and the most popular discoteca in sucre, so culturally, it was an experience.

The next morning I woke up in a huge house that was decorated really nicely. It even had a garden with all kinds of fruit trees. I spent the day writing in my journal and talking to a different grandpa in the beautiful garden (he actually talked to me). I tried an igo which is a fruit that looks like a little eggplant, but tastes...sweet. It was really good. I reveled in the fact that i had, most likely, just happened to come in contact with one of the richest families in Sucre. The dad is a doctor, one of the sons graduated and is a banker, another daughter is studying to be a doctor, and I haven't even mentioned all of the cars they had in addition to their sports car--an old-fashioned volkswagen bug, an suv, and one other I can't remember. It was interesting to see the other side of things and I was really grateful that they let me stay with them. I just couldn't believe that, even when escaping from Chile to Bolivia, I managed to end up on the wealthy side of town when all I really wanted to see was how the normal, everyday person lives. Oh well.

That day I left for Mendoza and at the border early the next morning. Upon crossing into Argentina, I was worried that I would be made to throw away my coca leaves, but the customs guy lifted the flap of my bag as he was asking me where I was from and put the flap back down. And that was argentina's customs. Really strict.

When I arrived in Mendoza later that day, I was unsure of what I wanted to do. I didn't want to ask my dad to send more money, but the bus tickets had also cost more than I had bargained for and I only had 40 argentinian pesos left (about $12). I had been saving my money and since the previous day had only eaten a bag of animal crackers and water from a bottle which I was only able to refill when I was willing to pay to use the restroom. I figured out that I could order bus tickets online using my dad's credit card and then even be able to spend a bit of time seeing the city. Just having arrived in Argentina, I was still unused to the prices, but I was definitely not expecting it to so closely resemble Chile. I spent about 2 hours walking around downtown looking for a place to stay, but was unable to find anything for less than 40 pesos aka everything i owned. I decided to buy a ticket back to Chile for that night and after frantically using every form of contact that I have with my parents (email, facebook, my sister's fb, best friends that could possibly call my parents from the US' fb), I finally got ahold of them. I hurriedly put the information in online to buy the ticket as it was getting dark outside...but it didn't work. I literally entered it about 10 times and it didn't work. I went to the bus terminal and asked for help, but evidently they don't run the website and couldn't help me. I went to every company that had buses going to Santiago, but none of them would take a card without having the physical card.

So now it is almost midnight, I am sitting outside of the terminal in a city that I barely know, and I have enough money to buy food OR a place to stay for the night. One, not both. And to top it all off, despite all of my hard work and budgeting and not eating, I was still going to have to ask my dad to send more money. fml. This was probably the lowest point of my entire trip.

To make a long story short, I stopped feeling sorry for myself on the bench outside of the terminal and decided that no matter how hungry I was, the terminal was not a good place to spend the night. I ended up going to a hostel that I had found earlier that day and was happy to find the nicest hostel I had stayed in on my trip along with free homemade wine and a nice, fat, talkative man who offered me potato chips. (Come to find out later that these were the potato chips of a group of Europeans that had gone out on the town. They came in and found me eating their chips...whoops.) This was actually the first real hostel that I had stayed at my entire trip where i had to share a room with 6 other people, but I didn't mind it. It was actually nice because I was able to hang out with other travelers my age and I met a lot of cool people.

The breakfast at this place was amazing--homemade bread out of a bread machine with butter and strawberry jam and as much coffee or tea as I wanted (or potentially wine...which was always available in a big barrel on the counter). It, along with hearing about other people's traveling adventures at the breakfast table, rejuvenated and made me ready to explore Mendoza, stress-free.

I was really happy that I was going to be able to enjoy Mendoza a bit, because the day before I had walked past so many cute cafés and restaurants, but had no money at the time. Mendoza was nice. It had a lot of plazas in the center which helped me to orient myself and, as always, they were full of people with artesania (hand-made jewelry, etc.). Another interesting tid-bit that I learned is that the McDonalds in Mendoza sell little bottles of wine with meals. No lie! I hate McDonalds, but I've got to give it to them...changing their products to fit each country is a good idea. (In Chile the McDonalds sandwiches have avocado on them.) But despite how much I liked Mendoza, to me, it was just a stop on my way back to Santiago. Nothing more. I hung out with some people that I met at the hostel, but at the same time, I was just ready to be back in my own room. Not to mention the fact that school had already started back in Santiago.

Before catching my bus, I met up with one of my good Chilean friends, Seba, who had just arrived in Mendoza, and we shared our ridiculous stories of our travels. It had been over a month since we had seen each other so it was nice to catch up. He told me that he could tell that my spanish had gotten better which is like the best compliment i could ever receive (i mean, i'd better improve after 2 weeks on my own in a spanish speaking country).

And then I got on the tiny bus to drive through the Andes Mountains and back into Santiago.
It was one of the most beautiful bus rides I've ever had and we only had minor glitches (a woman had to be written up because she was bringing in ridiculous amounts of hair products. obviously to sell them.) and then I was home. I arrived to find my room filled with cracks from the earthquake, but I was happy nevertheless.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

mines, markets, and madness. (bolivia pt. 3)

Day 15. I arrived in Potosí at 6 in the morning to rain and no vacancies. Rain that early in the morning is never good, but when you have to search for a place to stay with a huge backpack on your back and when you have just gotten ripped off by a taxi driver (he charged me over $2 to get into town...waaaay too much), it is even worse. My plan was to find a hostel, see the sights, buy a bus ticket, and leave early the next day.

I finally found a hostel and ate breakfast at a wonderful market right outside of it. The breakfast area of the market was like a bunch of little kitchens, each with their own table. Each of these small kitchens had just enough room for one woman (i am not being sexist...there were just no men there) to stand behind the counter and hand out the food to the people who came to sit at her table. I had coffee and two pieces of pan amasado (homemade bread) with jam for a grand total of $0.45--that's my kind of breakfast. I then found a bus to the mine. Potosí is an old mining town thus pretty much all of the tourist attractions have to do with mines. I took the bus up to a plaza and then started walking toward what I hoped were the mines.

And then I realized that it was Sunday.

One of the few things that I literally hate about Latin America, is the fact that NOTHING is open on Sunday. nothing. It is so frustrating. and to make it even worse, I have to live this frustration every week because I somehow, throughout the course of the week, forget this horrible fact about Latin America and get my hopes up time and time again.

Someone offered me a ride up to the mine and I of course accepted, because it was free. He then offered to give me a bit of a tour around Potosí which I accepted...until he suggested we buy a bottle of rum for the road. Not okay. It was rainy the rest of the day...actually it rained almost the entire time that I was in Potosí (an omen? perhaps). Thus, the rest of the day I spent writing in my journal and reading and responding to facebook messages regarding the earthquake which really made me want to be back in santiago. That evening I also ended up going into a church as mass was i stayed.

Day 16.
The next day I got up early and took a bus all the way up to the mine. I knew there were tour companies that take groups down into the mine, but I was lazy and had been told that i could find someone to give me a tour at the mine itself. Also, I figured a tour company would be more expensive. And boy was i right. A kid that was about 12 years old came up to me right when I stepped off of the bus (how he knew that i was a tourist, i have no idea) and offered me a tour for 25 bs (less than $4). I automatically took him up on the deal and he led me and two other guys (both latin american) quickly up the hill (too quickly. i had to stop because I couldn't breathe at one point. the air is super thin because everything is so high up. I walked really slowly everywhere and the instant that I thought my head might be starting to hurt i would pull out my coca leaves to chew on). We walked past the tour groups of blond people putting on white mining suits and helmets and going over what i imagined to be safety procedures, to a tiny house on the side of the hill. There we were given helmets with lamps as a little girl offered to sell us precious stones.

And then we entered the mine. Somehow, when imagining 'going down into a mine,' I had created this vision of getting lowered DOWN into a mine. What i really did was walk about 10 minutes into a large hole on the side of the hill and then turn around and walk back out. Admittedly, inside the hole it looked mine-ish, but so did that ride in disney world and...i mean...i'm pretty sure that wasn't real. Once inside the mine there was a cave-like space in which there was a "tio" which are these god-like (i'm really into the hyphenated words this paragraph) figures that can be found throughout the mines. They keep them happy by putting cigarettes, alcohol, and coca leaves all around them.There were little flags and confetti around el tio as well because they had just finished their carnaval. Overall, the mine was a bit disappointing, but for less than $4, what was i supposed to expect? It's not like i could fill out a complaint card or anything.

After the mine i decided to see the other tourist attraction in Potosí. El Museo de la Moneda. Everyone I talked to told me that you can see the foot marks of the slaves that worked there...but i wouldn't know, because it is closed on mondays. Potosí fail. And then I fled to Sucre.

Day 17: Sucre is a university city. I stayed in the center and there were constantly tons of college and school-aged kids around. My hostel was right across from a market where you could buy vegetables, fruits, toiletries, jewelry, or meat (i literally saw a skinned cow's head...the only skin left was on the tip of the nose. definitely one of the most disturbing/nauseating things I have ever seen).(

My favorite part about this market was the juice stands. These worked basically like the breakfast tables at the market in Potosí, only here there was no table. There were a few chairs and if you were lucky, the newspaper. I literally went here every single day for a late breakfast of jugo de chirimoya. Absolutely delicious. And oh so cheap; for about 50 cents I could buy a glass of juice and she would refill my glass with whatever was left in the blender when i had finished my first glass. It was magical.

I enjoyed my first day of Sucre looking around the mercado central and the center. Sucre is very proud of the fact that they have dinosaur tracks, but paying money to ride in a dinosaur tour bus out to the desert to see them really didn't sound fun to me. Instead, I decided to go to the Castillo de la Glorieta. It was the castle for a man and a woman that owned an orphanage and the kids lived next to the castle.It was really pretty and, architecturally, it was a weird mix of cultures. Not to mention the fact that they had made the orphanage area of the castle, which was directly across a small creek, into military barracks and all of the land was training ground for the military. It was a bit odd to say the least.

I got to the castle in the middle of a tour, so i saw the last part of the tour first and then went for the first half of the next tour with another group. The second tour was with a group of older missionaries from Iowa and only one of them spoke any spanish, so I got to help translate a bit for the tour guide. It made the tour a lot more interesting. And on my way out the guide had asked the lady at the front desk to get me to write some of the words that he had forgotten down in English. Good deed for the day? Check.

After looking around the city a bit more, I felt satisfied that I had seen enough and went to buy my bus ticket. My plan was to go back to Santiago by making my way through Uyuni and the salt flats and then into Calama, Chile and back down. When I went to buy the ticket to Uyuni, though, I was informed that there were no buses going out. The bus stations are filled with many different bus companies that each have only a few destinations, but they each have someone standing out in front of the company's stand yelling where the next bus is going...which normally turns a trip to Oruro into something like this: "Orurorurorurorurooooooo." It took me a few tries until someone finally explained to me that there was a nationwide bus strike taking place and that the buses wouldn't be running until friday at the earliest. It was tuesday...and I was pissed. This meant that I would have to waste more money on hostels and food than i had been planning on. I had literally been keeping a budget, but this threw things completely off. I just kept trying to look at the bright side: at least i wasn't stuck in Potosí.

That night I decided that I would attempt to meet someone to talk to (i had been basically alone for 3 days and was already tired of it...and seeing as how i was going to be stuck in Sucre for a few more days, i wanted someone to hang out with). I walked to the center, or the town square, where all of the hippies gather, and happened upon a show. There was a man in the center of the square doing tricks and when i stopped to watch some kids offered me a seat on a bench. We began to talk and I found out that they were two bolivian freshmen studying engineering in sucre. It was interesting to talk with them because they were both from a small town near the border with brazil, so they knew a bit of Portuguese, but at the same time they were quite from the rest of the world. They didn't even have email addresses or know how to type. We got to talking about what religion we are and when I told them that I still am not sure, one of the guys, Leonardo, literally said, "So you don't believe in God? Hasn't anything bad ever happened to you?" I couldn't help but laugh as I thought back over my trip. Oh Leo, if only you knew.

Day 18: The next morning I found out that when they say national bus strike, they mean every single bus in the nation has stopped functioning...even the city buses. I didn't have money to spend on a cab, so I was stuck in the center of town which I had already scoured pretty heavily the day before. I decided to ask some college students how to get to La Recoleta, a place that looks out over the town. It just so happened that one of the guys owns a motorcycle and offered me a ride. So instead of walking the eight blocks up the hill, I just hopped on the back of his moto and we were there in a jiffy. Sometimes I love being a gringa.

La Recoleta was absolute perfection. It was just a place to look out over the city, but I fell in love with the view and the serenity of the area. It was perfect to just spend time writing in my journal and I would have enjoyed soaking up the sun there...had my entire body not been peeling for the second or third time from my horrible burn on La Isla del Sol...STILL.There was even a nice restaurant area looking out over the city with reclining lawn chairs and tiramisu. I was almost glad I had lost my debit card, cause I know i would have been all over that had i had any money on me.
(p.s. i stole these sucre pictures from paualvar on

Later that night I went to eat dinner at the mercado central. I was tired of the lack of meal variety in Bolivia. I loved Bolivia, but the food was not my favorite. I would have given anything for a tasty pupusa from El Salvador. It was literally impossible to continue my semi-vegetarian thing that was so easy to stick to in Chile. It was either eat fried chicken and french fries for every meal or eat cow. There was no in-between. So i gave in and started eating meat again which made me sick (at least i think that was what was wrong with me...). The sad thing is, the meat was not even worth it to eat. The meals at the market basically consisted of chewy meat with mote and ensalada or soup with a chunk of meat in it. I did however enjoy the bolivian version of the hamburger and french fries. It was odd, but there was never a hamburger stand without the option to add french fries to said hamburger. Normally you would come away from the stand with a hamburger topped with sauteed onions and four french fries.

Anyway, while I was eating dinner at the market, I met a Peruvian and a Colombian who were supposedly traveling and had met each other randomly. This would be totally believable, except they were oddly old and 'normal' to have dropped everything to travel through bolivia randomly. Turns out that they were really working in Sucre though and didn't have a work visa so it had to be on the DL. One of the guys was 'an author.' He told me all about the book he is currently writing and even gave me one of his books full of cliché, plot-less, moral-at-the-end short stories. Not my favorite book, but a good souvenir none-the-less.

I also met an Argentinian guy in my hostel. He had just graduated from law school and was traveling a bit before finding a job. We walked around the town together and went out at night to some of the touristy places where all of the tourists and wealthy Bolivians congregate--I was just along for the ride. He only spoke to me in English, but I didn't really mind because it was the first time in over two weeks that I had spoken English. Not to mention his English was perfect, so it was hard to insist that we slow down the conversation so that I could stumble my way through forming sentences in Spanish.

Day 19: This day I went to La Recoleta again with the intent of writing in my journal, but upon my arrival I found a group of guys playing soccer in the courtyard (they hadn't been able to go to work because of the lack of buses). Every once in a while the ball would be kicked over the wall and down the hill and someone would have to run after it so that it didn't roll all the way to the center of town. It added a bit of excitement to the game...and when this happened a few guys that weren't running after the ball would come over and talk to me, asking me questions about the US, etc.

I think it is so interesting to find out how people from other countries view the US. In Bolivia, I found that most people that asked me about the US thought that it is all big cities filled with big buildings and they were sure that we have a lot more natural disaster than they do. I'm serious. It was always..."Oh, so you must really like all of the nature here. What is the US like? You have a lot of natural disasters, right?" I'm not really sure where they got the whole natural disaster thing from. I wanted to point out the fact that CHILE just had a really bad earthquake...but i let it go.

Day 20: I woke up at 7 so that I could get to the bus station at 8 to buy my ticket to Mendoza (I had decided to go back through Argentina because, 1. i had heard it was cheaper than chile and 2. i wanted to see something new out the window of the bus). Upon arrival, I immediately regretted not getting to the station earlier. Evidently there is only one bus company that has a bus going to Villazón, which is the last town in Bolivia before crossing into Argentina, and there was already a line filling a good part of the station at this bus company. Every other company was empty, but mine had a huge line. Figures.

I started talking with the woman in front of me and we each told each other why we needed to get a ticket for today. I, because I am running out of money and I really want to get back to Santiago, and she, because her daughter needed to get back for her medical residency in Córdoba, Argentina. When we got up to the front of the line, all of the buses for that day were filled and the bus for the next day was almost completely filled. I had to buy a ticket for the very last seat in the bus. I was very frustrated because now I was going to have to waste even more money on a hostel that I didn't want to be staying in, but the woman that I had been talking with earlier invited me to stay with her. I knew there were ulterior motives, I had gathered that her daughter wanted to study abroad and I figured she wanted me to practice english with her or something of the sort. That's a small price to pay for a place to stay, so I took her up on the offer.

To be continued... (i promise i'm almost done with this bolivia trip)