Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sucre and the search of a better life

Weed-out and dehydrated we arrived in Sucre, with its white-washed buildings and beautiful churches on every corner. We went to see dinausaur prints here - they were the longest trail in the world until a chunk of rock fell off - oops.
     In Bolivia in general there are children everywhere. They are on corners, on streetcurbs, in plazas, selling sweets, selling on jewellery stalls, begging, working in shops, restaurants, or hotels. So you often find yourself ordering food from one, checking into a hostel with another. One little girl sold us a magazine for an organisation working with child workers, and it was only then that I realised the number of child workers there are, everywhere. I had gotten so used to it that I no longer noticed.
     We went to a museum of masks and folklore, which was filled with amazing masks of all different shapes and sizes, from the various regions and cultures of Bolivia.One was over 1 metre high. A particular person wears this mask in carnival, and afterwards, sleeps with a virgin. Much more than old fashioned fancy dress!
     Anita, the girl working in our hostel, got chatting to us about Spain. One of the wonderful things about this journey is the ability to talk to people in Spanish. In such a small moment, you can learn so much about a person, about their culture, about what it is like to be from their country. Our chat with Anita over breakfast was one of those moments. One of her brothers and two sisters moved to Spain eight years ago, leaving their children to their mother and sister Anita, to bring up. Between them, they left six children behind,including two babies. When her sister returned five years later, the babies didn´t recognise them or want to know them. Now, though, they have moved away, bought houses and are relatively well off.
     Anita´s brother, though, won´t come back. He refused to come back with his sisters, and refused still when his wife died in a car accident and left their two sons alone. He lives in Madrid with another name. His mother wants him to be thrown out of Spain so he is forced to come home and face his responsibilities. It must be so easy for him, so far away, with a new name like Miguel to help him to forget.
     Anita goes to university studying Plastic Arts. She wanted to move to Argentina to work but now has her own baby. Her mum told her to go, that she would look after her daughter, but she doesn't want to leave her. I imagine this is because she has lived it once, and she doesn't want her own child to forget her. She's not studying this year becuase she needs to work in the hostel, earning 50 euros a month. I hope she studies next year and becomes a Plastic Arts teacher. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

I am

I am not Irish, I'm not English,
I am not Catholic, but there are moments when I bless myself,
I am not Jewish, but my name is Miriam.

I'm not fat, I'm not thin,
I'm not tall, not short,
I'm not grey, yet.

I'm not a doctor, not a dentist,
I haven't studied emotional intelligence, but am emotionally intelligent,
I'm not a hairdresser, but cut my hair.

I'm not a writer, I just write,
I'm not political, I just vote,
I'm not a philosopher, but sometimes like to think we live in an old man's right knee.

I am not Irish, I'm not English,
I am not Catholic, but there are moments when I bless myself,
I am not Jewish, but my name is Miriam.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Crossing borders: to Bolivia

We went into an office for a stamp, walked up the road and went into another office for another stamp, got on a bus and drove away. All in under three minutes. I thought: if only it was this easy for anyone to cross a border. Wouldn't the world be a different place?
     We arrived in Copacabana, still beside the Lake Titicaca, still the same languages, (Spanish, Quechua, Aymara), people of the same appearance and dress, the same landscape, but - a different country. It made me think of the old days when those borders weren't there, when the Andean people were the Andean people, whether in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina.
     We brought in 2012 in Copacabana. Had a lovely dinner, wine, went to a bar that suddenly emptied. Decided to go to another and found everyone on the street getting ready for midnight. Fireworks are a huge thing around these parts and once again we saw the sky light up. Let's just say it was a great night that involved fireworks, beer, wine, cuba libres, caiphrinas, more beer, a badly cut finger and a crippling hangover: a fantastic new year.
     Day 2 of 2012 we were in La Paz and wondering around the Witches Market where you can find anything including llama foetus. A llama should have one baby but somethimes there are many foetus' so they pull out the dead ones until they get to the live one. The dried llama foetus are then for sale to be buried under your house as an offering to Pachamama for good luck. Afterwards we were nearly robbed at knifepoint but I saw the man, the scenario, the knife all beforehand and we miraculously escaped that one. Phew.
     In the Plaza de Murillo we watched the families and the children in the christmas mood. Every other child had a puppy, and the ones that didn't have a puppy were getting their photo taken with a puppy. I almost asked for a photo too but Oscar stopped me, saying, maybe I was a bit old for that? Maybe a teeny bit.
     Next: Coroico. The beginning of the tropics without the 12 hour journey to Rurrenabaque we unfortunately didn't have time for. Our first night we shared a table in a restaurant (common here if it's full) and we made friends with a lovely Swiss/Chilean/Bolivian lady who lives in Coroico, a Bolivian girl and American guy who live in Florida. The next day we went for breakfast at Doris' house (the most beautiful, peaceful, paradisiacal house I've seen) and went walking through the tropical mountains where we saw banana trees, avocado trees, coffee plantations and coca leaf plantations, ending in an animal refuge called La Senda Verde which has birds, parrots, turtles, caiman and monkies - all but the caiman are walking around freely in the large refuge. The only problem was we made a friend along the way - a dog - which got into the refuge. Suddenly all the animals started screaming and I spotted our friend. The owner started screaming at me to get him out of here now! And I said he's not our dog! and she screamed that she didn't care, that I brought him in here! Who knows how he didn't attack any of the animals - he had been pretty aggressive with all dogs and cars on the way - but we got him out. At the exit I asked the guys working there how he would have got in and they showed me the gap in the door. Well surely that's not a great idea for the door of an animal refuge...
     Oscar had a baby monkey on his shoulders which made me jealous and relieved at the same time. It came off safely.
     We headed on to Cochabamba and then to Sucre - both journeys with no toilet so I had to starve myself of liquids for several hours before and then take advantage of the driver taking a leak or checking the tyres to nip around the back of the bus and take a leak myself. Fun - not. One bus made a toilet stop at 2am in a village and everyone got off and walked down the road to a nook, cranny, tree, rock and I realised there was no actual toilet. I felt sorry for the village.
     Sucre is beautiful. More of that another day. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Goodbye El Peru

The Uros Islands are a wonder. People living on little islands made of something like hay that is soft and spongey, and where, if you fall out with neighbours, you take out the anchor and float somewhere else. Six to seven families share an island and when young people marry they make a new one with others. There are over 60 islands and 2,000 Uros people. Amantani is further in the middle of the Lake Titicaca - it's the second highest populated place after Tibet. And it feels extreme. Surrounded by a (sea) lake, freezing temperatures, a scorching sun, barely any animals. And you see lots of women with their children but no men. Where are they? In the cities working. The people here are largely vegetarian due to the lack of access to meat. I have so much access to everything I need and want that it's a surprise to see people living without their husbands, fathers, meat, showers, hot water and who knows what else. Here we stayed with Basilia and her children. She was so untalkative and uninterested that I thought she was really rude, but with a little time I began to understand she has a whole other way of being. No questions, no conversation, very few words in general! She was actually really sweet, and danced with us when we went to this outrageously touristy dance thing dressed up (get a bucket). When we left she gave me kisses and I realised how different we can all be.
     On Amantani we walked up to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and followed the tradition of picking up four stones and walking around the ruins three times to the left. The stones represent health, love, work and wisdom, and you have to make a wish for each as you walk around, before leaving the stones at the door. It felt good thinking of my wishes and focusing on what I want. It focuses your energies and makes you think about what is really important, and what you really, really want.
     In Taquile, apparently, the men don't need to leave because this island thrives on tourism. Then you step on it and they charge you an entrance fee and a fortune for lunch and you can see why!
     On our last day in Peru we went to Sillustani where pre-Incan tombs in the shape of towers were made with huge stones and built on top of mountains. There are loads of them, dare I say hundreds, and they were once filled with VIP's remains, along with gold, silver and other artefacts, until the Spaniards came and looted it all. There are other phallic ruins (yes, stone penises) in Chocuito, but I'm sorry to say we missed them. Maybe Jesus' mother Mary went to see them because they say you just need to sit on one to get pregnant. :-)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Huffing and puffing in Peru

Where were we? Oh yes, trying to leave Lima with all our belongings… Well, we finally got on the bus, only to stay on it all day due to a strike in a town we had to pass through. Strikers in Canete were against the development of a prison in their small town, which, they said, was to house all the criminals from Lima. I doubt I would be happy. So, they burnt things, including passing buses, threw stones at the windows (while the passengers were inside), and rocked them. Thankfully it was night and they had gone home by the time we were allowed through. That was a long day.
     The next day we went to las Islas Ballestas, known as the poor man’s Galapagos islands. We saw dolphins, penguins, sea lions, and thousands and thousands of birds. It was amazing, and being the poor man’s version, only cost 10 euros! That same day we moved on to Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of the desert, with sand dunes as far as the eye can see, and Julio, an 80 year old sand buggy driver who was full of life and had as much, if not more, fun as us by driving like a lunatic and flying us through the air.
     If you go to Peru, you must try the chocatejas: the typical chocolate, with pecan and dulce de leche….yum! And the best are in Ica, so when we passed through Ica, we undoubtedly stopped to buy some (as you do). And when we were there we discovered that Ica suffered a big earthquake in 2007, and all over the region, many towns are in rubble. In the main plaza there were empty spaces in every block. The line of arches suddenly stopped mid-arch. It was the first time I saw a place devastated by natural disaster and it was weird and very sad. The Cathedral was in ruins, and the people were gathered around the corner in a hall to celebrate mass. There is no money to restore and rebuild, apparently, so the ruins sit there untouched, being walked around every day.
     On our way to Arequipa we stopped at Nazca to see the famous lines. We didn’t fly, but spent the afternoon in town and got a bus out to the mirador where you climb up to see two of the images. You really do wonder, where on earth did they come from? Who made them? Why? And then you leave, with all of your questions unanswered.
     After a few days in the lovely white city of Arequipa we did a trek to the Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world (tick). We saw condors of 3 metres sail through the air, although at that distance and height, they could have been red breast robins, haha. We climbed, descended, suffered altitude sickness, sucked on coca sweets, chewed on coca leaves, and huffed and puffed our way through pure nature, amazed that people actually live out there, isolated and surrounded by walls of mountains, leaving you only with a patch of sky. Children leave this region at ten years of age to go to secondary school, working by day and studying by night. I realised that these children must be some of the ones you see working on the streets, selling sweets, cleaning shoes, washing windscreens, or, maybe later, begging or stealing. We were told afterwards when we were in Cusco that the night education is sub-standard, and so, even though these children try to learn and develop further, it’s impossible for them to get out of the vicious poverty cycle.