I’ve been home about forty hours now, having arrived on my doorstep around noon on Tuesday, April 28th. Considering the fact that I’d been awake for forty-eight hours before that, I guess I’m doing pretty well, but am conscious of the fact that my brain feels slow to process things and motions are still a little bit on automatic pilot. Even so, I’m unpacked; the laundry is done (but not sorted); and the first re-stocking shopping trip has been accomplished.
And….in half an hour I’ll leave the house for a long, long exercise walk with my dear friend, Fawn Germer, (www.hardwonwisdom.com), who swears she hasn’t deeply processed her life’s activities and philosophies since I left four months ago. She’s just published her fifth book, “Finding The UP In The Downturn,” so I’d say she processes pretty well; but we both need the exercise, and we talk the whole time, so I love the fact that she seems to feel that those conversations are a necessary part of her life. She has given me an edict: I’m not allowed to die! Not till after she does… Given the fact that she’s more than twenty years younger than I, that could be a challenge, but I’ll do the best I can.
Fawn has just bought a pontoon boat and she’s talking camping out on an island in Clearwater Bay. That will feel just like Girl Scouts. She and my other best friend, Renee, 84, were at the airport to meet me and was it ever good to see them! Renee water-skied (on one foot) until she was my age, but has just had cataract surgery, so won’t be doing any camping with us….though she can see the little uninhabited island from her backyard, so maybe we can send flashlight signals.
Anyway, it’s really good to be home and, as always, there’s so much to do. Accumulated mail fills my coffee table, the yard needs raking up, the patio needs sweeping, blogs need writing…and so does my next book….eventually. I’ve never even peeked at the hundreds of photos I took and I must re-learn Power Point so I can organize them into speechable chunks. Much awaits my attention.
And there’s this mushy mind. The whole trip has squashed down into a puddle, impossible to evaluate at this moment. A few regrets that will probably grow over time: Not actually doing the Inca Trail…missing out entirely on Chile. Can’t remember any more but I’m already regretting those two. Well, I was lazy. That’s the long and the short of the Inca Trail situation. I don’t really know if I COULD have gotten in on a group because the trail had been closed for cleaning all of February, the month I arrived in Cusco, but I was also there in March after it re-opened and never tried to get in on a group.
It would have been expensive for my budget of the time and I kept hearing stories from hostelers who had done it, about spending four solid cold and wet days in the rain, sleeping on the hard ground soaking wet and then walking all the days in a downpour. I was having trouble sleeping in a bed in my hostel and hotel private rooms in chilly, damp Cusco and tent sleeping wasn’t all that attractive. Plus, every time I walked uphill, or climbed that volcano, or even took on a long stairway at that high elevation and wound up huffing and puffing, I was deciding against doing the Trail. “Uh uh, not me!” said my mind to myself, “This is my Inca Trail!”
But, when it’s all over and done and you are home in your easy chair, you wish that you had done it simply for bragging rights. Oh well….someday. Maybe.
The Chile thing is because a chunk of my spinal analogy purpose is now missing. I went down the Andean Cordillera as far as the waistline and then bounced over to Buenos Aires on the opposite coast because I couldn’t find housing right before Easter in the vacationland of Salta and the western coastline. Spring Break. So, it feels a little unfinished, though I did get down to the tip end in Ushuaia. Just not the way I had originally planned.
I lost a few items – prescription sunglasses, my calendar, a necklace; gave away a lot of things to lighten my load and make room for new stuff; broke my good glasses – so that now the stems don’t match but they do stay on my head.
But, I didn’t get Dengue Fever which became an outbreak in Bolivia and northern Argentina just after I left; and I didn’t get Swine Flu, which was already affecting the airport psychology in both Buenos Aires and Houston as I flew through, very glad I hadn’t ended my trip in Mexico this year. And I didn’t get Malaria though I took those darn pills daily for months. I have more mosquitoes in my living room than I saw in all of South America. The patio door has been open because the weather is so great. Gotta set off some foggers, in and out, sometime soon.
So, I did dodge all the bullets. And as soon as I stop waking up at 4 a.m. with a need to blog, I think my mind will unmush and I can feel intelligent again.
Now, I must get my shorts and shoes on to get ready for this dawn walk. Back to normal and it feels really good to be home!
My four months in South America will end tomorrow night when I take off from Buenos Aires for Houston, Texas; change planes early in the morning, and fly on to Tampa, Florida. Dear friends will meet me for the ride across the bay and I´ll be home by mid-day on Tuesday. I´ll soon be surrounded by my familiar life, my son, my neighbors and friends whom I have genuinely missed during this third of a year on the road.
After returning from my quick trip down to Tierra del Fuego at the tail end of the South American continent, I realized that Uruguay is just across the river from Buenos Aires and can be accessed by various ferries that run about four times a day. So, Friday morning, I zipped over on the fast boat to my last new country. The Buquebus ferry only takes one hour to make the gentle crossing of the River Plata. This is a big, fancy, car-carrying ship with airline-type seats and a cafeteria and duty-free shop aboard. A delightful ride.
I stayed in the small town of Colonia because that´s where the ferry lands and Montevideo was an extra few hours on the bus and I could only sample the new land over the weekend. It´s a delightful place and feels nothing like the rest of South America. It was almost as if I had stepped back in time to small town America…though that´s not to say that Colonia isn´t modern.
Actually, the town encouraged that impression by planting old 1920´s and 1930´s antique cars all about. Many of them obviously don´t run and have become decorative foliage planters or even a special seating area for a restaurant. Some simply seem to be parked outside of a residence or business as if the driver will be back in a minute. I did see a 1929 taxi tooling down the road though with passengers.
So, this is a cute little one-story town with a tree-lined main street and a yacht harbor and a lighthouse. They encourage tourism but don´t go crazy pandering to it. We are welcome to wander about and be absorbed into local life. There´s no big souvenir emphasis, but there are good restaurants with good food.
People live in beautiful houses with lovely, grassy yards. It´s clean. They live a good life in their small town and they absorb us without any fuss, muss, or bother. Naturally, there´s a tiny downside.
It feels expensive. One dollar buys twenty-five Uruguayan pesos, but things are priced in the hundreds and thousands and nothing is cheap. For instance, I blew through $250 in a flash. My lovely hotel room cost $50 per night (2 nights = $100) and one fabulous grilled salmon meal cost $38, and another meal $10, plus fruit for supper in my room. My round-trip ferry was $80. Maybe that doesn´t sound like much to other travelers, but my money usually goes much further down here.
But, I´m glad I went because I really like the country and would like to get to know it better. I can recommend it as a tourist destination and I believe it´s usually overlooked on the travel rosters. So, go to laid-back Uruguay for comfort and a familiar setting. Just take a little money.
It´s 9:30 p.m. and I´m very sleepy. Still trying to catch up after my overnight flight back to Buenos Aires from Ushuaia, Argentina, the small town in Tierra del Fuego at the very tip end of the world. They call it the “Fin del Mundo” down there in Patagonia, as it´s as low as you can get on any southern hemisphere continent.
Sorry I didn´t write very much during my time there, but I had limited access to computers. The Free Style Hostel had three internet computers, on coin-operated timers, but one was permanently off line. Another quit while I was there and the whole town has an endearing habit of winking off unpredictably, computer-wise. This was a boisterous hostel where everything happened right in the front lobby. Loud music, loud talking, eating, coming and going….making careful (or any) word composition “rawther” out of the question. Add to that mix the fact that my last roommate in the six-bunk dorm was a world-class snorer and you have a combination that works against anyone´s literary best.
By the time I recover from that lost sleep, I´ll be losing it again on my overnight flight early next week which brings me home after four months on the Backpacking Trail down here in South America. Ahhhh, my nice quiet bedroom, with its total darkness and my very comfortable bed, with its cozy down comforter and great mattress. I shall recover quickly. And then, it´s off to the races in a different way. I must amalgamate my writings and produce and market another book. One can work up a good tiredness just by staying home.
But, how can I quantify the Ushuaia experience? It wasn´t what I expected, as I wrote the last time, but it was good in its own way. It´s a very pretty place. The setting on the Beagle Channel is absolutely magnificent in all directions, especially when the sun shines brightly as it did about half the time. They love to paint their houses in bright colors, so you will see reds, greens, blues and yellows cropping up among others which are pretty funky with their galvanized tin exteriors. I compared it with Aspen, Colorado, in my last posting and that element is there – in the weather, the mountains, and the swanky shops on Calle San Martin, right downtown…..as well as in the cruise ship passengers who show up now and then, brightly dressed, just like the skiers do in Aspen. Ushuaia hasn´t lost its gritty, “funky vitality” yet and probably never will. It´s every bit a frontier town… but one that has taken good care of its tourists.
There is a prison museum there, with good stories about the inmates who were sent to this frigid outpost at the turn of the last century. There´s also a great boat ride to rocky islands in the Beagle Channel where we could spy on the South American Sea Lions and they could surf with us. When our boat intruded too close to the sleeping mama and papa sea lions´ rocky perches, they scolded us; but their teenagers gleefully dove into the water. As we left, they came along surfing our wake for miles. They looked like dolphins playing so happily and showing off for our cameras.
All penguins have recently migrated elsewhere, but tourist boatloads in other months, get to see them as well. Our boat tied up on a small island that once supported a tribe of practically-naked native Indians who built the fires for which Tierra del Fuego was named. It was mighty cold there due to the very strong wind. We all wondered how they survived with very little shelter available. Everybody climbed to the height of a rocky little pinnacle for 360 views and photographs as well as a study of the plant life.
Then, we were rewarded with cake and hot chocolate, coffee, or beer for the long ride home. As always, our group aboard bonded through conversation and became loving friends, if only for an afternoon, though most of us lived at the same hostel and could continue the friendship a little longer.
I had hoped to take a bus across the Chilean border to visit Puenta Arenas, but that proved impossible as those only run a few days a week and not while I was there. It would have been a seven-hour trip to a town with not a whole lot to see or do. It´s more of a jumping off place to the National Parks in the area, and this is off-season for those. So, on my last day there, I took a short bus ride to the Tierra del Fuego National Park to hike around in a spot that´s even lower on the map than Ushuaia and therefore, closer to Antarctica by about ten miles.
Again, imagined expectations did not play out. Cape Horn wrecks ships with its wild winds and currents. I was expecting wildness here in its vicinity. But no, it was rolling meadows and soft trails; red and yellow Fall leaves, and quiet lakes. Not even very challenging hiking…at least on the lake trails I chose. But, it was a lovely day and a great way to say goodbye to South America.
I had traveled the entire spine of the continent to the very tip end. Even that hadn´t turned out as I had planned, since Easter Week bounced me away from Chile entirely and my journey down to the bottom was by flight instead of by bus. Others who came that way – overland by bus through Chile – reported five days of bone-jarring travel, so I suppose I should be glad. Right now, I´m glad to still be healthy and in one piece as I spend my last few days getting ready to say goodbye to this most recent adventure. Dengue Fever has appeared in Bolivia and northern Argentina. I was just there two weeks ago and there was no word of it then. Now, even way down here in Buenos Aires, I see posters warning people about its symptoms. Don´t think I caught it, but I don´t know the incubation period. Can´t remember even seeing mosquitos since the jungle days.
But, if I can figure things out in a few minutes when I sit down with my Lonely Planet, I just might be able to squeeze one more country in before I fly away. Uruguay is just across the water, so I may ferry over there for a look see. More about that later.
What did I dread? Here´s what I wrote in my journal yesterday in Buenos Aires as I prepared to board the airplane for the small town of Ushuaia down at the end of the world, just a hop and a skip north of Antarctica:
“Well, the “dreaded” trip is finally here. Dreaded due to the anticipation of cold weather. It´s bright and sunny here in Buenos Aires and on a warming trend again after some cooler temperatures and wind yesterday. I checked the weather channel and Ushuaia might not be so bad as it seems to be in the mid-forties (13C) now, after being 6C, or 38 degrees the last time I checked. Partly cloudy today and tomorrow with sunshine Saturday and Sunday. So, I´m hoping that the old maxim: “That which one fears, never happens” will hold true this time too.”
Throughout my four months on the road, traveling all over the Andean side of South America, I have fretted a bit about my determination to get all the way down to the tip end of the spinal column in my wacky idea of comparing this cordillera to the human backbone. Most of the time spent at high altitude was just plain cold. I´ve been wearing layers of sweater, pants, long underwear, double socks, a neck gaitor, and sometimes, hats, gloves and scarves. I´ve even worn that to bed when my hostel room never warmed beyond sixty degrees. Bogota, Quito, and Cusco were too cold for my blood, even in their summertime. What was it to be like way down there so close to the South Pole?
In Puno, I bought a colorful wool jacket; in La Paz, a heavy fleece jacket. In Buenos Aires, a pair of mountain-climbing pants and finally, some gore-tex high top boots added themselves to the winter clothes I´d been buying all along just to survive. Still, I anticipated high winds, deep cold and maybe even snow. It is, after all, off-season here and the equivalent of mid-October, well into their Fall season.
My blood is Florida thin by now, even though I have previously lived in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Aspen, Colorado. But there, I was well equipped to deal with it. What was I to do with only the supplies I could carry in my backpack? I was really thinking along the lines of those fur-rimmed parkas and a sled pulled by huskies, though of course, Lonely Planet didn´t describe Ushuaia that way. It did speak of its high winds and low temperatures though.
I wondered who would want to live there year-round. But, there they were, gamely holding up the necessary businesses at the “End of the World…” Fin del Mundo.
Ohmigosh! I love this place! It was warm and sunny today and soooooo much like Aspen with its ski lodge style airport terminal and its world class shops, hotels and restaurants. Absolutely charming and beautiful and the FOOD IS GOOD! But not cheap. I can eat snow crabs every meal, if I´m willing to pay for the privilege.
This is a year-round attraction, with lots of skiing and winter sports as well as summer trekking! Gorgeous. More later as my coin-fed computer is timing out. Just remember: “That which you dread……..”
I haven´t blogged since the day I arrived in Buenos Aires, hoping that I would find something nice to say about this city, more than the clean and modern impression which comes instantly and which is certainly true of the newer parts of town.
However, I´ve been here a full week now and have walked for miles throughout various neighborhoods, and still can´t find anything to rave about. On day three, I moved out of my $40 per day, Central Cordoba Hotel in Retiro, near San Martin Plaza, and into the $15 per day Telmotango Hostel in the Historic District of San Telmo. I did this to save up some money for my week in Ushuaia at the tip end of the continent since airfare there costs $300.
That was actually a very smart move as the hostel is much finer and fancier than the hotel was, though I´m paying dorm prices for a two-bed dorm room and a shared bath down the hall. It´s essentially a private room as I have no roommate and the three separate bathrooms are plenty for the few guests at this time of the year. So, I have no complaints about my lodging with it´s good free breakfasts and friendly staff.
But, that´s about the best I have to say about this capital of Argentina…except that the weather is bright and sunny, though the high temperatures have been replaced by wind and Fall weather. Still, midday is pretty warm and it´s certainly not as cold as the months that I have spent travelling down the Andean Cordillera, even during the South American summer.
Mostly, what I find here is an absence of qualities which one normally takes for granted and which I have been finding all along in the poorer countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. This is a pretty rich, quite European, city but it has allowed its Historical District to crumble away into gloomy disrepair. I walk through the streets of San Telmo daily, heading out for every errand, especially to find food (more about that in a minute) and I can´t help but compare it to the Old Towns and Historical Districts that I have visited, loved, patronized, and slept in during this four-month South American junket and on my year-long trip around the world.
Most cities, in most countries of the world, make a great effort to restore that central core, not only because of pride in their past, but because that´s where the tourists will flood in. That´s where hotels can charge premium prices, among fancy restaurants and upscale shops. Frequently, I´ve noticed that the older the district, the swankier the neighborhood.
I´m thinking of places like: Dubrovnik, Budva, Bogota, Cartagena, St. Augustine, Cusco and the like. Often, these places are many centuries old. Think of all the Western European cities where you have been, but not I…yet. We are all accustomed to finding careful preservation of this special history. Even Quito, whose Historic District isn´t all that beautiful, compared to some, has done a good job of keeping it in good repair and painted and mended.
But here in Buenos Aires, the sidewalks in many parts of town, not only in the Historical District, are made of tiles, some of which have fallen away, making the ground dangerously uneven and the remaining walk very snaggletoothed. To add insult to injury, there´s plenty of sidewalk dog poop everywhere due to a lack of laws concerning pet responsibility, I suppose, as I haven´t seen that many strays around here. That`s a fixable civic problem which must annoy the residents as much as the tourists.
I´m being reminded, these days, of my reaction to the outskirts of Prague when I stayed in such a gloomy suburb and then went to admire its golden center. Here, in Buenos Aires, I feel the same way walking along my street when the stores are closed. Grafitti, sprayed on galvanized tin and burglar bar window covers, blends with the ugliness of the sides of the buildings. Doorways are full of trash. Not nice to have to live or work in or to hang out as a tourist. This is a big, impersonal city and that feeling pings off of every surface, though I find the people themselves to be very friendly in a passing way.
But, why can´t they cook? Like everyone else, I was taken in by the Myth of “Argentine Beef” and I so looked forward to experiencing a taste and tenderness found nowhere else on earth.
Sorry folks! It´s only a myth! My first steak dinner here was very ordinary and tasted no better than a cheap cut of meat from any grocery store back home. And, I´m not talking about the fine cuts of prime beef that I buy at the organic food store, free of antibiotics and hormones. I´m talking about the regular adulterated stuff found in your ordinary store. Even I can make those unfancy cuts taste better than the ones I´ve been served here.
Plus, these steaks are very greasy. I´m sure that all the fat (though I cut it off, the steak itself was slippery with it) was responsible for big problems, usually associated with Montezuma, later that evening….one of the few reactions I´ve had to food in all of South America. I gave beef a second chance today, and the same was true – tough, tasteless, and fatty – though served in a high-class, expensive place with white linen and wine glasses.
After that first meal, it has been downhill from there, foodwise, because I can´t find anything with flavor. I´ve eaten all over town, trying various menu items, paying mostly between $10 – $15 per meal, for food that has so little taste or preparation talent, that I´ve had to pour on the salt or lemon juice just to get it down. It´s just not good cooking. And always, the french fries with everything. But, at least those provide calories. Bland and tiresome as usual, but filling. Because of the sadness which comes with each meal, I´ve taken to eating only one per day and filling up with breakfast here at the hostel. In the evening, a little fruit is better than scrambling for something open out there, since all eating places seem to close between 7 and 8 p.m.
This is reverse to my food problem in India where I couldn´t find anything without spices. Actually, South American food has proven to be very unoriginal but not tasteless. In almost all of these countries, the default setting is a generous plate of either beef, chicken, or fish, with heaps of both rice and french fries, as well as a nice mixed salad. Sometimes, yucca or fried plantains accompanies that. Very belly-filling and found on every menu. Even though it´s a bit monotonous, it´s tasty and flavorful as well as nourishing. Frequently, all that comes along with a great soup course, for only a few dollars.
Frankly, I would love some soup these days, but I scan the menus in vain. What you will see on every menu here is a great variety of uses for sandwich slices of ham and cheese. You should have seen my gargantuan “ham”burger with a bland beef patty as well as the ham and cheese, lettuce, tomato and a horrible hard-boiled egg sliced up as well. That was truly inedible!
This is Betty Boop cooking, as far as I´m concerned! I´ll be home in two weeks and will be happy to return to my own culinary efforts. Looks like my enthusiasm is waning for what the trail has to offer. Let´s see if poor little, freezing cold Ushuaia is up to the task of redeeming the whole country. I sure hope they make soup down there!
It´s been days since I´ve been in touch with anyone and for good reason, too! A combination of hard-traveling, Easter Week/Semana Santa, (over here, “Week Saint” or something like that), and a glaring lack of internet cafes in this gorgeous large capital city of Argentina…..oh, well I did locate two of them but they were closed because of Good Friday. Darkened down and might be tomorrow on Easter Sunday, as well. So, I´m jumping in when I can.
Just last week, I was entering Bolivia for a one-week pass through… spent $135 on my visa and I´m not sure it was all that great an idea, though La Paz was better than I had expected after reading Lonely Planet´s gloomy-wet-and-freezing-and-terribly-uphill-cobblestone-streets description of it. From La Paz, I took a long and tiring bus to an indescript town called Oruro, simply because a train ride (one of the few on the continent) begins there. Okay, I got the overnight train which took 22 hours to get to the Bolivian/Argentine border instead of 15. Then, I stood in a line at the border for two hours because so many folks had come on the train and we all clotted up there. The actual crossing procedure was simple.
It was midnight when we pulled into Salta and we hadn´t eaten since our breakfast on the train…why didn´t I stuff my face then?…except for a candy bar that one of the fellows jumped out of the border-crossing line to go and buy for those of us who were crashing about then (all of us). Where are those food vendors when you need them? After all these countries where indigenous people sell everything, everywhere; suddenly there aren´t any in Argentina…not even money-changers at the border, tho they still took Bolivian currency. We had to get way deep into this new country before there was any opportunity to get Argentine pesos. Sort of like an afterthought. Weird.
Arriving in Salta, Argentina, I discovered that all accommodations were full because of the Easter Holiday. This is a cute little country town with outdoor activities and wine-growing and the city people flock to in during their Spring Break. Shoot! Not only did I wish to see it in the daytime, but I wished to partake of its advantages….like a hot shower and a comfortable bed, after two long days and nights sitting up in train and bus seats wearing the same many layers of clothing. Gumpy, hungry and sleepy. That was me!
But, there was no room at the Inn. So, my options were slim. I could catch another bus for another 18-hour (and probably more if they past rides were any example) bus ride into Mendoza, Argentina, or an even much longer one into Santiago, Chile. I figured that Santiago, being a big city which people escape from, would surely have some available rooms.
There, I discovered that Argentine airports all serve only their capital city, Buenos Aires, and nowhere else. You have to travel to the hub to access any other city – even those which were physically closer to this side of the continent. So, I couldn´t make a short hop to Mendoza without going clear across and then clear back again, at the price of two tickets, if I wanted to stay on the Andean Cordillera “spinal column” side. It was either Buenos Aires, or back to the Salta bus station for another long, long ride westward. No contest! When my body heard that there was a flight leaving shortly at 8 a.m., and that I could be in Buenos Aires two hours later, with the surety of a hotel bed being available, I forked over the $165 for a one-way ticket and was soon aboard a beautiful Andes Air plane.
That´s how I arrived in this gleaming, beautiful, warm and clean city. Great weather! Found a hotel through the airport reference desk, took a taxi and checked in ($40 per night), showered and went right to bed after taking all my dirty clothes to the front desk for the lavanderia (washing) service.
Yesterday was Good Friday and things were relatively buttoned-up, even in this big city, though a huge and fancy shopping mall was open and I got some important things done there. It was hard to find the usually-ever-present Internets and the two that I did locate were off-line. Guess this new-fangled internet business is a no-no on the Holy Day. Luckily, today it`s functioning, but I wonder about tomorrow, which is Easter Sunday. Better get it all typed and finished today.
This detour over to the eastern coastline of the continent has changed my headlong rush down the spinal column of South America, but it couldn´t be helped. So, I´m trying to pull it out of the hat and finish my original objective to get all the way down to the tail “End of the World”; to the little city of Ushuaia, Argentina, jumping off place to Antarctica. Since April is the southern hemisphere´s equivalent of October, things must be getting pretty cold down there by now. I`ve been buying a few articles of clothing to help me manage – a good fleece jacket, as well as a wool one. Talk about bulk for the backpack.
When I spotted a travel agency in the Galleria Mall I sat down with the guy to discuss ways of getting to Ushuaia, since it is actually in Argentina, though there` s a lot of Chile down in that tailbone too. I wound up buying a round-trip ticket for $298 to fly next Thursday, April 16 and return on the following Wednesday, April 22. Actually, I´ll leave Ushuaia at 9 p.m. Tuesday night but won´t get to B.A. till 1:00 a.m.
I went right to an outdoor shop and invested in a good pair of mountain-climbing pants and some warm socks. Salivated over climbing/hiking boots but held off. Today, in this lovely heat, all those things look so unwelcome, as they also will when I get back to Florida in just a few weeks.
I have located the Continental Airlines office in this city though it´s (natually) closed till Monday when the holiday will finally be over. So, I shall hie myself in to change my return ticket to bring me home during the last few days of April. That might leave enough time to get up to Iguazu Falls from this city after I´ve recovered from my End of The World trip. And, also, in these next few days, perhaps I can cross the water to visit Montevideo, Uruguay, on a day trip. Sounds like I´ll be jumping about quite a lot before finally boarding that flight for home. But, it`s all coming together in it´s own unexpected way.
Well, that´s it for now. Don´t worry if there are long silences. They will be forced upon me if they happen. These next few days are just going to be easy city ones in fantastic weather. I´m out of the cheap zone, so won´t be snapping up any more gifts. In fact, my next duty is to try to find a hostel or cheaper hotel to see if I can cut back expenses after all these big airfares of late, plus a $200 change fee on my homecoming flight still to go. I think I can find a hostel dorm room for a whole lot less than my private hotel room and now that I´m rested up, that would be just fine. More soon! Happy Easter tomorrow!
(This post and the next one down are appearing here together, as I have been unable to access my blogsite for about a week. In Puno, Peru, it failed to come up, but now that I have reached La Paz, Bolivia, here it is, alive and well. These were written on my duplicate site at www.blogs.bootsnall.com/lindajbrown.)
As any backpacking hosteler will tell you, there is simply no time to describe it all for our adoring public back home. No sooner do you get one great adventure detailed in writing…(whether scribbled in a dog-earred journal or typed and published electronically, or both), than many days´ worth of other stories generate themselves and sit there, looking at you beligerantly, awaiting their own personal time to become solidified into the record.
All the while, you are jumping out of bed at unbecoming hours to track down new adventures with new and interesting individuals and then returning so bushed that your body crawls between the inviting sheets and blankets without even asking your permission. So, when do you write? Often the lighting is poor and rooms are as cold as the shower water; or the dorm is full of chattering mates. I frequently write in restaurants – one great advantage of eating and traveling alone.
And then, there´s the ever-present…(but sometimes hard to find…or to concentrate within…or to suffer such well-worn keyboards and slow machines)…internets of the world. And yes, that word “Internet” is now a noun, meaning the businesses which hire out their machines, and not just that cyber connection which they allow us to enter. They are proliferating rapidly but become undependable at the most frustrating times. Maybe you can´t find one when you want to, or they are full, or closed, or too near choking traffic fumes, or practically non-existant, as in New Delhi, the capital ofIndia, of all things.
These are the realities which get in the way of a good writer´s sincere attempts to publish chapters on the road. I am actually satisfied with the speed and output of my journal recordings though most of them are scrawled on a moving bus or boat; or before, between, and after meal servings; or on park benches where there are no shoeshine boys. Somehow, I feel sure that I have captured the most interesting moments or scraps of philosophy which might reveal themselves.
But, blogging that material is another whole, imperfect story, as you now understand. I have my own beautiful personal blogsite, www.heyboomers.com, which carries duplicates of this site, or is it the other way around? Mysteriously, I have not been able to access my blogsite since I arrived in Puno, Peru, last Sunday. I thought my server was down, but I am assured that all is well and others, elsewhere, can find it easily. Certainly, I´m hoping that when I get to La Paz, Bolivia, I will be able to call up my site and add all missing, as well as future blogs, as I have always done during this trip. Meanwhile, friends and family who tune in there will either think I´m a lazy-writer-bum or fallen off some cliff somewhere.
So, not being able to access your own site when you want to adds to the list of a writer´s challenges while on the road. Stories stack up. Deeper insights on, say Machu Picchu´s inner qualities, get pushed aside because you have now found some on Lake Titicaca; and the Lake may get ignored altogether because La Paz proves to be so wonderful. See what I mean?
So, the solution is only to be found in publishing that second book which is already so much of a reality to me that I´m promoting it now as if it exists. First of all, it´s practically written. All I need to do is sweep together all these blogs and fill in the blanks from my journal, and then do what I did the last time with the previous manuscript…and, Voila! Send it to my publisher and then to you, my loyal fan base. Helloooooo! I hope you´re actually out there, as I imagine you to be.
So, stay posted for news of “Age Schmage/Money Schmoney” sometime during the latter half of 2009. It will be offered by Amazon.com, as “Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks” now is. I´m road testing that new title and having great success with many snickers generated. Always a good sign of an attention-getter.
Plus, this blogsite will walk you through the frustrating publishing details and happy bits of news, just like last time. And at that time, Ill be working from my own home computer and can blog to my heart´s content. Oh, lucky you!
Here in Puno, Peru, I´m taking a day off to rest before spending a night on one of the reed islands of Lake Titicaca. This morning, I wandered some of the Puno streets realizing that the shops were closed because of the early hour and also the fact that today is Sunday. Came to the Plaza de Armas and chose a nice sunny bench, planning to write a bit in my journal.
Up comes a little shoeshine boy of about ten years, wanting to polish my cloth-topped hiking shoes. I demurred, explaining the obvious and he said, “No problem!” and fingered the narrow strip of grey plastic that runs above my toes. Then, he pulled out a small bottle of clear liquid with which he planned to do the polishing for the bargain rate of one dollar or 3 soles Peruvian.
I´ve heard of other travelers who allowed this situation to progress and wound up with darkly-stained shoes, so I kept refusing and concentrating on my journal writing. At last, I had to walk away from my nice sunny bench when it became obvious that he wasn´t going to leave me alone.
There´s always the mental battleground as one makes the decision to refuse this sort of invasion. He was just a boy. He wasn´t begging, but wanted to work for his money. “Yes, yes…” answered I to myself, “but my shoes were not candidates for his sort of work. They might have looked very odd ever after if I had allowed him to impose his will upon mine out of pity, just because he was an urchin.”
He was very practiced in imposing his will upon tourists and was beginning to whine, as well as reducing his price drastically to fifteen cents. But, each time he succeeds in bullying a tourist, he will reason that he can usually get his way if he makes a pest of himself. The same goes for beggars.
Peru doesn´t have many beggars, but there are some who can make the most pitious sounds as you pass. Each one of us millions of tourists wrestles with the same moral equation every time we encounter a beggar or a shoeshine kid. In our guilt for not “saving them from this,” we review the ways that we might have changed their life if we had but dropped that coin: a square meal, freedom from having to sit on that cold pavement, a medical cure, a satisfied beggar´s pimp, a daily quota met….
But, the facts of the matter are so different. Our coins actually prove that this holding the hand out or shaking a cup aggressively, will work on a certain number of these rich visitors. And so, the beggar will appear the very next morning, and the next, in that very same place. This becomes the beggars´ trade and, maybe it´s meagre by most standards, but the odds are that enough of those millions of tourists will respond to make it worth coming back for.
We are part of the problem. We make begging a viable business.