Archive for May, 2008

Love Potion No. 9

May 28, 2008

Need supplies to place a blessing or a curse? Find everything on your list at the La Paz Witch’s Market. Market vendors — witches, we can assume — sell their wares every day on the sidewalks and in the stores of the hillside Sagárnaga Street in the Bolivian capital.

In the crowded market, you can find llama fetuses, bat carcasses, ostrich heads, snake skins and lacquered toads. You can pick out a love potion, a good luck charm or a pill to make you stronger.

When I asked a vendor how I could use the llama fetus hanging in the doorway above our heads, she said it’s meant to be burned as an offering to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, according to Inca tradition. If I didn’t have space to light a fire, she said, I could just bury the fetus in my yard. I decided to pass.

And now, a couple other photos of the Bolivian capital, which is located in a narrow valley and bounded by white rock formations.

I think my sister is trying to kill me

May 26, 2008

The Ciprofloxacin antibiotic I’m taking to rid my stomach of the issues it picked up in Bolivia can have some serious side effects, according to Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

They can include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • feelings of not trusting others or feelings that others want to hurt you
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • nightmares or abnormal dreams
  • tingling or swelling of the face, neck, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • rapid, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • unusual bruising or bleeding
  • extreme tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • pain in the upper right part of the stomach
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • seizures
  • dizziness
  • double vision
  • pulsing sounds in the head or ringing in the ears
  • confusion
  • uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • depression
  • thoughts about dying or killing yourself
  • pain, burning, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in a part of the body
  • loss of ability to feel light touch, pain, heat or coldness, or vibration in a part of the body
  • loss of ability to know position of a part of the body
  • loss of muscle strength in a part of the body

Laura keeps looking at me weird. I don’t trust her one bit.

A shot in the arm

May 25, 2008

At his suggestion, Laura and I paid the immigration official at the Bolivian border 100 Bolivianos to let us into the country without the yellow fever vaccinations required for our visas.
“Get the shot the first chance you get, or you’ll have to pay again when you enter other countries,” the official warned us sternly, speaking Spanish, as he arranged our freshly-converted bills in a stack on his desk.
And so, in the mid-sized Bolivian town of Sucre, Laura and I searched out the public health clinic (which we found in the midst of a dusty construction zone), gave our names and passport numbers to the lady at the desk and, in a room off to the side, got doses of yellow fever shot into our upper arms.

My hard-earned yellow fever card

Now, we’re bound and determined to expose ourselves to yellow fever so we can NOT contract it.
Steamy jungle, here we come!!!

Pass the pepper

May 21, 2008

Our jeep barreled for an entire day across the infinite nothingness of the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. For six hours straight, we saw salt, we saw sky, and that’s about it.

The salar is 4,633 square miles of packed salt that measures an average of 23 feet thick. It’s what remains of the prehistoric Lago Minchin, which once covered the majority of southwest Bolivia. It’s an illusion-inducing landscape that plays tricks on the mind, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

We discovered people become really small on the Salar de Uyuni

And that doing ordinary things becomes much more fun

Our three-day jeep trip took us from the Chilean desert town of San Pedro de Atacama to the Bolivian valley village of Tupiza. We crossed from the border during the first ten minutes of the trip, then proceeded through the baked red Bolivian desert, where geysers boil and steam, and lakes take on colors other than blue.

The Bolivian desert

Lago Blanco, with waves frozen in place

Flamingos wade knee-deep in many of the lakes, filtering for microorganisms

The deserts’ elevation ranges between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level. It’s extremity caused us to become short of breath every time we walked uphill and scramble for hats, gloves and extra layers every time got out of the jeep door to walk around outside.

The rock tree, one of many rock formations we saw along the way

Simione, our Spanish-speaking driver, was born in a village just a couple hours from the salar and normally spoke the Quechua language native to the region. He stared straight ahead and chewed coca leaves during most of the drive, but at each stop, jumped out to pop the hood, scoot underneath the vehicle or change a tire. At one point, he had to repair the front passenger door, which had been ripped off by the wind.

Simione and another driver operating on our jeep

Laura and me in a tiny town on the edge of the salar, waiting for our drivers to fill the vehicle with gas

We stayed the first night at a modest refuge in the desert and the second at the Salt Hotel, located two minutes from the edge of the salt flat. The hotel is constructed completely from blocks of salt; licking the walls, tables and stools would make you thirsty. Even the floor of the bedrooms and dining room was covered in grains of NaCl.

Two days before our trip, two jeeps traveling toward each other collided on the roadless, wide-open salt flat. The canisters of gas strapped to the roofs of both vehicles exploded, killing all passengers and one driver.
As we passed the accident remains from a distance, we could see the burnt hulls of two 4 x 4s standing out like dark skeletons against their snow-white surroundings. We all realized it could have been us, and the sight was truly sobering.

For more pictures of the trip, click here.

Put down the goggles and step away from the cap

May 19, 2008

After months of carrying my swim cap and goggles around South America, I have accepted reality: I am not going to need them.
I bought the two luxury items in Punta Arenas, Chile last November in preparation for free swim at the city’s public pool. That’s the only time during my eight months in the southern hemisphere I’ve actually been able to use them.
With this — and my backpack’s ungodly weight — in mind, I decided to take drastic action: I left my swimming apparel in the room of my hostel in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world.

My sister Laura bidding farewell to my prized possessions

I swam competitively through high school and have continued regular trips to the pool in all the places I’ve landed since then. Though my 100-meter freestyle is nowhere as fast as it used to be, swimming continues to be very important in my life. Thus, I did not give up on the dream without a fight. I searched out public pools in every place I visited, but found myself foiled every time.

Here’s the collection of excuses that finally defeated me:

  • Sorry, the pool’s empty for its holiday cleaning. Try back in January!
  • The pool is only open on weekends. Sucks for you it’s Tuesday.
  • You cannot pass this gate. You are not a member of the club. Go back to your home.
  • You must pay $17 to use this pool for an hour. We need exact change.
  • The pool’s easy to find. Take the red line to the third stop, then the green line to the fourth stop. Walk four blocks north, two blocks east, and you’ll find it in an unmarked building.
  • The pool is five feet long and full of kids on foam noodles. Probably won’t need those goggles.

Alas, I hope someone in the dry, dry Chilean desert has found a use for my cap and goggles. Given their location, it probably won’t be lap swimming.

As a sidenote: We spent a lot of time exploring the arid terrain around the desert oasis town of San Pedro. It’s hard to believe this dry landscape can be found in the same country that boasts the glacier-covered Torres del Paine National Park.

We rode the twisty trail through Quebrada del Diablo, or Devil’s Gorge, on mountain bikes on day. Such fun.