Over Borders and Into the Andes

So much has happened since I´ve last blogged, it may be difficult to recount it all! But I´ll try. After my last post…

We spent about a week camping along deserted beaches in Northern Chile, watching stars fill black clear skies, cooking delicious meals out of the back with our cook stove, sleeping in of our beloved station wagon and waking up to biting flies and crashing waves. There is absolutely nothing in that part of Chile except sea, sand and desert. Nothing green. The rivers were dry. The sky was blue, but everything else was tan. Needless to say, we were anxious to head north into Peru and back into the mountains.

We were nervous about crossing the border into Peru since we´d read that others in our situation had been rejected, but we approached it optimistically. Sure enough when we arrived, we were told we weren´t allowed to cross into Peru and that we´d need to turn back and cross over through Bolivia (adding many hours and miles to our trip). But with a little begging and one empathetic border patrol officer, we were allowed into Peru with a temporary pass, giving us 3 weeks to get back to Chile with the car. We drove happily into Peru, thanking the stars, and stayed one night in Tacna before continuing the long journey through our first stretch of Andes to Arequipa.

We immediately noticed the difference between driving in Chile and driving in Peru. Peruvian drivers have dangerous tendencies- such as ignoring speed limits, passing around blind corners, honking incessantly and treating skinny two lane roads as one lane roads, passing as they please. We drove as carefully as possible- we were constantly on edge, waiting for trucks to pass into our lanes around corners and gripping the wheel as trucks honked and passed us on the left. We´ve become more accustomed to the driving now, so although we´re not constantly on edge, we´re still always ready for anything (cars passing blindly, cows in the road, dogs chasing our wheels… fun things!)

We arrived in Arequipa by night, somehow magically finding our hostel in the dark among the hectic streets. We stayed in a great hostel with lots of hang out spots, two kitchens, two movie rooms, game rooms and a great outdoor patio. After a few days of exploring the city, enjoying street food, and visiting a 500 year old monastery (which was awesome), we began to prepare for the journey north through the heart of the Andes. We took our car to a mechanic (putting our Spanish to the test) and had the carburetor adjusted for high altitude, knowing we´d be crossing a 4,800 meter (15,700 foot) pass. We left early the next morning, drove out of the city and into the shanty outskirts as we climbed further into the surrounding hills. We were heading to Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, to spend a few days hiking and camping.

After an intense climb, we reached the top of the pass just as smoke started to pour out from under the hood. We discovered the radiator cap had come off and we´d spilt most of our water. Luckily, we hadn´t lost the cap and we had plenty of water to replace what was lost.  After that, it was smooth sailing to Colca Canyon. We passed several snow topped mountains, open fields filled with lamas, alpacas and vicuñas, along with sheep and wild dogs. We began to descend into the canyon near dusk and were taken away by the scenery. After spending too long in the desert, we were amazed by the lush valley below us, filled with waterfalls, rivers and yellow and purple wildflowers. It turned out to be an amzing week camping along rivers in the valley, driving along dirt roads, seeing ancient Inca terracing in the hills, passing all sorts of animals in the roads (baby donkeys, cows, horses, sheep and lamas), meeting local shepherds grazing their herds, and watching condors fly through the canyon.

We did one major hike, descending 1200 meters (nearly 4000 feet) into the canyon on a slippery, rocky path. It took us 7 hours and we were literally sore for days afterwards, but the hot spring baths we arrived at once we reached the bottom were (almost) worth the grueling work. We camped and soaked in the tubs that sat at a steaming 39 degrees Celsius (100 F) right on the Colca River for two nights. I woke up there on my birthday, 25 years old but feeling like an 80 year old, sore as could be, but feeling incredibly blessed to be in such a beautiful place. After a pancake breakfast, we trekked up to the road and caught a ride in the back of a truck out of the canyon. We stayed one more night before driving north to Cusco. Even though I had come down with a nasty head cold, we ate a delicious dinner (fresh river trout and quinoa risotto- yum!) and treated ourselves to a real bed for a good night´s sleep. It´s impossible to describe how appreciative I´ve become of the little things in life- like a hot shower, a soft bed and a hot cup of Coca tea. Alright, or a cold beer 🙂

The next day, we drove another 10 hours to Cusco, half of which was on a bumpy dirt road that crossed more incredible passes. We ran into collapsed bridges, passed high altitude lakes fed by springs, slowed for sheep in the road, picked up locals needing rides from secluded work areas back into towns, drove through rain and lightening storms at night, and eventually arrived in Cusco safely. We could hardly believe we´d actually made it, after all we´d put the car through. Early the next morning, my sister Chelsea and her friend Le arrived, bringing a little bit of home to Peru. The next 8 days we spent together deserve a post of their own 🙂

ImageBeach where we camped in Chile

ImageWe made it!!

ImageSanta Catalina Monestary in Arequipa

ImageCows and the Colca River in Colca Canyon (Inca terracing in the background)

ImageCampsite in Colca Canyon

ImageHot spring natural bath on the river

ImageBirthday pancakes!

ImageUmm are we supposed to cross this bridge?? (Luckily, we found an alternate way)

ImageHigh altitude lake fed by a spring

ImageDriving through the Andes

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And Then We Bought a Car

We spent all day weighing the pros and cons, researching and discussing our concerns. Obviously, having a car would drastically alter our trip. The freedom would enable us to move at our own pace and see less-touristic locations off the bus lined “gringo-trail”. We could easily camp or sleep in the car, therefore saving money on hostels (which are outrageously priced in Chile). We rationalized the cost of the car by assuming we’d sell it easily when we were finished cruising around Chile and Southern Peru. The biggest con then was the risk of running into problems and getting stuck with costly repairs. The car was older, a 1989 Mazda Station Wagon, but had a simple engine that should be easy to work on. We put our fate in the hands of returned bus tickets and dragon fly landings, and decided to go for it, knowing our craving for freedom and adventure was outweighing our logical sides.

In the morning we set out for Calama (where we needed to be to complete the paperwork) with our two new Canadian rock climbing friends who’d been driving the car around Chile for the last couple months. We knew they’d had their share of problems, but had fixed the major things and had a good report from their mechanic.

Once in Calama, we ran around completing paperwork and finished putting the car in Chris’ name. We were on our way to a gas station and bank to pay Eric when the car puttered and stopped- we assumed it had run out of gas. After sitting at the gas station for a couple hours waiting for Eric to return, we accepted the sinking realization that something bigger was wrong. Sure enough, we walked back and found Eric a couple blocks away with a mechanic working out of his garage.

Over the next 3 days we went through a series of emotional mood swings- we were told by our first mechanic we’d need a whole new carburetor, which would be nearly impossible to find for our old car. Later, after research of our own, we realized he knew little about anything and nothing about carburetors, and we found another mechanic who had the car running in 20 minutes. He worked for a few hours into the night, then invited us back to his family’s house to sleep. We’d slept in our car the night before, which was actually quite comfortable since the back seats fold completely flat, but he still took pity on us, given how homeless we must’ve looked with towels and sheets up in all the windows. So we drove the car for the very first time across town and slept very comfortably after his sweet wife fed us some late dinner. The next day, he completed the work (which turned out to be a bum distributed point- not the carburetor) and we finally hit the road- nervous but relieved, grateful and excited.

We’ve spent 4 nights in the car now, driving north, sleeping on empty beaches and cooking our meals out the back. We absolutely love it, she’s a great car that’s perfect for road tripping and camping, we’re sure our first few days of stress (and any problems that may arise) will be worth it. Three weeks ago we didn’t even think we’d be in Chile, now here we are cruising down the highway in our car, thinking about how easily plans can change and how essential flexibility is while traveling, some opportunities come quickly and require (thoughtful) spontaneity to be seized.

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We´ve Never Been So High: Otherwordly Adventures

We´ve never been so high as we were during our four day tour of southwestern Bolivia, physically, reaching heights of over 5,000 meters (over 16,000 feet!), and emotionally, experiencing otherworldly landscapes that resembled nothing we´d ever seen before.

We began our journey in Tupiza, Bolivia, a dusty town surrounded by red and purple mountains, cacti and horses ready for tourists to ride (pictures attached). I rode my first horse (yes, I realize the irony of growing up in Red Bluff and never riding a horse until Bolivia), which required overcoming some fear and trusting completely in my horse to keep me safe. We mostly trotted slowly through wild landscapes- spears of red earth shooting up from the ground, shaped by centuries of wind and rain, blooming cacti and canyons with rivers flowing softly through them- but for the 30 seconds we galloped, I was exhilerated and terrified all at once. Horses are powerful animals. 

After a couple days in Tupiza, we set out on our journey through the southwest which would  wind through high deserts, pass colored lagoons filled with flamingos, take us over passes at heights we never imagined and would end at the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world (covering 10,582 square kilometers, or 4,086 square miles). 

Our first day, we climbed up past Tupiza´s dramatic red mountains and continued south, passing secluded gold mines and wide open fields of lamas, grazing happily. During my favorite stop of the day, we climbed a large red sand dune (the first I´ve ever seen) that looked out on choppy hills, partially shaded by white clouds. Even though I had to stop and rest every few steps (we were already fairly high and physical activity at that altitude is draining), it was worth the breathlessness. We stopped in a small village to sleep, where we watched some local teenage boys play soccer on pavement, played frisbee with the little chicititos, caught a pink sunset with a breathtaking mountain as a backdrop, and were in bed by 9:00 in time for our 5 AM wake-up call. 

Our second day began with car drama. There were three jeeps in our carivan, one of which died directly after leaving the pueblo. While our guides ripped things apart, climbed into the hood of the car and eventually replaced the fuel pump, we sat and watched the sunrise with sleepy eyes. After 20 more minutes of driving once the jeep was fixed, it broke down again. We were lucky enough to be stuck near a river in a canyon with the same breathtaking mountain on the horizon. We built rock offerings to Pachamama (mother earth), meditated and listening to our friend play his little flutes. These couple hours were some of my favorite during the whole four days; unplanned, secluded, peaceful and full of complete surrender to the situation. 

After a few hours, we were on the road again, without the dead jeep and the passengers it carried (they caught up with us the next day). We spent time at Spanish colonial ruins, filled with little animals resembling a squirl/rabbit hybrid that lived in the rocks. After stopping for lunch, we came to an area filled with natural springs emmerging from the ground, creating lush green oasis valleys admist the dry desert. Lamas flocked there, grazing and drinking the fresh water. We arrived at my favorite destination of the entire trip around early evening, a natural thermal bath (soothing near 100 degrees) that overlooked a light blue lagoon with light purplish mountains as a backdrop. In this moment, sitting in the bath and looking out on Bolivia, I felt completely at peace, as if nothing beyond that minute mattered. I cherish moments like those, they don´t happen every day.

We finished the day seeing a field of geysers before arriving at our lodging for the night (not much more than a wall of adobe bricks and beds sitting on cement). A couple of us helped our cook with dinner since the other cook had been stranded with the broken-down jeep, although we soon realized she was better off alone (her peeling and dicing skills put us to shame). Chris and I watched a sky full of stars and a lightening storm in the distance while sipping on hot totties (the best medicine for a cough- which I was dealing with) as a nearly full moon rose. My fourth full moon on this trip reminded me how long I´ve been away.

Our third day began at 6 AM with the Lago Colorado, a red lake filled with 3 different spieces of flamingos. After marveling at the scene, we drove on to discover the most otherwordly landscapes of the journey, we felt as if we´d left earth and stumbled upon mars. We played upon giant rocks that looked as if they´d fallen from the sky, seeming completely out of place in the middle of a desert. We passed between rainbow colored mountains, with snow just barely dusting their tops. We arrived at a few different lagoons, mostly white in color because they were filled with borax. We had lunch near another flamingo-filled lagoon then headed on towards Uyuni, where we´d be sleeping. Along the way, we discovered the colorful quinua crops, which surprised us with their shades of lime green and deep maroon. We passed more huge, wild rock formations and a black lagoon that apparently eats people but sustains a duck population.  

Our fourth day, we rose around 4:30 AM, skipped breakfast and headed straight for the Salar to watch the sunrise. We were lucky enough to have a vivid show, full of deep yellows, rosy pinks and a minute of red. After eating breakfast in a building made completely of salt, we played with perspective shots on the Salar, easy to make because the landscpae is so flat and seems to go on forever. We were upset by how little time we actually had on the salt flats, given that the whole tour is based on that experience, but since the Salar is flooded this time of year, it´s impossible to cross through the middle like the tours usually do. 

Overall, regardless of our tour company´s complete lack of communication and organization (we do NOT recommend going with La Torre, if you´re looking for an agency), we had an amazing few days that will be impossible to forget. 

We made our way to northern Chile, where a whole new set of unexpected adventure was awaiting us, much of which we are still waiting to discover. As of this moment, we are in Calama, waiting on a new carbarator for the car we bought off another traveler yesterday. Adventure, most definitely, even before the actual journey begins! To be continued…

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Riding horses near Tupiza 

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Red sand

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Sunset in the village we slept in our first night

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Sunrise while waiting for the jeep to be fixed

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Making offerings to Pachamama

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Spanish colonial ruins

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Oasis in the desert- lamas in the natural springs 

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Thermal Baths

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Lago Colorado

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Tree Rock

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Lagoon Flamingos

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Sunrise on the Salar

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Playing on the Salar

ImageSalar Fun

 

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Cocha-“da”-bamba

Cochabamba, a city of 700,000, southeast of La Paz, has a lot of character. It humbly shares many beautiful plazas, quaint cafes, a huge bustling market, lush surrounding mountains, a warm climate, abundant & delicious street food and a looming statue of Christ (bigger than Rio de Janeiro’s) watching over the city. However, it’s not too backpacker friendly as far as accommodations go and has a reputation for crime. We did have one pickpocketing incident in the market, but luckily all that was lost was cash and nobody was hurt. (Note to fellow travelers: Go! But be very, very careful with your things in the market  south of the bus station.) Overall, we absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone traveling in Bolivia (hence the silly nickname).

We were lucky enough to catch an all day Carnaval parade the Saturday after Ash Wednesday (apparently the celebrations last longer here than in New Orleans or other parts of the world), similar to the famous Bolivian folk celebration they host in Oruro. Marching bands enthusiastically whaled on horns and beat drums as dancers, dressed in colorful, shiny costumes, shoes covered with bells, shook their hips and spun around, joyously making their way down the crowded, people-lined street. Chris and I sat on the pavement, somehow scoring front row seats, and awed at the beautiful display (some pictures below- I’ll post a link to a video soon!)

Cochabamba is full of artisans, playing flutes and fire dancing in the plazas or playing live rock music in the clubs. After a show one night, we befriended the band (Borne- on facebook) and had a great night learning Bolivian dice games in a classic rock themed bar. Someone said it a while ago, but now I believe it to be true that metal heads are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

We visited the massive statue of Christ above the city and have some pictures of the beautiful scenery posted below!  ImageCarnaval Parade

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Carnval Parade Musicians

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Market food! All for around $2

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Dancing with bells on their shoes

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Chris and I with the Cristo

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Overlooking Cochabamba

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Amor y Comida Callejera

Love and Street Food. This is how I will remember La Paz, along with the altitude, a wet and soapy Carnival parade, being afraid of little boys with water guns, and one very Bolivian night out learning dance moves from the locals- “Sí, eso! Uno, dos, tres!” And of course, for the start of a new and exciting chapter of traveling with Chris, who flew in from Colombia after 5 weeks of traveling.

I arrived in La Paz after a beautiful 17 hour bus ride winding through rolling mountains and across high plains, nearly spanning all of Bolivia from Tarija. Chris flew in a couple days later and we spent the weekend happily catching up on the last few months we’ve been apart.

La Paz can be described as extreme Bolivia- it’s bursting with colorful patterns, it’s hilly cobblestone streets are packed with vendors selling everything under the sun, ladies with bowler hats and long black braids sit with huge steaming pots of food along the sidewalks, men hang out of micro buses yelling out their destinations and prices, and the markets seem to go on and on for blocks and blocks, covered with blue tarps.

When Chris and I had the energy to leave the comfort of our hospedaje (it was wet, cold and at 3600 meters, it was difficult to find oxygen), we did as the Paceños do. We sat on tiny fold out stools on the sidewalk eating from the ladies’ pots- meals cost between $.50-$1 each and usually consisted of a hearty soup, rice or pasta, potatoes and sauce/salsa with a little salad (we opted for no meat). We wandered around huge markets, looking at handmade crafts and nibbling on local sweets. We drank Api, a local sweet treat made from blue corn, quinoa and spices, with fresh cheese empanadas. We watched the Carnival festivities and endured being sprayed with water and foam, as is tradition here. We enjoyed the local wines and Paceña beer (#5 beer in the world according to a proud Paceño- which means a La Paz native- with Budweiser and Heineken taking the lead). We found ourselves dancing in local pubs with Bolivians, feeling welcomed with enormous warmth and kindness, learning the dance moves with passion and laughter. We watched a group of men play wooden flutes and bang on fur covered animal skin drums in a traditional folk style. We shopped in the Witches’ Market, buying herbs to heal and holy wood to cleanse, crossing under hanging dried llama fetuses that are used for luck. We looked down on La Paz from a mirador and marveled at the valley it fills and at the surrounding mountains that it climbs.

Even though La Paz is a beautiful and energetic city, the altitude and craziness started wearing on us, so after the weekend we caught a ride with a nice young couple to a small town 2 1/2 hours east called Coroico. The drive was absolutely stunning. The road winds through the Bolivian Andes, waterfalls stream down the mountains and clouds float beside as you hug lush, green cliffs. It’s difficult to describe how shocking these mountains actually are, hopefully the picture below helps.
Coroico itself didn’t stand out as exceptional, aside from the scenery. We camped at a semi-remote place a gnarly 30-minute uphill walk from town. Thanks to a well equipped kitchen, we cooked pizzas and enjoyed pancakes for breakfast. We visited a small Buddhist temple further up the mountain and met a few wonderful people, but decided it wasn’t the right time/place to stay and volunteer. It was a peaceful few days, now we’re headed towards Cochabamba where we hope to find sunshine, warmth, rainforest and possibly camping on a wildlife refuge.

I’m ecstatic to be sharing Bolivia with Chris now, we make a fairly awesome traveling team 🙂 And like I’ve said before, beauty is always best when shared.

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Balance

One essential aspect of life is discovering and maintaining balance. During my time in Valle, the idea of embracing duality kept surfacing- accepting that we are the day and the night, the evil and the good, the saint and the sinner- we are all one, embodying these dualities. That’s where this poem was born, sitting beneath a hanging tree on a warm summer night at Valle de Vino.

Balance

In this life, we become all of these days and nights and in betweens
These dusks and dawns
These moments we breathe in, that define us

We breathe in deep the sunshine with our eyes closed
Allowing the rays to penetrate our outer layer
Giving thanks for the life that she gives so freely, so unselfishly, asking for nothing in return
So kindly at times, yet so harshly at others
We breathe in deep the wakefulness
The positivity
The energy of bodies coming and going and exchanging pleasantries, in the light of day

We breathe in deep the night
The black
The quiet
We feel the reflection of the sun on the moon- for they are one in their opposites
In their duality and sameness, they are each of us
We absorb the fireballs we call stars, possibly already past in their lifetime but alive in ours
Reminding us that perspective is reality
We breathe in deep the tranquility
The light song of nocturnal life, chirping and croaking its peace

And at dawn and dusk
The in betweens
The beginnings and endings that never linger for long enough
We feel the inevitable change
The fleeting that is life
The pinks and purples and oranges and every shade of blues
The blending of our duality- the day and night

We are the dawn and the dusk
The awakening and retreating

The rainbow that exists between black and white

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Donde Hay Vino, Hay Amor: Life on the Bodega

I believe it to be true, that where there is wine, there is love, as Don Jesus loves to say. I also believe that where there is a lot of wine, there tend to be people playing music, laughter, shared meals and just a bit of debauchery. Ok, maybe a lot of debauchery. I´ve spent the last 2 1/2 weeks living on a bodega (vineyard) in a small village in Southern Bolivia, Valle de la Concepcion. I became acquainted with Valle de Vino, the bodega, though Wwoof.org, an orgination that connects farms with volunteers. Accommodations and some meals are exchanged for some hours of work. In this case, I worked a little, mostly painting, cleaning or sometimes cooking for everyone, but spent more time studying the local culture. And drinking lots of wine with the people. I was happy to share the experience with another volunteer, Anthony, originally from the UK, because we were able to view the madness from a slightly objective view and had some great laughs about it, while learning heaps about Bolivian wine-country culture.

Every person around the bodega was a character with a strong and interesting personality. Don Jesus, the owner of the bodega, is a big, smiley, generous man who has a reputation for enjoying his wine. As long as you stayed on his good side, there was no need to fret, but we saw the beast come out a time or two. Some mornings we´d wake up and he´d already be at it, entertaining guests or friends with one or several bottles of wine, and wouldn´t stop until after the sun had set, a couple times until it rose again. He treated me like family while I was there and I have nothing but positive regard for him, even if he hits the bottle a tad. He´s philosophical, honest and offers respect where it is returned.

My favorite character on the bodega must be Ramon, the painter. He´s crazy, as most artists are, and random, but insightful and sensitive. He will float slowly into a room and start talking about duendes (dwarfs) that live in the vineyard or about the fact that we are all going to die, or he´ll say things like your eyes are like crystal and he can see the universe in them. He eats earth (although I have seen him with food stuff, though never actually seen him eat) and swims in the abandoned pool half full of murky rain water and frogs- because in reality, it´s clean water, it´s of the earth. One day when I was making a trip into town, he picked two big roses, wrapped them in leaves and gave me specific instructions on who I was to bring them to: Rosalia, his love who lives above the chicken restaurant near the market. So I carried these roses into Tarija, somehow found the place, knocked on the door and delivered the roses. Ramon is romantic like this. He fancied kissing my feet, but it became too strange, so he settled for my hand. He wears lens-less glasses that he fashioned out of wire in the style of John Lennon. Ramon, the painter, the artist who throws his entire body and spirit into his work. He lives on the bodega and wanders through life, always a bottle of pure firewater in his pocket. He gave me a seashell when I left with no explanation of where it came from. I´ll keep it for as long as I can.

Other characters, more briefly- Tulo, a man living on the bodega while he finishes his house who casually mentioned he owns part of the most popular vineyard in town, is most likely a millionaire. He´s always a bit speedy and runs around doing very important things in very important clothes, he´s the dodgiest of them all, but friendly. Phily Phily, another man who works there, always has a cheek full of coca leaves and laughs like he´s up to no good. He shows up to work early, stays late and seems to be one of the only ones actually accomplishing anything. He´s impossible to understand but has a good heart. Another of my favorites, Angel, is a smiple man who doesn´t say much but obviously has a heart of gold. His belly is always poking out of his shirt, but in an endearing way. Then there are the girls, some of whom are absolutely lovely and others of whom just seem to show up and stand around all day. Then there were the animals- various cats and dogs, a few that lived there permanently and others that would come hang out during the day or night then leave. Animals are treated so differently in this world- the idea of buying them special food is absurd when they can just eat our scraps and hunt for their food. Pictured are the more permanent dwellers at Valle de Vino.

I can´t possibly describe them all in detail. The general vibe of the bodega is a bit confused, disorganized and lacking sense, but full of genuine intentions. My two weeks there were leading up to this last weekend, an opening day for the bodega after a series of renovations. The day consisted of lunch (sopa de mani, baked chicken with a picante sauce, potatoes and rice- very typical Bolivian), many glasses of wine and music that didn´t stop all day, even when the electricity went out (as it commonly did), we lit a candle and the guitars kept being strummed. The following day, there was half of a traditional folk festival (partly canceled because of rain), so 5 of us girls and Anthony dressed in traditional Chapaco clothes, danced around the plaza a bit, and then I ditched out to enjoy a lovely lunch at another bodega in town. I should mention that the wine at Valle de Vino is unlike any other I´ve ever tried. After seeing them bottle process one batch, it´s obvious that the proper wine making expertise is lacking completely, and it´s reflected in the wine. It´s funny that in 2 1/2 weeks living on a vineyard in wine country, I shared one bottle of proper, delicious wine at Bodega del Abuelo (Bolivia does make some beautiful wine, it just wan´t accessible from where I was working). And I can´t complain, I actually became accustomed to drinking glasses of sugary juice, and it was always flowing freely.

Bolivia is seen as the poorest country in South America, monetarily, but from what I saw in those two weeks, they live the richest lives. They roast whole pigs on weekends for no special reason. They gather with their friends and family and laugh. They play music and dance these flirtaous Bolivian dances, waving white hankercheifs at one another. They live simply and fairly self-sustainably- the bodgea was full of fruit trees in addition to the grapes, animals go stright from the field to the table and the cheese is so fresh that you can taste the same exact flavors in the milk.

Of course,  nothing goes without fault, the way most people consume sugar is outrageous and even though diabetes goes undiagnosed, I´m sure it´s rampant, as is obesity. Life expectancy seems to be fairly short, just judging from what I saw. But do these things matter, really? If you live a full 60 years enjoying your life and then die, is it worse than constantly stressing over everything until you´re 95 and then being pumped full of medications to keep you alive?

Obviously, I can´t answer these questions because they´re very personal and subjective. But for me, seeing the way the Bolivians I´ve been surrounded with live has taught me a lot about how I want to live and also about how I don´t. I will take the spirit of the land of plenty, the graden of eden (as a friend put it), the care free, enjoy your days attitude, and leave the part that resembles the gates of hell (as the same friend so poignantly put it), the part that allows for debauchery and complete disorganization or loss of self.

I´m grateful for these weeks, wandering around Valle, safely, quietly, among people that became my Bolivian family and friends, drinking too much wine and losing various material things (also a lesson I´m being taught, to let go of things that refuse to hold onto us). Now that I´ve arrived in La Paz, it´s as if I´ve stepped out of a dream. I´ll tuck this time away into my memory, and be thrown into the next chapter.

ImageVino, el perrito, and the gatos in the background

ImageNegro, mi perro favorito de Bolivia

ImageMusic all day and all night

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Chapacos for the day, Valle de Vino family (Jesus in the middle)Image

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A moving piece Ramon painted of Jesus Cristo

A moving piece Ramon painted of Jesus Cristo

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