La Paz, Bolivia

During our last week of January, Eduardo and I spent five days in La Paz, Bolivia. The highest capital in the world at 3,640 metres above sea level. That must be the average as much of the city is precariously built on the surrounding mountains

Its tumultuous, confusing streets take your breath away, literally and figuratively. Traffic and people mingle in often chaotic ways. We used taxis as buses were just too confusing. We walked a lot too, frequently going around in circles. Especially one evening. We had tickets for a traditional music concert by three of Bolivia’s most well-known artists, and we were looking for a relatively clean place to eat.

Trip Advisor sent us on a wild goose chase. We finally found “the place”, but it had closed down. No wonder! We lost about one hour just trying to locate it. People on the street sent us to a “safe” place although the man said he preferred the food in the market.

Let me assure you: clean is a relative term. Luckily, Eduardo and I have fairly tough digestive systems!

Food-wise we never did eat anything really good. Although I heard later that we should have gone into the richer section of the city for some better fare.

Our Airbnb was located fairly centrally, and the family was very nice. They lived in a modern 10th floor three bedroom apartment.

The father is an architect, and still works on contracts part-time. His wife (both around 60) keeps this room rented plus an apartment on another floor that her son (who lives in the US) owns. Another son who is doing a Masters degree stays with them one week a month, along with his wife who works nearby, and their two year old son. Grandparents take him to and from daycare. They seem to be a very close family who help each other in many different ways.

That’s what I like about Airbnb. You often get to meet and interact with a local family.

During our stay, there was a festival going on called Alasitas. It honours the Aymara god, of abundance, Ekeku. Merchants sell all kinds of miniature objects and money. People buy what they would like to have in the coming year. Or what they want to give to friends and family: cars, houses, money, gold, or other more mundane articles such as cell phones or even university diplomas!

It reminded me of the Chinese custom of buying miniatures for the dead. Things one would need in the next world.

At the concert, the musician even gave out wads of miniature money to the audience. He gave me so much I had lots to share with everyone around me.

Oh, yes, we took a ride up a mountainside on their new “Mi Teleferico”. There are four different lines of cable cars. What would take one hour in a noisy, crowded, dusty, smoky bus takes only ten minutes. But locals told me it costs twice as much as the bus.

So don’t go to La Paz to relax or enjoy fine cuisine. Go for the experience! People watch! Breathe deeply; drinks lots of water; and chew coca leaves.

La Paz is interesting, but it would not be my favourite place to live…

Cusco, on the other hand… but that is for my next blog.

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Peru: Week One

 

Peru, Week one, January 18, 2018, Thursday, 7:30 AM, Arequipa

Our first week in Peru has been busy: Lima 3 days, Paracas 1, Huacachina/Ica 1, Nazca 1, and now we have landed in Arequipa early in the morning after an all-night bus trip. We were lucky to have a rather luxurious bus with big comfy reclining seats and even a duvet to keep warm.

My first impressions are that Peruvians are polite, friendly people, a little on the quiet side. The countryside has been coastal so far. It is a narrow stretch of desert between the Pacific and the mountains. The towns are small, dusty, rather poor, but each centre has something of interest.

Obviously tourism plays a large part in the economy, but there is a thriving farming area around Ica because of ancient aqueduct systems built by the Nazca people. Today there are vineyards, fruits, and vegetables using the same ancient aquaducts.

Peruvian cuisine is very tasty with many spicy dishes. We have enjoyed the ceviche that they serve with different kinds of corn kernels and slices of sweet potato. It sounds weird but it quickly becomes addictive! We also enjoy the wonderful fruit juices: orange, mango, lulo, pineapple, passionfruit, (our favourite) watermelon, and more. We are starting to explore the chicha which is an ancient, slightly fermented drink made of almost anything that ferments!

What surprised us most is the size of the servings. They are huge! So we usually share an appetizer and one main dish with a little dessert. There is also a plethora of sweets often with chocolate and/or manjar blanco, which we call the cajeta in Mexico and dulce de leche in most other countries. I’ve noticed it’s becoming more popular in Canada lately.

Highlights in Lima: the Puk Llama ( a huge archeological site) Where I got off to a great introductory sunburn ( no hat, no sunscreen). DUH!

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The wonderful murals in Barranco. The National Museum of Archeology and the Larco Museum. On our final day we just enjoyed visiting a market and then taking a very crowded mini train into the historic center. After three days of walking we a good massage helped loosen our sore muscles.( 40 soles for 1hour, about $15)

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In Paracas, six hours south of Lima by bus, we went out in a small speedboat to see the animal life on the Ballestas Islands (really just big rocks). They look white from a distance as they are covered by thousands of birds which produce large quantities of guano. But a few penguins and see lions don’t seem to mind the mess or the smell!

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Moving on the next day to Huacachina: Lots of towns here in Peru have the word Hua in them. It means place, and it makes things rather confusing as there are so many Huas. Here all the young’uns went sand-boarding on the huge dunes. They put arborite on the bottom and then wax it. If you have money a dune buggy will take you for a speedy ride up, but many people just climb up in their big boots and their board on their back. I can only imagine how difficult it must be as we trudged up this soft, fine sand in bare feet, and it was exhausting and hot too. On the ridge we watched the boarders and waited for the sunset as the wind came up and sand insinuated itself everywhere: eyes, hair, ears, clothes. I worried most about my camera.

Huacachina is really a little suburb for tourists surrounding a tiny natural lake outside of the rather prosperous town of Ica, the home of the famous Tejas candy. Tejas are mainly manjar blanco with nuts or dried fruit and covered with a plain sugar coating or chocolate for a fancier version. Very rich but no gluten!

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They make Pisco and a rather sweet wine in this area. Also, there is a busy mining industry I am told.

Continuing south along the coast is Nazca named after the Nazca people who lived here from about 200 BC to 700 A.D. Over this 1000 year period, they created the Nasca lines which are considered one of the world’s marvels. Straight lines and figures go for kilometres on the flat, rocky desert. They had to have great mathematical knowledge to make them as you can’t really see the full figure from the ground. We did a 30 minute flight in a small Cesna over the lines which are truly amazing. There are many theories how and why they were made which include conjunctures of extra-terrestrials.

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Today we are in Arequipa, perhaps Peru’s prettiest city which is inland at an altitude of 2300 meters. It is warm and sunny this morning. I had my breakfast on a second floor veranda overlooking the Plaza Major.

I think I will go and wake up Eduardo; he was grumpy this morning as he didn’t sleep well on the bus, and he forgot his phone plugged into the wall of our last hotel, nine hours back. I left my sunglasses on the table in a restaurant yesterday. Fortunately I got them back! (So I am keeping my mouth shut!)

Hasta la próxima.

Home soon

Travelling is great, but I always miss being home, and the closer the time to return home, the more I look forward to seeing family and friends, enjoying the comforts of home, getting back into some kind of routine, gardening, sailing, going for a favourite bike ride, starting new projects, working on some self-improvement items (such as down-sizing, home improvements, reading, exercising, studying, or whatever).

Today, I made a list, but it has been brewing for the last couple of weeks, especially because I have been rather bored here, resting, in order to get rid of the flu which turned into bronchitis, so I can enjoy these last days of sun, ocean, and heat.

After leaving Guatemala, via Belize, I spent one day exploring Tulum (a small but beautiful Mayan ruins site by the ocean) and sitting under a palapa on the beach. Unfortunately, I remembered to use sunscreen everywhere but my face! Forgot to bring my hat too!

A coati and me at the Tulum ruins

Here in Cozumel for the last five days, waiting and hoping that my lungs clear up enough to go diving. Fortunately, I am staying in a lovely big Airbnb apartment not far from a bright, modern hospital where I have been going twice a day for nebulisation treatments. The grocery store is not far, and there is a great little place to eat fresh hot tacos al pastor right around the corner, so all my basic needs are covered.

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Catching the setting sun.

I also got a Mexican sim card for my phone, so I have unlimited calls anywhere in Mexico, USA, and Canada. These calls are refreshing after a steady diet of facebook and TV. A CBC app on my ipad is also a boon, and it makes appreciate, as I listen to the weather reports, the warmth (actually, I should say heat) of Mexico.

Hasta pronto,

Val

Two Parks

Two parks up on the mountain sides

So far I have visited two parks up on the mountain sides. They are very different.

One is a conference centre in a park setting where artists are encouraged to install their art and visitors get free transportation up the steep mountainside to enjoy art, nature, and fine dining. It is owned by a hotel called Casa Santo Domingo which is here in Antigua. This hotel, built on the site of an old monastery is also a delight to explore. http://www.casasantodomingo.com.gt/default-en.html

 

Besides permanent art exhibits outside, there are art galleries and museums. The two most interesting were a museum to the Guatemalan author, “Miguel Ángel Asturias Rosales (October 19, 1899 – June 9, 1974) was a Nobel Prize-winning Guatemalan poet-diplomat, novelist, playwright and journalist. Asturias helped establish Latin American literature’s contribution to mainstream Western culture, and at the same time drew attention to the importance of indigenous cultures, especially those of his native Guatemala.” He was also a contemporary and friend of Pablo Neruda, the Chilean author and diplomat.” Wikipedia

And the other dedicated to Efraín Recinos (May 15, 1928 – October 2, 2011) who was a Guatemalan contemporary architect, muralist, urbanist, painter and sculptor. He thought art was best diplayed in a natual setting, so this park is a perfect match for him. Wikipedia again

The other park/garden is an organic garden that also has a great restaurant. It cost 10 quetzales to catch a little bus that ferries people up the mountain to the farm and back again. It is a very steep road with incredible hairpin turns. The gardens are planted on the mountain side and labelled quite well. We (my German friend, Christine and I) found a memorial to the founder, Frank Lee Mays Sirmons, of Cerro San Cristobal, of the textile store in Antigua, Nim Po’t, and  La Antigua Galeria de Arte. He died only last December in 2016, and from the pictures we saw there, he appeared to be a tall, long-haired, red-headed, hippy-looking man, well-loved by the people around him. He had lived in Guatemala for the last 25 years. The food was great and the view even better.

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So this is how I spend my time when I am not studying Spanish. Presently, I have a lovely tutor, a history teacher, who is getting me to read some very interesting articles about the recent history of Guatemala. My writing lags far behind, unfortunately. Here is a picture of us at her school where her students did some photography on various themes.

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Lovely Cozumel

Lovely Cozumel

Cozumel is a great island just off the Mayan Coast. It is especially noted for its wonderful diving. The town is small and safe, and the hotels are out of town which is just fine with me.

The reefs and beaches are on the on the east side facing the mainland and the west side has lovely deserted beaches because one cannot swim in the rough waters. When there is a north wind, it is rough everywhere.

To pass the time during my recovery from blocked middle ears, I rented a car and drove around the island spending a time sunning on the beach, and eating great ceviche in a restaurant perched on the highest point of the island while I studied for my exam on Enriched Air Diving.

Here are some pictures.dsc04391dsc04406dsc04410dsc04434

Small towns and beaches

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

In an interesting change of roles, I have been the guest of Frida, a young woman who was my guest many years ago when she was only ten. Frida came to Canada to practise her English: she went to summer camp with my daughter, she caught poison ivy, she travelled out west by car with us; she marvelled at the “snow” when we crossed the glaciers between Jasper and Banff.

This past weekend, it was I who rode in the back of the van to Manzanillo. Frida and her husband, Ricardo, stopped in Comala on the way to have breakfast. We found a charming place on a side street, overlooking a lush ravine, which served some delicious Mexican breakfast dishes: chilaquiles, sopes, frijoles, fresh juices, and café, of course.

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On the beach in Manzanillo and in Malaque, we snacked on fresh pineapple, jícama, cucumber, and shrimp all laced with chile and lemon. We drank green coconut water and beer in the shade of big parasols and cooled off in the beautiful waters of the Pacific.

On the way back to Guadalajara, we stopped in Sayula, a pretty town which specializes in making knives, cajeta (dulce de leche), sweet pastries and empanadas, and birria. It is also the birthplace of the author and photographer, Juan Rulfo (1917-1986).