Sunday, March 11, 2007

Smokey Robinson, flamingos and California

Sarah´s in the process of typing up a blog entry that will bring you all up to speed on what we´ve been doing for the last couple days, so I´m just going to babble for a bit. Make sure you read her Blog entry first, or you´ll have even less of an idea than usual of what I´m talking about.

Touring with Smokey Robinson - First off, if any of you were wondering what Smokey Robinson has been up to recently, apparently he´s moved to southern Bolivia, where he is a driver for tours on the Salar de Uyuni (the massive salt flats there). I can testify to this, because Sarah and I spent the last couple of days driving around in the middle of nowhere with him. At first, I thought he was sort of a wimpy driver because he refused to drive out onto the wet salar, even though several other drivers were taking their tour groups. But, on the third day, we were involved in a high-speed, pre-dawn, off-road rally in which he was repeatedly passing other 4x4´s in the near pitch black, while careening along thin dirt roads perched over sheer cliffs. So I can only presume that he knew what he was talking about on the salar... and that all the other tour groups who drove out onto it perished. Anyone read anything about several dozen tourists disappearing on the flooded salt flats of Bolivia? Because I´m sure Smokey would have taken us out on them otherwise.

I will say he looks really snappy in a blue race car drivers jump suit.

Side Note: Everything I write from this point on was written two days later. This is primarily because the people in the the Internet cafe we were using in La Serena kicked us out. Apparently, everything in La Serena is closed, or opens and closes at weird hours, on Sundays. I´ve encountered this in other countries... but not to the extent that Sarah and I did in La Serena the other day. We literally spent the last Sunday wandering around (doing a little site-seeing) and looking for internet cafes and places to try calling our families (something we never accomplished). We did find an internet cafe, but after typing for roughly 10 minutes, the girl running the cafe walked up to us and asked us questions we didn´t understand. It was only after a larger man came, stood behind me and said "bye bye" menacingly in English that we realized it was time to go. Anyhow, onward with my initial intended babbling session.

I don´t think I want to hear anyone complain about American Pop Music again. - Those who know me know that I have no love for American pop music, but at the same time, Justin Timberlake looks like a music genious (sic) compared to the music we were stuck listening too during our three day tour. Several nights before the tour, we ate dinner in a restaurant in Isla Del Sol that had some bizarre, lightly-techno, Bolivian dance music playing. I actually sort of liked it. It was unusual, catchy and harmless. And, in the context of that candle-lit dinner, seemed to match the evening. But "Chicha Disco Boliviano" was a whole different story. At first, I tried to play along, bobbing my head along with a song I´d later dub "the puppy song" (because the bass sounded like barking puppies). But after three days of three CD´s basically on repeat, I feel like I can say as an informed authority that American Pop Music is superior to Bolivian.

And, in Bolivia, if you aren´t listening to Bolivian Pop Music, you are listening to American 80´s Pop Music. I´ve heard Bonnie Tyler´s "Total Eclipse of the Heart" more in the last several weeks than I have in the last two decades.

The tour group as disfunctional family - One of the side effects of our extended tour with Smokey Robinson is that we got to interact a little more with the other people in our small tour group. In addition to me, Sarah, Smokey and the tour's cook... who may have been Smokey´s girlfriend... or mistress... or daughter... we also had the two Adi´s from Isreal. Having completed their mandatory tour in the army, they had been spending several weeks on the beaches of Rio De Janeiro and somehow ended up on Bolivia. When they told us that Isreali´s have a bad reputation abroad, I didn´t immediately believe it. That is until at the border between Bolivia and Chile when our bus driver started yelling at them, saying "you Isreali´s better not be trying to sneak some cocaine across the border!" To my knowledge, one of the Adi´s didn´t even drink. In addition, there was Julia and Victor, who were coy about their relationship (Julia was 23, Victor 44) but both seemed to have interesting jobs with NGO´s. In addition, poor Victor somehow ended up being the only person in our tour group (not counting Smokey and his assistant) that didn´t speak English.

Still, you can´t spend three days trapped in a 4x4 with a bunch of strangers without it seems like a remake of the Breakfast Club, but with less crying, and no dance sequence.

Bolivian Food - ...or the complete lack of. I´m still not sure what "Bolivian food" is because I think I pretty much just ate spaghetti in Bolivia. Honestly, I would have liked to try some, but pretty much everywhere seemed to just serve spaghetti.

...actually, that´s not entirely true. I did have a good BBQ chicken sandwich in one place. And, I did eat an alpaca steak. But, at the time, I just thought it was some chewy, overcooked beef.

Wildlife in Bolivia and beyond - I don´t necessarily think of myself as an animal person, but I am also endlessly amazed at how excited I am to see new animals. When we went to the bird sancutuary in Paracas, it tickled me pink (Pink, I tell ya!) to see penguins in the wild. And while most of the animals we´ve seen in Peru, Bolivia and Chile have been domestic (cows, donkeys, pigs, llamas, alpacas, etc), the tour also allowed us to see Vicuñas (otherworldly, wild cousins of llamas), ostriches (Ostriches? In South America? Didn´t even know they had them here... but there they were running around free in the desert), and lakes full of Flamingos (Pink, I tell ya!).

I´m sure I´ll see even more exciting animals before this trip is done... but, its been an exciting start.

Welcome to California - After three weeks in Peru and Bolivia, Chile feels like California. With its warm weather, chain stores and faster internet connections (I won´t even mention how much better the bathrooms are on average), the difference is shocking between the first two nations and the one we are now in. I´ve been to Chile once before and didn´t notice how modern it was, but that is probably because I came straight from the US to Chile. But, in comparison its northern cousins, Chile is a modern nation. I mean, sure most people in California speak English instead of Spanish, but give it another 10 years.

Unfortunately, that also leads to a bit of "sticker shock" too. After several weeks of paying, say, $5 for a meal for two. We are a little shocked that dinners are now running us $10 to $12 for each of the two of us. Also, it doesn´t help that the exchange rate for the US dollar to Chile peso is 1 to 525. So, a the bill for a $12 meal reads as $6300. Also, we´ve seen Dollar Stores in Chile. They are "$500 Stores."

One thing that we definitely appreciate about Chile is their paved roads. After a week of bumping around on Bolivia´s washed out, pot-hole littered dirt roads, the Chilan highway system is smooth sailing. Speaking of which...

I actually slept on a night bus! - I´m not saying it was my best night of sleep ever. But, in comparison to how I slept in the crowded bunk houses that made up our tour of the Bolivian Altiplano, I was sleeping beauty.

Enjoying Grocery Shopping - It's amazing how fun just going grocery shopping in a supermarket can be after weeks of going on tours. Sarah and I spent some time wandering around a grocery store in La Serena looking for things to take on a picnic the following day... and that shopping trip was probably one of the highlights of the day. If not La Serena in general. When everything is exotic and new, it makes the normal seem novel by default.

But, at the same time, there is nothing more humbling than reaching the check out lane only to realize you didn´t weigh and package your produce correctly for them to check you out. Drat!

Pablo Neruda´s House - Today, Sarah and I took an Ascensor (or Funicular) up to see the Open Air Museum and Pablo Neruda´s House. Honestly, I don´t know much about Pablo, beyond that he´s a famous Chilan poet. And I´ve never read any of his poetry. But I have a lot of respect for the man based on his house.

Actually, a lot of stuff has been making me think about Sarah and mine´s next Big Adventure™, which will probably be a lot more domestic in nature. But, mainly, we´ve been talking more about the type of place we´d like to live in eventually, and Pablo´s house had a lot of the same characteristics I think we´d both like to see in our dream home someday: An urban, modern, well planned-out space, that reflects our interests and lifestyle. I know, that´s a pretty generic statement, but it´s interesting to me how much our traveling has made us talk about the type of place we´d like to "settle" more and more, and how much our visions of that place match up.

Time change confusion - OK, this might be tricky to explain... but here goes: Last weekend, while waiting for a bus, another tourist mentioned that there would a time change because of Daylight Savings that weekend. So, Sarah and I were both prepared to switch our clocks forward an hour because of the old "Spring forward, Fall back" saying. But, when it came time to change it we were surpised that the time actually went back an hour. Spring back!? What gives?

Then, last night, another Seattlite we ran into at a restaurant (her and Sarah actually knew some of the same people through their respective jobs... small world, no?), she pointed out that even though its Spring in the northern hemisphere, its actually going into Fall here. So, they are falling back. Meanwhile, all of those of you reading this in the States (or Europe... we know you´re out there) are Spinging forward.

The weird side effect of this is that while the people in Seattle used to only have a 1 hour time difference from us her in Chile... you now have a 3 hour time difference. Crazy, ain´t it!

It´s like time travel... only more confusing.

1 comment:

Betsy Wasser said...

I love Pablo Neruda. You should check out his stuff. "Poema XX" is one of my favorites, and althogh I think it's better in Spanish, you can find translations of it, no problem.