Monday, May 31, 2010

Once again I have been blown away by what we have been able to see and do here; in Pampas Grandes more than ever. This community is so simple and humble, but they are some of the kindest most open people we have met. This is probably THE most laid back place I have ever been and I love it. Our current schedule consists of:
5:00 a.m. waked up (yes you heard me right) and go running with these two girls here that are hard core like that.
6:45 a.m. go home and squeeze in a shower and breakfast before school starts
7:45 a.m. school starts. We go to the school and pretty much just teach which ever class a teacher dosn’t show up for. Turns out it’s pretty common for that to happen. Our classes range from 11 year olds to about 17 year olds. These kids are wild and it’s kind of a joke that Teri and I are in charge of their little brains for 5 hours each day.
1:00 p.m. (this is when we start saying Buenos Tardes instead of Buenos Dias) We walk to our place that’s just across the street to take a break.
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. We head down to the restaurant that we go to everyday. I’m going to go out on a ledge here and say most people haven’t been to a restaurant like this one. There is no menu, you just sit down and they bring out whatever they are cooking back there. Most days you start with a soup that has a mysterious chunk of meat in it and next they bring out a plate of rice with another large chunk of meat. One day I made the mistake of asking for my meal sin carne. I got the biggest load of greasy chicken and the lady is like “no carne, it’s pollo”. Today I asked what the meat was and when I didn’t recognize the answer I decided it was best I just didn’t know.
3-3:30 We head to the field to make good on one or more of our promises to play soccer or volleyball with the kids. This is my favorite part of the day. These kids are tough man! They are so funny to play sports with. They’re nuts. Playing soccer with the boys is pure comedy. They are constantly running into each other and tripping in the awkward dirt/tufts of grass field they have to play on. They just do a few summer salts and keep on running. Yesterday our goalie literally came up to my hip and he was 80% the reason we won the game. The other 20% was because we had a child prodigy making all of the goals. The best part is that the girls are just as tough or more when it comes to volleyball. Teri and I whimper almost every time we hit the ball – it hurts sooo bad. My arms are finally starting to build up a resistance, but it has come at a cost. The first few days we were here my arms were black and blue. The other day the adults asked if we wanted to play “volley” and we said yes. It was the biggest shock to watch these fierce competitors on the court (if you could call it that). First of all they asked us for money to play with them. We thought at that they were just trying to rip off the gringos, but no, it was a wager on the game. My team won and I made a whole sole! (which is about 40 cents)
6-7:00 We start walking home. The sun is setting by now and so far I have yet to see a sunset that disappoints. It’s almost always stunning from our lofty spot up on the mountain top. We shuffle home with a few kids tagging along. We almost always stop on our way to get some treats.
7-9:00 p.m. Last of all we hang out in our kitchen with Diego (the main director of our program) and a few kids playing cards and drinking tea. There are very few options when it comes to food here and we usually eat avocado and pan (bread) for dinner.
9-9:30 p.m. We generally head to bed. This is the earliest I have gone to bed since I was 14 and was on the swim team, but let me tell you what I am ready every single time. It’s like a health spa here. Hard work, good food, lots of exercise, I’m in the mountains. Life is good.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

24 Hours of Bliss

We made it to Pampas Grandes! Barely. We are here to do service for a program that we knew almost nothing about when we agreed to do it. Pan Peru is the program we are working for. We were recommended to them by a friend back home. The purpose of Pan Peru is pretty much to compensate for the lack of education and attention that small, poor, farming communities get in Peru. Pampas Grandes is the town they are focusing on right now. To get here we had to get to Lima where we met with the director (who doesn’t speak a lick of English by the way) and then get a bus up to Huarez. In Huarez we met another guy who lives and works in Pampas and met us to drive us the rest of the way. That transportation ended up being a little faulty. First of all turns out we were to drive up to Pampas with the mayor of Pampas, who was in a meeting. At first he said the meeting would be out at 10 am – long story short we pulled out of Huarez around 3 o’clock with 5 other passengers, one of which road in the back of the pick up truck amongst our back packs, a dirt bike, and a load of 10’ long pipes. After barreling up the windy country road for about 30 min we pulled over to check something under the hood – I wasn’t complaining because I needed a bano break anyway. By the time I made it back to the truck the mayor and Diego (the guy who initially picked us up) were arguing about something. They had taken the cap off of the (hot) radiator and it had flown off and was now missing. We searched for about an hour before heading back down to Huarez. The mayor (the driver at the time) was pretty annoyed and was cruising down the road that we had just climbed when we came across a lady and her small herd of live stock. At the last second one of the sheep darted in front of our car and the mayor ran right over it! Teri and I both gasped, but the best part is HE KEPT DRIVING. No apologie, we didn’t even slow down long enough to see the carnage, he just kept going. We didn’t know whether to laugh or what. That was just the beginning though – 2 min later Diego made us pull over so he could ralph out the window. We were going way too fast down that road and Diego proceeded to give the mayor and ear full. Diego drove the rest of the way. 2 hours later we were finally headed back up the road. No one had the right cap, but we forced one into working finally. Teri and I couldn’t help but laugh, it was the craziest day. The truck had some serious damage to the front bumper from the poor lamb. They guy in the back had to get out and walk twice as we passed police stations so they wouldn’t get a ticket for having him in the back. The cherry on top was when we stopped to have something to eat at about 9 pm after rumbling up a dirt road squished in the back of a truck for the past 2 hours and we were served soup with a swollen chicken foot floating in it. We got some serious giggles – it was all just too much.
It has all turned out fine though. We are staying in a great little house in the most beautiful spot at the top of a mountain. Pampas Grandes is a dusty little town clinging to mountain side at about 11,000 ft. One way down the mountain takes you to the ocean and the other to the jungle. Today we literally woke up to a rooster crowing. We went to the local “Olympics” where all of the surrounding towns come to Pampas to compete in running, soccer, and volleyball. Random I know. We made some fast friends with 3 little girls who took us all around town today. We can’t wait to start teaching. It’s so nice to be somewhere that we can actually get to know the people and not just be gringo outsider tourists. I really despise being a tourist. People don’t treat you like people, they treat you like a dollar sign. Here we’ll have a chance to really make friends with people and see how we live. We are living in pretty humble circumstances ourselves actually. We’re staying in this funny house, where there is really no interior space besides the rooms. It’s hard to explain, but there are no halls. All of the rooms just lead outside and there is a path outside the runs along the building that you take to get to the kitchen and the bathroom. There is no heat, the floors are cement. The water is hot though, which is just about all I could ask for at this point. It’s kind of like camping – I guess? I love it. There is a dog here that we are already friends with and our yard has big green over grown grass and flowers all over. Not a bad place to hang out for a few weeks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh really? Two cute baby animals at home while I'm away?

Monday, May 17, 2010

We made it to Lima today. We are staying in the first actual hotel that we have our entire 6 weeks. Our friend here had booked it for us ahead of time so we went with it. Sooo worth it. Tonight we have sat around, watched tv (sex and the city just came on . . . in ENGLISH, it's like it was meant to be), ate candy, took hot showers (yes, first HOT shower in 6 weeks) and vegged. I can't imagine anthing better right now. We even have internet here! Real internet, the kind that works! Modern marvels.
We just got word that the place where we will be working for the next 3 weeks is another 15 hours from Lima - half by bus, half by car. It's also in the middle of it's rainy season and averages 3 degrees C. They don't really have internet turns out so see you all in a few weeks!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Good Bye Lapaz

We left La Paz early this morning and boarded the first of three buses (so far) that are taking us to Cusco. We will spend the day in Cusco and then get on a night bus that will take us to Lima tomorrow, another 24 hours by bus.
La Paz was probably the most inspiring and interesting city we have been in so far. It’s also one of the trickiest and least 1st world cities I have been in. First of all we stand out like soar thumbs there, and I never like that. It also is constantly having protests and demonstrations, making things that much more unpredictable. On the flip side it is so culturally interesting. As I mentioned before there are tons of traditional looking ladies everywhere wearing their colorful shawls and slings. Most of the city’s housing looks like adobe brick legos – one built right on top of the other. Besides being at 12,000 ft and surrounded by snow capped peaks my favorite part about this city is their markets. There is a neighborhood where there are market booths taking up dozens of blocks selling everything from shampoo to DVDs to fruit to dried llama fetuses (yes, it’s true). They call it the witches market and it kept us entertained for hours. Last night for our final meal we sat down at one of their fast food joints, which consists of one or two stout little ladies squatting in front of a big boiling pot of soup, or meat, or who knows what. Then there are these small little stools surrounding the pot where you can sit down and be fed. They serve you on their own plates so you have to stay to eat if you want a plate; otherwise it ends up in a plastic bag. When we first sat down we got plenty of stares; curious eyes peaking up from their own mound of meat and potatoes. It only took a few minutes though of piecing together a sentence or two to make friends. By the time we left practically the whole group of them said good bye. Best part – our stomachs survived! I wasn’t’ brave enough to get the meat, but Teri loved it and our stomachs are both doing well.

A few other activities La Paz involved a football match we went to with a bunch of our friends that we have been traveling with for the past week or so. Another was riding mountain bikes down the worlds most dangerous road [dun dun dun]. The football was a blast. We ended up in the rowdy crowd with our faces painted and flags waving. We stood up and jumped the entire time. Partly because it was fun and partly because I think the crowd would have pummeled us if we hadn’t. By the end I could following along with a few of the chants, but still had no idea what I was saying.

The biking I was a bit skeptical of only because I can do it for free at home, plus I haven’t been on a bike since my accident and I wasn’t sure how 4 hours of downhill on dirt roads would feel. Turns out it was a great decision – I completely loved it. The company was started by a New Zealander who did the ride himself about 20 years ago. They have awesome full suspension bikes, plus they were the only company that had rescue equipment in case anyone went over the edge. It felt so good to be on a bike, plus we were riding down some really amazing terrain. It’s considered the world’s most dangerous road because it’s a single lane dirt road that winds from a high mountain pass of 14,000 ft to the jungle at 3.000 ft. and the cliff that parallels the road reflects that. It doesn’t help that while riding you are passing dozens of crosses for those who have gone over the edge. Up until 2006 it was the only road that could take you to La Paz from the area and dozens of trucks, buses, and cars have gone over the edge whether because of late night sleepy driving or simply trying to pass another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Now it’s mostly utilized by tour groups taking willing bikers down the road, but even then there have been a hand full of deaths. There were plenty of places where if you went over the side you would drop up to 900 ft before stopping. Sounds sketch, but I tell you it was amazing. It felt so good to be on a bike plus at the end we got to hang out at an animal reserve where you could play with the monkeys that live there. And they weren’t the nasty greedy kind they have in Thailand – they were so sweet I wanted to stay.

5 Facts About Bolivia

They use pink toilet paper
Old ladies sport top hats
They love themselves some popcorn (sold everywhere)
They have amazing scenery
I love it

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hola from Bolivia! This place has been unreal. Such a big culture difference from Argentina – Bolivia has villages with mud brick houses and beautiful native people. All of the women have these massive slings on that are either stuffed full with goods or babies. Most of the women here wear a unique outfit which consists of a top hat (a “proper” top hat as our English friends call them) and long black braids coming out from beneath. They also wear colorful knit sweaters and full pleated skirts that hit them just below their knees. Then they almost all wear thick wool tights and finally (and who knows why), they wear these cute little wedge heal sandals. I’ll have to bring back a post card of them because I feel really weird taking their picture, especially when I can’t even talk to them.
Since we crossed the border into Bolivia it’s been like stepping back in time. We got on a bus right away that was so rickety I could hardly believe it could make it over the intense bumpy road we commensed to drive on for the next 9 hours. The landscape in the southwest of Bolivia is really similar to central Utah. Kind of reminds me of the farm towns around Price. You might think that made it boring, but no, I love it. So wild and open. We swerved up sketchy dirt roads, sometimes along sketchy cliffs, and then when you thought you were really in the middle of nowhere the bus would pull over and pick someone up that came from who knows where. We finally arrived in a dusty little town where we started our salt flats adventure. Yes, we came all of the way to Bolivia to go to the salt flats It’s the biggest in the world and one of the most striking landscapes I have ever been too.
Now we’re in La Paz, the highest capitol city in the world. We’re at about 12,000 feet elevation here. I don’t even know what to say about it, but that I love it. So completely speechless when I saw it for the first time from the bus window this morning. Can’t wait to check it out some more.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I had a wicked combo of time and internet this morning so I was able to finally upload a few pictures!
We're in Salta now, but we just came from Iguazu. Iguazu is this massive water fall that is on the border of Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay. It's enormous, beautiful, and kind of a tourist trap, but well well worth it. We got there via bus and our friend in Buenos Aires booked it and it was luxurious, probably the last luxurious bus we'll take in a while. The seats laid completely out AND there was a food service included. I made them book us the front seats on the second floor so we had the coolest view as we wizzed through small towns too small to have giant buses wiz through them, felt bad about that.

Someone told us about a moon light tour the first night which was a really cool way to see the falls for the first time. They only do it a few nights a month, and we got there the night of the full moon so it was PERFECT. It was unreal walking up to it for the first time. The falls kick up so much mist that it blends with the low lying clouds.

The water's really high this year, so they had to close this platform. Just the wind alone made by the falls could through you off of that thing.

Next we got on another giant bus and headed to Salta. It's in the North West of Argentina and totally different from Iguazu. Yesterday we went with some friends that we met back in Patagonia and ran into here on a horse back riding excursion. Ya, I know, why did I come to Argentina to ride horses when I do it back home, but it was really cool to see how they did things on this ranch. It's an old convent that was converted into a home 75 years ago or something crazy. It's super green there, but arid too. There were giant cactus's (?) everywhere, but there were also green parrots flying around. Very strange.

These are their saddles and I was obsessed. They are so comfy. They are a series of blankets and leather under and on top of this saddle frame that had sturrups attached. I wanted one so bad! The guys on the ranch make all of them themselves.

Group photo - yes, we had to wear fancy helmets

Then they cooked us lunch on their grill and in these ovens. Mark my words I will build one of these when I get home. I don't know where, but the food that they cook in them is sooo good.

Finally our cute little hostel in Salta. It's one of my favorites. Salt is the oldest city in Argentina and the architecture reflects that. The beds in this place are not the nicest, but it's definitely my favorite ambiance. It's so sweet.

Next we're on to Bolivia. We leave on a bus tonight and midnight and should arrive at the border by 8 a.m., just in time for the border to open. We hear they give Americans a hard time - we pay more than anyone else to cross borders and/or go to national parks etc. This is because apparently the US charges everyone else a lot to come to the US, but still, Teri and I should not be paying the consequences! We'll see though, maybe they'll believe we're Canadians?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Is it just me or does it look like I'm missing a tooth in this photo?

Hiking on an island in the Beagle Channel

View from our hostel window in Ushuaia

So here’s the story about the long blog posts and lack of photos. We have been taking some pretty wicked long bus rides lately – hense the long blog posts because typing is one of the three or so activities I have to do while on a bus. The lack of photos is because internet is something we detest here, photos upload soooo slow and it ends up just driving us crazey, so usually I just copy and paste my writing and then add a photo or two. Anyway, that is my excuse, if you’re still interested do stick around.

Right now we’re riding a massive bus from Buenos Aires to Iguazu. Iguazu (which I’m sure I am spelling wrong) is a giant water fall that kind of sounds like a tourist trap to me, but EVERYONE insists that we need to see it. I’m sure it will be beautimous and it is pretty cool to be heading into the jungle. Because we’re American (oh, excuse me, United States of American – it’s a sensitive subject around here) we can’t go to the Brasilian side unless we want to pay some big bucks. As it turns out Americans charge tons of fees to foreign visitors and right now Teri and I are paying the consequences. Everything we want to do costs us more, just because we’re from the US. Anyway, back to the water fall – should be pretty cool.
Before leaving Patagonia (my favorite place to date) we went even farther south down to Tierra del Fueggo – the very farthest south peninsula or Argentina. There we stayed in the sweetest little port town called Ushuaia (which I am also sure I’m spelling wrong). It’s the farthest southern city in the world and it sits on Beagle Bay which is surrounded by the farthest southern peaks of the Andes. It was so peaceful and nice down there, and really not all that cold despite a million warnings we received. We went to a national park outside of the city called Tierra del Fueggo and it was pure magic. I could have just stayed there and been completely content. Both Teri’s and my camera ran out of batteries almost the moment we got into the park, so we took it as a sign to just soak it in and not worry about photos. While hiking there we ran into this kid who dropped out of highschool and now just travels and busks everywhere he goes to make money. He sang us a few songs that then we left him there in the forest, he said he would spend the night. It was so random. I told him to call his mom and tell her he was alright when he got a chance. I felt old.
From Ushuaia we flew back to Buenos Aires where we had a just a few days to get some business done (exchange money, ship some stuff home, etc.). That city really takes it out of you. The extra effort of always being on guard gets old quick. If we ever had time to sit in the park or go to markets we loved it, but most of the time we were there we were always running around trying to get everything done, so I can’t say I’m too sorry to be leaving it. We did squeeze in one more night of Tango where both Teri and I were owned again by some old men tango dancers. My partner kept trying to get me to do these fancy moves that I’m pretty sure I would be incapable of even if I could understand what he was saying. I looked so ridiculous I could tell. Teri on the other hand really got the hang of it. I think she’s going to go pro.