Archive for September, 2006

the big picture

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

we’ve slowed down pretty dramatically since entering costa rica – taking a deliberate pause. while i still have the urgent impulse to keep moving, keep seeing, keep doing, worried about making the most of this time, i am continually reminded that a different kind of pace is wanted here. so much of what costa rica has to offer it the kind of thing which can only be seen when you slow down enough for opportunity. palm-sized electric blue butterflies land on gaudy pink hibiscus flowers, as glimpsed on a lazy bicycle ride in the midafternoon sun. finding a browsing sloth in the treetops above on an aimless beach stroll. following the overhead flicker of red-bellied birds while lying in the shady sand. catching a toad as big as a coconut out of the corner of your eye over a late breakfast. these are things which will not be rushed.

we watched “the motorcycle diaries”again tonight – the movie about che guevara’s seminal road trip through south america. i remember seeing it before, but i am struck by the difference now. i see flashes of familiar – places i’d only dreamt about when i last saw this, now mine in memory. these are parts of me that i get to keep. i have these, tucked away under my belt for reminiscing, tomorrow or a lifetime from now. when it is winter in london, i will always have summer in bangkok or spring in beijing.

these are parts of me i get to keep.

at the end of the film, che says “i am not the me i once was”. there is truth in that, i know. i am not the same me who dreamt of someday seeing machu picchu – i am now the girl who climbed the inca trail in the rain, saw dawn over the sun gate, bowed low to enter the temple of the condor. i have breathed the mist into my veins, felt the cool stone beneath fingertips, heard the echoes reverberate off the green peaks.

so i get it now, what this deep stirring ache is at the bottom of my heart. i recognise what these growing pains are. it’s clear to me what is happening.

it is not, as i originally thought, that i simply see the world differently. it is that i am different because of the world.


Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

we’re here in puerto viejo de talamanca, a little carribean reggae oasis, relaxing and unwinding on the beach. we’re in full wind-down mode, even as i am trying desperately to pretend we’re not.

here’s a secret: i’m scared. i’m afraid i’ll crash and burn on re-entry. smash up between the collide of living my dream and living the everyday, like downshifting a racing car from 90mph into first gear. blowout.

i can’t remember how to do my job. i have no flat, i have no phone. i have almost no money. i have no ambition to get any of these things back.

that’s the scariest part.

what i do have is an overwhelming desire to disappear into the beach jungle with what’s left and live out the rest of my days on fresh mangoes and my meagre earnings from selling souvenir t-shirts.

not the most mature or productive line of thinking, but there you have it.

i’m just not ready. let nat west even try to hunt me down…


Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

we’re back in the tropics… and it feels soooo good. the skin is slowly warming, pores opening, cells stretching towards the sunlight.

it’s delicious.

muffin tops

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

J: “so do you think they actually sell women’s clothing that fits in this country?”

me: “i’m sure they sell it… i just wish to god i knew why no one bothers to wear it.”

more random wisdom

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

more lessons learned as we near the end:

1. the bus is always 10 degrees too cold.

2. the less developed the country, the more expensive the postage.

3. electricity is a very bad way to heat shower water.

4. s.u.v.s are not just an american plague.

5. you can get dunkin’ donuts in bangkok, chile and peru… but not london. in fact it is easier to get american products just about anywhere else in the world (including *cambodia*) than it is in the u.k. go figure.

6. checking in 2 hours ahead of a flight really is important.

7. anyplace that quotes their prices in dollars is trying to rip you off.

8. the poorer the country, the more polluted it is.

9. madonna is the most universal artist on the face of the planet. how very scary.

10. a beer goes a long, long way towards improving a bad day.

san jose, san shmose

Monday, September 25th, 2006

we’ve been in san jose less than 24 hours, and already i’m cranky.

at first i attributed it to sleep deprivation and extended travel. we’d spent 24 straight hours just getting to san jose, after an overnight bus from arequipa to lima, jumping in a taxi to the lima airport, and then a few hours via plane and bus to get into the city. the immigration woman was a bitch, we couldn’t even buy a guidebook until *after* we landed, and i was hot and sweaty and hadn’t really slept since we left arequipa. don’t let anyone ever tell you travelling is all glamour!

but this morning, well rested and fully caffeinated, i’ve put my finger on what the real problem is. the people of san jose are just rude. the few interactions i’ve even had so far, i’ve felt palpable hostility at being yet another gringa they have to deal with. they barely even bother trying to speak to me, and the guy at the bus station ticket window just pointed, printed my ticket and took my money without a single word. the immigration lady asked me if i spoke spanish, but when i couldn’t understand her slurry question about the flight, rather than trying to speak more clearly or simply, just rolled her eyes, stamped the passports and practically shoved our papers back at us. nice. the bus driver from the airport was speaking to j, who clearly didn’t understand what he was saying, but when i tried to get in on the conversation to clarify what was going on, ignored me and kept talking to jonno.

it’s made me angry and defensive and irritable. i know my spanish may not be perfect, but i can usually make myself understood and understand others. but it seems no one wants to make the effort. if they don’t like dealing with tourists… well, then tough shit. all i can say is they’re happy enough to take our money. if they’re sick of gringos, fine, don’t let us into the country. but it’s not just gringos i see lining up at the “kfc” and “pizza hut”. but i’ve never been treated so rudely as a visitor since we began this trip, and i think that’s saying a lot. if we stay here much longer, someone’s going to get a mangled earful of “mierdas”, “hijo de perros”, and “chingates”.

i’m tired of it and i just want to escape to the beach… luckily that’s the plan for tomorrow.

fringe benefit

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

one of the unanticipated bonuses of this trip has been becoming more comfortable with my looks. or, more accurately, becoming more comfortable with caring less about them.

at home, i’m a makeup-every-day kind of girl. not a lot, mind you, just enough to touch things up a bit and look slightly more pulled together than my usual rumpled self.

and (i am loathe to admit) i did actually bring along a tiny bit of makeup with me. i don’t know why – i guess i had some vague notion about wanting to “look nice” when we went out.

so i was surprised to find that i never even touched it (or missed it) after the first week of our trip. my fringe/bangs have been, by necessity, a d.i.y. job along the way. they grow at an alarming rate, and require trimming at least every two weeks. at first, i was understandibly trepidatious about taking the scissors to my hair, but i can tell you now: there’s a certain freedom in realising that they simply cannot get any more f-ed up than they already are, so now i snip away with abandon. mirrors along this trip are often tiny or non-existent; i can’t even remember the last time i saw myself full-length. and slowly but surely, the need to check them has gradually tapered away. in fact, on the inca trail recently, i went four full days without any type of mirror whatsoever (which, given the level of cleanliness after 4 days trekking, was probably a blessing in disguise) because i just plumb forgot to pack one. and you know, i didn’t even miss it.

now lest you begin to think i’ve let myself go to pot, rest assured: i still shave and pluck. i’ve dyed the roots more than once in a hostel bathroom. i’m still a devotee of deodorant and clean underwear.

but it’s been tremendously freeing to not have to think so much about how i look. it’s been nice to break my slavery to the reflected image. to be able to focus more on *doing* and less what i look like doing it. to channel more energy into feeling good rather than looking good.

i know this won’t last forever. once i’m back in a city full of polished people, the pressure to look “nice”, the need to appear “professional” at work, will ultimately require a little more effort than just toothpaste-fresh breath and a strategically worn bandanna. i know this.

but until then, i’ll just enjoy it while i can. chalk it up as a fringe benefit.

love, south american style

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

we’re here in arequipa after the longest day ever. we got up at 3:30 am on the morning of the 20th to got see the sunrise over machu picchu. we got back to cusco that evening at 9:00pm, hopped on a bus to puno at 10pm, in puno caught a connecting bus to arequipa at 5:00 am, and would have arrived at arequipa around 10:30 am except that we were witness to yet another bus accident on the carretera, if you can believe it. two buses collided, one nearly went over the edge of a cliff, and the other was a bus from the same company we were currently riding in. none of this is helping my nerves any.

anyway, we arrived at 2:oopm, then settled in to our hostel, had dinner and met up with emma and dave (who we first met on the uyuni trip and have been travelling in parallel with for the past 3 weeks) for goodbye drinks. they’re continuing on through peru, while we leave for costa rica tomorrow. and so, until we meet again somewhere, sometime… hasta la vista. we’ve promised to catch up for drinks back in jolly ol’ england if we’re ever in the same neighbourhood.

we’d originally hoped to be able to squeeze in a one day tour of the colca canyon (the deepest canyon in the world), but as it left at 1:00 am, there was just no way that was going to happen. so instead we’re relaxing today – and after the exertion of the inca trail and the non-stop travel, we definitely needed it. i’m also taking the time to reflect on our south american experience – there is so much i will miss here. here’s the top ten things i love about chile/bolivia/peru.

1. eating, like, 18 times a day. breakfast is just a roll and coffee, then elevenses is empanadas or saltenas or a similar snack. then there’s a big lunch, followed by a couple hours siesta (in some countries). thene another snack around 5 or 6pm. then a big dinner at 9pm. how they all keep from getting fat, i don’t know. personally i am in need of a diet right about now…

2. inca kola, “el sabor de perú“. it tastes like liquid bubblegum.

3. innovation and opportunism. at the scene of the bus crash yesterday, a resourceful guy started selling ice creams. or, just take a look at the gas tank on this bike. yes, it’s an empty cola bottle. people never say they can’t do something. they just find a way to get it done.

4. empanadas, salteñas, and all manner of pastry goodness. it’s a little meal in a pocket and it’s delicious!

5. people’s willingness to help. everyone was just so kind, even when we were being completely unintelligible.

6. the traditions which still continue, even in this day and age. traditional dress, traditional language, traditional ways. none of it is put on for the benefit of tourists… it’s the way they really live.

7. music. it’s *everywhere*. it’s the undercurrent of daily life.

8. español.

9. the chaos and improvisation that makes even small things an interesting adventure.

10. alfajores – little caramel filled, powdered sugared, stacked cookie sandwiches. actually, anything with the lovely dulce de leche…. yum.

trial…er, i mean trail photos

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

the weather wasn’t great for photos, but you can see more of them here. (yes, that is an actual real live tarantula…)

file under: bizarre

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

i know i mentioned before how the streetsweepers in kunming, china play “happy birthday”.

here in arequipa, peru they play salsa. a little more thematic, but still strange nonetheless.

why do they have to play *anything*?! isn’t it enough to provide clean gutters and sparkling pavement? they have to be entertaining as well?

  • Photos