Sunday, December 27, 2009

"The Mountain that Eats Men"

Our trip to Potosí may have been my most serious/though-provoking experience so far in Bolivia. We read about it in school, occasionally hear about it in the news (maybe), and are told by all other travelers to go, but being there is another world!
Potosí is considered the highest city in the world (1,400 feet) and was at one point the richest city in the world (but very obviously not anymore).

So, here's the story:
In the 1540s Conquistadores discovered for themselves the silver in Cerro Rico, the hill looming above the city of Potosí. They wasted no time in the mining process or the exploitation of indigenous and African-slaves, nor did they waste time in sending the riches back to Europe. Very little of the estimated 137 million pounds of silver extracted from the Cerro remained in Bolivia; and it is also estimated that in 300 years, 8 million workers died in the mines. In the 1800s the depleting silver resources led to mining for inexpensive tin and minerals, and to the decline of Potosí.
The nickname, “The Mountain that Eats Men” leaves little room for interpretation of the current working conditions. The tour we took is considered to be very non-touristy and more of the real deal, and our guides were former miners. We first saw a small plant where they extract some of the metals, using techniques and materials that made all of us cringe. Then we headed up the Cerro to the functioning Candelaria Mine in our boots, headlamps, bandannas, and other gear, to start out several-hour journey in the mines. There are still about 8,000 miners working today, ranging from 10 to 70 years old, and all with a life expectancy of about 40 years. If they don't die from silicosis, accidents are still very common... The workers say in the mine for up to 24-hour shifts, and seem to live almost exclusively on coca leaves (we took them gifts of drinks, coca, and dynamite- but not alcohol or cigarettes!).
About five minutes into the mine we were told to turn around and run, and then jumped up to a niche in the side, to avoid a cart (without brakes) coming out on the tracks. From there we continued on, meeting workers along the way and seeing the different steps of the process. It's hard to describe exactly what the inside of the mine is like, so imagine that everything is much worse than I explain it to be: we went up and down spinning ladders, steep and slippery vertical tunnels, and very narrow passages, avoided touching any of the pipes that were said to be “dangerous”-although we didn't know why, sweated and froze depending on where we were in the mine, and always left our bandannas on to avoid breathing in the thick dust.
It was an incredible experience, and one I don't really desire to re-live, although I want to meet more of the miners, as some of them were incredible people. I do partly credit our survival to the “Tio.” “Tio” is literally “the devil,” and each mine has one. He is believed to be responsible for accidents, etc. in the mine and offerings of coca, alcohol, and cigarettes are made to ask him for protection.

Please take the time to watch this documentary and take a look for yourself (the mine we went to is very similar to this one):


I love La Paz!!!
Witches Market- Dried llama fetuses, candles, jars full of good-luck charms and unrecognizable organic materials, ceramic figures, and all sorts of offerings to Pacha Mama (mother earth).
Black Market- Endless blocks of literally anything you could possibly need to buy, we got to know the fish women and the hardware/plumbing streets pretty well (more on that later).
NáMasté- Possibly the best veggie restaurant I've been to this year!
El Alto- Technically another city that borders (and towers high above) La Paz. It has incredible views of La Paz and a never-ending market.
Museums- Highlights being a poster exhibition dedicated to an incredible Japanese artist and the mask section of the folklore museum (I tried to take pictures of myself imitating the masks- scary!).
Coca Museum- Coca isn't a novelty down here folks, it's a prominent and important part of daily life!
Robots- The “Fancy Dress Party” was more than a good excuse to spend about 20 hours (not in a row) working on ROBOT costumes! An Aussie friend and I went to the hardware/plumbing section of the market for supplies, and got to work. Lots of laughing throughout the process and a great time at the party! Plus we won Best Costumes!

Misery for the Lactose-Intolerant

Cajamarca, Perú, land of cheese and other natural wonders.

Only had a grand total of about 72 hours here, but loved every minute of it.
People were incredibly friendly, there were amazing views of the city, wonderful traditional clothing (including cowboy-style hats only worn by women, who are dwarfed by their size), and heaps of good day-trips. Although there were lots of tourists, it didn't really feel like it because they're all Peruvian. My first day trip went to a dairy farm and cheese factory and then to the ruins of Ventanillas de Otuzco. They're small funerary niches carved into the face of an enormous rock wall, which were used to hold the bones of members of the higher social classes.
The next day I went to Baños del Inca, which are partly natural, partly constructed thermal baths- so relaxing! The rest of my day was a trip to Cumbe Mayo, which our tour guide kept calling “formaciones caprichosas,” and I didn't know what caprichoso meant, nor could anyone explain the word to me, haha. Anyway, it's a natural rock formation, that also has pre-Inca constructed water-systems and petroglyphs.
And as if things couldn't get any better, I ran into Paco & Katie, Méxican/American friends I worked with on Village Farm, in Belize! So glad to run into each other and the perfect surprise before heading to Bolivia...

Friday, December 11, 2009


Yeah, you read that right- I went to the motha uckin Galapgaos!!!
Not a place I had ever planed to visit in my life, but that´s just how things work, isn´t it...
So, part of the reason I went was to visit a friend who lives and works out there. You may remember her as my roomate and friend at the Divertigranja farm I worked on in Oaxaca (and she´s even from the Fort!). I took a bus to Guayaquil from Lima and then flew out to the islands for a 10 day adventure. Since sailing was out of the question I just stayed with Kirsten and did day trips from Santa Cruz island. And to make things even better, I had Nana´s (my grandma´s) journal of her and Papi´s trip there in 1987 to compare things to!!!

Here are the highlights (so now I´m basically going to explain absolutely everything I did, minus people trowing up on the boats... haha):
Bay Tour- The first time I ever swam with sea lions! They rocket straight toward your face at record speed and then take a 90° turn at the last second. It´s incredible to be in the water with all the small females and the huge male just hanging around in the background and sweeping throught every once in a while to check things out. We also saw over a dozen white-tipped sharks. Blue Lips- The water is cold!!!
Floreana- Aside from the rough ride out it was a great trip! When we first got to the island we went up to the highlands to see tortoises, pirate caves, and the "homes" of the first inhabitants on the Galapagos. Shortly after that I was attacked by one of Darwin´s lovely finches- so sweet. Then the first place we snorkeled we saw several penguins, but at the second site we saw four sea lion pups! They were so teeny and fluffy and hardly knew how to walk, although one was practiging in a little pool on the beach. It was one of those "Aaaaaawww" moments.
That night for dinner we were invited up to the neighbor´s house for a lobster fiesta(which only makes sense seeing as how Titi is a fisherman and the yard was full of lobsters that morning-literally a few dozen lobsters on the grass outside when we woke up) The lobsters were cut in half, stuffed with garlic and grilled- insanely delcious!
A Day on the Island with Kirsten- We took a shared taxi out to one of the hundred billion lava tunnels on the island to explore. The landscape up there was beautfiul and we just wandered for a while. Although balckberries are just about the worst invasive species on the island they´re a delicious snack all along the pathways. As we were enjoying the views and the berries we saw a few tortoises and finally started counting, the day´s grand totaly was more than 40- and all in the wild! The lava tunnels weren´t super deep, but we did see something incredible- an owl. It flew down and looked straight at me for 5 solid minutes and then did the same with Kirsten. We were both completely blown away!
Bartolomé- Far and away the most beautiful island in terms of landscape! The lava has a gradation of color because of the iron oxidizing over time, the sand is almost perfectly white and makes another impressive gradation of the blue-green water up the beach. The island is sort of the shape of a bean and from the high point you can see down around the whole thing. There´s also a crater under the surface of the water and you can see turtles and sea lions swimming in it. Snorkeling was pretty good but the sea lions were really putting on a show on te beach. Then we saw blue-footed boobies, lava herons, iguanas, lizards, penguins and lions resting together. From the boat we could also see incredible Galapagos sharks swimming underneath. On the boat ride out and back we was tons of eagle rays jumping out of the water, flipping around, and then slapping back down onto the surface. It´s beautiful to see their shiny diamond-shaped dody flip form black to light grey.
Isabela- This was a "3-day" tour involving a bit much time on the boat- I can´t believe I wasn´t half as sick as everyone else. Anyway, in the afternoon we saw flamingos, walked the beach, had dinner, and enjoyed the company of everyone in our group. The next day we rode horses up to the top of Cerro Negro volcano which has amazing lava formations we walked around for hours. That afternoon we watched the marine iguanas "sneeze," which is actually them filtering the salt out of their bodies. Then we snorkeled with sea turtles, I swam with one for at least 5 minutes and it was incredible, we also saw tons of beautiful sea-stars, rays, and the biggest sea cucumber I´ve ever seen.
Seymour- This is an island that people really go to to see birds- and boy howdy did we (plus some land iguanas, which are beautiful colors). I was several friggots with the red balloon on their next all puffed up for mating, which was my goal fo the day. We also saw tons of baby friggots in nests and some boobies as well. The strange thing though were all of the mummified birds sprawled around the island- sort of an eerie feeling...

The Galapagos were not at all what I had expected, especially in terms of the poeple. Thousands and thousands of people live there, the majority of whom are from Ecuador- I though it would be all extranjeros running tour compaines. So I had fun meeting people, speaking spanish, and seeing such indredible and important wildlife!!!