Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Health, Money, and Love, pt 1

(FAKE UPDATE, 1/18/09: I've decided to just make a part two for this entry instead of changing this one-- makes it easier for you subscribers out there)

I've got a lot less time than usual to write this entry-- trip to the Salar de Uyuni leaves in less than an hour and a half. Likely I will update this later when I have more time. Stay tuned.

I stepped off the bus at around 11:30 at night in Cochabamba expecting the usual friendly touts to meet us as we got off ushering us to their hotel/restaurant/bus. Sure enough I saw three guys standing outside and heard them yelling out names of the next big town west. First guy approaches me: "Santa Cruz?" I shake my head. Second guy: "Santa Cruz?" I ignore him. Third guy: "Joel?"

That was how I met Victor, patriarch of the family I had come to visit in Cochabamba. He and his wife, Rosy drove me to their house, rousted half their adult kids out of bed to say hi and stuff me full of as much food and drink as they could get their hands on. Before I went to bed at midnight, the youngest kids (fraternal twins my about my age) already had plans with me to go out the next night.

When I rolled out of bed the next morning, I came down fully dressed, but barefoot. The family was shocked. Not because of any taboo against bare feet but because they were sure I was going to catch a cold. Ten minutes later, I'd been handed a pair of nice sandals that were (almost) my size. Once again stuffed full of food, I was warned vigorously against the ills of the climate-- if I was out in the "cold" (roughly 60 degrees F by my guess) without warm clothing, I was sure to get sick. Same with the rain, same with walking barefoot on their tile floors, it would be sure to do me in. Coming from much colder cities with much more rain, I assured them that I was going to be just fine. I always thought the whole cold-bringing-on-illness thing was a dumb superstition anyway. Viruses and bacteria make you sick, not air temperature. As we were making the empanadas pictured above, I assured them that I didn't feel cold in the least and that, coming from Seattle then Chicago, I didn't think I was likely to go and get sick.

Sure enough, I went and got sick. I think it was the flu. Cold symptoms plus mild fever and general weakness. When a local doctor at a pharmacy examined me, she said that I should "hurt all over", and tried putting me on antibiotics. I pointed out that I already had some in the form of anti-malarials, so she relented with some anti-flu combos.

If you ever get sick abroad, get sick while you're staying with a family. I had to fend off so many offers of tea, medicine, entertainment, and general care that it started getting silly. Part of it is that the family also just happened to be a big family of fantastic hosts. In the three-story house were the parents, the oldest daughter, Judy, and her 8-year old son, Nico, the oldest son (named after his father of course), and the youngest son and daughter (fraternal twins), Julio and Mary, space for the middle daughter to visit with her husband and two sons, the apparent servant who came six days a week, four dogs, and two cats. Plus me. The house was the classic echoing Latin dream place: big open rooms, white (marble?) tiled floors, and white walls liberally sprinkled with pictures of Jesus, Mary, and a few selected saints.

Aside from generally being a lot of fun to hang around, the family was exceptionally generous, and I don't juist mean the mountains of food I had to fend off. By the time I finally left (after they convinced me not once or twice but three times to extend my stay), they had given me an artisan leather wallet, a handcrafted messenger bag, two key chains with hand painted miniature traditional flutes, a special eucalyptus balm for apparently everything, and a hand-woven traditional belt. On my way out the door they tried to get me to take the sandals as well until I finally convinced them that, while I was very grateful, I just didn't have any room left.

I already sent home half of what they gave me. I'm hanging onto the bag as a replacement for the part of my pack that got stolen, and the wallet's a great replacement for my old duct-tape model which was falling apart at the seams anyway.

Cripes. Time. Right, skipping several important and amusing bits, halfway through my stay, I medicated myself up enough to take a trip into the Amazon. I had my eye set on a particular nature reserve, but just before setting out, we found that a landslide had taken out the road there. But I chatted with Julio and we decided that wasn't going to stop us. We got a bus to the landslide, crossed it, walked a bit further, and a got transport the rest of the way.

So much green. Everything was green, everything was snared or connected to something else somehow. I have a good friend who looks at these things, smiles, shakes her head and says "God is an Artist." If that's how you look at the world, then when God made the Amazon, he just took a green pencil and never lifted it from the brown-red page. No cat sightings unfortunately, but we did see a ton of monkeys, including one that specifically guided me up the path a ways (I have pictures), a turtle, and massive parrots. Plus I got to cross a swinging rope bridge in the jungle to get to a waterfall. If my day hadn't been made already several times, that would have done it.

Anyway, much much later, I've left Cochabamba and am now in Uyuni, looking at a tour that will take me through the Salt flats and on to Chile. Leaves in minutes. I'll update this entry later to at the very least explain the title and what it has to do with sneezing three times. Right, for now, gotta dash!

Check out this entry's Photos.


  1. Salud!

    We used to do that in my Spanish class. Following this blog just makes me miss you, Joel, as well as wish I could have your experiences. I hope you come back to us in one piece. Or hell, that you come back to us; at the moment it looks like you're having too much fun :D.


  2. Fast fix to those problems, if you manage to tear yourself away from life on the East Coast you could try to meet me somewhere. Airline ticket prices are dropping and I travel cheap. Biggest block is the mental one, getting over the "but I've got this that and the other that I can't put on hold... well I don't think I can put on them hold... well, I think I can probably put them on hold but... okay I can put them on hold and they're telling me to when they hear about where I want to go but I still feel like I shouldn't" etc. Think about it.

    By the by, do you happen to remember where that Spanish teacher of yours was from?

    Good to hear from you!

  3. She was from Buenos Aires, come to think of it. Lovely Argentinian woman. Left to become a counselor at another high school.

    Hmm...what are your forward plans? I have other people I've committed to visit soon, but if you're still on the road for the foreseeable future, I might just take you up on that.

  4. Joel, I'm in S.A. now. looking to go into the Amazon, perhaps for a week or so. Is Cochabamba a good place to set out from? I'd like to go with a group or guide.