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"Our language is funny--a fat chance and a slim chance are the same thing." -- J. Gustav White
|Episode 7: The Bolivian Times|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:08 PST
|cherie writes: February 1999|
History Lesson: a third of Bolivia is dependent on the production and distribution of cocaine. Yes, the Coca plant is legal here, too. The people of Bolivia are haunting; their anger, hurt and sorrow etched on their faces. They have hard eyes; eyes that have seen both too much, and too little.
The children gaze at me with the lost eyes of prisoners; and their parents, with the hatred of someone truly wronged. When the children begin to walk, they begin to work. I felt sorry for our bus driver (who was all of 12 years old), until his inexperience led him to ram the bus into a side of a wall throwing luggage like a flower girl tosses petals. Kristi and I grabbed our stomachs in laughter, and lay tucked like infants in the back of bus,with an incurable case of the giggles. I am not sure if the tears we shed were of laughter or sadness.
Just visited Lake Titicaca (highest navigable lake in the world) and the Uros people, who are a small tribe who have isolated themselves from the rest of the world by creating their own island made out of reeds. The floating islands (called that because they, well...float.), and everything on them is made from reeds, including the canoes which we took a ride in. We then boated over to another island and docked for the biggest festival of the year. 400 families, whose quiet achievement has been to maintain their colorful heritage, welcomed us with the only food they serve on the entire island...fish. The island is lodged somewhere between charming and inconvenient. There are no roads and no running water. And did I mention the only thing they serve is fish?
Our next destination would be a place you buy your lunch by the kilogram, La Paz. Our $2.50 hotel is right next to a witch's market where we bought magic potions for luck, strength and love; and burned candles for prosperity and health. Every witch (witch is defined here as old Bolivian lady selling spooky stuff) tried to get me to buy the lucky "dried llama fetus". Darn if it just wouldn't fit into my backpack.
I am in Salvador, Brazil now for the country-wide monster party of Carnival. The magnitude of this celebration dwarfs Mardi Gras like a cartoon dinosaur leg extinguishing the life of an ant. The festival is centered around a dance competition, that has burgeoned into giant ships driving down the street, the sailors on the decks are dancers, and the captain's are singing--sailing through an ocean of screaming people until dawn. The masses stare with rapt attention at the dancers wearing ornate costumes that would make Las Vegas Show Girls gasp with envy. The party's events are scheduled for one week, but in the American tradition of pre and post parties, the Brazilians stretch their Carnival for 3 weeks, dancing each night until sunrise in the warm Brazilian rain.
Welcoming the birth of a new day, beach umbrellas blossom and turn the white sand into a kaleidoscope of mushrooms. I've waved good-bye to the familiar 5 feet courtesy space bubble California beach-goers unconsciously give each other. Here I am grateful for 6 inches of my own space. The then again in LA, the water is not warm, I don't have a lady offering me cold drinks, her children selling me ice-cream and suntan lotion, and her husband sprinkling my feet with ocean water, tending to me as if I were his own private garden.
We have managed to adopt a tangled mess of 20 friends traveling together. Our first night in Brazil 12 people smashed into one hotel room. Now we've rented two apartments, and as the sales-people we will always be, we sell our "floor space" to other travelers.I am learning my third language now, Portuguese (5th most spoken language in the world). No one here speaks English or Spanish. When I try to communicate everyone looks at me like they are trying to solve a Calculus problem in their heads (either that or they bit into the same rotten fruit.) Then my mind devised a plan. A pen and paper would be my words and I would draw my needs. All that Pictonary practice would finally pay off. This new form of communication promptly ended when I drew a crab, and got served clams. ThusI've x'd out cartoonist as a next possible career move.
The ultimate test of language came when we tried to pamper ourselves with sushi at a local yacht club, not realizing we'd be ordering Japanese food in Portuguese. After a few childish exchanges of "you eat it first" we became proud of our bold and daring sushi choices.
How excited was I to see CALIFORNIA BURGER on the menu of a local restaurant, knowing when I ordered I would get that ubiquitous piece of avocado that defines the California burger. Much to my surprise, when I lifter my burger's cap, I was greeted by a half cup of fruit cocktail. So that's why they think California's are strange.
Stay tuned: next stop is Rio de Janeiro where the eternal question will finally be answered: Do the women really go topless?
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