A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

On Top of the Beginning of the World


In a place you can be torched by the sun one day and then frozen to death at night, respect must be taken.

In that regard I can see why the Incans revered the place I was at. The Isle de la Sol, or, the Island of the Sun, birthplace of the sun, gods of the Incan empire, and the beginning of the Incan Empire itself where their first emperor rose from the Rock of the Puma, sits quite peaceably in the shimmering waters of the southern end of Lake Titicaca, like a gigantic shell just breaching the water to bask in the intense light of the sun.

In the afternoon, I had I climbed Cerro Calvario, the mountain where lay the Path of Remembrance. Weaving its way up a steep cliff is a thin path, marked by stone crosses at regular intervals. To understand Christ's journey and the weight of the cross he bore, you made the pilgrimage to the top, stopping at each cross and placing a stone on the base to mark your passing. As I climbed, I too marked my path with a small stone at each, and it wasn't until I reached the summit that I understood what those Incans saw so many eons ago.

Sitting on a flat rock, next to a dwarfed pine tree that had lived nestled in the rock for centuries, I looked out over the lake, the Isle de la Sol, and understood the gods creation there, the spiritual nature of the place absolutely unavoidable. The luminesant light radiating down to create the millions of sparkles bouncing off the lake was absolutly dazzling. Hours passed as I sat in the soft wind, skin soaking up the light, lungs taking in the clean crisp air. As the sun set, and the thin altiplano air gave rise to one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen, the stars exploded into light overhead.

With a canopy of the most brilliant stars to be seen with the naked eye, you understand why it is called the heavens. Why it could and is worshiped for eons as godly. It is a humbling sight.
They are so far away, and yet dominate the sky night after night, unreachable. Yet there on the mountain, so many thousands of feet in the sky, they seemed almost within reach. Never before had I seen stars that actually twinkled like diamonds, or shooting stars that crossed the Milky Way, and planets visible easily without the air of telescopes. No smog or city lights obscurred this treasure, this heaven.

And as I walked down the Path of Remembrance, I knew I would never forget.

- a C-note.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How To Bribe Your Way Across A Border

If the goats on top of the collectivo bus don't eat your luggage, it may be tossed down to you on the dirt streets of Yungori, like it happened to me. After that, if you weren't before, you're on your own. When I thought it'd be a good idea to take the local bus to the border of Bolivia, I hadn't been completely informed that the bus doesn't quite go all the way to the border. It convientantly stops a few miles before.

This is not what you want to hear when you have a 50IBs pack to lug around, lots of documentation, and to the bored locals look like a great place to shop for cheap American products. Hanging out for awhile was not an option.

So I did what I had to in leu of hiking it to the border, I hired a rickshaw. For anyone unfamiliar with this, it's a device that resembles a cart, connected to a bicycle, that is peddled by someone while you sit in front. A grand primitive thing for the rider, an instrument of torture for the peddler. After negotiating a price, I got in with my traveling partner, Karla, and off we went.

It's a great way to travel, if you have the luxery of a rickshaw, but take note not to go anywhere with hills. The first mile was fine. The next found my peddler on foot, pushing us and our bags up a hill. I felt guilty and eventually got out and walked as he pushed. Then we both pushed. Then at the 70 year old man's beckoning, I mounted the bicycle and peddled the rickshaw myself. Until we came to the border.

The border is guarded by two things: 1 - a heavy metal chain with peeling yellow paint and 2 - men with guns. The latter got my attention quickly by pointing at a dodgy building with a dark entry. With two armed men as my escort, I was taken inside. All would have been fine, since Karla spoke spanish, but she was barred from coming with me and the armed men, and soon I found myself in a small cement room as they tore my bags apart. Then they demanded my money. I balked and feigned a lack of comprehension, but they werent buying it and soon my pocket of identification papers and cash was in a pile in front of them. Then with a greasy grin, the head officer plucked a $50 from the pile and told me it was false and they had to confiscate it.

I, naturally, argued the point, but they very calmly (and quite happily) said I couldn't leave the country with fake money. The way they held their hand ontop of their handguns impressed the severity of their words on me and I relinquished the cash.

Then we were let go, to make our way to get exit stamps from the country. At another small blue cement building, we entered and I went first, got my stamp and waited for Karla. Who was denied. The official, a fat lecherous sort-of fellow, said she couldn't leave the country. There was a string of gibberish words that came from him, explaining the impossibility of exiting the country without paying the fees (which there aren't any, legally). He then said it might be possible, but we had to decide.

We walked outside to talk and I was informed that he wanted a bribe, but wouldn't say how much to give him. He said that if we paid him and the soldiers, we could maybe cross. Maybe. If it was enough. Well that was fantastic in a part of the world with no ATMs, banks, and my best bet for bribing, already stolen in the hands of the other soliders. So, have to go to plan B - my backup cash. In hopes no one is watching, I make a quick dash for a small shack selling snacks and pay a sole to use their jon. And there, once relatively safe, I dipped into my portable bank - my shoe. You see, they can steal your bags, your wallet, cameras, passport and papers, but rarely will they steal your shoes. It's simply not polite. So, I'd gotten into the habit of storing reserve cash for exactly this sort of occasion.

With a couple warm bills in hand, I then found my next hurdle. Making change. We had to get change enough for each solider. Approaching the snack shack, I prayed they had enough in the register (or empty cigar box more often than not) for it to work, and bought a couple random items to not look suspicious and made change. Then it was back to give the bribe.

The soldiers were bought off first with a few bills stuck in a passport, and they said to forget the first official and just go quickly, before more soliders showed up. So, shouldering our packs, we high-tailed it up the hill, through the arch that defined the border, and under the stern gaze of the armed guards, we passed through.

And into Bolivia...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

All The President's Men

Juni 4, Election Day

Uncertainty. That is the feeling here. For those of reason understand the country is between a rock and a hard place. They are called Garcia and Ollanta, the two men today vying for the Presidency.

But I must back up. Because they believe things can change, the right and importance of voting is taken quite seriously. They don't want just another party win to keep the status quo, they want change. Nearly every day there is a mob of demonstrators marching up the main thoroughfare, waving flags and signs and as bullhorns sound out with their chants and cars honk angrily or in support, the hundreds of people show their force by refusing to budge from the street. Police shelter them somewhat, but they mostly hang back in their riot gear watching.

It's a dicey situation here.

Ollanta Humala, leading in the polls, is a nationalist militant who is aligned with Venezuela's Chavez, and wants to legalize coca, discard the international FTA, and potentially spark another war with Chile. The other leader is Alan Garcia, a center left, who wants change as well, including a lean towards more socialism, but operates under the weight of the genocide his regime committed in the 1980's.

Yet despite the choices for President and the dangerous angles those men want to take the country in, it is heartening to see people who still care what direction their country takes, not for a particualr candidate, but for their human rights, like the States did in the 60's.

Additionally, the country here does several effective things that the States hasn't done yet, one - voting is mandatory and anyone who doesn't gets a hefty fine, and two - a national election day where no one works and therefore there is no excuse for not voting. They also are smart in that they ban the sale of alcohol for 3 days before and 2 days after. To keep the rebel-rousers more even-keeled.

And so I wander in close to demonstrations to hear their chants and watch as those with opposing views clash in the streets. I discretely photograph the mob and silently applaud their will to express their beliefs. I talk to and note what they say and how they hope to effect this change. And I come away feeling that while they are behind in some ways, and will have a tough choice of candidates, we could take some lessons from them to get us off our collective lackadaisical horse where we meekly vote at a whopping 55%, and leave the demonstrations to the young republicans or the actors-musician democrats. Where went those hippies that led the charge years ago? And if not them, who will be their replacements?

It promises to be an important time of change here, and to be a part of it is invigorating. Much more so than glancing at the exit polls by CNN, sipping coffee, and shrugging shoulders in dismay when your horse came in second or third. Or worse, not knowing who won at all. Here, the winner is still seems important.

Update: The voting closed at 5 and the results are in. Benevides, President Garcia...

- a c-note