Monday, July 19, 2010

Rubber Stamping Conquistador

Tomorrow, July 19th, I leave Sucre for a 2-3 day journey to Salta, Argentina. My original plan was to leave today, but due to a cold front that came up from Patagonia, the weather here and in Argentina has been terrible - with road closures because of ice and snow. According to weather reports I have a one-week window of good weather before the next front hits.

I must be out of Bolivia by July 25th, the end of my initial 90-day period. Based on Bolivian logic (a contradictory term in it’s truest sense), I must leave the country in order to apply for an extended visa, before being allowed re-entry. My suggestion of, “Why don’t I pretend to leave Bolivia and fill out the paper work here?” did not go over so well - with the immigration officer looking at me like I was the idiot. So, I am traveling two days for a rubber stamp. Of course, I am screwed if I am denied re-entry (anything is possible here) because I am leaving a lot of important belongings in my Sucre apartment.

Once I have the sacred stamp in my passport, I will have 30-days to complete the visa application process. This will include a city tour the medical and bureaucratic establishments of Sucre. I will need; blood tests, chest x-rays, fingerprints on file, bank account reports, police background checks, two different letters from an attorney, a letter by an notary, a letter from where I am volunteering, and tax and utility records from my landlord (who, like most people here, does not claim the income and is unable to furnish the tax information. I will have to worry about this later.) On my best day in the States, I would not wish to tackle this mission, but here it’s going to be a completely different “sport”. Once I have the visa, I am good to stay in Bolivia for up to one year, and will be able to leave the country and return as I wish – enabling me to go home for a visit.

Within two-hours of leaving Sucre, I will be passing through Potosi to pick up the dirt road heading south. At 14,000-ft Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world. I have traveled on this particular road twice before, and in exactly the same spot both times I have encountered a hailstorm. Bizarre, but I have heard the same from other travelers. I could be wrong, but I am convinced that the spirits of the over eight million men killed in the nearby Cerro Rico mines are sending an unwelcoming message to gringos that get to close, and who can blame them. (Yesterday, this portion of road was closed due to snow.)

The longer I am off the bike, the more anxious I am about getting back on it. I don’t know where this comes from, because once on the bike I am always reminded how “kick ass” the experience is and how much I have missed it. I have always felt safe and confident on the bike, and have enjoyed every mile (well, enjoyed some more than others), but for some reason I get a little apprehensive. To overcome this sensation, I go through a process of psyching myself up, so by the time I need to go I am “jones-ing” for the road. Usually, just the process of packing the bike with some old Stones on the iPod will do the trick, other times it takes a little more.

This trip is going to be damn cold, so I have needed a bit more motivation getting back into the saddle. After watching the movie “1492” yesterday while keeping warm under the covers, I have decided to go with the visualization of a Spanish conquistador preparing for battle. This should do the trick, and because I always cheer for the home team, I have vowed not to slaughter or pillage during this particular trip. My Gore-Tex “armor” has been reinstalled inside my riding suit, heated electric vest has been dusted off, and winter gloves are laid out and ready to go. My stallion has fresh oil and the seam in right pannier has been welded shut again. Ready for battle!

Tonight, I will offer up some coca leaves and rum to those 8,000,000 spirits and see if I can get a little help deicing the roads.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tarabuco and Beyond

It can take as little as 10-seconds to pass through many of the roadside villages in Peru and Bolivia. Many times, just a blur, but I have always wondered how people live in those places. The ground is dust, the road dirt, and the houses are of bricks of earth (adobe). Donkeys and cows meander through the streets at will, and dirty kids run around barefoot. No stores, gas stations, restaurants, only a small church or school if they are lucky, nothing more. I never had much reason to stay longer than my 10-second “fly-by”, but I was curious.

During my initial visit to Sucre back in October, I was introduced to the textiles of the area, and I wanted to learn more upon my return. Every once in awhile during my “10-second tours” through the dusty villages, an old woman would appear in a brightly colored shawl, or a man strained with a load of firewood on his back would be displaying a brilliantly designed poncho. These images would always stand out against the monochromatic dirt background. The people seem to have compensated for their rather drab environment with color, texture, and artistic expression.

So, since being back I have read as much as I can about the textiles of the area, visited the local museum several times, visited the textiles shops, and on Sundays, visited the market in Tarabuco.

Tarabuco is a small town about an hour southeast of Sucre, and is connected by a beautiful twisty road through the mountainous countryside (or campo) making “the getting there part” half the fun. Once there, you walk through stalls and stalls of goods sold by the indigenous people for the indigenous people. It is also where the local craftspeople take their wares to sell to visiting tourists. Of course, this is also the social event of the week where people from neighboring villages meet, and because of this, they don their best traditional clothing. I thoroughly enjoy the trip every time I go, always seeing something different, and return well fed from the traditional food stands, and with a cheek full of coca leaves.

During one of my Sunday visits, I came across a woman whose collection of weavings was just a little bit better than everybody else’s. An American woman, Alisa, was sitting there with her. She was here doing research for her masters program from the University of Florida on Bolivian women in the textile industry. We talked for a while, I bought a small weaving, and we made plans for me to visit the family she was staying with in a small village about two hours from Sucre.

Later that following week I ventured out to find their home. The town was not on any map, (GPS or paper), there would be no road signs, and due to some road construction, I would have to take a detour. My landlord was familiar with the area and drew me a small map, which included one dry river crossing. After my fourth dry river crossing, I knew that I was lost. An hour or two later, I finally found the rock-paved road that I was looking for (see video).

It was a great visit and I immediately hit it off with Santusa and her husband. I was able to watch her weave for a while and ended up buying a red wool shawl (or manton) in the traditional Tarabuqueño style. The 80-year old grandmother made some lunch, and then Alisa took me for a walk to visit some of the other weavers in the area.

It was a great introduction to village life and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I asked Santusa and Damian if I could come back and stay for several days or a week once Alisa departed for the States, when her room was vacant. They seemed as excited as I was and we agreed to touch base later. It was a beautiful ride home at sunset, now knowing the way “out”. I was filled with a sense of wonder and satisfaction, and could not wait to come back.

Video: "Do You Ever Get Lost?"