Sunday, December 14, 2008

So how was your trip?

How does one answer this question?

"Good, how's your last six weeks of work been?"
"Great, I missed the economic meltdown?"
"Awesome!" (...)

It's always hard to express a holiday, beyond, "Great!". Most people don't really want to hear, or are jealous, don't really care, or just forget you've ever been away. One of the girls on my trip told us of an exchange with her workmate:
"I'm going to South America!"
"Where's that?"

But I'm finding it difficult to answer because my trip WAS great. I feel rested. I feel that I saw amazing parts of the world, got a little insight into a new culture, met some fun people. I got to push myself mentally and physically, process and grow a bit, learn some new skills. I ate wonderful food and lost weight. I caught up with a close friend.

I loved it.

And I'm not a gusher. Saying positive things is something that I sometimes struggle with. So translating my trip into a catch-up setting is challenging me a little. But - it was great.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trailing the Incas

It was bloody tough. Walking up 900m in a few hours, walking down steps in the rain, puffing and sweating and plodding. But, I kept going. I kept going up, not looking at the top. I kept taking the next step down, looking for the drier rock, the concavity in the ledge that suggests you're less likely to slip. I told my muscles that one more step could not possibly be too hard. I chatted. I chewed coca toffee. I refused to look over the edge. I listened to my novel. I bonded with my walking sticks. I wore my purple plastic rain poncho with my sunhat. I saw the tiny flowers and the mountaintops. I stood in temples and houses and saw fountains that still run. I ate three course meals and slept in tents that someone else carried. And, after 4 days, I looked down into Machu Picchu and decided to climb another mountain.

Is wasn't as hard as I expected. I kept going, and that's all that was required.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Salty

The white salt crunches under the wheels, flat as far as the eye can see. We get out and climb, between cacti flowering for the only time in a century, pausing to catch breath in the thin air. Reaching the top, my Spanish friend & I avoid the hungover Brits and stare - out at the whiteness, its nothingness drawing us in. The shrine to Pachamama, the earth, has coca leaves & cigarettes left at it and in the midst of nowhere, we stop, and give thanks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Poor little rich girl*

So, I planned ahead. For the first time, no traveler's cheques. However, ATM card, Visa, US$600 and, at the last minute in Sydney aiport, a prepaid visa that can be used in ATMs too. Activated online immediately & away we go.

In Auckland airport, change my last aussie $20 to buy a drink & sudoku.

In Buenos Aires airport, wander around for a while, looking for an ATM. I want to call La Paz & confirm my room, since I will arrive at 5am.
- ¿Por favor, donde esta la... la... machina por pesos?
- No, no hay. (Points downstairs to arrivals lounge, which, after careful consideration, I decide is insufficient reason to officially enter Argentina for 10 minutes).
Find Casa di Cambio (exchange booth). No pesos on credit cards.
Try the internet cafe, who take Visa, but reject my prepaid card.
Try the "no change required" phones. My Visa doesn´t work. My prepaid Visa doesn´t work.
Finally give up on keeping my US$ until I actually arrive, change $20, and buy small things at different shops to get enough coins for the phone. Ah, booking is confirmed.

Only I don't get to La Paz. After my first night at the Sheraton in Lima, thanks to the airline, I am relieved to find an ATM in the lobby. However
- Your card is invalid for this transaction.
Check the sign: Plus. My card is a Plus card.
Try again. Invalid.
Try the prepaid. Invalid.
Ask the bored Peruana sitting at the change booth.
- But it is a Plus card!
- Yes.
- So it should work.
Hmm.

Try a second ATM and manage to get Nuevo Soles.
Try the prepaid several times and it´s rejected every time.
3 days later, call Australia (I have coins!!!) & am informed that it's not activated, despite doing it immediately. At least it´s not skimmed. Realise that it's already Saturday there & can't activate until Monday.

Arrive in La Paz at 4am & change into Bolivianos at the airport. Sleep for 5 hours but miss the Saturday am banks. Oh well, there are six ATMs within 50m of my hostel, all displaying the Plus sign.

And my card is invalid at every one.

Spend the next 2 days wandering around the city, sightseeing but trying every single ATM I pass. About 40 little green screens confirm my invalid status.

Calculate that, if I change all my remaining US dollars, I can do the tour I wanted and scrape through back to Lima. Perhaps. No back ups. But Lonely Planet saves the day & informs me I can do a cash advance on my credit card.

On Sunday, call Australia and activate my prepaid. It's still invalid on Monday morning. I currently have 67B, about $14. My tour leaves tomorrow.

So, enter the bank. There is a ticket system & 50 people waiting. Today is protest march day - hundreds of thousands of campesinos (rural people) have come to the city to call for the new constitution to be passed. They march & chant & set off fireworks**. As we wait, the security guards open & close the metal doors, barring the entrance to the bank. Everyone seems to be depositing their business' weekend takings, in piles of notes literally 50cm high, taking half an hour to count by hand. We are barricaded in, and it is 2 hours before my number is called.

And today, because of the protests, they cannot do cash advances. Perhaps I should try the ATM?

Despite my best efforts, my frustration wells up. Crying is a necessary part of entering a new culture and here it comes, day 6, right on time. Usually I prefer it in private, not in a barricaded bank with immaculately groomed tellers peering at me & Gwen Stefani on the video on the corner. However, it is useful and I soon have the directions to the central office of another bank written out for me by the manager.

Back to then hostel, to explain, recover & check the map.

Out again into the throngs, each group of marchers seeming to randomly follow its own path. Find the bank - it's open! I can get in! They can do cash advances! But - only with my passaporte originale, not a photocopy. It's safely in the safe at the hostel.

Back through the crowd. The elderly farmers are resting on the central grass on the main road, their red ponchos against the green grass. I have to ask a campesina, in her bowler hat & tiered skirt, to get up off the step so I can get into the hostel.

Explain again at the hostel. Get the passport. Back through the city. Get a ticket. Wait. And finally, I have money.

On the way home via a side street, the crowd scurries to look at the main road. Women with babies in their shawls stand on fences. The President is marching.

And now, they are dancing in the main square. The campesinos have made their point. They are marching for a proposal that will redistribute land. Their subsistence existence can perhaps be improved.

I have money in my pocket, after 3 days of trying. They may be making history - and tomorrow, they return to their farms.



* Apologies, I needed to get it out of my system.
** Peaceful!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chilling in La Paz

Well, sleeping means chilling, doesn´t it?

It's been an eventful few days. Estoy aprendiendo castellaño por siete horas en dos diás, which has taxed my brain somewhat but has meant I can at least stumble through basic transactions & even chat to taxi drivers.

Spent a wonderful afternoon yesterday on a bicycle tour of the bays of Lima, winding through clifftop gardens & watching the surfers & paragliders harnessing their respective elements. Wandered the plazas of Barranco, the traditional hangout of artists & ate jamon del norte in Jaunito's bar, while 96 year-old Juanito snoozed in the corner in front of his glass of vino.

And arrived in a dusky nocturnal La Paz, the lights rolled out through the valley as we swung around down into town. The visa signs have been recently updated in thick black texta - US citizens must show their hotel booking, letter of introduction, ability to pay, onward journey & pay $135. I got a smile & a stamp for free. After a day of markets & churches, am now sipping my coca leaf tea (can´t be too sure about that altitude sickness) & ready to snooze.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Amazing how a little flirting can turn the day around.

OK, a lot of flirting.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Overheard on the tram

- I got a text from Famous Man today. He's engaged.
- To a woman or a man?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I have my life back

I worked night shift last night, so had to make myself go to sleep like any other day. Woke at 2 and forced myself back to bed. Good thing, too - when I woke again at 4:57, the website still said "Exam results will be posted at 5pm".

I've checked about 12 times, and it still says that I passed.

So I can now start to move on from 18 months of study and try to remember what it is like to relax again.

After tonight's shift.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cotton tales

Whilst on a jaunt to Our Nation's Capital recently, I did something very important. I bought myself new underwear.

Yes, it was Target 15% Off Day, so I loaded up with slinky Bonds undies - and a few pairs of socks for good measure. As always happens, the checked was manned(?) by a boy too young to shave, but who may perhaps be old enough to drive himself to work - being the ACT & all. Now, I can talk body parts & functions over dinner, bring up the awkward all too often, but when it comes to myself, well, the cringing 14 year old in me always wins. A boy! selling me undies! eek! To which the mature voice in my head says - if not get over it, then at least try not to blush.

So I duly handed over my underwear.
He scanned.
I blushed.
He gave them back to me.
The checkout chick next door took the hangers off her customer's undies before putting them in a bag.
I decided to be proactive. I started removing the little individual hangers.
He said - oh, sorry. I normally do that, but you looked like you would use them.

And I spent the rest of the day trying to decide exactly how I project "I use hangers for my underwear."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

14 days out

2 days at home & the cabin fever's set in already. have managed to study a decent amount, but am boring myself & others in the house with nothing new to say. Unless it's about PFAPA.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Finally

I've finished my questions!

This may not mean a lot, but it's taken a year.

27 days to go.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bleached

He & his parents have been in & out for the last few weeks. At his best, he strums and wisecracks. At worse moments, he falters, picks, can't spell, can't think. But smiles, and reminds me of my brother.

Yesterday, he fitted for an hour. We put lines in his arms, gave him drugs. The monitor alarmed as we all frantically tried. I stood at his head, holding his jaw, put a tube down his throat. He didn't stop.

His parents latch on, asking, asking...
If only I had something to reassure them.
If only I could stop it.
If only I had an answer.
If only I could tell them, it'll be alright...

And I try to find something to reassure me.
To stop it.
An answer.
That it'll be alright.

Because he reminds me of my brother.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Temperature rising on New Year's Eve

1995/6: Dad's. Due to a miscommunication between us, I stayed in & watched videos. Dad went out to party. I quietly grumbled.

1998/9: Manila. First trip overseas, arrived on New Year's Day to the humid city of 11 million. There a full day before the rest of my group, I'd got all the travel warnings & read all about the perils of travel in foreign cities. Got water from the shop & sat wearing my moneybelt in my bare hotel room in the heat. Gunshots cracked out across the suburbs all night. Tried to sleep.

Realised the next day they were fireworks.

June 1999: World's First Millenium Party. Still think of New Years on hearing Greatest American Hero.

Dec 1999: Penthouse, Queen St highrise. Formal 21st that had been 21 years in planning. We held our breath as the clock & computers ticked over, then drank litres of champagne as the city kept humming below us.

2001/2: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Spent the whole day white-water rafting and collapsed, exhausted and sunburnt, at 8pm. The racous backpackers outside our window convinced us to go out for one drink. The barman insisted we wear sunglasses before squirting the vodka-filled supersoaker into our mouths. Swam after midnight. Met fire-twirling Irish Zimbabweans who offered to sell me into slavery. Chose not to go for a walk with them and watched the sun come up.

2006: Inadvertantly stuck on the Yarra bridge in the midst of the fireworks. Kissed. Watched the city surge with people and hold its breath.

2007/8: Another sticky hot start to the year. Drive slowly home from camping and wallowing in the river. Melbourne hangs out of cars & shouts greetings. We visit a halal kebab shop for dinner, my bare shoulders goosebumpy in their airconditioning as the cook, in hijab, chops. The party is pumping but all I want to do is sit with my feet in their wading pool. We wander home across radiating concrete and retreat to the fan. The first day of 2008 brings sun and eventually freshness.

Welcome, new year.