Monday, May 28, 2012

Lake Titcaca

I cannot say enough about this trip. It was gorgeous, and so incredibly unique. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world (not sure why you can't navigate the others...more research is necessary). It was so high up that a certain blogger I know got major altitude sickness and ended up being sick all over everything. BUT...it was so lovely that even a little pesky sickness didn't seem so bad. I highly recommend a visit, particularly if you need to relax and get away from everything. Just take it from me and skip the hiking if the altitude is getting to you.

So first off - the lake is beautiful. It was cool, but not cold and perfect weather for exploring. It was also one of the quietest, most remote places I've ever been. Just picture a huge beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere and almost total silence, in many places you can't see a single sign of human life other than the terraces left by the Incas (or the Tihuanacus, I'm not 100% sure who built them).
I took almost 150 pictures, so obviously I can't post them all, especially with such an intermittent internet connection. But I'll try to post the highlights today and get a bit more in depth this week.  
I love the water, it wa gorgeous. There were a lot of little rowboats too. I can't figure out why they don't do more sailing, because the water was really rough.

Cholas! (forgive me if I spelled that wrong) Bolivian women still often wear the traditional outfit with the bowler hat. Men mostly just wear western clothes. These women were selling flowers and things outside Copacabana church. There's a story behind that which I'll try to write about later.

Terraces - the entire shoreline is terraced - I don't know how many miles it is, but the lake must have been home to a huge population in the past. It's really amazing.

The most beautiful place ever.  
This guy was great. He was some sort of village healer who they persuaded to come hang out with our tour group. I think this picture is where he's waiting patiently for the Portuguese guy with the cell phone to stop interrupting the ceremony. I swear, it's really not that complicated - why are people so terrible with their phones?
I have some more pictures of the llamas/alpacas/vicunas which I'll try to share later. Theorhetically I can now tell the difference between them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Break-in


Don't worry though, it was just us. 

Last night we had a minor lock issue which eventually involved the facilities guys, the security guys, and some minor property damage. This is my first experience breaking and entering.  From now on I will feel much more secure in this house.  (If it takes the people who own the house 2 hours to get in, then that's pretty much the definition of secure.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Welcome to La Paz


Bet you can't gues what this is....

It was my welome gift on arrival at the airport in La Paz.

I'll give you a hint: it's a lifesaver.
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It's my very own oxygen tank!
10 points if you guessed that.

It even comes with it's very own mask.

Just one of the many things that I am learning set this place apart from any other city. 

The altitude is a frequent topic of conversation, especially with new arrivals and everyone has been encouraging me to take it easy for a few days. My fingers have finally stopped tingling and the only effect I still notice is that I get majorly winded climbing stairs. So much so that I was completely out of breath after two flights of stairs today at the embassy. Hopefully no one saw that...

Beyond the altitude the climate is really striking as well. When I first arrived early in the morning it was very chilly - in the 30's or 40's (I'm not actually sure). The house isn't heated - except for some little radiators - so it felt ice cold.  Yet a few hours later we were walking around without coats or jackets and felt comfortable enough to eat outside in the garden.  I thought the cold would really get to me, but actually with a bit more judicious use of the radiators our house is now pretty pleasant and the air just feels refreshing, kind of like being in the mountains at home.

Speaking of housing, the embassy put us up in a mansion large house.  Apparently it's for real FSOs, but we got lucky and ended up here instead. I can see now why many FSOs complain that the furniture is out of date, but the embassy has been extremely generous and even if it isn't Martha Stewart's house it's very comfortable. I'd post pictures, but you know, security and stuff.

I'm going to make a real effort to blog more often while I'm here and tell you about all of the awesome things going on in Bolivia, but forgive me if it doesn't happen. I still don't have a permanent internet solution and I've got a lot of sightseeing to fill up my weekends.

I'll write a separate post about my impressions from the embassy once I can base it on more than one day, but for what it's worth, my first day was great and every single person I met was great.  As Annie would say, "I think I'm gonna like it here." (see gratiutous youtube clip below)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bolivia!

I landed yesterday and it's already been a whirlwind trip. I'd love to post more but there's no internet in my apartment and my schedule hasn't left much time for the internet cafe. I'm too busy having fun and meeting people! I promise a newsy update once I get my internet installed. And of course, lots of pictures! For now just know that I'm safe and very happy. Best, me

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tomorrow...

...I fly to Bolivia! After two weeks of vacation I'm starting to feel like myself again - relaxed, prepared, and excited. I spent the day in total relaxation mode, laying in the sun and reading non-fiction. I am really looking forward to doing more of that this summer. Well, not the laying in the sun bit (Bolivia is kind of chilly this time of year) but certainly the reading. Also, I just wanted to mention my support for a fellow FS blogger who I've found personally very inspiring. Jen Dinoia got kicked off the official State blog roll (though she's back on it now) for posting about her struggle with breast cancer. I'm so glad she shared her experience (even if she had to use the word nipple!) Her story gave me a lot of comfort when I had a scare of my own (thankfully just a scare). It was so encouraging to see how so many in FS community supported her during the ordeal and it reassured me that I was choosing a solid group of people to work with. With or without official sanction her story has meant a lot and she deserves our support. Check out her blog here. Okay, I'm off to my farewell dinner. Next time you hear from me it should be from La Paz!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Home

As promised there hasn't been much excitement around here lately. I've been studying Spanish, I've been cooking, I've been spending lots of time with the grandmas. The most exciting thing I can think of is when I passed out yesterday after having my blood drawn.* Ironically, this is the only item I've been able to cross off my life list so far this summer. (#8 Faint) However, I'm thinking of adding 'get a master's degree' so that I can cross that off too.

Every time I come back to my childhood home I notice something new. The first trip home I noticed that the toilet was pink.** I had lived in our house for 14 years without noticing that. I also noticed all the sounds and smells of home like I never had before; the smell of the docks and the way the wind howls through the trees in a storm. It's amazing how we ignore the things we are familiar with. A semester away at school was enough distance for me to start seeing my home like an outsider.

The second time I came home I was amused at all the things we do that other people don't. Once I moved away I noticed how the midwest is a very trusting place. We still have the ability to pump a tank full of gas before paying for it, which I think isn't an option in many places. (I could be wrong, but at least in some places you have to pay first.) We don't lock our doors - in fact several of our doors can't be locked. We can leave our keys in the car when we go to school or shopping and it will be right there when we come back. In the summer we even leave the doors wide open when we're out for the dog to come and go. It took a long time in college to get used to the idea of carrying keys with me everywhere. I felt like the jailer carefully locking up my apartment each day.

And then of course there are the little variations of speech that tell me I'm home. We say pop not soda. We call freeways interstates. I distinctly remember that growing up we weren't allowed to use the words ticked off or pissed off and had to say teed off instead. ...Oh my goodness was I sheltered! I still remember my brother using phrases like Jiminy! and Criminetly! (Bet you've never heard those.)

This time I've been impressed with the difference in our pace of life here. In DC everyone is constantly moving and striving and competing. Here I wear the same pair of jeans every day. Sometimes we drop by people's houses just to talk to them. We don't even go out for coffee as an excuse! I find my to-do list shrinks in importance and my to-visit list takes over. We spend hours walking through my grandma's garden, carefully looking at each flower, a task that would drive me bananas in DC.

That's one of the secretly nice things about going overseas, one of the things I hope is still true even when I have a fancy embassy job. Away from the fast pace of the US I find I have a lot more time to savor the parts of life that are most important to me. I hope this summer in Bolivia is full of learning and that I can really accomplish some great things for the embassy, but I am also hoping it will be another chance to slow down and experience things a bit more carefully.   I guess we'll see though. Only 3 days til I fly to La Paz!


*Just for the sake of protecting my street cred, let me say that I am not afraid of needles. Apparently, a half a bowl of Lucky Charms isn't enough to keep your blood sugar up until 2:30. So there it is kids, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
** It is no longer pink. Just fyi.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grad School - Check

It's been a very hectic week en mi casa.

I finished my classes. I gave my presentations. I turned in my papers.

I said goodbye to my job, my friends and my school.

I played hostess to my parents and had an all-too-brief visit with a dear friend from Sri Lanka passing through town on her way to somewhere cool.

We packed my stuff. We cleaned out my apartment. We drove halfway across the country.


Normally I pride myself on being calm and organized, but this week I was barely keeping my head above water. Thankfully I had my really wonderful friends and family to see me through. Now I'm back in the mid-west. I have a couple of relatively calm weeks to tie up all the loose strings of my life before heading to Bolivia - I'm finishing one last project for a client in DC, visiting all the relatives, helping my mom host some mother's day festivities, and buying lots of goodies to take to my brother and his wife.  I also decided to hire a Spanish tutor for a couple hours a day to help me bring my Spanish back up to snuff. It's coming back pretty quickly, but it has been 10 years since my last Spanish class, so the refresher was definitely necessary.

The next week and a half might not be very exciting, but I don't really need much of that right now. Just a cold drink and a light breeze and a chance to catch my breath.

*Disclaimer: The pictures below do not adequately capture the chaos of the past few days.



1) I thought it was amusing that I spent two years living here ^ before joining the Foreign Service, and now that I'm all moved out I figured it was fine to show on the blog.


2) ALL of my worldly possessions including a studio apartment's worth of furniture are inside this tiny U-HAUL. Thanks Dad!

3) Finally, where I am now (physically and mentally). Blue skies and fluffy clouds.