La Muela del Diablo

Just a short drive out of the city lies la Muela del Diablo, or the Devil’s Tooth in English. It’s a cool rock formation and a great place to look out over La Paz. Back in August I drove up with some friends to explore it. These are the photos I took that day. (And a few my friends took of me ’cause they’re nice like that).

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On our way up the hill

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Our fearless leader (and Ryan, too)
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Still not over this town or this view

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First sighting!

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Bolivian newspaper La Razón posted an article back in 2011 on the satanic underbelly of la Muela. Since it’s the glorious month of Halloween and I wanted to practice translating something, here’s a little spooky backstory for y’all:

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La Muela del Diablo, Another Satanic Site

“My friend Miriam went inside one of the caves. I didn’t want to because I was scared. There was an altar and she made an offering. She had a boyfriend and so she asked the Devil ‘I want to be with him until I die!’ She died in an accident that same year.”

This story was collected onsite by La Razón. “I asked for something, too, but I didn’t go into the cave. ‘I want to be with my love and have a child with him!’ I said. Now I have a two year-old daughter, but my boyfriend passed away,” she added.

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Spooooooky

The volcanic plug is located 40 minutes outside of the urban center by car. In the Aymara language this place is called Auqui Kollo, which means Father Mountain and in Andean culture is a wak’a (a sacred space where rituals are performed).

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La Muela, according to testimonies collected by this publication, is also considered a sanctuary of Lucifer’s, where worshippers gather on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s similar to the curve on the La Paz-El Alto highway, where a sculpture sits that believers say is the devil.

The young woman explained that she visited the site with her two friends out of curiosity. They were cursed back in eighth grade, when they were just 13 years old and prayed for miracles. As far as she says, their prayers were answered. Far from these rites and beliefs, La Muela del Diablo is part of an ecotourism circuit in Mallasa, visited annually by approximately 10,000 tourists (mostly hikers and outdoor adventurers) from Bolivia and abroad.

When asked about the dark rituals, the mayor of the macrodistrict of Mallasa, Miguel Quispe, claimed that “that type of ritual might be taking place in the early morning hours.”

The director of the Special Force Against Crime (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Crimen, or FELCC), of the city’s Southern Zone, Colonel Daniel Quintanilla, claimed not to know if satanic rituals took place on the site and pointed out that between 2009 and 2011 no violent crimes were reported in the area.

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Between the rocks at the tooth’s peak there are graffitied names of men and women. On one of the points that forms the distinctive tooth shape, nature has sketched out a sort of face, with small eyes and a large nose. Visitors have painted more graffiti here, proof that not everyone takes the satanic cult seriously.

In holes between rocks, there are also the remains of white and colored candles, coca leaves, dozens of plastic liquor bottles and soldaditos (little soldiers), medicine-grade alcohol which costs 1 Bolivano and which minors and the homeless often use to get drunk due to its low cost.

In one of the crevices La Razón found a rolled up photograph of a boy. On its back someone had written “Alberto S. M. dead…”

Nearby, under the rocks, there’s a photocopy of a young cholita’s ID card. Catalina C., age 37. Other names are handwritten on the page.

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The cave where our interviewee’s friend asked the devil to love her boyfriend till death is a little further down La Muela’s sloping sides. According to the legend, in order for Lucifer to grant the favor you have to visit the site three consecutive times. “that same year (2006) Miriam died in an accident. She went on a trip with my friends to Copacabana. The water on the lake was really choppy that day and she drowned. I haven’t been back here since that day, but now I’m not asking him for anything,” she assured us.

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At the feet of the Muela lies the rural community of Chiaraque. Its inhabitants consider the mountain to be one of the most important apachetas (sacred sites) in La Paz.

“According to tradition, on the 21st of June (the solstice and Aymara New Year) and in the month of August we offer food and drink to give thanks to Pachamama for the year’s blessings,” said German Quispe, who has lived here for 46 years.

However, he informed us that people unaffiliated with the community surrendered themselves to satanic cults: “They mostly come on Tuesdays and Fridays because those are the devil’s days. They make offerings to him and ask him for favors.”

Another local who didn’t wish to be named told us that an elderly man had asked the devil to help cure him and now he’s no longer afflicted by the disease.

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According to Andean mythology, wak’as are ancestral spirits that inhabit the rocks, hills, air, springs, etc., and have a reciprocal relationship with humans, answering their prayers and thus forming a special mystic connection.

German Quispe explained that, in keeping with the tradition of their ancestors, locals fill a table with food and offerings for Pachamama every year on the slopes of La Muela.

“It’s tradition to perform this type of Andean ritual, especially in [August]. Members of the community offer mesas blancas (ceremonial tables filled with food and other offerings) that include llama fetuses and other traditional offerings. Typically, these rituals are performed in the morning and the evening.”

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Last October, when I was sitting in my very first Aymara class, my professor warned us not to go anywhere near La Muela at night. I remembered her saying that people performed dark rituals there, and even though I apparently failed to take a single photo of them, we saw candles and empty bottles like the ones described in the article all over the place up there.

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I would recommend La Muela to anyone looking to get out of the city for a few hours and take in some spectacular views. After that story, I’d likely refrain from asking the devil for any favors, but hey, that’s your prerogative.

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Last looks

A note: The images in this post were edited in Adobe Lightroom using the dope af free presets I found here: http://natephotographic.com/vsco-cam-lightroom-presets-starter-pack/ Check him out!

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Yes, I Have a Real Job: Potions!

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I LOVE Halloween. Always have. It’s three days after my birthday, I get to go all out with cool clothes and fancy makeup, there’s usually something pumpkin-flavored. What’s not to love? I therefore take getting my kiddos in the spirit of spook very seriously. Halloweek has been in full swing in the Seufert household since about the 15th. The beauty of Halloween with kids is the sheer volume of material out there. Everybody wants to get a little spooky, including one of Gabe’s favorite YouTube channels, SciShow Kids.

We started watching Jessi and Squeaks back when Gabriel had a question about extreme weather I wasn’t quite sure how to answer, and the four minute, fun-filled videos have since become a staple in our days. They’re a great way to introduce new vocabulary, they’re an example of real-world English Language media, and since they’re so short, fun, and easy to consume I can scaffold his learning easily. I leave Fridays a bit open-ended so that we have a chance to finish stuff we started earlier in the week, but they’re also a great opportunity to have fun with the experiments in the SciShow Kids videos. Last Friday we watched this gem, and things spiraled from there:

As I’ve said before, Gabe is both a lover of Ada Twist, Scientist and a total Potterhead, so he jumped at the chance to do an experiment where he got to call me his Potions Master. We started by watching the video together and talking about unfamiliar words. Next I asked him to try and remember what Jessi said we needed to do the experiments ourselves and we made a list of ingredients:

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I wrote the title and introduced the -tion/-sion ending, which we then got to talk about more with the words suspension and solution. Gabe wrote down the names of the ingredients himself (and I got a chance to talk about s making the sh sound in words like sugar), and then we got cooking!

Next, we headed to the kitchen and got together all of the supplies from our list. We have both white and unbleached sugar, so we decided to try the experiment out with both of them to see if there was a difference. We also didn’t have any play sand, so we got some dirt from the garden to see if it worked the same way as the sand did in the video.

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I’m not sure why they make these faces when I photograph them. Kids are weird.

To start, Paul mixed the dirt potion.

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We thought that the dirt would sink down to the bottom like the sand did, but what ended up happening was even cooler! The dirt separated into its components, with the heaviest sand and pebbles sinking to the bottom while the lighter plant matter floated to the top.

After that, Gabe mixed the white sugar into one jar and Paul mixed the unbleached sugar into another. Gabriel wondered aloud if the sugars would dissolve at different rates, so I took the opportunity to remind him of the word hypothesis, which we learned in Ada Twist is an educated guess about what will happen. His hypothesis was that the unbleached sugar would take longer to dissolve because the particles were bigger.

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He loved this part.
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Mixin’ away
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More weird faces. Gabe’s hypothesis was correct! Both types of sugar eventually dissolved, but it took longer for the unbleached sugar. We didn’t talk about how the color of the sugar might affect the solution before we mixed, but as you can see there was a big difference there, too! They tasted about the same, though.

In the video, food coloring and oil are used to make two separate potions, but I thought it would be fun to take a look at what happened when we put food coloring into water and then put oil into that mixture. This time, Gabriel hypothesized that the oil would get color from the food coloring, too, but it didn’t! When we shook our potions, it looked for a moment like Gabriel was right and the color from the water was getting into some of the oil, but when we let them sit and the colors separated again we decided it must be bubbles of water trapped in the oil that made their way back down to the water as the potion settled.

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Spooky faces are the best faces

All told, this was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon. My favorite days are the days where they’re having so much fun playing with whatever we’re learning about that they soak up new words and information without realizing it, and this was definitely one of those days. Thanks to SciShowKids, Andrea Beaty, and all the other folks out there making great material for young minds!

On things

I have one ring I wear every day. It was given to me, nearly three years ago, on my twenty-first birthday. I had other rings before it. I lost some. I gave one away. This one, a gift from my then-roommates and forever sisters, was meant to replace the one I’d passed on. It’s a claddagh, an Irish wedding ring of sorts. Like a relationship status for those who had the misfortune of existing before Facebook did. Mine has “Love    Loyalty    Friendship” inscribed on it. I love it.

I almost lost it shortly after it was given to me. I was throwing snowballs with my friends one night on Macomb, a street we walked all the time back then, and it flew off. We looked till our snow-damp fingers froze. We didn’t find it. I thought it was lost forever. Eventually, though, the snow melted, as snow often does, and I saw the little crowned heart glinting up at me out of the mud at the base of a tree.

Since then, my ring has been with me through countless adventures. I’m always careful to pocket it if it seems I might lose it. Or, well, almost always. A few weeks ago, on my first night out in Buenos Aires, I was fiddling with it as we made our way from one bar to another and it fell out of my hand and out of sight. I couldn’t breathe.

I’d been dawdling a bit, so none of the people I was out with noticed my mounting panic, but panic is the best word for how I felt. To lose something so precious, a symbol of the love I have for two young women I haven’t seen in far too long, in an unfamiliar place? Unacceptable. I’d been fiddling with it because I missed them that night. This seemed a cruel reward for my sentimentality.

Luckily, the men on the street outside the club I’d been passing had kindness i their hearts and cell phone flashlights in their pockets. My heart in my throat, I scoured the sidewalk with them till one pointed to a puddle in the gutter. Once again, I saw that friendly glint. My ring was not lost.

I snatched it up, put it back on, and thanked the friendly strangers. As my breathing returned to normal and I caught up to my companions, though, my heart sank past my chest into the pit of my stomach. I wanted to hug Robin and Alexandra, to tell them it was all going to be ok, that I hadn’t lost this tether between us. I couldn’t. They were miles away from me and from each other in DC and North Carolina. I’d been missing them before my close call. Now, eyes shining, I was nearly bowled over by the wave of emotion I felt. It was silly, to cry when I hadn’t even lost anything. Didn’t stop me from wanting to.

I tried to explain my sudden melancholy to my friends that night in Buenos Aires, but they didn’t understand. Why would they? None of them had been there the night I got it. None of them had told me what happened when I woke up with a stunning hangover the day after I got it, either. They didn’t cheer when I showed them my slightly muddy treasure a few weeks after that near-tragic snowball fight. They didn’t know me then.

Being so far from home, I find myself more attached to the things I brought with me. Shirts stolen from friends’ closets, stuffed animals won at county fairs, jewelry. Each of these takes me back to a version of my life I don’t have any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be where I am, but these pieces of past happiness are important to me. They remind me where I came from, that I’m not alone even on the occasion I do feel lonely. I know my confused companions only saw a ring, but it’s far more than just a ring to me. Like all the other things I keep, this ring ceased to be a mere object the moment that ooey gooey feeling center in my brain declared it important. Now it’s a reminder of the true size of my heart when I find myself feeling small.

Yes, I Have a Real Job: 10 books my charges love

In this post, we’re taking a bit of the left turn from the dual foci of Morgan’s Feelings and Morgan’s Photos. As the name of this blog suggests, I’m an au pair. That means I spend a good deal of my time with three brilliant young humans speaking English and passing on US culture with a side of my personal values. That also means I plan lessons that’ll work well for a six year-old on the cusp of reading independently, a nearly-four year-old who now understands what I say but still spouts responses in a hybrid English-French-German-Spanish dialect (with a heavy toddler accent, to boot), and a precocious two-and-a-half year-old whose vocabulary and comprehension sometimes make even me forget that she can’t be expected to focus for as long as her brothers. In this new series I thought up today, I’ll be telling you a bit more about what that looks like day to day. Exciting, right?

It only seemed appropriate to introduce Gabe, Paul, and little V to all of you through one of the few activities I know will reliably engage all three of them: reading aloud. It’s been a long time since I inhabited the demographic at which children’s books are aimed, it’s true, but they remain one of my favorite genres. I only brought a handful down with me when I started last year. It was tough to choose, knowing so little about the reading level and/or interests of my new friends, so I went with some reliable classics and some newer books I happen to own. The first three favorites are from that collection and remain top picks more than a year later.

1. Jamberry, by Bruce Degen

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This is a book I’ve loved ever since I had it read to me when I was but a wee thing. It’s silly. It rhymes. It makes you want to eat berries. I knew it was a crowd-pleaser and I brought it to La Paz in the hope that these kids would like it half as much as other kids I’d read it to over the years had. They did. It was the first book I read to them as a bedtime story, back when Paul was wary of me, and I’ll never forget the way my heart swelled when he asked me to read it again (though I’ve already forgotten whether it was in English or French that he asked). This is just one of those books.

2.  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

 

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This is another go-to classic that proved once again the power of a great children’s book. Back before they could really talk to me, the younger two kids would recite this book with me over and over, baaing, barking, learning their colors, and pointing out body parts they knew on the colorful animals. One of the first sentences Valentina ever said to me in English? “Teachers don’t have tails!” (For the uninitiated, there’s a teacher toward the end of the book. Unlike most of the animals who come before her, she does not have a tail).

3. Little Humans, by Brandon Stanton

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This one’s a bit newer than the first two. My momma got it for me for Christmas a  while back and so I bought it with me. I’m so glad I did. Brandon Stanton is the photographer behind Humans of New York, and this book takes photos from his “Today in Micofashion” section and places them above simple, rhyming lines about all the big things little humans can do. My charges fell in love with the diverse cast of little New Yorkers, pointing out all the things they had in common with the kids in the photos right from the start. Gabriel and I also started our first reading lessons with words pulled from this book’s pages. Great for very young kids, the photos are interesting enough to hold an older kid’s attention, and the children in the story show a great slice of US culture.

Excellent as those first three books and the rest I brought wit me last year are, we needed more. My bosses, always eager to help their little ones learn more English with me, gave me all of the internet and told me they’d pay for as many books as I wanted and the kids needed. This is a huge gift. I spent HOURS on Amazon, trying to sort through what I wanted to buy, I needed some very simple books just for Valentina, some fun, rhyming tales for Paul, and both books I could red to Gabriel and books he could read to me. I wanted to expose them to touchstones of US culture. I wanted to make sure they were hearing stories from lots of points of view (See Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk for a great discussion on the importance of diversity in children’s literature). In the end, I ordered about 25 books that I love. Here are seven they seem to really love, too.

4. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

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I bought this book for Gabriel, mostly. I thought “it’s a classic, the language is simple, and it touches on themes of using and abusing natural resources by way of a generous, anthropomorphic tree! What’s not to love?” All of that is true and he does love it, but what surprised me was how much Paul and Valentina love it, too. Just last night they outvoted Gabriel (who wanted another off this list) because they love The Giving Tree so much. Why? Well, Valentina loves to find the little boy on every page. She likes watching him change from a small boy to an old man in the course of a few minutes, and she adores finding a foot or whatever small trace of him she can on the pages where he’s up in the tree or walking in or out of the scene. Paul likes all that, too, but lately his fascination has been with the tree’s emotions. He wants to know why she’s happy, why she’s sad. This is a book I’ve loved as long as I can remember, but reading it to these three has given me a new appreciation of its versatility.

5. Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

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This one’s another beloved classic I had to include. Gabe doesn’t love this one–it’s too simple for him to really enjoy, but Paul and V  both eat it up. They love the rhymes, they love finding everything in the great green room, they simply marvel at the idea of saying goodnight to nobody. This one’s been special to me for as long as I can remember, too, but I found out when I was getting stuff together for this post that it’s been around since the 1940s! Can you believe that?

6. Corduroy, by Don Freeman

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I decided on this one for a few reasons. First, it’s a sweet story about a little girl loving a bear despite his imperfections. Lisa listens when her mom says “no,” goes home, gathers up her savings and buys Corduroy herself, which is fantastic. Even better, Corduroy has a main character of color and her identity is a simple fact rather than the main focus of the story. All three kiddos like this one, but Gabriel likes it the best.

7. Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss

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Oh, Seuss. An enduring children’s author if ever there was one. I actually got a box with five of his beginner books inside, but this is easily the crowd favorite. Like all of Seuss’ beginner books, this book repeats the same 200 or so words over and over, which is great for Gabriel. We’re in that place right now where he’s great at sounding things out but sounds out a word even if it’s the third time he’s seen it on a page, and this book is helping with that. Paul loves the repetition and the rhyming, too, reciting along with me and sneakily practicing his pronunciation, but for him and for Valentina the best part is the increasingly absurd illustrations. They laugh like hyenas when we get to the page where the whole motley crew is plunged into the water (although that might have something to do wit my underwater voice, too). The best thing about Green Eggs and Ham, I think, is that it’ll grow with the kids. I’m planning to have Gabe reading this one to his brother and sister all alone pretty soon.

8. A River Ran Wild, by Lynne Cherry

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Ok, remember how I said “with a side of my personal values” up there in the first paragraph? This book is a top ten entry from that subset of our stories. A River Ran Wild is the story of the Nashua river and how it went from being the crystal ribbon at the center of the Nashua people’s life to a stinking, dead dump for paper waste and back again. IT’s a great way to talk about the impact humans have on their environment, the importance of conservation, indigenous peoples’ rights and organizing for change. On top of all of that, Gabriel loves it.

9. We Are in a Book!, by Mo Willems

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Mo Willems is a powerhouse to rival Mr. Geisel, if you ask me (and that medal there on the cover). We have three books from his Elephant and Piggie series, and all of them are hits, but this one is the stand-out favorite. Nervous Elephant realizes t the beginning of the book that he and Piggie are being watched, and ever-adaptable Piggie soon figures out that it’s because they’re in a book! This is another one that has all three rolling after I don’t even know how many read-throughs, and I’m grateful for this book and this author every time I can get all three kids to sit, recite, and laugh along with me.

10. Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

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Ok, I’m cheating just a little here and using entry number ten to talk about three fantastic books by this duo. Ada Twist and her friends Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer are all students in Ms. Greer’s second grade class. As the books’ titles suggest, they each have a passion that they get to explore in delightful rhyming stories. I first thought to get Iggy Peck for Gabriel because he positively adores building and finding out how things are made, but he loves all three books equally. Rosie Revere finds our heroine discouraged early on, but her great aunt Rose (an homage to Rosie the Riveter) helps her find her passion for making things that go again. In Ada Twist, the newest in the series, young Ada’s scientific, questioning mind is fully supported by her parents and her older brother. Her name is another homage, this time to Ada Lovelace. these books are fantastic because they inspire kids to pursue their dreams and actively remind them that women and POCs an and should be scientists and engineers. They do all of that while remaining silly page-turners that introduce new vocabulary to Gabriel. I love them.

BONUS: Harry Potter Books 1-3

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On days when Paul and Valentina are at daycare in the afternoon, Gabriel and I have started reading Harry Potter. I’d tried chapter books with him before and they either didn’t hold his attention or were too scary, but he was hooked a few chapters in to The Sorcerer’s Stone and we’re halfway through The Prisoner of Azkaban already. I’m a little concerned because I’m not sure he’s mature enough to move on to The Goblet of Fire yet, but we’ll see. Worst-case scenario I get to read through the first three over again. No harm there.

Gabe positively LOVES these books. He loves the magic, he loves the names, he loves how Harry continues to best the evil Lord Voldemort. It’s given us a chance to talk about the differences between British and US culture and provides another good framework for talking about social justice. Also I just really enjoy reading them for an umpteenth time. Gabe’s best friend Roger may have ruined the whole Darth-Vader-is-Luke’s-father thing, but he hasn’t read these or seen the films so he has no idea what creature lies in the Chamber of Secrets or why that mysterious black dog keeps showing up. Don’t tell Gabriel, but I’m picking up a set of HPs to give him as a Chistmas present when I’m home.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at our shelf. What children’s books do you love? Why?

 

On love pt. I

A few months ago I had a bad sort of Saturday night. My plans had fallen through and I found myself at home, trying to decide if it was worth it to get dressed up and go to a show by myself. I would get noticed or I wouldn’t. Unappealing either way, really. I shot a text to my dear friend Vale in hopes that maybe she’d let me crash her plans for the night (they were plans involving wine, making them entirely worth the maybe friendship faux pas). She said it wasn’t really a crash-the-party kind of night, but she had a much better plan, anyway. She and I would go together to Copacabana early the next morning and spend the day together at the lake. This was good for three reasons:

  1. Spontaneous daytrips with ladyfriends are pretty much always good things
  2. I hadn’t been to Copacabana yet, and this way I’d know where to take Connor and Lizzie when the three of us passed through on our way from Cusco to La Paz
  3. I had an excuse not to put on makeup, since she was coming to get me at 5 am the next day and really the only sensible thing to do was sleep.

In the morning I shivered my way through dressing and packing a bag with the essentials (wallet etc., journal, headphones, camera). We took a taxi to Cementerio, where busses of all shapes and sizes depart for Copacabana, paid 20 Bs (about $3 US) a piece for the two seats up in the front row next to the driver, and in short order were on our way. I was in the middle seat, so sleep was pretty much out of the question. I popped my headphones on and watched as we went from urban La Paz to chaotic El Alto (Sunday is market day, after all) to the highway that would take us to Titicaca. There was dust. There were mountains. There are always mountains. There were houses and cows and pigs and people and all my toes, cold despite their socks and shoes, could think was that the houses and cows and pigs and people must have known very few truly cozy days. I glanced over at Vale, huddled and dozing under her scarf-turned-blanket. This woman, gorgeous and goofy in equal measure, was my friend. That felt pretty damn good.

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After two hours on the road the lake came into view. We piled out of the bus, jumping a little to return feeling to our frozen toes, and got our (2B) tickets for the next leg of the journey: a quick boat ride after which we’d rejoin our bus. The day was coming into gorgeous bloom and I smiled despite the wind whipping at our tiny boat.

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Once on the other side we grabbed some breakfast and settled back in, Vale in the middle seat this time, for one more hour on the road before we arrived in Copacabana. We were in view of the lake this entire time, I should point out. Big-ass lake.

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Officially in Copa!

The bus dropped us off outside the church and I was quickly even more grateful to have gone with a local my first time. She showed me the chapel where a replica of the Virgin of Copacabana was on display…

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…and where hundreds come every day to light candles for their loved ones, hoping for a miracle.

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We caught the end of mass and got a look at the Virgin herself in the church. According to Vale, they used to move her around but have stopped because whenever she leaves the church the lake goes positively bonkers. Waves on waves on waves. She’s a virgin especially revered for her ability to make miracles happen, but she’s a moody lady, too.

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13239088_10157021922645201_7874296056818927366_n.jpgWe then headed down to the shore, hoping to get a boat over to the Island of the Sun. Protip: boats only leave Copacabana for the northern part of the island twice a day, at 8:30 am and 1:30 pm, and if you take the boat at 1:30 you have to spend the night on the island. There are boats to the southern part of the island, too, but that bit is all ruins and lot of climbing and we were more in the mood for a lazy Sunday on the lakeshore, so we declined. In the end, we opted for staying in Copacabana, getting sandwiches and wine on “La Avenida de los Gringos,” (OK, that’s not its real name, but that’s what a local called it when she pointed us that way in our search for wine and it’s pretty easy to see why), renting bikes, and picnicking away from the hustle and bustle of town.

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You know how some pictures fill you with joy when you look at them and think back to the day they were taken? Yeah, all these do that for me.

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We’d just settled down with our wine and potato chips (the sandwiches had lasted about 30 seconds) when Vale turned to me and asked “what is love?”

Initially, I rattled off my boilerplate answers to that question. Love is walking into an art gallery and silently splitting up, rejoining naturally when you see something and you have to share your whispered impressions. It’s feeling at home in any space when your person is also there. Those are all examples I’ve personally felt, which makes them by far the easiest to talk about, but also means they’re a reflection of my limited experience. There was a blog I read a few months back in which someone else described love as seeing a person in all their glory, but I cannot for the life of me find said blog. The author was poly and that’s about all I remember. Help much appreciated. Anyway, back to the shores of Lake Titicaca:

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Looking at my friend, sun-kissed and covered with crumbs, I knew I loved her. I knew why she was really asking and so I said this: Romantic love, especially after university (or whatever the end of childhood means to you), is all of that, but the act of loving is done despite the dual pressures of next steps and nostalgia. When you first meet a person, it’s all about next steps. Anticipation tints the world rosy and every kind word and public peck is a sign of what is to come. After a while, though, that honeymoon ends, leaving the honeymooners with a pile of shared experiences which ideally serve as the foundation for a long and happy relationship. At the same, time, though, those next steps are still looming. They’re not the cute little firsts of a new relationship. They’re getting ‘serious,’ because apparently one must stop trying to have fun with one’s person and remember that life is work. There are milestones to reach. Moving in together. Engagement. Children. The big and scary future. This phenomenon is referred to as the relationship escalator, and there’s a great post about it here.

As the pile of nostalgic moments grows, so too it seems do the expectations, until you’re sitting there between a rock and a hard place and there’s no room to experience your person in the way that you once did. Because, sure, ideally the nostalgia pile is full of good things, but often it’s also where one finds the seeds of one’s undoing: the first fights that will become the forever fights, the knowledge that this guy really wants his kids to go to church every Sunday and this girl really doesn’t, the ‘good morning,’ texts that once came every day but no longer come at all. Sometimes, the escalator stalls.

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Hypothesis: Considering big questions is easier by large bodies of water.
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… with some familiar vices by your side

I’ve been mostly single for more three years now, and I’ve found myself blurring the line between platony and romance more and more often. What does that mean? It means holding hands, kissing faces, saying ‘I love you,’ and going on adventures like the one that led Vale to be sitting on the shore asking me what love was. Sometimes blurring the line has meant sleeping with my friends and still calling them my friends. Always, though, it’s meant seeing a person for who they are as much as possible and trying to hold them and myself accountable for our actions toward one another. I’m trying with all my might to reject the relationship escalator as the only model. It’s a process.

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Accountability is something I demand from all my relationships, romantic or otherwise, but it only ever seems to cause a problem in the romantic ones. Why? Because when I tell Vale I love her or beg to crash her Saturday plans or spend a day taking pictures of her in the sunshine while we talk about our feelings, it doesn’t mean that I’m asking for anything specific from our future, and it doesn’t come out of a sense of nostalgia-based duty. The rock and the hard place don’t exist. We’re just two people loving one another freely, and that’s pretty beautiful. Now, that isn’t to say that I haven’t had dramatic moments in my friendships. I have. What’s different, though, is that even when one of us has hurt the other deeply we’ve always found a way to move on and (in my opinion) ended up closer because of it. I think love at its best is like that, but it’s harder sometimes to move on with romantic partners because you’ve got this pile of nostalgia that now includes pockets of nastiness and pain and you’re trying to drag it up Mt. Where-Is-This-Going and it’s just exhausting.

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img_753213254342_10157021922600201_5429531845163892134_nBeing close to other beings is the most important thing each of us will do in our lifetimes. Sometimes, the beings we’re closest to are also beings we like to kiss and with whom we want to build families and that’s really cool, but it’s important to remember two things: relationships with a romantic and/or sexual aspect have value even if they’re not leading to the happily ever after summit of Mt. Where-Is-This-Going; and relationships don’t need to be romantic and/or sexual to help you get to your happily ever after.img_7533img_7541img_7549img_7569

Hours later, Vale and I left Copacabana drunker and closer than when we’d arrived. With Coronas in our hands we bought tickets for 30Bs on a bigger bus (better suited for dozing). In our tipsiness we ignored the reality that the bus was only going to Ceja (in El Alto), a solid 45 minutes out of the center of La Paz. We left Copacabana at 6 pm, made it to the little boat by 7, and were on the other side and on the bus again at 7:35. We got off the bus and onto first one minibus and then another. We caught a taxi from San Francisco, the big church in the city center, around 11 pm and were finally home in the Zona Sur a little before midnight. It had only been about 18 hours since we set off, but things between us looked and felt just a little bit different. I knew then that this girl was one of the best bits of my time in Bolivia.

On that Sunday I learned old lessons over again. I was 100% myself with a person. She was 100% herself with me. We have laughed and cried together and I know I’ll cherish her for the rest of my life. I love her. I love her because she tells me when I really need to just get over the guy and move on, and because she buys me ice cream when she knows I’m not quite ready. I love her because she is kind, smart, witty, fashionable. I love her because she has great taste in music. I love her because she thinks most of those things I just said are true about me, too. I’d buy her ice cream, too, but I know she doesn’t like creamy stuff so when her heart has been broken I’ve used other strategies.

Point is, love has lots of meanings. I’m sure I’ve not yet found my escalator partner and I don’t know if I ever will, but I am grateful for the people in my life who remind me of all the paths that avoid escalators and Mt. Where-Is-This-Going entirely. I’m grateful for wine and lakes, too. I’m grateful for lots of things. What/where/who are you grateful for?

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Also on my grateful for list: sunsets

On the Chuflay

What’s a Chuflay? To me, it’s a relatively cheap way to get buzzed at a Bolivian boliche (bar). It’s pretty basic, just singani, ginger ale, and lime.

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Chuflays (and snack foods). Borrowed the photo from this blog, where you’ll also find a recipe (in Spanish) to make chuflays of your very own. 

Singani, in case you’re not familiar, is a white grape brandy native to Bolivia. you can read more about it here. According to this article, it’s one of 11 Latin American liquors yet to be appropriated, which is pretty neat in a modern context but also amusing given the tale I’m about to tell you.

As you may or may not know, I took a trip a few weeks back with my bosses and the kids through Bolivia and Argentina. I’ve got all sorts of stories from that journey to share, but I wanted to start with this one. One night in Tarija we were joined at Opa and Vovo’s farm by Pájaro, an enterpreneur who splits his time between La Paz and Tarija, where he has a winery. We’d talked about all things culinary for what seemed like ages when we finally came around to singani vs. pisco. All of a sudden, Pájaro was recounting the legend of the beginnings of the Chuflay. This is that story–or, the version of that story that I remember translated in English, anyway.

Singani in Bolivia was quite a simple affair, consumed out of habit by Bolivians far more interested in the feeling of drunkenness than the drinking itself. When the railroads were being built, the builders shipped Englishmen (and their whiskey and gin) across the Atlantic. As always seems to happen when Englishmen, whiskey, and gin are put together, the Englishmen outlasted their liquor supply. They couldn’t be expected to build railroads without an ample supply of something that’d get them drunk and the Atlantic is a rather large beast. They needed an alternative alcohol. Enter singani.

The men mixed this new-to-them liquor with what they had on hand–ginger ale, mostly–and got drunk just fine. One night, in the process of having a time in a Bolivian boliche (guess some things never change) a drunkishman demanded a refill. The bartender took one look at this gent and said “ya estás chupado, amigo,” which translates loosely to “you’re pissed already, mate.”

Lacking a skilled interpreter such as myself, our hero was not to be dissuaded so easily. Somehow, he turned “chupado” into “chuflay,” and he shouted “otro chuflay!” So the cheapest mixed drink to be found in Bolivian bars was born.

Now, much as I love this classic tale of cross-cultural intoxication, its basis in fact is a little dubious. According to the Spanish-language wiki on chuflays, all the stuff about railroads and Englishmen is right, but the word itself comes from Bolivians mucking up “short fly,” the name the Englishmen had given the drink. Personally, I like both stories.

On getting sick

When I first got to La Paz, I felt awful. Nearly everyone does. My altitude sickness only lasted a few days, thankfully, but even after the headaches wore off it was still difficult to do much of anything. Existing at this altitude is a workout. In my first few months here I lost 20 pounds just from walking around (not having Starbucks probably helped, too).

La Paz, much as I love it, is one of those places where it isn’t safe to drink the water. I’ve been drinking water from bottles for over a year and I know it’s necessary, but I still hate to do it. But that’s another story. Back to getting sick. Even if you’re as careful as can be, you will eventually have digestive troubles. It’s so prevalent, in fact, that some of my friends refer to the condition (which can manifest itself as nausea, diarrhea or constipation) as “Bolivian Belly.”

On top of that, drinking here is an ordeal. I mentioned the hangovers briefly in my last post, but I want to quickly reiterate: they’re the worst. You can have just a few glasses of wine and you’ll feel it in the morning.

Viruses and bacteria, too, circulate here just as much as anywhere else, and that’s what I really wanted to talk to you about today. You see, I’ve been sick in one way or another for more than two weeks. First, I caught what Paul and Valentina had at the beginning of our vacation (more on that in a later post). Luckily, that went away after a few days, but somewhere between Tarija and Buenos Aires my weakened immune system fell prey to angular cheilitis. ‘Tis a nasty affliction of the face, that one, and I’m still making it go away. On Tuesday night, as I lay my head down thinking about the Vice Presidential debate, I noticed a tenderness in the area on my right side from my lymph nodes up past my ear. I thought maybe I’d gotten an ear infection on top of everything else, but when I woke up the next day found instead that there was a wide, swollen strip stretching from my neck  diagonally across my cheek and forehead. When I woke up this morning and it had gotten worse/I had a fever, I decided to bite the bullet and go see a doctor. Facial swelling is rarely good news.

I have insurance here, but it isn’t taken everywhere, and the closest place for me to go in a situation like this one is the Clinica del Sur in Obrajes–aka the closest you can get to the city center without actually leaving the Zona Sur. Some of the doctors there speak English, but a lot of them don’t, so I had to make sure I knew how to say “my lymph nodes are enlarged, my face is swollen and my neck and back are achy” in Spanish. It’s funny, but lymph node isn’t really vocabulary I use a lot.

Once there, things went remarkably smoothly. The doctor reported that my tonsils had splendid white dots on them and were super inflamed. After a sizable dose of penicillin to the bottom, I was given a few prescriptions and sent on my way. The best part? The whole visit cost 54 Bs! That’s less than $10.

From the clinic I went down the street to the pharmacy. Pharmacies in Bolivia, like those in most of the non-US places I’ve been, are a far more interactive experience than what most US Americans are used to. Yes, you need to talk to the pharmacist if you want prescriptions like the ones I wanted today. You also need to talk to the pharmacist if you want neosporin, sunscreen, or contact solution. Everything in the joint is behind glass. I still remember four years ago when I was in Madrid struggling for several minutes before the pharmacist understood that what I wanted was nail polish remover. I didn’t know I’d need to talk to anyone, and hadn’t yet learned the look-it-up-before-you-leave trick. That girl would hardly have recognized the one who described all her symptoms and navigated getting a generic this morning.

I’m already feeling much better, which is good because I refuse to be ill when I’m home. I realized again, though, squeezed next to the driver in the front seat of the minibus that took me home: I’m not the same person I was when I got here. I had just jaywalked and waved the minibus when I saw it was going to my house, after all. The girl I used to be would never have done such a thing. She was a firm believer in the importance of the crosswalk, and tried her best to get to the bus stop a few minutes before the bus she wanted to catch. Hard to be/do either of those things when most intersections don’t have crosswalks, most Bolivian drivers do exactly the opposite of what I would do behind the wheel, and minibuses don’t even have formal stops or schedules. Flagging them down is the only way to get on!

Sure, when I get sick and have a fever I still spend a lot of my time wishing a) I didn’t live on the third floor and b) I had more friends close by to bring me foodstuffs, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as it was the first time I found myself at Clinica del Sur. I know more vocabulary (and I tend to remember to look up the vocabulary I don’t know), but I’m also a lot more confident in situations where I don’t have a complete grasp of what’s going on. Living here has made me grow up in ways I never had to before, and even though I wish I weren’t sick right now, I’m grateful for being forced to face difficult moments.