Archive | September 2003

Crime pays (in Bolivia)!

So guess what? I’m part of the Bolivian upper class now! Yeah, it’s awesome. We have all these important people over at the house for drinks and coffee or tea, we go out to eat a lot (sushi, steakhouses, etc…) at least three times a week, and we go to a lot of rich people’s parties.

The other day we went to this girl’s surprise party (even though she never showed up as her flight got delayed in Buenos Aires) at this supposed drug dealer’s (or money launderer’s – the rumors imply both) house. Don’t worry though. There is no risk of the DEA or CIA busting down the doors…we’re in BOLIVIA!! Word on the street is that I am now living in the world’s second most corrupt nation in the world (second only to Nigeria!).

So I don’t know how much weight I’m going to gain here…could be 10 pounds, shoot, could be 300 – who can tell? One thing that sent me for a loop though: When I left the US, I weighed close to about 173 pounds or so. When I got to Bolivia, I weighed only 80. Imagine that? I was pretty surprised myself as I didn’t think I looked that much different, but you can’t argue with fact. Someone said it had something to do with a few pounds lost in the Pound to KG conversion but I will have none of that. I just have to try to put back on the pounds…

So anyways, I have to get back to work. Everyone, keep it real and if you are ever in a situation where you think you might not be doing the right thing, ask yourself, “What would a Bolivian do in this situation?” – then go ahead and do it. I think we can all have a little to learn from this enlightened country.

I’m in the money!

So I got a job at a Bolivian company called Energy To Market. The pay is not very good and I have no clue what I should be doing, but hey – welcome to the working world, eh? Bolivia is cool (in a hot and humid kind of way) and I just got my cell phone which costs me a whopping 8 cents a minute without any kind of monthly fee so I’m like, a total playa’ now.

Stop signs are soooo overrated

I am getting settled into Santa Cruz, Bolivia now and am enjoying myself. I’ve still got a head cold but hopefully I’ll be getting over that soon seeing as I am not going to be traveling as much for the next four or five months.

A few things about Santa Cruz though. One is that street lights and stop signs mean absolutely nothing – they are merely suggestions. If you don’t want to stop you don’t have to, but if you do, that’s cool too. Nick’s theory is that of momentum. Basically, if you lose your momentum, you’ve lost your ability to continue on as others will see your hesitation. So the trick is to continue the momentum with confidence. If your coming to a stop sign and someone else sees your momentum, they will stop and let you go. It’s how it works.

Also, it is really hot and humid in Santa Cruz. We´re in the tropics so that´s how it is. You just get used to being really sticky all the time, or you keep the AC running non-stop. Of course, you run the risk of bringing all your bills up from costing 25 dollars a month to 28 with that increase in electricity, but that´s life, you know?

I also saw the new house I will be living in for the next several months (the big move is tomorrow from Nick and Ina´s apartment). The tricky thing is not getting lost in the huge house and it´s also going to be hard adjusting to the fact that I am not allowed to clean up after myself or do my own laundry (that´s what the three maids are for). It´s kind of weird having a family take you out to one of their own chain of grocery stores and letting you pick out for food for free and then living in their house for free…but something tells me I´m going to get used to it.

I´m going to check out some job offers in the next few days, so I will let you guys know how that goes, but it looks promising.

Before I go, a funny story about Quito, Ecuador though. When I got out of the taxi at the airport, I noticed that I couldn’t find my wallet. I had to pay the taxi guy and I was looking in and around the taxi, but I couldn’t find it. As I glanced inside of the storm drain though, there it was – lying complacently in about 2 feet from my reach. The military guard was yelling at the taxi guy to leave and I was staring desperately at my wallet and it was pretty outta control. The taxi guy moved up the street and waited for me and I was able to scrounge enough money in coins to pay him (in Ecuador, somehow a $20 bill magically gets transformed into about three handfuls of coins by the end of the day). So back to the wallet I went and I asked the guard – Pues, que debo hacer? (so what should I do?). He looked at me like, “damn dude, I don´t know. Sucks to be you.”.

Then a shoe shine boy came up to see what the problem was and I said, “50 cents if you can get that out”. He looked down and bowed to the drain then stood quickly back up and replied “…one dollar!”. After a smile and a nod of approval he went to work. He could´t quite reach so I reminded him that a dollar was waiting in the storm drain for him. After a suggestion by the office to get a stick, he ran up to a young tree and quickly tore off one of the only two branches off of it. He returned and tried to fish it out but without luck. After breaking it in two, four other shoe shine boys had arrived – along with a crowd trying to see what the problem was. We finally worked together to get it out. I gave the other kids 25 cents and I was on my way. I´m glad those kids were finally good for something, you know?

Anyways, Nick and I are writing a book called “The Tortilla Standard”, so I have to get back to drinking beer for inspiration. Werd to your mutha´.

Goodbye Ecuador

Well, we finally made beer – American Ale. Lacking many of the amenities we take for granted in the United States (like a sparkling clean counter top), we busted out 5 gallons (actually, only 4) in about 3-4 hours. What to do with it then though? Naturally, we took the whole container of beer to a gas station to top it off with some more purified water. Then (of course you saw this coming) we took it to a karaoke bar. Since we couldn’t go to Nelson’s house on the other side of town first, we just brought it along. We had a difficult time explaining that we had 5 gallons of pre-fermented beer in our hands and we wanted to take it in with us to the bar.

Eventually, the guard agreed to guard it (thus the name) for us while we celebrated my leaving (or maybe they were celebrating that I would finally be gone). But anyways, here I am – tired as hell, trying to get these pictures on the web before my flight leaves for Bolivia. This will probably be the last post from Ecuador and although I didn’t get to see all the stuff I wanted to see, I think I got a pretty good idea of the country.

Bolvia – here I come!

Meeeeeemories, in the corrrrrner of my miiiiind.

“You know…”, I said as I leaned over Valérie´s shoulder, “they put these cages around the turtles because they kept leaping from the ground onto tourists”.

“Really??”, she replied with her Swiss accent.

Everyone nodded in agreement – but I couldn’t keep a straight face and we all broke out in laughter.

Yeah, those giant turtles are a very dangerous breed indeed. We all know the story, the rabbit and the turtle racing. Who won? That’s right: the turtle. I’m not quite sure if it was a giant turtle that was racing the rabbit – it could have been a small one – but regardless, you always have to watch your back when you are around them.

The Galápagos islands were awesome, simply put. My boat had enough space for 10 people and 6 crew members and although the quarters were cramped, we all had a great time. When you are stuck with that many people, you learn to work together and joke around a lot (I think I helped enough with the second part).

For instance, when you fill up your glass with water at dinner, you fill up everyone else´s too. We spent our time sailing from island to island (usually during the night) and taking trips to the parts of the islands on which we could walk in search of rare and exotic animals during the day. We snorkeled with sea lions, hunted land and sea iguanas with our deadly cameras, got drunk under the brilliant milky way splashed across the night sky, and learned quite a few new card games (“Okay Casey, now that I have explained this wacky card game to you in Spanish, please bestow your excellent understanding to the rest of the passengers in English so we may continue”). We walked on brown, black, white, olive and beige sand beaches, trekked through lava-red islands and meandered over incredibly charred black rocky beaches. The beaches were broken into territories for the sea lions, with one males territory populated with 5-30 female and baby sea lions, with a vigilant male patrolling the water directly ahead. As we walked by, he would jump out and yell at us (the only thing preventing me from taking advantage of one of his many fine mates), and you always had to be careful so as not to step on a marine iguana laying out in the beach (uuhhhh, excuse me Mr. Tourist – let´s get one thing straight. YOU walk around ME. Got it?).

We got a chance to see many of the wild animals introduced to the islands by the early settlers – all of which are posing very big problems for the indigenous animals, as they are altering the habitat greatly. Although many attempts are made to eradicate the goats, donkeys, cats and dogs, ants, and a host of other animals, some of the islands are just too big to make it feasible. Lot’s of sun block later, we were left pretty satisfied with the perspective of the islands presented to us.

The relative isolation of the trip was nice, as boats rarely see each other and only occasionally do you pass other tourists on the trails. It allowed us all to get very close to each other and I have to admit I am a bit sad that it is over. The most difficult part of traveling like this is that you make a lot of friends, and then you have to say goodbye very soon thereafter, knowing full well that you will probably never see them again in your life. Although the internet makes it easier, as you can always send an email to see how they are going, it’s still pretty tough.

One thing that I found incredible was the amazing diversity of languages spoken on the boat. I felt a little out of place, as I only know Spanish and English (Imagine that). This one Swiss girl I met knows five (count them, five) languages. English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese – fluently. As she was still kind of learning English, we mostly just spoke in Spanish, but she could speak French to the other people from Belgium (who mostly spoke Flemish with each other). There was also a Japanese girl on the trip who spoke Japanese. It has really motivated me (even more than I already was) to learn another few languages. As I was already planning to learn Chinese in Spanish, Valerie taught me about 25 Chinese characters. I think I am going to go there and just try to find a private tutor, instead of paying 8k to take a language course.

I´m positive that I can do it. I also met a couple from Madrid, Spain, and it was interesting to learn a different form of Spanish (Vosotros, and the lisp sound in place of the z or c sound).

The Belgian family and I flew back to Quito together and stayed in the same hostel last night. Me, Tom, Kim and my buddy Nelson went out playing pool and drinking last night and I think we may have celebrated a little too much. The good news is that I seem to not get hangovers here. Lucky me, eh?

So here I am, back in Quito, getting ready to take off to Santa Cruz, Bolivia tomorrow.

Nick is going to pick me up and we’re gonna cause some major trouble in the country over the next few months. I will have A LOT of pictures up on my site in a little bit, so check it out in a while.

For those of you that actually read this entire long-ass rambling post, congratulations. You get a big thumbs up. You da’ man (Or woMan). Lates.

The sickest I’ve ever been in my life

“Surely customs won’t find this turtle I’m hiding in my bag.”
Yeah, I was sick. So damn sick I could barely stand it. Started with a head cold, but after a hamburger (I think), I felt like I wanted to die. The flight to Galápagos was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life – as we rose, my ears would not pop and I thought my head was going to explode. I wondered…who would clean up my brains…and would everyone be mad at me for making a mess? Would they charge me to clean it up? Seven trips to the bathroom at the back of the plane (I called it the walkway of shame) and a short trip to expel my lunch on the asphalt at the Baltra Airport later, I was in Galápagos!

Now the thing you gotta know about Galápagos is that foreigners pay $100 bucks to get in – locals only $6. You get this nifty certificate saying you just spent a bunch of cash because your white (It says something to that affect), and for future reference, the toilets don’t have toilet paper in the stall – you have to know to grab it before you go in there. So anyways, half delirious and scared of making a VERY lasting impression on my future 7 shipmates, I eventually made it to the boat where we got acquainted and took off to the beach.

A sea lion swimming playfully next to our boat.
You’re gonna have to wait for the pics, but they are cool. When I have more time, I will also put a better description up. I left some of my lunch on the island too, as food for the turtles (mostly watermelon) and then when we got back, I fed the fish on the side of the boat. At that point, I was really communing with nature and I think they really appreciated it. Not there 3 hours and I had given back a plethora of food. Fish are cute when they are grateful.

So anyways, the captain of the ship thereafter gave me some antibiotics and put some stuff in my ears and mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to eat for 24 hours. What’s ANOTHER 24 hours between friends, you know? So yeah, it worked. The next day, only threw up once, and TODAY, once more – but only because we all go sea sick from the choppy waves.

But as of right now, I am in great shape. All fixed up, repaired, 95% better. The trick is though – when you get on shore after 3 days at sea, the floor still rocks for about 3 hours after. I have really enjoyed the trip so far (besides all the being deathly ill stuff). You guys are gonna love the pics I post and I’ve seen a ton of really cool animals. We see all the turtles and stuff tomorrow, but I’ve seen the seals, sea lions, a ton of birds, sharks, tuna (which we ate shortly thereafter), goats, iguanas, lizards, etc…

Everyone really took care of me while I was sick and the crew was really attentive. I got special meals made for me (rice and butter) and it made it easier. What’s really funny though is that none of the crew speaks English. The guide speaks just enough to explain what we are seeing and what were gonna do (right ‘der ees de sheet of de pelícano), and I spend a lot of my time translating for everyone back and fourth.

We asked this pelican for directions, but he wasn’t much help
I also get to ask questions about the islands to the guide and actually get detailed responses that make sense (how lucky, eh?), which is pretty cool. The food is pretty good and with three more days, I’m energized and ready to go!

So now, supposedly I am ready for the “chicas” thanks to the fish soup we had on the boat. I didn’t have the heart to tell the crew that I lost my soup in the toilet on the way over here, but hopefully my body was able to extract the strength in contained therein before I threw it up.

Here’s to not being sick anymore – Cheers!

My how time flies

I peered down the alley at the people huddled around the ATM. Wow…is that the line? I approached and quickly snatched a free machine. beep boop beep beep boop – “Señor, no se sirve”. Damn. No worries, there’s another bank across the street. I examine the logos on my card and the logos on the ATM. Damn…my card wont work here. After a brisk 10 minute walk, I find another ATM and try my luck. “Sorry, we wish to tell you that we cannot process your transaction now”, it replies mockingly. Oh, there’s another bank a few blocks down? Okay. And alas! I can pay the travel agent for my trip to Galápagos! Please note: they don’t accept credit cards. And travelers checks are charged $3 dollars per $100 for “processing” (What a daunting process I’m sure this “processing” entails).

So yeah, I’m going to the Galápagos islands for 8 days in an “economy” boat. No hot water, but at least I only have to share a bathroom with one other person. Set me back only $540 bucks to partake in such luxury, plus another $390 to fly there, plus another $100 to enter the park…Anyone wanna buy the pictures I’m gonna take? – never mind that they will be up for free on my site (I said NEVER MIND).

I discovered yesterday that I am sick. No – I mean like medically, not mentally, as the latter probably isn’t news to many. I think I’m a little better today though. Just a head cold (as cool as I am, you would think I would catch colds more often, no?).

Still so much more to see in Ecuador and I have to leave the day after I get back from Galápagos! Hopefully Nelson and I will see one more place before I have to go, but if not, I have really enjoyed my stay here in Ecuador. This place is awesome. I think knowing someone here has made all the difference.

And now I must take least, as the guard’s dog outside is barking loudly and it’s getting a bit annoying. Yeah, guards have dogs and shotguns here and they are stationed everywhere. I’m not quite sure what service the dogs provide, as they just sit there tied to a post all day, but what can you do? (What can you do?).

Oh yeah, and it may be a few days before I send another post (But I swear I’ll call you, mom) as I don’t know if they have many internet cafes in Galápagos or whether I’ll have time. But, I promise that I post have a ton of bad ass pictures on the site when I get back (que chévere!).


Quote of the day: Yeah, the people in my country speak poor in the South too.
–A Californian kid trying to pick up on a German chick in my hostel.