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Sara Florecita

59 Blog Entries
1 Trip
8 Photos


año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)

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-I am participating in the Inglés Abre Puertas program run by the Chilean Ministry of Education.
-Hobbies include travelling, writing, reading, learning Spanish and Italian, long-distance running, music, and art.
-I am a college graduate who is trying to find her place in this world.
-I value creativity, honesty, freedom, and open-mindedness.
-The world is an enormous place full of wonderful opportunities. Life is short so seize the day and experience as much as you can.

thinking things through (lunes, 25 octubre)

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Today I woke up around 9am in order to shower and get my things packed into my backpack before checking out of La Ruca. The lady working there was really friendly today and let me store my backpack in the staff room so I wouldn't have to lug it around all day.

Outside I was greeted by the typical, glaringly warm sun as I walked down Toconao towards Caracoles, where I ran into Laura who was in my tour group to El Tatio yesterday. Like myself, she was also travelling alone, so we walked to a place called Café Esquina where we ordered delicious fresh fruit juice. The café was an interesting place with tabletops made of slabs of tree trunks and other nature-y decor. We talked about travelling, living abroad (she is Chilean but lives in Australia), and what foods are typical in different countries. After finishing our juice she had to meet a friend at the bus station, and I was hungry so I went back to Tierra for another amazing vegetable empanada.

After an early lunch I started looking for a place where I could either rent a bike or try sandboarding or sand-skiing. Having hot had a chance to go running all week, I had all this excess energy I needed to release. Unfortunately, all of the sandboarding/skiing tours didn't start until 4pm and wouldn't return to San Pedro until 9pm, and my bus wsa going to depart at 6pm. The guys at the agency were really nice and said I could rent a bike. They gave me a map and suggested some places I could ride. The first bike they got out for me they had to put the seat all the way down and it was still too big...when I tried to get on the bike, I tripped and fell on the ground. We were all laughing and the guy went to find a smaller bike for me.

I rode down the lonely San Pedro streets, through the plaza, and the dusty outskirts of town. I hadn't ridden a bike in ages, so it felt really great to ride again. I was heading down the dirt-and-rock road towards Pukara de Quitor when I saw Marcelo, who I'd met the previous night.

The ride to Pukara de Quitor was only three kilometers, but I instantly regretted not applying sunscreen. The sun was intense, and I was thankful for my hat, sunglasses, and water I'd brought with. The landscape was beautiful--mostly red rocks, sand, red hills, mountains, and volcanoes framing the horizon, and occasional splashes of green from a few hardy trees and sparse grasses.

At Pukara de Quitor I had to carry my bike up a bunch of stairs. I climbed up the rocky surfaces of the hill by the ruins, enjoying the views over the San Pedro Valley. I learned that the ruins were from an Atacameño culture that pre-dated the Incan empire, possibly as early as 1500 BCE. The ruins had rooms used for pretty much everything--bedrooms, food storage, pens for animals, a place to prepare food, community (ayllu) gatherings, etc. The Atacameños were hunter-gatherer types of people. Here the women planted all the crops because working the land (pachamama) was a female aspect of the different gender roles. The earth/land was regarded as a representation of the female divine energy. Also in this culture, men and women were regarded as equally important but each with different gender roles. Before community (ayllu) meetings, the husband and wife w ould discuss their opinions on an issue and decide together, but at the meetings, the men were the ones who were the household spokesperson.

I biked back to San Pedro and ran into Daniel, who I'd met at the horseback riding place. He invited me to a party in the desert that night, but unfortunately I would be returning to Calama before then. I returned my bike and met up with Mario, Marcelo, and Cristian for a while. Cristian, Mario, and I took a walk out to the countryside/ desert. It turns out Cristian will be in Santiago the same week as my marathon, so we exchanged contact information. Then Cristian had to return to town, so Mario and I kept walking and talking about different things. He told me about his life in Uruguay and what it's like there. He showed me the place where he and Cristian work, and where I will probably end up working since there is a huge need for people who can speak English. The pay by US standards isn't much--maybe the equivalent of 600 US dollars per month. However, I was quick to realize I'm not in the States anymore, and living on 600 a month is do-able. The cost of living here is different, and I can definitely support myself on that kind of salary. Here In San Pedro I can rent a flat/pensión for around 80 luca (160 dollars) per month. I won't need a car or any of the expenses that go along with driving--insurance, maintenance, repairs, etc. I won't even need to pay to use a micro or colectivo (there aren't any in San pedro) I'll just need the one- time investment of a bike, which won't be that expensive if I get a used bike. The town is so small that having a bike will be perfect. I can also go biking out in the desert, or go for long walks and enjoy the solitude. I will be able to pay back my student loans and still have plenty of money left for food and travel, and normal living expenses. I can save some money, or spend it on things I'd enjoy--horseback riding, trying sandboarding, etc.

More importantly, I can work in a different field, gain new experiences, and learn more things. I'd actually be using my business degree and would continue to practice Spanish every day. Yes, I will miss working with the at-risk kids back home, but I can look for places to volunteer. I can use my free time to practice the quena or guitar, learn more music, draw, write, and go running. I like the idea that I won't need much. I like the idea of a different kind of independence, of freedom to live the kind of life I want. I'm not scared to step out on a branch and stand close to the edge. I can make it out here on my own.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on November 30, 2010 from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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salar de atacama, lagunas altiplánicas, pueblitos, y música tradicional (sabado, 23 julio)

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

This morning I woke up at 7:15, ate some leftover vegan pizza, and got ready for my tour with Aventura Altiplano. They picked me up at my hostel a shade before 8am, and we stopped to buy some bottled water and snacks before heading out. There were about 12 of us on the tour. We got on the highway and drove south of San Pedro. Our first stop was an oasis of tamarugal trees, which had been planted here in the desert as part of an ecological project. I met a couple from Santiago who were very nice. We then got back in the van and drove to Salar de Atacama, the third-largest salt flat in the world (after Salar de Uyuni and Salt Lake). The ground was covered in clusters of white and gray salt, which formed after the water in the salt lakes had evaporated thousands of years ago. It was interesting learning how sometimes the salt forms in different shapes, and how the forces of the earth affected that. We went to Laguna Chaxa, where there are three kinds of flamingoes that live there. When they fly, they look black if you are watching from the ground because the insides of their wings have either black or dark blue feathers. The guide also explained that their colors (varying from pink to orange) are because of the shrimp and other organisms they eat. We walked around Salar de Atacama for a while before getting back in the van.

Next we stopped briefly in Socaire, where we saw a church and some potato terraces. Here they grow a type of potato that is purple inside. This is the only place where it grows, but unfortunately I didn´t get a chance to try it. In Socaire, the church was made of adobe and had a roof of twigs/sticks because the adobe walls cannot support a heavier roof. Also, this church was unique because its bell tower was a separate building from the church. The reason for this was that back in the days when the church was built, the traditional belief was that the church represented the virgin Mary, and that a bell tower was a phallic symbol and therefore, the two should not be part of the same building.

We then went to two lakes in the altiplano, Laguna Miscanti and Meñiques. The water there was so blue and beautiful. We walked along a path by Laguna Miscanti. I enjoyed the scenery even though it was a bit chilly because of the altitude. After that we went back to Socaire for a traditional lunch of vegetable soup (which hit the spot!), rice, quinoa, and tomatoes. After lunch we went to the town of Toconao, which is the only town in the surrounding area with a clean water source. I saw the inside of the church which had a staircase and doors made out of cactus wood. There was also a beautiful cactus garden outside of the church.

When I got back to San Pedro I ate an early dinner at an organic, natural place called Tierra, where I enjoyed champiniones al pil-pil, a vegetable empanada, and fresh juice. I arranged my tour for the following day to the El Tatio geysers, and went back to the hostel. When I got back, there was a group of people there from all parts of the world (Chile, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Germany...) who invited me out for a few drinks and live music. First we went to a place called Café Export, where we ordered the ´specialty´drink of San Pedro, which was called San Pedro en Llamas (pisco, orange juice, and grenadine). After there we went to Adobe, where we ordered wine and listened to a traditional Andean band. A few people were dancing, which was entertaining, especially since one of them was wearing a green mask. I met a guy from Antofagasta, and he was really interesting to talk to. The rest of the group wanted to go out for more drinks, but since I had to get up early to go to El Tatio, I went back to the hostel to get a good night´s sleep.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 23, 2010 from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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la noche más bella que todos (viernes, 22 octubre)

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

One thing I´ve learned about being here is that the buses rarely show up at the time they´re supposed to. Last night I´d bought an 8am ticket to San Pedro de Atacama. I arrived at the bus station around 7:30 just to make sure I didn´t miss the bus (when I went to Bolivia a few weeks ago I missed the bus because it left half an hour earlier than it was scheduled to). However, it wasn´t until almost 8:30 that the bus pulled into the parking lot. While waiting I talked with a couple from the Netherlands. The bus ride went by pretty quickly since we talked about travel experiences.

When I got to San Pedro, I was slightly surprised by how small it is. Prior to coming, I´d read that it´s a small town in the desert, but I thought it would be slightly bigger. Right away I realized I liked the calm, quiet atmosphere and the hot sun. Usually it´s much busier, but I´m here during the off-season, which means fewer tourists and a more ´real´experience. I walked down Caracoles, the main street, where I talked to a few different tour operators to get information about Valle de la Luna, El Tatio, and the lagunas. While looking for a hostel I found a place advertising horseback riding tours in the desert. I´d been wanting to ride again and really missed it, so I jumped at the chance. I stopped by there and talked to Daniel, the guy working there. As it turns out he used to live in Iquique. He told me to come back at around 12:30 to arrange the details for my horseback riding trip.

I found a hostel called La Ruca on Toconao, and it seemed a pretty reasonable price. The lady working there let me store my backpack until my room was ready later that evening. I walked to the main plaza and visited the church, which was made of adobe and the ceiling was made from a bunch of sticks. By then I was pretty hungry so I went to a restaurant called Adobe which offered pumpkin/squash/pecan soup.

At 12:30 I returned to the place and found out that today they were going to offer a five-hour long trip on horseback to Pukara de Quitor, Catarpe, Paseo del Toro, Valle de la Muerte, and Valle de la Luna. At first I wasn´t sure. I´d never ridden more than a few hours before, but five? I decided I was up for it and agreed to go. Since I had a few more hours to spend before riding, I looked in some of the shops, bought a few postcards, some (more) earrings, and found a pair of purple, orange, yellow, and red striped pants that I liked. The pants were originally supposed to cost 18 luca but I talked the guy down to 10 luca because I knew a little bit about how to salsa dance and agreed to dance the salsa in the store!! It was actually pretty fun, and the guy working there could dance really well.

We met up to go to the stable around 4pm. My horse was a paint named Trueno, which means ´lightning´in Spanish. At first he was very calm and easy to ride. In our group, it was just me, the guide, and a French couple who spoke just enough Spanish for us all to communicate. We rode along the dirt roads past Pukara de Quitor, ruins of a pre-Incan culture. Then we went to Catarpe and rode along the San Pedro River. Trueno kept trying to stop and eat whenever we´d pass by patches of grass, so I had to pay attention. Although I was alert and aware of details, riding through here was in many ways a very meditative, relaxing experienc, and I felt very connected to nature. I love spending time outside, but I really hadn´t enjoyed the outdoors this much in a long time. It was completely gorgeous riding through here. We ascended a mountain and went to Valle de la Muerte which had sort of rocky surfaces. Halfway up, we dismounted and drank some water, had some coca, and rested for a bit. The views of the mountains were so beautiful, and the sun was just starting to set. The pictures I took could not do this place justice. From here we had views of Licancabur, which is actually on the Bolivian side of the border, and other mountains in colors of sand, tangerine, and violet, thanks to the setting sun. Our break was for about fifteen minutes and then we got back on our horses and continued up the steep terrain. At the top it was a bit windy so I was glad I´d brought a sweatshirt and my jacket. When our tour guide told us we´d be descending the mountain in the sand, I started laughing, but then I realized he was serious. However, I was already up there, and it was too late to turn back. Plus, the adventurous side of me wasn´t scared. I followed the group down the mountain, down this enormous and kind of steep sand dune. It was a lot of fun, but Trueno kept wanting to go faster, so I had to keep a tight hold on the reins to make sure we didn´t go tumbling down the hill. At the bottom of the mountain Trueno decided to take off at a dead gallop. I wasn´t prepared for this and both of my feet came out of the stirrups. I hung on with my legs for dear life, but Trueno would not listen when I tried to get him to slow down. It was both exhilirating and scary at the same time, and for a flicker of a moment I saw parts of my life flashing before my eyes, certain that I was going to fall off. But I didn´t, and eventually Trueno did slow down to a more manageable pace. Then we rode to Valle de la Luna, which was spectacular because the full moon was just starting to rise. I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the desert as we rode along. I´d never seen anything like this before. We rode through some flat desert back to the stable.

When we returned to San Pedro I felt pretty sore, but in a good kind of way. I was also starving by this point so I found a restaurant on Caracoles called El Restaurante Esquina. Inside there was a bonfire and the atmosphere was very relaxed. I ordered a vegan pizza and an amaretto sour. The pizza was fresh out of the oven and tasted delicious. On the way back to the hostel I saw a few of the people who were working at the horse/sandboard/bike agency, and they invited me for a few drinks at a place on Tocopillo (another street). However, I was tired and was planning to go on a tour the following day, so by midnight I went back to the hostel for a good night´s sleep.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 22, 2010 from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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early dismissal, no water, heading to calama a day early (jueves, 21 octubre)

Calama, Chile

Today classes got out early because the students had a football (soccer) game. When I got to school I found out that tomorrow´s classes are cancelled as well, so when classes ended at 11am I walked down to the bus station to buy a ticket to Calama, which is an hour or so outside of San Pedro, where I planned on spending the weekend. I was actually pretty excited to be getting there a day earlier than planned.

I managed to find my bus ticket without any problems. The departure time wasn´t until 3:45 so I figured I´d have enough time to go home, take a hot shower, pack some stuff into my backpack, and grab a bite to eat before leaving. However, when I got home, the water wasn´t working at all. It made me pretty mad because this was the second time since being here that my House didn´t have any water. Sometimes it´s pretty inconvenient and things such as lights and water don´t work like they´re supposed to. My host brother said that our whole neighborhood didn´t have any water and he had no idea when it was going to be fixed. At this point I would have gladly welcomed even a cold shower, just so I could rinse off and not feel slimey, but oh well. I packed my bag and got on the number 4 bus downtown where I had pizza before boarding the bus to Calama. I worked on my Spanish homework and tried to read a little bit on the bus. Six hours later I arrived in Calama.

In Calama I met Mary, another English teacher/volunteer whom I´d met on the program´s website. We got fries and beer at a Mexican pub that was Mexican in decor but not much else. It was a kind of dark, smokey place blasting heavy metal and serving food such as fries, pizzas, and hamburgers...I guess the owners hadn´t ever been to Mexico... Anyway, the fries were good and Mary and I got to hang out for a while which was nice. Around 1am I found a hostel (with 24/7 hot water!) and decided to call it a night.

Tomorrow off to San Pedro de Atacama!!!

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 21, 2010 from Calama, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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mi escuela nueva, colegio república croacia (jueves, 14 octubre)

Iquique, Chile

It turns out when I got back from La Paz early Wednesday morning, the Ministry of Education decided to move me to a different school. This one is a municipal (public, lower-class) school, and there is only one english teacher. The school I was at had 20 English teachers, so they decided there was more of a need for me at this school. It is called Colegio Republica Croacia, and I will be teaching 5th through 8th graders. I only have to be there for an hour and a half on Mondays, and half of the Fridays I´m off.

A good majority of the kids in my new school are immigrants from Perú and Bolivia, which are really poor countries. The kids there have a lot of problems. Some of their parents are split up, some have a parent in prison, and some of them live in a place for kids who have both parents in jail or whose parents have abused them. Many of them have parents or older siblings who use drugs, are in gangs, or have experienced a lot of domestic violence. Part of me is reminded of my job in the US where I used to work, and I´m super excited to have the chance to be a part of these kids´lives.

I really like it here so far. The other teachers in my school are super nice and they are glad I´m there. They don´t care what I look like...in fact, they told me NOT to dress up, because these kids are from poor families and the school wants teachers to wear normal clothes (aka t-shirts and jeans) because if the teachers dress up too nicely it makes the kids feel bad and ashamed. They said I can leave all my earrings in, and they don´t care about the tattoos, because they want the kids to know that appearance doesn´t make a person successful or moral, and these kids need to learn that people can be themselves and still respect that.

My new host teacher is sooo nice. Her name is Patricia, and her husband is from India, and they have two daughters. She said if I want to take a few days off work now and then to travel, she doesn´t mind, and that I should enjoy my time here. Patricia also respects the fact that I´m vegan because she is used to cooking vegetarian meals for her husband. She even said she would prepare my lunches and bring them to school with her! I could not have asked for a nicer host teacher.

I will miss the choir program a lot, but there is a choir here too. The choir director is named Omar and he´s glad I´m here because Republica Croacia´s funds are low, and he has to teach band, choir, AND all the PE classes.

At first I thought it was kind of weird to be switching schools again, especially since I only have slightly more than a month left. However, after I came to República Croacia today for the first time, I was once again reminded of the fact that everything happens for a reason. The kids I met today seemed super excited to have me here, and although they do seem rowdy, overall they seem like a good group of kids. I can´t wait to get to know them and work with them more. It´s going to be a fun month.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 14, 2010 from Iquique, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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leaves in the wind (martes, 12 octubre)

La Paz, Bolivia

Yesterday I had been planning on biking on the ´World´s Most Dangerous Road´from La Paz to Oroico, but due to the rain from the day before, and the fact that I did not feel like waking up early, I changed my plans again. Prior to coming to Bolivia I´d read about a place called Alexander Café, and part of me was craving Starbucks-style coffee. I walked through the markets and across the bridge and headed towards the business district of La Paz, where Alexander Café was located. It was a nice place that actually has vegetarian/vegan food, as well as soy lattes. I enjoyed a hot, vanilla-hazelnut-cinnamon soy latte and ordered a ´quinoa wrap,´which had all sorts of wonderful Bolivian vegetables and spices in it.

While there, I read some of my guide book and pretty much decided that there are SO many things I want to see in La Paz (well, in Bolivia in general), and that sadly, I won´t be able to squeeze it all into one long-ish weekend. So...I´m coming back at the end of October, when I have another long weekend. At first I wasn´t sure how I should feel about this because usually when I travel, I like to go to different places than the ones I´ve already been, but due to things such as rain, I didn´t get to visit Tiwanaku OR go mountain biking to Oroico, so that made the decision easy.

Plus, it would be cool to spend more time here listening to live music and meeting people. I´ve met so many interesting people here in La Paz, and that´s one of the things I love about travelling. However, it can be a double-edged sword because although I´m constantly meeting new people, I´m also saying a lot of good-byes. I end up having lots of extremely interesting conversations and connecting with people on different levels, but then those conversations become just memories, and friendships are difficult to maintain because of factors such as long-distance. Some of the people I´ve met while travelling have given me different ideas to think about or made me see things from a different light. Sometimes it´s hard to imagine where I´d be or how different I´d be had I not had one short but meaningful conversation with someone.

For example, in Prague I spent two night sharing a room in a hostel with this girl who was biking across Europe, and she and I had very different perspectives on things such as work and postgraduate education. It was not until our paths crossed that I even started THINKING about wanting a masters´degree. Back home where I waitressed in a Mexican restaurant, one of my former co-workers taught me that it´s never too late to change, to open my mind, or to have new experiences, and that I should take time to enjoy the small things, like a beautiful night sky in the midst of an otherwise hectic shift. In Santiago I randomly met this guy in my hostel, and the lesson learned from him was to seize the day, live adventurously, and try new things. In Cusco I met an Australian who taught me that everyone has a place in this world, regardless of how different their lives are from mine, and to love and accept those people as they are. And here, in La Paz, I met an artist/musician from whom I realized that my roots are important---that I can travel the world, live abroad, and immerse myself in different cultures, but never to forget where I came from, because that is also a strong part of my identity.

Sometimes it´s sad to have all these great conversations and then realistically, never see these people or hear from them again. I guess everything happens for a reason and people are like leaves in the wind...you can´t control where it goes or when something will come blowing back again, but you can still enjoy it while it lasts and remember the beauty of it. And if our paths are meant to cross again, they will. That is how I feel about travelling and meeting new people. Plus, having the chance to meet different people is way better than the alternative which is not going anywhere and not diving into new experiences (which for me, is also not an option).

So I´m pretty excited that I´ll be returning to La Paz soon. There are so many neat places in Bolivia I´d like to visit...Potosí, Salar de Uyuni, Santa Cruz, Lake Titicaca, just to name a few.

After lunch I walked around the northern part of the city because I hadn´t really seen much of it yet. The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day outside. I stopped for fresh juice and then visited the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore. It was really interesting. There were displays of different textiles made by different groups of indigenous people. The exhibit showed how the patterns, colors, and styles changed depending on their location, available materials/dyes, and specific use (practical vs. ritualistic). There were also exhibits showing different masks, which were used in the precolonial times as well as afterwards. The mask room was dark with just a few floor lights to illuminate these giant masks, which were also displayed on mannequins wearing the clothing that would have been worn with the mask. Some of them were representations of different animals or gods, and some of them were actually pretty creepy. After the Spaniards came, all sorts of theatrical festivals originated in Bolivia to commemorate different saints or biblical stories, so many of the costumes and masks were of the Devil. At one point, I got really freaked out because the lights stopped working and the room became entirely pitch black (there were no windows in the room, probably so light wouldn´t affect the masks and costumes). I had no idea where I was in the room, and no one else was in there. I really didn´t want to accidentally walk into anything and break it. Also, it was kind of eerie being in there where I knew there were all these creepy looking masks. After trying to wait for my eyes to adjust to the dark (which they didn´t), I finally got out my camera. Although you´re not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, my camera was the only thing I had that could produce a light in order for me to see where I was going to get out of the room. I was definitely relieved when I got out of there. The rest of the museum had different featherwork used by the Bolivian people, and a whole room of ceramics/pottery. Again, the styles of the featherwork and pottery varied depending on the group of people who made them, their purpose, their geographic region, and social status. I learned a lot in the museum and with the exception of the lights blacking out, I enjoyed it.

Then I walked back to the neighborhood near my hostel where I got an hour-long massage for a really good price. It was super relaxing and I felt much more calm afterwards. I still cannot believe how inexpensive massages are here. I paid about US $7 for my massage.

Then I met up with some other travellers (from parts of the States and Australia) for some empanadas. I actually found some empanadas that were vegan and that I could eat. They were spinach samosas, and they were hot out of the oven and tasted wonderful. For the first time in a while this trip I had a longer conversation in English as my fellow travellers and I exchanged stories and experiences. I enjoyed some vegan / tofu sushi before meeting up with Julio, who I randomly passed on the street. I decided to head back to the hostel rather early (11pm) since today I had to get on the bus to head back to Iquique.

Today I slept until 9:30 even though I´d been planning on getting up a little earlier in order to visit one last museum before catching a taxi back to the bus station. I hadn´t counted on my stomach feeling mildly queasy, but fortunately I´d brought some over the counter meds with me, and soon was feeling much better. I packed up my things, found a painting to give to my host family, found a soccer jersey for Kyle, and got headed on my way. On the bus I read for a while, wrote, and did a lot of staring out the window, enjoying the landscapes of the altiplano. I tried to get some sleep but it was impossible.

At the border when we crossed back into Chile at Tambo Quemado, I got really worried because when I gave them my passport, they asked for a copy of the paper I´d filled out when I left Chile. Although I thought I´d saved it, couldn´t find it anywhere. The security guy called me into his office, asked me a few questions (where I´m from, how long was I in Bolivia, etc). I showed him all of my Chilean visa paperwork and he pretended like he wasn´t going to let me back into Chile, but he did. I had to declare some of the souvenirs I´d bought (a few necklaces made out of seeds), and was asked about that too. He and the other security guy were kind of laughing about it and joking around that they needed my phone number to verify something. I´m glad that I didn´t have any serious problems because of that stupid little piece of paper, but oh well. Then after I left the office, another guy searched my bag, and again, I got asked a lot of questions about where I live, where I work, why am I in Chile, etc. Sometimes I think I should dye my hair and get brown-tinted contacts so I won´t have to answer the same questions over and over again, but then again, in some ways it´s kind of nice that people here are interested and friendly to foreigners. The guy told me that I should go to Bolivia again so I can cross through the border again.

When I got back on the bus, the Bolivian lady sitting next to me was freaking out because she couldn´t find her carnet (identity card). Bolivians and Chileans can cross into each other´s countries without a passport as long as they have their carnet with their RUT numbers. The Chilean police were not going to let her into the country without it, so our whole bus had to wait while she searched through all her things. Fortunately she found it.

The rest of the bus ride was long, boring, cold, and uncomfortable, but it was definitely worth it because I really enjoyed Bolivia. I can´t wait to go back! But now...off to another week at school. I´m thinking of going to San Pedro de Atacama either this weekend or the next...

More adventures to come:)

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 12, 2010 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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an unforgettable experience in san pedro prison (sabado, 9 octubre)

La Paz, Bolivia

This morning I met up with Julio and he introduced me to his friend, Carmelo, who had done 8 months in San Pedro for drugs. We walked to San Pedro Prison. It´s one of the weirdest, atypical prisons in the world, and I wasn´t going to pass it up. I had to wait for a little bit in the plaza outside of the prison while Carmelo arranged the details with the prison guards, but it was a nice, sunny day so I didn´t mind. Carmelo came back and said we needed to wait for about an hour, so we went to a place called Nueva Era where I ordered carrot and potato soup and maracuya juice.

An hour later, we walked back to the prison. Getting in wasn´t too difficult. Carmelo introduced me to a friend, who brought me through the prison gates, where one of the police wrote a number on my arm, searched my bag, and asked me a few questions. Inside, I met my ´tour guide,´a guy named Juan Carlos who was arrested for being an accomplice in a drug deal. He could speak English and Spanish, so the tour alternated between different languages. He showed me all parts of hte prison and explained the prison society, introduced me to other prisoners, etc. Inside, there are only male prisoners, but many of their wives and children live in their cells with them. The cells are more like dorm rooms (complete with stereos, cell phones, microwaves, furniture, etc) than cells. The family unit in Bolivia is more ´traditional´than in the US. If the dad gets arrested, he is still expected to be a father to his children and take care of them. The whole family will live in a cell (the wife and kids can leave the prison whenever they want) because there is so much poverty in Bolivia and it´s hard for a woman to find work and provide for her kids. I talked to a few of the wives and watched the kids play soccer in the plaza of the prison.

There are also restaurants inside, where I ordered a vegan fruit smoothie for less than $1. The cops also never enter the prison. The prisoners have to do everything themselves...cook, clean (well not always, parts of it are kinda dirty), work (in restaurants, making crafts, maintenance, and security). At first I saw a bunch of guys wearing black uniforms that said ´SEGURIDAD´(security) and carrying batons, so I was relieved...then Juan Carlos told me that the security inside are also prisoners, but ones who don´t have a record of violence (they have drug offenses), and who have good reports of prison behavior. There are also cocaine labs inside the prison. It is made cheaply in the prison and it costs less to buy a gram of coke than it does to buy a bottled water. Almost all of the prisoners use coke, and many also use pasta basé (crack) which is a big problem in the prison. However, the guards don´t care as long as everybody is peaceful and not violently causing problems. Because the prison is so different than others, and the guards do not go inside, the prisoners almost always behave, because if they don´t they´ll get sent to a worse prison or they´ll lose the ´freedom´they have inside, compared to other prisons. Juan Carlos introduced me to some of his fellow-prisoners who are his friends (Pablo, Jose, and I forget the third guy´s name). I met a lot of prisoners and they were kind of stand-offish at first, but when they realized I can speak Spanish, suddenly became really friendly and nice (Bolivians don´t generally like Americans, because our government persuaded their government to crack down on drug laws, which severely hurt their economy and contributed to more poverty and broken families. It also was corrupt bc the money the US gave to Bolivia to help with the drug enforcement program was embezzled by some of the higher-ups in the Bolivian government, so the foreign aid never actually was used to help the people. And the police are severely underpaid so they will arrest as many people as possible in order to earn more money to support their own families...it just goes in circles).

I heard MANY different perspectives from the prisoners about their lives, offenses, life inside and outside the prison, the justice system (which operates along lines of bribery), their attitudes, views on cocaine/crack/drugs, etc, gangs (some of them are in prison gangs in LaPaz, some are ex-gang members who want to change), and Christianity. There are 5 churches in the prison (ecclesiastical, catholic, orthodox, protestant, and jehovah´s witness). Some believe, some don´t, and some have found God. One guy told me that prison wasn´t completely bad because it was there he learned about God and learned that he still can have hope to change his life. It was really interesting, and it was difficult leaving, mostly for the same reasons it was hard leaving my job in the US. I felt like most of the prisoners weren´t that different than the kids I used to work with, except these are adults and speak a different language. Many seemed very kind, intelligent, and creative. Juan Carlos did not introduce me to the ´crazy´ ones. Part of me wants to get a joint masters in social work and criminal justice and work as a prison social worker. In some ways it was a shame I was there for such a short time instead of getting the chance to actually help these people like the kids I used to work with.

I also felt like I want to spend more time (quasi-permanently) in La Paz and figure out a way to volunteer /work inside this place with the kids who have to live there. Prison is no environment for kids to grow up (especially since the prisoners do drugs inside--I watched people doing coke and was talking to a guy while he was smoking crack), they face much discrimination when they leave the prison walls, and grow up too quickly, not having the innocence and happy childhood they should have. They only learn how to ´survive´ as opposed to live, and miss out on many opportunities normal kids have. Even if I didn´t get paid I really want to figure out a way to do some sort of thing to work with these kids and teach them about choices and that they DO have a future. Many of the current prisoners have parents who were also prisoners and that kind of life is all they know and it{s hard to get out of a life of crime. The circle just keeps coming around, and I want to look into organizations in order to help break that circle somehow. All the prisoners are adults, but in many ways reminded me of the kids I worked with back home. Just now are they (well not all of them) learning the consequences of their actions, responsibility, and the power of their mind to make choices that affect their lives. Working with adults in the prison population would also be really good...even though they´re older, it isn´t ever too late for someone to change their life. Often the adult prison population is ignored and lacks the appropriate counseling/social work programs/ skills programs etc in order to support them with their struggles and efforts, and I also would like to do something about this... for these reasons it´ll be incredibly difficult wanting to come back to the US. There is a lot more need for social workers down here and finding a job would not be hard. No one here wants to work in prisons or youth detention centers because they are just regarded as ´screwups´by the rest of society, especially in Bolivia which is the poorest and possibly most corrupt South American country.

After I went to the prison I went to the markets and tried api, which is a traditional hot juice drink made out of corn. I ordered a kind called mexclado (mixed) because it uses purple and yellow corn. It is really sweet. Then I walked down Calle Jaén, which is one of the historic cobblestone streets. I went to bed early, planning on going to the ruins of Tiwanaku the following day.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 9, 2010 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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en la paz no hay paz (domingo, 10 octubre)

La Paz, Bolivia

Unfortunately, it was raining when I woke up, so I found a cafe where I got a soy latte and wrote in my notebook for a while. When the rain stopped, I found out information about Tiwanaku, but it turns out the bus for it left at 8am, and by this time it was past then. Plus, it was a kind of dismal, gray day to actually enjoy the ruins.

I went to La Paz´s famous Mercado de Brujas (witches market) where people sell traditional herbs and healing remedies. I talked to a guy working there who explained about the culture and what people traditionally believe. They believe the sun represents the male god and the earth represents the female god. They believe in something similar to karma, and they are very nature-based and respect all of the earth. They also believe that when people die, their bodies return to the earth but their spirit is carried to the sky. First the person´s spirit is put inside of a llama´s nose and all of the earthly things the person needs for the spirit world are packed on the llama´s back. Eventually the spirit is released out of the llama´s nose and carried into the sky by a condor. They don´t really believe this anymore, but it is a legend with symbolic meaning, and so today in society these beliefs are still respected.

After that I met another artist in the market named Fernando. We got to talking and he also told me about the Bolivian/ Quechua culture. It was really interesting, but then it started raining again so we went inside this coffee shop place to get some tea and talk where it wasn´t raining. It turns out he plays the quena (traditional wood flute) in this group, and they were playing at this place called Blue Note that night, so I decided to go with and listen. The conversation was so interesting and I learned more about the culture and a few Quechua words. Before we went back to Blue Note I went to this Arabic restaurant to eat falafel for dinner. The music was really good and I enjoyed listening to it. Their group consists of the quena, a guitar, drums, and a charango (a really small type of guitar like instrument). Listening to the music was really a lot of fun.

After the live music, Fernando, Will, and I went to a club where we went salsa dancing, which I enjoyed even though I feel like I have two left feet sometimes. I definitely want to keep learning the salsa though.

All in all, it has been an awesome day, even though I didn´t get to see the ruins of Tiwanaku. Funny how sometimes plans fall through but then something better happens.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 9, 2010 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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coca leaves and reggae bars (viernes, 8 octubre)

La Paz, Bolivia

I took the overnight bus to La Paz on Thursday, and arrived Friday around noon. I walked from the bus terminal to the centro, where I found a hostel called Hostal Cactus (it only cost me $3 per night!!). It was pretty cool and had cacti and other succulents everywhere! I found a vegetarian restaurant called 100% Natural where I enjoyed a veggie burger.

Then I went to the Coca Museum, which was very enlightening in both a cultural and political sense. Coca leaves have been traditionally used by the native people and are sacred. They are called the Mama Coca and are used in rituals, as well as turned into natural teas. The people also chew coca leaves. The leaves help relieve stomachaches, headaches, altitude sickness, help wake you up, and sharpen the senses. Coca crops are important to the people here, both for economic and traditional purposes. Coca leaves are also the plant that cocaine comes from. Chewing coca leaves, drinking coca tea, or eating coca candy will not get you high, because they have to be processed and mixed with other stuff before it has those effects. However, drinking coca tea (which is legal) will cause you to fail a drug test. The juice can be squeezed out of them and processed into cocaine or crack. Because of this, the government has taken away rights from cocaleros (coca crop farmers), even though MANY of them are growing the leaves for traditional, legal purposes. The US and FELCN (anti-drug act) have adversely affected the Bolivian people by restricting what they can/can´t grow, and this has in many ways hurt the Bolivian economy, which has already been doing poorly. For this reason, there are a lot of Bolivian people who are really Anti-American, because they were doing nothing illegal in the first place. I also learned in the museum how Sigmund Freud was one of the first cocaine users, and he studied it for medical/ psychological purposes. I found it kind of weird that so much of modern psychology is based on his research, and that what he contributed to the psychology field is accepted, even though he was an addict!! The exhibits also showed the affects that drugs such as cocaine and crack have on the body, It was really interesting, and cost 10 bolivianos, which is about 1 US dollar. Upstairs they had a Coca Cafe, where you can order anything from coca tea to coca cheesecake...I just stuck with the tea.

After that I wandered around the markets a lot and found some souvenirs for people back home. I met a few artists who were selling jewelry on the streets. One of them, Julio, has a friend who had just gotten out of San Pedro Prison (I read a book about this called ´Marching Powder´ and the social worker part of me wanted to learn more about it). Julio arranged for us to meet up with his friend the following morning for a tour of the prison. After that, Julio and Manuel showed me around the city. We walked up to Mirador Laikakota, where there are beautiful views of the city.

It was still early when we went to this underground reggae bar called TTKOS, where we drank capairinhas and enjoyed the interesting ambience. There were signs up that said ´no smoking,´but everyone in there was smoking anyway. There were dimly colored lights and signs up that said ´love,´as well as this full-size statue in army gear hanging up in the corner. Almost blending into one wall was a bunch of large twisted metal strands that read ´Viva Bolivia.´ The whole feel of the place was really laid-back. There were normal tables and chairs, but there was also a section of the bar that had mats on the floor and shorter tables right on the floor, sort of like the kind Japanese people use. I felt kind of bad because I got tired earlier than normal and went back to Hostal Cactus for a good night´s sleep.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 8, 2010 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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almost legal in Chile (jueves, 7 octubre)

Iquique, Chile

On Tuesday I was supposed to get my passport back, but it turns out I had to wait until yesterday, which really worried me because I´m planning on travelling to Bolivia this weekend. I got stuck waiting around the Migración building for an hour and a half, and the people working there weren´t exactly the most cheerful of people. I finally got my passport back from the government, so that was a huge relief.

When I got back to school, all of my 5th and 6th grade classes were combined with the classes of another teacher who had called in sick. Basically I felt like I was baby-sitting the class instead of teaching them since there were at least 40 kids in each section. It was pretty funny because two of the boys in 6th grade were pretending to fight, and one boy actually grabbed the other kid´s arm and hit himself with it and then said, ´Did you see what he just did?´ It was hard to not laugh at this. A lot of times I feel like a bad teacher in some ways because the kids do or say things that are actually pretty funny, and we´re not supposed to laugh at them.

After school I went running and then tried to plan a little bit of my trip to Bolivia.

This morning I had to meet up with the regional coordinator and other volunteers to go to the International Police to get my visa papers. I got my photo taken for my Chilean visa and carnet, and then we went to the Registro Civil where they took more mug shots and fingerprints. By the time all of that was over, there was no point in going back to school because I only had one of my classes left that day, and by the time I got back to school it would be half over. I walked around the Centro with Liz and Eric for a while and then hung out at Eric´s apartment. After that I walked along the beach and took some pictures. I met up with Ernesto and we went to get my bus ticket to La Paz. When I got home I hardly had any time to take a shower, get everything packed into my backpack, and go back to the bus station.

Now off to La Paz for the weekend....!

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 7, 2010 from Iquique, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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