February 23rd, 2008

Seventeenth report from Peru.

Jim and spent the past three day on the Islas del Sol in Lake Titicaca. This is the Incan birthplace of the sun and I can't imagine a nicer spot for the sun to be born. We took a two hour ferry from Copacabana and got off in the north at Cha^llapampa. We booked a room in the first hostel we came to and after stashing our packs we set out on the 45 minute hike to Chincana, a large Incan ruins. It was glorious. The area is mountainous and rises to 4500 meters, with a huge blue Lake Titicaca at 3000 meters all around. We passed adobe houses, pigs, donkeys, sheep and saw corn and potatoes growing. Lunch was a glorious cold beer and a dismal cheese sandwich. Most people wear traditional clothing. We've seen women dressed in full full velvet skirts and colourfuil woven shawls and bowler hats or blue denim hats being a flag person on the road near Copa. Weve seen women mixing cement and shovelling gravel and building in the attire.

On Day two on the island, we set off on the hike that the book said was four hours and moderately strenuous to the south of the island. I don't climb hills easily any time but at high altitude and carrying a pack I certainly huffed and puffed and stopped often. I decided that even if this hike took a day and half we could do it. We could sleep outside wrapped in our rain ponchos. Having decided this we reached the top of the ridge and the rest of the hike along the ridge was spectacularily beautiful and easy walking and we arrived in Yamani in 3 and half hours. We started checking out rooms in hostels but the prices were high so we continued to walk down the mountain to the village near the wharf. The prices got higher the lower we went, and so I had to huff and puff back up to the top and we bit the bullet for an expensive room that we had turned down earlier. It was glorious. Windows overlooking the lake on three sides and a great little deck. The highlight was that a path went beside this deck and I could watch the mules and peope and sheep coming and going. In the next yard a woman started her washing. It took four hours. First she knelt and scrubbed with a scrub board. Then she and her little daughter hawled water in buckets and she stood and rinsed and squeesed and rinsed and squeesed. And then she flopped the sparkling clean clothes over a stone wall to dry! I did a sketch of her and took a heap of photos with Jim~s camera and I definitely feel inspired to do something artistically with this image of a woman doing her washing. It felt so good to feel creative again. I have had creative black hole lately due I think to the theft of my camera and the loss of my familiar painting supplies. Anyways yesterday I also did two wonderful little painting of the island so there's hope. We finished off the day with a bottle of Bolivian wine pouried into a pop bottle cut in half to make two glasses. We just sat and enjoyed the glouious views and lighting. Later when we were out for supper a huge wind came up and then it just teamed rain. The next morning the island people were excitely filling buckets and ziponing water into holding tanks.. When rain doesn't provide enough water it has to be hauled by people and donkeys up the mountain path. The same as all building supplies and bricks and lumber and groceries.

One additional quick mention of the public bathrooms in Bolivia. They are generally filthy. Usually there is no flush and no water to wash hands. There is no toilet seat and to use this bano you have to pay 2 Bolivianos. This does get you a several squares of toilet paper usually weighted down by a little stone. They're almost as primitive as the bano on our jungle tour!

We had a marvelous experience in Copacabana at noon today. It was the blessing of the cars. (and the people and trucks and animals, mostly dogs in coats). The entire street in front of the church is lined with little booths selling stuff to decorate your car or truck. People add bouquets of glads on the mirrors and chains of flower blossoms all around the vehicle. They also put banners on the windshields and bouquets of flowers and replicas of little reed boats on top of the hood and the roof. Cases of beer of bottles of wine are in front of the tires. Once the decorating is done, the priest in brown robe, sneakers and ball cap comes by with a pink flower on a white stick and a plastic bucket of holy water. He says some prayers over the vehicle and then sprinkles holy water all around the vehicle, under the hood on the engine, inside and also over the people and their pets. Then everyone gets their photo taken with the priest. After the priest moves on to the next vehicle, the corks or caps come off the shaken wine and beer bottles and it´s squirted all around and over the vehicle. Then the women throw bags of blossoms on the vehicle and then a shaman comes by with incense and waves her smoking bucket all around the vehicle. Then packages of fire crackers are set off in front of the vehicles. Quite an event and if it works, it is cheaper than insurance. The highlight of the entire event for us was that Jim befriended a large Bolivian family who were having three vehicles blessed. They seemed to think it was a added blessing to have Jim race around the vehicles spraying beer and they were delighted to cover him in blossoms and to have him in the middle of the photos. Of course we both had to drink beer with them to toast the vehicles. What a good time we had.

The second highlight of the day that I just can´t go on to Peru and not mention are the shops in Copa that stock enormous bags of ¨stuff¨¨ This is their only product. . The bags are about 5¨high and 3´wide and each shop will have one open bale and several in reserve. They also have colourful grocery sized and garbage bag sized bags filled with the ¨stuff¨that they sell. I kept wondering what could this stuff be and what on earth could anyone do with the huge quantities of it. Turns out it´s famous in Copacaban. The bags are filled with giant sweet corn kennels that have been popped. They are so big that an entire room is used to pop them. The room is layered with the kernels and then the entire room is heated and voila the room is filled with this sort of soggy sweet snack that apparently everyone in Bolivia loves.

I´ve been doing lots of reading on this trip- trading books at book exchanges. Yesterday I got Donna Morrissey’s book latest book, “Downhill Chance”. Donna actually came to a book club meeting at the gallery two years ago and read some of Kit´s Law for us. Isn´t that a small world? My previous read was Salman Rushdie’s book “Shalimar the clown”. It was so fantastic that Jim insisted that I not trade it until he´s read it! I highly recommend it to everyone, it´s beautifully written and such a great read while also being very insightful. We leave Bolivia tomorrow at 9 for Peru. Bolivia is a beautiful wonderful country and that it is also so affordable is the icing on the cake.
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