Tag Archives: adventures

go west, young woman

Bayan-Olgii is Mongolia’s westernmost province, an isolated and mountainous region where most people speak Kazakh and feel as much allegiance to Kazakhstan as to Mongolia. The majority of the population is Muslim, instead of Tibetan Buddhist, and Bayan-Olgii is a stronghold of Kazakh culture, including the art of traditional Kazakh embroidery. I spent the last week in Olgii town, learning embroidery and staying with Ina and Kaderbek and their family. Ina is a master embroiderer– I got in touch with her through the owner of the first fair trade certified company in Mongolia.

One of Olgii’s mosques at sundown.

For some, embroidery business is booming. I visited the workshop of an embroidery company owned by Mr. Narbek, a local designer who employs 52 women to create bags, wall hangings, and other items. He exports 70% of the products to Kazakhstan, where demand for traditional products is high but few craftswomen remain who can produce the old designs. In Kazakhstan, the art of embroidery nearly disappeared with the Soviet crackdown on folk art, but it survived in Bayan-Olgii where most of the population lived as nomadic herders, their lives in the countryside far from Soviet influence. The recent influx of herding families moving to town seeking opportunity means there are plenty of women skilled at embroidery and looking for employment.

While I was chatting with him in his shop, a woman came in with a bag of old wall hangings to sell. She spread the masterpieces on the floor, and Mr. Narbek purchased three of the highest-quality wall hangings. He will resell them to tourists (marked up 5x the amount he paid), or cut them up to make recycled bags.

The woman had collected these old masterpieces from countryside gers. She probably brought a little cash income to herding families, but something about the sale of these wall hangings made me sad. (Which is also hypocritical, because I bought one in the Olgii market.)

The door to Kaderbek and Ina’s ger. Their living situation represents a blend of nomadic and urban life: they sleep and eat in this ger, which is decorated in the traditional style, but also have a permanent concrete building with a kitchen and a few more rooms.

Inside… what may now be my favorite room in the world. Every one of the wall hangings and cushion covers is hand-embroidered.

From my journal, July 21:

“Today has been quite the culinary adventure! For lunch we went to Ina’s sister’s house, where I found out that the whole family is gathered because of a memorial for the family patriarch, one of the town’s founders and a pioneer of democracy in Mongolia. A cousin also told me that Ina is famous for here embroidery in Bayan-Ulgii. Anyway, the memorial is the reason that so many relatives are in town– gathered from UB, Kazakhstan, and the countryside. Lunch was a big family affair which included… sheep’s head!

It was served on a big platter piled with other sheep parts including liver, intestines, legs, and mounds of fat. Those mounds filled me with great trepidation… One guy (I have not worked out people’s names or relations, really) carved each of us a small piece of face-meat to start (I was relieved not to get a chunk of lip, which was very recognizable as a lip). Then there came a flurry of carving. Luckily for me, the platter full of sheep quickly being cut into manageable-sized chunks stayed in the middle, so I could serve myself pieces of meat and artfully avoid the large chunks of fat that everyone else was slurping down with relish. Note 1: Eating in Mongolia involves a lot of slurping. Note 2: I have seen numerous people take spoonfuls of butter from the dish and lick it straight off the spoon. Low fat dieting is unheard of in Mongolia. 

“The meat was delicious, tender and juicy. I tried a slice of liver, which was fine. After we demolished the sheep’s head and other parts, the leg bones were cracked in half and two lucky people got to slurp out the marrow. Then, our plates were cleared away and we each got a bowl of strongly flavored broth… except I’m pretty sure this broth was just the drippings from the sheep,  which means I’m pretty sure I drank an entire bowl of melted sheep fat. Ahh, adventure.

“Next up (with a round of bowl-washing in between) we were each served up a bowl of fermented horse milk– airag! Finally I get to try this drink I’ve heard so much about! It was good- Ina served it, first lifting up a ladle’s worth and tipping the milk back into the pot. Cold, refreshing, bubbly, sour like yogurt but creamy. It was strange, but nice.

“And now- we just finished dinner, which was the best and greasiest buuz (meat dumplings) I’ve ever eaten. Homemade, nicely seasoned, you bite in and immediately have to start slurping to catch all the juices and keep them from dribbling all over you. Inevitably, a lot of that juice ended up on my plate, where it very quickly congealed and revealed its true nature: yup, more pure fat. AYY. I hope I don’t die of clogged arteries.”

The family gathered around the tea table in a relative’s ger.

My embroidery in progress:

After staying with Ina and Kaderbek and co. for a couple days, I ventured out into Altai Tavan Bogd National Park for a few days of camping and hiking. Getting into the park meant a seven-hour drive in a Russian van, crossing wooden bridges like this one:

On the way we stopped to check out this ancient stone marker.

And see the hunting eagles that are also famous in this region!! The actual hunting is done in the wintertime, when foxes and wolves are easier to spot.

Sagsai village– built with clay bricks and logs.

The park’s beautiful snow-capped mountains:

I stayed near a lakeshore, just below these two gers.

The weather was tempestuous and unpredictable, with persistent winds and clouds spilling quickly over the mountain ridgeline. (Luckily my new tent is awesome!) Rain in the marshy fields above the lake.

I went for a hike and made it to the top of the first ridge, but I didn’t attempt the high ridge because of hail. The view over the lake valley was pretty spectacular, but you can’t see much in my photos because of the hail.

Another yak, in sunshinier times.

Horseman

dude.

My pack-every-experience-possible-into-one-month plan is proceeding very successfully! Last week, that meant a fantastic camping trip at Lake Khuvsgul in northern Mongolia.

The bus ride to Khuvsgul was pretty much as harrowing/exciting as promised. It started out comfortable and pleasant, actually: the coach bus had individual seats, a functional heating/AC system, and a TV playing kung fu movies. The best part was just after dark, when the second kung fu movie ended and the TV started playing Mongolian karaoke. Unlike the karaoke that I’m accustomed to, in which one person screeches out the lyrics to a pop ballad, there was no microphone and no stage. Everyone sang together, blending their voices to create a sound more like church hymn-singing than like karaoke. Every Mongolian on the bus seemed to know these songs– from the super-fashionable teenager sitting next to me to the grandfather across the aisle. It was wonderful.

Our first flat tire came on a bathroom break in the middle of the midnight steppe: the passengers were stretching our legs when we heard the loud pop of a blown-out tire. We spent the night in a tiny roadside cafe, drinking salty milk tea and trying to sleep with our heads on the tables, under a single light bulb that dangled from the teeth of a taxidermied boar’s head mounted on the wall.

The next day, after the third flat tire, the bus just gave up and quit functioning altogether. Who needs a jack when you have a tree stump? This was flat tire #3.

We waited for a replacement bus. Finally, 48 hours later, we made it to Murun, the aimag capital. Then another wait and another 4 hours in a van to Khatgal, on the shores of the lake.

I was all prepared to have a solo backpacking adventure, but when I finally made it to Khatgal  and the start of the trail, I met two French guys who were hiking the same way as me, for the same number of days. We decided to walk together, at least for the first afternoon. I found out that they were both 22 (!! a coincidence that wouldn’t seem significant except that I have spent the vast majority of this year hanging out with people who are not my age), from Paris, and that they travel a lot, camping/trekking everywhere they go. By the end of the first day, we were getting along excellently. And so it was that I went camping with the Frenchmen.

The cast of characters:

C’est moi.

Brice

Victor

My new tent!

Khuvsgul Nuur!

It was a very cold lake (and biiiigggg! It made me excited for Lake Superior).

But who can resist swimming with yaks?

Yakkity yak (don’t talk back)

I taught them essential English words like belly, flip-flops, dude, puke, brand, and trashcan. They fed me soup, imported French sausages, pate de foie gras (not kidding), and chocolate. We made fun of each other a lot. We hiked a lot.

We camped inside two half-built buildings to escape the cold. We learned how to do Mongolian vodka toasts from two men who came to share our campfire one night. We were fed fruit, candy, meat and vodka by the generous Mongolian tourists we passed along the way. We lost the trail at one point and bushwhacked along a hillside so steep and high above the rocky shoreline that we would have died if we slipped.

My shoe became a casualty when we got a little overenthusiastic about stoking our campfire. Hiking 25 km the next day in a shrunken-melted shoe was a challenge, and I have the blisters to show for it.

A sacred pile of sticks, bones, silk scarves, and (inevitably, in Mongolia) vodka bottles.

Nearing the end (two beautiful dogs adopted us and followed us for the last two days.)

We saw all five animals essential to a Mongolian herder’s livelihood: yaks, horses, goats, sheep, and… camels!!

We made it back to Murun, and in the public bathhouse there I had the best shower since the one in the Dubai airport hotel (yes, I keep track of these things). After several long days of hiking and eating camping food, we decided to eat at a restaurant. We wandered and wandered around Murun; all the restaurants were closed for the annual Naadam festivities. Finally, we found one that was open! It had real tablecloths and cloth napkins and they brought us hot towels to wash our hands– serious luxury. Ordering was comical: the menu was in Cyrillic and none of the staff spoke any English, so they called their friend, who stayed on the line as an interpreter while the phone was passed around between us all. They put on French music for us and served us three huge, delicious plates of stir fried meat and vegetables.

After we finished our food, however, Brice announced that he was still hungry. To avoid a repeat of the phone-interpreter situation, he asked for “the best thing you have.” One of the waiters ran to the supermarket to get more supplies, at which point we knew we were in for a feast. A few minutes later, they delivered about half a sheep, cooked with hot stones with carrots and potatoes. Then came a huge salad plate of vegetables. Then individual fruit salads for dessert.  Somehow we managed to finish the entire feast (and it was amazing).

Murun sunset

I’ve met tons of people during this year, and many of them have been amazing individuals who I will remember and keep in touch with for the rest of my life. It’s really rare, though, to find new friends who I relate to as easily and comfortably as I do with my friends from home. Thanks for that, Victor and Brice.

mantra: i’m an adventurer, searching for treasure

Uganda has not been kind to my personal possessions. I don’t want to go into details, but let’s just say I am now on my FOURTH camera for the year and do not currently possess a wallet (or driver’s license, or credit card…. etc).

Having my stuff stolen sucks. Not only is it expensive and a pain to deal with, but it’s so easy to feel bitter, stupid, hostile, violated, and lonely after my things are taken.

Luckily I just read The Alchemist—a story about travel and adventure and the kinds of discoveries found when out of one’s element. I liked many of the insights about the unexpected epiphanies and joys of travel. There’s a part near the beginning where the protagonist, a shepherd, has just sold his flock and left all that is familiar to him to follow omens and search for a treasure. Alone and in an unfamiliar place, he gets swindled and robbed and loses his life savings:

He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before. This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one.

After all, what he had always wanted was just that: to know new places. Even if he never got to the Pyramids, he had already traveled farther than any shepherd he knew. Oh, if they only knew how different things are just two hours by ship from where they are, he thought. Although his new world at the moment was just an empty marketplace, he had already seen it when it was teeming with life, and he would never forget it. He remembered the sword. It hurt him a bit to think about it, but he had never seen one like it before. As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.

“I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,” he said to himself.

Isn’t that awesome? I love it. Thanks for the perspective, Paolo Coelho. Here some recently-discovered treasures:

Colorful small-town Uganda, somewhere on the road from Mbarara to Masaka.

Funky-amazing traditional Ugandan headdresses, from Tribal Crafts of Uganda.

Sunset after Sunday beach ultimate:

Fried food cooking extravaganza! We made chingazi (lemon-zest flavored fried sweet dough), veggie samosas, and banana pancakes:

Bright blue lizard!

Veggie cart!

Treasures aplenty, right?

tri!!

First of all, let me say that I’m working on a project- and craft-related blog post—it’s coming soon. In the meantime, I’m still excited about my new accomplishment of this past weekend… I competed in my first-ever sprint triathlon!!

I’d already been thinking about doing a sprint tri in Bali at the end of June. I told my plan to Queenie, one of my friends here, who’s super-athletic and is involved in planning all kinds of sporting events in Kampala. “You should do our triathlon in March!” he told me.

“No way! I’m not ready! I’ll drown! I don’t have a bike!” I had plenty of good excuses. But somehow, he and Nissim, another ultimate-frisbee acquaintance/friend (who’s also a Canadian former pro triathlete) convinced me to try it. For an entry fee of about $15, I figured even if I failed to finish it wouldn’t be a huge loss.

I drove down to Entebbe with Queenie and Nissim on Saturday, a day early, to help set up the pool and transition area at the Lake Victoria hotel.

Before: super nervous (about the race and how on earth I would manage to fit my hair into a swim cap) (it worked, somehow).

After: happy and muddy!


The race was really fun. I survived the swim (400m in a pool)—luckily, it seems like muscle memory lasts a long time, since I think the last time I really swam laps was freshman year of college. The bike (20 km) was great. It rained torrentially on Saturday night, and I was so glad that I rented a mountain bike to negotiate the potholes and hills and washboard ruts of the course’s dirt roads. The course was lovely, with views of Lake Victoria, and I waved at plenty of friendly and amused people along the way. My only scary moment was when I rounded a turn, going fast, and narrowly avoided colliding with a whole herd of cows crossing the road. The run (5 km) was ok—by then my muscles were tired, but I knew I was almost done.

Hungry and tired and endorphins-happy at the finish line! I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m completely covered with mud speckles from the bike section.

Somehow I got second place! Mind you, that’s 2nd out of 11 competitors in the women’s sprint distance, but I’ll take it. We stuck around long enough to do some celebratory jumping from the dive platform into the pool. Now I’m definitely excited to do the triathlon in Bali!

front row tickets to the revolution

First, thanks to all of you who read my blog over the past couple weeks– it meant a lot to have so many messages of support when I returned from being cut off from telecommunications! It has been a crazy and amazing time, these past few weeks. I felt incredibly lucky to witness a very inspiring time in Egyptian history. My “Cairo Update” post came during the calm before the storm– from then until my departure from Cairo on February 2 were days I will never forget.

Friday, January 28: A very dramatic day. Internet and SMS service were cut off the night before, and when I woke up on the 28th, phones were down as well. I knew that large protests were planned for that afternoon, after Friday prayer. I decided I should probably stay in my hotel during the protests (a few hours, I thought) so I went out for a walk at midday to get snacks, buy a newspaper and get coffee. I was in a cafe downtown and all of a sudden, there was this feeling in the air and everyone started finishing their coffee or tea and paying. Along with the sound of the prayers that had been sounding from the mosques, I began to hear the rhythmic sound of people’s voices chanting together, a slogan that I couldn’t understand. Down one side street I saw people starting to gather with posters. At that point I decided it was probably best to make my way back to the hotel.

In Tahrir, there were hundreds of police and no civilians– security forces had closed off all the streets that open onto the square. Massive police forces gathered, 12:53 pm:

Back in my hotel, I could hear the sounds of protesters’ chants and the answering sound of hundreds of tear gas bombs being fired to try to hold back their progress toward the square. Most of the people staying in the hotel were gathered in the lobby– an interesting mix of mostly Egyptians, plus a pilot from Sudan, a Scottish guy, a few Koreans, three Pakistani students, one other American woman. We alternated between watching the Al Jazeera television broadcast and watching events unfold from the window. For a while the window was open so we could hear better, until the tear gas fumes became too strong. Even with the window closed, my eyes and throat burned for hours.

Tear gas bombs falling near the bridge– you can see the protesters massed on the bridge and the other side of the Nile. 2:51 pm:

5:28 pm: Tear gas haze as protesters finally begin to break through the police line and advance toward the square.

The view from that window was incredible. I could see over to the Nile, where a line of police kept back a huge crowd of people trying to cross from Gezira. On the news, we saw crowds gathering in other areas, all pushing toward Tahrir, but I understood very little of the Arabic reporting and it was maddeningly impossible to get a sense of the bigger picture. All I knew was that the scenes unfolding outside felt like an epic battle in a movie, and that I was overcome by a feeling of solidarity with the “good guys,” the protesters. I was desperately  hoping that they would succeed without suffering harm.  Stuck in my ninth-floor viewing area, I wished I could show my support somehow.

At about 5:30 pm, we all watched, riveted, as the demonstrators on the bridge broke through and began pushing the police back. The police retreated and kept firing gas bombs from the edge of the square. As the sky grew dark, new points of light flared up– police trucks and a building near the mosque set on fire.

6:02 pm: Video of chaos  as police attempt to hold back the protesters, who have broken through the lines into the square
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p90XR87UpYg

6:05 pm: Police truck firing tear gas canisters at advancing protesters:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l49mmLNH5RM

Just after I filmed that video, I watched as a protester lay down in front of another armored truck, which had been advancing toward a group of demonstrators and firing tear gas. He succeeded in forcing it to stop, and eventually turn around as his friends came to his aid throwing stones. Amazing.

By 7:30 pm, I wrote in my journal: “The people have taken the square! The police have pulled back to somewhere and are still firing tear gas. It’s still absolute pandemonium outside and there are ongoing clashes.” Later, I found out that Mubarak called for the help of the military to restore order. I was worried by the military presence, but I also didn’t fully understand the politics behind it. I finally went to sleep at 3:00 am, thinking, “I have no idea what the balance of power is now, or what the morning is going to look like.”

Saturday, January 29: Many protesters were still in Tahrir when I woke up, sleeping in makeshift tents– this was the beginning of the semi-permanent encampments that sprang up over the next few days, as people chose to maintain their vigil in the square instead of going home for curfew.

Views of Tahrir from my hotel:

Tanks and protesters:

Trying to put out the fire in the huge building that was headquarters of Mubarak’s party

Prayers in the square:

After feeling a maddening sense of tension/boredom/curiosity for 26 hours while stuck in my hotel, I finally got to leave at 2:15 pm and take a walk in the square  and the nearby streets.

Egyptian Museum, with the burning party building in the background.

In the square:

Kid with a poster: “Game Over”

Raising the flag over Tahrir

Burned police truck near Tahrir: “The End”

I didn’t stay out very long, because I was alone and the curfew started at 4:00 pm, but I didn’t feel the least bit threatened walking around among the protesters. On the contrary, many people were courteous and friendly to me, and eager for me to photograph their posters and banners.

Sunday, January 30: I woke up with a mission: two days earlier, without knowing that Cairo would soon turn into something like a war zone, I had dropped my passport off at the Ugandan embassy in the suburb of Maadi, about half an hour south of downtown on the Metro, for visa processing. On the 30th, I was supposed to pick it up. I had no idea if the embassy was open or whether my visa had been granted (they were supposed to call if there were any issues, but phones were down). Just to submit my visa application, I had already negotiated and sweet-talked my way through some harrowing bureaucratic hurdles, but at this point I just wanted my passport back– visa or no visa.

The embassy was closed but, miracle of miracles, the secretary who had accepted my passport appeared magically from the bushes behind the security guards and offered to let me in. I was beyond overjoyed when he handed me my passport, and even more excited when I saw that my visa had been granted the day I submitted it. I really had to try hard not to skip down the street.

Walking through downtown on my way back from the metro station, I was shocked by the looting in some places– though it didn’t seem as widespread as the news depicted.  I felt fine walking around the streets– I went out for koshary and sat at a cafe drinking irfa– but later I learned that the US was evacuating its citizens, that the Egyptian Museum had been looted, that prisons had been broken into, their prisoners released, and that Al Jazeera Arabic had been ordered out of the country. I also found out that Egypt had been put on the US State Dept. warning list (according to Watson rules, I’m required to leave a country ASAP as soon as it’s listed). My flight was already booked for very early on February 1, and with my shiny new visa, I was ready to go.

Burned car with the Cairo Tower in the background

Graffiti on one of the tanks outside my hotel:

Later that night, astonishingly loud fighter jets flew in circles over the city. It was a dramatic but confusing gesture. I didn’t know how to interpret it, but the crowds in Tahrir cheered every time they passed. In my journal I wrote: “The rising and falling sounds of people chanting have become a regular part of the soundtrack of my life at Sun Hotel– but I still feel their power, acutely. It’s amazing to witness people gathered in such force.”

Monday, January 31: The day I had planned to leave Egypt for Uganda (technically very early morning on Feb 1).  I made it safely to the airport, many hours early, where Ethiopian Airlines told me no flights: “not until the country has stabilized.” Allright then, I’d better make alternative plans. I was out of cell phone credit, without internet, and there were hundreds of people at the airport trying to get on a very limited number of flights. In light of the exceptional circumstances, Watson HQ had broken one of their own “rules” and gave me the phone number of Nadim, a fellow Fellow (a Tintinologist!) who was also in Cairo. I called Nadim from the airport and he invited me to stay at his apartment in Garden City, just south of Tahrir, while we figured out how to get out of Egypt.

I easily got a taxi back into Cairo– I was one of the very few people leaving the airport. My taxi driver, anxious to make it home before curfew, got stuck in a traffic jam in downtown, just two hundred meters north of the square. He told me I should get out and walk south along the Nile, past Tahrir, about half a mile to where I was going. I was a little apprehensive about walking with all my possessions through the chaos of the growing protests, but once again, I encountered only friendly people, and a couple bemused glances.

Nadim and his roommate Mohamed were wonderfully gracious hosts and companions– after days shut up in a hotel with lots of anxious travelers, I was so happy to spend time with people who know Cairo, know the political situation, and could engage in conversation about the events unfolding around us.

We went for a walk in Tahrir, where the mood had changed so much from the battle zone tension of a few days before. Military blockades surrounded the square, checking each person’s ID and making sure we weren’t armed. There was a guy walking around passing dates to everyone to snack on, there were people picking up trash, and everywhere there was an amazing display of Egyptian diversity. In my journal I wrote: “Tahrir today felt like YES. There was just an incredibly powerful, palpable and resounding affirmation of the people’s voice, the people’s power. Egyptian flags everywhere, signs everywhere, chants everywhere. I could tell by the English signs that there was so much clever wordplay, so much sharp witty language being used to sound the message. Egyptians are clearly delighting in this opportunity creative political expression.  In different areas were groups representing doctors, nurses, teachers, and other professional groups; there were also marches and representative groups that had come from all the far-flung protectorates of Egypt. There were so many great posters: Game Over Mubarak, Get Out Mubarak, Proud to be an Egyptian, a giant picture of Mubarak’s face with a Hitler mustache painted on. We love Egypt, with a lot of hearts. No to destruction, yes to freedom. Democracy not hypocrisy. Egypt regains dignity. A picture of Mubarak as a pharoah, with Enough! written underneath.”

Also, guess who I bumped into in Tahrir?

That’s right… Anderson Cooper, looking suave with a phalanx of CNN underlings (obviously before he was attacked).

The next day, February1, was the planned million person march. Buying groceries, I watched a steady stream of all kinds of people walking from the to Tahrir. With the help of the fantastic people at Watson HQ, I got a new ticket to London for February 2. Getting on that flight was bittersweet. On one hand, I knew I was fortunate to get out of Cairo just before the situation turned violent and foreigners were attacked. On the other hand, I felt no sense of closure for my time in Egypt, and I had never before felt so inspired by any political event. That sense of wonder and inspiration hasn’t faded. A few days ago when I read about Hosni Mubarak finally submitting his resignation and leaving Cairo, I got chills and so wished I could see the celebrations. Of course Egypt and the Egyptian people face many challenges on the path to a prosperous, democratic and just society, but what an amazing triumph. I’m so lucky to have witnessed part of it. Mabruk, Masr. Congratulations, Egypt.

gettin’ muddy: adventures in hurricane season

After scary news like this in the past few days, I’m happy to report that I’m safe. I have had some good hurricane season adventures, though…

On Friday I woke up at 5 am to pouring rain– unusual, because it usually rains in the afternoon. I had an important day ahead of me: checking out places to live in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan and getting officially introduced in Xeabaj II. So instead of doing what I really wanted to do– pulling the covers a little higher and going back to sleep– I got up and made my way to the bus station. After the hour and a half bus ride, the rain hadn’t let up at all. Up in Alaska, Guatemala the chilly wind was blowing the rain nearly horizontal, and I was soaked within minutes of getting off the bus. The housing search was pretty full of mishaps: the woman who was going to show us around got stuck at home, with a derrumbe (mudslide)
blocking her way into town; we ended up walking around way more than necessary and not actually seeing any houses. By the time we left SCI for Xeabaj II, I was so cold my lips were numb and not working properly.

We arrived in Xeabaj II and gratefully ate a snack of bread and coffee. One of the women lent me a corte and faja (the wraparound skirt and sash belt that Guatemalan women wear) after Lucia discovered that my pants were soaking wet. Lucia and Juana (two OB facilitators) and I giggled a lot about me wearing traditional clothes and also just because of cold giddiness and the happiness of being indoors.

On the bus ride home, I found out that the road back to Pana was blocked by a derrumbe. I went home with Lucia, and spent a wonderful night with her and her four amazing kids, Migdalia, Ixchel,  Lauriano and Fatima. They were so generous and welcoming that I didn’t really want to leave!

In the morning the rain had finally subsided to a drizzle. I made it to Sololá, which was as far as any motorized transportation was running, and started the 8 km walk down into the lake basin to Pana. After about twenty minutes of walking I reached the big derrumbe: a 75 meter stretch of road was shoulder-deep in mud, rocks and broken tree limbs. Ay! Crossing was a spectator sport: a small crowd was gathered at the other end, watching people make their precarious way across. I fell in up to my knees a few times, but I made it! At the other side, I attempted to joke with the spectators about how I’d conquered the derrumbe. They were not particularly amused. “There are more,” one man responded. Thanks….

Continuing on unabashed– I was actually in a great mood, especially because it was warm!– I followed some dubious advice, that I should take a little estravío, a path through the woods, instead of continuing on the paved road. In retrospect, that was a poor choice.

My poor sandals, already almost lost in the sucking mud of the derrumbe, were really struggling– it was a really steep path, and my feet were almost sliding out of my shoes with every step. After five minutes on the estravío, I took them off and walked the rest of the way… barefoot. I kept passing people climbing up the path who would do a double take and give me look that clearly said, You crazy gringa, what are you doing?!

On the road I acquired a walking companion, Angel, who was also a little baffled by me, I think. After exclaiming about the fact that I’m traveling solita and not with my family/friends/boyfriend, he said, “Madeline, you are a strong woman.” He kept trying to take my hand to help me down and I kept refusing (politely, I hope). Really, I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just prefer to have both hands free while climbing down steep, slippery slopes. “No sea necia,” he told me. “Usted es demasiada independiente.” Don’t be silly, you are too independent. He might be right, but that made me laugh.

When I finally got back to Pana, after an hour and a half on the path and nearly four hours after I had left Lucia’s, I had a celebratory margarita and bacon-avocado burger. Ahhh. Happily, it was all a grand adventure for me, but I’m grateful because I know not everyone was so lucky. It’s humbling to be in a place where lives, homes, businesses, and infrastructure in which people have invested so much can all be destroyed in seconds. It makes me so, so grateful for everything I usually take for granted.

As always, thanks for reading. Adios!