Posted by: helenrortvedt | 14 September 2010

Milestone

Last Friday night marked an important milestone for me: My thirtieth consecutive night in my apartment in Copan.

Now, this may seem like I am trying to commemorate the fact that a whole month has already passed since I moved to Honduras, and in some ways, I am.  However, more notably, this is probably the first time since… well… probably 2005 that I have spent that many consecutive nights in one place.

Sure, I was relatively settled in my short time in Bolivia with Peace Corps, but I still made weekend trips to the city every couple of weeks to go to the market and the bank.  Working at Adventure Links in Virginia, I was no more settled, constantly going out into the field on overnight programs.  And we all know that the life of a Dragons instructor is anything but stationary. Thirty straight days in the same bed! Incredible!

So, what will I do to celebrate this important milestone?! Get out of town, of course! This weekend is a holiday weekend (Thursday and Friday off from school) because of Honduran Independence Day (which is tomorrow, September 15th).  I’ll be heading to Guatemala to hopefully meet up with some friends and take in the beautiful Lago Atitlan.

We have officially finished four weeks of school (OK, this week was just a two day week.  Tomorrow is the Independence Day Parade, for which the school band is currently practicing outside of my classroom window… Thursday and Friday are off).

So far, things are going quite well at Mayatan.  Last Friday was the “Day of the Child”, so the primary school kids got to have a party in their classrooms.  All of the secondary school classes traveled to aldeas around Copan and brought pinatas, cake, food and games to help the children celebrate.  It was pretty neat to see the “city kids” out in the campo helping out less privileged kids on their special day.

Classes are going well, despite the distraction by this week’s events.

Life in Copan is all around lovely.  Please enjoy the following pictures of life in and around Copan Ruinas.

This is the view from my apartment window. It reminds me quite a lot of the view from my room in La Palma.

Kitchen in my lovely little studio apartment. Heretofore lovingly referred to as my "shoe box".

Dining/Muti-use area of my shoe box.

Bedroom, Closet and Balcony(!) of my shoe box.

Sometimes more than just the students show up for class.

It's not so bad waking up at 5:30am for work with views like this...

Awesome adaptation.

Exploring a local canyon.

View from my balcony. Rainbow compliments of the rainy season.

Some 9th grade girls hold a hula hoop contest for the children of Carrizal on "Dia del nino"

9th Grade boys help participants prepare for "Pin the tail on the donkey".

Beautiful children of Carrizal

Caterpillar. No joke. Look closely.

My friend, and co-teacher Sarah, on a hike outside of Copan.

Yours truly.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 21 August 2010

Excused Absence

The one-year anniversary of my last post on this blog is fast approaching.

I hope to begin posting more regularly again, but—before I begin—I feel the need to explain my absence.

In the last year, I have:

  • Worked over 130 days “in the field” as an instructor with Where There Be Dragons (predominantly in Bolivia, but a with a brief stint in Peru as well).
  • Been bitten by a piranha.
  • Manually extracted a worm from my right foot.
  • Been caught for “Border Evasion” on the Peruvian-Bolivian border. (Not recommended.)
  • Developed an obsession with mustard.
  • Gone through six different cell phone numbers (1 in the US, 1 in Honduras, 1 in Nicaragua, & 3 in Bolivia…don’t ask…)
  • Seen Bolivian President, Evo Morales, twice in person.
  • Experienced sweltering heat in November, December, January, February, March, April & May.
  • Hiked through a blizzard in July and seriously contemplated the possibility of frostbite.
  • Crossed 16 international borders in 8 different countries.
  • Spent 57 nights in the United States of America.
  • Spent the remaining 300 or so somewhere else.
  • Seen beloved friends and family in Virginia, DC, Colorado, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Washington (state), California, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica.
  • Spent far too many hours in the Miami International Airport.  FAR too many…
  • Snorkeled with sea turtles, trekked with alpacas and swam in the world’s only fresh water lake inhabited by sharks.
  • Reached a new personal highest altitude of 17,300 ft (summit of Tunari in Cochabamba, Bolivia).
  • Forgotten most of my Quechua. (Bummer…)
  • Learned to make bagels.
  • Contemplated the wisdom and ingenuity of those who came before us as I explored the ancient cities of Tiwanaku, Machu Picchu, Inca Llajta, Tikal and Copan.
  • Been awed by the power and beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, the Cordillera Real of the Andes and the unnamed (at least to me) volcanic ranges of Central America.
  • Literally lived out of my backpack.
  • Decided that I am ready to put down some roots, temporarily, at least.
  • Accepted a teaching job at Mayatan Bilingual School in Copan Ruinas, Honduras.
  • Moved into my first apartment (e.g. semi-permanent residence) since December, 2005.
  • Learned from many.
  • Been inspired by many.
  • Loved many.

It’s been quite a year.

Life is a journey.

Those are the words I live by.

And these:

In times of change, the learner inherits the Earth, while the learned stand perfectly equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

More to come on life, work and the pursuit of baleadas in Copan…

17,300 feet.

Piranha lunch.

It's the 21st century in the Andes, too.

Evo.

This is how you contemplate the wisdom and ingenuity of those who came before us in the ancient Maya city of Tikal.

Paying attention to detail in Copan.

Sunset on Lake Nicaragua.

An Appalachian friend in Ramsey's Draft Wilderness, near Staunton, Virginia.

Beautiful California.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 11 September 2009

In honor & remembrance

Today is the first anniversary of an event that sent shock waves throughout an already staunchly divided Bolivia and indirectly affected the direction of my life to date.  On September 11th, 2008, a group of campesinos from rural Pando marched into their departmental capital—Cobija—and were met at the edge of the city by departmental police and military forces.  The confrontation turned violent and the campesinos, armed only with rocks and sticks, were no match for the government troops and suffered a minimum of fourteen deaths.  Some early estimates were as high as thirty.  The then Prefect (governor) of the department of Pando was later arrested and is currently awaiting trial on genocide charges for his involvement in the massacre.  In an “only in Bolivia” twist of fate, it was announced this week—on the eve of the anniversary of this horrific tragedy—that Leopoldo Fernandez will run for Vice President in this December’s election from his jail cell in the infamous San Pedro prison in La Paz.  His running mate?  Ousted Cochabamba Prefect, Manfred Reyes Villa.

In the midst of this domestic tragedy, Bolivia and the United States—both countries that I consider in some ways to be my patria—waged a tit-for-tat diplomatic war with each other, culminating in the dismissal of the Ambassadors from each country, the withdrawal of the Peace Corps from Bolivia, the dismissal of the DEA and the de-certification of Bolivia’s anti-narcotics efforts.   One year later, the Peace Corps still has not returned with volunteers and the US Embassy in La Paz is still functioning sans Ambassadorial leadership.  I wonder how many countries in the world today do not have US Ambassadors?  Cuba, surely.  Iran?  North Korea?  Burma?  In truth, I don’t know the answer to this question, but nevertheless, I imagine that Bolivia would find itself an awkward oddball in a list of otherwise “rogue” nations.

Today is also the anniversary of another event that dramatically shaped our world.   Eight years ago (wow, has it really been that long?) today, three thousand innocents in New York and Arlington, Virginia perished and our world, as we knew it, changed.   My world, my day to day, despite my family’s proximity to the Pentagon remained mostly the same, however.  As an American—at home or abroad—September 11th will always be a day for somber remembrance and reflection.

September 11th, 2008 was no exception.  However, on September 11th, 2008, my world changed.  My day to day was swept out from underneath me, seemingly without warning.  My biggest worry when I woke up that morning was whether I had made enough refresco for all the thirsty revelers that were expected in La Palma, the community I served in as a Peace Corps volunteer. We were receiving a visit from a group of teachers from across the department of Chuquisaca.  Around 5pm that afternoon, I received a call from Peace Corps informing me of the Pando massacre, of the dismissal of the US Ambassador, Philip Goldberg, of the worsening gas and water shortages in Santa Cruz and Tarija, and of my reservation on the first flight out of Sucre to Cochabamba the next day.  I was to bring my passport and any valuables.   I had two hours to pack and say: “I hope this is not goodbye.”

The days that followed were a blur of tears, “what ifs”, boredom, hotels, uncertainty and finally heartache.  On Sunday, September 14th, we were flown from Cochabamba to Lima, Peru.  Peace Corps/Bolivia was officially suspended the following morning, and the path I had spent the past nine months carving out took a unexpectedly sharp turn.

Today, I am sitting in the place where it all began for me: Cochabamba.  My love affair with this landlocked, underpopulated, overwhelmingly indigenous, mega-diverse, superlative Andean nation began in this valley.  Upon closing my service with the Peace Corps, my love for Bolivia only continued to grow.  I returned on my own shortly after we were pulled out, and spent much of the rest of 2008 in la patria.  As I boarded a Buenos Aires-bound plane in early January, I had no idea when I would return. However, serendipitously, I have returned sooner than I had expected.   In the abrupt slamming shut of one door, many other windows of opportunity presented themselves.  My heart will always ache for the way that my Peace Corps service ended.  However, the ripple effects of that event have been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring.

I am grateful for the community of volunteers that I served with.   I am inspired by the many things they find themselves doing now: managing a Bolivian NGO which promotes literacy in rural Chuquisaca, teaching science amidst a recent and fragile peace in Liberia, creating opportunities for women in rural Kenya to receive credit and break the cycle of poverty, advocating for bike safety and increased ridership in urban America, encouraging home communities to combine environmental stewardship with an entrepreneurial spirit aimed at combating the hardships induced by the economic downturn, hiking the legendary Appalachian Trail while raising money to fight hunger in Bolivia, returning to service with the Peace Corps in Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Armenia, Morocco and beyond… These are incredible folks.  True Ambassadors.

This September 11th is an opportunity for reflection and remembrance.   It is also, however, an opportunity to look forward.  I am so lucky to have found my way back to mi querida Bolivia.  As I begin a new semester working as an instructor with “Where There Be Dragons”, I have twelve eager minds, twelve brave souls, twelve inspiring young adults to experience the wonders of Bolivia with.  These next three months promise to be exciting and challenging.  As we barrel full-steam ahead into another Bolivian election season, I am comforted by the peace that presides over most of the country these days.

May we remember always those who lost their lives in Pando, in New York, in Arlington…

May we remember always that what unites us is far richer than what divides us…

May we remember always that life is a journey…

May we remember always…

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 21 August 2009

Llamas, Alpacas and Dragons, oh my!

Wow.

What a summer.

If you are interested in viewing a photographic summary of my highlights from leading a course in Bolivia with Where There Be Dragons, check out my article on matadorabroad.com (click this link).

In a word: Revitalizing.

In two words: Awesome challenge.

In a haiku (and the words of one of my beautiful students):

By letting go and

diving into new cultures,

we find our true selves.

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I have been home in Arlington for nearly two weeks, and it has been wonderful to slow down, relax, bake, eat Asian food, visit friends and spend time with my family.  I have a couple days left to go before I fly back to La Paz on Monday.  Yes, that’s right.  I have signed up to do it all over again.  I will be working on the fall semester “Andes and Amazon” course, which has been newly accredited for college credit!  Twelve new minds, twelve new sets of eyes, two programs operating simultaneously, and two fabulous co-instructors.  It’s going to be a great semester.  I really do love my job.

I don’t know how good I will be at updating this blog while I am working, but please feel free to follow our adventures on the Dragons’ Yak Yak message board.

Just select “Andes & Amazon ‘A’ Semester, Fall 2009″ from the “Current  Courses drop-down menu.

I hope the warm summer rain has been falling on your fields, and that the warm summer breeze has graced you with its presence.  I’m soaking up as much “American Summer” as I can while I am still in the Northern Hemisphere.  I even made it to an outdoor concert the other day.  One of America’s best traditions.

Paz.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 7 June 2009

Ready for departure

Just a quick note to inform my dear blog readers of my next adventure.  In just over a week, I’ll fly to California to begin staff training with a company called Where There Be Dragons.  Following two weeks in CA, I will be working with a team of two other fabulous instructors and nine students.  Together, we will travel back to the land that has painted all of my dreams since I left.  We will wander throughout the country in search of adventure, Mother Earth, broadened horizons, a sense of awareness and a greater understanding of our world and of ourselves.  It feels so good to be headed home.  

Bolivia.

She changed my life once before.  I have confidence that she’ll do it again.

Feel free to follow our adventure on the Dragons’ website: http://wheretherebedragons.com/yakyak.php

Just choose the “Bolivia Summer 2009″ course from the “Current Courses” drop down menu.

Be well.

Wajkutikama, masisniy.

Until next time, my friends.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 22 March 2009

From the homefront

Six months ago today I was driven in a Land Cruiser from the “Huampani Vacation Center” to the Peace Corps office in downtown Lima.  The last official act of the Peace Corps on my behalf after closing my service after evacuation.  From the moment I walked out of the office and into the chaotic Lima streets, I was no longer a PCV.  Just an ordinary American girl navigating the South American continent on her own.  The six months that have passed since then have been a bit of a whirlwind.  Over four of them spent in South America still, and in five different countries (Peru, Bolivia mostly, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay).  I returned home in early February to the calm and comfort of Ivy Street.

I imagine that any of you reading this already know, but I decided around that time that I would withdraw from the training class that departed for Peace Corps/Ecuador on February 24th.  Lots of months of deliberation, long conversations with many friends and family members and long silent discussions with myself later, I decided that I was just not in the right place.  I have come to terms with the fact that Bolivia WAS my Peace Corps service.  It was not 27 months.  Nowhere close.  But it left an indelible mark on me.  And what’s more: I was (am) genuinely excited about other jobs, about grad school, and the thought of starting all over again with training in another country was honestly exhausting.

I am home for now, and it is wonderful.  I am actively seeking employment in Latin America (and elsewhere, but I know where my heart is…)

My heart wrenched a little the other day when I learned of the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Madagascar.  Those were tough days for us Bolivian volunteers last September.  My heart goes out to the Madagascar volunteers who now find themselves in a hotel somewhere in South Africa being asked to decide what’s next while trying to process the goodbyes that were left unsaid, the projects unfinished, the lives flipped upside down…

But, on a lighter note: March definitely came in like a lion with a 6 to 8 inch blizzard, and is now fixing to go out like a lamb with the Cherry Blossoms popping out, grills firing up and lawns played in with bare feet. Spring! Virginia’s second best season.  It’s come.

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Shortly after I got home, a bunch of former Bolivia PCVs showed up in Washington under the guise of “attending a job fair”.  Really, it was just a good excuse to catch up, drink beers together and laugh together about how weird we have all become in the context of “home”. Here we are (me, Diana & Russ) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

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Russ and Ryan in front of the Washington Monument.

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Great Falls in all of it’s mid-Winter glory. Brrrr!

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Unfortunately, our sled was designed and built for 50 pound children.  It lasted about 4 runs.  But we had a grand old time.

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Snow is beautiful.  But cold…

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The trusty, hearty harbinger of spring.  A welcome friend.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 7 February 2009

369 Days in South America

One year and three days after I touched down on the South American continent’s highest commercial airport in La Paz, Bolivia, I went wheels up from Buenos Aires’ sea-level international airport bound for an icy Washington, DC.

And what a year it was. It took place predominantly in Bolivia, but with geographical cameos from Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay as well. Largely unpredictable, but altogether fulfilling, January 30, 2008 to February 2, 2009 meant a lot to me.

I want to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who have supported and followed me through the adventures and trials of my South American sojourn. Gracias. Pachi. Thank you.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to.  In fact, it never does.  And this year was certainly proof of that.

Bottom line: I am infinitely grateful for my experience in Bolivia.

I am inspired by the many people I met along the way.

My dreams are forever colored by the awesome landscapes, traditions and people of my beloved Bolivia. Thank you, Bolivia, for that invaluable gift.

In the spirit of recognizing the passage of time, I have chosen 12 images which I feel represent the passage of one year in my life. Please enjoy.

FEBRUARY 2008

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Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Arriving mid-rainy season, the Cochabmaba Valley was awash with green. A breathtaking first impression of a country I would grow to love immensely

MARCH 2008

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Camiri, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Our “Tech Week” travels brought us to the Chaco Boliviano. And we met some incredible kids along the way.

APRIL 2008

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Cochabamba, Bolivia.

B-47 Swear In. Wish we hadn’t made all those jokes about being “the last training group in Bolivia”… Sometime you get what you wish for. Nevertheless, an honor to be a part of this crazy bunch of volunteers, now scattered across America and the Globe.

MAY 2008

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La Palma, Chuquisaca, Bolivia.

Children of La Palma parade through town (the highway) on the 25th of May, which is the departmental holiday of Chuquisaca.

JUNE 2008

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Tarvita, Chuquisaca, Bolivia.

I had the great fortune to travel with the teachers from my school in La Palma across the department to Tarvita. Here, the male teachers pose before beginning a friendly game of soccer. La Palma in red, Tarvita in blue. We got creamed…

JULY 2008

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San Ignacio de Moxos, Beni, Bolivia.

Revelers wander through the crowded streets of town during their fiestas patronales, while trying to avoid the path of drunk men who careen through the crowds with fireworks alight atop their hats.

AUGUST 2008

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Comunidad Sotani, Chuquisaca, Bolivia

I finally got to visit one of the distant satellite schools under the La Palma jurisdiction. This, the closest of the 6, is a 17km hike (mostly uphill) from La Palma. I was the first foreigner to ever visit this school. I was so looking forward to working with these kids. And was practicing my Quechua so I could communicate with them.

SEPTEMBER 2008

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Sucre, Chuquisaca, Bolivia.

The unanticipated events that unfurled less than a week after this photo was taken indirectly shaped the rest of my experience in Bolivia. Here, several Peace Corps volunteers and friends of Peace Corps pose with former US Ambassador, Phillip Goldberg, who had come to Sucre for an official Embassy event in early September. Days later, he was told by Bolivian President Evo Morales that he was considered a persona non grata, and was asked to leave the country.

OCTOBER 2008

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Parque Provincial Aconcagua, Mendoza, Argentina.

After deciding to close my service with Peace Corps following the suspension of the program in Bolivia in September, I took a vacation to Argentina with dear friends.  Standing in the presence of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, was absolutely the highlight.

NOVEMBER 2008

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Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia.

A simple, yet universal plea.

DECEMBER 2008

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Sajama, Oruro, Bolivia.

Potentially my favorite place in all of Bolivia, the town and the peak of the same name (Sajama) are delicately washed with late afternoon altiplano light.  Sajama also happens to be the tallest peak in Bolivia.

JANUARY 2009

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Trinidad, Itapua, Paraguay

The Jesuits were expelled from Paraguay in the 1850s, but the ruins of their missions still remain.  The ruins of Trinidad, outside of the city of Encarnacion are one of the least visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world.

Paz.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 21 January 2009

Images.

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Yours truly in front of what is arguably the largest waterfall in the world.  Some measuring methods put Africa’s Victoria Falls in the number one slot, some say it’s Iguazu.  True to its Guarani name, this is big water, regardless if it is the biggest!

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You can take the Adventure Links staff out of the Mountain, but you can’t take the Mountain out of the Adventure Links staff.  Chuck, RoK, Kelley and I rock our our favorite Yee-Haw poses in front of some crazy big water!

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Paraguay is hot. Really hot.  But the Paraguayans have invented an ingenious hydration system: terere.  Yerba Mate and ice cold water, often with other herbs for digestion and calming mixed in.  Sipped and passed. Always shared. Brilliant. Liters and liters are consumed daily. Here, me, Kelley and former Bolivia volunteer, Natalie, are sharing terere in the Plaza Uruguaya in Asunción.

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Presidential Palace. Asunción, Paraguay.

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Andrew (another former Bolivia volunteer) shows us his bee colonies in his new site in Paraguay. That’s me rocking the smoker in the background, looking as cool as ever.

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Kelley makes new friends all the time. :)

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Me, Kelley, Andrew and his host brother, Fernando.  Hangin’ out in the Paraguayan campo. You know. Typical Thursday night.

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Are there words?

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Obama-mania has come to Asunción! The American flag flies next to its Paraguayan counterpart on Inauguaration Day.  I am holding the daily paper withe the beautiful First Couple on the front page! I think the Obama’s made it on the front page of newspapers in every country in the world yesterday! A wonderful day to be an American. A wonderful day to be able to represent my country in a foreign land.

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It just had to be captured.  History only happens every day, you know…

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 12 January 2009

Life blurs in constant motion

It’s been a while since I posted. I know. And much has happened. If I had the time, I would give each of the following events the time and webspace they truly deserve. But, alas, the life of a wanderer that I am currently living doesn’t often allow for such luxuries.

Since returning from Sajama in early December, I traveled to the Yungas region of the La Paz department (think: coca, cacao and mangoes!). The town of Chulumani (read: Coroico minus the tourists) is the center of the small Afro-Bolivian minority population living in the fertile lands on the steep Andean slopes in this transition zone. It was a great contrast from the stark beauty of the altiplano. Beauty in the Yungas comes in the form of fruit so fresh and delicious, it melts in your mouth; people so friendly you can’t stop yourself from chatting; traditional dancing to a drum beat hauntingly rooted in West African rhythms…

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A few final days in La Paz, a final 18 hour Bolivian flota ride, then a few sweaty days in Santa Cruz to meet up my my parents (first time I had seen them in almost a year!), and we were off for the next adventure: getting to Samaipata from Santa Cruz in the rainy season! Getting there was an adventure. Being there was a relaxing dream. Getting BACK was epic. I was proud of my parents for wading across a river, crawling up and down the river banks with their rolly suitcases, and walking across a landslide on the way there… I was speechless after our journey back. After an all day rain (on Christmas Day, no less), the road conditions worsened for our journey home. All in all, the should-be 2 hour journey took us about 8 hours and included 2 taxis, 1 truck bed, 1 10km section on the back of motorcycles, 1 river forded, and one 500m long recently fallen mudslide with knee-deep quicksand-like mud crossed while mud and rocks continued to fall from above. A true Bolivian transit adventure. But, true de form, Bolivians ALWAYS find a way through. And we followed them. :)

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On the way to Samaipata. Still smiling! No idea what they were about to get themselves into. Mom and Dad learned the hard way that rolly suitcases are less than ideal for Bolivian travel! :)

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Helping Mom across the river on the way there.

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Walking across the landslide on the way there. No big deal.

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Samaipata was beautiful and relaxing, and certainly worth the trek. This “garden salad” sealed the deal, however. And it’s officially the most beautiful (and 100% edible!) salad on Planet Earth.

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Mom and I enjoy her world famous caramel brownies in the back of the truck bed on our epic journey back to Santa Cruz!

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This picture in no way conveys the magnitude of this mudslide. It was truly catastrophic.

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Mom, muddy, but happy to be on the other side of the mudslide, gears up for the next part of the adventure: motos!

After our adventures on the Samaipata-SC road, we headed to Sucre. My parents tried to get to Sucre 35 years ago, but never made it because their rainy-season flight was cancelled…for the whole season. The airport runway has since been paved to allow for rainy season departures and arrivals, but it still lacks landing radar, so, if it is too cloudy, no take offs or landings are permitted. Our fingers were crossed as we waited for our flight to be called in the Santa Cruz airport. Seems as if our bad travel karma was used up on the Samaipata road, and we made it to Sucre without a hitch. Just a 35 minute delay. Well, 35 years and 35 minutes in my parents’ case. :)

It was wonderful to be “home” in Sucre for a week. It’s my favorite city in Bolivia, and it was great to share it with my parents. It was sad to leave, but I am so glad to have been able to go back one last time. I will miss La Ciudad Blanca.

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Night and Day time views from the roof of our hotel in Sucre.

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Tarabuco style weaving.

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Jalq’a style weaving.

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We were fortunate to receive a visit from my godfather, Jim Rudolph, who lives in Lima! Here the four of us are on the road from Sucre to Potosi, posing in front of the Pilcomayo River, which forms the border between the departments of Chuquisaca and Potosi.

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Mom and Dad in front of the Cerro Rico during our day trip to Potosi.

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We visited La Palma one day and my self-proclaimed in-site mother, Doña Justina ran up to greet us enthusiastically informing my mother that in fact she was now my mother, and my own needn’t worry about me anymore. It was pretty hilarious. And awfully bittersweet. Crazy as she may be, I love and miss that lady.

On January 4th, I bid farewell to my beloved Bolivia. I flew through clear skies to the Good Airs of Argentina and met up with friends Kelley, Chuck and RoK… all of Adventure Links fame. We spent some time wandering through the various neighborhoods of BA, then hightailed it up to Puerto Iguazu on the Paraguayan and Brazilian borders. Puerto Iguazu sits just 15km from the infamous falls of the same name.

Iguazu. It truly is breathtaking. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the Falls actually fall (hah) in Argentinian territory. Brazil only has about 10 or 15% of the falls in its territory. What Argentina does lack is the full panorama, as seen from the Brazilian side, but it certainly makes up for it by being able to stand mere feet from the base of some of the cascades and literally get drenched by just the spray. An incredible place.

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RoK, me and Chuck in Buenos Aires.

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Whoa.
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Adventure Links crew in South America. RoK, Kelley, me & Chuck at the “Throat of the Devil”, the largest single wall of water at Iguazu. To describe it in a word: deafening.

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Inspiration for the word awe.

I now find myself in Asunción, Paraguay. One of the more unique places I have been in South America. I cannot say that Asunción reminds me of any other place in the world. It is not a particularly beautiful or interesting city, but it is certainly unique. I am visiting some Peace Corps volunteers that transferred here after evacuation from Bolivia. It’s been wonderful to see some familiar faces, meet other volunteers and get a more local perspective on an otherwise uninticing city. I very much look forward to getting out to the campo over the next few days to explore more of this infrequently touristed nation. We are hoping to get to visit one of the least visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world–the Jesiut Mission Ruins near Encarnación, in the south of Paraguay.

Whew. That was a lot. I won’t even get into all the stuff I left out. That would take, well, about a month. :)

Love from Paraguay. Love to Bolivia. And love to you. Yes, you.

Posted by: helenrortvedt | 28 December 2008

Nevado Sajama

Nevado Sajama is Bolivia’s highest peak. It’s summit is a cool 6,542 meters above sea level. That’s 21,463 feet. You pretty much have to go to Asia to see peaks much higher than this.

It also happens to be the best place place I have visited in Bolivia so far. And, you all know how I love Bolivia, so I feel that is actually saying something.

We traveled by flota (large bus) and trufi (very small micro bus) to the village of Sajama, which lies in the shadow of the Chilean border in the Department of Oruro. We arrived in the drizzling rain around 5pm, but set out on foot anyways towards the hot springs where we had planned on camping that night. About an hour into our hike, the rain turned to snow. Despite it being mid-summer here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is also the rainy season, and the village of Sajama sits at 4200 meters (nearly 14,000 feet). Bottom line: it is still cold enough to snow up here this time of year.

We arrived at the hotsprings, cold and wet, just as night fell, but quickly jumped in the 90 degree water to warm up. We awoke to a midsummer winter wonderland the next morning. The snow melted by early afternoon, and the clouds lifted to reveal Sajama in all her glory. In a word: Spectacular.

We spent two days swimming in the hot springs, hiking around the base of Sajama and taking in the unique and awe-inspiring landscape. Truly, one of the world’s most special places.

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Winter wonderland, complete with grazing llamas.

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Relaxing in the hot springs.

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Me and Sajama.

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Altiplano sky.

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Sajama.

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The base of Sajama is covered by the world’s highest forest. Dwarf queñua trees only grow in the altiplano from 4300 to 5200 meters above sea level! Ryan and I found the tallest one around to pose in front of…

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Sunset. Twin Chilean Volcanoes in the background.

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Church in the campo. Chilean volcanoes in the background.

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More of beautiful Sajama.

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Hiking back to Sajama pueblo from the hot springs.

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Great kids in Sajama pueblo at sunset.

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Church in Sajama pueblo.

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Altiplano sunset.

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Sajama pueblo and peak at sunset. Glorious.

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