Posted by: standing_baba | March 11, 2010

A Letter to a Friend

FOREWORD: This post was a personal e-mail to a friend who is living in New Zealand.

I wasn’t annoyed with all the concerned quake mails—my inbox in general was just overloaded with messages. I’ve since set an auto-reply letting everyone know my correspondence days are Sunday and Wednesday—that’s when you can expect to hear from me and find updates on my blog. I learned this technique from Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week. It’s been impossible to find a copy in South America but I’m determined to read it and begin implementing his advice into my travels/professional life. It was on his blog that I learned about vivid dreaming, and I’m still interested in learning to do it myself.

The blue skies & flat roads of the pampa

My ride south from Cusco was a rollercoaster of emotions. Each morning, a little sore, a little arthritic, was a test of will, a true examination of myself and my motives. I was constantly questioning why I decided to take on such an absurd adventure, why I travel, why the bike, lots of whys all around. Some minutes were unbearable; some hours never-ending. I kept thinking of all the other things I could be doing with my time and all my incredible friends & family whose company I was missing, whose lives were moving on without me. The strange thing though is that as each day wore on I relearned how to control my mind—it had been over two months off the bike—and deal with the real issues that were slowly driving me crazy. I’m learning to make the many voices one, and sometimes by accident quiet them altogether. Even stranger, every evening, whether chatting with firemen in the station or alone around my camp stove, I felt that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Each night after a long, hard day was the complete opposite of what I had felt just hours earlier. Now I know that more than any mental issues I may have been experiencing, it was my untrained body that left my mind restless and chaotic. I’m slowly get back in the rhythm of push pedal coast. My legs are again getting visibly and noticeably stronger by the day. After all the flat plains (pampas) I even became giddy about the mountain curves that lead into Puno and Lake Titicaca. I rediscovered 311, turned the volume to max, and rapped to construction workers as I passed on the slow uphill climb. Just like people who try to stick to diets, I’ve passed the three day hump. It’s practically written from this moment forward that I’ll arrive and be better for it.

Smiling after the climb into Puno

Today after several visits to the Bolivian Consulate here in the Peruvian town of Puno I finally have a little white sticker in my passport that says I’m legit to cross, get lost, and freeze in their mountains. Instead of explaining my bike trip and risking approval for lack of proof of exit, I just printed off a Kayak.com one-way flight to Buenos Aires. No one was the wiser. I was the first person in the office this morning, showered and ready with my freshly printed documents. The Consular, the only person authorized to ink my passport, was out of town on some mystery business. Come back later. When I came back that afternoon the secretary told me the visa now cost US $135—not the $100 I had read—and that I’d have to make a deposit during the bank’s busiest lunch hour. During the hour I had to wait in the bank line watching Peruvian infomercials I kept thinking the secretary could have (should have) told me about the deposit earlier that morning—but that’s my American logic butting in where it has no business. I returned to the Consulate with the bank deposit slip, handed it to the secretary expecting the whole ordeal done…then was told to return in two hours. Come back later. When I returned two hours later I was told to make photocopies of my documents. Come back immediately. With the photocopies handed over, the secretary and I shook goodbye knowing we were both part of some unnecessary bureaucratic game gone seriously paper-heavy. I even mentioned my disappointment that the visa fee had risen, saying it was a shame for travelers who wanted to visit each others’ countries (the U.S. charges Bolivians the same). He replied, “We’re just the people on the bottom.” I think I’ve realized that for a long time now, today just made it all too clear.

Bolivia is going to be unlike anywhere I’ve traveled. I’ve heard so many stories about the scenery, the cheap cost of living, and the absurd chaos of it all that I’m genuinely intrigued to know what life is like in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, not to make my privileged-self feel better about my life, but as a kind of reality check on what I’ve been taught is the world. I’ll bike right past the Chacaltaya glacier that used to be the world’s highest ski resort. No skiing until the next ice age though.

One of the craziest things I’ve heard lately about Bolivia was a friend-of-a-friend story. Apparently, some Peruvian who lived near the Bolivian border bought a new truck. Within days it was stolen from his driveway. Within a few more days he received a phone call saying if he paid US $1,000 the exact location of the truck would be disclosed and the keys would be waiting for him in the ignition. He paid the money, went to Bolivian, found his truck in perfect condition, drove it home across the border, great. It was a small price to pay compared to the large sum he still owed the bank for the vehicle. The very next morning when he woke to go to work he found the truck’s upholstery shredded, like someone had performed a c-section on every seat. The seats were full of cocaine. He had unknowingly driven serious quantities of white powder across international lines. Can you imagine the farm boys turned drug runners betting in the bar whether this scam would work? It must be getting a laugh at this very moment.

I think your thoughts about the States are pretty normal. First time long-term backpackers tend to fall to one extreme. Either they adopt a bitter, resentful attitude toward the United States’ excessive lifestyle (and it is excessive) after seeing how developing countries sometimes barely scrape by or they realize that they prefer the opportunity and high quality of material living being stateside allows—-both are right, but never in extremes. You’ve found that happy balance where you can still be objective and grateful without being that depressing brat at the party who thinks he’s smarter because he has been to more places, for longer periods of time. I think after studying abroad my first semester I may have been that guy. I didn’t relate much to the bar scene when I came back to Lincoln after my year away, and even earlier I think I felt like a stranger in high school when I returned from my summer in Spain. My outlook has changed though, at least I think so, and I no longer compare virtual passports or dig into people’s travel lives unless we have some common ground. I’m very much interested in how people who chose not to travel find ways to keep their lives interesting, fresh, reborn each day. I have all kinds of hobbies in mind that can only be pursued from a home base, including DIY construction and a world buffet of recipes I want to test out. You’re lucky: school will keep you busy when you return. Staying active is the best way to stave off all the negative thoughts and confusion I guarantee you’ll feel. The only challenge you’ll find in the future now that you know long-term travel is not your thing but more authentic short-term get-aways are, is dividing your eventual vacation time between family obligations and that annual trip to somewhere that looks like the cover of Adventure magazine.

They’re closing down the cafe now, which means I’m closing my computer. Everything is great. I’ll be in Bolivia in a couple days.


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