Follow the poop of the llama

Trip Start Jan 20, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2010

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Flag of Chile  , Tarapacá,
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alternative titles for this blog:

(1) Chilean sunsets rock my world.

(2) At night, I sleep in hats, three sweaters, wool socks, llama gloves, and am learning Aymaran methods to heat the body during the day.

(3) Gallitos en Ingles (chickens in English)

(4) If I climb that, can I get back down?

(5) Coca leaves aren't necessarily coke, right?

All of these titles describe the past week or perhaps my latest addiction: life in the Andean Highlands. I haven’t had internet to add the last blog that I wrote, but to fast forward the past week, I did make it out of the baby bathroom in the airport, spent three hours so tired that I wanted to vomit talking to Ricardo the man randomly assigned to give me a ride to the bus station…three hours early, and made it to Putre, 3600m above sea level.  Sleep deprived or dizzy from the altitude, I drowsily met with my advisor, my new host family, a random poet in the library, and was passing out surveys in the liceos (boarding school) within hours.  In comparison to my Mapuche study in the South, all my research went extremely smoothly.  I surveyed over 50 students, interviewed the school director, the obstetrician, two parteras (an Aymaran obstetrician) and one useweri (an Aymaran herbalist) about contraceptives and teenage pregnancy….without worrying about making cultural offenses, without missing buses, without wondering if I should bring 5 kilos of mate, and without waiting four hours for an interview.  Everything I’ve learned in both the South and the North of Chile has been incredibly fascinating.  In every conversation, I become more submerged in trying to tie together the effects of Chile’s history filled with foreign/European influences and repressive dictatorships with the more current influences of the health care infrastructure to the power of the church on sexual education in schools and in the home to what all these really enthusiastic smart kids perceive about contraceptives, occidental and traditional.  Wow, what a long sentence… that will become my twenty-five page paper in two weeks.

As for Gallitos en Ingles as an alternative title, this is descriptive of my 900 games of thumb wrestling, hangman, rock paper scissors, and peliculera (a game similar to hair salon where my little sisters learned my hair was really attached to my head).  Personally, I’m finding I am putting far more importance on family in my life.  Mom, Dad, Bri, I miss you guys a whole lot, especially in this past week.  Chilean families are connected, warm, and affectionate.  In the south, my host family and I huddled around the woodstove joking until midnight.  In the North, my family (my mom, dad (a policeman), Fabian (15 y/o brother), Thiare (9 year old sister), Yaiza (6 year old sister), and Damir (9 month old brother))  showed me how simple and fulfilling it is to just play guessing games for hours every night.  It really brings everyone so much closer together. I know, I know, it’s simple, but I feel like it’s a new rediscovery.

Follow the poop of the llama has been my mantra for the past week.  Yeah, it’s kind of gross, but I swear it works.  Putre is settled up in one of the most beautiful places of Chile.  By poking around in a hostel, I found a book of hiking trails near Putre. This was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because it led to me hiking for 5-6 hours everyday…but a curse because it didn’t include maps and only had GPS directions.  Essentially, I got lost by myself.. a lot.  And it was addicting.  My body is aching with every oxygen deprived tissue that was forced to climb 2000m yesterday, to run 8k to old ancient pictographs the day before, and to boulder up rock faces overlooking volcanoes the day before that all over 3600-4000m.  The views are breathtaking and between every gasp for air is a sigh of OH MY GOD THIS IS INCREDIBLE. 

Which is probably why I’m now sitting in a hostel in Parinacota with 8 layers of blankets, three sweaters, wool socks, a hat, and ten numb fingers.  In a long random story, I ended up traveling up to 4500 meters above sea level with a bunch of Austrians rather abruptly. I spent much of the car ride hoping there would be an open hostel and a bus to take my back to Arica the next day.  My Austrian friends headed back to Putre and I set out hiking by myself.  After about 40 minutes, a sinking feeling settled in my stomach.  Being lost and alone had lost its novelty and now I was looking at a vicuņa carcass thinking about being eaten by a puma because my hemoglobin couldn’t carry oxygen to my starving muscles.  Did I bring enough food or clothes?  If a puma were to attack me, would my knife be useful or should I go grizzly bear defense style and curl up?  Where does one learn puma defense anyways?  The wind lost its warmth and the sun seemed to be trying to set awfully fast. I gave up on making it to the lagunas in front of the volcano and sat down to think and turn back to Parinacota. I wasn’t really lost, I knew how to get back…I just wouldn’t make it to where I wanted.  That’s when Franklin Maximo showed up.  Yes, that powerful name belongs to the llama shepherd who lives along the trail.  First, I was terrified he was going to be furious with me.  Part of the reason, I got off the trail was all the signs that said private property do not pass..but they were on what I thought was the trail.  Yet, Franklin Maximo was about as gracious and friendly as everyone I meet in Chile.  He offered to walk with me, but instead showed me a shortcut when my embarrassment turned down his offer.  Later he found me as I walked back to Parinacota, actually I was stalking his llamas and alpacas for an easy trail.  We spent a good hour bonding about how much we love llamas and alpacas as I toured their coral.  I even got to see inside his tiny cottage which is surprisingly solar powered!  As I walked back from my llama lesson, the sunset magically over the mountains in radiant oranges, fluffy red clouds, and all the chill from the day completely evaporated.  Chile, you impress me, keep up the good work.

Anyways, tomorrow’s plans of returning to Arica have taken on yet another spin.  A couple of Irish guys showed up at the hostel and have offered to give me a life back to Arica from Parinacota..but oh by the way, they’re stopping to climb a volcano.  So Volcano Taapaca, volcano number two, here I come.

Oh, and why should you follow the llama poop?  Every time I got myself stuck up on some rock face or shaley mountainside, I decided to follow the llama poop…  They had to have gotten up some way, right?
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