Journal 15 - December 29, 2002

My Three Israeli Girlfriends » Go Back

Journal 15
The buzz of La Paz wore off quickly as I found myself back there for a third time having done almost every touristy thing possible. Thanks to some poor planning I ended up stuck there for a few too many days, this while my friends left me one by one in search of new adventures. My Aussie buddy left Friday morning, and my three Israeli girlfriends left Friday night. Talks of labor strikes and the impending holiday travel rush threatened to keep me in La Paz for Christmas, a lonely prospect for someone who 24 hours earlier had been surrounded by friends. All flights were full, which meant my emergency option to save a day and catch up with my friends wasn't available. Finally I managed to get a bus ticket for more than twice the normal price, a whole $20 U.S., and the pursuit began. Justin

It's hard to imagine fifteen longer hours than the hours spent traveling on a bus in the third world. I know in PC terms it's supposed to be the developing world, but so far I have yet to see anything developing in the world of mass transportation in Bolivia. Compounding the longevity is the fact that 48 full seats out of a possible 48 does not constitute a full bus. After leaving the bus station in a given Bolivian city, busses cross the street, pull over, and let on a heap of people who stand for a while, then eventually sleep in the isles. If there is no room to stand, said traveler will use your armrest as a seat, this in already cramped conditions for a 6-foot plus gringo. But, as is the case, the hours pass, the flat tires are fixed, rock throwing games on the side of the road are completed, and the destination is reached.

Upon arrival to Sucre, one of Bolivia's oldest and wealthiest cities, I checked in to the hotel recommended by my girlfriends. Gotta love those $2 a night rooms. I then met up with the girls for a tour of the city. Lilach, Lilac, and Nitzan, three charming and beautiful Israeli girls I met on my way back to La Paz from my Pampas trip in Rurrenabaque. For those of you unaware of the Israeli travel phenomenon, look no further than our continental American neighbors to the south. Each year after completing their mandated time in the Israeli army, thousands of young Israeli travelers migrate to cheap continents in search of good times, cheap travel, and for the guys, long hair. Oftentimes they travel in groups; in fact I've yet to meet one solo Israeli traveler. My girlfriends were no exception, although as a group of three they made up the smallest group I've met. The four of us partnered up for a few days of travel in Bolivia and had bloody good time.

In Sucre we got an education. A pleasant conversation with a seemingly nice Swiss man unfortunately turned political. Things got heated. I bit my generally non-political tongue as long as I could, this while the conversation between the Swiss man and one of my friends got tense. Finally, after he said that the 9/11 WTC attacks were provoked by the U.S. government because of our foreign policy, and that it could have been avoided if the U.S. would just mind their own business, I had enough (although there may be some truth to what he was saying, it had more to do with how he said it). Unfortunately my rebuttal, "If the U.S. minded their own business all the time you might be speaking German," wasn't the most effective as the man hails from Switzerland, the German speaking side. However, my second attempt, "there might not be a Switzerland if it wasn't for the U.S., maybe just a United States of Germany if the U.S. had minded their own business in WWII," was a little more poignant, but still not sufficient. During political conversations there can be no right or wrong, but try telling this to my girlfriends, or the man we were talking to. "Israel is Shit!" was one of his last comments as he left the cafe. It sure is hard being from the most powerful, rich, and complicated country in the world. So many people are quick to criticize the bad things about the U.S. while neglecting to mention the good, and there is plenty of both.

Monday we toured Sucre's famous dinosaur tracks. Described as the largest palaeontological site in the world, with over 5000 dinosaur tracks of 290 different animals, dating back a mere 68 million years. The old dino hang is now an almost vertical wall, pushed skyward thanks to the movement of the planet's tectonic plates. Apparently scientists and paleontologists are communicating with the UN and other organizations in an attempt to have the site named as a "World Heritage Site" before it's invaded by thousands of tourists. The original discovery of the tracks was made in 1994, the discovery was then confirmed by the field's most notable scientists in 1998. It was great to visit the Jurassic park in the midst of its creation and attempted salvation.

From Sucre we went to Potosi, Bolivia, once one of the richest cities in the world. For four hundred years the people of Potosi have been mining Cerro Rico, (rich mountain), which looms over the town as a bleak and barren memorial to a time long past. In the 17th century Potosi was said to rival Paris, Madrid and Rome as one of the wealthiest and largest cities in the world. Also known as the world's highest city at 4100 meters, it's said that 70,000 metric tons of silver have been extracted from the Potosi mines, enough to build a bridge from Potosi to Madrid, with enough people dying in the process to build a bridge of bones back. During the 17th century the Spanish run mines had both African and Bolivian slaves pulling the precious metals from the bowels of the mountain. The profits and coins made from the metals were sent back to Spain in cargo vessels with fleets of heavily armed escort vessels for protection.

We booked a Christmas Eve tour of the mines, complete with jump suits, mining helmets, and authentic miner's head-lamps, everything except the canary. One hundred meters we descended into Cerro Rico, into one of 300 existing mines run by 26 cooperative mining companies. Descending deep into the mines it grew colder, darker, and more cramped. Nauseating fumes from gasses, minerals, and the ever present coca leaf stench overpowered us in the already thin air of the 4800 meter mountain, this compounded by our decent into the airless shafts of the mines made for a surreal experience. Even I began chewing wads of the coca leaves I had previously avoided. A fat wad of leaves in your mouth is said to help increase oxygen flow in the blood and increase energy. Go figure, these are the same coca leaves used to make cocaine. Crawling, kneeling and walking through the mines you could hear the symphony of bangs and bonks as our heads bounced off the tops of the shafts. All the while miners were working, digging, and pounding away with hammer and chisel, much like they did four hundred years ago, except back then they didn't have tourists to bring them coca leaves, cigarettes, and dynamite like we did. Part of the deal with the tour is to buy gifts for the miners. It is part of the arrangement set up between the tour companies and the mining cooperatives, meant to help the miners tolerate the tourists. I don't think it helps, I got the feeling they hated us. But why shouldn't they? A bunch of gringo idiots snapping pictures while the poor souls worked their asses off in a freezing, stinky, dark mines on Christmas Eve. After two hours of crawling around in the mines we headed back to town.

Unfortunately the Casa de Moneda museum, said to be Bolivia's best museum, was closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, so I missed seeing the old coins, presses, and information about the mint where the currency was made before being shipped to Spain and other parts of the world.

Christmas Eve dinner consisted of wanton soup and sweet & sour chicken at Potosi's best Chinese restaurant. Christmas in Potosi was spent with my Israeli girlfriends, who were nice enough to buy me a Christmas tree and a gift, such sweet girls. We also celebrated with a Buddhist shanti-shanti dude from England, who confused the matter even more. After a breakfast on Christmas day we headed to Potosi's hot springs for a relaxing day in the sun. After a twenty minute cramped bus ride, during which even the 5'3"girls were hurting for leg room, we arrived at the Olympic sized hot spring to soak the day away. Alas, the day had to end; we made our way back to town and got ready for our respective departures.

After a great few days of traveling together it was time to say goodbye. Before we left each other I decided to reveal my newly found religion to the girls. I swore allegiance to the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this in an attempt to convince them that it was perfectly acceptable for me to marry all three of them, thus they could come with me to Argentina, then back home to the U.S. All along I had been telling them how beautiful Utah and the rest of the U.S. was, so the Latter-day Saints scenario fit perfectly. However, off they went to the Salar de Uyuni, and despite their pleas, off I went to Argentina, unwilling to do the Salar tour for a second time, although it would have given me more time to discuss the advantages of Utah. We said our shaloms, promised to meet up later, and went our separate ways.

Wow, Argentina, here's a place I could live. The South America experience I've been waiting for. Worlds apart from Bolivia. Paved roads, proper busses, and an economic meltdown. Heaven on earth, and after only a few days here, already my favorite country in South America. Terrific steak dinners in high class restaurants for $5 U.S., and unbelievably beautiful women. I think I'll stay a while. And talk about nightlife, the other night I went to the recommended disco to check the scene at about 1:00 a.m., not a soul in site, literally empty, so I took a taxi back to the center to hang out for a while. Four hours later, at 5:00 a.m., the place was packed. Viva Argentina!

Happy Holidays to all.

Justin