Monday, October 9, 2017

Kayak Lake Titicaca

I exited the plane at the airport near La Paz, and was disconcerted to see a little girl vomiting on the pavement. Little did I know that would soon be me.

The bowl of La Paz was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen, and the taxi descended to my hotel where I was to start my FAM trip, meet the guide and other guests.

It was a bit hurried; as soon as I got there we left for some ruins. Stone faces looked out from walls in grim fashion, and I started to get a headache, which wouldn’t go away.

Back at the hotel the guide, Sergio Bolivian, told me to drink some coca tea and go to bed, which I did.

The next day we set out for Cococobanda and Lake Titicaca. It was a stark but beautiful scene, and a majestic temple like building stood out amongst the flats terrain.

We set up our tents while the guides assembled the kleppers…they were having a hard time and I offered to help, but they didn’t want any help.

Meanwhile, I started to feel nautious, and the guide told me to make myself throw up and I would feel better. I complied, and went to bed.

In the morning we had breakfast and launched the kayaks. I found I had no energy, unusual as I was a kayaking guide and instructor, and all the boats were paddling away without me. Eventually a motorboat with Carlos came and picked me up. He was a handsome man who came from a wealthy family – they had a paint company in La Paz. He offered me chocolate and a Cuba Libra, with run from Cuba. I had a feeling I shouldn’t drink alcohol, but it seemed so exotic that I had a couple of sips.
At one point we stopped at an island to see a ruin – I have pictures but don’t remember much about it.

We motored to our destination and set-up camp. I rested in my tent and watched some pretty women in colorful, large skirts head our way on a path. I thought they were heading home, but actually they were coming to us to sell jewelry. My tent-mate flashed some money and they didn’t want to leave.

The next day we went to a village on a different island and it was humming with industry. Stone steps built in ancient times went up a hill steeply, giving access to agricultural terraces. A little clear running creek ran down the side for irrigation.

We walked by a mud building that showcased potatoes and guinea pigs. Potatoes come in all shapes and styles, often being preserved on the surface of the earth. Guinea pigs are used by local doctors – they run over the body of a sick person, and then are dissected by the doctor to discover the ailment.

Very carefully I took a few pictures of people lounging with their lamas.

Onward to the next camp – we arrived and heard that one of our guides and flipped his kayak when leaving the shore of the island and lost his glasses. He came to our camp late, extremely worried as he couldn’t see much and the glasses were expensive.

Three hours later someone came to deliver the glasses – it sees they had several people diving into the lake to look for them.

We boarded a bus in the morning and as I had been getting sicker and sicker they put me in the back to lie down. It was a treacherous trip; we heard one bus had gone over the edge the day before.

Back at the hotel I was given a room to myself, it seems. Everyone had gone out to dinner. Ironically I had run into a woman I knew from Seattle, Mimi, and kept hoping she or someone else would stop by.

There was a knock on the door and a man who said he was a doctor came in. He only spoke Spanish. He said he was going to give me a shot for pain and where did I want it, in my arm or my bottom. I told him I didn’t want a shot. He gave it to me anyway along with some prescriptions, and then asked for forty dollars American. I thought this was preposterous but gave it to him anyway so he would go away.

The next day I was put in a white van to go to the rustic lodge with three other guests. The rest of the group was going to hike the Inca Trail.

The driver was a flirtatious guy who had been out with our guide drinking all night. We hoped that he could drive to the lodge without an accident.

We crested the Andes (I think), and I needed a rest stop. There were no buildings, so I walked to the edge of a lake to have some privacy, and I my way back I realized this is where everyone else goes to the bathroom too.

There was a dog sitting at the top of the pass – he was put there for good luck and was waiting for handouts.

We wound down into the jungle and came to a beautiful lodge furnished with antiques, with a large dining room, swimming pool and a group of cabanas. An elderly man was flirting with me and throwing me kisses that I thought a bit too sexist.

My tent mate and I were happy in our new quarters and went to have dinner – a lovely tomato soup with quinoa grains floating delicately on top.

At some point the elderly gentleman found out I was sick and told me he was a doctor and could help me. After his original display of affection I told him I didn’t want him to come near me, and shocked he said “to no molestar, tu no molestar”. He was really such a nice gentleman – and a top pulmonary physician of the country. He had worked with people in the mines.

After scoping my lungs, he walked me to his cabin and took some ampicillin from a suitcase of drugs in the closet. We then walked to a tiny cemetery and he showed me his wife’s grave while he held my hand. She had fallen though the bridge over the river and died. The plot next to hers was his.

It was as if someone took an eraser to my lungs, every day I could breath a bit better. What a godsend.

Eventually the rest of the group showed up from their hike, we had another meal and then set off to go whitewater kayaking. We stopped at a family home and I remember having a miraculous conversation with an elderly man in Spanish. I felt like I was in a bubble as he described his life to me, and how the only way to visit was to come on the big trucks, hanging on the sides.

We set off and found kayaks waiting for us at the top of a steep gorge. We got them to the bottom and found a man collecting and killing butterflies.

The river looks to be a class 2 or 3. Carlos was there, and we set off with him in a kayak. He didn’t know how to stay upright and flipped many times. I was aghast at the safety on the trip, but they said things were different in Bolivia, the US being overly cautious.

We then boarded a ban to head back to La Paz…it was a long trip and it grew dark. Eventually we heard the sound of an animal wining, and it turns out someone had put a puppy in a box and tied it to the edge of the cargo rack. We rescued the poor thing and tried to stop it from shivering.

We were sleeping, finally, and found we were stopped at a roadblock. There was a curfew in the city and we weren’t allowed to go forward. The guide negotiated for a couple of hours and we were finally allowed to go forward.

The end of the trip arrived – I was both happy, relieved and a bit sad to have an end to such an adventure with nice people.

I booked myself into the Hotel Presidente. I had spoken to the editor of Summit Magazine before I left and he had told me if I took a good picture of the mountain Winopotosi, he would put it on the cover…

At the front desk I asked if I could go out there – he said, hurry, there are newlyweds in a taxi going there right now – go ask if you can join them.

I’m not sure what they thought, but the Japanese newlyweds let me into the car. We dropped them off of to go climbing, I got some fairly good images, and we hurriedly went back to the city.

We did see a woman in the middle of nowhere putting rocks across the road – she was trying to stop the cars from going to the mountains. The driver told me not to try and take her picture, as she would throw a rock through the window.

We stopped for a minute at a cemetery. We had gone by an old mine and saw chemicals all over the ground. The cemetery was for the workers – each person had a little house it was resting in, and llamas were grazing around them.

What an unusual experience it all was, I watched La Paz get smaller and smaller as I flew out the next day.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

National Novel Writers Month; from a Class to a Story

I happened to see an announcement for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and attended a session given by Wendy Call in North Bend. It was a dynamic session which we all thought went very quickly. As an exercise, I thought I would finally add a new post to my blog and compile some of the resources she gave us.

She made the course dynamic by having us do various exercises. We wrote our name on index cards and added why we came to the course. We wrote down what we want our writing life to look like, and visualized it in ten years, five years and one year.

Using the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented, time bound) we then applied our goals to see if they fit into the SMART system.

She asked us how much time per week we visualized ourselves writing and how much time we were spending now (mine was seven and zero!). We then had to identify what we were going to give up to get to this last goal.

Although it was a course on time management and goal setting I naturally had to ask her an off-topic question: Where do you find these lists and resources she had referred to and where one can submit articles and contest entries?

Here are a few:
Poets and Writers Magazine
The Writers Chronicle
The Writers Chronicle Blog
The Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Writer's Workshoppe in Port Townsend
Port Townsend Writer's Conference at Centrum (One of my favorite writers, Pam Houston, is teaching a class and it is already full)
Hugo House in Seattle
Writers Cottage in Issaquah (I see I just missed the grand opening!)

She also gave us a couple of authors and book titles:
Malcomb Gladwell - Outliers (now a dead link?)
See this instead:

Finally she referred us to an upcoming online course with Amanda Castleman at

I would say the workshop was inspiring and right up my ally...I have so many stories from traveling, guiding and teaching waiting to fit into some kind of format that I've been waiting for the right time and place to get started.

A beginning might be a comment I heard about myself at a wedding. I was standing next to a fellow kayak instructor and he described my work this way: "She works with tourists". It was such a loaded statement. What did he mean? What are tourists to him? What is working with a tourist? Am I reading more into this that I need to?

I imagine that the people who came on the ten-day self supported trips that I led Baja during the late eighties could be considered tourists.

They showed up uninitiated at the airport in Loreto excited to spend ten days sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez (also referred to as Mar de Vermillion for it's rich, deep red color on a glassy morning).

The trip format was based on a course from the National Leadership School. One of the main differences was that we cooked gourmet camping meals using just a two burner coleman stove. I had envisioned myself as a wilderness guide but now found myself spending six hours a day in the "kitchen".

We taught them many applicable skills if they didn't know them ; how to pitch a tent, pack a kayak and paddle effectively. In terms of leadership we moved from telling to selling, delegating and letting go as people got into the rhythm. The ten days would unfold into various stories and sagas.

Naturally the group was mostly tested when the big winds would come up. The Mexicans called them Nortes as they came from the north in the winter and traveled hundreds of miles over the water creating big waves (through a phenomena called fetch). I can still hear some of the fisherman calling out "big winds, big winds" using the Spanish i which sounds like eeeee.

We would say that if we were going to be stuck on a beach, this was a beautiful beach to be stuck on. One guest took a different tack and said "if wind is the element in Baja, we need to be paddling in the wind. I am training to climb Mount Mckinley and can't be sitting around".

But most of the time we had fun. We snorkeled, read books, played games and took nature hikes. Guides were trained in natural history and could talk about the white bark tree and cardon cactus which the locals used to create their shade houses (palapas in Spanish).

I learned all of this from my boss, Trudi Angell, who also told me if I wanted to guide on my own, I had to learn Spanish. I had fun learning what I call "ranch spanish" and loved hanging out with locals talking about the catch of the day or the number of goats they had grazing in the desert.

Learning Spanish also opened the door to world view, a focus of my education at the Jackson School of International Studies. It seemed bring a practical application to one of our required texts by Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude .

So yes, I worked with tourists; people who came to visit a lovely area and view it from a sea kayak for ten days in the wilderness.

In formulating a goal, I might want to weave stories into fiction and model Pamela Houston or keep a nonfiction writing style similar to Terry Tempest Williams.

The first winter I guided in Mexico I lived with a family for four months. The father, Jose, had come from Mexico City for a job at the airport, and had married a local woman in Loreto, Marta. He had built a home that was mostly round; the living room was round and had adjoining children's room, master bedroom, closet (with an extra bed) and bathroom.

When I came back from the ten day sea kayaking trips, they would move from the master bedroom to the closet bedroom. I always told them I would sleep in the extra room as I felt badly having them displaced from their nice bedroom. They were so gracious as to insist.

They also invited me to all of their events and functions. At Christmas the whole family came over and we made tamales. One day I came home from a trip and the house was empty. I wondered what was going on as usually someone was home. In came a cousin who lived next door and I was invited to a bar-b-que. Someone had caught a huge yellowtail and they had cooked it whole on the outdoor grill. Five kinds of fresh salsa were next to the homemade tortillas; it was quite the feast.

They were a little embarrassed about me going inside, but I soon found out why. They had created a delicacy of turtle soup, and knowing I probably wouldn't approve, they were uncomfortable. I know that educating people to possible extinction is difficult due to the standing of long term traditions, and so I was polite.

Jose also taught tennis, and while I had played plenty of tennis growing up, I asked him for a lesson. He had a lot to refine in my posture and stroke; we had a fun afternoon.

When leaving that year for the United States, I said to their oldest daughter and them, I hope you can come and visit me sometime. She said, I don't think that will ever happen, it is too hard to get a visa. It still causes me sadness to think that this would be true, although I did find out eventually that the whole family had been to the states to visit Trudi.


A big thanks to Wendi for the encouragement - now I just have to find the next writing class.