Archive for August 14th, 2010

14th August
2010
written by Ilana

We got to the office at 8:45 for our pampas tour, after buying out the French bakery just in case we were in for another fat camp situation.  At the office, we found two Australian girls from Byron Bay, but no one who worked there.  The Australians told us the tour is now leaving at 9:30.  Ugh, what is with this country?  Why was everything always late?  Oh well.  This gave us time to go to the bank, and buy food for Shabbos that we would store at the hostel.

I sat with the Australian girls and I was actually having a good time with them.  We’ve met people on the road, but it’s hard to meet people who we click with.  It happened a few times, but then those people were traveling on a different schedule than ours, and we never saw them again, so I was really excited about doing the pampas with funny interesting girls.

At 9:30 they told us it was time to get in the jeeps for a 3 hour ride to reach the boats.  They put us in a Toyota sedan.  “This is not a jeep,” I said.  The tour person laughed.  Okaaay, I guess we’re getting in this car.  The Australians also got in the car, but were then pulled out and replaced with a local woman carrying boxes of eggs and her 3 year old child.  I did not like where this was headed.  Was our tour group going to be us and this woman, child and eggs??  I told the tour people that we wanted to move cars to be in the real Jeep where they had put the Australian girls.  They told me no, but I didn’t listen and went into the real Jeep anyway, when a woman begged me to get out.  Fine.  I will go in the small sedan, I told them, but we paid for an English tour guide and you need to make sure we are in an English speaking group.  They told me of course, English, of course.  I didn’t trust them at all, and was starting to believe I would have a Spanish speaking guide.  I was also really disappointed to be pulled away from people I was actually able to talk to.  I got in the sedan and cried, because I’m on emotional overload on this trip, as the woman shoved a French couple into the car.  This was way too many people for a sedan.  It was boiling out, and my mom rolled down her window as we drove off.

our "jeep" is that blue sedan

The road was not paved and was all dirt and gravel, so as we drove we inhaled dirt.  I couldn’t stop coughing, but my mom pointed out that it was too hot to have the windows up.  True.  A lose-lose.  The French guy, who had said nothing to us yet, finally spoke to tell my mom to close the window because the child was cold.  She grumbled about it, but did as she was told.  Later we stopped the car, and the child peed out the door.  This child was controlling all our moves.  He was a tiny dictator, and I loved him because I thought it was hilarious that he called all the shots, and because he was super cute, and not physically accosting me like those hooligans in Ollantaytambo.

We got out to eat lunch at a restaurant called, no joke, “El Shaday.”  Amazing.  They served us vegetarian food, which was rice and some olives.  Eww.  Good thing we bought out the French bakery.  We started talking to the French couple to discover that they were in medical school together and had been doing medical internships in Arequipa, Peru.  They had come to the jungle with a member of their Peruvian host family.  They paid for his trip as a thank you gift for his hospitality.  We did not see any Peruvian guy with them.  Weird.  They explained that for some reason the tour company had put their friend in a different group, and had separated them.  Whaaaaat.  Turns out the Peruvian guy was in the English speaking group with the Australian girls.  I tried to tell one of the guides that we should switch with the Peruvian guy, but they would not have it.  What a nightmare.  The French people also explained that they were not a couple.  The girl had an Australian boyfriend, and she wanted Bloom to tell her prices of flights from France to Australia.  They also told us that their flight to the jungle town had been cancelled so they had to take a bus, which in the end had taken 30 hours and had no bathroom, so a woman had crapped in the aisle when the bus wouldn’t let her out.

Our lives were looking extraordinary next to theirs.  We were all in a group together, and we had not been on a 30 hour bus filled with human feces.  Life was good, I guess.

EL SHADAY Restaurant

The other group eventually got to the restaurant, so I sat down to talk to the Australian girls some more.  I explained that Bloom and I were going to Australia in a few weeks for Bloom’s grandmother’s 90th birthday.  We were all talking about grandparents birthday parties, and guest lists, when I said, “well, I’m pretty excited because one of Bloom’s grandmother’s friends coming to the party was a tattoo artist at Auschwitz!”

That killed it.  Any chance of friendship I had with these girls was gone with the word Auschwitz.  They stared at me, shocked.  Oh no.  I had forgotten that I was not dealing with Jews, and that anything to do with Auschwitz is not for polite company.  But seriously, I think it’s cool that this guy did the tattoos at Auschwitz.  Or maybe not cool, but absolutely fascinating.

After a few moments of atrociously awkward silence, Bloom said, “well not a tattoo artist.”  “What else do you call the person who did tattoos?”  I said.  The girls were still staring, and I felt like a moron.  Why am I so stupid??  Why did I always have to bring up the Holocaust??  This is why I have no backpacker friends!  I tried to change the subject, and eventually walked away mortified.  Oh well, that one was my fault.  Lesson learned.  No mention of the Holocaust to people who are not Jewish, or maybe even to anyone other than Bloom and my mom.

We eventually got to the boats where chaos ensued.  They started putting people on the boats, but they told us that we did not belong on any of them, we would be on a different boat leaving later.  My mom flipped out at this.  “We are only here for two days, we want to leave now, and we want to be with an English speaking group!” she yelled, and I backed her up, yelling similar things.

Everyone was staring at us.  Some guy came up to us and said with an American accent “you can’t just go on your own boat when you want to go, you aren’t on a private tour.”  Who was this moron?  Why was he getting involved?  “We just want to make sure we’re in an English speaking group, so if you want to get involved, you can use your Spanish to explain that to him.”  He walked away, and I half expected to see him pull out a guitar and start playing John Mayer songs to the Australian girls.  That’s the type of guy he was.  The worst!

A guy came up to us and told us he was our guide, and the rest of the group was on their way.  When we saw that the rest of the group was a Spanish speaking couple and their two pre-teen kids, we were not thrilled.  “This is a Spanish speaking group!” we yelled.  “I SPEAK ENGLISH!”  The guide yelled back.  FINE.  We got in the boat, only to realize that there were not enough seats for everyone in this dysfunctional group.  The French guy was nice about it and sat on the floor of the boat, while everyone else sat on what looked like broken lawn-chairs from someone’s 1986 backyard.  It was a weird motorized canoe with attached broken lawn-chairs.  This was so weird.

Whatever.  The boat started and we saw many caiman.  They were everywhere, so that was cool, and I tried to resist making Captain Hook references.  We also saw capybara (aka ginormous guinea pig, aka largest rodent in the world) and some monkeys.

Large Caiman. I was afraid it would eat me. I think that fear was justified.

A little bit into the boat ride, one of the Spanish speaking tweens passed me a baby turtle.  What the hell was this?  Why was she handing me a turtle?  Our idiot guide had taken a baby turtle out of the water to show us.  This cannot be right, or good for the turtle.  He then pulled over the boat to show us a bunch of monkeys in a tree.  They were jumping happily, making monkey noises, when all of a sudden they started screeching and yelling and biting each other.

It turns out our guide had thrown the monkeys food, and it made them go absolutely insane.  Ugh.  I was appalled.  How could this guy be a guide?   Every idiot knows you shouldn’t feed wild animals.  We watched the monkeys’ civil war, and soon a bold, smart monkey stopped fighting the others and turned to his source of food: our boat.  With a crazed look in his eyes, the monkey jumped onto the boat, practically landing in Bloom’s lap.  AHHH!  The guide jerked the boat with the motor, scaring the monkey, who jumped back onto land.  Crap.  This guy was a nutcase.

“Any questions?”  the guide asked.  Those were the first two words he had spoken to us.  No one said anything, so I said “Yeah.  Don’t feed the animals!”  I was not making a friend here.  The family giggled.  Watching the guide create a monkey war was traumatic and I didn’t feel like this guy would keep me safe from being eaten by a caiman, or even from a monkey.

This monkey looks cute, but it was ready to attack us

A few hours later, we arrived at the lodge, which was an absolute pit, and saw that the other, English speaking groups were already there eating popcorn.  Hooray!  Popcorn!  I sat with the Australians, since I had decided I would just act like the Auschwitz comment hadn’t happened, and try again.  Idiot John Mayer told me that this was their assigned group table for the trip.  What was wrong with this guy?  I looked around and saw an empty table with no popcorn on it.  Was he trying to tell me I had to sit there?  Fine, when Bloom and my mom walked in, I left John Mayer and we sat at the popcorn-less table trying to plan our next move.

Eventually popcorn arrived at the table and all was right in the world, except that our guide had disappeared and had not told us where to put our stuff or where we were sleeping.  A Bolivian guy sat down at our table wearing a hat that said “UCSB Grandpa” on it, and, assuming he worked there, my mom started asking him where we would sleep, and why was this place so crazy and disorganized, and why was there no communication??  UCSB Grandpa just stared at us blankly and shrugged.  “Great.  Just great.”  my mom said.  Later we realized that Grandpa was just a guy on the tour, who was of course also placed in the English speaking group.  My mom and I felt terrible.  We had yelled at the guy a few times.  Oy.  Maybe we are racists?  I hope not. Does writing about it make it better, since I’m willing to admit my wrong?  Maybe?

We eventually tracked down our guide and he brought us to a tiny room crowded with beds, almost touching each other.  The beds away from the door had all been taken.  “The family!”  I whispered angrily, fist in the air.  They had taken all the “good” beds (honestly, they were all bad, but some were better than others).   There weren’t even enough beds for us!

My mom lost it.  “I am 50 years old!  You better give me a bed!”  The guide looked at one of the beds and took someone’s bag off the bed, and told us we could use that bed as one of ours.  We didn’t want to make anymore enemies, so we decided this was a bad move.  After much fighting, beds were arranged for us, and we waited for our dinner of rice and olives.

After dinner we went out for a night boat ride, which was amazing, since the stars were perfectly clear, and you could see all of the caimans eyes, which reflect the light to look like they’re glowing in the dark.  After the ride we looked for the guide, who had disappeared, this time we did not find him, so we had no idea what time to wake up the next day or what the plan was.

At 6 AM the next morning the guide banged on our door saying, “sunrise 10 minutes.”  We watched the sunrise, which was cool and came back for breakfast, where they insisted we sit with our group.  The family did not look pleased about this development.  They brought out some toast, pancakes and fried donut things.  There was enough given to our table for everyone to have one of everything, which was not nearly enough for Bloom’s morning carbo-load, and we had run out of our snacks.

Sunrise

There was a table behind us set for only 4 people, but they had enough food for 10, so I told Bloom to ask them if they would give him some food.  In classic Oliver Twist style, Bloom went up to the table, which had a young couple and an older couple, and said something like “please, sir, may I have some more?”  They looked at his skinny body, saw his pants falling off, thought about it and said “no.”

Bloom came back to our table telling us that the older couple had denied his request.  Are they insane???  I asked/yelled.  Fine, I will go to the kitchen and ask for more.  I was strongly denied with a loud “NO.”  I went back to the table and asked Bloom about the older couple who refused to share.  We had heard them speaking English the previous night.  Were they British?  American?  “No,” Bloom said, “they’re Germans.”

Of course this news made me go ballistic, and I forgot my pact with myself from the day before about not thinking/talking about the Holocaust.  I went on quite a rant that I will not include here.

“Ilana, stop it, you’re being crazy,” my mom told me.   Both Bloom and my mom agreed that I was a lunatic, and ignored me.  Bloom waited until the Germans got up, and then ate their leftovers, which they of course did not finish.

After our embarrassing morning with the Germans we were told that we were no longer in a group with the Spanish speaking family and were moving to another group.  Fine, whatever, this place was nuts, just put us on a boat.

We got on a new boat and sat in the front seats.  The new guide came out, followed by the German couple and the younger couple and told us to move to the back.  No way, man.  I was not moving to the back of the boat for some Germans who couldn’t give a starving Jew some bread.  We were being yelled at everywhere we went.  Move groups, move beds, move to the back of the boat…  We had had it.  We said we were not moving to the back.

The new guide freaked out.  “This is my group!  You are not my group!  You sit in the back!”  My mom and I both went crazier than ever.  “WE HAVE NO GROUP!”  we yelled back.  “Don’t mistreat us!”

We apologized to the Germans for making a scene, and tried to explain how this whole trip had been chaos for us, but they just stared at us.  Eventually we gave in and moved to the back, so the Germans could sit in front.  We spent the day with them, and their Spanish speaking guide, not understanding what was going on.  We got off the boat, and walked around in something they called a jungle, but what looked like a very unkempt Skokie backyard.  I realized why it was so unkempt when the guide pulled out a machete and gratuitously hacked away at the small trees.  What was wrong with these guides?

We walked in the unkempt yard for about an hour, and then got back on the boat to look for dolphins, which was fine.  On the dolphin searching ride, the Germans kept loudly insisting that the boat was being slowed down today because of the extra people (us), and that they had to speed things up because they had a flight to catch at 5:40 that evening.  I couldn’t believe he was complaining about us weighing the boat down, repeatedly, in front of us!

Capybara. Ginormous guinea pigs.

We got back to the lodge for lunch—more rice, but this time someone had put some of the chicken sauce on it, so we really couldn’t eat it.  Even if we had wanted the rice, there was not enough for us, since other people had already eaten most of it.  My mom asked if there was other rice, and the Germans, looking afraid we might eat/contaminate their food, said “this is our food, I’m sure someone will bring you other food.”

These Germans were actually out of control mean and crazy.

FINALLY we were told it was time to go back to the town, and that we would take the boat to the jeep that would drive us back.  The Germans had insisted that they needed their own boat that moved quicker, so we had been moved to another boat, yet again, this time with dreadlocked, smoking backpackers.

After a very long two days, we got back to town and our hostel, which now seemed like luxury since it was not crowded with beds.  Bloom went to take the laundry before Shabbos and ran into the Germans, which is weird, because it was around the time of their alleged flight…

My mom flew to La Paz the next day to be safe, since her flight was on Monday morning, and these flights are notoriously late, sometimes by many days.  She came to our hostel room right before her flight to tell us that she had seen the Germans at the “airport” earlier this morning and had called them out.  “Hi!  I am so surprised to see you here!” she had said to them.  She told us that they just muttered something and walked away.

What did they have to gain by lying about a flight?  What was wrong with these people?  We never did quite figure it out.