La Vigilia

My Spanish teacher junior year of high school was Sr. Diaz.  At the time, I liked him and his class a lot.  He was my featured teacher on teacher night at basketball, and the came to the game!  What a guy!  He taught us more verb tenses in Spanish than I even knew existed in English.  But looking back now, I think I owe a lot to him.  I went with Sr. Diaz to Spain my sophomore year, and it was my first time traveling to Europe and traveling abroad without my family.  It was my first taste of travel and cemented my love of Europe.  Sr. Diaz is Chilean, and taught us about the golpe de estado and Pinochet.  It was my first taste of Latin American politics, and what likely influenced my wanting to major in Political Science in college with an emphasis in Latin America.  I applied to Georgetown School of Foreign Services because I wanted to be a Colombian diplomat, so I must have REALLY loved it!  The consolation prize of St. Olaf Poli Sci worked out well though too 😉  It was Sr. Diaz who introduced me to Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, poets who I still like today.  I picked a Neruda poem to read at my cousin’s wedding in Mexico, mixing a little English and Spanish because it’s beautiful in English but just so lyrical and lovely in Spanish.  But I was thinking about Sr. Diaz for something else when I started this post!  In one of the books or poems we read in his class, there was a word, vigilia.  It doesn’t exist in English.  When I looked it up just now, it says vigil, which I suppose is kind of right, but really it is the state when you’re half awake but still dreaming.  You know it’s a dream, but it feels real.

I think that word is emblematic of my trip to South America.  Well, before I get sappy, emblematic is kind of a joke we said a lot on our trip, because our Peru tour guide used it a lot, mostly about food and drink.  Lomo saltado is emblematic of Peru.  Pisco Sour is emblematic of Peru.  Then, me being the natural punk I am, used it a lot after hehehe.  Anyway, in this case, vigilia is emblematic.  This just feels like a dream!

I left off my blog posting at the Quarry Trek and Machu Picchu.  It seems like a lifetime ago!  The journey started with a trek.  For 3 days, I hiked with 3 other people from my group and our guide Edwin.  We covered 30 miles, according to my fitbit, climbing to over 4,500 meters, and going up to a 4,750 meters (15,600 feet) at a high point mostly just so we could say we did.  It was an adventure.  To be fair, we started with another Australian couple and an assistant guide, but one of the Australians got altitude sickness and had to go back the first night.  So then it was me, and 3 ex-military 20 somethings (who are my friends, just kidding, love you guys) but damn, they could literally skip up the mountain.  So we covered more ground than we were supposed too.  Yay? Before this, I think the last time I camped out was in the Gaards backyard in girl scouts?  So I mean, I had my doubts about how it would go.  Let’s be honest.  But since this is the first thing I’m describing in my dream-like ramble, so maybe I’ll chose magical?  5 of us, surrounded by mountains and grass and clouds and nature.  Just amazing.  It was the first time I’d ever been at that high of altitude.  We went higher later in the trip, but the first time is always the most memorable… even if it’s in your swimsuit after a luau party at the Legion.  Oh wait, that’s a different first time.. hahah but really, walking in the clouds alone, is like a dream.  There is something indescribable about being in the clouds, but in a way, it makes sense because we have so many metaphors about it.  When I was younger, I loved shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.  So I’ve been reaching for the stars, and I didn’t make there, but I made it to the clouds 😊  But not only are you in the heavens, but you’re walking down a dirt path by the Incas 500 years prior, surrounded by natural beauty which is also just simply amazing.  I kind of thought Machu Picchu was going to be a letdown after the hike, but it was amazing.  Most of the Inca civilization was destroyed by the Spanish but this town was preserved because it’s nestled between on the edge of a cliff, on mountain tops.  The size and scale of it is impressive.  It makes me think about other lost civilizations, the people who roamed this planet way before our time, and then makes me think about how our lives our so tiny in the course of human existence, and makes me wonder what will come next?  How will we continue to evolve?  Which victor will write the history and who will get lost?  And then who is lost now and doesn’t have a voice?   If a place can make me stop to think about the course of human existence and the meaning of humanity, err, life, it’s pretty amazing.


After Machu Picchu, we had a few more days finishing out Peru, and heading into Bolivia.  Two of the highlights of this time were visits to villages and a homestay.  These alone could have their own post, but it was just cool to interact and exchange with people who live so differently than me, but yet here I am, in their home.  It makes me appreciate even more, the privilege I have.  The first layer of this realization in these homestays and remote village visits is the importance of getting married and having children.  In one village, you only really had a say in then happenings of the town if you are married, then it was you and your partner.  But in all of them, there is genuine looks of surprise when you say that you’re in your thirties and unmarried!  I have to think it’s in part because having a partner is a necessity.  Most of these places relied on agriculture for the income, before they introduced the tourism of homestays and visits.  In these cases, someone has to work the crops and someone has to take care of the chores.  And it’s better if you have kids to help you with these things.  Right there alone, its like yeah, it’s nice that I don’t live in Little House on the Prairie times where you just had to work harder physically to get by!  Which makes me think, well yeah because I have access to health care and education and when I was 15 I didn’t have to think about finding my husband and taking care of my siblings and helping carry crops up the mountains, I got to go with Sr. Diaz and my friends to Spain and practice my Spanish and see the La Guernica and eat paella and dream about the big bad world.  It’s amazing and I’m lucky!  That’s not to say these women and families aren’t happy or lucky, it just makes me feel like I’m very grateful to be given choices and opportunities #blessed

In Bolivia, it was a tale of two halves.  The first half was cities, La Paz to Sucre to Uyuni. I have written and deleted this next line 4 times, because it’s hard to capture it, but I just want to say, it’s a beautiful disaster.  It’s chaotic.  Big cities are chaotic, but this is 8 lanes of traffic where there’s room for 4.  It’s rat poison being sold on the street booth outside the hotel.  It’s constant cars honking.  But it’s bright colors, and music everywhere.  Top 40 playing from a boombox on the street, Latin music from inside a store, American big band 40’s inside a restaurant, people playing the pan flute and singing on the street, impromptu parades to celebrate carnival. Then the second half was remote and crazy nature.  As I’ve told many people, many times (so I’m sorry I’m sure I’m repeating myself), I booked this trip because I wanted to go to Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni.  When I read about going to Uyuni, it said that Bolivia transportation is inconsistent, and it just seemed like it was really remote to travel through.  Welllllll the blogs were right.  The day we were traveling from Sucre to Uyuni (the town closest to Salar de Uyuni), there was a protest outside of Uyuni, blocking the roads.  Many busses wouldn’t go, but ours did and we thus had people standing in the aisles for the 4 hour trip down.  People use the term chicken bus to describe a bus in a developing nation that literally carries chickens with their passengers (you can visualize it I’m sure), well this bus didn’t have chickens but next to the driver there was about 6 dozen eggs in trays, haha.  So we were close 😊  Anyway, 8 km (4.8 miles) outside of the city, the bus stopped and we walked down a rocky hill and then empty highway to make it in.  Then the next 3 days, as we traveled to the Salar and through Bolivia to Chile, we had to take 4 WD Jeeps because those and pickup trucks are really the only vehicles that can get through the muddy, rocky, dirt roads.  But it was worth it.  The Salar was amazing.  It was “flooded” when we were there, in which, it had been raining so there was about 4 inches of water covering it.  I think it would be cool to see it dry salt, but it was crazy too with the water.  From the Salar, we traveled through remote country.  And by remote, I mean, dirt roads and the only other people on the said roads are the two other jeeps in the convoy.  But the scenery was amazing.  Going off the beaten path has its perks!  We stayed two nights on this voyage.  The first night, the floor was made out of sand.  The 2nd night, there was no shower.  Rustic, but fun!  But the best part of this wasn’t the accommodations, it was the views.  The Laguna Colorado was truly one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen.  The lake is pink, from the plankton that likes the salty water, made because this was an ocean millions of years ago.  Because the plankton like the lake, flamingos like the lake.  Because the plankton and flamingos like the lake, I like the lake 😉  But really, it’s also surrounded by mountains that have variations of color in the rock formations.  It’s pretty neat.  And it’s remote, so there’s nobody there.

On to Chile and Argentina.  I didn’t weep over the beauty but I did cry from laughing so hard.  Maybe it’s because we bonded over those days in the jeeps and the rustic accommodations, or maybe it’s because there is a different kind of magic in Chile and Argentina, but they were both delightful adventures in a totally different kind of way.  We were only in Chile 2 nights, and on the first night, we celebrated like it was our 2nd to the last night AND 1st night in Chile.  Both grounds for celebration! AMIRIGHT?!  So that first night, I was tired.  I played too much beer pong that turned to wine pong that turned to mint schnapps pong on our last night in Bolivia.  Were Tom and I the champs?  Debatable, but likely yes.  Did I spray people with silly string before bed and anger many, but spread the Carnival festivities to our little dorm room?  Yes.  When we had to be ready to go at 4AM was I still drunk?  Yes.  Anyway, that was the night before… so I was tired.  I didn’t need to go out in Chile.  Ok fine, there’s a rooftop bar?  I’ll go for one.  It’s not actually a rooftop bar, but karaoke and dancing?  Fine, I’ll stay for one.  This wine tastes good… well you get the picture.  After the bar closed, we went back to the hotel.  But we got in trouble for being too loud in one of the rooms, so we went back out.  This was the 2nd time that Pedro, Tom and I – who are nice and respectable gentlemen in real life, got in trouble at hotels for making too much noise late at night.  I blame them, not me.  But back to Chile, in the light of day, I can say that we left because the bar closed so where did we think we were going to go when we left the hotel?  What would be open?  Anyway, I don’t need to answer the question because as we turned the corner to leave the hotel, a group of people with 2 six packs of beer said, are you going to the house party?!  Of course we were.  And we ended up at a Chilean house party, that had a DJ and a bar and a pool.  Those are really the kinds of dreams I have, where series of weird events keep progressing.  Except in my dreams, I don’t lose one of my sandals.  In this dream, I did #RIPHaviana

The going out dream in Argentina was different yet again than Chile.  One of the nights in Salta, we went to this restaurant where let me say first, it was the best steak I’ve ever had.  Even better than classy AF steak I had with my boss while traveling.  Just as I don’t want to say explicitly rule breaking things on the internet where people can get in trouble, maybe my friends from Mayborn know the dinner in Cinncy I’m talking about hahaha.  Again, back to the story.  This was fantastic food and drink.  But the reason we went to this restaurant is because people bring their instruments and sing and perform.  It’s not for tips, it’s not to be discovered at open mic night.  Just to share.  In our room, there was guy maybe in his 20’s/30’s.  As he was playing this guitar and singing, a table next to him with 6 people about my parents age or older, were singing along.  They eventually got a couple of guitars, and it was amazing.  They started trying to sing British, French, Irish and American songs so we could join in.  Joining in with these beautiful musicians was so neat.  La Vie En Rose and Molly Malone almost brought me to tears, but What a Wonderful World and New York, New York actually did.  Maybe it’s because I was drunk and my singing was that bad haha or maybe it’s just that amazing way that art can touch you in a special way.  But it again, felt like a dream.  That I had to pinch myself to know it was real.

The sad thing about this post is, I can’t post videos of the beautiful night in Argentina (or maybe I can, but I don’t know how?) and I don’t have pictures of the epic journey to the house party, so these late night inbetweeners will have have to fill in the gaps as best they can.

In closing, I’d like to give Sr. Diaz one more shout out.  Sr. Diaz, we’re not facebook friends, so you won’t read this… but if you did, thank you for introducing me to a world where I can teach friends from around the world how to play beer pong in a dorm in the Atacama desert… er I mean, thanks for opening my eyes to this world that has brought me so much joy and passion and has enriched my life more than I can comprehend 😊

8 thoughts on “La Vigilia

  1. Trisha Witt

    Wow Vanessa, you set out on your adventure to make some memories in wonderful places around the world. Through your colorful and thoughtful words you leave me with memories of places I haven’t even been! Looking forward to hearing more of what’s ahead for you. Much love, Trisha

    Liked by 1 person

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