Sunday, 31 March 2013

Для моих русских друзей

Здравствуйте, дорогие друзья в России, я не знаю, как вы и где вы живете, но есть сотни из вас, глядя на мой блог. Вы в основном глядя на мои картины. Так вот некоторые новые эскизы специально для вас. Я сделал рисунок в Боливию несколько недель назад. Когда я нахожусь в Боливии Я сетях. Под этим я подразумеваю, что я нахожу молодых художников и музыкантов и исполнителей, и поощряя их и соединив их друг с другом. Я надеюсь, что Google Translate переводит это так, вы можете понять, что я хочу поделиться с вами. Пожалуйста, я хотел бы знать, кто вы есть. Напишите мне одну или две строки в электронной почте и расскажите мне о вашей жизни? Спасибо за то, что часть моей жизни, с любовью, Меg

Saturday, 16 March 2013

When one flower blooms...

When one flower blooms, spring awakens everywhere.

John O'Donohue

I've shared some of my dramatic and challenging Bolivian adventures , but I don't think I've shared any of the beautiful, magical moments. There have been many. Here are a few.

The scene: Samaipata, a small village two hours from Santa CRuz:

What do you mean by magical moments asks Lucy, an English tax consultant who's just arrived at the Samaipata organic herb and veggie farm. The farm will be my home for the next week. I'm planning to paint.

Twelve hours later Lucy's horizontal with food poisoning.

'Yes Megggiii ,' booms Dutch Peiter in my ear. He's the gregarious  owner of the herb farm , guest cabins, and campsite.

' are ( to be) her nurse!'

'You look like sisters' he adds laughing loudly.

Haha. Really ? Younger sister ? Me a nurse?

I do what anybody would do to help somebody who is really out of it, but I'm not a nurse. Lucy's face is the colour of concrete. Like a child she wants to hear my (travel) stories. We are sitting in the kitchen when I begin.

OK, I say.

A magical moment happened at the police station in Sucre I tell her.  It's a long story so I'll just tell you the magical bit.

I have no intention of telling her the whole scam story, but it ends in the police station with me looking at 101 photos - on a computer- of female Bolivian criminals. Grim. Heart wrenchingly grim.

So, I'm in the police station with young Jorge, the owner of the hostal where I'm staying. He's more or less insisted I report the scam.

I view the photos- I can't identify my woman- she had two scars above her lip. Oh very bad sign says Ivan when I tell him the story . I can't identify the man either, the' illiterate campesino' (countryman) who allegedly had just won the lottery and needed help to collect his 500.000 Boliviano fortune !!

So no identification, but never mind, we now have to make the denuncia, that's the statement about the crime.

You wouldn't think magic could happen in such a depressing, filthy, dark, dank smelly place, but it did.

Jorge and I find our way to the office where the statements are made. It's in a kind of large stark garage basement.

Outside the open door a strong smell of urine awaits us. The forty something year old dark haired, smartly dressed secretary, sitting behind a computer, is in a foul mood- possibly menopausal?

She certainly doesn't like foreigners, so thank God Jorge is with me. I whisper to him can he please just give her the bare bones of the story, I just want the piece of paper for my insurance claim. We sit down.

Jorge agrees. He's an actor when not running the hostal. He smiles alot.

Jorge gives her 'the bare bones' and she begins to write with a pencil. He misses out chunks of the story , but no pasenada, I only want the document, I don't want the police to go looking for the robbers, fat chance they would anyway.

The secretary - who is wearing a tight scarlet jersey under a dark austere jacket -stops writing. I notice she wears thigh clinging blue jeans and high healed black shoes. She is now obliged to speak directly to me.

'Name,' she growls with minimal eye contact.


'Ah, well,' Jorge's hostal I say, and give the details. She really hates foreigners.

Civil status ? Now officials always ask this in South America and I'm not sure why. Married, divorced, widowed, single? I could make a joke and say all four ! Better not.

'Estoy felizmente divorciada'

I tell her.

A grin transforms her whole face and then she starts to laugh.

She can't stop laughing. I laugh, she laughs, we laugh together and all her barriers come crashing down. We are two women on either sides of a table and in a split second we become friends.

Oh God, I didn't mean it to be that funny, I was just saying the truth.  ' I am happily divorced.'

In a catholic country where divorce is.. what, very, very rare, she thinks this is hilarious.

 'Felizmente divorciada jajajajajaja !'   She's on a roll.

'Come back tomorrow, no, come back on Wednesday for the document,' she says, 'I'll be working on Wednesday .'

That morning I had learned from my Spanish teacher that if you say to somebody, ' estoy divorciada,' as opposed to saying 'soy divorciada,' it means you could be looking for another Mr Right.

I guess this is what's cracked her up. She wasn't expecting a dumb foreigner to be witty or God forbid, coquettish in the police station.

Lucy, the ill accountant from London smiles feebly. By the end of the story she's lying horizontal on the wooden kitchen bench. She's really not well. Two days later she seems fine and asks Peiter to book her a flight to the jungle !

I don't know how I would have survived without you she said as a parting shot. But I didn't do anything except ask her how she was, repeatedly, and tell her stories.

Other unforgettable moments...

This one needs a little back story.

Santa Cruz.

The day before leaving Santa Cruz for Samaipata Organic Herb Farm, Claudio suggest meeting again in the evening. I'm tired and still stressed after the money changer incident, and I've had a bizarre day. Life in Mala Suerte Hostal isn't relaxing, I'm not in the mood for going out, but I agree.

Earlier in the day I got seriously lost. I've occasionally got lost in my car, but never on foot. Santa Cruz is a vast, rapidly expanding city built in rings. My friend Claudio lives in, I think, ring 13. My hotel is in ring 1, city centre.

I know I have a good sense of direction, but today it malfunctioned! I set off to return to the art shop where I'd bought my paints yesterday. I needed to change them for bigger ones.

Finding the shop the first time was a challenge, but I made it a project, so all was OK until...

all of a sudden - and without noticing- I seemed to have left lost the city centre. Where did it go ?

I found myself walking deeper and deeper into a jungle of hanging Indian skirts, swaths of billowing cloths, every electrical device imaginable, mounds of bananas, waist high baskets overflowing with sweet breads and cheesy empenadas. The noise was disorientating, , foreign, and constant. Bodies buffered me. People roughly brushed my shoulders. I griped my backpack tightly. The market stalls were so close together I couldn't see any sign of the road. Like a fly in a spiders web, for a moment it seemed like I'd been sucked into a place of no escape.

I began to feel uncomfortable, slightly anxious, and defeated. Think I'll call it a day I decided. As soon as I felt these feelings, to my astonishment, there I was right outside the shop !

Honestly, this is true. The rain poured down so after buying my paints, I hopped into a taxi.

This morning I thought it would be easy to find the shop a second time. Wrong. It was worse. Once again, at the point of deciding to give up, there I was again, right opposite the shop.

It was in retracing my steps back to my Hotel that I got completely lost. Yes I could have hopped a taxi again, but I was convinced I was 'almost there.'

I walked in the wrong direction for over two hours. Finally I sank onto a stone wall and ate a small comforting bar of chocolate with raisins. It was mid day and sticky, sweaty hot. I drank half a litre of water. On the wall on the other side of the road was written in Spanish:

'Come unto me all you who are weary and I will give you rest!'

That's when I got my sense of humour back.

Back story over.

So, that evening I could easily have said to Claudio...

'I'm tired, I've walked enough today, let's just go to the cafe in the plaza and have a drink. '

He had another idea.

'It's 7 blocks from here,' he said,' it's a lagoon, very nice.'

Claudio agrees to us taking a taxi. Phew.

The lagoon used to be a natural small lake, now it's a large concreted pond with a small fountain. There used to be paddle boats here Claudio says proudly. My first impression makes me think I'm in Russia. Stark. Unadorned. No plants or statues. I try to imagine Claudio as a child in a paddle boat, but no, he grew up in La Paz, until his parents died.

My legs are screaming to sit down, but all the benches are taken by young lovers. Finally we find one with just a single man wearing earphones . He is deeply engaged with his Iphone. Claudio asks him politely of we may share his bench.

The evening is balmy. The stars are bright. Street vendors amble past selling ice cream and sweets. Everybody else seems to be under 20, except Claudio who is 39. Some couples sit with their legs dangling in the water.

I ask Claudio how the plans for the library bus are going. An Danish organisation have given him a wreck of a bus to help him with the work he's already doing with street kids.

He starts to share his dreams for the 'Bibliobus.'

Some artist friends will paint the outside. They'll create a magical character with a magical name... your Father Christmas only comes one day a year Claudio says.. our character will come in his bus often, to different barrios . The kids will look forward to Don Spit-In Your Face coming, or whatever they decide to call him. And we can dress up, and bring dressing up clothes, and masks, and face paints, and everybody can create magical stories with the benevolent and funny Don Spit In Your Face at the centre of it all.

The bus is already kitted out as a library. With some hard work and some cash it will be on the road again soon, maybe next weekend. The roof leaks and the books are damp- but Claudio's not daunted. He even has plans for bigger buses, in which he will take tourists on alternative city tours. The buses will have a little organic cafe on board and will sell local crafts, handmade books etc etc. They will have musicians and poets performing (on board) as they circle the rings of the city, maybe they'll ending up at the butterfly farm.

Claudio is an actor and an ex street kid himself. Fifteen years ago God found him, or rather they found each other while Claudio was living in a cardboard box in a wood in Santa Cruz. He now has a degree in Drama and two daughters. He runs a successful arts space for kids in a slum district of the city. If ever there was a phoenix risen from the ashes of a life, it's Claudio.

The first thing Claudio needs to do is get a licence to drive the bus. This is almost complete.

I'm impressed. Deeply and wholeheartedly.

I'm not sure why but I tell him about the secretary in the police station. I tell him how my life is full of magical moments with people, and that's what makes my heart sing. We speak in Spanish. Me cuesta un poco, ( it's a stretch sometimes) so I keep my stories poetically short.

We leave the lagoon and the man with his Iphone stays. He's in his own world. I hope he finds a girl friend soon, or maybe he's texting her and I've got the wrong end of the stick .

There's a great bar near here Claudio tells me. I nod.

Away from the concrete lagoon, Santa Cruz street nightlife is revving up. Five minutes later we arrive at the bar. It's a student hang out named after some hallucinogenic plant, Claudio tells me laughing!

We sit outside on chairs on the uneven pavement . Inside is where the anarchists meet my young friend informs me, he's still grinning. Hash cakes coming up I wonder ?

Claudio orders two beers. It's the best beer I've ever tasted, cool, refreshing, and it comes in a very large bottle. Our conversation gets animated. The two small pizzas finally arrived. They are crispy delicious and their cheesy-herbie smell is unforgettable. We're sitting beside a narrow busy road with clunky rickety buses coming right towards me with their blinding headlights full on. Everything has a feel of the surreal tonight.

Claudio refers a few times to my magical moment with the secretary. It's hit a nerve with him. He tells me it's all about creating magic with the kids he works with. Magic will get them to come back, magic will get them interested in reading books, taking part in drama, in dance, in painting, in enlarging their horizons.

Back at my hostal Claudio offers to come with me tomorrow morning to find the bus to Samaipata.

I'm grateful. I'm tired, but I'm feeling 100% alive.

'Friendship is always an act of  magical recognition.'

This is my version of what Irish poet and John O' Donohue said.  I've added to word magical.

Here's the full quote:

'Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition... in the moment of friendship, two souls suddenly recognise each other. It could be a meeting on the street, or at a party or a lecture, or just a simple, banal introduction, then suddenly there is the flash of recognition and the embers of kinship grow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing.'

Thank you Jorge,  gracias our lady in the police station, and mil gracias quierdo Claudio.

A final PS.
On my last night in Santa Cruz, Claudio and America  arrived at my 'new' hostal, Hostal Buena Suerte - Hotal Milan- same street as the hostal infierno.
Let's go said Claudio.  America was already sampling the jar or blackberry jam I'd brought her from Samipata. In the street, in the pouring rain, bedside the cathedral, sat the wondrous Bibliobus. There followed an unforgettable three hours, which I will share with you in the next blog!!



Friday, 15 March 2013

Hmmmm. Santa Cruz for the second time!

Sticky hot. Glad I bought extra mozzie repellent.

My 1970's hotel needs to be re named I think. I stayed here last year for one night. The tiny 84 year old lady owner who shuffled across the dining room to switch on the computer for me was super friendly, and I liked the central open space filled with mature pot plants. However, this visit, a more appropriate name would be Hotel Mala Suerte (Hotel Bad Luck).

Returning at about 8.30 pm from having a fun time with my young friends Claudio and America, I hear a woman's hysterical screams coming from the first floor.

The hotel layout resembles a prison. It transpires the woman has ( also) been caught in a scam. Fake police in the street have robbed her of all her money ( 1400$), her credit cards, her passport, her partners passport. She is about twenty years old an on honeymoon.

The next day a group of teenage Brazilian girls arrive and seem to spend most of their days in the hotel shouting at each other. Mala suerte for me, except the ancient air con blots out most of the noise. The hotel is smack in the centre of Santa Cruz. I thought I'd experience more of Bolivian life if I stayed here than in the beautiful Casapatio sanctuary. Talk about getting what you asked for !

Hugo Chevaz has died. The news is everywhere in the city. A week later I read the Bolivians, and the Russians believe he's been poisoned by the CIA.

Many friends are posting his photo on FB. I read about his life on Wikipedia. I cry. I can't explain why. Maybe it's the music on Spotify- Hymns Without Words. Maybe it's because two friends also have cancer.

On the Internet I find a photo of three red candles. The image won't attach itself to my Facebook page. Ok I say. This will be a private goodbye Señor Chevaz. Whatever you did or didn't do with your gifts and your power, it's all over now.

The crimson candles also symbolise a private moment of love for two special friends, and a connecting and an empathy for all who are bravely and not bravely living the cancer journey.

I'm in the cathedral in Santa Cruz Bolivia, it's about 3.30. It's a month since I was here when Carnival and paint throwing were in full swing.

I'm not a follower of any one religion but I do hunger for sacred spaces when I travel, especially when I have moments of insight, upset, or anger. Anger is an emotion I rarely feel.

In the lofty cathedral I say the lords prayer in Spanish then watch people touch a huge painting of Mary. Next, without exception, looking up into her face, the devout press their thumb and forefinger to their mouth in a kissing gesture. I know this gesture. But what does it really mean? The woman in front of me finishes her prayers. Now she's adjusting her makeup.

Kiss or no kiss, I'm here to have a little chat with God.

I talk to Him-Her-It first thing in the morning and last thing at night, always. Usually it's just an outpouring of gratitude. Today it is different. My anger is as ugly.

Twenty minutes earlier, a money changer on the street in the main square cheats me. Part of my anger is directed towards myself. Why didn't I go to a proper money changing office ?

In my bedroom at the ill fated Hostal Mala Suerte I discover I've been shortchanged. I decide to go back and confront the ba...ard. I'm in a very unfamiliar state of wanting to do damage to another human being and I'm deeply shocked at my reaction!

I decide to tell him if he doesn't give me my 200 Bolivianos ( 20 GBP) I will go to the police.

I remind myself to take the emotion out of the situation and just deal with the facts. Everything then becomes so much more manageable.

Amazing how quickly we can forget our own best advice !

Crossing the main sun filled historic plaza I'm surprised to see three young policemen doing nothing in particular.

I tell them I have a little problem and ask can they help me?

One decides to help me.

We walk towards the money changer. On his 'patch', with his back to me, he looks busy.

'It's him.' I say to the policeboy. 'The guy with the white shirt.'

I'm concerned he will scarper if he sees me with a policeman, but no. The twenty year old policeman keeps a calculated distance.

I tell the middle aged dark skinned man he has cheated me and I want my 200 Boliviano's back.

Without any fuss he gives it to me. I'm ready to use all the Spanish expletives I know, but I don't have to. I look into the bland face of a man of Afro Bolivian origin.There is no expression at all. Maybe he never knew the love of a kind mother.

I can hardly believe it. He gave me my money!

So in the cathedral I need to be with God-Goddess- All That Is.

I need to get this experience into perspective. My anger was more horrible than the theft. The gratitude to the young policemen disappears in seconds. How can this be ?

So Señor, I am right of of balance. Please help.

Where did those vile thoughts come from, where did that gratitude disappear to. What's happened to my compassion, my driving force, my default setting?

Yes I know this is the second time I've been robbed this trip.

Every cell in my body is pining to be in the country, eating healthy, simple food, communing with nature. I feel like I've been stoned ( as in having stones thrown at me, not the other) by city energy, negative energy, fear information, high altitude, too much noise, too many people.

I know dear reader I said I'd tell you about the first robbery, the Scam. I will, I promise. Please bear with me. It's a great story, so cleverly choreographed in every detail, and funny with hindsight, ohhhhhhhhh you will laugh too!!

But first let me get used to Heaven in Samaipta, 2 and a half hours from Santa CRuz. After a hair raising journey here, all is calm, all is well, all is quiet, all is natural. All will come into focus.

Six days after arriving I feel wonderful. Tomorrow I'm going to explore a remote village where an old woman weaves in a stone house. I've been advised by Dutch Pieter, the Caretaker of Heaven, to take her some food.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Not quite here!

Day 3. Santa Cruz.

There are lots of changes to adjust to here in multicoloured Bolivia. The biggest change is that I'm not starting the journey in Peru as I always do. I find myself lying low and sleeping masses. It feels a bit like I've slept though the first ten minutes of a special movie. I've missed exciting Lima. Time in Lima gives me the opportunity to slip right into my South American Self. Arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia - in the beginning of the annual four day Carnival - has been wild.

In the streets thousands of men women and children are either dancing, eating, or throwing water and paint at each other! Everybody is soaked to the skin and covered in paint.

A great deal of alcohol ensures that folk will really let their hair down. Speaking of which, many people are wearing wigs. Some are spiked or curly, some long and or wavy. Scarlet , purple and fluorescent green are the most popular colours.Hundreds of city center shops, cafes, and restaurants are hidden behind heavy duty blue tarpaulins. Meters of black plastic cover windows. The main plaza is barricaded. It's off limits. Taxi's and buses are smeared with mud to protect them from permanent paint damage. It's sticky swealtry hot. Carnival lasts four days in every city in Bolivia. There are bands and groups of dancers all over the country dancing and drinking their way though four nights of fiesta, as they have done for generations.

I watch agog from my bedside on the local TV channel.

On my third day, I venture into the market. With the help my young friends- father and daughter- Claudio and Amerika, I buy a cheapie mobile. The purchase is complicated. However, the fruit juices on sale everywhere are exotic, delicious, thirst quenching, and comforting. It's a question of registering the mobile Claudio tells me. Ten days later the phone appears to be blocked and unfixable !

After the phone purchase (12$), Amerika helps me buy earphones so I can listen to Spotify on my small netbook. Spotify has added a new element of joy to my life, so long as I can get on line, which is tricky in many parts of Bolivia. Are they Chinese 16 year old Amerika asks each seller of earphones. She doesn't want me to have Chinese earphones. Not good she says.

Outside the market, purchases tightly in hand, the vibrant dance of street life with eye catching clusters of strange things for sale everywhere is exhilarating. There's constant noise and movement and children and adults everywhere are ambushing each other with huge water pistols loaded with paint.

Outside the safe little world of Casa Patio Hotel with its five art filled bedrooms and lush tropical garden...I feel a stranger to myself. In six weeks when I return, I know I will feel different.

Little do I know at this stage of the journey that on day 14, I will have a three hour encounter with two clever Bolivian scam artists, a 'campesino' and a 'housewife,' and end up in the police station looking at 101 mug shots !

Day 5. La Paz.

Immediately you step off the plane in El Alto the altitude hits you.

Wallop in most cases.

I feel my legs aging years with every meter I walk.

My new small brown suitcase - called Shamus3-, doesn't appear on the carousel.

Hmm I think. What now?

My brain tries to crank into gear and fails. Everybody leaves the bag collection area. Still no Shamus. When he finally arrives, it doesn't occur to me to cheque the padlock. A few hours later I notice the padlock has been removed.

Luckily there is nothing inside of any value. Altitude sickness is a mystery. My brain feels drugged. I feel the opposite of alert. My body has arrived in South America but the rest of me is extremely arriving slowly.

Luckily, the lovely airport angels are obviously still with me. And there's a new angel called Hilda about to appear!

Obrajes, La Paz.

I have to admit to feeling completely daunted at the prospect of finding where I'm going to stay in La Paz. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack. This is a vast city and it's Carnival here too.

I've been given a complicated address and have written it clearly on two scraps of paper. It's always a good idea to have two of everything when travleing in Bolivia. I also have 3 phone numbers.

The house belongs to a relation -my age- of a new Facebook friend. They have a Swiss sounding surname. This will be my first experince of AirB&B. I'm looking forward to it.

The taxi driver transpires to be part of the Bolivian Angel Brigade. He makes it his super- important job for the day to find 'my' house.

Finally, after a wait of some minutes ,the solid wooden garden door to a three story architect deisgned 1970's (?) Tyrolean looking house is opened by Hilda, accompanied by a little dog with protruding teeth.

'Ahhh' she says with a slow smile on a face that could be 15 or 45...' you are the person whose going to lodge here ?' And there begins a sweet connection

Day 6. First meeting with the inspirational Ivan. Alitude sickness kicking in.

Day 7. Meeting with Barbara who created the little school in the men's prison in La Paz. We meet in ' my house' in Obrajes. Barbara is one in a million without a shadow of a doubt.

Hilda brings us tea.

Barbara tells me how she came to work in prisons. How she works half the year in the prison and the other half in Italy.

What do you do there I asked her.

She tells me she works in travel agency, and with this money she supports herself in Bolivia for the rest of the year. Her back hurts. I give her money for a series of massages. She is very loath to accept it. I give her the 100 euros a very kind person at home gave me before I left to give to whomever I felt needed it. Use this for the children I suggested. I'll buy paint with it for them she said, it's just what we need at the moment.

After meeting Barbara, I decide I have to leave La Paz for a lower altitude. The Universe conspires to help me and I fly into Sucre the two days later. Two days earlier than planned.

The cost to change the flight is 3 euros.

On arrival, I find myself immediately in another world. Two days of bliss follow as I bask in the comfort of my 'treat' hotel.

I am now five days away from the robbery. Little do I know how much my Spanish is about to be streeeeeeeeeeetched!