Luke Melia


June 11, 2002

6/11/02, 12:37 am

Ah, back in New York. I love it here. Coming home from a developing is a great way to cultivate extreme appreciation. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of blogging, get my trip photos up, etc…. but not quite yet. For now, here’s a mail I sent out to friends and family about the first portion of my trip:

Humbled in Bolivia

Greetings from Cusco, Peru. Iīm off to Machu Picchu tomorrow, but thought Iīd take a few minutes to jot down some thoughts from my time in Bolivia…

We flew into La Paz and were greeted in the small airport by my sister Jessicaīs shining face. It seems that the months living and studying in Bolivia have been very good to her. She wore a brilliant turquoise sweater made of alpaca wool. Alpaca is a funny-looking (to me) llama-cousin prevalent in these parts.

Within a few minutes, I was feeling very out of sorts. Iīd had a few warnings about the effects of flying into the high altitudes here, but with typical 20-something-male perspective, I never figured, it would apply to me. It took me several days to feel normal. Hills and stairs left me unnervingly breathless…

And thatīs unfortunate for a traveler in La Paz, because the city is as full of hills as San Francisco. Charming colonial squares and big cathedrals, and locals who took the hills up and down at a pace that made my lungs and head hurt even more to watch.

The poor of La Paz live mostly in el alto, above the city. The socioeconomic breakdown means that those poor are mostly of an indigenous group called the Aymara. The dress of the Aymara women is wild — flat dress shoes, big wide skirts, brightly-colored textiles that carry babies or goods on their back, and topped off by a bowler hat. The origins of this outfit have something to do with the Spanish, but I havenīt figured out exactly what.

Close to the Peru border, a town called Copacabana was my jumping off point for La Isla del Sol, and island in Lake Titicaca where itīs said that the sun was born. On a day my body granted me respite from altitude confusion, we took a boat-ride to the island and hiked around for a while.

The ruins there are interesting and the scenery striking. Around one turn of the trail, I looked over my shoulder to see nearly tropical blues and greens lapping gently against the islandīs shore, and my frame of vision was topped by the snow-capped Andes mountains above. It reminded me a bit of trekking in Nepal, where the Himalayas are ever-present.

The natural scenery left my mind though, when I stepped into a circle of earth defined by aged and mostly buried bricks. Within the circle was 8 or 9 small white stones arranged in a smaller circle around a large white rectangular dais. Our guidebook passed us rumors that the spot was used in Incan days for animal, or perhaps human sacrifice. The space overlooking the huge lake, gave me shivers…

Speaking of human sacrifice, Iīm on this trip with my family… Seriously, though, itīs wonderful to be away from everything and together with my mom, my brother and my sister. A family friend of ours that lived with us when I was three years old is along as well, so weīve filled the restaurants and hostels of Bolivia as much with reminiscing and laughter as we have with travel plans and reflections.

Itīs a pretty different experience for me, as Iīm used to being on the road with one other person max. Once I let it be its own experience, itīs a perfect one, and a milestone in my the relationships between my mom and her eldest kids.

As I was humbled by the altitude and beauty of Bolivia, Iīm been amazed by Peruīs differences and culture. More to come from here in a few days.

I imagined Iīd be signing off “adios,” but in Bolivia everyone says “chau,” so…

Chau from South America,

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