Moving, United States

Digging In

Transition is an amazing thing. An amazing, exhausting, thing. It isn’t a hibernation. It isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. You don’t go into a cocoon and emerge beautiful, powerful, and able to fly. It is a piece-meal business, changing your life. It happens bit by bit, in unnoticeable ways. You dig in. That’s it. You just dig in.

Right now, for me, digging in means settling in. It is the exact opposite, and yet very similar to, digging into traveling. Rather than finding my rhythm in movement and planning, I’m finding rhythm in planning stillness. I’m looking for a home, and a job, and a routine. I speak the national language in Los Angeles (sort of), but it is just as new to me as a foreign country, and even small things are as big an adventure as they would be in a foreign place. And they involve a big adventure’s worth of energy. To buy yogurt and apples, there are ten decisions to be made: grocery store or farmers market? Which grocery? Which farmers’ market? How do I get there? Where do I park? What city am I in and what is their policy on grocery store bags? You make the same exhausting mistakes you may make on a foreign adventure, like accidentally going to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. If you’ve seen the Whole Foods Parking Lot video you know what I’m saying. I’m not saying I did this…just….it would be a mistake.  So is buying frozen food on the night of the Hero 6 premier if you happen to live two blocks from the Chinese Theater. I find myself watching an inordinate amount of television and it bores me, and then I realize I need boredom, since I can’t even drive to a grocery store without gps assistance. Boredom can be bliss when newness is exhausting.

I quickly learned to use Waze instead of the map on my iphone. It’s a cross between the blessing of crowdsourcing at its most amazing and a horrendously distracting video game played while driving. I’ve learned that a Prius can take up two lanes, just like a dually, despite also being able to drive underneath one. I’ve felt compassion for people spending money on Panameras, because good god where can you drive that thing the way it’s meant to be driven in a place where traffic never goes more than 65 miles per hour? I’ve absorbed that driving rhythm in LA is: fast as you can (50-60) on a surface street, slower than molasses on the highway. I’ve learned just how long it can take to go 2.1 miles. And I’m disturbed, but not deterred.

Apartment hunting in Los Angeles is like apartment hunting in San Francisco in the mid 90’s. Every place I go has eight people lined up waiting to view it. Spanky being over 15 pounds greatly reduces one’s housing opportunities. I’m glad I started looking at options online in August, because I had two months to train myself not to throw up on the spot when someone tells me a small one-bedroom with no laundry, parking, or upgrades, but in a great neighborhood, goes for over $2000/month. And I’m thankful for all my presentation skills from business school (and for that one a-hole professor who liked to interrupt up in my face with questions during presentations) because I talk a great game around not having a job, yet still feeling sure I can pay rent for the next 12  months.

After showing up 20 minutes early to every apartment in which I was interested and sitting on the stoop, bank statements in hand, I found one by lucking out. I called about an apartment that of course had been rented the prior day, but discovered that its identical twin had just notified the landlord of a January vacation. The owner (who told me he probably liked me better for having quit my job to travel, than asked me what my sign was and was relieved to hear I was a Pisces, because none of his crazy renters had ever been Pisces) approved me for a preview showing, and I took it on the spot. It’s in a quiet neighborhood where I’ve been warned against going to Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon because the Hasidim are packing it full in preparation for Shabbat, and I can walk less than a mile to a great segment of Melrose, or to some decent bars on Highland. I get keys on the 8th, right after returning from purging my storage unit and turning my remaining belongings over to a mover.

 

Anybody need a chaise?

Anybody need a chaise?

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it's not to scale.

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it’s not to scale.

 

The weight that comes off from knowing I have a home is amazing. I’m light as air. It gives me energy to rework my resume and find an internship, where, because it’s California, they insist on paying me minimum wage so they don’t get sued over my slave labor. I was concerned this would hurt any unemployment I would potentially take in the near future, until I remembered that I haven’t had a job in 18 months, so my unemployment check would have been $0. Minimum wage is a step up.

The internship is with the production company for an awards show. I will keep my lips sealed on any luscious details except to say that a 9:30 start time, two kitchens stocked with everything from fruit to candy, and a bathroom so pristine that more than once I’ve been the first person to use it in a day are a far cry from my former (and likely future) life.

Here’s a visual aid of what I’m up to for the next couple months. Details to follow as life gets interesting, and my address gets permanent.

oscar

 

 

 

Goodbye

When Gratitude Is Not Enough

This is Spanky.

He’s my dog. I wasn’t a dog person growing up; in fact, I was terrified of them. But one by one, a select few canines nuzzled their ways into my heart, until at last this girl took me past the point of no return:

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This is Bree. She belongs to my brother in law, and now my sister, who says Bree is 50% of the reason she dated her husband to begin with. Bree is exceptionally well-behaved and gentle, and she has that rabbit-like fur of an Aussie, which she is. She sets the bar unbelievably high for anybody looking for her own dog. Six years ago, after yet another vacation from which I returned home to Texas missing Bree, I finally realized it was at last time for me to find my own dog. Also, it seemed like a smart thing to do after three or four break-ins.
Finding a dog is a difficult task, because the dog you play with on short visits isn’t always the dog you live with after a year. I knew I didn’t want a puppy. I knew I didn’t want a lap dog. I wanted a dog to walk with, hike with, and occasionally cuddle. So after following a street dog with no training and apparently no hearing from the pound to the SPCA, I realized that was more than I could take on, and, based on an online picture on Petfinders.com, asked to visit with Spanky.

Spanky jumped on me the minute I took him out to the pen. I don’t like jumping dogs, but his jump was filled with love. It was more like a stand-up-and-hug. He licked me, which I also don’t like, but again, it was more of a ‘thank you for taking me out for a bit’ appreciation lick. And then, like a sweet crazy puppy, despite being over a year old, he ran crazy lengths of the pen, keeping pace with the lab in the pen next door. He was so thoroughly engrossed in his pace that he ran smack into a pole with the side of his head, and fell down dazed. WHAT WAS NOT TO LOVE?!?!?!

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Mange, heartworm, giardia and hookworm. The fact that he followed me everywhere, including into the bathroom. Getting up at 5:30 to make sure he got enough good exercise before I went to work. I was terrified. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. Do you know how long dogs live? A REALLY LONG TIME. Thank god Bree’s mom told me to give it at least a month or two. By month three, I was in love with him. I took him to training (to train me). I took him to bars with decks, where he would tactically lied anywhere a waitress would have to pet him to pass. I took him to the dog park, where I learned why people laughed when I said I wasn’t planning on changing his name. (If you don’t get it, go to a public place, and yell, “Spanky,” to something 50 yards away.)

Fast forward five or six years, and here I am planning to travel around the world. It’s easy to figure out where to store your stuff while you explore other continents. It’s easy to map an itinerary (especially when you aren’t big on planning, so your ‘itinerary’ is really “let me pick some countries and figure the rest out later).” It’s not that difficult to figure out where to store your car. But finding someone you trust to watch your dog is no small task.

And this is where the saint enters. Here is the saint; we’ll call her Santa Barbara, with Spanky:

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Now, I’ve been sharing only the good parts of Spanky. The bad parts, I created. Somewhere in the process of quitting my job, giving up my paycheck, putting everything I own in storage, and hitting the road, I became anxious. Spanky picked up on this, and decided (chow/German Shepherd mix that he is) that he would now be the alpha. He absorbed my anxiety, and to defend us both, became inexplicably aggressive at odd moments. The dog who used to follow toddlers around licking crumbs from their sticky palms would now nip random people who were kind enough to hold open a door for us. In Oregon, where one is not allowed to pump one’s own gas, I had to exit the car to give the poor station attendant instructions and my credit card, less he lose a hand by putting it through the car window.

The more aggressive Spanky became, the more nervous I got, and the more nervous I got, the more aggressive Spanky became. To make matters worse, two different, seemingly fool-proof plans for dog care during my trip had fallen through. I couldn’t buy a plane ticket until I knew where my dog was to be housed, and my options were running low. A fantastically brave and generous friend in Denver offered to give it a try. I assured her that his behavior was actually much better in my absence, and added in extra funding for a trainer, which I researched before bringing him to town. And then I left.

I left with a flood of relief. Spanky wasn’t relieved, though, he was abandoned, which didn’t do much for his behavior. Turns out he didn’t like kids running around, and my friend and her husband have two of them, and they have friends, as all kids should. So my friend, we’ll call her Santa Menor, came up with the brilliant idea of taking Spanky to stay with her mother in Alabama. Her mother had lost a dog six months earlier, and wasn’t fully ready to commit to another dog of her own. But a foster suited her just fine. So Santa Menor put Spanky in the car and drove from Denver to Huntsville, Alabama, to deliver him to his new home.

I know, right?! I have the most amazing friends.

Santa Barbara was just what Spanky needed. She was firm with him. She acknowledged his fear, but didn’t give in to the poor behavior it produced. She gave him boundaries, and she gave him love. She gave him what every dog needs, what I had given him for the first four years of our time together, and then allowed to slowly dissolve: she gave him an alpha. She re-trained him to be a dog with an owner, not a dog fending for his person. And then she moved him to Denver. What dog wouldn’t love that? (And let’s be honest: what dog’s person wouldn’t love not having to drive the extra two days to Alabama to re-claim her pup?)

Spanky hiking with Santa Barbara's son

Spanky hiking with Santa Barbara’s son

Last week, after a year of separation, I went to Denver to get my dog. I knew he would remember me, because dogs don’t forget a smell. But I wasn’t sure he would remember me happily, so I prepared myself for the worst. I prepared myself to leave Spanky with Santa Barbara if that was better for him.

As I approached the door, he growled at me.

“Hi, Bubba,” I said, softly, using the pet name I had given him about five minutes after we came home for the first time.

He growled once more.

“It’s me, Bear.” Because why should a pet have only one pet name?

He cocked his head to the side as Santa Barbara unlocked the security door and let me in. I stood still, and took a long, deep breath. “Hi, Bubba,” I said again, kneeling down in front of him.

And then he got it. He knew me. His tail started wagging and he rubbed his very furry body against my legs, coating my black pants in his sweet tan hair. He nuzzled his nose between my legs and tried to crawl under them, even though I was kneeling. His attempt to shove his entire body into a place where there is no space ended with him body-flopping onto the floor, then rolling over so I could scratch his tummy.

Before this moment, I had never met Santa Barbara. She had had my dog for a year, loving him, training him, walking him, picking up his poop and taking him to the vet to update his shots, and I had never met her. So I got up to give her a hug and say hello, and Spanky looked up at us, and you could tell he felt slightly guilty. We moved into the living room and sat on the couch, and he went back and forth between me and the Saint, until he managed to wedge himself so that she had one end of him and I had the other, positioned perfectly for scratching.

Things went on like this for a couple of days, Spanky happy to see me, then even happier to return to his other person and get snuggled. He gleefully followed her into her room and onto her bed at night, but would be waiting for me at the top of the stairs when I came from the basement guest room in the morning.

I took him on a long walk the first morning, then left for most of the day. When I returned, he was surprised to see me all over again, and repeated his routine of passing between Santa Barbara and I, maximizing his petting opportunities. On the second day, I took him on half as long a walk, to the same groomer where I had dropped him off a year earlier and not returned. He was understandably over-excited when I showed up three hours later to get him, and only slightly confused when I put him into a car he hadn’t seen in over a year to drive him home. On morning three, I went to spin class. I would leave his exercising to Santa Barbara, because today would be the last time she would walk him.

When I returned from spin, I began to load the car. Spanky never likes this activity. He is sure that something is happening and he will be left behind. Here he is the second year I had him, when I packed the car to drive us both up to Washington State, and he got in it more than an hour before we were to leave, and refused to get out, despite the fact that the car wasn’t fully packed, I wasn’t in it, and it was almost 100 degrees out. He isn’t always the most astute dog, but he is far from dumb.

spanky car backseat

Santa Barbara took him to the dog park while I finished packing up and took a shower. When they returned, there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. And say thank you again, knowing it would never be enough. What do you say, what do you do, when basic declarations of gratitude are not enough? I could buy Santa Barbara dinner for a year, a five star vacation, a personal masseur, and none of these things would aptly express how grateful I am for what she gave me – the freedom to see the world because I knew Spanky was in good hands – and what she gave Spanky – his freedom to once again, just be a cool little dude of a dog. So Santa Barbara, this post’s for you. Because when gratitude is not enough, all that is left is blog.

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Life Skills

Go Fly a Kite

For weeks, I’ve been longing to just do nothing. Many of you think that’s what I’ve been doing for a year, but I believe a scroll through the blog section of my site will disabuse you of that notion. Despite returning to the states, I’m still moving around, and I’m doing it less efficiently than before.

Before, it was me, a big pack, and a day pack. I was a well-oiled traveling machine. These days, it’s me, a little duffle of clothes, a computer bag, a duffel of ‘stuff,’ and the random accoutrement that collects in my car – hiking boots, bathing suit, towel, dog blanket (despite having yet to be reunited with dog), extra quart of oil.  Where before I was home-free, I’m now homeless, carting belongings around the northwest, losing bits by the wayside as I go.

My insides reflect that scattered-belonging appearance. The months I traveled, I experienced everything from the here and the now. I may have been planning the next place, but I did it from a very conscious present. From a courtyard in Bogota, I purchased a plane ticket to Santa Marta, a bus ticket to Cartagena, a plane trip to Bolivia. From a beer garden in Saigon, I reserved hotel rooms in Jordan, sending the details to a friend in Denver. The courtyard was bound in magenta bougainvillea, and the beer garden hosted a Vietnamese singer covering American classic rock. I may have been addressing the logistics of another place and time, but I was doing it from a very present self. A very centered one. It was invigorating.

Now, I am anxious and scattered. I think I am done traveling, but I’ve continued to move. I’ve slept in ten different places since returning from Spain at the end of June. I rotate between a few, on a schedule set usually a week (or less) in advance. While on this merry-go-round of homestays, I’m masterminding where I’ll settle, what I’ll do for work when I get there, whether it’s the right thing to do. I fall asleep fitfully, rearranging schedules and geographies in my head (usually in favor of the calendar with the shortest amount of time between me and a reunion with the dog). I worry I’ve over-stayed my welcome at one place, and another, and another. When daylight meets my open eyes, I make lists of tasks to complete in hopes of wrangling in my wild and blurry future. I’m tired in a place that coffee never touches and sleep never rests.

But this month, I’m on Orcas. A month of doing nothing. Doing nothing is rarely, actually, nothing.  In fact, it’s one of the hardest tasks to accomplish. If you don’t believe me, try it. Put whatever you’re reading this on down, and take deep slow breaths for three full minutes.

Felt like an eternity, didn’t it? Like emptying your mind so you can meditate, doing nothing is actually very, very difficult. So I will work my way there. I started this afternoon by flying a kite in wind that blew up off the ocean. While lying in the grass looking up at it, I noticed the apple tree is in fervent production mode, so I took a picture. Tomorrow I may pick some and make applesauce. IMG_3052

My nothing won’t come all at once. It’s going to come after a couple hikes, the books I checked out of the library today, some kite-flying and some deep, deep breaths. When it comes, as it comes, though, my nothing will be full of wonder, and focus, and rejuvenation. It will be full of vivid, short, present moments that will last an eternity.

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Africa, Tourist, Traveling

In Love For All the Wrong Reasons

It is possible that no one has ever landed in Kenya as completely ignorant as I. I had a reservation for one night in Nairobi, a vague idea of what a taxi should cost to get to the hotel, and a plane ticket to Mombasa the next day. I met my original Travel Companion (you may have read about TC here) for the Mombasa flight; once we landed, I threw myself at the mercy of a local.  And I loved it.

Here are the right reasons to love Kenya:

The water – even from the faucet – is salty and reminds you of earth. The earth is red and rich and reminds you of life blood. The ocean is vital and as vibrant as the birds, which are colorful and loud.

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Everyone greets you with, “jambo,” and though it feels touristy, you say it back. They greet one another with “mambo,” a handshake and words to catch up. Rules are made on the spot. Once, they were written, by someone, somewhere, who has no bearing on the situation you may be in, and so there is improvisation. You are patient. You move slowly. You work it out. You finish with ‘sawa, sawa,’ and then you move on. It is the interaction that is the rule, not the rule itself.

Get in a fender bender, and you'll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next...

Get in a fender bender, and you’ll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next…

The air is hot and carries the smell of burning rubbish. But it is moist, and turns the plants green, keeps the clothes you wash by hand damp on the line. The chickens peck the yard; don’t forget to close the kitchen door when you go out to do the laundry, or you will find the counters covered in hens when you return.

In Tsavo, there has been rain: good for the land, bad for the animal spotting. The cheetah can slink through the golden grasses almost unseen. Dik dik, impala, buffalo move slowly against green brush, under trees. Superb starlings and lilac-breasted rollers flit above them, racing from power line to tree branch and back again. Giraffe necks rise above the horizon. Elephants cover themselves in red dirt to protect their skin from the sun and stand out in the open. Hippos slide low in the water, hiding all but their eyes. The zebra….the zebra have no hope of camouflage.

The zebra have no where to hide.

The zebra have no hope of camouflage

In the pickup truck, it is hot with the windows up and dusty with them down. But it is quiet, except for the toto, Evelyn, who entertains herself by playing angry birds and finding Waldo in the back seat. She has made Travel Companion her personal mascot, and goes nowhere without her. You are merely a divining rod for TC’s location in her eyes.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

In the evening, looking out over the watering hole, there are cokes and conversation, maybe a beer. You are hoping for a lion. You do not need a shirt that announces you saw ‘the Big Five;’ you will take in everything available and cherish it. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to see them.

When night falls, when most have gone to sleep and you sit by the fire and talk to the night guard about the lion who comes into camp after the day is finished, the air pulling in moisture before a hot day rises again, you make him promise to wake you, no matter what time, if the beast comes back. And when he comes for you, you will be thrilled with terror, wrapped in a kikoi on the porch of your tent, listening to the chortle of the beast’s breath pacing the outskirts of the tent line. The king sounds like a stallion heaving off a heated race, but all he does is seek, and leave. You never see him, but you feel the sound of his breath imprinted in your memory.

After, south down the coast, the air still and heavy until the afternoon moves the water hurridly toward the shore, your mind swimming with the bodies and colors of Tsavo, the whydahs and kingfishers and weavers and bee-eaters and hornbills, your body goes swimming down with the fish.

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Between dives, you float on the dhow or watch dolphins swim. These are the right reasons to love Kenya.

Dolphins of dhow bow.

Dolphins off dhow bow.

Here are the wrong ones:

  • The twelve days I spent in and around Mombasa were the longest I’ve gone without getting on a plane since I left the states on October 16th. Instead, our fantastic hosts delivered us from one amazing experience to another, with the help of friends and family. For twelve days, I knew no strangers; only new friends. I was allowed to yield all logistical decision making to someone who knew what he was doing. My mind has not known such rest in quite some time.
  • Kenya was a land for firsts. My first scuba dive – a momentous event as I have found the idea of trying to breathe underwater so disturbing I long ago negated the possibility of such activity ever occurring with me involved. But in Kenya, I looked up to see the sun break through the surface of salt water. Kenya was also the home of my first left-side-of-the-road, right-side-of-the-car (left-handed stick-shift) driving adventure.
    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    Despite the trip involving a disturbing number of wrong-direction rotaries (excuse me – roundabouts), TC and I successfully survived to tell the tale (and post a video).

  • We all know the Dutch just jumbled German, French, and English and called it something new. As its own language, it’s a jumbled mess, but a native Dutch speaker communicating in something other than Dutch makes a sount of equal and opposite beauty. An accented, calm, “sawa, sawa,” or little Evelyn’s sing-song as she calls your name to ask, ”where is TC’”– is something with which my ears fell instantly in love. (The jury is still out on the word “lekker,” which is along the lines of, “tasty,” but sounds like something bad is about to occur.)
  • Swahili. I went to throw something out one day and found that the word for trash is “Taka taka”How can you not love that? Or “toto” for the little ones? So foreign to my ears, but such a smooth sound, even rapid fire, with consonants.

    One person's trash is another person's takataka

    One person’s trash is another person’s takataka

These are the wrong reasons to love a place, because these are reasons this place was easy. Kenya isn’t easy. It is full of struggle – for water, for livelihood, for a very small piece of the pie. It is a place of matatus with names like “Love Bomb,” “Delta Force,” and “Dreamz of Money,” driving between you, at you, around you while riders hop on and off. It is a place where Friday mornings are reserved for riots, and Europeans still fly straight in to four star resorts where first the shower doesn’t drain, then the door doesn’t lock, then the toilet doesn’t flush, for a week away from winter.  And still, they never leave the compound. Kenya is a place where boys stand in traffic to sell you oranges, and if you are stuck too long, they may just steal your luggage from the trunk. It is a place of wonder, of amazement and awe, and of hard work, brutality and beauty. I loved Kenya for mostly the wrong reasons, but I will return for the right ones.

 

For more pictures of my trip to Kenya, click HERE

 

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On the Road, South America, Tourist, Traveling

How to Have an Adventure, Part II

I forgot the peanut butter.

In my defense, it’s not the kind of thing I’m trained to think of at 4:45 a.m., when none of the three cab companies I’ve called is picking up, and we need to get to the airport. Peanut butter is a camping staple; I’m not a camper. I’m more of an ‘I’m kinda outdoorsy but not actually skilled and currently overpacked for my round the world trip,’ kind of chick, and peanut butter is an addendum for which I’m not prepared. I will live to regret this.

Uyuni is forgettable for reasons previously mentioned. I will add only that, in our effort to find snacks to bring with us on the tour, we can find only two options. First is the local market, of which generally I’m a huge fan, mostly for photographic reasons. This one, however, has vegetables literally piled from floor to waist, most of which are potatoes and some of which I can’t identify.

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It also has very little fruit, very smelly meat counters, and cute but mangy dogs wandering through. In other words, I don’t trust this place. And Nurse Wratchet at Travel Companion’s Travel Clinic of Fear has definitely put the kibosh on – well, everything – which precludes us from consuming anything purchased in these smelly hallowed halls.

The second option is what advertises itself as a supermarket, but which is open only one of the four times we go by. It has a section called, “moldy bread.” It’s ten degrees hotter than the rest of town despite being indoors in a modern building, and is smaller than my last urban apartment. There are four types of dulce de leche in jars but no peanut butter and no loaves of non-moldy bread. When I ask two women who seem to be shopping, but who, it turns out, work there and are reorganizing shelves by putting their contents in a shopping basket and moving them around, they look flummoxed and then tell me that not only do they not have peanut butter, but there isn’t anywhere to get it in town.

We quickly pull together a number of sugar-based snacks (those of you who know me will think this would be my idea of heaven, but I’ve been eating so little sugar since I left home that half a Snickers made me high for three hours) and add six two-liter bottles of water (one each per day of tour), and get the hell out of there.

The next morning, we take a cab five blocks (Snickers bars and liters of water are heavy when added to my giant pack, Traveling Companion’s not large but very stuffed suitcase, two day packs, and the weight of our anxiety) to our guide company. It’s closed. A man comes and opens the door when he sees us standing there and then tells me to wait a minute and wanders off. A few minutes later, a woman arrives and tells me, in rapid-fire Spanish, that we are going across the street to her cousin’s tour company. “Es lo mismo – exactamente lo mismo,” she assures me.

It’s common for tour groups to be combined so that there are six people per jeep, but the bait and switch isn’t sitting well with either of us. The whole street is lined with people loading up into cars; I’d call it a military operation except for the lack of order and the abundance of unkempt hair.

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We really have no choice but to roll with it, and so we do. After about forty minutes of futzing around, we are loaded into a jeep with three Brazilians, an Irish woman, and a driver whose name is Reynaldo Garcia. When I ask him whether he prefers to be called, “Reynaldo,” or, “Senor Garcia,” I barely get the second option out before he responds, “Garcia, Garcia.” And then he says very little else for the next three days.

For the most part, we luck out. Although I have told Travel Companion four times that if the Brazilian make-out masters from across the aisle on the plane from La Paz end up on our tour, I’m pushing them out of the car in the desert, and despite the fact that two of our three Brazilians are a very affectionate couple, they are sweet both to each other and to us, and they do their making out quietly in the back seat. The Irish woman has been volunteering in Colombia for six months and is traveling down around South America on the cheap before heading home, and the other Brazilian is a quiet young tax attorney who checks for phone or wifi signal every time we stop, and otherwise keeps mostly to himself. We are blissfully free of alcoholics and chain smokers, and it seems all six of us are quite pleased to discover this. Murder in the Salar is looking less and less likely as we hop into the jeep and head out.