Monday, January 25, 2010

How People Live (in Bolivia)


Sometimes, the power goes out.

When I'm in San Antonio, it's the thunderstorms that do it. In Maine, ice brings down the lines. Korean electricity was pretty reliable, but we had a few outages. In Bolivia, the local juice was too much for the wiring in our old suburban house--the widowmaker showerhead would melt wires in the circuit box once a week.

Pulled back a century, I can never think of things to do when the power goes. "Okay, read a book," I start off. But it's nighttime, and there's no light. "If I can't read, I might as well watch TV. Oh. Shit. That's stupid." It continues. "Hey, I've got 4 hours of laptop battery. I'll post to the blog." But modems and routers run on electricity, too. Usually by the time I've realized I have nothing to do, the lights hum on again.

I used to hear or read about people who live without electricity. "That's terrible..." my mind kicked into its "tragedy" protocols, allowing acknowledgment of plight but locking down contemplation at the superficial level. I didn't want to peer too close. I might have even played with empathy--"Yeah, life sucks when the power goes out."

Then I went to Bolivia.

I spent 3 months with Energ├ętica. They work with thousands of people who live without electricity. People who don't live in suburban houses with melting wires and blown circuits and iced lines. They live in one-room chimney-less huts made from adobe bricks infested with Chagas mites on the 4,000m Altiplano beyond walking distance from the nearest low-voltage pole.

When you have no electricity, you spend your days out in the fields with the livestock, the llamas and alpacas. Maybe sheep, maybe cows. You get home at dusk and cook dinner in the fading light. The cooking fire gives off light, but also smoke, and when the wind blows right the smoke backs up in the ventilation hole and fills the room. You cough. You burn candles or oil lamps, and they make you cough, too. Sometimes they fall and burn you back. It's hard and expensive and risky to make light, so usually you don't. You sit in the dark. You sleep. You'd rather be using the time to dye yarn and weave textiles to sell to the tourists, to make jewelry, to weld or solder, to help your children with their homework, to find some way of supplementing the subsistence income of the ganadero lifestyle. But there's no electricity. You can't see, so you don't do anything.

When you have no electricity, you have no power.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Second Thoughts (Again)

I know this is a tired topic. Most recently, it's been addressed by Brave New Traveler editor Christine Garvin in Are Long-Term Travelers Avoiding "Real" Life? That post, in turn, was inspired by a musing from Nomadic Matt, Everyone Says I'm Running Away.

The theme survives because of its foundational relevance to travelers, I guess. Or because there are no answers to the questions. But either way, sitting here in the bedroom I grew up in, I feel I've now come back to "real life." And real life is hard.

I want to buy a house, but I don't have much money. That means I'll be buying a small, rundown bungalow in an iffy neighborhood and spending lots of hours bringing it up to my vision of acceptability. I'll be meeting with loan officers, learning how to hang sheetrock, building furniture and running wires, figuring and following a sustainable budget. All this seems very hard.

Wouldn't it be easier to get lost again? Pick a new quadrant of Earth and go? There's more out there. And it doesn't involve table saws, pre-qual letters, going into debt for the first time in my life. Which baits the big questions--is travel running away? Avoiding responsibility? Postponing entry into "real" life?

I was so anxious to get back here. Ready for stability, I thought. What does this mean? Will I always feel restless wherever I am?

No answers. And I've gotta stop, because I feel like a major douche waxing existential when people in Haiti and thousands of other places that aren't in the news and never will be would kill for the luxury of waxing existential. But those are the questions I'm asking tonight.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The End of Travel...?


Provocative title, yes?

Happy New Year, first of all. I got so wrapped up in posting year-in-review lists over at Matador Trips that the milestone came and went uncelebrated here at WayWorded. And I think I'm in the minority; if you're jonesing, here are several quality end-of-years to check out:

What's Around the Corner (Carlo Alcos on Matador Trips)
2009: Year in Review (Collazo Projects)
Closing 2009 (MusicTravelWrite)
Balcony View of 2010 (Geotraveler's Niche)
Doing Canada: Where I'm Going and Where I've Been (Candice Does the World)
Happy New Year! Now Read These Lists. (Eva Holland)

For me, the new decade marks a shift. I spent all of 2009 on the go, exploring the dialects, menus, volunteer opportunities, and cultural idiosyncrasies of southern South America. The experience brought me to some hard truths--the most significant of which is that I'm ready to start putting down roots.

As of next week, I'll be hanging up my suitcases (or more likely throwing them away--they were bought in a Santiago bargain store and are total crap) and scouring the homeland for a place to call home.

So what does this mean for a travel blog? Well, to kill the cliffhanger brought on by the title of this post, I'll say it DOESN'T mean the end of travel! After all, back when I started WayWorded at the intro of 2008 (wow, two years!), I was more-or-less stationary in Portland, Maine. In fact, it was being stationary that gave me the time and motivation to kick off a blog in the first place. It's that kind of creative potential that's driving me homeward.

And, if that's not convincing enough, I just purchased tickets for a 2-week trip to Spain in April. No, the travel is most decidedly not over. It's simply that 2010 will encompass much more.

Can't wait.