Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Pantanal. Brazil

Giant Pantanal cranes,
(White with black heads and a narrow red featherless neck ring)
Pose, as cranes do,
And seem to announce,
`Welcome to the Pantanal`.

The jungle is alive with sounds;
Screetches, trills, hissing and chortles.
It is every shade of brilliant green.
The ivy covered foliage along the river
Is dotted with flowers;
Hybiscus, morning glories, bird of paradize.
Enormous jungle trees tower behind.

The sliver of moon and a zillion stars
Give way to the morning light.
High wisps of cloud float in the clear light blue.
Throughout the day, the sky darkens.
The clouds build and in the late afternoon
A burst of thunder and rain
Disappates the intense heat.
Just for a moment
The mosquitoes rest.

For three days,
We walk in the jungle.
We ride horses.
We go in boats.
We travel in the back of trucks,
In the day time and at night.
We watch.
We listen.
We breath.

Occationally, we retreat to our dark cold room,
That is deliciously free of the heat and the bugs.

The sounds of howler monkeys
(Much like a super highway)
Start and end each day.
We watch them swinging through the canopy.
A young one rides on its´ mother`s yellow back.
Large black ones dangle from
Hands, feet or tails.

Despite our searches,
We don`t see any jaguars, ant eaters or iguana.

We do see many camen.
From tiny to two meters.
They lounge along the river`s edge
And then slither into the water.
Only their rounded dark eye arches
showing above the surface.

Herd of carabaris,
(Large brown river pigs)
And groupings of black South American river rats
(Also the same size as large pigs)
Parade along the rivers edge
Or munch on the hyacynths in the water.
Two giant South American river otters make an appearance.
As does a deer
And an armadillo.

In the trees,
And in the water
Are birds.
Some like the Pantanal Crane are unfamiliar.
But many look like kingfishers, hawks, hummingbirds
Woodpeckers, herons or egrets.
I am enthralled with all the jungle birds.
The toucans;
With their fuzzy black heads
And colourful eyes
And enormours colourful bills.
The Parrots in all sizes and colours.
The brilliant green ones disappear completely in the green foliage.
The parakeets that swoop
Across the river in pairs;
Flashes of blue or red.
The large white osprey like bird with its´
Slicked back black toupay.
He has adopted us or
Us him.
The tiny inch long ground feeders
In yellow, green and red.

And an unexpected jungle highlight
Turns out to be the cameraderie
amongst our fellow travellers.
They`re from all over the world
And mostly half our age.
We talk religion, ethics,
Books, nonsense,
Mosquitoe bites and politics.
Cold beer and good conversation
Has never tasted so good.

The Train of Death

Our Lonely Planet Guide and rumours
Told us of giant mosquitoes filling the train cars,
Layers of dust coating all the sleeping passengers,
Crowds of people and contraband packing the aisles,
Derailments, break-downs in steamy jungles,
Even the name:The Train of Death.

In reality the train ride was okay.
It was long, (more than 14 hours)
And it was very rough.
Occationally the train stopped
And peddlers and begging children would fill the aisles.
Occationally the police would check passports, tickets and luggage.
But mostly we slept in air conditioned comfort
Through the jungle on the way to Brazil.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Yesterday, we caught a seven person van back from Samaipata to Santa Cruz. It was cozy- there were ten adults crowded in! Luckily we did have a good driver though and so we avoided the terror that we had on the way to Samaipata. Part way back, in a mountain valley, near a stream and steep rock cliffs, all the traffic had to stop for 45 minutes for road work. Immediately the vendors appeared-- People carrying bowls and baskets and coolers. After a vendor had walked further along, the ground would be littered with all the wrappers of whatever people had bought. Is this just my ethrocentricity showing??

I did do four quartersheet paintings in Samaipata. Painting on location in an unfamiliar country is fraught with nervous worry. People tend not to want their image painted and the buildings tend to be flat and brown on the outsides with anything interesting- flowers, washing, pigs etc., all tucked inside inner courtyarts. And in a high valley, with altidude the lighting is often flat. Anyways, once I have a subject and a spot and I am plunked on my little stool (compliments of Shelley Austin of Sea Shell Design) then I´m usually just fine and I enjoy myself. In a few minutes, I´m usually surrounded by admirers watching my entertainment. The other day, when I painted in the main square, one of the post carnival cleaner-uppers became my front man. He gathered folks around me and then proceeded to point at everything in my painting by touching it with his nail on a stick. All the while, I continued to paint!

The day before, I had about a dozen kids for the afternoon. Most stared with big dark eyes but one little girl was a lively chatterbox with an enormous smile. She rushed home and came back with her ¨Learn to speak English book¨ She annouced Ït is five oclock!" " No" I laughed, "it is three oclock" and we proceeded to chat for the afternoon. By the time she introduced me to her mother and father :¨"Joy, Mother Father" she knew my brother and sister´s names and ages and lots of other random details.

In Santa Cruz, the city is trying to clean up after canival. Most of the buildings need repainting because of all the paint guns. A huge workforce is rewhitewashing the buildings and cleaning the streets. We are also back to the constant horn honking. One chap was crossing himself as he drove by the cathedral, at the same time he was laying on his horn to help more the traffic along! The sidewalks are crowded. Among the brown skinned dark haired Bolivians, there are some skinny, fair skinned, blue eyed menonites with dark severe clothing and sour expressions. Also there are a few nuns wandering around in their habits (and using the internet cafes). So often I´ve seen a short Bolivian girl from the back, with long black braids, wearing a straw hat, and a knee length gathered skirt with an apron tied over and I´ve thought of Anne Shirley. Then they turn around and I see their old wrinkled faces and hands and I realize that these are not young girls! Jim and I always smile and coo at Bolivian babies and kids. It usually backfires. When the babies are old enough to really look at us, they usually recoil in horror and they cry and scream. They find our ¨"üniform" of battered hats, tee shirts, shorts and our old white faces just so different.

Later today we are catching the Train of Death towards Brazil and by tomorrow we will be leaving Bolivia for another year! I have some buns to eat, some bottled water, our bug suits, insect repellent and a cheery disposition ready for the trip!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday 24, 2009

Hello All
Om Sunday, we got a taxt to Samaipata, a small village 100 km from Santa Cruz. The ride was one of the scariest of my life. Our driver attacked the winding mountain road at top speed, passing all vehicles whether he could see around the curves or not. He wore a seat belt. We had none available. Miracle or miracles we arrived safely.

We booked into a terrific hostel (one of our nicest rooms because it has no television, no air conditioning and it has three windows and a balcony!) We have to pay a 25% surcharge because of Carnival. I told the owner I thought we should get a discount for having to put up with the non stop shinanigans! Anyways we´ve had three days of drunken partying, loud loud music from many different bands playing at the same time, (all different tunes) and constant water fights, paint ball, foam spray, and fire crackers.

Yesterday, to avoid some of the mayhem, we took at taxi 10 to 12 km up a mountain to Le Fuerte, a large preinkan ruins. We spend an interesting couple of hours touring the site (it´s a UNESCO site), five hundred remains of building and a gigantic carved rock surfact. Then we hiked back to town. Although I found the hike long and tiring, I loved the cliffs, the path, the foliage, a soaring condor, flocks of parakeets and the quiet!

Today, I did one sketch and painting from one of the decks in the hostel. Then I did a second quarter sheet painting a bit up the mountain looking down on some clotheslines, tiles roofs and the mountains in behind. I was often surrounded by at least a dozen kids. I gave everyone canada pins. At the end there was just one little girl so I gave her a set of paints, paper, and brush etc. She was thrilled.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Feb 21, 2009

We caught the bus last night
On the brown altoplano,
Surrounded by the mountains of La Paz.
We awoke this morning
In the lush green tropics.
Grasses as high as trees sway in the breeze.
Chickens wander freely.
Pigs are tethered on ropes.
White humped-backed cattle graze
Along side small white birds.
People eat ouside their thatched adobe huts.
Small brown boys chase and dig and climb trees,
Their sisters play house
Caring tenderly for younger siblings.
Occationally, we pass a town where
The houses are brick and have windows,
The roofs are metal or tile.

Here, approaching Santa Cruz, Bolivia,
There are power lines on big metal poles
And pipelines on the ground.
The pipelines are raised on tresles
Over the huge rivers and small streams.
Everywhere is green.
We are back in the land of giant ant hills.
Fields often have hundreds of these 5 to 6 foot brown mounds.

Sugan cane is grown here,
Date palms, tobaco, soya beans, corn.
And from the road side stalls,
I suspect that avacados and oranges are also grown.
In the wet areas, pink mallow-like blossoms
Look like Disney gardens:
They´re reminescent of the Amazon jungle
Seen on last year´s adventure.

And the back drop of all this green undulating beauty
Seen from the bus,
Is the relentless violence on the bus televisions.
Even though I can ignor the images of
Shooting, smashing, killing, pain,
I can not escape the sound track.
The sounds of fists hitting flesh,
The groans and screams of the dying.
Would they just get it overwith
And die already.

A indigenous lady on the bus reaches
Over to an open window
And tosses out a large bag of garbage.
It bounces close to one
Of the many road side shrines.
One more bag added to the many
That are strewn along
Every road side in Bolivia.

This is the dicotamy that is Bolivia,
The great beauty next to the ugliness.
This is my personal see-saw,
Do I love this land and it´s beauty,
Or can I hardly wait to leave the noice and filth?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 20, 2009

Hello all:
We´ve been in Sorata the past several days. This is a small village in the mountains. The Andes mountains are spectacular, several are snow capped and rival the Himalayas at 6500 meters. Most of them are craggy, vertical mountains, sheathed in green. After weeks of seeing just brown mountains, the green is wonderful. We´re at a lower altitude here, hence the green. This afternoon, Jim and I took a taxi 12 kms to see some caves. The road was amazing, a narrow gravel path winding around the mountain edges. All vehicles here are 4 wheel drive but even the 4 wheel drive couldn´t reach the caves. Part of the road had just disappeared down into the valley last night.

When we returned to Sorata,I convinced Jim to stop for Lupper. While we were enjoying our cervasa and pizza, a local band started playing. It was so sudden and so loud, I thought I´d been shot. It sounded terrible but was played with huge enthusiasm. When a change was called for they speeded it up and played even louder!!

I am still smarting from being told off by an old indigenous lady a couple of days ago. I was plunked down in the market and had a painting started. This old lady was some upset. I promised that I wouldn´t paint her in the painting but that didn´t appease her and so eventually I closed everything up and moved. I felt like crying, I felt so horrible. Eventually I found a sweet little girl, Bernace, and she let me paint her and her stall. A little friend of hers squeezed in as well. After I finished the painting, I did sketches of each of the girls for them. Yesterday I just didn´t have the heart to go to the market again and so I found a narrow street view with mountains in behind. When I say narrow, I really mean narrow. Trucks kept turning down into this street and very very narrowly missing me. The folks that were watching me were flattened against the wall or almost on my lap. Today I did a similiar subject. At times I had fourty kids crowded around me. It was okay except I couldn´t see what I was painting and when ever someone walked by the kids would biff a water balloon and lots of times my painting got splattered with water!

After I finished, I thought I´d nip by the market and give paint sets to my two little friends from a couple of days ago. Immediately one of the women gestured that I should paint her. I couldn´t resist and so I started a second quarter sheet. Then of course I also had to do a sketch to give to her. By this point it was pouring rain. We, artists, certainly have to be tenatious.

Eventually I gave Bernace the paint sets and she was so incredibly happy. She can´t attend school because she has to work her families market stall.

Tomorrow, we will attempt to get a Collectivo out of Saroto and once we get to LaPaz in about three hours we will then try to get an overnight bus to Santa Cruz. I was keen to fly to Santa Cruz but Jim still likes the bus better than flying. Jim is certainly a wonderful travel partner. Nothing gets him down. I´m a bit tired of the stench, the sketchy living conditions and the uncertain safety of the food. Jim just carries on, enjoying all the people, both locals and tourists alike. This morning he was studying his Spanish learning phrases such as ¨Ï think I´m pregnant!
änd more pracically ¨How do I kill that rooster?¨

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 15, 2009

This morning, Jim and I took a tour to Tiahuanico. This is an ancient site (two hours by bus from La Paz) that preceeds the Incan Empire by over 1000 years. Probably this site is far more historically significant than Machu Pichu, but the setting is not amazing and the entire site has been looted for 600 years. Five churches in the area were built from stone from Tiahuanico. We did see a giant pyramid and several temples and gates and some monoliths that were quite amazing.
This site now has UNESCO designation and perhaps will gradually be more and more restored.

My main conplaint was that there was a tiny village of Tiahuanico close to the site, but as tours generally go we were not given any time to visit it but rather we were presured into shopping from stalls at the sites gate and also to eat lunch at a restaurant there. Of course I refused. And Jim to his credit, stuck with me. The tour guide was absolutely adamant that the bus was leaving in 30 minutes and we could skip lunch and walk to the town but that we had to be back in 30 minutes and that the bus would not come for us. She also insisted that there was no market in the village. We raced off. Unfortunately the town was more than a ten minute walk. The town was filled with indigenous folk having a marvelous colourful Sunday market. The village church was built in 1500 but of course we barely had time to take a photo of the outside. I snapped photos madly and we raced back to the bus. Of course the other tour people hadn´t even been served their lunch by the time we returned. I was so hopping mad. Then iñ the grand tradition that are tours, we were forced to stand about looking at a few more things and then once we were returned, an hour early to La Paz, we were not taken back to our hostel where they had picked us up but rather we were dumped out in that same witches market we had survived yesterday. Tours may provide safety and ease in visiting various tourists spots but they are definitely not to my liking.

February 14,2009

Plodding uphill from the old cathedral.
Before long,
I am winded from the altitude,
And crazed by the noice of traffic and horns,
The smells of food and feces,
And the thick dusty air.

The cars, buses and colectivos,
Pack the streets solidly.
Often there is not even room
For pedestrians to squeeze between the gridlocked vehicles.

The sidewalks closest to the valley
Are filled with stalls selling tourist trinkets.
The shops behind sell tours, treks, adventures.

Slightly higher up the steep hill,
We walk through the witches market.
Here you can purchase tiny cars, houses, cell phones;
Anything that you want to aquire in the next year.
The stalls also sell llama fetuses, coca leaves
And sweets,
All are gifts for Pacha Mamma.
(Apparantly Pacha Mamma loves sweets.)

A bit more climbing,
And the stalls now sell light bulbs,
Sink plugs, door locks, brooms,
And cheap aluminum cookware.
The shops are packed with carnival clothing.
All handmade,
Clown outfits, masks,
Glitsy shawl pins.
Hundreds of colourful gathered skirts
Are admired by the indigenous ladies.
The many millinary shops
Have shelves of marvelous brown and black bowlers.
On the shop walls are calendars,
Featuring full figured, fully clothed women
Sporting benito sombreros.

We huff and puff
Higher up the mountain road.
Gradually most of the local people
and the traffic is left behind.
At the top we reach the cemetary.
Like mini high rise appartment buildings,
Each tomb is stacked on another.
Stalls in this area sell
Flowers and glitz to decorate the tombs.
Even the tombs themselves are for sell in the shops.

After reaching this heaven,
We reverse the hike back to the
Hell of noice and people and cars
In the valley.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 13, 2009

We started today with a visit to the Academia National de Bellas Artes. This art school has been in existence for over 200 years. Last fall, Jim and I provided the seed money through the sale of last years South American sketches for the Academia to put out the very first issue of Otra Arte. Otra Arte is a world class art magazine featureing Bolian art and artists! After hundreds of years of art history in Bolivia and an active vital arts community, it is about time there was such a magazine since it will provide a calling card about Bolivian Art that can be used around the world. Having such a publication, was entirely Ivar Mendez´s idea and we just suppported his initiative with money. Ivar, his parter Ivonne Aracena and Jim and I met with the principal and all the teachers of the Academia. I took my tiny travelling paint set and all the sketches done so far on this trip. This broke the ice and bridged the language barrier. With Ivar´s translation, the principal thanked me for my interest and support and I expressed my thoughts on the universality of art and invited all of the staff to visit Nova Scotia as our guests.
Then we toured the school and a student exhibition.

We also learned from Ivar that unless we can extend our trip for a further two months we can´t visit Acapaca on this trip. Disappointing, however things generally work out for the best. We will see other Bolivian areas in the time we do have remaining.

On the walk back to our hostel, I found an art shop with some quality art materials. I got a bit more paper; not as heavy as I like but it is archival quality. I also bought a dozen quality painting sets for kids and pencils, sharpeners and paper. Jim´s wondering where I´ll find a dozen kids who want an art lesson and I´m wondering how I can buy more paint sets once I run out!

This afternoon, we visited two galleries, (the national gallery and the museum of contemporary art). It was interesting to see work by Mamani Mamani, the artist we visited last night and also to see work by the two artists that we were going to have dinner with tonight.

At 7:30, Ivar and Ivonne took us to their favourite restaurant, Villaserena and ordered for us all the best of Bolivian food and drink. The highlight was sharing the evening with two more of Bolivia´s top artists; Mario Conde, a hyper realist watercolourist and Victor Hugo Echeverria, a sculptor. Both Mario and Victor were charming and delightful. I had so much in common with them and it´s always a treat for a solitary artist to meet kindred spirits. Again I issued invitations to be our guests in Canada and discussed the possibilities and benefits of some Bolivian Canada art exchanges.

The last two days have been a gift from two exceptional people. Ivar Mendez is not only a world class neurosurgeon in Halifax and researcher and innovator, he is also an artist and a passionate philanthropist. His partner, Ivonne Aracena, is a dentist, a teacher at the university and a potter. She´s kind, wonderful and the perfect social planner. She will also be living in Canada in the near future.
Throughout my life, I´ve had the amazing good fortune of just happening to get to know some very special people. For many years, these special folk have always been older than me. I assumed part of their wisdom and passion was because they were further along in their lifes journeys. Ivar and Ivonne are both young enough to be my children but I am inspired by their energy, committment and eclectic interests. Being a special person obviously has nothing to do with age.

For most of my life, I have harboured a passionate belief that enhancing creativity, enhances creative thought and this is integral to being a leader, a teacher, a researcher. Only by thinking outside the box, can world problems be negotiated. Ivar not only shares this belief, he´s living it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009

Ivar Mendez, the young Halifax neurosurgeon, who is doing so much good in Bolivia and his partner Yvonne, picked us up in the morning and took us to Museo Antonio Paredos Candia in the next city of El Alto. This museum was completely empty except for us. It is far from La Paz city centre. This museo has a spectactular collection of paintings, ceramics and sculpture, both contempory and historical. I loved most of the work. After a marvelous tour of the collections, we talked with the sulptor Victor Sapana who was sculpting in the courtyard.

Our afternoon was filled with a hike beyond the witches market up hill to the market that sells goods for the local indigenous people. Up hill climbs are always difficult at this high altitude. I was looking for frilly panties that are worn in Peru under all the slips and skirts and aprons. I thought they would make a marvelous gift for my friends and my daughters and could be used as summer pajamas. Well we looked for a couple of hours and despite my trying to ask in spanish and sign language we never found those frilly panties. Obviously they are not worn in Bolivia. Later in the afternoon we got caught in a thunder lighting, hail and torential rain storm. Last evening many roads were blocked by the huge boulders that had been washed into the streets.

At 5:30, we were somewhat dried out and we were again picked up by Ivar and Yvonne and taken to meet one of Bolivia´s most successful artists, Mamani Mamani. Despite my lack of Spanish, Ivar translated and Mamani and I had much in common.(even having done calendars and serigraphs) Mamani´s work is spectacular. Of course I´m a colour nut, so I was particularly enthralled with the glowing colourful shapes done in oil pastel. Art is so universal. It can be a marvelous bridge between cultures.

February 12, 2009

La Paz: the buildings rise up from the steep streets in sepias, umbers and siennas. The crumbling walls are textured with spawling stucco that exposes brick, stone and adobe. A jumble of wires runs higgeldy piggeldy over the surface. In the shadows, on the ground level (as in life) are the beggars outside the basic shops of shoe repairs, photocopy places, contact lens shops. Some of the shops are covered in rolled sheet metal and some in painted wooden shutters. Above the shops, there is an uncertain area of round windows, ventilation holes and holes from the rotted out wood beams that once upon a time supported floors. The buildings starts to be more and more ornate and atherial the higher they rise. They end in steeples and towers that gleam against the blue sky.

The traffic in the street is noicy and solid. Little cars reve engines and blare horns. Hundreds of mini buses (collectivos) are the public transport. They have a driver who swerves, and races and stops suddenly and honks madly and a helper that hangs out the open side door doing a singing holloring chant about the destinations.

On one street, rows of men sit at tiny tables with old portable typewriters that have paper and carbon paper at the ready. Every street has kiosks on the sidewalks; for the news, for goat cheese, for salenas, or watches. Men in ski masks shine shoes.

In La Paz, pedestrians pack the streets. They wear modern clothing, lots of dark suits, with pink shirts and dark ties (Latino men look great in pink) Lots of sharply dressed shapely women in narrow pointy shoes with high high heels. Lots of students. Everyone with a cell phone. Among this rushing cosmopolitan throng are some indegenous people, short, plump in full full skirts and carrying bags and infants.

Many police are milling about, far more than last year.
Some with tear gas,
Some with rifles,
Some with small guns,
Some with shields and face protection,
Some with motorcycles or clubs.
So far no tanks.
At the entrance to every bank and most shops are armed security;
Even the small upscale coffee shop we had lunch in.

Groups of beggars hunker on the sidewalks.
Pitiful old women crouched on the street
With knarled old hands grasping at us for money.
Young mothers, with one, two three or four dirty ragged children.
The two year olds make the best beggars.
Even when it is dark, some of the families are still on the sidewalk
sharing a communal bowl of supper or sleeping.
Some beggars, like the tiny serious girl,
Who was singing and dancing her heart out
have to be supported.
I´m not sure how to handle the rest.
Does it help for me to give money or asurbate the problem.
I feel so guilty,
I want to help but how.

And when the overstimulation of the La Paz streets
threatens to overwelm me,
I step inside a quiet old church.
Gone is the jostling, the cacaphony of sound and the confusion.
For the moment I stop clutching my purse and camera,
And I sit and breathe

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11,2009

At seven this morning we arrived by overnight bus to La Paz; it was a hellish trip best quickly forgotten. This morning as we drove along the alto plano to the valley of La Paz, it was just getting light, the moon was full, local buses were piled with colourful packs on the roofs and colour indigenous folk were gathered on the road sides. It felt like coming home. La Paz is the only place that we will visit on this trip that we visited last year. We´re even staying in the same divey Hotel El Torino that we stayed in a year ago. One of its best features for me is that it doesn´t have a television. Our room has the same Snoopy sheets and the book exchange most of the same books! The location is wonderful, the price is right and there´s a great little cafe next door for breakfast!

We are coming to La Paz to do some work on our Bolivian Art Project. Last night on the bus¨, I was thinking about what art education could do or why it might be important to encourage it here. I think that art education fosters decision making skills and creative thought and that both are essencial for leaders. Creative thought is useful for anyone in any country but it is especially useful in a poor developing country such as Bolivia that is just finding its feet economically and politically. In addition, on a personal level, making art is a form of self expression and enhances self worth.

The past several days we explored Sucra, the original capital of Bolivia. Sucra is a fantastic colonial city, most of the core was built in the 1500s. I´d love to return here for a month or more. Indigenous folk were demonstrating, milling about, hunkered down cooking on little charcoal cookers or working and relaxing on the streets of Sucra. Almost all wore their tradional dress.It seemed like life was being lived out on the street. I saw my first young infant out of it´s colourful carrying poncho. The baby had only it´s face showing and was a tighly wrapped package bound with a long white woven strip. I saw women releaving themselves in the street; with their full skirts it was very discrete. They just squatted over a road drain and their full skirt hides everything. Across the street from the hospital were seven funerias, all with their caskets on view to the street.

Jim and visited several museos. Two were fantastic. The Museo of Indigenous Craft was a private museum started by an anthropology foundation. There were gallery after gallery of amazing weavings and pottery. Some pieces were several thousand years old. Each area around Sucra still has its distinctive woven patterns, colours and clothing. Lucky for us, there was a paper translation in English of all the labels. A highlight was two young women sitting on the ground each weaving an intricate amazing piece from their culture on frame looms. I could have sat there for the three months until they finished.

Yesterday, Jim and I visited the Museo of the Constitution. This building from 1500 was initially built by the Jesuits as a church and later became a university, then the seat of government where coalitions, constitutions and agreements were brokered and now it is a museum. We were very fortunate to get an English guide (I suspect that he was much more than a guide as he was frequently interrupted to sign letters and forms). This fellow gave us an amazing one hour history lesson as we toured the actual rooms where many of the historic agreements were signed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 9, 2009

Whenever I travel I love to try many of the local foods. However as soon as I get sick, all foods become suspect and I´m back to my safe choice of plain boiled noodles.Since I´ve been sick allot on this trip, my exploration of new foods may have to wait for future times.

Yesterday, at a road check point, our vehicle was surrounded by local women selling snacks. These long narrow plastic bags of food had white marble sized balls on the bottom, maybe goat cheese, maybe bean balls, and on top was a slurry of brown ground meat. I´d have loved to have tried them but just didn´t dare.

Two days ago, at the miner´s market, I watched two tiny girls cook empanadas on a tiny cooker in the street. The older sister, maybe seven years old, kept the charcoal under the pot of oil and deep fried the little stuffed goodies. After she scooped them out into a basket, her little sister, fished them out with her fingers and arranged them on a plate and sold them.

So many culture have little packages: cornish pastries in England, egg rolls in Asia, perogies in the Ukraine and perogs in Latvia. The South American empanada comes stuffed with beef, chicken or cheese and ham and when freshly cooked are fantastic!

Saltenas are another little package we´ve had lately. They seem to be baked not fried and are filled with cubes of potatoe and beef.

I really loved the chippa from Paraguay. These are yummy yellow spicey crescent shapped rolls that are probably flavoured with anise and probably have goat cheese kneeded into the dough.

In Boliva, we get a dry tasteless large flat roll for breakfast. These remind me of eating cardboard. To be fair, they usually come with a large pat of butter and perhaps if I slathered on the butter they´d taste okay.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday February 8,2009

I came to Postosi with hopes of finding small silver trinkets for all my friends and family. I am leaving with a story and no trinkets.

Potosi was built upon it`s mountain of silver. For 250 years, its` silver financed all of the Spainish empire. When 80% of the indigenous people had died, African slaves replaced them as mine workers. Over 8,000,000 men died from their work in the mines. Today all the mines are co-operatives but even today once a miner starts underground, slithering into small ladderless shafts, few survive more than ten years. The underground air is very hot and filled with dust, asbestos and silicon. When the miners are underground they feel closer to Tia, the devil-god of the underground.

Yesterday, Jim and caught a local bus to the miner´s market where dynamite, picks, wedges and all the basic necessary mining tools are for sale. Then we walked up the mountain of silver to be a part of the annual miner´s fiesta.

All the dancers and miners and bands met in front of their respective mines. They started drinking and partying and dancing their way down the mountain.
There were many many brass bands all with lots of tubas, trumpets and relentless drumming. Older women danced by in their beautiful orange dresses with embroidered hems and lace shawls. Their hair was tied with ribbons and huge pompoms and they wore large flat hats. Little girls and old women danced by in long red full shirts, black bowlers, white blouses, and lace shawls each tucked with a fancy blanket.
Many of the male dancers in elaborate costumes wore shoes with 5 inch soles and huge spur like bells on the back. There was lots of drinking. Even the people carrying the religious litters had their cans of beer propped next to the Virgin.

The miners, wearing their hard hats, cigaret in one hand, can of beer in the other and carrying flasks made of llama legs danced by. Always a little booze was dribbled on the ground for Pacha Momma. Men in dragon-like costumes, blues, green or reds, swayed down the mountain. At the end of the green dragons, one plump girl in a full gathered ultra mini skirt, strapless top, over the knee green boots with high gold heels and bright green bowler hat with peacock feathers shimmied by. Throughout the parade there were many such girls. Some wore clear raincoats over their glitzy revealing costumes.

All along the route, women in everyday clothes hunkered down beside tiny deep fryers and barbeques, complete with sheep heads and bits of meat with fur. They cooked, nursed their infants and sold food and drink to the hungery.

All of this sounds like a fun, a civilized party, but the fierceness of the miners life and the control and horror of Tia was present at this wild drunken party. In addition to the hundreds of miners with wedges and hammers that did an almost brutal lunging dance down the mountain, there were hundreds of people not in the actual parade who were shooting off enormous water guns, and fire crackers. They hurled water ballons and sprayed cans of foam at everyone in the parade and everyone watching it. And the explosions of dynamite were continual. Initially we could see and hear the the dynamite going off on the mountain side. Eventually the detonations got closer and closer until when they exploded, I experienced the boom and shake in every pour of my body. For just that second, the world stopped. Then it was over, my eyes opened and my heart resumed beating.

We watched the first four hours of the miner´s fiesta, and then we walked back to Potosi dogging waterballoons, spray foam and water from the big water guns. The miner´s fiesta continued all of yesterday, all night and all day today. Tomorrow life in the mines begins again for another year.

Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6, 2009

The trip to Potosi by local bus was awful. Usually you can pay extra and get a bus with a bathroom and slightly more leg room. This wasn´t an option here but we were fortunate to be able to book seats. Once you are in your seat, the bus is packed with as many other locals as can fit in the aisle. The locals usually travel with babies, small children and enormous packs and so it can feel claustrophobic with a backpack in your face and someone almost sitting on your lap. I did manage to do sneak a sketch of one old man standing in the aisle. After a few minutes, I realised that all the other aisle folk were watching me watching him!

The trip was six hours on remote bumpy gravel mountain roads (95% of roads in Bolivia are unpaved). After three hours we had a fifteen minute stop-- no bathrooms at all. The men just lined up on the mountain edge and I walked back down the road and tried to find a little privacy behind a potato plant.

All of this would have been okay (I do love adventures) except I felt very nausiated for the entire trip, even with the gravol. After we reached our hostel I was very sick all night. I am just now thinking of rejoining the land of the living. Before we came on this trip, Jim and I both tried Dukerol, a $ 160 option to stop vomitting and diarreaha for three months. We can both attest that it doesn´t work!

February 5, 2009

A lazy day in Uyuni after our recent four day adventure in the outback of Bolivia. The shower felt good, as did a real bed. All the important chores were taken care of; clothes to laundry, photos on cds, travellors cheques cashed, sun screen purchased. Also a couple of post cards were written and mailed and a bus ticket for tomorrow to Potosi has been purchased.

One of the highlights of Uyuni is supposed to be a train grave yard three kms from town. Jim and I walked there this morning. The way was filled with a terrific stench and the ground was littered with garbage. There were no people anywhere. Eventually we came to the start of the old trains which were spewed ahead of us. I got one shot of some old box cars. Suddenly we realized that we were being closely watched and followed by two young men who appeared up out of a gully beside us. Jim immediately grabbed my hand and we turned around and headed quickly back to town. The two men continued on down the tracks for a short distance, glancing back at us regularily, no doubt hoping that we would continue into the mass of old trains where our cameras and money would have been easy pickings.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 4th, 2009

Running vicunia, blending with the red, brown sand.
Bumping, thumping and jiggling over sand, rock, and gravel,
For over 1000 kilometers on no roads,
We travel in a four by four truck.
Four days and only two flat tires and one broken water pump.
A wonderful trip.

The mountains surround us,
In soft reds, yellows, gray-greens.
The alto-plano, our very high plane
Is often at 5000 metres.
We rumble past red rock fins,
Herds of ostriches and llama,
Abandoned gold mining towns,
With piscatchios scrambling
Up and over the old stone walls.

Occationally we pass coloured lagunos.
Sharp green--Laguno Verde
Sharp red--Luguno Colorado
These lagunos have large areas of white salt flats,
And occationally mounds of salt which are surrounded
By pale green circles.
The reflection of the mountains is broken
By the bands of salt.
As we get closer, we see that every laguno
Has flamingos,
Often many thousands of flamingos.
Glorious pink, and white and black flamingos.
They walk magestically, stooping to fish.
Their huge bodies with graceful long necks and heads are
Balanced on two tiny stick-like legs.
Legs that seem unending because
They become reflection and extend until
They meld with the relected up side down body.
Suddenly, the flamingos take to the air
And glide past with slowly pumping wings.
The birds and their reflected parade of pink,
Dazzles my eyes.
Until now, I didn´t like flamingos.
Perhaps, they were falsely pink,
Like blue hydrangeas.
Perhaps even falsely shaped
Like fashion models for Florida parks,
Or plastic phoneys for
North American lawns to celebrate birthdays.
Now I feel blessed.
My eyes tear.
The world is a wonderful, amazing place
Because it has flamingos.

We race with a red four by four,
Piled on the roof like our vehicle,
With luggage, spare tires,
blue drums of gasoline,
Yellow bombas of propane,
Food, bottles of water,
A red pick axe.
Our cook Sylvia tries to sleep
In the front seat.
She too was sick in the night.
Soon the red four by four is gone.
¨Driven by a young Heffa´, says Gerando.

We are again alone in this vast landscape.
We spew a huge cloud of dust behind.
Occationally we see patches of coarse yellow grass
or a green mossy rock,
But mostly nothing else growing.
Huge rock shapes sometimes jut out
Of the altoplano.
They´re called stone trees.
Daly painted these rocks,
And now I stand in the cold fierce wind
And try to capture them.
Later I paint in the tiny adobe village,
That we stay the night in.
I paint until the sky is rent with lighting,
And hail pelts down.
The next morning the land is a white snowscape,
Until the sun burns through.

In the jeep, we creep, rocking and bumping
Down a stone gully,
A winding bouncing route
Surrounded by enormouse loose rock walls,
Even driving under bits of overhanging rock at times.
Eventually the gully widens
And we drive again on gravel or sand.

With no trees or plants,
It´s hard to find a little privacy
So I pay the 5 Bolivianos
And get my four little squares of tissue,
And the privilege of using
A seatless, waterless, toilet,
In a tiny adobe hut.

The road again becomes especially brutal.
We pitch and dodge
And inch over and around boulders.
Eventually we leave Gerardo to drive alone,
And we walk for ten minutes
To escape the jarring.
Our lunch destination is worth every moment
Of bone rattling.
We stop near an active volcano.
Smoke rises from a vent
And geysers bubble and spew in
Many holes around us.

On day four, well before dawn
We are woken and we climb out of
Our beds made of salt bricks,
In our salt block hostel.
We pack our bags by flashlight.
Then we are off across
Sala de Uyuni,
The world´s biggest salt lake.
It is 1400 square kms and 40 metres deep in places.
As the horizon lightens
We turn off jeep´s headlights
And drive alone in this flat gray landscape.
The sun breaks the horizon.
The vast white surface is suddenly
Marked with fantastic tiny salt ridges
That pattern the sufface with hexigonal shapes.
It is cold at this high altitude
Until the sun rises and warms us.
We arrive at a coral mountain.
Enormous cactus,
Some 1200 years old,
Catch the early light.

I sit alone on top of this island
And paint,
Internalizing the vast white quiet of salt,
Savouring the tall thick prickly cacti,
In dusty greens and oranges with strong mauve shadows.
The cati rises into the morning sky
From the pale bone-coloured coral
With its pitted, blossoming surface.
In the far distance,
Beyond the Salar de Uyuni
Is a ancient volcano.
All I can feel is love for the world.
And gratitude to have taken this adventure,
Into the beauty that is Bolivia.

January 30, 2009

Yesterday we walked around Tapiza. It´s a colourful village although the buildings, the roads and the surrounding mountains are mostly brown. It was market day and I loved walking up the market road. This is a market for locals, cheap aluninum cookware, coloured plastic containers, shoes, blue print aprons and the fantastic gathered skirts as well as fresh goat cheese, buns, spices and vegetables. I kept grabbing-sneaking photos of the women buying baskets, climbing into or out of the back of big trucks or just walking. I love the shapes and the colours. Jim thinks I probably already have photos of every possible combination of clothing, activity and lighting but still I am moved by the women´s shapes and colours and so I keep snapping the photos. After my camera was stolen in Bolivia last year, I replaced it with one with an 18 times optical zoom. Now I can really creep in on images unnoticed!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


On Tuesday we took a bus north from Tilcara, Argentina to the border. The bus trip was through incredibly colourful beautiful mountains. When the people in the front seat got off we nabbed their seats and basked in the marvelous views. The mountains are barren and are undulating stipes of red and yellow. Occationally we passed a bunch of cacti that looked like large people standing and waving.

After arriving at the Argentinian border we departed the bus and walked across the bridge to Villazon Bolivia. Immediately we were struck by the noice, excitement, confusion, and colour that is Bolivia. The women wear their traditional dress and it felt like coming home to see the hats and shawls and full skirts. The women are short and with the full clothing and carrying packs of babies, bricks, vegetables, they look as wide as they are tall. It´s a relief to be back in Bolivia also because we found Argentina too expensive for our slim budget, but the main pleasure is seeing traditional people going about their daily lives, away from the posh comfort that lures most tourists.

Yesterday we took photos from our hostel window of people walking by on the street. The colours and shadows were strong. Then I set off to do some sketches on the street. It´s a little scarey to go off alone in a strange town and then to actually paint but once I find a spot for my little stool and become a fixture of the street, I settle in and totally enjoy myself. First of all a boy selling icecream started watching me paint the orange juice ladies squeezing their oranges. Then more and more people gathered, even policemen. As I finished sketches, different folks would borrow them and run off to show their friends. Of course they also showed the orange juice ladies!

At three oclock we hopped on the train to Tupiza. It was more breathtaking scenery of mountains, arid plains and beautiful dry washes. Unfortunately the train also played movies and I got sucked in watching a Michael Douglas thriller in Spanish. I alternated between worrying about the little kidnapped girl and savouring the fantastic Bolivian scenery.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday, January 29 2009

The bus station of Tilcara
Is crowded with beautiful young women
Waiting for buses.
Self absorbed, they stand
With their packs and bed rolls
And sleeping bags.
These girls don´t acknowledge me,
This large women in tee shirt and shorts
From another place and time
Who sits on a bench
Clutching packs and watching madly.

The beauties pose in groups.
They move their heads or shoulders
And preen,
Knowing that the world is watching them.

Their eyes are piercing blue,
Or richly dark with full arching brows.
Their hair shines as it`s tossed
Over shoulders, tucked behind ears
Or swung as they lift their chins
To smoke or drink matte.
Berets, alpaca hats with ear lungs,
or shimery bright scarves are worn
With pizzazz and purpose.
Their eclectic outfits
Run the gamut from flowy trousers
With knee length crotches
To mini skirts with
Fluorescent leggings.
Dr Martin boots, Converse All Stars
Or flip flops are the footwear of choice.
Tops are colourful spandex
Often strapless,
Often reveiling flat tummies.
Tanned curving bodies
Are adorned with tatoos,
Discreetly creeping up the neck,
Behind the ear, under the arm,
Or on the lower back.

A local girl in drab sweater,
skirt and worn woven shawl sits
Beside me on the bench.
When she returns my smile,
I see that all her upper teeth are missing.
Her eyes are very wide apart
And dull.
She holds her tiny son,
Dressed in woven shirt
And trousers and peaked cap.
He appraises me with his
Enormous dark eyes
Full of life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Well we had a good couple of days in Tilcara Argentina. In the guide book, it was listed as a small quiet village with an artist colony. Unfortunately it is neither.
No artist colony and it is overrun with thousands of young Spanish kids having fun.
Oh well. It is beautiful. Tilcara is situated in a valley between very glorious gorgious colourful mountains. I did three quarter sheet paintings yesterday despite the sun (it is ever so slightly cooler) Last night we ever put on long sleeved shirts as it was only 80 degrees. Two of the cleaning ladies where we are staying also wanted me to paint their portraits so I stopped one painting mid ptg and obliged and they were thrilled.

Jim´s anxious for me to pack up as we´re off to Bolivia. You can check out his blog if you´re interested at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday January 24

Intense heat,
Dripping sweat, we order cervaza frio
And bask in the cold gold
Cooling from the inside.
Too soon the big bottle is empty
And we´re on the bus.
The bus that cost allot
And should be so comfortable,
But perhaps South Americans
Are shorter in the leg.
I relax in the comfort of air conditioning
Only to be roused by loud Spanish rock videos
On the buses television.
Almost naked women
Thrust, bump and jiggle
Their flesh,
To the incessant steady beat
Of song after song after song.
Then hours of loud Spanish car crashes,
Gun fights, brawls.
I bury my head in my book
To avoid the violent images
But the noice is relentless,
Like Chinese water torture,
Hammering away at my soul.

After five hours,
A chubby Latin in bus uniform
Delivers cold flattened sandwiches
Which taste wonderful.
Anything to escape the boredom.
And a glass of fruity fizzy pop,
Which means an hour later,
I have to brave the stairs of the bus
While it heaves and rocks,
To find the filthy disgusting loo.

Eventually, after many hours,
The noice ends.
Almost heaven,
If only I could straighten my legs and arms.
I doze until morning.
At 6AM, we arrive in
The strange dark city of Salta, Argentina.
Fifteen hours on a bus.
We get a taxi,
Book into another expensive hotel,
(Again listed in South America on a Shoe String)
And sleep.
Sleep until the traffic roars,
Sleeps until the sun is up
But the shadows are still long,
Sleep until the morning air is fresh.
Then we are ready to embrace the day
And start another adventure.

And we did have a marvelous day hoofing it around Salta yesterday after the night on the bus. It`s a lovely city, quite upscale from what we are used to. Lots of good plades to stay, places to see and places to eat. (And you can eat the salads). Salta is situated in a large valley surrounded by enormous hills. The centre area is filled with glorious old architecture. We toured several churches, one museum of history and two museums of art and we both survived our first gondola ride up a mountain. There we shared cervaza grande and still managed the over 1000 steps to get back down to town. Today though my legs still feel a little rubbery.

This morning, I did a quarter sheet painting of a balcony with flowers (always one of my favourite subjects). It´s all about the fabulous lighting and the shadows.
While I was working I had lots of people stop and talk, although almost entirely in Spanish. One girl had amazing English. I asked her where she learned it and she said she learned it from watching television!!!! Also a woman came out onto the balcony that I was painting and watered her flowers!!! I grabbed the camera and this will definitely be a subject for a studio painting once I am home again in Nova Scotia.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22, 2009

A couple of things that I find amusng in Resistencia.

The pet shop that sell pets rats and their food also features rat poison right up at the checkout!!

The famacia (drug store) is called Klap Famacia

The welcome mat at our hostel features welcome on one half and goodbye of the other (I´ve never seen this before)and neither of which anyone here can read since it is totally Spanish speaking.

The highlight of our hotel is that it has the worlds biggest swish when the toilet is flushed. I just imagine it grabbing me and sucking me into the centre of the earth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009

Like Cameleons, we dash
from one patch of shade to the next.
The air is noticably cooler,
The intense colours muted.
We weave from the shade of giant trees,
to the full shadow of awnings,
to the tiny strip that edges store fronts
when the sun is overhead.
Jim sings:
Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.
And it´s true.
The streets are empty,
Gone are the scooters, the cars and the walkers.
It´s siesta time.
Even the supermarcado is cerrado!

Yesterday in Asuncion, Paraguay, Jim and I went out to our favourite bar for breakfast and on the way discovered that the door to the museum of culture was not locked, not exactly open but not locked. In we went and found a worker upstairs who showed us to the third floor and put on lights for us. One gallery was all Paraguayan and the other European, none of it memorable. Then we headed to the bus station. One of the hazards of our kind of travel is that it´s hard to plan ahead.Getting to a bus station even once in large unfamiliar cities and speaking almost no Spanish is a challenge and so usually we just get to the bus station and then wait until there´s a bus headed where we want to go to. Sometimes it decides where we want to go to! Yesterday we arrived at the station at 10 and booked a ticket on a bus for Residencia, Argentina that left at 3. Last night at 11 we arrived. Our Lonely Planet , South America on a Shoe String is somewhat out of date.
The first hotel we asked the taxi to take us to had been closed for three years.
The second one cost twice as much as was in the book but thankfully had a room.
Some of our worst meals have also come from places in our guide. (La Vica Verde)
but to be fair, we´ve also had some of our best meals at places in the guide: Bar San Roque, with its spiffy black suited and crisp white shirted waiters (food to match) and the Lido Bar with it´s curving bar and behind it´s plump middle aged waitresses, in kneelength straight orange skirts, striped shirts and tiny orange pill box hats held on with two enormous bobby pins. Perhaps the orange theme is relevant since the jugo de naranja is the best orange juice in the world. Definitely two of my highlights of Paraguay are the fabulous orange juice and coffee con leche just the way I like it.

This morning we woke up in Resistencia, Argentina. and set off to explore before the heat limited our ramblings. In the big square on opposite sides there were two large demonstations brewing. Horse drawn carts were clipping by and being parked. Their drivers marching to protest for the workers party. While on the other side of the square, protestors for ???????? had spent the night in tents and were gathering up bedrolls and children. Resistencia seems a perfect name for this town.

Now I haven´t been in a good protest since 1982, when Danica (a new born) and I made the front page of the Truro Daily News with our placard against uranium mining at the Bob McCleave inquiry. I am good at making placards. So when we next have a demonstration or a protest in Portaupique, I volunteer to do the signs, Jim says he´ll rouse the rabble. Now we just need a drummer, some protestors and a cause.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday January 19

When we awoke yesterday in the depressing cool noisey box that was our room at the Plaza Hotel, I got out the guide book and started reading about alternative accomodations. I also unshackled the window of it¨s metal cladding, opened the curtians, folded back the windows and turned off the annoying thrumming of the air conditioning. When Jim came in after his shower he was surprised. Especially when I told him I wanted to check out a different pension up the road!! He´s a good man.
Much as he thought I was crazy, up the road we went. We´re now in a gorgious old old house with a central courtyard and blessed quiet. We then hopped on the bus and after getting off and walking for a couple of hours in extreme heat we found the only book store in Paraguay that carries some English books. Heaven. I felt so indulgent since we spent 680,000 quierani. (don´t panic too much 100,000 is $ 20 US.) I now have four books to read, John Updikes, Seek My Face, Margaret Atwoods Moral Disorder and Dave Eggers What is the What, also a book by an unknown to me author Anne Enright, The Gathering and it won the 2007 Booker. For everyone who knows me, you´ll understand how hard it was for me to be without a good book.
No doubt we will now find a book exchange with cheap or free English books but in case we don´t I´m all set. I didn´t buy a table cloth because I´d have to carry it and now I happily will have to carry four new books.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday January 17

Yesterday we left Casa del Monte by taxi and went to Atyra. Our taxi was half as much as what we paid the chap that offered us the free ride up to Casa del Monte two days ago. We stowed our packs at the municipal office and set off around the town on foot. There were signs with messages of inspiration and about equality and respect in the park. The town was very tidy with lots of nice houses and helpful people. Just no hotels or hostels.The women who had helped us find the municipàl office when we arrived by bus two days ago gave me a big hug and kisses She was so pleased to see me again.Another chap was hitching up his oxen and insisted on giving me a ride. Several groups of men have business doing leather work but we couldn´t see any other source of income for this perfect little town in the middle of no where.

At noon before the municipal office closed for the weekend, we collected out packs and went to the bus station. Because we didn´t jump right up and holler and flag the bus to stop, it just drove right on by. We knew what to do when the next bus came by! It was only $ 1 to travel the 60 km to Asuncion. It took us several hours of bumping along in the bus. Windows were open. Seats were hard. People laughed and talked and people kept getting onto the bus for a short distance. While they were on the bus they tried to flog stuff--- suckers. chipas, icecream cones, chocolate donuts, candy. One man was even flogging mens underwear. Another chap that had gotten on with six enormous bags of buns bought a three pack size small. He didn´t look like a size small to me!!!!!
One man got on with a huge box taped and tied and then proceeded to talk loudly on his cell phone, while another chap gave us a loud spiel to buy him cds and dvds!!!

Eventually we arrived in Asuncion. Now, suddenly, we can have to be afraid of everyone even the little kids. And even the mosquitoes since dengue fever is around. And it is so incredibly hot that we just have to stay inside in the afternoon. We did do a long walking tour of the central area this morning. Lots of wonderful wonderful old buildings and houses and presidencial palaces etc. I have never been a beer lover but quickly Jim and I have formed the habit of stopping to split a large cold cervasa.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday January 15

Thunder rumbles in the distance,
Occationally crashing overhead on this mountaintop at Casa Delmonte.
The jungle like air is hot and wet,
One minute dripping and the next pouring.
It slides over yellow green, to blue green to green green,
Wrapping us all in a soft heavy fragrant cloak.
Trills, chortles, piercing cries, deep screeches eminate from overhead,
Their owners hidden in the foliage until the rain passes and the day turns glorious.
Large ants scurry by, always on a mission.
Are these the same ants that make the giant red mounds
that jut up like large bolders in the fields?
A gecho races up a tall straight palm
heading for the explosion of foliage overhead.
Insects buzz and dart.
I wonder which ones carry denga fever.
Our room in this expensive eco lodge is simple, austere.
In the cheap hotel in town which was within our budget,
we slept under a hideous red and brown tapestry bedspread
edged with gobs of slithery red satin.
Now we sleep under off white woven cotton.

Hello All
Yesterday we packed up in Caccupe and took our bags down to the main street and waited for a bus to Atyra. The day before we had seen numerous buses to Atyra but we had to wait about an hour until one appeared. I forgot that that carrying my suitcase, I couldn´t get up the steps of the bus! Somehow we got on. The ride up was on a long red sand road. We kept wondering how would we know Atyra when we got there? Eventually we arrived at a marvelous little town. We asked an older lady about hotels and she took us up the street to the municipal office and eventually we were driven several kilometers up a mountain to an expensive compound resort, Casa Delmonte. Perhaps Atyra doesn´t have a hotel. Although this isn´t at all what we wanted we´re here for two nights. We´re enjoying the pool, the good food (expensive) and we have plans to spend all day tomorrow seeing Atyra. We´re also studying our Spanish with more vim and vigour since it´s our lack of language that really makes travelling difficult.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday January 12

Yesterday we caught a local bus from Caaguazu to Caacupe. Getting a ticket amidst a crowd of locals all speaking Spanish was a challenge itself. Ond chap told us with actions to sit down. Another chap offered us sips of his mate. Now I realize sharing a straw and drinking strange water wouldn´t be the best idea but we did want to try it so we did and so far no bad reprocussions. Eventually we got herded onto a bus going to Caacupe. Someone had been sick on this bus and this held things up. Eventually we all pushed on. More and more and more until you couldn´t squeeze another person into the aisle. It´s a feat to stand up in a bumpy bus for two and half hours! I was too high to see out the windows but my face was only a foot from the television screen so I watched some Jackie Chan comedy and violence in Spanish whether I wanted to or not.

It was sort of scarey to arrive with packs in melting hot temperatures having no idea where to stay, when you don-t speak the language however we did manage to find a place and the air conditioning is worth every penny. I think this year air conditioning might be our new requirement. Last year it was that I had to have a window, this year I just want a place to escape the extreme heat. We are drinking quite a bit of beer and it has never tasted so good.

This morning we set off walking and went to a municipal building. Jim and I managed to find a wonderful tourist information person. She didn-t speak much English but a tiny bit and she took us on a hours walk around the town. We even got to the top of the big church. Then we went to a small old church that has holy water that heals so we are both now YOUNG again.

After the walk around, Jim worked on his blog and I headed off with my paints and did a quartersheet painting in the full sun. Unfortunately it isn-t as wonderful as I wanted it to be but such is the challenge of being an artist.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday January 12

We are in Caaguazu, the first town we´ve visited on this trip that isn´t in any of the guide books. If feels wonderful. Even though Jim and I are tourists ourselves, I find that tourists ruin the fabric of everyday life in a village. And it´s that fabric that I enjoy seeing.

After we arrived here by bus we hoofed it around Caaguazu and just saw whatever there was to see. I also took a walk around by myself and did some painting. Even last night, we dragged a table and chairs out onto a deck overlooking the street and watched the traffic.
Jim did a study about the nuber of women on motorcyles. According to JiM: 90% of women after 6 pm go 2 to a bike. Once we started recognizing all the people on the bikes (ie. here´s the family with the two small children and another on the way) we gave up the study and played cards. We also shared a delicious $ 1.00 a bottle of wine!

Earlier when we´d been out for a late afternoon ramble we saw a bride on the back of a motorcylce. She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and was holding her veil and hair so it wouldn´t fly about. Ten minutes later we walked by a church and there was a bride getting out of a car. Darn I said. It´s not our bride, this one has different hair and veil. We stopped and watched for a few minutes and another car and bride pulled up and this time it was our girl. Then much to our amazement a third bride and bridal party arrived!!! Who knows what this is all about!

When Danica was is Asia, she gave us lists of the weirdest things she saw on a motorcyle. We can´t come close to Danica´s record but motorcycles in Paraguay (some even made by Yamazuki) are a major form of transportation and in the evenings, entertainment. They might even be a form of birth control because of how many people can you really fit on one bike? Enormous speed bumps on the roads attempt to slow the traffic but everyone weaves around, wearing bare feet and shorts and clutching infants. We even saw one girl text messaging while driving her bike. Luckily most of the bikes don´t have loud sterio systems but the cars more than make up for this.

The town of Caaguazu has an inordinate number of bridal dress shops, cell phone shops and farmacias. Jim and I speculated on the relationship. We also walked by lots of video stores one even aptly named Pirata Video.

A few of the main streets are paved and some of the cross streets are cobble. Quickly, away from the town centre, the streets are just red sand and some have enormous ruts and holes and wouldn´t be passable by car. This morning before the temperature made being outside upbearable we wandered into the countryside. The houses on the edge of town are basic shacks, people are sitting outside drinking their mate, and horses and chickens and dogs and little kids wander freely. We are still trying to figure out exactly what mate is. Everyone carries large two litre thermos jugs of it and they have special cups and metal straws which also sieve the leaves out. Yesterday we tried a chipa. Chipas are the size and shape of a small donut and they are are like a warm solid bun flavoured with anise. It was really tasty. I´ve also been noticing emperados of empernos for sale. They look like Cornish Pasteries. The first one I tried was awful, dry, cold chewy bun filled with dry cold chewy meat. Today´s was terrific. It was hot and filled with ham and cheese.

It is such a relief to find air conditioning that my reports from Paraguay may continue to be really long since I want to postpone going out into the heat again!

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 9

I have discovered that it always good to stay more than one day in a place as after the initial panic of a new place, I settle in and start to enjoy myself.
This morning, after a good breakfast and a chat with the resident parrots, Jim and I set off walking to find the bus station. Jim boldly went though a gate to a government building. I was ready to bolt. He explaned to the suited chap at the table at the door that we were from Canada and we needed tourist information. This chap took us upstairs to the office of another chap who everntually took us to the office of a third chap. Our third chap spoke some English and had been to Canada with a Rotary exchange. He was very interested in giving us ideas of places to see in Paraguay. He called another chap who was responsible for tourism and translated for us. Now we have some ideas of towns to see and we will catch a bus to the first on tomorrow. Jim, who´s ever prepared and resourceful pulled out Canada and Nova Scotia pins for our new friends and they were pleasse.

On our hike back from the bus station, I even found a spot where it was safe enough to get the camera out and take a photo. We were in front of the armed Dept of Justice!! I got a couple of photos and then I hunkered down to do a little sketch. Across the street there were three men sitting in the shade with a big rack of two litre colourful matte thermoses. Unfortunately I haven´t had the opportunity to try matte yet. I think it´s a cold tea which is sipped with a straw that has a built in strainer. So far Jim and I have stuck with beer but eventually I´ll find some matte that I´m sure is made with clean water.

It is amazingly hot here. A few minutes ago we had a sudden wind and thunder and rain and still it is hot but the air may be a bit less heavy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 8

This morning Jim and I got a local bus in Foz de Iguacu and went to the Itaipu Dam, a joint project of Brazil and Paraguay. Now that Three Gorges Dam in China is built, it is the second largest in the world. First of all we had to watch a nausiating film full of propoganda about how wonderful this project is. Recently I rented Üp the Yatze River¨ from the Bass River store.This documentary on the Three Gorges Dam should be shown to balance out the Itaipu film. In any regard, the Itaipu Dam is an enormous hydro electric project and perhaps that´s still the safest best way to produce electricity.

It is scortching hot today, even still at 7 pm. When we returned from the dam, we collected our bags from the hotel and got a taxi to Ciudad Del Este in Paraguay. Luckily the first hostel we went to was full and so we are in a slightly more upscale place with air conditioning!!! and a patio. The town itself is very frightening. Maybe I´ll acclimatize by tomorrow. Although I had my camera tucked out of sight in a shoulder bag that I had my arm around, the lady at the hostel lent me a backpack and told me to put it on my front and to clutch it. At this rate there will be not be any photos in Ciudad del Este. The streets here are lined with stalls and dirt and cheap stuff and noice. It feels much worse than Bankok.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wednesday January 7, 2009

We spent the past two days at Iguazu Falls; yesterday on the Brazilian side and today on the Argentinian side. Yesterday was glorious but oh so crowded. We almost didn´t go back today but I´m so glad that we did. The Iguazu Falls are very extensive and the Argentinian side has lots of trails so that at some points you occationally experience the jungle atmostphere all by yourselves. I started out today sketching people waiting for the train. I savoured how all of our faces are the same (two eyes, one nose and one mouth) and yet we are all different like snowflakes. It´s a buzz for an artist just to try to capture a look in a few seconds with just a little black squiggled line!

During the day I also did two watercolour sketches of the falls. The first was okay, but a bit tight. In the second one I sort of captured the power and amazingness of these waterfalls. It´s hard to do a painting standing up holding everything, especially when tourists keep leaning over your shoulder and saying look this way, turn your painting this way. Suddenly I was the tourist attraction.

Jim and I hiked allot today and when we stopped to sit on one shady stone bench a large lizard (about two feet) slithered out in front to get its photo taken. We also saw many long nosed racoons (just as much a problem here as at home) . We also saw some huge fish and a camen. The fish have evolved differently above the falls and below the falls. I have many photos of birds and butterflies and of course allot of water. Everyone seems to want to have their photo taken with a back drop of the falls. This is a totally new thing for me to have my picture taken so often by Jim!

I hope any of my friends and family who are travelling along with us vicariously are enjoying the trip! I´m glad you´re along and I miss you all

Monday, January 5, 2009

January 4th (day three of the trip)

After breakfast this morning we headed downhill on foot for about 25 minutes to a huge huge park. On the way we enjoyed a street filled with a Sunday morning market. The park has 5 or 6 big galleries in it but most were closed until Jan 6 for renovation except the Museum of Modern Art. The first piece we saw was by Yoko Ono and was an installation of about 100 coffins, all in various sizes each with a tree growing out of it. Is this about life after death? Another piece had two enormous screens with one man facing outwards and the other with the same man facing inwards. Non stop he made weird noices, birds, gargling, screaming etc. Not a piece that I would care to live with!! Probably the piece I enjoyed most was a large room with four walls. One wall had small wooden men with briefcases hurrying forward- many rows of many men. One was had the same men in different scenerios of life. The aspect of this that I loved was the cast shadows from the scenerios, especially the man climbing a ladder. On another all the briefcases were being gathered in a giant funnel and then men turned into birds and flew away!!!

Once back outside in the enormous park we joined the throngs of people- running, biking, walking, skateboarding. We decided that since we are leaving Sao Paulo tomorrow we should find our way to the bus station and investigate destinations and times cost etc. We got on the subway okay and off at the right stop but at the bus station I was overwehlmed with the crowds of people, and all the bus companies and no way to communicate with anyone. Somehow although I was totally scared. we managed to book an over night bus to the Falls on the border of Paraguay, Argintina and Brazil for tomorrow. The bus trip is 15 hours and was over $200 dollars. It is only a tiny leg of our trip. I´m hoping it`s cheaper when we`re out of Brazil.

On our way back to our hotel we got off the subway at Luz and right in front of the stop was another fantastic art gallery! (Jim is a saint) This one had a huge collection of Brazilian art from x1x to xx1. Again it was organized by theme not time period and the exhbition walls were very high and hung in the old gallery style of five or six painting deep so that some of them were at 14`feet overhead. There was allot to look at and we enjoyed it all. I loved the styalized sculpture and the modern sculpture better than the realiztic female nudes. Some of the abstract work had real sizzle and a few of the oils of faces and landscapes made me want to come right home and paint in oils. We left the gallery at 5:45 to see the park before it got dark since it is known to be unsafe. We only had 15 minutes before the guards kicked us out. That´s one way to handle unsafe. Eventually we headed home on the subway and we went to the restaurant that we ate the buns at on night one. We managed to figure out the buffet and I had my first fantastic healthy meal. Sometimes it is very scarely to travel in a large city where you can`t communicate with anyone. Despite that, Jim remains peaceful and I feel amazed and proud that we´re having fun and surviving. The journey is the adventure-- just as in life.

January 3.2009

We set off up Avenue Paulista. It is lined with amazing sky scrapers. The architecture is astonishing. Art made out of buildings. Many of the buildings were fully decorated for Christmas with swatches of fabric the height of the buildings. They looked like giant presents. And the decorations at ground level are out of this world: columns wrapped in blue and gold, a santa train, giant christmas trees. One big one that I found lovely was made out of huge metal shapes covered with crushed pop cans. This afternoon we wandered into one bank doorway and the entire mesanine was filled with small houses from different countries, each one decorated for christmas and with a life sized santa and mrs. claus. The balls on the ceiling were at least 8 feet in diameter and there were also a zillion stars in lights. In amongst the mechanical santas there were real people posing as mechanical.

I never know when something will catch my eye and I`ll have to dig out my camera. This morning I got a great shot of a reflection in wall/ceiling of two tables with different colours chairs and one woman eating was seen from the top of her head.

Also today we saw the biggest cultural book shop that you can ever imagine. Three architecturally stunning levels. Disappointing to me that everything was in Portuguese. Also in this complex called CAIXA we saw an exhibition of art by Inha Bastos, called Feminino. Her style is distinctive and reminisent of my potatoe people paintings. I loved the whimsy and the gentle consistency of this exhibition.

As usual, I have a hard time walking by an open church and so we found one to have a few minutes of quiet. The city is not really frenzied though. The traffic is respectful and nobody lays on their horns. It is safe to cross the road on a green walk signal. Much of the fast traffic must be on the highway that runs under Avenue Paulista! Everyone in Sao Paulo drives a tiny car and nobody hangs out of the buses holloring as in Bolivia.

Jim and I wandering into an amazing park across from the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo MASP.
This park was two city blocks of rain forest right in the city!! A high arched bridge spanned the road in the middle down below and it didn`t interfere with the park at all. It has been consistently raining or misty and that definitely added to the rain forest perseption.

The MASP gallery was just wonderful. Jim got in for free since he`s over 60. He`s 66 today!
The main exhibit was Virtue and Appearance (on the way to modernity). It was marvelous and huge and organized by theme rather than by time period, which made an interesting juxdapositon of images. All the big names were represented--Degas, Monet, Manet, Picasso, Da Vinci, Cezanne, Tintoretto, Rodin etc etc. They even had a Kath Kolwitz, the artist whose exhibit I loved while visiting Japan. Recently Jim found a book on her at our Truro Library and we book really enjoyed it. Its amazing how much of my current reading keeps popping into life. The recent biography of Leonardo Da Vinci that I read in Texas talked about his notebooks. Reproductions of these notebooks were on sale in the cultural bookshop in Sao Paulo.

After the Virtue and Appearance Exhibit, we went up to another floor for an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art. and then to the ground level for some Brazilian art.

Needless to say, we were very very hungery after all the walking and looking. I took Jim out for a birthday supper. Its a total crap shoot to order food from a Portuguese menu!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sao Paulo, here we are

January 2,2009
We arrived today in Sao Paulo, Brazil this morning. It was a long overnight flight and we were so tired. We had a half hour walk looking to buy some water and then took a nap in our digs. booked into the Hotel Real Paulista for the next three days. Our room is definitely very very cramped but welcome to South America and our slim budget. Our room is about $ 40 a night-- way over our budget in Bolivia. But despite the rooms tiny size and mean appointments, we do have a private toilet and hot water- both luxuries that Jim enjoys. And the location is wonderful and the area feels safe.
After the nap, Jim was in the shower and I headed downstairs to sketch. I did the sculpture in the little corner park right outside the hotel door. It felt so good to be drawing, surrounded by `park people`` beggars, infirm, cyclists and old men. It did cross my mind that I was the only female and definitely the park regulars (including the pigeons) were interested in this newcomer. I was having a really good time when the skies opened, the park emptied and the rain poured.

Jim and I set off in the rain exploring. We found a lovely garden and later a marvelous art exhibit. It was called 300% Spanish and was two floors of exhibitions. One was of lighting, one was posters and one was chairs. I just loved it and I``m inspired to design a lamp, a chair and a poster!! This exhibition followed on the heals of seeing the movie Helvetica in Texas. This movie about graphic design was just what these exhibitions were all about. Of course my favourite chair was designed by Salvidor Dali!!!

By 6 pm I was starving having only had a coffee and yogurt on the plane this morning. We went to a small cafe and couldn.t quite figure out how to get what we wanted but we did share a piece of crepe and buns and we bought some cookies and a bottle of wine. We may have to open it with our teeth.

Tomorrow is Jim~s birthday so anyone who is following this blog you might want to send him greetings, to
and of course email me too if you want to.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years Day 2009

Happy New Year to all!
Jim and I are off to South America today.
The photos about I got in Dallas at the Aquarium.