Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Easter Island: Wonder and Mystery, and ‘Dudes’

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is one of the most isolated and undeveloped places earth, sitting alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s a five-hour flight from Santiago, and there’s nowhere closer.  The next nearest gateway is Tahiti, which is six hours away by air.  It’s a place of the same kind of wonder and mystery as Machu Picchu and Stonehenge.  There are all kinds of theories, but no one can fully explain what man did in these places before recorded history. 

The island is claimed by Chile, but the culture is Polynesian.  And the superstars here are the Moai, giant sculptures carved of stone that number more than 800.  They’re believed to have been created in honor of ancestors, and seem to have stood sentinel.  I want to call them ‘The Dudes’.  Don’t they look like ‘dudes’ to you?  Some even sport a ‘man bun’ (topknot). They’ve been restored and re-erected in locations all around the island.

I’m staying at Explora Rapa Nui, an all-inclusive lodge with a full menu of morning and afternoon ‘explorations’.  You can check it out at explora.com/hotels-and-travesias/easter-island-chile/.  We walk, hike and bike to visit the Moai, and see pieces of them amongst the wild horses and cattle.  We explore sites of ancient houses and petroglyphs, and there are panoramic views from the rims of the island’s volcanic craters and trails above the rugged coastline. I had hoped to go SCUBA diving, and to see ‘dudes’ underwater, but big waves are keeping boats in the harbor. I did get to do a little snorkeling.  All of the activities are led by local guides, who tell stories passed down by their grandparents.

Isolated, yes, but this is also definitely one of the most interesting places on earth! 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Santiago, Chile: Back to the Future

A two-and-a-half hour flight from La Paz, Bolivia, to Santiago, Chile, and I’m seemingly 50 years or more ‘back to the future’.  Santiago has modern vehicles and roadways; tree-lined boulevards with broad sidewalks, and dramatic, tall glass-and-steel skyscrapers, as well as buildings and monuments from its colonial past.  I took a day trip to the very colorful port town of Valparaiso.  And I saw a big guy there who reminded me a little of home!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Done, and Moving On

Our six days of building is complete, and our team is going in separate ways.  After one more day in La Paz, I move on to Chile.  But others are staying in Bolivia and a number are going to the Salt Flats, where they'll stay in 'Salt Hotels'.  I didn't even know about that!  As with all of these trips, we leave feeling great satisfaction, exhaustion and camaraderie, and SO thankful for all we have, and the lives we live. 

The houses we worked on are larger and nicer than most of my other 'builds'.  They're three bedroom and about 750 square feet, and they have plumbing, electricity, tile kitchens and baths, and finished plaster interior walls.

While we didn't have much interaction with the homeowners, we did enjoy being with the contractors, and some of their spouses and children.  And I even spoke with some sheep each day.  Baaaa  .  .  . 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lake Titicaca

OK, yes, the name is fun to say. Titicaca!  It’s the largest high altitude lake in the world with boats on it, and it serves as part of the border for Bolivia and Peru. During our two-day break from work, we stayed in the lakeside village of Copacabana.  It has the same name as the famous Rio de Janeiro beach, but the resemblance ends there.  For an excursion, we traveled by boat to Isla del Sol, an island in the lake where no vehicles are allowed, so all transport is by foot, water or donkey.  I knew that we’d be walking and hiking there, but I didn’t know that it would be on ancient Inca steps and trails, and that we’d see a temple and stone walls and terraces similar to those at Machu Picchu.  It was a four-hour trip by bus and ferry to Copacabana, but it felt a world away from the frenzied, teeming mass of humanity in La Paz.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

And We Build

We pace ourselves, and need to catch our breath at times at 13,000 feet, but we’re getting a lot done.  Five home sites were in various stages when we arrived, including two that were noting but dirt lots. So we’re doing everything from digging foundations and mixing and pouring concrete to tying Rebar supporting metal, building walls of clay block and doing final cleaning of exteriors.  Our team just fits inside a cramped minivan for a one-hour daily commute through chaotic traffic.  Medical aides from the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) are on site, checking our blood pressure and standing at the ready, since we’re working at such high elevation.  But everyone is staying in good health and spirit, laughing a lot, and generally having a fantastic time.  We’re happy to meet homeowner families, and we have a constant companion in a dog named Paloosa.  The weather changes dramatically throughout the day, from blazing sun to a chill with cloud cover, and even a little rain and hail.  And we continue to be amazed when we look up from our work and see the deep blue sky, beautiful billowy clouds and the snow capped Andes Mountains.