Saturday, March 31, 2012

Apples and altitude

I've never thought about altitude sickness until this trip.  I've been to Colorado for a few days to ski, but I've never climbed Mt. Everest or lived in the Alps like Julie Andrews.  La Paz is apparently 16,000 feet high.  I'll do my stats, but I'm pretty sure that's higher than the Rockies.  These are the Andes!  Last night as we flew in, it was hard to see the mountains, but as we drove into La Paz from it's neighboring city El Alto, it was a downward spiral around mountains and cliffs with beautiful lights from the homes that dotted the hills. 

Altitude sickness apparently is due to the decreased about of oxygen in the air.  It's your body adapting to this change.  Your pH gets thrown off I think as your body becomes more acidic and your bone tries to make more red blood cells to carry oxygen around to your organs.  It manifests as nausea/vomiting, headache, weakness, fatigue.  The cure for Americans: prevention with a diuretic called Diamox (pre-treats you make you more acidic beforehand so you can catch up sooner), then hydration.  The cure for Bolivians: coca tea.  That's right, it's the plant that ends up becoming cocaine when super concentrated.  It's actually illegal in the U.S. (so I won't be bringing any home).

True confession: I'm currently on my 4th glass of this today.  (Per the recommendations of the "gringos" who are from the U.S. now living here. "Drink as much as you can!" they say.  "It only helps!")  It's just like green tea, no big.  And currently I'm headache and nausea free.  The only symptom I JUST had was muscle pain on the way home from the store carrying 2 2-liter waters and another 8 pack of bottled water.  I'm better now! (as I sip on my tea...)  More to come on my grocery store experience today....

On the drive in from the airport, my new friends Gwen and John were giving me all the hot tips on living in Bolivia (including coca tea).  One big piece of advice: don't eat cut fruit.  If you REALLY want it, you have to wash it in a bleach bath first.  Wow.  I'd heard that bananas or things with skin may be ok, right?  Next tip: to be safe, don't eat meat that's in any way not cooked fully.  Better yet just to become a vegetarian at this point maybe.  AND watch out for that running water!  Bottled water only, even for tooth brushing.  Yikes!  I knew I was sunk when the first thing I did before bed this morning was put a big handful of sink water in my mouth.  I froze.  Oops.  I immediately spit it out and rinsed with that life saving bottled water!  Hope that did the trick.  :)  This morning I stood staring at my breakfast: bread, honey, butter, and, you guessed it, green apples.  Apples.  Did they say anything about these?  Are these off limits?  I pondered this thinking first, well, I'm just not going to do it.  Then hunger and the thought of a fresh apple overwhelmed me and I went for it: took the apple to the sink, washed it with [bottled] water, cut it into wedges, and carefully ate only the insides of the wedges.  No touching that skin!

Hope that worked. 


Hi all!
I'm here!  And tired... so not much blogging to be done right now.  I got a taxi ride with my friends from the church here who met me SUPER early at the airport this morning.  It took a while to organize getting my tourist visa ($135 dollars cash on demand plus multiple forms), but I made it out as a legal Bolivian tourist with all my luggage and now am in a comfortable home in the Zona Sur (South Zone) of La Paz.  I plan on sleeping for a while.  More to come... (The Internet works!)

Friday, March 30, 2012


I had low expectations for dinner tonight at the airport (see previous blog).  I found La Carretera, a Cuban meat and three, and was I surprised!  No Manchu Wok here!  I stood there with my tray and silverware looking around at all the Cuban meat selections and various rice mixtures asking the workers, "What's the best?"  The lady responded to me in Spanish,  "Whatever you prefer, really, " with an unsure look.  Then the man to my right pipes up, "Do you like pork?"  I said sure and followed his lead.  I ended up with a fat-filled shredded pork mixture with some dirty rice (with black beans) and, you guessed it, fried plantains.  (Picture to come.)  Super awesome. 

So what are my expectations about Bolivia?  To be quite honest, I have no idea what Bolivia is like other than I expect that they speak Spanish.  What else?.... I think that the people will have dark hair and dark eyes and generally be more tan than I am.  They will be very friendly to me, a "gringo" as they say.  I expect most areas to be poorer than where I have lived and spent my life - gravel roads, no super nice shopping establishments or malls.  Somewhere there will be large markets with meats, vegetables, flowers, maybe hats?  I heard it's super sunny.  I know for sure it's at high altitude, but not sure what that means other than great mountain views maybe?  Hot water will be short lived if present.  And the food?  Really, I have no idea.  Maybe rice and beans?  Do they eat tortillas?  I don't want to be one of those people who think that every Spanish speaking country eats tacos.  Trust me, this is not true.  Not one taco in the country of Spain.  I know, hard to imagine, right?  They don't even know what tortilla chips are in Spain!  How bout that?!?!

And healthcare in Bolivia: again I have no idea.  Are there thousands of boxes of non-latex plastic gloves lying around for every patient encounter?  Sinks in every room?  Alcohol foam at every door?  Computers?  Hmmm....

Post your thoughts on this!


These bustling, hectic, and unique establishments are such interesting places.  Even in Raleigh, NC you can find such a variety of people headed in different directions or, more surprisingly, the exact same city as you.  Well, I haven't found anyone else going to La Paz, Bolivia yet except for me, but I'm not asking around necessarily.  I found most people on the plane were headed to the Keys or one of the Caribbean islands for vacations.  Fun!

I'm writing this in the Miami International airport.  Current setting: a table against a wall next to a coffee shop.  No plugs to be found.  I'm paying $8 to use their Internet, and they don't supply plugs except for once in a 1/2 mile stretch of the terminal where there's a column self proclaiming to be a "media center" where there are 3 plugs available.  What I'm hearing and seeing: a man walks by audibly huffing and puffing to get to his gate (hope there was no chest pain involved), Spanish words fly all around as tall tan ladies in strappy high heels push through the crowd in short skirts, techno music in the distance, a wall of faces of 100 Miami Latinos looks down on me ("A Journey of Success"), a nice African American man asks me about Internet access, a hot pink shuttle flies by carrying people, and I see the 10th person holding or reading Hunger Games.

That's right, Hunger Games is everywhere!  For those of you that don't know, the Hunger Games is a book that has recently been made into a movie.  It's a part of a series, and I think that since the movie's now out, it has exploded into everyone's personal novel collections.  It's in my purse right now, it was in the man's hand behind me in security, and I have reason to think that almost every individual in the airport has it hidden somewhere on their person (if they know what's good for them).  Gotta see that movie when I get back!

Speaking of security, what an experience!  I feel that almost every person, after going through security, has some very mild form of PTSD, or maybe just anxiety reaction.  There's so much pressure to perform!  I'm working on perfecting the skill of removing my shoes and taking the laptop out from the backpack while placing 4 buckets on the assembly line all at the same time. 

Well, I'm now about to embark now on the challenge of finding food that is appealing and yet not extremely expensive.  The main choices I've seen so far include a few different types of Mexican restaurants (usually the word "Tequila" is in there somewhere), mixed with Manchu Wok and Nathan's hot dogs.  We'll see what happens! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Comparison - Part 1: The United States

Currently I'm sitting in a townhome that I'm renting with my husband.  We live in a complex with paved streets next to a nice lake with a fountain.  There are cars out front, my Honda being one of them.  Our second car is in the garage in the back.  Most of our neighbors are young couples with lots of pet dogs that they frequently walk around the lake.  I'm on the second floor in one of our three bedrooms at a desk using a laptop.  Tonight for dinner I ate a piece of pizza and multiple various and sundry snack foods (we had people over) including broccoli, Ranch dip, grapes, tortilla chips, Velveeta and Rotel, and chocolate pie.  I used my cell phone to talk with my mom for a while, then I watched TV for a few minutes.  Later tonight I'll go to the bathroom where I'll turn on the sink to wash my face and brush my teeth.  I'll plug my cell phone into the wall and set my alarm.  Then, I'll put one more sweater on the suitcase full of clothes in preparation for tomorrow when I fly to my destination: La Paz, Bolivia.