Saturday, August 28, 2004

First Impressions

The flight went great until we started landing in La Paz. In fact, both Jane and Mac slept from Miami to La Paz, leaving me alone to watch the horrible ¨Starsky and Hutch¨ movie. Anyway, as we are landing in La Paz, Mac is cuddling with me. I feel something hot on my side -- Mac is vomiting. Mac kept vomiting as we landed. He also became feverish and very lethargic. He had altidude sickness due to La Paz´s 12,000-13000 feet of elevation. Oh, and it is 5:30 in the morning and 30 deg. F outside. And the kids are dressed for Los Angeles weather. Luckily the plane crew gave us some blankets or the kids would have froze. Well, we hit immigration and I´m dead last in line. An immigration official comes over and takes us aside. He then takes our passports and documents, brings them to the front of the line, has them stamped, returns them to us and lets us pass. This is the kind of treatment I have so far received from all Bolivianos. It´s the kids. They love kids.

So, we are covered in puke (me especially -- Jane had puked on the way to the airport in LA because of my Dad´s crazy driving), freezing and exhausted. We finally collect our 5 huge bags, clear customs and get our boarding passes for the flight to Cocha. We´ve got 2 hours to wait, so I put the kids to bed on some seats. Poor Mac´s blanket is so covered in puke that I can´t put it on him. A security guy comes over and gives me his jacket to cover Mac with. I settle in for a couple hours of watching ¨Good Morning Bolivia¨or some such. Finally it´s time to get on the plane to Cocha. Security comes over and gets me, takes me to the front of the line without asking, and gets me on the plane. They even carry Mac for me all the way to my seat.

A nice guy named Elias sat next to us on the plane. He is Boliviano from La Paz, but has spent the past 15 years in Salt Lake City. He speaks perfect English, and is married to an American citizen. Elias is travelling to Cocha to scout out opportunities for the non-profit he is starting. He´s trying to help the indiginous people with literacy and, eventually, with starting their own small businesses. Elias was a wealth of information on what to expect in Bolivia and Cocha, and filled me in on a lot of customs. He helps carry my bags off the plane, while I struggle with the kids. (Post script: The next day, Elias stops by our house for an hour or so. He has decided to relocate his family to Cocha, so we eagerly await their arrival in a couple months or so).

At baggage claim, Meg sees us and literally barges her way through security and scoops Jane in her arms. Mom is in tears and Jane holds on for dear life. Finally, they let go and Mac gets the mommy treatment. We leave the ¨secured¨area and meet Robert and Mary Jo, the school counsler and director, respectively. Robert is a native of Cocha and we need his local knowledge as we leave the airport in his Jeep Cherokee and are immeidately stopped by a rolling blockage of Minis (local buses). They are portesting gas prices. We cut through alleys. Back track down streets. It´s like being in a video game, because the blockades keep popping up. These are pretty common here, but as long as you don´t try and go through them they are peaceful. Anyway, we finally get to our new house.

Oh, by this time, Mac is feeling much better. The drop in altitude helped him a lot (Cocha is at 8,000 feet).

My first impression of Cocha was ¨Wow, we´re not in Portland anymore.¨ The architecture is a mix of Colonial, ¨modern Latin¨and rubble. A disintegrating hut of a house will stand right next to an amazing 6,000 sq, ft. mansion, with glass shard and barb-wire topped walls and armed guards. Every house -- even ours -- is surrounded by 10 foot tall security walls. I love the indiginous women you see everywhere, with their bowler hats, colorful shawls, and layers of petticoats. It makes me feel like I am living in an issue of National Geographic. I am also struck by the racial diversity. Robert, the school counsler, is a local but is as white as I am. Most people look either hispanic or indian, but there are all shades of people here from white to brown to black. Our favorite local restaurant, Sole Mio, is run by a couple from Naples, who import all of their ingredients from Italy. They came here to adopt a child and never left!

We´re very much in a third world country, though. Poverty is everywhere. So is trash. At the nearest roundabout on Cicumvalencion (the big street we live off of) lies the rusted out hulk of a car, and it has been there for a long time. The nearest park has playground equipment not seen in the US since the rise of the tort lawyer, and they sit amidst equal parts rocks and broken glass. Herds of dirty, mangy dogs roam the streets. It´s a trip.

The other thing about Cocha is that NO ONE speaks English. No one! So, I will learn some Spanish or suffer.

Our second day we went to La Cancha, the biggest outdoor market in Bolivia. It´s a trip, but more on that later.

Mac is walking now. He´s such a little man.

We´re still working on getting a phone. We will probably get a cell phone, because our house does not have a phone line. You need to ¨buy¨a phone line here, and it costs like $1,000US. So, only the rich have phones. Everyone else needs to use pay phones.

I´ve got a book full of notes on what I have see so far, and will post more in coming weeks. This place is amazing and scarry and depressing and beautiful. I also have a ton of pictures, but need to find a computer with a fast connection and a USB port so I can upload them.

Also, I can be e-mailed at ¨filiault68@yahoo.com¨ and Megan at ¨meganfiliault@yahoo.com.¨ We have no telephone, no television, no English language newspapers ´(can´t even get USA Today here), no English radio -- our only connection to the outside world is the internet cafes. So WE LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!!

Ciao (that´s how they say goodbye here).


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Cocha Leaves Me Breathless

Just a quick note to let everyone know we arrived safe and sound. I´ll give you the full report later, but briefly:

* 17 hours of travel
* Mac got altitude sickness in La Paz. We arrived there at 5AM and it was 30 degrees out. At 13,000 feet!! Mac puked from the moment we landed until we left for Cocha.
* I can´t breathe. I´m constantly winded and dehydrated at this altitude. It will take some getting used to. Meg says she still can´t run more than 10 minutes.
* We can see Megan´s school from our house. We can also see the famous Christ statue that overlooks the city (it´s taller than the one in Rio).
* The city is a bustle of cars, buses, little buses, and a billion taxis. The population is very diverse, with native Bolivianos who look like me, and lots of indiginous women in traditional Cocha bowler hats and colorful shawls.
* We are getting a cell phone since our house does not have a land line and getting one installed would be hugely expensive.
* We do have a physical address -- e-mail me if you want it. (Mail here is impossibly slow. US Postal says that airmail to Bolivia takes 5-10 days. Well, it may take USPS 10 days to get the letter to Bolivia, but it takes Bolivia postal a month more to get it to your house.

Like I said, more later. We´re here.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Goodbye, America!

We've made it as far as Los Angeles. God, I hate Los Angeles. It must be the most depressing place in the world. All of its natural beauty has either been paved over or turned into some silly "master planned" development with artificial greenery. Everything about it is so fake. It's strange that two of my favorite people in the world -- my Dad and my buddy JP -- live in a place I hate so much. Oh, well.

The trip down here was insane. Getting moved out of the house took longer than I expected. Luckily, a killer crew turned up on moving day -- Chuck, Larissa, Adam, Nate, Chris, Susan, Mark, Jenny and my "rocks" Scott, Simon and Terri, who stayed until the bitter end. I still had 3 trips to storage, 1 to the dump, and 1 marathon $502 visit to the post office before I could leave. On the last day, our neighbor and friend Wendy was nice enough to cancel some meetings and keep her daughter Sophie (one of Jane's best friends) home from preschool so she could watch Mac and Jane. That was a lifesaver -- without her, I'd probably still be in Portland packing!

By 2pm on Tuesday, I finally got the minivan packed up (and it was filled to the roof) and we hit the road. At the end, I had to go through the house with a bunch of trashbags, throwing everything that wasn't nailed down into them. I figured I'd sort it when I got to my moms. With the van gassed up, I hit interstate 5. 45 minutes later I pulled into the first rest stop and napped. I was that tired. It was the first of 4 really bad naps I'd take (or try to take) during the trip.

The trip from Portland to Discovery Bay took 14.5 hours, Mac cried most of the way. Jane napped on and off, but from about 2AM on, she stayed awake "So I can help you go the right way," she said. We finally arrived at 4:30 in the morning, completely exhausted. We spent the next day hanging out and swimming in the delta. My mom's house is right on the water, so you go out the back door, walk down the deck, and dive in. It's a fun place to hang out. Mac, in particular, enjoyed his time with his Grandpa Chuck, my stepdad. Chuck and Mac have a special bond, and Mac napped much of the day on Chuck's chest. My mom impressed Jane by diving into the delta with her clothes on. Way to go granny!

We got up the next day and at 9:30AM were back on the road to Santa Cruz. Jane puked about 30 minutes into the trip -- she gets car sick. An hour and a half later we pulled into my brothers house, where we were to meet my Dad and drop off the minivan for Jeff to sell. My dad lives in LA, but works in San Jose. Insteady of flying home like he normally does on Thursdays, he rented a car and agreed to drive with us. This was a huge help. My dad laughed when he saw how much crap we had -- he never thought we would get it all into the car, but somehow we did. The car was so packed that Mac and Jane couldn't see each other in the back seat. We also go to say hello to Juno, who is staying at my brothers. Juno seems to be loving her new home, and is being spoiled rotten by my brother (thank goodness!). Well, 30 minutes out of Santa Cruz Jane puked for the second, but not last, time. We eventually pulled into the "Giant Artichoke" restaurant in Castroville for lunch. It has a giant artichoke in front of it, and serves a lot of artichoke dishes (Castroville is a farming town and, yep, artichokes are the big crop). The ride to LA ended up taking 10 hours. In Santa Barbara, Jane said "Daddy, I need to frow [sic] up." Unfortunately, we were stuck in gridlock traffic at the time. Jane pretty much emptied the contents of her stomach all over the car. That was barf no. 3. It was gross and funny. At least it was funny until I had to spend 45 minutes cleaning it up in some Starbucks parking lot. Some 60 year old guy walked past us, smiled, and said "Ah the joys of parenthood. I've been there many times." And walked away. I'm thinking that I'm gonna want to have a bag ready as we land in La Paz next week.

Yesterday I got to spend some time with my buddy JP, and enjoy some fine ale (that Marin Brewing IPA is a tasty one) while blasting the best of the Wildhearts (greatest rock n roll band in the world at the moment.)

Today we rested around the house, and got to spend some time with my sister, her husband Hector and their kids Janelle and Audrey. Jane and Janelle had a good time playing on the slip n slide in the back yard. My dad's girlfriend Judy made some very tasty Mexican food for us.

On the Cochabamba front, Megan has found us a house. It is 10 minutes from school, and on a quiet street (which apparently is rare in Cocha). The house is unfurnished, which in Cocha means no stove or refrigerator, either. Meg went to the Cancha, which is the gigantic open market in Cocha, and bought us some furniture (and a stove and fridge). She even managed to find some Shrek sheets for Jane. Megan says the house is really nice, and is very excited about it. It is nice that we won't have to stay in a hotel when we get there.

We will spend tomorrow making the final preparations for Bolivia -- getting everything packed and making food for the plane. Our Portland friends Terri and Simon are in town, and will come by and visit tomorrow. We're all really looking forward to that.

The next posting will be from Cocha. I will try and get some pictures up then.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Game On!

Well, Meg is in Cochabamba. She's a bit beat and can't find a phone that takes her international phone card so we haven't had more than a minute on the phone. But, she said the trip was looooong and she is tired. Here are her first impressions of Cochabamba from an e-mail she sent me:

"Cochabamba is mellow. The driving is very calm. I am
relieved by this!! It seems to be very nice and
relatvely quiet for being a large Bolivian city. We
are going to like it here. It is drier than I
expected. The people are all very hospitable and
kind. They have been understanding about my slow
Spanish skills. I love it because they speak the same
Ecuadorian Spanish that I learned. I can understand
people much better than I can of people in Mexico.
Another relief! I am going to be in a hotel for the
next week. It is clean and safe. Another teacher is
also still in the hotel, so we can hang out a bit if
we get lonely. Mainly I want to rest. It was a long
trip."

I'll pass along more when I get it. I will start putting more up here after I move out of the house. Until then, it is going to be insane.

One last word, though. I have to say that I am humbled and blown away by the support I have received from my family through this whole process. From day one, it has been nothing but "What can we do to help you." The things my brother Jeff has done and has offered to do are beyond belief (well, not if you know what kind of guy my brother is). Both of my parents have done everything they can to help out and make the process easier, from buying plane tickets to establishing contacts for us in South America to taking time off of work to see us off safely. My sister cancelled a vacation so she can see Jane and Mac before they leave. More on all of this later. I know not all families are like this, so I do not take it for granted. My family are great people. I hope I can return the favor some time.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Portland, Oregon

About the best thing I can say about our adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, is that it is hard to leave. When we moved here from California five years ago, we really had little emotion in leaving the Golden State. We had one last dinner with our good friends Mike and Sausha, said goodbye to my buddies Ed and Lisa, loaded up the pick up truck and pretty much never looked back. Almost 15 years in California and I really had no emotional connection to it.

Portland is a whole 'nother town. It's a big city that feels like a small town. I don't think I've ever been to a concert at the Zoo without running into 5 or 6 friends. I can't get coffee in the morning without seeing someone I know. Stuff like that happens all the time. And we live on a street with the best neighbors known to mankind. It's not uncommon to be sitting on your steps, drinking a beer and enjoying one of those great summer days when someone from down the street stops by. Pretty soon it is an hour later and there are 10 people sitting on your lawn, all drinking IPA's and shooting the breeze. Portland is that kind of place. I mean, we still shut down our street every August for a block party!

Stumptown Coffee. The Alladin Theater. McMenamins -- Kennedy School, Edgfield, the Baghdad. River City Bicycles. Laurelwood. Our beloved County Cork. The Blues festival. Zoo concerts. Bikes everywhere. Rain. Music Millenium!!!! Powell's Books. I could go on and on. Portland is a special place, and we're going to miss it. I guess the only thing that gives us comfort is that Portland is still going to be here when we get back.

And speaking of Portland, Loretta Lynn's new one"Van Lear Rose" is just an amazing record. Jack White produced it, and even though I don't care for the White Stripes, he did a heck of a job. All of Lynn's vocals were done in one take, and it shows in how raw and direct it is. Anyway, the Portland connection is that the second track -- and one of the best -- is called "Portland, Oregon."

Megan leaves for Cochabamba in 4 days. I have no idea how we're going to get everything we need to get done before then. I also don't have any idea how we are going to survive for 3 weeks without her. None of us have been away from her for that long. It's going to be very hard. Luckily, at least as far as the kids go, we have a tremendous support network here. And I'm going to need it.