Tuesday, June 30, 2015

6/28/15: Sajama National Park [sort of]

It’s been a weird day, and I’m glad it’s over if I’m being honest. I set my alarm for 6:30am but when I opened my eyes at that time, I saw that the sun hadn’t even risen yet and decided to take another hour to sleep. I am not sure why, but there was breakfast available in the lobby when I was about to leave, but I wasn’t sure if I would have to pay to it, so I just continued on to walk to the lagoon.

I was mistaken in how painful it would be to walk all the way. It’s 12km one way (takes about 3 hours) – and though the views are nice, they are not breathtaking or stunning in any way. The lagoon is very isolated – on the way, there are some houses along the street but I think I saw maybe 3 cars on my walk there.

I came back to the hot springs, but when I got there, there weren’t even any hot springs. I don’t know if I was walking in the wrong direction or something, but I got to the end of the road and some random local man came up to me. I couldn’t understand everything he said but I think he was accusing me of stealing his bike, so I tried to figure out what he wanted from me. I offered him some money, but I only had 110 Bs and he wanted more than 10. He just kept talking and talking so finally I told him that we could go back into Sajama/the town and I would get change, and give him the extra 20 Bs he wanted. Ugh.

What I’ve learned today: money gets you out of trouble. I’m kind of glad I didn’t find the hot springs (or disappointed in what I did see) because I should have enough money to not have to worry about getting back to Oruro (or maybe La Paz if it turns out to be much easier) tomorrow. Silver lining!
By my estimate, I’ve walked about 7 hours total today. That’s crazy. I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s entire book Blink on audio during that time, and my legs feel like jello. They hurt a little (though surprisingly not that much – maybe they are getting stronger!) but I’m sure I’ll be on a bus almost the whole day tomorrow (3 hours to Patacamaya, 2 to Oruro, then 4 to Cochabamba – 9 total) so even if I wake up extraordinarily sore, I should be okay!

6/27/15: Getting to Sajama

Today has been a long day of traveling once again! I had a nice breakfast at my hostel in Oruro and met a 19-year old English guy who told me he thought I was Bolivian at first. What? That’s the first time I’ve been told anything that random, and I definitely don’t believe it. It’s a good thing he’s traveling because I think he needs more perspective there.

I read online that you can get to Sajama National Park from Oruro or La Paz because you just take a bus halfway between the two cities to a tiny little city called Patacamaya. I definitely thought it was going to be more difficult than it was – like most everything I’ve done in Peru and Bolivia thus far. Either way, I simply went to the Oruro bus terminal and listened for some employee yelling “LA PAZ! LA PAZ!” and approached her to buy a ticket. I had read online that I would have to pay the full price, about 25 Bs, but she only asked for 10 so I didn’t ask further. I might still have paid full price, but I’m not sure. I also tried to get cash from the ATM in the terminal, but for some reason it was being excessively slow so I left it for time’s sake and thought I’d probably be fine. More on this later.

It took about 2 hours to get to Patacamaya. I was nervous the whole bus ride because I didn’t know if I would have to remind the driver to stop, I didn’t know where the town even was, or how to get around the town when I got there. Fortunately, about 15km out, I started seeing signs for it and there were two other people going there as well. Unfortunately, the bus dropped us off a ways away from the city. The other two seemed like locals, though, so I simply followed them and eventually got to the town, where I asked a taxi driver where the stop was to get to Sajama. He offered to drive me, so I agreed for about $0.80.

The minibus to get to Sajama was much like the one I took from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, but for some reason I felt a lot more smushed. Most of the others in the car were French, so I was trying to listen into their conversations the whole time. I was able to pick up some, but I think now that I’m trying to learn Spanish, it’s messing with my recall of French. Anyway, since the trip took about 3 hours, I slept for about half and paid attention and took pictures for the other half. I started getting glimpses of the beauty of the area even from the bus.

We arrived, paid the minibus driver and entrance fee, and I realized that I only had just over 200 Bs left in cash. There was no ATM in the city, but I think I can make this work. I was originally offered a room for 65 Bs per night, but I told them I don’t have enough money, so they agreed for 100 Bs for 2 nights (maybe I should try this more often!). The hostel is actually quite nice! It’s a series of one-room buildings decorated as huts, and I have my own room and private bathroom for 50 Bs (just over $7) per night.

The lady in charge then drew me a crude little map of the main parts of Sajama National Park – hot springs, a lake/lagoon, and geysers. Apparently you have to walk about 3 hours to get to the lagoon, 2 to the geysers, and 1 to the hot springs. Since I wanted to get back before dark, I just started walking in preparation for tomorrow. It’s actually a heck of a long way, and since I want to spend time at each of these places I have set an alarm for 6:30am. Joy. I did see a single taxi along the way, but I can’t be sure that I will even be able to haul it tomorrow. The view is really great, though!

The problem with that, though, is that I only have a little over 110 Bs in cash on me. I have some other currencies, but I doubt those would do me much good. I need 25 to get back to Patacamaya (also doesn’t have ATMs, how do people live?), and about 10 to get back to Oruro if everything goes as it did today. The hot springs cost 30 if the internet is accurate (not always), and I really don’t want to miss those, because otherwise why am I even here? So that leaves me with 40-50 Bs ($6-7) to eat and get water with, less if I want to make 100% sure I will have enough cash to get me back to Oruro. A meal costs about 25 Bs from my hostel (breakfast is not included, ugh!), but luckily I brought half a loaf of bread and some peanuts, as well as a water bottle full of water with which I will have to make do – I will probably have to buy more water due to the walking I’ll do, but I might have enough money to get one meal in the two days I’m here. Hopefully, I can make everything last just about 36 hours until I can get back into Oruro and withdraw more money. I’m cursing myself for not just stopping at the ATM and being more patient – my problems are all due to wanting to save that extra couple of minutes that I didn’t even need. *sigh*

On the other hand, I am spending a total of about $35 for 2 days here, including the hostel and all travel from Oruro. When I get back to Cochabamba, I have plans to Couchsurf the rest of the time in the city (which will save me about $150), not including weekends when I want to travel to other places (Santa Cruz, Quillacolla, Toro Toro National Park, Incallajta Ruins, etc. – though the latter may be only day trips, which will save me more money by Couchsurfing).

We’ll see how it all goes! Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to either get a taxi to the lagoon and walk back or somehow else not kill my feet. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

6/26/15: Oruro

Going with the renewal of travel spirit of this week, I decided to take Friday off and use the weekend to travel to a city near Cochabamba, Oruro! I had expected the bus ride to take about 3-4 hours, so I woke up at a normal time, packed, and took a trufi to the bus station. I had stopped by yesterday to make sure that I could get a bus ticket to Oruro, but realized that there were probably going to be so many buses that I didn't have anything to worry about. When I arrived, I went to the nearest employee yelling "ORURO!!" and got a ticket for about $3.50. The bus ride was not very fun, the scenery outside was not very eye-catching, and it took close to 5 hours to get to Oruro. Oh well.

I struggled to find the hostel I had found online because I knew I could walk there (even with my backpack, it was only about 4 blocks from the bus station). It was close but Oruro has almost no road names posted and Bolivia has the worst cellular data I've ever seen, but luckily a map was loaded on my Hostelworld app! It saved me, and I figured out how to get to the hostel. I have a private room and bathroom because the shared room's toilet is clogged (LOL). It costs about $1.50 extra but I guess I can handle that.

I ventured out into Oruro, but not after I remembered that Oruro is at higher altitude than Cochabamba, to the point that I was feeling a dull headache. It's not fun to feel that, especially when you have to keep walking. I did because I expected today to be the only day that I would explore the city (tomorrow I plan to go to Sajama National Park, spend the night in Sajama, return to Oruro on Sunday, and take a bus back to Cochabamba in the afternoon from Oruro - though I might need an extra day, who knows?).

The city is actually quite nice. Someone told me Cochabamba is more modern, but I disagree. There are nice buildings, and even though the Oruro is a little dusty and has a lot of trash lining the streets, I think it's quite nice overall!

I also walked into a Bolivian artisan store right next to the main plaza, which had some cute stuff! I don’t think I can fit any more souvenirs or anything into my bag, so I didn’t buy any of it.

The main plaza itself is very pretty. It reminds me of Central Park in New York in a way because it’s so lush and green, surrounded by a bunch of buildings and city life. I love that contrast, and this square in Oruro captures that vibe the best, by far – at least in Bolivia.

Along the way, I went through the Oruro market – there’s an outdoor component like La Cancha from Cochabamba, but there’s also an indoor component like many other cities I’ve visited. The interesting thing about the indoor component is that it’s mainly filled with non-perishable goods, like clothes and stationary whereas other city markets have mainly been food.

Oruro, like La Paz, is located in a bowl-like center, with mountainous views all around it. As a result, it has several miradors, or lookout points, around the city. The one I went to was special in particular because it’s also the site of the Oruro Carnival, which is a famous and very elaborate carnival the city holds every year in mid-August. I would have waited to visit until then, but obviously I will be in Chile/almost home by then. Nevertheless, remnants of it are all around the area. There is an awesome plaque stating that the carnival has been recognized by UNESCO, signs about it, paintings/street art, and people playing drums in the area. I’m sure the carnival is AWESOME. If I ever come back to Bolivia, I hope to come see it!

The lookout point is quite nice as well. It has a significant set of stairs before you can get to it, but there is a large white cross, lots of art, and a statue at the top! The views are quite nice, too. 

Next to it are a church and a statue honoring mine workers that added to the scenery. 

Since it was starting to get darker, I started to make my way back to the hostel. I walked through another square next to the “lawyer block”. It’s not actually called the “lawyer block”, but I’m pretty sure all the lawyers in the city conspired to have offices in that area or something. Down one street, you can see nothing but lawyer offices – it was kind of weird! The square was buzzing with life and had some noteworthy statues as well.

For dinner, I walked into a little restaurant along the way and chose something that had a yummy-looking picture next to the name. It cost me about $2.50 – but the portion was huge and it even came with a milkshake! The main course was a typical Bolivian meal called “pique”, made with French fries on the bottom and topped with beef, sausage, and egg. They had a little “salad bar” – lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc. that you could put on your pique. It was a lot of food, but it was quite good! It helped my headache subside just a little bit.

Now, according to the information I’ve gathered on the internet, I should be able to catch breakfast at 8:30 and leave Oruro by 9:15 to arrive in Patacamaya, and then take the only bus that goes from there to Sajama, where I can go into the national park. I might arrive there after 3 or even 4 pm, so depending on how it goes I might spend tomorrow and Sunday in Sajama, then get back to Oruro and subsequently Cochabamba on Monday. We’ll see, hopefully it all goes smoothly though!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

6/22-24/15: Finally exploring!

This week, I promised myself that I would get things done. I would take action on the things I've been putting off, including visiting the city of Cochabamba.

Monday couldn't really fit the bill because I had to prepare for and attend Spanish class, but the day was pretty great! I got to speak to the other volunteers a little bit more, and I'm hopeful that I can rent the apartment that some of them are currently living in and will leave in the next week. I also went to the tourism office to pick up a map and did research on everything I want to see here, so I'm looking forward to it all!

On Tuesday, I finally went to some of the tourist attractions in Cochabamba! It wasn't much because I only had the afternoon, but Cochabamba has the largest Christ statue in the world, so I went to see it! I walked down one of the streets to the park at the edge of town. In it is the teleferico, or cable car system. It costs 10.5 Bs (about $1.50) for a round-trip. You can technically walk up a long set of stairs to get to the statue, but it's not safe as indicated by the "We recommend that you do not take the stairs to avoid being mugged" signs around the teleferico station. Oh.

 The streets on the way there - nicer than in the heart of the city!

The cable cars actually work differently than the typical ones - for these, there are 6 total cars, three on the bottom and three on the top. They are very close and when you want to use them, you get in one and have to wait until the others are mostly full before they will take off. Saves energy, I assume.

The cars and the top of the mountain/hill give a really beautiful view of the city! You can see the large lake in the background, and Cochabamba actually has some beauty to it due to the mountains in the background and modern-looking buildings.

Then Jesus and I had another photoshoot!

And I walked to the lake that you can see in the pictures above. I was expecting it to be super beautiful and full of life, but it was kind of average and sad. That was disappointing.

On the way back, I passed by a group of people that were protesting something (they were sitting on their signs so I couldn't get a clue what it was for) by sitting in the middle of the street! The cars they were blocking seemed to just go with the flow and turn around, like it was a common occurrence. Interesting.

Wednesday was fun! It took me almost 1.5 hours to get to Proyecto today (it usually takes less than half that time) because of intense traffic in the Concha market. I can't remember if I've really described it before, but it's this huge outdoor market that lines the streets for blocks and blocks, and is the "full" market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Since it was early, I didn't expect much traffic, but I was dead wrong! Someday I will take pictures of it to post to help with visualization!

Yesterday was some celebration known as "San Juan" - I don't really know what it celebrates, exactly, but it calls for a big party! After lunch, when the babies went to sleep, I went with the other volunteers to the little celebration. The staff were grilling hot dogs, and since it was the last day for two volunteers, we just sat around and talked for a while! It was quite refreshing and I'm glad I'm getting to know everyone a little more as the days go on. 

On my way back to the city, I stopped by one of the main churches in Cochabamba. The city doesn't have a main plaza the way most of the cities of Peru do, but the one that this church is next to (Plaza Colon) is the closest thing, making this church one of the main ones. I actually appreciated this one quite a bit because it was simple - the art got the job done without being overly ornate. It was quite nice!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

6/18-21/15: Same old, same old

The past week has been a drastic change from what I had before with backpacking around. I've read almost a million books, it feels, and I have been resting a lot. It's been very nice, like what summer usually is for me. The days at Proyecto have been falling into routine, and in the past couple days the kids have been participating in some "Aymara New Year" (Aymara is a local dialect and culture) and they have dressed up very cutely. They're also less purely adorable than they were. It's tough to take care of kids who have every reason to cry all the time, and when they do, it's a pain. They usually don't cry for long, which is good, but some of them make it their life's current mission to cry themselves out. It's quite impressive, but it's not easy. The novelty of working with them has worn off a bit, but I think the weekend has been very good for me to recharge a little.

Another big thing: I've moved out of my host house. This is quite the welcome development because there was nothing to do near the house, and I couldn't even walk anywhere. I'm currently staying in a hostel that costs more, but the room is empty except for me and it's right in the center of town. I won't have to take 2 trufis to work - only one! I'm looking into an apartment that is a couple blocks away for the rest of my time here (about a month) that some other volunteers have been staying in. They will be moving out later this week/early next week, so hopefully I can make that happen, and everything will be fantastic! We'll see though, since I'm not too sure how to go about doing this in a foreign country.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

6/17/15: Kids are Hard Work

I spent today working with the babies again! I arrived to Proyecto on my own with no complications today for the first time, which was awesome. Thank goodness. Anyway, when I walked into the nursery room, many of the kids were already there. There was a tiny one in particular who was sitting on the floor crying, and when I went over to comfort him, I learned that it was his first day and that he was only 9 months old. He was adorable, but seriously would not stop crying. I know that I was the same kind of child, so I can't say anything, but I spent much of the day holding him and walking him outside - he seemed to like that a lot.

The kids actually eat quite often. They have breakfast, snack, lunch, and then another snack - and I left at around 2:30 today, so they might even have had more food afterwards. It's nice because I get to eat with them for free when I'm working at the nursery, so it saves me from having to prepare and buy food myself - 100% a great benefit that I didn't expect.

The classroom I work in has an interesting dynamic because it's informally subdivided into the babies that are more self-sufficient (can walk, eat by themselves) and those that are not. Even though they are all 2 or younger, I started to see the ones that were more self-sufficient as ones that were more mature - they don't cry and can really manage themselves. It wasn't until mid-morning when we brought all the babies out to the courtyard to watch the older children play (they were maybe 3-5 years old) that I realized how young all the babies were. Even the ones that I had seen as "more mature" were only 1-2 years old, and it was so interesting to see how quickly I had categorized the babies - based more on their differences than their similarities. All of them wear diapers, for goodness sake!

Overall, volunteering was pretty fun. I spent most of the day with the babies, and they took a lot of naps, which lightened my load. They thing is, though, that the two official employees/teachers are much more short with the babies than I expected - making them sit down all the time rather than stand, and reprimanding them lightly when they do things that babies do (like spit up food) - and tend to treat them more roughly. The babies sleep wrapped up in a large cloth, which is tied to the side of an empty crib - why they don't just sleep in the crib I don't quite understand and don't have the Spanish capacity to ask and know the answer. However, if they cry when they're wrapped up, they are rocked by grabbing one side of the blanket and moving it quickly side to side. I feel like the movement should be more gentle, but I have very little experience with childcare and maybe I'm just adopting an American view of the excessive fragility of babies. Who knows?

Anyways, it took me over an hour to get home today because we went through the main market, which was in full gear - like on every Wednesday and Saturday. They sell everything and it stretches several blocks in width and length, so I was glad to get home. I started Spanish lessons today. I was a little skeptical because that's my instinct, but I think having someone to hold me accountable and walk me through thinking about the words I need for daily use is going to be good. We covered a lot in the two-hour lesson, and I'm a little overwhelmed by the vocabulary that we went through - it must have been about 100 words. We'll see how much I can really learn and interact with, but I'm excited to see what I will be able to do in the next month or so of lessons!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

6/15-16/15: First days at Proyecto Horizonte

I was a little wary about starting my volunteering at Proyecto because I had been alone and essentially free for so long - even though it had only been 3 weeks that I was in Peru, Copacabana, and La Paz, I am the type of person that gets used to a lifestyle very quickly. As a solo traveler, I loved my freedom - I could walk wherever I wanted in the city as early or as late as I wanted, and I decided whether and when to eat, visit attractions, book tours, etc. I had no one to answer to, as long as I made sure to contact my mother. It was hard at times - not because of the loneliness, but because I always had to rely on myself for everything. Every single decision - do I turn left or right? What do I want to do today? Does this restaurant look clean enough? What is that? Should I buy it? What kind of tour should I be thinking about? - was one that I had to make by myself. I had to ask all the questions I needed answers to and rely on my previously-nonexistent Spanish to get around, every day. Yes, I can read a map and had internet good enough to do research with before each day, but that kind of lifestyle is tiring.

When I took a three-day weekend to rest and simply read, I remembered what I had chosen to give up - even though travel was great, lying in bed all day and reading is just as appealing. It's so great to just be comfortable and know what you're doing and where to go all the time. When you're in bed, that's your life, but I guess you can't have that forever.

On Monday, I woke up at 6:45 to be ready at around 7:15, when Katia, the volunteer coordinator, was going to come get me to bring me to Proyecto for the first time. She apparently got sick over the weekend, so she showed up a little later but that was fine with me. The public transportation here is called a taxi-trufi, commonly known as the "trufi". It's a minivan that sits a total of 9 people including the driver, and you basically stand anywhere along the route and hail it down like a taxi or tell the driver that you're going to get off anywhere else along the route. Basically, it's the epitome of traveling in South America - there are some basic guidelines but really it's just a free-for-all in many, many ways.

To get to Ushpa-Ushpa, where Proyecto is located, I have to take two trufis - one from Jeanette's house towards a location on the edge of the main city known as Kilometer 0, and then change to another that brings me directly to the front of the Proyecto building/area. It's not a super difficult thing to navigate, but if you know me (or remember from my posts about Lima), then you know that public buses just are not easy for me. They are the ultimate challenge for me, as weird as that may be. Luckily, Katia brought me to Proyecto both days and back the first, and the ride back on the second day went much more smoothly than I ever expected.

Essentially, Proyecto is a local organization that has three goals - education, health, and community development. It was started and still primarily sponsored by a German man now living in the United States who chose Ushpa as the organization location because it was the home of illegitimate minors at first. It wasn't recognized by the Cochabamba government, so they did not have access to any relevant resources - including schools and hospitals. Proyecto started a day care, school, and health center - though the day care and school have since been officially recognized by the government, who owns them. Proyecto still supports these with scholarships for students, volunteers/tutors, after-school programs, and social workers. They run the health center (with doctors, nurses, a lab, and dentists) for about 100 patients each day.

Since I don't speak much Spanish yet, I spent Monday working with babies in the nursery. They were really cute but very messy. On Tuesday, I did some research for Katia about potential grants that Proyecto could apply for. It hasn't been much, but it actually has been kind of nice to be in one place, do some work in the morning, and then have time off to enjoy my summer.

I visited the market on Monday, and I was actually surprised at how much food I could get for so little - it was great! I bought 10 oranges, 5 pears, Pringles, peanuts, milk, and bread for just over $10. I did not mean to buy so much fruit, but the lady gave me that much so I just went with it. It was hard to not have a map to begin with, but after two days, I've gotten a lot more comfortable in the part of the city that I've ridden through in a trufi, and the little part that I've walked through. I haven't taken any pictures because I figure there's plenty of time, and I will definitely post them as I have them!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

6/14/15: Lazy Sunday!

I didn't know if I wanted to go out today, and I ended up not doing it. The prospect of being a homebody - my true nature - was just too nice. Besides, I still had no idea where I would go and what I would do.

I stayed home and started reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling instead, which is quite entertaining and a nice distraction from the stress of The Maze Runner trilogy, though I will go back and finish reading The Kill Order sometime soon - and then maybe start on The Da Vinci Code series and/or Harry Potter. I've got a lot to read, basically.

I actually got internet access today, not just the kind that I've had in Bolivia thus far - the kind that actually works, where I can load more than just one page, and I can do research and whatever in a reasonable amount of time. I used this to start posting reviews on TripAdvisor. I reviews almost everything I went to in Lima, and hopefully can write more as time goes on about everything else that I've seen on my trip thus far!

Jeanette's daughter came today, and she helped set up the internet (bless her!) and showed me on the map where I am, so I have a much better idea. It turns out that I had it right the first time I tried to leave the house, I just didn't go far enough. That's fine. Tomorrow, hopefully Katia can show me how to get places without walking my feet off, and I can actually go to the  market to buy real food or eat at a real restaurant (not that Jeanette's food isn't great, but I just feel bad relying on her all the time) and actually visit Cochabamba. Basically, I have lots of hope for tomorrow!

6/12-13/15: Resting

I haven’t written a separate post for yesterday and today because I’ve mostly been taking the time to rest, read (a lot!), and explore the area immediately around where I am. I’m afforded this luxury because I’m currently staying in the suburbs of Cochabamba, where I will be for the next 5-6 weeks for volunteering with the organization Proyecto Horizonte.

I arrived in Cochabamba from La Paz right before 6 am on Friday, and waited a little for the volunteer coordinator to come take me in a cab to my host mom’s house. It took the taxi driver and us a while to find the exact house on the street because the numbering system is quite confusing, but it’s quite a nice house. My host mom, Jeanette, still has several old box TVs, but other than that, it’s two stories with several bedrooms and bathrooms, has lots of windows, and is comfortable. The only thing is that she has two dogs (only one of them is allowed in the house for a reason yet unknown to me), and I promptly fell asleep when I arrived.

I basically spent Friday finishing reading The Scorch Trials, the second book of The Maze Runner series. I had started it a while ago but hadn’t yet gotten into the story until then, and I basically finished the majority of the book in a day. I’m extremely excited for the movie to come out later this year – I’m already picturing how the events of the book are going to be portrayed!

I had lunch with Jeanette and we talked a little, but my limited Spanish speaking skills means that I don’t really have the capacity to initiate much conversation. Katia, the volunteer coordinator, told me that I could start Spanish lessons next week (when I will also start to volunteer), so hopefully I will be able to speak more as time goes along.

On Saturday, I did something similar. I slept in until about 10:30 (since when is that “sleeping in” during the summer?!), and then tried to walk to the city center. I had no map and essentially no access to internet, so I didn’t know where I was going, but I thought I would give it a try anyway. I tried to leave the house through the back door, but after I closed the door (it locks itself) I realized that I had not been given the key to get back in through the back door, or to open the lock on the gate that separated me from actually going outside. In essence, I was trapped in the tiny little backyard, and it looked like I would have to stay that way until Jeanette came home in the late afternoon.

Luckily, I didn’t settle and instead tried to see if I could get into the house through a window. Everything on the lower story of the house had metal blocking the entrance, so I instead had to climb to the second floor and sneak in through the bathroom window. It was quite the experience, but I hope I will never have to do that again.

I found a rather large and very worn map in the room connecting to the front door, but I could not for the life of me see where I was. I had left the main door open, and some security guy rang the doorbell to tell me to make sure to close it, but not before asking me where I was from, getting confused when I said, “United States,” and feeling it was his duty to once again inform me that I look Chinese. Are Americans not allowed to be anything other than white and blonde? The number of times I have been told I look Chinese is seriously astounding. I HAVE LOOKED CHINESE MY WHOLE LIFE. I KNOW I LOOK CHINESE. Do people not think I know this? I know it’s easy to think that Americans are white and blonde, but it still irritates me when people are confused. Ugh.

I started off in the direction I thought that Katia had told me the city center was, but when I got to the main road it just looked like the road would continue forever. I didn’t see any indication of the city center or any restaurants that I would actually be interested in eating in, but I did see a small corner store. It looked to have a lot of what I might need, which was good news. Since I didn’t find much, I decided to make my way back to Jeanette’s house to see if the city center might be on the other side. To my chagrin, the main street on that side looked exactly the same. I walked farther down it than I had on the other street, but everything still looked the same and I didn’t see any city center/tourist areas, so I just gave up and walked back to the street that I live on – there is a small park about 5 minutes away. I bought some food from a neighborhood corner store and sat down to read The Death Cure, the final book in the Maze Runner trilogy. It is such a great trilogy, and Thomas is such a beautifully complex character. I actually finished this whole book today, it was so good.

I went back to the house and had dinner with Jeanette. That was nice, but I still wish I had internet access for the research and work I have to do, and that I knew how to get around the city and buy some non-snack food. Hopefully I can figure everything out soon, because so far my current situation – being in the suburbs, not being able to find a real restaurant/market, not having a map, etc. – is not making for the best experience.