Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back in Campo 9

One of the best things about Argentina was how nice everyone was to the street dogs. In Cordoba in particular the dogs were huge and clearly well fed. In Iruya we were adopted by a dog that followed us around. In Humahuaca there was an adorable dog in the hostel we named Cooper because it we were watching Anderson Cooper report on the Japan Tsunami. In Cordoba we had the deaf dog in the hostel, Jorge’s dog Rulo. But everywhere we went the street dogs were nice, would come up to you if you encourage them. Actually as far a street dogs go, they were quite clean.

It was refreshing. That is one thing I will always hate about Paraguay. People there treat animals like shit.

And speaking of animals, you may wonder what I did with. Lila stayed at my house and my landlady came by to give her vegetables, oatmeal, and water. Other than that she just ate the grass in the lawn. She doesn’t use the bathroom in the garage ever, so there was no worry about clean up.

Tucker went to my neighbor’s house across the street for a couple of days, and then he went to stay with Aunty Julia at her house. Evidently he was a pain in the ass, poor Julia isn’t quite experienced enough with dogs yet to handle one like him yet. But I brought her Alfajores and a scarf to make up for it.

I missed both of the terribly, especially towards the end of the trip. I kept having nightmares about dogs attacking Lila.

Fortunately I came home and they were both safe and sound. The whole family is together again the house. Home sweet home.

Going Home

After bumming around Purmamarca for a while, we caught the bus to Jujuy (pronounced: who who E ) wandered all over the downtown looking for our hostel, got some food, and settled in for the night.

We hoped to do a horseback riding excursion the next day, but they turned out to be too expensive. When we arrived in Jujuy I began to realize that Courtney was getting a bit road weary. When we left for Salta the next morning I realized it might be best just to catch the next bus to Paraguay, instead of staying in Salta for the night. We arrived around 2pm, the next bus was a 4:30pm. We bought our tickets and used the two hours to take the gondola ride to the top of a hill offering us lovely views of the city. We hoped the bus after that and were on our way home.

The bus ride back turned out to be a real pain in the ass actually. The road between Salta and Resistencia is surprisingly rough, which made it difficult to sleep. They also decided to play some of the worst movies ever made. One was called Yeti. I think a 14 year old boy wrote and directed it. It was terribly and nonsensically violent. I was listening to an audiobook instead of the movie, but it was so amazingly bad the Courtney got my attention and told me I absolutely had to watch it. So it did, and it was terrible.

To make things even worse the movie started to replay after we watched it the first time. I gave them a few minutes to notice, or for someone to inform them it was on again, but it continued to play. I went downstairs and told the bus attendant, who promptly changed it to Forest Warrior, a 1990’s Chuck Norris movie. Chuck Norris plays a forest sprit who help a group of kids save a mountain from a logging company. Basically FernGully in live action Chuck Norris style. It had Chuck in it, ergo it was awesome, or at the very least an improvement upon the previous film.

Around midday we stopped for almost three hours because some people were blocking the road doing some sort of protest. It took them that long to figure out it would be best to just back that bus up and take the 20 minute or so detour around the protesters. After we finally got moving we picked up a group of people from what I would guess was a bus that broke down. This meant I finally had to share the seat next to me. This was unfortunate because I realized there was something resembling vomit a little too closely under my seat. I discovered it after stepping in it with one shoe, putting the shoe up on the seat, resting my leg where my shoe had been, and feeling a wet spot. EWWWWWWWWWWWW. Thankfully it didn’t smell and I had plenty of tissues to cover it up. It was far enough back that I could avoid it when I wanted to, which was good because someone decided to sit in the seat next to me when we picked up the extra bus of people.

After a long while we got to Clorinda, the city on the other side of the river from Asuncion. There weren’t any buses that went from Salta all the way to Asuncion. We missed the stop at the bridge to go through customs and ended up at the normal bus terminal. So we, and two Swedish girls who were also going to Paraguay that we adopted, took a taxi back to the bridge. Finally we stamped out of Argentina, stamped back into Paraguay, and caught a van back to the capital.

I have to say, it was really nice to be back in the ‘guay. I missed the Guarani. I didn’t miss the dirtyness, but the familiarity of it was nice. I liked being some place I recognized again.

That evening Courtney and I went out with the Swedish girls, and the taxi driver tried to charge us 60mil instead of 40mil. Ahh yes, its good to be home.

Salt Flats and Funny Photos

We arrived in Purmamarca, when to the first hostel we came to, and went to bed. In the morning we took a van to the salt flats an hour outside of the town. We proceeded to take advantage of the very flat landscape and took dozens of silly photos.

[They cut holes in the salt so the water drains in to the holes and leaves the rest of the flat dry enough for us to be goofballs on. Proceeding with the goofballery]

Most people go to Bolivia to see salt flats, the largest in the world. However, after seeing the ones in Purmamarca, I think I can confidently check ‘visiting salt flats’ off my list of things to do in South America. There were very interesting, but the one hour that we spent there was sufficient.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Argentina Part 3: Jolley Good Wong Graber

[The boys horsing around in Iruya]

After a few days, our volunteer coordinator Courtney Wong joined us in Cordoba to form Team Jolley Good Wong Graber. Me, Kevin Good, Zach Graber, and Courtney Wong. And yes, the name was my idea. How sad would it have been if we had had someone with a normal name. I think that may be a new travel guideline: Must have fun name.

Team Good Graber when to the Salta region on Saturday, while team Jolley Wong stayed a bit longer in Cordoba, since Courtney arrived a little late.

After riding in the coldest bus on the planet, Courtney and I arrived in Salta and caught a bus to Humahuaca to meet up with the boys. Or so we thought. After receiving some of the most incomprehensible text speak messages from Kevin we finally realized they were in Iruya, a town 4 hours farther north of Humahuaca. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, there were no more buses to Iruya until the next morning. Fortunately Humahuaca is a lovely little town.


I was struck by the fact I could understand people’s Spanish again! It was also amazing at how nice everyone way. People in Cordoba were not particularly friendly, but here everyone said hello to us on the street, locals and tourists alike. Everyone was so pleasant.


Courtney and I caught the 8:30 am bus to Iruya the next morning. I realized as I got onto the bus I had left my travel blanket back at the hostel and asked the driver if I had enough time to go and get it. At first he said no, but a few minutes later he indicated I could go get it if I hurried. I heard a collective groan from the other passengers to which I gave them a mental ‘fuck all yall, I want my blanket’. I ran 2 blocks to the hostel, found the blanket, and was back in less than 5 minutes. The bus attendant hadn’t even started checking peoples’ tickets yet. So there.


Through our deciphering of Kevin’s texts, we gathered that he and Zach though Iruya was one of the most beautiful places they had seen. At first I was skeptical; the geography strongly resembled Big Bend Park in. However slowly but surely I saw what they saw. As we came closer and closer to Iruya, an astoundingly beautiful, cloud covered valley. Honestly, that view alone was worth the 8 hours of travel.

[Jolley Good Wong Graber in Iruya]

We arrived in Iruya and Team Jolley Good Wong Graber was reunited. I got off the bus and immediately noticed the boys had gotten quite a bit of sun since we left them in Cordoba. Courtney noticed as well. It must have triggered our motherly side because we couldn’t help but asking if they had been wearing sunscreen, did they have sunscreen, did they want to borrow sunscreen. They didn’t seem to believe us that they had gotten quite so sun kissed, but I assure you the Paraguayans will comment when they go home.

[The gals horsing around Iruya]

We only spent a few hours with the boys before they caught a bus back to Salta. Courtney and I did some exploring, though not much hiking. The altitude was getting to me and I'm out of shape for vertical walking. Give me a flat road and I'll walk all day, put a bit of an incline and I'm a goner. That evening we cooked up some tasty stir-fry, chatted with the owners of the hostel, and marveled at the clouds rolling into the valley.


The next morning we resolved to get up early and go for a hike, but the valley was still enveloped in a snuggie of fog. We abandoned those plans and slept in. I did a bit more walking around the next day as we waited for bus back to Humahuaca and then Purmamarca for the night. As we left Iruya, a storm rolled in from the south and the bus with hit by a short hail storm. Thankfully things cleared up for the rest of the day.

Argentina Part 2: Cordoba-I still speak Spanish right?

[Zening it up at the art museum]
Upon arriving in Cordoba, Kevin immediately pissed off a baggage handler by removing his pack by himself from the luggage area under the bus because it was blocking the rest of the luggage. I had done the same thing moments earlier but because my pack was a bit lighter and the handler’s back was turned, I accomplished the task without him noticing. The baggage handler yelled at Kevin while I quietly tiptoed behind another bus.

We decided to find a hostel to drop off our stuff. I’ve hosted several couch surfers lately so I was hoping to be able to use the site myself during this trip, but the hosts never came through, which was very disappointing, so we stayed in a hostel the entire time. Fortunately the hostel was about USD$9 a night, so it is not like we were breaking the bank.
I noticed several things.
1) The city was incredible clean. The first day or two I would find myself looking at the sidewalks as we walked, memorized by the lack of trash.
2) Cordobian accents made me question my ability to speak Spanish. I kid you not; I had no idea what those people were saying half of the time.
3) Cordobians are not nearly as friendly as Paraguayans
4) People don’t try to cheat you at the bus terminals. Everyone pays the same price.
5) Cordobians, especially in the downtown area are very well dressed, and the women are very skinny.
6) I love smoothies. Almost every little café and restaurant served smoothies and they were delicious.

• Artisan fair
• Being in a clean city were things work like they’re supposed to
• Meeting Kevin’s sister and hanging out with her host family, Jorge and company
• Finding a bank that would change guaranies into pesos
• Cooking jambalaya and risotto in the hostel
• Adorable deaf puppy at the hostel
• Awesome art museum
• Zoo
[Baby Hippo at the Zoo]

Argentina Part 1: Have a good trip…No jail…or Herpes

[Kevin Good, Me, Zach Graber (Gray-ber)]

Our trip to Argentina got off to a rough start. Kevin, Zach and I spent Sunday night with another volunteer about an hour outside of the capital. We got up Monday morning, ready to head to the bus terminal to go to Cordoba, only to find out there was a bus strike. We decided to take our chances and head to the road to see if the buses were indeed running. So with a final adios from our friends and a last bit of sage advice from Lindsay ‘Have a good trip…No jail…or Herpes’ … we were off.

Thankfully we were about to catch one of the few buses running and made it to the Asuncion terminal. Once we were there, we were told there were no buses available to Cordoba until Wednesday probably due to residual Carnival travel and Womens’ Day, a national holiday.

Determined to leave the country, we caught a bus to Resistencia, a major bus hub along the way to Cordoba in hopes of catching a bus there. We arrived in Resistencia that evening and found there were no buses to Cordoba from there either. So we took a bus to Santa Fe, the next bus hub on the way to Cordoba. We arrived in Santa Fe and finally were able to catch a bus to Cordoba, where we arrived around 10am.

Wheat's Wrong With You?

Part 1: My Shitty Knees

I’ve had knee issues for a long while. I remember being in gym class in high school and wondering if the other girls were in as much pain as I was. Freshman year of college I went to the doctor and found out I have a common issue where the cup my knee cap sits in is too shallow, so it is really easy for my knee cap to move around excessively. The doctor also mentioned the muscles around my knee weren’t holding the cap in place properly. The diagnosis, physical therapy and waiting until I ‘got older’. Yes, the doctor actually said I just had to wait until I got older so my muscles would naturally become less flexible. Thanks doc.

The physical therapy and a knee brace to use during exercise, took the edge off somewhat. Still waiting to see if ‘getting older’ helps, 6 years later no improvement thus far.

When I came to PC, I was completely unable to exercise, so the knee problems came back with a vengeance. Once I was out of training and living in my own house, I tried to get back on the exercise train, but it didn’t work this time. For over a year I’ve been taking 2-3 400mg ibuprofen and 2-3 500mg Tylenol a day, every day. On a bad day this might go up to 4-5 of each. If I’m traveling I would take one of each every 3-4 hours. It was the only thing that worked.

Evidently this is a lot of ibuprofen and Tylenol. After startling a few friends with the quantity of meds I was taking, I talked to the Peace Corps nurse. The nurse wasn’t worried about me taking 2 ibuprofenes a day, but evidently 3 is the tipping point where I need to take an additional medication, Ranitidina, to protect my stomach.

I never actually knew ibuprofen could be bad for your stomach lining causing a whole host of nasty side effects. Evidently I was the only one. Sucks for me.

Part 2: Gluten

I didn’t know much about celiac disease until one of the girls in my group in Peace Corps had it. Being the information junkie I am, I did quite a bit of googleing until I had familiarized myself with the topic. In people with celiac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein in wheat, barley, and rye), causing small intestine inflammation and damage. According to a 2003 University of Maryland study, as many as 1 in 133 people have celiac, though it may be even more common since a large number of cases are undiagnosed. Don’t worry, I don’t have celiac.

Once I had gluten on my radar, I noticed it showing up from time to time in health and diet articles of varying reliability. Admittedly, going gluten-free is one of the newer fast weight loss fads, as can be seen with an increasing number of gluten-free products.

However I did notice that many of the health, not weight loss, focused articles mentioned another issue, wheat intolerance. It is basically a non-allergic, but still negative reaction gluten. People with celiac have very strong symptoms that can occur within hours of eating a small amount of gluten. Wheat sensitivity is a more difficult to detect because the symptoms take longer to manifest, sometimes 2-3 days.

What caught my attention was that aching joints was one of the most frequently listed symptoms. In addition to knee pain, I’ve also had unexplainable aches in my hips and pain in my hands severe enough I had become concerned I might have carpal tunnel.

I’ve also had inflammation problems. When I go for even a short walk my hands will swell painfully. Since coming to Paraguay I’ve also had such severe swelling in my legs that it felt like my calves were going to burst open. During my first summer in particular, I can’t tell you how many sietas I spent with my legs up in the air against a wall trying to get the inflammation to go down. When I googled causes of chronic inflammation, wheat and dairy issues always at the top of this list for dietary causes of inflammation.

Part 3: The Experiment

(Note: While there are scientific tests for celiac disease and wheat allergies, they are notoriously unreliable. Also they often don’t work for wheat intolerance because the effects are more subtle)

Here is what we know. I’ve been taking obscene amounts of ibuprofen to combat joint pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen causes digestive issues. Wheat intolerance causes joint pain and inflammation. Wheat intolerance stems from digestive problems. Did the Ibuprofen cause wheat intolerance? Hmm. So about a month and a half ago I decided to do an experiment called an elimination diet.

I couldn’t stop taking the ibuprofen cold turkey, but I could cut out wheat. So I did. After a week and a half I was down to 1-2 ibuprofen and Tylenol a day. I kept at it. Taking 2 of each became my new ‘bad day’ dose. Some days I didn’t take anything. I continued the experiment during my trip to Argentina. Twice I was in buses for 20-24 hours. I took meds twice during each trip, as opposed to my usual dose every 2-3 hours. Once we were in Argentina we had ice cream several days in a row. I was perplexed because the ache started to come back. Turns out most ice cream has gluten L. Very very sad news.

When I got back from Argentina phase 2 of the elimination diet started, reintroduction of wheat. From Monday to Thursday of last week I ate wheat. On Wednesday I started feeling occasional pain, but I chalked it up to walking Tucker twice a day. By Friday the pain was back. Today is Saturday and I’m fighting the urge to take ibuprofen. I stopped eating wheat again yesterday. I’m hoping that I don’t have to wait a week and a half again for the pain to subside.

Part 4: Conclusion

I currently have a wheat intolerance.

I don’t know if taking large quantities ibuprofen damaged my digestive system and caused the wheat intolerance. Maybe I’ve had a wheat intolerance all along and the hideous amounts of bread I had to eat with my host family during training pushed it to a new level and the ibuprofen exacerbated the effect. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

The next step is to stop eating wheat again for a longer period of time, I’m shooting for 6 months. That should be long enough for any damage caused by the meds to heal. If the problems come back again when I introduce wheat again, then I probably really am wheat intolerant. We shall see.

Now why did you need to go through that huge TMI overshare? Because wheat intolerance often has a genetic component. If you’re related to me, which I assume most of my readership is, you may unknowingly be wheat intolerant as well. Even if you’re not related, many cases of wheat intolerance go undiagnosed.

For me it was worth the experiment to find out. I’m not at all happy I can’t eat bread, or cereal, or tragically, ice cream at least not for a little while. But I am happy to finally have a way to control my knee pain other that waiting to get older.