Christmas Eve

Living easy, livin' free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don't need reason, don't need rhyme
Ain't nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too
I'm on the highway to Uyuni
No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody's gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody's gonna mess me round
Hey Satan, payed my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey Momma, look at me
I'm on my way to the promised land
I'm on the highway to Uyuni
And I'm going down, all the way down
I'm on the highway to Uyuni

So I´m standing in a cluster of people at the bus terminal, waiting for our 7:00 p.m. bus to Uyuni. It´s about 7:20 p.m. Luckily, there is a tv showing cartoons and the kids are happily watching Ice Age. I start talking to a women and it turns out she is from Switzerland. Her and her friend are travelling to Uyuni on the same bus (if it ever leaves) and we are sitting right beside them. They have no plans for Christmas dinner. We quickly go through the adoption process and decide to have dinner together in Uyuni since we are now ¨short term family¨. The bus finally does leave, and after half an hour of driving (no word of a lie - I am not exaggerating on this one) is at least a block away from the terminal. Being right at the back of the bus we had no idea where he was going or what he was doing, getting gas? filling up the underneath with packages? queuing up for something? I talked with my new Swiss family for a while, and after an hour they turned out the lights and everyone slept.

Slept that is, until the flashlights came on! I ignored them for a while, but finally, I opened my eyes and saw them a few seats in front with a roll of packing tape and a flashlight. The floor of the bus (which was carreening down the highway) was covered in water, and the lady a few seats in front kept pointing to the ceiling and squeaking, and the steward with the flashlight kept shining it (in my eyes and then) at the ceiling and applying more packing tape. It was raining outside and, at this point, inside too. I finally threw off my light blanket which wasn´t doing much to stave off the damp cold anyway, and felt around on the floor for my soggy backpacks and put them up in the overhead storage. I also found Aodhan´s soggy running shoes and put them up too. They shone the flashlight around and loudly unrolled packing tape until even the kids were up asking ¨¿que pasa?¨. I explained to the kids, that putting packing tape on the ceiling to try to stop a leak, was kind of like shingling the ceiling inside your house. The kids were giggling for half an hour. The Swiss lady and I were wondering when the H-double hockey sticks the freaking loud roll of packing tape would end. So after taping the back of the bus together, they finally left and took their little spotlight with them. I pulled my little blanket back up, and started to nod off. Of course the guy a few seats ahead decided that it was a good time to listen to those last few spicy salsa songs on his cell phone, and of course assumed that the rest of the bus would like to listen with him. I prayed that he hadn´t loaded his cell phone with Duracell batteries. This too, finally came to an end. A few minutes later I noticed that I was so cold I was shaking. I looked over and the guy a couple of seats ahead had his window open. The Swiss lady behind him closed it. A few minutes later it was open again. I went over ¨perdone, mis niƱos es frio¨I said as I reached over the eskimo-like figure, his eyes like slits between his hat and scarf. A few minutes later it was open again, the lady in front of him, with a small baby, closed it. He didn´t peep, but anther few minutes, and the window was open again. I was ready to chuck my wet knapsack at him, whe I suddenly realized the horribe truth - he wasn´t opening the window! The bus was bouncing around so badly that it was bouncing open on it´s own. After a few more times, someone actually managed to shut it so that it stayed closed. We were bouncing around on a dirt road, through a kind of tundra, and driving across riverbeds every few miles. I stared out the window, and insomnia slowly crept over me. Finally, as the first streaks of light crossed the sky, I fell asleep. when I awoke, it was almost light and in the grey darkness, I could feel that we were stopped. We all slept again until the dawn. When it was light enough, we could see that we were still stopped, and in a long line of stopped buses. A small bus had slid down a bank in one of the rivers we had to drive through, and one set of wheels was buried, and the bus was at quite an angle. There were hundreds of people from the 20 or so buses and from the assorted trucks and 4x4´s. We were there for another hour. The scenery was beautiful, a snow covered mountain in the distance and large tufts of grass on a flat plain. Finally the buses began to move and veer around the small stuck bus and around oncoming traffic, which was also stopped. The rest of the drive was somewhat uneventful. It was light out and in the distance you could see the salar - the salt flats.

We got off the bus in Uyuni and walked to our hotel. I spent the day e-mailing Hilary and back and looking at bus schedules and exploring tour options - practicing my Spanish while doing so. We have decided that we both should be able to make it to a town called Tupiza by tomorrow at noon. The internet here is soooo sloooow. I am talking 1985 speed. The Gmail page takes about 5 minutes to load, and then another 5 minutes to go to the ¨compose message¨page, and then finlly loses the connection completely when you hit send. I bought the kids a couple of little Christmas gifts and had some of them wrapped. I had one or two things I brought with me too. The kids want to have Christmas in March this year - so anyone who would like to help us celebrate is more than welcome. I think I will be having a Christmas potluck one day if people are interested, and you would be welcome to send Christmas cards to the kids in March, or e-mail Christmas greetings or phone calls! The kids are very excited about this and think it´s really cool to just choose our own date for Christmas.

I am not stressed anymore. I vented all my excess stress and energy in La Paz and left it there with all my expectations and worries. It is so hard to watch children beg in the streets, perhaps even more at Christmas time, when my safe, healthy children dream of sugar plums, and can´t imagine a day in their lives of feeling hungry or afraid. In my last night in La Paz, as lay in an insomniatic coma, I counted all my blessings. We were not sleeping on the street with so many other people that night, nor are we in any danger of ever doing so. And as for danger, I wasn´t in any, except perhaps for the danger of being so selfish that I needed to get what I wanted and that was to be with my friend. For gods sake, I could have gone and booked myself in to the most expensive five star hotel in the city, or gone to the airport and flown back to Arequipa or even to Toronto. The kids were still excited about the trip, and we were learning a lot. None of it was bad at all, just different than I expected, and yet, not so different, because I knew it was South America, and I knew there would be delays. I guess it´s just emotionally stressful when you feel like you should be able to do something about a situation, or that someone else should, but your hands are tied, and your bus schedules are set. In perspective, we´re really only one day behind the schedule we wanted.

Today, I smiled a lot, and learned to accept the things I cannot change, like bus schedules, and to change the things I cannot accept - like being depressed with no real reason. I tried to understand the difference between the two, and struggled with how to separate them. A guy selling bracelets on the street asked me to come and sit, and he tied a string around my wrist, and made me a little flower out of wire. I´m sure his bed will not be as soft nor as warm as mine tonight.

Tonight we had supper with a lovely Swiss couple. We went to one of the nicest restaurants in town, which is a pizzaria. They had quite an extensive menu and the Swiss people decided on steaks. I was going to have pork chops, but they were out, so I decided to have steak too. I asked for it rare and the girl said they couldn´t do that. I tried once again and got the same response, and the wheels in my head clicked to a lovely poolside restaurant in Honduras, where the waiter had, with the same anguished looks, tried vainly to talk me out of rare steak. Visions of gas masks and power tools replaced my knapkin and my cutlery and I cancelled the steak in favour of an avacado salad. The Swiss couple did not enjoy their tough shoe leather steaks all that much. My avacado salad was delicious. Note to self, if a restaurant is uncomfortable with cooking a steak rare ... order something else.

When I finish this blog, I will go upstairs to our room, and if the kids are asleep, I will put out the little gifts, and realize sadly, that this is much more than many of the kids here and especially in La Paz, will get for Christmas.

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard
But when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring
There are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?