The Paper Problem

If you are a book lover and often carry a book to read while on a trip to China, Europe, Mexico, Central and South America, and maybe other places that I don’t know well, you may think—not a problem, countries all have book stores and some are super (like Hastings in London).  And surely they are all in English. (Oh, you know better than that, unless you are in a store that caters to English-speaking travelers, and they are found only in major cities, like Mexico City.) But it’s not the availability about which I want to warn you.

There are plenty of books in Mexico City, even more books in London, etc., but a paperback that would cost you $9.95 plus tax here, suddenly has a price tag of …oh…$15.00 or more!  Suddenly, even the ratty TV set in your hotel room looks better than reading.  But you are unhappy.

Better carry that paperback which you tossed out when you planned to “pack light.” Or pay the $15 or $18 dollars, and complain about it forever.

I speak from bitter experience.  A solo woman in a large city shouldn’t be walking the streets at night, and maybe the TV is in a language other than English, and it’s not even remotely understandable.  What is my first solution?  Find a bookstore, choke at the price for the English translation of a novel that is about three years old (publishing date) and either buy it or pout. Neither a pretty picture either way.

The numbers may be slightly off, but the problem is the same.

Then there’s the idiot (me) who, after selling travel articles to the Los Angeles Times, thinks she may make a career of it.  So, I went to live in a smallish town in Mexico, driving my car, loaded with “stuff” and one item….my typewriter.  (No, we didn’t have computers in those days! At least “civilians” didn’t.)

But, I didn’t bring a ream of typing paper.  Most of my articles would run about 12-13 pages, but I figured I’d just find a shop that sold typing paper and buy some. Wrong!  Oh, there were such shops, not many, but some.  And clerks were pleasant. And I soaked up the environment.  Until I got soaked at the checkout counter.

The price for a sheet of paper was $1—yes, you read that correctly.  One sheet—a hundred pennies.  A ream, which wasn’t offered, would cost me…now, don’t breathe….$500—hey, there are 500 sheets of paper in a ream.  True, this was a few years ago, but I can’t trust that much has changed.

Then on a later trip to London; the same result.  Paper is expensive in most places in the world; some countries don’t even pretend to have paper for sale.  Maybe things have changed.  If so, just consider that I’m behind the times.  But if it hasn’t changed…..better bring your own paperback and your own roll of almost empty toilet paper.  Or smash a fuller roll for easier packing. ‘Nuff said.  Gee, have a great trip!


Ayers Rock – Australia

If all you see in Australia is the Sydney Opera House—and it IS a lovely place—then you’ve missed the great Outback of Australia, epitomized by a huge red rock plopped down in the center of the country. (Aussies spell “center” as “centre.”)  Located a short drive from Alice Springs (also a great place to visit for its history, especially with the U.S. during WWII and camel riding!), this monolith is called Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, an English leader in Australia at the time.Ayers Rock public domain

History and culture combine to create almost a religious-based mystery around the rock, also called “Uluru.”  Discovered in the 1870s, by explorers seeking water, the rock had—and still has—symbolic meaning for the native people, called the Anangu, and this importance has been recognized by its more recent designation as a National Park.

While checking facts, I noticed that the word “accommodations” appears, which means the “world” is closer to the Rock than it was when I was there.  Then one was free to walk carefully around the rock and into its shadow, even to climb it.  Old etchings can be seen, but they are being seriously protected.  The reason for the change is that the Rock was damaged by foot traffic, eroding the hillside, and the Anangu protested what they considered the possible effects on the Rock.

Can one climb the rock?  Idiots used to do it every day, but that may no longer be true.

"Ayers Rock - Kuniya walk (Rock climbing)". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Ayers Rock – Kuniya walk (Rock climbing)”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Today, in response to protests from the indigenous people, there is a law which may have just been passed, to forbid the climbs.  A short way up the rock is a stake (or there was one when I was there) and it’s called “The Chicken Point” with maybe a different name today.  Most climbers got that far, and they’d “chicken-out”….hence the name.  (Truth in relating:  I climbed, but didn’t even reach the Chicken Point!)  Before one makes the effort to go there, check with the latest tourist advisory for the current restrictions.

A cluster of mountains (or high hills) is called the Olgas, and one can take a plane ride around and through them.  Once in a while, one sees the name in a newspaper story, but I haven’t been there, so can’t comment. Travelers I know had a great time flying into the Olgas, but check it out before climbing into the plane.  You’ll love all that Australia offers (except camel rides!) and find an affinity, perhaps unexpected, with our cousins a long air ride away.

Machu Picchu

If a traveler goes to Peru without taking a trip to one of the world’s wonders, Machu Picchu, he or she hasn’t seen a hidden city with a mysterious past. Historians fight verbal battles over why this amazing site, built in such an unfriendly terrain, was constructed, existed, and remains for us to explore still today.Machu Picchu in public domain

From the towering rock monolith at one end to the little homes still remaining, to the
majestic mountains surrounding the site, and the clever little Alpacas who dance among the pane-less homes….it’s a mystery that still hasn’t completely been solved or resolved.

After hearing stories from early explorers, who were frustrated about not finding a place rumored to have been a religious site or a political stronghold, it was an

Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham

American, Hiram Bingham, who found it. He’d been ridiculed for what had become an obsession of his, but Yale professors are hardy, so in 1911, he began his trek to investigate the truth about the lost Incan city.

That trek involved getting through a thick jungle, across a bridge made of logs lashed together by vines over raging waters, avoiding poisonous snakes.  Even before he’d started, he’d been the butt of jokes, both at Yale and in Peru, but he was determined.  Determined to find the famous “lost city” of Peru lore…..but he found something more amazing.

And here is what he saw.

First, the towering rock at one end of the citadel, where all the structures were made of rock, by hand, so well that “knives could not separate them.”  But the stories of why and how and who continue to this day to be asked by historians and explorers.  Was it built to protect their leaders from the Spanish invasions of Peru? Probably not.  Was it built to be a priestly retreat from the temptations of the world? Maybe. Stories about who could live there might contradict that idea.

Bingham found about a hundred skeletons; he thought 75% were of women. (Later studies said the bones were about half of men and half of women.)  Was this a hideaway of some sort for the military leaders? Or did political leaders in Lima want to have a private place to escape their responsibilities? If you visit Peru, the answers to those and other questions continue to circulate between and among Peruvians and visitors to Peru.

As a visitor to the site, after getting used to the altitude, the “interesting” train ride from Lima to the small station at the foot of the mountain, and then to walk through the slightly-kept areas to peek in the pane-less windows cut in the sides of the homes, was a moment to think about the past here. It was fun to be close to an Alpaca, who chose to ignore strangers.  The small structure at the top, which wouldn’t house many visitors, was rumored to be scheduled to be replaced by a hotel.  This visitor objected mightily: it would ruin the entire atmosphere.  But at last report, there is a hotel closer to the site.

A century after Bingham, it’s a wonderful experience.  A trip to Peru must include a trek up to the new “lost city” which has been found.