22 October 2012

Erin and the little sticker girl

I love the randomness of travelling! Today I had a chance encounter that has the potential to be a huge help to Globalteer in terms of fundraising and met a genuinely nice person, in many ways a like-minded soul.

To begin at the beginning … after breakfast at the hotel this morning, I set off to walk up Calvary Hill … but it seems I’m not destined to ascend to religious heights. I got to the top of one street, a lung-busting walk in itself – remember that Lake Titicaca is at 3812 metres (12,507 feet) above sea level – to find I was only about half way up and the actual pathway, which my street joined, was an uneven, slippery-surfaced, ankle-challenging mass of cobbles that looked even steeper. I gave up the idea and, instead, headed down to the little church at the bottom of the climb and wandered from there around Copacabana’s back streets.

That worked up an appetite, so I enjoyed a delicious vegetable lasagna at one of the myriad of restaurants and cafes in the main street. Then I began attracting waifs and strays. First, while enjoying my lunch, I got hit on for money by a poor shoeshine man from Tacna, Peru, whose friend had told him he would earn a good living from all the tourists in Copacabana so he could support his five sisters and two brothers, all younger than him and motherless. Instead, he had found that tourists either wear walking shoes that don’t need polishing or they don’t really want or need their shoes shone, so he had been living on the streets.

After lunch, a black dog attached itself to me as I walked along the beach again. And, later, as I sat in the main street having a coke, a brown dog came and planted itself on one of my feet!
My friend, the black dog, at the beach

For about 30 minutes, I sat, nursing that Coca Cola, scribbling notes for my blogs in my notebook and generally watching the world happen around me. A young man, afflicted with something akin to thalidomide victims, was using his shortened and misshapen limbs to craft jewellery and sell it to random passersby. A woman, from a restaurant across the street from me, took pity on a street dog, struggling to walk on its three good legs and one badly damaged limb, bringing it a plateful of lunchtime leftovers and stood guard while it ate, scaring off the able-legged dogs that hovered eagerly nearby. My shoeshine friend walked steadfastly up and down, seeking out potential customers but either coming up empty or being chased off by overly protective restaurateurs (I was glad I had helped him out a little). Tourists wandered up or down the street, trying to decide where to eat or drink, or what souvenirs to buy from the many stalls full of eye-catching sweaters, caps, etc.

Another woman chose the café where I was perched, taking a seat on the bench that mirrored mine on the opposite side of the doorway. She was perhaps 20 or more years younger than me and looked like a traveller, dressed in a multi-coloured cotton skirt, a black top and a short denim jacket. Initially, we didn’t speak.

A cute little Bolivian girl was hovering around (I later discovered her name was Nina), playing in the street, running up and down, amusing herself with small things as children in poor countries do. She seemed to belong to the café two doors down.

The other woman greeted her, the little girl approached and was rewarded with a present, a little sticker that the woman magically produced from her purse and stuck on to the back of the wee girl’s hand. The wee one beamed with delight and raced off to show whoever was in the café – it turned out to be two young male friends who then craved stickers of their own.

The woman and I struck up a conversation based entirely on what had taken place: I asked what she had given the girl; she told me she always carries stickers for exactly these situations (note to self: excellent idea!); I commented that it was so much better than sweets … and thus began our contact.

The woman’s name is Erin and she is nearing the end of a two-year sabbatical, during which time she has been travelling and volunteering her way around the world. (You can read more about her fascinating travels, her ‘living mini’ philosophy and her generous donations to good causes on her website.) She describes herself as an ‘adventure philanthropist’, being both a professional travel writer and a self-employed fundraiser, with huge connections in the US, doing pro bono work for organisations like Globalteer, offering advice on ways they can expand their fundraising activities. Perfect, plus I like her philosophy. Erin and I chatted, exchanged travellers' tales, brief life details and business cards, then went our separate ways but I’m sure we’ll be in touch again very soon.

(Erin has since written a book about her two-year adventure and her philosophy for adventure philanthropy. It's a great read and very inspirational!)

I went back to the beach, drawn by Titicaca’s blue blue waters and keen to get more photos of the quirky pedal-powered boats and the lake as it sparkled in the late afternoon sun. Later, I treated myself to a delicious dinner, with a sunset view to die for, at the hotel restaurant, and another early night.

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