Exploring Family History on the Death Road

death-road-camino-de-la-muerte-bolivia-los-yungas-mountains

While my fellow Torontonians partake in ribfests and fireworks to pay homage to the birth of our Motherland, I sit here on the couch, sipping some red, as my mind wanders off to another region of the world (sorry, Canada).

Los Yungas. The lush, green rainforest that stretches across Peru, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Teeming with colourful flora and weird and wonderful fauna, it is accessible from the city of La Paz in Bolivia via the deadliest road in the world, “la Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road).

About 50 years ago, a Korean family consisting of nine siblings and the parental heads ventured across the world from their home country to South America. (The tenth sibling would later join them). They landed in the Los Yungas valley.

My mom was eight at the time, third youngest of the siblings. Although most of the family later moved to La Paz where they opened a clothing business, my mom stayed in the rainforest for another year with her father.

They would frequently make the trip to La Paz and back, and the whole family would sometimes journey to the Yungas for restful getaways. Which meant a lot of Camino de la Muerte for my mom.

My mom remembers how unregulated the Death Road was back then, absent of guardrails and vehicles having to play the passing game when the road became too narrow to constitute a two-way. (Don’t think too much has changed there, ma).

She also recalls trucks filled to the brim with oranges and people sitting on top of the oranges as they zoomed towards their destination on the winding road.

I remember hearing about these stories when I was much younger, but back then I didn’t comprehend the global infamy of the Death Road. After days of travel research, I now find myself in awe that this rugged journey — that thrill-seekers from all over the world pay bike tours to take them on — was just a part of life for my mom.

Yes, a significant piece of my family history puzzle lies in Bolivia. Thus, Bolivia is where I must go.

bolivia-street-market-bowler-hat-woman-lady
Visiting “the heart of South America” was barely a shade of a dream a couple years ago. I could only hazily envision myself in what I conjured up to be a dusty town where old Bolivian señoras in their bowler hats sold fresh fruits and nuts in open markets.

But today, the dream has actualized itself into a plan. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’ve sketched out a pretty solid draft of my future explorations in what I consider to be the Third Motherland.

While I’d love to do the typical tourist traps, like Salar de Uyuni, I also want to be able to travel slow and really immerse myself in Bolivian life and culture. And, of course, I want to visit the Yungas and experience an important part of my mom’s childhood.

Now I just need to work up the courage to face the Death Road …

camino-de-la-muerte-2

… and maybe stop watching stuff like this:


If you were to explore your family history and culture, where in the world would your journey take you?

– Cafe <3
______________________________

Radio Silence in Cuba: Digitally Disconnecting

sol-cayo-santa-maria-resort-beach-ocean Last month, I flew off to Cuba to immerse myself in sun, sand, and most importantly, radio silence for seven full and glorious days.

Life had been feeling like a knotted ball of stress and my phone wouldn’t stop blowing up with endless emails, texts and other things that pinged.

Something had to be done to quiet both my mind and the CrackBerry, and it had to be done now!  (Hm, does this call for social media hibernation sound familiar to you?)

Well, during those seven days, I was on the internet for a mind-blowing total of — wait for it — ONE hour. On the resort, one might typically find me sitting alone at the beach bar with a strawberry slushy in hand, quietly gazing off into the white sands with a peaceful twinkle in my eye.

I didn’t want parties and I didn’t want to gorge myself in all-you-can-eat-and-drink madness. Taking in the beautiful, concrete-less scenery or having a good conversation with one of the resort staff to learn more Spanish or about Cuban life were all that my little ol’ heart desired.

Time inched by at an insanely slow speed.  It was magical.

cuba

The view while sipping on my daily dose of java. Morning coffees have never tasted quite the same *sniff*  

Continue reading

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done (Conclusion)

Okay, so while I’d love to pen the next The Illyiad, I have decided to forego the Homeric prose and tell y’all about the conclusion of my 9-day hiking trip Cafe-styles.

As you know from the intro post (that was Freshly Pressed!), I had already managed to injure my knee on Day One of our hike. What you don’t know is that two others in our group had also pulled or strained some body part or another before the second day’s end, so that we were all crawling along at a snail’s pace and nowhere near reaching our intended campsite.

It was that night that we all somberly realized that the trip could come to an end the very next morning. There was no point going on if we couldn’t move faster than dying turtles.

The saddest part was that the life-sucking, injury-inducing two days of hiking we had endured was supposedly the easiest part of the whole loop. Our fourth comrade (the non-injured one) had done this trail before and assured us that it was only getting harder from here on out. Continue reading

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

**This post was Freshly Pressed! Thanks to WordPress and to everyone who read, liked, and commented! Much love!

This epic adventure of our four young heroes begins on a gloomy, overcast morning.
The fifth of their band had fallen from the ranks.
Even Charlie, the Australian Shepherd, was to deny them his companionship on the long journey ahead.

Alas, the four heroes would march forth, a united army,
Into what was foretold to be days of thunderous storms and merciless showers.

Survival comes at a price, weighing heavily on their backs.
Our heroes enter the dark forests of Killarney,
Like knights forging into the abyss of battle.
How will they persevere for nine days when the first hour begs for relief?

Continue reading

Learning What Beauty Means

A few months before I went to visit Korea, I wrote a post called “Korean 101: Do You Look Good Enough?” that talked about the obsession with looks that Korean society seems to be currently undergoing.

It was something that I was afraid to be confronted with in the Motherland. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I know what it feels like to be looked down on and made fun of just because of physical appearances. I did not want to have to see others being subjected to the same kind of pressures they didn’t deserve.

I don’t know if I ended up being as constantly bombarded with it as I thought I’d be, but in any case, I still saw plenty of ads of young celebrities who have all probably had plastic surgery to make their faces look “perfect.” And the before- and after-surgery shots of both young girls’ and guys’ faces displayed in the subways and magazines just made my heart wrench into a knot.

Not too long after landing in Korea …

One day, someone said something in response to one of my protests that made me think really hard. They pointed out that for some of these girls, getting their faces done can give them a confidence that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Continue reading