Monday, September 1, 2008
I apologize that this blog is primarily a slow, regurgitation of events. The blog is primarily for me to remember all that happened during my two weeks. For more reflections, please just talk to me.
Note: A majority of the photos are taken by me. The few photos (5 or 6) not taken by me are legally taken from Flikr. All the videos are taken by me.
It is now 4:30 AM on the 27th, and I am sitting in
It does not feel like 4:30 AM just as it does not feel like my time in
Boarding is about to begin for my flight, and to me that signals the beginning of the end of another great life experience…an experience that I will draw from for all of my days. I end my travels having a better understanding how the world functions and how people live. I see everyone in the airport and am excited for their future travels and what they will learn from their experiences.
Today is the last full day in
After breakfast, I went to the park to read and to write. After about 5 minutes, a young Peruvian woman stroke up a conversation with me. We talked for nearly two hours. She lives a tough life, working long hours while living in cramped quarters with her family. She wants to come to the Sates, but she doesn’t know how to, either legally or illegally. We discussed the possibilities for awhile. I am uncertain if she saw me as a vehicle to enter the
A few others stopped by for some brief conversations until Adam finally came by, and we picnicked in the park. By this time, I was quite cold from having sat in the misty park all day. To remedy the situation and to use up some time, we got on a tourist bus for a city tour. The tour was supposed to take 3 hours but approached close to four hours because of traffic. I felt happy to be in a bus instead of being out in the pollution during rush hour. I am quite positive that the perpetual cloudiness of
The content of the tour was good. First, we drove by all the sights of Miraflores that we were already intimately aware of. Then, we drove to the center of the city past the main plazas and
The tour was a good way to spend nearly four hours on a day where we were trying to waste time. However, besides this, I very much disliked the concept of the tour. First off, the bus was a large, clean, touring bus with clean wide windows and viewing dock on top. The sole purpose of the bus was to serve as an observation tool. I definitely felt like I was in a zoo, but I’m not sure what role I played. At time, I felt like a caged animal in a conspicuous transparent box, allowing everyone to see me on display and to point at me and to make awkward gestures. At other times, I felt like I was watching a caged environment. It felt wrong to sit in an observation bus, observing a city as if it was an animal in captivity. I didn’t like either role and never plan on taking a tour bus again.
Before heading to the airport, we caught a late night showing of “No te metas con Zohan ”at the Cine Bar. The Cine Bar is like any other movie theater but you have a table in front of you and are served drinks during the movie. What a great idea.
1. Lima's Plaza del Arma (Photo of post card from Flickr)
Last night after a phenomenal meal of avocados, plantains, and soy lomo, we met up with some of our crowd from
Anyways, after the Irish Pub, we progressed to the club next door. I’m not much of a club person, but I enjoyed myself for a few hours amidst free drinks and tourists. In the morning, we made our way to the
After lingering around the ocean for awhile, we returned to the streets of
Our hostel has a cool look and feel, situated on the second floor overlooking the main plaza in Miraflores. The front part of the hostel has a large bar with a billiards table. At the bar sat a couple of guys who were swapping tales of the bounty they had conquered while traveling. Other then that, the place was dead. We visited the local supermarket, made some food, and then lounged around inside…safe from the pollution.Photo Credits:
1. View from the Block E of Lima (Larcomar) where we ate dinner (photo from Flickr)
Within the past minute the sun has fallen below one of the mountains surrounding
I awoke this morning after a much needed 10 hours of solid sleep. After a few hours, I planted myself in the Plaza and saw a whole different day unfold. Activity is always found in the plaza, but today saw numerous ceremonies take place in all the streets that descend from the plaza. Masses of people dressed in traditional Incan garb paraded through the streets. Being a Sunday morning, I was uncertain whether all the pomp was for religious reasons. If so, it would definitely had been a major production to repeat each Sunday. The excitement ultimately converged on the steps of the cathedral, directly across the park from where I was sitting. Throngs of people paraded past a table of dignitaries, dancing, and showing off their intricate gowns. ON the other side of the park where I sat, it was business as usual. Tourists stopped for pictures, old men fed the birds, and little children flirted with the water pouring from the Plaza’s fountain. I know I could have asked anyone what was going on around us, but I didn’t want to disturb. In fact, I’m happy I don’t know the true meaning of what I witnessed today. That gives me something to think about.
We began hiking to the ruins of
From about 7 to 9, I took a tour of the ruins. The ruins themselves were not very amazing relative to other pre-Columbian ruins I have visited. However, this site is so amazing because of its location on a mountain top and because it escaped the pillage of the Spanish empire. At this time in the morning, when the fog was too thick to see anything, the ruins were fascinating but definitely not worthy of being one of the 7 wonders of the world.
By 10:30 the crowds had multiplied so I made my way to the trail to climb Huayna Picchu. This too was a relatively steep trail, but was by far the easiest that I have trekked yet on the trip. Even though the trail was crowded with people, I made the hour long climb in about 20 minutes. By the time I reached the top, the clouds had lifted, and I had reached my 3rd Andean summit in less than 12 months. This was the easiest climb and took only about 2 hours if you count the morning hike I made from Aguas Calientes to
I began descending but the crowds were so large, I abruptly opted to take an alternative route to the far sitde of the mountain to another set of Incan ruins. The walk to these ruins took about an hour of steep declines, and I surprisingly didn’t encounter another soul on the route. Apparently it was cool to see HP but just isn’t worth the effort to hike to the other ruins, the Gran Caverna. I’ll admit, while cool, the Gran Caverna was pretty pathetic when compared to its neighbor
I could have happily stayed awhile, relaxing in the caves, but I was incredibly dehydrated and was famished. Despite being on my feet for about 8 hours and having ascended and descended thousands of meters, I had hardly eaten or drank anything all day. I needed energy. The walk back to
I met Adam at the park entrance—he had been reading for most of the day—and we began the descent from
Despite being an aficionado of Latin American history and culture, I admit that I was turned off by the most famous single site of
It troubles me how much is done for the sake of being able to say you have done so and not for the sake to learn about yourself and the world we share. Today I participated in a trend, and I am confident that many people will inquire about my day because I participated in a trend, not because I experienced something amazing. I will develop a standard reply which will appease my audience. However, if you want to discuss what I got out of today—or any day for that matter—we’ll need more than a five minute conversation.
1. Movie of Machu Picchu in the morning when it was still too cloudy to see much
2. Adam cold in the morning shortly after arriving at the park
3. Llamas walking around the ruins before many tourist arrived
4. Fog hanging around the ruins, preventing any visual of the neighboring mountains
5. Lizard with ruins in background
6. Movie from Huayana Picchu which shows part of our walk from the day before
7. Me posing oddly at Huayana Picchu, giving another view of the ruins
8. View looking out of one of the caves at Gran Caverna
9. Me with the ruins and Huayana Picchu over my shoulder
10. Another unique angle of the ruins in the mountains
11. More of me at the summit of Huayana Picchu
12. A rare shot where I got no people
13. Movie while walking back from Gran Caverna
14. A condor in the rocks (the wings are the two big rocks in the background and the beak is the rock right in front)
15. Steffen going through a small crevice on the hike up Huayana Picchu
Last night was enjoyable despite rather unpleasant quarters. Following dinner, I was able to get everyone to go to the one happy hour in town. I felt it was the first time our guides bonded fully with the group. This enabled today to be a bunch of fun with the guides. Last night was also great for my Spanish. The native speakers all said I was very good—especially with my tenses—and our guide from
As for the day’s itinerary, we decided to change it a bit, and I believe we are all happy we did so. The original plan was to walk all day and to finish in Aguas Calientes just at the end of the day. Instead, we decided to accelerate our trip to Aguas, allowing us to do some climbing in the afternoon. To do so, we took a bus a few miles down the road towards Aguas Calientes, saving us much time. We then joined up with a train track which runs to AC. We walked along the tracks for about three hours. At the time I didn’t realize it, but we were in fact circling around
The walk was our easiest yet because we were going along railroad tracks, keeping the grade tolerable. Additionally, the scenery was so phenomenal. I had trouble accepting that it was real. The three hours passed quickly as I sucked on coffee beans growing along the trail while conversing in Spanish about the Simpsons and about my economic beliefs.
Ultimately, the train tracks led us right into the heart of the city of
After checking into our hostel and having a light lunch, we headed out to climb to the top of the mountain Putu Cosi (Quechuan meaning happy mountain). This is one of the many mountains that surround
The trail to the top was supposed to take 2 to 2.5 hours. I made the climb in about an hour. I have definitely climbed more rugged trails in the
1. Movie on top of Putu Cosi, looking at Machu Picchu
2. View of train tracks which we hiked on during the day
3. View of Aguas Calientes from train tracks at night
4. View of Putu Cosi from bottom
5. View of Aguas Calientes from part way up Putu Cosi
6. Adam climbing in the one non-steep part of Putu Cosi
7. Traffic jam of people taking ladders up Putu Cosi. Most people turned around after seeing all of the ladders.
8. Me at the top of Putu Cosi with the non-Machu Picchu direction in the background.
9. Adam at the top of Putu Cosi with Machu Picchu above his left shoulder.
Yesterday we spent the day dropping into the
If it wasn’t for these locals, the mountainside would probably be covered in brush. However, because the land was in use, a whole score of edible plants were being grown. We were constantly going through mandarin, coffee, cocoa, avocado, papaya, and of course coca fields. In reality, they weren’t fields, but disparate, single rows of crops wherever the landscape enabled anything to grow. It sure is odd to be walking and to encounter coca. In every other country, the crop is illegal and would be burned. In
As we walked during the day, the temperature seemed to keep increasing. To combat this, we’d purchase water at every opportunity. The options for buying water though weren’t like going to the gas station. You’d be walking along the mountain side with wilderness all around and suddenly you’d encounter a small hut where the inhabitant is selling water, Gatorade, and Oreos. It would blow my mind to encounter a dwelling, especially when I tried to determine how the Oreos got to the store. Whatever the answer, we would sit on a rock outside the building, drinking water and admiring the phenomenal view of the river valley, surrounded by mountains with birds circling below us while monkeys and other exotic animals played all around us.
At one such stop, we had lunch. The lunch was amazing, and I imagine it was all produced from food within a few hundred meters from where we ate it. We started with an asparagus soup followed by some tomatoes, fruit juice, and chicken (probably killed a few hours earlier). Despite all the fresh and exotic food that we were eating straight off of the tree, nothing impressed me more than the avocados. I doubt that I have ever tasted avocado straight off the tree before. Instead, I go to Lunds and pay top dollar for a small, soft, and brown avocado. Not only were they multiple times larger than Lunds, but the taste was so superior due to the freshness and the growing behaviors (without chemicals). It made avocado my favorite food. It also makes me realize the poor quality of the food we get in
After lunch we continued walking, but now we declined back into the river bed. The rapids still were about 5 meters below us, but it was obvious that where we walked used to be underwater. Walking with mountains towering on all sides, it be came awe inspiring that we were relatively close to
As we walked amongst the mountains, just as it was getting dark, we did encounter a group of people because we had hit a destination. We had reached some
1. Video I took along the path in the morning
2. Some coca plants growing along the trail
3. Adam with a monkey
4. Adam with Incan face paint taken from some wild plant. The paint stained my clothing quite nicely.
5. Hot Springs that we relaxed in at the end of the day.
6. Adam crossing a bridge a la Indiana Jones.
7. Adam along the walk
8. Austin along the walk
Today was the first day of our adventure to
For three hours, we winded through the Andean countryside, becoming acquainted with the other travelers, all of whom—minus the Colombians—are on year long travels around the world. The road was absolutely breathtaking. We winded around and up and down narrow mountain passes and watched as the biomes transformed more into a tropical forest, almost becoming the jungle. Ultimately, we stopped at 4300 meters and unpacked the van. We were all given a helmet and a mountain bike. The bikes appeared to be of poor quality. The bike I initially was given had no air in the tire. Next, they gave me a “very good” bike. After a 30 second safety demo from our guide, we started to bike on the main road down the mountain. Being at such a high elevation and on a paved road, we had little reasons to pedal. We just winded down into the valley. Occasionally, the road would be flooded from a small waterfall, and we’d plough through the water. Even thought it was almost always a steep decline, I would occasionally have the need to pedal. Practically each time I pedaled, my chain would fall off. I would work my bike to the side of the road, inches from a straight cliff, and try to get my chain fixed. Other people were having similar issues, but mine initially seemed worse. After losing my chain five times, I switched bikes with our guide. Unfortunately, he advised me to not change speeds with the new bike: something you don’t want to hear when biking in the mountains. Fortunately, my inability to shift gears was a relatively minor issue compared to my fellow bikers. People had pedals fall off, chains split in half, tires puncture, and inadequate breaks which caused people to flip over their handlebars.
After about an hour of riding, the road turned to gravel, and we started to experience hotter weather and more uphill terrain. We also would go through the occasional village where people dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, living their lives, chopping wood, farming, and hauling coca. I felt like I was imposing on this lifestyle; however, all the locals were very friendly and would always smile and give a greeting. The ride provided such good insights into rural Peruvian life. I felt like I was watching a documentary, but I was actually just biking through the occasional rural community.
We biked for about five hours. Despite being an amazing experience, I was thrilled to be done. My arms and ass were so sore from the treacherous road we had traversed all day. Additionally, I was in dire need of water. We all congregated at a hostel. I conversed with the two Colombians for a solid two hours. What a great education. After we ate dinner, I had my first coca tea. Coca is the plant which produces cocaine. The coca plant is part of the culture here and is everywhere (but not in the form of cocaine). I just had some hot water with a bunch of coca leaves. To me, it tasted like any other tea. It is impossible to get the effects of cocaine from just having the tea. If so,
Now I am sitting on a patio with parrots and stray dogs. The patio is lit with bright, fluorescent lights, and we are surrounded by a wall of darkness. Beyond the darkness lies the
1. Adam at the start of the bike ride. We ultimately would finish at the bottom of the valley.
2. Random shot of valley after descending two hours or so.
3. Group taking a break in one of the small villages.
4. Church in one of the small villages. I don't remember why I took the photo.
5. Me along the trail near a small village.
Today is a glorious day in the
Just this moment a little boy sat next to me and started to cry for his mom. I imagine if I ignore him a few minutes the crying will end, and he will seek out some other Western tourist.
It sure is amazing to think that I have been sitting in the square of what used to be the primary plaza of the Incan empire. Who knows how many years people have been congregating here? Has anything much change? Did people come from all around to marvel at the splendor of the city and to take in the activities surrounding the square? I imagine so. I imagine that I am nothing special in this aspect. It sure is humbling to realize.
In the evening I returned to the park and met a young tourist from
We arrived in
In the morning as the sun rose, I gave up my desire to sleep and instead took in some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. The road and the ride continued to behave the same; however, now I could see the glorious scenery. Despite being extremely steep, most of the land was being cultivated by very indigenous looking Peruvians, wearing their traditional brilliant colors and walking alongside their dromedary. Legend has it that this was the original site of the Incan civilization because of the extremely fertile land. Now 100s (if not 1000s) of years later, the Incan and pre-Incan descendents are still working this land using probably quite similar methods. I kept my eyes glued out the window but with about an hour to go, I started to get sick—not stomach sick but allergy like sickness. I think the combination of the bus ride without sleep and the high altitudes (we had easily surpassed 4000m for parts of the ride) was doing me in. Upon arriving in
Now, a vast majority of
Now our plan for the day was to take a cab to the town center and to walk from hostel to hostel until we found a place. At all the bus stations, people try to get you to go to particular hostels, and by getting you there, they get a chunk of the money. When I picked up my luggage, I found Adam engaged in an intense conversation with two women about where to stay. They were suggesting locations farther than our desired location for slightly higher prices than we expected. Ultimately, we did get into a cab with one of the women and drove to two hostels. We picked one about a block from the center for about $1 more than our book recommended; I guess I can survive the extra dollar. We ended up with a private room with bath, tv, and balcony for about $10 each. The room is very cold, but it sounds like all the rooms are about the same as the outside air temperature here. Fortunately, the beds all have multiple layers of alpaca blankets.
After a small lunch, we spent most of the day roaming the ancient streets surrounding the plaza
The inside of the church was extremely cold—literally and figuratively. However, the attraction to the church was all the riches. Never have I seen any place adorned with so much pure gold and silver. The gold was mind blowing. There was probably more gold in this church than in all the Catholic cathedrals I have been in combined. I found the display of gold extremely frustrating. Here was a huge display of wealth that the church stole from the native population and then forced the surviving natives (those who weren’t slaughtered) to mine additional riches and to accept their god. It’s painful to walk through room after room of gold while knowing how many people died to create such an intimidating structure. Perhaps the conquerors and the papacy did so with good intentions, but it sure is ironic and shameful that the same institution which claims to be on higher moral grounds could impose such destruction and evilness on the locals. In terms of wealth,
1. Windy Andean road. We didn't travel this one, but it is characteristic of all the curves we took (Flickr)
2. Woman and her Alpaca. All of the farmers we passed were dressed like this (Flickr)
3. Cathedral that we toured in Plaza del Armas (Flickr)
4. Quick video of Plaza del Armas
Last night in an effort to find some variety in the night life which is non-existent in
In the morning, I got treated with my second consecutive solar shower experience. As is the case with much of
Today was another relaxing day which included two casual stops to restaurants where we loitered around and did some reading. We also booked a plane ticket from
In the afternoon, we boarded an overnight bus to
Today was an ideal vacation day. After getting my best night of sleep in weeks, we casually got ready and made our way to the Plaza del Armas where we had a very casual desayuno Americano. After bumming around town, we caught a taxi to one of the many bodegas (wineries) which surround the town. We arrived at the bodega Catador where a group of tour guides were waiting for us at the door. Marco to the initiative and began showing us around the vineyard. He spoke very clearly and slowly while giving Adam and me a tour of the step by step process of creating their pisco. The tour was free and the samples were free, but I elected to give a tip and buy some nectar. We then passed the next two hours or so at the vineyard restaurant eating and drinking some pisco straight. We figured it best to do some relaxing before going to
The longer that I’m in
Upon returning from the bodega, Adam wanted to make a phone call. For this reason, we returned to a shop near Plaza del Armas. While Adam made his call, I stood out on the street where I was overly conspicuous. Not only was I the only white person on the street, but I was the only person wearing shorts. Despite being in a desert, shorts aren’t always culturally acceptable. I wasn’t sure if it was because of my physical characteristics or because of my shorts, but I definitely was getting dirty looks while loitering in front of the phone shop. With time, the awkwardness only increased and reached a climax when a funeral procession proceeded down my road, engulfing me and my shorts. The pallbearers lead the procession carrying the casket at their shoulders. Behind them a band marched amidst at least 100 mourners. I couldn’t go anywhere. I just stood there letting the procession flow by me. I got some dirty looks and some scandalous ones. However, I determined that I was too much of a target for too many things, so I left Adam at the phone booth.Photo Credits:
1. Adam drinking straight Pisco at the bodega
2. Taxis on a street in Ica (from Flickr)
The last night was fairly relaxing. Tired out and needing an earlier wake-up the next day, we planned a simple night. Wanting just a few drinks, we were personally escorted by the hostel worker to his favorite restaurant. At the restaurant we took a booth in the corner and became further familiar with a phenomenon that I’d heard about but didn’t believe. The local Peruvian women are fantastically gorgeous; this is a country of beautiful women. Anyways, these beautiful women are just crazy for white males. I think for reasons discussed earlier, whites are very popular here. This restaurant provided great evidence of this. From my seat in the corner, I watched as three different sets of couples arrived. Each couple contained a jaw-dropping Peruvian beauty who was partnered with an overweight, balding white guy. It blew my mind. Despite this new found evidence of my popularity, I retired early.
In the morning, we caught a cab to the bus station, a bus station that the cab driver couldn’t find. Finally when he found it from the highway, he pulled over on the highway, and we exited the cab on the highway, and then walked to the bus station from the highway. The bus ride to
Ultimately, we arrived in
After checking in, we left to go and roam around the city. Apparently, the town over (that we aren’t staying in) is famous for desert recreation, and everyone stays there. For this reason, we hired two guys to take us on a desert excursion. For $20 these guys picked us up at our hostel, drove us to the neighboring town, set us up with gear and a group, and then waited over 2 hours for us to finish in order to take us back to our hostel.
The town over—Huacachina—isn’t much of a town. It is a desert oasis with a hostel and some bars. The oasis is surrounded by sand dunes for 100s of miles (it’s a desert). The popular attraction is to sandboard, using a snowboard in the sand dunes. For this activity, a dune buggy with about 6 other people picks you up. You are tightly belted in and then taken on a fast, intense (and probably dangerous) trip up, down, and around some sand dunes. Without signing any release forms or even identifying who we were, we were blazing through random sand dunes in
After the buggy ride, we all strapped on snowboards and boarded down the sand dunes. At the bottom of each hill, they’d pick us up in the buggy and take us to a higher set of dunes. After about 5 dunes we were all tired and dehydrated, but they had one more dune for us. The final hill was very intimidating. The first two guys had mammoth falls. One of the guys hit his head and had blood all over his clothing. Adam went next and also enjoyed a wonderful fall. I then went but took it easy because this was probably the worst possible thing to do with a recently broken leg. We made it to the bottom, but the remainder of the group stood at the top of the dunes, vulnerable and scared shitless. Our drivers wanted to leave but most of the group was afraid to come down…rightly so. For this reason the drivers started yelling at the remaining to hurry up, causing the little specks at the top of the huge, steep sand dune to gradually walk down the hill. As an active skier for the past 20 years, I wasn’t intimidated by the hill, but I definitely realize the cruelty of making some first time skiers go off a double black diamond without protection. I had immense fun, but it definitely was not safe.
On the ride back, the sun disappeared behind the horizon and was replaced by a full moon. What a perfect ending to my first day in the sand. I love all of earth’s biomes but have always been negative towards the desert. Today I appreciated the beauty of the desert and now have immense respect for its beauty.
On the cab ride back to town, we discussed the earthquake that struck
1. Shot of Huacachina from sand dune (From Flickr)
2. Me after wiping out on sandboard
3. Final hill we boarded down. You can see the people at the top afraid to go down.
4. Adam and I with the moon.
5. Movie of Ica during minute of silence for victims of earthquake