Me Embracing the World

Me Embracing the World

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Trekking! (Colca Canyon, Peru)

Alrighty now! So, first things first, as you can see, I´ve decided to move the blog. I just had too much hassle with Ball of Dirt, and it didn´t let me post notes to facebook, and since I´m posting my pictures at facebook anyways, I just figured it was time for a change. This way you all can post comments too! You can still check on my progress by clicking the Ball of Dirt link to the right, I´ll keep the map updated just because it´s really neat for me to see where I´ve been.

So where have i been? After a solid week of sitting on my rear, playing guitar and what not, I finally got my stuff together and headed out on a 6 hour bus ride to Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world, second only to Cotahuasi which is just a few hours a way. I went with a group, recomended by Anival, the peruvian guide friend of my friend Rebekah, who lives next to me at the hostel and is from Boston of all places. She´s addicted to salsa dancing, and quite good at it, which means that she makes a lot of friends, most of which I´ve had the pleasure of getting to interact with too.

Anyways, my group was composed of 4 other people: Magnus, Beatrice, Rose, and Pill, from Sweden, Sweden, Australia, and England respectively (from Left to Right). Marcus, you should be proud to know that I told the Swedes the ´Biblio phi ket´joke, but of course they didn´t get it cause they´re not physics majors, but they appreciated the effort.

One of the best parts of the trip was hanging out and talking with our guide/leader Patricia. I was the only person on the trip who spoke spanish, and she only spoke so-so english, so it was nice to be able to talk to her in spanish. We just got along real great, she thought I was the wierdest tourist. She was really knowledgable and pointed out all the plants along the way. Ones that cure you, ones that make you blind or leave permenant scars, even a little bulb that is a strong hallucinagen. She was great at pointing out when I was being a conservative tourist, we had a joke that expressed it well,

¨¿Como se llama este? Miedo!¨
As for the hiking the walking was great, 3 days of going from villiage to village of locals who live inside the canyon. First day we dropped 1000m, second day we hiked across the canyon, and the third day we woke up at 2:30am and climbed 1000m up out of the canyon before breakfast. This is where I learned that 1000m is very different from 1000ft. Luckily I packed light and managed to fit everything I needed into the Peruvian daypack I bought in the market. The valley was beautiful and let my mind wander on all sorts of stuff from the type of music I´d play when I got back to the relationship between science and religion. Just try thinking about that for a while and you´ll find you´re up to the top of the canyon in no time.

I really enjoyed staying in a little town the first night. I was suprised to find a couple of Israelis staying in the hostel with us, more suprised that one of them had been to CAMP TAWONGA! 2 years ago, and he loved it, it was like an american movie for him, because they don´t have those types of summer camps in Israel. We spent some good time going down memory lane, trippy to be doing that in the middle of a canyon in Peru. Small world.

The hostel was owned and run by a really nice woman. I offered to help her cook and she was kind enough to offer to teach me. It all fell apart when I realized that I was hungry and that I would much rather have her cook my meal than have me masacre some Alpaca Saltado. She said I could cook the rice, but that if I messed it up, she was going to tell everyone it was my fault. We worked out a comprimise where I sat and played guitar while she cooked, better for everyone involved.

All around, it was a great trip. Now I´m back in Arequipa, resting for 3 days, taking spanish lessons (So that I can actually learn how to talk correctly, not just functionally), and looking towards a jungle trek in cusco (still working out the details on that). That and I´m spending time in Internet Cafes trying to convince Stephanie, Nick, and Marc to get their behinds down here so we can rock en español!

Ciao for Now!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Criollo and Taking it Slow (Arequipa, Peru)

Hey Folks! Happy Thanksgiving to you all! And a very special Happy Birthday to my Dad! Even if he does say that my entries are, and I quote, 'short, pithy and personal - and I believe intended for sharing' . Of couse They're for sharing! Come one, come all, and please write me comments if anything comes to mind!

My turkey day was spent 'sin pavo', but after much search I managed to find a killer mashed potatoes and rotiserrie chicken place, 'Pollo Real'to share a meal with my fellow American that's at my hostel, the salsa dancing Rebekah.

So you're still in Arequipa? What could you have possibly been doing for the past week?
Good question, I say. I think I've managed to settle in here a bit, found a nice hostel with a room that opens to a veiw of the city, and also, strangely enough, has a voyeuristic veiw down into the monestary right next to it. Well, with my daypack stolen while I was writing my last BOD entry, (I had it under my chair! Foolish!), I've had a lot of fun exploring the local economy for a replacement USB cable and charger for my camera. The interesting thing about latin america is that you can have 50 stores on the same block selling the EXACT same thing. I'm not quite sure how they manage to make an buisiness but I guess some things are just better left unknown. I found what I needed, as is evidenced by the new photo uploads.

So what have I been doing? Guitar lessons of course! I've been taking lessons from a good local player, the peruvian version of me (23 yrs old, playing for 8 years), in the emotional and clasically-flamencoy styled music known as musica Criolla. Check out Raul Garcia Zarate for a taste of the music. So I've pretty much found myself playing guitar 5 hours a day, shopping around in morning, and going out at night to either a local peruvian bar or a salsoteca.
Three Interesting things about Arequipeños:

1) In a bar, they all drink out of the same cup, taking turns in a sort of social, peer pressure kind of venue. They pour a little beer into a cup, down it like a shot, and then pour the runoff into another cup. Mmm... hygenic.

2) They, by comparison, don't really dance, and they definately don't dance salsa. From what I've seen, they prefer to sit around and drink, rather than get up and shake those hips. Which leads me to last night, where I went to Salsateca Munay's and found myself in the extremely rare situation of being one of the better salsa dancers in the club. Scary... but at the same time, very endearing, and makes feel very comfortable and at home.

3) Regarding social interaction, what I've now found on several situations, and from the mouths of Arequipeños, is that while everyone is sitting around, they're in little circles of friends. Guys are always seperate from girls, and if a guy wants to go talk to a girl, he can't just walk over and say 'Hey, how you doing', even if he is pretty hot stuff, he will be immeadiately shunned. People only talk to people who they have contact with, so you always have to be a friend, or a friend of a friend to bridge the gap between the different friend circles. Needless to say, this puts the foriegner in a strange position, something that a friend of mine at the salsateca last night, (from the north of Peru), found very frustrating and crazy. It seems to me though that its just being very safe, and I can understand it from that perspective.

Anyhoo, tomorrow I go trekking in the second largest canyon in the world (colca) and looking for Condors. I'll be out there for three days and then hopefully I will be going back up to Cuzco for a much recommended Jungle tour (Thanks Gabriel and Ilan!)

Ok, so Ciao for now!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Earth Moves (Arequipa, Peru)

Yo yo, So after I dusted my boots free of sand, I sat back the next day and took yesterday just for me. I sat around the lagoon-resort of Huacachina and chatted with some newly met british friends who were taking a brake from teaching english in Lima.

Then I caught the first of what will surely be many long late night buses, 10 hours to Arequipa, second largest city in Peru, buildings made of vocanic rock, and surrounded by 5000-6000m volcanoes and the worlds deepest canyon. Arequipa has had some troubled history with earthquakes, and today was no exception. Not more than an hour after I arrived, I was eating breakfast, and all of sudden the whole building started doing the Jello Pudding Wiggle. It went for a suprising 5-6 seconds, not just a jolt like most Berkeley quakes. On the plus side, it provided a great ice breaker for everyone I meet, talking about my own experience with earthquakes.

Groggy from my comfortable yet not too comfortable drive, I passed out for a while, checked out the town, looked at some tours, and checked out a frozen mummy of a little girl who was sacrificed 500 years ago to please the gods. She was preserved in the ice atop a volcano and is just plain freaky to look in the face because everything from her hair to her internal organs are preserved. I've been getting busy uploading photos to facebook, (much faster than BOD, although not full quality), and I'll be making backup cds of my photos and sending them home for safekeeping.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Boobies and Sandboarding (Huacachina, Peru)

So I'm done with Paracas. I spent 3 days there. I hiked through the desert, from which I'm still quite burned. I watched my friend Tereza rock some serious Kitesurfing, the $100 lesson fee was a bit much for me. I was awoken each night by election parties held on the street below my hostel, elections being tomorrow...

Its worth noting that they really take their elections seriously here, and my criteria for seriously is that each candidate has their own song. Not just 'Don't stop thinking about tomorrow', but a song WRITTEN just for their campaign. This song is of course the basis of their canned recorded broadcasts which boom out of every speaker, from late night parties, to loadspeakers on roaming cars, to local boomboxes, in every small town from Aguas Calientes to Pisco.

Anyhoo.... Today I found myself alone again as Tereza head off to the Czchek Republic, and I decided it was time to be a tourist. First thing in the morning, I hopped on a boat to Isla Ballestas, The poor man's Galapagos, and got my full dose of birds and sea lions, around 10,000 and 500 of them respectfully. There were pelicans, penguins, cormarrants, Peruvian boobies, and even turkey vultures! There was also more bird droppings (guano) than I ever want to smell again in my life. Apparently its a major export, best fertilizer in the world, and they can only harvest every 5-7 years.

Afterwards, I hopped a bus to Ica, and a taxi to Huacachina just in time to catch a desert tour. Now, I normally don't like tours, but this one was great. Riding in a dunebuggy over the rollercoaster like dunes, we got to sandboard down several. For the taller ones, we would lie on our stomachs and go down head first, but the smaller ones we'd try standing up. I even made it all the way down a pretty steep one. 3 actually, although I fell HARD on my ass on the second one 'Cuidado con su culo!', but like any good inspìrational movie, I got up and nailed the next one like a pro. We watched the sunset from atop the desert and sat for a while in the most deafening silence I've ever heard, or not heard for that matter.

Anyways, that's the news from lake wobegon, tomorrow will decide whether or not I spend time in Nazca or just mozy on to Arequipa.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You´re not lost if its on purpose, (Paracas Peru)

So, totally on a whim, because it felt right, I decided not to join Ben on his flight to Santiago. Instead, I was going to go to Lake Titicaca, Puno to be specifc. What changed my mind? How have I ended up in the Desert/Beach hamlet that is Paracas?

Well, the simple answer is that I came to meet a girl, but that dosen't quite capture it. Last sunday, I was lucky enough to fall asleep on an Incan ruin (Temple of the Moon) and be left behind by Ben and the german guy we were walking around with. I found myself awakening alone, accept for this girl, similarly laid out in the sun. Lacking anything else to do, I went over to talk to her, and what followed was one of the truly special days of my life. Sure, there was the boy girl dynamic going, but that wasn't the point. We just sat and talked on that rock through most of the day, good honest, truthful conversation, the type of stuff that drastically effects your state of mind, and thats what it did. I didn't know where I was, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know why I was there, and I was LOVING it. I got back after night fall, but before Ben sent out the search parties (It felt good to know he was concerned). In short, I saw a bit of what I wished my trip would be, accepting where I am, wherever it is, as opposed to being focused always on whatever greener grass is always over the horizon.

So... what was I supposed to do, she was only in the country for a few more days, and I had to go see whatever there is to see. Like life, my expectations have been met to various degrees, of course nothing could match that day, but I'm so glad I've made the trip. Today, we hiked 9km through the desert, (I'm VERY sunburned right now) to a beach reserve, desolate nature that I'm surprised I like so much. At first it was a bit hard, but now I feel like these couple of days will be the perfect transition to my solo travels.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Machu Machu Picchu

Well, we did it. We hopped on the train. We hopped on the bus. And there we were, shelling out $40 to see Machu Picchu. And you know what... it was worth it. I took a million photos (still forthcoming, sorry), We walked all around, to the 'sun gate' to the 'Inca Bridge', and despite all the tourists, I can still rate it along with the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal as something that actually lived up to the hype.

The next day we climbed the moutain across from MP, a true adventure, going up 2000 feet in just a few miles, including a 100 foot exposed wooden ladder climb and a grueling final exposed Inca Step series. A rainbow Inca flag (not to be confused with other rainbow flags) greeted us at teh top. I veiwed it as our penance for not having time to do the Inca trail.

Once again, its famous for a reason, and that reason's a good one

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cuzco, Peru

One small hour plane flight later and I find myself here in the magical land of Cuzco. The plane landed by circling in and doing a 180 on landing approach, dropping, more like squeezing into a canyon. What can I say, the cities beautiful. Built on Incan ruins, all redroofed shingled, its Uber touristy, but who cares. I'm writing from the mammoth Hostel Loki, an institution with 150 beds that sells shirts saying 'I survived Hostel Loki' and other such things.

The altitude got me at first, but a sudafed later and I'm doing fine. We've spent the day cruising the cozy coblestone walkways, checking out a bmx race through the city, visting a local soccer game, before it started raining, and seeing a music festival de caballeros. At the festival, I talked to a nice guitar cowboy who sat behind, his name was too long for me to remember, but was suprised to find that his costume wasn't a costume at all. He was a real cowboy, with cows and all. These conversations, all in spanish , have been the most rewarding part of the past few days. My spanish is improving rapidly and the people I've met have been so kind and forthcoming that they've enriched my life.

I almost forgot, the philosophy professor in the terminal in Lima. He stopped me to ask if I had found his ticket in the bathroom, but it turned out to be in his pocket all along. He was going to Cuzco to give a talk and was very interested in me and my studies, He teaches metaphysics and such. He even gave me some recomendations for Cuzco. Just a really nice guy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lima Wha? (Lima, Peru)

Well it feels too early, but we've been in Ecuador a week and we're back in El Centro del Mundo, Quito, preparing ourselves for our flight to Cuzco via Lima. We had to leave Chugchilán on a packed bus at 3 in the morning, on a big bumpy road, 500 foot cliffs on our left, speeding down the road, with our packs and a large tank of gas strapped to the top and bouncing loudly on the roof everytime we hit a big bump. Quite the bus ride. 6 hours later, via Latacunga, I'm back in Quito, waiting for our rooms to open up so that we can put our stuff in. Next, Laundry. Beautiful... Clean... Clothes....

And like that, with a puff of wind and one last night of salsa dancing, where we met our sala teacher from earlier in the evening, we were gone, and the Ecuador portion of our trip was over.
Quito didn't want to let go of us though, and just as we were taking off, a thunderstorm hit and we had to return to the terminal for an hour. The flight was bumpy the whole way, but I was kept good company by Julio, a 44 year old Argentinian oil driller who sat next to me. He taught me spanish and I taught him english. The highlight was where we looked up his hometown in the lonely planet and I had to translate to him that his home was 'not interesting to tourists', and then promptly explain why it would say such a thing and that it was written by a few people.

We arrived into Lima with me having a 9 hour layover and Ben having 12. We met a very talkitive taxi driver named Ibarra, who showed us around the city at night, the historic center, the beach. We logged into a hostel, me for just 4 hours of sleep, before Ibarra came back and picked me up. We parked outside the airport and entered through the back entrance so that we wouldn't have to pay taxes.

We didn't see much of Lima, but I feel from what I saw, that I'm quite pleased with what I got. A 3am tour around the colonial center, impecably preserved, is about all I would want. It was strange to be at sea level though.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Hostel Cloud Forest (Chugchilián, Ecuador)

Hot Showers! Hammocks! Water! (Did I mention we only brought one bottle of water and a few pieces of stale bread for the hike?) And this was the cheapest hostel in town.

Lets just say it was some good R&R, and we met a peacecore volunteer who had been there for a year and a half.

Oh yah, Nick, you should know that I met an Ecuadorian woman at the hostel who liked.... Country! I sang a basterdized version of 'one black night'and 'night riders lament'and had to explain what they meant in spanish. ( This is a song about a man who spends his time with cows instead of women and everyone asks why he does it if he dosen't make any money or get any women) She loved em'! Just goes to show...

Crater, valley, vally, mesa (Otavalo, Ecuador)

So, as planned we woke up at 7 in the morning and headed out of our hostel down the crater bottom. An amazing crater lake, I'll post a link as soon as Ben puts the pictures up. After our steep ascent, we got the crazy idea that instead of catching a bus to our next destination, Chugchilán, we'd just walk with our packs, and guitars. What followed was an amazing 5 hour hike that turned, well, just rough, in the last two hours as we found ourselves climbing a thousand feet out of a STEEP canyon we had just killed our legs decending. All said though, for a skinny, out of shape, tall guy whose spent the last 3 months away from any excercise of any kind, it felt like quite an accomplishment and really made me feel empowered. On top of that, it was great to just change our plans and follow a whim, the energy of which kept us going really for most of the journey.

A word about Quilotoa. Its the one place that I've felt most welcomed so far on this trip. A small village of a hundred or so people, we stayed in a 'hostel', but it really was just this family's home. It was Freezing outside and we were enveloped in clouds, so me, ben, 2 Canadians, 2 Danish Girls, a spanish couple and some late comer Germans, spent the afternoon, inside, huddled around the family's wood stove, playing with their four children, especially this amazing 3 year old who could break-dance, I kid you not, and introduced me to Cholo Juanito and Richard Douglas, a musical duo for South American children. I just felt so welcomed that it really made the day, and highlighted the trip so far.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Chicken Feet and Prostitutes (Latacunga, Ecuador)

The beginning of our journey on the Quilotoa loop. Not to give Latacunga a bad rap, but we only stopped here for the day becasue we missed the bus to Quilotoa. What we found was actually a nice little town with cobblestone streets and a few capital buildings.

It started pouring on us, so we ducked from overhang to overhang along with the other people, until we found ourselves in Pollo Jimmy's. A straightforward local joint where they give you a whole chicken. And when I say whole, I mean whole. The normal rottiserre is complimented with a chicken soup of what we decided to be heart, liver, neck, and feet. Makes for a good soup. Especially on a cold rainy day.

In a small victory, I finally found a pair of sandals that fit me(people have small feet here) and a pair of socks. We stayed in a cheap, smelly, but pleasant hostel. That we found is apparently worked pretty frequently by some local prostitutes from Pujili that we met in the morning. With a bit of quickness, we politefully gave our ´No Gracias´ s and were on our way to Quilotoa.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The Market (Otavalo, Ecuador)

Otavalo has been our first experience of Ecuador away from the big city of Quito. And I think we're unanimous in our love of the smaller towns over the big city. Famous for a saturday market, we arrived in Otavalo on friday and got to know the people the town the day before. We found a nice Peña named 'La Jampa' which served up a healthy dose of Reggaeton, Cumbia, and Salsa for us to dance as least akwardly as we could to.

One of the highlights for me was hanging out with some local folklorico musicians, Luis, Luis, and Luis, talking about Charangos and Quenas. Charango player Luis worked out a deal for him to pretend to buy a charango for me so that I could get a lower price, but I chickened out at the last second because I still have 2 months of travel ahead of me. A charango is a small guitar, origionally made out of armidillo shell, with 4 sets of 2 strings and its fast strumming is key to Andean Music. Maybe if I find one at the end of the trip.

For Dad, I just have to mention that above Otavalo, alone atop a hill surronded by volcanoes and a lake, is a beutiful tree that is said to have magic healing powers. Among the many things that make it beutiful is that it is a totally different species than any other in the region. When I touched it, it felt good, smooth to the touch, warm in all the wind. I thought of you Dad and your special tree up on the hill in Marin, and said to myself, yeah, that makes sense, if you're gonna have a special connection to something, why not a tree.

We then watched two Condors devour a pack of baby chickens at a bird park, and came back down for a cockfight where 2 chickens recieved instant death blows to the head. Contrasts...

Oh yeah, the market was nice

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Quito, Ecuador)

So, I'm here. Quito, Ecuador.

It's a Beautiful City. Old colonial buildings. Beautiful churches. Nice People. I spent yesterday just absorbing it all. And Walking... so much walking...

Around 5pm Ben (Lawson) and I decide to take a bus to 'La Mitad del Mundo', a very touristy monument/city all in celebration of the 0 Latitude line known as the Ecuator. We fell asleep on the bus there and ended up in the middle of the surrounding town, with the 2 girls in charge of the bus laughing their heads off at the clueless gringos who just want to see the big monument and have no idea where they were. They were nice enough to lead their 'Chicisitos' back to another bus and we finally made it.

I'm not sure what I'm doing here. I feel a bit like I'm just along for the ride, but I think thats why I'm here: to figure out why I'm here. I don't intend to fill this blog with every detail of my trip (Sorry Ben, No competition here), but I¨ll fill it with little drops of my ever changing world. I'm amazed at how much all the hostel folk seem just like I-housers, just looking for a good time, I guess this is what it feels like to be on the other end of the equation, for Me to be the one in a foriegn country. Today we head up North to Otavalo to check out the local markets there.

So for now, all the best from the center of the world.