Monday, December 25, 2006
I haven't written in a while, due to lack of time and internet access, and I've been on the move. Since I last wrote, I've effectively gone through Bolivia, from the north to the south. I took a 12 hour bus ride from Cuzco to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I spent 3 days in Copacabana, including a night on the Isla del Sol in the center of the lake, and then head off to La Paz, 3 hours away. After a hectic 2 days in La Paz, I headed down on a 13 hour overnight public bus through the freezing altiplano to Uyuni, arriving at 8 in the morning and setting off on a 3 day jeep tour of the flamingo infested salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, before arriving across the border in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. I was rushing to get to Santiago for christmas, but the bus schedules were too squeezed, and I decided to spent the day with my friends that I've accumulated along the way.
And boy have I accumulated. I left Cuzco with a plan to go to San Pedro with Pauline(Scottish) who I met in Arequipa, and almost convinced to go to the jungle. Before we left, we bought a bus ticket with Rachael(Germany), and considered meeting up with her later. We crossed the Peru/Bolivia border with Lior(Israel) and Jose Luis(Born in La Paz, Lived in Buenos Aires). We began traveling with them and met up with Rachael and Kathleen(Canada) who she had met on the bus. All together we set off for La Paz, but not before spending Pauline's birthday with 3 english guys that we kept seeing along the way. In La Paz, we met, randomly, Amanda(Detroit), who I've bumped into 5 times going all the way back to Huacachina. Through in Illian(Israel), Lior's friend, and Alice(Australia), who I met back in Arequipa at the same salsoteca as Pauline,we left for Salar de Uyuni a massive party of 9 (2 boys, 7 girls). International too! Somehow I ended up doing a lot of organizing, guiding, and problem solving for the group, but thats ok. I started the salt tour feeling that I would never travel in a group again, but I found that I became good friends with these people over the next 3 bumpy and rustic days.
So... What did we do? In Copacabana, I spent my time playing with a Colombian guitarist named Jose who showed me that you CAN play a whole salsa rythem on a solo acoustic guitar. Jose Luis turned out to be a great friend of mine, I taught him english, he taught me spanish, we did all sorts of hikes and had long philosophical talks, and in general were just good buddies. We busted our butts looking for a birthday cake for Pauline all over the small town of Copacabana for several hours, eventually buying a plain cake, a packet of dulce de leche, and some chocolate covered peanuts. We made a smiley face and suprised her with the cake at dinner, and she loved it! She was thinking of not celebrating her birthday, but we made it special. I think we felt the good karma on that one.
As we were entering La Paz, I realized that this was a very different city. Sprawling up out of the canyon, the city was a sight to behold with the big city center in the basin of the valley. The next 2 days were spent arranging a tour for Uyuni, and exploring the myriad of markets over La Paz. I meandered through a food market spilling over with the largest watermelons I've ever seen, got lost in a Black Market full on knock off clothes, electornics, and well, everything, that sprawls over 6 city blocks, and checked out the witches market where I perused such goods as magical cures, special offerings, and dried llama fetuses. I visited the Coca museum where I found a new found respect for the plant and understanding of the war against cocaine and is effects on Bolivia. I also visited the folkloric musical instruments museum where I had a field day and decided I want to learn every string instrument, EVER. I'm already ok at Charango, a small 5 double stringed guitar. Bought one, a really nice one, for $80, professional quality. But it was too nice. I felt the burden of having to take care of it, something I don't do so well while traveling, so I returned it. It felt like cheating on my guitar anyway. I might pick one up before I come home, but traveling is just too much.
The bus ride to Uyuni wasn't actually all that bad, we played music in the bus, and drove all the Bolivians insane. I stayed up all night playing music and talking with Kathleen from Canada (She had bought a Charango). The sun rose to find us in one of the dryest and most barren place on earth. But absolutely awe inspiring in its stark beauty.
The Salar de Uyuni tour is the only thing I actually wanted to do on this trip before I left. I saw this picture in the lonely planet of the thin layer of water reflecting the sky, making it look like people were walking through the clouds, and I was like 'Wow, I want to see that'. Thats the only thing so far that has evoked that response and it did not disappoint. It was absolutely surreal, like living in the clouds, and I hope to post my friends pictures soon as soon as I get that together. In one moment, I couldn't control myself and had to run off into the endless horizon, feeling like I was flying while soaking myself in SALTY water, my shoes are still white.
That night, we stayed in a hotel made entirely of salt blocks, we even slept on salt. It sounds touristy, but it was magical, and we had a camp fire where Amanda showed off her fire dancing skills and I got some good guitar playing in. I just gotta say that it was a truly special night.
The next day was 7 hours back in our BUMPY jeep, I still feel like I'm rocking from it 5 days later. We stopped at lakes on our way to the Chile border. The high altitude salt lakes were like a combination of Sierra Nevadas and Tropical beach because they were strangely filled with Pink flamingos. The highest lake, where we stayed the night was around 5000m, and COLD! I fully utilized every piece of clothing I had, and now have confidence that I brought enough clothes.
The final day found us waking up at 4am and driving to a series of gysers, not water, but gas. A massive outgassing of the earth that left me speechless, if not recoiling from the heavy sulfur smell. We spent breakfast by a natural hotspring which was warmly recieved by my Mare-In County hot tubber bones. We were then rushed across the border by a very rude bus driver and suddenly in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile. We were immeadiately aware that we were in a different country due to the...paved roads! How wierd it felt after 5 days of flying up in down in our jeeps and buses. Also everything costs at least twice as much. This was a sad and sobering fact that turned a bunch of people off immeadiately.
The last 3 days have been spent in the company of my new found friends, but all must come to an end as I head off to Santiago tomorrow, to meet with some Ihouse friends in their home city.
Whew... I can't type anymore at the moment, fatigue has taken its toll, but suffice to say, the past week has been an intense whirlwind of experience that I won't forget. :)
Feliz Navidad to all!
Friday, December 15, 2006
My experience in the jungle was nothing short of amazing. After a week of searching in Cuzco, I put together a crew of 3 adventerous souls which included myself, Mark, a 40 year old welshman who carried a big knife and who was very clear that he was british and not english, and Johannah, a 19 year old girl from Berlin who´s been on the road for several months. This motley crew of 3 was led by William, 23 years old, having lived his whole life in the amazon where we visited, and Lourdes his 22 year old sister who did a damn good job of making sure we had our stomachs full of food.
The trip was 5 days and 4 nights and basically broke down like this. The first day was spent driving a dizzying and perilous 10 hours in a van over mountain passes and down 2000 meters, through cloud forest, to the town of Pilcopata, at the mouth of the Madre de Dios river which is a tributary of the Amazon. The ride was long, BUMPY, and just dangerous enough so that you didn´t want to think about it. We stopped in the cloud forest and from that point on, I knew it was going to be an amazing trip. Just walking through the high trees, we spotted several families of monkeys, flocks of tropical birds, and beautiful butterflies. Upon arriving in Pilcopata, we found ourselves right smack in the middle of a festival for the Imaculate Conception, which consisited of the entire town out in their parading best, playing marching music and dancing their druken butts off in what I can best describe as a sort of folkloric music played by 20 slightly out of tune horns. Of course I loved it!
The next day, we woke up early, drove down to the river, stopping in a Coca plantation, painting our faces with local fruit, and stealing away a bit of wild pinapple (Small but DELICIOUS!) from the side of the road. At the river, we found a long boat with an outboard motor waiting for us on a VERY quickly flowing river. To the bonanza reservation it was a 5 hour boat ride that was one of the most relaxing times I´ve yet to have on the trip. Wind blowing in my face, surrounded by the amazon rain forest, I even sat out front and took a chance to play my guitar, (Yes, I brought my guitar to the Amazon, of course!), along with half dome, europe, isreal, and india, I can add that to one of the real special times of playing that guitar for me. We stopped into a natural hotsprings where we covered ourselves with river mud, and indulged in what I acturately guessed was about 108deg farenheit water. Much fun was had jumping from the cold river to the hot pond and back and forth again. It also brought new meaning to the difficulty going to the bathroom in the woods, as every where I looked, there was a large meanicing spider hanging between a branch, or crawling in the grass. That´s where I first learned that the Jungle is all fine as long as you don´t look in detail, and the more detail you look in, the more you actually realize that you´re covered in bugs and insects all the time, whether you know it or not. We arrived to Bonanza to find a few wooden platforms for us to put up our tents for the night and meet Will and Lourdes´ parents. Charming and loving people, who only spoke Quechua (the Incan language) which reduced communication to smiles, laughs, and guitar playing :).
That night we went looking for insects. Luckily, we were in the jungle, so we found a whole lot of them. Wolf Spiders, Scorpion Spiders, Tarantulas, Translucent Butterflys, Millipedes and a host of other creepy crawlies. This was the start of my introduction to the jungle where I would find myself getting les reserved and more comfortable with each new experience that took me out of my comfort zone, until I found myself on the last day walking barefoot and in shorts through ankle deep amazonian mud and bullet ants (comfortable or just stupid, you decide).
The next day was one of the truly special experiences of my trip so far. We woke up early, ate a light breakfast, packed up our big backpacks with tents, put on rubber boots that went almost up to our knees (unfortunately they didn´t have boots quite big enough for me, like everything down here), and head off on an 8 hour hike into the jungle. Before the hike, we had to stop for a morning snack of course, which amounted to finding a rotting log, chopping it open and find some ´oil worm´grubs to much down. Mark happily chomped down 2, while Jo wasn´t anywhere near considering it. I had a rather puzzleing experience. While initialy disgusted by the little slimy guys, I held one in my hands for a few minutes, and in its desperate spasming and crawling around, I developed what I can only describe as a genuine empathy for the little critter, which I really wasn´t expecting. I was no longer disgusted by the thought of texture or taste, but by the thought of holding him by the head and physically killing him with my teeth. I was conflicted, feeling peer pressure to eat him just to have a story to tell, but I sided with this new feeling and convinced Will to stick him back in the log (saving him from Mark who wanted to eat him) (Sorry Will!). On the walk back to camp I tried to understand what just happened, did this mean that I really should be a vegetarian? I had extended my empathy that I value for other humans to a disgusting worthless worm, how could I ever eat another sentient animal again? I decided that in the very least, it made me want to excersice more, thinking of all the perfectly good animal protein that has gone to waste on me not making use of it. Either way, I felt good about my decision, if not a bit confused.
The hike itself was a gradual transition from walking on firm land, to taking off our boots and fjording a river, to wading through a bit of mud, to balancing on logs over rivers and swamps, supporting ourselves with bamboo sticks, to swinging across streams on high hanging vines, to outright dredging through miles of thick juicy mud and stagnant water. Each step in the process found me rolling up my sleeves a little bit more and more, getting less paranoid about bugs and mud, and just feeling at home in the jungle. All along the way we saw a bunch of wildlife, including bullet ants, giant ants (aprox an inch and a half), one of the most dangerous insects in the jungle. Speaking of ants, we saw all types, including swarms of army ants with nasty stings and herds of those entreprenurial leaf cutter ants.
Other highlights including trying to climb a 30m tree that had been eaten alive by a parasite tree and left hollow on the inside. We were supposed to climb down a vine from the top`(about 100 feet), and decided to try it out on the bottom first despite claims that ´it was perfectly safe´. I hopped on and did my best to pull it down, but found that yes indeed it was pretty strong. Then Mark, the everstrong welshman tried his turn. He lasted about a second and a half before we heard a huge ´SNNNAAAPPPP´and fled from the 100ft of vine falling down all around us. The next 5 minutes were spent sitting around looking up at the tall tree and realizing that if we hadn´t tried it out first, Mark would surely be dead right now. As if that weren´t motivation enough to stay on the ground, we still attempted to climb up, but both Mark and I found ourselfs either to lanky or too big to make it all the way to the top, it still was a lot of fun.
We stopped for lunch by a stream, where we ate rice out of banana leaves that William had been carrying for us. Jungleicious Delicious! We then found ourselves having to fjord a stream that very nearly hit our boot level. William eagerly showed us that we could avoid the fjord by just attempting a tarzan like vine swing across the river. We obviously didn´t learn our lesson as Mark lined up for the swing, took off, heard a ¨Snap!¨halfway across the river and found himself flying into the mud!
Not like it mattered very much, because the arduous last 2 hours of the hike were through a straight swamp. Trail is a very loose term, as at times, we found ourselves entirely surrounded by orange stagnent water(anaconda territory) navigating across the swamp on small logs that we had to feel out with our feet. It was at that point that I really felt like I was in the Jungle. When not swamp wading, the trail was composed of just a bunch of deep and watery mud. Suprisingly, insects didn´t really bother us (Go Deet!), although they haven´t apparently ever had any cases of Malaria in parque Manu, but whatever. What I did find, however, was that I started to get dizzy, and cranky, and totally lost track of any thoughts except taking each next step and getting to our damn campsite. Probably didn´t drink enough water, but the heat and humidity, it made me feel delierious with what I could only describe as a ´jungle fever´.
Anyways, my coordination lasted just long enough to get me to the campsite, a rock crop on the side of the river tributary where we would stay the night. I wasted no time in derobing and hopping in, washing off the filth of the day. I waited till afterwards to learn that the waters were home to piranha´s and caiymans. Then we got real setteled, set up some bamboo fires, tents, and cooked some spaghetti we had brought with us while will and mark went off for a short night hike. 2 hours later we started to worry. I joked, ´they better come back with a caiyman´, and sure enough a few minutes later they walked right up to the fire and plopped down a bloody aligator head in my lap. Will had caught the crock, blinding it with his flashlight, while Mark took out his oversize traveler´s knife and straight up cut off its head. We gutted the now placid looking krock and set up a few stick spits above our bamboo fire, and cooked it up. So what does alligator taste like you may ask? Delicious! Like a combination between chicken and fish.
I was ambivalent about all the killing, especially given my worm experience, but the interesting thing is that there was a lot of respect in it. Sure we didn´t NEED to eat it, we had spaghetti, but we ate everything (Eyes and Brains included, although Mark felt it the next day). It was a nice counterbalance to my worm experience, a lesson about primal urges for meat, and the killing you have to be ok with to get it.
Anyways, the next morning, we woke up early and walked the whole way back. We really hauled ass and got back in 5 hours [again I got delierious towards the end, but at least this time Jo did too :) ]. We only stopped for a herd of wild boars which we didn´t see but heard and I can only describe as sounding more gnarly and fierce than the worst creatures from the Lord of the Rings. We started walking off into the jungle, tracking their sounds. When we got close, and I could really hear them, I realized I might be in danger and I asked Will what I should do if they decide to charge us and he calmly tapped a thin tree trunk next to me and said ´you need to at least get a meter and a half up or they can get you´. Its things like this to remind you that no matter how safe I felt with the group, this was the real jungle and it Really was dangerous. He told me a story of how he once had a tour with some Danish girls, they had to climb tree trunks to escape the boars, but the boars sat there for hours. The girls just clung on and eventually had to go to the bathroom just clinging to the trunks.
The thing is, all this wildness, was Will´s backyard all his life, and his constant humor and good attitude made you feel like that too. By 2 hours into the hike on the way back, I almost even felt at home. I felt so at home that I decided to try a Jesse of the Jungle swing across the dubious stream. Ignoring the lessons of yesterday (will tryed it first!), I jumped off for a glorious second and a half before the all too familar ´Snap!´, signaled my return to earth. Muddy earth at that. But it was great! I sat there, covered in jungle mud, mosquitos buzzing around, and I couldn´t have felt more at home. It actually turned out to be my highlight of the trip, because from there on, nothing really worried me that much, the jungle had acquired me and I didn´t have to keep my guard up anymore.
Once we got back, I fell into a deep state of relaxation, so deep that I didn´t put back on my shoes or pants to go on a 20 min hike to see some birds. This found me squishing through the mud barefoot, which would make my big toe infected, and me a bit concerned, but you know what, it was ok! What a great experience to help give me confidence that it always finds a way to work out. The basic rules of the jungle that I put together over the course of the trip was this:
1) As opposed to not touching anything, Touch EVERYTHING! Get bit! Get
spiked! Get Muddy! Get Rashy!
2) Don´t worry! The bites go away, the mud washes off, the rashes
3) When it comes time to take things seriously, take things VERY seriously.
Infections, wild boars, deadly insects, you don´t mess around, but just do
everything you can to take of yourself.
And you know what, if that was all that I learned... it was worth every
I finish this from La Paz, tommorow I head off to Uyuni, on my way to
Santiago for christmas to spend with Juan Eduardo Justiano and his family, so
obviously a lot else has happend, but hopefully I´ll get time to catch up on the
rest of it soon.
Chau for now!
Thursday, December 7, 2006
So thats the quick skinny on what I've been up to, just got to mention for my own memory's sake that I had a real rewarding talk the other day. I was hanging out in Loki around 10am after a night out at a club called uptown (Yes Ben, I did eventually make it to Bar7 too, and no, I've never seen anything like that before), and I was talking with an American from Mississippi named Carlos who works at Loki. We talked about music, which of course always finds its way into philosophy with me, and ended up talking about his two tours of duty (2 years) that he spent in Iraq. The best way that I can describe parts of the conversation is that it was sort of like the movie Freedomland in person. I really benefited from hearing his stories about the daily grind, the lack of action, the mischief and just utter humaness of all his experiences. I came away with a respect for how different some people's experiences of life are then mine, but more importantly, a realization of how similar they are, how everything in the war is just done by people, people who make mistakes, people who are nice and thoughtful, and those who aren't as well. He worked as a communications officer and spent a lot of time relaying information from all over the war front. Stories of note: his friend who was telling him about Abu Ghraib before the story broke and how his friend went from being concerned to utterly unsympathetic after one of their friends was killed by a roadside bomb. It demonstrated to me the power of violence to control one's mind and influence them to dehumanize others in response. Something he said that stuck with me was that the power of the army is that it
'exploits the enoumoursly strong bond that you have with the other members of
your team, that if someone was pointing a gun at them, you would kill that man
to protect them, to make sure that they get home to their new wife and kids,
even if the situation isn't even as clear as that.
We talked for a long time, and I found it to be the closet interaction I've had to the war my country is fighting. We also talked about the Jon Stewart effect, how the news can be so crazy, so overwhelming, that it can paralyze you, that you just have to sit there and go 'Whhhaaa???'. That all Jon Stewart does is point out how ridiculous these things that happen are. But that in the end of the day, these things don't feel like reality, they're just too hard to actually believe, so there's a disconect, but what I got from talking with Carlos is just how much of a reality these things are. That they're just real people, not always intellengent, honorable, or compassionate people either, just doing real things with other real people, in one seriously messed up situation.
(insert brilliant segway back to mundane things)
Just so everyone knows, after a little helpful prodding, Ben Lawson's finally got his act together and has started posting pictures and movies from our time in Ecuador/Cuzco. So head on over to his blog (Link is posted at the right) and check it out. I don't know why, but I really like this shot he took of me. Its got the whole 1000 words thing for me personally.
Ciao for now and wish me luck in the jungle!
Monday, December 4, 2006
I sprang for the ´cama´ bed-seat hybrids but found that they had been built for, well, Peruvians, and not 6foot something tall, leggy, californians. I didn´t sleep much that night, crammed with me knees up in my face in what was ironically more uncomfortable than a normal seat. On that note, I think one of my biggest dangers I´ve faced so far in my 1 month of traveling is just low cielings, I feel like I´m walking in some wierd movieset where everything is built to 80% scale, big enough to look normal so that I smack my head into the cieling. On the plus side, the people have been very friendly at pointing this out, "Cuidate con la cabeza, (watch your head!)". The bus was also limited in terms of circulation and the windows soon turned into near waterfalls of collected sweat. Mmm, delicious.
Anyways, I stumbled out of the bus no worse for wear and I even met some musicians on the bus and we played a little guitar as we arived into Cuzco.
Strange thing about Cuzco, it seems different from the last time I´ve been here. After two weeks in Arequipa, it seems strangely tourist centered, lacking in people going about their business, and expensive. Food etc seem to cost around 30% more here, and even hostal loki, which I used to think was cheap is actually close to twice as much as my hostal "La Reyna" in Arequipa.
But I´m here with one thought in mind. The Jungle! Upon the recommendation of Gabriel, one of Ilan´s gracious friends who have shared their experiences with me, I´m here to take a Jungle tour, 5 or 6 days, to Parque Manu in the amazon. I´ll be going with ´Bonanza tours´which is a small company comprised of 2 brothers and their friend, all of which have grown up in the park. What sets this tour apart is that they opt to teach you how they survive in the jungle, eating bugs, drinking from plants, climbing giant trees, catching alligators with your bare hands, using plants for medicine, etc. over just seeing animals. Its more than a bit out of my element, but thats the point I think. Subir los miedos!
One catch, I need at least 4 people for the tour. Thats where the 160 people in Loki come in. I´ve been actively recruiting people for the adventure and have managed to find 1 yes and 2 maybes. The other catch being that they´d like to go, but can´t go till saturday. So... the search continues, and if worse comes to worse, I have a few days to burn in Cuzco. The weather has taken a sudden turn wet since I arrived, and it even rained an hour ago. I´ve also started to look forward to Christmas, thinking it would be nice to spend it with my friends in Santiago, but that means that I¨m gonna have to speed up a bit through bolivia, and basically shoot south after the jungle tour. Sure I could get there 3 days in bus, but I think I´d like to still give Lake Titicaca and Salar de Uyuni their due so it might come in close. Plus I don´t like all those deadlines and what. Speaking of which, I still need to change my flight.... (Sorry Bay Area folks!)..... need.... more.... time....
Lots of love from the land of the Inca