Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category

Mr. November

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Even though my trip is entering it’s last week, I am not going to just set the cruise control, there is more adventure to be had.

My time in Mancora was spent laying on the beach, watching the World Series, and eating fruit. Only my last day there provided clear sunny skies and sunburn, otherwise it was a little too cold to swim and a little too windy to read. One positive was the beach roaming Empanada guy who was willing to cut his price in half, allowing me to pad my count. I also seemed to be there over a holiday weekend, with more Peruvians than Gringos on the sand and souvenir shops in full bloom everyday.

Now to the adventurous part: The prices for direct buses north into Ecuador were all very high. Thus I opted to cross the border with local transport and buy my long distance ticket in-country. The first leg was easy enough, a mini-van 2 hrs up to Tumbes for half the price of a bus. Upon arrival, a man poked his head in and promised a $5 bus ride up to Guayaquil. I ignorantly jumped at the chance and ignored the mild warning from a friendly local in my van. He said it was “dangerous”, and that word would become a common theme from strangers. Partly because this main border crossing on the Panamericana has been deemed the worst in South America.

So, I hopped into an unmarked car with the seller and a driver. Light conversation is shared and he tells me that there will be a strike this afternoon at the border, shutting buses down, and that I needed to get one right away. We roll by a bus office and he yells out the window to a guy, asking if buses are running, and the man apparently says no. They continue to drive me through town, telling me that now my best option is for them to drive me across the border and arrange transport there, for $35. I laugh, tell them I only have 20 soles on me ($7), and flex the fact that I know more about the Ecuadorian bus system than they do. I ask them to stop and let me out, but again the words “muy peligroso” (very dangerous) are uttered as we are now a few kms outside of the center. They drive me back to the main plaza and I reluctantly pay them 5 soles. Mostly just glad to be out of the car and consider it a stupidity tax on myself. I should know better than to jump into an unmarked vehicle based on false promises, when I could have easily strolled the bus offices myself and gotten the same “deal”. I figure the whole thing was a scam, reading web forums, people have often had to pay in excess of $30 just to get out of those situations, I feel somewhat lucky. Plus, it was fun to have an argument in Spanish.

After the brief ordeal, I walked across the street from where the guys dropped me and immediately was waved over by a mini-van loading up people for the last 30 minute stretch to the border. The public transport I should have looked for in the beginning and the type the shyster said didn’t exist. The van dropped me at the Peruvian migration office, where I was immediately met by a mototaxi driver asking for my passport and holding forms. I used my supreme intellect to decipher that he was not official and that exit stamp formalities normally aren’t handled by a man wearing Jordache jeans.

A simple stamp in my passport by a man in uniform, and now the mototaxi guys wanted to drive me the last 1.5 kms to the actual line in the sand. I said I preferred a mini-van, and again heard the words “muy peligroso”, which caused me to chuckle. I ended up walking the remainder, feeling very safe at mid-day. It felt good to get into a bustling market area at the border, and to be back in Ecuador. I found the bus stations in Huaquillas and joyfully saw a direct bus to my next destination, Otavalo (15 hrs north and 3 hrs south of Colombia). I purchased passage for 4 pm, figuring that 3 hrs would be plenty of time to walk to the Ecuadorian immigration office and take care of business.

For some reason, passport formalities are handled 3 km north of town, and I walked. A brief wait for buses to handle their business, and then I handed the man my documents. He looked over them, said some things, let his stamp sit idle, handed them back, and then waved me to some other place. I didn’t understand, and went over and asked another guy to look at my stuff. The problem was then presented to me: When I left Ecuador back on August 11th, at the remote border crossing in La Bolsa, they didn’t put my exit in the system. Plus, the stamp mark was blurred and date hand written. Apparently this was a problem. Now 1.4 hrs until my bus leaves town, I approached a 3rd man who told me 20 minutes.

Sitting, waiting, nervous. After the time elapsed, I again presented my case. They got another man, who went in search of a 5th man to help. This man seemed to be “The Man”. Listening to him talk to the others leads me to believe that this wasn’t really that serious of an issue and that the others just wanted to pout. Probably upset with the other offices error and now wondering why they had to clean it up. Either that, or they were waiting for me to bribe them.

The 5th man had me make copies of my passport and then I waited some more, while the man drafted a letter or stared at a computer for another 30 min. Time was running out. I checked my clock often, the time to pickup my stored bag had come and gone and departure was now 5 minutes away. This was the first time all trip that I had reverted to work mode, operating on little sleep and food, my stress level rose. I quickly went over my options: Could I make it through the country without any stamps? Are there checkpoints on my way to Colombia? Could I just get off in Quito and go to the Embassy for help? How bad could Ecuadorian prison be?

With little time to get back to Bogota, I called the bus company, somehow communicated in Spanish, requested that they throw my “grande azul mochila” on the bus, and pick me up on their way north. It worked. Five minutes later I got my completed passport back, and 5 minutes after that the bus rolls up and I jump in. My window seat was double booked, but I didn’t really care. On the ride, I had a prime view of the widescreen TV and they showed a relatively entertaining movie with Robert DeNiro, Stephen Seagal, and Lindsay Lohan. A dynamic trio that aroused the most emotion from a bus I have seen all trip.

Now in Otavalo, I plan to take it easy for another 4 days, before 1 more long bus ride to Bogota. I hope this last leg is a little less adventurous, but you never know. That stretch of highway in southern Colombia is known for frequent bus hijackings at night. Podría ser una buena manera de obtener una descarga de adrenalina.

E = 180

Movin’ On Up

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

The plan seemed simple; ride for as long as I could, and just get to the next relaxing city near a large body of water. I thought about bailing twice during my marathon of bus journeys, but stuck it out. All I had to do was sit in a seat, how hard could it be? Of course it did hurt, there was never really enough leg room, the seats weren’t quite soft enough, and the roads were a bit too curvy. But, I made it and it actually worked out very well.

Leg #1: Copacabana to Cusco = 11.5 hrs, 80 bs ($11.33);

There was a brief stop in Puno, where another company took us the rest of the way. (I feel the need to mention that again I could have saved money if I would have just booked the Puno leg and bought my own onward ticket to Cusco, or even Lima. I knew that we had to change buses there, but the price seemed very reasonable. I could have saved about $2 though eventually saved $20 by stopping in Cusco and purchasing my own Lima, instead of direct from Bolivia, like I figured. In summation: If you ever have a journey that needs to change buses, just buy the first leg and make your own connections. That is all.)

I got into Cusco at 5 am and flirted with the idea crashing for a day, but toughened up. Next bus didn’t leave till 10 am, so I had some time to walk around the city and enjoy the wee hours of the morning. It was prettier than I remembered, with some tight, quiet, cobblestone streets. At that time of day, the tourists were few and the benches in the plaza were empty. I sat in on a service in the cathedral, before getting a cheap, real food breakfast at the market. The market was big and diverse, making me wish I had more time to explore the gelatina section. But, I had to move on.

Leg #2: Cusco to Lima = 21 hrs, 60 ps ($21.80);

I enjoyed the daytime travel, going along rivers and up and down hills, before finally reaching the Pan-American Hwy. I slept a little after the sun went down, but felt very weary upon our arrival into the capital city. The city was as ugly as I remembered, with the ever-present smog and early morning drizzle. My thoughts of staying were only in reaction to feeling a little lost and walking by a hostal. The price was too high though, and I pulled out my map and found the the way to the bus offices. My next bus left at 1 pm, thus giving me 4 hrs to try and find some love for Lima.

I must say, I grew to not hate it. Within a few blocks, I stumbled upon a religious parade, complete with confetti and streamers raining down from the buildings. I enjoyed a large churro and strolled the car-free main drag filled with venders. Then cruised past the plaza on my way to the market for another cheap meal. Too much lunch meat and cheese were then purchased for the ride.

Leg #3: Lima to Mancora = 20.5 hrs, 50 ps ($18.18);

Warmer travel conditions. The man in front of me decided to take off his shirt and make-out with his girlfriend for a while. A little uncomfortable. I had my own row for a few hours, which greatly aided my physical condition. To help me mentally prepare for the battle of my 3rd night in a row on a bus, they showed “Transporter 2” and “Crank”.

I slept more that night than any of the others, probably due to pure exhaustion. Near the end, the pain in my neck was stronger and my left knee was sore. I got into Máncora at 9:30 am and was happy to see the sun.

Total: 63 hrs real-time, 53 hrs on 4 buses, $51.31, about 2,500 kms

The city is larger and the main beach is smaller than I thought. Despite the size, the tourist stuff is all along the one street down to the water or the Pan-American. My hostal is rundown but cheap, and the rooms are full of all that I desire. Many restaurants sell meals for less than $2 and the internet is only $.55/hr. Even with the cool windy weather today, I will stay 4 more nights before jumping into Ecuador. Then, after a few nights in Otavalo, back into Colombia.

The end is very near and the thoughts in my head are either about trip memories or what I want to do back home. The budget is less of a concern, partly helped by cheaper buses than expected for the return and Apple Inc’s nice market performance (my last source of income). My only concern now is the difficult Empanada goal I have set for myself. The land of cheap and plenty (La Paz) is behind me. My biggest complaint about Peru is it’s lack of fried meat-pie pastries. Some bakeries sell a dry expensive version of the culinary wonder, but it doesn’t feel right. Do I sacrifice my pride in pursuit of a statistic? I think about all those times at the end of basketball games, when players have gone out of their way to complete a triple-double or sub-in injured to get a scoring mark. I don’t want to have an asterisk by my number in the record books. If I reach 200, it will be because they were the cheapest and tastiest form of satisfying my hunger. Lo debo eso a ustedes, mis lectores

E = 168

Canyonero

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The Setting: Colca Canyon, Peru

The Time: Beginning of September, 2010

The Cast: 1 American (Micah), 1 Brit (Zed), and a brief appearance by 3 guys who speak German (Johann, Sebastian, and Bach)

It begins in Chivay; It’s morning, the skies are cloudy, a little rain, a little hail, a lone white alpaca sits in the hostal courtyard. Zed suggests walking to the next town, Micah agrees. Rain coats are worn, Inca terracing is seen covering the valley that soon will become canyon, Colca Canyon. The 2nd deepest in the world, measuring 3,136 meters from peaks to floor. Zed spots a prickly pear fruit, they shall fend off starvation for another day. Straws will not have to be drawn to see who lives and who dies.

walking

walking

They arrive in Achoma after the 3 hr, 14 km walk, but they cannot rest. The only hostal in town is closed for renovation, the journey must continue by bus into the heart of the beast, (pause for dramatic effect) to Cabanaconde. Upon arrival, they are in high demand by hostals, and go with the young man offering a room and breakfast for $3.75 per person. Now on the rim of the canyon, information is obtained and the trek is planned.

Nighttime; The gents are sitting in a local dinner spot. Enter Johann, met previously on the top of a sanddune, followed by 2 new friends. Hands are shook and tales are told. Relatively expensive beers are purchased back at the hostal.

Thursday morning; The sky is half blue and half white. 1 hunk of cheese, 8 rolls of bread, 4 mandarin oranges, and 2 packets of chocolate cookies are loaded into small day bags. Micah and Zed embark on a 2 day trip, Johann and Sebastian are on a 4 day adventure, Bach is a daytripper. They all start on the same path. Vistas are spectacular, many photos are taken, at the bottom there is a bridge. A traditionally dressed woman sells snacks and offers cheap accommodations. The 2 day’ers like the room, dinner, breakfast and tea for $7.50 and a quick end to the hiking day. The group splits. The canyon floor is peaceful, the dinner is illuminated by candles, and taking photos of candlelight is entertainment until an 8 pm bedtime.

.... and on the door handle was a hook!

.... and on the door handle was a hook!

Morning of Friday the 3rd; Clear, crisp, and cool, two pancakes are eaten before the long hike begins. Micah and Zed prepare themselves mentally for the ascent back up the canyon wall. The side of the canyon is traversed, passing through small villages before reaching ¨The Oasis¨ and a bridge. They are tempted by the lodges with crystal blue swimming pools, but must stay focused. Uphill awaits, 3 hrs of uphill. Donkeys are descending with goods, the midday sun drains energy, legs begin to wobble, water supply is running low. Finally the top is reached.

The day after: Bus ride back to Arequipa. Left side window seats allow photo extravaganza. 50 taken, 23 saved.

agricultural terracing in valley

agricultural terracing in valley

Back in the big city, before following the OSU football game on his Ipod, Micah shows Zed the joys of casino gaming. Free pisco sours upon entry, fruit buffet, ladies offering tortilla crisps with guacamole, and walking out with 8 soles more than you enter. Though he will feel bad if Zed becomes addicted and can’t afford a flight home.

The Future: Zed heads to Cusco. Micah heads south to Tacna. Johann, Sebastian, and Bach? Unknown, but all their paths may cross again in Bolivia. Micah sólo necesite que recordar para ver los partidos de fútbol Beaver en vivo por Internet.

E = 115

Crossroads

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Life is short, things die. Sand is soft and fun to play around in, but not if you are an electronic item with multiple moving parts. Your short life was an exciting one, up until the day of August 28th, 2010.

You are setup on top of a dune, ready to take an amazing shot of your owner holding his sandboard, and the next thing you know you are nose down in the small light brown stuff. You refuse to close but a hand forces your lense to retract. Thus, from now on you will refuse to open. Hands now use tools to remove your shell, despite failing with the last 2 computers, and your delicate innards are exposed. Something goes wrong. Shell is put back on but you show no signs of life. Nine and a half good months. You should feel honored that he still carries your carcass around, just in case, someday, a cure is found. See you at the crossroads.

Welcome new camera, Fujifilm FinePix AV100, the color Jayhawk blue. You do some things better but lack a few key abilities.

camera

camera

Pros: 12 megapixels, HD video, thinner, fewer moving parts, more efficient battery use, came with a 2gb memory card, and a cool photo viewer that displays 100 photos like a mosaic.

Cons: Fewer modes, only 2 timer settings, can’t lengthen your shutter, can’t adjust exposure in set modes, only 3x zoom, and you think you are smarter than your master.

The sanddune city spawned not only a new photo taker, but a new travel partner. Along with “Fuji”, Micah’s other new companion is “Zed” from Wee Britain. Having the destination of Arequipa in common, hostals were shared and sightseeing was done. Both love market lunches and badminton. Both despise tours and expensive touristy cities. Both began traveling south through South America in April.

The exciting adventures of Micah and Zed though, will have to wait until next post. But at least now you know 2 new characters in this epic tale known as “Micah: Unmitigated”.

Information

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

I apologize for the vagueness of my last post, while hiking around the hills my mind thinks of weird things to write. So, here is a clearer recap of some things I have done over the past week.

Five nights near the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. Many peaks over 6,000 meters, capped with glaciers and flanked by turquoise lakes. Most of my time there was spent debating how to do the area justice. The popular 4 day trek known as Santa Cruz was the main option, but many small factors led me to decline. Cost, time, and energy were the main reasons, plus a fear that with so many tour groups on the trail, the tranquility would be diminished. I do hope to do some sort of trekking requiring a tent and sleeping bag before my trip is done, but that may have to wait till Bolivia.

I opted for day trips to the lakes and hiking around the hills for better views of the massive chunks of rock. Basing myself in the smaller towns of Caraz and Yungay, I found cheap accommodations and food. Though, walking farmland presents challenges in the form of barking dogs and unmapped routes. Sticks and rocks can only do so much in keeping them at a distance, I required the help of local women and children to hold back their pets. No bites, but a growing paranoia about walking past any home outside of the city. I am considering carrying dog food, but think that by the end of my hikes I would have about 30 new friends following me.

The weather was absolutely perfect until the day I left. On Friday, satisfied with the sights I saw and how I saw them, I headed south. A night bus ride from Huaraz to Lima, immediately followed by a 5 hr journey further down the coast to Ica. From there, a quick taxi ride to Huacachina.

A lagoon surrounded my towering sand dunes and expensive services. I attempted to sandboard but failed, though I blame the equipment and not my ability to ride sanded down pieces of wood. The views from the tops of the dunes were so amazing they broke my camera. Or it could be from all of the sand that is now in the lens retraction mechanism. Either way, I was unable to capture the stunning sunset view into a digital image. Some things I will just have to remember without the aid of technology.

One tired/pricey day/night there, eating and drinking with some new friends,  was all I needed.  Tonight, another night bus ride taking me 12 hours closer to Chile. I should arrive in Arequipa around 6am, and hopefully rest a few days. My last real stop before a new country, the area has more towering peaks but with the added bonus of the world’s deepest canyons. Should be very cool, I just hope I can fix my camera in time. No sé cuánto más puedo almacenar en esa cosa bajo mi cabello grueso.

E = 110

Untogether

Friday, August 27th, 2010

(I recently finished reading the book “Midnight’s Children”. Thus, the following is sort of an homage to Salman Rushdie, aka Sal Bass. References to tragic historical events are used solely for the purpose of story telling and are not meant to diminish their reality. References to the adventures of Micah are meant to inform you of his travels. Thanks)

I was born in the city of Lawrence… once upon a time. No that wont do, no getting away from the date. Ok, I was born on March 18th in the year 1978. And the time? Well, that is important too. I was born at night. No, must be more specific, might as well come right out. I was born at 11:30 pm CST, the exact time Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. As one life was ending on the other side of the globe and a country’s decline was accelerating, the life of a young boy on the rise was just beginning. Country and boy forever linked, their destinies inversely intertwined.

In 1988, as Micah celebrated an NCAA Basketball Championship for his Kansas Jayhawks, a country mourned the loss of it’s General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in a mid-air explosion. Later that year, as they elected their first female Prime Minister to unite them, it was females in my 5th grade class that seemed to confuse and divide me.

When a nominal democracy was declared in June 2001 by the ruling military leader, Pervez Musharraf; my life was becoming a dictatorship, with me as the sole person responsible for my post-college future. And now, if the previous events aren’t enough, Pakistan endures tragic flooding, I walk 10,000 feet above sea level under clear blue skies. A dark time for Pakistan while my life has rarely been brighter.

I walk

I walk

But I am not alone in my special birth; while parents celebrated a new boy in Eastern Kansas (despite hoping it would be a girl), another Mother and Father in California smile at a new son. Yes, Brian and I (and a thousand other kids), linked by our historical birthdate, lives and appearances polar opposites while also exactly the same. Brian with his hair and me with my nose. Hair and nose, nose and hair. Both sources of our respective powers, both growing stronger with time, both red.

Powers? you may say. Yes powers. Brian’s more obvious, with bright red hair seen on national television, and mine only starting to reach potential as color is strengthened by the South American sun. Brian protects his hair with white headband, I use white sunscreen. Peruvian sun shines on red nose with white sunscreen amid red and white flags. My nose sniffs out fishing towns on bus trips and street food on city walks. My nose sniffs out vistas and trails, allowing map free wandering. And overcharging, yes indeed, when the shopkeep told me that the large water was 3 soles, I questioned his price and got the 2.5 I desired. When the internet stopped working and yet I was charged for the full hour, my nose started twitching. I will admit it does not always function wisely, unable to identify all foods that go into my mouth, but the vigor with which my nose operates is unmatched.

Lives seemingly bound for a collision, yet never meet. Brian attends a small high school in Washington state, I in Portland, OR. Brian chooses the red uniforms of the USC Trojans, I Oregon State University. Pac-10 rivals, life rivals. Graduating on the same day, beginning real and professional lives on the same day. Knowing but not knowing about each others existence.

So, as my nose and I stroll hills in the Cordillera Blanca in awe of things reaching great heights, in an environment where we do not fit in; Brian strolls hardwood floors, looking up at those who reach great heights in a league where he seemingly doesn’t belong. I use nimble feet to allude barking dogs; Brian to allude defenders. Water in my life takes the form of day trips to mountain lakes, Parón and Llanganuco; Brian practices for the upcoming season and drinks Dasani, supposedly from the mountains. I receive a free meal at Hostal Gledel in Yungay due to the amazing kindness of the owner; Brian gets free steak at Smith & Wollensky in Boston due to a Championship ring he acquired 2 years ago. When he scratches his head, I sneeze.

Lake Parón

Lake Parón

But back to our link with history: Have attacks been waged and are wars being fought with the sole purpose of the elimination of the Children of March 18th? At the same time as the story was told of a special birth in India back in 1947, were radical Pakistani leaders paying attention to the possibility of their fates being linked with the lives of infants as well? Isn’t it plausible that they drew the conclusion: as long as those kids born on the 18th day of the 3rd month in the 78th year of the 1900’s thrive, our homeland will languish? I only provide you with the facts, you must answer the questions yourself.

The future: All is I know is that my rival, Brian Scalabrine, continues to prosper even more so than I. Tomorrow, I leave massive hunks of rock behind in exchange for massive sand dunes. When my season of travels comes to a close in November, Brian’s season with the Boston Celtics will just be beginning. His 6ft 9in frame dwarfs my 5ft 11, and his $3.5 million dollar per year salary is slightly more than my $0 per year. The power of his red hair outduels my reddening nose. Yet we are the same person, and if he ever lifts the restraining order, we may meet someday. Él ya no regresó mis llamadas

(More photos can be seen here: http: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=75141&id=1408574607&l=20e6a83706 )

Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Leaving Trujillo, my goal was to go straight to Caraz, the northern most city near Parque Nacional Huascarán. That proved to be more difficult than I thought. With only general information about departure times and destinations, and the lack of a central bus terminal to peruse (Buses leave from their company offices scattered around the city), I had to improvise.

I arrived in the junction town/fishing port known as Chimbote, with hopes of making a connection direct to the mountains. Those buses leave in the AM and the time was currently in the PM. Spending the night there did not interest me, thus I booked an indirect night bus thinking it was direct. There are 3 different routes to Caraz and I was unable to clearly communicate my desired route, but more on the route later.

Dispatch time was 9 pm, giving me 7 hours to kill in this very non-touristy incorporated municipality. I stored my bag and started walking away from the terminal, knowing that there was a large smelly body of water near by to take a look at. On my right, I spotted a stadium and a few people walking around it. Some were going in, some were playing drums, some were wearing full riot gear with shield, and some were selling tickets. I peaked through a door and saw a fútbol field, then approached one of the people selling tickets, purchased a piece of paper allowing me entry, and went in.

Looking toward the visitor section

Looking toward the visitor section

Luckily I sat in the “Home” section and near the corner of a large banner that was covering a row of seats. The crowd was sparse and somewhat energetic. The game had it’s moments, with a few memorable opportunities for the home team that left the fans near me cursing and laughing. At the midway point called “halftime”, the leader of the cheering section had us grab our portions of the banner while it was unfurled, revealing all of it’s glory.

the banner, I have no idea what it says

the banner, I have no idea what it says

In the end, Home lost 1-0, but I was mostly entertained by the fans and the food vendors. Their main cheering section is similar to the “Timber’s Army”, with smoke things and some loud gunshot sounding device that I was eventually able to not flinch at. The weirdest thing was realizing that I was probably the only white person in the whole stadium. I tried to keep my head down and not draw attention to myself, but before and after the game I could feel the stares and got the whistles. Even though I have been traveling for over 4 months now, I could really feel my whiteness during my time in Chimbote, I think mostly due to a combination of the non-tourist town and the outgoing Peruvian way toward Gringos. Overall though, a good afternoon.

Now to the night bus ride: There was a noticeable lack of room for my knees which resulted in some pain. If I would have let myself think about the route, it would have caused me more pain. (For your enjoyment, go ahead and pull up a map of Peru on the internet.) My goal was Chimbote to Caraz, go ahead and look at the map now and determine the shortest route. We did not take that route. The path of this bus went down to Pativilca, then up through Huaraz, before finally reaching Caraz, 11 hours later. The only explanations are that the road is paved and that Huaraz is a large city (and that I chose the wrong bus). My explanations are that I didn’t want to stay in Chimbote and that I didn’t know. I could have taken an afternoon bus to Huaraz and gotten to Caraz at about 11pm, but then I would have missed the experience of the professional fútbol match and the events of my night bus ride….

So, about an hour before we got to Huaraz, a woman walks up the aisle in the dark, to the drivers door. She says some stuff to the man and he proceeds to turn the lights on and wake everyone up. The woman slowly walks back to her seat, crying, telling her story to all who care. At this point I had no idea what had happened, my thoughts ranged from her soiling herself to possibly her child or family member was ill or injured. Then there was a small search and talk about police, which narrowed it down. Apparently she lost, or had stolen, something made of silver worth 380 soles. I thought I heard “mi cosa” which Google translates to “my thing”, not helping me determine the item.

In Huaraz, we parked in the company lot, the Police came, the Huarazians disembarked and possibly got searched, and the bus was checked. I decided to feel my own pockets to make sure I wasn’t being set up in some big elaborate scam, luckily I was clean. In the end, nothing got resolved and a kind lady started taking up donations to help the continually crying woman. I pulled the “no entiendo” card and didn’t give. Maybe I am an insensitive jerk, but my initial thought was that she lost a $140 watch, and to that I say “que es tan malo”.

Huascarán (6,768 metres, or 22,205 ft)

Huascarán (6,768 metres, or 22,205 ft)

I enjoyed seeing the sunrise over the mountains, but will never know what really happened on that bus. Maybe the guy next to me stole it and that is why he was in such a hurry to get off in Huaraz. Maybe the woman left her “silver thing” in Chimbote or it dropped out of her pocket at the meal stop. Maybe there is no “silver thing” and she just wanted some attention. Either way, it was an adventure spawned by poor planning.

I guess what I am trying to say is: When you carry around one 4 year old guide book that is supposed to lead you through the whole continent of South America, you are going to have to figure some stuff out for yourself. I both stress-about and enjoy the challenge. Qué dirección se encuentra al sur?

E = 110

Heart of the City

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Cajamarca: 1 hour before departure, belly full of fried pork bits and potato. Mandarinas spotted, 10 small orange orbs are placed into a plastic bag, 2 soles pass from palm to palm. Park bench is located and utilized, man in wheel chair comes over, works for city, openly talks about loss of legs and loss of others lives. One orange is passed to man in wheel chair.

Bus: 2 floors, man stands in front of bus, shows graphic pictures of cancer patients, then sells herbal tea. Oranges are eaten, peels and seeds are tossed out window. “Midnight’s Children” is read near completion. One mountain pass is traversed, dry river valley is followed to ocean. Dusty brown hills end, desert seems to never end, “Fast and the Furious” marathon will hopefully end.

Trujillo: Disembark bus, walk, walking, walked. Sunsetting on right, taxis deafen with incessant honking on left. Faith in correct direction but no proof until sign points to centro. Nighttime, hostal signs illuminated, room quotes obtained and politely refused. Across city, adequate accommodations found, bag dropped, pork sandwich is purchased and eaten.

Thursday: Laundry is dropped, high price is paid. More walking. Minivan is boarded, dropped at archeological site. Walk.

Chan Chan: Largest Pre-Columbian city in South America. Tall adobe walls, short adobe walls, designs carved into adobe walls. Path is followed, information is read, pictures are taken. Site is enjoyed.

fishnet designs

inside

other complexes

other complexes

Walking: 1500 meters back to main road, 500 meters along main road to site museum, 4500 meters to Trujillo, there is always honking.

City: Laundry is picked up, casinos visited, coins pass from fingers to video poker machine, never to return. But other coins come back, similiar in size and greater in number. Chicharrón is eaten, ice cream as well.

Friday: Market lunch is consumed, ice cream as well. Bookstores are explored, tomorrows bus journey is planned, casinos are revisited, coins are given back.

Tomorrow (Saturday): Elevation will be gained, sand dunes will become glaciated peaks, trails will be hiked, lungs will be strained, honking will subside. Alegría!

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Limestone Cowboy

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

While traveling south from Ecuador into Peru, the crossing known as La Balsa, about 5 hrs south of Vilcabamba, is recommended. Though the journeys are long and uncomfortable, the scenery is amazing and it is a good way to get to the Kuelap Inca ruins. You will find that the Northern Highlands of Peru are everything the adventurous traveler could hope for and more.

From the border, it is about a 3 hr journey by shared taxi over gravel roads to San Ignacio. If you happen to be hanging your head out of the window of your 4 deep backseat, you may get a local kid walking with his family to point and yell “A GRINGO!”. While your car mates are laughing, you should just politely nod your head in acceptance. You have been formally welcomed to Peru.

When visiting San Ignacio, try to plan your stay around one of their rare earthquakes. Your bed will shake for an unusual amount of time, then when you put your feet on the floor, you will realize the whole hostal is shaking. Women and children will be heard evacuating the building, but you can just put a shirt on and go back to sleep. Now, it may take a little effort to plan, studying seismic charts and such, but it will be well worth it.

From there, you will make your way to Chachapoyas via 4 different collectivos (shared taxis). One of which may be driven by a man in a hurry. He will pretend to be eating and blow past a flagger into a construction zone, while honking his horn loudly and laughing. Then, you will pickup a man with some chickens who will give you 2 bananas each, just what your malnourished body needs. After 10 hours of transit, you arrive in the fairly large mountain town known as “Chacha”.

August 12th is a good day to visit, when they hold their annual festival with an unknown name. There is a church service and then a parade of kids dressed up in costumes representing the countries/places they like. All of the Spanish speaking countries are represented as well as those that did well in the World Cup. With the South African group being the biggest and loudest, singing and dancing for hours. They do not have a USA section, but they will celebrate the existence of Hawaii.

The Bolivian group

The Bolivian group

From Chacha, you will want to get closer to Kuelap, so try to catch a collectivo to the small hamlet of Maria. But, they only run there at 4 am, thus you decide to make it up as you go and take the next best destination, Tingo. A small junction town along the river, where a road splits off into the mountains, to make the winding 2 hour journey to the ruins. They have reasonable accommodations that occasionally have running water. Better yet, the lady at the hospedaje (small hostal) will inform you that it only takes 3 hours to hike to the Inca site and not the 6 you had thought. You will be very happy and will enjoy the quiet afternoon, walking the towns one road. If you time it right, at about 4:30 pm, two local boys will see you playing with your camera and ask to have their picture taken.

kids in Tingo

Look for these kids in Tingo

If you are lucky, they may even drop their plastic ball in the creek and need help getting it free from being caught in the current. Now what you do is, grab a big rock from the pile to your right, throw it at the ball swirling around, and it should be enough force to make it come out the other side of the bridge. The kids will collect it and thank you vigorously.

Get up at 6:50 am the next day to have time to grab breakfast before your hike. Make sure you have enough water and snacks to keep your energy up, and wear sunscreen. The trek begins off the main road heading south, just before the bridge. It starts with gradual up and downs, following the river valley, before you see the sign for Kuelap pointing up. The real climb begins. You should have chosen your hiking stick by this point, partly to aid your upward walking and partly to ward of dogs or potential robbers. Look for the stick pictured below at the trail entrance, but please return it when finished.

and add your name

and add your name

If you eat mandarin oranges and drink water, it will remind you of your youth soccer days back in Lawrence, Kansas. The fruit and the memories will make the time go by quickly as your feet traverse the limestone rock sides of the ridge. The rock is soft and stair like footholds are common. After you pass through a small valley village, you will get your first look at the Kuelap ruins up above. If you are an extremely fit and intelligent person, it will take you about 2 hours and 45 mintues to reach the site. If you are 3 French girls, it will take you 5 hours.

the first view

the first view

After catching your breath, ask the lady selling water where the ticket office is to receive some bad news. For some reason they want you to purchase tickets back down at a parking lot 20 minutes away, where most people arrive. I guess they don’t feel the need to cater to the 1 person a day who hikes there from Tingo. At this point, it is recommended that you just walk around the corner and eat your lunch, waiting an appropriate amount of time before passing by the lady again with a smile to enter the ruins. You will slightly hope that this means you wont have to pay the $4.10 entry fee, but the man asking for tickets at the top of the stairs will bring you back to reality. He will send a runner to get your ticket for you, and you will have been correct in assuming that they wouldn’t make a humble hiker, with a return trip still in their future, hike an extra hour for a piece of paper. Everything has worked itself out and the ruins are yours to explore.

Up on the top of a ridge, with sweeping views of the surrounding valleys, you will be impressed. Kuelap receives far less visitors than it deserves but that just means you are in for a treat. Finding quiet areas among the rugged overgrown ruins, gives you the feel as though you discovered it. You can easily avoid the few tour groups that are led through and have time to just sit and contemplate life. Go ahead, explore the space, and feel free to ignore the tape that the current excavators have put up.

(You can see more photos of Kuelap and northern Peru at the following site: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=75141&id=1408574607&l=20e6a83706)

From back in Tingo, it is a another 10 hr transit day to the town of Cajamarca. Though it may be shorter if your bus doesn’t breakdown in the middle of the switchback, one lane road, requiring the driver to break out the tool box. Just try not to think about the as-the-crow-flies distance, you will sadly wish they would build bridges across the valleys or tunnels through the mountains.

Cajamarca will greet you with the cheapest hostal you have ever seen ($3.70/night), the cheapest internet ($.37/hour), and the cheapest street hamburgers ($.37 for simple, $.74 with egg and fries on top). You will start to think that Peru overall wont be as expensive as you thought and that just the travel will be costly. So, relax and checkout the museums, bust out some blog posts, and upload some pictures to Facebook. Your butt will need the travel break.  Un viaje seguro!

E = 104