Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for August, 2010

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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!

E = 109

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

Bedtime Story

Monday, August 16th, 2010

(Editor’s note: I have gotten a little bored of my normal format and will try some different things. I hope to at least entertain myself. Thanks)

There are a few stories out here on the backpacker trail, you kind of need to sort through them and decide which is real and which is legend. The one that intrigues me the most, is about a man working his way down from Colombia to Bolivia. He is known only by the name of “Micah” and despite just a few confirmed sightings, the myth is growing.

He is believed to be a 6 ft tall American, with hair and eyes the color of dirt. His clothes are plain but efficient and his footwear is generally open toed. The ladies describe him as ruggedly handsome due to his perennially unshaven face and hair the has not felt the touch of a comb since the Reagan administration. I have yet to personally meet the man, always seemingly one step behind, hearing tales of his visit in each city I come to.

Most stories tell of a stingy spender, always choosing the cheapest form of satisfying his needs. During one bus ride from Cuenca to Loja, he didn’t donate any money to the 3 youths who played music he greatly enjoyed. He is quoted as saying that it just didn’t feel right giving to 3 kids dressed in nice clothes, when he didn’t give to the disabled man asking for change just 5 minutes before. Then, in Loja, he stayed in a $4 a night hostal despite the fact that the smell in the shared bathroom made his eyes hurt. And, he began to indulge in the Southern Ecuadorian treat known as “salchipapas” (small hotdogs placed on top of a pile of french fries and covered with ketchup and a flavored mayo, normally served in a bag with a small plastic fork, and sold for 2 quarters).

One bar story states: While walking to catch the local bus in Loja, he felt a man unzip the small pocket on his backpack, and single-handedly (his right hand) fought off the would-be thief while eating an empanada with his left. I don’t know whether to believe that or the other version that goes: On a city bus to the Loja terminal, some friendly passengers alerted Micah to a pocket being open on his pack, and kindly zipped it up for him. He immediately checked the contents when he got off the bus to find nothing missing. And, he will never know whether it was opened by a person looking to pilfer or left open during packing. Both stories sound feasible to me.

He was then spotted an hour south, in Vilcabamba, strolling around the center plaza. Known as the “Valley of Longevity”, they say he drank the water there and will now live to be 123 years old. I also have heard from multiple sources that he hiked the “Mandango”, a rocky summit south of town. A French couple said they met a man at the locked entrance to the trail who crawled under barb wire fences and plowed through thorn bushes, helping them find the main path.  He had a lollie pop in his mouth and for some reason asked them if they were English, despite the fact they clearly spoke to each other in their native tounge. Thus adding another layer of mystery to this man.

The Mandango

The Mandango

Reports have him reaching the cross at the summit in record time before traversing the entire length of the ridge. One story says that he out ran 2 rabid dogs while cheating death hugging livestock trails over dizzying dropoffs. I think it is more likely that he heard dogs barking in a field down below, and decided to walk along the other side of the ridge and stay out of their sight.

from the end of the ridge, looking back toward the Mandango

from the end of the ridge, looking back toward the Mandango

Then he descended via a rough ridge, scraping his arms and legs. One group of three hikers spotted a man sitting on a rock down below, snapping pictures of them silhouetted against the blue sky. I can only assume it was Micah. It is said he finished the day six feet under a cemetery, but after I attempted to retrace his steps, I think he probably climbed up a 6 ft dirt wall to get up to the cemetery and the main road back to town.

The next day (Wednesday, August 11th), after his bus had a part changed in the middle of the road, he began heading south toward Peru. The trails grows a little cold from there, at the remote border crossing known as “La Balsa”, where they see less than a handful of gringos per day. But one lady told me that her best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with a girl who saw Micah hop off the bus and wander out into Podocarpus National Park, to live out his last 91 years the way God intended. Or, if you want some more crazy rumors, he spent that night in San Ignacio, Peru at Hostal Dorado in room #402.

I guess that is why I like this myth so much, who knows what to believe? All I know is that I hope to catchup with him someday, if he does exist, and buy him an empanada. Y usted como debe así

Plans

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

The story of my time in Cuenca is one filled with cool temperatures, changed plans, little sleep, and turned off alarms. I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but I think I tackled the city fairly well.

On Wednesday, 8 hrs on 3 different buses took me up over 8,000 feet. I was ignorantly not ready for the cool temps and effects of altitude. I walked around all day Thursday, checking out the churches, parks, and museums, wearing myself out. Then I attempted to go to sleep early, so I could wake up the next day and see Ecuador’s most important ruins (Ingapirca), about 2 hours north. No such luck, because this halfway done thing is really getting to me. When I embarked on my trip, I had set a few vague goals that have yet to be accomplished. So, my head has been churning the past couple nights, trying to plan the rest of the trip and post-trip. That kept me awake Thursday night, until the group of Ecuadorian yutes decided to play music and talk outside my window. They looked like the ruff and tumble type, that would stab me just to look at my watch and get the time, but the music they listened to said otherwise. I would compare it to the musical stylings of Richard Marx, which they gladly sang along to. I was kept awake until 4 am, and promptly shut off my alarm set for 7:45am.

It turned out to be a good thing. Looking at pictures of the ruins online, they didn’t seem all that impressive and not worth the 4 hrs of bus travel. I opted for the Museo Pumapongo and it’s collection of shrunken heads, artwork, and large backyard filled with ruins, plants, and birds. It was free and entertaining. I later walked toward a hill for panaramic city views.

The 2nd day trip I had envisioned for myself, was to Parque Nacional Cajas, about 30 km west of town. The bus ride in to Cuenca came through the park and sparked my interest. The setting is a stunning Paramo, which is high altitude grass/shrub land, dotted with lakes and peaks. I set my alarm again, this time for 5:50 am, and again attempted an early bed time. But, good sleep was not to be had. Thoughts of possible travel destinations and future jobs, filled my head. After an hour or 2 of sleep, I awoke at about 3:30 am and decided to move that switch to the off position. Thus, Saturday was spent checking out the craft markets and posting pictures. I contemplated attempting a Cajas trip today, but I know there are more amazing hikes ahead of me down south. Though, the weather today was sunny and perfect, after 3 days of clouds.

After all of those sleepless nights and that time spent inside my head, I feel I have figured a few things out. I will enter Peru in a couple days, crossing over at a remote location to see some hidden ruins. Then head to the coast and make my way down to Huaraz, with some of the best trekking in the world. I don’t know how much I can do without equipment, but it should be fun. After that, I shall cruise past Lima and check out the southern coastline before cutting over to Arequipa and some impossibly deep canyons.

I also decided over the last few days, that I want to cut through the northern tip of Chile to enter Bolivia. Initially I had wanted to roll past Lake Titicaca, but that can be seen later. In Bolivia, I will live cheaply and explore everthing it has to offer, especially the desert region of Salar de Uyuni. From there, I will hopefully find a good deal on a flight from La Paz to Bogota, in order to catch my plane home. Roughly planning on 1 month in Peru, 1 week in Chile, and 2 months in Bolivia.

So there it is, all laid out perfectly. This plan and the memory of my 100th empanada, a delicious bread pastry filled with spicy ground beef and topped with a creamy salsa, I take with me as the fruits of 4 long nights in Cuenca. Now, all I have to do is execute and take pictures. Next up: Todo lo que necesito es un plan para el resto de mi vida.

E = 100

The Middle

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I have reached the official halfway point of my trip. Sunday marked the 104th day since I left Portland and I have 103 more to go. It now feels short, the time has gone fast, I may need to act more with a sense of urgency, seize the day, grab the bull by the horns, paint the donkey, or just dance like I am not going to live this way forever. But, I will probably just lay on the beach some more.

My second half began about 2 hours south of Manta, in Peurto Lopez, a small town full of fishermen and tour operaters. I was quickly greeted with offers for cheap hostals and sightseeing trips. Humoring one lady just to practice my Spanish, while turning down every hostal she showed me. I finally found an empty dorm room for $6 and was satisfied.

The sole purpose of my visit was for a trip to the National Park island known as “Isla de la Plata” and the accompanying whale watching. I am lucky enough to be here during the migrating season, and couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Humpbacks up close. If anyone is reading this with plans on venturing down here, the prices displayed as “official set tour price” are still negociable. I think all places will take $5 off thanks to the beauty of competition.

Sunday was the day, cloudy but not raining, I waited on the beach with the 14 other tourists for our boat. We ran late the whole day, with engine problems from the start. The Isla is about 40 km NW of the town and conveinantly, many whales migrate through this stretch of water.

After about an hour, we spotted our first giant mammal. The boat slowed so we could join the other gawkers, and the whales jumped through the air, posing for photos. It is pretty amazing, they seem to be showing off, flapping their fins, splashing the water, doing twists in the air.

The first shot I got turned out to be the best.

The first shot I got turned out to be the best.

After about 20 minutes, they went back down to the depths and we continued our journey to the Isla. A quick snorkeling stop along the shore had decent fish but it was cold. Then we hiked around the desert island, full of cactus and dry/dead plants. More importantly, it has “Boobies” of the red and blue footed variety.

Blue-footed Boobies

Blue-footed Boobies

I loved the landscape and enjoyed the walk, despite the constraints of group travel. Due to our late start, the guide had to keep pushing the stragglers and French picture takers who snapped 20 shots of every twig. My camera continued to give me fits, refusing to retract and not allowing me to zoom, but I got the photos I wanted.

On the boat ride back, we got some closer views of the hefty aquatic acrobats and I set my camera on continuous. In hindsight, with my budget I probably would have been good with just a whale watching tour for half the price. Mostly because you would get more time to see them play, which is the highlight of the trip.

Do they really do this when no one is looking?

Do they really do this when no one is looking?

Monday: I rolled down an hour south, to a popular surf town that I knew I would probably despise. Between dirt road fishing villages, Montanita has roads paved with colored brick. The sidewalks are clean, the hostals are abundant, and the businesses all have clever names like Wipeout or Big Kahuna. But, it is not as bad as I intially thought.

I feared that all food and internet would be expensive, I feared that the beach would be too crowded, and I feared that all the locals would annoyingly try to sell me stuff. But that is not really the case. On the same block as my $5 hostal, a lady serves up hearty $1.50 dinners and I can get a bowl of Encebollada (a fish stew) for 1.50, as well. The beach is gigantic, so I feel safe leaving my bag on the shore. And the people are all very laid back and not pushy. I can deal with a tourist heavy town, as long as I don’t have to eat the $5 meals in the theme restaurants.

the beach

the beach

That being said, 2 days is enough, and I plan is to be in south central Ecuador by Wednesday night. I have not seen the sun in 4 days and rain seems to be a nightly occurrence. Plus, I appear to be allergic to something in the beach air. The past 5 times I have spent an hour or so on the sand, I have had minor breakouts of hives. This is nothing new to me, but the location and timing are odd.

Next stop: Cuenca, Ecuador’s 3rd largest city and arguably it’s prettiest. I should be back among people I have more in common with. I feel a little too normal down here among the hippie surfers, or… am I the weird one? Un poco de algo para que usted pueda reflexionar sobre hasta la próxima vez.

All My Little Words

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I have completed my desired amount of Spanish school. During the last week of class, I debated extending my stay, but it was really just a foolish dream.

Reasons I wanted to stay:
The weather in Manta was near perfect the whole week, with clear blue skies. More students were coming in and I was getting to know them better, thus was finding more things to do. Like playing bocce ball on an empty beach about 30 minutes south of town, where the brave ones kiteboard. I was also feeling good about my expenses, living for about $10 a day (not counting school) while still enjoying the local food. Plus, speaking Spanish was fun, fueling a desire to learn more.

But the biggest reason may have been a mild crush on my teacher, a 24 year old Ecuadorian college student. Imagine the sweetest and most attractive South American girl you can, and now double her (I don’t mean in size, she is not a giant, just double the attributes).

She laughed at many things I said and her clear speaking made me feel like I was a Spanish genius. During one mistake in class, I did not pronounce an “A” correctly and accidentally said “Yo satisfago mi hombre” instead of “hambre“. Which means “I satisfy my man” instead of “hunger”. The stunned look on my teachers face was memorable. I am not really sure why I need to know how to conjugate the verb for “satisfy”, but it resulted in uninhibited laughter. The next day for an example sentence, she said “Tu parece gay porque de las cosas que dices“.

Now, here are the reasons why I didn’t stay:
Despite the sunny weather, the beach conditions were not ideal. High winds resulted in blowing sand that would not allow any peaceful reclining. Plus, my desire to take pictures of the blowing sand, resulted in a camera that is now not firing on all cylinders due to sand penetration.

I had to post this pic, so that my camera´s pain would not be for nothing.

I had to post this pic, so that my camera's pain would not be for nothing.

The most logical reason that I left, is that I couldn’t afford it. I am constantly doing the math in my head and I don’t want my bank account to be zero when I get back. I will need something to survive on until those Powerball numbers hit. Plus, I think I have been wasting a little too much time and I now feel the clock is ticking.

My Spanish, well that did not hold up on Friday. I had not been studying enough and couldn’t remember any verb defintions. It was frustrating but there were other factors. Trying to choose verbs for sentences when I have paired them up with an English word in my mind, is tough. They don’t always fit and I need to learn to detach it and keep it a languge all it’s own. Or something like that, maybe I was too busy staring at my teacher.

As far as my crush goes, that was just a childish dream. The language barrier is a little to deep and I am a little too poor. There were often moments during our sessions when she would say something that was obviously a joke, but I would not understand and just try to laugh anyways. Then, there would be the awkward silence and we would just get back to work. Oh well, hopefully she accepts my request to be friends on Facebook so that my Mom can start stalking her.

As you see, the negatives were a little too strong and it was time to go.

Playa El Murciélago

Playa El Murciélago

My last Friday night in Manta: I succesfully got pictures of a sunset and then checked out the casino. I had a fun run on the video poker machine, hitting a “straight flush” and a couple “four of a kind”s, but gave it back and more at the Blackjack table (ended -$12). I then tried to meet up with the other students at a bar that may not exist (they couldn’t find it either). So, I made the 30 min trek back across town in the dark, slightly enjoying the uneasy feeling of dimmly lit city streets.

Now: I am back on the road, testing out my Spanish. All my little words don’t seem to be holding up as well as I thought, but now I have a notebook to study from the rest of the way. The plan is to check out these southern beaches for a few days, then Cuenca and the southern highlands of Ecuador, before crossing into Peru. Some of you have already seen the blurry picture on FB, but I will have to write about my whale watching and island visit next post. Mi mochila se siente más pesado

E = 91