Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for September, 2010

Hoelter Skelter

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

My mind has been all over the place the past couple days. Every decision has been tough and second guessed. The route isn’t as clear as I thought and I haven’t really seen much, but I am further south.

I headed to Cochabamaba, the first step in my master plan. There, I found my cheapest room yet ($2.15) and a great Chinese food cart. Night #1, I had the beef stir-fry with noodles, eaten with chopsticks. Night #2, I had to go back for the Pollo Agridulce (sweet-n-sour chicken). I have been craving small pieces of breaded chicken covered in a tangy sauce the whole trip, and finally found them. The highlight of my 2 days there.

I did make one attempt at seeing a museum, but the price was higher than I thought and you needed to take a tour later in the day. So, I walked out. The rest of my time there was spent sampling the new street food and shopping for things I kinda need. There was also an interesting display in the main plaza, filled with highlighted newspaper clippings apparently telling a tale of political corruption. Small groups had lively conversations and the cops let them be.

public notice

public notice

Thursday morning I walked to the bus station: My next destination was going to be Santa Cruz, a large city on the edge of the jungle, but I wavered. I try to plan my routes in a logical manner to avoid backtracking, and to take in some great scenery with day bus trips. Upon further reading, Santa Cruz didn’t seem all that interesting and getting away would have required a 14 hr night bus ride. I changed my destination to Sucre, a beautiful city in a logical southern direction. But, all buses turned out to be night routes and I proceeded to plan C.

Arriving in the palindrome mining town of Oruro, 4 hrs in the western direction, figured to set me on the right path. Based on the maps in my guidebook, the main road looked to take me right into Sucre. The town is surrounded by barren landscape and heavily mined hills, but is primarily known for being the beginning (or end) of the railroad line. It sees tourists, but very few stick around. I chose a cheap place by the bus terminal and spent the afternoon strolling the market streets, happy to find another cart serving “malt shakes”. The next morning, I once more wandered into a bus station with an open mind. My first option was Sucre, but again the only transport there traveled at night and was relatively expensive. So, I proceeded to plan D.

the landscape

the landscape

The highest city in the world, Potosi, sits at 4,060 meters above sea level and is not flat. Deeper in the heart of mining country, hills filled with silver required slaves and brought wealth. I figured it would be a good place to pause for a few days and contemplate my last 7 weeks. My stay began with another instance of an outdated guidebook book. I figured I could walk the 1.5k to the hostals, but with a brand new terminal farther outside of town, the walk became an hour long trek uphill, navigating the highest city streets in the world. Old ladies tried to warn me saying “muy lejos”, but I ignored them because I actually enjoyed it.

In the heart of town, I struggled to find accommodations in the price range I had grown accustomed to. The cheapest Lonely Planet place is now 10 times more expensive and the local cheapies were full due to yet another festival. I regressed to an LP place for just over $4 a night mostly because of the weakening of my legs. One benefit of the more expensive digs; I could take my first shower in 4 days.

Remember last blog where I said that I am now immune to marching bands? Well, that has changed, I am now partly annoyed by them. Playing a block away from my digs until at least 1 am, they did not allow me to get the deep sleep I so greatly desired. Earlier though, it was fun to walk the trash and people filled main drag, most of them just sitting around waiting for the next pass by the brass.

Current: I bargained my room price down for 2 more nights and feel a little better about my current traveling status. Passing through the “aimless wanderer” phase to hopefully now a “man with a plan”. I found a nice vista with views of the barren countryside and booked a mine tour for Monday. I think it will help get me back into tourist mode, it will plug me into an English speaking group for a day, the price really isn’t that bad, and it could be dangerous. All things I need.

Bolivia continues to be different and cheap. Just the other day I snapped my string of 9 straight days spending under $10. A 6 hr bus ride cost me less than $3 when in Colombia it would have been $18. Though during my last few days of boredom, I have turned to food for entertainment. Deciding that now is the time to try everything that catches my fancy no matter what the cost. Nothing really of note to describe, just some random snacks, peas, and types of bread. I am also continuing my 2-3 pack-a-day habit that I have tried to quit. I know what the doctors say, that it is bad for me and will shorten my life, but the stuff is so cheap down here I can’t help myself. Something about a different hemisphere makes you feel like you can do things that you don’t normally do at home. I still get my exercise to help counter balance the effects, but it will be tough to kick when I am back in the states. For now, I will continue to look for convenient stands after dinner, open a pack, and enjoy the taste of chocolate cookies. Una vez que golpea sus labios, es tan buena!

E = 143

Piece O’ Peace

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

It has been a while since my last post, but I will try to do a quick recap of the last week and a half. Beginning in Bolivia’s capital:

La Paz: The city seems more real than any other large city I have been to. Sure it has a tourist street or 2, but mostly you are surrounded by stalls selling everyday home products and locals doing normal things. I think it helps that Bolivia has the largest indigenous population of any South American country (60%). You arrive via the flat altiplano (high plain) and then drop into the valley, an amazing setting 3,500 meters above sea level. Though the combination of steep streets and elevation wore me out, I was energized by the new sights and smells.

It is every bit as cheap as I thought it would be. I found a nice dirty hostal for 20 bolivianos ($2.85) per night, a carne empanada (with an amazing assortment of sauces and coleslaw like toppings to choose from) is only 1.5 bs ($.21), set lunches for 7 bs ($1), and internet is a wonderful 2 bs ($.29) per hour. I made longer lasting purchases as well: a new beanie and some water purification pills. (I should have bought pills at the beginning of my trip but didn’t really think about it until I met Zed who uses them. I could have saved a lot of money. Now I have way more than I will use, so if anyone needs any, i’ve got some.) There also seems to be a festival everyday and I have become immune to the sound of marching bands.

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

But, as with all big cities, 4 days was enough and I had to get out of town. The constant weaving through traffic (human and motorized) gets to me, as well as the temptation of casinos. So, last Tuesday I headed north to Lake Titicaca, searching for some peace.

Copacabana: On the southern shore of the lake, the city is the main jump-off point for trips to Isla del Sol. Filled with travel agencies and trendy cafes that are easy to avoid, plus hostals are everywhere and cheap, I had found a place to rest. This time my $2.84/night accommodations were very clean and included a rooftop terrace with great views. The market served lake trout and some delightful carne variations, plus there were street stalls providing dinner and snacks. I spent 2 nights there, studying Spanish and taking pictures of sunsets, before loading up 2 days worth of stuff into a day pack and catching a boat to “Sun Island”.

Cha’llapampa: On the northern part of the island, Cha is the traditional starting spot for day hikes along the spine. I chose to book a cheap hostal in the village, drop some things off, and then hiked around trying to avoid the tour groups. I explored the northern section only all day (due to an odd ticket system), under perfectly clear skies that burn your skin and make your ears cold at the same time. I love the freedom to sit at the top of a vista and just stare at the water. The area has a few important Inca ruins as well, as it is considered the birthplace of the Sun.

hiking

hiking

I found some reasonably priced sandwiches in town for dinner and the next day woke up early to check out the southern sector.

Yumani: After hiking along the coast and purchasing another ticket, I arrived in the biggest village on the Isla. Set on a ridge and containing more than 1 road, I was happy to find yet another room for $2.85/night. The views were amazing and I wonder if there is any place in the world with better scenery for the price.

getting my $2.85 worth

getting my $2.85 worth

That day I hit the southern trails (or at least I thought) and checked out a ridge on the western side that gets very few visitors. Then made my way straight down some agricultural terracing, along a quiet bay, en-route back to town. I did, unfortunately, let my camera drop a few times while setting up self portraits. It still works fine, it is just missing a small unimportant piece. That is why I don’t own nice things.

Heading back into town, the only bad part of Isla del Sol came to the surface. They have a confusing and somewhat corrupt ticket system. When I passed under the sign saying “5 bs to enter” before, there was no one there and I freely walked. This time, a man asked for my ticket to enter the southern sector, I showed him the ticket I had bought earlier in the day, but it was no good.

Let me try to quickly explain: Apparently they have 3 tickets; one for the far north (I bought that the day before for 10 bs), one for the grande north (about 2/3 of the island, which it turns out I purchased this day for 15bs), and one for the south (5 bs). The ticket takers who sold me the grande, tried not to give me any change or a ticket but I requested both nicely. They probably thought they were making me pay for the north as I was entering the south, thus I was stupid and wouldn’t need any paper. But I returned and fully utilized the space. Later, I was even warned by a Spanish guy I had met the day before, who said that he was going to call the tourist police on the same gate keepers because they tried to make him pay extra.

With that all said, back in the present, I am confronted with a man wanting money to enter the village where I already had a hostal. I decided to lie and say that all of my money was in my room and that I had already passed this gate 2 times today without issue. After some time of looking lost and confused, I considered hiking back a ways and then around the gate, but the man finally let me pass. Do I feel bad about lying to an old man just to get out of paying $.71? … Nope. I feel that I already overpaid with 2 north tickets and that their system has flaws. I am fine with paying to hike around their paradise to see ruins, the trail is very well maintained, I just feel they should have a 1 or even 2 ticket system and explain it better to tourists. The current system forces the more common day trippers pay 3 times for a total of 30 bs ($4.29). Sorry for going off on a rant.

The day ended with a cool sunset and some lake trout for dinner. Early in the morning, I saw the sun rise over the mountains from my hostal and caught a boat back to Copacabana, where I could finally change clothes.

Copacabana: Two more nights were spent there, drinking coca tea and getting my fill from the market. Notably the peanut soup, that I wish was a little more nutty, and a malt and meringue foam shake that was surprisingly delicious. I spent 71 cents more a night to upgrade to a room with TV for possible football watching, with the only game shown being the Sunday night game. It was good to do nothing for a while in comfort and catch a few sitcoms and movies. Also, I got a chance to play a keyboard they had in the lobby and satisfy an itch. The only negative of the city is that internet is 8-10 bs/hr, or else I would move here and make a home. Monday morning I caught a kids parade before hopping on a bus heading south.

La Paz: Back in the big city, my internet needs are being met I am checking out a few museums I missed before. Tomorrow, I head farther south, feeling the need to keep rolling and to fulfill the last of my tourist duties.

I feel the end is near and that planning is more important than ever. The only real goal I have left is to fully explore “Salar de Uyuni”, the largest salt flat in the world. Then it will most likely be a series of buses taking me back to Bogota (Flights are $490 and bus tickets would total about $150). Each day I think more and more about my return, but hope I haven’t mentally reached my end. I like to believe I could travel longer, like many I have met, but also think that maybe they aren’t as close to their family and friends as I. Or maybe they are just more social on the road and that satisfies their need for companionship. Either way, in a little over 7 weeks, I will be home. Hasta pronto!

E = 133

The Facts of Life

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

(Please note the new page link on the right. I finally got around to posting the poem my nephew wrote for me back in April. Gracias)

I believe it was Socrates who said, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have; the facts of life, the facts of life.” So, I have decided to heed his words and accept my mistakes and the troubles I had in Chile, believing that for every chute there is a ladder.

The Good:

  • The Train ride to Arica, Chile was smooth (my first time riding the rails all trip).
  • The food was different with their specialty being the Completo (a big hot dog covered in guacamole and tomatoes and other fixin’s.)
  • I ate a delightful shrimp and cheese empanada.
  • They had some new chocolate treats for me to try.
  • The beach was fairly clean and had a cool old dock with many missing boards and railings.
  • The hunk of rock south of town called “El Morro” had great views of the city and was an easy walk.
  • The main commercial walking street through town was clean and had lively entertainment.
  • Parque National Lauca was stunning, with high altitude plains, lakes, and snow capped volcanos. The hiking around Putre was wide open and dog free.
  • The weather was perfect for Lauca and comfortable in the city.

The Bad:

  • Too expensive, the cheapest hostal was $10 per night.
  • Only one bus direct to Putre (in Parque Nat. Lauca) that left early in the morning and from an office far from the center of town.
  • Accurate information was difficult to obtain: My hostal told me the bus to Putre left at 6 – 6:30 am and that I could take a city bus there. Turns out the bus left at 7 am.
  • Drug dealers roaming the streets: Initially, I was going to walk to the station and prepared to head out at 5:30am (still very dark). The lady opened the front door for me and pointed out the drug dealers on the corner. After talking with her husband, they agreed that I should take a taxi a couple blocks to the main drag and try and catch a city bus. When the taxi driver drove me to where they said, it was obvious that nothing was running. We agreed on a price to the office where my bus to Putre would leave from. Upon arrival there at 5:45 am, it was closed with an unknown open time, and in a dangerous neighborhood. The driver kept doing a slashing-the-throat motion. We hung out for a few minutes, talked to a newspaper guy sitting in his van, until I just decided that it wouldn’t be long till they opened and exited the cab.
  • They have a mixture of worn old bills and nice new ones: As I departed the taxi, worried about the possibility of having to defend myself by swinging my bag around, the driver requested the original price he quoted due to his waiting with me. I agreed (though I shouldn’t have) and pulled bills from my pouch. In the dark of 5:50 am, I made a stupid mistake. Attempting to pay the man 3K pesos, I handed him what I thought was a 2k bill and a 1k bill. Later on I realized that I gave him a 2k and a 10k (One of the old 10k’s, which are faded and in my current light, looked similar to the 1k. The new 10ks are completely different and unique.) The result, I gave him $18 more than I should have. The timing made it even worse, due to the fact that now my supply of Chilean pesos was running low and I was about to enter a national park. I had to cut my time short.
  • The transportation around the national park was scarce and pricey: The day after hiking around Putre, I shouldered my pack and hiked the 5km up to the main hwy. Waited about 90 minutes with some locals and later on a nice German couple, for any bus. The only buses that roll through the park are on their way to La Paz, Bolivia. Luckily, one of them had a seat, but charged me $6 for the 1.5 hour ride to Lago Chungará. I was dropped off at the border control station there, only to be told that there were no hostals or rooms for tourists at this location (My guide book told me there was). I walked around the lake and took many pictures, not wanting to waste the stop and just hop back on a bus. When I returned to the place I was dropped, assuming that a bus would pass sometime in the near future, an officer told me that the next buses were in about 5 hours (7pm).
  • It was extremely cold at 4,500 meters above sea level: Many thoughts rolled through my head, I could try and hike the road to the border and find transport there, I could hitch a ride with one of the few passing trucks, or I could wait and hope that the next buses have available seats. I scouted the area, considering my overnight options and if I could survive the night or if someone would take pity and let me crash in one of their offices. But as the sun went down, and my many layers did little to keep me warm, I knew that all my hope now rested in the few buses that were coming. I enjoyed that scene, trying to help direct truck drivers running around with paperwork and drinking mate de coca and eating fried bread to stay warm. Finally, just as my hands were going numb, a bus rolled up at 7pm with seats available and a reasonable price.
  • The Chilean salida stamp guy was a little upset: One of the bus attendants talked to the guy at the window, trying to explain that they picked me up and that I was not on the passenger list. I tried to explain my day and that I just stopped there to take pictures, but for some reason he wasn’t happy. He called the bus guy around into the office and they argued for a while. Finally, another guy who has the authority to use the rubber stamp, checked me out of Chile.
  • The post-border stuff was a little confusing: After paying for my Bolivian visa and having my pack inspected, I exited the building but was unable to find my bus (I never paid them anything). I took shelter from the wind against a wall until a guy said that I needed to walk down about 100 meters, through the dark, and that the buses park there. I rolled up, just as my bus was pulling away. I tried to yell and wave, but to no avail. Luckily, there was another bus loading and they had seats available, so I climbed aboard. While my feet stuck to the floor and I watched a terrible movie about an American kickboxer who goes to Thailand but ends up using heavy firearms in Cambodia to free his kidnapped girlfriend, I felt relieved that a bed in La Paz was only a few hours away.

¨When the world never seems to be livin up to your dreams, And suddenly you’re finding out the Facts of Life are all about you, yoooouuuu.¨ I am not really sure what that last part means, but I do know that I learned a lot from my mistakes. I will do more internet research on transport when my guide book is vague, and check my bills carefully when paying for things. All I wanted was another stamp in my passport, but I got the good and bad of Chile in just 3 days. Now I get to relax and enjoy 2 months of cheap living in Bolivia. Si pudiera volver el tiempo atrás

E = 125

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”.