Micah: Unmitigated

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Not just another weblog

Hoelter Skelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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