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13 June 2010

I am Home

The end has come. I flew home last Monday after five months of being abroad, after traveling through six countries, after over 20,000 kilometers without a plane, over 250 hours on buses, after countless hostels, beautiful waterfalls, foreign friends, and too few empanadas. I am home.

Anyways, I said goodbye to my host in Cusco, the same New Yorker who got stung by a freshwater ray in Paraguay, and got on a 18 hour bus to the Chilean border. After almost getting my trail mix taken away, I crossed into Chile and onto another 18 hour bus to a small beach town in Northern Chile. La Serena was a small town with a beautiful square and tons of churches. I used it to recover from Peru and prepare for Santiago.

My host in Santiago is a guitarist, an amazing one. I met him in Southern Chile as we got off a ferry onto a bus, amidst the Andes, beside the Futeleufu. He was playing the guitar, adding music to match the mood. After coming around and contacting him, he remembered me and offered a place to stay with him and his father.

I arrived in Santiago after a short six hours on my last bus in South America, the same bus which broke the shoulder strap on my backpack. With the directions Alvaro gave me, I came to his house with only his father home. After a broken conversation and an amazing meal, I took off to meet Alvaro, who I found in a jam session with a cute drummer. I sat in on these two as they played a collection of American Rock, Chilean Folk, and everything in between.

After a relaxed night, I was up early to see the city. I started in Museo Bellas Artes, Chile's National Museum of Art. It was a beautiful building, loaded with beautiful art, though portions were still closed off because of the earthquake. Same problem as always, it's an old building celebrating 100 years this year and it was a tremendously strong earthquake. Next was Cerro Santa Lucia, a garden with a view. I was able to take various paths to the top of a hill, then back down to a statue of a dog and a huge fountain.

Deciding on the central market for lunch, I needed to walk a ways to get there. The central Plaza de Armas lay in my path, and I enjoyed its eccentricities immensely; the standard tourist knicknacks, the beautiful Catedral Nacional, a man painting an excellent portrait of a completely nude woman (life size, out in the open, unfortunately from a photograph), and a group of comedic street performers, whose Chilean accents were lost on me. Lunch turned out to be delicious.

The afternoon was spent ascending the ascensors to the peak of Parque Metropolitano, giving a smoggy view of the city; LA is a lot worse though. The hike down was very pleasant, with a tree covered trail to the river followed by a crowded subway to Alvaro's. After a recharge, we head out to watch some Jazz at a club with some amazing harmonica. My host and the drummer from the day before were friends with the group and played on stage during the second set; again, they were incredible, she even stayed up for an extra song. A party followed that lasted till 5am, when I ended my last night in South America.

The next day, I woke up (relatively) early in order to be tired for the plane home. I had breakfast in a random cafe, and tried to visit another museum and was thwarted by closures due to the earthquake. I made it home to hang out with Alvaro and his father until leaving.

I spent my last Chilean Pesos on a yogurt, got on a plane, and came back to the United States of America.

Somethings Interesting:
--Things I missed include friends and family (obviously), flushing toilet paper, successfully eavesdropping, not carrying my passport with me, Mexican Food, Peanut butter, Sushi, Cayucos, my dog, news and information, and going to the Cinema. This list, however, is far from exhaustive.

--Things I did not miss include having a cell phone, schedules, obligations, waiting for the crosswalk guy, most of popular culture, and having a general feeling of security. Again, far from exhaustive.

--The entire process of coming home took 15 hours; my record for a single bus trip is 51 hours.

27 May 2010

My Inca Trail

Cusco and Machu Pichu were the two main points of interest for me in Peru, and I have experienced both. My Peruvian experience, however, started with Puno on Lago Titicaca.

I crossed the border and arrived in Puno late at night, expecting to spend only one night and day there. After a very cheap room, I enjoyed some fruit salad for breakfast and a naval museum; it is interesting really, because Lake Titicaca is large enough and straddles two countries, it has active navies for both Bolivia and Peru.

A short boat ride took me out on Lake Titicaca, and onto the floating islands Uros. While the indigenous tribe who lives on the islands has become a tourist destination, they have their roots in a society which subsisted entirely on fish, eggs, and that which they could grow. During my visit, I enjoyed their incredible views and started the process of purchasing all the souvenirs, etc. I need to represent 5 months of travel.

A night bus to Cusco followed, with a day of rest and planning for Machu Pichu. Cusco is incredible, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas (I believe), and it shows. The city itself is built on foundations of beautifully pieced together blocks, the roads are cobblestone, and the churches, markets, and archways all have that thick layer of oldness to them. Just outside, and actually everywhere in this region, is a couple of ruins which provided an interesting day trip during that day of planning; Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay were thus enjoyed.

The next day, My Inca Trail began. I chose to go to Machu Pichu guideless, by local buses, with some hiking, saving and allowing my own time schedules and exploration. The buses include a 7hr ride to Santa Maria, a 2 hour taxi to Santa Teresa and a different half hour taxi to the trail head, all traveling through high altitude rain forests and stopping for lunch and dinner along the way. The trail head actually consists of a cable car, or rather a single cable where a hanging car gets guided across with myself and backpack. A three and half hour hike later and I arrived at Aguas Calientes at 930pm, the staging point for Machu Pichu.

The first day in Aguas Calientes, I chose to rest with a visit to the museum and a freezing cold waterfall. I enjoyed both, but was a little cold during the latter. An early night led to an earlier morning, with a grueling uphill climb to start the day. It truly is a race, because only the first 200 people get a ticket for the Waynu Pichu mountain. I made it, and stood at the gate of the historical site of Machu Pichu.

The gates opened just before sunrise, and the mob spread out to find a locale to enjoy the coming warmth. The first thing I noticed was the incredible size; there were areas where I could enjoy with little to no interruption from the perhaps 2000 people who visitied the same day as me. I chose the pedestal at the center of the park, and got an incredible sunrise over the mountains to the east. I was a month short from the Solstice and shortest day of the year (remember, Southern Hemisphere), and the sun, pedestal, and carvings were almost aligned in the incredible way the Incas built their city so long ago.

A short nap on a precarious ledge later, and my time slot for Waynu Pichu was upon me. I made some friends with a brother/sister combination from India, and enjoyed the hike with them. It gave us the uninterrupted views of the park seen so often in pictures and postcards, as well as some neat caves to get stuck in (Incas were short).

I spent the late afternoon finishing my book (the science fiction thriller Dune, if you're wondering) and watching two female chess champions battle it out at one of the vistas. The same hike as that morning, but down followed with a very relaxing night. Another day of travel and I reached Cuzco once more, where I still am.

Since Machu Pichu, I have met up with a friend who began an apartment in Cuzco for one month. I enjoyed an incredible night of sleep in his new place and then a crazy night of dancing. I am now making plans to move on right now.

Somethings Interesting:

--Things people are not just selling, but have interrupted my stride or meal to try and sell: sunglasses (while wearing some), band aids, pens, tours, printed out pictures to fill in with colors, to take a picture with the person, drugs, soup, any article of clothing, massages, gum, shoeshines (while I wear sandals), and string bracelets.

--Machu Pichu is actually (about) 1500 meters lower in elevation than Cuzco.

--The hippie community San Blas represents the local draft dodgers who never left. I had a delicious vegetarian meal here.

20 May 2010

The Peace, Bolivia

After Uyuni, came La Paz, truly a city of extremes. Most of our time was spent recovering from the tiresome three day tour of the Salt Flats. There were, of course, some adventures around the city.

The most striking feature of the city, partly because of its location relative to our hostel (directly across the street) was the market. I have been impressed by markets before in Bolivia, the Sucre Market took up a four story building, even flooding into the streets surrounding. The market in La Paz, however, 5-6 square blocks. Enough to find anything you would need, but then get lost trying to get out. This market contained most of our adventures.

There was "tienditas" (small shops) of every greasy street food imaginable, handbags, earrings, pork, etc. Their was a street devoted to fish, one to fruit salads, another to electronics, even another to jeans. The most interesting street, however, was one called the Witches Market. Here one could purchase totems which improve fertility or cure illnesses, various herbs which can do the same, and of course, the lovely llama fetus. I still don't know how they get said fetuses, but they are put under the foundations of new houses in order to ensure good health and luck.

Various museums were enjoyed as well during our time in La Paz; I use "our" because I was still with the British Couple and Aussies. The first museum was just off the main plaza, in Cathedral San Francisco, and gave an account of religion in La Paz. The coolest part was the ability to get to the top of this magnificent cathedral, looking down on the market below. Another museum enjoyed by us Gringos was the Museum of Musical Instruments. Standard old artifacts (obviously music related), all behind glass. The real treat came at the end, where sample instruments were available for play, and play we did.

All these daytime adventures were surrounded by a couple of exciting nights in the city; drinking, dancing, and comparing countries occurred in force. After the last night, I awoke early to catch a bus to Copacabana, a town on Lake Titicaca and the last one before crossing into Peru. I hiked to the top of a hill overlooking both the town and the Lake and simply caught up on Journaling; at this point, my journal was still back in Santa Cruz. I am caught up now though.

After enjoying the sunset from atop my hill, I crossed into Peru.

Somethings Interesting;

--At one point, the monks of Cathedral San Francisco made fabulous wine.

--The main purchase from the Witches Market for us was some legal psychedelic tea. It is made from the San Pedro cactus, similar to Peyote. We indulged, used twice the suggested amount, and felt nothing.

--In our excitement to find said tea, we believed a woman who told us her potato-like roots were what we were looking for. She was later nowhere to be found, but we used the roots in a curry that was delicious.

--Two and half weeks left! I don't know what to feel.