For one reason or another, I’ve gotten ahold of your email address and decided that you want to hear from me this summer. Perhaps you’re an old high school buddy or college drinking pal. Maybe you’re a climbing partner or a member of my family. Or maybe you’re just plain lucky.
But don’t panic, for no matter what category (or categories) you may fall into, rest assured that you’ll be given equal treatment as anyone else:
Impersonal and Generic
Just imagine! The first step towards a truly egalitarian world society is occurring in your inbox RIGHT NOW!
For you, gentle reader, have earned an illustrious spot on my world famous BCC list. Yow!
I’m hoping to keep y’all updated on my travels in Peru this summer, due to my delusion that some of you out there may actually care about my whereabouts.
Incidentally, if you don’t hear from me by August 5th, there is a very good likelyhood that I am, in fact, dead. In that event, I’m sure that my family will want some of my possessions and so they get first dibs, but the rest may be freely distributed amongst yourselves, auction style. Items go to the highest bidder, and the proceeds shall be split amongst the Access Fund and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org). You may contact my mother Grace, at email@example.com for more information.
The extent to which I am joking is left as an exercise to the reader (but I really am serious about the Access Fund and EFF!).
Anyhow, I am about to embark on a magical and mystical tour to a distant and strange land — JFK International Airport.
Update From the Highlands
Well, we made it safe and sound to Peru. Spent the first few days in Lima. Some parts of the city are horrendously dirty, others are quite lovely. Miraflores is the clean upscale section, and it’s where Cara and I stayed for two nights.
Our first minor adventure occurred there. After playing touristas in the city for a few hours, we returned to the hostel to find an elderly Korean woman crying. The employees came running up to me asking if I could talk to her. I guess they figured since we both had epicanthic folds, we’d have an easier time communicating.
The lady’s daughter was 4 hours missing and she wanted to call the police. At one point, there were eight people trying to calm her down. To make a long story short, the daughter sauntered in after we had endured the mother’s hysterics for over an hour, whereupon she got the international scolding of “Why didn’t you call?”
Yesterday, we took an infinitely long bus ride, and are now in the mountain town of Huaraz (3097m). It’s beautiful here, with views of the Cordillera Blanca right in your face. The altitude hasn’t caused too many problems; only a slightly effervescent always omnipresent headache, which I suspect will disappear soon.
A few more days of acclimatizing and we’ll attempt a trek through the mountain range. I have yet to try the Andean speciality of guinea pig, but that is high on my list of things to try.
I’m wishing that I retained more from my high school Spanish classes. We’re managing, but only so. The locals must think it very strange, in that we can only communicate in a single tense: the present. Vague memories of the preterite and present perfect haunt the halls of my mind, and the subjunctive is just a wild dream at this point.
Wishing for a babelfish,
More Info Than You Ever Wanted to Know
It seems to me that one will never talk about defecation so often or as frankly as when one is traveling in a foreign country that is not the United States.
Much like the Eskimos and snow, Cara and I have many words and descriptions about the color, consistency, and frequency of our bowel movements. I suspect we could provide much material for Ph.D theses in linguistics for years to come.
We’ll think nothing of launching into detailed (much too detailed) descriptions of our poop any time, any place. Thank the gods that the locals don’t understand English, as we’d likely get kicked out of many eateries on the grounds of being unsophisticated savages.
An interesting note: toilet paper is at a premium here. Thus, a roll of TP is as essential as your passport, and you’d no sooner think of leaving the hostel without it than you would neglect to bring a wallet, or pants. Also, as the water is not exactly of the finest quality, we have with us two small bottles of handwash. I dread the day when they are no more.
But enough of that talk. My last two days were spent rather miserably, as I tried to convince my body that the altitude isn’t as bad as it makes me feel. And of course, along with the fever and headaches, was our favorite friend, runny stools.
By the way — I hope that you’re not eating a meal whilst reading this email. Apologies for the belated disclaimer.
Things are on the up and up, though. Tomorrow, we leave for a 4 day trek on a route called the Llanganuco-Santa Cruz trail. It has quite the stellar reputation, and I’m looking forward to it, although my bowels have their doubts.
That’s it for now. I’ve got to run (or alternatively, I’ve got the runs).
The word sounds so romantic, evoking images of intrepid backcountry explorers wandering through remote pristine virgin wildernesses taking in beautiful vistas and generally having a good time.
This is, in fact, quite possible — if you hire a guide who loads 500 kilos of equipment onto 50 burros and his (underpaid) employees rush along the trail to set up your camp and cook your dinner hours before you arrive, leaving you to amble about at a leisurely pace and basically just show up and have everything taken care of.
Then, you get things like freshly killed chicken for dinner cooked on a propane tank (yes — just like the one in your backyard grill), while sitting in actual chairs at an actual table while drinking tea (with extended pinky finger, of course).
If that is the case, then trekking is EASY and FUN.
Needless to say, Cara and I did not enjoy such luxuries on our trek, as we had 0 guides and 0 burros and 0 employees to carry our stuff. So we brought along what we could fit into our backpacks for a 4 day exercise in altitude, slogging, and malnutrition.
The circuit we chose is named the Llanganuco to Santa Cruz trail, and is described as an “easy beginner’s route”. Ha! Let me repeat: ha!
Whoever wrote that description must have had the first style of trekking in mind. Carrying 40 lb. packs at 4000m is NOT an easy endeavor. Especially while eating only 800 calories a day.
We managed to make a slight error in food management, in that we brought enough for two meals per person per day. Normally, that would be enough food for us, but those meals were mostly freeze-dried things that didn’t have nearly enough calories to sustain four concecutive 8 hour days of hiking.
By the last day, while looking enviously at the guided trekkers with 4 course spreads, I was ready to start begging or trading for food. The ramen noodles and soup mixes we brought along were pathetic in comparison.
Another interesting thing to note is that high altitude really sucks. We camped at 4400m on our second night, and woke up to miserably persistent headaches and nausea. The type of headache was on par with the worst wine or whiskey hangover you’ve ever had, with none of the fun the previous night. The racing pulse and general feeling of malaise basically make you wish that you were dead, so that your body doesn’t hurt anymore.
But aside from all that, the trek was somewhat enjoyable. The views were actually worth it, surprisingly enough, and on our last night of camping, we were treated to a view of Alpamayo (once described as the most beautiful mountain in the world) as it was lit up eerily by the moon all night long.
Next time, though, I’m getting a burro.
Report From the Field
Mountaineering sounds a lot more fun than it actually is.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot to be said for getting to the summit of a big mound of rock, snow, and ice (even if it’s cloudy as all hell, and you can see only 15 ft. in any direction), but unless you are either:
- a) famous enough to warrant an entire support team dedicated to you
- b) lame enough to have to hire a guide (and porters and cooks) to drag your sorry ass up the mountain
you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Sadly, I am not in category (a), and luckily, I’m not quite in category (b).
So it came to pass that I had to carry all my own gear and food for four days up an annoyingly steep trail for a lot longer than I wanted to have to hike, avoiding burro poop (both fresh and dried) all the while.
On summit day, the sky at 3:30 AM (when I started) was quite clear. Due to my poor acclimatization, I moved slower than frozen snot, and by the time I made it to the summit at 11 AM, it was enveloped in a gigantic murky cloud. Rather anticlimatic, methinks.
But I made it, eh? So — Alex’s first mountain turned out to be somewhat of a success.
Pisco — 5752m (18,981 ft)
It’s been a while since my last communique, and so common sense would have you think that this email would be chock full of exciting adventures and mishaps.
I left Huaraz a week ago for the tourist town of Cuzco, and my life has been nothing but mundane since. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to sell you something, whether it be a postcard, a shoeshine, a crappy watercolor, a meal, or something else.
In fairness, entrepreneurism and begging are only two points along a continuum, but frankly, I’m getting a bit tired of having to fend off all the locals out to make a quick sole ($0.33).
The city of Cuzco is brilliant, if one is a typical tourist and appreciates such cultural things as “art” and “ruins” and “history”. I am totally museum-ed out, and will probably break down whimpering and twitching if I have to look at yet another image of Christ being crucified.
Can’t wait to leave this town…
Randomosity and Ramblings
Some random notes (because I’m not feeling focused enough to write a cohesive narrative type thing):
- Ancient Incan ruins. They litter the Peruvian landscape, and for some odd reasons, lots of people love them. I’m not one of them. However, we did go to Machu Picchu, and that was pretty cool. The ruins are admittedly nice looking amidst a beautiful setting of mountains, river valleys, and some snow capped peaks in the distance. This cynic *can* appreciate some things…
- The Incans were great planners and builders. I don’t know if I would call them great engineers, though, since they didn’t have to deal with the most important issue that ALL engineers have to deal with — limited resources. If I had a huge population of slave labor to do my bidding, I bet I could make some pretty cool stuff too.
- There are two ways to descend from Machu Picchu: take a bus down a long winding road (US $4.50!), or take (a lot) of stairs. There is a tradition of local boys to dress up in traditional garb and wave goodbye to the departing bus of tourists at the top. Then, as the bus makes its way downward, a boy will race down the stairs and wave at the bus at every switchback. At the end of the trip, the boy gets on the bus and asks for tips. They make about 20 soles (US $6) per day for doing so.
- Yours truly decided to race with one of the boys, and so there I was, sprinting down this Incan staircase at top speed, hoping I didn’t turn an ankle and fall flat on my face and break all my teeth. We must have made a strange sight for the tourists, as a small (10 years old?) boy dressed in Incan clothes and a dirty looking sweaty gringo with a ridiculous hat on, waving at every turn. I was able to keep up with the little bugger, but now my legs are killing me.
- I would pay upwards of US $100 for the following: – a hot shower – a cold drink that is actually cold – a meal with American sized portions (no wonder Peruvians are so short!)
- The hostel where we are staying is interesting. The showers are typical of many in South America. There is a single tap for cold water. The shower head consists of an ELECTRICAL contraption that “heats” the water immediately before it falls on your body in a sprinkling of tepid (giardia infested) water. If you are not careful and accidentally touch something metal in the shower, like the knob that controls the water, you get mildly shocked. If this doesn’t seem wrong to you in some way, you have problems.
- Peruvian paradox #1: There are about a grillion stray dogs (and other animals) roaming the streets. Also, ANYONE who drives a car here is certifiably crazy, and as far as we can tell, there aren’t actually any traffic laws. Yet, we have seen ZERO instances of roadkill. The animals here have street smarts that the pampered pets in America lack.
- Peruvian paradox #2: The health and sanitation standards here are lax, to put it mildly. Like most places in South America, you can’t drink tap water. Yet, you will NEVER get chicken in the States as fresh and tasty as you can get in Peru. The livestock doesn’t get any funky weird growth horomones or antibiotics or other stuff common to USA poultry.
- Huzzah to the United States for making it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. If you are not watching and supporting our boys, then you are missing out on the greatest sporting event EVER. The level of athleticism and competition in il copa mundial is simply at another level that steroid filled ludicrously rich thugs in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. will NEVER reach. I promise.
- Our plans have changed, and we’re no longer going to be in Peru for our entire trip. I’m going down to Lake Titicaca (the source of constant hours of giggling for third grade boys all over the US) on Friday, and then we’re headed to Bolivia. From there, we’re not totally sure what we’re going to do, but visiting Argentina and/or Chile are possibilities.
- Alex’s Pet Peeve: traveler’s who say they’re going to “do” a country. Example: “Oh — we did Thailand and the rest of southeast Asia. After Peru, we’re going to do Ecuador and etc.” What the hell does that mean, anyway? “Doing” a country makes travel sound so cheap and tawdry.
- Long trip insight: going to a place with NO idea of what you’re going to do or when you’re going to leave is dangerous. You get bogged down by day to day living, and the feeling of boredom and quiet desperation that you’re not doing anything can be overwhelming. It’s ok not to have the details planned out, but you should still have a big picture in mind while out and about for a long period of time. Travelers need to be like sharks — constantly on the move, and thinking about the next thing to do. It sounds like it could be stressful, but to do otherwise is to languish slowly and miserably until you just want to go home.
Ok — enough drivel out of me for now. Cheers!
Karma’s Gonna Git You, Sucka
Happy hour in Cusco is a great thing. Most bars offer two for one mixed drinks, and so three nights ago, Cara and I decided to engage in a demonstration of the elasticity of alcohol sales.
For those of you who have not had a course in microeconomics, the following translation should suffice: we wanted to get rip roaring drunk for cheap.
Anyhow, after polishing off 4 gin and ginger ales in the space of an hour, we managed to slightly intoxicate ourselves. Just for good measure, I drank another two (albeit at full price (US $2 each)).
After stumbling home and laying in bed for a few minutes, Cara decided she wanted to engage in a cleansing purge of her gastrointestinal system. Since we didn’t have a garbage can, she was forced to find various plastic bags (which she doubled bagged) into which the vomitting occurred. She ended up filling two of them, and left them for me to dispose of the next morning.
We enjoyed a few chuckles about that one the next day. Or rather, I had a good time laughing at her, since I — clearly the drunker of the two — didn’t have to puke at all.
Which brings us now chronologically to two nights ago, wherein I engaged the Peruvian delicacy of cuy. Cuy is how the Peruvians write guinea pig.
Just in case you weren’t paying attention, I am indeed talking about GUINEA PIGS.
Now I’ve got a pretty strong stomach, and I’ve eaten some damn strange things in my life, so I thought I had a decent chance at eating this thing. But when it came, skinned and baked on my plate, with its head intact, ears clearly visible, claws curled up, and internal organs falling out, I could only think one thing: this thing is disgusting.
I managed to choke down a few bites, but had to stop after that. The taste was initially similar to chicken, but then right afterwards, turned into a foul rodent sort of taste. Not that I’ve eaten many rodents before, but just imagine what a rat tastes like, and there you go.
Yesterday, we took a bus to Puno, which is a town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The eight hour bus ride could only be described as hellish, as the cuy from the previous night came to take its revenge.
Let’s just say that I also had gastrointestinal problems, although from the other end of the digestive tract.
Of course, this would not have been so bad had there been a working toilet on the bus. Alas, there was not.
And so, that is how I found myself, in a moment dripping with karma and irony, shitting into a plastic bag on a decrepit bus in the middle of Peru.
Hope you weren’t reading this during your lunch break or something.
Two fer One
After our last exciting episode (the one where I shat into a plastic bag), Cara and I ended up in La Paz, Bolivia.
For our next exciting adventure, we decided to embark on a mountain biking trip down the WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD — dum da daaaah!
At least, that’s what the gringos call it. The locals, on the other hand, call the road from La Paz to Coroico something else — “el camino del muerte”.
So for US $50, we paid for the privilege of riding up to the top of a peak named La Cumbre (in a minibus with 14 other clients) and coasting down on mountain bikes for a 3600m (11,800 ft) vertical descent.
Executive summary: it kicked ass.
Slightly expanded version: yes — riding down the WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD (dum da daaah!) was somewhat scary.
Often, the road is only wide enough for a single 18-wheeler truck to drive on, and so uphill traffic gets the right of way.
Downhill traffic must wait at little pullouts for uphill traffic to pass. If the two shall meet, then the downward bound traffic must back up to a pull out.
Also, downhill traffic must drive on the left. This is to afford the driver the best possible view of his outside wheels (so he doesn’t fall off the side of the mountain (guardrails? ha! hahahahahaha! stupid gringo! ha!)).
Quick stat #1: an average of 26 vehicles disappear on this road every year (one every two weeks).
Quick stat #2: The worst accident occurred when a driver drove his truck over the edge, killing himself and more than 100 passengers in 1983.
Quick stat #3: Last year, an Israeli girl died while on the very same bike tour (albeit with a different company) when she lost control of her bike and just flew off the edge. The fallout from that accident — the company stopped guiding for three days. (Our group enjoyed a nice snack of chocolate and bananas near her memorial.)
Bonus tidbit: Just last week, a truck fell off the edge, but the driver was able to jump out just in time.
The road is extremely heavily travelled, and our group of 16 gringos careening down it on mountain bikes in controlled chaos had to constantly avoid getting squashed like bugs by a fully loaded 18-wheeler (with the right of way) barrelling up in the opposite direction.
Free advice: if you ever decide to have the same adventure, make sure that you get a bike with a w-i-d-e seat. Four days later, my ass is still sore from the pounding it took (no — you may NOT quote me out of context).
The next day, back in La Paz, and looking for something to do, I decided to hike to La Muela del Diablo (the Devil’s Molar) and see what I could see.
After bouncing around in a minibus for half an hour (to the dismay of my ass), I was dropped off near the trail to la Muela.
Trying to find the exact direction I was supposed to head, I spoke to an old woman with no teeth, selling fruit juice. Due to my deficiencies in Spanish, and her deficiencies in dental hygiene, I couldn’t quite figure out what she was saying. But she kept repeating a few words over and over to me — “cuidado”, “peligroso”, and “muerte”. I thanked her for the advice and continued on my way.
Five minutes later, I was stopped by an extremely old man who also lacked teeth, and wanted to talk to me about la Muela. It turns out he was an old miner, and he was caught in a rockfall and showed me the stitches on his upper thigh (ugh) to prove it. Over 90 of his friends died that day. He wanted to give me advice, but I couldn’t understand a damn word he was saying, so 20 minutes later, I just thanked him and started walking away.
Further up the trail, I met another woman, who upon seeing a gringo headed towards la Muela, kept on saying “cuidado”, “peligroso”, and “muerte” to me. She also made the international hand signal of running her index finger across her throat. I thanked her as well, and continued on my way.
Finally, after a solid 45 minutes of upward hiking, la Muela came into sight. The thing looked pretty cool, and I slowly made my way towards the base.
There was a hiking trail up to the top, but since I fancied myself a rock climber, I picked out a line that I thought would
be a more adventuresome route to the top.
Getting to where I wanted to start was difficult because of a huge mound of fallen rocks and pebbles was in my way. As I climbed the mound of scree, every step caused the face of the mound to shift and slide downwards, so I could only make about three inches of upward progress for every step.
Luckily for me, Bolivians are terribly unconscious about environmental issues, and throw their litter wherever they
please. I found a nice section of rebar that I could use as a makeshift walking stick, and with that, made my way up to where I thought I was going to start climbing.
La Muela del Diablo looks like a real rock formation from far away, but upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be a bunch of smaller rocks stuck together with mud, dirt, and twigs. In other places, where there is no mud, but just a face of rock that appears to be climbable, the rock just snaps off randomly in one’s hand.
So there I was, 20m off the ground, unroped and by myself, wondering if the next handhold I grabbed was going to just break and send me hurtling through space. I had already climbed over an overhanging section that I didn’t think I could climb back down, and I was feeling very small and very stupid, not to mention scared to wit’s end.
After a bit of deliberation, I decided that I could climb down afterall, and with sphincter clenched tight, I slowly made my way back down to the bottom.
Glad to be alive, I hightailed it back to La Paz and spent the rest of the day doing safe touristy things like visiting the
local self-supporting prison.
Journeys and Destinations
A philosopher once wrote “It’s not the destination that matters, it the journey.” Bullshit. He obviously never spent much time traveling South America by bus.
The theory of simply sitting on a bus for (usually) between 8 and 15 hours is bad enough. The real life implementation is much much worse.
Forrest Gump’s famous line — “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”
My take: “Traveling by bus in South America is like a flaming paper bag appearing on your doorstep; you never know what you’re gonna get, but you can be damned sure that you ain’t gonna like it.”
The first step of the process involves the bus terminal lottery. Most towns have a central terminal for all bus traffic. These places are best described as a modern day Bedlam (an old insane asylum from which our modern day word ‘bedlam’ describing chaos is descended). Kids screaming, pickpockets picking, beggars begging, large groups of listless apathetic people, and just plain general confusion.
The traveler must fight his (or her) way through the madness, from ticket counter to ticket counter, trying to find a company that goes to the destination of choice. This part usually isn’t so bad, but once you’ve bought your ticket (and before you board the bus), you must hand over your bag(s) and hope that they don’t get stolen before the bus leaves.
This, of course, assumes that you are at the terminal at a time somewhat close to when your bus leaves. The worst is when you have to check out your hotel early in the morning (to avoid paying for another day) and spend all day in town, killing time while you wait for your night bus (we’ll get to those later). This is especially bad when you are only in a certain town for one particular sight and you’ve already seen it.
Anyhow, assuming you have actually boarded the bus and that your luggage hasn’t been stolen, the only thing left to do is to settle in for the next 8 to 15 hours and enjoy the ride.
Ha! Hahahahahahahhahahahaha! Excuse me while I wipe the tears away (dual tears from amusement that one could be so naive as to believe such a statement, and from depression of reality).
First off, the buses are designed for maximum capacity. I doubt the Bolivians even have a word for “comfort”. I’m about the height of an average Bolivian (read: short) and even my knees are jammed up constantly against the next seat.
Also, the picture of the bus at the ticket counter that you were shown usually has no bearing on reality. Invariably, the picture shows extremely modern looking cush-mobiles. In real life, the bus is from the 1970s, with ratty old seats that don’t go back far enough to be comfortable, but far back enough to extremely bother the person in back of you.
The lack of padding is a terrible liability as paved roads are a decadent luxury reserved for capitalist North American pigs. Not only are the bumps and potholes tooth-jarring, but the dust that gets kicked up and drifts inside is enough to give you miner’s lungs.
If you have a bus that travels during the day (and not many do), then all you have to worry about are the aforementioned chronically uncomfortable seats, the terrible smells of non-hygienic peasants (and their strange moving dripping chirping squeaking burlap bags they call luggage), and the overcrowding. Often, after a bus has started on its way to the destination, it will stop many times and pick up extra (unticketed) passengers to try and make some extra money. Not only does this make the trip much much slower, but the only space for the extra passengers is in the aisle, where people stand, sit, lie down, and form small civilizations.
Another fun thing to deal with is the shysters and charlatans who board the bus and spend half an hour to 45 minutes giving a sales pitch about some special health powder or skin ointment that will cure bad breath, gout, dysentery, indigestion, cancer, and excessive flatulence.
If the bus breaks (very common) and they can’t fix it (not as common), too bad. You’re out of luck, and don’t even think about getting a refund.
At night, you get to deal with all of the above while you ostensibly try and sleep. Of course, for the first couple hours,
sleep is impossible, as inevitably, a poorly dubbed (in Spanish) Jackie Chan flick is blaring at full volume over the loudspeakers with the actual movie playing on tiny screens miles away and suffering from terrible tracking problems.
Hopefully, you’ve brought along your sleeping bag and some warm clothes because there definitely is no heating system (other than the rank fetid humid bodyheat of too many humans crammed into a small space, breathing and sweating on each other).
One doesn’t sleep on these night buses so much as one flits in and out of unconsciousness.
Upon arrival at the destination, usually at 5 or 6 in the morning, groggy and disoriented, you have to fend off a billion
cab drivers screaming at you to use their services and choose one to take you to a new hotel. Luckily, they haven’t heard of checkin times yet in this continent, and so you can get a few hours sleep before heading out into town without having to pay for an extra night’s stay.
After a day or two, the cycle begins all over again.
/Alex, writing this, bored out of his skull since he had to check out of his hotel this morning at 10 and his bus doesn’t leave until 7 pm (and he’s seen all that there is to see in the town of Potosi, Bolivia)
Home on the Range
Recently, Cara and I spent two days in Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid country, on horseback. Never having ridden a horse (other than pony rides) before, it was somewhat of an experience.
Horses are big and they run fast. They also have minds of their own, and so when they get going, really, your wishes are of no particular consequence.
One last thing — the ride is bouncy as hell.
So anyhow, we set off with saddlebags packed and our 14 year old guide, and thus began two straight days of bouncing on my poor ass.
The scenery was grand, and very reminiscent of the western United States. Lots of wide open spaces, rocks colored deep hues of reds, browns, and whites, and us, bouncing along on big fast stubborn horses.
Twice, we saw flocks of emerald green wild parrots.
Nothing else exciting really happened, except for the time that I was trying to dismount and my foot got stuck in the stirrup, which spooked the hell out of the horse and almost got me dragged. Luckily, the saddle was a complete piece of crap, and the stirrup just broke off, so I didn’t have to get dragged through dirt and horse shit.
Also, there was the other time that I thought I could just jump onto the horse from above and take off. Actually, that was a successful endeavour as I did jump on the horse, and it did start taking off at very high speeds. However, as neither of my feet were in the stirrups, I decided to jump back off under my own recognizance rather than getting bounced off. Twenty minutes later, our FOURTEEN year old guide caught my horse and calmed it down sufficiently so that I could mount it in the proper fashion.
At the end of two days, with chafed legs and intimately acquainted with the term “saddle sore”, I was glad to be back in town (Tupiza, Bolivia), and relaxing by taking a freezing cold shower at our disgustingly dirty hostel.
Summer Reading List
There’s a lot of dead time when traveling (one can’t always be on
the internet, ya know). Knowing this, I brought along a suitably
thick novel with which to pass the time, thinking that it would
last me for two and a half months. Ha!
Right — so I’ve done a LOT of reading thus far and have read a
bunch of books. Just for the hell of it, here’s what I’ve read
(roughly in chronological order).
Disclaimer: If you believe in Scientology, you probably shouldn’t read this email.
- The Illuminatus Trilogy (Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson) - This is a classically hilarious book about secret conspiracies propagated by secret societies. Lots of raunchy sex for no apparent reason other than to sell more copies of the book. The authors are my kinda guys.
- The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) - Published in 1943, Rand takes 700 pages to say the following: Collectivism bad. Individualism good.
- The Body Artist (Don DeLillo) - Strange little novella written in DeLillo’s strange style. Or maybe it isn’t.
- A Fall of Moondust (Arthur C. Clarke) - Engineers and other people who enjoy solving problems with severe constraints will enjoy this sci-fi semi-thriller.
- The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) - Man — I wish I had read this book in high school rather than the drearily boring Red Badge of Courage. The prose is straightforward, the plot is somewhat interesting, and the symbolism is much more obvious.
- The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) - Classic sci-fi novel. Gets better every time.
- A Child Called “It” (Dave Pelzer) - A surprisingly heartfelt autobiographical true story about one of the worst child abuse cases ever in California’s history.
- Chasing Che (Patrick Symmes) - Interesting story of Symmes’ attempt to recreate Che Guevara’s first motorcycle trip across South America.
- Honor Among Thieves (Jeffrey Archer) - Trashy novel about Saddam Hussein stealing the Declaration of Independence. I can’t believe this crap sells.
- Chameleon (William Diehl) - Another trashy novel about spies and ninjas and whatnot. At least this one’s written better than the piece of crap by Archer.
- Night (Elie Wiesel) - Excellent book based on Wiesel’s experience in Nazi concentration camps, and how he loses his god.
- A Man In Full (Tom Wolfe) - Another classic novel by Wolfe, who is one of the funniest and intelligent authors of our time. Ram yo’ *boo*ty!
- Dianetics (L. Ron Hubbard) - Sorry all you Scientologists out there, but this is the worst piece of shit that I’ve ever tried to read in my life. It’s nothing but pages upon pages of pseudoscience masquerading as real research written in a haughty authoritative manner of a quack. If this is one of the central books of Scientology, then your pseudo-religion sucks. My blood boiled so much after reading about these pseudo-equations and pseudo-computations and half-baked theories to the point where I had to stop reading after a mere 5 chapters.
- Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) - Published 14 years after The Fountainhead, Rand takes another 1000 pages to say the following: Collectivism bad. Individualism good. Yes, yes, Ayn — we all know how much you hate Socialism and how much you venerate the individual Prime Mover and Generator. Did you really need John Galt to have SEVENTY consecutive pages of monologue to say that? Who is John Galt? Who cares? Who is your editor and why wasn’t he shot? And then after the funeral, dug up and shot again?
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
The House of the Incan Sun
Slowly making my way back towards Lima for my return flight home now. En route from La Paz, we stopped off by Lake Titicaca again for a few days.
This time, we stayed on the Bolivian side, in a town named Copacabana, and decided to do some camping and hiking on la Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).
What a perfectly idyllic place. It’s a two hour boat ride from Copacabana, and there are no vehicles of any sort on the island. Only about 15 km from end to end, we spent the first day hiking from the south end to the north along a ridgeline that afforded views of the Lake on either side.
Probably the best part of the day was going near some Incan ruins, without actually having to stop and look at them.
Watching the sun set on the lake where the Incans claim it was born was a nice touch.
That evening, we camped on a semi-secluded beach on the eastern shore. After dinner, and close to our bedtime, an old couple landed on the beach after a long day of fishing for trout and pejerrey. Our curiosity impelled us to wander the 25 feet or so to the water’s edge, whereupon we were immediately enlisted in helping the couple drag their rowboat onto the sand.
Not an easy task, and I’m ashamed to say that a 60 year old man was pushing and pulling twice as hard as I was. What’s more, he was also sloshing around in the freezing cold water in bare feet, while I stayed on the sand, wearing my Gore-Tex lined boots.
Later, an intense wind and snowstorm beat the hell out of our tent, but I was content to snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag and let Cara go outside to reinforce the tent stakes.
The storm stopped after an hour anyway.
In the morning, we got to watch the sun’s rebirth over a wonderfully cloudy sky. It took another 4 hours or so to hike
back to the south end of the island, this time winding our way through the small hamlets and villages of the eastern shore.
Our return was rewarded with yet another meal of freshly caught fish. Yum yum.
I’m sorry to have left the isle, as one would be hard pressed to find a more tranquil place.
The Real World
It’s been hectic here for the past few hours.
After yet another sleepless eight hour bus ride from Arequipa to Nazca, we arrived at 5:30 in the morning. I managed to catch about an hour and a half at the hostel before I had to wake up for my tour of the famous Nazca lines.
For you uncultured Philistines, that would be the pictures of monkeys, spiders, hands, and various geometric shapes
stretched hundreds of miles across the desert, made by very determined and reasonably smart people a long time ago that are only visible from the air.
Anyhow, eight o’clock came and went, and the 30 minute flight that I paid $50 for was a no-go due to cloudy conditions. I went back to sleep for another 2 hours or so, and checked again at noon.
This time, they drove me out to the airport to wait a bit. After determining that conditions were still too cloudy, they showed a bunch of us tourists a video about the Incas (as if I haven’t already seen enough of that crap).
Finally, I got most of my money back, minus $15 which paid for a taxi ride out to a tall tower that affords views of two shapes, as well as a trip to a museum dedicated to the lines.
Upon return to Nazca, the original plan was to travel by bus to Ica tomorrow. However, we found out that there is to be yet another transportation strike for yet another ungodly reason, and it was to last an indefinite amount of time.
Seeing as how I have to be in Lima by Thursday evening, the strike was definitely a BAD thing.
We tried to get the bus company to refund our money for the tickets we had already bought, but they were bastards and wouldn’t give it to us.
So, following the advice of a friendly local, I went out and bribed a member of the Peruvian National Police (the country’s way underpaid finest) to come and “help” us “encourage” the company to see our point of view a bit better.
Needless to say, it worked. We got our money back, and the policeman ended up S/10 ($3) richer. And so that’s the way things work in this country. So it goes.
We’re now in Ica, and I need to get some sleep.
Even down to the wire, I managed to cram things into my schedule.
Yesterday morning was spent sandboarding on the giant dunes of Huacachina. The concept is actually a lot cooler than the reality. There’s no lifts, so one has to walk to the top of the dune after each “run”. Of course, walking up a surface that is constantly sliding down underneath you is no easy task.
It’s impossible to edge, so carving large idyllic turns is a pipe dream reserved for colder climes. Mostly, you just shoot straight down the face and hope not to fall. Luckily, you can’t build up all that much speed — you’re on pre-sandpaper, after all.
The situation is remedied somewhat by applying wax to the bottom of the half-inch thick plywood “sandboards”, but the stuff only lasts for two short runs, whereupon it has to be reapplied.
Finally, sand gets everywhere — even places that you didn’t know existed prior. But hey — it’s still kinda fun, and at least somewhat of a unique experience.
The afternoon saw a visit to a winery where pisco is made, and thus necessitated lying on my US Customs form (Did you visit any farmlands? No!).
The tour was short and sweet (and actually kinda boring), but we got to drink some free booze and then get the hell out of there.
Spent one last night in Lima, and then off to the airport for a long day of travel. Long flight interrupted by long layover, capped off with another long flight. Whee.
Peering out the window, I saw an unidentified American city twinkling silently in the night. What a beautiful glittering sight.
Unfortunately, I got cocky on the plane and opted for ice in my soda. Arrival in New York saw my sprinting to the bathroom as Peru got its final revenge on me. Oh how I long for the days when diarrhea is the exception and not the norm.
Back at my unfamiliar new home (my family moved while I was away), cleanly showered and two pieces of leftover pizza in the belly (I hope they stay there for a while), it seems to me that life is good.
It’s good to be back. Thanks for reading along the past two or so months. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did
This is Alex, over and out.