She instituted Moto Man Mondays as part of her content while she is on her Peace Corps Contract in Cameroon. Posting consistently is a challenge for me. Once I get started the content is easy to generate, but it helps to have a unifying idea so that I am not just posting random stuff. I also looked at some of my statistics on my dashboard, I only use free wordpress stuff cuz I is broke, and most of the posts that get views are stuff from Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Very little people care that I did a bunch of yoga or whatever life challenge I am putting myself through. Though there were quite a few views from the Vegan stuff.
Thus, Photographic memory mondays gives me a little bit of structure, which despite my mild ODD/stubbornness, does allow me to operate at a higher level and aids my writing. I despise structure that is forced upon me, but also thrive under it if I can stomach it without rebelling. A wildfire creates tons of energy, but also causes tons of damage and devours its own life force. While a torch can light your way, a candle can evoke peace and reflection and a furnace can produce heat and energy needed for creation. And that is why I have added this little bit of structure a bit of direction for this curly soul.
Energetically I am classified as fire, though I despise classification, which is why I present this in this way.
Even with this structure imposed, I still completely forgot to post last week. The mad rush during finals is exhausting some of my already limited organizational faculties.
And now without further ado, Photographic Memory Mondays #3 8-25-14.
This weeks theme is….Mountains.
Wherever I go, It seems that I seek these particular features out.
I know it is tuesday again. What can I say? My spirit animals are an owl and a spider. Both dark-liking things. And I know, I was disappointed a bit when I found out. I thought I saw a Mountain Gorilla in a yoga nidra recently and I have always considered myself monkey like. More an animals later, if I get to it. (disclaimer- the owl and spider are very powerful spirits etc. I read about them in depth and can definitely see why).
And now back to the photographic memories.
A Note on the Format. I am working on it. I am more of a writer than a design man and more of a talker than a writer, thus ramblestiltskin.
There are so many memories that I have not shared from my travels. Each of them feels like a lifetime and seems it would take a lifetime to catalog. This is my way of focusing the ADD brain into something constructive. A picture is worth a thousand words, but each of those thousand is different based on whose perspective is shared. Hence, The Photo and snippet style. It also breaks up the 1600+ words into bitable chunks. My copy is often overwhelming in volume. Mainly, this is because I do not edit. If I edited these, I would never post them. I will save that for any future guest posts or books, crosses fingers.
And if you have made it this far, I applaud your tenacity. As a voice/audience finding exercise comment below telling me your favorite memory. The memory with the most votes will get a full 1600+ post delving deeper. Maybe I will be on a limb, out to sea, up a creek etc. but I will post on any of them with the most votes no matter how silly or mundane. I will consider it a writing test of agility.
This is a phenomenal article about the complex situation faced by the food system. The article focuses on chocolate, but the ideas can be applied to a multitude of industrialized rainforest crops. The ideas of the challenges placed on the environment by industrialized crops and population growth can be applied universally.
It is the common practice for many avid travel bloggers to focus on and highlight the amazing, unique and adventurous experiences they seek out while abroad. This is understandable, they make for great stories. The unique and fantastic adventures like diving with whale sharks, watching the sunrise from one of the peaks in the Cordillera Blanca, or hiking to Mach Picchu on the Camino Inca.
These are certainly moving and awe-inspiring tales. They deserve to be told. These are the moments that inspire others to get a pack, stuff it way too full, buy a ticket and take the plunge. However, these hallowed and magical moments are rare. Wait, check that, not really rare, for any traveller will experience many of them. However, when you look at the daily life of a traveller, they are few and far between. There are so many other notable moments. While Machu Picchu may be the reason you go to Peru, the laid back lifestyle and the ridiculously fresh fruit may be the reason you stay.
It is the little things that both cause the most discomfort (carrying around your own toilet paper) and bring the most joy (sipping freshly bended juice while walking the streets of Cusco.)
On to my ordinary adventure
I have been looking for the chance to get a straight razor shave since before I could sustain a beard. Perhaps the inception of this desire was caused by my viewing of “Gangs of New York” when I was in high school. The scene when “Priest” Vallon, played by Liam Neeson shaves before the opening battle scene. He then hands the blade to his son who begins to wipe the blade clean, but stops his hand saying, “the blood stays on the blade.” For some reason the gravity of this scene inspired a desire to experience a straight razor shave. And luckily for me, none of my blood ever touched the blade.
The desire to find this experience came about a year after I saw that article in Blue Magazine which inspired the dream of visiting Machu Picchu, you can read more about that here…
…it is a 4 part post with lots of photos for your viewing pleasure.
Since both of these dreams were inspired around the same time, and so long ago, it is fitting that I would fulfill them both on the same trip.
My first international haircut was in Salta Argentina by a guy who was so fast I could have sworn he had scissors in both hands. he didn’t even use clippers, just scissors for a cut that was pretty short. An artist indeed, he even had trophies on his walls, Barber trophies. I asked for a shave, but didn’t know enough spanish at the time, so i couldn’t get the straight razor shave here. So my face would have to wait for that immaculate feeling, I had only dreamt about.
A little more than a year later, on the later stages of my trip to Peru and what would turn out to be Bolivia, another opportunity arose. A friend of mine had the idea to get mustaches for the upcoming trip to Bolivia and the last few days of Movember. We found a place a few streets from Avenida del Sol and had it done.
My beard was getting long and itchy anyways, and though I have never been a mustache man, I figured I might as well get one where I knew very few people. It would be less embarrassing that way.
The feeling was amazing. I have never had a shave that was so close and smooth. The blade feels like a massage and the shaving cream is incredibly soothing. I had expected it be mildly painful, but it was more of a soft caress. At the end the Peruvian barber rubbed my face with a moisturizing bar of…something and there was also a hot towel involved.
A week later I got the chance again in La Paz, Bolivia. There is a much smaller tourist to local ratio in La Paz and I was able to find a nice off the path Peluqueria for a 10 boliviano mustache ridding shave. After a week, I couldn’t stand looking at myself without cringing and I also wanted an excuse to get another straight razor shave before my trip was over. There are some differences between the one I found in La Paz and the one in Bolivia. Mainly it was how the skin was handled after the shave. In La Paz, the peluquero rubbed my face with alcohol afterwards to sanitize it. There was no hot towel, but he did rub my face with lotion which was an interesting experience.
It was a fine shave, and while the loss of mustache may have saddened a few patrons at the Adventure Brew Hostal, where I was bar tending, its absence made it a lot easier to look in the mirror.
It is this kind of daily difference that makes life exciting while abroad. Each locale will offer its own unique eccentricities and variations on the common experience. Like the San Pedro Market in Cusco, with everything including the butchers under one giant tent, to the markets in La Paz in the middle of the street, there is always a new way to experience daily life.
Note on Straight Razor Shaves
Unfortunately, for the majority of the last ten years, most places in the United States that I searched had lost the art of the straight razor shave at the barber. It is risky and can be dangerous. Recently, I discovered that there is a surge, a renaissance of sorts, for this time honored tradition. I discovered quite a few places in Portland that are bringing it back.
The Modern Man Barbershop – themodernmanpdx.com
Hair M hairmgrooming.com -includes a face massage
And check out this post from “The Art of Manliness,” blog that waxes philosophical and photographic on the experience.
It was a long journey, I mean the posting about it not the actual trek. Here, two months after I was there, is the final post on my Machu Picchu experience.
Day 3 was exhausting and beautiful. After visiting the ruins at Winaywayna and eating a late dinner we had our porter tipping ceremony under the stars. Then a meeting about how it would all work the next day.
Finally we prepped for a 3:30 am rise and crawled into our tiny tents at the edge of a cliff at 9:30 or so.
Despite the exhaustion, or perhaps partly because of it, I was in a dreamlike state. The moon and stars were shining bright on the campsite until the rain started. I stayed in my tent dreaming of our arrival at the Sun gate. I imagined the city with the light of the rising sun illuminating it right in front of my eyes.
Even the best efforts of my imagination could not anticipate how incredible the experience was.
We woke up early so we could get a good place in line at the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30 am. The problem was that every other group had this idea too, so we had to wait in a fairly significant line. On this day however, waiting in line was not a problem. In fact, the condensed number of Machu Picchu yearning spirits heightened the excitement building it monumental proportions.
The sun began to rise behind the mountains to the east of us as we finally passed the checkpoint.
Then the race was on. The rising sun on our backs, or backpacks, as we charged to the sun gate, yearning to see the illuminating dance the suns rays play on the city every morning.
The trail was as beautiful as ever in the rising sun and the valley next to the one with the city is a fantastic place. At some points we were almost running to get there, until we reached this nearly vertical stair climb near the end of it.
And then the gate was in sight. As I crossed the threshold I saw the expanse of the city below. I cannot describe the euphoric feeling that washed over me in that moment. 11 years in my mind and 4 days on the trail, but now it is real. The sun was rising behind us spreading over the city gradually as we witnessed it in all its glory.
It is more magnificent than any picture or anticipating imagination could attempt to envision.
The rest of this post will be in photo format. Since my words are rather incapable of encompassing the depth and breadth of the experience.
And so that is all I have for now about Machu Picchu. Maybe someday I will return to the fabled city, but for now it is one magnificent dream realized. I have many other dreams to make real and adventures to have.
The early morning greeted us with a respite from the rain and we set off early after breakfast. This day while not as difficult, was much longer than the previous two days. The extra four hours (a total of 11) allowed time to pack in many exciting events. We visited 4 Incan sites. We climbed two passes one in dense fog and scattered rain, the other in bright and steamy sun.
The trail was packed with people, but luckily the pace the Italian and I usually walked got us ahead of most people eventually, so that we didn’t have to trek in a herd. That is one of the most peculiar things about the Inca trail, trekking in a herd of tourists. While it is true that you are in nature, the crowds are the price of hiking one of the most famous trails in the world.
This day was my favorite before Machu Picchu. We learned about the ancient Incas and the visited some distinct architecture. The first few sites we saw were very simple, but in the middle of the day we visited something greater. It was a site that housed a temple and a monument to the great mountains. Each site we saw was more impressive than the last, leading us eventually to the glory of Machu Picchu the next morning.
The weather changed all day from clouds and cold sprinkling rain on the first pass, to the steamy sweat at the bottom of the first valley. Then we went straight up into the sun again and it seemed like we were walking in a jungle area for a while. The variation makes you feel like you are travelling much greater distances. The adventure is real when clouds kick up and rain dumps within 2 minutes of bright sun and that same sun clears clouds in a matter of minutes only a little while later.
I said earlier I was wary of the extra weight I carried, but at times I was quite a happy hiker, since I was able to deal with this variation quickly and easily enough.
At one of the sites near the top of the second pass, began the hardest part of the day. This was what our guide Percy called the Gringo killer. It is 3,000 giant steps down to camp Winnaywayna “Forever Young.”
The name of the camp made a lot of sense when compared to the experience of the trail. When you are done and you put your pack down, you feel much more free and easy. Of course you may need emergency double knee surgery, but you are still light on your feet with the knowledge that the trail is behind you and Machu Picchu lies just around the corner. One night and a two hour morning jaunt was all that stood between us and the fabled Incan city.
This day was also the best, because of the immensity of the ruins. They just kept getting better and better the closer we got to Machu Picchu. Winaywayna and the terraced ruins on the hill above camp were incredible.
We had dinner late and then held the porter thanking and tipping ceremony after dinner under the stars. These guys were incredible. They carried packs 1.5 to 3 times the size of the hikers pack and ran down the trail breaking camp after we left and setting it up before we arrived. They wore sandals, chewed coca and would sometimes run past us down the trail. They are true warriors and I hope that their lives are made better by the massive amounts of tourism on the trail, instead of being exploited by the companies and the tourists. Sometimes they would clap when people in our group made it to camp, the absurdity of that is hilarious. I always thought, they have got to be making fun of us weaklings. But since I don’t speak quechua, I didn’t worry about it. They would be right anyway, we were weaklings.
After it was all done and I lay in my very small tent listening to the hypnotic sounds of the rain against my tarp,I reflected. 3 days, 9 meals, 3 tea times, tens of thousands of steps, and hundreds of coca leaves later, I was finally here. On the eve of fulfilling the dream, I felt a calm come over me. And the rain, the cold, the sleeplessness all faded into the background. Getting up at 3:30 am seemed perfect, the weather seemed perfect. It was all as it should be and I waited for the morning with a tranquility I am sure I have rarely felt in life. In a few hours I would be at the sun gate as the sun rose and illuminated the city. What more is there in life than the beauty of that moment and the moment to come? This must be why they call the camp forever young.
I went to Cusco to immerse myself in the spanish language. This is hard to do if one does not embrace at least some of the culture, though I would like to immerse in as much of the positive bits as I can.
And you can’t really immerse yourself in Peruvian lifestyle, without dancing salsa. So when I planned my trip I added Salsa lessons to my itinerary of 4 weeks of Spanish classes and weekly excursions.
Holding to the portion of my personality that is overscheduled and overstressed, I planned a great deal of activity in my trip. 6 hours of Spanish Classes per day for two weeks and four per day for two weeks. With an excursion every weekend, including a 4 day trek to machu picchu, and one hour of salsa every day for every week, it is easy to see that I would not be able to complete all of it.
However, I did my best. I didn’t complete all of my salsa lessons, but I did taken 24 classes. I have improved my ability a great deal since living here. The main thing is to practice. It is easy to remember steps when you practice them ten times in a row, but you have to use them with the flow of the music
I gained enough confidence to practice at the clubs in front of people other than students. I have to thank my teacher at Salseros Cusco for that. So thanks to Francisco you’re awesome. http://salseroscusco.com/
I am beginning to loosen up and step with a little bit of that gringo rhythm, the white spice. It isn’t much, but it is better than being a robot on the floor.
Cusco, is a great place for Salsa. The high turnover of tourists, means that the learning environment is open. For every expert there at least 15 people just starting and another ten who know a little bit but still trip over themselves all the time. It is fun.
In the absence of other activity, Salsa is a great option. While it is true that I missed Hot Yoga and Tennis, you can get a lot of exercise dancing for two-three hours a night. And It was a lot of fun to practice what I learned.
Dancing is another language and sometimes it is easier to communicate in. I love getting out there and looking like a fool. And As a decent gringo salsa dancer, there are so many partners to dance with. It is much more fun than just going to the club and bending opposite knees for a few hours and drinking way too much.
Salsa is a great dance. There are many different types, but if you know one you can learn them all. Like Spanish it is spread throughout Latin and South America. There are also many places in North America and throughout the world. It is likely that if you live near a decent sized town or city big or small, you can find Salsa. The best thing is finding the clubs where the Spanish Speakers go, it is in these places that you see that salsa flows like blood through bodies, a river through their souls. The dancing is incredible.
A word of encouragement…
If you are a girl you are especially lucky, because if you know basic one and two, and how to twirl, you can do anything. All you have to do is relax and follow the lead and you fly on the floor.
It is harder for men to begin, because men are the lead. I think a lot of guys get frustrated by this, also it is possible that they get frustrated when they see their girl in another’s arms on the floor laughing and dancing and enjoying herself. But remember, she loves to dance.
And She really wants to dance with you!
So learn some moves and remember, if you don’t know what you are doing, just keep dancing, you can always do meringue.
After an early rise and an early breakfast of pancakes with manjar blanco and a kind of liquid oatmeal drink, we set off. The oatmeal drink was amazing by the way, some of the people were put off by it, but it was one of the mast satisfying things I had on the whole trail. It was good that we had a great breakfast, because we were in for a ridiculous ascent.
Dead Women’s pass is a dark title for a very intense passage. The many stairs on the trail take a monumental toll on the knees and with each step the altitude is even greater. It is by far the most demanding day. The trail is always beautiful, green everywhere, with mountains immersed in the clouds and the valley stretching ever onwards with each step up. This gives one plenty of excuses to stop for pictures. Of course even if it looked like the bathroom of a subway station, I still would have stopped. Just to catch some wind and eat a snack or chew on even more coca leaves.
When I started the Inca trail and saw all the many types of people on the trek, I did not expect it to be that hard. But as our conversation at the top can tell you…”So how was it for the aussies?” “It was the hardest thing I have ever done.” The trail is demanding every step of the way and these steps are definitely some of the most demanding.
Before I set off, my roommate, who was about to leave for England loaned me her walking stick. My initial reaction to this rather lame hiking accessory was to scoff. However, out of respect for her, I brought it with me. Once the ascent started, I was eternally grateful. The extra leverage of the walking stick allowed me to take some weight off my knees and use my arms to lift myself up the really tricky spots. I am sure I would not have needed it as much if I had not been carrying about 15 kg on my back. I often over pack for occasions and the inca trail is definitely not the place to do so. It can lead to a lot of extra pain.
I made a lot of the ascent, but sometimes the descents are even crueler on the legs. This I learned after a flash rain storm at the summit and a rapid ascent down the mountain.
All that said, it is well worth it. The trail is beautiful and transforms with each change in elevation, you can truly experience the environment in its awesome complexity. A diverse array of climate changes in a very short amount of time is present throughout the experience. It all inspires the sense of adventure and wonder.
Though it was the hardest day, it was shorter than the third day. We were all thankful for this. We lounged around and ate and rested readying ourselves for day 3. And we were happy to have a long time to rest at camp.
Friend says, ” I bet you can’t keep your feet in for ten seconds”
I say, “I bet I can for twenty.”
Stay tuned for day 3, 11 hours of hiking two big passes and the descent our guide called the gringo killer. Also copious amounts of Llama refuse.
I am in South America. I am in Peru. I am in Cusco. I have never been here before and I don’t know if I will ever return. These are the thoughts that I considered when I decided to extend my trip. The original plan was to return to the U.S. on the 18th of November. As I thought of the prices and weighed the options, I enthusiastically agreed with my wiser self and went to LAN to make the change.
I was lucky that they were running a summer special in August, my roundtrip was 650 US$ including taxes. Other than mistake fairs, that a few of my mates on the Inca Trail found, I have found nothing better. So when the attendant told me that it would cost a total of 400 to change my fair. The ticket originally said, 100 dollars plus a service fee of 35. I was annoyed, because 265 dollars goes a long way in Cusco. But knowing the likelihood of success in arguing in spanish, I swallowed my doubt and annoyance and figured out a day that would cost less. Eventually, I found a day that had me leaving a few days earlier than I wanted, non peak and cost 300 total to switch. This was not so bad. Knowing the likely cost of the best case scenario cost for a return to Peru, I was willing to accept it.
It is an okay price to pay for an extra month in South America, and given the adventures I have had since the 18th of November, it was worth it for just the extra two weeks in Cusco. I am in Bolivia now, after taking a 12 hour night bus to La Paz. I rode a mountain bike on the camino de la muerte on Sunday and visited an animal refuge in the jungle. La Paz has beautiful views and amazing excursion opportunities everywhere I look. I only wish I had more time and funds to spend here. Right now I am trading work in the bar in a hostal for a free week stay at Adventure Brew Hostal in La Paz. The hostal bar has the best beer I have had in South America. The beer is calles Saya, I believe it is one of a very few microbrews on the entire continent. The bartending is definitely an interesting experience and the view of La Paz from the sky bar is hard to beat.
On Sunday, I will actually get to go to the Island of the Sun. Something I have been looking forward to since, Javier, my argentine amigo from Buenos Aries, enchanted my imagination when he told me of his adventure there.
What’s more? The 2012 Chakra festival is happening at the same time that I am in Bolivia. On the Isla del Sol. This a magnificent stroke of luck. To be in South America and on Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incan civilization and at the same time as the end of the Mayan Calendar is amazing.
This is literally a once in a lifetime chance and I am lucky, that fate or freewill has led me here.
And so the adventure continues. The experience is worth much more than the money I would save if I have returned early. Adventurous experience outweighs the value of the monetary issue, this I know with certainty.
It was the morning of November 1st, 2012. I woke up at 5 am so that I could meet my group in the Plaza De Armas. I was the second person to the meeting point and our contact was nowhere to be seen. This is pretty typical in Peru.
The ragtag way tours are organized and the many diffusions one has to go through affects the continuity of some excursions. Add to this the Peruvian peoples ability to relax and it makes for a lot of waiting for the punctual person. Luckily, for me, I am not typically prone to punctuality.
It is an understatement to say that I was excited. I was ecstatic. I was on the verge of fulfilling a life dream, inspired 11 years ago in the pages of Blue Magazine. It was perfect, I felt amazing.
And yet, I found myself wanting the bus ride to last longer. I am not sure if this was the typical, verge of wish fulfillment stage fright or me worrying about my monstrous pack. It was about 18 kilos. Whatever it was it passed, quickly. The bus pulled up to Kilometer 82 after passing Ollantaytambo and it was time.
I bought a handkerchief from one of the Peruvians at the trailhead, something which came in handy throughout the trek. I carried my big bag and my walking stick that my roommate loaned me. I was a little skeptical about the stick, but by day two I was thanking the southern stars for its blessing.
We were off. My group of ten.. After a big group picture by the sign, we headed through the cattle like checkpoint. When we went through a half hour later, they asked if I wanted a stamp on my passport, Answer, Hell Yes! I love Passport Stamps!
And then we finally set off, crossing the Urubabamba on a cool bridge and heading up hill. I felt that the pack weight was manageable as we got going.
Day one was an easy day. 10 km, mainly flat, except for one big incline in a downpour after lunch. Even the lunch was good, especially for camping. If you are worried about the food on the Inca Trail, don’t be. They outdo themselves. And I have heard stories of even better food than the one on my tour.
The easy day passed quickly, with a few talks about the history of the Inca’s. Flowers used for ritual hallucinations, Bugs that live in cactus that are crushed and used for dark red dye, and other interesting facts. We passed by the first ruin without stopping because the rain was so heavy that it was impossible to stop.
Day 1 was simple. We made it to camp pretty early and had time for a nap before tea and then dinner, yes tea includes cookies. We divided up tents to share and after they were set up by the porters we were able to lounge around a bit and then get some sleep.
I purified water from the mountain faucet, for the next day and headed into the tent. I wasn’t able to sleep that well the first night, maybe 5 hours. But the excitement of the adventure and the camaraderie with the group provided enough energy to get through the next day.
Stay tuned for more from the Inca Trail.
**By the way my goal in this is to keep my posts under 600 words from now on. That is why I broke it up into four instead of two posts. I tend to run-on when I am writing. I know that blogging unlike lecture halls is a forum of brevity. Any feedback on this issue is appreciated. It is not that I am aiming for short posts, just trying not to waste too many words.