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.
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.
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.
“Food, glorious food, hot sausage and mustard, while we’re in the mood, cold jelly and custard, peas, pudding and saveloys, what next is the question. Rich Gentleman, have it boys, indigestion.” Oliver.
I love food. It could be said and indeed has been said by more than one person, that I experience life through food. This is an astute observation. It is not the only way that I experience life, but it is certainly a major lens through which I view, absorb, consume(?) experiences. I am always eating and always yearning for a new culinary experience. When I am at home, most of my adventures involve discovery of new places to eat, unique, exotic, interesting places.
The most recent Portland Restaurant month was incredible. I was able to visit ten new places. Each restaurant was as good as the next and offered a new discovery of its own (more on this when I have time use my backlog.) The menu was limited, but it didn’t matter, because the place was new, so the food was new.
What’s more? I was able to collect these culinary experiences in good company. Which is important, because though food makes me happy, and “happiness is real when shared.” Into the Wild.
These days, in Peru I mean, I do not have to go far to find culinary adventure. It is everywhere. Cusco is a great place to eat with healthy variety. Aside from the traditional Peruvian Cuisine, which is unique, in more ways than its obsession for potatoes.
There are multitudes of restaurants catering to the entire array of international tastebuds. It is rather annoying to be on a trip, where I am trying to focus on Spanish immersion, and being surrounded instead by tourists speaking English. I can’t be too disappointed by this, because I am one of them.
The high number of tourists makes the culinary experience diverse and adventurous. I have tried so many different types of food here already and am on a path to try many more. I was going to list them, but instead I will post pictures of as many as possible.
“Any life, however long and complicated it may be, actually consists of a single moment–the moment when a man knows forever more who he is” Jorge Louis Borges
It is the eve of my trip to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. I first found this adventure in the pages of the April 2001 edition of Blue Magazine. That was the inception. Now, eleven (that’s right eleven make a wish!) plus years later I am on the brink of its realization. This is one of those incredible serendipitous moments in life where I can look around and say, “what is happening? Is this real? And it is real.” I can say this with an open mind and heart and an abundance of awe and excitement.
My mind stretches forward to the coming four days anticipating and dreaming of what I will see, knowing that most of the adventure lies in witnessing the unexpected. I know I will see stars and sunrises and ancient Incan sites, but it is their reality will astound the senses, transporting me into the ether of adventure. Latin America is filled with magical realism, and at no point before has the magic been more real.
I am packed most of the way, though I am sure I could shed a few things. I am focused on my last meal before the dream is real. It is necessary to have plenty of energy for the exertion and eye opening, mind expanding experience ahead so I am eating a large meal. It is a typical Peruvian home meal at the homestay, rice, bread, potatoes and chicken. Then off to Pizza Aventura for a personal pizza, I have been “dreaming” of trying the place for a while, mostly because of the name. I guess that makes two dreams realized, one slightly more important than the other. Then back to the house for Tiramisu, made by the neighbors downstairs.
And as I wind down and recheck my bags in the haze of anticipated adventure and the comfort of a full belly, I dream. This dream is on its way to being fulfilled and that gives hope for the future. That certainty of knowing what you want, aids greatly in the realization of desire. And in another arena, I am certain, more certain than in this. Though there are obstacles, diversions, and walls besetting the path. “I will do my part, to tear, tear them down.” (Mumford and Sons )
So onward dreamers, embrace your desire and live. What else is there? To be afraid, is to die. In the face of fear I choose to live, to learn, and to love.
At the end of my second week I did a full day tour of the Sacred Valley. The frustrating thing about large groups and guided tours is that the companies often stop at specific artisans along the way. At first it seems like they do this to bring you to quality sites. Then you realize that they do this to get a commission of any items purchased. With a large group tour, it is more likely that more people will purchase. This gets in the way of touring the actual site. We spent 15 minutes at a small artisans shop and another 45 minutes at the market in Pisac. They took us there under the guise of seeing artisan jewelry makers who use natural colors from the environment for their work. While this is true, we spent unreasonably large amount of time to there.
When we arrived at the ruins in Pisac, the guide made a big deal about the enormity of the site. He told us that you need five hours at the site to really appreciate its magnificence. At the least, you need three hours to appreciate the main points of Pisac, the guide informed us in a serious and reverent tone. He then told us that we needed to be back on the bus in one hour. It was the same way with Ollantaytambo and Chincherro. Except at Chincherro we arrived so late that the Church was about to close and the sun was about to set, though the sunset was really beautiful. On top of all of this, when you get a Boleto Turistico, it only lasts ten days and you can only visit each site once. That is why it is better to arrange your own tours and allow time to experience these magnificent sites, but I digress.
Pisac These ruins feature so many different types of architecture, which is why you need more time to experience it. There are military, residential, religious, and agricultural edifices. The many trails and staircases offer varied and beautiful vistas of both the valley and the ruins itself. It is likely that Pisac began as a military outpost to defend against attacks by the Anti Indians in the eastern most part. This is one of the places where I wish I could have spent more time. It is a magnificent example of the ingenuity of the Incas building style, building such massive stronghold into a vertical cliff. I missed out on a lot in the hour that we had to walk to the top and back down. I may return during my trip and then I will have a lot more to tell about this, one of the greatest of Cuzco’s Incan archeological sites.
Buffet for 25 soles. The problem with this wasn’t the food or the price, though it was a little more than I desired to pay. We only had 40 minutes to get off the bus pay get our food and eat. It is not really a buffet if you don’t have time for a second, in my case, third plate. Go for the solo tour, freedom to visit sites and choose your lunch options.
Ollantaytambo This site is another example of ingenious engineering and ancient building techniques. The temple on the top is unfinished, but is an example of the immensity of Incan building enterprises. There are two hundred steps that lead to the sight of the unfinished temple. The steps have a consistent series of terraces to accompany them up to the sun. The site is most famous for the battle held here in 1537. Manco Inca defeated and nearly destroyed the Spanish Army here. The Incas held here after a long retreat from Saqsayhuaman. The Incas defeated Pedro Pizarro’s men with volleys of arrows and slingshots from the fortified terraces of Ollantaytambo. As the Spanish retreated Macno Inca had signaled his men who diverted the Rio Urubamba and flooded the plain. The unfinished temple still stands today. There are water fountains similar to those at Tambomachay. Manco Inca’s army’s ability to divert the river and flood the Spanish is evidence of the importance of water in Incan life. It wasn’t only used for agricultural and religious purposes, but in this instance for military purposes as well.
The main attraction here is the church that was built on top of an Inca temple as part of the conquest of Incan culture by the Spanish. The Church is intricately decorated and the art is fragile, so fragile in fact that they do not allow any kind of photography inside. So you are going to have to see it for yourself. There is also a famous market here that is less crowded than the Pisac market. One interesting and famous ruin is an ancient wall that people say, probably formed one wall of an Incan Palace. The best thing about the place though, was the view. The Urubamba Mountains could be seen in the distance and the post sunset glow was magnificent. If you visit here try to get here before the church and the market close, unlike the tour that I took which arrived so late that we weren’t able to enjoy much of it.
In the end, large group guided tours are for those with little time to spend in Cuzco. They give you a quick sampling of the history, but if you really want to experience these incredible sites, give yourself some time. There is a lot to see. After all in the adventure of life it is all about the journey, so let the journey last.
After a week of Spanish Lessons and absorption of both the language and the environment, it was time to take the formal city tour. The plan was to meet at the door of my Spanish School at 1:45 pm. The tour took longer than I expected to get started, as with all things in Peru. After about 45 minutes, we were finally on our way. We were set to see Qoricancha, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay and PucaPucara. The name city tour is deceptive, because Qoricancha was the only site that was actually in the city.
It should really be called “The archeological sites near the city tour,” but I guess that would be a hard title to market here. Also the guides don’t like to call the sites ruins, because ruins implies that something is broken, when the sites are magnificent and not in decay. It is a funny little idiosyncrasy in their presentation. This opinion is consistent with each guide I have had, even my Spanish teacher says the same thing. So if you come to Cuzco, make sure you call them Archeological sites, because if you call them Incan ruins, you are bound to be cast out in rapid and harsh fashion, or at least will have some harsh looks cast at your rapidly. Qorikancha- I walk past this magnificent structure every day on Avenida el Sol on the way to language classes. It is the sun temple. The Spaniards sacked the temple and took its gold back to Spain for the empire and the Dominicans built the church of Santa Domingo on top of it.
It is the prime example of the architectural oppression strategy of the Spanish. They cleared the many temples and buildings of the city and built Church after church on the foundations.
It makes for some intricate and varying archeological scenery for the modern day visitor to Cuzco. The lay out is often focused on constellations and their reverence for the stars can be seen in many of the sites including this one.
The foundations of the Incan buildings are everywhere and serve as a constant tribute to their lasting legacy and architectural prowess. While the Spanish Colonial Buildings are constantly being worked on and rebuilt.
Saqsayhuaman- The second stop on our City tour.
This was the stronghold of the Incas during the Spanish invasion.
It is a monstrous fortress with defensive walls standing as strong as ever today. Standing high above Cuzco, it is easy to see why this was their stronghold.
With expansive views of the city below and the mountains in the distance, it makes sense that the valley of Cuzco was a lake 16,000 years ago.
Tambomachay- Our third stop was the sacred baths of the Incas. This site still works today and demonstrates the Incan reverence for water.
The Incas directed a natural spring in the mountains above Cusco, through three waterfalls that continue to function today. You can see why they don’t like to call the sites ruins, since they still work today.
Pukapukara- The fourth stop. The name means red fort in Quechua, but our guide told us that this description is false. The site was more likely used as a temporary lodging house for people visiting the sacred baths at Tambomachay. We left this site just before dark, and headed to our final archeological site.
Q’engo- This was the final archeological stop on the tour. The name means “zigzag” in Quechua. The massive stone has a puma and a condor carved into the rock in the top. The carvings that zigzag down the rock were likely used for sacrificial rituals with chichi or llama blood.
There are caves underneath the site that were a grave for Incan mummies, though the graves have been looted and empty for a long time. We did not get to go down to the caves, because it was past dark. Indeed it took some negotiations and pleading from our guide to get us into the site at all. Our tour arrived past closing time.
Lessons from the Guided Tour The tour was interesting and worth doing. If I had it to do again though, I would hire a taxi and take my time at each of the ruins (harsh looks cast rapidly). The Boleto Turistico of Cusco lasts ten days. I think that allowing a few hours at the Qorikoncha and Saqsayhuaman would have improved the experience. The guided tours are rushed and you often feel like you are missing a lot as you are herded from site to site. Save the Guided tours for The Sacred Valley. Those are also very rushed, but they cover a lot more territory and are more expensive to arrange individually.
The Boleto Turistico lasts ten days. A good option would be to tour the sites in the city at your leisure, spending ample time at Qorikancha, ten soles admission, and the other museums on the ticket. I would be sure to see Museo Histrico Regional, and spent at least an hour, this was one of my favorites. There will be more on this museum later.
Then set aside a full day to tour the sites on the outside of the city. I would keep in mind that you can only visit each site once, something I did not realize until too late. It is possible to arrange a cab for the day and if you get three other people you can keep the cost pretty low and still have the freedom to experience the sites on your own time. If you feel a guide is necessary, one can be hired for a small extra fee. I knew a group that did something similar for Tipon and other sites and their cost was about 35 soles a person including a guide. If it is done this way, I think it is best to save Sacsayhuaman for the end of the tour, that way you can see the sunset. Of course sunset times vary and the park closes at 6pm. But at the time of this writing, sunset in Cuzco is 5:47pm so it would work perfectly, you could even bring a picnic.
My first week was intensive and exhaustive. It was also an immersive adventure, and I am lucky to say that I have 5 more after it. I signed up for the Intensive Spanish portion of the program for the first two weeks. This means 6 hours a day of one on one Spanish Lessons. My reasoning was that the intensive session would jumpstart my absorption of Spanish. It has definitely been a course in rapid immersion. I did not realize how tired my brain would be from constantly trying to translate what was going on around me. The first few days I found myself coming home during the lunchbreak and napping. Tired out from the altitude, travel, 2 hours of daily walking and the classes, I was sleeping a great deal. This is normal for people who are getting used to the altitude of Cuzco, 11,400 feet, and language classes. I was physically and mentally exhausted. This experience helped me realize that taking it slow when traveling can be a good idea. I am here for 6 weeks, there is no need to rush and wear myself out. Leaving extra room in my schedule allows for more intuitive exploration which is one of the best things about travel.
It is a magnificent adventure and despite, the exhaustion of the first week, I am having the time of my life. I spent the classes conversing with my teacher about a multitude of subjects. Most of the class is conversation with about a third focusing on grammar and logical instruction. It is amazing how difficult holding a simple conversation can be in a new language. But despite my many mistakes, I persist. Language is like life and yoga, a continual practice. Though I feel the struggle every step, I am secure in the knowledge that each step is moving me forward and improving my personal ability. The classes give me confidence to practice my Spanish around Cuzco. I try to talk to the cab drivers and the vendors in the shops. Learning a language is an active exercise, and I try to avoid English, unless it is absolutely necessary, or when my brain desperately needs a rest.
I have gotten used to the coming home at lunch and napping lifestyle here and I have to say it is something I would like to keep in the coming years of my life. Much more welcome then the ½ hour lunch at my previous job.
Despite being tired, I have still had plenty of time to explore. My friend from Portland visited Cuzco a little over a year ago and he told about this great Israeli restaurant. He didn’t know the name, but could only tell me that it was at the end of the alley across from the giant cathedral north of the Plaza De Armas. Following his vague directions and my growing hunger I wandered down two of the alleys. At the end of the second one I found it, Sueño Azul, Blue Dream. The food was massive and was at a great price, about 15 soles, including one beer and a pineapple juice. I have to admit that it was weird eating Felafel with French fries, but the hummus and felafel more than made up for it. This is an example of letting the adventure guide the way.
I also found a fantastic Chocolate shop that is on my way to the school. My teacher told me about it. The chocolate is Peruvian and is made only a few hundred miles away, and it is so good. I consider myself pretty lucky for this find. I ran out of my stash of dark chocolate at the end of the first week and I desperately needed to replenish it
More importantly I found a yoga studio and went for the first time on Friday the first week. I am used to hot yoga, but I know that any kind will help my body deal with the pain of traveling. Inbound Yoga Studio in Cuzco is amazing. It is very meditative and focused on the inner experience. I don’t usually do shoulder stands, but I was able to do one during the class. The classes are one and a half hours, which is nice, because it is the same amount of time as Hot Yoga. In one hour, I don’t think there is enough time to connect with oneself fully. I will write more about Yoga in Cuzco in a later post.
Part of my program also includes Salsa lessons. This really is a way to immerse in the culture of South America. To let the tightness of my gringo upbringing melt to the rhythm of Salsa. I am currently taking 3 classes a week, and I am hoping to continue it when I get back to Portland. I will also write more about this experience in a later article since it is such a huge part of life here.
It was a busy first week, getting used to Cusco and trying to immerse myself in a new culture. It would be easy to just relax and go on excursions, but that is not why I am here, on this trip or in this life. I am here to experience, break the barrier of the safe little bubble and be one with the world around me.