Tuesday, July 30, 2013

King of the Hill

"Desole, ehh, sorry, I could not hear you," mumbled the French guy through heavy pants of breath, sweat, gleaming in the early morning haze, flying off his face as he wiped his forehead. He yanked the left bud from his ear, then the right.

"Whats your name?" I wheezed, forcing myself to keep pace. Left foot, right foot, staff, right again, keep balance, left foot, staff, breathe. I wanted to know his name.

Panting, "Artur." His earbuds knocked at his belly as he climbed, dangling from the collar of his soaked top.

"Jacob. Where are you from?" I managed through labored, counted breaths. Right, left, staff, inhale, right, left, staff, right, exhale, balance.

He didnt want to talk. "France." He was concentrating. Like me he was focusing all his energy on the hike. Like me he was ignoring the black but lush tropical cloud forest that surrounded him. Disregarding the slow creeping of sunrise; the glowing band on the horizon that seemed to grow though the change would seem unobservably slow. The animal life either hunting, sleeping, or waking. 

"France?" pant, "oh!" pant, "where?" pant, left, breathe. "I've been to France...well, Paris for a few days...you...you're from around Paris?" pant, breathe, don't stop.

Turning sharply right to mount the next switchback, I looked back to see his reaction. Through a tightened jaw, he answered me, looking both exhausted and exasperated. His eyes cloaked by shadow, his words sounded annoyed; taking a breath, "Paris is not France...Paris is Paris, I am from the south," he gasped as he willed himself to climb higher. He looked stronger than I felt, and now I was feeling challenged. 

Challenged by him. Bad enough I had to fight this mountain, and these steep stone steps that climb directly up the slope through the ancient forest in the clouds. Now I was being held accountable and I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold on, how much longer I could maintain my current pace. But there was no slow-down or breaking possible any more. I had to stay ahead of the Frenchman. I had to be the first one to arrive at Machu. I had to see that fog-drowned metropolis forgotten in the sky. And I had to get there before the Mall of America touristers got there to spoil it the way I wanted it. 

I needed to slow down, but I couldn't give up my position. I could slow down if he slowed down. I could hope he'll tire out...I could suggest a rest...I could block the trail. I could try to befriend him---maybe he won't try to pass me if he likes me?

Can't directly block his path. I had to keep him talking.

Gasp, "The south...Nice...Nice is in the south. I've been there...you from near there?" inhale, control your breathing...count your steps...right, left, staff,exhale. A quick glance upwards in the pitch darkness, hoping for any sign that we were near the end, the trail still thick with darkness. I think. I try measure the value of what I might learn from switching on my headlamp against the handicap to my night vision. Keep climbing... I point the beam to the side and look up the path, I see the ridge has gotten closer. But I can't tell how much longer we have. It's been nearly 30 minutes at breakneck pace. The climb is said to take the average walker 90 minutes, but this is not average walking speed or effort. I can't know. Conserve.

"Ehh, yes, that's close," a breath, "I live in a town fifteen minutes from Nice." Still walking, still breathing steady. A breath, "You like Nice?"

Control your breathing, step, balance. "Well, I was only there a day or two, but I tried to cycle along the coast from Nice into Italy. The coast was amazing. Inhale, left, right...

"Yes, I know this road. That is quite beautiful." A breath, then, "Do you think we are close to the top?"

"Gorgeous," I spat, "I don't know how far we are. But I've been hiking thirty minutes, and my friend said he climbed it in fourty-five." Climb! Climb! He's gaining! You earned this! "So no more than ten or fifteen."

"Cool, so we are almost there...maybe we can stop conserving energy" he said coolly, making eye contact through the darkness."

Conserving energy! Don't let him pass. Breathe. "Sure thing, its the home stretch." Right, staff, left, breathe, panic! "We've gotta be almost there." Please! Let's be almost there...breathe, right, breathe, left...

Eyes as closed as possible, head throbbing like a drum, I continued stepping forward and upward, continued forcing my pounding heart back down my throat, willing my pulse lower, forcing myself the maintain the sprint. Like a flash on the horizon, the light came upon us from high on the mountain. As deep as was the blackness a moment ago, an orange glow suddenly flowed down from the now obvious ridge above. The welcome center lot. 

Step, pant, step. I had reached the entrance. Thirty-five minutes. And number one.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Journey to Arequipa

After campong in Chala at the Puerto Inca ruins, Zack and I strapped on our bags and headed out for another day of walkign along the road. We had a 10 km hike to make it to the nest town of Chala, where we needed to get our bus to the next major city to which we were heading; Arequipa. Finally, we were headed to a modern sity and were ready for all the comforts the city´s cheapest hostel had to offer.

We managed to flag down a combi after only 3km, and he dropped us off directly outside the bus office. We booked the overnight bus and dropped off our bags in the sation office. We spent the day buying supplies for the 10 hour bus ride and looking for chinese food. Chala was a fairly large though unimpressive town, without any distinguishable center or cultural attractions. Set on the precipice of an immense cliff 100 meters back from the crashing tides of the Pacific, we were incredibly surprised to find absoutely zero beach infrastructure along the several kilometer long shore front. What could have been a breathtaking beach metropolis set on a gorgeous ocean cove was in fact an unclean 2-story sprawl, with the backs of crumbling buildings spilling waste water and garbage onto a cold grey beach littered with the rotting carcasses of dogs, cows, and sealions. Zack observed that the state of disrepair in the city was reminiscant of Dresden 1945.

While waiting for the bus, my attention was caught by an absolutely horrible music video DVD blasting out of a nearby shop. Clarisa Delgado, cumbia extraordinaire, was calling to me. I fell in love and bought the DVD! It is only googling her now that I have learned her sister was killed in Lima, and the convicted suspect was served a 30 year sentence. So yay, I am glad that I supported the family.

After a miserable night on the bus, we arrived in Arequipa and checked in at our hostel, The Point at 5am. They were great, and let us go to sleep in out beds without charging us for the night.

More to come...
Arequipa, Toro Muerto Petroglyphs, Colca Cañon trek, Cuzco, Inti Rhymi festival and the sacrifice of a live unblemished black llama to the sun, Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu, Sacred Valley

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Huacachino, Sandboarding, Cerro Blanco

The last few days have melted away, so lets see what of them remains in my memory. After the Islas Ballestos, Zack and I walked out the the Panamerican Highway from the Reserve and after walking for an hour or so, finally were able to flag down a local bus to Ica, the capital town of a region known for its wine production. Essentially, all Peruvian wine production comes out of Ica. However, we had no plans to stay in Ica--instead, we hopped into a tuk-tuk and made our way to the desert oaisis of Huacachina, a tiny town that surrounds a tiny laguna in the middle of the soft dune desert 4km east of Ica.

Since then the following things have happened:

Hotel with a pool I haggled the lady down to s/.20/night, same price as a dorm bed in the hostel next door.

Made friends with dutch folks.
Ate dinner in the hostel, made more friends.

Explored the flour soft dunes at night with Zack, found a clapboard dune city.

Hung out with a group of Peruvian 15 year olds.

Went to the Museo Regional de Ica, saw mummies, and elongated/trepinated skulls.

Ate huge fish lunch in the Ica market for s/.5.

Rented sandboards and taught ourselves to surf the dunes.

Met up with our dutch friends and their friends and tore up the tiny oasis town; we all climbed the highest dune over looking the town and hung out in the clouds as the midnight fog rolled in until we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces. All together, counted down from 30 and ran down the dune blind. --So cool.

Packed up and hired a taxi to take us to a winery 30km south of Ica. Winery was closed:(

Hopped on a bus heading south to the Nazca lines.

Met a Peruvian guy and his Mexican son on a road trip. They invited us to join them as they explored the Nazca and Palpa lines.

We went to 3 overlooks and the House/Museum of Maria Riche (Munchener; studied the lines since 1925, local hero/legend).

Left father/son and walked forever with too little food/water until we got to Nazca, booked a hotel room (s/.50) and a guide for Cerro Blanco ($50).

Woke up at 4:30am to climb Cerro Blanco, the worlds tallest sand dune. Hiked 2000m in rocky mountain terrain, made an offering of fruit, cocoa, and cigarettes to Pachamama. Hiked another 2000m in flour soft white sand; carrying snowboards. Hot sun, hot sand. Steep.

Sand boarded down the face of Cerro Blanco (to match my experience volcano boarding down Cerro Negro). Made one clear run of about 600m at probably 50kmph, then totally wiped out as I tried to slow down. Head over heels, board still strapped to my feet. As I smacked down on the first roll, the water reservoir in my pack exploded. Badly bruised my back.

Zack also got pretty beat up. We both went home with badly bruised tailbones. We had planned to see a ruins site that afternoon, but by the time we got back to the hotel all we wanted was caldo de gallina, and sleep.

Next day, Las Ruinas Peredones, Lineas de Taler, Aquaductos de Callejon.

Collectivo to Puerto Lomas. Turned away at the gates to Reserva Punto Lomas. Stopped by the police station to ask if it was safe to camp on the beach. Set up camp 1km from town in the high winds on the sea shore.

Dinner of instant Alfredo and canned fish. Hot chocolate. Wine from Ica.

Next morning: Split up, went to town in shifts; I climbed over the reserve wall to take photos, found an amazing stone arch. Bought food and a little pot.

Cooked dinner in my new pot as Zack went to town to take photos. Veggie stew with chamote. Spicy. Later on had a bonfire, sipped pisco and juice.

Woke up this morning and ate tuna on bread, oranges. Took our sweet time packing up camp. Went to town for water.

Walked 7km through the desert to get to the Panamerican highway.

Ate a big ass lunch on the highway. Flagged down a collectivo to Chala.

In the collectivo, met a tiny drunk gold miner who taught me Quechua. Also, taught English to Samuel, Gloria, and Victoria, siblings with their parents who were a bit to excited to play with Zack's camera.

Arrived at Puerto Inca resort (s/.189!) on the sea, outside Chala (tiny fishing town) set up our tents in their campground (s/.13), showered in their facilities--hot water!!!  Just now tucking into a cold frothy Cusqueña :)

My hair is irreparably damaged from salt, sun, and sand. Need some Pantene up in here.

Fun times!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Museo Larco, desert camping, Isla Ballestos

This'll probably be a short post--just a quick review of the last few day's activities as I lay here in my tent, under a canopy of stars nestled between the dunes.

Yesterday, Zack and I spent the majority of the day at the Museo Larco in the Pueblo Libre neighborhood of Lima. This museum is the private collection of some super rich old guy who loved archeology (specifically Peruvian) before he croaked. Apparently, he didn't like how people were looting ancient Incan/Huari/etc sights back in the olden days, and then selling artifacts on the black market, so (in a morally questionable move) he hired his own army of archeologists (read: looters) to go around digging up everything they could find to expand his collection. Im sure Zack's blog has a better description (whereszack.tumblr.com).

All that stuff is now on display, including thousands of artifacts in glass case storage rooms. The museum boasts countless priceless artifacts: ceramic vessels, human remains, jewelry and weapons and clothing made of gold and silver, precious stones, and shells. Also tapestries and textiles, and even portraits from the time of the conquistadors. The highlight of the museum, however, was the collection if erotic Incan pottery, a room full of ceramic vessels depicting every conceivable sexual act between a man and a woman (and a man or woman and him or herself). Insightful.

This morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to make the first bus (3:45) to Paracas, 3 hours south of Lima. Turns out the travel agent messed up our reservations and we didn't have seats, so we played yhatzee in the bus station until the 7:00am bus. Arriving in Paracas, we stashed the bulk of our stuff in the bus station (shack) and began a hike to the Reserva National de la Peninsula de Paracas, a fat desert outcropping on the Pacific coast of Peru. We had planned on making the 4 hour trek to the southern tip, but before we even got to the reserve entrance, a restaurant owner in Paracas who was heading down the peninsula offered us a ride as he was driving past us (I didn't even stick out a thumb). He drove us most of the way, leaving us at his restaurant ( where we felt obliged to share another amazing ceiviche!).

We then set out on foot into the desert where we photo-safaried giant pelicans and red headed condors and played around in the dunes, racing down them on foot much like my Nicaraguan volcano boarding experience. From the top of the highest dune, I could see all the way back up to the town of Paracas where the bus left us, and across the peninsula down to the ocean. When we finally reached the sea, we found the desert fell sharply off an endless precipice into the pacific. It was here that we made our camp in the heavy winds, tents blowing nearly out of our hands. With the rain hardened sand, it was tough to pound the tent stakes into the ground without a hammer, so we ended up weighing down our tents with rocks collected from the desert. Our tents were erected by sundown and we set up our soda can stoves to make a meal of lentils and ramen. The stars are amazing.

Tomorrow we wake up at 4am to roast a can of tuna and break camp. Sunrise over the pacific, then the 4 hour return hike to the town of Paracas (unless we get lucky again!) to catch an 830 am boat to Las Islas Ballestas--also known as "the poor mans Galapagos". I'm excited to see the wide range of undisturbed wildlife (tourists are forbidden to leave the boat), the candelabra geoglyph, and some amazing natural stone arches and landforms.

Good times.

UPDATE: we survived! After waking up mad early and realizing that the sun wasn't to rise for at least another hour or so, we made coffee and broke camp in the dark. The stars had disappeared and our headlamps were running our if juice, so we largely relied on the singular backup handlight that I had brought (thanks Pop!). The trek back across the desert peninsula was a dead-reckon in the pitch dark, but we made it back without issue following my compass, the sounds of the shore to the right, and dirtbike tracks. Also, google maps.

Making it back just in time to use the restroom at the tour office and stash our gear, we joined our tour group for the boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. Hardly a "poor man's" Galapagos, this unique cluster of small islands and rock formations had a character all its own. Thousands (perhaps millions) of birds dotted every square inch of the giant volcanic rocks that jut dramatically out of the sea, just 30 mins off the coast of Paracas, Peru. Humbolt penguins, blue footed boobies, red footed turns, giant pelicans, and gulls waddel, squawk, fish, and mate on every guano covered surface; the Peruvians used to harvest and export the guano (that's poop) for fertilizer. Sea lions basked on the smaller rock formations around the larger islands. The trip back was a scavenger hunt for dolphins; we saw quite few swimming sea lions, but had no luck finding dolphins.

Tomorrow: Sandboarding in the dunes of Huacachino!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Peru 2013: The first days: Lima

Yesterday, we arrived in Lima, Peru at 7am. I had aarranged to meet a friend through a friend at Tue airport, who would meet us and show us the best way to get into town and show us around a bit. After the anticipated fumble.of trying to find another without a cell phone, we met Fillipe and all hopped into a cab to our hostel. We got the cab at a stop behind the airport, and so we're able to pay the local commuter price instead of the crazy airport price. At the hostel, we checked in and dropped.off our luggage. We then organized our bags for the day and set out on foot with Fillipe who oriented us, answered the barrage of questions we threw at him, and gave us tons of advice.
We started the day off at la Iglasia de Santa Rosa de Lima, the patron saint of chastity (?I think), who grants wishes. Then the day unfolded before us as a church day. We stopped at half.a dozen beautiful cathedrals, touring a Franciscan monastery as well as quite an elaborate system of catacombs--filled with bones. All the bones had been organized by type, so we saw rooms filled with femurs, pelvic bones, and skulls. The smaller bones had degraded away long ago.

We toured the neighborhood of downtown Lima and hung out in Tue gorgeous plaza major, a town center that truly rivals the plazas of Italy and Spain. At noon, we watched the changing of the guard in front of the president castle on the plaza-enjoying the presidential marching band. We checked out the public library, a magnificent converted train. Station with stained glass cupolas like infant's as the museum of the parliament and inquisition, where we learned about witch burning and torture that took place here in Lima. The building.sits above the official torture dungeons.

For lunch we had fusion Chinese food at a cheifa in Chinatown and zack tasted his first InkaCola. We ended the day at the top of a mountain with a huge cross overlooking the city. We got there at sunset and it was quite beautiful.

Today, we explored a few primary archeological sights, starting the day at Huaca Pucllana where they were ruled by, worshipped, and sacrificed women. Just like home. We learned about the "library technique" of adobe brick construction (stacking bricks vertically with no mortar in between to allow seismic sway). Then, we grabbed some spinach pie for the bus and made our way out of town for the sight of Pachacamac, an Adobe city in the desert outside town. Very cool.

We returned to Lima and walked for the rest of the day, exploring.the neighborhoods of Miraflores AMD Barranco, pastime some thoroughly delicious ceiviches, bombitas de felicidad (syrupy fried dough blobs), and  local beverages. We then walked along the long pacific coast of this gigantic city (kids parked in steamy cars all along the way) back to our hostel and crashed after a long day of urban hiking. Tomorrow is a museum day, then Friday night clubbing in Lima. We will probably stay up all night, because next is a 4am bus to Paracas to explore a desert peninsula reserve, las Isles Ballestas ("the poor man's Galapagos), and camping on the beach.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Peru 2013 Inventory

Just a quick post with the inventory of my backpack for my next short adventure---I will be taking a 6 week turn of Peru. Here's what I wisely/foolishly have chosen to bring with me:

June 4- Peru 2013
Osprey Talon 44 Hiking pack
EMS Velocity Ultra-Compactable sleeping bag
EMS Rain Coat/shell with hood
Columbia Titanium OmniHeat Liner
3 t-shirts+1cutoff
1 Pair Shorts
1 Pair Athletic Shorts (doubles as bathing suit)
1 pair Zipoff pants only
1 pair denim jeans
6 pair socks
8 pair boxers
1 pair underarmor long socks
1 pair UA long underwear pants
1 coolmax longsleeve, 1 UA longsleeve
4 tank tops
2 Button Down tops
1 Medium sea-summit pack cover
 1 unlocked dual-sim Android Phone for which I'll buy sims when I arrive+ USB cable
1 mini solar charger and external batter pack, +spare cable
1 Fujifilm Waterproof/Shockproof camera
1 new pair teva sandals :)
1 masterlock+ 2 small combolocks
1 Compression Sack
1 REI flash 22 daypack + 2L resevior
1 Cinch-bag
1 GPS Spot Device (check FB for GPS updates)
1 iPod nano
2 pairs earbuds
no pleasure book yet
2013 Lonley Planet Peru
1 notebook for Spanish lessons
1 towel
1 shower poof
1 bandanna
4 NYC post cards
4oz DB liq + half bar DB
1 headlamb
1 Wallet (nicaragua)
1 REI Passage 1 Tent
1 Big Agnes Air Core Airbed
1 small hand flashlight
1 passport
1 moleskine notebook
1Eagle Creek hidden Pocket
1 EU socket converter
1 EU USP charger wart
1 4GB USB flash drive
2 32GB micro flash drives and adaptor
1 8GB micro flash drive with adaptor
2 toiletry bags
1 waterproof bag w/advil
1 minibeard trimmer (remmington titanium personal trimmer)
1 razor handle
5 razor heads
4 contact lens pairs
1pair glasses
1 pair sunglasses
1  .5oz neosporin
1 .5 oz biosilk silk therapy hair conditioner
1 tooth brush
2 .5 oz sensodyne
1 .6oz sunscreen stick
1 nail clippers
1 .5 oz eye saline
1 half stick cocoa  butter lip balm
1 contact lense case
1 tweezers
1 1oz Gold Bond medicated powder
1 small pack solid shaving crème sheets
1 .8oz nivea face crème
1 .5oz 1%hydrocortizone
1 half used crazy glue
1 kit "Potable Aqua" purification and neutralizer tablets (50 pair ct)
1 1ml (expired 2011) eye antibiotics
1 compass

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Six week inventory

So before I left I made an inventory of the things I was carrying with me. I wish that I hade made a ore detailed log, as a lot of the small things that UI have like, cards, razor heads, tools, and toiletries I have are not noted...ok, a lesson for next time. Anyway, heres a comparison of the stuff I have now compared to my embarkaton.

I have learned to bring fewer shirts and boxers, and to do more research to bring weather appropriate clothes.

Check it out:

January 9:
Osprey Talon 44 Hiking pack
Feburary 28:
EMS Velocity Ultra-Compactable sleeping bag
EMS Rain Coat/shell with hood
Columbia Titanium OmniHeat Liner
11 T-Shirts
6 T-shirts (1 w/sleeves cut off)
1 Pair Shorts
1 Pair Athletic Shorts (doubles as bathing suit)
2 Pairs Synthetic Pants (one has Zip-off Legs)
12 Pairs socks
8 Pairs socks
12 Pairs Boxers
9 Pairs boxers
1 Pair Underarmor long socks
1 Pair Underarmor long underwear
2 Longsleeve Coolmax Rowing Shirts
Check (one shirt heavily midified
3 Tanks
check + 1 tank
2 Button Down tops
1 Rain Cover for my pack
1 unlocked dual-sim Android Phone for which I'll buy sims when I arrive
1 mino solar charger and external batter pack
1 Fujifilm Waterproof/Shockproof camera
Broken, destroyed by water
1 Pair teva sandals
1 Combination masterlock
Check+ two small keyd padlocks
1 Compression Sack
1 Cinch-bag
Check+1 knockoff eastpack
1 GPS Spot Device (check FB for GPS updates)
1 iPod nano
2 pairs earbuds
1 fiction book "Visions of Cody"
1 guide book "Lets Go! Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama"
Traded for “Lonely Planet” Central America and Yucatan
1 set of schematics for DIY Solar Water Heater
1 notebook for Spanish lessons
1 towel

+ 1 shower poof

+ 1 bandanna

+ 1 pocket knife

Also to come...Leon, Sonati Decision, Treking up Telica Volcano, Return to Grenada, Boat across Lake Nicaragua...and more!