30 September 2007

Adventures in dental hygiene

Today, I bought a new toothbrush. Not much else.

Manu money

I was offered at the last minute last night an 8 day visit to the Manu biosphere reserve for only $580. It's usually $800 or more for that kind of thing. I was tempted, but it would have meant deciding at that moment, leaving this morning on a 10 day bus ride, and, well, spending $580, which is still too much money for me. Argh, I am so frustrated by that. I really wanted to go to Manu. It's supposed to be the last pristine jungle environment left on Earth. They have a parrot clay lick!

They spell Choquequirao with an 'o'

Though I've seen it with a 'w', too. I don't like the 'w' because it looks too exotic, but ending a word with an 'o' is nice. It's rounded, closed off, and brings closure to the whole affair. I am starting to like these Andean names. Choquequirao, Urubama, Tambomachay.. they're very catchy! I think I want to learn Quechua.

In case you haven't noticed, I survived the four day trek to and from Choquequirau/w/o. Ironically, I ended up going with that 65 year old German woman, anyway. We both used other agencies, except I paid $70 less, and she paid $50 more. On day one, I woke at the customary 5 am to find that I was going with a completely different guide who didn't speak English. I seem to be catching on to Spanish, though, so it wasn't too bad. We took a 3 hour taxi ride to a small mud brick town and hoofed it from there into the mountains, where we camped above a canyon. The next day, I decided to test myself. I was told it usually takes people about 5 hours or more to hike to the top of the mountain on which the ruins rest. This is probably, for most people, one of the most grueling ordeals imaginable. A long zigzag to the top of a mountain along a steep trail in the hot sun.

10 km
1500 m - 3100 m
90 switchbacks
me: 2 hours, 40 minutes

I arrived at the ruins after 3 hours, 40 minutes. The guard there said he usually takes 4 hours. Most people, 6-7 hours. So I felt quite good about that, and not dying, and I won't be so perversely testing myself again. About the ruins, well, they are just spectacular. The name means "cradle of gold" and they are indeed nestled in a kind of cradle between two peaks, one of which was flattened off by the Inca (or the aliens!) for "ceremonial purposes" (or landings!). They also overlook the intersection of three valleys, all formed of enormous mountains, covered in cloud forest. I discovered that I find mountains beautiful but slightly terrifying, too. The ruins cover an area much larger than Machu Picchu, though only about 30% have been excavated. The French sent money, but it was earmarked for corruption, instead. The best part of the experience: there was nobody there! I spent the entire day picking over everything, and then part of the next day (after camping on an Inca terrace!), and then we came back. I was so enchanted with the experience (which I rank among my top 3), that I wrote a poem about it:


25 September 2007


This is my packing list, for those who might consider going on their own round-the-world journey. Asterisked items are things I will probably ditch before the next segment.


large backpack w/daypack (4800 cu. in., 78 L)
waterproof backpack cover
1 large stuff sack
sleeping bag liner, silk
Lonely Planet guidebook(s)
reading material (various)
1 wool sweater
1 long sleeve button-down hemp shirt
1 short sleeve button-down hemp shirt*
2 thermal silk undershirts*
1 Patagonia thin long sleeve layer
1 Patagonia medium thickness long sleeve layer
1 short sleeve quick dry sports shirt
1 pair thermal long underpants
1 T-shirt*
2 pairs trekking pants
2 silk boxer shorts
1 pair silk briefs
1 pair hemp briefs*
2 pairs short trekking socks
3 pairs long trekking socks
1 laundry bag (usually just a plastic bag)
1 waterproof, windproof jacket
1 pair waterproof, windproof pants
1 alpaca hat
1 pair alpaca gloves
1 pair knee braces*
1 hemp sun hat
1 pair walking shoes with Superfeet insoles
1 pair Crocs
1 bathing suit
1 hemp towel
1 pair trekking poles
sleep mask
bag of disposable earplugs
sunglasses w/case and wipe
glasses w/case and wipe
small solar calculator
travel chopsticks (thanks, Ryoko!)
photocopy of passport and birth certificate (also scanned and stored in Gmail)
extra passport photos
other travel documents (e.g. yellow fever vaccination certificate, international driver's license)
pharmaceutical prescriptions
hand sanitizer
Pilot P-500 gel ink pen
travel tissues
wet wipes
toilet paper (sometimes, cause I can just steal it)
camping utensils
organic laundry detergent (either bar or small, water soluble pouches)
universal sink stopper
disposable camera
1 toiletries bag w/mirror
Harrod's hand towel
toothbrush w/cover
Gillette Mach-3 razor w/cartridges and case from 18th birthday
shaving oil, very small container
deodorant, stick
organic soap made by Aikido sensei w/case
shampoo+conditioner, small bottle
shower puff
contact lenses, 3 mo. supply (=1 yr. for me)
2 contact lens cases
nose hair clippers
medical tape
rubber gloves (I don't know why, but now I'm afraid to toss them)
Benodryl stick for insect bites
medicinal creams (e.g. Neosporin, Cortazone)
moisturizer cream
Neutrogina Oil-Free Sunblock SPF 45 (I've seen SPF 90 in Peru!!)
insect repellent
blister kit w/Compeed plasters and moleskin
duct tape
travel pillow
nylon cord
travel alarm clock
Pacsafe with combination lock
luggage locks
1 Nalgene bottle with Campmor logo
Steripen water prefilter
Steripen ultraviolet water purifier
Swiss Army knife
small sewing kit (which I can't use)
spare batteries
Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic)
Diamox (for altitude sickness)
Doxycycline (for malaria)
credit cards
debit card
driver's license
International Student ID (ISIC) Card
scuba diving certification card
traveler's checks
cash (esp. small bills)
1 small notebook
1 Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Does it seem like a lot?


Today, I have done very little except chat with people staying in my hotel. Lots of interesting folks here. Lots of conversations about "energy". I find myself often trying to explain about Japan. Coincidentally, I see the occasional Japanese tour group in town. I want so badly to speak to them, but I feel too hazukashii (shy). Sometimes, they seem like visitors from another world. The younger ones are impeccably well dressed. Tomorrow morning at 4:30 am, I depart for Choquequirau, and I will therefore not be blogging again until (earliest) Saturday.

A nice American gal gave me her mother's email address, because she's a neurologist, and an expired ticket to Machu Picchu, with which she's pretty sure I can gain admission. Score!

Going Postal

By the way, postcard stamps in Peru cost $2 each. So don't expect one. Sorry.

But if you think I don't have your address, email it to me, and I'll surely send you one from somewhere else. Perchance, even a letter.

24 September 2007

Cuzco cuz I can

So Kane and I went up to Moray (Kane!). The transportation here is ridiculously efficient. You just show up to the collectivo station, and there's a taxi waiting to take you wherever you want to go. In our case, the highway turnoff for the village of Maras. 3 km from there to the village, also by taxi, and 10 km more on a dirt road to the ruins. I can't remember how much it cost, because it was pretty close to nothing. The last taxi driver had a sticker on his window that said "Mad Max." A sign?

Moray was pretty cool to look at--a series of concentric terraces each of which has a distinct micro climate. Archaeologists and suchlike people theorize that the Incas used it as some kind of agricultural laboratory. Kane and I, however, saw that it was clearly used in a special fertility ceremony in which thousands of naked virgins would stand in the rings waiting for their turn to have ritual intercourse with the high priest at the center, whose duty it was to copulate with all of them within 48 hours to insure a good harvest. Afterwards, they would dance around a huge bonfire, because who wouldn't?

The shaman's assistant told me that under no circumstances can I drink Ayahuasca or San Pedro cactus while taking medication. I will have to wait until my next visit to Peru for a transcendent, hallucinatory experience of wisdom. Everyone else at the hotel seems to be doing it, too, so naturally I want to do it so I at least have something to talk to them about.

By the way, there are lots of New Age people and hippies in Cuzco. And tourist shops. And I just saw a veggie burger that costs $5, basically the same price as my entire day of touring around. The internet centers here (locutorios) are the most advanced I've seen in Peru, except there's a woman breast-feeding her baby at a nearby terminal.

Don't you think getting a good price is a religious experience all its own? After hard deliberating about whether or not I should go to Choquequirau, I came up with a rationalization that I liked and decided to do it. On my way out the door, I casually asked the hotel-keeper if the price I was quoted was a good one. He said "No" and sent me to another agency that happens to be owned by the hotel's South African owner-shaman (had dinner at her restaurant recently, too). They gave me a price $70 lower than the other place, more is included, plus discount for staying at the hotel and possible further discounts if I can persuade others to join (in process).

I just noticed that long-term traveling occurs in chapters. You go to a place or travel with certain people for a short period of time, then you go somewhere else and meet new people, and a new chapter begins. The whole experience has the feeling and flow of a narrative.

23 September 2007

Quechua Quiz

The last few days I've pretty much been wandering about Cuzco with Dutch Ruth, Irish Maeve, and Maeve's father Val. Val arrived recently to visit Maeve, at which point Maeve promptly had a seizure, and I am starting to think I have been around this sort of thing entirely too much lately. I watched them shop, and had good times with Ruth and the famous 12-sided stone. Today, I visited the nearby ruins of Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q'enqo, and Saqsaywaman. You get 5 points for each one of those you can accurately pronounce, but don't check with me. The last one is often sounded out in English as "sexy woman". I looked for an equinox party there, but failed to find it after not looking very hard. After Saqsaywaman, I went to have lunch at the feet of the giant statue of Jesus Christ that stands above the city and glows at night. The view was great. I even saw some sort of procession on the main plaza, which I later learned was a weekly event. But I also found out that I missed a religious procession in which costumed men whipped their legs bloody in honor of some saint or other. One hates to miss such things as that. Instead, I took another 60 cent bus to the nearby town of Chinchero to view the lovely painted ceiling of the church and see even more amazing Inca terraces (though nothing here is so amazing to me as anything I saw in Greece or Egypt). Two little girls told me they could show me a baby condor in the rocks. Now, I don't usually allowed children to con me, but this time I gave them the B of the D and went along with them. Well, the baby condor turned out to be just a part of a rock (in the rocks?) that looks like a baby condor. Fool me once, shame on you... I gave them each a sol. They asked for more so I told them to "guarda sus monetas" and left. The famous Sunday market was over by that point, so I marveled for awhile at how people still live in mud brick houses and then headed back to Cuzco by rapid minibus (almost $1 this time). I met up with Mauve and Val again, and we saw some nice dancing and music at the Cuzco Native Art Center. The plan for tomorrow is to visit Moray, a unique set of Inca terraces in concentric circles, each with its own microclimate. The best part is, I'm going with an Australian guy named Kane. Those in the know should know why that's like a dream come true for me. Ciao.

20 September 2007

Cuzco, Pisac, and yet more Ceviche

Today I woke up early and managed to change hotels by noon. While waiting, I had a nice long chat with a young Irish woman (ironically an epileptic) and an older Canadian woman about the merits of both San Pedro and the more recommended Ayahuasca. She (the Canadian) said she's an initiated shaman of Machu Picchu and suggested I talk to another shaman, Koosh (like the ball!) to learn more. She was gracious, informative, and chain-smoked the whole time.

I had a noon appointment with the American guy--Robert--that I met yesterday at the SAE, but was a bit late getting to the Plaza de Armas (even ran into Dave and Pedro from the Colca Canyon on the way). I quickly called his cell phone on the second barely functioning pay phone I could find and managed to catch up with him at the collective taxi stop. Together, we went down to the Sacred Valley and the market town of Pisac. From there, we browsed through the colorful market and then ascended the steep Inca trail to the fortress above the town. This was my first encounter with proper Inca ruins, and they were quite spectacular, as were the views. I couldn't believe the engineering feat of the terraced farming--and they don't use it today! Robert turned out to be recently retired from the Army, and I took the opportunity to ask him tons of questions about it, which he politely and comprehensively answered. He likes Mitt Romney. On the way back, we were offered a taxi ride back to Cuzco for fares ranging from $6 to $13. Instead, we exercised the 60 cent, standing room only, bus option (for less than an hour, why not?).

Back at the South American Explorers Club, I attended a lesson on how to make ceviche. It was a bit hard to follow because it was in Spanish (with translation, but it's a complicated recipe), but after the lesson we had all the lime juice-marinated raw fish we could eat! I once again used my travel chopsticks (thanks, Ryoko!). One female participant was heard to say, "That's cool."

19 September 2007

Best email ever

Just received this from a German guy living in Cochabama, Bolivia. I told him about my plans to volunteer at the wildlife refuge. His response:

Dear Steven:

A traveler from Albion observed that there are two
species to be seen in the "wildlife reserve" in VILLA

1. The monkeys.

2. The volunteers.

Should you make so bold as to go there join the first

A) You don't have to pay for staying there.

B) You will most probably not be malnourished.

C) You will, on average, have less parasites than group

D) Your belongings will not get stolen.

E) You will be in the group that is mentally sane and
could take care of itself - if group 2. would only let

F) Monkeys do not suffer from moral qualms or religious

A more detached observer would indeed remark that, as a
matter of fact, the apes take care of the volunteers -
not vice versa as the volunteers fallaciously


That's the Inca spelling, but to me it looks like the name of a city from some bad D&D campaign. I may be one of the few travelers to Peru who has taken a month to get to the principal attraction. And after Delphi, this is the second "belly button of the world" that I've visited. If you know of any more, send word along so I can collect them all. I took a seven hour bus ride from the Colca Canyon back to Arequipa and almost immediately jumped onto a ten hour overnight bus to Cuzco. En route, I started suffering altitude sickness. It felt like a very heavy man was standing on my chest. I arrived at around 5 am and headed to my hotel to pass out for four hours. I woke and wandered down the street to find what but a hemp clothing store and cafe. It's like they planted it there for me. I ate a hemp omelet. Then I went around looking for a better hotel. My choice is between a $5/night dormitory in a rustic farmhouse with a great view over the city (and chicken heads on the table out front) or a $10/night private room at a nicer place with a new age vibe, free Internet, a great book exchange, and excursions to the mountains to consume San Pedro cactus. I'll have to research whether or not hallucinatory drugs mix well with all my other drugs. Anyway, you can guess where I'm leaning. Then I went over to the local office of the South American Explorer's Club and was delighted to receive tons of free information even though I'm not a member. Miguel explained in detail how to get to Machu Picchu without taking the expensive train, and I also met an American guy there who might take me trekking with him to Choquequirau, another Inca city that has distinct advantages over the over-touristed Picchu. Now I'm going to look at an Inca wall stone that's famous for having 12 sides.

18 September 2007

Colca Cola

I trekked around Colca Canyon in record time, and it didn't kill me. As usual, I did in a total of six hours what everyone says takes nine (and in two days what most people do in three, because I don't like enjoying things leisurely--that's for tourists). First day was a four hour hike down the steep, steep wall of the canyon, over the river, and then a traverse along the side and through some villages. I crossed the river one more time at the very end and stayed for $1.50 in a bamboo hut at a place called "Oasis". They served spaghetti for dinner, and I got to use my travel chopsticks again (thanks, Ryoko!). I met two cool guys there, too. One was a kiwi recently made redundant and spending his severance doing his own long-distance, long-term traveling. The other was a Spanish guy from Majorca who used to be a professional tennis player and now teaches lessons. Every September, he gives himself a trekking holiday. He may have convinced me to tail-end my excursion with a 30 day pilgrimage across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela. He's the second Spaniard I've met here who's exuberantly recommended it. Then again, I've known too many Spaniards...

16 September 2007

Ritual epilepsy

I went to another festival today. This one was in an outlying neighborhood and a bit rougher around the edges. To be blunt, I think the one I went to yesterday was for rich people and this one was for poorer people, though ironically (or not?) this one had an admission fee and you had to pay to use the toilets, whereas yesterday's glamorous affair was totally free. My theory is that today's was a real festival organized by local people who need money to pay for it and that yesterday's was more a chamber of commerce sort of thing. I went because it happened to be a festival of music and dancing of the people of Colca Canyon, where I'm going tomorrow, though mostly people were just getting drunk and playing soccer. One of the dances I found particularly intriguing, because the participants periodically pantomimed convulsive seizures. I don't know why, but the synchronicity alarmed me. Could they have been imitating the divine possession of the Andean mountain gods? Was I myself so transported in the Cordillera Huayhuash? Am I depriving myself of mystic wisdom by taking this pill every 8 hours? Perhaps I will find the answers tomorrow, when I head into the home of these faux-epileptics, the world's second deepest canyon. You will have my report some days from now, when I emerge and remove to Cuzco.

15 September 2007


Let me tell you what I had to go through to buy travel packets of Kleenex here. First, I had to get an order slip from the lady behind the counter of the pharmacy. Then, I had to bring the slip to the cashier, who couldn't change a 50 soles note, and pay. Then, I brought the receipt back to the counter, and the lady stamped my receipt and gave me my tissues. Am I back in Japan, or is this the Soviet Union? If it's for security, I don't find it any more reassuring than those signs on the main plaza in Huaraz that say "Please don't molest the tourists."

I finally made it to the Gran Festival Gastronomico today, with American Sarah and Spanish Emma. I tempted fate once more and had some delicious octopus ceviche and an overpriced order of Peruvian-style Japanese sushi. Three tiny pieces for about $3. Then I saw the two words that changed my life: queso helado. That was a double-take and a jaw-drop. And I did eat thereof.

I had a fruit juice at a nice little patio-cafe with a view of the menacing El Misti. I explained my recent adventures in healthcare, with much difficulty, to the old woman who ran it. She told me that the secret cure for altitude sickness is to tie a newspaper around your waist with a rope. I thought that was pretty clever, as far as folk remedies go.

I wandered into the church on the main plaza at the festival, and to my surprise and delight, there was a wedding going on! This has happened before. In Vietnam, I also stumbled into a wedding at a Catholic church deep in the countryside. Catholics are just everywhere! This time, however, I decided not to receive the host.

The highlight of the festival for me (other than the cheese ice cream) was the Tondero de Piura and Marinera style dancing from northern Peru. I've seen lots of traditional dances, and usually it's all men or all women or the men lead the women. In these styles, two partners, a man and a woman, have a kind of conversation through dance and appear to converse as equals. It was sexy but restrained, a highly stylized countryside courtship ritual. They write poetry with their feet. There's a dance festival in a few weeks up in the north, and I am almost tempted to skip Bolivia and go see that and eat more cheese ice cream. Life can't be more perfect.

After I left the festival (a jazz performance was on the agenda, and sorry jazz fans, but I hate it), I visited a museum that has as its centerpiece exhibit a centuries-old mummified girl. To appease the mountain-dwelling gods, the Incas used to raise certain royal children explicitly for sacrifice. They would hike for weeks to the tops of enormous mountains--no mean feat in the 15th century to climb above 6000 meters--and strike the kiddies on the head with a sharp stone and bury them there at the summit. The extreme cold would then freeze and preserve their bodies, much to the delight of later generations of white archaeologists and gaping tourists. Juanita, as this particular mummy is called, is the best mummy I've seen, and I've been to Egypt. I unintentionally (I swear) pulled a con-job when I bought my ticket. Usually the ticket costs about $5 and doesn't include, as the ticket lady explained, the cost of the non-paid, mandatory guide. I asked if there's a student price, and she said no, only a price for children under 18. I jokingly said I was 16 and then started reading the brochure she gave me. She must have read the skepticism in my eyes, because she quickly offered to sell me a student ticket for about $1.50 if I could produce my university ID. Of course, I only have my ISIC card, but she said they don't accept that. I started in surprise, because that would make them pretty unique in the world, so she just agreed that I was 16 and gave me the cheap ticket. I sort of almost felt guilty, but I tipped the guide well, which I expect is all they wanted.

Let me buy you an alpaca sweater

Seriously, I can get you something nice and handmade for around $10. I can't carry too many so this offer is on a first-come, first-serve basis as a special gift for my regular readers. Give me some idea of what you want (size, color, pattern, style, whatever), and I'll do my best to find something appropriate. The sweaters are very nice, very soft, very warm, and alpaca hair doesn't contain lanolin, so they don't itch, either. If you've got money to burn, I can get you something made of the rare and coveted vicuña wool. Those won't be $10. Gloves, scarves, and other items are also available. Email me while I'm feeling generous, and email me soon.

14 September 2007

I have been spat upon

This morning I met an American woman from Seattle, and we got to chatting. It turns out she's quite the traveler herself, her most impressive feat, in my opinion, having been a visit to Soviet Russia back when Russia was Soviet. We took a walk to a distant neighborhood in search of the mysterious eating and drinking festival that seemed to change day and location every time we thought we'd tracked it down. I still haven´t managed to find it, but there seem to be other festivals, including a folk music one, happening this weekend, so I may stick around for those.

On our way back to the center of town, we stopped to check out a market. The fruit was piled so high! And we bought delicious drinking yogurt with a flavor I've never heard of before. As we were leaving, someone spit on my neck just below my left ear. Having read about this ruse before, I quickly reached for my (empty) pockets and swatted away a grasping hand. This is one of the stripes of travel I really could have done without, because being spat upon is really disgusting. But at least I wasn't robbed.

After the spitting incident, Sarah the American decided she wasn't feeling fell and went back to the hotel. I continued on my own to a pretty colonial neighborhood where I discovered another festival that was either just finishing up or hadn't started yet. My Spanish is not really good enough to discern these fine distinctions. Anyway, I looked at a few more churches and enjoyed a juice squeezed from another local fruit I've never heard of while gaping at El Misti, the volcano that looms above Arequipa and will one day destroy it. Later, I ate a vegetarian doner kebab. This country is surprisingly kind to people of my gustatory preferences, definitely more so than Japan (ah, but I miss Japan). On my way back to town, I stopped at a monastery and saw its wonderful 15th-16th century library, which included a nice Xenophon in Latin and a first edition of the second part of Don Quixote. The caretaker was a very nice man. I gave him my card, which he seemed genuinely pleased to receive.

Back in the downtown, I met up with Rafael, a Peruvian who contacted me on the Lonely Planet bulletin board, which I frequent, and kindly offered to meet me and give me advice about trekking independently in the Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest (and something like twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The deepest, Cotahuasi, is also nearby, but a bit too much of a trek for me in my present 70% condition). We chatted about a number of things, like Peruvian politics, the characteristic pessimism, racism, and disingenuous opportunism of Peruvian people, and the nocturnal activities of gringo hunters (naturally, the most interesting topic). We even passed a large gathering of Communists in the central plaza, and I mingled among them to see what was up, despite explicit warnings against doing this issued by the US State Department. Apparently, there is some kind of meeting regarding mining in Peru going on this week in Arequipa. Since most of the mining is conducted by foreign companies, the Commies were out to oppose the imperialist rapers of the land. Rafael told me that sometimes the Commie Nationalists voice their hatred of people like me by shouting things like "death to tourists!" Unfortunately, this did not happen to me, but I would have loved it. There were military police everywhere and despite the tension still a surprising number of festivities going on. This is sort of what I pictured Latin America to be like: tense political clashes occurring as the background to zesty song and dance and a dose of spectacular religious piety. All were in full effect tonight. And I enjoyed zestyness aplenty. A high school in one of the sillar colonial buildings was celebrating its 25th anniversary (Alexander Von Humboldt College, no less, and I also saw one elsewhere named for Max Uhle.. Germans of notoriety get their due in Peru). After the hot, hot singing, there was a fireworks display, which struck me as a tad dangerous, since they were basically shooting them right from the roof and sparkling fire rained precipitously down the facade of the building and all over the crowd of onlookers, including me. I think they're still partying now, which makes them immensely more exciting than any high school in the United States that I'm aware of. I found that more fun than poking my head into the gringo pick-up bar. These sorts of places always give me a bad feeling. I´ve finally decided I don't like that scene, and I'm ok with that, and I am also just not going to dance.

It´s been harder than I thought to condense all the various and quasi-interesting things that happen to me in the course of a typical day on the road into an easily consumable nugget of bloggery. To this end, I will redouble my efforts to be brief in the future. In the meantime, I hope y'all are enjoying my musings. Not much on the agenda tomorrow, except laundry, a nice coffee in a pretty cafe, and an attempt to figure out my next move, either Colca or Cuzco or Colca and then Cuzco.

13 September 2007

New Animals Poll

I added a new poll because I may not be able to try chicha (and a Peruvian woman told me today that they don't use human saliva anymore, but I remain suspicious), because everyone seems to have a strong opinion when it comes to animals, and because, let's face it, polls are an entertaining and amusing diversion (like elections!). So I expect to have the option to work with monkeys, jungle cats, or big, pretty birds. Which species do you think I should pick?

What's going on in Japan??

I just read that Shinzo Abe has resigned! I leave the country for one minute.. I thought this sort of thing only happened in Bolivia! Actually, I wish our country's leaders were similarly capable of buckling to public pressure. Whatever Japan's faults, its leadership always seems prepared to reorganize itself when necessary. I am once again aghast at the consequences American foreign policy has, directly and indirectly, on the rest of the world. I guess I feel connected to the countries I've visited, so I always react with alarm to big news like this. Last year, I probably wouldn't have cared.

Did I mention that I saw vicunas in the Cordillera Huayhuash?


I arrived this morning in Arequipa after a comfortable enough 15 hour overnight bus journey. The landscape south of Lima was positively eerie, just an endless, mist-blanketed desolation with the thin, two-lane line of the Panamerican Highway snaking through it. We also passed through Pisco and Ica, recently devastated by earthquakes. I saw plenty of destruction, but it bore a remarkable similarity to the basic condition of life in most poor countries I've visited. Outside the rich suburbs are generally endless expanses of dilapidated slums always in various stages of crumbling disrepair and never-having-been-finished-to-begin-with. To live in circumstances of institutionalized poverty is to live a life that is always incomplete, I reckon. Things are always missing or don't work properly or are semi-permanently jury-rigged, and yet somehow people get by. Latin America, from what I've seen, is, despite its poverty, a lively, socially energetic place. I've been in other countries, like Cambodia, where the situation is more desperate and hopeless and the feel is entirely different. Peru is a vibrant country with entrepreneurial, enterprising people. And it seems like everyone here is a student, too.

But enough commentary, back to the narrative. After traveling between the sandy wasteland and the Pacific for a day, we turned inland and upland to the lovely, sunny city of Arequipa. Arequipa's principal attractions are its UNESCO-listed colonial-era remains, and these are indeed impressive. The star of the show, which I saw today, is the Santa Catalina Convent, which has been in operation since 1573 and only opened to tourists in 1970. Prepare for the tourist cliches: visiting the convent really was like stepping back in time. I am, in fact, interested in the charming details of domestic life 400 years ago, so I was quite thrilled to visit the bedrooms and kitchens of Renaissance-era nuns. The convent itself is enormous, a city within the city, and beautifully built of local volcanic stone. My favorite nun accouterments were the barbed wire undershirts and flagellation devices, used only on rare occasions according to the display text, since the Dominicans are a contemplative and not a penitant order. The rest of the city center is similarly historic and beautiful and also, for that reason, inundated with tourists and tourist-oriented businesses (which means annoying touts everywhere trying to lure me into shops and restaurants). Post-seizure, I am still taking things easy, so I didn't do much else except drink coffee from the lovely balconies overlooking the central plaza and buy my mandatory alpaca pullover. I managed to bargain the lady down from 170 to 140 soles and got her to throw in a pair of gloves, too. Tomorrow, there's some kind of grand festival de eating. I'll probably check that out. Then, I'll have to decide if I feel up to a multiday trek through the world's deepest (or second deepest) canyon. My ATM card mysteriously stopped working today, so future plans will depend on the availability of cash.


I just found out that Bolivia has just stupidly decided to implement stringent visa requirements for US citizens, this the product of the sound economic policy of spite. It may be shocking news, but the United States doesn't make it a cakewalk for citizens of developing countries to visit (and we are hardly alone in that respect). Starting December 1st, Bolivia will be making it virtually impossible for American budget travelers like myself to go there. In order to obtain a visa, we'll not only have to pay the egregious fee of $134, but we'll also have to present proof of economic solvency, a clean criminal record (in what language?), a document of sponsorship or some other record establishing our place(s) of residence during our entire stay, proof of yellow fever vaccination, and whatever else citizens of other "Category 3" nations like Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia have to produce. So I suppose I have to go there now and make the most of it before it'll be virtually guaranteed I won't be going there in the future. That is, if the country's government hasn't collapsed by the time I get to the border, as it is currently in the process of doing.

12 September 2007

Mega Man

I am starting to remember some of the details of my Huayhuash trek. One night, at a campsite deep in the wilderness at 4000 meters plus, I suddenly heard a familiar song, the last song I expected to hear in the backcountry of Peru: the theme song from Mega Man. Our guide Heimer had his radio on, and apparently the local station had recycled this video game music for use as station identification. Weird.

I met a lovely British couple the other day who were having their own crisis. One of their bags was stolen in Cuzco, right off the husband´s shoulder, and they lost their money and their passports. Like me, they had to cancel part of their trip and return to Lima to deal with the problem. Unlike me, they didn´t have any time to lose, so, despite their good cheer, I felt bad that they had to miss out on the jungle-trekking, bird-watching portion of their holiday.

The doctors tell me there is nothing wrong with me, so I am free to continue my adventure (as long as I take medication three times a day for the next year and avoid alcohol--groan). Actually, he said chicha might be ok... hmm... I already bought a bus ticket to Arequipa, and I depart on the 15-hour journey tonight. The buses here are quite nice, with reclining seats you can sleep in and meal service. Hopefully, we won´t be hijacked en route.

I ought to be at Machu Picchu by the weekend.

Today, I will probably head back downtown to finally check out the alleged burial site of Inca empire-conqueror Francisco Pizarro.

11 September 2007


This condition is related to deep vein thrombophlebitis, which kills people who spend too much time sitting in airplane seats. In my case, I have it in my left hand, because the Peruvian doctors into whose arms I collapsed last week administered an anti-convulsive drug intravenously, and it had the predictable effect of causing the veins in my hand to become inflamed. I am writing about it today, because nothing else is going on, and today the phlebitis has been exceptionally painful. Even after a week of antibiotics and the application of a German hand cream, the swelling and pain haven´t disappeared. So far, this has been the only effect of all the expensive medical treatment I have received. Thousands of dollars of tests later, and the doctors still don´t know why I had seizures, but at least they´ve managed to cause me pain and discomfort and prescribe me drugs that make me dizzy and disoriented, all in the true tradition of the medical profession. Actually, I did have to go in for one further test today. One of my neurologists wanted to check my magnesium levels and whatnot. I´ll be discussing the results with him later, and hopefully he won´t be telling me I have to return to America for further treatment or, even worse, avoid high altitudes for the next 6 months. Yesterday, he asked me if I urinated myself or bit my tongue during my seizures, and that wasn´t the first time I´ve been asked those questions this week. The answer to at least one of them, unfortunately, is yes.

I am starting to grow fond of Lima. Every day, I have to take several taxi trips across the city to San Borja, which is apparently the health care ghetto. Today, I also wandered into a bourgeois-level shopping center which featured the usual international brands. I guess McDonald´s is considered gourmet American food in the developing world, because a Big Mac value meal is like $4 here, and that´s not cheap for food in Peru (as a comparison, I was able to buy a giant bag of oranges for a dollar, what would have cost me more than ten in Japan). I had a nice hot chocolate at a non-chain cafe, instead--my usual solace drink.

I wasn´t at all prepared for what I saw at the other end of the shopping center: enormous, intimidating, the United States Embassy. It´s almost like it was anchoring the sprawl of mediocre consumer culture flowing out of it. You really can´t picture the size of this building easily, but it´s easily the biggest building in Lima, a giant double-Titanic-sized box dominating the entire neighborhood. Actually, it sort of looked like an ugly shopping mall, and I wondered why it was necessary that it be so huge. I´ve seen imposing American embassies before, too. The new embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is like a palace at the center of the city. The embassy in Seoul, South Korea is the size of an entire neighborhood. But this embassy, in Peru, was so big, I was scared of it.

I wonder if this is one of the reasons the embassies are so big and if this is one of the effects of the imposition of American power on the world. I think it must be difficult for Americans to appreciate this sort of perspective. But imagine living in the shadow of such a building, built in your country by another government as an expression of its influence and prestige. The fact that it´s surrounded by the detritus of its culture´s perverse commercialism--Starbuck´s, McDonald´s, and Dunkin´ Donuts represent the best of what America has to offer the world in its promise of freedom and prosperity--only adds emphasis to the message. This is what the world wants, and here it is for those who can afford it, for those who play by the rules, or, really, for those who make the rules for their own benefit. Because Peru is not America, and not everybody has a chance to enjoy a Frappuccino no matter how hard they work. And that´s why the Frapps have to be locked down, put behind protective glass, surrounded by gun-toting rent-a-cops, so the poor can´t get at them. I know I sound like a crank, but I think we underestimate the cultural and cognitive effect that globalization has had on the world. As I have indicated, bourgeois culture around the world--and I´ve seen it almost everywhere--has become largely homogenized. And bland, and stultifying, and boring. It´s as though we should learn that the primary goal of life everywhere around the world is consumption, the consumption of a rather uninteresting array of mass-produced goods, generically made, non-distinctive, and with added sugar. Is the idea that the best life is the imitation American life, if you can´t actually be American (or live near the embassy building)? This, I feel, is a genuine threat to humanity and particularly to the proponents of the humanities and the arts, those nobler disciplines that, if they can´t credibly put themselves necessarily above money, at least they´re about something else. Lima has beauty, but most of it is faded beauty, a beauty that is obviously becoming more derelict every year. What´s replacing it is the garish color wheel of the modern American cafe, those hideous and ubiquitous purples and maroons that everywhere show up on things that are new and fashionable. The money swirls toward these things and away from the centers of tradition, like Cuzco, Peru´s other pole, which just become poorer and less relevant, objects of fascination or curiosity for moneyed tourists from rich countries seeking, for reasons they can´t explain to themselves, antiquity and authenticity. Maybe Peru and countries like it are suffering from phlebitis of a different sort. Like mine, the cure might be considered worse than the disease.

The flag was at half-mast today, I suppose in honor of 9/11.

The Whaling Code

I originally posted this on Devin´s blog, but since I have a readership now, I figured I´d subject you all to my literary predilections. If you´d prefer not to be so subjected, feel free to skip it. I´ll be writing something about the phlebitis in my hand next.

Here's something interesting from Melville, the statutes of whalers:

I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.
II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.

There is some discussion of how these vague rules are to be interpreted as they pertain to whales in particular, but Melville characteristically broadens the scope of the concept to a profounder level:

"...these two laws touching Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, I say, will, on reflection, be found the fundamentals of all human jurisprudence; for notwithstanding its complicated tracery of sculpture, the Temple of the Law, like the Temple of the Philistines, has but two props to stand on.
"Is it not a saying in every one's mouth, Possession is half the law: that is, regardless of how the thing came into possession? But often possession is the whole of the law. What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish, whereof possession is the whole of the law? What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected villain's marble mansion with a door-plate for a waif; what is that but a Fast-Fish? What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the broker, gets from poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to keep Woebegone's family from starvation; what is that ruinous discount but a Fast-Fish? What is the Archbishop of Savesoul's income of £100,000 seized from the scant bread and cheese of hundreds of thousands of broken-back laborers (all sure of heaven without any of Savesoul's help) what is that globular 100,000 but a Fast-Fish? What are the Duke of Dunder's hereditary towns and hamlets but Fast-Fish? What to that redoubted harpooner, John Bull, is poor Ireland but a Fast-Fish? What to that apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan, is Texas but a Fast-Fish? And concerning all these, is not Possession the whole of the law?
"But if the doctrine of Fast-Fish be pretty generally applicable, the kindred doctrine of Loose-Fish is still more widely so. That is internationally and universally applicable.
"What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of waifing it for his royal master and mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk? What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All Loose-Fish.
"What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?"

My original insight was that Iraq is the Loose-Fish of the moment, but I am intrigued by the Rights of Man angle, too, especially given Slavoj Zizek´s convincing (to me) critique of human rights discourse and, equally, Paul Theroux´s sardonic comments in Dark Star Safari about the "angels of virtue" who plague Africa with their aid and mercy. I think one of the effects of travel is to make you immune to bullshit, and yet there is so much of it lying around, so much of it for sale. Well, on to the phlebitis.

You disgust me

I can´t say I´m surprised how many of you are voting yes for the chicha, but I am disappointed that so many of you want me to do it but wouldn´t do it yourselves. Since I am now forbidden to consume alcohol for the next few months, this poll will have to be hypothetical only, unless I can buy some and bring it back to the States with me. Sorry!

10 September 2007

Trapped in Lima

I was told I could go to the clinic anytime this morning for an electro-encephalogram test thing. But when I showed up, they told me to come back at 4 pm. I can´t seem to get out of Lima, the veins in my left hand are swollen, and there´s a strange cyst growing on my right hand. I am trying to remain in good cheer, though, because I don´t think there is anything seriously wrong with me. This is, in a way, a gift of time, time to reflect on the contradictions of South American society. The differences between rich and poor are quite noticeable here. The rich live in luxurious environs, barricaded from the poor (and indigenous) by locks, bars, barbed wire, electric wire, and, of course, style. It´s very easy to find clubs where the drinks are $4 or more each, and I have to wonder who can afford that in Peru (not me). Most of the old mansions are decrepit, though. It looks as though European creole society tried to make a go of it here but failed to keep it together. Everything is run down, shabby, and barely functioning, except for the occasional shopping mall, movie theater, supermarket, or trendy restaurant, all of which are garrisoned by security 24 hours a day. There used to be tram lines here, beach resorts, and other trappings of prosperity. I wonder what happened. And I wonder what the rich classes are living for, their lives a kind of pathetic Euro-faux simulacrum of American affluence. South America is definitely a place where the fiction of society´s organicity is exposed. Do the structures of society only exist to provide wealthy white people with means of diversion? I don´t see a whole lot else going on, and that includes the budget backpacker crowd I´m a part of. Our principal motivation is to sponge off the poverty of ancient, tropical countries. Speaking of which, I need to go find a way to kill time before my next medical test. Hopefully, I´ll be able to get out of this city in the next few days. Lima´s not so bad, really. I just like to be mobile and I´ve been stuck in a drugged-up rut for a week now.

09 September 2007

Books I remember reading this year

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (took me two years to finish)
The Mediterranean (vols. 1 and 2), by Fernand Braudel (highly recommended)
Against the Day, by Thomas Pyncheon (1120 pp.)
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (very colorful language, lots of whale info)
Midnight´s Children, by Salman Rushdie (read mostly at night in the Peruvian Andes)
Shakespeare: A Life, by Park Honan (not good)
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner (a study in dialect)
The Sublime Object of Ideology, by Slavoj Zizek ($ <> a)
Middlemarch, by George Eliot (in honor of Devin Griffiths)
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, by Ruth Benedict
The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
The Harafish, by Naguib Mahfouz
The Master of Go, by Yasunari Kawabata
The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux
Shutting Out the Sun, by Michael Zielenziger
Importing Diversity, by David L. McConnell
A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami
The Tale of the Heike (as much as I could)
Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis (recommended to me by Maurine Corrigan)
The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

...currently working on Paul Theroux´s Dark Star Safari, which is helping me through the hard times of travel, and Rabelais´ Gargantua and Pantagruel.

In Peru, they eat raw fish!

I spoiled myself today. I figured that a nice meal in Lima is the least I could do to assuage my constant pain, light-headedness, and uncertainty. So I went to a ceviche restaurant in one of the tonier neighborhoods (so as not to add food poisoning to my list of maladies). Ceviche is seafood that is "cooked" by being marinated in lime juice. I ordered two generous helpings, one Mexican style with guacamole, the other with octopus. The food was excellent and, even with drinks and taxes, still less than $20 for everything. The acidity was a bit rough on my tongue, which I bit through during one of the seizures, but still worth it. To save money, I walked the 5 km from my hotel to the restaurant, and I am just now on my way back. I have nothing else to do, anyway. I am really getting into this Paul Theroux book. In its way, it is helping me cope with my little crisis. I should have mentioned that I traded in Devin´s copy of Midnight´s Children at the California Cafe in Huaraz to get it. Thanks, Devin!

08 September 2007


EEG, MRI, CAT... I´m getting everything done to make sure there isn´t anything wrong with me, and I´ve been so preoccupied with my health this last week, I feel like I´m leaving out the more interesting details of my trip, like the awesome fact that I ate with chopsticks one night in the Huayhuash (thanks, Ryoko!). I am back in Lima, by the way, and the guy who owns my hotel was nice enough to drive me around to all the clinics today. It´s starting to look like the cause of my seizures was altitude sickness, though nothing is showing up on any of my tests yet. They´re just costing me a lot of money (A LOT OF MONEY), though perhaps only a fraction of what they would cost back home, and my travel insurance might even pay for them. I´m stuck here at least until Monday night, so tomorrow I´m going to read my Paul Theroux book, Dark Star Safari. I went to the Museo de Nacion today in between appointments. I saw the usual assortment of pottery and textiles from long vanished civilizations. To keep things interesting, I may start blogging about prior trips, too.

07 September 2007

Gibbering heap details

By the way, I did try guinea pig, but just a little piece of Nitzan's. I do eat meat experimentally sometimes, like the time I ate snake meat in Vietnam and the other time I ate crocodile, kangeroo, and emu meat in Australia. I do this because of my philosophy while traveling, which I can quote in full from Thomas Nashe:

"He that is a traveller must have the back of an ass to bear all, a tongue like the tail of a dog to flatter all, the mouth of a hog to eat what is set before him, the ear of a merchant to hear all and say nothing. And if this be not the highest step of thraldom, there is no liberty or freedom."

I'm still not sure what the last sentence means. So--details of my collapse, briefly, though Nitzan tells the story better than I do. We took the same two buses back to Huaraz from Llamac, again of about 5 hours duration. I got off and started to help our guide Heimer (great guy!) with the equipment. The next thing I know, I'm in a strange, dark room and people are hovering over me speaking calmly. Apparently, I just fell over backwards and started flailing wildly, with fluttering eyes, for several minutes. Caused quite a scene there in the middle of the street. When it was over, my muscles were all quite sore (they still are, and they weren't at all from the hike alone). A few hours later, Nitzan and I went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I was just finishing my soup when I felt very tired. Once again, there's a blank spot in my memory between then and my arrival at the hospital, where Nitzan brought me after another, much shorter episode of convulsing. I was quite upset at this point and also felt like I might vomit (I didn't). At the hospital, everyone was very nice, and my doctor even spoke English. They hooked me up to an IV, and dripped anti-convulsion medicine and saline solution into me. The medicine made my veins swell up, though (my hand is still puffy and tender), so they had to switch to a pill. Anyway, I was too dizzy to read, so I watched American television the whole time I was there (two nights), switching back and forth between those law and order shows and 90s sitcoms. Nitzan spent a lot of time visiting me, too. They tested my blood and gave me a CAT scan, but so far there's nothing wrong with me. I was discharged yesterday afternoon, but I'm still pretty weak and wobbly, mostly from the pills I still have to take three times a day. I bought myself a nice (and cheap) hour-long massage this afternoon, and tonight I'm taking a night bus back to Lima. I'm really hoping this seizure business doesn't happen again. And that's the news from Lake Wobegon...

Huayhuash Day 8-10

The magical views continued for the rest of the trek, as we huffed and puffed our way between the high peaks and down to the campgrounds. Amazingly, to me, there was always at least one family living wherever we slept, and I thought we were absolutely in the middle of nowhere. One of the campgrounds even had a hot spring, which I totally sat in for hours (also dipped my feet in the morning). A couple of teenage girls lived at another one, one of whom called me "caro mio" or something. I think she was 14. The last night, we slept at the same campground where we spent the first night. The old woman who lived there tried to sell me giant bottles of beer (to support her babies, she said, but I heartlessly demurred). The next morning, we woke up, and the burros were gone. That added some last-minute excitement to the proceedings, but anyway everything worked out until the whole convulsion thing happened. And I really thought the hike was pretty easy for a ten day affair. Another group we bumped into did a slightly different route in eight days (and for far less money.. oh well). Still, I enjoyed being out in the Andean wilderness for such a long time, and I'm glad my body waited until it got back to Huaraz before collapsing into a gibbering heap. Details to follow.

Huayhuash Day 6-7

Ok, I am really starting to forget details now. It must be the seizures. I believe we crossed a fairly impressive meadow on Day 6 that I dubbed the Valle de Guano because it was just covered in sheep and cow patties. It was around this time that I also took it upon myself to gather the burros in the morning. I got cold just standing around, and it gave me something to do. But those donkeys were so stubborn sometimes, and I was worried they might kick me. We arrived in camp fairly early on Day 7, after our second 5000 m pass, so I decided to build a cairn. The first drink is on me the next time I see the first person who can guess why I built a cairn. Hint: this should be really easy for people who know me well. Post your answer here as a comment.

Huayhuash Day 3-5

I am starting to forget details, but each day of this trek involved stunning scenery, difficult mountain passes, and lakes of unusual color. The horizon was as sharp as a knife, too! The highest mountain passes we went over were about 5000 m, but acclimitization had kicked in by then, so I didn't suffer any ill effects. I even started getting used to stale bread for breakfast. No, I shouldn't make fun of the meals. They were actually pretty good for the back-country. We often had pancakes and eggs for breakfast, cheese sandwiches and chocolate for lunch, and soup and soy protein bits (my request) for dinner. We met one Peruvian shepherd who, when I told him I'm American, said he doesn't like Bush. You just can't get away from it!

Huayhuash Day 2 - Sorroche!

I got sorroche today, but not a very bad case. It just feels like you´re hungover. Still, it was very difficult making it over our second pass at 4800 m, and I had a hard time eating. The symptoms gradually went away, though. Poor Nitzan was uncomfortable longer. But at least he didn´t have a seizure...
The scenery was spectacular. Snowy mountain peaks rose above spacious alpine valleys.

Huayhuash Day 1

Huayhuash is pronounced like ¨why wash¨, and it´s a question you too would be asking yourself after ten days of not cleaning yourself. We woke up at around 5 am to catch the bus to a town called Chiquian. Due to road construction, however (there was an avalanche or something), we missed our onward connection to the even smaller town of Llamac. Our guide and the other passengers managed to hire a collective taxi on their own, though, and, as luck would have it, the original bus we were trying to catch had broken down anyway en route to Llamac. So if we had actually been on time, we´d have been stuck in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived in Llamac, the misadventures continued. We had so much gear, we needed at least four burros, but the trekking agency only reserved three. So the arriero (burro guy) had to go rent another one. Meanwhile, we hiked over the first pass (about 4500 m) and down to our first campground (at 4000 m). It was cold!

Maybe it was that guinea pig that I ate...

Dear blog-followers, I apologize for my extended absence, but I have suffered a medical emergency. After returning from my ten day hike around the Andes--right after I stepped off the bus, in fact--I had not one but two quasi-epileptic seizures. Cheers to Nitzan, my Israeli hiking partner, for bringing me to the hospital, where I spent two nights being tested and pumped full of anti-convulsion drugs. Unfortunately, I do not have any good news about this, because the doctors failed to discover the cause of my seizures. So I have to go back to Lima for further testing since the city of Huaraz does not have, for example, an MRI machine. I spoke to my doctor in the US, and she said that the changes in altitude might have been the triggering factor. But I really won´t know anything until I get an MRI and an EEG done and consult with a neurologist. I may have to take medication for awhile... or for the rest of my life. The medical treatments are far cheaper than they would be back home, but they are still costing me a lot of money, and I don´t want to take any risks with my health, so I don´t know what effect this will have on my future travel plans. Needless to say, I am very upset about this turn of events. I will post all further information as I receive it. In the meantime, I will write something about my hike, at least as a diversionary tactic.