28 October 2007

Coming to America

Tonight, I am flying back to New Jersey. I will be in Highland Park on Monday and Tuesday, the Findlay wedding on Wednesday, and New York City on Friday and Saturday. Since I have but limited chances to see people while I'm home, I've decided to organize a get-together at a bar. I will be at the following venue on Friday, November 2nd from 7:00 pm. I will be leaving the US on Sunday for Beijing, not to return again until the end of next summer. If you can, please join me for a night of thrilling conversation and anthropological study of the inhabitants of the Upper East Side at:

The Auction House
Neighborhood: Manhattan/Upper East Side
300 E 89th Street
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10128
(212) 427-4458

27 October 2007

26 October 2007

Fecal matters

Perhaps I feel inspired by the toilet humor of Rabelais, because I want to share a brief and rather tasteless anecdote from yesterday's events. The following post is vulgar, graphic, and disgusting. Please do not read it.

Four days ago, I was in Tupiza, Bolivia, which is near the southernmost end of the country. From there, I traveled to La Paz, at the northern end, in Matthias' jeep (10 hours) followed by a night bus (12 hours). I slept in La Paz and took another set of buses beginning the next morning: to Puno, Peru (6 hours), from Puno to Arequipa (6 hours), from Arequipa overnight to Nazca (9 hours), from Nazca to Ica (2 hours), and from Ica to Lima (6 hours+).

Let's focus in on that last leg.

Spending more than 50 hours sitting on your ass in bumpy buses without washing or sleeping well and eating nasty food tends to transform you into a rather disgusting person. To confirm this, I had only to open my pants a little to smell the sweet aroma of backpacker putrefaction. I had only to lift my arms to keep even the Peruvians from intruding into my seat-space. And, of course, there is that wonderful phenomenon I like to call "altitude stomach" that makes you fart in fifth gear when you're above 3000 meters. I sat in all this me-filth for the entire time--even the odor-resisting powers of my synthetic trekking clothes were overcome. When I got to Nazca, thoroughly pasted over with several layers of sweat, hair grease, and bio-stink, I asked the hotel where I booked my Nazca lines overflight if I could use one of their showers. The owner said yes, but I'd have to pay 8 soles (about $2.66). Naturally, I found this unreasonable and offensive and refused to pay the asshole anything. So I continued to Lima in my state of horrible malodorousness. About four hours into the allegedly six hour journey, I began to feel a familiar discomfort. This was compounded when, after showing the first two, the third "Fast and the Furious" movie of the trilogy began playing on the bus TV. Oh God, I thought, there can't possibly be that much time left, because... I HAVE TO GO. Realizing that the plumbing was about to burst, I nevertheless practiced yogic patience. The bus, I thought, would surely arrive soon. It didn't. It kept going and going, and I kept having to go, to go, To Go, TO GO TO GO TO GO OH GOD I HAVE TO GO!!! I ran to the front and begged the driver's assistant to stop somewhere with a baño. He pointed to the side of the road. I said no, I need A BAÑO. He understood, but there really was nowhere to stop on the highway. Finally, the bus pulled over to let off passengers, and I noticed an Internet café with a sign: Baño, 50 cts. My pupils dilated at this, a more wonderful sight than Machu Picchu ever could be, a miracle granted me by whatever gods look over this world and its miserable inhabitants. "Baño!" I shouted, "Baño!" I was like a small child, I was so excited. But the assistant hadn't seen it, and said simply "No hay." "Hay!!" I shouted, pointing, "Hay!" and then he did see it, and told the driver,


I have to tell you my friends, that I have spent years on a long journey through my emotions, trying to rid myself of anger and hate. I believed at the beginning of this process that if I was unhappy, it was my own fault, and I had to work hard to feel less malice toward people and more genuine good-will, positive humanity if you like. But in that moment, I never hated anyone more in my life. I moved to the front seat, just in case I had another chance, and as the pressure built in my bowels, I started uttering (in English) the coursest of profanity at the bus driver. This was New Jersey cursing, New Jersey anger. To the poor guy sitting next to me, I unloaded my plight. After all, I couldn't unload anything else. I felt the piss rising into my head, making me pissed off, and the shit pouring into my spleen, making me splenetic. The colic pain came in spasms, like birth contractions, the time between them shorter and shorter. And then things got worse, because...

We hit a massive, massive traffic jam in Lima, ten minutes from the bus terminal.

For a half hour we didn't move at all. And I didn't know how much longer I could really take it before I'd have to squat like an animal in the highway median or, better yet, squat right in front of the bus, shitting with my ass in the driver's face. Or even better yet, I thought, I should just shit in his lap and piss down his throat. I even said that out loud, "I should just shit in your lap, you motherfucker" since he probably didn't know English. Neither did my neighbor, but I said to him, too, "I should just shit in his lap, that asshole." I stared at him with fiery eyes, wishing I were an evil Superman, fantasizing about ways he could die, only my anger keeping the excrement contained. When the urgency really became demanding--during the first "Tokyo drift" scene in the movie--I spontaneously began pounding the plastic divider in frustration and shouted at the driver:

"¡¿Entiendes Usted que quiere decir 'emergencia'?! ¡Necesito usar el baño, ahora! ¡AHORA, AHORA, AHORA! ¡Estada un baño, pero no pareda! ¡Jesús Christo! ¡Tengo muy muy dolor! ¿Entiendes?"

I'm not sure how correct any of that is, but I felt a small victory because I still had the presence of mind to use Usted and afterward said a few "esculpe"s for making such a scene, though the fucker deserved it. Finally, we started moving again (finally, after what felt like another hour), and I thought I was going to cry. I was in so much pain, I couldn't hide it, and I was embarrassed, too. At the second to last stop, the driver's assistant spotted a dirty little Chinese restaurant and pointed. "¡Espera!" I shouted as I bolted toward it, ignoring employees and patrons as I shot into the inevitably disgusting baño in the back, like that scene in that one movie I can't remember right now. And then:


Pardon the foul language, but I shat the shit of the ages. The toilet had no seat, of course, so I had to practice my squatting--no problem. I squatted and shit for about five minutes, the combined junk food waste and politely held-in farts of 50 bus hours reverse-geysering out of me. I shit like an elephant, like a demigod of shit, like Kevin Costner shits out shitty movies.

And then it was over. I dabbed my poor, sore rectum with the baby wipes I cleverly stashed in my pocket (never any t.p. in SA) and then examined my work, the masterpiece defecation of my life, greater even than the great Mt. Washington Shit of '99. It was the size (not the consistency) of a bowling ball. For the sake of tradition, I tried to flush, then ran out, handing a waitress 5 soles on the way (can you say "shit-eating grin?"). I hugged the driver's assistant with genuine affection and reboarded the bus. Everyone's eyes were on me in that funny, leaning-into-the-aisle way. I sheepishly apologized for my behavior, but the passengers were all smiles. I think some of them actually applauded. The guy behind me wanted details, which I gave him, and he laughed his ass off. But I slouched into my seat a happy man and made it to my hotel without further incident.

I would have posted this awful story last night, but I had to dash out of the Internet café for round 2.

If you actually read this far, I am truly sorry that you ever had to know me. As compensation, here are today's events: I actually saw blue skies in Lima, bought three months of seizure medicine, had my photos developed, learned that, for the third time in a row, a friend's digital camera is malfunctioning (so no photos of Bolivia), and got, for the Findlay nuptials, my first ever manicure and pedicure--and liked it.

Gotta love them lines

As part of my eternity of bus rides back to Lima, I saw the mysterious Nazca Lines this morning. I did the usual thing, which is to show up at any hotel in Nazca and say, well, actually you don't have to say anything. They know why you're there but will politely nod as you explain your trite desires, before sending you off on your 35 minute overflight of the high Pampas. My pilot was Eduardo or Juan or something and my plane was, I think, a Cessna 172 (Dad?). I enjoyed the flight a bit more than the lines, which are hard to see. But I do see why people like flying small craft so much. My brother took lessons once. I wonder if he misses that, because I think I might like to now. My favorite figure was the monkey. I think it's everyone's favorite.

I am back in Lima now, after taking a bus that connected at the recently pulverized city of Ica. For the epicenter of an earthquake, it doesn't look that much more devastated than the status quo for most Andean cities. It even has a palatial Chinese restaurant, still open for business. I leave South America in two days. I feel that my time here has provided me some of the most spectacular scenery and most interesting company of all my trips to date, which is a hard feat. I recommend a visit to all. I will offer only one piece of advice: whenever you look out the window of a bus here, you will see a dog relieving itself.

Room 0

The title of this post refers to the number of my room at the SLH Katie and I stayed at in Tupiza. I have been reflecting on this strange occurance, that a hotel would actually have a room 0 (on the third floor no less), and it seems to me that when you're a backpacker, a traveler, you always stay in room 0.

Room 0 is the cheapest possible room at the cheapest negotiable price in one of the cheapest countries one can visit in relative comfort without serious risk of violent robbery, kidnapping, or terrorist incidents. Room 0 comes with free Internet, free breakfast, free advice, and a towel. Room 0 costs $3/night at the most, but the Israelis will still ask for a lower price while insisting it be "nice". Room 0 never has a private bathroom, and the public bathroom will seldom have hot water if it has water at all (this will cause the British to swear in amusing ways). Room 0 usually has an attached restaurant where you can eat "local" food at the lowest prices at the lowest acceptable level of hygiene. There is also a kitchen if you want to cook for yourself, a friendly travel agency with unlimited tours to local rock formations, and a TV lounge full of pirated DVDs and Eurotrash. Room 0 is a little dirty, a little insecure, and is unlikely to have a window, a trash bin, or furniture. Room 0 is for people who identify with its enumeration: those who seek through travel the perfection of a circle while at the same time knowing they are worth precisely nothing. It is a room for humble people, people who don't complain, people who don't like to stand out, and people who don't mind (or even enjoy hardship. It is a room for losers, stragglers, strugglers, avoiders, deadbeats, bums, vagabonds, hobos, castaways, outliers, refugees, and connivers. It is a room for ciphers, for travelers, for backpackers.

I have to make a pronouncement: backpackers are scum. They are, as a people, constantly poor, always cheap, frequently dirty, smelly, sweaty, tired, drunk, high; they are stretchers of the truth, tellers of tales, procrastinators, do-gooders, do-badders, womanizers, men-izers, scam-artists, coin-clippers, cracker-eaters, meal-skippers, job-quitters, without ambition, without regret, without remorse, without a plan, and without a clue. They are readily identified by the shorts-conversion seam in their quick-try trekking pants, their dog-eared copies of Lonely Planet/Rough Guide/Footprint (NEVER Let's Go), their mottled appearance, their cunning eyes, their ruthless haggling, their cheap handicrafts, their ugly dreadlocks, their miscellanious piercings, their miscellanious accents, their stereotypical T-shirts from countries you haven´t visited, their lack of change, their backpack covers, their group-mentality, their group scorning, their eccentricities, their bad habits, their reasons for traveling, their lack of reasons for anything, their lust for the Internet, their Canadian flags, their annoying vegetarianism, their love of a cheap drink, a quick laugh, and an easy time. Backpackers are disgusting, dodgy, unreliable, flaky, suspicious, spontaneous, opportunistic, advantage-taking, disconntected, listless, grungy, cynical, unimpressed, disagreeable, pedantic, crabby, sick, diseased, fatigued, in debt, friendless, homeless, penniless, and Australian.

Backpackers are annelids that crawl across the Earth in their own slime, looking at the highest things but stuck in the lowest depths. They are, truly as I said before, scum.

But I am proud to call myself one of them.

25 October 2007

La Paz to Lima in 32 hours

I am racing across South America to catch my flight in Lima, right now at hour 12 of a series of bus trips, total 24 hours, from La Paz to Nazca so I can see these stupid lines. All day on the buses today, night bus leaving in a half hour for Nazca (10-14 hours), then see lines, then night bus to Lima (8 hours), then sleep in bed one night, then flight. Lines better be good. Dude at the Peruvian border gave me 90 days without even blinking. Too bad I can't use them. Ok, bye.

24 October 2007

Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid territory

I really have so little time to write. I just rearrived in La Paz after 9 hours in Matthias' Land Cruiser bouncing along some of the worst roads on Earth and another 14 hours on a bus. I basically crossed the entirety of Bolivia in a day.

After Potosi, we headed south to Tupiza, which is notable for looking like the American Southwest. Funny that I would go all the way to Bolivia to see landscapes reminiscent of the American Southwest, but it's probably cheaper this way. The following day, I organized a horseback riding trip for myself while Matthias, Marlene, and Katie decided to head further south to Villazon on the border with Argentina. As I emerged from a shop, I saw them pulling away, with Katie waving frantically from the rear window. It was like a scene from a movie. I didn't even get a chance to say a proper goodbye. Good luck, Katie!

The horseback riding was fine aside from the usual ass-burning (to prepare me for the bumpy jeep ride the next day). At one point, I did regret not having a camera. Red canyon walls rose to meet a clear, blue sky. Ghostly, green trees grew out of the very rock, and the canyon floor was stark white from calcium deposits. I drew an X on the ground, hoping that I would run into someone coming the opposite way that could take a photo for me. I did pass two Dutch girls, but they were galloping too fast for me to hail them. Later, I learned that one of them fell off her horse, almost died, and required 25 stitches. So I probably wouldn't have gotten the photo anyway.

The next morning, Matthias and Marlene picked me up, and we were off to the small town of San Vincente, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford were famously gunned down by, like, the entire Bolivian army. Somehow, I doubt such an operation could be organized today. We drove for hours on a tortuous road through stunning, stunning (STUNNING) scenery that I can't even describe. It changed every hour from those Southwest-esque red rocks to barren altiplano, to white sandy desert... until finally we arrived at San Vincente, expecting something of the shootout-era town to have survived. Unfortunately, San Vincente today is just an SLT connected to a mining operation, so we passed right on through toward Uyuni. The dirt road from San Vincente back to the main highway (also dirt) was probably the worst road I've ever been on. It started off bad and then got worse before deteriorating significantly. At sundown, we arrived at Uyuni, just in time for the car to (briefly) break down. Uyuni is famous for having the largest salt flats in the world. Most travelers to Bolivia take a three day tour there visiting spectacularly strange scenery. I, however, have a wedding to get to, so I skipped it and jumped right on an overnight bus to La Paz.

And here I am, still rushing, with two more night buses ahead of me, to Lima (the things I do for my friends!). I may try to visit the Nazca lines en route, and that will be the last of my South American adventures. Things will pick up again on November 5, when I arrive in Beijing. In the meantime, New York area-ites, please join me next Friday night, November 2nd, at a bar (TBA) in Manhattan. Actually, I am open to suggestions for this. I've been gone a long time and won't be back until next summer, so please consider penciling me in for some face time. Cheers!

21 October 2007

Cerro Rico Suave

I doubt anyone but me has counted the city of Potosí as a must-see-before-death attraction. Let me explain. This city was once, in the 16th century, the largest and wealthiest city in the world, more so than both London and Paris. And it's in the middle of nowhere, politically speaking, and also at a height of over 4000 meters, making it both the highest city in the world and rather inhospitable. What's interesting about it is the Cerro Rico, the rich mountain (in Spanish), the beautiful mountain (in Quechua), that stands pyramidically above it, that once contained the largest deposits of silver ever found anywhere in the world. This mountain of silver is arguably the most important mountain in the history of the modern world. The Spanish built their strength upon it, depended on it, and drained it rapidly of its immense wealth. This wealth streamed into Europe and made Europe the power that it became. What the world is today--its power relations and power imbalances--is owed almost entirely to this mountain, Cerro Rico. Eight million indigenous miners died in the process, generally due to the mercury amalgamation process of silver extraction, generally in 1-3 years. Cerro Rico is the source of everything that we are, everything wonderful and everything terrible. So I wanted to see it.

Enough history. We left early and went to the miners' market, where we bought soft drinks, coca leaves, and explosives as gifts to give to the miners. From there, we went to a smelter to witness the aforementioned amalgamation process, now performed with the less lethal cyanide (it kills the workers in about 30 years instead of three). Then, the fun part: we entered the mines of Potosí and went three levels deep. I'm not sure how deep we were, exactly, but it was an admittedly benign experience, being designed for tourists and all. Still, I crawed through low tunnels, backed against craggy walls as miners zipped past in minecars (Temple of Doom!), and reached up to touch the powdery arsenic that coats the ceilings, asking dumbly, "What's this?" Afterward, they even set off some dynamite for our amusement. I met a few Australians in Cuzco who asked their guide to blow up a pig's head they bought at a market. So I think you can go there and blow up pretty much anything (the miners are competitive and sometimes blow up each other, too, like at Coober Pedy, Australia).

In the evening, Katie and I met a nice couple from Buenos Aires, actually an American and an Australian who were teaching English there. They were watching Mel Brooks' "History of the World, Part One", which I haven't seen in probably 20 years. Forgive the profanity, but I will end this post by sharing with you one of the best movie dialogues ever, between two Roman soldiers, high on marijuana:

Soldier 1: So, do you care if it falls?

Soldier 2: What?

Soldier 1: The Roman Empire.

Solider 2: Fuck it.

19 October 2007

This is what I ate and drank while watching the sunset from a mirador in Sucre

In order:

1. Strawberry and orange juice, large
2. Greek salad, large
3. Hot chocolate with amaretto, modest

And a rather famous waltz was playing in the background, too. Ah, life.

18 October 2007

Sweet, sweet Sucre

Arrived after a long, somewhat but not entirely tortuous Land Cruiser journey in Sucre, which isn't actually named after any sweeteners but the one of Simon Bolivar's fellow revolutionaries who liberated the country. Ironically, Bolivar himself didn't want Bolivia (or any other country in this part of SA) to be independent of his larger vision, but they named it after him anyway. He died broken and alone in Columbia, banned from the land of his birth, like all such heroes. Today, Sucre is the judicial capital of Bolivia, like some such thing in The Netherlands or South Africa. Protesters have recently been blockading the city, demanding the rest of the capitalary (?) functions be restored to Sucre, as well. I hope it doesn't happen while I'm here.

We basically drove on a bumpy stone and then dirt road for 12 hours to get here. Without seatbelts. Poor Katie cut her head open on a piece of metal during one of the bumpier bumps. At one point, we had to wait around several hours while bulldozers rebuilt the road, which had slid into the river in an avalanche. Matthias tried to ford the river, which was going to make me cry in the most absolute terror of my life, but relievingly, he didn't.

I never said anything about the water war in Cochabamba. Basically, the state, in cooperation with the US corporation Bechtel and the World Bank, tried to privatize the water works in the city which would have raised rates considerably. They needed the money to build a new supply tunnel, which has only recently been completed. The people protested and the privatization was halted. This happened in 1999 and was then considered a significant victory and rallying point in the so-called "anti-globalization" movement. So I have long wanted to see this city for myself. There are many sides to this story, and many opinions about the subsequent outcome, but I won't get into that. I will say that Cochabamba is not like what I thought it would be. I imagined extreme poverty, dusty roads, etc. Actually, it is nicer than just about every city I visited in Peru and could almost double for a middle-class city in America (almost is a strong word). I went to see Rush Hour 3 (awful) at a movie theater that could have been anywhere in the industrialized or attempting to look partially industrialized world. I felt like a tool and even missed Matthias' "bad boys night" at the bar, accidentally, so I regret that a bit, but sometimes you need a Hollywood pablum break, don't you?

Today, Katie and I were suckered or suckered ourselves into going to see some remarkably disappointing dinosaur footprints. After paying 10 Bolivianos to get up to the site, they unexpectedly wanted 30 B. more to get in. Like stubborn backpackers (I told you!) we refused and just looked at them from the outside. I also took a nap in the shade on the stone paving outside. That, at least, was refreshing. I will now spend the rest of the day admiring the extremely churched and UNESCO-listed core of this, the "white city" (not Minas Tirith and still not named after sugar!).

16 October 2007

The Kindness of Strangers, or !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Señor Bode dropped a bomb this morning: he's going to drive Katie, his girlfriend, and I around Bolivia for the next week in his Land Cruiser. Tomorrow, we head for Sucre, then Potosí, then Tupiza in the Deep Southwest, then Uyuni, then back to Potosí on the most beautiful dirt road in the country, and at some point I will make sense of all these place names for you. I'd write about what I did today, but the shadow of this news obscures such piddling details.

I had a drink made of whipped egg whites and beer

I just wanted you all to know that.

15 October 2007

Jesús Christ Superstar

News, news, interesting news. Always interesting news on the blog of The Steve, no? I finished up La Paz by visiting a museum with a Che Guevarra exhibit (the 40th anniversary of his assasination in Bolivia was Oct. 8) and then, while hanging around the Plaza Mayor, saw Evo Morales himself (prez of Bolivia) rush from an entourage of vehicles into the Presidential palace. Lots of interesting characters went in and came out, including quite a few campesinos in traditional garb. Evo seems quite popular among them. Other people think he's a glorified drug lord.

Next, I took a night bus (full bed, six hours) from La Paz some days ago to Cochabamba, where I have been trying to organize for about a month my first couchsurfing experience. For those who don't know about couchsurfing--and want to be able to stay anywhere in the world for free--Google yourselves on over to their site. I've known about it for awhile, but I never used it before. Then, a friend from Japan (thanks, Jamie!) told me she used it all the time there. I wish I'd tried it before, because hostels and hotels in Japan are "hella" expensive. I didn't think Bolivia would be the first place I'd hit, but an extremely generous German gentleman, Matthias, who lives in Cochabamba extremely generously offers for as long as you like a luxurious bedroom with king size bed and full ensuite bathroom (two sinks!). He's the one who wrote the greatest email ever, previously posted, and it turns out he's a retired banker living a very nice life here in a very nice apartment, which I am now sharing. He picked me up at the bus station at 6:30 am in his 1978 Land Cruiser, fed me, and took me around town and then up to the giant statue of Jesus that looms (is that the right word? glories?) over Cochabamba. Having been quite incensed that the statue of Christ Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro was elected one of the new seven wonders of the world (and not Angkor Wat!), I was pleased to learn (because I have no plans to visit $100 visa Brazil) that the one here is a smidgen taller. Lots of cities in Sur America have these statues. I don't know if it's for religious reasons or if they are just trying to outdo one another (Christ Envy?).

I should add that in an amazing and unexpected twist of fate, another couchsurfer, American Katie, beat me by two days to Matthias' apartment, which is first-come, first-served. But she's cool, so I haven't minded sleeping on a mattress in the living room. She also has a sprained ankle, so she ought to have the comfort I neither need nor am used to. We've been hanging, the group of us (including Matthias' Bolivian girlfriend, Marlena). Yesterday, Matthias drove us to a small town called Morochata several hours of spectacular Andean scenery away from Cochabamba. He loves screwing around with the four-wheel drive, and most roads in Bolivia are basically off-road, so opportunities abound. When we returned for coffee, we ran into his friend Anthony, who is an engineer working on Cochabamba's new water tunnel. I was very interested to talk to him, since I wanted to come here specifically because of the "water war" of eight years ago. But more on that next time, after I've actually visited the tunnel.

Today, I started the morning off by getting a follow-up blood test at the third clinic we went to looking for someone who can test phenytoin levels. The nurse didn't put a catheter in my arm, just a needle, out of which the blood dripped, into a testtube she held under it. Weird. Then, we went to get Matthias' LC washed, had more coffee at the Café Paris, and browsed around (just Katie and I) Cochabamba's giant market, Cancha. Earlier, Katie had broken her sunglasses by falling out of a tree onto them, so she had to buy new ones. At the same "Optico", I found and bought (very cheaply!) what I've been searching for my whole life, or at least since December: glasses with magic frames that can bend impossibly in every direction and second generation transition lenses. Once again, score!

12 October 2007

The Three Mile High City

La Paz. Entering from El Alto, your bus suddenly drops into a crater-lake valley impressed into the high plain. The city doesn't spill down from the rim so much as it explodes up and out from the center, littering the valley's sides and beyond with some of the poorest suburbs I've seen. The city is of a more manageable size than Lima, though I have yet to explore it fully, given all the social events going on. Maeve, who is now gone from me, booked a flight to the jungle and is now there trekking and trying to avoid malaria. Our first night, we went to a live music bar with a Dutchman and an Israeli to experiment with my doctor's "advice" and, hey, not even a hangover the next morning. The next day, Maeve somehow got me to follow her from shop to shop trying on rings. I found a nice jacket for myself, though, which I am almost just about to buy for the plum sum of 120 Bolivianos (7.6 to the $). I also found another Japanese person to talk to. This has become one of the highlights of my trip. In the evening, we had arranged to meet even more Israelis, the Dutchman, the Japanese, and other persons, but most of them didn't show up for reasons unknown, so just the few of us went to a gringo bar in the gringo neighborhood, just like gringos. And we drank for sport. At one point, I needed to use the toilet. Wasn't I surprised when I recognized the woman who came out (of the men's room)? Rebeka from Perth, Australia, from La Casa de la Gringa in Cuzco, who was there with her Swedish boyfriend and New Zealandish other friend. So they joined us, and we finally had a serious party going. Somehow, we ended up going back to the bar of the previous night. Somehow, I ended up dancing like a lunatic from midnight until 4 am. Somehow, I am still functioning enough right now to make this blog entry. Somehow, but I don't know how. So much for doctors' advice.

I got "Sol"

My last week or so has been eventful with little time for blogging, and I forget most things, but I always have time for stupid puns.

We never did that sunset walk. Instead, we hung out at a cafe playing Spit until it closed. Maeve insisted on playing with two hands, which I rejected as a barbarity.

Where did I leave off before? Forgive me, dear reader, but my doctor (one of them) has said that despite my medication, "an occasional glass of wine or occasional beer should not be an issue."


I walked from Copacabana to Yampupata, a small town on the peninsula that juts into Lake Titicaca toward the Isla del Sol. LP says seven hours, so I did it in about three or so. No brawn necessary this time. I met a few other walkers who did it in the same, non-ambling time, including an Italian guy from Florence. He crafts.. crafts.. and then travels to sell them. Right now, he is on his way to Buenos Aires to buy materials (cheap) to sell to Venezuelans (rich). I wish I could remember his name. He was actually going to walk back to Copacabana, because the rowboat captain wanted $4 for the trip over to the island. Then he met me, so we split it. This isn't necessarily penny-pinching or penury, just an instance of a phenomenon I have personally experienced as well as observed everywhere in the world: backpacker stubbornness.

At the main town on the Isla, Yumani, I dumped myself into a chair at a cafe and observed how even in the Bolivian countryside, you can still purchase bottles of fine wine (warmed by the altiplano sun) in tourist areas. I was waiting for Maeve, who took the ferry over instead, and who arrived quite battered in the feet for having walked too blithely out of the hotel wearing the wrong shoes. We talked about food, sex, and all the people who just piss in the streets (including women) here. Then, I started my solitary journey to the north of the island, where I figured I would sleep. Warned it would take five hours, I got there in one without rushing. What is with people and the slow walking? The views were extraordinary, and Lake Titicaca from the Isla del Sol is just so BLUE. Thanks again to Ryoko for recommending this little trip specifically for me, though she spent a few days there, I gather, and I've met plenty of other people who've done the same. I saw some ruins, a table where human sacrifices used to take place and is today used as a picnic spot, the "footprints of the sun", and the puma-shaped rock after which the lake is named. I looked at my watch after all this sightseeing and though I had a chance to make it back to Yumani via a different route before it got dark. Well, I didnt't, but luckily, I had my headlamp, and thanks to Zach for introducing me to the wonders of modern trekking equipment. Really, I would be nowhere without my friends. Anyway, I trudged into a hotel in the pitchy darkness, got my $3 bed, went to have my $4 grilled trout dinner, went to sleep, and got the 8:30 am ferry ($2) back to Copacabana. Next: La Paz.

10 October 2007

NYC: October 29th - November 4th

I will be there. I won't have enormous amounts of time to do anything, but get in touch if you want to buy me a beer (I certainly can't afford to pay for it). Real post coming soon.

Facebook bandwagon

I have finally joined it. Search for me.

08 October 2007

Hey Zach, I walked into Bolivia!

Maeve and I really zipped through Peru and into Bolivia in the last few days. We took a tour bus from Cuzco to Puno, stopping along at some rather mediocre attractions along the way, though I did like the Inca ruin that looks like a Roman aqueduct. Arriving in Puno, we immediately decided we didn't like it, but Puno is simply a means to an end, and that end is Lake Titicaca, in particular the famous floating reed islands of said lake. The day after the bus tour, we got a late start because Maeve had to make a brief stop at a clinic. While I was waiting for her, I noticed some syringes on the table and thought, "Hmm..." Five minutes later, I had five of my own. Total cost: less than one dollar. And all I had to do was ask. Why did I want syringes, you're wondering? Well, it's just a precautionary measure in case I need a blood transfusion or some other syringe-requiring medical procedure while in, say, Western China (or somewhere else where they reuse them). I only hope US Customs doesn't confiscate them during my brief reentry because they think I'm a heroin addict.


After that, we went on a typical tour to the reed islands, and My God! were they amazing. Yes, a bit touristy in part, as expected, but quite remarkable nonetheless. Can you even imagine the sight of dozens of glowing yellow islets, all with a ring of glowing yellow houses, bobbing tranquilly in the blue of one of the world's highest lakes? I remarked that I might consider living there for a time. Naturally, I was informed by an islander that a Japanese guy did just that some time ago, for a month.

Upon returning to Puno, we were informed that, at the late hour that it was, we had no chance to reach the border before it closed. We made the attempt anyway and ended up sleeping there. I like border towns, though. They're a bit dodgy, a bit exciting, a bit, forgive the pun, edgy. Plus, there was some kind of local festival going on. Instead of watching it, Maeve and I ate french fries and went to bed.

The next day, we rose early and took a combi for 15 cents to the border. Maeve had a bit of bad luck, since she was selected for a random search (they asked her if she was carrying marijuana or cocaine) and she lost her tourist card and had to buy a new one. I, on the other hand, was stamped out in a flash, with not even an extortion attempt. From there, (are you reading this, Zach?), we had to walk into Bolivia. Under an arch. Stamp, stamp again, and we were off to Copacabana, Bolivia's only beach town. Maeve doesn't like it (not exactly like the one in Brazil, I suppose). I find its laid back filth quite charming. I find the dollar-a-night hotel even more charming. Tonight, we're going to climb a hill, watch a sunset, and eat trout.

06 October 2007

Remember the Rainbows

Writing this blog (is that proper English now?) has been a challenge for me, because I want to include everything, and I always forget some detail that seems so important at the time. When I was hiking at Choquequirao, for instance, we turned to look behind us at a scenic point and saw a complete rainbow arcing its way across the river from ice-capped peaks on the left to cloud forested cliffs on the right. Stuff like that. Today, my Irish friend Maeve and I took a tour bus from Cuzco to Puno, on Lake Titicaca. I was expecting something a bit more interesting than what we got, but I did see a pretty church interior (the "Sistine Chapel" of South America, but boy is that analogy pushing limits) and an Incan ruin that looks like a Roman aquaduct. The important thing is, we finally got the hell of Cuzco. Some people don't. Tomorrow, it looks like we'll see the lake and then plunge into Bolivia. At some subsequent point, we'll have to figure out when we're parting company, so she can visit the jungle and I can visit that German man in Cochabamba. I'm looking forward to Bolivia, especially what with the dollar is doing. Maeve has recently come back from Nepal and India, where I'm headed soon enough, and said it's pretty easy to get by there on $200/month. I can't even imagine that, but I'm certainly fantasizing about it.

05 October 2007

My Day of Rest

I wasn't too enthusiastic, after the whole vomiting thing, to rush out of Cuzco in the early morning, so today I bought a ticket to Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca, to which I head tomorrow. I went to that school again, too, and watched the kids do their weekly singing performance. Very cute.

I forget to mention that last night, a nice Mexican guy I met on top of Wayna Picchu treated me to dinner with his family at the nicest restaurant in Cuzco. The octopus was especially good. He also invited me to stay at the hotel he owns north of Mexico City. I looked at his web site, and the cheapest room goes for $1000+/night. I think it's a converted palace. He said I can stay for as long as I want, too, and that he likes having a varied clientele because most of his customers are business travelers visiting the nearby Colgate factory. Since my hotel rooms usually cost $3/night, I am curious to see what it's like in the stratosphere. More importantly, he and his family were lovely, charming people, and it's always a pleasure to meet lovely, charming people whether or not they own hotels.

That's all for now. Don't worry about me, people! Episodes of vomiting in the morning followed by sumptuous meals in the evening are what traveling is all about. I shall write again from Titicaca. Ha ha, Titicaca..

04 October 2007


The spirit forces of Machu Picchu had revenge on me this morning for using those expired tickets and paying precisely $0 in homage to them. I can't be exactly sure what it was, but I think it was the cheese and avocado sandwiches I made for myself that made me wake up feeling sick. But not too sick.. I decided not to walk the 30 km on the train tracks like the Japanese (not surprisingly) were, even though I really wanted to in order to confirm my Iron Man reputation and so as not to be upstaged by my Japanese peers (the true hardcore travelers of this world). So I thought I'd attempt the train. I made it to the train station by 5:00 am, when it opened, and managed, miraculously and against all previous experience and advice, to secure the absolute last available seat on the 5:45 am cheap backpacker train to the ancient Inca town of Ollantaytambo, halfway back to Cuzco. So, I reasoned, perhaps my karma was in balance after all. I made it to the town, but I felt so wiped out, I dropped my backpack at the first hotel I came to and asked if I could just sleep there for a few hours ($3). I still felt sick, but not too sick.. so I rested uneasily and thought I was recovering from whatever zapped me. Then came the feeling. And there was no time, no time at all, to get to the bathroom. So I grabbed the only plastic bag I had, with the remaining cheese and avocado sandwiches in it, and puked all over them. Surprisingly, because this never happens to me, I actually felt better afterwards and was soon on my way. I can safely say that was the only genuine spite puke of my life. I only spent a few hours staggering around town (the oldest continuously inhabited in South America), trying to be interested despite my fatigue, before spending about $1.50 for the 3 hour bus ride back to Cuzco.

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience: never buy cheese from the woman who is also selling meat.

03 October 2007


私の日本の友人に、私はこのポストの低質のために謝るが、日本人をここにタイプインしてない従って私はオンライン訳者を使用しなければならない。とにかく私がMachu Picchu で日本の人々に会った報告するために、私は刺激される! 私および私がそれらの日のほとんどの出費の上で終わったと同時に午前中入口にそれらの4 つがあった。それはスペイン語の代りに日本語を話す救助実際にだった! 私はどの位楽しみを日本の人々と時を過ごすべきであるか忘れていた。それらの1 つは私を東京の彼のアパートにとどまるように誘った。そのようなすばらしい友人があることへのあなたのすべてのおかげで。

(For English speakers, here is the reverse translation. I invite you to figure it out: I apologize to my Japanese friend, for inferior of this post, but the Japanese type in is not done here and therefore I must use the online translator. In any case, in order I met to the Japanese people with Machu and Picchu to report, I am stimulated! When I and me ended in regard to most expense of those days, those 4 Tsugas it was simultaneously in the entrance during morning. That was the rescue which speaks Japanese in Spanish place really! I which rank pleasure should pass the Japanese people and the time, whether, you had forgotten. Those one in order to be restricted to that apartment of Tokyo, invited me. That way with your all favor to the thing which is the rose forcing friend who is formed.)

Basically: I met Japanese people at Machu Picchu!! I spent most of the day with them! I got to speak Japanese! And it was actually a relief from speaking Spanish all the time! And they were great!

The Machu Picchu Post

I woke at 4 am. In near-total darkness, I headed up the steep path to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Nobody else was there. I reached the top after one hour. Thinking I must be the first person to have arrived at such a ridiculously early hour, I didn't notice the three other backpackers sleeping, hunched over a table, until they stirred. Naturally, they were Israeli.

I wish I could say that I successfully bullshat my way in with my expired ticket, but the guy in the booth didn't even check it. Thanks to Laurel from San Francisco for facilitating my scam-artistry.

What can I possibly say about Machu Picchu? I whooped and hollered when I reached the top of the entrance path and saw the whole thing spread out before me, in real life, for the first time. But I felt like I was still looking at a picture of it. There are pictures of Machu Picchu everywhere in Peru, and I wondered if that doesn't pollute the impressions you have upon seeing it yourself. It's an amazing sight regardless, but it's not one for which I felt any sense of discovery or enchantment. Choquequirao--yes. Even Angkor Wat, because it's huge, and most photos only show the front facade of the main temple. But Machu Picchu has been converted into a tourist attraction, definitely. It's like Inca Disneyland. By midday, it became flooded with tour groups, you have to "stay in the lines" by following set routes around the site, and guards are everywhere to blow a whistle at you if you stray into forbidden areas.

At 6 am, when the gates opened, the hardy travelers rushed to the entrance to Wayna Picchu, that tall mountain peak that looms spectacularly over the ruins in promotional photos. Normally, it takes about an hour to hike the steep path to the top. Naturally, I took about 15 minutes (boast boast) and had the place to myself for about a half hour. I just sat. And stared. And stayed for a long time.

I was delighted by the Japanese tour groups, the only ones I've seen so far, and went out of my way to be polite to them, which was quite enthusiastically received. They told me my Japanese is very good, and I said, no, it's not. Just like back in Japan! They were pretty high-tech, too. Each tourist had a special earpiece so he/she could listen to the tour guide's commentary, which he/she spoke into a microphone. I think this might have been less a stereotypical Japanese love of gadgetry than a stereotypical Japanese aversion to people (like tour guides) speaking loudly at them. But that's just a guess which my many Japanese readers can comment on.

I did the usual ruinwalk (ooh, walls, sacred niches, the famous wall of three windows!) before boarding the bus back to town without a ticket (I neither wanted to walk back nor actually pay for the bus). In the evening, I visited the eponymous aguas calientes and found them more tibio than caliente.

02 October 2007

Hot Springs

Somehow, I ended up in Aguas Calientes tonight, the tourist bonanza masquerading as a town at the foot of Machu Picchu mountain. The bus ride was about eight hours long, including stops to wait for road crews to clear rockslides. I was accosted immediately by the driver of the combi to Santa Teresa upon arrival in Santa Maria. That ride only took an hour and a half, instead of the three hours according to my Lonely Planet guide. I was accompanied by a nice German couple from Frankfurt and the first ever Uruguayans I have ever met. When we arrived at Santa Teresa, I bought a Powerade. And then, as miraculously as usual in Peru, there was the smiling taxi driver waiting to take us to the end of the road toward Aguas Calientes (they call it AC here, ha ha). By the time we got to the hydroelectric plant at said end of road, it was starting to get dark, but the Uruguayans and I decided to do the two hour walk to AC anyway. I figured it would only take us an hour because of our (really my) awesomeness, but sorry it didn't, and we ended up walking the last hour in near total darkness, guided only by the failing light of my in-need-of-batteries headlamp. But all is well now. I got my $3/night hotel room, I'll be saving a day by hitting MP a day early, and it looks like I'll be able to successfully bullshite my way in using the ticket I didn't buy.

AND they have Thai massage here!

01 October 2007

I am actually going to do something interesting tomorrow

I take it as my duty, now, to be as active as I can on my trip, because it seems that people really are actually reading this thing. I stuck around in Cuzco today, because yesterday I met the owner of a funky little cafe, all the profits of which fund a free school for local children. He invited me to visit the school, which I did this afternoon. And I think he's doing a marvelous job. He had this dream of helping local children years ago but didn't want to be merely idealistic about it, so he studied business, marketing, and tourism, and now runs a pretty tight, pretty successful ship. He's my age, too, and definitely has his act more together. Everything is as it should be, of course: local, organic, sustainable, grassroots, nurturing, loving, etc. I wish I'd known about it sooner as I might have volunteered there instead of Bolivia, though as it turns out, Yuri doesn't need any more volunteers, he has so many. So much for my M.A. being a selling point; I can't even teach for free! Cute kids, very active, though some of them clearly suffer from neglect (the ones with attention problems) while others just as clearly benefit from a stimulating learning environment at their regular school.

On my way back to my hotel, I heard a bunch of firecrackers go off in a churchyard. I thought they might be celebrating the recent feast day of St. Jerome. As a studious ascetic hermit, I doubt he would have approved. I was also thinking how remarkable it is that I'm not afraid of these random loud noises in developing nations any more.. and just as I thought that, a bunch of rockets went off ten feet away and scared the sh*t out of me. Then I made myself dinner. Produce is so cheap here. Avocados might as well be free, and I think they were around $6 each in Japan.


Tomorrow morning, I will finally begin my anticlimactic climactic journey to Machu Picchu. To avoid paying $70+ for the train, I have to take a bus for 7 hours, followed by a collectivo for 3 hours, sleep in a tiny nothing little town, then, I don't know, walk for 2 hours along some train tracks the following day to Aguas Calientes. Then, wake up the following following day at 5 am so I can run up the mountain to avoid paying $12 for the bus (and because I am an Iron Man). Most of this happens on the famous cliff-hugging, narrow, dangerous dirt roads. Then, I'll do it again on the way back, or, to really tempt fate, walk 30 km or so along the train tracks back toward Cuzco.

A Dutch guy with dreadlocks working at the Hemp Cafe mentioned a "lost city" recently discovered in the jungle near where I'm going. Unknown. Unvisited. Completely overgrown. Tempting.