September 8, 2006 - South America or Bust
Activities: 9 hour flight to Lima, Peru. Arrive at 1am. Meet up with Greg at the hotel.

This is the first entry in my travel blog. It is about 7 in the morning, and I've just finished packing for my month long adventure. I just realised that I can ftp into my akawesley account and update files. So, theoretically, I should be able to write this blog as I go--but I know the direction that normally goes. Well, we'll try it out and see what happens. Must run, but will update this later.

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September 11, 2006 - Cuzco and Ollantaytambo
Activities: train from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, get used to the altitude

Best Deal: Greg haggling for finger puppets from an 8 year old for 2 soles (60 cents)

Funniest moment: Greg not realising how much he gave to an old lady for taking her picture. 10 centimos (3 cents)! He didn´t understand why she got mad.

Yesterday, we spent a great day in Cuzco. What a great place this seems to be. It may be because it is a stark contrast to Lima. Lima seemed dark in both the weather and people. It was not a place to see the happiness of the Peruanos, but instead a very heavy nature. In Cuzco, probably because of the large number of tourists, the city, like the weather, seems much more bright. We spent yesterday in Cuzco, aclimitising to the altitude. For me and Greg, this meant minor headaches, being out of breath after a small walk, and small quick bouts of dizziness. We´ve been taking some drugs, courtesy of Greg´s paranoia....haha--but this time, it probably did some good.

But we spent the day haggling with 10 year old girls for finger puppets and llamas figurines with big boners. The city scape is spectacular, with great stone arches, pretty squares, and the Andes as the backdrop. The people here seemed friendlier with tourists, and I was much more comfortable in buying what they were selling. But it really makes me appreciate that I live in a place where this type of mass-poverty isn´t the norm. It is sad seeing little girls and boys being business people instead of little girls and boys.

Today we head to Ollantaytambo for another low key day before we start on the Lares Trek. We got a briefing on the trip yesterday and it is not what we really expected. It is basically a trip that goes in a circle! Haha! We were expecting to hike closer to Machu Picchu, but we´re really just doing a hike that begins and ends in Ollantaytambo. Greg says that we are really just some drug runners, because we are supposed to ¨give coca leaves to the locals instead of money¨. So just picture us hiking 30 km, freezing our asses off, with a bag of coca leaves to give to the locals. It is quite funny I think.



Hanging out in Lima


Haggling with the locals


Arriving in Cuzco

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September 15, 2006 - Machu Picchu and back again
Activities: Lares Trek through the mountains, meditating in Machu Picchu, climbing Wayna Picchu

Great memories: trekking to a pass 4800 meters and building a shrine to Pachamama

Fear Factor moment: the suicide stairs and rock formations at the top of Wayna Picchu

It was a couple of cold nights in heights of the Andes, but we had a great trip in the Lares trek. The first day was about 5 hours hiking up to our first campsite. It was drizzly and cold and the altitude was wreaking havoc on our bodies. After walking for a few minutes uphill, we would be gasping for breath. It was very strange. The second day was a hard hike up to a pass 4800m up and building a small stone shrine for Mother Earth. It was an exhilirating moment as we could see both sides of the pass and had reached the halfway point of our trek. After a hike down the other side, we set up camp again after our 8 hour hike. The third day was our easy day, and it was a 3 hour walk down to roadside and our waiting bus.

So it was the longest I´ve ever camped for (i.e. no shower, sleeping bags, tents, boiling water, pissing on a tree, etc.). The people we met were great. They were all from either Australia or the UK. And hopefully we can keep in touch. They´re in a lot of my pictures as we bumped into eachother the few days after the hike as well.

Finally to end this whirlwind week, we made it to Machu Picchu--one of the main reasons that we came to Peru. It is truly a magical place. Its well preserved walls are nestled deep in the lush forests high in the mountains. No wonder no one found this place until 1911. When we first arrived and looked down on the ruins, I was immediately reminded about how small my place in the world is. It is really humbling to see this place. Plus a harrowing climb to the top of Wayna Picchu offers a view that dwarfs even the enormity of Machu Picchu--a small inkblot on the surrounding mountainscape.

One more thing I´m going to mention is how the past few days went without an ACL. I had my ACL tear in my left knee almost 4 years ago now, and because of it, I hardly play any sports. Now, I wondered how this would affect my experience with Machu Picchu and the Lares Trek. I looked it up on the internet and couldn´t find anything, so I thought I´d offer my experience to anyone else. The Lares Trek was okay with a weak knee. Going up the first day and half the second day was fine. Going down (the hard part) was not bad because it is mainly uneven stones and grass. I would highly recommend a walking stick--I used one and I think it saved me for sure. I think something like the Lares Trek would be much better suited for an ACL injury than the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail has tons and tons of steps, which just makes me cringe to think about. As for Machu Picchu, I only mention that the hike up Wayna Picchu was tough because of the extremely steep stairs. I wore a neoprene knee band and I think that helped a lot.



Preparing for Lares Trek


Greg at the waterfall


It was a great group of people


Hanging out in Machu Picchu Town


At the top of Wayna Picchu


Absolutely breathtaking

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September 16, 2006 - Wet and Wild
Activities: White water rafting on the Urubamba River

¨Oh my god, I´m going to die¨ moment: sitting in a standing wave with the entire raft submerged

After a bit of convincing, I joined Saar and Craig on a white water rafting trip on the Urubamba River. Normally, the ride is a class 4 or 5 run, but because it wasn´t the rainy season and the water was low, it was thankfully a 3+. This was my first time white water rafting and so I was a bit nervous.

It was great fun though. We almost flipped at one part of the trip when the front end of the raft got lodged on a rock and the strong current behind kept pushing us up the rock. Carlos needed to literally throw himself from the back of the boat to add more weight to the front to stop us from flipping. It was crazy! Then there was the standing wave that Carlos put us into to take pictures. The entire raft was submerged under water and I was sure that we were on the verge of capsizing. But at least we would get a few pictures out of it! Haha. Unfortunately the guy taking the pictures took a bunch of little movies, so the quality isn´t that great but there is some motion. Craig and Saar are at the front and getting completely soaked.

Anyways, it was a great way to spend a day. I´d do it again someday with a bunch of friends, if the opportunity came up. Saar and Craig were great. We ended the day at a Jack´s Cafe (yum!) in Cusco. Saar is heading to the Amazon and Craig to the European leg of his RTW trip. I look forward to hanging out with them again someday in Australia or back home. Cheers guys!



Crash Test Dummies


Yeehaw!

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September 19, 2006 - Sleeping on Lake Titicaca
Activities: 8 hour bus ride to Puno, homestay on Isla Amantani, floating on Uros

Best thing that I ever packed: roll of toilet paper

So I got hit with a stomach bug after being lucky so far in the trip. Unfortunately, it happened to coincide with the worst bus ride I've ever taken. 8 hours, bumpiest friggin road ever, no stops, and a nasty toilet in the back. I basically slept the entire ride in the fetal position after taking some Imodium. I'm really starting to appreciate all these drugs that Greg is giving me. Haha! Greg also caught a bug and didn't go to the homestay.

The homestay was one of the really interesting parts of the GAP tour that we have been doing. We stay a night with a family and have a chance to talk to them and see where and how they live. We were were hooked up with a very nice mom. Her home was about halfway up Amantani Island. She made us dinner and we had a chance to talk, as she could speak Spanish in addition to her native Quechua. Her life seemed as simple and well-kept as her home. She was responsible for the homekeeping and doing these homestays for the tourists. Her husband lived in Puno, where she would visit once a month (boat trip at 20 soles). He worked there to make money for the family, and would send back food and necessities. Dinner was vegetable soup as the starter and a thicker vegetable soup and rice for the main course. We had pancakes for breakfast. We bought them rice, pasta, and coloured pencils (about 10 soles--3 bucks) as a gift.

They have never traveled past Puno and the furthest outside contact would probably be the Cuzco novela that crackled through the small radio that stayed attached to the daughter's ear. When we asked the daughter what she wanted to do when she grew up, she answered "ˇfruta!". She loves to eat fruit because they don't have it on the island, so she wants to sell fruit juice in Puno someday. It definitely makes me happy that my parents threw me an orange every now and then when I was growing up!

They also treated us to a fiesta at night dancing with the locals. They dressed us in the traditional clothing of the island. For me, that just meant a simple poncho and a snowboarding cap. I think I looked pretty hot in it though. Haha!

On the way back from the homestay, we explored the floating islands of Uros--a really remarkable place. The islands are made from the long reeds that grow in Lake Titicaca around this Uros area. Once a month, they need to lay new reeds on top of the island as the ones at the bottom rot away. So the island is like a big pile of straw. It reminded me of going to the farms as a kid and running around the straw bales in the barn--it's so soft. There are many islands and they have schools and stores and everything needed for a community. Fantastic boats made of reeds, that look like miniature Viking ships, sail in between the islands to transport the tourists and locals. What a strange life it would be.



Dressed like a Peruvian


Joe, mom, and me


On the floating islands

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September 21, 2006 - Uh oh...change of plans?
Activities: Buses, minibuses and boats take us from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia

We travelled by bus, minibus, and boat to Copacabana and then finally to the highest capital in the world, La Paz. Copacabana was a nice surprise. We basically only walked up and down one street but it had a lot of spunk. We saw many backpackers who seemed to have stalled in this sleepy town. We sat, watched the hippies, listened to reggae play in the background, and ate our $2 full meal. I could easily see how a place like Copacabana could slow down traveller´s inertia. It was definitely a place to relax and chill out.

After the short pit stop in Copacabana, we continued on to La Paz. Again, my first impression of the city is much like Copacabana--it´s much better than I expected. It´s very vibrant...almost chaotic--but I´m sure there´s some order. I just got back from a great Cuban dinner for $6--it´s amazing how far a dollar goes here. Tomorrow, I´ve set aside for huge shopping.

But the potential disappointment that is building up is that I may not be able to go to the salt flats in Uyuni. The problem is that there is a strike in Ururo, and apparently when Bolivians strike, they block roads into cities entirely. So this strike is affecting Ururo, which was on my route to get to the salt flats. This sucks and could completely change my plans. I may drop Chile completely, stay in Bolivia longer, and go directly to Buenos Aires from here (and maybe add a side trip to Iguazu Falls). I will just have to wait a few days to see what happens.

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September 25, 2006 - Shopping in La Paz
Activities: Shopping like a madman, left on my own to try to escape La Paz

Best deal: Seasons 1-4 of 24 for 20

So Greg and I did a bit of shopping. La Paz is one GIANT outdoor market. They have a place here called the Witch Doctor's Market. It sells very bizarre things like llama fetuses, dried frogs, and a bunch of other icky stuff. And they don´t seem to haggle here at all which was very different from Peru. Greg ended up buying a stone sapito (frog)--I think they have to do with making more money.

Overall, my impression of La Paz is good. It´s a dirty, smelly, crowded place. Where you always seem to be walking uphill and the cars and pedestrians jockey for position. I was very pleased not to be sideswiped by any cars or blindly robbed during my stay here. One of the other travellers told me a story about how someone actually reached into his taxi and tried to steal the camera off his lap. Totally crazy. But I think all of this chaotic life creates a constant buzz, where every one of my senses was taking in something new and different.

Then this morning, our GAP tour officially ended and Greg flew back to Toronto. I spent the day wandering myself and it is a bit more difficult traveling here alone. But I think I just have to switch mindsets from the complacent GAP tourist. I am planning to head to Uyuni tonight to find a tour through the salt flats. Luckily the strike ended yesterday so I can continue on with my original itinerary. I am a bit concerned about riding a bus for 10 hours overnight, but I´m sure it´ll all be fine. I will be away from civilization for a few days, so I´ll see you in Chile!



Llama fetuses

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September 27, 2006 - In need of a shower
Activities: 3 day tour through Uyuni Salt Flats and Lagunas, 17 hour bus to La Serena, Chile

The trip through the Salt Flats was definitely a highlight. The landscapes were bizarre and surreal--from blinding white salt deserts, to an island of giant cactuses, to hotels made of salt, to night skies blazing with stars, to lagunas full of pink and white flamingos, to painted mountainscapes, to red and green lakes. The pictures that I took can´t do justice to the amazing area that I just visited.

But I think I´m ready to get back to some of the ¨basic¨ luxuries in life. I´m done with the unpaved roads, primitive toilets, sleeping in near-freezing temperatures, little or no electricity, undrinkable tap water, no showers for days. I just finished a 17 hour bus into La Serena, Chile and although the sticker shock has hit me (their prices are comparable to Toronto), it´s nice that I have some comforts back.



Cartwheel in the desert


The giant cactuses of Isla Pescado


Didn´t I say it´s like a painting??

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October 2, 2006 - A bit of relaxation
Activities: Absolutely nothing

After three weeks of touring, and bussing, and moving around, I finally have been spending a few days just doing absolutely nothing. I feel a bit guilty doing nothing when I´m on vacation--pretty strange eh? But I´m now in Santiago Chile. There is a constant cloud of smog above the city, but it is a bustling place and I enjoy the energy. I am here for a couple of days and then fly to my last stop in Buenos Aires. My blog will be a bit quieter now that I´m past the ¨wow¨ part of my trip.

But yesterday, I think I walked into their Pride event...or so it seemed. They had a rainbow flag up and were doing the requisite pro-diversity speeches, but the crowd of a few thousands was so different than what I´m used to. Everyone was dressed in black. About 30% had piercings or major tattoos. There were lots of kids and confetti. They mainly played reggae and rap...not a single Madonna song! haha. And I didn´t see any obviously gay people--no holding, no hugging, no kissing...nada. zip. Weird. I wonder what they would think of our Pride?

And last night was a wine tasting at the hostel. I was sloshed after the first round and then we got into the ¨refine your taste¨ round...HA!

I also noticed that I can´t understand any of the Chilean people. It is crazy, I´m not even catching single words--it´s like they speak a language completely different from Spanish. It doesn´t matter if I ask them to repeat themselves or ask them to speak more slowly...I have no clue what they are saying. One thing is that they don´t pronounce the ¨s¨ on a lot of their words, so for example they would say ¨ma tarde¨ instead of ¨mas tarde¨. So I sit there looking dumbfounded because I would have no idea what ¨matarde¨ means...thinking it means ¨to kill from¨ or something strange like that... It is a bit frustrating and I am starting to just nod and say ¨si, si¨ and just hope for the best.

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October 7, 2006 - Just a little touch of star quality
Activities: Enjoying a fantastic city

Best advice to anyone going to BsAs: Don´t watch Evita right before coming here, otherwise Don´t Cry for Me Argentina will run through your head the entire time!

Buenos Aires is a great place! Cute streets, good shopping, attractive people, tasty steaks. I just don´t understand why they don´t go out until 2am...

More to come.

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