Thursday, November 30, 2017

From Jungles to Hot Pools - Day 3

Hitchhiking with Germans and a Peruvian out of
the hot pools to Santa Teresa
On the third day, we slept in until 06:30A, and outside of my tent, I could see our porter Alex already awake. I hear him speak Quechua with the cook. I always feel bad that they're up before us and the last ones to sleep. I know they're not getting paid enough. But Alex always smiles. The horseman is gone; there's roads now. So we don't need the mules and horses. He's a very shy guy and never says much, our horseman. Today, we have to make our way to the village of Santa Teresa, which is one step closer to Machu Picchu for us.

For breakfast, we have an omelet and coca tea and coffee and bread and jam. But the jam is always gone so soon; I don't have much, because the bread is rubbish.

Around 07:30A, we walk through the jungle, and we have to make our way down to the blue and white whispering river below. The skies are blue and clear and there aren't too many clouds. Butterflies and birds flutter throughout the air.

The scenery is much different from Salcantay, which was mainly rocks and grasses growing. Here, we have trees and vines and butterflies and lots of birds. Salcantay had birds too, but they were mainly mountain birds - like vultures - also known as condors. The birds here are more tropical - like hummingbirds; every once in awhile, in the distance you can see parrots.

I finally had some sleep; so, I open up more and do the first part of my walk with Elena - the Spaniard. I talk to her only in Spanish - and that's good. She has fair skin and really black hair. She also has big earrings and tattoos. She reminds me of gypsy. I call her, "My witch," in Spanish. She laughs. (The other people notice I can speak Spanish, at least better than I let on.)

Later, I end up talking to the Germans. They're around my age. We're the oldies in the group. They speak English, but sometimes I use German; it's not very good.

Today is the easiest day of our trek. We're only walking 5 hours.

Between our last campsite and our van stop - we rest at a soccer field. Some of us play soccer. Not me. I watch, though.

I wish I had learned, when I was younger. There, we eat a fruit called granadillas, which grow on a vine. It's orange. You rip off the top and eat the pulp and seeds, like you would a passion fruit.

Our last two hours, we walk to our van stop. There, we are in two vans. They take us to a lunch place.

For lunch, we eat spaghetti and some of the guys eat a guinea pig, which was roasted on a stick. I already ate one once, and I didn't like it, because it had too many bones in it. I cringed to see the cut little paws of the guinea pig roasted. Maybe, another time, I'll try it again.

At the lunch site, a couple guys have beer. I sit with the Germans. One of the Australians sit with us, and we all talk. We're sitting on the grass on a beautiful sunny day - the kind you wish never ends.

They have a coffee at our lunch site. So, I order one and drink it with milk on the grass. It's nice.

The Germans offer me some beer. I drink some.

From the lunch site, the vans take us to our next camp site, near some hot pools. Our guide wants us to take an overpriced bus to the hot pools - when we can walk. I tell him - No thanks. He's not happy with me. I think he gets a commission from each of us taking it.

We walk to the hot pools, which are in the valley of a few mountains. There, we stay a few hours, soaking in really hot water and splashing water and playing like kids would. We even play chicken. It reminds me of one of my elementary school field trips. Actually, the whole thing reminds me of one big adult field trip - except there is booze and more now.

When we walk back in the valley during the sunset, I hail a truck. He picks us up. We sit in the bed. We could see the open sky and the air and the mountains. The Germans have never hitch hiked before. So, they found it interesting.

After, we ask the driver to take a picture with us. So, he does.

We're lost. I find a little old grandmother and ask her for directions. She gives it to us. The Germans are so happy to meet the local.

Then we walk back to town. There, after a dinner of fried chicken, they turn on the dance music and serve us strong Peruvian tequila. I also bought some wine and finished the Johnny Walker's whiskey I brought with me.

I shared my wine with others. I specifically ask Alex, the porter, if he'd like some. He says sure. He drinks some. But no more. He won't be coming with us. He's going home tomorrow. I worry if too much alcohol will stymie him from working, as it does indigenous people.

The cook, another Quechuan guy, says good bye to us. He says he wishes us well and that we enjoy Machu Picchu. I leave him a tip, but the more I think about it, I should've given him more. (These are the people I'll remember in my heart.)

As the amethyst sky turns into a dark midnight blue, the music gets bumped up and the dancing begins. The Uruguayan lady is a good dancer; so, she teaches the German lady and me to dance. She knows how to move her hips and her shoulders and really flow to the beat.

She's a very good dancer. Her husband also opens up and talks more to me. He's funny.

We can wake up at 07:30A tomorrow, and tomorrow begins our hike to Machu Picchu.

I go to sleep at 11:00P. Others are still dancing the night away, but I need my sleep.

The next morning, I discover the truth. Alcohol, exhaustion, and dancing shows and tells you about how people really want each other.

That was the end of Day 3.

Hitching a ride on the back of a pickup
Uruguayan Couple in Hot Pools

Uruguayan Couple in Hot Pools

Local grandmother who helped us get back.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reaching Salcantay - Day 2

4,600 meters high - in front of Salcantay,
Our group - "Sexy Alpacas"
On the second day of our trek, we hiked up to 4,600 meters to Salcantay Mountain, the highest point of our trek. Some people suffered from altitude sickness and complained about their head hurting. One American girl had to hire a horse to get to the high point. We can't get to the crest of Salcantay, which would require ice picks.

On day 2, our guide wakes us up from our hut and offers us coca tea. It's made from coca leaves, the same kind of leaves that are used to make cocaine. But a few leaves won't give you the high that cocaine gives you (not that I've tried).

I take a long time to get ready, and I'm the last one at breakfast. I'm not a morning person.

We had pancakes. Imagine eating with 21 people for every meal. I was grumpy because there was no more coffee left. I asked the guide if he could boil water, because I had more coffee. He wouldn't let me.

We have to pack our stuff with the mules and be ready to leave at 06:30A. The porters and horseman and cook look really Native American-like, and they can speak the Quechua dialect, as well as Spanish. I feel bad for them, because I wonder if they get paid enough.

The day is going to take 9 hours to get to the next campsite. It takes 3 hours to the highest point of Salcantay; 3 hours to our lunch site, which is downhill; and 3 hours to our campsite.

The hike up to Salcantay starts off gently, but about in an hour and a half into it, it gets steep. The last 30 minutes is the most difficult and steep.

The landscape is mainly rocky with low grasses growing. There's no trees or bushes. Just grass. It's usual on high mountain landscapes - like in New Zealand or Patagonia.

On the way up, we met a local family who lived in the region. I asked if I could rent his puppy for a day. Our guide reminded us out how hard it was for them to live out here, because the nearest village was a whole day hike there and back to buy supplies.

The trek before the highest point is really steep and takes a lot out of you. When we reach the highest point, all of us take a photo. I didn't even know we were at the highest point; I thought it was going to be harder. But there we were.

After taking photos, our guide Leo gives us a talk on the mythology and significance of Salcantay. He talks about how the Incan people believed in three worlds: the world of sky and light, what we would call Heaven, represented by the condor; the world of earth and darkness, what we would call Hell, represented by the serpent; and the middle world - where we live, represented by the puma. It's all kind of like the Chinese yin-yang theory of balance and opposites.

After, we hike down for three hours to our lunch site. For lunch, we have corn soup, quinoa and noodles, pieces of beef, and lentil curry. After we eat, we have 3 more hours to the final campsite.

I zoom through it. After eating, I have energy. We hike through mainly jungle; it's no longer the rugged bare mountain trail. I see a lot of different colored hummingbirds along the way. They look like tiny rubies and onyxes and sapphires fluttering in the air.

Our porters overtake us at some point. Man, they're really fast - and they're leading the mules and the horses too. It's nothing for them.

At our campsite, I drink a shot of wine and whiskey and the other guys drink beer. They have a hot shower there, but you have to pay $3 for it. I pay. I could use a hot shower.

Someone has an Apple watch on the trip. It says we walked 40,000 steps or 25 kilometers that day.

For dinner, we have Chinese rice and chicken and chicken soup. After eating, we say goodbye to the horseman. He seems shy and very nice. But form here, we have a road and not a trail. Again, I'm pretty sure that our horseman, our cook, and our porter all don't get paid enough.

go to sleep. We get to wake up later tomorrow at around 06:00A.

That ends day 2.

Found a puppy on the way to Salcantay

American girl needs a horse - the girl leading her can't be older
than 16.

A view of the valley of Salcantay from above

Group photo with our guides - we're doing
an alpaca sign.

Photo on a ledge on our way to Salcantay

Photo of the landscape coming down from Salcantay

These chickens were huge; took the
photo for my mom - who has chickens.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Salcantay to Machu Picchu - Day 0 to Day 1

In front of Salcantay Mountain with French Theo
and Spanish Elena 
We were all going to Machu Picchu, which is a village the ancient Incan people carved and set deep into the Andes Mountain over 550 years ago. Machu Picchu to the Andes is what a fine diamond is to a gold ring without a gem. They both need each other to shine and awe the beholder.

Our group chose to see Machu Picchu through the Salcantay Trek, which would be 100km or 62.5 miles. Salcantay is Quecha (the local tribal language here) for savage or invincible. Hence, Salcantay means Savage Mountain. (I'm sure it's more savage in the ruthless and icy winter.)

It's the highest peak in the Cusco area - at over 6,670 meters. We would go to the highest point of 4,600 meters, which is almost twice the height of Machu Picchu. The entire tour would take four nights and five days.

Thanks to a German guy named Moritz at my hostel, I was able to book a tour at Gregory Tours in the Plaza de Armas for only $158, including my sleeping bag. Everybody else booked the tour for much, much more. I thought it was better to go on a tour, because the entrance ticket already costs $50 to go to Machu Picchu; so why not pay $110 more for 4 nights of lodging, food, and get another hike included.

We had 21 people in our group and 2 guides. The tour company told me that there would only be 12 people, but they were wrong. The group was made up of 2 guys and 1 girl from the United States (including me); a girl and guy from Canada, who were cousins; a married couple from Uruguay - who were fluent in English; a guy and girl from England; a couple from Denmark; a couple from Switzerland; a girl and guy from Germany; a guy from France; a girl from Spain; three Australian guys; and a guy from New Zealand.

On Day 1 - I had to wake up at 04:00AM and leave with the Swiss couple, who were also at my hostel. We walked to the Plaza de Armas, where a bus picked us up. I was tired; I didn't sleep enough, and I certainly hated waking up at that time.

We took a bus ride about four to six hours to base camp. I can't remember exactly the time, because I napped some in the minivan. You have to pay for breakfast at a village nearby and a $3 fee to enter Salcantay Park.

From base camp, we walked up to a lake - formed by the melted ice of the mountain. It reminded me of the Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile. (You can read about my time in Patagonia here in December of 2014: Seeing the End of the World in Chile.) The water had that same aquamarine color, which looked like a gigantic sapphire had melted in the basin of the mountain. (I also saw this phenomenon in Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo in New Zealand.)

The color comes from the melted ice, which grinds the basalt and granite from the mountains and deposits it into the lake. The ice freezes and melts and freezes, which breaks and pulverizes the rocks. The end result is that when the light hits the basalty water - it refracts and turns into the aquamarine color. It's also called rock flour or glacial milk.

Some of us swam in the water and hence were baptized in ice. We stripped off our clothes and swam in the freezing water. Our guide said it was below freezing point. I could believe it, and your body goes into shock entering liquid ice.

Most of us lasted inside for less than a minute. Your head starts to hurt, your body starts to shiver, and your groin starts to freeze.

After we dried off, we walked to our base camp - where we would sleep the night. It rained walking back. So, we all took off our wet clothes and hung them to dry.

The porters use mules to bring our stuff. In our group, we have a porter, a horseman to carry our stuff, a cook, and two guides. For dinner - we have chicken legs. They also serve us hot coca tea.

There, we had huts we could sleep in. Elena and Theo and I shared a hut. That was the end of day 1.
Glacial milk gives the water it's color

Me in the Valley of Salcantay

In freezing water, look at the ice above
A view from basecamp of the valley

Our hut

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Going into the Mystical World of Machu Picchu

I'll be going away for a little while on a journey into the wilderness to Machu Picchu. I've spent two days in Cusco hustling for a trip. That kind of worn me out. The weather here is changing all the time - from hail to rain to sun. I'll update when I can.

Miss everyone,


Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Days in Cuzco, Peru

The first night in Cuzco, a girl was moaning so loud because she was having sex in a bed with a guy at 1AM in a shared room of 10 people. She was so annoying, that I walked passed her bed on my way to the restroom and told her: "People are trying to sleep." She didn't stop.

So, the next day, an English guy and I were having a nap (because I was tired from not having enough sleep because of her), but she was talking obnoxiously on the phone with her mother. Why couldn't she take it outside?

That night I ate at a nice restaurant, but my boss from Trujillo (Northern Peru) asked to see me while I was eating dinner. I packed up my alpaca steak and saw her. That was nice to talk to her and see her. We chatted a lot about business and some ideas I had for it.

After, I went back to my hostel and asked the French volunteer at the hostel to put my food away. I saw the girl in my room and told her that it'd be more respectful if she went and talked outside next time. She said that she didn't know and that she never stayed in a dorm before.

Then at 1AM she was chatting up another guy (a different one) in our room. A number of people told her to go talk outside, but she wouldn't listen. Then, after I told her to go outside, she finally did.

The next morning, I was tired again. My food went missing. I confronted the French volunteer. After questioning him, he gave me a half confession. $16 USD down the drain, all because he got drunk, got hungry, and stole my food. I had enough.

I wanted to talk to management. I explained to them what happened and that I was not happy. The French volunteer found out about my complaint and started drinking early in the morning. He kept trying to deflect all the problems on crazy girl. I told them I was leaving, and this was a terrible experience.

Management handled it well. The main manager made everything better and gave me some money to buy another dinner. They forced crazy girl to get her own private room and they moved me to a better room for no extra charge. It was a win-win for everyone except for her and her new hookup - who had to pay a lot more for a private room.

* * *

Other than that, I haven't done much in Cuzco, except eat and drink cappuccinos and see museums. I posted a picture of one of my favorite pieces. It inspired me. It made me want one of Jeh Pan - my cat at home.

The museums were great though. I think it really helped me understand how to revise my short story - which for the moment I've lost interest in.

* * *

Later, at the hostel, the girl confronted me and said, "HOW COULD YOU SAY THOSE THINGS ABOUT ME???!!! I'M A CATHOLIC."

Right, I thought. Like I haven't heard that one before. That's why no children are born out of wedlock in Peru.

I tried to talk but she wouldn't let me.


I said, "This isn't a conversation." And I ran out of the hostel. She then started screaming at the staff about her story. But she was checking out.

The French guy offered me some beer later. I guess it was his way of trying to say he was sorry. I took some. I don't know if I forgive him completely. An apology also requires that he make things the way they were before the error. And he didn't do that, though the hostel did. And I like them for it.

* * *

Later at night, even though crazy girl checked out, she came back, looking for me. This time, she said, "I'm sorry that - "

I just walked to another room. She seemed unstable to me. And indeed she was. Apparently, she started screaming at the staff again, and they finally kicked her out and prohibited her from coming back. The inside joke is she behaved this way because she's from Lima. But so is one of the girls at reception - who laughed too, but said, "HEY!"

Later, I felt bad for her. Not that I or the hostel did anything wrong. But it made me wonder if she had mental health issues.

* * *

The new room was better. It was super dark; so, I sleep well.

I ate at a better restaurant yesterday. But the food was so terrible, because I ordered octopus, and it wasn't fresh and it tasted ugly. I told the owner, who looked drunk with glazed eyes, and he got defensive and said, "If you don't enjoy, you can leave."

I said, "So, you would rather me not tell you now and you'll find out about it later in a review." He threw up his hands and stormed back into the kitchen.

I started writing up my review on my computer. Then he said, "No computers allowed in the restaurant!"

"Ok," I said and packed away my computer in my bag.

I tried one more dish, but it was also terrible. I think the seafood isn't that good here, because Cuzco is so inland and hence the seafood isn't that fresh. You can read my review here: Terrible customer service - food not available

* * *

So - not a great introduction to this city. Hopefully, it gets better. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Arequipa, Peru

Me petting an Alpaca.
Doesn't it look happy?
From Chile, I took a seven hour bus ride to Arequipa, known as the White City. This is because the city is built with white lava stones excavated from the nearby volcanoes. I didn't do much in Arequipa; except I wrote and wrote and edited and agonized and re-wrote and then put away my story story. It's about my time in a beach village in Northern Peru. I'll try to publish it soon, but I needed it a break from it for now.

I enjoyed talking to a local restaurant owner, who was a Venezuelan lady. We had a full on conversation about how she started her restaurant business. That made me feel good that I could understand someone else's story. And it was rather involved.

Also, I saw Colca Canyon, but I didn't stay long. I didn't have enough time there, and also I didn't enjoy it that much. There's a tourist spot called the Condor Crossing. There were so many annoying tourists, and I didn't see any condors. And I had to wake up early to take the only bus there. And I was grumpy, because my receptionist gave me the wrong time. I could've slept 30 minutes more. Ugh!
Me with a couple who picked me up

In any event, I hitchhiked, and in 10 minutes I was picked up by a couple from Arequipa. There were no more buses back. The guy just bought a new car. I don't think they ever picked up a hitchhiker.

At first, he was nervous. But I calmed him down by telling him how bored I was by the Condor Crossing and how I wish I had just slept in. And they started laughing. And after awhile, they enjoyed talking.

See? I told you guys before, you have to pay when you hitchhike. And I always pay with my conversations and stories. He seemed fascinated I saw so much around the world and in Peru. They asked me more questions about Korea than the United States. I wonder why.

I told him that he could see a lot to and to watch The Motorcycle Diaries, about how Che Guevara traveled South America cheaply. I hope he does, and it inspires him to do it too.

After coming back into town, I walked to a hot spring two hours away. It was really nice. It was really hot and outside it was really cold. So, the contrast of environments made for a rich and awesome bath. And I saw an Andean Duck flying and hovering just above the river. That was cool. So no condors. But I saw an Andean Duck.

(It did cross my mind to hunt it and eat it. Oh, I miss duck. Although the food is good in Peru, they can't cook duck. Their national dish, Arroz con Pato (Rice with Duck), isn't really that good. They don't make use of the fatty duck skin to bring out the best in the duck.)

After my bath, I returned to the village and had some Alpaca Stew, cooked by a local mountain woman. That was interesting.

Another day, I also had some good fried chicken there for dinner too.

I went back to Arequipa. I got a haircut there. Post a picture soon. I paid $2 for it.

Other than that, I wish I could have stayed longer in the area. But I had some people to meet and my time ran out.

Canyon in the back.
Grumpy from waking up too early.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jumping Over to Chile

Arrica, Chile
(See the flag?)
My Peruvian visa was running out again; so from the North of Peru I took a flight and stayed one night in Lima. There, I went to a contemporary museum, which was average, and I had dinner with a guy named Joe. He brought an Eastern European guest; I forgot her name, but she was really good at computer stuff. Joe liked the food. I found it average and expensive - and left them a bad review.

After, I flew into the most southern city in Peru called Tacna. I made it to the airport early, and just my luck, the flight was delayed.

Remember, the last flight I almost missed? It wasn't delayed. Whenever I miss a flight (except for once, 16 years ago (not that I'm keeping track)) or am running late for one, the flight is almost never delayed. But when I arrive early, it's almost late. Isn't life ironic?

I arrived into Tacna late. I figured out how to get to the terminal. I went there with a young Colombian guy - who broke his foot. He wasn't that travel smart - because he almost got ripped off by the taxi. If I wasn't there, he probably would have paid three times the amount. So, he liked me instantly, but I didn't completely trust him. He was looking at my stuff too much.

At the terminal, we hired a colectivo, and a group of us drove to the Peruvian-Chilean border. Our entire group had to be processed together, then on the Chilean side, we'd all leave together. So, this is why it's faster to take a colectivo than a bus, because there are only about 5 passengers in a colectivo. The bus has to wait for all it's passengers to be processed.

While waiting, my ADHD was flaring. I was getting naughty in my head again and had all these ideas of how to move the line faster. One of the passengers told me: "Tranquilo!" [Relax!]

The Peruvian guard really scrutinized my visa - hoping to get a fine out of me. Nope. I left on time.

The Chilean passport control gave me 90 days. But the Chilean customs, on the other side, rummaged through my stuff. I think they did it, just to have fun, because I was different than the usual passengers.

They found two bottles of Argentinian wine, which I didn't finish with my friends. The guard said, in Spanish: "Chilean wine is better?"

"Really?" I said.

"Of course. What are you doing with these wines from Argentina?"

"They taste good. Really good. What wine should I get from Chile?"

"Casillero del Diablo [Cellar of the Devil]."

"That one is famous in Los Angeles." But I thought, Not very good.

He smiled. "OK. Have a good day." The other guards seemed humored too.

My group in the colectivo was amused. They asked me what we were talking about.

I told them: Wine, and why I'm not buying Chilean wine. I added, this kind of stuff always happens to me. They were amused that I spoke Spanish, because until now, I wasn't speaking much.

Upon arriving in Chile, I found a cheap hotel to stay in. It didn't have hot water. I didn't take a shower.

It was clean, but a cheap hotel indeed, where you can probably buy your stay in hours rather than nights. And compared to Peru, it was expensive.

In the morning, I walked to a cafe in town. It was really expensive, just as expensive as coffee in Los Angeles. I sat and thought and reflected and wrote to people. I decided not to stay in Chile; it was too expensive.

Then, I took a bus back. The school teenagers all stared at me, because I was the only Asian person in there. I should have said, "Ni Hao," back at them.

Back at the terminal, I took a bus back to Peru. It was half the price of a colectivo. A lady tried to give me free clothes. Was that because I looked poor or because I looked kind? Or maybe both?

Passport control was actually faster this time. There was nobody there.

I tried to talk to the guard to give me a 183 days. I spoke in English at first, but she asked me if I could speak Spanish. I spoke in English to control the conversation, but it didn't matter. And I hustled with everything I had in Spanish - asking for 183 days. I even told her I was a volunteer attorney for a nonprofit foundation girls school in Northern Peru. (This was true.) But it didn't matter.

But nope. She gave me 90 days. Well, I tried.

The good news is that my Spanish is better; I struggled with it at the last border crossing. This time I didn't.

As you know, I'm a spiritual person. Must mean God doesn't want me to stay 180 days, and it's time to move on after 90 days. I could overstay some and pay the small fine. But small fines can add up, if you stay a long time.

I then took a seven hour bus ride, next to a lady carrying a huge cake for her daughter's birthday. I could sense she felt safer sitting next to me on the long ride. The whole ride, I was wondering if this was worth saving $55 USD; I could've taken a 30 minutes flight instead. It was a long ride. Although I'd like to tell myself I'm still young, these long bus rides aren't the same. I don't like them anymore.

Well, that's it. I'm back in Southern Peru.