View from the hill!

View from the hill!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Scammed in Bangkok

Thai's are very friendly people, I noticed this within minutes of arriving in Bangkok. The downfall of being in such a friendly city is that sometimes it is hard to determine if the warm smiles and small talk are disguising an ulterior motive.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was caught in 2 scams in the short time I was in Bangkok! Here are the 2 scenereo's:

The first occurred within minutes of arriving in the city center. I had taken a bus to Kho San Rd. and when I found that many guest houses were full I decided to walk to a Hosteling International property not far away. This hostel was full too. At this point I had decided to just try to hold off on finding a bed untill I heard back from Bill with whether or not I could definitely stay with him so I thought I would kill some time by checking out some local attractions, more specifically some near by temples.

A nice little man was walking beside me and started a rather normal conversation (I usually hear this same exact conversation about 4 times a day):
Nice Smiling Man: "Wow, you are so tall."
Me: "Yes, Yes....6 feet"
NSM: "From Holland? Germany? Sweeden?"
Me: "No, No from the US!"
NSM: "Oh wow, so tall!"
So, this didnt seem like much out of the ordinary. Soon the man started telling me about how he was a teacher just down the road. Then he asked what I had planned for the day and I told him I was going to checkout some temples. And this is where I should have known....he says "Oh, no temples closed today. It's Buddist holiday so being used for prayer. Don't open till 5pm."

Well shit, I had just arrived so how was I supposed to know any better. He then sat down with me and wrote out an entire itinerary of what I should do instead. I thought he was so kind to spend the time to do this. I didnt really understand everything he was telling me, but it involved seeing a festival that was happening because of this holiday, going to a street lined with custom tailors and then stopping by the tourist office. He was so enthusiastic and excited for me to go on this day long adventure. He even got me my first tuk tuk and told me how to track down an "official" tuk tuk.

Once inside the 3 wheeled motorized scooter (which is named from the sound it makes) the driver was extremly friendly. He took me to a very small temple, where I could only look inside because there were indeed some monks in there praying. So, I was assured that the little smiling man must be right, it did appear to be a holiday. Next up the driver took me to a tailor. I kept telling him I didnt really want to go bc afterall I hadn't changed my clothes (or even brushed my teeth) in 3 days because I had come straight from the airport and the longest fligt in history. He said if I just went inside for a few minutes he would get free gas. AHAAAA, so he gets free gasoline from taking me to this stupid tailor. But I went along with it because the driver was so nice, I thought I would do him a favor and get him some gas. After 10 minutes of pretending to be interested in getting a custom made suite (this would be of interest to me in a) I had more money and b) I had a job!) I went back to the tuk tuk. Next up he dropped me at the TAT (Thailand Authority of Tourism). Here some girl tried to get me to book a trip to Chiang Mai with her. I was getting more and more annoyed with how much time I was wasting on this little tuk tuk trip and just wishing I could get to this festival they spoke of.

When I got back to my driver he quickly turned from friendly little man to very nasty tuk tuk driver. He said this "festival" (which I think was made up the entire time) was too far and I had to take a taxi. I said that wasn't an option and I wanted him to take me to a main road. He started yelling at me to get out and walk. He refused to point to where we were on a map so as he drove away I was completely lost and feeling defeated. I then had to track down a taxi and get them to take me to the nearest train staion. Not the best way to spend my first 2 hours in Bangkok.

Scenerio #2:
My second day in Bangkok started with a trip to the Vietnam Embassy. I needed to get my Vietnam Visa and thought Bangkokwould be the easiest place to do this. After finding the embassy it was already after 10 am and I needed to go back at 3:30 to pick up my passport/visa. Seeing as I had such a limited amount of time I thought I would just go check out some of the local shopping spots. First stop was Siam Square. This is a huge commercial shopping district. The streets around the square are lined with trendy boutiques and street stalls with young college students and wanna be designers selling their pieces. Then there are also several malls, including the upscale Siam Paragon (which even has a Mercedes dealership inside) and the huge MBK, sort of like a market but inside. After spending almost an hour inside MBK I was thoroughly overwhelmed. It is a lot to take in for all of your senses- the smell of Thai food wafting through the air, the shound of Thai's yelling their promotions and trying to lure you to their store, the sight of hundreds of stalls selling everything from knock off purses to dried fish and insects, the feel of hundreds of sweaty bodies brushed up against you as you try to make your way through the 6 floors. After this I decided to go outside to get some fresh air and figure out where to go next. Soon enough a nice little lady started taking to me. I had my map in my had so she asked what I was looking for. I told her the name of the next shopping area I was going to find and also mentioned that I needed to go to the train station to buy my ticket to Chaing Mai. And she said "Oh, no they close for lunch. Mall close for 2 hours mid-day. You would be better to go to the temples today." She had awhole speel about why i should do the temples, because they would be too crowded on the weekends, etc., etc. I was pretty determined not to go to the temples, no matter what she told me. But next thing I knew she was calling me a tuk tuk and showing me on the map where I needed to go to get my train ticket. I thought I just needed to go to the train station but she said no, it was better to go to the office. I have no idea why I listened to her (maybe I was still in a haze from the mall craziness I had just expereinced) anyhow, here I was back in another tuk tuk not really sure where he was taking me. And sure enough we showed up at another TAT office. UGH. But I thought maybe they do sell tickets here and I can just get it here and be done with it. Wrong. They were really mean and since I only needed the train ticket to Chiang Mai and not a whole tour package they refused to sell me a ticket. When I got back out to the tuk tuk, guess what.....he had suddenly transformed into a nasty tuk tuk driver just like the day before. Refusing to drive me ot the train station, he left me out on the street. So once again I found myself lost and looking for a taxi to the train station.

Well, it may have taken me 2 times to finally learn this common Thai scam but you can be sure it will never happen to me again. As soon as my backpack arrived later that day I was reading my Lonely Planet book and sure enough this common scam was the first thing listed in the"Dangers &Annoyance" section!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

3 flights, 20 hours in the air, 15 hours in the airport and 2 days later I have finally arrived in Bangkok. Getting here was a bit difficult thanks to snow, ice, mechanical problems, missed connections and lost luggage but I made it in one piece so am thankful for that!

Lonely Planet's description of Bangkok pretty much sums up my last 3 days...
"This high-energy city loves neon and noise, chaos and concrete, fashion and the future. Although it's constantly on the move, everyone is stuck in a traffic jam somewhere within a mountain range of skyscrapers and soot-stained apartment towers. And past the ringing mobile phones and blaring pop music is an old fashioned village napping in the shade of a narrow soi (lane). It's an urban connoisseur's dream come true with the past, present and future jammed into a humid pressure cooker. Because it's a revolving door for travel throughout the region, you'll be confused and challenged when you first arrive, relieved and pampered when you return, and slightly sentimental when you depart for the last time."
Upon arriving at the Bangkok Airport I had no bag, no guide book and no plan. My first task was to make my way into the city and find a place to stay. After putting out several couch surfing requests none of the people I reached out to were able to host me. I didn't stress too much about not having a bed to sleep in because I knew there would be plenty of hostels and guesthouses and I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to find a place. However, after wandering up the backpacker haven Khao San Road I quickly learned that making a reservation may have been a good idea. The first few guesthouses were full and before I headed further up the road I decided to stop in an internet cafe to check my email. I was pleased to see an email from a friend of a friend, Bill, who lives in Bangkok and offered me his guest bedroom. He sent over his address and miraculously I found it without too much difficulty (I was quite impressed with my navigation skills seeing as I was on the opposite side of town and had to take a tuk tuk, taxi, subway and sky train to get there!). I could not have asked for a better place to begin my SE Asia trip than Bill's gorgeous apartment. It was also convenient seeing as though I would be without my backpack for 2 full days, so staying with Bill meant I did not have to go out and buy all new toiletries.

After a short nap I joined Bill and his friends for dinner. On the walk over he explained that he was embarrassed to be taking me to this place for dinner but told me the food was awesome. It wasn't until we walked in the doors that I realized why he was embarrassed, he took me to a strip club for dinner! Soi Cowboy is a single lane strip of 30 bars comprising one of 3 red light districts in the city. The bar we went to had 5 naked girls up on stage dancing as we ate our delicious ham and cheese sandwiches. Bill knows the owner, an American guy who cooks up one of the best Western meals in the city. For only 200 baht (about $6) we got a massive sandwich with home cured ham and swiss, potato salad, deviled eggs, and a bowl of bean soup. After dinner we headed to a sports bar and played some pool before going to Soi 33, known for it's "girlie bars." These are basically bars where men go to pick up a woman for the night, scantily clad girls dance and serve drinks as they butter up their prospects for the night. I guess I should mention that this was Bill's best friend's last weekend in Thailand. He had lived here for 2 years and works with Bill at United Aid and is moving on to his next assignment in Sudan. So needless to say the weekend was filled with drunken farewells and girlie bars! It was definitely an interesting welcome into Thailand....but I loved every minute of it!

Bangkok Bound

After a very short 2 weeks in Baltimore it is time to pack up my backpack once again. For the next 2 months I will be traveling through South East Asia. The itinerary includes Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.Even though I have no exact plan and do not know which cities I will make it to, I am taking my experiences in South America and letting them be my guide. One of the biggest lessons learned over the past month was to be flexible and adapt to whatever situation presents itself. Things usually happen for a reason and never go exactly as planned, but it seems like those unexpected moments often become the most memorable!

Why Travel?

As I sat in the trendy McCafe in the Frankfort Airport during my 5 hour layover on my way to Bangkok I found myself watching the constant flow of giant aircrafts passing by the window. Massive 2 story planes bound for Singapor, Ontario, Mumbi and countless other cities across the globe carry thousands of passengers every day. Watching as each plane took off into the sky I was amazed at the sheer number of people traveling on this Wednesday morning and I began to think about the reasons why people travel. Some travel for work others to visit family members. I travel to learn, to explore, to discover.

If you have been following along on my blog you may think it is crazy that I voluntarily put myself through some of these adventures (i.e. 19 hour bus rides, 11 hour hikes through landslide zones and staying in a room with 15 strangers and no running water) but there is something about the adventure of it all that drives me along. It is hard for me to pin point exactly what is that I love so much about going to foreign cities around the world, but here are a few reasons why I love to travel and why I encourage every single person to do more traveling....

- Getting outside of your comfort zone. It is good to feel uneasy, if you never challenge yourself and experience the unfamiliar you will never truly know yourself or what you are capable of.

- Learn about the world. One of the pleasures of travel is learning about your destinations natural and cultural heritage. No matter where I go I always try to fully immerse myself in the country's day to day life. By going to the local markets, riding public transportation and eating at the same restaurants you will get a glimpse of the cultures daily rituals. It is these glimpses that may make you realize just what it is that you appreciate so much in your own life. We take so much for granted (education, running water, toilet paper- or having a toilet at all, etc.) and seeing how the rest of the world lives may just give you a deeper appreciation of what you have and how you live.

- To explore the world and see all of the amazing natural beauties that are spread across the 7 continents. From Iguazu Falls in Brazil to the African Sahara there is so much to see out there!

- To open your mind to other ways of thinking. Being surrounded by people that are different than you (whether that be their skin color, religion or social class) gives you a more global perspective and helps to minimize stereotypes and prevent close-mindedness.

I could go on, but those are just a few of the motives behind my travels. I honestly feel like I have become a different and in a sense better person in the last few months. From living in London to exploring South America I have learned so much about myself and also about the world around me. Now I just need to figure out how to help other people discover the joys of travel!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Machu Picchu at Last!

We were on our way up the breathtakingly steep final climb by 4am. For some reason I had not thought of the fact that it would be pitch black at that time in the morning so the first hour or so was a bit difficult, but luckily enough people around me had flash lights so I was able to get by using their light. The boys in our group decided to take the bus up, this was an option for only $8, but since I had made it this far I didnt want to take the easy way out, I wanted to walk all the way up to the top. I seperated from the others in my group early on because they were stopping often for breaks and I was determined to make it to the top before the first bus arrived.

The walk up was about an hour and a half of stairclimbing, the ultimate stairmaster! The steps were uneven and often extremly slippery. Just before 6am I reached the top drenched in sweat and starving. I was happy to learn that I was the 69th person to arrive (they count and give you a number because only the first 400 are granted access to WaynaPicchu) not bad seeing as though over 1000 people come to Machu Picchu every day. Shortly after arriving the first bus appeared (the buses leave around 4am too and take over an hour to drive to the top, this should give you an idea of just how far it is to the top!) and these well rested people lined up behind us with their coffee in hand.

After waiting in line for a while we were graned access into Machu Picchu and began our tour. The first view of the Sacred City was the most breath taking. We were extremly lucky in terms of the weather, it is almost impossible to see a sunrise over Machu Picchu due to the constant fog, but on Febrary 3rd 2011, there was a perfect sunrise and not a cloud in sight. We had blue sky and sunshine as we walked around the site learning about the Temple of the Sun, Royal Tomb, Sacred Plaza, ceremonial baths and more. My tour guide was not so great, but that didnt matter so much to me, I was able still able to take in my amazing surrounds even not knowing every last detail about the many aspects of the city.

Behind the ruins lies the steep-sided mountain of Wayna Picchu. Since I was one of the first 400 people I was able to complete the scramble up the steep path which towers over Machu Picchu. After huffing and puffing my way to the top I was granted one of the most incredible views in the world- machu picchu from above. After a snack from the rocks on top of this moutain and many amazing photo opps it was time to make our way back down on the long trek back to Aguas Calliente. Afterall the hot springs were calling our names...

Santa Teressa to Machupicchu

The rest of the group woke up with massive hangovers but I woke up feeling much better and ready to get to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We had a short ride in a van which took us to an amazing waterfall. After the boys went for a quick dip in the Rio Urubamba to try to shake off their hangovers, we started walking. With only 6 hours of walking ahead of us, it felt like a much more achieveable goal and knowing that we would be so close to Machu Picchu made us put a little pep in our step and get there as quick as possible. The second half of the days walk was along the train tracks, which guided us right into Aguas Calientes. It rained lightly all afternoon and by the time we arrived in town it had changed into a downpour. We were again soaking wet once we reached our final destination. But this time we were pleasantly suprised to see we were staying in a real hostal and better yet had a private bathroom in our room!

After showers and some free time we headed out for our last group dinner and this time we got to choose what we ate, and pizza was on the menu. Although the pizza was pretty terrible (no tomato sauce and very funky cheese) it was better than another meal of llama!

Although extremely touristy, Aguas Callientes is a very nice little town. Pretty much every person who goes to Machu Picchu stays here for a night before they head up to the sacred city. The streets are lined with over priced cafes, mini marts and hotels. At the end of the main road is a thermal hot spring for relaxing in after days of climbing. There are also seveal bars and half of our group decided to go out for another night of drinking. However, knowing I had to be awake at 3:30 for the final climb to Machu Picchu I opted to make it an early night and was in bed by 10pm!

Inca Jungle Day 2

I was pleasantly suprised to wake up to a clear sky on day two of our Jungle trek. After an early breakfast of "pancakes" (more like a crepe with nutella and banana- which was cold but delicious) we began our day of hiking. It was hot, sunny and muggy in the jungle, much different than the previous days weather. We were breifed that the hike would take 6-7 hours and we would begin with a 2 hour uphill climb then the rest would be relatively flat. As we headed uphill we had several stops along the way. After about an hour we arrived at the Monkey House. This little jungle house had a few pet monkeys, parrots and pupies and provided some fresh juices for us to purchase. The passion fruit juice was amazing, the fruit was picked that morning and was very refreshing after an hour of hiking straight uphill. We were also able to pick bananas and try the purple corn juice. After this much needed break we were back on the trail and headed back uphill. As we walked we saw lots of tropical fruits (papaya, passion fruit, mango, banana, guava, orange, lime), coffee beans and more. After another hour of climbing we had our second rest stop. Another house, this one did not offer any juice but we were able to go inside and check out their home. With guinea pigs running around the kitchen floor i was sad to learn that one of these cute pets would be dinner tonight. It is so strange to me that they let the little guys run loose through the house and then one by one eat them. I was offered guinea pig several times, but every time all I could think of was our childhood pet, Piggly Wiggly, there was no way I could eat one of his relatives...especially when they are served whole, with head and teeth and everything!

We then continued on our walk seeing and talking to local people along the way. I cant imagine living like the locals here. They are miles away from any civilization and live simply off of the nature surrounding them. We stopped at little village on the way for a spagetti lunch and a 15 minute snooze in the hammocks. After a quick break we were back on the road for what we thought was the last leg of the day.

Due to several huge landslides, we had much further to go than expected. When we were 2 hours away from our next town, Santa Teresa, we learned of the massive landslide that had closed the road. No one was permitted to cross because the day before a couple had been injured as huge rocks came crashing down the steep cliff above. What this went was that we had to decend down the cliff and then walk about a mile down below and then go straigh back up once we had passed the landslide zone. The trek down was steep and it your foot slipped you would fall straight down the cliff. As we began to desend the afternoon rain began. Sanuel started yellow "Vamos, Rapido Rapido!!" as we started to run. After an hour down we arrived at what seemed like an endless sea of rocks which we had to travel along until we aƧhad safely avoided the landslide zone. I was so delirious at this point (4pm after 9 hours of walking with our backpacks and insuffiecnet water and food) and got a really intense headache from dehydration. After another hour it was time to go back up the cliff that we had just descended. After the toughest climb of the day we were back on track and back on the main (flat!) road. At 7pm we finally arrived in Santa Teresa, another very unimpressive town.

This "hostel" was even worse than the previous nights but they did have a shower, which was supposedly hot. We were so sweaty and covered in bug spray and sunscreen that a shower was essential, however, I had not brought a towel or any shower supplies (no room in my bag). Augustina, the nice Argentinian girl said I could use her towl after she finished. So I waited and waited and finally was the last one in the shower. By the time I got in there there when I went to turn on the water about 3 drips came out and then there was no more water. Exhausted, stinky, and hot I started to sob standing there in the waterless shower. Not only was the day really tiring, the fact that there was no one in my group that spoke English made it an extremly tough day.

On this trip I have come to realize how essential human interaction is, especially when doing something so physically demanding as this trek. I was lonely and my emotions finally caught up to me. This was the 2nd 4 day tour I had done with a non-English speaking group and I had had enough. I pulled myself together and went out to dinner with the group. I could not bring myself to eat any more rice and llama so instead just sat with the group and day dreamed as they had conversations that I could not understand. After a shot of Inca Tequila and our guide trying to convince me to come to the bars with the group I instead opted to go straight to bed. I woke up the next morning in a much better mental state and was ready for another full day of walking.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A rough beginning

It never ceases to amaze me just how unorganized life is in South America. Simply getting on the road for my Inca Jungle tour was quite an interesting experience. A taxi arrived at my hostel just after 7am to pick me up. I was pleasantly suprised to learn that the two Aussie surfers waiting in the lobey would be going on the trip with me. After a short taxi ride through town we were dropped off in a little alley and told to wait. Wait for what, we were not sure. After a good 45 minutes we were then picked up by a second taxi and driven to another strange location. Here we waited for our van and the taxis to arrive with the other passengers. Close to 9am we were finally ready to head out on the road into the inca forest.

The two hour drive was gorgeous, however, as we passed the Sacred Valley and climbed up into the Malaga High Pass, at 14,850 feet the clouds grew thicker and the rain began. Starting with a light sprinkle, by the time we got to our biking location it was a full on soaking rain. We changed into our rain gear and got our safety briefing. We would be biking down the main road for 2 hours to get into the jungle. Being a busy and narrow road we had to stay as close to the right side as possible and really watch out for oncoming traffic as we went around the hairpin turns. After about 10 minutes one member of our group had their first accident, he went into the ditch on the side of the road breaking the bike and putting a nice hole in his pants. This meant that we were one bike short so our guide would be driving in the van behind us and meet us at the bottom.

The weather made this trip absolutely miserable, we could only see about 5 feet ahead of us and the rain was coming down so hard that your eyes were just constantly filled with water. With frozen fingers we continued down the mountain for 2 hours, the entire way I was trying to think of a time in my life that I was more miserable and nothing came to mind. The rest of the group zoomed ahead of me as I stayed slow and steady around the turns with tractor trailers and buses honking at me every few minutes. I found myself singing "This is the ride that never ends, oh yes it goes on and on my friends..." Just in case we were not wet enough, we had several "river crossings" because there was so much rain the many waterfalls on the way were overflowing onto the street causing 3 foot deep river crossings that we had to ride through. Finally, the van with our guide inside pulled up next to me and told me to get off my bike. Apparently we were at the end of the ride, however, the rest of the group was no where in sight. They were going to fast and continued 45 minutes longer than they were supposed to. They ended up going through a construction sight and by the time we found them were covered from head to toe in mud. I guess it pays to be slow and be the last one down the mountain!

For some crazy reason I thought that at the end of this horrible bike ride we would go somewhere nice for lunch, I had invisioned a restaurant with a warm fireplace and possibly some soup and hot chocolate. Boy was I wrong. We instead stood out in the rain and were handed a plastic bag which contained our lunch. As if we were not cold, wet and miserable enough, we all had to stand outside for a half hour as we ate a roll with a piece of cheese on it, cookies and a chocholate bar.

It had only been a couple hours into our Inca journey and I had decided there was no way I could handle three more days like this, in the rain. The Aussie boys had signed up for the 3 day, 2 night trip (which basically just eliminates the second day of hiking) so I thought I could simply stay with them and cut one day out of my trip. I asked my guide, Sanuel if this would be ok and he explained it was not possible.

As we drove to the Jungle Village of Santa Maria we had our first mudslide spottings. There were "mudslide police" on the side of the road and every few feet we would be asked to pull over if they suspected a mudslide was about to begin. There was also some major construction going on so we would often have to pull over and wait for 15-30 minutes to let the workers get through.

When we finally arrived at our hostel for the night I was still freezing and soaking wet, after seeing our accomodation for the night I decided there was no way I could stay there. We were staying at someones house and although we did have a bed it was extremly "basic." I found Sanuel and again tried to beg him to let me leave and go with the Aussies, he refused and told me I had to choice, I had to stay. The rest of my group went out white water rafting, but after being soaking wet all day and seeing the Rio Urubamba (the very rapid brown water was not the most appealing) I decided to forgo this option and instead spent the next 3 hours pouting in my nasty room. I didnt take any books or even my journal so I just layed on the bed and waited.

That night we took a short walk to a restuarant in town where we had another meal of rice and llama.

cuzco and beyond

I was greeted with heavy rain in Cusco as I arrived just before 6am on Sunday morning. Being rainy season this seemed to be an approriate welcome and i thought that i better get used to the rain, afterall i was about to do a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu in the rainiest month of the year. Luckily i was able to check into the Wild Rover early and take a 2 hour nap before heading out into town to book my Inca Jungle trek. As i ventured out into a new city I found myself a park bench and began looking in my Lonely Planet book to read about the sights of Cuzco. Shortly after settling down on the bench a girl from California introduced herself and after about an hour of chatting i learned that she too was traveling alone and headed out on the Inca trail in the morning.

Together we went on a mission to find some inca trail essentials... rain pants, poncho and backpack. I managed to get all of this gear for under 50 soles, so less than 20 bucks. Now all I had left to do was find an actual agency and book the trip. I had heard great things about the Inca Jungle trip, this alternate route was a popular way to get to Machu Picchu without doing the official Inca Trail. As much as I would have liked to do the Inca Trail in its entirety it was not an option for several reasons, one being the price (it costs at least $600) and the other being the fact that it is closed for maintance during the month of February (technically I was leaving on Jan. 31 but you must book the trek months in advance). Like in Uyuni, Bolivia, Cuzco is bursting with tour operators trying to lure you in off of the street. Every agency offers basically the same trip and the price varies slightly from one operator to the next. After speaking to several agencies and trying to find out who would be on the trip with me I realized that like in previous expereinces I had to face the fact that I would not know who else was booked in my group (it still does not make sense to me why it is not possible for the agency to look at their list and see what nationalities the other tourists are).

I decided to book into the Inca Jungle trip with the travel agency that was inside my hostel thinking there was a better chance of getting some Aussies or other English speaking people in my group, also this agency seemed to be the most reliable. After getting my trip all sorted out I went back into town in search of dinner. Using Lonely Planet as my guide I found what must be the most amazing burger in South America! This massive herbed burger was served on a gigantic bun with mango chutney, bacon, carmalized onions, Andean cheese, lettuce and tomato....a bit pricey for Peruvian standards, however it was easliy the best $8 I have spent on the trip so far! I would highly reccomend a trip to Los Perros on your next treip to Cuzco!

After a good meal I was ready to get to bed early so that I would have a fresh start for my Machu Picchu adventure in the morning.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Better Than Crossing The Void!

While traveling I have been reading The Best American Travel Writing series (borrowed from one of the hostels along the way) and one of the stories in the book is entitled "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Void." This story, about the 154,440 square miles of lifeless nothingness at the center of the Saharaha which covers half of Niger and some of Algeria, Libya and Chad, has made me look at my own land traveling journeys and re-evaluate my standards of comfort. Pilled in trucks with hundreds of others, everyday people die trying to cross the sea of sand which is freezing at night and over 100 degrees during the day. Suddenly after reading about crossing the void my 24 hour trip to Cuzco, Peru does not sound nearly as bad.

I left the Arica Surf House early in the morning to head to the train station. There was supposed to be a train at 9am to Tacna, Peru and I had read this was the easiest way to cross the border. However, when the taxi dropped me at the train station the gates were locked and not a soul was in sight. After jumping into another taxi I asked to be taken to the bus station, I would have to go with the shared taxi route to the border. After arriving at the bus terminal I was bombarded with offers to take me to Peru. Of course I could not understand any of them but was attempting to negotiate the price. A nice lady quickly came over and dragged me to her car which was jam packed with one empty seat. The Ford Tarus¨ get to leave when they are full so she wanted me to fill her last available seat.

I handed over my passport (not quite sure what she was going to do with it or when i would see it again) and was on my way. For the next hour me and the 7 other people in the Tarus would listen to a radio station that was about 70% static and 30% music. When we arrived at the border we were directed to file out of the car and through the immigration process to get our Chile exit stamps. Then after another short drive we went through the process again to get our Peru entrance stamps. 2 hours later, once finally arriving at the bus station in Tacna I had to change money in order to pay the nice lady that had just transported me. I am quite certain that I get extremly ripped off, but I got there safely and that is really all I cared about at that moment. Once at the bus station I found a bus direct to Cuzco (yay! originally I thought I would have to go through Puno or another town in Peru and stay for the night but a 19 hour bus ride straight there was much more appealing then breaking this journey up into 2 painful days) I just had to wait 5 hours to board my bus. At this point in the trip a 5 hour wait is nothing!!

I passed the time in the bus station thinking about what a great time I had in Arica. Looking back, the town actually really sucked. The fact that the beach was a 30 minute plus walk in the sun did not make Arica any better. But yet I still had the most fun here which proves that yopur company can really make or break an expereince...luckily I found great company to share 4 days in Arica with. On the last night I changed up the sunset routine and went down to the beach to watch the boys surf. I got to see El Gringo and some other famous breaks in person and a seal (or was it a walrus?) came to watch the action as well. I made a big bowl of guacamole and Jeff (the NY surfer) and I watched as the sun sank into the ocean and the boys rode every last wave until there was no longer any light. We spent the last night at the hostel playing Pisco Pong. I had to finish off my bottle of pisco so thought a little pong would be the best way to take care of that. With no solo cups, we had to make do with coffee mugs, which made for an interesting and very long game of Pisco Pong!