Quick India update: In my final week there, I became deathly ill and then my iPad died. I’m back in the USA now, and I’ll post a final India recap when I have the time. Until then…
Here’s a post that I wrote for my other blog, Edu-Hacker. Enjoy!
Quick India update: In my final week there, I became deathly ill and then my iPad died. I’m back in the USA now, and I’ll post a final India recap when I have the time. Until then…
Here’s a post that I wrote for my other blog, Edu-Hacker. Enjoy!
April 21st, 2011-
Once we were happy. We ate sunshine and optimism for breakfast. Then came the Bus Ride from Hell.
Finally I found a company offering a big bus: Akash Adventures. That I will forever damn this company is not important at this moment. But I will.
Akash said that the first Manali-bound big bus of the season was leaving on Thursday the 31st. He showed me the seating map, and yup, there were 40+ seats on this bus, and the seats pushed back, and we could have seats #11 & #12, right near the front. Fantastic.
That was five days ago. Fast forward to today. We walk to the bus terminal at 9pm and look for our bus. We spot two big buses hanging out in the parking lot and make a bee-line for them when a nearby Indian man asks us a one-word question: “Manali?”
“Yes, we’re going to Manali.”
“Oh okay, come over here.”
He leads us to—none other than—a tiny 12-seater van. I say, no, sorry, this isn’t right, we’re on a big bus. He looks at our ticket. Akash Adventures—yes, this is your bus. And you have seats 11 and 12. And naturally, in a 12-seater van, those are in the way back.
I call Akash on my cell phone. He says sorry, when there aren’t enough people to fill up a big bus, they put you on a small bus. I tell him that’s a terrible way to run a business—assuring me that I’ll get one kind of service and delivering another. So sorry, he says. Click.
Well, crap. We got screwed on this bus thing. But at least we had a bus. It wasn’t all that bad. Three British blokes and a French girl joined us, and it seemed that we’ve have plenty of room to stretch out on our ride to Manali. That’s when I took the above photo. When life was still good. When birds still chirped and babies still giggled.
9:40, time to go. This guy takes off like it’s the fucking grand prix. There’s hardly anyone else on the road—that’s why night buses are generally a good idea, you’re not stuck behind and endless procession of trucks, auto rickshaws, taxis, bikes, horse carts and cows—but the driver obviously has a family member in the hospital or a terrorist plot to foil or some other rational reason for driving like a stunt man from the Fast and Furious movies.
Brenna and I quickly realized the direness of our situation. We were in the back of a tiny bus (tiny enough to allow the driver to drive wildly) instead of the front of a big bus (which naturally must drive slowly) as we expected.
Within five minutes Brenna turns to me and calmly says, “I see vomiting in my not-too-distant future.”
Fortunately the French girl overheard Brenna and gave her a dramamine pill, and there was space for Brenna to move to the front. But then the van stops to pick up five more passengers. Now it’s packed. Brenna moves back to her assigned seat #11. Damn.
Off again we go, speeding down the winding mountain road from McLeod Ganj. The nausea returns. Brenna asks me if I think the cracked window next to us will provide enough space in case of vomiting. I say no, and that she should tell me if it’s going to happen and I’ll get the driver to stop. But by then it’s too late. Brenna’s got her hand over her mouth, a sickly pale look on her face, and starts making convulsive motions. I scramble for the closest bag-like object, and I find: my man-bag. I dump the contents into my lap—an iPad, notebook, and camera—and then hand her the bag, which she summarily consecrates with her vomitus.
I tell the van to pull over. We walk to the nearest ditch and decide to just leave the bag there. (While it was a stalwart Guatemalan man-bag, the zipper was broken, so I didn’t cry too much.) Before leaving we double check to ensure that no other valuables were left in the bag. We find one victim: my 1960 paperback copy of The Last of the Mohicans which I’d picked up in Arequipa, Peru. Sorry, James Fenimore Cooper. The book was good, but not puke-stained good.
Back on the bus. I demand that the bus driver put down the fold-up shotgun seat that’s in the front next to him. He accedes, and Brenna moves up there. I give her my Nalgene bottle in case she needs to puke again. And then I settle into seats number 11 and 12 for the long ride to Manali.
My rest of the ride is fairly uneventful from my perspective. The seats reclined slightly, and I manage to steal little snatches of sleep. But every bump or hard turn is an opportunity to knock me back into consciousness.
Around 1am we stop at a roadside restaurant and the driver disappears for roughly half an hour. Taking a power nap or amphetamines, perhaps. I’m pretty sure there are laws against bus drivers going so long in a single stretch in the United States. Regardless, at the bus stop I discover the Brenna had puked not once, but twice into my Nalgene. Poor girl. Being in front is helping her, but she’s still nauseous and certainly can’t sleep.
Back in the bus/van/torture chamber. Now for the next surprise. The ride, according to Lonely Planet, is supposed to be 10 hours long. That makes sense—leave around 10pm, arrive around 6am. I foolishly forgot to ask Akash Adventures how long our ride would be. Only now, in the middle of the night, do we confirm that thanks to the clear roads and our Formula 1 driver, we’ll arrive in only 7 hours—i.e. 3am.
Who the hell schedules a night bus to arrive at 3am?
I fume over that question through broken sleep until, roughly around 2:30am, I notice that bus is getting really cold. Everyone is cold. Just as cold as the mountain night air would be, in fact…but all the windows are closed…ah yes, there it is. I look behind me and lo and behold, the double doors in the back are OPEN. There is a five inch gap between where the doors should be and where they are. They’re still latched, and that’s why all our luggage isn’t falling out, but nonetheless, the doors are open.
I go up and tell the driver to stop and close the doors. He hastily pulls over, gives the doors two half-hearted slams, failing to attach them to the van’s body. And then gets back in the front and says “No problem, only 10 kilometers more to Manali.”
“Really?” I say. “Only ten kilometers and our luggage falling out is no problem?”
The driver mumbled something and took off again like a bullet.
*Nineteen* freezing kilometers later (roughly 3am) we arrive on some desolate stretch of alley that is the Manali Private Station. The other passengers ask about hotels, and the drivers says that we need to go to the villages of Old Manali or Vashist, 2km away. “Can you take us there?” asks one British woman. “Fifty rupees each,” responds the driver. Here we are, being dropped by the side of the road at 3am, and this guy is squeezing an extra 500 rupees out of his passenger load. Admittedly, 50 rupees is not much more than 1 US dollar, and I could have seen this situation coming. But it still hurt. Especially with that unsafe cracked door pouring frigid night air into the cabin.
We, the passengers, concede to this offer and he drops us in front of an Old Manali hotel. When collecting 50 rupees from everyone, I’m the last in line and I ask the driver about the 50 rupee discount for a freezing cold cabin caused by cracked doors that the driver would not close. He gets the gist and drives on.
We land in a 300 rupee hotel and collapse on the sheets. Thus ends the Bus Ride from Hell.
April 19th, 2011-
Today we shopped. Brenna bought some nice gifts which she doesn’t want me to reveal by posting photos on the blog. So instead, I bring you…
The silver masturbating monkey charm.
For a mere Rs.1500 ($32), you too can own this fine piece of Indian handicraft.
In other news, it rained.
April 18th, 2011-
Today is hike day! We set out for the mountain village of “Triund,” not quite sure where we were supposed to go. We eventually got (most of the way) there.
Two canine amigos joined us for much of the early hike.
April 17th, 2011-
Every morning, the street-side shopkeepers unpack and hang up their wares. And every evening, they take them down and pack them away again. 7 days a weeks, over and over again.
Dearest readers of Blake Travels,
As many of you know, my travel plans for the second half of 2011 recently changed. The Unschool Adventures “Eurosurf” and “New Zealand Ultraventure” trips didn’t garner enough interest to become viable. Thus, I will no longer be traveling internationally after my India trip.
But fear not, as I intend to continue blogging for the rest of 2011–but the name and theme of the blog will change from “Blake Travels” to “Blake Eats.”
Yes, that’s right. I eat. And I like taking pictures of what I eat. You may have noticed that. I’ll post every day about something awesome (or not awesome) that I ate, along with a photograph and the occasional nutrition commentary.
Thanks for following my blog!
April 16th, 2011-
Scenes from a momo (Tibetan dumpling) cooking class.
April 15th, 2011-
Brenna got her appetite back! Happy days! Goodbye, stomach bug.
Luckily we did find a decent restaurant (by paying more money!) on a rooftop. Check out the my massive chicken tandoori.
April 13th, 2011-
To add to the menagerie, today we crossed a pack of (seemingly) wild mountain goats.
April 12th, 2011-
This morning we visited Tsuglagkhang, the main complex of important Tibetan temples and buildings, including the official home of the Dalai Lama. I didn’t see the Lama himself, but I did think often and fondly of Bill Murray’s Dalai Lama story in the movie Caddyshack.
Good views of the Himalaya and central McLeod Ganj were in abundance.
April 11th, 2011-
This morning Brenna and I grabbed breakfast at the “Italian Restaurant” above our hotel. (The quotes indicate that EVERY restaurant here is an Italian restaurant…and a Tibetan restaurant…and they serve Chinese and “Continental” [European] food, too. No restaurant is really that different from another.) Brenna ate a perfectly normal looking “farmer’s omelette”—and then started feeling nauseous, with intermittent stomach cramps. This affliction was destined continue for the next three days, limiting her ability to do much more than lay in bed and listen to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials audiobooks. Pobrecita!
She did manage to attend a nearby film screening with me that evening. In her own blog post, Brenna wrote beautifully about it, so I feel my best option is to plagiarize! Without further ado, Ms. Brenna McBroom:
“Last night we attended a screening of the movie ‘Journey From Zanskar’ about a ‘Geshe’ monk (the highest title that one can achieve as a monk- it takes 26 years of study) who took fourteen children on an extremely dangerous journey from Zanskar to Manali, so that they could study in a Tibetan school. The movie was amazing, and the coolest thing was that the Geshe monk was present and sitting right in front of me! The screening took place in a small room above a cafe, and when the movie was over he talked with us and answered our questions.”
I asked the monk if he had heard of Greg Mortensen or Three Cups of Tea…he hadn’t! I wrote it down on a piece of paper and said “READ THAT BOOK!”
(No photos today! Sorry!)
April 10th, 2011-
The rest of India: hot, flat, smoggy, noisy, everyone trying to sell you something.
McLeod Ganj: cool, mountainous, clear, quiet, no hard selling.
Double room with private bathroom: 400 rupees ($9).
Cafes with free wi-fi: EVERYWHERE.
Ex-pat hippy factor: minimal.
Lovin’ it. Tomorrow we start looking for volunteering opportunities (probably teaching conversational English) with the Tibetan refugee crowd.
April 9th, 2011-
Short post today. We traveled via bus from Amritsar to McLeod Ganj (just north of Dharamsala), the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile.
Lots of sitting and praying that our bus driver can communicate telepathically with the drivers of oncoming cargo trucks (in our same lane).
But do you know what makes long hauls so much better? That’s right. Miniature cans of THE DEW.
April 8th, 2011-
Brenna and I snagged an overnight “sleeper” train from Haridwar to Amritsar (in the Punjab, near the Pakistan border). Cost: $5. Experience: not as nasty as I thought it could be. Almost pleasant.
April 7th, 2011-
Features of a Bad Hotel Room:
1) Dirty, dusty, stained sheets & comforter. Check.
2) Constant deluge of water running from one end of bathroom to the other. Check.
3) Mosquitos pouring into room via hole in the wall above the toilet. Check.
4) Threat of monkey attack. Check.
Little kids and old men got naked to go for a dip in the Ganges.
Tonight: an overnight train to Amritsar (in the far north, near the Pakistan border) and the famous Golden Temple.
April 6th, 2011-
Ashram life quickly wore thin.
Maybe it was the 5:45am wake-up for the 6am mandatory yoga class. Maybe it was the the skimpy dinner (one big ladle of rice-curry-gruel) followed by a skimpy breakfast (two chapati and a spiced pickle). Or maybe it was the incomprehensible yoga teacher who continuously insisted that we breathe into “both of our two lungs” (hmm, not sure how to do fail at that!) and spent too much time chanting.
Any way you look at it, we were ready to peace outta there and Rishikish in general. So I risked damnation by the Hindu gods and took a photo of our ashram door. (Funny story: When we first arrived, I thought that our room number was 30. Then I noticed that everyone else’s room number was 30. Then Brenna told me that that symbol means “Om,” not the number 30.)
For the rest of the day, we spent an obscene amount of time in the nearby restaurant “Big Ben,” watching the noisy Haridwar traffic pass by through thick glass windows. Here Brenna sips on my mango lassi.
April 5th, 2011-
Today we moved into a yoga ashram called Anand Prakash. They fed us lunch (first of three daily meals), put us up in a private room, and gave us our first yoga lesson (of two daily) for 600 rupees total (~$13).
It didn’t feel right to take photos in the ashram. So I instead found an inspirational life poster that I now share with you.
April 3, 2011-
In Rishikesh, and perhaps all over India, locals will ask to take a picture with you. One guy told us that we “look like a nice couple,” and that was his justification for photographing us. Here, three dudes asked for our photo while walking along the Ganges. The one in orange was holding my hand directly before this photo, which is normal thing for guys who are friends to do in India.
April 1, 2011-
So here we are in Rishikesh, one of the holy cities along the (very holy) Ganges river. There’s a bunch of holy stuff here, like shrines, ashrams, yoga and meditation courses. But all we can pay attention to are the holy cows.
There are two pedestrian bridges spanning the Ganges here in Rishikesh. “Pedestrian” means “foot traffic only,” right? The motorcyclists don’t seem to care—they just zip down the bridge and honk at everyone who gets in the way. And neither do the holy cows.
There are also monkeys.
March 31, 2011-
View from a rickshaw to Sector 43 bus station.
March 30th, 2011-
Matt took us to Chandigarh’s big tourist highlight: the rock garden. Built by a local artistic “visionary” and made of largely reused materials, this rock garden (entrance fee: Rs.15, a.k.a. US$0.33) is not to be missed. Does YOUR rock garden have waterfalls?
Our group caught the end of the match at a local pub. Kingfisher is the Budweiser of India.
March 29, 2011-
We grabbed a 4.5-hour-long “second seating” train form Delhi to Chandigarh for the bargain basement price of $3.50.
March 27-28, 2011 (including time travel)-
Two weeks after returning from South America, I’m on the move again—this time to India for 5 weeks.
Why India, Blake? Well, good question, Blake.
Honestly, India isn’t the big attraction for me: it’s the Himalaya.
Ever since I watched Seven Years in Tibet and met my friend Dan, a Brit who treks and works in Nepal, I’ve had the urge to visit the Himalaya mountains. I have no desire to do some monstrous climb of K2 or Everest or something like that, and I never have. I just love the beauty of the mountains, and the Himalaya combines that with the chance to experience a new (and, for a westerner, affordable) foreign culture.
So when I was planning my year out, slapping an India trip into my travels just made sense. I had the time, money, and no binding commitments in the States, so I jumped on the opportunity. I’m going to die sometime, right? Do it while you’re still young!
Another big plus for India was that my girlfriend, the esteemed potter Brenna McBroom of Asheville, NC (www.brennadee.com), also wanted to visit India. She threw a bunch of pots and saved up, and now we’re traveling together. Hot dog! It doesn’t get better than this.
A final motive for the trip is: to do research for a potential future Unschool Adventures trip. India is not a place that I would send a group without checking out myself, so here I am, and maybe we’ll run a trip there in 2012 if it all feels right.
Okay, enough background story. On to the photos!
Directly after the conference, Brenna and I got a ride to Chicago O’Hare airport to await our direct flight to New Delhi on a big fat 777 aircraft. Here she poses with our chariot.
My eyes often returned to the big flight information board in the front of the passenger area. Those hours ticked away slowly.
March 13-26, 2011-
Between South America and my next big international trip—India—I spent time at Brenna’s house in Asheville and presented at the InHome Conference outside of Chicago. While there were many highlights, here are the ones that I managed to photograph!
Hanna, Jonah, and Garrett wished me goodbye after all the other South America students founds their flights home from Miami.
March 10-12, 2011-
After Machu Picchu, I was spent. The next two days (the 10th and 11th) consisted of prepping for the return home, enjoying our time in our new-and-improved “party hostel”, The Point, and doing closing meetings & feedback forms.
Before the South America trip, Julie made plans with me to extend her travels. She flies out of Cusco, but not until early May! To fulfill her big plans to visit Patagonia and Bolivia over the next seven weeks, she grabbed a bus back to Arequipa the night before our group took off. Here, Jonah showered her with goodbyes, a.k.a. party foam leftover from Carnaval.
Ingmar accompanied us to the airport and left us whimpering like puppy dogs behind a glass wall. (He’s also staying in South America a bit longer—just one week in Cusco.)
Here the group awaited our connecting flight to Miami in Lima, Peru.
Wednesday March 9th
Guess what we did today? Yup. Visit Machu Picchu.
It all started at 4am, when we woke up and joined the line of people waiting for the first buses to Machu Picchu. We did this so that we could be some of the first people in the NEXT line, outside of Machu Picchu’s entrance gates, to get an authorization stamp to climb Huayna Picchu (only 400 people get to climb it each day, and it’s first-come, first-served).
Ahh, 4:30. What a magical hour.
Monday March 7th-
The hills of Cusco are steep.
But really, Inca Wasi Hostel, don’t tell me every day that “we’ll definitely have water tonight”, and then leave me confronted with three unflushed toilets.
Sunday March 6th-
We hiked to the “Christo Blanco” on the hill above our hostel this morning…Benji held a striking resemblance.
Jalen felt the wrath of this group of locals.
Saturday March 5th-
We arrived at Cusco (Cuzco?) this morning and RESTED! A night bus plus 10,000′ elevation will take it out of you.
No fotos, lo siento!
Friday March 4th-
Last night I took the students to a discotheque that Malena (of the Spanish school) told me was hip with all the young’uns in Arequipa. The students reported a much higher incidence of balding middle-aged men. Ha! Too bad.
Today everyone packed up and moved out of their homestays and (staff) hostel in preparation for our night bus to Cusco. We did internet’ing and last-minute city exploring. Julie and Ingmar took Benji, who’s been dying for a good climb, to the lock rock gym, the Cuerva del Mono (¡que divertido!):
Benji was thankful that this happened near the end of the trip. The camera was covered by traveler’s insurance, but there was no tourist police to file a report in the bus station, and police from one district (i.e. Cusco) won’t create a report for a crime that happened in another (i.e. Arequipa), so Benji is SOL in terms of getting compensated. Bummer!
Thursday March 3rd-
[OKAY SO, it’s actually March 14th today. This is the farthest that I’ve been behind on my blog, but I’m determined to catch up.]
The highlight of this morning was tricking not one, not two, but THREE of the students into owing me a frappucino!
I did a classic card trick where they cut the deck, look at a card, put it back in the middle of the deck, and then I flip through the cards and tell them that I’m using my psychic powers to determine when the card is near. I purposefully flip past their card, play dumb, and tell them that the next card I’m going to flip over is theirs. I then get them to bet against this proposal, and then I crush their dreams by flipping over their card from the pile of discards.
Kina and Benji were the first to bet against me (a frappucino each), and Claire later did the same. Here’s me cashing in on my sweet victory with Claire.
Tuesday, March 1
This morning our group (minus Quinn, the late-sleeper) walked to Yanahuara’s central plaza and scoped some epic views of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes.
Sunday, February 27-
Our two homestay organizers and Spanish teachers are Malena and Pepe of Juanjo Spanish School. They lead classes in two downstairs rooms of their multi-story house in the Yuanahuara neighborhood of Arequipa. Somehow they juggle having four kids, teaching hours of Spanish each day, and running a business. Malena told me that she hasn’t taken a vacation in 10 years!
I caught the students looking a bit weary after their first afternoon of Spanish class with Pepe:
Finally, we found this little bugger on the walk home. Looks like he had a run-in with someone’s boot. I’m glad it wasn’t with my flip-flopped foot.
Saturday, February 26-
Today we went for a hike in the terraced countryside outside of Arequipa. The destination: Sogay. The students had a lot of fun with that one.
Friday, February 25-
Our first week in Arequipa was flexi-week. Now we enter our second week: back to the grindstone! Home stays, four hours of Spanish classes per day, and the occasional group activities in the mornings.
I’m writing this post almost a week late, so I apologize for the lack of details in this and the upcoming posts. They will be spartan.
But you won’t care because…here’s a picture of Julie with a baby!!
Thursday, February 24-
Today is the last day of flexi-week and the students are going hog-wild with their leftover budget! We spent a big chunk of the day touring the Santa Catalina Monastery, the high walls of which we’ve walked by every day. This monastery is OLD—like 500+ years old. Lots of neat photos to be found.
Wednesday, February 23-
More Starbucks this morning. I’m working toward merging my personal website (blakeboles.com), blogging website (currently Zero Tuition College), and a new consulting/guidance service together under one banner. Lots of writing to do.
This afternoon the students got their act together and walked us across Arequipa to find the free art museum.
Unfortunately, it didn’t exist. They walked back to the Plaza de Armas and talked with the tourist information center, where they found about a free archaeological museum nearby. That seemed to be closed too (a sign above it read: “On vacation for February!”), but then a guard opened the door. I’m impressed by the quality of museums thus far in Arequipa, and this one was filled with a satisfying number of cadavers, bones, and artifacts.
Afterwards, the group hung out in Cusco Coffee, which is Starbucks-wannabe with bigger couches. This photo adequately captures their raunchy humor. (Kina was sick, poor girl!)
At night the group played soccer at some sort of empty pond (?) and had a few locals join in. I stayed in town and researched Machu Pichu options.
Tuesday, February 22-
There is a Starbucks that opened just down from the historic Plaza de Armas in central Arequipa. Some call this a blight; I call this awesome.
The drinks cost twice as much as other cafes (S/8 instead of S/4 for a cappuccino), but I still go here every morning.
We ended the day with a delicious student-cooked meal and meeting on the roof.
Monday, February 21-
Today I present you with snapshots of our life here in Arequipa, Peru. The students are keeping flexi-week pretty flexi, with only lunch, dinner, and a museum visit as the scheduled group activities today.
The view from our hostel’s roof:
Sunday, February 20th-
DAY OFF! Wooh. All I can say is, thank god for the Arequipa Starbucks (opened 3 months ago), because it’s the only thing open at 7am in this entire city.
I’ve been waking up around 5:30am each day because we lost two hours crossing the Chilean/Peruvian border…but we only traveled north! Go figure. So the sun rises really early, and I with it.
Today I wrote, wrote some more, watch The Black Swan (El Cisne Negro—in English with Spanish subtitles) at a movie theater (they don’t butter their popcorn!! What’s the point!?), napped, wrote, and ate more Mexican food.
Oh, and Cameron Lovejoy and Tara Dean (two unschoolers who I know from many different places) showed up! They’re traveling around Peru for a month and coordinated their visit to Arequipa to match ours.
That’s all! No photos today—day off 🙂
Saturday, February 19th
In yesterday’s post I omitted a rather important announcement: Friday was the beginning of South America trip’s “flexi-week”, in which the students design the travel. They choose the lodging, buy the food, budget the money, plan the activities, and arrange the transportation (except where border-crossing is involved). On the Unschool Adventures Argentina Trip in 2008, the group did two weeks of student-designed travel, and it was a big hit. On this trip, the students are designing one week of travel in Arequipa, Peru: The White City.
Originally I suggested that the student’s do homestays (which include breakfasts and dinners for a bargain price) for the flex-week, but they weren’t into that idea. So they went online to Hostelbookers.com and found the Bothy Hostel instead.
Hanna went into a little food coma after the first bite of her burrito.
Friday, February 18th-
Border crossing day: Chile to Peru. I was seriously stressing, because Chile has some draconian regulations regarding international child abduction. Prior to the trip I asked all the parents to sign and notarize an authorization form for the Chilean authorities. I had also spoken with the Chilean consulate in San Francisco and a trip leader from a South American adventure kayaking company, and they both indicated that authorization paperwork was definitely necessary. I felt confident that my authorization form (which I drafted myself, in English and Spanish) met all the requirements, but when dealing with bureaucracy…who knows! Thus, I was stressed.
The border crossing was also stressful because the (apparent) best option for crossing was to hire three taxis to take our group across. I don’t like handing out the student’s passports when I don’t have to, and especially not to Chilean taxi drivers who are yelling at me because I don’t understand the intricacies of the Chilean-Peruvian border paperwork. I also don’t like splitting the group up, but Julie, Ingmar and I each had cell phones with unlimited calling time between each other, so that was good.
All this leads to the requisite anti-climax: We got across without problem.
The taxi drivers got us into all the right emigration/immigration lines and blasted through our paperwork. And the Chilean authorities never once asked for a shred of authorization paperwork. We arrived in Tacna, Peru, earlier than expected.
While I’m glad that I was prepared for the worst-case scenario in the Chilean border crossing, I also think that the whole ordeal took a few months of my lifespan. Oh well!
The rest of the day was: a long bus ride to Arequipa, Peru, and arrival at our hostel for the upcoming week. More on that in the next post!
(Sorry, no photos today!)
Thursday, February 17th
Today passed like a dream! We woke up at 7am in the Arica bus terminal and walked to our sweet-ass lodging which I had reserved for one night: The Arica Surf Hostel.
Because yesterday was a bus today, and tomorrow was going to be a bus day, we just rested more today. Everyone in the group needed it. Jonah and Ingmar went surfing, and I poked around the downtown walking promenade. I found a Govinda restaurant (a chain which serves all-vegetarian fare run by Hare Krishnas) and convinced them to open up at 8pm for our group—so we enjoyed a lovely vegetarian fixed-menu in our very own restaurant! A great ending to a restful day.
Wednesday February 16th-
Today we slept late, packed up shop, and said goodbye to San Pedro de Atacama.
Tuesday, February 15th-
This morning we toured the Salar de Atacama (world’s third largest salt flat, after Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni and Utah’s Great Salt Lake) and a few high-altitude lakes. Epic photos below. The rest of the day was spent recovering from the oppression of waking up at 6am. Also: eating incredible veggie burgers (the best we’ve found in South America).
The flamingos eat the krill which eat the minerals produced by the endless volcanic activity in the region.
Monday, February 14th-
This morning I haggled a few companies for a big group discount on tours of the Atacama desert. We ended up with two tours: the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) tour today, and Lagunas Altiplanicas (high-elevation lakes) tour tomorrow.
Valle de la Luna is just outside of San Pedro. It’s a wholllle lot of crazy rock formations caused by violent tectonic and volcanic action over the past six million years.
Sunday, February 13th, 2011-
Our bus from Santiago arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, in Northern Chile near the Bolivian and Argentine borders, at 6:20pm, right on time. The manager of our hostel in San Pedro, a total desert hippie named Roberto, picked us up in his puke-green van. San Pedro is where we’ll spend the next three nights, touring this barren land which is apparently the driest place on earth.
At the hostel, Julie led a four-chord sing-along with Quinn on ukelele. We crashed early, as it’s difficult to sleep well on a long-distance bus (with most of your body at a 30 degree incline).
Friday, February 11, 2011-
We’ve reached a nice daily rhythm here in Pichilemu. Too bad we’re leaving it all tomorrow.
This morning our group met after classes, as we always do, on the school’s terrace overlooking the ocean.
Thursday, February 10, 2011-
Not much to report today, except that we are all officially addicted to the fresh, homemade empanadas that two ladies bake all day just outside of downtown Pichilemu. Here are group meets at the backyard oven-plus-eating-area in the afternoon:
This morning I snapped a few photos of stduents in their Spanish classes. 9am is an unknown hour to virtually everyone in sleeply Pichilemu…but not us!
Today I took a day off. No camera, no photos, and lots of quiet time. I walked for an hour and a half between Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos, the famous surf spot. Thank you to Julie and Ingmar for running the show while I was gone.
While the students studied Spanish this morning, Julie and I explored “downtown” Pichilemu and the beach. We spotted a llama that was unquestionably outside of its natural environment.
The group headed out into the crowded Pichilemu beginner waves, a beach break with a sandy bottom. Three instructors accompanied them and I kept a watchful eye from the beach (I’ll surf later this week!).
Not much to report this morning. We killed seven hours in Santiago’s Alameda bus terminal, playing cards, surfing the internet, eating expectedly mediocre terminal food, and buying bus tickets for next weekend. Then we boarded yet another bus: three and a half hours to Pichilemu, Chile, where our group will spend the next week doing homestays, Spanish classes (two hours per day), and surf classes.
Chris Wilcox, the owner (with his wife Valerie) of Pichilemu Institute of Language Studies, met us at the bus stop. I had worked with Chris and Valerie over e-mail since last March to organize our group’s lessons and accommodations, and it was a pleasure to finally meet them in person. Chris is a former Truckee and Monterey, CA, resident, so Julie and I immediately started talking favorite California beach and mountain spots with him. Chris is incredibly friendly and a gracious host. He walked us a few blocks to the school where the students met their homestay families.
This week we had five homestays for our ten students, with two students (of the same gender) staying at each house. Julie and I purposefully mixed up the homestay combinations to combine group members who didn’t know each other that well. Many of these families were first-time homestay hosts, which was a refreshing change from the Bariloche families that seemed to host students year-round. (Chris interviewed or had previous relationships with each of the homestay families.) The students departed with their families for the evening. They will be eating three meals per day at the homestays, with lunch being the biggest.
Only the three staffers remained. Chris took us to the local supermarket, which was a mob scene on Sunday (remember, this is summer break for Chile) and then to our hilltop cabaña accommdations. Julie got stoked for the sunset, and we called it an early evening.
Much traveling today. Early this morning we took taxis to the Bariloche bus station and grabbed the 7:30am bus bound for Osorno, Chile. The five-hour-long ride over the Andes passed gorgeous, sky-blue lakes, and endless rocky peaks. I didn’t take any photos because I’m really not a fan of bus-window shots, sorry!
We spent the majority of the day passing time in Osorno, Chile, a large city in Southern Chile with no particular tourist draw. We walked to the Plaza de Armas and napped on the grass.
Our final day in Bariloche. The students said goodbye to their Spanish teachers, we ate our last sandwich lunch, and we said “feel better!” to Lani and Kina, who were feeling under the weather (and went back to their homestay).
Then we went for a hike.
Cerro Campanario is a popular day hike accessible by bus from Bariloche. We hiked up to the Cerro and soaked in the grand views. The beauty drove many to embrace each other:
We dropped the students at their homestays on the bus ride back. Julie, Ingmar and I grabbed our last hit of Bariloche chocolate and some cena para llevar, and we then ate at the hostel in the company of a group of musicians from Buenos Aires. Much jamming and butchered acoustic versions of American songs.
Julie took the day off to go bike around a peninsula, so today was a lot of solo trip leading for me. I changed dollars (both into Argentine pesos and Chilean pesos), bought pastries for snacks, took lunchtime sandwich orders, and answered business e-mails. Before lunch I snapped a few shots of one of the student classes playing Spanish hangman.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the internet cafe, where the students caught up on blogging. I later caught up on their catching up, and they have some really quality blogs. Both in photos and writing. I recommend that you check them out here:
Today was very pleasant because it was my first 24-hour period without sickness in a week. Also because I’m surrounded by very pleasant people in a pleasant place. Here are some of those people waiting for there Spanish class in the morning.
Tuesday February 1-
Here’s our group at Spanish school in the morning. Everyone is chipper.
By 5pm I recovered and was ready for dinner. I’m avoiding caffeine, dairy, and fried foods in my attempt to get well soon. I’m also slowing giving up on my 10 years of vegetarianism as I learn more about the benefits of pasture-raised meats. These factors all conspired in the direction of: El Boliche de Alberto.
El Boliche (for short) is an Argentine steak restaurant that I’ve twice visited but never enjoyed as a flesh-eating customer. The first time was my inaugural backpacking trip around South America with friends Matt and Patrick, and the second time was the Unschol Adventures Argentina trip (where my brother Cooper and fellow students dined). Now it was my turn.
At El Boliche, everything is made out of leather. Ingmar, Julie, and I each ordered the “Bistec de Lomo” after discovering that it was the filet mignon cut. Price: 65 pesos, or roughly $15.
Here our meat sizzled on the Argentine parilla.
On a final note, Julie’s jacket looks a lot like the Via Bariloche bus fleet.
Monday January 31-
All of the students got up around 7 this morning to arrive at the Spanish School early for placement interviews. No one complained (there has been very little complaining whatsoever on this trip), which impressed me, and the group at the far homestay were even more impressive, because they need to take a bus each way, and they were super on-time.
The students did their interviews, were split into three classes (max four people per class), and then went off for there first lessons. And I…got la fiebre again.
I’m pretty sure that I caught something last week—a sort of acute bronchitis that’s been passing around the group—and this week I caught something new. I won’t bore or disgust you with the symptoms, but they’re different from last week’s fiebre. This is an all or nothing fiebre. Either I’m laid out in bed with the grim reaper over me, or I’m walking around fine.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day in or around the bed. And at night I got really loopy—a changed level of consciousness, as the EMT would say. My fever never really gets about 101, so I’m not super concerned, but it’s still strange.
Thanks to la fiebre, no new pictures today. Here’s one that Julie took from the bus ride en route to Bariloche.
Guess what hour 18 of a 22-hour bus ride feels like? Yup, you guessed it. Just like all the others.
The students slept soundly in the wee hours.
To stretch our legs, we decided to walk into Bariloche instead of taking a bus or taxi. Poor Claire came down with the fever bug during the night, but walked the 4km nonetheless. What troopers they are.
Our first epic 22-hour bus journey! How exciting.
This morning we packed and cleaned up our apartments. A representative from the rental agency checked us out and discovered three towels missing in total from two apartments. Where could those towels have possibly gone?? Our students didn’t have them, and we didn’t go walking down the streets of B.A. in them. And when we checked in, no one counted these towels.
Alas, none of this logic worked on the rental lady. US$15 charged. Just another one of those little financial hits that are a part of this kind of trip.
We walked to Retiro bus station and waited for our chariot.
We slept as well as you could sleep on a bus. Which for me, wasn’t that well, especially with residual illness.
Latin America gets the worst of the worst American B-movies. That’s what you learn when you’re sick with la fiebre (fever) in Buenos Aires.
Today I suffered from the 48-hour cold/flu/fever bug that our group has been passing around. I stayed in bed all day while Julie and Ingmar took the group to their final tango lesson and grocery shopping for the bus trip tomorrow.
And now, as to not end this post on a low note, here is a picture of delicious Argentine medialunas!
Thursday January 27-
A day of great group photos. Here are the students on the corner outside our downtown Buenos Aires rented apartments.
Tuesday January 25-
This was our first “normal” day of the trip. We walked the shady streets of Buenos Aires toward Recoleta this morning.
Monday January 24-
This morning our group caught up on sleep and e-mail and then enjoyed a brief picnic in Parque General San Martin. We took our first subway ride to tango lessons with Alicia Pons and hit up a gloriously large supermarket on the way home. Unfortunately, even the gloriously large supermarkets don’t have peanut butter, black beans, soymilk, and many other staples that we’re accustomed to. Nonetheless, Julie whipped up a mean Mexican-style dinner. Benji was impressed.
Sunday January 23-
Few of us slept well on the international flight. Arriving at Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport, we grabbed our pre-arranged taxis to our rental apartments, moved in, and then walked to the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where we found an endless street fair and live tango.
Saturday January 22-
This morning Julie and I found some sleepy students in Miami Int’l Airport. Their red-eye had arrived at 5am. Our int’l flight didn’t depart until 9pm. 17 epic hours in Miami!
Friday Jan 21-
Three flights today: Eugene to Seattle to Memphis to Miami. All were pleasantly on-time and on the third I even got my own exit row! One of those minor traveler’s victories. I carried the final dose of my live oral typhoid vaccines in a tiny styrofoam cup with ice refilled from plane drink carts.
At Miami I found Julie, my South America trip coleader, and we hit up a late-night Honduran restaurant. There was karaoke.
Okay, I don’t actually have typhoid. But I am taking an oral live typhoid vaccine (over a one week period) and it gave me terrible stomach cramps yesterday. Not even True Grit and all of its epic Westernness could cure me.
Luckily I felt better enough today to bike around Eugene and brainstorm my life at Perugino. They didn’t make the fancy cappuccino flower design so I snapped a shot from my seat.
“Slow” for me means two doctor appointments, a dentist appointment, a bank trip, a sending money across international borders trip, a prescription drug trip, and plenty of biking and running and cappuccinos and Sweet Life (google it). Glorious.
No pictures, sorry.
Location:W D St,Springfield,United States
(My iPad blogging tool is giving me crap. Photos are coming out tiny and I’m not able to change datestamps. While figuring this out, I’m going to post multiple day’s blogs together.)
Ahh, glorious rest! Friday I lounged around Suntop (Tilke and Nick’s house), rode Nick’s bike to Paychex to discuss payroll for Unschool Adventures, lounged around a Starbucks even more, and then returned to Suntop to help vacuum for this weekend’s anticipated lounging. Luna, one of two pugs in residence at Suntop, did not approve of my vacuuming.
Today I grabbed an early lunch with my dad and then got a ride down to Vallejo, CA, where I met my craigslist rideshare going to Eugene, OR. The guy driving the blue VW was Antony, a personal trainer and non-profit owner from San Francisco. I sat in the front and we talked for a number of hours about unschooling, nutrition, international travel, and everything in between. He warned me that his recent (first) trip to New Zealand in early December–the same time that I’m planning the Unschool Adventures NZ trip–was rainy 13 out of 15 days. Uh-oh! Here we gassed up somewhere south of Redding.
This morning I nursed a cappuccino at the Sunflower Cafe in Sonoma and caught up on Unschool Adventures paperwork. This afternoon my sister Liza visited and challenged Ben to a game of connect four. Ben destroyed me at connect four this morning, so I cheered for Liza.
Liza also helped me trim down my first aid kit to only the bare essentials. Between that and the innovative technology of rolling my clothes, I managed to fit everything I need for the next six months into my new Patagonia MLC (maximum legal carry-on) bag. Here’s a shot of the guts:
And Liza with the demo:
100% travel today. Car to the airport, planes to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco, airporter bus to the north bay, and car to my dad’s house in Sonoma. En route I ate the best donut ever in Guatemala City (brand name: “American Doughnut”) and my first salad in two weeks. I am so happy to eat salad again.
Julie and I each caught five hours of winks on the overnight bus and then grabbed a taxi to Hotel San Pablo, our hostel for the evening. The nice older lady who runs the place (with her husband and one-footed parrot, Paco) let us store our bags and then dropped us at the pickup spot for the “chicken bus” to Antigua. These buses are fast and furious, and they only cost 8 quetzales (one dollar) for a one-hour ride. We spent a few hours wandering around Antigua.
We enjoyed endless tourist watching (there’s tons of them) and such luxuries as espresso drinks and a genuine supermercado. After taking the chicken bus back, we spent 20 minutes talking with a middle-aged guy on the street who claimed to have helped a girl from Colorado after she was robbed in Guatemala City. He told us that he had friends in high places–literally, in Colorado. At least I think he made that joke.
Guatemala in general, and Flores in particular, is plagued by a never-ending stream of firecracker explosions. Apparently it’s a custom to be woken up by firecrackers on your birthday. This morning I woke early and walked around the island, and at 7am I found the asshole who was shooting mortar firecrackers into the sky. I suspected a kid, and it was a full-grown man. Alas.
Today was a kick-back and blog catch-up day. In the afternoon, the homies enjoyed some large frosty beverages on the roof of our hostel.
And we snapped the obligatory sunset shot.
Julie and I hopped an 8-hour night bus back to Guate (Guatemala city). We purchased the tickets from a somewhat sketchy travel agent at the hostel, and at midnight a guy told Julie that he had a reservation for her seat—and he did. Jules chatted up the bus driver and made all well. Guatemala City hooo!
At 7am we dined on our last Guatemalan desayuno típico (typical breakfast) of eggs, beans, and tortillas and bolted back toward Flores as fast as our little mules could carry us. We tipped the guides, ate shrimp tacos with guacamole for lunch, checked into our 3rd-floor hostel rooms, and promptly showered ten days of accumulated sweat, grime, and vaporized mule poo off our bodies. That felt damn good.
David Evitt, our friend and former camper & co-worker from Deer Crossing Camp, found us in Flores. He’s working for two years on a low-cost, sustainable stove project with other engineers in Western Guatemala. He, Vince, and Jim planned their route for the next week (Julie and I need to get back soon to run the Unschool Adventures South America trip).
A spontaneous Flores parade appeared. To mark our return, assuredly.
Sunset from the roof top terrace.
And the rest of the day was spent…eating more food that wasn’t beans, eggs, tortillas, canned tuna, canned sardines, and white rice. Here is me enjoying my third ice cream of the day.
I counted roughly 30 total mosquito bites over the course of the trip–let’s hope none of them were malarial!
This morning we caught up on our cheap reads. Vince blasted through “Fault Line”,
and Jim admired his jungle hero.
We rode and hiked a few short hours to our last ruins site, La Florida. There weren’t many ruins, but we did find one giant-ass ceiba tree.
The ceiba is the national tree of Guatemala (which apparently means “land of the trees” as well). When it’s young, the ceiba is covered with nasty spikes on the trunk and tops of the branches, which made virtually all the ceibas we found unsuitable for tree climbing. This old man, on the other hand, had zero spikes. Like a fine wine, the ceiba gets better with age. Julie represented.
One of my favorite pics from the trip: our equipo with guide assistant Juan Carlos.
This was a tough tree to scale: our anchor saddles were roughly 80 feet up. Everyone gave the Big Shot a few tries until we finally got a successful shot. Jim demonstrated proper Big Shot form.
We snapped a few epic tree-top photos, but I’ll upload those later because they’re on other cameras. After the incident with the leaf bug, I didn’t feel like subjecting my camera to an 80-foot “whoops”. Two green parrots squawked at us on their sunset fly-by.
The other big highlight of the day happened back at the campground. We ran into another North American, a middle school science teacher from Davis, CA, named Mike Reed. Mike was the quintessential nutty professor. He had apparently visited the Mayan ruins in El Petén twice a year for the last six years, found multiple artifacts and undiscovered ruins, and participated in some sort of academic feud with Richard Hansen, the professor who originated the Mayan Petén research thirty years ago. Mike traveled with an assistant named “Hiro” who looked and spoke like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid and force-fed canned peaches to Mike in an effort to get him moving (they were only stopping at our site for a brief respite). Walfre and Mike had worked together before, and Mike said that we were very lucky to have him as a guide. Mike also showed us pictures from his travels in the rainy season, when he would literally be swimming the same bajos (low areas of the jungle) that we had been hiking. He didn’t take anti-malarials in the dry season (now), which gave me relief (since I’m not either), but his story about almost stepping on a six-foot-long Barbara Armarilla (the most deadly snake in Guatemala) gave me pause.
Early this morning the temperature dropped to around 60 – thank god – and subsequently deposited a load of dewey moisture on all our stuff. Jim had a surprise visit from the duende (i.e. Vince, Julie, and me) who hid his climbing gear 15 feet up a tree. Jim relieved his frustration by borrowing Walfre’s machete and hacking his way through the jungle back to Tintal.
Hack it, Jim, hack it!
Jim gave us his life story on the hike back, which I found fascinating. At Deer Crossing Camp we would only get it in snippits. He lived out of his car, or in a tent, or out of a trailer for many years before starting his current, stable life.
Ticks jumped all over our pants as we hiked through dense undergrowth on the way back. Permethrin is supposed to kill ticks, too, but it didn’t. Back at Tintal we caught up on our reading. I read two and a half books (1984, Fault Line, and Narziss and Goldmund) during this trip.
We ran into one small group of tourists headed for Mirador. Two were dentists from Slovenia. They said that we had very nice teeth. We stayed up late talking about pornography, technology, and Jim’s parenting concerns.
All the other tourists had left, so when we took off, Mirador was a ghost town.
We hiked and rode to Nakbé, a less-visited ruin site 3 hours southeast of Mirador. We set up hammocks on the top of the big “Lizard” pyramid. Jim got the best spot.
The highlight of the day was learning about the Guatemalen legend of the duende, a dwarf that wears a sombrero and steals your cigarettes and hides your stuff when you’re not looking. He looks like a child sometimes, or he can take the form of people that you know. We got as many different descriptions of the duende as the number of guides & guards we asked.
Other important business of the day included journaling and pedicures on top of the pyramid.
Also, harassing the “ant lion” creatures that build craters and wait for a hapless ant to walk by. We fed this one a spider that was crawling on me.
Obligatory sunset shots.
Today was a kick-back day at Mirador. I hung around in my hammock (45 feet up in the air) until noon reading Jim’s high-action thriller, “Fault Line”. A family of spider monkeys swung past the tree and checked me out. What’s up, distant cousins. Later that afternoon we explored the inner depths of one of the ruins after Jim got special permission from the guard.
I took a long-needed ducha (shower) in the fine Mirador facilities.
Black plastic and a bucket: that’s all you need.
The rest of the day I hung around camp brainstorming about college alternatives. Local wild (but protected) pavos (turkeys) pecked nearby.
Jim joined us in the Strangler Fig hotel this night. Four hammocks in one tree = difficult but impressive! A cool wind picked up and rocked us to sleep like babies.
La Danta is the largest pyramid in the Americas, and today we climbed it. This monumental achievement took exactly: 15 minutes.
A trail of jungle ants crossed the path to the pyramid. Ancient Mayan spirits, perhaps?
Reconstructed steps guided our way. If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Apocolypto, you’ll easily imagine the severed heads of defeated combatants tumbling down these.
The top of el Dante. This is the most uncovered rock that we saw the entire trip. All the other ruins just look like hills, and you take the guide’s word that there’s actually something underneath them.
Just near the top, Jim and I ran into a pack of wild boar-like pigs with black mohawks. They took one look at us and bolted. Later, the campground guard told us that a jaguar had killed the leader of their pack, and thus they didn’t know where to forage and were venturing ever-closer to tourist-land.
The view from the top. More jungla, what do you know! To spice it up I experimented with color isolation settings.
Our group with Walfre.
On the way back from the ruins we scoped out trees for climbing and found another huge Strangler Fig. Jim wanted to sleep on El Dante, so Julie, Vince and I set up our Strangler Fig hotel without him. Julie climbed up what happened to become the most important branch, and she did most of the work of tying the hammocks. She didn’t mind.
We got tuna sandwiches delivered to us for dinner. Vincey loves his atún con vegetales.
I read the Sherril Tree catalog and gawked at all the fancy devices that might have saved us time (like a $600 single-attachment tree portaledge) so we wouldn’t be rigging complicated tree hammocks at night.
But in the end I was happy to just be sleeping in a tree.
On a final note: permethrin (the anti-mosquito chemical) is a joke. Five mosquitos bit right through my permethrin-soaked socks while I climbed.
A green leaf bug greeted me this morning. While experimenting with manual focus on my snazzy new Canon (to capture this shot), the bug leaped at me and I dropped the camera. Nature strikes back. Luckily my camera is a champ and survived with only a scuff mark.
Julie felt much better, ready for the Mirador trek.
Vince and Jim enjoyed a good night’s sleep in the trees.
Today we walked, walked, walked. Others rode, but I preferred to walk. Mules aren’t my cup of tea, for no particular reason. Here’s what I mostly saw.
Seven hours later we ran into our first manicured Mayan ruin site.
We climbed Mirador’s second-highest pyramid, El Jaguar, for sunset. The international tourist horde joined us.
I taught them to play SET.
Over dinner we conversed with a 9-year-old homeschooling boy who is traveling around Central America with his dad for 3 months. Honestly, what an irresponsible thing to do. How will this child learn anything?
We started our hike to the ruins of El Mirador this morning, but Julie threw up twice and didn’t feel up to a 7-hour hike. Luckily we had a flexible itinerary and decided to just take another day at Tintal. We climbed the pyrámida that we missed yesterday with its epicly steep stairs (characteristic of all Mayan ruins, we soon discovered).
Walfre pointed out all the other ruins in the distance, a.k.a. little green lumps.
We talked Mayan history on the pyramid. I noticed that the jungle is flaaaaaaaaaat.
Back at camp, Jim and Vince were jonesing to sleep in a tree. They found two medium-sized trees near the camp and rigged up the hammocks.
I spent my lazy afternoon brainstorming for Zero Tuition College (or whatever it will become). A sunset on the pyramid sealed the deal.
I celebrated the new year somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean by going to bed at 9pm (which is pretty late for the intrepid jungle explorer, especially when the sun sets at 6).
Today we explored the Mayan ruins of Tintal. A pack of howler monkeys greeted us with, you guessed it, some serious howling. (I have a video of this which I’ll get up later.)
We found a sweet “Strangler Fig” tree to climb. This tree sprouts from the ground and wraps itself around other trees like a constricting vine.
I used the Big Shot (a badass $140 slingshot for tree climbing) to put a throw line into the Strangler.
Then I prepared to climb.
We got high.
Vince got realllly high, using our special “Spider rig” technique which lets you move between nearby (10-15 feet away) with ease. On the hike back to camp I spotted a little feral pig. That night we met a few of the other, much larger tourist groups in Tintal, which included Germans, Italians, Swiss, Beligiums, Guatemalans, and Australians.
The first day of our 10-day jungle trek started at 5am with Walfre (our guide) picking us up in his sweet Toyota.
Along the way we bought cigarettes with which to “bribe” the guards at each ruins site. (This turned out to be more of a nicety than a bribe.) We also stopped for breakfast at a comedor típica. I peeked into the kitchen.
Vince played ¨Welcome to the Jungle¨on his iPod as we drove farther into the endless green canopy. Bienvenidos a la jungla became our trip slogan.
We picked up our guide’s assistant, Juan Carlos (blue shirt on the left), and the muleskinner, Miguel, in the village of Carmelita. Loaded gear and people on the mullas and off we went.
Tourist’s route. At least they’re honest about it. I read that Guatemala gets 60% of its income from tourism.
Jim fell in love with the pimienta plant, a.k.a. allspice. His mule was also named Pimienta.
Other highlights of the day included:
After 5 hours of walking and riding we reached our first ruins site, Tintal. We set up our hammocks, trying to avoid the mule poo everywhere. My sweet hammock is on the right.
maxin relaxin shooting some b-ball outside of school…eh…okay, that Fresh Prince of Bel Air reference failed. Anyways, today we had a super relaxing day touristy Flores and less touristy Santa Elena (next town over).
Walking tour of Flores
Helping Vince find a zapataria (since his shoes were “stolen” upon arrival, a.k.a. forgotten at home)
Exploring the bustling Santa Elena market
Taking a tuk-tuk taxi back to Flores (see Julie in the mirror)
Hanging out and eating at a Mayan restaurant (Jim drew a figure out of a German-language Mayan ruins photobook)
…and enjoying a happy hour by the lake. No photos for that!
Tomorrow we meet our guide Walfre at 6am to head out for a 9-day expedition to El Mirador. I’ll catch up on blogging (and postdate my entries) on Dec 8th. Saludos!
Seven AM, the hostel manager told us. Seven AM is the only bus from Guatemala City to Flores. So after a scant few hours of sleep we dutifully got up at five-thirty, which is three-thirty west coast time, and hopped a taxi to the bus station only to discover that the bus in fact leaves at 10 AM. Ahh, travel. How I’ve missed you.
Luckily we found the bus terminal “restaurant” which the manager also assured us about:
To her credit, the single woman managing the restaurant whipped us up some awesome eggs with refried black beans, fresh tortillas, and a side of cream. $2.50.
The rest of our day was spent on the 9-hour bus ride from Guatemala City to the northern island city of Flores. When we thankfully stepped off the bus, the weather was a perfect 68 degrees with a cool breeze. The island is mostly filled with gringos and apparently well-off Guatemalan families.
Our hostel dropped our reservation so we stayed at another next door. A few more doors down we dined on some lasagna, burritos, and a fresh local fish for yours truly.
Make sure to check out yesterday’s updated post for pictures of our travel crew!
Today I flew from San Francisco to Guatemala City via Dallas. On the planes I cracked into a faded paperback copy of 1984 and brainstormed assignments for the Zero Tuition College experiment. We found a driver from the lovely, centrally located, and utterly uninhabited Hostal Volcanes waiting for us outside the airport, and now we’re gearing up for an early morning departure to the bus station and 8-hour bus ride to Flores, Guatemala.
In a later post I’ll explain just what I’m doing in Guatemala and tell you more about my three travel partners. I’m taking pretty pictures but unfortunately I won’t be able to upload them until later!
### UPDATE Dec 28
As promised, here are photos of my travel partners! I snapped these in SFO airport.
Here’s Vince with his family
and Julie with her bags
and Jim hiding out all stealthfully by the gate
We’re all friends, former campers, and former co-workers from Deer Crossing Summer Camp in the California High Sierra near Lake Tahoe. We all learned how to tree climb there beginning in 2006, and since 2007 Jim had been scheming up a Guatemala tree climbing adventure. Many were invited but only a few came, and that’s our rock-solid crew. Don’t we look good together?
We’ll be climbing tree and exploring the Mayan ruins of El Mirador while in Guatemala for two weeks. If you haven’t heard of Mirador, look it up on Wikipedia, because it’s pretty awesome.