the south american graduation present adventure
- Blog Post by:
- July 14, 2012 - 7:14 PM
My sincere apologies for the lack of photos... I´m currently at a small internet cafe in the mountains of Guatemala bordering Mexico. The population here is indigenous Mayan, and it took a lot of effort just to be able to use the internet today. 2 hours of walking included.
I´m posting today my blogs from my trip to South America last month. I will try to do a photo blog when I have more internet access. This trip was my graduation present after recently graduating from Duke. I am currently working as a leader for a volunteer organization here in Guatemala, serving 15 indigenous communities with healthcare education, vaccinations, malnutrition supplements, and prenatal care. I will provide more information on my work here in a future blog.
While Jess has been here for a whopping 7 hours and is slightly loathing me for my shorter layover ..... no not really .... but she is slightly delirious ....
We're about to take off on our grand 2012 tour of SOUTH AMERICA! Starting in Lima, Peru - now some of you may be confused about the change of plans.... shhhhhh Jess says. Well apparently you now need something called a, um, VISA to get into Brazil these days. No, not the credit card. The thing that goes in your passport. Yeah. But good news! Peru trusts us more! So off we go to Lima, and we are perusing the good old Lonely Planet travel guide to Peru. Some real gems we are about to undertake.
I'll think we'll rent llamas tomorrow??? kidding but a real possibility!
We'll first explore Peru - Machu Picchu is only about 200 miles from Lima. We'll move North east to the Amazon when we cross the Brazilian border (with our visas and such) and then navigate our way back to the Chilean wineries via Bolivia. We'll end our trip in the party capitol of Brazil - a little fling in Rio. Stay tuned to our wondrous adventures!!!
I feel like there is just so much to share! Jess and I can't believe it's been less than 3 days that we've been here it total-we both feel so comfortable... Well my Spanish is shaky, but hey that's an improvement over the nada :)
So we arrived at the safest and nicest district of Lima called Miraflores on thursday morning at 2am, to be greeted by the most smiley little man at the hostel Jess brilliantly booked for us. We eased into the backpacker's lifestyle by allowing for a hot shower on the first morning. We spent the day perusing Lima, making our way through Miraflores to the beach where we found a beautiful park called the "parque de amor." it was walled with mosaics sprinkled with love quotes and lovers names whohad stopped there. In the very center was a HUGE statue of two lovers really just going at it. It of course cliffed over the pacific, making for a fantastic view.
Back at the hostel, we encountered for the first time our wonderful host Francis, who took us on a highlighter filled and dizoning virtual tour of Lima. We mentioned that we wanted to go to the big traditional dance show in town, so his friend Hugo called to get us VIP seats because he had played the guitar in the band of the show for decades. This show was celebrating it's 50th anniversary!
There was a bullfighting dance of the show and the young guy who played the finder reminded me of none other than the Peruvian friend of Madeline (who's name is slipping me right now-help?). But he came over to me to hold his hat while he fought and I have to say I felt particularly special -ha.
Howver, the best part of the evening didn't come till the end when we were adopted on the dance floor by 5 60+ old Peruvian women. They had definitely had their eyes on us all night, and had us going in one of those circles where a couple people jump in the middle to be the center of attention. They brought us over tothere table to meet their husbands and serve us some beer! Finally, one of them gave us their phone number and said "call me!"
Oh what a night! And the next morning was crazy in a hectic way: spent at the Brazilian embassy, where Jess's Spanish didn't help and I learned that Americans get over charged! Jess paid $65 while they made me pay $160:/. But they were nice enough to keep the embassy open a couple minutes late on a Friday for me so I could run and print my paperwork. By the time I got back to the hostel to meet Jess, she told me to pack in 5 minutes to go on a weekend trip to paracas while we awaited our passports from the Brazilian embassy in Lima. Alas, here we are, got here last night, and couldn't be happier than right now on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Pictures and details to come in the next post- get excited: I've added it to my honeymoon list...
6-5-12Last time I posted, I was typing this on my iPhone because for some reason all of the internet cafes in the small town of Paracas were closed for the day. I left off at the national reserve trip, and that was really a day for which pictures are better fit to describe the experience, but not even do it justice. The reserve was composed of the most vast, expansive dunes I'd ever been amongst in my life. Jess and I decided to get a private guide for four dollars more each so that we could stop and spend our time in our favorite places. We first stopped as this rough part of the beach, where fishermen were finishing their days work around noon. Paracas is one of those towns that lives by the 'early to bed, early to rise philosophy,' and both nights we stayed there, Jess and I were awoken around 5.30 or 6 in the morning to hammering outside. Anyways, Jess talked to the fishermen as I made my steep way down to the waves, and our guide dared me to get in the water because I said 'I love when the waves are big!' I was NOT ready for this ocean. My swim team skills failed me, and I was knocked down by the first round of waves. But I still took his dare!
As we moved on, we saw a natural cathedral made from a formation of rocks in the ocean, however a huge earthquake hit the area in 2007, and the archway of the cathedral had been destroyed. The cliffs were still quite a viewpoint, and I went all the way up to the edge when Jess pointed out a danger sign that I had already seen but dismissed to get a better view. We moved on to a long beach along which you are welcome to camp, and this is why I decided this reserve would be a perfect honeymoon destination! We approached this beach from a high point, and I decided to slide down the long dune, hence the name of this blog post. I got sand EVERYWHERE. This beach was a black sand beach, and the next was a red sand beach. Finally, we ended at the sole restaurant of the reserve, and got the traditional ceviche dish, with a side of cute boys from Yale. They are doing HIV research in Lima, and told us they'd take us out tonight :).
We found a tiny hidden treasure of a bar in Paracas that night. Jessica also claims it served the best pizza she's ever had, and I definitely enjoyed it. I also had my first experience with Pisco sour, a drink made from a local brandy like liquor MMMMMmmmm. (my next night of Pisco sours was a tad outrageous...) This bar was run by a wonderful couple, 20somethings who had met in the sandboarding town of Huacachina when the New Zealander crossed paths with the dune buggy driver. And they've been together ever since! Jessica invited a sweet American couple to join us for drinks, and they happened to be from good old Charlotte, North Carolina! The world really keeps getting smaller and smaller.
The following day, Sunday, we scheduled an aggressive rush of adrenaline. We took an excursion out to that same sandboarding town of Huacachina, never imagining we could be surrounded two days in a row by beauty matching or surpassing that of the National reserve in Paracas. Again, per usual, we were more than pleasantly surprised. Now THIS really needs pictures. The dunes went on and on and on in a desertesque resemblance as I saw my life flash before my eyes several times. Those dune buggies are DAMN durable. Our driver didn't hesitate to take us on an adventure either. After some mad dune roller coastering, we stopped to try our hand at the sandboarding. I couldn't help but remember the last time I'd been on anything like a sandboard, and that was in 2004 on the snowboard which led me to a broken left wrist. But what the heck, I was there and took the risks, and ended up being the only girl in our group to make it down the biggest hill standing! Jess was creative and turned the sandboard into a sled, taking all the hills closer to the ground.
Sunday night, a californian nomad invited us to partake in a barbeque at our hoppin' hostel, all the food and pisco sour you can eat or drink... This californian nomad was awesome! He has been traveling for 9 months, and works pretty much everywhere he stops to keep going. After several pisco sours, I got to talking to him, but an overly aggressive Peruvian essentially jumped in the way, and I never finished learning more about Joey.
Yesterday, we took the bus style down a notch, and had no bathroom on a 6 hour bus ride back to Lima. Both of us had bursting bladders when we arrived lol. We chilled out last night and watched some Friends, compliments of the most wonderful hostel ever (and the home sweet home of our voyage).
Today, we made our way back to the Brazilian embassy first thing, had no trouble picking up our visas, and it puts us at ease to have our passports back in our hands. We stopped by Peruvian Airlines, and purchased our round trip plane tickets to the Amazon, as well as our trip down to Cusco and Macchu Pichu afterwards. We will arrive in Cusco on my birthday! 22 won't be so bad it appears :).
Sorry for the huge gap between blogs! We’ve been in the Amazon of Peru sans service or access to phone or internet, quite freeing actually. We had to fight the lack of wireless technology once with a dose of Sex and the City I had on my laptop.
I left off on our last night in Lima – Jess was getting over travelers sickness, and ohhh, I had my own sickness to daunt me shortly thereafter. But more on that in a bit. We went out to meet the boys we’d met at Paracas National Reserve that last night. We met at La Place de Saint Martin, and the boys led us to some swanky hotel. Jess and I had tried to call them from that hotel when we were waiting for them, and the concierge eyed us strangely. Apparently, the hotel was extremely conservative, almost to the point of being backwards, and wouldn’t allow women to enter without a man to accompany them. We went to the back bar and ordered a Coca sour, a twist on the traditional Pisco sour, made with a liquor of Coca leaves instead of Pisco. Coca leaves, as you might assume, are used to make cocaine, but are also chewed on at high altitudes to help with acclimation. In Cusco, which is our destination today, they are apparently everywhere! Anyways, the boys had been to this bar before, and said that good old Ernest Hemingway had set the record for most Pisco sours drunk in one sitting. He was apparently a usual of the place back in his day, pretty cool! Especially since I’m reading one of his books right now.
We left Lima last Wednesday, early in the morning, for Iquitos, the city that marks the beginning of the Amazon river. Jess had booked us a hostel last minute – a floating hostel! When we arrived, the owners (a 40-something man and 20-something hot young woman) said they were about to head to the floating market in town, the floating market of Belin. They invited us to join, and we were tired but weren’t about to pass up the cultural experience. Damn, that might have been the best time we had in Iquitos! First there was a terrible jungle fruit that was supposed to be great for women and full of female hormones. We did like it in it’s ice cream form! Then there were all the traditional tropical fruits and vegetables – great avacados and mangos! Then came the normal meats, but the abnormal parts of the animals like cow placenta, intestines, tongues, and brains. Then the largest fish I’d ever seen! The meats ended with a collection of alligator, turtles, monkeys, and worms. Normal. The barbequed alligator was quite tasty! After the meats came all of the jungle potions. The hostel owner explained to us that in the Amazon, one’s overall health is directly related to his or her sexual health. There were entire sections of the market devoted to roots and potions for sexual health purposes. One of the funniest titles translated to “dead man walking.” Not only were there potions, but there were also witchcraft candles of penises and vaginas. No joke.
We passed by the pharmacy stands, selling all sorts of prescription drugs, then I got a great meal of chicken and rice for about a dollar, and then we headed on our way to the river to take a boat back to the hostel. We rowed through an entire floating town, sprinkled with children and dogs alike splashing and playing in the water outside their homes. We saw schools, children returning home from school as well. I turned to Jess and said “it’s a floating city – like Venice!” She replied with “it’s a floating city, and that’s where the comparison ends.” Fair!
When we got back to the hostel, we collapsed onto our beds for a few hours, and then picked ourselves back up to look for a lodge to stay at in the actual jungle for the next few days. We bargained and found a company who would take us to one of their lodges for two nights and then their more upscale lodge for the last night. 4 days and 3 nights. We were to leave the next morning to go about an hour and a half up the river, and then the second lodge would be another hour and a half past the first.
We just chilled at the hostel that night because it was raining, and chatted with a beautiful quadralingual French girl. She was studying in Lima, and was half Thai as well. At some point, some asshole at the hostel stole money from both my wallet and Jess’s purse, but how do you figure that out? We didn’t notice till we were leaving the next morning anyways. We just moved on.
Our guide and a group of 8 tourists headed up the river on Thursday morning. There were two prissy Peruvian girls who our guide, Miguel, later called the sloths of the group. We were out on the river one morning and they were talking on their cell phones! In the Amazon! There was also an older couple and a young German couple, who we befriended. At first we couldn’t figure out whether they were siblings or together though…
Right when we arrived at the lodge, I knew I was starting to feel sick, so I popped some motrin and was ready for an adventure. There were two hammock huts, circular in shape with literally only hammocks. It was fantastic. Jess and I chilled there as we awaited the morning nature walk, and Miguel comes up to us saying “I have a present for you!” … Opening his hand with a tarantula!!! Apparently this kind wasn’t poisonous, but my God! Of course we both held the furry little thing J
The nature walk was chill, and Jess and I picked up a couple of souvenirs we like to call my drunk persona, aka ‘the one-eyed monster.’ The sticks of one tree always broke off in a way that made them into phallic objects. Miguel said we can use them as bottle openers too, so we’ll make a craft day to paint the souvenirs of the jungle and add them to our future bars.
And then the rain came. It’s called a rainforest for a reason! It gave us a fair warning, approaching slowly over the lagoon, and then came down hard over our heads. The others in the group didn’t appreciate the rain at all, but they’d given us some damned durable boots – miracle boots as we called them by the end of the excursion. I was puddle splashing and loving the power of the boots, along with Jess who decided it was time to remove our sopping wet shirts and just be more free. We hadn’t taken showers in awhile either, so we cleaned ourselves and had fun, all at the same time! Win!
It was late afternoon when the motrin wore off that I knew I was really sick. We went and visited the most adorable monkeys on a reserve. They jumped all over our heads, and would give us a little scalp massage as well, it was too cute. They were just like little, mischievous people, and then I thought back to the dead monkeys at the market – how could someone kill this creature and eat it? I mean, they weren’t all so nice, but some were so loving. They’d also do literally anything for a banana. On the reserve, there were also toucans and a relative of anteaters. The anteaters were horrible, they’d bite anybody. There was a transgendered british woman named Sarah along with us, and she got bit by one. We befriended her too, and she had some wicked political opinions to share with us later. None of which I agreed with, but all of which I was interested to hear about. There was also the creature named Anna, like my baby sis, except it’s last name was Conda. At the end of the reserve tour, they served us a 7 root potion – one we had also seen in the market before. It smelled rancid, but tasted better, and was apparently supposed to help with fevers so I took a double dose. We were also told it contained 8-20% alcohol.
By the time we got back to our lodge, I had pretty bad chills, and they don’t provide blankets in the jungle climate. I put on long sleeves, a sweater, my northface fleece, tights, and sweatpants, and still couldn’t fall asleep. Jungle fever can be lethal in the Amazon. I pulled myself together for the nighttime lagoon tour, which included a beautiful orchestra of frogs. We were searching for the epic reward of alligator, but I was fine just setting my head down and listening to the music of the night.
I only got up for one activity the next day – piranha fishing. I was no good, but it was fun to see what others caught. Jess was quite a natural, I was so proud! Someone finally brought me blankets in the afternoon, and I was up and about again on Saturday to transfer lodges and guides. I was sad I hadn’t gotten as much time with Miguel. Our next guide was Luis, good but not the same. It was more of a personal tour, with only one other couple. A hot couple too. Jess brought up that it was my birthday on Monday and hers was Sunday! She was turning 30, so I couldn’t complain about how I felt like I was getting old. Us four were literally the only people staying at the lodge that night, it felt like quite a retreat. There was even a pool, but upon opening my eyes underwater, I noticed it wasn’t chlorinated, which kinda turned me off a bit. A giant bathtub for ALL the people of the lodge…
This lodge, called the botanical lodge, was the go to place for hiking. We hiked up to an indigenous village in the afternoon – which was more for show than a good taste of reality. We had heard that the people will put on costumes that aren’t their normal attire and dance for you, but change right back out of costume when you leave. Jess made the comment that she wished they would just show us what their normal life was like, and I completely agree. What a richer experience that would be.
At the end of the dancing, the Amazonians were selling their crafts, and I got a mask with anaconda bones dangling from it. Jess got a pretty green necklace made from palm tree seeds. Then we hiked the rest of the way back to the lodge, and took a jungle hike again in the dead of night. On our last day, yesterday, we took another wonderful jungle hike in the morning, a longer one. It was so muddy from rain, but those boots were invincible – we only wished they’d had spikes too. After lunch we went to the animal reserve again, and this time it was clear the monkeys hadn’t been fed yet. Three jumped onto our boat and started stealing mangos and going through luggage! Also, off the boat, animals were viciously chasing each other, and one of the monkeys on my back bit me! It didn’t break the skin or anything, but it surely caught me by surprise after they’d all been so sweet before.
The entire ride back down the river took about 3 hours, and the company dropped us off at our hostel, which was nice and only cost $6 a night – a steal! We walked around, enjoyed Iquitos, got great pizza, and chilled at a backpacker’s café. Jess was so down to go out for my birthday at midnight, but I was exhausted and we had a morning flight back to Lima (and then from there to Cusco/Macchu Picchu) so we went back early. She did a great countdown to midnight for me, it was wonderful. She asked me anything I want to say or do while I was still 21 and young at 11:58… so I danced a little bit and made some proclamations. And then, right on the dot of midnight, she pulled out a slice of log cake she’d sneakily purchased earlier in the day! I took a great, delicious bite, saving the rest for breakfast, and then we had a great sleep J The rest of my birthday is yet to come – well Jess is telling everyone it’s my birthday, so a man at the airport brought me another complimentary slice of cake, which was also quite delicious. I’m allowed to eat all the cake I want to today, so hells yeah I’ll embrace it!
We arrived in Cuzco around 3:30 yesterday afternoon and immediately fell in love. We’ve both been waiting for the city or destination where we could really see overselves staying for awhile; indefinitely. And this is it. It has the Peruvian cultural elements with the elegant aging of the classic cities of Western Europe.
Finding a place to stay was an adventure in itself yesterday evening. I had to make an international conference call from the phones at the airport, so by the time we were looking for the hostel we had selected, it was about 6:30, and getting dark. The district of Cuzco we’re staying in is called San Blas, and is the artisan district of the city. It is uphill, and only cobblestone streets. Our cab couldn’t find the hostel we were looking for, so we got out at the fountain in the center of the district, and soon found the hostel, but it was completely full. Telling them it was my birthday didn’t budge them one bit either L. We were all geared up: small backbacks on our fronts, big backpacks on our backs. Quite a scene. Soon enough, we found a slightly pricey ($20 each a night) but wonderful inn, with warm water and thick blankets – both rarities these days. We napped after our long day of travel, and then perused the stores on the way down to the main square of Cuzco. It really is a magnificent city by day or night! We even found a store selling good knock-off Northface jackets, and each got one, they are actually great! I had no idea knock-off Northfaces existed.
Jess had found a sweet little Italian restaurant for my birthday dinner, where they served us not glasses but BOWLS of wine. As if the fatigue and altitude weren’t enough! We tried to rally and go out dancing that evening, but my 22-year-old self was getting old and tired, especially tired of the promoters grabbing us and pushing us into their clubs, even if free drinks were involved. I didn’t get a candle on a cake, but I blew out the fire of my birthday shot at “Mama Africa” – more appropriate I think.
We got great sleep last night, but Jess woke up this morning with a fever – we seemed to be trading off times of being sick… I wandered around town and shopped on my own this sunny morning, and then came back for Jess when the Tylenol had kicked in and she was feeling better.
We went in to the ornate cathedral at the center of town, and then watched the energetic Peruvians dancers on the square from a quaint café. We explored town, the markets, and decided to stay here another day after Machu Picchu to enjoy it all some more.
I’m writing this at about hour 32 of our 45-hour bus trip, in the middle of nowhere, Chile. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to post this by tonight, but HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!! I love you daddy <3.
I want to go right back to the point where I left off, because the dinner that night couldn’t have been a more perfect atmosphere. Jess still wasn’t feeling great, so we didn’t wander too far. We started walking down the street of our inn, and popped into the teeniest restaurant, composed of three tables, a brick oven, a man working the place, and his children who kept coming downstairs to play. Only one of the three tables was occupied when we arrived, by a German couple. Within five minutes, a single man from Colorado took the third table. We all intermingled and chatted pleasantly, I ordered a pizza, and the man who owned the restaurant promptly brought us complimentary pisco sours (the famous drink in Peru) and delicious garlic bread. Right before my pizza came out, a trio of musicians asked if they could play for us. All of us were like, um no thanks, we don’t want another presentation for tourists, thanks though. But the second they started, my jaw literally dropped. There was a female vocalist who we later found out was from Toronto and only in Peru for another week, a male Peruvian flutist, and a male Argentinian guitarist. They had all only gotten together a week before, but the way they played off of each other was impeccable. The vocalist had a deep, raspy voice, and the flutist was an unexpected perfect compliment to the traditional guitarist. Of course, at the end of the short performance, Jess and the Torontonian vocalist chatted about how small of a world this is, and the flutist and guitarist jammed together in the background. It was a perfect dining experience.
The next day, Wednesday, we got up around 5:30am to catch our train to Machu Picchu. It was a 3-hour long ride, and very pleasant, mostly because of the people we met. While we were waiting to board, we sat next to a young woman and her father, on a graduation trip because the girl had just graduated from med school at UW-Madison! Small world, huh?! Jess was seated next to an unconventional American family, the mom with a smoker’s voice taking shots of whiskey on the ride. She also talked about a mile a minute, but was a nice woman none-the-less. The little boy of hers was telling me as we waited for the bathroom that this was his first time out of the country. Dude, if you’re only 10 and you’ve already made it to Peru, you’re doing pretty damn well! I was seated next to 3 Mormon volunteers, two of which were from Utah (Sara and Henry/Enrique if you will) and one of which was an Ecuadorian doctor. I made friends with them, and Jess asked them to join us for dinner that evening. We had been intending to go to Machu Picchu that day, but Sara had been there for the sunrise last summer and highly recommended it. Our bus the next day wasn’t until 4:45, so we changed our plans to make the sunrise! The rest of the day, we wandered around Machu Picchu Pueblo, and knew it like the back of our hand within hours, it was tiny and only big enough to hold all the tourists and the people who work for them. We wandered, argued at restaurants for better meal prices (and got them), got bus tickets for the next day, and watched a soccer match. We also found the French quarter of Pueblo in the form of a traditional French bakery run by a French man who had been in Peru for 15 years. I preferred to speak my more comfortable language, French, with him, as opposed to Spanish. But the entire conversation was hilariously Frangnol. I got a wonderful almond croissant from him, and we went back again the next day. The hostel we were staying at, Supertramp Eco Hostel, was a backpackers haven, and we were in a 12-bed mixed dorm. In the COMFIEST beds too. We read and I napped, and then we headed to dinner with the crew from the train. The restaurant was on the expensive side, and Jess and I have been trying to make more frugal choices, so we split a dish… but there was also included a modern dance performance interpretation of the elements! Sara took the older woman, Gladys, back to their hostel to go to sleep, but Henry hung out with us and humored us well when we decided to plop down on a bridge and watch the stars. All of us found a shooting star to make a wish on – it was incredible. The night ended with us trying to watch the stars again on the soccer field… and us getting kicked right out! Lol oh well.
Most incredible of all, and definitely Jess’s high point of the trip so far, was the next morning at Machu Picchu. We awoke at 5am to go grab our tickets from the government office (something we should have done the day before, but didn’t know about until Sara mentioned it at dinner). We grabbed one of the 30 buses filled with tourists to go up the mountain, and were worried we might missed the sun rising. Oh but the mountain in the east was well high enough to keep us from missing the first rays on Machu Picchu. It was also freeezzingg until the sun rose. Jess spent her time peacefully meditating it this obsolete area we found, away from the mass of tourists, while I spent my time bouncing around the area, photographing the different lighting and most of all trying to keep warm. You could tell the sunrise was getting close because the mountains in the west were well lit, and the snowcaps were glowing. When the sun did finally rise on Machu Picchu, everything all of a sudden warmed up, and the town itself sparkled. In my photos, I worked on capturing the site in it’s various lightings, because from one second to the next, the whole image would shift with the movement of the sun. Jess was reflecting spiritually, while I would say I was reflecting historically. I know that Jess was incredibly moved, but I certainly can’t reflect the depth of her experience, and I’m sure she would have an impossible time doing that as well. We explored the entire site, and made our way up to the highest point (but not Huaynapicchu :( sadly). We took a brief hike out to the Inca Bridge, which looked a tad dangerous and was blocked off – I would’ve definitely gone over it if not!
We headed back to Pueblo around 1 in the afternoon, grabbed lunch, and then chilled on a bench in the square, only to meet the sweetest little girls who wanted nothing more than to beflower us. There was a small garden next to where we were sitting, and the girls kept going back for more flowers to adorn us with. It was quite precious.
The train ride back to Cuzco was far less enjoyable than the first. There was an obnoxious group of Peruvians, who wouldn’t stop screaming songs through the car, even when Jess politely asked them to please keep it down because we were trying to sleep. And of course, we were seated right in the middle of the crowd. When the train made a stop and the group didn’t get off, we moved to the other end of the car, and I think they kinda got the point then, but still didn’t stop their annoying festivities, or keep the wine from coming.
We got back to Cuzco around 9pm, and had plans to go out dancing with Henry, but Jess and I were too cold and exhausted. We changed our plans to meet up with him the next day for lunch. We woke up at a reasonable hour on the next day, Friday, not another 5am ish waking finally! And we stayed in the same inn as before, singularly for the shower, a well-pressured, nice and hot shower that I’m pretty sure we could have raved about for hours after not having showered for 3 days. We had been trying to work out our bus trip to Santiago via websites online, and were unsuccessful so we just went to the bus station to inquire and at least buy the first leg of our trip. We figured out that the trip needed to go as follows: Cuzco-Arequipa, Arequipa-Tacna, Tacna-Arica, and Arica-Santiago. A total trip of 45 hours by bus. As I’m writing this, we’re on that last leg, getting close! A road sign yesterday had the nerve to write “Santiago – 2085 km” …. At that point, just leave it off!!
We enjoyed the beginning of the festival of saints in the morning from the porch of Starbucks (I REALLY wanted it). We met up with Henry for lunch, and from then on, the day was actually perfect. I got the all-American hamburger and fries I’d been craving at lunch, and we’d been hastled by several people to go to their tourist attractions, but Jess perked up only once, when the word chocolate was involved. As we sat down to lunch, we realized that the chocolate museum was literally right across the street. So that was our next destination, and mmmmmmmmmmmmm was it a good decision. We learned about Cacao harvesting, how Peru is giving incentive to shift cocaine production to chocolate production (along with Colombia) and finally sat down to enjoy an epic chocolate and fruit fondue – only $2 each too. Boom perfect day. And it only got better. Jess had spoken with an artist in Machu Picchu Pueblo, and asked to see the art that wasn’t for tourists. He was honest and said that she wouldn’t find any of that in the pueblo, but gave her the address of the art school in Cuzco. So we hit that up in the late afternoon, and had quite a show. The middle of the school was filled with paper mache floats, and a volunteer engineer explained to us the purpose. These floats were being finalized for the festival, to be in a parade the next day. Each represented a distinct element of Peruvian life and culture. There was a woman with a cart, telling the story of the lifestyle of women who go out each morning on the street to sell their products and try to make a living. There was a float in the form of a pile of books and a traditional Peruvian hat (which would go along with a school uniform). The street dog with its huge nipples for all its pups might have been my favorite. When Jess flashed a smile at the guard of the school, we landed a special tour of the gallery of student’s work. We had an incredibly fortunate day.
Henry came back to the inn to hang with us until we left on our 8:30pm bus to Arequipa that evening. It’s always sad to leave a new friend behind … but we had to get on our way, Chile was waiting. Henry had spent 2 years as a missionary in Chile, so he had good advice to share, particularly about the aggressive dogs. Apparently they’ve all been hit by a rock at some point in their lives, so if you even mime picking up a rock, the dogs will leave you alone.
We finally got off that bus and to Santiago around 10pm on Sunday night, only to wait out in the cold for a taxi for about an hour. People would be taking them one by one, and this was of course the one and only time that we've not been hassled to give a cabby business. But we were in Santiago, and off the endless busride, so all was relatively well. Things become relative quickly.
Jess had chosen a hostel via the recommendation of Lonely Planet (always a godsend), and we pulled up to a sign that said "La Ch..." where it was supposed to say "La Chimba." The most unassuming exterior ever. Jess checked it out while I held the cab, tiptoeing up to ring the doorbell. Behind that unassuming exterior was a bangin' hippie hangout - my favorite place yet... the epitome of the lesson "don't judge a book by it's cover.” We walked in and a South African girl who worked at a hostel across the street was celebrating her new job offer as a journalist in Spain, and immediately requested that we join. So, despite the post-45-hour-bus-ride daze, we joined in the fiesta.
The next morning, thanks to the ease of communication via facebook, Jess and I met up with one of my favorite people on the planet in her good old hometown – my practically perfect in every way little, Sofi J. We met her at a classy area called Patio Bellavista – literally 4 blocks from our hostel (though the tourists took the long way and got lost a few times before taking a cab…). We grabbed crepes and coffee and discussed the Chilean politics, and then joined Sofi’s mom, aunt, and grandmother to go up into the Cerro San Cristobal – a hill with a great view of Santiago from the top. Sofi kept saying that we didn’t know how lucky we were to be in Santiago on a day after rain, when the smog had briefly lifted. It was sunny and gorgeous and we had a great view of the city. But more than anything, I just felt lucky to be able to catch Sofi on her last day in Santiago before she left for Miami! She was leaving that night, and had to go back to finish getting ready, so Jess and I took the cable car down the mountain. We found the metro station and got advice from locals on where to go for museums. I feel like the following always happens (well happened one time to me at the Louvre in Paris so I didn’t get to see it until I went back four years later): we go on the sole day of the week that everything is closed. At least this time I only had to wait 3 days until we were back to Santiago for the museums. That evening, Jess and I decided to inquire at the bangin’ hostel for a sushi recommendation. The Parisian host said there was a cheap place close by, and that they made all the sushi for the day in the morning, but we could get the leftovers from the day before for half off… sounded like another jungle fever waiting to happen. So instead we went back to the classy base of Patio Bellavista and got great sushi for about 9 bucks apiece. Worth it. All the surrounding shops at the patio were fantastic artisan boutiques, and we spent the rest of the evening perusing.
By Tuesday morning, Jess had planned out our first winery excursion. At breakfast, a Brazilian friend we’d made mentioned that he wasn’t sure what he was doing for the day, so we casually invited Guilherme to join. He jumped right on the offer! We were off on another bus, this time to the southern red wine country of Colchagua. The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off right in front of the first destination: Viu Manent. This one had a carriage tour and a wonderful restaurant. We skipped the carriage tour because (a) it’s winter and the grapes aren’t on the vines and (b) it was twice as expensive. So we got to taste 7 different wines, and afterwards needed a good nap for the borrachas. We ate at the deliciousss restaurant to fend off some of the effects of the wine, and then headed to a hostel in Santa Cruz, the closest town. There was nothing there though…. We got a room with 2 twin beds to share between all 3 of us, so we pushed them together to make a giant megabed (citation goes to Emily Bailey). Wifi and ipod apps were our entertainment, and I passed out quickly, to rise early for the next day of drinking and the most classy of ways to become intoxicated.
Next day of wine hopping we started off ambitious, and had to stop at two. The first was called Monte Alpha, and the second Montegras. At Monte Alpha, each of us loovveedd a wine that was a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenere (the grape of Chile) mix, so we each bought a bottle to bring home. Jessica has been honing a economical skill: expressing her strong passion for wine to each of the tasting guides to the point that she convinces each of them to bring out the best of the reserves to taste for free. This skill, while epic, may also be the reason we were only able to handle 2 wineries that day. Our strategy became: taste each, decide on your favorites, and then finish the entire tasting glass of those (with an occasional refill even!). Jessica kept the tour guide at Montegras, Christian, great company in a political discussion (per her usual) while G (Guilherme) and I were engrossed in conversation. He is heading back to his hometown of Rio the day that we get there – so we have our own, personal, local tour guide!
We were a little too affected by the amazing reserve wines to fully appreciate the museum in Santa Cruz, if you get my gist. We breezed through it and then Jess begged to leave because all the chairs were artifacts that were blocked off and she couldn’t sit down… so we went to a restaurant and soaked up the reserves with some pizza. Jess did accomplish buying a Chilean wine book in Santa Cruz, a long time coming. She looked in every single bookstore we passed for such a book since we arrived in Lima.
We got back to Santiago around 10pm Wednesday night and heard about a good Gringo party down the block. Jess and I got “completo” hotdogs (they literally had EVERYTHING on it: cheese, avocado, tomatoes, mayo…) and then I went out with the hostel guys while Jess decided on bed. Man that was a trip. We even got to be in the VIP section – that always makes you feel good, huh?
On Thursday, we hit up two great museums in Santiago, losing our way finding lunch in between. When we finally found a restaurant, the American in me only wanted a cheeseburger and a coke. We finished off the museums with an impeccably designed human rights museum, striking our day with a complex experience of terrifying human actions sprinkled with hope and courage.
Late afternoon, Jess and I caught a quick bus to the highly recommended artist town of Valparaiso (Valpo), just north-west of Santiago. We took the hostel’s recommendation on a restaurant, and were highly impressed with a kiwi juice, mixed salad, fish and rice, and dessert meal for 8 dollars. Jess was only taken aback when her espresso came to her, and halfway through she realized that the restaurant had taken the liberty of adding liquor…
Starting again where we left off - Valparaiso. The most wonderful, grudgy, artist town. Our last evening there was Friday, and the entire Pata Pata hostel was down to rage. The Brazilians were prepping the capirinhas to prep us both for the night and for our future trip. The Dane and the Australian were on top of the Pisco gingerales. The hostel provided a local artist, and we were set until well until the evening when we got hungry. We set off with a Swiss couple to a restaurant that had been recommended, and Jess and I intended to split the daily special meat dish... until it came out and it turned out to be a mystery meat of tuna-esque meatloaf. Mmmmmm. Well we washed that pleasant meal down and headed out to a local club, danced it off through the night, and left at 3:30 in the morning due to fatigue, not any sort of wind down of club momentum.
Saturday might have been one of my favorite days of the trip, it's definitely up there. We woke up at a reasonable hour, even given that we had a late night, and headed out on foot up one of the many hills of Valpo to find the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda's, house. After about an hour and a brilliant walk with a view, we finally stumbled into it. Deciding not to spend the last hour we had in Valpo looking through the museum and paying $7 a piece, we laid out on his deck and soaked in the sun and the scenery.
We eventually made it back down to the bus terminal to meet the Swiss couple. The girl, Lucy, had quickly become a friend when we/Jess heard that her parents owned a vineyard in Switzerland, and that she wanted to tour a winery while in Chile. So Jess took her right under her wing, and Lucy tagged along with us to our last two wineries in the Casablanca region on the way back to Santiago from Valpo. This region was more polished than our first endeavor. We started at a gorgeous winery where there was a car show being hosted first. But the real treat came when we headed over to a more obsolete winery called House. We called ahead and the winery was kept open late for us. Then, when we arrived, we saw the tasting prices and decided to get a bite to eat and just share a glass of wine with our meal. And that glass went a long way with a young, male waiter. We each ordered a delish smoked salmon dish, but not only got complimentary ceviche and dessert, but also a complete wine tasting! Jessica couldn't stop winking at me for all the strings we had pulled for us. I think she finally mastered her skill.
Santiago was the place to be that evening, because we couldn't get a room anywhere... well we finally found one but it took calling about 20 hostels. We settled in for a bit, and then our sushi craving hit... again. We really branched out on the dinner options... To be fair, we tried a different restaurant on Sunday, though it WAS directly across from the sushi hut of heaven. It took a lot of willpower to not go a third time.
After the sushi, Jess and I tried to find a jazz bar, her favorite past time. We were successful, but a French guitarist was scheduled that evening :(
So we just went to bed, and hit up an international church in the morning. We were both pumped to find out that the pastor was, get this, a Duke Divinity school graduate! But, of course, he was on vacation back in the states, we'd switched places with him.
After church, we cooked ourselves breakfast at the hostel, meeting a pair of French guys and difficultly transferring over to the French language for conversation. The local market was our afternoon adventure, and we returned to our favorite La Chimba hostel in the evening. Dinner and Harry Potter were the main events, with a little British garble in between.
And off to the party capital we went on Monday! Arriving in the famous Copacabana beach district in the early evening, we explored briefly, and then came back to mingle with the hostel folk to figure out where the party was at on a Monday night. Whelp - there was a boat party! Leaving at 12:30, coming back at 4am. Girls drank free for an hour, while also paying less than men for entrance. Can't say that seems fair, but I took the deal, and convinced the Dutch and Australian guys we had met to be my accomplices since Jess wasn't so ready to party after the long day of travel. The guys took good care of me, and the night was a smashing success of energy drinks and American music remixes. I even met some good ol' southern girls from tobacco road... well down the road at that rival school that shall not be named.
The famous beach was calling, no screaming, our names on Tuesday morning. A perfect winter day in Rio consists of sunny and 70s weather. A lil coconut milk and beach chair made the perfect combination.
A siesta was necessary for me yesterday afternoon, before branching out for dinner with our new Dutch friend, Tim, in Ipanema. It was Tim's last night not only in Rio but also of his entire 6 month trip - I can't imagine how that's gotta feel. We had a lot of pressure on us to show him a good time lol. We attempted another sushi place (surprise, I know), but got a stapled menu with jacked up, clearly tourist prices. A prompt exit to the next restaurant across the street hopefully gave them an appropriate "fuck you". But our spirits were far from broken - we had great food followed by perfect coffee - Jessica got a second, regretting the 3 shots of espresso when she tried to go to sleep several hours later.
Today was a run-on-the-beautiful, perfect-beach day. Jess and I took turns watching our things as the other burnt off some energy to an impeccable view of scenery and people. A favela (slum) tour in the afternoon was fascinating and well worth the investment. We had a guide who had lived in the slum his entire life, and we walked all the way through the Rocinha favela on foot. The thing that shocked me the most were the cables - every time a new apartment was built on top of the roof of another, the men directly hooked in a new cable to the point that there were cables everywhere, it couldn't be safe. But besides the visible surroundings, I was so struck by the sense of community and reciprocal serving of one another in the favela of 160,000 inhabitants. The guides were sweet and kissed all the women along the way, treating the children as their own as well. This favela was nothing like "City of God," and the guide was angry about the bias of that movie. He was also angry at the government. He kept saying "I love my country, but..." His belief was that the barrier to progress was most definitely education and illiteracy amongst Brazilians. He said that a child recently asked him if the United States were on the moon. He is horrified by the school systems in the favelas. He himself taught himself 5 languages in his teens when he was orphaned, making himself a prime example of a Brazilian's potential.
Our tour finished at the bottom of the favela - the richer part, because you pay more to not have to hike up the steep alleyways. There was Obamacity - the part of the favela that was built more pristinely when the inhabitants heard that Obama was coming and definitely visiting a favela while here in Rio. Alas, Obama didn't visit Rocinha, but Obamacity still stands strong. We ran across a man there who had his hand covered in rings and his teeth in gold - humorously one ring for each wife and one tooth for each girlfriend. So, essentially, we encountered the playboy of the slums!
A troop of capoeira artists put on a show for us, and I itched to attempt the martial art, only to sincerely embarass myself! They were quite an impressive crew.
(The title is compliments of our English friend Jess, who pointed out our shared ability to eat way more at Brazilian BBQs than anyone would assume of us. Don’t underestimate the appetite of an adventurous traveler!!!)
I ended last where Rio had already gotten good… but it never stopped ceasing to impress and surprise us. On Wednesday evening, after our necessary siesta, we grocery shopped and made a nice dinner before hitting up Lapa, the party district. We made great friends when we ran into 4 others from our hostel, and simulataneously discovering the beauty of a maracuja capirinha (passionfruit + cachasa).
On Thursday (gosh I can’t believe that was only a week ago as I’m writing this right now in the Panama City airport), we tried a new beach in the morning with a huge group from our family-like hostel. It was the beach of the Ipanema district of Rio, covered with sprawled out young women in thongs, men running in speedos, and grandmas in the skimpiest string bikinis I’ve ever laid eyes on. And no matter what age, shape, or size, the Brazilians exuded a sense of confidence that was not to be judged or argued with. This was the day that I dared to buy my Brazilian bikini. It wasn’t quite a thong, and why the heck should I care if it were. As long as I rocked it with the Brazilian confidence, I’d be all good. So our English friend Jess (yes, another Jess J ) held a sarong up for me to change into the new itsy bitsy, teeny weeny bikini right on the beach!
At the same time, our carioca (what they call people from Rio) friend, Guilherme, who we had met in Santiago just a week before, was running all around Ipanema to find us, misunderstanding facebook messages back and forth and such. But finally we spotted him and practically attacked him with hugs. He took us and two other hostel family members to his favorite view in Rio – a non-tourist infested park up in the hills on the outskirts of town. We had a photo shoot at the view point, saw the Christ the Redeemer statue from afar, and hiked to a gorgeous waterfall to play and swim. Our sarongs, previously used as towels, scarves, or dressing rooms, then became dresses for the trip back, and I sported mine for dinner too when G (Guilherme) took us to his favorite Arabic restaurant in Copacabana.
After another necessary siesta (just a part of the Rio rhythm really) we joined our new hostel fam and walked along the beach to the district of Ipanema, which was nearly completely deserted except for one bar, Emporio, which became our scene until the wee hours of the morning. But we woke up only several hours later to soak up the strong, early morning sun on the beach again… tough life, right?! G met up with us in the afternoon to show us the town market, and we picked up some Brazilian jerseys for friends. After another, you guessed it, siesta, we were ready for the party event of the week – the Lapa street party. We started on the boardwalk lined with kiosks of, well, food, but MAINLY capirihnas. So large maracujas all around! As we eventually moved down the street, there were live musicians and a street dance off of sorts. The entire group joined in and I led the moves to make it to the front of the crowd, where I possibly experienced my most joyful and notable moment of the entire trip. An incredible argentinian woman was dancing, and was capable of isolating her body beyond impressively. I joined in and befriended her, not through words, but through a passion for dance.
We made our way further, to the notable Rio Scenarium, which wouldn’t let any of us in because, since we were told not to bring purses to Lapa, we had no IDs. COME ON! We had never been asked for IDs once in South America! And we were supposed to be meeting G in there. After the English Jess spoke to the man in Portuguese, I was allowed to go in as the G search party. I covered the 3 floors of vast dance parties (all a different theme) over a course of 30 minutes, while everyone waited for me outside. Finally I leaned over the 2nd floor balcony to tell them I didn’t know where he could be when everyone yelled to me that he had just walked in to find me. What a chase! Well we finally all were together again and continued to party the night away, ending in a local samba dance bar around 5am, courtesy of G. Up again early on Saturday to head off to another not-to-miss destination: Paraty. We arrived in the old port town of white-washed walls and cobble stone streets in the evening, and enjoyed a classic Brazilian barbeque (all the meats that a steakhouse would have and such) courtesy of our hostel – Che Lagarto. Stuffed and still recovering from the epic Lapa street party, we all called it a night. By we all, I mean myself, Jess of course, the English Jess, and her Spanish cousin, Jairo. I got to continue to practice learning Spanish with Jairo due to the fact that he simply didn’t speak English, and he flattered me by saying he couldn’t believe I’d never taken a Spanish class before. The thing is, I’ll be in Guatemala in 24 hours, with no Jess to translate, so it’s nice to have a little boost of confidence in the language.
On Sunday, after a refreshing night’s sleep, Jess stayed in Paraty to kayak and enjoy a day to herself, while English Jess, Jairo, and I embarked on a Jeep tour of waterfalls and a cachasa distillery/tasting (cachasa is the liquor used in capirinhas). We found ourselves with 3 English girls, who didn’t have the world traveler vibe going, and were some of the least adventurous people I’d met thus far on our travels. They literally stood on the rocks while we played and explored. At one waterfall, there was a rope to swing into the water, which Jairo and I dared to partake in. The water was an excellent crisp and cool wake-up call. At the last waterfall, local boys scared the hell out of all of us by ‘surfing’ down the rock slide. This waterfall was one you could actually go under and sit in; a surreal experience. The last stop was the distillery, where we greedily tasted every flavor. My personal favorite was the region’s famous Gabriella – a mixture of cloves and cinnamon.
We returned back to the hostel just in time for a huge celebration for Jairo – the final game of the World Cup. It was so much fun to be with him that night, everyone was congratulating him everywhere we went – he was of course wearing the Spanish flag!
Jairo and I arose for the sunrise at 6am the next day, and I took some of my favorite pictures that morning. I got lost and found myself again on a morning run through the winding town. After the best self-serve gelato I’ve ever had, Jess and I set off to follow the English Jess and Jairo to Ilha Grande, off the coast. Only for a brief moment did we find trouble getting there – in the port town where the bus dropped us to catch the ferry. The local people were trying to help us out, but we couldn’t understand what was going on. Apparently we were about to miss the last ferry, but it wasn’t a big deal because we could catch a catamaran as well. And low and behold, when we got to the dock of the catamaran, we were pleasantly surprised by George, an Australian guy who we’d met at our hostel in Rio, waiting for the same catamaran as us. Easily enough, we ran into English Jess and Jairo on our way into town, grabbed a fantastic dinner of only the freshest fried fish, and siesta’ed again before a night of partying on the beach. Jairo bought rounds of 2 for 1 capirinhas, and the night was off. A distinct white hostel on the beach was hosting a party. We arrived, and, not to brag, but we literally BROUGHT the party. My Jess had stayed back to get a good night’s sleep, but English Jess and I went to town on the dance floor. We ended up using my iPhone to DJ, and thus got served free anything-we-wanted all night.
We had planned to get up at 6am again to watch the sunrise, and impressively we all made it. Then we attempted a hike to the word-of-mouth best beach of Ilha Grande - Lopes Mendes. After about 45 minutes, we dead-ended on a deserted beach, and a local had to take us back to our starting point, from which we took a boat. It was all for the best. After the boat dropped us off, we still had to hike 1 kilometer to the actual beach, which was drop-dead gorgeous. The combination of crystal clear water and the fine sand beach was impeccable. Jairo and I had the best time exploring a rock cove, and I dared to go even farther than he did, where the waves were crashing on me. He took care of the pictures J.
We returned back to Rio after a sad goodbye to our new good friends. We had bought a package deal of boat and van called the speed connection, and damn, it lived by it’s name. We saw our lives flash before our eyes in that van. The driver was a huge douchebag to begin with, and he was taking the curves at 120 km per hour, I swear. Everyone in the van was uptight, and kept asking him to slow down, which he finally did. I could hear mom’s voice in my head saying, “You’re my precious cargo – get off of this!” I was too tired to stay awake luckily, and woke up back in the safety net of Rio. After showering and composing ourselves again, G picked Jess and I up for fantastic sushi in his district, and then suggested that we stay at his house near the airport so he could drive me in the morning and Jess in the evening. He’s really such a sweetheart. And alas, I had to say my goodbyes at 10am this morning, with indefinite dates for when I’ll see each of them again.
The trip is over, but the memory lives. I’ve taken about 4000 pictures, we’ve both been journaling, and South America will call again, as we’ve left craving months upon months of more adventures… I’m thinking Carnaval 2013?! Eh, Jess?
Happy America Day!
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