Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rights and Responsibilities

Although there were many positive responses to my post yesterday, some found my idea to be less satisfactory, calling me a "moron" and suggesting that I should be "hung by (my) shorthairs". And although I don't believe that all gun enthusiasts are vitriolic and unreasonable, there is a definite loud, bully faction of intransigent orthodox gun rights advocates that hated the idea of bringing the capitalism into the mix as a way of checking gun ownership and responsibilities. As such, I want to explore rights and responsibilities, for it seems that only the Second Amendment orthodox don't accept that rights exist within the realm of society and come with responsibility.
Let's take the First Amendment as our example: the first amendment protects our rights of speech and to peacefully assemble. But it is well known that if you use, for example, hate speech, your right to do so is protected but you might end up with a bloody nose. Or, it might be suggested that I be "hung by my shorthairs". Although it is my right to say what I want, I would be foolish to think that I can say anything without consequences. Similarly, speech is not protected if it directly insights danger. For example, yelling fire in a crowded theater has been rejected as protected speech as it would unnecessarily cause chaos and damage. The instigator would also be liable.
Also, with our right to peacefully assemble, it is not our right to do so at the disruption of normal societal activity. For example, if we assemble in the street or on a train track, we would be removed and charged with hindering transportation. Our right to assemble is still in tact but it requires certain adherence to the greater societal good.
Unfortunately, the extreme wing of the Second Amendment advocates consider any responsibilities that are associated with the right to bear arms to also be an infringement. In no other arena of constitutional consideration is there such orthodoxy. Forget that the first part of the Second Amendment says the right to form a WELL REGULATED MILITIA. Forget that all other rights, including the right to vote, the repeal of the 14th Amendment, the First Amendment all exist with legal standards: age, distribution, consequences etc. The orthodox Second Amendment advocate interprets the second half of the amendment only and views it with carte blanche. This is not quality legal ground or a genuine interpretation of the meaning or intent behind the Amendment (which when written was referring to single shot muskets that take a minute to reload and not weapons that can fire a more than a round a second). The reason it's not a solid legal argument, is that the first part of the Second Amendment states that A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state...a well regulated militia is significantly different than anybody with bloodlust can get a gun. Secondly, it says right in the Second Amendment that the militia (however loosely defined) should be "well regulated". This means laws and oversight. This doesn't mean building a doomsday arsenal in your basement with impunity. This doesn't mean you get to own, have and use your guns ad nauseum without any consequence or societal checks on your libelist activity.
It is only through superior propaganda and lobbyist organization that this interpretation of the Second Amendment has become an orthodox reading by so many. And as such, I stand by my suggestion of introducing the insurance lobby into the fight in order to have a Goliath create the standards of liability and accountability in our current gun anarchy. And for this, you're welcome to wish to hang me by my short hairs. I do understand that my words will offend some and I accept my responsibilities with my right to express myself. I also proudly accept that having the dialogue is the first step in hammering out the potential flaws in the idea as well as bringing new ideas forth. I'm not as married to my idea as I am the hope that we can forge a better society.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Practical Thoughts on our Gun Culture

With what seems to be a massacre a week the time to discuss our gun culture in America seems to be rife with opportunity. However, when dealing with policies that have the backings of huge lobbyists and a cult mentality towards any infringement of the right of Americans to slaughter each other, the response by those who want a more reasonable gun laws tends to default to impotent rage. As much as I sympathize with this rage, I have spent a lot of mental energy recently trying to figure out how those of us who want to address the gun insanity in our nation can and do so effectively. In doing so I think I have come up with an idea that could actually work.
Historically, political behemoths, like the NRA, have enough political leverage that they can create and shape the laws that regulate and propagate our weapons. And even with the collective will of the US citizenry currently in a state of outrage where our politicians may actually accomplish something in this area, it will likely be a mere band-aid.
So, how do we fight Goliath? Do we need to motivate an army of Davids? Yes, but I think we should also enlist another Goliath in the fight. So where is this Goliath that not only could trade punches with the NRA, but would be willing to? In the insurance industry.
So, how and why would this work? Let's use the example of car insurance. When you drive a car you carry with that activity a liability: you could damage people and/or property in an accident. By virtue of this liability, you are required to pay premiums on an insurance policy to protect the public at large from the potential of you causing damage. The better you drive the lower your rates. You are also required to comply with licensing standards, vision standards. You have to license your car and register it and reregister it. You have to transfer a title when you sell the car creating a traceable footprint of ownership and liability. You are also required to show proficiency to drive the car. If you want to be licensed to drive something more complicated, like a long-haul truck, you are required to have more advanced and specific licensing. The liability is different as well and so is the insurance. All of this makes sense, because driving a car carries with it certain risks and therefore liabilities.
This is not different from gun ownership. If you own a gun, you present a liability. As such, you should be required to prove competency. You should have to register it and update your registration showing your continued competency. Selling the gun should be trackable like with a car, so those who own guns with certain profiles don't do so without proper training, insurance etc.
So, why would the insurance lobby want to involve itself in this battle? Profits. There are millions of guns and gun owners in this country and insuring them would create new revenue streams for the companies. They would of course, analyze the risk ratios and create premiums based on a profile, like with a driver. Teenagers pay higher premiums than do 45 year olds etc. History of violence would make you higher risk and the like. As such, the insurance companies would be able to help shape the laws that regulate our guns and they would do so with huge coffers and leverage. As such they would be able to make owning an AK 47 more difficult and expensive to ensure than a pistol. And all of this would be based on economics: let the market decide.
Would this mean the end of gun violence? No. Would this eliminate the those dedicated to atrocity from having any access to mass murder weapons? No. But it would require that the guns and ammunition that exists in our shoot-em-up cowboy country be tethered to some responsibility.
I think this would be a first step in the maturing of our relationship with guns. I'm sure these measures would be supported by the police and teachers and probably many other organizations. So there would be some political strength behind this.
Ultimately, I would like to stop the most hysterical and selfish elements of our society from dominating the will of whole.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Economic Desertification


Economics can be confusing.  Economics can be difficult.  Economics can be boring and economics can be dry.  As such, the majority of people (not merely Americans) have virtually no understanding of economics beyond their own checkbook balancing.  And as such, we are subject to counterfeit economic theories, like trickle-down or voodoo economics.  When George HW Bush called trickle-down economics voodoo, it was because he understood how an economy functions and it wasn’t by these dubious principles.  Unfortunately, there is enough vested interest in trickle-down economics by those who benefit from it and a clever enough story to be told underneath it, that the theory has managed to manipulate our political and economic landscape for 30 plus years now.   In doing so there has been an extreme consolidation of wealth among the very few and as such an increase in the breadth and depth of poverty.  If you understand how economics work, then you understand these are natural and obvious results.  But like I mentioned, most of us don’t.  So my attempt here is to break this down into an understandable way of seeing economics.
                First of all it is clear to me that the empirics of trickle-down economics are meaningless.  By this I mean that we have seen how they work (more accurately how they don’t work other than to funnel money to the richest) and we hear over and over how they don’t work.  But this message doesn’t penetrate.  I think it’s similar to telling someone what’s wrong with a nuclear reactor.  They may or may not believe you, but the complexity of the issue means that their belief resides purely in faith.  But I feel like if you can create a modest level of understanding, then the belief resides in something more solid. 
                So how do we get there?  I’m going to try and create some simple economic images and metaphors in a hope to relate why it’s a faulty theory.  To start with, we must understand that the money supply, although in constant expansion and contraction based on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is essentially a finite amount at any given point (there is only so much money).  As such, if a small amount of people have a large amount of money, that leaves a smaller amount of money to be shared among a large amount of people (duh?  I know, but follow me).  So, when a small amount of people have a large amount of money and also don’t contribute to the general welfare then the money becomes stuck.  Why stuck?  Because there is no economic pressure to circulate the money.  When a poor or working class person makes a dollar, that dollar or at least a large percentage of that dollar is spent: buying food, paying rent, bills, entertainment etc.  When a wealthy person makes a dollar, that dollar goes on a pile for it is not needed.  Therefore, the working class dollar creates demand for goods and services.  Demand for goods and services, requires people to be hired to produce, deliver and distribute those goods and services.  By hiring those people to do these things you have more people with more money.  They buy things which creates demand, which necessitates hiring and the cycle builds.
                      When the dollar is on a large pile and no pressure is on that dollar to circulate in the economy, that dollar stagnates, effectively choking the economy.  When large amounts of money become stagnant, then it is difficult for an economy to grow, create jobs and more wealth because the money that does circulate in the economy is too small to feed growth.  As an analogy, look at a rainforest.  In a rainforest, the thick foliage absorbs the rain from the clouds, utilizes it and it evaporates up into the clouds again, where it becomes dense and then rains back down.  This precipitation cycle is equivalent to what an economy gets when the roots of the economy, the working class, have access to money.  If the precipitation is taken from the rainforest, somehow the water is captured, the rainforest dries up.  The symbiosis of precipitation and foliage dies.  When the plants die, then there is no longer a vehicle for the precipitation to circulate.  Once the desert is created, even if you reintroduce the water, the water is no longer useful for creating a rainforest.  It merely dissipates and the desert remains barren.  Now, removing the water from a rainforest is not a likely scenario.  But deforestation is.  And when the rainforest is cut down, what remains?  A desert.  Not because there was not water in the region inherently, but because it is the plant life that beckons the rain.  In the economy, it is the wide spread demand of the working class that fuels the economy.  And when the money all goes to a very small amount of people, then the economic desert encroaches and the ability to repair the situation becomes more difficult.
                Part of the problem with trickle-down economics is that the narrative is compelling.  “Rich people are job creators.”  And “Taxing the rich is punishing success.”  Both of these things have enough logic in them that it’s easy to fall for.  It’s like saying it’s obviously hotter on top of a mountain because it’s closer to the sun.  Or there is no gravity because of helium balloons.  If you don’t understand the nuance of these scenarios it’s easy to be fooled. 
                So, rich people are job creators.  Perhaps this has some merit, but it is not the whole story.  Like with the rain analogy, the clouds are rain producers, no?  But without the rainforest, the cycle becomes stagnant and the rain goes away…desert.  It’s the same with workers.  Workers create the demand for goods and services and as such prime the economic pump.  If people en masse don’t make enough money it becomes and economic desert.   It is also important to note here, that when a worker makes a living wage, they not only create demand for goods and services, but they have the means to create their own industry, invent new business and products.  It is completely false that only the wealthy invent industry and innovation.  But it is very difficult for someone to create when their immediate economic needs are not met or when they can’t afford the startup costs for a business, or when their credit is destroyed by financial tragedy. 
                As far as punishing success, this is the ultimate in insanity for two reasons.  First of all, like the clouds ultimately get the rain back from precipitation, the wealthy get richer from a healthy working class.  Their businesses expand due to the growth in demand.  The problem is that the working class and the poor do better as well and that seems to be some immoral aspect to the voodoo economic pundits.  It’s not enough that they win, but you must lose.  Trickle-down does this.  It’s not better for the rich, but it’s worse for the poor.  So you have winners and losers, which, for some reason, the wealthy want.
               And secondly, taxing the rich is an appropriate expectation.  Why?  Well, if you go to the store and take your kids to school and to the park, you use public infrastructure and domains.  Your taxes help pay for the roads and sewers etc. and the military that keeps you and your kids safe.  But who uses the roads and airports etc. more: you and your family or UPS?  I would think that UPS has many trucks and airplanes using the roads and airports in disproportion to you or me.  As such, they are more beholden to pay for the infrastructure that they benefit from and the military that allows their supply chains to operate unimpeded.  So asking major business to pay its fair share isn’t punishing success.  It is asking for the appropriate contribution to the civilization it prospers in.
                So when you hear that reducing the taxes of the very wealthy will create jobs, don’t believe it.  Not on faith.  Not on empirics, but from an understanding that reducing the taxation of the very wealthy removes money from the economy, shrinking it for the rest to battle over.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Inka Trail

This morning started with less tension and with warm sunshine energizing us as we ate breakfast in the most amazingly scenic place I've ever had the pleasure of dining. This makes the walk up worth it...that and the fact that we're only halfway up to the trail head, so at least we have a head start. After breakfast, everyone is excited to start the hike. Ricardo (our other guide) says we have to put on war paint first. He has some exotic fruit and uses a cotton swab to paint designs on our faces. Apparently the paint is also sunscreen.
Painted and ready for war, we hit the trail. The first half hour starts where yesterday left off...straight up hill. Switchbacks and vertical. My mind is trying to freak out, because there is no way I can do 6 hours of this.
We learn that there are two forms of time in Peru: Peruvian time and Inka time. Peruvian time is very loose. If you say an hour it could mean 4. Inka time is apparently more accurate. This uphill climb is suppose to take about a half hour. I'm praying that's Inka time. Turns out it is. It's amazing how hard this is. After climbing the second highest plateau in the world at Lake Titicaca I felt like a super hero and the altitude here is about 5000 feet lower,so it should be easy...but it's not.
After about a half hour of climbing, we see a sign that says, "Inka Trail". It has a name, but it's too foreign for me to remember which one it was. Here, the trail flattens a bit.
The path is fairly narrow, at times maybe two and a half feet wide. As the trail flattens, it also leaves the area of the jungle where the path is flanked on both sides with ground. At this point our left side is a sheer cliff that drops hundreds of feet straight down. I can't enjoy the magnificent scenery because I'm too concerned with my footing and slight worries about Dylan. He's doing fine, but if he falls my sister told me I had to bring back two kids of at least equal value. I have no idea how I'd pull this off. The walk isn't bad. The trail goes up some then down some, then flat for a bit. The path is generally made of well placed stones, but they can be slightly uneven. And considering one bad slip and you're gone, this seems pretty extreme. My mind drifts occasionally to some perverse memories (RIP Angela). I try desperately to rid my mind of any such thoughts. After a good while of hiking, we come to small area that jets out from the trail. This is a good place to stop and rest a bit although it's in direct sunlight and quite hot. Ricardo tells us more stories of the Inka past. Dylan, at 15 can't allow for such learning in the Summer so he is fooling around behind the group. I look over after a while to see what he's doing. He's balancing on a wobbly rock RIGHT FUCKING NEXT TO THE CLIFF!!! This cliff drops straight down for HUNDREDS of feet. I just about shit and have a heart attack at the same time. "Dyaln, come here please." I say as calmly as I can, trying not to startle him into falling to his death. Then I come unscrewed. "WHat the #$^* are you doing?" He seems satisfied that he had one foot on stable ground. UGH! Sun weary the group is ready for more hiking. The lunch spot is not far.
We hike for another half hour and arrive to the lunch spot. There are some hammocks and a water spigot. We wet our hair and relax a bit before settling down for lunch. What?? No chicken, rice and french fries??? This lunch was spaghetti with an appetizer of avocado and hot sauce. SOO GOOD! Especially with our hungers being what they were.
We're all in good spirits. Our group is diverse. Three English fellows, a dutch man, four Germans, two Israelis, a French couple, and a hand full of Americans.
The Dutch guy and I are hitting it off well. He's a very interesting guy who was traveling through Asia recently, stayed at various ashrams was accepted by a famous guru as a disciple, met Mother Meera twice. I really like him and we began sharing stories.
After dinner, we continued our long day of walking. The sheer cliff narrow path of death part of the trail seemed to be over and replaced by a more reasonable and relaxing path. Again the path had some ups and downs,but nothing like the extreme vertical to the villa.
After a couple of hours we come to a stream. We cross the stream via a rickety wooden bridge. On the other side our guides encourage us to stop and swim in the water. After hours of hiking in the hot sun this is welcome and refreshing. Dylan is playing at full kid level. They begin to build a small dam to pool the water for better soaking. It's never actually used, but it's enjoyable watching the construction as they slip on the rocks and splash in the cold water.
Because the day of hiking is so long, when they say it's only an hour more, that seems really close. Normally an hour walk would mean we're driving.
As we walk the last hour we get excited as we approach the town of Santa Theresa. We are on the opposite side of the river from the town and have to take a hand/gravity propelled cable cart across the river. This is mildly thrilling and on the other side there begins another vertical trek. SERIOUSLY!?!?! There are only a few switchbacks, however and we arrive at the hot springs, worn and ready to relax. There are three pools of water, each with a slightly different temperature. We all enjoy the soak for about and hour and a half. Then we crack open a few beers and reflect on the day. The sun is setting and serenity is taken us over.
We then go to dinner in Sant Theresa. I order spaghetti again (so tired of rice and french fries). At this point, our group is joined by another Israeli and a woman from Australia. They are a fun couple.
The English group asks me for permission to buy Dylan a beer. "Of course, but I doubt he'll drink it."
After dinner, I'm spent. I go to bed. I'm alone in this geriatric display, however. The rest of the group continues to party. Apparently Dylan has his first beer (maybe his second too). Word has it he was shy about buying it, but the English fellows assured him it was okay. He went to the store, order it, paid for it. Drank it, and all accounts suggest he crushed the can on his forehead in macho fashion. The group loves Dylan and his 15-year-old-ness.
Tomorrow, zip-lining. Although I'm looking forward to this, I'm particularly excited for Dylan. I think he'll love zooming across the jungle on a cable.
Viva mas amigos!

The Inka Jungle Tour

We got into Cuzco tired (as usual) and curious as to the next chapter, the final chapter really, of our adventure. After we got settled into our rooms one of our guides for the tour (Carlos) came and introduced himself and told us what to expect. There was an element to the briefing that felt like he was saying, "Are you sure you want to do this? It's hard!" We expressed our excitement, regardless of how much we had to muffle our concerns. We went to town and bought a few things for the four day adventure (flashlights, snacks etc.). I tried to go to bed early, but my mind wasn't having any of that. So the morning came extra early.
We got into the van and began rounding up the other 18 or so from their respective hotels. The morning was cold and this validated my packing of almost exclusively cold weather gear. Cuzco was warmer than Puno (shit, Antarctica probably is) but I didn't know what the trek would entail and better safe...yada yada yada.
After we gathered the other trekkers we set off for a few hours up hill. We stopped briefly for breakfast, where we began to warm up our social skills and introduce ourselves a bit. It's a good group, friendly and excited. At first glance I suspect they're all Lance Armstrongs.
Eventually we get to the top of the mountain at 14,100 feet above see level. We're in a cloud and it's so cold my fingers can't move (and I need them for a thing called breaking). We eventually get all of our safety gear on and begin the 36 mile bike ride.
At first everyone is nervous and tense. What are we doing. The safety briefing was basically, "Don't be dumb and you'll live." Comforting. As we began to ride the wind on our hands stiffened our already cold and numb phalanges. However, the cold of our bodies relented to the magic of riding bikes through the Andes mountains. It's breathtaking! I want you all to have my eyes, because there is just too much to photograph or describe. The wisps of clouds linger around the peaks and lush jungle canopy and forest densely drape the landscape in all directions. Small waterfalls provide contrast and background music to the overwhelming aesthetic. As we descend, the sun begins to break through the clouds providing warmth and illuminating the already gorgeous scenery. Wow!
Dylan, who was perhaps the most nervous at the beginning expresses, "This is AWESOME!". Yes it is.
We take breaks every 10 miles or so we can take pictures and get a collective sense of how everyone is doing. I'm cruising. I'm having no problems with this ride and I'm loving it.
As we get slightly past halfway, there is a small stream that is crossing the road. I make the brilliant decision to try and do a little bunny hop with the bike to avoid some of the water spray. I'm going a little too fast and a little to sideways when I make this decision. The bike slides out from under me and zooms to the edge of the road and then into the cement drainage. I tumble, roll and stand up, slightly skinned up and bruised. I'm okay! Whew, that was dumb. And I was worried about Dylan...
My confidence is slightly rattled and my bike isn't as tuned as it was. I continue the ride with a much slower pace and with less unhinged joy in my heart. At the bottom, we all share how awesome it was and large smiles and bright eyes have taken over everyone's faces. It's a great start to the day.
We get shuttled off to a restaurant for lunch. Chicken, rice and french fries...this will become a motif.
After lunch, those who signed up for rafting follow their guide. The rest of us (the majority) head of for a "little" hike to our cabin.
The description of this hike leads us to believe it will be 45 minutes or so of tromping around. I guess that would be the case if you're a sherpa. This hike is so vertical that it seems like we should be using ropes and harnesses. It is NOT no problem. This is definitely a problem. There are approximately 1 million switchbacks up the hill. Each one seems to require a short breather. About half way up we get to a house where we can rest a minute. Luckily, there is a monkey fucking a bear and that entertains us for 10 minutes while I get my breath back. Also, turkeys and ducks walk around looking at us like we're foreigners. Smart ass turkeys. Waite till November bitches.
We continue our 1 million switchback hike straight up hill. I fall behind a bit and get confused at a fork in the road. I was taught if you come to a fork in the road, take it. Well, I take the wrong path. I realize this quickly though and return to take the other wrong path. Through the process of elimination I get righted and Carlos finds me. I'm out of breath and somewhat daunted by the difficulty of this hike. He is so cool! He asks me, "Do you have to be somewhere later?" Knowing I didn't I began to relax and understand that my pace was fine. After what seemed like forever, we get to the little villa where we will stay (who builds a house here?) I have an acute case of runners high. I am overjoyed! My smile is as big as the Andes and I feel like a super-hero. Dylan is wound up like an 8 day clock. Everyone is his friend and he's working his 9th grade A material on these people. They are so polite and nice. He's probably a little high too.
After a couple of hours, the rafters show up. It's dark and they had the same hike, but without the pleasure of seeing in advance how fucking high and far they'd be hiking. There is some chatter about the hike but most agree, we feel great!
After dinner we are given a history of Quechua (multiple spelling options) and their religion. It's a nice story about the moon and the sun and their divorce and how the coyote got mixed up in the middle. Everyone is tired though and attention spans are thin. Eventually the story ends and there is a mad dash to bed. Tomorrow, 6 plus hours of hiking the Inka trail. (they keep saying it's the easy day). Ugh!
Viva mas amigos

Monday, June 18, 2012

Southern Cross

When you see the southern cross for the first time,
you understand now why you came this way,
cuz the truth you might be running from is so small,
but it's as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day...

We left Puno in a boat with about 20 other passengers to visit a few islands in the Lake Titicaca. Each island offered different elements of wonder. The first island was a floating island, and that is to say that they make the island and it doesn't attach to the lake floor. It is anchored by 18 small tethered weights and the island is purposely made up of thatch and mud that supports the various agriculture that is indigenous to the area. By doing this, they insure they have a built in source of irrigation and the islands last for several years (sometimes 30) before the mulch becomes too rotten.
The island is a natural source of tourist activity too, which further justifies it's creation. We took a hand paddled boat that loosely resembled an old viking ship to another floating island where our regular boat picked us up and we set off to the first of three regular islands.
We arrived at the island where we would stay the night after about three hours in the boat. There we met our host mother who was as sweet as cartoon candy. She made us some soup and tea and we (Dylan, Michael and I along with a couple from New York/India and a young woman from England) all then took a short nap before the hike.
After about an hour of down time, we meet our guide in the main square which was about a ten minute walk....straight up hill. There seemed to be some commotion with some of the other's vouchers. After waiting this out and catching our breath, we began a hike to the second highest plateau on Earth. This hike took about an hour and with the vertical challenge combined with the altitude (
13,800 feet above sea level) this was a very challenging hike. Several times I doubted my ability to complete this challenge. But we kept hiking and eventually, breathless we arrive at the top. The air is thin, the hike is brutal but we feel aglow from the hike. And, instead of feeling spent and daunted by the hike down I feel like I could finally breathe. I felt strong and my breath wasn't an issue for the first time in days. This hike seemed to expedite the acclimation to the altitude. Awesome! The view of the lake from the plateau is amazing and I arrive just as the sun is setting. This plateau is considered an ancient source of power and a place of union of feminine and masculine energy. So, when you reach the top you are to place four stones from the ground into the wall to represent a prayer for you health, love, wealth and joy. I liked this little ritual.
The hike down is easy, I can breath and gravity is doing most of the work. When we reach our home stay, the mother has made another delicious soup. After sating ourselves on the local staple, we then get dressed in traditional Cetchwa clothing to go to a dance. The dance is lively as it is full of locals and travelers dressed similar to me and my fellow travelers. The dance ends early, which is welcome despite the fun, for it's been a long day and another early rise is upon us. As we leave the dance I see the southern cross broadcasting it's sky domination to those in this hemisphere. Wow! It was truly a vision. And if that weren't enough, the whole sky was unencumbered by light and stars shone bright and they all wanted to show off at the same time. This was the brightest star display I've ever seen. Time for sleep...
The time machine is working again and I wake up several times in the night. which feels fine, especially coupled with more views of the star speckled ceiling.
In the morning we give the host family some small gifts and tips and thank them for such a nice stay. The mom makes peruvian pancakes. After breakfast we get back in the boat and head to the third island. There we hike up to another plateau. This one is not as high and I'm feeling like a machine now....altitude be damned. After we learn of the local economy of we walk down the 540 or so steps to the boat. A three hour boat ride brings us back to Puno where we are happy to rest and meet some of our fellow travelers at Machu Pizza for a nice dinner. Sleep then off to Cuzco to start the Inka (spelled like the outfitters spell it_) Jungle tour. This will be hours and hours of hiking, biking, zip-lining and hot springing on our way to Machu Picchu.
Viva mas amigos!

Arequipa

Our overnight bus from Nazca provided us a beautiful view of a sunrise over the majestic mountains surrounding Arequipa. The canyon (not Colca) that flanked the road added additional depth and beauty to this already awe-inspiring awakening of a new day.
We settled into our new hostel and tried to recover some of the lost rest that is inherent in overnight bus rides.
Upon awakening, I went to explore the town alone for a bit. We had decided on having pizza for dinner and I wanted to get a small backpack to tote some of the newly acquired items. After a while of tromping through the city I found no backpacks, but there were an incredible number of wine stores. Perhaps I was in the wine district. I found a supermercado. Lots of well priced items, but no backpacks. It was close to the time we were to leave for the pizza so I decided I needed to abandon my quest and head back. One problem: I was totally lost. No worries, I'll just catch a cab. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single driver that I could find that had any clue where Sol de Oro (our hostel) was. I became worried. This was a total rookie maneuver. How could I pull such a stunt? I find a different hostel and go inside, thinking they'd know where Sol de Oro was. No such luck. Perhaps they could call information? Sure, but again with no results. Yellow pages? They had them, but the didn't seem to be in alphabetical order (that'd be too easy). After a while of trying I finally told the woman it was fairly close to the square. She gave me directions there and I hoped I could grope my way back. As I'm heading to the square I find myself smack in the middle of the backpack district. There are rows and rows of stores that sell only backpacks. Miley Cyrus (sp?), Barbie and some conventional ones. I purchase one quickly knowing I'm still lost and running out of time. My new backpack in tow I pick up the pace and find myself in some familiar surroundings. I still have no idea where the hostel is.I find another hostel. I go inside with more luck. The woman knows where Sol de Oro is (she probably should, it was about a hundred feet away).
I make it in time to go to pizza with my concerned friends and nephew. Whew. We have some wine with dinner, but don't over do it. The next day would come early. We leave the restaurant and explore the main area of Arequipa. It's a nice little city.
In the morning we catch the bus for Colca Canyon. This is in the Chivay valley. I'm disappointed to learn that the trip we booked was not a hike into and out of the canyon. It was a good trip though, with lots of hiking to various sites. After a day of site seeing we hit the local hot springs. The air in Chivay is effin cold! It's around 45 degrees and the warm water feels really nice. Getting out, though, is almost impossible.
After a good soak we wonder the streets and try some street vender alpaca on a stick (free potato too) for $.40. It's pretty damn good! Dylan (the carnivore) is particularly impressed. The altitude is starting to get to me...along with the cold. We head back to the hostel (like always there are no heaters). It's effin cold!! The blankets on the beds are plenty and nice and thick thankfully. The cold air makes it easy to fall asleep. After what seemed like a very long time I wake up worried that we overslept our bus. Nope. Still early. I go back to sleep and after what seemed like several hours wake again. It has to be time fro breakfast now. Nope. Hours to go still. This goes on for a while and I suspect the cold and altitude have conspired to create some form of sleeping time machine. I'm okay with this. Eventually it is time to wake. We begin our tour of some small towns along the way to the point where we hope to see condors. Each little town has its charm and offers various photo ops. When we arrive at the point there are many buses and vans already there and people are scattered across the canyon's lip all with the same hope: condors. After a half hour we see one young condor in the distance for about two seconds. Each of us worry that will be it and feel slightly underwhelmed.
Then it happens. Two condors (the largest flying birds in the world) majestically float to canyon top. They fly effortlessly, seeming to never flap their wings but simply use the wind currents. These two chase each other in a thrilling display right in front of us. Eventually a couple more join in the fun. At one point it seemed like two of them where coming right for me before they zoomed off in another direction. The crowd of people are oohing and ahhing in many different languages. Wow seems to be a ubiquitous word to many languages. After a while of showing off the condors seemed to simply retreat back into their private lives and we all leave the scene feeling quite whelmed. We walk down the lip of the canyon a while (I won't lie, it gave me some anxiety being on the precipice of the deepest canyon in the world). Along the way we see some hummingbirds (no lie probably 5 times larger than any I've seen before). Im not sure how these larger hummingbirds still hoover and do their hummingbird thing at that size. We enter the bus to return to Arequipa. Along the path to and from the valley we summit a peak that was 16,300 feet above see level. On the way there we drank some tea that was supposed to help with the altitude. for me nothing seemed to help. The feeling of not getting enough breathe is a very uncomfortable one. This causes me to be extra excited to return to Arequipa which is only about 10,000 feet (still high).
We arrive in Arequipa and prepare for our departure to Puno and Lake TIticaca.
Viva mas amigos!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nazca

The bus deposited us in Nazca around midnight, tired and weary from travel. The idea of getting up at 6 to catch our 7 o'clock flight over the Nazca lines exhausted us further. At the hotel, however, we were able to contact the tour guid and change our fly-over to 10 o'clock. WIN!
Our guid picked us up more spirited than the we would have been at 7. Excitement radiated from each of us as we anticipated the witnessing one of the true ancient mysteries of the world. The Nazca lines date back about 2500 years and there are virtually no explanations as to why they were made and why what was made was made. My explanation that it is an ancient airport fell on deaf ears although it's the obvious answer. I wanted to witness this mystery first hand.
We got to the airport and the genial nature of the morning shifted when we were confronted with our most insulting and aggravating gringo tax to date. They said because Dylan and I weighed over 100 kilos we had to pay for an extra passenger. This was bullshit because we knew well in advance there were to be only 5 passengers on this plane even though it seated 6. Our guide late explained they always try to exploit any opportunity to get more money from tourist. But this one pissed me off. I gave the woman at the counter a good earful (in English)!
Okay, drama over. Let's fly. After a long wait we board the small Cessna. We took off. Excitement had returned and we began witnessing these mysterious forms from the sky. In order to view the ground the plane had to rotate 30 degrees each view point. That was a little too much for Dyan and the French girl. Both made good use of the baggies in front of them. Apparently this is pretty common.
Seeing the figures first hand it is so strange that 2500 years ago, these people who could barely feed themselves, who had virtually no water, decided to level a mountaintop, draw megalithic forms and lines with right angles, strips that create a vision similar to an airport and pictures of animals that can only be viewed from the sky. From the ground they are completely imperceptible.
We get to the ground. Dylan is still woozy.
It's still early. Our bus doesn't leave Nazca till about 10 o'clock. So we commission a guy to take us to the pyramid an hour away. This guy was great. He owned the travel agency and had lived in San Francisco. He was very worldly and knowledgable. We stopped first at the band of holes. Again my suggestion that it was created by ancient machinery was dismissed. I'm alone in this theory, but the alternative theories are full of as many holes as the band. Carlos, our guide wanted to stop at a tree that was over 1000 years old and water it. This further endeared us to him. At the tree, there was a human femur just laying there. Not comforting.
We get to the pyramid and climb to the top of a nearby hill to get a good view. Carlos shows us that there are 34 unexcavated surrounding this newly discovered one. They lack the archeologists to excavate them though. So the structures (even the one that was being excavated) remain largely undiscovered.
On the way back, Carlos takes us to a cactus farm and shows us this magical white powder that covered some parts of the cacti. Somehow when you press this white powder with your fingers it turns red. This is used in Peruvian and other cosmetics and dyes for textiles. Now, on to Arequipa.
Viva mas amigos

Dylan

The morning i was about to fly over the Nazca lines. i ate a huge breakfast, but when i was on the flight i saw it again. 4szxanow my body says I'm full when i wake up so now i can't eat breakfast here. after the Nazca lines we went to a pyramid outside the city i was still sick from the flight not even a hour ago but i was still able to see the pyramid. after Nazca we went to Arequipa and saw the Colca Canyon which has Condors, Alpacas, and Llamas inhabiting it. After returning to the city we spent the night at ours hostel and of this morning we are leaving for Puno.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Paracas

Although it was one of the first days of the traveling with Dylan chapter, the trip to Ballestos Islands will be hard to top. The morning started with a quick breakfast where Michael mis-ordered and ended up with no eggs...but he did save $.80. We were then ushered off to the boats (I don't care what anyone says, boats are cool). The boat contains a mix of people from all over the world. We all share the excitement of seeing exotic wildlife despite our disparate backgrounds. As we speed out to the islands, the birds begin the show by dive-bombing for fish in our view. This is an incredible display as the birds hoover at cruising speeds then abruptly jet downward and they go under the water (sometimes 7-8 feet) and emerge with a fish. It appears that a school of fish must have been near the area, because there is a fleet of birds all performing this dive-bombing. Soon, we reach an area of the Peninsula where there is the famous candelabra carved into the side of the hill. It is longer and wider than a football field and the guide offers merely that they don't know why it was made (aliens). It is apparently 2300ish hundred years old (aliens). After we witness this ancient symbol in the hill which was also accompanied by various red beaked black birds and boobies, we boated on. We came toan island that was populated by a huge assortment of wildlife, including penguins (always smartly dressed) and seals. At the edge of a cliff on the island birds lined up to jump of the edge and fly in formation. Literally hundreds at a time went to the edge of the cliff and jumped. It's difficult to explain how awesome this was to watch. It was a bird airport and there was a flight leaving every microsecond. This amazing display was accented by the cavernous rock formations and the seals scratching their heads and taking a siesta on flatter of the jagged rocks. As we began to leave I thought what an amazing vision...it's Galapagos light. The boat began the trip back to shore and Dylan and Michael and I shared large smiles as we were satisfied with this tour. But wait, dolphins. Michael first spotted a dolphin jump out of the water in the distance. I wasn't sure it was a dolphin and suggested in could be another seal. Then the show began. The dolphins begin emerging from the water. They seemed to be searching for the jelly fish that were floating near the surface of the water. They would often arc out of the water in a group of three or four. One did a twist right by the boat and I could almost touch him (maybe her). This amps the enthusiasm up a few notches and created some separation anxiety as we sped up and left the dolphins behind. As we got to the shore the pelicans were flirting with us at the shore. They are really funny looking animals. One was approaching Dylan as if to say, can we be friends? When Dylan didn't quite know how to speak pelican Spanish the bird flapped at him aggressively sending us all in a bit of a sprint. A local begins to feed the pelicans small fish as a display for a few Soles (Peruvian currency). This creates a fun spectacle. Some peruvian school kids want pictures with Dylan, Michael and me. This seems funny, but very fun.
Then we begin the tour of the national park. Not to be cynical, but this tour seemed be mostly a trick to funnel us into the restaurant section of the peninsula to eat. Oh well. We ate some ceviche while we waited. They wanted $2 to use the bathroom. I refused out of principle...then the bumpy ride back to Paracas began. Perhaps bad timing for martyrs. We made it and then got on the 45 minute late bus to Ica. A very good day and a good start to the adventure part of the trip.
Viva mas amigos

Sandboarding

I'm writing this post a little out of order, but I wanted to write about our sand boarding adventure this morning while I have an internet connection and while it is fresh in my mind.
We arrived in Huacachina last night to be welcomed at the reception right by a pool again by the bar. This hostel is much bigger than Kokopelli and it is surrounded by giant sand dunes. It's quite the scene. There is a disco inside the hostel and the scene is quite young but energetic and lively. Dylan seems to be developing an appreciation for travel which thrills me. There is a barbecue which we join that is $8 ayce and drink for 90 minutes. Michael and I put a dent in their supply of pisco sours which I found particularly good. Michael actually switched to rum and coke because he didn't trust the raw eggs they were using in the pisco sours. Even though it was a Saturday night and we had no early obligations and the disco was thumping like a peruvian taxi I hit the sack early and Dylan and Michael followed shortly after. This allowed for an early wake up and breakfast. As we were ready to go we hit the sand dunes early for our sand boarding trip. We were picked up in a dune buggy and we traveled with 6 others in the vehicle including the driver. Little did I know that the ride to the and from the sand boarding would be the highlight. The driver was blasting up the dunes at supersonic speeds, berming into the hills at angles that seemed ripe for a flip and the roll bars gave me little consolation. The girl next to me described it as a sandy roller-coaster. Even when I was pissing my pants at the top of the Stratosphere I had the sense there was engineering and some safety standards. This dune buggy had all of the same thrills without the same sense of safety. Oh well, it's a good way to go. Zoom straight up steep dunes, no problem, but the blind flight over the summit and the plummet straight down to berm another sand dune at mach 5. My heart is racing and we haven't even started sand boarding.
So our thrilling ride gets us to the precipice of sand dune with a fairly steep pitch staring us down....but it's just sand.
We all start out on top of the boards as if they are snow boards. The sand doesn't provide much resistance so the only real move is to bomb straight down or wash out. We all try to make a few turns which seems to kill the momentum too much. So Dylan and I just lay face down on the boards and bomb it. Woo hoo!!
At the bottom we all think we're supposed to climb back to the top. We're wrong, but we don't discover this until we have already wore ourselves out negotiating the seemingly mammoth dune. Breathing heavily and whipped by the task we are incredulous when we see the dune buggy drive to the bottom. Lesson learned. We hit it again, but this time eschew the snow board style and try variations on our bellies and butts. At the bottom it is small climb to the next peak. We do this three times with down hill slides back to the buggy. There, the driver takes off and we assume that's it. Nope. That was the warm up. We find a slope that's longer and steeper. This looks a little daunting at first. No worries, it's sand. I go first and I choose a slightly wider board thinking it would really go. What I didn't notice was the nose of the board was slightly flatter. I sit ass down and release myself to the power of gravity. The flat nose means more sand flying in my face at mach speeds. Bad choice. As I get to the bottom, mouth full, eyes welded shut, ears encrusted, I see the Korean woman lay face down on her board and race down the hill at an impressive speed. WOW!
We're pretty spent by the time we get back in the dune buggy. I'm not sure if we're heading to another dune or what. The driver amps up the speed and angles on this drive. Wow! Totally thrilling! We are flying over dunes and into berms. We fly in this thrilling fashion for a while. This is really the best part. Dylan is totally enthused by this reckless endeavor. We get to a point where we can see Huacachina. This is really an oasis in a barren desert. There is a small body of water surrounded by large sand mounds. The palm trees line the water. It's a nice scenic ending to a pretty thrilling trip.
Viva mas amigos!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Necklace

Today was the day Michael, my Uncle and I all left Lima today.I can't remember the name of were we are right now but it was a two maybe three hour bus ride here. On the bus they showed the first Pirates of The Caribbean movie in spanish with english subtitles but time flew bye on the bus ride before i knew it we were here checking into our Hostel room after words we were all hungry so we went to get some food and i had Squid and it was pretty gross bur after that we walk dow what was almost a board walk but not really and i got a new lucky charm Necklace with a precious rock above it so in the words of the great Ice Cube "today was a good day"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dylan has arrived

The next chapter of this adventure began last night when we went to pick up Dylan at the airport. After waiting for an hour and a half after his plane landed for him to appear I was sweating this whole situation. Should I have allowed him to travel alone to a foreign country???? Each person that passed through the gate from the customs got inspected from regardless of whether they were a 5 foot tall peruvian woman or a group of asian travelers. Nope. Not him. She's not him. Not him either. Is that? Nope. I start to wonder what would happen if he actually got off the plane, but somehow got passed me and was just lost in the city of Lima with no way to get ahold of me. Eventually...whew...I saw him. The prank Michael and I had concocted to tell him I'd been kidnapped and he needed to pay the ransom was off at this point. It was 1 AM and he'd been under way for about 20 hours. I was so happy to see him. He emerged from the throng of fellow travelers schlepping a backpack and searching for my signature dreadlocks. I rushed over and bear-hugged him. His eyes flashed excitement mixed with concern and exhaustion. We wisked him away to a taxi and got him settled into Pariwana. He was hungry from his long day so I took him to La Lucha (the struggle) for the best sandwich I've ever had. He said he didn't know if it was because he was so hungry but it was the best sandwich he'd ever had as well. It seems odd to go off on how good a sandwich is, but seriously, this is a place that creates masterpieces. The Chicceroni is a combination of pork and sweet potatoes. They pile up onions and tomatoes and put weird combinations of tartar sauce, picante mayonnaise and fresh home-made bread. It's hard to explain the taste explosion that happens, but seriously WOW! Then Dylan got to go to bed in a room full of 5 HOT Brazilian girls...poor guy. In the morning the Brazilians were replaced by 5 great natured Irish fellows. This is already such a good trip for him.
Michael and I took him for lunch today at a place where he could have a salad, main dish (lomo saltado), pineapple juice and a kind of jello for about $4. He's now off to La Lucha again with Micheal (my German friend) while I type this up. I think Dylan is handling everything really well, but I can imagine inside it might be a little overwhelming. At least we're staying at a very welcoming and fun place.
Tomorrow the trip south begins. We head to Paracas first. I'll blog each spot, but I'll send the itinerary so you can all google the pictures etc. Included in our trip will be a home stay on an island in Lake Titicaca and one night near Cusco. I think these will be great experiences for both of us. It will certainly test my Spanish. I'm excited. Tonight I will take Dylan to the fountains and we will not strain ourselves too hard before our departure.
Viva mas amigos!

this is dylan

yesterday morning i was on a forty minute flght to salt lake city thena for hour flight to Mexico City Airportand thatplaceis a living hell hole of work errors and not puttuing people on the correct flight i had to beg a guy for an hour to put me onthe ccorrect plane or i would have been moved to the flight at Ten A.M. the next day but i got put on the corretc flight and my first day in Peru has been amazing so far i have had the best sandwich I've ever eaten and shared a Hostel room with Brazilian women and that was with in an hour and a half of me getting off of the plane. the next day i awoke to Irish men who had just flown in this morning afterward my uncle his german friend and i went to eat breakfast and that was my first day in Lima Peru

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tragedy

I returned to Lima via a 17 hour bus ride from Mancora. Although we used the same bus company as the one we took to Trujillo, there was no wifi on this bus. That set the tone for the the journey. I sat next to a nice but rather talkative fellow from South Africa. He was very excited about his travels so I eschewed my desire to sleep and i listened to his stories. He was quite engaging. I did eventually get some sleep on the bus. Upon waking we received a juice and I suppose you could call it a sandwich. The Karate Kid (the new one) began to play. I watched this movie with growing interest. In the final fight between the Karate Kid and the bully the movie just stops as the score was 2 all. Are you effin' kidding me? Drive around the block!!! Well, I guess I'll have to watch it again. Now I'm back in Lima where I can rest up for Dylan's arrival and our journey to the south.
Viva mas amigos!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Taxis

As you come to Mancora a first glimpse reveals a buzzing fleet of taxis swarming the streets. These are not your standard yellow cabs however. They are motorcycles with an apparatus built onto the back. At a glance, these resemble old Model T Fords from their shape. The retro-fitted canopies provide shade and cover and are often emblazoned with custom monikers like a batman shield as the back "window". Because you can easily walk the entire town in a half hour the excess of taxis becomes curious. Although it is nice to get a 3 minute ride for $.80 after a stretch of walking it doesn't take long to see that the real industry here is drugs. Being a fellow draped in dreads, the taxis circle me like vultures over a dead cow. Their first pitch is an obvious one: Taxi senor? Then, without even enough pause to wait for my answer the real pitch comes: marijuana? Cocain? I was just offered 5 times by the same guy who stalked me as I walked to the hostel. I'm not sure what part of no was confusing to him, but he was persistent. I should hire him back home.
These taxis are fairly representative of industry here though. There is a sense of hustle (by which I mean they hustle their money). Most encounters seem to be attached to business at some point. I think this is the reality of a vicious business world where civilization is not fostered by shared burdens.
I like this little town though and will miss it. I'm leaving tonight, returning to Lima where I will meet my nephew. I'm excited for this chapter of the journey.
Viva mas amigos!

Hostels

Pura vida is a phase used in Costa Rica, however, as I observe the life here in Mancora, it is clear that the pure life applies. I see this in the fellow travelers and in the locals. Good music, good food, dancing, surfing, playing soccer, putting down a few pints with newly acquired mates. There is a sense of what's important here and it's not chasing stresses.
There is a special interaction among travelers that gives one hope for humanity. Travelers all feel a sense of foreignness, meaning we are all foreigners and treat each other with a deference I rarely see among natives of a country. Travelers also have a way of meeting someone else with great curiosity. Where are you from? Where have you been traveling? How long are you traveling? These questions seems so much more sincere and less divisive than, so what do you do? From these questions usually come a cascading of enthusiasm for each other's experiences, help when discovering someone has been where you're going and the excitement when you've shared a place or an experience. "Wow!" is easily used in a conversation and it's very validating to the conversant. You feel validated. You feel honored. And, it is so thrilling to be constantly meeting people from all corners of the Earth. One minute you can be talking to someone in English from Israel and the next fumbling with Spanish with someone from Argentina. In all cases there is a friendliness that I rarely see in other contexts. In any case, people are interested in each other and genuinely helpful as we tromp around this little green-blue ball.
Viva mas amigos!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kokopelli

We arrived last night in Mancora with a reservation at Kokopelli. I can't believe what a cool little place this is. Nice pool right next to the bar, 300 yards from the ocean (which is nice and warm here because it's so close to the equator). They layout is very friendly and accessible with a good buffer between the music of the bar and the need of quiet in the rooms. Mancora is a very small town that seems to exist purely for tourism, but that also makes it a lively spot with lots of fun travelers. My German is getting a workout. Beyond Michael and Rolf there are several Austrians and Germans here. This is a place where I could see someone get lost on purpose for a very long time.
Viva mas amigos!

Magic Fountains

In the chaos that is travel I have neglected to share about my evening at the Magic Fountains in Lima. This is a nice little park near the soccer stadium that was apparently a gift from the US government to Peru. It features 13 fountains of various shapes and colors that create an aesthetic display of colors, water and motion. I will confess though, as I was observing these water dances that are similar to what you'd see at Bolagio in Vegas or perhaps the Disney display where fountains interact with colors and music and patrons. However, this experience peaked when we got to the final show and my largely underwhelmed mood shifted dramatically. The show used the motion, mist and water of a huge fountain display that shot water 50 meters in the air at times as the vehicle for a holographic laser show. The music ranged from Mozart and Beethoven to Paul Simon and various Peruvian artists. This was quite mind-blowing. If you've ever seen a laser show at a planetarium consider this the next level of impressive. The mist and the holograms produced seemingly magic in the sky and the choreography of the various spouts and mists and lights and holograms all dancing to the music was as an impressive of a display as I've seen. If I see aliens I will take them to that to show them the cusp of human artistic capacity. I recommend this for visitors to Lima and for those of you who may not arrive here soon, google it. It's cool!
Viva mas amigos!

Catching up

Two days ago Michael, Rolf and I left the comforting confines of Pariwana seeking sunshine and surf. We booked bus tickets to Trujillo. The bus was quite nice with comfortable seats and they showed a movie, but the fact that I was sitting next to an attractive womant that I didn't speak a word to made getting comfortable during the trip impossible. When we arrived in Trujillo in the morning I was disheveled and exhausted but ready for the new adventure. We then took and taxi ($6) to Huanchaco. We were hoping for sun and surf. Disappointment. The surf was there, but it was still draped in a curtain of grey skies and water was too cold to be inviting. So, we sat in the restaurant of a nice villa where we were considering staying and plotted our get-away. The idea of taking a bus farther north seemed to dominate the planning. As I sat there, exhausted from travel and a $6 taxi ride from the bus station, I was not enthusiastic about this idea. In a stroke of genius I suggested to Rolf that we try and hire the taxi driver to take us to Mancora. Part of me was kidding, but what the hell? Rolf managed to negotiate a trip north for $65 each. This included a good tip if the driver wasn't a total dingus. When we made this deal we were under the impression that we would be taking the shaky taxi that brought us from Trujillo. There was zero tread on the tires and the car was kind enough to thump in the back in the event I wanted to bust out in a rap. All these factors gave me no solace in my suggestion...the bus was looking good. Too late. We were taking the taxi and we began to feel the excitement. A bit of luck, the original taxi driver had sub-contracted this job out to his brother in law who had a much nicer car (Renault I believe). When I say it was a much nicer car I'm not saying that because the car was so nice, but because the original taxi was a piece of shit and this was much nicer than a piece of shit. This was a car. We smashed ourselves into all the various crevaces of the Renault and expected to head north to Mancora. Well, first, we had to stop for gas...of course. So, off to Manocora...nope. Gotta stop and say goodbye to the driver's wife. Now we're off...nope. Tires need checked. Okay, off...nope. Here's a nice place to buy cake....Okay, off...nope, we have to take a look at the main square, which was nice. So, off...yes, we're off, but we seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Oh well, what do I know? I sit back and we begin the optimistic journey to find sun.
Once we actually get on the road and headed north, it is really evident how poor, random and dirty the outskirts of Peru are. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why "houses" are where they are. Often they are merely a collection of dirt colored bricks (kind of cinder block shaped). There was an unusual amount of liter scatter all along the beginning portion of our trip. No worries. We're onto good times.
After an hour, we stop for lunch. This cantina would have been perfectly cast for a movie. There was a counter, some tables and one woman working. It was clean, however. We ordered and the food (per usual) was really good. I think Rolf's seafood soup took the prize. This was about a cauldron of crab, shrimp, fish, clams, scallops and vegetables. I had a steak and rice and although it wasn't anything special, it was impressive for the surroundings. Our meal was chaperoned by a group of police. They are really everywhere in this country. Normally they put me at ease. This time I was more nervous. Perhaps it was the M-16 assault riffle one of them was carrying (rather slack as well). They simply ate and left though. Okay, off...well for a bit, then we have to stop at the control. It cost about a $4 toll every couple hours of driving. This causes a heated discussion between Rolf and our taxi driver. The driver wants us to pay. Rolf explains the price was already negotiated and that all costs were included in this price. Plus, how many times could there be such a thing? I mean we're only traveling about an inch on the map. Through the control check, and off...so Michael and I notice the driver, Walter (from Peru and spoke no English), is nodding off while he is driving. The squawking begins. We try to keep Walter awake. How long can the trip be anyway? Good thing I'm so tired because I couldn't sleep on the bus. This will allow me to sleep in the car...nope. We hit a speed bump going about a million miles an hour. Lo siento senores!! No big deal, Walter was an aggressive driver, but this bump was probably an anomaly. Nope...we kamakazied into speed bumps with all too much frequency. Rolf loses his temper and begins a very stern but eloquent tirade on Walter's driving (which included ridiculous passing in stressed out situations). Bravo Rolf! Walter begins to drive more tranquilo. But then his narcolepsy kicks back in. Ugh! How long could this trip be anyway? We've got to be getting close. Just keep Walter awake. After we've been driving for hours someone sees a sign that seems to suggest that we are only two hours away. No problem. The adrenaline and survival instinct have me wide awake. Two hours is nothing. More control checks. More discussions as to who's responsible. Michael advances Walter some money to table this discussion and Walter uses that to pay the tolls. The conversation is lively and it's very interesting having world and political perspectives from people from 3 different countries (Walter abstained from this discussion). Walter begins to fade again. WTF??? Michael volunteers that he has an international drivers license and was willing to drive. I couldn't believe this, because there is no effin' way I would get behind the wheel in this country. So Michael takes over and Walter is out like a light. Gone. Catatonic. Maybe dead...it begins to feel like some bad Peruvian version of Weekend at Bernie's. Michael drives quite impressively. Plus, we have to be almost there, right? More controls. More tolls. We ask, how far? Another two hours they tell us? What??? That's what we figured two hours ago. Oh well, Michael is now driving. We feel safer and we've settled into our grove. Walter is still dead. Rolf in his capacity as translator finally hits the wall and takes a nap. WIth Walter dead, Michael and I are the only ones awake. I feel the need to stay awake with him. It's dark now and the roads are windy and the bump thing is still a problem, but we figure out the signs. There is a sign that looks like a pregnant number 1. Somewhere after that sign (no certain distance) there will be a bump. This seems to be their way of controlling speed without speed limits. So the launching within the car chapter seems to be over, but the dark, fast switchback section wants a turn. We come to what seems to be a fairly large city. We make sure we are going the right direction and ask how much farther? About two more hours. Is this the only answer they are allowed to give? Well Michael and I stay awake and get through toll booths with stressed Spanish and a continuous hope that eventually the final two hour clock on this trip will begin to count down. We've been driving now for what seems like forever. I'm so tired I can no long speak German, English or Spanish. Another control station. We pay the toll and ask how much farther (If she says two hours I'm going kick her right in the clam). She says one hour. She can live (unlike Walter who appears to be dead in the passenger seat. How in the hell did he agree to do this when he's either narcoleptic or obviously very tired?) After a half hour Michael asks me how much farther do I think. We'd been going for a half our since we were told an hour. I say, a half hour? I think at this point that was too much to hear. He's incredulous. We see a real street sign finally that says Mancora 23K (about 15 miles). There is a sense of hope. Rolf wakes up. We tell him we're about two hours out. We begin to laugh again. Walter is still dead. We arrive in Mancora to find that my Visa card works again (fucking YES!) and after a stupidly long in-processing we get to the bar by the pool. $12 night and in paradise!
Viva mas amigos!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

El Mercado

Today my German and Swiss friends and I ventured into the market. So vivid. I saw a bucket of snails and the snails were as big as an Idaho potato...still slow though. One man had a wagon of avocados as big as pineapples. At first I didn't believe that they were avocados. My Swiss friend needed his second breakfast. It's interesting seeing slaughtered lambs hanging on a hook next to a bucket of snails and pigeons cruising around foraging. Along the park was an incredible display of vivid (that word again) colorful paintings. They were masterful and I wanted every one of them... and they are simply the saturday market art, no gallery, no agents, just art. Now it's time for an afternoon coffee and perhaps a game of ping pong and relax. We walk a lot and the down time feels extra nice.
Viva mas!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lima Cucina

The defining aspect of spending time in Lima is that the food is ridiculous! Every meal and every variety of food is fresh, well prepared, well priced and delicious. What's interesting, though, is that there doesn't seem to be a particular food of Lima...roasted chicken perhaps. Wanting to have some of this Lima roasted chicken I went to a place last night called Chicken Chicken. Seems pretty obvious what they would specialize in. I ordered roasted de lo chicken (not pollo). So of course that was a steak. A good steak, but I'm still confounded by that. The one thing that I've eaten here that was even a slight disappointment was a tiramisu. Granted, my host mother in Germany set a high standard, but this version seem almost gelatinous and also without brandy (kind of an Olive Garden type). The fact that the food is good should be no surprise, however. Apparently Lima now identifies itself as a food mecca. In 2008 there was a concerted effort to win back the tourism from that lost by fears of militants. Well, it appears they have succeed.
Along with food being the signature of Lima you might notice they are very horny here. They honk all the time. There are so many car horns blaring at any given moment it makes you wonder, what's the point? Certainly no one can discern whether they are being honked at and combine that with the chaotic way in which everyone drives and it seems like the horn serves no particular function other than reminding me that I'm not asleep at 2 AM. I''d like to propose that cars here be sold without horns in that they are no longer a safety feature. The cacophony of the night would change dramatically.
Staying in the hostel makes it fairly easy to make friends. One English couple and I have been hanging out quite a bit. They are in a room down the hall from me. Last night a drunk Swiss guy came into their room and peed on their floor. Good times! This had quite the chilling effect on them and they are leaving for Trujillo tonight. I think I may follow them in the morning. I think it's time to shake things up a bit.
Viva mas

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Getting the Hang of Lima

So I've been in Peru for a week now and I'm starting to figure things out. I found the place where I enjoy staying (Pariwana). This is huge, because traveling alone makes staying in a hotel a social challenge. At Pariwana it is fun and social and easy to figure out travel needs etc.
Lima is an impressive city. It is large and metropolitan and due to the terrorist group in the 90s that scared away Peru's tourism they have made an obvious commitment to security. There are several (no exaggeration) cops ever block. They don't seem intimidating. There is more of a sense that they are there for my protection. Because I'm in somewhat of a posh area of Lima (although this city seems pretty put together) the prices aren't so cheap, but they are still below what I would pay at home. I know this is somewhat of a clinical account of my experiences to date, but I've had internet trouble, which I think I've solved...at least for now. The beer is pretty good (way better than in Costa Rica). So far I haven't done much here except try to explore the city, both walking and touring. Yesterday I went on a tour that was seemed sponsored by the Catholic church although it was a really good tour and took me back to my days in Germany and all of the churches that I visited. In the catacombs of the monastery was the remains of an ossuary and there were thousands of bones (mostly femurs and sculls it seemed) that remained from the days when people felt the need to be buried in the church or not go to heaven.
The Gran Hotel Boliviar (where Switters stayed) was as fancy as expected, modeled after the Waldorf Astoria with the additional attraction of a KFC in the front....nothing says class like fried chicken in a bucket. The lobby also displayed a mint condition Model T Ford. It was hard not to get inside and mess around, but no tocar!
One major disappointment is that trip will not include a beach chapter. In order to really get to where the beaches don't require a wet suit and a hard core desire to catch waves, I would have to venture to Ecuador and that's just not in the cards this trip. So I will take smaller trips to explore ancient sacrifice alters and ruins until Dylan gets here (I can't wait for Dylan to get here) I have booked a trip for him and me to to explore the south of Peru for 18 days. We will go sand surfing, nature viewing, canyon exploring, biking, hiking, hot-springing, flying over the Nazca lines, whitewater rafting, trekking that will climax in Machu Picchu. I spent hours and hours back home trying to piece together a trip like this and it seemed impossible. The magic of Pariwana made it not only possible, but for much less than I was expecting to pay. Winning.
My Spanish is improving in all ways. But there is this stress that happens right before a conversation begins. Even if it surrounds vocabulary that I am comfortable with. Part of the stress actually comes from wondering whether the conversation will be in Spanish or English. Once that's established I seem to be able to relax and allow my ability or inability to speak and understand to take over. I think relaxing and not panicking is the key to practicing the language. There are large holes in what I know, but I also know a lot, so with some creativity and patience speaking becomes possible.
I love staying at Pariwana. It is so much more friendly and helpful than the hotel where I was at first (not to mention less expensive). However, there are a handful of travelers that approach my age. The rest are around college student age. I like this because there is a lot of energy but I can't help but feel a little like the creepy old guy. That's just another reason I can't wait for Dylan to get here. He will love this scene and to some extent alleviate my sense that I'm out of place...like that baseball coach who doesn't have a son on the team....generally not the guy you want your kid playing for.
Although the weather isn't really summer/surfing weather, it is constantly nice. It's never cold or hot. Sometimes a heavier shirt is more comfortable than a t-shirt, but shorts seem just fine. The air is nice on my skin. There is a light humidity that lubricates the air but doesn't oppress. Apparently it rains very little here. To the point where they don't have drainages in the streets or gabled houses (unless they had they're house built somewhere else, deconstructed, moved to Peru and reassembled (which happened)). I've seen virtually no sun so far. There is a constant backdrop of grey. It is not a smog, although it is clear that the exhaust standards on the cars is lower than in the US that is something you can taste but it doesn't seem to be the cause of the haze. It's interesting to have this grey backdrop in such a vivid place.
Mostly I'm beginning to feel at ease in this large city. The confusion of the beginning is to be expected, but non-the-less a challenge. Now that our trip is planned out and I know that I will be functioning primarily from Lima until Dylan's arrival, I can relax and enjoy this chapter.
Viva Mas

Friday, May 18, 2012

Resting in Vivid Miraflores

So I finally arrived in Lima after sleeping in two airports (couldn't leave to stay in a hotel because of customs). Simply put, I was exhausted. I found a decent hotel in the posh part of Lima...this is not my normal style, but the taxi driver sold me out. Oh well, it's nice and I needed to recover from my travel fatigue. I do appreciate being right on the ocean though...well technically a block a way. I think the hotel in front of mine is 10 times more expensive, but I'm willing to suffer that block walk. In my two days here I've discovered the truth in how fine the cuisine is in Lima. Every meal has been effin gourmet and cost usually about the same as value meal at McDonalds (if you don't count the cost of the wine). Today I had lobster linguini pomadoro which I couldn't finish, not for a Herculean effort and it cost $9, but more importantly, it was perfecto. So was the ambiance and the energy that vibrates through this large city. It is clear that a city of 10 million will be impossible to know intimately, so I will allow myself the opportunity to explore largely MiraFlores and some of the traditional sites, enjoy some quality food and perhaps some night life and move north. Although there were surfers spotting the beaches today, it is clear that this is essentially winter in Lima. Although it's very comfortable and the air feels nice on my skin, it is not gringo beach weather. I'm sure I will experience swimming weather as I near the equator. Until then I will enjoy the food, the spirit and the drains swirling the other direction (yes it's true) and rest and recover. Hopefully my mind will regain a state of clever observations about my travels. Until then I am satisfied to report I am full, happy and excited.
Viva mas!
Jerry

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pleasant turn around

After a fairly hectic and less than ideal arrival to the airport I considered this trip off to a bad start. That was turned around quickly and completely though. After getting my flight changed to a direct flight with a $425 bonus I told myself to be patient with all subsequent events because I was way ahead. Go ahead and put me next to a crying baby or super fat guy or a super fat guy with a crying baby. I'm ready. Nope...The man sitting next to me had the curtesy to be thin and because the flight had been delayed (to my benefit) the pilot took a short cut or something and got us to SFO in like an hour. My music shuffle seemed to have tapped into my mood somehow and was playing only the songs I was in the mood for. Switters from Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates accompanied me through my brief flight and I landed somewhat daunted but amazed at what I had just experienced. Now to find my next flight....

Free flight

So I rushed to the airport in my slightly delayed Yellow Cab to discover my flight was over-booked. No worries. I got a direct flight to San Francisco instead of a lengthy layover in Phoenix....and a $425 travel voucher. Winning!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Practice blog

This is a practice post. I will be leaving f0r Peru tomorrow