jueves, 24 de marzo de 2011

Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

Gen, Ash, Lloyd and I left Cuzco for Macchu Picchu, taking a tour through the spectacular Sacred Valley- at 110 kilometers per hour. The driver inexplicably turned around on our way to the train station, claiming traffic that was apparently conveyed during an active phone call, and retraced our steps back through Cuzco proper, the four of us hang from our oh-shit bars and rather preferring to survive than catch our train. We missed it. The tour company, after some haggling, agreed to pay the upgrade for the next train rather than having us was for a train that would arrive a few hours before our pre-sunrise ascent up to the ruins. The train ride was glorious, following the brown rolling river along the cliffs covered with vines and fragrant flowers, and we were offered quinoa mint salad and a small mashed sweet potato stuffed with strips of grilled meat, perhaps llama. The windows on the roof of the train allowed us to peek up at the rounded mountain tops, imagining Incans using machetes through the thick brush to find the perfect spot to set up an agricultural, spiritual, political, economic and religious center. We arrived in Aguas Calientes, and dreamt of jungles and storytales. It was raining while we waited for the bus at a quarter to five the next morning, but the buzz kept us awake. Our guide told us of its founding by an American history teacher, and how most of the findings still reside in Yale University. While he talked, the steam floated onto, off of, around, and underneath the vegetation on the surrounding mountains, and suddenly, the postcard image appeared, with much more awe and wonder than can be imagined. We wandered amongst the massive stones carved with inginuity and covered with moss, learning about the barbarity of the Spanish conquistadors who failed to find Macchu Picchu (which is actually just the name of the nearest mountain, since history of the name along with many other much desired facts we never passed down from the local Incans who fled into the jungle). The construction was meant to last centuries to the seemingly invincible Incans, who sadly only inhabited the city for less than one hundred years, less time than the time of contruction. Every building was centered around the sun, ancestors, the natural flow of water from the surrounding sources, and the all powerful royalty. The four of us sat on a terrace, took a million pictures, pet a two day old llama, and left a little more spiritual.

miércoles, 16 de marzo de 2011

Death Road on a bicycle- wise?

I slept through the hour and a half ride leaving from La Paz. I woke  to a car that seemed to have travelled to the Andes- snow caps, icy lakes, 4640 meters of noticeably chilly altitude. The death road connected La Paz with all of northern Bolivia where the southern tip of the amazon lies, and La Paz doesn’t sit very far north. Five years ago, the government (finally) decided to splurge for an alternative route. 26 cars on average spilled over the side of the cliff per year for lack of sleep, sobriety, or even minor lapses in attentiveness. At points, the road is 3 metres wide- and its a two lane road. Tiny memorials dot the road sides including one at a particularly precarious curve remembering martyrs who were thrown for their vocal outcries which disturbed the despotic anti-democratic governments stronghold over one of the countries many revolutions, a sign that the severity of the roads name was not lost on the Bolivians who had no other choice on the transportation of coca and coffee from the Yungas or necessities for their families in the steamy lowlands bordering Brazil. It is the only stretch of road in the country where you drive on the left, giving way to those coming on the right, so drivers can measure in millimetres tire space from the sheer drop below. The 64 kilometres of over 3000 meters of vertical descent begins in Ansel Adams mountains painted with prayers and hopes- " Jesus es la luz", "Te amo Dios". The waterfalls thaw quickly as we descended into an anti-plato sparsely covered with hearty, determined plants, but the fauns only appear where the ferns grow large enough to hide behind and leaves have evolved into advanced drainage systems. I’d say we rode through waterfalls, but I fear the image it paints in your mind. This wasn’t water crashing against rocks, but mists floating straight from above like a shower through a fine sieve, an illusion that seemed a natural atmosphere given a narrow road carved almost lengthwise cave against the stern valley wall. The group stops every twenty minutes or so to give our hands a rest from the juttering over unpaved roads and for me, the slowest, to catch up but I don’t mind after an occasional large black butterfly is framed by the stunning valley views and I can see hawks soaring from the other side of the water mists.

jueves, 3 de marzo de 2011

Highest city in the world-GASP.

So, Chelsea and I have left the three temporarily for Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4,070 meters. Highest airport, highest golf course, you name it, the city likes her superlatives. Chelsea and I wheeze with each step, and marvel at the locals who run up the steep streets. Its famous for the Cerro Rico silver mine that helped finance Spain´s most prosperous years. It therefore has a darkness that is said to be palpable...for most of the year. This, however, is not most of the year. This is pre-Carnaval, and the haggard workers have crawled from the mine and are ready to party. Today, Chelsea and I were splashed with water and sprayed with silly string, so we are now taking shelter in an internet cafe over looking a parade of children and a marching band dancing down the street, covered with confetti and sporting masks and wigs. We leave tommorow for Oruro where the festivites are expected to increase ten fold. I´ve got my eye on a red wig with devil horns.

Salar de Uyuni with a cut on my foot.

So, I won´t linger on this- my laptop got stolen. Lloyd and I met Chelsea the Canadian, Ash and Gen the English couple in Iquique, Chile, and decided to huff it to Bolivia together. We were standing in a circle around our small mountain of luggage at the bus station, and while I was retrieving my passport, a cunning thief lessened my weight. There. Now we can move on. We took a horrific overnight bus to Oruro, and booked our nights for Carnaval in the city which is dubbed the second best is South America. Then, another horrific train ride for Chelseas birthday landed us in Tupiza, where we booked a four day tour up to Uyuni, stopping almost every thirty minutes at amazing rock formations, large reflective lakes full of flamingos, and large plains full of llamas celebrating the arrival of Carnaval by wearing large red earrings. Lloyd supplied coca leaves for the gringos in the car who took turns suffering from altitude sickness, we slept under piles of alpaca blankets to curb the frightening chill at altitudes nudging 5,000 meters, and held our noses at the sulfur geysers that bubbled like the Bog of Eternal Stench. The highlight is the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds biggest salt flat, where the reflection settles to form a perfect double image against a near perfect white sky, providing perfect photo opportunities. And yes, I did have a cut on my toe.

viernes, 11 de febrero de 2011

Sundance and Butch

It seems like a land that would draw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. I grew up adoring that movie, never knowing it wasn't entirely true. My dad, the same man who introduced me to the classic Redford-Newman flick, gave me In Patagonia before we left for Christmas. It touches upon the legend of the Wild Bunch and their addiction to hold-ups. Lloyd and I are in El Calafate now, in the heart of Patagonia. The town is full of watery-eyed, gortex-clad, walking stick-toting tourists who come to talk amonst giants- the famed landscape of Patagonia. The wind is incessant, and so seems to uproot the majority of the surrounding flora, save for some blustered wildflowers. Artisan chocolate and slow smokoed lamb smatter menus. Microbrews and malbec are guzzled while the sun circles the sky lazily, never fully commiting to the concept of setting for a full nights rest. Parrilla is on every menu, and visible from every restaurant window with the intentions to draw drooling masses inside. A meager, smoky fire sits under inclining steak stretched thin and taut over a wooden cross. Glaciers and ice capped mountains always seem to sit just on the other side of the range, accessible by inventive transport methods- mountain bike, 4x4, horse, Zodiac, and raft. The fruit is surprisingly fantastic, and we are frequently offered fresh raspberry jam, small bowls of cherries while we wait and curiously, a plethora of nectarines, whose orchards surely cannot survive a season in Patagonia's inhospitable climate. Even the fauna is limited to a few small ostriches and some rugged looking llama.

Hiking the W in Torres del Paine National Park

I walk like I'm trying not to wake the baby. I have blisters on the majority of my toes, and before my shower today, I smelled so bad the sleeping bag was threatening not to sleep with me anymore. My legs wobble like a newborn calf, I've been consuming nothing but dehydrated food, I ache in body parts I didn't know I even had, and I'm only on day three of five. Somehow, someway, I still have unfettered, no show of flagging peace and satisfaction, the kind that comes from accomplishing something just slightly tougher than you should be taking on. Hiking the "W" in Parque Nacional del Torres del Paine is my first time carrying my own gear- tent, sleeping bag, mat, gas stove, and food for five days. Luckily, the glacier water is delicious and "safe to drink", I'm assured. But if you haven't heard from me in a while, assume the water is not "safe to drink" and I've died from giardiasis. Lloyd hates to hike, and I use that strong word consciously here. So, I am left to heft my gear myself. My travelling companions have been just shy of completely deranged. At the first camp which sits at the foot of the lake that Glacier Grey spills into, I saw a German man swim out to an iceberg and clambour onto it. I caught him as he walked back to his tent and asked him if he had done it before, secretly hoping he would encourage me to try it myself. He told me it was very sharp, and I looked down to where a beed of crimson began to form on his knee. He promptly wiped up the blood and sucked it off his finger, quickly and with the look of a guilty six year old. He also shaved his entire body, eyebrows included. Later, I came across a young Chilean woman sitting in the scrub just off the trail, shoveling berries she was plucking off the bushes around her into her indigo dyed mouth. Then, during my hike up the Valle Frances from the Campesito Italiano, I asked the world's worst photographer to take my picture. At first, he forgot to actually push the button. After showing him the photo was not actually taken, the picture I was left with was a photo of my moments before I actually smiled, so I have this dumb, relaxed sweaty look on my face I hope I don't usually wear with the glacier behind me, just not in the frame with me. Sigh. I did, however, see horses rolling in the wildflowers, mountains towering around my tiny self, and slept like the dead despite the famous Patagonian winds trying to get into my tent at me.

Glacier Perito Moreno

The first big sight in Patagonia happened to be my first glacier. Breathtaking. It is not the world, let alone Argentina's largest, but it is my first ever, so to me, it is. In the winter, the glacier pushes up against the peninsula that houses the viewing boardwalkds, blocking water from flowing into Lago Argentina. In the summer, the ice melts by the warmed water, creating a bridge connecting the peninsula to the glacier. A cruise ship could fit under this bridge. On average, every two years, the bridge cracks away from the ice and tidal waves into the water. I could use some cute euphemism here, like shamu washing over its viewers, but I can only imagine the heart stopping roar and beauty of something of that magnitude crashing on that moment of that day you happen to be sitting there, taking an unassuming bite of your sandwhich from the viewing platform. Lloyd and I only caught small calvings, six foot tall chunks of ice that crack loudly away from its 22 story mother and slosh noisily into the lake. The glacier is quite active- it moves on average two meters per day. You can hear the cracks and shiftings of ice from deep inside the glacier, and when you hear that boom, you look up from your travel book, and everyone stops talking. The colors in the wall of ice were astonishing. Yes, ice is white, but it is also blue. A rainbow of blue, from a pale sapphire to a solid cobalt to a black navy creeping into the deep calvings to the black veins that show like rings on a tree.  Quite satisfying.