Wednesday, September 24, 2008


So it took about four Mighty Ducks theme song anthems to sit me down in front of a computer and inspire me to detail our exploits over the past couple weeks, but here I am. And what it was. I'll preface by saying that it was a trip unlike any other I've had, as far as challenges, insects, and bags of vomit go. I'll preface that preface by saying that in the interest of condensation and in an attempt to make any sense of what happened, I offer an estimated day by day running blog. Only problem is, it's almost two weeks since this all went down so let's replace the word estimated with the word guesstimated. Haha. Wait, no.

Bree's bedroom (scandalous?) Thursday 12:00-4:00 AM
What better way to prepare for a 30 hour trek north than a couple bottles of rum, a collection of youtube jams and a pair of clippers? The decision was made months ago that Colin and I would take part in some sort of spiritual rite of passage by shaving our skulls (yes I love that word in every sense of it) during our yearlong expedition. Half a handle into the rum it seemed to me like this was the time to start anew. Having done this once before under the same amount of influence, I felt substantially prepared, while Colin needed a little convincing. Upon completion of bottle number one, clippers in hand, Colin was seated shirtless waiting for our newfound barber Bree to skullify him.

My kitchen. Friday. 11:00 AM
Stumbling out of my bedroom for my brunch of tea and bread circles, I take a sideways glance at my mother sitting and reading who then proceeds to let out a shriek of horror. Not sure if she forgot that she was housing a lanky white male or if I forgot to put on clothes upon exiting my bed this morning, I stand awkwardly on the stairs in a complete stupor until I begin to comprehend that she's clamoring about the missing hair. Damn, just when I thought I was looking fly.

Iquique Bus Terminal. Friday. 2:00 PM
Here we go. Gringos unite as we voyage 5 hours north to Arica, sharing in the beautifully dubbed Die Hard 4, the first of many horribly translated action sequels we will be subjected to.

Chile/Peru Border. Friday. 7:00 PM
Flocked by crazed taxi drivers, we finally decide upon a moderately sketchy fellow to pile us in his 84 Cutlass Ciera and deliver us to the Peruvian frontier. I observe flocks of people huddled at this border crossing town with loads of packages, apparently waiting until the guard is down post midnight and can smuggle their rice bricks and other interestingly wrapped goods north. Upon driving twenty minutes through an uninhabited desert in darkness, we abruptly pull over and taxi man exits the car and heads for the trunk leaving us alone with our confusion. Potential hostage situation? Sadly, no. The engine has overheated, he makes the proper adjustments and we're off. 4 police checkpoints later, we've boarded a bus that is heading to our connection town Arrequipa. Estimated Time of Arrival? 3:30 AM. Two bottles of rum are swiftly purchased.

Arrequipa. Saturday. 4:00 AM
Hello, Peru. We enter the bus terminal and prepare for a four and a half hour layover here. Annie promptly pukes in the first public trash can she spots. The majority of the bus station seats are filled with people who look like they've been avoiding sleep and social interaction for a solid two decades. We find a wall to post up on and prepare to pass the time by any means necessary. As I attempt to add some life to a pineapple soda bottle, I glance up to notice that I'm being observed. Maybe this kind of fruit drink concotion is new to them or the concept of alcohol in a bus station has mysteriously never entered Peru, so I hide both bottles and attempt to regain some notion of normalcy. Nope. As my companions slowly begin to confirm, not only are we getting looks, we're getting gawks. Like open jaw, wide eyed, what the hell kind of humanity is this looks. I've spent a good deal of time being the random foreigner in a collection of countries, but nothing has compared to this. Whatever. Cards emerge and 8:30 arrives just in time.

Peruvian country side. Saturday. 8:30 AM-8:30 PM
Doritos, saltless crackers, and bottles of peach juice get us through this ride. Chain reaction vomiting occurrs in the seats of a number of our female counterparts which add to the fine open door bathroom bus smell. Never underestimate the value of an empty plastic bag. In my opinion, refusing them from convenient stores in an environmentalist effort is just plain idiotic after observing those able (and unable) to utilize these bags as the chunks began to fly. Sidenote observance: Peruvian women wrap their small children in colorful burlap sacks, toss them over their shoulders, and lug them around like a bundle of potatos.

Cusco. Saturday. 9:00 PM
An amazing city with a European flair. Maybe its the excessive amount of white folks that makes me feel almost normal or the ham pizza and egg sandwich we consumed for dinner. I don't quite know, but I like it. I've never been to Spain, but the city strikes me as Spanish, if I can make such an ignorant claim. Narrow cobblestone streets and impressive cathedrals adorn the main plaza, which we unfortunately had to leave behind. After locating a hostel and setting up a barricade around the trap door that led to the downstairs bathroom, I was ready for a bed and an eight hour chunk of dormir.

Cusco. Sunday. 3:00 PM
We've secured a tour for two days and nights and now are hiking up to a white glowing Jesus that towers above the city. I thought the elevation in Boulder was something. Somewhere around 12,000 feet above sea level, the air is definitely still there but steps come slower and finally we're standing under the outstretched Jesus admiring the city at our feet. Clouds roll in and soon round hail balls are pelting my naked skull and we're running for cover and lower altitude.

Van. Sunday. 8:00 PM-2:00 AM
A customary Mexican dinner was in order and then we packed bags and headed to meet Franklin and Jorge our new tour guides extraordinaires. Francisco the driver shows up with our transport vehicle, a silver van that was about to cover more ground than I ever thought imaginable. We stop to fuel up and begin to realize that a makeshift band and dancing festival was also joining us at the local gas station. Men are seated in folding chairs observing the musicians and slamming beers like its their job then grabbing some dancing women and persuading them to do the same. I dig Peru. Please note: Francisco is a maniac. He's taking us on a night time van voyage ascending 15,000 foot mountains around un-guard-railed bends while avoiding rock chunks and passing 18 wheelers at substantial speeds. Undoubtedly one of the most petrifying drives of my life. On our descent, Francisco realizes he's getting drowsy so he finds a bar in the middle of absolute nowhere and enters for a drink that I'm guessing was not coffee. As I step outside and wander amidst the dense fog to locate a cliff to pee off, I wonder how the hell my life has come to this. Francisco returns, we leave the mountains behind and enter the jungle terrain. Unpaved roads for two hours keeps us from sleeping and allows us to observe the complete removal from civilization around us. We stop upon an overturned truck in the road with families standing on the side of the road, cut and crying. Perfect. Colin and I exit our van to help overturn this truck and at this point I am completely expecting to find dismembered bodies lying beneath. Fortunately, no major bodily harm occurred after the driver passed out at the wheel and drove straight up a cliff that looked ready to landslide at any minor tetonic shift or butterfly landing. We arrive in the tiny pueblo of Santa Maria and with a little bit of wandering from building to building, our tour guides locate a bar/hostel to sleep at for four hours. Tomorrow the real fun begins.

Santa Maria. Monday. 6:00 AM
A disturbing shrill echo awakens me from confusing, sweaty dreams and after peering out our barred window, I reconfirm that, yes, last night was real and we are jungle dwelling. As we attempt to brush teeth around the outdoor sink our newfound mini-mosquito friends take to bare legs, fingers, and eyelids. More on them later. A morning breakfast of chocolate banana pancakes preps us for the day ahead. And the walk begins. And so does my discovery of the wounded female. Stories of bad break ups, lost loves, and other heartbreak happenings accompany Colin and I during the first few hours of this stretch of jungle trekking. We share a glance and lengthen strides. I motion for Jorge to get out of their pack while he still has a chance. The sun is upon us. So is our sweat, dirt chunks, and bug pee. The same 6 inch long winged creatures that woke me with their morning wail also decide to flock in groups and urinate together upon unsuspecting individuals. Refreshing in the jungle heat? Not a chance. The ascent begins. Inner confidence as a successful hiker goes out the window as I realize the next few hours will consist of us rounding mountain side bends on one foot wide trails with a possibility of death resulting from faulty footing at an all time high. Oh, acrophobia. Apart from a possible hostage situation where at gunpoint, I'm forced to decide which cereal I'll be eating for the duration of my captivity, I do not ever again predict finding myself in a situation of inner turmoil as I did throughout this morning. While my fellow hikers are laughing, tossing candy, reveling in an other-worldly view, and basically walking this thing backwards, I am clinging to every single rock face the mountain side provides me. Upon later inspection, I cut open my pinkie, palm, and arm as I groped the life out of jagged boulders. Fortunately, mountain molestation is an offense that rarely sticks in Peru or I'd be facing some serious time.

Mountain Hut. Monday. 8:30 AM
We arrive on a strategically placed restaurant/rest stop complete with glasses of strange juice, a panoramic view of the Andes, and Martin the monkey. I snag a hammock and watch Colin and Annie contract various jungle diseases from this friendly fellow who is complete with a milk moustache and an impressive human climbing ability. Ready to continue, we start our climb that will lead us up and over our most treacherous pass yet. And by yet, I mean ever. And by ever, I mean we found ourselves forming a human line and climbing straight up a mountain side, digging our feet into tentatively supportive dirt and praying that the corn stalk or whatever the hell I'm using to propel myself up this cliff will hold. Capturing one moment. I'm hanging onto a tree root, looking straight down a mountain side that would first break me and then break my momentum after a solid 10,000 foot free fall if my New Balances decide to take a momentary lapse. Looking up, I see our tour guides discovering they have no idea where the hell we are going besides vertical, because the usual path has gone ahead and collapsed for us. Wait, now I hear screaming. Oh that's just our mountain hut friends far below shouting to inquire where our bodies will be collectively flown this evening and maybe some form of monkey scolding from Martin. Fortunately we have a group who is collectively more qualified than our Peruvian amigos and our climbing unit operates with optimal efficiency. To best summarize how treacherous things have become: Kristen Mascarenas dropped an F bomb. Three times. A few more mountain sides climbed, and the descent is upon us. We've now met up with the famed Inca trail, which consists of stone stairwells along these cliffs that the coked up Incans apparently sprinted to transport goods, send messages, and inherit legendary badass status. I've taken to a crab crawl down these stairs which is fairly effective in allowing me to keep my sanity and creating the dirtiest sweatpants known to man.

Jungle Lunch. Monday. 1:00 PM
Unsurprisingly our lunch locale is unknown to our leaders, but a random 65 year old man with a backpack and apparent calfs of steel stops to reroute us down to 50, our lunch stop. Hammocks, darts, spaghetti, and shade make this one of the finest meals I've been a part of. For some reason I feel like I've returned to Thailand. Only the menu is lacking mushroom shakes and the locals have not transformed sexuality in the past five years.

Santa Theresa Thermal Baths. Monday 3:30 PM
We've arrived. Sort of. After two perilous bridge crossings, a brief deep jungle trek sans machete, and a two hour riverside stroll we have entered a very fine place. Waterfalls cascading into lukewarm pools and jungle huts providing functioning toilets have changed things up a bit. A swim is undoubtedly required and a furious game of hot potato ensues with newfound British lass. After we've deposited our layer of filth into these pristine pools we hop in a van for another ride around the bends. This man puts Francisco to shame. Unwilling to yield on roads only capable of one-way traffic, he lays on the horn on every blind turn we round. Once a situation arises where we do come across another driver heading the opposite direction and he decides to back up around these cliffs while giving oncoming traffic a death stare, I decide the time is about right for me to deposit my head into a more secure location buried between my legs.

Hydro-Electric. Monday. 5:00 PM
Named for something to do with the hydro electric power this commuter town generates up to Macchu Picchu, we unload and observe the train that is heading up the mountain and will arrive at our final destination in fifteen minutes. Our new task? Follow that train. Our 2 hour stroll as hobos becomes more interesting as darkness approaches and our ETA gets bumped back a solid 30 minutes for reasons unknown. Cell phones, headlamps, and tiny flashlights are broken out and give us ample light for this evening voyage. We lose a few people on the way, I meet some Cuban musicians, and nobody can guess who Ronald McDonald is. Surprisingly enough, all is still making some sort of sense and I haven't become delirious just quite yet.

Aguas Calientes. Monday. 10:00 PM
We eat dinner and go to sleep. Today has destroyed us.

Macchu Picchu. Tuesday. 4:45 AM
The reason we've come this far over the past five days awakens us. Dawn is slowly settling in as we begin to climb the steep set of stairs that Colin and I dominate in a record 45 minute time. Gates open at 6 and we enter the lost city. Finely groomed llamas, beautifully maintained terraces, and ancient stone formations greet us to this wonder of the world. A title it deservedly claims. The steady sunrise, structural supremacy, and undescribable mystery that surrounds us transforms our excitement into silent contemplation. (In an attempt to explain my inability to explain, I just sat here staring blankly at the computer for 15 minutes attempting to come up with something better to describe what we sat around and marveled at. And I can't. Pictures never do justice and this couldn't be a more clearcut example of the need to experience.)

Wayna Picchu. Tuesday. 7:30 AM
As if yesterday wasn't enough personal joy for me overlooking cliffside locations to plummet, we've lined ourselves up to be part of the 400 people that are allowed climb Wayna, a mountain overlooking Macchu Picchu. No regrets, right? If deaf Japanese girls, 65 year old Australians, and 8 year old children can do this, I simply can't say no. Metal rails line the majority of the stairs along this 90 minute hike that appears heaven-bound. The ultimate perch to say the least. I sit upon the rock summit overlooking anything and everything imaginable. Attempting to take everything in to the best of my abilities, I watch Bree and Colin dangle their feet off the side of their rock throne, Asians fearlessly run amok and pose with peace signs, and I receive a tie from Kristen. Awesome. Now get me off. Two individuals to thank for keeping me from hurling myself off the mountain: Katy Perry and Breanna Greene. "I kissed a girl" became a mantra of sorts and put me in a place that very few things could have at a moment like that, while Bree took it upon herself to become my human shield and help stave off a mental breakdown.

Macchu Picchu. Tuesday. 10:00 AM-3:00 PM
We meet up with Kosmo who gave us the 2 hour English explanation to this mountain city which I'd never even begin to love to explain here. Just know this: there is a lost city of Incan gold somewhere deeper in the Amazon and I plan to find it with a helicopter and metal detector. We say goodbye and stumble down the mountain. A train is soon boarded, then a bus, then we're back in Cusco.

Cusco. Wednesday. 2:00 PM
Colin and I wander around the city purchasing llama gear, miniature flowers, and ugly T-shirts. He has been moaning for hours now and I think it's due to his stomach but its making both me and the shop owners uncomfortable. We grab a few egg ham and cheese sandwiches with local sweetheart and juice maker Marika and we head to the bus terminal. 17 hour ride later, we're at our border town. 2 hours and some contraband seeds later, we're back in Chile. 5 hours and a stolen money belt later, we're back in Iquique. The longest yet most rewarding five day ordeal of my life.

The following extended Thursday-Sunday holiday weekend provided us with a visit from our southern dwelling volunteers. Standard measures were taken and Iquique did not disappoint its new inhabitants. Nor did 5 AM stale avocado sandwiches, I'm absolutely convinced of that. Another weekend has just recently passed where one mentionable highlight was spending our sunrise with some Chilean drug dealers perched outside an abandoned office building freestyling in spanish and imitating WWE superstars.

Andy's room. Tuesday. 7:38 PM
The choose your own adventure tale continues...

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've been reading.

This is a claim I feel comfortable making after diving into a novel once every six months or so. Cosmic Banditos is currently on loan from Bree's personal library and I'm halfway through the short novel. I'm not going to summarize plots or delve into motifs and character symbolism, but I will go on to tell you that the crux of the tale is an attempt to explain the one thing each and every one of us is constantly looking to define, or at the very least, slightly understand. Life. The author chooses to have the book's crime-loving protagonist find clarity through quantum mechanics, space time continuums, and subatomic theories. Pretty heady stuff. (I attempted even to wikipedia ((possible verb use?)) quantum mechanics and understood very little until coming to: The fundamental rules of quantum mechanics assert that the state space of a system is a Hilbert Space and the observables are Hermitian operators acting on that space, but do not tell us which Hilbert space or which operators, or if it even exists. I immediately closed the window box before the gag reflex, mental breakdown, and coma could simultaneously hit.) The more or less I can wrap my understanding around is that this talk of quantum leaps and the like is based on the principle that life is not as simple as the laws of gravity that Sir Newton would have us believe. No, the universe operates in a chaotic nature with no rhyme or reason. Our reality simply culminated as a result of chance and the possibilities of other realities are just as likely as a Friday purchase of the ever affordable and reliable Ron Blanco (the finest rum of our fine city). Thrown out the window in this novel is any preconceived notions that causality or butterfly effects apply. No, more or less life is nothing but a random crapshoot and all we can do is pray for the dice to fall in our favor.

Now, where does this lead, you may ask. I really only have the slightest of ideas. To start with, as I read I began to think about experiences here in Chile, in Boston, in Asia. And while I may or may not be living a life quite similar to these subatomic particles that travel immeasurably and sporadically according to their current whim, I also can view these incidents as matters of cause and effect. Imagining the past had no effect on my decisions of where next to voyage or which pig knuckle sandwich not to eat, is simply ludicrous. Theories that are supposed to be contradictory seem more or less to be tied together and apply in all walks of life, whether it be mine or that of Neils Bohr. Thus, all I can do is to simply explain the happenings as they occur. Truly the only reason behind this blog is to do such, in the event that a larger quake than today's rumble, a larger chained bandit, or a larger junkyard pit bull decide to take my life. Why things happen and how things happen will be left to those in the white jackets. All I can do is relay to you what things happen. And so I will.

The daily grind never ceases to amaze. Take today for example. I headed to school around 8 AM EST (strangely time zones don't change while seasons and languages do). A typical Wednesday all planned out for me and my kiddos. Nope. Around 10, I get the call from the principal that we're heading to a government building to receive a mystery stereo for our school. After this unnecessary and ridiculous boombox presentation ceremony, we were flocked by the city press. Following two newspaper reporters, two television interviews, and a beachside newspaper photoshoot, a return to school was the next course of action. I was in the midst of enticing my seventh graders with a half eaten packet of cookies for whoever could produce a coherent english sentence when the students started flipping tables screaming and bolted the room. 6.0 earthquake? No sweat. Afternoon was hanging with our local surf champion stoned out of his head trying to crack jokes and give wave-catching advice til the sun went down. Chile played Colombia in a world cup qualifier tonight and dismantled them 4-0. Everytime a goal was scored, explosions rained down upon our beach town from neighboring houses. (Yes, Kyle, I am that lazy) And here we are.

Last weekend we celebrated birthdays. The theme was consumption. Saturday night we opted for liquids, Sunday night we switched to solids. In between those two festivals we tore apart a dance floor, I led a parade through the city's main street, and I had a Mercedes escort driving me to supermarkets in an all-out search for a proper ham and cheese sandwich. Allow me to explain.

Saturday night we tore apart a dance floor.

The anniversary of my school's foundation was this week. Clearly, a Sunday morning parade was essential. I showed up still feeling wonderful from the previous nights aforementioned activities and wandered amidst my students to the front of our formation. I began an improptu mock North Korean march to the beat of the army drums waiting for us in the plaza for my own amusement. Students started to chant and not wanting to make too much more of a spectacle of myself than I already was, I halted the high leg kicks and walked over to my principal and asked where I should locate myself as the parade was almost underway. Smiling, she pointed over my shoulder and signaled that I should retrace my steps to the previous location as I was about to lead this fine contingent of public school students down the city streets. Lead I did. A left-right-left cadence consumed my pace for the majority of the city stroll and I imagine those lining the streets behind metal barricades were most likely disturbed by how seriously gringo #1 was taking this joyous ceremony. Figuring I couldn't pencil in when exactly I would lead my next parade, I started busting out salutes and bows to the flag waving crowds. I was rolling.

Later that day, I got a call from one of our school administrators who I had spent a Friday afternoon sharing buffet steak and casually hitting on, allowing me to acquire a tutoring position for her 7 year old terror. She proceeded to ruin my planned Sunday of Slumber and swung by the house post parade to take me home to babysit young Ivan. Realizing that I couldn't play PS2 with her son on an empty stomach, she procceded to make stops at every supermarket that would please a delicate American stomach. Four grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and a pint of peach juice later, I met Ivan's entire Star Wars collection (a brief light saber battle occurred), rattled off some xylophone jams, and got bunny ears'd in a family portrait that I'm expecting to be mantle-worthy.

And then it was time for a proper birthday feast at MacKenzie's. An ideal 24 hours undoubtedly. A five day trek to Macchu Piccu followed by a Thursday-Sunday independence day celebratory binge awaits. What will happen will happen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Family matters?

I live with a host family. As do the six other individuals joining me here in an attempt to find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real real real. Therein lies the problem. Reality hits during a 5 AM beach jaunt or when the sun goes down on our caged basketball courts, both situations which could be used as justification for a bootknife purchase in the near future. But as for bringing the real to these real folks housing me for a solid four months, keeping things PG is my only interest and concern. Showing up at Colin's house with an entire night's preparation to watch an unknown tennis match at 3:30 that morning has tamed us a tad after his family sat in awe and watched our own personal attempts at verbal volleys. Unforced errors galore.

Norma is my new mother. Surrogate mother of the ghetto side of town, she's retired but still housing, educating, and feeding the Iquique youth in ways that would shame the local orphanages. Her English suit is not the strongest and with this she holds firm to the idea that the louder the words are spoken, the more sense I will make of them, whether be it Spanish or English. Along with our Bolivian maid (I guess is the right word?) she's a cullinary wizard. I've yet to have the same meal twice since I entered the home and comida complaints are at an all time low.

Next up is Juan. Serbian roots and a love for poetry has created this clean shaven 65 year old gentlemen I spend morning van rides with. While a solid average of two sentences are shared per ride, I cherish the way he follows my form by spending every other day at the gas station pushing that gas needle up to a sixteenth of a tank. Awkwardness abounds during most meals where the women of the household basically spoonfeed, bib, and wipe the two of us traditionally dominant males. At day two here I hit the end of new conversations to bring up to Juan so my daily queries to fill the everlasting silence that our meals consist of have come to attempted would you rathers involving walls, newborns, and puppies. Well, not quite yet, but we're closing in on it.

And then there's Ilona. A sixteen year old Catholic school girl who I imagine the nuns have already pegged as a future replacement. Ilona delights in Saturday mornings, where she receives math tutoring and later joins her local church group in the evenings. She brings the most personal amusement in the household due to her incorruptible attributes. I've yet to beat her at a board/card game where I haven't cheated and I've at the very least attempted to warp her impressions of American cultures with fables about daily activities. Hot tea must be drank with two hands at all times, it is acceptable for me to currently have more than one wife because they share the same name, and a popular condiment is freshly ground bar soap.

So that's the fam. Although it's a trip back to age 15 with weeknight curfews and daily "how was school" interrogations, I'm enjoying the experience that comes with spending a signficant time period within the walls of a local household. My spanish has no choice but to improve along with bedmaking skills and table etiquette. And they still keep things fresh. Last weekend, after visiting and feasting at the masonic lodge father Juan is a proud president of, our car ride home took a turn for the what the hell is going on as he and his lodge companion Dario decided to pull over on a random side street without a word. They then proceeded to surround a red Hyundai station wagon parked on a dirt patch in front of a small home. Eventually the home's owners noticed two senior citizens ravenously circling and prodding their car and went out to investigate. Three minutes later, Juan and Dario have acquired the keys and taken off in the Hyundai to locations unknown, returning roughly fifteen minutes later. I'm on my fourth game of cellphone snake at this point, which I was using to keep my mind off the possible hijacking I just witnessed. Two minutes upon return, Juan has his checkbook out and is dotting i's and crossing t's on his one million peso purchase, which was as simple as three glasses of wine, one candy red station wagon, and twenty minutes of consideration.

Understandably, each of here are getting our own unique taste of family life. Bree has siblings who insist on being our own personal weekend chauffeurs, Kristen has a swimming pool, MacKenzie has Lola, and Annie has a fetus. As for Colin, a few days earlier I asked about his current state of affairs and when he'd be ready to head to a soccer match. His response, "Actually, no not yet, probably not for a little bit. My host dad has just taken over my room and is playing a flight simulator on the computer in there." Well, he has that.