Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Peruzing

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...

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Oh my gosh Andy. It's been a year since that all went down, and reading your account of it makes it feel like it was just yesterday. You're a talented writer, Mr. Lovely.