At The Surf Sanctuary, in Limon II close to Las Salinas, Nicaragua, Julie and I had a blast surfing some waves. Naturally, not being a surfer and being 2 years out of practice, I was WAY out of my league and proudly ended up on their blog as the “Whippp (wipeout) of the Day”. Three cheers for me. It was even a two photo series. I am the worst surfer ever. Can’t wait to get back to those gentle SB breaks…
Category Archives: photos
There are definitely some days I find it easier to open my eyes than others. Like this morning for example. I awoke, eyes closed, resisting the urge to face the day and my new morning routine. My routine lately consists of something resembling the following: I shower, wash my hair, and body. I generally awake excruciatingly itchy from a combination of eczema and a fatal attack of mosquito bites. Showering immediately, is critical. When I am done I put hair vitamins in my hair which is thinning more than ever (likely due to the ravaging that months of malaria medicine has done to my body). I then pull my hair back so that I can cover both ears in Neosporin because they are so sunburned that they look like Van Gogh took his hacks at both sides. Alter this I cover my body in both steroid cream for the eczema and regular lotion to avoid further outbreaks elsewhere. My legs are carefully doused in copious amounts of clear Caladryl to prevent me scratching them to bleed over the course of the morning. I am using about a bottle of Caladryl every 2 days. I take a giant tylenol and another pain killer for the tendinitis in my knees as well as covering my knee with pain relief gel for joints. I take my malaria medicine. Occasionally, I take something for my abnormal level of anxiety. Then, I dress.
Sometimes people (and I myself) make comments about my “vacation”. This is not vacation. This morning after my ritualistic preparation, I still found the energy to fight with Paul all morning and he still found the energy to make me a delicious cup of PG Tips tea to calm me down. By the time I felt up to face the outside world, I stumbled out of the door of our room in Lima onto the outdoor, rooftop patio of this gorgeous old converted mansion hotel to see what Paul was up to. Two turtles were cruising around on the cement below and I watched the slow, prehistoric movements, feeling inspired and restless because of them. Behind us a German girl asks an Israeli guy if he has visited Cusco yet (the biggest gringo city south of San Diego). “I was two months in Cusco, man,” he replies. “Really?” the German is surprised, “What were you doing?” He stares vacantly, “Drugs, man. Trance parties every night. Lots of drugs. I went to Machu Picchu, too.” This guy is on vacation.
When we returned to Cusco from Choquequirao I was hurting all over, proud, dirty, and feeling so accomplished. But I couldn’t wait to get out of Cusco, to stop hearing about Machu Picchu, to feel like I was on the way home again so we booked tickets for the night bus to Lima from where we could quickly get on our way to Ecuador. Ecuador was beginning to sound like the promised land: much smaller and cheaper than Peru, slightly less traversed, farther north still, mountains, jungles, beaches. It was all set.
Our last day in Cusco was brutal. It was census day which literally means that the entire population of the town has to stay home and be counted individually. There are a few businesses that stay open but only those run from people’s homes. This is a big break from the normal, gringo, sports bar, trance party madness. Everything is closed and this is our second trip to Cusco. We wander around all morning through the deserted streets but by the afternoon, waiting for our night-bus, we are tired and cranky, and bored as all hell and have resorted to sniping at each other and multiple trips to the internet. It’s bad.
Finally, it’s time for the bus and we jump in a cab to the terminal. As we pull up I nearly die of happiness, as there is an open pharmacy next door. I jump out of the cab, limp into the pharmacy and beg for some help with my flare up of tendinitis. I walk out armed and ready for the 18-20 ride to Lima with my bum knee, jubilant until I realize I have left my camera on the backseat of the taxi.
Nah. It can’t be. I keep it with my wallet and I have my wallet in my pocket. But it is. It must have fallen out when I pulled my wallet out to pay for the taxi. It can’t be. I ALWAYS check the backseat when I get out of a taxi. Not this time. I was too preoccupied about my knee. Too excited to see an open pharmacy. A million things flash through my head: my camera is gone, cameras like that cost hundreds of dollars more here, I am the world’s biggest idiot, I just finished writing a story for a magazine in Buenos Aires about how not to get yourself. I got myself. Fuck the camera. Fuck those things. In that camera is just one week of pictures – from our trek to Choquequirao. I would throw myself in front of a bus to get just one week of photos back, and I can’t.
Paul goes to check our luggage on to the bus and I stand, tears streaming down my cheeks, on tiptoes, checking every taxi outside the terminal. Maybe someone will find it. Maybe he will come back with it. Hoping, just hoping, that I have not lost my proudest art from this trip. It’s no use. What did the taxi driver look like? Stocky with a black jacket. All the cabs looks the same. All the driver’s are stocky with black jackets. My most beautiful art is gone. I stand alone outside the terminal in Cusco with taxi drivers screaming at me to get in their cabs, searching with empty eyes, desperately hoping, and totally resigned, and crying my eyes out in disbelief.
Paul half-heartedly hugs me. He knows it’s my fault. He also knows that nothing he can do can make me feel better. He reminds me of times in his life when he has lost art that is very important to him. He reminds me of Pico Iyer, my greatest literary hero and the first chapter of a book that absolutely changed my life and perspective. In The Global Soul, the first chapter (I believe it’s called ‘The Burning House’), Iyer recounts losing a lifetime of notes in the famous Santa Barbara Painted Cave Fire. It is one of the most heartbreaking and wonderfully hopeful recollections I have ever read. Reminded of this I take a deep breath, turn my back on Cusco, my camera, my photos and art and physical recollections of Choquequirao, and make the decision to take the trip with me in my heart and mind. I shouldn’t have to be reminded but I have to cry to say goodbye to these things. Yes. Llorona.
In the morning, after a restless night of sleep on the bus, I awake and eventually find it in myself to open my eyes. I see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in ten months. There it is stretched out before me, waves rolling in just like I remember, expansive and chilling. It looks, as ever, like home. And despite the difficulties and the ups and downs and the sometime resistance to open my eyes in the morning, to steal from one of my favorite authors, as we rode into Lima “All was well.”.
In all my life, my family only ever took one (1) camping trip: a weekend – or was it just one night? – at Skofield Park with the Unitarian church, a good 15 minutes out of town and nigh on half an hour from our Goleta home. It was a lunatic’s adventure, to be sure. My mom stayed home, watching Murder, She Wrote and eating Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream while my dad and I struggled to manipulate the aluminum poles of the triangular red tent bought at Big 5 Sporting Goods a good week beforehand. (My mom never left anything to the last minute, and almost certainly bought the ice cream at the Turnpike Shell station on Thursday, lest the Friday rush force her to settle for chocolate chocolate chip). I got poison oak that weekend, and decided that I wasn’t very good at camping. After all, how many people that you know have ever gotten poison oak in the rain?
Really, why would anyone ever go camping? Sunburn, mosquito torture, soreness after sleeping on the ground like a dog with no home, and having to eat sand when the food runs out are all guaranteed, right? Right, but as my wise friend Martín once told me regarding being faced with epic traffic jams while trying to go get out of town over a long weekend, “no hay que dejar de hacerlo.”
After these almost two years spent in South America, I’ve learned to love camping, to enjoy the taste of sand. I’ve come to think that the most astonishing things to be found in the world are to be found in nature. Not only that, but if you really want to dig those things, you have to be willing to walk to them and camp there. This is the reason we’ve been lugging tent, cooking set, stove, gas tanks, three kinds of mosquito repellant and two kilos of malaria pills on this big schlep of ours. A quick consultation of the schlep stats tells me we’ve only been required to bust out the whole ensemble a total of six nights, probably some nine days or so, but even when I consider the 57 mosquito bites that Clare sustained on the upper half of the back of her left leg alone on this recent long walk – and I think she would agree – I think that the pains in the neck, ass, arms, hands, legs and feet have been a small price to pay for the chance to see phantasmagorical pink river dolphins or the infinite terraces of Choquequirao.
Choquequirao is The Big Schlep’s answer to the Inca/Gringo Trail. We read about it some months back in a sappy New York Times article, and after a day spent investigating in Cuzco, we decided that walking to and from this Incan city built after the Spanish arrived, three times the size of Machu Picchu at that time but with 1% of the visitors now, would be a nice alternative to parading to every gringo’s favorite Incan ruins which, by the way, are now prohibitively expensive for regular Peruvians. In keeping with our (my) penchant for making things a schlep, we took public transportation to and from the 700-person town of Cachora, nearest the archeological site, and did our own cooking. We permitted ourselves the luxury of a mule and handler, who doubled as a guide. The final cost of this four-day stretch of The Big Schlep was $75 per person, satisfyingly more affordable than the $275 apiece that the standard jaunt to Mucho Gringo would have cost.
The informal poll we’ve taken in Cuzco has us believing that we are very literally the only gringos ever to come to Cuzco (twice!) and leave (twice!) without visiting the most famous ruins in the Western Hemisphere, and we’re okay with that. I’m sure it’s awesome, etc., etc., and when I’m old and better funded I just may go, but I’m also quite sure that it will be a far less astonishing experience that our walk to Choquequirao and back, on which we spent second morning climbing 1600 meters from the Apurimac River to the ruins, only to see, at the top, a set of stone terraces for cultivation said to reach all the way back down to the river.
The fact that our trip to Choquequirao continues to amaze us tells me that we made the right decision by saying, “We’re skippin’ it!” to Machu Picchu. In a line I often quote in Travels with Charley, Steinbeck talks about how some trips are over before the end destination is reached, and some continue long after the traveler has arrived home. He cites a man in his neighborhood that once went to Hawaii or some tropical place and spent the rest of his years sitting on his porch in Bermuda shorts. Well, after a tormented night of sleep in a plenty nice hotel room, trying not to scratch mosquito bites, or irritate sunburns, or wake up thinking about the ten miles straight uphill or straight downhill to be walked before lunch, I woke up to the mess of a backpack I’d left in the corner of the room the night before. After re-packing the stove and sorting out my choners, I moved the backpack a little to the left to find, to my sincere astonishment, quite a large tarantula hanging out there on the hotel room floor, apparently having hitched a ride somewhere along the way. Wondering where exactly the hairy bugger hopped on, I relived every step of the 40-mile round trip, all the time thinking that our four-day adventure to Choquequirao may never end.
Very strange things happen to your mind and body at high elevations. I know this because I am still digesting the giant plate of Peruvian cuy(guinea pig) that we ate for dinner last night, our most extravagant dinner since we have been on the road. I know this because I am having nervous breakdowns once a week now. I know this because my skin is dry and peeling off. I know this because I get winded after walking three blocks. I know this because last year in place of all of these things, my eardrum just exploded. I know this, because a couple of times, the altitude has seemed to get to Paul, too.
When Paul and I arrived in Copacobana, Bolivia, it was to some serious culture shock. Near the Peruvian border, this is as deep into Bolivia as many gringos get. Most jaunt over from Peru for a day or two. These people will never know what it is like to piss in a Moroccan toilet, in a semi-public place. These people will never know the river dolphins in Trinidad. These people will never know La Paz. This year, guided by our Bolivian friend, Antonio, we cruised through La Paz again. Once again, La Paz proved to be the most amazing carnival ride. It spun me around, shook me about, showed me color, light, blinked, and honked and spat me out feeling sick and worn out. La Paz is one hell of a city.
Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, is gringolandia by comparison and my first serious bout of culture shock since being on the road. Menus are in English, North Face outfits stroll up and down the streets buying “authentic” Bolivian souvenirs, and Britney Spears bumps from the patio of a local coffee shop where there is no matefor sale and the hair is blond, blond, blond. This shocks me more than La Paz ever did and I feel sick and scared, wondering how on earth I am going to fit in again in the United States.
Something is very wrong with Paul too in Copacabana. As soon as we get of the bus he wanders into a tourism office, orders us 2 tickets for the tourist train from Puno to Cusco, Peru for $30US and bus tickets to Puno when we get back from the Isla del Sol. 3 days later we will discover that the tickets actually cost $19US and the train is a mental parade of tourism. This, for Paul, is very unusual behavior. I realize that the oxygen is getting very, very thin.
Cusco is a pleasant place but like Copacabana on crack. Last night we watched the end of a Patriots game in a bar full of Americans playing Hold ‘Em and English Breakfast is served here complete with Heinz Baked Beans. Everything costs twice what it should and as soon as we arrive in Cusco, that as soon as we are done trekking to Choquequirao, we are getting the heck out of Peru and on to the beach, mountains, and jungle of Ecuador where hopefully things will get weird again.
I am homesick and yet hating all the signs around me of home. I can’t stand speaking English and I cry when I find out my sister is engaged and I am not there to share her news. I miss strong coffee but resent the 6 soles I pay for an espresso in an expat joint overlooking the plaza. I am a tourist here but maybe the only person in town NOT visiting Macchu Picchu because I would rather do the same thing for a fraction of the price with a fraction of the people. Really, I am just freaking out all over. And I’m itchy because of the altitude and my dry skin and my filthy clothes.
I definitely feel so far behind with the blog that there is too much to say. In the meantime just be assured that we are trying to keep things as strange as possible in Cusco by eating guinea pig. In 5 days we should be back from our long trek and heading towards Ecuador. In the meantime, I’ll be sucking up all the air I can.