Monday, May 10, 2010

Nepali Potter

This one's for Rocky.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You threw off my groove! Cuzco

I decided to head to Cuzco to see if there was any slight chance I'd be able to get to see Machu Picchu. Since the recent flooding and mud slides around Cuzco took out a large chunk of the train tracks and hiking trails leading to La Citadella, as it is sometimes called, there was no way to get into the ruins so I decided instead to go to Lake Titicaca. At 3,800 meters, it's the largest, highest navegable lake in the world!

I got a flight from Lima to Cuzco at 5:30am on Wendesday morning. Susan and I stayed up most of the night talking so I didn't really sleep before Javier picked me up to take me to the airport. I got into Cuzco and took a taxi to a hostel my friend Nikki had recommended. It was huge and the staff were great but I didn't have a bed reserved so I had to wait for my nap until the afternoon. I wandered the city a bit and got in contact with a friend of a friend who has a hotel in Cuzco. I went there and met him and Bilma, a woman who works there. I decided to stay there the next night and asked her if she knew of any good salsa places around. She told me where to go then I asked if she wanted to come and she said "Si" so we decided to meet and go dancing that night.

We started at the touristy salsa place and I had a few good dances although I was really rusty from not dancing salsa at all for about a year. Then when they stopped playing salsa she said we could go dance at a club that was really Cuzco, not a tourist place. Since I would be turning 23 at midnight I said "Ok!" and we walked over to Club Las Vegas where I quickly realized everyone was staring at the only blonde in the Well, Bilma took really good care of me and we boogied and a few guys asked her if I wanted to dance since they thought I couldn't speak Spanish, which made it easy to say no.

Dancing and several severely inebriated Englishmen sharing my dorm room made for very little sleep and the next morning I had decided to go for a tour of the Sacred Valley, which was really fun but I was exhausted and kept falling asleep on the bus. We saw a few Incan ruins and how the women clean, spin and dye the alpaca wool by hand, then of course got to buy their goods.

I had decided since Machu Picchu was out I wanted to go to see another marvel of the area: Lake Titicaca. So the next day I set out to tour the lake and see the people living on the islands there.

Lago Titicaca

The hotel where I stayed in Cuzco arranged everything for my trip to Lake Titicaca (which, for those of you still giggling, means "puma" in Quechua). This turned out to be super relaxing for me since I haven't really done anything else besides my trek in Nepal by tour.

To get from Cuzco to the lakeside town of Puno I opted to take the longer busride and stop at a few historical sites along the way. I met an Australian couple on the bus who spoke no Spanish but were really fun and we got along great and I helped them barter in Spanish. We saw a beautiful church, some Incan and pre-Incan ruins and I got to feed a baby alpaca by bottle. My goodness was it the cutest thing I ever saw! Yes, it was.

The next day I was picked up to go down to the port where we would travel by boat to three different islands on the lake. The first was Uros, the 42 man-made floating islands where natives live to this day. They depend a lot on tourism to support them so they embroider beautiful tapestries and made arts and crafts out of the reeds their islands, houses and boats are made of. They also eat the reeds, saying they tasted similar to asparagus. I got distracted and never got to taste them...oh well. They also had a small fish pond built into the island where they raised fish to eat and a tiny garden but they said the chiefs go to Puno to trade for more food.

They dive down to the shallow parts of the lake to cut huge blocks of the soil where the reeds are growing to create the bases of the islands. Turns out that soil floats when it's cut free. Then they pile layers and layers of reeds on top and anchor the islands with rocks so they don't float to Bolivia overnight. We got to see inside their houses, some of which had solar panels and electricity, which is really cool. Then we bought some souvenirs and got to ride in a reed boat to another island. I asked if I could row for a bit and they let me...until the wind blew us backwards then they asked to row again so we didn't crash into another island.

It took 3 hours to get to Amantani, the next island we visited and where we met our families who cooked for us and let us stay the night in their houses. I got asigned to a family with two other younger women who were also traveling by themselves who didn't really speak Spanish so I made most of the conversation and translated. Our room was really nice, very insulated with real beds and a nice bathroom with western style toilet outside the house, compared with most of the metal outhouses on the island it was great.

We had lunch of soup with potatoes and quinoa (keen-wa) which is a great grain I was delighted to find is a staple of not only Boulderites' diets but also the people of Titicaca. Then we took a nap and headed to the main square to meet the rest of the group to go hiking to the top of the island for sunset. It was about then my stomach started hurting and I ended up walking super slowly until I had to turn around, find my way back to the house and I just slept the rest of the day and night. Unfortunately that meant missing dressing up like the natives and learning their dances at the party they had for us, but I felt much better the next day so I guess it wasn't worth pushing myself.

We had pancakes for breakfast and then rode the wild waves of Titicaca to Taquile Island which was gorgeous in the sparkling blue waters and sunshine. Lots of terraces and people in bright clothes. Taquile is known for the handicrafts; the men knit and the women weave really delicate patterns so I had been saving a lot of money to buy gifts here. It was worth it. The men also display their marital status through the Santa-esque hats they wear. If they have a red and white hat it means they're single. Completely red means married. Pretty cool, no mistakes there!

We had lunch in the beautiful sunshine then strolled back to the boat down the other side of the mountian. I had made friends with an old French man on the boat who gave me some eucalyptus to smell when he saw me with my upset stomach. We chatted in Spanglish/French and took pictures of each other. He was very kind!

A long boat ride back in the sun concluded the trip. What an adventure! Then I packed my stuff up back at the hostel and met the girls from my homestay for dinner and shopping before a night bus back to Cuzco, caught a flight to Lima. Whirlwind!

Lynn and Paul, the Aussies from my bus. We passed them in the floating islands.
Chief and little girl eating totora
They have the coolest hats
Paddling a reed boat
Attempting to paddle. We went backwards instead...

On Taquile. Little kids love pictures and hope you pay them to jump into your pictures uninvited.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Best First Day in A Country Yet!

First of all, I'd like to send out some Love and Prayers to everyone who experienced the earthquake in Chile. Thank goodness all my friends there are alright, and I had no idea it even happened until I heard about it on the bus back from Iguazu. Thanks for all the love and support!

I am so grateful that Spencer’s mother, Patsy, put me in touch with her friend Susan who is living in Lima Peru. Susan has been so ridiculously helpful and kind from the email conversations that we initially exchanged, I felt like I had a mother in Peru even before we met.

Her Peruvian friend Javier picked me up from the airport (with a sign that had my name on it!) and we were conversing easily before we pulled away from the airport. He pointed out all kinds of really interesting things about the city as we drove toward Susan’s apartment. He works for a travel agency and brought me there to check out options for Cusco and to see if Machu Piccu is open yet after the tremendous flooding that happened several weeks ago. Unfortunately, it won’t be open until April, but I guess that’s another fantastic reason I need to come back to South America.

We carried on to Susan’s apartment where I was immediately welcomed and told Susan and Javier wanted to go that afternoon to the healing hot springs I had read about in the Lonely Planet guide and mentioned. Apparently people think they cure anything from rheumatism to infertility to acne, and probably have alien origins. It sounded fantastic to me, so we high-tailed it down the Panamericana highway through the surprisingly arid land surrounding Lima.

After 45 minutes of easy chatter in Spanish we arrived in the town of Chilca, which obviously saw little, if any, foreigners. We pulled up next to a lagoon of water surrounded by plain, dry mud about 50 yards long and 40 yards wide. Javier asked a man what the pool was supposed to heal and he casually replied “Todo”. Oh, of course it cures everything. We were herded towards the entrance by Javier who was dressed too nicely to join us in the swim but volunteered to take pictures and watch our clothes. As we paid one sol, about 30 cents to enter, we looked closer at the few people swimming around and noticed the water they were splashing was a vibrant, toxic looking green color.

Susan and I immediately went for it and to our delight found a bucket of mud on the steps into the pool which we immediately smeared on our faces. Then we waded into the water which was pleasantly warm and still noxiously green. The bottom was muddy and in some places it felt like the mud was at least two feet deep. We kept smearing mud on our faces and experienced the most buoyant water either of us had ever been in. If I didn’t want to be squishing around in the mud under the water, all I had to do was pretend to sit and I was easily floating with my head and shoulders above the water. Susan kept getting flipped onto her stomach by the buoyancy and decided just to float that way.

We made our way to the far edge of the pool to the shallow black mud pit that was filled with people absolutely covered in the inky mud just laying there soaking it in. They made some gringo jokes I didn’t understand when I flopped down in the mud with them but I just laughed and played with the mud and chatted with them. It was incredible. I mean, mud with elephants or monks is really fantastic, but this was just so silky smooth and warm and mucky, I couldn’t believe it! Javier came over and laughed and took a bunch of pictures of Susan and I wallowing in the mud, there truly isn’t a better word to describe what we were doing. It was blissful.

After about an hour of that we decided to rinse off in the green pool again, then shower and go get some dinner. Susan and I were delighted by how silky soft our skin felt, and I swear she looked about 20 years younger than she claims to be. We left the pool and immediately bought three bottles of the most amazing sweet wine I’ve ever tasted (and boy, did we taste!) for 20 soles, about 7 dollars, then decided we better buy three more since it was so amazing and so cheap. Then to top it off, Javier and Susan took me to a delightful restaurant where I had the best cebiche I’ve ever experienced (well, until the ones I tried today), an excellent pisco sour and some really great fish. I think I dig Peru!

Let the fun begin
Susan and I getting into it, check out that water!
Stressed out...NOT
Susan and I

Mud women

Clean again and ready to buy wine!
Javier and cebiche de cuatro sabores

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Batallas Perdidas (Lost Battles)

There are not words in any language I know to describe Iguazu Falls. So maybe just buy a ticket down there today and experience it, because wow, it is worth it!

I took a bus for 21 hours from Bariloche to Cordoba to meet up with Carole Gedenberg where she’s volunteering as a doctor for three months. I spent the day strolling around the pedestrian mall downtown and bought some Argentine CD’s. We left the next day to take a 22 hour bus ride to Iguazu, which is right on the border of Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay. We arrived the next day and found the hostel Carole’s friend recommended then signed up for an excursion to go zipline through the canopy and rappel down a waterfall that afternoon. We were picked up in an enormous truck and taken to do three zips through the trees, which felt like flying! We got going pretty quickly and I took a video with the camera hanging from my harness, but it makes me kind of nauseous so I’ll spare you that. The waterfall we were supposed to rap down was too powerful that day so we did a normal 20 meter rappel instead, which was great and we got to wade in the river afterwards.

The next day we got ready to experience the waterfalls. We took a bus to the park where we strolled down a path through the jungle under enormous hanging spiders and a rainbow of butterflies. To our delight a few coatimundi cam running down the path from the forest. They look like a mixture of anteaters, raccoons and lemurs and of course are not phased at all by human contact so we got some great up-close pictures of them rooting around in the soil. On the trail we met Alejandro, a man from Buenos Aires who was just as goofy as we were and decided to explore the park with us.

We walked among the crowds of people on the boardwalks weaving through the waterfalls, catching glimpses of the giant cascades further up the river. Some boardwalks led us to spectacular viewpoints where we could walk right up next to the falls and get soaked! Carole and I had decided to take a jet-boat ride under the falls and it was pretty difficult to convince Alejandro to come too (“Ale, want to come on the boat ride with us?” “Ok!”).

We boarded the boat with life jackets and drybags for our stuff, pumped because we had seen other boats edging close to the falls. We got in and sped up the river, snapping pictures until they told us to get ready for the water. Once again I was really excited to have my waterproof camera and snapped pictures and recorded us getting absolutely soaked by the enormous Iguazu Falls. It felt like people were throwing buckets of water at us and we could barely see from the immense amounts of water pouring on us. It was epic.

We stopped at the cafe for an overpriced snack after the falls. I was inside buying a sandwich when the first attack happened. Yes, a coati lept up and grabbed Carole's bag of cookies. Luckily she and Alejandro were quick enough that they snatched it away before it could run off with her snack. However, I was unsuspecting and when I sat down and unwrapped my sandwich, the next thing I knew a coati was on the table and had my sandwich in it's grimy little paws. The thing was surprisingly strong, Alejandro was trying to pull my sandwich from it's grasp while I grabbed its body for a minute and pulled, but alas, it was victorious and ran off gleefully with most of my sandwich. A battle lost.

More breath-taking views ensued as we walked along the top of the falls. Exhausted, we walked toward the train that would take us to La Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat, the most well-known part of the falls. Unfortunately we were too late to catch the last train of the day, so we left and decided to come back the next morning before our 22 hour bus ride back to Cordoba.

As we were leaving the park we stopped to see what the indigenous women selling souvenirs. Alejandro was hooked and examined carved animals (he threatened to buy me a wooden coati to remind me of the fantastic day) while I asked the woman selling decorative bows and arrows and blowguns if they would kill a coati. Alejandro then asked if he could try shooting the bow and we spent the next half hour laughing and shooting the thing at trees while the poor woman selling it watched us helplessly and finally just laughed at our misguided attempts to fire it. Then, when we finally left, at the entrance of the park I looked up and saw a huge tucan silouetted against the sky! Its beak was really as long as the rest of its body!

That night we had an asado with Betsy and Cristian, an American/French couple also staying at the hostel with us. Betsy had a guitar and it was a lot of fun to jam and sip wine and let Cristian grill the veggies and lomo steak we had. A perfect end to the day (minus the coati stealing my lunch)!

The next morning it was pouring rain so I ended up heading to see La Garganta myself. I caught the train and walked down the boardwalk over rivers so deceivingly calm nobody would guess in a few hundred meters they’d become the largest falls in the world. I walked to the edge of the boardwalk and closed my eyes as the strangely inverted rain being blown up from the bottom of the waterfalls soaked me completely. I got a few pictures then hurried back to the train and ran through the jungle to catch the bus back to town before our bus left for Cordoba. On the way to town I was chatting with some Argentines and they made me a sandwich on the bus, and I didn’t even ask! I love this continent.

Back in Cordoba for the day and tomorrow I leave to fly to Lima. We weren’t affected by the massive earthquake in Chile, thank goodness. But apparently Peru is expecting a tsunami, so I have to check to make sure I can still fly. Any suggestions, Rebecca?

And that's where our boat was!
Under Iguazu Falls
Buena vista
La Garganta del Diablo
La Garganta

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thank you Johnny!

I left Bolson feeling kind of sad that I was leaving so many great people but also really looking forward to seeing our good family friend John Hartley and hopefully learning to kiteboard. Let me just say that John is one of the most relaxed, kind, generous people I know and I definitely admire and respect the way he and his wife Christina are raising their son Bob. I was so excited to see John as it's been over seven years since Mom and I visited, so it was a real treat to meet up with him in Argentina!

I got to Bariloche but couldn’t get a hold of John for the entire afternoon, so I decided to ask where the kiteboarders went to play and look for him there, which involved me getting lost and being escorted to the kiteboarding club by one of the lifeguards who were bored out of their minds because the freezing water was being whipped off the lake by the wind; not so appealing for swimming.

Turns out John wasn’t there, but he emailed me to invite me to an asado at their hotel, the Charming. So I hopped on the bus and ended up on the doorstep of a brand-new, super-luxurious hotel. John is a pilot and his company was paying for the crew’s stay, and John immediately informed me there was an extra bed in the apartment suite with my name on it. Evo who is John’s friend and co-worker from Argentina was manning the indoor asado grill filled with steak and sausages. Room service came in with an enormous salad and potatoes. Wow, not exactly a hostel but it works.

The next day we had a mellow morning because there was no wind. John has been kiteboarding for over ten years at Lago Nahuel Huapi next to Bariloche. He said he would be happy to teach me but since there was no wind we went out on Evo’s boat instead. The water was super clear and smooth so we flew over the water and visited an island with a nature trail and coffee shop. As we flew back across the water we got some of the breathtaking views of El Tronador, “Thunder-maker” because even in the summer it is covered in snow and the glaciers calving sound like thunder. John has snowboarded down it before. Really tempting after a year of summertime.

The next day we were invited for a gourmet asado courtesy of the owner of the hotel, who we chatted and sipped (really expensive) wine with for the afternoon on the deck overlooking the lake and mountains in the sunshine. Wow, it was incredible!

I didn't get to kiteboard because the wind was too strong when we went, but it was fun to watch John and Evo and probably good I didn't get hooked on another sport to buy equipment for...but it did make me really pumped to go snowboarding!

Sarah and I paddling on the lake
Crystal mountain water
Where I got to crash with John (thank you x 1,000,000)
Evo and John grilling
The Charming view
Boat ride

El Tronador (John has snowboarded this)
Ahh, sequioas are big trees
View from the balcony
Argentine flip
Johnny tearing it up

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This is what I imagine Boulder must have been like 30 years ago only everyone is speaking Spanish

Bienvenidos a El Bolson, Argentina. There are still dirt roads and the aptly named Rio Azul (Blue River) runs through town. Four days a week there is a local artisan’s fair in the Plaza Pagano (Pagan Square) where you can find beautifully hand-crafted jewelry, scarves, hats, mate gourds, food and local beer. And everyone is always drinking mate. A good thermos, mate and something to drink it from are always about 2 inches away from any Argentine at any given moment, at most. It's lovely!

I’ve spent a few days at La Casa del Viajero (, a wonderful little hostel on the edge of town. I walked here the day I arrived, and I had a map but the road just kept going and I hadn’t seen any signs of the hostel, but after about 25 minutes I walked under the wooden sign through bushes and found myself in a beautiful little community in the trees. There are chickens and dogs and cats and backpackers running around and hammocks abound. The owners Laura and Agustin are amazingly kind and make us feel very welcome. They are so mellow and have movie nights where we watch Argentine movies.

I have spent several days chilling out at the hostel and working on grad school applications. Yeah, whose idea was it to apply while I’m in South America? Oh well, this is the most relaxing place to write and a girl here named Isa revises cover letters and essays as her job, so she’s been helping me a lot which has been invaluable. I also went on a day hike with two other American girls at a gorgeous lake called Lago Puelo.

Yesterday Juliet, Carol and I went hiking up to Refugio Piltriquitron (say that five times fast). Piltri is the highest peak in the area. Apparently it means something about how beautiful it is when the clouds come down around the mountain peak, according to our taxi driver who dropped us at the trailhead. After two hours of relaxed walking we arrived at the Bosque Tallado, or Carved Forest. There was a fire here many years ago and artists had the brilliant idea to hike up and carve a bunch of the dead trees into beautiful statues. There are 30 total and we wandered around and posed with the pictures for a while before having a delicious lunch in the shade.

We continued on toward the regugio and to our delight it was only about 15 more minutes instead of the 45 we were expecting. We strolled up to see people lounging around drinking homemade beer on a large grassy lawn in front of the two log cabins up there. Dogs and beautiful snow leopard looking cats ran around and begged food from picnic-ers. We promptly reserved beds, dropped our packs and started drinking the delicious beer they made up there. It was excellent and so relaxing to while away the afternoon among the lupines in the sunshine sipping cerveza casera. The result of afternoon beers was early evening exhaustion and after cooking up some pasta and pounding water, we were thoroughly drained of energy. I played a few songs on guitar and we all crashed around 9:30, by far the earliest I’ve gone to sleep in South America but I’ve been fighting a cold so it felt good.

We woke up casually the next morning and after a breakfast of their homemade bread and raspberry jam (which was about $4 for an entire loaf of bread and jar of jam) we started on our hike for the summit of Piltri. We met two other Argentine women along the way and hiked with them which was really pleasant and good Spanish practice. I got super excited to be climbing mountains and even though I was feeling a bit sick and the scree slope was steep and slippery, I climbed and climbed and arrived at the summit first. So, being the only one up on top of the world, I decided it would be great to be naked there, so I was. That was fun until the wind picked up so I got dressed and the others arrived and we all enjoyed the unparalled views of the mountains and valleys around us.

Another hour and a half and we were back on the lawn by the refugio eating to our hearts’ content. We were all so hungry after the climb and enjoyed the rest of the bread, jam, avocado, eggs and cheese. By this time the hike was really catching up with me and I found myself exhausted during our descent. To my utter delight, by the time I got to the upper parking lot the other women had found us a ride back down in the bed of a pickup truck, which brought us right into town. Thank you Argentina!

Back here at La Casa del Viajero it’s great to meet back up with Max, Jerome and Jon the Frenchmen, Dan and Beth the English hippies who love to juggle, Isa from Germany who is healing a knee injury, Rosana the energetic Argentine on a short vacation, Gisamina and Cynthia who are working here and are so kind, and of course Agustine and Laura. It’s good to be “home”.

Front porch of the Casa del Viajero

Rio Azul

Cerro Piltriquitron

Jon buying cerveza casera at the fair
Our family having an asado or barbeque

Starting our climb to Piltriquitron
Yoga at the Bosque Tallado
El Gauchito
My favorite carving
Happy cat at the refugio
Mate, the lifeblood of Argentina
Sunset at Piltri
El Bolson
Before we died climbing the mountain
Carole, Karina and Juliet MADE IT

Where am I? Seriously, how did I get here?
Tour of La Casa del Viajero