Map of the Americas

Map of the Americas
We are using this map to find our way home. We will be marking where we are in big fat red marker like Indiana Jones. (map idea courtesy of Blake Golden)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dear Colombia, I will come back!

Bogotá, Colombia Wednesday March 19 6:30pm

This pic is the road leading to the coffee tour I received. Those are coffee trees and banana trees (for shade-grown coffee). How exciting!!!

Wow, it´s been a while since I blogged. I don´t have too many crazy stories outside of Merrill and I getting involved in our third landslide. This one was the worst, in fact the worst in four years in Colombia. The nine hour busride from Bogotá to Medellín should have taken 9 hours. It ended up taking 32. No problem, just 24 hours extra. Let´s just say by the end of it, we had made some friends on the bus! (Actually a lot happened, but seeing how the last several blogs were about stuff like that, I´m not going to blog about it.)

So we arrived in Medellín and went out on the town! And let me tell you something, Medellín is gorgeous. The town, the parks, the trees, the river that runs through the ci
ty, and the people. Everyone is gorgeous! I´ve never been in a city where every guy, girl, old person, everyone is just beautiful. Needless to say I enjoyed it. Merrill and I went there mainly for the nightlife. We had heard it has one of the best nightlifes in South America. I am now of that opinion as well. You can imagine how much flirting, dancing, and romancing goes on in a city full of hotties with great night clubs and bars. About three days worth for me.

Then I headed to a small town of a couple of thousand called Salento. I must say, as much as I enjoyed Medellín, my heart lies with Salento. Salento is a coffee town with national parks surrounding it. Go figure why I love it so much. I don´t think there is a street in the entire town without a great view of the surrounding mountains. The air is fresh, there is a river at the bottom of the town, it´s a good crisp/cool temperature all year round, plenty of hiking, plenty of cows, and most importantly plenty of coffee.

I stayed at a hostal which gives free coffee to its t
enants. Seeing how much coffee I drank and how much the room cost, $8, I´d say I won. I´ve never had more fresh coffee in my life. I mean, there´s no more to say, it was just so fresh, aromatic, stimulating, black, delicious, slightly acidic, and hot. It was just perfect. Simply perfect.

I went on a tour of an organic coffee farm as well. The farmer, our guide, was named Don Elias. I really think that´s a cover up. I actually think his name is Juan Valdez. Look at the picture and you can decide. I think Don actually is just trying to get out of the spotlight, so he made up this alias. Unfortunately his looks give him away, for he is no Don Juan. (That is officially the worst joke I´ve made on this blog. If you can find a worse one, please post it.)

Well, ole Don Juan Valdez showed us all around his farm. I´ve attached some pics for yall´s entertainment. At the end of the tour he took us to where he washes and dries the beans. He had some beans ready, been drying for 8 days, so he took them to his cast iron skillet and roasted them for us on the spot. After hand grinding them, I had a cup of the purest and smoothest coffee I´ve ever tasted in my life. And I´ve had a lot of coffee.

How much did this tour cost? $1.50 God I love backpacking.

So I´m probably not going to blog again until Panamá. I just arrived in Bogotá and only have like 48 hours here. So I´m not going to spend it in front of the computer if possible.



Blog Point:
1. Colombia exports tons of flowers. If you´ve gifted flowers to your sugar-darling they were likely from Colombia and you didn´t know it. Here, the flower boquets that you see above cost about a dollar. So what do you think it takes to make an impression with flowers to a girl? I mean, do you have to fill her room?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

44 Hours

Quito, Ecuador Wednesday March 12th 10am

Up until the other day the most time I have ever spent continually traveling was 36 hours. We took a bus to Colorado, and we had rigged up the back of the bus where we could play the N64 James Bond Goldeneye the whole way there. (Side note, that is still the greatest videogame ever invented.) Now I must say it is 44 hours.

3:30 am Saturday: We rise early knowing that we are about to ride two hours out of Chacapoyas in a car. We are sharing the car with two more people. One traveler and one guy who decided it would be easier to spend the nite drinking and just leave at 4 am. This guy was smashed and thankfully sitting next to Merrill, who later in the trip smelt like this guys breath. I would have puked had I been Merrill.

5:30 am Saturday: We arrive in some tiny town and trade cars. Now we are seven in a station wagon and ride like that for about an hour to Baguas Grandes.

6:30 am Saturday: We take another car, this time we are only six to Jaén.

8:00 am Saturday: We take a car from Jaén to San Ignacio. In the process this girl sits next to me and just keeps staring at me. I´m pretty accustomed to this by now, but this girl was attractive and looked educated, so it caught me by surprise. I start talking to her, and apparently I´m the fist Gringo she has ever met. So I told her we are really scary people and made a bugglie wugglie face at her as well as shared my popcorn with her. I´m not sure if sharing popcorn is a sign of engagement or interest because within like two minutes of meeting her and sharing popcorn with her she immediately asks for my number so we can call each other. I tell her I don´t have a cell phone, so she decides email would be best. Whatev, I gave it. (Sidenote, don´t share your popcorn with someone unless you´re interested in them.)

11:00 am Saturday: We hop another car to the border town. Keep in mind none of these roads are paved so now our rears are a bit sore and stomachs are a bit enthused. On the way we get a flat tire. Merrill and I really aren´t that surprised seeing how there is more tread on a baby´s bottom. We are thankful that now we get to ride on the spare.

2:30 pm Saturday: We arrive at the border. And boy was it small. A simple bridge a few restaurants and a couple of huts for customs. We cross the bridge after signing out of Perú and see the migration officers in Ecuador drinking a beer.They say the next transport up the mountain leaves at 5pm, so we are not working until around 4:30ish. Sounds good, so we go back to Perú because they have a better restaurant and then back to Ecuador to have a beer with these guys. Later, around 4:30 I walk into the migration office beer in hand to get my passport stamped. Yes, that´s right, I entered Ecuador officially while drinking a beer. I´ll probably never get to do that again in my life.

5:00 pm Saturday: We take a two hour ¨chiva¨ ride up the mountain. This road is super rocky. We bounced the entire way up the mountain. At one point my fanny was 8 inches off the seat. Even my feet were off the floor, totally airborne.

10:45 pm Saturday: We leave Zumba for Loja, Ecuador. There were no problems on this busride and I slept most of the way. It was still bumpy as always, but I was dog tired.

6:30 am Sunday: We arrive in Loja and go to the coffee shop in the bus terminal. We look ridiculous and tired, but know we still have a ways to go. The coffee was stale and warm, but it was black and good for ya.

8:00 am Sunday: We leave for Quito. At last, we are on the final leg of the journey. It is supposed to take fourteen hours to get to Quito, so that´s all we have left! Two hours into the trip we get stuck. Bad stuck in some mud. The complete back tire is under the mud, so we think we are going nowhere.Thankfully a bulldozer was nearby and it literally cut a new wall in the side of the mountain to get in front of the bus. Then it yanked the bus out. Raw power. I felt like I needed to pay more for my ticket after seeing this bulldozer work.

10:00 am Sunday: We travel for like four hours without any problems and at some point we finally got on a paved road. First paved road we had traveled on in like five days. God Bless it! But it was too good and before we knew it we heard a loud bang from underneath and sure enough we had another flat. The second in two days. We stopped for like thirty minutes changing the tire and then headed on.

6:00 pm Sunday: We round the turn on this mountain and notice there is a ton of rocks in the road. Seeing how our bus was the first bus on the scene, the landslide must have happened like a minute or two before. These were not rocks actually. They were boulders, and we had no way to move them. Now we are thinking, yeah, we´re definitely stuck now. But no. Merrill and I got off the bus along with a bunch of other guys and starting moving these rocks. It took like twenty men using big steel rods as levers to move these boulders. All of us were passengers. It was great. I was also taking thick rocks and hurling them at the boulders like a Highlander in order to split the boulders we we could then move them. After about an hour of work in the rain we had a passage way and went on. The whole time Merrill and I are thinking this is great, but is it out of the ordinary? No way.

12:00 am Monday: We arrive in Quito at last. We hit the hostal and were starving, so we went for some late nite schwarma (kinda like a gyro) then hit the bed exhausted!

Since then we´ve been relaxing, catching up with old friends in Quito. Tomorrow we head to Colombia, so I´m oober oober excited!!!

Blog Point:


Friday, March 7, 2008

Beetle, Llamas, and Kuélap

Chacapoyas, Perú Friday March 7th noon

All right, so I´m updating the blog often because I can, and I have fun stuff to say. If you haven´t been here in a while, check below as I blogged twice yesterday because I finally got computer access.

After spending the nite at a nice hostal in Leimembamba, we took a car (taxi) to Tingo, the town at the base of Kuélap. There were no trucks to hitchike with, thus the car. Arriving after a pleasant 2 hour car ride we were in Tingo. Not 30 seconds after getting out of the car a blue Toyota truck passes, and we thumb it to ride up the mountain. So lucky!!! I think we had the luck because I had changed my underwear that day.

So we hop in the bed of the truck and ride up the mountain. Well we rode until the road stopped due to another landslide! This one was huge! I´m talking boulders in the road! Look at the pic above. (Later that nite we heard and saw them using dynamite on the road) Well we crossed the landslide by foot and then hopped in a taxi on the other side to María.

In María we just chilled and ate well. We did go to the town square where we saw the local kids playing with BEETLES! They were big, with bodies the size of large walnuts, and then long legs and wings to accompany. Well these beetles didn´t sting at all, but they wrestled each other. The kids had collected probably sixty, and they were all in a big wrestling match. Royal Rumble or WWF Smackdown couldn´t hold a candle to this match of beetles. Well then a kid goes to throwing a beetle at another kid, which stuck to his shirt. This escalated into a full out beetle fight. Kids throwing them everywhere! There were no casualties, but I did get hit in the face and had like 5 or 6 stuck to me at one point. It was hilarious! Such a good time!

So there were two reasons we have taken this incredible adventure over the past week. One is for the adventure. The second is to see Kuélap. Kuélap is a huge pre-Incan ruin. City to 3,500 people back in 500-600 AD, it was conquered by both the Incas and the Spanish. No one travels there except backpackers because of the difficult route to get there and because all foreigners just go to MachuPicchu to see their ruins. They average 10-15 tourists a day.

Let me say that the mountains surrounding MachuPicchu are far more impressive, but I can honestly say I prefer the ruins of Kuélap to the ruins of MachuPicchu.

Well we wake up in María and start hiking at 6:30 am towards Kuélap. After a two hour uphill yet easy hike, we arrive atop the mountain only to be greeted by about 15 wild llamas. Gorgeous creaturs, and different from the planted llamas of MachuPicchu. These were huge and muscular. At one point two started scuffling and it was just incredible. They were beautiful with their different color markings and faces.

Well after they got out of our path we headed up to the ruins to find a man who looked like he worked there. Turns out he was the only one working there that day. He asked if we wanted a guide and we said yes. So he left the ticket office, walked to a hill and literally yodeled, ¨Rigoberto!!! Guía!!!¨ like 4 or 5 times. Eventually Rigoberto, who looked like an ant half a mile down the mountain looks up and waves his arms. So we got a guide.

Well once Rigoberto arrived he took us on probably the best tour of my life. All in Spanish, he was an excellent guide. Kuélap. The pre-Incan city has hardly been restored. I feel only pictures can do it justice. With the trees, tunnels, stones, everything about it made me feel like Indiana Jones. At one point we pulled a rock out of a wall only to find a chamber full of human bones. On top of it all, throughout the entire city there were only three people present, Merrill, Rigoberto, and me! It was surreal. The ruins are gorgeous and seeing how over half of them have never been touched it just felt so authentic. Contrasted with the manicured MachuPicchu ruins, these made me feel more like an explorer than a tourist.

Leaving the ruins, we had two options to get to Chacapoyas. One, hope a car could carry us from Kuélap or two, hike down the mountain and hitchhike from Tingo. We saw a mini-bus arrive to Kuélap but it was carrying several backpackers who had rented it. They still had to tour Kuélap so we decided to hike down the mountain.

It was steep! And it was hot! Two and a half hours with a 40 pound pack on you back is no way to go STRAIGHT down a mountain. But we did it. Crossing people´s farms, meeting horses along the way, we went to the bottom. By the time we arrived in Tingo, with my legs feeling like spaghetti, we threw our packs against the wall of a general store and sat down exhuasted leaning against them. The people outside the general store couldn´t help but notice how hot and sweaty we were, and they simply started laughing since they knew the feeling.

We sat there for about an hour until a station wagon passed by and we hopped in the way back with our packs. Now this was easily the worst car ride I´ve ever taken. We were so tight back there it hurt. Coupled with the dirt roads, and the cardboard covering the metal bottom, it was just awful, miserable! We rode for about an hour, the trip supposed to take and hour and twenty minutes, when the car broke down. I almost rejoiced seeing how I could now get out of the car. Who rejoices when a car breaks down? We tipped the driver and started walking/hitching. Eventually we see a minibus coming up the mountain and they pull over to let us in. Who is it? None other than the same minibus in Kuélap. I laughed myself into stitches when I got on that bus knowing how hard we had worked to get to where they had comfortably rode. 10 minutes later we were relaxing in Chachapoyas. It was a beautiful day, full of memories!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Won´t ever do this again...

María, Perú Wednesday March 5th 7pm

Check below, as I have blogged twice back to back. This is because internet is scarce right now. I would read the one below first. There´s so much more I want to blog about that I´ve journaled about, but just don´t have time right now.

First off, Mom I won´t ever do this again. Don´t worry. So after we arrived in Balsas we started looking for another truck. Balsas, home to probably some 400, is certainly not what you call a metropolis. We asked every single truck that passed if they were going to Leimembamba and not a single one was headed that way. Well it was about 3 oclock and we finally found a car that would make the 5 hour journey.

There is no highwasy between Balsas and Leimembamba. I would go to say there is no road, but rather a wide dirt path, note the pic above. We drove up said path into these mountains for three and a half hours! I actually don´t think I´ve ever been on a higher mountain in my life, and we drove over it! Magnificent views that you see above in the picture, but that´s not what I´m writing this blog.

I´ve bungee jumped off the second highest jump in the world, not as scary as that ride, I´ve jumped out of a plane, not as frightening. Riding a bull might be the only thing I´ve done as frightening as that ride. The bull lasted 3.5 seconds, this 3.5 hours.

I mean we were on the sides of these mountains in a car with cliffs that dropped 300 yards on the other side. Then we would see an old landslide, those were especially tricky because he would drive over them and we would be on a bit of a tilt! A tilt! I don´t even like thinking about it!

Well I was nervous going up, butterflies and all that, but when we reached about 8,000 feet is when I got freaked. I didn´t show it, but I had unlocked the door and noticed my hand was on the handle of the car door ready to jump out if the car slipped. Why? Because there was fog. Actually fog is the wrong word, we were in the clouds. We couldn´t see anything! I´m talking you could see 10-15 feet in front of the car, but that´s it. In the dark, in the rain, 12,000 feet up, scary as hell.

I´m glad to say that when we finished the ascent and started going down the mountain, there were no more clouds. Thankfully the clouds were rolling up the side we were ascending and then blowing over us on the way down. Our driver in Spanish said, ¨Phew, thanks goodness the danger is over. There´s no more fog!¨ Aside from legitimizing the fear, this relieved me because I didn´t want to feel like a wuss, and now I didn´t have to because even he was scared! We then drove down the hill for an hour and a half and thankfully arrived in Leimembamba!

Blog Point:

1. I stayed at the nicest hostel in Celendín. The picture above is the ring they have in the center of the hostel for gallos? What are gallos? That´s right. The ring is for cock fighting.

2. They are currently playing Total Eclipse of the Heart in this internet cafe.

Pregnant Cow? What?

Leimembamba, Perú Wednesday March 5th 10am

Where to begin in describing yesterday´s adventures? Well, I guess I could say there is a minibus that travels from Celendín to Balsas to Leimembamba to Chachapoyas on Sundays and Thursdays. Yesterday was Tuesday. So we resorted to using the good ole thumb which is available seven days a week!

We went to the city center where all the trucks and cars pass, asking any truck if they were headed to Leimembamba because it´s easy to find a ride from there to Chacapoyas. Eventually we found a truck, the size of a dumptruck, that was headed to Balsas. He said from there we would find a truck to Leimembamba.

I started climbing the side of the truck and looked down inside and noticed hay. Then I saw what he was transporting. Looking me in the eye while licking its lips was a huge and very pregnant cow. I knew then we had chose the right truck.

We drop our luggage in the bottom with the cow and go sit on the top with the 4-5 other passengers. I´m sitting on a bamboo pole lengthwise in the middle but at the top of the truck, 15 feet. I´ve got a good stance with my feet though, so it was safe. Don´t worry Mom.

We start the ascent up the mountain and literally the road is more like a gravel path barely wide enough for this truck to fit. Occasionally there were places that were wider so if trucks met, one could back into one of these places while the other one passes.

And we are going up! Way up! It was getting cold, but the views were like nothing I´ve ever seen. The mountains of MachuPicchu were a bit more impressive, but these mountains had huge valleys! I´ve never seen so much land in my life, never seen such wide and farfetching landscapes.

By this point we are a bit nervous because we are literally on the side of this mountain 12,000 feet high! Pike´s peak is 14,000 feet high, only we aren´t skiing but riding in a mac truck with a pregnant cow. So we put on some jackets and just enjoyed the ride. What else was to be done? And I´d have to say it is easily in the top three as far as rides go in my lifetime. The combination of the wind in my face, the bamboo seat, astonishing views, and the smell of cattle, all while knowing that I´m in rural rural Perú was simply breathtaking. Exactly the kind of travelling I´m looking for. And though it wasn´t a truck full of chickens, hitchhiking with a pregnant cow has its own merit.

The trip took about 4-5 hours and coming down the mountain was interesting. We started in the gray cloud covered forests in the top of the mountain and descended into a pleasant lush green forest. Continuing the descent we ended up in desert with cactuses, sand, hot sun, and jack-rabbits. Just kidding about the jack-rabbits, but don´t think I wasn´t looking for them. We we finally arrived in Balsas we were back in T-shirts getting sunburns.

Blog Points:

1. Apparently Collective Soul played in Lima a couple of weeks ago. The sold out a stadium and had an autograph line 30 BLOCKS LONG!!! They signed autographs from 2-7 pm!!! So if you´re dating a peruvian around Christmas, think the Dosage album.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Chachapoyas or Bust!

Cajamarca, Perú Monday March 3rd 11am

I´d put some pics up, the computer won´t let me right now. Sorry!

Aight, so I´m sort of forcing a blog here due to time, but it´s because I´m about to embark on an adventure! We are traveling in rural Perú right now and will probably be without internet for several days. We are trying to get to Chacapoyas, which is another Inca ruin, but unpopular because it´s very hard to get to and it´s not MachuPicchu. We are taking a little bus along a dirt road in about an hour for five hours. We´ll find a town of 10,000 there and stay the night. Then hopefully we can find a truck that should take us through the Andes for about ten hours to Chacapoyas. Chacapoyas is a decent sized town and you can get there easily by another route, but we´re adventurous and gonna see what happens. I´m really excited about this! If you care to google map us, we´ll be at Celendín, Perú. Check it!

Blog Points:
1. In Iquitos I saw a patient who had an obvious run of the mill virus. I mean fever for a day, not a big one, aching joints, stuffy nose, cough, but didn´t feel too bad. Obvious virus, come back in a few days if it persists. Well I tell her not to worry you only have a virus. It should be gone in a couple days. Well she gets white faced with panic. I´m like, what did I say? I look at my friend Teresa over there and she quickly starts telling her she doesn´t have a virus but rather just ¨agripe¨ or ¨resfrio¨ which are words for the common cold. Apparenly the word virus translates to HIV or Hepatitis. OOPS!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Who doesn´t like a top ten?

Iquitos Perú Friday, February 29th noon

Okay, so I didn´t like blogging my journal entries everyday. A bunch of them are just boring, and no one would be interested in reading them. So instead, I´m going to only post the ones that people might find interesting. So expect blog entries about 2 to 3 times a week. This will make it easier for people to keep up with the blog as well, if they desire.

On the eve of the adventure I might as well come up with a top ten list of things I wish to do. It´ll be interesting to see how this list will stand up to the actual best ten things I do. Here goes:

10. Zipline through a rainforest.
9. Watch the sunrise on the Atlantic and set over the Pacific on the same day.
8. Visit the Mayan ruins.
7. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico while wearing a sombrero.
6. See a jaguar, panther, or puma in the wild.
5. Do more hiking throughout the Andes.
4. Take a Greyhound bus from Texas to Alabama.
3. Learn to surf.
2. Relax in a Columbian coffee plantation while sipping on their finest.
1. Hitchhike in the back of a truck full of chickens.

Hopefully they´ll all get done, especially the top 5! Make sure to vote on which of the top ten you would prefer most! It´s to the right.