Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Buenos Aires Report

The Big Ol Obliesk
hey folks...

been a while since my last entry. lots of stuff going on. Buenos Aires is a pretty darn big city with lots and lots to do. So here are a few things that Im gonna talk about: BA in General, The Food, and La Boca Tour.

BA in general
A lot of BA seems very similar to the States. Many parts have that same feeling you get when you are in New York City. Lots of one-of-a-kind shops, great food, well dressed folks, beautiful ladytypes, lots of efficient public transportation and a great subway. The old docks have been converted into a very attractive waterfront with some great evening sunsets. This would be a great place to take a ladytype out - just be sure to bring lots of cash. The Jonster and I were looking for a place to get a little din-din and found one place that seemed pretty reasonable. We must have stepped into some sort of price-warp because once we sat down the prices were jumped to two or three times what that little ol menu outside stated. The Jonster and I looked at each other and were both like, "ummm, lets get the heck outta here." We dropped the place like a bad habit. docks at night timeWe found a place that had some pretty reasonable prices, sat down, and enjoyed a heckova dinner. We started off the dinner with some sort of sweet roll with seafood type sauce with some white cream in the middle. Since Im not too big of a fan of seafood or anything that tastes the way the ocean smells I quickly ate the appetizer and masked the taste with a pint of Guinness. Thank goodness for Guinness.

Ya gotta dress well down here, everybody dresses to impress. I feel kinda like chopped liver down here when I go to bars or clubs with my tshirts, convertible hiking pants, and boat-sized hiking boots. Oh well, you still get respect because you are a tourist, and tourists carry dollars. The economic crisis a few years back made the USD pretty strong. One Dollar will get you three Argentine Pesos and the deals you get depend on the things you buy. Some things are pretty much the same price everywhere, like a Coke. Beer is pretty cheap, you can get a liter of beer for less than a dollar. Heck yea! You can get a heckuva suit down here for around 200 USD. I think the only place in the States where you can get suit under that cost is at Goodwill.

Traveling Injury.
I had to goto the doctor's office yesterday because I nearly broke my neck. There are just oh so many beautiful ladytypes here. Wow... But word is that the Argentine women are kinda like dolphins...very intelligent and the men (or gringos) just dont know how to communicate with them.

I love food.
I love whoever invented food.
Definitely bring your appetite when you come.
Argentina is famous for its beef and my brother and I have not been let down. Meat is so predominate in this culture that you can have steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This aint no microwave dinner Salisbury type steak. We are talkin massive portions and all-you-can-eat dinners for a coupla bucks. The Jonster and I went to a tenedor-libre which is the Argentine equivalent of all you can eat. This restaurant we went to had three massive grills, each about the size ping pong table. All of them were nearly full of all different types of meat. You walk up with your plate and the chef named Angel will fill your plate with copious amounts of beef. From roast to ribs to steak, the tenedor libre is one hell of a deal. At a restaurant my bro and I went to yesterday it cost us a total of nine dollars for a generous tbone steak dinner that included drinks. That is just unheard of in the States. Omaha Steaks, eat your heart out.

My goodness...
Beer is cheaper than soda...
Wine is cheaper than soda...
Coca-Cola is expensive compared to beer and wine prices.
How entertaining is it to walk into the grocery store with less than one dollar and be able to purchase a liter of Heineken and have change in your pocket when you walk out. Beer is that cheap. The selection of beers is pretty limited, most bars here have Quilmes aaaaaannnnnnd Quilmes. But the lack of beer brands is more than made up for with the extensive selection of wine. Yaowza...we are talkin about walls of different wine labels out there, folks. With a few bucks in your pocket you can get a very decent bottle. Wow. I love this place.

Boca Walking Tour
el caminitoBoca is a unique portion of Buenos Aires. If you go, go only to the touristy places and stay on the beaten path. Our group of 20 felt pretty safe when we went in the afternoon. We learned quite a bit about the area. Boca in Spanish means "mouth," and this area was the first place in Buenos Aires with shipping docks on the Rio Plata that unloaded all types of cargo destined for all areas of South America. La Boca was the mouth/source/origin in the sense that this where everything from Europe came to before going anywhere else. This area is charming and unique because of the multicolored houses, creative street fairs, and the history baby! The vibrant colors are a refreshing change from the stone and the bla colors around Buenos Aires. These houses are not palaces, in fact they are kinda scrappy because they are put together with a little wood, metal, and some are held together with a little toothpaste and tin wire. They are painted in many different types of colors not because the owner or the whole area was colorblind and thought, "Hey, im gonna be different and paint my house 8 different colors." Nope, the reason why these houses were painted this way was because the area was very poor and nobody could afford just one color. The houses were painted with whatever colors were available at the time. So workers painted their houses with whatever was leftover on the docks. Suppose some guy found a little orange paint one day, a portion of the house would be orange. If they found pink, then pink was the color of the shutters. And so on... la boca

The Tango. La Boca was a very poor immigrant section of Buenos Aires that had people from every single walk of life. Massive amounts of African, Italian, Spanish, British, Polish, Russian, as well as many other European countries came here in search of a new life. Many of the immigrants were men that came to Buenos Aires to find work in order make enough money to bring their families to South America and start a new life. Deep from the within the houses in this poor part of Buenos Aires birthed the Tango. Well, I really shouldn't say houses. More like brothels. Since La Boca was a principle port, they had lots and lots of sailors that would come into town looking for one thing. Now I dont wanna sterotype sailors here, but these guys were prolly lookin for a relationship that went beyond holding hands...they were lookin for more of the wam-bam-thank-you-ma'am type relationship, if ya know what I mean. When people come from all different parts of the globe they also bring some culture and every single culture uses song and dance to entertain themselves. So this mishmash of cultures, poverty, and brothels created the tango. The tango is a very sensual dance combined with a sense of longing for the life that was left behind back in Europe.

La Boca Soccer StadiumUsually most fads start with the rich upper class and diffuse their way down to the working class. However the tango was something that evolved from the poorest section of BA that became all the rage once to rich caught on. For quite some time the music of the tango was only instruments. Lyrics were added to the tango and one man really stands out as the voice of the tango. If you ask any Argentine who the voice of tango is they will automatically say Carlito. Carlos Gardel had the golden voice that set the bar pretty high as far as singing the tango. He is the guy you see pictured with my brother and I. Please not that the figure is not created to scale. Carlito does not have gorilla hands and a 10 inch smile and 6 inch nose.

After having lunch in a tourist trap we went to see where the Boca Jrs. play. This is a pretty large stadium and it was pretty packed the day that I got to Buenos Aires. JP n JP n Paper MacheteThe day I arrived in BA Boca Jrs. were playing the Pumas from Mexico in the South American Cup Championship. The game was pretty good and went to a shootout to determine the champion. Tickets were pretty pricey and since I was a gringo the chances of getting a cheap ticket that wasnt counterfit were pretty low. So I watched it on TV, drank beer, and then toured the stadium a week later. Pretty cool. We also took a quick tour of the attached meuseum. Since I know absolutely nothing about soccer it had about the same significance to me as prolly baseball would to someone from South America. But the enormity of the soccer stadium was cool and the grass was green.

jonny as bono This is my brother Jonathan with some rilly rilly buggy glasses. My bro came down to spend Christmas and the New Year here in Buenos Aires. It was great to have a part of the fam down here for the holidays!

Jonathan normally does not wear the Bono sunglasses; he goes for a more of the conservative sunglass look. These glasses are so big and weird that they scare young children and small animals.

and im done

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas from Buenos Aires


Merry Christmas folks!

Today the Jonster and I slept in a little bit and then headed to mass. Christmas in BA just really isnt the same like it is back home. I think Ive just been too spoiled with Christmas in Omaha where the fam is around, its cold, and you have all the family traditions 'n stuff. Gonna spend next Christmas in O-town.

This week looks to be quite a busy one. Lots of neighborhoods to visit, museums to visit, steak to eat, and beer to drink.

let the fun begin!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Buenos Aires Mullet Epidemic

Attention all...

please send scissors, wax, modern hairstyle magazines and whatever you c an scrape together to stop the mullet epidemic.

mullets are getting out of c ontrol and ne ed to be s topped before they spread to the USA and other countries in th e world.

only you can prevent the mullet. do you part!

oh , and it is 6am, i just got back from the club... im feel ing pretty good and this k eyboar d in the hos tel does not work too well thank

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Greetings from Buenos Aires

hey troops!

i made it to Buenos Aires in one piece and am glad to have a room with a fam. The hostel in Córdoba did not have a fan so you just sat in your sweat. yummmmmmy...

i celebrated my birthday by going to some club with some people from the hostel and ended up leaving early because the obnoxious techno music was wearin me out. That and it is pretty boring when you cant talk to any of the ladytypes because the techno is drowning out any hope of communication. *sigh* my boyish good looks can only get my so far...

The mullet and unibrow here in Buenos Aires is alive, well...and breeding. Someone, please send some barbers from the States to take care of the mullet epidemic.

im gettin tired and my bro is comin tomorrow morning. Pretty excited to spend the holidays with at least part of the fam. but its still gonna be kinda weird not to be home for the holidays.

back with more when i get some free time...



Thursday, December 15, 2005

today is my birthday

Hey Folks,

Big Day Today! Today is my Birthday!

The ol' numba two-six. Im on the downhill slide. Where did my 20s go?

Not really sure what to think about being 26. I suppose after having a few days of 26 under my belt I will feel maybe a little better. We will see...

I do know one thing and that is I cannot wait until tomorrow because I get better lookin everyday!!!!!


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Salar de Uyuni...pretty damn weird

The Salar de Uyuni is just flat out surreal. Im fallllinnnggggggggg

Imagine going to a place where the only colors you see are deep blue and blinding white. A place where it is so bright that you even squint through your sunglasses. Your initial reaction when you step outta the jeep is that this place has to be something like a fresh snowfall because even the slush you are stepping through sounds like snow slush.

But it is salt. Lots of it. Tons of it. Kilometers of it...

Around 10,500 square kms of it, 120kms deep in the central part and at an altitude of 3,653 feet above sea level. That's a lotta salt, baby!

This is a little story about a little jeep adventure I had with five other tourists, a driver, and a cook. We drove to the middle of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and beyond to see some weird shaped rocks, lakes, diverse plants, animals, and terrain that looked more appropriate if it were in a Dali painting.

Our group was a diverse set of folks. We had a tall gringo from the USA, two Germans, a guy from England, and two female vegan slash animal rights slash extremists from the UK that were, well, kinda wacko. Wacko in the nicest sense. Wacko in the sense that the rest of our group got dirty looks when we talked about how much we were all looking forward to going to Argentina and eating some great beef.

I kinda got tricked into signing with one organization. What kinda suckered me into signing up with this tour company was the recruiter`s promise of being the only guy in the jeep because, and I quote "ahhh me-ster james, you are berry lucky to join dis group beee-cuzz a group of five e-glish girlz just signed up andyou can be noombur six in de group." Single guys can only dream about this kinda stuff. I plunked down my dough and was ready to go.

but it was all for not...I got to the jeep the day and was like, "ummmmm, where are 'de girlz'? Damn! Foiled again..." But the group was alright, although kinda quite and a little different.

Ive been workin on the railroad...all the live long day
We started our three day and two night adventure at the railroad cemetery. Uyuni was a big train town back in the day and there were tons of old trains that had been used in the past and were now laid to rest. They were now in the hands of Father Time and Mother Nature. I really enjoyed the train graveyard since I worked at the railroad as an intern and our fam had seen and been on lots of trains during numerous Peters Family Vacations of 19xx. Cool stuff. We were there a good 20 minutes to snap some fotos and see what trains from a begone era looked like.

We then proceeded to the Salar. Talk about weird, baby. This place is so big you can take a nap at the wheel and wake up a little later and still feel like you are in the same place. Its also easy to get lost and disoriented because the blinding white everywhere and the very few reference points. Our first stop was in front of an area where workers are actually harvesting the salt and putting it into neat little salt piles. It felt weird to just be around this much salt. Never before have I see this much of a single table top condiment. We got a few fotos of the Salar and I found a salt mound that was sturdy enough to hold my body weight and snapped a picture.

Next stop was the Isla del Pescado or fish island. They call it the fish island because its shape from above looks strikingly similar to a fish. Pretty neat. The island in the middle of the sea of salt has humongous cactus that can grow over 8 meters tall. Pretty tall. The contrast of such abundant plant life in the middle of this barren sea of salt is pretty striking. We got outta the jeep and walked around while lunch was gettin ready. There were cactus growing nearly everywhere on this island that was roughly the size of two football fields placed side by side. Coolio.

Back in the jeep after lunch. Glad those girls were vegan, that meant more meat for the rest. The group was unusually hungry and wolfed the food down. About 15 minutes after lunch we were drivin along the Salar and had a flat. We hear a POW! and then smell burning rubber...maybe we should have not ate so much for lunch. This flat was something that the driver was pretty used to because changed that flat like clockwork. This guy flew! We prolly throught that this was not his first flat and definitely not his last because we had three more the next two days. Im kinda weird in that I time things, just for the sake of knowing how much time it takes. Ill have you know that our driver improved his flattire changing time every single time. From ten minutes the first time down to less than six minutes. Ya gotta hand it to him on changin tires. Atta boy!

We exited the Salar and stayed the first night of our trip in a salt hotel. Everything in this place was salt. Well, almost everything. The bedsheets were cloth and the bathrooms were tile. Other than that...salt baby. We sat down and had dinner a coupla hours later only to find out that the chef didnt bring any salt or pepper on the trip (serioulsy). Where in the heck do you find salt at in the middle of the dessert!!!? But that was solved when we picked up part of our chair and scraped off a little bit into our soup.

Slept pretty well that night. Not only is salt a good table condiment but I guess it is a pretty good insulator, too. Day two was a long day. We were on the road at 7am to see all sorts of stuff. We drove by some active volcanoes and saw smoke coming from the top. Another really cool place we drove by was lagoons full of pink flamingos.
I dont know how or why these flamingos chose this area but during the high season there are thousands and thousands of these animals. Perhaps they like the mixture of geothermal waters, altituted and plantlife that lives in these waters. Who knows...but the pink flamingo's color were so strikingly beautiful against the bland brown desert terrain. Laguna Colorado was the place where our group had an excellent viewing platform and watched the birds plunk their heads in the water to grab some tasty insect or to just stand there and tuck one foot into their body. Seeing animals in the wild is so much more different than the zoo. I felt like I was the one in the cage. Another really cool place we visited was the Arbol de Piedra or rock tree. This tree is one of the many extremely odd shaped rocks in the valley of rocks. Amazing how rocks can be formed into different shapes from millions of years of sand and wind erosion. We finally arrived around 12 hours after we left. Two more flat tires on our jeep, a broken axle, and then a fix the axle put us back about three hours. I have an idea how to fix flats, but broken axles are something I leave to the pros, like Pa. Our group was lucky enough to be near a sulfer mine that had a guy with a welding machine. One of the drivers in the other group knew how to spot weld so we were back on the road and didnt hafta pull the other jeep.

We all got to the Laguna Colorado National Reserve pretty late and just tried to recover from the 12 hour excursion of endless bumps and weird combination of burning sun and cold wind. The weird thing about the desert is that once the sun gets past a certain point things start to get really really cold really really quickly. Wind dont help either. Towards the end of the day the temp prolly dropped from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees pdq. And it wasnt gettin any warmer until that sun poked its head out again the next day. Good thing we visited in the summer months because the winter temperatures can get down to a chilly 20 below.

ok...ill be back for more tomorrow...also more on the conversations we had with the vegans


Alrighty, back again.

The second night was a cold one. With the wind and altitude (4000 meters plus) it got down to about 25 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Kinda chilly. The wine we drank with dinner kept us warm after our meal. One really cool thing about being at that altitude and being in the middle of nowhere is all the stars you see. You dont really realize how many stars are up there in the sky until you just take a step back and watch the sky for a while.

The dinner conversation was kinda light. We had just been talking to each other in a jeep for 12 hours and didnt feel like repeating the same ol "So...where are you going next" type traveler question. I was semi-annoyed with the group for a while because they criticized my iPod music selection. We had listened to many of the usual group favorites and I decided to play some Ryan Adams (not Bryan Adams) when there were some grumbles from the back because the guy is kinda unknown. I was just glad we were listing to something besides the heavily played Bolivian music we had been listening to since the previous day. The tape player had been workin overtime playing Andean folk music as well as the Spanish version of J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers' hit "Last Kiss." The radio in our jeep had an adapter plug that makes nonstop rocking possible. Ya just connect the radio to your iPods headphone jack with a little cable and you are set. Not only was it nice to hear American music but it also gave the jeep's tape player a rest. But I guess you cant please everybody's musical interest.

Being the person that is always aiming to please, I suggested someone else volunteer their music player for a while. Louisa, Vegan #1, suggested her mp3 player. She selected the music, I plugged it in and we listened. I should have thrown that thing outta the window. The music was a mixture of bad techno and bad pop music. There were a few decent songs mixed in between but both of them were really short songs, no extended mixes. The bad techno reminded me of a bad Gap commercial and the bad pop music reminded of actually being in the Gap. I was trapped in a rolling technotronic Gap-mobile for two freakin hours in the desert...someone, throw me a freakin bone here. Things got a little better when they finally told us that they had Nirvana's Nevermind album. Finally, something!!!!

Now it wasnt the musical selection that made these two girls kinda, well, umm, different, or annoying. And it wasnt their lifestyle. You can be vegan all you want, just dont tell us all about the vegan lifestyle without us asking. And please dont tell us everything about animal rights when we dont ask. Please, dont start a conversation about down sleeping bags by saying "You know how they get those feathers off the animals, dont you!?"

Just me and the liscense plateOne thing I have learned in my travels is that there are a ton of different people out here in the world and that is what makes this trip interesting. Yup, you can have your opinion about things, but just dont go inflicting your views on me when I dont solicit them. Ill respect your choice to not eat meat and you can respect my choice to eat meat. Talking with the girls about anything else was perfectly fine...but when the conversation changed to meat or animal rights it was like small town Iowa preparing for The Storm. The sky becomes dark, cloudy, and ominous, window shutters slam shut, and everybody kinda scurries into the cellar because a tornado was about to rip through town.

The vegans did not like the fact the chef really didnt understand what a vegan was. She prolly confused vegans with vegetarians which is a pretty reasonable because there are prolly not too many vegans roaming around in SA. The best advice I would give them is that if you are gonna have extremely rigid dietary guidelines then you better come ready to cook for yourself.

We were gettin ready to shut it down for the night and some of us were curious. We started to question the vegans as to how far or to what extent can you be a vegan... Suppose the veggies you are eating were hauled into town under the power of a horse? Would you eat the veggie? Suppose the veggie the vegans ate was fertilized with animal manure? Would you eat the veggie? Both examples are animal exploitation, right...

Geezers!the next day we rose around 430am from our beds and were off to the geysers. Geysers in Spanish is pronounced like "geezers" in English. So I expected to see a whole bunch of old people just standin around and began to think "I paid money to see this!" But the geysers were really cool. the cool morning air and the hot steam created massive clouds of sulfer that wreaked of rotten eggs. One geyser shot steam clouds about a hundred feet into the air. Others were as loud as a plane engine on takeoff. Some were boiling water and leavin a mess everywhere. Nearly all of them were pretty impressive. The terraine around the geysers looked something similar to the photos you see of other planets. Alien landscape. Similar to pictures of the Mars landrover. Freakin Loud GeezerWe hung around there for a while to change flat tire number four before heading to the Laguna Verde. The Green Lake is absolutely dead of any life, but it is still really cool to look at. All the natural copper deposits mixed with the water create a greenish effect when wind agitates the lake water. laguna verde

Got a few more pics of that and then we were off to the Bolivia/Chile border where we said goodbye to some our group members as they were on their way to San Pedro de Atacama. I elected to stay on the jeep and enjoy the view before I took the train to Argentina. We passed through the Salvador Dali Desert which was a series of massive rocks in the middle of a sand dune. The Spanish called it that when they were passin through. View from the Jeep, baby

Valle de RocasOur last stop was at the Rock Valley where there are just some massive rocks that have been carved into some really weird shapes from lots of time and lots of wind and sand. pretty cool.

Back in the jeep through more rough terrain before we got onto a smooth highway, smooth by Bolivian standards, before we had one more stop. With the town of Uyuni in sight we ran outta gas...snap! no problem there, we just cut the top of the Coke bottle and used that as a little funnel and poured the rest of the gas that was in our little gas can on top of the roof.

We arrived back into town, safe and sound. Pretty dirty from not showering for three days but in decent spirits. Went back to my hotel and took a quick shower and then went off to Minute Man Pizza. The pizza I ate that night was pretty darn good and prolly the best pizza in SA. This guy, Chris from Boston, married a girl in the States from Uyuni. They moved down here and he opened up a bed in breakfast and a pizza shop. Great food and a great guy. Chris is the type of guy you can have small talk with and feel like you have known him for ever. I liked the place so much I even bought a tshirt from the place.

Well, im goin to Buenos Aires tonight. Have a good one!


Monday, December 12, 2005

im just sick and tired...


Today I am sick. The combination of being in a jeep in the Salar for 25 or 30 hours and then on a train for nine hours and then on a bus for another nine has finally caught up with me. So I thought I would post some of the things I write down in my journal when I get kinda bored on long bus rides.

The following is a list of things that I have noticed along my way in Boliva and Argentina.

  • Forrest Gump is still pretty darn good in Spanish.
  • VHS still has its advantages.
  • Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.
  • Don't be That Guy...
  • South American cabbies must think that gringos are the laziest people in the world and honk at us all the time. They honk at you when you least need them and are never around when you do.
  • I feel like crap in the morning if I don't get some food in me quickly.
  • Cow stomach does not count as food and should not be served as dinner.
  • The world is not your ashtray, don't throw your cigarette butts everywhere.
  • Women spectators at soccer games have some of the most vulgar mouths...You cannot believe what comes out of their mouths.
  • Minute Man Pizza in Uyuni, Boliva has got to be the best pizza I have had in South America.
  • Soccer players in South America are drama queens. Just suck it up and play, fellas.
  • Why don't Australians tip.
  • Are South American carnival workers looked at as differently as they are in the USA?
  • Always buy bus tickets from the bus stations, otherwise those jokers will rip you off with a smile and then ask for a tip.
  • Be nice to people you meet along the way because I guarantee that you will see them again.
  • Bolivian Time can mean anything. Ten minutes in Bolivian Time can mean two hours in American Time.
  • The mullet and unibrow are alive and well here in Argentina.
  • The girls in Argentina are pretty. Very Pretty
  • Argentina seems sooooo green after spending seven weeks in deserts.
  • The Punisher in Spanish is just as lame as it is in English. Same goes for Look Who's Talking, Too.
  • High School High should never have been dubbed into Spanish.
  • Being 25 is just like being 15...but with the means.
  • Glad to have gotten outta Bolivia before the elections later this week.
  • Work, pleasure, happiness are not linear.
  • American music is not censored here like it is back home.
  • My dream Jeopardy catagories would be:
    • Pitching Theory
    • Unicycling
    • The Internet
    • Pop Culture Trivia
    • Money Saving Methods
    • Expressions Baseball Players Use
    • I Gotta Put Up With This!

That is all i got for now...laters

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The World`s Most Dangerous Road

hey troops

Earlier this week I went for a little mountain bike ride. I had heard stories about this so called "World's Most Dangerous Road" or "Death Road" and had to experience it first hand. Everybody I had met during my travels told me about this ride and what an experience was gonna be for me. They were right. This thing was a blast!

The World`s Most Dangerous Road is a twisting, turning, fear imposing, hair raising, bone rattling, teeth clenching, muscle bruising, adrenaline releasing, why in the hell did i sign up for this in the first place type ride. It is a 70km ride that starts outside of La Paz at a brisk 4700m and winds down to Corioco, Bolivia at around 1300m. Some downhill stretches lasted over two hours.

We started off the day at La Terraza cafe to get a little breakfast before we started the ride. I didn't sleep well the night before because I was worried I was gonna oversleep and miss the 745 departure. Our group of guys got there at about 630 in the morning so we wouldn't miss breakfast. One thing that I have noticed here in Bolivia that sometimes annoys me is the concept of time. Ten or 15 minutes in Bolivian Time can mean over an hour, waiting for food can get pretty annoying. Especially if you gotta be somewhere or do something (like ride a bike on WMDR). We thought we got there in plenty of time but had to get takeout boxes cause the bus was leavin. At least we got something to eat.

The WMDR is just a short 30 or 40 minutes away from La Paz and we were on our way. Being one of the last to get my food meant that I was one of the last to find a seat on the bus and I got pretty much the smallest one. About 10 minutes into the ride we were having some technical problems. The bus was puffin some serious smoke and we had to make a one hour pit stop and wait for a replacement vehicle. Not the best sign to see our vehicle breaking down as we are making this trek. To look on the bright side at least it didn't break down during the middle of the ride or on the way back. That woulda been a real pain. After the replacement vehicle arrived we were back on track.

No Turning Back!We arrived at the starting point and tried on our bikes as well as safety equipment. Riding gloves, florescent riding vests and helmets were all standard gear for the trip. We all got a good laugh from the rider who had his helmet on backwards. It was kinda funny, but worrisome at the same time. Ya gotta think to yourself "If this guy cant wear a helmet right, how in the hell is he gonna fare on the ride." Riding goggles were an option that i selected. The Kona I rode was an excellent bike and was the biggest one they had. Each bike was identified by a little sticker...Some people had Pica Chu or dragons as their sticker. I was proud to sport The Hulk sticker. Its all about the gameface, baby!I felt bad for one guy who had the Snow White bike. The suggestion to attach pink streamers to the handlebars and add training wheels was politely declined. Oh, it was also good to see a well-oiled chain true wheels, and hydraulic disk breaks that were very responsive. This bike was ready for the road. There are quite a few travel operators that do the La Paz to Corioco ride. However, the guide books only recommend the group that I went with and that's because they are really the only ones who maintain the production capacity of their bikes. After going on the ride I am glad I paid the extra 20 bucks.

We are ready. We are set. Everybody is primed to get this show on the road. But first a little safety briefing from our friends at Gravity Bolivia.

Rule Number One: Don't Be An Idiot! This is not a race and there are no prizes.
Rule Number Two: Give the person ahead of you plenty of time and space. Don't cut anybody off.
Rule Number Three: When leaning into a right right handed curve you should position the pedals so your right foot is up. Remember: Right Turn - Right Peddle Up; Left Turn - Left Peddle Up.
Rule Number Four: The Ruff Rider Position. The Ruff Rider Position enables you to withstand lots of the bumps on the road. The rider stands on the bike with the peddles parallel to the road and absorbs a lot more shock. If you do not do the Ruff Rider Position then you will feel it in the morning. As our guide Ian said, "If you do not do the Ruff Rider Position you will feel as though you have been fully violated."
Rule Number Five: The 70/30 rule. Seventy percent of your brake pressure should be on the rear brake and 30 percent should be on the front. If you reverse this, then you will do a Peter Pan over the handle bars because the front breaks are super strong and you are an idiot.
Rule Number Six: Don't crisscross your chain. ie..don't position your derailleurs so the chain is on the far right gear up front and on the far left gear in the back or vicea-versea. This is a no-no in the biking world.
Rule Number Seven: Watch out for baby heads. Baby heads are small boulders about the size of...yea, well, a baby`s head.
Rule Number Eight: Stay to the right side pavement on the first portion of the ride. When riding on the WMDR stay to the left and dismount to the right side of your bike when a huge truck comes close. We don't need anybody to become truck bait and we dont wanna hafta send a crew to rescue your bike.

A little for me and a little for my hommies!After we went through the rules we performed an offering to Pachamama. Pachamama is Mother Earth and is performed to prevent any injuries or deaths. The offering is a sip of 90 proof alcohol that can also be used as a disinfectant. We all took sips and winced at the strength of it. So, Bikes...check. Rules...check. Offering...check. We are ready to roll. The first hour or so of the ride was over a paved surface and we were freakin burnin! The hum of the tires and the sound of the air whipping through your clothes was all you could hear. Peddling was unnecessary because my body weight had more than enough momentum to carry me through this portion.

The first portion was more of a "hey, lets get you acquainted with this bike and the rules so you don't kill yourself on the next portion." training portion.

The pavement ended and the second portion of our ride began. This was the real, actual, living and breathing World´s Most Dangerous Road. It was a mixture of beauty and fear because this is mostly a one-way road built for two-way traffic. Paved? Faughettaboutttit! The road is a mishmash of packed dirt, crushed stones, dust, waterfalls, 1000m dropoffs all bundled together with incredible views.

The rules are a little different here on the WMDR. For one, traffic drives on the left hand side of the road so drivers can see how far to the edge they can really get. There are little traffic bays every 50 meters or so which allows drivers to move to one side so they can allow oncomming traffic to pass. Right of way is kinda ignored because the driver with the largest vehicle really rules the road.

The big rule that our guide wanted us to know is whenever there were huge lorrie trucks coming it was best to dismount your bike with a ninja roundhouse kick and put the bike between you and the cliff. Putting you between the bike and cliff would result in death if you were to take a step backwards or something.

So we set off down the WMDR and regrouped every 10 minutes or so just to make sure that nobody was left stranded. Our group had three guides. One would lead, the next would hang in the middle and the last would round of the stragglers. I was definetly a stragler. This was intentional because it seems whenever you are at the front of the pack there are lots of overconfident beginners riding WAY too close and that really got on my nerves. So I hung in the back of the pack and there just so happened to be two french girls there too. I really just like to lag behind, really.

The WMDR will thrououghly shake you. No ifs-ands-or-buts about it - we had a glorious day to ride and the road was ready for us. One stretch really beat the heck outta me because it was nonstop breaking and constant rattling. The ride was so rattling and speedy that my hands began to cramp up from the constant pressure applied to The Hulk.

Huge cargo lorries, huge petro tanker trucks, construction equipment, blind curves are all part of the WMDR. There are all types of imaginable terraine on this road. And they all seem to come together at the same time. We got to one point where there were:
A) two huge tanker trucks coming at us.
B) one lane.
C) huge cliff dropoff.
D) The San Juan Waterfalls falling onto the road.
E) all of the above.

But we surrived. We surrived with the help of some really good guides, common sense, human traffic lights that guided us around blind corners.

more on this when i get back from some dinner.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Lake Titicaca - - Part 2

Journey Fotos!
Happy Thanksgiving from La Paz, Boliva

Today has been sort of a day to kinda get used to the altitude. La Paz is situated at the bottom in a bowl shaped valley and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains at a staggering 4,000 meters above sea level. The altitude here is for real, walking up the steps can leave you wondering what type of shape you are in. Our group of six has been reduced today with the departure of Clare, an English girl with a great sense of humor.

Trout to the Flame!!!I have been traveling the past coupla days with some jokers that I met at my hostel back in Cusco. We get along well and it is like a weird reality show because we started off with 10 people getting on the overnight bus in Cusco to Copacabana and people keep gettin knocked off. We changed buses in Puno, Bolivia and had to take an immunity challenge. Actually, we prolly had to challenge our immunity systems because trying to figure out what in the hell the menu really meant and what we were gonna get was pretty dicey. For example, what in the heck is "Prepared Give Chicken" or "Trout to the Vapor" or "Sweater Gives Trout."

I decided on coffee and ate some crushed Oreos outta my backpack.

We arrived and passed through Peruvian immigration without any hassles, except for the kid that kept on insisting to shine my sandals. Im like, "what are ya gonna shine, they're plastic" My passport stamped and a pocketful of Bolivianos I walked across the border to Bolivian immigration. No probs and we continued to Copacabana. We exit the bus at Copacabana on Lake Titicaca and the sharks started to swirl. These sharks or wolves hang out near the bus station and pressure you to come to your hotel. It is unbelievable how much these guys surround and pressure you to make a decision right then. Two sharks devoured two of our group members. And then there were eight.

The problem with a large group of gringos is that making a decision is a monumental task. Like eating lunch. We walked around for 20 minutes in this small town with our 20 or 25kg packs and are like "ummmmm...i like this place...what do you think about this place...naw, this place doesn't look good, lets go here...naw, im not hungry for pizza" Getting lunch was kinda just the start of our functional dysfunctional reality family. After boating to the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca we had to hike uphill from the dock to our hostel. Instead of settling on the first one that looked reasonable "we" decided to hike to the top of the island because the Lonely Planet guide recommended it. Note to self: just cause the guide recommends something doesn't mean hiking 45 minutes with heavy packs over uneven donkey manured covered dirt steps. But we did. We stayed at the Templo del Sol for the cost of a meager 13 Bolivanos. About 1.50USD. The view was well worth the hike and the sunsets are something out of a postcard or poster.

So the next day our functional dysfunctional reality family decided to hike the Isla del Sol. Corrine from Canada wasn't feelin so well so she decided to retire back to the hostel while the seven of us carried on. The quietness and serenity of Lake Titicaca was great. Many times you hear just your footsteps along the dry trail and the wind whipping through your jacket. The weather here is strange. It can be burning hot in the sunlight and quite chilly in the shade. But its all good. The blueness of the lake seemed outta place in the bland brown desert that I have seen throughout Peru and Bolivia. The emerald color was a breath of refreshment. So we walked along the trail and came across two checkpoints where there were guys selling tickets to see some ruins. The first ticket we thought would allow us entry into the Inca Sacrificial Table so we handed over our 10Bs and walked on. Then we came to another checkpoint and there was another joker selling tickets to see the same Inca Ruins. He said that the ticket that we had purchased earlier was for a museum that was in Copacabana and we had to purchase this 5Bs ticket to see the ruins. Some of the guys didn't have as much patience as I did and were saying some smart remarks about getting taken advantage of. But it was like 75 cents so it prolly wasn't worth getting all heated up about. The Inca ruins were pretty cool, we walked through them and then continued on to get some lunch about an hour later.

The lunchtime conversation was pretty interesting. One thing I have noticed in my travels is there are lots of people who talk passionately about things they have no idea about. Even if people don't know very much about something they will continue to talk about it as if they do. And fight for it. Some jokers never really take the time to ask someone who might have some experience in the situation. For example, back on the Inca Trail there was a discussion about the size of Machu Picchu and then what exactly is an acre and a hectare. This conversation continued for about 10 minutes before the guys realized there was a farmer from the States who might know a little bit more then they do and then asked him. He gave the correct answer while rolling his eyes. Well, the same thing happened during our lunch when our functional dysfunctional reality family began to talk about computers, email, the Internet and security on the Internet. No one thought about asking the guy who has a Masters in MIS what he thought about privacy and email. Oh well, at least the asparagus soup was good.

That was the only thing that got on my nerves. The group that toured the island was great. Lots of good conversation, smart remarks from English fellas about English fellas and comments about Americans by Americans and by English fellas. We come from a lot of different backgrounds and seem to always make light of any situation and be able to crack a joke at the drop of a hat.

We departed the Isla del Sol after staying two nights and caught the bus to La Paz. Two more members of our functional dysfunctional reality family were gonna make there way to Cusco. And then there were six. The bus ride was kinda long. We thought we were gonna get the nice semi-cama bus but ended up getting the 4-55 bus. Four windows down and 55 miles per hour bus was the only way to cool off the 40 passengers. We were stuffed in there.

We arrived into La Paz with no problems and had to walk around a little bit to find our hostel. Our functional dysfunctional reality family checked out a few hostels and had a great idea. We all dumped our backpacks at the first hostel when we found it was full and checked out a few hostels on foot without the burden of a pack that screams tourist. The difference in quality from hostel to hostel can be pretty major, it can be anything from the Ritz to the "We Dont Tell Motel." We settled somewhere in between and dumped our packs at Hostel La Blanquito for the low price of 30Bs per night. About 3.50USD. This is a good hostel...well, any hostel that doesn't have someone offering you weed as you walk in is a good hostel in my book.

Things here in Bolivia are a great value for the tourist. Hostels are inexpensive, haircuts are like a dollar and the food you get for the money is incredible. Last night the six of us had a huge Middle-Eastern type meal with wine and dessert for about 5.50USD each. That wont even get you a value meal at McDonald's. I love food...whoever invented food, I love em...

anyways, this blog entry is getting a little too long and Im hungry again.

This weekend looks to be lots of fun....walking tour and professional mountain biking exhibition on Sat, soccer on Sun, and mountain biking on Tuesday...This is gonna be epic.

catch you all on the flip side - - - jp

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Greetings from Lake Titicaca

Greetings from Lake Titicaca...the butt of all prepubescent teenagers jokes

more to come later

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Inca Trail and Other Adventures!

Greetings Friends,

Well, my time here in Cusco, Peru has been very productive. I have seen many different things and met many different people. And of course what would my experiences be without adding a little humor and looking at the lighter side of things.

So here we go. In this blog entry you are going to learn a little bit about the Inca Trail, the porters on the trail, the StairMaster, some people who had no business in the wilderness as well as some other folks that I have met along the way. Oh, you will also learn about a girl named Dorkas, a boy named Linus, as in the Linus from Peanuts. Lots of good times and lots of great stories.

Lets get this thing started. I started the Inca Trail last week with one backpack and everything I needed to complete the four day and three night excursion. I packed everything that the tour company suggested, right. Extra change of clothes, long johns, three or four pairs of socks, sun block, water tablets, snacks, bla bla bla bla bla. I took everything they suggested and used everything. But I didn't get a warm fuzzy when I look at everybody elses pack and realize that mine is huge compared to theirs. I did have the option to hire a porter to carry 6kg of my stuff, but I'm a thrifty guy and decided to save that 25 dollars for a rainy day. People in my group were like "um, you really gonna carry that...good luck." Now im in reasonably good shape for the shape im in and it the pack was around 20 percent of my body weight. Not too bad. In fact I was lookin forward to feelin the burn. And I sure did feel the burn. It wasn't until the last day that I asked the porters to actually weigh my bag. 20kg club, baby!They first picked it up and were wagering between themselves how much it weighed and were right on the mark when they brought the tool in to weigh my pack. My pack came in at a mere 20kg. Awright! The 20kg club, baby. I actually met a guy from California who was doing the trek with a backpack that was larger than mine. Chris from San Fran was carrying 23kg for him and his wife and was walking without the assistance of a walking stick. The walking stick on this trip saved my knees and helped me keep my balance many a time. It was the best 1dollar investment I made that first day of the trek.

The Inca Trial is a 26 mile adventure that travels through the Peruvian countryside. It is a trail of cobblestone rocks and dirt paths that starts at km 82 near the city of Urubamba and leads to the lost city of Machu Picchu. Normally the trail takes four days and three nights to complete. I asked our guide what is the record for running this trail and he said that the porters have a competition for pride and the winner did the trail in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. Pretty amazing since these guys are running on a steep cobblestone path that can go 9km uphill in some parts. One thing that I must mention is the respect I have for the porters. All of us on this trial are kinda like posers. Heavy PackPosers in the sense that we have the high tech backpack, super sturdy shoes, the latest Adidas ultra moisture wicking clothing apparel and the trail is kickin our fanny. The porters on the trail are sometimes carrying fourty percent or more of their of their body weight and they are not hiking the trail. They are running the trail in sandals, a tshirt, and shorts. One of the porters was learning English and I asked him if I could wear his backpack. Barney obliged. I put on the 27kg rucksack and was amazed how a guy who was only 5 feet 5 inches and maybe 70kg could run up the Inca Trail. You gotta hand it to these porters because they are the ones who make the trip possible.

Our group was pretty interesting mix of folk from all over the globe. There was a joker from South Africa, a coupla guys from Ireland, a Dutch couple, some Australians, and this tall gringo from the USA. I was beginning to doubt whether our group had ever seen a tent or had hiked on something other than concrete before. For example...there was one guy in our group that had bought a pair of hiking boots for the trip. He bought them and that is all he did. Im not really sure if it ever occurred to him that you should prolly break them in a few months in advance because hiking in new shoes are a nightmare. That has gotta hurtAfter the first day he removed his boots to find quarter and half-dollar size blisters on both heels. Yaowza, that has gotta hurt! So to make matters worse he began to walk on his tippy toes the next day which was just a short 12 or 13km hike, 9km of which was all uphill. You know how it goes if you injure one part of your body and try to compensate for the injury, you could injure another part. Well, he did. About an hour into the third day, blister boy, could barely walk because his calves, thighs, and knees were killin him. The blister overcompensation was takin its toll and created another problem. He could barely walk. Fortunately there were two Aussie doctors in a nearby group that diagnosed the problem as muscular and applied some athletic tape to his thigh. Blister boy could walk again. You gotta give this guy credit. He went though a heck of a lotta pain and had a great attitude about it. Our group had a great attitude and that made the trail a little more bearable.

The first day of the trail wasn't too bad, just a short 8km. It was more of a training day and a chance for the guides to see if everybody was gonna make it. Dead Woman's Pass was the name of the next little hill we were gonna climb. It was just a 9 or 10km uphill ascent that peaked at 4200 meters elevation. Our guide, Washington, said before the day begain "Oh ah kay, ladiez and gentlesman...we are going toobee doin de StairMaster tooday...level 5 for five hourz. Annie quiestions...Oh ah kay letza go." He was right. Five hours of climbing is what it took to get to this pass. The views from the top were amazing. On one side you could see where we camped the night before and on the other you could see our next campsite. Just a short three hours down some steep rocky steps.

The second night was by far the coldest and temps reached around 45F. We experienced a little bit of rain but not enough to dampen our spirits. "eye roll." Day three was not the hardest day but it was by far the longest. We were late to break camp and hiked about 15km up and down through the tree line and into the jungle. The jungle is actually called the cloud forest because the clouds just hang in the dense jungle air and thick moss dangles from everything while collecting cloud moisture. Along many parts of the trail there were thick walls of moss you could push against it and only feel the soft and squishy resistance of moss.

Lunch everyday consisted of something just incredible. Chicken, lamb, alpaca, trout, rice, garlic bread, veggies, and a little apple pie are just a little bit of what we ate along the route. Ya gotta hand it to the chef on the trail. He creates a heck of a lot of good food for being out in the middle of nowhere. The diet on the trail was very high in carbs. Lots of potatoes, bread, crackers, and rice. You know, all the good stuff to give ya some energy for the trail ahead. I didnt know what to expect with the food at the beginning of the trek, but was very surprised to find sliced avocados topped with a salsa and cheese as well as a veggie soup and trout for our first Inca Trail meal. It was like we were eating at a restaurant in the middle of the on the trail. All this food is makin me a little hungie!

Machu PicchuDay four consisted of getting up at the crack of dawn, maybe even a bit before that. Since we were late to break camp yesterday Washington made it a point to be up at 330am and be the first group to the checkpoint. The checkpoint opened at 530am. Breakfast was ate in an unusual silence. I seemed to be the only one that was actually giddy to be up that early. I mean, cmon...we were on the edge of completing a four day trek and people seemed to be a little ho hum. Our group was the first to arrive at the checkpoint and got to wait until the park ranger made his way down to the station. With our ur trail passes were stamped we jetted for the next hour to the sun gate. What makes the sun gate and the Incas so mysterious is that during the summer solstice the sunlight shines directly through these massive stone structures and directly to the temple Huana Picchuof the sun located three miles away at Machu Picchu. How these guys built all this stuff with just basic tools is very cool. We were gonna see the sun rise but thick fog made viewing impossible. We rested and then continued to Machu Picchu. Fog was still covering up the Lost City when we arrived but we were lucky enough to have it clear up by mid afternoon.

After a two hour tour we had some free time and I scaled Huana Piccu to get a better view of the Machu Picchu. Another thing has been crossed off my list of things I gotta do in this life. Yeeee haaaaa!!!!

The people I have met along the way have been interesting to say the least. For example there was a group a Peruvian students who where studying tourism in Lima and had come to hike the Inca Trail and to see what it is all about. In this group there was this one guy and he kinda just joined our group for about two hours and went from person to person practicing his English. But it really wasn't his English that he was practicing. It was more of his knowledge of Rocky and Sly Stallone. Now, I'm a fan of Rocky. But not so much that I go up to complete strangers and begin discussing the rematch of the century between Clubber Lang and the Italian Stallion. So this guy hung out with our group for about two hours as we explored some Inca ruins and took a break. I later learned that he had talked with nearly all our group members about the plot intricacies Rocky and how there is a chance that Rocky VI might begin filming this spring. Everybody at home , please keep your fingers crossed. It wasn't until after the trek that I learned our adopted friend had earned the nickname Linus. He earned this name after carrying hisPretty Much the Worst Rocky Tattoo I Have Seen half-opened sleeping bag around while he joined our group for the two hours. I also learned from our group members that the tattoo he was so proud to show off was actually Sly Stallone. I had no idea. It just looked like some guy in a fedora. What is going through your head when you decide to get a tattoo of someone. Was this guy like "Gimme Sly Stallone. But with a fedora!" Or perhaps he carried the picture in his pocket for a few days and then went to the tattoo parlour to get the picture permanently printed on his shoulder. "Hold on a sec, this pic is a little wrinkly...lemme flatten it out a bit" "Yea, its a little wrinkly, but do the best you can." I was lucky enough to capture a pic when I saw him at Mama Africas the day we got back.

well, im gettin a little hungry and am gonna get some breakfast before i finish this epic story.

more to come in a bit...laters

ok...back for more.

A girl named Dorkas cant look this good...Another interesting person that I met on the trail was a girl named Dorkas. In Spanish the name doesn't have any real meaning like the shortened version in English. This was kinda of a weird name but to actually live on Dorcas street in Omaha and then meet someone named that is just plain weird! Of all the days to choose to do the Inca Trail and of all the people that I could have met on the trial I meet someone named Dorkas. Now that my friends may be a little more than coincidence. So never being the shy one we talked and even did a little dancing the third night at the bar. We had coffee Saturday afternoon and talked for a coupla hours. Good times. That is what I like about this trip. You never know who you are gonna meet or how things might turn out. I now have a new friend in Lima.

Today or tomorrow I think I am gonna cross the border and head to Boliva. Lake Titicaca will be my next destination. I originally thought about heading to Puno to visit the floating islands but havent really heard anything fantastic about the place. Im looking forward to Boliva. Heard some good things about it and I have a few places that I would like to see and some great adventures I would like to experiences.

catch you all on the flip side....

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Greetings From Cusco...This is a little photo of a soccer match between the selections of Cusco vs Lima. Good times! These guys are pretty darm passionate about their soccer. Posted by Picasa

Tomorrow is a big day. BIG DAY! I start the 26 mile trek to Machu Picchu. Im in pretty good shape for the shape Im in...and that doesnt mean very much. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I know where we are going and we are not making good time

Hey there, gang...This really sucks!
well, I made it here after a lengthy 13 hour bus ride through lots of brownish desert terrain and mountainous silhouettes. When I first got on the bus I knew things were gonna be a little bit rough because the internal clock and thermometer displayed 39 degrees Celsius. But that wasn't the bad part. The bad part was the bus was pretty full and the guy ahead of me had not really showered for a while. This was not BO, it was BBO (Beyond Body Odor). But that´s just the start. The air conditioning never really got going until five hours into the trip and that was after we made an unexpected layover on the shoulder of the road for a good hour or so. The guys trying to repair the radiator looked very similar to a bunch of city workers digging a hole and then looking at it. Yup, that´s a hole. Yup, that´s a radiator. They stared at that engine for a good 30 minutes before actually doing anything. I realwasn'tsnt that worried because I really had nowhere else to go that day and we would eventually get back on the road. I took a coupla pictures of the landscape and a few of the bus and was like "Wow, we really are in the middle of nowhere." The one thing you need if you travel in South America is a little patience. Things usually a little while longer than they would in the States. I have got a few months to spend down here so its no big deal if the bus breaks down for a coupla hours. The AC finally started to work towards hour number seven and it made up for lost time. It refrigerated us to a cool 19 degrees Celcius.

Cusco at NightWe made it into Cusco all safe and sound. The hostel I am staying at is pretty cool and has an excellent view of the Plaza de Armas. I met a few Irish folks here at the hostel and they invited me to a pub for a beer or two. I politely declined because I was feeling the effects of travel as well as the one beer that I had already drank on an empty stomach at the high altitude (3400 m). I think ill take my time these next few days and get used to the altitude.

Well, im off to get some rest.

until then....