Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lima: The End of the Road

We finished our trip in Lima. Here we met up with out two separate groups of Israeli travel partners. We did a lot of Bolivia with Idan and Nofar. Idan was in Lima but had recently met up with his girlfriend so was not with us during our day-touring. We also met up with Hen and Hadas, who had done Machu Pichu and Cuzco with us. In the picture below, you see Yoav, Nofar, Hadas, me, and Hen.

We went to the Museo de la Nacion, the Polvos Azules market, the main square called the Plaza de Armas where the Cathedral is located, as well as the Monasterio de San Francisco (where we saw the underground catacombs). We also went out dancing. It was great to be in a city at the end of our trip, and we stayed in a great hostal called Loki. Yoav had to go to Starbucks because I guess it had been a while for him, and there they misspelled his name which was very common throughout our trip (hence the photo below).

Peru and Bolivia are magical places that I recommend anyone and everyone to go and check out. The trip had a great balance of both outdoor activities / beautiful landscapes as well as touristy towns and cities to do museums, sites, etc. in. It was a great journey and we met great people along the way. Double thumbs up for all of BORU!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sand... so soft

So after the Nazca Lines, we hopped on a bus and went to the town of Ica. This town is situated in the middle of a desert as well, but not a desert full of rocks but of huge soft sand dunes. We stayed in an oasis, a little area called Huachachina that was basically a bunch of hostals and restaurants around a lagoon.

The thing to do there is: sandboarding. It's supposed to be just like snow boarding, but guess what, it's not. Instead of boarding ON top of the snow you are now boarding IN the sand. Standing up was VERY difficult, and practically impossible, but I'm sure professional sandboarders, if there are such people, can do it with ease. The other way of going down was on your stomach and that was fantastic! We went down 2 monstrous sand dunes and just flew down, no brakes mom!

We rode in something called an "arenero." It is basically a dune buggy. In Spanish the word for "sand" is arena. So it would make sense that a vehicle that drives on sand is called an "arenero." And that is one of the reasons why I love Spanish people. So sencillo.

After getting tons of sand for breakfast we then went to wash it down with some local wine and pisco. We visited a couple wineries and places where they make pisco (Peru's version of tequila - its national origin is something that is forever being debated between Chile and Peru). One of our guides at the winery was wearing a shirt that says "I Love Med Students" so naturally Yoav was thrilled.

Here are some photos from our sandy experience.

Up up and away!

After romping through Machu Pichuh and then Cuzco, we suddenly found that we had a couple days to peel off before we were due in to Lima. We decided to take the 15 hour overnight bus ride to Nazca. (Mind you we paid top dollar for Cruz del Sur which was a bus that felt more like an ocean liner, complete with pillows, blankets, food service, a Keanu Reeves flick I had never heard of as well as the animated film "Flushed Away," bathroom, and seats that went all the way back and turned into a bed, for those who know spanish, it wasn't a semi-cama, this was full-cama all the way.

We arrived to Nazca and booked a 3 seat-er plane for a 25 minute journey through the skies above the Nazca desert where we saw the famous and mysterious Nazca Lines from above. These are symbols, usually in the design of animals, that were supposedly constructed from 200 AD to 700 AD by the Nazca people. They basically removed red rocks to uncover white land, in such a way, that when viewed from above they form objects and/or animals. Some are over 200 meters long, which is roughly the size of two football fields.

In all honesty, it was hard to gain perspective from way above, and though they stood out from a sea of rocky desert, it was hard to really imagine how big they were, unless you were on the ground, and seeing the aligned rocks go on for hundreds of feet. But obviously they do not let people get to close to them, lest they disturb the formations. It was very neat indeed to go up in such a small plane, and the pilot liked us so he did a couple drops and hard turns, etc. (which I personally could have done without) but the actual viewing of the Nazca Lines may have been a bit anti-climatic for me. For those traveling to Peru in the future, it definitely may NOT be the highlight of your trip...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Splitting those pants!

The quick funny story is that we climbed to the top of Huaynu Pichu which is the monstrosity of a mountain in the background of all the machu pichu famous postcard shots. We got to the top and were talking and sharing ¨mate¨(a type of argentinian tea) with these three pretty argentine girls when Yoav thought it would be a great idea for me to do a ¨jump.¨ Now what i mean by this is quite simple, whenever we would get to a nice lookout point, etc, and/or great scenery, i.e. desert, mountain in background, etc., we would do these jumps where it more or less looks like we are flying. There are many of these photos on Yoav´s Facebook page. Look him up.

So I said, sure, why not. Mind you there were about 30 or so people relaxing on a large rock under 10 feet away sharing snacks and just taking in the view. So I did a couple small pre-jumps so Yoav could adjust the frame accordingly and make sure to catch me. Then, it was time. I counted to three, and jumped up, spread my legs, doing the toe-touch that I have been accustomed to doing at this point, jumping as high and sticking my legs as far out as possible when suddenly FWACATA! An intensely loud sound erupted from the bottom of my pants and I was shocked. I came down, and grabbed the back of my shorts, in utter embarrassment, and made loud noises to add audio to the visual state of disbelief I was in. The entire crowd watching (including the 3 Argentine girls not 3 feet away from me) stood pretty motionless and noise-less as no one was pretty sure if I had just let the biggest one rip, OR I had just split my shorts in front of everyone. Luckily, I think, the latter is what happened. I lost it, laughing hysterically at the situation, as did Yoav, and within about 10 seconds so did the rest of the crowd. Pictures to come... because well.... Yoav got the whole thing on still motion. Another day in the life... on top of Machu Pichu no less... oy veh....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Road to Machu Pichu

Anybody got a light? Because I just finished the climax of our trip. We just got back from Machu Pichu and for all the hype and for allt he high expectations it was... amazing. We took a four day Inca Jungle Trail where we went mountain biking downhill on dirt roads on the first day, hiked along cliffs and on parts of the famous Inca Trail on the second day, hiked yet again through the jungle and on supposedly defunct railroad tracks on the third day, and then hiked up Machu Pichu at 430am on the 4th day. All in all, it was an unreal trip and I had a fantastic tour group of 12 that I was with.

Highlights included:
1) Day One, getting sick in the van on the twisting curving roads that lead us to our mountain bike drop off point. Then biking super fast downhill in torrential rains and biking through massive puddles formed by th waterfalls all around us. (Thank you Josh Kroo for those pantalones impermeables, they proved to be indispensable indeed!)

2) Day Two was a perfect day for hiking. Lots of cloud cover but no rain so a great day to hike 3 miles straight up mountains from the river bed (definitely a wake up call for all of us - hello! you are hiking the inca trail now!) we all neded a break and what a better place than a little hut in the middle of the jungle with pet guinea pigs (that they would later eat), badgers, gophers, and of course a MONKEY! Everyone knows all men really want is a pet monkey (or so says Dane Cook) so we had a lot of fun playing with Martin (pronounced Marteen) as pictured to on the right.

3) The video here is me singing Free Fallin on the Inca Trail where we were once at the riverbed and now walking along scintillating acantilados (thats´s spanish for cliffs). Later that day we went to the thermal hot springs which was a much-needed relaxation point after a long hard day.

4) On day 3 we were not as lucky to have cloud cover and got beat up by the sun for the majority of the day. Never had so much sun screen, sweat, and water all over my body all at the same time. The end of our hike was 3 hours on railroad tracks that were the only way into Aguas Calientes, the tourist town at the foot of Machu Pichu. Lonely Planet says they were defunct i.e. no longer in use, but Yoav and I quickly found out, leading the group at the time, that every now and then there was a single train car that would come by, probably switching out the real trains on another track below. There were definitely a couple of ¨stand by me¨ moments where we had to jump off the tracks in order to not get hit by the quickly moving steam engine bearing down on us. I love it when life imitates the movies.

5) I was 16 years old and hiking up Masada in Israel at 330am all over again when this time I was 29 and it was 430am and I was hiking up to Machu Pichu. Time flies when you are getting old. Hiking in the dark is always a blasty blast. Got to the top, headed straight to Huayna Pichu (the big mountain in the background of all the famous Machu Pichu shots) to get our entry tickets, cuz they only allow 400 per day to hike that mountain, and then started our tour with our guide. Machu Pichu is amazing if not for anything but the fact that the Spanish Conquistadors never found it and therefore were never able to obliterate it and/or build on top of it. So what you see is really how it was left for hundreds of years. The only devastation was caused by over growth of the land. The fact is a lot of Machu Pichu is still being discovered today and since there is no written history that the Incans themselves kept, there is a lot of guess work as to what was what, etc. But walking thu the ruins and just as importantly the steep 1 hour climb to the top of Huayna Pichu are moment that I will never forget, and luckily I as able to video and photo the experience graciously to help put me back in that place that I just left. One highlight of the day was getting yelled at by guards, again, for dancing and being silly on camera with a great view of the ruins behind me. Hopefully I was able to get some footage before the whistle-blowing began.

I recommend to anyone and to everyone to go check out this impressive site. Every part of the trek was incredible and the view from the top is one that will stay with you forever. Looking forward to exploring more of Cuzco and then on to Nazca, Ica, and finally Lima!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best Name for a Lake EVER

Don't pretend you don't remember giggling every time you heard that South American lake's name in Social Studies class growing up. C'mon... titicaca. What's better than that? Well after years of dreaming of one daying seeing the lake that gave me and my immature friends such amusement back in the day... my dream came true. Lake Titicaca was a dream in itself. Being the higest navigable lake in the world, doing the hike on the Isla del Sol (Sun Island) was pretty breath-taking... wait for it... that's right... literally!

We bussed from La Paz to Copacabana (NOT the barry manilow one, that's in New York City, ya know, north of Havana). We hopped on a tiny boat and took 4 hours to get to the Sun Island. The horizon in the distance was nothing but lake and clouds. It seemed that we were above the clouds actually. We saw the Roca Sagrada (Sacred Rock) where it is believed the two ancient Incan gods came out of. We also saw an amazing laberynth of ruins as well as a sacrificial rock. Yoav and I would run every now and then, and we could not go more than 10 feet without huffing and puffing - due to the altitude of course. We had a great hike with some unimagineable views, pictures posted!

At night, we had dinner at the 20 hut town where we were staying at. We met Chileans, Argentinians, Canadians, you name it. We had dinner with 2 Argentinian ladies and 2 Chilean ladies which was an experience in and of itself. Speaking in Spanish the entire time, Yoav and I held our own and had very interesting conversations. It's these moments when I get some insight into the lives of other travellers from other countries around the world, that make these trips for me. Seeing the differences and more importantly the similiarities in our cultures is what makes the backpacker's journey so addicting. On an island in a lake on top of the world, much laughter was had as many drinks and stories were shared.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Breaking INTO Prison

yesterday we went to the san pedro prison - a working functioning prison here in la paz that allows tourists to come in and talk to the prisoners and get a tour. it was incredibly interesting to see. it was more like a gated community than a prison. prisoners when they enter have to BUY their cells from prisoners who are leaving. it felt more like a holding tank than anything b/ here in bolivia u r guilty until proven innocent, so there are apparently a bunch of innocents in there just awaiting their trials. 80% of the prisoners in there are for drug trafficking, but of course you have some murderers and rapists who i took pictures with :)

prisoners are allowed to have their families there, so there were tons of children and women walking around. it really was a surreal experience. worth the 2.5 hrs of tour lead by our portuguese tour guide, Luis Felipe, and the $30 it cost. i spoke with our bodyguards who walked us around and saw their cells. there was a haircut place in there, a kitchen, tons of cafeterias, a pool hall, a tiny swimming pool (where people were used to be found dead in the morning), foosball everywhere, a small soccer court where they have leagues and championships, etc. one guy who has been there for 30 years was free to go but did not want to leave. we saw cells that cost anywhere from $200 US dollars to over $1000 US dollars. there were tvs everywhere with guys watching, and since there are almost always tours running, we didn´t seem to attract much attention except when we took pictures with the prisoners and gave them cigarettes as a thank you and gave sweets to the little children running around. you could see beautiful views of La Paz from different viewpoints of the prison - more expensive cells had better views, obviously. It became famous when Thomas McFadden wrote a book entitled Marching Powder - detailing his experience starting up the guided tours ten years ago. I guess if anyone had to be in any jail, this would be the one with the freedom it allows.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Unbelievable Uyuni

After 24 hours of travel (from Miami to La Paz to Oruro to finally Uyuni) I arrived at this sleepy town in Southwest Bolivia around 5am. Went straight to Hostal Sajama and hit the sack hard. Finally acclimating to the high altitude I awoke at noon and went jeep tour shopping and waited for my friend Yoav to join me later on that night. He was with two Israelis and the next day we were on our way.

We took a three day jeep tour that brought us to th
e Salares de Uyuni (the largest salt fields in the world), the Island of Fishermen (an island covered in cacti in the middle of this sea of salt), and the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa where we saw geysers, dipped into hot thermal baths, saw the desert of Dali, as well as amazing lakes displaying many different colors. We saw llamas grazing in the fields, vicunas (wild llamas), and flamingos. We had an amazing guide named Renato who took us in his land cruiser and we played music, poker, and took in the beautiful scenery around us. There were six of us: myself, Yoav, the two Israelis (Nofar-nik and Guzi), Julian from France (Frenchy), and Eduardo from Spain (the Spaniard). We slept in a hotel made of salt and Renato cooked us wonderful meals.

I could not have pictured a better place to spend my 29th birthday. Enjoy pics and videos!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Keeping La Paz

So after a pretty uneventful seven hour journey I landed in La Paz, Bolivia. It was mainly uneventful because I was passed out the entire time. I had a very kind lady who was from San Diego traveling to see family in La Paz wake me up when the food arrived. Unfortunately she took that to mean waking up every time the steward came by. ¨Did I want water?´No, i´m god. ¨What about a towel?¨No, thank you. In between wake up calls I was able to get some rest.

I landed in La Paz and I have never been so high in my life! This is not an expression. La Paz is THE highest capital in the world standing just over 12,000 feet in elevation. I definitely felt the affects today. Walking around I would get really light-headed and have to stop and take a break and drink some water. Here is a picture of me in front of the Terminal de Autobuses.

I ended up getting on a 1030a bus to Oruro where I was hoping to make a 330p train to Uyuni. Unfortunately, all the tickets were ¨agotado¨ sold out and so I walked around the town of Oruro, met an Argentinian couple, ate some pizza, rode on a Mini (think inner-city Sheroot if you have been to Israel, think colectivo if you have ever been to another Hispanic country). And that was about it.

I have been going in and out of lightheaded-ness throughout the day, but I know that I just have to take it easy today and hopefully by tomorrow my body will have become acclimatized to my new environment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

BO-livia... more like NO-livia

That's right, it's official. I have finally entered into the world of blogging, after having spent years doing what some would call v-logging. I felt it was time to "attempt" to take people with me on my journeys, though I never was a big fan of sitting in front of the computer while in foreign lands. We shall see how this goes...

So first fun story to report actually took place on the continent of NORTH America. I had a flight departing MIAMI INTERNATIONAL on Feb 4th at 11:00pm. I arrived at a cool 9:15pm and attempted to check-in. I was then instructed to show my yellow card certificate, and visa application. I ever-so-humbly stated that there was no need for this, and I had $100 cash to apply for my visa once I entered into the airport of La Paz, Bolivia because... ya know... I had done my research (read: 4 months ago).

Apparently, I missed a bit of fine print, whether or not it was there on the website is still up for debate. Yet after speaking with a manager, it was clear: if they let me get on the plane and go to Bolivia, without proper documents (yellow fever vaccination, 2x2 passport photos, hotel reservation, proof of financial sovency aka a credit card, and a visa application) I would be promptly deported and sent back from whence I came. I decided to take the kind American Airlines manager on his good word, and quickly took a cab back to my friends Lydia & Michael
's apartment and share the good news with the group of friends that I had just left not 30 minutes ago, that I got one more American night in me.

Following day: vaccination accomplished, printouts made, passport photos taken, and newly acquired materials in hand... I am ready to try again. You can't stop me now Bolivia!