Archive | September 2005

Look at the cute skulls!

Man, this trip never ends! So I’ve been in Peru for a while now and I’ve pretty much just been hanging out with my dad. So we left on the 4th, leaving for the airport at 3:00AM and departing around 7:00AM. The cool thing was that my dad insisted that we fly first class. Hey, I wasn’t complaining. The cool thing about that was that you get to hang out in the first class lounge before you leave. You get coffee and CNN, and the paper and all that stuff. And clean bathrooms, which is a plus. We eventually took off and landed for our layover in Mexico where we were to stay for 3 hours. We had to get our passports stamped which entailed waiting in a massive line for an hour, but eventually, after lunch, made it to the lounge where I took it upon myself to take full advantage of the massive refrigerator full of beer, Coke, Red Bull, a full bar, and a coffee machine. I think my final toll came to 5 vodka Red Bulls, 2 beers, 4 coffees, 2 espressos, 1 Coke, 9 pastries, one bottle of water, and 2 rolls – but the fact that our plane was delayed 4 hours kind of helped. We were promised that they would put us up in a hotel and everything at the airport when we arrived because of the delay, but when we finally did arrive, they essentially told us to screw off. First class was pretty comfortable, but if it’s my money, I’m still gonna fly coach. The food is good, but you still can’t sleep – and while you’re staring at the seat in front of you for hours at a time, it doesn’t make much difference if the seat is leather or not. It was something cool to do, though. So anyways, we finally arrived, took a taxi to a hotel and slept. The next two days we explored Lima. I’ve been here before and all the memories came back. The smog, the strange colonial, paint chipped, dilapidated buildings, the tiny cars, the ocean. We ate in some nice restaurants and visited some churches while we were there, which I had already been to, but didn’t mind seeing again. The catacombs always fascinated me. So instead of burying people a few hundred years ago, the Spaniards just decided to take all the bones and clean them off. Then they would organize them in different piles according to the type of bone. Thigh bones here, skulls there, forearm bones there, you get the idea. It’s underground and all musty with lights added for effect and it’s all pretty spooky. The churches here aren’t nearly as impressive as those of Europe, but they are interesting nonetheless.

And so after a few days of hanging out in Lima, we headed up to Cusco. I really like Cusco – it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. The flight was only an hour and when we arrived, we grabbed our bags, hopped in a taxi and were whisked to the town center: La Plaza de Armas. I ordered my dad a coca leaf tea and headed out on the town to track us down a good hotel. I had strict orders to find a warm place with a soft bed. After checking out 5 or 6 places, I finally found one right in the square and we checked in. We spent a few days hanging out in Cusco after that, not doing much but walking around, checking out different restaurants and stuff like that. Cusco is great for doing nothing. You can finish a whole day and when it’s dark, stop and think, “…wait a second…what exactly did I do all day?” The plaza has tons of restaurants with balconies that you can just sit on and overlook the action. There are tons of things going on everywhere you look: little kids trying to shine your shoes and sell stuff to the tourists, restaurant touts trying to con people in for a bit, police strolling, parades, taxis and buses zipping round the huge roundabout, funny tourists just back from the Machu Picchu trek limping around, old brightly dressed ladies with babies on their backs begging for money, church bells ringing, firecrackers going off, locals sitting around doing nothing but laughing, etc…, etc… It’s all quite entertaining to see from above over a cup of mate de coca. We walked around and saw the Inca Walls, which are walls from the time of the Incas. The impressive thing about these walls is that they are just so expertly made. They have absolutely no mortar in between the blocks and each one fits incredibly precisely. They match perfectly, you can’t even fit a knife blade in between each crevice. They still don’t know how they did it, but there are theories about some sort of chemical used to melt the blocks, or something to that effect because apparently they didn’t have iron at their disposal to shape the blocks. And even if they did, it’s hard to imagine that they could chip bocks to be that precise. It really is something you just have to see.

Everything tourist related centers are the Plaza de Armas. It’s the main square that the Spanish built after they arrived in Peru. There are several churches and museums, a little central part with a fountain and benches, lots of restaurants and shops and tons of other things to see and do. There are lots of other plazas nearby and it’s really fun just to wander up and down the hilly, cobbled streets and see what there is to see. So I did that (my dad was too tired to keep up with me) and eventually we headed to Machu Picchu by train early in the morning. They have this pretty incredible system of getting up the mountains whereby which they go up one way, change the tracks and put the train in reverse and go up the next step, then change the tracks and go up the next step forward, and so on and so on in this zig zag way until they get to the top of the mountain. You go through the valleys and around the mountains like this for four hours until you arrive at Aguas Calientes, from which it’s only a 20 minute bus ride up a mountain to the ruins. We got checked into a hotel and headed immediately up to the ruins. The bus goes up this huge set of zig zags on a narrow dirt road until you arrive. We got there and after getting to the lookout, my dad and I split up and set up a meeting later on. My plan was to get to the lookout point that I had been cheated out of my first time at Machu Picchu. I walked the 4 day Inca Train the first time and when we finally arrived at sunrise to the point at which you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu – the point at which all your work is supposed to be paid off with an incredible view of these ancient ruins – the point at which you are supposed to be knocked on your ass with the shear beauty of the site……and all we saw was fog. Solid fog. One guy held up a postcard of what the view was supposed to look like and took a picture of that in front of the fog. The rest of us just walked through the rain down the mountain.

So it wasn’t raining and I wanted my view. I huffed up the mountain and soon enough, I arrived and got the view I had been missing for two years. It was great! The next thing I did was walk to the Inca Bridge around a different mountain. It’s cool because you can see the train wind up the cliff side and into the distance. You can’t walk on it because it’s overgrown and dangerous, but it’s pretty incredible that people actually had the guts to walk on it in the past. After that, I headed to the ruins to snap a lot of pictures. My first time through, I was running out of space and so I didn’t take many pictures. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and so I took like 300. I went crazy! It was pretty incredible to wander through the ruins again though…all the feelings of amazement and wonder came right back to me. Although my pictures can’t express the incredible feel of this place, they do a pretty good job of capturing the scope of the ruins, I think. Like my dad said, you have no idea how big this place is until you try to walk around it. It looks small in the pictures, but it’s actually quite expansive. So after a few hours of that, we were pretty beat and we headed back down the mountain. Once we got back to our room, we both got on top of our beds and instantly passed out from exhaustion. An hour later, I got up and took a shower and we headed off in search of food. Aguas Calientes is actually quite an interesting town, too. It’s really small, but it’s got this really nice tourist road that stretches up the hill to some hot springs, a nice little plaza and in the center with a church and all, and friendly people. I took a stroll in the night and saw the locals all crowded at a little cement soccer court where little kids were kicking around the ball before the big kids came out and the game started. Everyone watched the game from stones on the ground, even the police, and I sat around for an hour or so and watched, too. I then wandered around the dirt roads and checked out the town outside of the tourist area. The thing that was interesting is that no one really stares at me like they do in Asia. They all just go about their business and ignore me, pretty much. That night, I met up with a guy I had met in the train station in Cusco and randomly bumped into in the town and we got some beers and played chess – during which time he beat me 3 times. I told him that I really like getting beat. You see, chess is something that I think I’m pretty good at, and when I get beat, it reminds me that I’m not as good as I thought I was. This can be applied to life too.

In the morning, we didn’t do much but sit around and wait for our train to leave. We bought a few gifts for people back home at the market and then headed back to Cusco. Coming on the train was pretty incredible because as you come down the mountain and into the town, you see the whole town all lit up. It’s breathtaking! And with that, we descended into the town, got dinner and went to bed. The next day, I checked my email and found out that my friend Ali was randomly coming to Peru to study Spanish and do some volunteer work. I knew that she would be doing some stuff in Asia or maybe South America, but I didn’t know when or where. And she didn’t even know I was in Peru. But it just so happened that she was flying into Cusco the same day I was to leave it! Man, what a crazy coincidence, but I haven’t seen her in a long time so I decided to stay in Peru for another week to hang out with her and her friend and changed my ticket and stuff to do so. So as it turns out, I’ll be here until the 26th which was the soonest I could change my ticket to. I’ll do some volunteer work here in Cusco in the meantime. So we pretty much did a whole lot of nothing in Cusco again, and yesterday headed back into Lima. My dad must have picked up a bug because he is pretty sick right now, and so it’s just a matter of hanging out until 8:00pm tonight when we go to the airport, I send my dad off at midnight and I roll out my sleeping bag and sleep beneath a table or chair at the airport while I wait for my flight back to Cusco which leaves at 5:50AM the next morning.

Man…what a crazy life I live…

I’m back!…kinda.

So I really wanted to go to Pilsen to see the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Although Chandler doesn’t drink much, he was totally down to go see it too – and Dapo (Chandler’s friend) wanted to get away and had a car, so we went together. We brought Genevieve along and had a great time. The brewery is over a hundred years old, I think, and the operation is pretty impressive. The tour was more about the history and stuff and we just got a topical view of the actual operations (no bottling line, etc…), but the freshly brewed beer they poured us from the actual conditioning barrel in the basement (a special traditional brewed batch they do) made it all worth it. The beer was phenomenal, to say the least. Even Chandler, a guy who isn’t much of a fan of beer, loved it. I bought some souvenirs and we headed off into the town to see some sights where Dapo and I played chess and we drank a lot of coffee. The next day, I walked around Prague and did some sight seeing alone which was nice. Prague is a city where you can just wander around for hours and entertain yourself. The castles, incredibly old buildings, statues and cathedrals are endlessly fascinating. Prague was one of the rare old European cities to escape devastating bombing during WWII and looks the part. It’s simply beautiful.

So I saw the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, but I still had one on my itinerary: the Budweiser brewery. “Budweiser??? Ewwww!” you might say. And if you do, you have no clue which is the true Budweiser. It is actually a traditional Czech beer called Budvar that they sell under both names. Budweiser stole it and uses the name…and if you tasted the two you would realize why it’s damned near blasphemy. So Chandler and I were going to go see this brewery, but we ended up getting up too late and missed the bus, so we went to this place called Kalovavary which had all sorts of hot thermal springs that you can drink from a special tourist cup they sell you. It’s called “The Drinking Cure”, and Genevieve made us drink almost all of them, as it’s supposed to fix all your ills, even ones you didn’t know you had. The town itself was nice and Chandler and I had some interesting conversations about God/life/everything else, as usual. It is always fun discussing things with people who actually think about the wide range of things that randomly pop into my head – and seeing as he is pretty religious, he always has a different spin on things, which I appreciate.

The next day I took the bus to Cesky Bedjevice where they have the Budweiser brewery and got a tour of that. It was pretty cool and was a much more impressive operation, seeing as it is a government company. Can you believe that? The government provides beer to the people! The tour was much more behind the scenes, too, and we got to see nearly everything. I really enjoyed it – and the beer was great to boot!

So the next day I bid farewell to my excellent hosts and took the train to Luxembourg. After several changes and a whole day of traveling, I made it to Luxembourg and walked around for nearly two hours trying to find my hostel. It was way down in this valley and I had to do some exploring to find it, but I eventually arrived. The hostel was the only one in town and they were booked to capacity, which meant that there were lots of interesting people wandering around. I met a cool English guy and a French guy and then a bunch of cute Spanish girls and we all went out together to a carnival in town. They spent the whole evening talking to me, because they couldn’t believe that I had been around the world. We had a great time and had breakfast in the morning together. That day, I went to a much smaller town in the outskirts of Luxembourg which was interesting but not terribly exciting. I took their little walking tour with a map I had and saw the city walls and stuff and then got some beers while I wrote in my journal. It was interesting to see how old the city was. The buildings were several hundreds of years old and still standing – and looked it too. When I returned back to Luxembourg, I spent the day wandering around and visiting some sites, like the cathedral and wandering around the park and seeing the old city defenses and stuff. It was really awesome. The city walls are still intact in a lot of places and you can walk all around the city on parts of them. The city itself has a huge valley jutting through it with a nice park at the bottom and I really liked wandering through it. I also visited the Casemates which are little caves dug into the mountain from which you can get awesome views of the city. I really liked Luxembourg. The people were really friendly and the place is beautiful. I will be back.

So that afternoon, I took the train to Germany so I could take my flight to London that I got for like 20 bucks after taxes. When I finally arrived in Frankfurt (the train stops at the airport), I couldn’t find the Ryanair checkin and they all laughed at me when I asked. I was at the wrong airport…I needed Frankfurt Hahn! Who knew? So with 3 hours before my flight, I ran to the bus terminal only to find that there were no buses leaving for hours. Luckily, there were four other Americans leaving on the same flight who did the same thing and so we negotiated a cab for 160 bucks to take us to the airport which we split 5 ways. We arrived on time to catch our flight and then got all checked in. I got called into the back of the airport security office before takeoff because they thought I had a butterfly knife in my bag, but it was only my harmonica. I met a cool English girl in the airport and we chatted the whole time and during the whole flight and before I knew it, I was in London!

I stumbled through customs half asleep, got a bus to town, paid 20 bucks for a London cab to Simon’s house, 5 minutes away and after catching up for a bit, went to sleep in my room. Yes, my room. I had my own room at Simon and Kat’s place in central London! They are great!! You know those bombs that just exploded in London? One went off right below his apartment, and the bus blew up right down the street. Crazy, eh?

So the next morning, I woke up late, messed around on Simon’s turn tables and we talked for a while before going out for beers at a traditional English pub with Simon’s dad. After that, we went to visit some places around London – a few churches, London Tower (the king’s old castle) and the Tower Bridge. We then went to Simon’s dad’s apartment for wine and got into an interesting argument about Wal-Mart (there is a lot of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment around the world) after I got trapped in his bathroom when the handle broke and they had to get all these tools to drill the handle out and rescue me. Awesome!

The next day, Nancy came down and we went around London together. It was really great seeing her again and we had a nice time taking in some of England’s sights and stuff. We all went out drinking that night with some of Simon and Kat’s friends and I nearly exploded after I ate the world’s biggest Doner (a pita with a bunch of chicken inside). I had to go for walks and stuff because I was so full. But I survived and after taking the London Tube back, we crashed at Simon’s place. In the morning, we headed to Nancy’s parents house in Cambridge and went to see the university (where we did this stick boating thing called punting) and then her parents made us a terrific dinner. We watched some funny English comedies that night and the next day headed off to Oxford. The university there was pretty nice and we got some beer at some really awesome English pubs before meeting up with my friend Matthew (who I met in New Zealand and stayed with in Australia and then met up with again in China) and we stayed at a little get together with his friends at the university. We crashed at Matt’s house that night and in the morning headed to a really nice town called Bath before staying in Bristol with Nancy’s cousin. The next day we went to Stone Henge and then a little beach town called Brighton (England’s gay capital, by the way) before heading to Nancy’s sister’s house in south London and spending two days there. We did go back into London to meet back up with Simon and say goodbye to him and Kat, which was cool. I really had a great time with them. And going around England with Nancy was incredible. It was a lot of fun seeing such cool places with such an awesome girl. I’ve had some incredible luck on this trip. England was pretty great. The funniest thing was hearing everyone speak in a funny English accent. It sounds weird to say this, but it is the same feeling as going to a country in South America and being able to understand everyone speak Spanish. It seems like a different language, but you can understand it – but just barely. It was just funny. The English culture is quite interesting too. It was hystericaly funny to see all the English flood to any patch of grass they could find – even the gas station lawn as they gassed up their cars – whenever the sun came out. You see, it is usually dismally cloudy in England and they really savor every beam of light that comes through. We have it too good in Southern Cali! Another funny thing was how incredibly formal everyone is. No one talks in the subway and people are usually very respectful and quiet. In places like an elevator, everyone just kind of looks down at their feet and doesn’t say a word. American voices carry quite far because we are so loud by comparison. You know, the US started as an offshoot of English culture. It was interesting to see how much we have changed…quite an interesting cultural experiment.

So Nancy drove me down to the airport in the morning and after goodbyes, I headed to Dublin where I got a Guinness while I waited for my flight home. The time came and I flew home after 10 ½ hours on the plane. I was already exhausted since I couldn’t sleep the night before, but I still couldn’t sleep. My brother met me at the airport and we were to surprise my parents. I told them that I wouldn’t be getting home for another 3 days or so and I was just going to show up at their houses and surprise them. We went to my dad’s and he just opened the door and without blinking just stepped aside and said to come in. He showed me the changes he’d done to the house and stuff and then escorted me to my gifts. He had printed out nearly all of my pictures, a monumental task, and put them in albums for me! He also bought me an incredible laptop! So I started loading all my pictures from CDs that I sent home onto it and rotated them so I could start a little digital gallery with all 11,200 pictures. Yes…11,200. Crazy!

The next day, after registering my motorcycle, I headed to my mom’s house where I stayed at my Aunt’s next door until she got home from work. When she arrived, I called her and said I was in London and that I would be home in a few days and stuff. The I told her I had to go for a minute and would call her back – and then walked over to her house and knocked on the door. She just about flipped! We went out to my favorite pizza place and talked and since then, I just took care of loose ends, like insurance, buying new clothes and stuff like that.

So now I’ve got to tell you guys all about how crazy and different I feel now that I’m back, right? Well, sorry to disappoint, but I’m not really overwhelmed with emotion. I was really excited to come back, especially seeing my home town from the plane as we came in to LA. I was talking to the guy next to me about my trip and stuff as we came in and talking about the world in general and my mode was very much on the stuff I’m going to do now that I’m home. That’s really how I work. I never really get bored because I’m always planning my next conquest and stuff. I picked two years to travel on purpose so that I would want to come home by the end of it. And I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when I came close to coming home. But the truth is, that after two years of living in strange places, eating random food, being sick to my stomach and constantly pushing myself and my body to keep taking in more and more, I’m ready to just be in one place and get my life going. I kind of equate this experience to going to university. You don’t always want to do it, even though it’s a lot of fun, because of the studying and the tests and stuff (it’s a lot of work) but you keep at it because you realize that you are learning a lot and it’s better in the long run. Traveling for such a long time provides you with an interesting perspective. You see, when you are on vacation for two weeks, everywhere you go has this magical flare to it because you know you only have two weeks and you want to relax and enjoy it while you can. But when you are traveling for such a long time, time is no longer so precious. You can waste as much of it as you like, because the end always seems so far away. You can stay at places for a long time, a short time, whatever, and you no longer see things as these magical romantic getaways. You just kind of see it how it is in it’s true reality.

Now there is a tradeoff with this, you know. Things aren’t as romantic, but you get a pretty good vision of reality and how things really are, uninfluenced by how you would like them to be. The problem is that when you aren’t going off the adrenaline of romanticism, you get tired. And I am tired. So when people say that you return and you get all stir crazy and emotional, this is probably why I’m not. I’m ready to start working and make my millions. I’m ready to put everything that I’ve learned about the world and myself to use. I’m ready make a contribution to society. And although I’ll still take vacations and stuff to other places in the world, I’m not sure that I would want to do another trip so long. Maybe a few months would be the max. But it was good to do what I did, I think. It was a phenomenal experience and I think I crammed more life experiences into these two years than I would have had in 20 years living at home.

My initial observations after being back home have been mentally noted and I’ll do a post with some summaries and comments after I have time to synthesize it all.

Right now I’m in Lima, Peru, though. I’m on vacation with my dad showing him around Peru and Machu Picchu and stuff. So my next post will probably be about being back in Peru.

My God…this trip never stops!