May 28, 2005
The Famous Inca Trail - Day 3

Mornings on the trail are strange for someone like me, a night person who never sees 6am unless I haven't been to bed yet. But when the sun goes down there is no light, and nothing to do, so I have to like 8pm or so.

Daybreak rolls around slowly and I wake many times during the night. I'm in this damp tent wishing for the sunrise, hungry, and never quite comfortable. I hear Stephan sleeping peacefully, so I just wait and somehow drift into a light morning sleep full of strange dreams until the heat of the morning sun wakes me.

At this point I am so sore and dirty that my clothes and aches feel like an old lap dog, stubborn and comfortable. I know something about everyone in the group and feel happy with their presence. I've always lived in a tent and worn the same clothes everyday haven't I? These people have always been distant and good friends of mine.

The land is more expansive and distant here, more jungle-like. It is the first time I've really seen a proper jungle. It is true that the Amazon is hundreds of miles from here, and there are no piranha or orangutans....but it still has that distinctly jungle look to it: dense matted forest, large, colorful flowers and plants, and vegatation everywhere...not one inch of land is not engulfed by plant. The terrain changes dramatically as we move up and down the mountain inclines from valley to ridgeline.

Walking is very satisfying to me. I enjoy being far away. Vacations are a controlled, event driven portion of your regular life. Travel is a not a part of regular life is a ticket off the planet....a vacation from myself, which, as much as I love myself, is very necessary.

I am now three days from civilization. Civilization before that was Cuzco for a week....which was itself a step back from civilization: a city at the top of the Andes with thin air and blue sky, the seat of the Inca empire, the Peruvian cultural capital, and a focal point for travelers all over Latin America. It resembled nothing of my life in the US in every positive way possible.

At around 2:30 we made camp and I lied down for a nap with my tired, barefoot feet hanging out the end of the tent. It rained ever so slightly for 20 minutes or so, cooled everything down and made it fresh. From the tent we could the see the river valley below and a ridge beyond which we were told lay the Famous Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu.

Camp on the last day had a hot shower, and I took full advantage. It was satisfying in every way despite the fact that the water leaked from the shower head with little pressure. I scrubbed every inch of my body that I could think of very carefully and put on my one pair of slightly clean clothes to wait for dinner. I had nothing to do so I enjoyed the peacefulness that 3 days of hard walking into the jungle can bring by wandering around a bit and practicing my Spanish with the Porters.

As a general rule, Peruvians hate the Spanish. Even though many are now of mixed Spanish descent, and the European influence brought Peru kicking and screaming into the 20th century without which they would still be living in the Stone Age......they still hate the Spanish.

The porters and my guides expressed the same bewildering sentiment that the Inca were some benevolent, technologically advanced world saviors that were raped and pillaged at the hands of the evil Spaniards.

The fact of the matter is that the Inca were formerly a minor people in the technological backwater of S. America that rose to prominence only after its own bloodbath that united the Inca Empire under Pachacuti in the early 1400s. The Inca were by no means benevolent. Empires are never handed over voluntarily. They are built on blood.

It is true that the Inca built great stone structures in a style that I think even today would be hard to duplicate. This is evidenced by many locations in Cuzco that the Spanish attempted to rebuild after sacking the city, only to find they couldn't do it. It is very easy to see what the Inca built and where the Spanish patched onto the buildings to suit their purposes.

Regardless, however intricate and deft the Inca were with stacking rocks.....Europe was in the throes of the Renaissance at a time when the Inca were still hefting stones around the jungle. The Egyptians had done the same thing with bigger rocks over 3000 years earlier.

My final point is the most interesting and where the Peruvians get the "deer in the headlights" look if you bring it up: Pizarro and the Spaniards defeated the great and might Inca empire with less than 200 drunken, tired sailors and a few horses.

The Inca were so mighty that they went and hid in the jungle for the next 200 years until their great civilization fizzled out and locals invented stories of lost cities high in the jungle that the Spaniards never found.

Really, that is embarassing. My guess is if there are such cities, that the Spanish never found them because they didn't want to....after hiking 3 days into the jungle to get to Machu Picchu, I understand why: It takes too long to get there only to arrive at more jungle and rocks.

When I brought the point of the 200 Spaniards against an Empire up to the Peruvians I always got the same two responses: 1) A shoulder shrug or 2) Nos enganaron (they tricked us).

Really?? They tricked you!?! Shame on the Spanish then. They should be spanked by their mother and forced to give back your Empire of Rocks.

Anyway, the last campsite is basically the entrance to the Machu Picchu reserve, and though a little primitive, it has a restautrant, beer and music. I thought I was excited to have some beer and see some chicks after three days of the trail life. I wasn't.

Actually, I did enjoy the beer and talking to the folks in my group....but later on the place turned into a sort of Club. Crappy music with a monotonous, generic bassline and a bunch of drunken twenty and thirty-somethings hitting on each other and their Peruvian guides. Everyone looked like shit from days on the trail and the whole scene was sort of pathetic.

It stuck me that a week ago in Cuzco that this same thing seemed like such a good time to me.?. The whole thing was so bizarre and puzzling that I turned in early to enjoy the stars on one of the blackest nights I ever remember.

Posted by kellio99 at 05:33 PM | Comments (1)

May 27, 2005
The Famous Inca Trail - Day 2

I slept well that night, despite being on an incline which forced Stephen and I to both migrate to the same side of the tent. It rained, but we stayed mainly dry.

Being that there is no lighting other than flashlights, we'd turned in early and woke at daylight. It was hard to get to sleep as all of us had been going out till the wee hours of the morning in Cuzco before the trip started.

I was forced to wear the clothes I'd sweated in the day before simply because I had left almost everything back in Cuzco and it seemed a waste to get another set of clothes wet and dirty when I would just have to do the same the day after......then I'd have no clean clothes at all. There were no showers.

At breakfast I remembered Camp Rockmont when I was a counselor. I would have to stuff my face until nausea to keep from getting hungry again in two hours. All 15 of us ate huddled around the small table bumping elbows, telling stories, and complaining about our aches and pains. Travelers have the best stories ever.

I was stiff, in damp clothes, and set off around 8 with a backpack that felt like bricks as I hefted it onto my tender shoulders.

I'd bought that backpack for $15 bucks off a street corner in Thamel, Nepal 7 years earlier. I recalled that 8 year old smoking a cigarette who'd tried to sell me hash in the street on the way back to my Hostal. I looked at him funny, grabbed the cigarette from his mouth, stamped it out on the ground, and told him to go do his homework.

Damn that was a long time ago. Although as I think about it, I may be wearing the same shirt that I was wearing that day: a capilene patagonia T. Maybe that was a different one though.

Day 2 we walked in the clouds. We were around 4000 meters (12,000 feet), in and out of what felt like rain that never actually fell. It was up to ridgeline, down into a valley and back up the other side of the mountain, farther and farther into the jungle.

Quickly it was just like yesterday: Leaning on my walking stick, sweating profusely, always at the back of the group, panting and resolute, tireless and exhausted.

After the Spanish came and conquered the Great Inca Civilization, the Inca retreated into the jungle to various Famous Lost Cities of the Incas as our guide told us. Some of these famous cities are still lost.

Others were never lost to begin Machu Picchu. When Hiram Bingham "discovered" Machu Piccu in 1911 there were a family of Inca farmers already living there among the ruins ready to sell rope bracelets and worthless souvenirs to future tourists.

The Inca were prodigous step builders. As a plodded ahead endlessly I imagined the short, stocky natives with straight black hair hefting these large stones around the mountains to make paths leading ever farther into the jungle towards ever larger rock structures. The Stone Age never went out of style for the Inca.

The rest of that day is lost in a haze of reflection on me and the labor of movement. It seemed so self-defeating to tear myself up to reach the top of a great set of famous Inca steps, only to have our guide point to the next ridge separated by a deep valley chasm and say, "We go for to arriving there." Then I'd walk some more over slippery Inca rocks further soiling the clothes I knew I'd be wearing for 2 more days.

Our guide spoke "fluent" English with no grammar whatsoever. We would reach a stack of rocks on the verge of being swallowed by the jungle and she would elaborate on how intricate, planned and technologically advanced the Inca were.

I never quite grasped all her grand claims about the Inca. I chalk it up to the language barrier. As she explained it, the Inca had everything but spaceships while all I saw were rocks and jungle. Certainly the Inca didn't invented rocks?

She always spoke the same phrases in both Spanish and English, even though no one in the group but me really spoke Spanish, and she knew that. I suspect she tired of speaking in English so she'd take a break, talk to herself in Spanish for a paragraph, and then switch back.

Her English sentences were exact literal translations of what she'd say in Spanish, grammar and all....which made for very interesting commentary. Latin Americans have a tendency to use the word "friend" more losely than Westerners do. Just as everything was famous in the jungle, so too were we her great friends, and she often reminded us of it.

"Amigos, despues del desayuno, Vamos a recoger las cosas y en cuatro horas mas llegamos a las proximas ruinas famosas para preparar el almuerzo y descansarnos. En este momento, hace buen clima, pero puede ser que llueve en la tarde. Amigos, Ya vamanos"

And then she would say: "Friends, after the breakfast, We go to gather the things and in 4 hours more we are arriving at the next famous ruins for preparing the lunch and resting. In this moment, it makes good weather, but it can be that it is raining in the afternoon. Friends, Let's go."

And everything she said sounded like that. It got very amusing.

Late afternoon, about an hour from camp while visiting some more rocks with amazing views of the jungle valleys it started to rain. And then it really stared to rain.

My biggest issue with camping and hiking is staying dry. There is nothing more misreable than wearing wet clothes, wet shoes and socks, sleeping in a wet tent inside a wet sleeping bag. There is no escape from that.

I am always at the back of the group. I walk slow and don't deal well with high altitudes, but when it started raining I started I passed the largest part of the group, passed those who had the porters carrying their bags, passed the others who had broken out into a jog, and even passed the head guide, who always stayed way out in front to make sure everything was ready when we got to camp. I made the last hour in 15 minutes....sprinting up the same damnable steps I'd found so endless just a few hours before. It is odd how tireless we become when there is a reason to go.

Regardless, I was still soaked, which blew. Luckily it only rained like that about 30 more minutes during which time I watched steam rise off my wet clothes and fill the tent. Everyone else arrived 30 minutes later.

I left my shoes in the cook's tent next to the fire to try and dry them before tomorrow. They laughed at me as I looked down and they were all wearing cheap plastic sandals.

The porters hiked up and down that fucking trail week after week basically barefooted with legs like tree trunks hefting all our cooking gear, food, tables, water, and tents. They packed after we left camp everyday, passed us on the trail, and beat us to the next site in time to set up again and laugh at me for trying to dry my 100 dollar trail shoes next to the fire while they walked around happily in their jelly sandals. Crazy.

We were all very old friends by this point and dinner was a soft blur of laughter and good company. After sunset the temperature dropped and I was left alone in my dampness to sleep and fight another day.

Posted by kellio99 at 11:08 PM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2005
The Famous Inca Trail - Day 1

I woke at 4am; the group was supposed to pick me up. I hadn't gone to sleep till late, drinking wine, packing and re-packing.

I got in an argument with the hostal guy. I was tired and cranky and so was he. We made a big production of storing some of my stuff while I was away. We called each other names and I felt violent towards the little man for not doing what I wanted. My emotions run unchecked for sure.

He accused me of not trusting anyone. I didn't disagree, and thought it useless to tell him the endless number of times people have tried to swindle and rob me while traveling. If I have my guard up and seem unreasonable, it is for good reason...following directly from the events of my life. Arguing in Spanish is hard so I went back to bullying.

The mini-bus finally came around 5. I was afraid it wouldn't come, or I would miss it. I am always paranoid like that, especially when tired and just out of an argument at 4 in the morning with a complete stranger about nothing important.

Traveling re-connects me to the world. I love that about it. However, it also reminds me that, in the absence of what you is often you against the world.

I was extremely tired and everyone on the bus looked unfriendly. I was hungry and defensive from the night before.

We drove an hour and a half out of Cuzco back to Ollyantambo in the Sacred Valley...back to where I'd been with the Argentinians on motorcycle two days before.

I ate a quick breakfast with a Swiss traveler, bought a bamboo walking stick for two soles and stocked up on coca leaves for the hike. I think about Nepal...something that has oddly been on my mind a lot lately.

After breakfast the bus took us to the mouth of the trail down an unpaved, one lane, dirt road past chickens and adobe houses.

During high season 200 folks a day hit the Inca Trail. It struck me as bizzare that the trailhead of the most famous trek in S. America would lie down a dirt path so thin the mirrors of the mini-bus threaten to clip the buildings on the side of the road. All of Latin America is like that in a way.

I feel good as I hit the trail in warm morning sun and cool breeze. The going is easy and my pack is light. I always walk near the back. The altitude leaves me short of breath and I enjoy the leisure and scenery. Walking has a curative effect.

Everything on the Inca trail is famous according to our guide. The flowers she points out are famous, as is the high pass we will make in the afternoon. The various ruins (essentially stacks of rocks) are famous Inca ruins, the rivers are famous and so are the birds.

I had never heard of any of these things. I confirmed with the others in my group that they hadn't either. I thought to tell her that perhaps only Machu Picchu itself is famous and that everything else on the trek is largely unknown....but decided against it because it was so funny to think of everything as being famous.

I began to refer to everything as famous and even asked our guide on occasion whether or not X or Y was indeed famous. It always was, usually preceded by the word in the the Famous Inca jungle. Everything in Peru is associated with the Incas, and so I assume everything must be famous too.

Soon after the trail really began to go up, and then it kept going. For hours and hours and hours it just went up. Then we stopped for lunch where I ate forever and napped for 10 minutes on the cool, dry grass under a very close, hot sun....and then we kept walking up.

I labored forward, leaning on my walking stick (which now appeared to be the best two soles I ever spent). My pack was enormously heavy. It had seemed so light earlier. I was sweating profusely in the thin air. I had bought an orange hat of wool back in Cuzco to shield me from the thick, clear, hot sun. I was sweating so much the dye from the hat made my sweat orange and stained my face. I ceased talking. I didn't have the spare breath. Everyone seemed more friendly now that we were all undertaking this laborious effort together.

I was again reminded of Nepal. Walking long distances in thin air clears your head for there is nothing else to think about. Distilled, life becomes walking, food, and rest. That is simple enough even for me to get my head around.

A long period of ascent was followed by a steep increase in the incline of the trail. I thought surely we must be at the top of the world. We never reached that point, but we did eventually climb out of the balmy river valley up above the clouds near the tree line.

One more step. That's all I am thinking. The group took occasional breaks, but since I was walking so slow by the time I caught up with everyone they were already moving I didn't get a break. Not that it mattered. I was just walking.

There were some very nice people in my group. We all became quick and close friends. It was the first regular English I'd spoken in a week or was nice to be able to really express myself. Life is much funnier like that.

We eventually made the famous Dead Woman pass....which I thought to rename the famous Dead Man pass after I was surely going to die from exhaustion. It was very cold at the top and the weather looked like rain. We were at the top of a jungle mountain and were set to hike part of the way down to the valley below before ending the day.

Although very tired, I was in great spirits. I don't like rain though and the prospect of everything I had getting wet (including my digital camera) and sleeping in a wet tent....didn't appeal to me. I was told it rains almost every day (which it actually did).

After almost 10 hours or walking straight up and then straight down we finally reached was the most difficult day of physical exertion since Pete and I biked to Leuwarden and back in 1995. I was hallucinating at the end of that trip.

And sure enough, it started to rain almost the instant we reached camp and I put my stuff in the tent. It remained mostly dry. The tent was cramped, I was soaked from sweat, but didn't care. I rested until dinner and watched the clouds roll by outside completely satisfied and very hungry.

To be continued...

Posted by kellio99 at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2005
More entries come...

I haven't posted the last of my entries here. I just have to get around to writing everything down and transferring it from my journal.

Pics are coming too.

It is just that currently I still haven't unpacked from moving apartments...I'm a little behind.

The pics should be nice. I've already looked at them. Some of them are very cool....lots of landscapes like from a movie and dumb shots of folks I was traveling with.

Posted by kellio99 at 11:18 PM | Comments (1)

April 09, 2005
Permission to Feel

I have been in Cuzco a few days now, waiting for the trek....relaxing and seeing nothing in particular. It is morning and I am at a small cafe with Inca walls taking a breakfast of pancake and coffee.

There was a parade in the Plaza this morning to celebrate the city and the public workers. There were two kids riding by on bicycles while they were playing the Peruvian national anthem. A police officer stopped them, lectured them on being disrespectful, and made them stop, salute, and pay respects until the song was over.

Last night I had very strange dreams and this morning I have a low mood and feel almost invisible; just my pen, coffee, and the low yellow light of the cafe. It is very bright and clear ouside...a beautiful day.

I am not saddened or frustrated by my sadness. I do not wish away this mood. I am happy to be sad and lonely.

It is only now, far away from my life, that I am allowed to be sad. Traveling gives me permission to feel however I like and thus allows me to feel at all...I also have the liberty to allow the mood to run its let it wash away whatever it is here to do.

At home I cannot afford ill moods. I cannot allow the moods that make up my emotional dialogue to run their course...and so they don't. Whatever they are trying to tell me is instantly lost when I snap myself back in line in the name of professionalism, productivity and work ethic.

At work I am expected to be tireless, mistake-free, ever smiling, ever constructive, a team player and a self-starter, a leader and collaborative...all things to all people all the time...with nothing outside work to distract me from maximum output. I am expected to be a robot...and so that is what I become.

There is little room and no need for sadness at work...yet without sadness how can there be happiness?

Productivity is not a is related to the efficiency of tasks. Am I, as a Man, measured by this efficiency? Do the number of hours a week I am able to keep up this non-mood make me more or less human?

Machines perform tasks; they are always in an efficient mood. Computers store information; be you the greatest expert on the planet, all the insight in your head can, with some effort, be recorded and regurgitated.

It is surely not the efficiency or knowledge that serves our humanity for the they can be easily replaced.

It is surely the depth of your passions, the clarity of that internal emotional dialogue, that makes us human. Where is the humanity in an endless string of tasks?

If the vicissitudes of our moods show us the way to our humanity, yet we are not well served by allowing their ebb and flow...then we are being robbed of our humanity by this ceaseless toil. What room is there for sadness in our lives?

By allowing life to happen and my moods to instruct me accordingly...I am allowed to be me. I am allowed to connect myself through my emotions to the normal flow of events, giving them meaning.

Work, with its inflexibility, its constant demand of some perfect, unwavering state conducive to productivity...its inability to identify that people get tired and low...has no room for my quiet place of lonely sadness.

Without that connection my life becomes simply a string of disconnected events....a list of accomplishments a mile long...devoid of feeling. It ceases to tell my story.

When I walked into Cafe Vayaroc it was just me and La Dueña. She looked sad and was reading the paper. "La Papa se muriò," (The Pope died) she said. I replied without thinking, "Que lastima, un buen hombre" (A pity, a good man).

She nodded and I walked to my table. At that instant I gave a thought to the Pope and his life. It is true that life can be a list of accomplishments, an amount of can be reduced to a commentary.

Those facts caused me realize the sadness of the death of the Pope.

But I actually shed a tear for the Pope as I walked to my table, wiping it away in surprise. At that moment I did not realize the sadness of the death of the Pope...I felt it.

That is not possible at home...where my moods are derailed from the events of my life. I am not allowed to feel what I should...I am only allowed to feel "productive".

Emotions are the soundtrack of your life. The Pope died and a sad song came on the radio of my life at exactly the right moment. At home...the same fucking song is playing all the time.

Posted by kellio99 at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2005
Poverty ain't so bad...

I'm actually in Cuzco now and have been meaning to write about this for a week....but since I don't really have to do it at all...I put it off till now.

Amantaní is a small island on Lake Titicaca (I said Titi and Caca..hehehe). It is not very touristed.

I have seen poverty before. Poverty occurs in cities, when one doesn't have the money to meet food/clothing/shelter expenses, and, in a broader sense, lacks the resources to participate in the life that those you life around enjoy. Poverty can be a relative position, not always an absolute amount.

Mostly I consider poverty to be bad...something you don't want. That is why I do not consider the 200 some odd residents of this small village in Amantaní to be in poverty....although their material existence surely suggests it.

What made Amantaní different for me is that I stayed with a local family for a day and a half. To see poverty, dirty gaunt faces in torn soiled clothes begging for food or money, is one thing. Everyone has seen poverty, usually just passing by from the window of a train or car.

I lived in least for a day or so. I'd never done that before.

I am happy to report that poverty isn't all that bad! I am sure that city poverty is worse, but the people of Amantaní do not live poorly. They live a simple life to be proud of.

As I said, it isn't exactly poverty, although I am sure it is classified that way. It is non-participation in the formal economy. It is sustenance farming. Until tourists arrived 15 to 20 years ago, it was a life without money. Imagine your whole life, and never touching a dime...crazy.

The first question I asked, while sitting on the dirt floor of the kitchen, was "What do people do on the island?".
His response: No hay trabajo. (There is no work)

After I clarified this puzzling response, I found he truly meant that there are no jobs on the island....not a single one. Jobs, in the modern sense of "going to work" and getting paid to do some task...don't exist on Amantaní.

I was fascinated, especially since they kept guinea pigs in a rock cage in the "kitchen". I noticed the walls were made from baked clay bricks, basically just dirt and rocks. There is no reminder from where I sit of the 21st century save a few plastic bags, metal water pail, and a few utensils. Just dirt, rocks, and wood. The food was good though (potatoes, soup, and fish). without money or jobs. I can hardly conceive such a notion. It seems almost impossible, but it works...and pretty well too.

The children watched shyly, without speaking, while I fired questions at the Señor, bent over my food, trying not to make it seem like an interview, trying not to think about the fact that my shoes cost more money than perhaps they have ever had in their life.

There is no electricity on the island. There is a generator in town, and if you pay 20 soles (6 dollars) a month you can get electriciy from 6pm to 8pm each day when the generator is turned on. No one pays there is no electricity, just sun and candles.

There is no plumbing, no running water, and no sewage disposal system. There are outhouses and a daily walk to the village well to fetch water.

There are no cars, buses, or roads. Get used to walking.

They eat almost exclusively what they grow on the small island. The land is stepped in small plots. The entire island could easily be walked in a few hours.

They grow mainly potatoes and Inca rice (a local variety I've never seen before). In the winter they eat what they saved from the year's harvest. No money required.

There are no hospitals, no real doctors, no local government, and no police. There are only 3 laws on the island: 1) Don't lie. 2) Don't steal. 3) Don't be lazy. Of course there are no jails. If you break a law, you are thrown off the island.

At this point I am taking after-dinner tea and watching the chickens in the back yard. The tea is made by putting a small branch from a local shrub into a cup of hot water. It tastes like a spicy peppermint. La Señora sent one of the children out back to pick the small plant just before making the tea. roads, no running water, no jobs, no electricity, no police, no hospitals, and a severly restricted diet of water, fish, and white starches.

What kind of life does that make for when compared to the immense machinery needed to support our lives? Good question.

There is no crime on Amantaní all. I was told no one in recent memory has been thrown off the island. Everyone in the village knows each other very well and, without the luxuries of modern society, there is nothing to steal. No crime. Crazy.

No one is fat. This is a no-brainer...there isn't enough food. But surely the restricted diet and the absence of medical care catches up with them. I asked about that.

The Señor said plainly, without pride, but simply as a fact, "No hay enfermedad." There is no sickness?? What?

But again, it makes some sense. There are no outsiders bringing in germs and disease. There is no flu, no stomach bug to catch. The air is clear and unpolluted. So is the water. No one smokes (they can't afford to).

The Señor told me that the oldest person on the island died 5 years ago at 122 years old (127 is the world record). The average life span is about 80 or 90 years he said. In the US it is 75 (12th in the world).

People are happy. He seemed confused when I asked about depression and stress and although I didn't ask about their seeming poverty directly (for want of not being rude) one ever made a reference to the simple living conditions as a source of distress.

They live longer, there is no crime, and the people are happy...

I am baffled.

Posted by kellio99 at 10:56 PM | Comments (4)

April 03, 2005
A few days...

Its been a while since I said anything here. That does not mean nothing has happened....if anything it means so much has happened that I have found no good moment to write about it.

I read a book "The Snow Leopard" was about a naturalist trek through the Himalaya in search on the blue sheep (which really turned out to be more goat than sheep)...and about a man in search of himself.

The man said a bunch of stuff about Buddhism. I hadn't thought about any of that in a long time...I remember I used to make fun of Ross in Taiwan. He was so gay about it, with his weird kung-fu shit, long blond hair and diffident, buddist -isms...all the while being about as American as apple pie. (For the record I liked Ross...but the Buddhist shit was weird).

Well, I still think Buddhism is not very life-affirming in some aspects....and it is no mistake that Buddhism has never produced a major culture, nor a major scientific advancement...but no war has ever been fought in its name either and Buddhist are generally affable, well-adjusted people.

Actually...I'm don't wish to talk about Buddhism...since I don't really care....but since I've written it, I will not erase it since it was what I was thinking at the moment.

The segway I was making, which never happened, was that of living in the moment. That is something that I miss. At home, I feel like I am always dragging the baggage of my past into a carefully planned, ever receding past begrudging moves forward kicking and screaming, the future never arrives, or at least it does in its own way in its own time. I am only ever right here.

I will write more about that later....or at least I will likely put some of it here. I've already written about it in my journal....which got very personal. It was some of the most important stuff I've ever said to myself...something I've always known instinctively but have never been able to put my finger on in that specific way that allows you to put it in words.

I am one week from coming home and two days from the beginning of the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. As always, I am ill prepared and ready for anything. It strikes me at this instant that I have been wearing the same clothes for a very long time. I need to wash them and buy some sunscreen. The air here is very thin and the sun hot in the middle of the day.

Yesterday I rode motorcycles into the Sacred Valley. We were gone all day....about 9am to 7pm. I love to ride motorcycles. It reminds me of renting scooters with Peter in Mallorca after we got everything stolen. Motorcycles are much faster though.

The temperate microclimate of the Sacred Valley is very, yet somehow desert at the same time. Every inch of the surrounding mountains are covered with a green mist carpet of plants and low trees.

There are many people in Peru still sustenance reminds me of Nepal....not that the two cultures were ever in contact, but that sustenance farming will look similar throughout the world.

There are only so many things you can do, only so many ways to combine unprocessed goods that come straight out of the earth. Houses must be made of baked clay bricks. Fields must be plowed with wooden hoes pulled by pack animals. Harvesting always involves many dirty campesinos bent over all day in small fields far from everything next to unpaved roads.

I will talk more about that when I get around to writing about Amantani.

Posted by kellio99 at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2005
Health: an unhealthy obsession

I laughed really hard reading this article about our unhealthy obsession with health.

Posted by kellio99 at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2005
Las Islas Flotantes

So....Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at about 4000 meters. It also rains more here than any other spot in Peru I am told. That makes for impressive scenery....really.

Crisp, cobalt sky with low puffy clouds from the altitude framed by fertile, deep green, stepped farmland and a complete absence of modern stuff. I won't describe it more....I can add a picture later.

By far more interesting than the scenery were the Las Islas Flotantes (the Floating Islands). There is nothing else in the world like this. I was very amazed and even more entertained. Things get very amusing when traveling.

These "islands" are not islands at all really. They are a mat of reeds floating on the lake, anchored to the bottom with sticks. Although some of the islands are larger...most are about the size of my yard back in Easley...a little smaller maybe.

The reeds grow everywhere, and very quickly too (They "grow like reeds" I was told). If dug up, the roots of the reeds, along with the muck attached to them, float and form the foundation of the islands. Then they lay the reeds themselves over the muck in layers until it forms a spongy floating island...of dead reeds and muck.

The reeds rot from the bottom and so are constantly replaced from the top once a month so that the island doesn't sink....or become thin so that it will no longer hold weight.

The houses are also made of reeds and the reeds are partially edible as well. I ate tasted like water and ruffage.

The boats that the islanders use to navigated the lake....also made of reeds. I didn't see anyone clothed in reeds although I wouldn't rule out the possibility.

As you can imagine, life on a reed island is pretty spartan...probably moreso than for the Spartans themselves. I cannot imagine that there is much in the way of the conversation "what do you want to do today?"

One can either sit on the reeds, stand or lie on the reeds...You can talk to whomever is on your small island...although I am not sure of what the conversation would consist.

There are no sports...I don't think that would work so well could drown if they went out of bounds, or fall through the field if tackled too hard...homeruns would make baseball tough, unless the baseballs floated. I don't think reeds would make very good bats anyway.

There is no electricity on the "islands" and no running water. An island lasts about 40 or 50 years before it begins to sink under it own weight.

As far as I can tell the only two activities on the island are island-making and fishing.

Our guide said the Reed People are notoriously lazy and the primary fish they eat has the peculiar property of making one very sleepy 15 minutes after eating it.

I think that's very fortunate since there is likely little else to do anyway.

I guess you could go swimming...although at 4000 meters I am sure the water is freezing year around.

I did ask a few questions that I was curious about:

- Yes, they can all swim.
- No, an island has never burned down, at least in recent memory (that was my first question since to me an island full of dry reeds is easily the world's largest tinderbox).
- They make their money from tourists...before that (20 years or so ago) there was no all...ever (just fish, water and reeds).
- Yes, there are schools and solar panels on some islands, given by former dictator Fujimori (most Peruvians I've talked to say that life was better under his dictatorship than under the current democratically elected president).
- They do not have an address, and so do not receive mail. There are no telephones.
- The islands are not considered land and so are not taxed.

I leave you with this bizzare scenario:

Lake Titicaca is remote by any measure. It has hundreds of miles of fertile, habitable coastline.

Imagine the ancestors of these people hundreds of years ago at a meeting of the elders........some idiot at the back high on cocoa leaves and tripping on some hallucinogenic cactus stands up and says, "Come on guys, seriously, let's make our own islands (even though there are already several "real" islands on the lake)...It'll be is overrated anyway!! And reeds taste know they do...come on admit it. Who is with me?"

And somehow they thought it was a good idea!?!

Posted by kellio99 at 02:17 PM | Comments (2)

March 26, 2005
Colca Canyon, Altitude Sickness, and Mate de Coca

Yesterday was a hard day. I got up at 5:30 and was off to see Colca Canyon.

The region is very pretty...high in altitude, stepped for farming, very fertile....cut by the deepest canyon in the world surrounded by an altiplano desert.

The sky is a very deep, crisp blue at high altitude, but the canyon was hidden in the clouds. We rode above them on dirt roads perched on the side of mountains....every other village we passed had a story that included "destroyed by an earthquake" or landslide or the tunnel had to be built because the road kept sliding off into the canyon. The day was too crisp and beautiful to worry though. The altitude does weird things to your head it was probably mostly that.

The canyon was too big to photograph, although I certainly tried. It is a was at least if not more impressive than the Grand Canyon (which apparantly isn't the deepest canyon in the world).

A big attraction for the tourists is the chance to see the condors ride the thermals up the canyon walls. A big deal is made of it....catching a glimpse of the condors.

I saw a few and even got a decent picture. I was told their wingspan can reach 9 feet. However, from the distance we saw them...they just looked like big birds...nothing to write home about.

Then there was the altitude sickness, something us lowlanders never think about.

There was no such thing as an online journal in 1998 when I trekked the Himalaya, but the same thing happened there...though not as bad. After 2500 meters there is a chance of altitude sickness. Thorong La, the height of the Annapurna Circuit trek is a staggering 5416 meters (17,769 feet). To put that in perspective, the peak of the Matterhorn in Europe is a paltry 4477 meters.

It is another story the effect that altitude had on me, but in any one day it was always bearable because we were walking...which meant the altitude never rose too dramatically in a 24 hour span. My body largely had time to acclimate.

However, in a bus you can reach extreme altitudes in one day. Then your body doesn't know what to do.

We were in T-shirts in the canyon; it started snowing on the way back when we were well above 4000 meters.

Altitude sickness can take various forms, from a mild headache, to death. I felt like I was going to die....but I guess I'm still here.

It starts with shortness of're out of breath even if you are sitting still and doing absolutely nothing. Your heart feels like it is going to beat out of your chest. You take a few deep breaths and it comes and goes like that.

Then you start feeling light-headed...a little euphoric. You get a mild headache at the back of your head. It can get a lot worse...until it is almost blinding. I had all that happen when I was in Nepal; the headaches were never that bad though.

Then you start to feel weak. You are flushed and feverish...a little sweaty even. The road seems to go on forever. It is snowing and the windshield wipers barely work. The terrain is dead...only lichens and rocks.

The road is unpaved and bumpy. We are probably going 15 miles an hour. Bump. I have to use the bathroom all the time (another effect of the altitude) so every bump we hit makes me feel I am going to pee in my pants.

Combine the bumpy road and the fever and I get dizzy with a blinding headache about to pee in my pants. Bump. Shit...this sucks.

I am sore too. I feel like the chair is going to bear through my legs and leave me crippled. I am breathing irregularly and thinking bad, outlandish dreaming when you have the flu. Bump. My legs hurt so bad I think I am going to have ask the driver on the side of the cliff, snowing. I decide against it when I realize stopping won't make my legs feel any better. Bump...and deep breath. I think I am hyperventilating....maybe??

I think I might have dengue fever....or malaria. I think the bus is going to fall off the cliff. People are around me but I don't really notice them. Maybe they are all sleeping? The tour guide is chewing on Coca leaves and has wild, glassy eyes. Has my bag been stolen (impossible since we are all still on the bus together and it is sitting at my feet)? Why am I here? I can't decide which hurts legs or my head. I think I am going to pee in my pants. My head hurts every time we hit a bump. Bump.

We did finally arrive back in Arequipa, where the altitude is just above 2000 meters. I have no idea how long that trip down from the canyon actually lasted. It felt like a lifetime.

I had meant to go on to Puno that evening by overnight bus, but I couldn't manage. I went back to my hostel and got in an argument with the owner because I thought I had already paid my room.....but I think it was just a hallucination. I limped off to bed in a fever, thinking I would have to go to the hospital the next day if I didn't feel any better. The leg pains, the fever (which might have been imaginary....brought on by the lack of oxygen), and the headache made me wish I were home.

Of course I felt better the next day. Altitude sickness disappears if you descend. However, I did take the bus to Puno today. Puno is on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world....again above 4000 meters.

This time I was ready. I really didn't want to repeat yesterday....or else what is left of my brain would leak out my ears.

Coca is a plant that grows here naturally and the Peruvian natives that live in the altiplano (high plains) have always chewed the leaves to give them strength at high altitude. It wards off the effects of altitude sickness, hunger, and gives extra energy...which can be very useful for natives making long high-altitude journeys.

So today I chewed some in the hopes of avoiding another dizzy, feverish bus ride. It works really well I am happy to say. It has an effect much like a strong cup of coffee (caffeine), but less jittery, more focused. I also think that the previous two days at altitude probably helped a bit.

There is also a tea they make of the leaves called mate de coca that is very tasty and again, has an effect much like a cup of coffee.

For those of you wondering, Yes....Coca is the same plant used to make cocaine, which is why I don't think the yummy tea will ever make it to the US.

Posted by kellio99 at 07:50 PM | Comments (7)

March 24, 2005
I live off the scraps of my own life.

I still keep a personal journal, though I write in it much less I once did. In Atlanta I don't write in it for months at a time...probably because one month looks frighteningly similar to the there is nothing to say.

I will not reproduce the pages of my journal, but I will put a fairly interesting excerpt here:

"I am feeling more distant now, at least sufficiently so to forget a little.

My clothes and fingernails are dirty. My stomach is full and I napped today an hour and a half after the 10 hour bus trip. A nice taxi driver drove me around the town to help me find a hostal. Most are full for the week of Semana Santa.

I gave him a 66 cent tip, which almost doubled the original fare....he seemed very happy. I am happy he didn't try to extort money from me after not driving directly to the destination. It has happened before (Morocco). I find Peruvians largely honest and straightforward.

Tonight there is a procession (parade) in the Plaza in celebration of something. I think I will grab a seat next to the fountain with several beers and be entertained. That group from Huacachina is in town too. I'm sure they'll be around somewhere. I just saw that Spaniard from Barcelona walk by. No doubt he will be stoned this evening.

Last night I couldn't get on the tourist bus. It was full. I took the cramped half-broken, smelly one with the Peruvians instead. Miles from anywhere up a dirt road, taking dinner past 11pm at a restaurant with no foreigners and no recognizable food......I realized that I want to feel far away. The further away from my regular life, the better.

I met an American in Nazca. He annoyed the shit out of me. His demeanor, though perfectly cordial, reminded me of the functional pleasantries and comfortable distance we often maintain in the US. It is practical and cold.

He was probably someone who has his "shit together" back home. Do I act like that?

It annoyed me to have to think about it, and to be reminded of what I had left. I speak to every Peruvian that passes, that sits near me, asking about their politics, religion, their children...whatever. I enjoy it.

I remember in Taiwan I told Peter...we were talking about what we really wanted (whatever that is)...he goes on about someting big, passionate, and dreamy...and I said, "I just want to be left alone.."

I've always held that sentiment in some way. I don't think I meant left alone by people so much...although that is likely part of it.

I think I meant a reprieve, or even escape, from the constant silent demands of modern life...they tell me how to behave...what to like...what to much time I have to be me...what I should value...when I wake much I is all mapped out for me...with precious little room for what I want...only little corners as yet unasked for are still mine. I'm sure one day they will be asked for too.

I can't escape the feeling that I live off the scraps of my own life.

As I watch the children feed the pigeons in the Plaza, the old cars labor by on cobblestone streets, old men eating ice creams, pan flute playing in the background, thousands of miles from my life......I am always tempted to try to take it back."

Posted by kellio99 at 04:07 PM | Comments (3)

March 23, 2005
Waiting on a bus

I need to go buy a bus ticket. I'll be back in a little while.

Saw the Nazca Lines today. I have some pictures, but I can't be bothered to get them off my camera here. I'll add them when I get back home.

If you have a minute, do a quick search on the Nazca Lines. The people that made them are sadly no more. I think after seeing these huge desert images that can only be understood from an airplane....that these folks died out as a people because they spent too much time in some middle of nowhere desert where it hasn't rained since the last ice age, and not enough time looking for food and water.

It is strange too, because two of the images they carved into the desert are of a monkey and a obviously they knew the sea was nearby (which has food and usually water)...and they knew the rainforest was on the other side of the Andes (there are no monkeys in the desert).....yet they continued trying to eke out an existence where there was obviously none to be had.

Oh well, I guess I can add the Nazcans to my Easter Island list of former civilazations we are perhaps better off without.

Posted by kellio99 at 05:10 PM | Comments (1)

March 20, 2005
The novelty factor

I really haven't been here a day yet. I got in late last night...the flight arrived at 11. I left the airport after 1 and got in bed after 2.

I sat next to a 6 foot tall Polynesian Mormon chick on a medical school spring break trip on the plane. Her and her classmates kept asking each other all the countries and their capitals to show off their smartness, while somehow working in med school tech terms like bilirubin, polytrisomethingsomething, and histrionic disorder (I had to look it up to see what it was).

I did really well at the world trivia. I think they were impressed. I forgot to mention that I had been to all the places.

They were going to Iquitos....which is supposedly the largest city in the world not accessible by road. Boat or car is the only way in. Its is at the end of one of the Amazon tributaries. Apparantly malaria is really endemic there. (I didn't fill my prescription so I'm staying away from the Amazon basin I think)

She told me to come visit. I told her there might be a reason it isn't accessible by road. "Obviously there is no big demand to get there. I think maybe that says something about the place. Good luck though."

Then she got out her medical bag to "get some practice", since they were going to help the community with basic medical care. You know those lighted gadgets that doctors use to look into your ear? Well, she took one of those out and looked at it like she'd never seen it before, then started pressing all the buttons, then turned to her classmates sitting behind her and asked them how to turn the light on.....

Me: Haven't gotten to that chapter yet huh?
Her: (no response)
Med: This is your first year of med school huh?
Her: Yes. (smiling)
Me: Can I give you some advice?
Her: (waiting)
Me (dead serious): Never, ever, do that in front of a patient.

Immigration was easy. I thought they might give me some trouble because I don't have any free pages in my passport. Some visas take up a whole page and immigration can be really strict if they are in a bad mood.

I remember once in the Philippines (I think it was the Philippines) there was an entrance tax of 11 dollars, payable only in dollars. I had a ten dollar bill and enough change to make 11.

Me: What if you don't have 11 dollars?
Aduana: You have to have 11 dollars.
Me: Can you pay in Pesos?
Aduana: No.
Me: There is no cash machine or currency exchange here. If you can't enter the country without 11 dollars and access to the money is outside the airport (which you can't get to)....what happens to the folks who can't pay? Do you have a room full of foreigners somewhere around here where they all just sit huddled together, without food or luggage, clutching a return ticket and wallet-full of credit cards.....waiting for 11 dollars to materialize from thin air?
(I didn't actually say it so eloquently....but I did say something to that effect).
Aduana: Here is your receipt.....Next please.

I had forgotten the sheer novelty factor of travel.

Posted by kellio99 at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2005
Chasing Eden in Peru

OK. It's really late, and I leave for Peru tomorrow. I've been running around all week in a spasm of productivity, finishing this website just right now, not that this was really a huge priority in the grand scheme of things I suppose.

I find that when I was unemployed it was much easier to make a great, original website that I was happy with. Now all I have time for is to change a few colors...and I had trouble getting that to work.

So I am off I guess....I hope to achieve...actually, no. I hope I achieve nothing on this trip.

I hope to spend some time just existing, with no particular goal. That is a tall order. Achievement becomes a habit, one that is fairly well rewarded and hard to break.

It is also one that slowly robs me of a sense of self.

I need an occasional reminder that my life is not measured by how much I achieve. It is measured by how much I close I am to being much I am able to draw on my passion at that uncertain much I can give and still have more.

Posted by kellio99 at 01:42 AM | Comments (1)