to South America and beyond


Back to the States

I've returned! Que triste! Yes, I arrived back in the U.S. on Halloween, a perfect induction back into American culture - small children dressed in strange costumes at your door begging for food.

It's bizarre how easy it's been to slip back into life in the states after being in such a different world for the last 2 months. What do you mean, I can go galivanting around the world and still come back to the place I call home, constant and unchanged? In a way, it's nice, but at the same time, unsettling.

Between Valparaiso and home, I traveled to half a dozen other towns in southern Chile and Argentina. Based on the advice of a hostel owner in Valparaiso, I headed south instead of north like I had planned. Thank God. Everyone who's been to the Atacama in the north had told me that it was an amazing sight and that I've never experienced a desert like this, but I was like, really? I've experienced deserts in my life and I've discovered that on the whole, they're all about the same. Driest spot on earth? Thanks, but no thanks.

So I began my journey through the lake district of the south. First up, Pucon.

Pucon has earned its spot in the lake district, sitting just on the edge of Lake Villaricca and in the shadow of the volcano of the same name. I couldn't spend more than two minutes indoors while I was here. If I wasn't bike-riding down to the river, or hiking through Parque Nacional Villarica, I was sitting down by the lake or relaxing in the hot springs just outside of town.

So while I was chillin, I met this American couple in the hostel who knew the owner of one of the restaurants in town. Scott is an ex-pat from the states (Minnesota) who fell in love with Chile a few years back and opened El Bosque in the heart of Pucon. Keen and Katherine (the American couple) invited me up to his cabin with them and he let me, this random stranger, crash in his place and eat his food for a couple days. Possibly the nicest thing anyone's ever done. Especially when I saw the house.

The night we arrived was fantastic - they were celebrating the arrival of Scott's parents with a Chilean barbeque. I thought the entire pig might be a little excessive, but clearly I've never been to a Chilean barbeque before.

I spent some time talking to a very large and very sweet Chilean man who not only had a very thick Chilean accent, but had also had had a few beverages and was slurring ever so slightly. So I understood approximately 15% of what he was saying, but he seemed very satisfied with the conversation. Overall, a good time was had by all.

After moving on from Pucon, I cruised around the lake district in Chile and Argentina. I'm unbelievably glad that I spent my final week surrounded by water and dense forest instead of dry land and cactus. Here's a couple good shots of the lakes and bordering towns.

I also did quite a bit of trekking up where snow was still on the ground. Not a good idea in cross-trainers, but the experience was worth the cold feet.

When I'd had my fill of the lake district (or really, when I ran out of time to spend there), I traveled north again to Santiago for my flight back home.

So on October 30th, I left South America with 94 cents in my checking account, 20 or so new friends from around the world, a new perspective about life in the underdeveloped world, memories of the most incredible experience of my life and, above all, absolutely no regrets. I'm signing off on this chapter of my journey, but I won't stop writing and I certainly won't stop traveling anytime soon. Stay tuned for the next adventure . . .


Middle Chile

It seems like I arrived in Santiago 2 days ago, but I suppose it´s been almost 3 weeks now. I only saw the inside of my hostel for my first two days in the capital because my body finally succumbed to the dreaded South American illness. It rained almost non-stop during those two days though (oh, how I miss Seattle) which meant I didn´t miss much and I had company in the TV room. We watched some decent movies and some absolute crap TV. These British girls were obsessed with America´s Next Top Model - why can´t I escape this show, even in friggin South America?!

I broke free from the hostel for one day after I was feeling better and wandered around the city. Santiago is a very cultured and interesting place. And, like the other capital cities I´ve visited, Santiago reminded me that everyone in South America dresses better than I ever will. Appearances are big here, and the Santiaguinos did not disappoint.

Despus de Santiago, fui a Valparaiso. I could see myself living in a place like Valparaiso (if only there was any hope of ever understanding the crazy Chilean accent).

The city is right on the beach, which satisfies my craving for water, and it oozes creativity out of every pore. Every building, every wall is an opportunity to create art in this town. I loved the energy here.

Hey, it says "street of dreams." I had to obey.

Even though I have the artistic ability of a sea slug (are they really uncreative? i guess i don´t honestly know), Valparaiso made me think even I could do something creative. My inspiration led to the writing of some terrible poetry, but I didn´t care if it was good, it satisfied a need. Pablo Neruda must have felt this same inspiration when he decided to settle down in Valparaiso. Of course, he went on to become one of Chile´s most beloved poets and my poetry won´t be read by anyone but me, but still. I could get there - just give me 6 more months in Valparaiso.



They do not speak Spanish in Chile. Oh, they think they do, but it´s not true.

I was getting a little confident, perhaps even cocky with my Spanish skills in Peru, but when I landed in Santiago, my confidence was shot to hell.

The Chilean accent is ridiculously fast, has a strange (but I must admit, beautiful) intonation, and they clip off the ends of every other word. Everywhere I go, "gracias" is "gracia," "no mas" is "no ma," and "por favor" is "por fa" (or "por fis," but I´ll get into idiosyncrasies in a minute). These I can handle, yet there are thousands of others that I can´t even hear because I can´t follow a conversation to save my life.

One of the hardest things about Chilean Spanish is their phrases. I met a cool New Yorker who had learned his Spanish in Chile (poor guy) and he put it best: "You can understand the words and still have no idea what the hell they´re talking about."

Some examples:

"andar el gringo" - literally means "walk the gringo," but in Chile it means to go without underwear

"andar el pato" - "walk the duck", and in Chile it means to have no money

and my personal favorite . . .

"me de paja" - means "it gives me straw", but you should be careful who you say this to in Chile because it means "I´d rather by masturbating."


Machu Picchu

"The lost city of the Incas rose up out of the mist as I ascended to the watchman´s tower . . . " or something like that. Although many have tried, I don´t think words could ever capture the feeling of encountering Machu Picchu. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet whose house I recently visited, came closest:

"Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos, there we feel our own fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies at the epicenter of the great circle of life. One more miracle."

Woke up at 5:00 a.m. to catch the first bus up a series of swithbacks leading to Machu Picchu. We arrived at 5:55 and waited with the excitement of children standing in line for Disneyland until the gates opened (finally!) at 6:00. There were only about 20 or 30 of us that came in right at 6:00 and we were treated to an untainted view of the ruins.

And here´s the coveted shot: a view of the site containing no tourists.

Dammit! I didn´t see that person there at the bottom. I can photoshop that out, right?

Moving on. There are about a thousand of the classic "me in front of stuff" pics of Machu Picchu. I will subject you to only one.

Below is a shot from the watchman´s tower, near the entrance to the site. This is what the Incan watchman would have seen.

But this, this is truly my prize photo (Michelle and Sarah, I hope you´re paying attention, cause this is for you): Llamas!!

Once again, even closer.

Yes, Peru´s most iconic images, llamas and Machu Picchu. Hard to get one of those buggers to stand still for you though.

Anyway, before I wandered through the ruins for hours, there was a mountain to be conquered. The one standing behind Machu Picchu, Waynapicchu, was a short but steep climb to the top.

Personally, I think the views of the ruins were much better from here.

I don´t have much to say about Machu Picchu because, as previously stated, words wouldn´t suffice. There was one interesting factoid that I think is worth sharing though. There is a monument in the center of the ruins known as Intihuatana, which was aligned perfectly to mark the solstices and is thought to have served as a calendar for the Incas. Was. A few years back, the beer company Cusqueña filmed a commercial at Machu Picchu (so many things wrong with that statement already) and KNOCKED A CHIP OFF OF THE MONUMENT with one of their pieces of equipment. It no longer aligns correctly with the solstices.

How´d you like to be that guy?


Canyon del Colca

High on the list of the most amazing things I´ve done on this trip and in life in general: Canyon del Colca. Debatable whether or not it´s the deepest canyon in the world because the so-called deepest canyon, nearby Cotahuasi, apparently doesn´t fit the qualifications of a canyon. So while it´s being debated, we´ll say I hiked the deepest canyon in the world.

My trek was a three-day excursion that began with a long bus ride (ugh) out of Arequipa to Cabanaconde. After a typical Peruvian lunch, we trekked down the 3,269 m (10,725 ft) to the town of San Juan de Chuccho at the bottom of the canyon.

"The team" (all very cool kids) and I stayed in some amazing cabañas then took a leisurely hike the following day to another site at the bottom of the canyon. Here´s the team enjoying a little breakfast before heading out.

The other site happened to be an oasis paradise (I swear, just check the sign).

So we chilled out at the oasis and swam in the hot springs for a day.

This was a nice way to prepare for our last day: the ascent out of the canyon. To avoid the heat (yes, even though it´s probably freezing in Seattle by now, it was crazy hot in the canyon), we woke up at 2:30 a.m. and headed up at 3:00 in the dark. We hiked in complete darkness except for the three flashlights we had for all seven of us. It gave me chills when we stopped to rest and I shined my light into the canyon, only to have it disappear in the darkness of the abyss below. After three hours we neared the top just as the sun was beginning to light the canyon. What an incredible sight.

I felt like I had accomplished an incredible feat (to be fair, I kinda did). I can´t describe the feeling, but it´s one I hope everyone gets to experience at least once.

Here are the rest of the pics of the canyon for your viewing pleasure. Don´t mind the string of pics of desert plants - I´m just dorky and wanted to compare them to the ones back in the AZ desert.


The Gringo Trail

Well, now that I´m nearing the end of my time in Peru, I figure I should write about it. I´ve been on what the Lonely Planet dubs "The Gringo Trail" because it covers some of the most well-known sites in Peru. It´s been very touristy, but nonetheless amazing. I just wish I could shake the feeling that I´m paying "precios especiales" (special gringo prices). It´ll be nice to be out of the tourist circuit soon so I´m not being ripped off on a regular basis.

Peru has been just as diverse as Ecuador, but in very different ways. First up was the very westerized and crazy-busy Lima (see pics here), then it was off to the desert. Having grown up in the desert, I wasn´t too thrilled about spending much time here, but it was quite different than anything I´d ever seen in Arizona. And it helped that I passed through much of it in the dark on over-night buses. An invaluable lesson from this trip - pay the extra money for a comfortable over-night bus. I spent a 10 hour bus ride from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. on my way to Nazca in a seat that didn´t fully recline, next to a window on one side that wouldn´t close all the way (letting the freezing wind in all night), and on the other a mother with a wiggly child on her lap. I also got to listen to the squeaking of some unknown loose part that I began to hope was an essential component of the engine that was about to fall off and end the bus ride in a giant ball of flames. At least it would´ve been over.

So I started my trip through the desert in a very strange and unreal place. The city of Huacachina is an oasis-town with a handful of houses and hostels perched around a lagoon and surrounded by giant dunes.

The main attractions here are dune buggy rides into the desert and sand-boarding. Of course I had to do both, but sadly, there are no pictures. I had a blast, but I definitely don´t think a sand-boarding craze is in the near future.

While in Huacachina, I hiked up to the top of the dunes to gaze out over the tiny town.

I love this photo because it looks like someone took it for me, but I used my handy timer to do it myself. I think it covers so many of the themes of my journey: adventure, reflection, observation and perhaps most importantly, independence.

After Huacachina, I took the infamous over-night bus to Nazca to see the even more infamous Nazca lines. The Nazca lines fall into the category of not-worth-it-but-you-can´t-come-to-Peru-and-not-see-them. If you haven´t heard of the Nazca lines, you don´t really know much less than the people who have been studying them for 100 years. The lines are the mysterious formations created over hundreds of square miles of desert that can only be see from the air, prompting lots of theories that they were created as landing sites for aliens hundreds of years ago. Other theories say that they were a sophisticated map of the constellations, a map of the sources of water in the desert or, most widely accepted, that they were used by the Nazca people in rituals surrounding the importance of water. Pretty incredible stuff, but not worth what I paid to go up in the air for 20 minutes and barely get a glimpse of them. And of course, my pilot, despite the fact that I have passable Spanish skills, insisted on using English, which consisted of, "Lady, hey lady, the lines, you see the lines, look there lady, the lines, you see?" It was unforgettable, but not in the way the Nazca people had intended.

In my final town for this entry, I thankfully left the desert and headed into the gorgeous colonial town of Arequipa.

I´m torn when I come to towns like this because they are so beautiful and yet are the result of the Spanish conquest and massacre of a giant group of native people. Oh well, like a good American tourist, I put the history of injustice and genocide out of my mind soon after I arrived.

Arequipa really is tranquilo like I keep hearing people say about every town I´ve been to since I arrived in South America. I passed a few days drinking coffee and pisco sours in the balconies of restaurants like this one overlooking the Plaza de Armas.

After a while of rest and relaxation, I was ready for more adventure and headed out on a 3-day trek into the second deepest canyon in the world, Canyon del Colca. This was by far the best thing I´ve down in Peru and ranks high on the list for the whole trip. However, I´ve written a novel in this entry and am tired as hell, so details of the canyon are soon to come. Stay tuned . . .


Feminism in Latin America

I need to rant for a moment about the state of male/female roles in South America (I´m sure some of you saw this coming). Back to more light-hearted topics in my next entry, I promise.

For the aspiring radical feminist in me, South America can be a terrible place. In two words, machismo sucks. This macho attitude that many of the men have (to be fair, it´s not all of them) eminates from them like a stench. You know they have never in their lives experienced the degradation they are inflicting on the women of their culture. My heart aches and my blood boils just thinking about what I´ve experience just in this short time, and even more when I think that the women here have to endure it on a daily basis. If I hear one more whistle, "tss tss", "reina (queen)" or variant, or endure one more unashamed, 10-minute stare, something in me will snap. Imagine if a man walking down the street to do some mundane chore of daily life had to listen to constant cat-calls and be subject to lengthy, leering stares from dozens of women along the way? Sounds ridiculous, right? Then why is it okay when we only reverse the genders?!

I´m slightly comforted by the fact that tourists seem to experience the worst treatment and the local women aren´t harassed nearly as much, but it doesn´t make it right. No woman, no PERSON should be treated this way. Ever. I want to take the women away from here, if only for a day, to experience a place where they are viewed completely as equals and not subject to this constant harassment, but I wonder, where would I take them? The U.S. certainly appears better on the surface, but we still have a long way to go to erase attitudes not even a half-century old about a woman´s place in society. I´ve become accustomed to the objectification and male baises that exist in our own society, just as I imagine they´ve become accustomed to it here, so is it really any better?

It´s sad to think that this problem is only the most visible part of what is a larger women´s rights issue including all the usual suspects - unequal access to education, employment inequality, domestic violence, etc. Of course, this is not the worst women´s rights issue in the world (at least Latinas can go to school and don´t have to cover their entire bodies when they go out in public), but it disgusts me even still. And as a tourist, especially a solo one, I can do nothing to fix it. Even angry responses would likely invite laughter and more attention. For now, I´ll leave the work to activist groups (like those that organize the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentros) and I´ll have to settle for observation and mounting rage.