Tuesday, September 26, 2006

back to "normal"

I worked for the first time in two months today. Normally that is a joyous occasion, a relief to be part of societ again. Uh huh. Granted, it was just 3 hours of work, listening to oral exams but it was tough to concentrate again. I can't believe how much I'll be working come mid October but it's a deal I make. When I work, I work a lot but then there is time off. It's almost a given that the following times each year could be open to me if I wanted time off or travel:

mid Feb two weeks
Easter two weeks
late May/June 10 days
late July two months
Xmas three weeks

that's insane! And more or less, that is how I use my time. Unfortunately, when it is time to work, there is no chance for sick days or vacation outside of those times. I'm not complaining. Just think, I only have to work my ass off for two and a half months and then I'll be in California for three weeks. That is a fair deal to say the least!

What about next year? Yes, I'm such a travel freak, a 32-year old trapped in a 25-year old mindset that I'm scheming already about next year. But also I've got to plan, that's part of it as well. My folks will probably come visit around Easter and I think our plan is to go to Berlin finally, meet Assiyeah's parents (I've met them already but the folks haven't!) and then maybe go somewhere for a week, either to Scandinavia or Spain. I'll probably go somewhere for a week in the late May spot and then next summer I am thinking hmm, where? Central America has its hurricane Mexico could be big enough for us during that time, I think it's got to be a Spanish speaking area so that we can improve still but that is so far away I can barely think about it, but yet here I am...

I picked up 35 of the rolls of film from South America. After having looked at about 15 rolls, I see some mistakes/difficulties I'm having with the zoom lens, exactly what I was afraid about on this trip. I have about 3-4 good shots I think and many were messed up because they just weren't in focus enough, especially once they are blown up to poster size. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience for me, mostly that the shutter speed must be much faster when using the lens and well, that's it.

I gotta check the carrots that are boiling and I gotta work at 9.15am tomorrow so yeah, things have kinda returned to normal...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

BACK

Two months in South America under the belt, seems like we just left yesterday, there's actually quite a bit to tell but I'm so jetlagged I'm out of it!

The flight from Lima to Caracas was okay but getting on the plane in Caracas was such a huge pain in the ass! We had to wait in at least 3 different lines, clusterf*ck! Caracas to Paris was fine except the seats were uncomfortable as hell and on the second two flights there was someone near who stank like hell! We arrived in Paris safely, obviously, but missed our connecting flight, something that forced us to wait around an extra 4 hours, then the flight left an hour late, my bag did not arrive and we arrived home about 5 hours after we had originally thought.

Remember now, home has a different meaning. We moved before we left for South America so we came home to a new apartment across the street, smaller, older, no balcony but still nice and much much cheaper! So we got home and there was a dude from Saudi Arabia living in our room. We knew that someone would be living in our apartment besides our roommate but we figured he would be living in the other room, so we're going to have to switch tonight or tomorrow.

I went to bed around 11pm and slept until 12.30pm today! Seriously, it's only 6pm but I'm already tired! haha I got a haircut, dropped off my 39 rolls of film from the trip. That's great, because I hoped to have 40 good pictures so that is only one picture per roll. I need to think about the next exhibition, would like to do it before the year is out, UNLESS ISW, the culture management school I work at, the students want to help me do it up bigger than the last two times because that I can do on my own now, ya know?

We have our lives in the cellar but no motivation to go dig in there to find the nice clothes I'll need next week for work so get at my books and well, my life as I said. I'll be in touch!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the last full day

not much to report, we have had a kick ass hotel in lima, overlooking the beach, haven´t done too much, a shitload of shopping, some souvenir stuff, I think we are going to get manicures and pedicures next, that´s right gentlemen, just a bit of pruning before going back to germany. Hey, it will only cost 15 bucks total for the two of us to get the mani and the pedi, as they say.

Oh yeah, and I´m an uncle now, so to speak! My oldest friend, as in the person I have known the longest, Amy Mensch nee Renziehausen gave birth to a boy today, Jake! That is an amazing feeling, I can´t wait to see him in 3 months at Xmas time and I hope Amy is doing okay, a shoutout to ya´ll and much love!

There is a bunch of crap to take care of when we get back, namely why did the landlord not receive rent while I was gone, where is my cell phone and which of the numerous souvenirs will Assiyeah let me put on the walls!

ciao

Saturday, September 16, 2006

day of the condor

We have less than a week left. We woke up at 5am today, the 4th time in a week that we have been awake at that time, lets you know that travel in South America is different than Europe or the States!

We have really enjoyed Arequipa to this point, a town with much fewer poor beggars and people who seem to have a life with some purpose, along with all of the restaurant touts who will do just about anything to get you in their restaurant! I know it sounds jaded but after Bolivia and the first part of Peru, it was disconcerting the blatant poverty with tourists spending their money right around it. Dont worry, I wont get on my pedastool, most of you couldnt see me anyway.

We went out with a couple of girls from couchsurfing two nights ago and that was after getting to see the best preserved frozen body found in the Americas, a 12 year old girl who was sacrificed by the Incas about 500 years ago and was hidden in snow the whole time until a volcanic eruption melted the snow around her and some hikers found her. We went, not the frozen girl but the other two, two an Irish bar and had some mojitos for about a euro a piece and then Assiyeah and I booked our trip to Colca Canyon.

Colca Canyon was a place I had been excited about over a year. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, its deepest point having been verifed at 4160meters or nearly 14,000 feet deep! We paid 18 bucks that included the bus, guide, hotel and breakfast and the rest we had to pay for. We got picked up a little after 8am yesterday and it was a good mix of people out of the 25 or so, Dutch, French, German, Peruvian, Argentine, Spanish, American, Australian and Brazilian. The guide kept us in good spirits and along the 4 hour drive out to the town near the canyon, we got some chances to shop, see llamas and other animals and had a nice buffet lunch. Afterwards, we checked into our place, the Star of David it was called, a very basic accomodation where the rest of our floor was still being built actually.

We took off on a 2 hour hike and saw some skulls and some old burial sites and pre Incan terracing for agriculture before being driven to the thermal baths nearby. I had been once in my life in Germany and now twice in one week, go figure! That was very relaxing after the hike and then the Dutch guys and us found our own restaurant which was tasty but a bit chilly. It seemed that there was activity in the town of about 10,000, with a concert going on and lots of people out and about. After getting back to our room for an early night, we clearly noticed another party or two in action not far from our windows. They went on in some capacity until 3.45am but luckily I only heard it until 11pm before my old bones wore out.

We were up at 5am, breakfasted and on the bus by around 6.10am and then went to a small village with some kids doing traditional dancing for tips to pay for their prom dance and stuff and then continued to the place to see the condors, birds that can live up to 50-60 years and have a wingspan of about 10 feet. We didnt see any right away so it was another hike, this one just about 40 minutes and then, towards the end we got to see them along with about 200 other tourists. There were two of them and the grace with which they floated below us and above us was quite astounding, as in we were in the middle of nowhere, somehow someone had noticed that these birds are there around 9am everyday and over years time tours have been built with this as the main focus. It was fantastic.

With the tourists come people selling stuff. Assiyeah got a great belt and we had some awesome avocado sandwiches freshly made for 25 cents each. We made it back to Chivay, where we had stayed the night before and the Dutch guys and the Australian girl found our own lunch which was a 3 course meal for less than 2 bucks. We had a long bus ride back after that and stopped at the highpoint of the trip, 4910 meters or about 16,300 feet! We werent even on a mountain for gods sake, it was pretty flat there! We got back around 5.30pm, checked into our old hotel but a different room and in the middle of showering, the power on the whole floor went out. They gave us a different room.

We are flying to Lima tomorrow, our final destination on this epic journey. I am looking forward to it, getting back to Germany and our new apartment, trying to find my clothes and books and all that jazz in our enormously full cellar before starting work in about 11 days. Wow, work, I almost forgot what that was like!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

day of forgetting

oh yeah,

I cannot wait to have the security of a hot shower everyday again!

day AFTER machu picchu

We just saw the highlight of South America yesterday, a little place called Machu Picchu. It is an old Inca site that is quite well preserved, having been discovered by the scientific world in 1911 by a Yale student named Hiram Bingham but first...

We got to Cuzo, found our host"s place of business, a danish coffeehouse, and then our host, Robert, took us to his place, we had our own room, sweet! We had a nice dinner, had a tea at the coffeehouse after and that was our first evening in Cusco.

The next day while having breakfast, we saw the Japanese guy that we had met the day before and he joined us. His name is Yuki and he is from Tokyo. The three of us walked around the main square and then found Thomas, the Belgian dude who was on the adventure from La Paz to Copacabana with us. The four of us spent the rest of the day together, mostly chilling at cafes and relaxing, something we had not done in ages. It was a great day for sure.

That evening I got the chance to see Anne Marie again, a girl from Canada I had met over 6 years ago! We have stayed in touch over the years and she had an off night as a guide for French Canadian people and it was so great to see her again, what a nice end to a great day.

The next day was more frustrating, trying to find the supplies to make my photo exhibition at Anne Maries friends cafe. Sorry for the lack of apostrophes but I cant find them on this keyboard. Anyway, I bought about 15 euro worth of crap I could not use and ended up taping the photos on the walls! Very professional, right? The exhibition actually went well, I sold 4 of the photos, for cheap of course, but from travellers I had met the previous few weeks travelling. Some awesome live music started after that and we hung out until almost 12 but had to get home because we had to get up at 5am the next day for the train.

The four of us, Assiyeah, Thomas, Yuki and I were on a train at 6.15 am to take us to Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is. It was a shopping and eating village but we had a good time and even visited the thermal baths up the hill a bit. We were up at 5am again the next day and were on a 6am bus to the top of the hill. It is amazing that this place was ever found, this is about the hardest terrain in the world to move about, god only knows how the Spaniards ever got around!

The first site of Machu Picchu was fantastic and what made it even better is that it was totally shrouded in clouds and fog not 10 minutes later and that lasted almost an hour! Unfortunately our tour guide found us shortly after that, a bitch of a woman named Cecilia who talked to us like we were kids and scolded us in front of the tour group. Cecilia, F you, I hope you get diarrehea. Okay, so we finished the tour with the other guide who spoke in English, a much nicer woman. Assiyeah and I climbed a small hill and had a great view of the site and even called my mom from the top which was a big surprise for her. We all met for lunch after that and by then the place was packed with tourists, like crazy packed! We took a 2pm bus down and did some last minute shopping before getting on the train. I bought a book by Hiram Bingham of him discovering Machu Picchu, a book that is out of print in the US and some pieces of cake. The train ride was pretty easy and at 8pm we were back in Cusco. Our travel agent escorted us to the bus station and we were immediately on a night bus to Arequipa. It was a bit curvy at first, they put on the Pink Panther movie but we slept most of the time. We arived at 6am and a guy met us to take us to our room which costs 10euro a night and has cable tv. We just had a nice lunch and will visit the big monastery a few blocks away after that.

That is it, more or less, I am starting to look forward to being home in Germany but there is still lots of travel time left!

cheers

Thursday, September 07, 2006

day of the unchartered boats

It has been awhile, I´ll give you that but there really is too much to tell.

We left La Paz with the hopes of getting to Copacabana but it was blockaded and had been for a few days so we decided to get adventurous. We took a taxi to the cementery district of the city and there caught a minibus with 15 other people (yes, we all fit somehow!) along with one Belgian guy who was celebrating his 22nd birthday that day. We took this little bus up out of the canyon, through El Alto and then two hours later arrived at the border town of Desaguadero, not used often except for blockades apparently. We had lunch, the three of us, which included soup, a plate with rice and meat and potates and sodas and for all 3 of us it cost 3 dollars, unbelievable. We walked across the border into Peru and got into another minibus going to the other border of Peru and Bolivia, Yagunyo or something like that. We got there and crossed the border back to Bolivia with 3 Argentine girls and the Belgian. It was still 12 miles to Copacabana and we could have walked it, but of course no cars could pass and the roads were all blocked with rocks placed in disadvantageous places.

Then some other gringos at the border said they had just taken a boat to copacabana. This was not the kind of boat you find in the guidebook. Really, we said. A man appeared and said for 25 bolivianos each he would take us. The Argentine girls said no more than 10. The dude walked away, another appeared and said, okay, 10. We followed him down a path that looked a prime place to get robbed, were escorted on rowboats out to the main boat and then had to wait for a few more tourists to get wrangled into the deal. We arrived at Copacaban around 6.30pm, about 8 hours after our day had started. We had officially entered a city that was blockaded.

Walking up the main street from the beach, it was obvious this town was dead because of the blockade. A guy offered us rooms much cheaper than normal, Assiyeah and I paid less than 4 dollars for a room with private bath and TV! We had a great dinner of trout caught in the lake and then called it an early night.

The next day we went Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the Incas. After the two hour boat journey, we hiked up 30 minutes to the top of the island and had the most amazing views from our room for 10 dollars! Dinner was about 3 bucks a person with soup, trout and rice and dessert of banana with chocolate sauce. I can´t even describe the sunset we saw.

This morning they tried to screw us again. They said the tourist boat wasn´t coming because no tourists were around and so our only chance to get back to the mainland was to go with the husband of the woman at the hotel who was going to get gas. He wanted 30 bolivianos for the same trip that cost us 10 the day before! We were unsure and, after asking a couple of other unrelated people down the dirt path, they assured us the boat was leaving from the other side at 10.30 like always.

So we walked down some Inca steps, and made it to the bottom where the boat driver told us he wanted 60 per person! Then 50. We sat down to wait awhile and then another couple came down. He said 30 was the best he could do and when we said no, he and his buddies started walking up the steps we had come down. They disappeared and now we thought we would have to wait 6 hours for the 4pm boat. Then another dude appeared wanting 30 but the Argentine girls got him down to 20. But the 2 Peruvian people waiting with us couldn´t pay that much so we agreed to pay 5 for two of them. Then a third person wanted this special price and we more or less turned a deaf ear and they had to haul their 6 heavy bags off the boat.

We got back to Copacabana around 12.30 and the dude who had taken us from the border the day before was there waiting, happy to take us for 10 Bolivianos, especially because someone else offerred only 8. We went with the 10 Bollie dude and then another 2 bolivianos for the row boat to shore and we were at the border again. To Bolivian exit stamp, then Peruvian entry stamp, a taxi to the bus station and then a 2+ hour bus to Puno, Peru where we are now. There is stuff I am leaving out but that is okay, I will tell you more soon, especially because we are going to Cusco tomorrow! This was the capital of the Inca Empire and I have read quite a bit about it lately and am excited to see it. We should be arriving around dark tomorrow and stay for 3 days and then go to Machu Picchu, then to Arequipa if possible and then to Lima to finish up! I will be home in Germany in 16 days!

Monday, September 04, 2006

day of barry manilow

Copa, copacabana is our goal for tomorrow. I am a bit sick now but it was nice not doing much today. We bought 3 dvds yesterday for 3 euro, Memories of a Geisha, Weatherman and Motorcycle Diaries. We watched Weatherman today and then in the afternoon went to a place called the Moon Valley, with strange rock formations jutting out from the ground and a nice little 40 minute walk around them, with occasional 30 foot drops next to the path.

We heard the road to copacabana is closed by strike but we are trying to go there tomorrow. Assiyeah is still trying to talk me into going to Arequipa for a couple of days and we could just do that, it would be a spontaneous thing and that makes it exciting. I will have to do some research.

Dodgers are in first place, we bought a bunch of souvenirs here, blanket, jacket, beanie, stuff like that and in a way I am looking forward to getting to Peru. I have enjoyed Bolivia but it definitely is not an easy country to travel in. Your standards have to be dropped quite a bit but it is cheap as hell. I guess ya gotta put it all in perspective, that I can spend two weeks here and some people have to spend their whole lives here. I will send in another update in a couple of days.

A shoutout to my folks who are celebrating their 35th anniversary tomorrow!

Friday, September 01, 2006

day T minus 20

We have exactly 20 days left in our south american holiday and we are currently in the highest capital city in the world. It´s funny but I think Bolivia has the highest of many things...

We are staying at a kick ass place in La Paz, the parents of a student at ISW. All three German families we have met or stayed with on this trip have absolutely incredible houses and it´s easy to see why they are where they are if they can live so large. You´d have to be the president of Mercedes Benz to have the kinds of places they have.

Sucre was interesting in the respect that there were strikes the whole time we were there. We were even woken up yesterday at 7.30am to the sounds of dynamite being detonated in the streets. We had been told the strike of transportation folk would last two days and it even included the people who work at museums for some reason but on the third day, it was the construction dudes on strike I guess with lots of cement-looking trucks blocking the streets. We didn´t think much of it until we tried to go to the airport yesterday.

Oh, before I forget, my last two nights in Sucre we ate at the same French restaurant next to our hotel and I had filet mignon wrapped in bacon with a mushroom sauce both nights for the whopping sum of 3dollars and 50 cents. It´s good to be the king! hahah

Anyway, we get into a taxi and more than halfway there, there is a blockade keeping us from going further. We´ll go the other way, the taxi driver says and we get a bit further but then there is another blockade. He tries to drive up a steep dirt road but starts spinning the tires and so we back down and try and go back where we came from but now there are large rocks in the road keeping us from even doing that. We drove back to the second blockade and there changed taxis on the other side of the cement trucks. We shared it with a woman from South Dakota who has been living in Bolivia for the past 7 years working for a nonprofit organization. We ended up making it on time and the flight was relatively uneventful.

There is nothing to prepare you for the sight as you take a taxi from the airport to La Paz, going through a town called El Alto and then bam, you´re on the edge of a canyon with La Paz sprawled out in ALL directions underneath. It was a bit overwhelming but we had to switchback all the way down so the sight became something our minds could deal with. We made it to our host´s house, a hacieda of sorts about 20 minutes by taxi from the chaos of the city, with mountains just outside their house. We were greeted by the maid and after awhile later, we took a taxi into town, visited the main church, at the Plaza San Francisco and visited the museum and then walked around the Witches´Market, buying some souvenirs and then down El Prado before getting into another taxi to take us to Mongo´s a bar with free tapas from 6 to 7.30pm. It was dead while we were there but had some juice and some free chile con carne. We called for a taxi, went home and made dinner and were in bed by 11pm.

Today we´ve visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Cathedral and a place called Cafe Berlin. It´s tough walking around at this altitude, about 13,500 feet but we are meeting a hospitalityclub guy in about an hour and hopefully he can show us some good stuff. I have my good camera with me but there is not much to photograph as of yet and I think I will probably take no photos of La Paz, it´s a bit too sketchy to be carting around a big camera on my neck but I´ll have the digi camera.

All right, we´re going to see some more of the city, you´ll hear from me soon! ciao!

day T minus 20 part two

Well, let´s be honest. I accidentally posted the one below twice and couldn´t figure out how to delete it so you get another slice of me. How does that taste?