Friday, March 27, 2009

Peru - a Roundup

Since I'm leaving for London today, I figured now would be the best time to do my Peru Roundup.

As soon as you land in Cusco, you notice a massive disconnect. It's as if the country hasn't worked out if it's modern or agrarian. On one side you see farmers cutting their crops by hand and transporting them on the back of llamas; on the other, you see internet cafes, scores of mobile phones and ipods hanging out of every second pocket. It's odd, but it's kind of cool.

Most of the buildings are made of mudbrick, and who am I to comment on that? I live in a mudbrick house, although mine is neater, much larger, much nicer to look at, and alot stronger too. Still, it's kind of strange seeing mudbrick being used on such a large scale. By the same token, some parts of town look like they've been lifted straight out of Eastern Europe where concrete and rebar are king.

When you get to the Plaza de Armas in the heart of Cuzco you can appreciate how old and full of history the palce is. Everything on the way from the airport is new and looks like crap, but the closer you get to the centre, the older and better everything gets. Most buildings still contain Inca framework and stone - it's dead straight, has no mortar between the cracks and is as black as tarmac. I think it's a black variety of granite, but I'm not positive. The largest buildings by far are the Spanish churches, the cathedral being the biggest. Regardless of my misgivings about religion, I can safely say they've got one thing right - architecture. The cathedral's 15 metre high pillars of Incan stone are a sight to behold - it's a pity cameras are not allowed in there.

Cusco is a bustling place with taxis weaving in and out of pedestrians, and hawkers flogging stuff every couple of steps. The streets are steep but lined with Inca stonework and every second shop seems to be an camping store. Every other shop is a supermarket, restaurant or souvenir store.

The further you get out of the city, the better it gets. Once you're past the chaos of a society driving around in daihatsu charades you can appreciate the splendor that is Peru. I've already touched on it in other articles, but it's just stunning. Proper mountains along every road, roaring rivers in every valley, and tireless farmers in funny hats endlessly toiling in their corn fields. The roads have no lines, but that's ok, everyone here knows what's going on. There are many eucalyptus trees here too. They were introduced in the 19th century from Australia to provide timber and they spread much like blackberry bushes back home. The downside is the timber is kind of shit (but Australians knew that already). Still, it smells nice, and there are places which you would swear are in Adelaide. I have a couple of photos.

The 'frontier towns' are small and geared towards tourists because everything up here is related to the Inca Trail in some way or another. Want a walking stick? Easy. Want a plastic Poncho? Just over there. Want a beanie/gloves/scarf or socks, sir? Please sir I have a family to support. Everyone speaks Espaniol which is difficult for me because I speak very little, but most people are happy to mime and speak at the same time. Just be wary, if your grasp of Spanish isn't that hot, you'll be reamed at the markets.

Money-wise they deal in soles. 2soles = $1 AUD so it's pretty easy to manage funds here. You know you've been in a country too long when you say to yourself, 'hmm, I dunno... $5AUD DOES seem a bit pricey for a 3 course meal...' For instance, last night I paid $6AUD for a 4 course meal: Garlic bread, mushroom soup, fetuccini alfredo and a pancake. Tasty, nutritious, filling and cheap.

Before I left, people said 'Oh, you´ll be staying in hostels, you'll be able to cook for yourself to keep things cheap.' This is true, but when a full meal is $5AUD I'm not cooking.

The weather has been pretty cold at night but fairly warm during the day (warm considering we're in the mountains). My guess is 5 degrees C at night, 18 during the day, the highest temperature being about 22 earlier in the week.

It's a magical country and one I insist people experience. Put it on your Bucket List - it's that good. I think I'll be back at some stage with friends or a girlfriend or something because it's a place that is truly eye-opening, and one that would be a shame to miss. You've got around 80 years on this planet, it'd be a damn shame not to spend a fragment of that time in Cusco.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Macchu Picchu

I really don´t know where to begin. Today was the culmination of boyhood dreams, hard work and a shitload of walking. Macchu Picchu was everything I imagined it to be, eventually, and was a picturesque as one could hope for.

The group woke at 3:50am, packed all the stuff and stumbled to the breakfast table. A few people were nervous about the climb, but I was feeling pretty sparky. At 4:30am we started walking down steep slippery paths in the dark - what´s a blind cliff-top walk between friends? Arrived at the checkpoint after 15 minutes or so and stood in line. Most of the wait was spent listening to the Perth girls embarass each other with ´blonde moment´stories. At one point, as the darkness slowly faded, a European tour group came marching down the path with one girl declaring 'Hexcuse me. Bhut I need to join my thour grhoup.´ She probably used more 'h's' now that I think about it. Stan and Sam slagged off at them which was good for a laugh. It's strange - the Euros I've met this tour seem to be quite impatient. Scots/Irish/Poms/French are all good, it's the mainlanders you have to watch out for (Yes, I'm aware that France is on the continent).

After a pretty long wait the checkpoint was opened and we started the 2 or so hour walk to the Sun Gate. By this time light was slowly pouring into the world and we could see the mist hanging in the valley at least 600 metres below us. At a few places there was a good 200 metre drop just feet from the edge of the path. Was fun looking over the edge - it almost felt as though I would fly if I jumped. We walked through surreal forest and along narrow clifftop paths for quite a while, and even though we were talking and making noise, the sound seemed to get eaten up. Very strange. Many trees, many drops, and some light rain later, we found ourselves at the base of 50 ridiculously steep stairs. Very old, quite slippery in places, and pretty bloody dangerous if your attention lapsed. Made it up them no worries (pretty easy after climbing our jarrah staircase back home) and continued to the Sun Gate. At one point there was an image straight out of Crouching Tiget, Hidden Dragon. There is a scene at the end of the movie where the female lead is leaning on a pretty crappy railing which overhangs a massive cloud-covered drop. It was like that, but without the Chinese people.

We arrived at the Sun Gate to find Macchu Picchu completely obscured by cloud a long way below us so we waited for the slower people to catch up before setting off down the hill to a sacrificial altar shaped like a llama. It's a pretty solid rock really. I think I have a photo somewhere. After another 20 minute wait (I don't like waiting) we walked further down to a mini Macchu Picchu site where we waited AGAIN. From there it was a 20 minute walk to Macchu Picchu proper. Shortly before arriving (5 steps in fact) Ruth fell flat on her arse. 45km with no worries, only to trip at the last second. We walked the 5 last steps to the lookout spot where every Macchu Picchu postcard picture is taken and saw... Fuck all. The whole bloody city was covered in ten tenths cloud. No buildings, no roads, no mountain, no view. Completely anti-climactic. I dubbed the rock 'The Rock of Dissapointment' and we sat around in a fairly dejected silence. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. I can look at view-obscuring cloud at home. After sitting for 20 minutes or so we walked down a path we COULD see and made our way to the ticket office. I got my passport stamped with the Inca Trail stamp of approval - there was no way I was leaving without it - then stood in line for tickets.

Having regrouped, we began our tour. Partway through, the sun made a brief appearance, then buggered off. Cheeky bastard. Fifteen minutes later the cloud lifted, the sun came out and we were met with the awe-inspiring sight of Macchu Picchu mountain, Macchu Picchu city, and all the grandoise stonework. It was a hell of a thing. Everything is absolutely perfect. The town is well-spaced, the roads are dead-flat (barring stairs of course), the stone walls are enormous and the mountains are dominating. Bright sunshine lit the city and made the llama-trimmed grass glow. The view is indescribable. The valley is too deep, the mountains are too high and the river below is too fast to comprehend without physically being there. The tour ended, leaving us to explore on our own. I headed back to the Rock of Disappointment with the Perthies for postcard shots. I also saw a midget that looked just like Ewan McGregor. I took 3 photos without him noticing.

Pictures done, we walked down MORE BLOODY STAIRS to the bus station and caught the bus to our lunch and train spot. Both Sams bought 'I survived the Inca Trail' shirts from a short fat woman who didn't budge much when it came to bargaining. Caught the train back to Ollantaytambo then transferred to a bus back to Cuzco. At one point during the bus ride back, Sean turned to me and said 'You can see why they worshipped mother earth, hey?'. I couldn't have agreed more as a turn in the road had just revealed a view of mountains, trees, fields and glaciers. The place is magic and I'm damn proud that I came this far and did the trek. Seeing Macchu Picchu without the trek seems a bit cheap, a bit 'everything-on-a-silver-platter'. We all went out to dinner that night to celebrate and a few of us went off to a club where I danced like a pillock until 1am.

Bloody terrific day, one of the best of my life so far.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It´s all gone Cosmic

I thought I´d do something different with this entry since I´ve been away for... I´m not sure. 5 days? 6 days? At any rate, I figured I´d post what I wrote down in my little black book because it´s a pretty good indication of how the hike went (read: really well). Also take into account that I´m one of the least cosmic people you´ll meet, so what transpired on the hike is interesting to say the least.

The Journey from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo

Liam Gallagher was once asked ´Do you believe in magic?´ His reply was ´Sometimes I do, yeah, man. And sometimes I don´t. Today I do, tomorrow I might not.'
Today has been a day of believing in magic. From the crowded buses to the towering mountains, today has been a day of true adventure. Real National Geographic stuff. I saw people straight out of Grimm´s fairytales, and places straight out of Lord of the Rings. New Zealand has nothing on the Andes. I was reminded of how much society owes to little old ladies with heavy loads on their backs. Not contemporary Western Society, more human history as a whole.
These people are tiny and sturdy.

We stopped at a school this afternoon to buy souvenirs and to give gifts to the kids. I took a heap of snacks for the kids and bought a hat and scarf from a stall a woman had set up. The kids mobbed us when we brought out the cameras. CLICK *kids giggle* 'One more?' 'Si! Si! Si!'
These kids could not get enough of the limelight. They would insist on looking at every picture after it was taken.

We had a colossal local lunch of soup, corn, guinea pig and a potato-rice combo. Delicious, filling, and very different to what we eat at home. The kids in the classroom danced and sang for us before inviting us to join the fray. Buggered if we knew what to do, but we joined in anyway. I think I hurt a kid´s hand when I swung him into the air. Poor little bastard, his head didn´t even reach my waist. Hair-raising bus rides were tempered by views that no photograph can do justice. It is impossible to communicate scale. 'Big' and all its synonyms are not adequate words to describe what I saw.

I can see why it's called the Sacred Valley - there is something truly holy about this place. That isn't to say there is a religious vibe, more that it is truly one of the world's special places. It´s peaceful even when it's noisy, and it glows even when the sun is hidden. Inca structures are everywhere - on hills, in valleys, along the road - everywhere. In Ollantaytambo there are Inca sites on both sides of the hill. Huge stone storehouses on one side, enormous battlements on the other. The buildings stretch high to the sky and are only missing their ceilings, such is the state of preservation. In the town proper there are many Inca streets and avenues lined with the iconic sloped stone walls. People live in the Inca dwellings today and continue to use diverted river water to feed their houses and clean their gutters. The ground is a mixture of Inca flagstones and Spanish cobbles, and you can see the history all around you. Tonight is a group dinner, then sleep. The hike starts tomorrow.

Inca Trail

Terry Pratchett speaks of 'enlightenment country' in Thief of Time and it is clear that he is referencing Nepal or Tibet. It could, however, quite easily be the Andes. Around every bend is another mountain, another staggering view, another cloud-covered peak, another perfect moment. It's gobsmacking. Some people are just slogging along from rest stop to rest stop, but I'm stopping to smell the Alpacas (or their shit, of which there is alot). This place continues to astonish me, and I can't help but grin like a moron, or laugh like a lunatic. I'm in the Andes, walking the same trails as Inca royalty, and I'm loving it. This is Enlightenment Country. The scenery reminds me how small I am, but reminds me of how much there is left to see in the world. I look at the cloudy peaks and feel uplifted in a way I´ve never experienced. I have come to realise that the only thing stopping me from doing anything is myself. This is an important lesson to learn, especially at the age of 23. The Incan nobility walked trail 500 years ago to clean their mind, body and spirit. I get what they were on about.

As far as the walk today was concerned, it was a no-brainer. There was some flat, some down, and some consistent up thrown in as well. This place is built of UP. The new additions to our tour are mostly aussie girls with a Londoner and a bloke from melbourne to round out the group. All top people. Got talking to a Perth girl, Sam, which is great because it's one less name I have to remember. If I forget her name, I forget my own name, which puts me in a bit of trouble. I kept walking at a solid pace today with the only complaint being a bit of heat on my right heel. No dramas at all. Bloody long trek tomorrow - about 18km, but we go up to 4200m above sea level, then back down to 3600m, then up to 3900m, then down to 3600m again. I do not dread it at all. I'm feeling fit and healthy. I have maybe the heaviest pack of the travellers at 8.5kg. I'm carrying water and alot of 'What If' supplies, thanks to Davo´s advice back in high school. 'Pack like a pessimist, think like an optimist'. Good advice. There is no downside to carrying this extra weight - I'll get fit, stay hydrated, and be prepared for most things in the event that the weather or environment goes sour. I've been thinking of the SAS ever since I read 'Bravo Two Zero'. Compared to the shit they go through, this trek is just a quick walk to the shops.

The Long Day

Started walking at 6:30am today and walked straight up. We could go at our own pace today which is great, because I really struggle walking slowly - it´s far more tiring than getting a good rythym going. Did each leg in about half the estimated time which was great because it meant I had unimpeded views from the top of the passes and didn´t have anyone in my photos that wasn't supposed to be there. Had my first encounter with a squat toilet too - wasn't TOO bad, but a piece of 400mm irrigation pipe extended about 500mm up from the floor with a seat on top would be a vast improvement. What sort of people view squat toilets as a suitable alternative for a flushing loo?

The path to the top of the mountain was steep, oxygen-poor and incredibly rewarding. Real Lord of the Rings shit again today. I was climbing the Winding Stair. Epic. Caz and I made it to the 4000m sign and thought it was the top. We were quite wrong, as the stairway went another 200m up. We reached the top at about 9:30am - 15 minutes ahead of group 2. Got some amazing photos which I can´t upload just yet. We left after 40 minutes and made it to the lunch spot after another 45 minutes. Steep stairs, long descent, no dramas. I've found this whole trekking thing remarkably easy.
Started raining, kept walking in short sleeves with my jacket over my backpack. Got to keep the dry clothes dry. Tomorrow is a shorter day. Sweet.

Inca Trail Day 3 - The Doddle Day

Really bloody simple walk today. Only 4 hours along Peruvian Flat terrain (undulating surfaces). The stairs were incredibly steep on the way down - and by 'steep' I mean 'One wrong step and you're going to break some very important pieces of your body'. Still, loads of fun. Checked out a few Inca sites and chatted to Sam, Ruth and Mel alot. Checked out another Inca site with the group before plodding off into the Cloud Forest. Pretty cool place this Cloud Forest. Got to a turnoff at about 11am and took the long way with Sean to suss out an 'optional' Inca site. We took the long way and ran off into the trees, to be met 15 minutes later by terraces which dominated a whole hillside. It looked like a manmade mountain. After visiting the site we trekked down to the campsite, headed for the showers but ordered beer instead of a shower ticket. Funny how that works.

The group did an afternoon tea thing for the porters today which they loved. It's strange having people carrying the tents and food for you, but it's a damn sight easier than lugging it yourself. Tomorrow is Macchu Picchu. We wake at 3:50am. ugh.

I´'ll write up the thing on Macchu Picchu later on. I'm still sorting it out in my head. It was mesmerizing.

Gotta go buy a battery charger for my camera now - some Customs person in Lima must have nicked it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Okay, so I guess I *did* need that luggage

It arrived at 3pm today. Happy days. Drove to the airport with a taxi driver who informed me quite matter-of-factly that I drive a large car and am surrounded by 100 beautiful australian women everyday. Who am I to argue? If I disagreed I might not have reached the airport.

Cuzco is a city built of history. There are 600 year old Inca buildings all over the joint - even the spanish buildings are built on inca ruins. You have these mortarless black/grey foundations mounted by colonial spanish architecture. It´s phenomenal. No mortar, no glue, just good old fashioned precision. I´ll take some pics and upload them when I find a computer with a USB port (the hostel´s net is free, so I´m not arguing about the lack of an accessible USB port). The streets are narrow, ancient and cobbled, and the stairs are tall and widely-spaced, so you end up pushing yourself up stairs with one leg. Right, right, right right... pause, switch pace rate, left left left left. The altitude gets to you as far as exercise goes too. There is a shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate. When i´m walking around my heartrate sites at about 120bpm, when I´m resting it´s about 100 or so. It might be the altitude, or it might be the cocaine in this tea... I´m not entirely sure. Either way, two thumbs up!

Only took me a day or so to get used to the altitude thanks to this glorious coca tea. The leaves contain cocaine. Chuck some of the leaves in a cup, add hot water, and you´re right as rain. The leaves are about 1.5% cocaine. Chew it and your mouth goes numb. Also it has cocaine in it. Met a kiwi/aussie couple staying here, an irish couple and another gay Canadian, so I´ve had heaps of people to talk to. They too have cocaine in them. Goddam this tea is good. Going out to dinner with Sean and Emma (aussie/kiwi) tonight to sample some roasted guinea pig. Who knows, it might even have cocaine in it.

My appetite is back, and I am grateful for that. I swear it´s the climate that does it to you. Cold mountain air really works the stomach. Anyway, i´m gonna chuck on my new alpaca gloves and hat and head out to dinner. Speaking of alpacas, what does a pair of alpaca gloves and/or an alpaca beanie set you back in australia? I paid $5AUD for my gloves and $5AUD for my hat.

Buenos Noches or however the hell you spell it. NO HABLA ESPANIOL!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I didn´t need that luggage anyway

But really, American Airlines staff really need to get their shit together. In Cancun I said ´Do I need to pick up my bags at any airport, and recheck them on the way to Peru?
'Yes, sir. You will need to pick your bags up at Miami airport and re-check them through US customs.'
'What about Lima?'
'No, sir. Your bags will be checked through all the way to Cuzco.'
'Thank you'.

I asked twice, and I got the same answer. Arrived in Cuzco after a 1.5 hour flight from Cancun to Miami, a 5 hour flight from Miami to Lima and a 2 hour flight from Lima to Cuzco. Checked the baggage carousel. Nothing there. Not the best thing to do when you need all that stuff. Talked to LAN Peru and filled out some paperwork which should have reached Lima by 11am (it´s 2pm now). With any luck I´ll get it back late tonight or tomorrow morning. I was given an American AIrlines number to call (since they handled my bag from Miami to Lima) and they told me that LAN Peru was the only thing I could try, since it was LAN´s fault... apparently. I´m glad I have a 2 day buffer zone in this trip. 2 days before I need all my hiking gear, so fingers crossed.

I´m really tired, and I´m laughing alot because if I didn´t I think I´d just cry.
The hostel´s staff are really friendly and helpful though. The main girl´s english is pretty good. Nothing stellar, but we can communicate. Goddam I hope I get my luggage.

Another experience I can say I´ve lived through was getting kicked out of a classy hotel by a Mexican security team. I got a call from Team Deathsquad inviting me over to their hotel and hang out, so I jumped into a cab and headed over there. They were all standing at the security barrier waiting for me. As I hopped out of the cab Dan walked up to me and said quietly ´Tell the security guy you´re with us and you´re checking in. Oh, and put this towel over your wrist, no one goes anywhere here without a towel.´ It´s important to note that the reason I had to wear the towel was to hide the fact that I didn´t possess an orange wristband, a mandatory accessory if I want to be in a Spring Break hotel.
I walked past security and said, ´Hey mate, just checking in,´and walked off without a hitch. First stop was the team´s hotel room where they ordered a couple of beers and a cheeseburger for me. Their trip is an all-inclusive package. Chilled there for a bit then went down to the pool for a chat, towel still in hand. Didn´t order anything, and kept my mouth shut until we reached a table. Watched spring-breakers walk by for a bit until Dan said, ´Dude, we need some AC/DC cranking, since you´re an aussie and all.
We walked over to the music spot where the staff were constantly changing cds. It was here that a tiny Mexican security guard came up to us and said, ´Where is your armband, sir?´
I replied by pointing at Dan´s wrist and saying, ´He has his wristband, it´s cool.´It was at this point that five guards appeared out of nowhere in a calm but very definite manner. The music guys tried to communicate that I was just a non-consuming guest, but the others didn´t buy it. They asked me to leave, and followed Dan and I back to the lobby. Dan made a call, Jason brought down my bag from their room, all while a security guard watched from a short way away. Deathsquad escorted me down to the security gate where I caught a cab and buggered off. Very interesting day.

The ´chicken fucker´comment was based around Jason´s story of being a meth dealer for a few years. It broke his brain a little bit and he has really REALLY weird dreams. He was a chicken catcher for a while (that´s the job description) and it was during this time that his dreams got even worse. He was lying next to his girlfriend one night and, after thrashing around in his sleep, sat bolt upright and yelled out ´CHICKEN FUCKER!´, to which his girlfriend said, ´We´re sleeping in different beds now´.
´So yeah, that´s why they call me chicken fucker, not something I like really much,´he said with a laugh.
´That´s a good story, chicken fucker,´ I said and his mates lost their shit completely.

Mexico critique time.

I don´t like Mexico. I like Chichen Itza, in fact I love Chichen Itza, but that´s about the only gem. I met some great people, namely the MMA team and some American girl called Nikki who decided that we´d be good old fashioned pen pals. Could be interesting. And before you ask, no, she has a fella back home. Met a couple of cool German guys too - I can now say that I´ve cockblocked a German (you guys DO know that term right?). Was pretty funny.

As far as the culture/ country itself goes, the only conclusion I can make is ít´s ok to visit for a very short time, but it gets shit quick.´ The climate is disgusting since it´s right on the equator, all the food smells and looks the same, the water is poison, the fruit and vegetables should be avoided unless they can be peeled properly (citrus and bananas), and the people seem out to get you in a shifty sort of way. They expect a tip after the smallest of services for instance. Don´t get me wrong, I met some good ones. My waiter, Felipe, the bar manager who bought me a beer, and a cab driver I met who would point to American girls on the side of the road and say ´Nice pussy.´But beyond that, it´s not a country I would recommend, save for visiting Chichen Itza. Cancun is pretty much ON the equator too, but it´s a different climate to other tropical places I´ve been. The air feels like miasma for one. Still, Peru is cold as balls and not humid, so it´s a great change. Just need to get used to the altitude and I´ll be fine. Need luggage too.

One thing I haven´t had much of is an appetite. I don´t feel nervous about the places I´m in, and I´m not thinking of a potential meal as a catalyst for a stomach virus, but I still have that butterflies in the stomach thing going on. It´s getting old. Oh, and Mexican food is way better in the US and Australia. Mum, your bean muck kicks the shit out of anything I´ve had here.

Adios for now, I´m going to check to see if LAN Peru has called. I won´t feel complete until I have my colossal Deuter backpack with me again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No habla espaniol? Too fucking right no habla espaniol

Mexico has proven to be an interesting place. Woke up at noon yesterday just for fun and ran into one of the scariest dudes I've ever seen. Naturally I started up a conversation with him (saw an American flag, figured he couldn't be dangerous. I was wrong). He's possibly one of the most dangerous fellas I've ever met, and so were his mates. They are the USA's entry into the World Amateur MMA Championships. They call themselves Team Deathsquad, and you couldn't hope to meet a more personable bunch of blokes. They invited me to sit with them at their table for lunch and we had a great chat about their fights, the collection of cuts and bruises on their bodies, and their hopes for the future. Went out to the pool with them after lunch (about 2pm) and stayed out there till 11pm talking shit. One of them recently lost his title and the belt he so loved, and the other was preparing for his first fight in seven months. Dan on the other hand went to the bar and found someone from his home town. One guy used to be a meth dealer and user and made (and lost) a fortune. Stories of cruise ships, red light districts, whores and bar fights fly as thick as the humid air.

The things you find out about people, hey? At first glance you'd think them to be grunting sociopaths, but they're great guys, just don't piss em off or threaten them. Didn't stop me from calling one a chicken fucker though (long story, it's a good one). They said they'd get me a pass to their hotel on the strip 'because dude, when you've partied with us, you'll see life in a whole different way'. Unfortunately, they were quite drunk by the time 11pm rolled around, so I was given the wrong room number by the only guy left standing. Ce la vis. Left a message at the front desk for em, so we'll see how it goes.

Saw Chichen Itza today and spent most of my time talking to a kiwi chick who was on her way to Cuba, and a gay Canadian couple who had brought their two young sons along to see Mexico. Great guys, great stories. It's good to meet people who speak english. Espaniol does my fucking head in. At any rate, the pyramid complex is the stuff dreams are made of. I could not wipe the grin off my face the whole time. It's a magnificent structure, albeit WAY smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, and it fills you with a sense of wonder. It's a fucking pyramid in the middle of the jungle, built by guys who didn't want to be there in the first place. You cannot begin to imagine the feeling you get standing next to a structure like that. There's this energy about it that just does things to your brain. I think it's the geometric accuracy and the forethought that went into building it. Everything is perfect.

Watch Apocalypto if you want to see the guys who built it. Crazy people. What's craziest is that they didn't just build the complex as a way to tell the time. Oh no! They built it to impress their god. Why they would want to impress this guy is beyond me, because he's a complete arse. 'I demand sacrifice! More! More! MOAR! KULKUCHAN DEMANDS MOAR!!!''

When they couldn't please him, they killed more people and built more buildings to appease him. It's incredible. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the complex is still a very powerful place. Can't wait to compare it to the pyramids on the other side of the pond. Ah that's a cool thing to say 'Compare it to the OTHER pyramids'. You know, because they're just down the street and all.

Critique on the Mexican culture and things next time - probably from Peru. The next hurdle I face is buying a new smaller backpack for the hike - this current small one won't cut it. Getting my bags thru the airports will eb fun too.



Monday, March 9, 2009

The Americans... and some Mexicans

I landed in Mexico today after a four hour flight. You know how everyone jokes about poorer airlines? 'There's no movie because your life flashes before your eyes' or 'The wings were held on with duct tape' or 'All the hostesses looked like prostitutes (both old and young alike)' or, my favourite 'Your chair can't recline because one of the arm rests is just plain gone and the recline button has been pushed into the hole it resides in so far that it has, in fact, disappeared.'

Well, mexican airlines was very mexican. At one stage the lights flickered with an awesome 'gzzzzzzzzt!' sound which can't be done justice in text form. Very interesting.

Los Angeles. Where to begin? It's big. Really big. so big that you could fit Adelaide (from the far northern suburbs to the tip of the southern suburbs) inside it about 7 times over. The freeways are engineering masterpieces, the level of wealth in some areas is unprecedented and the danger from gangs is quite real. Not that I had any trouble of course, Josh and his folks were beyond welcoming and made me feel like I'd known them for years. The thing is, all these factors add up to a sort of depressing conclusion. You drive along the freeways and see shithole suburbs everywhere. There is traffic, there is smoke, there is overcrowding. It's not what I'd call 'progress'. Laguna Hills where Josh's folks live is a beautiful area with nice houses, streets, cars, people, but this area is just an oasis and isn't indicative of the LA 'burbs at all. If you had to live in LA, and had a choice, you'd be more than happy living in the Laguna Hills area - it's a wealthy area and as such is clean, polite and healthy.

LA is a great place to visit, but it makes me think fondly of little old Adelaide. We really don't know how lucky we are living where we live. Sure, the businesses aren't as big, and the level of money isn't even remotely comparable, but then again, neither is the stress/danger/smoke.

Landed in Mexico on time, got picked up from the airport with no dramas, and checked in to the spectacular Radisson Hacienda. It isn't exactly the heart of spring break (that's some way away), but I'm sure I'll enjoy myself. Not used to this comfortable cloistered apartment-style thing. Give me space and air and stuff and I'll be sorted. 10 pesos = $1 AUD. As a point of reference: It costs $3 AUD for 1.5L of bottled water here (and that's at the hotel store - not a supermarket), and dinner cost me $15 AUD for dinner, a beer, and a coke at the hotel restaurant. I have about 13 meals here (others are taken car of on tours and things, and the fact that I miss dinner on the last day to fly to Peru), so it looks like I'll be well under-budget even here. That's a weight off my mind.

It's strange not knowing anyone in this new country - strange in a daunting way, and a 'it's just my first night here' way. I'm sure I'll meet people here. Now if I can only find some of those Spring Break girls I've been hearing so much about...

Cheers guys,

Stay safe, don't lose your heads (But you won't, because you're not the ones in fucking Mexico LOL)

Friday, March 6, 2009

First Week - Los Angeles

So, I landed safely, how awesome is that (very, you pricks). I'm typing this on my mate Josh's gay-as-hell ergonomic keyboard, so bear with the typos.

The flight was really shit. 14 hours of being uncomfortable. You know that upright angle where you're comfy, and that flat-ish angle where you;re comfy? You know that in between angle that is really uncomfortable and makes your neck feel bad? Well it was like that most of the trip. Watched The Wrestler and Twilight. Both were crap, but Twilight was crap in a hilarious way. Lost. My. Shit. Completely.

Landed in LA on time, Josh picked me up with no drama and I had my first experience on mad LA freeways. Six lanes of chaos. You need more eyes in your head for sure. Crashed out on his couch for 3 hours or so, but was woken by the news that Josh's dad had very kindly offered me the spare room at their place for the first night 'so I could have a good sleep in a proper bed and get a good proper meal.' It was awesome. Josh's dad, Dan cooked the BEST steak, my body soaked it up and I spent a good 10 hours sleeping on a crazy comfy memory foam mattress. Dan is a top bloke, really chatty and hospitable and made me feel really welcome. Also got talking about a range of stuff, so it was like talking to someone I'd known for ages. Good times.

Day 2 was chilled. We went to 'a really big US mall', but tbqh, it was the same size as Marion shopping centre. The difference of course being that Marion doesn't have Cartier, Tiffany's and Prada outlets. If you need to ask the price, you can't afford that shit. Although, I did see one wedding ring for $30k USD. Nothing says 'I love you' like a house foreclosure.

Day 3 was Disneyland and California Adventure. It's strange, and this will sound dumb, but Disney seems really plastic, fabricated and false. There is this air for forced perfection and insincerity. People are happy enough, sure... but there is just a vibe there that I didn't get. Was fun though - Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion were fantastic. Got maccas for lunch because fucked if I'm paying Disney food prices. You'll be pleased to know that Big Macs are as revolting here as back home. California Adventure is a crazy place. It's as loose as natural as Disney is regimented and forced. Great focus on adrenaline - so I was in my element. Big rush. Can tell you more when I get home of course.

Met Josh's g/f Shannon - top chick. Got us some dinner from her work - was the best. Checked out In and Out Burger today - yes chris, it's everything you said it was. Checked out Watchman too - good movie, but takes a while to make any fucking sense.

Anyway, that's pretty much it from the first few days - I can post a full critique on American culture blah bklah later on. Going to Coffee and Cars tomorrow (google it).

Stay safe guys,


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I figured I'd start this with some context.

I'm going overseas for 6 weeks as of Tuesday the 3rd of March 2009. My first stop is Los Angeles, followed by Cancun in Mexico, Cuzco in Peru, London in the UK, Amman and Petra in Jordan and Cairo and Luxor in Egypt. The idea is that I'm seeing everything I wanted to see when I was 8 years old. The only thing missing is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but let's face it; 8-year-olds don't really have a firm grasp on reality.

I'll have 6 nights in LA, 4-5 nights in Mexico, 12 nights in Peru, 1 night in London, 4 nights in Jordan and 16 nights in Egypt... That's all approximate because I really can't be arsed working it out.

I'll use this site to keep people updated, should they wish to travel vicariously through me. I'm back on the 20th of April. I promise to not enter everything that happens here because that would leave me with no stories to tell when I get back.

I hope you've all been immunised, because this is one hell of a trip.


PS. As a really important addendum, do NOT SMS or Call me on my mobile when I'm gone. You'll incur MASSIVE phone costs, as will I. If you need to get in touch with me, just message me on facebook or leave a comment here. Thanks