some days were spent lazing in bed until after noon; others we were up before dawn and climbing mountains.
urban streets, honking horns, crowded cafes, skyscrapers, shopping malls – raindrops in forests, birds chirping, ancient ruins, mountain peaks in clouds – homeless dogs following, loud crowded bars, club music until 5 am – tall crucifixes and statues of virgins illuminated on hillsides, churches built atop incan ruins, ancient religions mashed into modern life – adobe shantytowns, sustenance farmers, cows wandering slowly, shoeless children waving from the wayside, women in hand-loomed dresses – brightly colored houses, ocean views, smooth cobblestone streets, terraced cafes, art in abundance – snow white sky, powder fresh slopes, ice underfoot, thin air and pale blue sunshine, boarders fly past, off edges and into the sky – crowded buses, overflowing sidewalks, insane taxis, billboards and prostitutes – armories and churches, cannons and idols, castles and prisons -lush green forest, black sand beach, surfers riding the waves. airports and secluded pastures, teeming with life and death. all of these things.
the way there.
we had a lot of things on the calendar when we were planning and on the days leading up to this trip. camping trips. family reunions. work. tightly fitting them all in, months ago we booked our tickets. and then somehow, in all the planning and calendaring, it got stuck in our minds that we were leaving on Tuesday, because we knew we’d either be camping or in Chicago until sunday night, and there was no way we were leaving on Monday. monday we scurried about running errands, getting last minute items, packing, getting ready. and then late monday afternoon i skyped our friend in chile, and she said, “shouldn’t you be on a plane right now?” and i said, “no, we’re not leaving until tomorrow’ and she says “no, i’m pretty sure you’re ARRIVING tomorrow’ and suddenly my brain panicked. i pull up the email. she’s watching my face react. she’s right. our plane left at 1:15pm MONDAY. not tuesday. we missed it.
how did this happen?!
“it’s so unlike you”, helen says. except, maybe, it’s not, and jay and i both hate ourselves for several minutes for, despite all our preparations, assuming one thing and somehow never doublechecking this very important detail, while helen and her friend, still on skype laugh at the ridiculousness. she later apologized for laughing, but honestly, it was a perfectly appropriate response. what else can you do?
90 minutes on the phone with the worst customer servie ever at LAN airlines, in which i talk to 3 different people who tell me three different things, from “the only seats left tomorrow are in first class, it will cost you $3,000″, to “there are no seats on any flights until next saturday” to “i can rebook you for tomorrow but i will cost you $1500.” option C taken.
then we went out to dinner monday night with our longtime friend Mike, visiting for the Phish shows that weekend at the Greek, and tried to forget all about it.
the next day we go to the airport on time. the flight to Lima is 9.5 hours. it’s long. we then connect to the flight to Santiago. it’s late. we’re bleary and half-asleep. our plane had been delayed at SFO, and as we exit the plane the airline staff are telling us to RUN. RUN through security. RUN through the airport. we barely make the connection.
so we arrived 24 hours late, but were immediately welcomed by our friend Helen who is lucky enough to have a 2-bedroom in Santiago all to herself. over the next week, we wandered the streets and hills of Santiago, taking in the city and it’s people. justin, patrick, and nick met us there after a few days as well. among other things, we:
-found Castillo Hidalgo at Cerro Santa Lucia, perhaps the best and most awesome public place in all of Santiago, a former castle and military outpost perched in a little hill in the heart of the city, the surrounding areas landscaped with twisty turny trails and incredibly narrow steps with cacti and towering trees and waterfalls and fountains all around, like the biggest zen garden in the world with a castle on top. definitely my favorite place in Santiago.
-drove to the coast and spend 24 hours in Valporaiso, an amazing seaside town with hills that rival san francisco’s, streets so steep they have funiculars to take you from one level to another, brightly colored sun yellow and aquamarine houses stacked on upon the other, cobblestones streets for miles and miles terraced up and down the hillsides, public art that deserves awards, a gorgeous sunny saturday spent wandering in wanderer bliss. outside of an unfortunate late-night moment with a guy trying to scam us out of money in a bar, it was a perfect 24 hours and i highly recommend Valporaiso as a destiantion.
-drove the other direction up the twisty road into the Andes for a snowy day on the slopes – i faced my fear (and yes, i admit, it was and is total fear. on the way up i literally thought i’d rather be swimming with sharks than trying to ski) and taught myself how to ski that day (sent jay and helen off to have fun while i figured it out myself – i’m a self-learner and a terrible student of others). after an hour i had the bunny hill and talked myself into the next larger slope – and then spent the next 2 hours going up and down, on and off the chairlift, until my quads were so tired i knew i wouldn’t be able to hold it one more time. i only fell once, in the very beginning. i know my friends who have been skiiing/boarding for years will think this is ridiculous, but i was pretty proud of myself that day. i’d rather jump out of airplanes than go downhill fast – it was a big thing for me. not to mention that the mountains were absolutely gorgeous and the views so vast that between runs i just stood and stared at the scene in total bliss for minutes at a time.
-hiked up into the larger metro parque, a quiet respite of nature trails and scenic views, the crown of which being a 40 foot tall statue of the virgin mary who stands in alabaster while overlooking the city, night and day
-visited the rowdiest, most uncouth pub in town -crowded wooden tables of co-eds, sawdust on the floor of the bathroom, and scrawled drunken writings all over the walls - where the drink of choice is a floaty combination of white wine, freixenet ( pronounced ‘fresh-eh-NET’) and pineapple ice cream that will knock you on your ass. we had a few, and the pub grew louder and louder, some of our party defected to join the table of friendly chilean girls nearby, and so the rest of us…
-…were escorted by helen to an underground thai restaurant with a secret gated entrance – like most things hidden behind gates, once entered it was a shangri-la of beautiful lighting, leather couches, chandeliers, and a private dining room with a balcony for our small party, because we didn’t have a reservation. we ate delicious foods and drank way too much, ending the night sprawled in our chairs.
-got a hot stone and oil massage at Kutralco Wellness Spa, the perfect thing to do on a cold misty day while jay went back up to the mountains to go snowboarding again with justin
-marvelled at the camaraderie of the street dogs in Santiago, who, unlike those we saw in Bangkok who were emaciated and shivering, were mostly sturdy and healthy looking and playing together in little packs, and so used to city life that they’d learn to navigate the crosswalks, and would often join you to walk you home late at night, the turn on a time back to wherever they came from, like little citizens and guardians of the streets
-had several other small wonderful moments (and meals). many thanks again to our wonderful hostess.
after a good solid 8 days in Chile, we went to Peru.
we flew an early morning flight to Lima, and then without leaving the airport directly to Cusco. Lima is a modern city of 8 million; Cusco is an ancient mountain town. after a week in Santiago, i’d had enough of cities. we arrived in Cusco in late afternoon, sought out some immediate Pisco sours (as if he hadn’t had enough already), and then wandered the streets for the evening. narrow cobblestone paths between old buildings like any old city from Boston to Athens, but these were crowded with Peruvians selling everything from pirated DVDs to soccer balls to handicrafts to unidentifiable produce. the streets teemed with life as tiny cabs zoomed by filled with tourists, all there to start journeys to the ancient Incan trails and mountain empires. we went to bed early, as the next day we started the long journey – long even without trekking the Inca Trail – to Machu Picchu.
5:30 am Friday the 13th, we arose and after a short breakfast took a 30 minute cab to the train station to catch the 4 hour train through the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calienties, a small town inaccessible except by foot or rail. we passed small farms and wondered about the residents waving at us by the railside – what do they know about the worlds we come from? and what is it like to be them, living off the land in this amazing place? then, a fast shuffle to find the office to buy passes to the park and the tickets to 30 minute bus ride up an incredible switchback mountain road to the entrance to the ancient cloud city. we finally arrived at 12:30pm – 7 hours after getting up, and that’s the fastest way, without doing any hiking.
the first view of Machu Picchu is the postcard face – the one you see on posters and billboards and in the photos of every person who’s ever visited there. my initial reaction was a mix of elation and initial underwhelm. maybe because it took so long (and cost so much) to finally get there, standing at that first precipice i wondered, just for a minute, if it was worth it. also, from that initial view, the looked so much smaller than i thought it was – a tiny village-when in photos, probably taken from higher points of view, it seemed more expansive.
we went first to see the Incan Drawbridge, which initially seems like “what am i looking at?” but is then utterly amazing…. removable wooden slats over a gap (10 feet?) of an otherwise impassible bridge. this photo does not do justice to the facts that 1. the face this is built into is totally vertical and solid rock and 2. the drop off is several thousand feet and 3. most amazingly, where, exactly, does it go? we looked and looked but once the steps ended could find no conceivable path for it to be leading to on the other side – just sheer cliff.
as we were walking there/back it started to rain, but it was warm, and i didn’t mind. the forest smelled amazing, and the misty mountain peaks were so big, and so surreal my eyes couldn’t take it all in.
then into the actual ancient village, with it’s terraced layers and now-roofless stone houses – a maze and a garden, a village and a cathedral. we wandered, played with the grass muching llamas, and then after a few claps of thunder it REALLY started to rain. there was almost no wind, and the rain fell hard from a still sky. would it ever pass? we finally took shelter with the other tourists in a couple of thatched huts, and waited. 30 minutes passed, and finally the rain let up, and we spent another hour or so wandering the paths, taking all the steps that seemed to go nowhere and discovering the circuitous nature, the labyrinth, the genius of the stonework, the irrigation paths built into the stones, the rocks laid out so as move the flow of water to prevent flooding. what was life like in this place, then? what did the children do, the women? their routines, their songs, their kitchens? as someone who came so far to be there, it was only natural to wonder: did they ever go up and down? their vista was vast, but how far did they actually travel, and if so, how?
the mist rose from the valley below, and for a while we were overtaken with clouds, but then the sun came back, and soon it was time to go.
back down down down the mountain, to Aguas Calientes, where we enjoyed pisco sours before getting back on the train. for the ride back, we had no other option than to take the luxury train, as so many people hike up to machu picchu and then take the train back down that all the cheap backpacker trains were booked. it was a sticker shock when we booked the trip, but at that moment, approaching the train and seeing all the beautifully lit cars with their velvet seats, straight out of a 1920s film, i was immediately over how much it cost. we were wet, tired, and hungry, and this was the perfect thing. the train had a bar car in which a live band played music – latin covers of beatles songs, traditional peruvian music – and all the people in the car were given percussion instruments. with the booze flowing free and everyone on an already natural high from being in such an amazing place, the mood was almost ecstatic. we sang along and danced, and then went back to our table for dinner, a 4 course meal, served in full. while the train ride there seemed to take forever, this one flew by fast, and we were back in Cusco before we could even finish our last glasses of wine.
the next day we wandered the streets a little more, purchased some art (paying too much, probably) and sat on the balcony of the organic restaurant, Greens Organic, watching the tourists and the peruvians interact in the narrow street below. then it was back to the airport, back to Lima.
we only had 24 hours in Lima. even though we arrived in Lima with time to get dinner, take a nap and then go out on the town Saturday night, either i had a wicked hangover from that neverending wine in the luxury train the night before or the days at altitude in Cusco (11,600 feet) had finally gotten to me (or maybe the combination of the two) – i had a pretty bad headache most of the day on Saturday, and was exhausted and not much in the mood to go out. we stayed at the JW Marriott in Lima – the only 5 star hotel in the city, across from a seaside mall built into the oceanside cliffs of Miraflores, and honestly, there really wasn’t much reason to leave. so we didn’t.
Sunday we woke up late, the weather was drizzling and gray, but we did walk from the beach into the city far enough to visit the Huaca Pucllana – ancient (200-700AD) Incan Ruins of a ceremonial site. well, sort of visit. we got there after it closed. but we could see its crazy adobe structure from the outside.
dinner, then back to the airport to head home.
the way back.
our flight was scheduled to leave at 00:35am on Monday, and we got to the airport at about 10:00pm Sunday night. the line to check in for flights to the US on LAN was incredibly long, and it took until 11:15 to get to the counter. note: when they say be there 3 hours early, sometimes they mean it. we got there, and she says, “your flight has been delayed until 3:40am”. ARGH. 4 more hours in the airport. FINE. but then the boarding passes she gives us still say 00:35…..whatever……so we go to the pre-security area, where all the restaurants are. jay plops down at starbucks (for the wi-fi), i go next door to the tiny spa to get a manicure. i have slight anxiety that the flight might get moved back up (it happens), or that she gave us wrong information (their computer systems had so many glitches, so much misinformation, the boards didn’t update), but i tried to relax and let it go. so i’m sitting there, my freshly-polished nails drying, and suddenly jay comes running over. COME ON WE HAVE TO GO, THE FLIGHT LEAVES AT 1:15. it’s 12:45. and we haven’t been through immigration or security yet. we basically have 10 minutes. we run.
i get held up at security because of something setting off the metal detector. jay takes off without me to get to the flight, to hold it. i almost cry waiting behind slow people at immigration. 2 wrongly identified gates later, sweaty, panicked and out of breath, we’re told, “oh, that meant we are going to give an update at 1:15″. at 1:15 they say, “this flight is expected to leave at 3:40″. and now we’re just sitting there at the gate.
eventually, we get home.
i don’t mean to take away from the fun we had on the trip by framing the travelogue starting and ending with our airline debacles. air travel is a luxury, and i always try to put it into perspective that no matter what a pain in the ass it is, we’d never get to see the other parts of the world without it (and our friendly lonely planet guidebook reminded us that just one trans-atlantic flight by one person causes more carbon pollution than most families in the world emit in a year – this is privilege?). a 30-hour flight to australia seems like forever, but how long would it take otherwise? the real surreal part about it to me is that walking the ropes of an airport always makes me feel like i’m in some sort of game – there’s always running, stress, odd questions to answer from immigration, changing time tables, people trapped inside, everyone with an agenda, an objective. it’s a microcosm of modern culture, and if and when i can step back from the annooyances, the stress, i find it highly amusing.
i’ve always found it sort of strange that when celebrities or athletes or anyone who’s accomplished something great gets interviewed on television, the interviewer always asks: “so what’s next for you?”, as if winning the nobel prize or starring in the highest grossing movie of all time or winning 7 gold medals isn’t enough. but that’s how some humans are, seekers who constantly want to know: what’s next?
next, i’m going to burning man, for the sixth time. in 10 days.Filed in autobiographical, travel | Tagged with chile, justin, peru, south america, wanderlust | Comments (3)