Thursday, July 13, 2006

Margaret's already flying home and Mike and I leave the Flying Dog Hostel for the airport in 4 hours. That means this 6 months in South America is coming to an end. And THAT means I have even more reflecting than normal to do. Luckily, it also meant one last beer -- ironically my first Guinness in South America.

So, in the absence of time and eloquence for articulating much of anything now . . . I'll let Hafiz speak for me:

I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:

How are you?

I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:

What is God?

If you think that the Truth can be known
From words,

If you think that the Sun and the Ocean

Can pass through that tiny opening Called the mouth,

O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing -- Now!

from "I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz" by Daniel Ladinsky

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Up late catching up on e-mail with my laptop and this astonishingly fast connection our hostel has in Cusco. Couldn't resist one more picture -- this one of our campsite the 3rd night of our 5 day trek. (Gotta love that tripod!)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's a nostalgia-inducing thing nowadays to get up at 4:00am. But today the reward for such early-bird-diligence was greater than normal -- a chance to walk around Machu Picchu before the sun peered over the Sun Gate and lit this amazing place with high altitude light.

One of the leading theories to date is that Machu Picchu was primarily a research and experimentation station for agriculture, and the terraces we sat ourselves on to wait for the sunrise attest to that.
It's late and we're sleepy -- Mike and Margaret and I all fly to Lima tomorrow to fly to the states at various times on Thursday. Might not get a chance to post any more until I'm back stateside on Friday. (A concept that both warms my heart and strikes me as bizarre. Go figure!)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wahooo!! Found an internet place with a cable I could prestar but the connection isn't setting any speed records. So no time for blurbs -- but these few photos should be self explanatory. Gotta get up at 4:00am to hike around Machu Picchu...

(If you think this shot of the 'cable car' is good, wait until you see Mike's camera-video of the ride itself!)

Our guide was named Wander.


If that doesn't tell you what you need to know about our successful and fun 5 day trek through the Salkantay Pass to Machu Picchu, then maybe the pictures I'll hopefully be able to put up tomorrow night will.

Mike and Margaret and I are showered, in (relatively) clean clothes, and catching up on the rest of the world at the local cyber cafe in Aguas Calientes, the tourist trap that rests about 45 minutes by foot from the gates of Machu Picchu. None of us brought the connectors to our cameras though (why make the horses -- or us -- carry that extra 5 grams?) so please be patient for images. We have some stunners though, including our crossing this morning of a raging river in what they call an oraya -- but what sensible people might call an insane way to get pulled across a chasm: in a rickety metal and wood basket hanging from a steel cable.

And we have a couple great shots from Sunday, Margaret's 32nd birthday. The trail staff serenaded her (and Mike and me, her tent-mates) before 6:00am and presented a yummy improvised cake -- with egg white frosting and strawberry jam, plus a little "Feliz Cumpleaños" sign written on the back of a tea wrapper. We ate it at breakfast and sang her the Happy Birthday song in English as well.

But mostly, of course, we have great memories -- steep hikes and moon rises, belly laughs and deep appreciation, breath-taking views and gut-satisfying accomplishments. Oh, and Margaret has a new title: she's a body-heat vampire. And Mike has the unusual position of both cleanest-looking and nastiest-smelling feet. God help me.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It is a very good thing that our trek was delayed a day because of more strikes -- it meant that we could sleep in a bed instead of a bus, and that we could rest up for what we found out will be 3 grueling days and 2 relatively easy ones on our climb to Machu Picchu. (And that we could buy the necessary batteries, sunglasses, and souvenirs.)

But it is a not even close to a good thing that we found out about our delay at 5:30am this morning -- after waking up at 3:30am to wait outside the colossal colonial front door of our hostal beginning at 4:00am. The early hour would not have been so bad had it not been that bedtime was a scant 2 hours before wake-up time.

But we persevere -- and after an all-morning snooze and an avocado-laden lunch, we felt great. And then we felt even better after a stunning ostensibly-light dinner at a brand new restaurant here in Cusco, Incanto.
We were indeed charmed by it -- as evidenced by our pisco-sour-enhanced smiles in this photo from Mike's camera. You might also spot glasses of Malbec, the remnants of some bruscetta, spinach florentine, pasta with mushrooms and something tasty I can't remember, and the edge of my arugula salad with pear, goat cheese, and candied pecans. For the record, we treated ourselves to this (and the chocolate cake, passion fruit custard, and truffles we had for dessert) because we will definitely not be eating like this on the trek. But we will be toasting Margaret's birthday under the stars Sunday night -- and there are rumors the carnivores among us may be supping on cuy -- better known as partially-domesticated guinea pig.

Against my better judgment, I am uploading this photo Margaret took of Mike and me after walking across the Bolivia-Peru border with our Serious Faces -- the major reason nobody checked our bags for smuggled coffee, coca leaves, or SmartWool socks. (The only benefit of this photo's publication is proof in perpetuity that I am significantly taller than our friend Mr. MacHarg here.)

(If you ever see in this space a photo of me shaking hands with a gold-toothed mannequin, you can take it as evidence that either Mike or Margaret stole my laptop or guessed my password. Consider yourself warned.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm writing this on the bus and I don't know when I'll get the chance to post it, but I'm glad to have something to do besides watch the dubbed version of Jerry Bruckheimer's dual-hemisphere epic "Kangaroo Jack" -- especially because this means I get to show off my Mac's über-cool backlit keyboard to the Italian kid next to me.

I should really be more specific, I suppose -- about the bus, I mean. Because this isn't our first, nor is it our last. Margaret and I survived the last ascent from Carmen Pampa to La Paz in a bus, then met Mike for our bus to Copacabana (after saying goodbye to Ginger and singing that blasted Barry Manilow song more times than it ever could merit), then we herded ourselves onto one of a dozen seriously-crowded buses leaving Copacabana for Puno (a two-day strike at the Peru border had just been lifted so we were in the company of scores of disgruntled gringos -- thank goodness for Mike's titanium elbows) and then we somehow survived the most chaos I've seen in all my time in South America: busloads of passengers in Puno arriving, scrambling for seats on buses going in the right direction, nabbing said seats, running through the terminal to pay a poorly-understood embarkation tax, grabbing anything resembling a mid-afternoon snack (with their freshly-exchanged Peruvian cash) and then trying their best to settle in for the sometimes 7, sometimes 9 hour ride from Puno to Cusco. Tonight it looks like we'll make it in around 8 hours

Which gives the three of us about 4 hours to sleep before we hop on another bus: the bus to the trail head for our 5 day trek that takes us to Machu Picchu . . . eventually. But that's another post for another time. In case you've lost track, we're looking at about 17 hours of quality bus time in less than 48 hours. (And did I mention the 2 boat rides, totaling 3.5 hours?)

But we haven't only been in transit -- to prove it, here's a quickie photo montage (quicker to upload, aren't-I-so-clever) of our dinner view Tuesday night in Copacabana, the three of us on Isla del Sol, Margaret at the central door of the Temple of the Sun this morning, and the bus we're currently on this very minute. Now if only the roads in Peru had asphalt AND wifi . . .

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thank God for Margaret Post. Not only has she arrived with much energy, much love, and much wonderment at this place -- but she's also helped me give my exam, CORRECT my exam, stop worrying about my exam and generally breathe deeply and celebrate the end of my time here. And if that weren't enough she whipped up a scrumptious Italian dinner and one of her famous fruit crisps (this one was apple cranberry!) And if THAT weren't enough, now she's a Guest Blogger and Photographer! Read on as we peek into an e-mail she sent yesterday to her dear ones . . .

Hola mi familia:

We're having a low key day here in Carmen Pampa where the clouds are thick and the rain is trickling occasionally. Because of the rain, we took the campus "bus" (which is really a truck, where we stand on the back and hold on over the bumpy roads!) to the upper campus. A group of us helped Zac give his final exam--a scavenger hunt around campus where the students had to answer a series of questions in english. I was stationed where the students wash their clothes (by hand) and managed to learn a few new spanish words in between the groups coming through for their challenge. I mostly spent my 1.5 hours there marveling at the clouds and mountains, and laughing a lot at my inability to communicate with Alfredo who was washing his clothes and enduring my pathetic spanish!

This school is incredible. Carmen Pampa received an award for being one of the best institutions world wide for alleviating poverty. I learned last night from Sister Jean (who is from Dorchester!) that Carmen Pampa is the only rural campus in Bolivia of the Catholic University. Most of the wealthier students go to the campus in La Paz, whereas Carmen Pampa enrolls poorer students from the villages and towns outside the bigger city. For them, this is their only opportunity for advanced schooling. While Carmen Pampa doesn't received money from the Catholic University, it does have support mostly from donors in the US, and US AID--both of whom recently supported the coffee plant on campus. Even though there is a great deal of support, there are so many needs here. The food cooperatives on campus make it a bit easier for students to afford their meals, yet many still go hungry. For the Carmen Pampa Fund this is a dilemma because there are also many resources needed to support the students' learning--books, the library and the computers, the staff and volunteers.

Amidst these paradoxes though, Carmen Pampa is a place of great joy and beauty. The school is located in the town of Carmen Pampa, so nestled in between the two campuses are the homes of many families. On the road between campuses it is likely that we will meet students from either the college or the high school, small children and their parents (some of whom are students themselves) and administrators and staff of the school. It's also likely that we'll meet a few dogs, a cow or two, and always chickens! My favorite parts of my time have been exploring the beauty of the cloud forests, meeting the people, and sharing meals with the other volunteers on campus. As you may suspect, I *adore* the nuns who have devoted their lives to building this place, and who have a spirit and energy that surpasses understanding when faced with the challenges they meet every day. And that spirit is what is so hopeful about being in Carmen Pampa.

PS from MP: This photo was taken just outside the door to the house we are staying in, and right outside the garden to the house where Sisters Jean, Theresa and Carmen live. I've been playing around with my new camera, and took a chance on some black and whites of these gardenia bushes. This one is Zac's favorite and he made me put it on the blog.