Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cusco, part 2: Machu Picchu

The Peruvian Government, in regards to Machu Picchu, is properly thought of as a really hot, materialistic, 16 year old girl.
Travelers to South America are a blindingly horny teenage boy, i.e. a normal teenage boy, with a predictably singular focus.

Basically, the PG knows that it has something that this teenage boy REALLY, REALLY wants and they are going to squeeze as much money, time, and energy out of him as possible in order to get what he really came for.

No matter how many people a teenage boy, er, traveler, talks to who have been there firsthand-for asking everyone in envious, reverent tones is unavoidable.

No matter how many pictures they see of the real thing, in all of its far-off, unspeakably-alluring-and-magical-to-the-unitiated-glory, the motivation to get there is, to say the least, powerful.

When all your older, more experienced friends have been there to tell the tale, it only adds to the determination to get there, to do whatever it takes to get some. Of that Machu Picchu.

Thus, you can see how like that moneygrubbing cheerleader in that so-hot short skirt, the PG does all it can to squeeze as much cash out of you as possible before giving it up what you are really there for in the first place.

And they do not make it easy either. The only way to get there-on a continent where you can get anywhere by bus- is an overpriced, rickety train. Think of it as the gaspingly expensive dinner in uncomfortable clothes listening to her talk about how the coach hates her because she picked that trampy bitch Kirsten Simmons for Captain. We all have to pay a price, but we pay it and keep moving.

Why? Because we all know that our friends are going to ask about MP when its over.

Don't believe me? Let's imagine together:

Cue: "I went out with '___' "


"I went travelling in South America"

"Did you get there? Was it amazing? It was amazing, wasn't it? Damn you are lucky! I have only seen it in glossy pictures!"

Having been a teenage boy, and thankfully that time of my life is over so I can finally concentrate, I knew this feeling and realized, yes I want to become a man, so I had to do it.

So what the Pervuian government offers you is the chance to pay several hundred dollars to walk there, or just under 50 bucks to take the "cheap" train. I have done a lot of hiking, and I do not need to fork out a significant percentage of my dwindling savings account for the pleasure of humping a backpack through the jungle for 4 days.

So in other words I took the train to Machu Picchu. Wait, that is a lie too, because the train drops you at Aguas Calientes. "Aguas Calientes" apparently is Peruvian for "Where to go to feel like a badly treated ATM" and that typical Latin warmth and charm quickly evaporates and is replaced by a bitchy, disinterested, impolite price quote.

Having forked out 44 bucks for the short, rickety train ride that is the cheapest option, one still has to get oneself up the mountain to the actual Machu Picchu proper, which is around 1200 feet, almost straight up, above the town.

You can pay 6 bucks for a 10 minute bus ride (normal peruvian bus rates get you about 10 hours down the road for that price), or you can walk. We (myself, an Italian girl I met in Bolivia, and this couple made up by a girl from Boston and her 21 year old Newfoundlander with a shaved head and an incredibly friendly disposition with whom we had killed a bottle of stoli before taking over a disco and getting the dj to play billie jean and prince two days earlier) got up at 4:00 AM to make the opening of the ticket booth (5:30 according to the guide), get in to MP catch the sunrise, supposed to be legendary from the ruins, and make our travel memories and photos as magical as possible.

So we got up REALLY EARLY. Then again, there is a self-satisfaction that comes with getting up early, knowing you are up when the rest of what becomes the "lazy" world sleeps. One quickly realizes this entitlement to judge, dismiss, or following the lead of my friend Ian Mackay, to gleefully berate the rest of the world that wants a decent night's rest.

We were cheering ourselves and mocking those losers still in town waiting for the first bus at 6:30 (again according to the guidebook), as we hoofed, stumbled, and sweated our way up original Inca steps through the still-completely-dark-but-very-humid-enough-to-soak-your-shirt-jungle (one of many lessons that morning: check your headlamp the night before) as buses start roaring by us around quarter after 5.


After an hour and a half of hurriedly, excitedly hoofing uphill, we finally arrive to a big line of not-sweaty, properly informed, and eager tourists to find out from the woman at the front of the line after 20 minutes of waiting, the following information: you can not buy tickets to actually enter MP here, only in Aguas Calientes, 1 and half hours, lots of sweat, early rising, and 1200 feet below.

All I could manage is to blurt, open jawed, which accidentally came out in English: "You have got to be f*****g kidding me." At this point, the desire to make a pile of Lonely Planets and set them ablaze, and to wish their authors eyebrows would fall out (or something equally vindictive but somewhat comic) was so palpable I could taste it.

10 minutes of angry, semi-frantic investigation later, we realized there was a ticket booth at the entrance, again, like ALL THE GUIDEBOOKS SAID, which apparently was too much relevant information for the woman who punched tickets all day to know, as it is not like it directly pertained to her job or happened to be 50 feet from where she worked.

But this is Latin America. Much like lots of llama related fashion options, short people with black hair, cheap beer, and frequent digestive distress, this sort of thing comes with the territory.

Tranquilo, amigo. Or so I told myself to limited effect.

It did not get any better when we got to the "ticket booth" a room with a counter and no one in it despite the fact they had "opened" half an hour earlier. We asked anyone who came by what was going on, who we were supposed to talk to, etc, and of course, no one knew. In fact, they mostly avoided eye contact and/or mumbled, which did nothing for my non-tranquilo outlook at that point.

I took a deep breath, well several, since we had to wait another half hour for the lady who had the tickets to arrive, get her coffee, leave, come back, leave again, and finally come back to sell us the entry tickets (25 bucks, US, and they do not even throw in a map, which even Disneyland does when they scalp you) , at which point she decided my brand new 100 dollar bill was not acceptable because of a tear, I swear I am not exaggerating, as long as a dime is thick.

I hated this woman.

I read once loving someone is similar to hating someone. Sound shocking? Think about it. They are both infatuatingly powerful emotions, involve some degree of shared experience, and often a fixation on details that the rest of the world would never notice.

When this woman was smarmingly announcing to us that she would not accept our money (NO ME ENTIENDES; NO ME ENTIENDES), smug look on her tilted head, and just oozing a squat sense of entitlement, I realized that fat women with long fake nails, overdone bangs, heavy makeup, and nylon warmup jackets as acceptable work attire serve as the marker of evil trashy witch-hags the world over.

So, trying to be reasonable and also wanting to get what we came for, we gave her another 100 dollar bill our friends had. She wouldn't take that either, without examining it, as there had been a counterfeit problem a few years ago with that bill series, so she just pronounced it as counterfeit, dismissing us in the process, again proving the awful insidiousness of her shriveled blackened heart.

So after two days of travelling to get to Aguas Calientes, then waking up at 4 AM to hoof it up a hill to get to the sweet soft feminine center of South America to finally shake this travel virgin thing (okay, maybe taking this metaphor a bit far) we couldn't buy a ticket to get in.

It felt like being in the back of your dad's car, windows fogged, finally it is going to happen, she is not saying no anymore, and under that little cheerleading outfit, there was a chastity belt with a huge lock and with a picture on it of Peruvian version of a Jerry Springer guest on it, laughing.

After my friends all but held me back from strangling this she-devil, we finally scraped together enough American Green between the four of us in smaller bills to get in, finally. All of our effort was finally going to payoff. We overcame the overpriced train, the awful people in Aguas Calientes, our fatigue from a ridiculously early morning, stumbling uphill through the dark, skipping breakfast, near disaster from misinformation, waiting, the awful waiting for buying tickets, and finally the dragon guarding the princess, the revenge of the Incas ticket booth lady, for the big payoff:

We got to see a glorious sunrise at the historic, majestic Machu Picchu COMPLETELY BLOCKED BY PEA SOUP FOG.

All I could do was laugh. And curse, there was a little bit of cursing.

To Be continued...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cusco part 1, Americans

the flu really sucks, especially in foreign countries. Thank god for the very gay peruvian doctor who makes house calls to hotel rooms. I know, sounds scandalous, but sweater vests and combovers just are not what does it for me.

You don't believe me do you? a gay man with a combover? Never! Well, in rural peru, yes. I will cut the guy some slack since it can not be easy being a queen in a very macho isolated town on Lake Titicaca.

Don't get the wrong idea, there were no unnecessary hernia or prostate checks, just standard doctor procedure of blood pressure, pulse, symptoms and blessed prescription writing.

So once I got my health all sorted, I made my way to Cusco on a bus ride characterized by noxious smelling locals, very bumpy roads, not bringing enough food, and stopping every 15 minutes to let a dozen cholitas in piercing voices hawking cheese that had spent too much time in the sun, sweaters, colored beverages in baggies, necklaces, bread, and anything else that could be sold by poor rural women wearing bowler hats and aprons.

I was starving, hot, and irritable. The bus was two hours late (from all the stopping, I think the driver was in cahoots with the cholitas, or so my conspiracy oriented pissed-off-low-blood-sugar-mind believed), and arriving to cusco was followed by walking to the hostal at the top of the highest hill in a very hilly town. If nothing else, I was that much closer to Machu Picchu, my whole reason for being in this corner of the world.

Cusco is a beautiful city. Great plaza, decent food, and more white people than a flames-maple leafs game. I honestly have not seen this many americans since boarding my flight in DC back in January, and to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. One thing I have really enjoyed about south america is being, well, the only American. Israelis, Germans, Brits, Aussies, Dutch, French, you name it, are here in spades, but not Americans. I have used this to my advantage to be a positive example of an educated, liberal, and presentable american with more-than-average, well, I like to think at least, global sensibilities.

I like getting to be the one that can explain a culture of fear and media manipulation that led to Bush being re-elected. I like being able to tell people I vote democratic and oppose the war in Iraq, being an American example contrary to all the mass media that makes Americans look like bible thumping, isolationist war-mongers. To some extent, even I sometimes believe that "we" are. Most of all, I like being around people who are not Americans, who bring a British, european, latin, or middle eastern perspective into my life, who grew up tri-lingually, or who have tolive in a world that is much bigger than the isolated giant of the US.

Do not get me wrong, I love my country, and I love many, many people who live there. I just can not help but wish from time to time that we got out more, that we had a broader perspective, that we were not so consumed by fear and consumption. I can look back to before this trip and see how I internalized all this and personally manifested all that I am currently ranting about. I also must confess that when I think about returning to my country, how I know being subject to it once more will penetrate me all over again and lead to many of the bad habits of thought, fear-fueled desire, and self-abandoning pessimism that too often characterized my state of mind in the last few years of post-college life.

But I digress. There are perks of being in the US for sure, or at least being in a place of a lot of gringos like me, namely Decent Chow. I had this amazing smoked bacon, avocado, butter leaf, carmalized onion on ciabatta with honey mayo sandwich at Los Perros in Cusco, with a curried pumpkin cream soup that was honestly fantastic.

I miss the food and friends the most. These days I am hoping to find a bit of clarity, focus, direction, etc. Found another blog that may prove helpful, but I am just getting started and amd still withholding judgement until later, but see for yourself. If nothing else, I admire the intention:

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sit back, take a deep, sea-level breath and get ready...1,2,3,Boardman!I am now writing you from Puno, Peru (3820 meters), a little town onLake Titicaca. I have been here almost a week, outrageously ill. Notin the "old-school-Mike-D" way, but in the"teeth-chattering-chills-followed-by-hot-flashes-can't-get-past-the-bathroom-let-alone-outside"sense.

It all started when I was in the travel office booking a ride down "TheMost Dangerous Road in the World." Now as any active person I acceptresponsibility for taking necessary risks to have fun in outdoorsports, and I have a number of scars, and emergency room visit stories,to show for it. I want to say that I am never cocky, nor do I want to tempt fate. Nevertheless, when one decides to take a ride down something called the"MDRITW" you can not help but feel like, well, you're asking for it.

This road involves dropping over 10,000 feet over 30 miles on a one lane road consisting of rocks and dirt, cut into the side of a near vertical tropical mountainside with waterfalls constantly eroding what little it consists of, running between La Paz and Corioco, Bolivia. It is legendary for trucks, cars, buses, tourists- and everything elsethat attempt it daily...this road is busier than you might think-flying off the sheer edge (let's just say guardrails were not in thebudget) into the valley anywhere from 200-2000 feet below.

It is thehome of one of the largest single vehicle disasters in history, when anovercrowded bus succumbed to inevitability and killed over 100 people onboard after the most likely drunk driver careened into oblivion, and then of course, the very un-oblivion, unforgiving valley floor.

The great part about it is that it lives up to its you ride by the jaw dropping scenery, you see remains of the most recent accidents...the rest are swallowed up by the relentless jungle foliage. The memorial crosses on the edge never get overgrown, always visibleto give you something to think about. 3 hours of descending on a dubiously functioning bike next to a sheer cliff gives you a lot of time to think.

So when I say "something to think about" for me took the form of "my brakes" or "I am such an asshole if I die on the most dangerous road in the world" or "Mom would be so pissed if she found out I am doing this" not to mention "I wonder which of my ex-girlfriends will come to the funeral?" or finally"I hope one of my friends has the ironic-absurdist sensibility, and theballs, to play 'Welcome to the Jungle' at the wake, because that would be hilarious!"

Thankfully we do not have to find out just yet, nor does potential danger affect my sense of irony. I know you were all worried.

But if I do go like that, you know what CD's to bring to the service.

So I made it back in one piece, hungry for more adventure. It was atthe travel office booking this journey I found out about Huayna Potosi,a very badass looking peak - my favorite criteria for picking climbs -that uses all 6,088 of its meters (19,975 feet to you, Yankee) to call to me as it loomed large over La Paz.

Also, I knew all but one of my friends (Garrett, the one who as I typeis on Everest right now...check him out at havenever been above 6000 meters, let alone summitted something that high. Bragging rights calling, I signed up.

It turned out to be great. Well, that and HARD. Everything that you have ever heard about being at high altitude is true (struggling for air, pounding headaches, feeling like a drunk old person, etc). I am in decent shape, have mountaineering training and experience, giving menot only advantage over everyone else in the group of 5 (all of whomhad neither), but also the sense that there are some very good impactsof US liability requirements and how they do actually make companies take some responsibility.

What I mean is that not only did the other clients have no experience,the guides did not speak english nor make any effort to explain to them how to use an ice axe, basic principles of not dying or maimingoneself, etc. What ended up happening is that I ended up having to work as a guidethe whole time. Being the only bilingual one I translated a lot, and did mini-clinics on everythingfrom the rest step to how to use an ice axe and falling protocol (rule#1: DON'T FALL). It is still my ass tied to the same rope, and even ifI was paying to be there I was damn sure I was making it off the mountain.

The Bolivian guides, of course, did not see a problem and just wanted to get up and go home; safety explanations just made this go more slowly.

This climb turned out to be a demanding glacier climb with severalIII-3 ice climbing sections, but damn was it worth it. If you arecurious and have a minute, check out the photos of one of my fellowclimbers, British Andrew:

Thing is, getting one hour's worth of sleep and ice climbing at altitude in the middle of the night takes it out of you. Two daysafter getting down my depressed immune system picked up a bug whichrendered me bed bound for 4 days. It caught up with me in Copacabana (Anyone who emails me back withlyrics of my predicament to the song stuck in all of your heads afterreading that gets a free pitcher of beer-Jeff, I am waiting), and followed to Puno.

The good news for The Boardman is that I got a room at a cheap, very comfortable hostal with a private bath (necessary), REAL mattress (verynice), and TV in the room (downright luxurious) to recuperate. Being sick here reminded me of being sick as a worrying aboutmissing work, lots of Sprite, saltines, and even the daytime "I Dream of Genie" reruns (hilariously dubbed in Spanish, of course). I even saw a doctor yesterday to make sure everything is okay-I am backon solid foods, and should be out having more Boardman blog adventuressoon. Oh, and drop me a line when you get a chance. It is always good to hear from you. Ciao,Boardman

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Despite the unrivaled pleasure of writing these dispatches, which I iimagine some of you use for entertainment, some of you use to live vicariously (as so many of you let me know before departure), or someof you (like my mother) put up with my blathering if nothing else to be reassured I am not stricken with malaria, joining a group of jungleguerrilla fighters, or whatever else she can imagine, I must admit something:

it pays for shit.

So, as my bank account dwindles, my enjoyment of writing surges, andthe thought of going back to a "real" job is completely unpalatable, I have decided something: It is time to start freelancing. This is where you come in. For some reason - well to be exact the mere fact I have no experience in this whatsoever - I am kind of hitting awall as to how to get started, so I decided to ask for some help from all of you lovely people.

So what I need are the following:

1) Ideas for articles subjects/titles/etc

2) Anyone who might be interested in publishing them.

3) feedback from any of you who have more experience in this,guidleines for journalism writing, tips, connections, wads of cash sentto me, et al. Ideal situation would be writing for some magazine that wants irreverent post corporate job travel reports and pays, well, something. My initial goal is to make enough at least enough money to pay for myticket home (arond 1000 bucks), and maybe a few empanadas while I am here would be great, at least for a start. So help me out - all help is very appreciated.

In other news, I am in La Paz, Bolivia. I went running today, my second run in Bolivia, at the lactic-acid-churning altitude of 3600 meters. When you are this high (stop laughing, stoners) all you want is flat streets and as much air as possible, but if you are in Bolivia all you get are steep hills and lots of unmuffled engine exhaust. It was a bit better than my first run in this lovely non-catlytic-converter-using country, in Potosi (4060 meters which converts to exactly waymore feet than you can comfortably imagine) only a few days after arriving at altitude.

Both started with lots of vain thoughts of how hard core I was to go running at this altitude, and ended with burning legs, burning lungs, and gingerly walking back to the hostel cursing both this country's policy of charging to use a bathroom and my failure at leaving the hostal without small coins.

Yes, Bolivian cuisine - meat, accompanied by potatoes, rice, and pastaall at the same time - makes ones bowels resemble the city streets of its capitol...crowded, smelly, and backed up. Nothing like a run up and down the paved ski slopes called a neighborhood to assist, I assure you. Despite these abdominal flexing and mental challenges (Adam Boardman's Suggested meditation: "Hoover Dam can takes thousands of tons of liquidpressure I can take this...Hoover Dam, Hoover Dam, Hoover Dam, where isthe f*%!ing hostal?"), running in foreign countries is always anadventure. Typically you get to see a side of the city you would have missed otherwise, and the added bonus of the locals reacting in a wayother than thestopped-being-funny-or-original-the-moment-the-movie-came-out "Run,Forrest, Run" still tragically common back home. In Mexico it was lots of honking, whistling, and staring, but in Bolivia it is just more of the silent, piercing, head-turning stares Iam already used to getting, being a gringo and all.

Bolivia does have its charm. Yesterday I rode in a collectivo to theValle de La Luna just outside of the city. You attentive Boardmaniacs may be thinking to yourselves: "Adam needs writing ideas...why don't I just send him a wad of cash instead?"

wait, wait, wait, I meant: "Didn't Adam already see the Valle de La Luna in Chile? What is he doing wasting time going back to place he already has been when he issupposed to out there living the dream and making girls hearts beatfaster with his charm and good looks all the Latin world over? You know, I really should tell Adam how charming, good looking, and modesthe is when I send him story ideas."

Well, you are right on all counts. I AM charming, good looking and modest, and I have already been to somewhere called Valle de La Luna. But just like shaky economies, simmering revolutions, and resentful attitudes towards the Bush Administration, it seems every South American country has its own Valle de La Luna. It was not as impressive as the first one, but that is not the interesting part. The Bolivian collectivo is a sort of Bus/taxi popular downhere. The one I found myself inside of hurtling through tight city traffic was a small Toyota minivan.

In the US this would carry at most 7 people, and of course in Bolivia will not go into gear with less than15. By my count there were 18 adults and 6 children under the age of 4. I had a Cholita's (the triangle shaped blanket-and bowler-hat ladies) knees in my back and a 2 year old girl next to me being crowded out by her younger sister - both in their father's arms -spilling out onto my lap.

NEXT SECTION NOT FOR THE FAINT OF BAD TASTE OR THOSE WHO DO NOT LIKE THE PRODUCT OF MY OCCASIONALLY TWISTED SENSE OF HUMOR: Not that I could have reached my camera if I wanted to, but I shouldhave taken a picture and use it for a carpooling campaign. Or one ofyou reseourceful business people out there should start a Bolivianimporting business for commuters who want a Cholita to help them get towork faster (carpool lane, people), and maybe do some "sitting-and-knitting" on the side, which is all I ever see these people doing.

I sometimes wonder what goes on inside the heads of Cholita's: [waking up] "You know what I am going to wear today? A blanket and a bowler hat!" "You know what I feel like doing? Wrapping a box of stuff/a pile ofsticks/several small children/anything smaller than a compact car up ina neon blanket, tying it to my back and going somewhere to sit!"

Okay, okay, I will stop. Yes i am making fun, but I will say that I have really enjoyed the friendly and helpful nature of these people,even if their fashion choices never stop making me grin. If you are curious, check out what I found on google images to get an idea of what I am talking about:

FOR THOSE WHO SKIPPED THE LAST SECTION KEEP READING: Please help with the "Get Adam paid for writing" campaign. I lookforward to hearing from you!