BootsnAll Travel Network

Episode 4: Life, Death, and Starbucks

February 20th, 2007

The Road of Death

I had one day to kill in La Paz. One day, the only break I’d have in the middle of another cross-continental, muscle-sapping, backside-numbing bus ride. I needed to be outside. I needed butt in gear, body in motion. I got off the bus, got in touch with a local agency, and early the next morning, I was geared up and out the door, ready to spend the day daring Bolivia’s “Carretera de la Muerte,” or “Road of Death” or “the most dangerous road in the world!” by bike.

I was joined by three other cyclists about my age–a Californian Peace Corp volunteer on vacation from Panama, and two Swedish college girls–and two guides who’d spent the better part of their young lives biking this ominous route. After a long, ascending van ride out of the city, we were dropped at our starting point with muddy dirt bikes and a quick “Before” photo shoot. From there, we climbed in altitude to 4700 meters, temperatures dropping and fog rising as we pushed higher and breathed heavier. It wasn’t until about an hour or more in that we reached the turning point where we would begin our 3500 meter descent, and we could see the Road of Death snaking along wicked cliffs and stunning cloud forest below us.

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Episode 3: Tumbling South

April 12th, 2006

March, 2006 

Last autumn I spent part an afternoon rolling down a grassy hill with my 3- and 5-year-old neices in Green Bay. I think it was their first time, and they loved it, so we took turns, over and over again pushing eachother at the top, arms tucked in close and eyes shut tight, hoping we´d end up somewhere near the big pile of leaves we´d staked out below as our landing pad. Sometimes we made it.  Other times we veered off course, gaining momentum with each revolution, and the whole thing was a bit bumpier and disorienting than we´d planned. Always we stood up covered in green grass stains and mud, leaves and twigs sticking out of our wild hair, dizzy and surprised–and laughing!–and ready to give it another go.

Life since the last Episode has been something like that.

Argentina: Life in Magical Real

After a night and a day in La Paz, where the highlights included drinking with the bus station employees and checking out the Mercado de Brujas, the Witch´s Market, a stretch of cobblestone street where women work stands and small shops selling home-made and pre-packaged potions, cure-alls, and powders that promise to remedy everything from financial debt to a lacking love life, or ward off bad luck with a perfume or potpourri (or any variety of dried toad dusted with glitter, or dried llama fetus on a string), I hopped an overnight bus for Argentina.

The bus itself was an adventure, in the form of 14 hours of general discomfort and fearing for my life (and the many other lives that packed the seats and aisle of the rickety, overcrowded bus). Right before boarding, I was chatting with a guy who told me stories of about five recent instances of Bolivian buses crashing, tipping, and going over cliffs, so I was nearly clutching the Peruvian guy next to me as we lurched back and forth, weaving through mountains and, I was sure, grazing the edges of a steep cliff edge or two while narrowly avoiding several head-on crashes. People sat on suitcases in the aisle. Babies cried, some held by strangers while their rightful owners stood in the aisle clutching the overhead compartments for support. Those of us who had seats weren´t so much better off: the majority were broken, so we would go from sleeping position to sitting, and vice versa, with every bump. Everyone shivered under blankets, hats, mittens and more, trying to ward off the freezing night temperatures (again, I almost snuggled up to the Peruvian guy next to me, for warmth this time).

After a few hours, I realized that the bumpy road was bad news for my already over-active Vodicka bladder. The bus had periodically been making short, unannounced stops along the way, and I had seen people file off and then get back on, so the next time we stopped, I followed about 6 other people off. “¿Baños?” I asked the driver before deboarding. “¡Corre!” he replied, run! So I ran, but all I could see was a wide field behind a stretch of about 15 little shack-huts, some without doors and none of which resembled a public bathroom. I recognized a guy from the bus, running as if he knew where he was going. I was on his heels as he rounded the corner of the last hut in the row, unzipped his pants and started peeing in the field. This was no time to be shy (and let´s face it–when it comes to public peeing in a dire situation, i´m usually not); I leaned up against the back of a hut, peed as fast as I could, pulled my pants up and ran while the guy still had his back to me. When I rounded the corner, I saw the bus, door shut, driving away. I ran after it with arms waving, and a few other stragglers following behind, and boarded while the thing was in drive.

After a sleepless night, I walked a delirious half-mile from Bolivia to Argentina, my second Bolivian border in 48 hours. Even before crossing the border I could tell Argentina was going to be a different world than that of Peru and Bolivia. An easier one, for a gringa. Suddenly, the immigration process no longer consisted of a body search, suspicious looks, and stern questioning about what I was doing in their country, why, and for how long. Here, as soon as the guys saw “The United States of America” glittering in gold across the front of my passport, they smiled, flipped it open just to take a look at my picture and say “Anna Dominica, what a pretty name!” or “Wisconsin, where is that? How lovely it must be!” A smile. A stamp. And I was on my way.

The landscape, too, changed almost immediately before me. Back on another bus, I watched as the terrain went from the bone-dry browns of the Bolivian sierra to pink, mossy mountains (and some green, purple, and orange), and lush, leafy green of the Argentinian Andes. Beautifully kept ranches, brightly painted houses, men on horseback. I was used to the sort of disordered, haphazard look of Peru´s urban centers and sprawling communities, where many of the houses stand unfinished, for two basic reasons, from what I was able to gather: one, families leave the roofs of their houses unfinished because when their sons marry, they build a new level onto the home where they will live with their new wives. If there are three sons, that will be three floors, and if those sons have sons of their own, the house will continue to rise (daughters move in with their husbands´family). The second reason is that the government doesn´t charge property tax for houses that are technichally in the building stage, a compromise made for the people living in poverty. This means that houses in the outskirts or poor urban centers are almost always missing a wall, a door, or some other essential part, and while they´re supposedly “in the works,” they will forever be missing a wall or a door or other essential part. So a home is unfinished because it is full of hope or it has none.

In contrast, Argentina, with its reason and order, complete homes, structured stone walls, is surprising, and in a way, refreshing. I can´t help feeling more at home around the structure–it is, after all, how we estadounidenses are built.

I´d tentatively planned on making the small town of Cafayate the next break in my cross-continental bus adventure, which would mean stopping briefly in the larger town of Salta and booking a ticket on the next bus heading south with a stopover.  Naturally, the one company that sent buses to Cafayate was on strike: “come back tomorrow!” they told me at the info booth.

So I spent my first night in Salta, sipping wine in the main plaza and marvelling at the europeanness of it all.  Salta is a small city in northern Argentina that is modern in a way I hadn´t seen in a while–bustling streets filled with shopping centers, casinos, street vendors and neon lights, and women dressing up on each other–but strangely outdated in terms of style and technology. Everyone´s flashing outdated goods and 80s fashions. Weird. I drank more of the red wine that had been cheaper by the bottle than the glass, headed back to Tierra Oculta hostel, which has a great rooftop bar, shared drinks and stories with some fellow travelers, and after the previous night´s bus ride, slept gratefully in a dorm room top bunk.

The next morning, I packed up and went back to the bus station. Sill no bus services to Cafayate. I was told that there might be local city buses running there, because of the strike, so I left the station planning to wait at the bus stop until I found a bus. It could be hours. As I was about to reach the bus stop, a moustached cab driver called to me from a group of cabbies (also moustached) that were smoking and chatting under a tree across the street, waiting for customers: “¿Cafayate?”

“¡Si!” I replied! Yeah, how much? 

Good, he said.  18 pesos (same as the bus). Wait here.  We need to find 3 more people.

So one minute it seems like a curse that the one bus that runs to your next destination is on strike, but the the next thing you know, you´re in a taxi, faster and more comfortable, with a driver that stops so you can take pictures and makes sure you´re catching all the sights along the way. And what a drive! Someday I will rent a car and drive this stretch of northern Argentina at my leisure: mountains that nature took a paintbrush to, and molded into shapes of the most whimsical kind (castles, an ampitheater complete with a lone musician, a frog, and more). And after days of bussing, two days in the town of Cafayate were the equivalent of a 48 hour massage. You can´t really beat a small town that´s vacant of pretty much everything but wine and art. And El Hospedaje, more a $5 a night retreat than a hostel, was all serenity with a sunny patio overgrowing with flowers, a pool out back with lawn chairs for sunning and wide chairs for lounging, and café con leche and pastries at breakfasttime. I shared a room with two fellow independent female travellers (finally!). Victoria, a 27-year old fashion designer from Buenos Aires, and I toured a goat cheese farm, ate lots of fruit by the pool, sampled wines from the local vineyards, and dragged ourselves unwillingly to the bus station when it was time to go.

 Two days later (had to make an unplanned stop in Tucumán, 6 hours south, when buses to Bs. As. were uncharacteristically full), muscles atrophying and butt permanently molded to fit the 120-degree angle of the semi-cama reclining bus seat, I arrived in Buenos Aires. What followed was a 5-day fling with one of my new favorite cities–an affair that I would love to see blossom into something more serious someday when there´s room in my life for commitment (this is my only consolation when leaving place after place that I fall for, didn´t get to explore fully, or missed something major: I´m coming back! I convince myself).

Buenos Aires is as European and modern as they say, with several pieces of architecture straight out of Paris, Soho-inspired streets, lanterned plazas reminiscent of Italy or Spain, all to the tune of a genuine Latin American vibe that keeps it from feeling like imitation.  There´s a great national pride that has inspired some great jokes, and as far as I can tell, is justifiable.

*joke interlude*

Q. How can you tell you pick an Argentinian spy from the crowd?

A. By his “I am the greatest spy in the world!” t-shirt.

A guy walks up to an Argentinian and asks for a light. The Argentinian pats his chest pockets, his butt pockets, and his front pockets. “No,” he replies, a little surprised, “but I have a fucking amazing body!”


You may remember Brian from previously published blogs, the good friend from home who I booked it to B.A. to meet. In case you need a refresher, let me quote an email from the man himself:

“Well, in my life I have never been important enough to
be portrayed as a pathetic parade-rainer to an
audience of 51 people, but thanks to Anna Dominica
Vodicka that long-standing dream has finally come
true.  And I quote:

1) “No, really, if I weren´t a very dedicated friend,
I would probably leave Brian to camp Patagonia by
himself, and I´d live here blissfully until the end of

2) “My plan was to immediately purchase a ticket to
Sucre or Potosí, and take off tonight, since I´ve got
to meet Brian in under a week.”

This rise to superstardom was so quick!  I feel
unprepared for the limelight into which you so
selflessly have cast me!

I was kinda waiting for the conclusion of the blog to
read “hopefully Brian gets hit by a bus tomorrow, so I
won’t have to even make this decision.”

Or “Brian fits into my future plans as gracefully as a
turd fits into a turkey sandwich.”

Or “Remember the Holocaust?  Brian did that.” ”

…I could go on, but you get the idea. My 6-week travel partner, in his own words 🙂

Brian made it to Buenos Aires at 3 a.m. the day after I did.  His luggage did not.  While it made for some inevitable airline-induced anxiety, TACA airlines not only settled the matter kindly and efficiently, but they also unexpectedly delivered a $50 travel voucher to our door a few days later [this is a plug for TACA airlines…down with LAN!!!].

We were lucky enough to spend the week with Sisa and Steve, newlyweds from the East Coast who were on the 5th month of their honeymoon when I met them in Peru, and who had offered up the extra bedroom in the beautiful little apartment they were renting in Bs. As. for the month of March.  The four of us had a blast bombing around the city, taking in free tango and art exhibitions, concerts (Divas del Rock! on National Women´s Day–the divas weren´t so hot, but Sisa and I took the liberty of celebrating our fabulous womanhood by shopping guilt-free and often), preparing several homemade fresh gnocchi and wine dinners, making llama jokes, and staying up past 12 for the first time in a while.

The day before we left Bs. As., in or around the bus station where Bri and I had gone to buy our tickets south, my wallet was lost. Or stolen. Still not sure what happened, but it was gone. After I shed a few tears (I only lost about US$100 and my ATM card, which I cancelled immediately. The tears were mostly over a few sentimental things I´d been carrying around for years: family contact info, a book list, a black and white photo booth picture of me and Bethye circa 1998, with dinosaurs in the background. Damn, I loved that picture.)  Luckily Brian was there to make fun of me and offer me some consolation, and to serve as my sugar daddy for the following weeks until Bank of America could come through with a replacement card.

Losing my wallet meant a trip to the police station, where I spent an unnecessarily long time answering all-too-personal questions for an overconfident young officer. He had me sit right away, then proceeded to deal with everyone else that walked through the door as they came in. I could see a few other officers lounging around joking and drinking coffee in the back room. This guy seemed to be multi-tasking while drawing up a very important and thorough document for me, but the more he joked, the more skeptical I became.  “Full name? Address? Birthdate?  And the most important question: single or married?  Single? Ahh…and what do you think of Argentinian men?”  An hour and a half later, I stood at the door holding an “official” document that pretty much listed my contact info and the details of my lost wallet in a simple paragraph that should have taken five minutes to compose.

“And you´ll let me know if you hear anything?” I asked. “Yeah, yeah, sure,” he said with a wave, “do you want to go dancing tonight?”  I skipped a night on the town with a model member of the Argentinian police force, and instead, Brian and I hopped on a bus headed south for Patagonia.

Patagonia: Why I am a Blog Slacker

I write this section from Mendoza, Argentina, no longer tumbling south and instead making my way north and east, back to Buenos Aires after several weeks in mostly Argentinian Patagonia, where internet is less accessible, more expensive, and generally unappealing compared to the towering mountain passes, the endless winding trails, the immense icy blue glaciers, the autumn beeches changing silver, yellow, red; powdery glacial lakes, crashing waterfalls, forests of cinnamon-bark Arrayanian trees, and white-capped, cloud-wrapped volcanoes (not to mention cold local brews, guitar sessions at quiet campsites, and thoroughly entertaining, unexpected travel companions).

Brian and I went from from Puerto Madryn–a Miami-like port for cruise ships and souvenir hunters, gateway to the penguins and whales of Peninsula Valdèz–to Gaudìn–a tiny Welsh village where all the action is at the afternoon teahouses (platefulls of cakes and bottomless pots of black tea) and a my new happy place, an outdoor museum of sorts called Desafìo (an adorable white-haired man retired and turned his backyard into a magical creative masterpiece, a dreamworld of trash art and poetry.  Imagination and whimsy turned hundreds of old beer cans, milk cartons, household appliances, and a hundred other ordinary things we all ignore on a daily basis, into profoundly moving, at times ethereally beautiful sculptures and works of art that pepper this totally inspiring artistic playground)–to Rìo Gallegos–where we stayed in a pink hostel, ate pizza, and changed our plan to go to the world´s southernmost city of Ushuaia (time and money reasons)–to El Calafate–the Vale of Argentinian Patagonia, constructed entirely for tourists that flooded it in order to get to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Here we met a fantastically hilarious pair from Davis, CA, and the last honest lawyer in Atlanta, GA, three who became our off-and-on travel partners for the upcoming weeks, and I got Food Poisoning Bout #2, which made me seriously contemplate going vegetarian for the first time in my life. We celebrated Brian´s 24th birthday with a plateful of alfajores (the most delicious cookies on the planet, with dulce de leche in the middle and chocolate all around), took in the enormous rumbly wonder that is the Perito Moreno Glacier (the only one in the world that´s actively advancing, and had been on internation news only 2 days earlier for some massive movement)–to El Chaltèn, a small town filled with trailer park charm and tourist destination dreams.  This dirt-road town was our base for multi-day treks to Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy, awesome peaks that rise above cloudy blue-green glacial waters and forests of twisted beech trees. (These trees bear witness to the harsh, sometimes brutal climate: they look like they went down fighting, one dried up and tangled round the throat of another, violently twisted and mangled from battle, or from love; branches bent into submission, roots ripped from the soil and begging for something to hold on to. Survival in Patagonia.)  The towering peaks are usually visible from the town of El Chalten, but were completely hidden from sight during our first two days there, when downpour and whipping winds kept us inside playing lots of cards and drinking instant cocoa, or 40s, at the Hem Herhu hostel (highly recommended! it means “the soul” in some indigenous language, the helpful owner sports dreads and a “pensar en verde” tshirt every day and listens to lots of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nick Cave, and good 80s) and the cozy local brewpub. We loved the town, especially for moments like one at the local pastry shop, where the lady behind the counter was so excited by Brian`s travel guitar that she gathered the whole place together to clap off-beat to some strumming, and brought out a plateful of pastries for “el musico!” and friends, or the time we formed a band in the corner of a local restaurant and entertained (or drove away) fellow diners with an impromptu version of Stand by Me, and other standards (finally I got to be the tambourine girl I´ve always dreamed of becoming!). 

After many perfect days of hiking and camping, we hopped a flight north to Bariloche (we almost died coming in for a landing through crazy winds), and after reuniting with our new friends and doing one of the most intense hikes of my life, at one point crossing two mountain passes in one day, some parts icy steep trail, others loose rock, others 100% steep scree that you could practically ski down on foot, but was like torture on the way up–with packs and hot sun. After getting back to town and testing some of the famous local chocolate shops (the entire main street is filled with them), Brian and I decided to rent a car for a week, which gave us the chance to see towns from El Bolson–about 2 hours south, where we camped out with friends at our favorite new brewery, makers of the regionally famous cerveza El Bolson, where beers vary from wheat, bock, and winter ales to cherry, raspberry, or spicy aji–to Parque Nacional Lanin further north, and over the Chilean border to more national parks and volcanoes in the Lakes Region.

This brief sum-up of the last 6 weeks hardly does it justice, but how could I?  It has certainly been a lot more destination travel, more meeting up with gringos, speaking English, visiting incredible sites (and paying for them) than I`m used to.  Also more sleeping on mats, freezing under a not-warm-enough sleeping bag, and eating quick-cook pasta and oatmeal out of a camp stove than I`m used to.  This has been different, but so good.  Experiencing these places that will change so dramatically in the very near future, with the invasion of real estate, technologies, entrepreneurs, pavement. The word about Patagonia began to spread more than a century ago, but while some of the cities are all Tahoe, younger than I am and built strictly for tourists with dollars, much of the place still feels like barren frontier, calling to mind stories of our own Wild West–stick a stake in the ground and claim an acre as your own.  Construction goes on from dawn till dusk; we`d disappear into the woods for a few days and a town would miraculously sprout new apartments for rent, a new commercial building for sale.  And while there´s no getting around the climate–tourists used to the comforts of cruiseships and tropical beaches won´t welcome the unpredictable Patagonian winds, rain, and temperatures that could dissolve into blue skies and sunshine–and back again!–in a matter of minutes.  But an adventurous spirit could bear with it.  And with easier access and cushier accommodations on the horizon, droves of them undoubtedly will.  Southern Patagonia will be dramatically different ten years from now; it was lovely to be a part of the now, a privelege, a little frightening to see the budding stages of progress.

Unbelievably, a few weeks to go.  Back through Bolivia, where the attractions all hint at something darker, heavier, a little more ominous: visit the barren salt flats! Ride the most dangerous highway in the world! Descend into the Potosi mines and bring a gift (a Coca Cola, a pack of gum, cigarettes) to the men who work in the dark and breathe the underground.  Then Peru.  And then Home.


Episode 2: Hola, Peru!

February 28th, 2006

February 15-28, 2006

Colca Canyon: Llamas in the road, llamas in the hills, llamas on my plate.

Manuel, owner of the Hostal Astorga, set me up with a tour of the Colca Canyon–a quick 2 days of tromping in and around the world´s 2nd-largest canyon (both on foot, and and in a sparkling white, bad-ass Mercedes Benz mini-bus) for 25 bucks. In true Anna fashion, I shot out of bed about 5 minutes before the bus started honking, sprinted down the steps of the hotel with an “¡Hasta luego!” to Manuel and his mom, and greeted the other 15 Colca passengers while still shoving things into my backpack.  It was a bumpy six hour busride to the canyon region (note to self: wear sports bra whenever public transportation is in order), with plenty of informative pitstops along the way, the first of which was our introduction to the coca plant.  

Ask any local: since the age of the Incas, coca has been the prescription of choice for both prevention and treatment of altitude sickness.  Straight up coca leaves, coca tea, coca cookies, coca candy…you name it, they can put coke in it!  We were climbing (the area surrounding the Canyon gets up to 5000 meters high), and so a bit of the green stuff was in order. Coca tea was drunk by all, and following our guide´s example, we wadded up some leaves around a piece of powdered lime called llipta, popped it like gum, and continued on our way.  Fifteen tourists bumping along with bulging cheeks and tingling tongues. 

We made several stops along the way, which included a stellar view of the Misti Volcano (the one where they discovered Juanita and so many other young girls frozen and completely intact during the last decade–pretty little sacrifices to the mountain gods in exchange for rain, or sun, or to pacify an angry, rumbling volcano), lots of alpaca and other funny looking animals, and a chance to make our own small stone offering to the gods.  These piles and stacks of rocks, called apachetas, dot much of the horizon in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Though these days they´re mostly the handiwork of busloads of tourists, who build them and then make a wish, traditionally they served as a representation of how the indigenous people were feeling the energy of the earth–it was their small way of leaving part of themselves, part of their soul, resting with the Pachamama (Mother Earth). I chose to forego wishing on an apacheta like the others, and instead breathed in the crisp air and sharp Andes horizon.  I did make a mini one later, though, when I felt a little guilty about peeing on the side of an important mountain site…I just had to go!!

After lots of literal ups and downs, we crossed under a stone archway that read “Chivay,” and we were ready to stop for the night.  Chivay is a small village of about 4,000 that serves as the gateway to the canyon, and while its location has made it a tourist attraction, with a few small hotels, boys running around with llamas (looking for a gringo with a camera and a tip), and one tiny “Irish Pub” that advertises Guinness “when available” (which is never–everyone ends up drinking the Arequipeña, I am told), Chivay maintains a traditional, old-world feel.  The small main plaza is surrounded by farmland and mud-brick houses with roofs of straw. Cacti plants, rather than more traditional methods of barbed wire or broken glass, line the tops of stone walls–the method of choice for keep unwanted guests from climbing over onto private property.  Dressed in jeans, a fleece, and hiking boots, I pass men, women, and children in traditional Cayllagua and Cabana garb: men in vests and hats, women in layers of heavy, heavily embrodered fabrics, apron on skirt on skirt, wrap on vest on shirt, babies strapped on their backs with colorfully woven blankets (this manner of toting toddlers is common throughout the country–usually, I am utterly impressed by the way they pack them in there so tightly, and at how cozy those little babies look, tight up against their mothers. Only a few times have I been tempted to run to the rescue of a floppy baby, or a thirteen-year-old mother who is double over by the weight of it all).  The women all wear brimmed hats–some plain white top hats, others brightly emroidered hats–all an indication of what side you´re on, since there are Cayllagua people and Cabana people, and to this day, the two just don´t mix.

Once in Chivay, we checked into our respective hotels and set off on a hike into the mountains.  We hiked past small farms, mules and cows, and a weathered woman in traditional garb sitting on the ground next to a scarf arranged with small piles of things no one could possibly want–a few dried black potatoes, some shucked corn, a fistful of grain, a lop-sided, shot-sized ceramic cup, a couple of withered carrots.  Our guide, a lcoally-known Arequipeño who has been leading Colca tours for more than 10 years, and tries to encourage the locals to earn tourist dollars rather than beg for them, asked her a few questions, but she was shy and unable to tell us anything about what she was selling. Halfway up the mountain, we came across the trail´s major point of interest: several tombs dating back to the 1100s that remain chock-full of human skulls and bones–old burial sites used by the Cayllagua fighters.  As you near them, you can see the skulls peeking out at you from various spaces in the rock (the tombs were raided at one point, but a few stray coca leaves, cigarette butts, and strategically placed skulls at one of the tombs point to more recent shenanegins).  The views from the hike were outstanding: of the straw-roofed huts below, of little squares of farmland, each person´s share divided cleanly by a short wall of stones and mud, of the wind blowing across the fields, so that from where I stood the tall grass looked like an ocean of bright green waves.  We hiked back past the farms and cows and the woman with her piles, and back into the village.

We spent a couple of hours and some of the surrounding natural hotsprings, and after dark we ate alpaca meat and saw a local group perform traditional song (in Quechua) and dance. After a day of alpaca-gazing–those furry things are everywhere!–I was a little wary of ordering the local specialty, but I figured it was better than guinea pig, and there wasn´t much risk involved (ahem…ceviche). I am happy to report that it in no way resembled the animal itself, and tasted quite good, though I don´t think my alpaca consumption will extend beyond the Colca Valley.

We were out and on the road at 5 a.m. the next day, since more morning hours in the canyon mean a better chance of spotting Colca´s number one celebrity, the condor.  We did see some, and they were quite impressive, putting on a little show of loops and floating and majestic wingspan, but as I´ve never totally been able to relate to bird watchers, it was hard for me to understand why some would make the trek simply to catch sight of one soaring through the canyon.  The canyon itself, though, plunging deep, surrounded by small waterfalls, craggy rockfaces, and blooming agricultural terraces, was well worth the trip.  I only wish I would have had a whole week to explore, since time constraints limited us to just a small section of the canyon, and certainly not its deepest or most challenging.  (This was, after all, the typical tourist route, all I had time for.)

After a few hours of hiking and history, we climbed into the Mercedes and started the long ride back to Arequipa.  Sleeping was nearly impossible, since frequent changes in altitude made temperature regulation in the bus a challenge (no AC obviously, so either windows open or windows closed) , and the bumpy road was also a very dusty road, so that deep breathing induced choking.  I popped some coca candy and watched the mountains pass, listening to my mp3 player until the battery died and we were back in the city. With contact info in hand, I said goodbye to my new Peruvian, Canadian, Spanish, Swiss, Irish, Dutch, and American travel buddies, thanked Carlos for a hell of a time, and moved back in to the hostel for two short days before moving on to Cusco.

Cusco: Classes and Carnival!

I might never leave Cusco. 

No, really, if I weren´t a very dedicated friend, I would probably leave Brian to camp Patagonia by himself, and I´d live here blissfully until the end of time…or at least until April 28th, when I have to catch that flight back to the States.

Lima was nice, Pisco and Ica an adventure, Arequipa was quaint and Colca was impressive, but getting to Cusco was like taking an overnight bus home.  I didn´t sleep a wink the entire 12 hour bus ride here, partly because I suck at sleeping unless I know I´ve got lots of personal space, but also because the guys across the aisle–Jesús and his four water distribution compadres, who´d spent a good hour hovering over me and my guidebook, teaching me phrases in Quechua, asking me about life in the U.S., and offering me places to stay/dinner dates (I politely declined)–were snoring away contentedly in our lower-level semi-cama section of the bus.  At five a.m., the bus pulled into the Cusco terminal, and we all stepped into the freezing night air.  I waited in delirium for the luggage guys to find my backpack, and said goodbye to Jesús and the boys, who patted me on the back and pointed me to the nearest taxi: “Que te vaya bien, Anita!” they said, and Call if you need anything!

Hostal Royal Frankenstein,” I directed the driver, pulling a name from the list of hostels my trusty guidebook recommended. Since February is the low season in Peru, I never call ahead to book hostels, but I said a little prayer that 1)someone would be willing to get up and answer the door at the crack of dawn, 2)they would have an open bed, and 3)they wouldn´t hate me for the entirety of my stay for waking them up so freaking early.

I am in luck–the front door is open, and a disheveled but friendly-looking guy is standing in the doorway in loose pajamas, scratching his head and motioning me inside.  He helps me with my backpack as I apologize for having woken him and inquire about a room. “Don´t vorry,” he says in a German accent, “I vas already avake…” he points and introduces me to Bruno, a yellow lab who sleeps at the front door. I silently thank Bruno for having a tiny bladder like mine.  Ludwig, the owner, tells me they have one free room, a double if I don´t mind paying an extra 5 soles (a little over $1). Done.  I go to sleep under heavy blankets and sleep until noon.

When I wake up, Ludwig shows me around the hostel and introduces me to his pretty Peruvian wife, Marita, and their 1 1/2 year old, Fiona, who is gorgeous, on her way to being a trilingual toddler, and likes to hit and throw things. The place is cozy, filled with natural light and hanging plants, a fishtank, a roaming Iguana in one corner, books and a guitar in another, and lots of funny signs and Frankenstein-themed decorations. We talk about Mary Shelley for awhile, and Germany, and he gives me a thorough sum-up of Cusco that includes maps, restaurant and agency recommendations, bus routes and beyond. A guy with grey stubble walks past me toward the front door.  He´s wearing a flannel shirt and an Oakland A´s hat, and carrying a small ceramic mug. “Fuckin strong espresso up for grabs in the kitchen if you want it,” he says in a low, apathetic American accent. “Really?” I say, shocked at the prospect of precious, real espresso as an alternative to the watery Nescafe I´m trying to get used to. He pauses at the door. “You don´t drink it, kid, and I will, and I´ve already got enough to keep me high all day.  Where you from?”  “The U.S.  Wisconsin.”  “Uh,” he grunts, “Cheesehead.”  He walks outside without another word.

I gratefully sip what´s left of the espresso and head out myself.  When I finally step outside, it´s about 1 in the afternoon, the sun is shining, and I feel like new person.  I take a deep breath and know immediately that Cusco and I are going to get along very, very well.

Since it´s the gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco is one of Peru´s major tourist hubs.  During peak season, there are more tourists than locals in the central plazas, I´m told.  But right now is the rainy season, and while there are many extranjeros about, the city is tranquil, bright and bustling, warm and colorful. I spend a few hours walking around, checking street names and getting my bearings, reading up on history and sights over coca tea in a colorful café in San Blas, the artsy, Bohemian-style section of town that I want to move to immediately.  When I start making my way up the side of a mountain that will lead me to some Incan ruins, I am approached by a guy named Alfredo who is selling horseback-riding tours of the ruins–would I liketo spend a few bucks to go riding from one Incan ruin to another?  Why not?

My guide ends up being Alfredo´s 11-year-old brother, Reinaldo.  For the next 4 hours, Reinaldo and I hang out on horseback and ride from ruin to ruin, talking about Peru and the U.S., movies, music, school and girls. He doésn´t have much to say as far as the ruins are concerned, but it doesn´t really matter. I try to make him laugh and he tries to make my horse run after him as much as possible (which usually makes him laugh).  I haven´t been riding in ages, and taking Quincy and Abby out at the farm once in a blue moon never really qualified me as a rider in the first place!  By the end of the trip, I am throbbing from my butt on down, and feel as if my calf muscles have been permanently separated from my body.  I thank Reinaldo for the ride, and hobble down the mountain back the hostel.

I´m past the tired, I-just-pulled-an-all-nighter phase, and well into the adrenaline phase: it´s Saturday night, and I´m dying to go out.  The only catch is that going out requires people. As I unlock my bedroom door, another opens, and a girl steps out of the room next door.  I introduce myself and am totally about to beg this British girl to go out to a bar with me, but she´s leaving at 5 a.m. for Machu Picchu, just stepping out to the market and then going to bed.  Damn.

I change and consult my book for a restaurant/bar that might be crowded with people my age, write down a few addresses and grab my coat to go.  Then, just as I´m locking my door behind me, a giant thunderclap rattles the hostel roof, and within minutes, all of Cusco is soaked.  So are my plans to go out and meet some people over a Pisco Sour or two. I stand tentatively in the doorway, but this is a downpour.  One of the guys who works at the hostel assures me that it´ll quit within a half hour.  I can wait. 

I head back inside to the lounge, where Marita and one of her close friends are talking.  They ask me to sit, and three hours later, when the rain finally stops, the three of us grab our jackets and go out to meet a cousin, a sister, and some friends.  Seven hours of nonstop dancing later, it´s six a.m., and I´m sitting on a bench in the Plaza de Armas watching the sun rise over Cusco.  I´ve just had my first Peruvian girls´night.

The next day, I give my new girls hugs goodbye, we make plans to meet later in the week, and I head out to meet the Cusqueña family that will be hosting me for the week while I take classes at the Academia Latinoamericana.

I chose to take a week of intensive Spanish through an organization called Amerispan, to brush up after months of isolation from all that is non-white in northern WI, and to make contact with fellow travelers and what seemed to be a well-organized international organization. For those of you who were around for Freaky Franciny and Crazy Carmen, you might be surprised to know that I opted to stay with yet another host family.  You certainly never know what you´re going to get. But I figured, what the hell?  I´ll give it one more try.

Within 48 hours of living with the familia di Broggi, madre Martha and I had already had a hundred laughs, padre Alberto and I had invented a new version of the Twist that I like to call the Shoe Shine, and daughters Martha and Jessica were determined to teach me to dance a little less gringa, a little more Shakira (our Friday night discoteca plans fell through when we all fell asleep, unfortunately, and the now-international campaign to teach Anna how to body roll continues…). We sang at the dinner table nearly every night–from the Beatles to Juánez to Mana–and they tasted craisins and maple syrup for the first time, and I simply couldn´t have been placed in a happier, more perfect home.

The Academia runs 4-hour-a-day classes on a weekly basis, so every Monday means some new kids, and every Friday means some will get their certificate and go. Some stay for months, others, like me, a week.  Classes were a bit of a disaster at first: Monday consisted of a written exam, a brief orientation of the school, and a walking tour of Cusco. Tuesday morning Kasia, my one fellow new girl (who also happened to live next door, and is from Chicago),  and I were directed to our seperate classes. By the time we met for coffee during the mid-morning break, I was about to burst. It was so easy I could barely sit still–I must have really bombed the test.  Kasia said her class was pretty hard. I went to the director´s office, and she looked at her class list, immediately realizing that they had made a mistake with the exams–Kasia was in my class, and I was in hers. But she was doing ok there, and they were at max capacity (4 people). They didn´t have a class for my level, they said. Instead, they were going to offer me private, one-on-one lessons for the rest of the week, which I had been way too cheap to sign up for in the first place. Score.

The rest of the week consisted of classes, lots of new family and friend time, excursions with small groups from the Academia to traditional markets, nearby Incan ruins, galleries and more, and lots and lots of water fights.  After all, it was almost Carnival!

It would be difficult to describe Carnival in Peru without first explaining a bit about the age-old prankster tradition of water balloons.  I am convinced that whoever invented the squeaky, stretchy stuff that is the balloon was clever, he who blew it up with air, whimsical, he who twisted it into shapes, artistic, and he who filled it with water, well…fabulously naughty.  Water balloons are, first and foremost, a cheap laugh, one that transcends barriers of every kind: age, class, gender, language. You simply can´t help laughing when you catch a water balloon attack in action. I´m willing to bet that water balloons could do the Middle East (and any part of the world where various parties are unsuccessfully settling ongoing disputes, for that matter) a world of good, that if, in the heat of it all, someone launched a perfectly-aimed water balloon, everyone might just have a good laugh, shake hands, pack it up and go for a drink.

At any rate, about a week into my trip, I noticed the popularity of the water bomb among the local kids.  Water guns, too.  And anyone in the street, or even near the street, was fair game, whether it was a group of archrivals or an old man manning his shoe store.  For the entire month of February, it´s go time, beginning with a few innocent pranks at the start of the month, and gradually evolving. By the week of Carnival, everyone is on guard, walking with suspicion, watching the hands of every oncoming pedestrian, eyes alert to any quick or sudden movements.  I learned to watch balconies and rooftops (wet patches on the ground are a sure sign of recent battle), and taxis with open windows.  Drivebys are pretty unavoidable.  Add “fake snow” spray foam into the mix, and unless you´re incredibly swift or the sun is strong, you might want to re-think that walk to the museum or stroll to the market.

It was a proud day last week that I made it home all dry.  It was just one day. The globos were everywhere, an all out raid in the streets of Cusco, and while boys of all ages just loved to get “la gringa!”, everyone was a part of it, whether they liked it or not. I came home laughing every time.

These many weeks of globo wars were all leading up to the Sunday of Carnival, which was a soaking-wet free-for-all.  Kasia and a new friend, Grace, and I decided to spend the day celebrating in various towns of Cusco´s Sacred Valley, home to lots of ancient Incan ruins and en route to the big one, Machu Picchu. We weren´t sure what to expect, but we never would have guessed we´d end up in a parade in Urubamba, dancing along with all of the traditionally-dressed locals through the streets of town, chasing and being chased, getting doused in buckets of anything liquid (we saw a group of boys carry one girl through the street, kicking and screaming when they finally dipped her into gutter water) until we reached the parade´s destination: a grassy field with cement bleachers on one side, a DJ and band on the other, rows and rows of food and beer on the others, and a balloon-filled tree standing in the center, surrounded by groups of dancers.  We were soaking wet and laughing the entire way.

We were sipping 40 oz. beer, watching the dancers from a sunny spot in the field and finally beginning to dry off a bit when it began.  I saw the groups of dancers part, and suddenly it was like a battle scene from Braveheart, only the warriors were teenaged boys in t-shirts, and the weapons were buckets of water from few nearby pools. They came slowly at first, rows of them, walking casually and numbering at least twenty.  “Uh, guys,” I said, “I think we should RUN!”

Right as I said it, the boys started sprinting toward us, soaking all the innocents in their path. I grabbed my purse, jumped up and ran, sprinting alongside men, women, and children, everyone screaming and laughing.  I could hear splashes and screams behind me, and when I turned around, it didn´t look good.  I saw a drenched Grace with spray foam in hand, taking revenge on one guy, and Kasia looked liked she´d just walked leisurely through a hurricane. As it turns out, she had jumped up to run at the same time I did, but like a mother who runs back into a burning home for her child, she´d turned around to save our 40 oz. Pilsen, which she ended up dropping once she was drenched. A boy ran toward us with the foamy remains of the beer, and while she rang out her clothes, I poured her the last cup.  She´d earned it!

The sun had all but disappeared, and it was getting cold. Needless to say, Grace and Kasia were ready to high-tail it back to Cusco, which celebrated in a tamer fashion. We went back to the hostel (I was back at Hostal Royal Frankenstein, home to my original Peruvian family, at this point, and Grace was staying there, too), took steamy showers and changed into dry sweats, and prepared to venture into the streets for some food.  I peeked out the front door: “It´s totally fine, the coast is clear, guys,” I said with confidence.  They followed tentatively behind, and within 5 steps of the hostel, a cab rounded the corner so fast I didn´t see what hit me, only felt it. When I looked down, though, I was covered in red dye.  Grace too.  We sprinted to the nearest restaurant and stayed for about six hours before sprinting back.

A balloon filled with red-staining dye. I can´t tell if it was better or worse than the balloon filled with pee that a guy was telling me about today as we walked across the Bolivian border to customs.

Bolivia: Just the Beginning 

I left Cusco at 10 pm. last night, after a little send-off from Ludwig, Marita, and friends, and I boarded an overnight bus to La Paz. I was really sad to leave so soon–I needed more time in Cusco! And I was dreading the bus ride, especially when I saw how packed and cramped it was going to be. But for the first time since my eye mask + headphones + Nyquil ritual in the Mates´van, I managed to get a deep sleep on the road.  When I woke up to the sun rising over Puno and Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian border, gleaming gold on the water and turning all of the fishermen in their one-man boats into floating figurine silhouettes, I felt calm and refreshed.

When the bus pulled into the La Paz terminal, I headed straight inside. My plan was to immediately purchase a ticket to Sucre or Potosí, and take off tonight, since I´ve got to meet Brian in under a week and it´s going to take a while to bus it all the way to Buenos Aires (flights were upwards of $400, and I´m just too cheap).

I stepped into the bus terminal and into some bizarre world: the whole place was pumping with music, the floor was running with booze, and all of the employees were popping firecrackers and confetti, dancing and having a good time in front of their respective ticket counters.  I walked to a window and asked about a ticket to Potosí.  I was handed a cup of beer instead. “Mañana, mañana!” they told me, and kept on dancing.

As it turns out, today is the day that La Paz celebrates Carnival. Not one bus is running out of the city today, and there´s a 99% chance of getting soaked upon arrival. My journey across a punctually-challenged, fabulously unpredictable continent begins.

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Episode 1: Arrival

February 14th, 2006

5-14 february, 2006

Angels and Demons, Miami International Airport

Well, the trip got off to a bit of a disastrous start when snowstorms in Chicago kept me from making my flight to Peru.  Actually, let me rephrase and more accurately say that LAN Peru, those devils, kept me from making my flight to Peru: American Airlines got us to Miami as the flight to Lima was boarding, made a call saying “we´re here! hold the plane!” and sent me and about 15 others sprinting from one end of the airport to another, but LAN Peru (which I am convinced is under the operation of some evil spirit or another) yawned and decided they´d rather let 20 passengers spend the night in the airport and find alternight flights to Peru than wait an extra 30 seconds for takeoff.  And so we watched helplessly at the closed gate as our plane left us behind, and the adventure began.  The first 24 hours of my trip consisted of an allnighter, and a loooong day of trekking from one ticket counter to the next, waiting in a zillion lines, rebooking a flight, and creating various hyper-imaginative scenarios in my mind about what would happen once I arrived in Lima at midnight, alone, with or without luggage–and all to the tune of “Ring of Fire,” which was playing relentlessly in my head, since my 3 year old neice requested it all the way to Chicago (quite possibly the only toddler in the universe who knows the lyrics to multiple Johnny Cash hits).

As several family members who got middle-of-the-night calls can attest to, I don’t do well on little sleep.  Tends to make me a bit emotional.  But Miami wasn’t all buckets of tears–I was lucky enough to be stranded along with a group of Peruvians who were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  They were my saving grace–we hunkered down in a corner of the airport and they poured over my Let´s Go Peru, giving me suggestions, history lessons, email addresses and phone numbers, offering me rooms in their homes, etc.  I ended up on a separate flight, but I knew they were on the other end should I need them.  Mi familia peruana, angels of the Miami airport.

Lima: Pyramids, amor, and Pepto

I was welcomed in Lima by my backpack!! Very exciting since I was sure it was lost or stolen, and immediately hopped a camion to the Friend’s House Hostel, in Miraflores, which is a nice section of Lima just outside the city center.  Cheesy name aside, the Friend´s House is in a good location, it’s cheap, and the woman who runs it is completely adorable and helpful.  I shared a 7-bed dorm room with several solo male travelers: a late-night British guy on vacation from teaching English in Argentina, a large man who never spoke but kept a nearly-empty handle of rum on his nightstand, and a greasy, but friendly, Norwegian wanderer. 

I was warned by many that Lima was a downer–most people use it only as a hub to get to other more attractive destinations.  But while the sky is perpetually grey, an unfortunate consequence of geographical location and pollution, Lima exceeded my expectations.  I spent a few days exploring (highlights include: the hilarious Convento de San Francisco, where you can inhale particles of hundreds of ancient Peruvians as you pass by the open graves of the underground catacombs, and where a centuries-old Peruvian depiction of “The Last Supper” portrays Jesus and the rest of the usual suspects feasting on cuy, guinea pig, a national Peruvian specialty, and sipping from what appear to be martini glasses.  I got a sunburn and a history lesson at the Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana, a pyramid that stands amid traffic and telephone polls.  And I happened upon El Parque de los Amantes at sunset–a garden full of poetry and love (live and in concrete) that sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean.  An enormous stone statue of a man and woman embracing stands in the center, surrounded by curving Gaudí-inspired benches and walls, filled with professions of love (Roberto y Maria, Paola y Manuel) and poetry (“La presencia de tus ojos impedio que llegara la luna hasta nosotros (Corcuera),” “Pero llega la hora de la venganza, y te amo (Neruda)”) written in colorful tile pieces.  Very beautiful, and also hilarious–I mean, this place really motivating, action central!!

 So Lima was great and I met some really fun people, and was ready to go to Nazca, the next stop on the tentative itinerary, home to the famous Nazca lines, mysterious Inca calendar symbols carved into the desert and visible only from the air (Incan gods from the sun, extraterrestrials from their UFOs, tourists from some rickety, vomit-inducing 5-seater airplane).  Between the hours of 4 and 11 a.m., however, when I should have been catching a bus, I was pretty occupied at the hostel baño, draining my body of all of the poison that I apparently consumed over a lunch of comida típica that I was so proud of myself for trying (no more ceviche for me, ever).  Buses were no longer leaving for Nazca that day, but I was all packed up and mentally ready to go–not to mention eager to get to a place where I might have my own bathroom! So when another Friend’s House guest said he was leaving for Pisco and there was room on the bus, I was in.

Pisco & Ica: Where have all the cowboys gone?

Pisco is the birthplace and namesake of Peru’s favorite booze, and a port to the Islas Bellestas, the “poor man´s Galapagos,” and the Parque Nacional de Paracas, a desert wildlife preserve at the edge of the ocean. I highly recommend both–the first, a boat ride out to massive rock formations that play home to giant families of sea lions, penguins, unique birds, and LOTS of guano (they build nests out of their own poo!), and the second a bumpy bus ride along a spectacular curving desert shoreline to see dolphins, dunes, and geological splendor.  Water crashes into the land, ocean drinking desert–it’s incredible.

More than the penguins and the Pisco Sours, though, my 3-day Pisco-Ica excursion made me incredibly aware of myself as a woman travelling solo through a man´s world.  Yeah, it sounds totally cliché, right?  Maybe so, but the feeling is a bit overwhelming.  And I´m not sure if it´s the world at large or the latino world in particular–although we face certain inequalities in the workforce, economic and political worlds when it comes to sex and gender, it´s pretty easy to feel totally independent and equal in the States (although I wonder if I´d feel differently as a foreigner living alone in the U.S.?).  At any rate, I have been amazed at my experiences in the land of Machismo, where I live among men who are not necessarily (always) threatening, but who, in their world, have every right to stare, whistle, catcall, approach, judge, touch…

Offensive, yes, but more than anything, mind-boggling: what is going on here?  I know there are more women than men in the world, so why is it that everywhere I go, I am surrounded by men?  In addition to Peruvian guys, I am regularly approached by guys travelling alone (I haven´t yet another woman travelling by herself, and I am almost never approached by women here unless they are trying to sell me something).  Perhaps I´m hyper-aware of it because I´m trying to be cautious–trying to train myself to not trust anyone, lie alot (I have a boyfriend, I´m engaged, I´m from Canada…), and always imagine the worst possible scenario so as to avoid getting into it (this is hard for an optimist–I´m still going by my sixth sense, but I´m trying to give it a little less say than I normally would and let some boring common sense factor in, too).

To give you a glimpse into my life in the Boy´s Club, here´s a brief profiling of 3 of the characters that occupied one of my days in Pisco (since this is online and everything, I´m changing names to protect the…innocent?):


As soon as I heard his voice in the hostel lounge, broken gringo spanglish at its best, I thought, “Who is this yahoo?”  Rob is a nice enough guy, but I don´t know that I´ve ever used that word more accurately. With wrinkled skin hanging from a bony frame, a half-bald, half-long-grey-ponytailed head, and a white beard that grazes his chest, he looks like Willie Nelson´s less-hip little brother. He´s a total hippie with hippie stories–ditched his CT suburb for life on a Santa Cruz commune, practiced spiritual yoga till his group turned to a cult, sold alfalfa sprouts for a living, lives in Asheville, NC, as a professional gardener (very into horticulture…and herbs…).  His last name is Keeppeace, for God´s sake.

Rob and I shared about 24 hours of travel (I blame the ceviche)–ended up on the same bus, at the same hostel, and then buying the same tour of the Islas and Paracas. An interesting guy, with lots of random knowledge, but unfortunately, little things about Robert Keeppeace started to bug me, and quick: his tendency to scratch his balls in public, his unfortunate flair for turning interesting stories into drawn-out and utterly dull monologues that usually left me (and others) responding, “Ahh…” or “Mmm…,” no further questions asked, just glad it was over.  And his gaze that was less and less paternal-friendly and more and more Hungry Eyes.  Lingering stares, hovering around my bedroom door, sending weird vibes…harmless, but obnoxious. I said goodbye to the guy the next day, as soon as we were back from the tours. His shorts were hanging unfortunately low as he gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek.  Adios, Robert.


Alan is a 30-something Tazmanian-born, Hungarian-raised Californian computer engineer who owns a house in Costa Rica and is on a 5-week vacation with his Peruvian wife.  When I meet him, he is alone, speaking loud, rowdy English across the aisle of the bus, laughing with a few other solo guys about booze or Peruvian weed or something. I´m tired. He introduces himself.  He looks like a brown Bruce Willis–muscle tee, big smile, king of the world. He´s off to cause some trouble while his wife stays behind in Lima (she´s a 5-star hotel kinda girl).  He talks to me for the rest of the busride, though I´ve got headphones in and have already said I´m trying to sleep off food poisoning.  We get off the bus.  The next day, I´m wading at the shore of Paracas, when I hear “Anna!”  I turn to see Alan grinning and sipping a beer with his guide.  They´re both getting drunk.  Before I even sit down, he´s buying me a drink, but I take off, since my bus is leaving.  Later, Alan.


Juan is a 25-year-old Peruvian tour guide who speaks 12 languages fluently (from guiding, not from studying), and who has also been a taxi driver and a salsa/merengue instructor.  He sets me up with a tour of the Islas, then gives me a free tour of Pisco, during which he parades me past his ex-wife of 1 1/2 years.  I´m leaving for Ica to catch a bus south, I say.  He´s headed home to Ica for the weekend, he says, so we can take a bus together. I take the bus to Ica with him and his 3 year old daughter, and I imagine that I´m about to be taken prisoner in some Peruvian hut, where I will spend my days mothering this child and finding scraps to make soup before Juan comes home from tour guiding.  When we get to Ica, all the buses are booked, uncharacteristilly, because of some festival.  So I go home with Juan, and it´s not as threatening as I imagined–his extended family is wonderful, they give me one of their only beds, and Juan gives me salsa lessons at a local club.  When it becomes obvious that I need to do so, I break out the boyfriend lie.  He freaks a little, we leave and sit in a park to talk it out.  Then he sings me the song he wrote about me the day before, followed by “You´re Beautiful” by…I can´t remember, but anyone (Ali? Beth?) who´s been around me since it´s release knows that I think it´s the worst pop hit to make the radio in years.  Cringe. 

The next day, Juan and his family give me a tour of the bodegas of Ica, which is awesome.  One of the old men serving up Pisco has been hitting the bottle as often as he passes it, and no one can understand a word he says, but he proposes to me several times and says that there´s a hotel just down the road we can head to.  Hilarious.  Juan drops me off at the bus, saying something about who knows what will happen in the future…hasta luego, Juan.

Now, this is a day.  Thank God I dyed my hair!  Because it´s not me, Anna, grabbing the attention, it´s the girl.  Girl.  Sola.


So I arrived in Arequipa on an overnight bus, and it was refreshing to be completely anonymous for a second in what must be one of the most beautiful and well-kept cities in all of Peru.  They seem to have a no-littering policy (or at least a regular street cleaning crew) that extends beyond the plaza de armas, which was the first I´d seen in 6 days and several cities.  And lots of greenery, and scenery: to big volcanoes on the horizon, and the Andes, of course. 

I´ve been staying at a pricier (and by that I mean over $6/night) hotel, Hostal Angastora, where I have my own marble-tiled bathroom, a telephone, cable TV, and refrigerator, not to mention housekeeping and fresh coffee in the morning (well, fresh Nescafé, that´s the coffee of choice since all the good stuff gets shipped overseas). It was an incredibly welcome switch from a week of hosteling, especially with that whole Montezuma´s Revenge thing.

Today is Valentine´s Day, and the Plaza was filled with couples and vendors selling roses and heart-shaped balloons.  I bought roses for my hotel owners, and the old lady gave me two huge cheek kisses and talked to me about love and nostalgia.  It was great.  I am leaving early in the morning to trek some of the Colca Canyon, the 2nd largest in Peru (first is also in Peru).  It´s twice as big as the grand and sure to be–like everything else so far–an incredible adventure. 


w e l c o m e

February 12th, 2006

family, friends, and distinguished web guests,

welcome to my first-ever blog, an online travelogue that will serve as a substitute for inbox-clogging mass emails while i´m abroad.  follow my trail as i make my way from peru to patagonia and back again (and who knows?), view the random photos i snap along the way, and check out recommendations for fellow travellers wandering South America on a budget (especially my fellow girls going it solo!).

so enjoy! feel free to check in on me, and send messages of love and total adoration, at your leisure.

here´s to lots of happy trails,