Thursday, January 26, 2012

Moving Day: Part II

January 25, 2012

A few things first. GVSU published a “success story” about me and this trip. I am very honored. To have my university recognize what I have chosen to do with my life as something meaningful and worthy of sharing means a lot. And I need to write out a HUGE thank you to all the former students, classmates, family, friends, and colleagues who have written me a short note saying nice things about me over the past few days. You are all the ones who inspired me to do this in the first place, so thank you thank you.

As for life in Ollantaytambo, things are the usual ups and downs. We had a group from Minnesota come and give us a monster day of volunteering and cleaning out dirt from the dorm. My old volunteer house was robbed and the two volunteers there had their laptops stolen. I had a crazy ride deep into the mountains through treacherous mud with Kari to get to a meeting. Ana and Alicia are getting a long overdue break from Peru with two weeks in “normal” Argentina. I got at act as a tour guide for Vanessa in Cusco when she came to visit Ana and Alicia. And I have recently added ringworm to my list of Peruvian ailments, including a scar.

Vanessa and I in Cusco

Minnesota volunteers working very hard

Getting my filthy bike washed

Insane festival in Puno. My favorite is the lead dancer holding a beer.

Random kid in Ollanta

Another Move?

Last week we stopped by the new dorm to make sure our new landlord was progressing on all the repairs she promised. She had been working hard and everything was looking amazing. On our way out, she mentioned in passing that her sister rented out the two rooms on one side of the courtyard to an old woman and a very nice family.

Wait, what?!?!?!

The dorm is a square and she owns three sides. The fourth side was apparently empty and owned by her sister. She told us those rooms were empty, she was fighting with her sister, she doesn’t even talk to her, and signed in the contract that they would stay empty. Um yeah, not only is her sister actively involved in those rooms, there WAS ALREADY A MAN LIVING THERE!! She just didn’t bother to tell us that a man was living in the same housing unit as the future dormitory for 11 teenage girls. AYKM? I understand in Peru people live together all the time so for them is it not a big deal, but NO.

So now we had to scramble to find another new home. Arg. Fortunately my friends at Awamaki came through again. They just voted to not renew the lease on their volunteer house, which so happens to be the exact size we need for a completely safe and enclosed dormitory. We signed the contract last week and moved out today.

I am the only volunteer here for SVP right now since Ana and Alicia are gone. It was a pretty good feeling helping out at the move today. I rented the truck and helped smooth over a touchy situation with the landlady as we moved our stuff out. All the families came down from the mountains to help. I felt proud to be moving all our stuff through the plaza full of tourists alongside these indigenous people wearing my tire sandals. After we finished, we found a house selling cheecha and sat down for a few glasses. As we sat there, chatting in Spanish, in a rundown typical Peruvian home, it was another moment that I wanted to remember forever.

I know people travel all the time to exotic, dangerous locations and do really amazing things. I read articles about people who put their lives on the line everyday to fight injustice, sexual slavery, censorship, war, and many other things. They are often imprisoned and killed. (Subscribe to Nicholas Kristof on Facebook) Life here is a piece of cake compared to that, and I most certainly am not putting myself in their number. But for a moment today I did feel like I picked up a starfish and threw it back into the ocean. Only 999,999 left.

Drinking cheecha with the families

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le

January 22, 2012

The second trip into Chile was amazing. I went from Arequipa to Tacna to meet with my customs guy. I had forgotten how unbelievable that ride down is. It is all desert, but the stark, desolate, lifeless beauty is incredible. And I don’t want to forget all the twistys as well. Seriously, someone needs to get down here on a bike and join up.

I learned I have to go back to Chile one more time. I can either store my bike in Customs ($300) for up to one year, ship it home, or nationalize it ($2000). If I nationalize it I can leave it here forever and eventually sell it. I have a few weeks to decide.

Sign people

Desert twistys

Love this valley

I like the layer of mountains way, way off

The border crossing was a piece of cake and I wanted to stay a night in Chile this time and check it out. I found a fun, party type backpackers hostel and pulled in. I immediately met a ton of really cool people. We all traded our travel stories for awhile, then the Finnish couple and I headed to the supermarket to get stuff to grill.

I fired up the grill, it had been since June. I loved it!!! An interesting Dutch kid was celebrating his 19th birthday that night so we decided to party it up. So it was me, the Finnish couple, 3 Japanese guys, two other Dutch girls, a French girl, an Australian guy, 2 British guys, and 3 Chileans sitting around having a few drinks and playing games. I ended up pulling out the guitar, and of course I sang “One Semester of Spanish Love Song” to one of the Chileans. It was a lot of fun.

It got me thinking about me skipping the ride home. I would have had a LOT of nights like that. There are just so many interesting people traveling, and they all have these cool stories about themselves and their adventures. But it is always just that one or two nights. I value relationships more and even though I had a great time, I am glad I have made much stronger connections in Ollanta.

A real supermarket!!!

Grilling steaks, zuchini, pineapple

The next day I checked out Arica. There was a random bike race there which reminded me of Burgos when Jeff and I were there. The plaza was amazing, way nicer than the ones in Peru. Then I drove up to the outlook for a view of the city and the ocean. Once again, I was so sad that I wasn’t able to share that moment with anyone. It was so beautiful. I did have a nice chat with a Chilean man, however. The bike is always a big hit.

The border went alright, and I decided to just go to Tacna to sleep. I was very tired and needed a little down time.

Look at this plaza

A view from above


Cool valley way off in the distance

Stay Focused, Stay Alive

January 19, 2012

Most of the people I am close with in Ollantaytambo had either left or were going to leave soon for mini vacations. I also had huge days coming up next week . We have to move to ANOTHER dorm (long story, future post) and I am some sort of guest of honor in Soccma at a huge fiesta, so it seemed like a good time to shoot down to Chile to reset my visa.

I don’t have video games in Peru. Well, using a console I don’t. But driving a motorcycle in Peru is the best video game I have ever played. Let’s start with the trip to Arequipa, then move on to general game play.

The drive to Arequipa is 9 hours, some beautiful, some boring. The first 4 hours or so were pretty straight forward, in fact, driving into Juliaca has one of the only flat straight roads I have been on down here. Easy right? Apparently trucks and busses think that because a road is straight and flat you can pass whenever you want. I had to head over to the shoulder 3 times. My favorite was when I watched a truck pull halfway out to check to see if anyone was coming. It paused, pulled back a little, went back to halfway, thought for a minute, then decided, “heck, it’s only a motorcycle, I’m just going to pass and he can get out of my way”. Good stuff.

But the best part was the 14-15,000 foot pass through the national park. Yeah, I forgot it was rainy season, or at that altitude, snowy season. It got pretty bad. The sleet built up on my visor, my breath froze inside it. I couldn’t see anything. If I lifted up the visor, my face got pelted. There were trucks everywhere. It was probably the most dangerous riding I have done. But whatever, I just kept going and eventually made it out. It cracks me up how I had 2 hours in a nice, sunny valley, 4 hours on a flat plain, 2 hours in the mountains in treacherous conditions, then an hour in a gorgeous desert setting where I mostly dried out. Gotta love Peru.

Yeah, not too safe on a bike...

Am I back in Michigan?

Dropping into Arequipa later that day. Even the factories look like a video game. Isn't this a level on black ops?

Faster Than Speed: Peru Edition

Let’s review this exciting hot new game, soon to be released for the PS3 and Xbox 360.

You play as Johnny Danger, a young adventurer in search of ancient Incan Treasures. Your vehicle is a Suzuki DR650 dual-sport, a tank of a motorcycle that can go anywhere. You will need it.

Each level contains a variety of dangers and obstacles you must overcome to reach your goal.

Animals: You will face herds of sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, and cows. They travel right in the middle of the road, usually around blind curves. There are also constant single animals darting in and out, like chickens, donkeys, and pigs. You will have no warning.

Dogs: They get their own category.

1. Strays: They are plentiful and wander where ever they want. They are dangerous because they lope along the side of the road and give no warning when they will just turn into the road itself.

2. Mountain Guardians: They live in the middle of nowhere at high altitudes. I have no idea how they eat. They are VERY passive, I have never seen them move. But they lay and watch right in the middle of the road. You must go around them.

3. Packs: These are easier to spot, but with a large group of dogs you must be wary of the one who wants to impress the rest and jump out in front of a vehicle. Or a motorcycle.

4. Chasers: These are the worst. They lay hidden until a motorcycle drives by. Then they jump out at full speed barking at the top of their lungs nipping at your heels. You must become immune to these dogs or you might turn into oncoming traffic (like I saw a Peruvian almost get killed once). Feel free to kick at them. Bonus points.

Vehicles: There are semis, medium sized trucks, small trucks, double-decker busses, mini-vans, taxis, 3-wheeled taxis, SUVs, combies, 3-wheeled bicycles, little motorcycles ,food carts, tourist busses, and pick-up trucks all weaving together at completely different speeds, stopping whenever they want, in both lanes (especially on curves), like some kind of messed up symphony. Most of these spew dark, thick, nasty smoke from the exhaust. Good luck.

Physical Hazards: You will be required to successfully navigate all sorts of immobile obstacles as well. There are speed bumps, speed troughs, pot holes, grates, landslides (often hidden around blind curves), train tracks, rivers, thick mud, loose gravel, missing sections of road, hairpin turns, rocks, hidden traffic lights, broken traffic lights, no way stops, cobblestones, bottles and trash thrown out of windows, deep concrete gutters, and standing water. Another favorite are all the one way streets. They are not marked. Do not turn down a road until you see another vehicle do it. Most cities have multiple one way streets in the same direction in a row. Do not assume they alternate. One of the greatest hazards is the scenery. You will constantly be wowed by indescribable valleys and mountains. They usually coincide with a hairpin turn right in front of you that you weren’t paying attention to. Have fun falling off the 1,000 foot drop.

Humans: People assume you will avoid them. This leads to interesting dodging techniques. It’s like when two people walk down a narrow hallway and kind of dance back and forth deciding which way to go, except one of those people is going 40 mph on a motorcycle and the other has a huge bundle of vegetables strapped to their back. But when you are stopped, they will extend to you a kindness you have never experienced and help you on your way.

Weather: Rain, hail, sleet, wind, snow, dense fog, sandstorms, sun, rainbows.

Construction: This is interesting. Peruvians are big fans of cutting trapezoids into the pavement then filling it in. That is all they do, all the time on every major road. While they are doing this, there are sign people at each end. The sign people get bored and like to have fun, stopping everyone, letting both sides go, only letting motorcycles through, not showing up to work that day…

In the end, the treasure is worth it. You will become a very skilled motorcyclist and experience an adventure like no other. Just remember to always wear your helmet, drive rested, and don’t drink anything weird.