October 2008

Cup of Soup

Sat, Oct 4, 2008

Peru Day 1 - Toronto to Lima

A new trip is upon us, and we're ready for an exciting adventure! Incredible sights, rugged activities, wild situations... I can feel the energy! If only we didn't have to get up so early. So very earl....zzzzzzz...

Wuh? Oh! Ahem. Yes. Very very early.

After (figuratively) stapling my eyes open, some breakfast, and some last-minute packing, we were on our way to my parents' house for our transit to the airport. The drive there was uneventful, which most effectively failed to set a precedent for the next leg of the journey. As we made the somewhat familiar drive to Pearson, we passed a pixel-board sign indicating that some of the collector lanes of Highway 401 would be blocked for construction. So, we proceeded to the express lanes, anticipating an uneventful ride as 6:00 on a Saturday morning ought to provide.

It wasn't exactly a bald-faced lie, but the sign's statement was the kind of pseudo-fabrication that lawyers come up with to keep truth-revealing evidence away from the eyes of potential jurists. The express lanes were - as you, my dear readers, may by now have guessed - at a stand-still. For the next few days (or at least what felt like a few days when you're staring at the clock wondering if you will still catch your flight on time), we inched forward as several lanes of heavy traffic was squished onto one shoulder. Even more frustratingly, our exit to the 427 was just around the bend; we could almost see it.

Of course, once we did see it, we could see that it was closed. We would have to find an alternate route to the airport.

If, that is, we would ever get out of this traffic. Looking to the right, we could see the collector lanes, wide and clear with invitingly open access to the 427, as motorists hummed by with 1960's-automotive-industry-cartoon-commercial smiles on their faces.

We hoped this wouldn't be an omen to what lay ahead, but I cued up the dramatic foreshadowing music that I've used on travelogues past just in case.

Eventually, we did arrive at the airport, and after the usual embarrassingly tearful good-bye from mother-dear, we made our way to board the plane. That, in itself, was a bit of an adventure, mostly because of the ridiculous paranoia required by the American government concerning flights through their country. Not only did we have to remove anything metal, prove that cameras and laptops were real and worked, keep liquids in separate clear plastic bags of no more than some randomly-selected size, but we are now also required to remove our shoes before passing through security, for what reason must be because someone has the job of coming up with these things and needs to justify his employment. I'm sure that, within a few years, all forms of luggage and clothing will be banned from flights entirely.

Our first flight took us into Miami, where a 5-hour stopover left us too little time to go out and see anything of the city, but too much time to prevent some form of boredom. My memories of Miami, then, include rainy views of surrounding blight, and greasy pizza that gave me the runs.

Our next flight was to Lima, and this was aboard LAN Peru, which was not nearly as sketchy an airline as I had feared. In fact, it appeared quite modern, with amenities such as food - which our American Airlines flight did not provide - and personal video. Having personal video, of couse, does not necessarily imply that it will work. We went through great effort, setting and resetting the system, in an attempt to watch Indiana Jones, and it wasn't even a very good movie anyway. They did, coincidentally, travel to Cusco in the movie, which I found intriguing. They were attacked and several of the characters dragged and devoured by a tremendous swarm of ants. I made a mental note to pray that we would not encounter such things while we were there.

We arrived in Lima with a disturbingly rough landing, and then waited nervously to see if their luggage-sorting worked any better than their video system. Adding to our fears was that the lady at the ticket desk in Toronto said we would have to pick up our bags in Miami, but the ticket itself said it would go straight to Lima. We breathed a heavy sigh of relief to find that the ticket didn't lie.

We met our transfer to the hotel and I noted that the traffic in Lima was not nearly as crazy as I had anticipated. I was expecting Cairene levels, but instead got something between Roman and Athenian. The next thing I noted was the scenery. Every house we saw - and I'm not exaggerating; I do mean each and every house - had gates in front, and bars over every door and window. It wasn't exactly inviting.

I also noted that the city was littered with branches of Scotiabank, which added a bit of small-world effect to this place. Not enough to jar the creepiness of the surrounding metal bars, but it was something that made the city seem something less like a prison.

We arrived at our hotel and as we settled for the night, eagerly awaiting the adventure we would begin the next day, a sense of completeness filled me. I hadn't been travelling for long - it had only been 10 years since the first time I was in an airplane - but I had now been to every inhabited continent on the planet. The world isn't as big as it used to be, and I've now been around it. All four corners, and every continent.

Well, every one but Antarctica, but that doesn't count. It's a rogue continent. The penguins don't care for visitors anyway.

Sun, Oct 5, 2008

Peru Day 2 - Lima, Cusco

Despite being in the same time zone as back home, there is a one hour difference between Toronto and Lima, presumably due to a lack of Daylight Savings Time. Whatever the reason, I had neglected to adjust for the one-hour difference on my alarm clock, which meant we awoke an hour earlier than we had intended. At least the extra time afforded us the chance to leisurely enjoy our breakfast and hop online to send messages back home declaring our survival.

We met our tourmates outside the hotel as we awaited our transfer back to the airport. As happens with every tour, someone is always late on the first day, and this was no exception, which left us rushing to reach the airport and catch our flight to Cusco on time. While the flight into Lima seemed to be filled mostly with Peruvians, or other Latin Americans, it was clear that this flight was overwhelmed with tourists. Nay a single local could be found.

The flight itself was uneventful, but did involve a rather tricky landing. Since Cusco is embedded in a valley surrounded by mountains, planes need to circle around a couple of times in order to make the descent and land at the airport. When we arrived and transferred to our hotel, we were struck by how much more pleasant Cusco felt compared to Lima. Mountain vista, clear skies, lack of an ambience akin to a federal prison...

We arrived at the hotel, met our tour guide, Willow, and promptly got introduced to the wonders of coca tea. Billed as an aid to altitude sickness, it is also the original principal ingredient of Coca-Cola, and that of cocaine, so don't try to bring any home with you or you will be greeted with an unpleasant welcome by customs and security. A lot of talk was made about the effects of Cusco's altitude, way up there around 3300m, and I must say, I was totally unprepared. I expected effects like breathing faster and heavier, and running out of breath a bit sooner. Just walking around, however, I expected not to notice anything. On that bit I was pretty much correct. Level ground was no foe of mine. I would walk and it would support me and the air would provide sustanance in that delicate balance that most people take for granted on their journey through life.

What I didn't expect, however, was that walking up one flight of stairs would have my lungs gasping for air, legs shaking and aching, my eyes darting hither and thither trying to find the kryptonite that someone must have just placed nearby. My one weakness!

Yes, it would be a rough acclimatisation, and the thought of hiking over mountains in just a few days' time gave me cause for concern.

The day would be spent as an orientation and acclimatisation tour, and we were led down the streets, briefed on Cusco's puma-shaped design, and arrived at its lovely main square full of churches, original Incan foundations, and hosts of touristy needs, including restaurants, shops with hiking gear, and hordes of people soliciting massages. I don't know why (or even if) the local economy could support so many masseuses, but the general suspicion was that these were of the "happy ending" variety.

We stopped for lunch, and as one should when travelling to a new land, I tried something I've never had before, and likely will not get the opportunity to have elsewhere: an alpaca steak. It was quite tasty, with a texture that would fit somewhere between beef and pork.

We continued our walk, up the steep Cusco streets. There must be an environmentally-friendly campaign in the city, as the streets are quite obviously designed to be fuel efficient. They are constructed of highly polished cobbled stones, so that in wet weather, gravity will do all the work of moving anything and everything down the streets to the bottom, thereby saving all the petrol that would otherwise be required. They did seem to neglect, however, determining how anyone would get up in those conditions.

Though all this climbing did wreak havoc on the legs and lungs, I noticed that, when stopping momentarily, my energy would quickly replenish and I'd be ready to continue. An odd effect of the altitude, I suppose.

Following the orientation, which took us up to the edge of the city providing panoramic views of the valley below, we returned to the square for a snack and drinks, and then returned to the hotel to rest. We would meet in the square again for dinner, enjoying nighttime views of the city and trying more interesting meals, before returning to the hotel once more to finally get our first full night's sleep in a few days.

At least, that was the plan, but that wasn't what happened. Our room was situated directly below the kitchen, and they were obviously cleaning up after a busy night in the restaurant. All we could hear was the banging and crashing of plates and cutlery late into the night. There was certainly no attempt to block sound in the construction of this hotel, as it seriously sounded like all this was happening inches above our heads. Surprisingly, I apparently fell asleep immediately (and immediately started snoring, adding to the noise), but since Joy is a much lighter sleeper than I, she could not get a wink, and ended up storming down to reception to have a row with the guy at the desk. A full night's sleep would have to wait for another night.

Mon, Oct 6, 2008

Peru Day 3 - Cusco

This is a multi-activity trip, and our first activity would be white water rafting. We arose at 8:00 and made a long drive out to a suitable section of the Urubamba River, where the rapids were ideal for some light rafting. I've gone rafting a couple of times before, in Ottawa and in Cairns, so this would be my third spalsh-n-paddle. Hey, that makes three continents in which I've rafted; maybe I should set a new achievement goal?

We squeezed into our wetsuits and got the standard tutorial from our guide: paddle when he says so, stop when he says, try not fall out of the boat and get yourself caught under a giant rock. The rafting itself wasn't particularly difficult, with most rapids being grade 2 or 3, perhaps with one grade 4 to spice things up. The most difficult part of the trip was trying to keep my mouth closed. The water in Peru is not good for a visitor's system (and we got plenty of meds to deal with it), but the water of the Urubamba is particularly bad because it is also, well, pretty filthy. So, as we paddled down, I tried very hard to keep my mouth closed and continuously spat as the lectures of my travel doctor regarding diarrhea and schistosomiases ran through my head.

Clearly, the most exciting part of the trip was that we got Oreos during snack time. Yay Peruvian Oreos!

When finished, we got to change out of our wet clothes and enjoy a finely cooked lunch. I got to have passion fruit for the first time, and learned that the best way to open it is to crack it on your head, or, preferably, on someone else's. We also got to try Inca Kola, which is one of the more popular soft drinks in Peru. Its taste is somewhere along the lines of root beer or cream soda, but it is a bright yellow colour, which led me to suspect that it probably looks very much the same coming out as it does going in. Anyway, it was quite tasty, even though I doubted it really had anything to do with the Incas.

We returned to the hotel, where we got introduced to our new, quieter room - a suite, no less, with lounging chairs - and took in a nice nap. We figured a siesta would be appropriate in Latin America. We're just trying to fit in with the culture.

We all met up again in the evening for dinner at a rather nice restaurant. I had what would be the equivalent of beer-stewed lamb, but they instead use chicha; an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn. It was rather tasty, but I suspected I should shy away from the drink itself, as it's likely not for the faint stomached.

We returned to the hotel where we finally - after four days - got a good, full, quiet night's rest. Ahhh, sleep...

Tue, Oct 7, 2008

Peru Day 4 - Cusco, Sacred Valley

Day four's activity would be horseback riding. Joy had ridden quite often as a child, so she would be a bit more in her element, but I tend to be weary of being at the mercy of things that have a mind of their own, particularly when those minds tend to think of little else than "That looks good to drink", "This would be a good time to poop", and "Why is this silly human sitting on my back? I shall buck him off violently..."

After enduring a thoroughly disenchanted camel in Egypt last year, I would consider simply not being kicked in the head by a wild bucking horse to be a successful day.

By that logic, then, it was a successful day, but once you find out what happened by the end of it, you may agree that it would be prudent and somewhat more accurate to adjust my above-stated measure to be slightly more discerning.

The reason for this adjustment is that today we got to experience the Peruvian National Strike. As a measure to protest government policy, the populace like to go on strike en masse, feeling it is the only way to really get the president's attention and get their concerns heard. This would include protests and road blocks, so it threw our day's itinerary in question. We set horseback riding for today for the simple reason that horses don't go on strike, and so it had the least potential for disruption. The only question was whether or not we would actually be able to get to the horses, or if we would be stuck in Cusco on blocked roads amid chanting protesters.

To our surprise, we got out of Cusco without a hitch. No protestors, no roadblocks, no chants. Nay a disenchanted citizen in sight. Perhaps these strikes didn't really keep up with their reputation.

(Cue dramatic foreshadowing music.)

We arrived at our destination to meet our horses, except there were none to be found. There was plenty of evidence that they were here, though, as the ground was completely covered in horse poop, but it would be quite some time before a group of them would show up to claim responsibility for leaving it. We eventually got on our way, and aside from a few close encounters with branches, my horse seemed reasonably passive with respect to the huge lump of SPU on his back, though my tourmates behind me complained that he must have eaten way too many beans, as he seemed to be expelling various smelly things the whole way. He was a horse that liked to protect his personal space. He was slow, but refused to let any of the other horses pass him, and would only speed up in order to cut them off. Quite territorial and greedy. I named him Ebeneezer.

We made a brief stop at the remains of an Incan sun temple, where we got our initial history lesson on the Incas and the Spanish conquest. Our education would continue with a demonstration of the very peculiar weather patterns of mountainous areas. It was overcast most of the day, but it eventually broke into a light rain. Then the Sun came out to relieve us of the cold and wet briefly, but this was apparently solely in order to stress the shock of the hail that would fall on us next. Thank goodness we were wearing helmets.

Following the battering of ice pellets we got further sun, rain, rain, rain, sun, hail, rain, and more sun, in that order.

One of the problems all this inclement weather caused was that the vast expanse of rolling pastures we were traversing became a vast expanse of rolling mud, upon which my horse was not particularly stable, slipping and stumbling a couple of times, bringing my kick-to-head visions racing to the forefront of my mind. Despite these worries, the ride did give us wondrous views of the rolling hills, cliffs, and mountains; a quality nature experience without having to resort to silly cowboy hats and chaps.

We eventually did finish our ride without incident, and arrived at Sacsayhuaman, the centre of the ancient Incan empire. Referring back to the design of Cusco as a puma, Sacsayhuaman was built as the puma's head and teeth, with zig-zagging walls to enhance the effect. The site was an exquisite example of the quality of Incan construction. They built their holy sites by fitting dry stones, without the use of mortar. Every stone had to be carefully cut so that it fit snugly with all the stones surrounding it. The result is spectacular architecture that survives time, the elements, and earthquakes. Some of the stones used were carved so carefully that they have over a dozen corners, and some are so massive that they rise dozens of feet into the air.

We took a fine selection of photos, as tourists are wont to do, but we noted that no one takes pictures like the Japanese. We watched, as this one group had to take a picture of the same rock with every combination of people, complete with varying poses and expressions. They must have binders of memory cards each labelled with things like "First rock", "Second rock", "Big pointy rock"...

Those of you still paying attention may have noticed that dramatic foreshadowing music that played earlier. It made its return as we drove off toward the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where we would be spending the night in a pleasant rural hacienda. The drive took us through lovely mountain scenery, until we could drive no more. Looking ahead, we saw a large splattering of rocks across the road. "This is from the strike," Willow told us. "They try to shut down all transportation."

We drove around it, when we encountered another one, and then another. Every now and then, we would stop, get off the bus, and push rocks off the road so the bus could get by. People used whatever they could find to throw on the road: rocks, branches, even chunks of cactus. The needles go through Gore-Tek shoes. Ow, my toe. A few of the blocks even used entire trees, but at this point it merely seemed like an interesting diversion.

Until, that is, we got a flat tire.

The bus caught too closely to one of the larger boulders blocking the road, and managed to bust one of the tires. A group of us walked ahead, clearing further blocks and enjoying the scenery while our driver fixed the flat.

To the untrained reader, this would seem like an interesting encounter. At the time, in my limited experience, I thought the same thing. But, I was unaccustomed to national strikes. I was a freshman at South American political activism. A complete noob. No, my friends, this was not the interesting part. That is yet to come.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, we hit the manned blockade. Dozens of people stood spanning the road, holding banners, and yelling chants. We stopped, and Willow went out to investigate. He talked to the people for a moment. We saw him gesturing, and we heard one very annoying women yelling in very loud Spanish. Willow returned.

"They're all drunk on chicha."

Four and a half hours later we sat in the very same spot, sore, starving, and with the toilet wafting a nauseating stench down the length of the bus. Eventually, the protestors got tired, or ran out of drink, or some such thing, and began to pack up. We drove onward, wondering what else lay on the road ahead. The other side of the village had a similar blockade, this one made with huge tree stumps, but a quick word from Willow and they soon dismantled and let us through. He must have told them that the other group had packed up, and their wives would be mighty pissed if they stayed out too late.

We drove onward, making reasonable progress past the other small road blocks. Our hopes rose slightly, as our hunger pangs grew exponentially. "Our hacienda is about 10 minutes away," Willow told us. The end was near. We could could sense the food coming closer.

That's when we hit the fire blockade.

Would someone please shut off that foreshadowing music?

As we drove down one of the main roads of the town, we saw flames burning in the distance. Fireballs rolled across the road, back and forth, like a devilish game of footy. We stopped a distance away and considered our position. Turning around was the best option.

Of course, doing so on a narrow street in a bus is no simple task, and the sign that we almost knocked over in doing so would attest to that fact. As we finished the dozen-point turn and began to backtrack, we heard Tony say "Guys... get away from the windows!"

I got down, pulled Joy to the floor and covered her head.


As rocks pummelled our bus, thrown by the mass of angry people running toward us, we sped back to safer territory. Apparently, that's what we get for disrespecting the roadblock.

Willow and our driver tried in vain to find alternative ways around, but eventually had no choice but to give up and wait. It was 11:00 before word spread that the fiery group had dispersed and we could proceed forward. Even still, further roadblocks had to be dismantled as we approached them, and it wasn't until midnight that we finally arrived at the hacienda. I don't think I had ever been so happy to see a plate of spaghetti waiting for me.

We ate, toasted our survival of South American political activism, and slept like rocks. Regular rocks, I mean. Inert ones, lying motionless in a field or a quarry. Not rolling fiery ones that block roads or get thrown at busses. We had enough of those.

Wed, Oct 8, 2008

Peru Day 5 - Sacred Valley

Day 5 began by dragging ourselves out of bed, a bit later than originally planned due to last night's adventures, but still tired. Seeing the hacienda in daylight, we discovered it offered quite a wondrous view of the surrounding mountains, and a lovely garden that was home to a trio of elegantly-coloured macaws. We enjoyed our breakfast and then set off for the day's activity: Mountain Biking.

On two of my previous tours, in Austria and in Tuscany, we went "mountain biking", but those were really just leisurely rides on slightly hilly, paved roads. This would be mountain biking on real mountains, and was sure to show up those previous rides. Even still, I didn't expect anything too extreme, as this was a vacation trip, with samplings of various activities, not a mountain-biking trip for hardcore riders.

The first part the ride was very much as I expected. We went up and down some large hills on dirt or gravel roads, occasionally through a village where we would have to navigate through strolling pigs and chickens. I still hadn't quite acclimatised to the altitude, as the uphills were still pretty painful. I felt even more out of shape watching Miguel, one of our cycling guides. After any large hill, we would all stop at the top and pant, trying to catch our breaths, occasionally coughing up a lung or two. As we did so, we would look behind and see Miguel biking up behind us, barely breaking a sweat, pushing one of our stragglers along with him. We could barely get ourselves up a hill, and he was having little trouble getting two up.

Joy was having difficulty getting her bike to behave, and was getting increasingly frustrated with its antics. My bike had a bit of a problem with its gears, where the chain would sometimes slip under high pressure. Of course, it would tend to do this in the middle of an intense uphill, causing my foot to slip, ceasing my momentum, and forcing me to grudgingly walk the rest of the way up.

We rode on to Moray, which was a valley that the Incas used as an angricultural labratory. Circular terraces were built in the valley so that farmers could experiment and determine what grew best at what heights. There happened to be a festival running that day, so we got to witness some folkloric music and dance on our visit.

After lunch, we began phase two of the bike ride. We were told this section would be much more technical than the last, and gave anyone the option of riding in the van instead. A handful of people took that option, and the rest of us rode on. The phase began with an exciting downhill that ended at a narrow stream, which gave two people flat tires. Once those were repaired, we continued onward and soon came across the first technical bit.

The route went across a deep gorge. The trail sloped down one side of the gorge, across at the bottom, and then back up the other side. It was littered with rocks, and deep grooves carved out by years of bikers going down and up this path. Also, it was about two or three feet wide. As I rolled down the hill, cliff face on one side of me, steep drop to my death on the other, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I decided to walk much the rest of the way.

Most of the rest of this leg of the ride was much the same, with cliffs, and rocks, and narrow ledges to navigate. Occasionally, an oncoming herd of animals would come up the opposite way. I would have noted how ridiculously hilarious sheep sound when walking in a herd, but I was too busy clinging to the side of a cliff letting them pass. Also, I really didn't care for the way the bulls looked at me with those big pointy horns.

Our next stop was at the centre of a small town, but by the time we got there, we realised that one of our riders didn't follow. A long search ensued as we tried to find our missing tourmate. Turns out she had missed one of the turns in town and had continued off in the wrong direction for quite a while before she realised something was wrong.

We continued our ride out of town to the Maras salt pans, where we met the van with the rest of our group. The descent was quite tricky, as the path snaked back and forth down the cliff side, with sharp hairpin turns. The others saw a number of us emerge from the twisty challenging mess anti-climatically - but rather intelligently - walking our bikes down.

Phase three of the ride would be much like the previous phase, so I decided to join the van the rest of the way, having tempted fate quite enough for one day. The van ride was interesting enough on its own, as it sped across dirt and gravel cliffside roads that were barely wider than the bike paths. At least on the bike I had a certain amount of crontrol; in the van, we were all at the mercy of the driver.

We returned to the hacienda to find the few bikers that were left had already arrived and enjoying a celebratory brewski. We had dinner, and then Willow gave us the briefing on the Inca Trail hike, which we would begin the next day. Four days of walking up and down mountains, through unpredictable weather both hot and cold, wet and dry. By the end of it, we all looked terrified. We retired to our rooms to pack and prepare for the main event: The Inca Trail hike and Machu Picchu.

Thu, Oct 9, 2008

Peru Day 6 - Ollataytambo, Inca Trail Day 1

The Inca Trail is an ancient network of paths that lead through the mountain ranges, which were the main highways between towns in Incan times. Today, it is a popular route for adventurous tourists, so in order to preserve its condition, the government requires permits to enter the trail, and these are limited to 500 per day, which tend to sell out months in advance. That meant that our group was split into two; six of us would hike the Inca Trail, while the other four, who were unable to acquire said permit, would do the alternate Laris trek.

We parted ways and drove to Ollataytambo, where our trek would begin. This town is known as the living museum, as many of the original Incan structures still exist and are in use, or the base of which have become the foundation for modern structures. The town is situated between two small mountains, one of which had a llama-shaped temple built into it. At the top of that temple sat the astronomer's chair - the Incahuatana - from which astronomers would use the position of the Sun relative to the facing Pinkuylluna Mountain to determine the time of year. The profile of a face appears at the side of the mountain positioned such that, on the winter solstice, the Sun will appear at the head's eye. Also carved into this mountain is the face of Tunupa, a messenger of the gods. This crowned and bearded figure unfortunately aided in the Incas downfall, for the when the invading Spanish arrived, the people saw their unusual dress and bearded faces, and thought they must be sent from the gods, and so helped them in any way they could.

We visited the temple, walking up and down its steep steps as a warm-up for the hike ahead, and then made a visit to a simple Quechuan home. It was one room, with beds in one corner, the kitchen oven in another, a table with old Incan tokens, and a floor covered in guinea pigs. The cute little furballs ran around each other squeaking happily and munching on hay, as Willow described how they would later be cooked for dinner.

Following lunch - which did not include any guinea pig, but did include some suspect chicken - we hauled over to our departure point at kilometre 82 of the Inca Trail. We bought our walking poles, sorted through our bags, and began the Long Walk. The weather decided to give us a sampling of what it could offer during the 4-day trek, by presenting us with various periods of sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, and rain. This leg of the trail - the shortest of the four days - included two tiring climbs for those of us still not fully acclimatised, but was otherwise managable. Nevertheless, we were amazed by the porters that would pass us. We would walk, carrying our fancy day packs, wearing supportive comfortable shoes, and panting our way up hills, cursing the lack of oxygen surrounding us.

Meanwhile, groups of local men wearing simple sandals and huge loads slung on their backs would occasionally jog past us. Just to make us feel even more inadequate, some of them would appear not to even be labouring at all. While we would spend four days making our way to Machu Picchu, some of these men can finish the trek in under four hours.

Before dusk, we reached our campsite on the edge of the national park. The porters, having arrived well ahead of us, had already set up our tents, but unfortunately did not clear out the copious amounts of horse poop all around the place. We partook in a quick ceremony to meet our support staff, and found we were greatly outnumbered: 12 staff for 6 tourists, plus our tour guide. They included a cook, assistant cook, waiter, toilet man, head porter, and seven porters. The required manpower adds up when you have to carry the excess gear of six people, plus tents, food, and fuel, plus their own personal gear.

We enjoyed our first Trail dinner, and finished off the night with some Uno before retiring to our tents. Today's walk was just an introduction; tomorrow the real work would begin, as it would involve the biggest one-day climb of the hike. A good night's sleep would be well required.

Fri, Oct 10, 2008

Peru Day 7 - Inca Trail Day 2

We awoke at 6:00 in the bright to a calling outside the tent flap: "Tea time!"

Ah, tent service.

Considering I normally sleep very poorly when camping and require a thick air mattress, I was quite surprised at how soundly I slept through the night on the thin thermarest. We repacked our bags, enjoyed a hot breakfast, and continued on our way. Today would be a tough walk: 10km long, and climbing over 1.5km up. In low-oxygen, it would take quite a bit of determination - and water - to make it through. Further, the conditions had already claimed the health of two in our group, as they awoke to stomach cramps and dizziness. It would be even rougher for them.

We made a brief stop at a newly-found Incan site, and got to examine it marked and sectioned off as it was being studied. We then continued up. And further up. And even further up. By the time we stopped for a snack, our legs were alredy aching, and thought skeptically of the trek ahead considering we had only travelled a fraction of the way.

Fortunately, it did seem that I was finally getting acclimatised to the altitude; we were climbing steps consistently and continuing to rise, which was a big improvement over climbing one flight of stairs and practically collapsing when we first arrived in Cusco.

It was evident, however, that not everyone would fare as well. Occassionally, throughout the day, we would see a pair or trio of people walking past us in the opposite direction. I wondered if they were taking a different route of the Trail, but Willow would later inform us that they were people that had decided that they could not continue, either due to exhaustion or illness. The problem with quitting however, is that you're in the middle of nowhere. Two days into the trek, you have only two choices: Either continue to walk two days to reach the end as planned, or walk two days back from whence you came. Not an easy task in any case.

Joy and I, though, seemed to do quite well with the climb. We were told that the last section before lunch would be a 1-hour climb, and we made it in 35 minutes, waiting about 10 or 15 minutes for the next pair of our group to catch up. We crossed a very sketchy-looking - but surprisingly sturdy - bridge, and broke for lunch. The last leg of the day's hike was meant to be a gruelling 2-hour climb up, which we managed to finish in just 45 minutes. Our pace was heightened since we were trying to keep up with Willow, but that probably wasn't such a good idea. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted and aching, but proud of our accomplishment. Nevertheless, it's still humbling to arrive at camp to find that all the staff we left behind after lunch managed to pack all of that gear, trek themselves, pass us, and set everything up again before we got there.

We got to rest a bit before dinner, but by the time it came along, a third in our group fell ill, and violently so. But, no one had quit, and everyone made it through the difficult climbing day. We had our dinner - bundled up rather tightly, as it gets quite cold at 3800m - and retired quite early. We would be arising at 5:30 tomorrow morning, and after such an exhausting day, no one was keen to stay up very late.

Sat, Oct 11, 2008

Peru Day 8 - Inca Trail Day 3

Some say Day 3 of the hike is more difficult than Day 2, because it consists of alternating climbs and descents. The climbs are exhausting, and descents are rough on the joints. Whether Day 3 seemed worse or not, it didn't start off well, as Joy became the fourth in our group of six to catch whatever bug to which we northerners must be susceptible.

The day's hike began with the final big climb of the Trail, up to Dead Woman's Pass, which is the highest point of the Inca Trail, at 4200m. We laboured our way up the long path, snaking alongside the mountain, as the snowy mountain peaks drew closer and closer. When we finally reached the top, we found our waiter there ready for us with hot tea in the kettle.

We looked around at the scenery falling below us in all directions, and marvelled. It was totally surreal to see the clouds floating by below us. We looked back at the path we had climbed, scarcely believing we had come all that way. Then, we looked at the path laying before us, and it was obscured by rolling cloud, into which we would have to descend. Truly a marvel to behold.

We began the descent downward, but the uneven steps and potentially slippery stones wreaked havoc on Joy's already ill body, and progress was slow. We eventually reached the bottom for our second breakfast, where we were served the same soup as the night before. It did not go down well for Joy, who suspected it was a primary culprit for her current state. Another 350m climb to the next pass was our next challenge to tackle, followed by another descent before lunch. For whatever reason, Joy was having a much better time going uphill. We had a late lunch, where she ate little, and spent most of the time napping on a tarp.

There would still be an hour and a half of trekking ahead of us for the day, but the difficult part of the Trail was now complete. We hiked onward through the Cloud Forest, which is exactly what it sounds like: a forest covered in clouds. The scenery here was right out of Indiana Jones: thick forest, rolling cloud, stone ruins hither and thither. All that was missing was the pack of man-eating bugs, and fortunately so.

16km out and up one really steep and narrow path, we finally reached our camp for the night. The scenery up here, as twilight envoloped us, was surreal. The white of the snow on top of the mountain blended into the clouds, which blended into the glowing moon above, which blended into the foggy sky around it, which blended into the next mountain in the distance. It was like being surrounded by a huge mural of white, painted with balance and subtlety.

I put Joy to bed right away, and went for dinner among a sparse crowd, seeing as how two thirds of the group was ill and not particularly hungry. Some Uno, some food, and some mulled wine later, and we were off to sleep before another early morning's start.

Sun, Oct 12, 2008

Peru Day 9 - Inca Trail Day 4, Machu Picchu

We arose at a super-early 5:30 in the morning, in order to watch the sunrise over the mountain tops. Joy was feeling significantly better, which bode well for the day ahead. We scaled the ridge up to the plateau ahead, where more hot tea awaited us prior to the show. As the Sun rose through the clouds over the mountains in the distance, its rays fanned out across the horizon. The snow-capped mountains flanking us began to glow with the incoming sunlight. A fireball arose from the peaks, warming and basking us all in its radiance. And not a single "Brought to you by Starbucks" sign in sight. Good show.

Since we would no longer be meeting any of the staff beyond this point, we had a little ceremony where we could give our thanks for their help and say good bye. It involved a simple dance to a children's song, which was both silly and sweet. Then it came our turn to sing a song for them, but of course no one could think of anything appropriate on the spot, and we ended up singing "Old McDonald", complete with llama sound effects.

The rest of the Inca Trail would be mostly downhill from here; the really difficult parts were over. We made our descent down the mountainside with a few rest stops, including Wallataytambo, an Incan town built into a steep slope. We were to have lunch at the Sun Gate, but getting there involved traversing what is known as the "Oh My God Part". It's a good 15-20m rise up, nearly completely vertical. We had to scale it on all fours in rock-climbing fashion - back packs on and walking poles in hand - and made sure not to look back down.

Eventually we reached the Sun Gate, and as we approached the last ridge, we saw something we hadn't seen in days: other tourists. To our surprise, a Dutch couple came around the bend toward us. They asked how far it was to the next pass. Surprised at seeing other people, and even more surprised by the fact that they were generally clean and didn't have the expression of four days' exhaustion, I was taken aback a bit by their question. I answered "Ummmm... four days?"

They looked at me in shock and turned around again.

We crested the hill and caught first sight of what we had been walking four days to see: Machu Picchu. The ancient town lay in the distance, straddling its mountain, with Wayna Picchu standing tall beside it. We ate our lunch at the Gate, viewing Machu Picchu before us, wondering how in the world they got all that up there.

We made the final leg of the hike until we finally reached Machu Picchu itself, at a picture-postcard-perfect perspective. A huge wave of accomplishment and relief swept over us, as we knew we had finally made it. 4 days, about 45km across, 2km up and down, at a high point of 4200m, and finally here, to the hidden city, a modern wonder of the world.

Despite it being late in the afternoon, and most of the city-visiting tourists having left, there were still some stragglers behind taking up space in our picture-postcard-perfect perspective, and it took some effort to get them out of the way. They clearly hadn't worked nearly as hard to get here as we had, so we figured we had some muscle to push. We soaked in the atmosphere and got a bit of an orientation tour from Willow before catching the bus to Aguas Calientes. We would be returning to the city in the morning for a full exploration.

After four days of rigorous hiking, you'd expect some muscle fatigue. Frankly, I was surprised at how little soreness I felt. We walked, we sat, we walked, we sat, we slept, and repeat, You'd think we'd wake up each morning completely unable to move our legs, but I awoke perhaps a bit stiff, but otherwise fine.

I don't konw if it was all psychological - our bodies knowing that we've finally finished the hike - or if there's something strange about busses, but that ride pwned us all. When we got into town, we couldn't get down the steps of the bus without groaning in pain as our legs started to scream. The walk to our hotel was largely uphill, and every step involved yelping muscles and creaking bones. Finally, we got to our hotel, and saw the most wonderful thing, aside from Machu Picchu itself: a shower.

We used it. And there was much rejoicing.

We later met for dinner, having rejoined the four from the other trail. As is typical in touristy restaurants, they had a band playing supposedly typical Peruvian music. One song they played was one I recognised. A mystery tune that someone on my floor in first-year residence at university had copied onto my computer. I had no idea what it was, but it was a catchy pan-flute song. They were playing a very similar version of the same song, and it flabbergasted me. I still have no idea what song it is, but now I know from what country it comes.

We returned to our hotel with more muscle-groaning and climbed into a real bed for the first time in four very long days. Sleep would come easily tonight...

Mon, Oct 13, 2008

Peru Day 10 - Machu Picchu, Cusco

We were afforded the luxury of getting up at a reasonable hour this morning, and hopped on the bas back to Machu Picchu. It takes a long and winding path of switchbacks up the mountainside, which can make you quite dizzy if you think too much about it. We were there early enough in the morning that there were no lineups to get in, and we had much of the space to ourselves. Willow gave us a proper orientation of the site: when it was built, how it was built, why it was never found for hundreds of years.

We did a stone-by-stone tour of the site, visiting the Sun Temple, the astronomical observatory, even the toilet in the priest's house. The architecture in the city is simply astounding, from the cut and perfect fit of the stones, to the way the mountain's living rock is used in construction, to the numerous symbolic shapes of the city itself.

On the downside, it was hot and dusty, which was rough on the lungs, and we still ached tremendously from the previous days' hiking. It also didn't help that we seemed to be followed most of the way by a small group of highly annoying tourists. They were the stereotypical American tourists that people try very hard to avoid. They were loud - very very loud - obnoxious, and all of them were very fat. We made several comments to ourselves about rolling them down the mountainside. It would have been nice if they were denied entry due to threat of damage; their weight could cause serious damage to a fragile environment.

Serious measures are being taken nowadays to protect Machu Picchu from both visitors and nature. The city as a whole is sinking, and the effects are evident in shifts in some of the walls. Plenty of studies are being made track the city's descent and find ways of halting it. At one point, a beer commercial was being filmed on the site, and a crane collapsed and damaged the ancient sundial. They've been pretty strict about what can come in and out now. One of the funny things, though, is that while access is restricted for people, the llamas are free to roam about as they please.

Two of our group decided they wanted to climb Wayna Picchu, but given Willow's descriptions of the dangers going up and the screaming our muscles were still making, the rest of us decided to stay behind and wait. We managed to secure a table outside the gate, and waited for their return. There were a couple of dogs enjoying a good nap in the Sun in the paths between tables, and made sure to be careful to let sleeping dogs lie. It was a bit after noon, and it was getting rather crowded by now. The lineup to get in snaked a very long way. Tour groups, school children, and groups of musicians all filled the area trying to get in.

Eventually, our comrades returned, and we boarded the bus back to Aguas Calientes. We had lunch, and then had a few hours free, where we wandered around the town a bit and visited the market. It was full of dozens of shops that all sold the same assortment of tacky souvenirs, much as you would expect at any high-volume tourist location. We took the train back to Cusco, where I was looking forward to a few hours rest. Although the four ill trekkers were mostly, if not entirely, well by now, number five was just starting to feel it, and she was looking pretty pale and uncomfortable. Even I was had to dash to the washroom a couple of times, the effects of the food or water or whatnot finally starting to disagree with my internal workings.

I was hoping to have a restful train ride, but that attempt was soon thwarted by a man in a mask. And a cape. And a stuffed llama.

For our in-ride entertainment, a sample of a Peruvian show was put on, where this man walked up and down the aisle in his get-up staring strangely at us all, while pan-flute music played. That was then followed by a fashion show, and then a jewellery show. And of course, they then continued trying to sell us all of these items. They did particularly well with the group of Japanese tourists at the end of the car, but as far as I was concerned, they were just interrupting my sleep.

We got off the train at Puroy, the stop before Cusco, where we would take a bus the rest of way, apparently because the train ride the rest of the way is extremely long and slow, as it has to navigate it's twisty way through mountains toward the city in the valley. That was the plan, at least, except our bus wasn't there. Willow made several phone calls and a bit of storming about until our bus finally arrived and took us back to Cusco.

With no group plans, Joy and I walked to the city square ourselves, and picked a restaurant for dinner. It was a comfortable little place, with ceilings decorated with various wine bottles, and served rather tasty pizzas and milkshakes. We returned to our hotel for a good night's rest, relieved that we were three floors below the kitchen this time, and wouldn't have to worry about the noise of clashing dishes again.

Tue, Oct 14, 2008

Peru Day 11 - Cusco

Today was our free day in Cusco to spend as we pleased. Joy awoke early, as she normally does, and went ahead to breakfast. I slept in a bit, as I am wont to do, and went up later. We made a simple plan of things to see for the day, and set out.

We first went to the Sun Temple Site Museum, because it was freely included with the pass for some of our other excursions. It was kinda lame, really, with little of interest and a lot of missing signage. We did, however, run into two of our tour mates, Tony and Anne, who were feeling much better than they were before.

We continued on to the Sun Temple, which was much more impressive than its site museum. A convent built upon the remains of the sun temple, Qoricancha, it was full of a mix of Catholic art and Incan artefacts. It included a gallery for a wood-working school, which created some pretty nice pieces of furniture, an outdoor garden, and a very peculiar - almost scary - art gallery. Sculptures of Spider-like creatures, and alien-heads, and other things to give you nightmares. We also ran into our tour mates again. They must have been following us.

We went for lunch in the square at the Bagdad Cafe, to which we had been earlier. To our surprise, Chris and Kat were there having lunch, too. Unsurprisingly by now, following the pattern of the day, Tony and Anne soon followed. Joy and I managed to luck out and get a balcony seat just before the pan-flute band began to play. Unfortunately for Anne, she had a headache and they were playing right next to her.

As in any tourist spot, you will encounter plenty of people selling trinkets or asking for tips. One woman was quite busy carrying a lamb around the square attempting to get tips for taking pictures, and a man selling cheap paintings approached us three times that afternoon.

Our next stop was to the Inca Museum, which had a fine colleciton of maps and exhibits displaying Incan and pre-Incan civilisations in the region. We scanned the museum - trying to avoid the French tour group going through - but found that only about a third of the signs had English descriptions, and there were far too many pots. I don't know how many significant pots there could be, but this museum had a ton of them.

We returned to the hotel for a siesta, which is one Peruvian tradition in which I was happy to participate. We later rejoined our group at a restaurant called Fallen Angel for our final dinner with Willow. The place was very trendy and artsy in a weird way. Our table was a bathtub, and the next room was decorated with flying pigs. Quite peculiar, but an amusing place.

When we returned to the hotel that night, we were amazed - in a bad way - to find that we were being bombarded with kitchen noise much like our first night's stay. This time, however, the noise was coming from three floors up! This building most certainly wasn't constructed for muffling noise. Further to that, we had laundry service done by the hotel, which was charged in American dollars. However, despite all those fees being in American dollars, they refused to accept American coins. Why would they charge 50 cents for an item, when they won't accept 50 cents as payment? The hotel's exchange rate into Peruvian sols was highway-robbery, of course, and we kicked up a fuss until they just waived the fractional part of the fee. We gave that hotel a very low rating on our review.

Wed, Oct 15, 2008

Peru Day 12 - Cusco, Sandoval Lake

We were bussed to the airport in the morning to catch our flight to the jungle. We said our good byes to Willow, and hopped aboard. There was a slight problem getting in, though, since we happened to notice that two of us were assigned the same seat. We were waved ahead by a few confused staff before the attendant at the gate assigned me a new seat. Getting there, I encountered a long chain of people sitting in the wrong seat, ending with a disgruntled woman that didn't know where she was supposed to go and refused to go there, but it probably should have been somewhere far from me.

The short flight took us into Puerto Maldonaldo, where upon exiting the plane, we were immediately struck by how hot and humid it was; a far cry from the cool dryness of Cusco. We had a few luggage worries getting in, though. As we awaited the plane taking off, I was watching the carts of luggage being boarded on the plane. I recognised a few of our tourmates' bags making their way on the conveyor belt onto the plane, and I noted Joy's going by as well. I saw my bag - one of the last ones - placed on the belt, and up it went.

When the conveyor belt stopped, however, I started to get a bit concerned. I got quite concerned when I saw the crew take my bag off of the belt and carry it away. I spent much of the flight worrying that my bag was staying in Cusco. As we stood in the Maldonaldo airport, I watched cart after cart go by, unloading bags, without seeing mine. After all the carts had gone and my bag had not appeared, the crew then noticed something else sitting on the buggy. He pulled out two bags, and to my relief, one of them was mine.

The route to our jungle lodge would prove to be one of the most varied commutes I could imagine. After flying in to Puerto Maldonaldo, we were bussed to the tour operator's office to arrange our bags. We were then bussed to the river, where we were transported by motorboat. We had a simple lunch on the boat as we sped down Rio Madre de Dios - a tributary of the Amazon - but noticed quite a bit of water on the bottom of the boat. A big, gushing stream of water was coming in from under one of the seats. Javier, our jungle tour guide, even took pictures to show at the office. It was a bit disconcerting.

Following the motor boat, we had to hike through jungle toward Sandoval Lake a few kilometres away. It wasn't a particularly long walk, but the heat and humidity was so intense that we weren't quite sure whether it was more or less difficult than hiking up those mountains at high altitude.

With the hike complete, the last leg of our commute was made by canoe, as we were taken across the lake to our lodge. It was a nice cozy place, minimalist yet comforting; much of what you would expect from a remote place like this.

We settled in and joined Javier for our first activity, a night walk. He would show us some of the nocturnal creatures that were common in this region of the jungle, all the various things that go creepy crawly and bump in the night. I was expecting to walk a fair distance into the jungle before he would point out anything interesting, but I was way off the mark with that guess.

We stepped out the door, went a few paces to the first tree in the garden, and he pointed out the biggest, ugliest, scariest, harriest spider I had ever seen in my entire life.

A grey tarantula crawled its way up the tree, attacked a bug, and hid itself away. The next tree house another huge brown tarantula. The next one had an even bigger, uglier grey one. Down below was a colony of bullet ants, which would often drop on people from trees above. They would bite if provoked, and their venom would cause excruciating pain.

All of this just a few paces from where we would be sleeping. What a wonderful thought.

We had dinner, chatted about for a while, and then went off to bed. Creeped out by what we saw outside, I made sure to check the mosquito net carefully to ensure no uninvited guests were waiting inside. I also thought it would be a good idea to turn our shoes upside down, just in case creatures decided it would be a good place to crawl into. Just as I said that, as if on cue, I saw a huge roach in Joy's running shoe. Outside, the secadas - absolute monsters compared to things we get back home - were serenading us with their buzzing sounds. Honestly, they sounded like lawnmowers having trouble starting up. It was deafening.

We went to bed, hot, humid, and cramped in a mosquito net, and hoped I wouldn't dream of creepy crawly thingies.

Thu, Oct 16, 2008

Peru Day 13 - Sandoval Lake

The power in the lodge is shut off at various times of the day, and we awoke a bit after 4:30 in the morning when it was restored and the lights and fans were brought back to life. It was certainly needed. I was drenched with sweat, hot, and thoroughly uncomfortable. I slithered out of bed, checked my shoes for bugs, and went straight to the shower. The water varied from hot to cold and back several times, but at least it was a shower.

Our early morning activity was a sunrise canoe ride out on the lake to see some morning wildlife. Along with a lovely jungle sunrise, this included a wide variety of large birds, a host of baby caymans, one large and scary-looking adult cayman, and four furballs way off in the tops of some distant trees, which we were told were howler monkeys, still slumbering peacefully, in contrast to their usual howling ways. Sandoval Lake is famous for the giant river otter, of which a family of six lives here. There are only a few hundred of them left on the planet, so they are extremely rare. We didn't see any this morning.

We returned to the lodge for breakfast before embarking on a daytime jungle hike. Fortunately, this one did not include any large and scary spiders, but there was a revisit with the bullet ant, as one dropped on top of Javier, just like he said they often do. He brushed it away like it was nothing, and then casually remarked how he could have been in agonising pain had it bit him.

That was the kind of jungle expert Javier was. He knew how many things there were in the jungle that could kill him, and he seemed at peace with that. He also had an expert eye. He could find creatures in all sort of places, including camouflaged giant secadas, and a tiny frog that buried itself in the middle of a large mud patch in the road. At one point, he was discussing how army ants will attack prey en masse, tear them to shreds, and carry them off, when we heard a woosh and crash behind us.

"Did you see that?" he said. "It was a falcon. Hold on, I'll check it out."

He dashed off into the thick, leaving us with the army ants that apparently threatened to tear us limb from limb. He returned moments later.

"It was going after a pheasant, but it missed and it got away."

He continued to lead us on the hike, as we wondered how on Earth he was able to determine that.

Following the hike, we had some time to explore the area a bit ourselves, and were fortunate to spot a group of turtles all sitting in a row on a log near the dock. Unfortunately, someone else saw it as well and immediately called to his friend "Hey, look! Turtles!", at which point all but one dashed into the lake.

We enjoyed lunch at the lodge, and were shown a video on Amazon life. It particularly noted the cyclic nature of everything in the forest. Nothing is wasted; everything is useful to something in the jungle, and the rate of decay is incredibly quick.

We tried to get some rest in our room, but my drowsiness was shocked away by a scream in the bathroom. I entered to find that the same kind of roach (perhaps the same exact one?) that was in Joy's shoe the night before was sitting on the wall, camouflaged by the wood grain, right next to the towel she was about to grab. I used a glass and a laminated sheet to toss the thing away.

Returning to the canoes, we set out on the lake again in hopes of glimpsing some wildlife enjoying their supper. This time, we hit the jackpot. There are only a few hundred giant river otters in the world, and six in this lake, and we saw five of them. Spotting them from a distance, we carefully followed them to their den, where a couple climbed on top of rocks for a rest. One of them had a massive trout in its jaws, and it wasn't long before one of his comrades started fighting him for it. A great cacophony of noise and splashing ensued, as the two wrestled for the prize. Eventually, the pursuer gave up and sulked away, leaving the first to enjoy his meal in the sunshine.

We watched the giant otters for a while before moving on, which is when Javier's eyesight hit jackpot again. We paddling far off to the other side of the lake, where we found, swinging from the branches, a trio of howler monkeys at play, including a mother and child. The three crawled to and fro, pulled on leaves, and dangled from their tails, much to my delight. I had been going on for days about how I wanted to see some monkeys. They didn't battle, talk, or execute a bank heist, so they weren't Dane Cook's kind of monkeys, but they were still a treat to see all the same.

As sunset glowed over the lake, we slowly returned to the docks, where it became quite evident just how many caymans occupied the lake. Shining a flash light makes their eyes shine red, and as Javier panned his light around, the shore became dotted with little red lights. It's a good thing caymans are tame creatures, because our rickety little canoe would be no match for them.

We returned to the lodge for dinner, a few beers, and then bed, where we once again encountered The Return of the Roach. In essentially the same spot as before, I was convined it must be the same one, rather than a brother or distant cousin come to find out where his buddy had gone. He was a bit more sly to my trap-with-a-glass maneuver, and not knowing anything about this particular creature, I didn't want to get very close. I eventually had little choice but to give it a whack on the ground, and then flush it down the toilet. I stepped out of the bathroom to steady my nerves a bit, and then returned to find an example of the jungle's rate of decay in action.

On the spot where I had whacked the bug, there was no discernable remains, but a flock of ants had nevertheless instantly found the site and were pouring over it in vigour. I was too fascinated by the speed and efficiency of their looting to be revolted by what was going on. And within minutes, like an ant-incarnation of Keyser Soze... poof! They were gone.

As if we hadn't had enough of the creepy crawlies for a day, I found a spider inside our mosquito net. I dismantled the net and checked every inch of the sheets to ensure he didn't have any friends there waiting. We crawled into bed, another hot, humid, and lawnmower-sound-filled night around us, and went to sleep.

Fri, Oct 17, 2008

Peru Day 14 - Sandoval Lake, Lima

This morning effectively spelled the end of our tour. The next day and a bit would essentially be a very long commute home, taken by canoe, hike, motorboat, bus, and three planes back to Toronto. We had our breakfast and then set off, saying good bye to the jungle.

The Puerto Maldonaldo airport was a mess, occupied by pushy passengers and incompetent staff that couldn't figure out how board a plane in an orderly fashion. The group of us all grumbled our way to the plane baffled by some people's behaviour. Our tour operator could not always get us all seated together, and some seat-swap negotiations had to be made to get everyone seated with their significant others.

The plane briefly stopped in Cusco to exchange passengers before continuing on its way returning us to Lima. From there, we said our good byes to the rest of our tour mates, as we went our separate ways. Our flight home left in nine hours, so rather than take much of that time making our way into town, spend a short time seeing a small portion of the city, have a bite, get mugged, and return to the airport, we just decided to spend the time there. We grabbed a table at the food court and waited. We ate, we read, we played tic-tac-toe and backgammon. We were often jostled by other diners and kids asking for change. Our patience was wearing thin with airport folk.

Eventually, after enough time to begin to understand everything being said over the tannoy in Spanish, it was time to go. We checked-in, browsed the shops, bought nothing, and climbed aboard for our way out of Peru and back home.

Sat, Oct 18, 2008

Peru Day 15 - Lima to Toronto

The midnight flight from Lima uneventfully took us into Miami, where we once again had to deal with paranoid American security. We waited in line at customs for an awfully long time, while people had their photographs taken, and fingerprints read. When we finally got to the front, they quickly waved us through as non-threatening Canadians.

Nearly getting lost in the detour-filled concourses that make up Miami International Airport, we eventually found what we thought was our gate, but with a lack of proper signage, we weren't quite sure. At this point, we were too exhausted to worry about it any longer, and stayed until something or someone proved us wrong. Fortunately, we were correct, and the final flight of our journey took us back to sweet Canadian soil.

My parents were there to greet us and drive us back to their place, this time without massive highway closures. Mom had lunch ready for us, on the odd chance that we'd be hungry, and then I drove us back to home sweet home, where we tried to shake ourselves of the biological misscheduling that all those flights caused us. We slept until late in the evening, had some dinner, and then returned to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

Parts of the trip were awesome, and some parts far from awesome, though often in unexpectedly awesome ways. But, we survived, and brought back plenty of stories to tell, so the trip was most assuredly a success. I got all six inhabited continents on record, and Joy and I survived two weeks constantly together, some of which at our smelly and exhausted worst, but still in love all the more because of it. That's a souvenir on to which I intend to hold.

Sun, Oct 19, 2008

Home Sweet

We have returned home from Peru, safe and sound. Much fun and adventure was had, but it's nice to be able to drink tap water again.

Logs and photos are forthcoming.

Mon, Oct 27, 2008

Much the Same

While away in Peru, I had the fortune of missing most of the election going on back home. I had voted by special ballot well beforehand, and then took off, avoiding the nonsense, negative advertising, and poisonous vitriol that accompanies electoral campaigns.

I returned to find that little had changed. Not only did the Conservative again win a minority government - keeping Harper and his infernal sweater - but the dealings of politicians was unchanged as well. The former head of the Toronto Port Authority, the organization that operated its holdings very much against the wishes of the city and much of its populace, had won a seat in a western suburb. Her tenure at the Port Authority was propped up by installing Conservative buddies to the board, and now she has been made Minister of Natural Resources. After running a business that continually damaged the environmental quality and livability of the city's waterfront, this is who we now have managing the country's natural resources?

It's no wonder why I hate politics so much.

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