June 4, 2011

Up in the Air… getting paid to travel

Category: About me ,Croatia — chrissipe @ 1:28 pm

Well they say the hardest thing about blogging is not starting, but keeping it going.  I was feeling too uninspired, despite having PLENTY of time on my hands for a while, to finish the last trip.  I will give that a shot just for continuity and giving Mexico it’s due, problem now is finding the time.

Who reads blogs anymore anyway?  I mean real blogs… journals, weblogs as they were intended?  Not editorial filler for corporate websites to put more ads on.  blah.

But to catch up to the present moment… I’m sitting under the stars, a lime tree, on the Croatian island of Vis in the Adriatic following my first nearly authentic Italian pizza, and my first archeological dive of a 2000 year old Greek shipwreck.  Random I know.  I’m f-ing exhausted from the current, the heavier cold water gear, and not having dove in a year.

Vis, Croatia

To catch you up a bit, I got a new job in November.  A small software company that specializes in consulting, installation, customizations, and support of two enterprise applications in the “creative” fields.  “Creative” meaning file management (mostly photos) and publishing (print/web/tablet.)  whew.

The company is called Modula4, which I am now not embarrassed to tell people about now that we just launched a brand new website last month www.modula4.com

(previous website was the embarrassing part.)  We have offices in SF and Berlin.

In this job, I get to travel, which is nice most of the time.  My territory is North and South America, lots of SF, New York, and LA, but plenty of other random places we have clients.  I never thought i’d get to go to Europe, because we have an office and my counterpart in Berlin.  Well as it turns out, my boss wanted me to go to Berlin to meet with staff there, and I spotted a conference in Amsterdam that the company would benefit from me attending…  Oh, and there’s Memorial Day week in between, voila, we’ve got a trip to Europe!

Now, it’s not always going to be glamorous.  There will be the Stillwater, Oklahoma’s and Indianapolis’s of the world.  But I think we all know by now this is something I like, something I’ve done since I’ve been a child, and I really REALLY needed a break from the cubicle life of the typical office.  Trading that in for George Clooney’s travel tips of how to pack and who to get behind in security lines, at least for a while.

Speaking of blogging and Croatia, and work… I found it funny that I found myself this week in, completely unplanned, the birthplace of Marco Polo, Korcula.  Well, scholars have debated whether he was born there or in Venice, as his family had homes in both cities.  Besides the point, I went up Marco Polo tower and drank the kool aid and believe he was born there.  He was one of the greatest, and inspirational travelers of all time.  Most probably don’t know he made his epic journey with his dad and uncle, technically, they were the traveling masterminds as they had made the Asia trip once before.  But there was a big difference, Marco documented it.  Those writings went on to inspire Columbus and others, cartography, and many other aspects of travel.

Others adventures continue to inspire me, even this Croatia trip.  So I will try and keep writing, and traveling.

I realize I don’t think I can travel like I have either.  I’m not 34 any more!  Trying to sandwich a 9 day flash-packing trip in the middle of this work was insane.  As I got sick this week, I said, “what the fuck are you doing?”  Why can’t I stop and relax?  I still couldn’t stop, once I make a plan I have to follow it through, so I pushed on… the trip improved.  I know I can, especially if I’m with others, but when I’m by myself I’m going to keep haulin.


It’s noticed today it’s harder and harder to smile when I take these stupid pictures of myself, by myself.  I’d like a partner in travel and everything else, and I’m trying very hard to make that happen.  Too hard I guess in some people’s eyes, and not hard enough in others.  maddening.

More to come.  Unfortunately, it sounds as I continue to be very busy with work and traveling the rest of the summer.  Orange County, LA, Houston, Austin, all await my computery fingers apparently.  Not sure when I’ll have time to write, but trying to keep this alive and kicking…

July 20, 2010

Buenos Aires and into my last new country, Uruguay

Category: Argentina ,Uruguay — chrissipe @ 2:21 pm

Things I’ve noticed that are much different than the rest of SA since arriving in Argentina:

  • (nearly) everyone smokes
  • I’m not the tallest one in the room anymore
  • It’s nice to not have to see shotgun-toting security guards on every corner (like most countries north of here)
  • It’s NOT nice to have as much dog shit as there is on the sidewalks of Buenos Aires. (and if you think I’m exaggerating, then why is there a paragraph dedicated to the ubiquity of aforementioned poop in my guide book?)
  • there are still lots of stray dogs, but not as many as Peru, and they are not the cause of the sidewalk issues.
  • you notice the Italian immigrant influence everywhere, from the names, to the faces, to the quite good pizza and pasta.
  • everyone seems to have a cold, so i pounded the rest of my vitamin C
  • bus travel is great, comfortable, and safe

I have been sitting on this blog entry for weeks now.  Too busy and again, just haven’t felt like writing much.  I pretty much checked everything off my Argentina list, except a tango show.  oh well, this entry covers a lot.

I spent one night in Buenos Aires centro at a hostel before heading over to Colonia, Uruguay for the world cup game.  I was advised before I arrived in Bs As of this great percussion group that plays every Monday night.  Just my luck this Monday they were returning from a 2 month or so hiatus.  It was pretty jam packed and I was more impressed with the turnout for a percussion group that performs weekly than I was with them.  Not at all to take anything away from them, they were great!  I loved the structure, organized group improv, not a jam session, multiple styles: some samba but not all, great players, 4 guys took turns at conductor, all good.  But I thought to myself, even in tree-hugging drum-circling San Francisco, would this many people turn out for regular great percussion shows on a Monday night???  Hell no.

But, I realized a lot of those people were tourists.  60/40 locals to tourists at least.  That show is well publicized to them (us.)  But Argentinians look for any excuse to party and dance.  Remind me to look up the population of B.A. again… (Update, I later asked Gaby Kerpel, figuring he would know that, and he said about 8 million when including the immediate suburbs.  I think San Francisco proper is only 1 million, but 6 million when including the immediate suburbs.  So a bit of a difference.)

Country #25 for my life – Uruguay.  I headed over on the ferry a bit earlier than planned because, wait for it… they were playing their last World Cup game.  And you could count on it being the last because I was headed to town.

I had several great asado experiences (BBQ) in Uruguay.  That was partly why i was there!  One in a restaurant in Colonia and one at the amazing Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo.  Once it was the actual main mercado, but as now everyone lives in the suburbs it’s just all asado based restaurants.  I had a group from my hostel in tow with me, including two cousins i’d met in Colonia.  Both meals were overwhelming and a real feast for the senses.  The British guy I ate with described how he had been instructed that when eating these asado meals, all bread, corn, potatoes, and the like are “non-essential” items that you do not bother eating.  Just focus on consuming the ridiculous amount of meat they give you.

Malbec – another note on the big wine here that’s become very popular lately.  The Argentinian wine industry is still very young.  They have been making it for a long time but only for internal consumption.  The export market just exploded after the 2001 economy crash and helped bring back the economy.   There are plenty of lousy malbecs out there, a lot of cheap ones can have a very fake fruit, grape kool-aid, communion wine flavor.  If you get one of those, don’t be discouraged, just try another one.  They are hit and miss in the states, and on the plane… like the one i had today.  I love Torrontes even more after tasting it here, hopefully more will be coming to the states.

I was impressed with the architecture of Uruguay.  I don’t know if it’s just because it’s a smaller city, but it had many more striking buildings than Buenos Aires.  Bs As is nice for sure, but rarely did I see architecture that made me want to whip out my camera.  The centro of Montevideo has a crazy cool mix of buildings.

Colin, Eleanor and I made the must see neighborhood visits to touristy La Boca, and Recoleta for the cemetery.  The cemetery lived up to expectations.  Really fascinating, also just mind-boggling the money people put into their final resting place… some like mini-cathedrals, and then to see others totally unkempt, neglected, and vandalized.  The most expensive real estate in Buenos Aires as they say.

Fuerza Bruta – this is a show I’d knew I wanted to check out no matter what, but especially since none of the great electronic music i wanted to see was happening.  The music for this dance extravaganza was written by Gaby Kerpel, his second collaboration with the director on this type of show.  Locals said the prior show was better, grrr, but Fuerza was still entertaining.  We got really lucky in that we were wanting to go before Eleanor and Colin left, but thought tickets were sold out.  As we were going to the cemetery which is near, we stopped in and they had tickets for that night!  Score! and the Friday late show included a DJ spinning afterward until 2, so that was a good night.

Iguazu – I took a speedy trip up to see this wonder of nature.  Second largest waterfall in the world.  Wasn’t originally on my agenda, but multiple people described it as a must see, and Bs As was cold, so off I went.

The drag was that I had spent the previous 3 of the previous 4 nights in the dorm room of the hostel and gotten little sleep.  Then 2 of 3 nights for Iguazu… sleeping on a bus.  So add to this a tremendous amount of walking (which I needed because I’m so fat right now) my body is just worn out and tired.  Finding a room that allowed good sleep became much more of a priority for my last few nights in B.A.

Iguazu was beyond description really.  It’s actually 200+ waterfalls all in one.  Many of them would be tourist attractions just on their own.  Put it all together and it’s just enormous, and I was there during low water season!  all other waterfalls have now been ruined for me.

I’ve been doing the hostels a bit more on this trip, even though i generally hate them.  But that week of staying alone in a hotel kind of did me in.  One night in one of Bs As biggest party hostels (Milhouse) did me in, in the other direction too.  I got a single room, and it was actually a very nice room, but music and noisy 20-year-old brits and germans were too much.  I had to do the dorm later in the week because I wanted to hang with my friends Colin and Eleanor, and they were booked at a cool but not nearly as fancy place, and my only option for those 3 nights was in a 4 person dorm.  I won’t go into the problems that plagued my sleep those 3 nights… but it reminded me that i’m too old for the damn dorms.

But the busier hostels are good for meeting people if you are in the mood.  i met 3 cute chicas from Rosario, a city a few hours away, known mostly for producing Che Guevara, and many of Argentina’s best artists.  They were visiting Bs As for the holiday weekend.   They schooled me on the proper way to prepare yerba maté, or just mate, that you see everyone drinking throughout the southern countries.  It’s most similar to a very strong, bitter, green tea (but don’t say green tea to them, and it’s not really leafy) but there are many variations and flavors.

I’d been dying to try it and learn about it.  It’s usually a communal drink with all kinds of etiquette to follow, like a Japanese meal.  So I learned about it and quite like it.  I also had a fun night out with them where we were kind of running around looking for the elusive “secret” party.  This seemed to be common thing with visitors, because the “underground” parties are always the best, yet since no one is from Buenos Aires, you spend more time looking than partying… not that it matters to me.

Thank goodness for Facebook.  My last Saturday in town and I see Gaby Kerpel post that he’s playing a warehouse party THAT night.  Hurray!  I thought i would not get to see him play.  The “fiesta” was a little lame, it was a magazine launch party with some bad reggae bands playing before him.  But I got to chat with him and his girlfriend Mariana, who is the singer of their other project called La Yegros, and his 90 minute DJ set was amazing and filled with such cool sounds.

I was going to rant more about the dog poop problem.  How on some blocks there was literally a pile, or a smear, every 10 feet, but I will spare you.

Souvenirs so far: (oops I forgot some…)

Ecuador – galapagos tshirt and coffee

Peru – 3 alpaca hats, earrings for my imaginary girlfriend, 2 afro peruvian cd’s, a jacket, a Zamponia (bamboo flute) and some fine chocolate.

Argentina – 2 maté cups (1 gourd and 1 wood and silver), went shopping for wedding clothes and got some cool pants and Argentina made leather shoes, and ALMOST forgot… a futbol jersey.

More pics on my flickr

of course.

July 9, 2010

first night in Buenos Aires and…

Category: Argentina — chrissipe @ 3:38 pm

… i saw this.

think i’m feeling better.  Now for the first weekend in B.A.

July 8, 2010

argentina at last

Category: Argentina — chrissipe @ 1:28 pm

As advertised, the scenic drive across the snow covered Andes between Chile and Argentina is spectacular. Immense cliffs, rivers, jagged multi-colored peaks, more than can be captured on camera from a moving bus.  Definitely worth doing during the day.

Lovely city, Mendoza.  Nice tree lined neighborhoods surround the plaza indepencia, the city center.  It’s taken the recent tourist interest from it’s wine industry and totally run with it.  waaaay warmer than Santiago, lots of people running around the park today with short sleeves on.  I knew wine country would deliver good weather.

wine tasting – I was torn between paying for an expensive tour, doing the cheap bike tour (i sure as hell need the exercise but it’s limited to one region and not the best wineries,) or renting a car and doing it myself (cheaper than tour.)  I went for the former and don’t regret it.  It included an excellent 5-course lunch with wine pairings that I knew costed $40-50 by itself, plus 3 other bodegas.  I learned a lot about the regions here, the history, and the varietals I’d been drinking, including Torrontes which I’d been seeking out and drinking recently.  So including my visit to the Vines tasting room the afternoon before, I tasted 21 Argentinian wines in 24 hours.  Awesomeness.

i’m not doing as well as I’d hoped with my Spanish.  I guess I’ve upgraded from talking like a baby, to being able to communicate basic things.  I still can’t have a real conversation or understand someone talking fast or out of context.  One funny thing that happened is on the wine tour, the host told us Torrontes is called “the liar” wine.  I said mentidoso and her eyes got big and she said “Wow! you pronounced that perfectly!”  Then I had them rolling that I learned that word from my crazy mentidoso puerto rican ex-girlfriend.

the thermal baths and spa – Waaay back in Cuenca Ecuador, the same crazy Aussie guy who told me to ditch spanish lessons and head straightaway to Galapagos, told me about this amazing thermal baths in Mendoza.  He didn’t even remember the name but said just to ask and everyone knows them.   good call.

Termas Cacheuta – http://www.termascacheuta.com/

There’s a spa and a water park, two separate places.  The spa is world class and in this gorgeous canyon.  A full day there that includes a monstrous buffet lunch was $50.  Quite a bargain and my body needs it after all the buses and planes and lousy beds.

Nightlife in Mendoza however has been a complete FAIL.  Such a different culture.  The bars are set up for groups going out and camping at tables for a long time.  Not easy at all to meet people and mingle.  I know that may sound subtle and stupid, but it’s a big difference.  Some bars don’t even have… BARS!  and a lot have only a few stools.  So if you go sit on one by yourself you look like a total dork.  It’s super lame.  I’m remembering this in some other cultures where people just absolutely don’t go out by themselves.   Add to that Argentinians by reputation are not the friendliest people, unfazed by tourists and a bit stuck up.

This has been made worse by the fact that I’m the ONLY person staying at my hotel!  So no one to meet here.  I would leave but I quite like the room and for $20 per night makes the frozen crap-castle in Santiago that I paid twice as much for a welcome bargain.

Luckily I’ve made friends with a couple of Brits from Bristol, Colin and Eleanor, I met on the wine tour.  I told them about the amazing thermal baths, so they turned up there yesterday,  Then we made plans to watch the world cup match today and for dinner tonight.  We are also all headed to Buenos Aires, and then they are headed to California!  So I will take them wine tasting in Nor Cal when I get back.

Despite spending some of the last several days with them, my mood is at an all time low today.  I should have left last night, but I was again hoping for a world cup win and major partying.  Instead I have a wasted, ahem, rest day before taking the night bus to B.A.  Sick of shitty restaurant service, sick of the carb heavy diet i can’t seem to get away from, sick of looking for hotels, sick of not being able to converse with people, sick of being lonely.

July 5, 2010

sights and sounds from the first half

Category: Ecuador ,Peru — chrissipe @ 9:48 am

The stud tortoises from Darwin center in Galapagos.

The amazing dance of the blue footed boobies.  They do this to show off their sexy blue feet.  no joke.

Iguana making a run through the sea lions…

And the stars of Isla Espanola, the albatross mating dance…

Capoiera in the street in Parque Kennedy, Lima, Peru

2 dances from the Fiesta de San Juan in Moyobamba and Yantalo, Peru

July 3, 2010

Chilly? why yes. Chile? not so much.

Category: Chile — chrissipe @ 2:26 pm

I touch down in Santiago at 2 AM on a near freezing Saturday night, not optimal.  Pull up to my  hostel at almost 4am following the entry fee, immigration, ATM, etc. (after sharing a cab with a guy from New Orleans who knows my band mate Eric McFadden) and I see two people suspiciously hovering in a corner where two buildings meet.  I get out of the taxi and see they have their pants down!

Two drunks having sex in the street.  Welcome to Santiago!!!

Did I mention it was about 34º F at 4 AM?!?!

And yes… I did know it was winter here.  That’s why I’ve been carrying my jacket around.

I was determined not to let Chile fall into the “Greece” of this trip, but that plan was destined to fail.  The stopover in between a hot, fun, exciting destination: Peru (last time India) and the destination that I am highly anticipating and much more excited about… Argentina (last time Spain.)  I’d even contemplated skipping Chile altogether, but my travel agent said, “it will be more expensive than your quote now if you skip Chile.”  Odd, but ok.

Rubbing salt in my wound, a few weeks ago they announced a great show in Buenos Aires for the night I was to fly into Santiago, one of the bands I REALLY wanted to see.  GGGRRRRRRRRRRR.  I again looked into changing my flight to skip Chile, but not doable with losing hours to the time change, and I can’t spend tons of money changing flights now.

Reciprocity, ahem, “fuck you for visiting” fees:  So Chile charges visitors from 5 countries a rather large entry fee to visit.  Americans get to pay $130, Canadians even more!  Brazil charges about the same for required visa.  I believe Chile started this lovely trend of fees, Bolivia ($150) and Argentina ($100 I think) have recently followed suit.  I skipped Bolivia for this reason, that and it’s not high on my list although very popular on the backpacker circuit.

Fortunately, the fees for Chile and Arg are only charged upon arrival at the major international airport.  So I figured I’ll eat it in Chile but not get hit in Argentina.

So I don’t want to turn this into a Chile bashing post, but I know it will sound like that.  We just didn’t hit it off.  And I learned this lesson on my last trip – don’t force it, if you’re not happy there just move on.  I admit I didn’t give it a fair shake, from what I read the best parts of Chile are outside of Santiago.  The nature, amazing glaciers in the south, amazing deserts in the north, but it’s not the time of year to be visiting those unless you ski.

I really did try and keep a good attitude and make the best of it.  A world cup win might have kept me there a little longer.  But the loss, the cold, the lousy food, (heck I’m not even going to bring up the lack of inspiring culture and strikingly homogenous white-spaniard society that’s notoriously racist… oops I just did) and everything being overpriced got me out of town.  I should have skipped it.

June 30, 2010

World Cup ’10

Category: Argentina ,Chile ,Uruguay — chrissipe @ 4:42 pm

Obviously the World Cup has played a big role in this trip.  5 countries I’m traveling to, plus the USA, are in it.  I like sports, I played soccer.  There is not much bigger down here than futbol.  I just saw on TV where Argentina had a seal (or sea lion) picking the winner on a show, and German tv has an octopus picking Germany to win.  Then they are talking to a scientist to learn how intelligent an octopus really is.  (and I understand all this with limited spanish.)

I was rooting for all of those teams to make it as far as possible obviously to heighten the experience of being here.  Chile hadn’t won a game in the world cup in over 40 years, so clearly it was easy to pull for that underdog as they have a decent team now.  Uruguay, also easy to root for since they are so small.  Argentina… yeah, but I’ve had a hard time getting behind their nutty coach, Maradona, who gets so much on air time, the cameras love him and his antics.  They are however, a favorite to win it all but will have to face Germany next.  what a game that will be.

(I have since gone back and read up on Maradona.  He is a legend as a player here which I kind of knew, came from the ghetto, has battled drug issues, has had run-ins with FIFA and even other coaches… so I see the reasons for the compelling story now.)

In Peru, they were usually pulling for Brazil or Argentina, they HATE Chile.  I think sentiments were about the same in Ecuador, and they additionally don’t like Peru.  Long histories of border problems.  In general though, I have gathered through Facebook posts and overheard conversations that South Americans are proud that South America has dominated, with 4 teams in the final 8.

I was really looking forward to seeing Chile play while in Chile, and today that happened.  I managed to convince two hostel-mates to venture out to the square where they watch the games en mass.  It was awesome.  I got my face painted, there were riot police, and even a quick riot – mostly stupid teenagers taunting the police, who responded with water cannons – afterward.  But sadly, Brazil beat them soundly 3-0 ending a great run by Chile.

(I think the post-Cup hangover will dampen Chile for awhile, it was dead in the streets, contributing to my decision for a quick departure from the country.)

So, on to Argentina and Uruguay.  Who knows, maybe they could even play each other, which could again be epic.

I will be watching the next round, Friday and Saturday in Mendoza, Argentina.  Hit the road on Sunday for Buenos Aires at last.

June 29, 2010

and now for something completely different

Category: Peru — chrissipe @ 6:31 pm

I saw two completely different sides of Peru on this adventure.  I went very quickly from 60º to 85º, from grey smog to green jungle, and from barhopping to building a hospital.

I’m spending a week in a town of 3000 people (seems like less) on the edge of the northern jungles of Peru.  It’s called Yantalo, north of Moyobamba, and the nearest airport is 2 hours away in Tarapoto.  No tourists go here.  South of Tarapoto is dangerous coca growing territory.  The only gringos the people see are the occasional group of medical students who come here to intern and do research, and give free medical care.  There are a dozen here right now, which is a lot, because it’s summer.  Ground was recently broken on the town’s first clinic, aided by this project…

After my last big trip, numerous vacations in between, and watching many recent natural disasters on tv in places I traveled, I felt I wanted to at least attempt to volunteer this time.  Travis is the volunteer coordinator of the Yatalo foundation, and a friend of a friend of mine in San Francisco.  After emailing him I decided to make this a part of my trip, nixing Machu Picchu, and come help in whatever way I could.

Of course, I wish I had more time here to do Machu Picchu.  But after flying right over the Amazon and stopping in Iquitos, which is the jungle city where tourists do go and can’t be accessed by car, I am even more wishing I could stay here longer and do a river trip and spend some time in the interior jungle.

Oh it’s painful to be so close, and time constrained.  I swear I am NOT booking another trip this way now.  It sucks to have a timeline with so much to see and do.  (On the flip side, i guess that could be dangerous for not coming back)  I keep reminding myself however, Peru is fortunately a cheap flight from California, and I did this with the intention of possibly coming back soon.  Actually after Continental and United airlines merge, and this trip, I will probably have enough miles to come back for free!

As it turned out, this week was not exactly the best week to come and “work” as a volunteer.  Monday was a school holiday for the school’s anniversary.  Then it just so happened that this week happens to be one of the biggest festivals of the jungle region starting on Thursday.  The Festival de San Juan is a 10 day festival giving thanks for the Amazon waters.  Ironically, it didn’t rain the whole week I was there, which was unusual I was told.  Must be El Nino.

I guess that’s the risk you take when you just try to show up for one week of volunteering.  The hospital is only a bit past breaking ground, so there was actually very little i could do to help with that.  They are leveling the foundation dirt and installing a cistern to hold water, but at least it’s going now, after 2 years of stalling.  It’s going to be Peru’s first green hospital too.

The festival was pretty great, as simple as it was.  As you can see, lots of happy faces and some of my best pictures.  They put up these tall bamboo posts with “prizes” on top throughout the city.  Kind of like a pinata on a tree.  The parade of dancers moves to each one, they cut each one down, and in a huge cloud of dust everyone dog-piles for snacks, drinks, clothes, and toilet paper.  Very cute, and very humbling.

I am staying in Moyobamba because of the large number of student volunteers in town now.  It’s a 20-30 minute taxi ride to Yantalo.  Motos are the main form of transport around here.  Motorcycles pulling a bench basically, in Thailand they’re called tuk-tuks.  The advantage to staying in Moyo is an $8 room with warmish water, slow wifi, but you have to ask for more soap, tp, and clean towels.

The people of Yantalo were so friendly and nice, although to visitors they are usually a bit shy.  I noticed Travis being overly assertive with being friendly, going out of his way to loudly say “Buenos Dias amigo!  Que Tal?” to everyone.  I noticed that when you ask that way they don’t have a choice but to respond.  Of course, by now everyone in Yantalo knows Travis, and a lot of people in Moyo too.

Most of the volunteers were from Rochester New York, or BYU.  Because of the festival, we had two fun nights out with some of the Rochester med students.  (the mormons, not so much.)  We went to the fair, went to the thermal baths, watched the world cup, and went to see as much of the festival as we could in both towns.  So I probably had more fun than actual work.  But I checked in with the computer lab to see if they needed help

I can see why Travis chose this place to start his new life.  It’s nice, mellow, enjoys the laid back latino way of life, and very cheap.  Of course the downsides are… the laid back latino way of life, it’s taken him 6 months to get his license plates for his truck from the government, two years for them to break ground on the hospital, etc.  You see it everywhere here – kind of the opposite of the German and American “model of efficiency” mentality.  But I think if you move to a developing latin country, you know that going in and are probably looking for that.  I also realize now it’s important to know this even to volunteer here, even the med students had difficulty staying busy.

Travis bought the land next to the hospital as soon as it went up for sale.  He had 7 or 8 locals eager for work to build out his place, which will grow plantains and cacao (the big $ crop), contain his house, 5 cabinas to rent out as a B&B, a garden, a green house, solar power, and a hostel type house for hospital volunteers.  Pretty big project, but a smart move on his part.

Good week… sad to leave Peru.
June 24, 2010

cumbia, salsa, and more ceviche in lima

Category: Peru — chrissipe @ 6:53 am

Sorry for my slow blogging.  Lima was action packed by itself, plus getting a chance to watch world cup, plus doing city chores between my boat ride and the jungle… left me little time for writing.

I met several travelers along the way who have said “Why are you spending 5 days in Lima?  There’s nothing to do there.  It’s just a big dirty city.”

Apparently these people didn’t EAT or go out.  Because I dare say, despite it’s faults, Lima has the best food and nightlife on the western half of South America.

It’s faults include the dirt (building are covered in it, and so are you after walking around a few hours) and foggy skies made worse by the pollution, too many taxis, almost no freeways, and a massive influx of poor people when terrorism broke out a few decades ago in other rural regions of the country.  This resulted in crowded, dangerously built shantytowns, one famously on the side of a hill (I posted the picture of it.)

I’d also read and heard about how dangerous Lima was, though I had my suspicions about exaggerations.  I’ve learned from my years on travel forums that EVERY major city has a posting by someone about horror stories of someone they knew that got mugged and then cite some violent crime statistics to back it up.  Well in Lima I was reading you can’t even take a taxi safely without fear of being mugged on your way from the airport.

Here’s my take.

There are definitely shady taxis, but they are easy to spot.  Any taxi or guy summoning you to his taxi that has a removable sign, or no taxi numbers or names printed on the side – don’t get in it.  It’s that easy, there’s probably a real taxi coming 10 seconds later.

Second, I walked all over Miraflores and Barranco, even late at night, and I had zero problems.  Take ordinary precautions, don’t “look” like a tourist although there are plenty in Lima, and don’t venture too far out of those aforementioned neighborhoods and Lima is just fine to visit.

MUST EAT in Lima: Punta Azul.  Several different people recommended this place, it’s only open for lunch but with long hours, and usually there is a long wait.  It’s worth it.  Everything coming out of the kitchen looked amazing and creative, and the prices not expensive at all by north american standards. Go, I almost went twice!

One fun unexpected bonus to the trip was that my second cousin Julia had recently arrived in Lima for a summer internship.  For second cousins, we actually know each other pretty well thanks to our regular family reunions, and we’re only a few years apart in age.

We had a great time learning about the city together (and with several of her univ. friends)  She was excited to find out about free nightly salsa lessons I found in Miraflores, she found out the best food for us to try from coworkers, we checked out some music including a latin jazz guitarist whose cd’s i’d seen in the states.   Then for my last night I found out this really great local band that’s nationally famous was playing in Barranco.

Said band, Bareto, blew us away.  The bar, La Noche in Barranco, was packed elbow to elbow (the idea of “fire hazard” doesn’t really translate in South America apparently) and everyone knew all the words.  Check them out for sure if you are into cumbia rock, ska, or latin music in general.  It was really good to see youngish bands playing this music who know how to play.  And you’re just not going to find this level of musicianship in that many countries down here, just turn on the radio and hear endless awful drum machine and synth horn cumbias to realize that.

I already know I will be coming back to Peru, and probably sooner rather than later.  Though not sure Lima is a place i could live.

June 13, 2010


Category: Ecuador — chrissipe @ 11:20 am

Well this is pretty damn amazing.  I’m so much happier now with my decision of Galapagos over Machu Picchu and more spanish lessons, as not only do you not have to deal with throngs of tourists, but getting close to the animals is definitely NOT a problem either.  They often come to you!

I was also a bit worried that the cruise scene would be like Ha Long Bay, where the 16 passenger boats play smash-up derby trying to get all the tourists out on the water.  The boating equivalent of a Wal-Mart door the day after Thanksgiving.  Thankfully, it’s far from that.

The weather has been fantastic and I am so much happier in shorts, barefoot, and slathering up in SPF 15 every day than I am in jeans, jacket, and dealing with the San Francisco-like weather of Quito and Cuenca.  I like boats, I love the ocean.  Such an amazing place to be on top of that.

I’ve seen darn near every animal too.

First off, sea lions EVERYWHERE.  You can’t throw a lava rock without hitting one, and 10% of babies die of natural causes too.  They are the same type we have in California, but still fun to be so close to them and swim with them.  Yesterday was the highlight of the cruise to Espanola island and it didn’t disappoint.  Mating boobies and waved albatross, close ups of hawks, lava lizards, and the green and red iguanas.  Today was ‘flamingo day’ on Floreana island and it was looking to be a bust.  The lake where they live was empty and our guide said, they sometimes fly to lakes on Isabella when food is low.  Well we rounded another corner, and there was ONE lonely flamingo, a juvenile, who I guess had been left behind.  At least he had the lake to himself.

Today was going to continue to be a bust, as it’s my last day on board, and I hadn’t seen a penguin.  I’d was hoping to, and amazingly… as I sit here writing this on the back deck, I look down and see a black bird in the water.  But instead of flying up, he dives down and doesn’t come back.  I SAW A PENGUIN!  (hopefully they’ll be more on shore.)

(added later) We went ashore for our afternoon activity and saw another fishing.  Got some pictures!  They are lightning fast, and Galapagos penguins are the second smallest in the world.

This boat was a great option.  Compared to others I see, all guest rooms are above deck.  So you can open your windows and everything.  It’s rated a first class boat, and it’s fine, nothing super fancy.  The class ratings merely means they have certain amenities (hot water, AC, better guides, better food.)  It doesn’t mean you’re on P. Diddy’s yacht.  I just didn’t want to be in cramped bunks with a tiny, nasty bathroom for 5 days.

Also getting my fill of salad and green vegetables on the boat before returning to another 2 weeks of rice and chicken.  blechh.  My friend Romina who I dove with, has been traveling South America for a year.  She said she can’t even LOOK at a plate of rice right now.

I realize I got lucky again, with the economy being down, and being able to book this the night before I got on board.  Our guide said 2-3 years ago you’d have to book months in advance, but now they are struggling to have boats full.  My boat started out with 15, 7 different traveling groups, but 8 Americans and 7 Israelis.  How’s that for lack of diversity?  The 4 israeli guys, two just out of the army, and one guy traveling with his dad, were kind of obnoxious so I was glad to see them depart.

Thursday however, was changeover day for the rest of the boat excluding me.  4 passengers got on!  A young couple from Switzerland, and an old couple from… wait for it….  San Francisco (actually Sunnyvale.)  The old couple have brought an unfortunate ‘grandma and grandpa element’ to this leg of the trip.  oh well, gotta give em respect for adventuring.

Here’s a typical day on a Galapagos cruise boat:

6:45 wake up bell, 7 am breakfast

8 am board the dingy (panga in espanol) for the morning island excursion

10:30 back on board, prepare for snorkeling

11 am quick snorkeling excursion

12 pm lunch

1 pm siesta while the boat moves to a new location

3 pm load boats for afternoon excursion

5 pm back on boat

6 pm briefing

6:15 dinner

8 pm boat departs for next island

All can vary a bit depending on the island and distance between islands.  The boats moving at night can be a good or bad thing depending on whether you get sea sick or can sleep while rocking back and forth.

Our naturalist (guide) Jaime, has been doing this work for almost 20 years and was born in Galapagos.  He really knows his shit.  I’d read horror stories of guides on budget boats sounding like they were making stuff up as they went along.  Not the case here.  When Jaime found out the boat was only going to have 5 passengers this weekend, he asked the manager if his kids, ages 12 and 14 could come along, so they did.  Very cute.

So provided they don’t kick me off the boat in the next hour or so, I will have gotten an extra night on here.  The travel agent kind of screwed up with the schedule, because they were adding me at the last minute i would guess.  I didn’t bargain the price with her so it probably evens out.  Hopefully, tomorrow I will end the cruise back on Santa Cruz and go on an excursion with the group to see the giant tortoises in the wild.  That’s the last big thing I haven’t seen, saw them at the Darwin center, but not the wild.

Galapagos on a smallish budget

It can be done.  When you search online from the states it looks like it will cost a small fortune.  You can pay that if you want, or you can do what I did.  Rough Guide also outlines this on their website in more detail, and I found a 4 page guide someone wrote and updated on the Lonely Planet forums in fine details including bargaining.  I will keep it simple.

Flight from mainland: a ridiculous ~ $370

Entry fee: $100

Hotels can be as cheap as $10 per night but I chose $15-25.

5 day cruise which by my luck turned into 6 days, 5 nights:  $700 on a first class boat.

(that $140 per night includes water, tea, coffee, great food daily. didn’t include tips or fins for snorkeling $10)

So if you want to do this trip cheap, DON’T book in advance, don’t even book in Quito.  Just come during low season, allow extra time, there are cheap places to stay and it’s gorgeous so you won’t regret it.  If you’ve only got limited days, then I guess you should book in advance.

Visiting here really does give you the feeling that you are having a National Geographic moment in front of your own eyes, especially when you’re in a small group.  I’m glad I can say I came and saw it myself than on the big or little screen.

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