A disgruntled librarian packs it up and leaves fabulous New York City behind,
going on random global adventures,
while simultaneously promoting literacy
and spreading the love of the written word.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

random things about peru: a row of one's own

in peru they seem to organize their business so that similar businesses are all on the same street.  sure they have this to some extent in new york city: the garment district, wall street, the canal street "crap district," that block on bowery that sells all the lighting fixtures, etc.  but i have never seen anything quite to the extent that i have seen it in peru.

we saw puppy row, which of course had been my favorite.  how can you not like walking around and seeing peddlers selling puppies?  there was also shoe shine row, home repair row, wooden home furnishings row, medical office supply row (then another block with stores selling only dentist chairs).  we have seen mattress row, with numerous mattresses and bed frames for sale.  christian relic row, where you can get all your fancy candles and statues of jesus.  cheap hole-in-the-wall eateries row,  etc, etc.  i guess it makes shopping easier, knowing that if you want to get the best price on frankincense all you have to do is look around on this one block.

but then.  oh then, dear blog readers, then we stumbled upon something very intriguing .... Cake Slice Row.  on ONE BLOCK in cusco there were easily 7 to 10 different bakeries, several of them next door to each other (as the blocks are not very long).  these bakeries not only sold seemingly identical cakes, but also offered the option to buy cake by the slice for take-away.  this is a brilliant concept. 

there were typically 5 or 6 varieties of "to-go" cakes, : apple, chocolate, vanilla, black forest, strawberry, some things we couldn't recognize, etc.  you point to a cake (typically a long "log shaped" cake for easy slicing) and for the equivalent of 50 cents, they sliced off a big hunk-o-cake for you and wrapped it in waxed paper for you to eat while strolling the city streets.  genius.

this is especially useful if you've had a rough day.  for instance, maybe you trekked all the way out of town in hopes of getting a yellow fever vaccination so that you will be allowed to cross the border into bolivia, and then you find out that the clinic you were looking for isn't there because your guidebook wasn't as updated as you thought.  these are the days when we need a slice of yellow cake with dulce de leche frosting for the long defeated walk back into town.  (and we did eventually get our vaccinations, so we will not be spreading the amarillo fiebre around)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

oooh, i need a sexy woman. oooh, i need a dirty girl.

get your mind out of the gutter, dear blog readers! i'm talking about serious inca history here!

before we went on our 4-day trek on the inca trail, we did a little practice hike to a nearby archeological site called sacsayhuaman.  pronounced properly, it sounds like saxy whoa-man. pronounced like a dumb tourist, it sounds like sexy woman. get it?  don't be that guy, dear blog readers.  don't be that guy.

anyway,  sacsayhuaman is located right outside of town, on a nearby mountaintop, and consists of several different sites a few km away from each other.  although we were walking through the city to get there, we were actually "hiking" up very steep streets for a mile or so until we reached a church at the half-way point.  from this point we had quite the view of the city.  then we had another mile or so uphill, and of course some serious stone steps (why are the incas so obsessed with steps?)

up at the site a man who i thought was an official ticket taker convinced me that we should rent horses.  si, caballos!  there was some grumbling from the bolshevik about this one, as he wanted to walk the whole thing ourselves.  but i insisted that we wouldn't make it to all the different sites without horses.

now, it turns out that if you are on foot you have to walk mostly on the sides of streets and highways to get to the various different sites.  however, when travelling por caballo you are not allowed on the streets and highways, and you actually have to go through mountain passes in order to reach the different sites.  it was kind of like stepping into one of those old school marlborough ads from the magazines.  it was breath-taking.  slighty terrifying at times, since i'd never actually been on a horse through steep rocky terrain and was suddenly envisioning all sorts of christopher reeve scenarios, but breath-taking none-the-less.

and of course dear blog readers, there were llamas!  cute little baby llamas!  roaming around on mountain-sides!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

out of the mouthes of merchant children

so we're waiting on line to get into this gringo restaurant that serves breakfast all day ... stop me if you've heard this one ... and there is a couple in front of us, the man is white and the woman is black.  out of the corner of my eye i see a merchant child selling postcards, making his way over to try to sell his wares to those of us stuck on the line.  i avert my eyes and he passes us by, going instead to the couple ahead of us.

he walks up to the woman all proper-like, extending his hand to her.  and then he says with great sincerity, "please to meet you michelle obama!  you like to buy postcards?"

and that dear blog readers is why peruvian children can sell me almost anything.

the blog of bad pants

there is a plague that is sweeping the city of cusco, and that plague is bad pants.  bad bad pants.  now, don't get me wrong blog readers, it's not los peruanos that are wearing the bad pants.  in fact, i feel that the people of peru are a very nicely dressed people: nothing too flashy, keeping it respectable.  sometimes you'll see women in traditional peruvian costume, typically while holding a baby llama and asking you if you want to pay to have your picture taken with them, but it is the gringos who are wearing the bad pants, and the gringos alone.

i have made it my mission to capture these pants on film whenever i encounter them.  for you, dear blog readers, for you.  because i am that devoted.

the pants in question are a multi-colored sort of hippie granola-crunching pajama pant mash-up.  this has lead the bolshevik and i to ask the question, "why do people who supposedly love nature and the outdoors choose to dress so poorly?"

now, we have "hiking clothes," which are useful clothes made out of breathable quick dry materials for use while hiking in the mountains.  they aren't the most fashionable things: khaki colored pants with many pockets, solid colored sporty looking tops, but there is a functionality there.  however, these bad pants seem to serve no purpose.  maybe they are comfortable?  i mean, they look comfortable to sleep in. but i wouldn't be caught dead wearing them in public.  i'd rather be wearing my gym clothes in public, at least people would think that i am a motivated active person, as opposed to a slovenly bum.

(please note that in the photo at left, these two guys were traveling together, wearing identical bad pants.  this is a double faux pas.  one time in the same area i saw a guy in the bad pants with a matching shirt.  he looked like he had escaped from some sort of hippie prison/commune.  sadly i didn't have my camera to capture that one)

now, these pants are for sale at many of the little tourist shops in peru.  i've seen miles and miles of boldly colored pants for sale.  this leads me to a "chicken vs. egg" type question.  do gringos wear the pants because peruvians are selling them, and the gringos think it is traditional peruvian garb?  OR, have gringos brought their own ugly pants to peru, thinking that in mountain towns you must dress like a fool.  and then the peruvians caught on, seeing a potential tourist market, and began selling them here, along with the typical trinkets and jewelry?

either way i hope the peruvians are having a good laugh, (and making some good money) selling ugly pants to gringos, that they themselves would never wear.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the british columbians (the opinions and ideas expressed in this blog post are not representative of this blogger's ideas and opinions regarding all british columbians. this blogger intends no disrepect to british columbia and/or its inhabitants)

there is a little something i forgot to mention about our trek.  you see, i didn't want to taint my travelogue with a whole load of complaining.  but now that i have shown you how amazing our trip was, i can do a little kvethcing.  the gloves are off people!

so we met the british columbians at orientation, and everything out of their mouths was negative.  to be fair, it was more the woman that complained about things.  the man didn't speak much, and when he did it was often indiscernable, much like the way paddington bear speaks.

the woman began by complaining about what equipment came with the tour and what didn't.  now on the tour company's website (and in every e-mail the tour company sent me) there are VERY CLEAR lists of what equipment is included, what equipment isn't, and what is recommended for you to bring with you.  did they read this?  oh no, the day before the tour mrs. british columbia is huffing and puffing that walking sticks are not included.  did we know this?  yes.  did we go to a local shop and rent walking sticks for less than a dollar a day?  yes.

moving on!  then we discussed the porters.  the british columbians did not want to carry anything and would be hiring two porters to carry their things.  fine.  but when our fearless guide explained that the porters take your things and then transport them up the mountain for you with jedi speed so that said things are waiting for you at your tent, mrs. british columbia had a thing or two to say about this.

apparently, she wanted the porter to walk with her at all times, so that she could access whatever she may need at any time. now,  most people had a very small bag that included: water, jacket, camera, and a snack, which was very very light and they carried that with them while the porters carried their heavy stuff, like their sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and 4 days worth of clothes.  no, mrs. british columbia cannot carry her own water.  she wanted the porter to act as an indentured servant and fetch her things for her as needed.  

our fearless guide explained that the porter cannot walk that slow, it's actually painful for them.  and that she would carry the three or four personal items she needed throughout the day and the porter would take the rest.   then there was much muttering back and forth between the british columbians, and the bolshevik and i exchanged knowing looks, dreading what would happen on the trail with these people.

now, the bolshevik and i assumed that since the british columbians seemed to be rather clueless and easily bothered, that they probably hadn't traveled much.  but once we we were on the trek, we quickly learned that they had traveled all over the world.  they had lived in china, south korea, europe, vancouver, etc.  then we found out that they were currently touring the continent of south america.  the bolshevik asked some questions and with a sigh of relief we found out that they were traveling in the opposite direction as us.  phew! 

but then we realized a little something.  here were the british columbians spending months touring south america ... did they know any spanish?  no.  now, i understand that if you tour europe or asia, since there are so many languages spoken you may choose just to rely on english.  but in south america, aside from brazil, spanish is the only language spoken.  how can you travel around for months without bothering to pick any of it up?  we had to wonder .... "do these people just travel the world, oblivious to the fact that they are annoying the crap out of everyone around them?"  the answer is yes.
so far this may seem a bit petty.  oh dear blog readers, i am saving the best for last ...

the last night we all sat around the tent discussing what to tip the porters.  it is customary to tip the porters, the cook, and your guide.  let's recap:  the porters carried everything up a fucking mountain for us.   but the british columbians were very upset at the idea that they would have to tip anyone.

mrs. british columbia said, and i quote, "but it's their job, isn't it?"

yes, it is their job to schlep our stuff up a mountain for four days like pack mules.  sadly for them, that is their job.  i'm sure they're not paid very well, nor do i expect that they receive medical & dental insurance.

the group decided that each person would contribute s/150 (soles) for the tips.  this is the equivalent of about $50 american dollars per person, to be split up amongst 9 porters, 1 cook, and our guide.  this is not a lot of money people (although generous in the peruvian economy).  i've tipped people in nyc way more for doing way less. i won't even tell you what i tip my hair stylist.

but the british columbians stood firm that they did not want to tip, that it was ridiculous, and that we were being very american.  now, i am not a big patriot, but one thing we do well in the states is tip our service providers. and i stand by that!   (a dollar a drink at bars, 20% at restaurants, 20% for taxis, $2-3 per suitcase at the airport)

after much fighting between the british columbians and the rest of the group, we collected the money from everyone.  and wouldn't you know it, every single person gave in s/150 each ... except for the british columbians, who gave in s/150 for the two of them.  yup, they tipped half.  (and they used more porters than any other duo in the group)

but wait, there's more!

after the tipping, the porters went off to pack things up for the evening.  our fearless leader explained about our morning options.  as i explained before, we needed to wake up at 3:45 for two reasons:
1.  to see the sun appear from behind the mountains at the sun gate, and watch the breathtaking view of machupicchu becoming drowned in sunlight.
2.  if we didn't leave on time, the porters would miss the local train, and being unable to afford the "tourist" train, they would inevitably WALK BACK TO CUSCO.

now i'll tell you blog readers, i was tired.  and i would've loved to sleep "late" until 6 am, but i couldn't do that to the porters.  however, mr. and mrs. british columbia had a lot to say about the matter. they didn't want to have to walk when it was dark.  they didn't want to have to wake up early.  they didn't see what was so great about a sunrise.  etc, etc.

so eventually the group decided to vote.  we voted 5 to 2 that we wake up at 3:45 am.  who were those 2 opposing votes?  well, when the vote was cast mrs. british columbia said, "all for a sunrise?  really?  just to see the sunrise we have to wake up so early? won't the sun have risen before we get to the gate anyway?"

i wanted to say, "no, you dumb cunt.  we're waking up at 3:45 so as to not fuck over the porters."  but i kept my mouth shut.

in the morning we painfully awoke at 3:45.  we went to the breakfast tent for breakfast, and everyone was moving very quickly.  the porters were trying to serve us breakfast while simultaneously packing up the entire camp so that they wouldn't miss their train. 

after scarfing our breakfast, everyone left the breakfast tent to get their stuff and head for the check point.  everyone that is, except the british columbians.  they were in their tent eating painfully slowly, much like spoiled children who didn't get their way.  the porters were running around the outside of the tent packing up the remaining camp items, and one of them eventually took the light out of the dining tent.  then from inside i hear mr. paddington bear exclaim, "well i can't very well eat my breakfast without any light!"  and thus ended breakfast for the british columbians.

by the time the british columbians left the breakfast tent, the entire camp was deserted.  all the other campers and porters were long gone.  well, except for our little group of hikers who were waiting for the BCs to get their act together.  then mr. and mrs. british columbia stormed up to our fearless guide and told him that they were refusing to hike.

say what?

it went something like this:

BCs: we told you last night that we would not hike in the dark
fearless guide: yes but we must if we are to make it to the checkpoint.  please, everyone is waiting.
BCs:  you can't make us hike when it's dark out.  it's dangerous.
fearless guide: we do this every week.  it will be fine.  we will go slowly and by the time we pass the checkpoint it will be lighter.  [checking his watch]  the checkpoint has already opened.  if we wait too long there will be a line.
BCs: we can't walk in the dark!  we don't have flashlights!
[this is actually a bold-faced lie.  they had flashlights.  i saw them.  and we all had flashlights, and some people even had headlamps.]
fearless guide: [wishing he could curse these people out but wanting to keep his job] it clearly says in the brochures that we wake up at 4 am the last day.  it says that.
BCs: we said last night that we would not hike in the dark!  this is ridiculous!  i can't believe this is how you run things!
me: [thinking that no one talks to our fearless guide that way] we voted last night that we would wake up early.  you guys never refused  to hike.
BCs: we agreed to wake up early, but not to hike in the dark.  this is absurd!
bolshevik: [tag-teaming like a proper NYCer] you can't have it both ways!  you understood that we were waking up early to hike to the sun gate by sunrise.  therefore you must have understood that it would be dark before the sunrise.

at this point our fearless guide was a little overwhelmed at having two brooklynites join the argument.  so he told us to go with the rest of the group (please read: non-whiners) to wait for him at a little lodge right before the check point.  so the "good group" walked to the lodge in the dark (which really wasn't difficult or dangerous since everyone had a flashlight) and then we waited about 20 minutes for our fearless leader to placate the BCs.

the bolshevik and i were determined not to let these selfish british columbians ruin the last leg of our trek.  so we high-tailed it to the sun gate, successfully making it in time to have the sun shine upon us as it emerged from behind the mountains.  we watched as machupicchu was quickly flooded in light.

and then, from behind us, we heard mrs. british columbia chime in with her typical words of wisdom, "it's quite small, isn't it?  i thought it would be a lot bigger, didn't you?  it's really rather small."

yeah, you fucking idiot.  when you are on top of a mountain, looking at an ancient city on another mountain peak about a mile away, it will look small.  IT'S FAR AWAY!  things look smaller when you're far away from them.  then they get bigger as you get closer.  grrrrrrr.

and for their last trick, just to slow the group down a little more, the british columbians somehow got "lost" walking down the one-way path to machupicchu.  yup.  all you have to do is walk.  there is only one direction to go.  down.  no steps.  easy as pie.  just head towards the ancient inca city on that mountain over there.  a monkey could do it.

but somehow when the entire group had walked the hour to the ticket booths to get inside machu picchu, the BCs were nowhere to be found.  our fearless guide actually had to go back and look for them.  then when he found them,  climbing around on some random rocks off the side of the trail, knowing we were all waiting for them, they complained that his instructions were somehow unclear and they didn't understand that they needed to walk on the path that goes straight to machupicchu (with no other possible offshoots of said path to possibly follow.  one way.  this was somehow unclear to these passive-aggressive selfish idiots.)

and then after our tour of machupicchu, we bid a much-anticipated adieu to the british columbians.  hopefully to never ever see them again.

the end.

Monday, May 24, 2010

inca trail addventures day 4: the arrival to machupicchu

there are two reasons we woke up at 3:45 am on the last day
1.  if you wake up really early and hike your ass off, rushing past other groups on the trail, you can get to the "sun gate" in time to watch the sun rise above the mountains and shine onto machupicchu.

2.  (pay attention because this information will come back later!) we were informed that if the porters leave late they will miss their train back to cusco.  apparently, peru rail only has two "local" trains a day, one at like 5:30 am and one at night.  there are more expensive "tourist" trains during the day, but the porters cannot afford the tourist trains.  so what happens if the porters miss their early train, you ask?  don't they just wait 12 hours for the evening train?  no, dear blog readers.  these badass porters actually WALK back to cusco, with all the shit they've been carrying for 4 days.  now, as much as it pains me to wake up at 3:45 am, i couldn't live with myself if i chose to sleep late and then forced the porters to walk the 30 or so miles back to cusco.  and i'm sure they don't get paid extra if they miss their train and walk.

so with much grumbling (more about this later!) we all eat breakfast in the dark and then make our way, flashlights in hand, to the sun gate.  now, we were told that everyone is trying to rush to the sun gate at the same time so the bolshevik and i decide that we are going to pull out all the stops and use our last bits of energy to get to the sungate as quickly as possible.  even though i was wearing my backpack again, i was a renewed woman, zipping past all these suckers who were stopping to do such silly things as taking pictures and trying to breathe.  we watched as the sky got brighter and brighter, hoping that we would make it to the sun gate before the sun appeared from behind the mountains.

our fearless guide had told us that right before the sun gate there would be "50 steps."  fifty steps?  that's all you got?  according to our fearless guide we had already done 3,000 steps!  what's another fifty?  but when we got to the fifty steps we were a bit alarmed when we saw that they were straight up.  more than "steps" i would say they were 50 stone notches in a wall.  instead of walking up them as one would walk up stairs, we had to ditch our walking sticks and crawl up them one by one.  halfway up i had to stop to pant for air for a while, but eventually i made it to the top.

we walked through the stone pillars of the sun gate and once we were through we could see machupicchu below us on the other side of the mountain.  it was still shrouded in darkness, and we breathed a sigh of relief that after all our hardwork (and some annoyances that will be discussed later) we had made it in time for the sunrise.

a few minutes later the sun emerged from behind the mountains, with an incredible brightness.  one of the guides explained that it you put your hands in the shape of a diamond (as though you were singing twinkle twinkle little star), the sun would shine on you through the diamond shape and the gods would grant you a wish.

then over the course of ten or fifteen minutes the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, completely illuminating machupicchu.  and then we set off for the last hour of our hike to actually reach the site of machupicchu.

walking around the site of machupicchu was spectacular.  it is so vast and impressive.  it is amazing to think of anyone hiking through the mountains to this spot and then building such a huge organized city.  and, our fearless guide explained that the incans built aqueducts below the city, which still work today.  incredible.

one thing i was not prepared for was the llamas.  a large number of llamas live in machupicchu and walk around, showing no fear of tourists.  our fearless guide explained that the llamas act as "lawn mowers" eating all the grass and weeds, and keeping machupicchu "well fertilized."  clever.

after exploring the vast inca city, the bolshevik and i were pretty tuckered out.  soon we took the bus to aguas calientes town, where we had lunch and beers with our guide and some of our fellow hikers.  then we checked into our treehouse hotel room and took a nice long nap.

the end.

Friday, May 21, 2010

inca trail adventures: day 3 OR short shorts and sacrificing virgins

on day three i awoke from the tent feeling a sinking feeling of dread when contemplating putting my backpack on my back for a 16 km day of hiking.  even though our fearless guide assured us that day 3 was significantly easier than day 2, i was feeling the burn.  my knees were not happy after all those steps.  ¡ay mis rodillas!  ¡no mas gradas!

so while the bolshevik was busy packing up his things, i snuck out of the tent all stealth-like, found our fearless guide, and asked him if it was possible for one of our fabulous porters to carry my crap for a day.   there are actually very strict rules about how much the porters are legally allowed to carry.  porters have rights too, you know.  but thankfully our fearless guide assured me that they would be able to carry my bag for the day.  i know, dear blog readers, i know.  i totally pussied out.  but you know what?  day three, sans backpack .... fuckin' awesome.

let me tell you a little something about the inca trail ... legally, there are only 500 per day allowed on the trail.  and even though these people are from all different tour groups and countries etc, you wind up passing and being passed by the same people every day.  like this man, for instance.  now, i don't know if you can quite tell from the picture, but this man's shorts were miniscule.  and, there were slits on the sides of the shorts, making them even shorter.  it was hard to get a good shot, but often when i would see him coming i would avert my eyes for fear that i might accidentally sneak a peek at his balls.  seriously people, how is this useful hiking attire?  i'm new to the hiking world and all, but i'm thinking long shorts or pants.

moving on!
in addition to the aforementioned sights, we also saw some inca sights.  phew.  at this particular sight our fearless guide explained that the incans would find the most beautiful girls in the empire and bring them to live in this place.  i started imagining a harem of beautiful women in togas (i don't know why, since the incans didn't wear togas).  they probably would lounge around and discuss art and politics while eating grapes and being adored from afar by the empire's men.  sadly our fearless guide explained that only the most beautiful women would be collected here and then sacrificed to the gods.   not cool, incans.  not cool.  but they certainly know how to build them some archeological sights.

after the inca sights, we got to hike through the cloud forest, which was quite lovely.  it was all tropical trees, flowering vines and fluttering butterflies.

and then came more steps.

the last couple hours of hiking was all steps again.  and even without my backpack it was killer on my knees after a while.  and that pesky bolshevik, he was flying ahead of me, backpack and all.  no fair. 

towards the end of the day we were racing to get to our campsite before sundown.  and on the way we caught this glimpse of machu picchu mountain.  of course the inca site is on the other side and you can't see anything, but it was exciting none-the-less.

end of day three.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

inca trail adventures: day 2 OR the slowest most boring game of tag ever

over a lovely breakfast of quinoa porridge, our fearless guide explained to us that the second day of the inca trail is the hardest.  it is about a 14 km hike, and the first 4 or so hours are a steep uphill climb.  yay! 

at this point in time i'd like to discuss the make-up of our group.  there was the bolshevik and i, both young fit whippersnappers.  then there were two gentlemen in their late 40s early 50s.  and get this ... they were both librarians!  3 out of 7 members of our group were librarians.  crazy!  anyway, then there was a man traveling alone who was 60.  and then there was an older british columbian couple, we believe the woman was in her mid to late 60s, and the man his early 70s.  so the bolshevik and i are thinking that we are going to be the shining stars of this group, no?  i mean, these people are old, right?  how can they compete with the likes of us?

well, as soon as i put my backpack on i was feeling not-so-hot.  the soreness from the day before was creeping in, and i had a long road ahead.  no sooner than we started, the elderly british columbians shot up the mountain, out of sight for the rest of the day.  granted, they weren't carrying anything (nada.  more about this later), but still you'd think that a backpack would at most be an equalizer between us and two senior citizens.  not so.  these guys kicked our asses.  they made it to the top hours before us.

the first hour or so of the hike was pleasant, even with the steepness.  we were suddenly surrounded by a completely different type of environment:  huge trees with big broad green leaves, beautiful flora and fauna, lovely shaded areas.  it was difficult, and every few minutes we would need to take a little break to catch our breath, but overall it was so beautiful it was a fine experience.

and then came the steps.

after a while we were confronted with stone steps.  now, let me elaborate ... these are not stairs made out of stone.  these are crude step-like structures that have very uneven surfaces and vary greatly in spacing and height.  due to the uneven-ness, we had to take the steps extremely slowly, and often they were so high i needed to step up onto them, as though i was climbing onto something.  this was extremely tiring, then add the fact that i'm carrying all my crap on my back, it was downright exhausting.  also, during this portion of the trek, we seemed to lose the beautiful fauna and foliage of the morning, and were now in the beating hot sun.  fun!

soon, the bolshevik and i found ourselves shuffling along very slowly like slipper-clad inhabitants of a nursing home.  we would take a few small steps and then rest.  then shuffle our feet a bit more, and then rest.  we were moving, as our fearless guide would say, "slow like pregnant turtles."

but then dear blog readers, the bolshevik and i created a silly new game.  we call it The Slowest Most Boring Game of Tag Ever.  the rules are similar to regular tag.  one person is "it" and he or she must tag the other person, making them "it."  however, instead of running around and being chased and other fun aspects of tag, we were instead very very very slowly trudging up an extremely steep mountain path in the andes.

it went something like this:
bolshevik: [three feet behind me, and speaking in an old person's voice] i'm gonna get you, miss dewey decimal.  i'm hot on your trail!
me: [trying in vain to stay out of arms reach, while also speaking in an old person's voice] oh no you don't, bolshevik!  you'll never catch me!
[bolshevik eventually is able to gain a foot or two and tag me, then pass about three feet in front of me]
me: [waving a fist in the air] oh you bolshevik!  i'll get you yet!

and so on and so on, one of us very slowly passing the other every few minutes.  not to continually reference bugs bunny cartoons, but it was very much like that one where bugs bunny goes to the mad scientist's castle and a bottle of ether is somehow knocked over during a chase scene, and the mad scientist says "Come back ... here ... you ... rahhhh ... bittttt."

anyway, after two hours of these painstaking steps we eventually reached the top of the mountain.  quite literally, we were on a very pointy bit of mountain with nowhere to go but down.  it was very satisfying to finally make it to the top, and we took a nice long break once we got there, snacking on luna bars.

then when it was time to go down the other side, we thought it would be a snap to go downhill.  NOT SO!  although it was certainly less tiring, since it didn't cause us to huff and puff like going uphill did, it was very challenging.  the entire two-hour hike downhill was also solely comprised of these uneven stone steps.  and as much as i wanted to walk down them quickly, as i would regular steps, it was impossible for fear of tumbling down several miles of rocky terrain.  every so often there would be a flat bit of path where we could walk at a normal speed and it felt like we were flying along, or maybe possibly gliding on roller skates.   either way it was a long journey to our camp, where again we passed out soon after dinner.

end of day two.

inca trail adventures: day 1

well dear blog readers, i am back from my adventure trekking through the andes.  so much has happened and i have several hundred pictures to sort through, but hopefully i can give you some interesting tidbits.

we were picked up at 5 am on the first day, and then i promptly fell asleep as soon as we were in the van.  about an hour later we went to what was referred to by our fearless guide as "porter village."  you see, there are porters.  now, don't get the wrong idea about the bolshevik and i.  we didn't hire any porters.  oh no.  that would have been sensible.  instead, we decided to be a couple of badasses and carry all our personal items ourselves.  but the porters carried the tents, kitchen supplies, food, etc.

anyhoo, at around 6 am we arrive in a small town where many of the porters live, and we are told that we will be having breakfast in one of their homes.  porter village is pretty much a dirt road town, with houses constructed from bricks made out of mud.  we walk through the town and there are chickens and donkeys and dogs roaming the streets. the bolshevik and i were particularly taken with this donkey that looked like he was trying to disguise himself as a bush, like they used to do in old looney tunes cartoons.

the house we had breakfast in was pretty much one large room with a dirt floor.  in one end of the house was a "kitchen" consisting of a hot plate and a brick oven.  in the center of the room was a long table for eating, with benches covered in llama fur.  then behind the table was a cushioned area for sleeping.  our tour group sat around the table eating a lovely breakfast of breads and cheeses and potatoes and corn, and of course, coca tea.  while dining, we notice a lot of free range guinea pigs scurrying around on the floor.  we were informed that these were called cuy and that on special occasions they would be eaten for dinner.  poor little cuy.

and then we were off!

the first day of our hike was the easiest.  much of it was walking on a flat dirt path, which afforded us such spectacular views as this one.  if you look closely, you can actually see a glacier in the background behind the clouds.

we also would pass by very small farming communities on the way, many of which set up little stands selling water and other bottled drinks, as well as snacks.  i was surprised to see civilization while on the hike, but it really only lasted the first and second day.  after that, we were in no-man's land.

now let me explain a little something about the porters.  they range in age from about 20 to 60, and every single one of them is a super jedi master.  these guys were incredible. each of them carried huge sacks on their backs, containing several people's backbacks, sleeping bags, etc.  other porters carried huge office-sized water cooler bottles on their backs, tents, food, cooking implements, etc.  not only were they carrying about 30 pounds of stuff each, but they flew up the mountain.  FLEW!  we'd be trudging along and then all of a sudden a porter would be right on top of us trying to get around our sorry asses.

anyway, at lunch time we would stop at these little camping grounds along the way and by the time we got there the porters would have already set up dining room tents (we ate in a dining room!), created a temporary kitchen, and had lunch underway.  our meals were amazing.  i wish i had a picture of them but i was too mesmerized by the movable feast before me to stop and get my camera.  we typically had a soup (different soups each day), bread, cheeses, salads, a vegetarian option or two, meats, pastas, rice, etc.  then we would have some coca tea before heading back onto the trail.  their culinary accomplishments were truly incredible.  better than some restaurants. 

on day one, we also passed some inca sites.  many of these sites are inaccessible unless you do a multi-day hike like we did.  so we felt pretty cool about that.

then, after 12 km of hiking, we made it to our camp.  now we didn't realize how quickly it gets dark in the mountains.  but the sun sets at about 5:30 and by 6:30 it's pitch black outside.  we had imagined that we'd be up at night reading books by flashlight, or playing cards by a fireside.  but after dinner, we promptly passed out.

end of day one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

gone hiking, be back soon

i had this great plan that i would write a bunch of blog postings and have them post once a day while i am gone on the inca trail.  sadly, i didn´t get my act together on that one.  tomorrow morning i leave on a 4 day trek to machu picchu, so you won´t be hearing from my until we get back sunday.  assuming we don´t pass out as soon as we get back.  oh my beloved blog readers, how will you survive without me?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

llama llama

here in cusco there is a huge beautiful plaza in the center of the city called plaza de armas.  it is truly truly gorgeous, and even though i've been there several times now, i still feel my spirit lifted every time i go there.  with that said, there is a downside to plaza de armas.  tourists.  who me?  yes me.  due to the overwhelming number of tourists in the plaza, you cannot walk through without being accosted by people trying to sell you jewelry, drag you into their restaurant, get you to buy a massage, etc etc.  i'd say in the time it takes to cross the plaza, you'd be getting off pretty easy if only three or four people ask you to buy something or partake in their services.

but sometimes i just can't resist.  the other day a little girl was selling these finger puppets and when i saw that there was a llama finger puppet i just had to buy it.  i am a sucker for odd animals portrayed in toys (i have bought my niece an emu beanie baby and a coatimundi stuffed animal)

the llama only cost a sole, which is a little less that 30 cents.  so no skin off my back, really.  but when the bolshevik questioned what i would possibly do with a llama finger puppet (aside from compose this lovely photo which itself is already worth more than 30 cents) i explained that when we go to lake titicaca (he he he) we are supposed to bring little toys for the children.  see, i am weeks ahead of the game!  i have a little toy for a child!

but then, later in the week another small child asked me to buy a finger puppet, and i had to put my foot down.  i mean, i can't buy finger puppets from everyone.  it went something like this:

boy: hey lady!  want to buy a finger puppet?
me: [waving him away] no gracias.
boy: [jogging after me] why no?  buy a finger puppet!
me: [quickening my pace] no gracias.  i already have one.
boy: [still following along my side] why no?  you have ten fingers and ten toes.  why no buy more?
me: [at a loss for words at such fine logic]

and then dear blog readers, just before i was about to break down and buy another finger puppet, the boy stopped dead in his tracks as though he had run into a force field.  i've actually seen this happen with other child vendors, and then i realized something.  we had reached a corner and he was not allowed to cross the street.  but it does seem likely that by the time i leave cusco i may have a puppet for each finger, and maybe even a few toes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

the mysterious "belgian" woman part 2 OR meeting people is easy

for reasons i cannot disclose at this time (please read: the bolshevik asked me to "hold off" on it), i was on my own yesterday afternoon.  so after writing for several hours, and then watching the most recent episode of america's next top model (it took forEVER to download), i decided to visit the shop of the "belgian" woman's ex-husband.

i entered the shop and it was more or less what i thought it would be: silver jewelry with large stones, flowy shapeless hippie dresses, incense, bongo drums, you know the drill.  i began looking around all inconspicuous-like, and the handsome peruvian behind the counter said, "anything you like you can try on: jewely, clothes. you try whatever you like."  then he hopped off his stool with a little swagger and said "you can try me if you like."

yeah, this is our guy.

i politely thanked him and told him i was just looking around.  as i perused the store's wares i realized i had no game plan.  nada.  and really, at the end of the day i am the kind of person who loathes talking to strangers.  i do not start up conversations with people i don't know.  i do not ask people questions about themselves unless it is part of social banter at a bar or party.  i believe i have inherited this from my mother, who throughout my life has refused to befriend any of her neighbors.

anyway.  i was about to leave this shop with my tail between my legs, having not found out any useful information for you, my beloved blog readers.  but then as i was walking out the door, the young peruvian asked me my name.  now, i hate telling strangers my name.  maybe Stranger Danger sunk in all too well with me, but i feel like if you tell someone your name, then suddenly they're going to scam you.  but then i remembered the task at hand.

i told him my name and he jumped up from his stool and hugged me, giving me a peck on the cheek.  well, i didn't see that one coming.

mucho gusto! he said, and then he told me his name is marco (names have been changed to protect the innocent).  he asked me where i am from, and i fought every unfriendly bone in my body and told him i'm from new york.  then he jumped up again.  "i love new york!" he said, and gave me another hug.  "i love the movies!"

so we had a little chat about new york.  it turns out he has never been, but he loves the tall buildings he's seen in films.  then he asked me if i'd like to have a cup of tea.  he pointed to the counter where there are mugs and tea bags and such.  "it's on me," he said.  "sit and have some tea."

again, it is against my every instinct to have tea with him, but then i remembered i am a super sleuth travel writer now, and i must do this for the greater good.

i asked him if he had coca tea, which i have grown quite fond of, and he proudly showed me that he makes his coca tea with real coca leaves, and not with teabags.

soon enough we were drinking our tea and having a nice little chat.  he asked me if i had a boyfriend, and i explained yes i do in fact have a boyfriend, but he is not with me today.  then marco said that he is an "iron man" and that if i were to switch over to him, i would be much better off.  i thanked him, but stood firm that i was sticking with the bolshevik.

then he began to tell me about an ex-girlfriend of his.  of course, i was reeling at this point.  here i was having tea with the ex-husband of the mysterious "belgian" woman and he was about to give up all sorts of information.

marco: i have this girlfriend.  no.  how do you say you have, but no more?
me:  had
marco:  si, had.  i had a girlfriend once from .... oh what was the name ... cincinnati
me:  [damned!] oh really?  do you only like american girls?
marco:  no, i date all women!  i do not care where they are from, or if they have blonde hair and blue eyes.  i like them for their minds and who they are.
me: [starting to think this guy isn't so bad] what happened with her?
marco: well, she went back to the US and she called me only once.  she said she would call me every day.  but she never called again.

he went on to explain that she was a medical student and that she told him she was too busy to call him.  then he said that he saw a picture of her in her medical lab coat on facebook and he wondered, "how come she has time to download pictures, but not call me?" he said, "now, i do not trust girls who live far away.  i don't believe what you say if you live far away.  but if you are here with me, then i trust you."

awwww.  poor marco.

then i asked him where he was from, thinking that i didn't want to dwell on the hearbreak of cincinnati girl.  "i am a child of the universe!" he exclaimed.  and suddenly i could really see him and the mysterious "belgian" woman hitting it off.

"but really," he said, "i am from lima.  i have been in cusco for two years."

marco then told me how when he lived in lima, he worked at the mcdonald's in miraflores as a deliveryman.  i found this very interesting, and i explained to him that in the US mcdonalds doesn't deliver.  he was quite taken aback by that.  he told me that he had a little motorcycle with a mcdonalds basket in front and he would ride around the city doing deliveries, and then he would take breaks by the beach and smoke joints. 

then we went on to discuss cusco, and i said i thought it was very beautiful.  he agreed and said, "cusco has taught me many great things.  i have met great people.  and learned how to be a great person."

wow.  at this point i was starting to think that maybe this wasn't the guy.  because, eccentricities aside, he was actually turning out to be a pretty decent stand-up guy.

i asked him if he owned the shop, and he said no, he only worked there.  around this time some other customers came in and they began speaking in spanish.  now, eavesdropping in spanish isn't easy but i didn't my best.

the two people came in and told marco that they were from sweden.  now this raised a bit of a flag because the "belgian" woman is from sweden.  then marco pointed to a large merchant's license mounted on the wall and said the wife of the shop owner was from sweden.  aha!

i took a good look at the picture on the license.  the man pictured was a large tough-looking rastafarian guy.  hmmm, not what i had expected for the "belgian" woman's husband.

after the swedes left, i asked marco where the shop owner was.  "oh, he's probably home smoking joints," he said.  nice.

marco told me how much he loves working in a shop and talking with people.  i concurred that he is very friendly, and it had been lovely chatting with him.  then, seeing that there was no more investigating to be done, and feeling that i did not want to take up any more of marco's time, i decided to head out.  marco hugged me a third time, and asked me to please stop in again before i left. 

so what have we learned about the mysterious "belgian" woman?  absolutely nothing.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

south american explorers club

we are members of a very exclusive club! (see doctored membership card at right)  yup, we are official members of the South American Explorers Club!  (not to be mistaken for the Clean Plate Club, which according to my mother we can be members of if we finish our dinner) ... one of the many perks of membership to SAE is baggage storage.

now, we had a little problem with baggage coming here.  we overpacked.  i'll admit it.  i am typically an overpacker, but the two of us went overboard with this trip.  part of the problem is that since we will be traveling through various climates and temperatures we need a variety of different things.  then we will be settling down in buenos aires, and we'll need our regular day-to-day things there.  so when we tried to get on the plane in new york we were met with some serious baggage overage problems.  we very nearly had to pay for extra tickets for our luggage!  but luckily the saintly woman behind the counter was able to do some sleight of hand tricks, and got us onto the plane for a much smaller fee.

anyhoo, yesterday we dropped off our extra baggage at the south american explorers club (you know, all the stuff we won't need until argentina, which is still a few weeks away).  luckily we had the good sense to take a cab because shown here are the endless cobblestone steps which we would have had to climb up with luggage in tow. 

now, the bolshevik doesn't really know what i've packed in this extra luggage.  sure he saw me pack about 12 or 13 dresses and we had a good laugh about that.  but i think he will be rather shocked when he sees me pull out pair after pair of calf-high boots from my bag, similar to the endless exodus of clowns from a clown car.  shhhhh, don't tell him what's in there!

then last night we went to a pub trivia night hosted by the SAE.  now, the bolshevik and i are both some smarty-pantses, so we thought we had this one in the bag.  but sadly, it was harder than we thought.  where were the literature questions?  or movies and music?  instead there was sports, car logos, country outlines.  in the end, we placed 7 out of 9 teams, but in our defense we were the only team of two.  most teams were 4 or more.  the bolshevik has taken this loss to heart and never wants to return to the pub again.  but i on the other hand am obsessed and want to return every week, twice a week if necessary, until we can leave victorious.

p.s.  do you know what the first human invention to break the sound barrier was?  i do, but the bolshevik didn't believe me and then we got the question wrong.

the mysterious "belgian" woman

i have gotten permission from the bolshevik to publish my version of this story first, even though he had "called it."  hopefully he will write his soon so that we can all compare ...

back when we were in lima: 
one night we were rather tired after a long day of sightseeing and eating peruvian deliciousness, so we wound up coming back to our hostal on the early side.  to get to our room we had to go all the way to the roof garden, and then take another set of stairs to the top floor.  at the roof garden level there was a woman smoking cigarettes sort of in the shadows.  she greeted us in spanish, and then we went on our way.

for some reason the bolshevik needed to go back down to get something, and when he returned he said that the woman had invited him (and by default, me) to a reggae show because she was traveling by herself and didn't want to go out alone at night.
obviously the first thing i thought was
1.  what a wuss
then 2.  why is this woman mackin' on my man?

but the bolshevik assured me that he made it quite clear that he had a girlfriend, that girlfriend being me.  it is important to note that one of the reasons the bolshevik was eager to go to the show, was that he had learned that this woman was from cusco, and since we would be in cusco the following week, it would be advantageous for us to talk to her (this ties back in later)  so after some prodding and some gussying up, i agreed to go to the show.

but when we returned to the roofgarden the woman was nowhere to be found.  of course, i used this opportunity to taunt the bolshevik mercilessly.  it went something like this.

me:  so where is your mysterious belgian woman?  huh?  huh?
bolshevik: she's from sweden.  and she's not mysterious.  you saw her twenty minutes ago.
me:  yeah right, like she really exists.

we waited around awhile, wondering if the mysterious "belgian" woman would return.  then we decided to go to the lobby to buy a bottle of water, and lo and behold the mysterious "belgian" woman was chatting up the guy at the front desk.

so then off the three of us went like peas in a pod.  now, i quickly decided that i did not care for this belgian woman.  she had that kind of flowy hippie dippie free spirit child-of-the-earth thing going for her that i do not relate to, nor do i particularly care for.

as we walked through the plaza the bolshevik asked her what she does in cusco.  "oh i owned a shop," she said.  "but i left that behind."  hmmm, red flag number one.

when we got to the bar, we found out that there was no reggae show.  in fact, we were the only three people there.  so we decided to get drinks and sit out on the balcony.  no big deal.  i figured we could excuse ourselves after a round or two and then be done with this woman.

the bolshevik had some trouble communicating with the bartender so then the "belgian" woman and i were left on our own.  not knowing what to say, i asked her about her shop.
"oh i make jewelry," she said, "and clothes and other things."
she pulled out some silver jewelry she had made, which was nice, and showed me some other trinkets that she crafts.
"i sold these in my shop.  well, now it is my husband's shop.  i mean, my ex-husband."
"you won't be working in the shop when you go back?" i asked.
"i'm not going back to cusco," she said.  "i left it all behind."  and she made some sort of airy motion with her hand like this was a very breezy decision.  red flag number two.

the bolshevik returned while she was giving me a business card for the shop that is now run by her seemingly very recent ex-husband.  of course, he didn't hear the part about the leaving it all behind.

while talking, she wrote down several places for us to check our while we are in cusco.  each time accentuating her advice with comments about how much she dislikes lima, and how dirty lima is, and how lima is so boring, and lima is dangerous, etc.  hmmm, odd ... then why did she come here?

the bolshevik eventually asked her when she was going back to cusco, and she reiterated that she is not going back.  in fact, she has no idea where she will go after lima.  red flag 2.5?

around this time, i began to notice that the mysterious "belgian" woman had a tendency of laughing after every few sentences.  whether or not this was a nervous tick,  a linguistic/cultural difference, or more likely a symptom of mental instability. i was not sure.  red flag number 3.

as we walked back to our hotel the mysterious "belgian" woman asked if we smoked pot.  now, i won't lie to you blog readers, back in the day i used to partake quite a bit.  but NO MORE!  luckily the bolshevik was quick enough to say something about not liking to do illegal things in foreign countries.  good save, bolshevik!

- let me interrupt the story for a moment to tell you that right outside of lima is a tall mountain with little houses all along the side.  from the look of it, i would assume the houses are rather meager and the people who live in them rather poor.  back to the story -

the mysterious "belgian" woman began to tell us that lima is so dangerous and such a terrible city and it isn't safe to go anywhere.  she explained that she and some friends had gone up the mountain to the little shacks in order to buy marijuana, and then after they purchased some marijuana they were stopped by a scary man with a gun who was shouting about them being "on his turf."  but after giving him some of their newly purchased pot, he let them go.  thus concluded her story of how dangerous lima is.  red flag number 4.

i don't want to sound prudish, as i do believe that marijuana should be legalized, but i think it is unfair to say that a place is dangerous, if you knowingly and purposefully go looking to buy drugs (typically sold by drug dealers) and are then upset that the criminal activity you are partaking in is happening in a "bad neighborhood." aren't you guilty of making the neighborhood bad?  would it have been a bad neighborhood had you not been consorting with drug dealers? i'm just saying.

anyway, eventually we made it back to our room. alone.  not knowing what the bolshevik was thinking about this whole encounter, i tried to keep it light.

"she was odd, no?"  i said.
"odd?" the bolshevik replied, "she was totally crazy."


so i then told the bolshevik the story of how this woman had confided in me that she had left her husband and her store and her whole life behind.  now let me tell you, the bolshevik usually does not enjoy gossip, much to my dismay.  usually, when i have a good piece of gossip, he isn't the least bit interested.  but he was really into this.  suddenly we were discussing potential reasons for her sudden departure, wondering who in the relationship was to blame.  then, we realized that when we get to cusco we can actually go to this shop and meet this guy!  obviously, we will not mention the mysterious belgian woman, but we can sniff around for clues.  maybe we can even ask some leading questions like "who made all these trinkets?"   i am curious to see if he is visably distraught, or if there are any signs that he may have be abusive.  the bolshevik thinks he is a wife beater.  not a tank top, but a violent spouse.  i personally think she is to blame, being a flighty flake type person.  only time will tell.

. . . to be continued in cusco

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

exploding toiletries

it seems as though being up at this altitude, and having 40% less oxygen than normal, has strange effects on many things.  first off, the bolshevik and i seem to get tuckered out pretty quickly.  usually we have lots of get-up-and-go, but after walking up hill for about 30 seconds, we get rather tired.  and this tiredness hits really quickly, like as though one minute you're fine and then the next minute you're kind of tipsy and goofy.  but we were prepared for this and have been drinking lots of water and partaking in the coca candy (we found a toffee version!  so yummy!), and i feel like we are almost back to normal now.

but one thing we did not expect was the effect that this altitude would have on our toiletries.  the first day we had walked around for a while, and we decided to take a break in the shade so that the bolshevik could put on sunblock.  he is a pale one, you know.  i was minding my own business when all of a sudden i hear the bolshevik mutter a stream of curse words, and then i notice a suspicious white liquid had splattered all over my sneaker as well as all over the ground.  my first thought was that a large pre-incan bird had shat on us.  but then i look over to the bolshevik and see that his sunblock was errupting on us, much in the style of a school science fair volcano.

now, i have seen this happen to stuff when you take it on a plane and then it somehow has to depressurize or something.  but this is way worse, there's a serious amount of force involved.  we do not exactly understand the science behind the phenomenon, but every time i open one of my toiletries for the first time i forget to point it away from me, and this happens all over again.  so far i have errupted sun block, shampoo, and facial moisurizer on myself.  we cannot help but wonder why there are no warning about this in our guidebooks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

no fucking way

so i was checking my bank account online to see if the YMCA really did cancel my membership and stop my automatic monthly payments, when lo and behold i noticed that my balance was significantly higher than i had expected.  this particular account i had only left open for emergency use, like if for some reason i had to send a check to someone.  so i was only supposed to have a couple hundred dollars in it.  but this was like, significantly significantly higher.

now, many of you may know that i have a bit of an aversion to math (hence why i will not switch over to the metric system!).  but when i had left my job at the library i was pretty sure i had calculated how much money i would be paid in backpay and unused vacation time and all that.  but apparently, i had underestimated something, because according to my bank statement, the day before i left my ex-employer deposited AN ADDITIONAL FULL PAYCHECK into my account!  say what?!  do you know how much that is in nueva soles?!  mucho mucho soles!

what is the lesson here?  everyone should quit their stable jobs and run away to other countries.

miss dewey decimal 

p.s.  this picture is of a convent/church here in cusco.  it has nothing to do with this post aside from the fact that i like pictures.

Monday, May 3, 2010

cocaine, breakfast of champions

ok, not really.  but since our arrival in cusco i have been enjoying the coco te, tea made from cocaine leaves.  apparently it is supposed to help alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.  it sort of tastes like a mild green tea mixed with freshly cut grass.  it's not half bad. 

we have also been sampling some of the coca candy.  it's a sticky sort of sucking candy, that tastes like a really sweet raisin with a hint of caramel.

i have no idea how effective these things are.  maybe it's all a scam.   but day 2 in the mountains and so far we are feeling fine.

off to work on the great american novel ...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

shhhh . . . we're resting

in typical south american fashion, we have been welcomed into cusco with a parade.  this one had less fanfare than our welcome to lima parade, but it did involve a couple of men in monkey suits, so how can we complain?

one of the big things about cusco is that it is at an extremely high elevation, and land-loving gringos like ourselves often get altitide sickness, or soroche.  so in order to fight off a potential soroche outbreak (does one have an outbreak of soroche? an onslaught perhaps?)  we are taking it easy.  we have been told not to exert ourselves or do anything strenuous. we played cards, ate lunch, had a quick stroll about town, and now we're back in the room .... resting ... as advised ... it's a little boring.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

the blogging competition OR couples who blog together stay together

if you examine my list of links, you will see that my beloved bolshevik has started his own travel blog.  actually, he started it over a year ago and just never wrote anything in it or published it.  but that is neither here nor there.  the point is, now the bolshevik and i are in a bit of a blogging competition.  when we witness something interesting or something of note, one of us needs to "call it," much like you would call "shotgun" or "not it."  i have tried adding punching into the act of "calling it," but i think we will keep the punching to when we play Man on a Horse with a Sword.

anyway, the other night we had an interaction with someone who i will refer to as The Mysterious Belgian Woman.  now, i tried to "call it" as my story, but the bolshevik said that since it was he that initiated the contact with this woman, then he gets first dibs on the story writing.  fine.  so now i am waiting on the bolshevik to write his version so that i may write and publish my version.  just to make it more interesting, there will be a part 2 to The Story of the Mysterious Belgian Woman once we arrive in cusco next week.  oooooh, stay tuned!

barranco: all easy listening soft jazz covers of the 80s, all the time

let me tell you something, dear blog readers.  lima is a 3 day city, 4 days max.  we've kinda run out of stuff to do.  but that hasn't stopped us from having a fine time.  yesterday we ventured out to the suburb of barranco, which is a very pretty little town built into the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  pretty nice, right?

after walking around for several hours the bolshevik and i went to this little restaurant with patio seating and a fantastic view.  they also had happy hour.  turns out that translates in spanish.  as soon as we sat down i noticed that an odd, sort of bossa nova style version of Madonna's Like a Virgin was playing.  well that suited me just fine.  i heart the 80s.  then when i received my cuba libre, which turns out is just a fancy name for rum & coke, i noticed i had an 80s themed stirrer, complete with portrait of the rock band Queen!  (the bolshevik's stirrer just had the name of the restaurant.  lame!)

as the night went on, we heard covers of The Cure, A-Ha, Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys, etc.  at first we thought it was some sort of novelty group doing these cover songs, but then we heard a commercial in between songs and realized it was actually a radio station.  now let me interject right here to tell you that these covers were not actually good.  oh no.  they were not fun interesting takes on already well-known, well-crafted pop-songs.  they were slow, emotionless versions of already inoffensive songs.  it was as though someone thought "oh i like Sade's Smooth Operator but how can i make it a little less provocative and less in-your-face?"  and apparently there is an entire radio station in peru devoted to this.  thank you, peru.

but my favorite part of the evening was when a young girl walked up to our table selling candy. she was in what i thought was a sort of girl scout uniform, but later the bolshevik explained it was a catholic school uniform. anyway, thinking that she was some sort of peruvian girl scout, i bought some candy from her. then she was suddenly quite taken with our drink stirrers. (our drinks were empty at this point so don't worry, we were not contributing to the inebriation of minors) and of course the girl didn't speak any english, so the interaction went something like this (i will translate for you)

girl: what are those?
me: they are for drinks. they are for, how do you say "mixing?" (then i mimed mixing with the stirrers)
girl: [blah blah blah unintelligible spanish]
me: i'm sorry, i don't understand
girl: [blah blah blah more unintelligible spanish]
me: i don't speak much spanish

and then dear blog readers, that cute little peruvian girl scout girl grabbed my freddy mercury drink stirrer and walked off with it! i would have protested, but she really was cute. and she seemed so taken with the drink stirrers. she was beating them together like drumsticks as she walked away ... possibly to the tune of a lounge lizard version of Tainted Love.