El viaje a la pura vida

My dear friend Caleb talks about traveling as oftentimes being “type-2 fun” in which “type-1 fun” is fun where you are having fun at that moment and you are aware of the fun as it is happening.  Type-2 fun is the kind of fun that’s experiential and sometimes difficult, but recounted later with increasing “do you remember when…?  That was insane”s.  Fully agreed.

I also find traveling as the kind of fun where you look for those moments where you recognize that something is happening and it’s not going to happen in your life again.  That’s why I travel, why I live abroad, and why I meander.

Meagan arrived late on Friday night to check out bits of Querétaro before we journeyed to Mexico City to fly to Costa Rica.  Our hostel stay in Mexico City was pleasant, and James Bond was filming his next film a block away.  So that’s a one-time experience.  Related:  I love urban metro systems.  The Mexico City Metro is definitely type-2 fun.


IMG_1758We flew into San Jose on Monday.  Arriving to San Jose, as I recalled from last time but was again reminded, is type-2 fun.  It’s an exercise in complete chaos.

Last time I flew into San Jose (alone, with a few-year lapse in my Spanish usage), my arrival went something like this.

Me:  aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhggguhhohgod
Cabbie:  Need a ride?
Me:  Okie dokie.
Cabbie:  Where to?
Me:  The bus station in Alajuela, which will take me to La Fortuna.
Cabbie:  Yeah, OK, except it’s a holiday, so none of the buses are running.
Me [unaware, naive]:  aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhggguhhohgod
Cabbie:  No problem.  I’ll drive you around for 45 minutes making you think I’m taking you into San Jose.
Me:  Okie dokie.

Much time passes.

Me:  I am unaware or unsure of what to do or how to proceed.
Cabbie:  No problem!  I’ll take you to this dirty and terrifying hostel in a terrible part of town and abandon you in the middle of a thunderstorm.  Also, I will tell you that you need to give me the equivalent of US$120 before I will let you out of my cab.|
Me [robbed, naive]:  aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhggguhhohgod

For the record, the remainder of that trip to Costa Rica was incredible, but I was understandably apprehensive.  We eventually found a cab that took us to the wrong bus station, then another to the side of the Pan-Am Highway, instructing us to just hang out for an hour and a half and flap our hands at the bus that would come by labeled “Monteverde.”  Somehow, it worked, and we wound our way to through mountains to Monteverde.

Immediately off the bus I fell into a large, cement culvert.  My bag landed atop me, piled and bleeding a bit.

We woke up and took a bus into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

IMG_1773Cloud forests are not rain forests.  They sit at elevation in a foggy mist 90% of the time, leading IMG_1764to super green foliage and striking flowers.  The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve sort of straddle a mountain range from which, on a clear day, one can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Our day was foggy, but a moment which will never happen again occurred near the peaks, where one could stand on one side, serene and calm, and then move to the other, where 40 mph winds rushed up the western side of the range.


We meandered our way to the bus, but first stopped at a hummingbird preserve off to the side,where we encountered another once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Those birds cared not at all about flying into our hair or feeding inches from our face because THEREWASSUGARWATERTOBEFOUND.  They wove in and out, between our heads, sometimes four or five on one feeder.



In the afternoon, we toured a coffee/sugarcane/cocoa plantation, at the end of which one was able to drink lots and lots of coffee, so I was in a happy place.  We ate cocoa nibs crushed with cinnamon, clove, chile, and sugar.  That’s the pura vida we were looking for.


Tomorrow at 6:00 AM we’ll hop a bus to the highway and then hopefully flag down someone driving to Liberia because there are more moments to encounter.  Life is good.


Una semana en una tierra misteriosa

I’m here to try my best to explain the week I recently spent in Peru, but it’s a difficult thing to try to describe.  It was one of those weeks of travel that propelled and sustained itself, out of my hands, for my own benefit, because if I tried to assert any control over those Forces of Travel, I would have found myself lost and confused in a very strange place.

We arrived in Cusco on a Saturday, and I expected to step off the plane and immediately find myself winded and out of breath from the altitude.  Thanks to some well-timed Diamox, this wasn’t really the case at all.  My dad and I were shuttled off to our hotel, very uphill overlooking the city where I found a little trouble with the stairs, but otherwise altogether and in one piece.

Cusco’s for meandering, man.  It’s friendly (and touristy), but with an abundance of winding streets with hidden markets and big ol’ churches.  Its recent history is fascinating, and its distinctness from Peru’s capital, Lima, is a source of pride.  And its food is unreal, what with the roasted guinea pig and mountain-shipped ceviche.  Nice as it is, though, Cusco wasn’t the point — not with a 4-day hike along the Inca Trail on our horizon.


Plaza de Armas.


Baked noodles, chicken, guinea pig, alpaca, and ever-present Peruvian potatoes.


After a couple of days acclimating, we were introduced to our trail guide, Yuri, whose expertise on all things Inca and several-hundred-times-hike experience were well-appreciated.  We spent a couple days between various Inca sites around Cusco on our way to Maras y Moray.




Maras y Moray were unbelievable — a great preview of what was to come for the week.  Maras is a salt mine that has used the slow trickle of a small saltwater stream to puddle into little manmade squares that fill and dry, leaving the salt behind to harvest.  Moray, above, is a peanut-shaped former Inca experimental garden, really — each little step creates its own microclimate that varies by just tenths of degrees of temperature, making a slow yet successful progression when altering plants and their properties.


The view from our second hotel.


Maras salt mines.

After Maras y Moray, we were ready to start our hike.  We met our climbing team — a cook, three porters, and the dude whose job is to carry the toilet.  Porters are amazing.  You can’t take animals on the Inca Trail, so instead your company hires porters whose job is to carry your crap (upwards of 50 pounds) and somehow beat you on the Trail.  You might be plodding along at 12,000 feet when suddenly a porter much younger (or way, way older) will breeze on by stacked with your gear.  Check out some information about porter welfare here.  They have tough lives.

Starting the trail was surreal and rainy.  For sure, our campsites went from blissfully beautiful to truly unforgetable.  After our first full day of hiking, we were exhausted and collapsed into our tents early.  Our first campsite was nestled in a little field of the last bit of civilization (that is to say, about 5 little houses tucked between the Andes) — definitely a quiet spot until midnight, when someone decided to give everyone in that semblance of a village 8 million fireworks each.  That was our reminder that we were passing the new year thousands of miles from home.

We meandered on, passing our very own Inca ruins along the way — no other tourists; just for us.  We camped with snow-capped mountains in view.


On day three we hit 14,000 feet… then back down to 10,000… then back up to 14,000 and camped at almost 12,000 on a peak so that we could see the many mountains that surrounded us.  The whole day was spent in the clouds and rain.



My trail buddy.

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On the rainy 4th day, we finally hit Machu Picchu, which we could just make out through the clouds from the Sun Gate.  We trotted the final hour in, and spent the entire next day exploring the site.  To walk from room to room through carefully carved stone on a jagged peak in a city built and rapidly abandoned was our reward for the challenging hike.  The clouds gave Machu Picchu even further mystery.

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Our guide was an expert, leading us from one section to the next, explaining everything as though he wasn’t bored from the hundreds of times he had given the same discussion.  Though the site teemed with tourists, it wasn’t overwhelming — it wasn’t awful to be around people after several days of seeing almost none.

We took the train and bus back to Cusco that night and hopped a plane back to Lima the next day, and a mere 36 travel-hours later, I was back in my living room in Querétaro.  It’s almost difficult to imagine that the trail and Machu Picchu operate daily; so much of the trail seemed absent of people that it’s hard to think of it as a tourist destination.  But worry not!  It awaits you, too.