I got kicked out of cub scouts when I was 10, but…

The wide variety of weather on the trip, as well as my various states of health, have validated my gear selection. I don´t think there´s anything I packed that I haven´t used at least once. From the 2-jacket, sweater, long john´s, boots, bolivian hat combo in the altiplano to the shorts, t-shirt, sandal maneuver in sunny locales like Arequipa and Viscuña, versatility has been the name of the game.

Even the first aid kit has been utilized fully. Usually, its a just-in-case preparation (as in, just in case I need to carry 5 extra pounds). This trip, I think I´ve dipped into every last ziplock bag–malaria and altitude pills, antibiotics and immodium, moleskin and ibuprofen, even the little film cannister of safety pins my mother insisted that I carry.  Heck, even the sleeping bag, which I despaired over bringing, has saved my life on a couple of cold, sick nights.

The only thing that hasn´t served me well was my IPod, which rebelled against the idea of travel and has refused to function since the plane ride.


Rule with an Iron Passifier

There is a local teamster´s chapter for babies and their mothers in each south american town.  They gather before sunrise each morning amidst cigarette smoke and nescafe to negotiate.  The veterans get the choicest routes while the rookies are left to earn their reputation on the cold altiplano routes.  Their mission is simple, to make sure there is a crying baby on each and every bus on the continent.  It is imperative, of course, that every bus route is covered.  Otherwise, there might be one person, somewhere, sometime, that accomplishes a modicum of sleep on a night bus.

They´re everywhere.  Even on the nicest buses, with first class leather seats and fully reclining ¨cama¨ seating.  They come in all shapes and sizes, all bundled up for warmth and full screaming power.  They look innocent enough–adorable bronze faces with dark pools for eyes and noses that sniffle just enough to be cute.  But when the lights go out–watch your ears, you´ll think a siren is going off in the row behind you.  Believe me–common ear plugs and I-pods are no match.

The mother´s role is to clear the scream passage, set the baby up for the best acoustics, and let ´er rip.  The key is to give no effort whatsoever to actually stopping the baby´s crying.   A requisite ¨shush¨ just for show is the extent.  The most common strategy is to prop the baby up on the mother´s lap.  That way, the appearance of pacifying is given, while the noise is lifted to cover the entire bus.  It´s really quite well done.

Military strategists need to learn their organizational strategy, for it appears flawless and without gaps.  Big buses, small buses.  City buses, rural buses.  Camionetas and Colectivos and Combes.  Corporate or privately-operated. 

In an era of increased political power for leftist latin american leaders, it is clear from the ground who has the true political power here.  The Blessed Union of Babies and Mothers.  Community organizers, mount up.

Tale of Two Cities

Battling a fever and near total exhaustion, the tylenol has been popped, the NyQuil readied, and I find myself again in a chaotic Peruvian bus station prepping for an overnight trip.

Bed has seemed too far away for too long–beginning this morning with a 2am wrist-watch alarm.

Since that moment, Arequipa has been a tale of two cities.

The best of times began on Thursday, we were fortunate to stumble upon the Monasterio de Santa Catalina on one of the two nights during the week that it is open after dark.


A stunning and surprising tour d´force.  The monastery quickly became one of my favorite visits in all of my travel experience.  It was a sensory masterpiece–stimulating each sense in proper time.  Imagine a symphony mixed with a haunted house.


Dating to the 1500s and rebuilt frequently due to Arequipa´s rugged past of earthquakes and volcanoe eruptions, Santa Catalina is a city within a city.  I had to rush to fit my visit into the allotted 2 1/2 hours.

The entire complex was lit by nothing but candles and gaslit streetlamps, casting an equally magical glow and sombre shadow.  Some rooms were iluminated by one solitary long-stem candle, placed on the soft stone floor in front of a lonely chair, a bed of wooden slats, or a cross.


Other areas radiated light, heat and smell from a kiln.  The embers poured a gentle stream of steam through cut-outs in the ceiling and into the cool night sky.  The scent was like cedar and evocative of a campfire, only sweeter and more serene.

Contemplative music soared and sifted through the initial courtyards, adding a moving soundtrack for the cobblestone, pillars, flowers and orange trees.

The texture of the place was sillar, a volcanic rock from the Arequipa area that is light, easily carved, and acoustically crisp.  Somewhat chalky and rough, it gave the monastery a malleable feel and was cool against the heat of the candles.


Each successive room elicited a ¨Dios Mio.¨  By the end, I was overstimulated and contentedly tired.

As pleasing as Thursday was, today, Saturday, brought mostly frustration.

Something about Peru treks and ri-donk-u-lously early start times.  We were picked up by the mini-bus from the hostal at 2:30am to allow for the 4 hour drive to Colca Canyon.  Seriously?!

The trip was a misnomer: more of a visit to the Colca Valley than to Colca Canyon.  The beginning point of the canyon was the point we stopped and turned around.

The trip home, in short, was miserable.  My knees banged the seat in front.  There were more potholes than potfills(?), and the van swerved to meet each one.  My neck and back began to ache and by the time we arrived back in Arequipa, I felt like I´d been in a fight.

A mostly dissapointing trip was salvaged by condors.  We saw a pretty great show of some 10 soaring and floating (not flying!) birds at Cruz del Condor.  Graceful, remarkable creatures.

 A $135 Visa later, it´s Goodbye Peru, Hello Bolivia!  My first successful attempt at crossing borders in South America…

Wake Up Call

He wore a bright yellow sweater vest and a pouty face beneath shaggy, black hair.  The top of his head almost reached my waist and might have been convenient for an armrest.  As it happened, however, that was the only ¨convenient¨ quality about him. 

Quietly, sulkily, and somewhat surreptitiously, this child of no more than eight years old approached each of the visitors to La Catedral in Arequipa, hoping to elicit some sympathy and some small charity.  He was equally adorable and pathetic, and I wanted to kick him in the face.

How dare he interrupt my time of meditation?  Didn´t he know that this was a church?  How could he just walk in, ignore any sense of decorum, and disrupt my time to pray and meet with God?  This basilica, one of only 100 in the world permitted to display the Vatican flag, and–who does he think he is?

It took a few moments, the realization.  Often it does, and sometimes it´s too late.  I chased after him, hoping for another chance to do something small (something small is all I really want, too much of the time), but open, I think, to something bigger.  I followed his trail out the door of the cathedral where–how could he disappear in such a vibrant sweater?–I searched the Plaza to no avail.

A child–¨let them come to me¨–and a needy one at that–¨I never knew you¨–and I lament that Lazarus can´t come and that I am given no signs, and that there is too much to bother me from praying.

Grant me eyes to see and ears to hear…

Lago Titicaca

sunset on AmantaniWe just spent two days island-hopping on the world´s highest navigable body of water–Lake Titicaca.  Among the highlights were:

-The Islas Flotantes, islands built out of totoro reed by the Uros tribe beginning in the 1500s to escape the belicose Incas.  They literally float in the lake and are held in place by anchors. 

Amantani homestay family

-A homestay with a family on Isla Amantaní.

-Trekking across the Isla Taquile

In lieu of a full description, I´m hopeful that a Top Ten list will be insightful (and not too esoteric).  Presenting…

Lake Titicaca´s Top Ten Rejected Tourist Slogans

10. ¨It´s fun to say!¨

9. ¨Home of the 5 sol ($1.75) Snickers bar.¨

8. ¨You want to get there in less than 3 hours?  You better swim.

7. ¨Where all the dairy products taste the same.¨

6. ¨If it´s not 1 sol, we don´t have change.¨

5. ¨Our kids are cuter than yours¨

4. ¨At least you won´t need to worry about rabies.¨

3. ¨We´re not afraid to ask for toothpaste.¨

2. ¨No.  You´re wrong.  Noboby else in the world has mint tea.¨

1. ¨Put the emphasis on titi