Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Live-Blogged Kind of Day

Midnight – well, clearly I was away from the internets at this time, so the live blogging could not quite yet begin. Which was tragic. Still – what would it have said? Going to sleep. That was the plan anyway.

Midnight:twenty – Started playing Frozen Bubbles (a puzzle bobble clone) and listening to pod casts. Each podcast was an hour in length.

1:20 – first podcast over, up to level 69 complete

2:20 – second podcast over, bloody level 70 (I hate level 70!) just completed!

3:20 – up to level 98 completed.

4:00 – level 99 completed.

4:30 – level 100 (game) completed.

4:35 - well clearly my mission to fall asleep at a normal time has failed. You will also notice that Levels 70, 99, and to a lesser degree, the last level, have been driving me insane Also – you'll notice I played more than four hours straight, a game that was a good two decades old. Imagine the progress I could have made with a good game, or – you know – something more productive. Still – what is one to do when podcast-listening?

4:40 – accepts that podcasts are filling a void, and no longer delightful to listen to in the same way they were. What did I used to do to fill the time? Oh yeah – talk to people. It's been some time since a good in person conversation. Get me out of BA!

4:45 – sleep.

5:30 – people whose names I don't know wake me up to say goodbye. They know my name.

8:00 – everyone is moving out today, save me. I have one more night here. But everyone else is up – including those who had just got in from partying, so who am I to sleep?

8:27 – off to breakfast. Bread, spreadable cheese, cereal, juice, and chocolate that is hot. What fun! (post finally goes live.)

9:27 - finsihed breakfast. Is delighted that Microsoft is making people responsible for their words over the interwebs. Remember kids: Don't game angry.

11:37 - woke up fully clothed in bed. Apparently going to grab my book didn't work out so well after breakfast. Clearly I didn't get enough sleep last night. Waking up was to the voices of the cleaning staff - though it was for the best, as, in my dream, I was trying to escape a mansion with some classified knowledge on a USB drive, while grabbing one of those red promo-bags from War Inc. I don't think the escape would have gone well - and I had no desire to be stabbed a few times like I was in a dream a few days ago.

12:03 - showered and clean. Bed was made when I emerged from the shower. Oh cleaning staff.

12:04 - Trying to sort out my month of march - looking at a world map and fight sites. Ugh - I hate this part.

12:55 - I have come up with two alternate universes of travel plans - one where he goes from japan to singapore to china to new zealand, the other where he goes from japan to china to singapore to new zealand. Now I just have to wait to hear back from three or four people about what plans work best if I want to meet up with them. Ugh - I hate travel planning. These flights will cost about two thousand dollars all totaled. Closer to three in the first reality. I just can't think about it. And the flight from New Zealand to Australia that I don't want to consider yet? Oh snap - if I fly JetStar it's very reasonable... only around five hundred. The future looks good.

Well I did a good load of work just now. Good for me.

1:05 - Since Stockholm (remember Stockholm? The boat-hostel?) I have been asking myself whY I play CastleAge on Facebook. The answer is still unclear - though I wonder what I'd be doing with my time otherwise?

I now demand that I finish reading Return of the King. Sure I finished the book (more on that later) but I now need to read the Appendices. Ugh. Tolkien!

I will read some first.

2:04 - Just got back from Burger King. If I never eat another burger again, that'd be o.k. My food options are limited in this part of town, and BK whopper actually tastes like a real burger rather than strange fast food. And it's filling too - you can eat McBurgers for hours without being full. Ten Cheeseburger Challenge indeed.

I continued to read LotR:RotK:AI and I tell you, I could not care less about the Numanwhositz and the Dundanwhatitfaces. And yet to feel like I've really read the texts I need to break free and push through it.

I will continue to read while copying, resizing, and uploading photos of Jesus Land.

2:42 - finished adding photos to all the older entries - the videos are still not up. YouTube claimed they'd stop supporting FireFox 2, so I gave up (can't get FF3 on this netbook) but now they're saying you just can't use the new stuff - so I am backlogged with uploads. You can check them out on my site though, as they go live. Youtube/oneyeartrip/

I also posted an entry that I somehow missed uploading a few days back.

3:23 - just updated my post about Jesus Land, and uploaded pictures there. Now that's done and over with, and we're all up to date. I still have no way to fully process that which I witnessed yesterday. I need to know what other people - the god fearing type - think of this park. 40 foot Jesus is not kind, but terrifying. I just kept thinking of th Simpson's where those mascots came to life. How would 40 foot Jesus try to kill us? With his Halo of doom (not unlike Xena's weapon) I'm sure.

4:14 - is officially mind numbed. I'm bored. That's it. I could go use the printer to print out my Antarctica voucher, but - you know - not yet... Then what would I do later? I could pack - but laundry is not back yet. I could - ahh I will write all the things I've been putting off. Yes, this is the most exciting day of travel yet. It also strikes me that there is a season of House and The Office to watch - but really, I couldn't be bothered. MONKEY NEWS!

5:14 - It's five-fourteen. Do you know where your children are? The third football game in a row is playing. There must never be a time when a professional game is not playing. That is what I've come to understand. Just watched Kirsten Dunst in a Turning Japanese youtube video - my brains are about to melt. Time to see if laundry is ready so as I can pack up, and feel like I'm doing something slightly more productive.

5:47 - I've now finished packing, and scrapbooking all my bits and pieces up to now. Well that didn't take nearly as long as I thought it might have. Time to read more LotR:RotK:AI

6:30 - Alright Arwen that's about enough of you. Now what - maybe South Park streams online somewhere at a volume that will block out the creepy guys talking about their spandex Spider-Man costumes.

7:24 - Streaming South Park is a wonderful thing. The Whaling Episode? Fantastic - until deadliest catch showed up... Still a good first half.

8:13 - South Park = caught up on. Time to kill some time by experiencing the British version of The Office. What a action/adventure filled day!

8:20 - British Office Overruled. I like your sci-fi but your comedy still pains my heart. And with that I shall take my leave of the internets and the common room and retire to a place to quiet and recluse (my room on good ol' floor number five - open and close to elevator doors before the machine will move - and the bathtub has four taps. Hot and cold for shower; hot and cold for bath.) I'm sure I'll be back down here. I mean, what else would I do? Sleep?

Anyway - if I don't manage to make it back - I'm not sure if I'll have internet at my hotel tomorrow. And a few days later I'll be on a big ol' boat where there will definitely not be internet. By March 16th I expect I'll be in a hotel in Santa Monica, California - and there there will be interwebs. This is a good assumption, I believe. So there we go.

9:09 - well that failed. Ran into my parents on skype, and am now looking into cruises. I will into cruise, I will not cruise. O.K. Time to re-group and re-focus. Now I have to check into how to get from LA to San Fran. I'm thinking the bus. I've since heard that might be sketch - but I don't really want to fly

10:03 - Flight booked bridging LAX and SFO. Yeah it's more expensive than the bus - about two or three times... but hey - it's much faster. Kinda - not counting getting to and from the airport. I just don't wanna screw up this connection. Tra la la.

10:20 - printed out Antarctica voucher, and flight details - now off to bed to read more LotR:RotK:AI and AII. Ohh - progress.

11:45 - time for bed.

Midnight: yaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn!

Mike Goes to Jesus Land

Today was about me going to Jesus Land.

I killed time in the best way possible (creating a linky e-mail and then chatting with the recipient of said e-mail.) Ah yes, internet. How I'm growing to hate this stable connection. You see internets are fine for a few days when you've been without – but I've not been without for some time, and it's starting to suck the brains straight out of my head, like the big-fat bug from Starship Troopers. You know the one. (aside: I wish they made the last few episodes of the CG cartoon – but they never will. Sigh.) I have no idea, really, how I killed enough hours to prepare myself for the land of god that was to be ahead, but somehow I found a way, and low and behold it was three thirty in the afternoon.

Well there's only one thing one can do at three thirty in the afternoon, and that's head on out to hop on the number forty-five bus, headed for Tierra Santa.

This time I was a pro, and needed only to hop on one wrong bus before finding the correct one. The correct one was driving down the street away from me. However, as this is not North America, running after it, and banging on the door is not only an acceptable way to get on board, at times it is the only way. I noticed more than once, the driver open the door, and slowly cruise by a stop – the future-passengers then needed to jog aside the mobile vehicle and hop on board like an over-the-hill action hero.


The bus, though being the same route, took a different way than yesterday. We took a tour of the docks, and the freight storage area today, rather than heading through the secret rail freight loading bay. The public transit system is different here. Still, I eventually made it to my destination on time and found myself standing outside of the Angelic gates – now unlocked – welcoming me to the Land of Saints.

A choir of angels, quite literally, shouted out in an immaculate chorus. How could I refuse? How could I delay? I could do nothing but walk forward, pay my 25ARD, and enter into that which is The Land of Jesus.

Tierra Santa.

Walking into the park was as surreal as could be imagined. I was welcomed to Jerusalem, and then ushered through a cave of plastic construction. Here I saw a naked Adam hanging with a naked Eve, followed by Moses looking most like Charlton Heston. There were some other mythological characters too, but I had no idea who they were or what they represented. plastic donkeys and pigs would also quickly become a staple here.

I was funneled into a room filled with dry ice smoke and people sitting on benches. The way out was closed, so I did what I could to find a seat, and wait for something to happen. Lights came on, highlighting two plastic people. We were in for a real treat here. Spanish narration gave the story while spotlights changed colours, showed different people, and displayed angels on the ceiling. At one point I felt a shock of awe when i recognized the three wise men. “I know those guys!” I thought. And then Christmas music played, still in Spanish, of course, and the baby Jesus was born – or something like that.

The lights came up, the doors opened, and out we were allowed.

A woman stood by a gate telling us what was to be expected inside, I think that's what she was on about anyway. I just pressed ahead and made my way through the park looking at all the silly villages, thinking of Aladdin wondering where all the guards were – oh there they were walking around. It's kind of odd that they have Roman Guards patrolling. Didn't they kill Jesus? Well never mind.

At the back of the park I was told to enter another room. I did so, and the door was closed behind me. Too late I realized I was in for another anamatronic show. The park guide claimed that it was to be, “visitors favourite show! ... [it had] a very life-like Jesus.” I was in for the wonders that was the Last Supper. Again – I had no idea what was going on. A red light illuminated someone at one point. I guess he was Judas? I know that much – I drank his beer in Brugge, you may recall.

To really get a feeling of what this was like, imagine the hall of presidents, now instead of G.W. picture J.C. and his gangly crew. Yes, I was witnessing history as it unfolded – in robot form. Why the robots could move their heads, and their arms. How wondrous!

Outside I was met with freedom again, and had some time to wander the park. There was a place for you to put your face as a beggar woman, or a Roman soldier. Again – is this the right thing to emulate here? Maybe I'm not up on my Christianity and these guys were part of Jesus' superfriends.

I wandered in and out of buildings seeing Jesus in jail, Jesus carrying the cross, Jesus being crowned by thorns, Jesus being whipped. I'm glad I was alone – otherwise I may have posed for pictures that I'd best have not posed for. In other news, I'm sad that I didn't get to pose for this images. Asking the visitors here to take sacrilegious pictures would not have gone over well. These were serious visitors, not gawkers at the inane and insane.

After enough of Jesus' troubles I went to visit the Gandhi shrine. I have no idea what he was doing here – just chillin', I guess? And then I climbed to the top of the mountain where Jesus and some thieves were hangin' on the crosses doing their thing. Now, with all of this you need to picture jet planes flying low every seven or eight minutes, just like in the real Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Yes, this park was right beside the airport's landing strip.

To tease you, from the top of the 'mountain' you can see a most excellent water park, quite possible the best outside of San Dimas.

As I wandered down the mountain, I saw people start to gather on benches. Something was about to go down. How could I resist the temptation of seeing what it was? I took a seat, and just then something terrifying started to happen. From out of the mountain on which I just stood something was erupting. Something monstrous, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. In all fairness, the SPMMM is 112 feet tall, and this creature was merely 40 feet tall – still able to do some damage, though I'd imagine.

When it reached full height it a chorus of music broke out, and the monster started to turn left and right, opening and closing its eyes. Jesus was reborn! All were to cower under his grace and blessing! Every hour this creature rises from his grave to look down upon visitors. Fell his holy light! Feel his love! “The next time someone asks you if you are a god... you say yes!”

After a few moments the terror was ended and he descended back into his cave, ready to awake fifty three minutes hence.

I could handle no more and not wanting to eat at “Arab Pizza” I quickly made my way to the exit. I'd spent two hours here. More than enough. But as I was trying to leave, it was suggested by a staff member in perfect english (can't refuse that) that I witness creation.

Hmm... sure, why not? Now the pamphlet was sure to emphasize the fact that this was an imagining of creation. I wasn't actually about to watch the real creation of the world – lord no, that was a whole six thousand years earlier. But still I was interested. Or apathetic enough is the correct word. Maybe curious. After the manger, and the last supper, and super jesus who knew what was to come next?

Let me tell you – Creation was like a 1980s rock concert. Green laser lights strobed around the room, while lights flashed on and off to thundering noises. And then a fake lion roared. And a fake hippo. And then came giraffes and elephants and rhinos, and apes. Look – this is all swell but aside from apes I've seen these for real. And let me tell you, unless this was a watering hole these guys would not be chillin' so close.

But then the music halted, the lasers turned blue, and up from a great wheel beneath the stage returned my old friends, naked Adam, and naked Eve. Man was born!

This was just about the last of what I could handle. My mind was blown. I had no idea how to process what I had seen. It was time to leave, grab the 45 bus, and head back to the hostel.

I don't think I'll ever fully recover from the things I saw today.

But seriously – Gandhi?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Jesus Land: Closed on Thursdays

So... apparently Jesus Land isn't open on Thursdays...

This is one of those things that wouldn't have been too too bad to discover from the confines of the hostel, via the wonderful tool that is the internet, however – coming to such a realization by wandering to gates, padlocked shut... That's less of a delight.

I made my way over to Tierra Santa (I believe that's how it's spelled – Saints Land, being the translation if various sources have not been lying to me. It's said to be like visiting Jerusalem, in Buenos Aires. It's an all religious theme park! How could you possibly go wrong? I dare not say too much about it now – for fear of spoiling it, but this is about as wacky as one can get.

However – as I said – it is not open on Thursdays. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only. Looking at the admission hours, on the website – once I'd finally made my way back to the hostel – filled me with the same sense of, “really? Really?!” that the opening days allowed. This park is open from 4pm to midnight. Not during the day, when you would think people would want to see such an attraction, but in the late evening and night. I have no idea what kind of crowd this place will draw – but I am excited for it.

You see – I shall be going back. A helpful guard said, “tomorrow! Tomorrow you come back!”

Very well. It's not as if it took an hour, most of which was trying to understand and comprehend the complex public transit system. That's cool. That's fine.

Rewinding an hour would find me asking how to get to said park, and being told that the number forty five bus would take me out to it. Great. Now where could I find that? Two blocks over, I watched as the bus drove by, time and time again. The next step was finding the bus stop – hidden away outside a music store playing all the latest hits of the nineteen eighties, as chosen by a future historian with no real concept of taste, nor an understanding of that particular decade. It could have been that it was a cassette tape looping from the by-gone era.

Standing at the bus stop I was once more ready to get on the bus – only to watch it sail by again. O.K. Clearly something is amiss. When next the vehicle came in range, I was prepared. I had seen this happen from someone boarding the 33, and I was ready for my moment to shine. The bus drew near, and I put my hand out, flagging it down. Like magic, it stopped. I then asked if it went to the park, by poorly mumbling the phonetic approximation of the locations name, and was told, “no,” no being the same in English and Spanish, followed by a stream of incomprehensible syllables. One sounded like “Italia.” I do not understand. He then pointed to something on the front of the bus, made more noise, and I climbed down ready to repeat the process once more.

When the next forty five came near, however, I was ill prepared. My hand was not outstretched. It sailed on by. Of course it did.

Fine. I give up. Time to find a taxi. Time to spend 30ARD instead of 1.25ARD. However, this too, was not to be – I could not flag a taxi, no matter how hard I tried. Frustrated, I headed back to the bus stop. Eventually one would stop and I'd jump on. Two 45s came at once, but had different things on the front. I had t make a choice. I picked one, said the same of the location, and was met with a nod. Oh good. On I jumped.

And on I rode, and rode, and rode, until my stop finally came. At this point I walked off, clearly excited, only to come across – the locked gates.

Clearly getting out here had already been a substantial investment, and to find the park closed – was I enraged? Was I upset? No – not really. Because I'd been taken to another part of the city, where I could – at last – look out over the water, gazing at the horizon far away. Dozens of people had their fishing rods thrown over the concrete divide, trying their luck. I never saw a single bite, but that's not really the point is it? Maybe it is here, where the fish is your dinner. But it my experience, it's just a nice way to waste some time.

Walking past those folks (I had no idea how to find a bus stop out here, I'm not going to lie. I was nearly convinced I'd have to walk the whole way home.) I came to the airport. Inside the fences and gates were employees shooting off firecrackers from the side of their official vehicles. I couldn't be sure if they were screwing around, or if this was really the high tech way they communicated with one another to prevent two jets from hitting the same runway at once.

There were also a number of people standing up against the fence, holding on to the rails, watching as plane after plane took off into the sky with a great roar, and landed, zipping directly overhead. For a few moments I joined the crowd and watched. Were this the mission I set out to complete, I could have – no doubt – spent hours enjoying the sites. But I was still unaware how to get back to the hostel, and the walk seemed like a long one.

Outside the airport there was a bus stop. Some of the buses were 45s. Not wanting to spend the next few hours in pedestrian transit, I just hopped on and trusted my luck. And as my luck would have it, I was taken back to my starting location. Good for me. I grabbed Pizza to celebrate. The food here? Not good. I'm told the only good food in this city is steak – the thing is, I'm not a steak lover so... The pizza was trying to be Italian. It's not that it was bad – it just wasn't Italian pizza, nor was it North American pizza. It was like a pita unwrapped.

Though hours had ticked away, my day would not end here, either. I hopped on the subway and rode to the end of the C line. There I wandered for an hour or so, looking at more graffiti, checking out the slightly-sketchy parks, and trying to pick up the flavour of the city – which still reminded me so much of my home town.

I have no real idea what one would do in Buenos Aires during the day, but I felt as if I'd made the most of my time. I had no regrets. And while I still have some time left here, as I jumped on the subway once more, I knew that my exploring days were most likely behind me. I'd seen the North, South, East, and West of my map. And I'd adventured off of it some, to get to the Saints World.

Tomorrow will probably be an afternoon at that park, provided that I can get the bus working for me again, and that will be that. Buenos Aires, you've been charming.

And as I tried to go to sleep at night, you did not disappoint. As I laid to rest at one a.m. a number of people looked at me as if I was crazy. They, after all, were just waking up – ready to begin.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Hostel is a Trap

It can't be late – it's still bright outside. Oh, look – it's midnight.

This hostel is a terrible terrible trap, ripping away all sense of time and location. It's bad enough that I exist between a McDonald's and a Burger King, with McDonald's and Burger King's fencing them in further down the road – but when the sun is always rising into the noon day sky – it can become quite infuriating.

Am I in Iceland here? Clearly not! I demand darkness. But darkness is never to come. As I sit and contemplate sleep, I keep telling myself I'll head off when I am tired. But I never become tired, as my body is being tricked – tricked into thinking it's never night. But how? And why is this the hostel's fault? Oh I will tell you. For they are a sneaky sneaky beast, and I am enacting to put an end to this. Red Warrior needs sleep badly.

Let me copy some files though and begin, once more, zoning out to The Talking Heads (I really can't express enough how much mileage I've got out of this album. Yes I have a number of other musical choices these days, but I keep coming back to this. Because it is fantastic.

So, here in the hostel they have managed to already trick you by surrounding you with people of all sorts of wacky routines. At six in the morning you may be awoken by sounds of people moving in your room. But unlike most hostels, these are not people about to head out to catch an early bus, or an early train, or – you know – jut looking to start their day. No, in this hostel if people are up and about at six in the morning, it's because they're headed to sleep. And it doesn't stop there – when you wander by your room at two in the afternoon, or four, or six, or – right now – at eight, there are still people sleeping. There are always people sleeping. Except at midnight. From midnight to three or four in the morning you'll be alone in the room (with the exception of the one time awkward and terrible things happened on the bunk below me).

You'll start to question yourself – is it really the time it is? And that's when you look outside. Big mistake. Peering out into the street it will appear to be late afternoon. The lights shining on the streets below offer a view of quasi daylight. It is like no night you've seen before. Even on the streets the illusion continues – it is only when you look up and see a fully dark sky that confusion sets in. But you've seen the night sky – you know it's late. So head back into the hostel, hang out in the common room for a bit, and the head off to bed.

You've made another mistake! You've headed to the common room. Your body has no idea what's going on there. People are awake, active, and plentiful twenty four hours a day. The television always plays a soccer game (there's ALWAYS a soccer game) every hour of every day, and – if you should fall prey to yet another cruel trick – looking out the window, you will once again have your sense of day overridden. You were just outside. You saw the night sky. You know it's late. And yet, looking out the window you are offered a glimpse of daylight once more.

Are these the same lights from the streets? Nay – this is an interior opening, with bright lights suspended above every window. High enough to cast environmental lights on all walls near by, creating the illusion of day. It's quite the trap, and I wonder if it was designed with this purpose in mind. You are never tired here. And most people, I have discovered – by the tight tank tops worn by gentlemen, and short skirts worn by ladies – that most people come to BA for the clubbing. And if that's so, well then this is the perfect environment.

But I am never tired here, and yet I feel the need to be awake for the free breakfast. It's a trap.

Enough of these complains though, as I was awake for breakfast – and enjoyed it as best I could. As best as one can enjoy slices of bread, and caramelized milk (quite the treat here – I had it as a McSundae topping too – it's gross.) and spreadable cheese, and juice. Really I just wake up for the juice.

After breakfast I napped for two hours. But fear not, for noon came and I was ready to explore the world around me one more. And what a lovely world it was. One that was full of graffiti. You see, I've not been avoiding taking pictures – I didn't get bored of that excursion. I simply have not seen any Graffiti since Europe (with the exception of Joburg, where I preferred to not die so I could not photograph it.)

Walking to the subway to try my luck once more – having researched it over the interwebs – I discovered that it really was a mere 1.10ARD for a ride. I bought a five ride pass, for about half the price a single ride would cost me in Toronto, and headed on board. It wasn't a difficult system to figure out, and in no time I was zipping to where I wanted to go – up to Plaza Italia.

It was here that I walked the streets, once more feeling like I was in a city remarkably similar to Toronto. At times I felt as if I was making my way to a buddies house to hang out for the day. The trees were the same, the buildings similar, the shops and the advertisements in the right places, and at the right intervals. Even the grass was the same. It struck me then that I'd not seen familiar grass in cities for some time. If you travel, pay attention to this – a blanket of green may be unconsciously accepted as being the same as any other, but this is not the case. Different weeds grow, different widths of grass exist, different types of green ground covering foliage takes root. Here in Buenos Aires was good ol' Toronto grass.

It was as if I was walking North from St. George station, for whatever crazy reason anyone would ever do that. Once more, I was overcome with the sense of familiarity. There was clearly no reason for a tourist to be here, so I must belong, mustn't I?

As I reached the height of this direction, I headed back the way I came along a parallel street. Ending up back at Plaza Italia I decided to walk down to the Avenue of the Liberator. Wandering this was allowed me to look through the fences at the zoo animals. There was a crowd watching the giraffe. I wonder how many local teenagers get drunk on the weekends and sneak peeks at the animals late at night. I wonder how many grown-ups do. It seems like not a terrible idea. Hopefully the animals don't get things thrown at them from passersby all that often.

I considered stayed longer to watch – but – you know: giraffes... Been there, done that.

Wandering ever forward I started to hum Don't Cry for Me Argentina. I don't know why it came to me. I also found it odd that I didn't immediately associate it with my current location. But that's how it is – I didn't entirely appreciate that I was in Argentina. Sometimes when I visit a country I get so wrapped up in the city that I'm in, that everything else falls to the wayside. (Wayside School is Falling Down – there is no floor 13.) If asked where I am, I would reply Buenos Aires – but not necessarily admit to being in Argentina. The same thing occurred in Thailand. I felt I was in Bangkok – but that was the extent of it. Tripping to Chain Mai cured me of that.

The song made me think of Evita, and Evita made me think of her being dead and burried around here. I checked my map to locate the place of burial and, recognizing it as being on the way home, headed off towards it.

On route I picked up a soda. I hate soda. I am addicted to soda. I would love to break the addiction – but I can not. This is why I don't smoke, or gamble, or do anything else of that ilk. Once hooked, I doubt my ability to stop.

This was no ordinary soda. It was the BA soda of choice. If McDonald's carries a drink you've not seen before, recognize it as an important cultural experience. I've come across four – in the States, Dr. Pepper (oh how I wish we offered this in Canadian Mackers); in Scotland, IRN BRU; In recently visited Peru, Inca Kola; and here, in Buenos Aires, Torro. It's a grapefruit soda that's not entirely terrible. Not entirely delightful either, mind you, but worth the try. Cultural experience!

The cemetery is a truly wonderful one. It's like some of the ones in Paris if any planning was put into pedestrian navigation. I followed a tour group to Evita's grave, and was underwhelmed. Still – it's a touristy thing to do. You don't climb the Eiffel Tower because you want to – you do it because you feel you need to. Unless you're with a delightfully tiny Asian girl who can turn it into a grand adventure. Then you do it because you want to – and because complaining is more fun with someone else. Still – touristy things must be done if only to say one has done them, yes? Yes. I'm glad that on that we can agree.

And then it was back to the subway, and back to the hostel. A quick stop was made at the obelisk. This is the object that adorns all BA post cards. The only thing on said postcards, other than The Simpsons, of which there is a terrible amount of merchandise, magazines, hand crafts, t-shirts, and other such things here (why? I have no idea.)

It was – well it was alright. It's just a slab of concrete. It's not like it's a Cleopatra needle. Which shocks me, as I was quite sure those were just given out without care. Had I not seen about sixteen of these things, with historical significance to boot, in Rome, I may have been impressed – as it was though? Not so much.

Still, it was something I could check off my list.

And then off to sleep. Well kind of – it was well past midnight before I decided this was the right choice. Even though I know the tricks, I can't see through them. Tomorrow – tomorrow I will go to Jesus Land! And oh what fun it will be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Really do Love Cities

Just like with Madrid, I forgot what it was like to come back to a city – to be enveloped by it.

Stepping outside onto Florida street with the sun shining overhead, it's hard to describe what the effect of such a thing can be. After four days inside, I was free one more. And I could feel the freedom, taste it, smell it. It was everywhere, and I have no idea what it was – just a sense of something other.

So what did I do? Where did I go? I headed out to one end of Florida street, wandering along passing all the shoppers and people doing their thing. That's why you come to Buenos Aires, I'm slowly discovering – to shop. Most people that I ask what there is to do here will reply with that answer. Clearly this was going to be a challenge, but as long as Florida street continued, I would have a destination, and a purpose. I could just carry on.

Florida street came to an end.

Good. Great. There was a statue though, surrounded by a spiky fence. If you're a street and you have to end somewhere why not at a spiked fence surrounding a statue? And why not prove the fence to be ineffective, as the statue was covered in graffiti, while you're at it? I made a left (I'd say directions using the four cardinals, but my compass and map do not equate with one another, and I wouldn't like to try and guess which is more correct. Everything is suspect here.

I wandered down to a small park. It was greenery. Nothing all that special. Heading back I was struck with the feeling that this city was closer to Toronto than any others I'd yet been to (and there have been some contenders, I tell you what.) This was a city that felt right, looked right, and – well – was not made for tourists.

Back on Florida street I headed out in the other direction, attempting to discover the end in that direction. Many of the tourists that I passed turned into the two malls along the way. Two malls on one street within a half kilometer of each other... This doesn't count the various plazas, covered shopping centres, and alleys of commerce.

Benos Aires is about shopping. Fact. But I would have none of this, so carry on I did until the road ended once more – this time at a park. A big area shaded by trees, allowing some cooled rest to the day. I considered stopping there to read, but quickly found myself being bitten by mosquitoes. This must be the only place in the city that they can live. I went from being delighted by the public foliage to cursing it. There would be no peace here, amongst the dozens of broken benches.

Looking at my map, I tried to plan a new route – where else could the day take me? To the subway, perhaps. Down into the underground I trekked, quickly to find myself outclassed, and outmatched. All I wanted was to ride on the underground train – but there was a terrible guarding blocking the way, in the way of a ticket seller. There were no english instructions, no ticket machines for me to suss it out on, and no one speaking english.

On the booth was a sign reading $1.10. This is about thirty cents Canadian. Does this mean each stop is that price? Each line? I had no idea – clearly it couldn't be a ticket for that price. I've been all over the world and never seen a public transit system priced at something so reasonable. Without any clear idea, I gave up.

Wandering back towards the hostel, I checked my watch. I'd spent a good number of hours walking around seeing the city. I could justifiably head back and crash for the day.

Back in the hostel I finished up reading The Soul Key (I'll get to that Lord of the Rings soon enough, I'm sure) and then started to read ST:DS9: The Never Ending Sacrifice (I swear I'll finish that Lord of the Rings. I mean, I have to. And it's not that I don't want to – it's just... so wordy. Plus, I don't entirely want it to end.)

When I could take no more reading, I searched the internet for streaming video, and managed to get caught up on Lost. I'm shocked and slightly terrified that it's not looking to be terrible this

[authors note: A drunken Australian started singing “tonight's gonna be a good night.” Like wolves answering the call, more drunken Aussies have joined in. Ohh – now they're just wandering around screaming how drunk they are. Ahh Hostel International – you're either full of school trips (and oh the number of trips there have been. Were I a 17 year old boy, I'm sure I would have loved this place, however as I am not, I was just irritated and annoyed by the many obnoxious outcries of “OMG!” as teenagers ran hither and thither. ) To be honest – I prefer the louder, more obnoxious drunken adults messing around inside on the public bikes making “beep beep beep” backing up noises. At least they normally only come out at night (the days are much to briii-iiii-ight.]

sorry – back to the main thought – it's terrifying that Lost is looking to not be terrible this season.

And then I went to sleep. This would prove the downfall – as some time later my bed started to shake. Was there an earthquake? Were terrible things afoot. Wait – what was this? Stifled whispers from the bottom bunk? And was that – oh god no – why... why...

Look – I just have one request: If you're planning on having sex in a hostel, please opt for a private room. The bunk below me is not a suitable location!

Luckily (for me) it was over in a matter of minutes. There was some giggling by the girl – and perhaps wounded pride – but at least it was over. Oh no, it wasn't. Looks like she was going to give him a second attempt. Well, good luck sir, hopefully your second performance is rewarded with something more than laughter. And again the top bunks threatens to throw me off. By this point I was listening to music as loud as I could, and attempting to ignore the motions from below.

I was told that in the future I should have the song Monster Mash at the ready to play as loud as I can if this were ever to happen again. You know, something to really help their party get going.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Attemp to Break the Cycle

I tried to break the cycle today. I really did! wasn't meant to be.

Three days of nothing had befallen me and as I awoke this day I swore that such nonsense would come to an end. As I enjoyed my breakfast I got all my internetting done and over with so as I would be ready to break away from the hostel and enjoy the bright wonderful world outside! With chocolate milk drank, hot chocolate following, and six glasses of orange juice downed I was ready to go. There were also some pieces of bread dipping in something that I'm not sure what it is. It might be a cream cheese, but there's a vanilla/toffee flavoured thing in a similar container – so maybe it's condensed milk? I have no idea what I'm eating for breakfast. It's not bad though, so let us not think about it.

There were also frosted flakes on which I sprinkled coco. You know, the more cereal I consume the more – and I may have said this before – I think back to that original box of coco-puffs that I bought in Iceland, as I hated chocolate cereal and thus it would last. Now – chocolate cereal? My favourite. And in all its iterations too. coco-crispies, coco-flakes, coco-puffs. If you coco it... What if I were to add coco to french toast crunch? Such a delectable treat might just be beyond all conception. Coco-Cinnamon toast crunch cereal – but coco-french toast crunch? Crazy.

With food in my belly, I headed back to my room dropped off my gear, grabbed a day pack, and headed down to floor the first. Opening and closing both elevator doors, I pushed open the main doors and headed outside... into the rain.

And oh there was rain. Umbrellas were everywhere, and people were running for cover, fighting with each other for the closest place to the walls where the overhang offered some protection. I looked towards the McDonald's, but I had no desire for that, so I headed the other way. To Burger King.

Yup, I am located between a McD's and a BK. An X—Treme Whopper Combo was lunch, and then the rain began to pour even more. The doors were flooded with people trying to wait out the precipitation. They were not to be in luck.

One thing worth saying, the BK on Florida Street in Buenos Aires is the most beautiful fast food restaurant you've ever seen. It has domed ceilings, stained glass skylights, and carved walls. I have no idea what this building used to be, but I like to imagine that it was strictly created for this restaurant, fulfilling the desires of the Argentinian sensibilities.

After I became full of burger – so sick of burger – I headed back to the streets. The rain was obnoxious. I headed to grab some water from a corner store, and failed in my desire to buy some water. Carbonated water – curse carbonated water! I shook it and shook it to de-bubble it as best I could, but it's still not perfect. On my tragic walk back to the hostel I headed into two stores. There were more days to stroll the streets, and those days would be sunny and delightful – so I hope – so back to my bricked, dry, prison it was with me.

Store the first was a book store.

[authors note: I have treid to pass Level 70 of Frozen Bubbles for 3 hours spread around two days – 1 – 69, easy – 70... ai ya.]

[authors note: I don't want to discuss how much time passed – but I beat level 70, and am now on level 91 – just switching podcasts. 9 levels until the end... then how will I gain a sense of accomplishment from doing nothing though?

In other news – the other people in this room tried to force whiskey bombs on me, and beer, and other such alcoholic treats. But I declined... to listen to video game podcasts... and play a bubble bobble clone. Oh what the hell is going on?! I REALLY need to get out of this hostel tomorrow. Or, you know, I could join the party downstairs but...]

[authors note: Level 99 – we'll leave it there for now... tomorrow is another day. But now, back to the book store...]

So there i was in this fabulous multi-storey book store looking around at all the things that I could read – when it suddenly hit me that I could read none of them. For some reason every book here was in Spanish – I know, it doesn't make any sense. Sure I found some english paperbacks in the basement under the sign “pocket books” (nothing pointed out that these were english mind you) but they were mostly trashy pseudo, and full on, erotica. Nope. No thanks.

So with y spirits crushed I gave up on this chapel of commerce and headed to the toy store across the way. Being on the main strip, I expected something wonderous. What I was greeted by was tragic at best. It was an alley with packaged children's entertainment devices on the wall - but toys? Toys one would expect to find at a delightful shop, quaint or capitalistic? No. These were items that would be best at home as prizes for a late nineties skee-ball game. I looked around for a place to gain the tickets clearly required to claim such prizes. The currency exchange rate, leading to these – things – being labeled at $25.00 only added to the tragic juxtaposition. I felt like I was in communist Russia (where toy plays you!)

On the wall, as I was quickly making my way to the exit, I saw a poster that summarized the experience perfectly. It was advertising the shiny new N64s and Game Boy Pockets.

And then it was back to the hostel where – paying attention to the earlier notes – I clearly played a lot of Frozen Bubble on my netbook and listened to podcasts. Hours were aslso spent trying, and failing, to get nethack up and running. After briefly playing it over a telnet server I decided it wasn't for me anyway, and that was that.

Tomorrow though – tomorrow I'll head out and explore the city! Honest and true.


Unless it's raining.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day of Nothing: The Third

Thirty minutes after falling asleep I was woken up by free airplane food. I ate it with much gusto, but was quick to note that I now had a short two and a half hours left to sleep before landing.

Out I went again, and then as wheels hit tarmac I awoke, trying with all I could to keep my eyes open and my mind alert enough to get off the plane and grab my bags. This proved to be far harder than I could have imagined. I do recall not being thanked for flying with the airline – this shocked me as it was the first time people haven't been warning and smiling at the door wishing you well, while thinking about their plans for the evening. Then I was grabbing my bag from the moving belt.

Security must have been passed through. I must have been stamped into the country too – oh that's right. It's coming back to me now. I had to pay $70.00 for the pleasure of entering the country and then I cleared security. Next I know I was in McDonald's eating a breakfast bagel. I must have went to an ATM before this though. Then I was standing in front of a giant t.v. screen showing footage of Super Street Fighter IV. And it was wonderful. I stared at that until it ended and became a trailer for a movie with Matt Damon.

By this point I had wasted three hours, and it was 7:30. Only half an hour more until my shuttle would show up. By this point it was everything I could do to keep my eyes open. I also started to doubt that I gave the shuttle driver the right date. The next thirty seven minutes were quite worrying, then I was in a minibus by myself. I fell asleep. I woke up. There was a road black. Then I was in my hostel, heading up to reception. It was 8:30 and I needed sleep more than anything else I could imagine, but – fun fact – I couldn't gain access to my room until two in the afternoon.

I'll just cut to the chase – the next six hours were spent on the internet in a haze of exhaustion. Much music was downloaded and listened to. At two I went to my room, and by this point I could not sleep. I did lie awake for a few hours, and when I decided it was time to do something real with the day it was dark.

I still didn't trust myself to wander outside in my mind-altered state. I felt like it would be fine, and yet I knew that I needed sleep before I'd be able to make sense of things. Instead I went to the McDonald's down the street and ate food. There may have been tomatoes involved? There was also ice cream. But not good ice cream, it tasted like the strange ice-milk from the mid nineties.

And then I was falling asleep around midnight. At midnight everyone else in the dorm room was getting dressed and ready to go out for the night. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be able to go explore the city and see some things.

This transit day was a strange and odd one, and is riddled with holes of lost time. Most hostels I've been to would have let me check in earlier – especially if check out is at 10am. Welcome back to Hostel International rules and regulation.

On the plus side – the shower? Wonderful.

Day of Nothing: The Second

Wake up and check out without seeing anyone else. Then attempt to get a taxi. Then fail. Then head back and ask the girl working at the hotel to get you a taxi.

After this step, she seemed to disappear for sometime. Last I saw her running up the hill away from the building. Fair enough, thought I. Just when i was wondering when I should call the police a battered car, without trunk, seats held together with duct tape, came rolling to a stop in front of the glass double doors, honking wildly. Now, I decided, would be a good time to make that police call. However, before I had the audacity to go behind the counter and pick up the phone, the lovely employee stepped out of the passenger seat, and ushered me inside. A taxi had, apparently, been discovered for me, and this was in.

In my new chariot I rode through forgotten streets, against one way signs, and over tire shredding stone all the way to the Cuzco airport. And what an airport it was. Wasn't it? It's hard to really recall much of anything as the next number of hours would pass in a daze of confusion and missed thoughts.

I grabbed my tickets, checked in, paid the airport tax to fly out, and then headed upstairs. There I passed through security without a second glance, and found myself a seat near an electrical socket. There, with hours yet to wait, I plugged in my netbook and set to watching movies. This seemed like quite the thing to do, especially as the earlier CUZ -> LIM flight was in the process of being delayed due to weather. Clearly I had a good feeling about my flight getting out on time.

But what could I do? Nothing. Not a thing. So I began to watch Where the Wild Things Are. Once more – travel is all about finding new and interesting places to watch movies on your Laptop. Am I right, or am I right? There are some people who say it's about exploring, learning about new cultures, and seeing fantastic thing not available in their home city. But that would be incorrect. If I've learned anything, it's that travel's main purpose is to allow you to watch movies in other places. Some people think it's all about listening to music is new and interesting places, but those are the people who have iPods, and of whom I'm jealous. I wouldn't know anything about that. If there's one thing we an agree on though it's that cultural and physical exploration? That's all incidental.

So there I sat, excited by the sketched over intro screens for the movie, hoping for the best. What followed was two hours that I'll never get back. Don't get me wrong, I like terrible movies – Mean Girls? Classic. American Pie 2? Paradigm shifting. Adventures in Babysitting? Look – the girl went to the city and met Thor. How could it not be wonderful?! But this one... I'll never get this time back, and there was nothing redeeming about it. It was just a god awful terrible movie that tried, but failed, to destroy a wonderful book. If your book has sentences, the number of which is one digit, making a movie about it is probably a terrible idea.

The trailer was lovely though – and that's probably the right length for such a piece as this. Ohh well. It took up enough time, and I was now headed to board my flight.

In flight we were granted a snack. A bun. One bun. There seemed to be candied cherries shoved into the bun at random, cubed to Christmas Cake perfection, but there was no disguising the fact that my meal was simply a bun. Ohh look we're landing.

Touching down, just after the flight that was slated to depart three hours before us, was a nice touch. As they stood in line to grab their bags, I could see others smugly smiling, grabbing theirs and heading through customs from our flight. They felt superior over their non-delayed flight, as right they should.

I just walked ahead, my bags being automatically re-directed on to EZE. All I had to do was navigate the airport and exit it in order to enter it once more. There I paid a new airport tax, and headed through security with painless ease once more. Inside I grabbed a seat near an outlet and contemplated how I would spend the next eight hours before I could board my next flight.

Where was that next flight anyway? What gate? The customs man didn't know – but he wanted to. He wanted to so bad that in a flurry of Spanish he grabbed my ticket and my passport and wandered off. Oh good – I thought – but when he returned five minutes later, all seemed well, and off I went.

Eight hours.

Just for kicks I tried to check for wireless networks. There were many. As I attempted to connect I wondered what page I'd be redirected to and how much access to the net would cost. Loading google I was shocked to find myself not headed to or something like that. No – here in Lima airport internet is free for all!

I know, I couldn't believe it either. Eight hours to kill didn't seem all that difficult anymore. I seem to recall watching something, or listening to something, but as I'd been awake for some time and found sleep coming no closer, it was all starting to merge together. After some hours I realized that I was hungry. Who knew how long I'd felt this way. I headed to the snack bar, and without thinking too much about cost bought a drink and sandwich. Airport prices – they'll kill you every time. But at least I could pay in the USD I had kicking around.

Better to be full than grouchy, anyway.

With happy stomach I turned from the computer, which had sucked up six hours of my life, and started to read. It dawns on me that most of the time on the computer was spent trying to update no less than three flight status checkers to discover what gate I should be heading to. The internet told me before the airports boards did. And the gate also happened to coincide with the exact spot that I was currently sitting. What a wonderful world.

As I attempted to finish up Lord of the Rings my brain began to fail. No heavy text could be consumed. I turned instead to the other book I had on hand. I shudder to mention it, but mention it I will: Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Soul Key.

It's one of the latest in the DS9 relaunch series. I have read all twenty to twenty five novels that have followed on the series. I'm sorry – we all have our shameful books now and then. I also read the Halo novels. Sigh.

In an attempt to refresh myself I headed over to MemoryAlpha and read the summary of the last novel in the series before this – it'd been some time since consuming that. There I learned the next next book to continue this series would be set five years in the future, allowing the DS9 relaunch to catch up to the TNG relaunch and VOY relaunch series. While I have accepted this now, at the time of reading it I was shocked and terrified. How will they skip forward five years? So much needs to happen. And does this mean I'll have to read the three or four latest TNG books that place Dax in command of her own ship? I think it will.

I know – I disgust myself. If it's any better, I'll tell you that I'm listening to the soundtrack to the Street Fighter II HD game released over X-Box Live Arcade. No, that probably doesn't make it any better. Not for you. For me? Wonderful. Little by little I accept whom it is that I am.

Tummy full, and a full on seventy pages of the DS9 book read, in which I would have only read fifteen or twenty of LotR, my flight was called and off I went to hop on board. With time zones, and changing things, and what not, I realized that I'd have only four hours before my flight would be landing. I headed quickly to sleep. I think I was out before the plane even left the ground.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day of Nothing: The First

So – final day in Cusco, what to do – what to do? Sure, I could leave my room. I could walk out into the cold rainy morning, or I could stay under the blankets, turn on the Olympic, mute the Spanish commentators, and listen to some Active Time Babble ( I feel I had my priorities straight.

I spent hours watching skiing, and snowboarding recaps, and all sorts of other winter events. Sure people I know are actually in Vancouver going to these events live... but come on, they're not listening to podcasts about Mass Effect 2 when they're watching the athletes? I think I have the upper hand here. I don't think it can even be called into question, really.

For hours I maintained a delightful warmth away from the cold and rain. The wet air, aggressive humidity, liquid sunshine, what have you, was not looking to rest. And yet my belly was commanding me to go out into it. After yesterdays burger, my stomach felt as if it were to receive constant nourishment. Oh silly stomach, how much you still have to learn! And yet – I do believe in retaliation it started to digest itself from the inside out. This was no good. No good at all. Something needed to be done. An d that something was – get another burger.

So out I walked into the rain, t-shirt without jacket. I'm still holding fast to the belief that my body heat will dry my clothes quicker if I don't wear a jacket, and thus it will be warmer in the long run to go without any sort of additional covering.

Into Bembos I strolled, ordering up a burger with mushrooms and cheese. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I'm told the wait is normally under five minutes, but the three times I've been, it has taken well over twenty. Which is all fine and well when your stomach isn't trying to digest you from the inside out. But we'll dwell no more on that, as my food finally arrived.

What we will dwell on for a moment is that when I took my first bite all I could see was bright pink inside. Ai ya. Not knowing how to communicate that it was undercooked, or that I didn't want to die, I just kept my mouth shut. My stomach still yearned for sustenance. So in went the burger – if I got sick, well that would learn my stomach for being so persistent, wouldn't it?

There is some failed logic here.

But as I devoured the burger and fries covered in Aji sauce, chasing it with a cool Inca Kola, I thought nothing more on it. And as I never became sick, all was well.

On a related note – you may remember the German toilets I once described, where there's a little flat place for you to do your business, and then the flush washes it away – I'm told this is because they have a meat filled diet and this design allows them to check for worms after every movement of the bowels. Aren't you glad to have learned this? Enjoy lunch my friends, enjoy lunch!

And then it was back to the hostel where I returned to the safety of the blankets, and the delight of podcasts (now Retronauts) and Olympics. And here I stayed until 7:30 when the lot of us were to meet up for our final dinner in Peru.

There was a restaurant that we had all seen, just down the street from or hotel. For the last week we'd avoided it. It and its table clothed tables, with wine bottles placed provocatively on top. If there's one thing I'd learned in Europe it's that one can never afford a restaurant with table clothes, let alone wine bottles.

And yet this is where we were turning, this is where we were headed for dinner.

This place had to be expensive – oh, there's a set menu? Only S/12 (4USD)? And you get a drink, and a meal, and a starter? Huh – maybe I should have investigated this option before. Looking at the A La Carte menu prices were more suitably unreasonable, but here with my lemonaid, cheese stuffed wantons and salsa, and spaghetti and peso, I was leading the culinary life on a budget.

What's delightful about these Peruvian restaurants is what happens when you order something on the menu that's not in stock. In my case, a glass of Purple Corn Juice, in another diner's case, a beer. Running to the back to check on the beverages, it was discovered none existed. Did this mean all was lost? Did this mean it was time to choose a new drink? Oh no – of course not. What this meant was that one of the employees, or employees children (dancing through the window) would be given some money and sent on a run down to the corner store to pick some up. Want some nachos while they're at it? Why not.

The beer was slightly warm, I was told. No doubt from sitting on the store shelf all day.

This has not been an uncommon practice in these here parts.

Over dinner we were told by our tour guide that all issues with the refund had been handled and that we'd be getting it. Have I heard this from any other official sources? Nope. So far I've heard five things from five people. But still I cling to this newfound belief, and await confirming emails that are yet to come.

And with the end of dinner we all headed or separate ways, tips were give to our guide, and with parting words none of us would ever see the others again. Tragic.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wandering the Inca Ruins

Another day in Cuzco, and while the Olympic games did seem inviting, I figured I'd b est go out and explore just what this city has to offer.

Cusco is surrounded by Inca ruins. And while I'd seen my fair share of them over the last few days, it was high time I actually explored them, crawled over them, touched, them, and tried to suck all the mysterious energy from the magic stones that were there. Wait – no, that's what those hand holding people from the ruins before would have been doing. The energy could stay where it was. I just wanted a peek.

At 9:00am I grabbed a taxi with the couple from Vancouver, and together we headed up and out of the city proper to the surrounding ruins. If you're ever in Cuzco and are wondering just where these ruins are located, follow the giant Jesus. Yes, the giant Jesus sees all and might just know all – though I wouldn't count on it as giant Jesus is just an innanimate object. Still, it surveys all that transpires within the city below.

When the Spanish laid their claim to this part of the world they discovered that the local population worshiped the hills, and the mountains. Well, to the good Christian conquerers this just would not do. It would not do at all. So what did the good people of Spain do? Did they start exterminating the non-believers, in an attempt to purify these new lands? Well – yes, but they also had a less ruthless plan too.

If these people were going to worship the mountains, well then, for goodness sake, why not put a cross on all the high peaks, and a giant Jesus here and there while they're at it? This way when they were worshiping the mountains, they were also pledging their faith to the lord and saviour Jesus the Christ. Or something to that effect. Didn't stop eleven million from being slaughtered, but – you know – those were different times. I'm told you had to be there.

So, you want to see the ruins, just follow the path to god up up up and you'll get there. And then you too can see the stones that are giant, and held together without mortar. And there are caves. Caves are there too – watch your wallet.

But we didn't start at the first ruin, no, we headed up the hills to the furthest one so as we could begin our tour at the top and then walk on down.

So there we were, looking at a ruin that was said to be a place of ritual bathing. The stonework apparently proved it to be of royal use. There were alcoves for statues to be placed, and there was a fountain that allowed water to pour through at just the right height for an Inca to shower. These were tiny people. It's an odd stereotype that the average Asian person is short – I have been to Japan, I have been to Cambodia, and I have been to Thailand. The average person there was not all that much shorter than me. Here in Peru, I feel a giant when I walk through the markets. More of a friendly giant, with a pet Giraffe than an angry giant – like the early Andre the Giant. Sure he mellowed a lot, and then became quite lovable in The Princess Bride – but this was not always the case.

From that ruin we headed down the hill to the next in the series. It was said to be an old hunting lodge, perched atop the cliff, offering a view of all the surrounding lands. More of a summer cottage, we were told than a lookout fort. We were told by Rough Guides travel log, Peruvian pages ripped from the South American book and stapled together. It was at this point while I wandered through the destroyed rooms, and clambered over all the walls, sitting on ledges, and looking out at the valley below, that I started to question what I was being told. There were no written records, and the Spanish destroyed most of what they came across if it was of significance. How do we possibly know what these things were for?

Why was the last ruin a shower and not just a fountain? What makes anyone think that this would have been used as a hunting lodge amongst all other possibilities? Not having any better answers though, I simply went along with it. On to the third of four!

The third ruin was eleven kilometers away, and not wanting to walk we looked for a taxi. There were no taxis. With all the lazy tourists you'd think that this area would be littered with them, but no. The flooding and closure of Machu Picchu significantly reduced the tourists in this area, and as such all the local haunts for profiteering have fallen relatively quite. But fear not, we were not forced to do something as terrible as walking, heaven forbid. No – because moments later a local bus came barreling down the hill, screeching to a stop, and bidding us climb up on board for the low low price of one soles each.

Loud music played as we rocked along the road, local teenagers made out with much vigor, and old women clutched their bags with expertly practiced skill as each bump could have sent them flying. Cultural experience! Screeeeeee! The bus stopped and we were bid to disembark. We had reached the third ruin.

Entering this one we were stopped by a local asking us if we wanted a guide for the ruin. Our three minds all seemed to run through the possibilities that this was a scam of some sort before shrugging and saying, “sure.” Let me tell you – I recommend you pick up a guide. Who knows if what they say is true or not, but you gain so much more from the experience than you would have otherwise. Their knowledge comes from local tales and the book learnin' so it's as good as you're bound to get anyway.

This ruin was a temple of sort, a labyrinth as well. But fear not, there was no spandex clad Bowie waiting to terrify and replace your baby with changeling.

The site was comprised of three levels, a pseudo-cave, a ground level, and a rooftop. Each level had a flat table used for the terrifying practice of (read this internally with a spooky voice) sacrifice. Human as well as animal? Hard to say. But many creatures lost their lives on these tables. A llama cemetery was discovered not far from this location, however it was quickly reburied as local shamans kept taking the bones for their practices.

Purple orchids grew from between the stones, blossoming for only one month of the year; ancient thrones carved into the walls offer royal seats to the forgotten.

From here our guide led us forth to the fourth and final Inca ruin. You'll note I've not mentioned any of the names, as I forget them. I recall two things – one has a hard Q sound, and the one we were headed to sounds remarkably like Sexy Woman. Down the hill we continued, passing stuffed effigies hanging from the trees.

This ruin was by far the largest, and the most impressive. This was also the ruin closest to giant Jesus.

Our entrance was through a small cave. Stories were shared about the possible loss of entering the wrong cave, and those who go missing. It was also said that the larger of the two caves connects to the supposed tunnels that run under the Cuzco streets allowing access between these sites, and church, and the Sacred Valley far off.

We took the small cave. A child was waiting at the entrance and followed us in. In the pitch black we all held on to one another. I am pretty sure I felt tiny hands trying to rummage through my pockets, but my wallet was not kept anywhere so accessible. After a short time we were let back into the light, an artificial lagoon of old, now turned grassy fields for children to skip, play, and lie in the sun, waiting for us. I do recommend this entrance into the ruin, but stay alert – stay safe – and keep little childrens' hands away from what's yours.

We headed down to the great walls, and the steps that would take us over all three layers. As part of the main wall there was a stone that was at least three meters cubed. Why the Incas decided to trek this rock down from the mountains, rather than simply bring smaller ones as they'd done in so many other places is beyond me. In front of this rock a rope prevents people from getting too close. White stains this monolith, destroyed little by little from the touch of thousands seeking the mysterious energies within said rock.

People will do what people will do.

From here we headed up under the gates, over the levels, and off to the edge of the cliff overlooking Cuzco. Cuzco is a large city, and not the small town that many people may think it is. Nope – pretty grand and sweeping, especially from overhead - - - and there's the rain drops.

Of course. Quick tip to the guide, thanks expressed, and then a hustle down the hill into the city. Let the skies open, cue torrential downpour. Good. Now the rocks that form the path are oh so slippery, and it's not so much of a race but a slide down the hill. The less said about this the better.

The rain was localized and in the city the pavement was still dry. Breaking paths with the other two who were with me I headed to Bembos for yet another most delicious hamburger.

And this hamburger experience was beyond imagining. It was the type of experience where you're grabbing fries with one hand, pulling sips of Inca Kola with the other, and all the while trying to devour your giant Hawaiian burger – a treat which somehow manages to successfully add pineapple to a meaty treat. It was heaven. The greatest meal of all times. So wonderful.

Well the second best burger – it's no Matty P pulled pork burger, but really – what is?

And with that meal devoured, and the world seeming a most perfect place in which to live, I headed back to the hotel to nap, watch Olympics, and take in the movie In Brugge. I was totally there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Heading Back to Cuzco

Waking up after a groggy and much needed sleep left me in a state of confusion that never really lifted though out the rest of the day, for various reasons.

Today was the day that we should have spent at Machu Picchu, but as it was still inaccessible, we were headed back to Cuzco for a lovely time there, to be sure. Ah Cuzco – what wonders you offer, from your square full of shops, and people offering you massages, to fast food joints that are anything but fast. You also have a lovely stadium, but that is far removed from the centre, and who knows what mysteries transpire there? Probably football, I'd imagine.

Before leaving this town, oh so close to the undamaged Machu Picchu (the problem is getting in and out with the train tracks not really together anymore) I stood on my balcony a final time and took in the various Inca works that surrounded me. I can only imagine what the locals think – are they jaded, do they think it's impressive? And what must it have been like hundreds of years ago to have these veritable castles towering over you?

A final glance, and off to the bus.

It was on the bus ride back to Cuzco that I asked how we go about claiming our 400USD refund from Gap Adventures, at which point I was told that there would be no refund. I'll keep this short for now, as I'm involved in a few e-mails trying to sort this out, my favourite paragraph from them all reading:

“To clarify, as per the notification sent the refund was offered if you stayed in Cusco for the time dedicated to the Lares Trek, Inca Trail or Machu Picchu. However, our records indicate that you participated in the Lares Trek. I apologize for any confusion or disappointment this may cause, however there is no refund owed to to you. If you wish to submit a claim through your insurance provider, we can provide you a letter confirming that you were not able to visit Machu Picchu as it was inaccessible.”

In this paragraph they claim that you can only get the refund if you stayed in Cusco during the time you should have been on the Lares Trek or at Machu Picchu – then following up to say I don't qualify for said refund, and then finally admitting that I did not spend time at Machu Picchu (which you will recall qualifies you for said refund). Me thinks that they wanted to write the word “and” instead of “or” (which doesn't make total sense as no trip goes on and Lares Trek and the Inca Trail), however as they did not...

But no more on this for now, as if things do not get cleared up I'll be writing a much larger piece on this issue. And if things do get cleared up, I'll just let it all blow over.

I state this only because the mood in our bus for the few hour ride back into town was notably soured. Is silent rage a descriptor? It's accurate here.

We made a few stops on the way back. One of them was a salt mine. Well, a salt – acquiring – place. I'm sure it's still a mine even though it's all done above ground, but in my mind a salt mine should be full of churches, and statues, and replica pope salt carvings. Hey – give me a break, I've only ever seen one salt mine before, is it my fault that it happened to be the most impressive in the world?

Also mines are for dwarves, and other such creatures, and they're often underground. Thus my mental image is preconceived.

This mine required more treacherous twisty, fall to your doom mountain roads. It looked, well not entirely, but not entirely not, like a huge honey comb. There were pools and pools networked together where through some sort of alchemist magic the water streaming down from the hills forced the salt to the surface, where it would then be scooped off and placed in large bags to be stored for, I assume, processing.

We wandered down all number of steps to see this mine, and it was quite lovely. There were also free samples of banana chips – also lovely. However, when we were done wandering the network of salt pools, and finished making boot prints in the salt (this is why I hope it's processed and refined, you see) we looked back at the stairs that would lead us up to the minibus waiting for us. There were only about thirty five or forty steps.

By the time we reached the bus we were all huffing and puffing. Lares Trek, why must you have hurt us so?

The next stop was an Inca site with ringed terraces. We had the option of wandering down to the bottom. I thought about this for no more than a few seconds before deciding that wandering down to the bottom would require wandering back up to the top. This seemed like an impossible dream. However, don't think that I didn't appreciate this Inca site. Oh no, I enjoyed the Moray terraces quite a lot, and marveled at their splendor.

The purpose for these rings, each one deeper than the previous, was for experimental farming. Due to the various height of each ring, the temperatures were different. This allowed the ancient Inca farmers to discover the best ways to grow their crops.

Today, however, yo may find some energy seeking, crystal healing, new agers down at the bottom holding hands, and lying down in circles trying to feel the presence of this place.

Pretty much that's like walking into a cornfield, and attempting to feel the healing energy there. Hey, who am I to criticize? If they're happy, then I'm happy taking pictures of them, and reporting on this modern use for the Moray terraces. Travel agents, I'm sure, are also quite pleased with the turn of events.

Back on the bus, we headed for our final stop. A church build atop Inca foundations. This was at the top of a hill. Can you see a pattern here? I stayed in the bus, partially due to the still present silent rage, and partially due to a lack of desire to climb up and down more hills. Can I be blamed? I was not the only to refuse said sight.

Back at Cuzco we checked into our hotel once more. I made sure to hand off my laundry for washing, and then made my way down to the main square where two McDee's quarter pounders were eaten before heading to Bembos. This is a Peruvian burger grill. It is lovely. It is wonderful. It has Aji sauce (think hot chili sauce. Not like the Asian kind, it's more like Mustard or horseradish – but not... not at all, because it's Aji. Just don't think red and goopy.)

With that packed away I headed back to my hotel, and had a good lie down. And another shower that lasted until the hot water ran out. And it was lovely. There were also Olympics.

The Final Day of the Lares Trek

The final day of the Lares Trek was upon us.

And as the world is an angry angry beast, sleep before this final night was not all that stellar. You may think that, once again, it was too cold. But in this thought you would be incorrect. You see it was not too cold, but rather too hot. Yes, while we were at a higher altitude, it was a much warmer night, and thus the thermals did nothing but create an uncomfortable balance between being too hot, or removing some of the sleeping bag, only to then be too cold. But once again all of this was forgotten when tea was brought to my tent.

And the white noise created by the running stream nearby did wonders to help create a calm, and relaxed attitude for this final day.

After a breakfast of delightful pancakes (I'm told this was “pancake day” some sort of Jesus thing, I believe? I'm not to up on my theology/mythology/what have you.) I was told that lemon and sugar made for the best toppings. Clearly these people have never had real maple syrup. They said that they had, but when I asked how much the bottle cost and discovered it was only a few dollars, I knew they'd never tasted the real Canadian treat – as the hours required collecting sap, and then reducing it by 80% over a constant flame, can only be purchased for twenty dollars a bottle. Any less, and you're taking chances with the flavour. On the other hand, it doubles as a tasty treat when poured over clean snow.

So pancakes we had, and hot chocolate too. Then our camp was broken down for the final time, and we were off. I may have downed a few more pain killers.

As we walked longer than needed be the day before, our walk today was a short three hour hop down the road. Leaving the hills behind, and entering the cities, the children's faces became much cleaner, and their clothes far more modern. I still wonder if those in the hills were merely in costume. It seems strange that a few kilometers could create such different cultural norms.

Down the road we hopped, talking merrily all the way, tra la la – and then we were stopped. A mud slide had closed off some of the road. Workers were chipping away at the rock with picks to cover the slide. Watching for a moment or so, we then decided to waltz right through, hoping for the best, trying to become as little covered in the sticky barrier as possible.

Towns, rocks, mountains – and then we had reached our destination. An anti-climactic end to the three day journey. Looking back it could have been compiled into one day for many, I do believer. The first three hours were relatively tame, as were the last three. It would have made for a 16 hour hike. While that might have been pushing it somewhat two days at the most this trail should take. Still – I was grateful for the three.

Our ending place was a restaurant where lunch would be served. But before that some people went off to see the temple of the sun. I'm sure this Inca ruin was lovely, and marvelous, but when I heard that it required climbing a terrible number of steps, I was sure that I needn't visit it.

Returning to my reading of the Lord of the Rings, I once more felt that I could relate to Frodo's never-ending march across middle earth. (I hate Frodo, mind you – and feel he is the most terrible of all characters in said text, not unlike Harry Potter, in his own series – but never mind that. Sam. I could relate to Sam.)

When people returned with tales of big rocks, overshadowed by bigger steps, I felt that – despite how amazing it would have been – I made the right call. And then we ate. And it was good.

With lunch over, we headed out to our hotels, and the trek had come to an end.

I'm sure I meant to stay awake for a while to go out for dinner. But this was not to be. Checking into the hotel around 3:00pm, the next time I recall seeing was 7pm. When I did awake though I explored, explored as far as the balcony outside my room. But from this balcony, what sights could be seen. The temple of the Sun was carved and built upon a mountain of which I had a perfect view, amazed by the scope, and scale of the creation. What work would have been involved to create such a thing?

And then opposite there was another ancient building carved into an opposing mountain. As I turned my head once more, I was boxed in by yet another part of the Andes towering overhead. And all before me, the stylized roofs of rural Peru.

While I did not climb the ruins myself, I feel that I enjoyed and appreciated them all the same. As I stood looking out into the night, I was again overcome by a growing tired. But before I crashed yet again, I made way to the shower. There I stood for an hour, until the warm water ran cold, and I could stand it no more. Closer to clean, I was now, after so long without any showers. And my body rejoiced.

At some point between exiting the shower, and trying to decide what to do next, I aparently passed out on my bed.
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