New blog!

•May 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hello,

I’ve recently registered a new domain, and have exported everything from here to there.

All new updates are going there, so I never want to see you here again!

Go to: http://blog.tallgrove.com

See you there!

The Season Begins . . .

•April 22, 2009 • 2 Comments

Howdy everybody, long time no post.

The time has come to fulfill my promises to keep up a blog, and the result will be this post. Yes, I had a nice, though brief sojourn in the North Okanagan, and as of Sunday I have been in the bush a few kilometers from the charming town of Logan Lake.

The first day of camp was typical in that everybody worked, for free. Holes needed to be dug (for the shitters and the sump), tents needed to be set up, and tarps needed to be roped together. Myself, I spent most of my time digging the sump pit, which turned out to be an ominous foreshadowing of the ground we were about to plant. In the foreground of this picture you can see some of the heftier boulders that required excavation:

sump-pit

Well, at least we got a chance to start a few of our blisters. And soon enough, it was time to drink beer around the campfire. The next morning, it was time to work! After being introduced to the pleasures of the pie-plate (a screefed spot a foot wide around each tree), we got to work, and boy, was I ready to go!

ready-to-plant

Yep, I did make money that first day, and it didn’t even hurt too bad! For sure, I was taking it quite easy . . . it’s rocky out there and it’s not worth getting tendonitis right away. Still though, I finally had a day that ended in the black!

I went to bed early that night (last night), as I was rather fatigued, and we were doing the same thing tomorrow! Well, it was pretty gusty last night (the flapping tarp kept me up for a couple hours at least), and when I woke up this morning, this is what I saw:

snowy-day

Brr.

So no planting today. We’re sitting around camp bored and freezing, just waiting for dinnertime. So another day in the red, I guess. Yes, it sucks, but anyone who has been planting before knows that shit going wrong is par for the course, to the point that it’s unsettling when everything goes right.

So enjoy your central heating and nice mattresses, folks! I have neither, and today I can’t even justify this unpleasantess with a large income. Oh well.

‘K bye.

Hmm?

•October 17, 2008 • 1 Comment

Does anybody read this?

Is this blog kaput, or should I re-commence updates?

Only your comments will decide this enigma.

Shameless plug: Listen to Neil Young.

Love.

From Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca to Culture Shock in Miraflores: A Long Title for Possibly the Last Post

•April 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Word up.

So I managed to escape the severe-sunburn-inducing beach town of Huanchaco, but by no means unscathed (actually, my left arm and shoulder made it out OK, but everthing else is currently peeling). I arrived in the cold little town of Huaraz, which is situated in a beautiful setting, surrounded by the craggy peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, home of the highest peaks in the Andes. There are over twenty peaks here at over 6000 meters, with the highest at about 6800. Obviously, this is the place for some hardcore trekking and climbing. Unfortunately, due to the season, the latter was out of the question, but many excellent hikes remain open year-long. I booked myself on a four-day excursion to Santa Cruz, an especially beautiful mountain in a region of beautiful mountains.

Unfortunately, this is what we saw:

Yes, we spent the entire first day hiking through fog and snow. We occasionally got a tantalizing glimpse of the base of a mountain (the guide kept pointing way up into the fog and saying, “and there are three beautiful mountains!”), but on the whole we had to imagine what we were seeing.

We were again hiking at high altitudes, and thank goodness I’ve been acclimatized! The rest of the group was experiencing severe difficulties in trying to hike up the hills at these elevations, while I just trucked on. Plus, the coca leaves really help a lot.

Fortunately, the next day was a bit better, with sunshine in the morning. We hiked through a beautiful flat valley, and were often rewarded with views huge, snowy peaks. Sadly, it was the day before that we were actually hiking in the peaks, but it was still a lovely hiking experience. I’m not going to put any of those pictures in this post, but rather a picture I took of a flower of which I’m somewhat proud.

Anyways, I’m unfortunately (for you) feeling rather uninspired to write in my blog — I’m doing so out of a vague sense of obligation, though I do get a certain satisfaction from doing it.

I’ve read lots of cool books on my journey, and quite a few really horrible ones too. I read a great Samuel Clemens semi-autobiography (for those of you who are unschooled in the ways of classic American literature, Clemens’ nom-de-plume is the more commonly known Mark Twain) of his adventures in the Wild West, entitled “Roughing It.” I also read a book by a Canadian author previously unbeknownst to me, John Metcalf. The book, “General Ludd,” is one of the best books I’ve read for a really long time, and you shoud all read it. It’s a cuttingly satirical comedy focussing on poetry, the university system, and Canadian society. I really cannot praise it enough. And finally, right now I’m reading some real literature (the last word is to be read in a haughty British accent): Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” For the first time in some years I am reading a book where I feel that much is going right over my head, but at the same time much is going through it as well. I’m only a mere hundred pages in, but I’m convinced that it is fully deserving of the previously-mentioned bold-faced label. Yes, I know I’m in South America to appreciate South American culture, but at heart I’m a reader, and a lover of good books.

So now I’m in Lima, in the suburb of Miraflores. It is here that I am currently experiencing strong culture shock, or perhaps reverse culture shock is a more accurate expression. This place is just like Canada: no street vendors, busy roads packed with shiny new single-occupant vehicles, and the unexpected presence of Pizza Hut, Scotiabank, and (gasp) Starbucks. Suddenly, instead of being well-dressed, I’m a slob again, even though my clothing has not changed. The price of everything has suddenly quadrupled, and I’m hard-pressedx to get my boots shined. Honestly, it’s horrible, and I’m going to start making the daily commute to the grimy Central Lima, where I can again get diarrhea from street food and smell the odor of calf stomach sitting in the sun. I came here because I thought this is what I wanted, but after a mere four hours here I’m ready to get out again! Ah well, it’ll be good acclimatization for my return to Canada.

Anyways, I’m done for now. I’m going to head back to the hostel and try to scrub the Nescafe stains out of my white t-shirt (mission impossible, I know, but I just did laundry yesterday, dammit! It never fails . . .). Hope this post finds all you readers fine and dandy! And for those of you who are enjoying this blog, please give a little something back! I can’t tell you how voraciously I read your comments and emails (mainly because I hardly get any). Here, let me help you. Email me at turvyc (at) gmail (dot) com. The address must be written like that in the blog text to protect against spam-fishers: geek-jerks write programs that fish through the source of millions of web pages looking for the username@domain.com format, and upon finding these addresses, they add them to the cheap viagra and penis enlargement advertisment mailing lists. Definitely something to be avoided, especially since I need neither of these products.

Anyways, ciao.

‘K Bye.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

•March 27, 2008 • 8 Comments

Greetings, one and all.

I think I’ll start this post out with a small apology and a little semantic lesson. It turns out that I’ve been unintentionally spelling the name of Peru’s foremost wonder quite incorrectly. Here is the correct spelling: Machu Picchu. Sorry.

Machu Picchu is a Quechua name, meaning “Old Mountain.” While this is more or less uninteresting in itself, our guide, Warton, instructed me on the correct pronunciation of the words. I, and probably most of you, had been mispronouncing the name as MAH-choo PEE-choo, but the correct pronunciation is actually MAH-choo PEEK-choo. A small difference, perhaps, but the former pronunciation actually means (in Quechua) “Old Penis.”

No wonder the locals here have such big grins when we gringos talk about it.

The first day of our tour was another day of downhill mountain biking, though not as dangerous as riding down the Death Road in La Paz. The sixty kilometers of coasting downhill from the high hills into a lush jungle valley was incredible, but for some reason I didn’t pull out my camera. I guess high speed and photography doesn’t mix. But the road was incredible: the harrowing switchbacks slowly (yet speedily at the same time) delivered us gently into the valley, which was spotted by tiny villages every couple kilometers, from which issued little kids screaming “Hola!” as we sped by. After a belly full of beer we went to bed in anticipation of the next day.

We awoke, and after a typical Bolivian breakfast of bread, jam, and Nescafe, we started off on our first day of trekking. It was amazing hiking through the jungle (as always), though this time we had a clearly defined trail. The hills here are all incredibly steep, yet have many small cultivated clearings that the locals use to grow corn, coffee and coca. The way of life seemed largely unchanged for hundreds of years, as all work was done by hand, and the workers lived in little huts in the forest. Yet to a person, all were exceedingly friendly and accomodating to us intruders, perhaps because they all had water and snacks for sale, which we greedily bought and consumed. One lady had a delicious beverage called chicha morada, which is a vaguely sweet, non-alcoholic drink brewed from purple corn. She also had a monkey and another strange little animal which we could play with, and she grew coffee, pineapples, papayas, coca and marijuana.

The valley we were walking through was incredible. Often we would pop out from the lush growth to be rewarded with incredible views of this ancient Inca valley.

imagen-034.jpg

At one point we walked along an old Inca trail. They had a system quite similar to the 19th century American Pony Express. To deliver messages from Cusco, the Inca capital, to what is now Lima, runners would sprint top speed along these narrow, precipitous trails for three kilometers, where a fresh runner would take the message and sprint his three kilometers. In this way, a message could be delivered between the two cities in only one day. To put that into perspective, today it takes 20 to 24 hours for a bus to make the same journey.

The third day was much the same, but with the addition of a harrowing way to cross a river. Building bridges is evidently far to expensive and difficult, so rather the locals use a small platform suspended by pulleys on a cable which stretches across the river, essentially a zip line. Two people hop on, and it is sent down the cable, to be pulled across by a rope by a person on the other side. Yes, it was scary (the first time), but soon it became routine to be on a tiny platform a hundred feet above a raging river.

imagen-071.jpg

This next paragraph shall be dedicated to the weird bugs we saw along the way. Unfortunately, most moved to quickly or were too far away to properly photograph, but I got a few good ones. Everywhere there were these red and black butterflies which sat in large groups on the path, presumably (if I remember my Zoobooks correctly) extracting vital minerals from the path. These guys were so docile that they wouldn’t fly away if bothered . . . I suppose whatever they were eating had some very soothing effects. Also common were the huge butterflies which I also saw in Bolivia. About the size of my hand (I have large hands), the underside of their wings were a dull and relatively unexciting brown, though with large eyespots, but the top were this incredible iridescent blue. They were so large that the flapped through the air much like a bird, but were wary enough to avoid being photographed. I also saw for my first time ever a Monarch butterfly (or it’s extremely similar imitator butterfly). Definitely a crowning moment in my entomological observations (or is it entYmological? Sorry, dad, I always forget). We also saw a few enormous centipedes about four or five inches long. These guys were cool because as they walked their legs moved in waves up their body. It’s hard to describe . . . you really just have to see it, I guess. Then there was this monster insect with huge jaws about an inch long (the jaws, not the bug. The bug itself was the length of my finger, or a good four inches, not including the jaws). Who knows what it is or what it does, but here’s a picture of it:

imagen-097.jpg

But by far the coolest were these big piles of caterpillars which squirmed along the ground all together. Each must have had at least a hundred each, and were thoroughly repulsive, yet absolutely fascinating. Dad, if you could ento(y?)mologically explain these in the comments section for the other readers of this blog, that would be really cool. Anyways, a picture is worth a thousand words . . .

imagen-061.jpg

Anyways, let me give you some more multimedia. Here’s a short little video clip of some of the scenery (not the best stuff; I always seem to be so awed I forget to photograph it). It’s cool.

Anyways, we trekked and trekked and trekked, and eventually we got to the horrible little town of Aguas Calientes. Here, there are more tourists and more annoying touts that Cusco, and that’s all I’ll say about it. About Cusco I will say I’m so friggin’ sick of people on the street pressuring me to buy their food, massages, drinks or drugs. (Side note: the nightlife in Cusco is weird. Walk to the main plaza, and be instantly mobbed by about a dozen touts offering free passes and free drinks to their nightclub. Brandon would always get sucked into their bullshit — they always wanted to know your name, your country, and all these personal things so you would think they were your “friends” — and apologize and apologize that he was going somewhere else for the time being. The guy just wouldn’t accept that the assholes were doing it on purpose, and actually didn’t give a damn about him except for his money and their commission. BUT, we got lots of free drinks, and went from club to club (being mobbed in between each one, of course) drinking our free cuba libres — rum and cokes — and then leaving. Getting drunk for free is easy, but really, really annoying. Oh yes, Brandon went off to Lima to meet his sister before I left on the trek, so I’m by myself again)

I’ll just skip ahead to Machu Picchu. We awoke at 4 am, and by 5 we were toiling up the eight kilometers of stairs to get to the famous site. Turns out I still have my treeplanting legs, and I easily outdistanced everybody else, but when I arrived at the top, I was greeted with a line-up of several hundred old and fat people who took the bus to the top. Honestly, there should be a special line for those who actually put in the effort to climb by themselves. This was a tourist scene I’d had yet to see: these were REAL tourists, not budget backpackers looking for culture and adventure like myself. Everybody was in a big floppy hat and silly adventurer dress, and at least 90% of the Japanese people were carrying huge tripods. Everybody was pasty pale and hurredly applying sunscreen and bug dope. Honestly, it was sickening, but it made me feel like a totally hardcore adventurer, even though I’m not, really.

Fortunately, Machu Picchu itself was amazing. What can I say? We walked all around the site, marvelling at the truly incredible stonework, set against an incredible backdrop of mountains. Just look at my pictures, you’ll understand. We also totally lucked out and had the first sunny day there in quite some time. Our guide was most impressed with our luck.

imagen-124.jpg

The coolest, though, was the hike up Waynu Picchu, the tooth-like mountain behind Machu Picchu you see in all the postcard pictures of the place. It was an incredible grueling climb up narrow and steep stairs, but my treeplanter legs pulled through once more and I did the 45-minutes-recommended climb in a mere 20, without rests. I earned many a raised eyebrow as I sped by hyperventilating tourists in fancy hiking boots and trekking clothes (I must say, my Blundstones absolutely rule. Buy a pair, now). Coming down was equally amusing, as I skipped down the steep stairs past “hardcore” hikers in elite name-brand gear who were clinging to the rocks in evident fear. The most hilarious were these two Japanese-Canadian girls who have evidently never left the city. Actual comment: “Like, now we can say we’ve been hiking, but oh my GOD let’s go back to the house.” Hilarious.

Here is a big picture of me just after conquoring Waynu Picchu. You can see the bus road up to Machu Picchu, but you can’t see all the stair I walked up. By the way, do you like my hat?

imagen-18133.jpg

Anyways, I’m pretty tired of writing by now. I’m back here in Cusco to resusitate, do my laundry, update the blog, and get ready for the next leg of my journey. Tomorrow I leave for Lima, but when I get there I don’t even plan on leaving the bus station. I will immediately depart for Trujillo, a medium sized beach town north of Lima. After a night there I’ll take a bus to an as-yet-undecided little non-touristy village (a.k.a. not in my guidebook) on the beach, where I’ll chill out until it’s home time. I think I’ll punctuate my beach leisure time with a trek in the Cordorilla Real, which is quite close to where I’m going.

Hasta la vista, baby!

‘K Bye.

Lake Boobypoo and the Incan Capital

•March 20, 2008 • 1 Comment

Howdy folks!

Round two in La Paz was unfortunately not as enjoyable as round one: I now heartily wish I hadn’t spent so much time there in the first place. Admittedly, I was stuck there waiting for my replacement debit card, but STILL, there are way, way better places to be in Bolivia. One of these places is the charming (yet overwhemingly touristy) lakeside village of Copacabana.

Copacabana is on the shore of Lake Titicaca (do you get my extremely hilarious title-joke now?), which my guidebook describes as everyone’s favorite elementary school statistic. It is the largest and highest navigable lake in the world, but more interestingly it is from where the legendary founders of the Incan empire emerged. The lake is famous for it’s trout, and we enjoyed many fried fish in the beach shacks, looking across the lake, which is so huge it seems like the ocean.

Trucha!

However, the place to be is actually on the glorious Isla del Sol, which features ruins dating to before Christ and an ancient lifestyle by and large unchanged by the hordes of tourists that visit each day. Here, all the slopes are terraced, and have been for thousands of years, and they are still cultivated by the locals in traditional ways (that is, totally by hand). After a steep climb to the top of the island, we were rewarded with stunning views of the lake, which is ringed on one side by a mountain range to rival the Rockies. All the cafes have patios from which to enjoy the views as you sip your ice-cold beer, and our afternoon was largely consumed by doing just that. We then went on a walk around the terraces, and talked with the many field workers as they harvested their primary crop, peas. Every little girl or boy we met eagerly asked us to take their picture, but we quickly learned: as soon as the shutter clicked, their pleas changed to “paga me, paga me!” Evidently they desired renumeration for their work as an indigenous model.

Bringing home the crops

A word about my Spanish skills. Some time in the last couple weeks, something just clicked, and suddenly my listening comprehension took a huge leap forward. I don’t know how, but I realized I was suddenly able to differentiate easily the individual words in a string of speech. It’s very exciting . . . talking with the locals has never been better. As Brandon put it today, we are no longer super-gringos, but a more savvy traveller. It is incredible what breaking down the language barrier provides. I suppose my ear just needed two months to adjust to the Spanish sounds.

Sadly, we couldn’t linger at the beautiful Isla del Sol, because Brandon has to meet his sister in Lima in a couple days, and my visa had expired. We rushed off the island, and headed (finally) into Peru. The border crossing was extremely easy (nothing like what Keiran & Co. are currently experiencing in the Middle East!), and after converting our Bolivianos into Nuevo Soles, we were ready to go. The first, only, and most striking difference upon crossing the border (apart from new and exciting beers to try) was the sudden appearance of rickshaws. These are bicycles (the fancy ones are motorcycles) that have been converted to have two passenger seats behind the pedeller (or driver). These bike-taxis are extremely common in India and China, I hear, but I never expected to see them here in Peru! I’ve yet to try one but I can’t wait.

We arrived in Cusco, Peru, which I had never heard of before coming to South America, but my guidebook affirms (as do my initial experiences here) that this is THE gringo capital of South America. Cusco (which means “The Navel of the World” in Incan) was the capital of the Inca Empire, which was founded by the two original Incans soon after they emerged from the icy depths of Lake Titicaca. The modern city is built on the remains of the ancient one, and most of the buildings here have foundations of Inca stonework. The stonework is amazing, because the stones were painstakingly chosen to fit perfectly together — they were not carved or hand-jointed.

Inca stonework

Of course, Cusco is now most famous for Maccu Piccu, Peru’s answer to the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and the Statue of Liberty (joke). It also stands at the mouth to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which contains countless Inca ruins all within walking distance from the city. This place is seriously cool.

Maccu Piccu is ridiculously expensive. Just taking the train (the only way to get there) up and back for a day trip is about $250!!! The famous Inca Trail, which is a four-day trek to the site sits at about $400, but is so popular that it is fully booked until mid-May or so (only 200 people a day are allowed on — but that’s still a lot!). Fortunately, I have found a somewhat cheaper option: for $200, I can go on a four-day excursion (food and everything is included), which features a full day of downhill mountain biking, two days of trekking in the mountains past other ruins, a full day at Maccu Piccu, and a relaxing finish at a thermal spring. A bit of a budget buster, but it’s gonna be great!

Just walking around this town is hilarious . . . for the first time I’m seeing tourists other than budget backpackers like myself, and EVERYBODY is trying to sell something. I’m thoroughly thankful that I’ve had two months to become skilled in evading agressive sellers. Everybody speaks some English here (unfortunate, because it is very useful to confer in a language they don’t understand when considering their offer. Many sellers do the same however, by speaking in Quechua, the indiginous language of these parts. And yes, most people speak it, and some speak only it — no Spanish! Cool.), and as a tall white guy I am a prime target. My favorite are the pretty girls who are trying to sell us massages — one hour for about six dollars. It is actually somewhat useful having three or four of them at once trying to sell us the same thing, because then we can work them off each other: one offers thirty soles, and another immediately counters with twenty-five. With patience and a practiced “Well, maybe, but I’m not sure” expression, you can get crazy cheap deals.

There is much more to tell, as always, but I’m afraid I’m tired of writing. Unfortunately there’s not too many new pictures, the quality of which I’m only somewhat pleased with, but wait for next week when I’ll write about Maccu Piccu!

Thinking of you all!

‘K Bye.

PS: Beer in Peru comes in 1.1 liter bottles! Life is good.

Insert Post Title Here, I Guess

•March 15, 2008 • 2 Comments

Greetings all!

Guess what? I’m tired and I don’t feel like writing anything, but my sense of reponsibility is somewhat over-riding these sentiments. I can, however, take the easy way out and merely gloss over recent events.

We headed down to this awesome little organic farm set in the jungle, which was run by a great hippie and his family. It was great . . . we had our own little cabin set deep in the woods, all the food was grown and cooked there, and our host, Christobel, was not only totally cool but loved jamming and chess.

The idea behind his place was that people would come and stay for a couple weeks and learn how to do all sorts of stuff, from farming organically to making home-made cheese. Sadly, both Brandon and I were (and still are!) tight for time: Brandon because he has to meet his sister in Lima on the 24th, and I because my Bolivian visa expired on the 14th. This meant we could only stay for a totally insufficient three days. Fortunately, we made the best of it.

As I mentioned, Chris loves chess and was confident enough to play all comers without his queen. According to his Bolivian wife, he always won. Always. Of course, I couldn’t let him go unchallenged! Maybe I was lucky, but I came out on top after three games (we both agreed there is no luck in chess)! The poor guy looked quite put out, and obviously wanted to play three out of five, but naturally I stopped while I was ahead, and then got the heck out of Dodge. Okay, okay, maybe not a great narrative of my interactions with Bolivian culture, but it was friggin’ sweet!

The highlight of our stay was a crazy jungle trek we undertook one day. We were assured it was four hours in to a 300-meter waterfall, and only a mere three hours out. It actually developed into a full-on thirteen-hour slog through untracked jungle, complete with three river crossings and numerous crazy drop-offs. Totally sweet. It was just what Brandon and I wanted — an extreme trek hacking through the jungle with machetes (without the machetes we would have gotten nowhere). It culminated on a rock ledge right underneath the enormous waterfall, with an incredible vista over the jungle. The mountains of Amboro National Park are incredible . . . it looked like it was where King Kong was found . . . look at my pictures, please.

The ride back to Santa Cruz deserves mention. The road was totally obliverated by landslides (often whole sections of road were just gone), so direct passage was impossible. This, however, is normal for the locals, who have ways of working around such difficulties. Our first ride was in the back of a pick-up truck, who drove to the edge of the first slide. The slide site is an insane tangle of trucks, busses, personal vehicles and construction equipment. All around the locals who lived nearby were selling all sorts of food and drink . . . they must thrive off the landslides. I can just imagine them seeing a landslide, and immediately cooking up a couple hundred tamales for the hungry and bored workers and travellers.

Anyways, we crossed the slide on foot, and caught a taxi on the other side. There was yet another slide to negotiate before getting to SC, but the taxi drivers loved it, as they were making a killing ferrying people back and forth in between the two slides. It was actually incredibly painless doing all this.

We finally got to SC and took a cama (bed) bus to La Paz, where I am now. I now honestly wish I hadn’t spent so much time here in the first place, now that I know what else Bolivia has to offer. Oh well. I am going to try to find another place like Ginger’s Paradise in Peru, in between Maccu Piccu and surf lessons, of course.

Sorry about the declining quality in blog posts, it’s just really seeming like work right now. You’ll have to satisfy yourself with pictures, but even with those I’m going for broke. No titles for the latest batch (except for the jungle trek, which was totally bad-ass), just sets. Sorry.

Exhaustivly yours!

‘K Bye.

 
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