Thursday, July 30, 2009

DW Does Machu Picchu... Solo

My friend Tracey organized our trip to Machu Picchu, and then the morning afterward fell violently ill and only got into the park for about an hour before deciding that she had to return to our hostel and sleep/vomit/do whatever other horrible things it is sick people do. Que lastima...

In any case, as Tracey was leaving Machu Picchu she gave me the all important task of documenting the trip. I only had about two hours to do this and so I ended up walking through there at a pretty brisk pace, but I think I was successful enough. Here are a couple pictures:

Guide with a tour group during the sunrise at Machu Picchu.

My version of the shot that you've already seen 1000 times.

BTW -- you can hike that mountain thing in the back. It's called Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu), and they only let the first 400 people that come hike it each day... something good to know for next time...

People pay a whole bunch of money to do the four-day Inca Trail hike, in large part because they think that this is the only way to see the Sun Gate. Well, you can save yourself a lot of time by just hiking backwards from Machu Picchu... it'll take about half an hour and this is about what you'll see.

A picture of me walking back into Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail taken by... me...

When hiking alone, desperate times call for desperate measures...

As I walked through Machu Picchu, I stumbled onto this little vizcacha and a Peruvian couple. The woman kept saying "¡Que linda, que linda!" (how beautiful! How beautiful!) while the husband tortured the poor animal by getting as close to it as possible until it scurried away.

More or less what Tracey was up to all day as I was having my fun.

Tracey has since had to head back to work, and so I am now in Cuzco for the next week sans travelling companions. Next up: the Río Apurímac, where I'll be floating Class 4 rapids with a bunch of Israelis (I think). Catch you on the flip-side!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Really South: Goodbye Lima

I´ve noticed that I have a nasty habit of going AWOL for a long time just after leaving somewhat disconcerting posts. Well, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am currently in Cusco (Cuzco? ...Both work) after spending a wonderful last couple days in Lima. I ate some wonderful ceviche, had my first anticuchos (marinated beef hearts... delicious!), drank free whiskeys all night at a party hosted by Lima´s DedoMedio (Middle Finger) magazine, and crossed Barranco's beautiful Puente De Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs).

We'll see if this video loads, but this was one of my highlights of my trip -- the relatively new "Circuito Mágico Del Agua", which is a park that consists almost entirely of water fountains:

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ladrons and the Gringo-Swindling

* The word "ladrons" translates approximately to "thieves" but it also somehow reminds me of "toilets" for some reason which is appropriate enough.

** Also note that all the facts of my accounting of the events of yesterday are highly suspect... this includes the names of the people I interacted with, to my accounting of anything I think I might have said since I don't speak spanish...  I just got tired of writing "supposedly" to qualify every sentence and so you can mentally add those in if you like.

OK... a full accounting of the events of yesterday would take a long time, but suffice it to say that yesterday while wandering the streets of Lima I ended up bumping into a man named Jose, who was playing in a band in Barranco later that evening.  We talked as well as people can when one person doesn't speak better than pre-K English and the other doesn't speak better than pre-K Spanish, but we were having a good enough time and soon I agreed to buy him a drink at a bar.

We get to a dark bar -- I think that we were the only people there at the time, and soon another friend of his shows up.  I agree to get pisco sours (the drink I'm holding here) for the three of us, and we order a plate of alpaca meat with other goodies.  Both were tasty enough.  And we had most of the conversation in Spanish... so I was having a pleasant time with good food and drink practicing my Espanol.

There is much more to this story really (including their attempts to get me to buy an expensive bottle of "ayawaska" from a shaman -- this is a sort of hallucinogenic elixir which appeared to me to look like blended toilet water), but in any case, I ended up walking out of there $150 poorer from the three drinks and alpaca meat I had bought... which might not sound like the most money in the world to Americans, but things are cheaper here and my friend Fabi assures me this is about the price you would pay for a good meal at the most expensive restaurants in town.

In any case, I probably would have been out a lot more except for the convenient fact that I didn't have any credit cards on me and hadn't brought enough money to pay the bill I had already racked up anyway, and so the party had to end sooner than my compadres had originally intended... I imagine I could have been blindsided by a much larger bill later if they hadn't learned sooner how little I was carrying on me.  

The owners of the bar wanted me to leave some sort of collateral behind while I picked up the rest of the money. I was only carrying my passport and camera, and I didn't want these people to know where I was staying, so this seemed to me to be a horrible option, but I luckily had a cell phone on me from Fabi's mom, which was supposed to help me get out of any emergencies.  I thought this qualified, and so I called and luckily Fabi came to the rescue.

It took Fabi about a half hour to arrive at which point Jose and his friend (the one in the picture... I don't remember his name) were gone.  As I sat and waited I actually had a very pleasant time trying to talk with some of the staff of this bar in Spanish, who for the most part spoke no English whatsoever.  But I started our conversation by noting to one that "that was an expensive Spanish lesson..."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Really South (Prelude): A Lesson from Avshalom Caspi

A couple years ago as I was in graduate school, working my ass off on my dissertation and generally feeling stressed out of my mind, we had a guest speaker come to town by the name of Avshalom Caspi, who I had the privilege of joining for a free lunch at a classy restaurant as a part of his festivities. Dr. Caspi is a widely regarded authority on the study of genetics and personality development, and conducts ridiculously massive studies including one which consists of surveying an entire birth cohort of New Zealanders every two or three years (others are more ridiculous). He also has long flowing hair and was wearing bright purple socks with yellow spots with his suit at the time.

I was supposed to have gleaned many lessons about how to conduct research from him at this lunch, but given my generally stressed out state at the time I don´t remember anything from that day at all. Except for one thing: he told me that when he and his wife got married, they made a vow to one another that they would have a trip once a year where they would go someplace exotic for a full month. And after some 15 or so years of marriage, they have stuck by this vow, travelling to places like Madagascar and Ecuador and Thailand.

At the time this was a sort of revelation to me: you could conduct research that was good enough to get you papers published in Science and get you a job at Cambridge, while at the same time taking vacation that lasted an entire month out of the year. My last several years of almost incessant working started to seem... unnecessary and perhaps counterproductive. That year, I resolved to do one of these trips myself (I ended up in Turkey) and currently I am sipping pisco sours in Lima, Peru, just a couple days away from Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Thanks, Dr. Caspi! I´m now trying to spread the good word to other hopeless workaholics.

More later...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Big 3-0

A Facebook comment from DJ Dan on the event of my 30th birthday:
Happy Birthday! Your personality is now set like plaster.
This was an allusion to the belief among some psychologists that your personality is "set like plaster" and basically impossible to change after age 30.

My reply:
Fuck! I had so much self-improvement planned for last night that I just didn't get around to.
An interesting reply, I think... perhaps not proving that personality is fixed at 30, but maybe in several ways illustrating that I have much self-improvement left to do. Let's hope the psychologists are wrong.