Thursday, January 31, 2008

Animals are like kryptonite with slobber

Renee and I spent last Friday afternoon honing our mad puppy-cuddling skills while volunteering at Wayside Waifs in their doggy quarantine area. I could write about it, but honestly, it’s too depressing. There have been times where one dog has been sick, gotten the rest of the animals sick in the room, and they’ve had to put the whole room to sleep. There’s one mama dog who had a whole litter put to sleep simply because they were pit bull puppies. There are a couple dogs who run to the corners when you walk by, or shit themselves out of fear because they’ve lead such a jacked up life. But there’s also animals who flip out with some real deal lottery-winning elation when you open the cage and sit with them. I’d like to say it all evens out, but I’m not sure that’s the case. At any rate, Wayside is a great place doing great things with great animals and you should go out there today and take one of these guys with home with you. Below are some pictures (mostly out of focus cause those suckers are quick). - Lucas

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Créditos Finales

Rather than sum up my trip in any other way, I decided to copy and paste the last three paragraphs from my journal as an epilogue, which I had lost until recently. See below for cast and credits. - Lucas

The rest of the trip was spent in a daze. We hung out in Cusco for a day, said goodbye to Sharon. Then there were six. Left for Lima, where we said goodbye to Elard. Then there were five. Spent a day hanging around Lima & I goodbye to the four Goatcheeses. Now there’s one, me. I’m sitting in a hotel room, the last man standing at party with scattered memories, reading through the pages and pages of my journal like it was someone else’s.

It feels cheap to talk about an expensive celebratory dinner on the waters of the Pacific. I feel guilty to look at my watch or to think about Christmas. I feel stupid for feeling angry for something as small as losing pictures on a memory card. I feel embarrassed that I was upset at a delayed flight or a messed up order at a restaurant.

My shoes are wet from a late night trip to the ocean, my clothes are dirty from alpaca shit, spilt wine, and saltwater. My heart is full of love and computer full of pictures. I leave at midnight tonight, get home Sunday night, go back to work Monday and move into my new house on Friday. That’s not really what I want to do. All I want to do is smell the air in this city, in Peru, in South America, in the world. All I want to do is think about the people I’ve been around. All I want to do is think about the places I’ve been. All I want to do is understand the things in the air that give direction and motivation in my life. I don’t want to forget, I want to learn to remember and be free of the past at the same time. All I want to do is write. There’s so many things that I want to do, all I want to do is do them. I think I will.

Maurice and his Peruvian. Theif.

Christine and empty wine glasses. Lush.

Emma and her gang signs. Whitebread thug.

Chanelle and her roasted guinea pig. Savage.

Sharon, aka 'Rooms', with her constant smile. Sicko.

Elard, with his favorite bathroom. Exhibitionist.

Silver, with his 5,000 kg backpack. Showoff.

Fearless author, shameless photographer, with his alpaca flokati hat. Clown.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Machu Picchu

No words, they feel cheap. Only pictures, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then I beg a thousand pardons for not being able to do this experience justice. I present, Machu Picchu....

'Rooms' mugging for the locals

Hutmacher mugging for the locals

Hola, Adios.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It's Orange

It's a sectional. It's vintage. It's shaped like an 'S'. Or a question mark. And it's in one of my living rooms.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mecca Picchu

Mecca Picchu

The Shepard: The stakes are driven deep in the ground, nothing can move them, the ropes are new and made of strong grasses; the cows will never break them now. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

Buddha: Like the dog that has broken his chain, like the elephant that has broken his shackles, never again will I enter a womb. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

This has got to stop. How long can a person go on thinking he has reached some sort of meaningful conclusion, or how long can a person go on thinking he has seen the greatest sight in the universe, or how long can a person think that the feelings he felt were the strongest, most powerful feelings ever felt, only to have them shattered the next instant, the next day, by something greater or more powerful?

Yesterday was tough, today would be long. It’s been one of the other for two weeks though and my compass for judging time or space or distance or personal well-being is all out of whack. Yesterday we went straight up for three hours then straight down for three hours. Today we would go up and down three times, each time being a lesser pass then the previous, but all in all, today was going to be our longest day. We did have something to look forward to at the end, and that’s a shower and a proper toilet. I’ve only had one shower in six days, and that was three days ago and I’ve gone on gastrointestinal lockdown for the last three days. Nothing in or out. But that’s an unsustainable situation. I just don’t like pooping in buckets.

Our guide, Silver, who has done the trail over 100 times and knows the ins and outs of the whole ordeal, decided that we should be up and on our way early, to beat the shower-crowds. Our goal was to be into camp by about 1:00. We would leave at 4:30 in the morning, hike for three hours, stop for breakfast and then finish the day with a five or six hour hike to camp, to showers, to toilets, but most importantly, to the footsteps of Machu Picchu.

This was my favorite morning so far and I’ll tell you why. Silver said we would leave at 5:00am, ready or not, and when the clock struck 5, I was the only one ready and we just took off, leaving everyone behind, doing whatever they do every morning without coffee, cable, toilets, showers and electricity. That’s the way to do it Silver, mucho props my friend.

The mornings hike was great. Because we left before most of the camp, we walked mostly in silence, I say mostly because Maurice talked pretty much the whole way. For someone who was having altitude issues, his lungs sure seemed strong to me. It wasn’t a big deal really, he’s an entertaining guy and I was soon out in front of the group far enough to drown out all extracurricular noise.

I started out wearing my long pants, long sleeve shirt and gloves, but within an hour, I didn’t need any of them. I still kept the long sleeve shirt on just to keep the sun damage down, which is wicked in the mountains and changed into shorts in a moment of nude bliss in the Andes. That’s when I realized that the layers of clothes were very effective against the odors that our bodies had been bubblin’ on for the last couple days.

We ambled up to the first of three passes for the day, Abra de Runkuracay (pass of the pile of ruins, I believe), which was the second highest of the entire trip, but seemed like a mere foothill compared to the day before. The landscape had changed drastically today, rather than a barren mountain highland, we descended into a cloud forest that was amazing. We walked in and out of the clouds; the clouds approached us, engulfed us and passed us on, like we weren’t there. The horizon would go from a visibility of twenty feet to ten thousand feet in the matter of minutes. Its times like these that I wish I could describe the passing landscapes like Hemingway. Say what you will about the drunken womanizer, but he could write the fuck outta some landscapes.

The trail down turned away from the dirt path that we had been walking on for most of the trip to actual Inca-laid roadway, an intricate construction of rocks and stones that was worth marveling at. It’s a good thing too, because if you didn’t look at the ground while you walked, your ass would have fallen off the edge.

By breakfast, we had worked up a devilish appetite and devoured anything that was placed in front of us; I accidentally took a bite out of a porters hand because I thought it was a overcooked biscuit.

By the time we sat out after breakfast, our bellies were rocked with food and we were fired up to tackle the rest of the day. It was only 8:00 am. People put too much stock in sleeping in. I prefer to be awake and seeing the world in the mornings. Too much of life passes people by when they’re sleeping and the difference between morning and night in any given area is the difference between…ummm…. night and day.

The next several hours were a beautiful walk, up and downhill, but nothing too difficult and near noon, we got to camp where showers, bathrooms, and beer awaited us.

Because we were the first people into the camp, there was no line at the showers, which meant that we could take our time, really get our $1 worth. Let me tell you, that roach infested, moldy floored, lukewarm water’d shower was like the Hilton to us and we felt like a million bucks by the end.

Another thing that was at this base camp was a bar. It wasn’t much, but there was beer and before we knew it, we were all getting a little tipsy. I spent the evening chatting with other hikers that I’d seen up and down the trail for the previous days and it was quite nice. Apparently, a while back, they decided that it was necessary to close the bar at 9:00 pm, otherwise people would stay up all night drinking, then try to hike to Machu Picchu in the morning, drunk, through the mountains. Which is not advisable. Looking at some of the people, all I could think was if you cant be a good example, be a horrible warning.

Because tomorrow would be very quickly moving, getting out of camp, we said our goodbyes to the porters and handed out fistfuls of tip money. I was nominated to speak to everyone because, apparently, I can be entertaining from time to time. They earned every penny of their money, these guys were amazing.

At some point, Silver briefed us on tomorrow mornings activities. He said the porters would wake us up at 4:00 am and we would be on our way at 5:00, ready or not. We would have a ‘short three hour’ hike and then we would get to Machu Picchu (remember Machu Picchu? It’s kind of why I took this hike in the first place.) Silver would give us a two hour tour and Elard would meet us at some point in the morning, then we’d have the rest of the day to chill and explore on our own. Sounds great, lets get it on. Wait, how the hell am I supposed to be able to sleep tonight with that in front of me tomorrow? Especially because just outside of my tent was Machu Picchu mountain. Staring up at me. Yes, staring up.

The silly conversation between the Shepard and Buddha has started to sink in, finally, after climbing my fingers to the bone for three days and it’s too simple to spend much time on.

Be Buddha, not the Shepard.

It’s not in being prepared for difficulties, it’s in being prepared for life and taking everything as it comes. It’s not what you have defining who you are, it’s who you are defining what you have.

Be Buddha. Is he Incan? Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

From my tent - Machu Picchu. I hope Buddha's home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Macho Picchu

The Shepherd: I have oxen, I have cows. I have my father's meadows and a bull who covers my cows. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

Buddha: I have neither oxen, nor cows, I have no meadows. I have nothing. I fear nothing. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

This was the closest I’ve slept to the ground in about fifteen years. Oddly enough, it was the highest I’ve slept above the sea in my entire life. An interesting dichotomy. I could smell the ground and at the same time, I could look down on birds flying, not thirty feet from my tent. The view from the campsite was breathtaking and once I got away from everyone and sat down, it felt good. The porters were quietly clinking pots and dishes in the background and as the sun rose, it awoke the entire campsite and the entire universe, our universe, with it. I know I wasn’t the only one to recognize this; the surrounding silence was proof of that. I could sit here all day. Unfortunately, fortunately, I couldn’t. Today was going to be real. It was going to be the test. It’s the day that has been on my mind for months.

Dead Woman’s Pass.

Over the course of about 4 miles, we would ascend from 3000 meters to 4250 meters (9,800 feet to 14,000 feet). Basically climbing up one mile and out four miles. The fact that we’re starting out at nearly 2 miles above sea level is sure to complicate things. Stairmaster day.

From our camp, we hiked uphill for about four hours at a leisurely pace, the kind of thing where I would get twenty minutes ahead of the group, sit down and whip out more cocoa leaves to chew on and write in my journal for a while waiting for everyone to catch up. Most of the time I was thinking, “Well, so far, this isn’t so bad. What’s all the hubbub?”

Then after lunch, almost like it only appeared when you were properly fed, the mountain appeared in front of me. Being from Kansas, it doesn’t take much of an incline to impress me, I’ve actually taken pictures of speed bumps, but this mofo was HUGE. From our vantage point, it appeared to be about twenty feet in front of us, but to go straight up for considerably more than twenty feet.

Our guide, Silver, said, “It’s time to head out, rest for another twenty minutes or so if you’d like. It will take you two to three hours to reach the top and everyone will go at their own pace. This meeting will reconvene at the top, I will go take a nap and meet you there.”

And he disappeared.

Sharon decided it was in her best interest to leave and get a head start. The rest of us decided it was in our best interest to rest a little more and after another thirty minutes, porters and other travelers long gone, we gathered up and tackled the newest challenge.

I didn’t know how much time had passed until much later, but it felt like days and it worked like this:

Go up uneven and often unstable steps for five to eight minutes at a time, the time is meaningless, but that was roughly the amount of time it took your heart and lungs to scream loud enough to get your legs to stop. Catch your breath, rinse and repeat.

Step, step, step, stop, breathe, start.

Step, step, step, stop, breathe, start.

Five to eight minutes may not sound like much, but when you’re at an elevation of over two miles, it doesn’t take much lack of oxygen to make a fella wheeze.

It wasn’t the ‘step, step, step’ part of the cycle that made me realize how in shape I was, it wasn’t really even the ‘breathe’ part. What really made me realize that I was in great shape was the comma between breathe and start. The recovery time. I didn’t really understand it for a while. We would all kind of get winded at the same time, all stop, all breathe. But when it was time to start up, I was always the first to get up and get ready to move. The others were huffing and puffing like chain smokers still and I was whistling and singing ‘Redemption Song’ to myself.

We started as a group of five. Within the first ten minutes or so, it was a group of three. Within twenty minutes, I was alone. Within another five minutes, I began to catch other hikers. Within another fifteen minutes, I had caught Sharon, who had a 30-minute head start.

My legs were feeling good and my calves were rock-hard from the work. My lungs were getting a stretch like they never had before. My heart was thumping so loud that I could feel it in the tips of my fingers and hear it in my ears. I felt amazing. I’ve never actually felt ‘good’ while exercising, but this time, this time…. Shit, I couldn’t believe it. It was like I had done it. I had worked myself into a condition that I had never been in for my entire life. I was out here with other hikers and I was stomping past them like they were knuckles-and-bun-old-women drivers. I was going to the top, I had a goal that was more than a stop watch or a distance. I could see it and it was rapidly approaching.

Within another ten minutes, I had lost sight of Sharon behind me.

About a half mile from the top is when I started hearing the voices from the people at the top. At first I could only hear periodic cheering, but as I crept up closer to the summit, my jaw set and my eyes glaring at step after step, I started hearing shouts. Then regular voices. Then I came into visual range and I could make out masses of people, then individual people, then faces, then I could read shirts and see what brands of shoes they were wearing. Then I got a high-five from a stranger and heard the clapping, popping right in my ears.

Clapping for me.

I made it.

When you walk uphill for such a long time, it’s an amazing feeling to look back and not even be able to see the start point, or even the mid point, and it was great. The mountains rose up all around me and I was at the top. I wanted to yell. I wanted to laugh. It was one of those feelings that I just wanted to flex all my muscles and drop to the ground in success, like the end of a horrible movie.

The Incas used to make sacrifices on top of mountains all around the area and this was a special pass because it was the only mountain in the region that was named after a woman. Rather than slaughtering a hippie, I opted for the newer tradition and that was stacking a rock on top of another pile of rocks. The custom is that you make a sacrifice and make a wish, but that sounds too cheap. Instead of wishing for anything, I crawled away from the group and sat down on the lichen covered stones and spent about fifteen minutes in some sort of trance-like reflection. I basically let go of my mind and just felt the world around me. The pulsing of the world was in my temples and I was muttering thanks beneath my breath. Thanks to no one in particular, thanks for nothing in particular, but just thanks.

The top of the pass seemed to me to be very significant. The road up to the top, the top and the road down the other side. The past. The present. The future. The sun, the rain, the wind. It started raining, not hard, just big warm drops from below my head. Though it wasn’t rain, they were tears and it confused me to have this sort of experience through nothing in particular. How do you explain a time when you’re emotions are obviously mixed? I was hurting and I was healing. I have come so far, but at what cost?

The rest of the day was a blur. Eventually everyone got to the top and they hunted me down for some pictures. Silver said he woke up and saw me with his binoculars. He said that I made it to the top in roughly one hour, which is quite good, even for a porter. We went downhill for a few hours and it felt good to actually run down stairs, even though I was more like a zombie to those around me, the thump thump thumping on my feet rattling through my jaw were merely background noise to me and I recall very little of it, my mind demanding all possible resources, trying to sort out what happened to me at the top.

By nightfall we were at camp and everyone was suffering from various degrees of exhaustion. Sharon was sore from her ears to her toes. Christine was sunburned. Emma and Chanelle were tired of not having an iPod. Maurice’s lungs were revolting from the altitude. My soul was scorched from feelings unknown. It was torn into the past and the future, but for once I realized that they were working together to help me understand the present.

I sighed, knowing that things would be fine, and I fell asleep with a strange sort of contentment that no one would understand.

Mass o' Porters

Dead Womans Pass

Gang o' Suckas

Not a bad view from the tent huh?

Sunset From The Campsite