Monthly Archives: October 2013

Chillin’ in Chile, Part 2

(Santiago, Chile – October 2013) In Part 2 of this post, you’ll see that we haven’t just been sitting around on our butts while in Santiago. Look for more controversial observations, too.

Gary Becomes a Frisbull

Just as I always do when arriving into a new city, I reached out to one of the local Ultimate organizers to find out where I might find some game. My timing was good. Turns out a 5-team, 5-week league had just started the previous week. Although I had missed week one, I could make all of the subsequent games. The only thing I needed was a team.

I showed up to the fields week #2 and asked Roberto (the league organizer) which team I should play on. He hesitated while thinking about it so I decided to help him out, “Which is the worst team?” Evidently, that was an easy question. He quickly nodded and pointed to Los Frisbulls who were playing a game right next to where we were standing. He said the captain’s name was Danní (actually his nickname, his name is Daniel) and that I just needed to ask if I could join. Thankfully, Danní said yes and I had myself a team.

My first day with Los Frisbulls ended with loss, but I actually thought the team wasn’t so bad. They’d only been playing together for 5 months and had some good young athletes. (Young indeed. The team’s oldest player was 25.) 20131101-212720.jpg
Truthfully, the overall level of Ultimate in Santiago is relatively low so none of the teams are particularly strong. Regarding the Frisbulls, I thought that with only a few small improvements they could surely win a game!

Easily I could write ten more paragraphs about my experience with Los Frisbulls, but I will be merciful and cut to the chase. The very next week the Frisbulls won their first game EVER. They won big, too, defeating the Blue Wings 11-3. Oh man! The team was so pumped; their first win ever and it put them into the play-off rounds. [Hey, it’s a small league.] The following week had the Frisbulls playing against the number one seed. We lost 15-11, but even the captain of the other team said he’d never witnessed a team improve so quickly.

The Frisbulls final game of the season was a battle for third place. They won it 8-7 and felt like champions.


Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

One person after another asked us, “Have you been to Valparaiso?” And/or, “Have you been to Viña del Mar?” After getting asked 5 or 6 times, it was clear we must go. These two places are coastal towns situated about 1 1/2 hours to the west of Santiago. Valparaiso is a historically important port city that has morphed into an artsy Bohemian haven. Viña del Mar is the next town northward and known for its long stretch of beach and spectacular ocean views. Jessica and I found an awesome hostel in Viña del Mar and stayed for two nights.

Taken in Viña del Mar.
Valparaiso is in the distance.
The view from our hostel.

The two cities (Valpo and Viña, for short) are less than a mile apart and connected by a coastal highway that has public buses running between them all day long. The only item on our list of things-to-do was take a 3-hour guided walking tour of Valparaiso. The tour was operated by the same company that did our walking tour of Santiago. Check out some of our snaps.


Over Jessica’s shoulder is a small plaza, curiously named Pinto Plaza. It is where our tour began.

In both of these cities (Valpo & Viña) homeless dogs were everywhere. Just as in Santiago, the dogs seemed healthy, happy and wonderfully friendly. In fact, a couple of dogs accompanied us on our walking tour. The guide said they were his “regulars.” Overall, the tour of Valpo was a notch less interesting than the Santiago tour but the entertaining behavior of our “guide” dogs made up the difference. They even came with us when we rode the elevators up and down the hillsides.

It is stairs like this that make the elevators a welcome site.
Pic is taken from inside our elevator car, looking down upon our “partner” car. This type of elevator operates as a pair- one is pulled up the hill while the other is lowered down.

Altogether, 26 “funiculares” exist throughout Valparaiso, although only 8 of them are currently in operation. Our guide told us that all of them (whether working or not) were recently purchased by the Chilean government and all will be fixed and put into service “soon.” They are really quite a treasure and someone within the government (probably the Department of Tourism) knows it.

One thing Valparaiso is known for is its street art. Colorful murals light up many building facades throughout the city. There is also a significant downside (in my opinion) to this art-openness…and that’s graffiti. The city is plagued by “tagging” practically everywhere a can of spray paint can reach. So many beautiful and historic building have been marked; it is clear that nothing is sacred.


American Pop Music

In grocery stores, restaurants, and every shop in the mall, popular American music is being played. From the 70’s to today, they play it all– Madonna, Billy Idol, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5, Rihanna, and we even heard Pink Floyd. My list could keep going until it includes every English-singing band out there. I was more accustomed to this from my previous travels, but Jessica was definitely caught by surprise. The phenomenon I’m describing applies 100% to Chile, but we heard American music coming through speakers in Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica, too.

It is striking because we are in Santiago, Chile, South America, far far away from US radios stations, night clubs and house parties. Everyone around us is speaking Spanish. Signs, billboards, restaurant menus, food labels…. are all written in Spanish. But in the singular area of music, it’s American popular music coming at you from every direction. Jessica questions, where is the music in Spanish?, and points out how odd (and unthinkable) it would be for songs in any language other than English to be playing at grocery stores in the states. It just wouldn’t happen.

In one of the places where we stayed in Peru, there was a construction site across the street. Naturally, someone had a radio playing nice and loud so that we could hear every song easily. It was as if we were transported back in time to the 70’s and 80’s. Disco lives! The other really cool thing for us was the variety and depth of playlist. All of the songs were familiar to Jessica and me but they were not limited to only the biggest hits from a given era. We were hearing songs that never get radio play in the states anymore….not even on those stations that claim to “play anything.” Donna Summer’s Love to Love Ya Baby, Duran Duran’s Is There Something I Should Know, and Blondie’s Rapture, just to name a few.

On a harder note… One thing we noticed immediately upon arriving into Santiago was the great number of Iron Maiden tshirts (and even hoodies, as shown below). We couldn’t walk two blocks or ride a city bus without seeing at least one. It was obvious that Iron Maiden had recently held a big concert in Santiago. But it didn’t stop there, we also saw an abundance of black tshirts from Metalica, Pantera, Megadeath and others. In conclusion, while American pop music rules the restaurants and shopping malls, heavy metal rules the ears, hearts and minds of many Chileans.

Napkins and Cigarettes

Instead of pointing to the drinkable tap water in Chile as a sign of its development, we might simply have pointed to its napkins. In Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, the table napkins provided by the restaurants were a joke. It looked like they were cutting normal table napkins (the square kind you probably have at home) into fourths and then folding each of those squares corner to corner to create a meager little triangle. This is what they give you as your napkin. Are you kidding me? Have you seen me eat? Have you seen any human eat? In Chile… we are happy to report normal napkins! Yay!

Another sign of progress in Chile is the prevalence of cigarette smokers. Immediate apologies for calling this progress, but I am making the knee-jerk assumption that citizens of a more highly developed economy have greater amounts of disposable income to spend on non-essentials…like cigarettes. Granted, it’s far more complicated than that, but the main point is that we have found many more people smoking cigarettes in Chile than we did in any of the previous countries we have visited on this trip.

We’ve heard that the culture of smoking here is deeply rooted and that perceptions are just now starting to slowly change. Those changes appears to be slow indeed. So many people smoke that there is virtually no stigma associated with it at all. For non-smokers like us it means that sitting at an outdoor cafe assures us of a smokey lunch or dinner.

Santiago Overall

Santiago is a great city. Any conversation about world-class cities should include Santiago, in our opinion. There is a vibrant energy here that has been a pleasure to be immersed in… even if only for a limited time. Santiago is a beautiful city. The great Andes mountains hold the city’s eastern edge, providing it with a permanent spectacular backdrop. Frequent city parks and beautified bike and walking paths weave throughout the city. Transportation to and from any two points is inexpensive, reliable and easy- buses are ever-present and the subway system is first rate. We loved the bip! cards, too.

20131101-210007.jpgbip! cards are used on both the buses and subway trains as a substitute for cash/coin. No change for the bus? No problem. I also liked the touchless swipe system- just hold the card up to the electronic reader and wait for the beep that acknowledges your payment. That is why it’s called a bip! card. (In Spanish the “i” is pronounced like the “ee” in English.)

The people of Chile that we have met seem to know they live in a good place. They are happy and rightfully prideful of their great city. Many times we walked past restaurants with outdoor seating and saw tables full of friends laughing and smiling together as if there was no place in the world they’d rather be.

Random acts of kindness were easy to find, too. One day, Jessica dropped her coin purse- a small souvenir item she’d bought in Peru. We were walking by Ñuñoa Plaza when it somehow fell quietly to the sidewalk. We were a block away recharging our Bip! cards by the time Jessica realized she didn’t have it. Retracing our steps seemed futile, but it was our only option. Jessica continued to search her purse and pockets as we walked, eyes simultaneously scanning the cement. Out of the corner of her eye Jessica noticed a woman motioning for her attention. The woman came closer and asked, “Did you lose something?” Jessica replied and gestured the size of her lost coin purse with one hand. The woman smiled and pulled it into view while pointing to where she’d found it on the sidewalk. Awesome!

I don’t know if this counts as evidence that Chileans are a happy bunch, but we certainly witnessed many a public make-out session while touring the city.  Bus stops and subway stations were prime spots for many young lovers.  Go Chile!

In Part 1 of this post, I was pretty clear that Chilean food has a way of underwhelming the tastebuds. This opinion was primarily directed towards Chile’s “comida tipica” (typical food). However, Santiago is an international city with a variety of restaurants catering to all palates; delicious food can be found here. The other day, Jessica and I ate Risotto de Mote at a place called “La Jardin” and it was quite good. I also gave Chorrillana a second try (discussed and pictured in Part 1) at a different restaurant. It was much tastier at this second place…mostly because they put cheese on top of it. 🙂

Sharing a few photos of a day trip we made to Cajon del Maipo, a place that reminded Jessica of Big Bear in California. Thank you Coni and Camila for taking us. 20131101-203102.jpg
Part of our day trip included a 1/2 mile hike through an abandoned tunnel. Midway through it was completely dark. Here is Jessica posing in front of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Earthquake! Chile is well-known for its frequent earthquakes. On our final day in Santiago…we felt one. My first ever. It was a decent-size quake, but the epicenter was many miles north of Santiago. Jessica and I were at the mall on the fourth floor when the wave passed by us. The sensation for us was a gentle back and forth swaying motion. It lasted only about 10 seconds.

Jessica tackles Santiago’s most famous cocktail, the Terramoto. (Translation- earthquake).  Fill a big glass with Chilean wine, add some grenadine, then drop a couple of scoops of pineapple ice cream into it.  Be careful, though.  Drink more than one and you may feel the earth moving once you try to stand up.

Into the Santiago Sunset

On November 1st Jessica and I will repack our bags and hit the road again for more adventures. We have changed-up our schedule a little bit from what it says on the Itinerary page of our website. Instead of staying in Chile until the 25th of November, we will cross the Andes into Argentina for a few weeks before swooping back into southern Chile via Patagonia. This will probably be the only time we leave a country and then return to it later to see additional sites.

Final note, Jessica picked up the book Alive from our first Santiago hostel. It’s the true story of a rugby team from Uruguay whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. The book is a compelling read and heartily recommended. You will also enjoy the inspirational documentary we located on YouTube, though you may not enjoy the Portuguese subtitles in this pirated video.


Chillin’ in Chile, Part 1

Time to slow it down….way down. Jessica and I have been traveling like mad since leaving the US on August 6th. Costa Rica, our first country, seems so long ago now. Then came Ecuador followed by Peru. Bish-Bam-Boom! It may not seem like that much to list them, but realize that each country has granted us thousands of new memories and…well, it is a heckuva lot. One glance back at the 11 posts I have made to this travel blog and all that we have done and seen becomes abundantly clear.

Now we are in Santiago, Chile and staying put for about a month. This means a whole different kind of world travel experience. In essence, we are living in another country. Granted, it’s just for one month, but that is still a sufficient amount of time for us to see the world (and our place in it) from a perspective neither of us has ever had before.

Why Chile? Why now? What are we doing here? Good questions all. Choosing to pause our hectic travel schedule at this point in time and in this place was a little bit arbitrary. Basically, we figured after two straight months of travel we might like a break-y-poo. Plus, we had not done any detailed planning of our trip beyond the first three countries. And finally, future planning from this point can now benefit from our experiences and inform our travel methods and pace going forward.

There was so much to say about this portion of our trip that I split my post into two parts.

Our New (Temporary) Life

As soon as we arrived into Santiago our hunt for a semi-permanent place to stay began in earnest. We used and quickly found a tiny but suitable one bedroom apartment in a middle-class part of Santiago known as Ñuñoa (so very awkward to pronounce). We feel really comfortable here. There is a nice park right down the street, two nearby grocery stores (and one newly built mall), and multiple bus stops all within a stone’s throw. We paid $870 for the entire month of October. That comes to about $30/day, right in-line with our budget. Check this out, our building even has its own doorman and weekly maid service for our apartment. Woot! And best of all (for me at least), there is Ultimate being played on fields just five minutes away from here on a (borrowed) bicycle.

The shift from travel-like-crazy to let’s slow-it-down-for-a-month contained a few interesting surprises for us. It was the little things that tickled– we bought toilet paper for the first time in ages. Fun! Both of us had on and off stuffy noses so we bought a couple of boxes of tissue for our apartment. So cool!  Mayonnaise, mustard, bread, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes…all our normal stuff. So very ordinary, which I guess is what made it so comforting.

Who’s ready to start their own business? Coin-operated laundromats in Santiago could be the next big idea. They don’t exist here. [Okay, that is not strictly true, we found there is actually one here, but located too far away to help us.] Whenever we needed to wash clothes in Costa Rica, Ecuador or Peru, we either did it ourselves in the sink or took it to a neighborhood laundry service. We had assumed (incorrectly) that once in Santiago we could do our own laundry at a laundromat. That didn’t happen. The good news is that every grocery store has its own laundry service counter inside, so that’s convenient. We are just not fans of having to pay $8.50 per load.

Being stationary for a while has allowed us to catch up on some movies. We saw Gravity, Elysium and The Heat. All were worthy! (Hmmm, Sandra Bullock was in two-thirds of the movies we’ve seen while in Santiago. Go Sandy!) We also went to a nearby community theater and saw a free show of Flamenco dancing. That was an enjoyable night out.

My Confession of Ignorance

Prior to this current trip to South America, Peru was the only South American country to which I had ever traveled. Jessica had never been anywhere in South America. Ignorantly, I had mentally lumped all South American countries into a similar bucket and assumed they were all more or less on the poorer end of the economic development scale. I was quite wrong. As represented by Santiago, the country of Chile is a world away from both Peru and Ecuador in terms of economic development and modernization. Chile is a 1st world country without a doubt. Yes, here you can drink the water right from the tap and no, they don’t drive like maniacs. Some of their driving habits even come pretty close to awesome. If we are crossing the street at a pedestrian crosswalk, even ones without any traffic signals, the cars will stop and wait for us as if we had thrown magic powder in their faces.

This crosswalk has signals, and check out those moves…

Further surprises were: one- just how expensive everything (except wine) is, and two- just how horrible Chilean food is. When traveling throughout Peru, we were warned that Chilean food is not very good. We assumed that was harmless smack talk between neighboring countries. But nooooo! In our experience so far, it’s just plain true. Chilean food is…um…uh…lackluster. Calling it bad or horrible may be too harsh, but in our honest opinion we have found that Chilean food has very little to offer in terms of taste. And then the fact that it cost so much is insult to injury. Since we have full use of a kitchen in our little apartment we are preparing most of our own meals. Occasionally, we venture out to a restaurant, but after getting burned a few times we not eager to go out and spend $12 – $18 on a plate of food only to come away disappointed.

We did a 4-hour walking tour of Santiago the first week we were here. It was a great tour in 18 different ways. Our guide (Franco) spoke very good English and filled the tour with great stories from Chile’s history. Here we are in front of the President’s office building.

One of our tour stops was in front of Galindos, a Santiago restaurant in business for 45 years. It was there that Franco shared his insights into Chile’s food culture. A few Chilean dishes were called out by name as being very much worth tasting- Pastel de Choclo and Chorrillana, being two of them. On separate occasions we tried them. Pastel de Choclo (corn pie) was no better than “just okay.” (Pictured first, below.) The Chorrillana (with its topping of 2 fried eggs) was “God-awful,” in my opinion, and a “missed opportunity” in Jessica’s.


One item Jessica tried and liked is called Mote con Huesillos. It’s a kind of chilled tea poured over grains of wheat. Peach halves are added to the tea and hover in the glass like ice cubes. It’s a big hit among the locals because it costs only about $1 and is both a refreshing drink on a hot day and (practically) a meal. I tried it, too, but didn’t find it appealing.

More sites from in and around Santiago. The ever-present Catholic Cathedral, General Valdivia- the founder of Santiago sits atop his steed, and so that you will never get lost….the mountains are always to the east.
Santiago’s central fish market:

Time to Serve

One of our commitments during this trip was to do some volunteering. Taking so much time away from working real jobs and giving that luxury exclusively to ourselves seems a little decadent and perhaps even selfish. Let us at least set aside some of our time for helping others. The type of volunteering we wanted to do never truly solidified in our heads in advance of our trip, but we figured it might have something to do with teaching English to kids or contributing to a shelter for women, etc. What we learned, however, is that it’s really difficult to volunteer when you only have one month of your time to offer. One month barely gets you through the screening process. Volunteer projects involving people are understandably more hesitant about bringing in outsiders- wariness of creepers and the hassles of potential personality conflicts surely play a part in their caution.

Turns out that dogs and cats are less particular than people about who helps them and for how long….so guess whom we started scratching to satisfy our volunteer itch. There are two separate but related animal rescue organizations that operate not too far from where we live, one for dogs and the other for cats. We’ve been enough times now that the dogs have started to recognize us. The cats…less so.

Another impromptu bit of community service we took on was cleaning up a particularly litter-strewn street we routinely walk down on our way to the grocery store. Santiago is not a “dirty city” and I don’t want to leave you with that impression, but there are definitely some areas that could use a little picking up.

Good Dogs and Stupid People

It’s hard to know where to begin telling you about Chile’s dogs. Perhaps a few quick sound-bites will get you oriented. There are a (relatively) large number of homeless dogs living in Chile’s major cities. Almost all of the street dogs we saw appeared healthy and happy. The dogs we met were sweet, friendly, approachable, non-threatening, and often quite good-looking. Most would make outstanding family dogs. The only thing missing was the family.
My street dog collage.

Where do all of these dogs come from? The story we got was that a lot of Chilean people are really “stupid” when it comes to their dogs. Families adopt them when they are small, cute and lovable little puppies, but they underestimate the lifelong responsibility they have assumed and abandon them to the streets once they are grown or otherwise become too much trouble. Obviously, this should not be taken as an indictment of all Chileans…only the stupid ones. Many Chilean people have dogs and take great care of them throughout their lives. Go anywhere in Santiago and you will see someone out walking their beloved dog.

Apparently the problem of stray dogs reached a level that the good people of Chile simply could no longer ignore because starting a few years ago both public and privately-funded campaigns have targeted the problem and achieved quite remarkable results. Below is a public sign that announces a new city ordinance banning the practice of abandoning your pets. One part of the signs say, Santiago Take Care of Your Pets.
Changing a culture is not instantaneous, but it can happen more quickly than you might think. One of the principle volunteers at the Ñuñoa Dog Rescue Center told us the number of abandoned dogs in Ñuñoa has dropped significantly in just the four years since the center opened. The spaying and neutering of strays has been effective, but so has their more general efforts to educate people and change the perception of dogs as pets.

One creative campaign to bring attention to the problem was initiated by a couple of college students in 2012. What they did was write messages on helium-filled balloons and then tie them around the necks of the stray dogs. The messages said things like, “Hug me,” “Don’t leave me” and “Play with me.” Of course, they made a video of it to spread their message even further.

The unifying theme of the stray dog campaigns is that these dogs belong to ALL Chileans. We heard that during the coldest winter months, random people will provide the dogs with sweaters, jackets and sometimes even stylish matching hats.

Meet Elena and her dog Gypsy. Elena was a good-good friend of my mother when they both lived in Houston some 20 years ago. Elena is Chilean and returned to Chile after she retired. We enjoyed paying her a visit.

(Come back for Part 2)

Lake Titicaca and Arequipa

(Lake Titicaca & Arequipa, Peru – 30 Sept, 2013) Our hike of the Inca Trail was definitely the high-point of our time in Peru. Originally, it was to be our final stop; the crescendo in a 16 day Peruvian symphony. However, our travel plans were forced to change after my ankle ended up in a cast one day after we arrived into Lima. The result, instead of hitting Arequipa and Lake Titicaca before the Inca Trail, we flipped the order and saw them afterwards. Nothing was going to beat Cusco, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but still Lake Titicaca and Arequipa were two destinations I had not visited the last time I was in Peru (some 14 years ago) and damn if I was going to miss them again.

Jessica was less enthusiastic about these locales and would have been fine heading straight to Chile after Machu Picchu, but we are travel partners to the end; where one goes so goes the other.


Travel from Cusco- the main city nearest to Machu Picchu -to Puno- the largest city on Lake Titicaca – could be accomplished by car, bus or train. A car, we don’t have. A bus would certainly work and (by far) be the cheapest way to go, but who doesn’t love a train ride, right? Especially after we heard the train ride between Cusco and Puno is considered by many to be one of the top three train rides in all the world! The other two top contenders are somewhere in the Canadian Rockies and Switzerland. Hmmmm… Maybe this train idea deserves some serious consideration.

Jessica and I boarded the train at 7:45 on a cool Monday morning. Whoa! Tommy the Train this was not. Each passenger car was appointed with white linen covered tables and Ethan-Allen style upholstered chairs. These were not the rows of bus-seats we were expecting. A lovely fresh-cut rose dressed each table leaving no doubt this train was aiming for hoity-to-the-toity. A glance around the car found mostly grey-haired (or balding) retirees and at least one gentleman wearing an ascot.


Yes, I felt a skoasch out of place among all the richy-riches (Jessica did not, btw), but that wasn’t about to diminish my enjoyment of this experience one bit. The train chugged away from the station right on schedule and our 10 hour journey through the Andean landscape was underway.

The last train car was different from the others. Its front half was set up as a bar/lounge area with the final half reserved for panoramic viewing. Can you find Jessica in all 3 pics?


Click Here to check out the little movie I put together of our super-splurge train ride. Watch for the choreographed food service at the end.

Below is a shot of the only stop the train made during our journey. It was a 10 minute souvenir stop made at both the half-way and highest altitude point of our ride.

Islands That Float

Once in Puno we grabbed a back-to-reality cheap place to stay and worked on our plans for the next day- a visit to Lake Titicaca, the Uros floating islands, and an overnight stay on one of the Lake’s natural islands. Perhaps some brief explanations would be helpful.

Lake Titicaca is famous for being the highest altitude navigable lake in the world. There are other lakes that sit higher than Titicaca, but none large enough and deep enough to handle big ships like this one can. It measures 233 km (145 miles) across at its longest point and and 97 km (60 miles) wide in the other direction. Our tour guide said it was up to 280 m deep in places, but that seems REALLY deep and I’m not sure I believe him. On the day we were out on the lake, it was clear enough for the far shores to be visible in all directions. The panoramic is stunning. It’s one of those unique places on the planet where capturing the curvature of the earth in one vista is as easy as breathing.

From the boat dock in Puno we hopped into the little ship’s belly with about 20 other tourists and began a slow-motion cruise into the quiet waters of Lake Titicaca. No exaggeration, we were traveling at the wake-quaking speed of 2-3 mph. This was our speed when we departed from the dock and it never increased. I was so curious about the astonishingly slow course we’d set that I asked our guide about it. I figured he would tell me the lake had strict speed limits to preserve the yadda-yadda. Nope. Instead, he explained that we were in a normal boat. “Fast” boats are allowed on the lake, but they cost much more. Not during our entire time on the lake did I witness any of the so-called fast boats.

It took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach one of the Uros floating islands. [Wikipedia gives a better explanation of what these are than I could.]

20131004-195745.jpgStepping off our tour boat and onto the parade-float-sized bed of totora reeds was strange indeed. The texture underfoot was that of a Sealy Posturepedic mattress…. made of straw. There were five or six little house-huts on the island and about that many people- mostly just the women and children were there when we arrived. Such a weird dynamic, we are there for a brief glimpse into their unique way of life and they are there to sell us hand-made trinkets.


Part of our tour to the Uros islands included a spin on one of their stick-powered reed boats.


Amantani, A Real Island

Lake Titicaca has many natural islands within it (in addition to the man-made Uros islands). Two of the largest such islands are Amantani and Taquile. Our tour included one night’s stay with a local family on Amantani island and then lunch on Taquile island the next day. Staying with a family was a part of this adventure we were really excited about. However, the reality of the experience didn’t quite match the hype.

Upon landing on Amantani, we were greeted at the dock by the mama of our host family. She softly introduced herself as Luz-Delia. Jessica and I were paired up with two twenty-something dudes from France, and together we followed Luz-Delia up the narrow pathways to her humble abode.


The family’s house had two extra rooms that appeared to have been built within just the past few years, and built quite specifically to house visiting tourists…like us. I read somewhere that the local communities used to benefit little from the tourist trade, but eventually got organized and made some demands. They petitioned the Peruvian government’s Department of Tourism to participate more directly with the tourist and reap a greater share of the economic rewards. The result, we were able to stay in a comfortable room owned by Luz-Delia and the rest of her Quechua family on a remote island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. The family served us lunch and dinner the day we arrived, and also breakfast the next day. To our disappointment, however, no one from the family actually sat and ate with us. The interaction we had was more as if we were staying at a B ‘n B, as opposed to us being foreign exchange students living with a host family. All good, but not quite the immersive cultural experience we were hoping for.

We did interact a bit with the 15 year old daughter of the family, Delia (different from her mother, Luz-Delia). It was Delia that accompanied us to a festive “dance” the night of our stay. Wearing traditional local attire, Jessica and I danced it up with the best of them.


Quiet. It struck me over and over again just how quiet it was on Amantani. There were no cars, no trucks, no motorcycles, no leaf blowers, no radios blaring, no dogs barking (we were told there were no dogs on the island)….occasionally 20131004-210549.jpgyou might hear a cow moo or a donkey brae, but that was about it. Such a simple life. Our guide insisted the people didn’t even have electricity; though this was clearly not the complete story. We could see that nearly everyone had a solar panel on their roof hooked up to a couple of car batteries; a simple schematic, but sufficient to power a small television set and a lightbulb in every room.

(For the record, Delia told us there were actually 5 dogs on the island.)
Standing on Amantani. Taquile island is behind me.20131004-220557.jpg

Taquile, Not Tequila

The guide during our Lake Titicaca tour was highly enthusiastic and interesting but quite unfortunately exhausting to listen to. What great potential he had, too. His name was Ruben and he grew up on the Uros islands so obviously he knew the lake and its people well. He spoke four languages: Aymara, Quechua, Spanish and lastly…English. During the tour he spoke both Spanish and his (disturbingly poor) version of English. For us (with our substantial Spanish  skills) this meant hearing his disjointed schpeels at least twice. More often, though, we endured him repeating himself many more times than twice as he would often forget to switch languages. We might get Spanish, Spanish again, and then English.

Here Ruben explains that the ends of the totora reeds are edible. Jessica and I both took a bite. Needed salt.

Ruben was also hell-bent on getting us to learn a word or two in Aymara and Quechua. No more than simple terms like, Hello, I’m fine, and Thank you. But I’m sorry, Ruben, those languages are tough and asking your group to learn six new foreign language words/phrases (3 in each language) in 2 minutes ain’t happening.

Once we had arrived onto la Isla de Taquile, Ruben herded our group around the island like goats. Every so often he would stop and explain to us certain facts about the island’s history and its people. Within his talks, inevitably, Ruben would say slowly and deliberately the word, “Taquile” followed by the reminder, “…not tequila.” Throughout the day, he did this so many times someone from the group suggested we make it into a drinking game. It practically became a call-and-response mantra between him and the group. Ruben: “Taquile” Us: “Not tequila.” Ruben seemed unaware the entire time.


A Thief in the Night

The final stop on our tour through Peru was Arequipa, known for its many “white” buildings made from sillar, a particular volcanic stone common to the area. (The name of the stone in English is ashlar.) The buildings are not truly white, by the way, but close enough.  Among Peruvian cities, Arequipa is perhaps the most…uh…civilized. At least things seem more orderly and less chaotic than in other Peruvian cities we’d visited.

To get from Puno to Arequipa, we boarded an evening bus and took residence in the lower “VIP” section. That’s where they have the larger seats that recline like Laz-e-Boys. We left the terminal at 6 PM and would arrive into Arequipa around midnight. The on-board lights were soon dimmed and a great chance to rest had found us. Jessica slipped off to sleep first and I listened to some music for a short while before similarly closing my eyes.

Occasionally, you will hear stories from other travelers about how they got robbed while going from place to place. Way back when we were in Costa Rica one guy told me he’d been mugged twice while traveling through Nicaragua (I think it was). One guy had his backpack taken while on a train (in Europe). And then of course, there are the stories of people having their things stolen from them while traveling on the buses….especially at night! Yikes!

All of this was going through my head as I reclined there in my bus seat and tried to drift off to sleep. My backpack was down at my feet so I looped my leg through one of the straps. Surely, if anyone creeps in to snatch my bag while I’m asleep, I’ll feel it and catch the little perp in the act. But, then…that’s not comfortable…having that strap around my leg was restricting my movement. I repositioned myself so that my leg was out of the strap but still leaning against the bag. I’m so ready to sleep, but my sloshy mind starts to rehearse what I might do if I actually catch someone stealing from us. But still so sleepy. Eventually, slowly, lazily… I slip into sleepville.

What’s happening!? I feel something! This is it! This is the moment I’d prepared for! With those last unconscious thoughts I opened my eyes and saw a slinky silhouette crossing at my feet! My arms instinctively rallied into fight mode. My head is thinking, I got you, you little perp!

Then, as my eyes come into focus, I see that it’s Jessica trying to cross over from her seat to the aisle. She’s midway through her maneuver and looking at me with a laugh. “Oh, sorry. I was trying so hard not to wake you.” “What’s with all the [she mimics my crazy fighting arms movement]?” I tell her that I thought she was little Peruvian girl, come to steal our bags.

By then Jessica is laughing so hard she’s ready to pee in her pants, after all, she was getting up to go to the bathroom. “You should have seen your face,” she keeps telling me. After she returns from the bathroom she’s still laughing uncontrollably. I guess my thief-catching face is more funny than brave.

Four Days Relaxing in Arequipa

As a travel destination, Arequipa doesn’t necessarily have a main attraction…it IS the main attraction. Simply a nice city with highly walkable streets and an ample number of interesting landmarks to entertain visitors. Colca Canyon- the deepest terrestrial canyon in the world -is a nearby hiking hotspot, but at 5 hours away (and only accessible in a 4×4 vehicle), it’s not close enough to Arequipa to qualify as a main attraction.

Enjoying a city tour in Arequipa. Jessica beneath some arches made from the white volcanic stone called sillar. Street food!

Hostels in Arequipa were generally more expensive than Jessica and I had become accustomed to in other parts of Peru. I think we paid $42/night at the Hostel Solar in Arequipa… though we really loved it. Our room was the largest of any we’d stayed in. The ceilings must have been 15 feet high! Breakfast was included in the price and served on the building’s cool roof-top terrace. While sipping coffee (Jessica), and orange juice (me), we admired two of the three snow-topped volcanos that immediately surround Arequipa. (The third volcano was behind a building.)


Two of the friends we’d made while on the Inca Trail (Caroline and Patrick (from Quebec)) were traveling on a similar trajectory as us and we were pleased to meet them for dinner in Arequipa several times. Feeling like you have friends out on the road is a wonderful sensation. (Though, it does prompt us to miss our friends and family from back home.)


My first ever shoeshine!

After Arequipa we plunged headlong into a day and a half of travel before arriving to Santiago, Chile, the next stop on our world tour. That double-scoop of travel included a 17 hour overnight bus ride from Arequipa to Lima, followed immediately by an Amazing Race style cab ride from the bus terminal to the airport. They recommend arriving 3 hours early for International flights; we only had 1 hour to give. We were jumping airport lines like criminals, but we managed to make our flight in time and not get arrested. Three separate flights and 12 hours later, we were in Santiago.

Travel days can be hell. But our plan now is to slow down the pace for about a month. What will that look like? Return for the next post and find out.