Friday, December 7, 2007

"Vail... Legendary."

Today was incredible.  It was my first day back at Vail Mountain.  It was a powder-filled day full of parallels and nostalgia.  Sunday the 9th marks two years since my crash at Vail.  But today, in hindsight, really was my anniversary.  It was a powder filled Friday in 2005, when Fritz Hubbard and I ditched work on a house in Arrowhead to ski copious powder in Vail's backbowls.  They opened Blue Sky Basin around 10:30 and we were right there stomping out first runs, every run.  Then we started stomping out our favorite out of bounds stashes too.  On my second run out of bounds, while attempting to document the sheer beauty of being in the moment that day, I hit a tree buried under the snow and was catapulted into another tree.  Numerous broken bones in my back and more devastatingly, I would come to find out that I broke the ball of my femur off.

Fritz was my partner.  I sent him out ahead while I filmed.  There was no way for him to know that I crashed.  There was no way for him to return back up the trail.  This was a very deep snow year at Vail. (Ended up being the second biggest year in all of Vail's history.)  So the snow would have been up to his waist walking uphill.

Fritz was the last person I was skiing with that day.

Today was my first day back on the Vista Bahn.  My first day back at Vail.  It was very deep today.  Incredible Colorado powder.  

Fritz was the first person I skied with today.  The circle came full circle.  With no conscious effort on a perfect powder day, we again found ourselves ditching work to ski.  Today absolutely contradicted the saying, "No Friends on a Powder Day!"  A statement I've made so many times before.  

Fritz cashed in certain face shots on North Rim, to make our first run together and pick up right where things left off two seasons ago.  Instead of a riveting out of bounds extreme line, we had 10-12" on top of groomer on Northstar.  We ripped along making first tracks.  Each gliding blissfully down the mountain.  Turn after turn, snow billowing off knees, flawless purity.  

My legs burning, blowing up but I couldn't stop making turns.  Giddy and teary-eyed I gave thanks for my health and incredible recovery.  Only six months ago I was still on crutches.  Snow blasting off my knees into my face and goggles...  I gasp instinctively as I choke on a mouthful of powder.  Keep mouth closed, breathe through  nose, pole, drop  knee, roll ankles:  another deep tele turn into the fluff.

At the bottom of Chair 11 we gathered.  Faces alight as only possible on a powder day.  Friends sharing an intimate ephemeral experience.

It was obvious to Fritz and I how healing that run was.  Being back on Vail with my friends Farnham and Fritzie was pretty much what it is all about.  

Let it keep on dumping.  Another powder day awaits tomorrow.  This time Beaver Creek.  

live, love, aloha.

Monday, December 3, 2007

"Cheney Skis In Jeans"

I laughed for about twenty minutes after I read this bumper sticker.  I proceeded to text it and call friends exclaiming.  I just couldn't get enough of this today.  Cheney skis in jeans.  So perfect.  Most people will probably wonder why I find this so wonderfully funny.  It just is.
So back on November 6th, when we were locked in a snowless Indian Summer, I went to visit my good friend Dr. Cynthia Kelly at the Colorado Limb Consultants down in Denver.  The purpose for the visit was to get another round of X-rays (I'm sure I glow by now.), see how the bone graft in my hip is doing, and check-up on the femoral neck fracture. 
After nearly two full years, I got the clearance to go ski!  Problem...  No Snow.
Well thanks to the snow gods, snow returned to Colorado this weekend.  Heavily.  
And thanks to Dr. Kelly and her team, I ripped this blessing most dutifully.
Here's a couple videos...  Not too shabby for missing nearly two full seasons on snow?

Now I must mention that getting to Wolf Creek Pass for this serious dump was no small feat.  All day Friday it was snowing off and on here in Edwards.  The "Birds of Prey" World Cup Downhill was being held in Beaver Creek just minutes away.  Skiing was in the air.  I've been so into riding my mountain bike of late, that I wasn't really worried about skiing.  The snow has been so bad that getting excited to rip man made snow was far from my mind.  But as the weather turned cold and starting
 spitting snow, everyone was talking about a big dump.
I didn't really pay much mind to the talk until my boss Dave and I looked up the radar maps on  A gigantic cell had moved into Colorado and was pounding the rockies.  As we looked closer at the forecasts it became apparent that it was going to blast the San Juan's the hardest.

My friend Audrey and I decided spontaneously to jump in my truck and head south directly into the blizzard.  The idea of starting my season with soft, deep Wolf C
reek snow somehow made the 5-6 hour drive palatable.  "Feet.  Not inches.  Let's go!"

We made it, but it was a crazy drive requiring mental stamina and a certain amount of insanity.  We only spun off the road once on the way.  A nice 360+ across both icy lanes of the highway into the snow-filled ditch.  No harm, no foul... we were able to drive out in 4x4 LOW.  And the next hour I drove 25mph  white knuckled surfing snowy, slushy, icy roads to the base of Wolf Creek Pass.  I dropped the psi in my tires to 25 and crawled slowly to the ski area at the top of the pass.

In the center of the blizzard, we slept (more like waited with eyes closed) in the truck with our ski gear until the lifts starting turning.  28" of heavy snow had piled onto the mountain, making it skiable.  Finally.  

It snowed all day Saturday, all night Saturday and in the morning on Sunday it was back to bluebird and of course "A POWDER DAY!!!"  Skiers favorite words.  And so we skied. and skied. n skied.  
                   A total of 50" dropped on Wolf Creek from Friday
 morning to Sunday morning.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Chasing Tornados with a Pinwheel"

Sorry I disappeared.  

Life got pretty crazy after returning to Colorado.  Fairly crazy to return after 5 weeks of traveling and freedom... to responsibilities at work, needing to find a new place to live, entertaining visiting relatives, and preparing for my best friend Ryan Johnson's bachelor party and wedding.  Run-on sentence... yeah.  This is exactly how I felt for the month of September.  Just like I was living inside of a horribly long run-on sentence.  

The wedding was stellar.  I've been to a lot of weddings.  This one was truly special.  Ryan and Monica pulled off a momentous occasion with style and grace.  An autumn event in St. Paul, Minnesota, the ceremony was held at the Como Pavilion.  During the rehearsal, a light rain came down on the lake as wind kicked up golden leaves on the lawn.  A cool breeze sent shivers as we practiced our duties.  Just as things were commencing, the evening sun broke through the clouds sending golden rays east.  Heaven and Earth intertwined.  For many minutes a double rainbow shone proudly over Como lake just behind us.  Clearly a sign of creation's approval.

Upon return to Colorado's Denver International Airport, I breezed through with Steve and Michelle Pennisi to their home in Dillon.  I spent the night excited to head to the Vail Valley in the morning and commence moving into my newly found residence.  Fate had other things in mind...
At 7:50 a.m., October 1st, just over Vail Pass on Westbound I-70, I rear-ended a woman and daughter from Grand Junction after the mother slammed on her brakes in response to the drivers in front of her.  With a semi to my right and the concrete median to my left, I had few choices.  I managed to get my truck from 65 mph down to 40 mph before finally smashing my truck under her rear bumper.  My truck was badly damaged and needed to be towed to the repair shop.  Fortunately no one was injured and the whole thing got chalked up to inconvenience.  So once again, I needed to rely on my awesome friends to get me moved in.  Again.

October blew by with fits and starts of winter and then a solid couple of weeks of Indian Summer that carried right on into November.  I spent this time riding my mountain bike as much as possible.  My hip continuing to feel stronger and stronger every day.  I went to the desert in western Colorado and southeastern Utah nearly every weekend.   I attempted a 3 day mountain bike trek through Canyonlands National Park with the St. Johns.  Unfortunately after the first day of strong riding, I was struck in the middle of the night with the multi-orifice jamboree.  Usually an affliction that follows heavy drinking or poorly cooked lomo saltado, I spent the whole night crawling from my tent to random sage bushes to expel the demons.  This rendered me useless and unable to ride the remaining 75 miles of the trip.  I spent day two bouncing terribly uncomfortable in the passenger seat of Farnham's Toyota Landcruiser.  Heated leather seats, dual climate control, XM satellite radio and Far's 2 year-old daughter vying for silence on my behalf, "Shhhh, Unkie g. sleeping!" couldn't soothe my aching insides.
But all bad things too shall pass...

The next couple weeks found my riding partner, Marc Thomas and I, riding and camping in Fruita and Grand Junction.  Marc has been an awesome source of encouragement as I try to find my way back to riding with confidence and skill.  Wanting so badly to be able to catch him on the trail and eventually be able to pass him, driving me to ride hard and train hard.
While I was laid up with the autumn crunk, Marc met some great ladies that live in Junction while he was riding in the Loma area near Fruita, Colorado.  These ladies, Leila and Andrea, agreed to show us around some of the locals' favorites outside of Grand Junction.  This riding turned out to be some of the best new terrain I've ridden, which meant a return visit the following weekend.  I spent the days following Thanksgiving in GJ, hosted by Leila and entertained by her awesome group of friends.

The mountain biking has been incredible and the weather, stubbornly refusing to turn into winter, perfectly suited an extended season.  It is an incredible feeling to be able to ride my bike rather aggressively already.  Even though it has been 5 months since getting rid of the crutches, caustic memories linger just beneath the adrenaline grin on my brain.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Hardest Part is Coming Down... *Official Last Post of the Lucky 7's Expedition*

"He who goes up must come down..." is the thought coursing through my brain. 

 Chad made it, bailed me out of being penniless.  But of course in my desire to make things harder than need be, I waited for the last minute to go through security.  I forgot about all the immigration stuff we needed to do, how long the lines would be for the airport tax, security and everything else.  Long story very short, we cut the lines in security, ran the whole way to the gate and were the last ones down the jetway.  We sat down on the plane sweating, each of us secretly wishing we'd missed the plane and had been forced to stay in the wonderful country of Peru.

It is never very hard to return to Colorado.  When we landed it was a beautiful day in Denver, so we headed to Boulder, had some tasty sushi on Pearl St. mall and watched America unfurl its Labor Day splendor.  

Today, however, different story.  I went back to that great enterprise known as work.  O.k. in and of itself as I am eager and excited to start my new project.  Unfortunately as I walked the site I realized I easily could have stayed in South America for close to another month.  The place looks the same as when I left.  This disappointment has me in a rather funky funk.

But since I don't really dig that bluesy state of mind, I'm going to get out on my mountainbike and spin some energy out and enjoy the gorgeous Colorado sunny evening.

Please stay tuned.  Even though I'm back in the States, I've got lots of gaps to fill in from my trip.  Plus lots of pics to upload and share with you all.  So for now... coming down... but only a little bit.

Live Love,

Sunday, September 2, 2007

And It All Falls Apart...

Not sure if I mentioned that I left my ATM card in the machine in Lima. So now I´m back in Lima a few hours from departure and I have no way to pay for my exit tax at the airport, since it has to be cash. If Chad made his flight in Cusco he´ll be here to bail me out. If not... looks like I´m becoming Peruvian for a while. Maybe we´ll see you soon. Maybe not. Luck be a Lady tonight.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Adventure Deepens in the Peruvian Andes...

So Chad Wilkison has joined the Lucky7´s Expedition and we are currently ripping up the wilds of Peru on motorcycles. It has been an event filled couple of days and we are preparing to head deeper into Peru towards the high jungle near Quillabamba. It is our goal to reach the pueblo of Huancancalle, to see some very incredible Incan ruins. It will be a seven hour motorcycle ride to reach the area. We have decided to cash in the trip to Machu Picchu because of the hordes of tourists there in August. This makes three times to the Cuzco area without making it to Machu. It is becoming rather revolutionary for me to shun one of the Seven Wonders of the World in exchange for tranquility and solitude in ruins that are much less visited.

The remainder of my trip in Chile was incredible. I will write about my adventure on the carreterra austral after returning to Colorado. I will also need to recap Peru, Second Take as well. The internet service here is not as good as it has been and we are heading further from civilization. Thanks for following along with my blog. I will add photos and more posts upon my return to the world of technology.

Ciao de Ollantaytambo, Peru,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Uhhh... Yeah I´m with the CIA...

I returned to Puerto Montt from the Island of Chiloé today. I didn´t find the end of the road. Actually I found out that the road continues on for hundreds of miles to the south. It is called the Carreterra Austral, or Southern Highway. It is interrupted by several ferries but continues through Patagonia to Tierra del Fuego. It will be this highway that I drive if I realize my dream to ride a motorcycle through South America.

Upon returning to Pto. Montt I had a pretty funny experience. I was walking down the road, headed for the local sushi joint for some lunch and came across the power tool shop. It was a typical business front with the logos of Makita and DeWalt plastered over the facade. I walked a block over to get closer to the place to take a picture. Why would I want a picture of a hardware store? Well who knows... I actually just figured that Pennisi would get a kick out of it. So as I get closer I realize that there are people upstairs in what seems to be an apartment having their afternoon tea. I compose my shot, take it and head back down the block for the sushi dive.

I go inside, the last customer for the lunch hour, head to the can to take a whizz, no big deal. When I come out of the bathroom a chilean lady is standing between me and my table. She begins assaulting me with rapid spanish to which I´m dumbfounded. I listen intently as I can tell she´s very upset. I gather she wants to know why I was taking a picture of her house. I take a deep breath and say... "Es porque el marque 'Makita y DeWalt, soy carpentero y uso estes hermientes todos los dias." To this she seems to calm down a bit and I just walk by her. I mean come on, I was taking a picture of a public business, not a funeral. She appears awkward after I just walked by her and shrugs saying, o.k. you´re a carpenter.

In hindsight I wish I would have had the spanish skills to tell her that I was with the CIA and we had reason to believe she was a supporter of Pinochet, the last dictator of Chile. As I reflected on this, it was probably good that I didn´t have the skills to be a smart ass. There is a history here in Argentina and Chile of people disappearing from having the wrong political beliefs. There was probably very good reason she was concerned by me photographing her place. And just confronting me, which she was quite the covert agent to get out of the house and follow me to the sushi restaurant in the first place, probably set her mind at ease.

My trip to Chiloé island was short but very sweet. The place reminded me a lot of Ireland. Very green and rolling and rural. As my bus rolled through the green countryside I saw plenty of sheep and several shepherds in the rain in their bright yellow raincoats. I sat in the warm, dry bus reading from "Chasing Che" and learning of the local history through someone else´s journalism. I photographed in Dalcahue had another incredible salmon dinner bayside and caught the last bus out of Castro by minutes. I stayed in a very comfortable hostel in Ancud called, Mundo Nuevo. This morning I was treated to a colorful foggy sunrise as I walked along the waterfront, camera in hand.

Upon returning to Tren del Sur, I chatted with Mario and a new friend from Brazil, Bernardo. We ended up going to an incredible steak dinner here in Puerto Montt. My Chevy rental car arrived and I´m set to head out to explore the lakes, volcanoes and glaciers tomorrow. There is even the promise of hot springs in my near future. This will be the first time on this trip that I will have my own transportation. I´m excited for the photographic possibilities that this provides. It is midnight now. I must head for bed as it will be an early morning rise.
With warmest of thoughts from this drizzly, damp and cold part of Chile.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Searching for the End of the Road...

Currently, I find myself watching the rain pour down on Puerto Monnt, Chile. I´m warm and dry and very well rested. Upon arrival here yesterday, I grabbed the first cab at the bus station and headed to a boutique hotel called Tren del Sur, or Train of the South. I had read about this place on a website called Hostelworld. Clearly in the advertisement was stated that this is not really a hostel but not quite a hotel either. After arriving, learning the price of the room and viewing the establishment, I dubbed it a boutique hotel. One could also call it a Bed & Breakfast. Regardless no one could prepare me for how incredibly helpful the proprietor, young Mario, would prove to be. Around my age, Mario was educated in Santiago, first in advertising, then in Business Management. He went on to work for American Airlines and then for United. He was employed in management as an account executive and then progressed on to corporate accounts. He has travelled the world extensively, including Europe, Asia, North America as well as South. After, several minutes of giving me the run down on the area in spanish, he must have noticed the mixed up look on my face. The spanish down here is a very different breed. It is much more of a varied pitch while speaking, a little bit like singing. He quickly switched to English, which he speaks with and true English accent. I came to understand that he lived in London for some time. He helped me lay out my few days in this area to maximize my adventure before needing to jump back on a flight to Santiago. We checked the weather forecast online and then planned around the rain accordingly. Yesterday was incredible, sunny and beautiful. I walked along the waterfront looking into the bay, enthralled to see colorful fishing boats in the harbor.

On Mario´s suggestion, I visited the market of Angelmo, where I was able to see local fisherman in white rubber boots and aprons shucking local seafood onto their stands. Each of them greeting me with a smile. This was no longer Santiago, but a small fishing village in the rest of winter. Puerto Montt is a bustling little tourist village in the summertime as people depart from here by ship for the glaciers and amazing mountains of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and even Antarctica. I went into a little restaurant, took a seat on the balcony and ordered fresh salmon fried in garlic. I was stupendous, fresh as can be with just the perfect flavor of olive oil and fresh garlic. The fish was most likely brought to shore only hours before I dined on its delicate flesh.

The products in the market were fantastic. Huge shrimp, crab, mussels, octopus, and some stuff I didn´t even recognize. There was also a part of the market full of colorful vegetables. It was truly an eyepopping event. I sat on the balcony eating, drinking local beer, sipping on pisco sour and reading from a book called, "Chasing Che", which is an American authors account of his journey retracing the famous motorcycle journey of Che Guevara and Alberto Granado. It is a great book for me to be reading because he visits so many of the places that I have been on this trip. It was really interesting that as I sat in Santiago reading this book, he was giving an account of Puerto Montt and I´d already booked my ticket here. Kind of serendipitous, I thought.

Walking around town in the sunshine, I couldn´t help thinking how this place reminded me of Greenland in so many ways. The harbor, the colorful boats, the colorful houses perched on the hillside looking out to the sea all brought back memories of my arctic experience many years ago. In a lot of ways, without my experience in Greenland, I may not even be here in Chile. It was my trip as an exchange student years ago to the very foriegn locale of Greenland that set in motion my deep rooted love of travel.

I came back to the hotel and settled into the couch watching "24" with Mario. Did you get that Mr. B? Watching Jack Bauer try not to hand over the circuit board to Chang....! So after "24" ended, I was encouraged by Mario to nap on the couch. He said, "You´re at home. Relax. Put your vest over your feet to stay warm, and just nap." I woke up hours later and felt it had been minutes. We went to dinner together at a little pub down by the plaza and had these gigantic sandwiches called Tablón, that were created on a gigantic bun with a steak, some ham, some avocado, tomato, pickles and onions all topped with a fried egg on the lid of the bun. And some french fries which I mimicked Mario and dipped in the egg yolk before tearing into the sandwich.

All this and a great night´s sleep in a giant comfortable bed. Now I´m off, into the rain, with a Patagonia shell, borrowed from my new friend, to explore the island of Chiloe. I will get in a bus and then the bus will get on a ferry and from there I will explore this new place. Pictures to come soon so check back on this post. Ciao from very near the magical place of Patagonia.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Senor Diablo Cuanto Cuesta El Vino...

O.k. Mr. B. here's your moment of glory. The last year while I was healing, my roommate and co-worker Brendan McVoy and I consumed a quality amount of South American wine. I was on a sobriety kick that allowed wine and Brendan, well he drinks anything that is put in front of him. Typical Irishman. Well Mr. B, I visited the home of the devil. I went on a winery tour of the Concha y Toro vineyard. It was a very touristy thing to do but considering that Casillero del Diablo was one of our favorites, I figured it would only be fitting to go for a visit. Concha y Toro is the largest exporter of wine in South America. The winery grounds were beautiful. The estate house was built in the 1800's and was really cool. The house was surrounded by a giant park filled with trees from around the world. The vineyards were cool to see, but being that it is winter they were in the pruning stages. The vines were bare and empty but still cool to see. The cellars were my favorite area though. All the barrels are oak and they come from either the U.S. or from France. They flash burn the inside of the barrels for flavor. Late in the tour they brought us to the deep cellar, known as the Casiellero del Diablo. The story goes that the best wines were being stolen so they built a deep cellar and started a rumor that the devil resided there and looked over the wines. Ever since the creation of the myth of the Devil's cellar, the wine stopped disappearing.

The actual Casillero del Diablo, or cellar of the Devil, was really cool. Deep in the back of the barrel cellars was little room tucked away. We entered and for marketing purposes it was lit by red light. There were dusty bottles stacked from ground to ceiling. In the back there was a silhouetted devil on the back wall. I'm really tired right now from rallying down to Valparaiso today. So my literary capacity is shot. I needed to get a post up beacause I'm not sure how good the connections are going to be where I'm headed.

My trip plans have changed. It seems that the pass between Chile and Argentina is plagued with delays crossing into Chile. I've decided to scratch my visit to Mendoza in exchange for a trip down to Puerto Montt, which is close to the end of the road in Chile. It is where the mainland starts to break up into multiple islands and fjord. I plan to visit the island of Chiloe. This island, just south of Puerto Montt, has a road from north to south but after that it ends. Travel is, from there on out, by boat and air only. I am excited to see this last out post of the country of Chile. I may get a chance to get over the pass and visit Bariloche in Argentina.

The past few days have been occupied kicking it around Santiago. I've been staying in a great hostel called Bellavista. It is located in a really cool neighborhood of Santiago that is very hip. There are great restaurants and bars everywhere. The buildings are painted very bright colors and the options are extensive. I'm blown away by the hostel lifestyle. There are people staying here from all walks of life. Fabian from Vienna, Mick from Ireland, Byron from Washington state, Dina a phd student at Harvard who is from Switzerland, Marcus from Germany, a volcanologist from France named Ben, a teleskier from Colorado named Ben... and so on and so on. So many cool travellers with so many cool stories. It is really a cool environment to chill in. Even though I'm travelling alone, I never really seem to be alone.

Well I need to get some sleep. My airport shuttle leaves at ten to five in the morning and it is 1 a.m. now. I'm shot, but I've got a flight to sleep on in the morning. Hope all is well. I promise the next post won't be so boring. -g.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Powder Days and Enormous Earthquakes...

Peru was rocked by a gigantic earthquake yesterday. The epicenter was nearest to Pisco and Ica, which are south of the capital city of Lima. Lima was also affected. I have yet to hear from my friends there to see if everyone is alright. I'm assuming that the internet connections are either down or completely jammed up as people are recovering from the shock. I was in Lima a short 6 days ago and will be returning there on the 24th of August. Crazy. What is really weird is that the majority of deaths, like 85%, occurred in churches as people were praying on a religious holiday. Makes you wonder, huh?

On to much brighter topics... The Andes are getting blasted by snow right now. Feet of it. It is absolutely gut wrenching for me to watch the copious amounts of fluff pile up and not be able to strap on the boards and rip it up.

Last night was a true test of patience and a glimpse of human condition. I needed to take a bus down from Valle Nevado to Santiago to keep my trip rolling on. I said goodbye to Zach and Brendan, who were stoked to see the snow still piling up. I got into my crowded bus and squished into my seat dreading the couple hour drive down the mountainside in these horrible driving conditions. I made small talk with a lady that I'd pissed off getting into the bus, by making a comment about having to sit with stinky tourists. She was jewelry designer from San Francisco and had a Tumi suitcase bigger than the storage unit all my stuff is jammed into in Avon, a rabbit fur coat and tight little jeans on. Hot! Except she was sixty. Yeah 60, a far cry from the 16 year old I'd been hitting on only days before. She was witty as all get out and wanted to tell me about how she is a flower child and had smoked herb her whole life. I don't know if it was the Alpaca wool sweater, the dirty down vest or the beer in my hand that made her want to be accepted by me as a pothead, but I couldn't help but to think, "what happened after the 60's?" Here is a prime example. Imagine all of the idealism that was welled up in this lady in her 20's... And now here she is telling me how it was and how everyone was going to change the world, wearing fur and complaining about the condition of the bus. Yeah her generation is changing the face of the world... his name is George Bush, Jr.

So about 15 minutes into our approximately 2 hour ride down the switchbacked mountainside, we came to a complete halt. Ahead of us stretched a caterpillar of red brake lights in the near blizzard like snowstorm. Here we sat for an hour unmoving. Rumor travelled up the halted caravan that there were several accidents ahead. The mood in the bus shifted.

Earlier in the day, Zach and I popped into the cafeteria at the base of the mountain for a quick burger before my departure. As we were in line this boisterous and quite annoying american guy butted in front of us to talk to his wife. He was spouting poorly pronounced spanish at the counter worker and talking really loud and fast in English to us apologizing shallowly for interrupting the flow of the order line. I thought to myself... "Thank God I don't need to be around this guy very long..."

Guess who was sitting just on the other side of RabbitFurHottie? Yeah you know it. His name is Bruce Taylor as he was sure to let everyone know as he rattled off all of his accomplishments and connections. The funny thing was that it seemed he was jacked on cocaine. He talked really fast and he repeated everything he said twice. For emphasis? Or just because he's a crazy autistic crackhead, but supposedly he is one of the partners in Mt. Baldy ski area in California, which I doubt, based on the 1980's ELAN fanny pack he had on. And he is a non-practicing attourney because he couldn't stand all the nerds in school, but his professor used to quote him in class because of his incredible grasp of the theories of law. blah blah frigging blah. He wanted to sell me his gem of a miniranch by Telluride and what he couldn't stop talking about was that he had an epiphany 5 years ago and started to sing and write in spanish. And now the guitarist from Iron Butterfly had joined his project and they were tearing it up. He procured two demo cd's from his 80's backpack and proceeded to flaunt them around to everyone. Now keep in mind we're at a dead stop stuck in a snowstorm in the Andes. RabbitFur keeps freaking out about how she's going to miss her plane and she has important meetings... And FastTalker, Bruce Taylor is going to be the rock and roll revolution that Latin America has been waiting for.

Another hour passes and we haven't moved. The anxiety grows in the bus but FastTalker hasn't quit talking. He asks me if we have to worry about the fumes in the bus. It smells a little bit of diesel from sitting idling here. I tell him if he calms down and slows his breathing that it will affect him less. He seems a little bit offended but I hold to my medical reasons for him to shut up. He does the opposite of course and starts on about his band again, "Verdad y Realidad". I'm getting really burned out on this guys non-stop ranting and I'm trying to find a way to shut him up short of kicking his ass. So I say, "Hey man the bus has a cd player. Let's hear your promo cd." All of the other captives turn and say Yeah. All thinking maybe this will shut him up. By the way this guy is like fifty, his wife has looked terrifyingly embarrassed this whole time. As we all push to hear the cd, he turns bright red and goes on about how he and IronButterfly guy have made a pact with each other not to play the cd unless the sound system is worthy of the divine sounds recorded within... Blah Blah.

It was pretty obvious why he didn't want to play the cd and I left it at that. He toned down a bit after having his bluff called out. Obviously he was better at telling his story than he was at making music. So the craziness continues. We are now two and a half hours in the bus and only a half our into the real distance to be covered. People are getting hungry and thirsty and they are starting to freak out about the reality of being stuck on the bus all night. I put my iPod on and turned the volume way up. I cuddled up to RabbitFur and went far away from that bus.

When I woke up in Santiago, it was six, yes 6! hours after we'd left Valle Nevado. Had I known what was going to happen I would have chilled with Zach and Brendan and had another relaxed night in the tiny little ski town of Valle. Wandering around the base of the ski area looking for the non-existent single women and seeking out the non-existent nightlife. But god so good to be off the bus, away from the psychos and looking into the rainy Santiago night for my cab ride to my warm hostel Bellavista.

When I walked in to the hostel, I checked in with a breeze and that is when I found out about the Earthquake. I guess the moral of this long-winded story is to allways keep in mind that things could be worse. Try always to look for the bright side of things and the redeeming qualities in humankind. Live Love.

With warmest thoughts of you all,

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Last Temptation of G.

I´m sitting in the bar at Valle Nevado ski area a couple hours into the mountains outside of Santiago, Chile. Today is a powder day. There is over a foot of light dry Andean fresh sliding off the rooftops of the couple of hotels that exist up here. I´m absolutely losing my mind. I wrote Doc Kelly, my orthopedic surgeon, a couple of days ago asking permission to ski. I could almost hear her laughing from way down here. Of course she said NO! Very nicely she told me that I should wait for the Colorado ski season. A couple more months of strength training and more time for my bone mass to increase. But I can´t tell you how my heart aches to rip the pow again. Chile is having a stellar season. Tons of snow. And with today´s dump, it looks especially good out there.

I had a decent time exploring Santiago´s main plaza last night. I ended up hanging out with a guy from New York, that I met at my hostel. Pretty low key evening, which I really needed. I got to get my feet wet with the Chilean subway system. I´m starting to get the hang of the whole Subte thing. It is a really fast and inexpensive way to access the city.

If Argentina is all about tasty steaks, this place is all about seafood. I´ve been devouring awesome seafood. I splurged yesterday for lunch and ate at the four star hotel´s restaurant. There was guy playing piano and I had three waiters waiting on me. I dropped 35 bucks on a meal that would have easily cost a hundred in the states.

So like I said I´m up in the mountains. I met up with my friends from Cali that I met in Buenos Aires, Brendan and Zach. They snuck me in the hotel so I could just crash here with them on the futon in their room, which is really awesome of them. The hotels aren´t Vail expensive up here but they are expensive enough that I probably wouldn´t be here without the hookup. Thanks guys.

The drive up here was hairy due to the storm. Basically it is about a one and a half lane road that switchbacks up the mountainside. No mag chloride, no sand. Just sketchy. But it is great to be up here and out of the rain of Santiago. I´m going to go get a nap and get ready to party aprés ski stylie in the Chilean Andes. Much love to you all.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Come-on Braveheart lets Dance with the Dead...

I'm in Santiago de Chile now. I got in last night and met up with Ana again. She was coincidentally coming to Chile for the weekend. So after seeing her in Buenos Aires, I got to again hang out with her and learn more about documentary film here in Santiago. Lucky for me she had booked a hotel room at the Crowne Plaza, which is probably one of the nicest hotels I've been in. The business center has several very fast computers, which I am now taking advantage of. It is a beautiful day out but I feel like I need to get some work done on the blog while I have access to this high quality office space.

Buenos Aires was incredible. It is truly a 24 hour a day city. In the four days I was there I think I slept four hours. After leaving Palermo Hollywood and the offices where Ana is working out of, I headed straight downtown to my new hostel. I had read up on Milhouse Hostel before I left the states and it basically said that it is THE party hostel of Buenos Aires. Figuring that I only had a couple of days to chill in BA, I decided this would be the place to meet some fellow travellers to hang out with. Well that took all of 5 minutes. I got my stuff into my shared dorm room, which had 4 sets of bunkbeds and a bathroom. There were cage style lockers for our belongings and once my stuff was locked up, I head out into the city to have a look around. The hostel is located a block off of Avenida 9 de Julio, which is said to be the widest street in the world. With four or five lanes of traffic in each direction and a giant obelisk in the center, it was quite impressive. I grabbed a couple of empanadas and had a cafe cortado before going back to the hostel to see what the evening had in store.

When I got back inside Milhouse, there was a definite bustle about. Twenty or so travellers were drinking big beers and chatting loudly creating a really cool buzz about the big room. In the back corner I saw some guys hammering it out on the pool table. Never one to turn down a challenge in a little eight-ball, I wandered over and dropped a coin on the edge of the table. A couple of guys from Brazil, looked at me and said, pointing to the guy shooting, this guy's a shark. I said that I'd give it a try anyway. They looked skeptical. A couple minutes later, the guy they warned me about dropped the eight ball and now it was my turn.

I slid the token into the slot, pushed in the lever, waited the customary couple of seconds and pulled the lever back out. The balls, all fifteen of them dropped into the internal channel and started their rolling and jeering towards the opening. Duck, Duck, Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-ck-ck-ck-ck. Such a familiar and welcome sound to my ears. No matter where on the planet one finds themselves, a pay pool table always sounds the same... I slapped the triangle onto the table and pulled the balls out two per hand until they were all in the rack. I quickly posted them solid, stripe, solid, stripe, put the eight ball in the middle and lightly pushed the triangle into position. I gave the balls a snug and lifted the rack off, not a ball moved. I grabbed a cue from the corner, chalked it and headed over to meet the shark.

"Name's Kevin," he said in the strongest Scottish accent I've heard. We shook hands and began the contest. With solid crack the balls scattered about the table and one by one, three of them dropped into the pockets. Unfortunately they were all solids too. Kevin made shot after shot and soon it was a rematch. After getting my rear-end handed to me several times, I finally got warmed up. By this time people were watching this furious battle of billiards cheering us on. It felt like I'd ended up in the pro billiards tour. Kevin is a social worker in Scotland, and so we all kept saying, "SOCIAL WORKING!" as he dropped the balls in the pockets. Big bottles of Heineken were being consumed as fast as the balls hit the pockets. Moments later I found myself staring down a tough cut to sink the eight ball. The stakes were high... ten people watching. If I made it, I would win. If I missed, Kevin had an easy shot on it and I'd lose. Ahhh the suspense. A guy from California, that had been watching from the sidelines looked at my shot and said, "better play it safe, there's no way to cut that."

I stared that eight ball down until the spot started to quiver. "I'm going to cut it," I said, defiantly and with authority. I chalked my cue and took a deep breath. This is it I thought and drew the cue back slowly several times. I had nearly the whole table's worth of green felt between the cue ball and the eight ball, with the eight up against the rail right in front of the center diamond. With confidence, I shot the cue ball hard and straight grazing the eight. The cue ball was on its return to me and the eight ball rolled slowly but surely right along the rail and dropped. I sighed with relief and smiled at Zach, the guy from Cali. He smirked and said "Sweet shot."

Probably three hours later, I finished up playing pool and head out into the Buenos Aires night with my new friends... Zach and Brendan from California and Kevin and Martin from Scotland. It was two a.m. when we left for the bar, Shamrock, an Irish pub. We didn't get home until after the sun had come up. I got two of my four hours of sleep that night with all my clothes on including my down vest. It wasn't that I was drunk, I was just so tired that I couldn't be bothered to get undressed.

Ana had told me that I really needed to visit the cemetary in Recoletta. It sounded like a good place to get some photos. I envisioned a giant green field filled with tombstones, but when I arrived I found that the whole place was filled with big marble and granite mausoleums. This was the cemetary of Buenos Aires' bourgeois. Eva Peron, aka Evita, the famous wife of Juan Peron, a famous president of Argentine history, is buried here. These mausoleums were fantastic. Many of them were like mini churches. Some were run down but most were impeccable. I wandered around and photographed all afternoon. The sun was shining and the weather was beautiful. Incredibly gorgeous Argentines wandered the rows upon rows and tourists, like myself, weilded cameras like battle swords, hording around the famous graves.

After getting my fill of the dead, I wandered around the plaza in front of the cemetary and church looking at all of the artists' works. There was some great art to be seen. I then made it into the CD, which is a mall of cutting edge desing for homes. Like an Ikea but really cutting edge contemporary stuff. The colors and shapes and textures were such an eyeful that I just soaked it in non-stop. Recoletta is so hip and cool. I thought about how I could just run tours for interior designers to this area of BA.

When I walked out of the CD, I went into the contemporary art museum next door. I just couldn't get enough of this place. I was just in visual overload. I spent some time in the museum and then headed out into the night of Recoletta. As I was walking to catch a taxi, people were filing into the church for Saturday evening mass. These Argentines were dressed to the nines, and I felt like I was in Beverly Hills. Big beautiful cars pulled up to the church and wonderfully dressed people filed out and stood in the courtyard of the church. I could only imagine the extent of the who's who that were coming to this exquisite neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Not to mention, I needed to keep remembering to pick my jaw up off the ground as one after another, the most beautiful women I've ever seen filed through the plaza.

After I couldn't handle another drop of beauty I head towards Milhouse thinking I'd skip the Discotheque tonight and get some sleep. When I arrived, the Californians were waiting and had a different idea. They were keen to go catch a B-side soccer match. Buenos Aires is famous for their soccer so I decided I would join them. We caught a taxi and the driver was kind of weird about bringing us there. I couldn't really figure it out but when we got near the stadium and it started to look like south-side Chicago, I started to understand. Zach and Brendan are both bigger guys and that helped calm me as we joked if we'd ever get out alive. When we got in the stadium and I saw the cops dressed in full riot gear, I really wondered if this was a good idea.
The match was fun and the Argentines welcomed us. It was crazy but we got out unscathed.

After a dinner of steak and red wine we signed up to go to the disco with the hostel group. We went to a giant club called Pocha and there were probably two thousand crazies there all bouncing and bopping to intense house music. It was a really impressive scene. At about six in the morning, Brendan and I caught a cab home and left Zach to fend for himself.

I thought, finally, that I would get some sleep. That was so far from reality it wasn't even funny. When we got back to the hostel it was nearly seven a.m. People were filing in from this or that club and chatting away. Brendan slipped off for some sleep and Kevin came in pretty drunk, grabbed me and said, C'mon were going to get a beer. "Who?" I asked. In his drunken Scottish accent he said, "Me and You."

So we stumbled out into the street, I was pretty sober but Kev was properly pissed as they say. Within two minutes he was climbing up on the back of the city bus and bumper surfing down the road. I walked down the sidewalk just laughing at him. The bus driver caught on, stopped the bus, came out and yelled at him and Kevin just laughed and joined me on the sidewalk. We rolled into a cafe and when he couldn't get a beer, he ordered a bottle of Malbec and we walked down the road drinking incredible Argentine wine from the bottle and wandered about checking out the nooks and crannies of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. We swung on swings in the playground and watched the clouds turn neon colors as the sun came up and daytime began on my last day here in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Kevin finished his bottle of wine, went into another cafe filled with normal people doing a normal thing... eating breakfast. He ordered another bottle of wine and we were back to tramping through town. I was basically babysitting. He could barely walk by now. We were close to the hostel and I was thinking close to salvation, when he decided that now it was time to fight. To keep him from assaulting anyone, I agreed to box with him. I let him get a couple shots in on me to appease his violent desires. Then I knocked him down about five times in a row to appease my desire for amusement. He tore his shirt off and called me every name in the book. He really wanted to kick my ass now, but he couldn't even walk, so he could never get close enough to hit me. I was calling him Braveheart, totally egging him on. I'd give him a couple jabs to the chest and when he would swing back with all his might, I'd just duck and he'd miss and spin falling down. It was really funny. But then I realised we were no where near the hostel anymore and we needed to get back before he couldn't.

We took the subway. Bad idea.

Evening is fast approaching here in Santiago and I need to try to get up to the ski area Valle Nevado to meet up with Zach and Brendan. Hope all is well with everyone. Much love from South America... the continent that doesn't sleep.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Blues...

Not really homesick but I thought it would be fitting to quote Bob Dylan... So I had an awesome adventure taking the Subte- or Subway... As I headed into the underground to try the Subte for the first time I got a rush of adrenaline. Not only did I not grow up with a subway, but I've never lived anywhere with one either and really only been in one in Boston years ago and wasn't in charge of the negotiation.

Earlier today I saw the entrance to the Subte around the corner from my hostal so I knew the name of the station where I was headed- Avenida de Mayo. So I figured how hard can it be? Look at the map and follow it to where I need to go. I wanted to get from Palermo, where I was visiting Ana before she left for Chile, to the center of the city, where my hostel is. It started out good... I got from Palermo to close to the center, switched trains, got on the wrong direction and the switch, got off at the next stop and managed to get on the right direction. I thought I was home free with only two stops to go. At the stop before I needed to exit about 50 people piled in and the train was smashed full. I mean sardines... an understatement. So the train gets to my stop and no one moves. I'm stuck. The doors close and we're off. Damn. So I figure I'll just get out at the next stop and switch to the train going the other direction. As we approach the next stop, I start making eye contact with the people between me and the door. I get some sort of acknowledgement. The train stops, the doors open and no one moves. "Screw it!" I think, and just push for the door, not sure if I'll make it or not. But I seem to slip through inch by inch... I hear the alarm sound for the doors to close... with a mini panic I thrust for the opening and with a whoosh I'm out on the platform and the train is already zipping away.

After a quick breath, I check myself. I seem to have all my belongings, at least I think. I still got my pack on, with Johnson's several thousand dollars worth of camera gear in it. Well all I have to do is get on the train going back the other way. I think... Easy enough. But when I go up a level to cross to the other side my ticket won't work. Instead of paying another 70 centavos, roughly 25 cents, I decide to walk. I exit this underground wormhole, check my bearings and start heading for the hostel. I walk about a half mile and realize I'm nowhere I've ever seen before. Dreading ending up in the rough Italian district of Boca, or really anywhere now that it is dark, I head for the nearest Subte entrance and consult the map, trying not to look lost. Turns out that this subterranean adventure has entirely confused my internal compass and left me heading in exactly the wrong direction.

I made an about face and started my 3/4 mile walk in the "right" direction. Bummed about my underground escapades, I shun the Subte, grab my packstraps and start hoofing it down the sidewalk. 20 minutes later I'm at the hostel. Sweaty, sucking down a 32 oz. Heineken to the tune of two bucks, laughing to myself knowing full well without these "adventures in err" I'd have no story.

So with unparalled consensus, I understand no one wants to hear about the color, consistency or quantity of my snot. I apologize. I just wanted to keep it real. But you'll all be happy to know that every minute there is less. And now it is clear. Soon I'll be back to healthy and then who knows what will limit me? My limp? Still noticeable, is getting better everyday too. Hope you are all well. Drop a note, comment or anything else. With much love and aloha, -g.

P.S. Sorry no pictures lately. The computers have been a little shady lately. I'll post some soon. Stay tuned and keep commenting.

Lima to Uptown Minneapolis???

I arrived in Buenos Aires last night without a hitch. The only downfall on my flight was listening to this professional tennis player, Vladmir, from Greece talk to his coach the whole way here. It wasn´t just that he was rude and talking inappropriately the whole way, which he was, but that he seemed so proud to be speaking English that he did so at a volume that made even me blush. And every sentence ended with him saying, "MAN." It went something like this...

"I don´t want her as my girlfriend, man!" Coach nods, entirely bored with the spoiled brat´s monologue, "who whants a b--ch man "she just wants me cause i´m famous man!", "man that´s a waste of time man!"

So yeah this guy is cussing, and there are kids around, and he doesn´t care partly because he doesn´t think anyone else can understand English. Well news flash, everyone does.

So other than homey, everything was as smooth as can be getting out of Lima and off to Buenos Aires. I had time to have my dress shoes shined in the airport and was feeling dressed up and ready for the Paris of South America. Shortly after getting through customs, I was in a cab, a brand new Renault and was zipping down an impeccably clean 3 lane highway into BA. Even from the plane, Buenos Aires is a huge contrast to Lima. Lima looks like an accident and BA looks like it was laid out by DaVinci. But here on the ground things are obvious that people just plain think differently. The streets are clean and well laid out. People obey stoplights, stopsigns and even seem to drive with care. There is not the constant beeping and honking of the streets of Peru. The incessant honking in Peru is rediculous. It is as if the drivers think they talking with their horns. None of that here. When we get off the highway, the streets become cobblestone sprinkled with asphalt patches, but people still stop at the stop lights. And the stoplights not only go yellow then red to stop but they are kind of like drag strips, they go yellow then green as well. So when you are waiting at a red light, it turns yellow and everyone revs their engines and tear off as soon as it turns green. I love it.

Checking into Tango Backpackers Hostel is a breeze, and after a quick shave, I´m already meeting up with a young lady I met on Craigslist, Ana. Now Ana is one motivated and interesting woman. She is a freelance documentary film maker working on a project for Discovery Espanol. As the Senior Producer she is in charge of basically everything, including hanging out with cats like Santana, who is featured in the first episode of the project she is currently working on.

Buenos Aires has a bustling production industry. From what I understand, the talent is strong here but most importantly a fraction of the cost of California, not only for the work, but accomodations and everything else.

So Ana and I went out for an awesome dinner, which we started shortly after midnight, at a very chic joint called Miranda. I had some great Malbec and a dynamite ribeye. I´m going to like Buenos Aires just fine. I couldn´t help but to feel like I was sitting somewhere in Uptown Minneapolis though. Even after dinner, when I was sipping Balvenie Doublewood scotch, neat, in a cozy little pub named ocho7ocho, with the Beatles White Album dripping from the speakers, I felt like I was in Uptown or even LoDo in Denver. We were in the hip Palermo area of Buenos Aires. I could see myself scooping up a trendy apartment for fifty grand, setting up a studio and getting fat on juicy steaks really easy.

I´m off to check in to my next hostel in Downtown, The Milhouse, which is a party hostel I understand. Maybe some discotheque action tonight! Then I get to swing by Ana´s office to check out some post-production editting work they are doing. Not too bad being a jetsetter, I could get used to this...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Huaraz: So Hard to Leave...

I just pulled myself from the evening vista atop Olaza´s rooftop terrace to come in and rap out another post before heading back into the unknown. Olaza´s Bed and Breakfast, run by Tito Olaza, has been the most incredible haven. It isn´t cheap like a hostel but it is very affordable. The service is great and Tito knows everything you´d want to know about the area. He speaks awesome English and helping people figure out Huaraz seems to be his joy. His brother runs a mountain bike tour company and another runs a bar called the Voodoo Lounge. They are all good people.

The terrace here at the hotel has such a commanding view of the mountains I could stay up there forever. But the sun is down and I´ve only got a couple hours before I catch a night bus to Lima. I had a great chat with a guy named Nick, a fellow traveller and mountainbiker from England, who is currently working in France but just a couple of years ago was selling real estate in Uganda. We had a good conversation about travel and experience. The travellers I meet have such awesome stories from everywhere on the planet. Most of them are travelling for a few weeks, but some like Jonathan, are on several month odysseys. It is really humbling to meet so many fascinating people.

My friend Bones commented... "isn´t Huaraz grand?"

I realized that I haven´t written enough about how great Huaraz really is. The town has yet to become like Cusco. It is still very peruvian local, just with mountaineering and trekking shops scattered about. Tourism is very present but it doesn´t take over the town´s ambience. But with tourism comes good restaurants. I have found a couple of great little places in the short time I´ve been here. First off the thai restaurant that Bones mentioned, "Siam de los Andes" is now more like a friend´s house. I went down there last night. My head was pounding and my nose running. All I could think about was some spicy TomYumKai soup. I had seen it on the menu the other night when Jonathan and I went in. My hope was that this spicy thai variation of chicken soup would burn my sinus troubles away.

When I walked into the restaurant, I was warmly greeted by Mary. (Pronounced Mah-ree) I explained what I needed. She smiled and said, "And maybe you need some of my special ginger tea?" I couldn´t have suggested better. The tea was a perfect blend of ginger, coca leaves, black pepper and honey... talk about custom care. Nothing like a warm restaurant that makes you feel at home when you´re on your own and feeling like crap.

Mary is the wife of Naresuan who owns the restaurant. They are the chefs at this thai oasis in the heart of the mountainous Ancash region of Peru. Mary is from Colombia and Naresuan is from Thailand. I can only guess at how they met, started their family and ended up here in Huaraz treating weary mountaineers, guides, trekkers, and common tourists like me to the best thai food I´ve ever had. It will remain a mystery only to be guessed at as the restaurant is filling up and my time with the owners becomes limited. I sip at my tea and scratch these thoughts out on borrowed paper with a pen I grabbed from the bar.

In anticipation of the great wine drinking to ensue in Argentina and Chile, I order a glass of Casillero del Diablo, one of my favorite chilean reds. Mary brings it to me just as I ordered it... in a lowball glass, just can´t do the stemware. The a nice world beat, exotic and flavorful, just like my steaming soup. The lemongrass adds a special zing to the spicy elixir.

The evening winds on as I´m just so comfortable here sipping soup, tea and wine. Later Naresuan comes over to my table and joins me for a bit and we start rapping about mountainbiking. Turns out he is planning a big expedition on mountain bike through the Huayhuash mountains here next season. I´m very interested of course and we end up spending the next couple hours talking. I meet Adam, who is working here on some conservation projects. He joins Naresuan and I at my table. While he is eating, I come to find out that he teaches a course in Montana that I took about 12 years ago with the Wild Rockies Field Institute. What a strange coincidence. Another great evening making new friends in the world. Oh and I did get to find out how Naresuan and Mary met...

Huaraz has a couple of these great little restaurants. If you are an open-minded connoisuer and not a critic great culinary surprises abound. I had guinea pig and french fries in a local family restaurant, ceviche in a little place- though they are everywhere- while toasting beers with a couple of senior citizen men around 11 am, and the best chicken burrito around at Chili Heaven. Chili heaven is a great little establishment, warm, inviting, only seats 15 people or so and parked up against the wall in this already crowded little joint is a KTM 950 Adventure motorcycle. This orange and black monstrosity is a bike I dream of ripping through all of South America. The food could have been terrible and I still would have loved it because of the motorcycle. I found out that the restaurant is owned by a guy named Simon. His wife and gorgeous daughter, Melodi, wait tables, cook the food and generally rock the house. Supposedly I can rent this bike, but I´ve yet to meet Simon.

A day has passed now and I´m soon bound for the bus station. I don´t really want to leave Huaraz. It is really great. I´m going to stop by Naresuan and Mary´s on the way to the station for one last kick ass thai dinner. I´m feeling nostalgic preparing to leave this place that has become a new favorite. Oh well, a day in Lima, and I´m off to Buenos Aires. Ciao Huaraz, Hola Argentina.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Carhuaz: Med Students, Grandma, and Canine Guardians

Wow! First off, if anyone can help me get rid of this cold, I´m down. I´ve been into the pharmacy... my spanish isn´t good enough to explain what is going on, so I busted out some toilet paper and blew my nose in it and showed the pharmacist. She nodded and gave me some pills. I bought them and tried them but really no help. So I´ve just been suffering through it and hoping that it gets better.

So yesterday my travel partner, Jonathan, left for a trek in the Cordiellera Blanca known as the Santa Cruz trek. So I decided to head up to Carhuaz. I had met a young lady named Alina in Lima and she is on a course there. So I only knew that she would be in the market in the morning. Well I packed my things and found a taxi for 25 soles. My driver, German, was pretty awesome. We put in my Black Eyed Peas cd and rocked out for the 35 minute drive. He was really interested in coming to the U.S. so I gave him my email and told him to look me up. They all are interested in coming to the states so it won´t surprise me if I don´t hear from him. These solo taxi missions are wonderful for practicing spanish. Stuck in a car with no one else, just gotta try... So he was amazed that I was going to Carhuaz to meet someone without a plan for meeting. I told him that I believed it would work out fine. I mean how hard can it be to find a bunch of gringo students in a local market... So literally two minutes out of the cab I bumped into her next to a Quechua lady selling a little bit of anything and everything.

Soon I was being introduced to everyone on the course, mostly females, darn. Then with a little help from Alina, I was invited to visit the ranch they are staying on and sit in on a lecture on Peruvian Agronomy. The ranch, known as Casa de Pocha, is situated above Carhuaz. It is a really unique demonstration of eco-sustainability. In the yard are alumnium solar stoves that look like shiny satellite dishes, that can be focused towards the sun. I´m told that they are very efficient means of creating heat. There is also a organic sewage treatment system that uses a type of lily to break down human waste. Ducks, turkeys, chickens, a couple of cows, a bull and a horse could all be seen in the yard. The three level building that we had class in was hand built out of mud-bricks and then plastered. The top level was a beautiful yoga studio with hardwood floors and windows all around, that gave a tremendous view of the snowcapped mountains.

Alina took me down to town for dinner, which was an experience. She is vegetarian but needed to eat chicken as there were no other options at the only open restaurant in town. But things didn´t get really interesting until later when we tried to find me a hostel. There were a couple hostels in town, neither too appealing, and I couldn´t find the one I´d read about earlier. Pocha had suggested a hospedaje, which is usually someone´s house that rooms and beds are rented out in. Well we went and visited this old lady and I was a little uneasy at first. It really was a proper hostel but as there was no advertising on the outside of the building she must get all her business through word of mouth. After looking at the room available, which was o.k., I told her I would like to check the other hostels and would come back. She said she´d be back at 8.

After checking a place around the corner which had zero character and 8 beds jammed in one room for the same price and Grandma´s for my own room and bathroom, I decided that Grandma´s place was exquisite. So we returned at eight... Her dogs, two mini-collies, probably the most well kept dogs in all of Peru, had followed us to dinner, to the other hostel and were still with us as we knocked on the door repeatedly. Alina and I joked that these dogs were her marketing scheme. The dogs would follow and eventually one would end up back at her hostel with the dogs. I had no idea how true it would be.

So after a half hour of knocking and waiting, I took Alina to get a taxi back to the ranch before it was too late. The dogs followed us to the plaza. I bid farewell to Alina and headed back to the old granny´s hostel. The funny thing was that I stand out wherever I go. Tall, white guy, baseball cap, backpack, etc. I just don´t blend in with the locals. I could wear the same stuff they are wearing and my height, which isn´t all that tall at 5´11", just sets me apart from the short peruvians. So not only do I stand out but now I´m walking around town and these two collies are right on my heels. The locals couldn´t figure me out. I was definately a traveler, but who has two dogs with them travelling a foreign country? It was awesome. I was sitting on the curb outside her hostel unable to get a response knocking on the door but the dogs were just chilling with me. Everyone who walked by the lonely street steered clear of me crossing to the other side of the road not knowing what to think about the crazy gringo with the two most well behaved and well groomed dogs in the country.

Finally around 10 p.m. a local guy said in spanish that I barely understood that she was hard of hearing and I needed to knock very loud. Sure enough, she came to the door stunned at the sight of me and her dogs wanting in. In the two hours that I waited I felt more local than I´ve ever felt in Peru. I wandered into another hostel to get a room because I thought for sure she wasn´t coming home... the guy looked at me and then the dogs... he wouldn´t believe me that they weren´t my dogs, so he wouldn´t rent me a room, thinking I´d sneak the dogs in later. I loved it. These two cute collies became my best friends and I miss them already. After Grandma let me into my room and went back to her television the dogs came ripping around the corner and hung out with me in the moonlight while I journaled for a while in the beautiful garden of Casa de Alojamiente. It could be the cold kicking my ass but I´m getting teary-eyed just thinking of having left my canine companions behind.

The bed was crap and I slept terribly but the story was so good that I wouldn´t have traded a good night´s sleep ever. I guess this is what travelling is all about... being uncomfortable, in a foreign place not knowing what is around the next bend, but trusting intuition to guide you to the right experiences.

The dogs woke me up scratching at my door. Grandma followed shortly with cup of steaming tea. I could have stayed there forever. But since I´m travelling, I needed to move on for more experience. I had a cup of coca tea just to get change for my large bills, had a crippled man polish my horribly cracking hiking boots, while I thanked the gods that I´m able to walk again, and jumped into a little combi van with twenty peruvians and sat cramped all the way back to Huaraz thinking here is Peru... Money creates comfort but always removes you from the real experience... Peru Real.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Green Snot and Falling Bridges

Yeah I´ve been fighting off this cold since returning from the lake. I feel like I´m getting better but I´m still tired and cold often and the snotbox is in full effect. Anyone who has been around me when I get a head cold understands the term ¨snotbox¨. Ryan Johnson came up with the name to describe the copious amounts of green goo that my system creates. Enough with that though... What about this crazy front page news of I-35´s bridge collapsing in Minneapolis? I hope that no one had any friends or relatives involved. It is so strange to see our little city plastered on every website. Thank the gods that so few people have turned up in a bad way.

Today I´m heading to another town just north of Huaraz called Carhuaz. Rumor has it that they have a great market on Sundays. So I´m headed up to see what is going on there and spend a night at a hostel there. Carhuaz is situated just to the west of Huascaran, the biggest peak in all of Peru. Hope all is well.
Ciao, -g.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Nevado Huantsan 21,104´ and Lago Rajucolta 14,520´

Last night, just before sunset we got back from our mini-trek to Lago Rajucolta. I was absolutely exhausted.

We took a taxi from Huaraz about two hours drive up into the valley of Rajucolta. We passed only one town in this valley: Macashca. However there were many settlements along the way that have names on the map. They didn´t really look like more than a couple of houses though. When we reached the border of Parque Nacional Huascaran, we got out of the taxi and shouldered our heavy packs. I´m guessing with camera bag and my backpack, I was carrying somewhere in the realm of 40 pounds. We hiked up this fabulous valley that was fairly flat. A river ran down the valley meandering from one side to the other. The entire valley was filled with cattle, mostly bulls. They looked really healthy and for the most part were very chill. I did photograph one at very close proximity. When the flash went off, he snorted and stomped his foot. That was the last time I used a flash taking a pic of a bull at close range.

The rest of the hike was awesome. We essentially just kept walking towards Mt. Huantsan, which just kept getting bigger and bigger. In my mind I imagined photographing the lake with the mountain´s reflection and the mountain in the background. About half way to the lake, I realised this would never work because we were way too close to the mountain. I´d be lucky to get the lake or the mountain but not both. This was tremendous as the mountain felt like it could topple over on us at anytime. After 2.5 hours of hiking, we arrived at the lake. The manager of the dam there came out to greet us and take our names, since so few tourists come up this valley. This was the first person we had seen since leaving the taxi.

We set up a little camp on the edge of the dam on the only flat spot we could find. This appeared to be a good place to sleep and the dam worker agreed that he would look the other way as people were not supposed to camp at the dam. After quickly setting up the tent, which I would not end up sleeping in... We set out around the lake to a sandy spot created by the lake´s level being lower now. I quickly began shooting like crazy as the light was turning from day to alpenglow evening.

Jonathan and I built up a little windblock for the gas stove and a rock campfire ring. I started collecting wood and got a fire going. We sat around this makeshift campspot and ate soup and sandwiches and drank tea, watching the mountain change colors. We talked about travelling, how great it was to be here away from other tourists, and where else we´d each been. The moon finally rose from behind the mountain very late, maybe after midnight. We headed back to the tent and got ready to go to sleep. I couldn´t resist the temptation to sleep outside so that I could watch the moon and stars. I didn´t really sleep much at all. The mountain was just fascinating. With a crack and rumble like thunder, the glacier would send thousands of pounds of ice avalanching down the face. It was truly amazing.

Around 4 a.m., I awoke, my sleeping bag covered with ice and frost. It was cold. The moon was much further into the west and was lighting the peak in a most glorious glow. Orion, one of my favorite constellations was situated just above the peak. I hesitantly got out of my ice-caked sleeping bag, got dressed and started shooting in the moonlight. The shots were superb. The glacier continued to calve and the light turned from pale midnight blue to robin´s egg to some pastel signaling the sun had risen above the horizon but would be hours before it rose over the peak. I climbed back into my down icicle and dozed off. When I awoke it was noon and my face was already feeling sunburned. We lazily packed our gear and headed back down the valley. Our taxi driver showed up twenty minutes past our agreed time, well within reason, and took us back down this forgotten canyon to Huaraz.

Today, I have been recuperating in Olaza´s Bed and Breakfast, where we have been staying. Seems sleeping outside of the tent, totally beat from the hike, has given my body the chance to catch an unwanted cold. I´ve got plenty of snotbox going on. So I´m now struggling with vitamins and water trying to ditch this sickness before the rest of my trip.

My hip is holding up well, after all that heavy hiking. My muscles are sore everywhere but I don´t have any deep pain. I don´t think I´ll be backpacking much more on this trip though. Still a bit too soon for my body. Tomorrow I´m looking at renting a motorcycle and heading to a nearby town, Carhuaz, for the weekly market. This should bring many photo opportunities and colors galore. I´m also hoping to meet up with a gal that I met in Lima. She is a medical student doing a field study in a little village about a half-hour walk from Carhuaz.

I hope you are all well. It is crazy to see photos of 35W online here. I hope all of you are safe and sound and no relatives have been involved. Much love from Peru, -g.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

High Mountain Exploration

It is early morning here in Huaraz. We are preparing for a little trip up into the mountains just a little south and east of town. Many travelers that come to this area of Peru are here for the mountains. There are climbers everywhere since this is the high season. Jonathan and I have opted to make our own trek instead of following the crowds to the popular destinations. We are preparing for a little hike to a mountain lake named Lago Rajucolta. It is located just below the peak Nevado Huantsan. Should be a pretty mellow hike in depending on how far the taxi can get us up the valley. Once there we plan to set camp and then hike to some smaller tarns up in the high valley. The mountain is glaciated and could have ice all the way down to the lake. I´m excited to photograph the alpenglow this evening. With the moon still at 3/4, there should be some nice night opportunities too. I´m hoping to be able to post some pictures soon but have yet to figure that part out. O.k. gotta get to breakfast and head out for this adventure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Adventure Begins...

So I´m finally here in Peru. The last couple weeks have been totally crazy getting packed up. I had to move everything from my job. I needed to pack my entire condo into a 5x5 storage unit. And I needed to pack for this trip. 5 weeks of loosely planned travelling in South America. So I´m here! My first two nights were spent in Lima in a neighborhood called Barranco. It is nice little place that is much less touristy than nearby Miraflores. I liked it mostly because of the fellow travellers that I immediately met. One of which, I´m travelling with now. Jonathan is from Israel and was headed the same direction, so we travelled together by bus to Huaraz, where I am currently. The mountains around Huaraz are huge and beautiful and glaciated. This is just an incredible sight to see. The peaks are between 18 and 20 thousand feet above sea level. Just fascinating. Hopefully I´ll figure out how to get pictures up soon. For now, I must get away from the computer and get outside!