Nov 29, 2005

Albany and Ancient Archeology

Elizabeth comes to Albany

For a North American I grew up in an "old" city, Albany NY which has a history (Hey, you, Europeans, stop snickering) that harkens back to the original Dutch Colonists who got things started for the Europeans in 1614. I delighted in the fact that I could see elements of my hometown history stretching back almost 400 years. The discovery that this is practically brand new, as far as much of the world, has fueled my drive to travel and read up on history ever since. I can only imagine what would have happened if I grew up in Trujillo, Peru.

Map of Peru

Here the most recent arriving civilization, were those young whippersnapper Spanish Conquistadors, and even they got here in 1535 (you know, over a century before the Dutch got to my hometown.) Like they did all over they slaughtered people, horded gold, enslaved people, but did build some really lovely and livable cities.

Central Plaza of Trujillo, Peru

The Spanish convieniently conquered Trujillo by simply capturing the leader of the Inca people elsewhere. After receiving the largest ransom ever demanded (measured in huge rooms full of gold) they killed him anyway and went about lording over his vast former territory. But even the Incas, who ruled Trujillo when the Spanish got here, were the new kids on the block. Despite being considered one of the major civilizations in Latin America the Incas were only really around for barely a century (even my young country is twice as old as that!). Around 1470 they, in turn, had simply conquered the Chimu people who were already here.


The Chimu people had been settled in for a while, starting at around 1000AD doing the bulk of the work on their vast city of Chan, Chan about a century and half before. This city was enormous and complex,


...with fantastically cool ruins...


... and into clever geometric art. Like the geometric pattern below with two pelicans, and an owl depending on how you look at it.

They even had early surfers, part of what the beach neighborhood of Trujillo is now known for. They paddled out on these reed boats, sent their trained pelicans out to catch fish, and then caught a wave back in.

Early surfboards

In addition to the inevitable blond board-wielding vagabonds I´ll be that even the Chimu had history buff backpackers constantly coming through like we did. Although I doubt those ancient backpackers had the wonderfully good fortune to meet such kind and lovely locals as Tyler and I did.


... they could, however, check out some really cool ruins. Because from about 0AD-700AD, dissappearing around 300 years before the Chimu arrived, was part of the great Moche civilization who ranged all the way up Perus northern coast. Amoung other things the Moche people built two HUGE temples. But they built them like a layer cake. Whenever a high priest died they built a new, very similar, temple on top of the old one. The Spanish trashed the top layer (Grrr..) but so far they have been able to uncover five more below it.


And one great thing about building your temples in a dessert and then burying them behind a succession of adobe walls, is that your artwork is fantastically well preserved. Like this unrestored piece was on the third temple in and is at least 1500 years old.

A 1500 year old original (no restoration work!)

We haven´t even made it to Machu Pichu yet, and Peru has already has me in awestruck by archeological wonders!

Nov 25, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Tumianuma

Good God man, we can't stop here... this is cow country!
Howling at the moon

It all started innocently enough. After a long bout of rapid fire destinations the MacAllen Brothers were weary of constant motion and wanted to settle in somewhere for a little while. We found a small organic farm in southern Ecuador to work, so we headed there trying not to distort our experience by imagining what it´d be like.

This turned out to be entirely unneccesary.
We couldn´t possibly have imagined what we´d find.

Although weary of hard travelling we weren´t looking for luxury. We were prepared for a lack of internet, phones, electricity and even running water. We were prepared for work, blisters, sweat, a bit of blood, and the occasional insect bite. Mostly, we were prepared for life, just for a moment, to settle down and wash over us undisturbed like a spring over a rock. We weren't in any way prepared for what was to come.

On our way to the farm we stopped at the nearby "big" town, Vilcabamba, for directions to the farm and meet a friend of the farms owner. Instead, we met the owner, Susan, and the rollercoaster ride began. She was having some serious health problems, hadn´t been to the farm in over a week but had plenty to share with us. Only eight years Ecuadorian, she is already very much a pillar within the local community and her respected words are very much in demand.

She was generous with those words in the hour or so we had in town with her. She explained with an open heart: life, her situation, some local politics and the workings of the farm. There was a lot of information, more than we thought we needed at the time: From how to get water from stream to the kitchen, the fact that her dopey english sheep dog was charming, but had a tendency to jump up on people, and likely would bite a person for approaching his food bowl, the neccesity of keeping the neighbors cows off the farm, to the sad story of an awkward local boy who sometimes came by to sell her wild animals he´d otherwise kill. We absorbed what we could, confident that the other volunteer already on the farm would show us the lay of the land, so to speak.

Just before we boarded the last daylight bus to Tumianuma, Hans, a bearded and grizzled old German expatriate of some twenty five years shows up con burro (with donkey), and a small siberian husky named Barbie in Tow. The dog, it turned out, lives on the farm, had followed Hans in to town and needed to go back home. Eager to please, we were happy to take the dog on the bus with us despite the instructions: "...No, people do it all the time. I mean, they'll tell you that you can't get on, and everyone will hate you but... I mean... y'all speak spanish, right?... Just tell 'em: 'no es brava, no es brava.'" Sweet, makin' friends already!

One of us managed Barbie,who ended up proving herself to be one of the coolest dogs this earth has seen, and the other wrestled a great big sack of sawdust and we both carried full packs and supplies for the week. Upon getting off the bus we had a worryingly long handwritten directions to follow up the footpath that were hard to read in the setting sun. After only one severely wrong turn, we eventually found ourselves, late, well after dark, on what we'd hoped was Susan's farm. It had everything it was supposed to have. The right gate, the right number of houses, the right number of dogs (once we got there), it even had the right key in the right place to open the doors. What it failed to have on it... was a single solitary person to tell us what the fuck we were doing in the middle of the Ecudorian mountain jungle!

Tyler surrounded by a thicket heavy with black rasperries

It turns out that the other inhabitant had gone a bit stir crazy after having spent most of a week alone on the farm. Likely, our busses crossed paths as he made his way out.

Unexpected as our situation was we did arrive in a slice of Eden. It is beautiful there; nestled in a valley the Andes stare down at you from every angle. The heavy flavorful fruit barely clings to the branches, just waiting for an open mouth to appear beneath. The farm is bounded on one side by a burbling creek to bring a cool splash to the dry equatorial heat of day as well as a soft cadence to the crisp, black night air.

We had brought in a big bottle of aged four year Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum, with which to break the ice and maintain some days of merriment with the other volunteers. The sun had set by the time we got there, so we cracked open the bottle for a sip or two while we figured out the music. A solar panel provided a battery with a charge to keep Susans music (and we love you Susan, but so much has happened in music since the reign of Bonnie Tyler)pumping all night long. Sitting on the peaceful porch, listening big haired Divas we casually talked and sipped from the bottle.

Somehow, that night, the bottle emptied. And it was a big bottle. We were very, very drunk, and quite unsure of our impending future (and that future could only be discribed using that word). Of course the sun sets at six thirty, and its black by seven, so all night long is anywhere between eight thirty and two thirty. All I know is that night lasted one bottle and the following morning lasted somewhere around a month.

Hmmm... next morning Tyler awakes to a bad taste and a rare moment of sentience... he's on a fruit farm... there is fruit EVERYWHERE! Micah, at this point fails to bridge the first of Tylers morning achievements and continues to blow funky odors into his pillow. Alone, hungover, stumbling, and stupid, Tyler trips around a farm stuffing every non-leaf hanging object into his mouth. Including some rather horrible ones. In fact, almost exclusively horrible ones, as even good fruit needs to be ripe. Hair disheveled, stumbling, hungover, baggy-eyed, spitting and cursing... Tyler crafts his first impression for the three men hired to do some work on the farm. Disarmed and lost in the jungle, Tyler had lost the capability for clear speech, especially spanish speech, especially heavily accented ecuadorian highlands spanish speech.

He fumbled back to Micah who was happy to acknowledge that it was time to wake up before drifting (actually, in his state, more like plummeting) back into drooly slumber. Knowing the universal language of men, Tyler seeks to redeem himself before the guys by throwing all of his gusto into the work they were doing. As if thrusting a lampa (small, flat, ecuadorian shovel)into the ground especially furiously makes up for the fact that he lacks the grace, coordination, strength and knowledge to do the job properly. This is about when Micah shows up. Sick, aching, confused and feeling even more out of place than Tyler (who seemed at this point to him, to be entertaining these new men with some kind of shovel dance.) He asks Tyler how he can join the dance, thus only being equally awkwardly out of place.

The Guys prove themselves to be more than just patient but generous and humble as well, taking a genuine interest and I daresay, a liking to the brothers. In the following days, Madardo (Enisons father, and the oldest, and wisest of the buch) even went so far as to share serenades with Tyler, who sang for him in return (including an embarassingly abridged version of the national Anthem).

The guys even demonstrated the preparation of the dogs food. You see, Rocky, the charming albiet dopey English sheepdog, proved to live up to only two of these three things. He is an English Sheepdog, he is dopey as hell... and he is a son of a bitch. He likes to charge your legs to try and knock you down. He likes to snap at you, but fortunately can't see past his own bangs well enough to catch you (if you're quick). He may not intend to be so frusterating but he´s as stupid as a box of hammers so can´t learn anything different.


Although an impolite an obnoxious dog to humans he´s a terror to Barbie, a sweet and affectionate dog with little to prove. When let off his chain the much larger Rocky bounds after Barbie, pounces on her and bites her throat until she squeals in pain. Understanding, of course, that this is how dogs play we let them be for a while. Barbies constant yelping, however, soon clued us in to the fact that only Rocky was playing. She would roll over on her back, communicating in dog language clear enough that even we could understand it that she was submissive, beaten, and that Rocky was the Alpha dog. Rocky, oblivious, stood over her proudly until she moved (as in, slightly moves her head) he would pounce on her again. He´d bite her neck or face, and drag her all over the farm like some pitiful, terrified, whining prize. We tried to ignore them, but as 'torture Barbie' was the only game that Rocky played while off his leash he didn´t stay off for long.

Not only a bastard he is also a picky eater, and eats a lot. The food takes at least an hour to two every day to prepare, and requires, among other things, hacking up a half of a horse face with a machete. Not to mention leaving the next days, the remaining quarter horse-face on a line hanging above the path between kitchen and house. That quarter, I should add, was the quarter with an eyeball and was exceptionally horrid. It was nice at least to know that something (festering, stinking and insect infested as it was), was keeping an eye on things around the place.
Despite generally loving most living things, particularly dogs, the MacAllen brothers had little for Rocky. Nor, it seems, did any one else. Even the sweet, nonviolent, vegetarian Susan debated whether or not she should simply kill the dog. His life, unbeknownst to him, was hanging on the slim thread of her offering to take care of him when his former master died and her aversion to killing a helpless beast.

But, despite Rocky, we managed pretty well. Things were going well... until our food ran out.

We headed into Vilcabamba to meet with Susan and find out any news. We knew she'd planned to leave town to the care of a friend that coming weekend and we didn't want to miss our chance to speak with the woman whose farm we were attempting to run. We found her, and she was flat out shocked to see that we were still hanging in there. She advised us wisely again, answered our questions, and although we'd arranged to cut our stay a bit shorter she helped prepare us for a second round. This included a piece of paper full of a potpourri of sorts, grown and harvested especially to aid the processes of creativity for some house designs we were doing. We'd already picked up another bottle of rum and Hans, the German expat, had lovingly donated a bottle of "vino de caña" to the cause. We were almost there, and took one more short stop on the internet to do ten minutes of research on some of the "other" things growing around the farm before we mounted the bus.

Roughly halfway through the path (which we now knew, being rugged Ecuadorian farmers, like the back of our hands) we discovered the final bit of supplies. Slicing off an ample section of San Pedro cactus, our journey into Las Vega... I mean Finka Ecuador, begins.

San Pedro Cactus

Our "suitcase" was a backpack (we are mochilleros after all), filled with one bottle of rum, one bottle sugar wine, a hefty packet of pipe fodder and a sizable chunk of mescalaneous cactus.

We had the farm to ourselves that weekend, as the guys wouldn't return 'til monday. The morning began in the usual way, with chores, and planning the remainder of the weekends endeavors. The next several hours went to despining, peeling, cutting and boiling the cactus. Its amazing that a pressure cooker filled with boiling psychotropes is, in fact, a pot filled with magic stars.

What happens when you Boil stars?  Magic!

An hour and a half later, as we danced, spun webs with our fingers, and worked out kung fu which surely would have inspired the awe of Jet Li to say the least... we got a visitor. It seems only appropriate, of course, for us to undergo this spiritual quest with a local Brujo, a sort of Native American Medicine man versed in the land and the arts. While busy counting my fingers I looked up and my eyes met the gaze of a quiet young man as he stepped out from between the molecules of air (or perhaps it was between the trees). Bearing a quiet demeaner that gave away no level as to the power of his mystical body or his willingness to use a wicked looking slingshot he sized me up.

Upon my introduction of myself our guide quietly slurred out a string of apparently unconnected words which had no meaning whatsoever to me. Surely this was the language of the spirits, and far beyond anything I could understand. I responded ridiculously, by informing our guide that I am a friend of Susans and am keeping an eye on her farm. To this, he responded in true spirit fashion, smiling, nodding his head for an unbearably uncomfortable amount time before he spoke in the language of men so I could understand.
"Hay Vacas." ("There are cows.")
I pondered the metaphysical significance of this phrase at this critical juncture in my life for a moment. And then we heard a rustling and turned around to see two huge cows lumbering through the farm, trampling fruit and eating berry bushes.

Cows breaking in to the farm

Although not entirely certain they were real we both did remember that one of the few directives Susan gave us was to keep the cows off of the farm. Peaceful cud chewing cows don´t usually instill fear in the hearts of men. But when those men both happen to be exoticly inebriated, lost on a farm in an foriegn land suddenly they notice exactly how much bigger a cow is than a man. And then, to be charged with the task of making the cows go where, clearly, they don´t want to was daunting to say the least.
This... was when the fear set in.
The MacAllen boys set out with sticks and noisy things and got to whoopin' at the cows. The cows took leisurely circles about the farm, exercising great caution to trample every bit of the valuable plant life, while maintaining a spiralling route deeper onto the land. Our guide, whose unearthly powers of awkwardness, and social gracelessness made his presence absolutely unbearable, chose to aid his earthly companions by adding a gentle chuckling to their noisemaking efforts. I think Wayne from Waynes World Two said it best as he spoke to his spiritual guide... "Thanks a pantload, chet."

After some time, and much futile effort, Our guide (lets just call him "Carlos", he looked like a Carlos.) Brought out his terrible slingshot, and stones began whistling by our heads. We reacted exactly as you would had you been in our situation (which you likely would not, not having the legendary MacAllen proclivity for getting into outrageously foolish situations). We panicked. It was just before we filled our respective pants with poop (an hour and a half from a laundry) that we realized the whizzing stones were finding the cows, who were moving off the property at an exponentially increasing rate of travel. After surprisingly little (but considerably impressive) effort, Carlos was closing the gate behind the beasts, with the brothers panting and spluttering behind. For a full five minutes, we exuded gratitude and awe in the direction of the young spirit, which seemed he seemed to enjoy treating us with a kind of distant, and undistracted indifference.

Upon returning to the farm or spirit guide stood in front of us. We rallied our spanish to make polite conversation, and he´d answer either in incomprehensible single syllables or not at all. Instead, he just stood staring at us blankly. After a while we surmised who he might be based on a story Susan had told us. Apparently there is a local boy, a son of a handicapped (mentally retarded)woman, who never stepped foot out of the valley, nor recieved any education from anyone. Being intelligent himself, he spent his twenty years or so learning every bit of the goings on of the valley but not more than moments learning anything about social interaction. Especially not with tripping, high and likely drunk foreigners.

It took roughly twenty minutes (or a week, we were far from keeping track of time) for the respect of Carlos' feat to wear down to first the fear that he'd inspired, then the general discomfort that his presence demanded. Carlos, to his credit, responded to the terrible awkwardness of staring silence that crushed the molecules of air surrounding us in the only way he knew how. He expressionlessly, and silently sat and waited. All the while taking extreme caution to never reveal what it might have been that he was waiting for. And thus, after a while, the MacAllen duo found other things to occupy the remainder of the afternoon. Micah found a book on gnomes, and lost himself in the story of this oft-neglected species.

The Gnome book.  Quite possibly the best book, ever.

Tyler chose the path of self punishment and disciplined work to purge the guilt that accompanied his inability to handle, or in fact even comprehend the situation which filled his lungs and compressed his heart. He scoured and scrubbed the kitchen, taking care to find all of the old pots, pans and cookie sheets which needed attention.

As the sun settled behind the mountains, and threatened its total withdrawl from the Ecuadorian sky, our guide abruptly stood, as if only having just then taken notice of the awkwardly quiet, quiet air between us all. Carefully crafting spanish word we understood... he informed us, simply, that he was leaving. We each debated thanking him for forcing us to pay agonizing microscopic attention to every fraction of every second across a several hour span of hallucinogenic confused mayhem... but decided that the communication probably wouldn't bridge the grand canyonesque chasm formed by our insufficient spanish and his... well, I don't know... perhaps, total lack of interest in communicating whatsoever.

As it stood, we said our "thank you's", "Nice to have met you's", and "see you later's". To which he answered by silently walking away.

For about five minutes we each sat silently. Micah in a hammock and Tyler in a torn canvas sling chair, each probing the inside of his cheek or lip with his tongue. Both with one eyebrow slightly arched and fingering a very shaggy beard. The pressure in the air whistled away; much as our pressure cooker had spilt out its foggy burden before we sipped its cactussy tea. Tyler turned to Micah and said...

"What the hell just happened to us?"

The question still stands.

The fear disappated, and the night chill sinking in, the boys bedded down for the night. We had a long day coming. Sunday was spent fulfilling all of the promises we had made by finishing all the jobs we had started. That night while packing bags and writing notes we both realized what a wonderful time we´d had despite the adventure. Or rather because of the adventure. We found ourselves to be profoundly grateful to Susan, her generous community of friends, the farm, Ecuador, and even our awkward spiritual guide. Wanting always to leave places a little better than we found them we debated what we could do above and beyond what we were asked that would leave a positive effect on this place which treated us amazingly well. Despite the chaos of the whole week in the wilderness, we could honestly think of only one thing that wasn´t perfect about the whole experience. And as ironic as it would sound, we realised that there was one simple thing we could do to make things genuinely better...

Tyler hacking away with his machete
...kill Rocky

Nov 24, 2005

Whats up, up there?

It´s been over five long months since we left the USA and a lot has happened in our homeland that Tyler and I have only heard about second hand. We have heard some good things, like the haves of our hemisphere are starting to share with the have nots; Venezuela is selling Americas poor discounted heating oil. And we´ve missed some horrible things: like the devastating hurricanes in New Orleans.

But someone, clearly, has been up to something else in our absence. When we left the country was still mostly supporting George Bush Jr., a president I worked hard against in the 2004 elections. In that election the country mostly went for Bush, appearing like this:

But then, as soon as Tyler and I left the country things seem to have shifted. Today, a map of the presidents popularity looks like this:

Are you all trying to tell us something? Were you supporting the worst President of this century just because you were sick of my constant whining about how horrible he was?

Perhaps, in the interest of world peace, global cooperation, and a sane environmental policy Tyler and I should continue this trip for ever!

Nov 22, 2005

Quirky Quito, Quintessential Questions

Micah In Front of San Francisco Square

I have had trouble keeping a travel journal in the past. When I was having a great time I´d just fully enjoy having a great time instead of writing. And when occasional travel doldrums hit: when I was sitting at a bus station for countless hours, sick on some exotic food, or found myself lonely and friendless in a sketchy city it would seem like a great time to mope and write about how much suffering I was going through. And so, years later, I look back at my travel journals and think "God, what a miserable trip that must have been!" This weblog has, in many ways, helped me bridge that gap and write about both the good and bad times, from inland seas to scabies. Unfortunately, I am discovering, Í´ve still not mastered the art. This weblog is now running more than a couple weeks and an entire country behind, largely because I was too busy enjoying myself in Ecuador to write about it!

Map of Ecuador

From the safe distance of an iCafe in Huanchaco, Peru after a couple weeks I am finally starting to talk about the country we just left. From Colombia Tyler and I made a bee-line for Quito, Ecuador the capital city. I don´t think I have ever seen such a big city so defined by it´s topography. It´s in valley in the Andes so the city is pinched so that its population squeezes into a long line. Every direction one looks has a slope, a valley, or a little hill. And every time one walks it is uphill.


Just due to its wildly varieing elevations and the countless cool stairways to keep it all connected the city looks complex and intriguing. But the Ecuadorans, not to be shown up by mountains, went out of their way to put in some incredible buildings too. For example here is Tyler, hanging out after breakfast on our hostels rooftop patio with his back to the Basilica (on his right).

Hostal Chicago Rooftop Terrace

The Basilica, which was barely mentioned by the guidbook nor other travelers turned out to be a pretty major highlight for the two of us. We got to climb up in it, above the clock and the bells, to get a staggering view of this remarkable city. Up close it looks like an ancient cathedral that belongs somewhere deep in Europe, when in actuality they started construction on it a little over a century ago and the work is still going strong. Ecuador, as it turns out, has had a pretty fiercely Catholic history that still persists today.

Basilica belltower view

The people we met were invariably friendly and we found a much higher concentration of native people than we found since Guatemala. One particularly cool addition, however, is that the traditionally garbed native women here all wear bowler hats. How cool is that?

Native women in Bowler hats

But they weren´t the only folks in uniform. When school lets out for lunch a sea of red pours out from one street...

Ecuadorian Bloods

... and a block away flows a sea of blue.

Ecuadorian Crips
¿Is this where the US street gangs,
the Crips and Bloods, got their start?

Being the good little tourists we (sometimes) are, we checked out some museums. One was this great Metropolitan Cultural Center/Library:

La Capital de Chile by Enrique Garnica
Click me to see artwork from the
Centro Cultural Metropolitano

But when we made it to the National Art Gallery/Theater/Dance School/Everything-else-cultural-you-can-think-of it was inexplicably closed. We got all grumpy about it, and angrily stormed off across the street to see some artists showing off their wares across the street. Before long we were in a maze of hundreds of local artists showing some really, really, incredible work (not to mention all the local handicrafts!). If they´d put all that work in a building and charged an entrance fee I would have left counting it as one of my all time favorite art museums. As it was simply in a public park, Quito is now one of my all time favorite art cities!

Art in the downtown park

We enjoyed our time at Lima, but were also on a mission. We´d heard of a WWOOFing farm in the south that tickled our fancy and got us moving. On the way there, however, we stopped at Cuenca which purported itself to be the premier colonial city of Ecuador.


And it is nice and it is colonial. But to be honest after the richly cultural but laidback colonial city of Popayan, Colombia Cuenca reminded me more of a big bustling city. Which, indeed, it is; its the third largest city in Ecuador and a commercial hub. With that in mind it was less like a life size museum and more like an example of living evolving history. The city has a nice river and a flower laden center square but my favorite part of the city was probably the view from our hostel kitchen window. We looked down into the busy market below.

Look carefully
Is everyone staring at that
guy just trying to read the paper?

For those of you keeping score at home... you´ve figured Brothers MacAllen must have put in some long hours on buses as of late. In other words, I should have some processed thoughts about the questions I brought up in an earlier post. I got a lot of really great responses to my query, much of which inspired a lot more thought. Clearly there are some fiendishly clever folks out there reading our blog. From your ideas and mine I´ve got grist for several blog posts but one of the first things that struck me about each response was something that was lacking.

Even in a list of several important things no one even suggested that a meaning of life is to seek happiness.

Don´t get me wrong, I´m not saying we should all be depressed. To the contrary, I suspect that almost all of the people that wrote me these responses are generally happier than average. The important part I gathered is that seeking and being happy are two entirely different things. Indeed, they might even be opposed to eachother.
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. -Albert Camus "

Tyler and I got to talking about this and we tried to puzzle out what it would mean if one picked happiness as their sole ´destination.´ For me, I suspect I´d end up lounging on a beach, gorging on chocolate ice-cream and expensive booze. While I know each of those has made me (very!) happy if I followed only their pleasure in life I doubt thats where I´d remain. I believe if one chooses bliss as their ideal ´destination´ addiction and misery is where one actually arrives. The ineffable "happiness" is an internal measure, whereas a valid destination has to be external to oneself.

Instead, I´ve found that happiness actually comes as a side effect, if you will, of working towards another unrelated "destination." The happiest days of my life were not when I lounged and ate nothing but fudge all day (although, perhaps I need to try that again) but when I moved towards something outside of myself. This all might not sound profound, but it struck me pretty hard. Far too much of my life and energy is devoted towards "following my bliss" and in retrospect I´m really not thinking it got me any closer to it. So, my personal task is still evolving on this trip. I don´t need to just find a destination that feels good. I need to find one that IS good, and just trust the feeling will come later.


"The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so. " William Ralph Inge

Nov 15, 2005

Some Sexy Scabies

It ain't travelling in Latin America if you do it alone. And no, I don't mean everyone needs to travel with someone they love like I am. Nope, I'm talking about those lovable huggable locals that happily accompany every traveler at some point in a long journey whether they are invited or not.

In a word, Parasites.

A little while before leaving Central America Tyler found himself absentmindedly scratching his bellybutton not unlike Dean Moriarty in the classic traveler book _On the Road_. And since Dean was a hardcore traveler, as is Tyler, he didn't let it bother him. For the first few weeks, even as it got worse and worse. Eventually Tyler started complaining to me about his itch and we decided it must just be the new detergent we were using and I chuckled at his folly. I hadn´t barely noticed that all the while I was absently scratching at my own belt line.

By the time we reached the thriving, vast, and intense city of Bogota we were both continuously scratching at an itch that never really showed itself. Tyler stopped long enough to snap this picture of me, checking out the view from a high ridge looking out at a smog covered metropolis stretching as far as the eye can see.


It just itched like crazy, it felt worse every morning and slowly crept over all the sensitive areas on my body from the belt line to thighs to wrists. It was a struggle to pay attention to the really cool things we found, like this great collection of art..

Monalisa by Fernando Botero
Click above to Explore Boteros personal
Art Collection Donated to Colombia

... or a llama patiently parked in a downtown parking lot.


By this time we were both annoyed, baffled and starting to worry what on earth was happening to us. We consulted the internet and looked up everything we could think of from STDs (and if that was it we wont even think about I caught it from my brother) to exotic hyperallergenic reactions. After hours of searching we were itchy, frusterated and lost. We finally wrote to Madre MacAllen, a nurse, praying that she could work her magic. And she did, she suggested we look into Scabies. A truly despicable creature if I've ever known of one.


They are a nearly microscopic mite that burrows under ones skin, gorges on flesh and leaves a trail of feces and eggs like an invisible itchy tattoo. Apparently it takes up to four weeks to start feeling symptoms and they are readily shared between people who share beds, clothes and close quarters.

But finally, even though we were already moving on to the next town we now knew our enemy. As we sat on the long, itchy, bus ride to the well preserved Colonial town of Popayan we prepared to wage an all out war.

Popayan is beautiful

The worldy and wise internet told us of a mystical elixar, Permetrina, that we could get at most pharmacys. Apparently when smeared all over ones body in a lotion and left alone for 8-10 hours it would kill our accursed Scabies. However, being MacAllens we knew that was only half the battle. Upon arriving in Popayan we got the elixir, booked the nicest hotel of our whole trip and stocked up on cheap red wine and junkfood. While the Permethrine attacked them from the outside in, we would wage war from the inside out.

It was long harrowing battle. It involved drinking terrible wine on a balcony overlooking the central plaza as well as smearing greasy goo from the neck down while watching cheesy movies on cable and eating pounds of processed sugar. The next morning, I'm happy to say, we awoke victorious (although slightly hung over). It takes the itch a few weeks to subside to nothing, but we both felt the difference the next day.

Having slaughtered our stowaways we were finally ready to leave Colombia. We rode all day in a careening van headlong into the Andes. Having spent several months climbing the impressive mountains of Central America I had forgotten how truly breathtaking a real mountain chain is. It was breathtaking (but that just might be because we got so high there isn't hardly any air left.)


We spent our last night in Ipiales and each said a difficult goodbye to Colombia the early next morning. Neither of us had known what to expect in Colombia, besides the certainty we would be kidnapped by angry guerillas, and we fell for the country so hard we independently started daydreaming about moving back there to live. This country is incredible, even with scabies.

Guerrilla de Eliseo Velasquez by Fernando Botero
These were the only guerillas we saw on our trip
along the entire length of Colombia

Nov 13, 2005

Tylers Tayrona Tragedy and Terrific Twinkling


A digital tragedy struck! It happened while Tyler wrote a long post about one the most beautiful places either of us have ever seen, Parque National Tayrona. Tyler spent hours writing to tell the story, included pictures, tales of magic (really!) and even threw in a little more of his life philosophy. And then, in that lovable way that computers have, it lost !"·$%&/ all of his work.

After his rage subsided he then told me that he was thinking about phasing out of writing for this weblog. It´s understandable; few people are computer dorks like myself. Most sane people aren´t willing to spend hours in exotic new lands sitting in front of a computer screen in a dingy internet cafe writing for an electronic ether. I do understand that. But Tylers reason is what really puzzled me. He said that no one out there really cares about what he writes and that you were here only for what I say. Yeah, I know, I know. I´m a bigger fan of his perspective than anyone. But he doesn´t believe me when I tell him. If only someone else would...


That happened about three weeks ago, but I can´t let the beautiful place he was writing about go past without mention. A little while ago, I wrote about how I couldn´t understand how another traveller discovered the "Best Beach in the World" and couldn´t get enthusiastic about any others. I´m trying my hardest not to go down that path.

After driving into Parque Nacional Tayrona everyone needs to walk at least forty five minutes through the jungle to get to the coast and then the best place to stay is another half hour up the beach. The hike is good, if for no other reason than it filters out the people that aren´t willing to work hard to get to their relaxing.

Micah and Jiles pack in to Paradise

Home is a few electricity-free thatched roofs plopped down on the beach. There is a small restaurant and an even general store but variety is slim and expensive in both because every little thing needs to be packed in on overworked horses.


Most people throw up tents that they brought or rented in a clearing near the beach. Those are likely a little easier on the back than $3 a night hammocks we rented and they also offer a little more privacy for those fortunate enough to be coupled (Tayrona might be the most romantic destination ever). But we were happy enough to rock to sleep in the gentle breeze with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.


Our home was plopped on one small bay, a beach protected from the full fury of the Atlantic by a coral reef several hundred meters out. Between our bay and the next there was a small peninsula with a cool structure with a great view. Finally, if one or two people on the beach felt too crowded a ten minute walk in either direction got to empty beaches so beautiful that I thought they existed only in travel agency ads. But there was more to do than just swim and lounge.

When asked many people say they can't decide whether they would like to live near the mountains or the sea. Well here is the ideal compromise, this part of Colombia has mountains rising up higher closer to the coast than anywhere else in the world. So after a morning swim we spent one morning climbing up mountains through the surrounding jungle. We found thick jungle, cool streams, and smooth rounded boulders.


Eventually we stumbled across the ruins of a vast ancient city now populated by a few families still living mostly traditionally.

Pueblito, new homes on ancient ruins

I honestly don't intend to over use the word "paradise" in this weblog, but we have been fortunate enough on this trip to need to say it over and over again. Is it possible for one to have too many wonderful experiences?

That question brings up a topic that Tyler and I are loath to discuss. Those of our readers that have mastered calendar technology have probably started to wonder how much longer our 6 month trip will last. Originally we were to spend two months in Central, four months in South America and come home in time for Christmas. That would be nice, but upon reaching Colombia four months in it just doesn't seem right to give all of South America half the time we gave to the little sliver of Central. But then, even though we both hate to let money dictate our lives, we knew we had budgeted fairly accurately and the money we set aside for this trip will indeed be gone by December.

On our first night in Tayrona we couldn't avoid talking about it anymore. We stood thoughtfully on the beach, looking out at distant lightning over crashing surf and had a difficult conversation. In addition to our travel funds we have both also saved some more to get started on a new life upon our return. We already knew we would need to dip into that for a flight home but we could also dig a bit deeper and just accept that we'll be really poor until we get an income.

It is one thing to decide to extend ones time in paradise while in paradise. And its very much another to live month after month on Ramen noodles while looking for work. Looking out at the rolling waves, peeling off our clothes for a midnight skinny dip, we both tentatively said "lets do it, lets go for broke" and extend the trip another two months.

As we waded in I wasn't sure at all if this was the right decision. If only the universe could give us some sort of sign that would let us know that things will work out. And then, the universe did.

Upon leaping into the water my whole body looked like it was covered in brilliantly glowing fireflys. With every motion the pitch black water lit up around where we moved and sparkled. We giggled like schoolgirls and started splashed ourselves into the middle of a fireworks show. I enjoyed snapping my fingers under water because it looked like a snap should, with a brief white flash of light. Tyler was elsewhere paddling up a furiously sparkling ball of magic to cast spells like a magician.

Never before, in my whole life, had anyone told me about Phosphoresence in the water. It turns out its caused by single celled organisms called Dinoflagellates which under the exact right conditions store up sunlight all day and release it as light when disturbed.

It was magical. It was profound. And it is the answer I was looking for.
America, take care of yourself. I won't see you until February.
Rainbow in Paradise
The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. -Eden Phillpotts