Dec 27, 2005

Radical RSS Reader

DANGER, Digital Dorkiness Disclosure

Several of our readers rarely actually visit the website and never see all the cool doo-dads I've been putting into it (check it out sometime!). You sneaky folks use RSS readers, a program that visits all the weblogs you read and combines all their recent unread posts into one handy little window. Although you don't get to see exactly how I lay out the website it makes it much more efficient to read all the news and posts you went to the online to see.

If your eyes are glazing over now, you should merrily skip to my post below. But if you know what I'm going on about I might have something new for you. I was first introduced to RSS readers at the site which I really like. But I recently discovered that Google is moving in to take over even more of the internet in that lovable ubiquitous monopolistic way they have. Google labs made a new beta-software RSS reader that is intuitive, simple and free but with some powerful options that I've been using for a few weeks now and really like. It´s a nifty little program, so if you're computer-geek inclined check it out here!

Dec 26, 2005

My Macho Machu-Pichu Mecca and Macgyver Mindset

Ugly city, Beautiful setting

Waking up from a well-earned rest, I stretched and took stock of where I was. Machu Pichu Pueblo (the town closest to the ruins) is, a really terrible place. It´s a very ugly, haphazardly and hastily constructed tourist town set in an incredibly beautiful location. It's got all the bad parts of a typical tourist town and few of the good parts. The locals are only "friendly" when they have an angle to get you to open your wallet but couldn't care less about you when the money has exchanged hands. The kitshy, trashy feel of towns like this is often offset by a collection of interesting travelers from all over the world but as this is the most expensive stop on most backpackers trip few are interested in socializing, or spending any more time than neccesary (us very much included.) All this town has going for it is Machu Pichu. But, as it is one of the "7 wonders of the world" it's enough.

Weary from the hike the day before we thought we'd take a take a bus the three kilometers from the town in the valley to the ruins on a peak. We were shocked, disgusted, and dismayed to discover that that 10min bus ride would cost $6, each way. To put that in perspective most of the great, comfy, buses we've been taking throughout the continent we've been paying an average of a little under a dollar an hour. Tired as we were from the long hike the day before, and with the specter of huge peak ahead of us, we couldn't justify throwing away that much money. So, with yet another "$%&/ You!" shouted to the Peruvian-Tourist-Rip-Off-Machine we started walking up. Fortunately, before long, our Incan allies stepped in to help once again. While the road up to the top switches back and forth up the steep slope the Incas had built steps our of stone, directly up.

Although it was a hard hike it went quick, and before long we were at the gate. After paying the $25 per person entrance fee (almost our entire daily budget) we finally stepped into Machu Pichu.

And yes, it is even better than all the hype.

Machu Pichu has a history that is cloaked in mystery. It´s a "lost" city that had farmers working its terraces when Hiram Bingham hired one of them to bring him up to "discover" it 1911. But at the same time there is little evidence that the Conquistadors, nor their Incan slaves, knew anything about it nor was it occupied by the farmers working it. So it was, in a way, lost and forgotten. But that brings up a whole host of other questions. It is a truly incredible piece of work, huge stones had to be drug up the mountain, hand carved to fit perfectly together, into a city large enough to house about 1000 people. So, how does something like this get built and then forgotten in the less than 100 years the Incas existed?


Speaking of which, how did the Incas find the time to conquer much of South America, develop a complex and intricate culture, build these remarkable buildings, cities and stone footpaths all within such a short period of time? Perhaps we shouldn´t underestimate the Coca leaf!

Speaking of mystery, work, and discovery this trek has been really cathartic for me. Hiking clears my head to think better than just about anything I can think of. And, while drinking in the scenery and adventure on this trip something clicked on our hike to and through Machu Pichu that answered the question of vocations I started this trip with. Throughout this journey I tried to picture an ideal, a persona I could imagine I'd like to grow towards when I return home. One night, while sitting next to a campfire, despining a cactus with my pocketknife, I had a flash of one my most enduring childhood heroes. Macgyver and his everpresent swiss army knife was, without any doubt, my favorite 80s TV character. He was a kind of superhero without having anything particularly super about him. He didn´t have Batmans toys, supermans powers, or any guns at all. All he had was a strong sense of morality, a eclectic and creative mind, a handy pocketknife, and an urge to help to help those in need. He´s the only character I´ve ever seen in pop culture that could be described as a "Cool Engineer." And his generally accepted level of coolness is so astronomically high that he can even make a mullet haircut seem hip.

His job, through the Phoenix foundation, was to travel all over the world helping people. He sometimes built stuff, sometimes helped out orphans, and sometimes beat up bad guys with taekwondo-esque karate kicks. He was an engineer, but much of what he did was more engineering-related. He used his technical skills in conjunction with talking to people, going places and generally helping how he could.

I started thinking back to what I enjoyed about studying technical things in college. I really enjoyed learning how things worked but it I liked it when it was balanced with other aspects of my life. My days would be busy but eclectic; in a random day I could run a newspaper, do some thermodynamics homework, manage a club, and apply for a grant to go abroad. But then after school, I went into jobs that were nothing but sitting in front of a computer for 40 hours a week wondering why I wasn't satisfied.

So, with this insight, I've opened my mind to careers beyond the narrow focus I thought I was working with. Is it possible to find a job working with something like MacGyvers Phoenix foundation travelling around helping out? With that in mind I felt like puzzle pieces started falling into place. For example, I've always wanted to do something like the Peace Corps, an American program that sends people abroad to work in developing countries. Although it seemed like fun, I'd always worried that doing it would just be a two years diversion from a engineering career at a time I really should be focused on getting established. Now, with MacGyver in mind, it seems like a first and obvious step into where I want to be. I don´t have exact answers about what I want to do, those I hope will come, but I've now got a path to follow.

After spending all day exploring the ruins we wandered back down the hill and tried to figure out our next step. We debated hiking back the way we came but were so sore and tired we broke down and bought an overpriced train ticket back. We went back to Cusco to recharge our batteries, say hi to friends in the hostel and set out for Bolivia!


Dec 20, 2005

Trials and Tribulations Transform to a Terrific Trek

So, our blog posts are a little out of order. I had to write about the Evo phenomena as it was unfolding, but in doing so we had to put Machu Pichu on the backburner, but no longer. So, without further ado, let me tell you a tale of deceipt, ancient allies, gastrointestinal disorder, price gouging, and sneaking behind enemy lines ...

If you´ve never made the trek to Machu Pichu but have heard about it, you probably assume that it´s a spectacular ruin right near Cuzco (aka. Cusco), Peru. On countless T-shirts, travel agency posters and every other piece of tourism trash you see the two linked together as if the ruins are in the same place. Its actually just a huge misleading media blitz to make travelers visit two tourism destination instead of one (check out, a city tourism site dominated with a picture of Machu Pichu). In fact, they are a nearly three hour train ride apart with plenty of cool places between. Thats like saying "Come visit Stonehenge, London" or "check out the Atlantic Ocean in Paris."


Fortunately, Cuzco is a great city in its own right, with plenty of things to see and do.
Inca Walls
The Incas made foundations for their buildings out of stone carefully carved to fit into eachother without any mortar or anything else holding it together. This difficult, pre-iron age ancient technology oddly enough works better than much of what we´ve got today. It resists earthquakes, doesn´t rot or fall apart, is environmentally sustainable, and is sturdy enough to last centuries (at least six already, and counting!).
Layered History
When the Spanish came they didn´t have much respect for the cultures here but they did know quality building when they saw them. So they tore down most of the Inca buildings, but kept the foundations to build their own on top of. This means, all over this city you can see history in layers.
Andy and his Animals
Having made our way to Cusco, the MacAllen brother were travel weary and were craving seeing another friendly face (the brothers are getting so shaggy at this point, that their faces barely counted). Happily we had a joyful reunion with Andy, the shaggy Australian we met working on a farm in Costa Rica and who all animals adore. He is the one oldest friend we´ve encountered since we left so we had alot of catching up to do. We talked about the infamous card game with Madre MacAllen, building a shit house together and our infamous contests of flatulence. After a while we noticed, in one corner of the room, a lovely German girl named Io that wasn´t fleeing in disgust. Astonished by her smiling tolerance for testosterone we begged her to join us. And, with her, our international team of vigilante illicit tomb raiders (or rather, ruin visitors) was complete.
Io playing with a parrot
We first went to the train station, like obedient little brainwashed tourists, because everything you see leads you to believe thats the only way to get to Machu Pichu without paying a fortune for a guided trek along the Inca trail. That´s when we discovered that a one way, 3 hour train ride, would cost us between $38-$109 dollars. That price, in a country where you can get a good three course meal for 50 cents, was the most expensive train I´ve ever come across in all my travels (including Japan!). Locals, however, were allowed to take other trains that we´d get arrested for stepping foot on because of our white skin, for somewhere between $1-5. Peru-Rail and the Peruvian Government, you are racist bastards!
Ollantaytambo Market
Our fearless troop was underdeterred and after a bit of searching around we came up with an alternate route. We took a bus to Ollantaytambo a cute town far closer to Machu Pichu with an ancient feel, nice market huge mountains, and impressive ruins of its own.

We had heard that if we picked up the train there, it´d be only an obscene $17 each way. Upon arriving to the train station we discovered that that price had doubled but that it didn´t matter anyway because trains weren´t running for a couple days for repairs. We were stymied, from everything we´d been able to find there we only two ways of getting there. One was to hire a guide (for about $220, per person) do do a 4 day hike along the "Inca trail" in to Machu Pichu. And the other is to take the train which followed a river that went all the way down through the sacred valley to Aguascalientes, the REAL town next to Machu Pichu. We pondered it for a while before we stumbled upon the hair-brained scheme of building a boat out of inner tubes and random pieces of lumber and rafting our way there. The river looked relatively calm near us and it went all the way. We started shopping for materials until we discovered that the passable points were Class 3 or 4 river rapids and that others you´d have to be out of your mind to attempt.
Andy Tyler and Io hiking
So we begrudgingly gave up that idea, and then decided we could walk the 44kms there, following both the river and rail. No one had explicitly said we couldn´t do such a thing but it was pretty emphatically implied. On one side of the river was a national park, including the official network of "Inca Trails." To even enter the park we needed to pay a big fee as well as hire an expensive guide to step foot inside(yet another way Peru screws backpackers who want to go to Machu Pichu). But, when we started to think about it, it seemed odd that all the Incas would only walk to Machu Pichu up and over huge mountains when there was a river valley gently sloping down to it. There had to be, we thought, trails on our side of the river.
Free Inca Trail
Having faith in the Incan people, but no indication of another trail we started preparing for a long hike far from flush toilets and showers. In order to complicate my life my stomach took the opportunity to let me know it didn´t approve of my recent experiments drinking tap water. But, undeterred and with butt cheeks clenched, we set out on our journey.

Although we didn´t really know where we were going, nor what we were doing, the Incas took care of us. Shortly into our trek some friendly locals pointed us to an ancient trail generally following the river but winding up and done hills with stairs hewn out of stone centuries before. It was still used daily by folks who lived nearby but was happily neglected by the police and backpackers on expensive tours.
Colorful Graveyard
It took us a day and half to do the hike and we found it to be incredible. We found cool mudbrick houses, a colorful contemporary graveyard and were constantly surrounded by the majestic Andes mountains. When we made it farther out of civilization we walked by, and got to explore alone, at least a dozen Incan ruins. One of which we camped at. It was a truly magical experience to spend a cool silent night with great friends on next door to the stone home of a farmer from at least half a millenium ago.
Ruins near where we camped
One of the last towns we past before we made it to the the end of our hike had two trains stopped and what seemed like hundreds of police walking around. It was one of the official entrances to the "Inca Trail" park across the river and near a train tunnel that we feared we´d need to walk through. Since, thus far, no one had specifically told us that we couldn´t hike the way were were going, we decided that it´d be better to keep it that way. So we cut back, and climbed up a hill, and snuck around the town. It took us a while to circumvent and it involved sliding down a cliff, but we finally felt like we´d made it behind enemy lines with only our wits and an ancient civilization as our allies. The trek got cooler and cooler. Well, rather, as we slowly descended from the arid high altitude to a rainforest jungle it got hotter and hotter. Once we got into the jungle we didn´t see nearly as many ruins because they were likely buried or undiscovered. But occasionally we strolled across something truly spectacular.


We ended up hiking on the railroad tracks for the last half of the journey. It was flat, impossible to get lost and afforded some remarkable views. But it was a long hard hike and stepping, with a heavy pack, on the large stones in the track took a toll on our energy and our feet. As great as our hike was, we were elated to make it to the town of Machu Pichu Pueblo (which, elsewhere is called Aguacalientes for no better reason than to confuse tourists, methinks). After dinner we barely had the energy to make it to our hostel and sleep. And we needed all the sleep we could get because the next day we awoke to more adventure. We were almost screwed again by greedy folks preying on visitors, rescued by our Inca allies, saw a wonder of the world and I had a flash of insight that is going to alter the course of my life. But that, my dear readers, is a story for another day...


Dec 19, 2005

Evo´s Effective Enterprise

Well, that was a miscalculation. We decided to go to a tiny town called Villa Tunari buried deep in the Bolivian rainforest for election day so we would be far away from any ensuing chaos. Who could´ve guess that Evo Morales, the controversial but leading candidate for president would choose the very same tiny town to cast his vote. (Unfortunately we didn´t get any good pictures, the one above is from the BBC)

Most of the polls had Evo Morales squeaking to victory by having about 30% of the vote which would´ve been enough to edge out the next closest candidate but force the senate to choose who won. That seemed low though, we´ve spent the last several days travelling through Bolvia and have seen at least ten "Evo! Somos Mas!" ("Evo! We are more!") signs to every one for any other candidate. So it makes sense that Evo has just won with a clear majority (51%) and the next closest candidate has already conceded. Morales, coincidentally, is a native American. He is the first Native American president in this country (which has an indigenous majority)in its 180 year history.

Those of you keeping track at home might be pleased (or frusterated) to learn that as far to the political right the US is goining our hemisphere as a whole is swinging decidedly to the left. Morales election brings Bolivia into the ranks of Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba as countries led by popular socialist leaning politicians.

Congrats Evo, and good luck!

Dec 17, 2005

Crux of the Coca/Cocaine Conundrum

While taking the long steep trek up the Inca-built steps to Machu Pichu I was passed by a cheerful group of Peruvians on the way down. The combination of altitude and exertion had me gasping so hard I could barely grunt out a "hola" as they passed. One smiling member of the group stepped out, pulled me aside, and stuffed a handful of leaves in my palm before he continued on.

Coca leaves on Machu Pichu

Coca leaves, as it turns out, have been a gift that people in the high Andes mountains have been sharing with travellers since at least 2,500BC. When the leaves are chewed or brewed into a tea they give a bit of an energetic lift not unlike caffeine. It deadens pain, increases endurance, is extremely nutritious, and has scientifically been proven to help adapt to high altitude (and I need all the help I can get). Coca has been a deep rooted part of Andean culture for millenia before even the Incas showed up. It´s a vital part of various spiritual traditions, hospitality and makes a long day working carving stone possible. It certainly wasn´t the only factor, but the little bit of Coca I had tucked under my lip made possible a big green smile when I finally made it to the top.

It also happens to be the raw ingredient of Cocaine, and Cocaine is the primary ingredient of Crack (both of which are many, many times stronger than chewing on a leaf). As just about everyone knows both those addictive and potent drugs have a long sad history of destroying lives but the blame for that can´t be laid on the Andeans nor on the simple Coca leaf. Historically they never bothered to distill out the potent parts of drug for their own use and they don´t barely use it now. It took Europeans to do that. We learned this, and a lot more, visiting the great Coca Museum in downtown La Paz, Bolivia.

Coca Museum in La Paz, Bolivia

We learned that those that first found out about it found it to be a wonderful thing. They added it to wine, to Coca-Cola (the real original recipe) and it blew open a whole new world of pharmaceutical possibilities. Cocaine, it was found, could deaden pain so you could do surgery without whacking your patient over the head or having them drink themselves into a stupor (two widely used options!)

Me preparing for surgery in Cuzco

But by the early 20th century Americans realized that Cocaine addiction was a bad thing for Americans and made it illegal. And it is a bad thing, and I´ve seen enough friends suffer to agree Americans shouldn´t be trusted with readily available cocaine. But then, in the 60s, thanks to US pressure, the UN decided that the Cocaine and the Coca plant (not Cocaine, but the plant!) was bad for whole world and should be eradicated. Oddly enough, its still legal to produce "for industry" only in a few countries that have a history of not being able to handle it. For example, it´s grown in the the US, by the Coca-Cola company for flavoring (yeah, although they took out the cocaine, its still being used for flavoring!) but certainly not for those who´ve used it forever.

And this decree sucks for the folks that have been using it safely and healthfully for well over 4,000 years. Here in the high Andes most people still use Coca, and it´s readily and openly available in street markets all over, but its illegal and a constant battle. In the 80s, for example, during the "War On Drugs," the US loaned Bolivia $millions to destroy ancient Coca farms arrest people. In other words, a corrupt government financed itself by putting its country into debt in a hopeless effort to try to destroy a key part of its culture.

But that all might change. In fact, that all might change in two days! Tyler and I made it to Bolivia a couple days ago and some of you might know that this isn´t exactly the most peaceful place to be. There are presidential elections coming up on the 18th and guy leading in the polls is a local legend called Evo Morales. He is a left wing socialist political firebrand cut from the same cloth as Venezuelas Hugo Chavez or Cubas Fidel Castro and he has definately captured the hearts and minds of Bolivias desperately downtrodden poor majority. And, curiously enough, he is a proud and adamant Coca farmer (advocating for the leaf was a big part of his ride to power). Check out his Coca-friendly website (don´t worry, it´s also in English!) to see a level of sincerity that American politics haven´t seen for a century.

Evo Morales
Evo Morales

Not surprisingly, he is hated by my government as well as the wealthy folks in his own (read his website, the feeling is clearly mutual). It´s difficult to say what is going to happen on election day. If he is elected, and put in office, some of the wealthiest states are threatening to split off from the country. If he is elected by the people, but not put into office, there is a serious threat that there will be an awful lot of poor people really pissed off. And because the US is leaning so heavily against Evo we´ve been warned that people may take out their anger on Americans (After suffering through a US election stolen in 2000, I may be so sympathetically angry I'll beat up an American! But don´t warn Tyler, I want his beating to be a surprise).

For those of you reading at home, don´t worry, we are being careful. Although a few people did tell us it might be dangerous, far more told us that the Bolivians are wonderful and would take care of us. Nonetheless, we´re making a bee-line for a national park called Inti Wara Yassi to ride out the elections safely in the jungle. When I next write, I´ll let you know how things went!

Dec 11, 2005

Opposites, Outlooks and an Oasis

Micah, dying in the dessert

Despite the fact that almost everything on this trip has gone well, spectacularly well, we both are getting weary. We are closing in on six months since we left and slowly but surely I feel a sort of burn out approaching. I know it´s an odd thing to complain about but the wonderful experiences are coming so fast and furious that its nearly overwhelming. And it would be a tragic waste if these profoundly unique experiences start to blend together. Because we both felt this sneaking up on us we had decided to take vacation from our vacation by working on a farm in Ecuador for a while. It seemed like it´d do us good to settle into a relaxing routine for a time, but as you know it was anything but routine. So, happy but bewildered by that adventure we trudged on.

Tyler, strutting through the dessert

Although I´ve lived abroad for much longer, a couple times, never before have I been so rootless for so long. I always had a place I called home I could return to and eventually a group of friends I could count on to be there. But today, now that we seem to averaging three to four days per new destination the only constant in the blissful maelstorm is my brother (and I can´t describe how grateful I am for him!).

Although we´re both far from breaking we got to talking about what we should do. We needed a place to recharge, a peaceful space amidst the chaos, a place to slow down and process all that we´ve done. In other words, we needed an Oasis.

Oasis in the dessert

I hadn´t realized it until I got here but much of Peru is dessert. Fortunately, as with every well run dessert, Peru has a share of oases, one of which is near the cute town of Ica at a resort called Huacachina. Tyler and I got there, surrounded by vast dunes and settled into comfy hostel with hammocks, a swimming pool and a lively bar. There are several "adventure" options based out of the resort. From sandboarding on the dunes, to riding buggys off into the sandy sunset. Both being fans of skiing and snowboarding we strapped a board to our feet and tried it

Tyler Sandboarding

It turns out that snowboarding and sandboarding are exact opposites.

One is done in temperatures below freezing. The other is done in sand that gets so hot by midday its painful to walk in.
One is spent mostly cruising downhill after riding a lift up. The other is a relatively short ride after long slippery trudge up.
One is hard to learn and neccesitates learning to dodge trees and people. The other is straightforward and the slopes are empty.
One moves quickly and can easily speed out of control. The other is painfully slow, where often you have to hop to slide down another few feet.
One is a lot of fun. And the other...

Fortunately upon arrival we immediately we ran across Edwin, a friendly Peruvian that Tyler met in Medellin. He lived and worked nearby so he took us out to explore the tiny town, grab a beer and catch up.


Although my Spanish is slowly and steadily improving ít still has a loooonnnnng way to go. Usually, when asked, I shrug and say "I can´t discuss the finer points of philosophy, but I get by." So that´s why I was shocked when, during our long conversation with Edwin, we rambled into some philosophical questions that I'd been wrestling with. We had gotten to talking about relationships and the pitfalls we stumble across. Edwin said that his problem was that he "loves with his heart, not with his head" and so consistently gets into situations that inexorably, predictably, lead to heartache. For example, he got into a two year long-distance relationship with a European that painfully wound down to nothing because neither could afford to visit the other. It´s something both knew would happen but his heart just took over so he couldn´t stop from falling in love and plunging headlong into an intercontinental relationship.

Throughout the course of that conversation, I realized that I struggle with the exact opposite problem. I fall in love intellectually before I let my heart even have a say and then wonder why I often find myself rootless, unconnected and alone. I´ve got a history of leaving or never pursuing really wonderful women because the circumstances aren´t intellectually ideal.

This desire to control life from my head, I think, came from my childhood. While growing up I was constantly moved around and manipulated by my parents and others without anyone so much as asking my opinion on it. So now, as an adult, I instinctively fight for my personal independence in any and all situations. "Never again," I swore to myself long ago, "will I let anyone else control my life." In some ways it has served me very well, the independence it engendered gave me the ability to leap through any interesting open door I found without having to ask permission. It made it easy to ignore group conformity, travel alone and discover who I am.

But as time goes by I´m recognizing the huge cost of it too. Since I instinctively resist a situation where I am told what to do I often find myself alone on an unneccesary uphill battle. In college I was interested in fields that my advisor didn´t know much about partly because I was genuinely curious and partially, I suspect, because I wanted no one to have a say over what I did. How much easier, and how much more productive, would it have been if I allowed myself to take orders and inspiration from any one of the knowledgable professors I knew?

And, in retrospect, I´ve most painfully felt its effect on my love-life. I´ve been fortunate enough to connect with some really remarkable women in my life but I am also notorious for entering into a relationship with a preconcieved list of what I have to offer: time, energy, and when I´m next moving away (thus ending the relationship). In other words, my head lays out the ground rules for my heart to love by.

This is not, suffice it to say, one of my more endearing characteristics but it also has a cascading effect on every other element of the affair. It limits how deep a connection is made, how much either of us can share and what sorts of mutual daydreams we can concieve. I sometimes don´t understand why anyone puts up with me.

I know it´s something I need to grow beyond but at the same time I don´t think I should go totally the other way. I´ve also been in an irresolving intercontinental relationship like Edwins so I learned the hard way that there is wisdom to listening to some of my heads practical opinions. But somehow I need to learn to balance it with those of my heart.

This exact conundrum, oddly enough, is another reason why this trip with my brother may well be exactly what I need. Tyler, having much the same childhood, responded in the opposite way. He throws himself whole-heartedly into every relationship he forms romantic or platonic. Where I can´t seem to commit to anything, he often commits to more than he can handle. I have much to learn from him.

This trip and our plan to finish it by getting an apartment in Colorado together does something important for the both of us. For Tyler it gave him a chance to pull back from all of his commitments, take a deep breath and decide what he wants out of his life. For me, oddly, this is the biggest committment I´ve ever made. Not only am I with the same person all day every day for 8 months but we are planning on living together afterwards for an indefinate amount of time. So the same trip, ironically, helps us with two opposite problems.

Cute lil´Monkeys

After a few days of pondering, laying in the hammock, rereading a great book and trudging up a few sand dunes Tyler and I were re-energized enough to make it to another city. We took another overnight bus to the beautiful and exceptionally clean city of Arequipa


While walking around town, exploring an undermaintained botanical garden/zoo and visiting the center plaza we had the phenomenal good fortune to meet some lovely locals to show us the nightlife and remind us just how great Peruvian people are.

Gabriel and Xena

Dec 2, 2005

Lovely Lima Loses Loathsome Label

Lima at night
"Ugly." "Noisy." "Unbearably Huge." "Dangerous." "Foul smelling."

And these were some of the nicer things Tyler and I heard about Lima while working our way through Peru. Our guidebook diplomatically trashed the capital city, the largest city of Peru (clocking in at 7.7Million), but what really deflated our hopes are when all the books complaints were magnified by a couple Peruvians we met in Trujillo. Admittedly, they might have been a bit biased as they wanted us to stay there for longer, but we weren't exactly looking forward to visiting the capital. We decided to go for a few reasons. It is the capital city, over a quarter of Peruvians think its nice enough to live there, and finally geography. In order to get to Cusco, and Machu Pichu, we'd either need a 36 hour bus ride or we'd need to break it up somehow. Lima itself was a convienient overnight bus away so we threw caution to the wind and rolled into town. Once there we were forced to endure a colonial city (which we've seen before) but laid out on a massively impressive well maintained scale (which we haven't).


And everywhere we looked there were these spiffy enclosed balconies.

I love the balconies here!

Even our hostel had one. But even more importantly our hostel was an old converted mansion complete with artwork, statues and free roaming turtles!


And finally, after seeing countless Plazas dedicated to Simon Bolivar for the first time we came across a square that paid homage to General San Martin.


While Simon Bolivar was freeing northern South America from the Spanish, interspersing his proud victories and massive defeats with vast huge parties and parades dedicated to himself San Martin calmly and methodically freed the Argentina, Chile, and Peru. One city after another, one country after another, never losing ground he gained. He wasn´t a fan of the spotlight so didn´t duplicate the media blitz that Bolivar had raging up north. He was just a better general; he freed Peru by doing the impossible feat of bringing an entire army over the Andes, an act often compared to Hannibal crossing the Alps


But the Andes are higher and colder than the Alps!

In 1822 he met with Bolivar in Ecuador and they discussed in secret how to get the last vestige of the Spanish out. Although the meeting was secret, historians believe that Bolivar generally refused to work together because San Martin had quietly earned a reputation already that rivaled his own. We don't know exactly what was said at that meeting but shortly therafter San Martin gave up the leadership of Peru and went to Europe for voluntary exile. Bolivar went on to found a country named after him (which we'll visit in a couple weeks!) and went on to be remembered as the most important liberator. I guess it's always sucked the be the polite guy.

By the time Tyler and I made it to the huge, free, Botanical gardens in downtown Lima we decided that nobody gave us good advice about this place. This hyper, bustling, metropolis is awesome!