Sunday, May 28, 2006

Three Very Long Days

Okay, picture this:

You and a friend are in Cusco, Peru for a few days to acclimate to the elevation (you spent the 3 previous months at sea-level and wish to spend the next 3.5 weeks above 9000 feet). The two of you want to find some fun treks in the region and your friend happens across the description of a 3-day hike up a volcano. Hike up and see the top of a live volcano! That sounds like a tremendous experience! The prospect is even sweeter since the top of the volcano is at 19,101 feet, promising a wonderful accomplishment. Furthermore, you’d have something nice and short to say to all of those proud hikers in Colorado who like to yammer on and on about all of the 14ers they’ve hiked. Fourteen thousand feet is mere child’s play.

You purchase bus tickets (approximately U$A20 apiece) to make the 10 hour trip from Cusco to Arequipa at night. You don’t want to the bus trip to be a minor accomplishment so your friend comes down with a cold and you attract some loose bowels movements. You’re no dummy, though. You know that it’s not wise to hike up the volcano the next day. The two of you decide to lay low for a few days to wait out the illnesses.

Three days later you wake up early to get in the 4 by 4 that will take you to the mountain and find that the digestive complications that had seemed to subside were back in full force and your throat is sore. Your friend is still fighting congestion and the start of a cough. Despite this, you are tired of sitting around in a hotel room fighting Spanish cable TV, and you want to get started. Bring it on.

Arequipa sits at 7,546 feet. The 4WD vehicle happily provides you with another 5,249 feet before leaving you and your 45-50 pound packs (mostly water weight…three days worth…no water where you are going) at the foothills of Misti Volcano. To get to this point you must get permission to cross the dam at Aguada Blanca. This consists of a mysterious hand-written paper provided by the tourist agency and a few items of bribery you provide for the dam workers and police that work there: 3 litres of Coke, a loaf of bread, a newspaper, and a pack of cigarettes.

The highly acclaimed guidebook you purchased in Cusco describes the day’s journey as a 3 to 4 hour scenic ascent that takes you another 900m up (2,953 feet) to your base camp. Your faith in the book waivers slightly as the actual journey takes over 6 hours and the terrain is ashy sand dunes. They were right about the 900m by golly. Dusk starts at 4:30pm, so dinner is in the dark as temperatures drop from around 70 to somewhere below freezing.

The two of you bravely exit the tent the next morning as the sun comes out. You cheer each other up. Today’s climb will finish at base camp, so you only need to drag along day packs. Besides, most of yesterday’s difficulty was because you weren’t used to carrying packs that heavy. Yesterday you did 900m with 50 pound packs and today you climb 1000m (3,281 feet) with maybe 10 pounds. The guidebook claims the ascent will take 4 to 5.5 hours. Why should it take that long? Look at the numbers.

The climb happens to be up a loose scree slope. Translated: take one step lose half a step. The two of you move like sloths. Even at a slow pace your heart is beating in your ears trying to move oxygenated blood through your body as quickly as possible. You force yourself to take calm slow breaths. Five hours later both of you have astounding headaches. Your previous pace is making you dizzy and going slower doesn’t seem to be helping. The optimistic attitude disappears along with your sanity as you gaze up towards the top of Misti. Your friend’s GPS suggests that you are still about 200m from the top, putting you somewhere over 18,400 feet. Your friend calmly reminds you that altitude sickness can be fatal. You may be dumb. Okay, okay. You may be really dumb, but you aren’t stupid. You head down the mountain. It only takes an hour to get back to your 15,748 foot base camp.

You are glad to be back at base camp, but things get a little annoying. Three Americans (two from Seattle and one from New Mexico) shop up at base camp an hour or so after you return. They were preceded by their two guides who carried up all of the water, food, and sleeping gear. They explain that they have “different priorities” than the two of you. They don’t bother to elaborate on that piece of unsolicited information.

Sleep that night is almost unattainable. Despite the best intentions of the 30SPF sunscreen your sun-burned, wind-chapped, sand-blasted face is giving off a pretty good fever. Any respected dermatologist would go into epileptic seizures at the sight. Dinner settles uneasily - a witches brew made of Ramon noodles and a spicy “potato stew” packet not legally sold in other countries.

The final day drops you 1900m to a small town called Chiguata. Morale is still good: we are going home, we aren’t carrying very much water weight, it’s almost all downhill, etc. For some reason you are still relying on the guidebook. The first part of the trail is supposed to be ill-defined…it turns out to be well-defined. The main geographic feature you are looking for is a saddle beside which you should find a broad sandy trail. You find two broad sandy trails. Neither of them are correct and the second eventually disappears leaving you to cross a large ravine that you eventually backtrack around.

Tired of guessing what the book says the two of you decide to head downhill trying to avoid the major ravines (minor canyons) that you may or may not be able to cross. Eventually you find a cattle trail which leads you to the bottom of one of the ravines where miners are working. You ask a man where Chiguata is and he wags his finger indicating that Chiguata is not in the direction you hoped and definitely not as close. He suggests following the ravine, which you do, and eventually leads you to a paved road. Local farm workers estimate that Chiquata is 40 minutes away.

As you approach Chiguata, the 4WD that dropped you off finds you and takes you back to Arequipa. Sensing the end, your muscles go on strike almost preventing you from getting out of the vehicle and walking across the street to the hostel.

Wow, thanks for sharing in the pain. Kristine just came to check on me. I told her that this is getting quite long. She was very understanding because those were three very long days. There are some funny stories to tell and should get some nice pictures out of it, but I have more than just a few suggestions on how it could have been done differently! We are currently recuperating and planning for the next adventure. Keep posted.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Rio... oops! Niterói!

We arrived in Rio into the loving hands of Adriany & Rev. Antonio Costa's family from Niterói (across the bay from Rio). Marina lined up a wonderful family for us to stay with while visting Rio. Marina had only met Rev. Costa at a church conference a couple weeks earlier and she asked if we could stay with them. They accepted and it was so wonderful how welcoming they all were. Adriany & Antonio have two sons, ages 14 & 16. So, we got to stay with a younger family while in Brazil too.

Since we were up all of Friday night, we relaxed at their home most of Saturday afternoon. Once we slept a bit, Adriany & Antonio took us on a small tour of their city. We also went up to the City park which had excellent views of Rio and the bay. We could see SugarLoaf Mountain and the Christ Redeemer statue.
Sunday, we joined the family for church services in Barra (south of Rio and about an hour from Niteroi). Antonio preached and his wife translated the sermon to us. It was nice to understand what the sermon was about. Sometimes they have so many people attend church that people will sit outside and listen to the sermon through the loudspeakers. In the afternoon, we dropped the boys off so they could do some body surfing. Adriany took us up to another look out point which was also the jumping off point for paragliders and hangliders. It was pretty incredible to watch them go. One gal was about to chicken out of the hanglide jump, but they managed to push her off and away they flew! Kevin really wanted to try it out, but we didn't get a chance the rest of our visit to try it.

MOnday, we spent about half the day at one of the beaches in Niteroi (pictured), Niterói Itacoatiara Beach. It was fantastic becuase the beach was practically empty, the waves were huge, and we felt like we had our own little spot to ourselves. We also tried a little running on the beach. In the afternoon, we joined part of the family and their relatives to see Mission Impossible III. What a great time! AFter the movie, Adriany wanted to buy me a gift, so I now own a cute red dress, compliments of Adriany.

It was absolutely amazing to us how this family could not only bring complete strangers into their home, but also bought gifts and food for us. They even invited us back to visit their beach house during the summer months so we can learn to surf!

I don't think Kevin & I will ever be able to repay all of our guests for their wonderful generosity and incredible hospitality. We both agree that Brazilians are wonderful, hospitable and friendly people. We can't thank them enough for all the wonderful things they have done for us.

Fans Dodge Raging Bull

While on the Mamiruau Reserve in the Amazon, we visited one of the local villages. One gal was chosen to give us a tour of their village. We followed her as she told us about the village. It was all quite fascinating. About half way through the tour, one of the "free range" bulls started coming towards us. She and others in the village, immediately told us to run for the boats becuase it was a crazy bull. Fortunately, the bull just passed us by and left us all unscathed. Whew! Close call there!

Apparently, they have had problems with this particular bull in the past. There is a soccer field in the village and they have soccer games quite a lot. During one of the games, the bull was on a rage and charged the field and then charged the fans. The whole village started screaming and running to get out of the way of the bull. Can you imagine! By the way, ALL of their animals roam free (except the Pig).

When we visited the village, they still had a lot of green grass that they could walk on. But, it was quickly disappearing as the rainy season was reaching its peak. The water had already raised about 7 meters from the dry season river channel. So, they had to put their pig on a floating raft. Once the water raises to the point that they have no grass, they will build another boat to hold all of their cows (well.. they would build it before it's too late!). They will also have to visit their neighbors by hopping in their canoes. They were wonderful people and were really happy to have us visit them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


After our wonderful trip to the Amazon, we were back in Manaus. We crashed at a hotel near the Teatros Amazonas (the best thing going for Manaus). We joined forces for the evening with a gentleman, Bryan (from Seattle), that we met while at the Uakari lodge. We were able to haggle a good taxi price to the hotel and we all chowed down an enormous pizza.

The following morning, we took a tour of the Teatros Amazonas ( It was absolutely beautiful and was built during the rubber boom during the late 1800's. Many of the europeans living in Manaus at the time wanted a place to be entertained therefore, they built the theater. Everything used to construct the theater, except for the wood, was imported from Europe. Even though the wood was actually from the Amazon, it was exported to Europe for carving and cutting and then shipped back for construction. Crazy!! We were also fortunate enough to take a tour while they were practicing an Opera. It was fun to see the rehearsal. Once a year, they sponser an Opera festival. Unfortunately, we weren't in town when they performed.

We hit the port area and docks in the afternoon. It was pretty nice to watch the people getting on and off the river boats. The docks we saw are able to change up to 14 meters with the change of the water level between the wet and dry seasons.

We then headed out to the National Institute of Amazonian Research. It was founded to hel research the Amazonian Region and it's ecology, zoology, and botany. We thought it would be a little more interesting, instead, it appeared it was under some major reconstruction work. We did get to see some manatees, a river otter, a bunch of turtles, and some caimen. We were even provided a tour guide. She was about ten years old and recited everything off about the exhibits. She did very well, and spoke it all in Portugeuse. So, really, we have no idea what she said, but we nodded our heads a lot.

That evening, we headed back to the airport to sleep and await our 3:00 a.m. departure. I have never seen and airport so busy between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. I didn't sleep at all. Kevin pulled out his pad, once again, and slept just a bit more than I did. OUr plane was about an hour late by the time we left. Which, was a problem since we only had 40 minutes to catch our connecting flight. We were assured that the plane would wait for us in Brasilia. Sure enough, it waited for us, even though we arrived at the time our second plane was supposed to depart. Somehow, we made it to Rio, ON TIME. We're really not sure how that happened, but were very glad that we didn't make Adriany (our Rio hostess) have to wait for us!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Amazon

Last Week was absolutely stunning! We had a wonderful time experiencing true Amazonian wildlife!

We left São Paulo last Sunday evening and arrived in Manaus after midnight. We crashed in the airport because we had to leave on another flight in the morning for Tefé (west of Manaus). Kevin was pretty excited to pull out his bright orange mattress pad so he could sleep on the floor. I was the paranoid one and half slept while sitting in the very uncomfortable airport chairs (at least they had some padding). Turns out, there were two other Americans camped out in the same area awaiting the same plane. This airport was incredibly busy between midnight and 3:30 a.m. Neither of us could believe how many flights there were so late at night. Needless to say, the very loud announcements didn't help our sleeping situation either.

Morning finally arrived and the airport was dead. Normally, you would think that it was after midnight becuase it was so dead. In just about every other airport, it would start to be very busy by 7:00 a.m.! But then again, I've decided Manaus is just strange anyway. Kevin & I decided to go to the second airport in Manaus in order to catch our flight. Many cities we have visited so far have two airports (national and international airport), so we weren't too surprised to find out that we had to go to another airport and figured it was across town somewhere. So, we got into a taxi (we were told it should cost about $5) to get to the second airport. We quickly discovered that the "second airport" was just around the corner. We could have walked! It was the 2nd Terminal of the Eduardo airport and it was called Eduardino.. hmm... little Eduardo?

We finally flew to Tefé where our hosts for the Uakari Lodge and Mamiruau Reserve awaited our arrival. They quickly whisked us off to the docks (after we paid of course) to board the speed boat that would take us to the Uakari Lodge. We were both a bit skeptible about our mode of transportation. The boat motor kept quitting. I should have felt just like I was at home because it was a common occurence with my Dad's boat when I was growing up! Anyways, we finally made the 1 1/2 hour trip to the Lodge and stayed fairly dry despite the downpour on the way there.

The Lodges were absolutely wonderful. So far, they have surpassed any of the hostels we have stayed at yet... and there were even little cockroaches in the lodge. The cockroaches are really quite common in the Amazon and is definitely not a sign of a dirty place. They did an excellent job of keeping things clean and tidy (they take great pride in good hospitality). Apparently, they live in the straw roofs and sometimes come out at night. Kevin only had to capture two of the buggers before we went to bed. We also had some bats hanging out underneath the eaves. We both liked to see that, the more bats, the less mosquitoes!

We decided to visit the Mamiruau Reserve and stay at the Uakari Lodge becuase it is an EcoTourism destination. The reserve was set up to help save the natural habitat for the Uakari Monkey (only found in this part of the Amazon) and to help the inhabitants learn how to live sustainably within the reserve. All of the money for the trip goes to the reserve and they only hire employees that live within the reserve. So, it all goes to a good cause.

We went on several canoe trips through the flooded forest. We were both surprised to see that we were in a jungle that was completely flooded. The Lodges were all floating and several villages had homes built on stilts so they wouldn't get flooded during the rainy season. During the dry season, the channels narrow and there is more dry land. Apparently, one can experience a completely different set of wildlife during the dry and rainy season. For example, right now, all of the fish and inhabitants of the water are spread out all over becuase everything is flooded and all of the land creatures are concentrated in the little pieces of land. We were supposed to go on a night hike on one of the small exposed pieces of land. We didn't becuase earlier in the week, the guides saw three poisonous snakes within 100 meters. I was so grateful they wouldn't let us on the trail.. Kevin was severely disappointed.

We saw several different kinds of monkeys (including the rarely seen Uakari Monkey), hundreds of birds, caimens (a type of alligator/crocodile), a rarely seen river otter (some of the guides haven't even seen those!), and so much more. It was breathless. The only bad part about the whole trip was one morning we spent five hours in a canoe, no where for a potty break, and no snacks. My stomach started to make noises just like the loud howler monkeys we heard all day.

One of the highlights, was our opportunity to fish for Piranhas. Our fishing was quite successful! Kevin caught several and I caught a few. We were able to take two back with us to eat the next day. Our guide also speared, yes speared, and Oscar. It was the coolest thing watching him spear the fish! We got to eat the Oscar and the Piranhas the next day. They were both quite delicious!

We were both sad to see the trip end on our third morning. It was so wonderful to be in nature and enjoying God's wonderful creations. The people and our guides were so kind and hospitable too! We both highly recommend this experience to anyone interested in seeing the Amazon.

Mamiruau Reserve:
Animals in the Flooded Forest:

Saturday, May 06, 2006

São Paulo

What a week!! This past week, we have been roaming around one of the BIGGEST cities in the world. São Paulo and it's surrounding metropolitan area is reaching a population of 20 million people. It's crazy huge. After a full week of using the mass transit system, we finally made it to and from our destination on Friday, without a hitch. This may be becuase we finally knew the exact name and number of the buses we needed. During earlier trips in the week we ended up at the wrong bus station, hitched a ride from a student on the University of São Paulo campus, and called up our hosts for a ride back home.

Highlights: I think our two favorite days were our visits to the Botanical Garden and to the Butanta Snake Farm. O.K. that was Kevin's exciting adventure this week. He tried to get me to say that one snake was pretty, I told him all he was getting out of me was that I liked it's color. I think there were about 70 different species of snakes, lizards and spiders. Butanta is the largest research center i Latin America for vaccinations (e.g. yellow fever, dengue (we think world wide too). They also had a microbiology museum that was explained some interesting things (e.g.cells, blood, micro-organisms, diseases, viruses). The Botanical Garden was a great escape to nature in a huge city. We enjoyed the outdoors and talked a lot while watching nature. We even saw and heard some more monkeys.

CD Shopping!: We went on quite the shopping spree trying to find some Brazilian music. Ana, Marina's niece, is a no fear shopper asking all sorts of questions at each of the dozen or so CD shops we visited. The shop owners knew there stuff. Kevin was refreshed to go into a CD shop and have the owner know the music and be able to suggest something. We finally found one shop that opened up the CDs (even brand new) and let us listen to them. We came away with a Brazilian hip hop CD and two Brazilian electronica albums. I still thing he's got a permagrin on his face! It was pretty much consensus among the rock music stores that Brazilian rock music doesn't hold a candle to international rock.

Movies: At the beginning of this week, I told Kevin I was tired of traveling. I have since been revitalized and am ready to keep going. I think part of my revitalization came from the two movies we saw.. in English!! All the movies are shown in English with subtitles in Portuguese. So, we felt like were back in the States for a few hours.. popcorn included! And boy.. do they know how to make butter popcorn. They coat all the popcorn with butter, not just the top!

Tomorrow we head to the Amazon! Those little piranhas better start swimming up river.. because we're on our way to catch them!

What do you take for Granted?

While in Brazil, Kevin and I have started to notice some pretty obvious things that we take for granted when living in the United States. I thought I’d share a few things. I also figured it would give a sense of what we’ve seen.

Water: All homes we have been in, only have cold running water. In order to get a “hot” shower (o.k. warm, maybe, sometimes cold) their is an electrical showerhead that seems to heat the water as it runs up the pipes and out the shower head. Marina told me that some folks wear flip flops in the shower to prevent electrocution. I can see why!

Gas: While most homes in the States are connected to an underground gas line, not the case in pretty much all the homes here in Brazil. Each house hooks their gas stove up to a gas container just like our gas grills. Marina made a comment to me that it seems silly to have gas lines running underground because they could burst, or be broken, etc. Good point, don’t you think? While in Sao Paulo, there is a truck that passes through all of the streets, every morning, that plays music indicating that if you want to buy your gas, you should run out to the street RIGHT NOW! The music is a bit annoying when you’re trying sleep in!

Heat: Most of the homes in Brazil are not heated by a central heating system. Even though the temperatures may be pretty mild during the winter months (compared to some of the places in the States), it makes a huge difference if you can’t heat your whole home at night. At Floyd & Marina’s home, Marina uses her wood oven/ stove most of the winter, therefore, they are able to heat their home a little bit. There isn’t much to insulate it though!

Sanitation: Many of the homes in Brazil (Argentina & Chile too) do not have extensive sanitation systems. Therefore, in many homes and businesses, you throw your used toilet paper into a wastebasket next to the toilet. (The apartment complex we stayed in Brasilia handled toilet paper in the water just fine.) Not all places have their own sanitation plant as they do in the States. Therefore the water isn’t being cleaned as well (or at all) before it is put back where it came from. Now, to some this may seem unsanitary in of itself, but to me.. it beats the sanitation system of Thailand by a landslide. Bangkok itself smelled like a huge sewer to me.

Safety: Michael Moore needs to get out of North America to see what real fear is. Some of the stories we’ve heard about safety has sent chills down my spine. Fortunately, we haven’t had any problems. So many homes are locked up very tight and people don’t roam the streets at night if they don’t have too. This is partially a problem becuase of the HUGE gap between the thouands (millions?) of extremely poor and the extremely rich (not much of a middle class).