Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jungles and Deserts and Glaciers, Oh My!

I continue to be amazed at just how beautiful this world is! I'm now in Peru and, since my last post, have been all over the place. First, we were able to ride one of National Geographic's Top 10 Train Rides in the world. It's in Southern Ecuador and is called ¨La Nariz Del Diablo,¨ which translates ¨The Devil's Nose.¨ It has that name because you literally go down the side of an extremely steep mountain through a series of switchbacks. Finished in the early 20th century, it was the pinnacle of railroad technology and is still a feat to behold. Heck, you even get to ride on the roof! Haha, it was really an awesome experience and I can see why National Geographic thinks so highly of it :-)

From there, we made our way across the border and down to Trujillo, Peru. We stopped there because nearby are the ancient ruins of Chan Chan which, built around AD 1300, is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world! While alot of the ruins have eroded over the years, the sheer size was simply unbelivable.

From Trujillo, we went to Caraz, a small town outside of the better-known Huaraz, where we hiked the Lagunas Llanganuco. These are two lagunas nestled in a glacial valley only 1000 meters below the snow line! It was the first time I had ever got to see snow-capped mountains and the view, especially reflected off of the glacial lake, was truly stunning. We were actually able to see views of Huascaran (6768m), Chopicalqui (6354m), Chacraraju (6112m) and Huandoy (6395m). These moutains, all part of the Cordillera Blanca, are some of the most popular in the world to hike and climb. Huascaran is actually the highest tropical summit in the entire world! And Alpamayo (5947m), another mountain we got a great view of from Caraz, has even been labeled the most beautiful moutain in the world because of it's knife-edged, perfectly pyramidal northern silhouette. So yea, for a Florida boy like me, to get to see such an amazing display was really a treat!

*As a side note, these three trips meant that we were actually in the Ecuadorian jungle, the Peruvian desert and a glacial valley in three consective days. Talk about a change of environment!

Finally, from Caraz, we made our way to Lima where we are now. We've spent the last 2 days relaxing from our long mountain hikes and preparing for the next 2 weeks which will consist of non-stop trekking. Tomorrow, we head to Cuzco and then to Machu Picchu! We then go around the entirety of Southern Peru, making our way back to Lima. Mike then heads home and I go back to Colombia for a few more months of volunteering.

So yea, I'm absolutely exhausted, haha. It is such a blessing to be able to see so much in so little a time, but it definitely tests the limits of my endurance! Well, my flight for Cuzco leaves early in the morning so I have to get what little rest I can. I'll try and post soon, but I may be back in Colombia before I get another opportunity to send an update. Either way, I hope all is well back home and can't wait to talk to you all soon!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We can be heroes....just for one day.

Well, I made it safely into Ecuador and am now in Cuenca on my way to Loja. Mike and I had a blast in Quito and enjoyed seeing some fellow gringos. We stayed at a great hostel where we met people from France, Germany, Britain, Canada and others. While the city wasn't as great as some of the others we've visited, we had a great time and took the time to relax before making the trek to the Quilotoa loop.

From Quito, we made our way to Latacunga and then to Zumbahua. This was an unbelievable chance in scenary from Quito! We went in the course of a day from the biggest city in all of Ecuador (approximately 1.5 million population) to one of its smallest (less than 2,000 population). The entire town was built around a concrete slab which houses their markets every Saturday. Other than that, the place is simply deserted. It had only one restaurant open past 6pm and the menu consisted of, and I quote, ¨pollo o arroz con pollo?¨Haha, it was a tough decision, but I went for the pollo sin arroz.

In spite of, or possibly because of, its lack of, well, anything, it was utterly relaxing and tranquil. It is situated in an unbelivable location, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains that have an intense and powerful presence. We got there early enough and were able to hike up one to enjoy a spectacular view over the city and down into one of the canyons.

From there, I have to let Mike speak on behalf of our hike around the Quilotoa loop. He sent an email back home describing the entire ordeal and I dare not attempt to state it better than he:

¨The next morning we awoke quite early and made our way up to the laguna. We dropped off our bags, stocked up on water, made sure we were prepared for what we believed was to be an easy hike. Once again we were wrong. We did the traditional loop hike and it was beautiful. But there was something dark and foreboding in our future. Maybe 5 minutes after finishing a rousing rendition of Ive Had The Time Of My Life, a cloud blew in. We thought, hey, this is great, now its shady and we wont sweat as much. Oh but this was no ordinary cloud. It was the first stormtrooper in a vicious vicious storm that lasted the rest of the day. We were about 50 percent done with the lake, so we trudged on, thinking that the storm would not last.

It Did.

And it hailed.

A lot.

And lightning was striking all around us.

This is where we made a fateful decision that means perhaps history will look back on us as heroes and adventurers in the first class. We decided we did not want to be struck by lightning and left the top of the loop to follow another trail around the crater. We were our own two hobbits making our way through our own little version of Mordor, climbing over stones, trying to make sure of the path through visibility of three inches. The lightning continued to strike all around and soon we noticed that the peaks were getting quite high. With dawning horror we realized that in the middle of being pelted with hail that we were getting away from the loop trail.

So, when in doubt, we did what any smart person would do. We blazed our own trail through the storm. We were scaling rock formations, scaring the hell out of llamas, walking through farms that had traps. We followed the infamous Burro trail across a good third of the loop trail, praying that eventually this storm would let up.

Well, the fates can be fickle, but they smiled upon us that day. The storm passed after an hour to reveal that we were basically screwed. Our trail existed no more. We blazed on and eventually found the main loop trail. And then the storm came back with a vengance. I have the welts to prove it. But we made it back to town, conquering heroes.¨

Haha, so there ya go. It was, indeed, quite an adventure. And yes, we were heroes....just for one day :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tales of crazy adventures...

So I just arrived in Pasto in Southern Colombia and am spending the night here before heading to Ipiales in the morning and then crossing into Ecuador and making our way to Quito for the weekend. While nothing too exciting happened today (other than a crazy unpaved 5 hour busride through the mountains that was unbelievably beautiful), we just came from San Agustin where Mike and I spent the day hiking in the mountains looking at over 100 ancient statues found over 1,000 years ago. We stopped there because the experience is so unique - little to nothing is actually known historically about the civilization that left the statues. One is left to imagine the reasons for the intricate anthropomorphic stone creatures left there!

This, after an amazing time in Northern Colombia for Holy Week, and I'm really getting a well-rounded image of all that Colombia has to offer! In Santa Marta, we were able to make our way north to Parque de Tayrona which has some of the best beaches in all of South America. To be honest, it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my entire life! We actually slept in hammocks right on the beach and were surrounded by jungle-filled mountains, amazing palm trees, huge rock formations going out into the water and even some ancient ship wrecks right off-shore! The view was literally right out of the movies! Even a Florida boy like my couldn't help but be impressed, lol.

To top it off, on our second day there we even hiked into the jungle and up the mountain to see ancient ruins from a civilization more than 2,000 years old. I felt like Indiana Jones exploring lost civilizations in the jungles of South America, haha. Then, in Cartegena, we walked the cobble-stone streets of the old city, trecked along the wall surrounding it (built to protect it from invading pirates in the 1700s) and even went 50km west to take a mud bath in a dormant volcano (we even got to wash off in the nearby swamp)!

So yea, I've basically been having the time of my life. This after volunteering and growing as a person more than I ever have. I just feel so alive! I've been talking with Mike every day (who has been to 53 countries!) about the amazing impact travel has. It's so remarkable to me how enlighteing and enriching it is to spend time in other cultures. It's difficult to explain, but having grown up thinking I had most things figured out, it's unbelievably humbling to see the world through other people's perspectives. Especially interesting is being able to compare experiences with other travelers from all over the world. In Santa Marta and Cartegena, we met a couple from Austraila who was backpacking throughout South America and spent two days with them. In San Agustin, we met people from Germany, London and France. It's just so cool to talk about their countries, their view of Colombia and to just compare life stories. It really gives me a fresh and global perspective on existence!

With that said, I'm actually considering wating a year to start law school so I can stay in Colombia several more months and then travel the entire world. I see how much of a difference just this one short trip has made on me as a person and I can't help but imagine what the rest of the world holds! I know it seems crazy, but I realize that once I start law school, I'll never really have the opportunity to travel extensively. I feel as if everyone always wishes they could travel or that they had chosen to. I don't want to wish, I just want to make it happen! I have a rare opportunity that allows me the freedom of an entire year if I want it. And as for law school, it's always there when I'm ready. Besides, the traveling will only make me a more attractive candidate!

Well, that's my opinion at least, haha. Feel free to tell me I'm crazy. In fact, feel free to tell me whatever you think. It'd be interesting to hear everyone's thoughts. Okay, I have to get going. We're leaving early in the morning and need to make it all the way to Quito, so I need a good night's rest. I'm sorry I haven't been able to send many updates. I've been so busy traveling that time and internet are both hard to find. Nonetheless, know that I miss everyone back home and am thinking of you all down here!