Epic Journey. Part 3. Lares Trek

4/7 Lares Trek Day 1

4AM wake up today.  Another shitty night of sleep, but this time thanks to excitement.  Sleepy nods hello to my group as we climb into the bus.  We picked up our chef and two porters along the pre-dawn drive.  Tried to appreciate the sunrise over the Sacred Valley, but too sleepy…

IMG_0480

***

Chef and his homies whipped up a quick breakfast and tea, and as our brains started to come to life, introductions were re-made around the pop-up table.  Leonie and Niahm were friends from Ireland that had been doing the whole of Central and South America.  Mark, Niahm’s boyfriend, had flown in to meet them at some point, and after this trip was done it was back to work for him.  Carol and Katrina were a mother/daughter duo from Houston.  Pretty cool place to see with your mom (hey mom wanna go climb a mountain??).  Our guide was Eddie, and he was the man.  Also seemed very connected to and knowledgeable about the history and terrain.  We found out later that basically 2/3’s of the month he’s on one the hikes to Machu Picchu.

 

So after the pancakes and tea it was time to get this show on the road.  Whack in a cud of coca leaves, and up we went.  Up.  For a day and a half it was up.  With every step less oxygen.  I will tell you this;  hiking to Machu Picchu is easy, all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.  But don’t forget to breath, because if you forget to, you won’t.  These mountains don’t give up their scarce air without a little effort…

DSC_3694

the beginning of up

As we climbed the terrain and flora slowly changed around us.  We were basically following a river valley cutting up and through the peaks.  Conversation was actually pretty tough to sustain for long, but when we stopped at some ruins Eddie dropped some knowledge about the life of the Incas.  One thing that stuck with me was when he described the Inca’s cashless economy.  The empire was wealthy beyond belief in pure natural abundance, but they didn’t use money.  Instead they used a work for property system.  Build a temple, lay a road, etch an agricultural terrance and you get a house and land for your family.  This struck me as socialist to the core.  The Quechua descendants still follow the mantra “Ayni”, which basically means “today for you, tomorrow for me”.  It made me wonder if the frequent socialist uprisings that pop up in Latin America (only to be crushed) have some connection to this ancient sentiment.  Imagine if one of the greatest societies to exist in antiquity was a functioning communist model.  That wouldn’t look good in the history books…

DSC_3733

thinking socialism in ruins

DSC_3685 DSC_3696 DSC_3723

Lunch Day 1_Near Callorumiyoc ruins_3600 meters/11,800 feet

We learned a valuable lesson that first lunch, PACE YOURSELF!  The Llama Path meals are amazing, and each course I couldn’t stop myself from gorging.  “Problem” is the COURSES NEVER STOP!!  It was one of the best meals I’d had in Peru, and by far the biggest including mango ceviche (definitely making that one at home), pumpkin soup, rice, peruvian corn, potatoes, yucca, stuffed avocados, quiche, AND stuffed trout!  Ended with nap time right?  No Eddie passed out snack bags (in case we some how got hungry ever again), and it was back to the climb.  Another half day up to our night’s camp.

DSC_3759

day one lunch spot

IMG_0483

***

During that last push into and over the clouds, more and more evidence of the Quechua people that still live and farm in these mountains popped up.  It’s pretty amazing that people still hold it down up here.

DSC_3767 DSC_3778 DSC_3995

After breathlessly dragging ourselves up a final brutal climb, we found ourselves in a meadow on top of the world.  The amazing porters and horsemen, who would somehow run ahead of us after every stop to have everything ready when we showed up, were already getting to work for tea-time and dinner.  All we had to was drop our pack, put on some layers (it was getting cold up here!), and enjoy some coca tea before another gut busting and delicious dinner.

DSC_3793 DSC_3799

***

Night 1_Puyoc_4300 meters/14100 feet

Dark out, and itching to get out of the tent and photograph these amazing stars!  Its like you could just about touch the milky way from here.  The Southern Cross and a bunch of unfamiliar sights all dot the bright sky.  The Big Dipper is UPSIDE-DOWN!  Amazing.  I’m already at my new altitude record (I think Mt. Massive was a bit less than this…), but tomorrow is the big climb.  Over 15,000 to our summit!  Its about 8PM, everyone else is asleep and I’m exhausted but gotta get those STARS!

CSC_3857

above the cloud line

DSC_3850

puyoc camp

DSC_3829

 

4/8  Sicllakasa Pass.  15,800 feet

Out of breath.  But not as bad as I thought.  Powered up to my altitude record stubbornly not giving in to lack of oxygen.  Thanks to a consistent cud of coca leaves still don’t believe in altitude sickness.  Amazing sea of mountains in front of us, and miles of descending valleys in our wake.  Incredibly satisfying.  The Inca worshipped the mountains as gods, and even today the local people make pilgrimages up here to give offerings to the now hybrid Christian/Ancient gods.  Quite a commitment, those last couple hundred feet were gnarly.   Although they probably trot up here like its a trip to the grocery store.  Awesome, awesome.  On top of the world.

DSC_3916

behind us

DSC_3933

in front of us

DSC_3958

“take in the greatness of God. this is his love.”

***

So then we started back down the other side.  This side of the mountain is much more lush with vegetation.  I think its because the wet air comes in from the coast and is shot into higher altitudes by the slopes we just climbed creating rain clouds on this side.  Had a nice chat in spanish with Eddie on the way down.  Just shooting the shit, but good to keep up the practice.  Eventually we descended into a breathtaking nook amongst the cliffs where our lunch was being prepared.  Stunning place to relax, felt like something out of the Lord of the Rings.  A herd of sheep/llamas/alpacas cruised past our spot, herded by a distant Quechua woman and her dogs scurrying about the cliffs like it was nothing.  Another gut busting lunch of lomo saltado (with a delish vegan option of seitan!), arepas, pasta w/ chicken, and ubiquitous rice mound.  God the food was good!  Then we continued down through hilly green pastures amongst the llama, chinchillas, increasing local folks going about their business.

DSC_3976

the red dot is camp

DSC_3979 DSC_4001 DSC_4056

***

Night 2_Cunkani_3800 meters/12,426 feet

This is fucking rad.  After the pleasant descent we enter the village of Cunkani.  Quechua kids eying us up and offering a curious “hola” as the gringos passed.  We stepped into a stone corral and thats where we would set up shop for the night.  I can’t lie I felt a little weird at first.  Women are posting up with stuff for sale, but I don’t really need anything.  Also back in Cusco it had been suggested to bring candies for the kids, and I had a bag, but that didn’t really seem right.  With all the natural good food around, giving kids a bunch of shitty sugar treats felt wrong.  So as my hike mates took a nap, I’m kindof just sitting here watching as the camp fills up with Quechua women and kids.  Looks like there will be another group joining us tonight going the other direction.  It is so crazy to be here right now.  This is why I chose this trek.  Although they just see me as another tourist, for me it is very special to be spending the night in this village.

DSC_4063 DSC_4154 DSC_4158

***

4/9  Durián

Sunrise at Cunkani.  Last night was pretty special.  We were playing cards in the mess tent to kill time before going to sleep.  “Bullshit” to be exact.  After a while, in sneaks this little Quechua kid.  He literally shimmied under the tent flap, and just stood there smiling.  No one, myself included, really knew what to do, so I figured I’d teach him how to play the game.  I had him “help” me play my hand and eventually gave him his own.  For the record I told him the game was called “mentiroso”, just saying.  He never really got it, not for lack of trying, more my inability to explain the sophisticated nuances of bullshitting in spanish.  Eventually we all headed to bed, but the cloud cover had lifted and the stars were dazzling and the Conquecruz (*never figured out how to spell it properly) glacier topped peak was shimmering in the distance.

 

I grabbed my camera and before I could turn around, there was Durián, smiling silently.  I asked him if he wanted to take pictures of the stars, and he was ALL ABOUT IT!  When I showed him what it looked like on the screen he was ecstatic!   I taught him a few things of which he caught on really quick, and just let him walk around the camp taking shots of the night sky.  He didn’t want to head my advice about keeping the camera steady, preferring the post-modern blurry look.  Fuck giving kids candy, last night was a sharing of information.  He told me the names of the mountains and stars and I showed him how to photograph.  I’ll print up his work and send it to him when I get home.  He said he was going to come walk with us for a bit tomorrow, and I hope he does.  Its WAY easier to take pics in the day time.

DSC_4110

me and durian collaboration

DSC_4130

durian 1

DSC_4132

durian 2

IMG_0497

durian at work

 

***

Kids lined up this morning in front of one of the other groups.  The guide gives each of the tourists a bag of candy and they go down the line handing out crap feeling good about themselves.  I don’t like it.  Durian was one of them.  By the time I was done brekkie they were gone.  Durián had his backpack on.  Hopefully he was going to school.

DSC_4157

***

Well, after we started our days bit of hiking, no sign of Durián.  Shortly into the hike, Eddie pointed out the villages elementary school.  Relatively basic, but surprisingly complete layout.  Out ran a bunch of kids to gawk at us, and sure enough there was Durián.  He was apparently too shy to say much, or maybe last nights fun wasn’t as cool for him as it was for me.  Either way I’m going to send him his pics.  And maybe a Polaroid cam or something.

***

The days hike was more of leisurely stroll through the rolling hills compared to previous days.  The final stop was the hot baths in Lares proper.  Good lord I can’t imagine a more heavenly way to end a trek through the Andes.  Warm shower flowing from the rocks (warmest shower I’ve had in Peru!) and free range of four pools ranging from tepid to scalding to soak our aching bodies.  Down below there is a cold bath if you’re into that and lap pool to boot.  Tucked into a serene alpine valley, with a raging river down below.  One last lunch from Chef and the porters, and that was it.  Trek over, back to the bus.

DSC_4176

hot springs at lares

IMG_0509 IMG_0515

***

After the springs, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo.  The ride through the Sacred Valley was amazing on its own.  I like the town here at Ollantaytambo.  Its cute, and the ancient Inca bastions still standing on the surrounding cliffs are pretty impressive.  After a short walk through town we got dinner there, and I got to see a more traditional cuy presentation…aka the whole guy (my verdict: a lot of work for not much meat).  Now we are on the train to Aguas Calientes, where we will sleep in a hotel for a couple hours before getting that first pre-dawn bus to the Main Event; Machu Picchu.

IMG_0518

ollantaytambo ruins

IMG_0535

cuy

***

All in all I would say 1000% do the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu.  And go with Llama Path.  I’ve obviously never gone to M.P. any other way, but it can’t get much better.  For those of you puritans, it IS true that you don’t actually walk your ass right up to the Sun Gate, but dealing with the throngs of people one must endure on the Inca Trail seems like a terrible option just to say you did it.  Shit if you want to pay more to shuffle up there with the idiot masses be my guest.  You walked to Machu Picchu.  Great.  But what did you experience?

 

I’ll stop hating and go to sleep.

***

 

Advertisements

Epic Journey. Part 2. Cusco

4/5  Cusco the Heart of the Americas

Landed in Cusco smooth as silk.  Descended through the clouds into this Mecca perched high in the Andes.  Checked into Hotel Rojas just around the corner from the Plaza de Armas, and I really like it.  Cheap as hell (which is tough here in Cusco), well situated and stately-comfy.  There’s free coca leafs and hot water for tea for those ailing from altitude sickness, but for me so far so good.  I actually don’t believe in altitude sickness.  Its a myth.  I drink lots of beer, occasionally smoke a cigarette and suck at staying hydrated, and I’ve never got a symptom.  So if I didn’t get it, you won’t get it.  PMA.

 

Walked around a bit this evening, figuring I’d keep it chill in case I was wrong about the whole “altitude sickness is a myth” thing and needed to acclimate.  Tomorrow I’ll do a full on walk about before I leave for my Machu Picchu trek on Monday.  I’m surprised by the party town aspect of Cusco.  Daniela and her friends in Lima had told me that this is a destination to party for Limeños, but gawddamn!  Its a Saturday night and already the old streets are packed with kids, with house music shaking the Inca foundations.

Image

hotel rojas

Image

hotel rojas room

Having dinner at Victor Victoria, which just happens to be the closest restaurant to my hotel and I’m starving.  It’s nice!  Super friendly dueña and a huge menu of trucha (trout), alpaca, cuy (guinea pig), ceviche, and a myriad of other options that cater more to less adventurous gringos.  I ordered the alpaca a la chorrillana.  I think the chorrillana sauce is usually for fish, but who knows.  First time for alpaca so maybe it tastes like fish.  The salad bar here is another nice perk.  Rarely south of San Diego have I seen such a nice variety of fresh veggies.  Cabbage, beets, radi….-

 

Holy shit.  THIS ALPACA IS FUCKING AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!

Image

***After devouring the plate, my exact words…***

BY FAR the best and most unexpected meal I’ve had in a long, long time!  And for $20 with a couple beers.  The alpaca is tender, lean.  Part filet mignon, part pork tenderloin in texture and flavor.  The marinade and/or spices were reminiscent of chimichurri somehow.  Oh my god SO FUCKING GOOD.  I’m out of bread.  Tempted to pour the juices into my face.  Holy shit am I glad I came in here!  Jesus lord.  This is a game changer, and totally out of the blue.

***Crappy iPhone pictures don’t do it justice!***

 

Image

alpaca a la chorrillana

So yeah, if you get a chance; eat alpaca.  I wasn’t exaggerating.  For the rest of my trip I ate alpaca (or llama in Bolivia) basically once a day.  Chorrillana style is something I definitely want to make at home, and seems easy enough.  Grilled tomatoes, onions with a slightly tangy/spicy aspect that must be based in wine or white vinegar and oregano.  When I had regained my ability to speak, I asked the dueña how to make this amazing dish.  With a gleam in her eye she said, “Just cook the meat, tomatoes and onions until they’re done.”.  DRATS!  Secret recipes be damned, I’m going to figure this one out back home.

***

4/6 Exploring Cusco

Had a shitty night sleep last night thanks to the raging party that was going on til at least dawn.  Also got back from dinner around 9PM and found the door locked.  Had to bang on the door for 20 minutes before the night guy woke up and let me in.  So although the bed was comfy as hell, two points against Hotel Rojas.  Once I made it out and about this morning, the day was perfect.  Warm sun and white clouds against a dark blue sky.  There was a parade in Plaza de Armas, for what I have no idea, but fun to watch none the less.

 

I trudged up to and past the artistic San Blas section of town, and kept going up in the hopes of finding a good view point of Cusco as a whole.  Can’t say I found anything great view-wise, but I figure plodding up the hilly streets was good practice for my trek.  On the way down, I happily lost myself in the labyrinthian back alleys.  Headed in the general direction of Qorikancha/Santo Domingo.  All along the way its amazing to see the uniform, precisely engineered rock foundations that still support hap-hazard and often adobe extensions that the Spaniards started after they destroyed the formidable metropolis the Inca had created.  To add to the mystical vibe (to a gringo at least); the Quechua men and women.  Here in Cusco was where I first noticed what would become routine in the journey.  Great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of the indigenous people that ruled these lands are not relegated to reservations in the high plain.  To this day they hold it down in the city, and have plenty of open land in the country side.  It was a weird to think about the decedents of the original people in the States.  You probably won’t see a Lenape woman walking in Manhattan, or a Camanche warrior in Dallas.  Sadly you’d probably be hard pressed to find someone speaking the original language on many of the reservations we moved our originals to.

Image

plaza de armas

Image

cusco parade

Image

cusco view

Image

quechua ladies

Image

inca stone work, modern patchwork

A perfect example of the Spaniards building on the broken backs of the Inca is at the aforementioned Qorikancha/Santo Domingo site.  Back in the day, Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire.  Literally all roads led to Cusco.  The divine leader (called The Inca), presided over his land, stretching from Ecuador to Chile, from this government seat.  Originally Qorikancha was the grandest temple in the Inca empire.  Hundreds of pounds of gold and other precious metals decorated this center for ritual and science.  Francisco Pizzaro and his men conquered Cusco, ransacked the place, and destroyed most of the mighty Inca structures.  Eventually the sight was bequeathed to the Dominican monks who built a church on the stone foundation of Qorikancha.  The original temple was built in the 1400s and what’s left has stood strong while the subsequent church has been destroyed twice by earthquake (1650 and 1950), and severely damaged in 1986.

Image

qorikancha/santo domingo

***

Ducked into Jardín Secreto on the road between my hotel and the plaza.  Really cool little local joint, or so it seems.  Through the walkway from the sidewalk leads to a nice outdoor courtyard with bar, and tables for food.  A local football match is projected on the wall and it seems like everyone knows each other and are meeting up for some Sunday afternoon beers and grub.  Old men order rounds of Pilsen beer, kids run around, and large tables of friends and family (I assume) eat ceviche and chat.  I got the ceviche, and  it came with a seafood consume.  I am a lover of all things ceviche, but after my first try of trout ceviche I must report it was a bit much for me.  It came garnished with frilly seaweed, and had a nice ginger/spice kick to it, but the fresh water gamey-ness was undeniable.  I decided I’d stick to cooked trout and alpaca during my time in the highlands.

Image

the secret garden

***

For my last meal in civilization for a while, I treated myself to a fancy dinner at Chicha.  Gastón Acurio is probably Peru’s most famous chef.  He had an early hand in elevating Peruvian cuisine, utilizing the abundance of natural ingredients the various climates of Peru provide.  The name for the “new” style is novaandina, and sounded pretty damn good to me.  It was a splurge for sure ($40 with couple beers), but gawddamn it was good.  I figured if anywhere, here was the place to try cuy (guinea pig).  The plate was amazing, but I’m guessing not very traditional.  The cuy itself was cut off the body, and in strips; topped with what looked like quail eggs.  Taste wise cuy was almost fishy.  I guess the word is gamey.  Kind of the texture of chicharron.  More skin than meat.  Not that bad though.  Underneath amazing.  A quinoa “fried rice” kind of action with broccoli, plaintain, and an asian slaw.  Tastes of hoisin, mirin, chili oil, anise (?).  Very light and cohesive.  A fusion (barf that word) of asian and caribbean, with strictly Peruvian ingredients.  Crisp, prompt service and looked like a high end variety of drinks (I stuck to Cusqueñas).

Image

chicha cuy

***

Left Chicha full and ready for bed, but spent the next couple hours gathering supplies for tomorrow’s trek.  Water, rum, coca leaves, CHECK.  Can’t wait for what feels like the REAL beginning of adventure.  Tomorrow night I will write by starlight on top of the Andes mountains!

***

Epic Journey. Part 1. Lima.

4/2  NYC>LIMA

Bundle of nerves.  Not helped by the 8.2 Earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile yesterday.  Don’t know what I’m so worried about.  First time out solo in a while, maybe thats why?  Not that that really makes a difference with anything.  If the earthquake is what I’m worried about no amount of friends is going to change that course.  If its theft or bodily harm?  Don’t look for trouble and it won’t find you has always been my motto alone or with compatriots.  Honestly just feel like a pussy, but can’t shake the nerves.

Anyway, so far so good.  Only an hour left til we touch down in Lima!  Beautiful flight over the Caribbean.  Saw Cuba on a fly-over finally.  It looked dry and over farmed, not very green sadly.  Fluffy clouds danced along the way through sunset.  It got SUPER bumpy almost as soon as the sun went down which isn’t helping my nerves.  We’ve been whipping around like nothing I’ve ever felt before through the darkness.  Persistent and untimely memories of the book/movie Alive have me planning who to eat first…

I can see webs of lights below indicating civilization, but the most bizarre sight is the twinkling of lights piercing through the black that seem to be on our level.  The flight map says we are still 38,000 feet up, so we aren’t descending yet.  I’m either tripping or these lights are perched about what is my first view of the Peruvian Andes!!

Image

cuba from above

***

Lima First Thoughts (In retrospect I’m an idiot)

I’m not proud to admit I’ve been on edge since touching down here in Lima.  Between my mother (sorry mom…), the earthquakes (another one was literally striking Chile as I got in my cab from the airport) and grave warnings from guidebooks, the internet and other bullshit I was pretty much ready for war when I stepped out of customs.  My right mind kept reminding me I’ve survived and had great fun in Tijuana, Bogota and West Philly without major incident, but I was on high alert for express kidnapping, petty thieves and/or natural disasters.  I stepped into the fray that is any Latin American airport exit, and scanned for my pickup.  I saw a guy eventually with a sign for “Adam Dufort”.  Close enough.  He seemed a bit cagey, and I kept tight grip on my blade, head on a swivel as we crossed the parking lot to his car.

Doors close, he turns on the car…and cumbia starts blaring out of the speakers.  He must have been jamming out on the way to pick me up, and turned it down quickly; flashing a sheepish look in to the rear view mirror.  I told him I like the music, he seemed surprised I could speak spanish, and in that instant the bad vibes were dashed.  I love taxi driver talks in other countries.  One’s first ambassador to a new land.  Ice broken, Luis and I chatted about the weather, food, girls, earthquakes, the usual.

I tell him its been a dream for years to be here in Peru, and as I’m saying the words I remember how fucking true that is.  And HERE I AM.

I relax, crack the window and the glorious sounds and smells of Latin America stream in.  Crackling street meat and wood fires.  Collectivos, motorcycles, busses and cars honk and whiz about the motor way in amazing and shocking harmony.  Music drifts out of shanty town night spots, homes and clubs.  Music basically drifts out of anything and anywhere.  I’m yet to put my finger on the exact reason, but I love Latin America.  Whether its driving through New Mexico or backpacking the Andes there is an unknown basic thing that resonates with me.  I FEEL it now and its strong.

***

I’m staying at Hotel Runcu in Miraflores, one of the pleasant oceanside neighborhoods of Lima.  Everything I could want.  Quaint street, cozy courtyard and bar up top.  Super nice staff.  Plus Miraflores is perched on top of 200+ foot cliffs, so it seems reports of tsunamis that had me questioning my ocean adjacent hotel choice can kiss my ass.

Image

hotel runcu room

***

4/3  Lima Day 1

Just ordered my first pisco sour (2 for 1…) upstairs at the Runcu bar!  Today was nice.  The Miraflores coast is a fucking fantastic place to go for a stroll.  The parks along the various malecons running along the tops of the cliffs are amazing.  Very well kept and stunning views underneath a gentle sun.

(pisco sours are apparently amazing by the way…)

Image

strolling miraflores

I missed breakfast, and chose an easy Lonely PLanet recommendation.  I went to El Paquecito.  Felt a little lame following the herd, but it ended up delicious, authentic and CHEAP!  Seemed to be a working class group there having the set menú and I think the herd was somewhere else this afternoon.  For 14 soles ($4.50ish) you get three courses.  To start I got chupe de pescado.  It was the first in a myriad of awesome soups to be had in these parts.  This one similar in taste to a chowder, but way lighter and on the thinner side as opposed to chunky.  That said, it had yucca, peruvian corn, carrots and egg up in ‘dere.  Finished with tarragon and oregano for extra bursts of flavor goodness!

Main course;  jaleo de pescado (yeah I like fish…).  Simple fried white fish with fried yucca and white rice.  Nicely pickled red onions as a garnish to cut the fried-ness, and I swear the batter of the fish had some secret spices going on including cumin for sure.  Rounded out with a spicy yellow unknown sauce (forgot to ask), and thats one satisfying meal.

Image

el parquecito

Image

chupe de pescado

Image

jaleo de pescado

Oh and there were dessert options for the end, but who gives a shit.

***

I spent the next few hours casing the neighborhood, aka getting lost.  The streets are a fucked up and conniving maze in Miraflores, and no matter how stubbornly I try to assert my sense of direction, I’m forced to retreat to the Malecon, and hug the coast like a blind person hugging the wall of a new room in order to find my hotel.  Mission #1 go for a walk without getting lost.

***

I eventually hopped a taxi to head to the Museo de la Nación.  Not really into museums & colonial (post-conquistadores) culture this trip, but figured I might as well get a sense of the ancient cultures who conquered the lands I was headed into.  One of the first things you see is a time line on the wall of Pre-Pizzaro activities in Peru compared to the ancient history we all learned in school.  As a person born and raised in the Western Hemisphere why the FUCK have I never heard about this history.  I bet you haven’t either.  To see it laid out on the timeline was jaw dropping.  And this was Peruvian cultures alone.  Why haven’t I heard of the Chavin Culture and their pyramids, nor the Wari, nor the Moche, nor the Paracas, and only by accident the Nazcas?  All predecessors to the relatively short lived Incas.  Great, the Mesopotamians “invented” civilization, but shouldn’t we know more about our American ancestors who were doing the same by 2000 BC (same time as the Egyptian Pyramids!).  Plus our ancient people had a late start due to the crossing of the land-bridge into the Americas in the first place so the fact that they were relatively up to speed is that much more impressive.  What these people were accomplishing compared to “Almighty” Europe at the times is even funnier.

Image

peru culture timeline

The saddest thing to me is the complete obliteration of this history in my country of the US.  Thanks to government, selective history and religion the mighty cultures of North America are all but forgotten.  Props to the people of Peru and Bolivia for respecting and living next to their tenacious indigenous people (although I know this is sadly a recent sentiment).   I often wonder why Cahokia, Chaco Canyon and other sites aren’t nationally revered as treasures on par with Machu Picchu or Chitzen Itza up here in the States.  We in the US of A prefer to forget I suppose, its easy like Walmart and Sunday Mornings.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaco_Culture_National_Historical_Park.

***

Image

drunk pisco sour pic

Had a couple of those pisco sours and I’m about drunk!  Made it out to Delfino Mar for my first true peruvian ceviche.  A happy bucket list checkmark.  Saw this place on my lost meanderings earlier today, and seemed just right.  Apparently ceviche is a lunch dish here, so I basically had the place to myself, but the attentive, bowtied staff were amazing.  The now familiar rattle of the pisco sour blender melds with the wafting cumbia.  The only other customers are a drunk trio of women who are hilarious.  I think between the starving tattoed gringo and rowdy ladies the hyper-professional meseros are a little overwhelmed, but they are killing the game and hopefully it’ll be a funny story to tell their buddies over post shift beers.

Image

Image

ceviche pescado peruano

***

4/4 Waiting for the Sun

I didn’t do jack shit today.  Had all intentions of going downtown to the Plaza de Armas and doing all the historic sites, but in my heart of hearts I didn’t really want to go see the works of Spaniards.  I am fully enamored with the history and doings of the ancient cultures, and the natural beauty that inspired them.  A traffic clogged trip to the centro didn’t seem right.  The headache from too many piscos sours didn’t help anything….

I went to the grocery store (alway a treat abroad!), grabbed some bread, prosciutto, fruit and had a perfect breakfast in the park by the cliffs.  The fog swirling in and all around was enchanting, and distant crashing waves is always a plus.  Fuck a downtown.  I’m on vacation, why would I want to rub my nose in urban annoyance.  The Pacific air right here is just fine.  I got a coffee.  I read my book in the grass.  I strolled the park, deep in thought about the lost ancients.

Image

park brekie

Image

miraflores fog

***

A friend of a friend, Daniela, has offered to meet up tonight and show me around the area which should be fun.  As tranquil as the past days in thought have been, admittedly I’m just stumbling blind with no real idea where to head to. Some social interaction will be a nice change.

For now I’m just sitting in Parque Amour waiting for the sun to dip into the Pacific. The fog just cleared at the perfect time, and as para-gliders cruise around, lovers settle in, and I crack a beer; the show’s about to begin.

DSC_3563

DSC_3548 DSC_3594

***

4/5 LIMA>CUSCO

The rest of last night was super fun!  Daniela and I met at the light house, and after re-discovering that we met in San Fran last year, we set off into the Miraflores night.  She took me to an amzing little cafe, Arabica.  I must admit it was just the cafe I’d been hopeing to stumble across (I had been going to the Starbucks…booo me), and here it was right under my nose.  Daniela said they were the first to use a certain kind of peruvian coffee bean, and the place had all the right stuff for deep convos and intellectual thought.  Eventually I couldn’t help but vomit my leftist ideas on the tragic history of South America, and she was down to get into it.  I noticed she lowered her voice during some thoughts, maybe just me, maybe reflex.

I was starving and although the wrong time of day she obliged to take me to some good ceviche.  Along the way we walked through the party district of Miraflores, Lima street (I think).  A couple blocks of tranny hookers, hawkers and people raging in the streets!  It was like Ludlow Street on a Friday.   This was not the Miraflores I had experienced going to bed by 10pm!  After a stop by a memorial to a public building the Sendero Luminoso had blown up, and some eye opening facts about how Chile was buying up all the business in Peru and becoming the new US style menace to the middle class (my words), she led me to Punto Azul (too tired for appropriate transitions).  A DOPE, cheap, local joint for ceviche and other limeño favorites.  Totally hit the spot, and so far my #1 recommendation for Lima.  We met up with a couple of her friends, and they suggested we go to another suburb down the coast, Barranco (there’s a brewery!!!), but knowing myself I bowed out.  The last thing I want to do at this point is rage the night before a flight.  Hope to see Barranco and party a little when I get back to Lima on the tail end of the trip.

IMG_0046

punto azul restaurant

***

Wouldn’t have guessed when I first landed (but isn’t it always the way), sad to leave Lima today (well Miraflores to be more precise).  Daniela’s supreme hostess skills and knowledge of the city were a late met gift, and look forward to hanging and learning some more.  Definitely excited to get out of the city and into the wonder of the country side.  To get to know the beauty and mystery of these lands has been a dream for so long!  Next stop Cusco and Machu Picchu which is HUGE!

This is just the beginning of the wonder.

IMG_0461

airport LIMA>CUSCO

***

 

Epic Journey. Peru.Bolivia.Chile Preface

I’ve had a tab saved on my browser for 8 years now.  Its called “epic journey”, and its where I save all the links for information pertaining to this route I’ve been dreaming of doing for almost a decade.  Tomorrow I take off from New York City, for non-stop service to Lima to finally start the journey.  Originally it was fly into Lima, do Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, La Paz Bolivia, on through to Paraguay, and eventually fly home from Rio.  Epic indeed.  I’ve finally got the time to take a hack, but I’ve lopped off the Paraguay/Brazil portion due to the World Cup hoopla.  I have the usual pre-trip jitters that are unavoidable when leaving home and country for a month, but the underlying excitement for what this trek has in store is hard to hold back.  

Image

***

Well this just in as I’m writing.  Disturbing news.  You may have heard or will hear when you wake up that an M8.0 earthquake just struck off the coast of Chile.  And the tsunami warnings go up to Ecuador, which includes Lima, Peru.  

Shit.  

So far (as I sit with my ear glued to BBC News) it sounds like not very much damage has been done, and that although there are high waves; nothing cataclysmic. 

The area has been highly seismic for the past handful of months (I wonder if its connected to the recent LA quake), and I’ve been following for the past week or so.  More as a human interested in the Earth than thinking my vacation might be affected.  But here I am.  Hopefully this was “the big one” the earlier tremors has led up to, and hopefully the reports of minimal damage stay just so.  I suppose all I can do is go to sleep and hope when I wake up it hasn’t gotten worse.  

I don’t leave until tomorrow afternoon, but this journey is already proving epic.  

Image

 

***

Woke up, and grabbed my phone to check the news.  Seems like any danger of tsunami has passed Lima.  So although I’m uber aware of all the seismic activity in the Chilean area over the past hundred years, there isn’t any reason to abort.  My journeys won’t take me very close to the epicenter, but I’m thinking at least it’ll be a topic of conversation along the way.

***

Well after the weeks of anxiety and planning, one grabs their bag, walks downstairs and hails a cab.  The door slams shut, you say “JFK please, United.” and SWOOSH!  The air sucks in and the vacuum of adventure engulfs you.  It’s happening.  ITS HAPPENING!!!!  The floor drops out on any worry of everyday life.  The bags are packed, your ducks are in a row (you hope), the tickets are booked and now all one needs to do to march into the unknown is put one foot in front of the other.  The feeling I describe is not frightening, its the first ecstatic moment of the freedom that comes with travel.  Easily forgotten after the journey, but these first visceral reactions are striking, and glad I finally jot this down.  This is the first time in a while I’m venturing solo into the world with everything I need on my back.  I couldn’t be more happy.  It’s exhilarating, and liberating, and one of the most pure moments in the modern life.  The voyage begins.  Up, up and away.  Sink or swim.  Do it live.  

 

As my cab zips and honks down Houston street, I get giddy thinking I’ll be eating dinner in Lima, Peru tonight.

Image

 

Key West Revisited.

About 9 years ago, in another life I spent entirely too much time in Key West.  I think it was 7 months all told.  A telling detail would be that my favorite parts were evacuating for hurricanes.  And being that 2005 was the worst Atlantic Hurricane season on record, we got plenty of trips off the Rock.  Most of us lost our cars, watching from Ft. Lauderdale or somewhere while Katrina or Rita or Wilma or whoever torn into the Gulf.  The loss of our stuff didn’t help morale, but in general the crew was in a pretty bad place.  No one I still talk to has a high impression of the place.  I wasn’t single at the time, but those who were complain about the lack of attractive people to hit on that didn’t have leather skin and/or a parrot on their flabby shoulder.  My biggest beef was that there were no good beaches, no good waves, and after the hurricanes came through all the marine life was smashed so snorkeling and diving became pointless.  Luckily we only had one day off a week back then, but goddamn we got bored.  Oh, and the place stunk.  And no-see-ums are fucking annoying.  And we were right next to the airport and thats about it.  And….ok I’ll stop…

Image

*** 

*“The Rock” and “Alcatraz” both equal Key West in our survivors parlance.

Well almost a decade later I’m headed back.  Not truly by choice mind you, but I had a compelling meet up I needed to do and the best option happened to be Alcatraz.  I was very much excited about the meeting, but figured I would get in and out as quick as possible.  It seemed realistic that maybe 7 months was too much time on The Rock, but a quick trip should actually be fun.  Like Vegas or something.  I planned to land at noon on Monday, have the day on Tuesday, and fly out late afternoon on Wednesday.  48 hours.  I promised myself to keep a positive outlook.  How bad could it be.  

Image

***

I landed at noon, and went to go check in at my hotel, Pearls.  It was INCREDIBLY over priced, but I assume my last minute booking and Spring Break season left me gauged.  When the price goes back to normal it would be a nice little place to stay.  I couldn’t check in until 4PM so I figured I’d venture out and about for a bit.  The tropical sun felt amazing as I stepped off the porch.  The Southernmost Point is just 2 blocks (South Duval = one block) away from the hotel.  Figured I’d check out the landmark and see if I could get my bearings back.  When I got there, there were lines in both directions half a block long to get up to it and take your stupid selfie or whatever.  Those too lazy to walk and read were backed up in Trolley Tour traffic around the bend with a cacophony of tour guides spewing their “facts” over PA systems.  “From this very point we only 90 miles away from Cuba.  Guess what everybody…we’re 160 miles from Miami!”  “Oooo. Aww.”  Not a good start.  

 

I reminded myself how good the sun felt, and turned away that clusterfuck. Instead, I’ll just walk Duval to the other end. Grab a to-go beer and stroll around to see what has changed.  Yeah, that sounds nice.  I do have to say, I am a big fan of Key West’s lax (or nonexistent) open container laws.  Nothing better than walking bar to bar with a road soda on hand for the sidewalk.  At first it seemed ok, the southern part of Duval isn’t terrible to walk through.  La-Te-Da is still there (great restaurant/B&B), and a couple cozy bars are there that you can drink on the porch.  As I got closer to Truman street it started getting scary.  

 

Probably my three biggest pet peeves in life are:  

A.  Slow/non-spacially aware people on sidewalks

B.  Loud motorcycles

C.  Loud people in general

 

I could feel my anger rising as I shuffled behind slow moving herds of sunburnt 14 year girls dressed like hookers.  Pushed past idiotic frat dudes stumbling and yelling with their shirts off and captain’s hats (seriously is this a thing with the youth?).  Then a scary leather faced lady (or man? hard to tell at times) would pop out of nowhere and scar the shit out of me with her toothless cackle.  If I wasn’t ready to start doing the windmill down the sidewalk, I was cursing the pack of obnoxious wannabe Sons of Anarchy cruising down the street on their stupid, loud motorcycles.  I couldn’t handle it.  I was at an annoyance level equal to trying to get through the corners on Broadway and Spring.  I kept trying to remind myself how good the sun felt, and how blessed I was to be here, but jesus I was seeing red.  

 

In the end I put my head down, and powered back out of the mess toward my hotel.  Grabbed a six pack from the Circle K, and sat on the jetty at the Southernmost Beach (southern tip of Duval St.).  The beach and beachclub were filled with the same congress of idiots, but when I put my back to that, put in my headphones and cracked a beer it wasn’t all that bad.  Damn that sun feels nice.  

Image

Image

***

I went to bed early that night (combo of early flight, and day drinking on that pier).  The next day I woke up at dawn, and found out that I actually enjoy Key West.  I walked around in the morning light.  I checked out the Old Town neighborhoods.  The streets were quite, with the foliage shrouded bungalows packed in on every block.  Roosters hollered out every once in a while.  It was really nice.  Until the people started coming out.  Any the motorcycles started blaring around.  And the line at the coffee shop was 10 people long.  Time to retreat back to the Pearls.  It has a really nice little pool bar with a couple small pools and became my haven when the annoyance factor reached code red.  

 

Eventually the time came, and I met my friend for lunch.  We grabbed a beer to walk with, and eventually ended up at Blue Heaven.  Awesome place I remember from last time, but never actually ate there.  Its in the Bahama Village, and serves incredible Caribbean/Soul food.  The setting is like being in your Bahamian grandma’s back yard.  Yes filled with Cruise People in the day, but worth the wait.  

 

We rented some bikes, which was also actually fun.  On the southern edge of the island between Smathers Beach and the airport, there’s a nice stretch of road with only the Caribbean Sea laying out until forever.  Nice place to go for a quick cruise that doesn’t involve the blast and chug of Harley Davidson (for the most part).  It reminds me of what would be called a malecón in the spanish speaking world.  

 

Inevitably our time came to an end, and she had to get back on the cruise ship that she had arrived on.  Four hours on land, and back to the floating city.  The ship was docked near Mallory Square, so after it slowly churned out of the port, I stayed to watched the sunset from the famed spot.  Of course the square was chock full of all the tourists I’ve been avoiding, as well as street performers.  Call me a crotchety old man, but that shit sounds like an awful place to watch the sunset.  I grabbed beers, and walked back along the dock to nice my spot.  The sunset was pretty epic.  Ball of light slipping under the distant sheet of ocean.  Just before the sun went out of view a dolphin jumped up in the water in front of me.  Point Key West.

Image

Image

***

I didn’t have to be at the airport until 2PM so I took advantage of the morning to check out my only surviving highlight from my last time in Key West.  The cuban restaurant El Siboney is the shit.  Once I was shown it, I think it was a once a week kind of thing.  I remembered it being basically in someone’s house (at least feeling that way), but either my memory is off or they had an upgrade.  Either way inside, it’s still small and cozy.  I’ve dreamed of their grouper, and knew thats what I’d order before I even booked my ticket.  Rounded out with a cup of cuban espresso, and all was good.

Image

Image

Proper full and caffeinated, I simply spent the last couple hours walking around lost in thoughts and soaking up sun.  Avoiding Duval street like the plague.

 

I guess Key West isn’t that bad.

 

I’m sorry but I can’t even finish that thought.  Maybe 60 years ago Key West was a quirky outpost for artists and lunatics, but today any of that reckless freedom has been commercialized, packed up and sold to fat Americans.  I could have a similar experience at a suburban mall’s food court.  It does have the perk of being an island in the Caribbean.  The sun, seafood and relaxed lifestyle that come with this fact are available on The Rock, but for god-sake, THERE ARE SO MANY BETTER PLACES TO GO ON EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Sorry.  Key West still sucks.  

***

 

On a side note, I really like that Florida (at least in Key West and Tampa) they have outdoor areas you can go to while in the terminal.  It’s pretty nice to pass your layover by sitting in a rocking chair “outside” with a cocktail of your choice.  Dear other airports, do that.  

 

Image

My Humble Guide to Playa del Carmen

For some weird reason in the past couple weeks I’ve literally had 8 friends tell me they are going to Playa, and asked for advice.  I started typing this in an email to one of those lucky peeps but now figure I’d post it.  Haven’t had much time for creative thinking with the crazy work load, but hopefully this is helpful for someone.

 

***

 

Disclaimer: I haven’t been down to Playa in a couple years, but the main point I hope to convey is the general feeling of cool relaxation there.  Its one of those fantastic places that (thanks to tourism) combines friendly Mexican culture with the natural beauty of the Yucatan, and a dash of European chic.  First off, if you’re looking for an all-inclusive kind of thing, thats all you.  There are plentiful on the stretch of Rt. 307 between Cancun and Playa, and I’m sure they are fine.  You’re bound to get an easy-peezy cruise ship experience.  “Free” drinks and generic food at your beck and call, allow one to laze around the pool and gorge while getting no context of their arresting location.

 

 

Image

 

First step, book your hotel.  I strongly encourage staying near or on Avenida 5 (la Quinta) in downtown Playa.  Yes this is the tourist epicenter, and yes there will be tons of sunburnt white people with shitty cornrows by day, but usually by the time the cruise ships pull out it is more of a local, european, tropical party zone.  Sadly my favorite spot Basicó is now closed, but if you’re looking for a fancy hotel experience try out Deseo; part of the same design hotel group.  In all honesty, most of the times I’ve gone I just show up in town, and find which ever middle grade hotel has vacancy, and check in there.  For $50-$100 you’ll get a cozy bed, usually AC and often a pool/beach lounge access.  One of the places I’d like to crash is Hotel Kinbe.  My theory is always skimp on the hotel because I really only sleep there, but either way staying near la Quinta will position you in the heart of the nightlife, easy access to the beach, and close to the best restaurants.  I swear those fatties from the cruise ship will go away when their short time at port comes to an end.

http://www.hoteldeseo.com/

http://www.kinbe.com/

 

ImageImage
***
Next up transpo.  You’ll fly into Cancun, and assuming you’ll skip Cancun proper (although also awesome if you know what you’re looking for) you’ll need to travel the 40 minutes south to Playa.  Renting a car would be a great idea.  The 307 is a totally smooth, modern highway that covers you all the way from Cancun to Playa, then to Tulum and eventually the Belize border.  Having a car makes you freer to explore the region, but if you don’t want to do that there is plenty of tour companies and infrastructure in town to get you around.   (***If you do rent a car “Topes” means speed bumps, so if you see that sign SLOW DOWN)
If you want to remain car-less, a taxi will take 30-45 minutes from CUN and cost $60-$70.  Same as from my apartment to JFK so still not that big of a deal.  Probably best to have a decent idea of where you’re hotel is to help the driver find it, especially if it is one of those smaller businesses (or nutt up and just show up to find a place!).  You’ll be fine if you look at a map before hand.  Tell the driver to go to Playa and at least have a cross street to give him.  You can’t blame the driver if you ask him to take you to Hotel Azul or whatever and he doesn’t know how to get you door to door.  Its probably not a scam, its like you hoping in a cab at LAX and asking the driver to take you to Joe’s house.
Cheapest option is taking the bus.  There’s also a colectivo which will be a little van that takes a handful of people to whichever hotels they are staying at, but for some reason these annoy me.  If you like the SuperShuttle to the airport, grab a colectivo.  For me I’d rather take the bus.  ADO is comfy, air conditioned, cheap and direct.  For $7 you get straight from CUN to downtown Playa on La Quinta and Avenida Juarez.  If you’ve heeded my advice and are staying downtown it’s a pretty short walk down Avenida 5 to the center of town.  Don’t let the hawkers selling their wares bother you.  They are used to dumb cruisers.  Be friendly, but let them know you don’t want their shit (unless you do).  Maybe they have a recommendation for a dinner spot a “secret” beach nook, or can hook you up with a guy that has a boat to rent.
***
Alright you’re checked in, and ready to go.  Depending on your length of stay, and what you’re looking for, do this stuff.
Walk around.  Day one, check out your block, scan for the essentials.  For me it’s beer store, coffee shop and food option.  Take a bit to decompress, figure out your surroundings and ease into the lifestyle.  Head home, take a shower and get dressed in your finest Playa-wear.
Go to Diablito Cha Cha Cha.  Open air, and in the center for nightlife in Playa.  To this day I dream of the Brochetas de Robalo.  Possibly the best grilled sea bass I’ve ever had anywhere.
Image
Image
***
First night, enjoy the party in Playa.  If you start with dinner at Diablito you’re in prime locale to start the night.  My first night there my friend Aida told me there was a tradition to visit Las Siete Casas de La Playa.  The goal is seven joints in one night.  Pretty sure we made this “tradition” up, but I try to do it every time I’m back.  The circuit always starts with La Mezcalinna across the way from Diablito.  I had never heard of mezcal when I first went there in ’09, but now it seems the OG Mexican spirit is infiltrating into the US “artisanal” liquor scene.  It’s a good, loud “dive bar” to do some fruit infused shots of mezcal, and start the night wrong (in the best of ways).  After that you have a dozen beach bars and clubs bumping house music to drink, socialize and groove to on the same block.  Traditionally (according to us) you end at La Santanera.  Although my memory is usually hindered by alcoholic agave by-products by the time I get there, I can confidently say La Santanera is one of my favorite clubs on earth.  If you go to Playa, just check it out.  Hopefully it’s late night but either way if you make it, do a tequila shot in honor of Malverde.  If you’ve never heard of him he’s like the Robin Hood of Mexico, and my personal patron saint.  Also the same owner/vibe as Diablito Cha Cha Cha, aka campy perfection.
Image
Image
***
Next day you want breakie.  This is the spot “%100 Natural”.  Pronounced “Cien por ciento Nat-tu-ral”.  Yes its a chain, but goddamn it’s levitated me out of hungover terribleness on multiple occasions.  Chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, whatever.  All “na-tu-ral”.  This place bridges the gap for us US folks and traditional Mexican on breakfast.  Its on la Quinta and offers all sorts of healthy brunchy items as well as fresh juice and/or beers depending on you personal vision for the trip.  If you stay at Deseo its a couple blocks to the left.  A life saver for sure.
 Image
***
Ok so, this is the cross roads.  If your goal for vacation is to chilax, rinse and repeat; this is formula so you’re good.  If after a couple days you get sick of the Playa party stomping grounds, check out Cozumel.  La Isla famed by Beach Boys and Jacque Cousteau is just a ferry away.  This is just my experience, but unless you’ve rented a car and/or are a serious diver a quick glance at Cozumel is all it takes, honestly didn’t gain much for being in the main port.
Image
***
It’s easy to get out of town and see some sights from Playa. Just ask the front desk peeps at whatever hotel you choose.  I never knew how obsessed I was with Mayan ruins until I started seeing them.  Please see Chichen Itza and the Tulum ruins.  Wonder about the power of our indigenous people, and take in their massive edifices.  If Playa is too much of a bustling tourist destination, go to Puerto Morelos; just 20 minutes up the road.  If you have a car I’ll tell you how to get there.  Easy Money.  Moral of the story is, eventually get out of Playa and see some amazing spots.
Anyone who knows me will attest to my love and advocacy for Mexico.  Still think it’s the best country to visit, especially for us gringos up north.  The Yucatan/Riviera Maya has a special place in my heart, and I’ve spent some of my happiest moments in Playa del Carmen.
Enjoy your trip, wish I could come.
Image
Image
Image

Night People UNITE!

Bobby (name changed to preserve anonymity) has a secret.  Although it’s a secret shared by a large portion of the population, the shame is too great to admit out loud.  His family suspects the truth, but is happy to hold onto the idea that Bobby is “normal”.  Bobby does his best to appear like his friends and the rest of society, but keeping up the image is exhausting.  What he can’t express is that he is different.  The norms of everyday life that are accepted by the mainstream, don’t feel right for him.  He feels alone.  He wonders if there’s anyone like him out there.  Bobby is a Night Person.  On days off he sleeps past noon and if he wouldn’t be considered a freak he would be comfortable sleeping until 5PM.  Bobby has endured years of being called hurtful words like “lazy”, “narcoleptic”, and even “slacker” with a hard “R”.  Bobby is a pariah, whose natural tendencies are “wrong” to the rest of the world.  Until now.

I too suffer the stigma of being a Night Person.  I’m an ex-raver, which inherently requires all nighters.  My college job was the over-night shift at a hotel, and now I primarily work as part of the late night crew on reality TV shows.  I am perfectly comfortable with waking up at 4 in the afternoon, going for a run, working my shift and hitting the sack at 6AM.  I’m not even on drugs I swear, its just natural.  I think the time is right for us Night People to raise our fist proudly, and declare “Fuck 9AM!”.  In this post-agricultural, post-industrial, Internet society we are free to be awake whenever we want.  The time is now to take up our cause and fight for our rights.

Since the dawn of human kind and until very recently, we’ve depended on hunting, gathering, farming or going to a job as means of survival/making a living.  The “9 to 5” is an anachronistic relic from our past.  It may be one of the deepest ingrained since being awake in the day has seriously helped our success as a species. The time for that practice has passed.  Sleeping when predators are sleeping, getting up at dawn to take care of the crops, and by extension; heading to the office by 9AM don’t matter in the modern age.  The whole world isn’t quite there yet, but as a New York City resident, I can easily take care of any day-to-day business at any hour of my choosing.  And with the Internet, Night People all around the world have a tool to let their freak flag wave.  This idea will be very alien to a day-walker, but I have research (aka Google) to prove my point.

Most day-walkers will say, “Only being awake at night is bad for your health, silly”.  I’ll tell you what’s silly, waking up at dawn for no reason.  Actually a quick search through the interwebs finds many, many more references to the adverse affects of sunlight.  Page after page will teach you ways to avoid getting too much sun.  We have a whole industry of creams to protect us against the sun.  A Night Person ain’t worried ‘bout no sunscreen.  According to an article from health.usnews.com, a fair skinned person needs 10 minutes of direct sunlight to get the daily value needed that doesn’t come from food sources.  Plus if anyone lives “north of Atlanta” none of us get ANY vitamin D from the sun all winter long because “the sun never gets high enough in the sky for it’s ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere”.  What do you say now, day walkers? You got no vitamin D from your precious sun.  In your face!

Another argument for the norm is that lack of sunlight affects mood.  That’s a tough one to explain away.  Science says we have circadian rhythms and they naturally guide us to the daylight much like plants, which need sun to survive.  They say disrupting these rhythms lead to depression.  If these species wide rhythms exist and come from our place in nature, why are they considered so important?  Equality should extend to everyone’s circadian rhythms.  Humans don’t migrate seasonally to mate.  We don’t kill and eat the closest thing to us when hungry.  Plus, do you think a raccoon is chronically depressed because he happens to be nocturnal?  Here, I’ll have to break from “scientific findings” and use some empirical observations.  Night People march to the beat of their own circadian rhythms.  I’m happier on my schedule.  If the stigma were lifted from NOS (night owl syndrome) maybe the nocturnal leaning human won’t feel so ashamed of their snoozing.

One thing is certain; lack of sleep is terrible for the mental and physical state of a body, and this is exactly what is harming my people.  Every time a Night Person naturally stays up watching Hulu until 4AM and has to be at work at 9AM he or she is forced into an unhealthy lifestyle.  Forced into physical harm by the establishment!  The Man is keeping us down with shame tactics, and literally weakening our numbers with their old fashioned day time activities.   It’s time to break the shackles of the old guard sleep schedule.  Night People unite!  We must tell our stories.  We must show the world that our lifestyle might be different from theirs, but we are still human beings.  We must proudly do our laundry at 1AM and shop at the bodega for groceries in the wee hours of the morning without shame.  Hit the snooze button in solidarity Night People.  New York City is our promised land!  Let the revolution start here.  Equal sleeping rights FOR ALL!

studio city moon

A Week Ago I was in San Francisco

<Whew>  Was in Philly for a couple days for Jon and Jen’s wedding and turned out to a pretty heavy trip.  The weight of missed beginnings of love, families and ghosts of the past make my stomp through Midtown to the F Train a bit more weighed down with thoughts than usual.  I’m backed up on thoughts, so here goes a bit about the city I thought was the best a week ago.  San Francisco.

***

My month in SF was too short lived.  The immediate love for the grit and ornery nature remained, and with every passing day I found a new thing to obsess over.  One of SF’s nicknames is Fog City and as odd as it sounds, my favorite past-time became watching the fog roll in and out over the Twin Peaks hill.  You probably don’t believe me, but this is a thing that would happen always.  Constantly changing, and better every second.  A unique NorCal version of a sunset, everyday occurrence, but constantly changing and always impressive.  My humble abode at Fox Plaza in the lower Tenderloin had a fucking wood burning stove, so obviously I spent a lot of my free time at home, burning wood and watching fog (and catching up on Breaking Bad).  If you get a chance try it, its pretty dope.

Image

Image

Image

“How amazingly sublime it is to spend a night on the couch craft beer in hand, the fog drifting in and out through my window.  And a flickering fire in the fireplace.  My ode to San Francisco.”

***

I’ll cut to the good stuff; food.  To make a long, gluttonous, food stained story short, these are my favorite joints in San Fran.

My first moments on the ground and off of work, I was told to go to Swan’s.  There is always a line outside of Swan’s, and seemingly foodie/tourist types abound but it is a commitment one must make.  Anchor Steam on tap, counter bar service only, and when they run out of shit they are done.  Closed.  Thank you come again.  We were lucky enough to grab a couple stools, down a bunch of oysters, smoked salmon and a couple beers before work.

Image

I think the place that stuck out the most was Tommy’s Joynt.  On “Historic Rt 101” aka Van Ness St, this place remains a bastion of frontier food.  Its like a “joynt” you’d see on Rt 66, but still alive and well in the heart of a metropolis.  Cheap plates of gut busting fare are served up until last calling time, and my first night out Kelly dragged me out of the bar to go freshen up there.  The building itself stands out, and inside they have a raucous, Mom and Pop feeling grub line where they scoop out heaps of deliciousness for CHEAP!  The buffalo chili is my favorite (and at least 5 pounds an order).

Image

Image

During my incessant walking about I discovered a little place called Canto do Brasil.  Mexican (Taqueria Can-Cun), Chinese (Uhh SF Chinatown), and Middle Eastern food (I’m sworn to secrecy on this one place) spots always impressed and made sense in San Fran, but this little spot near Hayes Valley was a great little catch.  I walked past, ravenous on a Friday night, and they were packed so came back the next day for lunch.  Thank Deus.  Besides the awesome caipirinhas, the food was amazing, and I feel like a good Brazilian place is a rarity in any city I’ve been before.  We all have our clutch sushi, mexican, and thai, but damn I wish I had a clutch brazilian joint on Seamless.com.  Besides the barrage of appetizers, I got the feijoada and that shit was awesome.  Tudo bem.

Image

Image

***

A week later I find myself back in New York City after a brief stint back “home” to Philly.  San Fran was awesome, Philly is the best, and the show goes on.

“Tears well up in the corners of my eyes as my train pulls away from the jagged underbite skyline that retains the weight and familiarity of ‘home’.  Philly J’taime.”

San Francisco First Impression

I’ve been to San Fran for a family trip a million years ago, when I was 14 or 15, so Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Lombard St. check, check, check.  Happily work has brought me back to this bastion of maritime/transient history.  I had heard bad things from my comrades on the ground.  “San Fran is dirty”, “Get ready for homeless people shitting on your stoop”, “Bring a hoodie and a switchblade”.  As most of these folks were Los Angelenos, I brashly assumed “I’m a New Yorker, these pussies are getting a dose of reality”.  Welp, turns out SF is gnarly.  They weren’t kidding.  As an original Philadelphian, and relatively new New Yorker, I have to report that San Francisco has the balls and bite that we wish we had.  I’ve only been here a week, and staying in the Tenderloin.  These seedy blocks feel like an era long gone.  Obviously danger is bad, but at the same time it gives a city character.  My first walk from my hotel (Hotel Carlton, aka Hot Carl I’m told when the sign doesn’t work) to set as I dosey doe’d past a gaggle of junkies things got real when I saw a meth or horse junkie about to smash someone in the head with a sharpened hammer.  At this moment I embraced the realness. I can’t think of a block in NYC that I feel fear.  From LES to Jamaica, I figure if you stay cool nobodies gonna fuck with you.  I love the Tenderloin for the fact that I’m on my toes walking home.  Gentrification hasn’t whitewashed this world!  Thank God.  Cut to notes.

Hot Carl

photoX

10/01_San Francisco

San Fran retains a rough authenticity.  More Puck than Pedro.  Even to this day which is surprising and and refreshing.  NYC before Guilianni for better or worse.  Still true to its maritime roots.  In my brief experience, more diversity per block than any place I’ve ever been.  Blessed with the pungent Pacific air.  Tough town.  Murderous Homeless Zombies aside, Viva la Tenderloin.

Tenderloin

Also there are more tranny hookers on my block then I’ve ever seen in my life.

Can’t photograph the scene properly, but hysterical to walk past a group of scantily dressed amazons, only to hear their deep voices speaking spanish with a mexican accent.  They look like Serena Williams but sound like Antonio Banderas.  Needless to say, those dudes are hot.

photo

Notes from a Summer Tour Part 5: Munich, Germany. Last Stop

7/14_Munich

Arrived in Munich today.  Super weary.  Almost a month on the road now.  The intense work and my growingly annoying habit of enjoying the nightlife between longs bouts of shooting has me on fumes.  Some bullshit with lost bags and air travel began my time here, but spirits perked when we stopped at the Weihenstephan brewery and beirgarten.  Thanks to a snarl of traffic, our bus driver, Claus (who I ended up spending a lot of time with randomly over the next few days), had the foresight (and thirst I assume) to take a detour and stop at the abbey for lunch.  The monks set up shop here in 725 AD to be close to a miraculous water source (the natural fountain still bubbles away in a cave below the grounds).  Open since 1040 AD, Weihenstephan is the oldest continually producing brewery on earth.  Arriving at my first true Bavarian biergarten, I gorged on the usually brots and kraut, and of course had a liter.  The Kristallweisbier (unique filtered hefeweissen) was an amazingly refreshing and pretty beer.  Back on the bus, everyone is stuffed and exhausted, but we plod onward.  Excited for my first glimpses of Munich!

weihenstephan kristallweisbier weihenstephan garten

***

7/18_Gemütlichkeit

Munich is a nice change of pace.  The city is just plain pleasant, thoroughly driving home that I really enjoy Germany.  I learned here that Germany has been a contested and divided area for most of its history.  The country we know today is historically a bunch of regions cobbled together by outside forces, and each region retains its distinct culture and traditions.  Bavaria is a lot like Catalonia, North Ireland and Texas in the respect that the citizens identify more with being Bavarian than being German.  People really wear lederhosin here, and they have a distinctly different variation on the language that even my ignorant ears could detect.  Between our ever awesome tour director, Alex (a native of Bavaria), and the language barrier hindered chats with Claus, I learned a lot about the everyday life in this part of Germany.  Alex taught me the word used for the Bavarian fondness for the simple pleasures in life.  “Gemütlichkeit” is the state of being content, comfortable, relaxed.  I cracked myself internally thinking back to my initial shock going from Italy to German.  Turns out Germans have a decidedly less sexy sounding word for “La dolce vita”, but the sentiment is the same.  Here in Bavaria they definitely enjoy the good life,  say it with me :  ga-MOO-licksh-kite.

munich street

munich fountain

englesher park canal surfers

Beer is undeniably a staple down here.  Obviously being the home of Octoberfest adds a touristy element to the abundance of beer and biergartens, but many of the most recognized German breweries have existed here for centuries (Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Hofbrau, Hacker Pschorr to name a few).  Pretty much any down time we had, we spent at an amazing biergarten or bierhaus.  Yes, a lot were touristy, but all fantastic places to drink huge beers and socialize.  Obviously I’ve been to beer-gardens in the States that try to replicate the German standard, but the sheer immensity of these places in Munich caught me off guard.  Football field sized outdoor arenas for enjoying one brewery’s selection of brews.  My new BFF Claus told me early on that Augustiner was the best and preferred brew for locals so that was my go too, and on our last night we ventured out to the Augustiner Biergarten.  Of all the places we checked out the Augustiner is my favorite.  I had an attachment to the brand thanks to Claus, but this place stood out.  All bavarian biergartens seem to have the same elements; rows of outdoor picnic tables, cafeteria style food serving, and a constant flow of beer to be picked up from a kiosk.  The Augustiner took the cake.  It was packed with a sea of beer drinkers, seemingly bigger than the others (which is saying something because they are all huge), and not for nothing it was the first place I took an entire liter in one pull.  No standing ovation sadly…

hofbrau pano night out

augustiner sign

augustiner biergarten

augustiner brau

***

7/19_Back to NYC

It feels weird to be going home.  I’m exhausted, but as the last days ticked by I developed an urge to keep going.  Germany turned out so amazing that I find myself wishing I could keep exploring.  It feels like I’ve been gone a hefty chunk of time, not just a month.  Florence, Venice, Lido, Verona, Milan, Berlin, Munich.  Mostly work, but a lot of reflection and experience.  The people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, and self discovery I’ve contemplated add up to an unforgettable little journey. It’s as if I’ve grown so accustomed to life on tour that “homecoming” is weird.  It’s not the anonymous hotel rooms, shlepping bags of gear, long days of working/walking/seeing, but the oddity is the return to “normalcy”.  The added layer of weirdness at the moment is that through some lucky accident on my transfer in Amsterdam I was upgraded to first class.  I’ve never been and this shit is awesome!  I’m trying to pretend I’ve been here before, but every time the stewardess comes over and offers me something awesome (as I recline in my fucking massage chair of a seat!), I feel like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places.  The stewardesses are nice, they took my dinner ORDER, and they keep giving me champagne…for FREE!  I’m pretty sure I could go fly the plane for a bit if I asked.  “Flight attendants please take you seats…”, about to land back in New York.  Back to reality, stewing in my thoughts and memories.  The beauty of travel.

first class appetizer booyah

notes