Archive for August, 2010
It’s now been seven weeks backpacking through this meat-lovers paradise, tough going for a pair of Jews spoiled by home cooking and New York’s great vegetarian restaurants. Vegetarian cuisine in Peru and Bolivia is, like their economies, ‘developing.’ We were pleasantly surprised at the number of vegetarian restaurants in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco. In many of them we had a set menu consisting of a soup, a main, tea and possibly desert for $1.50-$5. Now it could be that South American vegetarian cuisine is relatively immature, or did the Spaniards run off with all the Inca’s seasoning as well as their gold… because all most all of our Andean meals were quite bland. The vegetables or grain soups would have been enlivened by adding almost anything. The mains usually consisted of rice, eggs and glisteningly oily fried vegetables. Most of the vegetarian restaurants rely heavily on eggs and cheese, so if you are travelling vegan, it might end up being the rice and oily vegetables for meal after meal. If you risk eating at a non-vegetarian restaurant, the vegetarian menu usually consists of pizza and spaghetti. I should mention that it wasn’t all bad news, we did enjoy a veggie version of a traditional Arequipa dish (at a restaurant called Lakshmivan), a large pepper stuffed with vegetables, tofu and chillies, as well as scrumptious burritos at the Hearts Café in Ollantaytambo.
When it comes to snacks there is more to get excited about. Street vendors roast potatoes over coals, although unfortunately for us, always together with chunks of meat. At night, bands of mobile popcorn makers roam the streets providing a cheap and delicious snack, available salty or sweet. One can also find puffed Quinua and other Andean grains, available in small bags or pressed with honey into a type of granola bar. In the right hostel you can find a breakfast of yoghurt, sweet puffed grains and fresh papaya and bananas – delicious. When it comes to fruit, we didn’t try as many exotic varieties as I would have liked, but we did enjoy a juicy cherimoya in La Paz.
On one occasion our diet was supplemented by some wild protein. On a jungle trip in the Bolivian Amazon we were fishing for piranhas using hand reels when I was luckily enough to drag in a fish around a foot long. After checking for fins and scales, we decided it would be a welcome addition to what were some otherwise meager jungle rations. I killed the fish, a first for me, using the most readily available means, the oar of our canoe, and the fish was cooked up for lunch the following day.
Civil unrest in Bolivia led us to fly early to northern Argentina, where we traded charming street markets for expensive, industrialized supermarkets where everything contained corn syrup, beef fat or both. The cattle industry is so enormous that the excess fat makes its way into bread, crackers and other baked goods. Additionally, in many places vegetarian food is nowhere to be found, indeed one should not be surprised to have one’s vegetarianism openly mocked. In this region we did a fair bit of self catering, utilizing our pot to make pasta and tomato sauce.
Upon reaching Buenos Aires, home to around 100,000 Jews and some of the world’s best kosher restaurants, we joined in the gluttony of the locals. An upmarket sushi chain has a kosher branch where we paid through the nose for a roll featuring mango, salmon and fried cheese, and another featuring citrus marinated salmon. At the Al Galope restaurant we enjoyed a traditional Argentinian parilla, meat grilled over a wood fire. The steak, sausages, sweetbreads, meatballs and tripe were brought to our table on a mini grill with its own coals to keep it warm. The leftovers lasted two lunches but the meal itself was well, too meaty. It was tough to go straight into that much plain roasted unseasoned meat.
Now I don’t think I have ever ingested a McDonald’s hamburger in my life, but if you are in Buenos Aires and for some reason there is a kosher McDonalds, why not? OK, I can think of many reasons why not, but we went for what would be a first time and last time experience. My frustration began when the worker took minute after gratification delaying minute to put together our already prepared meal. This is supposed to be fast food! Then I almost threw a fit trying desperately to open their tiny ketchup packets, which cannot be opened with greasy fingers. The bun was soggy and the meat bland – I’m assuming this is standard – not an experience I’ll miss. If I can give them credit for something is that their prices appeared to be the same as the non-kosher McDonald’s. And of course, the sight of a frum woman standing in the middle of a McDonald’s kitchen checking lettuce for bugs is priceless.
The culinary highlight of our trip is a restaurant in Buenos Aires called Asian. After trying a few albeit delicious options we realized their pineapple, soy and ginger marinated steak ($22) is quite simply the best thing we can ever remember eating. Quality kosher wine is served by the bottle only, but for only $13 a bottle there is no fear in erring on the plentiful side. It was very expensive by Argentinean standards, but with quality and service that shamed anything we had experienced in the US, even at top dollar New York kosher restaurants. Argentineans eat ridiculously late, restaurants are usually packed at around 11pm, such that when we came at 8pm we had the whole place ourselves. A great way to finish off the first continent in our round-the-world trip. Bring on Australia.
I rationally knew that in traveling for a year, I was bound to have difficult days or weeks, since over the course of a year there will obviously be better days than others, but when many problems came up, seemingly one after the other and then another, I fell apart.
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
Last Sunday was an amazing day. We flew from the jungle to La Paz, and met up with my mother there at her hotel—the Radisson. My mom and Amit decided to be nice and booked us a room at the Radisson as well, which was amazing, probably the best day of my life. There were carpeted rooms, hot showers, a pool, cable TV!! I couldn’t even believe how amazing it was to feel clean and not freezing.
My mom took us to dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was amazing, but sadly I had horrible altitude sickness yet again, and could not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. At one point I got up from the table to go to the bathroom, and as I turned to flush the toilet, I saw something on my lower back. Oh no. Oh my God, it was definitely a tick. Well, maybe this is why I haven’t been feeling well! Altitude sickness plus a tick sucking my blood for days. Ok, well, I need to be strong here. I turned around and pulled it out with my hand. Ewwww. I was disgusted and proud of myself for being such a badass and pulling a tick out of my own body with my hands. I looked at it. Yup, it was a tick. I thought about bringing it back to the table to show my mom and Bloom and then decided against it and flushed it down the toilet instead.
So, even in luxury I was still a dirty backpacker with ticks. Ugh, it was probably from that day when they made us walk around the unkempt backyard! Ew. I was so grossed out, that I couldn’t sit in the restaurant anymore and went back to the room to console myself with cable tv. It was good consolation.
My mom left on Monday morning, and that is when the week from hell began. We had to leave the Radisson and go back to our backpacker hostel life. We actually found a hostel with cable TV, which was awesome because I was getting sicker by the day, and was too weak to even leave the bed. The altitude sickness was hitting me badly once again, but I also had some sort of flu on top of it. I spent Monday and Tuesday sitting in bed in the hostel in La Paz, sick as a dog, but at least there was the TV and internet to keep me entertained.
I felt like such a loser. I was in Bolivia, and all I could do was watch 90210 reruns? What a waste! I felt guilty about wasting our Bolivia time.
Our original plan had been to go to southern Bolivia, do a tour of the salt flats, and then move on to Argentina. However, it turns out that many of the southern Bolivian roads are blocked because of a strike, and many tourists have been trapped for weeks in different parts of Bolivia.
We decided that it was not worth it for us to try to break through a foreign strike, and we would just have to skip southern Bolivia and escape via plane to Argentina. I felt like I was no longer a badass, because a real backpacker badass would take some sort of 26 hour bus over crazy roads to try to get through the strike, but alas, we have a 90th birthday part to get to, and I’ll be damned if some Bolivian strikers try to stop us!
Fine, so we flew to Salta, Argentina on Wednesday only to discover that every double room with a private bathroom in the whole city was booked for the entire weekend, and I was still sick, possibly getting worse. I was shocked when I had enough strength to drag myself onto our flight, and I had resigned myself to spending the next few weeks on the floor of the La Paz airport bathroom.
We settled on a room without a bathroom, which looked like a prison cell. The floors were concrete and had dirt stains on them, and there was no window. We figured we would go to a nice hotel for my birthday on Friday, but the nice hotels were also all booked. Even our prison cell was booked for the weekend. Were we going to spend my birthday sleeping on the street? Bloom spent much of Thursday morning going from hostel to hostel to hotel trying to find any available room, bathroom or not, and after many hours finally found one in some random hostel, as I lay in bed, STILL sick and spiraling into despair.
I had falsely believed that as soon as we arrived in Argentina, life would get easier. Everything would be nicer. It was certainly more expensive, so we figured there would be hot showers or better communication or something, but there was not. I also thought Salta was going to be a cute, small town, but it was a relatively big city and it was freezing and a bit gray. Most of the cool stuff in the Salta area requires a day trip to reach, and on Thursday I was still too sick to do anything, so it was another wasted day for us.
We figured that by Friday I would be better, and booked a day trip tour to a small town called Cafayate. The tour was going to be in English and it would be chilled out, stopping at look out points and some wineries. I figured this would be a festive way to spend my birthday. I imagined being with a tour group, in some beautiful winery, where everyone would toast to my birthday and it would be awesome. That would get me out of this funk. And everything was fine, we had a tour, we had a hostel for Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday we were leaving Salta to move on to Iguazu, so it would all be fine, I told myself.
Friday morning, I woke up and was still feeling very sick, but it was early in the morning, so I figured I was just tired, and anyway, it was too late to cancel the tour. We got on the mini tour bus and the guide began speaking in Spanish. He spoke for about 5 minutes straight in Spanish, the crowd eating it up, laughing, joking with him, etc. He then looked at us and said “this is a tobacco field.”
Seriously? Bloom and I gave each other a look. There was no way he was translating everything for us. Everyone else on the bus spoke Spanish. Oh well. I was too tired and sick to even get angry anymore. I just stared out the window and tried not to cough and sneeze over the other passengers. We got out of the bus a few times, but I could hardly move. I was freezing and my whole body hurt from being sick. Eventually, we got out at a winery where a woman gathered up our group and another group, and started giving a tour in Spanish
I looked around and saw the tour guide from the other group standing with 5 people from his group, speaking to them in English. “I will walk you through it and speak to you in English so you can understand,” I heard him say to them.
What! Where was our tour guide? Why couldn’t he do this for us too? Bloom went and found our tour guide standing by the bus hanging out with the salami salesman. Bloom asked him if he wouldn’t mind translating the tour for us. In fact, he did mind. He did not want to translate for us, but eventually Bloom convinced him.
We followed the tour guide through the winery where he pointed at things and said “this is where they store wine.” “This is a barrel.” Wow, this guy was really helpful. “Now you go to that room for tastings,” he said, and pointed us to a very crowded room where people were pushing toward the front to get their wine.
Bloom and I stood in the back, and then saw the other English speakers and their guide. “Let’s follow them,” I said loudly. One of them turned around and heard us, and I told him we spoke English and were going to follow them. He smiled and seemed nice about it, but all of a sudden, their small group of 5 had formed a circle, their backs towards us, clearly excluding us from their wine drinking. Their guide handed them each a glass and told them about smelling wine, how to drink it, etc. as Bloom and I watched from outside the circle.
I looked around the room. Everyone was talking and laughing and drinking and I was standing there feeling like a complete moron. I was with Bloom, but everyone was ignoring us. I felt so lonely in that room full of people, and after many days of sickness and arguing with hostels and travel plans gone awry, I was beginning to crack. I could feel it happening and I tried to stop myself, but the tears were slowly tricking down my face. I tried to take a deep breath and let it all go, but I couldn’t.
I imagined myself in NY. What would I be doing today? Maybe I would’ve gone out with some friends, and most likely Bloom and I would be having a big Shabbos dinner in honor of my birthday. Instead I was somewhere in Northwestern Argentina, surrounded by unfriendly strangers, freezing, sick, homeless, jobless, the spiraling had begun and I couldn’t stop it. And I’m 28. 28! What am I doing with my life??
It was time to get back on the bus to head into the town. I stopped the crying and got a hold of myself. It would be worse if these people saw me breaking down. We got to Cafayate, which was a cute enough place, and Bloom and I went to a café that had wireless so I was able to check my email on the iphone, which cheered me up. Ok, I figured, there are people who remember me, and acknowledged my birthday and want to interact with me. I was feeling a little better. I ordered some of their famous wine gelato. I had the chance to speak to my mom and Amit, and even Shani, so I was happy. There was some beautiful scenery, and I had wine gelato, and friends in other hemispheres. I would be ok.
We got back to Salta 10 minutes before Shabbos started. When we arrived at the hostel they told us “no.” It turns out they did not have a room for us. Oh dear God, come on! “Reservado!” We kept yelling. After a few minutes they sent us across the street to a different hostel, which was more expensive, but did not have wifi in the room (I know I sound like a wench with this wifi obsession, but it is the only link we have with the outside world, and I miss that world), and more importantly did not have a kitchen. They gave us our room key and we opened the door to a room with twin beds. I went downstairs and told the man we needed “matrimonial,” which is a room with a double bed, and I explained that we had reserved that at the other hostel. He did not speak or understand a word I said, other than matrimonial, and he kept shaking his head at me and saying no. I started crying, again. This seemed to freak him out, and he made a phone call and gave us a new room.
I was exhausted from all the crying and the arguing and the sadness. Was this what long term travel was all about? Fighting with people from different cultures? Going from place to place only to stay in crappy cold accommodations and go on tours you can’t understand?
We took a break from our hellish week, and went to the chabad shul, where they asked Bloom to be the chazzan. I was not looking forward to Shabbat at chabad, since our Shabbat at chabad in Cuzco had been like spending the weekend at an awkward Israeli summer camp surrounded by cliquey Israelis who, when hearing that Bloom and I were not true born Israelis, literally walked away from us and changed seats, leaving us to sit by ourselves in a room of 200 people. I didn’t think I could take that again.
Luckily, the rabbi and his wife in Salta are awesome. The rabbi was out of town, but his wife invited us and two other Israeli couples over to her house for dinner and for lunch the next day. It was really nice being in a real home and eating real food. The other Israeli couples were also friendly to us, and the wife was beyond welcoming. A group of 4 Israeli girls also joined us later in the evening, and one of them mentioned that she was having a great week, especially since today was her birthday, and her friends bought her a fleece that said “I spent my 23rd birthday in South America” in Hebrew on it. “Did you want me to make you a birthday fleece too?” Bloom whispered to me. I am 90, I thought to myself, a made to order fleece may not be appropriate anymore. The Rabbis wife then brought out a cake for both of us, and everyone sang “Hayom yom huledet.” I loved this woman. Why was she so nice and awesome? And, she was not a mashiach-ist, and gave a dvar Torah about Torah, not just Chabad. My birthday was turning around, and I was feeling better.
Saturday and Sunday were pleasant. Salta was growing on us, but we were still ready to move on to possibly bigger and better things. On Sunday we had a 23 hour bus to Puerto Iguazu. Our bus tickets were very expensive, but we had heard rumors that Argentinian busses were incredible, and that it was well worth our time and money to take the bus.
THE 23 HOUR BUS TO IGUAZU
The bus arrived late. After a few minutes of driving I realized that I was freezing. Everyone around us was bundled up in coats and scarves, also freezing. I felt the vents and there was cold air blasting out of them. Really? There was a French couple behind us who spoke Spanish, so after a few hours one of them eventually went to complain to the man sitting next to the bus driver. The guy came back and shrugged his shoulders. What was this?? Also, why were there no movies? Why had this been so expensive? In Peru we took an 11 hour bus. It had heat, movies, food, wifi, and outlets. Why do people brag about Argentinean busses? This was awful and more expensive than Peru.
The French girl decided to give it a try herself and went to complain. She came back freaking out and ranting like crazy. I loved this girl. She was my angry soulmate. She knew some English and explained to me that the driver’s partner had told her that for some reason the bus didn’t pick up any of the food, or the blankets or the movies. We would need to hold out until 3 am when we would possibly be able to find some food.
Now I went crazy too. I decided to go talk to the guy. I spoke in English and he angrily responded in Spanish. The other people on the bus told me that there would be food at 8 (we had been on the bus since 3). No, I tried to tell them, there was a rumor that there was no food at all. Good, just what I had hoped. The entire bus was wup in arms and freaking out. The revolution had begun.
I sat back down and started thinking about everything over the past week. Why was everything so difficult? Why was everyday another fight? It seemed like we were spending tons of money on terrible crap. Why did it cost $25 to stay in a prison cell? Why did it cost almost $100 to take a messed up, freezing bus? Was this what we had saved all our money for? Was this why I no longer had the job I worked so hard to get? What was the meaning in all of this?
This was my real breaking point.
I thought I had broken down before, but everything just came crashing down at this point. I had hoped that this bus would be a turning point, the end of the horrible week, but no, things were still going wrong. I felt trapped. Trapped on the bus, trapped in South America, trapped in travel. I had been terrified of traveling for a year and leaving everything but Bloom behind, but I had also believed that eventually I would get the hang of it, that I would love it like everyone else, that it would change me, that it would be meaningful.
That was what hit me the most. Where was the meaning in my life? I was very lucky in NY. I found my job meaningful. It was difficult, and I was often stressed out, but I believed in what I was doing, I stood behind it, and last year was my best year of teaching, I felt like I had so much more to learn and so much more to teach, but now I was no longer teaching, and I had no idea if I would even get that job back. I had given it up for travel, for long busses, for constant miscommunications, for being dirty, for feeling lost and homeless. What was meaningful about this? Who was I helping? What was I learning? Where was my community? Was this a year of self-indulgence?
I cried for a while, letting myself ask all of those terrible questions, and stared out the window. Bloom tried to cheer me up. He read to me from my Chelsea Handler book. He tried to make me laugh. I should note here, that the one thing that I do appreciate and love about this year is getting to spend all of this time with Bloom, but I was still asking all of the previous questions about meaning and worth.
After a few hours and a stop at a gas station (the revolution had succeeded and we had forced the bus to stop) where I ate frozen pizzas and cheetos (my stomach needs to be pumped ASAP), I finally fell asleep. I woke up the next morning and spent more time staring out the window and thinking. I was feeling better. It was then that I remembered learning that when you first start meditating you need to be aware of all of the pain that you feel. You are supposed to embrace the pain, be aware of it, and then move on. Only after you experience the pain and the anger, can you let it go and eventually meditate for real.
Maybe that’s what this was. Maybe I needed to let go of everything. I needed to allow myself to get sad and angry in order to get past it. And maybe I also needed to get rid of all of the comforts in my life to move past them. Maybe I needed to get rid of job security, our apartment, our possessions other than a little bit of clothes and a lot of pepto-bismol in a backpack, in order to learn something about who I am.
I also realize that we need to organize at least two months of volunteering where I can feel like I am doing something for the world, instead of just taking. I have also learned that I like slow travel, small towns, jungles, trekking and cafes. Would I have known that without being in South America for almost two months? Probably, but this is just the beginning. I am learning to live in the moment, and overcome adversity, and for that I am proud of myself.
I know that I might sound like a whiner, but traveling long term can be hard, and these small difficulties sometimes build up and punch you in the proverbial face. It’s also an especially difficult time for me, since I know the school year is about to begin. Without me. I’m scared of the unknown, and this is a fear I am being forced to face on a daily basis, so just have some ruchmanus on me, and try not to judge me too harshly. I’m using this blog as a means for honestly conveying how I feel about this trip, and this is me, being honest.
When we got to Iguazu, it was the official end of our hell week. Iguazu was unbelievable. Bloom will write a post about it when we get to Buenos Aires tomorrow. I am refusing to write anymore posts until he writes one, because I know he will describe Iguazu much better than I ever could.
And now I am about to get on a 17 hour bus to Buenos Aires. I have no expectations, but I know that no matter what happens, it will be fine, I will make it through, and I will be ok.
We got to the office at 8:45 for our pampas tour, after buying out the French bakery just in case we were in for another fat camp situation. At the office, we found two Australian girls from Byron Bay, but no one who worked there. The Australians told us the tour is now leaving at 9:30. Ugh, what is with this country? Why was everything always late? Oh well. This gave us time to go to the bank, and buy food for Shabbos that we would store at the hostel.
I sat with the Australian girls and I was actually having a good time with them. We’ve met people on the road, but it’s hard to meet people who we click with. It happened a few times, but then those people were traveling on a different schedule than ours, and we never saw them again, so I was really excited about doing the pampas with funny interesting girls.
At 9:30 they told us it was time to get in the jeeps for a 3 hour ride to reach the boats. They put us in a Toyota sedan. “This is not a jeep,” I said. The tour person laughed. Okaaay, I guess we’re getting in this car. The Australians also got in the car, but were then pulled out and replaced with a local woman carrying boxes of eggs and her 3 year old child. I did not like where this was headed. Was our tour group going to be us and this woman, child and eggs?? I told the tour people that we wanted to move cars to be in the real Jeep where they had put the Australian girls. They told me no, but I didn’t listen and went into the real Jeep anyway, when a woman begged me to get out. Fine. I will go in the small sedan, I told them, but we paid for an English tour guide and you need to make sure we are in an English speaking group. They told me of course, English, of course. I didn’t trust them at all, and was starting to believe I would have a Spanish speaking guide. I was also really disappointed to be pulled away from people I was actually able to talk to. I got in the sedan and cried, because I’m on emotional overload on this trip, as the woman shoved a French couple into the car. This was way too many people for a sedan. It was boiling out, and my mom rolled down her window as we drove off.
The road was not paved and was all dirt and gravel, so as we drove we inhaled dirt. I couldn’t stop coughing, but my mom pointed out that it was too hot to have the windows up. True. A lose-lose. The French guy, who had said nothing to us yet, finally spoke to tell my mom to close the window because the child was cold. She grumbled about it, but did as she was told. Later we stopped the car, and the child peed out the door. This child was controlling all our moves. He was a tiny dictator, and I loved him because I thought it was hilarious that he called all the shots, and because he was super cute, and not physically accosting me like those hooligans in Ollantaytambo.
We got out to eat lunch at a restaurant called, no joke, “El Shaday.” Amazing. They served us vegetarian food, which was rice and some olives. Eww. Good thing we bought out the French bakery. We started talking to the French couple to discover that they were in medical school together and had been doing medical internships in Arequipa, Peru. They had come to the jungle with a member of their Peruvian host family. They paid for his trip as a thank you gift for his hospitality. We did not see any Peruvian guy with them. Weird. They explained that for some reason the tour company had put their friend in a different group, and had separated them. Whaaaaat. Turns out the Peruvian guy was in the English speaking group with the Australian girls. I tried to tell one of the guides that we should switch with the Peruvian guy, but they would not have it. What a nightmare. The French people also explained that they were not a couple. The girl had an Australian boyfriend, and she wanted Bloom to tell her prices of flights from France to Australia. They also told us that their flight to the jungle town had been cancelled so they had to take a bus, which in the end had taken 30 hours and had no bathroom, so a woman had crapped in the aisle when the bus wouldn’t let her out.
Our lives were looking extraordinary next to theirs. We were all in a group together, and we had not been on a 30 hour bus filled with human feces. Life was good, I guess.
The other group eventually got to the restaurant, so I sat down to talk to the Australian girls some more. I explained that Bloom and I were going to Australia in a few weeks for Bloom’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. We were all talking about grandparents birthday parties, and guest lists, when I said, “well, I’m pretty excited because one of Bloom’s grandmother’s friends coming to the party was a tattoo artist at Auschwitz!”
That killed it. Any chance of friendship I had with these girls was gone with the word Auschwitz. They stared at me, shocked. Oh no. I had forgotten that I was not dealing with Jews, and that anything to do with Auschwitz is not for polite company. But seriously, I think it’s cool that this guy did the tattoos at Auschwitz. Or maybe not cool, but absolutely fascinating.
After a few moments of atrociously awkward silence, Bloom said, “well not a tattoo artist.” “What else do you call the person who did tattoos?” I said. The girls were still staring, and I felt like a moron. Why am I so stupid?? Why did I always have to bring up the Holocaust?? This is why I have no backpacker friends! I tried to change the subject, and eventually walked away mortified. Oh well, that one was my fault. Lesson learned. No mention of the Holocaust to people who are not Jewish, or maybe even to anyone other than Bloom and my mom.
We eventually got to the boats where chaos ensued. They started putting people on the boats, but they told us that we did not belong on any of them, we would be on a different boat leaving later. My mom flipped out at this. “We are only here for two days, we want to leave now, and we want to be with an English speaking group!” she yelled, and I backed her up, yelling similar things.
Everyone was staring at us. Some guy came up to us and said with an American accent “you can’t just go on your own boat when you want to go, you aren’t on a private tour.” Who was this moron? Why was he getting involved? “We just want to make sure we’re in an English speaking group, so if you want to get involved, you can use your Spanish to explain that to him.” He walked away, and I half expected to see him pull out a guitar and start playing John Mayer songs to the Australian girls. That’s the type of guy he was. The worst!
A guy came up to us and told us he was our guide, and the rest of the group was on their way. When we saw that the rest of the group was a Spanish speaking couple and their two pre-teen kids, we were not thrilled. “This is a Spanish speaking group!” we yelled. “I SPEAK ENGLISH!” The guide yelled back. FINE. We got in the boat, only to realize that there were not enough seats for everyone in this dysfunctional group. The French guy was nice about it and sat on the floor of the boat, while everyone else sat on what looked like broken lawn-chairs from someone’s 1986 backyard. It was a weird motorized canoe with attached broken lawn-chairs. This was so weird.
Whatever. The boat started and we saw many caiman. They were everywhere, so that was cool, and I tried to resist making Captain Hook references. We also saw capybara (aka ginormous guinea pig, aka largest rodent in the world) and some monkeys.
A little bit into the boat ride, one of the Spanish speaking tweens passed me a baby turtle. What the hell was this? Why was she handing me a turtle? Our idiot guide had taken a baby turtle out of the water to show us. This cannot be right, or good for the turtle. He then pulled over the boat to show us a bunch of monkeys in a tree. They were jumping happily, making monkey noises, when all of a sudden they started screeching and yelling and biting each other.
It turns out our guide had thrown the monkeys food, and it made them go absolutely insane. Ugh. I was appalled. How could this guy be a guide? Every idiot knows you shouldn’t feed wild animals. We watched the monkeys’ civil war, and soon a bold, smart monkey stopped fighting the others and turned to his source of food: our boat. With a crazed look in his eyes, the monkey jumped onto the boat, practically landing in Bloom’s lap. AHHH! The guide jerked the boat with the motor, scaring the monkey, who jumped back onto land. Crap. This guy was a nutcase.
“Any questions?” the guide asked. Those were the first two words he had spoken to us. No one said anything, so I said “Yeah. Don’t feed the animals!” I was not making a friend here. The family giggled. Watching the guide create a monkey war was traumatic and I didn’t feel like this guy would keep me safe from being eaten by a caiman, or even from a monkey.
A few hours later, we arrived at the lodge, which was an absolute pit, and saw that the other, English speaking groups were already there eating popcorn. Hooray! Popcorn! I sat with the Australians, since I had decided I would just act like the Auschwitz comment hadn’t happened, and try again. Idiot John Mayer told me that this was their assigned group table for the trip. What was wrong with this guy? I looked around and saw an empty table with no popcorn on it. Was he trying to tell me I had to sit there? Fine, when Bloom and my mom walked in, I left John Mayer and we sat at the popcorn-less table trying to plan our next move.
Eventually popcorn arrived at the table and all was right in the world, except that our guide had disappeared and had not told us where to put our stuff or where we were sleeping. A Bolivian guy sat down at our table wearing a hat that said “UCSB Grandpa” on it, and, assuming he worked there, my mom started asking him where we would sleep, and why was this place so crazy and disorganized, and why was there no communication?? UCSB Grandpa just stared at us blankly and shrugged. “Great. Just great.” my mom said. Later we realized that Grandpa was just a guy on the tour, who was of course also placed in the English speaking group. My mom and I felt terrible. We had yelled at the guy a few times. Oy. Maybe we are racists? I hope not. Does writing about it make it better, since I’m willing to admit my wrong? Maybe?
We eventually tracked down our guide and he brought us to a tiny room crowded with beds, almost touching each other. The beds away from the door had all been taken. “The family!” I whispered angrily, fist in the air. They had taken all the “good” beds (honestly, they were all bad, but some were better than others). There weren’t even enough beds for us!
My mom lost it. “I am 50 years old! You better give me a bed!” The guide looked at one of the beds and took someone’s bag off the bed, and told us we could use that bed as one of ours. We didn’t want to make anymore enemies, so we decided this was a bad move. After much fighting, beds were arranged for us, and we waited for our dinner of rice and olives.
After dinner we went out for a night boat ride, which was amazing, since the stars were perfectly clear, and you could see all of the caimans eyes, which reflect the light to look like they’re glowing in the dark. After the ride we looked for the guide, who had disappeared, this time we did not find him, so we had no idea what time to wake up the next day or what the plan was.
At 6 AM the next morning the guide banged on our door saying, “sunrise 10 minutes.” We watched the sunrise, which was cool and came back for breakfast, where they insisted we sit with our group. The family did not look pleased about this development. They brought out some toast, pancakes and fried donut things. There was enough given to our table for everyone to have one of everything, which was not nearly enough for Bloom’s morning carbo-load, and we had run out of our snacks.
There was a table behind us set for only 4 people, but they had enough food for 10, so I told Bloom to ask them if they would give him some food. In classic Oliver Twist style, Bloom went up to the table, which had a young couple and an older couple, and said something like “please, sir, may I have some more?” They looked at his skinny body, saw his pants falling off, thought about it and said “no.”
Bloom came back to our table telling us that the older couple had denied his request. Are they insane??? I asked/yelled. Fine, I will go to the kitchen and ask for more. I was strongly denied with a loud “NO.” I went back to the table and asked Bloom about the older couple who refused to share. We had heard them speaking English the previous night. Were they British? American? “No,” Bloom said, “they’re Germans.”
Of course this news made me go ballistic, and I forgot my pact with myself from the day before about not thinking/talking about the Holocaust. I went on quite a rant that I will not include here.
“Ilana, stop it, you’re being crazy,” my mom told me. Both Bloom and my mom agreed that I was a lunatic, and ignored me. Bloom waited until the Germans got up, and then ate their leftovers, which they of course did not finish.
After our embarrassing morning with the Germans we were told that we were no longer in a group with the Spanish speaking family and were moving to another group. Fine, whatever, this place was nuts, just put us on a boat.
We got on a new boat and sat in the front seats. The new guide came out, followed by the German couple and the younger couple and told us to move to the back. No way, man. I was not moving to the back of the boat for some Germans who couldn’t give a starving Jew some bread. We were being yelled at everywhere we went. Move groups, move beds, move to the back of the boat… We had had it. We said we were not moving to the back.
The new guide freaked out. “This is my group! You are not my group! You sit in the back!” My mom and I both went crazier than ever. “WE HAVE NO GROUP!” we yelled back. “Don’t mistreat us!”
We apologized to the Germans for making a scene, and tried to explain how this whole trip had been chaos for us, but they just stared at us. Eventually we gave in and moved to the back, so the Germans could sit in front. We spent the day with them, and their Spanish speaking guide, not understanding what was going on. We got off the boat, and walked around in something they called a jungle, but what looked like a very unkempt Skokie backyard. I realized why it was so unkempt when the guide pulled out a machete and gratuitously hacked away at the small trees. What was wrong with these guides?
We walked in the unkempt yard for about an hour, and then got back on the boat to look for dolphins, which was fine. On the dolphin searching ride, the Germans kept loudly insisting that the boat was being slowed down today because of the extra people (us), and that they had to speed things up because they had a flight to catch at 5:40 that evening. I couldn’t believe he was complaining about us weighing the boat down, repeatedly, in front of us!
We got back to the lodge for lunch—more rice, but this time someone had put some of the chicken sauce on it, so we really couldn’t eat it. Even if we had wanted the rice, there was not enough for us, since other people had already eaten most of it. My mom asked if there was other rice, and the Germans, looking afraid we might eat/contaminate their food, said “this is our food, I’m sure someone will bring you other food.”
These Germans were actually out of control mean and crazy.
FINALLY we were told it was time to go back to the town, and that we would take the boat to the jeep that would drive us back. The Germans had insisted that they needed their own boat that moved quicker, so we had been moved to another boat, yet again, this time with dreadlocked, smoking backpackers.
After a very long two days, we got back to town and our hostel, which now seemed like luxury since it was not crowded with beds. Bloom went to take the laundry before Shabbos and ran into the Germans, which is weird, because it was around the time of their alleged flight…
My mom flew to La Paz the next day to be safe, since her flight was on Monday morning, and these flights are notoriously late, sometimes by many days. She came to our hostel room right before her flight to tell us that she had seen the Germans at the “airport” earlier this morning and had called them out. “Hi! I am so surprised to see you here!” she had said to them. She told us that they just muttered something and walked away.
What did they have to gain by lying about a flight? What was wrong with these people? We never did quite figure it out.
On Sunday we had the luxury of flying from Cuzco to La Paz, Bolivia, and then from La Paz to the jungle town of Rurrenabaque. Since we were with my mom, we were moving as quickly as possible, so she could see as much in her two weeks with us, and we wanted to get in as much jungle exploration before Shabbos, so it worked out well to fly. The plane to Rurrenabaque fit 18 people and had propellers. It was a 35 minute flight, and we could see the pilots flying the plane, which was weird, since we repeatedly watched them take sips of Fanta as they flew the plane, which made my mother nervous.
We landed into a very rainy day, and needed to book a hostel and a jungle trip for the next day. We spent the next few hours looking at different hostels, which I would then reject, and trying to avoid puddles and speeding motorcyclists. I felt like goldilocks. The first hostel stunk. We had stayed in a stinky hostel before, and it is terrible. It seems that in some hostel bathrooms the toilet doesn’t really flush or something, because the bathroom and the entire room smell like an elephant’s cage at the zoo. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not into sleeping in an elephant’s cage. The next hostel looked just as crap as the first, but it was more expensive. I figured that I shouldn’t pay more for another crappy room, maybe I should just go back and sleep in the elephant cage and stop being such a wench about things. The next hostel was fully booked. The next hostel seemed alright, and by then I was exhausted and gave in to whatever sleeping arrangements I could find.
Now we had to find a tour.
We decided to go with madidi-travel. They have an eco-lodge in the jungle, and they said they cared about conservation and the animals, and supporting local people. It was expensive, but we decided that we wanted to go with a responsible/ethical group, and the guy trying to sell us the trip was Australian, so that definitely helped, and he spoke exactly like Bloom’s Australian friend Feiber, which amused us. Being sold tours by Spanish speakers who couldn’t answer our questions was a tough sell. So fine, we were going with Fake-Feiber and his madidi-travel to the jungle for a 3 day tour leaving the next day. We asked Fake-Feiber to advise us on a pampas tour for two days that we could do after the jungle and he told us to go with Dolphin Tours. We were too tired at that point to really do research on the matter, so we went to Dolphin and booked a 2 day pampas tour (more like a safari tour than a jungle excursion), and we were set for the week. We also booked a hotel for Wed. night, Friday night and Saturday night. Good.
We got to the madidi office at 10:30 AM, the time they had told us to meet there, and were told that no one else was in our group, so we would have a private tour. Great! When do we leave?
An hour and a half and a new guide later, we were told that we were finally leaving, and that we should get on the boat for a 3 hour ride to the jungle lodge. FINALLY. We went out back and got on what appeared to be a large motorized canoe. At around 1, they gave us packed lunches that consisted of a mini pizza (delicious) and a brownie (pesadic?). This was turning out alright. The boat ride was pleasant, and we had snacks, the day was looking up.
We arrived in the jungle and walked for a half hour to our cabins. The cabins were awesome. Much nicer than any of our hostels by a long shot. The cabins had screens over all the walls so you felt like you were sitting in the jungle, and the bed had a mosquito net, which I loved. I am seriously considering putting a mosquito net over my bed in NY. It’s great. It’s romantic, like a canopy bed, and you know you’re safe from bugs! Amazing!
We met our guide, Hilda, back at the “casa grande” aka the main lodge where you eat and can sit in hammocks, and went out on one of the lakes in a canoe. We saw big birds, which I liked and caimans, which freaked me out, but were cool. We returned to the casa grande for dinner at 7:30 only to find no dinner. By this point I was starving and longing for more of that pizza or even the pesadic brownie. They did offer us some fried plantain chips, which I tried not to devour too quickly in front of the other guests who were waiting for dinner with us. At around 9 they told us dinner was ready, and we sat down, starving at this point and ready for a big meal. A woman came around and put plates in front of people. My mom and I looked at her plate. It literally had one piece of cauliflower, 2 small green beans, 2 small carrots and small serving of rice. “Is this a joke?” my mom asked me. I looked around. No, this wasn’t a joke. This was our dinner after a day in the jungle and a small lunch 8 hours earlier. “This is fat camp.” I announced, and even my mom agreed that yes, this was indeed a jungle fat camp.
We were sitting across from a young German couple, who were lovely people, but I was still convinced the guy’s name was Klaus, since he spoke like a Nazi. You may ask, but doesn’t every German speak like a Nazi to you? Well, kind of. But, not really. Although young Germans are of course not Nazis, they are the ones who sound like Nazis because in movies Nazis are of course young men and not old men who are more likely the real live Nazis.
Anyway, it turns our Klaus was allergic to fish, so I immediately agreed to trade my one cauliflower for his tiny fish. The Australian girl who worked at the lodge (Fake Feiber’s girlfriend), was not too keen on my idea of making a trade. “You’re a vegetarian,” she told me. “Yeah, but it’s complicated, and I want his fish and he wants this meal…” “But he didn’t sign up for it,” Crazypants insisted. Ugh. We ignored Crazypants and switched our meals. I loved Klaus.
I started eating the fish and realized maybe I didn’t love Klaus. This fish sucked and was all bones. That’s probably part of the fat camp mentality. Make the fat campers work for their fish by putting bones in every bite. I understood their game.
We got to talking to Klaus and partner. They told us they had been on their jungle trip and were leaving the next day. They were not having a good time. They told us they had been lied to about group size and they were never fed, and their guide didn’t speak English. Uh oh. This was not a good sign. “They are not organized. We need things to be organized,” Klaus said. DUH. You’re German. We KNOW you’re into being organized! Your records of the Holocaust fill museums, you organized lunatics! I kept that in my head, obviously.
Bloom realized that Fraulein wasn’t eating her rice, so asked her for it. She was a normal human being, so she let him eat the rice. Poor Bloom. If anyone does not need fat camp, it’s him. If you know Bloom, you know that to maintain his figure, and not become a skeleton, he needs to eat kilos of rice and/or bread at every meal. He will disagree with me on this, but I watch him eat, and it’s true. He needs to carbo-load as if he’s running a marathon every day, and if he doesn’t his pants fall off. I’m pretty sure that Bloom ate 8-9 bananas and 6 granola bars the next day to supplement his fat camp diet.
The Germans told us that they had come from a pampas tour with Dolphin, and it had been amazing. “Much better than this. More organized. More animals,” Klaus said. Good. We were all relieved. If these organized Germans liked the pampas so would we.
That night we went on a night hike in the jungle, which scared the hell out of me, because it’s pitch black and all you hear are the animals, probably smelling you and thinking of eating you. We heard crazy howler monkeys that sounded like the wind in a horror movie. Terrifying.
The next day we did a jungle walk for many hours. It was cool and I enjoyed looking at the trees and bugs for the first hour, but then I got bored, probably because I have an attention disorder. When I told my mom I was bored and that she should have had me tested for an attention disorder as a child, she told me I was ridiculous. “You never took my attention problems seriously.” “That’s because you don’t have an attention problem.” That settled that.
Whatever, I was bored and this was supposed to be a quiet hike so we could hear the animals, so, in keeping with my heritage I decided to go over our budget in my head. I started thinking of how many Bolivianos we had already spent, plus the cost of hostels…that equals…Uh oh. That was when I realized that I don’t know my multiples of 7, and $1=7 Bolivianos. Good. This would keep me busy. I spent the next 30 minutes trying to re-memorize the multiples of 7. When I finished, I told my mom and Bloom my accomplishment of re-memorizing the multiples of 7. “This is supposed to be a quiet walk,” Bloom whispered. “Wait, you really didn’t remember the multiples of 7?” My mom asked. “I told you that you should’ve tested me! It’s probably because of my attention issues!” My mom rolled her eyes. “Look at the trees!” She said. “Hevanti et ha’ra’ayon” I said, which is an Amit line meaning—I get the idea, I don’t need to see anymore.
Luckily, as I was starting to figure out if I remembered the multiples of 8, our guide stopped in the middle of the path and whispered “capuuchino monkeys.” I loved this guide, primarily because he smiled and whispered a lot, which was adorable. He would often stop and then point at something and whisper it’s name very seriously. He motioned for us to crouch down and we did. He pointed at a tree and we heard all sort of rustling noises and then saw little monkeys all over the tree. And then, one by one the monkeys jumped from one tree into a smaller bush. It was awesome. There were about 70 monkeys. They kept coming and jumping, and each time it looked like they would fall to the ground, but they usually made it to the next branch. I was no longer thinking of multiplication.
We then went back on another canoe into another lake, this time to go piranha fishing. Hevanti et ha’ra’ayon quickly with this activity, but the boat was nice and relaxing, so I was ok with it. My mom was really getting competitive about catching a fish, but she caught none. Bloom and I both seemed disinterested, and I’m pretty sure Bloom was sleeping when all of a sudden he had something on his line. He pulled at it and instead of a tiny piranha it was a massive fish! It was a foot long or so. He somehow managed to get it in the boat. “Jungel Salmon.” The guide proclaimed. It had fins and scales and was some form of salmon, so we would be able to eat it. Hooray! This was close to my dream of killing my own food, except Bloom was the one killing it. This also meant we would have something to supplement our fat camp diet! This day was turning out alright! The fish was in the boat now, thrashing around, looking like it would jump back at any moment. “You must kill it,” the guide told Bloom, and handed him an oar. Now, things were getting crazy. What was Bloom supposed to do with the oar? The guide motioned to Bloom that he had to smash it over the head to kill it completely. Oh my god. We then watched Bloom repeatedly smash the fish over the head with the wooden oar. This was awesome. I felt bad for the fish, but if I eat fish I should be able to witness it being pounded to death with an oar. I wish I would’ve caught it on video.
Instead of supplementing our fat camp diet with the fish, the fat camp used the fish and served it to us for lunch the next day. Cheap move, fat camp. We have to fish for our own food? We of course had to fight with Crazypants to even get her to serve us the fish. “Why would fake-Feiber date this crazypants??” I kept asking Bloom. Fake-Feiber had been so nice to us, and Crazypants was so, well….crazypants! She hated us, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe she heard me call the lodge an expensive jungle fat camp where nothing is on time. That might be it.
Before we left, we went on one more long jungle walk. As we were walking the guide stopped and whispered “jungel peeg.” He had been talking about this jungle pig for days, and I wasn’t too excited about it. What’s exciting about seeing a pig? As I was thinking this, we heard very loud thrashing and snorting. The guide took my head in his hands and put it at the right angle so I could see a group of very very large and scary warthogs grunting and gnawing at things.
Oh dear God. I thought. These were not jungle pigs. These were jungle terrifying hogs. All of a sudden they started running, getting louder and louder, and we could see them flying through the air. I am going to die here. My leg will be gnawed off be a damn “jungel peeg.” My mom and Bloom thought this was awesome, but I was about to pee in my pants. The guide tried to bring us a little closer. I refused. But they pushed me along. “They only eat the small ones, the children,” the guide said. Great. How will a warthog know I’m not a child? “Don’t worry,”
the guide said, “I will make noise of predator of peeg, scare away.” The guide then grunted a few times. I was going to be saved by a snorting Bolivian man? I was terrified the rest of the morning, and was not happy when the guide and my mom hid behind a tree and snorted at me to scare me. It worked.
I was happy to leave the jungle, even though overall it was a good time. When we returned to the office we told fake-Feiber that we were frustrated by the fat camp nature of the place and that everything was always hours late. Every day. He was very understanding and nice about it. I wanted to ask him about Crazypants, but decided against it. My mom was going to complain to him about Crazypants, but we all decided we would just leave it alone, and move on to our next trip.
My mom had joined us on our trip with two goals in mind: 1. to do a multi-day trek and 2. to spend time in the Amazon jungle. With the first goal accomplished, we set off to Bolivia to accomplish goal #2, but before we left for the jungle, we spent Shabbos in a small Peruvian town.
Shabbat in Ollantaytambo
We finished the Inca Trail on a Friday, and did not have enough time to get back to Cuzco before Shabbos started, so instead we stayed in a small village called Ollantaytambo between Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Bloom took an early train to make sure he would have a few hours there before Shabbos started, and my mom and I had decided to take a later train so we could spend more time at Machu Picchu. Sadly, this was a bad choice. After we reached Machu Pichu at 6:30 AM or so, and had a guided tour until 10, we were Machu Picchued out. We left Machu Picchu early and were stuck waiting around for our later train, trying not to fall asleep on public benches.
Our train got in about ten minutes before Shabbos, so now we just had to get to the hotel. We walked from the train station to the center and thought maybe Bloom would be there to show us where the hotel was, but there was no sign of him. We knew Bloom had planned on pre-paying for our Shabbos meals at a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, so we went there. The man didn’t really know English, but understood enough to say “from Chicago? Cheecago Bulls!” and then pointed us in what he said was the direction of the hotel.
My mom and I walked and walked and walked, and found no hotel. This was a very small town, and as we looked around us we realized we were probably out of the town by now. There weren’t so many buildings or people. Finally we saw two girls walking sheep on leashes. This was a very weird thing to see, but I couldn’t even appreciate it, because I was exhausted and dirty from the 4 days of trekking, and it was dark and we were apparently very lost. “Donde esta el Apu Lodge?” I tried. They looked confused and pointed in the other direction. I looked at the sheep for help, but they too looked confused.
Finally, after going down dark alleys and asking anyone we could find if they knew of this Apu Lodge, an old lady who had been sitting in what was possibly her restaurant, or maybe her kitchen, led us to the darkest alley and told us to walk down it. I was freaking out. Where the hell was Bloom? If he knew this place was unfindable why had he not found us first and led us there? Had he never found the hotel? Maybe he was also lost! At this point we decided to turn back and go to the center and sit in the restaurant and hopefully Bloom would eventually come look for us. It was too dark and scary.
We turned around and saw a skinny guy in a white shirt walking toward us quickly. It was Bloom. He had tried to find us but had just missed us at each point. We turned and walked back down the dark alley, only to be accosted by a gang who pretended to shoot us. I guess I should mention that the gang consisted of four 5 year old boys, but I have no patience for annoying children, and a gang of rowdy kids is a gang of rowdy kids, yeah so they’re 5? So what? My mom played with them and pretended to shoot them back. Finally one of them dared to touch me in my psychotic, exhausted state, I turned to face all of them and, using my best self-defense voice, yelled “NO!” They finally seemed to get it, and ran away. The next morning my mom went for a walk and came back to tell me that she had met the gang in the alley again and this time they had spit all over her clothes. She was pretty annoyed. Vilde Chayas. This is why you need to be strict with children.
In the end, the Apu Lodge was an awesome place. They had a real bed, not just a foam skinny mattress on a slab of wood, and a good breakfast, and they did our laundry. We ate the best vegetarian food of the trip, since almost every meal we’ve eaten has been rice, mixed with an egg and awkward French fries, which sounds better than it is. Overall, even with getting lost and our run in with a gang of children, it was a great shabbos.
We have not been able to update for a while because 1. we have been crazy busy and 2. the wireless on the tiny thai computer is broken, but we finally fixed it today when we bought a USB wireless card in La Paz, where we are now.
Since I last wrote, we went to Cuzco early to make sure I would have time to get over any potential altitude sickness. We spent tisha b’av there, and sadly Bloom was sick for a few days, so we spent a lot of time sitting around and drinking tea.
When Bloom was feeling better we went on a one day white water rafting trip. There were 35 people on the trip and we all had to split ourselves into boats of 6. Some Israelis spotted us and, thinking we were Israeli, asked us to join their boat. It ended up being Bloom and me, an Israeli guy around our age and his father, and a lone Israeli woman, also around our age, who was a bit of a lost sad sack. The woman was terrified of the boat, and throughout the day asked Bloom questions about kashrut. I was scared that being with Israelis would mean crazy recklessness, but they were really chilled out about everything. It was actually the Germans who we had to look out for (I should’ve known). The Germans, who by the way were rowing in perfect unison of course, repeatedly came up behind our boat just to splash us. “First the Holocaust, now this!” I said. The Israelis made a face, but then one of them said, “obviously if we splashed them back it would be reported that Israelis are violent.” “Obviously.” I agreed. Overall a good day.
THE INCA TRAIL
And now onto the Inca Trail. After the disastrous canyon trek I was pretty sure that I would not make it out of the Inca Trail alive, or that possibly I would need to be airlifted out by a helicopter after realizing that my legs could no longer function. Luckily, this did not happen. I was very proud that I trekked for 4 days and made it to Machu Picchu at the end. Since this was already a few weeks ago, and because I love writing lists, I will make a list of the highlights of the Inca Trail:
- We only had five people in our hiking group, and since my mom joined us for this part of our trip, the whole group was my mom, Bloom, me and two others. The two others were twins from northwest Canada who were celebrating their 26th birthday on the trek. They were the perfect travel companions. They didn’t try to race through the trek and the male twin told us many different stories about working on oil rigs and killing his own animals and going to rodeos. At one point I felt like maybe I should be killing my own animals. “I’m becoming a shochet,” I announced at dinner on the first day of the trek, “I want to kill my own meat! If I’m going to eat an animal, I should be able to kill it!” I was really into this idea. I’m very easily swayed. “You would never do that,” my mom insisted. She’s probably right. So, all in all I really liked our trekking group and was inspired to become a shochet.
- I only cried once. This might not sound like a highlight, but come on, four days straight of trekking, mostly straight uphill and straight downhill and over crazy “stairs” that were more like giant boulders that I needed to climb up and down than stairs, and I only freaked out once. I thought I would freak out on the notoriously impossible day 2 of the trek, but actually I dominated day 2. Day 2 is hours and hours of uphill until you reach the top of a very high mountain. You then spend the next few hours climbing down said high mountain. I rocked that, but sadly my mom had altitude sickness (so that’s where I get it). Day 3 was what killed me.
No one talks about day 3 being difficult. I had no expectation of it destroying me, but it did. It turns out that my body is better at going uphill than downhill, and my knees are not in the best shape. The third day had a few hours of uphill, but many hours of downhill, climbing down these massive rocks. Luckily, I had hiking poles, which helped me out, since after a few hours of downhill I could no longer move my legs, and relied completely on my arm strength and used the poles to drag my body down the trail. After a few hours of using the poles, I started freaking out. My whole body hurt, I was moving so slowly, and worst of all, I know I looked like a complete moron dragging my body by poles, but hey, I was getting an awesome full body workout. My mom and Bloom were trying to cheer me on, and I put on a positive face for the Canadians. They were super tough about things, and had never met Jews before, so I felt obligated not to whine too much in front of them. But as soon as they had passed me and I realized I could turn off my or l’goyim, the whining began. “Everyone is passing me! This is too hard! I just want some popcorn!” The thing is, the Inca Trail had God-awful vegetarian food, but when we got to the camp after the full day of hiking there would always be popcorn for us, and I love popcorn, so I was disappointed that I was moving so slowly toward snack time. The tears started when an approximately 70 year old German man passed me. “Why is he trying to show off? Why does he need to be in my face? He’s trying to brag!” For some reason the German threw me over the edge. I made many comments about the Germans always needing to show the world how awesome they are, and haven’t we seen enough?? Etc. I really try to feel normal toward Germans, but it’s very difficult. I was raised by a man who told my Holocaust bedtime stories, I have survivor grandparents, and I was always obsessed with Holocaust literature. All of this makes it hard for me to not think of the Holocaust whenever I hear a German accent. At one point in the trek a woman behind me said “shnell!” and I froze. “Isn’t shnell a Holocaust word?” I asked my mom. She told me that it’s just a word, and Bloom mentioned that these people weren’t even Germans they were Dutch. Still. “Shnell?!” Come on.
- We saw a giant condor flying above us when we reached the highest point. I don’t really think I need to elaborate on that.
- The scenery was ridiculous. I never saw anything like it. We went from these snow covered Andean peaks into a cloud forest/jungle.
- I used the most disgusting bathrooms I have ever seen, and I survived. I wouldn’t call a crap covered hole in ground a “bathroom” per se, but I used it, and I figured it was good prep for India.
- On the last day of the trek we were one of the first groups allowed onto the trail. We had around an hour to reach the Sun Gate and see the sunrise over Machu Piccu, and there were many groups of fast paced Brits behind us. We decided we didn’t want to be passed by all the Brits, and instead we would have a power hour. We would walk as quickly as possible in the dark (it was 5:30 AM), and we would reach the sun gate for sunrise. It was insane. I was practically jogging to keep up with all the giants in my group, and jumping over the ginormous rocks. When we had been jogging for a half hour or so we turned a corner and saw a wall of stairs. ARE YOU SERIOUS? My mom put her poles down and used her arms and legs to literally climb the wall.
After I made it over the wall and then to the sun gate, I could barely breathe. I felt like I had run a marathon, but I had made it, and I was happy.