Archive for August 12th, 2010

12th August
written by Ilana

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.

Me getting on the tiny plane

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.

Loving the jungle hut

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.

Massive Termite Nest. Good for the termites, sad for the trees

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.

Massive Tree. Watch out for the termites, tree!

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.

Leaf cutter ants. They carry those leaves all day and night.

Jumping Monkey!

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.

Bloom with his fish

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.

12th August
written by Ilana

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.

An indigenous boy on the edge of one of the many aquaducts that flow through the town

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.

Cobblestone alleyways, some of which are from Inca times, not as fun when you are lost at night

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.