Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kunming, China

First of all, China is insane. I've been here for 3 days and I have so many just incredible stories that I will share when I get back.

For the first 2 days we were here, after our absolutely epic plane ride of 2.5 days, we stayed in Tunghai, which is a town about 2 hours away from Kunming, where I am right now. While we were there, adjusting to the time difference (13 hours) and having our orientation, we got a little taste of chinese culture, visited some confucian and taoist monastaries (the few that werent destroyed in the cultural revolution of 1949), and relaxed a little bit. Yesterday we drove back to Kunming and had our first night with our host families. To say that the culture shock of coming from Bua, Ecuador to Kunming, China was jawdropping would be an understatement. Let's put it this way: In Bua, I had to walk a mile through the jungle to get to a phone, in Kunming, we have a ping pong table, a small Koi Pond, a gigantic flat screen television, and a beautiful top story view of Kunming. You really can't get much different than that.

My host family is incredibly nice and does not stop piling food onto my plate, which I am totally fine with. The food here has been outstanding. In China, they purposefully make/order more food than any human could possibly consume, so Zach, Noah, and I make it our duty to try and prove them wrong. Chances are I will come out of this country morbidly obese.

My host father is the dean of history at Yunnan University, where we are taking chinese lessons, and my host mother is a botany professor (and an unbelievable cook). My host brother is 16 and goes to school nearby. His english is not very good, but hopefully by being around me he can make it a lot better. My host father speaks no english and my host mother speaks a little. We have started taking chinese but it is perhaps the most difficult language in the history of the world to speak, I literally cant pronounce 98% of what they are teaching me, but we'll see how it goes.

I start teaching my first english class tomorrow, so I have to go prep for that before I go to bed, which should be interesting. I am teaching two classes tomorrow with a girl on the trip, Alexandra Duncan. We are going to try to explain the idea of Halloween to them, which could be kind of difficult. If that fails, we are just going to break out our photos and show them pictures of our families.

I also picked up a number of bootleg DVDs today. If you want me to send you back some, just let me know, for the high quality bootlegs it's like $20 for every episode of every season of one show. I'm thinking about buying every episode of The Wire and watching them back-to-back-to-back at some point.

I'll probably be updating regularly here, because internet is easy to come by (I'm sitting in my bed at my homestay house typing this right now). If I get lazy though and don't update, send me an email to remind me.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Machu Picchu/Peru

We got into Cuzco on zero hours of sleep, after pulling an all nighter in the Lima airport (which was actually really fun, tried out a peruvian cigar, watched Train Spotting with Zach and Noah). We checked into our hostel at about 9 in the morning, then went to a briefing about our trek to Machu Picchu at a place near by. After drinking a lot of Coca tea (which is probably the best drink ever invented) we walked around the city for a while, taking in the sights and checking out the sweet market places strewn around the winding, undulating city streets. We had some food, packed our bags, watched a little of the pats win on monday night football, and went to sleep.
The next morning we woke up at around 5:30, had some breakfast, and took a 1.5 hr bus ride to the start of the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. The first day of hiking wasnt very eventful, it was about 11 KM of hiking and was not that challenging, not too steep or anything. I carried about a 25 lb pack with all my clothes, my camera, my ipod, etc. etc. for the trip, which was damn heavy enough, but it was just amazing what our porters could do, carrying twice that much and going twice as fast, these guys were amazing. After we got to our camp site and changed into some cleaner clothes we had a pickup soccer game against the porters with the 6 guys from our group, which was awesome. The porters and our guide absolutely dominated our pathetic equipo de gringos, but it was really fun playing soccer in the middle of a gigantic valley at about 10,000 ft. That night, the stars were just ridiculous, you could see uncountable numbers of them and you could distinctly make out the milky way. I went to sleep very early, bundled up in all sorts of layers.
We woke up the next morning at 6 and started hiking at around 7:30 to start the hardest day of the hike, up to Dead Woman´s Pass. Which was at about 13,700ft. It took me about 3 and a little bit hours to make it up to the pass, but unfortunetly it was raining and we were in the middle of a cloud, so the visibility was poor. The last 500 ft or so up were ridiculously hard, not only because they were so steep but also because it was almost impossible to breath right at the altitude. If you want a more detailed accounting of the basic trail go to which gives a really good outline of the whole trek. After making it to the pass, a couple of minutes after John and Liz, I started the descent down the other side in the rain. The way was pretty long and slippery and I rolled my ankle pretty bad on the way down. I got into camp at a little before noon, so it was a short day, but really hard.
The next day, yesterday, was definitely my favorite of the hike. I have to note now that throught the trip I have been taking significant advantage of the Peruvian tradition of chewing Coca leaves. It is an aquired taste but the effect it gives you is like caffiene but less jittery, more focused, helps with altitude, and keeps you very focused. Needless to say, there was seldom a time on the trail when I didnt have a fat wad of Coca in my mouth. Anyway, the next day there were two passes, but neither of them were at long or as hard as Dead Woman´s. On the first ascent I got ahead of the group and forgot to stop at a small incan ruins we were supposed to wait at. While I missed the ruins, I got the pass about 30-40 minutes ahead of the group and was able to explore around the pass and take pictures of people as they came up the steep pass. We then went down into a valley and then back up to another pass. Zach, Noah, and I got out in front of the group again and walked together over some of the most beautiful trail in the world, up to the second pass. After we had lunch at the top of the second pass, we started a long downhill to our final campsite. I gotta say, the downhill may have been worse than the uphill that day, 4,000 knee-punishing stairs. At the very end of the day though we got to a really sweet inca sight called Intipata where we hung out for a while before heading into the campsite.
This morning we woke up at 3:50 to head to Machu Picchu. We left at 4:20 and watched the sunrise at a pretty sweet incan ruin called Winaywayna, then headed out on the trail to Machu Picchu. Zach and I were so excited we practically ran the 4 or so kilometers to Intiunku, or the sun gate in Quechua. The view of Machu Pichu and Wayna Pichu from the sun gate is just dramatic, you finish a decent sized uphill (and if you are like zach and I you are booking it), and you turn the corner and you see these massive ruins sprawled out below you, it was magnificent. After getting to the Sun Gate, we decended as a group into the city of Machu Picchu, along the side of Machu Picchu the mountain. Machu Picchu is pretty incredible, and it is hard to describe very well all of the city, but we stayed there a couple hours, took a tour with our awesome guide, Reuben, and I journaled and sketched my surroundings for about an hour or so. We then took the bus down to Aguas Calientes, where I am now waiting to take the train back to Cuzco and a hot shower.
Tomorrow our flight leaves for Lima at 7:55 AM and we begin our epic journey which ends in Kunming, China on October 27th. I´ll probably be able to access email pretty easily once im there, so hopefully ill post again soon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sorry I havent posted in a while, I was planning on writing as soon as a got to Quito but I was/am pretty damn sick. Hopefully it will clear up by tomorrow though.
Our last couple days in Bua were awesome. One of my best friends on the trip, and my roommate for the last month had his 19th birthday 2 days before we left and we had a huge celebration. The party was a blast. We had about an hour long dance party and then had really good fish and copious portions of the infamous "log" of plantain. Then, as is their tradition, we whipped Zach with a belt 19 times, which was just a classic moment, seeing these consersvative Tsa'chila men and women take a belt to my friend.
The last night there was really fun as well, we had a really cool going away party at night at the school, full of dancing and, you guessed it, more log and fish.
We are in Quito right now and I am just hanging out in the hostel, resting my stomach while the rest of the group goes out to dinner. I'm going to try and put some photos up on facebook and send a couple to my parents to send to everyone else.
P.S. I now have some pretty gnarly facial hair

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I´m in an internet Cafe in Sua, Ecuador right now. Yesterday we took about a five hour bus ride from Bua to Sua which is a pretty small town on the coast of Ecuador. We are just chilling on the beach for the moment, getting a little break from a hard weeks work in Bua. The six ecological toilets are almost finished at the school and we are starting to move onto other projects around the community. Yesterday I helped start to build another ecological toilets near the house of a large Tsa´chila family. We are also going to be digging a well or two before we leave.
The other day I went to another Tsa´chila community called Poste to see how to dig a well using their method so that we could do one in Bua. The guys there were really chill and they gave us this stuff called Mali which is a fruit (or something) that you put on your skin. It goes on clear, but the next day it turns up a bluish black and stays that way for about a week or so. A lot of the Tsa´chila put it in rings all around their body and face but I just opted to put some on my wrists.
I found a daily pickup soccer game as well which has been really fun, 35 year old ecuadorian dudes are damn good. I played in goal for both games, we won the first time and lost the second time, it´s wicked fun, i hope they let me keep coming back.
I´m going to try to figure out how to post some photos on here at some point, but if i dont work it out, ask my parents for pics or go on facebook and check out the albums if u can.