We first locked eyes in northern Peru. I was a wanderer, a traveler, free to kick my feet on the dusty streets of the market. He was behind bars, desolate and longing for the freedom that I simply took for granted.
And then, just days later, I found myself roaming the majestic hilltop of Kuelap, home to the ancient Chachapoya, or ‘cloud-people’, who resisted the bloodthirsty Inca for centuries. There, at the foot of their crumbling circular dwellings, lay tiny tunnels where the Chachapoya kept his ancestors enslaved below their beds.
Then, at last, we embraced. A friend and I were famished from a hike to a secluded waterfall, and took shelter in plastic chairs on the dirt floor of a small restaurant. It was the grandmotherly owner/chef/waitress who tossed him onto our table. He landed gracefully.
He was more beautiful than I had expected, but also smaller and slimmer, more rat than cat. I gently caressed his back for a few moments — but he, knowing his fate and that of millennia of his ancestors in these mountains, swiftly tap-danced his way to the edge of the table. The señora threw a weathered hand over his loin and returned our friend to the kitchen.
That evening saw the end of our Peruvian affair. I’d like to think I was motivated more by history than hunger. After all, without the Eurasian staples of chicken, cow, and pig, what other domesticated sources of protein did the pre-Colombian Andes have? It fell to this petite creature (with the help of llamas and alpacas) to feed entire civilizations from modern-day Chile to Colombia. So who was I to reject savoring a piece of history, fried with a side of cheesy potatoes?
Maybe I should have. Bland and bony, it’s hard to picture him providing much pleasure or protein to the Incan legions who conquered the Andes and then defended them against the Spanish. I liked him better alive.
Postscript: We met again on the streets of Bogotá, Colombia. I, to my credit, was less cruel this time. I gambled 1,000 pesos that he would enter the purple box. He entered the red one.
2012: Six months in Colombia and five months backpacking through South America.
How does one sum a year abroad?
I threw it all into one big list when I got back from Asia. Here it goes with South America.
PLACES VISITED: 67
Los Angeles -> Bogotá -> Cali -> Tumaco -> Medellin -> Rionegro -> Florencia -> Caquetá countryside -> Tuluá -> Buenaventura -> Golfo Tortugas -> Cartagena -> Villa de Leyva -> Santa Marta -> Tayrona -> San Gil -> Bogotá -> Quito -> Canoa -> Montañita -> Guayaquil -> Máncora -> Zorritos -> Chiclayo -> Chachapoyas -> Kuelap -> Gocta/San Pablo -> Trujillo -> Huanchaco -> Lima -> Ica -> Huacachina -> Nazca -> Andahuaylas -> Pacucha -> Pampachiri -> Bosque de Piedras -> Abancay -> Cuzco -> Aguas Calientes -> Machu Picchu -> Puno -> Lake Titicaca -> Arequipa -> Arica -> Iquique -> San Pedro de Atacama -> La Serena -> Santiago -> Valparaiso -> Viña del Mar -> El Yeco -> Buenos Aires -> Bariloche -> El Bolsón -> Lago Puelo -> Mendoza -> Maipu -> Mina Clavere -> Nono -> Córdoba -> Puerto Iguazu -> Iguazu Falls -> Rosario -> Colonia -> Montevideo -> Punta del Este -> La Barra -> Piriapolis -> Montevideo -> Los Angeles.
NATIONALITIES MET: 39
Colombian Venezuelan Filipino German Austrian French Australian American Canadian Peruvian Ecuadorian Chilean Belgian Danish Dutch English Scottish Finnish Italian Spanish Croatian Bosnian Irish Icelandic Mexican Japanese Argentinian Brazilian [Basque] [Quebecois] Uruguayan Paraguayan Portuguese Swiss Ukrainian Israeli Malaysian Costa Rican Chinese
Mountains: 13 different parts of the Andes.
Beaches: 19 (20 if you include an Argentinian river beach)
Things lost/stolen/magically vanished:
Frisbee. Camera. Swim trunks. Towel.
Weight lost/stolen/magically vanished: 10 lbs.
Stomach issues: Lots.
Mosquitos killed with hotel bibles: 137.
Mumford and Sons – “Babel”
Noah and the Whale – “Last Night on Earth”
Jorge Drexler – Various
Kele Goodwin – “Hymns”
Passion Pit – “Gossamer”
Radical Face – “Family Tree”
Gustavo Santaolla – “Diarios de Motocicleta”
BEST JAM SESSIONS:
Irish singalongs with Irishmen in Huacachina
Teaching Peruvian kids in Chachapoyas
Playing with indigenous instruments in Argentina
Oktoberfest in a beer-hall in Lima
Halloween in hostels and streets and bars in Cuzco
Thanksgiving with a real turkey in Santiago
Christmas with vegetarian food and gifts and la novia in the cold Andes of Argentina
New Years with local wine and besos from the novia in Mendoza
WEIRDEST FOOD EATEN:
Fried large-butted ants (Colombia)
Fried guinea pig (Peru)
Fresh fish with coconut sauce (Pacific coast Colombia)
Fru-fru Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurants (Lima)
Fruit I’ve never heard of (Colombia)
…continued from Answers I.
Last year I was enjoying life as always, but I wasn’t in love with Bogotá, and things just didn’t feel right. This year I’m happy here.
Last year, hanging out with hitmen and army units for work was depressing. This year, hanging out with smiling Colombians and eccentric expats is great.
Last year, working for a TV network (and a very challenging project) was stressful. This year, well, I start working as a teacher in 3 days, so we’ll see.
Last year, living in a wealthy neighborhood, life was comfy and safe (and had great pricey Asian-fusion food!), but it was bland. This year I’m living in the Candelaria.
The Candelaria is the historic district of Bogotá. Think: Latin American edginess + European cobblestoniness + San Francisco hilliness + San Francisco homelessness + San Francisco funkiness.
I’m digging it. It’s walkable, filled with students and young professionals and travelers, has random activities and art popping up on every corner, and offers me a plethora of food/drink options.
Last year I was bitter at the food options in Bogotá (fried and little flavor).
This year: daily binges of savory Argentinian empanadas, Colombian coffee, Swiss curry pastries, organic garden-grown daily dishes, and meats marinated in tangy sauces made from local fruits like uchuva and lulo.
And it’s cheap.
Like this, for $4.00:
Quinoa salad with Amazon chilis, squash soup, salmon, fresh-squeezed juices from fruits you’ve never heard of, yam, coconut desserts…
I love these streets.
Let’s face it: mushy brown food is just not appetizing. Likewise for anchovy-topped papaya, or burnt-looking noodles, or grilled animals whose heads and innards have been left intact for your gluttonous pleasure.
But trust me on this. Go to Malaysia. These things are gastronomically orgasmic.
If you need to, close your eyes. Try anything they slop onto your plate.
And if you need to, take a peek at the history of the place. A peninsula in Southeast Asia, with centuries of Indians and Chinese washing up on shore, and scores of meddling Europeans anchoring at its ports for a plundering, a barter, or a few wars over spices — I think tells you all. This place is a culinary Frankenstein.
What follows is a picture of every meal I had in Malaysia (a travel-nerd habit I’ve recently picked up):
Three months in Asia flew by, and I’ll never forget its sights, tastes, adventures and people. But how do you sum up an entire experience? What words do you choose? What stories do you tell?
Here’s a shot at trying to digest a whole trip through pages of scribbled notes and tally marks at the back of a travel journal.
(I copied this journal idea from traveler extraordinaire Cressida Stolp. Gracias, tia.)
CITIES VISITED: 38
Lake Forest -> Los Angeles -> (Tokyo) -> Seoul -> Phnom Penh -> Siem Reap -> Angkor Wat -> Phnom Krom -> Phnom Penh -> Saigon -> Cu Chi -> Nha Trang -> Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Hanoi -> Guangzhou -> Hong Kong -> Shenzhen -> Shanghai -> Suzhou -> Hangzhou -> Tunxi ->Huang Shan -> Tangkou -> Wuhan -> Yichang -> Xi’an -> Beijing -> Kuala Lumpur -> Mersing -> Tioman -> Melaka -> Penang -> Hat Yai -> Krabi -> Railay -> Ton Sai -> Ao Nang -> Suruthani -> Had Rin -> Had Yuan -> Had Thien -> Had Yuan -> Had Rin -> Suruthani -> Bangkok -> (KL)-> (Taipei) -> Los Angeles -> Lake Forest.
NATIONALITIES MET: 43
South Korean • Serbian • Japanese • American • Cambodian • English • Swiss • Swedish • French • German • Canadian • Scottish • Welsh • Dutch • Vietnamese • Kiwi • Australian • Indonesian • Irish • Danish • Czech • Norwegian • Mexican • Israeli • Iranian • Spanish • Trinidadian • Indian • Singaporean • Argentinian • Russian • Senegalese • Algerian • Yemeni • Sri Lankan • Polish • North Irish • Maltese • Austrian • Thai • Chilean • Paraguayan • and Filipino!
Rivers (swim or boat): 3
Indian sweet milk tea
Te Tarik (Malaysian sweet milk tea tossed in the air)
Banh Xeo (Vietnamese burrito)
Sweet and sour pork (It’s better than in the states! I swear!)
Bamboo stirfry with pork
Kung Pao chicken (Better than Panda Express!)
Uighur lamb dishes (Muslims make the best food in China)
Thai curries (All)
Fruit shakes (Any)
Malay spicy chicken (Delish!)
Malay 3-taste fish (I think the three tastes are sweet, spicy, and sour?)
Nasi lemak (Malaysian rice, peppers, anchovies wrapped in banana leaf for like 30 cents. Obsessed.)