Tag Archives: Advice

Sailing around Cabo de Hornos, Cape Horn.

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Rivers of ink tell the tale of Cabo de hornos, Cape Horn with silent witness of tragedies, victories and illusions. Modern boats, strong tides and weather forecast help present day sailors to round the infamous rock in relative tranquility. The way there can be long and tough with thousands of miles of rough waters and shifting winds, faraway harbors and far from the trades with easy routes. The barren and windswept rock is one of the highest symbols of mans challenge to the unknown.

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Here is the city of Ushuaia, Argentina from the sailboat.

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Again I found myself on yacht Northanger, about to embark on a 7 day sailing adventure with the goal of sailing around Cape Horn, the most Southern tip of South America and known to many as the true “the end of the world”. Many explorers and adventurers have died while trying to round it throughout the last and now boats have more technology and weather knowledge to be able to easier predict the forecast.

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On January 22 Captain Greg and I met up with clients at 8:00am at the docks with luggage. We proceeded to check out of Ushuaia, Argentina to head to Puerto Williams, Chile. This requires a bit of paperwork and passports. Five hours worth of sailing through the Beagle Canal and we reaches Puerto Williams and had to check the Chilean Armada.

This took a little while so we decided to stay in Puerto Williams for the night.

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On January 23 we left early at 5:30 am into the Beagle Canal and sailed till 8 pm. This was the first time I felt sick but when you are heading into fierce winds only moving sometimes 2 or 3 knots against huge swells I’ve never experienced before. Didn’t ever get sick but definitely the pounding pressure hour after hour made me feel crazy. You literally always have to keep a hand on something otherwise you can really hurt yourself. On deck we had a harness and were clipped onto a line because the deck is slippery and the weather unpredictable.

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This part also had a passage with no land. I prefer the coast but this sailing day was different than all I knew.

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We eventually anchored in Caleta Martial, which was the most strong I have ever experienced wind in my life. Apparently in the cove it got up to 60 mph and around the horn the same day to 80 mph. The wind was so strong it was creating whitecaps only 100 meters off shore where the wind was blowing from behind the mountains. The boat next to us in the cove “commitment” actually has their anchor drag about midnight and were sent into a 5-6 mayhem trying to keep the boat safe in unbelievable winds. If the anchor drags you could potentially be thrown into rocks or roll. It’s also hard to navigate as the wind makes it hard to breathe and the winds create a white mist making it hard to see. Boy was the wind impressive that night and made me really respect it. Northanger was on a night watch in case the anchor was to drag. Scary stuff you have to be super careful.

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The wind has a fierce potent punch with unbelievable noises. However the energy I found to be cleansing and healing the land. This is a different world here.

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The next day, January 25 I felt a little seasick over the big swells that later much longer than the waves I was used to. We went around the horn this day and it was rather calm wind-wise with huge swells from the wind the night before. Rounding the horn was a great experience but not as incredible for me as some thee places in the channel. The clients we were with enjoyed it and was essentially why some of them came to Patagonia. But for me, they were rather barren, sharp rocks, and not a lot d beauty. Nonetheless I feel super grateful for the experience. We found a different cove to anchor that night.

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The next day January 26 we took it easy and went for a hike and met the little armada post which had a Chilean family and a pet king penguin. The children were super cute and it was good for me to speak Spanish again after two weeks of English. The hike was gorgeous and the cove made for a great place to relax.

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The next morning January 27 we left on a 50 km sail for Puerto Williams. Had some wind against us and we had to stop in a cove for lunch and wait for it to die down a bit. We made it to Puerto Williams about 7 at night.

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January 28
We headed for Ushuaia Argentina with a 5 hour sail and competed the full circle.

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In Patagonia for the most part there are charter boats which offer tourists and visitors a chance to experience the area and they get paid for taking them. Then there are private boats that typically are travellers themselves maybe making a first time trip to Antarctica or sailing around the world. It makes for lovely conversations on the docks and you meet about every type of person. This is one if my favourite parts of sailing, making these relationships.

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Sailing Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams

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Boat rocking cradle-like in sea of tranquility. The sea comes with a switch to an instant storm with gusts of wind and rain. There is a battlefield of albatross attacking seals and wind blowing waves forcing the sailboat dead into the wind at a standstill. Coves, bays, channels and passages lined beautifully with jagged mountains varying in colour, shape and snowfall. As nighttime falls, it gently grips me into a deep healing sleep as the neon black sky light up the stars to shine enough for vision.

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Life is all around and untouched by humans leaving a pure sense of energy and peaceful reflection.

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Stillness, rivers talking, full moon glowing and tiny droplets of aguaditas steaming my face gracefully playing with my sensations. Crispy cold fresh air yet I am warm as I am swarmed with a deep sense of connection. These glimpses of untouched land give me a sense what explorers must have felt when they first chartered these untameable waters. Fierce joy in the wind, music in its touch, twirling, spiralling, and running through my mind and entire body. It is cleansing.

Time lasts for eternity yet creeps into existence as the sky changes from dirty pink electric sherbet to soft jet navy lined with a twist of light blue.

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We sailed from Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Williams, Chile, through the stretch of Magellanes and Beagle Canal on the boat called “Northanger“. Northanger is a 54 foot Damien II, lifting keel, steel ketch New Zealand owned.

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The strait of Magallanes is “the stretch links the pacific and Atlantic ocean through an S-Shaped 310 miles cut through the South American continent. It’s waters give access to countless channels, inlets, and bays, a unique feature of the area. The stretch is a feature cut in the Andean Range, the vertebrae backbone of the S.A. Continent. Deep cuts were created by result of the last ice age 20,000 years ago, with effects still lasting another 10,000 years. Before the area was covered a huge ice cap more than 1,000 meters thick in places countered on the cordillera Darwin. From here a long series ice tongues spread in all directions downwards into the ocean giving birth to the wide and deep glacial valleys and rolling hills of Patagonia. The big last change happened 15,000 years ago when the ice caps began to melt, there were tons of sediments, rocks and deposits shifting the land into Tierra del Fuego. As time passed and water eroded the natural forming dams and opened the valley to ocean waters thus creating the large Tierra del Fuego.” (Rolfo and Ardrizzi).

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My journey started before the water, while the boat was still on land in Punta Arenas which is about 116,000 in population, pretty industrial. I worked a couple weeks preparing the boat, cleaning and making the boat come to life after 8 months of sitting in the ship yard. The boat was located 8 km outside of town so we did a lot of hitchhiking back and fourth.

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Here is Duncan and Renee who helped prepare the boat with us. They were visiting form Newfounladn, Canada and had some time to spare to help! We enjoyed making food and drinking coffee together. I am glad they joined the journey.

The Armada or “navy” of Chile is quite controlling and specific about sailing on the waters and makes all boats fill out paper work and check in everyday via radio. You must go to the port captain to get cleared to leave and once stamped you have to wait for approval. This became quite the process.

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Finally on January 11th we moved the boat from from its cradle with the big boat moving machine (never found out the proper name for it) and ready to be moved into the water. We had one more night until it was going to happen.

There I met Eduardo had a tiny machine linked around his neck that he loved being in control of. He was telling me to stay in Chile and work with him at the ship yard, I passed.

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We went “provisioning” which means getting all food and things necessary for sailing a week. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cans. There is one thing for sure since being on Northanger and its that I had never ever been hungry. We eat delicious vegetarian food and are always trying new recipes and eating together. I’ve really come to appreciate and love the simple act of eating a meal with others. It doesn’t take too much time but the quality of life improves and you are in charge of what is put into your body. I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now and since then, I love to cook!

On January 12th we launched the boat into the water at night, 10:30 pm from the cradle with a big rope and greased planks as Eduardo and his team pushed it off the stand and shot it into the water as we all stood on deck. Eduardo shouted to me a couple time to stay with him in Punta arenas saying “no te vayas!” Which means, ¨don’t go!¨ Funny. Greg had his friends in the dinghy the whole process ready to dive or help out in case anything happened.

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We anchored in the port Punta Arenas and I have to admit the boat transformed into a different creature as it slide into the water. The waterline surprised me the most, as it was within reach of the deck. I was surrounded by water on all sides and willingly forced into a subtle back and forth motion that gives me sea legs when I go to land. The hatch that we had to go through to get to the galley reminded me of the TV series ¨Lost¨ everytime. Could not get over it. Above was my bunk!

On January 13 there was wind, wind and more wind; I had never seen wind in Punta Arenas like that. We took the dinghy to land and can’t believe how the strong breeze can make one fall over into your Neighbor and not have enough time to say excuse me because you are trying to not be blown away. The navy closed the ports because it was so strong but this didn’t make sense as outside of the ports were much safer for us to be in then in. In this time I learned how to tie some knots- clove hitch, stopper knots and the bowline. We ultimately decided to wait another day before heading south.

 On January 14 at we motored to Cabo Froward against the wind to almost a stand still and had to turn around as it was too rough. We anchored at Sani Ciedro in Aguila Bahia (Eagle bay). The bay was named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville after her ship “L Algile”. We encountered three Israeli guys on the beach who flagged us down. They were on the well known Cabo Froward trek and needed help because own guy was super sick. Wasn’t much we could do but I think they thought we were going to rescue them or something.

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On January 15 what a windy night! We waited till the wind was to doe down by visiting the lighthouse where I had previously been before. There we met the beautiful couple living there that made us coffee and big doughnut type treats. Rosita even put my name in one of them!

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My friend Marcello radioed us to give us a weather report and say hello as he sailed past us in the strait. The boating/sailing world is surprisingly small and can be a comforting place where other boats soon become friends and you look after each one another.

We went for a hike through the muddy forest and onto beaches lines with whale bones showing remnant of a processing plant for whale oil. The plant was open from 1906-1907 and just in that year killed over 449 whales.

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We took off at 5:30 pm and sailed through San Pedro Canal. Mind you here it is summer so the light starts at 4am and lasts till sometimes 11:39 pm. The canal is named after Pedro Sarmientro de gamble who sailed his ship called “our mother of waiting” in 1580. We put out our first shorelines to the beach around trees in the most calm water I have seen yet. We anchored in “Caltea Cluedo¨ a large long bay on Isla Clarence opposite of Isla seabrook and we collected water from a waterfall in the cove via practicing driving the zodiac.

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I practiced driving the zodiac going fast and reversing as a brake when you get to a certain spot and holding it long enough for someone to tie a line. This has become one of my highlights of sailing. I got to take it out to get water from the waterfall near by!

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We went for a hike later that night, it was raining but it was beautiful! Saw the lake where the waterfall came from and this is where I wrote the entry for the blog. If I had to chose a favorite spot this would of been it.

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On  January 16 it was the birthday of one of the woman on the boat, Renee. We made a pancake, plantain and fruit smoothie breakfast while along the way sailing. We did have to motor a bit because there was no wind at all, leaving a reflection of the landscape on the water mirror like. Above is a shot of the sky on the water and below is the panoramic view we had, just like a calm lake.

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Sailing is turning out to be much more tranquil and slow paced than I imagine. The boat only goes 3-7 knots an hour so you’re not flying any means. It forces you to be present and really take in the scenery. Sometimes you can see a mountain and and hour later still be staring at the same range and horizon. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sail in the middle of the ocean without the landscape. The land you greet sailing really for me is one of the best parts. We sailed through San Pedro passage and Canal Acwalisnan (Paso o Ryan).

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On our arrival to the cove where we were to anchor there were. 1, then 2, 4, 6, 8 dolphins that played with us dancing and moving friskily through the jetting water off the boat. They are called ¨Peale¨ Dolphins.

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On January 17 we sailed all day 10am to 10pm.There were dolphins all the day again this type is called a Peale dolphin which are known to be slow and quite playful with the boat. Grey with a white underside. Oh how I love the dolphins! We had dinner late and on the way I made lentil burgers with honey Dijon mustard!

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We anchored at Caltea Laguna (Lake Cove) with again, shorelines. This day I learned how to the steering works on the boat, practicing zig zags and circles getting a feel for it.

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On  January 18 we were in the Beagle Canal, full on 7am-5pm sailing day. The Cordillera Darwin Mountains show signs of the once melting ice cap through fingers of glaciers. The range towers to the North at elevation of 2,000 meters (6,574 ft). Rivers, ice crumbling into the sea and electric neon pastel glaciers named Roncagli, Bove, llaha, and Frances.

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You could see storms roll in far away and when the catch up with you how the energy changes and becomes alive. I learned how to take down the anchor and at night we anchored in Caleta Olla (Wave Cove).

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On January 19th we left at 10am from the cove and came out into the beagle canal. Passes through the town of Ushuaia where we saw cars and planes for the first time in a week. East winds and sails were up. I learned how to drive while putting a sail up, timing it into the wind and holding it while the sail rises. I learned how to make some homemade bread!

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20 miles later and we arrived in Puerto Williams that had a nice yacht club with bar and maybe 20 sailboats. Met lovely people and got to stretch my legs! I never thought I would of made it this far south, let alone in a Sailboat. Its been a special experaince. You can also see the picture above is of a little Seal friend. There were many of them who met the boat along the way, so curious.

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Below you can see the view of Puerto Williams from us pulling in, it is super small. The mountain range is called ¨Navarino de los dientes¨ and is a well known trek you can do for a couple of days.

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What a stunning journey. Couldn’t of asked for a better trip! It was full of beauty, challenges, new experiences, and constant lessons to be learned. I feel super grateful to Greg and Northanger for letting me come along. It created a reality I didn’t know to exist and I feel fortunate.

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I want to give credit to a book I received tons of information from that was on board of Northanger called “Patagonia Tierra del Fuego” by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi. I paraphrase a lot of their information in this post but it’s a phenomenal book about the channels. If it wasn’t for their book I wouldn’t of been able to understand all the history of Tierra del Fuego or the specifics to each anchoring.

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Train -Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca to Puerto Madryn

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When I heard that you could take a night bus to Puerto Madryn that takes 9 hours I thought, “Are you crazy? I need to cut that trip in half and take my time!” Well, you could say that’s what I did…but a little more than what I wanted.

The experience of taking a train is one that I have always wanted. I’ve never been on a long distance train or an overnight train so I wanted to try it. Maybe I over romanced the idea, but it was something I was determined to do. The train was also 1/4 the price as well.

$95 AR Pesos ($11 USD) is what it cost contrasted to the $430 AR Pesos ($53 USD) for a bus. It was only 4 more hours and for all buses I’ve endured the last year I was up to the challenge.

When I arrived early to the train station (which was gorgeous and made me nostalgic like i had seen in movies) I found my seat next to two people, and thank goodness next to the window. The weird thing about the seat was that it was more of a bench because we were all sharing the same cushion. You could feel everyone adjusting and moving.

No problem I thought. But as more and more people started piling on the train the hot neon lights and noise was making me feel claustrophobic, maybe 150 people were in one car and it was the type of train that had some seats facing each other. So much energy and chaos.

I had a moment right before we left where I thought to myself “Should I just get off now? I know there’s a night bus I can take and it’s just a mere $95 pesos and subway stop away. You have time go go go and get off!!! Go go go! There is no way you can stand this for 12 hours!”

Then the other part of me calmed me down and said “You wanted the train experience don’t cop out and fail before you even try”. So I stayed. Mistake? Some could see it that way. I look at it as an experience I can learn from.

Well sure enough as the train starts slowly, the noise and chatter gets louder. “Surely it will get more quiet as we make our way into the night.” I thought. Argentinians can stay up all night and never get tired I swear. Even the children are up at 4:00 am. So it’s super loud, I had headphones but I could still hear and smell the newly paired couple who were sitting next to me kissing and telling each other their life stories because they were falling madly in love with each other and did I mention smoking cigarettes? So I opened the window but then the surging neon lights were attracting flocks of bugs from outside so now bugs were lining my face waiting for a shot at the light. Calm. Calm. Calm. I told myself. Only 12 more hours. Calm. Everything changes. I kept saying.

I got up to use the bathroom and when I finally entered the bathroom it’s hot boxed with cigarettes and weed and there’s just a whole in the floor which was the bathroom. Yikes.

I didn’t sleep at all. The train turned into 11 hours then 12 then 13 then 13 and 30 minutes then 14 and finally and we arrived. I couldn’t believe that I made it. I really couldn’t. BUT with all that said I am proud of myself for taking the train. I followed my rule of “Don’t let anyone tell you if something is good or bad. You must figure it  out by your own experience.” I got my train experience, I got what I wanted. Now I appreciate buses. Now I understand how beautiful it is I have your own seat and how a dark and quiet bus is paradise.

Then when I got in at 11:00 am the train terminal I had to walk 15 blocks to the bus terminal. Found out there was only 8:30pm buses so I knew I had to stay in Bahia and kill almost 10 hours waiting!

The ticket was $321 pesos ($37.5 USD) and almost 10 hours. Easy breezy ride and trust me I slept the whole time!

The Big Modern City – Buenos Aires

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I planned for one or two days in the city of Buenos Aires before arriving. Well, as most of my travels it turned into 3 weeks. I stumbled upon a lovely friend named Emilia, a native of Buenos Aires; she offered to take me in for ¨one night¨. The universe sends us what we need in the right time and Emilia was it for me. I was feeling tired, I wanted a travel buddy and was thinking I wanted to change a little bit how I was feeling. Emilia was not exactly what I expected, but so much more than what I could of imagined. You could call her a ¨soul friend¨ as we just clicked and I was recharged. Nights out, theater parties, coffee dates, going to plays, dressing up, dressing down, potlucks, cooking meals together, going through a break up together, going to her cabin, meeting new friends, hanging out with her family and just plain living life in the present together, we both found a friendship that will last lifetimes. Really beautiful.

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 I celebrated mother’s day with her family, her mother’s birthday and just little visits with her grandmother, uncle and extended family. Being in Buenos Aires for me was more like a vacation for travelling. I felt so at home, and like I was visiting a family. They really took me in and I could feel all the love and sincerity.

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Emilia changed the way I look at travelers and opened me up to be more accepting and nonjudgmental of people. She has inspired me to take couchsurfers (people who crash on your couch) when I go back home and she gave me a new inspiration to travel and a zing back in my enthusiasm for life! I hope to meet up with her in the North of South America.

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Emilia lived in the neighborhood of Palermo, great area. Super trendy, cafe shops that I would hang in for hours, really interesting murals and great energy. Oh and she also had a cat named ¨Luz¨ (light) who became my good friend.

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At first Buenos Aires reminded me so much of being at home in the States because of its fast paced, stylish and modern lifestyle. The transit subway ¨Subte¨ throughout the city is super easy to use to get around and the city is also bike friendly lined with green pathways. There is a strong Spanish, French and European influence. The architecture is modern; some parts reminded me of San Francisco and some of Times Square in New York. There is a street called 9 de Julio that is the widest street in the world. Huge! I could not believe I was in Argentina. So different than the rest of South America!

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The animals in BA are treated differently as well. It seems as if everyone has a pet and there are tons of dog walkers. I could not handle how amazing it was to see these dog walkers. So serious.

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My friend Courtney from preschool ended up coming to travel and visit with me for a little over a week. We explored parks, saw some an amazing play and a horrible play and it was beautiful to catch up. She stayed in the same place I was, at Emilia’s.

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The two of us stayed at a Yoga Farm for a couple of days. We worked 4.5 hours in the morning, got 4 vegan meals a day, yoga and meditation. The farm was called “Eco Yoga Farm” and was located about 1.5 hours from Buenos Aires by bus and taxi. It was a nice break, met some cute animals and worked hard hours. We only stayed a couple of days but it was nice to get out of the city. Being with a friend who I have known since I can remember was also a great reminder of home and to see how much each of us has changed was incredible.

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On a logistical note I broke my guitar a little while ago and I got it fixed in BA. It takes five days. It broke while I was travelling. Probably from a corner that I knocked into. So for $200 AR Pesos ($22 USD) and got the whole thing fixed! The front part of the guitar, just snapped in half.

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How to get to Buenos Aires from Cordoba: There is a 9 hour bus for $320 AR Pesos ($36 USD) from Cordoba to Buenos Aires. Left at 9 pm and arrived at 7 am. There is also a bus called “ounce” which is cheaper $270 AR Pesos but adds on about 3-4 hours. Depending on if you have time choose wisely!

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Cheese and Wine Country – Cafayate, Argentina

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Just 4 hours outside of Salta, Argentina the adorable town of Cafayate is settled in the dry area great for making wine and goat cheese.

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I took some cheese tasting and wine tours and had a lovely time playing my guitar in all the beautiful nooks and crannies this place had to offer.

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We rented bikes for the day $70 Pesos ($9 USD) a person and hit up as many winery’s and cheese farms we could. Many places were cheap and wine and cheese starting at $15 Pesos ($1.85 USD) a pack or bottle.

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There were tons of baby animals, cats, dogs, sheep and goats. The cheese was some of the best cheese I have ever tasted, and I must admit, some of the best priced as well.

The land around Cafayate is dry, dry, dry. They get rain every 6 months so all is dirt roads and seco (dry in Spanish) plants. Because of this, the grapes produced in this region are one of a kind. Unfortunately many if the wineries we went to only export within South America as they are small and there is no need to send them far.

I want to be just famous enough of an artist to be able to draw on walls of the places I go. Just to draw on walls.

I want to be just famous enough of an artist to be able to draw on walls of the places I go. Just to draw on walls.

I loved Cafayate if I had more time this would for sure be a place where I would spend it. I fantasised about making a mural here. Maybe in the future!

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Cordoba, Argentina

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Have you heard of couch surfing? It’s a online website that connects travelers all over the world with local people that will provide a bed for free. It’s free to use and a great way to mix up traveling as you get to know the culture at a deeper and more intimate level than a hostel beaches you stay with locals. The website is couchsurfing.org and I would highly recommend it.

The lovely couple that let me stay with them a couple of nights

The lovely couple that let me stay with them a couple of nights

There is also another website I used while on Cordoba, only because I was traveling with a cyclist. It’s only for people who travel with a bicycle and its called warm showers. Warmshowers.org is the same as couch surfing just exclusive for cyclists.

I stayed with my cyclist friend Lukas and we joined up with Luciano and Sole who are from the Cordoba county and they are artists. They both own a company called Cassiopeia Ceramics and make beautiful cups, vases, tea sets, hanging pots, bowls, and more. They have a tiny khelm and make all the work in their house.

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When we arrived they were hosting a Ferria (art show) and they had all their friends over, good food, mate to drink, and group dinners. It lasted the whole weekend and they were still so willing to host Lukas and I. I am so constantly blown away at how willing the people are to take care of foreigners. I’ve never experienced this kind of trust and hospitality. Cooking food for us, treating us like a old friend with such love and respect. Makes me think twice about all that I have and how sharing makes everything better. Such a wonderful lesson.

Luciano every other Wednesday goes to one of the local radio stations and draws while the radio announcer sings. Once a week Sole teaches a pottery class in their house and loves to teach people. I feel so inspired by this couple and they do all because they love to, not because they have to.
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While in Cordoba for 5 days we went to parks, cooked a lot, made some ceramics, went to the river, attended art fairs in the streets, and walked all around the city.

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The two will be off with their bicycles next month north through South America and Central America. I wish them nothing but the best and feel so grateful for such light and inspiration.

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Vipassana Retreat at Dolores, Argentina

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Oh the beautiful country side and valley outside of Cordoba, Argentina.  Skin-crackling dry, scattered-spotted playful rivers, lovely local artisan stores selling olives, honey & olive oil, and friendly people all with the infamous Argentina accent (which I am finally getting used to).

In this region I went to the small pueblo of Dolores for yet another dose of Vipasana Meditation. This time is was three days instead of ten but the same rigarous schedule of meditating 12 hours of a day 4am-9:30pm with no talking, no writing, no reading and no contact with the outside world or others. What a beautiful inward journey to spend time alone in silence. You would be surprised how much is revealed whilst meditating.

Many people think meditation is about not thinking, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. Your mind is almost impossible to keep quiet as our daily lives provide stress an responsibilities. Our society has programmed into our conscious little voices that remind us constantly, “be productive,” and “you should be doing something!”. Essentially mediation is looking at the way the brain functions and thinks and learning how to control the reaction to the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. That comes with time and isn’t the goal. The goal is to let everything happen naturally, observe and not react.

In fact, meditation is a lot of thinking, constantly judging and craving for outside things and material objects. In a way, we have forgotten how to live in the moment. Meditation provides our minds with a tool in order to remain calm and harmonious with all that our brain conjures up. If you have a “to do” list type brain then through meditation you learn to be confident in the process rather than the ultimate “check off” at the end. If you always have to be moving and can never sit still, you learn how to become peaceful and embrace this over-active part. You start to become a master of your own energy and of that around you. You thought learn how powerful we really are. The best part about it all, are that all the answers that you’ve ever pondered or wanted to know are inside you. We just have to remember how to listen.

When I tell people about meditation they respond always along the lines of “Sitting and meditating that long? I could never do that!” And I respond the same, “Well then you of course you cant and never could, with that attitude!”

It’s simple. All is simple yet we make it complicated. You say you aren’t good enough, then you are not good enough. You say you can’t do it, well of course you can’t. You say you hate your job, why would you expect to love it? When we create simple thoughts in our brains they manifest themselves throughout our life. Be careful what you think and how you spend your time. If you meditated over it for more than 12 hours you would come to realise as a experiential truth that a single thought can transform into a reality.

There are so many things in this life that are dull an full of suffering with oozing negativity. Those things will always exist, all our job here is to do is to focus on the positive. Life will always be negative if you see it that way. But there is always positivity that is waiting to be tapped into, it’s just a matter of choosing to come out of our own misery that we have created. We created it, and we are the only ones that can come out of it. No one else can do it for us. It’s just a matter of our free will and choosing to accept the responsibility.

I don’t think anyone is really ever “ready” to do this course. Just like we can’t prepare perfectly for traveling the world or for death, you are never really be “ready”. But that’s what’s so wonderful about life, you never will be perfect enough, ready enough, sufficiently prepared. All you can do is be who you are and accept every part of that. In this way all the truth will come to you and all the things you do and encounter will become bliss rather than misery. It’s a choice to make!

If your interested in attending a course it’s all run by volunteers and there are courses in every country almost once a month. Free food, bed, and course. They are based on donations and thy require you to stay the full 10 days. Think you could be ready to start listening to yourself on a deeper level? 10 days and your whole world could change.

What the heck is Vipasana? Click Here for more information

Dharma Vipasana Website

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Uyuni – Salt Flats

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This part of my journey was the most majestic, magical, tranquil, serene, silent, breath-taking days. 3 days in salt flats, smooth mountains, flowing rivers, playful streams, frolicking emus, decorated llamas, profound canyons, winding valleys, wind blown snow, hot heated sunshine, freezing cold, dust filled cars, one way bumpy roads, land cruisers, and a delicate full moon against ranges of a sherbet sunset. I was in La Paz for one week with no plans.

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The Salt Flats of Uyuni are the largest salt flats in the world at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It was transformed through perhistoric lake transformations. The Altiplano is the area where the Salt Flats are and are is a high plateau, which was formed during uplift of the Andes mountains. The plateau includes fresh and saltwater lakes as well as salt flats and is surrounded by mountains with no drainage outlets.

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My experiance before heading to the salt Flats: I was thinking of going to the jungle, or maybe to perfect my Spanish east in Sucre, I couldn’t make up my mind. Late one night I met some friends and one of them when asked what he was up to the next day replied, “I’m driving to Uyuni and doing the 3 day Salt Flat tour in the South Eastern part of Bolivia. I responded “that sounds amazing, can I join you?”. Because he has a car I knew it would be cheaper and we could go to more places and take out time. Three days later and I could not of imagined what was to unfold those upcoming days.

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On the Salt Flat tour we saw a bus turned over, these guys were definately stealing some of the bus parts.

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SAM_0548We left from La Paz at 10 am, one hour out of the busy city and we encounter patrol stop number one. The government official would not let us through because we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the car. After convincing him we were to go and buy one, he finally let us pass. Next was gas. Bolivia gives a special price to foreigners for buying gas. It’s 4-5 Bolivianos a litre for Bolivians and 9.75 for foreigners. You can get turned down from gas stations too as many gas attendance don’t want to fill out paperwork for that and could potentially get into trouble if they give you a cheaper price.

Eventually after being turned down twice we were able to get gas for 7 Bolivianos. Most of these people end up pocketing the extra gain. 9-10 hours later we arrive in windy, cold, buzzing Uyuni and found a place to crash for $30 Bolivianos ($4.4 USD).

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In the morning we were ready to leave but I realised I lost my debit card, and ironically so did my friend. We ended up staying another night as well because we had issues filling up not our car, but the extra 70 litre tanks. Apparently they think we were going to go to sell gas at the border. So we leave the next morning at 10 am, start out for the salt flats. Anyways, after a lot of hassle and wasting time we finally were off. We didn’t have a map, or the slightest idea of where we were going. The salt flats are huge, I am grateful we did not get lost.

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Many people warned us against going alone on the circuit and we were convinced that we could do it ourselves. The next three days were full of bliss. Two hot spring stops, hundreds of mountains ranges, such varying sizes of lakes and colours. There are four different types of pink flamingos living in the area, and just the silence of the wind blowing through the flowers as literally not a soul in sight for kilometres and kilometres. You become apart of the landscape and it was so easy to connect to the land. The energy, the movement of the breeze and the stillness. I get chills thinking about it. That scenery was the most gorgeous landscape I have seen yet on my travels, I would absolutely go back to these flats and hear that it is even more stunning in the wet season as the whole flats become a lake and you can see perfectly the reflection of the sky onto the lake. It is something I want to go back to.

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For every way to get to a new mountain or river, there were always 2-5 different ways to get there. The roads were so bad, some literally had drop downs into dried up rivers. It could of potentially be dangerous. We did get 3 flat tires, including one that happened when we were close to 50 mph winds and the sand was being blown in our faces. Well, on the bright side, I now know how to fix a flat tire.

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If you go alone: bring a GPS with coordinates already mapped up and downloaded. GPS does not work in the middle of no where. Makes sure you bring enough food and water for the days you go into the circuit. There is no place to buy food, except one touristy place that was an overpriced restaurant near the hot springs ¨agua termales¨.

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We camped, which was crazy cold, probably the coldest I have ever been in my life. I could not feel my numb feet and have never shivered that much. I would recommend bringing fire wood if you can so you can build a fire. If you go by yourself make sure to bring AT LEAST 2 – 70 liter gas cans on your roof rack. There are no gas stations and if you are lucky in San Juan or other small towns you can knock on doors and ask the locals if they are selling any gas. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Tire

Here is John fixing the second flat tire, with such crazy winds it blew the jack off the car!

Toll

Here was a toll that one local town decided to make for cars to pass through and pay. Some towns even have a string or rope to make cars stop. Does not seem legal! This one he is using a rock to raise the toll.

In the end, after 3 days of travelling, getting lost, finding our way again, stumbling upon majestic rivers and pink flamingos, running out of gas, getting 3 flat tires, being too cold to sleep, loosing more things on the 3 day trek than our entire travels, and just being unprepared made for an eventful Uyuni tour for me. I would recommend taking a 3 day circuit from Uyuni to the Chilean border. There is so much competition out there, and tons of horror stories that I head. Like they say in Bolivia, what you pay for is what you get!

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Sucre Mural – BeeHive

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Sucre – Spanish influenced city with clean streets, beautiful parks, energetic plazas and with a modern twist. This is where many foreigners come to learn Spanish. The bus system is simple and slow, the streets are busy with more people begging for money than I have seen in all my travels, and the same old hectic markets and fantastic handmade milk ice cream can be found.

I tasted the best food I’ve had so far at a spot called Condor Cafe. It is a vegetarian non profit that support local communities outside of Sucre. The first time I had their panini sandwich it made me want to stay longer in Sucre. The owners are from Australia and Switzerland and find themselves working part of the year in Europe to sustain to project. Dedication!

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I learned how to make an artistic cloth that the local woman make. It takes patience and more patience.

I can see why people stay in Sucre for so long, it’s clean and calm. Honestly this is one o my most favourite large cities. I was pleasantly surprised. I almost missed out on Sucre and am glad I didn’t.

The Mural

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I loved the texture of the paint in Sucre, there was so much contrast.

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SAM_0680Where: Sucre, Bolivia at “BeeHive” Hostel. Not your average hostel as many people stay long term and there is a wonderful sense of community. The two founders, Amanda 28 from California and Suzi, 30 from Sucre. The BeeHive works with local woman of the community through projects such as workshops and volunteering to help woman gain more confidence and financial stability.

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Length of Time: 3 days, 4-5 hours a day and 5 nights I stayed in Sucre.

What: A tree mural logo that will eventually be turned into a “giving tree” where a passport sized picture will be placed on leaves or roots depending on how much you donate to the project. This mural was pretty quick in terms of stay and was a ¨logo¨ piece.

What I learned: You can always plan a mural last minute.

Visa for Boliva, Crossing the Peru-Bolivia Border

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Travellers from The United States must apply for a visa before entering into Bolivia. The U.S. is one of the few countries who are required to do so.

Here are all the requirements one must need for getting into Bolivia, keep in mind that you can stay for 90 days and the Visa is good for 5 years.

  • Pay the Bolivian Bank $160 (or $130 depending where you pay, I paid $160 in Puno) crisp US Dollars
  • Copy of your passport – this means just the page with your information and picture on it.
  • Copy of your passport picture – this does not mean making a scan of your passport again, this means purchasing and taking new photos. Don’t worry there are places everywhere to do this and you can even take one with the Virgin Mary or change your clothes on the extra pictures your $5 soles takes you.
  • Copy of the Malaria Vaccianations
  • Bank Statements – 2 months will do
  • Itinerary – make something up about where you will go on what date and be sure to include in it where you will be staying etc. You don’t have to make reservations just create a word document and make it look like it’s from a tourist agency.
  • Completed application from the Bolivian Consulate.

Then, after they give you your passport and bias you must make a photo copy of it and give it back to the consulate.

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Puno is about 2.5-3 hours away from Copacabana, making it quite an easy border crossing. It was only $20 Soles for a bus ticket. The bus waits for you to stop in the police station and border control then to walk across the border and get your entry stamp into Bolivia.

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La Paz, Bolivia

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Busy, fast, zippy, old and smoggy type of city. At an elevation of 3,650 meters (12,00 feet) with a population of 2.3 million. My most favourite thing about Bolivia so far: The Zebras. That is right, Zebras. I am not talking about the animal, I am talking about the humans who are paid to dress up as Zebras in full body costumes and be the patrol for the pedestrian crossings. Not only do they dance, and flail their arms everywhere, but they also give hugs and little notes of encouragement to people that pass by. There are murals throughout the city in dedication to the Zebras. It is in many Bolivian cities and they are well known and loved by many (including children who I saw hold tightly onto the Zebras). It was just too cute and I could not stand just being friends with these Zebras.

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La Paz was where I went walking and walking and walking and walking. Market after market, stores for buying local clothing, bread, electronics, corner stores, liquor stores, teenager stores, bead stores, string stores, shoes stores, leather stores, and endless amount of stores. Funny thing is that every single store that is similar to one another and sells the exact same thing is always found next to their competition. I still do not understand why they do not separate and get different parts of town and make more money. But this is how it is, one street for one thing in particular. However this makes shopping easy and you can compare prices without having to go far as well.

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One of the markets that was the most interesting was the largest outdoor market in South America in La Paz called “El Alto” which is located just above La Paz and could be considered (but not technically) another city of its own. Many people tell you to not go alone, to not bring a camera, and that people would rob us; but like everything else in South America, people are scared for no reason. We had no problems, only met nice local people, and never felt unsafe. In fact we decided to walk down from El Alto after through the city and that was one of my favourite parts of the while La Paz experience.

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During my visit I went to Mount Chacaltaya at 5,420 meters above sea level. It used to be the highest ski lodge in the world until…about 15 years ago it stopped snowing. Can you say global warming? Now it barely snows there and the ski lodge is abandoned. If you start sneezing, you know that the altitude is getting to you as your brain starts to swell and this is how it releases pressure. The view was stunning and actually the mountain that we saw was the same mountain that Paramount Picture uses in their opening reel. Try running in elevation that high, you cant. Try breathing full breaths, you just cant.

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The same day the tour continued and we continued to the Valle de Luna which was a lake that dried up about 9 million years ago. Walking at the bottom of this lake is incredible as the water formed beautiful statues and sculptures that mirror what the moon would look like if you were to walk on it. It was absolutely incredible to see first hand in one day how the climate changes over time! Mountain weather changing and huge lakes drying up.

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I decided to get a new prescription for my eyes for glasses and contacts as my one in the United States is up. Bolivia is super cheap for getting anything health related and it cost me $30 Bolivianos for an appointment and $120 Bolivianos for glasses. In total costing $13 USD.

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I painted a little canvas with a friend and we installed it at Cafe el Mundo where we would constantly drink coffee and eat delicious food. My friend Roberto is from Sicily and it was nice to be a little creative! We also found some friends to help us paint as well. I think they caused more damage than good, but it was nice company.

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Isla de Sol and Copacabana

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Shimmery glittery glazed sunshine upon the worlds largest and highest Lake, Lake Titicaca. Swarmed by white mountain tops and fluttery joyful birds, Inca ruins, lazy talking llama and sheep-filled fields, the Isla de Sol ¨Island of Sun¨ was a nice break in between two cities, not too expensive and so different than anything else I have seen on my travels.

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The town of Copacabana is where you can leave for the Isla de Sol tour. The town itself has one small touristy street, 6th de Augusto and this can be easily avoided. I stayed at a nice hostel, Sonia Hostel, for $30 ($2 USD) Bolivianos for a private room.

Copacabana is on a little peninsula and you can see the lake from all sides of town. There are tons of sites to see and things to do for day hikes, including one that was 3 hours along the lake. There are ruins in town, and rock carvings, Inca seats where supposidly the Inca empire would sit out and view the lake, and tons of great places to enjoy the views. I did a lot of exploring.

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The first day I was there I decided to go to the ruins around Copacabana and go to all the mirradors, where surprisingly I did not see a soul in sight. I think most people only stay one night and go straight to the island. Here at the top of this look out point there were 3 rocks that were used by the Incas to navigate the stars and decide when the seasons would change. The rocks are still there.

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Llama encounter! The Spanish word for Llama is Alpaca and they are all over Bolivia. What I didn’t know is that they can spit, they have an incredible range for spitting at tourists, especially when they are pissed off. I tried not to get too close but they just look so regal and feminine  I could not help myself!

To get to the Island of Sun there are little boats that go really slow about 3 hours to the North or South end of the Island. It was incredible, named this because the Incas believed that the island was where the sun came from. They also believed that another island just off the Isla de Sol was where the moon came from. Many say the birthplace of the Inca Empire was founded here as well.

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These islands are situated in the middle of this gorgeous lake that almost looks like an ocean because it just keeps going as far as you can see. It’s stunning landscape and turquoise shores remind me of Greece. Is this really Bolivia?

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I’ve been warned about Copacabana- “Don’t go there or the island of the sun, it’s too touristic!” And like I always say, don’t believe everything you hear try it out for yourself.

Copacabana is where all the Isla de Sol boats leave from. The town I will admit is touristy but you can get around it but not going down 6 de Augusto where you are bombarded by people selling bus tickets and telling you to eat in their restaurants. You can avoid it!

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I didn’t want to go from one big city to another so I decided to take my chances on it. This place was definitely worth visiting and Isla de Sol, Island of the Sun was one highlight of my trip. The island was touristy on the south end where people can stay…but nothing compared to what I have been warned about.

I met a man from New Zealand, Mark, and we explored the island through 4 hours of walking discovering ruins, a sacrifice table, and hundreds of lookouts out onto the bright blue water.

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There were three check points where you have to buy a ticket and the money goes to the local community. I was fine with this but it was the children you have to watch out for. They will take a look into your bag at the quickest chance they can. They also ask for money or candy. This was the first time I had seen children like this, interesting to say the least.

I stayed the night on the island, watched the sun set and then woke up at 6:00am for the sunrise over the Island of the Moon. The contrast was just stunning and so breathtaking I did not mind waking up so early!

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Here are the friends I met while on the Island. The boat ride was just beautiful and so lovely to chat with friends and get out of the city. I could not believe how beautiful it was there.

The boat ride there is super slow and was $20 Bolivianos ($2.9 USD) and back was $20 Bolivianos as well.

Incan Mural of Peru

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The Mural: Nazca inspired wall, located outside of the hostel.

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Where: Cabanaconde, Peru. Located about 3-4 hours from Arequipa in the Incan Valley.

Length of time: This piece took me about three days to make. I painted all day long, the wall was smaller than a lot of the previous walls I had created. I enjoyed the scale, and it was outside.

Accommodation: Free room (private) and breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Amazing pizza and vegetarian food – salads galore!

What I learned: This piece was the second one I created in the Canyon. A stunning canyon at that. I enjoyed the location so much I did not mind to continue to paint. After my first mural there, Auywaska, I knew I had to stay longer.

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Outside SHot

Below is the Hostel owner Louy and I. He is a Peruvian man with an incredible talent for playing guitar, speaking multiple languages and with people. I am honored to call him my friend and cannot wait for the day I will meet see him again!

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The Canyon was incredible. I also wanted to feature a bit about Arequpia, the closest city. It is located a couple hours from Cabanaconde and is the only place where I could find paint to buy for the mural. It is in the mountains and was such an impressive city.

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Auywaska Mural in Cabaconde, Peru

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The Mural: 2013 Sept.    Ayuwaska – Cabanaconde, Peru – Pachamama 

The hat inspired mural snuggled inside of the restaurant/bar and the focal point of the room

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About the Mural: The inspiration came from the native woman’s dress of the pre-incan town of Cabanaconde and Colca Valley region.  The my mural showcases images of the birds, flowers, trees, cows, corn, food spirals, North, South, East, West, depicted in then tiny stitches of the indigenous Cabanoconde woman’s hat. While painting the mural, woman from off the streets would stop in the hostel and watch me paint. They were in awe of these images blown up onto a wall and with the images of the mountains in cooperated as well. The woman wore incredibly stunning hand made garments. Each town has their own specific hat, yet all tied together by the center image, the 8 pointed start. The women would work in these clothes and I admired how dramatically detailed each stitch was.

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I never sketched anything, I just like to draw directly onto the wall with paint. Below you can see the progession shots. I like to start with the focal point, the star, and then add lines to create movement. Of course, all the detail is done free hand and just by looking at the hat. I found tiny symbols and would make them larger and enclose them with designs. I had an idea of what I wanted, but the final mural is beyond what I could ever sketch prior to painting. In many ways that is why I love to paint, to create and feel. Sketching can make me feel limited as I, in many ways, set up expectations as to what is going to look like. I always have a general idea, but never exact.

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Time to Paint the Mural: From 10:00am-4:00pm I would paint for a total of 1 month. At night I would help them work in the bar from 5:00-10:00. In total I stayed 1 month at Pachamama.

Accommodation: Free room (private) and breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Amazing pizza and vegetarian food – salads galore!

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What I learned: The difference between latex paint and acrylic. I’ve only worked with water based acrylic paint so working with latex was my first time. It’s much more thick and rubbery. It’s smooth and has a plaster texture to it, also smells more toxic. It is often difficult to work with paint that I have found in South America. The paint is different quality and I am getting better at adapting to the different kind.

In addition I learned that communal spaces are difficult to paint, because the energy constantly changes from travelers coming and going. However, I made the best of it and it worked out well in the end.

I learned that Cabanaconde is a good 5 hours from the nearest paint store and to probably plan a little more in advance in terms of buying paint. Saves a good 10 hours of travel and a couple of days in the big city!

I learned to be careful to agree to paint when a hostel is under construction, only because I got suckered into painting more than I thought. I could not resist all the white walls!

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Colca Canyon – Cabanaconde, Peru; Deep canyon filled with tiny rivers and pre-Incan roots. Earthquake ridden and cobbled stone and dirt roads led by donkeys and children playing volleyball in the street. Horses greeting neighbors, blue skies and the worlds second largest canyon at 10,725 meters deep “Colca Canyon”. 3 days of trekking in the canyon will lead you to hot springs, potential quakes, mud baths and waterfalls.  The town basks in the basks in the midst’s of alpaca, dry mountainous curves, green cactus budding tiny yellow flowers and enclosed in a mountain circle. It is a small is size, yet booming with beauty. The people of the town know the definition of community. It was home for one month and thanks to the family I made at Pachamama, this was one of the highlights of all of my travels. Small groups of brick and concrete houses, hidden in the embrace of the Canyon, home to the largest flying mammal the condor, glazed with snow capped mountains with echos of volcanic remnants and earthquake energy, I could not help but fall in love with it all.

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It is the type of town where you will not find internet, everyone knows each other, dogs are friendly and so is the way Peruvians treat them. I went for a stroll around the outside of town and was called into the corn fields to drink local brews with the farmers. I sipped Chicha with the locals and talked about the harvest season for corn and the large parties to follow the next couple of days.

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The local families would play volleyball in the streets and have to take down the net every time a car, horse or elder passed through. On one of my last days there was a celebration at the school. Every class dressed up and put on a traditional dance. I played volleyball with some of the students and got to know a handful of them pretty well.  It was incredible to  to see their school and meet their teachers. The dress wear for the celebration of the start of school were vibrant and thought out.

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I was in love with the traditional wear of the local woman. I was so impressed at the weight which they carry around with them. I felt so privileged to be able to try on one of the dresses. One of the women at Pachamama was going to Arequipa after work so she had the outfit with her, and so kindly asked if I would try it on. I could not stop smiling.

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I painted two murals: the first is inspired by the hats the woman wear of Cabanaconde and the second by Nazca drawings found in teh central part of Peru. There was a man who worked at Pachamama for a bit who gives tours of the Nazca lines and mummys so I was inspired to paint these drawings.

Pachamama was the perfect home, with a vibrant energy. It had a restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and pizza and pasta dinner, all by candle light and guitar playing. The pizzas were some of the best I have had in South America, so it was more than amazing to eat there every day. The staff was friendly, the spanish was flowing, and there is no other hostel like this one.

Below is the mural at night, you can feel the atmosphere of the bar and the tranquil yet buzzing energy of the place.

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The owner, Ludwig is from Peru. He has owned the hostel for the last 7 year and was by far the most accommodating, tranquil and easy going hostel owner I have ever met. He was very appreciative and even helped paint a bit.

Pachamama was remodeling so I had many opportunities to paint. Below is Ludwig working away cooking in the kitchen and to the left is¨Sweetie¨ one of two dogs from Pachmama. I could not get enough of the dogs as they would just climb up on your lap and give you kisses, it helped in staying warm too!

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Below is the bar, which has an oven for making pizzas. I stayed during high season here, so the tables were always full every night. Hey since I was bartending this was a great experience for me.

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Thank you to Pachamama and Ludwig for allowing me to stay as long as I did. Also thanks for reading! Now I am in Bolivia and had to say goodbye to the Pachamama family. There is no doubt that I will be back to pay a visit, and I wish them all the best! That is all for now!

Puerto Maldanado, Peru

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Where:  Anaconda Lodge – Puerto Maldanado, Peru – Anaconda Lodge; Acrylic Paint 2013; The location is next to the Madre de Dios river that hosts camine, unclassified fish and countless endemic birds.

Tiny motos zipping around the bumpy dusty streets, woman skilfully crafting plates of fish, meat, and chicken with rice, dramatic soap operas roar through the vendors tents who scream into the crowded alleys to buy ice cream, vegetables, electronics, toothpaste or toliet paper. The town is alive and beating with a rhythm of fierce busyness and hard workers.

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My daily routine was to wake up at 6am-7am to meditate, breakfast buffet from 7:30-8:30. Painting for 4-6 hours, with the exception of the hours of 11:30am-2pm as it was unbearably hot. For this time I would swim in the bright blue tiled cold pool and play with the curious monkeys who happily climb on you and take naps on your lap.

At night I would head to town on the “El Sol” bus for one sol and go the markets. You can get dinner for $2-4 Soles ($.75-1.50 USD) and fruits and veggies. I am a sucker for sweets and would always get ice cream, couldn’t help myself with all the heat! Icecrem costs usually $1 Sole ($.37 USD) and these Peruvian woman make the ice cream in these little bags homemade! Que Rico!

Now for the mural:

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The Hostel: Anaconda Lodge, run by a Swiss man name Donald and his wife Wanee who is from Thailand. The couple has owned this hostel for the last 7 years and the land for more than 25 years. They have 4 monkeys on the property that can’t get enough love from tourists and a swimming pool that sometimes is necessary in the hot hot heat. Wanee works everyday in the kitchen day in and day out making authentic thai food. Lucky for me! But really they have a buffet for breakfast and then delicious Thai food offered all day till 9pm at night. I was in heaven.

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What: A mural course! A huge one at that. I worked with or rather had to destroy a garden (that was in front of the wall, don’t worry I made beautiful bouquets of flowers from it). The wall was rough, dirty, grey and concrete. It was also the largest wall I have done yet.

Length of time: 5 days of work 8 days of hanging at the lodge and 4-6 hours of work a day.

Accommodation: Free food from the delicious Thai Resteraunt which, as a vegetarian consisted of lots of phad thai and veggies with rice. Authentically prepared by one of the owners and it was always delicious.

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What I learned: Being an artist and painter is not as glamorous as it seems. I was cutting down plants, scrubbing the huge concrete wall infested with termites and dirt. There is so much work that goes into making a piece, and so much more than just a pretty picture. I laugh sometimes to think of my work as art as its more of a skilfully woven process where each step is just as important as any other.

I said I would never do a mural outside again, but I really wanted the challenge of doing something a little different and simple. Glad I did even with all the mosquito bits included.

I learned you have to be direct with many Peruvians an asking questions. You must ask exactly what you need and stand by it. Sometimes if you ask a Peruvian directions or a question they will tell you a lie in response. This is not because they are bad people but because they think they are helping you when in reality it’s doing the exact opposite. They also may not hear your specific question and answer something totally different I’ve never heard a Peruvian say “I don’t know”. You can be lost asking for directions and 4 people will tell you completely different responses.

So, when I went to purchase paint all the paint stores kept telling me they don’t have acrylic paint. I know that a huge paint store does in fact have paint so after asking maybe 5 people in each store I went into I finally found someone that understood me.

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What else did I learn? This was the first time I had a helper, Lukas my friend from Germany, who I met during the vipasana retreat paid me a visit. He has been riding his bicycle since Mexico and is headed to Argentina where his uncle works on a farm. This was nice because most of the people that came through the hostel only stayed one night so it was nice to have a friend that was constant. And help was amazing as the wall was so big.

Magical Manchu Picchu, Sacred Valley

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The magical land of Machu Picchu. Bright green energy, sunrising, eye opening, mysterious, wise and powerful. The Incan ruins are arguably be one of the most touristic places in the world, which made for an interesting adventure full of inward bliss and tons of people!

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Here is the view of Machu Picchu before and after sunrise. Watching it was just stunning, time felt like it went much slower than in reality.

Think you have to spend a fortune on Machu Picchu? Guess again, one person can spend anywhere from $210 Soles ($77 USD) to $4,460 Soles ($1,800 USD). I will explain the breakdown later. This concept is one of the best things I’ve learned while traveling: There is always, always, always a cheaper way to travel than what you hear. Always.

I started my journey in Pisac Peru. I woke up at 5:30am to meditate one hour and to make breakfast before heading out to Agua Calientes. The town is extremely touristy and expensive and is where people stay the night and typically in the morning head out early to the entrance. I was trying to make the journey in one day, was not sure if I could make it but was willing to try.

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Here is the town of Agua Calientes (hot water), named this because there are thermals that surrond the area. This is also where the train drops you off, right in the center.

First of all, I would call Machu Picchu a park more than a hike or trek because you can take a bus up the entrance and once you get there, the ruins are literally on the other side of the entrance. No hiking required. I would reccomend doing the 2 hours hike which is so beautiful and rewarding to meet the ruins after working hard.

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You must buy your ticket to Machu Picchu the day before and bring your passport. you must also bring your passport to the entrance as well. The cost of a ticket is $128 Soles (47.50 USD) and it’s good for one day. If you want to hike 1 hour further up to Wayna Picchu which is that big peak you are looking at in every Machu Picchu photo which has some ruins on top. Machu Picchu tickets never sell out, if you ever hear this they are talking about Wayna Picchu because it’s a small trek only 200 people a day are allowed to go. This is an extra $30 Soles ($13 USD). You can also trek Machu Picchu Mountain which is next to the ruins also for an extra fee and in advanced.

There are 4 different ways you can get to Machu Picchu ranging from long and short distances with expensive to cheap options.

Option 1) Trek 4-5 day through the Inca Trail which starts outside of Cusco for anywhere from $250-$1800 USD depending on the hike, food, guides, stay etc. There are also other hikes besides the Inca Trail which are the same price range and same length.

Option 2) You can take a train from Ollantaytambo $70-100 dollars each way. It takes 1.5 hours and is super easy and fast. It will take you straight to Agua Calietnes which is the town you start the journey from.

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Here is the train that you can take, they dont run very often either.

Option 3) You can take a bus from Cusco to Santa Marta $15-20 Soles ($8 USD) and 5 hours, then take a collectivo to Santa Teresa $5 Soles ($2 USD), then take another taxi (or the same one) to the hydraulics for $10 Soles ($4 USD) where you can walk 2.5 hours along the train tracks for free. It takes you to the same town and is quite beautiful with all the lovely people you meet while walking. I chose this option and I wouldn’t have it any other way! In total it was about a 7 hour journey but you save so much money and see more of the surroundings of Machu Picchu.

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Here is the bus driver that took me to Santa Teresa. The bus was packed so I sat up front with three of the men that work on the bus. Loud 80s Ace of Base music and chicha (drink made from corn) all around.

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Here is some of the scenary from the walk to Agua Calientes. You can actually see the ruins the whole walk!

Option 4) From the town of Pisac (45 minutes outside of Cusco) you can pay $4 Soles ($1.50 USD) for a taxi to Pisac, you can walk 18 miles along the railroad tracks to Agua Calientes. Start early like 3:30 am if you want to get there before dark.

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Loved this piece of metal along the tracks.

Once you get to the town you have two choices to get up to the entrance, you can walk 2 hours up steep steps which looks  alot like the picture below the whole way or wait 1 hour to 2 hours for a bus that costs $20 USD both ways and be hot and crammed.

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Here is what the hike is like the whole way up. Nothing anyone cant do, and quite serene through the forest.

Once you get to the entrance there is no hike so if you take a bus you miss out on hiking. I litearlly was dripping in sweat and a tank top and arrived to hundreds of people exiting the bus in full on winter gear. It made for quite a funny experiance. There is a one hour path to a sun temple inside but it’s nothing compared to the gorgeous hike up. This surprised me as I was expecting more of a hike inside. Once you get through the entrance gate the ruins immediately welcome you. I was taken back by this, it was so sudden. For this I would call the ruins a park instead of a trek or hike.

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I heard that you have to start early so I decided to hike up the stairs at 3:30 in the morning. I did it without light and alone. Thank goodness it was a full moon that joyfully lit my entire walk. Que rico el camino, this was my most favorite part of my experience as I was expecting tons if people to be doing the same thing. The whole 2 hour hike and I never saw a soul in sight. I only experienced the beautiful choir of birds, crickets playing and animals waking up. So beautiful I felt the energy of the mountains without anyone around, this was so unexpected and so incredibly powerful.

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5:30 am and I was in line for the entrance of Machu Picchu, took about 30 minutes as I still continued to sweat exhausted from the hike. I really couldnt believe that people were so willing to take a bus instead of walk! I even heard people wait 2 hours in line before taking the bus up! The hike was not hard at all, I have been on much more difficult ones before. So amazing how many tourists there were and none experienced the surrounding area. To each their own right? I stayed away from the group tours and was able to have a lot of silence and alone time. There are different ruins within the park and it took me about 4 hours to walk around and take my time.

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Overall I am happy to have been fortunate enough to visit the famous Machu Picchu, it was magical. However, the ruins that are around the area in Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and in-between the towns are if not more beautiful as I believe their energy has been perserved. Ruins, sun and water temples, and the cost is free and there are no people.  People really build up the ruins I think a lot of the energy is lost in how many people go there. If you get a chance to go, do it cheap and spend most of your time in the surrounding ruins. Some of the surronding ruins are pre-Incan and are mind blowing. Its all about perspective and how willing you are to go off the tourist track right?

I am currently waiting in Cusco for my night bus to the jungle. Glad this part of my travels is over and waiting the next adventure! Hope all are enjoying their lives with presence and love. Peace to all.

 

Vipassana Meditation

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About four months ago while in Colombia I decided that I wanted to go to a course to learn the mediation of Vipassana. Now, 4 months later I find myself at the Sacred Valley Ashram ready for a 10 day vipassana meditation course. Located in the small town of Calca just one hour outside of Cusco, Peru.

The course was put on by volunteers at Dharma Vipassana who host a 12 days long course all over the world for just donations. Its an amazing organization that makes it possible for all type of people to participate in the practice.

The course prohibits students to not read, write, talk, make eye contact or eat dinner for the total 10 days.

What is Vipassana? Vipassana is a form of meditation from India that is practiced in order to cleanse the mind, making it pure by controlling sensations and reactions. To do this one must train the mind to experience, feel and acknowledge these feelings within the framework of the body.

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The Sacred Valley Ashram

Many people understand realities on a intellectual level but often not on a subconscious and experiential level. For example one knows that if one smokes cigarettes that one can develop cancer. They know this intellectually but, because one has not experienced cancer, the person continues to smoke knowing fully well what outcome of death or cancer. This is also the same with many things in ones life – drinking, eating, facebook, gossip, texting etc. and we do these things over and over again knowing fully well they might not be the best for us.

Linked to everything that we do, the body is constantly making sensations. While awake, asleep, consciously or unconsciously we always have sensations. When one tastes their favorite candy or late, a sensation will come and one will associate the action or object with a sensation. At first its subtle but once one practices focusing on the sensations its super easy to be aware of the feelings.

For example take one that is an alcoholic. An Alcoholic is not addicted to alcohol, they are addicted to the sensation that they feel while consuming alcohol or the sensations that come later when they are drunk. When someone wants another drink they want the sensation again, it becomes a craving. Cravings can be stored within the body on a surface level and all the way into the deepest part of our souls. They are created cravings that we have had our entire life. Some may call these cravings self created misery and at times we are not even aware that we carry them with us.

Think of when you were a child. When you cried (craving)  someone held you (sensation). When you were hungry (craving) you were fed (sensation). When you were comparing yourself to others and wanting a new dress or shirt (craving) you go and spend money on clothes (sensation). Sometimes that root of this problem is only satisfied for the moment and in this we have been conditioned that when we have a craving, we automatically expect that need to be met. Often this craving of sensations are what lead many to live in the past or the future, rather the present. The present is where life is and memories and future plans all are distractions from the current bliss we can live right now.

What is at the root of craving? Why do we have these cravings for these sensations? Most of the time they seem so natural. The root of craving is attachment. We hold so tightly to a particular feeling, pleasant sensation, or a fluffy expectation that one creates in their imagination. One can spend hours fantasizing about the future and can think about a million things at once. The mind can change so rapidly that one could not keep a diary to keep up with every single thought that comes and goes.

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The important thing when meditating is to become aware of what our mind is creating and start to control where we want to take it.

Eventually after much mediation practice one can feel sensations all over the body. One can reach a statue-like state where they are equanimity with their body and mind. This means one can observe their feelings  and metal thought process through a present and active perspective.

This observation process is like one that watches themselves from a distance. Realizing that the mind changes constantly.

For example, you have an itch on your eye brow, you scratch it. You feel hungry, so you eat. You feel sad, so you cry. You feel angry, so you build anger. Once you become aware of these sensations you learn how quickly thoughts, ideas, memories, and feelings arise and pass away. You understand this in a way you’ve never known and can begin to control your mind.

The idea behind Vipassana is that we train our mind to feel these free flowing sensations throughout the body. It takes patience, time, alertness, diligence, intelligence and silence. This is why one does not talk the whole 10 days. Through these sensations one begins to recognize and start to become aware of them. It’s important when feeling a sensation to not judge it as good or bad. One must just observe.

All of these sensations teach us the universal truth that everything is constantly changing. This universal truth can be experienced within our own body. It is  constantly changing, changing, changing. We often have two reactions to sensations: good or bad. And then two different time frames which our thoughts exists within: past and future. Our lives are so packed and crammed that many of us cannot sit silent for longer than 10 minutes because we feel like we need to be doing something.

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My friend Kate was with me the entire course, I could not of done it without her.

Here is an example of how we multiply our misery by having a simple thought. You are at a cafe and feeling really happy and writing in your journal. Then a couple walks in and a woman gives you a dirty look. This look you cannot get out of your mind. You start multiplying this frustration by verbalizing it to your best friend who also agrees with you that the woman is rude and mean. You become so obsessed with this situation that now a simple look has turned suddenly into a whole movie that keeps playing and playing. At the source of your feeling was just a simple thought that now has manifested anger and rage within yourself. What you perceived may not even be true. Now what you have created has not only hurt your own life but created negativity in others as well.

Bottom line is that people cannot live purely by emotions and feelings as it changes so quickly and is so dependent from situation to situation. Instead one can observe this feeling of disgust from the woman and then let it leave as soon as the thought is over. Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she was looking through you and not at you and what she was doing had absolutely nothing to do with you! By multiplying misery we only ruin our own happiness. This is one example of many ways we tend to be so hard on ourselves and build all of these intense layers of misery.

Another example, 4 children that are blind folded do not know what an elephant is. They are all asked to touch an elephant.The first touches the tail and says that an elephant is like a paintbrush. The second touches the trunk and says an elephant is rough and big. The third tries to pick up the back leg of the elephant and says its big and heavy. The fourth sits on top of the elephant and says it is much like a car. Each child has spoken truth, they have not lied. But, they only see their own perspective, not that of the whole truth which requires seeing every single part of the elephant to realize what it really means to be an elephant.

When you have a thought about something negative and don’t bring it to life on the verbal level, and just keep it on the mental level, you can observe it and observe that it goes away. You don’t have to have that sadness and multiply it. The same goes with positive thoughts, acknowledging it and then seeing that soon it passes as does everything in life. That way we do not become attached to the craving and desire the bad thoughts to leave as soon as they come. One must remain solely an observer away from the feelings.

If ones back hurts from sitting too long meditating one can even learn to observe it and let it be by saying, “there is a sensation and soon it will pass”- This is what remaining in a equanimity state means, no judgment.  The same situation, your back starts to hurt and all the sudden your mind goes to the center of the pain.  Sure enough, pretty soon your entire back pain will become so intense that you move your posture every 10 minutes for this pain is unbearable. Not only that but now your entire legs start to make pain for you as well!  It’s all mental.

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Here is a schedule for a typical day:
4:00 am – Wake Up
4:30-6:30 am -Meditation in Meditation room or in dorm
6:30-8:00 am – Breakfast and free time
8:00 – 9:00 am – Group meditation
9:00-11:00 am Meditation in meditation room or in dorm
11:00-12:00 Lunch
12:00-1:00 Interviews with teacher
1:00-2:30 Mediation
2:30-3:30 Group Meditation
3:30-5:00 Mediation
5:00-6:00 Tea Time
6:00-7:00 Group Meditation
7:00-8:30 Discourse
8:30-9:30 Mediation
9:30 Lights out

Lets put it this way, the no talking part was the easiest for me the whole week. The meditating everyday for almost 12 hour was the most challenging.

I’ve never been that quiet for that long in my life. I truly believe that everyone should try this once in their life. You learn so much about yourself by just listening and being quiet. Learning how your mind works can make us become more alert, sensitive, and more joyful. It’s an art of living. I am still practicing the mediation every morning for one hour and still it remains challenging but I have noticed even more of a sense of freedom and deeper joy in my life. I find myself catching my thoughts when they are negative and becoming more aware of the words that I bring to life on a verbal level. What a wonderful gift to be able to get this teaching.

In all the course was free and a suggested donation of $200,000 Peruvian Pesos ($75.00 USD) was given as that covers the cost of meals, teacher and for a bed. You don’t have to donate, but it helps the next course.

It’s unbelievable how generous people are and how much people are willing to give. Mediation, whether Vipassana or other forms can change ones life. It brings one into the present and allows them to become liberated. What a beautiful gift of silence, stillness, and quality time alone with ourselves. If you have a chance in your life you will never be sorry that you took time to discover oneself for 10 days. Happy mediating to all those who practice!

The Ruin-Filled Town of Pisac, Peru

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The small Sacred Valley of Pisac, Peru -Roaring energetic mountains, melted with sage green bushes, dancing trees, fused with Incan ruins, tiny tourist markets, one calm sleepy river and a spiritual energy that roars through the streets.

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People usually stop in Pisac for a day trip from Cusco as its only 45 minutes away and is on the route to Machu Pichu. After my retreat in Calca (30 min away from Pisca) I met two German friends Lucas and Lachman.

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Lachman has a lovely house at the highest house on the top of a mountain side where we have a gorgeous view of the Pisac ruins. How beautiful it is to wake up every morning to mediate with the energy of the ruins and Sacred Valley mountains. We cook breakfast every morning together and are having such a lovely time. New adventures, endless ruins to explore in the area and practicing this Vipassana meditation lifestyle. It’s much easier to accomplish when you have some other people to meditate with and hold you accountable.

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The town is adorable, filled with cute shops, cafes, really a warm and inviting city. There is a close community here of artists and spiritual healers. People are very open and loving. I will spend 1-2 weeks here. Who knows but it’s definitely a place I feel is exactly where I need to be at the exact right time.

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To get to Pisac from Cusco it’s just 45 minute bus ride away for $4.00 Soles ($1.50 USD) and its a beautiful bus ride. If you look for a hostel near the market be prepared to spend at least $25.00 Soles ($9.30 USD) a night which is pricey for Peru. If you walk outside of town, 10 minutes along the river there are cheaper places and locations for camping.

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Lima to Cusco, Peru

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I am sitting on the bus from Lima to cusco, 24 hour bus ride. its been 10 hours and it’s 6:30 in the morning. The sunrise is welcoming me to this new land with a warm embrace and subtle energy amplified by the valley. These mountains that stretch of amber, late, and deep bronze playfully expand to the horizon. The whimsical clouds are illuminated with orange and strawberry sherbet liquified with a hint of pastel. There are profound gorges that dip to the center of the earth with sparkles of houses showing glimpses of life.

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The sky is barbie blue and the clouds against it are singing. The moon appears, wise and listening, full and slowly descending into the valley energy. This landscape, these feelings, these memories are potent, laced with thankfulness and love, I feel alive. This is the moment I dreamed of before coming to South America.20130709-152353.jpg

Life is here, now, in this moment waiting for us to listen to it. It’s burning with anxiousness and loving us even when we aren’t listening

 

 

Loja to Lima

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Travel, travel and more travel…by bus.

From the jungle of Loja I took a bus at about 11:30pm to Piura for a 12 hour bus ride and a good $18 USD for a bus fare. It was easy and I slept the whole time, I was so confused when I woke up at 3 am to realize we were at the border. The border is so disorganized and didn’t make any sense to me. You have to get your passport stamped on the Ecuadorian side and then proceed to walk a hundred meters and get it stamped on the Peruvian side as well.

The staff is not very friendly and the rules are unclear. Finally at 3:45am we were on the road again…until we got in an accident. I was so scared we hit something and there was a huge thud, screeching noise and a quick half stop. Everyone was curious and awoke abruptly from slumber. When we got out of the bus we realized that the huge bus plowed into a cow! The front of the bus was messed up from it but the bus driver decided it was still good to drive. Onward! I fell right back asleep and slept well.

Upon arriving in Piura I was so confused and lost and disoriented. I felt so out of it and on top of that I didn’t have the Peruvian currency of soles so I was a lost puppy. I met a French girl and invited myself to join her because for one of the first times I was a little freaked out. I could tell she didn’t want me to go with her, but I didn’t care I just wanted to walk with someone and to feel more comfortable I forced it.

We were going the same direction, south, so we both got tickets together. Another 3.5 hours from Piura to chitoga $15 PEU ($5.50 USD). I slept the whole time thankfully! I was tired!

Once we got into Chitoga at 10 am the only bus to lima to Lima that was direct was at 8 pm. So I had to kill 10 hours in this busy, dirty town! Thankfully there was a place in the bus station for my bag. So I decided to search the lonely planet travel book (which I never use) and find out what to do in Chicalyo. The only thing in the guide was the “witches market” where there were natural plants, remedies and potions. I got cleansed, met some lovely people and learned about the medicines and plants native to the area. They were selling tons of magical and sacred medicines of auyuaska and San Pedro there as well.

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San Pedro, herbs, and other natural remedies at the Witches Market

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The Witches Market

Finally as 8pm rolles around I boarded the Peruvian bus to Lima. 13 hours at $75 PEU ($27.5 USD). I was blown away at how luxurious and fancy the double decker buses are compared to the Ecuadorean and Colombian ones! Talk about VIP first class – dinner, drinks, dessert and quiet included. I have to admit I kinda missed the constant loud blaring noise of rigaton music the whole time…not!

I stayed in Lima just for the night. It’s loud, dirty, full of advertisements, and people don’t look you on the eyes or say “happy eating” like they did in Ecuador. But, different country, different culture. Definitely different energy, I haven’t been to a big city in months! Off to Cusco now!