Tag Archives: cost

Train -Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca to Puerto Madryn

Standard

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!

Cheese and Wine Country – Cafayate, Argentina

Standard

SAM_0705

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.

SAM_0709 SAM_0712

SAM_0717ISAM_0692

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.

SAM_0714

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.

SAM_0700 SAM_0696

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!

  SAM_0734

 

Cordoba, Argentina

Standard

SAM_0804

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.

SAM_0839 SAM_0812

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.
SAM_0787

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.

SAM_0821 SAM_0819

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.

SAM_0799 SAM_0807

Vipassana Retreat at Dolores, Argentina

Standard

SAM_0757

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

SAM_0756

Uyuni – Salt Flats

Standard

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.

SAM_0415

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.

SAM_0490

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.

Bus Crash

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

SAM_0435

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).

SAM_0451

SAM_0388

SAM_0570

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.

SAM_0408

SAM_0549

SAM_0411

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.

SAM_0538

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.

SAM_0476

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¨.

SAM_0478

SAM_0461

SAM_0460

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.

SAM_0618

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!

SAM_0407

SAM_0630

Sucre Mural – BeeHive

Standard

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!

BeeHive

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

Paint

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

SAM_0651

SAM_0679

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.

SAM_0636

SAM_0639

SAM_0642

SAM_0643

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

Standard

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.

SAM_0168

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.

SAM_0175

La Paz, Bolivia

Standard

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.

SAM_0230

SAM_0238

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.

SAM_0244

SAM_0361

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.

SAM_0251

SAM_0262

SAM_0265

SAM_0257

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.

SAM_0278

SAM_0288

SAM_0298

SAM_0292

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.

SAM_0330

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.

SAM_0233

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.

SAM_0366

Auywaska Mural in Cabaconde, Peru

Standard

Self

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

img_2389 img_2385 img_2387 img_2386 img_2381 img_2379.

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.

img_2372

sam_0057

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.

sam_0064

SAM_0085

 SAM_0291

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!

SAM_0066

IMG_2384

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!

    sam_0073

sam_0072

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.

SAM_0666  SAM_0510

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.

SAM_0473

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.

SAM_0527  SAM_0538

SAM_0587   SAM_0559

SAM_0619     SAM_0532

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.

SAM_0057 SAM_0109

SAM_0283

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.

SAM_0676  SAM_0673

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!

SAM_0297  SAM_0470

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.

IMG_2422  SAM_0251

 

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

Standard

the-snake-3

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.

1170892_10100908958082783_532260964_n

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:

1003039_10100908959754433_85184999_n SAM_3018

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.

SAM_3020 1150927_10100908958242463_1281459703_n

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.

1150314_10100908971036823_495876114_n

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.

1014178_10100908962459013_1871376775_n

SAM_3055

1098526_10100908965373173_615385672_n

1151033_10100908966880153_1245816386_n

1003769_10100908964435053_1879594263_n

SAM_3056

1098326_10100908971121653_1490235286_n

  SAM_2920

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

Standard

2

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!

20130725-135208.jpg 20130725-135220.jpg

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.

20130725-134939.jpg

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.

20130725-135016.jpg

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.

20130725-135232.jpg

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.

20130725-135128.jpg

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.

20130725-135252.jpg

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.

20130725-134926.jpg  20130725-134948.jpg

20130725-135144.jpg

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.

20130725-135000.jpg

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.

1

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.

20130725-135051.jpg

3

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.

20130725-135039.jpg

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

Standard

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.

20130712-162242.jpg

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.

20130712-162229.jpg

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.

20130712-162252.jpg

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.

20130712-162218.jpg

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

Standard

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.

20130712-161852.jpg

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.

20130712-161706.jpg

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.

20130712-161902.jpg

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.

20130712-161932.jpg

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.

20130712-161921.jpg

Lima to Cusco, Peru

Standard

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.

20130709-152412.jpg

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

Standard

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.

20130709-151813.jpg

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

20130709-151824.jpg

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!

Caves of the Tayos, Macas

Standard

The Amazon Jungle: Full of energy, breathing life, and adventurously addicting.

Instead of taking the more traveled pan-american highway to Peru I took the back road through the jungle and stoping in the small town of Macas for a little cave pitstop.

Macas is a burning hot heated jungle town with hundreds of caves. The ¨Caves of the Tayos¨ have many myths and stories about them. One is about the lost city of Atlantis that may found there where you can literally spend days walking through the complex network of trails. All the caves are naturally made, and some even go as far as saying that there are indigenous people that live in the caves with higher intelligence than anyone else in the world.

4

Here we are deep in the cave, I am not going to lie I was scared at many points. To the right of us you can see a bat flying.

There’s been books, movies and legends about them and the caves reach all over the jungle fo Ecuador and Peru. I would of liked to spend more time doing the four day walk through some of the caves, and eventually end breaking through the ground with a stick to get out of the caves when the guide permits. It is possible to do that through Zamora, I would of loved to check it out!

With me my friend, Natasa came to the caves! We weren’t prepared for the day we got into as it was much longer and less planned than anticipated.

We caught a 6:30 am bus from Tena to Puyo, 1.5 hours ($1.5 USD) and then a bus from Puyo to Macas, about 3.5 hours ($5 USD). Once in Macas we tried to find a guide because you cannot go into the caves without one (you wouldn’t want to anyway, they are scary and complex).

We searched around town for 1 hour trying to find someone in the scorching heat. We had limited amount of time and were banking on someone being avaialbe for a say of tour to take us.

We knew there were two tour agencies in town. First place was closed, and so was the second. We were so lost and wandered for what seemed hours. Finally a hostel gave us a random flyer of a man who offered tours. We managed to reach his house, a little cottage tucked away on a street corner. The man, Darwin was just leaving an jumped at the opportunity to take us for a hike. He said 3 hours, lunch, transportation and 1 hour in the caves would be provided and the price would be $25 a person. That is a great price for a jungle tour, most start at $40 and we were booking it last minute so of course we said yes!

This leads me to my next point and lesson in traveling:Never, ever, ever assume anything.

As the tour started we walked quite a way from the mans house and we were expecting to get into his car and go to the caves. Well ends up we were walking to the bus station. ¨Okay¨, I thought to myself. ¨I do not mind taking the bus, but I was expecting a car¨. No bus came, we ended up hitching the way there to the entrance of the path for the caves. We tried to find a car to the entrance but after 1 hour of waiting around we had to walk the 4 miles just to get to the entrance of the hike. All of this would have been fine if I wasn’t worried about catching my bus that I had booked, a night bus, at 7:00 pm.

6

So we start to walk, and by walk I mean run. Darwin didn’t wait for us one bit and knew that I probably wouldn’t make my bus and was trying to make up for it with running the trail. It wasn’t even a trail, it was just treking through the jungle (gorgeous) and finding ways to get around huge bolders and rivers and streams.

7

Here is the river, the hike was unlike anything I have done before.

The hike was divine, we were in the deep jungle, bats flying by just barely garzing my face, and flowing powerful rivers playing in and out of the trees.

The caves were out of this world, I’ve never seen anything like them. We came upon a huge bloder rock wall and looked down into the rocks cracks which was a window into another world.

We crawled on our hands and feet, through the thick clay mud and into the darkness.

1

This is the entrance of the caves, see you later!

Big boots were necessary as at the entrance of the cave was a river deep and loud which would become our hiking path. The sound of the water echoed in the caves and you couldn’t see a thing, it didn’t help Darwin was still going fast and was the only one with the light.

The river was shallow in some parts, but deep in others. The whole time our boots were full of water and heavy in weight.

3

Here we are dancing our boots around trying to get all the water out.

We hiked for about an hour and turned off our lights to feel the energy from time to time. Powerful, dark, cold and yet still full of life. I felt like an animal, primitive and timeless. It was a trip, so beautiful I couldn’t take in all I was feeling at the time.

2

This is us climbing out of the caves.

Once we hiked out of the caves, we had only limited time to get back to town to catch my bus. So we walk the same 3 miles back to the road and hitched a ride back to Macas.

I would of never entered those caves without a guide, but honestly this guy Darwin I would never go hiking with again. He was smoking joints the whole time and walking ahead of us. However, I am glad he was there because I wouldn’t of had the nerve to go through the caves alone. And as a bonus when we were heading back from the hike we ran into a venomous snake that has a rodent in its mouth and wasn’t letting us pass. The guide grabbed some cigarettes and blew smoke in its face and had some type of drink with him in case it did bite. That made me feel better.

5

Here is a photo of Darwin, he was taking pictures the whole time.

Darwin said that he once saw a anaconda kill a little boy in a river about 15 years ago. A bunch of kids were washing up in the stream and he watched the snake strangle the kid and then squish him to death before eating him. Could you imagine! The stories from this guy were pretty rough he has lived his whole life in the junge and been going to the caves since he was a kid.

If I were I do the tour again I would take it from Puyo, not macas and make sure I asked ALL questions and not assume that all guides are professionals. Even though the guide wasn’t the best, I was back on time for my bus with two minutes to spare and was off! Macas to Loja night bus is supposed to take 8-9 hours and it ended up being 10-11 as there was tons of traffic an construction. The trip cost $14 USD and led me to Loja where I took a bus for $1.5 USD to Vilcabumba. The whole trip was worth the stress and adventure. The caves were definitely a high light and the energy from them is something I will remember for the rest of my life! (Photos to come soon!)

Tena, Ecuador Mural – The Amazon!

Standard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tena, Ecuador – The Jungle. Loud animal noises, neon yellow, green and brown luscious trees (bigger than you have seen in your whole life), pounding singing rain for days (literally), poison tree frogs (only if you eat them), unique jungle fungus (not on me, on the trees), hundreds of bug bits, turquoise translucent blue butterflies, dancing moths around lights, and hot heat filled the life of the Amazon jungle.

Tena, Ecuador was my home for almost a week while I painted my mural at Pakay Tours and Hostel, run by a couple, an Ecuadorian man, Tony and German woman, Inga who were more than welcoming and friendly my whole stay. The couple switched speaking languages from German to Spanish to English which was quite an entertaining thing to witness.  I litreally had the best breakfast every morning with granola, yogurt, eggs, coffee (from a french press), milk, bread, homemade jam and usaully something extra and different for each morning.This is one place I wish I was at for longer. We cooked meals at night including a tradtional Ecuadorian meal with fish and vegetables over the fire using palm tree leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tony works as a guide through the rainforest and took me and some friends out for hikes and waterfall hunting. One hike was to his brothers property where we hiked for 4 hours.We wore mud boots because it was raining the entire time and we were lucky enough to see poison tree frogs, a fungus called cordyceps , and magical mushrooms. It was rare to see the cordyceps as they are used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicines and many athletes take it as a form of medicine to heal the body and mind. The fungus feeds on a host, a insect, and will kill it from the inside out. When humans digest the fungus, it is thought to be healing for the human body. Some people pay thousands of dollars for this fungus!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other hike Tony took us on was a hike to dazzling waterfalls that led to pools where you could swim and jump off cliffs. The rock around the waterfalls made for good water slides as well! It was a beautiful day for swimming, super hot and even had some Ecuadorian boys that asked me to marry them. Now that I speak Spanish it is quite interesting to see some of the ways that men try and pick up women. You could call them very forward!

       OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, back to the mural.

Where: Pakay Tours and Hostel in Tena, Ecuador, the Amazon!

What: A mural of course! It was a wall that wrapped around the hallway. It was halfway outside-inside and was quite large. The theme was amazon and it was such a pleasure to paint it!

How long?: One week, 6-8 hours a day

Accommodation: Unbelievable place. The home is made from Panama Palm tree its the name but its really from Ecuador) and is situated in the jungle only a 10 minute walk into town. I was provided with a wonderful bed, and meals for everyday. Breakfast was a luxury as we ate eggs, pancakes, granola,

What I learned: Always wear pants, socks and long sleeve t-shirt while working in the jungle because san flies and random bug will bite you. In this moment I have close to 100 bug bits just on each of my legs. No fun! I learned how to paint dangerously with the help of an added platform to get the high edges, as the ladder wouldn’t cooperate with the stairs. I also learned to paint for longer than 4 hours a day, average was probably 8 hours. I also learned that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee in one day helps painting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

El Fin a Comuna de Rhiannon

Standard

How can you describe a place that captures your souls spirit and offers lessons, energy and experiances for your heart that words can not even describe? Community Rhiannon has proven to be a magical place for discovery, working and family in the midsts of smells of eucalyptus, incense, donkeys, compost, dogs, san pedro, yoga and whispering mountains.

1large

The farm is 1.5 hours from Quito, Ecuador in the small town of Malchingui and I stumbled upon this gem through the WWOOFING website. The scenery is gorgeous set in the mountains near the sacred Incan trail. There were 4 volcanos located around Rhiannon, and you could see them on a clear day. Below is the active volcano that you could see from my house!

1

There are a lovely couple, Nicky and Helen that own the place and make things organized and beautiful. They work well as a team and have a little one and a half year olf baby as well. She has shiny bright blue eyes and is always willing to give out a laugh or smile. Here is an interesting article written about the couple as they have been in the press about getting legal papers for their family as two mothers. They have owned the farm for about 5 years.

At Rhiannon there are about 10-25 Volunteers from all over the world living in tipis, snake pits, gnome domes and tiny houses. The volunteers arrive twice a month, on the first and on the 15th of each month, and the community requires a length stay of 1 month minimum. This way, the people get to know each other and the community becomes a family.

2

This was the view from my house for one month, I lived in the “snake pit” because my bed was literally 5 feet underground hanging from a platform with 4 big metal chains to the ceiling. It was two stories and I lived alone, cant complain!

3

Another view from inside the snake pit, it still needs donkey poop, sawdust, dirt, and water mixture on the walls before its compelte. The process is called adobe.

4

Here is the snake pit from the oustide

Meals are cooked together everyday. Breakfast at 7am, lunch at 1:30 pm and pm and dinner at 7:30pm. Every meal is vegetarian and everyone eats together.

27

Here is Luna, one of the premanent residents of Rhiannon Community. Cute little lady!

At Rhiannon, it is a almost completely sustainable (there is not enough food produced at the farm to be conpletly sustainable yet). The community has solar powered electricity (no lights on after 9pm), bano seco “dry toilets” and nothing goes to waste. Remember the song about reduce, reuse, and recycle? Well this place does all three steps not just recycling. The amount of garbage in one month produced a this farm was probably the same I could produce on a week by myself. Pretty impressive but we all for sure had to be super aware of these things all the time. The showers were cold, unless there was a sunny day and the sun heated it.

9

Here is the bicycle powered washing machine that we used to wash clothes with natural lemon soap collected once a week from the lemon and lime peels.

We would all wake up to the ring of a big bell at 6:45 am and a second at 7:00 am. We would all have breakfast together typically porridge, fruit and granola. Then we would have a team meeting at 7:45 am to talk about work and then start work at 8:00 am.

7

10 yoga platforms that overlook the mountains, pretty incredible.

Tasks on the farm ranged from taking care of donkeys, feeding the chickens, turning compost, taking care of the tree circle from overgrowing weeds, taking care of 7 dogs, harvesting crops, building houses out of rocks and donkey poop, painting signs, and cleaning the house. Not one day looked the same and you could definitely try everything if you wanted.

23

16

Here is Joss juggling the donkey poop, working hard to adobe the snake pit.

Work would end at 1:30 pm where we would all eat lunch together and after that we pretty much had free time to ourselves. There was yoga everyday at 3:00 pm and mediations at 7:00pm. Dinner was always around 7:00-8:00 pm. I learned fabulous meals and am excited to start implementing them.

At the farm I also tried the sacred medicine San Pedro and took it with about 30 people in a sacred circle with sacred songs, a tribe and a sacred fire. It was a beautiful experience, very different from anything else I have felt. Below is my friend Frederika and we collected beautiful flowers for the ceremony.

15   13

12

Here is the family preparing for a sweat lodge ceremony before the San Pedro. The ceremony includes 4 rounds of hot stones in a tiny room (see the adobe structure behind) and the idea is that you are being reborn by sweating and singing sacred songs.

While at the farm I learned how to give massages from Nicky and got Reiki 1 certified. The massage corse was a weekend where I learned how to give an hour and a half full body massage. We did a hands on practice and I now have a skill I can take with me the rest of my life. Definitely something I love doing.

Reiki is a type of healing practice that comes from Japan. It is a 45 min – 1 hour practice where the practitioner gives reiki to the client while the client relaxes and meditates. The idea is that the reiki energy unblocked the chakras in the body, the energy centers where 7 are located in the body. Each center is a different energy and color and as we live or lives its quite possible to block these centers. Reiki is the process of relieving the blockage by allowing the client space, support and energy to do so. It’s a miraculous practice and its changes my life. You can get certified all the way up to level 5 as a Reiki master. I am definitely looking to get certified after I practice for 6 months which is recommended.

2large

At the farm I also taught English to a elementary school in the town. It was once a week and the children were so much fun to teach. It was a lot of work, but absolutely worth it.

I am so happy that I have started to WWOOF (farm organically) as it gives such a great balance to traveling. The month gave me exactly what I needed in my life at the perfect moment. I feel so grateful for the life I live and the people who have been apart of it.

28

Here is the Rhiannon Family

When I first arrived to Quito at the Ofelia station it was 4:30 am. I had taken a night bus 9 hours from the coast and realized that here wasn’t a bus to Malchingui until 6:30. The cab driver said he couldn’t wait for me so I was left alone at the station scared! Thankfully I made friends with the bus drivers and was able to sit and the buses that head out every 30 minutes! Made it to the farm safely but man that was a close call!

19

Here is the bus that I finally took at 7:30 am, I was never more happy to see a bus in my life.

The 10 hour Incan Hike – Ecuador

Standard

The Incan Hike / May 2013               20130614-092256.jpg

Powerful Incan ancestor speaking mountains, glazed with fallen snow, high altitude breathe taking, sweetly hot and biting cold, mysterious navy blue laid lakes, gentle horse finding, exhausted leg climbing, 10 hour hiking kind of day!

I walked with a friend from Malchungi to Otavalo in Ecuador for a whopping 10 hour total hike. We walked through the magical mountains of the Andes range which got up to almost 14,000 feet in elevation. Fuya-Fuya is the most well known stratovolanco in this chain of mountains.

In the province of Imbabura a few hours away North from Quito we found Lake Mojanda. Nestled in between a mountain range pregnant with active volcanos are three lakes Caricocha (male lake) or big lake, Huarmicocha (female lake) or small lake and Yanacocha or black lake.

Every bend, every climb we were in awe of as the scenery was filled with every changing clouds, weather surprises and mushroom filled paths. We lucked out with clear weather as many people go to the hike and cannot even see the mountains because its so foggy. We has nothing but sunshine and clear views.

The 10 hour hike was a lot of work, free, and one of the most remember able things I have experienced on my trip. Feeling thankful, blessed, calm and at ease while my time at Rhiannon Community Farm. I am appreciating the off-the-path traveling of farm life and quiet long walks. Did I mention it was free?

20130614-092230.jpg  20130614-092313.jpg 20130614-092337.jpg

Montantia, Ecuador

Standard

April 2013    20130614-092856.jpg

It’s currently 9:30 am and I can still hear regaton. It’s the type of loud music with a deep base that sounds like the same song over and over. People here party all night and all day. Montanita is a small beach town on the coast of Ecuador with a infamous night life. For me, good luck trying to get me to stay up past 3:00 am. In my hostel the walls and windows were shaking with bass.

2

To get to Montanita from Baños:
Get ready for a long bus ride. It’s wasn’t too bad but I would recommend a night bus as many of the busses during the day make a 45 minute longer trip to Ricabamba. Make sure to ask if the bus is going to that city as it does make a difference in time and people will try and rip you off! They will even say its a direct bus when it really isn’t. If you don’t don’t stop in Rhiabamba its a direct bus.

The total time was 7.5-8 hours and $8.00 USD. It’s a standard Ecuador price as the rule is $1 dollar for every hour.

1

Once you get into Guayaquil, you must transfer at the station to get to Montanita. Warning for anyone traveling to Guayaquil bus terminal: Only go to Guyaquil via overnight bus or 6am departure time from surrounding cities. We took the 9 am bus from Baños, got into Guayaquil at 4:45 pm and missed the last bus transfer. Therefore we had a really hard time trying to find something legit to get us to Montanita. It seemed odd that at 4:30 pm there were no more busses. It almost seemed like a scam because the people working at the terminal directed us to a man who wanted to charge a whopping $10 a person!

All in all Montanita isn’t a city I would be dying to go back to anytime soon, but for the person that enjoys a good party…you would fall in love.

3

Here is a little painting I did while in Montanita