Tag Archives: Mural

My Largest Mural Yet, ‘Portland Perspective’

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It is with pleasure I present to you, “A Piece of Portland,” a playful interpretation of the Portland cityscape through iconic buildings and locations throughout the city. Here, imagination is boundless through the whimsical style, while the viewer can also identify all of their favorite places unique to Portland in one painting.

 

The mural will is significant in scale and colorfully represent the geographic landscape of Portland. The mural features local neighborhoods, iconic bridges, cyclists, characters, farmers market gatherings, parks, bustling cars and buses, the MAX train and more.

At the focal point (right side of the mural) is the Hollywood Neighborhood, represented with over 40 different buildings and businesses. 

The painting is a result of weeks of research to ensure iconic locations, art organizations, nonprofits, tall buildings, smaller structures, parks, and neighborhoods that make Portland weird were all represented in the mural. With the help of architectural software Sketchup, I built a 3-dimensional Portland cityscape to get an accurate perspective of the City in its relation to the Hollywood Neighborhood. 

“Portland Perspective” celebrates the larger city of Portland with a playful and more detailed depiction of the home of the mural, the Hollywood neighborhood. The mural brings together local businesses and people of diverse backgrounds together in one place. Local businesses can point to the mural and say “I know that place! I walk by there every day to go to work”. I want neighbors and viewers to see themselves in the mural and feel a sense of familiarity and belonging.

 

The piece took almost 2 weeks of painting. Thank you to Leavitt Machinery for their help with renting a telescopic boom. The whole painting took about 8 gallons of paint, 15 quarts of paint, 10 paintbrushes under 3 inches in size, 10 rollers, and lots of support and love from the Hollywood Neighborhood. Thank you to Paul Clark with 42nd Street Station for commissioning me to create the work. We worked hard and for almost a year prior to the work coming to life. Thank you to Jacque Authier for hosting me and to Mike Cobb for the connections you made to make me feel at home in Portland.

 

‘Starlit’, Keen + Lyft Collaboration

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In June I teamed up with Urban Artworks and Lyft in Seattle to create a team-building mural at the new Lyft driver location off Industrial and Airport road in Seattle. The style of the collaborative work was that similar to paint by numbers. I created an outline and the team filled in the shapes with colors identified by colored dots.

Introducing: ‘Starlit’, 25′ x 11′ consisting of two walls, at the entrance of their building and on the side facing outward which can be seen from Airport Way.

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I was excited to be working with Urban Artworks. I have followed their work in the past couple of years and was excited to collaborate.

Thank you again to Urban Artworks especially Project Lead Paul Nunn. Thank you to all the participants at Lyft, I would not have been able to complete this project without you! I am so glad that you have a reminder of this work every time you visit your place of work.

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Bicycle Touring Murals

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This past summer I set off for the second time for the Pacific Northwest on a bicycle tour with the incredible, Biketopia Music Collective. We rode our bicycles from Olympia, Washington back to our home in Oakland, CA over the span of 2.5 months.

Our goal? Use our bodies upon our large bicycles to pedal ourselves in an intentional community through cities where we would perform music with pedal-powered music! Pedal power? The same bicycles we use to tour on, we used for the community to pedal our shows! 3-4 hours long, we had different acts and musicians contribute; including murals!

In Seaside, Oregon I created a 1-day mural with participants from the local community center to create a gorgeous mural that was inspired by the garden and all of the love that went into the creation of it.

In Portland, Oregon, I created an incredible large mural that was abstract in style, and colorful in content. This piece was in the Hollywood district just right across the bicycle shop Velo Cult, which is where the bicycle touring group performed. This mural was the first where I had a reveal party with music and friends. I loved to include the community in the reveal as this is an important aspect to the mural and the future life that it will lead.

You can find the 20′ x 15′ foot mural entitled “Sacred Waters” at 42nd and Tillamook in the Hollywood District on the side of Popina Swimwear.

Berlin Mural – “Arriving”

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About The Mural:

Title: “Arriving”

Where: Comepackbackers, Berlin, Germany

Dimensions: 9′ x 20′ x 0′

Medium: Acrylic Paint, Indoor, Private Mural

Length of time: 1 week, painting 6-8 hours a day.

Artist: Individual, Molly Keen

 

Background: I was working in Mostar, Bosnia with black and white and with a focus on design and movement. It was heavily based on drawings and I wanted to bring in bright colors and focus on creating life throughout the hallway that many people walk up and down the halls hundreds of times a day. I created the mural beforehand with the owner, and came to an agreement and there I was, off to different paint stores in Berlin deciding what type of paint to purchase for the project. 5 paint stores, and some hardware stores later I found the perfect store, and to one of my favorite parts of traveling and painting murals: buying paint from foreign art stores. The paint is the same, most of the time, and the interactions and different ways to mix paints always intrigue me.

I made a time-lapse of the experience as I believe it’s important to showcase the entire process and one can see how it’s not perfect, and always changing.

I loved my time in Berlin, I ended up staying 2 weeks and made some really beautiful friends. Berlin is definitely one of those places where I would love to get my masters or study further. The art scene is incredible and the people are from all over the world and creative!

My Germany Experience:

I traveled to other places throughout Germany besides Berlin. My Grandparents on both of my father’s side have parents from Germany. My entire life I knew that I would make it there, and towards the end of my travels, I found myself in Stuttgart, Germany on an apple farm.

For 5 years its been a dream of mine to visit the farm, with my old friend Lukas. I met Lukas in South America in Peru after a Vipassana (link) meditation retreat. He was my introduction to bicycle touring as it was to my surprise that he had a bicycle loaded up with back and front panniers and he had ridden from North America en route to Patagonia. I remember thinking about how incredible it would be to travel by bicycle and to create that kind of experience. It foreshadowed a lot of what I would create for myself in the future as far as living and ride on a bicycle. I knew he had an apple farm there and it seemed almost necessary to pay him a visit and meet his family.

After Stuttgart, I took a 6-hour bus to Munich, where, my father’s last name, Aigner comes from! I actually met some people with the last name and it’s more common there of course. Munich I met with some friends from Oakland that currently live there. I spent a couple of days with them and eventually made my way to Berlin and stayed with some friends before confirming the 5th mural of the tour at Comebackpackers Hostel. The hostel was a retro, centrally located a hip spot, sold out every night I was there, with lots of backpackers. I met tons of people and really felt at home. Germany was all I ever dreamed of and more. I felt so inspired, and could definitely see myself living in a city like Berlin to get my Masters in Fine Arts. 

 

 

Barcelona Mural

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Check out the mural that I completed in January in Barcelona in 2018 at Hostel Primavera. What a wonderful experience as I met the most beautiful people and was able to spend a lot of time with my friends who live in the city. 

Where: Barcelona, Spain

What: The hostel is called Primavera Hostel, which in Spanish, means Spring! The mural felt appropriate to have flowers, blossoms, and colors the represent spring.

What I learned: This was the first time that I painted a ceiling and it came with a lot of problems. When you put a lot of paint on the brush or even the smallest amount of water, the drops will most definitely end up on your face or in your mouth! That is probably why I have paint on my face for most of the shots!

I love painting in different countries to experience the process of buying paint. Every country is pretty different. In Barcelona, I selected colors from a color wheel and drank an afternoon beer while waiting. The colors were mixed with a machine and the price for a quart of acrylic paint was only 4 euro which is almost 1/3 of the price in the states.

In Barcelona, the streets are designed all very similar and the mural that painted was located on the inside of one of these tall buildings. One of the neighbors watched my process of painting. I am so impressed with the city and the way that people live. Such a high quality of life.


I always sign my work M. Keen in honor of my mother. From now on I am thinking about just Molly Keen. What do you think? Thanks for reading, and looking forward to the next mural that I have already started in Portugal!

Thank you again to Guy, Pam and the rest of the family at Primavera Hostel. They were a wonderful place to stay and will soon have a newly remodeled second part of the hostel. Maybe I should go back and paint some more?

MLK Day Community Mural

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January 13th, 2018 I spent MLK day with 15 incredible 5th-grade artists with organization Upward Roots, from Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, in Oakland, CA. I ride my bicycle to every mural that I create. Here is a picture of me on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) with all of my paints and brushes! It is super easy to bike to events and more importantly, fun!

The mural took 2 days to complete. One day consisted of just me painting the outline, which happened to be a Friday during school hours. I had countless youth come up to me and ask me questions, so curious and intrigued with what I was doing. They were no strangers to murals, the school features many artists murals outside and inside the school. I was quite impressed. Some of my favorite comments for the students were, “I want to be an Artist too”, or “can we skip math class and paint with you?”.

I love working with youth and appreciated all of my interactions.

The second day was the very next day, and a Saturday so it was a little less crowded and chaotic. I cannot imagine what the reaction the rest of the school had when they came back to school to see the mural completed with color. They all were so excited!

This approach to the mural is called, “Paint by Numbers” and is an easy way for many to get involved all at once to fill in the piece, similar to that of a coloring book.  The technique is great for 1-3 days with minimal preparation time with the participants who will eventually paint the piece. I put a number or a dot of color in the center of the designs I want to be colored in, and students fill them in.

My favorite part of the collaboration was the conversations the artists had with one another during the creation. Laughing, talking, and finding a groove that was both social and relaxing. What a wonderful experience it was!

Did you know that you can also see this mural from BART between the Coliseum BART stop and San Leandro! Pretty amazing!

THANK YOU: 

Upward Roots Elizabeth Knight for coordinating and connecting me to the mural. Their wedding day was the day after this event and I cannot believe how well she had it together.

To Kindergarten and 5th-grade teacher, painter and facilitator Maria Pirner for helping me paint and getting me settled and comfortable at the school. You have such an incredible way of connecting with students and I admire your patience and ability to talk to the students.

Lastly, thank you to Shannon Burns, this project would have not happened without you. Shannon is a friend from my first year in the bay area, 7 years ago and gave me a heads up about the opportunity.

 

Welcome to the “Flying Colors Mural Project”

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The Flying Colors Mural Project tour is in full swing! I arrived at my first leg and the first mural in Barcelona and will start painting this week at Primavera Bed and Breakfast!

I’ve been working on this project for some time now and it was inspired by my experience painting murals in South America. I wanted to create a project that was interactive, mural based and community centered. I want to share this project with you as it is near and dear to me.

Mission:

The Flying Colors Mural Project seeks to create murals with youth and adult to create a more approachable, collaborative, and interactive connection where the focus is on the development of creative and personal skills through painting, hands-on workshops, and community gatherings. 

History:

Created in 2017, the project began after lead Artist, Molly Keen, spent two years painting over 28 murals throughout Cartagena, Colombia, Palomino Colombia, Salento Colombia, Tena Ecuador, Cabanaconde Peru, Puerto Maldanado Peru, Sucre Bolivia, Puerto Madryn Argentina, Punta Arenas Chile, Puerto Madryn Argentina, Chicen Itza Mexico, and San Qintin Mexico. 

Keen quickly saw the impact of female street artists throughout Latin America who were inspirational to their country and the world. She quickly realized the lack of attention and focus on these female artists and encouragement of women to start painting at a larger scale. Women such as Colombian Street Artists Gleo, Zurik, Bastardilla and Ledania as well as Argentinan Muralista Fio Silva represented art and activism creating a remarkable memory in the creative mind of Keen. They created works that were large in size and importance in content.

Goal:

With the project, Keen seeks to utilize her skills as an art mentor to past summer camps, vision as a creative independent artist to show that anyone can paint and even more, we can do it together. The long-term goal of the tour is that it will start in Europe and circle back to Oakland in May where throughout the summer community murals will take places at family camps of festivals, youth summer camps, schools, and various locations.  

The project seeks to unlock the spirit of one’s creativity to experience the world in a way that develops color, new ways to live, and a creative way to self-express.

The tour will start on January 17th in Barcelona and head to Lagos Portugal, Porto Portugal, Dubrovnik Croatia, Germany, and the Netherlands totaling over 3.5 months and 6-7 murals.

In Conclusion…

My blog “Painting Molly”  is over 6 years old now, can you believe that? I have designed it for you to get a closer and more intimate, behind the scenes look, into the mural-making process and travel adventuring. Traveling can sound romantic and intangible but the reality is that it is hard, requires an incredible amount of energy and the ability to leave your home and get outside of your comfort zone.

Traveling has become a dream for me and I am full of excitement to be able to share this experience here, with you!

Oh, and if you know of cities, towns or locations in need of a  mural within the route in Europe, feel free to reach out! Also, a special thank you to Chris Gallen who recently helped me to create my new logo! What do you think? Thank you, Chris, for this incredible gift! You can click on his name for a link to his website. Amazing!

Rotten City Mural – Emeryville, CA

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My latest mural you can see at Rotten City Pizza in Emeryville, California. The wall is a stucco, concrete 45 foot by 4-16 feet in some places. The mural wraps around the building, taking over parts of two walls.

The entire process has taken me about 1 month and over 100 hours. An element I wanted to add to this piece was video. It was my first time using a GoPro to film my work with a time lapse. I wanted to engage viewers in a new way. I took a shot every three seconds and created a one minute video after a month of painting. The mural was a special one, as my first day of painting was on the 10 year anniversary of my mother, Cindy Keen’s passing. She was creative and energetic and has been my artistic inspiration for my murals. In honor of her, I sign my work M. Keen with her maiden name. So, enjoy the time-lapse.

The Mural:

I have been riding my bicycle by Rotten City for a couple years now and it was not until last year, that I realized it was a pizza place. I stumbled upon it and had an incredibly delicious slice of pizza. Every time since that experience I felt like the building needed more flare and movement to attract people without using a sign or with traditional ways. I have been looking and dreaming about this wall for about a year now. Jonas, the owner of the business and the building agreed to meet me after I sent him an inquiry. We met twice and I showed him different sketches and we spoke about the history of the business and what he wanted to convey to the neighborhood. I was excited to start painting and after three hours in the paint store, selecting colors and day dreaming about the process, I purchased a couple quarts of paint and was ready to start!

Above is the logo of Rotten City, and inspiration for the mural. Elements of the imagery are further discussed at the end of the post. Gambling chips, pizza, a monkey (yes, a monkey) riding a gray hound, palm trees, playing cards, wine barrels, wine bottles, beer and the cityscape behind.

Here is a look at the preliminary sketches.

The mural is 45 feet wide and like a pyramid, at some points reaches 16 feet and at the low points each about 4 feet. The mural is painted with high quality Sherwin-Williams paint, acrylic latex, exterior satin sheen. It is mold proof and water proof, it was super important that I invested in the paints to get the longevity for the mural.

The mural took a total of about 1 month and 70 hours to paint. I found the stucco a bit hard to paint on, and honestly I enjoyed painting and was not concerned about the hours, but more about the process and the quality. I love to paint, it makes me excited and is what I want to do with my life. So I was excited to spend as much time possible on the piece.

The contrast of painting in Latin America V. U.S.

This is my first outdoor mural in the United States and has been an incredible experience, as with the overwhelming amount of love from passerby and cars that want to scream how they feel about the mural with joy and good intention. I was surprised by this and thought about the contrast of painting in Latin America versus the United States. In Latin America, people would sit and watch me. They would bring me treats and things to drink, and not necessarily talk to me, but just enjoy the process and watching me.  Most of my murals reside in Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

Studio V. Street Art 

I have painted in quiet community studios and also painted in busy streets, jungles, beaches, and other outdoor locations. I absolutely love being outside and engaging with the community. I love to get to know people and have them ask me questions. Street art is definitely more my style and I love when people are interested in what I am doing, or I am the first live artist they have ever seen painting a mural.

Tons of people approached me and asked the same questions. Sometimes they would just blurt out whatever they were thinking. Here are the top 5 commentsL

1. How long will this take you?

2. Is it just you painting?

3. That is a lot of work.

4. Good job!

5. You get paid, right?

People have definitely expressed their feelings toward the mural more than I would have ever imagined.

History of Rotten City, and Emeryville, CA: 

History is important to me, especially when I am adding to the aesthetic of a neighborhood and spending a lot of time outside getting to know the people that walk by the mural every day. In this location, 66th and Hollis in Emeryville, there is a man who sells hot dogs and chips across the street. The main road, Hollis is full of busy fast cars, which make it difficult for pedestrians to cross. I have seen three accidents in the month it took me to paint the mural. I have had the pleasure of meeting other artists, families, and neighbors from homes and businesses around.

Emeryville was originally Ohlone land where the Natives would fish for clams, oysters and use the acorns of the oak tree for trade and to eat! After the Spanish colonized in 1776 they created factories and Emeryville became known for industrial wealth. Specifically meat packaging plants, and paint companies (Sherwin-Williams). Shell Oil Company started in Emeryville and moved to Houston, Texas in the 1970’s.

As the town of Emeryville grew, it became known as “Rotten City”, “E’Ville” as it became a sort of Wild West where you could find brothels, places to gamble and drink.  There were even greyhound races, hence the logo of the rotten city, the racing monkey upon a greyhound. It was its own city in the midst of San Francisco and Oakland. Hence the imagery of the Rotten City logo: gambling chips, alcohol and racing monkey on the back of a greyhound.

The city is small, about 2 square miles and most of that is bordering the Bay of San Francisco. There is an incredible marina, and public parks to enjoy. The views of San Francisco are stunning from Emeryville. The city has just started a Mural Arts Committee that is seeking out more muralists to paint walls in the city.

I feel so lucky to have bene apart of this project! The staff at Rotten City were incredible and super accommodating. The owner Jonas I want to thank for his trust in me and because of that, my creative and artistic flow was able to come through. Thank you!

 

Mural in Oakland 

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Where: Oakland, California at the Oakland Music Compex (OMC) in West Oakland with acrylic paint; January 2016

Happy New Year Mural! This piece is located inside the music studio of musicians. The building is amazing and is home to many working artists who practice and record. While painting I could hear multiple bands at one time.

I started with the moon and got into a drippy white paint scene and then started with writing out the poetry that the musicians selected. Poetry, lyrics, words and drawings. The musicians and I (Sara and Max) came up with the concept. We wanted something with words, but not over the top. We wanted to words to fade out and then become stars and constellations. We made sketches this time, which I normally do not do, and it was helpful in the creation of the piece.

The Progression:

 

  



Here I am! This was day 2 in the process. Below are more detailed images of the poetry and intricacy of the words,

 

   

  

   

The writing is poetry from the band, it is not meant to be read easily. I want viewers to engage with the piece and have to try and read it. In addition it makes the energy more scattered and interesting. I like the idea that you have to work for it! I think I put something like 30 different poems and sayings and songs.

 

   

How long did it take: 4 days, 8-10 hours a day

What I learned: Painting on a ladder is dangerous. Especially if you are on the top step! Communicate with building managers before you begin the mural and take more progress shots! It would be great to do some progress videos.

The Exchange: Paid commission

Whats next? I am on the hunt for a studio space in Oakland so hopefully some shows and some good time for making new work!

Boston, Massachusetts

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I spent a little over two weeks in Boston had a great time getting to know the city. I have always wanted to visit Massachusetts! I stayed with different groups of friends and strangers that became friends.

     

Above are pictures of the arboretum in south Boston. Such a beautiful place. I learned a lot about myself and more about what I want for the next couple weeks of my adventuring. I have been so blown away by the love and support that I’ve received while in this city. I got to reconnect with some old friends, visit my cousin, go on many bike rides, and meet other cyclists who are passionate about riding. I just feel lucky to have spent the time I did.

   
   

Above Ian would speak to morning and afternoon bike commuters about bicycle benefits. Sometimes the line of cyclists would be 30+! Pretty amazing. Boston has tons of riders and maybe not the best infrastructure, but the people are committed to make things more safe. Here above is also my friend Jesse from Oakland who used to live in Boston just visiting!

  
     

 I was so lucky to be able to go to Boston bike party which so happens in Oakland as well. It’s one of my most favorite organized rides where hundreds of people get together and ride 10-15 miles and there are planned stops where there is music and just hanging out. Sometimes there is a theme and people get really into it. It’s a great place to meet people. Then I took some screen shots of some instagram posts from a host we had. She liked our “hippy camping” set up. It is quite the urban sight to see I will admit. Oh and do you see my mailbox and sprouts growing on the back of my bike?   
      
Lots of beautiful scenery mists the chaos of the city I loved waking up for sunrise and finding a place to watch sunsets. 

 

    
I volunteered with MassBike to do some bike parking at the Red Sox game and got a free pass to check out the game at Fenway park. Surprisingly small!

    

 Here is me and other Molly and Sasha, new girlfriends of mine! What a special time it was with some ladies that I really connected with! This picture was at a potluck/clothing swap.

The pictures are from Franklin Park just south of Jamaica plain outside, south, of Boston. Beautiful park that has a zoo, a golf course, and many ponds and green space.

  
   


When we first arrived to Boston we were welcomed with an organized ride that was 20 some miles, and there were 4-5 stops and it was during the day. Very similar to bike party but more small and intimate. Anyways, at each stop was a planned musical stop so it varies from one guy at the top of a pillar playing music, to a DJ to a full on band playing at the top of the hill with free snacks and another full band near the greenway of the Boston Airport. It was an incredible experience.

   

Psychedelic Car Mural in Puerto Natales, Chile

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A new mural in Puerto Natales, Chile and it is my first piece in this beautiful country. It also marks the start of something special for my mural making path. I tried spray paint for the first time and on a car for my first time as well. I had a lot of chances and time to experiment with the new medium. But first a little about Puerto Natales because the energy of the city really inspired and influenced the way I painted the car.

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Puerto Natales, Chile is where the sunsets at 11:30pm for the start of summer begins here. The mysterious glimpses of light disappear not too long after 12:30pm. The crisp air looms wisely amongst the mountains that are landscaped over a cold windy lake. Here the tony black and neon birds play and flutter together.

The town is small. The people here know each other and you are never too far away from meeting another adventure seeker. Beyond the super touristy mask of Natales and away from the boardwalk or Main Street is a lifestyle of tranquility, oozing with peace, long gorgeous trekking, rock climbing and a clean energy.

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Where: Erratic Rock Hostel, owned by Bill native of Salem, Oregon who has lived in Natales 15 years. The hostel has simply a wonderful vibe, homey energy as the Erratic family definitely knows how to make a person feel welcomed. With a limitless supply of classic movies on VHS, a cozy gas fireplaces, homemade bread and peanut butter, Sunday brunches and a wonderful network of interns who work and commit to helping out in the hostel for a couple months a year make the place a unique home that just happens to be a hostel. It’s a special place.

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Here is everyone that volunteers and helps out at the hostel, we took a lovely bike ride against the wind near the coast. Just stunning views, good people, and the outdoors. While my stay at Erratic Rock we went biking, I learned how to crochete, and we never went without an empty stomach or cup of black coffee.

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Side note, I was able to paint a guitar while staying the the hostel as well for a friend. Here is a little peek.SAM_2178

The Mural – Progress Shots and Process

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I was super nervous to start painting, more nervous than I have ever been to start a piece just simply because it was a new medium and a new canvas. Here you can see the hesitation, and just me learning how to use a can. But I knew that I had to keep moving with the piece and not think too much! Here above is when I first just started the piece and I washing the car on the side walk. The police were upset and came to tell me to move the car and wash it in the river. Go figure.

The story of how I got the van gig: I was renting gear for the Torres del Pine trek at Base Camp which is a rental store just next to Erratic. It is actually owned by Paul, Bill’s younger brother. So the rental store wast open at 10am on a Saturday so I had to wait for them to open.

I was walking away from the rental shop when I saw a friend I had made in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. He waved and signalled me to come into the hostel. The first thing I was greeted with was the manager Julie, also from Oregon who said “Want a cup of coffee? You can’t have a real Sunday morning without black coffee.” I immediately was intrigued. Well after 1 hour of playing cards and chatting with one of the employees, Ruth, she mentioned that they had just bought a van needed someone to paint it. I volunteered immediately and made plans to stay at Erratic after my 5 day trek into the national park. It was seemingly simple and effortless. !

Accommodation: Mural in exchange for a bed, food and rental gear. I rented quite a few things from the owners brother, Paul, next door called “Base Camp”. It is a great little business: a bar and rental store which is super successful and a nice pairing to his brothers hostel.

What I learned: How to use spray paint, and more importantly how to use it effectively in the Patagonia wind. What an experience. Because the wind was so strong and it rained quite a bit it was quite the challenge or maybe an excuse to stay longer. The first couple of layers were hard as I was experimenting and getting used to the medium. Once I got rolling and more comfortable it was fast, so much faster than painting and in a different. The concepts of color, content and design are the same, but the process is different and there were shortcuts and tricks I learned.

At first, I kept wanting to put my fingers on the car and change the outcome but the paint dries almost immediately and this was hard to get used to. I realized how much I love using my hands. This is why I like painting so much. The paint brushes and the way the bristols move.

Anyways, with spray you just use a finger, nothing more. Maybe some stencils if you want. Literally my pointer finger and my thumb on my right hand were super sore after the third day painting. Pretty crazy to think that’s what created the whole piece. Just my finger!

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Length of time: Almost 2 weeks including 5 days where I went trekking through Patagonia to get experience. I painted maybe 2-3 hours every other day or so. I will return to Erratic for Christmas. My second Christmas away from home and today marks the first day of Sumer here in Southern Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Pretty crazy how South I am!

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Progress Shot for the Front:process3

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After I painted the van, and ironically on my last night we got to take the van out (me and some of the volunteers) to go camping. We ended up driving to Lake Sofia, about 45 minutes out of town and I got to sleep in the car. I was so happy that I was able to get into the car, and experaince the van outside of Puerto Natales and on the road. What a gift!

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I feel super fortunate for the experiance. I love all the people that I have met from Erratic and feel super special to be apart of the family there in Puerto and for those friends who live all over the world. Thank you Erratic and watch out for more spray painting murals coming soon! I even went back to Erratic Rock for Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone!

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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.

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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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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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