And now I’m close
But not touching
And I’m cold
But not freezing
And I’m only alive
I love California. I’ve been to 5 continents and have lived in/traveled to/worked at countries outside of America just as long as I have lived in California, and I could never wait to come back to it. It’s not just the fact that I spent my teenage years growing up here. If I grew up in Detroit, for example, I probably wouldn’t feel the same. Nor is it that my family lives here: my mother’s currently in Korea for a couple months and my brother is in Germany for at least the next 2 years. Or is it that all my friends are here: some of my closest friends have moved on and a few remain here. If you love California as much as I do, then I’m sure you’ll agree without me having to explain it to you. It’s great to be back.
I’ve been back for 2 weeks now and it has taken the entire 2 weeks to finally recover. I had lost about 10-12 pounds during the 2.5 month ordeal. So far, I have gained back about 5-7 of those pounds. For a skinny guy like me with crazy metabolism and the genes that seemingly prohibit anything over 11% body fat, those precious pounds are hard to gain back, but it’s coming along.
I’ve been busy doing a lot of catching up. I’ve bought a car (will ship via IBM’s free shipping service in a week) and found a home to move into in New York. Luckily, I didn’t have to submit references or actually be there to commit. I’ve caught up with friends, a lot of movies, and done a lot more organizing that you could ever imagine. For the past 5 years, I’ve gone from my high school years to community college to war overseas to university to internship to the drive to the end of the world, Ushuaia. I’ve had very little break in between, usually lasting 2 weeks, none more than 3. So a lot of random misc items have piled up. And since I’m moving most of my belongings to New York now, I needed to make sure I had everything tidied up for storage in LA as well as shipping to New York.
I’ve also finally overcome some problems with my throat I had been having. I think the shock of the final couple weeks of the trip took its toll and it took the full 2 weeks to get well. I pretty much felt like I needed to throw up for 2 weeks, 24/7.
As promised, though, here is the Odds & Ends section of my journey. The Odds section will compile some of the random pictures and one video that didn’t make the initial cut. It’s presented here in no particular order. The Ends will be updated tomorrow.
A lot of these pictures didn’t make the cut for one reason or another. Some of them will be explained with the captions. But for the most part, I should say now that I favored a picture with me in it over a similar one without me. I don’t think I’m the most handsome guy in the world or anything like that. Like I had mentioned before, this xanga is mostly for my family and me, and sometimes they could care less about a picture unless I’m in it.
The following is the list of the things that I will quote from my journal today. They’re in no particular order.
- Missed A Train From Machu Picchu And Bought A New One For $46
- Thwarted A Pickpocket Attempt In Cuzco
- Came Up A Ditch And Landed Extremely Violently. Car Stalled In The Middle Of The Mountains.
- Ran Over A Dog In Peru
- Got ‘Robbed’ By A Cop In Columbia
- Paid A Customs Inspector To Do His Job Properly
- Indirectly Bribed A Security Guard To Get In Front Of The Border Line
- Almost Got Hit By A Bus In Monterrey
- Bribed A Cop To Get Out Of A Speeding Ticket
- Got Pulled Over 4 Times At Mexican Checkpoints In One Day
- Got Badly Sunburned In Costa Rico
- Got Helped Through Panamanian Customs By A Guy Who Just Got Out Of Prison
- Got Owned By Mosquitoes
- Outsmarted A Homeless Man
- Lost $30 On Exchange Rate
- Serious Doubts
- Hit A Couple Cars At 5 Mph
- Some Interesting Notes
MISSED A TRAIN FROM MACHU PICCHU AND BOUGHT A NEW ONE FOR $46
20 Jul 07
I missed my train coming back. The train that was supposed to leave at 3:55PM didn’t leave until 4:20. And by the time I got up to board my train, they had just left, too. The signs quickly changed from 3:55PM to 4:20 PM to 5PM in a matter of 5 minutes. Turns out my train was waiting behind the 3:55PM train all along, I had to go all the way around to get to it…
So I go to the train station clerk, who says give me your old ticket and I’ll get you a new one. Which is tough thing to do for me because see, I am clearly not Rafael. So I bought another $46 ticket to get back to Cuzco, and got off the station before that and paid 5 soles for a bus ride that lasted 15 minutes into the historical center. Otherwise, the train ride would have taken another hour.
So I was pretty upset about the whole $46 thing. I mean, they must be making bank on these train tickets as well as the tickets to Machu Picchu. But the train ride is horrible and doesn’t go very fast at all. Makes me wonder where all the money is going to, because it doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day to maintain the center and the railroads, at least not in the condition they’re in.
But I start overhearing the conversation (that I started, by the way, but they soon left me out of me) with the British guy sitting next to me and an Australian couple sitting across from me. The British guy had just gotten hospitalized because of altitude sickness while attempting to conquer the Inca trail. He spent a couple days in the hospital, wondering he’ll survive or not. The Australian couple had flown into Lima, got their baggage lost in the airport. When they finally found it and loaded it into the bus, the bus and their entire baggage got robbed. And when they got a ticket from Arequipa to Cuzco during the strike and everyone else was trying to do the same thing, they were told that they can’t board the plane because it was overbooked, and they weren’t handing out refunds. So that puts things in perspective. So all in all, I spent about $200 for Machu Picchu. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I go again anytime soon? No.
I get back to my hostal at about 10PM, clearly 2 hours later than when I said I would be back in. There are a couple of backpackers waiting outside, trying to see if there are rooms for the night. I find out that they just came back from Machu Picchu after having done the Inca trail and this is the first hostal they’ve been to. I tell them that it took me about 6 or 7 different hostals the night before at 5PM to find one that had an open room. Turns out that they have some dormitory rooms open upstairs, but they don’t want to take it. The lady, Sarah, is feeling sick, and Courtney doesn’t know what to do.
Well, I hadn’t checked into my room yet and messed things up, so I gladly switched rooms with them. I just make sure that they’re happy about the size of the bed and Courtney, Sarah’s husband, thanks me and says he owes me one. I just tell him to get me some water tomorrow.
THWARTED A PICKPOCKET ATTEMPT IN CUZCO
22 Jul 07
Today, I thwarted a robbery attempt.
…I went immediately then to Plaza de las Armas, where I could hear some music being played. It was the military band playing as a parade went marching by the Plaza, in front of the main Cathedral. This went on as the band kept playing the same song for about an hour or so. I then went down to the actual Plaza itself, watching some sort of a religious ceremony with the Virgin Mary being carried around. I was just innocently watching the parade and turned around to this short dude that was way too close to me. I immediately get the wrong vibe and for some reason decide to make sure that my camera is still in my jacket pocket and notice that my camera is gone. I notice this guy isn’t moving and is holding this plastic bag with two hands. For whatever reason, I decide to reach under it, and bam, there it was, my camera! Yes, my expensive camera that I bought at Panama to replace my other broken, expensive camera. He has this sly smile on his face, and says something, “chi, chi,” or something, I’m not sure what exactly. But he’s pointing to the floor, and I assume this guy is trying to say it fell on the floor or something. Yeah, whatever… it fell on the floor and you picked it up and was trying to hand it over to me by hiding it under a grocery bag, and it still works perfectly. I’m about to kick his ass, but he quietly walks into the crowd, and I don’t want to make a scene. I quickly remember something I read in my Footprint’s guide: “a friendly attitude on your part, smiling even when you’ve thwarted a thief’s attempt, can help you out of trouble.” It was hard, just watching this bastard disappear into the crowds, knowing he’s going to try and rob someone else. Who knows, that grocery bag was probably full of items he stole from other people. But if I did make a scene on this Sunday, they may have believed him and not the English speaking ‘Chinese’ me and arrested me for kicking his ass. Jeez, I’m so sick of corruption. But how I recovered the camera by acting upon pure reaction and intuition was very surreal.
CAME UP A DITCH AND LANDED EXTREMELY VIOLENTLY. CAR STALLED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOUNTAINS.
19 Jul 07
Today’s drive sucked pretty bad, too.
I started out at around 8000 feet, went up to 13000 feet, came back down to 6000 feet, then climbed back up to 11000 feet. Why it’s like that? I have no idea…
But the drive could have been better except for one accident. I went around a curve and there was a ditch right around the corner, without any signs. I didn’t see it until it was too late, and after going down 3 feet and coming back up, my car slammed hard on the ground. I can still hear the sound in my head. It was so horrible. But the car kept running! Amazingly. But I stopped shortly and checked under the hood. There was an ominous sound coming from the air filter, and a lot of smoke coming out right underneath from it. I thought something got torn off. And I was at least 30 miles away from Cuzco. I thought it would be better for me to try and get the car over to Cuzco and have a mechanic figure out why there’s smoke coming from the filter.
In less than 5 minutes, though, something dramatic happened. My car stopped. Cold. The check engine light goes off, and I’m stuck, at 8000 feet, without power. 30 miles away from the nearest civilization, which is actually 11000 feet above sea level. I open the hood again, and smoke comes billowing out from under the air filter. I’m screwed.
I leave the hood open and wait about 5 minutes while contemplating my luck and what I’m going to do. A) One good thing about being away from civilization is that I can take off the plates and dump it off the mountain. I was seriously thinking about packing my bags and hitchhiking to Cuzco. B) I somehow manage to turn it around and go down the hill to a nearby small village. Leave the car there, and bring back a mechanic from Cuzco to fix it.
Neither one is a great option, obviously. And I was highly considering option A over option B. I go back, though, and try and start my car. And it works! Miraculously, the car works. I don’t push the car too hard, though. And somehow, the car made it up here. I don’t know how. It just did.
Here’s what I think happened. When the car hit the ground real hard, the oil from the oil pan got thrown up under the air filter housing where it burned. This makes some sense because the hose that recycles oil on my car doesn’t exist, there’s just a hole there. And with all the smoke under the hood, the car wasn’t getting enough air. So it sputtered to a stop.
(I was wrong. It was the turbo that broke when the accident happened and it was causing the car to stall at high revolution)
RAN OVER A DOG IN PERU
18 Jul 07
I killed a dog today. It wasn’t intentional. The stray dogs here are so stupid. They come running at you instead of away from you, and start barking right away. The bigger dogs know a little better and seem to bark from the side. The little ones come up right in front of you. I was going about 40 mph in a little town when a stray dog just flat out ran in front of the car. I ran it over and I can clearly see the dog lying dead on the ground behind me. A gentleman saw me run it over, but continued with his walk as though nothing happened.
GOT ‘ROBBED’ BY A COP IN COLUMBIA
12 Jul 07
I got pulled over today on my way here to Ipiales, Colombia. I was passing by some police check point station when some policeman started motioning to me. It was very odd sight because I was right behind a truck and I had but a split second to see what they were trying to do. And even then, they were telling me to turn left, when clearly there were cars behind me and cars to the left, so I couldn’t stop or turn. So I’m like, well they will probably understand.
No. They don’t. They hop on a car and follow me and tell me to pull over. One old dude and a younger cop, looking like he just graduated from high school. He speaks a bit of English, asking me where I’m from and the like. The older guy looks around, and even looks in my freaken wallet, and asks for my passport. He doesn’t just look at it. He keeps it with him. He’s done this before. Later on, while the younger guy’s checking out the trunk, the older dude tells me to sit on the driver’s side as he’s sitting on the passenger side. He tells me to give him money. He even goes into my wallet and starts pointing at it when I tell him I don’t understand. What the hell? And he was about to take everything. I tell him I need some money for gas (and toll stations which are many). I’m about to give him $10 worth (some 20,000 pesos here), but he looks extremely disgruntled and says more, much, much more. I hated this feeling. He was nothing more than a robber with a badge. He left me with barely enough money to get through the tolls. I gave him about $30 worth of money, and I barely had $10 in Colombian to pay tolls. By the end of the trip I would have barely $3 left. He points towards my dollar bills and says I can exchange it at the next city. This was by far the most unpleasant experience in all of Latin America. $10, fine. But $30? And I’m sure he didn’t share it with anyone.
PAID A CUSTOMS INSPECTOR TO DO HIS JOB PROPERLY
27 Jun 07
The harder part came from Panama’s side of the border. I first got my car signed off and my passport stamped. Then I went to go get my tourist card. I went back next to the first stop, and along the way paid a $1 tax to a lady sitting on a chair. I did something I don’t quite know exactly what, perhaps to get my tourist card verified with my passport. I went to the other side again, this time to get my vehicle permit. I wait about 10 minutes, and next the inspectors want to look at my car. They take a look at the car, and the inspector goes to the other side to talk to the other one and says, unload everything you have and take it upstairs for inspection.
I don’t really think much of it. I don’t really car about having to take everything out and taking it up, except I don’t understand why I gotta take it up the stairs when clearly there’s an open patio right there next to where I parked. The guy I hired talks to me and says, wait a minute, I know the head cop, I’ll talk to him. He comes back and says, “he will inspect the car right here if you pay him 7-8 bucks, I don’t know”
The entire process until then was confusing enough that I appreciated his help. But for him to team up with the cops like that, it was just purely disgusting. I then go into my mode of making them feel intimidated. Until then I had shown no negative emotion other than just looking like I’m tired. But that’s when I start talking to them about my Army life. I tell them I got the boots they were inspecting in the trunk from Iraq. They look surprised, and I later show them my boonie hat. Later on, I show them my desert camouflage backpack. They do a half assed job of inspecting and ask me to go into a room. They ask me how much money I have first, (I say maybe about $400), and they count all my bills. They give it back to me and I tell them that the hat I was holding was from Iraq in 2003. The head cop puts it on wrong, and I turn it right for him. I later even show them my ID card and give them some Nicaraguan cigars I’ve been trying to get rid of because I just had too many. They stand there, somewhat in awe, knowing that I knew they were corrupt as hell, yet treating them like kings. I hope my hospitality in light of their misconduct helps the next American tourist in passing through with much more ease. I give the money to the boy helping me out when we’re alone, paying another $1 for exterior fumigation.
I asked the boy of 20 years named Elias what he will do with the money. He says pay for school, for high school, he says. The problem is, everyone that I ask says they’re going to pay for school. But I really doubt it. I bet if I return some 20 years from now, I’ll see him again in the same corner of the border, waiting for me just as he had done today.
INDIRECTLY BRIBED A SECURITY GUARD TO GET IN FRONT OF THE BORDER LINE
23 Jun 07
The much harder part came in the Costa Rican side of the border, some 300 meters away. I parked my car out to the side, because all the parking spaces were full. Immediately, a guy approached me and spoke in broken English. I told him I don’t need assistance, but when I saw the line to the Migracion, I changed my mind. He says he can get me through the line in 5 minutes. I try to lower the price, but he’s firm. The line had gotten so long because of all the travelers trying to get into Costa Rica. I would have had to wait at least 45 minutes. I hired him, for $5. I cut in front of all the people in line, and the cop was telling me there’s a line outside. But as soon as he saw the guy I was with, he says, “I like you, go ahead.” I suppose they share the earnings of the day or something. Then he led me to the next station, where I had to buy insurance for my car. This is the only country where I had to buy insurance at the border. It’s required, but I got through Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua without one, and even the Mexican that I bought was never asked for. Thankfully, it was only $15. The guy I hired starts getting aggravated, and says, “give me my money.” I keep insisting on him to wait, one because I didn’t have change, and two because I thought he was going to stick with me the entire time. Apparently, he was just saying $5 to let me cut in line. He starts getting really upset, and I tell him to wait one minute. He doesn’t even wait, and starts screaming, “give me my $5 now!” I ignore him and go inside to buy my insurance. Thankfully, she gives me change in dollars, and I hand it over to him. He leads me to the next station, Aduana, where the Costa Rican officials ‘checked’ my vehicles, signed some papers, and recorded into a ledger. While waiting in this line, I could see the guy I hired back with one of his buddies, happy as hell, and shaking hands over the fact that they just earned $5. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not because I paid him $5, but because he thought $5 was a large enough sum of money to openly celebrate. I felt somewhat sad that he chose this life of aggression.
Mind you, though, that I didn’t do all of this knowing that I was cutting in line of everyone else. Every other border had different windows for different type of travelers. The truckers have different windows to go to and the guys on tour groups have different windows as well. And none of them were ever so busy as this one.
ALMOST GOT HIT BY A BUS IN MONTERREY
5 Jun 07
This is actually an almost mishap. While I was caravanning behind the buses through the city traffic, one of local buses try to fit in between that bus and the car to the left of it. It pulls in real fast to my left, misses my side view mirror by what seemed like 4-6 inches. The car to its left wasn’t so lucky. The bus had totally scraped one side of the car to its left. It couldn’t run away either. Monterrey seemed to have a traffic cop in every other block, and two were actually only some 50 meters away from the scene and started to investigate immediately. I was just thinking how bad it would have been if I had been hit, and I thanked god for my good fortune.
BRIBED A COP TO GET OUT OF A SPEEDING TICKET
6 Jun 07
Anyway, so I’m all excited I found the right way and I’m driving through Highway 85. All of a sudden, right before 5PM, people start to slow down and pull off to the side. I hear some buzzing noise, so I thought it was from the speakers I had been having sporadic problems with. I hear it again later, and it turned out to be a cop behind me. He pulls up, and says he doesn’t speak a word of English, and says I need to get a ticket because I was going about 110 kph on a 60 kph zone. Truth is, he was completely right. I was going double what the speed limit was. As much as you think I’m crazy, though, I gotta tell you, unless you’ve driven in Mexico before, you have no idea how spontaneously the speed limits change. One minute it’s 60kph, next it’s 110. Sometimes, they tell you to slow down to 40kph, and they somehow manage to hide these huge speed bumps that rattle the car even when you’re going below 40kph. (The trick is to never go faster than the person in front of you in the residential areas… they’ll either know the road better than you or their car will indicate whether there is a bump or not). So I give him all my documents, my passport, my vehicle permit, my international driver’s license, and my california driver’s license. He says, all in spanish, that I need to get a ticket, and that’s like 43 dollars or something. He goes back to his car with his documents and I’m thinking, jeez, I really don’t want to pay a 43 dollar ticket, and I don’t want to have to go to a local police station to pay for it. He comes back, and says you’re going too fast, this is kilometers, go about 30 miles per hour (this was when the highway was still cutting through the last bit of Monterrey and still had signal lights on them before it converted into a complete highway). And he says do you want a ticket? A 43 dollar ticket? And I said, no, and I notice that he’s still holding my driver’s license and my vehicle permit. Please, I said, this is my second day here. And he says ok, como vez… And I’m like, ok, he wants me to buy him out. So I offer him 100 pesos for his time. And he says 430 pesos or 100 pesos, ok I’ll let you go with 100 pesos. As soon as I give him the money, he says, ok, and makes a motion and noise of a cash register. And says we’re done, drive safely.
So I’m quite ambivalent about this cop pulling me over thing. On one hand, I was clearly violating the law. On the other hand, seeing how I was only going about 5-10 miles faster than the other guys, I thought it was a little too much. Seriously, most people here go about 100 kph on a 60kph zone. Because it’s so ridiculous. I would like to think if a Mexican got pulled over in an American city, he’d get off with a warning. But you know, I really can’t complain. I seriously doubt that he pulled me over because I’m from California. I strongly believe that he pulled me over because I was violating the law and I just happened to be Californian. This is the 5th time I’ve ever been pulled over now without getting a ticket (Germany, Colorado, New York, Berkeley).
GOT PULLED OVER 4 TIMES AT MEXICAN CHECKPOINTS IN ONE DAY
12 Jun 07
Apparently, the state of Oaxaca is infamous for military check points. I’ve passed some before, but today I got pulled over 4 out of 8 times. It was a hassle, everyone asking me the same thing, checking the same things, and one soldier even asking me how much the boots were. I would have given it to him if I had any extras on me, because I just have so many now days. One soldier was especially good with english. It was almost scary, but not as bad as the police. The cops may be corrupt in some areas, but the military put me at ease. Fiona agreed. They’re just doing their jobs, and since they gotta check cars every once in a while, they just thought that the Korean dude with an American passport and an Australian lady as a passenger in an old German Mercedes that literally no one in Mexico drives may just be one they can’t miss out on.
GOT BADLY SUNBURNED IN COSTA RICA
25 Jun 07
Today is going to be a long day. Why? Mostly because I was too adamant about getting a tan yesterday. I could have put some sunscreen on yesterday, but no. I decided to forgo that process because I wanted instant gratification. Even knowing that I will be on the beach for a decent amount of time didn’t deter me from thinking otherwise. So now I can’t go outside unless I really need to, because putting on a shirt really hurts.
(I kept peeling at different places in varying degrees for 3 weeks)
GOT HELPED THROUGH PANAMANIAN CUSTOMS BY A GUY WHO JUST GOT OUT OF PRISON
29 Jun 07
At this point, I run into a guy who alleges he’s an American citizen, and has a tattoo of Puerto Rico on his arm. He tells me he’s just got out of prison and is looking for some way to get in touch with his folks back in New York. He talks about how I’m from California so I’m real cool and he knows I can help him out. By this point, I’m just really annoyed at the number of people that have tried to help me in the marginal sense of the word only in order to beg me for money.
I get to the station with this guy, which turns out to be a mistake. They recognize him right away, and he is shunned away from the station. The girl sitting there translates to me what the officials there were trying to tell me: “Be careful with this guy, he might rob you for everything you’ve got.”
GOT OWNED BY MOSQUITOS
14 Jun 07
I’m getting bit up by mosquitoes a lot now days. I’m not sure why it is, but it’s always been like that for me. I took a picture of my back the other day, it was just nasty.
(I still have this picture, it’s quite nasty so I won’t post it)
OUTSMARTED A HOMELESS MAN
8 Jul 07
Cartagena is different on Sundays. There are many less people on the road. Today, a couple menacing looking black males no more than 20 years old happened to be behind me as I exited the hotel. I decided to slow down and let them pass me by. One of them made a right turn at the next intersection, and the other went into a store at the same intersection. For whatever reason, he kept checking me out, while it was very clear that he wasn’t going to buy anything at the store.
So I’m waiting for him to go somewhere else, and I happen to be standing next to a bakery. One fairly skinny Latino guy who’s obviously stoned comes to me with fiery red eyes and says something in Spanish and tries to hand me a coin. I thought he meant here, take it and buy that bread. But why would I, a tourist, need any money from a stoner? I think about it for a second, and ah ha! This guy was trying to trick me. He was holding a 200 peso coin and was asking me to buy a bread worth 1000 pesos. I, being the nice tourist, say and motion to him to cut in front of me and do it himself. Disgruntled, he walks away. Few minutes later, I saw the same guy at the restaurant I was at for dinner, finishing up people’s drinks as soon as they left.
LOST $30 ON EXCHANGE RATE
15 Jul 07
Jose for some reason tells me I need to use the ATM to get some cash because there are no ATMs in Peru for a long time. So I grab about $60 in cash and go. Later, he tells me to stop at a place where he says the exchange rate is better.
Turns out I got shammed about $30 today because I trusted this [guy] with the exchange rate. I exchanged $96 for about 2:1 ratio when it should have been closer to 3:1. I found this out when I was 3km over in Peru for my Immigration paperwork.
18 Jul 07
Today, I started having serious doubts as to whether I can make it or not.
Jeez, why is this so stressful? I knew it would be, but damn… I’m barely a little over halfway done with the trip.
HIT A COUPLE CARS AT 5 MPH
16 Jun 07
It rained on the way down to Panajachel in Lake Atitlan, but I could see why people would love to come here. It’s really beautiful and I could see a lot of potential here. At Solora, I hit a parked pick up truck and a parked bus at about 5 mph with my front bumper while trying to squeeze in between the two to get through the only road that would get me to Panajachel. All the cars are fine, and I made it with maybe 2 inches of space on either side. I hope the skies really clear up tomorrow. I think this place really has some potential.
23 Jun 07
[So when I parked at the hotel yesterday, I apparently backed out too much and hit the fender of a jeep behind me. I kept going long enough that the fender is bent up at about 25 degree angle and is approximately a foot or two in front of the front left hand wheel. So I checked out of the hotel as quickly as possible.]
SOME INTERESTING NOTES
8 Jun 07
And I saw something pretty interesting today: a man with two wrapped up babies in a wheelbarrow.
14 Jun 07
It looks like I’m avoiding some major Guatemala mishaps. I avoided a hurricane that occurred first week of June, and just avoided a major earthquake a couple days ago.
The place I’m staying at has no roof. It’s got a mosquito netting as a roof and thatch roof on top of that for the rain. But it’s got warm water and a decent bed and that’s all I need right now. I had some awesome garlic bread and grilled chicken for dinner.
9 Jul 07
I saw something interesting today. A man set up a hammock under his semi truck and was just waking up as the day was getting started.