Locked in My House on the Way to Machu Picchu

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Doors in America can be locked and unlocked from either side. This is handy in the case of locking someone inside, needing to get out in the case of a fire, or because having locks any other way simply wouldn’t make sense. Any other method of padlocking from one side, or locking and not being able to unlock even when inside, would not only be a safety hazard, it flat-out wouldn’t make sense.

In much of Peru, as well as in many other crazy countries, doors can only be locked from one side. This is precisely how I got locked in the place where I was petsitting while on my way to Machu Picchu.

I was actually locked in the yard and not the house, but climbing a tree, then a shed, and then a high stone wall with my camera gear seemed like a bad idea. I had to give my keys up since a local friend was picking up the owner of the house, and I was going to be off in Machu Picchu land by the time she got back. But it was a Sunday, and no one was supposed to be around to disrupt that not-so-simple door. But alas, the local farmer decided to uncharacteristically visit on a Sunday and accidentally lock me in. After about 4 hours of waiting, Skype calls, and efforts to plan a trip I had not planned on taking, I reached my friend Nancy and was rescued. It was an inauspicious start to my trip to Machu Picchu, but to be fair, I hadn’t planned any trip at all. 

To say I don’t like tourist attractions, museums, and common sites is fairly obvious. But when you live an hour away from one of the most well-known sights in the world, and you have insider advice from locals, people–including locals–getting rather annoyed at you for not going, well, maybe you better just go. I had one day to make it happen, and that was Monday. I didn’t really feel I HAD to see Machu Picchu, and therefore hadn’t planned. I had no tickets for the train, bus, mountain, site, hostel, nuthin’. 

At 4:30, Nancy and her friends felt so bad about me being locked in that they ended up driving me to Ollantaytambo, the starting town for all things ruins, for a nice dinner. There were no train tickets left, so I got one for early in the morning and got a hostel. At 4:30 the next morning, I woke up, walked to the train depot, met my Canadian seat mates, and sat back to enjoy the most expensive train ride of my life. It involved a dancing clown, a fashion show, Inka Cola, and beautiful views somewhat marred by the poorly designed neon lighting inside the train. I would have loved to hike in the jungle, but alas–there was simply no time, as my flight to Lima was the very next morning. I ran to get my bus ticket, and then my Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain hiking ticket, and then back to the bus to take an awesome sidewinding ride up to the site. It was time to start!

From one anti-tourist traveler to all other one reader seeing this post, I can definitely say that walking up and looking down on Machu Picchu was beautiful indeed. Unlike Madonna, in person it looked exactly how it does in every photo. There were clouds hovering across the way on Huayna Picchu (also called Wayna Picchu), very few people on the site itself, green everywhere, and threatening clouds surrounding this tiny ruined town on a mountain. But there was little time to spend there, as I’d gotten a ticket to hike Machu Pichu Mountain/Montana. While most people stay on the ground site, or do a trek up to the ground site, or hike Huayna Picchu (the peak in the clouds that’s the background of every Machu Picchu photo ever), my local friend Saito had recommended the lesser-known Machu Picchu mountain. It’s also twice as tall (starting from Machu Picchu) as Huayna Picchu. Here’s what the peak looked like after I’d already been hiking a while.

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Hiking was beautiful but tough. Yes, the air is certainly thinner, and yes, there were a fair number of hikers. Most were from South America, several hadn’t brought water (I shared), and many thought I was crazy to be hiking “alone.” But I loved stopping when I wanted to take photos! We were all huffing and puffing, but the constantly evolving scenery was fascinating. It went through mountain moss fog zones, temperate rainforest, deciduous forest patches, greenery, spiderwebs, rocky bends, and more. Part of the hike had stone steps that, if you fell off (which I nearly did when I slipped in the rain while coming down the mountain), you just might die while falling down the whole mountain. It was awesome.

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Eventually I made it to the top, and ate a few snacks while taking photos along with everyone else who was up there. The 360 views and feelings of superiority weren’t too shabby.

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After coming down, I had a lot of time to explore the site. I actually wrapped around and walked through it nearly 3 times, especially because it started to drizzle and scared many people off. Water. Seriously, folks. I didn’t mind getting Machu Picchu shots with practically nobody in them. The mountains reminded me of China if I’d ever been to China, and the views, chinchillas, and steep drops were pretty awesome. It ended up being a perfect day. I even caught some obligatory selfies! I caught my bus, got a snack, hopped on my train, and took a 50-cent ride back to my town. A few hours of sleep, a ride to the airport where my money was used to bribe our way out of a police stop, a flight, a sketchy hotel, a 3-day bus trip, an illness, and a border crossing later, and I was in Chile. But that’s for next time. 

Kauai, Hawaii: The More You Know*

Solitary beauty

You may think that living in Hawaii is similar to living anywhere else in America, but that’s where you’d be wrong. In fact, even the islands within the state of Hawaii are all different from each other–and the state as a whole is so very different from the mainland. But no matter where I am in the world, there is so much to learn. For example…

In India, I learned that women, cleanliness, safety, and medicine rank low on the totem pole.

In Thailand, I learned that new food prep, innovation, internet usage, and sleeping past 6 AM are frowned upon.

In Kauai, Hawaii, I learned that people move to this island in particular to set up shanty towns in the wild and become live-off-the-land tax evaders.

So now that you’ve been given a hint, what do naked people, money, beaches, and crazy destinations have in common with each other? Atlantic City. But why would I ruin a perfectly good post to talk about such a God-forsaken place?

My whole point of moving temporarily to Hawaii was to one day hang out of a helicopter and take photos over the Na Pali coast. But since that seemed unlikely, hiking the coast seemed a very good second best. However, the photography job I was offered was on the Big Island. No biggie, since that was my second-choice island! Almost the size of Connecticut and full of snow-capped peaks, volcanoes, rainforests, and beaches, I never ran out of things to do outdoors.

But then I was invited to hike Kauai’s Na Pali coastal trail—the Kalalau Trail—and I knew I couldn’t pass it up. So off my friend Brett and I went to this small but most delightful island, full of beautiful natural wonder, birds I’d never seen, and…traffic. I mean, there’s basically only one road and way too many tourists trying to polish off their cancer-ready tans. So the morning after landing, we tried to get away from the crowds and thus started out on 10 miles of “practice” hikes.

Of course, the first hike–the Awa’awapuhi Trail–blew my mind, and here’s why:

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No, I did not make that trail name up.

Then the main, 3-day Kalalau Trail blew my mind. Here’s why.

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After that, the other trails didn’t blow my mind. But there WERE free wild mangoes littering some of them, so I kept stopping to messily snack like a little kid. We then ate lunch, had shave ice, and sadly departed. The Big Island has so much to do, but Kauai’s wildly unique beauty captured my imagination. Plus, where else would I, should the urge to do yoga or do it naked ever arise, have such an amazing view?

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Ehhh, I’ve hiked in better places.

1I8A0200Ehhh, I’ve played frisbee in prettier places.

There were indeed many, uhhh, modern-day hermits living in unexpected places, hobbit-like folks hiking the trail bare-footed, and almost no “normal” campers who had planned ahead, bought permits, and expected to enjoy the views with, I dunno, law-abiding citizens who were aware their social security cards were indeed still in existence? But despite odd people and too many of them in the most random places, for the most part we enjoyed hours of trail sections without internet, without cell service, and without people. We had a 1,500-foot waterfall to ourselves, saw dolphins and mountain goats, and just enjoyed what has to be the prettiest hike of my entire life. There were so many cliffs and awesome areas (like the not-aptly-named Crawler’s Ledge, which sounds dangerous but really isn’t) that would give any mother a heart attack. Though the elevation gain wasn’t big at all as a whole, the change in scenery and hot sun on exposed rock made 40 miles in 4 days tough!  I sure felt healthy afterwards, a feeling which was quickly erased during our post-hike milkshake-and-burger celebration. We hiked more the next day, saw a lighthouse, overate, and wished there was more time to stay in the wild. Did you learn something new today? I sure did. I’d go back to Kauai in a heartbeat, though I don’t think I’m prepared to see so many old naked practitioners again just yet. Until next time, dear Kauai.

*Note: This post not endorsed by NBC

Though watermarks were put on the photos I took, none of the photos in this post were edited in any way, shape, or form. This is Hawaii shown in its unadulterated natural beauty!

The 5 Senses in Hawaii

Everyone always says that the sights of Hawaii are unmatched. But what, I thought, about our four other senses? In order to find out, I closed my eyes and went about my day, taking in all of my other senses. I also crashed multiple vehicles, was mistaken for Helen Keller, and accidentally became a cannibal, but that’s to be told another time. Here’s what I picked up on this round:

Smell – Opening the door to my house each night, being greeted with the unmistakable scent of used cat litter mixed with dirt-embedded/unvacuumed carpets and decaying bodies, most likely.

Sound – My landlord snoring in his room, despite being behind two closed doors.

Taste – That sweet, sweet influx of diabetes as I ate mango, lilikoi, and pineapple cream shave ice over ube (purple potato) ice cream. Holy cow that eep is good.

Touch – The feeling of ants running up my arm as I took out a piece of moldy bread and unscrewed the jar of peanut butter.

Sound – The rich tunes of silence as I turn on the car radio, realize I live out in the middle of nowhere, and forget it’s even still scanning until I nearly jump out of my seat when it picks up a signal 15 minutes later.

Smell – The overwhelming mix of perfume and/or ammonia that a literal hooker wore for her photo shoot. I don’t know which was worse: Looking at her or having to smell that. She was actually super nice, but…yeah, I guess my G-rated photos are about to appear on an X-rated site. I’m scared to look. Private message me for the link.

Touch – Black sand on my feet. There are beaches here with white sand, green sand, and black sand. Unsurprisingly, it just feels like…sand.

Taste –  Blood, as I bite my lip to keep from screaming as I hear yet another guitarist sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

 

That’s what I have for the other senses. Luckily I moved last month to a completely different part of the island, and am so, SO happy. No ants! Just roaches.

At least the sights here aren’t so bad.

Bigger Ain’t Always Better

If you were to win either (a) a 2-carat diamond, or (b) a 50-pound slab of granite, which would you choose? The answer is obviously (a), although granite is quite nice once polished and installed in your kitchen. Also, that 50-pound slab could (theoretically) contain a 2.5-carat diamond, in which case you REALLY chose wrong…but I’m getting behind myself! The point is, whether in travel, photography, gifts, meals, and many other things in life, bigger ain’t always better. Once we slow down and look at the macro world instead of always going for the biggest, the world becomes so much more interesting. I chose to look at the small picture the past few months, while attending events, photographing, traveling a bit, and even spending time in my backyard.   For example, folks in the Northeast flock to places such as Niagara Falls, Watkins Glen, and Kent Falls  and other huge waterfalls to be in awe. Here’s my photo of the oh-so-lovely Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen in New York’s Finger Lakes. Beautiful, no?

IMG_2049logo But are the small, none-more-than-five-feet-tall brook waterfalls of Dover, New York, any less beautiful? I get them all to myself, and the beauty of this almost temperate rainforest shocks those who see my state as one giant city.   IMG_9046pslogo   What about weddings? I had a wonderful time at all of the weddings the past few months, getting to see friends, celebrate, and reunion-ize to my heart’s content.

Yet I also was able to celebrate and photograph the wedding of two dear friends of mine—friends I actually helped set up!—in a small but equally wonderful ceremony. They shared their special day with just a handful of immediate family members, and it was a wonderful, intimate moment that they were able to share without all the cost, craziness, and show associated with so many weddings.

Or take something as simple as country drives. I can pay money and stroll through botanic lands and farmland, and see so many plants I never knew existed.

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On the other hand, I was able to walk into my own backyard and find a wonderful assortment of critters. This ¼”-long tree frog made my day!

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And most recently, I spent time at the beach in Fire Island with a friend of mine. We had entire stretches of beach to ourselves and had a great time exploring dunes, finding a disappointing shipwreck, and making fun of women who think platform sandals on sand are a wise choice.

Wait, look closer...

Wait, look closer…

But then out of the blue (literally?), I saw something wriggling on the beach. We walked closer, and I quickly realized I was staring at a small shark! At just about 3’ long, it sat wriggling there for at least 5 minutes, trying to…accomplish something? The reason remains unseen.

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It pretty much made my day. What I’m trying to say is this: Don’t always assume that the bigger the production, the more awesome it is. Sure, it can be. But there is so much beauty in the details. Go walk into your backyard, or grab a macro lens, and hopefully you’ll agree. And also, don’t buy blood diamonds. The end!