June = Hawaii

“Why, oh why, haven’t you posted any photos or stories, Coop?” asked a passerby. “I miss the good posts–the ones that made me laugh out loud before LOL was an abbreviation,” commented no one ever.

Well, the truth is that, shockingly, I’ve still been busy. And with a last-minute gig in Hawaii and a road trip to follow, that’s meant zero time for the things that matter most. Kidding–I am terrible at blogging, as you know. Luckily an awesome video documenting our Chile and Argentina road trip is a’comin’! Stay tuned.

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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. 

Travel Without Anticipation

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I bet you’re anticipating Christmas tomorrow, right? Oh, you’re Jewish. Happy Yom Kippur. But how can one not anticipate travel, you ask? Easy! You go on an international trip with very little warning, or something otherwise known as 3 hours to pack for a 29-hour flight halfway across the world.

Fact: Halfway around the world from where I live is actually in the Indian ocean near Australia. But you get the picture.

As I wrote back in August, I was in the car with my good friend on the way to work when this happened:

My friend to me, yesterday: “Well, you and I both like adventures and travel and exciting everything.”

Me: “Exactly. I LOVE finding random adventures and just going somewhere at the drop of a hat.”

Him: [Pause] “Right, so come with us tomorrow to Indonesia.”

Tonight I am leaving for Indonesia.

Yes, so that’s how it happened. Four of us, all friends (though they’ve all known each other for years and I’m just a newbie to the gang), all met at the airport and were off to Japan. Boom! No anticipation! I mean, except for the time it took to process my friend’s invitation, buy the ticket, get to the plane, and fly the first 14-hour leg.

Things I did not anticipate in Japan:

-Eating four lunches. I didn’t eat that much, but I did have the best ramen of my life, egg with mini shrimp sushi (I’m allergic to seafood, dontcha know), mango milk (pretty sure it came from a camel), and some cool snacks like carbonated hard candies.
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-How quiet, neat, and orderly everything is.

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-How beautiful, green, and peaceful it is—but with an overwhelming feeling of sadness everywhere I went. It wasn’t just the grey sky—it was a mood.

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Things I did not anticipate in Bali:

-How touristy most of the island is. You can be walking in a field you think is just a beautiful field, and a local will ask you for a “donation” in order to pass. I’m not blaming anyone, but I am saying this is the kind of place I can’t stand to be in. If I’m traveling internationally to underdeveloped countries, I like going where I am the only foreigner, and where I can work and live like a local. This is probably why I should never travel with anyone ever again. There were at least two sets of mandatory donations to get to the beautiful fields below. Which is fine. But they’re not donations. What are you, the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

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-How happy everyone on the island seems to be.

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-Except her. She wanted money and she wasn’t even doing my laundry.

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-How much the masseuses would giggle each time I started giggling because of my ticklish tendencies. But when massages cost $6 for an hour, you go get them every other day anyhow.

-How monkeys make for the best photos. Seriously, I just haven’t gotten bored taking monkey photos in years.

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-How I support no artificial colors or dies in my food, drink, and animals.

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-How I’d actually convince a friend to go dive a shipwreck with me. The oceanlife was fantastic.

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-That I was going to walk into an M.C. Escher painting at Tanah Lot. The sunset was disappointing, but the angle of these mind-tricking wave-waterfalls were not.

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-That the engagement/styled wedding shoot I did with this lovely Swiss couple (for a photography company I work for, The Lilypad Agency) would be one of my absolute favorites of the year. And we did part of it at our own incredible villa, which featured swim-from-the-bathroom pools and hidden rooms. Not lying.
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Things I did not anticipate in Jakarta:

-That I wouldn’t be staying in Jakarta, but outside of it with a new friend, and then traveling to a pretty untraveled area out in Indonesian villages.

-How awesome it would be eating street food, food court food, and mini restaurant food around Indonesia’s capital city. No, I did know that. There was the pandan man who served three different types of green pancakes rolled in sugar, the fried foods person, the baby pineapple boys, the cut up unripe fruits and veggies in some pepper peanut sauce I did not understand guy, the what are these jellies floating in some kind of palm milk substance drink man, and so much more.

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-That I might enjoy making these adorable kiddies hanging out with us for the day giggle a lot. My face is amusing in many all countries.

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-That my friend Lydia was not going to be able to keep a straight face in any of the photos with her family–and said photos now hang in her aunt’s living room.

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-That I was going to come across a very hairy giant martian blockhead baby costume while riding on the back of a motorcycle, and still have no idea what it was months after the fact.

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-How much I would love it, especially after touristy Bali. I didn’t see a single tourist the entire day!

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A few other photos from Indonesia and Japan are below for entertainment purposes only. Heck, I bet you didn’t even anticipate making it through this entire post, but congrats on the accomplishment. The next post will be the last of the year, and considering I’m writing about this trip 4 months after the fact, I’ll probably see you in April 2017.