December 14, 2006

Seattle, Washington
More Than You Could Ever Possibly Want to Know About Me

I was invited to Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont last month to speak about the dancing video and how I made it. I rambled on for 90 minutes and then took everyone outside to shoot a dancing clip.

I've edited the talk down to 75 minutes, yanking some of the more boring bits and the parts where I said stupid stuff I'd rather not have said. Oh, were it only possible to do that in real life...

There are also a few scattered moments where I'm cut off in mid-sentence. Nothing is being hidden there, it's just the result of the shoddy technique I used to convert the videotape recording into a YouTube-friendly form. Apologies for any annoyance it causes.

The talk is broken into three parts. It addresses a lot of the stuff I get asked all the time, so I thought it might be interesting for anyone who wants to know more.

I'd like to thank Tom Myers, a professor at Champlain, who contacted me, invited me out, and took a gamble on me not choking horribly and embarassing both of us. I'd not done anything like this before and I still don't know what made him think I could do it, but I am grateful for the opportunity.

I really enjoyed doing this and would like to keep doing it. Feel free to contact me if you'd like me to come to your school, university, office, cult compound, secret society headquarters -- whatever. I rely heavily on the Q&A for what I talk about, so it's different every time. What you see here isn't necessarily what you'll get.

January 31, 2006

Calama, Chile
The Most Beautiful Place I've Ever Been

There is no oxygen in La Paz.

Call me crazy, but I’m obsessed with the stuff. I can’t get enough of it. And at 3500 meters above sea level, in the highest capital city in the world, I’m simply not able to get my fix.

Trivia: La Paz is not technically the capital of Bolivia, but after winning a civil war over the matter, it’s pretty much earned the title.

La Paz is like a methadone clinic for oxygen addicts. After a few days, I could get by on a lot less, but the hankering never quite goes away.

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The city was founded by the Spanish inside a massive volcanic crater to serve as a rest stop on the trail from Lima to Rio. The unusual layout puts the outlying neighborhoods on the steep crater walls, climbing all the way up to the rim on every side.

We arrived with a tight schedule to keep. We needed to continue south to the remote desert town of Uyuni so we could visit the salt flats, then make it back to La Paz within three days for our flight to Argentina.

The plan was blown out of the water on the first morning when we found out the 15 hour bus ride had been stretched by the rainy season into an 18 hour ride. A further update put this time at a barely fathomable 24 hours each way.

Hiring a driver wouldn’t have saved us much time and would have cost a lot. There are no functioning airstrips anywhere near Uyuni, so flying was out of the question. The bus ride sounded so bad, I wasn’t sure we could stand even the first half of the journey – nevermind that we’d have to hop on the same bus back a few hours later.

There is a train to Uyuni, but with Argentinian students on holiday, it was booked solid.

We pondered our options and decided the salt flats would be worth the extra time it would take us to get there. We cut Argentina from our itinerary, cancelled the necessary flights, and booked the next available train. By skipping Argentina, we realized we’d be very close to the border of our next destination, Chile, and decided to make our own way there once we reached Uyuni.

With everything settled, we were left with a day and a half to kick around La Paz.

We went to the massive street market.

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It takes up about 30 square blocks of the city and sells everything your average La Pazian needs. It is in many ways the opposite of Wal-Mart; rather than one company selling everything for ridiculously low prices by bleeding their suppliers dry, you’ve got a million people selling everything for ridiculously low prices because of fierce, shoulder-to-shoulder competition.

I prefer the latter.

We visited the much-ballyhooed La Paz witchcraft market. There didn’t seem to be much to ballyhoo about unless you get excited about mummified llama fetuses and inflated toads with bulging red eyeballs.

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…my expectations were higher.

All the major cities we’ve visited have had what seems to be a single major backpacker hostel. The advantage of staying in such places is their tendency to serve key backpacker needs such as internet access and laundry at very reasonable prices. The disadvantage is their tolerance for horrible guitar-playing.

...If I could just take a minute here to address the male backpacker demographic: please, don't bring your guitar. It's not going to get you laid. It's not going to help you meet people. It's just going to annoy them. No one wants to hear your rendition of "Redemption Song." And speaking on behalf of the flight attendants, they're tired of having to cram your pawn shop treasure into the gutter between 1st class and coach.

Moving on. In La Paz, the hostel of choice is called Hotel El Solario. Many of the people staying at Hotel El Solario were either about to go on or had just come back from a mountain biking trip down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road.” “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” is a stretch of pavement leading down out of the Andes and into the sea-level Amazon basin at a length of only 64 kilometers. It used to be a somewhat-hazardous but not altogether noteworthy road until someone declared it to be “The World’s Most Dangerous Road.” Now hundreds of people have to ride mountain bikes down it every day…myself and female companion not among them.

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The way most people get around the city is on microbuses – similar to the matatus in parts of Africa. They follow general routes which are modified on the fly depending on the destination of each passenger. The upcoming neighborhoods are advertised to passing pedestrians by young men who stick their heads out the side and yell really loud. Everything they say sounds like complete gibberish.

We walked to the upscale part of town and had a fancy steak dinner.

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Each plate cost a whopping 6 bucks. We were the only two customers in the restaurant. The owner was both the cook and the waiter’s mother.

Despite the fabulousness of the meal, it still forced the little man who lives inside my body to pull the big red lever down below. Melissa too. Our big red levers are pulled often. The only food we discovered in Bolivia that’s guaranteed not to cause any lever-pulling is something we call the miracle burger.

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Miracle burgers are cooked on the side of the road in little wooden shacks. They take about 30 seconds to grill and come served with lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and heaps of delicious spices. Miracle burgers cost about $0.19. For another $0.13, you can have fries pressed under the bun. Miracle burgers are delicious.

We ate a lot of miracle burgers in Bolivia.

Here's me doing what I do most of the time. Feel free to notice the tan and weight loss.

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Up at dawn, taxi to the bus station for our 3 hour bus ride to Uluru so we can catch the 12 hour train to Uyuni. Bolivia’s commitment to their growing tourism business is made very clear by the presence of Kevlar-armored “tourist police.”

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On the bus to Uluru, a man stood in the aisle shouting to all the passengers. With our rusty Spanish, we eventually determined that he was informing them about recent events in local politics. It was a live presentation of the nightly news.

He was carrying a briefcase, which we asked him to show to us. Inside were four soft cover, easy-to-read textbooks for sale. One taught English; one taught about the geography, politics, and economics of Bolivia; one was full of quotes from historical figures like Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King; and one taught how to use Microsoft Office. This is a program that was started a few years ago by the Bolivian government to improve the minds of its populace and make them more able to compete for high-paying jobs on an international level.

An impoverished, third world government endeavoring to better the lives of its citizens. How about that for a change?...How about that?

The train to Uyuni was not as stimulating.

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Not much to say about Uyuni. Here are some dogs.

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Husky

We went to bed, woke up the next morning, and caught a 4WD truck out to see the Salar de Uyuni. First they took us here.

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And then this happened.

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…let me back up a bit.

They took us to a small village on the outskirts of the salt flats. The village used to exist solely to process the salt from the flats into bricks for shipping. Now it’s where the tourists eat lunch.

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The bricks are all over the place. They make chairs out of them, tables, and most of the knick-knacks for sale. You can buy a salt shaker made out of salt.

With our tummies full of flavorless noodles and llama, we left the dirt road and started into the 9000 square kilometers of the largest salt flats in the world.

In this part of the year, the rainy season leaves several inches of perfectly still water on the ground, which reflects the full expanse of the sky as a single, continuous sheet of glass.

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The truck cuts through it like a ship at sea. Before long, the window views were not enough and the intrepid among us crawled onto the roof, completing the nautical illusion.

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I don’t believe I have ever, in my life, felt less like I was on planet earth.

The dark speck on the horizon soon grew to become The Salt Hotel; an unlikely outpost built entirely out of you-know-what. The Salt Hotel is in the process of being closed down after it was discovered how badly the human presence was damaging the surrounding environment. Now it’s just a short stop with no opportunity for eating or bathroom breaks.

I took some pretty pictures of my girlfriend.

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…and yes, I danced.

It's a cliche to say the pictures don't do a place justice. I've certainly had my share of that feeling. For once I can say they capture a spot perfectly. They might even improve on it a little bit, as these don't hurt my feet as much to look at.

The salt forms in an endless stretch of rock-hard hexagons. Every once in a while you'll spot a hole in the ground that you can put a hand or foot through. Just enough light gets in to show that the salt flat doesn't go down very deep, and beneath it is several feet of liquid. Within the hole, the warm surface water turns frigid cold. We found a particularly large one and I lowered Melissa down into it until she started screaming.

Very cold.

We’d planned to move on from Uyuni by train to the Chilean border, but upon investigation, a faster and more interesting alternative was made clear. We booked to go by 4WD to the south through the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. It was a 12 hour drive, but it saved us a day and took us through some extremely remote territory – about as high into the Andes as anyone can go without an ice pick or a propeller.

We shared the vehicle with a guy from Belgium named David and his mother. The mother only spoke Belch, but her son spoke English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. He’d also spent four years touring the world by himself on a bicycle, living on $5 a day. He was also an unbearable asshole.

What is it about the Belch? I’ve never met one I can stand talking to for more than a minute. They're conversation assassins. It must be a cultural thing; when one of us was speaking and he decided he wanted to talk, he’d just started talking. If we tried to ignore the interruption and continue, he’d just talk louder until he’d drowned out the competition. And then when he finished talking, he’d just start over again from the beginning. It was always some piece of wisdom he was dispensing, and he’d dispense each piece about three or four times before moving onto the next one.

Melissa and I both wanted to strangle David. His poor mother, oblivious to anything that wasn’t in Belch, just sat there shivering in the cold.

The driver, Victor, decided he hated my guts when I asked him to turn down his Godawful Bolivian pop music tape. From that point on, he spoke only to David. It was all in Spanish, but we understood a fair bit of it. Much of the conversation centered around how little patience he has for obnoxious, demanding tourists.

We left in the early evening, drove for a few hours, and stopped for the night at the Four Seasons Bolivia.

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We woke up at quarter to four the next morning and hit the road. Shortly after dawn, we reached an altitude of over 5000 meters. That’s twice as high as Quito, where we first got hit by the lack of oxygen. It’s less than a thousand meters shy of the summit of Kilimanjaro, where I vomited my guts out and nearly got rushed down the mountain with altitude sickness.

How else can I put this?...it’s very very high up. But the views were great.

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We passed a strange rock formation that I recognized from photographs as the rock tree. I asked Victor to stop. He groaned at my insolence and gave me one minute to go look at it.

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At a pee break, I took this picture of the truck. I didn’t realize when I was taking it that the Belch guy’s mum was doing her business directly behind the rear bumper, and could be seen bare-assed in the image.

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I don’t really feel too bad about that.

We stopped at some hot springs. I am no longer excited by hot springs. The novelty isn’t very novel. You don’t really get anything out of a hot spring that you can’t get out of a bath tub, except it’s freezing cold when you get in and out and you have to listen to a bunch of Germans who think it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to them.

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There was a green lake that’s green because of some green algae that grows on it, and a red lake that’s red because of some red algae that grows on it. Big deal…I guess I was just sick of listening to the Belch guy. He kept telling us we were seeing the most beautiful scenery in the world. He assumed that as Americans, we’d never been out of our backyards and were too ignorant to appreciate the wonderment. I wasn’t going to bother telling him differently, but I’ll tell you:

Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is a nice place. It's stark and pretty. But if you die without seeing it, your life wasn’t necessarily a complete waste of time.

We stopped near the border to wait for a bus that would take us across to Chile. David thanked the driver for driving us, hugged him passionately, and waxed rhapsodic to us about how Victor was the greatest driver he'd ever ridden with and should be racing professionally in the rally cross circuit.

I think he may have been overstating things somewhat.

We shared our slice of barren wasteland with a tour group that was making its way through all of South America on a massive overland loop from Quito to Caracas. It was a mix of Kiwis, Australians, Canadians, and Brits, with not an American among them.

What is it with us, folks? All over the world, these kids are finishing school and taking off to see the world. It's a standard rite of passage. And I get emails literally every day from people asking me how I do it.

I didn't invent world travel. I'm not even particularly good at it. There are lots and lots of people out there. It's just that very few of them are American.

We talked to an Australian girl for a while who was finishing up South America and then heading on to Oman. I have an unabashed fondness for Australians -- especially as travelers. They've got a sensibility that makes them really good at it. They're tough, they don't complain, and they can manage to laugh about pretty much any situation, no matter how bleak or miserable.

She drilled us on our traveling plans and kept asking questions until we finally broke and, for the first time on our trip, told a stranger about the dancing video.

"So, someone is paying you to travel around the world and dance wherever you want?"
"...pretty much, yeah."
"You must be a good dancer."
"Actually, I'm really really bad at it."

We hopped on a bus with the tour group. There's Melissa in back looking incredibly miniature.

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We stopped at a funnly little intersection in the desert where the driver told me we could turn left for Uruguay and Argentina, or right for Chile.

We turned right and the bus took us down 2500 meters out of the Andes. It could be the world's most dangerous road, except no one has bothered to name it "The World's Most Dangerous Road." We passed by car after car stalled on the side while trying to go up in the other direction. The steepness of the incline, combined with the dryness, the desert heat, and the decreased oxygen, make it very very easy for engines to break down. The ones who weren't stalled were all going at speeds under 5 miles an hour.

The bus dropped us in the boom town of San Pedro de Atacama. Over the last decade, it's become the tourist hub of northern Chile. Problem is: there isn't really anything to see or do in northern Chile.

Still, the cultural differences with Bolivia were immediately obvious. For one thing, lunch went from costing $.62 to costing $30. Even more jolting, many of the other tourists were actual Chileans. Chileans take vacations and travel. Chileans have disposable income.

This I did not know in advance. But the explanation is fairly simple: Chileans and Argentinians are basically displaced Europeans, bringing with them all the associated advantages. The northern countries, by comparison, are a more indigenous mix.

We booked to see the Tatio geysers; billed as the highest-altitude geysers in the world -- which is sort of like being the hairiest left-handed person in the world, or the albino with the best sense of smell.

The van picked us up at 4am.

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It wasn't worth getting up for.

Afterwards, they kept us enthralled with a trip to a traditional village where the locals served up empanadas and meat on a stick.

And to top it all off, more bathing in hot springs.

We got back in the afternoon. The only other nearby attraction that seemed remotely worthwhile was the Valle de la Luna; a barren landscape that someone cleverly likened to the moon in an attempt to make it seem more interesting.

It's 17 kilometers from San Pedro. We could have easily seen it at sunset with everyone else, but I thought it'd be fun to ride bikes out there on our own.

...

I will never again opt to ride bikes at high altitude in the world's driest desert on a hot afternoon.

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...that was a bad idea.

We made about a fifth of the way there and nearly died. Our only salvation was an inexplicably-positioned bus stop at the corner of Nothing st. and Nowhere ave.

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We hid under it for a good half hour, until our water ran out. At that point, survival dictated getting back on our bikes and sweating our way into town, exhausted and defeated.

My ideas aren't always all that great.

In the evening, we caught a Salon Cama bus to Calama. Salon Cama, we learned, is the absolute summit of luxury in a country that relies heavily on its buses. We were given pillows. Our seats reclined into beds. Curtains could be drawn over the windows. There was a TV playing movies. Fancy headphones descended from the ceiling. There was a bathroom, watercooler, you name it. It was the most comfortable bus trip I've ever taken. I could've ridden it for days.

Calama marks the end of our plan-as-you-go overland odyssey from Cuzco, Peru. Tomorrow morning we fly to Santiago, and in the evening I continue on by myself to Easter Island so I can dance with some giant stone heads.

January 24, 2006

La Paz, Bolivia
Thirsty Llamas and Floating Adventists

I’m telling you up front, this is not a very interesting post. I’ve committed myself to covering all the beats of this trip, no matter how little it interests me or anyone liable to read this. So let’s just resign ourselves to the understanding that no one is having any fun here.

We got back to Quito and treated ourselves to a tapas dinner after four days of boat food.

The next day we got tear-gassed.

Here’s a thing: if you’re walking down the street and all the opposing foot-traffic is squinting and covering their mouths, best to do the same.

There was a student protest going on in old town. It had something to do with transportation costs. So naturally, machinegun-mounted armored personnel carriers were in order.

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We saw many police in full riot gear, but didn’t know what to make of it until we rounded a corner and suddenly it hurt to breathe. We ran the other way, choking, tears gushing. No one bothered to warn us or anything.

Evidently, street protests are not an unusual occurrence in Quito. There’d been another the previous week over a new trade agreement with the US. Shame we missed that one.

Speaking of which, who wants to guess what the national currency of Ecuador is? Give up? It’s the US dollar. Their economy bottomed-out a while back, so in 2000 they adopted ours. Apparently you can do that!

It gives them a stable currency that’s a lot less likely to spiral into hyper-inflation. One of the big downsides is they lose out on seigniority, which I don’t entirely understand, but it has something to do with printing out a bunch of fancy paper, claiming it’s worth something, and thus creating wealth out of thin air.

Neat trick if you can pull it off, but you better be sitting on some oil reserves or have a major tourist draw to back it up. Otherwise, well…talk to Ecuador.

We entered the Spanish colonial church cluster, which is chock full of 500-year-old tributes to how whoop-dee-doo God is.

In the midst of it all, here’s a modest little shop selling CDs, DVDs…abortions.

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The neighborhood goes something like this: Catholic church, casino, Catholic church, casino, Catholic church, abortion street doctor, Catholic church.

Despite all that – or maybe because of it – I found Quito to be a charming city. But after a couple days of recuperation, it was time to move on.

We got into Lima late at night, with a connecting flight before dawn the following morning. We took a cab into the city. The experience vividly recalled Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

The city is completely unable to cope with the strain of its 8 million inhabitants. There are no rules of the road. There is no courtesy. If your car will fit in a space, you fill it.

Driving in Lima is pretty bad.

We checked into Hotel Espana. It's a charming old establishment with mummified skulls in the lobby and a certain Kubrickian flavor.

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The price of the room is $8. But the real cost is your eternal soul.

Awake before 4, on a plane before 6. Arrived at baggage claim in Cuzco with musical accompaniment.

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Cuzco is the ancient capital of Incan civilization. Its modern existence is therefore dedicated to devouring every limb and tendon of that cash cow. Nothing goes to waste.

Cuzco is also Cusco. The names seem interchangeable. I prefer the underused ‘z’.

When the Spanish conquered it in the 16th century, they built their ubiquitous cathedrals literally on top of the Incan foundations. You can still see some of the original stone work.

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It reminded me a great deal of a town called San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Lovely place, affordable, with lots of great restaurants and an abundance of quality handcrafts. It's a tourist's delight. Good for a couple days, but not my favorite kind of place to hang around.

The clothing shops offer a chilling insight into what Peruvians think of us.

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Random cute kid.

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The day after arriving in Cusco, we caught the wildly overpriced train to Maccu Picchu. It's pretty much the only way to get there, so they've got you by the huevos. At $68 each way for the lowest class of seat, it's basically an adjunct to the park entrance fee.

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Machu Picchu Pueblo, formerly known as Aguas Calientes, is a boomtown providing access to the nearby ruins. It sprouted out of the Sacred Valley a few years ago and is growing faster than anyone seems to be able to govern.

It is not difficult, in Machu Picchu Pueblo, to find handbags with the words “Machu Picchu” sewn into them. It is also not difficult to find restaurants serving vegetarian pizza to dreadlocked college students. What is difficult is finding anything else.

It would be very easy to make Machu Picchu accessible by day-trip from Cuzco. But by arranging the train arrival and departure times just so, they force visitors into staying overnight and paying the inflated prices for food and accomodation.

The town owes its existence to the very same principle behind the roach motel.

We dropped our bags in a square, concrete slab with a square, concrete bed that smelled like a combination of mold and fart, then caught the next bus zig-zagging up the valley to Machu Picchu proper.

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On top of the $136 train, the bus ride costs $12, and the actual park entrance fee costs a little over $20. This is per person, mind you. By the end you feel like a walking piñata filled with money.

Do I complain about costs too much? Perhaps I should shut up about that.

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Entering Machu Picchu lacked the overwhelming spectacle we’d anticipated, as everything was shrouded in thick fog.

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Gradually, things cleared up…

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Until at last we got the full view.

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And one from a bit closer.

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Closer still, with the ubiquitous Japanese tour group in the foreground...

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Really really close...

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And here’s a llama’s butt.

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In visiting sites like this one, I’m often faced with the option of hiring a guide to answer questions. This is an option I decline. It’s much better to figure things out for one’s self.

It may interest you to know that Machu Picchu was actually built by llamas. Anthropologists hide this information from the public and pretend it was the built by the Incans. They do this because they hate llamas. The anthropologist is the sworn enemy of the llama.

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Llamas built Machu Picchu because it gave them access to the great chocolate milk river that runs through the valley below.

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There is nothing llamas love more than chocolate milk. They’re crazy for it. Everyone knows this.

The chocolate milk from the great chocolate milk river is incredibly tasty. This is because it moves very quickly and gets churned up in the rocks.

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No one knows how the llamas got the chocolate milk out of the river, but it probably had something to do with this.

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These days, llamas are oppressed by humans. We almost never left them drink chocolate milk. So whatever you do, don’t bring chocolate milk to Machu Picchu. This will stir the llamas up and cause what is known as a “llamapede.”

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If you get caught in a llamapede, it’s your own dumb fault. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

We left the ruins and walked along a couple of the ancient llama roads leading to other llama cities. They were narrow and treacherous and insane.

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There’s a four day hike called the Inca Trail (named by anthropologists) that leads into Machu Picchu along one of these ancient roads. We didn’t have time for it, but we wandered down the tail end. Looked like fun.

Before leaving town the next day, we paid a visit to the Aguas Calientes that once gave Machu Picchu Pueblo its name.

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The agua was fairly caliente, but not really caliente enough to be worth naming a town after.

Afternoon train back to Cuzco, settled back into the same hotel room to plan and regroup. We had a flight scheduled in a few days to our next destination of La Paz. Looking at a map, we realized the distance wasn’t too great, and directly between the two points lay Lake Titicaca, at 3900 meters “the highest navigable lake in the world.” The “navigable” part is an odd qualifier, but I’m a fully acknowledged sucker for world’s most anythings.

We bought train tickets to Puno, a sleepy town on the shores of Titicaca, close to the border with Bolivia.

The train took us across much of the Peruvian altiplano, a vast expanse of semi-fertile land that looks, for the most part, like this.

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The rails took us to a peak elevation of about 4300 meters, which is high enough to knock you off your feet if you’re not careful. We took some of my acetozolomide left over from Kilimanjaro and it helped.

We had a middle-aged, pony-tailed guy from Massachusetts sitting near us on the train. He was a professor at the University of Mexico – the result, I can’t help but speculate, of hitting on one too many students back in the states. He fancied himself an Indiana Jones-type.

He took it upon himself to give us advice on our journey. He spoke in strained, weary tones, as if the experiences we were forcing him to recall were too painful, even for one so rugged as himself: “Be very careful…on the road ahead…the altitude…it’s very dangerous…you must…prepare yourself.”

Finding an insufficient level of awe and respect in our responses, he moved on to a single German lady who was more willing to humor him.

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The train stopped halfway through the journey so we could buy handcrafts from local women.

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The women were suitably adorable and they seemed better recipients of our tourist dollars than the shop owners back in Cuzco.

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My 3-year-old niece got some alpaca slippers.

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Puno seemed dodgy at first, offering spooky, unlit streets and another assortment of concrete slabs for accommodation, but we eventually determined the town to be peacable and harmless.

It was here that we faced up to a scheduling dilemma that had been dogging us for some time: we needed to be in La Paz within 48 hours if we were going to have enough time to see our prime destination in Bolivia; the salt flats outside Uyuni. That meant we had to move quickly and would have no time to get out on the lake and visit the floating villages of the Uros people.

Melissa solved the problem with an ingenious idea: throw money at the problem. We took a boat out to the Uros villages the next morning and hired a driver to take us to the border in his car for $50.

It's a funny thing about money. I could blow that much in my day-to-day life without thinking twice about it. But you get used to the scales of things quickly in different countries, and it can really start to seem like an unreasonable amount.

...there I go about money again.

The Uros people lived in the region around Lake Titicaca until around 500 years ago, when the encroaching Incan empire led them to the unusual decision of fleeing out onto the water. They created floating islands out of enormous piles of dead, dried reeds and tethered them by rope so they wouldn't drift off.

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There are hundreds of these islands, easily visited by boat from Puno. The residents have deals with the tour companies, earning what are no doubt very small cuts of our ticket fees, augmented by whatever handcrafts they can sell during each visit.

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We were cheerfully welcomed on each island we stopped at. They fed us their food and showed us their huts. It's an interesting lifestyle, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to it. It takes about five minutes to inspect every inch of an island, and they're all pretty much the same.

The Uros have been infected with an interesting splinter of Christianity, which they call Floating Adventist.

"Say Jim, what's your denomination?"
"I'm a Floating Adventist, Tom. How 'bout yourself?"
"Well I was raised Crouching Methodist, but I've recently converted to Hovering Mormon."

We inspected the Floating Adventist school, which had a map of France, a picture of a human skeleton, and little else. It struck me how difficult it must be to teach without any real resources at hand.

In the corner, a symbolically arranged diorama defines the dilemma Peruvians have faced for hundreds of years: if you wanna learn anything, you've gotta go through Jesus.

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For a little bit extra, a couple Uros guys will take you out on one of their ornate boats, made from the same dried reeds as the islands.

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Having failed to sell any of his drawings, a little boy hopped on and serenaded us with his rough approximations of English and Japanese children's songs.

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This proved far more lucrative.

...I'm not made of stone, ya know.

In the afternoon, we caught our ride to the border. Napping happened.

We got to the Bolivian border town of Copacabana just in time for the last bus to La Paz. The bus took us up and up and up along the narrow peninsula, then back down to the shore for a short but incredibly frigid ferry crossing to the eastern side of Titicaca.

A few hours more by bus and here we are in La Paz.

It would be nice to take a break, but we've got less than four days to get to Uyuni and back, which doesn't seem like it's going to be enough time.