Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tenth Of December

Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. Must read by the ocean with wind in my hair and toes curled in the sand on a sunny day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Uffington White Horse

Located in Oxfordshire, England, the Uffington White Horse is a 374 feet long highly stylized figure on a north-west facing hillside.  Due to its similarity to ancient Celtic art, it is estimated to be around 3000 years old.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

* A Lovely Aroma Evening

I've been living in Studio City for over a year now, and was not aware of the very alluring Aroma Coffee & Tea Company literally steps away from my home. Tonight, I had the pleasure of sharing a Turkey Pesto Panino, curly fries, and delightful conversation with a friend in this magical hideaway. We were there because I lost a game of Letterpress, and our deal was that the loser would buy coffee for the winner. I am glad I lost because I found a new hangout spot in my neighborhood! We will definitely go back, and try everything on the menu, and their endless cupcake collection!

Thank you, A! :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lost Sirens

It seems like all of my fave bands are releasing new albums. New Order just released Lost Sirens! Also, the cover of this album reminds me of Letterpress! :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dung Beetles And Milky Way

I now have a new respect for dung beetles for they are the first animals proven to use the Milky Way for navigation. How clever for times when sun or the moon are not visible.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Shadow Of The Wind

The Shadow of the Wind is a book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón about an epic story of madness, magic, love, murder, and a boy in post WWII Barcelona. Just added to my long list of books to read...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Aphids Swarm Up In The Drifting Haze

Today I found this live recording of my two favorites singing my favorite in Tokyo:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cartoons And Macramé Wounds

Formed in 1994, Mew is a Danish indie band that I came across on one of the playlists on Songza. Their mellow but upbeat sound makes it a pleasure to listen to them while working. One interesting fact about them is they have one song "New Terrain" that becomes another song "Nervous" when played backwards!

If you are wondering about the name of this post, it is a song from Mew's 2009 album No More Stories.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Impossible Chairs

Velichko Velikov designs furniture reminiscent of M. C. Escher's impossible drawings. The materials he uses are as attractive as the definitive clean lines of his designs.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Bechdel Test

Popularized by Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test is used to determine the gender bias in movies (and in general fiction) according to the following 3 criteria:

(1) It has to have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than men.

It looks like not many movies pass this test. I did not completely acknowledge the importance of this until I watched the following TEDTalk by Colin Stokes about what our children are learning from the fiction they are exposed to:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tinkering School

Founded by Gever Tully, Tinkering School is 'the' heaven for your kids where they get out of their sterile, overly-protected lives, and get to do dangerous things like playing with fire, using power tools, taking stuff apart, and building really big projects that they dream-up. This is a place where children learn, and create without any limitations to their imaginations and abilities.

Thank you, Mum and Dad, for having my brother and I grow up in your version of Tinkering School!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Good Books For Oxfam

Good Books is an online bookstore that ships books, music, and dvds internationally for free, and that is not the best thing about them. 100% of their retail profit goes to Oxfam to support their projects to make this world a better place.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Underneath The Tabletop

It sounds very unusual when the words 'architecture' and 'tabletop' are use in the same context, unless of course you are talking about the designs of great British architect Will Alsop. His OCAD-Extension Tabletop is in Toronto, Canada for those who would like to stand underneath this happy looking structure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bloody Scottish Moon

I had not tried the wine that ancients made,
And had not heard of Ossian's old tune;
So why, on earth, I seem to see the glade,
And, in the skies -- the bloody Scottish moon?

And the call-over of a raven with a  harp
I faintly hear in that silence, full of fright,
And, spread by winds, the winter woolen scarves
Of knights are flashing in the red moonlight!

I had received the blessing to inherit
Another singer's ever rambling dreams;
For kin's and neighbor's spiritual merits
To have despise we're absolutely free.

And not a lone treasure, I suppose,
Will pass grandchildren and to others fling,
Again a scald will ancient songs compose,
And, as his own, will again them sing.


Osip Mandelstam

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mortals And Divine Beings Merge

Thanks to my wonderful cousins, I will be attending one of the most amazing shows next week!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Underwater Recording Techniques With A Twist

I love Douglas Adams, and I loved him a lot more today while I listened to him giving his talk on "Parrots, the Universe, and Everything". I learned a ton of information from his talk about many species on the brink of extinction, and his adventures in pursuit of finding and experiencing these animals. I laughed out loud, and missed him with a heartache like he was one of my long gone friends that I did not have a decent chance to sit and talk before he left. No, I never met him in person, but he will forever be my biggest storytelling hero of all time!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Der Ring Des Nibelungen

"And that inverted Bowl we call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help - for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou and I."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Island Lake Island Lake Island

I don't know why but these nested islands and lakes in Philippines leave me in awe.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Back Room Editors

Editors is a British band with a fluid sound that has the very strong undertones of Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen - two favorite bands of my early music listening years. Although In This Light and on This Evening is their third and latest released album, I am greatly favoring their first album The Back Room right now. Here is their biggest hit from Mercury Prize nominated first album:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mathematicians Seamounts

Mathematicians Seamounts is a chain of seamounts located in the Pacific Ocean off the western shores of Mexico. It consists of trachytic rocks made up of alkali basalt suites from the last eruptions of underwater volcanoes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rapid Electrokinetic Patterning

Rapid electrokinetic patterning (REP) is a noncontact manipulation technique that concentrates and manipulates colloidal particles on an electrode surface through the simultaneous application of a uniform AC electric field and a non-uniform laser illumination. This technique is especially useful in creating lab-on-a-chip applications or miniature instruments that perform measurements that would normally require large laboratory equipment. In a recent application, reserchers utilized this method to collect microscopic bacteria and fungi by creating tiny centrifuge-like whirlpools to seperate these from particles by size.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 8: The Aftermath

Like that one song says: I am like a big, strong cable, but I am just a girl, soft inside.

Everyone told me I would cry when I would see Machu Picchu for the first time. 

I did not. 

And I did not cry when I made it to the highest pass in the face of all the pain, and exhaustion. 

I cried on the bus from Ollatamba to Cusco, when finally all my mental barriers blocking hygene, pain, and solitude started coming down. 

I cried in realization of the grandness of what I had just accomplished.  

I cried in recognition of everyone else going home with someone to talk to about this incredible trip, and that I lacked that kind of intimacy only to pour my mind into this blog to share it with others who were not there. 

I cried because I wanted more of this.

I killed a mountain. 

I killed a mental mountain as well as a physical mountain. 

I did not walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu just to have done it and say so. 

I did it for me. 

I did it to reaffirm my trust and belief in who I am and what I am capable of. 

I did it because I can. 

Because that is what I wanted most for a long time.  

I killed a mountain, and now I am planning for the next mountain to kill.

Whether it is to plant the tree that you always wanted to add to your backyard, or take a stroll in the streets of Vienna, or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go kill your own mountain and be proud.

After all, the main cause for failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want at the moment.


Monday, January 7, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 7: Running Down The Stairs

Saturday morning was bright and shiny as an accurate manifestation of my mood. I put on the last couple pieces of clothing I had that were dry and clean and went downstairs (to the protest of my knees) to get some breakfast. The kitchen felt like I was at my late grandma's house and the food tasted homemade. I got myself into the 'Inca Time' pace, and lingered at the breakfast table, looking around at the old china cabinet, the paintings hanging on the walls, the fridge magnets, and then what I saw hanging over the door made my heart skip a beat.

For those of you that don't know: this is a very Turkish protection charm that is believed to protect its owner from evil eyes of others with bad intentions. They are handmade out of glass and each one is very unique. Anyone who knows me, also knows that I keep many of these in my home, car, and work, also give them out to my dear friends as a symbol of how much I care about them. I was touched to see something so special at such an unexpected place, and was reminded that the world is indeed very small.

I made my first contact with my family in Turkey via Skype after so many days of absence. We virtually hugged each other, and I gave a brief summary of the week's events to my mum and dad in the span of a breath. I ensured them that I was in good health and safe, and promised to let them know as soon as I got home to L.A.

I decided to spend my last day in Peru walking downtown and shopping for little souvenirs and gifts. Cusco is my kind of town: very walkable. I walked the cobblestone streets and made my way first to Plaza San Francisco where I shopped at a tiny store for the very typical Alpaca wool socks and hats. Make sure you bargain. I bargained in part English, part Spanish, and a whole lot of arm and hand gestures and got a very good deal.

By the time I got to Plaza De Armas, I was very hungry, and I knew exactly where to go for a fabulous lunch. Cicciolina was a recommendation I got in the first hostel but was closed on Christmas Eve. First I had to deserve my meal by going up a flight of stairs. I was seated at the bar where I was able to watch one of the guys make their own pasta with uncanny precision. I ordered a glass of Santa Julia - an amazing Chardonnay/Chenin blend from Argentina - while I browsed the menu. I wanted everything on it. I decided on the Beetroot Ravioli with mushrooms, marinated tomatoes, and black olives. If there is any pasta dish that is diviner that this, I have not met it yet. Muy Bien, indeed!

Since I was in one of the South American countries famous for their coffee, I had to have a cup and, of course, had to pair it with a dessert to complete the feast. The dessert I picked did not have a name for it on the menu but a whole paragraph:

"A rich chocolate mousse from Quillabambas jungle sprinkled with Rock Salt from Maras, & Iucuma cream served side by side, so that you can combine & enjoy the wild & bitter sweet flavors of Peru."

I was not prepared for the sights of this piece of sweet work of art, and melted inside while I looked at it from all angles before I disturbed its peace with my spoon.

I sat at a park enjoying my last day in this quaint town a little bit longer. I loved Peru for its majesty, humbleness, and cheerfulness, but I was ready to go home.

I had a good long night's sleep, and left the hostel at 6AM to learn that you can even bargain for the taxi fare to the airport. I did not know that Peru would give me a final gift, until I received my boarding passes and the young lady behind the counter told me that I was upgraded to Business Class for all three of my flights! Like my good friend B from Turkey said, this must be an indication of what good things the new year has in store for me!

You know 'those' people that are already in the plane sipping their orange juices sitting in the oversized seats in the front of the plane that don't even look at you while you try to squeeze your way towards your un-reclining seat at the very back next to the toilets; I was one of 'those' people and I loved it! I enjoyed the meals, the desserts, and the Chardonnay from Chile. I stretched as wide as I could, and slept like a puppy wrapped in the warm blankets. Muy Bien, it was!

I was the first to deplane at LAX, and did not have the patience to take the escalators. As I ran (yes ran) down the stairs next to the escalators, I heard someone say 'look at her!' and point at me. I smiled and in my head I said to him 'you have no idea what I did last week!'.

Passport controls, customs checks, shuttles to parking, and drive to home was swift, and I was home in no time.

When I walked into my apartment little after midnight on December 30, 2012,  I had two thoughts:
   1. It feels so good to be back home.
   2. Where should I go next?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 6: MachuSupercalifragilisticexpialidociousPicchu

I laid there in the dark of pre-3AM-hours, listening to the sounds outside. Light tapping of rain, people moving around and talking in whispers. It was the day I would get to see my dream place. When the porters came to wake us up, we declined the coca tea and left the tent as quickly as we could.

We filled our water bladders while the porters handed out our bag-breakfasts of sandwiches, apples, and mango juice. We bade farewell to the porters that we would not see again, started our hike in the dark, down a few flights of stairs and in less than ten minutes, we were at the shelter where we would have to wait for over an hour to go through the checkpoint into Machu Picchu territory. We were there so early to get in line for they only let so many people per day into Machu Picchu. While I stood and chatted with a couple of teammates, most of the others were eating breakfast or just adding some more snooze to their systems leaning against their backpacks.

Other teams started coming into the shelter. All of a sudden, it became a ballroom of familiar faces from the previous three days; the Australian team, the British team, even the Canadian family from the hostel were there. Everyone greeting each other with sleepy mirth, and telling how they have survived the trail so far. Even Herlin was there, once again cheering for 'Turkiya!'.

A one-hour hike from the checkpoint via slight ups and downs brought us to the Sun Gates. It was 6:30AM, and there was a very thick cloud cover over where the travelbook picturesque view of Machu Picchu was supposed to be. Our mischievous guides were doing their best to please us while we were wondering if this was all a scam and there was no such place.

When the entire team was finally at the Sun Gates, and the clouds did not relent to our patience, we kept on walking down hill for an other hour to arrive at the entrance of the ancient city. I kept my gaze down as I always did while hiking to be aware of where I was stepping. When I heard more and more people around me, I looked up to an unexpected view of Machu Picchu. I was there. It almost seemed unreal appearing out of the mist so suddenly in front of me.

Beautiful! Beautiful! So beautiful! I was finally at my dreamland. I walked forward to join my team for the group photo and we all said 'WE MADE IT!' in unison while our guides took pictures of us. We proceeded to the gates where they once again checked and stamped our passports. It was official!

Our guides gave us the tour of this enormous city above the clouds, and I took a lot of pictures. However, I will not share most of these pictures with you for they will not do justice to the spirit of this magical place. Only when you stand on those ancient stone walls, and inhale the view of surrounding mountains, you feel how close you are to the skies above. Only then you understand why those people were fascinated with the celestial events and objects. Only then you start worshipping the universe with all your being and get lost in your own singularity.

One building I cannot pass without sharing with you was the Temple of the Sun that fascinated me for decades. What is so special about this building is, on the day of Winter Solstice, the sunlight entering the middle window directly falls onto the sacrificial stone in the middle of the building. I touched the smooth surfaces of this Inca-holy structure, and made it mine.

I walked around in a haze of amazement, and gratitude to the Inca people for creating a place that stood the test of time and humans. I passed through buildings, expecting someone from that time to suddenly walk out of one of the doors to greet me, and be my seer to teach me all they knew above and below our heads.

It was time to leave. I turned around, took a last long look at my Brigadoon, and said goodbye to the lush greens, rocks of wisdom, and the Inca Tree.

A short bus ride brought us to the little tourist town of Aguas Calientes, happily nestled in one of the curves of the wild Urubamba River.

We lowered our tired bodies into the very comfortable chairs at the Machu Pisco restaurant and sampled the local delicacies of alpaca, guinea pig, and Cusqueña Malta beer. We were handed our train tickets to take us to Ollatamba from Aguas Calientes, making it very real that we were about to say goodbye to our team and guides and perhaps never see any of them ever again. Hugs and emails were exchanged, tips were handed to our guides for a last minute show of appreciation for doing their jobs so well.

I boarded the early train with only four other teammates, and rested my eyes during the two hour train ride listening to the people around me, finding out how intensively people travel to the most exotic places. I felt less traveled than most. In Ollatamba, we were greeted by a native holding up one of those pieces of paper with our names on it, and were led to a small bus which finally took us back to Cusco.

We were dropped at a smaller Plaza I was not familiar with, and wished each other safe travels, giving a final hug. Thanks to having left the map to the hostel open on my iPad, I walked uphill for about 15 minutes on the dark and narrow back streets of Cusco to finally arrive at Hostal Cusi Wasi to be greeted with this lovely view:

I don't know how long I stood in the shower but I washed away four days worth of dirt, tiredness, soreness, being careful to not wash away the happiness and lightness of my heart. I adored the clean white bedsheets with the lacey edges before sleep pulled me into dreamless depths.

Read more in Part 7

Saturday, January 5, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 5: Wrong Turn

By the time the porters were tapping on my tent at 5AM, I was already up and all packed. Everything was wet, and my outerwear choices were a semi-dry omni-heat jacket and a soaking-wet rain jacket. I chose the semi-dry one. Big mistake! Being wet in your own sweat is worse than being wet in the rain. Good thing I had heavy-weight bathing wipes with me. They are worth their weight in gold or moon-rocks (whichever is more valuable)!

Ran to the meal tent and stuffed our faces with the awesome breakfast of hot chocolate, pancakes with chocolate sauce, toast, strawberry jam, and margarine. As one of our guides handed out apples to eat as snacks later, the other guide was pointing at yet another uphill stair climb to take us to the second highest peak of our hike. I think I gulped the last bite of my breakfast a little too hard on the thought of doing this in the pouring rain. 'I can do this!' I told myself bravely, and put on my bright yellow poncho.

Climbing up was not as hard this time for I was using my walking sticks quite effectively. I made it to the second pass at 12,795 feet (3900 meters) at 8:48AM. Easy peasy. I took in the beauteous view from this mountain top. Then I looked at the downward steps unfolding themselves like a red carpet in front of me. I felt my knees cringe! :)

Rain was still pouring down, creating little rivers under our feet. It was so incredibly beautiful. The porters were still running by us, and when one of them asked 'Como estas?', I said 'MUY BIEN, muchos gracias!' forming my first full sentence in Spanish! You feel 'muy bien' when you say 'muy bien'!

Along the way, we stopped at the ruins of an Inca Observatory, and one of our guides told us about the history of the place:

My knees were still hurting but I made it to the lunch camp not too long after the others. I took off my wet jacket to find my t-shirt to be in fact very dry! It was a piece of advice I picked up at the REI Lightweight Backpacking class I took in preparation for this trip, to buy clothing that is moisture-wicking, quick-dry, and breathable. Also, to the envy of my teammates, my feet were dry!

** FAIR WARNING: skip this paragraph if you are offended by poop! **

As lunch was being prepared, I made my way to the restrooms, hoping today would be the day. I did not tell you this before but as happy as I was not to have diarrhea, I actually had the exact opposite and had been constipated since I landed in Peru four days ago. Now this is a blessing because you don't have to worry about needing a bathroom break in the middle of nowhere, but it also is a curse because you keep adding from top to stay energized! Long story short, I made my personal peak over a French toilet at high-noon that day, and walked out the shabby building with a victory-grin and the unbearable lightness of being - empty!

** (I know you read it because it says poop!)  :)

Lunch was once again rich in variety with popcorn, pasta egg soup, potato/tomato/onion dish (beef goulash for others), and vegetable rice. We were all restless because it felt colder as we sat there, and could not wait to start walking again. Our guides told us that there would be a split in the trail at a pylon and the path to the right would be the shortcut to the campsite.

My quiet companion S and I walked without much conversation, and stopped frequently to do the pressure breaths I learned from my heroic hiker friend R during our practice hike to Mt. Wilson a few weeks earlier. When we caught sight of a set of Inca ruins against a steep mountainside, we realized that we took an unintentional left turn at the fork we were told about earlier, to bring us down the 'long and scenic' path to the camp. Ooops!

By the time we entered the ruins, the campsite seemed so far away on the other side of the valley from where we were standing. Many more steps to climb down.

There were other people at the ruins from other teams, and to my sweet surprise they remembered me and asked how my knees were doing today. Thankfully my knees still functioned. Muy bien! One step at a time, I climbed down the steep stairs, greeting the three llamas on the way.

As we entered the camp, everyone greeted us from the meal tent, and one of the porters pointed up a flight of stairs to my dwelling for the night. I heard myself say 'NOOOOOOO!'. Muy bien!

10.55 miles in 24,141 steps, and an equivalent of climbing 133 floors later, I was served my own special slice of mushroom pizza with hot tea - others got it with ham. Sitting around the table, chatting with my teammates, I forgot all about the soreness of my legs, and once again felt at home.

Dinner time came quickly, and metal plates were once again circulated around the table with barley soup, rice, potatoes, meat, and yucca. It was time for the 'porter and cook tipping' ceremony. We all chipped in to a pile, and we collectively decided to tip the cook a little extra because he had been feeding us so well. We selected our teammate who had lived in South America for some time in the past, and spoke Spanish very well, to give a speech on our behalf before presenting the money to them. I made sure he made a point of thanking the cook for me for his special treatment. We shook hands with all of them, and quickly made it to our tents knowing we would have to wake up at 3AM next morning for the climax of our trip.

Read more in Part 6

Friday, January 4, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 4: A Thousand And One Slaps

The tapping of the porters on my tent was mixed in with the tapping of rain at 5AM, on second morning of the hike. One of them said 'Coffee' which instantly brought me to full awareness, and I stuck my hand out of the tent to receive the warm aluminum cup. Alas, the coffee was coca tea instead. I took a few sips from the warm liquid, and quickly gathered my gear into the backpack and my daypack.

I walked over to the hand-wash tubs, and was pleasantly surprised when I felt the hot water against the coolness of the Andes morning. I turned to the porter that was standing next to me, holding out a piece of paper towel to dry my hands and said 'Caliente!'. I was exhausting my limited Spanish vocabulary with reckless abandon. :) He flashed a genuine Peruvian smile exposing his teeth rotten from chewing coca leaves. 'Gracias!' I said returning the smile.

Our youngest teammate was the braveheart that morning to try out the thick beige colored liquid in the plastic jug, and when she declared it to be porridge, we all filled our cups to the lip. After devouring our breakfast of coffee, toast, margarine, strawberry jam, ham omelet (I received a veggie omelet), and banana, we all put on our ponchos (which also was a great investment), and started the uphill stair climb.

After 15 minutes of walking in the plastic poncho under the rain, I chose getting wet in the rain over sweating profusely and pulled the hood of the poncho off of my head. I decided that would be my daily shower.  As I steadily made progress with the hike, it was not the steepness of stair climbing that got to me but the altitude telling my heart to beat itself out of my chest. The steps we were climbing were uneven, broken, and sometimes so high that I had to ask the question 'How tall were the Incas?'.

As we made the slow ascend with occasional moans, once in a while someone would shout 'PORTERS!'. We would stand aside, and three or four men in sandals with huge loads on their backs would pass by us running hoppity-hop up the stairs like mountain goats. They all had veins the size of my thumb on the backs of their legs from doing this for years.

About two and a half hours into the hike, I stopped in pain, and asked myself 'why am I doing this?'. Then I looked up. I looked up at the surrounding glorious mountains, the unrelenting sky, the neon colored flowers that were growing out of ancient rocks, and the beauty of it all slapped me in the face to remind me why I was doing this - I wanted this. I was soaking wet, tired, breathless, but was not miserable. With a new swelling of my heart, I started walking again. Ten more steps. And ten more. And ten more. And from that moment on, I let the beauty slap me freely when I ran out of energy. I always looked at how far I have climbed, and how much less remained to the pass above my head. I got slapped a lot!

I made it to the highest 'Dead Woman's Pass' at 13,776 feet (4215 meters) at 12:47PM. I killed my mountain before it killed me!

The drunkenness of victory was quickly replaced by the realization of how much more distance on the downward stairs needed to be traversed to get to the camp for the night. It is no surprise that going downhill stairs is incredibly hard on your knees. Not long after I started my descend, I felt a sharp pain on the side of my left knee. Let me tell you that walking-sticks are your best friends. They will haul you up, help you down, and keep you steady on slippery stairs and slopes. You only need to learn to walk like a quadruped.

Walking great distances in a beautiful place like the Andes Mountains, gives you a chance to spend a lot of time in your head. In this almost meditative state, you think about everything, and everyone that has filled your life. In one of those moments of internal turbulence, I realized I have lost sight of the people in front of me, and there was no one behind me. I was standing on a small wooden bridge, looking at this breathtaking image alive with unequivocal energy:

I started walking slower and slower as the pain got sharper, and I learned something wonderful about being part of a hiking team. You are never left alone. Everyone looks out for the others, helps and supports in every way possible without any reservations. One of my teammates slowed down to stay with me, and against all my protests, stuck by me using his hurting ankle as an excuse to walk at my pace (I don't know if you are reading this, but thank you, S!). Also, a couple of our guides always stayed behind to keep an eye on all of us.

I made my grand entrance to the campsite as the last one on that late (very late) afternoon, and fell apart in my tent where I would be staying alone that night for my tentmate decided to spend more time with her other two friends.  I decided to sleep diagonally that night to stretch my legs.

One of the guides came to check on me in my tent, and invited me to have some lunch. In the lunch tent, I was first handed a bowl of creamy vegetable soup that warmed me from head to toe, followed by a feast of roasted chicken, veggie quinoa, and brown tea. I felt home and among family with my 19 other teammates and 3 guides.

After lunch there was a ceremonial air when we formed a circle to have all our porters and cook come forward to introduce themselves to us and us to them. It was an honor to be in the presence of descendants of the Incas.

While we sat around chatting and enjoying the absence of rain, I made a note of the 9.38 miles I walked in 21,467 steps, climbing the equivalent of 336 floors on my FitBit One. That day, I earned my Skydiver badge on FitBit, having reached an elevation over 10,000 feet above sea-level.

The dinner was the best ever! Chicken soup, spaghetti with garlic tomato mushroom sauce, and hot fudge for dessert.

I fell asleep listening to the sound of rain, covering as much floor space as I could to rest my legs. And then I woke-up to the strong urge to pee. There was no way I was going to the very dark restroom up two flights of stairs and across a slippery bridge in pouring rain.

I relieved myself in the little triangle between the tent and the vestibule. More relief came the next day when I found out I was not the only one who had done this! :)

Read more in Part 5

Thursday, January 3, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 3: Herlin

It was already light outside when I jumped out of bed at 5AM to take a shower and close up my backpacks. I filled a plastic bag with the energy bar wrappers and empty water bottles from the previous day, and left the room to look for a big garbage can to dispose of them. While I was looking around in the kitchen area, this young boy entered and asked me something (probably what I was looking for) in Spanish. I said 'garbage', he looked at me with empty eyes and did the universal gesture of 'I don't understand'. I had a little epiphany and remembered the little post-it notes we use at work when we dispose of larger things that do not fit in our trash bins. I said 'Basura!' with great confidence, and his eyes lit up with understanding and grabbed the bag out of my hands. I was doing ok so far with my non-existant Spanish language skills.

I hauled my two backpacks down the stairs and waited in front of the old doors for the tour guide to pick me up.  20 minutes later someone showed up, and to my heart-sinking realization, he was not there for me.  He was waiting for the other Canadian family I met the previous day. His name was Herlin, and when I asked if it had a meaning, he explained that his father saw the name in a newspaper, and probably misspelled the magician Merlin's name while trying to be original. He asked me where I was from, and he too cheered for 'Turkiya!'. Herlin gave me one very useful piece of information that morning: he said not to worry that the guide was late because his people operated on 'Inca Time', which is the same kind of cool unhurried pace most South Americans and Mediterraneans move.

Jose came with the very Peruvian smiling face and I boarded the bus with 4 other people already in it.  We drove around Plaza De Armas twice to pick up the rest of the team from their hostels, and hit the road out of Cusco. I was drinking the view out of the bus windows, trying to catch everything that was new to me.  And I saw my first llama that was not a photograph: he had his hind legs spread and was taking a dump! Amazing rear view. ;)

We stopped at a small roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere to have breakfast and use the facilities.

Everyone in the group was still mingling with their own, and I stood at a corner observing who is who while munching on yet another Clif bar I brought. I was afraid to eat the delicious looking bananas everybody else purchased from the little store for I was warned against extreme diarrhea.  After an hour and 15 minutes (equivalent of 30 minutes in Inca Time), we boarded the bus and did not stop until we reached the trailhead where we turned in our big backpacks to the porters.

Following the train tracks, we came to the checkpoint where our passports, and trail permits were inspected.  We got our passports stamped, making our entry to the Inca Trail territory official.

We hiked for about an hour before we stopped for a short break where I heard someone yell 'I know you! Turkiya!!!'. When I looked up, I came eye to eye with Herlin! For the following three days, there was at least one time everyday, I would hear him yell 'Turkiya!' and wave at me with a huge smile, having everybody around wonder!

First thing for lunch, we were served a warm purple liquid in aluminum cups. As we would do for the following meals, we all looked at each other trying to find the bravest person of the day to try it first and give the ok to drink/eat the native delicacy to the rest of the team. I was the first of those bravehearts that day!   While we were enjoying our purple corn tea, the porters set up the lunch tent and got our first lunch ready. They also lined up a bunch of little plastic tubs filled with water next to the tent for us to wash our hands before we sat down to eat.

On the menu was:
- Egg Soup
- Beef (they did ask if anyone was vegetarian and because I do not eat red meat, I got an omelet instead, and received special treatment every time there was red meat for a meal)
- Rice
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cucumber and Tomato Salad

I was pretty impressed with the variety and was floored that the table was set complete with silverware and folded paper napkins! I found it to be very elegant for camping, indeed! This lunch was the first bonding experience for our team members and a lot of laughter was shared when the lunch tent made an attempt to disassemble itself upon us.

Afternoon hike was short and fairly flat. We got our first glimpse of Inca ruins and gasped at the sights of beautiful Andes mountains. I was doing pretty well with the hike and keeping up with the group, although the elevation made itself known with rapid heart beats. When we reached our first campsite for the night, the air was filled with the joyous smell of popcorn for the happy hour.  I threw my gear into the tent that I would be sharing with one of the girls from SF, and made my way for the restrooms with no lights! I was glad I made the last minute purchase of a headlight! :)

Dinner had much variety as did lunch and we all ate everything served.  By the time I caccooned into my down-sleeping bag, I had walked 11.79 miles taking 26993 steps, and climbed an equivalent of 247 floors!  Happy with the day's accomplishments, and knowing the next day would be the hardest of all, I fell into a restless sleep to the sound of light rain tapping on the tent.

Read more in Part 4

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 2: Altitude Sickness Is No Joke

Peruvians are very nice! The guy at the money exchange office at Lima airport - where I spent the night - told me not to exchange too much money with him because it is cheaper in Cusco and his commission is too high.  The security guy at the checkpoint also yelled "Turkiya!" looking at my passport with a big smile. I have a creeping suspicion that soccer is the reason they know. Just a quick note to my traveling friends, Lima airport does not have free wifi. You need to purchase a Vex card from one of the Britt Stores.  15 Soles for 2 hours. Vex is flakey.

Flight number three from Lima to Cusco was short and uneventful. I slept all the way except for the breakfast service. Hot cheese croissant was wonderful with orange juice. Fell right back asleep to wake up to plane touchdown. 

I stepped out of the small airport building to a wet Cusco morning with all the confidence of having made arrangements for someone from the hostel to pick me up.  As I turned to face the little crowd of people holding up pieces of paper with hand written names, I realized my name was not on any one of those. "Oh shit!" was, of course, the first thought that crossed my slightly jet-lagged mind. I continued standing there for about 15 minutes, contemplating what I should do to get to my hostel when I noticed someone behind the crowd trying to hurriedly write a name on yet another torn piece of paper against a wall. Henry from Hostal El Triunfo was finally there to pick me up from the airport - which BTW was a great idea.  Just be prepared to see a misspelled version of your name.  I am now AYSEN ARGEN - not bad huh.

My first impression of Cusco was that everything looked handmade, even the street signs. Driving from the airport, the sights, buildings, even the people in motion reminded me of remote small towns of Turkey. 

Downtown streets got narrower and narrower and finally Henry parked at the corner of a narrow oneway street, and we walked the final few hundred steps to the hostel.

Hostal El Triunfo is located in the historic downtown right next to Plaza De Armas and the views of the city from the upper floor terrace is breathtaking.

The entrance to the hostel is through an art store - it would have been hard for me to find it alone. 

In the art store, we took a left turn and walked up a flight of stairs to arrive at the cozy reception area where the distinctly sincere smiling face of the receptionist greeted us. Immediately after doing my check in, she told me my room was not ready, and took me to the dining room to offer coca leaves in hot water to help with the elevation sickness.

While sipping my coca tea, I met a Canadian family of 4 - also checking in - who were originally Pakistani. When my room was ready, I took a shower, crawled into one of the beds that looked very attractive after so many hours on the road, and promptly passed out. 

I woke up with no sense of time or place, the way you feel when you are in an enchanted locale. Or maybe when you have two too many cups of coca leaves. I got up, got dressed, and walked outside to get my bearings, and get blood flowing in my legs (and brain).

There was a big bazaar set up at Plaza De Armas surrounded by ominous churches.  I walked into a Peruvian postcard. The colors, the people, the sounds, the smells - did I wake up into a dream?

The guy at the airport exchange office was so right, the rate in Cusco is much better. Just make sure that the dollar bills you have are crisp for they discount the rate if they do not like the looks of your money. Now I had a pocket full of Peruvian soles, with what to do I knew not.

It was colder than I expected but very pleasant. I walked around the bazaar a bit but the altitude sickness started kicking in, and I felt a big headache pressing on the sides of my forehead.  I stumbled to the hostel to remedy the head pain with more coca tea. Mellowness set in for the next couple of hours before I met the Inca Trail lead at 5PM for a briefing. So nice he was coming to the hostel, and had already left an envelope with trail maps for me the previous day. Met with the Inca Trail guide Carlos at the hostel kitchen, and got the details of the hike. Such a nice guy (I've been saying that a lot lately), I gave him a hug that he said he needed so much. :) Looked like I had everything I would need except for insect repellent. He said he will pick me up at 5:45AM the next day, and it will all begin.

After nibbling on Clif bars the whole day, I had a fabulous Peruvian dish two doors down from the hostel at Am ManeraTrigotto is made with quinoa and assorted mushrooms with a white sauce. Much lighter than it sounds. Then for dessert I had Chocolate Pudín.

Sleep came quickly that night, after I wished 'Feliz Navidad' to Norma the reception lady, and retired to my room.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

* I Killed A Mountain - Part 1: Adventure Begins

As I sit here in front of my fireplace with some sleepy song to accompany my pleasantly aching body, I cannot help but relive my big adventure to Peru to hike the Inca Trail, and visit Machu Picchu.

This is my story of how I spent the past week doing something I've never thought I could.  What I will relay to you in this and next few posts is about what this trip did to me, rather than the things you can find in travel books.  Here it goes:

I boarded the first of the three planes to take me to Cusco, Peru on December 23, 2012 morning with not so much a single worry about going to a place where I have never been before, whose language I do not speak, to do something I was not sure I was prepared for.  

The first thing I noticed on the plane was - thanks to the gentleman sitting next to me - that the South American men are really into smelling nice a little too much. During the 5 hour flight, the bridge of my nose tingled with the intensity of his smell. Despite the olfactory violation, my eyes were entertained by his dancing hands to the Latino music that was playing through his headphones. As I tried to fall asleep to the violent turbulence we were experiencing, I noticed the map in front of me said we were flying close to 'Mathematicians Seamounts'.  I made a mental note to look that up once I get back home before I slipped into a shaky slumber.

The first layover was in San Salvador. The very nice young guy at the boarding gate to Lima plane yelled "Turkiya!" upon seeing my passport with a big smile but then could not decide if my visa was valid and had to consult the other nice young guy at the counter. I was told to wait to the side for 5 minutes while they counted on their fingers to determine the validity of my 6-month visa. The finger-counting was successful, and I was sent through the gates with holiday cheer.

During the next 4 hours on the flight to Lima, I felt like I was turning into the 13th warrior:  starting to understand Spanish more and more. Amazing how fast you start recognizing words and patterns once you are immersed in a language.  While we were still at the gate, sitting in the plane, they announced that the plane was being refueled and to remain seated with seatbelts unbuckled. Is this normal? But then what defines normal? Wasn't it me sitting in the third stall of the airport toilet a couple of hours ago in some miniature Central American country's airport, asking myself "what am I doing?".  The answer promptly came through the speakers when "dream weaver" started playing.  Yes I'm weaving my dreams to make them real, tangible, touchable, visible, out of my head, to make room in my head for more dreams. 

Taking off from San Salvador, there were more starlights above than city lights below. Really distorts your perception of where you are on earth, in universe.

As I was wondering why the apple juice served on international flights always tastes divine, I received my holiday cookie in the shape of a little tree adding to the growing joy of my trip.

Everyone was asleep. That night out of the small portal of the airplane, only I saw what the moon did to the silky clouds.  Words cannot do justice to the love affair that was going on up there.

Read more in Part 2