Corrupt Police, Pickpockets, and Broken Computers

Posted on Sunday July 25, 2010 by Jacob Campbell.

It seems I only write when there is crazy stuff happening in my life… please don’t think that my life is so full of these crazy experiences.

At the beginning of this I had to travel to Arica Chile to renew my passport. I took a bus from Cusco to Arequipa (about 10 hours) and then another bus to Tacna Peru. Tacna is the border town between Peru and Chile. When we were outside of the city we passed a police checkpoint. They often enter buses and check peoples identification. I was past due on my visa, by about eight days. They told me that I needed to come into their station and talk to them because my visa was past due. They search all my belongings, and kept telling me in Spanish that I was going to get deported for being past due on my visa. They asked me to help them purchase a new book for the police station. They said that it costs S/. 150.00 (about $55.00). If I “helped them” they would “help me”. I knew that when I got to the border I would have to pay $1 per day that I was overdue on my visa. I took their bluff and refused to give them any money. They kept telling me that I wouldn’t ever be able to come back to Peru and that it didn’t matter that I had an apartment and and my belongings in Cusco. I still refused to pay them any money.

I must say to make this situation worse, I had a lot of cash in my possession. I don’t like to carry a lot of cash because it’s not safe in Peru. I had just received my paycheck and did not have time to cash it before leaving Cusco. I had my entire paycheck, a little over S/. 1200.00 (about $400.00). But when I have more cash, I also put some money in my wallet and some in my bag… in case I get robbed or something.

When the police were talking to me they kept moving me from room to room leaving my bag in another room. During one of these times, they must have taken S/. 100.00 (about $35.00). They also took my 4 gig iPod nano (although I didn’t notice this until I reached Arica). They finally just let me go. I also ended up paying them S/. 10.00 to be able to leave. I also didn’t realize until later that they had stolen the money. I just figured it would get them off my back and buy them a beer or something.

I spent the night in Arica and when I was returning I was afraid of the police bothering me again and trying to take more of my money. I decided to put all of my salary in my wallet. I fell asleep on the bus and when I arrived at the terminal in Arequipa went down to wait for my backpack from under the bus. I felt somebody hit my little backpack and moved it to the front for fear of pickpockets. I guess I was just tired and didn’t think about having my wallet in my back pocket too. So stupid! Well, they weren’t going for my backpack like I thought. They went for my wallet. Went into the station to purchase a ticket for Cusco and found that my wallet was gone. Luckily I had some change. I called a co-worker to work for me int he morning and took a taxi to a hostel. I had to call a friend in the US to wire me some money the next morning so I could get back to Cusco. It was a pretty sucky experience and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone.

I found that I could live for pretty cheaply. While I haven’t paid for my rent yet, I’ve been able to live most of this month for about $100. I know in Peru 18.5 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. I’m not sure how they do it. I guess, even being very poor for a month, I still have my western ideals of my lifestyle.

I figured with this event, I lose my status as a Piña (Spanish for pinapple a slang in Cusco for unlucky) and become a Lechero (Spanish for milk man a slang in Cusco for a lucky person). I think it’s going that way. But lately, I’ve been having some troubles with my computer. It’s been shutting off randomly, I think because it’s overheating. I guess I am a bit of a Lechero because I still have it under warranty. But it means that I’m going to be without my computer for a while. I think my house is going to be quite for a while.

Also, if you haven’t checked out my website for a while, check out the main page. I’ve been transiting to using a CSM (Drupal). Let me know what you think.

Corpus Christi, Fashion Show, and Tipon… a Good Week

Posted on Monday June 7, 2010 by Jacob Campbell.

View of the Carroza de Plata with the Templo de Merced in the background View of the Carroza de Plata with the Templo de Merced in the background

This week I got to do a couple of fun things, including getting my camera back so you can check out my photos The Title Of The Album. On Thursday was Corpus Christi (latin for Body of Christ). In Cusco Peru (and only in Cusco as I understand it) it is a public holiday, which meant I didn’t have to go to work. First thing we attended the pontifical mass outside of the Cathedral. After the mass, there was a procession that made a loop around the Plaza de Armas. The precession is led by a silver plated alter called the Carroza de Plata (in English Silver Chariot or also known as the Templete (alter), or Baldaquino (canopy)) that is pushed around the square. Afterwards they have various images of saints that are also included in the procession. After the procession we left to go to Plaza San Fransisco to buy some chiriuchu. Chiriuchu is a typical cold dish that includes various Inca foods, especially meats (a part of why I really liked it). It includes: chicken, cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig), Chalona (mixture of pork and alpaca) salt fish eggs, sasauge, seaweed, corn, andeanen cheese, pepers, and rocoto peper (a spicy peper).

Terraces at Tipon Terraces at Tipon

On Friday night, I got the opportunity to go to the Cusco 2010 Alpaca Fashion Show. We got some free tickets, and it was interesting. They even had Miss Peru International there… although sorry, didn’t get any photos. There were several sets of typical dances during the event along with three older ladies describing how to die various colors in Alpaca. As for the models themselves, I think most of them were just college students that they asked to come and show off some of the alpaca fashions. The event started much later then is traditionally Pervian, almost two hours. It was interesting, but it was outside and very cold so we left early.

On Sunday, we went to the Tipón Archeological Site. This is a set of Inca agricultural terraces. It’s very beautiful with the backdrop of the mountains. Afterwards we went to Lucre and ate duck and fresh pastries… so delicious.

Mi Vida Loca

Posted on Tuesday April 6, 2010 by Jacob Campbell.

 Mi Vida Loca or My Crazy Life Mi Vida Loca or My Crazy Life

Mi Vida Loca, which translates to My Crazy Life. While three dots tattoo (placed on the hand between the index finger and thumb or by the eye) in a triangle shape is often used by gang members to signify gang life… I felt that with the month that I’ve had this month it was fitting to name this post Mi Vida Loca. No, I haven’t been involved in any gang activity. I have had a really crazy month, full of bad luck. I’m kind of hoping that now that this is a new month, I will have gotten rid of all my bad luck and the good luck will start overflowing my cup.

This month has included a number of different things, to varying degrees could be considered bad luck. At the beginning of last month I had an operation, with the end result being my gallbladder being removed. I had a number of risk factors going for me, pushing me towards gallstones and eventually having my gallbladder removed. While I have been in South America, I have lost a lot of weight (still waiting on my camera, so no photos of the thinner me) with is a risk factor. Another risk factor is fasting. I tend to not eat very well, and often forget to eat (only having one meal a day). I just get busy and then don’t eat. Along with not eating well, often when I eat I love to eat greasy food. While I don’t eat the same type of greasy food as I did in the US… I still get my opportunities. On the streets there is always little anticuchos stands. These are women who barbecue meat (kind of like shish kabobs). One of my favorite snacks; coming in beef, heart, chicken, and sausage (really more of a hot dog). Along with anticuchos, there are always venders selling empanadas (although I prefer empanadas from Venezuela), and hamburger type things. Another favorite unhealthy dish I like is salchichapapas (which translates to sausage and french fries). Sometimes this comes with chaufa rice, and again things they call sausages which are closer to hot dogs. So good, but kind of greasy. Other than eating unhealthy, I also don’t drink enough water and have too much coffee or Inca Kola. Combine all of this into my life and you get gallstones.

I’ve learned that it can be “fun” to have operations in third world countries. Every thing went just fine from the operation, and I am feeling back to normal. Although, I can’t exactly eat anything that I want. Sometimes when I try to have the Super Duper Norton’s Burger from Nortons Rat’s Tavern my stomach feels like it has a brick in it. But other than that I’ve been able to eat most things again.

Other than having semi vital organs removed in third would countries, I’ve also had problems with cats. I’ve been house sitting for a Ecuadorian friend while she went home to visit family. It’s been amazing, actually a nicer apartment then I’ve ever had. She had two cats (which living with cats has cemented my feeling that I don’t want cats or like them). Although, I’ve don’t like cats… I didn’t intentionally lose one. I’m not sure what happened to one of her cats. It just disappeared one night (I still haven’t told her). I think it either went out the window (second story) or must have snuk (while writing this post I found an interesting article regarding snuck verses sneaked) out the door one day.

Other than losing cats, I’ve also lost the girl I was seeing. I had been seeing a Peruvian girl for the last month, but the relationship just didn’t seem to be working out so I had to break up with her. While I didn’t lose my job, I did have to reapply for my job at the National University.

The final crazy thing that happened to me, was getting mugged. A couple of nights I was walking home fairly late. Right in front of my house (just a couple of doors down), three men jumped me. Only my pride was hurt, so I’m fine. I’m just one cell phone and a couple hundred Nuevo Soles shorter. All in all, it’s been a pretty crazy month. But it’s just another piece of my crazy life.

Student’s Protest & Jacob Torres Goes to The Hospital

Posted on Monday March 15, 2010 by Jacob Campbell.

You’ve heard of Teacher’s Striking But Never Students

Blockade made by students at UNSAAC Blockade made by students at UNSAAC

It’s not uncommon for teachers in the United States to go on strike, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of students doing the same. In Cusco Perú, it does seem like there are a lot of protests (when I was spending more time down at the main square, it seemed almost every day). Even seeing all of these protests, I was prepared for the students to go on strike at the National University where I work.

One may question how all of the students at a university might go on strike. Well, at UNSAAC (Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco) the university is surrounded by a giant wall with only a couple of major gates for people to enter by. The students took anything they could find (i.e. chairs, desks, large logs) and propped them up inside the gate making them inoperable. Furthermore, they added their own chains and locks to the gates.

The students were protesting saying that the school was using biased and illegal hiring tactics. As I understood the argument, the students said the administration was not hiring the professors based on their skills / qualifications, but rather based on relationships (i.e. family, friends… etc). I was told that this was illegal for the university to do here in Peru. I just found it very interesting the university students here would take the time to protest these illegal hiring practices.

Jacob Torres Goes to The Hospital

Me sitting in the hospital Me sitting in the hospital

I tend to think my Spanish has gotten pretty excellent in the last several months of being in Peru / South America. But I guess being in significant pain, tends to make pronunciation more difficult. Late last Monday, I had a guy couchsurfing at my place. I went to sleep about midnight, but woke up just a half hour later with extreme pain in my abdomen. I didn’t know what was happening. I tried doing anything I could think of for the next two hours, but it just kept getting worse. Add to that some nausea, and I was ready to go to the hospital. I woke my couchsurfer up, and told him I had to go to the hospital. He ended up just sleeping at the house while I went. Finding a taxi at almost three in the morning was a little bit difficult and I had to walk for a ways.

Peruvian hospitals are interesting. They require you pay for everything in advance. So, when I walked into the doors I paid S/. 10,00 (a little over $3) to have a consultation with a doctor. Through out the night (I didn’t end up leaving the hospital until about 1:00 pm the next day) I had to buy medications several times. The processes is you go to the pharmacy, who prints out a typed list / cost of the items you need. Then you go to the cashier to pay for the items. After words your return to the pharmacy to receive your items. At those hours they are all asleep too, so you have to knock and wait for them. Lets just say in extreme pain, this is not a fun activity. After receiving your medications, you return to the doctor so they can give them to you.

There is also no computerized intake process, and each area of the emergency they have to fill out new pieces of paper. At one point, I was asked what my last name was (which so far, I’ve seen spelled as the following: kambel, campbett, and cambell) and I attempted to spell it out. When I saw what the nurse was writing I told her it was all incorrect (todas es incorecto). She took that to mean my last name was Torres. I was in too much pain to change it. The thing is, that this is the name that went onto my form for my ultrasound (I believe that’s what it was), the first piece of paper I got to start carrying from doctor to doctor. I started having to consistently tell the doctors why it said Torres on my paper and not Campbell.

The next afternoon I left feeling much better (I’m sure a little high from the drugs) and super hungry. I was told that I ought to come back if the pain returns and that I should stay away from greasy food. The diagnosis was that my gallbladder was enlarged, and possibly had stones. They told me if the pain continued I might have to come back for surgery. I couldn’t do anything at that but laugh.

You must know, I have not had many surgeries in my life. Well, other than this one… just one. The other one was an appendectomy. The circumstances for this were a bit strange. I was 12 years old when it decided to happen and on vacation in Mexico. I must say it was quite an experience to have surgery done in Mexico. It seem ironic my only other surgery would happen outside of the US.

On Thursday the pain was back, and too much too bare again, so I went back to the emergency room. I was seen and given some medication, being told to come back in the morning at 5:00 am for surgery. I only made it until about 10:00 pm that evening. The pain was too much, so I returned and spent another night at the hospital.

My gallbladder was removed without complications, unless you consider the hospital loosing my shoes a complications (it’s funnier if you know how much problems I’ve had with shoes in South America). I’ve been in the hospital for the last couple of days. While, the hospital is not as nice as those in the US or have as many accommodations… it has been just fine. It’s also considerably cheaper. While I haven’t been released, so I don’t know my total bill, I was told to expect about $100 or less. Maybe the health care system in the US should take some pointers from Peru for how to keep costs down and make doctors visits more affordable.

Some Words Are the Same

Posted on Sunday January 10, 2010 by Jacob Campbell.

 A graphic I created in  Adobe Photoshop  with the hallelujah in different languages. A graphic I created in Adobe Photoshop with the hallelujah in different languages.

I’ve been living in Cusco Perú now for about two months (I believe a little bit longer). I haven’t really posted anything since getting to Cusco. My camera is still broken, so I don’t have any new photo’s for you yet. I hope that it will be out of the shop soon, although I don’t know if I currently have the $130 to pay for it for a couple of months.

While I’ve been in Cusco, I’ve done a number of things. Due to the focus of this post, I’m not going into all of the stories for these… but let’s just say I have a lot of stories to tell. I have…

  • Couch surfed
  • Paid 850 percent more than a shoe shine is worth
  • Looked for into purchasing a stolen phone for very cheap
  • Started my own business, with a fliers and logos and all
  • Volunteered working with little children
  • Passed out on the streets
  • Gone to the hospital (don’t worry, not for me)
  • Made friends with local artisans, flier hand-outers, drug dealers, travelers, and Cuscanian
  • Gotten hired as a professor at a local university
  • Participated in a taxi protest
  • Spent Christmas in a bus
  • Often eaten a three course meal for less than a dollar
  • Almost gotten hit by fireworks on New Years
  • Eaten all sorts of food and drinks on the streets that should get me sick
  • Nearly gotten my wallet stolen
  • Had rock throwing protesters stop my bus
  • Taught personal classes in English

Really all and all I’ve had a lot of other fun experiences. I really enjoy Cusco, and have been happy with my decision to make my camp here.

Now, one thing I haven’t done yet (and and hoping to) is take Spanish lesions. While I haven’t taken any formal Spanish classes, every day is a Spanish lesion for me. Whether it’s hanging out on the corner with the ladies who sell massages / tour packages or going to my church, I am always getting the opportunity to practice my Spanish. While there are a number of words which are very similar in English and Spanish, I don’t know of very many that cross the span of more than a couple of languages. I was sitting in church today, and it hit me that one word that I believe is universal is halleluiah.

When I was in Africa on my mission trip, the pastors would often get the congregation “riled up” by shouting BWANA ASIFIWE (praise the lord in Swahili). The congregation would shout back HALLELUIAH. The pastor would do this a number of times. While, I am not a master of languages and certainly do not know if halleluiah is pronounced the same in all the languages of the world I would guess that it might just be. I am fairly sure that I heard it in different nations in Europe, in Swahili, and in Spanish.

Doing a little bit of research, I understand that the word translated from Hebrew is Hallelujah – or Praise Jah (Jehovah) and translated from the Greek is Alleluia having the same meaning. Both are commands to praise the Lord.

I just found it very interesting that there would be this one command, to praise the Lord, that is so significant and not in other languages that it would show up the same in so many different cultures and languages.

New Experiences & Broken Things

Posted on Saturday November 7, 2009 by Jacob Campbell.

The Late Birthday Present

The Giant Peccary I had for Lunch The Giant Peccary I had for Lunch

I’ve recently broken my camera, so you can view the last of the photos I will be able to upload from my camera at its album Ayahuasca Vision Quest, an Overnight Jungle Trek, and Los Días de Los Muertos Facebook Album. I will probably be uploading photos from Ami’s camera (I apologize in advance for people who are friends with both of us for the duplicates in pictures).

We spent about a week in Puerto Maldonado, which (other than the broken camera) an exquisite trip. Two of our friends live there (Naun and Rachel). It’s one of the largest cities in the Amazonian region of Perú (Iquitos would be the other). It’s more expensive than most of the rest of Perú, but still very cheap by US standards. In Perú they use the Nuevo Sol (New Sun) and the exchange rate, while it fluctuates daily) is about three sol’s to every USD. The double room that Ami and me were staying in (Hostel Moderno) cost s/. 25 per night (or a little over USD$4 per night). We could eat a giant rice, soup, meat, and juice dinner for only s/. 3… which is so cheap. Some places are more touristy, and thus more expensive.

While we were in Puerto Maldonado we did go to a couple of the tourist restaurants. There we ate some traditional jungle food and jungle meat. I had wild jungle pig (Giant Peccary – Pecari Maximus) and Ami had wild jungle rodent (Capybara - Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). It was good although neither tasted like chicken. We also ate at a couple of great pizzerias, a chifa restaurant (Peruvian Chinese restaurant), and I ate some Juane on my jungle adventure.

We also ate some other unexpected stuff. We were in Puerto for a couple of days, I began to notice that Ami kept going off with Rachael to I figured plan something. I left to go to the bank one day, while we were all getting coffee and dessert and came back to Ami explaining about her birthday experience. Well, were sitting in the hostel room one day, and Naun and Rachael came by. Ami told me, “you need a hammock… and let’s go.” I decided I needed pack a few more things, but I didn’t know where we were going. I had figured this had something to do with my birthday, but I had not know that Ami had been planning it for almost two weeks.

I quickly packed my bags (because everybody was waiting for me), and we headed off on motorbikes. When we got outside of town, we switched drivers (I was riding with Naun and Ami with Rachael). Ami had been asking for days to be able to drive one of the motor scooters so I figured I ought to let her drive us, to where ever we were going. I second guessed myself after we started weaving back and forth across the road. When we came to the first bridge, Ami wasn’t used to the breaking system and we made it more of a jump than a bridge.

 Ami's Scraped Up Leg Ami’s Scraped Up Leg

A little further down the road we ended up laying the scooter down, not going very quickly so nobody was hurt. After a little bit, and some adjustments of my giant backpack, and Ami got the driving down pretty pat. That’s how it seemed at least. Let’s just say that going uphill on a little scooter can be a dangerous endeavor. We had just gone over a bridge. The bridges in the jungle (for buses, trucks, motorcycles, and everything) are somewhat menacing. There have been a number of times on buses that I have been afraid that they would break. The generally contain two wide boards that are higher by about an inch then all of the crossbeams. While the wide boards would seem the more secure bet, they are too narrow to be easily navigated by bike. Taking a bike over the crossbeams has its own challenges too. Normally they are lower than the ground, and so there is always a bump getting on and off. By the end of the hour trip there and back both me and Ami became proficient at navigating these.

The steep dirt road hills are another story. After crossing one of these bridges, Ami started heading up this hill. About half way up, she decided that the bike was in too high of a gear. The combination of me (a good couple hundred pounds heavier than Ami) and my backpacking bag seemed too much for the bike. We road a wheelie for a couple of feet before the bike tipped over onto it’s back. I kind of jumped off of the bike and fell back on my pack. My first response was to look at Ami’s feet and legs to see if they were trapped along the hot metal. Her flip flop (not good riding equipment for either of us) was stuck between the tire and spokes. Out of instinct I grabbed for her leg and tried to make sure she was safe. In the process I managed to create some excess bubbling skin on my forearm (interestingly, it was right over a previous burn). We both came out alright, although Ami was pretty beat up. I drove the bike the rest of the way (only five minutes down the road) to the Shamans place.

An Ayahuasca Vine An Ayahuasca Vine

When we finally arrived in the woods, and first found a wooden platform to set our hammocks on, was when I was first told what the present was. I was being brought into the middle of nowhere to do a vision quest with Ayahuasca (ayawaska pronounced [ajaˈwaska] in the Quechua language). This is a brewed mixture of a vine and some leaves that have psychoactive (hallucinogenic) proprieties. As we have been traveling I have met a number of people who have either taken Ayahuasca or San Pedro Cactus, and it has always been a thought to personally try these. One lady we met from the UK has been traveling around South America for the past several months after being diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor to just take Ayahuasca. She said that she had not been medically tested yet, but she was sure it was helping and that she had a number of physical manifestations.

Knowing that I have come to South America partly to find myself, and help figure out what I am supposed to do with my life… Ayahuasca seemed an interesting experience to have. I did have to spend some time deciding whether or not I would take it at that moment. It is a strange thing, to be brought somewhere and expected to take a hallucinogen without any type of preparation or forethought. We also almost did not perform the ceremony because the Shaman that Naun knew was performing a ceremony at another lodge that evening. We were left with his two understudies. Interestingly, they were gringos (i.e. foreigners).

All in all, there were the two stand in Shaman, Naun, Rachael, Ami, two girls from Spain, and me all participated in the experience. We sat on mats on the floor of a dark hut and took each took our turn of drinking the concoction. We drank about one half cup of the liquid, which both smelled and tasted bad. After about a half hour, they turned off the lights started chanting and shaking a maraca type instrument. Soon after, with my eyes closed I started hallucinating a bit. I, and almost everybody vomited. Vomiting is very normal with Ayahuasca, and supposed to symbolize cleansing the body. One member of our group continued to vomit through the entire night (not a very pleasant experience). While I did not seem to see my purpose or any type of future life vision I did see some other things.

Our Student Shaman Who Preformed the Ceremony for Us Our Student Shaman Who Preformed the Ceremony for Us

I felt both very hot and cold at different points during the experience. At one point, I was sitting on the ground, and I felt like I was a giant ball of gravity… pulling everybody closer to me. I also experienced seeing a white light and seeing all of my thoughts running across this glass like surface as if they were ants. I also saw myself madly trying to type all of my thoughts down in a darkened room. All in all, it was an interesting experience. I would not say that it was life changing or vision forming. But it was very interesting.

I drove us the majority of the way back on the motor bike… but I ran into a similar problem as Ami did. While attempting to navigate a hill, I realized I was in too high of a gear I attempted to downshift. Ami fell off the back of the bike as we popped another wheelie. I was able to control the bike and not let it come crashing to the ground. While I was able to control the bike, I did end up spinning it in a circle (and revving up the engine at the same time because I was holding the gas with my hand). I nearly ran Ami over with the bike. Deciding that she did not want to ride with me anymore, I rode back with Naun and Ami with Rachel.

Church Outreach Event

A couple of nights later, next to the Plaza Armas (the main square), there were people setting up for a concert that evening. Ami and I met a couple who are from Texas, and had been living here for the last four months. They are here to plant a church, and are planning to start an English language school. They also helped to set up the event that was happening later in the square.

The event was pretty spectacular. There were hundreds of people hanging out in the plaza, and around the stage. The event started with some awards for various groups involved. They then had a children’s program which consisted of people in giant costumes, singing and dancing. Some of the pastors who spoke described Halloween (the day the event took place) as evil and of the Devil. They also told parents to not let their kids go out dancing or drinking. There was a number of human videos and dramas. The main event was a singer from Bolivia. It was amazing to see so many people worshiping, and dancing in the streets. At the end, they had an alter call and maybe 20 people came forward to commit their lives to Jesus. It was very exciting. Apparently the local pastors set up a free breakfast in the morning for the new converts to be able to better meet them.

Tambopata National Reserve Jungle Trek

 Sun Rise from Tambopata National Reserve Sun Rise from Tambopata National Reserve

I got the amazing opportunity to go on a very cheap jungle trek. I went with a number of French speaking people, but it was still an amazing adventure. I showed up at the port at 6am, and we took an eight hour boat ride to make it fairly deep into the Tambopata National Reserve. The whole trip cost me less than USD$100… which is really an amazing price. The lodge that is across the river from where we were costs about USD$1,000 for a four night trek, making my price super cheap. During the boat ride, I saw a number of different birds and even a small clay lick for macaws. Macaws will eat the nutrients at the clay licks to help settle their stomachs giving them the ability to eat both ripe and un-ripe fruit. We also saw a couple of peccaries (wild jungle pigs). My necklace I recently bought has a tusk from one of the peccaries. It’s also interesting that there were birds eating the little insects off of the peccaries that we passed.

When we arrived, we made camp and went for a swim. I had neglected to bring a tent, believing my hammock would be enough. Everybody thought that I was crazy. After our swim we had a candle lit dinner and went searching for caiman. I thought it was very funny that we were looking for caiman right next to where we were swimming a few hours before. Interestingly, the only caiman we saw was not more than a 2 minute walk down the beach from where we were. Apparently they aren’t much for attacking people. On our night walk, we also saw a little frog, a deadly snake, and some cool bugs that eyes glow.

Macaws eating at a clay lick Macaws eating at a clay lick

I ended up not sleeping in my hammock, due to a killer rain storm. They made some room for me in one of the tents. From inside the tent the entire ceiling was constantly lit up by lightning and the ground seem to shake from the thunder. I donned my swimsuit to experience the storm fully, and found one of my fellow traveling companions tent completely flooded. After helping them in their midnight wet move, I stood out the storm. Me and four other guys stood out in the rain and finished the rum and coke that was left over from after dinner.

After a long stormy night, 4:30 am came very early. By about five we were in the boat and heading to the world largest known clay lick. We saw so many different types of birds. It was worth the early morning trek. After that, we returned to the camp to pack everything up. While I was heading out into the woods, to use the bathroom, I spotted a little jungle rodent. So much wildlife. After that we took a two hour jungle hike. It was very interesting to see so many different plants and animals. Some of them have really interesting stories. Make sure to check out the photos’ linked above… because I describe about each on the photos themselves. Wildlife wise, we did see some squirrel and howler monkeys.

Is South America Supposed to Be Cold?

We took an 15 hour bus ride from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco Peru. Arriving at about 6:30 AM we decided that Cusco is a very cold place. During the day’s it’s about mid 70’s to low 80’s, and just above freezing during the night. Although we both took medicine for altitude sickness (Cusco is 3,310 m), and drank coca tea… we both ended up not feeling the best. For about two days I have been very sick… barely wanting to leave my bed to eat. But finally this morning I am feeling better.

We spent the first couple of nights couchsurfing, but are now staying at Pirwa Colonial Backpackers Hostel. When we were couchsurfing it was an interesting experience. The guy we stayed with, owned an extra two bedroom apartment and we stayed there by ourselves. He was very nice. Currently we will be starting to do volunteering on Monday. We are also looking for apartments and jobs. We believe we will be staying at the South American Explores Club.

Delays, Couchsurfing, and Boats… Oh My (Brazil)

Posted on Thursday October 29, 2009 by Jacob Campbell.

A lot has happened since I last posted. I’ve uploaded a couple of different photo albums. You can check out Oi… its Brazil Facebook Album, Kite Running and Long Boat Rides Facebook Album, and Out of Brazil… Into Peru Facebook Album. You can also check out Ami’s photo album she just posted, South America!!(only if you are friends with her on Facebook).

It has been a long time since my last post, and therefore seem difficult to know exactly where to start. It seems that I am always weighting the balance between action and contemplation. While I am traveling it seems easier to focus on the action, and lose the contemplation all together. That is not to say that while I have been gone, I have done no thinking about things (this is very far from the truth). It is more that I have done limited amounts of compiling stories, photos, and maps of my journey to be published online.

Wondering Around Manaus

The Teatro Amazon The Teatro Amazon

We spent a little over a week in Manaus. Manaus seems to be the Jungle capital of Brazil (and maybe South America). There were hundreds of tour operators, all with different plans and levels of services. We could not walk out of Hostel Manaus (where we stayed) without a nearby tour agency asking us if we needed a jungle tour. Our Hostel also provided jungle tours that could be utilized too.

The plan was to head to Bolivia to do a jungle tour there (Bolivia is supposed to have more wildlife and be much cheaper). Other than Jungle tours there are many things to do in Manaus. We spent an afternoon touring the Teatro Amazonas (Opera House). A grand theater that was built during the rubber boom of the late 1800’s. It is comprised of materials brought from Europe and entirely decorated by European artists. After checking out the Opera House, we walked across the street and Ami got to see her first Orchids on an actual tree. She went a bit photo crazy and was so happy.

We found other orchids at this Parque Senador Jéfferson Péres. It is a beautiful new park (still partially under construction. It has little outlets of the Rio Negra flowing out to the city in it. They had a building that was supposed to contain different species of orchids. The building was locked the three different ventures that Ami tried to go. The first day we went, was a neat experience.

Young girls sitting in trash in an inlet of the Rio Negra Young girls sitting in trash in an inlet of the Rio Negra

After wondering around the parque for a while, we ended up coming out to a larger inlet of the Rio Negra. While we were there, it was the very beginning of the rainy season (mostly it had not even started). So this inlet was mostly dry ground with scattered trash and dry docked boats. You can see the houses on stilts further off, on the other side of the inlet. There were some girls sitting and playing in the trash covered ground. There was a boat, which looked as if it had not seen the likes of water for a number of years. There appeared to be at least one family that lived there (possibly more, including the little girls we saw).

I pray that I never become accustomed to seeing people living and playing in and around trash and non-sanitary conditions. There have been a couple of times during this trip that I wondered what would happen if I just got a bunch of trash bags. Started on my own to clean up various areas. Would the people follow suit? If we did get it all cleaned up, a fresh start… how long would it last? What other services do these people need?

We wondered further up, past several other families that were apparently living in the barren wasteland of trash and mud. We came upon a larger section of inlet. Here there were hundreds of kids with kites. Talking in broken Portuguese and Spanish, we realized that the kids were having kite wars. I’m not sure if you have read The Kite Runner (an excellent book, I’d highly recommend), but it was very similar to this. The strings were course enough to cut down another parties kite. We sat and watched them for some time, and it started to rain. First a couple of drops, then it seems the heaves open up and empties all of the stored water. The kids went running to their homes, only to drop off their kites or perhaps spoiled kite, and to grab their soccer balls. In the pouring rain, mud and trash you could see the children happy as could be playing futból. We waited out the pounding thunder, flashing lightning, and drenching rain with a beer and conversations.

Kids Playing Soccer in the Rain Kids Playing Soccer in the Rain

There were many good conversations, and even some half hatched future business ideas (a type of world restaurant) at the Port of Manaus. We took fellow travelers to see the prize we had found at the port. A Torre of beer. For about R$20 you can buy 350 ml of beer. It comes in a giant plastic cylinder complete with its own tap. The cylinder has a hole in top, and a frozen metal object gets stuck down keeping the beer cold. The servers exchange these often, and brought us orders of batata fritas (French fries) with toothpicks.

While we didn’t eat at the discotech, we did have some drinks and attempted dancing. One of the nights we went out with a couple other travelers to one of the local discotechs (dance clubs). It was a lot of fun, and made me really want to learn to dance Forró (our hotel guy told us it came from somebody saying it was music “for all” and then made to be written in Portuguese). The entire time I was in Brazil, I did not see any Samba clubs (ether that, or Samba in the US is very different). I attempted to ask a number of girls to either dance with me or to teach me (my Portuguese is pretty horrible) but got shot down every time.

I did get a lot of action when we went to Bosque da Ciância. We went with some friends we had met at the hostel (Rachel and Naun). It was a thirty minute bus ride from the center of town, through the winding roads of the real Manaus. All of the houses have large fences with metal gates and broken glass on top of the walls. Some were nice, some weren’t. We went past one area that had a little stream that ran behind the houses. You could see naked children, trash, and dirty water. We saw a lot of different animals there, probably more than we would if we had taken a jungle trek. We saw three types of monkeys (one being squirrel monkey). We saw freshwater manatees, a toucan, scarlet macaw, caiman, turtles, electric eels, and little jungle rodents. It was a great excursion, and well worth the R$2.

Riverboat Ride Down the Amazon

Sunset on the Boat on the AmazonSunset on the Boat on the Amazon

The cheapest way to get down to Porto Velho is to take a boat down The Amazon. This was also one of our major goals for going into Brazil. It cost about R$170 for the four night trip. We arrived several hours before our boat was scheduled to leave for Porto Velho, and it was already jam packed with goods, hammocks (what we slept on during the trip), and people. Some of them had gotten there as early as the day before. We were hoping to see the meeting of the waters (of the yellow and black rivers that are the primary feeds to The Amazon) where you can see the different colored water running side by side, but we did not leave until very late (an several hours after our scheduled time). There was no room to sleep on the main sleeping deck, so we mistakenly brought our hammocks up to the bar on the top of the boat. There were a number of people who where were set up there, but we didn’t realize just how hectic it would get.

After spending some time writing and watching the dark water we both laid down to sleep for the night. We were disturbed by the lady working at the bar screaming and locking up the store. Looking to the other end of the boat, we saw a group of three or four men yelling and chasing another Brazilian guy. Disoriented, we got out of our hammocks and saw that they were chasing the man with weapons. One guy had a large board that appeared to have rusty nails. Another guy had picked up a crutch and was chasing him. They came to our side of the boat, and Ami actually got trapped behind the guy they were attacking. I had to pull her out of the struggle before she could get hurt. We went down to the bottom of the boat and waited with the majority of the people. One of the guys appeared to be very injured (with a couple of large gashes, and possible broken arm and leg). In the morning, a police officer came on board and arrested two people, and they carried the injured one into port.

In the rush, Ami left her wallet and I left my cell phone in our hammocks. Ami had about R$100 stolen from her, and they took my cell phone. Apart from the loss, we ended up moving downstairs with everybody else and having a great rest of the trip. Boat riding down The Amazon (I say it’s The Amazon, but technically it’s one of its large tributaries) means dirty bathrooms, beautiful scenery, cards, writing/thinking, movies, and dolphins.

We saw a couple of freshwater pink dolphins, which are common to The Amazon. Ami saw her own personal dolphin. He jumped out of the water, almost completely exposing himself. I believe I saw a caiman, but I am not sure, and a ton of different species of birds. There were lots of different insects that lived on our boat also. The most annoying being this flying beetle that seemed to like to fall onto you. Once on the ground, it would run on its back, trying to get to safety. There were also a lot of bugs that appeared to enjoy the bathrooms.

Packed Hammock Space on the Boat Packed Hammock Space on the Boat

The bathrooms are small little rooms, with locks both inside and outside. Many of them don’t have lights, so if you have to do any business at night it can be difficult. They have a shower that is almost over the toilet, and nowhere to place your hygiene supplies or clothes. A number of different types of moths, spiders, and sometimes cockroaches often inhabited them. Other then insects, the walls seemed to be tinged black by some sort of mold. They stunk of ammonia, and often had standing water inside. It was really quite the experience.

Every day we were provided with copious amounts of rice, beans, and noodles along with either beef or chicken. They often had a couple of slices of tomato to add to the concoction. Getting meals meant waiting in line for long periods of time until there was room at the table, then quickly eating your food so the next could come and eat.

I spent a considerable amount of time doing what I call meta thinking (thinking about thinking). I wrote down my personal mission statement (it’s still not complete), read my bible and book, and wrote some letters (which I still haven’t sent off a week later). It was also magnificent to stare off into the expanse of the jungle. It made me wonder at the grandness, and imagine a future trip that would be comprised of exploring the jungle and seeing if I could survive. It also made me wonder at how much life and biodiversity we couldn’t see in the distance. The sunsets and the storms were amazing.

One night, we had a particularly large storm we traveled through. I donned my rain poncho, sunglasses (to keep the pelting rain out of my eyes), and went to the top of the boat to get drenched. There is something vastly different with the storms in South America and the ones in North America. The rain comes down in blankets here and thunder claps loud enough to feel it in your bones. It is a glorious thing. Me and Ami in our rain gear got a lot of laughs from all of the locals, who hid from the elements under the boat. When we finally landed in Porto Velho, we were happy to have real bathrooms and showers.

Couchsurfing in Porto Velho

Renata's Family who we Couch Surfed WithRenata’s Family who we Couch Surfed With

In Porto Velho we stayed two nights with an amazing family through couchsurfing.org. They were phenomenal people. Renata is a medical student, and loads of fun to hang out with. She lives with her mother, father and younger brother. Only Renata speaks English, but her family was so welcoming. We arrived on October 18th, which is my birthday. I was very happy to just spend time with their family and eat dinner together.

We also got to hang out with Renata’s brother, who wanted to show us all the different foods we had to try while in Brazil. With her younger brother, I played some futból… which the language barrier doesn’t seem to affect. We also taught Renata to play Texas Hold’em, and she taught us to play a local card game (Truca). To show our appreciation for their hospitality, we made some homemade lasagna.

All We Want is to Leave Brazil

We took a six hour bus ride to Guajará-Mirim, the border town to cross into Bolivia. We took a night bus, with hopes to get the paperwork started early enter Bolivia. We were prepared to pay the USD$100 to enter Bolivia, but they did not want to accept us. Nobody at the consulate spoke English, so communication was difficult. The paperwork they gave us, apparently showed new requirements (not mentioned in our Rough Guide to South America). They require that US citizens have an official criminal background check. They told us that we would have to take a two day trip back to Brasilia to obtain the proper paperwork. That was our first attempt to leave.

We bought bus tickets to Rio Branco (heading to Assis Brasillia and the border to Perú) for the next morning. When we showed up to catch our bus, we were denied due to having an expired visa. We spent the rest of the day attempting to get our visa in Brazil extended. We transferred our bus tickets to the next morning (our second attempt to leave). The next morning we had complications in getting to the bus before they left. Again we had to transfer our tickets to the next day. Our third attempt to leave kind of turned into a fourth. We stayed at two different hotels while in Guajará-Mirim, Hotel Lima and Maylla Park Hotel. Maylla Park Hotel had the nicest people there.

  Ferry Across the River  Ferry Across the River

One morning, I had gone downstairs to get some coffee. I had missed the breakfast, so I asked them to boil some water and I would use my own instant coffee. It must be said that Brazilians put a lot of sugar in their coffee. I put some in and went back to the room. About 10 minutes later, two of the maids came knocking on my door. They had brought a note written in Portuguese (they knew I understood Portuguese written more than spoken) and some sugar. They insisted that I put some more sugar in my coffee because they did not know I already had. Unable to describe myself properly I added lots more sugar to my coffee. But really, what caring and hospitable people!

We also met a guy who was driving his truck to Rio Branco. We decided to drive us (which makes it our fourth attempt to leave). We had the tickets transferred for one more day, and exchanged for money when we got to Rio Branco.

Rio Branco is a beautiful city that we spent one night in. It has a neat market, and beautiful streets. The next morning we successfully caught a bus to Assis Brazil. Assis is border town to enter Perú through. We spent one night there, playing pool at a local bar before going to sleep. The next morning we took two taxis, and a ferry to get to Puerto Maldonado. In Puerto Maldonado we have been lucky enough to get to hang out with some local traveling friends we met in Manaus. We have plans to spend some time in the jungle and do a number of other things I will hopefully write soon about.

From Jungle to Jungle

Posted on Wednesday October 7, 2009 by Jacob Campbell.

More from Venezuela

The Botanical Gardens Cuidad Boliviar. The Botanical Gardens Cuidad Boliviar.

Now that I have more time, I will go a little more in-depth regarding the last week or so. We sadly left Isla de Margarita. It was a really great place. Ami said a number of times that she could imagine just taking a short trip there and spending a couple of weeks sometime later. We took a ferry to Port of Cruz. The ferry ride took about two hours. The ferry was very nice and smooth ride (a nice change from the small sailing yacht we were on before). I guess there was some sort of wildlife out the window, but both Ami and I missed it. All I know is I was listening to some Daddy Yankee on my iPod and then there was a commotion and everybody was standing next to the window. When I tried asking in broken Spanish what they saw, I believe they told me it was dolphins.

When we got to Puerto La Cruz we took a taxi to the bus terminal. Our broken Spanish made us think we had to wait around the bus station until the early morning. We came to find out that we were catching the bus that was leaving in a half hour.

It was a 10 hour bus ride to get to Ciudad Bolívar. We stayed at a place called Hotel Ritz. It’s really a kind of funny name, because it is probably the dingiest accommodations that we have stayed at so far (and that’s saying a little bit). We got there and finally found a bus heading the right direction and it was starting to get dark. We were greeted by a couple of Missionaries (I mentioned them before). They were a bit older and they told us that it is unsafe to go out after 6pm. Through hand motions and similar words in both English/Spanish we figured out that he was worried we might get robbed or shot. We were tired anyways from the bus ride earlier and decided to stay in. Later that night we ate a meal at the Hotel, talked with the missionaries for a while and just went to sleep. While I was standing outside our room, I could have sworn that I saw a lemur or something similar. But after getting my flashlight the only animal that I could find in the nearby tree was a cat (I’m not saying there wasn’t a lemur though).

The next day, after a breakfast of fruit and empanadas we wondered down to the Jardín Botánico Del Orinoco. It was a really pretty park. A lot of it was under construction. At the far end, it looked like they were getting ready to plant a bunch of parts of a type of display garden. There was also a giant fish tank that didn’t have anything in it. We did see an iguana in the trees and try to sneak into the payed part of the garden during everybody’s lunch break (we didn’t realize that you had to pay for a guide). After spending time at the park, finding lunch, and relaxing at the Hotel Ritz… we went to wait at airport (where we were too catch our bus). About then it started storming. It was the first real rain storm that we’ve gotten while we’ve been here. Which I find to be really odd, due to the fact that it’s supposed to be the rainy season. The power went out at the airport several times, the wind tried to blow the glass doors off the hinges, rain came down sideways and tried to flood the doorway. It was a pretty amazing storm.

Hanging out in Santa Elena de Uairén Waiting for Brazilian Visas

It was another 10 hour overnight bus ride to get to Santa Elena de Uairén. I find it nice to arrive in a city in the early morning. It’s much better than trying to figure things out late at night. The problem is that you never really sleep on the night bus (especially when it’s deathly cold as the buses are in Venezuela). Shivering we left to find Hotel Michelle. Both Ami and I passed out for a couple of hours before we set off to try to find food/visas… and trouble.

One thing that you must understand about Venezuela is that it is a very cash oriented society. Almost nowhere accepts visa (really the commercials lie… it’s not good everywhere). The places that do accept visa it’s a bad idea to use it. Currently the exchange rate for the bolívar fuerte is about 2 to 1 USD. If you get this as the exchange rate Venezuela quickly becomes a very expensive country. The best thing to do is to go to the “black market” and exchange your money. There we got 5 to 7 for each USD. This expands your money well over a hundred percent. The “black market” is not as dodgy (to use a great term from the UK) as one might think. Usually in a town there are areas that many men stand around with calculators and fanny packs full of money. They just ask everyone if they want to cambio dollars. And you settle on a rate. I’ve seen the Guardia National watching them obviously. I guess there is some risk (somebody knowing how much cash you have, or taking your stack and running… etc). But it really isn’t bad. The problem comes when you don’t account for this before you get into Venezuela. This was our problem almost the whole time we were in Venezuela. When we were on Isla de Margarita our hotel owner had a friend who preformed a bank transfer getting us about a four to one rate. We figured the amounts that we would need to make it to Brazil… but fell short of the four nights that we ended up staying in Santa Elena de Uairén. We ended up paying for night at our hostel and using the last of our bolivars.

We woke up and went to find food (I’m happier and think better when I have something in my belly), hoping to just get the bad exchange rate though our debit cards. But it was nearly impossible (there is one in the city) to find a restaurant that excepted Visa. The two banks in town would not let us withdraw money from an international card either so that was not an option. After obtaining food, we found our way to the Brazilian Consulate who told us that we had to pay in bolivars to obtain our visa and that they did not want to start the process on a Friday (due to the fact that they would have to keep our passports over the weekend).

We ended up convincing a taxi driver to take us to La Linea (the town on the border of Brazil and Venezuela) to use the international ATM. At first the ATM wouldn’t accept our cards and we ended up enlisting the help of an an off duty police officer (the National Brazilian Police ended up calling him). Finally we got cash and went back to the Hotel. That night we decided we had some money, and we would go to the local Discotech. It turns out that not many people go out in Santa Elena de Uairén. But we danced at the local bar and the Discotech and had a really fun night. The next day we just kind of hummed around town with thoughts of trying to rent a car to get to some waterfalls (we were going to take a bus… but we couldn’t figure it out).

  Waterfall near Salto Agua Fria  Waterfall near Salto Agua Fria

You can check out the photos on Venezuelan Jungle Treks to See Waterfalls Facebook Album. The next day we ended up tagging along with some people from Poland to go on a short jungle trek. We went to go and see Salto Agua Fria (Cold Water Waterfall). It really wasn’t that cold, but was really amazing. On our trek we didn’t see a ton of wildlife (birds, insects, reptiles) but we did see some amazing views. We had to walk about an hour down this steep hill, wonder into the jungle crossing this river on stones several times. The first waterfall was pretty small, but when I first saw it I was really excited. We trekked up and down pulling ourselves up by the plentiful vines some more and finally made it to Salto Agua Fria. Most of the group of us who went, stripped down and jumped in the little pool that formed just below the waterfall. Sitting under the waterfall it was a little hard to breath with the pressure of the water falling from so high. Our guide lent us his socks to climb and jump off some rocks (a good second free fall). After getting out of the beautiful fresh water we started trekking again. We swung on some Tarzan vines and ended up the the second larger waterfall. This one was significantly lower than Salto Agua Fria, but had it’s own challenge. In Spanish our guide tells us to put everything in a garbage bag and strip down. We comply and he explains that we are going to climb straight up the waterfall. It was a really amazing experience.

After getting to the top of the water fall we left our stuff on some rocks and forded the river barefoot. We could hear water and assumed that we were coming upon another waterfall. Our guide told us to close our eyes and he hand led us through the river for a while. When he told us to open our eyes, we were staring at Salto Puerta del Cielo (The Door to the Heavens Waterfall). It was magnificent. We climbed up more and were able to get right under it. The entire waterfall ran over this jade rock.

It took us a long time to hike back up to the top. When we got to the top our guide asked if we wanted to hard or easy second part of the trek. We decided even though we were still out of breath, that we would take the hard way. We ended up driving a little ways and climbing down into the jungle at the top of Salto Puerta del Cielo. As we climbed down we came upon about 30 people just hanging out (swimming, BBQing, talking… etc). I feel like that is where I would be if I lived in Santa Elena. We wondered down the river, and found the edge of Salto Puerta del Cielo. It was really glorious to come to the top of the waterfall and be able to look out at at the expansive jungle.

After trekking back to the car and making it back to Santa Elena we were both pretty exhausted. We figured it would be a good day to sit and watch a movie. The first movie I bought the store owner said that it was in English… but we quickly found out that none of the six movies were in English (burned disk with 6 different movies). I was sad, because the movie I had wanted to watch was Man on Fire, a movie about abduction in Latin America. We went out for a second try and found a really nice and excited store owner. He showed us which movies were in English and which weren’t. He even let us preview them. We ended up watching The Soloist, a really great movie I’d recommend.

  Yep... all my hair is gone! Me in Manaus at the Teatro Amazon with all my hair gone.  Yep… all my hair is gone! Me in Manaus at the Teatro Amazon with all my hair gone.

The next day was Monday, and the Brazilian Consulate was finally going to be open. We went and paid for our visas. We spent the day going to La Línea to pull out more Brazilian Reais with the idea that we would exchange them on the black market (maybe once or twice) and hopefully make some sort of profit. When we got to the ATM, both of our cards were denied. Almost two hours of phone calls later, and some lunch later we got our debit cards unblocked (they got blocked because we didn’t notify our banks prior to traveling). We decided to just pull out some and exchange it. The problem is since we’ve been in Brazil nobody seems to want to exchange our Bolivars (and give us about a 150% profit).

When we finally got back I went and got my hair cut. It’s really complicated to explain to somebody how to cut your hair. I tried to tell the lady how much I wanted cut off. I think that she just wanted to cut my hair how she thought it should be done. I came out of the salon feeling much lighter and with very little hair.

The Next day we went back to La Línea and caught a taxi for about 2.5 hours and $15 USD. Then we took a 12 hour bus ride to Manaus. We arrived early in the morning having met new fellow travelers. We caught a taxi to Hostel Manaus. While we’ve been in Manaus we have done some pretty cool things. We went to a wildlife preserve, A giant discotek, got an English tour of Teatro Amazonas (the Amazonian Opera House), and just wondering around. It’s been really fun so far. Pictures coming soon.