Cusco Part III

I walked down the road. 

As I walked, I noticed the guide w 

 hom I’d shared tea with. He was walking with his two clients. 
I said ‘hello’, and we walked together.  I felt odd walking with them, like I was intruding on their experience. 
Earlier when we were sharing tea and conversation under the tent, he said something regarding guides and lone hikers like myself, ‘we should all share the path together, we are all on a pilgrimage to the same wonderful place.’
This was running through my mind at the moment, however my feelings were telling me something different. 
I tried to keep my distance and let them have their experience, but we kept running into eachother. 
I walked with them for a while, uncomfortably. 
The two people he was guiding were very interested In flowers and the plant life in the area. They periodically stopped and took photos of various trees and flowers.
I thought this was odd. 

These were things I wasn’t very interested in. 

I was keen on continuing the path and making it to the next camp. 
This became a lesson In Itself. 
I remembered something my friend Steve said back home before I left the states, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

I took a step back and enjoyed the scenery a bit more. 

Upon eventually giving in and joining them, I found out that these two were scientists from South Africa. 
The man was a botonist, which I learned is someone who studies flowers and plants.  His wife, an ecologist, studied organisms and their surrounding environment. 
Watching them take photos and enjoy the landscape around them made me slowly appreciate the journey a bit more. 
When they stopped to take photos of various plant or animal life, I asked questions.  
I took a few photos myself, but I was more interested in the knowledge they possessed. 
At a certain point we noticed there were butterflies perched all over the ground. 
We stopped to take a closer look, and upon investigating, noticed they were nesting on horse dung. There had to be thousands of them. 
Some clung to the giant rocks around us, but most were enjoying the dung. What a feast…

We took some photos and a few moments to enjoy the view. 

Then we marched on. 

We crossed a wooden-rope bridge with a waterfall passing underneath. It was quite exquisite, but a large group of obnoxious, loud Americans were taking photos.  Thirty of them. One after another….
I just wanted to cross. But I was stuck with these bumbling fools. I wanted to scream. 
 To say the least I was a little frustrated. Maybe a little jealous as well. I also wanted a photo on the bridge. However my pride wouldn’t let me stoop down to their lame touristy level.
Later on I regretted not getting a photo….
Sometimes it’s okay to be a tourist. 
After crossing the bridge, I met a few of them. 
They were, to my surprise, quite lovely people. So happy and full of life. 
I spoke with a few of them and was told they were all cancer survivors. Part of an organization called Above and Beyond. 
I was amazed how happy these people were just to be alive.  And Filled with so much love. 
I felt like an asshole. 
A few minutes before I was Em effin’ them in my mind. Now, I was grateful to have met  them. 

They asked me about my journey and were actually interested.  They encouraged me with my goals and aspirations.  I felt at home just being with them. 

I talked with one man whose son had died of cancer. He said to me, choking back tears, “enjoy every moment. Enjoy your journey. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to spend one more day with my son. I wish he was here with me now.”  
I didn’t know what to say to that. 
So I said nothing. I just nodded. 
That was enough. 
I walked on quietly for a while. 
I reached a point in the trail where something caught my eye. 

At that moment, an earlier conversation with the scientist’s guide played over in my mind.  “This road is also part of the Inca trail. You can notice some rocks that look like steps here or there.”
Right in front of me, a set of rock steps appeared to lead up into uncharted forested area, away from the trail. I wondered if anyone had noticed this before. 
In Peru, many people told me that there are uncovered ruins all over the country. 
In the city of Cusco, I saw tarps or sections of the roads closed off. This was because they are still finding ruins underneath the city. All over. It’s incredible. 
The jungles on the other hand, are so dense that finding ruins of any kind takes some kind of luck. 
Near these stairs, I spotted an arrow shaped rock pointing towards the stairs. For a moment I stood in disbelief. 
Was I going to find some hidden Incan village? Treasure? 
I was afraid to go looking while I was surrounded by people, so I decided to use this as a marker and come back someday. 
I walked for a good half an hour before I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I had to go back and see what was there.  What if I never returned and regretted never looking?
I told a few people from Above and Beyond that I needed to check something out. I didn’t want to waste time explaining If it turned out to be nothing. 
I saw the scientists and the guide on the way back. I told them. I thought the guide of all people would understand. 
The guide seemed interested, but I could see he didn’t want to leave his people, and they were not too keen on joining me, so I went back on my own. 
The hike back was long. I started jogging.  
I ran for a while longer than I should have. 
‘Oh well,’ I thought. Great training for the marathon I was to run in Argentina.
I reached the rope bridge we had crossed earlier and realized I had gone too far. 
I turned back around, this time walking. 
I became more aware of my steps and my surroundings so I more easily spot the arrow rock.  
I made it to the spot and found the stairs. 
I climbed them and followed a little worn down vegetation into the brush, hoping to find some kind of trail. It appeared like once upon a time the area was used for something.  Now it was overgrown and seemed to be no visible trail.  
In front of me I noticed a giant rock shaped like a face. I uncovered the brush and found a nose to the face. 
I couldn’t tell whether it had been carved out or was just the natural shape of the rock. 
The whole area was covered with jungle so the chances of finding any other ruins was rather slim. 
I came to the conclusion that the rock just happened to be shaped like a face. There was nothing else aroundi could see that proved different. 
I thrashed around in the brush looking for some last sign. 
I sighed and gave up.  
Returning to the trail, I thought ‘maybe one day I will return.’
If not, maybe the spirits don’t want it found.  
I trekked on for a good while before coming to some already uncovered ruins. The scientists and their guide were there. 
Yet asked me if I found anything. Looking down I told them “no.”
We looked on the place from the trail, trying to see what it was.  
It appeared to be a little house made of old rocks. Next to it layers of large grassy steps which led down to a cliff at the edge of the river. 
We stood at an entrance blocked with logs. 
I tried to move the logs but the guide told me to let it be, It was closed. 
On the grass there was a couple that decided to camp there for the night.  Stubborn as I was, I tried the other entrance to see if I could get in. 
But upon seeing them there, just the two of them, camping amongst beautiful, ancient ruins on a green pasture, peaceful and serene, I decided to let them be. 
I walked on down the trail and found another rest area. I decided to take a time-out. 
This was one of the things I struggled with on the trail. Knowing when to stop and rest. 
As I arrived a group of Germans were gearing up to go out again. 
They were nice enough to give me some fruit; apples and oranges. I thanked them as they left and sat down. I ate one of each. 
Next to the rest area sat a little shack. 
A young man sat there with a young girl. 
I heard earlier that there were Grenadia trees all over the area.  A round orange fruit with seeds on the inside. Sweet and delicious.  I talked the boy into trading an apple for a  grenadia.
He gave me three for my apple. 
To him three Grenadia for an apple was a bargain. To me, apples were a dime a dozen. Grenadia, fresh off the tree were a dream. Also, I already ate an apple, so this was win-win for the both of us. 
After a rest, I placed my new fruit in my bag and set out again. 
I met the large group of Above and Beyond Americans at another small rest stop. 
A few I hadn’t met yet, reminded me they were a group of cancer survivors. I laughed to myself, but was also still impressed. 

They were all such pleasant people. 

I looked down while talking to a woman and spotted a little puppy on the ground playing with people’s feet.  He kept biting shoes. 
I lost it. 
I rolled arpund on the ground and played with the puppy like a little kid. I was so happy. 
My new friends joked that I should take him with me.
 I wanted to, but I thought better of it. 
After about twenty minutes of play, I said goodbye to the little guy and moved on with my friends from Above and Beyond. 
We came to a clearing with more butterflies on the ground. Still eating shit. 

Some of them were smashed into the ground from people walking on them.  It was a little sad. 
They were too hungry for poop to move.  Mind blowing. 
Down the road we found a little town called la playa (the beach). 
It was not a beach. 
More like a desert. With a town in the middle. 

The group of us strolled through. 

It felt like we were walking trough the finish line of some kind of race. 
People stood on either side of the street and watched us walk by.  There were banners above us. I believe from some kind of election. 
It felt like we were champions being urged on by the crowds. Maybe we were. 
We arrived at a junction. The people from Above and Beyond were gathering to recieve some kind of information from their guide about the road ahead. I was to continue on to the town and take a collectivo. (Cheap taxi with lots of random people. In this case a van.)
Many people were staying at this place for the night, the Above and Beyond people as well. 

I said my farewells to my new friends and  continued down to the little village. 
I found a little restaraunt where the first group I had met were eating. 
I sat in a chair on the porch, put my bag down and ate a grenadia. I rested a good few moments, waved to a few of them but decided I wasn’t getting up to say hi.
I needed those few moments to myself. 
I was a little tired, yet I still had so much energy.  
I could feel how much stronger my body was growing. Each moment I was stronger than the last. And each step closer to Machu Picchu tore fire into my soul. 

I was being led by a spiritual force. Whatever was next, I was ready. 

I told the woman at the restaraunt that I needed a collectivo.
She left to find me one. 

I looked around. 

I was the coolest motherfucker in that place. The only one without a guide. The only one trekking solo.
I carried my camp and my food on my back. Everything I needed to survive. 
Yet without these people, the journey would not have been the same. 
When the woman returned she told me the van would be there soon. I thanked her and gave her a Grenadia. 
I threw my pack over my shoulder and cooly stepped off the porch. 
The fifteen seater van rolled up in front and I strolled to it casually.  Might as well have been a limousine. 
I hopped in and arranged my pack in front of me. There was plenty of room. 
The guy from New York City(Brooklyn) I had met a day previously was in the van with a guy from Amsterdam.  They were nice.  
I offered the guy from Brooklyn some trail mix. He declined, so I ate the rest. 
I gazed out the window and the sun peaked through the jungle as we drove by. Just right. 
We sat in silence. It was good silence. 
I was dirty, sweaty. 
I could feel the grit of dirt and sand on my hands. This was all too real. 
Every moment. 
The drive was long. My mind drifted. To the trees. The road ahead. Many things. And sometimes nothing. Sweet nothing. 
It was a well deserved rest. For my mind and body. I was grateful for every second in that  van. 
We reached the town, and there was some confusion about where I was getting out. 
Once it was resolved we drove to the hot springs. 
I paid the man and got out. 
The hot springs was an amazing sight to see after all that hiking. 
It was pretty much a big pool in a valley surrounded by desert and mountains.
Middle of nowhere. 
There was nothing else in this valley. Just desert. 
I unloaded my things, changed, and enjoyed the warm water. 
I was aware I didn’t have much time to get to the next place to camp for the night, but I was loving this oasis so, damn, much. 
I spoke with the guys from Amsterdam and the Brooklyn about traveling and life.  
Their guide guide didn’t seem too pleased I was there speaking with them. Maybe he was afraid I would convince them that he wasn’t needed to get them to Machu Picchu. I was proof he wasn’t. 
After about an hour, I realized it was time to go, so I said goodbye and got out. 
As I was leaving, the first group I had met were arriving at the hot springs. 
I said ‘hello’ and had a brief conversation with them. I could tell they admired me for trekking the whole way by myself. It felt good.  
I said goodbye a second time and left. 
I changed in the bathroom and hopped in  another collectivo. 

My next destination was a railroad track about an hour away. 

I was to hike along the tracks until I arrived at the base of Machu Picchu. 

The ride there was nice. It gave me time to once again contemplate the trail ahead and to enjoy the nature around me. 
The Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu, which I was on, began In the mountains, trekking up and down steep slopes. Then led down into the jungle. Now, I was traversing through desert-like conditions. Soon, I would be heading into a mix of jungle and mountain.  It was a lot to take in. 
As we drove, I noticed a massive hole in the side of a mountain. An underground river shot out of the center into the lake below. 
 I had never seen anything like this.  I was entranced. 
I reached for my phone to take a photo, but it was buried deep in my pack. 
I was a little glad.  
To experience this moment fully, was a real gift. 
Some things are just for me. 

We reached the beginning of the railroad track, which was at the base of an electric power plant of some kind. I paid my driver and walked to a little guard house. 

A few men sat inside. I asked them where to go. They told me to take the trail above the track to get to the town of Aguas Calientes (hot waters). At the base of Machu Picchu. 

There were many signs that said to go that way, but I learned it’s better to ask ten times then to get lost and have to turn around.  Especially at this critical moment when the sun was close to setting. 
I had two more hours of hiking and only a half an hour to forty-five minutes of sunlight. 
I had no time and the thought of hiking along a railroad track at night seemed quite daunting. 
I hiked up the hill to another set of railroad tracks. A little green sign welcomed me with the words “Machu Picchu” and a little arrow leading the way. I took a photo and followed this set of tracks. 
Another sign pointed up a hill. 
I followed. 
It lead to yet another set of tracks. 
I followed them and stayed to the side, hoping there were no trains this time of day. 
I met two people trekking back the way I had come. A pretty girl and a guy who I took as her guide. She was In good spirits. She said to hurry. Yeah, thanks…
The sun was rapidly going down, and although I knew I wouldn’t beat it to the town, I hiked as quickly as I could. I still had hope. 
The sky turned purple as dusk approached. I was walking In a dream. 
I reached a bridge. 
As I looked down in front of me, I noticed the river below was a long way and seemed….aggressive…
There was a walkway to my right, but It looked a little dangerous. 
Something within me urged me forward. 
Almost without thinking I chose to skip across each plank in the middle of the railway tracks, all the way across. 
Even more dangerous. 
Each board was a few feet away from the other and there was about two feet of board on either side of me. 
Enough space to fall through, or trip and fall off either side. Beyond the two feet I had on either me might as well have been a cliff face. 
Occasionally there was a steel girder which held the side of the bridge to the railway but they were a little too well spaced….
If I fell, it would have been quite too easy to miss one. 
In the beginning skipping board to board was fun and easy. I enjoyed it. 
However, I had not yet realized the gravity of my situation. 
When I reached the center of the bridge, the fear seized me. 
The bridge was quite large and high up. If I were to fall, I would be swept away by the river below, god knows where.  
With the rapids and the current looking the way it did, It was not the alternative I was looking forward to. 
I stopped a moment to steel my resolve. 
I looked up to see how much farther It was to the other side.  
Far. 
I thought to myself, “focus on each plank, one at a time. You will make it.” 
I prayed to god to let me make it across. 
One by one I skipped along. 
I started to get into a rhythm. 
So much so that I wasn’t paying attention to where my feet were going. 
I halted a moment on a board. The abrupt stop combined with the weight of my pack caused me to wobble on the board.  Fuuuucckkkk…..
I caught my balance, breathed. 
I looked up, and realized I was closer to the other side. 
I took another breath and continued. 
One by one, slowly, I made it.  

Once my boot touched solid earth, I knelt, and kissed the ground. 

I rested there a moment, breathed again. 
I picked myself up and walked.  
And as I walked I wondered what was to come next….



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Midnight Ride

The street lights reflected off the window in colorful streaks all around. I was entranced. 

I was sitting on a couch in Punta del Este, Uruguay, just staring out the window on a breezy summer night.

That’s when I heard a motorcycle approach. 
I saw a single round headlight park right in front of the window. 
When the rider cut the engine, the streetlight reflected orange light on the bike. 
What a machine. 
The rider took his helmet off and dismounted. He was a tall, handsome guy, straight out of the movies. 
He walked away and I sat there admiring that beautiful bike for about twenty minutes. 

Eventually, after enough drooling, I thought it was a good time for bed, so I walked toward the stairs. 

The girl who worked there was sitting In the window with the rider. I figured they were dating. 
I told the guy in Spanish ‘I like your motorcycle.’
He replied, ‘you like it?’ then tossed me the keys. ‘Take it for a ride.’
I was in shock for a moment. However I wasn’t going to miss my chance, so I walked over to the bike, he helped me start it and I rode off. 
Happy would not accurately describe how I felt, ecstatic, elated. I don’t know. It was the most alive I have ever felt. 
As I rode down that empty street, sunglasses  on my forehead, flip flops on my feet, I felt on top of the world. 
I shifted into third, then fourth. The machine roared, I howled. 
The breeze blew right through me.  My soul was free. 
This was really living. 

There were no cars on the road, and no people in sight. 

The night was all mine.  

What freedom. 

I could have rode all night, but soon I felt it was time to return the bike. 

I rolled up in the lot, gave the guy his keys and cut the engine. 

I thanked him and we chatted a bit. He offered to sell me the bike, which may have been his reasoning for the free ride, but I didn’t care it was an amazing night. 

I didn’t have as much as he was asking for, so I said ‘no but thank you’ and went to bed. 

It was one of the best nights of my life. 

I almost didn’t believe it really happened as I got ready for bed, but the excitement was still in me. What a night.

I hit that bed the happiest man in the world. 
Dreams…man do they come true….


Cusco Part II

I hiked up to the upper path.
At first I was skeptical of walking along a waterway, but I kept hiking, and the view grew even more spectacular the more I hiked.
I could see everything. I could see the group hiking on the trail hundreds of meters below me.
I was on my narrow trail all by myself. Finally.
I had never felt so alive.
I could feel all the mountains and trees around me. It felt right.

Along the man made waterway, I noticed there was an area beneath me where there was litter and dead animals.
There also was a lever to open a door to let the water flow down.
I opened it. Water flowed down to the mess beneath me. I could feel the earth thanking me. This is one reason I really hate dams. They hoard the water from the surrounding wildlife. It seems when we try to control nature for our own uses we hurt more than just ourselves.
After giving the earth beneath the channel a good cleansing, I tried to close the door.
It wouldn’t close fully again after I opened it. At first I was scared.
Then I thought, ‘Good. Let it flow,’

I kept hiking.
I stopped for lunch and sat at the edge of a cliff. I let my feet swing. I was having the time of my life. I felt free.

I watched for the other group to hike by, but they may have either already taken lunch and moved ahead or I passed them.
I was hoping I had passed them, but they had way less gear than I had, so they kept a faster pace than I.
I finished lunch and started hiking again.
I noticed a few dead and dying trees along the way.
I decided to talk to them and pray that they live again and a forest grow about them.
I learned as a kid that expelling our carbon dioxide for trees helps them breathe. They give us oxygen, might as well return the favor.
Plus, maybe some of them were lonely. Maybe I was.
After a while it started raining. I stopped and put on my rain gear. Man what a lifesaver.
It came down pretty hard for a while but it eventually cleared up.
I spotted the town where I was to spend the night from a few miles off. It didn’t look like much, maybe one or two buildings, however to me it was heaven.
I made it down and found that the trail led to a strange rock field.
There were many stacks of rocks around that people had made to look like castles.
It reminded me of when I was in Norway with my family when I was young.
My cousins and I went as close to the edge and made our rock castles. We had so much fun together, wherever we went.
I thought of my younger cousin Ryan who died in a drunk driving accident.
I made one for him.
I met a few travelers from NYC and we hiked down to the town.
The “town” I had expected from a ways off was actually canvas made huts, used to protect Trekkers and their tents from the cold and windy nights.
I asked a guy where I could camp outside.
He pointed to a place behind the tent-shack. I laid down a moment in the grass to regain some energy. I was tired, but my body was strong. I noticed everyday, no matter how tired I was.
I got up and bought some more water and a twix bar. Both were ridiculously overpriced.
I set up camp, then I used my stove, made out of a soda can to cook my food. I used pure alcohol for fuel.
My friend Abe showed me this trick in Huaraz, Peru. Cheap and easy.
I first used another trick two Dutch girls taught me in Colombia.
I took my can of tuna in oil, stuffed it with toilet paper, lit it, and cooked my tuna and my ramen noodles above it using the same flame.
It was the first time it had worked where both were cooked perfectly.
I had never been so excited. I was able to conserve fuel and cook my food well.
I was so happy that night.
I ate my food like a king, beneath mountains stars.
When I was was done eating, I cleaned my dishes and laid down to get a better view. it was a foreign sky to me. In the southern hemisphere the constellations are different. I missed seeing Orion and the Big Dipper.
But I hadn’t seen the stars that clear in a long time so I was happy.
They were so beautiful that I wept. I couldn’t help it. There’s something about seeing a naked sky on a clear night that brings out the emotion in me, it brings out the truth.
The next morning I woke up early, but not early enough, the other groups already went up the next pass.
Today was the day I hiked the most difficult part of the trail. It was hours of straight high pitch trekking. Then almost the same pitch down.
I ate breakfast and started up the trail. I met some horses along the way grazing. I wanted to pet them, but they were wild. They just would walk away.
I stood next to a tremendous white horse. It was a beautiful moment I my life. I took it in.
Then I continued up the trail.
The trekking poles Bill lent me proved the most useful, today of all days.
With my large, heavy pack, I needed all the help I could get.
I continued up the slope for an hour or two before getting to a rest area. Ot was intense , mainly because of the altitude. At times it was difficult to breathe. I had to stop often.
I reached a flat and it sure was gorgeous. I rested on a rock and had some trail mix. I took in my surroundings. Mountains, valley, horses, sunshine.
I noticed two different passes people were taking. One on the right and one on the left.
The one on the left was where the majority of the people and horses were going.
However I noticed a group heading to the right. I wanted so badly to go that way. I thought of Robert Frost’s ‘the road less traveled’ poem.
I had a feeling there was a catch with going that way.
I asked a man and his wife about the pass.
Apparently I was right.
There was something special about that pass, It was the Inca trail. He told me to go that way. I thought about it and asked him the difference in the trail.
He said it was longer, It takes 7 days as opposed to 3 or 4.
I had already bought my ticket for the fourth day to be at Machu Picchu, but I still considered taking the risk and going anyway. ‘I could always buy another ticket,’ I thought.
I talked to another guy who was a guide and he told me they have checkpoints and if you don’t have the correct paperwork to show you paid, they won’t let you pass.
I was a little disappointed, but at least I inquired about it rather than never knowing. I thought that was a little victory in itself.
I hiked towards the wall of rock I was to trek up.
The incline seemed ridiculous.
I watched as hikers disappeared into the mountain, as if it gobbled them up.
I ventured forth.
I climbed up at a fast pace. For about an hour I was all by myself.
But then out of the blue, I noticed two men below at my heels. I climbed faster.
When I reached a little peak, I waited to let them pass.
I was surprised to see they were Peruvians, and seasoned hikers. If they had been white tourists I would have been more upset to let them catch up with me.
When they approached I wasn’t filled with anger or irritation, but rather admiration.
I told them ‘you are champions’ in Spanish.
They thanked me and moved on.
We took different routes, but I watched them pass and go off the trail.
The trail up was tough. I had to continually take breaks. Horses passed me carrying the gear of those who’d hired guides, followed by men guiding the horses by foot.
I reached another valley where the horses rested and the men adjusted their gear.
It began to rain so I put on my rain gear, ate a bit and continued on.
It was another pass of intense hiking.
Horses passed me again. I stood aside as they passed.
I reached another flat, however this time I did not rest very long.
I noticed giant rocks in odd formation.
From a distance a small one stood alone. There was a circle of slightly worn grass around it.
I had the feeling this was a spiritual place where people gathered. Whether they were Inca or not, I didn’t know.
In this rock I saw faces. When I moved from the place I stood, the faces disappeared.
However when I went back to the place, it was as clear as day.
I sat there staring at it for a while.
I walked over, and even though other Trekkers have me strange looks, I touched the stone where the face had been.
I circled the rock twice where I had seen the circle. Perhaps ancient Incans danced and praised the gods there. Perhaps, I had been at altitude too long and was losing my mind.
I turned one last time and said goodbye to the face.
I continued on.
The road up was a little muddy and slippery, but I had great boots on. I was grateful to have paid the extra dime for good gear.
I hiked up.
There was a crowd behind me in ridiculous colored gear. I laughed a bit. There was no way this group was passing me.
I reached a slight incline towards the top.
I was In awe.
There were rock castles all around me and I was surrounded by most.
It was in this moment I knew my cousin Ryan was with me.
There was a sign that read the altitude. I had reached the top.
It was an emotional moment for me. The hard part was over. I took a moment to reel it all in. Even now my eyes are wet thinking of it.

I laid my pack next to a rock, and just sat there.
The colorful group arrived to the top. They celebrated like they had just climbed mount Everest.
I watched them with curiosity. I laughed to myself and thought, ‘pansies.’
I said hello to a few of them, but they went back to their celebration and I built another rock castle in honor of Ryan. This one much bigger than the first.
When I was done, the Germans started the trek down the other side. I let them pass knowing full well I would pass them soon.
Sure enough, I caught up to them and flew by them.
The weight of my pack made me hike at a much faster rate going down, but thankfully I had the trekking poles to slow me a bit and keep me from going too fast.
I made it to a clearing with little rivers flowing around the trail.
There was a mist that made the field seem like a dream.
Some guides were resting their horses. I asked them where to go next, as I wasn’t using a map.
They told me to continue going down and were very vague with their directions. I asked again but the guy have me the same directions.
I continued down and noticed a fork In the trail.
The left seemed to be a rock path which the rain had turned to a small river. The right was a dark dirt path that seemed to veer right into some green mountains.
I waited there a moment praying to God for an answer.
As if I had been heard, an older Peruvian man appeared out of the mist. He was older, but he was thin and in good shape. He climbed the mountain with ease and looked tough.
This man was wearing a cowboy hat and seemed to know his way. I asked him which was the salkantay trail. He told me to go left and continued up the mountain in the direction I had just come.
I continued down. It was a nice period where I was by myself again. Truly free.
I was making good time but I could feel there was much more trail to go.
After hours of downward trek, I came upon yet another grassy flat.
It was beautiful, however I was not fooled that this was the campground.

I asked around to see how far the camp actually was.
Someone told me two hours, another said five.
I had a brief lunch and rested.
Then I asked another man how far it was. He told me to sit down with him.
He was another guide and he spoke English. He offered me tea.
We discussed travel, Peru, and the Unites States, the state of the world. It was very spiritual.
I noticed many of the guides seemed to respect me for making the journey alone, however I got the feeling they didn’t want me to travel with their groups. A weird conundrum.
I said farewell to my new friend and continued on….

Cusco, Peru, Part 1

I entered the Bus to Lima. Before I sat down a little boy, no older than three shouted, ¨Blanco!.¨ I being the only white person on the Bus, realized he was talking about me.  Everyone who heard, meaning the whole back of the bus, laughed histerically. I also chuckled to myself. It was adorable.

That whole bus ride was a little strange.  The ladies behind me were claning up some kind of mess. I couldnt tell what it was, but i offered them hand sanitizer and tissues. They seemed grateful.  We woke up the next morning, stopped bu a beautiful river in the mountains. It was incredible and reminded me of a movie.

We all got out to take photos and enoy the view.  Many people bought fruit from a lady at the side of the road and ate it next to the river, myself included. However, once everyone was done and started walking back to the bus, all the plastic containers from the fruit was litter all along the beautiful riverbank.  I was apalled and filled with anger.

I couldn´t understand how these Native people could litter their garbage all over their home, their land, mother nature, our home, our mother. Furious, I collected all the containers and tried to give them to the fruit lady to dispose of, she refused, saying she did not have a garbage. I asked the driver if he had a garbage and he just laughed at me.  The lady returned with a garbage bag and took them, but who knows if she really threw them out or just threw them on the street once I left.

This was not the first garbage I´ve seen littered by South American People, but this was the first time I had witnessd it, and it enfuriated me.

I stepped off the Bus in Cusco, admittedly a little disapointed. It did not look like the Cusco of my dreams.  Expectations right… Maybe I was just bitter about the bus ride. l looked for a taxi to the place I would stay.

I had met a friend named Pete in Buffalo who told me about his brother and his wife who owned a bed and breakfast in Cusco, so in the months I had been traveling, I was simultaneously talking to Bill and Nicole about when I was coming down.
After some searching, I found the place.
I talked to Bill and Nicole, they were awesome people.
They gave me a room and we talked anout the various jobs I could do around the place to help for free room and board.
I had told them I was good at fixing things so they seemed eager that I help out.
The first week there I spent doing various jobs, painting putting walls up, and playinng with the kids.
They have four children, all adorable and bilingual.
Bill and I discussed the plans for the week. He told me that when he and his eldest son Liam returned from Bolivia, he would teach me how to ride a motorcycle. One of my earliest childhood dreams. (ask my mom)
Bill and Liam left and I helped Nicole cook and take care of the kids here and there, while doing handy work as well.
Once Bill returned from Bolivia, we went out to a local Irish Pub that night. I dont remember the reason, seeing as I dont drink, but as we were standing at the bar, Bill waiting for his Beer, and I for my coke, I heard my name called out.
I turned and saw three of the most beautiful people I had met in my life, Collin, Angie, and the ever eandearing Caroline.
When I was in Huaraz, Peru, we met at the coolest most relaxed hostels I have been to in my travels, Joe’s Place. Even the name has a soft place in my heart and I feel warm and fuzzy thinking about it.
I met those three there and we spent three days hiking in the Cordillera Blanca Mountains, singing songs around a warm fire, under a sea of stars and vast mountain ranges. We talked about all things from God to our experiences growing up.  They were lively, hapy folk, so we got along great.
When we finally arrived at the beautiful glacial laguna under a mountain, Collin and I could not resist the urge to jump in. Caroline protested and said we shouldnt.  The water was the coldest Id ever been,  I lasted about 6 seconds in that water. I was beginning to feel the onslaught of shock moments before I got out.
Collin and I did jumping jacks and push ups to warm our bodies back up, under the glaring eye of Caroline, who was less than pleased I jumped in after her protests.
The next morning, I had the most deep and profound conversation about life, with our friend Abe, who was also with us, while we soaked our feet in the glacial waters. The bluest I have ever seen. Before or since.
These memories bring tears to my eyes, and at that moment as I turned around and saw these angels, all the love and the memories came rushing back.
We all hung out that night and talked about our experiences, where wed gone abd what we did since we split up.
Collin got a little drunk and left without saying goodbye. Normally we would say that was rude, but the way he did it was just hilarious. Collin had a great way about him that infuriated and fascinated the girls.
 Bill took us to this little place close by that had the most amazing Greek Gyros I have ever had,  even after all the mediocre Greek Ive had in Buffalo.
Carolin left the next day, back to Virginia, we missed her. She always brought a fun atmosphere wherever she went.
  The next night, we walked around Cusco,  Collin told me about their trek to Machu PIchu, and as he was telling me where they went and what they did, we stumbled into an alley of Inca walls.
It was such a magical night. We stood next to them and took photos, there was such an awe inspiring vibe, I loved being around them.
The next night Angie and Collin left as well.
I walked them to their taxi and afterwards took a long walk home.
A few days later, another of my friends, an argentine girl Id met in LIma, named Valeria, told me she was coming to Cusco and wanted a place to stay.
I told her about Bill and NIcs place, so she decided to come.
She arrived and said that the price was a little out of her budget, so i talked to Nicole and she offered her a deal to help out a bit and in return pay the same amount for a cheap hostel nearby,
Valeria seemed keen on helping me paint the bathroom, which was one of my jobs.
We joked around and laughed a bit.
At some point Valeria walked up and kissed me.
It was the first time in a long time I had been kissed by a girl. Usually it was the other way around.
It was cool though.
We finished painting the bathroom and relaxed a while.
I went out to eat with Nicole and the kids and was rather busy the rest of the day.
I returned and hung out with Valeria….
Valeria left the next day.
Then Bill took me to buy my Machu Picchu ticket and help me prepare for my trek to Machu Picchu.
Most people who do the Salkantay trek to MP, hire a guide who carries your campng gear and food on horseback, while you follow the other guide on the trail. All for about 200 dollars.
I, however, wanted to trek there as cheaply as possible, and carry my own camping gear.
I bought my food at a market, made my own trail mix, and a Pop-can alcohol stove i made from Youtube.
I also carried a few cans of tuna with oil. A few Dutch girls I’d met in Norther Colombia taught me an Israeli trick where you, with some toilet paper and some matches cook your tuna and use the flame to cook ramen, so I was ready to go.
Also, Bill gave me a pair of his long John’s for the bitter cold on the first night, as well as his expensive trekking poles, which proved to be a lifesaver on the trek.
The night before I felt tense and anxious.
Many of the other travelers who passed through, shared with me their tales of their trekks and their experiences of Machu Picchu.
I had noticed that those who trekked there had a much more spiritually rewarding experience than those who took a train or bus, so I was excited.
I woke up early the next morning, gathered my things, prayed, meditated, and had my breakfast.
I remembered meeting a Brazilian guy the morning of his trek and just sitting and briefly talking to him was a spiritual experience.
My early morning felt this way also, except I had no one to share it with, but that was okay.
I took a cab to the collectivo that was to take me to the first town where I would start the trek.
It was still dark, the city light went past in blurrs of gold.
I felt like a real explorer. I felt like a badass.
I hopped in the collectivo and they put my bag up top.
I was worried about the trekking pole Bill had lent me, The last words he said to me about them was, ¨dont lose them.¨ I prayed they would be alright.
Our collectivo was stopped by a police officer, but we continued on the road.
We rode for a long time in the dark, until the sun started coming up.
We rounded a corner and below us were clouds. I realized, we were descending into heaven. It was beautiful.
All around us were mountains and sky, yet below us was heaven.
We descended into the coulds and for a moment I felt one with them.
We rode into the clouds for a long while, barely able to see anything but the cliff to our right and the mountain to our left, but i was at peace, and at the same time incredibly excited.
I was ready.
Along the way our collectivo broke down so we waited for another.
Finally I caught a small collectivo with a few people from the other collectivo.
One was a campasino woman (Native Peruvian) al decked out in her traditional dress and little top hat.
There wasnt enough room for us all to sit up front so I offered to sit in the back with my bag, but the campasino woman and the driver insisted I sit up front and let her sit in the back. I tried to change their mind but there was no use.
They told me she lives close.
We dropped her off and continued to the town where the Salkantay trail started.
The driver insisted on taking me to the next town but i declined, paid him his money and continued down the road.
I stopped at a store and bought some fruit.
I reached a square in the center of town and asked a woman where the trail started.
She walked with me to the beginning of the trail, which was right next to her house.
I thanked her and continued on.
There was one last store at the end of the trail. I decided to strop and get a roll of toilet paper.
It proved to be a lifesaver.
I continied on the trail for an hour, taking photos here and there along the way, until I came to a man standing in the road. He wore a sombrero and nice smile. He was a short man but thin.
He told me of a road above the road I was on that was better and shorter .
He said to me that the one I was on led to the highway and it was an long, ugly five hour hike.
I learned that south americans seem to have a poor sense of time, because the road I was on also took five hours, but it was a beautiful hike, so I was happy.
I continued for a while. I noticed a group coming up behind me a couple hundred meters away.
I tried to stay ahead of them, and was making good time, but they seemed to be flying. they were moving so fast I didnt understand how.
I reached the top of a great, steep hill, and decided to rest and just let them pass.
A Brazillian guy came up first. He was a nice guy, very big and muscular, with short hair and Ray Ban Sunglasses.
I now realized why their group was moving so fast.
They were carry virtually no gear. They were with guides, one of whom carried all of their gear on horseback, so they coul enjoy their hike.
I on the otherhand, was carrying all of my camping gear and food. Everything I needed on my back. It was heavy but I was happier knowing I was truly on my own and providing my own food and shelter. I was also my own guide.
The only thing was, my gear slowed me to the pace of a turlte compared to these folk.
Which was ironic, because my bag was green and looked like a shell. I probably looked like a big turtle come to think of it.
Anyways, I talked to the Brazillian fellow a bit and he told me that so many people travel to find themselves, but you cant find yourself because we are evolving everyday. Every day we grow and learn something new.
I continued walking with them a while, seeing as I couldnt lose them and I was too fast to let them pass.
I talked with most of the group, little by little.
They were very friendly.
We came to a point where their guide said to me there is a path that is quicker and leads above the other trail. I think he wanted to get rid of me, becasue I was hanging out with their group too much. Whatever the reason I took that path, and it made all the difference…

Guatape

Today was a special day. It was the day my friend Jon and I would go to the town of Guatape.
I left my apartment, and walked down to the hostel to meet Jon.
Jon was making pancakes when I arrived. They looked delicious so I had some as well.
They hit the spot. No syrup though , just butter and brown sugar. Still delicious.
We finished breakfast and walked down to the metro station. We arrived at the terminal, took the metro to the bus terminal, and bought our tickets we sat down across from a few kids, who had a big jar of gummy worms.
I thought about the time in Bogota at Rocka Bar when I was with Elias and Mauricio. 
We played great American music and ate gummy worms. We called them ‘Cuicas,’ which few Colombians had heard of.  It was an Ecuadorian word for large worms often found in the Amazon.

So at this bus terminal in Medellin, reminiscing, I decided to ask the boys for one.  They said yes.
I was ecstatic. On the bus they offered me another. Double awesome.

On the bus ride to Guatape, Jon and I talked about all kinds of things. 
We told stories of life back home in the States.  (Many of them were funny stories.) We talked about our friends back home. It was a great bonding experience.
Eventually, we just got quiet and enjoyed the ride. 
I once heard someone say that when you can sit in silence with another person, that is the true definition of friendship.
Later on, as we were getting off the bus, Jon commented, “That’s friendship right there,” as if he read my mind.

In the distance we both noticed a giant round rock protruding out of the ground.  It was massive and looked completely out of place in the surrounding are, like it was gently placed there on the ground. 
It had a little house on the top, but I couldn’t see any possible way to climb it.  It was rounded in a way that looked like there was no way up.

Oscar, my roommate in Medellin, told me that a while back, the townspeople in Guatape sent samples to NASA to see what the rock was. Apparently, it was a giant ‘space rock,’ as he called it. However there was no impact crater around it or anything of that nature that showed it crashed to the earth. Two thirds of the rock was underground.

Jon and I got out from the bus.  I went in to take a leak.
Once I was done, we stood by a lake and enjoyed the view.
We then started walking up a road towards the big rock.

A few guys approached us offering to take us up in little taxi cars or on donkeys for one dollar.  We didn’t know how far up they would take us, but to us after weeks of running the hills of Medellin, skipping a nice walk seemed ridiculous.

We walked up the road and got closer to the giant rock. We took some good pictures and upon getting closer we noticed a staircase built alongside the rock.  So there was a way up….

We completed the walk up the road.  It was a lot shorter than we expected.
Those guys at the bottom were making out with their dollar a ride.

We arrived at the top, bought our tickets, and started the walk up.  The stairs, well… there were a lot of them.  We stopped to take a few pictures, but we wanted to get to the peak.
Him and I continued up through a few gift shops to the very top.

The view was spectacular.  We could see for miles.  There were beautiful lakes and grassy hills as far as the eye could see. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
I sat there a while just looking. The beauty and majesty of it all was was awesome.
I felt overwhelmed with what I was seeing.
We were on top of the world.
Jon and I walked down to one of the stands, grabbed some ice cream, and sat down. We enjoyed being on top of the world, eating ice cream.  There was nothing better.

We walked to the bottom hungry, to say the least. We were met by a man advertising his restaurant.  I noticed it had a spectacular view, but we shopped around to see which restaurant was cheapest, and also had a spectacular view.  They were all pretty good, one was a little more expensive, but we wound up returning to the first place.

The meal was incredible, but the view was out of this world.  There were green hills and lakes as far as the eye could see.  We sat for a while appreciating the view.

A guy came in playing guitar and singing.  He was very good, but it seemed like everyone in Medellin was hustling to get money out of us, so we were a little tired of it.

We waited for the waiter to bring john his dos mil, or one dollar.  The guy shortchanged him a bit, whether it was on purpose or not I don’t know.  The amount of money was immaterial. The point was, ‘yes we were gringos and no we won’t let you take advantage of us.’
The man who returned with Jon’s money looked a little guilty and defeated.
We left and walked a round a bit.
We tried to haggle for some winter hats for our journey to the south but the ladies wouldn’t go under 5 dollars so we left.  In hindsight it seemed like a pretty good deal.
We walked back down to the bottom where we waited for a bus to the town of Guatape.
The wait was long and it was hot so we took refuge under an information booth.
We talked to the girl there and asked her questions about the area. Flirting seemed to get you places here in Colombia. She gave us a map and told us about a nature park in the city.
She was very nice.
I noticed a little goat down the road tied up. It looked super cute and I didn’t know when the next time I’d be able to pet one, so I went to go see it.
It was the cutest little thing.
It was a baby and it’s horns were new.
I petted the little goat for a long while. It brushed up against me almost as if to hug me.
I didn’t want to leave it there but I could tell the bus would be there soon, so I walked back.
The bus came and we hopped on. We made it to the town of Guatape.
It didn’t seem like much at first. Just the backs of a few houses, but once we rounded the corner we saw a lake.
Then we turned to the right and saw the charming town of Guatape.
The houses and buildings were painted all kinds of bright colors.
All were incredibly gorgeous and well painted.
After walking through the town, we took a seat across from a beautiful church and just appreciated the moment.
There was no place like it on earth.
I fell in love with this town.
A women noticed we were from the U.S. and we chatted a bit.
She bought me a water.
I was kind of shocked. It was do nice of her.
I drank my water, thanked her and we went down to the lake.
There was a zip lining track along the water and we asked the price. We were told diez mil (5 dollars).
We jumped at the chance.
I was strapped into a harness/seat and lumped together with Jon and two girls.
A mechanism pulled us to the top. Once we were there we were told to sit back. All except Jon who was in front.
In two seconds the guy pushed Jon off the tower without warning. It was a little sudden.
Jon had told me earlier that he was afraid of heights, so this was hilarious to me. What a great way to overcome his fears. I guess that’s what this journey has been all about.
I waited for my turn. I waited so long that the anticipation started to eat at me.
I almost wished I was in Jon’s place and was pushed first before the fear set in.
I waited and waited. It felt like an eternity. Finally, the guy shoved me off.
At first I was surprised at how safe and secure I felt. The apparatus was more sturdy than I thought it would be.
Then I was overcome with awe at the view.
I glided above the beach, picking up speed. The landscape was so nice. My seat turned a bit so I was gliding backwards , briefly.
I was uncomfortable with that, so I turned and the seat righted itself.
Floating above the beach felt so good, like flying.
Again, the view was spectacular.
I realized I was coming to the bottom. I also noticed I was going very fast.
They operators set up pads at the bottom to cushion the ‘landing.’
I slammed into them super hard. It reminded me of tackling practice in rugby. It was awesome. I loved it.
We then left and sat down on a bench overlooking the water.
Jon talked to a nice woman in Spanish while I just listened.
We left,
stopped for cokes and used the wifi at a restaurant.
One of the things I loved about South America (and still do). Is how much better coca cola tastes down here.
It is made with real sugar so when you drink it. It tastes heavenly. I didn’t even drink much coca cola in the states, but here it’s like gold. Especially when it comes in a glass bottle. To die for.
We enjoyed our cokes, paid, left, and went to catch the bus.
We bought our tickets, got some cookies, and hopped on.
The ride home was peaceful.
We played a guessing game for a while.
One of us would pick a famous person and the other would ask questions to figure out who it was.
It was a fun game, it helped us get to know each other better.
After a while, we got quiet. I reflected on the day. It was a great one, filled with laughs reflection, and fun. I’m glad to have shared it with a friend.

Rowand the Traveler

One morning I was standing at the corner of my roommate’s hostel to meet my friend Jon.
As I stood there, a tall blonde man with long hair, (which he tied up) and a scraggly blonde beard approached. He was thin yet well built, and looked like a hippie.
In all other ways he appeared like any other wayfarer I’d met at the Hostel. What struck me first about this man, was the size of his backpack.
Every traveler I’d met, carried a massive rucksack (including myself).
This man, carried a regular sized army-green colored bag; but had his sleeping pad, his sleeping bag, and his tent all attached to the outside of it.
He looked rugged, like a real nomad, yet he was peaceful and calm. As he walked by, the sun shone on him in a special way. I couldn’t help but admire him.
I waited a few more minutes for Jon, but wound up just going in the hostel to get him. It may have been one of those blessings in disguise, because I walked in and there was the tall blonde fellow.
His name was Rowand and he was from Australia. We got to talking and he was a pretty interesting guy.
He had a carefree air about him that was just refreshing. He was one of the most jovial fellows I’d ever met.
Most Aussie’s I had met were happy folk, but this guy just loved life.
Not only that, he was smart. He knew how to travel cheaply.
He had made a deal with my roommate and owner of the hostel Spyros, to paint a room in exchange for a five night stay. I found many backpackers did this, and it greatly cheapens their stay in a place. A valuable tip for the future.
Rowand and I discussed travel, and he told me about his journey.
He had come from the south and started his adventure from Argentina, so he had been to many of the places I was heading.
He told me of a time in Argentina, in a place outside of Mendoza, when he and his friends started camping outside to save money. They became so bold that they would camp anywhere.
One night, while they were in their tents sleeping, they were woken up, dragged out of their tents, beaten, and robbed of everything they had….at gunpoint.
Rowand and his friends, robbed of everything they had, battered and bruised from the beating they had received, walked to a main road and caught a bus.
The bus driver went off route to take them to a hospital. From there they went back to Buenas Aires to stay with friends.
They made it there alright and apparently got new credit cards and resupplied. It took a month.
From then on it changed the way Rowand traveled. He packed much lighter, he even continued wearing the clothes he was robbed in, but at the same time he seemed more effervescent. It appeared the worst was over for him, and anything from that point it could only get better. Everything was a new opportunity.
One day, Rowand expressed to me his interest in a concert in the park near us, Parque Poblado. We agreed to meet there.
I went to the concert and met another friend there. We sat and watched an amazing band play. They played all kinds of music and stole the show.
Once they were done, my friend left and Rowand appeared. I don’t know how he found me in the crowd, but he did.
We found some seats and waited for the next band to play. While we waited, one of the girls who worked in the Hostel, named Yessica, came and sat with us for a while. She was from Medellin.
She was interested in where we were traveling to, so we told her where we were heading. Then she asked us, ‘what will you do after traveling?’
Rowand and I looked at one another, shrugged and each of us replied, “I don’t know, travel.”
Neither of us really seemed to have a plan. It was a good feeling.
We enjoyed the music and after a while Yessica left to meet her friend. Rowand and I continued having a great time just sitting there talking about all kinds of things; life, travel, women.
After some time, I decided to go back to the hostel and bring my friends Jon and Lauren to where we were standing so we could all watch the concert together. I met up with them and we returned to the show. We found Rowand in a spot close to where we sat before.
By this time, there were two beautiful girls standing next to Rowand who were flirting with him and trying to kiss him. There was also someone’s father there laughing and giving him alcohol, all the while calling him Jesus.
I was pretty sure one of the fellows standing behind one of the girls was her boyfriend, yet she continued to flirt with Rowand.
Amazing.
I smiled and went back to watching the show. A few of us were dancing. We were having a great time and we all had big smiles on our faces.
Eventually, I turned behind me and Rowand was gone.
He didn’t say goodbye to anyone, just went. It was another reason I liked him. He did what he pleased and didn’t care what people thought of him.
I stood there a moment, appreciating this lesson. I myself was tired and thought it was a good time to leave as well, so I did.
The next night we sat in the common room at the hostel and watched a bad American movie about bird watching. The resolution, however, changed my opinion of the movie.
‘You can sacrifice everything to be the best, but you may miss out on the good stuff; friends, relationships; the things that matter most.’ To enjoy the moment and the people you’re with is a great gift, maybe the greatest.
I was reminded how special the people around me were, and how without them, the journey would not be the same.
I was at a point where I still had a return flight that was a few weeks away. I was not 100% on whether I would keep going and see the rest of South America or return home. I knew that I wanted to keep going, but I was dragging my feet and filled with fear. I hadn’t told anyone this yet, but it was on my mind.
We were sitting around the hostel one night talking about travel, which most of the time was the topic.
Rowand said to us, ‘there’s no reason you can’t keep traveling, there’s always opportunities along the way to do what you want and keep going.’
My question was answered.
Some of the little things he said meant the most to me.
The next day, Jon and I were sitting in the common area at the Hostel. Rowand walked in, and told us he was leaving.
Jon and I were a little taken aback.
We asked again, “you’re leaving?”
He answered, “yeah I’m leavin’.”
Looking back, his response was quite comical, but at the time we were sad to see him go and a little bewildered.
I knew that many people came and went from the hostel. That was just the way it was, but it was the first time one of my friends left. It was a little heavy.
Rowand packed his bag, cooked an avocado-egg roll, put on his boots, and he was off to the coast.
Just like that.
In my life I’ve found inspiration in many forms, in many places, however most times I have found it in people. These people can be beacons of hope when we are in a dark place. When we are drowning in fear or self pity, these people show us the way.
Rowand became an inspiration for me to continue. To follow the road wherever it may lead. To live without fear. To follow my heart. To have fun and have no worries. Life is good for God sakes.
When traveling, we meet many amazing and interesting people like Rowand, who have profound impacts on our lives. We may have a great time together, enjoy ourselves, become fast friends, only to go our separate ways. Such is the way of a traveler.
We don’t know whether we’ll ever meet again, whether our paths will cross once more, but we have these moments to remember.
From here we continue moving forward, not knowing what the road ahead may bring, we say our somber farewells, and our friends vanish with the night. But we have the memories, and the hopes of more to come.

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Free Walking Tour

I woke up, walked down to the hostel, met Jon, and we were off.
We got to the metro station and kept a lookout for our tour guide.
He appeared to be a shorter guy with a red polo shirt, a backpack, and a goofy hat. His name was Pablo, just like ‘the criminal with his name.’
We got on the metro and once we were off he gave us a quick run through of the tour. He then took us to a spot next to the old train station of Medellin, where an old train was parked.
We were all given the chance to sit down as Pablo gave us a more elaborate history of Medellin and Colombia as a whole.
He told us that he preferred not to make his tour about “that criminal with my name” (Pablo Escobar), because there were enough tours about him, however we could ask whatever questions we wanted.
He narrated the history of Medellin.
Naturally, I asked about Pablo Escobar and drugs. He answered my questions, however it seemed as though he was tired of the stereotypical inquiries of “that criminal with my name,” as he called him.
Once everyone was out of questions we continued our walk through the city.
He took us to the places locals would not take us.
We went to the markets where people sold anything you could imagine.
Food, fruit, cell phones, soccer jerseys, you name it.
There was a small church where foreigners used to go for spiritual refuge. It was dedicated to them (us). Over the years it became a place where prostitutes hung out. We had a few laughs about it. I guess now it’s where they go for another form of refuge.
We saw a building where people used to jump off to commit suicide. At that time it was the tallest building in Medellin. It wasn’t very high so some people survived the fall. Ehhhh…
We came across a cathedral that was made half with a beautiful Black and Tan offsetting brick, and the other half looked like an ordinary building. A European architect started it and the Colombians finished it. It was rather tragic looking, and it upset me a bit.
We came to a square next to a library with strange poles shooting into the sky.
Pablo told us that one of the ways Colombia and Medellin have transformed is by putting beautiful art in areas of town that used to be dangerous or uncomfortable to go to.
That square we stood in used to be a place you would not dare go day or night. It has now become a place where any one could freely walk or sit and enjoy themselves.
The other way of transformation for the city, Pablo told us, was education. The “Paisa’s,” as people from Medellin are called, chose to make libraries cool places to hang out, or “sexy.” Because drugs and money was so glamorized, the Colombians thought to make education more glamorous, or sexy.
By making libraries structurally and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, they were able to build them in areas of town that used to be not so savory. These neighborhoods have since become safe and enjoyable places to go. Quite a new outlook.
Towards the end of the tour we came to a square where we saw two bronze sculptures of birds by Fernando Botero, the prized artist of Colombia.
One of the sculptures was almost completely destroyed, and the other perfectly new.
On June 10, 1995, a concert was going on in the square.
Someone walked up to the statue and left a bomb in a backpack. The bomb killed 31 people.
No one ever found out who did it.
The mayor was going to dispose of the leftover pieces of the sculpture when he received a call From Botero himself, saying ‘leave that statue where it is, it will be a symbol to the people.’
There the statue stayed and another was built next to it to represent the transformation Colombia hoped to
achieve, and in my opinion has.
Although the rest of the world knows Colombia for drugs and violence it has, through the years become so much more.
Botero’s bird sculptures are a symbol that although Colombia has had an unfortunate past, they will choose to start anew.
I took the train back home with a new outlook on Colombia that day. I no longer saw It as synonymous with Pablo Escobar, Cocaine, and Cartels.
It was a country that was unique, lively, and enchanting in its own way.
It has gone from a place foreigners would not dare travel to, to a place where they are welcomed and loved.
And as their motto goes, ‘the only risk of coming to Colombia is wanting to stay.’