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Friday, 29 December 2017

Where's the Coffee & Quinoa?

Peru seems to be trending as the 'Superfoods Capital on Earth.'
Yes, I just coined this phrase, but it's nothing special or surprising to anyone. Neither is it surprising that Peru has long been a mainstay for special high quality foods such as coffee and chocolate.

Bless Peru and its magical climate. It resides just south of the equator but the vast majority of the rural peoples, the Quechua, reside in the picturesque highlands of the Andes. Cusco, for example, sits in a valley at 3,400 m, and the surrounding hills rise up to 4,000 m.
View from the top of a 9-hour hike, near Cusco, overlooking the Sacred Valley - Coya, Peru ~4,200m

Same as neighbouring Bolivia - I remember taking a tour of the salt flats, a desolate expanse of white, lying at 3,600 m. Occasionally, we passed hills with vacant patches of soil. I was surprised to learn that these fields will thrive with quinoa during the rainy season. These special conditions give birth to the hardy nutritious plants we love to buy, hard to find anywhere else on Earth.
Quinoa actually grows in the hills surrounding the salt flats! - Uyuni, Bolivia

But despite superfoods starting to fill up grocery store aisles in the western world, such as quinoa and maca, it's not exactly as ubiquitous in the local culture as one would expect.

When I arrived in Peru I was expecting to see this stuff everywhere - yummy coffee and chocolate served on street corners, quinoa as a staple in restaurants. I was surprised when I could barely find these things anywhere! I really wanted to find out where this stuff was hiding. I did manage to ask some locals, and "local foreigners" living in Peru, about this phenomenon.

Enjoying hot chocolate at a tourist cafe ~$3.50 CAD - Pisac, Peru

Enjoying delicious local chocolate in solid and liquid form
It turns out that quinoa has joined coffee and chocolate as international commodities. And in this international marketplace, it makes more financial sense to ship such desired and expensive products overseas.

Thus, whenever I stayed with locals, or went to a local restaurant, the coffee served was always the cheap, instant variety. Coffee is actually not commonly drunk in Peruvian culture; tea is much more common. It makes sense when you consider that, due to the elevation, it actually gets quite cold at night and during the sleepy hours of dusk and dawn.

Cafes, as coffee goes, do not exist in Peru. Peruvians are family oriented and prefer to gather in their homes. Nearly everyone has a cell phone equipped with cheap data and Whatsapp, but noone owns laptops that require coffee shops offering fast Wifi. The only coffee shops I could find were in the tourist districts.

Same goes for chocolate. It appears that locals don't eat much chocolate. In local stores, I found cacao in the raw form, but ready-to-eat chocolate seemed only available in tourist joints. It makes sense because even the cheap chocolate was quite expensive - it wasn't much cheaper than in Canada.
Thankfully chocolate is pretty easy to dumpster dive back in Canada - 23 five packs = 115 Lindts!

Quinoa is most commonly served actually as a warm drink from street stalls, sometimes with milk (quinoa con leche). In local restaurants, quinoa is occasionally used in starter soups. However, rice, and to a lesser extent pasta, is the main staple that is served with almost every main course. I never found quinoa served in place of rice, except at tourist restaurants. There was also no such thing as quinoa salad, a western delight.
At a local food court in Sucre, Bolivia

Food stalls are normally operated by old Quechua ladies

A fairly typical meal in Bolivia - meat is ubiquitous in local South American diets
Despite westerners associating their superfoods with places like Peru, the local diet here consists of common international staples. I already mentioned rice and pasta, but livestock meats such as beef and chicken, and vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes (which originated in Latin America), lettuce, onions and garlic, dominate the plate.

It would be pretty challenging to eat here as a veggie or vegan traveler, as Peruvians eat meat with just about every meal. The only veggie joints I found were, again, in tourist districts. I, on the other hand, was searching for more elusive meats.

More unique local foods such as organ meats were also uncommon, though I did manage to find cow hearts, liver and tripe (sorry veggies and vegans). I didn't get to try the specialty food alpaca, but I managed to indulge in guinea pig. But perhaps the best uniquely local dish I tried was ceviche, which consists of raw fish garnished with raw onions and a lime-based sauce.
One of the most common street foods is anticucho - skewered beef, sometimes cow hearts ~$1 CAD

My favourite South American dish - ceviche, raw fish - a specialty in Lima. Range $3-$10 CAD
Guinea pigs raised in a local Quechua family's kitchen
A specialty from the highlands of Peru - "cuy" or guinea pig. I paid $16 CAD at a specialty restaurant

Peru is blessed not only with a rich variety of fruits and vegetables, but with a year round growing season. The markets are always flush with cheap and plentiful vegetables, but also local fruits such as mangoes and apples, as well as unique fruits from the nearby jungle such as granadilla and chirimoya.

I'm one of those rare people that are not a big fan of bananas. However, I thought I would enjoy them here, as I heard one can find more local varieties sweeter and more flavourful than the internationally dominant Cavendish species. Well, perhaps I didn't try hard enough to search them out, but I did visit many local markets and rarely saw any unique varieties.

Bananas, after all, are perhaps the world's most common and cheapest international fruit (ever wondered why it's half the price of apples?). Grocery stores in Canada intentionally lower its price below profit margins just to attract would-be shoppers into their store, so they can buy other things, like avocados, one of the most profitable foods.

Thankfully the locals in Peru can still enjoy avocados without it getting too expensive for them. For now, the US and Canada still get most of its avocados from Mexico.

Sadly, about halfway through the trip, I started getting sick of the food here, something that never happened in India. After awhile, it seemed like all the restaurants served the same thing - starter soup and a main course of meat with veggies and rice. The soup was quite nice, but the main course is normally devoid of spice and flavour.
A bustling outdoor market where you can find anything your heart desires - Urubamba, Peru
I love street food! A Bolivian specialty - deep fried dough with a bit of cheese ~$2 CAD 

This tiny street stall served amazing liver ~$2 CAD - La Paz, Bolivia

After 2 and a half months on the road I was looking forward to going home and eating home cooked Chinese food. But not before stocking up on some of the aforementioned superfoods at the local market. I purchased specialty coffee ranging from $8-$13, chocolate bars for $3, 1 kg bags of cacao for $4, bags of maca for $3, a large bag of turmeric for $3, and a hefty bag of chia seeds for just $2 (all prices Canadian). I also brought back some mandioca, or yucca dough, something of a trendy gluten alternative.
My souvenir stash (maybe half are Christmas gifts!) of textile goods and edible yums

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ayahuasca / All In My Head / Mother of All Purges / A Hell of a Journey \\\

I couldn't pick a title for this blog / and, appropriately, it seems like no matter who you talk to regarding their ayahuasca experiences, it's something impossible to summarize or explain \

It dissolves the borders of normal every day experience // the degree to which it dives into the depths of your soul, dreadfully dredging up the dregs from below the thin surface of your consciousness \\

Mother Ayahuasca is like a well meaning but overly nosy and painful houseguest, that peers into the deep forgotten corners of your house, the basement and attic of your soul /// and reveals it for only you to see. The gravity of which can be, to put it simply, transformative or life changing \\\
A beautiful jungle spot, just a river boat ride 15 minutes out of Rurrenabaque

The Bolivian Amazon - the scene of my first ayahuasca retreat in its ancestral setting

, I say? Yes, well, let me elaborate / ayahuasca is an ancient ceremony going back well before science began "healing" people. It was, and still is, in some Amazonian tribes, a rite of passage for youths entering adulthood. There is a lot of ritual involved - the central substance of the ceremony is Mother Ayahuasca. However, the ceremony is normally preceded by Father Tobacco. Both plants, in Amazonian lore, are considered teacher plants with ancient knowledge \

How ancient? Mother Ayahuasca actually consists of two plants: chakruna contains the psychoactive ingredient dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. It so happens, // coincidentally or not \\ that humans have receptors for this molecule in their reptilian brains, and naturally produce DMT during birth and death. It also happens, coincidentally or not, that in the very same jungle one finds the plant ayahuasca, whose contents necessarily inhibit the liver which would otherwise deactivate the DMT molecule after ingestion of chakruna.

Everyone should do ayahuasca once in their life, though few will be lucky or bold enough to do so, as the experience is becoming rapidly commercialized and losing its integrity. I did two ceremonies /// Why two? Because it's such an amazing experience, as I have up til now so obviously described? \\\

Well, the answer to that is no, not necessarily. Allow me to patiently expand on this.
The ants here understand their role & purpose in life. For everyone else, there's ayahuasca
You see, the stories you always hear about ayahuasca experiences are those of people having stunning visual experiences, like real life dreams / it's like being in your own private Imax theatre, and the director, Mother Ayahuasca, is screening the movie of your life, a visual manifestation of your subconscious desires and fears. It's nearly a 5 hour movie, but you come out of it feeling like days, perhaps months, pass by.

However, the stories you never hear about ayahuasca experiences are many more. That's because everyone reacts differently to it. The most significant story you never hear is of people not having visual hallucinations at all, which is actually quite often for first timers.

Mother Ayahuasca is a strong purging agent, and she more often performs intense physical purging during one's first encounter with her. This is why one must begin preparing up to one week before ayahuasca, by eating a clean diet. This is why, around 1 hour into the ceremony, one normally purges the brew by throwing it up.
Phillip, my Shaman during my first ayahuasca ceremony - Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
But okay, without further ado, let me share with you my own /// personal experience \\\ to the highest degree of which it is possible (which is really not very possible).
Warning: written content contains painful and potentially disturbing physical descriptions
Note: it may be possible to write, but is impossible to fully describe one's ayahuasca experience
Okay, let's begin.

My experience was a fairly unique one. Trust me when I say it was not in a good way... one ceremony facilitator told me that out of 500 or so ayahuasca ceremonies that he's witnessed in his life, he's seen less than 10 cases like mine.

What is my case, you ask? It is this: I did not purge Mother Ayahuasca within the first few hours after ingesting it. I did not purge her at all during the entire 4 to 5 hour ceremony. In this time, I experienced some visual hallucinations but far short of what I expected, short of the stories you hear.

It was only until after the ceremony, and after having been in bed for at least an hour, that I woke up seeing colours and geometrical patterns spinning my visual field into a frenzy - and then I knew I had to throw up. However, by this time, the brew had left my stomach and entered into my intestines. As a result, I dry heaved nothing. At this failed attempt, I managed to walk, staggering sickly like a zombie, to the toilet.

This is where my two experiences diverge. After the first ceremony I was able to purge Mother Ayahuasca through pooping. However, for the second ceremony, I was also dealing with constipation.

Stuck in my body, Mother Ayahuasca was furious and searching for escape. In the process, she tortured my senses. She kept my head spinning and disoriented. I heard her tribe in the distance, a combination of a constant low hum with some rhythmic drumming, coming to attack my village. She weakened my body to the point of surrender; I barely had the strength to move.

In this state of everything is impossible, my mind was grappling for sanity. I talked to myself. I lost composure. Sometimes, a sane monologue would return to my head. At other times, I nearly broke down and started to cry. Desperate, with no solutions, I crawled several times between my bed and the toilet, stopping along the way to sit on the floor; the very definition of insanity itself.

Darkness took over my mind. At one point, I had fleeting hallucinations of people I cared about disintegrating into skeletons. Zombies and other demonic figures floated in and out of my peripheral consciousness. At one point, I felt the darkness wrap itself around me like a blanket... and I embraced it. I became one with it. I wondered if I was made of darkness itself.

My mind, strangely clairvoyant, in this way rambled on and on / my body, physically tortured, endured on and on / and Mother Ayahuasca pushed on and on / and on and on like this, we endured this dysbiosis \\\

Eventually, Mother Ayahuasca summoned a way out. She submitted me to fits of dry heaving and, with every gag I felt the brew being pulled up out of my intestines and back into my stomach, where I finally threw it up. Impossibly, Mother reversed my pathways of digestion to force an escape route.

Eventually, I also fought through my constipation to eliminate most of the blockage down there. She still hummed and drummed in my head, making what's left of her presence in my body felt. But, almost 2 hours after waking up, enduring a physical and mental torture I had never before experienced in my life, I finally felt enough relief to get some sleep \\\
A ritual burning, the morning after my second experience - Urubamba, Peru
The next morning, I explained it all to my wonderful facilitators over breakfast. After much wise support and encouragement, I took to rest my still weakened self. But Mother Ayahuasca wouldn't let me rest. The breakfast riled her up, and she spun me back into nausea through the morning.

At one point, I felt ready to wretch the rest of her up. I found the toilet and gagged... nothing came out. But it felt like I purged something invisibly, because Mother seemed finally satisfied with my efforts, and made no more complaints. She quieted her humming and drumming, and I spent the rest of the day resting in relative peace.

The next morning, the second after the ceremony, I woke to very faint humming and drumming, impressed by Mother's persistence. But as soon as I got up, I made a toilet break to finally purge myself of her completely. And so ended my physical journey with ayahuasca \

Jhon / Janneke, my beautiful ayahuasca facilitators at Willkamayu

They say that Mother Ayahuasca does what it needs to do for you, shows you what you need to see. Despite my reservations about this sentiment, Jhon, pictured above, who witnessed around 500 ceremonies in his life, convinced me that this applies still to my situation; that Mother doesn't discriminate. Despite my unique relationship to Mother, and the adversity that ensued, I learned a lot about myself and my own ability to endure and struggle. The second ceremony drew closure on the first, which left more questions than answers.

Jhon convinced me to accept what Mother did for me in the end, and I eventually did come to accept the results for myself. After this deeply humbling experience, I had an amazing week to wrap up my 2 and a half month trip to South America. And after that week I felt very ready to go home and return to find some grounding. \
Hiking with Jhon and Janneke's dogs upon my recovery two mornings later
My recovery hike and amazing view - Urubamba, Peru 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

In Bolivia, Informality Rules

For travelers experiencing countries like Bolivia for the first time, there is the standard culture shock that comes with seeing exotic peoples and nature, and the struggles of getting where you need to go and communicating with locals.

There is also the additional shock of dealing with a culture that operates on a different sense of time.

Because Bolivians are not in a rush. They have nothing to rush to, and nothing to worry about.

In the last few months in both Peru and Bolivia, I often found myself stuck walking behind slow locals. When I say slow, I mean it seems they're not going anywhere soon. When this happens I find myself becoming annoyed, but also envious at the patience they have, that which I lack.
I encountered this lovely local along her walk home

Not being in a rush, Bolivians are also quite informal about things - they're not really into making plans and solid commitments. Unfortunately, this cultural difference can razzle tourists who have certain expectations and timelines, when dealing with locals.

For example, my friend and I booked a jungle tour in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. The tour picked us up late that morning to take us to their office, then took forever to prepare the gear to get going. Once we arrived in the jungle, we were served lunch at the camp, then we relaxed for a bit - well, the Bolivian guides and staff were relaxed and joking around, while we were ready to get going. When we finally got going, we arrived to our final camping spot quite late, and didn't have time to squeeze in other scheduled activities.

We were quite ticked off (not only due to the fact we got sick from the lunch) because the staff were taking their time every step of the way. This happened in a few other tours as well.
Our very friendly homestay host on Lake Titicaca
Bolivia is not the only country where informality happens - there is a general divide between countries with strong economies, and those without. And between countries in cold climates, and those in hot. This of course is a general observation, and I'm sure there are exceptions.

Why is this the case? Because strong economies both thrive on and demand efficiency and certainty.

For example, in Canada, businesses rely on efficiency and certainty to keep their shelves stocked and maximize profits. With the economy as a base priority, we've developed into a society where we pay good money in exchange for a strong expectation of results and timeliness.

In Bolivia, people pay less money for the same things, and manage their expectations accordingly. As I elaborated in my previous blog, Bolivian local buses operate much more informally than in Canada. There is no set bus schedule - and there are no set stops - you can literally get on and off wherever you want.

As long as there is a bus, of course.
Local bus in Sucre, Bolivia

Micro-buses connecting regional villages don't even leave the station until they have enough passengers to fill the vehicle. Hanga and I once had to go from Sucre to a small village to start a 2-day trek. There was no set departure time for this bus, so we just showed up to the station, a dusty outdoor lot, early in the morning. We had to wait nearly 2 hours for the bus to fill up before we could leave.

While we became impatient due to the lack of certainty (this would never happen in my country!), the local Bolivians waited patiently on the bus while it sat in the dusty lot. After all, they made no other plans that day... except to get there.

In Bolivia, being a small business owner is the norm, not the exception. Bolivia's outdoor markets are amazing, lively places - aisle after aisle, lined up with individuals operating out of closet sized nooks.
One of the largest open air markets in the world - Cochabamba, Bolivia
Local handicrafts on sale at the central market in Urubamba, Peru

When it comes to retail hours, there are none. Shop owners come and go as they please - and they are often not there. Better yet, they are often asleep in their shops. They also set their own prices, and they are flexible and negotiable. In other words, they live their life not by their business, but as they please.

I am envious at times of the way things work in Bolivia. While the informality of things can be infuriating, it forced me to slow down, make less plans, and enjoy the moment and talk to the people around me.
Yta, my charming and friendly hostel "mother" in Cusco, Peru

And while the efficiency and certainty of my home country can be comforting, its byproduct is inflexibility and monotony. It demands infinite productivity and more emphasis on money; less on time, relationships and spontaneity.

I think this is what drives travelers to countries like Bolivia - not just the fact that it's cheap to travel, but the organized chaos that prevails breaks down our own paradigms about how a society is supposed to operate. In other words, travelers seek respite from the rigidity of their own societies, to soak in the organized chaos, fun and spontaneity of more informal cultures.
A beautiful group of "locals" adapted to the slow life in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Because of these observations I hesitate to label countries as first world vs. third; or developed vs. developing, because these are based solely on measures of material and financial wealth. The so called developing nations are actually very rich in time and people wealth, something immeasurable and that correlates better to the ultimate measure - happiness.

Over the past 2 months, it seems to me that, while missing certain modern comforts and conveniences of an efficient society, Bolivians and Peruvians are truly happy people.

Met this nice family among beautiful old ruins - Pisac, Peru

Tourists will just have to deal with the informality that comes with it.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Peru's Amazing Bus System

One very interesting aspect of traveling in Peru is its awesome bus system.

I've seen nice buses in places like Turkey. Bolivia also comes close, though is poorer, and has not invested quite as much in its infrastructure. But for this blog I'll focus on my experience in Peru.
An ice-capped stop on our 8 hour bus to Huaraz, Peru
Almost every bus ride to a new place, is filled with spectacular scenery - deserts of Bolivia

Peru is dominated by the Andes, always making for scenic bus rides

Peru has large central bus terminals in all of its major cities, such as Lima, Arequipa and Cusco, and these terminals look a lot like the airport terminals in, for example, Canada.

And like our airport terminals, Peru's bus terminals are crammed with booths from different bus companies clamoring for your business, their employees shouting out the names of cities you are heading to. This happens especially in Bolivia. It's a unique experience, though a bit annoying to hear the sounds of "Orurooo! Oruro-ruro-rurooo!" endlessly echoing through bus terminals.

A busy night in the La Paz, Bolivia bus terminal

On this chaotic night, my checked backpack nearly left on a different bus!
However, in this way, bus transportation here is competitive in the true sense of a free market. Prices are fair, many routes are offered, and on board services such as comfortable fully reclining seats are available.
A typical overnight bus
There are many reasons I've noticed that explain Peru's superior bus system to say, Canada and Europe.

First off, Peru doesn't have an extensive rail network. The automobile came on the scene before it had a chance to expand. Europe, by contrast, has fully integrated rail networks that move people quickly and cheaply, reducing the need for buses that are slower and shakier on busy, bumpy roads.

Secondly, Peru has a relatively poor economy, indicative of a low rate of private car ownership. Very few people, let alone families, own cars. In contrast, most adults I know in Canada have their own private cars just to themselves! I'm no exception. I have had the privilege and luxury of driving from Toronto to Calgary (a 3 to 4 day car trip) or back, four times - two round trips.

The accessibility for Canadians to drive literally anywhere quickly and smoothly in the country is precisely the reason the bus system is poor - low demand. Combine that with one of the lowest population densities in the world, and the bus system faces severe constraints. There is only one nationwide bus company - Greyhound - which means there is limited competition to drive pricing down and quality up.

Unfortunately, the low demand still indicates the presence of some demand. The poor bus system does rob passengers of cheaper options to travel within Canada - a bit of a chicken and egg issue.

Peru's intra-city bus system is also supported by an amazing local bus system. One of the advantages to the low car ownership rate is that the roads are not choked by commuters, and the local buses move with incredible efficiency.

Peru's local transportation is highly decentralized, with an offering of individually operated microbuses that look like large vans, all offering their own routes, and letting you hop on and off wherever you want, unlike Canada's municipally operated massive buses with set routes and stops. These are traits indicative of the strength of economies, and can be observed in many places beyond Peru and Canada.
One of the more uniquely designed microbuses in Sucre, Bolivia
Passenger quickly hopping on a microbus

The hop on and hop off anywhere system is probably the most unique and differentiating trait between Canada and Peru. As a passenger you can simply walk to the main road and stick out your thumb. Microbuses are on the lookout to pick you up before another one gets to you first. In this system, the passenger is king.

The local microbuses are supported by mototaxis, tiny three wheeled vehicles, and conventional car taxis. In the jungle town Rurrenabaque, mototaxis are motorcycles that let you ride on the back of the driver.
This motorcycle transports the whole family - Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

Peru's mostly mountainous highway network hasn't hindered the success its bus system. Some of the more raw mountain roads are enough to make travelers dizzy and fear for their lives, as buses scream around blind, sharp turns.

The world's most dangerous road, though in Bolivia, had for some years the highest death rate. While they are in the process of paving a new, safer road on the other side of this magnificent valley, tours can take travelers down the most dangerous road by mountain bike, a thrilling experience.
This bus is specially designed for the bumpy, windy ride on the world's most dangerous road

The World's Most Dangerous Tour bike tour

Spectacular scenery from the new road, which replaced the World's Most Dangerous Road

Canada has much to learn from the efficiency and organization of the bus system of Peru. At the same time it has geographical and population constraints that limit the effectiveness of its system.

And while the informal hop on, hop off system works great in Peru, as well as in India where I've seen it, I can see how it would wreak havoc in Canadian cities. Because so many Canadians individually commute, such as in Toronto where I live, the road network simply cannot handle the volume. Horrible traffic is one of the most heated issues in busy, fast paced Toronto. Throw in a system where buses can stop wherever they want, and commuters would be incensed.
Lima, a huge city of 10 million, with some rich districts, is, like Toronto, choked with traffic

Then again, if buses were allowed to stop anywhere, and passengers could get on buses anywhere, it could incentivize drivers to get out of their cars, which is exactly what municipalities in traffic choked cities like Toronto are trying to do these days.

Until I return home to Toronto and start complaining about traffic again, I'll enjoy my efficient yet bumpy local bus rides in Peru!

Whoa, I'm back to Canada soon!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

History Before My Eyes - Machu Picchu

After trekking almost 90 km over 5 days with a huge pack on the epic Salkantay Trek (click for previous blog and pics), I was finally exactly where I wanted to be - camping underneath the Machu Picchu - one of the most magnificent places in the world, the pinnacle of human archaeology set in unparalleled natural beauty.
Salkantay Trek - 2 days before Machu Picchu, and I can already see it!

Camping under the Machu Picchu

My legs were quite fatigued after logging massive kilometres from not only the Salkantay Trek, but also the grueling Alpamayo Trek that preceded it. But despite this, they were also stronger than ever from all that exercise. And now that I was without my backpack, I felt fast and free as a bird!

Hanga joined me by vehicle transportation, since she had fallen ill and couldn't do the Salkantay Trek with me. We got a very early start for Machu Picchu, leaving camp before 5 am! I was off and racing up the mountain with extra boost from my hiking poles.

We reached Machu Picchu just after 6 am, the opening time, joining a huge throng of excited tourists. It was still really cloudy and foggy out, like one of those Chinese style murals - really pretty, but we couldn't see anything in front of us! Still, it was really early and we were confident the fog would eventually burn up with the morning sun.

However, the fog persisted. And persisted... and then it started to rain. How frustrating... this was the only cloudy and rainy morning I experienced after 4 weeks of travelling in Peru - and it was on Machu Picchu day!
6 am - besides occasional glimpses, the fog and rain obscured the Machu Picchu all morning...
Our rain gear wasn't great, so we took refuge under a straw shelter, which soon got packed by other disappointed tourists. All I could do was stare angry and helplessly out from under the straw roof at the depressing rain.

Minutes turned to hours, and frustration snowballed inside me. Soon I was experiencing the worst first world problems of my life - I have been waiting to see Machu Picchu for what felt like all my life, and when the day finally came, I couldn't see a thing!

By 10 am, the rain was still falling and we still had seen nothing. And Hanga and I had an appointment we couldn't miss - we pre-booked access to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain. We felt we had nothing left to lose, so we forged out into the rain to the access gate for the mountain.

Fuelled by the frustration of 4 hours of hiding from the rain, I climbed furiously up the very steep mountain, passing by tired tourists. I summited in under an hour, and met what could be an amazing view, but was obscured by clouds.

11 am - at the summit of Huayna Picchu! But there's still nothing to see...
The fog is finally beginning to lift. We hold our breaths...
Suddenly though a patch of cloud lifted here, revealing a distant valley below. We decided to wait it out a bit. Slowly, patch by patch of the fog lifted, and the view came together slowly like a puzzle revealing itself. Hope began stirring within my loins...

Only a few fog patches are now obscuring Machu Picchu!

The fog finally completely lifted - all is revealed!
At long last, nearly 5 aching hours after we got here, Machu Picchu finally revealed itself to us, and it was truly an amazing sight to see - a one of a kind place on earth!
Watch my time lapse from this spot - click here

There are truly no words to describe Machu Picchu. Despite being very touristy and relatively expensive (~$85 CAD) for the budget of a long term backpacker, it's one of those places everybody should see in their lifetime regardless of who they are and where they come from. I felt touched to have witnessed such a miracle on earth and gratitude for finally having this experience I've sought for years.

I also felt dramatic relief - this trip had already been quite the soap opera for Hanga and I, and the first half of the Machu Picchu visit was pure frustration and impatience, a reminder of the bad luck that seemed to shadow us - until the fog finally lifted. If it hadn't been for that, I might have left MP angry and disappointed.

Besides the ruins, I was completely and thoroughly humbled by the grandeur of the natural setting of Machu Picchu, and the will of the Inca people to build their civilization in such an isolated, difficult spot. Alas, they never finished building Machu Picchu, and had to abandon it for a reason I believe experts have yet to determine. This fact makes it all the more spectacular.
Please watch my insightful Barefoot Video Blog! - click here
It was difficult to have to leave Machu Picchu. I could have sat above its magical ruins and admired it all day. I at least had time to record my second videoblog!

But it was time to move on... my next adventure was waiting in mystifying and raw Bolivia!