The End and a New Beginning

I was in Rio for less than 24 hours. Did a city tour and wallowed in my head cold. For the past three days I’ve been in Florianopolis where I’ve done just about as little as possible. Its been the perfect place to reflect on the past six months, prepare for my journey home and tan my cheeks.

I can’t believe half a year has already flown by. Its amazing what you can see and do in six months and its even more baffling how much more is out there. I’m sure many will ask what my favorite country was or what the trip highlight is but the only easy answer to all of those questions is “read my blog”. I think its obvious I loved every second of this trip and wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. The one thing I will say is that the people surprised me. I got lucky. I met some amazing individuals (and couples) that I was truly sad to say bye to. You know who you are and I was serious about my door being open in California (once I have one of course).

I have mixed emotions about returning home.

On one side I’m terrified I’ve lost my ability to be okay with the standard life of work, routine and responsibility. I know that any excitement about coming home will likely dissipate within a few weeks and I’ll be itching to leave again. Each place I went to made me realize two more places I wanted to go. And I’m not done traveling. It didn’t get old, it didn’t get boring and it didn’t become something I no longer wanted to do.

On the other hand, I’m tired of packing. I’m tired of living out of a bag and moving to another place every other day. I’m tired of travel days; the long bus rides, flights and layovers. I’m tired of making decisions; choosing where to go, where to sleep, how to get there and what to eat. I’m tired of wearing the same clothes, shoes and even my bras have become a bore. I’m tired of meeting new people, doing small talk, saying goodbye and making friends that I might never see again. And believe it or not, I’m incredibly tired of blogging.

I also miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss Tule-butt, Fat Cat, Arrow and Plutz (my stuffed platypus). I miss my bed or just the consistency of a single bed but I most definitely miss my pillow. I miss being around people who know know me. I miss being in a place that I know. I miss speaking English and fitting in with the locals. I miss driving. I miss mexican food, sushi, Trader Joes and fro yo. More than anything though, I miss home cooked food. I miss the morning news, hulu and netflix. I miss my bike, pedal power and regular runs. And ok, I admit it, I miss routine, consistency, productivity, purpose, work and paychecks.

Its become obvious to me over the last month that I am more ready to come home than continue traveling. Leaving the country for six months was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Its exactly what I needed to do and I feel great having done it. But I don’t think I’ll need to do it again. I’m ready to settle. I’m looking forward to finding a home to live in, a job to enjoy, a dog to adore and eventually, someone to live the rest of my life with.

Of course I will continue to travel. I will never stop seeing new places and experiencing new things but I feel its time I went to the Grand Canyon rather than the Great Wall of China. And when I do walk along the Great Wall, I’ll be okay with returning home after a week or two. Having a life to return to has become more important to me. Many people have said they believe I’ve been seeing the real world rather than avoiding it over the past six month. I have to agree but now I’m ready to live in it rather than view it as an outsider looking in.

Someone posted this on fbook a while ago and I have kept it saved on my ipad for this post.

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Its exactly how I feel right now and I’m excited to see where live takes me or where I take life next. For now, it seems that San Francisco is calling. Life’s priorities have become clear and spending time with my grandma is number one on the list.

I want to thank all of you for reading my bloggity blog. The comments, likes and even number of views have made me feel connected to home. Now its time for me to be home.

Photos of Rio De Janeiro

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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People You Should Know

Amanda

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This is Amanda, my English roomie. She is allergic to everything. She can’t look straight at the camera and smile but if photographed candidly, she has a brilliant grin. Her laugh is contagious and so is her ability to “muck or fuff” around forever. She loves a large and practically raw steak. She is easily convinced to drink and is a girl’s best wing woman. She needs to learn how to sleep on her side and she loves the color black even though she may be one of the most bright and colorful people inside.

Antonio

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Oh Antonio. Antonio never stopped surprising me. The second he brought out his ancient video camera and started filming a wooden sculpture while muttering something in portuguese, I knew I would forever be entertained by this man. He speaks 5 languages, sang opera for Star Trek and loves cats. Antonio makes spectacular sandwiches for take away from breakfast buffets and he carries the heaviest backpack everywhere he goes just so he knows its safe. He speaks his mind even when inappropriate and at age 72, he has been on five international trips this year. Trek on Antonio!

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An Album to Celebrate 15 Days of Antonio’s Video Camera

Greg

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Meet Greg. He’s just an ass. I don’t know how he managed to snag such a cool wifey.

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Party Boat in Paraty

And you thought I was kidding about the cheesy titles? Absolutely not a matter to joke about. I may need an intervention.

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I almost didn’t go on this boat ride. I’ve reached that point again where I just can’t be bothered to do or see much of anything. I’ve also become English again, thanks Amanda…literally 🙂 Thankfully, Rebecca convinced me this boat was the highlight of Paraty and couldn’t be missed. Having gone, I must agree.

Upon arriving to the docks that morning, I felt like Brazil was living up to every stereotype and expectation. Sexy dark skinned men and a lot of ass exposed to the sun (by both sexes).

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The boat ride was a booze cruise but I couldn’t even say the word Caipirinha (Brazilian drink that has a mighty kick) without dry heaving. Two nights before my roomie and I indulged in a few too many and I was still in recovery. Instead I brought on my own assortment of Brazilian beers and had a beer tasting day which was quite enjoyable.

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We made 4 stops; a snorkeling cove, a private beach, a lookout point and i forgot the last one (too many beers I guess). The day was perfect. We saw fish, turtles, starfish, sand dollars and the most impressive swan dive off the second level of the boat (Perry, I’m still in owe). Despite being various shades of tomato red, I believe we all walked off that boat with a deep sense of utter contentment and three brightly colored water noodles.

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More Photos of Paraty

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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Iguassu Falls

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I didn’t think a trip highlight would come so late in this journey but these falls wow’ed me. They were jaw dropping from outside the water but the boat ride to the base of the falls will be a lifetime best. Check out the photos, watch the video but if you can, go see Iguassu Falls. That boat ride is an item that should be on all bucket lists.

Video
More Photos of Iguassu Falls

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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Buenas Noches en Buenos Aires

Ok it was really only one good night out but the plural sounded better for title purposes. Yes, I pay attention to my titles and yes, I agree that its best this blog ended soon because they have officially taken a cheesy turn. With that said, I still think its a great title. So there.

My first day in Buenos Aires was spent in a hungover daze and an inability to do much of anything but it was all because my first night in Buenos Aires was a great one. It started with a tango night where I was thoroughly embarrassed in front of many when called out to be one of the competing couples demonstrating the just learned dance moves and tango faces. What followed was unlimited drinks with a 3 course meal and a tango show where I was yet again embarrassed when a professional pulled me up to dance. I’m not sure what about me screamed pick me! that night but luck was not on my side.

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Given the multiple sessions of acting a fool in front of a crowd and the open bar, I was toasted by the time I left the tango venue. By coincidence, my Inca trail crew happened to be in town so I met with them and together we experienced a proper night out. What followed was lots of dancing, lots of drinks and a beautiful sunrise out the taxi’s window on our ride home. Thanks for the great night and potent hangover Buenos Aires!

More Photos of Buenos Aires

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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Dear Sis,

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I rode a horse in Argentina. Yes, you read that right. Not sure if it was a he or she but the horse’s name was Coco. The horse found me really. Came from behind me as I was standing in the corral and nudged my side. Having already bonded, I made sure Coco was the horse I got to ride.

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We trotted and galloped through a lush green valley between an impressive mountain range. We crossed multiple rivers and strolled along a rocky lakeside. Surprisingly, I didn’t even fall off. You would have been very proud of me if you had been there to witness this monumental day.

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Love,
Your older, wiser and way more mature but terrified of horses sis

The fine print: I almost fell off. Coco was loco. He/she didn’t know what stop was and it always wanted to go faster than our guide (who was also a crazy beezy). By the way, it is really hard to stay on a horse that is doing anything faster than a snail’s pace. Huge respect for you. I can’t decide whether Coco loved or hated water but crossing it was always an issue. At one point I was nearly waist high in the lake while Coco was busy doing everything he/she wasn’t supposed to. I survived but it was likely the most stressful 2 hours of my life and I will never ride a horse again. But I think you should still be proud of me. I am.

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Latitude 41

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Yet another confession…I thought Patagonia was a National Park in Argentina. Turns out it is the entire chunk of land below Latitude 41 in South America which includes both a Chilean and Argentinian portion. Even better!

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There is definitely a large portion of Patagonia that I didn’t see but what I did was fantastic. Upon our arrival to Puerto Varas, Chile we went up to the Osorno volcano where Greg pretended to touch snow for the first time just so he could get attention. The following day we adventured over to the Chiloe Island where we saw the penguin breeding grounds and ate a very traditional Chilean seafood plate with a massive amount of wine.

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We then took the Cruce de los Lagos crossing through Patagonia to Bariloche, Argentina involving a bus, boat, bus, boat, bus, boat and bus.

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In Bariloche I rode a horse (see “Dear Sis”) through multiple terrains and ran along a picturesque lakeside. Patagonia is an outdoor adventurer’s dream and I would love to one day take that small and very expensive plane ride into the depths of it because I know it has so much more to offer.

More Photos of Chilean Patagonia
More Photos of Argentinean Patagonia

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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Crazy Stupid Love for Chile

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I had no expectations for Chile. In fact I barely had time to acknowledge the fact that I was going there. The arrival was a bit rough. I got to the airport at 4:30am and was thankful to find my ride waiting for me. When we pulled into an empty dirt lot in the middle of no where, my survival instincts kicked in until he reached into his glove box and pulled out his GPS. He was just lost, thank goodness. When we got to the hotel by 5:30am we were both equally celebrating. Him because he had found the place, me because I was rape free. I was asleep by 6am but up at 10am because I couldn’t miss the free breakfast, obviously.

Despite my sleep deprivation and lack of map or guide book, this is the day I fell in love with Santiago and have since come to love Chile as a whole. When I exited the hotel room, I saw a mountain and my mission was to climb it. Standard. After a few U-turns I eventually found an entrance and hiked up to the top to find a huge white statue of Mary and an impressive view of the city. I was already love stricken. Yes, I’m that easy to please.

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I descended along a different route to find a cute, colorful, artsy and retro neighborhood called Bellavista. I could live here. I crossed the bridge to find the central market and then continued to the Plaza de Armas. The downtown area was quite impressive with everything you need on pedestrian only roads. What made it even more enjoyable was the fact that it was Sunday and everything was closed which created a calm and peaceful walk through the sky high buildings.

Along my way I learned that Chileans are some of the nicest and happiest people I have come across. Even the stray dogs are chipper, friendly and well fed. They are also extremely active with parks lining almost every street where some take the time to sit, relax and make-out as well. I don’t know what I expected Chile to be like but I didn’t expect to love it and the wine as much as I did.

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More Photos of Santiago

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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Did You Know?

In Europe…

You can visit 11 countries in 87 days aka too much to know, too much to list.

In Peru…

When a house is finished the parents of the owners are responsible for blessing the house. They do so by gifting 2 bulls which are a sign of strength, a cross to indicate the family’s religious affiliation and a wind dial as a connection to the winds and the gods of the land.

On the Inca trail, places that sell the corn beer are indicated by a red plastic bag on top of a stick.

The Inca’s were such amazing craftsmen, you can’t even fit a credit card between the stones of their buildings.

The proper pronunciation of picchu is “peekt-chew”. If pronounced “peek-chew” (as most foreigners do) it means penis in the native language of Quechua.

The Cuzco flag is the gay flag upside down.

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The Inca Trail Pilgrimage

I try to keep my blog entries short and sweet in hopes that a few might read them in their entirety but this is going to be a lengthy one for two reasons:
1) I have a 12 hour travel day and
2) the Inca trail was an experience of a life time that needs to be shared with all who are interested…it went as follows…

Day One: Easy Peesy Articheesy

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Our first day got off to a late start. The luggage of two sisters from Colorado (whom later became my hiking buddies) got lost in transit from LAX to Lima. We waited in Ollantaytambo for the reluctant taxi driver coming from Cuzco and a few hours later they were finally reunited with their bags. The taxi driver even relieved them of a few pounds. I’m sure it was because he was concerned about the integrity of their backs.

After a 45 minute drive, we reached the first check point and the start of the Inca trail at km 82. The Inca trail used to go from Cuzco but over time the land has been developed at the sacrifice of the trail. It was only 10 years ago that the trail became protected and only 7 years ago that they started regulating the number of people allowed. Today, only the first section of the trail can be traveled by donkeys and horses. The rest of the trail is restricted to foot traffic in order to preserve the stone pathway and steps. The present day Inca trail was the route reserved for the top of the hierarchy. Some believe the king was even carried the entire way. There are about 5 other known routes leading to Machu Picchu which were likely for messengers and commoners. I obviously belonged on the path for the privileged.

With regards to the hiking, the day was easy. A small climb here and there but mostly flat the entire way. Highlights included trying the corn beer which the porters chug like water from a dessert oasis, getting to know the group of 12 fellow hikers that were soon going to know way too much about my bowel movements and spending some time in the untz untz party tent before dinner.

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Right from the start I was impressed by the porters and I only continued to be amazed by them each day that followed. 22 porters and 2 chefs made our lives as hikers plush. They carried our bags, tents, chairs, dining room and kitchen. Anytime I was tired I just thought about the porters carrying 22 kgs wearing only rubber sandals. I was in awe of their strength and organization but most impressive was their ability to laugh, joke and have fun the entire time.

Benito, the oldest porter, would greet us at the camp site with a huge smile. He stood at about 5 feet with scoliosis contributing, was missing an ear and might have been blind in one eye but he was such a gem. He would applaud and ramble off some muttered Spanish then lead you to where our group site was. We were told he was 65 years old but we later found out he is 68 and lies about his age because you are not allowed to work a day over 65. He plans on retiring at age 70 but with how much he enjoys being a porter, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continued to work for as long as his body will let him.

Day Two: Dead Woman’s Pass

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This is the day that everyone dreads but being raised by mama Putt the hiker, I actually enjoy a good tough hike and they are always guaranteed to come with beautiful views. Everyone took the pass at their own pace which gave me some time to walk alone and really just soak in my surroundings. Sure, the million plus steps were difficult but they couldn’t take away my enjoyment of being immersed in nature.

Our guide told us the pass got its name because the guy who rediscovered the Inca Trail found two women mummies at the top. No, they didn’t die because of physical exertion, they were likely offerings to the gods. But along the trail I heard a different story. A group of American guys told me it was because the rock formations on the ridge look like a women lying on her back with her arms crossed over her. I could only make out the boob but I guess with extreme dehydration, exhaustion and some corn beer, it could look like a full body.

After taking a few pictures at the top I started the long descent down to camp. This is why the Inca Trail is more of a pilgrimage than a trek. If you go up, you go down and then you are bound to do it again. We hiked to about 4,000 meters twice when Machu Picchu is at 2,430 meters. Why you ask? Well I did. Turns out it was all on purpose. Since Machu Picchu is a sacred and holy place, you had to earn your way there almost like an offering of blood, sweat and tears to the gods.

I arrived to camp 2 hours earlier than expected which caught the porters off guard. Benito wasn’t there to greet me and half the crew was sleeping. When I walked through the tents they immediately started scurrying around to get me juice, applaud and shake my hand. It was quite comical as I tried to tell them “tranquillo, tranquillo, estoy bien” meaning “calm yourself, I’m good”. Only problem is most of them speak the native language of Quechua and no Spanish but I think I eventually got my point across and we all settled again.

Being the offspring of papa Putt, I carried two beers up the pass so I could enjoy a nice refreshment once I got to my destination. I placed them in the ice cold river to cool and then went and showered in that same freezing water. I’ve taken many cold bucket showers in my days but this water belong in a separate classification of cold. Lets just say it was the shortest shower I’ve ever taken. After I put on every layer of clothing I brought, I grabbed my beer, which I now wished was warm, and sat on the ridge to enjoy the view.

One of my highlights was the hours that followed. It was just me and the porters waiting for the rest of the crew. During this time I had the privilege of seeing the porters at their best, f-ing with each other. There was only one porter still sleeping and was therefore an easy target. It started by securing his feet to his bag with a rope and then they tied his shoes together. When he didn’t even stir, it was almost like he gave permission for more. Another porter placed sticks over him in the formation of a cross with flowers and proclaimed that he was dead thus offerings were in order to show respect. Food was put by his head, dirty socks along his legs and finally, a paper mustache carefully placed so he looked his best even at time of “death”. I took the photos and participated in the common language of laughter. It was great. Although I must admit, I was a bit concerned he would try to get up and fall in the river. Thankfully the napkin over his upper lip gave him the hint something was off when he finally awoke so he saw the rope around his feet before attempting to get up.

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Once everyone else arrived we ate lunch, had a siesta, ate again and went to bed. Overall it was an epic and rewarding day.

Day Three: A Lot to be Thankful For

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By now I was getting used to our daily routine: wake up call at 5:30am; accept coco tea and try not to spill it as you change and pack up your clothes, sleeping bag and mat; exit tent to find a hot bowl of water to wash your face and hands; go to dining tent and eat breakfast; put sunscreen on, fill up water and brush teeth; leave camp by 7am; hike until 12pm; eat lunch; hike until 4pm; clean body with baby wipes and change; wash feet and face in bowl of hot water; tea time at 5pm; dinner at 7pm; sleeeep.

Day three was long but the most beautiful. We trekked up and down the mountain range through the cloud forest and the views were breathtaking. Then we had a special surprise for lunch. Every meal has really been a surprise for me. We always had a soup starter, a main course with meat and a dessert for both lunch and dinner. It was amazing what these chefs could make and even more impressive that it was all carried on the porters’ backs. But today I was even more surprised than usual. Instead of being handed a full plate, we were given empty ones and out came the buffet style lunch. Being Thanksgiving, I was the happiest kid on the Inca Trail. I stuffed my stomach to its max capacity and then came dessert, a CAKE! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I walked out of that tent feeling as I do when I get up from the Thanksgiving table and I was content. For a little bit.

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What followed made a long day even longer. We had 3 hours downhill which in my opinion takes more concentration and technique than going up. After about 20 minutes I needed a bathroom. Like really needed a bathroom. Of course this would happen when there was no bathroom until camp. 10 minutes later I decided I would have to contribute to nature, a bit more than I would have liked to. Only problem was my whole crew including the 22 porters were coming down the mountain too. After searching for what seemed like forever, I finally found a spot to disappear into the moss covered branches and thick vines. Right as I de-panced a porter stopped at the entrance of my jungle hiding spot to fix his shoe. Figures.

I felt much better after being one with nature but it was obvious to me that this was only the beginning to my bowels being exfoliated. The two hours that followed may have been the longest of my life. The impact of every step down was like a punch to the stomach. Needless to say I just about cried tears of joy when I reached the toilet at the campsite.

Day Four: Icing on the Cake

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In my opinion Machu Picchu was not the highlight of the Inca Trail, it was just an added bonus. We woke up at 3:30am, packed in the dark and had a very quick breakfast because the porters have to catch the first train back to Ollantaytambo. We reached the sun gate only to look down into a valley completely full of fog. Some of us waited for a bit for it to clear and celebrated at the glimpse of a spec of blue sky. As we headed down it finally cleared. Seeing Machu Picchu from a distance was spectacular. It is an amazing site of ruins in such serene surroundings. Up close it was a different story. By the time we made it there everyone and their mom was there too. While the Inca Trail’s max capacity is 500 (including guides and porters), 2,200 people are allowed on the site of Machu Picchu. I’ll likely butcher this but I believe someone super smart and famous once said “its not the destination, its the journey” and thats how I felt about my days on the Inca Trail.

Congrats to anyone who made it through this novel. I promise not to do it again.

More Photos of the Inca Trail

Peace, Love & Happiness,
Jenny

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