Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“Yet what is travel...

If not the art of creative homelessness?”

From “No-Man’s Lands” by Scott Huler

It’s been six months since I’ve resided in Barley the Van.

I spent four of those months overseas. I had no choice but to leave my four-wheel  Buddy behind. Barley won’t fit in an airplane’s overhead bin compartment. 

The other two months, I slept inside a thing called a bedroom. There were no wheels beneath me. I had indoor plumbing!  So this is how the other 99.8% live. 
For half a year, I’ve been living as large as a 6’3”, 239# Lying Scumbag President. It’s now time to readjust to Barley’s 66 square feet of living space. ( most of which is a Queen-sized bed. ) 

I’ll be reading by headlamp, drink my water from Nalgene bottles and cook on a Coleman stove. I’ll be showering outside with solar heated water. I’ll admit it. It’s sort of a feral existence. I can’t  dwell too much on how strange my life must seem to “normal”folks. At times, it’s even strange to me. 

I’ve now been in the Greater Death Valley Region for over a week. On my hikes, I’ve seen two jackrabbits, one Desert Bighorn and a docile Dude from Washington State. I knew he was harmless since his pick up truck sported a “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker. That’s a Peace-nik. 

It’s been quiet. A little too quiet, as I’ve noticed nothing but couples in the campgrounds. The few single travelers own dogs; which in  their World makes them a couple too. The stigma of the single man in the white van, is once again, becoming my reality. 

I might be going through the motions of solo traveling. There’s only so many times in a day, I can say out loud, “Look at that! Isn’t that beautiful?” But there’s no Significant Other on the receiving end to appreciate the scene. Nor a companion to clink drinks with at Happy Hour. 

I’ve been at this WW J thing a little short of six years. Maybe there’s an expiration date to this solo kosher Wandering? 

With all that said, ( No One writes a more honest blog than me. No One. It’s 100% Fake News Free ),  for the next three months I’ll continue on my way to remote places in the SW.  I’ll have plenty of time to wander, wonder and ponder. I’ll keep looking for a sign to show me the way.

Who knows? One day, I might drive into a campground and there will be a pink Barleian Van owned by a WW (fill in the religion) Woman. It could be a match made in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love traveling. I just might be losing my Mojo for going solo. Only time will tell. 

Cheers from chilly Death Valley National Park,

I’m posting this from Pahrump, NV. There’s more gun dealers and casinos than grocery stores. There’s no brewpubs but I can buy plenty of Bud Lite. It’s not on my list of possible places to settle down. 

It’s now politically correct to say this, it’s a shit hole. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

“The True West Differs from the East...

 in one great, pervasive, influential, and awesome way: space." 

“Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon

For a wee bit over three weeks, I was lying low in Flat Florida. 

Yes, I loved my quality time and Happy Hours with Mike and Robin. (AKA the best brother and sister-in-law in the World). Yes, it was wonderful to view mellow manatees, stilt-legged shore birds, pelotons of pelicans and playful porpoises. Yes, I loved the endless miles of beach walks while listening to a soothing surf. Yes, I enjoyed my ocean sunrises and sunsets. Yes, I thrilled at the Fire and Fury of witnessing a NASA rocket lift-off from Cape Canaveral. Yes, it was great to wear tank tops and baggy shorts for days on end. 

The only negative was when an alligator ripped my flesh. Well, not exactly, but it sounds a lot more heroic than being filleted by shrubbery. ( I’ll never look at those green predators the same again )

Despite this blood loss, I had a relaxed, easy going 22 days of Beach Boy bliss.

But, I found myself missing the West. I needed uphill. I craved canyons, mountains and passes. I was lusting for Zip Code sized Big Views devoid of people. I desired Space. 

The definition of the what the West is, or where it begins scores opinions from authors, explorers, the US Census Bureau and one Wandering Wondering Jew. 

Wallace Stegner described the West as “the geography of hope.”

Gertrude Stein said: 'In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is.”

John Wesley Powell that one-armed adventurer and long time director of the US Geological Survey believed the West began to the left of the 100th Meridian. A line separating moist from arid lands. Or another way of stating this: Mother Nature provides the water for crops vs. the necessity of irrigation.

The US Census Bureau gets right to the point. According to this Governmental body counter, the West is comprised of the Rocky Mountain Region, the Great Basin and the West Coast. They tossed Hawaii and Alaska into the pot as well. I guess they didn’t want America’s newest states to feel left out. 

For one WW J, the concept of the West is pretty simple. The better part of America begins on the hilly side of Interstate 25. This 1,068 mile north-south road doesn’t run from Canada (Eh!) to Mexico (Si!), so I conceived an imaginary four-lane in my mind for completion. ( Sort of like Borders;  just human drawn lines in so many places.) 

Jim Morrison of the Doors sang it all so well. “The West is the best.”

I’m now in Snobsdale, AZ. I’m provisioning Barley the Van for a month’s stay in Death Valley National Park. From there, I’ll visit the Mohave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, Bishop, CA ( an eastern Sierra Nevada town on the 395 corridor), Zion and Bryce NPs, Grand Staircase/Escalante and Bear Ears National Monuments ( what’s left of them after they have been desecrated by President Short Term Thinker ) and a bevy of other beautiful places in the Southwest. 

My ETA back to Colorado is mid-May. Right in time for a blizzard of heart attack heavy wet White Death. Once there, I’ll see Family, friends and Rockies and Junior College World Series baseball. 

So...if you find yourself on the sunny side of the Southwest, feel free to look me up. I’ll have a spare box of Macs and Cheese and extra IPAs (AKA the Nectar of the Gods). I’m willing to share. My library is well stocked with history books too. Does any American really desire a future President who isn’t well read? I think not. 

The last photo is one month’s worth of Happy Hours. A fella can get mighty thirsty in the Desert.

Fun folks are always welcome at my campfire.

Here’s some extra reading if you are curious about a WW J’s typical day.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

At the End of the Old World...

In Finesterre, Spain, I looked West. From a rocky peninsula I imagined seeing a once great Nation “surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” (Commander in Tweet, September 29th, 2017).

And there, I dropped a knee in silent protest. I was not disrespecting the Stars and Stripes nor all the men and women past and present who have served or are serving in our Armed Forces. (Including those who were once POW’s)

I’m protesting a Country who has temporarily (I hope) morphed from America the Beautiful to America the Badass. A Nation where a P—y Grabbing President, ignorant of our Constitution, our Ideals or History can propagate a regime of daily chaos. 

It’s now been a year of America’s Moral decline into the new Dark Ages. President “Know Nothing”  ( Google this for a quick US History Lesson ), has continued down the twisted path of bigotry and racism. His campaign message hasn’t changed. It’s right to be White. People of color, non-Christians and non-English speaking people need not apply for citizenship.

President Lying Scumbag’s recent low rent “shit hole” comment is just one faux pas in a year of verbal and physical assaults on our Nation’s Institutions. 

Here’s a short list: 

The Con Man in Chief has dismantled two Utah National Monuments. He is the first Head of State in many years to attempt to rescind former Presidents use of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Large segments of Bear Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante have been withdrawn from full Federal Protection. The Land can now be mined or logged (short term use) IF he gets his way. Of course, the battle has just begun. Native American Tribes and numerous Conservation Organizations have filed suit against this assault on Wild Lands. Funny how often his little thought out actions end up in Court. 

When Made in America Neo Nazis paraded in Charlottesville, Virginia bearing Swastika flags and chanting racists slogans, Steve Brannon’s former Buddy was a bit lax in condemning them. Eventually he claimed there were “fine people on both sides.” I wonder how many WW II Vets would agree with the Draft Dodger’s assessment that Nazis are “fine people.” At that moment,  he besmirched the memory of the Greatest Generation. Shame on him. 

The Bigot in the White House wishes to rescind DACA, thereby creating havoc for 700,000 to 800,000 American Citizen Wannabes. The Drama King is using DACA to leverage a deal for his freaking WALL! How pathetic is that! Using people whose only crime is being brought into the US by their parents. Only a true Scumbag would use innocents to achieve an evil campaign promise. (PS. If the Wall happens, Mexico won’t be paying for it. We will be) 

Our foreign policy is based upon the Lone Ranger/John Wayne model. It’s us against the World. Another way to describe it would be “We’re Right and you are not.” (Followed by a Bronx Cheer). The US is now the only country not on board with the Paris Climate Agreement. According to our Chief Climate Change Denier, it’s a “Hoax.” This is nothing America should be proud of. 

There’s talk of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. An impulsive decision which will create more tension in an already tense region. This will be a State Department post no one will want. Our people will be placed into the Line of Fire. (Think Beirut Embassy bombing of 1983). 

Then of course, there’s the nonsense of building the Wall. Is it a good idea to ignore recent history? IE: The Berlin Wall? Wouldn’t diplomacy be cheaper and longer lasting? 

The US is now a Rogue Nation, a Bully and a destabilizing force in World Affairs. This sucks. Respect between countries is earned, not blindly handed over because we have a “Bigger Button.” 

When two of his White Supporters made a killing field in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, TX (84 dead) his Tweets were subdued. Yet, when an Islamic extremist killed eight in NYC,  the Tweets were highly politicized. In regard to the Homegrown terrorists, there was (of course) no mention of legislating reasonable gun control measures. Why risk the ire of the NRA and all those Campaign contributions? 

This list could go on and on...but I made my point. We have a Commander of Crisis Creation in the White House. OR as we called a problem child on the Fire Department-a Shit Stirrer. 

There will be no peace of mind or inspirational speeches coming out of the White House in the next three years. It will be Management by Crisis. If there’s no Drama available then he’ll Create it.

This is what many Americans bought into : A small minded, uncompassionate,  impulsive, liar who has a limited range of knowledge. A Man-Child who has never held a real job or understood the simple concept of “NO!” 

It’s been a year of shock and awe. Many Americans (like me) wake each morning and check. “WTF is the Scumbag up to today?” We live in stressful times. 

The way I see it, there’s three solutions to this dilemma: Indictment or Impeachment or Divine Intervention. 

I’ll wrap up this post with my 2020 Presidential Campaign catch phrase.

 “Drain the Cesspool!” 

A swamp has many ecological attributes.(of course, the nincompoop doesn’t  know this).  A Cesspool is only good for one thing-a repository of Poop. 

Vote for me in 2020. I know a lot of Bigly words and history. I’m a Mensch too. 

Cheers to you in these Lying, trying times,

BTW. Welcome to Trump’s Government Shutdown. 

“The problems start from the top and have to get solved from the top,” Trump said. “The president is the leader, and he’s got to get everybody in a room and he’s got to lead.” 2013 Fox and Friends quote from the Reality TV Host turned President 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

On the National Geographic Endeavor II

On the National Geographic Endeavor II...

my fellow guests were Doctors, lawyers, CFO’s, realtors, pharmaceutical researchers, IT Wizards, Board of Director members, college professors, factory owners and than...there was Me. 

My shipmates wore age appropriate clothing. They owned grownup luggage. I on the other hemisphere sported baggy black shorts, a tank top and carried a sweat stained backpack. Once again, this Jewish Gringo sort of stood out. 

With a five-figure per guest price tag, I shouldn’t have been too surprised. My Blue Collar ways and net worth were more in tune with the Crew than the Clientele. So...I decided to be an Equal Opportunity Grinner and chant English or Espanol salutations to all.  I didn’t want the other 93 guests (mostly families and couples) or 62 crew members to make me take a long walk off a short plank. I swim as well as a barbell. 

Before boarding, I read the brochure Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic sent to all us Darwin wannabes. It promised that “in no time, the ship will feel like home.” I had my doubts. First off, my old home didn’t sway with the ocean’s currents. Secondly, I envisioned my cabin to be a tiny affair with a miniature porthole for my ocean view. I wondered if my bed would be a hammock strung out between the walls. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. 

Well, I’ll say it now. Everything about this weeklong surf and turf trip was way beyond my lowball expectations. For a change, all the hype was justified. I hadn’t been this pampered since my Mom (May she RIP) spoon fed me chicken soup. My cabin was cleaned three times a day. (including a turning down the bed service. Yes! There was chocolate on my pillow too.) The meals were lovingly prepared. The ingredients were fresh and locally produced. The desserts added a kilo to my waistline just by looking at them. The diet starts manana. It was all so sinful.

I established a routine of waking up early to score some quiet time. At 5 am, it was just me, the coffee machine and the crew members going about their chores.(They really did swab the decks and polish the brass.) I’d then gag my way through a few pages of the NY Times to catch up on the latest news emanating from the United States of Dark Ages. (Did the Commander in Tweet really call a Continent’s worth of countries and then some  “shit holes”?) By sunrise, I’d be on the Observation Deck drinking more coffee with my graceful Frigate Bird Buddies. I highly recommend this as a way to start your day-minus reading the News. 

After breakfast the activities on the Galápagos Islands would begin. There was snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, glass bottom boat tours, beach bumming venues and Zodiac boat rides. The few hikes were more a mellow mosey than lung burners. (The stop and go pace was challenging for me). All events included a knowledgeable guide who spoke at great lengths about the breeding habits of all Galápagos creatures great and small. 

Seeing the not-so-wild wildlife was the primary reason for my journey to these remote volcanic islands. With little effort, every photographer can score an up-close and in-their-face image of the unique residents. IE: flightless cormorants, ocean going iguanas, giant tortoises, booby birds with red or blue stomping feet and the only species of penguin found in the northern hemisphere. 

The animals are incredibly photogenic. They don’t move! It’s not rare to hear someone shout out a warning. “Don’t step on the iguana!” or “Don’t trip over that sea lion!” Personally, I think they are all stoned on some Equatorial grown drug. The whole week was similar to an episode of “Best of Animal Planet.” Once again, the reality outperformed the hype. 

Which leads us somehow to Darwin! 

Charles was sort of a rich slacker who hitched a ride on the HMS Beagle as the ship’s Naturalist. In 1835, he spent five weeks on the Islands taking wildlife samples, making observations, looking at rocks and pondering the subtle differences of finches and other animals occupying the isolated islands in this vast archipelago. Darwin was no Speed Demon when it came to putting pen to paper. It wasn’t until 1859, when his game changing “On the Origin of the Species” was published. 

On the 100th anniversary of the book’s printing, Ecuador established the Galápagos Islands National Park. Coincidence? I think not. 

I’m still up after a Quito to Fort Lauderdale Red Eye, 

No sleep for this blogger. 

I’m missing my Frigate Bird Buddies.

Spend the money and visit the Galápagos. It lives up to the hype.

Cheers from West Palm Beach with an IPA Happy Hour,


Last photo: that’s me with Obama. It’s his fault there’s Evolution. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

“I’m nervous, very nervous...

I’m not having fun. I’m nervous.” 

My Father, Sid Sambur circa 1988, The above quote was his mantra on steep and narrow Independence Pass, Colorado. I was driving. He was my passenger. 

We are all the product of our parents. 

My Dad (May he RIP) was a high strung, energetic, opinionated, small in stature, nervous Jewish man. Does this sound familiar?

So...prior to going way, way south of the US Borders, I was feeling nervous, very nervous. 

My fears were based upon Internet gossip and other sources on the country’s I would be traveling to:  Peru and Ecuador. 

The Salkantay Trek didn’t cause me any phobias. 

Cusco, Peru wasn’t too scary, once you got past the gauntlet of hucksters selling tour packages, goo-gags and massages. (“Señor! Two women for an hour massage. $50!)

The constant hassles of playing dodgeball with humans got old. I sequestered myself in my hotel room, to avoid this daily bombardment. Toward the end, I only ventured out for errands and Happy Hours. 

Onto Quito, Ecuador: A few weeks ago, I read a letter sent by my Galápagos Islands Tour Company. (National Geographic). The memo warned their guests to be extra cautious in Quito. Prior to leaving the US, I phoned the company to gather more specifics. I spoke to Mark, who was my Go To Guy when I had any questions or concerns. As usual I was to the point. “Mark, is Quito as scary as the letter describes it to be?”

He answered politely, “Mr. Sambur, a guest recently had her backpack stolen off her back, in broad daylight. Please be careful there.”

OY! OY! OY! I like my backpack. I don’t want a Bad Guy to get it. 

I arrived in Quito on New Year’s Eve. After checking into the Hilton (that’s how I roll when it’s part of the tour package), I went out for an early Happy Hour. The crowd density was beehive thick. A bit much for me. I slid off to a side street and made my way for a beer and meal. In Ecuador, people don costumes, garish wigs and many men dress in drag. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). To this Gringo, it was more reminiscent of Halloween than another year gone by. I was back in my comfy room before nightfall.

An all night downpour quenched a lot of the NYE revelry. At Midnight a few rockets went off, a couple of Boom! Boom! Boom! and that was about it. I rolled over and fell back asleep. 

I hit the streets early on New Year’s Day. They were devoid of people, traffic and any open businesses.  (Even the Supermarkets were shuttered). A great day for me to get acquainted to Ecuador’s second biggest City of 2.6 million inhabitants. I headed towards Quito’s Historical Old Town, just like all the Gringo Tourists are directed to do. This being Low Season for Tourism, there was a dearth of fellow sightseeing Gringos. In fact, there were a lot more Policia walking their beats than people like me.

I stand out like a Peter Max DayGlo poster in a Church. I began to feel less angst. Besides, I’m bigger than most Ecuadorians! 

I decided to visit another Gringo Destination. A supersized aluminum statue of the Virgin Mary. She resides on the edge of a hill overlooking her admirers. Of course, I walked. That was scary. The stairs leading up to the prominence are rife with gangs of Gringo hating hounds. They snarled at me, chased me and invaded my personal space. Those mean mongrels made me nervous, very nervous. 

Sure, there are Locals selling pretty much everything from Selfie sticks, wool hats, Street food, watches, and items I couldn’t even identify. But! They don’t  hassle you. That’s why I’m liking Quito mas than Cusco. 

The week I’ve spent here went by fairly quickly. I managed to stay busy and engaged. I hiked to a nearby 15,000’ plus volcano, took a 10 Hour bus tour to Cotopaxi National Park and wandered the streets. Pretty entertaining stuff. 

It didn’t hurt that I’ve been in a comfy, spacious, 12th floor Hilton Hotel room. Now, I’ll be honest here. My pad is more comfortable than Barley the Van. There’s indoor plumbing, hot water, soap and even a toilet seat. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Yes, I’ve enjoyed my stay here, but I’m not going to become an expatriate Gringo. 

Quito is a dirty city. There’s garbage and graffiti everywhere. The air is use a knife and fork thick. It’s not tasty either. Often seen are blue buses belching gray-black as they ply the city streets. There’s a lot of blue buses here too. Right now the air quality is measuring “Unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Well, people have told me I’m sensitive. My eyes sting. I’m coughing. This can’t be good for humans. The World Health Organization deems Quito as having high levels of particulate matter pollution. 

Then there’s the problem of poverty. Ecuador is a poor, crowded country. There’s 16.5 million Ecuadorians residing here. For comparison shopping analysts, it’s about the size of Colorado. There’s 5.5 people living in the Rocky Mountain High State. The latest figures I found, (World Data Center)  showed a poverty rate of 23.3% in Ecuador. My Home State has an 11% poverty rate. (US Census Bureau). Last night I was saddened to see a teenage/adult couple with four children in tow. The husband/father was making a living shining shoes. His young wife was selling cigarettes. Business was not booming for either one. This is the face of poverty. 

Then there’s the matter of Civil Unrest. On my bus tour to the country, a crop’s worth of farmers decided to shut the Pan American Highway in both the North and South direction. There method? Place tires end to end, add diesel fuel and flick their Bics. They were protesting produce prices. Apparently, they strongly felt they were being shortchanged. Our bus had to detour around the noxious pyre. I never saw that on the America’s Interstates! 

Other than that, I can’t complain. People are nice, food is tasty and edible and there’s plenty of places to get a beer. Ecuador might be worth a second look. 

Manana, the Galápagos Islands on the USS Endeavor II. There will be 94 Gringo Guests and one Wandering Wondering Jew. This could prove interesting.

See you on the other side,

Last photo: Scoring the traditional overseas haircut. How do I look?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Four Peruvians and

A Gringo Jew hike the Salkantay Route.

Or...the Coca Leaves vs. Starbucks Challenge

I met my Guide Walter on Christmas Eve. He sported a cherubic face, a ready smile and a baby bump belly. Upon meeting, I exchanged a handshake, followed quickly by a bottle of beer. I thanked him for showing up to this Holy Night.

Walter then began his Cliff Notes version of our hike. He gave me estimated hiking times per day, the need for staying hydrated at altitude, the benefits of layering in inclement weather and the fact theirs less Oxygen the higher one ascends. 

I smirked and shook my head as he gave his spiel. Afterwards when he was done, I summed it up this way, “Walter! This ain’t my first Rodeo! I hike a lot. You don’t have to worry about me on this Trek.”

He smirked back. We said “Goodnight!” in order to get some rest for our 5 am start. (This isn’t a siesta-in vacation). 

Sleep wasn’t  meant to be. In Peru, Christmas Eve is not a Silent Night. The Boom! Boom! Boom! of fireworks began promptly at 9:30 and  steadily continued until 3 am. Who knew? 

I estimated I scored less then 127 minutes of slumber. Needless to say I wasn’t full of vim and vigor when Walter arrived at 5. Other crew members stumbled in, except for our driver. He and the Van didn’t show up until 6. Maybe he was the one setting off the fireworks?

We piled our gear and ourselves in. All the passengers except me and our tardy driver passed out with no problemo. I sat back and took in the scenery on Christmas morning 2017. 

We climbed out of Cusco, crossed some Pass and dropped down along a surging river before ascending once again. After 2 plus hours we stopped for breakfast in a sort of down trodden town. I was led to one room while the Peruvians were deposited in another. A tray of toasted flat bread and a cup of bitter coffee were placed in front of me. I assumed that was my meal. I nibbled on a few slices and downed my coffee. Not very satisfying and highly overpriced for Peruvian standards. This wouldn’t be my last time I was charged the Gringo Rate. 

Forty-five minutes later along a rutted dirt road, we halted at a nondescript hairpin turn. A few skittish horses and a burro were standing by. (One could say the horseman was responsible for getting this “Ass” over the Pass). These Beasts of Burdens would be our SAG (Support and Gear) transport. 

Walter and I shouldered our packs and off we went. He walked in my wake and called out directions. It didn’t take long for this old hiker to realize we were shortcutting the switchbacks. I whirled around, “Walter! We are shortcutting the main trail. These steeper grades will wear us out faster than sticking to the longer gentler switchbacks. Besides, shortcutting accelerates erosion. You love your country and this trail, don’t you?”

That was the last time he directed me to take a shortcut. 

We made our camp, ate a petite lunch and headed uphill again for a few bonus kilometers. Our goal was a lagoon with a view. Walter pointed me in the general direction and said, “Follow those other hikers. I’ll catch up with you.”

 He didn’t. 

However the over 14,000” view was simply amazing. See for yourself. 

That evening (after a paltry dinner), my guide and I sat in a drafty see-through shed and talked. It was time for me to learn more about this Peruvian pperson I would be spending the next five days with. 

Walter is 38 years old. He’s been guiding for Valencia Travel for nine years. He lives in Cusco with his Mother. He doesn’t own a car, “too expensive.” He’s never been out of Peru or on an airplane. He went to school  to learn English so he would be more employable in the skyrocketing Tourism industry. This being Christmas, he spoke about his religious beliefs. 

“I’m a Christian.” He then went on to talk reverently about the Inca’s ancient deities. There wasn’t any mention of the White Man on the Cross. I noticed whenever he drank a liquid, he sacrificed a few drops to the Inca God of Mother Earth. As Stevie Wonder once sang, “Very Superstitious.” But then again, who am I to judge? 

The next morning dawned with more blue than gray. From our vantage point below, we could see Salkantay Mountain. In other words, the reason I came to Peru. Our day’s goal was 15,200” Salkantay Pass, where splendid close-up views  of this muscular broad shouldered peak was to be had if the Goddess of Weather cooperated. 

It was not to be. A foggy, damp cloud bank roared up the valley. The Sacred Mountain of the Incas had now gone missing. Bye! Bye! 

My breakfast was calorie and protein deficient. A few slices of toasted flat bread, (my leftovers from the morning before?) and a single crepe with a squirt of gooey Nutella on top. Yech. It was too late to say anything. It was time to go. Fortunately, I had my secret liquid weapon in me. Two shots of Starbucks Instant Pikes Market Blend. 

Immediately, I went into my tried and true hiking style. AKA.  Don’t stop until you reach the top. OR: A short step is better than no step. Because of the low lying fog, there wasn’t much to see. I passed a covey of hikers, lots of boulders and a few local stranglers. A steady flow of Salkantay glacier water was my one constant companion. The stream was good company. 

When I made the Pass, I realized I was standing on the Continental Divide of South America. Water flowing east would make its way to the Amazon and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The creek which had been my constant neighbor on the way up would become a larger waterway bound for the Pacific Ocean.

I pondered all this as I donned dry clothes and a poncho. I inhaled a snack or three and waited. A Local Hombre sat a few rocks away from me. Every now and then, I’d hear him performing a melodic chant. It was all so fitting for the scene. 

Walter showed up  twenty minutes later. We exchanged High-Fives, shot some pictures for posterity and Facebook and exchanged some words. Then I announced, “I’m getting cold. I’m heading down.” With that, I took off at a trot. 

After a few kilometers downhill, it was noticeably warmer. I was also very hungry. I ate my emergency fuel supply, a 240 calorie Clif Bar. I decided to wait for Walter.  I didn’t know the where or when of lunch. While I sat on a soft rock the “Boys” went by. That is the Cook, Assistant Cook and the Horseman with his four-legged menagerie. They told me Walter was a kilometer away “Mas o menos.” 

When he made the scene, I got to the point.

 “Walter, I’m going to speak to you Hombre a Hombre. You guys have to start feeding me more than what’s been showing up on my plate.That breakfast wasn’t enough to get me around a city block, let alone up a Pass and more.” 

Walter thought about this a moment and gently asked, “What do you normally eat for breakfast?” 

“Three eggs with veggies, a potato and some toast ought to work.” 

From that moment on, all the meals were plentiful, hardy and delicioso. See? There are times the trickle down effect works. 

After this brief interlude, Walter and I continued downhill in a steady rain. At the end of a 14 mile day, we waded through a muddy lane to access “Camp Florintina.” We’d be staying within the confines of the Florintina Family Compound. Skinny chickens and dirty dogs loitered around. Dried mud covered most surfaces. The buildings were in need of repair. This was no KOA. 

Now a word about hygiene in Peru. If you are germaphobic or a clean freak, Peru might stress your comfort zone. In a country as poor as Peru (20.7% poverty rate, more than double that in the rural areas), things many take for granted in other Nations are sadly lacking. Many WC’s have no hand soap, no toilet paper and  no toilet seats. There won’t be warm water to wash up in even if a sliver of soap is available. Potable water must be bought or local water boiled. Don’t think too much about the fact all your eating utensils are washed in the same water you aren’t supposed to drink. Of course,  money is the issue. The average yearly salary in Lima, Peru is $590. It’s no wonder all those above mentioned items are considered a luxury. Let’s just say, I made an extra effort to stay as clean as possible.

Even the Natives aren’t immune to whatever germs are lurking in this moist, warm climate. That night, both Walter and the Assistant Cook had a bout of Montezuma’s Revenge. Walter claimed it was the “Bad Wind” on the Pass that brought about this malady. 

My reply, “Walter, I was in the same wind longer than you. I’m fine. Stop touching all the animals you come in contact with along the way. They are filthy!” 

After a REAL breakfast, we packed our gear said goodbye to our Horseman and his charges, and hit the road. Walter led me to a trail off the dirt byway, “Stay on this until you get to a parking lot. Please wait for me there. See you later, Mi Amigo.” 

Just like that I was off. It was a beautiful trail. I passed waterfalls, rain forests and oh-so-many pretty flowers. A thundering coffee colored river was on my right. I had some of my most memorable views along this stretch. The Salkantay Trail isn’t always Wilderness. It trespasses through many family compounds. Most are selling or offering something in return for a few precious Sols. It’s a hard life here in Peru. 

Walter caught up with me in the parking lot. He arranged a Taxi pickup to take us to the campground. The CCapacnan Family compound was immediately different than the rest. In lieu of mud there was grass and landscaping. There was a poultry-free porch to relax upon. Best of all, the WC was clean AND there was a toilet seat. I’ll admit it, I had to fight back the tears. 

By 1:00 we were done with our day’s hike and lunch. “Walter! Please take the rest of the day off. I’m just going to relax and read.” Translation: Leave me alone. I need some quiet time. 

By 4ish, I was ready for a pre-dinner beer. “Walter! If you see the owner, can you ask her if I can buy a beer?” A few minutes later, I had a cold brew in my paws and was about to resume my position of sloth. That’s when the International Incident began.

“Jeff! She would like to show you her coffee making process.” Trapped! I saw trouble brewing. 

Next thing, she was showing me the coffee beans from her small plantation. I smiled appreciatively. Then she began to grind a few handfuls of copper-colored caffeine. She poured the fresh ground into a bag. She wanted to make a sale. 

“Walter, please tell her I’m traveling light. I don’t have anyway of making the coffee either. Please tell her the coffee looks and smells great!” (The real reason: I did not want to cross Borders with coffee in my backpack. Drug smugglers stuff cocaine in coffee sacks to fool the drug sniffing dogs. I wanted to avoid a body cavity search!) 

Her feelings were obviously hurt, and I felt like the Ugly American. We made a compromise that I would have a pre-hike cup in the early morning. (It was the strongest cup of Java I ever drank. I paid her well to ease the International tensions.) 

That evening, I had another Hombre a Hombre chat with Walter. 

“Please don’t put me in these awkward situations anymore. Couldn’t you tell, I just wanted to hang out?”

He shook his head, and went into his Guide speaking to a Gringo pre-hike speech. In other words, like many times before, he wasn’t listening. 

“Jeff! Tomorrow’s hike is very long and steep. We need to start walking earlier. You should bring extra clothes and layer if you need to...” ETC. ETC. 

I let out a frustrated sigh. “Walter! Haven’t you figured out by now, I know what I’m doing. You don’t have to babysit me. You are preaching to the choir.” 

The next morning, I set off at a brisk hyper-caffeinated pace. The climb wasn’t steep or long. It was quite scenic. I scored smoke ring views of the Machu Picchu site. Walter barely looked around. He was too busy texting his girlfriend. 

We covered the seventeen miles to Aguas Caliente in short order. Walter led me to my hotel.

“Jeff! Later on, I’ll meet you for dinner at the pizza place. You already paid for your meal.”

“No Walter. You won’t see me for dinner. Take one of your buddies there instead of me. I’m going to find a quiet place to have a beer and meal. Where and when should I meet you for the Machu Picchu Tour?” 

At that moment, the Guided Gringo became the Guide. 

It was a drizzly early morning when I met Walter at the Machu Picchu bus stop. We were both more relaxed and jovial with each other. The awkward moments were gone for now. It was quite apparent we both needed a Time Out. 

We did a quick lap of Machu Picchu. Fog and clouds obscured the iconic views. For me, it was never about Machu Picchu, it was all about getting to Machu Picchu. Just like it had been in February 2016. 

We took a deserted bus down. 
On a busy street corner, I tipped Walter well. We said our Goodbyes (Adios) and parted ways. 

Sometimes the gap in cultures, age and life experiences can keep people from becoming true “Mi Amigos.” 

Happy New Year from the Hilton in Quito, Ecuador. That’s how I roll. 

May there be Peace on Earth and less awkward moments for all.