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malanee

Alex's trip to Peru...

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I'm sure he won't remind him reposting this. It's long - but worth reading. It is nice to see a former local DJ doing so well!

Whew...

OK... So I'm sitting in the airport in Lima, and since I know all of you are

wondering how my trip to Peru went, I figure... :-D

This is fairly long, so for those of you looking for the video version, try

this:

Go to http://home.earthlink.net/~alexwhalen/data/

Click on Peru.mov

The file is close to 10MB, so don't try this unless you're on a fast

connection.

And yes, I know - I need to get around to setting up Alexwhalen.com. I

know, I know...

So I'll begin at the beginning...

Arrived Friday morning in Lima just a few minutes after midnight. The

flight was long but fairly non-eventful. Not sure when and why American

Airlines stopped showing movies, but on this flight it was 6 hours of

"Everbody Loves Raymond". I don't know about you, but I for one do NOT love

Raymond, so I think they need to change the name of the show. Thank god I

bought that extra battery for my laptop - "Almost Famous" and "Notting Hill"

are two movies I never leave home without.

Landed, got thru immigration without any hassle, and found a car and driver

waiting for me outside, complete with itinerary and a cold beverage. Too

bad every trip doesn't begin like that! :)

When I arrived at the hotel, Jon Bishop, one of the other DJs on the night,

was checking in just ahead of me. Seems he was on the same flight, but he

had gotten thru immigration about 10 minutes ahead of me, so they hired a

separate car for him and sent him on his way. Our room included a free

welcome drink - Peru's famous (by the end of the trip, infamous) Pisco Sour,

and since the bar in the hotel was 24 hours, well, why wait? :)

Spent the next day resting up for the night ahead. Around 8pm, I was taken

from the hotel to the venue about an hour outside the city. The headliners

on the night were myself, Lisa Germane (former Home resident with Oakey and

Lawler), Francesco Farfa (Italian DJ/producer), and Jon Bishop (San Diego

Hard House guru). What else can I say but that it was off the hook. Up for

it? These people were nutters - all 1000 of them. From the time I went on

at 9pm until the time it ended almost 10 hours later, the dancefloor was

rammed and they were going crazy. Didn't matter what you threw at them,

they took it all in and loved it.

You can't tell so much from the pictures, but the venue was sick. It was in

a park sitting on a beach next to the ocean. The beach is off in the

distance past the palm trees behind the crowd. Behind the stage was a giant

hill, and atop the hill were some ancient Inca ruins. They had spotlights

on them, and every time I turned around to look through my box for the next

tune that was the view I got. Unreal.

I played, then Lisa came on and rocked it. If you've heard Tom Stephan,

that's what she sounds like. If not, think chunky, banging tribal house

with just a touch of prog. Most of the pictures I took on the night were of

her DJing, because by the time she was done I wasn't exactly in a picture

taking frame of mind - if you know what I mean.

After her was Francesco, and he played a wicked set of hard progressive.

Last but not least was Jon, and he kept 'em going until around 6:30, well

after the sun rose over the ruins. The night was perfect musically, with

each DJ playing harder than the last, building the vibe from start to

finish. Gotta give a hand to Arturo, the promoter - he definitely knows what

he's doing.

Along the way, as I alluded to before, I managed to get totally mangled. The

backstage bar was fully stocked and we all took advantage of it. At some

point - I'm guessing somewhere around 3am, someone came in and asked me if I

wanted to take a turn playing in the VIP tent, and well, how could I say no?

Spent the next 3 hours playing in a much smaller room, and from reports the

following day I played well. ;)

The next day was filled with getting caught up on sleep and chilling in the

hotel cafe with everyone. We had planned on going out to eat together, but

we were all so tired we ended up staying there and taking it easy. Since I

was headed out of Lima the next day, that worked just fine for me.

And so Monday was the beginning of my trip to Machupicchu. At this point I

was going totally solo, and given that I speak almost no Spanish and that

I'd never been south of the equator, I was expecting to have quite an

adventure. Only it got started on the wrong note. See, the promoter got my

flight time wrong (at least I think that's what happened), and he showed up

late to pay me the balance on the gig. So late, in fact, I had to leave

without the money. And it was my cash for the rest of the trip. But I had

to go or I was going to miss my flight, so off I went into rural Peru...

With just $17 in my pocket. Now Peru is cheap, but the airport tax is cash

only, and its $4 each way domestic and $25 outbound international. Do the

math - unless I got some money together I was going to have a hard time

getting home.

But hey, I was in Peru, and I had 3 days to solve the problem, so did I

care? I think not!

I made it to the airport 2 hours early only to find they had moved the time

of my flight up 1 1/2 hours - and I had the last flight of the day. Seems

that with Lan Peru the schedule is just a suggestion, and they feel free to

cancel and change it at will. Cusco is quite high (12,500 feet above sea

level - at that height, even walking up stairs is a bit rough at first), and

the approach to the airport is quite windy. As a result, they rarely stick

to the posted flight schedule. Fortunately, I managed to make my flight

regardless, so I knew my luck hadn't totally abandoned me.

OK, so I land in Cusco, head to the baggage claim, pick up my stuff, and

head to the closest "tourist info" counter to find out how to get to

Machupicchu. I knew there were two primary options - train and helicopter -

and I figured they'd be able to point me in the right direction.

At that point Carlos entered my life. For the next 3 days he would be my

guide, my chauffer, my porter, and my delivery service. Seems he runs his

own "travel agency", and in Cusco, that means he takes care of everything

you need from start to finish - for a small fee, of course.

So off I went with Carlos. He took me around town, pointing out cathedrals,

temples, restaurants, and bars that I should visit, then dropped me at my

hotel. For the trip to Machupicchu I had two choice - in his words "nice"

and "not so nice". Since the difference between the two was less than $20,

I figured what's the point in going "not so nice"? Carlos took down my info

and promised to arrange everything for me.

His business done for the day, he left, promising to pick me up the

following morning at 5:30am. Yeah, I know. Me and mornings don't usually

mix well. But look at it this way - it was BEFORE the sun came up, so... :)

Since I wasn't tired yet, I headed out to city's main square. That's where

Carlos had said I should head first, and he seemed to know what he was

talking about, so why question it?

I wandered around the square for a bit, taking pictures and getting hit up

by all the local kids selling postcards, dolls, hats, scarves, carvings,

pictures, paintings, and just about anything else that wasn't nailed down.

For some reason postcards is the big thing in Cusco. There's apparently a

company there that hires the kids and pays them a 10% commission. It's 20

soles for 6 cards, which translates into roughly $1/card. And damn do these

kids wear you down. Most speak fairly flawless English (imagine being

called a "cheeky monkey" by a 9 year old Peruvian girl when you tell her you

don't have any money!), and they all act as if they are terribly

disappointed in their new "friend" when you say you won't buy anything. "Oh

my friend, please, its not so much. Just for me, this one time. You are my

good friend. Please. Pleeeeeaaaaaasssssssseeeeeeeee. Why won't you help

me?"

But seriously, the Peruvian people are absolutely beautiful. Kind, caring,

friendly. At every turn I was greeted by someone new who was happy to be

alive and happy to see me. Amazing - and its one of the main reasons I

can't wait to go back.

Anyhow, I managed to make it out of the night without buying much of

anything, but I clearly left several broken hearts along the way. The

"cheeky monkey" girl even tried to make me promise that I would take her

tomorrow to buy new shoes - "Nike's - they have to be Nike's!"

That night I couldn't sleep. I think it was a combination of the high

altitude and knowing I had to wake up at 4:30am. All total I managed to get

about 2 hours of sleep, but on a trip like this, it's enough. WMC anyone?

Carlos showed up at 5:25. I didn't think it was possible to be early that

EARLY, but there he was. Took me to the train station, gave me all my

tickets (Train round trip, bus round trip, park entrance, and lunch

voucher), escorted me to the train, introduced me to the staff, and said

goodbye. The train was way beyond "nice". Brand new, comfortable seats,

food service, and windows on all sides - including the roof!

It was a 3.5 hour ride to Agues Calientes, the village at the bottom of the

mountain from Machupicchu. It was an incredible journey. First off, even

though its at 12,500 feet, Cusco is at the BOTTOM of a valley, and the train

had to go through a bunch of crazy switchbacks to get up and out of the

valley. Back and forth, back and forth for nearly an hour. And at the

top, the view into the valley was incredible. Unfortunately, none of the

pictures came out so you'll have to take my word on it. From there, we

spent 2 hours going over mountains and thru valleys, crossing rivers and

streams, going thru towns and rural farm areas. Peru is beyond beautiful,

and no picture can capture what it felt like to be there.

We arrived at Agues around 9:30am, and this place is VERY rural and VERY

Peruvian. Of course, its the only way in to Peru's major tourist

attraction, so its filled with tons of hostels, hotels, and restaurants.

But I was only there for the better part of a day, so I headed straight for

the next part of the journey - a bus ride to the summit. 30 minutes, up the

side of a mountain on a dirt road running through dense rainforest, driving

at a MUCH higher speed than could possibly have been safe. But these guys

drive up and down that road 7 days a week, so I suppose it only seemed too

fast.

At this point I discovered I had purchased a ticket that entitled me to a

"free" guided tour. I usually hate group tours, but since I had already

paid for it I decided to go along for the ride - for at least the first 5

minutes.

In broken English, our guide gave us a quick history lesson about the place,

and then we headed in. The temple complex is actually just over the peak of

the mountain, and you can't see it until you walk through the entrance gate.

So we walked thru, and I sear to you, my jaw hit the ground. First off, its

HUGE. MASSIVE. I don't care what pictures you've seen, there isn't a

photograph anywhere that can do it justice. Second, its in amazing

condition. It wasn't "re-discovered" until the late 1800's, so the Spanish

conquistadors never found it, and as a result, never destroyed it. It's

amazing - houses, temples, farm terraces, fields - it was an entire city

built out of stone at the top of a very, VERY steep mountain. Pulling that

off now would be difficult, so imagine what the Incans must have gone

through to build it. It sits between two taller peaks, both considered

sacred, and that's how the site was chosen. The view, the vibe - the place

is honestly beyond words. Believe me, if going here isn't on your list of

things to do before you die, it needs to be.

So I had about 5 hours at the complex. The first two were sunny. And yeah,

at that altitude that close to the equator, I quickly discovered you burn

fast. Then, the clouds rolled in. Then the rain came. And it came HARD.

I had a coat, but it didn't matter much. And since the city is intact

except for the rooftops on the buildings, there really isn't anywhere to

hide. So you just go with it, realizing once again how amazing the people

who built the place must truly have been.

The rain broke, and after about 20 minutes the fog rolled in from the valley

below. Watching it rise 1000ft from the jungle floor to take over the peak

was absolutely beautiful. For those of you from SF, imagine the fog rolling

over the top of Twin Peaks, and then scale it by a factor of about 1000. I

just sat and watched it climb the mountain and overtake the site.

Incredible. The the sun broke thru, the fog lifted, and the cycle started

all over again.

At that point, I decided to head back out. I only had about 1 hour left

anyhow, and the bus ride back down was 30 minutes so it was time to go.

Managed to grab a bit to eat first (why are hot dogs and french fries the

universal snack bar staple?), then climbed aboard the next available bus.

Trip down was interesting. Somehow I ended up in a bus rammed full of

Japanese tourists. I don't remember seeing them up at the summit, but the

place was huge, so who knows. Anyhow, they were all quite excited, and the

bus was fairly loud. A bit surreal careening down a jungle covered mountain

with people screaming in Japanese all around you.

Like Cusco, the kids are part of the system of commerce there, and in this

case that meant they race the bus down the mountain. See, the road is a

series of switchbacks, but it has a trail that runs up thru it for use by

hikers. Rather than walk the road, they've built a series of steps and

trails, and they cut across the road to the top in a fairly straight line.

As we rounded each bend, there was this kid, dressed in traditional Inca

clothing, waiving and yelling as we drove by. Bend after bend he emerged

just in time. And at the bottom, the driver opened the door so that he

could climb on and ask for "donations". I kid you not, he made at least $10

off that one bus. Kid must clear AT LEAST $40 a day if our bus was even

remotely average. Not bad considering that your average adult in Cusco makes

less than $5 per day.

Got back to the bottom, did some shopping in the village (a hat for $1 isn't

bad) and climbed back on the train. And yes, OF COURSE the trip back was

eventful. Seems that out of 40 seats in my car, 30 were taken up by a group

of American "backpackers". In Macchupichu, that basically means anyone

willing to pay $100 to hike for 3 days on the "Inca Trail" from Agues

Callientes to Macchupicchu. It's an easy hike, with porters hired to carry

all your camping gear, so it appeals mostly to yuppie hippie wannabes. And

in this case, yuppie hippie wannabes who'd had WAY too much alcohol and Coca

leaves for their own good.

I guess it should just be expected - no trip to a foreign country is

complete without running into a group of people who make you embarrassed to

be from the US. This was mine. They spent three hours running up and down

the car, singing 80s songs and show tunes. Yelling, screaming, sinning,

clapping, jumping up and down, completely oblivious to the fact that the

other 1/4 of the train was NOT amused. It got so bad I almost stood up to

yell at them, but I was exhausted, so I just put on my headphones and let it

go.

We arrived back in Cusco, my sanity barely in tact, and at that point Carlos

had his wife waiting for me to drive me home. Seems he had to work late and

couldn't make it, so she had been called into duty. She drove me straight

back to the hotel, where I showered and changed to get ready for the

evening.

Now, in case you've forgotten, all of this was happening with less than $20

in my wallet. Peru is cheap, but it's not THAT cheap, and I had to get

money from somewhere or I was going to have a hard time getting home. That

morning, I had sent out an urgent "HELP ME!" email to Christian and my

buddies at AM ONLY to try and find a way to get me some cash. I had come up

with this elaborate scheme that involved overnighting my check for the gig

deposit to Christian, then having him deposit it in my account so I could

withdraw it in Peru. Christian, being the amazing friend that he is, did

one better. He went to the bank with a personal check from his account,

convinced the bank to credit it to my account immediately, and deposited it.

He says "no biggie, I'd have done it for him", and while that's true, it

misses the point. Thank you, Christian, for saving my ass. I owe you one -

big time. :)

With the money thing straightened out, I decided to head back into the main

plaza to get something to eat. At this point, my luck had completely turned,

and I found a pizza place right next to an Irish pub, complete with Guiness

on tap. And it was less than $1.50 per pint, even with the tip!

The next day was my last day, and I had a few hours to kill before Carlos

came to drop me at the airport. Since I hadn't had any money until then, I

hadn't really managed to do any shopping in Cusco, so I decided to try and

find the market and see what I could dig up. On the way, I passed through

the plaza, but for the first time I was doing it mid-morning. It was

packed. School doesn't start until Noon, and even so, most kids don't go

every day, so they were all out in force. Kids selling postcards, adults

selling tours, and enough taxis driving around to transport an entire army

division. Since I'm fairly obviously NOT Peruvian, I was descended upon

immediately.

This is when I met Marcos and his friend. Instead of trying the hard sell,

these two decided to sit down and get to know me first. And like I said

before, the Peruvian people are so friendly its almost startling. Sure, you

could be cynical and say its because they're trying to get money from you,

but I'm telling you, that has absolutely nothing to do with it. I spent the

next 3 hours with these two, talking about what its like to live where we

live, sharing stories about our families, friends, and loved ones.

Their English was almost perfect, and their knowledge of America was better

than most Americans, so I was curious about what their schools were like.

Turns out you have to pay for school in Peru, and its quite expensive.

Marcos' father ears 8 soles per day doing construction - that's just over $2

for those keeping track. And school runs 150 soles/month to go full time.

As a result, most kids (including him) only go 1 day a week, spending the

rest of the time on the street selling postcards to help support their

family. In Marocs' case, he wakes up every morning at 5, grabs his stuff,

and walks 2 1/2 hours over the mountain to get to the city. Depending on

how much he made the day before, he might get some coffee and a biscuit for

breakfast, otherwise he waits till lunch to eat. He'll work until 9pm, then

climb back up the hill, getting home in time to sleep around midnight. And

the entire time, he's got a smile on his face. Puts your life in

perspective some, doesn't it?

Anyhow, as it turns out, most of what he knows he's learned from tourists,

since he enjoys talking to people more than selling postcards. I'd say

California, he'd tell me Sacramento was the capital. I'd say Washington DC,

he'd rattle of a list of all of the US presidents since FDR. Of course after

spending some time with him, you can't help but want to buy some cards, so

I'm sure he does better than most of the others in the square.

We talked for close to an hour and a half, but with time running out I told

them I wanted to go shopping. They immediately offered their help, aiming to

take me to the "real" market away from the tourists and overpriced shops.

"Good prices my friend, we will make sure for you. Good prices, good

clothings", and off we went. With these two on my side I knew I was golden,

and by the time we were done I'd bought 4 hats, a scarf, a bag, and a few

other odds and ends for just under $12.

On the way back to the store, we took a different route, one that took us

past "their favorite store." At this point, I saw where this was going but

I was more than happy to play along. Once inside, they each had found

something they liked - two pairs of sweatpants for one, a soccer jacket for

the other. (David Beckham and Michael Owen are their heroes - go figure.)

Grand total? $15. So yeah, OF COURSE I bought them each a gift. "You are a

very, very good friend. I will remember you forever. My father will

remember you. My mother will remember you. My family will remember you. We

love you. We will write you postcards every day and email them to you.

Thank you, friend." Wish I'd thought enough to get a picture with them. Ah

well....

It was almost two, so we said goodbye and I headed back to the hotel for my

last trip with Carlos. He arrives early (of course) to tell me that

unfortunately, all of the flights to Lima have been cancelled. There is

one, however, that will get me there if I make a connection, but it leaves

at 3 so we must hurry. 2:30 I'm at the airport and checked in, and before I

know it I'm saying goodbye to Cusco.

We made a quick stop in another small town, and then lifted off towards

Lima. As it turns out, we crossed over the area with the Nazca lines, but no

one bothered to mention it to me until we landed in Lima. Guess it just

gives me another reason to go back...

Which brings me to now. At this point, I'm sitting in the Miami airport, 16

hours in and waiting for my last 6 hour leg of the journey how. Without a

doubt this has been one of the best weeks of my entire life. A DJ set in

Lima, a solo trip to Cusco and Machupicchu, Carlos, Marcos, and everyone

else I met along the way. It's been amazing, but I'm ready to be home. A

trip like this is incredible, and its made that much better knowing the

places and people I'm coming home to.

If you ever get a chance to go to Peru, go. Find a way to make it happen

somehow. Believe me, its an experience you will remember for the rest of

your life. And if you do go, hit me up for Carlos' info - I'm sure he'll

take good care of you the entire time.

Flights about to leave for home, so I guess that about does it. For those

of you looking for pictures, check the attached file. It's a complete

record of my trip, with music provided (of course) courtesy of Ralph and

Whalen.

SF, I'll see you in a few... :)

Alex

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