Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Miami Nice, Miami Not-So-Nice

I done survived. Been back in the states for about 3 weeks now, but I've been much too busy to put much time into this bad boy. There are some stories that need to be told from the trip home (I am particularly anxious to get a solid version of the visit to the prison in Quito on paper) and the trip to the Cape, but right now I just want to reflect on the city of Miami.

My pad in Miami Beach is ridiculous. The location could not be better, my parents completely set up the place for me before I even got here, and I really can't think of a place I'd rather call home after a long day of stuffing my brain full of molecular biology and genetics. All in all, things are good here. Thus concludes the Miami Nice portion of this entry.

As for not-so-nice, what's the deal with Miami Vice? I think this may have been the worst action movie I have ever seen. In addition to the four people with whom I saw the movie, I don't know a single person who liked it. The action scenes were boring (though some of Michael Mann's shots and scenes are cinematically very nice), there was neither chemistry nor dialogue between the leading men, the love story was completely non-believable and there was absolutely nothing driving the plot to make me actually care about the outcome. It was laughably bad, particularly Colin Farrell's bad American accent, both Foxx's and Farrell's sketch-ball facial hair, and the fact that each was involved in his own shower scene. Why would Michael Mann use two shower scenes??? Also amusing was Colin Farrell bringing his love interest to Havana by boat from Miami for a date. Cuba is close, but it's not that close. Even in a really fast boat.

And the woman we are supposed to believe he is falling in love with is an Asian woman from Cuba. Seriously, how many Asian-Cubans are there? And she speaks terrible English. By far the funniest part of the movie, though, is during a sex scene when we see a closeup of Farrell's face, as he says to her "Hola, chica." To which she replies, "Hola, chico." This is the type of cheesey half-assed dialogue that was all over the place. In the words of the great Tobias Funke, "Douche chill!!!"

Now to the nitty gritty. What I can't figure out is how in the hell this movie got such good reviews: Newsweek, New Yorker, Village Voice, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Roeper, Time Magazine, New York Times, New York Post, and Rolling Stone all gave good reviews. How is this humanly possible? It's even got a "Rotten" on rottentomatoes.com (which, for the layperson means that its overall rating by laypeople is not good). My only explanation has come down to a conspiracy theory, whereby Universal Pictures paid people off to give it good reviews. I mean, seriously, if you were a studio that put $135 million into a movie that you realized was not that great, wouldn't it be in your best interest, economically speaking, to spend a few grand, or even another million, on getting your movie some sick reviews? Where are my investigative journalists, eh? Someone's got to delve deeper into this...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

This is the End...

Not really the end, just the end of the South America portion of this blog. I am back in Quito, flying out early tomorrow and heading to the Cape for the annual Throwdown. Dave is back in New York and watching the Heat championship DVD, but I wanted to do a listserv (kudos to Morgan) exemplifying various favorites from the trip (Dave - feel free to comment and/or make any new categories).

Before I get down to it, I just want to say that I appreciate the readership of those who cared while I have been away, and I especially appreciated the comments. And if you liked thus far, maybe continue to read on as the next phase of my life commences. And now, the listserv...

Trip Theme Songs:
1. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (sung by Dave nearly every morning as he woke up)
2. Steady As She Goes, The Raconteurs (moreso during the first half, but definitely a hit for us)
3. Cities, Talking Heads (appropriate)

Best Food:
1. Papas a la huancaina, Trujillo, Peru (my new favorite food)
2. Homemade banana bread, Ollantaytambo, Peru (a stroke of luck, but the best banana bread I´ve ever had EVER!)
3. 2x2 burger, Quito, Ecuador (from a place called G-Spot, no less)

Best Hike:
1. Lake Quilotoa to Chugchilan, Ecuador (with Gaaaaaaayyyy-o)
2. Urubamba to Salineras to Moray, Peru (an awesome hike that took us to salt flats that have been exploited since Inca times, then to some circular Inca terraces that archaeologists believe were used for crop experimentation)
3. Cañon de Colca, Peru (over a kilometer into the canyon, an afternoon at an oasis by the river, then back up)

Biggest Characters Encountered:
1. Thor, the tattoed ex-SEAL
2. Capitan from Galapagos (became captain through the lobbying efforts of IAPMRP - the International Association for the Placement of Mildly Retarded People)
3. Jorge, our guide in Galapagos (Dave and I spent the 5 weeks after Galapagos perfecting our Jorge impersonations. Please ask to hear/see it.)

Best Books (and the only books I read):
1. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (an awesome book to read while you´re traveling - he describes scenes and events from other countries the way I wish I could)
2. Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond (didn´t quite finish it, but the best nonfiction I´ve read in awhile - he explains the origins of EVERYTHING)
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (overrated - too fanciful and too long)

Best quotes by Dave referring to bodily functions:
1. on the instructions for taking loperamida, an anti-diarrheal drug: ¨Take 2 initially, then one after each disaster.¨
2. The following exchange:
Me (after smelling a foul odor): You busted!
Dave (apparently shocked at how quickly I smelled it): Your nose is attached to my asshole.

That´s gonna have to do for now. I will certainly have some retroactive blogs, including the story of my visit to a women´s prison today, and Dave is going to send me his final thoughts as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Scheizer!!!

What a treat, right? Two blog entries in one day? What could be better? But be forewarned: the following entry may contain pieces of information that may be unsuitable and/or offensive to those who find little or no humor in bodily functions or related idiosyncracies unique to parts of the world outside the United States. But I have to get some of this off my chest both for the sake of inquiry and for the sake of humor.

One of the first things that struck me as odd about South America is that the plumbing systems cannot support the flushing of any types of paper down the toilet. Thus, all toilets have a garbage can next to them, into which one must throw said sanitary napkins after use (from here on referred to as ¨shit wipes¨).

The whole shit wipe thing is a little unsettling at first, but, obviously, when nature calls, you gotta do what you gotta do. But there are different types of garbage cans used for shit wipe disposal. The most courteous are the ones with the rotating cover, which both locks in some element of shit wipe stench, as well as inadvertant glances at other people´s shit-covered shit wipes. Clearly, the most disgusting and least debonair would be the completely open garbage can, which is pretty much unacceptable, and usually only found at crappy hostels. Still a third kind is the lidded garbage can, which must be opened, either with ones hand (not ideal) or with a foot pedal(a little better). There are still problems, however, as during our first week in Galapagos, Dave said to me: It´s awesome that everytime I open the trash I have to look at your shit wipes. It´s a good thing we are good friends, otherwise the shit wipe situation from week one might have really caused a rift.

Throughout the rest of our travels, I began to wonder if really EVERYONE in South America must dispose of their shit wipes in some sort of receptacle other than a toilet. So I started to ask questions: do the affluent have garbage cans for their shit-wipes? are they fancier or of a different style than the ones I´ve seen? do people talk about this? do the Presidents of the countries down here toss their shit wipes in the garbage?

I´m not sure if it´s true, but someone told me that the answer to this last question is ¨Yes,¨ so I thought of a great expression they should use here: in lieu of ¨he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else,¨ they should say, ¨he throws his shit wipes in the waste basket just like everyone else.¨ Definitely a real unifying factor between a leader and his constituents.

There´s only one more thing I don´t get more than the tossing of the shit wipes, and that is this: what´s the deal with so many toilets in Peru (NOT Ecuador) not having toilet seats? Are they expensive to produce here? Is there a shortage? Are they shoddily made and easily broken? Are they frequently stolen? This one I just can´t figure out. It makes going number 2 such a game. If and when you happen to find a toilet with a seat at a restaurant or somewhere, you have to assess the situation: can I go now? Because if I wait till we get back to the hostel, I will be stuck squatting, and hopefully my legs won´t give out. And the reverse is true as well: if one attempts to drop ass at a seatless toilet without being 100% ready, the results can be DISASTROUS. Lots of standing around, waiting for things to happen, when all you really want to do is sit and relax and let nature take its course. It makes dumping go from one of the top 5 greatest things in the world to one of the worst.

I´m sorry for you, Peru, and I invite you to come visit me in Florida, to perch on my pot for as long as you like. Read a book, do the crossword puzzle, and when you´re done, toss your shit wipes in the toilet, pull the lever and watch in amazement as it all goes down... Bravo!

Steady as She Goes

Hey now. This is Dave. Eric is not available at the moment. He´s out on a hot date with his nubby Ecuadorian girlfriend who he´s been carrying in his pack since Quito. At the moment, we are in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, but that´s neither here nor there. In his last post, I believe Eric left off with our arrival in Lima, which seems like so long ago. I´ll take it from there.

In Lima, we made the obvious decision to stay at a hostel called Lex Luthor´s House in a nice part of the city called Miraflores. Our first night, we had plans to meet up with our old Pine Crest friend Dave Caplivski, who is currently doing some sort of missionary/teaching work in Lima. Naturally, he suggested that we meet up at a McDonald´s. Dave showed up wearing a Florida Marlins hat and looked as much a gringo as Eric or me. Dave asked us what we wanted to eat, and our only request was a restaurant that served papas de huacaina. Dave coolly said no problem and then proceeded to pull out his Lonely Planet Peru book from his bag, which I found pretty funny considering he´s been down here for a year. After dinner, we decided to head out to sample some pisco sours, the local drink. Not being much of a drinker anymore, Dave had no clue where to take us. Finally, we settled on some cheesy place called Norky´s. Needless to say, Eric requests that we call him Norky going forward. Anyway, for those who know Dave, he´s the same old Capitan... well, maybe a slightly more religious capitan.

After leaving Dave, we headed out to meet up with a group of my future classmates, who are from Lima. I guess Diego wanted to impress us, and we ended up at what must have been one of the nicer and more expensive restaurants in town, which was waaaay over our budget. Melanie, who is currently home in Lima until school starts in the Fall, offered to show us around town the next day. We met up at her house the next morning, and from there headed off to pick up her friend Inez, who happened to have gone to PC up until 10th grade (she was a year behind us, and neither of us had any clue who she was). We spent a great day eating ceviche, walking and driving around Lima, and watching a rare sunset from near the beach (normally it´s too smoggy/cloudy to see this time of year). We had already bought tickets for a night bus to Arequipa but decided to stick around for another night and hit up the town with our new friends. Inez had mentioned that another former PC Panther also lives in Quito.

Some of you may remember Claudia Borasino, who was in our class in 7th and 8th grade and dated the one and only Jonathan ¨Jonnycakes¨ Spira. She met us out that night, and the first thing she said to me was that she couldn´t believe how tall we were. I guess the last time she saw us, neither Eric or I had cracked 5 feet. Claudia is a buyer for some department store down here and looked exactly the same. After one too many pisco sours, we ended up at some bar where Eric and I demonstrated our advanced salsa skills to the ladies. One thing led to another, a handspring was attempted, and the next thing we knew we were back home at Lex Luther´s.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

La Isla Bonita

Since the last post, we have had some drama, some incredible mountain scenery, and some delectable delights. We decided that, since most of the highlights in Peru are in the South, we would back-to-back night train it in order to get to Huaraz, which is in the middle of the Cordillera Blanca, home to Peru´s highest peaks. The first bus took us from Loja, Ecuador to Piura, Peru, where we boarded another bus for Trujillo, about 5 or 6 hours away.

In Trujillo, we stopped to check out the town for a bit. A few things to note: 1) the women in Peru (at least along the coast) are much more attractive than in Ecuador. I never realized how important digits were to me as far as physical attraction goes. But there is something about the Andean women, presumably related to altitude and oxygen content, where they have these little nobby fingers. And, well, they sort of gross me out. 2) The food in Peru is way better than in Ecuador. We wandered into this little joint in Trujillo, where they happened to be serving papa a la huancaina, which happens to be my new favorite food. It´s potatoes smothered in a creamy, cheesey, spicy sauce (served cold). Later movie theater popcorn, hello papa a la hauncaina!

From Trujillo we took another night bus to Huaraz, on which they served us snacks and brought us Inca Cola. It really brought me back to the good ole´ days of making Inca Cola commercials with my brothers and the Orihuelas. Famous tagline: Inca Cola! Makes your balls itch! No, I haven´t matured in the last 17 years.

In Huaraz we went rapelling down a few water falls (a guided tour we signed up with) which was only decent. From here on, we decided any hiking, trekking or whatever we do, we get the information and do it ourselves. The guides are never worth it and there are always a few wusses in the group holding everyone back. So the next day we did a hike from the nearby town of Caraz to, no joke, Laguna Seseinta y Nueve (Lake 69). Nestled in between the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and perfectly crystal blue, it was probably the most impressive thing we´ve seen since Laguna Quilotoa. Since we did this hike by ourselves, we didn´t arrange for transportation back to town, and it was starting to get cold and no cars were coming by. The only truck we saw was this French woman who refused, but karma will get her. Fortunately, some really nice Israelis let us share their taxi with them.

The biggest disaster, however, was our night bus from Caraz to Lima through Huaraz. We made it fine to Huaraz, departed Huaraz at about 10:30 pm, on our way to arrive in Lima around 7 the following morning. BUT our bus broke down at about 11:15. Too far to walk back to Huaraz in the cold. The bus driver offered no solutions or help, and people were PISSED. It was sort of funny, though, because every time a car or bus would go passed, 5 or 6 people would grab all their stuff and run to try to flag it down. Then they would wait a few minutes for another after getting denied, and run back on the bus freezing after about 15 minutes. I was exhausted and passed out, only to wake up at around 7 the next morning, with the bus still in the same spot on the side of the road, only they had sent a new bus to come pick us up and take us to Lima. Hooray!

Coming up next time: notes on Lima, including ceviche, pisco sour, Lex Luthor, front handsprings and some surprise guest Pine Crest alums.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Thor Corollary

Dave and I spent the last few days in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, which is in an area called ¨The Valley of Longevity,¨ since its inhabitants routinely live beyond 100 years. We stayed at an extremely chill hostel outside of the town, where the stars were incredible, the hammocks were plentiful and the weather was gorgeous.

One of the guys who was staying in our dorm was this 40-year-old beast of a man named Thor (who also happens to look like Karl Hungus from Big Lebowski). I met him the first night we were there, when we played a game of ping-pong and he demolished me. At the time I had no idea what I was up against.

BUT. The next day we went on a crappy hike in an over-grown national park, where Thor began to open up, telling stories about being a SEAL in the German navy. He said they had to do survival training, in which they were set out into the wilderness in February and had to survive for however long, while bloodhounds were searching for them. So in order to disguise their scent, they would have to walk in the freezing river for up to six hours sometimes when the bloodhounds got near.

He also had exchanges with people such as:
Someone: Thor, you´ve got a knife (referring to the crocodile dundee-sized piece at his hip).
Thor (completely straight-faced): Always.

He also speaks fluent Spanish, has biked from Anchorage to Cancun, used to diffuse underwater mines, and had his tour with the SEALs cut short because of a (no joke) parachuting accident.

So, in addition to developing a non-sexual crush on the man, I also devised the ¨Thor Corollary¨ to my previous posts about people whose only purpose in life is to travel with no further contributions to society (their own or the places they travel). And the Thor Corollary simply states that if you have served active duty in the military, you can do whatever the hell you want.

Happy travels, Thor!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Apologies

I am having major problems loading pictures, so that ain´t gonna happen right now. Sorry.

BUT, the trip has gotten much more interesting since we have gotten out on our own. Early this week, we were in a tiny, tiny village called Quilotoa that overlooks a giant lagoon inside a volcano. Really one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. The coolest part, however, was the hostel we stayed in there.

Basically, the dormitory was half of this guy´s house, no running water, a fireplace (pretty much a necessity at 12,000 feet) and some beds. The floors were that hard mud, and the man and his family are real indiginous Ecuadorian folks. His kids were also very interested in hanging out with us.

The three youngest, ages 6-10, were ridiculously adorable, and after dinner, they danced for us, then with us (I taught them the hora and some square dancing moves), and sang some indiginous songs for us. We were taking pictures the whole time, and they loved seeing the images of themselves (and videos especially). The hospitality, friendliness, sharing, and (to use a word I learned recently) simpatico reminded me a lot of Arab culture, for anyone familiar with that. And sitting around singing and dancing rather than watching TV after dinner is something pretty friggin´ awesome.

The next day we went on a pretty rough 7.5 mile hike to the next town with a guy we met in Quilotoa named Geo (pronounced Gay-oh). (Sidenote: of course, the moment i met him, I was singing in my head ¨Gaaaaaaay-o. Me say Gay-ay-ay-o.¨) He is one of these dudes who works, works, works, then travels, travels, travels. Which got me thinking... You meet a lot of these people when you are travelling, and I sort of feel like these people live extremely selfish lives. I understand the value of seeing new places and meeting people of different cultures, but when is someone too old to be doing this? Do these people give anything to the people they visit, or do they just take for themselves the experiences they have? I suppose if they plan on one day contributing to international relations or something like that (like my friend Arash) then that is cool. But I´m pretty sure this is the exception, not the rule. I really believe that most of these people are out to give themselves the best experiences travelling all the time, without thinking about making a contribution to society. Of course, I might be wrong. Anyone have any thoughts on this?.

Alright, this internet cafe is about to close. Hopefully there will be pictures before I get back to the states. If not, que sera, sera.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Si Se Pudo!

The official cheer for the Ecuador national soccer team is "Si se puede," loosely translated as "we can do it!" Ecuador just won their second world cup match, and here in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos, people have been parading through the streets, honking horns and cheering "Si se pudo!" or "we did it!"

As for the Galapagos, things here are pretty much unbelievable. So far I have seen more animal life in its natural setting in 5 days than I have in my entire life anywhere else. And the best part is, because the majority of the land animals have no natural enemies, you can get really up close and personal with them. We have seen blue footed boobies, albatrosses mating, a group of dolphins swimming along with our boat, 5 or 6 orca whales, penguins, 3 types of iguanas, and giant land tortoises. But the highlight has definitely been the snorkeling, where I have observed two types of sharks, rays, and swum up close with sea lions. The sea lions here are extremely playful with people, coming up close to my mask, blowing bubbles from their noses, and even curiously biting on my blue flippers. Pretty friggin cool.

The cruise has been really relaxing. We have been to 5 different islands and are now in port for the morning, waiting for newcomers to join Dave, a German couple and myself. It gets pretty rocky at night when we are traveling (no clue where they came up with the name "Pacific"), but we have not needed to use any seasickness pills or patches. Hopefully the good fortune continues.

My next post will hopefully be just some pictures pictures of the animal life, with some captions, but I do not have my cord with me right now. So that will have to wait.