The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Tag: jorge

A Non-Traditional Christmas in the Sacred Valley

Jorge and I are situated this year, both physically and financially, in such a way that going home to spend the holidays with either family was pretty much impossible.

But friends, family and food constitute the holidays, right? In light of the fact that we are new to Cusco, are still partially digesting the Thanksgiving explosion less than a month ago, and love to travel, we decided to have a non-traditional celebration in…you guessed it…MACHU PICCHU.

Due to Jorge’s work schedule, we booked a two-day tour. This option meant leaving Cusco at 8AM, driving for about six hours through perilous mountain roads, stopping once to pee, and then finally arriving at the hydroelectric dam — the last stop on the road toward the base city of Aguascalientes.

Off we go to on our extremely economical and totally

disorganized tour to Machu Picchu!

The tour company made mention of the fact that on the road to the hydroelectric dam, sometimes there are landslides. And sometimes, the roads have to close. And other times, people, you know, sorta die.

Okay. We thought about this for a while. These tour companies don’t want dead tourists because it would mean the death of their business, so we knew at least that this route has heavy traffic, albeit it being slightly dangerous. The only other way to get to our destination would be spend a couple hundred extra dollars to go by train. The Sacred Valley region is entering the rainy season, which puts these high-altitude mountain roads at a higher risk of landslides. Being that the rainy season is JUST starting, it’s not as dangerous as January or February, when these tours sometimes stop altogether.

So, being that it’s still being offered, we probably won’t die, I reasoned. And if we want to go the economical route, there is literally only one road connecting the Sacred Valley with the Machu Picchu area.

One.

In fact, this road starts in the valley area of Cusco — very dry air, pretty high altitude, lots of regular forests and agriculture. You go up, up, up for hours — at the tippy top, when we were most definitely traversing a cloud, I saw a sign that said we were at 4,300 meters. More than 14,000 feet. We were told by the driver that we would not be stopping at any part of this part of the mountain road, due to the altitude and potentiality for getting sick. Way up there, I felt the headache kick in, as well as drowsiness.

Once we crossed the tree line descending on the other side of the sierra, I noticed things looked a little different. Way more lush, much greener and…HUMID. The jungle side of the mountains had begun, and the further along we went, the more I felt like I’d suddenly transported to Costa Rica or somewhere similar. I loved it.

This winding mountain road was completely rife with danger, and I am being quite serious. It seemed to be really just a one-and-a-half lane highway, and we passed several areas where fallen rocks had blocked off one half of the road. Furthermore, the engineers were really working against nature, as the mountain had several outlets of (natural) GUSHING water that sometimes was diverted below the road, but oftentimes, just cascaded over top of the pavement. I honestly thought a few times that the gushing water would carry us away off the cliff.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t. BUT IT WAS STILL SCARY!

During the final leg of our journey, right before we got to the dam, we encountered an interesting skirmish. When rounding a tight bend, our driver nearly crashed into an coming truck that had violated the rules of mountain road driving. The offending driver had approached the curve in the center of the road and hadn’t swung out wide, as you must do. So, we almost crashed head on. Our driver was understandably upset, so he called out to him something to the effect of “Hey, obey the rules, or we’re all gonna be in trouble here!”

Well, the other driver didn’t like being called out. Maybe it had to do with the 13 people piled in the back of his truck overhearing his honor being questioned. At any rate, Other Driver stopped the truck, and got out.

The Rules of Road Rage told me this was a very bad sign.

Other Driver then he came up to our driver’s window. They began a heated conversation that involved a lot of “you think I don’t know what I’m doing?” I overheard them make an actual plan to meet later to physically fight about this.

And then someone punched someone. I’m not sure who it was, but our driver began fist-fighting with this man through the window. It was so ridiculous I laughed, but it didn’t stop. Luckily, people who are better at these situations stepped in to handle it — namely Jorge and two other guys on the bus, who began trying to intervene to get these men to calm down. Finally, our driver put up the window and we drove away like nothing had happened.

We arrived to the hydroelectric dam around 3:00 PM, where the road officially ends. From the dam, there’s only two ways to arrive to Aguascalientes (the base city to Machu Picchu): WALKING or the TRAIN.

We ate a quick lunch (included in our tour payment) after a brief scuffle with the tour guides who greeted us at the dam. Our names had been mysteriously lost from the list, and they had to make a series of languorous phone calls, accompanied by vigorous receipt-demonstrating on our end, before we were led to the restaurant.

After eating, our trek to Aguascalientes began. The trail follows the train tracks to Aguascalientes, so all the paying customers can look at us vagabonds hoofing it along the side. It takes two full hours, walking at a moderate pace. The trek was gorgeous, and the only real difficulty was that, at times, one had to walk close to the tracks, and therefore over unstable rocks which slows progress. We caught a random Jungle Rainbow along the way.

Random Jungle Rainbow Alert!

Two hours of hiking is perhaps tiring but not the end of the world. Though I definitely stressed a muscle behind my right knee from all the unsure rock balancing; nothing major. I was certainly ready to sit down once we got to Aguascalientes, though! We met a different guide in the main plaza, who then took us to our hostel and gave us instructions for where to meet for dinner.

We had roughly an hour and a half before we needed to meet at dinner, 8 PM. So Jorge and I headed to the famous HOT SPRINGS (which the city is named after — “Hot Waters”) where we rested our weary hiker bones in the medicinal waters for about a half hour.

At dinner, the guide explained to us how the next day would go. We could either take a bus at 6AM to arrive at the Machu gates by 6:30 AM, or we could wake up at 4 AM to begin a roughly 2 hour hike of pure vertical steps.

We chose the hike, for a variety of reasons. One was the sheer experience of it — what better way to experience the Picchu than trekking up the mountain like the ancient Incans? Another was physical prowess, as most of my readers know I like to challenge myself in specific ways just to know that I can DO it. And, lastly, there’s the money aspect. Though the bus wasn’t expensive by any means — a measly $10 — it’s extra things like that that add up.

So we got our butts out of bed at 4 AM, and started the hike to Macchu Pichu.

Sunrise occurred around 5:30 AM, once we were past the front gates where they checked our passports. The first leg of the walk to get to the control gate was easy — just getting out of the city. But once we crossed the entrance — across a huge bridge with the angry river roaring beneath — the STAIRS began.

I kid you not, I was out of breath after the equivalent of two flights. I paused. I continued. Then I paused again, after a shorter distance. And then, I began something I like to call “The Tour of Desperation.”

I don’t know how many steps there were in all, but let’s be clear on one thing: I’ve climbed the Steps of Repentance on Mount Sinai, and I repented harder climbing to Machu Picchu. I began my Tour of Desperation once I realized that I had a full hour and a half of climbing these freaking steep stone steps ahead of me, and after only ten minutes I was ready to lay down.

The Tour of Desperation included highlights such as: the particular corner where I sat down for the first time and thought, “Well, damn, it can’t be that high.”; the variety of instances where plenty of athletic and probably bionic people breezed past us, barely panting; the particular stretch of steps where I began imagining all the other places I’d like to be instead of those stairs, including Hawaii, followed by vivid imaginations of receiving a lei upon arrival; the dense corner of vegetation where I considered the possibility that I wouldn’t actually make it to the top; the time I reached the road designed for the buses and I thought the trek was over, only to be followed by four more excruciating flights of damnable stairs; and, lastly, the time I heard voices above us on the path and my innards leapt with joy, only to realize we hadn’t reached the end, and the path would probably never end, and it was all a giant trap concocted by the ancient Incans to capture healthy humans from the future to use as sacrifices in the past.

A shot of Jorge climbing the stairs. The blur might suggest he was moving very fast, but trust me, he wasn’t.

We did finally make it to the top, only to begin a multiple hour tour of the complex. We found our tour guide and, after a quick snack, we began to meander through the ancient city.

The place was incredible. I forget entirely about the fact that I might have to amputate a thigh from overuse and instead, got completely lost in the guide’s explanations of the environs. They estimate the city was built in the 1400’s, and was one of multiple cities in the region commissioned by the then-leader of the Incans. It was primarily a religious center, and also had plenty of astronomical observation centers. One thing I especially liked was the naturally-irrigating agricultural steps, shown below.

They grew things like corn on the different levels.

Our tour lasted about two hours then we had a few hours to wander around and take ample photos. We climbed up to the highest point of Machu, took plenty of selfies, visited with some alpacas, and basically enjoyed the insane views from the mountaintop city. We could see the river down below that marked our starting point — we think we climbed about a mile upward, all told.

Taking some shots around 7 AM, before the morning fog had cleared.

Behold the majesty of the lost Incan city! They call it ‘lost’ because it wasn’t discovered until the early 1900’s — meaning the Spanish conquistadores completely overlooked this gem. And thankfully so!

See that river down there? That’s where we started.

Just enjoying the MAGICAL JUNGLE VIEWS.

Mister Machu. The Incans were most likely freaks, based on the manner of city construction. I’m sure they were 90% thigh, at least. Our guide mentioned that the next Incan city over is roughly 120 km away — a hike that for us nowadays would take 3 or 4 days, but for the Incans, took a matter of hours.

Money shot!

When there’s animals nearby, Jorge must meet them.

Merry Christmas from the tippy top point of Machu Picchu!

We all know what happens next, right? We have to get OFF the mountain. Thank GOD for physics — what goes up must come down. To be fair, we could have taken the bus, but again, chose not to. Besides, going down is always easier than going up. Though our knees were a little worse for the wear afterward, the 2 hour trek up became a 1 hour trek down. Practically a walk in the (extremely humid and steep) park.

But then came our return hike to the hydroelectric dam, where our return bus would be waiting for us. Two more hours walking after a full day of climbing, sweating, and desperate thoughts? Sure. Why not. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore anyway.

We got to the dam around 2 PM, ate a quick lunch, and then went to the pick-up area for the return trip to Cusco. A lot of people milled around, and I overheard a heated conversation between a  tourist and a guide nearby.

Turns out, the disorganization of the tour company had reached another peak. I had mentioned to Jorge at one point of our trip that I didn’t really trust that this company was looking out for us. It seemed like in order for things to get done, we had to be exceptionally on our toes. Making sure we had receipts ready and knowing what came next ahead of time.

And this was the case here. When we arrived, we were told there were no spots for us on the return bus. We reminded the guide that we had paid, showed the receipt, demanded that we be provided with this service. He suggested we just buy our spots on the bus to Cusco AGAIN, which was laughable, considering we had proof of already paying this. He ignored us for a bit, made some phone calls, was approached by other angry tourists. I felt bad for the guy — I know it wasn’t his fault, but rather the whole company’s approach was just poor, and he was the guy on the front lines receiving the brunt of it.

After a tense half hour, another bus did arrive, and we were allowed to board. Most of the other tourists in limbo were also able to board — some had been waiting (and been ignored) for over three hours.

Our return drive didn’t include any fist-fights (unfortunately?), but it DID include an active landslide. Helloooo, rainy season! We watched as rocks tumbled from the mountainside and onto the road, some continuing off the cliff. They weren’t boulder by any means, but one of those to the side of the van would definitely break a window — and possibly a head. Our driver waited tensely until the frequency of the landslide slowed.

And then he freaking gunned it.

We made it through alive, some of us actively trying to avoid peeing our pants (me). Another several hours later, we made it back safely, and dead tired, to Cusco.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to everyone!!

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The Greatest Tastes from the Smallest of Spaces

Jorge and I live in a mini-apartment.

We have a camping stove — two burners. Count ’em. Two. Plus a makeshift sink/counter area, a half-fridge (like the ones people keep in their kid’s room, or rec rooms? Yeah. That’s our tiny box of heaven), and a plank of wood they attached to the wall that can serve as a dining room table/plank, or be lowered for ‘more room’.

Proof of camper burners.

Because, you know, this is a really mini apartment.

I think that this chapter is yet another test of Jorge’s and my relationship. We went from Insta-Routine (living together two weeks into the relationship) to Long-Term Living in Valparaiso to Uprooting Everything to Backpacking Together (almost 2.5 months on the road) to Settling in a New City. All the most infamous stressors to a relationship (difficulties of routine; moving to a new city; traveling together; language barriers) we have faced.

Yet somehow, we seek more stressors. In the settling process, we have approximately 5 square feet to ourselves should we choose not to live inside the butt of the other.

God forbid we get into a fight, because the hanging crinkle door doesn’t slam well. Plus, our neighbors will hear everything and that’s embarrassing.

All that aside, we’ve been managing well. It makes me think of those Eco-Friendly Houses, where people essentially move into a shoebox to save energy and reduce the amount of crap they own. We’re just doing it in Lima. I mean, hey, there’s energy-saving lightbulbs here. Sorta counts.

Despite the lack of space and proper kitchen, Jorge and I have been conjuring some really freaking tasty meals. I’m talking, tastier than anything we’ve ever produced before.

Our stir-frys? Legendary. His torrejas de acelga (chard patties)? Insanely good, and vaguely gourmet. All the Argentinian soups, stews and more that we’ve thrown together on a budget and with, need I remind you, only two burners? FANTASTIC.

Jorge’s basil-chard patties–a gourmet touch that 
created a flavor I literally couldn’t stop eating.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the ingredients are tastier here. Or maybe our tight quarters are squeezing something new out of our concoctions. Maybe Jorge’s been unemployed for so long that he has turned to culinary innovation as a way to pass the time. Who knows.

Jorge’s chicken-beef-black bean taco mixture was a big hit for our Taco Night.
Please take note of the Plank O’Wood Dining Room Table/Countertop.


Has anyone else noticed the common thread here? It’s mostly Jorge’s culinary prowess that’s taken a flying leap. Let’s be real, he’s been doing all the cooking! Seriously, what a great stay-at-home Dad he’d be. *strokes chin* Hmmm…

Aside from the tasty adventures we’ve had in our Two Cubic Feet of Kitchen, Jorge has spent some time innovating household items from trash. We’re big up-cyclers (well, okay, JORGE is, I lack the creativity to do this), and he’s come up with some ingenious solutions to the lack of certain items in the shoebox…I mean…mini.

This old water bottle serves as a silverware storage space after washing.

This is a dustpan made from a wine bottle and cardboard.
It works like a charm!

Sometimes, temporary living situations can bring out the best — and most creative — in a person. 
Not all people, though, because let’s be real, I’ve been mostly reveling in his great ideas, eating his awesome food, and catching up on all the work I missed from almost 3 months on the road!
Bottom line is, folks: you don’t need a lot of space to have a home. We miss our place in Valpo, deeply and severely — but we’ve settled in just fine to our new 2 Cubic Feet of Kitchen, and it’ll do until we hit the next mark on the map.

What Women Don’t Reveal: When You Fall in Love

I spent the majority of my twenties avoiding serious relationships. They were, I thought, a hindrance. Like a blood pressure cuff gone out of control, I believed them to be a  source of tension and suffocation, draining the blood from my life until a limb had to be amputated, or at the very least, until a concerned pharmacy technician came rushing over.

And to be fair, most of my early relationships were like that renegade blood pressure cuff.  I felt stifled, like I had lost a part of myself, or perhaps that a part of myself had merely turned into a limp, strangled appendage.

But then I met Jorge, my partner. He’s taught me a number of really important things.

Casual Jorge

Like how to speak Argentinian Spanish, which at first I thought was a joke because like, come on, it’s ven not veni. And an appreciation for good meat, which doesn’t come in even-colored, perfectly round patties like America would have us believe. And, of course, that a relationship doesn’t have to feel like a vise around the throat. It can, as a matter of fact, feel freeing and light. Like a whoosh of spring air on a bare ass; not a frigid blast of snowstorm and you’re locked out of the house.

I’m really thankful for that. With him, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to explore personal depths as well as partnership depths. Two bodies of water that both mingle yet keep definable shapes. I’m not even sure of the physics behind that, but, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with a viscous solid and electron pairings.

But there was something else that came along with my relationship, something that I wasn’t prepared for. If falling in love were to look like a guest list for a dinner party, here’s some of the people I would have invited:

  • Peace of Mind
  • Healthy Boundaries
  • Passion/Lust
  • Physical Attraction (he always shows up looking so good!)
  • Complementary skill sets
  • Willingness (to listen, to work together, etc)

But sometimes parties get crashed, and this time, someone showed up who I didn’t invite.

  • The Annoying Girlfriend.

Among all the pluses and positives of a relationship, I’ve had to suffer the distinct horror of witnessing certain things come out of my mouth that my pre-relationship brain would never authorize.

I catch myself beginning the stupidest stories to my friends. Halfway through, I realize this story is about the shape of his toes, and nobody in the entire world wants to hear it.

I am constantly giggling about him. And I almost can never explain why.

I am so excited about knowing him, and want to share all his details with everyone. Including things he would shoot me if I shared. (I don’t, Jorge, I swear!)

I find myself planning things around the time he gets home, because that intolerable 8 or 9 hour workday has been far too much time apart and I’d like to see him as soon as humanly possible, thankyou.

I think everything he does is the cutest thing ever. And Skyping with friends while he’s in the room is the worst — plenty of times I’ve gotten distracted mid-conversation by a glimpse of him in the video, and started shrieking about how cute he is, OMG, look what he’s doing! When this happens, it’s almost guaranteed he’s casually lying on the bed, looking at his tablet or — in more extreme cases — napping. LOOK HOW CUTE MY BOYFRIEND IS WHILE HE DOES NOTHING!!! *SCREECH*

True Hued Love

Is this what true love looks like? I bet she doesn’t spill picnic secrets.

This affliction appeared swift and silent — I really hadn’t seen it coming. I had been so preoccupied during the early part of our relationship with other mental obstacles — like reminding myself that nothing had changed and that nothing would change — that I didn’t even allow myself to get giddy or gushy. I was focused entirely on finding ways to remind myself that being in a relationship meant that I had not sacrificed some integral part of my being, that I was still who I always had been.

And while it’s true that I’m independent though not single, I’m still myself though with someone else, I can’t pretend like the relationship hasn’t altered me in some ways. Who wants to cling to a former version of themselves, anyway? I realized that if you’re in a relationship and you don’t grow, evolve or adapt, then something might be wrong.

I was never informed of this, though it didn’t traumatize me as much as not being told about facials in advance. Women In Relationships say plenty of things to Women Not In Relationships, those things usually being negative, cautionary, overly romantic or totally dreamy. I was never told that I might arrive to that Annoying Girlfriend post organically. That it would actually seep from me on a cellular level, that I would ever feel inclined to squeal about the fact that my boyfriend just shifted from his left to right side on the bed behind me while I talk to a friend on the phone.

And along this journey of falling in love, of opening up to a relationship and all the silly quirks that it brings, this is one part of the fascinating puzzle that I hope I never misplace.

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