November 29, 2007


Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 2:20 pm

Kim hammock chillin

Vilcabamba proved to be a lovely place to relax for a few weeks. It’s quite a bit more expensive than Peru had been, partly because they use the US dollar for currency, but mostly because of all the foreigners living there. It’s still much cheaper than living back home. Where in the US can you get an amazing massage for $10/hour?

We spent a few nights at El Jardin Escondido, which is probably the nicest moderately priced hostal ($22 for two people) close to the center. It’s run by a Canadian I think is named Marcel. That’s where I got my first massage from a woman named Piedad. There’s a ton and a half of massage places, but we were told by a few people that Piedad was one of the best, including Piedad herself. It’s a Swedish massage style, which I normally don’t care too much for, but she’s strong so it’s good. Besides the massage I swam in the pool, chilled in the hot tub, relished eating decent Mexican food and good bread again and finished reading Catch 22 again.

Cool Window at Madre Tierra

After roughing at the moderate priced place we decided to spring for what we had heard was true luxury – Madre Tierra. It definitely is luxurious and beautiful, but we were more than a little annoyed at the terrible communication at the reception desk. We got there and nobody could tell us prices for rooms. Apparently only one person at a time knows the prices and she was out of town for a few hours. You’d think they’d have a price list. Some guy brought us to a room and told us it was $30 a night. We figured that wasn’t too bad so we set our stuff down. Then we clarified and found out it was $30 per person. Finally after threatening to leave they offered to let us have a room for $20 a night – per person of course. Not the one they first showed us though. It was pouring rain and we had to see what this place was about so we stayed. At the end their credit card machine didn’t work and they said that they hadn’t included IVA (tax) in the original price. I think everyone else includes IVA in their price, so I was pretty fed up by this point. Anyway, onto the good parts.

Swinging from a Jungle Vine

The stay includes breakfast and dinner, which were very good. We did a spa treatment that lasted 5 hours and was $45. That included a facial, a steam treatment, a salt scrub, a mud bath, a foot and head massage and probably something else that I’ve forgotten by now. We were in there being pampered for a LONG time. We came out very relaxed – until trying to check out and dealing with the reception desk…

We also quickly undid all the relaxing by heading to the Neverland farm, which I’ve broken out to a separate post. After returning from the farm we spent a few nights at a hostal out of town a couple kilometers called Izhcayluma. This was my favorite place overall. It has an awesome view, beautiful buildings and a terrific atmosphere. The atmosphere is mostly due to all the cool travelers you meet there. Adventurous, crazy, interesting travelers seem to congregate there, and the onsite bar makes for some hilarious and fascinating conversations. One Scottish guy kept offering people $100 to bring back the ears of robbers who have been plaguing some of the local hiking trails. A lot of the staff is volunteers from European countries, so the service is way better than with local running things, sadly.

Piling into a pickup to go for a hike

We went on a hike with a local guide whose name I don’t remember to Podocarpus National Park one day. It was a very pretty hike, but nothing spectacular. The ride there was notable due to riding in the back of a pickup through very pretty scenery. That night we stayed at a cheap hostal ($5 per person) in the center to be close the next morning to leave on our horseback trip with Gavin, which was a blast. That’s also a separate blog post.

Once we got back from the horseback trip we spent a night at another hostal run by some French. Funny how all the interesting hostals are run by foreigners. We also both got another massage. This one was from the lady at Shanta’s bar whose name I forget and she does a lot of physical therapy type stuff where she makes your body crack in all sorts of ways I’ve never experienced before. By the last night we noticed that we knew a ton of the people walking around the central plaza, especially after talking with Gavin. The town was starting to feel a little too small and weird once we knew enough about the crazy foreigners living there. Fortunately we we’re on our way back to peru now.

November 26, 2007

Neverland Farm Near Vilcabamba

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 2:00 pm

Kim Horsing Around

Kim found a farm project called the Neverland Farm on the Wwoof website that sounded interesting with agro-something-intersting and sustainable-blah-blah so we thought that we’d check it out. It didn’t turn out to be quite what we expected. It was an interesting experience, but unfortunately we didn’t think it was nearly as amazing as other reviews from volunteers.

To start, the lady who runs the farm, an American woman named Tina, wasn’t there while we were. She had to go back to the US to deal with family problems. There also weren’t any other volunteers. Therefore the remaining people on the farm were all Ecuadorian and weren’t as organized as we had hoped. Angel, aka Killo, seemed to be in charge of the running of the farm, even though he was there only a little over half the time. His brother Pio had only been there about a week so really didn’t know much. They were the only two people besides us who ever spent the night there. During the day Andres came from the nearby village of Tumianuma to work. Nobody talked much without prodding and everybody left a lot. They were all nice enough, but we were hoping for a more social atmosphere.

Us Near a Waterfall We Hiked To

We went to the farm with the intention of learning a little about gardening, sustainable living, or novel construction, but we found ourselves a bit bored. Whenever we asked what we could do to help we were told we could do whatever we like. However, we didn’t even know where the main garden was until our third day on the farm, let alone what kinds of projects would actually be helpful. We ended up cooking a lot, mostly for ourselves, weeding, and I went out hacking stuck with a machete which is fun (I feel kinda like Indiana Jones), but dangerous – I cut my shin when I lost my grip on spring tree branch. One of the first days we carried rocks to help make a wall for a new house, but we never went back to that project. We were hoping the pregnant horse would have her baby while we were there, but no such luck. I rode the other horse a little bit for trips back and forth to the nearest little pueblo, Tumianuma.

Mostly we read a lot. I read a few books from the Dahli Lama which were quite interesting. Buddhism really interests me – until you get into some of the weirder details. We also hiked a bit up the valley to a little waterfall. There was a guitar I got out to play a few nights. Other than that it was pretty slow.

The bridge on the way to the farm

Sleeping was a little difficult since our bed was dreafully uncomfortable. It was a very thin mattress on top of a bamboo frame. Two nights Angel was gone we slept in his bed and it was insanely more comfortable, but didn’t have a mosquito net on it. The bugs weren’t too bad while we were sleeping though. Just while we ate. Ugh. Don’t wanna remember that.

At the end of the week Killo asked us to pay $25 per person for food, which pissed us off a bit since we were told before we arrived there was no cost except bringing in some food, which we did (about $20 worth), since we were working 4 our more hours a day. There’s a sign on the kitchen that says $15 a week is suggested, so we paid that as it seems somewhat fair, but we’re still just angry about the lack of communication about it all. Overall we were quite happy to be leaving, but it was definitely an intersting experience for a week. Not that I’d choose to do it again – at least not without Tina there.

November 21, 2007

Back From the Farm

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 1:38 pm

Kim and I just got back to civilization after being on a farm in Ecuador near Vilcabamba without any form of communication for the past week. Just wanted to let everyone know I’m still alive and will be posting more details on what I’ve been up to later. For now, I’m just enjoying electricity, soft beds and toilets with water again. The last few weeks have been kinda hectic as the plans changed and we spent a bit of time on the road to adjust. It’s relaxing time. I’m going to get a $15, 90 minute massage this evening. Then… pizza. I’ve missed civilization.

November 13, 2007

Leymebamba and the Journey to Ecuador

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 4:40 pm

The journey can really be half the adventure here.

From Celendin we took a beautiful, bumpy, steep, long, fascinating journey to Leymebama. Getting to Leymebamba the man who was going to setup stuff for us to do hadn’t arrived yet, so we spoke to the Belgian volunteers who are currently there. In the end we decided it would be too big a hassle to try to force a project for a month and then leave with possibly no replacements for what we’ve done. So we decided to go to Ecuador until December.

Day 1
Getting to Ecuador was two full days of travel that was exhausting, but interesting. We began the journey from Leymebamba at 5AM on a crowded combi (shared minivan) to Chachapoyas, the nearest “city”. I can tell I’m getting used to combis because I was actually able to sleep a little bit despite my head bobbing in every direction.

Chachapoyas kinda sucks. And we were stuck there allllllll day because the road from Chachapoyas back to the next main highway is being widened and paved to a two lane road, and so is closed from 6AM until 6PM. We played in on the really slow Internet and sat around in the city until we could escape. Our route out of Chachpoyas to Ecuador we kinda had to figure out as we went since there’s no direct buses to almost anywhere we want to go.

From Chachapoyas we took a bus to Baguas, from Baguas we hurriedly caught another bus to Jaen and then we spent the night in the nearest cheap hostal we could find. Phew.

Day 2
From Jaen you’re pretty close to the Ecuador border – distancewise. However the roads are bad so timewise it’s another full day. From Jaen it’s another combi to San Ignacio. From there it’s a shared taxi to the border, and by shared I mean a standard hatchback car, but with 3 people in the front and 4 people in the back seat. Nobody talked, but man were we all close – for a long time over a very bad road. This gets us to the border in the middle of nowhere though.

We had heard that this border crossing was out there, but we didn’t expect that there would be no guards, and the people who do paperwork take 3 hour lunch breaks, and then once you’re on the Ecuador side there’s no transportation until a farmer comes at 5:30PM to haul you to Ecuador in a truck. We just hung out in the river and went for a swim while we waited about 4 hours for everything to get ready.

The farmer truck was a fun form of transportation with little wooden benches – until it got dark, crowded and started pouring and blowing rain. After enduring that we arrived in Zumba and promptly bought a bus ticket outta there. We heard there weren’t any ATM’s in Vilcabamba (turns out there is one now), so we went straight to Loja for the night. Phew. Those were two long days of traveling. As my father commented, traveling here can be hard on your butt, in more than one way.

Now we’re in Vilcabamba, where people supposedly live forever and there’s a ton of foreigners. It’s quite a bit more expensive than Peru, but I attribute that to all the foreigners. It seems like all the really interesting businesses here are started by foreigners. There’s a vegetarian restaurant run by a French women, the coolest hostals are run by Canadians, and Europeans, the farm we’re going to volunteer on is owned by an American woman, and the most recommended local guide is from New Zealand. It’s kind of a shame that as a generalization in many South American countries the locals don’t get more creative than to open the same exact businesses that everyone else opens.

Anyway, we’re off to a farm a little ways out of Vilcambamba that Kim found online. I haven’t read as much about it as she has, but hopefully it’ll be cool. There won’t be internet or any other form of communication there, so it may be a while before I post anything again.

November 9, 2007


Filed under: General,travel — mmrobins @ 2:54 pm


We’ve really left the gringo trail now. From Cajamarca we took a 10 sole ($3.33) 6 hour bus ride toward Chachapoyas to Celendin on unpaved roads. Even though the roads were unpaved, the trip was quite a bit more comfortable than the one from Trujillo to Cajamarca. They’re also widening the roads all the way to Celendin and I believe they’re going to pave them too. Celendin was much more modern than I expected after going so long without seeing any major civilization. It’s actually a fairly pretty little town that I’m sure will start attracting more tourists with the completion of the highway.

We checked into a hostal and got a small dinner. A rather common occurence at restaurants is to pick something off the menu and then be told they don’t have it. I think we tried to choose 2 or 3 different things from the menu at Hostal Celendin that weren’t available. In general the service is terrible too. After the food comes you have to hunt your waiter or waitress down to get anything additional including the check. I guess that’s why there’s no tipping in Peru.

6AM was wakeup time to get to Llanguat and some hotsprings. We considered walking the 21km to get there, but decided against it as it began to rain. Instead as far as the guide book indicates there’s only a 7AM combi to Llanguat. Little did we know combi meant people and livestock carrier. We shared a 2 hours trip down an insane number of switchbacks with a loaded combi full of people, sheep and chickens. Kim had to keep pushing a lamb back to keep him from stepping on the other animals.

We passed through Llanguat, which looks like about 15 houses and a church, and the combi dropped us off at the hotsprings. Unfortunately we couldn’t try the mud baths since the river was too high and uncrossable. We went in the pool, which could easily be mistaken for the mudbaths. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a river crossing, we relaxed for a bit in the inside hot pools like there were in Cajamarca, only the water wasn’t as hot. The owner of the place was very friendly and was very interested in learning how to better develop a tourist industry. It sounds like more than a few people in the Celendin area feel this way.

Getting back proved to be a bit of an ordeal. We walked in the rain for close to 2 hours back up the switchback road before a combi finally came by. We hopped on and got 2 of the most umcomfortable seats. My butt still hurts. I don’t know if the 2 hours of hiking uphill in the rain or the remaining hour in the combi made me more tired, but once we got back to Celendin we ate dinner and went to bed, which means that we didn’t have time to visit the local village of Jose Galvez where the women are supposedly the most beautiful in Peru.

November 5, 2007


Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 8:26 pm

Cajamarca from above

Kim and I left Huanchaco with some French volunteers named Priscille and Maelys and her fiance Atoine. All the comfortable buses were sold out, so we went with a company named Horna to go to Cajamarca on the 10:45pm bus. The ride was rather painful. It wouldn’t have been all that bad if Kim hadn’t been sick with stomach trouble on a bus with no bathroom. The first part of the ride they put on terrible action movies, ala Jean Claude Van Damme. With three TV screens on the bus only one worked, and nobody seemed to be watching that screen, and yet the volume must have been most of the way up. I swear Peruvians are immune to loud noise. I’m not however. Thank goodness for earplugs. I can handle background noise no problem, but the sounds here go well beyond that, sometimes even with earplugs. Fortunately for Kim they were willing to stop the bus to let her outside when she needed to go.

We arrived in Cajamarca around 5:30AM and got overcharged on a taxi ride to get Kim as quickly as possible to the Banos del Inca, a local hotsprings, where we had a hostal for the night.

Baños del Inca from our hostal

The French contingent miraculously slept well on the bumpy noisy ride, so they went to the banos straight away while Kim and I passed out in the hostal for a few hours. We finally woke up a few hours later and went to banos public pool which we weren’t too impressed with. The water was only luke warm and it was crowded with people who swim like they’re drowning and so splash like crazy.

After the banos we went into the centro of Cajamarca to meet up with Priscille, Maelys and Atoine. We did the whirlwind tour of all the major historical sites in the city, sneaking in to listen to other groups’ tour guides when they were available. The sites included a church the Spanish built out of stone they got from tearing down the Inca’s buildings, a museum about tradicional life in the area, and the chamber where the Spanish held the Incan king for ransom for the price of a room filled with gold and two rooms of silver. Pisarro, the Spanish conquistador, it turns out, was quite the asshole. He killed the king anyway after the ransom was paid.

We went to the evening mass at the Catholic Cathedral. I was exhausted by this point and almost fell asleep. If it wasn’t for all the standing up, sitting down and kneeling I would have passed out. I’m really not much for church services, but everyone else seems to have had some Catholic upbringing.

After scouring the market for the last remaining open vendor to buy dinner, we went back to the hostal to prepare little sandwiches with various vegetables and some cheese. Cajamarca is supposed to be famous in Peru for their cheese, and so far I will say it’s much better than the selection we had in Huanchaco or Trujillo. However it’s still not that impressive from what we’re used to at home. In the hostal that evening they were celebrating a barmitsfah by drinking and blasting really loud salsa, cumbia and merengue. And shouting/singing along with music. And sometimes slamming objects down on the table so that it sounded like gunshots. In spite of this I fell right to sleep… for a little while. The gunshot type sounds woke me up, but thank goodness for earplugs.

Windows to the Dead!

The next morning Kim and I got one of the private rooms in the banos, which turned out to be really nice. For 5 soles a person we get our own tub where we can fill with super hot hot spring water. The facilities that are private are cleaned between every use, so it’s much nicer than the public pool, even if it’s not outside. Most importantly the water is hotter – much hotter. You really could cook yourself if you’re not careful. You get to control the temperature by mixing in cold.

From the hotsprings we walked a few kilometers along the river to the Ventanillas de Otuzco. These are ancient tombs where they used to stuff the dead into little holes carved into the cliffside. They haven’t been used in long time and are interesting, but not super impressive. The walk there was probably the most interesting part, going through the green pasturelands and seeing the local houses outside of the city. Also interesting was trying Chicha de Jora for the first time. This is a corn beverage that is fermented with saliva. Sounds gross, but it tastes pretty sweet. A liter cup of it was only 1 sole, which is cheaper than water.

Llacanora scenery

To end the day we caught a hard to find combi to Llacanora, a little pueblo about 45 minutes away on a bumpy road. The combi was so filled with people that they actually didn’t stop to pick up some people, which I’ve never seen before. I think there were 25 people in a 4 row van. I wish I could have taken a picture, because words don’t do justice to how full public transportation can get. In the pueblo, we hiked a little ways in the rain to see some waterfalls as the light was fading. Nice and pretty.

Back in Cajamarca we had dinner before Priscille, Maelys and Atoine caught their bus back to Trujillo and Huanchaco, since they still have some time volunteering there. It was really fun to have some other people to hang out with, and they were all amazingly nice, easygoing and well travelled. I hope we run into them again someday.

Today was a little hectic in the morning because the hostal in the city center we were staying in, which we had moved to the night before, didn’t have any rooms because they had all been reserved. We thought that was odd for a Monday night, and all the other cheap hostals were full too. Turns out this is something like spring vacation for all the local school children, so the Peruvians are all vacationing right now. We finally found a place which was 38 soles. The funny part of this place was that they didn’t even have change for a 50 sole bill. Nobody ever has change in Peru. Even major businesses like farmacies with cash registers often will tell you that they are unable to change your large bills. Unfortunately the ATM machines here love to give out 50′s and 100′s when you take money out.

The baños by night

Once we got our hostal and bus ticket bought for tomorrow’s trip to Celedin, we went up to the city lookout, the Cerro Santa Apalonia. There’s a little chapel on top and some very pretty views of the city. We spent a few hours walking around the hilltop and some of the local neighborhoods behind the hill. After a lot of walking the last few days, my legs are beat. For dinner we splurged and got pizza and a place that claimed to be New York style. It was delicious. I’m sure it doesn’t compare to real New York pizza, but after a bit of time here I was very happy for that comfort food.

We went to the Banos again and spent a little longer in the hot water. That’s really a great way to end the day. Tomorrow we may go back again, and if we do I might see about getting a massage, which is only 20 soles. At 1PM we’re leaving for Celedin. The route is supposed to be gorgeous, but the road is mostly unpaved and very bumpy. We’ll see how that goes. At least we’ll be going by day.

November 1, 2007

One Month In Huanchaco

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 8:31 pm

I can’t believe it’s already been a month in Huanchaco. In some ways I guess I can because it’s starting to feel very familiar. It seems to me that it must be hard as a local making friends with volunteers just to have them leave. When we walk down the main street in town it takes a long time to get to the other end because we’re always running into people we know and then we have to stop and chat. We know all the local bars and restaurants pretty well. We’re even getting better at surfing. However, it’s time for a change. We may come back later, but by that time hopefully the weather will be sunny and warm. I still don’t understand how a desert town, near the ocean and so close to the equator can be as cold and cloudy as this town is. Anyway…

Neil’s Espaanglish Class

We’re pretty sure we’ve got another volunteer opportunity lined up in a very small town called Leymebamba. There was some miscommunication with the Otra Cosa volunteer coordinators. They thought there was something for us to do in Leymebama when it turns out there’s already volunteers there for the next month. Fortunately the guy who actually organizes the volunteers in Leymebama was in Huanchaco to meet with us. He’s going to find something for us to do, so we could end up teaching English or we might work on developing a recycling project for the community. We’ll find out when we arrive around November 8th. Until then we’re going to go to Cajamarca and some of the surrounding areas to see some touristic stuff.

As far as the last week goes it’s been busy and fun. Otra Cosa had a Halloween party. There was a fun mix of international volunteers and Peruvians. We decorated, danced, drank, talked and had a great time. We went to a local brew pub called Hops that actually had a dark beer, a dunkel. Pretty much all Peruvian beer is Budweiserish – light in color and taste. It’s not bad, but it’s not what I’ve gotten used to living in Seattle. After the beer we went out dancing until 5 in the morning at La Barra. There’s been a few small going away parties for other volunteers too. Overall, a lot of excuses for partying.

I’ve gotten some work done too. I taught my last class today. I took my three students to lunch to have them practice ordering food in English. They all ordered fried chicken, I think because they thought it was easier to just say what the first person said. I’ve done a bit more work on the espaanglisch page, although I may want to change some more things about the look when I have time. David should now be responsible for updating all the content on his own. I even got a little work done for my former U.S. employeer over the internet. Hopefully the start of my career where I can work from anywhere.

After our next volunteer project we’re considering taking December to go to Iquitos in the jungle. From there we’ll head down the Amazon river to border of Brazil, Peru and Columbia. Turns out we need visas to enter Brazil and they’re $100 each, so we’re going to try to catch a flight to Bogota, Columbia, from there. Then we’ll explore Columia a bit and work our way back down through Ecuador, finally returning to Peru and probably making a stop in Huanchaco to see how people are doing. Of course, this is a tentative plan and anything could change.