Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 4)

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We were informed that we would have to get up at 330 to start the short hike to Machu Picchu. They tell you it’s so you can reach the Sun Gate at dawn. It’s actually so the porters can get on the first train. The trail will not open before dawn. Ruben told us the trail used to be open at all hours but there were too many injuries. The terrain is not easy; I could not imagine trying to fumble around on some rain-slicked rocks with just a stupid headlamp. There are a few steep drop-offs and as of this writing, one section of the trail is severely damaged due to a mudslide. The go-around requires a rickety bridge that you’d typically find on your way to meeting a mystical Shaolin monk somewhere. It doesn’t make any sense to have a group of people traipsing about in the dark like that. I don’t know how litigious Peru is, but you know some American would find a way to sue the pants off any tour company that didn’t take proper precautions.  So, you get up at an awful hour only to go down to the bottom of the hill and rest there for 1.5 hours awaiting the opening of the trail.

I had such poor sleep and my fat overworked body was failing me. Frankly, I was quite glad of the opportunity to go back to sleep, but there’s always some asshole who doesn’t respect that it’s quiet time. Almost every hiker out there pulled out their poncho and laid down for a little rest, except this one guy.

on that stuff

Smokin’ that la-la-la-la

This little shit had a 2000-watt headlamp on that he was shining in people’s faces. He was talking to some guy who did not actually appear interested in the conversation. He kept his 2000-watt headlamp glowing while he chattered away with someone who did not appear to be interested. He happens to see this bottle a few feet away from me and 47, and he comes up to us.

“Hey, is this your agua de florida?” he said, motioning to a bottle in Ruben’s pack.

First, of all, he reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He talked like a surfer but with an accent. It was soon obvious that he was high as shit. 47 tried to ask him where he was from.

Her: Where you from?

Him: You know, countries. They’re such bullshit. Like, do we even have to have borders. People should be able to go wherever they want to go.

Me: ………………. What the?

Him: Yeah, the concept is so 1800s.

Her: So, where are you from?

Him: Well, I’m from Poland but I have a passport from the UK and I’m going to get one from the US, and then………………………..

Me: #DEAD

He asked us again about the agua de florida.

Me to AK: Tell your fucked up brother go somewhere.

AK to me: That’s not my brother. That’s your fucking brother.

AK to him: We’re not sure what it is, but I think you could just Google it.

Him: Nah, man, I don’t trust Google. I don’t Google. Google watches me. It knows what I’m doing and it shows me stuff that I want to see. It knows what I want.

Me: ……………… what the……

Call me crazy but don’t you want Google to show you want you want? Ruben eventually explained that agua de florida is medicinal for people who get altitude sickness. You don’t drink it; you make the sick person sniff it. I think this dude wanted to drink it to see if it would get him even more messed up than he already was.

Thankfully the trail opened and the guy went off to find his own group. That is when I noticed he was wearing pants similar to what firefighters wear when they are actually fighting fires. In fact, I’m certain they were.

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background.

Started from the bottom, now I’m here

Now that you are at the end of the hike, you really want to hurry it up. I scurried along as fast as I could. Occasionally you catch a glimpse or two of the Sun Gate, but it’s really too far away to see it properly. It does something to you, to see the finish line but you’re not quite there yet.

This last little bit is more up and down. It’s very dewy, so, of course, the trail is slick. We are not the only ones at the end of our endurance. More and more hikers are holding up the rear with us. At some point we caught up to Katie who was having a difficult time. During the downhill on Day 2, she had injured her hip. Under normal circumstances, she would have rested and been okay, but since this event requires consecutive days of physical activity she had done more damage by trying to keep up with her husband and the rest of the forerunners.

Now this bitch is crying and is on obvious pain. No stranger to double-rucking, 47 offered to carry her pack to ease her burden. Katie declined. We asked if there was any way we could help her. She said no, and I think really she wanted her husband to be with her. She seemed incredibly clingy, and it’s obvious she’s one of these chicks that needs her husband right there with her at all times. Since she did not want our help, bye, Felicia.

Just part of the trail.

A normal person can reach Inti Punku (Sun Gate) in just under two hours. We got there in maybe 2.5 hours. Again, the terrain is very slippery. There is more up and down. The final killer is what I call Stairs of Death: a set of stairs with a very sharp incline. My hiking poles were useless. I ended up passing them off to 47 and I crawled on my hands up the steps. Did I mention that I’m scared of heights? I dared not glance down or even around me for fear of being paralysed by that very fear. I stared only at the steps and put one hand in front of another, one foot in front of the other until I got to the top.

Totally worth every moment of agony. The view is breathtaking. At this point, you can now catch a glimpse of Machu Picchu. Now you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment. You are now reminded this is why you’re doing all of this. You could have easily taken the train in relative comfort with a pisco sour in hand, but no, you’re made of stronger stuff and you wanted an adventure.

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Ruben proved to be quite enthusiastic in his class on the ruin. The first thing he wanted to impart to us is that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. The local population already knew it was there. I would wager they didn’t know anybody was looking for it, and if they did, they probably did not care. I personally believe that you cannot discover something that already exists to someone else. I guess it’s like the whole Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, but there were already approximately 2.1 million people living on the land. I’ve read a few papers on the subject, and most of them clearly state that Bingham asked the locals if there were any ruins around. There were farmers actually farming on some of the terraces.

These are the men who uncovered Machu Picchu.

Peru credits these men as the true discoverers

Maybe we can say that Bingham was the first outsider to see the ruins. Although there is a controversy that maybe even that is not the truth. Apparently, on two different occasions some Germans may have plundered the site before Bingham even showed up.

At any rate, Machu Picchu is quite a fascinating place that makes the entire four day hike worth it. I always marvel at these ancient things that were built without modern machinery and technology. The Inca also did not really utilize the wheel as other primitive cultures did. My guess is that the wheel would have been utterly useless on the terrain, with its steep grades and intense vegetation. I think it is unknown precisely how they moved the rocks around. There is a wild theory that aliens may have built the place.

We spent nearly three hours touring the ruins, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things. After Ruben’s discussion, I wanted to stay longer but the truth is the exhaustion finally caught up with me. Also, the weather cleared up significantly and it was now quite hot and sunny. I advise being prepared for anything because when we first entered, it was raining and within a matter of seconds the sun came out and the temperature rose.

So, remember the whole tipping fiasco? Remember I said Martin cited socialism for wanting to tip Ruben and the others all the same? Well, near the end of the tour of Machu Picchu, Martin pulled us aside and said that he wanted to tip Ruben a little something extra.

“He’s put in a lot of hard work, and it’s obvious that he is really passionate about his job,” Martin said.

47 and I just looked at each other. In the wee hours of the morning when they were packing up, I slipped Señors Condor and Alfredo a little something extra because I felt they deserved it. I had to do it hastily because after Night 3, you don’t see the porters anymore. 47 and I already had plans to give another tip to Ruben at the end of the Machu Picchu tour, and I just found it hysterical that Martin realized the error of his ways. I’m really good for diming people out, but I decided not to and just went along with it.

All of us got together for coffee, beer and snacks in the little café at the bottom of the hill. We arranged to meet each other in Aguas Calientes at a specified time. 47 and I didn’t really want to but we would have looked assholes if we said, “No, we never want to see any of you again.”

Jammin' in Aguas Calientes

Rockin’ out in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a quaint town completely overrun by tourism. There are dozens of restaurants packed in the streets, catering to every size pocketbook. We met up at Hot Springs restaurant, because this was the location of our duffle bags the porters had been carrying. The food isn’t anything to write home about but it’s not the worst you’ll ever eat. I had a decent pizza and several glasses of wine.

Now that physical discomfort was behind us, everyone was cordial and pleasant. The two married couples had booked a hotel in AC, so they were fresh while the rest of us were still bedraggled. We laughed and joked for several hours, whilst waiting for the train back to Cusco. Ruben was with us and it did make for a great way to pass the time.

The train ride back to Cusco is the final test of your patience and endurance. Seriously, it’s got to be at least three hours long. I did not find the seats to be particularly comfortable, plus, you’re still stank and dirty from the hike (and so is everyone else). I fell asleep several times, only to wake up like, “I’m still on this fucking train?”

We were none the worse for wear by the time we arrived to our hotel. I took the world’s longest shower when we got into our room. Then we ordered a bottle of wine, got trashed in the hotel room whilst asking ourselves, “what the fuck did we just do?” and then we lived happily ever after.

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Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 3)

Intipata Ruben told us that as far as distance goes, Day 3 is the killer. Day 1 and 2, we’re walking about 10 kilometers. Day 3 we walk 16. He told us that it would not be the brutal uphill climb of Day 2, but there would be a lot of up and down and lots and LOTS of steps.

47 decided to walk with me. She said her knees were bothering her and she wanted to take it slower. We let the rest of the group set off on their breakneck pace, while we lollygagged somewhere in the back. Actually, with her walking with me I did end up picking up the pace a bit. I also didn’t take as many sympathy breaks.

Day 3 brought rain. I opted for a poncho, but I wish I had had a rain coat. The poncho was hot. Rain does not equate cold. A poncho is essentially a plastic bag trapping the heat inside. Also, ponchos are made for tall people. I truly felt like a Hobbit in an Elven cloak, only my poncho did not have all the magical properties of the Elves. Untitled Basically, you are in the clouds here. It is actually magnificent because you can touch the clouds. Not really, but hopefully you understand what I’m saying. As you start to descend, the clouds are beyond reach, leaving this mystical feel about the place. Ruben stopped us several times to discuss key features. There were some Inca sites and a lake. He showed us the weaving techniques the Incas used on the grasses.

He was accurate (of course) that were was a lot of up and down, a ton of steps and uneven terrain. There’s nothing for it but to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. The rain was a non-issue. I ended up using the poncho to cover up my daypack. It was not a drenching rain and I had plenty of dry clothes so I did not care if I got a little bit wet. My feet stayed dry, and really, that’s what’s important.

If 47 had not been with me, I seriously would have given up. I was just so tired. I kept tripping over rocks. I stubbed my toe a hundred times. I rolled my ankle 1000 times. I was too hot, then I was too cold. It was always something, but when we started out together we kept up a steady stream of chatter. We just talked for hours up and down the mountain. We both decided that our next adventures would be luxurious. That is a joke between us because the only time we come together is during some horrific conditions.

When we stopped for lunch Katie and Chris are still mad at each other. Gina and Martin are holding hands. Sam and Jessica seem normal. 47 and I just laugh because we really hoped to meet some new friends. It just didn’t work out that way. Gina suggested they clear out the lunch table so they could do yoga.

If this bitch says yoga one more time….

Sun terraces Day 3 is a really long day. We did the best we could but I am not sure that I can say that I enjoyed it. It was more like enduring, just doing what you have to do to get through it. For the better part of the day, there aren’t even any good views to lift your spirits because it’s really cloudy and then sections of the trail are heavily buffeted by foliage. The rocks were slick because of the moisture and I never got proper footing. Every five seconds I was tripping over something. I just wanted to stop walking. Really, I was miserable. By the time I made camp that night I just wanted for it to be over. “It is over,” 47 said. we have to do is wake up really early and after about two hours we would be at Machu Picchu. I remember thinking there had better be some gold left in the ruins to make it all worth it. Untitled

The third campsite was my least favourite. The sleeping area was downhill from the food area. After all that up and down, I don’t want to climb up some steps for my food. Then the tents were on this incline. It was uncomfortable. It was also a lot warmer and wetter at this campsite.

The evening at the campsite was very weird. First, I was too tired to participate in afternoon tea but Ruben said Señor Alfredo had a treat for us. I was like, “Unless it’s booze…” Of course, it wasn’t. It was popcorn (ugh) and some kind of fried banana thing. The banana thing was pretty good but I didn’t eat too much because sometimes my face swells after eating bananas.

The surprise was a cake. And by cake, I do mean an actual cake. A two layered cake with buttercream frosting and real fruit decoration. I don’t even understand how this man did this. I believe they were carrying some kind of oven, like an EZ Bake oven, or some shit. I do not know any other way to make a cake except in an oven. The only other thing I can think is maybe they had a cast iron pan over a fire. An experienced person would know how to gauge how much heat to give it to bake, but now that I’m writing this I’m going to discount that idea because open fires were not allowed. I give up. I have no idea how they made a goddamn cake on a mountain.

We took a bunch of pictures with the porters, the chef and the cake. Ruben also talked to us about tipping the Quechua for their hard work. AK and I believed Wayki Treks had really done an outstanding job and that we should tip well. As far as Wayki Treks is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. We both observed other tour groups on the trail. We agreed there were some that appeared just as good as Wayki, but there were a few we noted that were clearly very feeble.

When we arrived at the campsite for Day 3, we saw that there was one tour group that did not have their tents set up yet. A few of their hikers had arrived but were waiting for their stuff. We saw one group have to continue hiking on the brutal Day 2 because their tour company did not have permission to camp at the second campsite, making for an even longer day. Ruben was knowledgeable and extremely informative. Wayki Treks is awesome because it’s indigenous owned and the porters appear to be treated properly. We did see other porters from other companies getting yelled at. Maybe they had done something wrong, but I feel like adults should not be yelled at like toddlers, no matter what.

47 and I were quite pleased and were prepared to tip generously. The other members of our group did not feel the same way. Rich people kill me with how much money they spent on shit and all the amazing things they do, but then when it comes time to paying people what they are worth suddenly they are broke and they don’t give a fuck. The married couples did not come out and actually say they did not want to tip well. It was just their attitude. Then Martin went on this shit about, “I’m a socialist, and everybody should get paid the same.” What?  How does that even make sense?

feliciaNot sure why he felt the need to bring up his political leanings, but clearly he did not do his research. The thing about the tipping was very specific. There was an order of precedence: the guide, an assistant guide (if any), the cook, the head porter, followed by the rest of the porters. Whatever we believe in from our native countries does not matter.

Usually I like to argue when I feel that people are wrong, but for whatever reason I did not say anything. Now that I’m home, I’m ashamed of myself because if you know me at all well, I never let a perceived injustice slip past me.

The rest of the group did not seem to care one way or another. It was like nobody wanted to argue about it, so we went along with this stupid idea to give the porters an equal tip. Then I felt like the tip was miserly. I think they thought the same thing.

Martin ended up being the appointed spokesperson for the group. During the final good-byes at the end of the night, he said to them, “It is our wish the money be distributed equally.”

When Ruben translated Martin’s words into Quechua, I was watching Señor Alfredo. I don’t think he was pleased with what transpired. He and Señor Condor have done the Inca Trail over 400 times. Some of the younger guys had a lot less ticks on their belt. Señor Condor ran up the mountain carrying a sack of eggs in his right hand. Señor Alfredo made pizza and a CAKE, for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t right.

Later, 47 and I agreed that we should do the right thing and tip them separately.

Just part of the trail.

Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 2)

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I promise you, nothing is more amazing than waking up to a rooster’s crow. I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible. If you think roosters only crow at daybreak, you are sadly mistaken. A rooster took up position right outside our tent around 2AM and cockadoodle-doo’d like clockwork until 5AM when the Quechua came to bring us our coca tea. They also brought a small tub of hot water so we could wash our faces. That’s a nice touch.

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Ugh.

I’m here to tell you that coca tea is the wrong answer. I am not a fan of tea at all. I tolerate green tea when ill, but other than that I have not found a single tea that I can drink. Coca tea smells like weed, and then I was concerned that it would make me fail a piss test. I know someone who knows all the ins and outs of drug testing, and he told me not to take the risk. Well, you ain’t got to worry about it because that shit was terrible.

Daybreak in the Andes is something you will never forget. You are surrounded on all sides by the mountains. There is a slight mist, like something out of a film. The sun winks at you from behind a mountain peak. It’s all so intriguing. There is something out there, and you don’t know what it is but you’re about to set off on an amazing expedition to find out.

Ruben reminded us how difficult this day would be. He advised us not to try to overdo it. You don’t have to worry about me overdoing anything. Slow and steady wins the race. Ruben pointed out to us exactly where we would be going: Dead Woman’s Pass.

Dead.

Woman.

That could be me.

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Dead Woman’s Pass is 13828 feet above sea level

Forward, march! One step at a time, like a Hobbit bound for Mordor, I took off. Within seconds I was behind everyone. That first upward climb was not a joke. I was gasping for breath and had to take a break already. Geez. You really are going straight up, and then it’s not just packed earth. It’s the rocks. It’s the stairs. Inca, why do you like stairs so much? I would have been in favour of some sort of primitive lift.

One step at a time.

Such beautiful scenery though. The first part is through a jungle-like forest. I saw interesting birds and curious insects. Something that Ruben told us really helped me. “Instead of looking up at how far you have to go, look back to see how far you have come.”

I had to stop often, and I would look back. I was rewarded with amazing views. This gave me motivation to keep going. There were many times when I thought to myself, “Why are you here! You could be at the spa, three glasses deep in some champagne.”

Don’t give up.

I made it to the first rest area and I was pleased to find that I was not significantly behind everyone. This location is also the last place you can buy stuff. Be prepared for the serious upcharge. An almond Snickers bar set me back 10 soles. Basically, that is the same price you’d pay at a movie theater for a candy bar.

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This is where it really gets serious. I’m so glad that I took the time to buy proper footwear. I usually do hikes in my military boots, but I was advised against this. A week before the trip, I went to REI and tried on about eight different pair of boots. I was just so happy that my feet were not a major issue on this trek. Thank you, REI guy, even though I couldn’t afford your expensive boots and had to buy them on Amazon for $100 cheaper. (Seriously, my boots were $170 at REI, but only $93 on Amazon!)

For me, the climb was slow and arduous. The altitude didn’t bother me at all. I just don’t have the aerobic capacity to move at the same pace as everyone else. I also bonked. If you do any long distance running, you know what that means. You have depleted your calories and have no more energy. I was STARVING. This is where I make my only true complaint: breakfast.

Look, I’m a fat American girl, and I need a fat American girl breakfast. These dainty European breakfasts do not work for me. For breakfast I was given some granola (what the fuck is granola… ugh), watery porridge and precisely one pancake. There was fruit and toast, but I did not feel satiated. Where are the eggs?! Delicious non-pork sausages and bacon? I am not the type of girl who has a toast and a coffee for breakfast. Okay, granted, that might be why I’m fat but seriously, I needs to eat!

I think the worse part of the climb is that last little 15 minutes where you can see and hear everybody who got to the summit before you, but you’re not there yet. It’s like one more step, and then one more step, and then ONE MORE STEP and you finally get there. The view is absolutely amazing. This is a great place to stop and contemplate how far you’ve come.

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Smilin’ like I did something!

I felt rather proud of myself at that point. All reports stated the upward climb was the worst part of the whole trek. Reaching the summit meant the worst was behind me. It’s all downhill from here, right?

Riiight.

Phase III: The Downhill

You would think the downhill would be easy. I’m here to tell you that it is not. I was smart enough to take an Ibuprofen before I began the downhill. The last time I did a serious downhill like this was Koko Head in Hawaii. I don’t really have knee issues, but when I finished Koko Head my knees were sore. I ain’t no doctor, but I do know how to take care of my own body.

The knees weren’t the issue for me; it was the feet. Literally, every ounce of my body weight, plus my day pack slammed down into my feet with each step down. And there were so many steps. It seems like it would be easy, and maybe for many it was easy. Martin said it took him 30 minutes to come down. He ran the whole way.

“I like running downhill,” he said with a little laugh.

Whatever, bitch.

For me, this was the absolute worst part of the whole trek. The uneven terrain with the stairs was jarring. I felt like my teeth were coming out of my head. Under my breath, I cursed every person that passed me. I was particularly vile to the Quechua who flew down the mountain with fleet feet and 100 pound packs, that weren’t even packs but haphazard sacks full of crap. Some of those dudes were in well-worn sandals.

I was my loneliest on the downhill. I am not a person who generally experiences such feelings as loneliness and despair. I am very comfortable with myself and there are times when I can go days without talking to anyone. I am okay with that. I have never been the type who needs to be surrounded by people and stuff, but coming down the mountain I felt like the only human on the planet. I felt like the only person in the world who had ever suffered. I am ashamed to admit this sort of self-pity. I just really wanted to quit. I spent an hour wondering how to quit. There didn’t seem to be anybody behind me, and all my fellow hikers were probably already at the camp. Then I was thinking I might have to climb back up to quit, and then that meant coming down the other side. Oh, no. Just, no. At some point I reckoned that I was at that cruel point where it’s easier to keep going than to quit.

What do you do then? Well, for me, I relied on my faith. I won’t get all preachy but when the going gets tough, you just got to pray a little and exalt in whatever you believe in. How best to exalt? Why, through song, of course.

christmascarols

…. or whatever

I was in the choir from sixth grade until I failed out of college. I had a fair voice back then; nowadays, not so much, but if you’re out there by yourself, who’s to hear you? Being a person who absolutely adores all things Christmas, I decided to go with carols. All the best ones are prayerful so I busted out with every Christmas carol I could think of. Being in a choir during Christmastime affords you mystical knowledge that laypersons don’t have access to. Like, there are three verses to “O Holy Night,” three verses to “Joy the World,” SIX verses to “The First Noel.” A choir singer even knows such obscure carols like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “Good Christian Men Rejoice.” Spanish, French, Latin, English, that Welsh one I couldn’t remember all the lyrics to, whatever… I belted out every carol I could think of as something to do to keep me going.

I never realized Ruben was behind me. Just as I was almost to the camp, he popped up out of nowhere and scared the crap out of me. I guess he’d been listening to my solo recital the whole time, every sad, flat note of it, gasping for breath when I tried to hit the Mariah Carey version of O Holy Night. Geez.

Awkward.

He said he would carry my day pack but I refused. The day pack did not bother me, and it wounded my pride a little. I can’t be seen as a person who can’t carry her own crap (even though I did hire a Quechua to carry the other stuff). When he saw I wouldn’t budge on that, he instead asked me about what I’d been singing. I told him Christmas carols and this sparked a discussion on Christmas traditions.

Ruben said that Christmas was a sad time in the Andes because of the economic state of the families. City kids get new bikes, new soccer balls and new clothes but Andes children don’t usually get much, if anything at all. Families also don’t have money to waste on a fancy dinner. This bothered me significantly because it is the same everywhere. People with money can afford to “celebrate,” while the people without have to make do with whatever they have, which is, of course, not what the Season is supposed to be about.

I thought it would be a great idea to donate bikes and soccer balls to the porters’ village but I did not know how to go about doing this. Plus, you never know how different cultures react to what you consider charity. I don’t want to be seen as the rich American girl who can save everybody with money. And I think their problems are greater than a soccer ball. I’m just not smart enough to figure out stuff like this. I don’t really know what makes a difference, but I thought about it the rest of the trip.

I was very pleased with myself when I made it to the second campsite. Whatever despair I had been feeling had fled me somewhere during the seventh verse of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” (there are 10 total, you know). The discussion with Ruben helped to distract me that final half hour to the campsite. It is amazing what you can do when you stop wallowing in your own self-pity and think about others.

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She hasn’t even been to Patagonia.  What a loser.

That night at supper, we began to reveal our true colours to one another. Gina scoffed at 47 and I because we bought our stuff from Amazon. She said it was a bad company that put mom-and-pop places out of business. She was even more horrified to find that I had items purchased from Wal-Mart. My mom worked at Wal-Mart for 17 years. I don’t need some skank to tell me what a bad company it is. I already know.

The two married couples bragged about how much money they spent at their local outdoor store. They wore brand new everything. Jessica said they spent $3000 just in preparation for the trip. The only money I spent was for proper boots and the day pack. I hiked in jogging leggings I bought from Wal-Mart and long sleeved Old Navy t-shirts, the ones you get three for $10. My Darth Vader tuque came from Big Lots. 47 and I began to get annoyed with their comments. It almost seemed like high school where people make fun of you because you don’t have cool clothes.

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Actual footage of their argument

It also became clear that Chris and Katie were not happy. They argued under their breath. She was upset that he kept leaving her and he was annoyed that she wasn’t walking fast enough. Apparently, this was his dream trip and she was just there to support him. She also complained about everything. She was like, “Oh, there’s too much food.”  What?  No, there is never too much food.  Okay?  I thought she was stank to the Quechua. She demanded that someone escort her to “the proper toilets.” We had this shitty camp toilet.  It was bad but it wasn’t that bad but I guess she wouldn’t use it.  She asked Ruben to tell one of the Quechua to show her how to get the bathrooms in the campgrounds because it was very dark out. She had this whiny little voice, “I just feel like, cuz it’s so dark…”

Bitch, didn’t they tell you to bring a headlamp or flashlight?

Ruben told her the men were eating their own suppers. I mean, after running up and down a damn mountain all day and fixing us food and carrying all our crap and putting up our tents and doing everything for us, can they eat too? He ended up escorting her since she was on the verge of a breakdown.

When 47 and I retired to our tents, we tried to make light of the day. We started cracking jokes and then we played the “What If” game, like: “What if we did this hike with our boss from the second deployment?” or “What if we did this hike with the one chick everybody hated from the first deployment?” It became quite hysterical for us because we were like, “What if we did this hike with our mothers?” but Chris and Katie told us to shut up. Well, actually, Chris said in this snotty voice, “Can you guys please be quiet? We’re trying to sleep.”

Okay, it was like 730 in the evening. You shut up! 47 said that it was probably Katie complaining again.

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Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 1)

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Andes farmland on the way to Ollaytatambo

We spent three days partying in Lima before arriving in Cusco. Truth be told, a good idea would have been to cut out one of those partying days to come to Cusco earlier. An even better idea would have been to come to Cusco first and did the partying afterward. This would have been better for us physically. All that drinking…. Oy.

The way we did it, we only had 1.5 days to adjust to the altitude. I did not have any significant issues, just slight fatigue, but 47 had trouble breathing. She also had a nuisance headache. Our hotel was awesome but we were on the third floor.  Even with just backpacks I felt like we were climbing mountains. We would come up to the room and collapse into bed like we’d just been on a marathon.

Arriving earlier would have given us more time to explore Cusco. We just did not do the place justice. Because 47 was feeling poorly, she stayed in the room while I went out. I was a history major and a religious studies minor, so I could have spent a lifetime combing through the churches and museums dedicated to faithful nuns and priests. We just didn’t give ourselves enough time.

The day before the hike began, we met with our tour guide Ruben at the Wayki Trek office. We also met with two of our fellow hikers: Gina, a Peace Corps volunteer from Eastern Europe and Martin, a graphic designer on sabbatical from some French territory.

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I think it’s the Urubamba River

Ruben did a great job of outlining everything that would happen during the trek. Truthfully, I had been having serious misgivings about the whole thing. 47 and I made these plans eight months ago when we were deployed and doing two-a-days at the gym. Everything I had been reading stated that a hiker should be physically fit. I am anything but. Ruben kept going on about how Day 2 was the challenge day but he had never had a client that quit or couldn’t make it. Buoyed by this, I told myself everything would be just fine.

The next morning, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. It’s cold out and my bed is warm; why should I go on a 26 mile hike anywhere? I am a person that can sometimes be blasé about money—which is stupid, because I don’t actually have money to throw away like that. I was thinking to myself, “Who cares about the couple hundred dollars I spent on this trip? I’m sleepy.” Eventually we did get up and get going.

We were the first to be picked up. Then we stopped to pick up two married couples: Sam and Jessica, and Chris and Katie. Gina and Martin opted for the Wayki Experience, so we had to drive out to the porters’ village to pick them up. Once we had everybody we started out for Ollaytatambo.

Hikers getting ready in Ollaytatambo

Hikers getting ready for the trek

After leaving Ollaytatambo, we headed down what can only be described as a Road of Death to the Kilometer 82. Seriously, I’ve been in quite a few foreign countries and driven on some hair-raising roads but this road… it’s like a one lane dirt road and our driver must have thought it was the Indy 500 because he was blazing and then we had to scoot off the edge of the road near the river so another blazing fast truck could pass.

We made it safe enough but maybe that’s an experience I would not care to repeat. At Kilometer 82, we prepared for the hike. Ruben introduced us to the porters, which he kindly asked us to refer to them as Quechua. There were a total of 13, and we couldn’t remember their names except Señor Condor, the senior porter and Señor Alfredo, the head cook.

“Well, I’ll remember Señor Alfredo, because he’s the cook and that’s the most important person because he knows where the food is,” said 47. My thoughts exactly.

My hike was almost over before it even began. It was very windy that day and my entrance paper almost blew into the river. Thankfully someone and their hiking pole saved it from blowing in.

Fresh as a daisy at the start

It’s now or never!

After you take a dozen pictures under the Camino de Inca sign and clear all the formalities, the hike begins.

Right away, I saw this was maybe not a good idea. My friends don’t talk to me into drugs or illegal activities. My friends talk me into feats of physical abilities that are quite beyond my capacity. Three years ago, my so-called friends talked me into doing the Bataan Death March. It was a terrible idea. My friends also talked me into doing a marathon. Also a bad idea, but I have completed two more since. I’m sorry to say the Inca Trail was MY idea.

That first little incline into the trail and I was like, “What are you doing!!” Five minutes later we saw a British woman COMING BACK. The trail is one way, folks, so obviously she was quitting not even fifteen minutes into a four day hike. She said, “Stomach bug.”

Yeah, okay, if that’s what you want to tell yourself.

Within thirty minutes it was clear that I was the weakest person in the group. 47, with her freakishly long legs, is a strapping Polish-Irish girl who can balls her way through anything physical. She Crossfits, so you know, physical torture is a national pastime for such people. Gina and Martin had done such hikes as Patagonia and some wilderness experience in Nepal. Jessica was an Olympian, for heaven’s sake. Seriously, she said she competed in the Olympics and holds several national records in her sport.

The first day was not specifically horrible. I just realized that I should have been in better shape. The up-hills were the worst. It wasn’t the altitude; it just going up that was so bothersome. I’m only 5’1 and my stubby little legs just can’t eat up the terrain like that.

I am so glad that we hired a Quechua to carry our extra gear. So, here’s how that was almost a fatal mistake. When we booked everything we did not initially hire an extra porter. For some reason, I thought I did but I never did. In the months leading up to the hike, I kept having these nagging little feelings like I forgot something. Two weeks before the hike began I was like, “YOU DIDN’T HIRE A PORTER!! IT’S TOO LATE!” I will never delude myself into thinking that I could carry my own shit. I immediately emailed Wayki Treks. I was so scared because I started reading other TA reports about how they wanted a porter at the last minute but couldn’t because the porters are under the same guidelines as the hikers—having to get clearance to enter the trail, same as everybody. In the hour it took for Wayki Treks to respond to my email, I sweated my whole life away. But thankfully, they were able to accommodate us.

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That road less travelled

That first day was a little warm, but not uncomfortable. It did not rain at all. I arrived last to the campsite, but I wasn’t horribly far behind everyone. No one made me feel like a loser for being in the back, and it wasn’t that big a deal. Seriously, the slow walking gave me ample opportunity to take in the scenery. Isn’t that the reason you’re out there, to enjoy nature at its finest?

I have never been camping before—at least, camping that wasn’t military, and it was a good experience for me. It is something that I would definitely do again. The other hikers laughed at me because they decided that this was not camping, when someone pitches your tent and cooks for you. They all started going into stories about trying to set up tents in the middle of a storm and then having to cook when you’re starving, and blah blah blah. You know what, that’s awesome you do those things, but it doesn’t sound fun to me. There’s shit that a person MUST do (like work, take care of their kids, etc), and there are things that a person WANTS to do. Things you WANT to do are usually fun. Setting up a tent in rainstorm doesn’t sound like fun, but if that’s what you like to do, more power to you!

This seemed to set the tone for the rest of our trip. Gina and Martin started going into all these awesome, rugged experiences they had. Actually, it was really annoying. It’s one thing to talk about an awesome trip you went on; it’s quite another to brag about it and then lord it around like you’re the shit. It was also super obvious they hooked up, even though they just met. Hey, more power to them. Wish I could have had a holiday boo.

It also became apparent the type of money the two married couples had. They met each other at the wedding of a mutual friend. Chris and Katie had been on a riverboat cruise on the Zambezi. I think Sam and Jessica went diving with great white sharks, or some shit. Basically, they went on all these trips that sounded horribly expensive.

47 and I seemed to be the only regular working class people without a wealth of exotic experiences, but you know how I don’t really give a fuck. When Gina, Jessica and Katie started up a yoga session before dinner, that is when I realized that I was on some other hipster planet. Yes, I know some yoga moves. I got an app for that, but they seemed to take it way too seriously. Me and 47 were like… whatever.

Señor Alfredo was not playing games.

Food was pretty good

The one thing I worried about was the food. If it’s not soy sauce, teriyaki sauce or drowned in some kind of spicy chile I don’t really want it. The food wasn’t bad at all. Señor Alfredo really surprised me. I mean, they’re cooking shit in a tent, with what? I don’t even know. I tried to peek in one time to see how they did it but there were like 10 dudes in the tent and I couldn’t really see. They do feed you a lot.

Gina, who claimed to have gone on all these amazing expeditions, freaked out about the water. I guess she felt like she was gonna get diphtheria, or something.  She insisted on buying bottled water and dragging it around everywhere she went. She carried it and didn’t complain, so that’s her issue. First, the water is coming out of a pipe from an actual glacier. It don’t get no purer than that. Then they boil it. Problem solved. I was worried about the taste, but it tastes like the same crap you get out of an Evian bottle (actually better, Evian water is gross). You won’t get salmonella dysentery, I promise. It’s not even a real thing anyway.

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An Inca ruin, one of many you see on the trail

Sam bought a bottle of pisco from the locals that live around the campsite. I have to say that Sam really helped to liven our sad little crew. He had a great sense of humour and cracked jokes the whole time. It’s really great to have someone like that whose spirits can never be dampened. His wife, Jessica, was also pleasant. Chris and Katie, not so much. In fact, I don’t even know how these two couples are friends. Katie was a straight up bitch. I feel sorry for dudes who have clingy ass wives. He seemed like he could have been cool but his wife was uptight and annoying. 47 and I predicted their marriage wouldn’t last long. Petty, I know, but whatever.

Anyway, I thought the camp was nice. Yeah, so what it’s not real camping, but as Katie said, “This is my standard.” 47 and I shared a tent, which they claimed was for three people. If they had shoved a third person in that tent they would have been shoved right back out. Two people, yes; three people, hell no. We had a dining tent where we ate our meals, and a tent with a toilet in it. It’s not the best toilet, but it’s better than fumbling around in the bushes or trying to look for the campground toilets in the dark. I thought the whole setup was decent.

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Where the earth meets the sky

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 9)

From the Tour Montparnasse

From the Tour Montparnasse

On my last day in Paris, I woke up very early so as not to waste a single minute of it. I honestly thought about going to Versailles as a day trip but the more I looked into it the more I knew that I wanted to wait for my return trip. I think coming in winter is great for seeing the sights without excessive crowds, but I can only imagine how splendid this city is in full bloom. I think Versailles as a whole might be better in spring.

Instead, I opted for Tour Montparnasse. I said before I wasn’t really big on going to the top of things but I saw pictures online that it has a glass enclosure. They don’t just let you walk around willy-nilly up there. I think it’s about 55 stories or so, and I have to admit that it was pretty amazing.

Not your average commute.

Not your average commute.

First, I went to Galaries Lafayette at the Commerce Centre. It’s far less manic here, so if you want to do your high-end shopping I would suggest this one rather than the one near Opera Garnier. It doesn’t have the same wide selection but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if all you really want to do is shop.

I bought myself that perfume I wanted, but unfortunately the Chanel counter at this location does not have jewellery. I was not able to get my friend the earrings she wanted. Chanel has been selling earrings for a hundred years.  They’ll still be there in May when I come back.

It costs 15E to get to the top of Tour Montparnasse. It really is a bit of tourist trap. When you first come off the elevator they take your picture in front of a green panel. This is so you can have a “photo” of you directly in front of the Eiffel Tower or some other location. I tried to opt out of this but they said, “It’s no obligation.”  I gave them my ‘black people don’t smile’ look and they did not bother me again.

I walked around in the enclosed area for a second or two. There’s a café and a gift shop, but they had half of it closed off for a private event. So I went up to the 59th level, the part where you can go outdoors.

I still think the view from Sacre Coeur is the best, but the Tour Montparnasse is a close second. Because it’s so high up you can really get a very wide view of the entire city and its outer lying areas. It’s sunny today so I think it’s pretty spectacular. As someone told me there were not that many tourists at all. I think perhaps a total of eight of us were on top. One guy had a really fancy camera; it looked like a movie camera. I’m sure it cost into the thousands, and I bet his photos were really good. Whatever. I’m happy with my iPhone photos.

I left just in time because a huge group of about 200 Chinese tourists showed up. There was even more downstairs waiting to come up in the elevators. When I went outside I saw five tour buses pulling off. I bet the private event was for them.

After Tour Montparnasse, I decided to have one last crepe. I used Yelp to find a nearby creperie and it came back with a little street that was full of creperies. None of them opened until noon, so I sat on the steps of a church, reading reviews for 20 minutes. I think this is one of my happiest moments in Paris.

It’s sunny and very peaceful. I can people watch and I really don’t have a care in the world. Sure, I have a little bit of sadness that in just 24 hours I would have to go back to my life but to even have an opportunity to travel at all is simply amazing. I have so many friends who have never left their home towns. I have even more friends that really want to go places but they feel confined by their lives. I think I am lucky that I lived outside the US in my youth. It helped give me an appreciation for other cultures. My sister and I look back on those years living in Japan and count it as some of the best years of our lives.

From the Trocadero at night

From the Trocadero at night

I think I am also blessed that I can even afford to go someplace. These days, people are just trying to make a living. More people are concerned about feeding their children and putting them through college, then going on an excursion to a foreign country. I don’t usually get on a soap box but I will put in a plug for a worldly education. It can significantly enhance their worldview.

At any rate, I chose Le Petite Josselin because the Josselin Creperie was closed for some reason. Josselin Creperie had the best reviews, but La Petite came in a close second. It was extremely crowded inside. I know the French don’t mind being so closely seated but I was uncomfortable. I’m not a small person and I felt like I couldn’t fit into the area the server wanted me to sit. Usually I don’t like to sit with my back to the door, but there was no way I could slide into that bench between the tables.  I felt like my ass was gonna be in somebody’s soup.

It was very warm in there so I hurried up and ordered a Martiniquaise. Coconut ice cream, chocolate, and Grand Marnier. The Grand Marnier is not overpowering, but I don’t really taste the coconut ice cream too much. Still, I think it’s very good.

Now I have to make a decision on the best crepe ever, but I felt like I could not. This street had about 10 creperies on it. I feel that I would be negligent if I made a decision without tasting their crepes as well. I have decided to table the research until it can be continued on my return trip. But for now, I think Ar Poul Gwen is number one, the Bayeux crepe is number two and Le Petite Josselin will be number three.

Now, time for some souvenir shopping. I’m not really big on souvenirs. I would never purchase an “I heart Paris” T-shirt, or a junky old coffee mug. But I do collect snow globes, so that tells you a lot. I really wanted something for my sister and my nephews but I didn’t have a whole lot of room in my bags and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the time to mail something from France. Instead, I bought some scarves for myself and one for my battle buddy. Also, I couldn’t resist the sales so I bought a pair of boots. How fortuitous that I should be in Paris during the semi-annual sales.

I wondered if France had any big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target. I found a store called BHV in the Marais. BHV is like a Home Depot, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond rolled all into one. It’s actually a little bit ridiculous, but so much fancier than those individual stores. This BHV has seven stories full of mid-range items. Some reviewers state the prices are expensive but it looks like middle class prices to me. I think it would be the difference of shopping in Walmart vs. Target.

For my battle buddy I also bought her some nuts from le pistacherie. She loves pistachios and cashews and I thought the gift baskets in the window were really pretty.

Seriously, it's the butter and garlic.  I'd eat them again.

Seriously, it’s the butter and garlic. I’d eat them again.

You know what is the most difficult thing to overcome when travelling to another country? It’s not the language or the customs of other people. It’s the metric system! Even though I grew up in Japan where the metric system is used, I still have significant issues. It was like I lived in two worlds, never fully grasping either system. I am also a poor judge of measurement. I say things like, “My apartment is very small. It’s about 50 square feet.” I don’t say it as an exaggeration; I genuinely believe a person can live in a 50 square foot apartment. Or I’ll say something like, “You can walk there very easily. It’s about half a mile,” and it turns out the distance was closer to five miles. Don’t get me started on meters!

When I went into le pistacherie I thought about just buying one of the gift baskets, but the case where you can buy by the gram had so many different varieties. I knew my battle would appreciate cheese-crusted cashew nuts and lemon-flavoured almonds, but how much do I buy? So, what’s sad is my only understanding of the metric system has to do with drugs. I used to work law enforcement, and I knew that a few grams are a night in jail but kilos will get you sent up.

So do I order a few grams of nuts or a kilo of nuts?

Luckily, the kind lady really assisted me. Through some wild gesticulation I was able to show her how much of each I wanted. When I told her it was a gift for a friend, she thoughtfully packaged the nuts so beautifully. You just don’t get that kind of assistance at a big box store in the US.

I spent another hour or so wandering around the Marais before heading back to the apartment to start packing. I did have one last church concert lined up and I also wanted to dine out again. This time I wanted to try l’escargots. I have never had them before.

I asked for recommendations on TA, and someone came back with Chez Denise. I decided against Chez Denise because the menu seemed a little more than I could handle. I read something about pork knuckles and bone marrow and it intimidated me. I’m not sure where I stand on French food. I am discovering now how “French food” is a very broad term. I don’t know the regions just yet, so I don’t know what each region specializes in. Then, of course, you have all the contemporary and fusion places so it’s hard to tell.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

What I say I don’t like is that some of the food can be quite bland. I know this is because I was raised on spicy food drowned in garlic and chiles. If it’s not burning my lips off then it’s not hot enough. French food does not have these attributes. I’m not the American that grew up on pot roasts, potatoes and casserole dishes, so some of the French food is really a leap for me. On the other hand, I absolutely adore seafood and everything I’ve eaten on that score has been delectable. Having said all that, I did not have a bad meal at all. I think the best thing I ate was oxtails and scallops. I could have done without the beet juice dish at Jules Verne.

Instead of Chez Denise, I went to L’escargot Montorgueil (spelling). It was hardly a block away from the apartment. I told the server that I had never had escargots before and please recommend the best version. They had different options and I really couldn’t tell what the difference would be. He chose for me the traditional garlic, butter and parsley.

Before I went on an escargot escapade, I watched several YouTube videos on how to eat “the slippery little suckers.” Anyone who has ever seen Pretty Woman, remembers the scene where Julia Roberts flings a snail into the air. I did not want to be That Guy, flying snails all over the place.

After the videos I felt confident I would be able to eat them without making a fool of myself. When they arrived, I looked down at the plate skeptically. It really is six snails nestled into a plate specifically designed for them. The shells are turned upward to hold the garlic, butter and parsley concoction like a little bowl.

I picked up the tongs and the little fork I was given and began to dig in. I pushed the fork way down into the shell like the video said so but all I could pull out were parsley flakes. I started to wonder if that’s all it was, just some garlic juice with butter and parsley. There was nothing to chew. In the video the guy had meat on his fork. I thought, well, maybe this one doesn’t have any, like sometimes when you get a bad oyster or a crab with very little meat. I was disappointed so I picked up a second snail and tried again.

Success!

I was able to pull out the meat, but now I actually have to eat it. I decided there was nothing for it but to pop it into my mouth, so I did.

La Madeleine Eglise.  I thought it was a museum.  It's a church.

La Madeleine Eglise. I thought it was a museum. It’s a church.

It reminded me of a very strong portabella mushroom. It was a little bit chewy but otherwise it tasted perfectly fine. I think the actual taste comes from whatever garnish they put on it. I think the snail itself doesn’t taste like much. Before eating the snails I thought they would be slimy, but I discovered they aren’t at all. I would definitely eat them again. I had a glass of Beaujolais blanc. The waiter suggested it would go well with the escargots. He was right.

I still had quite a bit of time before my concert so I went to the Trocadero again to see the Eiffel Tower one last time. It is evening time now, so it is lit up and I think it looks even better than it does during the day. There are actually more people out here than there was that first day I came.

I stayed up there admiring it until it was time for my concert.

Afterward, I attended my final church concert. It was a playing of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at La Madeleine Eglise. Yet another beautiful evening of music in another beautiful church. A string quartet opened up with a familiar song, but I couldn’t remember the name. Then they went into Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That damn song again.

A rail thin singer came out for a selection of songs, including Ave Maria. Frankly, I did not think she was that good. Her voice was not big enough for the church and the strings overpowered her. While technically proficient, she lacked warmth and I was glad when her set was over.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a piece of music that a lot of people know but may not know the name. It is a Baroque violin concerto for the solo violin and quartet. You’ve heard “Summer” a thousand times. I know I have, and I never get tired of it. I wanted to learn how to play the violin based off that piece alone. My parents didn’t want to suffer the screeching, scratching of a new violinist so they never put me in lessons.

They really played quite well, but it wasn’t the Four Seasons that did it for me. They played two encores. The first one I didn’t know but the last one was Camille Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne. This is truly a haunting piece of music, and hearing it in this church….it gave me a chill. The song is basically about a dying swan and is based on the notion that swans are mute their whole lives until they are about to die. Upon death, they sing a most beautiful song that makes you weep when you hear it.

I thought it was almost symbolic to end the evening on that song.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 8)

The one good day to get on a riverboat cruise.

The one good day to get on a riverboat cruise.

Time is flying fast.  Can’t believe I have to leave in two days.  If I were going home to the US I’d probably be just a little sad, but since I have to go back to that horrid place I’m practically suicidal (no, that’s not a cry for help).

Today is the day I attempt to get into Jules Verne.  I never made reservations for a lot of reasons.  First, I didn’t know if I even wanted to dine in a restaurant of its calibre.  Second, in order to make a reservation you have to basically put a deposit.  You can cancel but only up to a certain amount of time.  I kept going back and forth whether or not I wanted to dine.  I didn’t want to reserve and then bail out at the last minute, only to lose my deposit.

Out of all the reviews on Michelin-rated restaurants, this one seemed the least pretentious, catering more to the tourist crowd.  It’s not that I can’t eat in some stuffy old white table cloth joint because I don’t know how to conduct myself, it was the whole eating by myself thing.  It’s one thing to turn up at McDonald’s alone, or even your neighbourhood bar and grill; it’s quite another when you’re at some place that expects you to be boo’ed up.

I read that I could just walk in without a reservation:  I would have to wait or I’d be denied.  I dressed in my best outfit and got on the Metro with fingers crossed.  Eiffel Tower up close is pretty amazing.  There are tourists, but not that many.  No one tried to pickpocket me, much to my disappointment.  This whole trip I’ve had my valuables duct taped to my body.  Haha.  I’m just kidding.

I arrived at 1158 and the door was already opened.  There is a little lobby area and I asked the maitre d’, “Are there any seatings available?”

He smiled wanly at me and said, “Has Madame had an opportunity to look at the menu?”

View from the restaurant.

View from the restaurant.  I am INSIDE the Eiffel Tower

On the inside I died laughing.  Bitch, are you asking me if I have money?  I was not offended.  I think it’s a good thing to ask to save someone from humiliation.  I had such an experience about 10 years ago in California.  Ty and I visited Los Angeles, and we went to a restaurant called Pacific Railcar.  Back then I was the proverbial struggling college student.  California at that time did not publish its menus outside.  I was shocked out of my socks when we were handed menus reflecting $50 per plate.  We were so embarrassed.  Since the restaurant specialised in seafood we pretended that we really wanted pasta.  The waiter gave us a pitying look so we ordered a glass of $15 glass of wine and a $20 shrimp cocktail to save face, then ended up at a Denny’s because we didn’t have any money left.

These days I have a savings account.  I told the maitre d’ I was fully versed in the menu and asked again for availability.

I crossed my fingers as he called upstairs.

“Yes, madame, please, right this way.”

YES!!

So, for real, the view is spectacular.  I felt safe because I was enclosed and there’s no way a divine wind could sweep me to my death.  I did not get a window seat, but my seat was good enough.  If the window seats are booked and the guests seated there have finished their meals you can ask to be moved.  They will accommodate you.  I didn’t feel the need to move because I was facing right out the window.

A Suisse and Brazilian couple got the window.  The waiter asked if they were celebrating anything special.  She said, “I am his girlfriend.”  He said, “She is my friend that is a girl.”  She said, “Girlfriend.”  The waiter smiled and wisely did not say anything.  She said again, “Girlfriend.”

King crab with some caviar and a stale ass breadstick on top.  Good as shit, though.

King crab with some caviar and a stale ass breadstick on top. Good as shit, though.

The service is impeccable.  They take your coat at the door and hand you into your seat.  There are about 100 servers just waiting for the opportunity to treat you like a royal.

I should have started off with a glass of champagne as an aperitif but I’m glad I did not, and you’ll see why in just a little bit.  Instead, I got plain water and they brought it along with some cheese crisp thing.  Again, I’m not big on cheese but I had purposely skipped breakfast so as to be hungry.  Then they start with the bread.  The server brought out a HUGE platter of various breads:  wholegrain, white, soft pastry, crusty, whatever.  The one thing I haven’t liked about French restaurants is the hard bread.  After wearing braces, I find I can’t eat hard foods like that anymore.  I was thankful to get a soft piece of bread.

I ate three.

I ordered the five plate experience and asked for the wine pairing as well.

Course 1:  Seafood mush, fish eggs and stale bread stick

The menu called it “delicate sea urchin, gold caviar, seaweed bread stick.”  Actually, it’s really good.  I’m gonna say the seafood mush was the sea urchin and it was topped with king crab (the waiter said so) and caviar.  I never had caviar before in my life and it was deeeeeeeeelicious.  I could have done without the stale breadstick, even though I do like seaweed.

A different waiter brings three wine glasses and situates them on the table.  He pours a glass of white, while yet a different waiter come by with more bread.  Apparently each waiter has a purpose.  It’s not the same guy doing everything.

I’m not the only person dining alone, so I don’t feel conspicuous at all.  The waiters paid more attention to me than anyone else, but that’s their job.

This was the only thing that wasn't that great.  I ate the shit out of that lobster though.

This was the only thing that wasn’t that great. I ate the shit out of that lobster though.

Course 2:  Lobster on baby food, thin slice of carrot, some kind of tuber and half a leek.

…or, “Seared langoustine, homemade pickles.”  The names the chefs come up with are hysterical to me.  Really, it’s probably just a description of the dish but I have to put it in layperson terms.  I would not consider myself a foodie by any stretch of the imagination.

Lobster on baby food tastes great.  The lobster is utterly perfect.  The texture was exactly where it should be, slightly firm.  I don’t know what the baby food was, some kind of orange coloured puree, but it coincided with the lobster in a marriage of excellence.  I don’t see “homemade pickles” on my plate.  I see a tuber and quite literally half a leek.  The tuber was meh, but I like leeks.  Too bad I didn’t get a whole one.

Wine guy comes back to pour a second glass of wine.  This is also a white wine.  I have said for the longest time I do not like white wine.  At home, the only whites I ever drink come from the Carolina Muscadine grape, and I only ever drink it when I’m having a barbecue or something like that because it’s super sweet.  My preference are dry reds.  So now I think I need to clarify.  I don’t like *cheap* white wine.  Whatever this wine guy is bringing is excellent.  The first white had a buttery nose to it.  My first thought was popcorn, which sounds gross but it was anything but.  This second white was more flowery.  Neither were very dry, which is good.  It was a dry white wine that led me to believe I didn’t like whites.

A different kind of lobster with vegetables I've never eaten before.

A different kind of lobster with vegetables I’ve never eaten before.

Course 3:  Bland onion looking thing with cheesy mushroom sauce.

…or, “Chicory, ham, comte cheese and black truffle.”  I have no idea what a chicory is but that cheesy sauce was the TRUTH!  I don’t even like cheese, but it was light and flavourful.  Maybe it was the truffle that gave it the taste.  Oh, it was so good.  When I first ordered I asked if it could be made without ham and I was obliged.  I thought chicory was something you put in coffee.

Here comes the wine guy again.  Okay, so I know I ordered the wine pairing.  Sometimes I do not fully think things through.  Are they really going to bring me five glasses of wine?  Halfway through this third glass of wine my face became numb.  Once I get that numb feeling in my face I know it’s time to stop because after that comes the loud talking, laughing for no reason and passing out.  Should I tell him not to bring anymore?  Hahahaha.

I had needlessly worried about what to do with myself between courses.  There was a lot to observe.  I did play on my phone but that’s because I was writing down each dish according to my own description.  I didn’t want to forget and at the rate I was drinking there was no way I would be able to remember anything at all.

Course 4:  Lobster on poinsettia leaves, one potato chip in beet juice

…or, “Roasted blue lobster, braises salsify, cooking jus.”  Poinsettia leaves are poisonous to some people, so I’m sure it’s not really poinsettia leaves.  I don’t know what this is.  Are the leaves red because of the beet juice?  This dish is the only one I did not care for too much.  I don’t like beets or potatoes.  There is precisely one thin slice of potato drowned in beet juice and these leaves.  It just wasn’t appetising.  The waiter comes by and sees me picking at it.  He says, “Madame does not like beets?”  I shook my head.  He gave me a most aggrieved look, “But the lobster!!?”  Oh, bitch, don’t worry.  I am not about to throw away some lobster.  I was able to get it out of its shell without getting too much beet juice on it.  Very tasty, but lemon and butter would have been much appreciated.

First dessert:  half a teaspoon of ice cream on an orange rind

First dessert: half a teaspoon of ice cream on an orange rind

Because I ordered only the fish courses, I did not get course five which is just as well because I was pretty much a fat horsey by then.  The dishes are very small but there’s a lot going on.  I have finished three glasses of wine and I know I was smiling like an idiot.  The waiter tried to take away glass number three, but I wouldn’t let him because there was a tiny drop left.  Bitch, please!

Dessert course 1:  Vanilla wafer with ice cream and orange rind

…or, “clementine tartlet, chestnut ice cream.”  The ice cream didn’t taste like chestnuts (not that I’ve ever had chestnuts), but instead it seemed like plain vanilla to me.  I like citrusy things so this was a home run for me.  The clementine is very strong, very chewy, like a gummy candy.

More wine.  Oh, God.  This time it’s a sweet dessert wine.  All these wines are French so I don’t know how it works but in the US, dessert wines are called fortified wines because they have more alcohol than table wines.  Halfway through this glass I know that I should stop but I can’t because I’m actually now drunk.  I’m glad I’m alone because there is no one to talk to; therefore, I cannot talk loudly and embarrass myself.  I just sit there smiling like a fool.

Third dessert:  fancy ass marshmallows, macaroons and even more fancy ass marshmallows.

Third dessert: fancy ass marshmallows, macaroons and even more fancy ass marshmallows.

Dessert course 2:  gold spray-painted medallion chocolate thing

…or, “Crispy tower nut, chocolate from their factory and praline.”  Chocolate, yes.  Praline, yes.  It’s not spray painted but it’s shiny and gold.  I can’t think of how they got it to be that colour, and maybe since I’m trashed all I could think of was spray paint.  It looks like the gold foil wrapping on a champagne bottle but it’s edible. (Later, I found out that it’s actually real gold powder.  So, like, I ate gold.)

More wine!  It’s called Maury, and the only reason I remember it is because of Maury Povich.  I thought of that when the waiter was pouring and I busted out laughing.  He looked at me like, “what is so funny?”  I couldn’t explain, so he walked away looking a little miffed.  This wine is not that great.  It tastes like prune juice.  I drank it anyway.

Just when I though the experience was over, here comes yet a different guy with MORE desserts.  This time it’s a little tray of macaroons and some fancy marshmallows.  He actually said, “In case you are still hungry.”

What!?!?  I am so stuffed and my head, my poor head.  I did help myself to a chocolate marshmallow while I waited for coffee to be served.

FOR ONE PERSON!

FOR ONE PERSON!

So, you know, alcohol is a depressant.  If you’re not laughing and drinking and having a good time with friends, then you’re thinking about things.  As if on cue, Claire de Lune started playing softly in the background.  It made me wistful and reminiscent.  I got dumped a week before Valentine’s Day in 2014.  A month later, I shipped off to Utah to do some training for the deployment.  I really liked that guy and I thought we were gonna make it.  Here I am dining in some super fancy restaurant alone and he’s …. who even knows?

The next song was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, otherwise known as the Wedding Song.  Now I’m truly depressed.  I finish the Maury Povich and think about the mythological creature:  The Woman Who Has It All.  I don’t think such a thing is possible.  Either you’re devoted to your family, or you’re devoted to your career.  When I went to basic training my drill sergeant used to say there was no such thing as giving 110%.  He said, “What’s 100% of you?  ALL of you.  What’s 110% of you?  MORE than you.  You cannot give more than yourself.”  I have been devoted to my career:  putting myself through school, deploying twice, working extra, working over in order to prove myself and get ahead.  Since I cannot give more than myself that is probably why all my relationships suck.

Deep thoughts, and that’s why it’s not a good idea to drink so much.

But you know, maybe I’m better off without that guy because that bitch would have never come with me to Paris.  He is too awkward.  I couldn’t even imagine him attempting to speak French.  And eating in some fancy ass restaurant?  Yeah, right.  Unless it’s chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and his momma’s meat loaf, he would not try it.  But then, you know what, he might eat this boring ass French food.

Anyway, I’m in Paris, so what do I need to think about him for?

Treat yo'self!

Treat yo’self!

I asked for the check and now I’m really about to die laughing.  I have some idea of what I spent because I studied the menu for so long when I was trying to decide.  I forgot about the incidentals:  coffee, water, etc.  They charge you for every little thing, but you might as well go all out.  Don’t do things in half measures.

I received l’addition and the sum is 297E.  Lucky the military don’t charge you rent or food.  Shit, if I was home I’d have to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of the week.

Since my mood had turned morbid, I figured the only way to lift my spirits is to go shopping.  I’m not sure how I managed to get to Champs-Elysees.  I wish I could elaborate for you my adventures on this grand boulevard; however, I do not remember too much.  I remember the train making me dizzy.  Then I remember being in a store, and that’s about it.

Next thing I woke up back at the apartment with a snow globe on the bedside table.  LOL.  C’est la vie.

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 7)

The pyramids outside the Louvre

The pyramids outside the Louvre

I think all these late evenings are starting to break me down.  I can stay up late watching TV or something, but night after night of opera, concerts and whatnot, maybe it’s just too much.  Oh, first world problems.  Actually, I’m rather happy with the way I planned this trip.  I do my sightseeing in the morning, come back to the apartment for a rest then go back out for dinner and evening entertainment.  I would never be able to keep up the pace without that afternoon rest.  It’s also a lot of walking and stairs, but I did not plan a breakneck trip, running from one thing to the next.  I hate that style of vacation, and so many people do it.  They show up some place for a few minutes, take a picture and then run off.  What is the point?

Anyway, it’s my day for the Louvre, the most famous museum in the world.  I already said I was take it or leave it when it comes to museums.  I do appreciate high art, but I can’t stare at it all day long.  I understand its importance and contribution to the human dynamic but just like anything there’s a line to be drawn.  I hate going to these places and some guy is staring at a black square, talking about the artist’s emotions.  Bitch, it’s a black square, get over yourself.  But then again, I guess I do the same thing about literature and music–it’s all relative.

I got to the Louvre around 930 and already there was a considerable queue.  During the low season, the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of the month, otherwise it costs like $40 to get in.  Being the most famous museum in the world, I guess you can command that high price and people are actually paying it.

Every square inch of the Louvre has some kind of artwork on it:  the ceilings and the floor.

Every square inch of the Louvre has some kind of artwork on it: the ceilings and the floor.

My friend told me to use the side entrance.  I did not come in through the pyramid, but instead went to Porte Richelieu and walked right in.  There was no one there at all!  It was raining and all these people were just standing out there.  One thing I am not clear is if you still need to get a ticket of some sort, even if it is free.  I still had the museum pass, so I waved it at the security person just to be sure and he let me in.

I decided to get the audioguide for the Louvre because it’s just so massive.  I don’t usually do audioguides but I felt like I would benefit from it.  It only costs 5E, and I brought my own headphones.  I’ve got noise-cancelling, noise-isolating Bose headphones—excellent for drowning out the noise.  The audioguide is a Nintendo hand-held and ended up being a little frustrating.

I started off with the Masterpieces tour.  It’s supposed to take you on a 50 minute tour of the greatest masterpieces the museum has to offer.  It has a GPS thing and it tells you where to go.  Obviously, GPS and I have had a falling out after that fiasco leaving the Pantheon.  Every five seconds the stupid thing was like, “You have left the tour, would you like to recalculate?”  In some cases I wasn’t even moving.  I was still admiring a piece of art.  After a while I just gave up on trying to have a tour.  You can input the numbers from a certain work and the commentary will come up.  The audioguide will also automatically detect which section you’re in and give you a brief overview.

"Where Are My Arms?"

“Where Are My Arms?”

When I came to the Louvre, I had only two goals in mind:  La Giaconda (like everyone else) and The Last Supper (more on that in a minute!  LOL).  I figured if I saw anything else of import it would be an additional treat.  I also thought I would only be in the museum two hours, three max.  I can only stand to look at so much.  Well…..

I started with the Venus de Milo, or “What Happened to My Arms?”  Again, I am making up my own names to the artwork.  I liked the audioguide because it did help me understand what I was supposed to appreciate about the piece.  You get to hear a lot about the history of the work and the artist (in this case, unknown).  It’s crazy that it was created a hundred years before Christ.  Some guy found it in the 1820 while digging around on the island of Milos.  They did find the arms but they were all messed up, so no one knows exactly how her arms were situated.

Next I went into a room with Greek and Roman sculptures.  I viewed Artemis with a Doe and the Caryatides.  This is where the audioguide got me all messed up.  It told me to go to Caryatides and I was practically standing on top of them and it was like, “You’ve left the tour.”  Ugh.  So I just started wandering, which ended up being a far better idea.

"Pour It Up"

“Pour It Up”

In case you didn’t know, the Louvre is MAAAASIVE.  I wonder how long it would take to “do” the Louvre properly.  Even the Louvre itself is a masterpiece, apparently an old fortress and palace.  From floor to ceiling, every space has a piece of art crammed into it.  I was in overload within minutes, but it was like I couldn’t stop.  I did take a moment to sit down for some French style breakfast at one of the many cafes inside the Louvre; it was to regroup after getting lost on the Nintendo tour and to decide if I really wanted the hassle.  There’s a lot of people in here and most people are wandering around kind of aimlessly.  You know I move with a purpose.

I decided to keep going, and I ended up in the Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculptures.  I was there for an hour before I wandered into French paintings.  Of course, being France, there is a shit ton of French paintings.  They have it divided by period, and then there’s the Italian paintings.  My God!  Some of them are just so massive.  Maybe because I don’t have a creative bone in my body, I wonder how on earth you just wake up one day and decide to paint a ten foot canvas of some subject.

It took me two hours to find La Giaconda, or “I’ve Got a Secret,” or “Need To Get My Brows Done.”  (You know she ain’t go not eyebrows.)  So, the harsh reality is that the Louvre is always busy and you will never get a private moment with Lisa.  This bitch is in high demand.  She has her own personal bodyguards and a barricade to keep you from getting too close.  She is a celebrity and everybody wants to take their picture with her.  Fuck Beyonce; it’s Mona Lisa, bitch.  I did not want to photo bomb La Giaconda, but I did take a picture of the crowd in front of her so I could show my friends back home what it’s like.  I am not even sure what the deal is with trying to take a picture with the Mona Lisa, especially because there are a thousand people just standing there.  Whatever.  Once again, even though I knew beforehand the situation, I was very disappointed.  I wanted to chat with her for a moment and ask her what’s so funny.  I think she has something to say.  It is said that visitors spend about 15 seconds looking at her before moving on, so she has never had the opportunity to let anyone in on the joke.  What a shame.  You know people have thrown rocks, acid and paint at her?  That is why she is has a bullet proof case.  People are crazy.

I could not capture the entire horde of people standing around the Mona Lisa.

I could not capture the entire horde of people standing around the Mona Lisa.  And it’s a small ass painting anyway.

Since the Mona Lisa is in the Italian paintings area, I figured The Last Supper would be around there too.  You can use the audioguide to find a piece of work, but the joke’s on me because The Last Supper is not in the Louvre!  I went through that whole list of Italian paintings, then I went through each painter before I realised my mistake.  I was always under the impression The Last Supper was on display in the Louvre.  Apparently it’s in Milan.  My second guess would have been Rome.  You have to make an appointment to see it and you can only look at it for fifteen minutes.  That’s some exclusive shit.

David Shanks Goliath

“David Shanks Goliath”

 

At any rate, I decided to get my religious painting fix.  There’s a whole area devoted to renditions of the Virgin and Christ.  Right here is evidence to what I said before:  we all come from the same place, we just tell the story differently.  You can compare and contrast these depictions of the Virgin, taking note of little details like the style of clothes she wears or who’s hanging about in the background.  Depending on where the artist is from, Mary is white, black, Chinese, young, younger, celestial, human or fat.  It’s astounding.  I really like different interpretations on religious stuff.  You know I believe all of it is the same damn story just told differently, and people are out here fighting to the death to get people to believe in the exact same way as they believe.  That’s a damn shame.  You got one life to live and that’s how you choose to live it.

So now we’re three hours into the Louvre.  I think I’m ready to go and I even head towards the desk to return my audioguide but now the Near Eastern Antiquities have caught my eye, then I wandered into Oriental objets d’art.  Next I’m looking at old rich people furniture, like some Marie Antoinette type stuff.  My feet hurt really badly and I say to myself, “It’ll still be here when you come back.”

It was almost 3PM when I left.  Feet hurt, back hurt.  Everything hurts.  Walking around on all that marble, going up millions of stairs.  At least I’m getting some exercise.

IMG_3770

“I’m Sexy and I Know It”

My next stop was the Arc de Triomphe.  This also turned out to be free entrance.  I had no idea you could go up in it.  The stairs are killer and I don’t know if there is limited ability access.

It is basically a memorial to all those that fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleon campaigns.  Now, I think it is a monument to all French Soldiers because there is a Tomb of the Unknown under the Arch, and it represents Soldiers who died in both world wars.  So, of course, I’m all about supporting Soldiers and I love it when a nation honours its military.  I like patriotism.

There’s a room full of different French military uniforms throughout the years.  It’s a bit of a museum on the inside, complete with photos and vignettes to tell various stories.  The view from the top is superb.  Of course, you can see the Eiffel Tower from there.  It wasn’t terribly crowded up here either because the weather is not that great.  Over the years, I have developed a fear of unprotected heights so I couldn’t stay up there too long.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

I was supposed to stroll the Champs-Elysees afterward but here comes the icy rain again.  I’m dog tired anyway, and I plan to stay up late to watch the Super Bowl.  Time for a crepe and a rest.

The creperie is Ar Poul Gwen and the crepe is chocolate and Grand Marnier.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  The Bayeux crepe has finally been unseated.  This crepe here is the truth!  The actual crepe is very delicate.  There’s a light butter flavour, not too much because it doesn’t alienate the chocolate.  She put just enough chocolate inside.  (Don’t you hate when they overstuff the crepes?)  Then the Grand Marnier.  Yum!  She folds it very neatly and cuts it into neat rectangles so it is easy to eat.

I have two more days to test crepes before I make a decision once and for all.

Tomb of the Unknown

Tomb of the Unknown

I have another cheap dinner of some leftover Chinese, Thai and la tradition.  I’m still hoping that Jules Verne will take me.  I’ve already looked at the menu and calculated I will spend a tidy sum.

After taking a nap, I spent some time researching on where to view the Super Bowl in Paris.  I did get some suggestions from TA, and I found at least 10 bars where the big game would be playing.  In the end, I decided to stay in the apartment.  I really did not want to go back out in the cold, and I am not big on hanging out in bars by myself.  I probably would have met some new friends, but some of these places were talking about I needed to have made reservations and all that jazz. Really I kept falling asleep.  It’s cosy in my little apartment.  To go to a bar I would have to take a shower, get dressed and transport myself there.  It all seemed like too much.  I have champagne and spring rolls right here.  Why do I need to go someplace else?

It was an experience trying to watch the game on French TV.  The commentary was in French which I didn’t expect.  I mean, that’s stupid, but I honestly never gave it any thought.  When the game finally came on and the commentators started up with the back story of the Patriots and the Seahawks I just busted out laughing.  If you know the sport, you probably don’t need any commentary at all but it’s part of the experience.  They talk about stats, previous games, comparisons to other teams.  How do you say “third down” in French?

View from the Arc de Triomphe

View from the Arc de Triomphe

I ended up watching the game on my laptop.  I was very surprised this was available.  In previous years you could only watch Super Bowl on your mobile devices if you had a cable subscription.  Since I technically do not live anywhere, and I’m a cord cutter anyway. Thank God for VPN.

I kept the French game on in the background because it was hysterical.  Even the intonation of the French commentators’ voices is different.  When Jermaine Kearse made that insane catch, the French commentators did not sound as excited.  Maybe they were like, “Who likes this stupid violent sport anyway?”  On the American channel the commentators were screaming like maniacs.  You could tell they had jumped onto their desks.

Ar Poul Gwen, best crepes ever!

Ar Poul Gwen, best crepes ever!

It was good I stayed in because Katy Perry’s half time show put me to sleep a little bit.  I woke up somewhere in the middle of the third quarter.  My team was losing and it didn’t look good for us, but you know Brady.  He specialises in last minute hope.  I think he likes to be under pressure like that.  Anyway, thanks to Pete Carroll’s horrible call the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl—and yes, you can call us a dynasty.

Anyway, time to get some sleep.  Lucky the only real thing I have planned for Monday is an attempt to get into Jules Verne.

 

You’ll find out how that went, plus the Champs-Elysees!