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Monthly Archives: January 2012

We Love Loki

'80s Night at the Loki bar

“LOKI LOKI LOKI!” someone shouts as we all raise our glasses.

“Oi oi oi!” we respond in Aussie fashion, slam our glasses down on the bar, and proceed to chug our Blood Bombs.  A Blood Bomb consists of a shot of mostly vodka with a few drops of grenadine dropped into a half-glass of Red Bull.  Totally beneficial for your heart and brain; it’s the signature drink of Loki Hostel.

We first heard of Loki from a Couchsurfing host in Ecuador who recommended we stay at the Máncora location.  We ended up staying elsewhere, but we remembered him raving about Loki as an awesomely fun party hostel with opportunities to work and stay for free.  We wanted to try a different volunteer (not WWOOFing) opportunity, so we decided to give Loki Cuzco a try.  As soon as we walked into the bar and offered our help to the manager, we were given bartending jobs and asked to start the next night!

The weekly activities board.

Loki Cuzco is the original of the four Loki Hostels (the others are located in Máncora, Lima, and La Paz, Bolivia) and was opened in 2005 by a group of backpacker friends.  It’s a HUGE hostel (capacity over 200) in a 500-year-old amazing historic building.  The owner and staff are all friendly and bilingual, and the hostel includes free breakfast, a book exchange, a full restaurant and bar, a tour booking office, and daily activities and parties.  It basically has everything you could ever need so that you don’t even have to venture outside if you don’t want to!

Dancing it up on Zach's birthday night

All of the bartenders are volunteers at Loki.  We worked four shifts a week (either 1-7pm or 7pm-2am) in exchange for a free dormitory bed, one free meal a day, and 40% off on everything at the bar/restaurant.  It was definitely an awesome deal, and we had a lot of fun.  The bar staff during the four weeks we worked at Loki consisted of travelers from Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few more of us from the U.S.  We all got along great and every night was a party.  Working behind the bar is not really work; it’s more like serving some drinks while drinking some drinks.  By the end of the night there were always people dancing on the bar, and most of the staff usually went out dancing until the wee hours after our bar closed.  Highlights of our time at Loki included dancing like crazy on the bar at Groove Nightclub, going out for pizza for Zach’s birthday, and all the random hilarious conversations in the staff room.  Being at Loki was kind of like living in a college dorm again, except with the added fun of people from all different countries and none of the hassle of class!

Before you judge us as nonsstop-partying alcoholics, please wait for tomorrow’s other-side-of-the-coin post:  WE HATE LOKI

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1/3 Highlights

As of January 27, we’ve been in South America for three months!  That’s about 1/3 of the total time we’ll be down here (assuming money lasts) so it’s quite a milestone.  Sometimes I feel like we’ve been on the road forever and other times it feels like it was just yesterday we landed in Medellin.

To celebrate our 1/3-iversary, let’s list some fun stats!

Days in South America:  95

Dollars Spent (not including flight): $3005

Countries Visited: 3

Books Read: 8 (Carrie), 7 (Zach)

Number of Laundromat Visits (not including hand-washing): 3

Bacterial Infections: 1 each

Things We’ve Lost
iPhone (Carrie)…The Infamous Bird Poop Incident
Water bottle (Zach)…just left it at a Couchsurfer’s house
Glasses (Carrie)…stupid lake
Sunglasses (Zach)…stupid ocean
2 rings (Carrie)…two separate places
1 shirt (Carrie)…I think this girl on our first WWOOF farm thought it was hers because she always wore orange!
Dr. Bronners soap (Zach)…”It’ll turn up!” he says
Umbrella…who knows???

And now, since it is Awards Season, we hereby present to you….

The 1/3-iversary Superlatives…a.k.a. the Best Of “So Far”

Favorite Food: ceviche (Zach), llapingachos (Carrie)

Favorite Beverage: Colombian coffee

Most Missed Food: Graeter’s ice cream and peanut butter (Carrie), Mexican food and cheddar cheese (Zach)

Most Missed Event: holidays at home

Most Missed Activities:  watching Oscar films (Carrie), cooking/baking, snowboarding

Most Annoying Phenomenon: loud music and movies on buses

Favorite Activity: The Inca Trail

Nicest People: Colombians

Favorite City: Cuzco

Most Times We Said “What a Crazy Place!”: Huacachina

Best Beach: Canoa

Best Shopping: Otavalo

Best Person We’ve Met: Oso the dog

Scariest/Coolest Experience: the eruption of Tungurahua Volcano

Most Authentic Cultural Experience/Cutest Kids and Puppies: WWOOFing at Finca Campo Bello

Biggest Party/Least Authentic Cultural Experience: Loki Hostel

Biggest Personal Changes: dreadlocks and eating meat (Carrie), actually speaking a second language (Zach)

Favorite Country Overall: Ecuador

Goals for the Next 2/3rds of the Journey

1. Save money and get ahead on our budget in Bolivia!

2. Find a WWOOF experience where we actually get to farm!

3. Do more filming!

4. Improve our Spanish!

I know, I know, we really need to stop losing things and wash our clothes more!  Do you like this silly little superlative round-up?  Should we do one again after 2/3rds?

Cuzco Walking Tour

Loki Hostel in Cuzco offers a daily free walking tour.  The tour takes you to some of the famous sites around the city, as well as a couple cool restaurants that the hostel is promoting.  The first stop was a free vegetarian restaurant owned by an Indian family.  They ask for a donation that goes to feeding poor children in nearby small villages.  We sampled the food and they told us about how to volunteer to help feed the kids.  We are trying to go do it before we leave Cuzco.  Next we walked to the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s famous square.  From here you can access many famous churches and restaurants.  The flag of Cuzco is actually rainbow stripes, causing many people to mistake it for the gay pride flag!

After the plaza, we walked to the Museo do Cacao where they let us sample cacao-leaf tea and showed us where chocolate comes from.  We also sampled the “aji” (spicy) chocolate and the dark, which were both amazing.

Next, we walked down an old alley; on the right was a wall built by the Incas.  The Spanish had knocked down the top of their building, but the bottom 10 feet or so remained.  The blocks were huge, some a couple feet wide, and fit together perfectly (you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them).  The best part was that every rock was a different size and shape, the coolest one having 12 sides.

Another cool part of the tour was playing with an alpaca and a vicuña!  The vicuña thought our blonde hair looked similar to the grass they eat in the wild.  Thus we kind of had to watch out to not get bitten on the noggin!

Vicuña

Alpaca!

We spent the end of our walking tour at the food market, satisfying our appetites with seafood soup and beer smoothies!!!  All in all, the Loki free walking tour was a great time!

The Infamous Bird Poop Incident

This story happened a long time ago, (November, in Colombia) and we debated a lot about whether or not to tell it.  We don’t want anyone to worry about us (we learn from our mistakes!) but we do want to prevent other travelers from going through the same thing.

It was a beautiful afternoon in Zipaquirá, a small town outside Bogotá, and Zach and I were meandering through town after our visit to the famous Catedral de Sal.  We decided to sit down on a nice park bench and people-watch.  I took out my iPhone to check if there was WiFi (there wasn’t) and then put it back in my hip pocket.  We were just sitting on the bench, when a minute or two later we both felt something wet hit us on the back.  “What was that?” we sat up straight and looked around.  The next thing you know, a bunch of young Colombian women run up pointing at the sky and telling us that a bird just pooped on us.  “Oh great!”  I thought, “Of all the luck!”  Zach and I started exclaiming and laughing about the situation as these women started thrusting napkins at us to help us clean ourselves off.  “Wow,” we thought, “How nice of them.”  I stood up, wiping my shoulder off (the place where I had felt myself get hit) and then one lady pointed out that I had some on a pant-leg also.  I went to wipe that off and another lady frantically showed me that there was more on my other pant-leg.  The same thing was happening to Zach simultaneously.  With my Spanish in it’s infancy, I just kept saying “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias” and trying to get the nasty liquid off my clothes.  After a quick minute of this, the women pointed us to a bathroom we could go to to clean off more, then ran off across the street.  We were still in shock about how great of a target some bird had made out of us, but we managed to laugh about our dumb luck.  We were impressed with how helpful Colombians always proved to be.

It wasn’t until an hour later, on the bus back to Bogota, that I realized my iPhone was gone.  It became clear almost immediately what had happened.  The whole thing was a stupid scam!  There was no bird, only some loser with a spray bottle of something and a bunch of good actors!  These women must have seen me take out my phone and then put it back in my pocket and realized that it was a perfect opportunity for their little trick.  All of a sudden it was so obvious–how they pulled us in different directions so Zach wouldn’t notice, how they kept pointing at different places on my clothes all at once to keep me distracted while they pick-pocketed me.  Argh!  We felt so stupid!  Then, gradually, we started to feel less stupid.  What an elaborate yet so-incredibly-silly plot!  Despite the reading-up we had done on things to watch out for in Colombia, we had never heard of this!  We were still at the beginning of our trip, having experienced nothing but genuine hospitality from Colombians, and we naively gave these women the benefit of the doubt.  We have since seen written warnings of similar “wet liquid” scams like this becoming more and more common in Ecuador and Bolivia, so they must be on the rise everywhere.

WHAT WE DID WRONG:

Why did I even have my iPhone with me?  I don’t know…I brought it on the trip to use in places with WiFi and as a backup in case one of our iPods died (which has since happened…but no more iPhone).  On that day though, I really didn’t need it with me.  I definitely didn’t need to be carrying it in a baggy front pocket with no zipper or button closure.  Don’t be as stupid as I was.

The biggest lesson we learned is this:  WHEN ANYTHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS, WATCH YOUR STUFF!!!  The biggest advantage thieves have in situations like this is the element of surprise.  They got us this time, but we now know that the first thing we have to do in any surprising situation is to keep track of each other and our belongings!

In the end, it’s not that big a deal.  What would I probably have done anyway immediately on my return to the states?  Buy the newest iPhone.  Of course we wish it wouldn’t have happened and we do get angry at ourselves for falling for such a stupid scheme.  I mean, bird poop?????  COME ON!!!!  But the only thing we can really do in this situation is learn from it and pass on that knowledge to others.  We’re hoping that this was our one-and-only brush with crime on this trip and at least it’s over with minimal harm done!

What do you think of this crazy story?  Has anyone else fallen victim to “the bird poop scheme” or something similarly ridiculous?

Culture Shock! Let’s just throw all our trash on the ground, why don’t we?

Latin America has a growing trash problem.  In the major cities the garbage lines the sides of the roads until locals start small fires to diminish the piles.  This creates smog and the cities smell more and more like trash.  There are a few ideas that we have had to help with the problem.  The first and most major problem is that everyone buys the small single serving plastic water bottles.  This problem is intensified by the fact that the water from the tap is not drinkable in most places.  Sure, tons of people have drank the tap water from birth, and most boil, but everything else is purchased in small bottles.  They do sell the big bottles, but people don’t think ahead, “Maybe I will drink more than 600ml of water before I die…”  And to make maters here worse, NO ONE knows how to use trash cans.  When you are riding in a bus someone will eventually come onto the bus to sell small waters and sodas.  As soon as people have finished the drink, they open the bus window and dispose of the bottle onto the highway.  There along the highway it will sit for years and years making a larger and more disgusting pile.  Is this the peoples’ fault?  Yes and no.  I don’t think there has ever been proper education on disposal of trash.  Many times you have to carry your trash through half the city before you can find a can to toss it into.  There is no recycling system set up.  Sure, there are people (pickers) that sort through all the trash for recyclables and sell what they find to the recycling companies, but there is no specific place to throw the recycles.  Not that the average person would even know what can actually be recycled.  In a few cities we have been to there have actually been three cans side by side, (like in San Francisco) “Trash, Compost, Recyclables” but, since no one knows (or cares) which is which, the three cans are all full of the same things (mainly plastic bottles).

What can be done and who is at fault?  There needs to be better education on how and where to dispose of your garbage.  There needs to be more trash cans and more reliable collection.  Basically, the South American governments need to start addressing this as a serious problem.  Yes, there is major poverty, hunger, class division… but by the time they fix these problems, the entire continent is going to be covered in an inescapable pile of filth.  Compared to all the stupid things that I see governmental money going towards (like huge stupid statues in the center of every tiny village…) I think they could spring for a few trash cans and a couple of people to collect garbage.  Maybe the whole problem is that life is so hard for so many people here that it’s nearly impossible to get them plan farther in the future than tomorrow.  The attitude is to worry about today first, then think about tomorrow.

Backpacker Fashion: There Are No Rules

Perú is a country packed full of foreigners with huge packs, long hair, and scruffy beards.  When you throw your life into a backpack and run away to far-off parts of the world, what do you bring along to wear?  There is no real consensus on this subject, but rather a lot of different ideas about what a “backpacker” should look like.  Here we will highlight a few groups of backpackers and how they dress:

1- The People Who Brought Too Much Stuff

These people have different, fashionable outfits for every day of the week, make-up, hats, accessories, and multiple pairs of shoes.  They usually look very well put together, but when they get into town they are usually physically unable to carry their backpack farther than from the taxi to their hostel.

2- The People Who  Always Wear The Awesome Local Stuff

These people show up with a proper-sized backpack, but once something gets a little dirty they ditch it and buy something handcrafted and awesome from the local markets.  Sure you can find cheap goods, but the extra cost adds up.  When the vendors see these people coming, they all run into the street and hound them for cash.  We pretend to dislike these people, but really they just make us jealous because we wish we could afford that much stuff.

3- The People With One Pair of Clothes

These people are generally a little bit grungy, with patches in their jeans and scratches on their sunglasses.  They grow a beard or long hair to add to the feel of it.   Usually these people aren’t hassled as much by the pushy merchants.

4- The Ones Who Aren’t Really Backpackers 

These people sneak into your hostel with several large suitcases, hide them in their private room and call themselves a “backpacker.”  Watch out for these fakers.  Signs include brand-name, impeccably clean clothing and an unwillingness to eat local food!

We definitely fit into category 3.  We only brought a few outfits each and we’re trying to make them last.  As much as we want to buy EVERYTHING we see in the clothing and jewelry markets, we’d rather save our money to travel farther!  However, we did recently purchase one item which is just the bee’s knees.  I present to you, the AMAZING TECHNICOLORED DREAM PANTS!!!!!!!!!!!

These pants, which come in every color pattern known to man, would clearly be considered pajamas in the U.S., but in South America they are perfectly acceptable and highly-fashionable for backpackers.  Locals don’t wear them in public once they are over they age of five, but who cares?  We’re traveling; we’re allowed to be outrageous and comfortable!  Why NOT wear pajamas down the street, out to dinner, to the club, etc.?  Carrie and I have wanted some since Colombia, but we held out until recently, when the price was right.  We bought this one pair to share, and they are amazing and ridiculous.  You know you love them.

Of course, some people are very good at what they do and have small packs and look like real people.  Also, people backpacking in their own country or continent generally fit in a lot better than the rest of us.  After awhile you can start to tell where people are from before they even open their mouths.  Almost every backpacker from the States has a pair of trusty Chacos (nearly indestructible sandals).  They make us stick out like a sore thumb to other Americans and are always a good conversation starter.  Aussies and Kiwis, without trying, show up looking like the cast of Wayne’s World (apparently this is a trend down under?) and always carry a tube of Vegamite (gross yeast extract that they put on everything).  The Irish and British spend maybe a little too much time in the local pub, and the French and Germans smoke far too many cigarettes.  The Chinese have the biggest cameras, and, in general, hang out in crowds.  Of course we know these are stereotypes and don’t apply to everyone, but let’s have a laugh at the expense of others once in awhile!  All in all, when you don’t have to show up to work every day, you can dress however you want.  One thing I have never seen a backpacker wear is a suit and tie.  I think we all set them on fire before we left home.

Culture Shock! Everything is OTC

Guys, we totally forgot to post a Culture Shock! on Wednesday!  Woops!  We were too focused on finishing the Inca Trail epic.  So here it is for this week, better late than never!

So far on our adventure we haven’t needed to use our health insurance.  That is not because we haven’t gotten sick (we have), but because everything you need is sold over-the-counter at your friendly neighborhood “farmacia.”  The only thing you need to do is diagnose yourself!  It’s sometimes actually fun playing doctor.  The process usually goes like this.  Day one: stomach pain and diarrhea.  Day two: usually everything is better once it’s all out of your system, but if you are still feeling problems, wait one more day.  Day three: If you still feel terrible then get yourself some Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic for bacterial infections which will knock out just about anything.  If the Cipro doesn’t clear it up, then you are in trouble and should probably go to the doctor.  Carrie and I have both taken the Cipro once and both times within a few hours we were feeling much better.

There are some potential negatives to this system, of course.  Firstly, you really can get anything you want over the counter.  It is of course possible to abuse this for recreational purposes.  Secondly, pharmacists are not actually educated or trained like they are in the United States.  When we went to get some Cipro for Zach the pharmacist actually tried to sell us more than two times as many tablets as we needed and tried to convince Zach he needed to take a large dose for 10 days.  Either she was being totally dishonest to make a sale or we really knew the drug instructions better than she did, because you’re only supposed to take a small dose for five days!  You have to be smart and research to find out what you really need when you’re sick.  If in doubt, you should see a doctor first!

However, I think needing a prescription to cure yourself of obvious problems is part of what makes medical care super expensive in the United States.  Sure, pharmacies shouldn’t hand out addictive drugs over the counter, but there’s also no reason it should be necessary to pay a doctor to tell you what you usually already know.  Maybe instead of forcing money out of people’s pockets, we could focus on educating people on how to help themselves.  But no, let’s continue to let the drug companies tell us what medicines we need.  We all know that they have our best interests in mind.