Friday, December 31, 2010

Some Gypsy Songs

Gypsy Train Rule 1:  If someone says the words country roads the entire bus must sing, in unison, the chorus to the John Denver classic.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Holidays from the Gypsy Train!

We all miss our family and friends at home, so we made a nice a little dance video for you all.

And we also want to inform you all about what´s happening in our lives, since you can´t be here with us. Lately we´ve been preoccupied, hunting a deer-like pig, an elusive creature native to these hills, called a Pudu. There´s a heavy bounty on this piggish deer beast. Maybe we will be sending money home soon, to give you all the lives you deserve.

The Cultural Complexity of Completo Italiano

By Alex Mehlin

In a country boasting one of the best economies in South America, it seems odd that the national dish is a warmed bun wrapping a cheap hot dog, layered in avocado, tomato, mayo and the choice of ketchup, mustard and Aji.

It is impossible to avoid the Completo. Ranging from a 500 peso Completo guy on the corner to 2500 peso Completo at a fine dining establishment you generally always get the same thing. At one point we thought it would be a great way to rank the quality of a town on their Completos, but now 135 Completos and counting, we have discovered that they all completos are generally the same.

The completo has the cheap food market cornered. The only contender is the Empanada. Only the empanada is a mystery, walking into a market there is always an air of caution. How long has this empanada sat there? Am I going to be surprised with a hardboiled egg or an olive? Will it be warm or is it going to be cold and soggy?

‘’No matter what you think you will never know what you are going to get until you take the first bite.’’ Mike an avid fast food connoisseur has proclaimed numerous times, ‘’the Chilean Empanada is not sexed enough.’’

Chileans take down a remarkable amount of Completos. In Valparaiso we sat in a popular Completo restaurant and watched as the Completo Maestro slapped together hundereds of Completos to feed the frenzy of Chileans stretching out the door. Waiters ran back and forth carrying trays stacked with as many as 20 Completos.
With age and experience the consumption of Completos becomes more eloquent.

‘’Its funny to watch old people eat completos!’’ We sat and watched an old couple sitting next to us sip down Coke out of the bottle and meticulously devour their meal. ‘’They eat the sauce first,’’ Zach examined as completo toppings stretched from his lower beard up to his ears.

To watch a true maestro at work is a thing of beauty. Ambidextrously he will spin the hot dog over the hot plate as he masses a fresh avocado. Right when the warming bun is at optimal softness, he places the hot dog on the bun and sprinkles chopped tomato over the top. Next, with the swiftness of a Ninja, he spreads the avocado and mayo over the top. Presented on a specialized holder, with a much needed napkin under the bun, the Chilean delicacy is delivered. On a table or standing bar, an assortment of condiments await to top off the appetizing treat.

While other fast food is available they are all just a variation of the Completo. Hamburgers, Churrasco or Choripan are all just another form of meat covered with avocado, tomato and mayo. These food items all fall under the title of Italiano. The Gypsies have discussed the name Italiano and have reached the conclusion that it stems from the fact that like the Italian flag the Completo and its counter parts are also Red, Green and White.

Like the name Italiano the Completo is filled with mystery. Why the hotdog of all things became a national dish or how a highly conservative culture can find it acceptable to eat off a dingy table while slapping condiments on top of a hotdog and consider it a meal ever came to be the norm? We have pondered the many intricacies of the Completo and have come to realize that there is no real answer. We accepted this fact daily while slowly developing our own Completo eating style and adding tallies to the Gypsy Completo count.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Dusty Wet Hat

By Alex Mehlin

Gray ash squirmed under each racing step. The wind pushed my hat forward, like a donkey after a carrot I sprinted forward. Over the howl of the wind I heard Zach scream, ‘’drop the bag’’, mid stride I wiggled free of my over weight day pack.
Only a few days prior, the crafty wind captured my beloved Machupichu hat and sent it flying into Lake Laja. Heartbroken, Zach and I stood on the shore throwing rocks at the floating hat and cursing it for stealing my heart only to run off with another. As we cursed, Ben a warm blooded English lad, undressed down to his action figure clad briefs and walked into the frigid water. My hero emerged discolored and shaking uncontrollably while the wind hissed with disgust.
The thought of letting Ben down drove me forward, I sprinted up the mountain of ash. I ran with all my heart and in one last ditch effort dove forward recapturing my sole hat.
At the crest of the barren ash deposit I stopped to catch my breath. I looked up only to be blitzed by a panoramic of; Volcanoes, lava fields, distant snow capped peaks, lush Monkey Puzzle Tree forests and wind whipped Gypsies.
We hiked on through the moonscape created twenty-two years and six days prior when Parque Nacional Malalcahuello was disturbed by a violent eruption. Volcano Lonquimay rocketed debree into the sky, lava ozzed out the side of the volcano while ash rained down on the surrounding country side.  
The flow of lava swept across the forest disintegrating everything in its path, now two decades later all that remains is desolate rock. We sat on the summit of the Navidad Crater sucking in sulphurous fumes leaking from the earth, eating lunch while admiring the views of red lava rock ricocheting off green mountain slopes leading to white peaks. A single puddle of blue graced the vast vista as we snacked on crackers and chocolate.   
Tired, full of snacks and sulphur we slipped and slid down the ashy volcano. Giggling we played in the patches of snow and ran like Zombies down the steep ash banks. Zach, Mike and I discussed the possibilities of snowboarding the volcano and pondered why the three chair lifts only went a third of the way up.
Happy and high on life we drove out of the park. Monkey Puzzle Trees faded into hardwood forest as we passed snowboard and ski rental shop and a pizza bar. The road descended from the forest to a vast valley sprinkled with groves of vibrant Luppins.
Since that day The Gypsy Train has been hiking a great deal. We are slowly leading up to long overnight adventures in the wilderness of Patagonia.  We are getting stronger, smarter and more excited for bigger endeavours.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ben and his Blog

By Zach W. Watson

Ben, from Bristol, England, and his Blog joined the Gypsy Train in Valparaiso, Chile, when we met that fateful day in Presto Pizza and he randomly asked a group of strange gringos where was the place to be in Valparaiso on a Friday night.

"We don´t know, but are you heading south?" Mike asked.

"Yeah, I am." Ben said.

"Well, we have a bus and we are heading to Pata-"

"I´m in."

"We cook every meal, and we see amaza-" Mike continued his gringo grabbing opus.

"No, it´s okay. I´m in."

And like that, without seeing the bus, meeting the gypsies, and knowing a god-damn thing about the Gypsy Train, he was on our bus a week later giving us Yanks a hard time for not having foreskin.

His blog, at least, is somewhat decent and doesn´t feel a penal superiority to

And his favorite thing to do is make movies...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Machu Pichu as a Gypsy

By Mike McNett

My story begins early morning in Cuzco on the bus in a parking lot in a dark part of town. I rose that morning, still in my sleeping bag, I looked around and found the parking lot being transformed into a Saturday swap meet all around us. I looked over to the bed letting Zach know it´s time to get to the market for our normal chore of shopping for provisions for ourselves and the fellow Gypsies that would be embarking in the direction of Machu Pichu.

We stumbled out of the bus and walked across the gravel parking lot to find the spigot, so we could brush the rum from the night before off our teeth. After a short discussion of where and when to meet back up with the bus, we made our way down the street in the direction of the market.  Zach kept mumbling under his breath, "Mike, I really don't feel so good."  

We walked a little further, and I assumed it's no big deal.  Then a few blocks later, I found myself a few meters ahead, turning back just in time to see Zach's projectile vomiting, not once, but twice across the cobbled street.  At this moment I realized it would just be Matthias and me off to the market to purchase six meals for nine people in one hour in a busy Peruvian market.  Surprisingly, everything went smoothly, with just a couple items left to be had.  We got the grocieries back to the bus and I went in search of bread, making it to the infamous LOKI just in time for a quick free shower and to say goodbye to Zach and leave him with his bags and guitar in the televison room.

   The bus and gypsies arrived two days later in Santa Teresa minus our beloved Zach. Bernadette, Tegan, Cesar and Hilla gathered their things and made their way for the trek to Aguas Calientes, the jump off point to Machu Pichu.   There is no road leading to Aguas; it lied a four hour walk away.  I then had to decide if I was even going, after about one minute of contemplation I said to myself, what am I thinking, of course I'm going I could never miss something as spectacular as this.  The bus found a home for the next few days at a grassy camping spot just on the outskirts of town.

  I packed my bag with no idea of what to expect or even what I was going to do, and nothing has ever made me more excited than that feeling of uncertainty. I said good-bye to my friends, who oddly enough, I have spent more time with than almost any other people in my life, and now, I left Matthias, Alex, and Alaena while they stayed to guard the bus and I walked alone to Aguas Calientes, behind the rest of our friends, who had gotten a head start while I made my decision.  I  took one sip of Matthias´s cold beer and threw my bag on my back and slid my t-shirt in my back pocket setting forth on a hot and muggy Peruvian afternoon to find my way to Machu Pichu.

  I could not find the camino out of town, after asking about 4 to 5 different adults who sent me in every direction except the right one. I found three small school children on a windy dirt path.  These children could not have been but 6 years old.  They grabbed me by my hand and led me down a trail leading to the rushing river below the town.  At this moment, I really felt the adventure of my trek beginning.   They walked me for about 15 minutes, talking up a storm in Spanish with me not understanding even one word, but as children are able with their excitement and facial expression, let me believe they knew exactly where I needed to be going.

We came to a small one man cable car crossing a raging river just below the village.  The four of us sat in the car as someone pulled us across the river, and against my better judgment, we all climbed in, including my massive backpack.  All the while the smallest of the three children with his backwards hat was snapping photos with my camera. The entire scene was captured with his small finger covering half the lense.  After 10 minutes of heaving the car on a small wire across this river, we were to the other side and climbed out. We continued for another thirty minutes to their home along the path where I parted ways with my three new friends and continued in the direction of Aguas Calientes.

  I walked into Aguas Calientes just as the sun was setting over the staggering mountains above. As I walked through this small town nestled in the deep valley at the foot of Machu Pichu in search of a place to set my tent and make ramen noodles.   I wandered about for around an hour, and when I decided to head back out of town to find a nice piece of grass to place my tent, I stumbled into Cesar and Hilla walking in just as the sun dropped completely behind the mountains.  They were just in front of the Saskateers.  We made plans to meet in the square to buy our tickets for Machu Pichu a little later.

I walked down the lightless road to the grass pasture I had seen on the walk in and set my tent near the river.  The walk through the tall grass was illuminated by fire flies.  I boiled water before I climbed into the frigid shower to rinse the days sweat from my body.  It was nothing but a rinse because my soap money had been spent over the last few months on beer and park entrances. I ate my ramen and drink coco tea under the light of the fire flies as I sat on the stoop in front of the bathroom.

 After dinner I walked to the square where I sat on a bench watching all the "gringos" wander about snapping photos, and I realized I was now again a tourist as I mixed in with the picture takers, which is not a feeling that is often felt when riding The Gypsy Train. My friends arrived and we bought our tickets as if we were about to enter a movie to see something many have seen before us. I put my precious paper ticket deep in my back pocket, which is the most expensive purchase I have made since my flight arrived 3 months earlier to South America. The four of us walked up and down the narrow pedestrian street deciding on touristy restaurants. The decision was made on some fancy French restaurant.

I ordered nothing but a small beer as everyone else made up their minds. Then, watching plate after plate arrive to the table and knowing Bernadette and Tegan well enough that they would not finish their meals, I stared in anticipation.  And then I devoured their leftovers whole. We finished the night early as the morning would come even earlier.  I left the other gypsies at their hostal. On my walk back to my tent nearly 20 minutes away, I gained an entranced feeling from the glow of lightning bugs fluttering all around, the sound of crackling river to my left, and the feeling of what tomorrow had in store.

 I was filled with so much excitement that I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm even sounded at 4:30 A.M.  I found my taschenlampa, brushed my teeth, laced my shoes and walked to the gate and was astonished with what I saw: fifty, or so, tourists milling about as they waited to enter the gates and race to the top to be one of the first 40 people to get a special stamp allowing them to climb Wachupichu, the peak over looking Machu Pichu.  

As I stood there in the muggy predawn light, I watched the tourists, seeing all the gear and supplies they brought with them to wander through a grassy park, and I stood there in my brown corduroys rolled halfway up my leg because I had no clean shorts.   It is these moments I find I am realizing each and every day how completely outlandish and wacky our way of life really is, and how little you really need, no hiking boots, walking sticks, power bars etc.  
We all stood in anticipation like race horses at the starting gate.  My watch struck 5:30 and they began letting us pass through.  We crossed the bridge one by one.  Then, everyone rushed the precipitous slope. I started in the rear of the pack.  It didn´t take long before I'm passing couples stopping for air or REI weekenders adjusting their trekking poles.  Forty minutes from the bottom we reach the top.   We stood, waiting at the final entrance.  
The man with the special stamp came around stamping our tickets one by one. I entered as maybe the 3rd person of the 2,000 visitors allowed in that day. I walked to the nearest and highest point I could  find.  And I saw clouds, lots and lots of clouds. 
Slowly, as the turbid air slipped in and out, I saw Machu Pichu.  I found a burnished stone to sit on and looked out over the most beautiful and epic of sights I maybe have ever seen, and at this time, it was not yet littered with people.  I spent the next twelve hours exploring each and everything I could. I was on such a high that even after hiking all around this park I ran all the way back from there to my tent, layed out on my back in the grass gazing at the dusky sky above in complete nirvana.  I realized how happy I am and how great my life is and all the people I have the pleasure of traveling alongside.

                                "Pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other mens journeys"
                                                                             Cormac McCarthy

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll

By Alex Mehlin

We went to sleep under pink mountains and awoke to sun-stroked white capped peaks crowning the alleged second deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon.

Our goal was to wake up have breakfast and get on the road bound for Arequipa. Like always we had no idea how long it would take to get there but we decided to go the unknown and less traveled route.

Two hours later after leaving the quaint town of Cabanaconac we found ourselves frightenly low on fuel. I parked the bus in the shade of a quite square in an unconcerning town. Alaena and Zach set off to find some info on where exactly we were and how far it would be to Arequipa.

They came back with scary news. We were 4 hours by gravel road away from the Pan-American and once safely on the pavement we still had 2 hours of driving to get to Arequipa. On top of that the only diesel in town was a stagering 15 soles a gallon.

Seven gallons of gas later and a happy send off from the locals we rumbled down the gravel road.

We drove and drove and drove. We passed one other car and saw one person as we drove through red rock country. The kilometer markers on the side of the road were a constant reminder of how far away from civilizaton  we were.

At one point the stone washed marker read 67 kilometers. At this point we were 67km away from any town or person. We had no working jack and tires worn well beyond their retirement age. I was in a state of constant terror.

Contingency plans rickoshaded through my brain. I pictured building a pyramid like structure out of rock and driving the bus´s limp wheel up onto the structure. I then would place a larger support rock under the frame and proceeding to violently knock the pyramid from under the wheel. With a crash I would drive the bus off the rock hoping to not brake anything. Another far fetched idea consisted of a titer totter made of fire wood and rocks.

We breathed in red dust and kicked out a constant stream of exhaust. The bus drove on and on. Our teeth chattered through each section of wash board, up and down we went, banked turns sucked the bus in and spit her out with ferocious velocity as we cruised through no mans land.   

The radio blasted to hide the choir of new mystery noises. When the Gypsies were not making up dances for the impending big night out they were sleeping. We drove and drove.

I have never looked forward to pavement more in my life. As we passed awkwardly irrigated desert farms our salvation laid in a stream of black asphalt just out of eye sight.

The locals were right, once on the Pan-American it was two hours to Arequipa. We arrived to the bustling city of 800,000 on a Friday night. If there is anything I hate it is driving into a foreign city at night. After our last foray into Guayaquil through the dark cover of night I vowed never to drive into a city at night again. Here I was once again braking a vow to myself.

The city lights ominously spread out as far as we could see. We drove into the cayous. Like always we just started to ask the locals for directions. The day was special, the road was kind to us, with the help of a cab driver who parted violent clashes of bus and taxi to immerged from the smog directing us in the right direction. We followed the drections and asked a bus driver to help as we waited for the light to turn green the bus driver asked all his passengers for a playa, he got an answer and let us cut him off to make the irrational turn across three lanes onto our road to safety.

Once parked I stood up stretched looked at our dusty and dirty steed and hugged Alaena. We all were highly relieved that the bus survived such a grueling foray into the wilderness and emerged into the city night seemingly unskaved. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Forest Green Bench

By Zach W. Watson

The dark Peruvian man just asked me if I wanted my shoes shined as I put my backpack and ass down on this forest green bench in the center of the Plaza de Armas. Every Peruvian city has a Plaza de Armas, but the Cusco plaza is special. It is the only plaza in Peru where I can look over my shoulder and see a young kid with a computer in his lap after the sun has gone down. I guess it’s because when I look over my other shoulder I can see a group of tourist police standing in a circle chatting.

There is a beautifully clean McDonalds here, right next to some dirty old church with big green doors and two symmetrical steeples with big brass bells.

Lots of cars drive around the square; it seems continual, like they are driving around in circles. I know that they turn off of the plaza on some dark side street that leads to some end of town where the prostitutes crawl and the crack dealers peddle. No Gringo dares to go there, unless they’re looking for the wrong kind of kicks, the kind that end in bribing the tourist police at four o’clock in the morning.

Some Australian hippy girl looks at me and said, “Hola.”

Then, a Peruvian guy with a blue sweater just whistled, piercing the drums of my ears, you know, the kind of whistle where you don’t pucker your lips. I guess his friend was on the other side of the park. And now no one is around and I look up and see the changing neon lights of the fountain. Wow. No wonder people come here from around the world.

A tour bus just stopped across the street to drop a group of tired white tourists off. In the distance, from somewhere behind, I hear the Super Mario Bros. song, but it’s not polyphonic. It’s coming from a Peruvian instrument, the kind that looks like an upside down organ, but it’s not an organ because it’s small; it´s wooden; and it’s a flute.

This bench is dark green, and it’s next to some grass. Oh, there is the lady with a rolling garbage can. She’s wearing a blue uniform with yellow writing on the back that says, “Municipilidadldad de Cusco.” Now, my bench is by a garbage can that’s by a post with a standard street light on top.

There’s an older blonde lady with her arms full of shopping bags. Thank God, she has a pair of one hundred and twenty dollar Merrels because I don’t think a no-name brand would be able to support the weight of her bag full of South American handicrafts.

A backpacker wearing shorts walks by. He has a beanie on. He obviously acknowledged the weather by putting on a beanie, come on kid, put some pants on.

The shoe shine guy is back. He points at my Doc Martens.

“Un Sol,” he said

“No, Gracias,”

“Es necesario, ochenta centimos?”

“No tengo nada”

“Okay, my friend”

There are some flowers with long green stems all in a circular bunch. They are purple flowers and they are close to my bench.

This tall guy has a cigarette. I want one, but I have no money. I wasn’t lying to the shoe shine guy. I would have gotten a shoe shine for eighty centimos. It’s only twenty five cents.

The stores are open on the bottom floors of the old colonial buildings that line the square, bright fluorescent inside lights meet the dull yellow light from the streets.

Three older Americans talking about outfits and clothes.

A couple of guys with guitars.

A little girl with light up shoes.

An Argentinean couple on another green bench that’s not mine sits and kisses. I know he’s Argentinean because he has a good beard. They all have good beards.

Blonde French people just walked by, sounded like French, but they could have been Scandinavian.

Remember the street light? It just went out leaving me to write in darkness. I just can´t imagine this little lonely green bench with its twirly, viny arm rests and it´s forest green lacquered finish sitting here in the dark of the square alone when the people speaking funny languages go back to their finely pressed hotel linens and warm heat from vents to dream of airport stresses, and the guy selling watches goes home to a warm soup prepared by his slightly overweight wife, who always wanted to go to Lima to get a job on a cruise ship but couldn´t because the watch guy got her pregnant when she was sixteen, again at eighteen, and again at twenty-one.

Some blonde guy threw a water bottle in a rolling trashcan. He has tight pants that are too short, a Hawaiian shirt, and an average looking middle-aged girlfriend with a sweater tied around her neck. He must have money.

This thirty eight year old man with a hand full of watches, sits down next to me and I have to put my journal down.

I tell him I do not have money.

He simply wants a conversation.

I speak in Spanish.

He asks where I will be for Christmas and I say, “Chile”. Then he asks about my family. I say that right now I am only a traveler and in the future, when I have a family of my own, that I want to live by my parents. I do not know if this is true, but I can say it in Spanish.

He has a brother in Chile. He is from Lima, in Cusco for business. His business is selling fake watches.

Now, two dirty kids are rolling around on the ground as their two sisters laugh. Their mother with a multi- colored blanket tied around her neck, which is full of a baby, reaches down to pick her misbehaving children from the ground.

A beautiful young fair-skinned military woman with a green navy cap walks by; a fat guy with a grey wool sweater follows. I can hear a police whistle in the background, periodically, an annoying traffic tool, unnecessary for its use, only a constant reminder to the people of the power of the whistle, and unfortunately the person´s mouth it resides in.

Trash ladies back. She´s sweeping at my feet.

The light turns on.

A guy asks if I want Cocaine.

“Not tonight. Not tonight.”

Oh no. The street dogs are on the prowl looking for trouble. The spotted white dog pees on the lamp post by my bench.

A Peruvian street vendor walks by with a bag on her back full of useless toys or dolls, probably made in China, that will end up in some grand-daughters toy chest amongst mismatched legos and mutilated Barbie heads.

What happens to this bench, this muse, after I leave? Whose ass cheeks will be squeezed between the green wooden slats tomorrow, what dog will pee on the viny legs, and what pigeon will mark this beautiful forest green bench with a dirty white blob of shit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bebe the Dancing Lama

By Alaena

We sat eating French toast and fruit in our campsite by an Incan carved rock in the middle of nowhere, Peru. A middle aged Quechuan lady approached us. She was wearing the traditional, puffy layered, petticoated skirt and all-important hat.  She offered us freshly cooked corn on the cob and cheese which we greedily accepted. She introduced us to her alpacca, Bebe and fed him some corn. "He eats anything" she explained. "He drinks anything too; fizzy drinks, beer, rhum. When he gets drunk he dances".
We laughed and wished that we had met Bebe the night before so that we could have shared our rhum with him.

As I sit in the airport preparing to return to Europe for three weeks away from the Gypsy train, I realise what an odd life we lead. Our day to day life is a string of strange and wonderful events that have become almost normal in our eyes.

I eat my processed ham and cheese sandwich with no crusts, in a cafe in the oddly foreign and sterilised, white airport.  It's surreal to think that just a week ago I sat with Alex eating outside the battery repair shop in Puno, breakfasting on lomo saltado, a combination of chips, meat, fried tomatoes and onions and rice. Passers by stared, wondering what two gringos were doing in this part of town eating on the pavement. These parts of towns, where the maestros dwell, have become a little too familiar. Flat tires, amongst a host of other problems, are an unfortunately regular occurence on Peru's bumpy dirt roads. When they do occur we spring into action. We'll look to borrow a jack -ours is broken- or two of us jump on a mototaxi to the nearest town or village to find the local llantero. If they refuse to come to us, Alex sets to work replacing the flat tire with the bald spare and we take it to the maestro to be patched. The whole process has taken anywhere between six minutes and three hours.

It's time to go through immigration and the guard grumpily stamps my passport. Out of habbit I almost want to assure him that I am not Ecuadorian. Every time the police stop us, I get a small tummy turn of nervousness. Will they want bribes? Are they going to find something wrong with our insurance/ driving/ seatbelts that I will have to argue about? Will we actually have to pay this time? Most of the time as soon as we explain that we are not Ecuadorian we are allowed on our way. To most people it would be pretty obvious that the group of white english-speaking people on our bus are not Ecuadorian, but the number plates cause much confusion for the police.

Once on the plane I can't help but be exited about the meal. Although it's always pretty rubbish there is just something about the little packages hidding a surprise mush that awakens a hungry curiosity in me. Warm saucy 'meat' accompanied by salad, stale bread, cream cheese and flan. We often eat mush on the Gypsy Train but it is of uncomparably higher quality. Zach and Mike return from the market with kilogram upon kilogram of fresh produce, meat or fish, potatoes, rice for a delicious and almost  always new meal every night. The bus sometimes looks like a mini market overflowing with fruit and veg.  When we arrive at camp, everyone helps chop up the ingredients and the chefs then sit over the stove - sometimes for hours - preparing our nightly feast and softly bickering like an old couple. If we are lucky enough to have leftovers, they are devoured in the morning, topped with eggs.

The Ecuadorian business man next to me finds a better seat on the exit row, so on a full plane I have two seats to myself. I curl up into a ball and although the air hostesses kick my feet every time they walk past, I drift off to sleep. Every night on the Gypsy Train everyone at some point sets up their beds. Matthias always sleeps on the bus and others variously join him, sleep outside or set up tents according to the weather and mood. Alex and I set up his suite of a tent every night like a well oiled machine. Poles, rainfly and pegs go in and then I arrange the assortment of sleeping mats, sleeping bags and blankets we have aquired into a warm and comfortable bed. It's definitely luxury camping and I miss this bed now on the cramped airplane seats.

We often ask local farmers if we can stay on their property and people have almost always been extremely welcoming and happy to have us. This is especially so on the remote Quechuan farms where they have shown us great generosity. The Quechuan people are an indiginous population who live accross the Andes. They speak their own language, Quechuan, although in most places they also speak Castellano. The traditional clothing, still popularly worn, is of great importance. The women wear often vibrantly coloured, layered skirts with wrap around patterned belts. For both men and women the tall, wide brimmed hat is vital. When we once stayed on a farm belonging to a welcoming Quechuan family, Marta asked them, as they sat around our campfire, how much they paid for their hats. They said 300 soles, which is approxamately 100 dollars or nearly a third of a cow.

They stayed around the fire laughing at us cooking with peppers we believed not to be spicy and at Kate's attempts to learn how to spin wool. In the morning, the old man managed to explain to Mike that he needed a bottle of some kind. Mike walked with him with a two litre plastic bottle to the field where his wife was milking a cow. She filled up the whole bottle of fresh milk. It was such a treat in a country where it is only possible to buy bags of UHT processed milk. We drank glass after glass and still didn't finish it all.

I wait for the seatbelt sign to go off and make my way over to the bathroom complete with flushing toilet, water and soap. I think of stumbling out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee, looking up at a full sky of stars, the milky way running brightly through it. Or less enjoyably, of asking Alex for an emergency stop in desolate, rocky mountain plains, running round the corner and staring out at the nothingness whilst my insides explode.

We gypsy showers as we go using rivers or lakes or buckets and wells. In the desert in northern Peru we camped by some pyramid ruins and Marta quickly made friends with the people in the village. She came back to camp with clean wet hair and told Kate and I to follow her. A friendly family took us to the small rectangle that served as their back yard and, as a pig and puppy watched on, the two little girls poured freezing water over our heads and laughed as we gasped.

Some of the most rewarding places we have been are the ones we never would have seen without the Gypsy Train. We decided to follow a sign off the main road to Puno and lake Titicaca, pointing to the Peninsula. We drove along a dirt road for a couple of hours passing several villages where locals looked at us somewhat quizically when we asked for directions but sent us on with vague instructions. We continued, a little nervous that the road lead nowhere, until we arrived at a long stretch of white sand beach with a couple of moored fishing boats bobbing up and down. After frolicking on the beach we followed the road up the hill to get some shelter from the cold wind. We reached a small house and I asked to speak to the owner. A kindly old man came out and assured us we could camp anywhere on his land; "A fire? Claro! Do you need wood? Do you need water? Let me know if I can do anything to help". We cooked our dinner of gypsy dahl, set up our tents, and drank our rhum around the fire. The morning greeted us with a spectacular view over the sparkling, clear lake Titicaca.

We have passed through countless amounts of dazzling landscapes, from mountains to beaches and jungles to desserts; sometimes all in the same day. One of the sights I will never forget was as we drove through mountain plains over 4000m in altitude towards Puno. A Quechuan lady walked through the grassy planes hearding a hundred lamas. Behind her, standing out in the arid landscape was a huge turquoise lake filled with thousands of flamingos.

As I prepare to disembark from the plane in a completely different world, I wander what landscapes, adventures and challenges the gypsies will be facing now, as they head towards Chile.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Small Things

By Alex Mehlin

In a giant breath I released a cloud of stress; I stepped out of the bus and into the drizzle, reached towards Apu and looked at my travel companions. They returned stale stares as if they had no idea that their first leg of Machupichu was a 4 hour hike into the lingering green mountains.

In order to reach Santa Teresa we drove an hour and a half down a one lane rock and dirt road, fording streams while narrowing squeezing over tattered wooden planks fitted together to form a bridge. In the United States there would have been a sign warning of the dangers of the road and suggesting, if not requiring, 4-wheel-drive vehicles. At times the road became no more then a strip of crushed rock cut out of the mountain side. A tire width to the left a deadly gorge dropped straight down thousands of feet. If that was not enough, razor rocks terrorized my psyche, threatening to rip our well worn tires apart.

As I stood outside a cool drizzle ran down my neck calming me as I began to reclaim my nerves. I took another look at The Gypsies and wondered if I had become a tour leader again? Nobody was moving, they were uncertain what to do for lunch where the hike began and when to leave. I didn’t have the answers, I like them just arrived in a new town however, I had no intentions of hiking to Machupichu.

When the Gypsy Train was only a brain child we were certain that we were not going to be a tour company. We wanted only to be a moving hostel and offer people a chance to get off the Gringo Trail. For the most part that’s what we do. We wake up with little to no idea where we are going to sleep, we have only a slight idea how long it takes to get any where and we don’t run on a time schedule.

Lately, I have been feeling unwanted stress. A few of our passengers have come with a time line. As the driver it is extremely hard to deal with this. I truly want to get people to set destinations on time, but it gets tricky. Roads are unpredictable, breakdowns are unavoidable, hangovers are incurable and illness is inevitable.

I understand how we began to fringe on being a tour company.

The Gypsy Train is now a well oiled machine. Pulling the parking brake each night triggers a series of events. Matthias takes out our box speakers and places them on the roof, Mike and Zach begin chopping up produce, Alaena butchers the meat, I set up the stove, take the chairs and bags off the roof, then go to gather fire wood while the rest of the crew takes on various assigned tasks. After dinner we relax next to a warm fire sipping tipped rum and listening to cool tunes.

In a sense we are much more like a commune of travelers rather then a tour group. To new members I can see how it feels like they are on a tour. As a result, questions like were we are going, what we are going to do and where we are going to sleep have become more of the norm. As people stay longer they begin to understand the working of the bus.

As Alaena, Matthais and I sat in Santa Terresa waiting for the others to get back from Machupichu we watched tour companies come and go. They were always the same. The guides put up tents then proceeded to start cooking dinner while the passengers sat around drinking beer or wine and discussing the days activities. They seemed happy to be paying the exuberant fees and in return being waited on hand and foot. I watched the tour leaders give their nightly talks, informing everyone what the next day entailed. The passengers listened intently while my brain erupted with laughter.

Watching the tour companies gave me great satisfaction in what the Gypsy Train has become. It opened my eyes to the fact that without the Gypsy Train we all would be just like every other gringo touring South America.

With a cold beer in hand, thirteen thousand gnats getting drunk off my flesh, while answering questions about The Gypsy Train delivered by curious travelers, I realized that a few deadlines and a hand full of stupid questions is a small price to pay for getting to live a life on the endless road to freedom.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Road Warriors...The Saga Continues

By Alex Mehlin

We were driving down the main drag of Juliaca, it looked like every other Peruvian shit hole. Smog filled the bus as we passed decrepid buildings, a square with a large ancient church, a thousand bodegas, a hand full of chifa restaurants and the token pollerias.

We were approaching the end of town when I pulled through a busy intersection, the cabs in front of me zoomed through the intersection and I followed suit. A large dump truck was making some sort of rash moneuver forcing the traffic to get backed up. I waited for the dump truck to move as the sounds of police whistles shrieked over the sounds of a hundred engines.

I thought nothing of it and drove down the 3 lane road to Puno. As I passed through a green light a taxi suddenly emerged in front of me. He began to slow down and put his flashers on. He did so in such a way that there was no way for me to pass him. My first thought was that he ran out of gas.

I realized that this was not the case as a police man exited from the front of the car and approached the bus. He immediately began to yell at me and make crude gestures. I smiled and nodded my head. I had no idea what the fuck he was saying but I knew it was not good.

Alaena quickly jumped up front and began to talk to the irate traffic authority. She apologized profusely for my criminal activity and he just kept on telling her that I broke the law and crossed the intersection without his consent.

Apparently it is illegal to cross a policed intersection if the officers back is turned to you. I had no idea and was only following the flow of traffic. He took out the ever to familiar police hand book and flipped to rule number 432, which explain that if a driver disobeys a signal from a police officer he has committed an infraction against Peruvian law. The police officer kept informing Alaena that he was indeed a police officer as if his ridiculous hat, large pistol and hand book were not evidence enough.

She sat and gave him the typical spiel, ¨please don´t do this to us, we love the police of Peru and want no trouble¨. This was not enough for him, he was out for revenge. He informed Alaena that we were no longer going to Puno and would spend the day at the police station paying the allotted fine.

At one point he entered the bus and told us that the fine would be 432 soles. The equivalent to $140, this was solely the number of the infraction in the book, we looked at him with dumb looks as if we knew zero Spanish, Alaena told him we did not have this sort of money. After more deliberation he finally put his infraction hand book back in his pocket and warned Alaena that this had better be the first and last time we ever disobey a traffic guard.

We were pulled over for the same infraction 2 hours later in Puno. So it goes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Automated Functions on the Cordillera Blancas

Zach W. Watson

Mike, Alex, Alaena, and I had made it to the base of the pass and were sitting on stones around our rented camp stove watching our oatmeal and apples pop as they neared readiness.  The sun was bright and warm, and we waited for every single oat and fruit morsel sitting in that steaming aluminum pot. 
A group of Israelis slowly began to gather nearby.  They took their small daypacks off, placing them on the ground in front of them, some removing water, some just chatting. It seemed everyone knew each other.  Their guides walked over to the donkeys and removed the sandwiches from the oversized saddle bags.  The guides then handed out the corpulent pre-made lunch, and the Israelis choked their food down.
After cleaning our plates and the pot of oatmeal in some flowing stream, we packed our plates and threw our thirty pound packs on our backs and barreled up the beginning of the upward climb to the high mountain pass, as we left the tour group on the flats.
I quickly fell behind, as was becoming the pattern of the day, staring up at the grey clouds that were beginning to form around the goliath peak to the left.  The shadows of the clouds gave an ominous look to the smooth grey rocks below the horned, snow-white glacier.  Suddenly as I caught my breath, the glacier cracked and crumbled, flowing down the smooth cliffs in large chunks of ice until they lost momentum and settled some ways down the grey steep. 
I imagined standing directly below it, ice blocks ripping me apart, burying me under ice debris for decades until they melted and some mountaineer discovered all the tattered pieces.
I imagined tattered pieces about the floor of my tent a week earlier, condom wrappers and dirty sheets, a brown leather backpack and a black camera case.
I imagined the poles of my tent and how I stretched them across the cloth of the tent as Marta slowly, sometimes drunkenly, snapped them into place.  Once the tent was erect, she would carefully covered the floor with her thin sleeping bag, then the white sheet, then the thick sleeping bag and finally the thick Mexican-style throw.
We were in Cajamarca when Marta put the thick Mexican throw in my bag when I wasn’t around.  After we checked out, she told me I had a present in my bag; which in turn, let me know that I had stolen the blanket from the hotel.  She had done the same in Loki Hostal with the white sheet.
I was happy though, on those cold nights, when we could sleep naked because we had an excess of stolen linens. Two helpless bodies, exposed, wrapped around each other for warmth while the light weight of the cold, sober desert confined the cloth walls of the red and beige tent.  
She woke me every morning with the click of her Canon and the non-stop prattle of a teenage girl. I hated her.  I buried my head deep inside those many blankets underneath the stillness of the morning, a time she craved.
One morning stands out among the rest in some coastal shithole outside Chiclayo.
It had all started in this fucked-up market in Chiclayo the day earlier.  We parked the bus outside the ridiculously sized mercado and dispersed.  The market was a deranged loose institution of fruit hawkers, booze swindlers, drug dealers, butchers, fish brokers, and just about any other vendor that even Charles Manson couldn´t imagine.  Anything we wanted was inside that market, buried deep in its flesh.
We walked around aimlessly while the vendors stared at us gringos, men shouting from the megaphones that sat atop their fruit carts, at Marta, asking what naranjas were in English.  She shouted back, “Oranges.”  This set off a domino effect, and soon every merchant in the market was shouting from their megaphones, asking for the names of different types of produce in English.
Marta made friends with just about every vendor in the whole place.  They just looked at me. Sometimes they shook my hand; sometimes they laughed.  But while this funny anecdote played out on the streets of Chiclayo, Seth from Milwaukee was in a dark place, rummaging through the underbelly of the market, for the medicine men, for the San Pedro.
We left with food and San Pedro to the coast where we figured we could find a place to camp.  The dreary coast was littered with dirty villages and trash dumps.  We began to fear that we would not find a campsite.  We learned of a little hostel somewhere down the beach.
 Multi-colored pyramids peaked through the shadowy distance and we knew that this hostel was a sanctuary for the Gypsy Train. It looked like somewhere that Luke Skywalker could have grown up, on some distant planet still stuck in the seventies.
We took San Pedro in that place hoping for a trip into another dimension.  The only trip we had was to the bathroom about seventeen times that night. 

My tent, the next morning, stood under an elevated guest-room on a sand floor amongst a plethora of cooking utensils and dirty dishes that were caked with the greenish-mescaline based substance that entered our bodies the night before.  Only a picture can explain.

Most mornings were a rush to cook breakfast and pack up and leave, but because everyone kept shitting, no one wanted to leave or eat.  Marta and I had a chance to laze in our tent.
“I want to tell you, I felt that we really connected that night in Mancora, when we were talking about the photos and we were on Jingus, and we were really intense, and since that moment I wanted to tell you that I love you.”  Marta said.
Between shits and smiles, we confessed ourselves.  I knew it was odd, but it was us, two funny, good-looking weirdos finding each other in between bouts of diarrhea.  She was there again.  I was happy.
I wanted to be back there with the diarrhea.  I wanted to be on the mountain pass.  

When we reached the summit of the pass atop a nearly five thousand meter ridge, we discovered a meager fissure in the rock, only big enough for a walking body where the path passed through.  I stood with my three friends looking down  on both sides of the ridge, one side a happy valley with glacier capped peaks and silver lakes, the other an ashen snarl, something out of Mordor.  We had no choice and continued on, down the ashen path, as small pieces of hail gathered in the crevasses of our bags and on the dirt trail in front and behind us, turning it white. 
Thunder echoed against the granite walls, each time growing uncomfortably louder.  Mike and I raced down the trail as the hail turned to rain and flowed from the darkened clouds that stuck to the high mountains, hiding them, leaving only the wet valley below in view where our final campsite sat and, hopefully, a sanctuary from the freezing rain.
I found an overhanging piece of brown rock with enough room for two or three.  Mike and I squeezed in to wait for A&A, who had fallen behind.  The lightning struck all around us.  I heard A&A coming down the trail.
“Psst.  Over here” I whispered.  They squeezed into the crowded cave, and we discussed our options, Alex´s back pressed against the roof and my head against it.  We could have stayed where we were and wait out the rain or boogie down to our final campsite of our four day hike.  We chose to boogie.
After a few more hours of lightning terror and torrential soakings, we made it to the camp and there stood our sanctuary from the rain, a concrete bathroom structure.  In the center of each stall, a two-foot deep hole brimmed with all sorts of different garbage and shit, even the kind that splattered on the wall.  A&A huddled in one stall, and Mike and I huddled in another watching the rain fall, remembering warmth and ignoring the stench.  It was a miserable place to be, but in the stillness, I thought back.
To Huaraz, a few days before.
My hands were covered in black paint.  Marta and I traced the outline of the penciled “Werdafukawi” on the back of the bus in a car lot off a narrow street.  Our paintbrushes didn´t work, so we used little sticks with a bi of paint on the end like quill and ink.

Marta was leaving on a bus in a few hours, and we had to paint the bus before she left.  A light drizzle dampened us, but it didn´t wet us enough to stop us from finishing our final task.  She chatted to the little girls while she painted.  I focused as to not fuck up as I was prone to do with anything associated with visual arts.  Marta, flawlessly and carelessly, painted her letters perfect, and eventually, it met my unintelligible letters in the middle.
We decided we needed a cigarette break.  I placed a Caribe in my mouth.
“It sucks about these things.” I said. “If I didn´t live this way, going from place to place, I could have never met you, nor would you have probably even liked me.  The same for you.  If you just stayed there in Madrid, none of this could of have happened or could have ever even continued to happen.  But because it is like this, I can never think that it could ever develop in a domestic way, since what we find so endearing about each other is that we aren´t normal nor domestic.  Some day I would like to be domestic, but not now.  Maybe we could be domestic , but eventually you would hate the way I brushed my teeth or that I opened the shower curtain in the wrong direction.  It’s better this way, thinking of each other in a glow rather than an afterglow of disdain.
“And we just live so far away.  We both have no money.  It really makes me sad that it is an impossibility.  And even if it were not an impossibility, if either one of us would give up so much, your career or my gypsy train, to be together, it would inevitably put a heavy strain on the person who gave up these things.  
“The only possible light would be in the far future, in Buenos Aires.  But there would have to be so many uncontrollable factors that steered us there.  The Gypsy Train has no route; you do have a route.  We would both have to plan now to go there for ourselves, no matter whether we continue to keep such close connection.  We are far away and for a long time.  People and feelings fade.  Proximity is the crucial element to a continued romance.  I know you lay and dream of me in Madrid and I obsess on the days you were here.  It´s just so fucking sad.
“I would say don’t ever forget me, but that’s absurd.  Of course, you won’t forget me.  Maybe I should say don’t forget that we loved each other once and at one time you got funny feelings in your stomach when you thought of me.  But you will.  It will just fade away just like everything else.”
Some of these words came out on that Saturday afternoon under the drizzle.  Others still have yet to come out, and some came out, just now, in this very serious blog I just wrote.
 We stared at our artwork.  And we didn’t speak.  I thought about her leaving on a bus that wasn´t mine.  It didn´t really feel like she was leaving.  Everything had felt so natural.  She was still standing there.  I could still touch her.
And then after a few more hours of purgatory, I couldn´t touch her anymore.
I watched her get on the bus, and, like a corny movie, I said, “I will see you again.  I know it.”
I didn´t know it.
 I walked down the road and back to the hostel.
I watched a comedy with my friends and fell asleep.  The next day we prepared for the hike through the Santa Cruz valley, and Marta flew home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road Warriors

By Alex Mehlin

The peaceful sounds of water dripping off the dense amazonian mountain scape were suddenly terrorized, as two A-37Bs engaged each other in air-to-air combat. .50 caliber shells littered the canopy while the dog fight ripped the air currents around the disputed Cordillera del Cóndor.

Dating back to 1941 Peru and Ecuador have been fighting over the head waters of the Cenepa River.  East of the Cordillera del Condor was claimed by the Ecuadorians as their own, Peru´s government meanwhile claimed that the territorial boundary lay on the ridge of the mountains. In 1998, after 57 years of border disputes, it was resolved that  Peru would give up a square kilometer of land to Ecuador in the Amazon and the official boarder would rest on the ridge of the Cordillera del Condor.

As Alaena and I drove down the post apocalyptic road into Peru we had no idea that one of the longest boarder disputes in the western hemisphere this century, over uninhabitable land deep in the jungle, would ever affect our life on the Gypsy Train.

In Ecuador we were seldom pulled over. When we were the National Police were only curious as to what we were doing with a bus, filled with Gringos. Once we were pulled over as the sun lay low on the horizon.  After 30 minuets of dispute over the legality of my driving eligibility, an obvious ploy to elicit bribe money, we were let go under the caution, “you know they are going to rob you in Peru?” We chuckled at the irony of the comment as we pulled away. 

We were later warned once again of the criminal nature of all Peruvians. As Alaena and I sat watching or mechanic sing karaoke in a posh Santo Domingo bar, the men next to us informed us how once while visiting Peru he fell victim to an attempted pickpocket. On another none-the- less-startling experience, this same man while visiting a market was also short changed. It was clear to us we were in for a world of trouble when we entered Peru.

Crossing the boarder was easy. We simply drove into the shacks that consisted of the Peruvian Boarder Patrol offices, parked, presented all our documents, signed a few pieces of paper and were rewarded a 90 day driving visa for Peru.

Mancora lays about 2 hours south of the boarder. We were pulled over twice before reaching the electric beach town. We were unprepared for the battle. Alaena talked to the police man as I fumbled through my folder of important documents. After producing our array of freshly minted documents we were let go with the wave of the hand.

We have been pulled overa round 40 times. Most of these occurrences end as abruptly as they started once the road patrolee realizes we are not Ecuadorians. Others do not go so smoothly. For these occasions we send in our diplomat, Alaena. When we had Marta with us our diplomatic team was too much for the police to handle.

On one occurrence while the police officer was holding his ticket book, pen in hand delivering us a “small fine, so we have something to remember Peru with” Martha, convinced him that Alaena and her would rather remember Peru through a picture of the three of them next to his police truck.

We avoided an expensive fine for not having a seat belt on the front passenger side of the cockpit. At the time of our alleged criminal activity there was no person riding in the illegal seat. This did not deter the speak impedimented slobbering road Nazi from feeling the need to deliver us a fine. As he began to write out a ticket, violation number 29A in the cheap paper back road handbook assigned to all police, Alaena stepped off the bus and after 20 minuets of confruntation smiled and jumped back on board as the cop put his fine book away. We peeled out of town with all our money.
After a particularly roaring night around a campfire, we drove into the city. A team of red barret National Police stopped the Gypsy Train to inform us that our rear trunk was open. As they waved us through one of the police yelled into the window asking us if we needed any marijuana. We drove off without taking the offer.  
Through these experiences we have put together a game plan for dealing with the police. Our first move is to wave and smile, second we ask for directions or simple tourist questions, this throws them off their game since we are in control asking the questions. They then always ask where we are comming from, we take this oppertunity to compliment Peru´s natural beauty. At this point we generally get waved on, but not always.

Some cops are after bribe money. They scrutinize every official document we present. Our driving visa is clean, we have the Matricula in my name, my California Commercial Drivers License is legal for 90 days. The only thing we don't have is insurance, the reason being it is stupidly expensive and worthless. We have stopped allowing people to ride shotgun because apparently it is illegal to have a navigator unseat-belted, however it is completely legal to smash 20 people into a 10 person van, as long as they are not navigators or co-pilots.    

In preperation  for these run-ins I have plastified and copied all of my documents, this prevents them from holding my identity hostage. We try to carry very little money with us, if we don't have any money we cant pay bribes or fines. Alaena is a master of rhetoric. She refuses to accept a ticket and will out smart any cop, she is our biggest asset in the daily fight against ticketing.

Our efforts to deter the police from finding anything worthy of costing us a night in jail or a hefty fine have worked. So far we have not given a single centimo to any badge totting, power hungry officer of the road.
We were pulled over a record setting 6 times on the drive between Huaraz and Lima. I’m sure that we will continue to do battle with the police on every and any road we choose to ride down in Peru. Our only hope is that Chile does not hold a grudge against Ecuador over a small piece of mountain tucked so far into the jungle it is only accessible by helicopter or fighter plane. 

 Photos by Marta Anglada

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scooby Doo be Doo, Where is Manuel Chu?

By Zach W. Watson

The road to Huaraz was closed from six a.m. to six p.m. due to extreme dynamiting on the four thousand meter pass. We found out, from a sweet construction girl who guarded the entrance to the pass, that the only way to get on that pass was written consent from the comidante, Manuel Chu, the foreman of the entire reconstruction of Via Huaraz.

We found the campamento, where we were told M.C. would be, at the bottom of the hill. The campamento seemed like an American construction operation center, with its brand new Volvo dump trucks, a series of small, clean, and uniform buildings, and a steel gate. The only thing that gave it a more Peruvian feel was the armed security personnel. It was very clear that Manuel Chu kept a clean kitchen.

The girls, being our diplomats as always, went to the gate and asked for Chu. The guards told the girls that Manuel Chu was unable to be located, and it would be roughly twenty minutes before he could be found. After two hours of sitting on the side of the road across from the campamento, the girls shook their way over and smiled big to pressure the guards into finding Chu.

Manuel Chu appeared, miraculously, out of the cluster of dump trucks and began conversing to them through the steel gate. He told them that we wouldn't be able to pass because we needed to ask for permission before noon. It was then two.

Marta told him that we were with an organization that, through photo and musical workshops, promoted environmental awareness at universities around South America. Manuel Chu was astounded because, it just so happened, that he needed someone to speak on behalf of the company since Queiro Golvao, the Brazilian contractor building the road, was not only a molder of the land but a protector. Marta brushed him off and said that she was leaving soon due to her studies back in Spain and that we really needed to get to Huaraz the following day because we had a meeting to attend. After twenty minutes of deliberation, Manuel Chu asked them back to his office with Alex and the title of the bus. Shortly after, they appeared with a white piece of paper granting us permission to drive on, what turned out to be, the Peruvian version of the Caminos del Muerte. Our allowed departure time was 3:30.

We waited by the road block until the time came, reading and eating candy. It was time. We gave the sweet construction girl our permission slip and followed down a single lane dirt road, passing dump trucks heading opposite directions, men on cables high on steeps clearing the excess rock, steam rollers pressing the newly formed gravel road, construction workers with orange hats and blue jump suits whistling at the girls and waving at us, newly dynamited rock piles, and isolated mountain towns. It seemed we were the only civilian car on this road. We soon learned why.

An hour into the drive, we came upon a giant pile of rocks, a cluster of men, machines, and trucks. We were halted for about thirty minutes. After about thirty minutes and the workers letting us know we had a tire with low air, they let us pass. We crept through the demolition zone over a collection of small boulders that just an hour earlier were part of the mountain to our left. Ssscrappee. Bang Bang. Boom Boom. EEEEEwwwwwwww...fuck.

We pulled over and everything seemed fine. We continued down the one lane, ten-percent grade path, not even a road, higher and higher. On every sharp corner stood a sign on the edge of a three thousand foot cliff that read: honk your horn. It was there to avoid a head on collision that would surely end in mutilated metal and a few torn carcasses.

Dark was coming and rain from the east and a slow, increasing worry. I searched the landscape for campsites, but nothing exposed itself, just cliffs and farms and unsettling mountain communities full of drunk Quechuans that didn't seem too welcoming to a bus full of Gringos. Mike wanted to push on. I clearly stated my opinion, which was camping at the first site we could find. In time, our collective nervousness came to a boil and we stopped in the rain at a flat terrace that sat over cliffs made specifically for dumping rocks and dirt. We parked right next to the road in this small mud lot, our tire was low on air, and we couldn't cook because it was raining.

We sat quietly like a family holed-up during a hurricane with nothing but conversation and a few stale rolls to munch on. The rain slowly died and I set my tent up directly next to the bus and about twenty feet from the road, which was only open at night. Marta and I climbed in and quickly fell asleep. Within fifteen minutes, the first truck rounded the corner. His engine break screamed as his high brights lit up the inside of my tent.

"Ahhh!" I sat straight up thinking that the semi-truck was barreling toward me and the woman I loved.

"It's alright," she said. "Go back to sleep."

I laid my head on the jacket that I used as a pillow and drifted off to sleep.

Ee aah. Ee ahhh. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I could smell the heat of the female ass from where I laid, and from where I laid, I could here the sweet sounds of donkey's fucking all night long between the panic attacks caused by encroaching semi-trucks. I painfully checked my watch, hoping for morning, every time I was awoken by air or engine breaks and the sporadic increase of light in my tent due to on-coming big wheels.

At daybreak, I popped my head out to sunshine. I checked the tire. It had retained air throughout the night. The bus started fine, and we continued up the dirt road for another hour until it finally became paved again. As we summitted the pass, bright white glaciated peaks reined over the morning valley as our mouths swooned and mountainous excitement charged and lightened us. We stopped, ran out of the car and just smiled and stared at the white goliaths. It made me forget, for a second, the two sleepless nights before, and that Marta was leaving the following day, for good.

Moonland, Chicken

By Zach W. Watson

A moon rock wedged itself between the tent floor and the square of my back while Marta lay naked beside me.  I kissed her with my sour breath and she kissed back, regardless of the stench, which didn't surprise me since I woke up every morning with shit breath and every morning she kissed me back.  I emerged from the tent with baggy sleepless eyes.  A desolate moonscape, devoid of life, appeared with the straining sun and a sleeping bus.  The dunes of sand rolled in the distance, sharp and dull rocks alike plained for as far as one could see, a shambled house of cinderblocks sat directly behind us, and all that emerged in the distance was a still, metal building full.  It looked like a place where nuclear waste would be disposed, and no one would be any of the wiser.

The night before Marta and I were in the process of beginning a session of love, when out of the still of a quiet desert night, we heard an engine and rubber rolling over the rocky road, and lights shone into our tent while horns honked and red lights flashed.  We quickly dressed and left the tent. 

The police greeted us with a smile and asked what we were doing there.  The three cops stood surrounding their police truck.  One cop stood behind the open passenger door, keeping one foot on the floor of the car, the other on the ground, while two hands in the car periodically cocked a pistol.

They told us camping there was highly dangerous and advised us to camp in town. The girls said that we camp all the time in places where there was no one around, so we didn't think it would be any sort of problem.  They said no one around equalled possible problems of safety.  I thought the cocked weapon in the Peruvian's hands was a possible problem of safety.

The truth finally came out when the little security guard from the corporate chicken farm, whose land we were squatting on, emerged from the darkness with an old radio around his neck.  He didn't know who we were, and with it being private property, he called the police because he was scared of us squatters.  After we were granted permission to sleep from the security guard, we were off to sleep and the cops left. 

Before the cops left they said, "If any thing bad happens, the chicken farm is over there."  The chicken farm was at least two miles away.

The wind blew the tent for hours and continued when the rain started and I scambled to put the rain-fly on my tent as Marta laid in the tent so it didn't blow away. 

"Alex, it's raining."  I said to their red tent.

"Why is it fucking raining in the desert?" Alex said.

After the rain died, Alex slept, occasionally walking around with his flashlight, with worry that the knife people that the police warned us about would arrive and slash us to pieces.  I wasn't so much worried about knife people as I was in-bred, nuclear wastoid-cannibals hell-bent on eating our faces and Matthias' parasitic rotten innards.

After emerging from my tent in the morning, Marta and I took it down.  The gypsies were ready for an early departure.  We hopped in, Alex turned the key, and nothing happened.  We were on the surface of the moon with what seemed to be a dead battery.

"Let's go."  I said as we mobilized and walked to the chicken farm to ask for jumper cables.  When we arrived, we discovered that there was no automobile, no jumper cables, only a few dirty Peruvian chicken farmers in jumpsuits who suggested we pushed the bus and pop the clutch to start the car.  They walked back with us.  The gypsies and three chicken farmers planted our feet and pushed.  Vrrrrrrrrrooooooooommmm.  It started and Alex drove off as the farmers admired the Gringo's driving skills.

We left the moon, on our bus, not a spaceship, headed high instead of low, to the high Andes, to Huaraz, to the high glaciated peaks and to say good-bye to Marta.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Day on The Gypsy Train

By Alaena

Four o'clock was approaching. The time when we start searching the roadside for turnoffs that may lead to appropriate camping sites. We were still at altitude, surrounded by planted pine forests and mist, on our way from Cajamarca down to the coast.

After grasping an opportunity to collect a mass of felled wood, we drove on through a heard of cows, donkeys, sheep and goats that appeared out of the clouds. We spotted a grassy turnoff and ventured down it. We parked bus in the middle of some sparcely scattered baby pines and went off in search of the owners to request camping permission. Marta and Alex found two teenagers that didn't seem opposed to the idea, so we settled in.

Fresh trout, rice and vegetables were on the menu, but dinner proved to be more of a challenge than usual when we realised the propane gas was running low. The trout would have to be flame grilled. After a painstaking effort from the boys to light and burn down the wet wood, the food was finally cooked. The fish was delicious and the rhum we had been sipping whilst we waited made it all the more so.

A man appeared at our fire and asked us not to set the forest alite and invited us to a party 2km further along the seemingly deserted grassy planes. We drove down there to find a stage complete with live band, free beer and lots of curious and friendly locals. As we danced in circles with the small children in front of the stage we became the main attraction of the night. We taught them the shake and move dance. Marta and I danced on the stage and I noticed the semi circle of bemused locals that had formed around Kate, Mike and Mathias dancing in the middle. After a little drunken arguing, the night was finished back around our campfire with rhum, marvelling at the halo around the moon and eating cheese and marshmallows.

Our hangovers were greeted by bursts of intense sunshine through the clouds. We had a big general clean of the inside of the bus whilst clutching our aching heads and breakfasted of yoghurt, fruit, and cerreal. An unusual break from our usual egg and leftover gypsy feast which meant we could save the propane for the chili we had planned for later.

By 12.00 we were on the road again, and at the first town we encountered, we got out in search of snacks and toilets. After wondering around the well manicured park, we noticed the flat tyre. A well meaning passer-by took it upon himself to help us change to the bald spare tyre and after about an hour he took us to the tyre maestro to get it fixed. We all sat in the bus and watched as the maestro diagnosed the problem. He removed the inner tube and patched it up with what looked to be a bicycle repair kit. We decided to start prepairing the chili as we waited. We sat in bus chopping up various vegetables and throwing them in the pot. The maestro gave us confused looks and his wife appeared saying 'Oh! you're helping gringos! Hello gringos!' . A couple of hours and 15 soles later we were patched up and on our way.

One hour down the road a huge turquoise lake nestled in the surrounding mountains appeared around a corner. We found a turnoff, parked and set up our tents on the pebbly beach whilst admiring a spectacular sunset. The propane lasted whilst we cooked our gypsy chilli and potatoes and we sat full and satisfied in another breath-taking spot.

Photo by Marta Anglada