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