Banos blog

posted by Rikki

Hi, it’s me, the Rick.  I know I haven’t written a toilet blog in a really long time, but I have 3 very interesting toilet observations for you today.  The first observation was the toilet from our campground on our trek to Machu Pichu.  I never used the toilet myself, I prefer to be at one with nature.   From what other people told me, this toilet was nasty.  From the outside, it was just a tent that our porters set up for us at every camp ground.  The inside was a hole with a lot of toxic waste in it if you used the toilet late in the morning.  It was probably best to be one of the first users in the morning. 

When we finally got to Machu Pichu, we were told where the public restrooms were.  They were located way up at the entrance.  There were no bathrooms on the Machu Pichu grounds at all.  We were not supposed to pee at all at Machu Pichu.  We had to wait until we went back to the entrance to go to the bathroom.  But, of course, my dad had to go.  He snuck off to a corner to do his business.  All of a sudden three security guards came rushing to him.  When my dad turned around he showed them the bottle he had used for his own portable potty.  When the guards saw his bottle, they were so happy he hadn’t messed up Machu Pichu.  No one had ever thanked my dad for using a pee bottle before.  We usually yell at him when he tries to do this on our car trips.  The security guards were probably thinking, this liquid looks a lot like Inca Cola.  (This is a famous pop in Peru that looks a lot like a dehydrated man’s pee.)

Looks a lot like a sample you leave at the doctor’s office, right?

My third toilet observation took place in Puno, Peru.  Puno is famous for having the highest altitude lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.  People live on this lakes on the floating islands.  The floating islands are man made islands woven from a reed called Totoro reeds.  These reeds can also be used to make boats and can even be eaten.  We were told that today, the people have made separate islands for the bathrooms.  Before they made the special bathroom islands, they used to just dump all their toxic waste right into the lake.  Did I mention the lake was called Lake Titicaca.  That might be how they got the name.

Dressed as the locals.

Thanks for reading!

Categories: Peru | 3 Comments

The Amazon – Tambopata Reserve

posted by Eva

The Tambopata River

Last week, we were in the Amazon.  We flew to Puerto Maldanado, then took a four hour boat ride up the Rio Tambopata to get to the lodge.

There are many plants used for different things in the Amazon, such as a fruit that can be used to treat cancer instead of chemotherapy, it’s called Nino.  There is also a plant called Cana Cana used when you have a cold or a fever.

Another cool plant is called Huito, it’s used for tattoos. The seeds of the fruit are the part used for making the tattoos.  You can dip a stick into the seeds and then paint the juice from the seeds onto your skin.  It goes on clear but in two hours, it is bright blue.  The tattoo stays on for ten days.

Huito fruit

Kids who live in the Amazon like to put Huito on their skin to prevent bug bites.  I got three tattoos, a tarantula on one hand, and a pirana on the other.  My third tattoo was a mustache on my finger.  Rikki got earings, jaguar footprints, and a watch.  Maya got a lightening bolt and a house.  My dad got a bicycle, and my Mom got an embarrasing sun tattoo on the back of her neck.  My Dad said it looked like a prison tattoo.  She said she liked it though.

When we get home, I can give you a tattoo!

More Amazon pics:

Swimming in the Amazon

Rikki’s Earings as provided by our excellent rainforest guide/tattoo artist Pedro

Maya’s artwork

Hiking through the mud

Eva’s mustache

The world’s largest rodent – the capybara

Beautiful Brasil nuts

Cool bugs!

Categories: Peru | 7 Comments

Inspiring People

Posted by David:

One of the amazing things about traveling is the opportunity to cross paths with people whose lives couldn´t be more different than ours and yet for some short period, we end up in the same place at the same time and have the chance to share our stories (well, really it´s me asking a lot of questions and hearing their stories.  Occasionally I´ll add a tale or two about Skokie before quickly getting back to their story).  Here is the story of Flavio, our guide through the Andes Mountains on our way to see Machu Pichu.

Flavio is from a very remote Quechua village in the Andes where the families are subsistence farmers.  The houses are made from adobe bricks with with grass roofts.  Most villages like this didn’t have electricity until 10 or 12 years ago. The main language of these people Is Qechua, the language of the Inca people.  He was the last of 9 children and his mother died when he was 14 months old.  After his mother died, his father was not able to care for all the kids so the older children left and took the younger ones along and never returned.  Flavio was an infant and remained alone with his father who was an alcoholic.  Flavio said that he does not know how he survived alone with his dad.  He has very early memories of going to the neighbors´ house to be fed.

When he was 8 years old, his father told him that they were going to take a trip to Cusco which was the nearest city to their village.  Flavio was excited.  When they arrived in Cusco, Flavio´s father brought him to the home of a family he didn’t know.  They operated a restaurant in town.  He told Flavio that he was going to live with this family from now on as they could take care of him better.  What his father didn´t say was that he was now obligated to work in the family´s restaurant, ten hours a day, seven days a week for the next ten years of his life.  The family had six kids of their own but none of them worked in the restaurant.  The father regularly berated Flavio, occassionaly hit him,and told him that he would never amount to anything but a dishwasher.  In exchange for working in the restaurant, Flavio was able to go to school in the evening through secondary school and was also fed and clothed.  He recalls seeing his father once during those 10 years in Cusco as well as one of his brothers.  The rest of his biological family was lost to him.

After finishing school, he joined the Peruvian army and volunteered to be part of the special -forces unit who was fighting a war against the Marxist Shining Path Guerillas.  During basic training, he was severely beaten by an officer for being unable to hit the target with a rifle.  While recuperating in the base hospital, a captain came to visit him and asked him if he was right or left handed.  He had been trying to shoot right handed like the rest of the squad which was why he couldn´t hit the target.  Once he began shooting left handed, he was the best shot in the unit and was assigned to protect the unit´s captain in the jungle. It was during this period of his life when Flavio had to come to terms with a difficult dichotomy: on the one hand, he was told by his guardian and boss that he would never amount to anything more than a dishwasher and on the other hand he was being told by the Peruvian army that he was strong and in complete control of his destiny.  He chose to believe the army and it was a major turning point in his life.

During his time in the Amazon jungle, he lost 19 of his fellow soldiers to guerilla warfare, but somehow he survived.  After being ambushed during one mission, the surviving members of his unit were lost for more than 8 days in the jungle.  When they returned to their base, The  found that the army had pronounced them dead after 24 hours.  That’s how dangerous this guerilla war was.

After his traumatic time in the army, Flavio decided to learn English and go to school to earn a degree in tourism.  He succeeded in both and was eventually able to find work as a guide.  He has been leading treks all over Peru for 11 years and lives with his wife and two young kids in Cusco.

Only two of the six children of the restaurant owner actually have jobs while Flavio is thriving.He has been able to offer help (financial and otherwise) to his older siblings who he rediscovered as an adult. He is the first professional to come from his village and returns every year to give back whatever he can and offering thanks in spite of his 8 difficult years there.  I asked him if he is bitter at his father or older siblings or the people that took him in and made him work.  He said he has no hard feelings for anyone.  As hard as it is to understand, I believe him and find it incredible.

Categories: Peru | 3 Comments

Lares Trek and Machu Pichu

Posted by David:

Peru has been incredible for us.  We are on the tail end of our journey and are experiencing all the normal fatigue one would expect from a trip like this, but our experiences here have been so spectacular they have helped us continue our momentum.  Highlights have included a four day trek in the Andes to Machu Pichu, a four day trip to an ecolodge in the Amazon jungle four hours from the nearest town, and an incredible few days in the Colca Canyon region of Peru.  We are now in Arequipa and on our way to Lima and then onto Colombia for the last leg of our trip.

Here are some thoughts on our trek to Machu Pichu:

When we arrived in Cusco (HQ for the Incas), we were naïve enough to think that we could simply arrive in town and book an Inca Trail Trek.  We were mistaken and it was a fortunate mistake as the Inca Trail would have brought us all to tears.  It´s a tough trek for fully grown adult Tai Bow instructors.  Thankfully, we were not nearly organized enough and were able to book an alternative trip instead, called the Lares Trek.  Lares would take us higher than the other treks but was supposed to be a bit less strenuous.  Next we had to decide if we should go with a group of up to 10 other people or do the trek alone as a family.  We assumed, rightfully so, that the kids would do much better in a group than just with us so we signed up for the trip and headed straight back to the camping store to buy more long underwear as it gets pretty nippy at 15 thousand feet above sea level (that´s about 4,750 meters for those of you who have gone metric).

After three days acclimating to the altitude, we met our guide, Flavio, and the rest of the participants.  It was a short informational meeting but it gave us a chance to ask questions and meet the others.  There was a group of three 19 year old girls from England, a 23 year old woman from Vermont, a single Dutch woman, a 25 year old brother and his 16 year old sister from Cape Cod (their mother was planning to hike but decided not to at the last minute), and us.  Along with us would be Flavio, our guide, a second guide, a chef (seriously) two porters, and two horsemen (the horses schlepped our backpacks, all the food, tents, and lots of other stuff through the mountains).


We met the group at 7AM and found that the three English girls were having trouble with their ATM card and were unable to get enough cash to check out of their hotel.  The group wasn´t able to wait for them to deal with their bank.  They  were going to have to miss the trip.  Amy and I offered to give them the money they needed to check out of the hotel so they could join us.   They were very grateful to us.  We loaded in the van, drove to their hotel where they paid their bill and checked out and were on our way to the trail head in Urubamba.  These three girls ended up being great friends to us and to the girls that we couldn´t have imagined them not being part of the group.


Suffice it to say, the trek was challenging with high altitude, wildly varying temperatures, and difficult terrain.  We walked through a very remote part of the Andes where we only encountered two other hikers on our first day.  Passing through two villages, we got to see local people who speak Quechua instead of Spanish (Quechua  is the language of the Incas) and live as subsistence farmers growing Quinoa, corn, and potatoes.  Here are some pictures from our trek:










Categories: Peru | 11 Comments

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