Archive for January, 2011

PARIS!

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I still can’t believe I have actually been to Paris, so surreal.  We were there from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning and we spent all of our time sight seeing and eating.  It was amazing.  We started out with two museums, one of them being the Musee D’Orsey, which was really cool.  I’m not an art person but I still thought the art in there was beautiful and I wanted to see all of it.  On Thursday night we went on a ferris wheel ride that takes you high enough to see the entire city.  It was amazing to see that view at night when the city was all lit up.

On Friday and Saturday we saw the rest of the “must-see” sights.  The Eiffel Tower, the Jardin de Luxembourg, Le Louvre, Le Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Versailles…I might be forgetting something, but there was so much to see!  Taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower was really fun.   It was a bit chilly while we were there so on our way back to the metro we stopped at a stand to get some chocolate/nutella crepes. SO GOOD. When I saw the guy making them I was thinking that they didn’t look like anything special, I was so wrong.  So that was a perfect ending to our Eiffel Tower adventure.

The Cathedrals that were saw were mesmerizing.  I had no idea how extensive the Notre Dame was and I was amazed at how beautiful and detailed it is inside and out.  We saw the Sacre Coeur at nighttime and that was amazing.  It’s lit up and on top of a hill so at night it’s really really pretty. There isn’t as much to see on the inside like with Notre Dame, but there is a little town around it with shopping and restaurants everywhere so we walked around the town for awhile.

We all agreed that eating the food in Paris is a very important part of the experience so we made sure we didn’t miss out on that.  I had a lot of chocolate cake, the most delicious eclair, donuts, and of course crepes.  We also tried authentic french onion soup, and a sandwich called a croque monsieur, that is essentially ham and cheese.

We only had to pay for food and travel while were there because one of the girls we were traveling with has a friend that lives in Paris.  She graciously let us stay in her flat with her for free which saved us a good amount of money.  And she also told us that students studying in Europe get into all of the museums for free, so we did not have to pay at all to go to the museums.  We saw the Mona Lisa at Le Louvre for free, pretty good deal.

Basically I thought Paris was amazing and we saw all we could fit in in 3 days and ate as much as we possibly could, I would consider it a very successful trip.  The one thing that was a bit disappointing to me was that the gypsies aren’t dressed as you would picture a gypsy in your mind.  I thought they would be in ridiculous colorful dresses, jewelry everyone, but turns out they just look like normal women.  While we were on the train from the airport I heard a women whispering something behind me so I turned around and it was a women breast feeding a child saying “s’il vous plait” over and over again.  I was pretty much frozen and just staring at this baby that was attached to a breast right beside my face, and luckily our french hostess, Carole, told the women no so she walked away.  And that was my one and only experience with a gypsy.

The Sacre Coeur:

Notre Dame:

Eiffel Tower: (attempting to get a jumping picture)

Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles Castle

Nutella Crepe:

Concern

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I am very concerned for the people protesting for their freedom, voices, and future in Egypt.

The internet has been cut off nation wide,  some landlines are down, Egypt’s interior ministry has said it will take “decisive measures” . I have know clue what the government will do, but it will be very violent, ending in unnecessary injuries and probably death, unless all protesters are too afraid to make it to the streets, but I find that unlikely. This moment has 30 years of build up behind it. Whatever happens, it will be very difficult for the events to be shared with the world.

In an article written for the NYT by Curt Hopkins, the following disconcerting words were  written.

“CNN’s Ben Wedeman commented, “No internet, no SMS, what is next? Mobile phones and land lines? So much for stability” and asked “Will #Egypt totally cut communications with the outside world?”

That depends, I think, on whether the idea now is to disrupt communications between groups of protesters or to lay a blackout curtain across Egypt to mask a total crackdown. As many as eight protesters, three in Cairo and five in Suez, have been killed, along with one policeman. I think if landlines and mobile go, the question must become, is the Egyptian government planning a wholesale massacre?”

Will the love of power over a country really be so much greater than the love of its citizens?

There are two ways to control a county, one through forceful coercion and the other through ideology. When a “democracy” needs to use violent force against its people, it needs to reevaluate its definition, intentions, and relation with its people. Their voice cannot be brushed aside.

Newspaper Article

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

This was in the NYT. I really liked it since it explains a lot about the cause of the protest, who supports it, and where it may lead.

“Egypt’s Young Seize Role of Key Opposition to Mubarak

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MICHAEL SLACKMAN

For decades, Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents.

He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the facade of a democratic process. And he demonized the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a group of violent extremists who posed a threat that he used to justify his police state.

But this enduring and, many here say, all too comfortable relationship was upended this week by the emergence of an unpredictable third force, the leaderless tens of thousands of young Egyptians who turned out to demand an end to Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Now the older opponents are rushing to catch up.

“It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt.

Dr. ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, has been the public face of an effort to reinvigorate and unite Egypt’s fractious and ineffective opposition since he plunged into his home country’s politics nearly a year ago, and he said the youth movement had accomplished that on its own. “Young people are impatient,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready.”

But their readiness — tens of thousands have braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture — has threatened to upstage or displace the traditional opposition groups.

Many of the tiny, legally recognized political parties — more than 20 in total, with scarcely a parlor full of grass-roots supporters among them — are leaping to embrace the new movement for change but lack credibility with the young people in the street.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood may have grown too protective of its own institutions and position to capitalize on the new youth movement, say some analysts and former members. The Brotherhood remains the organization in Egypt with the largest base of support outside the government, but it can no longer claim to be the only entity that can turn masses of people out into the streets.

“The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena,” said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar now at the University of Notre Dame. “If you look at the Tunisian uprising, it’s a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now.”

Dr. ElBaradei, for his part, has struggled for nearly a year to unite the opposition under his umbrella group, the National Association for Change. But some have mocked him as a globe-trotting dilettante who spends much of his time abroad instead of on the barricades.

He has said in interviews that he never presented himself as a political savior, and that Egyptians would have to make their own revolution. Now, he said, the youth movement “will give them the self-confidence they needed, to know that the change will happen through you and not through one person — you are the driving force.”

And Dr. ElBaradei argued that by upsetting the old relationship between Mr. Mubarak and the Brotherhood, the youth movement posed a new challenge to United States policy makers as well.

“For years,” he said, “the West has bought Mr. Mubarak’s demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood lock, stock and barrel, the idea that the only alternative here are these demons called the Muslim Brotherhood who are the equivalent of Al Qaeda.”

He added: “I am pretty sure that any freely and fairly elected government in Egypt will be a moderate one, but America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world into radicalization with this inept policy of supporting repression.”

The roots of the uprising that filled Egypt’s streets this week arguably stretch back to before the Tunisian revolt, which many protesters cited as the catalyst. Almost three years ago, on April 6, 2008, the Egyptian government crushed a strike by a group of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla, and in response a group of young activists who connected through Facebook and other social networking Web sites formed the April 6th Youth Movement in solidarity with the strikers.

Their early efforts to call a general strike were a bust. But over time their leaderless online network and others that sprung up around it — like the networks that helped propel the Tunisian revolution — were uniquely difficult for the Egyptian security police to pinpoint or wipe out. It was an online rallying cry for a show of opposition to tyranny, corruption and torture that brought so many to the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday, unexpectedly vaulting the online youth movement to the forefront as the most effective independent political force in Egypt.

“It would be criminal for any political party to claim credit for the mini-Intifada we had yesterday,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger and activist.

Mr. Mubarak’s government, though, is so far sticking to a familiar script. Against all evidence, his interior minister immediately laid blame for Wednesday’s unrest at the foot of the government’s age-old foe, the Muslim Brotherhood.

This time, though, the Brotherhood disclaimed responsibility, saying it was only one part of Dr. ElBaradei’s umbrella group. “People took part in the protests in a spontaneous way, and there is no way to tell who belonged to what,” said Gamal Nassar, a media adviser for the Brotherhood, noting the near-total absence of any group’s signs or slogans, including the Brotherhood’s.

“Everyone is suffering from social problems, unemployment, inflation, corruption and oppression,” he said. “So what everyone is calling for is real change.”

The Brotherhood operates a large network of schools and charities that make up for the many failings of government social services. Some analysts charge that the institutional inertia may make the Brotherhood slow to rock the Egyptian ship of state.

“The Brotherhood has been very silent,” said Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “It is not a movement that can benefit from what has been happening and get people out in the street.”

Nor, Dr. ElBaradei argued, does the Muslim Brotherhood merit the fear its name evokes in the West. Its membership embraces large numbers of professors, lawyers and other professionals as well as followers who benefit from its charities. It has not committed or condoned acts of violence since the uprising against the British-backed Egyptian monarchy six decades ago, and it has endorsed his call for a pluralistic civil democracy.

“They are a religiously conservative group, no question about it, but they also represent about 20 percent of the Egyptian people,” he said. “And how can you exclude 20 percent of the Egyptian people?”

Dr. ElBaradei, with his international prestige, is a difficult critic for Mr. Mubarak’s government to jail, harass or besmirch, as it has many of his predecessors. And Dr. ElBaradei eases concerns about Islamists by putting a secular, liberal and familiar face on the opposition.

But he has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the West. He was stunned, he said, by the reaction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Egyptian protests. In a statement after Tuesday’s clashes, she urged restraint but described the Egyptian government as “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

“ ‘Stability’ is a very pernicious word,” he said. “Stability at the expense of 30 years of martial law, rigged elections?” He added, “If they come later and say, as they did in Tunis, ‘We respect the will of the Tunisian people,’ it will be a little late in the day.”

Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.”

Tweets about Egypt Protest

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Here are some recent tweets, found from #jan25, #25jan, and #Egypt. Things are looking really serious. I am praying for peace and safety in Egypt for all her people.

Also, when reading these, one needs to keep in mind that people can write anything they want, whether or not it is true. Also, these are mainly supporters so they are presenting a more narrow coverage and cannot really show the opinions of all of Egypt and the impact this will have on things and the big picture. Yet, they are still very revealing.

—–

General

–Please retweet to the world. We are being beaten up to death, arrested for expressing our point of views #Jan25 #Egypt #Mubarak #Cairo

–More and more people coming, people are expressing themselves. “NO MORE TORTURE NO MORE FEAR, TELL MUBARAK THE END IS NEAR” #25jan

–Aljazeera: Arrested protesters are being detained in secret camps and denied access to lawyers #Jan25 #Egypt

–Aljazeera corresp in #Cairo: #Egypt police preventing ppl from organizing funerals of their dead for fear of attracting crowds #Jan25

Mubarak’s regime outlawed protesting and has threatened to prosecute all demonstrators. This is Hillary Clinton’s ‘stability.’ #Egypt #Jan25

Friday Prayer

–Friday after-prayer protests could dwarf anything we’ve seen so far. #Jan25 #Egypt

–Reports that Friday prayers are banned, big mosques closed in central #Cairo to prevent protesters from gathering #Jan25 #Egypt @rassdwehda

–Can anyone Confirm that Friday prayers are banned, big mosques closed in central #Cairo to prevent gathering. #Jan25 #Egypt !!

Suez

– HELP, AT SUEZ THEY TOOK DOWN CELL PHONE OPERATORS, WE HAVE NO CELL PHONE COVERAGE.I BELIEVE THEY WILL PUNISH US #Suez #jan25 #25jan #egypt

–New VIDEO from #Suez. The burning building is the Al Arbeen police Head Quarters.http://youtu.be/ATY3Q81QW6A #Egypt #Jan25

Media and communication

–Guardian reporter beaten and arrested in Cairo: ‘People are being hauled out by police and beaten’ #news http://bit.ly/ffjc8k

– International media, #Suez is THE Egyptian #SidiBouzid! People are being massacred by police RIGHT NOW, we need coverage! #Jan25 #CNN #FB

– Al Jazeera correspondent says that even landlines in Suez are not working.. #egypt #jan25

Mubarak’s regime outlawed protesting and has threatened to prosecute all demonstrators. This is Hillary Clinton’s ‘stability.’ #Egypt #Jan25

25th of January

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Even though my semester in Peru is rapidly approaching (less than a week away), Egypt is still strong in my mind, especially with the mass protests taking place across the country beginning on the 25th of January. That day was dubbed “Day of Revolt” and thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in anti-government protest. The largest protest in Egypt since 1977.

This protest falls within the context of political and social satisfaction in the Middle East and a rise in protests across countries, inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” that took place in Tunisia earlier this month.

Last night for about five straight hours, I was closely following the events in Egypt. I read articles, looked up pictures, watched movies, followed twitter, and got in touch with some Egyptian friends to hear what they have to say. By the end, I just stopped since my eyes were getting tired from staring at the computer screen for such a long time. Those hours were probably the most exciting moments I have had all break.

What makes it so exciting is that I was there and I know people participating or yearning to participate, excited to have their voices heard and striving to change their country so it is more free, has accountable government officials, a place where elections actually matter, and where their voices and desires are no longer stifled. They want to see the gap between the rich and poor decrease, and economic prosperity. They want an end of security law which allows the government to arrest people with liberty. They want the Interior Minister to be kicked out for things like torture, and the President to be limited to two terms.

I also know that others watching these events with dread, knowing that there is no clear plan set in place if the government were to be dismantled. Who may have personal and business interests tied up with the current regime. They may believe that a strong government is necessary to lift the country up and keep peace within the country and between countries. They like the stability and security that Mubarak offers and admire his leadership and strength. They fear that chaos will come and things may not end on a positive note, but may even end up worse.

Then again, their are others watching with indifference, who believe that the protest will not be successful and think that the current government will continue to control the country in much of the same manner as before. The Egyptians in the protest are just following the “fad” of protests and do not fully understand the consequences of their actions and what the next step would be if they were to be successful.

It is amazing for me to think that only one month ago, I was in Egypt, walking around Cairo in the same places that were packed with impassioned protesters  and cordons of police in riot gear.

For me, it is not some distance place, but very tangible and real. The outcome of these events will impact people that I know or have talked to, bought food from, or shared a metro ride with. I can see in my mind the places where the protesters were gathering, the expansive Tahrir Square, the streets through which people were walking and chanting, and the dusty buildings throwing shadows on them.

It was exciting to watch things unfold on twitter and having the ability to hear first hand accounts. I was very disappointed when Twitter was being blocked and only limited tweets from people were able to get around the block through various means.

I have been talking to some people involved. They say that it was amazing. It must have been, with the mass of people lifting their voices up together in protest who have held back for so long. I was told that people in the protest acted in a very caring and brotherly manner, offering food and support. There is a strong sense of excitement and optimism, unity, and great anger and even hatred towards the government.

People in Tahrir were planning on staying in the square for three days and sleeping there overnight. However, the police sent to “protect” the protesters instead began to use violent or forceful tactics against them. The most extreme was the use of live rounds around midnight, after twitter was blocked and the protest began to dwindle down a bit. First there were only rubber coated steel bullets, 11 of which were lodged in the body of a freelance cameraman for Al Jazeera, but later live ones were used.

The protesters have tried to keep things peaceful. At one point when rocks were being thrown between a small group of protesters and the police, the protesters near the rock throwers were chastising them, telling them that they must keep things peaceful and the rock throwing soon ceased.

A friend told me that two of the people he was with fell down during a point when everyone was running and they got stepped on. They could have been trampled to death or severely injured, but luckily they were fine. His mother was very worried about him and was crying since she had heard that three protesters had died and did not want the same fate to befall her son.

There were plans to continue the protest at 9am today, I’m not sure if that was the case or not. Also, there are plans made for mass protests after Friday’s prayer, which would definitely see a huge turnout.

It is hard to tell whether or not this protest and following protests will create massive change, and overthrow the government. Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak , the President’s son and wife, both fled the country for the UK, which is a sign of the unrest and insecurity that is being felt by the government. Yet, the protests need to be much larger for actual change to occur and there needs to be a better laid plan for what will come next. The Egyptian government is not as weak as the Tunisian government and there are many difference between the two countries that what caused a revolution in Tunisia will not necessarily cause one in Egypt.

Some problems that Egypt would face if the government is overthrown, is who would take the lead, could they successfully hold free and fair elections, would tensions between Muslims and Christians get in the way of creating a safe country, how would they address the extensive needs of those living in poverty , and more.

There was one tweet that really stuck in my mind, it was something along the lines of “Even if there is no change, at least a psychological barrier in the minds of the Egyptian people has been broken”. They are now more vocal, and more aware of their power and their ability to make demands of their government.

Hopefully, the government will look at these protests and understand that they need to reconsider their policies and make them more in-tune with the needs and desires of its people. I cannot say whether reform or revolution is better for the Egyptian people or if either is possible, only the Egyptian people can discover that for themselves. I hope they make the best decision for themselves, their country, and their future.

My Depth Dimension

Monday, January 24th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago we signed up for a weekend trip with a Christian based club on campus, thinking it was going to be a sight seeing trip, like their day trip was.  Well turns out we got the wording a little wrong, it was actually a weekend retreat.  So we really didn’t know what to expect, we just knew there were a lot of sessions on the schedule for Saturday.  A monk named Brother Richard, who is working at UCC for the Chaplaincy, was the one leading us in these sessions.  He turned out to be very interesting and the topics he focused on were surprisingly not religious ones, but more about bettering your life just in general.  His main focus was about how we can reach our depth dimension, I am still a bit unsure of what that actually is, but I equate it with reaching an inner peace of sorts.  He talked about getting past the obstacles of everyday life, some steps you can take to get closer to reaching your depth dimension and just about how to get up every morning and be genuinely excited about life.  All of which I did find interesting.

The part I found the most fascinating was when he talked about the difference between the male and female brain and how those biological differences make it much harder for males and females to communicate effectively.  He was a relationship counselor for a while so I like to think he knows what he is talking about.  Not to mention a lot of what he was saying made complete sense when I thought back on some conversation I’ve had.

Other than the sessions, we went on a long 5 mile walk along the beach on Saturday (was only supposed to be 3 but we got lost), and that was really nice.  It was a nice, sunny day, not too cold, and it was just very relaxing.  The entire trip only cost 20 euros so even though we didn’t get what we were expecting I think it was worth it.

Here are some pictures of the beach, and a little bit of the town.  (Yougal)

Galway!

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Galway was last weekend.  We discovered that there actually are not a lot of sights to see in Galway, it is more known for it’s night life.  There are pubs with live music everywhere, and there are clubs that are mostly for dancing, and then of course they have plubs (pub+club) that are a bit of both.  We got there around 2 on Saturday and it was pouring rain outside and really windy, luckily we found our hostel pretty easily.  It was a lot nicer that we expected and actually cheaper than we expected which is always a nice surprise.  Then we ventured out again to find this restaurant that our friend Sarah had read about in a book she has.  We had the hardest time finding the place but eventually we did and we had some delicious sandwiches, which seems to be becoming a theme here in Ireland.  We decided to make pasta for dinner, you know to save some dough, and it is a good thing we did because if we had gone out we never would have met Giona (pronounced Jonah).  He is from Switzerland and speaks French, Italian and English, he hates German, “it’s so ugly!”.  Also he hated the way we say “hockey”, so if you ever encounter an Itialian/French speaking Swiss person beware of that word.  Anyways the friend he was with wasn’t feeling well so he came out with us, he was definitely entertaining if nothing else.

And guess what was in Galway? A McDonalds! So guess where we went after the plub? They are literally following me around the globe.

On Sunday we went walking around town a little to see the few sights that were in Galway but our main goal was to find this cupcake shop that we had seen the day before.  We found it:

They all looked so good! They had champagne flavored, Bailey’s, lemon, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate…so many options!  But you know me had to stick with what I know, black forest.  Yep they had a black forest muffin.  I got it and it was so good!  I knew coldstone icrecream would never lead me astray.

Adventures in Public Transportation

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

As a resident of suburbia, I’m used to getting around by car. However for the past three summer that I have been volunteering/interning at WPFW I have to love the Metro. One of the things I miss the most about London is the Underground. And while I have a driver’s license I have never owned a car. All this means is that while the majority of my fellow upperclassmen have control over how they get around Fredericksburg I am at the mercy of the FRED bus system for better and worse.
Generally speaking I have a love/hate relationship with public transport systems. I love them when they work and when they’re on time and get me where I need to go in a timely fashion. I hate them one when they fail to do any one of the above. This is why my love for the Underground is so odd. Most of the time I was in London it worked like a charm but on the other hand most weekends I was stranded in the semi-suburb where I was staying (though it’s more complicated than that.) I also understand that my admiration of the metro is odd because most residents of DC are more likely to moan about it than embrace it. But for me, with only a few exceptions, the Metro has worked.
On the other hand FRED and I seem to have a mutual disdain for each other. We’re like ex’s who broke up amicably – we put with each other but only to a point. While I have seen parts of Fredericksburg that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise I do wish sometimes that I could have just driven from Central Park back to my apartment without having to wait an hour for a bus. While all of the public transport systems I have ridden on have been dysfunctional* in one way or another, Fredericksburg’s system is perhaps the most dysfunctional of all of them. But who knows, maybe Boston** will prove even more dysfunctional.

*Really this all breaks down to my love of things what are dysfunctional. I don’t know love them all the time, but I do identify with inanimate but dysfunctional systems. It’s why I love WMWC so much – it’s incredibly dysfunctional but it does the job well enough that no one knows just how dysfunctional it is. The same can be said for all of the above examples. I just have a thing for dysfunction. **Boston aka the place I’ll probably end up going to law school, unless Loyola LA surprises me and actually says yes instead of no or waitlist. But we shall see.

Question Answered

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

I’ve spent the past couple of months wondering if I would ever get into law school. Well my friends I have the answer: Yes. I have been accepted at New England Law School in Boston, so I do have it within me to get into law school. And as my mom said, even if I don’t get in anywhere else, I’ll have gotten into one school and that’s all that’s needed to go to law school. So to reiterate what my Facebook status says: I got into law school!!!! Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

Peru!: Chachapoyas…and back to Ecuador

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

So, the 11 hour bus ride from hell?….not so bad.

I went to the bus station at 5:15, and it turned out they hired a driver to take us to a town 3-4 hours a way where the bus was actually leaving from. This ride?…sucked. It wasn´t the driver´s fault, or the road condition…the road just constantly weaved around mountains so often that it made ME car sick. That takes effort. By the time we finally got to the bus station I was ready to puke. Luckily, we got there with 30 minutes before the bus left.

There were only seven people on the bus. It was EMPTY. But that´s much better than a full and stinky bus, so I wasn´t arguing. Now, the bus ride was nine hours. Nine hours with no real food, water, or bathrooms (one break). Worst of all, they didn´t play a SINGLE movie. Now, I had my IPOD, but nine hours in a bus without anyone to talk to is EXTREMELY boring. Luckily, I had the view. Now, this road was more like what I was expecting when it comes to south american roads- not the worst I´ve been on (nothing so far has toped Costa Rica or Honduras), but still. The road quality itself wasn´t so bad, it was the rest of it. The road, which went both ways, was actually only the width of the bus. I´m not joking, there was maybe an inch or two on each side between the sides of the road. And this was in the Andean mountain, so of course where was mountains on one side, and a sheer drop on the other. Of course, with no guard rail, and with the bus constantly riding the edge of the cliff. This made the constant sharp mountain turns…nerve-wracking, to say the least. There were a few times I thought we were going down. Especially, when there was a truck or car coming from the opposite direction and we would have to stop, back up, and try to let it pass while staying on the road. There were times when I was like…DON´T BACK UP AROUND THE CORNER, PLEASE!!!!!!. But I lived, it was amusing…andit wasn´t NEARLY as bad as the guide-book made it out to be. But getting to Chachapoyas was a relief. Chachapoyas is a very significant area archaeologically,  dotted with ruins everywhere (and they continue to be found). Unfortunately, they´re all out of the way. There´s not a lot of tourist infrastructure, so most of the sites can only be reached by treking three days into the jungle or mountains with a guide. It´s also several hours from ANYTHING else. It´s a really nice, isolated city in the highlands.

I ended up staying in a rather nice, colonial hostal with a tour agency underneath it. So, I got a tour to Kuenap the next day.

Kuenap is a pre-Incan fortress built by the Chachapoyan indians over the course of 1,200 years. Other than Machu Pichu, it is considered to be the most significant archaeological site in Peru. It was great. It was a four-hour drive from Chachapoyas each way, which is a lot…but worth it. Unfortunately, the road is awful. They´re working on it, so we constantly had to stop and wait for workers. Also, these workers work in these 3-5 feet deep gaps in the road. So, to pass over the gaps, they put down two 2-by-6 boards, and help guide the vehicle over. I got it on video, it´s nerve-wracking. Especially when the alternative is to fall off the mountain. The cool thing about the ride, is that you get to see old settlements in the mountains that remain undisturbed because they´re so hard to get to. They´re just kind of…sprinkled around.

When you get to Kuelap, you´re looking up at this incredibly huge fortress. Some of which has been reconstructed, some not. Then, you have to walk up a path 35 minutes to get to it. The walls of the fortress are enormous. When taking a picture of the full wall and there´s a person on top, they come out as this little dot. It´s hilarious. The entrance into the fortress contains all sorts of petroglyphs of various people and gods (one of which is upside-down because the archaeologist put it back wrong…ha!). Inside, there are all these ruins of temples and homes. Even though it takes imagination, it´s still cool. You can walk through almost the entire fortress, but only 15% has actually been excavated. So, for the most part, the jungle is growing within it. The curious thing is that within the fortress are the only jungleesque plants in the area. But it was fun to watch parrots fight. In addition to birds and plants, there are Llamas…and lots of them. They mostly just roam around, but one had kicked a German tourist the week before, and the locals had tied him up.

So, the fortress was awesome. The Chachapoyans there had buried their mummies within their homes, so you could only see the excavated holes. But it was interesting to think that there were still mummies in the un-excavated homes, all around us. Even cooler. One of the main defensive walls of the fortress was also a mausoleum. The center of the wall was filled with the bones of captives and warriors. You could look into the wall and SEE the bones: skulls, femurs, etc….so. freakin. awesome…and a little creepy.

The next day, I went to the Sarcophagi of Karajía and some caves. To get to the sarcophagi, you drive two hours, then hike down another hour. They are these really unique-looking sarcophagi with mummies inside. They are the only sarcophagi crafted in that particular way anywhere in the world, it´s bizarre. Although they belong to the Chachapoyas people, who were all over the region, there are no other sarcophagi like it. They are perched high in a cliff (there used to be more, but they were destroyed by grave-robbers. You can still find the bones from broken sarcophagi in the valley). The ones that are left are the ones which are hardest to get to…which makes one wonder how people got up there in the first place. The climb back up though…reminded me how terrified I am of heights.

The caves though, were even better. Sacred caves used for both fertility rituals and human sacrifices, the hall after the first room was lined with bones. Don´t know why they´re still there, but still really cool and eery to see. The cave system was MASSIVE. Each room was a goot 20-25 meters high and wide, filled with all sorts of incredible natural formations. Of course, it was filled with water and mud, so it was slippery (which comes into play later), so I had a lot of trouble walking. Also, we only came in with six flashlights, and over time two ran out of batteries. So, it was dark and hard to see where you stepped.One of the men on the tour was indigenous, and at the back to the cave before leaving, he insisted on doing a purification offering to the spirits of the cave to prevent any bad spirits coming with us, and to honor the good spirits. This was great thing to witness and take part of, because I hadn´t seen any indigenous rituals before. He piled some different types of herbs and grasses, put us in a circle, then lit them (eventually, it took a while) on fire. Then, he slowly prayed to the spirits of each element (earth, wind, water, etc), each prayer with it´s own movement. Then, he asked people to say their own prayer. At one point, I think he asked me, but I had no idea what was going on, so we kind of all stood there awkwardly until someone else started talking, and then I realized that it was supposed to be me…oops. Then, he asked us to cleanse ourselves with rose oil. After this, the fumes from the fire really got at me. It was basically incense, which I´m kind of allergic to…so I started coughing. I felt really bad about disrupting and not being able to participate as fully, but I couldn´t breath. I hope I didn´t insult him too bad.

Afterwards, we headed out of the cave. This is where the problem started for me, from the mud. Coming down, I slipped and fell. I just laughed, and got back up because it wasn´t bad, and kept going. Unfortunately, two of the lanterns had gone out, and I really could see. Eventually, I slipped again…worse. I made a wrong step, causing my feet to go out from under me, I slammed to the ground and ended up sliding a good 20-25 feet, only stopping because I ended up feet-first in a mud puddle. With all the boulders everywhere, I felt incredibly lucky that I hadn´t hit my head or seriously injured myself (remember, it was 30 mins left to leave the cave, and hour hike back uphill, and 2-3 hour drive to the city. If I´d been hurt, I would´ve been screwed). So, I took the bruises. However, I did need help getting back up, and ended up with one the men helping me out of the cave the rest of the way (I just would´ve kept falling, and he was being nice and chivalrous). Then, we all got a good laugh about just how muddy I was. At least the day was great fun. Then, back to Chachapoyas.

Unfortunately, I didn´t have time to change for my bus, so I ended up muddy for the 10 hour horrendous night bus-ride to Chiclayo, and the 3 hour bus ride to Piura (no break in between). And, I gotta tell you, after sweaty and muddy and in a stinky bus for 13 hours…even the cold shower in Piura felt good. Incredibly sore from the cave, I spent almost the entire day in bed in the hotel because I didn´t want to walk around.

The next day, I caught a bus back to Ecuador. This time, I went through Macará, which is a much more relaxed border crossing. Also, the border stations are right across the bridge from one another, rather than two kilometers from the border like it Tumbes, so it´s a much better border crossing. The only scary moment was when the bus almost left without me. That freaked me out a bit.

Then, off to Loja. Where…I got a cold, and ended up with no energy to do much more than walk around a little. I saw a park and the center, but again I watched a lot of TV. I think my body rebelled against so much constant travelling. Bored of Loja, I took off to Cuenca. Which, I was there for two minutes and remembered why I loved it so much. I´ve already seen all the tourist stuff, so I´m just busy enjoying the city for a few days before heading back to Quito to finish things up before returning to the states Feb. 1. I got to  have lunch with Jim from TESOL, which was nice to catch up.

So, I am enjoying my last jaunt before I have to reintegrate back into the real world.

See everyone soon!