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rain 9 °C
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Just trying to figure out where to go tomorrow is enough of a challenge. And now I´ve gotta decide which school to attend in September for my Public Health Masters. Honestly, I had no desire to go to the States but I applied anyways since there weren´t many programs in Canada. Very unexpectedly, I´ve now got choices, not always a good thing for indecisive schmucks like me. Well I can´t visit any of the schools and don´t have much time to talk to any profs/alumni/students, etc. Got enough stuff to do here.

Therefore, I could really use your help. I know you don´t know anything about my program but I´m sure some of you have opinions about doing advanced degrees, living/working in the States, and where you could see me enjoying my studies. Please email me or comment here any and all thoughts about which school you think I should attend (totally serious...consider costs, location, postgrad opportunities, etc.). Just curious to what you might have to say. The decision is obviously mine to make. Deadlines are end of the month. Shit.

Cal-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA - just across the bay from San Fran)
Yale (New Haven, CT - need to preorder my pink cardigan in advance)
Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
Emory (Atlanta, GA)
Oregon St. (Corvallis, OR)
Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
George Washington (Washington, DC)
Simon Fraser (Vancouver, BC)

I haven´t actually got into SFU yet but it´d be funny if I got rejected. Here´s hoping not because I´m very adamant about it. Would love to stay in Canada but would I be an idiot for doing so?

Thanks everyone.

Been spending some rainy days alone just wandering the streets. Makes for some good photo opps and thinking time.

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Posted by bchu 08:03 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Chasing shamans through the Sacred Valley


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He leads us into a maze of rocks and caves scattered on an open hill overlooking Cusco. His name is Kush, a shaman by trade and a mysterious man overall. He doesn´t dress or look particularly traditional. But as he beats the drum, shakes the rattle, and chants the prayers to begin the ceremony, everything becomes a little surreal. And this is before we even take the San Pedro cactus juice, a drink intended to heal you by putting you in closer touch with nature (i.e. talking to plants and flowers). When in Peru..., right?

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A half hour after chugging two glasses of the green crap, the urge not to puke is strong. Kitty and I have practically passed out and Andrew has climbed some massive rock to take the following picture. Have we in reality taken part in some suicide ritual? It certainly crossed my mind given our current conditions.

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Soon Kush begins his march through the valley. Crap, we have to move. I can barely feel my legs. Never been this fatigued before. We start losing sight of him and are practically wandering on our own. Um, is it really a good idea to feed us magic cactus potions and leave us unattended to play around on cliff faces and sharp rocks while we´re tripping out and half-sick? Just thought I´d ask.

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We catch up to the shaman who is walking in a wooded area along a stream. At least I think it´s him. But all I see is a horse. WTF?

Oh ok, he´s sitting down twiddling a yellow flower and softly laughing demonically to himself. Relieving. I sit down beside him and kinda drift off to sleep, now more exhausted than sick. Eyes closed, I see a ton of white rabbits emerging from a flat background into three dimensional forms. Hrm, this would prolly be a good time to ponder some of my questions. (Note: we were supposed to think of a few goals/questions about ourselves beforehand that we´d like to tackle with the San Pedro). I think hard about my particular ones and await some answers. All I see is a moose. Super. What a rip-off. And the flowers aren´t even talking to me. The shaman starts moving again. I almost spew before getting up to follow him.

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Now the chase really begins. He is flying through the valley, perhaps floating. At the top of every mound we catch a brief glimpse of Kush on the edge of some new cliff face. And as quickly as we see him, he disappears around the corner. It´s like the naked Indian in Wayne´s World. We just can´t reach him and start to wonder if he´s actually there or if we´re hallucinating.

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We soon figure out we are just moving very very slow. And laughing very very uncontrollably. Andrew discovers a broken magic frying pan. We should ride it to catch up with Kush. Or at least use it to descend the steep hill (see picture - we were convinced this gradient of maybe 5 degrees was the most treacherous cliff ever). We mistake rocks for waterfalls. We take photos of my green booger. We find a horse´s ass sticking out of the bush and label it my inner soul. And we inexplicably find immense humour in the following story: ¨There were these 2 dogs...barking...loudly.¨ Will we ever catch this shaman?

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Eventually we draw even at the entrance of a large cave/tunnel where we have to wade through the passing stream in bare feet. The water both numbs and refreshes me. When putting my beautiful yellow socks back on, I am convinced my feet have grown 10 sizes. As I stare in awe at my own flesh, the others laugh their asses off. Bastards.

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During the two hour walk back to the city, we once again trail Kush by miles, mostly due to our awe with the surrounding landscape. I´ve never enjoyed a short trek so much. Amongst other marvels, we stroll past a small village and some ancient ruins. All the while, the city´s brown roofs gleam from below and a mountain in the distance proclaims "Viva El Peru, Gloriosa." Many donkeys but few cars pass by.

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Cusco is just moments away but we savour the moment a bit longer from above...away from all the tourist haggling that poisons the incredible city and which we have no desire to reimmerse ourselves into just yet. Kush has long given up on us and is probably asleep in his bed by now. We can´t see it but the sun is setting. And we reflect on an unreal day. I can´t say my questions were really answered but there was at least some clarity and tranquility reached by the end. I think the true San Pedro effects might take a few tries to get it right and maybe you need to be away from the hilarity of your friends. Or perhaps I´m just not the kind of guy who needs to talk to flowers right now.

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A few days, a bout of diarrhea, and a visit to Machu Picchu later, I now find myself venturing solo. The Aussies have continued their goals via Argentina and Brazil and I am about to embark on volunteer work in the Central Highlands of Peru. Bittersweet times for sure. Best of luck guys...keep an eye out for loud barking dogs and stay clear of horses.

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Random dinner shot...is that roasted guinea pig I accidentally ordered? Tasty!

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Posted by bchu 10:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Bikes, rocks, and Carnaval

out of Bolivia and into Peru


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Stitches are out. Shoulder is regaining full range of motion. Groin pains from the horse fall subsided. Teeth still glued into place. Guess it was the proper time to say goodbye to Bolivia with one last adventure...a little mountain bike ride down something named ¨The Death Road¨ or ¨The World´s Most Dangerous Road.¨ (read the first link, it´s pretty good)

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3345 metres of vertical descent. Over 60 km and 4 hrs of riding. Starting from a misty mountainous peak and guided by gravity down to a surreal tropical jungle. More than a few hairpin turns that could leave you in a 1000m freefall if your tires slid out.

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The weather? Ice cold and raining hard at the top. Hot and humid at the bottom.

The riding surface? Slick wet asphalt for the first bit and then rocks for the majority of the rest.

The views? Unbelievable. Even if we were subject to look at the remnants of buses that had driven off the cliffs or gravestones at the side of the road for bikers who weren´t as lucky.

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The thrill level? Never clenched onto handlebars and brakes so tightly. Never had a better time on two wheels. It´s official, bikes are only about a gazillion times better than stupid horses.

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Oh, and the accident? Wouldn´t be normal without one, right? 15 minutes to go. Tearing down the final stretch. British girl in the group gets a flat so we pull to the side to break. I sit by a 10m waterfall and motion Jodie to come next to me. ¨That rock is sturdy, yea?¨ she asks. ¨Of course,¨ I reply as she takes a seat. 3 seconds later she is tumbling down the rocks and I hear the familiar scream. I desperately lunge for her, trying to make a heroic grab, only to find myself now freefalling as well. Crash, boom, bang. Somehow we land relatively vertically. Somehow, like the horse incident, sore butts and minor scrapes are all we incur. I don´t know how we got so lucky again...if you can call it luck. Seriously, I don´t know how the two of us always get into such predicaments in the first place. Definitely climbing that liability depth chart. At least it wasn´t the 1000m drop.

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Well I´m in Peru now...unexpectedly. My Bolivian visa had another month on it but the volunteer work didn´t pan out and there was enough Carnaval excitement here to lure me away. And cool canyons to climb.

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I still don´t really know the whole story behind Carnaval. But I dug the numerous parades, dancers, bands, and costumes...the latter ranging from overstuffed animals to Eyes Wide Shut type. And yea it wasn´t Rio but I was quite pleased that Puno´s version didn´t involve any gay floats. I hate those things. Amidst the spectacle, however, are little brats who like to spray tourists with ¨artificial snow¨ from aerosol cans, which is more akin to shaving cream. The amount of times I want to smack these little shits is countless. Trust me, you would too. On one rainy night, I was alone on a street corner when 3 teenage girls walked by. I was cold, hungry, wet, and generally not in a great mood. Then one of them pulls out the can and covers my whole front in foam. Bitch. I fake lunged at her like I was going to attack her. She jumps back, trips, and falls ass-backwards into a giant puddle. Her friends go to help her. I laugh and basically step over her. That´s right, go back to whore island.

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Posted by bchu 10:00 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Horse shit


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I´m with Richie. I hate horses. More so after today.

Have you ever had to jump off a horse while it´s galloping at full speed? I have now. Twice.

He seemed calm. Too calm at first that I was literally kicking him repeatedly in the ass to move faster. That he did. Oh did he ever.

He saw the opening in the rocky valley. And made off like Secretariat. Cool, I thought, never having moved this fast on an animal before. Shit, I thought moments later, realizing that the horse was not going to stop even though I had his neck wrung sideways.

So off we went for a couple kms. Zooming through the gorgeous red rock canyon. Taking some tight corners around some very thorny bushes. Stirrups long disengaged. Hanging on for dear life to the saddle with both hands. Hearing the collective screams of the girls just paces behind me, whose horses had followed mine´s lead. I think I was horizontal at one point. And I alternated between experiencing the thrill of my life and nearly pissing my pants.

It takes a bit of extra time to register that your only chance at surviving this ordeal without serious injury is to bail. I´d like to think I did a pretty cool ninja roll/monkey flip off the horse. In truth, it was probably less graceful. But I escaped with just some minor scrapes and extreme nausea, yakking in the bushes moments after. The girls are a bit more banged up but nothing serious. I´m sure the long term story will be worth the short term pain.

I don´t know how far the horses kept running after getting rid of us. But in about an hour, we were back on the saddles. For a quiet walk home we were assured. I guess they didn´t realize the affinity my dumbass one has for trains. As the locomotive sped by, my horse seriously thought it could outrace it. ¨Here we go again,¨ I muttered, unable once more to corral the animal. I landed this time in a patch of dirt. Now my butt really hurts when I sit down. I frickin´hate horses. But damn is it a rush when they decide they just wanna go fast.

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Posted by bchu 18:04 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni


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Salt. Lots of it. Blinding white. On the endless plains that stretch out towards the horizon. In your pants. Built up to make the beds, walls, and roof of the accomodation for the night. Everywhere. This is the Salar de Uyuni, one of South America´s supposed greatest trips. You will not find a different opinion from me.

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The trip actually spans 3 days travelling in a 4x4. Sometimes, when lucky, riding on the roof. It wasn´t all salt flats either. I´ve seen enough flamingoes and lagoons for the next few months. Cacti, llamas, and 4:30am wakeups too. Still, the landscapes and the moments travel with me many days later and likely for years to come. Incomparable. Bliss. Fortune.

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This would also be the last time the 6 of us traveled together. For reasons indescribable, and for me often incomprehendible, it had to be. So Andrew and Kitty are gone. Soon the other 3 will be too. It sucks, plain and simple. But in a sea of salt, tracks of dust, multicoloured lagunas, and the worst hotel bathroom ever, the ghosts of an incredibly fitting end hang on.

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Posted by bchu 14:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

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