Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

 

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

I took this photo while visiting Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon region in Ecuador.  I took the photo, because I loved that it was just these 3 trees and how they varied in size like steps.  I didn’t realize the shot until I was reviewing my photos for a new desktop background.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I spend a lot of time staring at my background photo thinking, daydreaming, reflecting

 

Categories: PostaWeek2012, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

Wissenschafts Park in Gelsenkirchen

When I saw this weekly photo challenge: Green, the first thing I thought of was “the Green Movement.”  Green energy, green buildings – all things meaning sustainable, reusable, recyclable.  Then, my mind went straight to this picture.  A picture I took when I visited the Wissenschafts Park in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

Gelsenkirchen is a city in the Ruhrgebiet region of Nord-Rhine Westfalia.  I remember reading once in a travel book I had of the area that Gelsenkirchen was called “the solar energy capital of the world.”  When you get off the train you see hundreds of bikes all around the station.  There is even a rental office right there.  I just wanted to visit the Wissenschafts Park, which happened to be walking distance.  The Wissenschafts Park, is a science park dedicated to the study of future energies.  In fact, on the roof of this building is the biggest solar power plant.  It was all very incredible.

When thinking about this challenge, it made me think about how our meanings of regular words have changed.  Like “green.”  It means more than just the color green these days.  Like the banner photo for my blog here, I took it one morning while visiting a “green complex”, Riverbank State Park.  A multi-use green space built on top of a sewer treatment plant!

Categories: Germany, PostaWeek2012, Ruhrgebiet, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Pilgrimage to Qoyllur Rit’i!!!

Mawallani

We’ve all heard the expression about being in the “right place at the right time”.  It was the first of June 2012.  I had just arrived back at my hostel in Cusco the night before after visiting Machu Picchu.  Actually, I had been gone for 5 days total experiencing the amazing and spiritual Salkantay trek that ended with a visit to Machu Picchu.  The trek was incredible!  It was difficult at times, due simply to the nature of the trek but was always rewarded with spiritual enlightenment and visual stimuli.  But now I was back in Cusco, and I wasn’t ready to leave.  I couldn’t leave.  I had just had a pivotal moment in spiritual growth and not to mention checked something off my bucket list, I was not about to jump on a bus for 15 hours to Lima just yet.  I decided to at least stay one more day and take it all in.  Plus, my new friends I had just made while on the trek were all going out for a pint to celebrate!

Back at the hostel, I had plenty of emails to check.  A friend had sent me a copy of an article they had read in the NY Times about a month before.  It was about the Snow Star Festival, Qoyllur Rit’i, a once a year pilgrimage that happens here in Peru.  I read the article again and researched it.  The pilgrimage happens near Cusco and the first day was tomorrow!  It was a sign.  I had to go!!

The long walk up…

Finally made it… so tired!!

I ran to the visitor’s center to gather all the info I needed and ask all my questions.  I always have questions!  I left that night, well that morning at 3am on a cab to take the local bus that headed towards Mawallani.  That was where the walking began.  I was very nervous on the bus ride over.  Everyone I told, that I was attending Qoyllur Rit’i, would immediately be excited but always mention “ten Fe!”  To have faith!  Everyone.  Every single person said the exact same thing.  I would soon know what they meant.

We got to Mawallani and I was now nervous about something else.  “Why was I doing this by myself, with no guide?”  I didn’t know where to go.  It was still dark out, 4:30am.  And it was very cold.  There was a lot going on.  People moving in all directions carrying lots of things.  Young people, old people, families.  Mules.  Horses.  People carrying pots and pans.  Others carrying beautiful embroidered signs.  And then there were the people dressed up, but I will get to them later!  There were people selling hats, gloves, scarves and other essentials.  I bought an extra scarf, because I was told it was only going to get colder.  Then there were people selling food.  Candy, chocolate, and cooked meals.  I saw a group of people huddled around a lady with a big boiling pot of what I thought was maté, but looked more like coffee.  I had to get some (I’m still not sure what is was), and it was great, interesting.  It definitely warmed me up, gave me a bit of energy, and helped to settle my stomach.

The chapel

From here I saw where everyone was walking, so I followed.  And I continued walking for hours.  It quickly became obvious to me why everyone told me to have faith.  It was super cold.  And to be honest a bit boring in a lonely way.  The walk was difficult because there were patches of ice on the ground that you couldn’t see until you were already slipping on it.  Everyone slipped, but that was the first sign of community for me.  If someone fell, everyone quickly came to their rescue.  It was beautiful to see the “hermandad”, brotherhood that was present.  It was only a 8-10km hike up the mountain through the valley, but it seemed to go on forever.  There were many times that I wanted to turn back.  I would stop and just look around with a confused, worried look.  As soon as I internally made up my mind to go back down someone would stop, come up to me, and tell me we are almost there.  And they would signal for me to walk with them.  When I made it to the site of the festival, it all became worth it.

There were hundreds of people here.  People setting up tents to sleep in.  People setting up tents to sell things.  People setting up tents as food stalls.  It was such an incredible site.  I walked around watching everyone.  And everyone was watching me as well.  I was one of only a handful of foreigners there.  They loved it.  Inviting me into their tents for food.  Asking me tons of questions and telling me what to expect in the next days.  The excitement was boiling over.

By the second day, the number grew from hundreds to thousands.  And now the people who were in costumes had made it up.  These were the dancers and performers.  Groups of young people dressed in very colorful, excentric native dress.  Some with fringe. Some with masks.  It was so beautiful.  And the dances were full on performances.  Most told a story.  They all performed in front of the chapel, where the Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i gave his sermons.

On the third day, I walked around some more.  Looked at the shops where the sold tiny toy cars, tiny models of houses, fake money, and candles.  People would buy these items and walk up the mountain a bit to bury the car or house and pray.  They would pray to the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i to receive that car or new house in the upcoming years.  They would buy the fake money and the candles go to the crosses that were along the path and burn the candle over the fake money and pray for fortune in the upcoming year.  And they would stay by their candle until it burned completely through.  Faith was everywhere.

I didn’t stay for the last day.  The nights had been pretty brutal.  With tons of freezing wind blowing from every direction.  I couldn’t last another night.  I was afraid I would get sick.  Plus everyone on the last day just waits in line for hours to enter the chapel and view the rock with the image of Christ painted on it, or so I heard!

On the way down, I couldn’t help but smile the whole time.  I felt so happy to be a part of this pilgrimage.  I really felt like I was part of something with the locals.  I learned a different side to everyone.  I also smiled that I happened to be there at the “right place at the right time!”

 

Things to know before you go:

-Find out when it is, because it only happens once a year.

-If you don’t want to camp overnight, it is definitely possible to visit just for the day!

-Dress very warm and in layers.  It gets very cold.

-Bring food/snacks with you.

-Definitely go, if you can.

-Have Faith!!!

-Email me, message, or post a comment for more Things to know before you go!!!

Categories: Cuzco, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

Tetraeder

This is my first post as part of the weekly photo challenge.  When I saw the challenge, I immediately thought about this structure in my photo.  I had to dig back into photos from 6 years ago, but I found it.

The structure, or sculpture in fact, is the Tetraeder.  The Tetraeder is located in Bottrop, Germany.  The name can be translated to, Tetrahedron, an actual geometric shape.  When I read the featured post for this week’s challenge, the first line was “Geometry. This challenge is about the shapes and rhythms that make up the geometry of our world.”  Besides all the wonderful shapes you can pick out from looking at this amazing sight, the symbol of the city of Bottrop, it’s also an important landmark for the region and the Industrial Route of the Ruhrgebiet!

Categories: Germany, PostaWeek2012, Ruhrgebiet, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Machu Picchu, a true wonder!!!

Machu Picchu

After 4 days of trekking 72km, it was hard to believe we were finally here.  But we weren’t yet exactly there, we had just arrived to Aguas Calientes, a small town just down the mountain from the Machu Picchu site.  It is the last stop before entering and visiting Machu Picchu, and the closest place to spend the night… well besides the Sanctuary Lodge right at the front gate, but that comes at a steep price!

Aguas Calientes town

I slept that night in Aguas Calientes thinking about the past 4 days and the roads to cross it took me to get here.  I couldn’t believe I was finally going to see it.  This was definitely a bucket list moment.  I remember the first time I’d heard about Machu Picchu.  I was in seventh grade and my new social studies teacher, Mr. Kelly, was young and had just been backpacking before becoming a teacher.  He had many stories, but none for me were as interesting as his journey through the Inca land.  I can picture the slide show he had showed us of his trip.  I remember thinking to myself… I will see that one day!

I woke up that morning at 3:30am to shower and get ready, because we were to meet 4am to start our spiritual climb to the front gate of Machu Picchu just like the Inca before sunrise.  1000 steps to the top with dozens of other travellers.  Exhausted and out of breath, all I could think was that I couldn’t believe I was doing this.  When I got to the gate, I couldn’t hardly breathe.  But it wasn’t because of all the stairs, it was out of pure excitement that I had finally made it.  At this point, I felt like my whole trip, the reason for my journey was all leading to this moment.

First view of Machu Picchu

We passed through the front gate, walked about 50 meters and there it was.  I had my first sight of Machu Picchu!  I took in a deep breath and tried to hold back the tears that were about to come down from behind my sunglasses.  It was more beautiful than I had imagined.

Incredible!  That’s exactly what is was.  And the day couldn’t be more perfect.  Not a cloud in the sky, cool but warm enough when you were in the sun.  Actually as the day went on and with everything there was to explore and climb, it became very hot.

After a 2 hour tour with our guide Jimmy John (yes, that was his name!), we learned all about the Inca, Quechua life, and the purpose of Machu Picchu.  It was fascinating.  But now it was time to explore on our own.  And there was certainly a lot to see.

Stones laying perfectly on top one another.

Overlooking the agricultural section

Imperial stone work

I made sure to walk through every square meter of the site.  My first stop would be Machu Picchu mountain.  One of the two mountains directly besides the site, with picture postcard views overlooking Machu Picchu.  After another 90 minute climb up a steep and sometimes very scary mountainside, the view from the top was worth it.  It felt as though you were floating directly above Machu Picchu.  It was the moment I felt a real spiritual connection to the site, the land, the people and had a great respect for all that it was and all that I had done to get there.

I also made the climb to the famous Sun Gate, and the Inca bridge, until finding a nice patch of grass in the agricultural section to rest on.  I sat there for about an hour.  Meditating.  Daydreaming.  Taking it all in!  As I watched all the tour groups leaving, I actually noticed that I had been in Machu Picchu site for already 9 hours.  It was time to go.  Although I didn’t want to leave, I had to eat, pack, and I had a train to catch.

View from the Sun Gate

Headed up Machu Picchu mountain

Inca bridge

As I made one last walk through Machu Picchu city, I imagined what it would be like to have lived there.  Wondrous! and busy, even though I felt like I had the place to myself.  I walked out the gate, but not before getting my special Machu Picchu stamp on my passport.  And this one was truly special, because it was the 100 year anniversary stamp since being discovered.  I took the bus back to Aguas Calientes with a big smile on my face.  It’s obvious why Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is truly a wonder of the world!!!

Llama at Machu Picchu

Things to know before you go:

-However you make it to Machu Picchu, make sure you find a guide with ties to the Quechua culture.

-Be prepared for all weather conditions, because it’s cold in the shade, hot in the sun, and can surprise you with rain.

-Don’t bring in any backpack much larger than 4 liters, you will have to check it.

-Food is not allowed in the site, but you can sneak in a small sandwich and perhaps a chocolate bar in the bottom of your bag.

-Bring drinking water.

-There are 2 mountains directly besides the site that you will want to climb, Machu Picchu mountain and Huayna Picchu mountain.  Huayna Picchu is more popular, so book your ticket for this much in advance because there is a limit!

-Email me, message, or post a comment for more Things to know before you go!!!

Categories: Cuzco, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cuzco… straight out of a postcard!!!

After my flight over Nazca to see the mysterious Nazca lines, I headed straight for the bus terminal.  There was nothing else I wanted to do in Nazca and it was very hot!  I wasn’t sure where I was going next, but I had an idea an I just needed confirmation from the bus schedule.  Whichever was leaving next, that’s where I would go.

Next bus to leave: Cuzco!

The ride to Cuzco was pretty easy.  Only 12 hours and the road was pretty scenic.  I slept most the way, but what I did get to see was nice.  Arriving in Cuzco was magical.  The city is so beautiful, like a postcard.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A real gem was of course the Plaza de Armas.  Surrounded by colonial buildings, La Catedral, and La Compañía de Jesus.  Safe and well manicured there are plenty of benches to sit at around the fountain or you can choose one the many restaurants and cafes all with balcony seating overlooking the plaza.  I could have spent all day and night there, just watching the city go on.  And there was always some sort of street performance or festival going on to keep you entertained.

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

A festival every day!

Of course, there is plenty to do in Cuzco.  From adventure sports to trekking.  Great restaurants and historical places within.  A great art scene and wonderful handicraft markets.  Everything you need is there!

There are agencies everywhere, all selling the same packages.  You just need to go with recommendations and with faith.  I would eventually end up spending about 10 days there doing as much as I could.  A spiritual trek, drinks with new friends, and of course Cuzco would not be complete without a visit to one of the seven wonders of the world… Machu Pichu!!!

Machu Pichu

More photos and a complete story of my visit when I return to NYC…  Thanks for reading!!!

Categories: Cuzco, Nazca, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A quick stop and flyover in Nazca!!!

Nazca… nothing but desert!!

After saying goodbye to my friends, Yosha and Sara in Arequipa, I decided to start heading up the coast.  I wasn’t really sure where I was going to end up, because I knew I wanted to go to Cusco, but I also needed to meet a friend in Lima.  So, I ended up in Nazca because from there I could decide whether I would continue North to Lima or head East to Cusco.

It was 10 hour over night bus ride from Arequipa, and when you get out you are in the middle of the desert.  It was hot in Arequipa, but this was a blazing sun.  There was nothing really for me to do in Nazca, except see the famous Nazca lines.

There were 2 options for viewing.  You could do a bus tour and stop by some miradors.  You would be able to see about 3 or 4 of the lines.  But the best view, was a bird’s-eye view which required jumping in a very small aircraft and taking a 40 minute guided flight over each of the lines.

Nazca lines – Tree and Hands

Of course, I needed to do the plane ride.  It was pretty incredible and worth it.  But now, I have to decide which way to go from here.  Both buses were arriving in a few hours, I guess I will just decide when they get here!

More photos and video of the Nazca lines when I get back to NYC… thanks for reading!!!

Categories: Arequipa, Nazca, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trekking through canyons, but first Arequipa!!!

Catedral de Arequipa

Originally from Puno, I was  planning on going to Cusco.  That’s the thing about travelling this way, you need to be open to change including a diversion in the plan, so long as you have the time!  Instead of Cusco, I decided to go to Arequipa with Yosha.  There was one thing I really wanted to see there.  Cañon de Colca!

Cañon de Colca is the second deepest canyon in the world.  Second to its’ neighbor Cañon de Cotohausi, and only by about 180 meters.  It’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, although the walls are not as vertical.  I have never been to the Grand Canyon, so why not?  It was only a 7 hour bus ride away!

There are many trekking options to do when you get there.  Some you can do in a day and some require you to stay in a town along or inside the canyon.  Which is quite nice!  We stood in Cabanaconde at an amazing bed and breakfast, Pachamama Hostel.  Lots of info on the trails, family run, friendly, great food and hot showers!

Colca Canyon

The canyon itself was great.  Upon getting to the first mirador, I was shocked at how big it was and also how green it was.  From there you can also see the first stop, Sangalle.  An oasis at the bottom of the canyon.  And it really was, because the hike is very long and hot.  But worth it!  There is another spot along the canyon, called Cruz del Condor.  Where you’ll get a chance to spot the majestic and sacred condors, if you’re lucky.

I was very happy I made this stop along the way.  But now it was time to move on and get back onto the original plan… whatever that was!!!

Cruz del Condor

More stories and photos from Arequipa and my trek through the canyon when I get back to NYC… Thanks for reading!!!

Categories: Arequipa, Cañon de Colca, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The other side of Lake Titicaca!!!

Last view of Copacabana

After visiting Isla del Sol and seeing how beautiful Lago Titicaca was, we deciding we needed to see it from another side.  The Peruvian side.  Back in Copacabana, we said bye to the beach town and jumped on a bus to Puno, Peru.  Puno is in the highlands of Peru.  A good city to acclimatize to the altitude and a jump off point for other cities and their excursions.  From here you can catch a direct bus to Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city or to Cusco and the sacred valley.

Puno, like Copacabana in Bolivia, sits on the edge of Lago Titicaca.  Puno is much larger and has a larger population, therefore it is very different.  It is more like a small port city with lots of folkloric music and dance.  On this side of Lago Titicaca there are also some islands to visit, Las Islas Flotantes de los Uros, Isla Amantani, and Isla Taquile.

My first stop was las Islas Flotantes de los Uros.  41 floating islands made from totora reeds that the indigenous people, the Uros, have lived on for a few hundred years.  It was an incredible sight.  You stepped off the boat and your foot sank a bit.  Around each island were huts made of these reeds just as the island itself was made.  They even have boats for transportation, also made from these reeds.

Uros Floating Islands

Then we headed to Isla Amantani, the largest island on Lago Titicaca, where they spoke Quechua and lived off the land and of course tourism.  On this island, you can also visit the temples of the Pachamama and the Pachatata.  We walked up to the highest point the temple of the Pachatata, where the view of the sunset was incredible.  It is also a sacred place, where you walk counter-clockwise 3 times around the temple, releasing all negative energy and taking in all positive energy.  It was beautiful.  You can also decide to stay with a host family for the night, where in the evening they dress you in local clothing and throw a party for the tourists which they also attend.

Amantani Island

The next day, we head to Isla Taquile and then back to Puno.  It was a quick 2 days, but there was lots to see.  We also had a taste of our first pisco sour.  Delicious!!!

More photos and stories of my night at Isla Amantani when I get back to NYC.  Thanks for reading…

 

Categories: Bolivia, Copacabana, Peru, Puno, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not Brazil’s Copacabana, but still pretty nice!!!

Copacabana

I said goodbye to Jean, my friend from NYC, in La Paz.  I stood an extra couple of days, but then had to move forward.  My next country to visit would be Peru, but there was still one more place in Bolivia that I had to visit.  It was Copacabana.  A cute little beach town on the shore of Lago Titicaca.  There isn’t much to do there, except chill out, catch some sun, eat, drink, and of course visit Isla del Sol.  That is what I was there for.

Before I left La Paz, I met up with my friend Yosha, who I had met back in Buenos Aires and we traveled together for a bit visiting both Iguazu and Cordoba.  So, great that travelling like this you manage to cross paths again with people you meet earlier on in the trip.  We were going to travel again together until our travel plans were different from one another.

Down to the Copacabana shore

We made our plans to visit and stay overnight on Isla del Sol.  It was beautiful.  Lago Titicaca is an incredible sight.  Larger than you expect, in fact it is the world’s highest navigable lake.  With sapphire blue still waters and surrounded by the snow-capped Bolivian Andes, it was completely picturesque.

 

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol is a sacred place for Inca and the Tihuanaco culture.  In fact, in Inca culture it is here that the Sun God, Inti, was born here.  There are a few archaeological sites.  A temple, some ruins, the Sacred Rock and some Inca terraces.  There are 3 villages on the island each with places to eat and stay overnight if you like.  I recommend staying there, because the evening sky is like no other.  But first of course, to visit each part, there is a 8km hike.  Make sure you bring some snacks!!!

Along the hiking trail

More photos and stories of my stay on Isla del Sol when I return to NYC… thanks for reading!!!

Categories: Copacabana, La Paz, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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