Travel

The Most Terrifying Potato In The World

The most fear-inducing potato in the world, or at least in the Andes, is called cj’achun wakachi in Qetchua, which literally means “the daughter-in-law cries.” Traditionally if a boy wants to marry a girl, his mother will hand his intended one of these demonic, knobby potatoes as a test of her skill in the kitchen. She must peel the entire potato in a single, unbroken pass, or she will not be permitted to marry him. This is still done in some homes, and girls practice peeling for months. And you thought your mother-in-law was mean. …

Tales From An Andean Taxi Driver

The best storytellers weave just enough truth into their tales that it’s impossible to figure out where the truth ends and the fiction starts. Usually this is deliberate because it makes for a better story. But sometimes, you wonder if they even know where the line is. …

Fifty Ways To Kill A Cuy

Every Andean village has its own opinion regarding the best method for killing a cuy. Some people twist its head. Some pull its head. Some, like our host Eucevio, prefer to give it a karate chop to the back of the head. After all, you don’t want the entree to look mangled when you’re serving guests. …

The Lost City of the Incas

There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu for most people: By foot, on the famously grueling Inca Trail; or by buses that shuttle up and down from the town of Aguas Calientes (well, a few people hike up from the town). And the only way to get to Aguas Calientes is by train, which is how we went.

I’m sure there is enormous satisfaction in completing the multi-day hike but the train was well worth it. Huge dome windows provided spectacular views of the wild Urubamba River alongside the tracks, and the high Andean peaks beyond. Anyway, we had our own grueling hike planned for later in the day.

A River Runs Through It

The sound of rushing water, everywhere we go. My ears are filled with gurgling, splashing, and bubbling, pleasantly overwhelming at its loudest. Stone canals line the edges of every cobblestoned street in Ollantaytambo. They still deliver water from the adjacent Patakancha River to the town’s residents, just as they did over five hundred years ago. A wooden bridge crosses the Patakancha a block from the main plaza, connecting the town to the ruins just beyond. Even the courtyard of our inn has a canal running through it; the sound doesn’t disappear until we close the door to our room. …

A Trip To The Post Office

There’s a soccer field on the sand at Floreana Island, just around the corner from the post office. When the tour boats stop there, crews will play against their passengers, or the crew and passengers will all team up against those of a second boat, if there is one. The day we were there witnessed an epic battle between two boats, and I am here to tell the tale.

The wind was calm that fateful afternoon. In the distance, sea lions barked. Frigate birds circled patiently overhead. Clouds gathered in the east, but the sun still shone over the field of the coming battle. Most of the passengers from both sides had gone snorkeling, but a few of us weren’t up for the cold water and relaxed in the shade, watching the crews kick the ball around.

Day Of The Iguana

I love reptiles. The bigger the better. However, I have no interest in meeting a Komodo Dragon, which would probably kill and eat me. The next-best thing is the Galapagos land iguana. Land iguanas are pretty big—they can grow to over a meter long and weigh up to 30 pounds.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANorth Seymour Island was a desolate, wind-swept place during our mid-October visit, mostly covered with dry grasses, dead trees, and the occasional cactus or small shrub growing amongst piles of broken brown or grey lava rock. The calls and whistles of frigate birds as they wheeled overhead or courted in the dead brambles, the rise and fall of the morning’s breeze, and our own footsteps were the only sounds. …

Got Fish?

Early on the morning of our fifth day in the Galapagos, eight passengers disembarked from our boat at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island; their time in the Galapagos was over. Twelve new passengers were to come aboard at lunchtime but for now, the four of us who were remaining for a longer adventure had the morning to ourselves.

Yvonne and I walked down the dock, which was covered with sea lions and recently-arrived tourists. As the latter waited to board various boats, they excitedly took photos of the sea lions lazing about on benches and against railings. The two of us smirked condescendingly at each other, amused by these newbies’ innocent delight. We were once wide-eyed like them but after four days, we felt oh-so-cocky. Docile sea lions on the dock was so normal; this was nothing compared to what we’d seen in our vast experience of the Galapagos. …

Diego, The Galapageño Gigolo

During the 17th and 18th centuries, at least 150,000 tortoises were taken from the various islands of the Galapagos, mostly for food and later, for oil also. The Galapagos were a way station for Pacific whaling ships and fur seal hunters. Because they’re so slow and have no fear of humans, the tortoises were easy pickings. Each ship would take dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tortoises and keep them in the hold stacked on their backs, alive. They could live up to a year that way, providing fresh meat for the sailors as they slowly starved. Even Charles Darwin thought little about how the constant taking of tortoises for food was bringing about their near-extinction, or how the introduced animals, especially rats, were decimating the endemic birds and reptiles who laid their eggs on the ground. Naturalists were not necessarily conservationists. …

Love, Galapagos Style

On our first day in the Galapagos, we had one of several opportunities to witness something that normally isn’t easy to see up close: Avian courtship. Also, really big iguanas. But I’ll talk about the iguanas in a future post. I should state for the record that I am not a birder, but during this trip I became a temporary convert.

The Galapagos Islands are famous for their bird life. Charles Darwin observed the differences in the beaks of the otherwise-similar finches on the various islands and surmised that they had developed their differences to deal with differing environmental conditions. These and some other bird species are seen nowhere else on earth, while others, though they also exist elsewhere, have long made their homes here. But as I will keep mentioning, all of them had no fear of us humans. …

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