Welcome to the Jungle: Iquitos, Peru to Leticia, Colombia to Tabatinga, Brazil

Lima was a riot in a whole lot of different ways. After reading over my last post, I’m worried I focused a bit too heavily on some negative aspects of my experience in the city. Yes, it smelled like an exhaust pipe, was seemingly eternally cold and grey, and I was vomiting through most of it (and if I was lucky, that was it). But I also spent practically a whole night dancing in a Peruvian club to a live Peruvian band, had my first and many (proficient!) conversations in Spanish between a Fin, Italian, and Peruvian because it was the only common language, and successfully navigated my way through a Limen~an neighborhood in the middle of the night after getting lost, something I tried and failed to do a little over a year ago in Brussels and Florence. I value my experience in Lima so much because it broke me in for the rest of the trip. I experienced my first looooong bus ride with bad food and worse movies, food poisoning (now that, plus what happened in Medellin, qualifies me as a real third world traveler), explored, on my own, one of Latin America’s biggest cities, all the while dodging some actually really nice, if still slimy, drug dealers (ask me about that story in person) and figuring out the bus system with capable but still nervous Spanish. It’s something I’m never going to forget, and served as the basis for the rest of my summer’s travels. Without it, I can’t imagine how I would have handled the last week in Colombia–that’s a story for later, but let it suffice to say that it’s a good thing I was heading back to home base, Cuenca. Thinking of everything that has happened in the past month and a half, taking the super sketchy taxi to the airport with Trish, wondering if we were about to be robbed (we weren’t), and subsequently flying to Iquitos seems so long ago. These memories are vivid, yet they are so distant.

You can trace the roots of our trip to Colombia back to the end of December, days after moving into my new apartment. Trish was getting set to head to Oakland, California to intern, and stopped by my place to say goodbye. At the time, I was hanging out with my buddy John, who was in town for New Year’s from Mizzou. We were in the middle of trying not to fumigate ourselves spray-painting and attempting creativity in my living room when Trish walked in, and after talking for a bit, our trips to Peru and Ecuador came up. It was a pretty simple path from there. If you’re going to be in South America, and me in Ecuador, there’s an obvious excuse to see a bit of the world there. At that moment it was set. We were going somewhere. “Where” wasn’t decided until two days before we actually left, and we debated Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil before we finally settled on Colombia. We went so far as to even come up with a plan for getting to Bolivia (below), which was ditched for the travel costs and Bolivia’s cold climate.

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Where I would have ended up if we went to Bolivia, I have no idea.

Colombia was initially a no-go due to the usual danger associated with the country, a connotation that seriously needs to change. Colombia is much safer than Ecuador and I hear Venezuela. FARC and paramilitary are still active, but are confined to specific regions. Avoid Choco, Putamayo and dangerous neighborhoods and you’ll likely be fine.

We started our journey in Iquitos, Peru the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by road. From Peru, you can either fly there, as we did, or take a boat a few days up the river from Pucallpa, on the western edges of the Peruvian Amazon. The other route is up the Amazon toward Leticia, the city on the tri-border of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, which is the manner we took to leave–10 beautiful hours in a speed boat in piranha infested waters lined by small villages. It was incredible. I can still picture it now…and god how I want to be back there. It was pristine. Sweaty and dirty, yet still pristine.

The runway in Iquitos was lined with airplanes that looked like they hadn’t been flown in decades. Their propellers were rusted beyond repair, and I’m pretty sure Indiana Jones used them one day before they were fished out of a swamp in the jungle. Funnily enough, Harrison Ford was in Iquitos filming a movie while we were there, so maybe it wasn’t a coincidence after all. We stayed with our friend Gary “Gazza” Torres, Trish’s jungle guide a few weeks back in the very same city. He’s 27 years old, and has encyclopedic knowledge of the jungle. He actually got lost in the jungle a few weeks before we met, wasn’t able to find his way back before dark, and Man vs. Wilded it in the forest. He dined on the fish he caught with his bare hands, and slept on a makeshift bed of palm leaves with the monkey he raised–he bought a tiny monkey a while back for 10 soles (3.5 dollars), raised him, and soon after set him free. It never goes very far, though, and whenever Gary whistles for him he swings on over. I can’t even put into words how jealous of that I am. Right now, Gary is in Alaska working on a cruise ship, soon to be returning to Quebec to do some more traveling. He speaks Quebecois, English (with an Australian accent), and obviously Spanish. He’s an interesting guy, to put it lightly. I told him about my motorcycle diary dream, and I think I’ve got a partner in my future adventures. He even taught me how to ride his motorcycle in Iquitos (I think there are only like 7 cars in the entire city), which I subsequently killed and couldn’t restart a few miles from his apartment. While a moto-taxista was able to push me home, Gary and Trish were worrying that I got pulled over by the cops and taken to the police station. Without a cell phone or a Peruvian driver’s license, or even my Wisconsin license with me at the time, I could have been pretty screwed. But then again, everything has a price. Maybe the 100 soles I had in my pocket at the time would have gotten me out. To be honest, that’s probably how it would have ended up anyways. It’s a good thing, though, that I’ll never know. After getting towed back and laughed at for killing the engine, Gary and I headed to a club. Gary hit on a girl from Quebec with his Quebecois, got rejected, and we headed back to his place and watched American Pie dubbed in Spanish. If you thought it was funny in English, you’ll find it downright ridiculous in Spanish. The voices are hysterical.

We only spent two days in the city, since we unfortunately had to hurry our way to Bogotá. With Trish’s shorter schedule, we had to prioritize. 200 soles later, we were ready to take the 6 A.M. speed boat to Leticia. After returning from the club at around 2 am, I called it a night, set seven alarms, and prepared to wake up three hours later to head to the boat. Since it was a ten-hour boat ride, I figured I could get some sleep. No need to waste a precious night in a jungle city with a hilarious jungle man. What’s the risk? Well, my iPod died in the middle of the night, and my phone’s alarms didn’t go off. Really? Come on. How does this sort of thing even happen? It must have been too quiet, on silent, or something. I don’t even know. But I know what you’re thinking right now, and you need to hold on. I woke up, saw that it was pretty light out, and checked my phone to see how long I had to sleep. Upon looking at the time, I leaped out of bed, and said in that sort of voice you get when you wake up and realize somethings wrong:

“Um, Trish, we have a bit of a problem. My alarms didn’t go off.”

Still practically asleep, she responded: “Wait, what? What time is it?”

“5:57. We’re going to miss the boat. Do you think the tickets are exchangeable?” That was a stupid question.

Not even paying attention to the question, she bolted up with a sort of energy and purpose I have yet to see since.  “Hurry. Get your shit. Don’t worry about your shoes, nothing. Get it together and let’s go.” It was all a bit bit drill-Sergeant-esque, but I was a bit too taken aback and actually somewhat intimidated at the time to make any jokes. In a matter of seconds, we got all of our stuff together, woke up Gary, thanked him, got a taxi, broke moto-taxi landspeed records to get to the port, and ran through said port with our backpacks on our backs and our shoes in our hands. We didn’t think there was time enough to protect our feet from the hookworm living in every feces infested crack on the street. Whatever. It happened. As was to be absolutely expected, people were giving us the most ridiculous looks. I wonder how often it is the people of Iquitos, a rather isolated yet somewhat because of this touristy city, see two young white people running through the small port the way we were. Probably not very often, although I’d bet more than you’d think. We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last. We got to the port at 6:04 A.M., ran down the stairs to the water two at a time, and hopped on the boat moments before it took of. We were forced to sit apart, but the lovely thing about our tardiness was that I was able to take the last unoccupied seat on the boat: the very front seat, next to the driver, with the most leg room and an unobstructed view of the river in front of us. It was the most incredible boat ride of my life. I’m going to have to remember to do the same thing the next time I make it to out to the jungle.

Oh, Trish was stuck in the middle of the boat, against the wall next to a fat man, basically unable to move her legs, with a small window on her right. She was able to make it up to the front eventually, when the driver allowed me to sit outside so she could take my seat. I have no regrets. Sorry Trish.

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Iquitos Houseboats

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Nothing but motorcycles and moto-taxis. It was awesome.

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What we saw from the late-comer’s seats

 

“Stumbled out of bed frantically at 5:58 to catch a 6:00 boat down the Amazon, watched the sun rise over the jungle en route, and wound up in Colombia ten hours later. There’s nothing like going through border patrol in your PJs…just nothing like it. — with Matt Conway in Leticia, Colombia.”

– Patrcia Rose Paskov, July 6th, 39 Likes, 10 Comments (most notably that of Ali Massoud: “This is legendary.”

Ten hours later we were handing our passports over to Peruvian exit officials at the border crossing, which was nothing more than a wooden shack with a computer, a desk, and a man in shorts and a t-shirt with a stamp. There wasn’t even a gun in sight. Just parrots. That’s when I knew I was going to like Colombia. I just had no idea how much.

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Lima

It took me 19 hours to drive from Mancora to Lima. Each second I didn’t spend sleeping–which, thankfully, were relatively few–I filled with enlightening Christian movies such a Facing the Giants, or one of the other movies made by the same company, using the same actors. Some buses pass the time playing ultra-violent or action movies such as Saw or The Expendables, and others choose to err on the more chaste side. It all depends on the bus driver, and there’s generally no in between. Now, don’t get the wrong impression of me when I say this, but I really prefer some Jason Statham badassery to a husky suburban white man telling his football team through his tears that their team will win if they ask God nicely. I’m not an overly religious person, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work. But then again, when I was in Quito’s cathedral a man asked me to pay the church 50 dollars to save my soul and become absolved of my sins. Maybe things really do work differently down here.

Once arriving in Lima, I took some time to stretch my legs and eventually found a taxi to take me to Trish’s apartment in Pueblo Libre, a quieter, cute Limen~an barrio next to Universidad de la Catolica. Just like Cuenca at this very moment, Lima was a deceivingly freezing 60 degrees. The main factor there is the humidity. Despite being in the middle of the desert, Lima is cold and permanently overcast for about half of the year, with the other part of the year beautiful, sunny, and warm. Being in the southern hemisphere, it’s unfortunately winter now. After a few minutes of walking around, I hopped in the first safe looking taxi I could find (i.e. no holes and an old man driving) and drove to the University. It was about dinner time when I found Trish outside of la universidad, so we headed to the closest market to get some food. Now, since food in Lima is supposed to be some of the best you can possibly eat in South America, I had some high expectations. The food I received was indeed different from what I ate in Ecuador and Colombia, although not in the way I expected. Meals down here come like this: soup, plate with meat, rice, and a light side salad or fries, accompanied by some sort of juice. The course this women served us was, in a general sense, no deviation from the norm. We were given a potato/fish based soup, a plate with meat and rice, and some sort of fruit juice I can’t remember. The difference, though, lies in the ingredients and the way it was cooked. The soup had a chicken leg in it. Not like a drumstick, but the main walking part, with talons and feet and everything included. The meat on the chicken foot wasn’t cooked, which was a theme that carried out throughout the rest of the meal. I didn’t know this at the time, and not wanting to offend anybody and leave food behind, I ate all I could, including whatever meat I could find on the chicken leg. It was a slightly uncomfortable meal because of the chicken foot, but besides that there really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Trish and I headed back to her house, hung out with a bunch of her roommates, and soon after prepared a second dinner of cherimoya, lentils, and what I think was fish. I say “I think” not to imply that Trish cooked up some sort of mystery meat, but just to say I don’t really remember. The rest of the night’s events kind of shadow over the rest of the evening. We ate, hung out, bonded about all being from Madison but actually being in Peru (I miss the terrace so much, the square, remember this? etc.), and went to the internet to look at plane tickets and research where Trish and I were going to be spending the next 13 or so days. And then I ran to the bathroom and starting vomiting more violently than I have in probably my entire life. I thought blood was going to come out. In hindsight, I really should have expected this. My meat was a strange pink color, I ate a chicken foot…these are not normal things for me, and I don’t think are actually normal for anybody else. I’ve since heard you’re not supposed to eat the meat on the chicken foot. Either way, what was done was done, and I was condemned to four days of two-way bodily fluid traffic. The long-lasting result of this experience: because they were the last things I ate before puking, I can never eat lentils or cherimoya again. Just thinking about these two foods makes me want to vomit. Ugh. But don’t worry, I’m still totally cool with chicken feet.

While I couldn’t eat or do much, after a couple of bedridden days I forced myself to explore the city. After all, when is the next chance I’ll have to be in Lima? I could finally eat food, and while I spent the majority of my time outside of the house in pristine, European style coffee shops (in both design and cost), I was able to find my way to a Chinese restaurant and a cheeseburger stand. I was done with Peruvian food. These coffee shops were located in Miraflores, the hipster district of Lima if there were to be one. It was actually a really incredible place, with parks everywhere, boutique shops, bookstores, and all; there was even a Starbucks and McDonald’s there (and for some reason a John F. Kennedy Park). Despite those last facts, it was a really intriguing place with lots of modern and historical Peruvian culture. I loved it. It reminds me a bit of the DuPont Circle region of Washington D.C., which, when I visited Matt last March, I decided I would live in if I ever moved to D.C.

I usually kept my hood up as I was walking to guard against the constant drizzle and cold and to blend in a bit more. Blond hair and blue eyes isn’t really a normal thing down here. There are lots of stares…some out of curiosity, others malice. An odd phenomenon occurred, though, when I walked around with my hood up, which was actually the opposite effect I hoped my hood would have. Whenever I walked with my hood down I would get some stares, but could wander the streets unmolested. This was not the case otherwise. Apparently–and this could be a universal thing–when I walked with the hood up it was as if I was holding a sign that said “Drugs. Any and all kind of drugs, I want them.” Wherever I walked, I would hear the quiet whisper of “hombre, hierba/marijuana/bud/ay-yay(cocaine)/heroína?” I even did a small experiment and walked past the same guys a few times throughout the day, both with and sans hood. With the hood, I’m sketchy. Without, just a gringo. It was flawless.

Two things I learned in Lima: how to get drugs and how to get violently ill. But in all seriousness, I met some incredible people, saw some crazy things, and learned a whole lot. The sickness eventually couldn’t stop me from going to clubs, parties at friend’s apartments, and enjoying every minute of my time there. Being the first large part of my trip, it was arguably one of the most meaningful and worthwhile. I can’t wait to go back to experience everything I either didn’t have the time or energy to do. One day, hopefully soon.

The beginning: Peru

Hanging out down here, I’ve met many different types of foreigners:

Type A: Those taking a short break from their lives in their home countries, and want an interesting place to get drunk

Type B: The hippies, looking to get further down to earth and live off the land. This is an interesting type.

Type C: The pelucones, who come down here to say they did, and do little more than observe the country from the window of an expensive hotel or restaurant

Type D: The naïve, hopeful,  a little ignorant and bright-eyed traveler seeing the world for one of the first times, trying to take it in stride. I’d classify myself among this group.

Type E: The seasoned traveler, spending days in some places, weeks in others, going wherever he or she wants and feeling at home in each place.

Dario is type E, and when I first met him, he began telling me about how he’s been hitchhiking and busing his north from Concepcion, Chile with nothing more than two outfits, a tent, and a violin. In order to fund his now 8 months of travel, he plays his violin in the city center of whatever exotic or by now, not so exotic, city he finds himself in. As a violin professor at Concepcion University, Dario has a lot of freedom to take time off and travel as he wants. While usually taking the summers off (December–March) to travel around Patagonia in both Argentina and Chile, he decided this time to go north and see where the world took him. When we met he was 24 years old, and we celebrated his 25th birthday the other day exploring, and of course getting very lost, in Cotopaxi National Park, as we attempted and partly succeeded in summitting Rumiñahui Volcano. I say partially, because only my friend Miro and I were able to summit, having lost Dario and another friend in the path. That’s a story for later.  Dario and I were hanging out at my apartment in Cuenca in mid June, and I was sitting utterly intrigued by his plans, or rather lack there of, and freedom. To me it seemed to take so much courage, and sounded like one of the most incredible ways one could spend a summer, much less a year. Just think of the adventure, and the stories! I had to do it, and after a moment of deliberation, decided to. Dario and I talked about it all the time, and he showed me all the sights in the south I should see. At this time, I was thinking of buying a motorcycle in Quito and heading south Che Guevara style to Tierra del Fuego and north again, along one of these two routes: Without Rio, still Brazil With Brazil

Obviously, that plan didn’t happen. After a few weeks of searching for a reasonably priced, powerful enough motorcycle I realized that this plan would have to be put off for a later date when I had deeper pockets, stronger Spanish, and the ability to ride a motorcycle. That last factor should have been more important that it was at the time. A few days after giving up the search, I headed to the coast to see whales, blue footed boobies, small towns, make new friends and find out if all the talk about Montanita is valid. It is. Don’t worry, I took tons of picture. If you want to see them, just ask the guy who stole my phone in Medellin. I’m sure he saved them all.

Re-reading where I left off in Puerto Lopez just under two months ago speaks volumes. Maybe the change reflected in the writings is more noticeable to me than others because I lived it, or maybe it’s the opposite. Either way, I notice a pretty big change between the man writing this now and the man who started this blog three months ago. James told me to “prepare for a life changing experience” right before I left, and while I didn’t doubt him, I didn’t totally understand what that change would be. The last three months–specifically the last month and a half–has been the most challenging, incredible, eye-opening, exciting, exhausting, and unbelievable experience of my life. And I don’t even consider my trip to be that radical or crazy. Rather benign, really, when I compare it to some of the other stories I’ve heard down here. My time on the Ecuadorian coast was really laid back, and generally revolved around sitting in a hammock and doing nothing on the beach hanging out with foreigners. Not exactly what I was looking for when I set off, but it was a nice way to start.

Things began to change, though, when I started the journey to Lima. On the 8 hour bus ride to Mancora–my first of many of its kind–I sat next to this guy from Piura, Peru (northern Peru, near the border), and was able to practice my Spanish for a few hours as I learned about the fishing industry, which Ronald was a consultant for. I taught a bit of English that he could use when working with his almost exclusively Japanese customers, too (who knew?). Once I got into Mancora at 4:00 in the morning, I stepped off the bus and was immediately swarmed by 15 or so moto-taxistas, all wanting business. Even in a party town, 4:00 isn’t a very busy time for them. For 1 sol, about 42 cents, my hopped into the carriage hitched to the halved motorcycle and told the taxi driver to take me to the nicest, cheapest place he knew of. 5 minutes later, I was introduced to his friend, the owner, at a beach side hostel where I would be falling asleep to sounds of the ocean. And for only 15 soles per night, or about 7 dollars. There really wasn’t anybody staying there, except for the two people who I was sharing the 15 bed dorm with: a German and a Peruvian, also from Piura, who took the weekend off of work in Mancora to unwind after his Spanish girlfriend moved back to Malaga to get surgery after being shot in the leg in a mugging in Piura. He was very evidently still upset, which probably goes a small way to explain this weekends events, such as the ritzy cocaine party at the end of the blue tunnel in the middle of a slum.

Every night in Mancora there are huge parties on the beach, with all the clubs blasting their music at competing tones beach side. These clubs are packed to a point where they’re overflowing to the beach; there’s barely enough room to even attempt to salsa, although they make it happen somehow. Each of these clubs shut down their music and close their doors at 3:00 AM, leaving everybody disgruntled and feeling cheated out of a dance. Since everybody lives with their families, I can understand why they want to keep dancing (although there is a reason hostels rent out by the hour here…). In order to fix this problem, there is generally an after party/club starting at around 3:30 AM. In my one and only experience, it happened to be in an enclosed field in the middle of a slum. After leaving the beach, I hopped in a moto-taxi with my new friends, told the driver the destination, and putted off to the rumba. I was a bit confused upon arriving, since I didn’t see anybody, was surrounded by very small tin, one bedroom houses, and could only faintly hear the thump of reggaetone, although after a few seconds a Peruvian guy beckoned me his way, and instructed me on where to go. After walking single file down this neon blue lit tin hallway, we arrived at the party: huge, beautifully green grass field, bamboo canopy, two bars with American and European drinks, and a state of the art DJ/sound system. Oh, and I should mention the giant pen in the middle that held turkeys, ducks and chickens, and the people discreetly snorting lines of cocaine off of its fence. I felt like the place was stolen from the set of Clockwork Orange. For the entire party Anis and I, Anis being the German, passed a bottle of Pilsen back and forth, both pretending to take sips because it was absolutely terrible. Peru has some fantastic food, but their beer is just terrible. Stick to your strengths.

Now, I actually know nothing about Peruvian food because I spent the majority of my time in Lima vomiting. Violently.

More to come tomorrow.

Dangerous Business

It’s dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road and there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.

Some guy named Danny Rozan wrote that on a wall in a hostel in San Juan, Puerto Rico last January, maybe just days before Haley and I read it. A quick google search will yield the origin of the quote, which was much more eloquently and fully stated by none other than our very own (my very own?) Bilbo Baggins:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I know a few of you reading this will find some irony, or at least some comedy, in the fact that a hobbit spoke the phrase I decided to lead this post with. Believe it or not, I just figured out good ol’ Bilbo said it seconds ago, after getting a feeling that Mr. Rozan isn’t as philosophical as his quote may imply. I find it only fitting that I unwittingly use a hobbit’s words as I begin to detail the events of the Hobbit in Adventureland, as Mariana so wonderfully titled this summer’s trip. Maybe that’s self-deprecating to a degree, but I’m accepting my unwanted nickname/description with only a little reluctance.

It’s been a month and a half since I stepped out of my absurdly un-Ecuadorian apartment in Gringolandia to find what else this chunk of South America has to offer. Now that this first chapter is nearly complete, I can only really speak to how absolutely little I know. Matt always says that the most important, and maybe sole, thing he learns through his elite (my words) education and varying internships is how little he actually knows. After this summer, I can attest to the validity of his statement; the more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know. I can understand how that can be a daunting and possibly discouraging realization to some, but to me it only amplifies my reluctance to go home. Becoming aware that I know relatively nothing makes me think this trip was an overall success. Though, thinking about everything I didn’t do yet wanted to, didn’t do but should have, or did do despite that I shouldn’t have leads me in the opposite direction, and is the root of the majority of my reluctance to leave. There’s so much more to do, see, and learn and I’m sitting in a creaky, whistling room on the edge of Calle Larga writing about not doing it. Obviously, I haven’t quite made sense of it all yet. I’m sure that will come at some point, and I’m hoping writing about it will spur that process.

The last time I wrote I was sitting at a creaky–everything is kind of creaky here…it’s how you know it’s authentic–wooden table on a beach in Puerto Lopez, talking about whales, new friends, impending experiences, and getting ready to catch a bus to Mancora, Peru. At that time, I thought I was going to be going to Bolivia. Instead, nine days later I found myself on a boat climbing the Amazon river toward Colombia. Looks like I didn’t keep my feet. But should I have? I don’t think so. The only thing you must keep down here is your wits. And don’t forget where the line is. If not, well, we’ll get to that. I can picture my father sighing as I write this.

Cuenca (31)–Guayaquil (1)–Montanita (3)–Puerto Lopez (3)–Bus (1)–Mancora, Peru (3)–Bus (1)–Lima (5)–Iquitos (1)–Leticia, Colombia (1)–Bogota (5)–Santa Marta (2)–Costena Beach (1)–Tayrona (2)–Taganga (2)–Santa Marta (2)–Minca (7)– Santa Marta (2)-Taganga (4)–Santa Marta (2)–Mompox (3)–Bus (1)–Medellin (3)–Bus (1)–Quito, Ecuador (1)–Latacunga (5)–Cuenca (13)

That’s a list, in order, of all of the places I’ve spent at least one night since arriving. If I included day trips that list would have been much larger. The number beside the name is the number of night’s I stayed there. The math may not check out, but that’s the best I can remember. That list doesn’t really say much, since some of the most important and memorable things happened in the places I spent very little time, like Iquitos, and vice versa, such as Minca, although that latter thought is debatable.

In the past two and a half months I’ve seen horrible poverty, shameful prosperity, unimaginable love, hate, happiness, sadness, and everything in between. I’ve seen star and puffer fish, uncomfortable foreign people, road blocks set by small mn with large guns, bugs bigger than my face, and almost my death, although since I don’t want to be melodramatic don’t take that last part too seriously. But really I almost died a few times. The thrill is quicker than you’d think. No different from any other summer, though. Like I said, keep your wits and know the line. And your feet, if you find yourself wanting to. But think twice about that one. Dangerous business is just that, although a good story never came from playing it safe.

It’s going to take a while to detail all of it, so bear with me. I’ll get it all out eventually. While this could realistically be pinned in any of the myriad moments in the past, the most important and substantial beginning is just a while back, a couple of weeks into my first stay in Cuenca:

It all started with a Chilean musician, and soon to be one of my best friends, Dario.

Dangerous Business