Wednesday, April 11, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 8: Southern Peru & Chile

Hola amigos de Rosario, Argentina... the land of beautiful women and even more beautiful steaks.

Let me first thank the gracious offers that so many of you extended to visit the absurdly fictional town of Picantemanos. Many of you got that it was an April Fools edition, written in South American style (meaning late), but the second update was to see who would really believe in 12-fingered families, alpaca-chase training for mayoral slapping contests, and cocktail umbrella gang warfare in a town called Hot Sauce Hands... Picantemanos is about as real as Harrison Whitman's sister. Special bonus gullible points go out to Donnie Iyamu McGrath, Fernando and Jose Cuartas, Alyssa Dawn McConkey, Dan Rockin Teicher, P-Goo Martin, Jordan Johnson Jhabvala and John Catpiss Chernin. By the way John, I was also the one that bought the advertising space on the Daily Jolt last year to put up that frontpage ad selling your virginity. Happy belated birthday.

Onto reality... There is actually a lot to write about considering I haven't sent a factual update in over two weeks. After leaving Uyuni, Bolivia I did actually head to La Paz for two days. I went there for one reason only, to ride on a bike tour down The World's Most Dangerous Road between La Paz and Curoico. All I knew was that the Israelis refused to go out of fear and that my good friend Noah Marwil had previously written in a Bolivian recommendations email- "The next day was the best. I signed up for a bike ride down a road called "Death Valley". It's beautiful and dangerously sexy. DO THIS." Noah is a true connoisseur with over 23 years of radical experience in "sexy", so with his ringing endorsement I wanted in. What I didn't find out until we mounted our bikes was that over 7000 people have died on the road, averaging about 100 per year, most recently an Israeli tourist just two weeks ago and a Canadian six weeks before our venture... Imagine an SUV-wide dirt and rock path winding through waterfall-laced gorgeous green mountains, with no railing to protect individuals from dropping off the 300 meter edges, and you'll have a vague mental image of the road. In retrospect, it was one of the stupidest but coolest things I've ever done in my travels. The hours of riding were exhilarating, the scenery incredible, and the fact that I survived is probably my favorite part.

From there I took a bus back over the border to Puno, Peru and visited the floating reed Uros Islands of Lake Titacaca. The inhabitants explained that they were too poor to purchase real land and enjoyed the ancient traditional lifestyle of their life on these floating islands which they maintained by constantly adding new reeds to the infrastructure. Another incredibly cool place to see. From Puno I hopped an overnight bus to Arequipa, and went on a two-day tour of Colca Canyon. Thermal baths, condor viewing, delicious food and excellent company made this trip to one of the deepest points on the planet highly enjoyable. I got along especially well with a 50-something American couple who were in their fifth of a planned 25 years of global travel via the small catamaran they sailed around the world. Fucking righteous man...

Upon my return to Arequipa I went out for a great night of drinking and dancing with some Norwegian girls and a hysterical Scottish guy from our hostel. The next day was for digesting Arequipa, which is a truly beautiful city that I highly recommend visiting. The Santa Catalina Monastery is a small city unto itself with intriguing buildings and beautiful tiny cobblestone streets. The walls of each plaza and room are painted brilliantly forceful blues, reds, yellows and creams. Trust me, it's a uniquely amazing place. I normally don't fall in love with churches or museums, but Santa Catalina was brilliant and a great spot to spend a few hours in meditative contemplation and reflection.

Afterwords the overnight bus to Nazca wasn't bad and once there, I was able to sit shotgun in a 6-seater plane riding over the famed yet mysterious Nazca Lines. These are recently discovered lines carved into the salty desert soil, making massive designs and geometric figures when viewed aerially. Among the thousands of shapes there's a monkey, spider, hummingbird, trapezoidal landing strips and even a waving spaceman... but many are dated to about a thousand years ago, and can only be viewed from planes which didn't exist at that time. So these eternal questions remain- Who were these designs made for? What was their purpose? Does Luke Tedaldi really have a ponytail? Wicked cool stuff.

From Nazca I ventured to Ica to grab lunch at the Huacachina Oasis. This is a crazy little lake with surrounding vegetation in the middle of massive sand dunes. The locals say the waters have healing powers, I say the chocolate there tasted delicious. Finally the exhausting day of travel ended with a bus ride to Lima, where I found a great hostel in Miraflores and chilled out until my flight to Santiago, Chile the next day. Unfortunately my flight arrived at 2am, and I didn't feel like entering the city in search of a hostel with rare 24-hour check in. The only solution was to nap in the airport until daylight, which said was a viable option. After eventually finding a dark corner behind the worker's storage area, I hid there discreetly and stole two hours of awful sleep on a hard wooden bench. Three more hours at a breakfast buffet restaurant, eight hours of walking the city center with my big backpack, and I landed at the doorstep of the Herzberg family.

April 2nd was the first night of Passover, so my friend Suz linked me up with a Chilean family who offered to host me for the night and provide a delicious seder. It was honestly the first real house I'd entered in two months, so the wireless internet, hot shower and comfortable bed were tasty luxuries for a weary traveler. The seder was attended by both family and friends of all ages, and the table danced with conversation and song in Spanish, English, Hebrew and German. A highly memorable evening. The next day my brother Scott Scooter Braun arrived...

I know several of you are fiending for some Scoot-nuggets stories, but like any self-respecting author I know the value of a cliffhanger. The next email or two will be fully devoted to the adventurous tales of the Braun brothers in Argentina... And they will be as delicious as the 600g steak that I nearly cried while eating last week because it was so fucking good.
A perfect three-word description of our time thus far would be "Laughter through Wifehuntery"...There is no longer any doubt in my mind that my older brother is certifiably insane, but more importantly, he and everyone around him has a damn funky time reveling in that insanity... myself included.

Finally, the last 10 days, between the Herzberg's hospitality and the arrival of my brother for three weeks of siamese travel, have been saturated with thoughts of family. In my travels thus far I've met some great and some not so great people, but the consistent common denominator has been that those with a strong family base tend to have inherent levels of intuitive morality. They respect the shaded lines between right and wrong. They have open-hearts and kind words for strangers, perhaps because they are ingrained with a certain skew towards positivity that comes from a loving household. That's certainly not to say that those without this family base cannot possess the same character traits; it's just not quite as common in those who were never bestowed with the gift of family life... The ultimate reality is that no one knows your inner skin like your family, and no one deserves more credit for your outer skin than those same people. We often take their sacrifices and love for granted, but perhaps once in a while we should each take account of how important that familial love is to each of us... Gracias mom and dad por todos, and a big happy birthday to my brother Sam Braunlanga, my beautiful sister Liza, and my dad swervin Ervin.

I hope this email finds each of you filled with happiness, health and fulfillment.

Challenge the Assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 68
Showers with Heat- 16
Song of Choice- "Speaking of Tongues" by Michael Franti.
Book Selection- "My Losing Season" by Pat Conroy
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Chocolateer
Quote of Note- "Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied, with the life you're living?" -Bob Marley in "Exodus"
Random Person- Miss Piggy

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