On the Salkantay hike, Feliz is our own personal guide. He's done the hike over 20 times, and he knows it inside out; and he can finish it in ¼ the time that we can. We gave him a hard time on the trip, for his only-just-adequate English skills, and for his sometimes being slack in keeping us together and not lost. But at the end of the day, he's a great guy, and we couldn't have done it without him.
For the groups of gringos that regularly do it, the Salkantay hike is a fun and challenging trek through the remote and exotic mountains of Peru. It's an adventure. But the hiking path isn't there for us. All the way along this seemingly middle-of-nowhere path, there are people (and animals) living and working. For these locals, the path is their main thoroughfare. For them, leading a pack of horses and donkeys along a winding mountain path for 5 hours straight, is like driving along the freeway to the CBD for us.
When I arrived in Mollepata this morning (starting point of the Salkantay hike), there was a little girl running around inside the restaurant there. I asked her: "¿Como te llamas, chica pocita?" (lit: "What's your name, little girl?"); and she replied without hesitation: "Jasmine America". Oh-kay, whatever! Jasmine was eager to show me her puppies (in the back yard), and her set of barbie dolls. Very sweet girl — she reminded me of my little sisters back home. But, oy: if that's her real name, she's gonna score a few laughs in her lifetime!
This was the longest bus journey that I've undertaken so far on my trip. It was about 24 hours in total: I left Ayacucho at about 7pm last night; we stopped and changed buses this morning at Andahuaylas; and I finally arrived in Cusco at about 7pm this evening. The ride was tedious through the night, and not overly comfortable the whole way; but the Andean highland scenery during the day was spectacular and intriguing, and it made the whole trip worthwhile.
I was standing at the bus station, waiting to get on my bus out of Ayacucho, when Maria Jesus started talking to me. She lives (mainly) in Ayacucho; but when I told her that I was Australiano, she suddenly became overjoyed. Turns out that almost all her children and grandchildren live in Oz (most in Melbourne), and she was eager to tell me all about them. Very sweet lady: I'm sure she gives her grandkids plenty of presents for Christmas.
When I was at the 2007 OSCMS Summit in San Francisco 2 weeks ago, my friend Ian Ward told me that I must visit Ayacucho — where he lived for 2 years, and where he met his wife — and that I must see his friend Abimael. Abimael is an English teacher and a post-grad student at the university here in Ayacucho, although he's never lived in an English-speaking country; in fact, he's never been outside Peru! In between these commitments, Abimael was nice enough to spend some time with me, and to show me around Ayacucho a bit.
Tonight, Gaz and myself popped in to one of Ayacucho's local pubs — arguably a cantina. We were just planning on having a few quiet pints; but we ended up sharing some beers, some strangled conversation, and some laughs with the locals there. The locals were very friendly, very welcoming, and absolutely goddamn #?!%-faced. Also, one of the locals was a German Shepherd named Sasha.
Alexis is a friend of my buddy Antonio, as well as the only Drupal developer in Peru. He's a really interesting guy: he's run his own web hosting company; he's built his own house; he's written a book about how to work from home; and he's developed web sites for a bunch of different clients. Today, I visited him at his home in Chaclacayo, and had great fun eating, drinking, chatting, and recording with him.
There are plenty of fun people staying here at the Flying Dog, but the only really crazy person here is one of the staff: John. Speaking a little of every language on Earth (including Hebrew), always quick with a wild greeting or a joke, and eager to party and to get drunk with the guests, we've all come to think of John as "one of us", not as a staff member.
Do you know the mushroom man,
The mushroom man, the mushroom man;
Do you know the mushroom man,
He lives beside the road.