Monthly Archives: July 2010

More crazy from Peru and NOT Bolivia

If you’ve been following my posts about traveling in Peru, you’ll know that I am now planning to go to Bolivia after escaping the riots in Chala. You may be thinking to yourself, “Wow. Getting stuck in a Peruvian riot sounds terrible. Bolivia must have been a breeze!”

Ehh, not exactly.

Here’s a rough two day timeline of events that goes up and down the Seriously?! No, seriously?!—-Oh my god,this is so beautiful scale.

—————————————————-

Day One

6:00 PM: Sit on a curb with riot defectors, Keren and Maurice, and wait for a bus to take us on a fourteen hour ride to Cusco.

6:15 PM: Bus is late. It’s okay ’cause this time there’s no reason, like impending riots or hijackings, delaying it. It’s just good old-fashioned late. I appreciate this.

6:45 PM: Yay! Bus arrives and we board. I grab a seat with Maurice.

7:30 PM: My stomach hurts and makes funny noises. That’s unusual. It must be due to the Spanish dubbed Slyvester Stallone movie we are forced to watch. I fall asleep.

10-11 PM: The pain from my stomach wakes me up. My mind flashes back to earlier in the afternoon when I washed an apple in a kitchen sink. It was one of those things I realized was a stupid thing to do while doing it, but I still went ahead and ate the apple.

I curl into a semi fetal position and hate myself. And apples.

11:30 PM: I try to convince myself that I’m not stomach sick but altitude sick. This is very unlikely. But we’re going higher into the Andes, where altitude sickness strikes the healthiest of people without warning, so maybe that’s why I feel funny. Yes. That must be it. All I need to do is to hang on through this bus ride and my body will acclimate. Right?

Side note: Even though I’ve decided that I’m suffering from altitude sickness, I vow not use the bathroom on the bus. Mind over Matter. Literally.

12AM-6AM: I can’t decide if I’m hot or cold so I sweat and shiver. My head hurts and I feel like I’m pregnant with a litter of angry gremlins. Maurice senses my displeasure and gestures for me to lie down across his lap. I do, grateful for his kind offer. Being able to stretch out on a cramped bus helps with the pain.

As I fall back asleep, he plays with my hair. Whatever.

10AM: Arrive in Cusco. I’m not feeling better but the search for Pepto Bismol and a hostel bed invigorates me. I find both and pick up another important item: A bus ticket to Copacabana, Bolivia, departing the next night at 10 PM.

11AM till bed time: Take a nap, sightsee, explore the nightlife, do all the things you’re supposed to do in Cusco.

Oh, and I am definitely stomach sick but drinking whiskey soothes my insides. Seriously. It really helps!

Day Two

10:00 AM: Wait in the hostel lobby, ready to go to a boys orphanage in Oropesa, a village outside of Cusco. I know, whaaaat? Instead of going out on my second day in Cusco and spending my dwindling cash reserve, I decided to join a group of travelers who are going out to volunteer for the day. My inner Angelina Jolie has always wanted to do some sort of work with orphaned children abroad and I figure this is a great way to see how the reality compares to the dream.

10:30 AM: Arrive in Oropesa. The scenery is stunning. I’ve never seen a sky so blue in my life. Besides appearing dropped from the sky, Oropesa has a few bodegas, a pair of cobble stone streets and a town square built around a church. It’s a 25 minute walk from the town square down a dirt road to get the orphanage.

The orphanage is a friendly building, small but clean

Inside the orphanage

11:00 AM: The boys are at school so the couple who runs the orphanage tell us we can help them in the fields. We take a mix of basic farming tools: shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and go to work pulling up hard clay to make way for the good soil underneath it. I am exhausted within the hour. Manual labor has never been my friend.

Whew, that Andean sun is strong

2:00 PM: The boys return! They surround us, tossing out English phrases they’ve been taught like “My name is…” and “How are you? I am 8 years old.” One of boys grabs my hand and pulls me into their study room. His name is Danny and he wants me to play with him for the day. Done.

Danny loves posing for pictures

8:00PM: Back at the hostel with my bags packed and ready to go to Copacabana. A couple of other people from Loki are going as well so we all split a taxi. I’m excited to be going to Bolivia even if it’s not the country I originally planned to travel through.

9:30 PM: I stare at the lady behind the ticket counter as I try to process the words, “I’m sorry, but your bus left last night.”

What? Impossible! I wouldn’t buy a ticket for last night. I got in yesterday! No, seriously. I know for sure I told them to book me for tonight. Whatever, that’s fine.  Just put me on the bus leaving tonight.

“Sold out.”

9:35 PM: Try not to cry or panic. It’s hard to do. Mostly because THINGS WON’T STOP GOING WRONG ON THIS TRIP.

9:40 PM: Still trying not to cry or panic, I get in a taxi and go back to the hostel. My bank account is pretty low, almost too low to stay in Cusco for another week. That’s why I needed to go to Bolivia tonight, to give my finances a break. It’s okay, I tell myself. At least I can get a cheap room at Loki. I’ll figure out something in the morning.

9:50 PM: “We only have single rooms available tonight.” Translation: Only the most expensive room in the hostel for you.

9:51 PM: Make a general announcement to everyone in reception. “I’m going to cry now.” I sit down on the leather couch and cry. Hard. Don’t worry, people in the room. This is just as uncomfortable for me.

9:52: Suddenly, a bed in the girls dorm becomes available. I take it.

10:00 PM: I become the most overly dramatic traveler ever by flinging myself onto my bed and howling, “I’m supposed to be on a bus to Bolivia!” My fellow bunkmates look on, unsure of how to respond. They ask if I want to get a drink. I do, but first I need to think. What am I going to do?

10:00-11:00 PM: Come up with a truly ridiculous plan. Of course, I don’t think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s very logical and practical for my current situation. However, if I were to retell this idea to someone back home, they might say, “Hey, this sounds crazy. Maybe you should rethink.”

But I’m in Peru. And I’m so close to Machu Picchu. So I don’t care what anybody says, I’m going to see the ruins at sunrise.

Wait minute, you say. Isn’t that why people go to Peru? To see Machu Picchu? Why weren’t you already planning to going there?

Valid question. The floods that closed MP in February complicated everything. I wasn’t even sure the Picchu would be open when I was in Peru. So I didn’t buy a train ticket and when it was announced that yes, it would reopen, the tickets were already sold out. Hiking the Inca Trail was too expensive and I wasn’t sure if I was equipped to handle the 27 mile hike anyway. And apparently, the only way you can get to Machu Picchu is to hike or take the train. Recently a new way has popped up, going by shared car, but a few travelers told me the drivers could be shifty, sometimes leaving travelers behind at Aguas Calientes (the town where MP is located). Going by all this, it seemed getting to MP on a budget was impossible which is why I left it off my itinerary.

However, in re-reading my Lonely Planet Peru, I found a small section located on page 268 that tells of a DIY adventure trek into the jungle surrounding MP for “die-hard” travelers. It takes two days, two villages, a river crossing via pulley system in a steel box, some railroad tracks, and a hydroelectric plant. Hmmm, I could be up for that. LP goes on to advise checking with the locals to see if this route still runs, as it tends to get washed out by floods.

So I consulted my local friend, the internet. Yep, I could still take this route. It would be 30 dollars round trip. That fit my budget perfectly.

Relieved I finally had a plan that seemed somewhat stable, I joined my bunkmates in the bar for a drink. It would be my last drink for a while (2 days) as the next day I would be heading into the jungle, alone, for my adventure trek to Machu Picchu.

TBC.

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Mad Men Screening

I heard there was going to be a Mad Men event Sunday night in Times Square. According to the paper, there would be costume and trivia contests followed by a screening of the season premiere on a giant screen in Times Square. I’m a big Mad Men fan so this sounded like fun.

It turned out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated.

My friend Damian (who lives for the show and Christina Hendricks) and I arrived at Times Square dressed in 60’s-ish attire. I say 60’s-ish because people really went out of their way to dress up and we just wore whatever looked dated from our closets. Once we navigated past the police blockades, we found ourselves in the middle of Duffy Square where there were rows of chairs set up for the screening. I immediately saw that there were two sections: the commoner section with plastic chairs still wet from the afternoon rainstorm and the VIP section; a section that was right in front of the screen and had complimentary snack and drink service provided by either a cigarette girl or a gentleman in a white suit. Also, since very important people have very important bottoms, the chairs were dry and cushioned.

VIP Seating Area

If I know one thing, I’ve never met a VIP section I didn’t like. Just standing on the other side of the rope, breathing all that average people air, made me feel itchy. I knew we were going to have to try and sneak into the VIP section but I wasn’t sure of the best way to go about this. I started by asking one of the men with a VIP badge how I could get a seat in the VIP area, since I consider myself (and always have) a very important person.

“Well, it’s sold out, but since there was all the rain there might be some no shows. You can ask them and I think they’ll probably let you in. I’d wait until later though.”

If I couldn’t hear the words, “I’ll take you in there myself” followed by him actually taking me in, I had to work on another plan, even if that did sound potentially promising.

I walked around to do some surveillance. I needed to find a weak spot where there was no security and ticket takers to stop us. It also needed to be congested enough for us to slip by, undetected. I found the perfect spot at the edge of square, where the velvet ropes were low enough to casually step over and into the VIP area. A few others gathered near the spot, for sure thinking the same thing. I knew if they saw us step over, they’d throw the hater card down and tell security. We played it cool and waited for the narcs to be distracted by something glittery.

However, we were all distracted by the crazy lady who marched by holding a three foot high plastic doll that was wrapped up in cellophane just like how a basket is wrapped for Easter. She stepped over the rope and into the VIP section. And no one stopped her. What?! SHE’S HOLDING A GIANT PLASTIC DOLL PEOPLE!

To say that was infuriating would be an understatement. But if she could make it in…

Everything after this happened very quickly. Security came over and started to clear the area. We pretended like we couldn’t hear them, until they asked us if we were in the costume contest. If we were, we needed to go into the VIP area and wait in line to be judged.

Uhhh, of course we’re here for the costume contest! Can’t you tell? We are marginally dressed as 60’s hepcats!

My dress is polyester... so that counts as a costume right?

We stepped over the rope and instead of joining the line, defected to a pair of seats. There was over an hour left until the screening started and the wait was agonizing. Once you get into a VIP area you’re usually good to go, but we didn’t want to risk someone asking us where our wrist bands were and get kicked out so we tried to keep a low profile.

But when they’re handing out Mad Men gift bags…

I flung my naked wrist to grab the attention of one of the people handing out the gift bags. I told him I didn’t get one and he asked where my wrist band was. I didn’t know how to respond to that so I stared at him, stupidly, until he realized that’s not a question you ask someone already sitting in the VIP section. He handed me my gift bag and walked away. Damian refused to make eye contact with me after that exchange.

“You just had to have the gift bag didn’t you?”

The rest of the night continued without incident. Turns out, the crazy lady with the doll was a participant in the costume contest. She came as Betty Draper (even though she was wearing a black dress and didn’t brush her hair) and the doll was Sally. A nice surprise was that January Jones and Elisabeth Moss showed up to present the episode. They both looked amazing, although J. Jones is really skinny. I loved both their dresses.

It was also Elisabeth’s birthday the night before, so a cake out was brought out and we sang Happy Birthday to her. I love Elisabeth Moss. She seems so nice and genuine. I want to be friends with her and all the ladies on Mad Men.

Happy Birthday Lizzie!

After the screening, they handed everyone in the VIP section Mad Men Barbie Dolls. I loooooove classic barbie dolls and was thrilled with my Joan barbie.

Me and Joanie

Barbie Joan on my desk makes me happy.

To top off the night, we went to the unofficial “after-party” at the W hotel and had martini’s and listened to music from 1964. Then we went on a drunken rampage and trashed Don’s old office.

It was a pretty swell night.

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Zac Attack!

No.  Zac is for living.

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Konichiwa Gerard Butler!

I’ve decided that this will be the last Gerard Butler Friday photo. I don’t want the pressure of topping this photo of a devoted GB fan in Japan.

Welcome to Japan Gerry!

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Zac Tattoo

This looks exactly like the one I was thinking about getting. Except I want mine bigger and on my face.

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Guest Post: How to Have your Brush with Fame

I am excited to announce my first guest post! The post comes from my cousin, Lauren Fitzpatrick. You should read it because she’s related to me and that makes her awesome.

How to Have Your Brush With Fame

As exciting as it is to be an international superstar, it is a full time job. Sometimes just breathing the same air as your favorite celebrity is enough. If you are looking for a taste of superstardom on the low to moderate scale, here are five different ways that you, too, can mingle with the stars.

  • Find out where the stars are, and get there before they do. I’m not talking about stalking here, people (Hello? That’s illegal.). I’m talking about the one place that celebrities want you to be at, nay need you to be at… the movie premiere. Celebrities attend these premieres with the full expectation that YOU are going to be there. Someone has to keep them famous, right? It’s like a party that you didn’t need an invite for because Brad Pitt already assumes you are going to be there. His people told your people. Movie premieres are listed online. All you have to do is show up.

When I was a naïve 22-year-old in London, I turned up in Leicester Square six hours before the scheduled start time for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The festivities started over an hour late, by which time I was trapped in a crush of screaming hormones and afraid for my life. It was all worth it when the stars appeared, because I was a full foot taller than those around me and able to take clear photos for my cousin’s future blog. Nifty huh?


Of course, this tip is only useful if you are within traveling distance of a major city, where premieres are being held. Otherwise, bad luck.

  • Find out who they are before they get famous. Back in 1999, my friend Anne and I heard that a little band known as the Dixie Chicks were passing through the Indiana State Fair. Their star was on the rise then (it has since plummeted from the sky in a cloud of disintegrating dust), so they were still playing free concerts. We walked straight up to their tour bus so Anne could ask Natalie Maines her one burning question:

Excuse me,” she said to Natalie, “What inspired y’all to write There’s Your Trouble? Because that’s, like, my life story.”

Oh, we didn’t write that, darlin’,” Natalie drawled, scribbling autographs on our fair tickets in bold permanent marker. “Sorry.”

The point is, who had Natalie’s autograph taped to their scrapbooks when the Dixie Chicks became super famous country music stars, struggling under the weight of multiple Grammy awards? We did.

  • Seek out your connections. Use them shamelessly. Do you know someone who has a second cousin that works backstage on the set of Grey’s Anatomy? Give them a call. Become their friend. When they mention what they do for a living, act surprised and unimpressed. A nonchalant approach works best. If they think you are a crazed fan, the likelihood of being invited onset drastically diminishes.

I had a friend in London whose husband was a producer for the Graham Norton show. This is sort of like the Conan O’Brien show, only more politically incorrect. My boyfriend and I attended a taping as the producer’s guests, followed by canapés in the green room with former tennis star Martina Navratilova. We also got the inside gossip about guest Brendan Fraser being whacked out on drugs during the entire taping. Guess Encino Man never really grew out of his character.

  • Pure dumb luck. By this, I mean karma. Are you the kind of person who reads People magazine online and can recite celebrity baby names by heart? If so, you are on the right track. The universe will reward you with a random celebrity sighting, straight from the pages of US magazine.

I was with renowned international superstar, Sarah Walker and my sister, on the streets of NYC at the time of my first RCS.

Is that-“ Sarah asked.

I think it is,” I answered.

What are you guys talking about?” Megan shouted.

It’s Drew Barrymore,” Sarah whispered.

Drew? Drew who?” Megan shouted.

Drew, walking in front of us with her boyfriend at the time, Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, turned at the sound of her name.

Ssh,” I hissed.

Who is Drew?” Megan insisted.

Drew Barrymore is right in front of us,” Sarah explained quietly.

What – ohmigod! Drew Barrymore!”

At this point, Drew & Fabrizio hailed a cab, stepping off the curb and out of our lives forever.

Well, that was exciting,” said Megan, returning to a normal volume.

Build it, and they will come.

  • Enter contests, preferably radio. This is pretty self explanatory but here are two examples of how I used contests to my advantage.

In my youth, I was a misguided NSYNC fan. This lasted for approximately two years, and nine concerts, at two of which I sat front row. All I had to do was win a radio contest titled, “What would you do for NSYNC tickets?” I sat in a trash can full of icy water. One girl drank dirty bathwater out of a shoe worn while mowing the lawn. Another shaved her head. I won, all because I had brought the largest contingent of crowd support. My prize was a radio breakfast with opening act Soul Decision and front row tickets to the concert.

The following year, two members of NSYNC appeared at an Indianapolis bowling alley to judge a radio karaoke contest. My friends and I appeared on stage in sparkly bellbottoms and afros, singing a killer version of ‘I will survive.’ JC Chasez gave us a ’10.’ Although we failed to win the second round, having drawn the unfortunate song ‘Music’ by Madonna, the day was a resounding success.

Where there are radio stations, there are contests. Enter them. Win. Rejoice.

*********************************************************************************************************

Lauren Fitzpatrick is an international superstar by birth. She has traveled to over 30 countries and is in the process of moving to South Korea for the year to teach English. You can follow her travels at www.blogabouteurope.typepad.com.

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Gerard Butler grows a Mullet

Gerard Butler sports a respectable mullet.

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Well done, Gerry.

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It’s Tuesday!

Zac looks deep in thought in this photo.

He must be thinking about how I asked him to marry me. I’m still waiting for him to answer my cherry scented fan letter/proposal but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a yes.

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Escape from Chala, Peru: Peru Part Four

I decided if I was going to get out of riot plagued Chala, I was going to need to form an alliance. After the previous night’s faux hijacking, which turned out to be a passenger in first class sleep fighting, there was no way I was spending another night in this sun baked dust town. But with the Pan American Highway blocked in both directions, an Axl/Slash reunion* seemed more likely to happen than me getting out to enjoy the rest of my time in Peru.

I noticed that groups were beginning to form based on how long one was traveling through Peru. If you were in the group that hung out with the locals and drank whiskey, time was not an issue for you. The people in this group were often overheard saying things like, “Welcome to South America!” or “How’s this for an authentic travel experience?” If you were sitting with the people who were crying and freaking out, you were probably on a tighter travel schedule that centered around a series of non refundable flights or a spot on the Inca Trail. As for me, I only had a week and a half left and was re-structuring my trip every hour we were stationary.

“If we get to Arequipa tonight, maybe I could do one day in Colca Canyon, half day in Arequipa and go to Lake Titicaca on Friday.”

“Okay, not getting there tonight. Sooo, no Colca Canyon, and 2 days at Lake Titicaca.”

“Maybe I should just go to Cusco for a couple of days.”

“I know. I’ll go to Bolivia instead. That’ll be fun.”

“I’m never getting out of here.”

As one of the few solo travelers on the bus, I had my choice of which group to align myself with. I started to evaluate my options.

There was the French Brigade, made of two couples from France. They came up with the plan to walk through the desert to the next town over, about 10 kilometers away and catch a ride to Arequipa from there. From who? They didn’t know but they were confident someone would give them a ride. This seemed exceptionally crazy to me and destined to end with vultures nibbling on their sun cooked remains. As they slapped wet towels over their heads, we all wished them luck and they left, the first defectors from the Cruz Del Sur bus.

Then there was the group of people I met in Huacachina. I knew I could have fun with them as my time in Peru dwindled but they lacked any sort of urgency about the situation. We could stay here till the end of time and they’d be okay with it, content to shoot the shit with the locals forever. I needed to get out today if I were to have any hope in salvaging my trip. Perhaps if I also had 3 months in South America, I would have stayed with them and done the same. Instead, since they were so chummy with the locals, they were the first people I went to when I needed to get insider information.

The first person I selected for my alliance was Keren, a 23 year old solo traveler from Israel. I liked that she was young and traveling by herself, embarking on her own five month trip through South America. Another reason I picked her was because her Spanish was much better than mine and being from Israel, I knew she could hang. Also, she was one of the only people that expressed the appropriate reaction to last night’s faux hijacking. Which was, admitting that she was terrified (like me) and was not staying another night (also like me).

After the French Brigade made their exit, the bored frustration felt amongst the remaining passengers quickly turned into heated blame toward Cruz Del Sur’s inability to give us any information about our situation. Why did they get to leave and we were still here? Angry phone calls to tour companies were being made and ridiculous rumors surfaced claiming that a military jet was on its way and would be airlifting us out of Chala.

Passengers from the adjacent buses came over to share their theories on when we might be getting out of here. A trio of Americans teaching in Arequipa optimistically predicted we would be moving within the day. One of the Americans, Chad, a SoCal expat and the voluntary pied piper of Chala, played games with the kids that lived in the village. He spoke perfect Spanish to them and offered food instead when they asked him for money. He also displayed a solid knowledge of the area, sharing geographical details about the desert mountains and coastal highway. All of that combined with a wicked sense of humor made him the obvious choice for leader of my alliance.

I looked over to Neil, who had traveled to Peru from Australia and was on his honeymoon. “He should be the leader of our alliance.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

I approached Neil and Laura about forming an alliance when I discovered their desire to get out was on par with mine. I asked them, if they were to join my alliance, what skills they had to offer. Neil said I would benefit from his conversion abilities since I was from America and didn’t know how use the metric system. Laura confessed she didn’t have much to contribute to the alliance expect being someone I could talk to. Like a sister, she said. Laura very much underestimated her worth to the alliance. Her long shiny blond hair was the perfect bartering tool if we happened to get caught in a sticky situation. A couple from Holland was sort of in the alliance but only because they said their tour company might be sending a car over to pick them up and take them back to Nazca. While this seemed somewhat promising, it could not be counted on, since very few cars were allowed through the roadblocks and only if they were hanging a white flag from their back window.

As Neil and I prepared to offer Chad the position of alliance leader, a black helicopter flying low to the ground approached. Initially we thought this was the beginning of the end, a signal that the government was now getting involved and we would soon be on our way.

Wrong.

As the helicopter flew over us, we could see a man hanging out of an open door, a giant machine gun resting in the crook of his arm. He opened fire on the rioters who were a stationed a few kilometers away. The children continued to sing and dance around us, oblivious to the gunfire. Unfortunately, not only did this spark another round of intense fighting it caused Chad and his group to have to go back to their bus. Our leader was gone and the alliance deteriorated.

It was getting to be late in the afternoon and spending another night in Chala seemed inevitable. I mulled over this depressing thought as I sat on the steps of the bus. I had already decided since I wouldn’t be able to properly do Peru, I would go Bolivia for the rest of my trip and take it easy. I’d heard good things about Bolivia. It’s supposed to be nice this time of year. But by the way things were going, I’d never get there either! I kicked a patch of dirt to release some pent up frustration. And then I kicked it again. It was so satisfying, kicking this patch of dirt, I almost missed the vehicular unicorn passing through the crowd of tourists.

A white station wagon with a white flag hanging in its back window, packed with a family of four and their belongings heading to Nazca had materialized seemingly out of nowhere. I almost pinched myself. This was the first time in 3 days I saw anything that looked like it could be a legitimate way out of town.

Must. Do. Something. Now.

Keren was already on it. She chased the station wagon down and negotiated a price of 30 soles for a ride back to Nazca. I grabbed my stuff, hastily signed away any responsibility to Cruz Del Sur on an unused coffee filter, hopped into the station wagon with Keren and rode with a small Chilean boy on my lap the whole way back to Nazca.

After checking into a 3 dollar a night hostel and having best shower of my life, I went to eat dinner in a three walled pizzeria with Keren and two other travelers. We talked long into the night about traveling in Peru and whether or not we would visit Nazca’s desert cemeteries tomorrow. And wouldn’t you know it, I was really enjoying myself!

So the plan for the rest of my trip would be to take an overnight bus to Cusco the following day, hang out in Cusco for two days then take another overnight bus to Copacabana, Bolivia and stay there through the weekend, visiting the ruins located on the Isla del Sol. Then I would return to Cusco to catch my flight back to Lima/NYC. Okay, so this was drastically different from my original trip itinerary but hey, sometimes that happens when you travel.

Of course, sometimes you have to make a new itinerary from your first new itinerary, which is what I had to do once I arrived in Cusco.

TBC.

* Guns ‘N Roses were touring in South America at the time so I thought this was a suitable comparison.

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Gerard Butler likes to hide behind plants

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