Category Archives: Travel

What will my human crystal ball tell me?

Lately, I’ve had a lot of questions about my life and what I should do with it. Do I want to write or act? Travel or stay in NYC? Marry Zac Efron or marry Chase Crawford?

These are challenging questions that I’m not equipped to answer on my own. I need guidance. Psychic guidance.

It’s time to go to Cassadaga.

Settled by a group of Spiritualists from Pike, NY in 1894, The Cassadaga Spiritualist camp is not a typical stop for tourists hitting the Orlando-Disney circuit. It’s in the woods off of I-4, by a lake that has “unusual energy properties”. The camp is home to about 90 certified mediums and healers who give readings at pretty good prices, considering the price people are willing to pay for this sort of stuff. There is a bookstore, cafe, a small hotel and three short streets lined with good old-fashioned southern homes.

My two pals, Amy and Brittany, and I arrived a little after seven P.M. Unfortunately, we discovered that even psychics like to keep normal business hours.

I asked Amy if she thought if we’d still be able to get a reading even though it was after hours.

“Somehow psychic doesn’t scream 9 to 5 to me.” Good point.

We snooped around the porch of the closed bookstore, aimlessly looking for a sign or flyer that could lead us to a psychic. We ended up finding a small information center located behind the bookstore. The lights were still on and it sounded like people were inside. I gave Amy a nudge and suggested she go in first. She awkwardly pushed open the door and interrupted about five people sitting in a circle discussing ghost orbs.

“Can I help you?” asked a tall man with red cheeks and the most amazing handlebar mustache ever.

“Um, can we come in?” asked Amy. We were already inside.

“Who’s we?”

“Uh, Sarah.” Alright Amy. Pass the awkward off to me.

“Sure, Sarah can come in! But only Sarah. The two of you have to stay outside.” He was joking but we were too dazed by his mustache to realize it. “So Sarah. What are you looking for?”

“A reading?” The badge pinned to his shirt said Official Cassadaga tour guide.

“Yep. We have those here. Most of our mediums work during the day but we do have one that works at night. His name is Thomas and he’s across the street. Go over and ring the bell. If he doesn’t answer he’s probably with someone. Just wait and he’ll come out. If you’re interested, we also do night-time orb tours. Tomorrow’s tour is going to be a good one. Got a lot of people coming for it. Gonna be plenty of energy orbs. You all should come too!” His exuberance was unparalleled. “Lately, there’s been a bunch of activity with the fairies, elves… ” He looked at me and gave me a big grin, as though he were saving this next one especially for me, “and trolls. Do you believe in trolls, Sarah?”


“Then let me show you something.” He gestured for the three of us to follow him to his desk. He pulled out a thick binder full of photos taken on the orb tour. “See this little guy? That’s our troll. He was out last night, bouncing all around.” The photo was of a tree, taken at night, and sitting on one of the branches was a yellow glob of light. It strangely appeared to have the facial features of an old Brother’s Grimm troll.

“Huh.” I said. I didn’t know what to make of that.

Mr. Handlebar flipped through all the photos, explaining all the spirits and fairies caught on film. The photos looked authentic enough but I figured most of these spirits were brought back to earth by people who don’t know how to use the flash on their camera.

While the photos were interesting, we weren’t there to do no troll hunting. We said good-bye to Mr. Handlebar and headed across the street to meet Thomas.

“I’m not paying more than 40 dollars,” announced Amy. Amy was planning to lie to him to test his abilities. She had created an elaborate back story and was confident she could fool him.

“It’s going to be more than 40 dollars,” I said. Brittany, who was experiencing Cassadaga for the first time, chimed in and said that she wasn’t going to pay more than 20 dollars. “Maybe you’ll get palm reading for that price but not a psychic reading,” I told her, even though I knew it didn’t matter. The idea of Brittany participating in a psychic reading was ridiculous. She’s too practical of a person to believe in this stuff. I imagined her reading ending in a completely calm and rational argument of logic vs. the metaphysical.

We marched up the brick stairs leading to Thomas’s front door and huddled together under his awning. “That seems like an excessive use of exclamation marks,” Brittany said, pointing to a small handwritten note taped under the doorbell.





I pressed the doorbell and held it for a borderline obnoxious amount of time. No answer. I rang the bell again. The door opened and a man, slightly shorter than me and looking more like a fish bait salesman than a psychic, stepped out.

“Can I do something for you, mmmyes?”

Oh my God. It’s the Slingblade of Cassadaga.

“How much for a reading?” I asked.

“40 dollars.”

I looked at Amy with surprised glee. 40 dollars!? I said with my eyes. That’s your cut off price! I ignored her flat and unenthusiastic face and said “We’ll do it!”

“Wait in here.” He opened his door wider to let us in. We stepped into his unlit patio that he had turned into a makeshift waiting room, complete with uncomfortable chairs and old magazines. He disappeared into his house and left us alone to quietly ponder the questions posed by the religious paraphernalia cluttering the room. “Heaven or Hell?” asked one of the posters tacked to the wood-paneled wall.

“I think I’m going to pass,” said Amy.

“What?” I knew I couldn’t count on Brittany to leap into the future with me but I didn’t think Amy would bail. She was my partner in all of this! The one who, just a few hours earlier at Subway, was telling me her mischievous plan to thwart the psychic. “I was born in Massachusetts. Salem. Wait no, Deerfield. Salem’s too suspicious. And my grandmother’s name, Patsy. She was a seamstress.”

“Your grandfather?”

“Died in the war.”

With Amy out, I felt trapped. I didn’t know what to do. This night was about getting answers to all the questions I ever had about my life. I couldn’t quit now. I was desperate to hear that my future contained phrases like “Oscar Winner” and “Married to George Clooney”. But with the uneasy feeling we were getting from Thomas, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend 40 bucks on a potentially lame reading.

Before I could decide what to do, I heard the hinge on the house door squeak. “Ready?” Thomas grunted.

I couldn’t make up a lie quick enough so I said, “Yep!” Amy and Brittany shot me a WTF are you thinking look and I shrugged my shoulders. We did come all this way. Might as well go whole hog.

The screen door slammed behind me. I was officially in Thomas’s lair. Lair may sound dramatic but that’s what it felt like I was entering. I didn’t know what nefarious objects I would come upon. Medieval torture tools… a functioning meth lab… a corner designated to his taxidermy hobby…

Or, I’ll find the sweetest little dog ever and a collection of Shirley Temple commemorative china plates.

“You like my dog, yes?” His speech pattern was so unusual that even though he spoke clearly I still had a hard time understanding him.

“I do.”

“You like my dog, yes?” He repeated himself, which initially I thought was odd. But as I started put it together, his collection of knickknacks, the note with broken syntax on the door, his aversion to eye contact, I realized that he must have Asperger’s.

And getting a reading from a psychic with Asperger’s only means it’s going to be THE BEST PSYCHIC READING EVER.

After asking one question (where I was from), Thomas started throwing down. He immediately brought up how worried I’ve been about my family and noted the reasons for my concern…A mom with cancer who needs help taking care of my younger brother*. He mentioned dates that would only have significance to me. Announced a trip to the Jacksonville area and how he senses a north coast connection. (Uh yeah. I was born there and just planned a trip to visit in Dec. Say what!). It was all so specific and accurate. I was amazed. I couldn’t wait to hear what other things I had coming my way in 2011. A Golden Globe nomination? A trip to India?

“You’re getting married. Next year.”

Um, okay. That’s exciting to hear. I guess. Slight problem though.

“I’m not dating anyone,” I said, offering the only piece of insight into my personal life.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s a strong marriage.”

Oh good. At least my out-of-the-blue and completely impulsive marriage is a strong one.

Suddenly, two phones started ringing, his cell phone and his house phone. He excused himself to take the calls, placing the reading on hold.

Normally, I would have laughed off such a ridiculous prediction but since he’s been right about everything else, I have to take this seriously. Married by next year?! To whom?! Is it Zac or Chase? Or does George come back into my life, years after our last kiss goodbye, apologizing with Princess Diana’s engagement ring? Tell me Thomas!!!

“I’m sorry. I have to cut this short. Just pay me 20 dollars.”

Excuse me, what? You’re going to tell me I’m getting married next year and then cut off my reading?!

I dumbly put twenty dollars on the table and left. Didn’t even try to question or protest it.

Now I don’t know what to do. Should I go back in a couple of weeks and get part two of my reading? Or should I see if he remembers me, get a reading from scratch and see if marriage comes up again? Or should I just let fate take over and marry the first guy I date in 2011?

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Also, here are some photos I took from a previous day trip to Cassadaga.

*Mom’s officially cancer free as of a week ago. Yay!






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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.


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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.


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.


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

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My Week in Photos: Special Peru Edition

Okay, I know I posted some photos a while back from my trip to Peru but I came across some really great and interesting photos from the riots in Chala that I wanted to share with everyone. These came from a traveler I met in Huacachina who ended up on the same bus as me.

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Doing the Cha-cha in Chala: Peru part 3

It’s Peru story time again! Don’t be shy, pull up some carpet and gather round the fireplace. Mr. Pattinson will be out with the apple cider and “biscuits” soon (I quotation marked biscuits because right before you got here Robbie and I were disputing the proper word for cookies. He loves to rename things. I don’t know why, it must some vampire cultural thing. Anyway, I let him win because he finally promised to sit for an oil pastel painting I’ve been begging to do of him.) Now, where were we when we last spoke about my Peruvian adventure?

Oh yes, my first Peruvian riot had ended and we were back on our way Arequipa. Yay!

Our bus continued traveling down the coast of Peru.  It was easy to forget about the earlier delay when the ride featured great views of the Pacific ocean.

Pacific Ocean

That is until we arrived in Chala.  Chala, Peru is a small cluster of concrete shops and homes that sit along the beach.

Chala Skyline

As you can tell, I’m not on a bus taking this photo. You may be wondering why I’m on a beach seemingly far away from any vehicle that caters to international tourists. That’s because we hit another roadblock stranding us right in the epicenter of the rioting (that apparently was not over)  where 6,000 miners were fighting with 200 policemen.

The highway was clogged with hundreds of stalled buses. We weren’t going anywhere for a while so I decided to take a walk and look for some ice cream. As I walked along the single dirt road looking for anything that resembled a food store, I recognized an Australian couple from my bus coming toward me.

“Hey there, you might want to turn around. The miners are placing dead bodies in the street up ahead. It’s starting to get heated.”

And so I turned around.

Time moves pretty slow when you’re stuck in the middle of the desert waiting for a riot to end. We had no access to any of our belongings because our attendant didn’t want to risk our bus being mobbed. Luckily, I packed my toothbrush and anti bacterial wipes in my purse. Smart move on my part.  However,  I was still wearing my bathing suit from when I was poolside in Huacachina so I couldn’t be too proud of myself. Guess I thought I’d keep the party going in Arequipa?

Food options were minimal. There was ice cream, water, inka cola (a Peruvian soda that tastes like bubble gum) and a small selection of stale bread and cookies at the bodega. The only meal I had was when someone from the bus found a woman from Chala who offered to cook a chicken for us. Six smelly but extremely grateful backpackers crammed into her kitchen as she prepared chicken and rice for us.

Later on, I sat on the curb by our bus and started to eat the best ice cream sandwich of my life.  It was so good I barely noticed the mob of miners heading toward our bus. Our bus attendant started flagging people down. He looked legitimately concerned.

“Everyone! Now, please. Get on bus, pull the curtains shut and don’t look out. Hurry up.”

No one said much and did as instructed. I peeked through the gaps of the curtains and saw an endless pack of miners in blue safety hats marching through the street. They knocked on our bus a couple times but nothing serious happened. Later on, word floated down that other buses were not so lucky had their windows smashed out by rocks.

Downtown Chala

“Attention, Ladies and Gentle Men. We are moving for the night. We do not stay here because it is not safe. We will, uh be going to place, 10-15 minutes away.”

“Why don’t we turn this bus all the way around and go back to Nazca?” someone asked.

“Uh, not safe. We don’t know how long this we will be going on. Days maybe. Sorry I do not know. Please enjoy your afternoon movie, Aliens in the Attic.”

Have you seen Aliens in the Attic with Ashley Tisdale? It’s surprisingly good.

Anyway, we moved to an even more isolated area with only one dry foods store, a football field and a couple of shacks lining the beach.  I was not a fan of this locale.  It just felt creepy. As soon as it turned dark the streets emptied and the music shut off. There wasn’t anything to do so I went to sleep.

Around midnight I was abruptly woken with violent yells from outside the bus. It sounded like there were about 5 to 6 men surrounding the bus. They pounded their fists along the luggage panel as they laughed hysterically.

We were about to be hijacked.

Or so I thought. During these 3 minutes or so, I scrambled desperately to try and grab whatever I could out of my purse…my passport, my bank cards… and throw them somewhere else.  However, my hands were shaking too much to even open my bag so I curled up in the fetal position and placed a blanket over my head. That’s right, when faced with an impending hijacking, I pretended to have an invisibility cloak.

A few tense moments passed and nothing happened. Even though I was paralyzed with fear, I could hear the other passengers shuffling around and talking to each other. After a few more minutes passed, I decided to take off my cloak and see what was happening.

Except for a lone dog barking, there was nothing. The streets were still empty and no one was around. What WAS that?! Where did the men go?!

Needless to say, it was impossible for me to sleep that night. After that happened my mind could not calm down.  I had to get out of here.  We were sitting ducks  in this desert. Anyone, not just the miners, could come by and have their pick of buses to hijack. No thank you. I’m not staying here another day.

How I managed to get out is another story. TBC.

Get me out of here!!!!!

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Peru Part Deux: Riots and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

It’s taken me a while to write about the next part of my trip to Peru, mostly because I get winded just from thinking about it. But here goes, I’ll take breaks if necessary.

I intended to leave Huacachina on Sunday afternoon to catch an overnight bus to Arequipa. Unfortunately, when I tried to buy my ticket I was informed that there were no buses available. It was the end of Semana Santa, Peru’s holy week, and the buses were filled with Peruvians returning home from the holiday weekend. The man at the counter suggested I try going to Nazca and booking a ticket there.

“There will be bus available,” he promised. “10 PM.”

Stopping in Nazca was not part of my trip. I’m sure flying in a plane over the desert to see the famous Nazca Lines is fun but I wanted to spend more time out in Colca Canyon where I would see giant condors flying close enough to me to touch. Did you know that Colca Canyon is bigger than the Grand Canyon? And that’s not even the biggest canyon in Peru! Cotahuasi Canyon wins that award at 3535 meters. I have no idea what that means. A meter is 3 feet right? So… let’s see. 3535 multiplied by 3 is…10,605 feet! I think that’s right. Wow.

So yeah, compared to some lines in the desert, Colca Canyon is way cooler.

We arrived at Nazca late in the evening. And by we, I mean this french couple I tagged along with after meeting them at the bus station in Huacachina. Immediately we were informed by several Peruvians that the bus stations were closed because of  a strike and we should just stay the night at one of the many fine hotels in Nazca.

“They’re just trying to get a commission,” I said to Benjamin and Julie. “I read they do that here. Let’s go get our tickets.”

To be fair, I did read that once you step off the bus anywhere in Peru, you would be hit with offers promising deals for “the best hotel in town”. However, as we were turned away from almost every bus company in Nazca, it became apparent that a possible strike (something to do with the miners?) was happening at midnight.

“You should stay here tonight. It may not be safe to go on an overnight bus. The miners, they are upset. They will block the roads.” said Miguel, who worked at the tourist desk in Nazca and was very helpful in trying to get us to Arequipa. He called every bus station in town and his friends to see if anyone would drive us. None of his friends would make the eight hour drive but the gesture was nice. He made a few more calls and finally he said, “I hear, maybe Cruz Del Sur will be leaving to Arequipa at 10 PM.”

“Whoo-hoo!” I shouted in his office. “Let’s go!” I paid no attention to his wariness of traveling overnight. His concern sounded too vague and not real enough for me to take seriously. How would miners block the road anyhow? As I grabbed my bag he told me that I should grab a big jug of water and pack food, I may be stuck on a bus for a long time.

So instead of listening to him, I bought a small water bottle and a pack of peanut M&M’s. I won’t say this ranks as the biggest lapse of judgment I’ve had in my life but it’s pretty high up there.

Before I go on, I have to admit the news of this impending strike was exciting. No one knew if our bus would make it down from Lima (protests were scheduled to happen there too). Anything could happen. We could be stuck in Nazca for days or we could make it to Arequipa, just bypassing the midnight deadline for the strike.  Danger was in the air (in my mind at least).

When our bus finally showed up, people reacted like it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic.

“We’re getting out! Oh, thank god! We’re going to make it to Arequipa after all!”

Cruz Del Sur is a luxury bus company that prides itself on the safety of its passengers. The bus has a GPS system and they photograph and videotape every person that comes on board. Ain’t no hijacking happening on this bus! All you gotta do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

We rolled out of the station and down the dirt roads of Nazca. I brushed my teeth, took out my contacts and settled in for a comfortable night. I had two bus seats all to myself!  Ahhh, I knew everything was going to be alright. See you in the morning Arequipa!

A little after midnight the bus jerked to a stop. The bus attendant’s voice came on overhead through the speakers.

“Uh, we are stopped here, un momentarily. A miners have blocked the road. The police are coming. We should be moving in 30 minutes. Thank you.”

Damn it. We didn’t make it out.

I went back to sleep fully aware we would be in the same spot in the morning. I didn’t wake up until I heard something that sounded bizarrely like Hell No, We Won’t Go! in Spanish.  I looked out my window and saw quite a spectacle. The Pan-American highway was blocked with boulders and burning tires and a group of about thirty miners and Peruvian police were facing each other down. Ay, dios mios!

Peruvian Riot

Peruvian Riot

It’s hard to see in this photo but this is before things turned crazy. Our bus is about the fifth bus back from the blockade, you can see we just missed making it through.

I asked the attendant when he thought we would be moving again. “First they fight, then we go through.”

Wait a minute. First they fight? What does that mean?!  Pleaaaase tell me it’s a West Side Story kind of fight and I’m about to see some very impressive jazz choreography. And let me guess, the miners are the Jets and the police are the Sharks.

Nope. By fight he meant fight with the intent to kill.  By now, the police were over the protest so they decided to pull out the big guns. Literally. The snap crackle pop of machine gun fire echoed off the desert hills.  Tear gas grenades were being thrown and the miners were running up the hills and retaliating by throwing boulders down at the police. Three people died.

But like he said, first they fight, then we go through. And after ten minutes of intense fighting, the blockade was cleared and we moved on.

I wish I could say that was it, that the rest my trip was smooth sailing and I only lost half a day in Arequipa. But it gets crazier. Believe it or not.

And with that said, I’m taking a break.  I’ll be back with more.


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Que Pasa Peru!

No seriously, I want to know. What is happening, Peru?!?! My trip is not going as planned! And I don’t want to point fingers buuuuuut……I think it’s sorta your fault.

Peru and I started off fabulously. In fact, as I was sitting in my taxi to Huacachina, I was thinking how easy traveling in South America was and— oooh! Look! There’s a desert over there!

I decided to make the first stop on my trip Huacachina, a resort town built around a real oasis in the desert.

This sounds super chic and luxurious but instead of movie stars and wealthy Peruvians cavorting in the healing waters of the oasis imagine a bunch of drunk backpackers and Peruvian families on holiday. A tad overwhelming for the traveler looking for a peaceful night in the desert. Know this. If you go to Huacachina be ready to party.

My taxi driver dropped me off at the Casa De Arena hostel. According to Scary Planet, excuse me, I mean Lonely Planet, women should avoid this place entirely. I would say to stay away only if you don’t like cheap beer, loud music that sounds good after drinking that cheap beer and hate fun.

As soon as the temperature cooled, I signed up for a dune buggy/sandboarding tour of the desert.

I love roller coasters, cliff jumping, fire-baton twirling… anything that increases my adrenaline flow. However, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something this stomach churning. The dune buggy ride was insaaaane. The dunes are enormous so when you come flying over one, it feels exactly like being on a roller coaster. Except that the security of knowing this will all be over in 90 seconds is replaced with pleaseletthisbeoverwe’vebeenonthisthingfor30minutesI’mgoingtohurl tears.

After we climbed up what seemed like the Everest of sand dunes, the entire buggy begged the driver to stop. I was certain if we went down this dune the buggy would flip all the way back to Huacachina. The driver laughed and said something in Spanish. Everyone on the buggy laughed and cheered, except me, the girl in remedial Spanish class. Repeat-o mas slowly por favor??

It was time to sandboard. Since I was the only one who spoke english, therefore making me the most dispensable, I was pushed to go first. I decided boarding on my stomach would be the way to go.

The driver gave me the best instructions that he could. The only thing I could understand was, “Rapido! Rapido!” I tried to ask if there was a smaller dune I could have a practice run on but as I was asking he pushed me down the dune. So much for that.

To be honest, I’m glad he pushed me. I’m embarrased I was lame enough to ask for a smaller dune. Boarding down the big dune was a rush but it wasn’t scary. I immediately wanted to go again. Some spanish and finger pointing informed me that I could go as far I as I wanted.

Adios suckers!

Three dunes later, I stood completely alone in the desert. I had sandboarded so far I could no longer hear the screams from my group as they took their turns down the dunes. The only thing I could hear was… silence. Pure silence. The kind of silence you hear when you are dead.

This got me thinking.

Is God about to speak to me a la Eat Pray Love style?

I mean, really. If there was any time and place for God to give me some divine insight this should be it right? I’m alone in a desert, the sun is setting, the dunes are rolling forever into the horizon and the first stars of the night are coming out. Come on God! Speak. The setting is perfect. Hello??? Did you not hear me?

Talk to me, SARAH WALKER. Right now. I dare you.



Geez, not even a cough or a sneeze?

Fiiiine. I didn’t want to talk to you either.

Later that night, I met a fun group of people from all over. We went out to dinner and when the restaurant couldn’t accommodate us inside with a table, the owner came out placed a spare one on the sidewalk.

The party continued back at Casa De Arena’s disco. The memory of the night is hazy but I do remember shouting on the dance floor, “I’m having so much fun I could die!” I know, obnoxious. But if it makes you feel any better, I would really regret saying that in the next couple of days.


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My Favorite Thing in my Closet

There is one thing in my closet that I love with all my heart. I don’t get to wear it as much as I want but when I do, I know life is good.

Please meet my backpack of 7 years, Betty.

Isn’t she great? I got her off Ebay for 40 bucks. I really lucked out. She fits me perfectly and doubles as a decent pillow when I need to crash overnight in an airport/bus station/park to save a couple bucks.

The fact that she’s out to take this photo means that something very exciting is about to happen. It begins with a P and ends with ERU.

Whenever I tell people I’m going to Peru for two weeks I usually get asked…Why Peru?

Well why not?

Granted,  I didn’t think I’d get to South America this early in my travels. I saw more trips to Europe and a first one to Australia in my travel future. Oh, and I can’t forget about my plans I made two years ago to ride an elephant in Thailand and visit Nadia, my old roommate I lived with in Scotland, in Namibia before I’m 30.

But South America. No way. Not now. I’m not that advanced of a traveler yet.

It’s funny how a 271 dollar roundtrip ticket from NYC to Lima can change the way you think about things.

So now I’m off to explore the Gringo Trail for the next two weeks. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be any more excited.  A few of my musts this trip…sandboarding in Huacachina, condors at Colca Canyon, staying with a local family at Amantani Island located on Lake Titicaca and that thing everyone is always talking about… I think they call it the Machu Picchu?

I can tell Betty is excited too. We didn’t get to spend any time together last year. Life got too hectic to travel abroad. The world went into a recession. The only travel I did was domestic and I use a different kind of luggage for that. Yes, I can hear how lame these excuses sound.

I’m gonna make it right this year Betty. I promise.

Here’s a photo of me at 19 and Betty at the start of my international superstar career.

Viva La Betty!!!!


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