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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.

Double-dog!

Helloooooo?

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.

TBC…..

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The Richard Branson Project: Official Launch

Not all international superstars are created equal. There are those who sparkle when a sun beam falls upon them or float as though he or she is an angel. Some only need a first name. Others are known for their clothing/perfume/media empires.

However.

Only one has created a space plane. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8400353.stm

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=richard+branson&iid=8291890″ src=”1/f/2/8/Sir_Richard_Branson_d35c.jpg?adImageId=12623579&imageId=8291890″ width=”380″ height=”271″ /]

I won’t bore you with claims that Sir Richard stole my idea, nor will I place the blueprints of my own space plane on here to validate the claims I said I wouldn’t bore you with. There’s a more serious matter to discuss.

I am not currently at a place where I have the resources to design my own space plane. And if I can’t create a simple little thing like that, then how am I ever going to be able to teleport back to the time when Atlantis was destroyed so I can rebuild it, rename it Your Mom and then teleport back through time, stopping off in Italy mid-Renassaince period to paint puppies on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and snag the Mona Lisa for my living room? The live one, not the painting. Beat that art snobs!

I have to face reality. I’m just not a big enough superstar to get all that accomplished. Yet.

Which is why, today, I am pleased to announce the launch of The Richard Branson Project, or RBP, for short.

As a mid-level international superstar, the RBP will follow my attempt to enter the upper levels of superstardom by becoming Richard Branson’s friend. Everyone knows the quickest way fame jump is to be friends with someone already at the level you want to be at. Remember how Nicolas Cage helped Johnny Depp by introducing him to his agent? Johnny hopped on the A-List train and never looked back. Kim Kardashian is another fine example. She used to be just another Paris Hilton tag-a-long. Now I don’t even remember what Paris looks like. That’s fame jumping done right.

This is a modest project with achievable goals. All I am looking for is a standing invitation to Necker Island (RB’s private island), a couple of photos ops here and there, a press release in Vanity Fair, People, and the Wall Street Journal about our new friendship, a five minute video interview for this blog, and oh heck, let’s throw in a free ride to space.

I will document my progress when necessary on this blog. I’m fairly confident I will be successful on most, if not all, of my goals.

And if you missed it the first time, check out my soon-to-be favorite vacation spot, Necker Island, on MTV’s Cribs.

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Happy Hope your Taxes are Done Day!

Did you use Turbo Tax or go to an accountant? I used to go to an accountant but money’s been tight the past couple of years. I miss my accountant. She was nice and always saved me money. The first time I went to her she said, “You gotta look out for you.” Then she punched a guy in the face.

Backstory.

It was my first year living in New York City. I was 21, going to acting school and waitressing to pay the rent.

“Welcome to Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a theme restaurant that revolves around a movie that came out over ten years ago! Would you like me to serve you my dignity now or later?”

One day I got a letter from corporate headquarters. I thought it was a thank you card or gift certificate to Best Buy for being such a good waitress. Nope, just my W2 form announcing it was time to file my taxes.

Thanks corporate! This is just what I need to remind me that I don’t get paid enough to be a dancing monkey for your restaurant. Let me walk over to H&R Block so they can remind me too!

This was the first time I made enough money to make filing my taxes a requirement. I don’t know if you remember what it was like to file your taxes for the first time. It’s a pretty intimidating experience. There are a lot of numbers and personal questions involved. I’m not good with either of those so the idea of spending my afternoon dealing with both of those things produced considerable anxiety.

When I arrived at the office for my appointment, I met Tosha. She was a petite African American woman with a friendly smile.

“Come on back. Nothing to be worried about.”

I believed her.

Tosha started to look over my paperwork. She invited me to sit down at her cubicle. So I did. It was located toward the back half of the office. My chair faced the front door. Tosha and her desk were between me and the door making it difficult for me (if I had wanted to) to escape/make a run for it. This is a very important detail to remember. A windowless bathroom was to my right.

About a handful of people who had appointments waited in the front. One man came in who did not have an appointment. He demanded that Tosha answer all his questions.

“How much is this property tax? I ain’t paying it.”

“I’m married. That helps right?”

“I still don’t understand. Man, I don’t have time for this shit.”

As this went on it became clear that the man was unstable. Tosha kindly told him that she didn’t have the answers and he would have to see a specialized tax accountant.

“No. You answer me now.” And he threw his papers onto her desk. That’s when Tosha turned to me and said…

“You gotta look out for you.”

I didn’t have time to process that statement before she stood up, knocked his papers to the floor and then, in a very deliberate manner, stepped on them in her four inch lime green stiletto heels, leaving tiny heel piercings on this man’s tax documents.

“You bitch.”

It was at this moment I realized things were not going to end well and I was trapped. As Tosha threw her first punch, I watched as everyone else scattered out onto the street.

“Get the cops!” someone yelled from outside.

Save me! I thought as the walls of the cubicle came crashing down on top of me. The man had thrown Tosha against it. She wasn’t hurt but now she was going to make him pay. Her words, not mine.

People always wonder what flashes through a person’s mind when they are in a situation like this. Here’s what went through mine.

Someone here is going to have a gun.

Overly dramatic? Maybe. But that’s what Papa Walker taught me when I was seven years old. “You never know who will have a gun so always be on the lookout and get down if you ever hear shots.”

So I hit the floor and crawled army style to the bathroom. I crouched behind the door and listened as the fight continued.

I couldn’t tell who was winning for a while. There was some muffled scuffling and I heard Tosha mutter, “Who’s the bitch now?” I poked my head out and saw her pinning the man to the ground, twisted on his back like a pro wrestler, sans shirt, her lacy black bra on display for all to see.

Two cops walked in and I darted back behind the door. No way was I going to the precinct to be a witness for this mess.

Tosha and the man decided they would not press charges against each other. I could feel the air settling and the threat of danger was now being replaced with the sweet promise of opportunity. I knew all I had to do was wait until the cops left and my taxes would be done for free.

“Oh you’re still here?” Tosha said as I emerged from the bathroom. “Sorry bout that, let’s finish taking care of you.” We shared a laugh over how stupid men are and she did my taxes at no cost.

Today I salute all the Tosha’s of the world. Thank you for throwing it down and getting your clients the biggest refund possible. Godspeed.

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