Uruguay

I've always loved this quote by Maya Angelou because it so perfectly expresses the way I experience my memories.  When I recall moments of my life, the emotions I felt at the time resurface quickly and crisply, standing resolutely as the other details trickle lazily into my consciousness, taunting me with the knowledge that its only a matter of time before they don't show up at all.  

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Food. Friends. Argentina.

My photos from Argentina were mostly of food (we ate A LOT!), but none of them made it to Instagram.  At the time, there weren't enough hashtags in the world to describe the great times I had while sharing meals with colleagues-turned-friends.  I hope that in sharing them with you now, accompanied by the stories they deserve, I can convey the exquisite hospitality and irresistible flavors of Argentina.

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On Foggy Times and Turning 27 in Cloud City

Maybe "hiking through the fog and rain" is necessary off, as well as on, the Inca Trail in order to have a chance at the experiencing something great.  Maybe having a foggy view of what lies ahead intensifies our reaction to what's there when the clouds lift.  I certainly felt that intensity at Machu Picchu, when things finally cleared up.  

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Inca Trail - Lessons Learned

"The first part of today is nice and easy," our guide told us on Day 3.  "The trail will be mostly flat."

LIES! 

A flat section of the Inca Trail is like a filling Lean Cuisine.  It doesn't exist. 

As I walked on Day 3, discovering the true meaning of Peruvian "flat", I thought about other lessons learned along the trail.  From me to you, in no particular order:

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Inca Trail - Unforgettable Moments

A solitary, Thoreau-esque trek is not the experience you'll have on the Inca Trail.  Several years ago, the Peruvian government prohibited trekking without a qualified guide, so it's no longer an option to hike the Inca Trail independently.  Small groups can organize their own trek, provided they pay a pretty penny to have a licensed guide accompany them.  The requirement to hike with a sanctioned guide PLUS the cap on the # of trekkers allowed on the trail per day creates the perfect environment for tour operators.  They swoop in, batch you up into small groups, orchestrate the permit purchase, and serve as your licensed guide. 

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Pisac and Piscos and Pig...Guinea Pig

The day after adventuring in Maras, I returned to the Sacred Valley.  

I was determined to tackle two things on my own:  asking for directions and the colectivo.  Prior to coming to Peru, I had never heard of a colectivo.  The concept doesn't really exist in the US, but I can make a loose comparison to car pooling.  You may laugh at my admiration, but if punctuality is not a concern (ha, this is the reason why it doesn't exist in the US), the colectivo is a pretty neat way to get around.  For me, it worked a little like this:

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Zip Lining and Four Wheeling in the Sacred Valley

On my first full day in Cusco, Caleb and I set out for Maras in the Sacred Valley.  Caleb is an American who had been working at Bill & Nic's house for a few months prior to my arrival.  His goal was to learn some Spanish along the way.  When Nicole learned that I was a solo traveler, she sent Caleb along with me.  She said it was so that he could learn more about the B&B's offerings, but I suspect it was so that I didn't get my sorry ass kidnapped (ha!)

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The Logistics of It All [Peru, Argentina, Uruguay]

I wrote my bucket list when I was seventeen.  It has grown since then, but the whole point of this project is to hold myself to that original list, even if some of my teenaged aspirations don't seem quite as appealing as they used to.  For example:  Although I was a diver in high school, I've developed a slight fear of heights as I've gotten older.  As you might guess, "go sky diving" is still sitting ominously undone on my bucket list. 

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An Afternoon Wandering HCM

Walking back to the hotel, the realization hit me.  My trip was over.  The planning, the tickets, everything that I had obsessed over for the past few months was just...over.  It's silly to say, but I felt a loss and mourned the end of the adventure.  On the flight home, I couldn't decide if I was ready to go home in order to (a) relax, or (b) start scheming up something new.

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Cu Chi Tunnels

During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong had a stronghold in the Cu Chi District, where they could take advantage of their intricate underground tunnel system. The tunnel digging actually began about 20 years prior to the Vietnam War, when the country was fighting for independence from France.  By the time the Vietnam War was in full swing, however, the tunnels had expanded to stretch over 120 miles and were key in the Viet Cong's strategy.

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Farm Visit & Cooking Class

Sad to say goodbye to Cambodia, our group bus-ed from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.  You have lots of options for this route, but we chose the Mekong Express.  At ~$13 for a one-way ticket, it's the most expensive bus option but the reliability and relative comfort was worth it.  Plus, 13 buckeroos buys you an on-board TV, featuring 6 straight hours of dubbed 80's love ballads.  If only I was feeling well enough to rally for a good round of karaoke.  On our last day in Phnom Penh, my stomach staged a revolt and I was struggling to enjoy myself.  If my cocktail of 7Up, white rice, Cipro, & Pepto Bismol didn't work, I'd get better by sheer willpower. Something was working because, by the next day, I was feeling marginally better.  This was good timing, as we had a day full of food on the docket!  Leaving the chaos of the city behind, we headed out to the Cu Chi district for Chef Tan's HCM Cooking Class.

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S-21 & Khmer Rouge Killing Fields

In January, Chase and I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, and I found it to be an incredibly moving experience.  Visiting the S-21 prison and the killing fields in Phnom Penh evoked similar emotions. Prior to our trip to Cambodia, I knew that the government had recently and crudely killed its own citizens (*shudder*).  What I didn't understand was why.  Luke Walker from the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies wrote a brief synopsis that captures what we learned by wandering through the memorial sites in Phnom Penh and talking to our bike tour guides in Siem Reap:

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Paddy's Fight Club

When we rode our bikes through the Angkor temples (in case you missed it), we met two Phnom Penh residents--an Australian girl and her Swedish roommate.  They were so friendly and gave us various recommendations of what to do when we rolled into Phnom Penh.  One of the things that they suggested was...wait for it...kick boxing at Paddy's Fight Club. A few days later, on the long bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, we all agreed that kickboxing was just what we needed to let off some steam and lift our spirits.  Plus, with a name like Paddy's Fight Club, how could we not go?!

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Phnom Kulen National Park

On our third day in Siem Reap, we wanted to get out.  Perhaps the prior day's trip to Beng Mealea had affirmed the good times to be had when you step out of tourist central.  Or perhaps it was the thought of cooling off in a waterfall. ;) We used our hotel, the Golden Butterfly Villa (full review here), to arrange a car for the day.  Our destination: the waterfall in Phnom Kulen National Park.  Ever since Ryan (also with us on this trip) organized the trip to Havasupai Falls in 2012, I'll admit that I've been a waterfall chaser.

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Biking Through the Countryside to Beng Mealea

On our first day in Cambodia, we biked around the Angkor temples, but our second day was arguably my most favorite of the entire trip. We hired a guide (again through Grasshopper Adventures) to lead us ~40 miles into the Cambodian countryside to visit the far-flung temple of Beng Mealea.   We met our guide early in the morning, signed our lives away, then got situated on the mountain bikes that would be ours for the rest of the day.  The day was already hot, slated to reach around 95 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon.

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Angkor Temples by Bike

As I left Thailand, I prepared myself to be a unnerved by Cambodia. I shouldn't have gone through the effort, though, because Cambodia calmed me from the start.  First, it was the friendly people.  We flew into a rinky-dink airport and were greeted  by a man with a smile and a tuk tuk.  The hotel had sent him.  He loaded our bags into his tuk tuk (a motorbike with a passenger cart hitched to it), smiled at us some more, and then motored down the road to our hotel.

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Big Elephants and Big Buddha

Before a logging ban imposed by the Thai government in the late 1980's, many elephants worked  in the logging industry.  Doing so provided for their food and care.  Since the ban, the majority of these elephants were out of work and their mahouts (a sort of caretaker that stays with the animal for life) had to find alternate ways of getting enough food and adequate care for their animals.  The logging ban coincided with the rise of tourism to Thailand, so many elephants went from the logging industry to tourist camps, which (in many cases) provides employment for the mahouts, a vet for the elephants, and a way the elephant can get adequate nutrition and care.

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