Monday, December 10, 2007
New pictures of Ryder Linden Haines, courtesy of two emails that made my Inbox explode:
J. Riley, One of the many reasons I can still answer "good" when people ask how I'm doing!
Friday, December 07, 2007
Hotel in Tarma on Thursday night, but we did get up early nonetheless and get
ready for the rest of our journey. After packing up our goods, we headed down
the road to a Hacienda-like hotel that Renzo was familiar with to have our
breakfast. Following our typical eggs, ham, fresh bread, and panettone
breakfast, we were back on the road for the next hour or two to get to
The geography was certainly interesting in this area, how it changed so much and
so quickly. The coastal regions of Peru are very much a desert with little to no
plant life. As we climbed the rugged volcanic peaks of the Andes, the ground
turned into a reddish clay with some shrubbery, but still few, if any, trees.
Once on the other side of the mountains, as we descended down towards
Chanchamayo, the terrain suddenly changed, with green plants growing without a
problem. The ground was fertile enough for the local people to be growing
things like corn on the farms littering the side of the road. However, an hour
later, the terrain changed again into a lush, tropical environment.
I always imagined the jungle being something like the rain forest, with twisted,
gnarly trees growing under the shade of canopy trees that lift high into the sky
with amazing amounts of wildlife, snakes, bugs, and birds galore. The terrain
around Chanchamayo hinted at this kind of environment, but only just. There
were trees that I imagined to be canopy-like with bare trunks that rose high
and branches and leaves at the top that grew almost horizontal, but they were
spread around the area. The smaller trees and plant-life were certainly lush,
but I didn't see any crazy animals and it wasn't dark and smelling of rain or
anything like that. It was very much open terrain, but very lush and
The Andes affect the weather significantly, pushing the clouds from the coast up
to higher elevations, causing them to compress and rain, which causes the
condensation that falls to the fertile grounds on the Eastern side of the
Andes, which in turn creates the lush environment. The rain water eventually
drains down to the flatland further east, where it pools up in the Amazon and
even more condensation there creates the rain forests of my imagination.
However, Chanchamayo was not this rain forest. However, it was lush and fertile
enough to grow a myriad of tropical fruits, as we found in the first hotel that
we checked out. It had an orchard of mango and other fruit trees with small,
private bungalows that were apparently very nice inside. Ketty walked around
picking up and peeling mangos from the ground while we got the tour of the
premises from the hotel keeper. Renzo recommended this one because they'd
stayed there before and it was at a special rate - around $30 a night! But we
ventured further down the street and found another place that had private
bungalows in a more tropical setting with plants growing overhead along the
paths. This was $25 a night and since we were only going to be there at night
and in the morning, we decided to go for it.
By the time we were moved in and settled, it was time for a late lunch, so we
went into town and ate at a place recommended at the hotel. Again the aji,
again the avocado salad, and again the delicious meal (I had fish with rice
After lunch, Renzo was burnt out from all the driving and headed back to the
hotel for a nap while I went with the girls in a moto-taxi / tuk-tuk-tuk up to
the hill that overlooked the valley to take pictures. We eventually made it
back to the hotel in the late afternoon to relax for a bit before going out at
night. I busted out my dominoes set to teach Erika and Ketty the Haines
tradition of Mexican Train dominoes while we drank some beer and drank some
juice and vodkas and enjoyed the wonderful weather. I spotted a wild red
parrot in a nearby tree (hard to see in the pictures), which was pretty crazy.
It was massive and was the only true jungle animal that I saw on the trip.
Renzo finally rose from his slumber to join us and we ended up going to a disco
just a few minutes away (walking) to dance, munch on some food, and drink some
chelas (beer) before finally crashing after a full day!
J. Riley, to be continued...
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Lucky for me, the flights to and from Peru are both red-eyes, so I can maximize my sleeping and traveling time for short trips like this - assuming I can sleep. I do things like staying up late the night before, stay away from caffeine substances the day of the flight, and drink some wine before boarding the plane, all in order to catch as much shut-eye as possible on my journey. Usually it isn't very solid sleep, and I caught about three hours worth on the seven hour journey, watching plenty of videos on the comfortable Lan Peru flight.
I arrived drowsy and feeling gross with a raw throat at 7:00 in the morning in Lima. Lili, the link between Erika and I, graciously picked me up at the airport since Erika was taking her English test for her class that morning at the American Institute (ICPNA) when I arrived. Lili and I drove to ICPNA in time to pick her up and head to a cafe to get some breakfast - a turkey sandwich (Happy Thanksgiving!!) and a coffee (wake up!) for me. Afterwards, we drove to their friend Ketty's house and prepared for that day's adventure: shopping at Gamarra!
I'm not really sure how to explain Gamarra. You know the Christmas booths that they set up in places like Union Square (for you New Yorkers)? Well, Gamarra is one street that is probably about two miles long with thousands and thousands of these little booths inside maze-like buildings, some as high as eight floors, lining this street. We spent probably over an hour in one building alone, courageously led by the expert shopper Ketty. It's difficult to explain how crazy this area was, but I promise to take Summer and Faryn there if they ever come to Lima someday (hmmmm) because it has all the latest fashions (designer or otherwise), all for dirt cheap. I ended up buying two t-shirts and two-button up party shirts - all of which are good quality - for about thirty dollars in total. Lili bought several tops for $2 each. Ridiculously cheap. And, I was the only gringo in the whole area to boot! Highly recommended shopping for gringos with a sense of adventure and patience :o) .
After this we headed back to Ketty's house to prepare for the trip - which included me finally taking a shower - no wonder Erika was offering me so many cough drops for my throat all day ;o). Finally ready to depart, the four of us (including Renzo, the boyfriend) piled into his impressive work car - a Kia Sorrento. More on this car later. Anyway, we ran a few errands doing important things like buying more cough drops for my throat, gas, and panettone, which I don't think I've actually tried. Renzo is a big fan of panettone, so I rolled with it. But damn, that stuff is tasty! For the Haines family who hasn't tried it before, the bread tastes like that yummy Hawaiian bread that we used to eat as kids except it's also got a lot of dried fruits in it like mango, papaya, raisins, etc. I think I need to add this to my Christmas-treats inventory every year from now on!
Anyway, we hit the road. Traffic in Lima is nuts, so it was a crawl out of town before we hit a hotel that we stopped and had dinner at. Renzo enjoys the finer things in life down in Peru, so we frequently dined at the nicest places in town, all of which are dirt cheap nonetheless, so I was fine with this. Of course, we're not talking about dining in Jean Georges or anything like that, we're talking about nicest places in town for Peru. Typically, this means a simple, non-lavish (by our - my?? - standards) restaurant with amazing food and good service. Food tourism in Peru is growing pretty rapidly because the food there is incredible!
We fit a game of foosball in before dinner out in the back lawn that overlooked a river and I realized that the foosball standards for South Americans is infinitely higher than for us Americans. Renzo and Ketty both were amazing players, but my Liverpool-like defensive prowess was respectful enough to ensure that myself and Erika, who was poaching many-a-goal like Fernando Torres does every week for Liverpool, dominated the preceding before we got tired of the bugs and went inside for our typical Peruvian appetizer - avocado salad with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes (yum!), topped with oil and vinegar.
One interesting thing that I noticed on the trip was that everywhere that you go to eat, they bring you your forks and knives on a little dish, along with a small bowl of their house-aji - hot sauce! It's not hot sauce in the American Tabasco-like sense, though. It is usually mixed with something creamy (mayonnaise?) and is made from any combination of the plethora of peppers available in Peru. On the trip we dined on aji that was yellow, orange, or light red, all with pepper specks and all with the perfect balance of picante with my palate. I never refrained from adding a dollop or five to my plate to mix with the meal.
Following a fantastic dinner of Loma......something (which was beef in a sauce served with rice I think) and nibbling on Erika's trout as the sole diners in this restaurant, we further gorged ourselves on crepes with ice cream and chocolate. I was seriously stuffed by this time and was already establishing myself as the fat-American and living up to my college nickname "Two-Racks" by this time.
Back on the road, we finally got out of town on the eastern-highway and were slowed, briefly, by many semi trucks that were making the crazy drive through the Andes to the mining towns up in the hills. They proved no match for Renzo's SUV, though. I'm not a huge fan of Kia because I've always considered them to be cheap, no frills cars. But this car had some serious power passing these semis on the twisting, climbing highway with four adults on-board. The interior was simple and functional, a nice contrast compared to most cars these days that make you feel like you're driving a plane with all their frills and gadgets. I had no complaints about the head or leg-room in the leather seats in the back, it was very nice. I came to find out the next day that this thing was actually a diesel! I've never been in a diesel that was so quiet and had so much passing power, not to mention that it sips gas like a Honda Civic. So I was very impressed.
Anyway, since it was dark outside, there wasn't much to see on our trip. We went over the top of the Andes, hitting elevations above 5000 meters (~15,000 feet), passed through dilapidated mining towns with rivers so polluted that nothing could live in them, had pannetone and tea in a one-street town with about 5 nightclubs on it, and finally decided to stop for the night in Tarma at around 11:00pm. I was exhausted!
J. Riley, To be continued....
Queen of the throne Elliana was busy spreading the news to everyone. Is the phone upside down?
J. Riley, Proud Uncle!
Sunday, December 02, 2007
First of all, three weeks ago I went out to Southern California to attend my friend Jeff's surprise birthday party and to hang out with my good friend Ryan. I got an awesome deal on flights and it was a three-day weekend for me, so I made the trip on pretty short notice. As I've said before, I usually don't like to go to LA because there are so many different pockets of friends and family there that I would have to spend a week there just to visit them all. So if I didn't visit or I didn't tell you I was going, don't blame it on me - blame it on...something else (??).
I've been in sort of an outdoorsy mood recently, so Ryan stacked the weekend's events around various outdoor activities - which is a good thing because 66.6% of the time there was 70-80 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Saturday I woke up early (jetlag) and Ry and I got some early morning breakfast at a local joint before heading down to Newport Beach to go water kayaking around Balboa Island on a perfect, warm day with a light breeze. We took our time, spending most of the day cruising around, giving my shoulders a nice workout while admiring the rich and the famous's huge yachts. I can't imagine living in a place and having one of these monstrous things sitting right outside my house. I don't ency them, I just think it would be kind of crazy to have a lifestyle like that.
After a short visit back at his parent's house, Ryan and I went home and relaxed until our night-time event - Jeff's birthday party at a place called El Coyote in West Hollywood. It's a classic, old school Mexican restaurant from the 1930s with mediocre food but an interesting atmosphere. I can't put my finger on exactly what, but LA is definitely much more different than New York, but I can't really tell you why that is. Anyway, after that we went to a bar called St. Nick's and had a few drinks before heading back home.
For some reason, when I stepped off the plane the night before, my voice was squeaky and was going away - probably from the air-conditioning on the airplane. It was even worse by Saturday night so I asked my local pharmacist - the bartender - to prescribe me with something to make it feel better. One shot of Patron tequila with hot sauce and salt later, and my throat was in fact feeling a little better. It was a short-term fix, though...
Sunday, being the other 33.333% of the weekend, was overcast and cold, a good day to sleep in and be lazy. Ryan's friend was having a barbecue at his house that day so we headed up to the hill above Long Beach to his place in the afternoon. He made some wonderful burgers on his massive barbecue set and we had a good time meeting his friends, one couple - half of which was from Bulgaria - recently getting married and dealing with Greencards and what not. Interesting to get their perspective on the amount of time dealing with the government for such matters. The evening's meal was followed up with some drunk piano debauchery, Ryan's friend and the gay couple from next door singing pop classics while playing the piano - well I might add!
We finished up the night watching two movies - Alpha Dog (with my hero Justin Timberlake) and a movie with Morgan Freeman and John Cusack. I found the story-line of Alpha Dog to be pretty blase, but I thought the acting was great. The other movie, however, was absolutel probably the worst movie I have seen in my life. Poor story, poor acting, it was just terrible. I lost an ounce of respect for those two actors' agents' skills in finding them good movies to start in after seeing that one. It was so bad, I don't even remember the name of it. But don't watch it :-s!!
Monday, my last day in town, Ry and I headed up to the hills above Palas Verdes (sp.) to try to go hiking. He hadn't been up there before, but we figured it was close and the views should be nice for such a nice day, so we hit the road and spent some time trying to figure out if there was actually a trail or not at the place we found online. We found some marked trails, took some other unmarked trails and finally ended up in some rich people's backyards. We wandered back downhill and enjoyed stretching the muscles and getting some California sunshine.
After burning those calories (do I sound old yet?), we went to a nice Greek place in downtown Long Beach and ate a ton of food and had a bit of wine in the nice weather before it was time for me to go to the airport and fly on my red-eye back to the cold, wet NYC!
J. Riley, Next stop: Peru