August 2004 Archives

Katabasis Goes Down South, Pt. 2

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I had the most bizarre run-in with globalization today. We went to this little island in the middle of Lake Titicaca known for its traditional way of life and stayed with a family there overnight. We brought them rice and oranges and candles. Katrina brought sparkly Barbie barrettes for the girls and toy trucks for the boys. The kids, of course, loved it, but I worried about what sort of influence machine-made toys from the mainland (let alone gender-specific ones) would have on the kids.

Katrina gave the boy a fire truck, and when he started to play with it he made siren noises. I couldn't figure out how a boy who has not been to school, has no television, and lives on an island without vehicles knows what sound a fire truck makes. Modernization has clearly permeated their culture farther than they let on for tourists.

The island has three commandments, "Don't be lazy," "Don't steal," and "Don't lie." A little girl stole cookies from one of the other women in our group. The cookies don't matter, but the exchange of her culture for ours does. That woman summed up her experience on the island as 'creepy' and I have to agree. Industrialization lurked in all the corners--the little tubes of carmel that showed up with the crepes at breakfast, the virtually complete abandonment of traditional dress in favor of manufactured clothing, or the women selling bottled water and mass-produced alpaca sweaters on the way up to their temple.

It seemed like they already had the idea that the best things come from the main land, and that it�s normal for their economy to depend on tourist dollars. The guide said that when the boys are old enough, most of them go to Puno and only 1 in 5 returns. A neighboring island with similar attrition is only projected to last another six years. I guess the island decided to adopt tourism, and from there the influx of modernization was assured. I just wish I weren't part of it.

Katabasis Goes Down South: Pt. 3

The Inca Trail

Things I knew about the Inca Trail before I hiked it:

1. It's 26 miles over 4 days.
2. The highest point is at 13,000 ft.
3. Lots of tourists hike it.

Things I found out while hiking it:

1. In one day, you climb 3/4 of a mile over 6 miles.
2. There are 9,622 uneven, stone stairs (appoximately half up and half down)
3. Much of the trail at that elevation is cloud forest, covering the stairs in mist.
4. The fourth day you get up at 4:00 am and hike an hour in the dark over the slippery, uneven, stone stairs to watch the sunrise illuminate Machu Picchu.

In case numbers like ''9,622'' or ''3/4 of a mile'' are hard for you to conceptualize, I have prepared this brief comparison.

Forgetting for a moment that the stairs are slippery, unveven, jagged rock affairs ranging from four to fourteen inches in height, just doing the 4,811 stairs up would be like climbing from home plate to the nosebleed seats at Net Ass Coliseum about 40 times, or a stadium three times as high as the Sears tower. We did it in six hours and then walked back down the next day.

Some of you diehards may still be saying ''I do six miles on the stairmaster every morning. It's not so bad.'' And to you I say, ''so did I. But it's different at 12,000 feet.'' There is approximately 1/3 less oxygen at that elevation as at sea level. You could simulate this effect by punching five or six holes in a plastic bag and wearing it over your head during your workout.

The hardest part though is coming back down. We don't practice going down stairs much, so our muscles weren't up to the task, and we rolled our ankles and fell a lot. None of us could do stairs for a good four days after we finished. Katrina swears her calves are bigger for all this, but I believe that to be physiologically impossible. Since the bragging rights are severely limited by the stupidity of the undertaking, what I think we really got our of the experience is a sobering look at the durability of the human body (and some pictures, which I hope turn out well).

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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