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The New and Glossy People of Blogland

by Elena on April 1, 2010

Death of Print

Have you canceled your magazine subscriptions?  Are magazines starting to send you their glossy pages for free?  I smell anxiety, but this is no surprise to many people in the publishing world.  I seem to rattle on about the subject quite a bit, but as a writer I can’t help but obsess about every article that comes out on the subject.

Yesterday The New York Times featured an article on its front page about The Rising Stars of Gossip Blogs.  When people hear gossip writing, many raise their noses in the air, like they once did, or still do, about blogging.  But these same haughty nosed people may beg, steal, or borrow to have the type of success some of these gossip bloggers have had.  The article’s author Alex Williams comments on the tipping point when bloggers went from people airing their dirty laundry on the web, to people pursuing a real writing career.

The lines between “reporter” and “blogger,” “gossip” and “news” have blurred almost beyond distinction. No longer is blogging something that marginalized editorial wannabes do from home, in a bathrobe, because they haven’t found a “real” job. Blogging now is a career path in its own right, offering visibility, influence and an actual paycheck.

The elusive paycheck, however isn’t what drives many a blogger, especially in this new and shiny blogland where a lot of online magazines and blogs don’t have the money to pay writers for their work.  On the other hand, the online landscape is opening up lots of other doors for people to be innovative and create opportunities for themselves.  Like a lot of other careers it takes a mix of talent and luck, with the scales tipping to one side more than the other depending on the person.

Although the article focuses on gossip blogs, the same can be said about all types of blogs.  Bloggers and blogging sites have changed publishing in ways that makes even The New York Times suffer.  Remember when The Times decided that it will start to charge it’s readers?  Now they feature on their online frontpage, an article about the very people who have severely cramped traditional media’s style.  Isn’t it ironic, in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word, that many of these nontraditional writers/bloggers rise to success without so much as stepping in a newsroom?

Image via: cuttlefish



What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

by Elena on February 3, 2010

The Buried Life

If you had one day to live, what would you do?  Would you climb a mountain?  Would you kiss the person of your dreams?  Would you tell someone how you really feel?  Now, if you had a whole lifetime to live, would you lose that drive?  Or would your list just keep getting longer?

The opening credits for MTV’s new show The Buried Life are not what you are accustomed to hearing on the music network.  Known more for the kids on The Hills than actual music videos, MTV is taking small steps away from fake tanned adolescents and meaningless hookups (small steps but steps nonetheless).  As opposed to previous programing, The Buried Life is about adventure and encouraging others to follow their dreams.  It isn’t the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house, but rather the true story of four friends riding around in a bus they named Penelope.  These four friends from Canada (I’ve heard an aboot or two) have made a list, 100 things to do before you die, and they are determined to cross off each item, no matter how difficult.  In an effort to achieve some balance, they don’t solely focus on their own crazy list.  They are also striving to fulfill other people’s wishes.  For every item they cross off their list, they help people accomplish something on theirs.

This project started way before the MTV contract.   If this were a show created solely by MTV it would lose the authenticity.  I still can’t help but feel a sting of cynicism while watching the ease with which these guys get into the Playboy Mansion and into movie premieres (maybe with a little help from MTV?) although maybe dressing up as Oompa Loompas and Cristiano Ronaldo are harder than it looks.  The encouraging part is that they began their adventure and created their list without the help of a cable network, using corporate sponsors and gaining popularity by posting videos on YouTube.  Ultimately it’s the personalities of the guys involved that show the sincerity of their goals, no matter how ridiculous.  It’s easy to demean such tasks as sneaking into the Playboy mansion or asking Megan Fox out on a date, but the point is to do whatever it is that you want: the difficult, the easy, the silly, and the just plain stupid, if that’s what you want to do.  Ask yourself:

When was the last time you did something that truly scared you, excited you, made you feel alive?

There is no doubt that our objectives would change drastically if we had less time to live.  Suddenly all those inconsequential things become much more meaningful.  The point of a show like this is that you shouldn’t forget your list just because you have  a whole lot of time.  It is too easy to get caught up in everyday life and forget what we really want.  Of course we can’t all adopt a big purple bus and completely neglect our responsibilities, after all not all of us are freshly graduated guys in our twenties.  What we can do however is remember that sometimes those crazy dreams are more important than we think it may be time to revisit them.

Out of complete self indulgence I created my own list that I will continue to add on to when the mood strikes.  So what do you want to do before you die??

Image via:

You can watch full episodes of The Buried Life on the MTV website.



Free Kareem - Free Speech is a Human RightFree speech is a human right.  It is something that most people don’t even think about as the go about their daily lives.  I know I don’t.  For the most part we can say whatever we want, in whatever snarky tone we want, and we won’t get in trouble for it.  Matters get sticky when you talk constantly about hate or you threaten individuals, the government, or society on some level, but for the most part we won’t get put in jail for saying what’s on our minds.  Not everyone is so lucky.  There are people around the world who get tossed in jail for doing what I do everyday, blog.  I found out about the large number of bloggers in jail (over 60) after reading a post on Polo Bastards.  Polo Bastards is an interesting site, unlike the usual travel sites you will find, that writes about parts of the world most people don’t think about visiting.

Yoani Sanchez writes her blog Generation Y from Havana Cuba in an effort to “let me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.”  She writes mostly from hotels where internet often costs upwards of $7 an hour.  In Cuba only senior officials and foreign residents can contract an internet service, leaving most of the population isolated.  The Cuban government filters her blog on the island, however their are greatest risks than silence, where some countries inhibit free speech by using jail time and even torture.

Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman is an Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to 4 years in prison for speaking his mind on his blog.  He is charged with.  “(1) Spreading data and malicious rumors that disrupt public security; (2) Defaming the President of Egypt; (3) Incitement to overthrow the regime upon hatred and contempt; (4) Incitement to hate Islam and breach of the public peace standards; (5) Highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt and spreading them to the public.”  On the Free Kareem website you can find out all the information you need about his case.  On the site’s blog you will get up to date information, such as how he has been denied visits from his lawyer for the third time.  You will also find pictures, videos, music, and letters in support of Kareem, such as the song written by Ethiopian singer Meklit Hadero.

Free Kareem - Free Speech 2Free Kareem - Respect Human RightsFree Kareem - In all LanguagesFree Kareem - MediaFree Kareem - RallyFree Kareem - Blogging in not a CrimeFree Kareem - Speech is no CrimeIf you want to get involved or wish to contact Kareem you can do so through the Free Kareem website.  In order to keep up Kareem’s spirit’s, the Free Kareem Coalition, a group of young bloggers and college students committed to free speech, appreciates any letter sent to Kareem.  You can send a letter directly or through their contact page which they will mail to him.  If you decide to write a letter make sure not to write anything that will aggravate prison officials (they read all letters first).  It will only make matters worse for him.  Did you write to Kareem?Write to KareemAll images via: Free Kareem



Memorable Book List of 2009

by Elena on January 4, 2010

Memorable Books of 2008Happy New Year everyone!  Hopefully everyone had a great holiday season.  My Christmas and New Years are always based around food, so it goes without saying that I had a great time.

Last year I put together a mental list of all the books that I really enjoyed throughout the year.  This post is a little late, but I feel like the books are still very pertinent.  The list of 2009 is a personal one, as you can see the books didn’t necessarily come on in 09; they did however inspire and entertain me this past year.


Travel writing is a medium I greatly enjoy and often read.  In a certain vain I strive to write like these authors I listed.  They are no doubt some of my favorite authors, who all have a distinct voice, whether snarky or informative, and who constantly keep my attention, make me laugh, and change my perspective.

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act is a must read for any person with a love of travel.  Steves explores traveling as a means to finding out more about the world, your country, and yourself.  While there is nothing wrong with travel where you relax with nothing more than a margarita and some sunblock, he reminds you that there are other forms of travel where you can learn something besides how to nurse a sunburn.  He discusses and compares the way other countries handle issues such as drug abuse, war, globalization, and religious differences.  No country has all the right answers, however we only benefit by understanding other cultures and experiencing them firsthand.

Road Fever by Tim Cahill – I read Road Fever while on the road in South America, therefore I had a very strong connection with the work.  Cahill writes about his journey and quest to break the world record time for a road trip from the very tip of South America to Prudhoe Bay Alaska.  Tim Cahill writes in a manner that is entertaining and infectious, where a 5’3 short girl like myself would consider the possibility of following in the footsteps of these two explorers clearly mad for trying.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson –  Like all great storytellers, Bill Bryson makes his story of traveling around Europe that much more interesting than anybody else could.  He has a snarky side which I always welcome and a definite British wit as he recounts his past, and muses about strange foreign customs.

Sand In My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write From The Road by Jennifer L. Leo and Jessica Maxwell – This collection of short stories are written by a group of adventurous women who have at some point, put the open road before all else.  I received this book as a gift from my cousin, who thought that the title aptly applied to my travels and misadventures.  It was refreshing and fun to read a book from a female perspective in a genre, it seems, that is dominated by men.  If anyone has any other suggestions, please contact me!

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain – I’ve read A Cook’s Tour multiple times and returned to it again in 2009.  The book really resonates with me, in particular the section when Bourdain is in Portugal, where certain memories and subsequent pig slaughter ceremonies, reminded me of my summer’s in Galicia as a child.  This book sparked my interest in culinary travel, exploring new cultures, and finding other books of this nature.  Anthony Bourdain’s writing style is funny and addicting like a Krispy Kreme donut that you would be willing to drive 20 miles to eat a bite of.

Smile, You’re Traveling by Henry Rollins – Reading this book is like slipping into a portal that leads to Rollins’ mind, except you don’t get tossed near the Jersey Turnpike when you’re finished.  You experience his crazy adventures firsthand, right in the middle of his stream of consciousness.  I admit that it was hard to keep up the first time around but after some outside coaxing I agreed to try again.  Rollins’ thoughts are often scattered but they are never dull and they will always make you question your own perspective on the world.


Travel photography, like all types of photography, tells a story of its subject and setting.  I honestly haven’t read that many photography books, preferring to browse through picture albums and portfolios online.  This year I’d like to read more about the craft of photography.

Travel Photography: Documenting the World’s Peoples & Places by Bob Krist – Bob Krist makes photography interesting and attainable in this book.  His book doesn’t delve too much into the technicalities of taking a picture, the camera itself, or Photoshop, however that was exactly what I was looking for.  He gives a more general approach to working with color, movement, composition, flash, and time of day.  I especially liked his tips and anecdotes about taking pictures of people.


Marketing and lifestyle design books are the source of many dreamers’ dreams.  These books in particular got my creative juices flowing, and spurred a few grandiose views of the future.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable by Seth Godin – Seth Godin’s blog is a wealth of knowledge.  Each post provides insight on how to spread your ideas or grow your business.  He has opened a new way for me to look at marketing.  In his book, Purple Cow, he talks about the way old ‘proven’ marketing tactics no longer apply, and how each and every company, employee, or website needs to be remarkable if they want to stand out from the heard.  Basically you want to be a purple cows in the midst of the black and white ones.

The Big Moo: Stop Trying To Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable by Seth Godin – The Big Moo is a continuation of the ideas in Purple Cow.  This book is edited by Seth Godin and has many different contributors tell a story or anecdote about being remarkable.  The interesting thing is that you don’t know which author wrote what.  If you need another push to buy it, know that all proceeds go to charity.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris – The 4-Hour Workweek was one of those books that started it all for me.  If got me thinking, dreaming, and being outright delusional about my future.  A four hour work week is something that most people aspire to, and Timothy Ferris explains how it can be possible.  Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you will be sitting around doing nothing all day, what it does mean is that you have more available time to work on your own ventures, instead of wasting time dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s.  He just came out with an expanded edition that I haven’t been able to check out yet but I am excited to read soon.


After reading a few marketing books, I got the  itch so to speak, of turning ideas into something more.  I don’t usually read business type books because I think I may be slightly allergic, however these books were interesting and quite insightful.

Awakening The Entrepreneur Within: How Ordinary People Can Create Extraordinary Companies by Michael E. Gerber – I picked up this book after reading about it on Timothy Ferris’ blog (a must read as well).  Although I haven’t finished it yet (I am somewhere in the middle) I would recommend this book for people who are looking to start their own business, or expand on their own ideas.  Gerber talks about the process that innovative entrepreneurs take to follow their dreams and see them to fruition.

The E-Myth Enterprise: How To Turn a Great Idea Into a Thriving Business by Michael E. Gerber – The E-Myth Enterprise expands upon the ideas of Gerber’s previous books and it also gives more of a personal perspective and tells the success stories of people that the reader can relate to.  These people were able to create businesses and make their business thrive.


New media is blanket term to describe the emergent digital and computerized information that has grown dramatically in the past decade.  Online publications, blogs, social networking sites, and digital technology are all a part of new media.  Print publications and television are not.  If you have a blog or site of your own, you are already aware of new media, in fact you are a part of it.

The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media by Paul Gillin – Gillin’s book provided the insight I needed to really understand the influence of new media today.  More companies are developing blogs and switching their marketing strategies and the all important advertising dollars in order to keep up with the changes.  The book also illustrates the tremendous power that bloggers and new media insiders have over the market.

[Updated Jan 5th]


EBooks are becoming much more popular.  I have been a little reserved about them, but this past year I have bought a couple that I felt were helpful and informative.  People tend to be more careful when buying eBooks because they can be more expensive than a book you pick up at Barnes & Noble.  Let’s just say they shouldn’t be impulse buys.  When buying an eBook I always take a look at the reviews and see what others have said about them.  If an author offers a free book, you can test out and see if you like his style and topic choices.

Make Money With Your Blog by Nomadic Matt –  This eBook was a great deal of help for me when I wanted to delve into the world of ‘monetizing’ my websites.  For full disclosure I am an affiliate of this eBook, and I decided to do so  because of how helpful it was for me.  When I started my sites I had a drive to write and explore, but I also had little experience with actually ‘building a site.’  If you are knowledgeable about blogging and creating websites then this eBook may not be helpful because you will know a lot of its content.  This eBook is for anyone new to creating blogs, or the ways of new media.  It will teach you the basics of starting a blog, getting traffic, figuring out SEO, and monetizing your site.  Matt gives you the foundation that you can build upon with dedication and hard work.Make Money on your Blog

279 Days to Overnight Success by Chris Guillebeau – The great thing about this eBook is that it is completely free!  It is an encouraging manifesto written by the creator of The Art of Non-Comformity site.  It is a great way to become acquainted with his site, which is truly as a home for unconventional people doing remarkable things.  In the manifesto he discusses the steps he took to become a full time writer and entrepreneur of the web.manifesto-279daysUnconventional Guide to Working For Yourself by Chris Guillebeau – If you enjoyed Guillebeau’s free manifesto then you should really look into his other products.  They are pricey, but I believe the content is well worth it.  This eBook goes more in depth into the life of creating a business on the internet.  He discusses important factors such as the mistakes that many entrepreneurs make when building their business.  When you buy this eBook you also get bonuses about SEO and affiliate marketing.  As with most things, remember that these strategies are never a quick fix.  Working for yourself requires lots of hard work and dedication.UG workingselfUnconventional Guide to Art and Money by Chris Guillebeau – I purchased this eBook in a deal with the Guide to Working for Yourself.  The topic is very interesting and the eBook is thorough and easy to follow.   Basically it discusses the way artists have been supporting themselves through their artwork and new media.  It is interesting because while artists can be taught technique in art school, they are not often taught how to make money doing so.  The eBook discusses ways artists can promote themselves and gain a following that can lead to success in their field. UG artmoney30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World by Christine Gilbert – Christine Gilbert created the popular travel site Almost Fearless, a site that I check on a frequent basis in order to gain insight into travel and the digital world.  This year Gilbert concluded a series she was working on called 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World.  The series went further into the world of travel and conquered such topics as budgeting, turning your job digital, telling your family and friends, and getting a job when you return from travel.  You can check out the series on her site, and you can also download a free eBook of the series by subscribing to her site.Almost Fearless



It is impossible to judge who has the best job or lifestyle, since everyone has different aspirations and ideals.  Some celebrities gripe about the pitfalls of fame; yet there are many more people searching for their 15 minutes.  Not everyone will become the next creator of a popular social networking site, nor does everyone want to be.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the qualities of an innovator and the process they use to create something new; however that need not be your goal.  There are many other ways to use the qualities of innovation.   If you want to change your lifestyle, by working from home, starting your own company, or traveling more often, it is possible.  There will always be constraints, but sometimes constraints garner creativity and dedication.  I realize that as a woman in my twenties, I don’t have the responsibilities of a family or a mortgage.  It would be naive of me to assume that it is just as easy for everyone, however it is not impossible to make changes little by little.

Travel is something I consider to be a very important part of my life.  If travel and working for yourself is something you are passionate about, you can start off by trying these strategies:

Use Past Experience: Many people who love travel find ways to travel so despite having a job.  Alan from The 9 to 5 Alternative works as a surveyor for an information services company.  He is able to travel the world as he gathers cost-of-living data for his company.  Jobs like his allow for lots of travel.  If you would like to quit your 9-5 someday, you can start save up money now, until you are ready to start your new endeavors.  I used to work in media and now have ventured into the world of online/new media.  Things I’ve done in the past help me to move forward with what I’m doing now.

Do Your Research: Before  you make any big life decision you should be asking a lot of questions.  You need to do your research and make sure you are making the right moves.  Granted you don’t want to worry needlessly, and being prepared will take away some of that worry.  You also need to figure out your expenses and income, and if you have enough saved to make a transition.

Learn From Others: You can learn so much from watching others doing what you would like to do.  I have been inspired by so many people, and I continue to learn from them every day.  If you are considering life on the road you should check out others who are already living the life you desire.  Some of my favorite examples of people who have successfully accomplished introducing travel into their lives are Christine Gilbert at Almost Fearless, Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity, Alan Perlman at The 9 to 5 Alternative, and Matt at Nomadic Matt.  Their posts will inspire lots of people to start traveling.

Experiment: Start slowly and try out your new lifestyle before you jump right in.  It is easy to idealize a situation without considering some possible downsides.  Traveling for a living, starting your own company, or being a freelancer may not be the right choices for you.  Before you quit your job and make any big decisions, you should try things out in small bursts.  You could use a bulk of you vacation time and live they way you would be if you were on the road for awhile.  That means no fancy hotels, unless you have a trust fund or some kind rich relatives.  If you want to work for yourself, start doing so right now (without quitting your day job).  Sure it seems nice to work in your pajamas and enjoy breakfast at your personal computer, but it is often hard work in the beginning.

Network: Once you make a change in your lifestyle, you will encounter a whole new set of demands and social network.  It is important to get involved with this network whether it be fellow travelers, fellow writers, or fellow artists and designers.



Be an Innovator and Create Something

by Elena on December 3, 2009

GoogleWhat do guys like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos have in common?  Yes they are insanely wealthy, and yes they were young when they made their millions, and ok yes a few of them started their companies in their garage; but besides all that, what I want to focus on is the fact that they are true innovators that changed they way things were done in their fields.

While rummaging around Barnes and Nobles, I came across an article in The Harvard Business Review about innovation in business.  I felt guilty spending $16 on a magazine, so I opted for a $5 foam something or other from Starbucks instead and sat down to read the article.

The following couple of days I was telling anyone who would listen about “The Innovator’s DNA.”  I usually avoid titles with the word business in them, but this article struck a chord.  “The Innovator’s DNA” discusses what sets apart innovative companies like eBay and Amazon.  They may be big corporations now, but they all started with an idea, no matter how small.  eBay started because its founder wanted to help his fiancee find rare Pez dispensers, you know, the plastic toy that releases candy from its head.  Google, known for its innovative products, completely changed the way we search for information.  Their work ethic, offices, algorithms, advertising, products etc. etc. continue to influence and dominate the search landscape.  (Admittedly, Google makes my nerdy heart flutter, so I may be a bit biased).

The review studied the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs, as well as thousands of other executives and individuals involved in such companies.  As it turns out, there are certain “discovery skills” that innovators use to get ahead.  The good news is that these skills are most often learned.  In other words, you aren’t born with the gene to create an empire.  It’s also fascinating because they aren’t limited to entrepreneurs.  Anyone interested in living outside of the box can use them to get ahead.

Innovators are open minded and can relate various ideas from various fields in order to be successful.  A rather famous example is Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college  and took a course in calligraphy.  A career in calligraphy is not a traditional career  choice, however years later while designing the first Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs was able to use his calligraphy skills.  He introduced various typefaces and fonts that were later copied by Microsoft and used today on all computers.

Innovators ask questions, simple as that.  They ask the easy questions and the hard ones.  They challenge assumptions and don’t believe that things need to be done a certain way.  Maybe that’s why Sergey Brin enters business meetings on rollerblades.  Why not?  By asking lots of questions you get down to what people want and the ways to make your products and information better and more useful.

Innovators learn from what is around them.  Even Shakespeare borrowed themes and storylines from the great writers before him.  New technology builds upon the technology before it and the media is constantly changing.  By studying those around you, the successes as well as the mistakes, you gain insight for your future endeavors.

Innovators aren’t afraid to experiment.  With experimentation you risk failure, but they are willing to risk some failure to attain their goal.  As an innovator, you need to learn from your mistakes and go forward with your successes.  After being fired from Apple, Steve Jobs started Pixar, and as luck would have it, he returned to Apple when they bought his other company NeXT.

Innovators network because they can learn from others.  Not only do they need to test out their ideas, but they also gain a greater perspective from others, inside and outside their field.

Image via: Yodel Anecdotal



Computer Geek SleepingThe challenge: Can you last a week without reading any media outlet, publication, online forum, or blog?  Better yet, could you abstain from Facebook, Twitter, Matador, or whatever social networking site you frequent?  If you think you can, you are one of the few.  It certainly can be done, but not without some discomfort and a slight feeling of disconnect from the world.  The obsession with information and consumption has penetrated our society for quite some time now.  Employees have become so obsessed with information that many companies have started to block certain sites in order to ensure that employees aren’t surfing the net instead of doing their job. Even those efforts are thwarted since more and more people have a Black Berry or iPhone, which provide constant access to an endless supply of knowledge at any time of day.  Most of us need information, we crave it.  We want it now, and we want it short and pithy.

Last year Nicholas Carr wrote an article for The Atlantic where he asks his readers, Is Google Making Us Stupid?  Suddenly a former literary major in college found himself skimming articles and avoiding novels.  It became difficult to paying attention to things that once kept his interest so profoundly.  I was also an English Literature major and the current owner of a bookcase full of books that I used to spend hours reading.  Now between changing careers, keeping up online and with life in general, I find the task of finishing a novel rather daunting.  In fact, the time when I get most of my reading done is when I travel.  I personally feel that traveling allows me to put aside some responsibilities, in particular social media, and just experience, without worrying about everything else.

Claiming that the internet and Google are making consumers stupid, is a false and bold statement meant to catch the reader’s attention.  I wouldn’t call someone stupid because they read five online newspapers per day and have over 1000 subscriptions in their Google Reader; however that same person probably skims through most articles in order to read more, know more.  They aren’t lazy and they certainly aren’t stupid, but rather less anchored than media consumers 10 years ago.  There is merely too much information saturating our short attention spans.



Preparation For The Trek To Machu Picchu

by Elena on October 20, 2009

The day before we started our trek to Machu Picchu we met with our tour guide for a quick question and answer session.  Our excitement slowly turned to a subtle anxiety with each carefree joke he made about the dangers of such a hike.  He smiled as he told us he was sick, while swishing around a power drink, Peruvian Gatorade so to speak, in his left hand.  With each sway of the bottle my stomach turned, an inevitable foreshadowing of what was to come.  Still he assured us that we will be fine, leaving us awkwardly laughing and bewildered by his dark humor and self deprecating demeanor.  Is he serious?  Wait so my brain can hemorrhage if  I don’t drink enough water?  How is this funny again?

The bit of anxiety was probably for the better because before that moment I was feeling a false sense of security.  Pshh we’ll be fine.  High altitude sickness is for pansies.  It’s different when heeding the advice of an expert versus reading a guidebook.  Suddenly your inflated sense of self subsides and the reality of the situation (hiking for days at high altitude) starts to sink in.

Machu Picchu

After instilling a tiny bit of fear, our guide gave us some advice on what we need to bring for the trip.  I created a list of his suggestions, combined with some things I felt were useful for me on the trek.

Water is very important.  In order to prevent altitude sickness, you must keep hydrated, sipping water every 15 minutes or so when you are feeling sick.  On organized trips such as ours, water is provided.  Don’t worry they boil it in order to prevent sickness.  I would suggest you avoid drinking from any stream you find along the trail.  It looks tempting, however our guide told us a story about a group of his who decided to take a shower in a stream a long the way, and they all ended up stranded in the mountains, fighting off various sicknesses.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather stay dirty.

Flashlights and headlights are very useful for rummaging around at night.  A headlight may seem weird, but when you are looking for something in the middle of the night in freezing weather, you won’t care how ridiculous you look.  You can tie up a flashlight in your tent in order to make it easier for moving around.  It isn’t completely pitch black outside, however, we were able to benefit from the clear skies and light of the moon.

Toilet paper is your friend.  I do not need to emphasize that there is no bathrooms or running water along the way.  You will be 3 days in the great outdoors.  Bring that paper.

Disposable plastic bags are necessary in order to store things in them.  I didn’t think I would need them, but they ended up being useful.  Also keep in mind that you can’t just throw away your garbage on the trail.  You have to carry everything with you, or give your trash to the guides on the trip with you.  Bags make everything easier.

Sunscreen is necessary if you don’t want to get burned from walking in direct sunlight for hours.  A hat will also help.

Sleeping bags are provided for an extra cost.  Rent the bags.  Who wants to be lugging around sleeping bags.

Sleeping bag sacks or liners are great because they keep you extra warm and they also shield you from directly touching the sleeping bags you rent.  I suggest getting a silk liner because the threading is much more tight, and harder for bed bugs to get into.  Cotton is cheaper, but more things can pass through.

Snacks, especially chocolate, give you energy and prevent altitude sickness.  If you start to feel light headed you should have some sort of sugar.  Our guide gave us lemon drops whenever we started to feel sick.

You will need to carry a daypack with you.  The mules and other guides will be carrying your regular bags and backpacks (there is a weight limit) and they will speed ahead of you.  Everything you need easy access to (medicine, camera) should be in your daypack.  Don’t make it too heavy because you have to carry it.

Travel towel in order to clean your face and wash up.  There are many different kinds of towels that are made to dry quickly.

Warm clothes and jacket will probably be one of the most important things to bring.  Because of the high altitude the temperatures can drop significantly.  If you travel during the rainy season it will also be colder.  A warm hiking jacket will be the best for you.



Travel Writing – Real or Fiction

by Elena on October 5, 2009

Travel Writing
The Guardian travel blog most recently published a post about travel writing and whether or not this somewhat self-indulgent art form is in fact truth or fiction. They argue that the line between truth and fiction is often blurred because writers may ‘introduce “colour”, altering the sequence of events to make a book or article “flow.”

Of course these types of exaggerations don’t have a place in guide books or instructional articles because they require accurate research on accommodation, budget, and description of sites; however, when it comes to personal accounts of travel, does “colour” interfere with the purpose of the story. Writers such as Tim Cahill and Bill Bryson have long inspired me to travel and experience Road Fever. Their perspective and slightly off humor personal accounts are clearly from their perspective. There is no confusion about that.

When I think of the times that I may ‘colour’ a story on some of my recent travels, they are hardly ever a declaration of a falsehood. This year while traveling on a trail towards Machu Picchu, I experienced a horrible bout of food poisoning and altitude sickness. At the time I was in the middle of the mountains with no easy route back to a doctor or even a moving vehicle. Was I close to death? Hell no. But did I feel like it? I guess you could say that (a mixture of puking, dizziness, and difficulty breathing can certainly change a person’s perspective). When a tour guide suggests to take some oxygen to help with breathing, rationality tends to go out the window. Let’s just say that the colour added to this story was in fact, an accurate, but emotionally exaggerated depiction of the truth.



Just another Monday morning in Cusco

by Elena on July 13, 2009

During the week Cusco is a completely different city than on the weekend where you will find mostly tourists roaming the streets looking for alpaca duds and pisco sours. What used to be bare streets were now packed with Peruvians following their daily routine of going to work, waiting for the bus, walking their kids to school, or snatching a part of the sidewalk where they will sell some food or handicrafts to strolling pedestrians. It was a nice change to not only be surrounded by tourists like myself, but rather a group of people who live in this city. They aren’t stopping at every corner to bask at the sites, but rather they pass by the Plaza de Armas giving a cursory glance of recognition. After all they see it everyday. By being around locals you may perhaps be given a glimpse of how people really live their lives; if you’re lucky.

Shoe shiners in Cusco

People waiting for the bus

Cusco is small and easy to manage, especially if you compare it to the capital Lima. The Plaza de Armas is the most distinctive image of Cusco city. Most travel paraphernalia plasters pictures of the plaza and the cathedral througout many of its pages. My second day in Cusco I was considerably less winded from the lack of oxygen in the air and made use of some time to myself to stroll the Plaza and sit at the steps of the Cathedral. My visit thus far had been filled with colonial influenced buildings and Catholic tradition. The Plaza de Armas was no different, however I knew that in a few days I would be looking out at a completely different marvel, one that had nothing to do with colonial influence. Machu Picchu, the lost civilization, would not have domed bell towers, ornate balconies, or elaborate Gothic paintings of the Resurrection. There would be no carved crosses or images of the Virgin Mary. Both cultures so different yet an indelible part of Peruvian culture.

Below is a map of the main sites in Cusco as well as some photos of what you should be looking for.

Map of sites in Cusco provided by Frommers.

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus


Convento de la Merced

Iglesia de San Blas