Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thanks to Liz

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

For centuries, artists have been relying upon patrons of the arts to assist with projects. For the a few hundred years, the Catholic Church had been employing artisans of all types to do work on cathedrals, the Vatican, and many of the most famous paintings in the art world today. As power transferred from the church to sovereign states, it was those nation states that helped fund the arts. And as power changed hands from nations into corporations, the 20th and 21st century artists had to rely upon corporate states to fund their artistic visions.

In 2011, I'm in a fortuitous situation compared to thousands of other struggling writers. In a few weeks I'm releasing Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, which means there's two ways readers and friends can support my writing -- buy buying Lost Vegas or JTSMD. It's taken me over a decade to get this model up and running. My main goal is to be able to sustain myself with book sales in order to keep my web ramblings free of charge and to fund future literary projects.

At the same time, I fortunate to have a patron of the arts -- Liz Lieu. If you don't know, a few years back Liz gave me an awesome Christmas present and funded a "pro" Flick page for yours truly, which meant that I had the unlimited ability to post as many photos as I wanted and create as many galleries as I saw fit. As a result, I had a concrete platform to showcase all of my photos, especially from Phish tour, Las Vegas/WSOP, and all of those random places I visited on my international travels. All thanks to Liz.

So if you enjoy the massive gallery of food pics, well, you have Liz gets some credit in keeping that alive.

In addition, the last four galleries that I uploaded to document my Peru journey wouldn't have been possible without the Liz's generosity. Check out those galleries here:
Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes
Cusco, Peru and Saqsayhuaman Ruins
Lima, Peru
Thanks again to Liz for being a true patron of the arts!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Conundrum: Wheelbarrow of Weimar Marks or More Rum?

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

If the U.S. dollar collapses (we're almost there), then what's the point of waking up early every day, keeping an eye on investments, writing my ass off for clients trying to reduce my rates, and saving up to protect whatever assets I have left? Because it's all going to get flushed down the toilet anyway, right?

And save my money? Not in America. I can't get a savings account that will offer me more than 1% in interest. What a fucking much for rewarding hard-working Americans for not swimming in debt. If I want to my money to grow, I have to put it in play in the casinos and Ponzi Schemes of Wall Street.

So if that's my conundrum -- why am I not blowing all of my money and partying it up? And I'm not talking a party "like it's 1999", but like more a full-blown rager like the "end of the world" party?

This is a dangerous internal dialogue. I'm not one to wallow in self-pity or get caught navel gazing for more than a day or so, which is why I want to snap out of this funk and shift gears... to the high-gear of my soul. If all indications are suggesting an imminent collapse, then why am I not going out with a bang?

This new reasoning is not an excuse to justify why I've been drinking rum since 1pm.... 12:40pm to be precise. That's when I "officially" gave up on today. I woke up thinking I could change the world, but I didn't even get past noon before the reality of the situation sunk in.

What's the point?

Maybe it's time I just give up the fight and stay perpetually drunk, stoned, and schwasted... until my money runs out. At least then I can say I enjoyed every single buck before the USD officially collapses, and that way I won't have to wheel around a wheelbarrow of utterly worthless Benjamins.

The Grateful Dead lyric sums up my situation the best: "I'm going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride."

Except, I'm not enjoying the ride! So I better do something about it. While I think about a new plan of action, it's time for another cocktail as financial Armageddon approaches.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cusco > Ollantaytambo > Aguas Calientes > Machu Picchu

By Pauly

The wake-up call was set for 4:30 -- that's AM, in the fucking morning -- a time when I'm usually winding down the night and going to sleep. I passed out around around Midnight after chewing on a Vicodin to help ease the throbbing headache that accompanied altitude sickness after my abrupt ascent into the 11,000+ zone.

Our caravan had to ship out of Cusco no later than 6am if we wanted to catch the 8am train out of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which was at least a 100-minute drive away. The breakfast buffet started at 5am and I was still in bed at that time, although I heard the shower running in the adjacent room where Sos and Shirley were staying. I assumed the former military man in Sos was up and at 'em before the wake call echoed in the room. I skipped a shower in favor of checking the previous night's scores from the NBA playoffs via wifi that was a step quicker than dial-up, before I made my way downstairs to the dim dining area.

The majority of the lights were shut off in the lobby with the exception of a few stray lights illuminating the dining room. I peeked into the metal buffet tins and didn't see much edible fare to my liking. No bacon, instead, they offered up what looked like mini-hot dogs as their breakfast meat du jour, the Peruvian version of nitrate-riddled breakfast sausages. I skipped the dogs and scooped up two spoonfuls of runny puke-yellow tinged scrambled eggs, then tossed a couple of hard rolls on my plate next to a couple of slices of fruit. Along with a glass of orange juice and a cup of coca tea -- that might have been my only fuel to carry me atop of Machu Picchu. The runny eggs tasted as expected -- like runny eggs. I just prayed that the eggs wouldn't run right through me with a two hour ride in the Peruvian countryside ahead of me. I'd really hate to have to shit on the side of the road and I made sure I took some extra TP with me -- just in case.

By 5:55am, I checked out of my room and waited in the lobby with Sos and Shirley for the little old lady with the limp who spearheaded our entire tour. Two large groups of other travelers surrounded us, one American and the other Brits, where the median age was anywhere from 15-20 years old than us and everyone looked like wealthy retirees of the adventurous sort, spending a portion of their savings on a trip of a lifetime. I felt a tinge of luck because I got to embark on the same trip at a much earlier juncture in my life and sorta got paid to do it because my client got me halfway there -- I was already in Peru, all I had to do was figure out how to get from Lima to Machu Picchu in order to cross off an exotic destination that appeared in the Top 5 on my bucket list. That's where the little old lady with the limp came in.

Two huge buses idled in front of our hotel, but we were not on neither bus. The little old lady with the limp waved over to us and we followed her to a white station wagon parked behind the buses. She arranged a private car to take us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Our driver, Joseph, spoke passable English and cranked up a mix of reggae songs on his car stereo. I stuffed my bag in the back and slid into the front seat. I was gonna be riding shotgun all the way to Ollantaytambo and hoped that I didn't have to shit my pants.

Our route took us up to the outskirts of Cusco up into the hills and we quickly passed any of the big buses on the way. We reached a valley surrounded by rolling hills and farmland that was flanked by the ominous Andes Mountains in the background. At one point, Joseph stopped the car and parked on top of a vista for us to snap a few photos. After an hour or so of driving, we reached the town of Ollantaytambo, located in a valley, and we made our way down from the mountain. We drove through the main part of town, the only route to the train station on the outskirts. We got caught up in traffic at the end of one square. A clusterfuck of small vans and buses filled with tourists were trying to force themselves into a one-way cobblestone road. An exhausted solider with a rifle slung over his shoulder acted as a traffic cop, but there was nowhere to go. We had about ten minutes before our train left the station. At some point I wondered if we should start walking...but then the traffic miraculously subsided and Joseph dropped us off in a parking lot adjacent to the train station.

Vendors as young as six years old swarmed us as we walked down a hill to the depot. It reminded me of Shakedown Street in the parking lot of a Phish or Grateful Dead show -- minus the spun-out wooks slinging drugs -- instead locals were hawking hats, sunscreen, bottles of water, and batteries.

We found the toilet, but it cost 1 soles (35 cents) to get in, and an old lady on a stool front handed you two squares of toilet paper -- hardly enough to clean yourself if you seriously busted ass. The runny eggs were rumbling inside of me and I rushed for one of the two stalls. I was greeted by no toilet seat and the toilet itself was rather small, only a few inches off the dirt floor. I had a false alarm, which was good, because I wasn't prepared to shit in a hole in the ground.

We approached the platform and got caught in a crossfire of mass confusion. People were streaming in all directions from all areas. A group of Peruvian guides, all short men around 5 feet in height with reddish brown skin in alpaca hats, had disembarked from what looked like a cattle car and two Peruvian rail workers at the train's doors hurled backpacks into a pile on the platform, where the guides hovered to retrieve their gear. Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists were getting off the train, while hundreds more were scrambling to catch the train before the doors closed. The train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu ran on the same singular track. A couple of times a day it transported tourists and supplies back and forth, back and forth.

Sos found a Peru Rail worker who pointed out our exact train. We had less than a few minutes to spare when we boarded what appeared to be a "first class" car. The little old lady with the limp arranged us passage in the "vistadome" car which had windows partially built into the ceilings to view the Andes on our two hour trip to Aguas Calientes.

I had a window seat and noticed that a Japanese guy sat in the aisle seat in my row and his girlfriend sat across from him in the aisle. With the few Japanese phrases I knew, I excused myself and asked him if they wanted to sit together. They were extremely grateful for the gesture and continuously thanked me as the train pulled out of the station, even offering to take a photo of me. Sos gave me a little guff for becoming their new best friend and a celebrity in Japan.

I kept my camera out of sight. I shot a few minutes of video en route to Ollantaytambo, but didn't want to shoot my load taking photos/videos of the mountains along the Urubamba River, an uniquely dangerous waterway where no boats could traverse the narrow river because of all the jagged rocks underneath the water that created rapids that were unnavigable, even for the most astute class five rapids adventurers. I understood why the Spanish never conquered or reached Machu Picchu, because it was in such a remote place, then boats could not get in and the only way to reach the spiritual center of the Incan empire as by foot on the Incan trail.

The railroad had been built at the turn of the 20th century and it followed alongside the Urubamba River, which I nicknamed as the Chocolate Milk River because of it's milky brown color. On the other side of the river, you could see the infamous Incan trail, and a few brave souls were in the middle of their arduous hike.

Our first class car was filled with tourists from all over the globe, which I quickly learned from the variety of languages spoken. A teenager next to me was from Argentina. In front of Shirley and Sos were Germans. A few Brits were in front and a horde of Brazilians were behind us. They went a little loco when the train pulled out of the station and made its first turn through the mountains. Everyone with a video camera or professional camera went berserk in the narrow aisle of the train, elbowing each other for a shot of the mountains. At first I was perplexed -- it was just mountains and not Machu Picchu -- why the fuck was everyone going apeshit trying to get a few seconds of videos in the mountains?

That frenzy died down after twenty minutes and it felt good not to have someone's sweaty ass in my face trying to steady themselves to snap photos of cloudy mountains. I ignored the vapid jackals and settled in with my iPod and mentally prepared myself for the eventual summit at Machu Picchu.

An hour into our voyage, the crew served us a snack in baskets comprised of cookies, fruit, and a roll with a slice of ham and cheese. I skipped the cheese and ate everything. I ordered a coca matte to drink because I needed another injection of Incan Red Bull before we reached the end of the line.

As we inched closer to Aguas Calinetes, the rolling hills and farmland gave way to thick, jungle canopy cover. The mugginess set in and the train grew eerily quiet as we inched into the station. Aguas Calinetes had hot springs at the edge of town, but the mood seemed somber and intense. The lush, green mountains shot up all around us like New York City skyscrapers, but it was surrounded by puffy white and grey clouds, which blocked out the sun and gave the air a smoky, dreamlike quality to it.

We found a woman in an orange jacket at the station waving a piece of paper with Shirley's name on it, after a slight miscommunication about our accommodations, we figured out what hotel we were booked in, but our rooms weren't ready. We had to dump our bags into a metal wagon, which was guarded by a guy in a green doorman's outfit with a name tag for our hotel. The process seemed a little sketchy, but we had no choice but to leave our bags with the wagon because we were scheduled to be on a private tour in less then thirty minutes.

We ditched our bags and I only took a liter of water and my camera with me. The lady in an orange jacket practically dragged us out of the train station, begging us to hurry every few seconds, because we needed to get to the bus depot as soon as possible. I had just stepped off the train and was still trying to get my bearings when the lady in the orange jacket was leading us through a darkened maze of a market with tin roofs and filled with tons of cheap tourist stuff. I told Sos that I'd catch up with them, so I stopped at a stand to purchase a contraption that allowed you to carry a water bottle in a pouch slung over your shoulder. It cost me 5 soles and ended up being a clutch purchase. I also picked up a couple of crystal stones which I intended to carry the top of Machu Picchu with me, whereby allow the rocks to absorb the energy of the pyramids, and then take those rocks back to the States with me to disperse to a couple of friends who actually believed in that sort of mystical power.

We crossed a bridge into the actual town of Aguas Calientes, practically jogging in order to keep up with the lady in the orange jacket. She eventually stopped alongside a street that had two big tour buses. We stood in a single queue and waited to board the bus. The first one filled up and sped away, literally leaving behind a cough-inducing dust cloud. We were the last people to board the second bus as dozens and dozens of other tourists stood in line behind us.

The entire morning had been hectic -- wake up at 4:30am, breakfast at 5am, check out of the hotel, get a ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente, only to be rushed off the train, dragged through a darkened market, and tossed on a bus. I was a tad frazzled, but Sos bubbled over with excitement. He couldn't contain himself and he looked like a kid on Christmas morning. We all sat in the last row of the bus and I took the center seat. Shirley had the window and I could tell that she was slightly freaked out at the sheer drop off from the menacing cliffs as the bus rocketed up the mountain on a dirt road that kept winding up and around, and up and around, and up and around.

It's at that moment when terror set in. We've all experienced that moment in a foreign land when you start questioning and doubting everything. My mind was paralyzed with a morbid thought: if the bus fell off the side of the mountain, then we were properly fucked because if the rescue teams got to us by the end of the day, maybe we'd have a slight chance of reaching a hospital by the next day, so I calculated how much blood could I lose before I either 1) passed out, or 2) died.

At that point I blurted out, "Machu Picchu is a wonderful place to die."

Sos didn't blink and said, "Absolutely."

That's when the terror subsided into a calming, soothing realization that I had no control over the next twenty minutes, let alone major aspects of my life. Surrender to the flow, even if it's morbid flashes of death.

I sincerely hoped that the driver was well paid and more importantly, that he was having a good day. Personally, I got paid an absurd amount of money to visit exotic locations to write about people playing cards, so I hoped that whomever owned the buses (the Peruvian government or Ministry of Tourism), paid the drivers, especially our driver, a very good and competitive wage. After all, our lives were in his capable hands as he swerved to the side to allow a bus pass us in the opposite direction.

"Holy shit! I thought this was a one-way road!"

Yes, despite the narrow, windy road, buses traversed both ways.

I always thought that I'd die in a place crash, but I looked off the side of the cliff and reminded myself, "Machu Picchu would be a good place to die."

By the look of Shirley's face, I assumed she had similar thoughts as me with her eyes fixated on the drop off from the side of the mountain, whereas Sos was all smiles for the entire ride. He was a kid in a candy store on Christmas morning and he couldn't have run off the bus fast enough.

We were greeted by a man named Augustine, our private guide for the morning. He assembled a small group of about eight of us including a British couple in their late 60s and an American woman about my age and her elderly mother. Both older women carried walking sticks, and I kinda wished I had bug spray. Our guide pointed to the toilets, "This is your only chance to relieve yourself because there are no toilets inside Machu Picchu."

As per the norm in Peru, you had to pay 1 soles to use public toilets. The guard handed me a receipt and pointed at a roll of toilet paper next to her guard desk. We got unlimited TP, unlike the train station in Ollantaytambo. Sos and I joked that were were going to take a shit and that we should have made shirts that said, "I dropped a deuce at Machu Picchu."

With a cleared out digestive tract, I was ready to enter the holy sanctuary of Machu Picchu. The guards checked your passport and scanned your ticket. Our guide pointed out that you could go to a different window to get your passport stamped with Machu Picchu on it and I decided that was going to be the coolest stamp on my passport (with the exception of Antarctica which I probably will never achieve, but it's on the bucket list).

Once inside, I followed the guide along a narrow path. To the left, a couple of tourists snapped photos of the dedication plaques while to the right, a flimsy wooden rail as the only thing that prevented me from falling off the side of the mountain.

I never heard the introduction from the guide. I was caught up in my own world, soaking up the truly awesome sight. The journey had taken over 24 hours since I left Lima for Machu Picchu and despite the stay over in Cusco, we had finally arrived. I kept snapping my own internal photos to ensure memory burns, whereas I could hear Sos muttering, "This is so fucking cool. This is so fucking cool."

I got smiles writing that because his phrase succinctly described what was going on inside my head.

Our guide

After the initial shock of being at Machu Picchu wore off, I began documenting my visit with videos and pictures, and I attentively listened to our guide reveal insights into Machu Picchu.

Sos went nuts when we reached the Temple of the Sun. I joined in on his enthusiasm, because that was the one piece of masonry that I was the most curious about. The theory goes that the Incas constructed almost all of the structures on top of Machu Picchu, but aliens built the original temples, like the Temple of the Sun, and the Incans built on top of them. The vast difference in construction styles were staggering from other structures compared to the Temple of the Sun, which had smooth, polished rocks that were earthquake proof and so densely stacked together that I couldn't squeeze a business card through the cracks.

Temple of the Sun

The question remains -- how the hell did the original architects get those huge stones to the top of the mountain? And how were they able to create such a flawless structure that withstood seismic events and hundreds of years of inclement weather?

Like I wrote in my last piece Lima > Cusco: Coca Tea, Alien Stonework, and Saqsayhuaman, many Peruvians get pissed at you if you even hint at alien technological assistance, let alone theorize that aliens built it themselves. I understand how they view those assertions without proof as insulting, but then again, do they have any proof that their ancestors did it all by themselves? The lack of evidence on both sides allows speculation from half-baked scribes and amateur philosophers like myself.

I didn't climb Machu Picchu as a religious quest, especially because I don't consider myself religious or spiritual at all. I'm a born skeptic, and an existentialist Jeffersonian anarchist, even though I was raised in the Christian diet of buffet Catholicism. But it's hard for me to deny what I saw with my own eyes on top of Machu Picchu.

So, does God exist? If so, where was God on Black Friday when all of my friends lost their jobs? Or how about on 9/11 when the world as we know it shifted into a paradigm of fear mongering and disaster capitalism? Is God really a singular, omnipotent God, or a collection of celestial gods? Or are we really an experiment by the Anunnaki, who left us all behind?

Was I really ready to tackle all of those impossible-to-answer questions on this trip? Or was I supposed to confront those exact tough queries if all of my Catholic upbringing and rigorous education from the Jesuits aptly prepared me to engage in an internal symposium of religion, astrology, engineering, and philosophy... and if not on top of Machu Picchu, then where else was I going to seek answers to those questions?

I stood inside the Temple of the Sun passing my hands over the smooth stones and asking the same questions that many greater, more intelligent, more pious men before me asked...

Who is God? What is God? Does God exist?

Our guide, Augustine, mentioned that he's a devout Catholic and he believed that Jesus was the Son of God (and thereby believed in the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost aka the Holy Spirit), but he also was adamant when he said that he believed in Inti, the Sun God and Viracocha (the ocean god, or sea foam, which Incans believe is the source of life).

Although it was cloudy all morning, we were fortunate to experience huge chunks of time when the clouds dissipated and the strong sun shone directly onto our faces. I was bummed out that I didn't come better prepared (no sunscreen or bug spray), but at least I heeded Owen's advice of taking water with me to Machu Picchu since they didn't sell anything inside the ruins. With the powerful sun hovering above us, it was easy to understand the relationship between Incans worshiping Inti the Sun God, because the sun is the source of life in our solar system, because without it, Earth would be a frozen rock at the edge of the universe. But with the sun's warmth, we have life, and it's a life enriched by rivers, oceans, mountains, fruits, vegetation, cattle to be slaughtered for In-N-Out Burgers, and most importantly, Atlanta Braves baseball (I once heard a story, and sincerely doubt that it's true, but it's fun to spread the urban myth that Ted Turner said he was positive that God's favorite baseball team was the Atlanta Braves).

You didn't have to scan back and forth on top of Machu Picchu for more than a few seconds to understand why that particular mountain top was chosen as the spiritual epicenter of the Incan Empire. Cusco was the political and commercial center, but the mountainous retreat of Machu Picchu allowed the intellectuals and religious leaders to get as close to the gods as possible.

The steps that our guide pointed out as farmland were amazing. He gave us a quick tutorial on step farming that included building a retaining wall and filling in the gaps with materials as it flushed against the side of the mountain. Among the fillers included sand -- mainly from the bottom of the chocolate-milk covered Urubamba River -- but he also noted that archeologists noted that Machu Picchu's farming steps included sand from the beaches alongside the Pacific Ocean, imported from several hundred miles away. The Incans treated sand as a powerful commodity and I wondered the hell they were able to transport all that sand from the ocean to Machu Picchu -- that takes a lot of llamas dragging sandbags through the jungle and mountains.

Animals and wildlife were prevalent on top of Machu Picchu, including llamas and lizards, both incidentally were titles for Phish songs. The llamas roamed freely in Machu Picchu grazing on grass in the large courtyards, but they were nimble enough to climb up and down steps that were five feet or higher. I tried to visualize a few hundred or so people living up on Machu Picchu all year round -- farming high-altitude crops of potatoes, maize, quinona, passion fruit, and coca leaves. Our guide mentioned that the Incans feasted on guinea pigs and even llamas. He even referenced human sacrifice to appease the gods during times of tumultuous natural disasters.

We made our way to the top of one pyramid like structure where the Inca Stone was located. The Stone had been rumored to have special magical powers due to its mystical energy. The stone didn't look like many of the other stones at Machu Picchu and was the source of controversy among archeologists, ufologists and geologists. Much like the stones at Saqsayhuaman, it had a "porcelaneous" quality to them. I read somewhere that the Inca Stone could not have been cut that way and that it was thermally disaggregated, just like the stones from the Temple of the Sun. If that's the case, then how did the original engineers acquire a heat source to alter the thermal dynamics of the stones?

You're not supposed to touch the Inca Stone, rather, you're supposed to get as close to it as possible without touching it in order to harness the positive energy of the stone.

After visiting the stone, I was struck with an emotional moment after being jarred with the spirit of my grandmother. I never fully had any closure because I never got to say goodbye before she died while I was away on an assignment when I first got into poker. In many ways, I achieved closure on top of Machu Picchu with a lot of internal family stuff. The entire trip to Machu Picchu was surrounded with many "opened" and "closed" doors in my inner reality as I realized I was standing on the most powerful fields of energy on the planet. Whether or not it was its intention, but I was confronted with an opportunity to let a lot of mental baggage go, and at the same time, find the courage to deal with a monumental tsunami of change that is headed my way as the insanity of the world seems to be accelerating at a rapid pace that any day now, it can all blow up.

After an intense few hours, our guide said it was time for a lunch break and that he'd be leaving us behind to explore Machu Picchu on our own. We exited the park and grabbed a quick bite at the snack bar because paying $33 for a buffet that was not the Bellagio seemed absurd. After lunch, we hiked up to the highest point of Machu Picchu to snap some photos. I almost slipped on one of the stone paths but caught myself before anything bad happened. The way my body spasticly jerked, Shirley freaked out because it appeared as though I was about to tumble off the side. I assured her it looked more dangerous than my body responded, but I was lucky -- it was a lot closer of a call than I suggested.

At that point, I needed some alone time after an intense situation with the Inca Stone, so Sos and Shirley decided to see if they could keep hiking up to the top of the mountain, meanwhile, I settled into a grassy knoll on one of the farming steps and fired up my iPod. I specifically wanted to listen to a version of 2001 by Phish when I reached the top of Machu Picchu -- and I got my wish. I listened to 2001 and highlights from the infamous Charleston, SC show from last October. I actually dozed off for a few minutes and could only wonder what sort of dreams I had because I couldn't recall any of them when I woke up.

By the time Sos and Shirley returned it was mid-afternoon and had spent almost six hours at Machu Picchu. It was time to head back to reality and take a bus back to the bottom of the mountain. It wasn't as scary going down as you were going up, probably because of the calming nature of visiting Machu Picchu had on everyone, particularly me.

We checked into our hotel without an problems, and we were set up in one of the nicest joints in town on the same block that ran along the Chocolate Milk River. I could see and hear the raging rapids out of my window as I slowly took off my drenched clothes. My room was swanky enough that it had DirectTV and the bathroom had a bidet. I actually broke the toilet in my room.... I flushed it, hopped into the shower, and when I ended my shower I heard water running. I thought I left the bidet running but it was the toilet that couldn't stop flushing. I had to call down to the front desk and explain in broken Spanish that I broke the toilet. It was fixed, but I'm sure they made fun of me as the gringo who broke the toilet.

Shirley, Sos, and I were famished so we ate at one of the dozens of "pizzerias" in Aguas Calientes. The menus looked the same and I assume one guy probably owned all of them, so it didn't matter which one we ate at because it was a virtual monopoly. The thin crust pizza was surprisingly good for South America and fired up in a wood-burning oven. I opted for bacon pizza and a Susquena, a local beer... and that beer never tasted better after a long day. Machu Picchu was a few thousand feet lower than Cusco, so we adjusted to the altitude with ease. No headaches, but I had wicked sunburn on my neck and ears, plus my back was sore and I had a shin splint in one of my legs (opposite my bum knee). I was hurting like beat-up veteran catcher Jake Taylor after his first Spring Training game with the Indians, but all of that pain was welcomed because it came at the expense of a bit of spiritual clarity and revitalization.

After dinner, I collapsed in bed and watched the Yankees-Blue Jays game on satellite TV. The announcers were Mexican and I was in the Andes of Peru watching my Bronx Bombers play a team from Canada. Thomas Friedman would call that globalization at its finest hour. I passed out as the game went into extra innings. After an hour or so nap, I looked in the mirror at my bright red ears, popped a Vicodin, and decided to wander around town in search of the local produce or hash. I noticed signs for hostels and figured an influx of hippies could mean potential flourishing black market for hashish. After all, at all the tourist shops in town, they had a decent collection of stone pipes. Now only to find something to put in it...

The main square had a three-story tall 24-hour cafe and restaurant across the street from the police station, which was bigger than the school. I ordered a beer and made small chit-chat with a trio of Scandis. They were in their 50s and looked more like European businessmen on a holiday, than the hemp-toking beatniks I was hoping to find. The waiter suggested I checkout the disco or one of the karaoke bars around the corner, but the directions he gave me were bunk and I didn't find any karaoke joints, nor a disco. I found a shoeless wook sitting in front of a hostel strumming a guitar and thought I hit the jackpot, but he was Brazilian and didn't know what the fuck I was taking about when I asked, "Donde esta la mota?"

I gave up, bought a big-assed orange Gatorade and chocolate-covered wafers at an all night store for the equivalent of $1.75, and went back to my hotel room. I uploaded all of the photos off my camera and onto my laptop. The hotel didn't have wifi, which was good. I didn't want to jump onto the grid just yet. Instead, I created a blank word document, slid open the window to hear the raging Chocolate River, and began writing... "The wake-up call was set for 4:30."

* * *

I posted four complete galleries of photos, including almost 180 photos of Machu Picchu...
Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes
Cusco, Peru and Saqsayhuaman Ruins
Lima, Peru
Stay tuned for a video(s).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lima > Cusco: Coca Tea, Alien Stonework, and Saqsayhuaman

By Pauly
Cusco, Peru

I probably should have slept for more than an hour, but I wasn't thinking properly. I blame the local produce that I scored along with a steady flow of beer. Whenever I'm done with a work assignment in a foreign country, there's always been a tradition among my fellow reporters to stay up as late as possible partying, drinking, and gambling. Sunday night was no exception. As soon as our assignment ended, I went out to dinner with my colleagues F Train, Rey, and Shamus to a restaurant hanging over the cliffs of Miraflores in Larcomar Mall, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. An illuminated cross flickered in the distance as we discussed the ambiguous future of the online poker industry in America after Black Friday -- one of the darkest days in the online poker world when my two biggest clients, Full Tilt and PokerStars, were indicted by the DOJ. I assumed the worst (and luckily prepared for Black Friday) and took the stance that my run as a poker writer and reporter was over -- and that if I still found work, then so be it, but if not -- then that was that. The industry had consolidated over the last few years anyway, and only the two biggest online sites were able (and willing) to pay my freelance rate, whereas many other clients offered much less (which is also why I reduced my roster over the last few years).

Do you believe in symbols? I do.

Perhaps I should have been more concerned about my future, but I was more excited about visiting Machu Picchu, which collided with the end of the online poker world as it had previously existed. I knew that the next leg of my Peruvian journey was going to be one of the most important and influential sojourns in my life, so any obstacles or setbacks surrounding Black Friday and online poker were inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. In one way, the trip to Machu Picchu was the first step on my new journey, and whatever visions I acquired on top of the mountain would become the driving force for me over the next few weeks, months, and years. I anticipated the moment I reached the summit, because it would mark both the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

Symbols. They were all around me on this trip. Especially the alien stuff.

So, I stayed up way way way late on Sunday night playing cards with my buddies, joking around, listening to Rey's selection of Costa Rican reggae, and feeling so dammed lucky that we experienced Black Friday together as a support group. I don't know if we could have gotten through it without all of our collective wit.

My wake up call was set for 7am. I finished packing at 6am and crawled into bed as sunlight filled my expansive loft. I slept for an hour before it was time for me to meet up with Shirley and Sos -- my travel companions to Machu Picchu. Both are good friends from LA and we got along perfectly when we went to Costa Rica together in November of 2009. Shirley is one of the most inspirational persons I've met in poker (single mom, cancer survivor, professional poker player, small business owner and web entrepreneur), and she's up for anything when it comes to adventures. Her boyfriend, Sos, speaks fluent Spanish and we get along like peas and carrots. As an ex-special forces soldier and veteran of the first Gulf War, I couldn't think of a better travel partner than Sos in an exotic locale.

The journey to Machu Picchu isn't easy. There's no roads to Machu (aside from the infamous Inca trail) and you have to take a train to the foot of the mountain, which isn't the most accessible spot in Peru. In short, we had to fly southeast from Lima over the Andes Mountains into Cusco (or Cuzco as some locals spell it), then take a two-hour bus ride from Cusco to a small town called Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, we would board a train on Peru Rail which wound alongside the Urubamba river (which I dubbed the Chocolate Milk River, because it looked like... chocolate milk) through the Andes and reached an even smaller town called Aguas Calientes (literally translated into Hot Water because of the warm springs at the edge of town), and from Aguas Calientes we could hike up to the top of Machu Picchu, or take a 20-minute bus up to the top.

Just to recap: Lima > Cusco > Ollantaytambo > Aguas Calientes > Machu Picchu.

No wonder the Spanish never conquered Machu Picchu. They might have heard it existed, but they never got that far into the Andes. Besides, by then, Machu Picchu had been deserted for many years, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves.

At the least, we had a two-day journey ahead of us to get from Lima to Machu Picchu. If we wanted to trek in, it would have taken four days, something we considered, but none of us had the luxury of extra time to hike the Inca Trail. Alas, we flew to Cusco as a staging area for our trip to Machu Picchu.

We landed in Cusco on Monday around noon and I kept thinking how it reminded me a bit of Telluride -- a plush valley in a mountainous region -- except Telluride is tiny and Cusco is huge with almost a half a million people, the majority of them living in shanty towns up on the mountainside and descending into the city to work in various aspects of the blossoming tourism industry.

Cusco is not just a launching point for Machu Picchu -- it's also the site of its own historic Incan ruins. At its height of power, Cusco was the Washington DC and NYC of the empire -- the center of both political and commercial interests for the entire region. Cusco was strategically built to be the true center of the Incan empire. But then the Spanish waltzed in and conquered the Incas, but that's a whole other story.

At the airport in Cusco, we were swarmed with different sales people from competing Machu Picchu tour operating companies. We ignored them and headed outside. Before we left Lima, Shirley and Sos arranged the entire trip through a company so all we had to do was show up at the airport and find the dude waving a piece of cardboard with our names on it. He waved over to us and we followed him to his big, shiny, white Mercedes van. A very tiny, yet well dressed lady with a limp (think the Peruvian version of the seer in The Poltergeist flick, which I quickly nicknamed the "Go into the light!" lady) climbed into the van and told us that she was taking care of our entire sojourn. Her English was passable, but Sos and her conversed in Spanish as the driver left the airport and took us into the center of town to our hotel. The tiny lady apologized for traffic in advance. We had chosen the holiest week of the year to visit Cusco and Machu Pichu. Even though Peruvians worship Incan gods like Inti, the powerful Sun god, they're also devout Catholics (the religion brought over from Spanish missionaries). The previous day was Palm Sunday with Easter less than a week away. For Monday, the entire town was getting ready for a festival celebrating the Lord of Earthquakes, because Cusco was nearly destroyed in the mid-1500s by a destructive quake. Sos loosely translated the Holy Monday festival something to the effect of the Black Jesus.

We arrived at our hotel located on the most famous street in Cusco, the Avenue del Sol. The tiny lady with the limp told that our rooms weren't ready yet, and we had ten minutes to drop off our bags before a bus took us on a five-hour tour of Cusco. I had broken up my luggage into two pieces; I left my carry-on behind at Lima airport in storage (which had work clothes) and only took my backpack (with 2 days of clothes, rain gear, headlamp, laptop, and camera) with me. I ditched my backpack at our hotel and the tiny lady handed us cups of light greenish tea -- the infamous coca tea or coca matte. Instead of chewing coca leaves to help adjust to the altitude, we sipped the bitter tasting green tea. I eventually acquired a taste for what the locals subbed "Incan Red Bull."

Cocaine in a cup, baby! Yep, talk about cocaine in liquid form. I wish I could grow that stuff in my backyard without the DEA destroying it.

A few sips definitely perked me up considering I was working with an hour of sleep. The coca tea also helped open up the breathing passages in my lungs. I sipped more tea as I staved off the massive migraine that invaded my head. I had been to Colorado enough (flying from sea level to the mountains can cause side affects like headaches, stomach aches, and the shits), so I knew what was wrong with me, so I didn't freak out. Part of the reason the locals discourage foreigners from flying directly to Machu Picchu is due to the abrupt change in altitude. Most tour operators want you to spend a day or two in Cusco to adjust to the thin air (oh, and to bilk you out of a few more tourist dollars). At times I was gasping a bit considering Cusco was in excess of 11,000 feet or almost 2,000 more than Telluride.

I slammed the rest of the tea, grabbed my camera, and piled into the back of a tour bus with Sos, Shirley, and six others. Our first stop was the old Suntur Wasi (aka House of God) that was also an Incan temple called Koricancha (aka Temple of the Sun) that was destroyed by the Spanish, who built Santo Domingo church on top of the remnants of exquisite masonry. We met our guide who was knowledgeable, but chatty. He was rather famous for running the Inca Trail in 4:09....yes, a shade over four hours... (but I had no idea what he was bragging about, I assume he meant a specific section). In high school when I was on the cross country team, I once ran a mile under 5 minutes and thought I was a badass. That was on flat terrain in Central Park.

The Capilla del Triunfo cathedral (in the Plaza de Arms main square) and Santo Domingo church represented Spanish domination of the culture, spurred on by greed to accumulate gold and silver, which the Incans didn't see any intrinsic monetary value other than that it was shinny and that the gods gave it to them. Our guide showed us spooky parts of the old temple and the engineering was astonishing.

Cusco is in an active seismic area, so the original architects created stones that had some "give" to them so they could absorb a major quake without tumbling over. That's some of the stuff that you'd see on the History Channel's Ancient Aliens -- because there was no way humans could have created such precise construction with rudimentary tools. Look at the photo above and see how perfect the blocks sat on each other. You couldn't even squeeze a business card or Metrocard in between the cracks. Check out more photos of the ruins here.

I quickly found out that most Peruvians got angry when you mention or reference aliens because they take offense to the fact that gringos like myself doubted that their Peruvian ancestors were the most advanced culture on Earth at the time. However, I also met a few locals who believed in "gods from the sky" that assisted in construction of the first temples and shared their knowledge about astronomy. You can interpret those gods as aliens if you wish, which meshes with my view on the legends and lore of ancient cultures like the Incas. I believe that men and women built the pyramids in Egypt, South America, and the Incan ruins, but with a little help from their extra-terrestrial friends. I wanted to see proof for myself... with my own eyes... and after this trip, I'm a firm believer, yet, I have even more questions. At Capilla del Triunfo, I saw the first example of temple construction with assistance from other worldly beings.

And what the hell were these aliens doing on this gold relief pictured below...

At the church/temple I got yelled at by a security guard for snapping photos of the artwork. As a former museum security guard, I apologized with a hearty, "Lo siento!" But made sure I was much more stealth with future photos,especially the spooky alien stuff.

During our tour of the cathedral, our group of eight doubled in size because a different tour guide couldn't finish up his tour. That sucked because the new folks included a pair of annoying families... from the good old US of A... of course. Within seconds of their arrival, one of the fathers put Sos on uber-tilt. The guy was born in Peru but moved to Miami where he raised a family. He was very well-to-do and his wife and daughter wore super-expensive Chanel sunglasses. He kept asking stupid questions and our guide loved talking, so we had to sit through extra lectures on stupid shit. The other family had a young boy and a girl who were typical annoying Americans than give us a horrible reputation abroad. The chubby son was a bit of a momma's boy and he complained about going everywhere because of rough headaches. I felt bad for him because my head was pounding too, but I was also gutting it out by abstaining from pharmies. The little girl was a riot. Sos said that she was bored as shit and spent most of the tour in the cathedral smacking her father in the nuts. Too bad we couldn't ditch our tour and got stuck with them for another three long hours.

The next stop on our tour went up to the Saqsayhuaman ruins. We piled into the bus and drove up to the mountains surrounding Cusco. Saqsayhuaman was supposed to look like a puma's head, but in reality it looked like a fortress.

The walled complex on the outskirts of town became the last stand for the Incas, who holed up there when the Spanish invaded Cusco. We were visiting scared ground where many warriors lost their lives. Saqsayhuaman had been the center of many rituals for centuries before the Spanish arrived. Again, the engineering and construction was so impressive and precise that it was hard to imagine aliens didn't have a hand in its construction. Some of the rocks are bigger than city buses and two or three stories in height.

To get an exact scale of how large the rocks were, here's Shirley sitting down in front of the wall...

During our time in Saqsayhuaman, our guide gave a long lecture (spurred on by the annoying guy who asked questions). I took the opportunity to lie down on the soft grass. I was so tired after less than an hour of sleep that I actually passed out for five minutes. Sos and Shirley made fun of me because I started snoring!!

Our guide wandered over to a different series of rocks and picked up two plants. One was eucalyptus, which he showed us how to pinch the leaves and then inhale/sniff the plant. The aroma of eucalyptus gave you an instant boost in lung capacity, sort of like the effects of Vick vapor rub when your mom rubbed it on your chest when you were a little kid and had bad congestion. Our guide also picked up another herb (I forgot the name) and it had similar effects. We sat on the rock and got high on natural herbs!

We were running behind schedule (thanks to the guy with annoying questions) and couldn't explore Saqsayhuaman as much as I wanted. In the parking lot, I snapped a photo with now infamous photo the lady with the llama.

Meanwhile, Sos found another lady selling corn. We didn't eat anything all day (except coca tea) because the folks at the tour suggested we eat super light before flying into Cusco so our stomachs wouldn't get fucked up by the altitude. The corn in Peru has huge kernels the size of quarters. The old lady gave us corn still in the husk with a slice of cheese. Corn and cheese was the only thing I ate that entire day -- and it was the best fucking corn I ever ate.

Our next stop was a healing spring. It wasn't as impressive as Saqsayhuaman. I kinda wished we skipped the springs and spent more time at Saqsayhuaman. We had to hike up a steep incline to reach the springs. An old guy in our group lost his mud and had serious breathing problems. His right arm went numb. Our guide pulled a bottle out of his jacket -- combination of herbs and rubbing alcohol -- rubbed it on his hands and cupped his hands over the guys nostrils and mouth. He told the old guy to inhale and he repeated the process a second time. The old guy sneezed and all of a sudden, he could breathe again -- in fact that was better than ever. The guy went from looking like he was having a heart attack, to looking like an Ethiopian marathoner.

I had a second batch of coca tea and I was also jacked up, enough so that I kept pace with our guide as we reached the top of the trail near the springs at the same time. Although my noggin was still throbbing, my lungs were able to handle the thin air and we chatted for a few minutes while everyone caught up. By then, Shirley and Sos had gotten chilly from the mountain air. Their thin SoCal blood couldn't handle the cool, brisk Andes air so they purchased alpaca hats from women hawking souvenirs along the trail. They picked the perfect spot to sell tourists warm gear.

Our next stop was underground at a spot many originally thought was a site for human sacrifice. It was actually a place to leave bodies during the mummification process because it was a cold slab of rock that was perfect for preservation purposes. By then, night was starting to fall, and our tour was almost over except for one last stop at a factory/outlet where the guide had a young woman give us a quick tutorial on how to determine authentic alpaca-woven clothes and synthetic rip offs that locals might try to sell us in Cusco and en route to Machu Picchu. It wasn't much a tutorial, but more a ploy to get gringos to buy souvenirs.

By the time we reached our hotel, I was starving and had a wicked headache. I popped a Vicodin to reduce the pounding, throbbing pain. We ate dinner at a place next to our hotel. Our waiter was awful, but the food was good and we got free Pisco Sours. I loaded up on pasta because I needed to load up on carbs for the next day, when we took off for Machu Picchu. A local band using traditional Incan instruments (like the wood flutes) played random cover songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water.

I retreated to my room and collapsed on my bed. I had been working on an hour of sleep and I had less than six hours before a 4:30am wake up call. The tiny lady with the limp arranged for us to leave Cusco at 6am in order to reach Machu Picchu by noon. Unable to find any basketball playoff games on TV, I settled on a random baseball game with Spanish-speaking announcers. It was the last thing I heard before I drifted to sleep.

* * *

I uploaded a couple of photo galleries...
Lima, Peru
Cusco, Peru and Saqsayhuaman Ruins

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Arrived at Machu Picchu

By Pauly
Aguas Calientes, Peru

As the saying goes... it's all downhill from here.

Depending on my wifi situation this weekend, I will try to post some more photos and a video or two.

And stay tuned for a full trip report about the arduous journey to Machu Picchu.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Off the Grid Peru Style

By Pauly
Lima, Peru

My work assignment is complete. I've had the good fortune to visit dozens of international destinations for different clients... and after less than a week in Peru, I gotta say that Lima ranks among my favorites.

I'm heading off the grid for a few days while I visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Expect pictures, videos, and a trip report.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spiderman in Pajamas

By Pauly
Lima, Peru

For an overwhelming majority of the people in the online poker industry, Friday is being dubbed Black Friday.

Why? Read this.... Exile on Main Street Reprise.

I had prepared myself for this "dark" day since early 2007, and attempted to earn as much money as I could, and more importantly, save as much money as I could and stash it away for a rainy day. I diligently worked to hone and improve my writing in all areas. I expanded my business partnerships and delved into a couple of start-ups and ramped up my interests into non-poker projects. I knew that this gloomy day was coming, but didn't know exactly when. Unlike our last two Presidents with regard to wars in two foreign countries, I had a well thought out exit strategy. I just hoped that I'd never have to enact it.

I'm glad I'm in Peru and not in the Nanny States of America when all of the DOJ and the federales released their indictment. I have to work a couple of more days (oddly enough for one of the companies mentioned in the indictment), so my mind is focused elsewhere instead of the murky future. I'm heading up to Machu Picchu on Monday, hoping to make a few cosmic connections and envision the next couple of years.

If anything... the poker world had been very generous to me as a person, as a writer, and as a participant. I got flown all over the world and put up in fancy hotels just because of my ability to write run-on sentences while tossing up random pop culture references. T'was a good life.

At the same time, I paid a dear price because I became ensconced in the darkness, the depravity, the degeneracy, and the dementia. If you read Lost Vegas, then you know that large chunks of my soul have been carved out -- and I'll never be able to replenish those gaping holes in my lifeforce. Ergo, this could be the in-your-face wake call I had been waiting for to move on with my life.

I don't know what is going to happen in the future. If I did, I'd be a gajillonaire betting on sports and the stock market. Ah, but let's not forget both have been manipulated and rigged at some point along the way.

I trust very few people in general and have zero trust in big business entities with unscrupulous ethics and slithery politicians in DC. That mistrust might become my life preserver. I never wanted to rely upon a specific business or a fucking government for my social well-being. I spent the last couple of years preparing myself to be completely independent of the system. It's going to be a difficult struggle, but at least I have a way out.

This morning I woke up with a pounding headache. The events from Friday slowly returned to the forefront. Man, so it wasn't a bad acid trip afterall?

I wandered down to the restaurant in my hotel for breakfast. I was greeted by a small child wearing Spiderman pajamas plus a Spidey mask. He had some sort of toy gun with him and kept running around the tables, shooting off his gun intermittently while his family ignored him and sipped on their morning coffee. It was a surreal scene right out of a John Irving novel. The kid kept running around and shooting until he slipped and BAAAAAAAM!!!

Spidey smacked his head on the ground and he started crying.

I just saw my life flash before my eyes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Huaca Pucllana Pyramid

By Pauly
Lima, Peru

We went to a party/work function at a restaurant adjacent to Huaca Pucllana Pyramid in the Miraflores section of Lima, Peru. The pyramid is pre-Inca dating to around 400-900 A.D.

LAX > Lima

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I barley slept during my last two days in Los Angeles. I woke up on Monday morning fairly early and didn't sleep at all that night, only catching a 40-45 minute nap when I reached my 25th straight hour of being up. That would be the only rest I'd get in LA before I left for the airport in the early evening. I spent a good 6-7 hours attempting to triage all of the stuff I never got done on my infamous To Do list.

I spent the entire afternoon on tilt and called an audible a few hours before I was set to leave -- I decided to switch bags. I was going to take a large backpack because I prefer to travel light since I was actually packing for two different trips (a work assignment in Lima and a side trip to Machu Picchu). I realized that my backpack was at 99% capacity which is a bad idea when you travel. Always leave yourself 10-15% extra space. I scrambled to find out if Lima airport had storage lockers. Once I discovered they did -- I called the audible and went for a wheelie suitcase and my small bookbag (to hold my laptop). The wheelie allowed me to take everything I originally wanted instead of trimming my load by 20%. Once I'm done with work in Lima, I'll head to the airport, drop off the suitcase, and just pack a couple of days clothes and hiking gear for the arduous journey to Machu Picchu.

In theory it made sense and I felt a tad better knowing that I could have the best of both worlds. Even with taking a wheelie, I still think I underpacked compared to the average person.

I had a hectic chat with Nicky before I was supposed to leave for the airport, which put me behind schedule. I called for a cab, but it showed up 20 minutes late. The driver apologized and I said I hope you drive fast. He understood what I meant and he did the best he could considering the circumstances of 6:30pm rush hour traffic. He managed to get me to LAX by 7pm. I had about two hours to spare, but since I was on an international flight I needed to get to the airport early.

My client booked me on LAN Airlines. Nicky flew that airline to Chile for a work assignment a couple of years ago. My friend Shirley also flew LAN to South America in the past and she remarked how much better they were compared to AA, which I usually fly for trips to South America. I ran into a snag when I went to check in. I was greeted in Spanish, something that would be a slightly humorous considering I speak really bad Spanglish. It's because of my swarthiness that flight attendants assume that I'm South American.

Once I showed the lady at the counter my passport, she spoke to me in English. She wanted to take a peek at my carry-on bags. I showed her the wheelie and the backpack. She asked to weigh the wheelie. I obliged and she said it was too heavy.

"Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?" I said knowing that it was no more than 10-12 pounds.

"It's two pounds overweight. You can't carry it on otherwise you have to pay a $180 surcharge."


I didn't have a choice. I protested of course.

"Thumb through my passport. See all those stamps? I'm not a rookie, ma'am. I pride myself in being an expert traveler. This will fit in the overhead no problems. It's around 85% capacity. This is how bags get unnecessarily lost."

She reminded me that checked bags were free and that I was taking a direct flight to Lima, so the changes of a lost bag would be slim. I wasn't going to give up and offered to re-balance the load and take out two pounds from the carry on.

She grabbed an orange fluorescent tag that said "PRIORITY" and I knew exactly what she was doing. She was trying to sweeten the deal for me. Did she think that just because my bag had an orange tag that my bags would still arrive without any hassles?

I paused for about five seconds and made her sweat before I folded my hand. I knew that most customer service people at airlines hate their jobs as much as that hate passengers, so I took her gesture (checking my bag as priority) as something that she didn't have to do...but did it anyway. Alas, I checked my bag, but not turning on the charm and seeking out a free upgrade to business class. She said it would add another $2,000 to my ticket. I smiled, thanked her, and walked away.

Ah, before I left my bag, I removed a couple of things (er, pharmies and my hoodie) and stuffed them into my backpack. At that moment, I was officially traveling light.

I found my friends Shirley and Sos, who were both on my flight and flying to Lima for a few days before they joined me in Machu Picchu. Although security was slow and annoying, I didn't get stuck in a full body scanner, so I avoided a cock check. Of course, what's a trip without a delay? The flight was delayed at least 30 minutes. Awesome news considering that at that point, I had been up for over 36 hours with less than an hour of sleep.

I noticed that at least a hundred or so retired Japanese people were on the flight. They were obviously on their way to Machu Picchu as well. The entire back of the plane was filled with the Japanese tour, with the exception of myself, Shirley, and Sos. I joked that I felt like Manute Bol as the tallest person in the back towering over everyone else.

I freaked out for about fifteen seconds and wondered if the Japanese tour originated from Tokyo? How much radiation would they be spreading? I waited until takeoff and the lights to go out to see which ones were glowing in the dark -- they were obviously going to be the ones I avoided.

The light above me wasn't very good and it was bothering my eyes trying to read. I only got through about 60 pages before I gave up. When the flight attendant offered me a meal and drink, she launched into Spanish. I said, "Pollo y agua con gas."

After a crappy piece of rubber pollo and rice that was sticky enough to caulk your bathtub, I ate some pharmies and decided to watch movies. I had been wanting to see The Fighter and I wasn't let down aside from the part f-bomb were deleted so like 36% of the dialogue was bleeped out. Christian Bale is an amazing actor and he plays a crackhead to perfection. And all the girls who played Micky Ward's sisters freaked me out! I wouldn't want to walk down a dark alley and run into those tough broads.

I enjoyed the first movie but wasn't blown away with Paul Haggis' latest flick The Last Three Days. It starred Elizabeth Banks as a woman who gets thrown in prison for murder due to overwhelming evidence against her. Her husband, played by Russell Crowe, believes in his wife's innocence and plots her escape for three years. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I actually was able to rip a few bonghits, but alas, I was about to be clean for at least a week, possibly more.

The flight to Peru was around 8+ hours so I really didn't have any time to try to sleep. Just when I was feeling my eyes get heavy, I fired up my iPod and hoped to drift off to sleep, but then the entire lights in the cabin came on and the flight attendants were wheeling out the carts for breakfast. I ate a second crappy meal and watched two flicks inside of 6 hours. Once breakfast was over, I finally drifted into sleep and napped for about 20-25 minutes before it was time to begin our descent. I had been up for over 2 full days at the point with just a couple of naps to keep me sane. Of course, I wouldn't be able to sleep for 18 hours! I set a new record of 66 hours with minimal sleep. I can do 24 hours without blinking and 30 is about average before I start to get loopy. I've hit 40+ a few times and I'm sure I might have done some sort of brain damage along the way depriving myself of so much sleep. Alas, this is what I do.

I'm working this assignment with my buddy Shamus, who flew in from North Carolina via Miami. He arrived a few hours early and hung out at the airport for me to arrive. I picked up my bag (it didn't get lost, but it didn't spit out first on the belt as I had hoped). Luckily Sos is fluent in Spanish, so he arranged a cab for us guaranteeing that we didn't get hosed and charged Gringo prices. It was $40 total or $10 a piece to take us to the hotel.

I rode shotgun and I forgot it was around 8:30 or so... the height of morning rush hour. I gazed out the window, giggling when I saw tracers as some of the road signs were blurry images of I dunno what. Everything was written in Spanish obviously. We almost sideswiped a bus and I noticed dozens and dozens of buses on the road were stopping every few blocks to pick up passengers standing along side the highway. The driver had turned up the radio and I sung along to the Ramones and the Police, before the driver switched stations after what seemed like a lengthy commercial break He tuned the dial until he got to a Lady GaGa song and I peered out of the corner of my eye and noticed that he turned up the volume and was tapping along with two fingers against the steering wheel. Ha, my Peruvian taxi driver was a Lady GaGa fan.

Once we got out of the congested highway, we headed along a road that resembled Pacific Coast Highway. The beach and water were on one side of the road, meanwhile massive, steep cliffs were on the other side with homes and condos built up on top. I also took note of all the soccer fields alongside the beach that were set at a 45% angle. I didn't see a single basketball hoop, but noticed tons of soccer set ups -- everything from a mini-stadium with walls, to lots of grassy half-fields with nets, and even a dozen or more concrete/blacktop soccer fields with nets on both ends of the concrete.

I saw a bunch of military guys in berets and combat boots from a distance. They stood on the side of the road, on the cliff side, and I noticed a huge crowd had gathered. My immediate reaction was -- workers were on a strike and the military police were there to keep things in order. As we got closer and the cab slowed down, I saw a film crew and thirty or so pedestrian rubberneckers. They were starring at a limp body curled up on the crowd.

"Two bodies," said the driver in English.


"They jumped."

I was dubious. Smelled like a hit to me -- maybe they got involved with the wrong guys and were tossed off the side of the cliff? Although I only saw one body, I was surprised that the cops did not cover up the carcass. Instead, a news camera guy stood over the body and filmed what appeared to be a close up.

About ten minutes later, the cab made its way up a winding path of cobblestones to reach the affluent Marifores section of Lima. I got put up on a hotel that was attached to a casino (but not the casino I was working) and it was odd to see three casinos within walking distance. I guess we were in the hip part of Lima?

Shamus and I tried to check in but our rooms were not ready. It was not even 10am. They told us to go eat the breakfast buffet before it closed. We wandered upstairs and I feasted on Peruvian bacon and pineapple juice. It sounded like two of my staples from LA. My colleague Rey from Coast Rica joined us and let us hang out in his room until our rooms were ready. My CrackBerry wasn't working for some odd reason and I needed to check up on some emails and let everyone know I made it to South America in one piece.

I finally got my room and if you've seen the video (posted below, or you can click here to view the video of my swanky duplex/loft), you know why I was more than pleased with the accommodations.

In fact, here's the view...

Luckily, I'm working one block away (just around the corner) and there's a 24-hour grocery store (Peru's version of Trader Joes). We have a fridge in our room so I picked up $20 worth of groceries -- half of which went to buy Peroni beer. I bought a freshly made empanada and made myself a ham & cheese sandwich.

Rey found out that I had been betting on soccer and he wanted to watch the game that I had bet on. Originally, we were going to watch the game in a dive bar, but Rey wanted to put in a bet at the sportsbook across the street inside the casino. We climbed a marble, circular staircase and walked into the cozy room on the second floor. A screen behind a young girl displayed a TV screen with baseball scores. Rey pointed out that the sportsbook was being run by an online sportsbook that we both knew about. I thought that was an interesting concept -- but made sense because the online book can post better up-to-date lines than a small casino in Peru. We watched the game in the sportsbook because we found an empty table. The room had one massive screen and like 8 smaller plasmas. Mostly everyone there was watching one of two soccer games. We had bet on Tottenham against Real Madrid. Brits vs. Spaniards. The damn Brits lost 1-nil on a gaffe from the goalie when he gave us his best Mr. Butterfingers impression and allowed what should have been a routine save. On a good note, we were served free drinks from a scantily-clad cocktail waitress. The beers were small and tasted like Bud drafts, but heck, they were free. She even gave Rey a free sandwich. I was surprised that a non-Vegas casino was being so generous (and in this struggling economic era, even Vegas casinos have been cutting back on freebies and comps) with their free booze.

After the game, we headed into the poker room to chat up with some colleagues and get the low down on when we had to show up for work the next day. We also needed to acquire valuable intel on the location of the PokerStars Welcome Party -- which is an open bar with tons of ceviche for three hours. Since I'm without herbal supplements, I'm definitely down for getting shitfaced! I expected to show up for work hungover everyday, which happens whenever I cover assignments in foreign countries, but in this instances, I was usually hanging out with Nicky and Otis, but both of them were working an assignment together in Connecticut.

I headed back to my room to write and relax. I couldn't get my TV to work...actually I couldn't get either TV to I tried to stream the Yankees game via, but the internet wasn't fast enough. Alas, I just cranked up some John Coltrane and opened up my laptop and started writing and writing and writing until the doorbell rang and a very short looking dude in a red suite held a tray of chocolates. He offered me one as part of their courtesy turn down service. I declined the service (I don't need anyone to lift up the covers for me), but I snagged the chocolate. Two of them.

I got dressed and headed downstairs to catch a shuttle bus to the party at a restaurant in Miraflores adjacent to the Huaca Pucllana pyramid. The party was like most work functions -- a proverbial sausage fest of poker players with a few leggy models that were hired to greet us at the entrance. As soon as I stepped inside, a waiter rushed voer to me with a tray of drinks. I was offered my first Pisco Sour. Other waiters stopped by with trays of ceviche. I sampled it -- a few dishes stood out -- but I'm not biggest seafood guy in the world.

Sos arranged for us to get a tour of the pyramid for like $2 USD each. Our guide informed us that the area was nothing but a huge hill before excavation began in 1981. They found the pyramid which was constructed in 400 A.D., which makes it pre-Incan and part of the Wari culture. Our guide pointed out a spot where virgins were sacrificed to the ocean (Gods). She also mentioned that they ate shark meat frequently during these rituals -- because the shark was the warrior symbol of the ocean.

Check out a video I shot of the pyramid tour if you haven't done so already.

That brings you up to date with my first 15 hours in Peru.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lima Loft

By Pauly
Lima, Peru

It's hit or miss when I travel for business. I'm fortunate that I've been hired by clients in the past who put me up in swanky hotels scattered around the world. At the same time, I definitely had my share of not-so-fun places, like Uruguay's version of the Motel 6, where I stayed with Nicky last year.

Alas, I got it good for the rest of the week I'm working in Lima. Here's a quick video of my hotel room that's more like a loft/duplex...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alien Hunting in South America

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I'm off to Peru for a work assignment in Lima. I'm also taking a side trip to Machu Picchu next week. If I don't come home, it's because I got abducted by aliens.

I don't know what sort of connectivity I'll have, but you can always follow my South American hijinks via Twitter... @taopauly.

Monday, April 11, 2011

First Flashes of Lightning

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The weekend was a blur.

I'm not going to lie -- I got schwasted. I did some writing, but none of it was what I would consider work as I embarked upon a holiday mentality when I realized that the weekend might be my last leisurely weekend to rage solo until the end of the summer. Instead of piling on work, I eased off the pedal sunk into the couch and immersed myself in sports. I'm on the cusp of getting the show on the road again. I won't spend more than a couple of weeks in one place until the end of the summer -- and even my future post-summer is up in the air.

Yeah, all I wanted to do was park my ass and let time erode away and enjoy the fact that I could do nothing and not feel guilty about it, which is rare because I'm always someone who hates wasting my time and I need a good reason for me to do something because I'm so over-extended that I have lists about lists of things to do. Sometimes when I look at everything on my plate, I get a bit freaked out, but that's a good thing because it focuses me to hunker down and triage everything. At this point, I have about a day before I ship out so anything that gets done is a huge priority, where as everything else gets bumped to when I return from South America.

I have one deadline to finish before I can do anything. I had been putting it off for a week, but could never get myself motivated to write -- which is rare -- but I have to assume that I wasn't ready to write about that specific topic because I certainly spent plenty of other time writing about a multitude of other topics. I had a week so I didn't force the situation because I know it wouldn't have been as good it could have been if it flowed out of me organically instead of me squeezing my head like a sponge until the words fell onto the page.

I prefer short deadlines because I work better under pressure than when I'm given an unspecified time line. Every morning over the last four or five days, I woke up with every intention of doing that particular assignment, but I noticed that I worked around that item on my To Do list and on a couple of days, I managed to cross everything off my list with the exception of the article. Then on a few other instances (er, this weekend), I completely ignored the To Do list and did my own thing. It became my NOT To Do list. That's why I was sorta bummed out when I woke up today and realized I completely slacked off which means today and tomorrow morning are going to be hectic.

But then again, you can't put a price on alone time, in which you get to block out the external world for hours on end to let the mind wander, unwind and think.

I slashed through a pile of books that I acquired over the last few weeks. I got into a bad habit and began new books before I finished old one, but since I never finished any of them, I'm in the middle of five or six when I really should only be alternating between two or three at the most. I set aside two books to read on flights to/from Peru. I'm assuming that I won't sleep much on the way down and I doubt there will be any movies to my liking, so I'm gonna immerse myself into zombie and dystopian fiction. I've been reading a slew of financial blogs and books, so I'm excited to escape the non-fiction world for a little bit of fantasy.

I kinda wished that baseball season didn't start for another week or so because it really killed my productivity and the amount that I read. Baseball games are anywhere from 3 to 4 hours in length and by the end of one game, I'm spent and the last thing I want to do is sit down and read conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve, so I've been numbing myself with -- more baseball and other random sports.

It's also a natural reaction away from the sober reality of some of the fear mongering subjects I've been brushing up on. I've had a few instances in the last couple of months when I got uncharacteristically depressed, rather I had been afflicted with a bout of hopelessness, which is a better word to describe what I was feeling after learning the truths (or in some case the ambiguity) of many aspects of our society. I've usually been the one to pose a question to my friends and let them come to their own conclusions, but most recently, I've been too bummed out to even ask the questions because if certain situations have gotten so dire, then what's the point of me even telling people to be on alert when it's simply too late? Why make my friends depressed? I've never one to want others to share in my misery.

Now, you know why I've been drinking more. For a while I had delusions of grandeur and thought that I could actually change the world, or at least alter my friends perception of the world by pointing out the warning signs, but after glimpsing behind the curtain and seeing how things really work, do I even want to upset them by cluing them in on the truth? Instead, I keep it to myself and let it marinate in a nice bath of rum. In the meantime, I've turned into a rum junkie. Maybe if I write more about some of these haunting topics, then I'd drink less? Of course, that means everyone else might get depressed and they might drink more.

The more I think about it, I spent 2010 trying to prepare for the storm that's coming, but when I realized that there's nothing I can do about it, I decided to kick back, get wasted, and wait for the first flashes of lightning.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Star Gates, Obama, and Hmmmmmm

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Joker is the resident ufologist and professor of intergalactic happenings over at Tao of Fear. He recently posted a video about The Disclosure Project. Take the interview for what its worth. Some of the random things said were so bizarre and fascinating that I definitely got at least three screenplay ideas and a potential book trilogy concept out of the first forty minutes.

But then...(cue the X-Files alien flue theme song)... the video mysterious stopped playing. Nicky's iPad was frozen. I had to reboot and everything was fine. But it was really freaky because it went out at revelatory moment in the interview...hmmmmm? Anyway, I checked out the video a second time and it works perfectly.

Here's some actual quotes...
- "We went into Iraq for the Star Gates. Everyone thinks it's oil but it was the Star Gates all along."

- "I can't imagine how crazy the world is going to be in the next twenty to thirty years."

- "People of Earth may not be that amenable."

- "The Anunnaki are on the planet and in control.... and not President Obama."

- "President Kennedy was taken out for that he reason. He was a problem to those people."

- "What about the reptilians?"

- "Would persuasive holograms ultimately do the job?"

- "We're going to have nano chips in us to connect to the web."

- "We're going to be unrecognizable (as humans) in the future..."

- "We've actually have had our lives threatened."

- "In Spielberg's case... what's his message other than to say there's ETs here? Big deal."
Go read the Joker's post Futuretalk with Rich Dolan and watch the video for yourself.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

RIP Sidney Lumet

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Sidney Lumet, the legendary director of Network, passed away. About a month or two ago, I caught Network and was astonished that many of the themes were still relevant today. The flick inspired a post about a couple of influential scenes. Today would be a perfect time to re-read Corporate Cosmology vs. Mad As Hell.

Ah, but I'll re-post the infamous Mad As Hell scene...

By the way, Roger Ebert posted a video of an interview with Sidney Lumet.

Here's the NY Times obit and the LA Times obit.

Friday, April 08, 2011

22 Truckin' Shorties and 4 Gambling-Themed Essays

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I've written a few longer pieces, too shitty to be called essays, but "pieces "sounds too trite, like "pieces of severed body parts found at a gruesome crime scene."

Anyway, I don't have time for an internal semantic argument. Here's the links from a few noteworthy items on Tao of Poker that might be suitable for non-poker audiences because the topic ranged from basketball to cricket to baseball, not to mention a bit of philosophy, "found" art, and Phish lyrics thrown into the mix...
Down With Diseased Monkeys
Feed Me Billy's Picks
Sweating Sachin Tendulkar
Orphaned Cards
Here's 22 bits that I wrote for Truckin' including everything from the 2010 and 2011 issues....
Solomon's Cranium (April 2011)
Matisse's Chorizo (March (2011)
Sweet T'ings (February 2011)
Waiting on Eastman (January 2011)
Christmas Bird (December 2010)
Hot August (November 2010)
The Wait (October 2010)
Punta del Mota (September 2010)
Invisible (August 2010)
Bryant Park (August 2010)
Everest (July 2010)
Free (July 2010)
Inertia Junction (June 2010)
152 Peaches (June 2010)
Uncle Louie (May 2010)
Lovers' Whirlwind (April 2010)
Hip Cat Jargon (April 2010)
Purple Pajamas (March 2010)
Lymie Malibu (February 2010)
China Rider (February 2010)
Tubes Under Sand (January 2010)
Dispatches from Miami: The Lot (January 2010)
Nibble on that for a while...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sleepless Solo and Patti LuPone Is Not Just Corky's Mom

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I'm raging solo for a week or so because Nicky flew to the east coast for week-long assignment. She squeezed in a two day side-trip to NYC to visit Showcase and some friends and see a Broadway show featuring Patti LuPone. I never knew she was a huge Broadway star and found out when I started dating Nicky over 5 years ago. I always knew Patti LuPone as Corky's mother from the ABC show Life Goes On, but she had this whole other career and like me struggled with both the bottle and pills. We have more in common than I thought, but I'm completely clueless when it comes to musical theatre. I'm glad that Nicky can get to enjoy one of her passions (Patti LuPone) with friends.

I would have gone with her, but I just got back from a trip to NYC and I'm actually going back on the road again for work. Jack Tripper Stole My Dog is in the final stage so I accepted a different assignment in South America (starting in a week). I'm going to blow my paycheck on a Peruvian side trip and the rest on Super Ball IX tickets.

Due to our work schedules, we won't see each other for almost three weeks. That's the downside. The upside is that I can be completely alone for a week.

I've always joked that I'm the most social hermit you'll meet...or I'm the most introverted social person you know. I'm split in half and enjoy both aspects, but I don't get as much hermit time to myself anymore, which is important in my development as writer. I need time to cultivate my thoughts. I'm bombarded with distractions at every turn and it's difficult to get anything done when I'm prone to distractions. If I had my wish, I'd unplug totally and go off the grid for months at a time, but my main means of income is being connected to the web so I have to be semi-connected regularly, and by semi-connected, I can't go a few hours without something happening. I knew that I'd have to give up a lot of alone time if I moved in with my girlfriend. It's a compromise and sacrifice, but that's the crux of a relationship. I can't exactly have a perfect living situation, but what I have is pretty good (all things non-Hollywood considered).

As much as I try to withdraw from the world, there's a layer of underlying tension at times because my girlfriend is still connected to the poker community, so I can never escape the one aspect of my life that feels suffocating. After being in the business for almost a decade, I've gotten very good at being a special forces type of contributor to the community -- I can stealthily jump in and out of hotspots without any problems. I'm also not attached at the hip to the "Dr. Pauly" persona. I can put it in my closet next to my other costumes (Dharma jump suit, white tuxedo, and a Hawaiian shirt) and only pull it off the hanger to wear when I absolutely need to. I found a wonderful balance, but that's only when I'm able to disconnect from the darkness and flourish in the warmth of other trivial pursuits.

Alas, the tension is created when I cannot escape the one thing I need a mental break from. The hardest situations arise when I'm going through a period of frustration with poker (due to the rat race, or the high school bullshit that has recently infested the scene) and purposely withdraw from the poker bubble to replenish my mental health and creative juices. Instead, I focus on doing my own stuff because most of that worst aspects of poker that I mentioned above are so distracting that it can give you migraines. I've seen what too much poker has done to friends and colleagues -- it has ruined relationships, exacerbated personal vices, transformed some in degenerate gamblers, and caused intense mental distress -- either driving some colleagues insane and the majority of them atrociously (clinically) depressed. One guy cracked so badly a few years back that he still hasn't fully recovered and is prone to "go off the reservation" at unexpected times. When one mutual friend sent me a distressing email inquiring, "How do you get in contact with ____ when he disappears?"

I responded with two words: "You don't."

Balance and moderation are a key to a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, my girlfriend is still involved in poker and we can never fully be on the same page when it comes to schedules. I withdraw often, but she's still a part of the scene (these days more as a player than a writer) but doesn't entrench herself as deeply as I do/have to. The most frustrating days are the ones when I can't go a half of day before I hear the Pavlovian dog dinner bell of the poker world -- an online poker alert sound. Sometimes those beeps and chirps tilt me because I busted my ass to create/maintain a healthy balance between my life and poker, but even then I'm never 100% away from it.

Hence, I'm in a Catch-22 situation -- it's not until we're apart before I can get a 100% break from poker, but that comes at the expense of us being distanced from each other.

The insomnia is a huge part of the compromise. Nicky gets the shit end of my aberrant sleeping patterns because I'm, a bad snorer and I sleep so rarely that she never wants to disturb me when I'm sleeping, so if she doesn't fall asleep before me, she's going to have to deal with a buzzsaw.

I'm wired differently. My days are 30 hours long and when I'm by myself, I can live at my own pace and sleep when I'm tired and eat when I feel like it instead of having to get into sync with my partner. It's rough because Nicky is a 7-8 hours night sleeper and I'm insanely jealous because it can take me four or five nights before I attain 8 hours of total sleep.

Last night, I logged seven hours of sleep but I needed a special brownie to put me down and keep me down, and at the same time, I was also operating on 90 minutes of sleep from a restless Monday night.

Human Head sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal titled The Sleepless Elite with a note, "I wonder what the over/under is on How many people will send you this article today?" Actually, he was the 4th person to have forwarded it to me at the time I read his email. I think the total number tat day was 6 or 7. Since then it's passed double digits.

The article described some of my habits... specifically, going to bed after Midnight but getting up early. It's not uncommon that Nicky crashes around 2am and wakes up around 10am. Me? I'm crashing around 3 or 4am and waking up by 6 or 7am.

Last week was weird because I was going to be around Midnight or so and waking up by 4am so I could watch a couple of cricket matches. That through my sleep out of whack just a bit, but now that Nicky is gone, I can get it back on track.

Oh, and I went jogging this morning for the first time in a very long time. I got back in the habit of walking a lot when I went back to NYC. This morning's workout was only 1.7 miles and I spent more time briskly walking than jogging. I always feel weird sometimes in the slums of Beverly Hills because no one walks in L.A. and I'malways worried that a nosey neighbor will drop a dime on me and call the cops because theirs a strange guy wandered up and down alleys. I'm not a thief, but I can tell you this -- I'm surprised more people don't get robbed because they are really lax when it comes to home security. As the economy continues to tank, crimes rates in the theft and larceny apartment are going to soar. I'm expecting more car thefts, carjackings, muggings, and break-ins.

Anyway, it felt good to sweat out all the impurities inside my body. I've dabbled a lot ever since I finished the final draft of JTSMD and I've been a total alkie since I got back from the Bahamas. I'm trying to curtail the drinking and spend more time working out. I gotta get in shape for the upcoming WSOP and Phish summer tour! Stamina is the key.