Tag Archives: Jim’s Corner

I Did The Inca Trail In 1987- Jim’s Corner

I Did The Inca Trail In 1987 - Jim's Corner

I did the Inca trail in 1987; I’m sure it’s changed since then but here’s my experience: I was traveling alone in South America so most people told me not to go on the trail alone. I heard various stories about how dangerous it was (the best one was how two German guys got robbed at knife-point by five or six “ladrones” who took all they had and left them in the freezing cold in their underwear).

I went shopping for the trail in Cuzco and happened upon two guys from Arizona who were shopping for the trail too. They heard all of the bad stories I had heard so they said I could join them (safety in numbers they said). They told me one of the guys wanted to do the trail as a bucket list kind of thing for his 40th birthday. I remember thinking “my God, he’s ancient!” Knowing me, at the age of 26, I probably said something really inappropriate like, “Are you sure you’re not too old for the trail?”

The first thing you have to do is buy a train ticket to the start of the trail (Km 21 I think). It’s the same train that goes to Machu Picchu so it’s pretty popular – buying a ticket three or four days in advance was recommended. I think I waited in line for a couple of hours. I also needed to rent a tent. I had everything else I needed in my backpack, like a stove and fuel (you could take stoves and fuel bottles on planes back then). We needed a permit too, but I think it was free or at least really cheap back then.

We loaded all of our own stuff (enough for five days). We didn’t go far the first day, but made up for it in the next three days. The trail was really hard because there weren’t a lot of switchbacks. It just went straight up! We got passed a lot by Porters – insane little descendants of the Incas who chained smoked, drank rot gut Pisco (like White Lightening), and chewed massive quantities of Coca leaf. They all seemed to be carrying dining room tables and chairs on their backs…barefoot! They made quite an impression.

The places where we camped out were amazing – mostly small Inca ruins like miniature versions of Machu Picchu without the crowds. One night we camped out in a cave. I’ve heard the Peruvian Government won’t let you camp out in the ruins anymore because of all the litter left behind by foreigners. The amount of blue, disposable gas bottles (canisters) from Sweden left behind was disgusting.

We ended up traveling with three guys and a girl from Australia so you know what that means: Lots of drinking! Usually our lunch breaks consisted of rice, beans, maybe an egg, along with three or four beers in a village or a locals house.

I think by the 2nd day on the trail the older guy in the group was baddly lagging behind. One of the tour groups had a doctor who said the guy was suffering from severe altitude sickness (I think we were at around 10,000 feet). The doctor gave him Coca leaf to chew (a local remedy for altitude sickness), but he refused, saying he wouldn’t do “cocaine.” He wanted us to go ahead, but we just rested (and went down a bit) and he was OK.

The last slog to Machu Picchu was pretty brutal, but we were almost there! It rained a little so the smooth stones that make up the whole trail (all done by the Incas) were slippery. There’s a rock portal that you pass under and then, there it is: Machu Picchu! Pretty amazing.

Side note: My room was rented to someone else when I got back and the whole town of Cuzco was booked out for an Eastern Festival. I was desperate (and tired) so I went to a high-end (for Peru) Hotel. It was full too, but the clerk was a former Inca Trail Porter. He said I looked beat and told me I could sleep in his cot in the back for free! He even cooked me an awesome breakfast in the morning. God bless you, Porter Guy!

Have you done the Inca Trail? If you have, tell me your Inca Trail story!

Fiji Kava Ceremony – Jim’s Corner

Welcome to the first edition of “Jim’s Corner” where Jim writes about travel, speech therapy, and being a dad. His posts will be published every Friday.

Fiji Kava Ceremony
Fiji Rainbow Reef

Some of the best things about traveling, besides the food, are the cultural aspects. If you stay long enough somewhere in Fiji like I did (a month I think), you’ll probably get invited by the locals to a Kava Ceremony.

In the U.S. the Kava-Kava is considered an herb that calms you during the day (Valerian is better if you want to sleep). In Fiji, Kava is sort of like an alcohol substitute to be drunk in a coconut cup with 20+ people in a long-house. It goes something like this: If you stay in a guest house or hostel in the same town (or a beach campground like I did) and aren’t too annoying a chief or other important person will invite you to attend. I went to several.

A lot of foreigners are a bit apprehensive of Kava ceremonies because Kava looks like dirty dish water and is drunk out of a communal cup. Someone will usually ask you if you are sick and then it’s courtesy to abstain. The cup is passed around by request for around a dime each time; you call out someone’s name or (or point), pay equivalent of a dime in Fiji money (I can’t remember what it is called), and then the person of your choice drinks up. It gets pretty loud in the long-house because Kava is a mild stimulant that makes people very social.

The best thing is there is no side effects (like hangovers) and you usually get used to the tangy taste.

Fiji: It’s an awesome place to visit!

Jim’s Travel Stories: Teaching English in Taiwan

I am waiting on a few more submissions for “A Fish Out of Water” and thought this would be a good time for Jim to tell one of his travel stories. He has been all over the world and has many stories to tell. This may become a regular series! Without further introduction, here is my husband Jim, contributing his story about being a fish out of water.

Jim’s travel collage #1

The train ride from Taipei to Taiwan was only a few hours, but I was a little tired as I arrived. As I exited the station I saw a sign that said, “Glory English School” under Chinese characters. I thought, “Maybe I should go work there.”

The owner of the school met me at the door, “You have English degree?” he said. I showed him my B.A. from California State-Chico, but he wasn’t impressed. “No, degree from Harvard or Yale?”


“That okay – I pay you $20 an hour.”

I glanced over to a classroom to see a middle-aged American, with a scruffy beard, wearing jeans come out. He looked sort of homeless.

“He has a degree from Harvard?” I asked.

“No. Yale.”

I found out after working there for a few weeks that no one had real degrees at all. You can go to Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Manilla and get any degree you want on the street for five or six U.S. dollars. Bangkok is especially popular for this.

My students absolutely hated the “Yale” teacher.

They asked me, “Sha way yi (My Chinese name “Hawaii”) can you teach us tonight? That guy is crazy. He talks about the KGB chasing him and always hears explosions.”

Jim’s travel collage #2

It turns out the “Yale Guy” was actually a deserter from the Vietnam War who had been in Bangkok for years before he came to Taiwan. He told me that he had done so much LSD that he had flashbacks a lot when he was teaching. He hated Taiwan – he said if Bangkok paid teachers better he never would have left.

I had an awesome time in Taiwan; I never worked more than 20 to 25 hours per week, but managed to save $1500 before I left. I was there about seven months. My schedule was great; 6 or 6:30 pm to 12 or 1 am four days a week. I worked for five or six different schools while I was there; but there always seemed to be a delicious noodle shop near by to have a late night, post-work meal for a dollar or two.

Did I ever get culture shock while I was there? Of course, but I never screamed, “I hate this place!” with my fist in the air, in the middle of the street, like an American teacher/friend of mine did. That was a little embarrassing. Trying to learn Chinese helped, because if people at your school were talking badly about you, you could at least defend yourself.


Jim is a Speech and Language Pathologist living in a dome in New Mexico with his wife, daughter, three dogs, two cats, and two chickens. He can speak in English, Spanish, German and a little Chinese. He’s been on every continent except Antarctica. He makes pottery in his spare time.