Strolling atop the Colca Canyon

You can trek the Colca Canyon in Peru with a guide. It’s easy to join a group from Arequipa and most hikes are 3 days. From the looks of it, it is rugged walking with little water. I’m an outdoorsy type, but that’s simply not in the cards for this “grand tour.” Luckily, our guide arranged an hour stroll along the edge of the canyon.

The parts that are green, you can be sure are irrigated. This is a dry area.
We had a lone condor flying above us during our hike.
I was surprised to see a few blooms on the cactus. The rainy season isn’t until late December. But then I don’t know much about deserts.
This is a great view of a fairly deep section of the canyon, though not the deepest. If you look very closely in the middle of the photo, you can see a walking trail (which shows mostly white) and below it a very small village. There’s no road to this place and it takes about 3 days of hiking to get there. No electricity, either.
The views are so far, but you see little wildlife, and the vegetation is very dry. Across the canyon, the mountains are even higher and are colder. You can just see the white ice at the very top of the range, just to left of center.
In addition to Spanish, Peruvians also speak Quechua (the language of the Incas) and Aymara, a pre-Inca language. One of the most important pre-Inca civilizations were the Wari, and the few people living here are believed to be descended from them.
This is our guide, who was extremely knowledgeable about the area. I have a rather unusual tour, stitched together from a series of existing area tours. That means I was passed off to a new group and tour guide almost daily. It was a bit uncomfortable and I’m not sure I’ll do it again.
That green patch is a small farming community. You can only get there by hiking.
This condor followed us the entire time!
This one is an adult. You can tell because the wings are black and the head is white. Juveniles are mostly brown.
If you go much higher than this, even the cactus won’t grow.
There are many small caves in this area and a few have been investigated. Archeological sites include the caves of Mollepunko above Callalli where rock art (said to be 6,000 years old) depicts the domestication of the alpaca.
This overlook is simply amazing. And it just happens to be directly across from the location where a young man’s body was found, months after he fell to his death in 2001. He was hiking with his girlfriend, and neither had experience nor adequate equipment.
This is a dangerous place and you need to be an expert climber to tackle these mountains. There are many companies that give guided hiking tours, but they are not all reliable. Few do a good job of making sure the participants are properly outfitted for the conditions.

You can just barely see the river below.
It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, it it looks completely different to me.

Notice the little fence. Most of the area doesn’t even have that much. It would be very easy to fall here.

The obligatory photo to prove I was there.
The “cloud” is the smoke from an erupting volcano. This is no walk in the park!
Don’t Touch!

Working on new adventures

This is the second branch of the school I work at. It’s actually quite near the main branch. The school has a LOT of students and classes, so it’s really thriving. Hence, they need native English speaking teachers constantly. Unfortunately, in my interview, the manager just told me what she felt I wanted to hear. “Sure, getting a work visa is possible. Of course we’ll pick you up at the airport. Certainly, we have complete lesson plans….” Not true.

I was only able to get a 90-day visa for Peru and the school isn’t going to help me get a work visa. I hate teaching on a tourist visa. The school had implied it would help me get one, but I should not have fallen for that. To stay, I’d have to make a border run to renew my visa and hope I can get another 90 days. Frankly, the school just isn’t worth the trouble. They are no worse than any other, but no better, either. Peru is amazing. I love Arequipa. My students are great–but I’m just not going to go to that much trouble for a school that won’t even tell me the dates of the upcoming sessions! AND there’s no guarantee I can even get another visa, or one for long enough. While most tourists are allowed back in, if the border guides decide to suddenly follow the letter of the law, I can’t return. One day, the country will crack down, my luck will run out, and I could get stuck in Chile without my stuff and no way to get back. I’m not doing it.

So here’s my new plan:

  • I’ll teach here in Arequipa, Peru until the end of September.
  • October 2-16 I have a tour of Peru, that includes Machu Picchu.
  • October 18-19 I’ll fly to Huntsville, AL
  • I’ll stay with my dear friend Jeannie until November 4, then fly out of Huntsville
  • I’m doing a hike of Nepal–the Annapurna circuit.
  • I’ll arrive back in the states at the Indianapolis Airport where (I hope) one of my brothers will agree to pick me up. I will miss Thanksgiving, but be able to spend some time with my family for a week or two after.
  • Still working on Christmas plans.
  • I have a lead on a job in Ecuador for the first of the year. Still working on this, too.

My life is messy, but it’s not boring!

Why is it every time I go to the Plaza de Armas, there’s a protest? AGAIN the church and museum were closed. I’ve attempted to come here 4+ times! But this protest was about low wages and benefits for teachers, nurses and doctors. At least it’s a cause near to my heart. This was just the start of the protest. There were more than a thousand people marching.
One of many statues on the boulevard of Avenida Ejercito (Army Avenue).

Climb (almost) every mountain

The “holy” mountain, Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Three years ago this week, I made it to Mount Katahdin….sort of. I’d planned to walk all the way there from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. I only made it 1,405 miles to a road crossing (and convenience store with decent pizza) in New York. My feet had been in pain for more than a month. Every step hurt. I couldn’t make my daily mileage and I certainly had stopped having any fun. Sitting there, eating my pizza, I knew I had to get off the trail. A friend who lived in the area took me to her house and got me to a doctor. Prognosis: The bones in my feet were breaking down. My hike was over, unless I wanted to suffer permanent damage.

I cried like a little girl for a whole day. Then I began making a new plan.
As part of that plan, for a month, I worked at a Maine hostel at the nearest city to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I did it mostly to stay near the trail for a little bit longer. While I didn’t hike Mount Katahdin, I did get to see it as I shuttled hikers to and from the trail.
I’m at peace with my hike and (surprisingly) have no desire to finish the last 800 miles. I may never climb this mountain and that’s OK. Plans have to change sometimes.
And now, it seems, my plans are changing again. I’d hoped to stay in Peru for 6 months. The vagaries of visas and less-than-professional English schools have helped me move along a bit faster. Don’t worry, I won’t leave Peru without seeing a bit more of it.
And I have an interesting hike that’s developing for the near future. Stay tuned!

You never know….

You never know the people you meet. It’s said we have less than 5 seconds to make a good first impression, then less than 2 to confirm that impression. Say what you will, but humans DO judge a book by its cover. Hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, helped me to be less judgmental about looks, but obviously, I still form judgments. As a human, you have to.

But sometimes you are wrong.

This is how I remember him. James Hammes in 2013. credit: David Milner for this article:
This is how I remember him. James Hammes in 2013. credit: David Milner from this article:

I ran into Bismark and Hopper a half dozen times along the AT. We stayed in the same shelters as least two nights. One day when I was particularly tired, Bismark got water for me from a distant source—which is about as kind as it gets for a hiker. Bismark seemed honest and a normal hiker, if that’s possible. At least, he wasn’t any odder than any other long distance hiker. He said he got his name because he was from North Dakota, but when you go by trail names you don’t really expect much history from someone. He may have mentioned that he did contract jobs by computer. Our conversations were what ALL hikers talk about: weather, distances, trail conditions, and far to the next resupply point. He had decent, though not pricy, gear. I got the impression he was a life-long AT hiker–a “lifer”—and that he lived frugally so that he could afford the time to do so. I do remember that he wasn’t particularly modest and I had to avert my eyes quickly once. But if you’re very “sensitive” or a prude, staying in shelters is not a good idea. His girlfriend, Hopper, (though I thought “wife” at the time) WAS a bit off. I was polite, but kept her at arm’s length. If anyone had something to hide, I thought, it was her. In retrospect, perhaps she was being protective.

I haven’t thought of them in about a year. Until I read this. It seems Bismark was arrested during the recent Trail Days in Damascus for embezzling. He even has a Most Wanted Poster.

status-imageHere’s an additional article:
A fugitive since 2009 embezzling charges, Lexington man arrested in Virginia
A Lexington man wanted since 2009 on federal charges that he embezzled more than $8.7 million from a local Pepsi bottling plant has been arrested in southern Virginia.

James T. Hammes, 53, was arrested Saturday in Damascus, Va., the FBI announced Monday.

Hammes, a former controller for the Lexington division of G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, disappeared after being interviewed by the FBI in February 2009 about allegations that he had opened a fake bank account in the name of a vendor that worked for G&J, then put millions of the company’s money into the account. He allegedly then would move the money into personal bank and brokerage accounts.
Hammes had worked as controller for the company’s Southern Division in Lexington since 1995 and, according to an FBI news release, “was responsible for all financial accounting and internal controls.”

He is accused of taking $8,711,282 from 1998 to 2009.

Three months after Hammes fled, he was indicted in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio on 75 counts of wire fraud and money laundering.
In 2012, his case was featured the CNBC show American Greed: The Fugitives, and America’s Most Wanted.

A “Wanted” poster published by the FBI stated that Hammes, who was born in Wisconsin, was an accountant as well as an avid scuba diver and licensed pilot.
At the time of his disappearance, he was married to Deanna Hammes, but Herald-Leader archives indicate she later filed for divorce. Hammes’ previous wife, Joy Johnson Hammes, 40, who worked as community service food program coordinator at God’s Pantry, died after a fire at their Turkey Foot Road home in 2003. James Hammes was out for a walk at the time of the fire, and their teenage daughter, Amanda, was out with friends.

Joy Hammes’ family told American Greed and America’s Most Wanted that they were suspicious about the cause of the fire because James Hammes had been involved in a number of other fires in the past.

Investigators determined the fire was an accident.

The CNBC show reported that after James Hammes left, his wife and daughter went in a room he kept locked at their Lexington home. There they found books about how to disappear and create a new identity, as well as birth and death certificates for males who would have been about the same age he was.

Hammes was being held Monday by the Southwest Regional Virginia Regional Jail Authority in Abingdon, but is to be returned to Ohio to face the charges against him.

He made his first court appearance in Virginia on Monday, said Todd Lindgren of the FBI office in Cincinnati.

Lindgren said the charges against Hammes were filed in Ohio rather than Lexington because G&J is based in Cincinnati. The privately held company manufactures and distributes Pepsi products.

In its news release, the FBI thanked the Richmond Division of the FBI, Bristol Resident Agency, U.S. Marshals Service, Virginia State Police, Washington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office and the Damascus Police department for helping with the investigation.

No information was available about how investigators found Hammes or what he was doing in Virginia.

Read more here:

David Miller’s The A.T. Guide Booth at Trail Days 2015 with James Hammes on the right. ~ Photo courtesy of David Miller According to David: “[Bismarck] was a contributor to The A.T. Guide, and seemed nice, intelligent and helpful. He visited my booth at Trail Days on Friday (to the right, in blue shirt).” I also contributed to the A.T. Guide in 2014.
Postscript: A social media friend added a link to this article, which is superior to any I’ve read. It explains the use of trail names. Please note that there is an error in the article. He says that Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the AT (which is true) and that he was 11 years old when he did it (which is not). Shaffer was an adult and recovering from WWII service when he became the first thru hiker in 1948. He went on to hike three time completely and probably hiked some sections hundreds of times.

It begins! And it’s a rough start

The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.
The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.

For those just joining us, I’m about to hike the Appalachian Trail–Georgia to Maine, almost 2,200 miles.

Standing on top of Springer Mountain is awe inspiring…. and a bit humbling. Facing north is an unbroken footpath stretching all the way to Maine. It’s like being 8 years old, standing on top of a long slope after the first snowfall, a blanket of white stretching beyond, unsullied by a single footprint. Like a calendar without a single day crossed off.

For the next six months, time will be measured, not in minutes and hours, but in steps. The day’s difficulties will be rated by the mountain peaks I need to ascend, not the mountains of paperwork I have to turn in. While I have backpacked before, I know this will be new. This will be different. This is adventure. It will be difficult. It will be a privilege.

A fire the first night at Stover Creek Shelter was a pleasant surprise.
A fire the first night at Hawk Mountain Shelter was a pleasant surprise.

March 1: I had imagined what this day would be like. But it wasn’t like that. It was just another day. No hoopla, no feeling of grandness. It was good, but it doesn’t quite feel real. Yet. It was after 2p before my dear friend Michael and I we were at the top of Springer and I signed in at the resister. Michael drove me to the trail and hiked the first mile with me. Thank goddess for friends!

I started the day with one less toenail. An injury over a month ago didn’t seem so bad at the time. But putting on my socks this morning, Pop! Off it came.

I passed several day hikers going in the opposite direction, they looked at me oddly. I imagined that they were a bit in awe, as if it were obvious that this lone woman was starting a momentous thru hike. Only later did I realize that the right side of my face was smeared with the glaze from the donut holes I’d cramed into my mouth as I left Michael at the Springer parking lot. I only walked as far as Stover Creek shelter, mile marker 2.7. There are a dozen thru hikers here. My favorite is Rambo (who did 1,400 miles in 2012) and his partner Tim (who I’ve tried to call The One They Call Tim, after a Monty Python movie). They must be around 20, very laid back young men. There’s also Pack Rat who seems odd. He says this is his 3rd thru hike attempt and that he’s done all but the last 500 miles. But his gear is all new–he’s never even set up the hammock before and he claims his pack is 70+pounds. I am skeptical, but he’s told stories of running all the downhills, night hiking, falling snakes and taking 2 months of zero days. It’s hard to believe, but I’m in no position to call him a liar.

Cold, probably only 40 degrees F today and cloudy. Will drop well below freezing tonight. Adding layers to sleep in.

March 2: From Stover Creek shelter (2.8) to Hawk Mountain shelter (8.1).

Stover Creek shelter
Stover Creek shelter

The start of things is often messy. This hike is truly showing me my limitations. Today did not go well. I was up early enough, but had trouble with my stove and drank my tea lukewarm. Then when I went to pack up the tent I barely had time to take a step to the side when I threw up. Five times! I felt fine after, but knew I didn’t have enough liquid for the day in my system. Yet I was afraid to do more than sip water. I did fine hiking until I hit an uphill patch, when I moved pitifully slow. I got to Hawk Mountain shelter and decided to cook my big meal and take a rest. After an hour and a half, I felt better and decided to put in 2 more miles. But I wasn’t paying attention coming out of the shelter. The AT turns, but I followed an unmarked trail straight up a huge hill. I went a mile before I realized it, walked around trying to find the trail. Finally gave up and retraced my steps. Energy and self esteem depleted, I decided to stay put for the night. This is a rough start. I was sick last week, but hoped it was only nerves. Today it seems like more than that. No energy. Can’t eat or drink much at one time. Must go slow. Good thing I have an extra month to hike.

Decided to take a nap. Sipping water, but can’t eat. Must be 3 dozen hikers here. Dinosaur is from Germany. A NC couple are Columbus and Queen. I have mild diarrhea overnight, fortunately before the rain started.

March 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1) to Horse Gap.

Hawk Mountain Shelter.
Hawk Mountain Shelter.

This has not been my best day ever. Heavy rain last night and by mistake I left 2 shirts outside in my vestibule So it was wet clothes and a wet tent to pack up this morning. Rained until noon and then the temps dropped. It was heavy fog, so nothing was getting dry. Still not able to eat or drink much at one time. Moving very slowly. But I threw in the towel at Horse gap when my pack broke. I was able to call for a shuttle to the outfitters and hostel at Mountain Crossing. Time to re-assess my gear and replace the pack. It’s been painful and ill-fitting.

A young man named Will helped me pick out a new, better fitting pack and went through all my gear. I’m sending home about 3 pounds of stuff! Did not need to resupply because I’ve barely eaten anything, but did order a pizza, take a shower and did laundry. It’s the little things that bring joy!

If I were a purist I would take a shuttle back to Horse Gap tomorrow. But I’m not going to. I’ve done this section lots of times, the last time in November. Gonna skip it. As slowly as I’m moving I could use the extra time.

I’ve been sick. I’ve had to replace gear. It’s colder and wetter than I’d expected (mostly because I planned to star a month later). I know this sounds like a very bad beginning, but I’m not daunted. I’ll make the adjustments I need and keep moving forward! I believe I can go all the way to Maine. The only way to know is to try.