The Gringo Trail

The Volcano El Misti Rises Above the Cathedral of Arequipa

The Volcano El Misti Rises Above the Cathedral of Arequipa

Most tourists visiting South America tend to follow a well-beaten path to such destinations as Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu. This is so pronounced in Peru that there is a roughly U-Shaped itinerary known as the Gringo Trail. It stretches from Lima south to Arequipa, occasionally taking in such stopovers as Paracas, Nazca, and the Oasis of Huacachina. Then, around Arequipa, there is Colca Canyon (twice as deep as our Grand Canyon), and the even more remote and even deeper canyon at Cotahuasi. From there, the tourist usually heads of Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca. Backpackers frequently continue on to Copacabana and La Paz in Bolivia and on south.

In September, I myself will be hitting the Gringo Trail. The difference is that I will be avoiding two groups of people that constitute most of the tourists: backpackers and charter bus tour groups. I will probably encounter some of the same people several times, but I will likely not be traveling with them; and I won’t be staying in neither youth hostels nor five star hotels. I don’t mind the backpackers that much, but I dislike getting stuck in a party hostel in which the drinking and loud talk continue far into the wee hours of the morning. It will actually b quite a challenge to be taking the Gringo Trail while avoiding other travelers.

There are other sights in Peru beyond the Gringo Trail, but first I have to see to what extent I am affected by soroche, acut mountain sickness. It would be nice some day to visit Ancash, Huancayo, and Huancavelica. As for the Amazon areas, no thanks: I loathe mosquitoes.

Iceland Is for the Young

The Gamla Youth Hostel in Ísafjörður

The Gamla Youth Hostel in Ísafjörður

For some reason, I usually wind up staying at a youth hostel at least once on each vacation. In Iceland, it was because I delayed too long waiting for Martine’s health to improve before making my reservations. The impression I had was that not too many people traveled up north to the remote Westfjords. It turned out that I was wrong. Although I got two nights at the business-class Hotel Ísafjörður, my last two nights in the Westfjords were to be spent in a dorm room at the Gamla Guesthouse.

Now this brings up an interesting contradiction. Although I prefer to stay in a room myself with a made-up bed (a shared bathroom presents no particular difficulties for me), I always fear that my goods would be stolen by my fellow roommates. And, not only do I avoid talking to other tourists staying at the same hotel or guesthouse, I tend to make more friends with the young who stay in the hostels.

My roommates were a German couple and a French student named Jamie, all three of whom I grew to like—to the extent that I didn’t mind sharing information with them. (With American tourists dressed in their usual country-club resort togs, I usually answered all questions in Hungarian with a confused look on my face.)

The Westfjords were full of European backpackers looking for the weather to break so that they could catch a launch to the even more remote Hornstrandir area across the fjord. A hike there usually involved several days and could be ruined by the typically bad weather of the Westfjords.

So why did I like these young people so much? For one thing I admired their courage. I would never venture to carry a tend, sleeping bag, and several days of food on my bag with the threat of uncertain weather looming. For another, for the most part my fellow tourists at the Gamla Youth Hostel (shown above) were a congenial set of people. What I shared in common with them is that I had booked my trip myself and did a lot of preparation reading about the history and the culture. I even knew a fair bit about the Hornstrandir Peninsula, though I had to admit I was too old for its rigors.

In Iceland, there are two classes of accommodation, which can be roughly described as made-up bed accommodations and sleeping-bag accommodations. For the latter, a bed is provided—but without a pillow or cover. (I paid extra, because I knew what it was like to sleep in a stinky sleeping bag from past experience.) So I had what was, in essence, a made-up bed in a sleeping bag accommodation youth hostel. I got a few snarky looks from the management, but I succeeded in pointing out to them that Booking.Com, through which I made the reservation, said nothing about sleeping bags. And I was willing to pay the extra 1,700 kronurs for breakfast at the neighboring guesthouse under the same management, which was pretty good. (I especially liked the lumpfish caviar.)

Needless to say, I felt accepted even though I was by far the oldest person staying at the hostel.