Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I have never gone camping before. I considered it once but my enthusiasm for sleeping in the woods was left huddled in the corner after one drippy nose-and-Dramamine filled viewing of The Blair Witch Project. And that's fine. My idea of Roughing It means opening the fauxhogany entertainment center in a hotel room to reveal a teevee sans-Spectravision. If I can't peruse the skinema selection, checking for cleverly named flicks like Grinding Nemo or Lawrence of A Labia, then I may as well be laying in a pile of leaves. I also get stabby if there's not a bidet.

Regardless, in August my sister Runtie and I will be going to Peru for ten days with our uncle to trek the Inca Trail, visit Machu Picchu, and--after learning how many Peruvian foods are made of cow hearts--experience dramatic weight loss. "Why the fuck"--you may be asking yourself--"Did you sign up for this?" Because I'm a dorkchop. I have a fascination with ancient civs*--especially Pre-Columbian joints. I have a subscription to Archaeology magazine and pore over each photo of battered clay pieces like it's pottery porn**. Seeing Machu Picchu has been on my lifelist for a while, along with things like "have sex again***" and "bring dinosaurs back to life".

But still.

Can I stand ten days of trek? I have one broken toilet, but at least I have a toilet. I shower twice a day and constantly trim my, um, personal topiary. I'm terrified that by the time we touch down on American soil, it'll look like I have ZZ Top in a scissor lock.

Yesterday Runtie & I met our uncle at REI to buy "gear", which is the technical term for "sleeping bag that costs more than a liver transplant". It should be noted that our uncle holds a black belt in BadAssery. He has motorcycled across South America (like Che Guevara without the hipster cred), bagged peaks in Nepal, and summited Mount McKinley, an accomplishment that I didn't fully appreciate until I actually saw the mountain, which looms above Denali National Park like Stay-Puft over Manhattan. Needless to say, I tend to believe him when he says I can't just carry a mini-backpack shaped like Snoopy's head.

We started with the packs, strapping each bulky polyester beast to our backs like a waterproof Siamese twin. I immediately named mine Chang. On the trip, the porters will lug the heavy stuff but we'll still be responsible for our necessities, like extra clothing, water, and a portable DVD player with 174 miles of extension cord.

"Does it have to be so freaking big?" Runtie asked, leaning forward as our uncle dropped thirty pounds of weight in the pack.

The sales associate, Fether, who wore an earnest expression and "Sweet Baby James" hair said "Yes, it does. But you'll be on vacation, doing it for fun." She winced as he tightened a strap across her chest that mashed her boobs like uncooked biscuits. "Consider the homeless. They use a pack to carry their lives with them."

"Like turtles!" Runtie said.

"Also, they get shopping carts," I interjected. My uncle poked me in the knee pit with a hiking pole. Hard.

As I debated which insanely pricey pack would be roomy enough for Pigpen and I to live in after I spent my rent on camping gear, I overheard Fether and my uncle whispering. "Spill it to the rest of the class," I said.

"Fether asked whether we'd be carrying our own waste, which we will be."

I nodded. "Yeah, sure. Pocket our Snickers wrappers and all that".

The two of them exchanged a look.

"And, um, paper cups and stuff too. We'll recycle those," I added, throwing out the eco bit even though my sole concession to nature is eating only Organic Cheetos.

"Girls, you'll have to pick up your own waste. Your human waste."

Um. This is not a requirement if you vacation in, say, Myrtle Beach. There it's totally cool if you drop a deuce**** under the Apache Pier, so long as you cover it up with sand. Like a cat.

"You'll also need to collect any feminine hygiene products", Fether added, because Runtie and I must look ubermenstrual.

"Hell. No." Runtie said, shrugging off her pack. "If I get my period in Peru, I'll give myself a hysterectomy".

"Don't worry," I promised. "She'll totally bag up her ovaries."

We left the store, littered my car with giant bags like we'd just looted Whoville, and crossed the street to an Italian-ish restaurant. Our uncle, of course, wanted to discuss the trip.

"We need to make a list of goals," he began between bites of a soggy "I Can't Believe It's Not Bruschetta" bread mattress. "It's unacceptable to start a journey without knowing what you'd like to accomplish before the end of it. I'll start. We need to be safe. We'll increase our understanding of other cultures. Next?"

"We'll come back with hot ass legs," Runtie added.

"We won't contract intestinal parasites," I suggested.

"We won't poop!", we said together, the Constipation Chorus.

Our uncle asked for the check.

* I may or may not own a tee that says "I Dig Archaeology".
** Because of my affinity for dusty old shit, feel free to draw your own conclusions regarding my dating history.
*** With another person.
**** My other fave euphemism? Sending the Ewoks back to Endor.


Xenia said...

I've been excavating for eight years and I have yet to sleep in a tent or have to pick up my own feces. I'm probably one of the lucky ones though.

I want your 'I Dig Archaeology' shirt! But I want this one more:

Alice said...

I'm actually incredibly jealous of your upcoming trip to Peru. Except for the carrying your waste part, which I've had to do before and I'm not sure what options you have, but I had a can that worked really well for feminine products. Have a blast!

A Lover and a Fighter said...

it's totally possible to avoid pooping for that long. totally. all you have to do is barf every time you eat.

just call me janey g.

Gilahi said...

First of all, I totally wouldn't mind getting a mailbox full of catalogs from "Pottery Porn". There's a million-dollar idea if I ever heard one. Second, as a former chemistry major, I may or may not have at one time owned T-shirts and/or bumper stickers that said, "Heisenberg may have slept here", and "Chemists have solutions". So don't think you're out-geeking anybody reading your blog.

Studley said...

You could poop and bury it, either saying you were on an "archaeological dig" or doing it in the name of "giving back to nature".

Then again, your uncle sounds so badass that he would probably skin you alive on the spot, quite literally.

The blog of this trip is going to be outrageous.

kleph said...

you'll be fine.

most tour agencies supply the gear you will need, though. and you are required by peruvian law to utilize native porters and a guide so the heavy part of the lifting will be done by them.

still geeking out on gear at REI is a key part of the visiting peru experience. i finally succumbed to that this year and it was much more glorious than i ever imagined.

as i mentioned before, you need to get your reservations for the trail immediately. the inca trail is booked out at least through august.

and while in peru, never throw used toilet paper into the commode. the sewage system can't handle it. every toilet has a small trash can next to it to deposit the used paper.

kleph said...

...and, foodwise, you can't go to peru and not try cuy. (there are great restaurants serving it near the archeological site of Tipon in the sacred valley so you have no excuse.)

J-Money said...

xenia: For the record, I covet both your life and that t-shirt. You may also, um, dig this one. And whoever loves me the most will send this to me.

alice: Please tell me why you were carrying your own waste. I hope it involved hiking.

a lover...: AWESOME. I'll be turning this trip into an After School Special.

gilahi: I'm interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

studley: Hmm... note to self: Pack garden trowel.

kleph: You are amazing. Don't think that I'll be traipsing around Lima without contacting you... But guinea pig? Really? That was my class pet in 5th grade. I'm not sure I can get right with eating Mister Fluffkins.

kleph said...

it's only wrong if you name it first.

Mickey said...

Just double-bag it. And keep it on the outside of your pack.

I'm stealing your Ewoks line and will use it from now on to announce all impending business with a flourish. Thank you.

kleph said...

oh, Gilahi, when it comes to pottery porn peru's already got it covered.

The Dutchess of Kickball said...

This sounds amazing, but I announce "I don't pee in the woods" every time that camping is mentioned. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to do this.

Vanilla said...

You're going to be updating your blog via blackberry or something while you're gone right?

Gilahi said...

Dang. Leave it to me to have a great idea that's already 1800 years old.

Nate said...

Dude, even with the "carting out your own human waste" bit, I'm so totally jealous. I was actually looking at trips to Peru online last month and did not manage to convince my civilization-loving other half how much fun this would be. Enjoy it for me! Bring me back something - but please, not your own waste.

No, even that's fine.

each of the two said...

sounds super rad!
and other than the whole "picking up my own shit" concept, I am so jealous!

oh and for the whole lady massacre possibilites, try this

i hear it works.
not that i want to know.

J-Money said...

kleph: Noted. I try not to name any of my snacktreats. Except for the Teddy Grahams.

mickey: Glad I could be of service. And I will ABSOLUTELY be double bagging it. And perhaps clipping it on the outside of Runtie's pack.

dutchess of kickball: As a runner, I had to get over the peeing outside thing pretty quickly. Although I've yet to master "peeing outside without liberally splashing my shoes".

vanilla: I'm not sure about the availability of i-net so I'll prolly line up 10 days of guest bloggers and pop in when/if I can. You're at the top of the list, of course. A full report will follow, however, as soon as I've showered thoroughly.

kleph/gilahi: I cannot wait for those products to be available at West Elm. Beats the shit out of yet another fake palm frond.

nate: Actually, I'm really pumped about the trip and will gladly bring you back a souvenir that has never made its way through my GI tract.

each of the two: Oh. My. Lord. Even if I am, um, taking Carrie to the prom during the trip, I'm not placing anything called a "keeper" near my naughty bits.

bFlat said...

I am ridic jealous of your trip to Peru. I hope you have a great time! Too bad about carrying your own "waste". I'm sure you will come back with lots of stories to post about.

Laura said...

At the doctor's office recently, I picked up some magazine (Glamour, Self... one of those) that had an article about a woman who challenged herself by trekking Machu Picchu. It sounded incredible, and I thought it was something badass that I would want to try. However, her account did not mention any of this carrying your own waste stuff. I've learned to pee outside (particularly when intoxicated), but anything more than that and it MUST be a real bathroom. That is, with indoor plumbing. Not a portapotty or a hole in the dirt.

I think this is not the trip for me. Thanks for letting me know!

lacochran said...

You should totally do the Peru spa tour instead!

TNT Jim said...

Wow, talk about taking a shit. Yeah, that would be a deal killer for me.
What do you think of these:
dropping kids off at the pool; growing a tail; taking a growler.

The Flash said...

Here's the thing, though, J-Money... the food you get for camping is AWESOME. the dehydrated mac and cheese you make for yourself, the powdered milk with cereal, oh man, the freeze-dried sauteed mushrooms... at REI, you can eat better, for less, than you can in your real life. get yourself a camping stove and a cannister of butane and HAVE A BLAST!

Katelin said...

oh that's so exciting. i don't know that i'd be able to rough it so much either, but peru, wow. have a great time.

Paula said...

I could NOT rough it, the thought makes me feel slightly panicky. I wish you luck - although I am incredibly jealous about your upcoming trip, I would love to go to Peru . . . although I'd want to do it in five star luxury. IS there such a thing in Peru?

emily said...

Dude, I love Archaeology magazine! Also, there's a distinct possibility that I'll never stop laughing over this post. Ever.

emily said...

(Also, a friend of mine swears by this handy little camping tool.)

P.O.M. said...

The "She-Wee" that emily suggested... HOLY PISS that is funny and yet creepy at the same time.

Can't wait to read about your adventures in poop.

Butter Chicken said...

I am really having trouble with this carrying your own excrement concept. When's an appropriate time to dump it? When you get to Machu Picchu? When you arrive back in Lima? At the airport? Do you bring it home? How much feces can you make in a week? How do you choose what size a container? Are we talking Tupperware, a Thermos, a Ziploc bag? What if you get food poisoning - can you ignore the rule? How come urine is fine but feces isn't? Are you going to practice beforehand? I couldn't guarantee that I would get it right the first time I tried it. Do you pick it up off the ground or try to go straight in the container? Is there going to be splash back?

I am pretty stressed out about this on your behalf. You should probably just go to Palm Springs. It's much safer.

Angela said...

Haha, don't be so down just yet! You'll have an amazing time, I'm sure. As long as you're not on your period! But man oh man, I'd love to go camping in Peru! I DID once go camping for a week where we had to carry out our own waste. Turned out to be a pretty terrific trip. Once you see all the stars in the sky at night--miles and miles away from any town with electricity--you'll know it was worth it!

ZoomZoomZoom said...

thanks for the friend request on 20bloggers. I would love to go peru, but i am RIGHT with you on your views of 'roughing' it. the only things that are dirty from time to time are my martinis.


kleph said...

first the good news. peru has inreasingly been working to attract affluent travellers through high-end accomidations and travel. the bad news? unless you get on the trails you can't see things like this.

Felicia said...

Holy shit! That sounds horrible and wonderful all at the same time! I think I saw that Anthony Bourdain show go there once and they drank a drink that was made of spit. I'd only be into that if it made me drunk.

Christina said...

I am so glad you sent me a friend request on 20-Somethings because I love the way you write.

I don't know how I'd survive 10 days in that kind of environment. Everything sounded really amazing up until the whole carrying your excrements around like they're Thanksgiving leftovers. Eventually they have to get rid of them, right? When does that get to happen?

onewandering said...

Hey J-Money... found your site today through 20-something bloggers, and while I *should* be packing for my trip to Chicago, instead I'm stuck here sitting in front of my computer and laughing my @ss off!

Peru sounds like an awesome trip - I grew up camping "rugged" style, but we left our waste to fertilize the woods. Perhaps you could just explain to your guides that you're doing the environment a favor by leaving some shit behind??

If no dice, then it's definitely time to figure out how to get one of the porters to carry a Diaper Genie around!

Christy said...

Okay...I'll try to keep this short:

1) Butter Chicken has some really good points! How, When, & Where are particularly important when it comes to the thought of carrying human excrement(s?), because I can imagine that it might have some negative effects on your trip after a while.

2) I'm really excited to see that you've gotten some new readers!!! YAY!!! More smart people on Earth DO exist! Congrats!

3) I've come to the conclusion that I will miss out on some very great things about & on our planet because of my fear (not so much a fear as it is a sqeamishness (???)) of urine or feces actually touching me as/after it leaves my body...let alone someone else's! Yes, imagine me donating to my Dr.'s office or taking that special TEST that a man can't take for you. UGH. I had a really hard time in a lot of places in Italy that expected you to straddle a hole in the tile floor (much like a shower drain) instead of sitting on (or even squatting over) a toilet.

So, to wrap it up (since I can't keep anything short) I think that since you can already pee in public (on your runs) that you're well on your way & you'll be fine (maybe w/a little coaching from Uncle). =) GOOD LUCK!!! & be sure to blog for days when you're back, we'll miss you!!! (oh yeah, I'd love a souvenir if you can find one!) =) THANKS!

PS: What size T-shirt do you wear?

kleph said...

perhaps i should clarify this 'carry the poo' concept a bit and why it is necessary.

first off, given it's popularity, the machu picchu inca trail is one of the most regularly hiked nature trails in the world. it's so well known that "roughing it" is kind of a misnomer. of all the hikes you could do this one is probably the one you can do with the least amount of discomfort AND it's one-way, you ride the train back to cusco.

the inca trail is actually a general term for the highways system built across the andes by the incas to unify their empire. all told it stretched more than 14,000 miles across what is today ecuador, peru, bolivia and chile. the main road alone - known as the camino real - was more than 3,000 miles long.

the "so-called" inca trail most people know of is actually the capaq ñan trail that connected the capitol of cusco to machu picchu - believed to be a sort of royal retreat. and most hikes today cover just the final section of it from the village of ollantaytambo at the head of the sacred valley.

but that one portion of the ancient highway system today receives an inordinate portion of foot traffic. each year, more than 750,000 people visit machu picchu and a good portion of those wish to use the famed walk-up to see it.

concerns over erosion and the ecological impact of so many hikers prompted the government to limit the number of daily hikers on the trail to 500 total - including guides and porters. this means the trek has a tendency to fill up during the peak months of june through september. but even with the restrictions that's still several thousand hikers each year along a roadway designed for only intermittent use at most.

as a result leaving your trash - including human waste - isn't an option unless you would like to see handy toilets built regularly along the route. in fact, so much trash is discarded along the walkway that the trail is closed for a full month each february so it can be cleaned.

if you take other excursions the restrictions on the the capaq ñan trail will not apply. i just got back from a week-long trek south of cusco around the second-highest mountain in peru. we built a slot latrines everywhere we camped. when we moved on, we buried it and were done. but that hike gets only a fraction of the folks that the inca trail into machu picchu does.

Matt said...

Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience...Im sure youll love it, regardless how hairy you come back looking.

also- if you duece in the woods, but nobody is there to see it, does it really matter?

Robert W. said...

I hiked the "Camino Inca" (Inca Trail) several years ago, on a 4-day route. It was incredibly lovely, and seemed to have a completely different view every 20 feet.

My one piece of advice is to make sure that you take some time to get used to the altitude before you start the hike.

The standard advice is to spend your first 24 hours at altitude (hopefully in Cusco) doing absolutely NOTHING. Sit in a cafe and watch the world go by. Don't even walk around. You'll feel frustrated, but your body needs to adjust to the lack of oxygen.

A lot of people (particularly us Americans, who get too little vacation) want to get out there and do as much as possible in as little time as possible. But look at it this way: if you get altitude sickness, you'll see even less.

But altitude sickness can be pretty easily avoided if you give your body 24 hours to adjust.

Have fun! It sounds like a great trip.

kleph said...

@robert_w The standard advice is to spend your first 24 hours at altitude (hopefully in Cusco) doing absolutely NOTHING. Sit in a cafe and watch the world go by. Don't even walk around.

or, as the peruvians put it; "no beber, no comer, no mujer."

P.O.M. said...

I know I already commented on this. But I just read in InStyle that Cameron Diaz did that trek. Do you think she carried her own poop?

Captain Steve said...

Dude, I cannot wait until you get back from that trip to find out all the gory details. It's like a to be continued: Will she carry her own feces? Will there be a hot local that she falls madly in love with, forever foregoing Gym Crush? Will there be a hysterectomy? Find out next week on: J-Money!

the frog princess said...

Holy Shit... *I'm* going to be in Peru this August too!!

Though my traveling companion and I may take the cushy way out and just take the train up to Machu Picchu... or hike the 2 day short trail if I can talk him into it.

I'll do my best not to yell obscenities across the Sacred Valley if I see you :)

Laura said...

If this weren't sold out, I'd say you should run it: http://www.andesadventures.com/run2asum.htm