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Gimme 5: Peru

Peru 5It’s been 2 months since I returned from Peru. While I have archived my photos on Flickr, and now have a digital album filled with memories, I have struggled to find a way to chronicle my Peruvian vacation, simply and appropriately here. When it comes to blogging it’s common to over-think. I decided to pick five standout takeaways from the trip and build from there.

1 The Inca Trail is an adventure of a lifetime. Being on the 26 mile trail for 4 days exceeded my expectations in terms of thrill, beauty, serenity, spirituality and joy. By the end of our third day, before even making it to Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed with awe. We began that day with magnificent views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, as seen from just outside our tent door. The day ended at Wiñay Wayna, where we had a stunning and impressive Incan archaeological site all to ourselves to explore, as the sun set on the Urubamba Valley.

Machu Pichu was impressive and there are no experiences I would trade for that moment when we walked through the Sun Gate at sunrise, to see the famous World Wonder waking up for the day amidst blue skies and sunshine. So many memorable moments along the 4 day trek, combined with the most stunning terrain, is what made for an unforgettable vacation (that I will unintentionally compare all future vacations to).

Mt. Salkantay in the distance, from an original stretch of the Inca Trial.

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna.

2 Pisco makes for delicious cocktails and Peruvian cuisine is among the most unique and satisfying in the world. Food from Peru is influenced heavily by what’s been grown there for thousands of years like potatoes, quinoa and corn. Peruvian cuisine is growing in popularity within world-class cities, as covered by Hemispheres Magazine, in a short and snapy piece in its June issue, which I read right before our trip (just in time to build excitement for my taste buds).

What experienced and open-minded foodie doesn’t salivate at the thought of fresh ceviche?

While I’m not raving here about the guinea pig or alpaca ravioli I sampled, I will say that the home-cooked meals our porters artistically created on the Inca Trail, were as enjoyable in their own right, as the items we indulged in on the tasting menu at one of the best restaurants in Lima.

Spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village

A spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village.

One of the chef's staff at Central Restaurante came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

One of the chef’s staff at Central Restaurante in Lima came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

3 Peru has a rich and fascinating history, rooted and influenced by the rise of the mighty and massive Incan Empire. During the weeks leading up to and through our trip, I read Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas, which served up a 500 page dose of Peruvian history, starting with the rise of the Incan Empire beginning in the 1300s, well through the Spanish colonization of the 1600s. The facts I learned in this book came to life during time in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, along the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, as well as deep in the Peruvian Amazon. This book is a comprehensive and well respected history lesson for anyone traveling to the land of the Incas.

The Last Days

In April, The Hollywood Reporter published a story reporting that TV network FX is planning to turn MacQuarrie’s book into a miniseries titled, Conquistadors. THR reported, “The drama tells the story of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, two Spanish Conquistadors who above all odds conquered the Incan empire of 10 million people with just 168 men, and Manco Inca and Cura Occlo, two teenage Incan royal lovers, who led one of the greatest rebellions in history.”

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Inca empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Incan empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America.

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced together stones

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced-together stones.

4 The Amazon (which represented nearly 50 percent of our overall Peruvian adventure) is filled with beauty, music, the elements and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings. Using pictures and audio, which often tell more appropriate stories than words, here is more on that:

Beauty: From delicate flowers and butterlies to playful, noisy scarlet macaws, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Beauty: From the hundreds of varieties of delicate flowers and butteries, to the playful, noisy scarlet macaws and the many species of their parrot friends, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce… listen for yourself with a clip I recorded outside our lodge….

The Elements

The elements: They call it a rainforest for a reason, even in the dry season. We learned this when we got caught out in the rain on an oxbow lake, doing some friendly stalking of some rowdy cowbirds. We must have hiked more than an hour in a heavy down-pour all the way back to the lodge. It took my soggy shoes more than 4 days to dry.

Wildlife: We had some once in a lifetime wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, the impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick, a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across the jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

Wildlife: We had some unique wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, an impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick (as photographed above), a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across a jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodents, capybaras (above).

5 Out Adventures, the travel group that my three travel mates and I went down to Peru with, executed a flawless Inca Trail trek and a magical journey in the jungle. Given that the Peru government requires Inca Trail hikers to go with a permitted group, I figured why the heck not try to find a gay group to go with. It’s not that men attracted to men always need or want to travel in packs, yet gay trekkers are going to be like-minded in many ways. Still, I was a little apprehensive going into the trip, traveling with a large group of  strangers.

Our trip was comprised of an interesting and lovable group of guys. From London to Vancouver, our group was diverse, including a soon-to-be father and the first gay marriage divorcees I’ve met. We shared experiences together in Lima, Cusco and on the Inca Trail that we will never forget. If I found myself in a city where any of my fellow trekkers reside, I would make it a priority to see them… (like I did last week when I saw uber attractive and all-around-nice-couple, Alex and Kevin, in their hometown of NYC).

I look forward to a future Out Adventures trip and I encourage fellow gay adventure seekers to explore their once-in-a-life-time excursions — from Croatia and Turkey to Nepal and Burma… and maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro sometime soon? (hint hint, Robert.)

Urubamba Valley

Machu Pichu

There are many more memories from my trip to Peru that I wish I could capture with words. At the very least, I will always have some of these stories to remind me of my adventure and the more than 600 additional photos on Flickr.

Gentleman, start your engines!

According to one of the most well respected online resources, Urban Dictionary (jk, mostly), a guilty pleasure is defined as something you shouldn’t like but do anyway OR as something that you love to do, but cannot admit to.

I’m not completely in the closet over the joy I receive from following the NASCAR circuit or watching a race on TV from time to time, but this personal interest may come to a surprise to many of my California friends. 🙂 I adventured down to Los Angeles many years ago for my first NASCAR race and have been known to drool over some of the drivers. Every time I’ve driven to Sonoma for a wine trip, my intrigue over the nearby course that hosts an annual NASCAR race has grown.

This weekend, my friend Sean and I had the pleasure of indulging in a day of stock car racing at Sonoma Raceway for the 2013 Toyota SaveMart 350. As thankful and gracious guests of Sprint, we enjoyed pre-race festivities and access to pit road, and a premium perch for watching the 220 mile race, among other generous benefits provided by the lead sponsors for NASCAR’s top racing series.

RV village

I didn’t realize how many people bring RVs to Sonoma Raceway to camp out and make a weekend of the racing festivities. Oddly enough, the expansive field of RVs kind of reminded me of Burning Man….

THE PITS

Before the race, we were able to explore pit road and check out all the different racing team’s pit stations, including rows and rows of tools, tires and communication equipment. We even had a chance to stand on the iconic finish line. I stood proud in front of my favorite team’s pit area, #48 Jimmie Johnson!

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Rows and rows of tires filled the pit road area. It’s estimated that race teams cumulatively go through 1,000 tires in a single race.  Sean was impressed by all the rubber.

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Set amidst the rolling hills of the northern California and Sonoma Valley, the Raceway is a surprisingly beautiful landscape.

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The Sonoma Raceway did a great job with the pre-show entertainment including a national anthem performance by a local American Idol finalist and an impressive airshow by the Patriots Jet Team, featuring former Thunderbird and Blue Angel pilots. The view from the Sprint hospitality tent was perfect for watching all the corners of the twisting, turning course.

Congratulations to Martin Truex Jr. who won the race by fending off Jeff Gordon, who surged his way to the front during the last dozen laps, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who ran out of gas during the final loop. Thanks again to Megan and Kimberly for making this awesome weekend possible.

Work it out Wednesday > #69 Color Run edition

Color Run

This weekend Megan, Austin and I participated in the Color Vibe color run in Vallejo, a 5K fun run, where as you can see from the photos above, we got blasted with colored cornstarch as we jogged around the Solano County Fairgrounds. While the race had an official DJ spinning some hot tunes from the likes of LMFAO prior to the beginning of the race, we had our own pre-race dance party warm up inside Megan’s CRV. One of the tunes the infamous DJ Broo selected for our exclusive warm up included a favorite remixed dance track, bringing together one of Megan’s all-time favorite musical muses, Robyn, with one of favorite DJs, Kaskade. Enjoy this oldie but a goodie that has been playing on repeat in my brain all week. Happy Hump Day!

Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend [Kaskade Remix]

More colorful photos from the fun run here.

I’m not a Survivor, but I’ve hung out with a few

Survivor: Philippines!

I’ve been a fan of the TV show Survivor since the very beginning. I watched Richard Hatch win it all in 2000 and I haven’t missed an episode since. That’s 25 seasons and 375 episodes. (If you watched every season back-to-back, 24 hours straight, it’d take you 17 days!)

My love for the show reached its zenith this weekend when I was treated to the opportunity to go the finale and live reunion in Los Angeles with my friend Lee, who does business with Mark Burnett, the creator and producer of the show.

I had no idea what was in store for me when I arrived at CBS Television City on Sunday, but it was an event I had been looking forward to all season long.

front row, all-access

Little did I know going into the night that I would be treated like VIP. Not only were we in the audience, but we were seated in the very front row, next to the family of final four contestant Malcolm.

Before the 2-hour finale began airing, we mingled with Mark Burnett himself and a few past contestants. I even had an awkward run in with a moody contestant from last season. At first I couldn’t pinpoint what season she had been on and when I asked she snapped at me, reminding me it wasn’t that long ago… Without me even saying another word, she immediately went into defense mode, yapping about how she was edited as the cockroach of her season because she ticked off some producer during filming… Dang honey, chill out! Then I rubbed elbows with long-time dreamy host Jeff Probst, and previous contestants Rob Cesternino, Parvati Shallow and Burton Roberts, yum.

Survivor: Philippines!

It was exciting and surreal to sit in the studio and watch the two-hour finale. Audience members and especially family members cheered and jeered at different points of the show. I probably had a smile on my face the entire time.

After the final tribal council aired and it was time for Jeff to read the votes and announce the winner, the entire cast came out and got set up for the big live reveal. At this point I was rooting for Lisa but thought Michael had the best shot of winning. However, both of them delivered weak answers to jury questions during the final tribal council and I knew Denise had made a much stronger case for the million dollar prize.

LIVE!

Before I knew it, the votes were read, Denise had won 5-1-1 and it was time for the live reunion show. This was my chance to appear on national television for the second time! (The first being when I stood behind a person being interviewed by Al Roker during The Today Show in 2001.)

It was fascinating being part of the live show. There were cameras zipping around everywhere and countdowns-til-the-next-commercial flashing all over.

After the reunion concluded, we jetted for the hallway where Lee knew the cast would exit the set. He knew if we acted fast we’d have a chance to take a picture or two with a contestant or two. We poked around, crossed paths with many of this season’s notable contestants including Jeff, Pete and RC, and Michael, Malcolm and Lisa, and I got to congratulate Denise on her win. We even popped into the media tent (we literally had all-access!) and I got to meet one of my favorite contestants of all-time, the sweet and friendly Jerri Manthey!

back stage, on stage, in the halls, media tent

Finally after about 2 hours of stalking around CBS, we finally had the chance to pull grumpy, hottie, fourth place contestant Malcolm aside for some quick snapshots. 🙂

Malcolm and Derek, no big deal

A lot of my friends poke fun of me over my long standing love for Survivor, but I have no shame. There aren’t many things I’ve done in my life for 12 years straight and I’m proud to say being a Survivor fan is one of them. It’s a fascinating show about how strangers interact and treat each other under extreme conditions, what drives people to win, competitiveness, physicality and basic human interactions. The experience changes people in positive ways and it’s always inspiring to watch that unfold. The show is always set in beautiful locations, from Africa to the Amazon to all over the South Pacific, and it makes me want to explore the world. Every season is different and worth watching for its own reasons. As long as it’s on, I’ll be a loyal viewer.

As dorky as it may sound, being at the finale and reunion was a night I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. I had a blast and am so grateful for the experience.

Thank you again Lee, I owe you big!

For all my photos from the night, visit my Survivor finale Flickr album.

Why I ride

Why did I ride in the AIDS Lifeycle last year? To be part of the gay community in SF in an entirely new way, to challenge myself physically and to help spread awareness for HIV and AIDS as an epidemic, still today.

Last year I was part of a short video series by Mojo Interactive to help spread awareness online. My video is about my experience of riding through small towns down the coast of California and feeling like our presence would get families talking about HIV and AIDS, when they otherwise might never have.


That was last year, what about this year? Why am I riding again? Well one reason is that it is one of the most fun weeks you’ll ever experience. It’s a week full of sunshine, good looking men, exercise, so much laughter and connections with people from all walks of life. It’s an amazing community of wonderful, generous people and it’s unlike any other experience to be part of it for seven days.

More importantly this year I’m riding because I want to see an end to HIV and AIDS in my lifetime. I want for us to eliminate this virus and disease from not only the gay community but from the whole world. While it can be much easier to live with HIV/AIDS now, there are still so many stigmas and stresses associated with carrying it. And in less developed parts of the world the disease is still killing over a million people a year.

Thank you to everyone that has donated to support my 545 mile bike ride to LA the last two years. Together we have raised more than $13,000 to end help end HIV/AIDS.

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Me outside Cow Palace on Day 0 (orientation), ready for my second ALC!

Me and Katie at Day 0, standing in front of a giant banner with some familiar faces from ALC10.

My green card biography

On the first night of my three day weekend in Yosemite last month our group of nine or so dug out the always popular game Apples to Apples. I’ve been playing Apples to Apples for several years, on camping trips, with friends, over the holidays. I’m close to saying I’ve played enough of this game for one lifetime.

But everyone was enthusiastic about playing so I agreed to join in. It was a big group so at first we decided we would play until someone won three green cards. Time passed quickly so we extended the game to eight green cards. The group played at high speed, meaning they’d throw down red cards quickly each round and expected the person calling the green card to pick a winner expediently. This made it a little more exciting.

After a few rounds someone brought up the theory that the green cards you collect through winning rounds represent an accurate description of you. I actually had never heard this theory so I took a look at the two cards I had won so far, entertaining and flamboyant. While I’ve never considered myself particularly flamboyant I recognize the word can be interpreted in different ways, so I don’t think it’s an all together inaccurate way to describe me. I looked around the table and saw people that had collected words like hostile, expensive, unusual, responsible, cuddly and shiny. Some were funny, but most were accurate in one way or another and no one was denying it, even the guy who collected obnoxious, offensive and bogus.

As the game went on, my luck continued and I remained competitive, collecting a handful of wins. As the rounds progressed, my collection of cards delivered words and phrases that the group all agreed represented me well, although they also joked my cards were almost unfairly positive.

In the end, I won the game with the brains & brawn card.

derek described by his seven winning green cards

A Very Glacial Presidents Day

This past weekend I embarked on an outdoor adventure with my friend Nicolas, 7 other guys and 1 (token) gal. We cross country skied 11 miles from Badger Pass to Glacier Point in beautiful Yosemite National Park.

The adventurous crew outside the Glacier Point Ski Hut

Glacier Point is usually a chaotic tourist destination during the summer, with buses dropping off dozens of tourists and an endless stream of cars coming in and out, so visitors can take in one of the most stunning views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra.

Me, standing very precariously on one of the ledges at Glacier Point (which you can not get to during the busy summer months), high above Yosemite Valley with both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in the distance

From Glacier Point you get a bird’s eye view of the entire Yosemite Valley. From El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome and the great peaks of Mt. Hoffman, Clouds Rest and Mt. Starr King (or Mt. Starr Jones as I like to call it), all the way down to the tiny cars and people that look like ants, scurrying around the valley floor. It was so quiet you could hear the falling water from both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.

Sitting in front of a sight that never gets old, mighty Half Dome

a beautiful sunrise over the Sierra

After our 11 mile workout skiing to the hut, we essentially had this well earned view to ourselves. We stayed overnight at the Glacier Point Ski Hut (also known as the Glacier Point gift and snack shop in the summer) on Saturday and Sunday nights, and enjoyed a 4 mile snow shoe trek up to Sentinel Dome for a 360 degree view of Yosemite on Sunday afternoon. Sitting about 1,000 feet higher than Glacier Point, the sights from Sentinel Dome extend far into the Sierra, with impressive peak views including Cathedral and Tenaya Peaks, Mt. Conness and Mt. Lyell.

Atop Sentinel Dome with views of the Sierra extending for miles

On Monday morning we skied the 11 miles back out to Badger Pass and concluded our quiet and relaxing but active and laugh-filled weekend.

Compared to a lot of folks, I’ve seen a lot of Yosemite. But this weekend I got to see one of my favorite places in a new way and through a new experience, accompanied by good company and a good workout.

Oh, and let’s get one thing straight. Just because you’ve got significant experience with downhill skiing (and consider yourself quite good) and have even done a little bit of cross country skate skiing, it doesn’t mean you’re prepared to cross country ski (classic style) 22 miles in the mountains. Luckily, I’m a quick learner and can laugh off falls and tumbles pretty easily. 🙂

All photos credited to the always awesome, Nicolas Smith. All of his photos from the trip can be viewed here.