Traveling into history
In South America, Baldwin man visits ‘antique’ way of life
David Routh didn't know a lot of Spanish when he embarked on a nearly six-week long trip to South America. He had a list of places he wanted to see, a guide book to the countries he would be visiting, and everything he would need for the journey was packed in a backpack.
It was a trip of a lifetime for the assistant director of maintenance at Baker University. He had already conquered much of the United States, including Alaska, and Canada. And his next ambition was to visit third-world countries to witness a life not much different than a century ago.
If his time was limited and he could only visit one destination, it would be Machu Picchu, an Inca city in the mountains of Peru. That journey was the focus of his trip, but graced with time he built up two years of vacation to travel to South America he decided to visit the bordering countries of Ecuador and Bolivia as well.
"Originally, I wanted to visit Peru," said Routh, who recently returned to Baldwin City. "I thought I would make it an extended trip."
Finding a guide in Ecuador
In mid June Routh flew from Kansas City, to Houston, to Panama City to Quito, Ecuador where he immediately felt a little lost because he didn't talk the Spanish language.
He found a friendly guide in the foreign city and was given a tour like no other. Routh explored the "antique" areas of Quito, Ecuador's capital, where a rich history was blended with startling poverty.
Moved by the children who were forced to sell wares on the street, he captured the young faces and other local people he encountered on film.
"I spent a lot of time in what would be considered the old town of Quito," Routh said. "A lot of poor people lived there, and there was a lot of begging. I was overwhelmed by the poverty. You get a real vision of how we are blessed in the United States."
Security guards carrying machine guns in front of businesses and banks affirmed that hiring a guide for the two weeks in Ecuador was a wise decision.
"Ecuador seemed much more dangerous than Bolivia or Peru," Routh said. "I didn't see many more American tourists there.
"I hired an Ecuadorian guide who steered me away from dangerous places. But it wasn't security that made me find a guide, it was my lack of Spanish."
From Quito, Routh traveled to Banos, a town of hot springs that was evacuated from November 1999 through this March because Tunguragua, a volcano four miles away, threatened to erupt.
"The volcano is still smoking and spewing embers," Routh said. "And the town is still under alert."
Routh traveled from town to town by bus, which he estimated cost only $1 an hour to ride.
"It was very cheap to stay there," Routh said, mentioning that an American dollar was worth much more than the Ecuadorian equivalent. "I stayed in a reasonable place for $1.40 a night."
It was in Ecuador that Routh was introduced to a common meal guinea pig.
"It was edible, kind of like the dark meat of chicken," he said.
On to Peru
Routh flew from Ecuador to Lima, Peru, where he took a guided horseback ride through a wildlife preserve before beginning his trek to Machu Picchu.
"It was very beautiful," Routh said of the wildlife preserve noted for its birds and butterflies.
Although Machu Picchu is one of South America's most popular tourist sites, Routh skipped the easy bus ride to the landmark opting for a lengthy hike along the Inca Trail over three days and four nights. Once again, Routh hired a guide service, and guides, meals and tents were provided. He was accompanied by two Australians, two people from Scotland and two people from Wisconsin.
"All I carried was a personal pack and my sleeping bag," Routh said.
The Inca Trail climbed in elevation more than 4,000 feet to elevations of nearly 14,000 feet. The trail, an Inca road, was cobblestone, and passed other Inca ruins along the way to Machu Picchu.
"It was a very grueling hike," Routh said. "It was tough on an older guy."
Machu Picchu was worth the effort Routh said, and his group arrived in the early morning before the crowds of tourists.
"I always thought it looked like a beautiful place to see," Routh said of the Inca city. "The Inca architecture is phenomenal. The workmanship is perfect. The stones fit so perfectly, you can't get a knife between them."
A day's train ride took Routh to Lake Titicaca, where he took another guided tour of three islands.
One of the islands was made of reeds and anchored in place, and the island natives, primarily fisherman, also used homes and boats made of reeds.
"It was a very unique way of life," Routh said.
On another island, Routh and his group stayed with a family in a two-story adobe home without utilities where every meal was made with rice and potatoes.
With another group of travelers, Routh took a 70-kilometer bike ride on a mountain road that has claimed the lives of many motorists. He said most of the bike ride was downhill, so it was not as strenuous as it sounds.
"There were several memorials, as we went down the road, of people who had run off a cliff," Routh said.
A three-day, four-night jeep tour through southern Bolivia proved to be a little chilly for the clothes Routh brought along, and he said the scenery all looked the same after the first day.
"I didn't enjoy it, because I didn't have enough warm clothes," Routh said. "The jeep didn't have any heat and the accommodations were very poor."
The low note of the trip continued when Routh had his backpack stolen including his passport, plane ticket and camera. He returned to LaPaz to replace what he needed to get home.
"That was a downer end to the trip," he said. "It was no big loss other than a couple of rolls of film. I came home four days early."
Keeping in touch
Routh couldn't learn to be fluent in Spanish before the trip, but he did add a new skill before departing e-mail. He said there were Internet cafes popular with tourists and the local people in the cities he visited, and he wrote home on a regular basis.
Routh's wife, Kenna, stayed in Baldwin. Their three children are grown.
"After about three days, I'm glad nobody was with me," Routh said of the areas that would be considered primitive by American standards.
Routh would like to return to South American, some day, to visit Argentina and Brazil but not before expanding his Spanish skills.
"I would admonish people to learn another language," Routh said of what he learned. He admired the foreigners he traveled with, because many spoke two or three languages. "I am going to keep working on Spanish."
And before he sets out on any more adventures, Routh will do what he did for this trip read and research.
"I did a lot of reading," he said. "If you travel to a remote area, I would recommend getting a guide book with places to stay, places to eat, transportation, health problems, what to eat, what not to eat, when to go," Routh said. Routh said he took his trip during the dry season, and only got rained on one day. "A guide book is essential. I would have been lost without mine."
Routh said he probably won't take a vacation without his wife for a while, though. He admitted nearly six weeks is a long time to be gone.
"I don't think I'll be taking any trips alone in the near future," he said, laughing.