All posts by Nick Neumann

Growing up in downtown San Francisco surrounded by tourists and crackheads gave Nick a unique perspective on inner city living. This diverse upbringing conditioned him for a globetrotting life of urban adventure. After traveling extensively through South Asia, he kicked it with Maasai warriors during a four month stay in Tanzania, majored in Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College and spent seven months backpacking around South American making documentaries.

Over The Andes

Journey into Peru’s wild and ancient north where misty mountains plunge into unexplored jungle, ancient ruins lie empty and the once-powerful Inca empire envelopes you. Around every cobble stone corner there are surprises waiting to be discovered.

Our bus from Lima climbed high over the Andes to the Huánuco, once a key Inca settlement on the road between Cusco to Cajamarca. The city is known for the nearby Temple of Kotosh, one of Peru’s oldest Andean archaeological sites and La Danza de los Negritos, a celebration in remembrance of the slaves that were brought to work in the surrounding mines.

After dipping into the jungle, we emerged in the laid back town of Chachapoyas. For centuries it was the base from which the Spanish explored and exploited the Amazon. It is nestled in ethereal cloud forest and filled uncharted ruins. From Chachas it is a two hour drive to the famous ruin of Kuélap.  This grand citadel is perched on a limestone mountain. Only twenty or so years before the Spanish arrived (and burned it down,) it was conquered by the Incas.

The next part of the journey was a real test of nerves. From Chachapoyas we climbed high up a narrow, foggy road and over Black Mud Pass (12066 ft / 3678m).  There were no guard rails just a sheer three kilometer drop to the Rio Marañon below.

Happy that we survived the journey we settled into the colonial metropolis of Cajamarca. Little remains of the Inca city, except for the massive room the Spanish forced the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa to fill with gold before they killed him and melted it down.  The havoc the Spanish wreaked on the region is on prominent display in Cajamarca. It was always on the back of my mind during the jubilant carnival festivities that overwhelmed the city in the following days. The crazy carnival in Cajamarca turns into a giant water fight.  We warmed ourselves by soaking in the city’s thermal baths, the same natural baths where Atahualpa was relaxing when the Spanish arrived in Cajamarca.

The Northern Highlands are a paradise for anyone seeking Peru’s beauty, unique culture and history without all the crowds.  Cloud forests, waterfalls, jungle covered ruins, bustling markets and the Peru’s fascinating past all await those who aren’t afraid to head off the beaten path.

Recommended listening – LA DANZA by NACIÓN EKEKO

Into the Jungles of Peru

Vast Amazonian jungle is not always the first thing that comes to mind when people imagine Peru. However, the Peruvian Amazon covers 60% of the country and a remarkable 96% of its fresh water eventually drains into the Amazon basin.

During our last excursion to Peru we explored the land of the Incas, ventured up the highest inhabited place on earth, and ate our way through Lima, South America’s culinary capital, so we figured it was time to return to Peru and head into the jungle.

This time I had a Peruvian friend, Marissé, who was willing to accompany me on a jungle adventure. She has family in Lamas, a enchanting town in the hills near Tarapoto. So we decided to head there and make a few stops along the way.

The sweltering jungle rainforest metropolis of Tarapoto lies at the edge of the Andean foothills and the boundless jungle. The muggy streets are packed with mototaxis, three wheeled motorcycles, and stalls piled high with fresh fruit.  The locals almost sing when they speak Spanish and are exceedingly friendly.

Tarapoto is popular vacation destination for Peruvians, usually the gringos head to Iquitos.  During the 80’s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorized the Amazon jungle and the central highlands. Years of coca cultivation and trafficking followed in these regions. Thus for many years large areas in Peru were off limits to travelers, but now it  is mostly safe and the burgeoning Peruvian middle class is taking advantage of the their country’s natural wealth.

The jungle is worlds away from the chaos of dusty Lima and the breathless colonial, Andean cities. It is a land of plenty. Seemingly every plant can be eaten or used in some way.  There will always be dinner. What they lack in modern amenities they more than make up for in spirit. No trip to Peru is complete with out a journey into the jungles of Peru.

Unmasking Macedonia

In Europe the road less traveled leads directly to Macedonia.  A land of stunning natural beauty, an eclectic mix of ancient history and modernity and some of the most welcoming people on the continent.

At every turn I was welcomed with open arms, offered coffee, followed quickly by a shot (or two) of rakiya, a strong fruit brandy, and often food followed. This is not the cold Europe that many have come to expect. In fact it is more reminiscent of an Ottoman and Soviet infused dreamland.

The landscape is absolutely stunning from the glittering shores of Lake Ohrit to the steep cliffs of Matka Canyon. Unfortunately, as is the case across much of the former Yugoslavia, industry has disappeared, and along with it went the jobs and the social safety net. While everything is relatively cheap, the average wage is the lowest in Balkans at less than $400 per month.

Jobs are increasingly scarce in Macedonia’s slumping economy, however the younger generation is tapping into the global, digital gold rush. In Veles I met a professional video game player.  A few of his friends are part of a ring of over 100 fake new websites based in Veles that tapped into the US economy by spreading fake news. It turned into a very lucrative hobby as the US election heated up.

Corruption runs rampant and is clearly visible in the capital, Skopje,  currently undergoing a massive government-led transformation. Most Macedonians think that the money is being misused. Giant statues of Alexander are great, but all the money could be spent in far more productive way.  The roads are full of potholes and crucial infrastructure is crumbling.  Turns out construction is a wonderful way to launder money and this is not lost on the people.  They voiced their disgust with the ruling party during the Colorful Revolution this past summer, but so far it was only a small step in the right direction.

Macedonia is immune to labels and endlessly fascinating.  Part Balkan, part Mediterranean and rich in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history, this tiny country has much to offer.  Ultimately I would return simply for the people.  It is not too late to explore Macedonia and experience a little known slice of Europe before it lurches out of obscurity.

Albanian Adventure

I never expected to end up in Albania, but once I did, and tasted the delicious burek and coffee, met wonderful people and experienced the untapped beauty, I had a difficult time leaving.

Albania was under the tight grip of communism for nearly 50 years. Enver Hoxha ruled the country with an iron fist as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces from 1944 until his death in 1985.  During his rule Albania declared itself the first atheist state and destroyed many religious artifacts.  Communist rule collapsed in 1991 and the country has been rapidly opened itself up to the world since.

Now it is a land of opportunity,  just starting to crank it into high gear.  You can sense an eagerness to embrace western culture.  Unfortunately corruption runs rampant and the average salary is hovering around $300 a month.  This does make the country cheap for travelers who can take advantage of the wealth of natural beauty and history.  The best part is that you can do it without running into any other tourists.  Lets go on a journey back to the days when coffee and tobacco ruled and family was the only law. Visit now before its too late.

A Taste of Lima – Exploring South America’s Culinary Capital (Video)

Lima is a city of contrast and food. The Peruvian capital features an alluring mix of people and food from the Amazon, the Andes and the Pacific coast. Follow Walker as he explores Lima’s diverse neighborhoods in search of the tastiest food Lima has to offer.