This journal is a compilation of emails sent home from cybercafes in addition to notes taken en route on a Palm Pilot. We traveled in Peru from July 14 to August 12 2000, mostly around the Cusco area. We made excursions to Machu Picchu via a four-day back-packing trek on the Inca Trail, to the rain forest near Puerto Maldonado, and to Lima.
Our account of the Inca Trail starts on July 27.
Notes on the rainforest trip begin on August 4.
Photos can be found here.
07/29 | 07/30 | 07/31 | 08/01 | 08/02 | 08/03 | 08/04 | 08/05 | 08/06 | 08/07 | 08/08 | 08/09 | 08/10 | Epilogue
Donna's Peru Log
Chris' Peru Log
We made it safely, and, amazingly enough, on time. We're in a cybercafe near our homes. Our hosts are a nice couple and they have 2 teenaged children. It's a comfortable place. The phone number is XXXXXX (I don't know the country code for Peru). We start at the school on Monday and I think tomorrow we'll do any paperwork for it. Our hostess speaks virtually no English but our host does. Hopefully soon we won't need him to translate. Altitude isn't that bad but we are taking Diamox for it.
Well - here we are: Peru, south of the equator, bouncing along in an ancient 727 out of Lima to our new home for the next two weeks: Cuzco.
It was cloudy at sea level in Lima. As we flew SE toward Cuzco, the Andes quickly started poking out of the clouds. Now there are snow-covered peaks in the distance. I'm becoming convinced, peering out the weathered, scratched windows, that rather than a final descent into Cuzco, the ground is just going to come up and great us.
My feet are slightly tingly in little focused patches. On the last flight my right little toe was tingly all by itself. Very odd. Donna says it's the Diamox we're taking for the altitude.
Landing. Soon I'll be desperately sucking the thin Andean air hoping for a few O2 molecules....
Another interesting day in Cusco. Yesterday we went to the ciudad (city) and walked around. We happened upon a parade of school-children all dressed in traditional Andean costumes and watched that for a while. Each class was followed by a form of music, either a car with a sound system/megaphone or 2 people with a flute and drum. The little ones couldn't master their choreography! It was very cute.
Today we went back to the same place, Plaza de Armas, and watched a flag raising ceremony. The Peruvian and Incan flags were raised in front of a cathedral, with a large parade of military, police, and various civilian groups (seemed like equivalents to scouts, masons, DAR, etc.) There was a band made up entirely of 5 year olds playing drums and tamborines, and another of teenagers that was very good - twirled their drum sticks between beats, even.
This weekend is Paucartambo - a religious holiday - and Independence day is 7/28 so I think the flag raising (which is a weekly event) was bigger than usual.
It's very cold here. I didn't quite expect this. I knew that it would be cold at night, but it's only barely 50 during the day, not the promised 70's.
Went to a cybercafe yesterday to let everyone know that we made it safely. I think there are more cybercafes in Cuzco than in all of Boston. I suppose it's not too surprising that Boston isn't a mecca of cybercafes. These days if you use a cybercafe regularly then you're probably able to afford a cheap PC.
Anyway, most of yesterday afternoon was spent getting to know our host family. Their main meal is at noontime, so our first meal with them was a dinner-like affair with a slightly picante beef stew (something de carné), a potato dish with sliced potatoes, cheese and eggs (pastille de papas), and a salad that they thoughtfully prepared with filtered water. There was also a frothy drink of whipped pineapple (piña) and apple (manzanos). I'm not sure why that didn't put me into an anaphylactic tail-spin, but it didn't. Maybe the tiny little apples they have are missing the vital protein that I react to in their larger cousins.
Lunch and dinner are switched around, according to the English-speaking patriarch of our host family, Hector, due to the difficulty of digesting at altitude. Best not to eat a big meal before bedtime, evidently.
The evening we spent in Plaza de Armas, the main town square. There was a parade of local school children all dressed in costume. Some groups were dressed in brightly colored outfits that looked traditional to me. Others were dressed in more fanciful costumes including one group with a large snake-like creature built from wood and paper that they carried like a Chinese dragon. All the groups were doing some sort of dance and were accompanied by music, often a car with bull-horn attached, but occasionally a live pipe and drum combo. No live Andean pan-pipes, but many on tape.
Dinner was bread and cheese scavenged from the kitchen. We returned to any empty house before the appointed time for the evening meal. There seem to be stirrings now, so they must have returned after we went to bed.
Second day. Waiting at the corner internet cafe for our compatriots to show up.
Somewhat warmer today... maybe even up to the promised 70 during the day. Nights are very cold.
Two parades in two days. I'm going to be disappointed if there isn't one tomorrow. Yesterday was a parade of school-children in costumes - some traditional looking, some fanciful. Today was the weekly flag raising in the Plaza de Armas (equivalent to a Mexican zocolo I think, with the state building, large cathedral and a bunch of stores).
Our host family is nice although they're out of town today for a big festival, so we're on our own today. We considered going with them but it was an hour drive both ways and it wasn't really clear what we were actually going to. Turns out that Cuzco center was quite a festival of it's own with the flag raising, parade, and all that.
School starts tomorrow. Good thing because whenever we have free time we buy something. Everything is cheap. I'm wearing a nice Andean woven belt and my Alpaca wool gloves are in my pocket for later. About $5 total.
School started today. We had 4 hours of instruction - just Chris and I, as Soja, Sawako, and Rob all have more Spanish experience than we do. Our professor's name is Celina. We mostly went over some verbs, articles of clothing, colors, etc. We walked back home from there, about 3 miles, for the exercise. We are adapting well to the altitude. We do have some homework to do tonight.
Does cardamom have leaves? I think there were some leaves in one of my dishes that smelled like cardamom, not like bay or something like that.
Food is mostly bread/cheese/potatoes/beef and vegetables. The big meal of the day is at lunchtime and the evening meal is very light.
Yesterday afternoon we went back to the center of town and showed Soja around as she just arrived yesterday. It's not a big place and it is an easy walk from the Plaza de Armas to the school and the clubhouse of the South American Explorers club which we joined in case we needed some help, plus a place to get more information about the area.
It's very cold at night, and the house doesn't have heat but last night the family lit a fire which made the house much warmer. We have 3 blankets on our bed. For some odd reason there is only hot water from 6-9 am so we have to time our showers accordingly.
I am starting to get the hang of the language, but am nowhere near having a reasonable conversation with anyone. It takes a long time. But I'm getting used to hearing Spanish.
Cusco is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Far in the distance we can see one mountain with snow on it. Most of the others are just brown. The sky is amazingly blue, with lots of puffy white clouds today. It's about 70 degrees today. We have to wear sunscreen because we're so high up. The roads are paved but dusty and there are lots of taxis. The pollution isn't nearly as bad as Nepal.
I guess soon we'll have to get a pass that allows us into all the museums.
I'm beginning to think there's a parade everyday here. Yesterday morning was spent watching a very grand flag raising ceremony: the military raised the Peruvian flag and what I'm guessing were civil police raised the Incan flag: a rainbow. There were about 100 soldiers in various uniforms carrying a variety of bayoneted, vicious looking weaponry. The ceremony included civil dignitaries, a 20-some-odd gun salute, and yet another long parade (this time apparently consisting of Masons-like groups).
Anyway, after the parade we walked around Av. el Sol to get our bearings. We visited the Spanish school (closed) and the South American Explorers clubhouse (also closed). On our way we also passed through the most utilitarian open-air market I've ever seen: brushes, soap, shoes, pan-fried food, fresh juice, key makers (about 10 in two blocks - how do you suppose they all stay in business?) and an old woman selling nothing but toilet paper (and not very successfully at 12 Sol per roll when it can be had for less than 2 at the corner store).
We rehydrated and had a less than inspired almuerzo (mid-day meal) of steam-rolled then pan-fried chicken. At least we had balcony seats overlooking the rather well-done Plaza de Armas with its lawns, flowers, merman-adorned fountain, geometric walkways and stunning Iglesia de Compania. We couldn't see the less stunning, but still grand Cuzco Cathedral since we were next to it on the square.
After lunch we found the street vendors just off the square. This was a less utilitarian, more turistica open air market, so we went on a bit of a shopping spree. After dropping off our loot we met up with Rob & Sawako back at the cybercafe where we make daily stops to check in with the world. Soja was there as well, having just arrived in Cuzco, so we used her education as an excuse to initiate another shopping spree. Our host family thanked us for supporting the local economy so enthusiastically.
Peru, like many places is a barter culture. We as Americans are ill-equipped to deal with this. One can get into the numbers game: make counter offers, threaten to walk away, fight tooth and nail for every last Sol. However, at some point (rather early on for me it seems) some accountant in the back of your head runs the exchange rate numbers and announces in an even voice, "by the way, even if we paid the asking price, we'd still be getting this very nice sweater that would probably cost at least $80 at home, if we could even find a sweater this nice, for about $10." At that point it all seems rather silly, stingy, and altogether a waste of good time.
At some point between shopping sprees we found ourselves in a cafe explaining to a fellow traveler why mate de coca spruced up their spirits. "No, there's no caffeine. They're coca leaves. Coca leaves, as in the stuff they make cocaine out of. Ahh yes, now you see...."
Funny, before we got here we had several brief conversations about, "are we going to drink the coca tea". In fact several people, when they found out we were going to Peru posed the question in a dark, conspiratorial tone. I had visions of opium dens where they bring you steaming cups of tea, and occasionally the heat busts the place for missing a payoff. America really fucks up your sense of reality. The first thing that happens after you step off the plane in Cuzco is that a girl dressed in traditional Incan garb hands you a cup of mate de coca. It comes in prim little tea bags like any other tea. Children drink it at breakfast - in front of their parents.
Do you know what the worst part is? It has less of a kick than Coca-Cola.
Today was the first day of Spanish class. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I've certainly had classes where I didn't understand every nuance of the material, but this is the first time in my life that I can remember, that I was completely without a clue. In following with the whole immersion thing, the instructor speaks almost no English, and in fact occasionally has to look up words in the Spanish-English dictionary when we get stuck.
She'll go on for a while and I'll be attending to every word, trying to extract some morsel of meaning. Suddenly she'll look at me expecting an answer and I'm left with no option but to eke out a feeble, "no entiende" It's not that I don't know the answer. I didn't even realize a question was coming. Wow.
Woke up with a whopping headache. Still have it. ?dehydration vs. altitude vs. caffeine withdrawal. Who knows? We walked to school today. It seems that every decision is requiring way too much discussion amongst the troops - arranging for a guided tour of the sacred valley this weekend took about 30 minutes after we all agreed to do it in about 2 minutes. Too many of us, myself in particular, are control freaks, I think. It's hard on me to not have a plan.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the South American Explorers clubhouse on Avenida el Sol. We became members and I think I may have to go back there to check out the trip reports for Manu and Madre de Dios and Puno. We have to decide what to do with our other week here. The membership gets us discounts at various restaurants and hotels-hostels around here. Anyway, the clubhouse is nice and safe and we will be leaving some of our things there when we go on the trek.
Speaking of which, I am a little worried about the trek. The altitude is significant. I expected it, but it's still a shock. The mate de coca is helping, I think, but one can only drink so much tea. I never feel as though I've drunk enough water. We're hoping that the daily walk to school will help get us in shape, but I feel more lousy today than the day we arrived.
Breakfast today was homemade yogurt and granola/quinoa mixed in. It was pretty good. I like the quinoa a lot. Last night our family abandoned us again - they seem to disappear frequently and not tell us, and we're left wondering if we should forage for food or wait. Last night we waited and ate dinner at 9 pm. Tonight we'll meet the gang at a cafe in town and have a small supper. Chris and I hope to go to either a church or museum today. Everything seems to close between 5:30 and 6:00 so we won't be too late.
Celina, our profesora, is very nice. I do feel tremendously overwhelmed with the language. Yesterday at the clubhouse I was overcome with a wave of confusion. It was very disturbing. I couldn't think and I felt awful. This is overwhelming in a way that Nepal never was: Nepal was noisy, dirty, and crowded but felt completely safe and English was reasonably understood in Kathmandu. Here it's less crowded but not as safe and we really have to speak Spanish to get by. It's a totally different experience. The roads are paved and the cars vary between very new and very old. Buses seem to be big vans (old) that just rumble down the road and barely stop at their prescribed places - people just pour out and more run to catch the bus before it goes again. They are constant, too.
I'm almost out of time and we have to go for "almuerzo" - the main meal of the day.
Plans are starting to form. There's actually a surprising shortage of time because the Spanish school and study time are both significant constraints. On the list of potential trips: sunrise hike to a nearby peak, a guided tour of the Sacred Valley this weekend, possibly a walking tour of nearby ruins, the Machu Picchu trek of course, and after that Lake Titicaca, and/or a trip to the jungle East of here. We'll see how much of that we manage. The all sound like fun trips.
Second day of Spanish class today. Still overwhelming, but at least I don't feel completely lost anymore. Forward progress.
We're making plans for this weekend and post-Machu Picchu. Will keep you posted.
Things are going well. We learned how to conjugate verbs today and that has made a huge difference. We actually had a conversation with our teacher in Spanish. Very rewarding. We're taking a guided tour on Sunday of the sacred valley and on Saturday we're going to take a bus to some local ruins, Tambo Machay, and walk back to Cusco (about 8 km) and visit 3 other ruins along the way. Should be good preparation for the trek.
As far as the trek goes, it seems that there will be a large group. The 6 of us, plus 2 other students from the school, and we join other people through the travel agency that the school uses. We walk to school every morning (about a 50 minute walk) in an effort to get better acclimatized and I think it's working. My fingernails aren't as blue anymore.
There is a hot air balloon that we can see from the walk to school - it's for bungee jumping, of all things. We could actually see someone bouncing up and down below the balloon. Don't worry, I have NO desire to do that! There are 2 parrots next door to our house, and they say "Hola", of course. Quite a surprise when we first heard them. One is green and the other is grey. What else? Lots of dogs, and at night they bark a lot. There are little security outposts in our neighborhood and there was actually someone manning the booth last night. We went to a cafe to study after touring the Cathedral and so had dinner with the crew and got home around 8:30. The sunrise is around 6:00 and sunset is around 6:00-6:30.
The cathedral is undergoing renovation and it was interesting to see the huge panels of paintings on the ground that are usually so high you can't see any details. Lots of gold (of course) and the Spanish are big on the blood of Christ. The crucifixes are exceptionally gory. Because the paintings were done by locals shortly after being converted, the paintings are pretty interesting. In particular, at the Last Supper, Jesus and the Apostles are eating cuy, which is roast guinea pig, a local delicacy. Yum. It's amusing, nonetheless. There were some amazing wood carvings, too, mostly the choir and the altar.
Well, I'm almost out of time so I'll go for now. (we buy time on the internet for 1 sole/15 minutes. 3.5 soles = 1 dollar)
We're discovering that one month just isn't enough. I think that because it's hard to get anywhere reliably. We're going to have to make a choice between the rainforest and the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. They both sound very interesting. We need to leave a several day buffer in Cusco at the end to make sure we don't miss our flight due to travel delays, and after Machu Picchu we'll only have about 7-8 days. Votes? We joined the South American Explorers and the clubhouse has extensive trip reports, so we're going to go over there and do some research on the subject this afternoon.
Spanish classes are going well. In class today we had a conversation about our house and where we work. It felt good, despite the constant dictionary access, to be hacking our way through a conversation.
Donna says Cuzco reminds her a lot of Kathmandu. Same traffic, poverty, dust, etc.
Things are going well. We had a conversation in Spanish today with our profesora about "el excavacion grande" (The big dig.) We spend a lot of time flipping through the dictionary but we are beginning to understand a lot and are getting our point across reasonably well. At this point we have enough vocabulary to get by and we only have 4 more classes - next week we'll spend our class time doing conversational Spanish. It really helps to have to talk all the time.
We are busy arranging a trip to the jungle for after the trek as we'll have another week here after our friends leave. We found a very interesting jungle lodge in Madre de Dios that is owned by a local tribe and are planning a 4 day/3 night trip there. We will have to fly to Puerto Maldonado and then take a boat to the lodge (the lodge staff comes and gets us and takes us back). One of the big attractions is a Macaw lick, where Macaws gather to eat clay and provides some great photo-ops apparently. This is designed to get us back to Cusco 2-3 days before we have to go to Lima (as one doesn't want to get stranded). Should be interesting. We have to remember to take our malaria pills....no problem.
This afternoon we are going to go to a museum - one buys a "buleto turistica" which gives you access to about 15 or so sites in and around Cusco - we went to the Cathedral on Tuesday. Saturday we are going to some ruins and Sunday is the guided tour of the Sacred Valley and we need the buleto for all of that.
Almuerzo is the main meal of the day and in our house it's at 2:30. Dinner is less of a big deal and we finally discovered that we were to just help ourselves to plates of food just left in the stove whenever we get hungry. Very informal.
Anyways, that is about it for now. We're doing well (except very tired) and have lots of homework tonight. We also have to pick up our laundry at 8 pm - many stores downtown have a laundry service and it's costing us 17 soles (about $5) to get the essentials washed, dried, and folded...
Not much to report. Mostly we've been in class and doing homework. Lot's of work but it's paying off: we were having conversations today with our teacher. Tuesday and Wednesday will be 4 hours of conversation a day. Friday and Monday are more verbs and such... and lots of vocabulary.
Yesterday we managed to get into the Cuzco cathedral. It's under renovation, but that afforded a unique up-close look at a lot of the murals that normally would have been 30 feet up in the air.
This weekend we're doing a walking tour (on our own) of the four "near" ruins, and Sunday we're doing a guided tour of the Incan Sacred Valley. I'll let you know how it goes.
As far as getting and sending email, I setup a webmail thing before we left so that all we'd need to get and send email was a web browser. There are way more cybercafes in Cuzco than in Boston even though Boston is much larger: probably more people in Boston can afford their own computers, so there's no market Only 4 Sol per hour (slightly over $1). Donna and I get a computer each for 30 minutes each day because our amigos have lunch earlier than us and all 5 of us pile into a taxi together after school.
We spent some of yesterday afternoon in the South American Explorers Club reading trip reports for Puno (Lake Titicaca) and Madre de Dios (the nearby county, state, province that is mostly rainforest). We decided to go for rainforest and are going to book an excursion this afternoon (hopefully). Puno-Titcaca sounded nice and restful, but the rainforest got glowing reviews. Many photo ops. We're staying in a lodge, so not quite so rustic, but we figured we'd be tired of sleeping on the ground after our trek, plus it's a lot more money to go farther into the jungle and camp.
The computers are really slow today so I'll be brief. We went to a church and a museum yesterday - all the museums are really small - it took us 30 minutes to walk through the whole thing. But the house it was in was amazing. A central courtyard, carved wood ceilings, tile walls outside, columns. Very nice.
The church (Iglesia de San Blas) was unimpressive from the outside but pretty amazing on the inside. It has the finest example of colonial wood carving in South America. The pulpit was just amazing and the altar was 30-40 feet high, gold leaf on carved wood (cedar, maybe). There is a skull on the top of the pulpit which is thought to belong to the artisan. Various theories as to how it got there...
Doing well, got slammed in class today with every tense other than present....there are about 7....
Last night we went to a restaurant for dinner and ate several local specialties, ceviche (marinated raw trout), alpaca meat, and cuy, which is roast guinea pig. It comes on a plate in full guinea pig form, head and all, with a carrot slice in its mouth and a little tomato hat. It tasted good, actually. I have never eaten rodent before. After we took the obligatory tourist photo of the cuy, it was taken back into the kitchen and quartered for us so we didn't have to fuss with it.
Today we went to the local Incan ruins, Tambo Machay, Puca Pucara, Qénco, and Sacsayhuaman. Sacsayhuaman is amazing - a huge fortress with some stones 300 tons each. The Incans built everything without mortar, so all the stones had to fit perfectly. They even fit some naturally occurring rocks into their structures and just fitted other stones around them. We walked from the furthest one to the closest and then down the mountain into Cusco - about 8 km. It was a nice walk, especially since we saw another group walking along a path off the main road, so we followed them and got a much nicer and less polluted view of the countryside. There were lots of horseback tours, too, which we didn´t do. But the walk was great and for the first time I felt just right. We are still debating whether or not we´re going to hire a porter to carry some of our things up to Machu Picchu. I mean, I want to have a good time and I´m not sure I´m fully acclimated for the most challenging day. We´ll see how light we can get our packs.
This weekend is a big festival with music and stuff. We may go tonight. Tomorrow is the guided bus tour of the sacred valley - Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchara. It´s a big loop and Chris and I opted for the English tour while Rob, Sawako and Soja are going on the Spanish tour. Soja´s husband arrives on Tuesday.
We made reservations for a hotel for when we return from Machu Picchu, and I negotiated them entirely in Spanish! Very rewarding. Now we have to try to get our tickets to Puerto Maldonado so we can go to the jungle lodge for our last week in Peru. We hope that works out - we´re psyched to see the Macaws and other jungle wildlife. Chris is trying to print out a star chart as we´ve never seen the stars in the southern hemisphere and during the trek we should have a good opportunity to stargaze (if we´re not too tired).
We did a mostly downhill 8km walk today from the farthest ¨near¨ ruin (reached by taxi) back into Cuzco past several ruins and a lot of farms and such. Took lots of pictures.
Last night we has ceviche (raw trout marinated in lemon and cilantro - I´m convinced this is a result of the Japanese immigration a number of decades ago, but no one else is), and we had Cuy, an Incan delicacy: roast Guinea Pig. My first time eating rodent! It wasn´t bad. They brought it out all propped up with a sliver of carrot in it´s mouth and a little Incan hat made out of half a cherry tomato and a sprig of something. Very festive. We took pictures and then sent it back to be relieved of it´s head and ¨carved¨ if that terms even jokingly applies.
Tomorrow is a guided tour of the Sacred Valley. Monday we´re planning a morning assault on a nearby ancient fort for dawn over the Cuzco valley. That´ll be a trial since it´s all uphill from Cuzco to the fort, but it´ll be good training for the second day of the Inca trail: 1000m vertical gain over about 6-7km.
Hopefully we´ll have a flight to Madre de Dios by this afternoon. If not I think we´ll have to write off the rain forest and start making other plans.
We just got back a little while ago from our guided tour of the sacred valley. Basically, it was a guided tour of various markets. We did see one impressive Incan site, Ollantaytambo, which was the seat of the "government" in its time. It´s huge. Unfortunately, it rained while we were there. It is supposed to be the dry season!
We have decided to hire a porter to carry some of our heavier things on the trek. I think it is a wise choice. We will still take our packs but only with a few pounds in each. While we are feeling much much better and are having few problems with climbing up things, we don´t want to take any chances. And, we want to enjoy ourselves, after all. Chris says we´re keeping up with a long line of heritage (the Brits) that traveled the world and said, "you there! carry that for me!"
We also have tickets to Puerto Maldonado, in the rain forest, for 8/4-8/7 (which gives us a buffer as we MUST be back in Cusco 8/9) and tomorrow will go back to the travel agent and get the vouchers for the lodge. We had to go to the airline ourselves and get the tickets as it ended up being easier. Regardless, now we have tickets in hand so it will actually happen and we´re happy about it.
So, we have tickets to Puerto Maldonado in Madre de Dios. On Monday we'll hopefully be finalizing our reservations at Posada Amazonas, the jungle lodge. In any case, it seems that getting to Puerto Maldonado is the hard part. The travel agent that we needed to go through for Posada Amazonas seems to be new and they haven't broken into the airline cartel quite yet. We had to go to the TANS office downtown and sit in a line for an hour and a half just to get to the agent. All the time, people sporting cell phones were ushered into the back room past the line. This is the club that our travel agent hasn't broken into yet. After we finally got to the desk, getting tickets was easy. When we asked about our travel agent's story about there being a waiting list for that flight, the TANS agent claimed that "a large group canceled." Hmm. Saving face? True story, and we were just lucky?
The Posada Amazonas agent was very surprised when we showed up with tickets. Very relieved, too. I think he made some sort of commitment to the lodge and was worried that he was going to have to eat it if we couldn't get to Puerto Maldonado. He kept thanking us for our help. Seems wrong. He's the travel agent: he's supposed to help us and we're supposed to thank him. Oh well.
So we purchased the tickets with US$20 bills that we didn't bring from the US with us. We didn't want to carry a lot of cash while hiking the near ruins, and we didn't have time to go home and tap the cash reserves before we had to be at the TANS office. The odd thing is, the ATM machine down the street will dispense Nuevo Sol, or good ol' American Green Backs. I'm standing on a dirty, busy street, in the Andes, thousands of miles from the United States, and Jackson's dour mug is coming out of the ATM. Surreal.
The street vendors will take dollars (at horrific exchange rates, of course), tour agencies and airlines quote prices in dollars. I thought of all this as just a convenience to the many tourists, but the fact that ATMs spit out American money is just crazy. It's like there are two official currencies. Very odd.
Another strange thing about this place is the toilets. For some reason it is not advisable to put toilet paper in the toilet. Evidently, it's a messy proposition. The baño in the South American Explorers clubhouse advises not to put anything in the toilets that hadn't first been eaten. So how does one clean up? Bidet? There's one at our host family's house, but they're not exactly common. That's the only one I've seen. Most places don't supply toilet paper (or soap), so we travel with our own supply (1 Sol at the drug store, 12 Sol opening bid from an optimistic street vendor). One is expected to throw the used paper into waste cans next to the "loo". Nasty. I'm not sure, exactly, why I find this so nasty, but it is easily the most unpleasant aspect of this place. Being mobbed by vendors whenever you stand still: annoying but OK. Not being able to drink tap water: inconvenient but livable (our host family, doesn't even drink tap). Streets that occasionally smell like urine: disgusting but you learn to ignore it. The choking black exhaust of unregulated cars and trucks: merely irritating and unhealthy. Having to throw used toilet paper into a trash can: unforgivably nasty. Yuck.
Today we're on a guided tour of the Sacred Valley. So far we've had a few good mountain road side photo spots and hit a few markets. We're off to lunch now (hopefully soon, we're starving). This afternoon is supposedly dedicated to ruins, but the clouds have rolled in (unusual in Cuzco, I don't know about here) so photos won't be so good.
One of the photo spots had a wonderful view down the Valley with spectacular glacier-covered Andes peaks in the distance. We paid a pair of little girls 1 Sol to pose for a picture for us. That's pretty common. Little girls (maybe 3 or 4) dressed in bright traditional outfits, sometime accompanied by llamas, posing for pictures for cash. We think the little girls at that mountain road stop were probably making more than their sister and mother who were selling touristica. Let's hear it for child labor!
The market in Pisac was large but didn't really have anything we hadn't seen in Cuzco, and not really cheaper either. One interesting thing was the produce section: piles of vegetables on mats, live chicks in boxes, very dead cow parts lying on the ground being rather un-hygenically butchered. There were also two dye vendors selling powdered dyes. Very vibrant colors. One vendor wrapped the powder in paper and marked it by dabbing powder and a bit of saliva on the outside. Apparently the dyes are water-soluble.
Oooook. We ate lunch at a Best Western. The food wasn't bad, but I didn't come thousands of miles to eat at a US motel franchise. No more guided tours. Needy losers take guided tours, and you end up stuck with them. Not just our bus, the aged francophones also dining at the "Best Western Inca Land" are also pushy, self-important, and ignorant.
The primary thorn on our bus is a childish 40-something traveling with his family. They came on late and the first time everyone got off for photos they rushed back on and stole other peoples' seats. When challenged he came back with the kindergarten-class retort, "I didn't know we had assigned seats." What a child. People like him make it hard for the rest of us to travel. His young-20's son at least had the sense to be embarrassed, and surrendered his ill-gotten seat.
After a bit of leg work, we've secured tickets to Puerto Maldonado. We're supposed to finalize the Posada Amazonas lodge deal tomorrow, but getting to Puerto Maldonado seems to be the hard part: so we're going to the rain forest. Yay! We start mefloquine in a couple of days...
Took a guided tour arranged by the language school today that ended up being mostly a tour of Sacred Valley market places. We did see a rather impressive set of ruins at the very end of the Sacred Valley. Can't remember the name [Ollantaytambo]. Pretty awesome terracing in the Sacred Valley: way up the valley side.... WAY up. Pictures probably won't be great due to the cloudiness, but we already have probably a hundred pictures of ruins and will undoubtedly have hundreds more before we even get to Machu Picchu.
Actually, there isn't much of an update. It's raining today and it is really cold. We are going home to eat soon and afterwards we have to go to the hostal to change our reservations and to the travel agent to get the vouchers for the jungle lodge. Maybe hit a museum - all of the museums are so small they take, at most, an hour to visit.
We heard about the Concorde crash - it was all over the news here. (CNN is ubiquitous.) We are also keeping up with Peru news on the BBC pages. Seems like a good thing that we won't be near Lima during independence day/Fujimori's inauguration. There are supposed to be some demonstrations there but not anywhere else that we have heard. We won't be near any cities and we're going to be trekking in a group of about 20 people.
In preparation, we hiked up the closest mountain to Sacsayhuaman, the place we visited on Saturday. Poor Tom (Soja's husband) - he arrived today and we dragged him up the mountain.... regardless, we felt great. A little out of breath near the top but we recovered quickly. Wonderful view of the city from the foot of the giant white Christ on the top of the mountain. (Ever see pictures of Rio de Janiero with the Christ overlooking the harbor? Same idea except no water...)
We have ordered a cake to bring to our profesora tomorrow as it is our last day of class. Mom & Dad, don't be surprised if you get a postcard in Spanish - it's a homework assignment so we figured we would mail it anyway. I'll translate when we get home. :-) She also wants to keep up with us via email so we can continue to practice Spanish. I think she believes (rightly so) that we won't have too many opportunities to practice. Although Lynda says she will speak Spanish with me!
We're hoping to find a cybercafe in Aguas Calientes so we will be in contact as soon as we can!
Well, we have a meeting at 7 tonight to discuss the trek with the guide and group and, apparently, tomorrow we leave around 6 or 6:30. We have obtained all the necessary snacks and things and will "purchase" our porter tonight. ($35 for the whole trek)
We went back to the TANS airline office today to re-confirm our flight to Puerto Maldonado for the 4th. We got there at 3:30, only to discover that the office doesn't open again after lunch until 4. At least we were first in line - by the time the place opened there were at least 20 people waiting. They really take the siesta thing seriously here - businesses close from about noon until 3 or 4 and stay open fairly late. The travel agents who came after us seemed a little miffed that 2 "gringos" were first in line...
Last day of school was today. Celina liked my composition about Cusco. We bought her a chocolate cake as a thank you - she had mentioned in the past that she like chocolate cake. We had to pick it up on our break (every day we had a 20 minute break at 11:00) and rush back with this huge cake in a box with no top. Interesting...I had to run interference for Chris so no one would knock the cake out of his hands.
Not too much else to report. I am anxious to get through Friday (the hardest day of the trek, a vertical gain from 3200 to 4200 meters elevation) and see the sights at Machu Picchu! I feel like I have been in Cusco too long. It's starting to feel NORMAL. How strange that is!
This is the last missive for a while. We head out for Machu Picchu tomorrow bright and early. We'll be on the trail 4 days. Not sure if there will be internet access in Aguas Calientes, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Failing that we'll be back in Cuzco on the 2nd, late. I'll be keeping a journal on my Pilot (decided not to bring the laptop for security reasons, but couldn't very well be without some sort of computational entity or a whole month!)
Anyway. Last day of school was today. It's just tourism from here. I'm going to keep this short because the keyboard sucks here (different cyberspot because we're downtown).
Well, today is the day we start the Inca Trail. It's been quite a day so far. Up at 6am to take the last shower we're going to get for several days, gulp down a quick breakfast and double-time to the rendezvous point to wait for over a half hour for the tour bus to show up. Then we sat in Cusco supposedly waiting for a straggler to show up. Welcome to Peru time. We just left Urubamba where we drank hot cocoa and met the guide while food was acquired for the trek. We pulled out a half hour late with a bunch of porters (standing) and a minstrel that we have to tip after every couple of songs (talk about a captive audience). We just stopped again, at a check-point. We've ejected the minstrel and the driver is chatting with the police: checking permits, bribe, what?
Our group of around 20 includes 9 people from the language school, some English and German twenty-something backpackers and an obnoxious group of Spanish kids, maybe college age, who find even the Brownian motion of the air to be a topic worthy of loud, raucous conversation. Fortunately, like most children, the rocking of the bus and the street noise seems to have lulled them immediately to sleep. They remind us of some infuriatingly obnoxious Latins, and so we find them even more obnoxious then they probably are in reality. Hopefully their pace will differ significantly from ours.
The view of the mountains near Chinchero, on the way to Urubamba was spectacular. We missed it last Sunday because our tour didn't get there until after the clouds had rolled in. Stunning snow-capped, jagged mountains. Hopefully we'll get good photos from the trail. I choose, for now, to ignore the fact we will be hiking over a 4200m pass in those mountains this time tomorrow.
11am and we're at Ollantaytambo. Maybe we'll actually be walking soon. Have to work out the porter business. We elected to hire a porter to carry a duffel with the surgical kit, clothes, extra film and such. Even still, with water, extra layers, camera, and such, my pack is heavier than I would like.
Past Ollantaytambo the road became little more than two ruts. Writing near impossible. Hasta luego.
In bed on the first night of the trek.
The river is nearby, and the only sound is the white noise of water rushing down the valley.
The stars are amazing. This is the best that I've seen the milky way in a long time. Took a 5min shot of Scorpio. We'll see if anything comes out. We also saw the Southern Cross. No picture tonight because it went behind a cloud and by the time the clouds had cleared, it had mostly set behind the mountains. We're in a narrow valley but the Milky Way runs right down the valley: Deneb at one end and Crux at the other.
The walk was spectacular as well. Very stunning snow-capped peaks, green slopes, craggy passes, ruins, and rustic little farms. Near sunset we got some amazing colonial-era painting scenes: puffy clouds, dark valley walls and slanting rays from an unseen sun lighting a craggy edifice. Wow.
Tired. Early day (5am), long hike (8-10hr) and a lot of altitude (1300m gain) tomorrow. G'night.
Pig just snorted at us and wandered off after waking us up by pattering around our tent.
Thunder earlier. No lightening, no rain.
4200m = 13780ft
The pass was beautiful. Both because it's the top and because you can see over both valleys. The next day's ascent is visible from the lunch spot. 500m up from the valley where we are to camp tonight. Half way up is a circular ruin: sun temple no doubt. We've all surveyed the temple and the trail with my binoculars. Lot's of stairs. Still only a third of what we did today to the next pass then some distance.
Hugo, the guide, says that every year there is a race from kilometer 88 to Machu Picchu. Best time is 3:40 according to Hugo. We've done about half the distance and the highest pass in two days, and I'm dead.
Hugo is trying to motivate us to descend into the camp.
Saw wild hummingbirds today. Unfortunately we were in the shade so their iridescent feathers didn't show very well. Very fast.
The walk down from lunch was beautiful but hard on the knees. We're in a big uber-camp with maybe 10 other groups. It's too dark, too cold and too uncomfortable to do much socially outside. No fire. Tents are too small to do much but sleep. We're tired, so that's what we intend to do.
Passed some more mud houses on the way up here. They seem to be the norm here. Actually they seem to be the norm everywhere between the outskirts of Cusco and here. Kind of odd. Depressing actually. Whole little villages the same color as the local dirt. Black here. Red outside Cusco. Sort of a yellow-tan in between. At least near Cusco they were occasionally painted.
Amazing sunset today. Huge billowy snow clouds over the mountains to the North. Unseen sun setting and painting the clouds wonderful shades of orange. I hope the pictures come out.
Lots of pictures today. Some amazing countryside. Green valleys framed by rugged mountains with clouds shooting of their ridges.
The ascent was beautiful but was a killer, especially the last bit before the pass. I wasn't sure we were going to make it. It's rather hard to breathe above 13000ft, and you end up taking shuffling little steps to avoid complete respiratory crisis. Hard to make any progress under those conditions. I was happy when my quadriceps got tired because it meant that I wasn't just being limited by the nearly impossible task of extracting O2 from the air. Small victory to be sure, but that's the mindset you end up in on day 2 of the Inca Trail. Tomorrow promises even more spectacular views, and some stops at ruins along the way.
I'm tired but I doubt I'll get much sleep. The mental giants in the next tent keep saying "Ollantaytambo" over and over. They seem to derive an impossibly large amount of pleasure from this activity. I'm also suffering from some indigestion from dinner. Lunch wasn't so great today either.
holy shit it's cold. There was ice on the inside of our tent this morning. The only reason I'm not wearing every bit of clothing I have is because I don't want to carry it. My fleece is in the porter's bag. I have my jacket, sweater, shirt, and thermal underwear.
Breakfast was hot chocolate and toast. They were fooling with eggs but we got tired of waiting, and we filled up on hot chocolate. It was oddly filling. I think they put butter in it or something.
Today we hike in a group. Lots of ruins. The first one is the sun temple half way up the ascent that we saw yesterday. We have the camp closest to the trail, so the temple is looming over us up on its outcropping. The sun just poked out from behind the ridge and lit it up.
temple: sun moon stars
all Quechuan culture:
buried in fetal position
Inka wore black - color of purification
"Pumacilla" mountains over next pass
Chaquiocha (aka Sayacmarca)
lunch. Last one I think: grape juice (essentially; that black corn drink in actuality I think), chicken noodle soup, lentils and rice. In the valley below the "second control point" and in the vicinity of a baño. It blows me away that there are flush toilets in the middle of the Andes. Unfortunately you can't throw toilet paper into them, so the place ends up smelling like a pit toilet anyway. Sigh.
Some of the other groups had nice tables (photo) and little folding chairs. We ate sitting on a rock.
Donna patched up one of our travel companions who got a severe sunburn on the top of his foot: Vaseline covered gauze, regular gauze, ace bandage: the whole lot. We're now "The Doctors".
Next stop: Phuyupatamarka.
So, wow. The trek. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. We started at about 2800 meters and, on the first day, did mostly up and down but ended up camping at 2900 meters. There were 24 of us plus 9 porters, a cook, and a guide. Saw a bunch of ruins, nothing up close. The next day was by far the hardest. We hiked up to 4200 meters in 5 hours (and the air is pretty thin at 4200 meters, let me tell you) and then descended to 3500 m for camp. I didn't think I was going to make it. I thought we were done when we found the sign that we had only gone up to 3260 m. Boy, that was a disappointment! Anyways, we slogged along, through rainforest and high plateau with stunning views of the Andes - snow capped mountains, green, lush valleys, and grazing horses, sheep, goats, and the occasional llama. At the top, other members of our group were waiting and cheered for us when we finally made it. Day three we started at 3500 m then went up to the second pass at 3850 m. We started tired (I had slept from 7 pm to 3 am the night before) so it was really hard but we stopped halfway for a tour of Runkurakay (a small sun temple) and we did the whole thing in about 3 hours. Then down to some more ruins, through the jungle, and then we got a treat - normally you can't see Machu Picchu until you are on top of it on the 4th morning. But our guide took 4 of us (Soja, Tom, Chris and me) a different way and we ended up above M.P. on another peak and were able to see it a day early! Spectacular. Then down to our camp, through more jungle (lots of orchids and hummingbirds). Today we left at 5:20 am and did the last 2 hours to M.P. - in fog and drizzle (the weather had held out remarkably until then) -and waited at the entrance gate for the fog to clear for our first real glimpse! It finally cleared for about 5 minutes, so we all took pictures quickly and headed down. By the time we got to the bottom, it was sunny and clear. Weird weather. I can't really describe M.P. - well, you've seen the pictures, right? But it is almost entirely intact - just the roofs are missing. The interesting thing is that it appears to be on a plateau between 2 mountains. It is, in fact (according to our tour guide, and we have learned to doubt the veracity of tour guides thus far), the leveled off middle peak. The Incas (Quechuas) used the rock to build their houses so just used the mountain as a quarry. Amazing. We got a tour then headed down. We're going to stay here 2 nights so we'll go back up tomorrow. We desperately wanted a shower and some food....Now we're all clean and we even soaked at the hot spring (hence the town's name, Aguas Calientes). THAT was less than impressive. Oh well. It was only a few soles.
It's nice to be done.
on the bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes: waiting to leave.
Wow. I wonder if the place would be as impressive if we weren't smelly and tired and still in the stupor that comes from being in the back-country for several days. Looking back up at the pass above MP where we watched the clouds burn off after sunrise, I can't believe that we were up there. I have to use my binoculars to even recognize the terraces and guard post.
MP itself is quite a place. Perfect in the morning, shrouded by mist. Even more impressive when you realize that they leveled a granite mountain top to build it. We'll have to go back and dedicate the time and energy to photography that the place demands. Too tired and trail-weary to do a good job now.
Current mission: find the hotel with our duffel, rent a room, shower, and find the hot springs for a much needed soak. Sillamarka or something like that.
The switch-back road down the mountainside crosses back and forth over the footpath. There are many local kids on the footpath and they yell at the bus as we go by. Very odd, although a good Doppler effect demonstration.
Wish Rick were here.
OK. We dropped a kid at the top. It wasn't "many local kids", it was that kid racing us down. We just picked him up. Cute trick. I gave him 5 Sol.
We fly to Puerto Maldonado on the 4th. It's more or less due East from Cusco, which is more more or less East of Lima. After that we take a boat 2 hours up the river (Tambopata River). Manu is the large, well known rainforest preserve. We'll be south of that in a different preserve at a place called Posada Amazonas (Spanish for Amazon Lodge, aren't they clever?).
We came over the pass above Machu Picchu today. 2750m. Pretty low by the trip's standards: the highest pass was on the second day, a real killer at 4200m, or about 13800ft. The second pass was 3850m. Yesterday our guide took us on the round-about path to last night's camp and we got an early preview of Machu Picchu from a far peak. The path went through some jungle and had a lot of side paths so he made everyone else go straight down. Donna thinks he likes us, I think he identified us as the most likely to tip generously for special service... good eye since the rest of the crew was mostly college students. Anyway, this morning we came up over the pass at around 6:30am to a completely foggy vista. Just Grey. There were maybe 100 people camped out on the terraces and guard post in the pass. Most people gave up and started the hour trek down the hill to the top of the upper agricultural terraces. I convinced my compatriots to hang in there for a while longer and we were rewarded with a 15 minute break when the clouds lifted. The fog from the valley boiled up to takes it's place very quickly but we got a great aerial, misty view of the entire city. I hope the photos come out.
We bailed early because we're here for a few days and we desperately needed to get a room, a shower, and a meal. We'll go up on the first bus tomorrow. First impressions are good. Amazing. Very impressive. The place is so well preserved relative to other ruins here that you can really get a sense of how the city worked. It's all there: agriculture, quarry, water, housing, temples, everything. We took lots of pictures, but I'm looking forward to some time taking more strategic shots and just sitting around soaking the place in.
We're staying in a bit of a pit, but I suppose it'll do for a few days. I think we're going to split Aguas Calientes early in favor of another day in Cuzco. There's not much here except Machu Picchu. We went up to the spring but it wasn't great. Not really caliente as calor, rather sulphuric (at least I hope that's what the stench was), and rather crowded. It did the therapeutic job of a hot spring without actually providing the sensual hot spring experience (Donna's knees feel better, but neither of us thought it was worth the $6 (entrance fees AND bathing suit rentals)).
The trek itself was fantastic, if completely exhausting. I outlined the altitudes above, but the views were spectacular along the way. The Andes are enormous, impossibly large, but they're old, so they have the rounded edges of old mountains, and most are covered in vegetation, except for the few snowcaps poking up over the next ridge. The altitude is high, but it's in the tropics, so it gets a lot of sun: as a result there is a jungle-like feel to a lot of the areas: lot's of orchids, flowers of every kind, amazing ferns, etc. etc. Not much in the way of wildlife. Our guide says he saw condors and a puma in those valleys, but not recently: too much foot traffic. The entire trail is studded with Incan ruins: mostly temples and guard houses.
The night sky was also spectacular. We mostly stayed in valleys, so our stargazing was somewhat restricted. The first night we were in a north-south valley and the Milky Way stretched from one horizon to the other: Deneb just above the mountain on the North and the Southern Cross to the South. Turns out the the Incas used the Southern Cross and it's general shape appears in some of the stone work in Machu Picchu. The Milky Way was brighter than I think I've ever seen it. The dark patches were clearly visible, and supposedly the Inca named those patches the way we name star constellations. There's supposed to be a Llama just South of the Southern Cross. I'll check it out and let you know, but it' be hard because Aguas Calientes is at the bottom of a rather severe valley below Machu Picchu.
Anyway, I should get moving. Still stunned I found an Internet access point in this place. It's so small...
Second day at MP. I'm sitting on the point of a terrace over the temple to water. Behind me is the sun and the high temple to the sun. To my right is the low temple to the sun and behind that, the agricultural terraces. To my left Huayna Picchu and the city cluster: a lot of buildings containing the head of the condor. This place seems to be the heart of the city in the sense that to move between the three sections of the city (agricultural, the high temples, and the city cluster), it is necessary to pass by this point, stepping over the temple to water and just under the granite walls of the lower temple to the sun. In front of me the broken remains of a lower cluster of buildings tumbles away into the valley of the Urubamba. You can't see the train below, nor can you see the visitor center or the buses, just the impossibly large Andes towering in all directions.
The Spanish have invaded. They brought Twister and cigarettes. Time to leave.
Nevermind, they got what they came for (a picture of themselves playing Twister in the heart of MP???) and now they're gone as suddenly as they arrived.
Not sure if we're staying for sunset or not. Just took a photo of the crew at our little spot over by the gate houses. Donna has joined me at the heart. I guess we're going to head over there and figure out "The Plan".
There are grey/black sparrow-like birds with bright blue bodies that are darting around erratically. I think they're trying to catch insects.
There are also some bright yellow and black birds with blunt, powerful looking beaks. They come in male and female versions, one more black than the other. Prettiest in flight, but too fast to photo.
There was also an iridescent green hummingbird for a minute.
Ooook. So everyone said that we were going to get train tickets from this restaurant where we're staying: the school, the travel agency, our guide, etc.
Night before we leave: no tickets, as expected. The restaurant claims no cash. Surprise. Now we have to buy tickets ourselves, go back to Cusco, and extract cash from Excel.
Suddenly they think they're going to call Hugo and work it out. Hmm. They didn't even know that there was a backpacker express to Cusco. We now eagerly await the outcome.
I'd rather punt, go eat dinner and buy my ticket in the morning.
OK. Evidently the folks here talked to the folks in Cuzco, magic happened, and all is well. Supposedly we get tickets for tomorrow's 4:30 backpacker to Cuzco at breakfast.
It is amazing to me that this tiny town in the middle of the Andes has an internet cafe that has a relatively fast connection and that it is easier to email than to phone. We still haven't figured out how to use the phones here. There seems to be no way to get an operator.
We are supposed to be heading back to Cusco today, one day early. Machu Picchu is fantastic, but we are less than enamored with Aguas Calientes and it's quirkiness/annoyingness. Besides, yesterday we went up and stayed at MP all day, had a picnic lunch and basically hung out and took pictures all day. I think we're done. We're having a little tension surrounding the train tickets as they are included in our package and the hostel is supposed to be buying them, but the hostel claimed to know nothing about it and to not have the money (of course). We can buy them ourselves, but it is the principle of the matter... Now it seems that after the hostel staff spoke with our guide and travel agent last night that they will indeed be buying our tickets this morning. We'll see. I don't have a whole lot of faith in them but, as I said, we can get them easily when we want to. As it is, the room was fine, only 30 soles/night, and with luck we'll be back in Cusco tonight.
It is actually better for us to return today anyway - give us time to get some laundry done, re-confirm our tickets (they got wet and look a little beat up and we want to make sure the airline doesn't want to reissue them before we get to the airport), and rest a little. We might then have time to go to the ruins in Pisac on horseback as a group.
We stayed up at MP last night until the sun set...well, went behind the mountains. We're too high to see a real sunset. And there were too many clouds to make it worthwhile to stay up there to see the stars. Then we walked down the whole way (lots of stairs) and then the mile from the base of the mountain to town. It was a good walk. Chris climbed part of the way up Huayna Picchu to look down on MP but I decided I didn't feel the need to hike up a trail of stairs about 30 stories high....
It's warm here, as it is lower than Cusco, and the evenings have been nice. I'll miss that part of this place - wandering around and not being cold at night. Interesting considering that the second morning of the hike there was ice inside our tent.
Yesterday was a pretty good day. We spent most of it up on Machu Picchu poking around all the corners that we missed the first day. I hiked about half way up Huayna Picchu (the taller of the two peaks that you see in most photos of MP) to get a different vantage, but didn't go all the way to the top. We spent some time bird watching in the agricultural section and blew most of a roll of film on the birds. There was an iridescent green hummingbird, some very bright yellow and black birds, and some random other finch-like thing. There were also these grey/black sparrows that seemed to be catching insects. They were darting about the way bats do when they're hunting insects. Those sparrows had bright bright blue backs. Very stunning but I don't think we got a picture of them because they move so fast in the air. Only once did we see one land in a tree and he was facing us so we couldn't see his back.
We hiked down to Aguas Calientes from MP. Quite a hike. The bus route includes something like 17 switch-backs. The footpath goes almost straight down and crosses the bus route occasionally. Little kids (8 or 9 maybe) make a living racing the bus to the bottom of the mountain. They get on the bus with the tourists at the top and then hop out at the first road/path junction, then at every junction they wait for the bus and yell something (can't tell what), then at the very bottom they get back on and collect tips. This place desperately needs a better economy and the child labor laws that usually follow prosperity.
Anyway, dinner was unremarkable except for the music. Street performers come in play and then collect tips (seeing the theme here?). The first guy last night was a one-man band: Latin American mini-guitar thing, pan pipes, taps, and the horn/shell things. He was pretty good. We bought a CD from him. One song by him and a bunch of songs by other performers. I'm guessing it's a boot-strapping thing where a bunch of performers scrape together enough cash to master a collective CD.
The next crew quite honestly sucked. They were so bad. Out of tune, no tempo, really pathetic. We won't dwell on them.
We're supposed to catch the backpacker express into Cusco tonight at 4:30, if we have tickets. There's been quite a big deal and much confusion over this. The tickets are included in our trip but we didn't leave they day we got here like most people do so our guide isn't here to buy the tickets. We were told that he was supposed to give the money to this place we're staying and they would buy them for us (you see the inevitable problem looming, so did we. We asked to just get a refund for the tickets so we could buy them ourselves, but that was just TOO HARD). Anyway, the hostel staff claimed to know nothing about this despite the fact that the guide talked to them several times before he left. After we delayed paying for our rooms until we had tickets some calls were made and as of last night everything was just peachy again. We're supposed to get tickets this morning. We'll see. Typical Peru as far as I can tell.
Time to head back to the hostel, hook up with our amigos, and catch the last chapter of the train ticket thing.
Cutting it awfully close: we're supposed to get the tickets at 1pm. Rob thinks that they want us to eat lunch there.
Donna's gnawing on her finger. "I have a bug bite, and it helps," she says. We're going to have to be more vigilant with the bug spray in a few days. Getting bit in the jungle is a bad idea. No malaria up here. We started mefloquine last week in preparation for the rainforest trip, but still....
We're burning time till 1. Walked down the Urubamba a bit to take some photos. Headed out to the train station thinking that the knowledge might come in handy later.., and just to be complete we walked to the remaining end of the main street, just to see if there might be anything there. There was a small open-air produce market, and more restaurants.
We're pretty done with Aguas Calientes. It's really too bad that soaking in the hot springs isn't a more enjoyable prospect.
We're rather grimy. My sweater is all dusty and sweaty. It would probably be cheaper to buy a new one in Cusco than to take this one home and have it dry cleaned. Seems wasteful somehow, despite the fact that the economics works out.
Tickets @ 3pm.
As far as we can tell the tickets are reserved but not paid for. We think that maybe the travel agent in Cusco might be paying for the tickets. They haven't said that, but it's the only thing that makes sense. They only tell you the bare minimum. They don't bother to explain anything in detail. It's like the laundromat: better to tell a simple lie than claim culpability, or worse, expend energy explaining a complex situation.
Why would they have left this until now? It's the busiest part of lunch hour for them. We were available on and off all day.
The place is called Sayacmarca..
The way people were clawing their way onto the train, you'd think that the inquisitors were in the next valley putting every living thing to the torch. People were arranged in huge mobs at the train car doors. The guards were only letting on people with tickets, and none of them are in front. The general mayhem outside the train was unbelievable. People pushing and yelling trying to get on the train. People were pushing bags through windows and climbing through behind them. We had to literally force people out of the way to get to the train. The guard was hoisting ticket-holders out of the crowd.
It turns out that people without tickets are allowed onto the train, standing room only, on a first come, first served basis, but only after the ticketed passengers are on. So, here's how this wonderfully engineered system goes down: savvy non-ticketed-but-hopeful passengers arrive early, pack up against the doors, are refused by the guards but tenaciously hang on to the coveted head of the losers line position blocking all access to the train until they are bodily removed by ticketed passengers. Unfortunately, the only passengers with sufficient foresight to actually pre-purchase a ticket are the gringos turisticos. These people come mostly from civilized places where it isn't usually necessary to climb through windows to get on trains. It takes a while for these people to warm up to the idea of man-handling complete strangers to get onto a train in the distinctly noticeable absence of torch-wielding inquisitors. As a result the situation gridlocks into a confused, stubborn, angry mob. Joy.
So now we're on the train crawling toward Cusco, occasionally stopping for no apparent reason whatsoever. The ticketed passengers are mostly sitting in their assigned seats. The unfit unticketed passengers lost the race and are back in Aguas Calientes looking for a place to spend the night. The rest are shoe-horned into the aisle. Many are sitting on backpacks-cum-benches and are forced to leap up every few minutes to let conductors, food vendors, and undoubtedly the occasional pick-pocket pass by.
Hot, sweaty, cramped, noisy, dimly lit: actually worse than Amtrak. Amazing.
One interesting thing: all the windows are open but there is almost no breeze. The only time we get any significant fresh air is when we turn a corner. I'm thinking that the inertia of the air in the train car carries it out the windows on the outside of the turn. That creates low pressure inside the car that draws air in the other windows. Pretty cool: literally.
Every time a vendor, or even the little kid musicians/pick-pockets go by the guard behind me, he pulls them over and has a little chat with them. I haven't seen any cash change hands, but an erstwhile gaseosa vendor just gave up several Pepsis and a few Crushs to the guard, a few of his guard buddies, and a couple of their female acquaintances - all without any obvious remuneration. The poor guy probably would have been better off buying a ticket for S/15 compared to bribes like that. That was most of the stock he had on hand.
Hopefully near Cusco by now: scheduled to arrive in a half hour. The ride has gotten significantly worse recently with the cars swaying side to side in maddening high-amplitude, roughly 1Hz waves.
A little before midway we arrived at Ollantaytambo station and almost all of the victorious unticketed passengers got off. It's unclear if they ever paid. Now the train is slightly under specified capacity and is probably similar to the backpacker express we were supposed to be on. So, $25 for a presumably civilized boarding at the station, or S/15 for a small taste of apocalypse-style boarding in "downtown" Aguas Calientes followed by slightly less than 2 hours of evolutionarily advantaged non-ticketed passengers occasionally falling on you and breathing your air. A toss up I think.
In either case you will end up on the same cute orange and red passenger cars equipped with benches engineered to the highest standards of Peruvian seat making. That is to say that they are comfortable exactly half as long as they need to be: no more, no less. You'll find seats with similar qualities in most restaurants here. It's the little things that end up getting to you.
Well, we're back in Cusco and we are very happy for that. The return trip was an ordeal. Despite reminding the staff of the hostel from whom we were supposed to get our tickets on the "backpacker" train, they of course never got them and lied at every opportunity about them. So, at 1:00 (train leaves at 4:40) Rob and I trudged to the train station ourselves and met up with one of the girls who the hostel sent to get our tickets, only to find out that the backpacker train was sold out (GRRRRR). We were given tickets on the local train. Someone else's, evidently. I was Maria Pena, if anyone asked.... Getting on the local train was as chaotic as you might imagine (it left at 6 pm, by the way) - mobs of people waiting at the entrances to the car. The deal is, ticketed passengers get seats and get to board first. Then it is first come, first served for the aisle. So all the ticketless are mobbing the doorways to be first. They also were throwing their gear through windows and climbing in (through the window) afterwards. I forged my way to the door, shouting "Buleto!! F!" and the guard had to haul me up out of the crowd (I had my full pack, about 40 pounds, on my back and that first step was a doozie). The rest of the crew were behind me. After that it was fine - we had our seats, no one challenged our names, (no one even looked, surprise) and most of the aisle-bound passengers got off halfway at Ollanta. We got in around 11 pm (I had emailed and called our hostel in Cusco and the guy was waiting at the door for us when the taxi arrived, how nice and civilized it is!). The train did some interesting switchbacks to get into Cusco - rather than making hairpin turns, which it couldn't do, it would go for a while and then stop, then the track would switch and it would go backwards, a little lower, for a while, then again the track would switch and it would go forwards again, a little lower, and so on until we got to the station. Entertaining.
Regardless, we made it back and we are very happy with our hostel. It is clean and the staff is attentive and they are doing our laundry right now. We have re-confirmed all our flights (our tickets got wet and they are those old carbon-copy things so we figured we'd better find out if the airlines would still accept them (yes)) and are now in the process of trying to get our money back for the train tickets. We had paid in advance (part of the package) $25 per train ticket but the local train was only 10 soles (BIG difference). Rob is hopping mad still (I was, but it's hard to be angry now that we're back in the relative civilization of Cusco) and we're going to let him yell at them for a while.
Tomorrow we hope to tour the Pisac ruins and maybe do it on horseback...who knows? Friday we fly to the jungle.
Hostel Maria Reina: firm but comfortable bed, decent curtains, parquet floor, ample towels, bathroom tiles installed by someone with a firm grasp on the utility of a plumb-line, and a shower with good pressure and acceptable temperature variance. Heaven. As I said, it's the little things.
Today is going to be a busy day: a couple of trips to South American Explorers to swap stuff in and out of storage; trips to the airline office to re-confirm and possibly reissue our tickets that were destroyed by our money belts; restocking on film; etc.
Sorry, much email to deal with today. I'm sure Donna's update was more than adequate. I made quite a few journal entries on the train, so you can get the long version when I put the log up once I get home.
We're across the street from Carla's Travel at a supposedly Quechuan grill that seems to serve pizza and lasagna...
The travel agent sent us back to Excel. They refunded us $20 per person to make up for not getting us onto the backpacker express. Somewhat hard to believe that it was all settled so easily.
A small discovery:
"Ferreteria" is not a place where you buy ferrets.
Well, wonders never cease. We got our money back for the train tickets ($20 per person). I guess at times it is good to be a squeaky wheel.
Today we went to Pisac (again) to visit the ruins behind the town. These were really interesting and the terraces are impressive. It was a nice day: we took the local bus (nowhere near the hassle of the local train) for 2 soles each way and, on arriving in Pisac, were approached by a taxi driver with a station wagon who took us all up to the top of the ruins for 3 soles per person. That was far better than walking up - we had a time limit and would have taken about 90 minutes to climb up and been tired and sweaty and it would have been harder to enjoy the day. That gave us more than 2 hours to explore all the ruins. The site is huge. There are 4 sections of ruins and lots of terraces in between and it takes some time to walk from one place to the next. We had eaten a huge dinner last night with lots of leftovers so Tom & Soja took them home and made us all sandwiches for today - we had a picnic lunch at a nice lookout point in the middle of the site.
Our extra gear is now safely tucked in the South American Explorers clubhouse for our jungle trip - our flight is at 7:30 am tomorrow. This way we have far less stuff to take and lug with us to the jungle. I can't wait! We're going to have an early dinner tonight as the rest of the crew are flying back to Lima at the same time tomorrow as we are going to Puerto Maldonado. Now comes the test of our Spanish, I guess...
>Glad you finally made it back to civilization.
Funny you should say that. On our way back to Cusco today from the Pisac ruins (about 35km away), on a local bus, I caught myself feeling relieved at the sight of Cusco... but it's really not THAT civilized. It all relative I guess. It's hard to remember back to my first days in Cusco: the dirt, the smog, the cold, the urine, the incessant vendors who follow you around. It's amazing how fast you adapt. I have the air of a seasoned traveler now. When vendors come after me now I just give a quick ¨no, gracias¨, and there´re gone. Just like that. I think it's going to be a shock to reintegrate to ACTUAL civilization when we return. There is no doubt, however, that Cusco counts as ¨civilization¨ relative to Aguas Calientes.
>Sounded like a really great experience you'll never forget. Other than the train trip.
It most certainly was. Machu Picchu was spectacular and it was good to be out backpacking again. Lot's of fun. The whole train thing, in retrospect, was rather humorous and quite educational. It certainly makes for good stories, but we didn´t get theived, there were no chickens, and we weren't riding on top, so I guess it could have been worse.
Not much else to report. The local bus was an experience. Again, no chickens. One of our traveling companions got slightly soaked by a BAG of milk that sprung a leak, but Donna and I came out unscathed. I didn´t even have to partake in the stench because my nose is stuffed up (head cold). All agreed I was the lucky one. Pisac ruins were nice, but you'll see pictures eventually.
Off to meet the crew for a last supper. They fly home tomorrow. We fly to Puerto Maldonado, bright and early.
So, the cleanest place in Cusco is the departure terminal. I don't remember the arrival terminal being so clean.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:30am. An oddity since our friends were also scheduled for departure at 7:30 to a different carrier to a different destination... Cusco Airport has precisely one runway. We were told to arrive two hours early for our 30 minute domestic flight to guard against, prepare yourself, the flight leaving early without us. I hate sitting in airports almost as much as I hate waking up at 4:30am to get to the airport bright and early just to commence sitting in a more timely fashion. You can imagine, then, the crestfallen look I had when, five minutes after arriving at the airport. we discovered that our flight was delayed until 8:50. It has since slipped farther to 9:30. A flight that leaves on time is treat enough, I was looking forward to actually having the undoubtedly surreal experience of being on a flight that left early.
Our lucky friends left on time, or close to it anyway. They should be in Lima soon. They are spending a few days in Lima and then heading home. We have a similar arrangement next week. I think it's a good thing not to be trying to make a connection out of Cusco.
"canoe" ride to Posada Amazonas.
I just flushed a toilet in the middle of the rainforest. What's wrong with this picture?
Posada Amazonas is pretty nice actually. Several separate buildings built, we're told, in a style similar to the local tribal buildings. High ceilings with open rafters to promote airflow and keep the structures cool. There's a dining room/kitchen/bar, a "lobby" and a reading room with hammocks, and a bunch of living quarters split up with bamboo partitions into little hotel-room-like chunks with mosquito netting over the beds, a shower, and... a working toilet.
Lunch was good. We've already seen a handful of cool animals, and we haven't even gone on a hike yet. On the way in we saw too many cool plants to even focus on, let alone list. The most impressive were the trees that sit on a tangle of supporting roots as opposed to a real trunk, and the trees with the trunks that are flanked with enormous flying buttresses. We saw one fallen over and the roots obviously don't go very deep, maybe a few feet. No tap root at all, certainly.
It took a few minutes of thinking things like, "Oh, there's one of those cool trees" to remember that they were, in actual fact, real trees and not just tree-like fiberglass forms. Again: America really fucks you up.
We're hanging out, literally hanging in hammocks, waiting for the first real excursion: a trip to a 40m observation tower with a plant-utility tour by a native guide on the way back. Sounds cool.
I must say that the forest didn't tower over the river the way I expected. Much of the way was past pasture land near Puerto Maldonado, but even near here it just looked like a regular forest made of exotic trees. 40m sounds promising. Time to go.
No rings on trees. Grow all year. C14 dating
The tower was very nice. Maria, our guide, said it was a good day because it was not very hot, so the animals were very active.
Back in the room before dinner to shower. No electricity, so it's all kerosene lamps and candles. The house staff has put the mosquito nets down over the beds. The forest is alive with insects buzzing and chirping.
Well, here we are in our little gauze coffins, ready to drift off to sleep. Kind of early, but wake-up is 4am tomorrow for the "lake hike" and we didn't exactly sleep well last night thanks to my cold. I think the humid air will help me sleep.
Anyway, I'm not sure how seriously to take the whole mosquito netting thing. It's a big cube of gauze that tucks in under the matress. Of course I'm notorious for tearing sheets out while I sleep and sheets are tucked under mattresses too, so I doubt there's much hope for me even if the netting were flawlessly tucked in to start.
Some Brit-sounding woman down the row has a phobia of cockroaches, has evidently discovered one here, and is blessing us all with insufferable whining. Great. I'll get my revenge by coughing all night. Ha ha ha!
One final observation: Nescafe plus powdered milk is starting to taste wonderful. This can not be a good sign.
Skimming along the Tambapota, in the pre-dawn, on a 40-foot canoe powered by a 65hp Johnson outboard.
on a floating platform in the lake.
Lagos Tres Chimbadas
river meanders and sometimes a bend is pinched of and forms a lake. Sediment washes in and fills the lake. Floating grass colonizes the lake. Eventually the lake becomes a palm swamp.
walk back to the river
Posada Amazonas owned 40% by native community, 60% by Peruvian businessmen including the architect who designed the complex. Some funds came from the Canadian government.
Hiawasci Shamen adminster hiawasci, a hallucinogen, to induce vision quests. The questers are invited and do not pay for the service. The shaman only performs the ritual on Saturday (one person only?). The quester is placed on a bland diet low in salt for several days, must remain celibate, and must fast the day before the trip. As part of becoming a shaman the apprentice must follow a similar regimen for a year, with the additional provision that they must not speak to (or even look at?) a woman. Evidently they tend to spend this year in near isolation. At the end of this year they pursue a vision quest and are supposed to learn the secret that they need to become a shaman.
The name means "dead vine" in Quechuan and the belief is that it allows communication with the dead.
It appears that women are considered a source of corruption. I wonder if that sentiment existed prior to Christian influence. Women seem to head households only in the event that the patriarch dies. Voting on community issues is done on a vote-per-family basis with the head of household casting the vote, so it would seem that community decisions are made by the mostly male patriarchs.
The religious beliefs of the native community are reportedly in flux. Hiawasci shamanism is replacing an older form that doesn't rely on hallucinogens. Creation myths reference the local region despite the fact that the natives moved here from the headwater region only a century ago. The stories related to us by one of the Stanford students studying them feel similar to North American native fokelore with spirits that take familiar form to guide or beguile and anthropomorphized animals taking part in creation fables. The natives apparently self-report as Catholic, but do not practice. The local community does not have a church.
Every farm has a colony of oropendula, because they like to eat papaya.
Lodge opened in 1998. Locals learn English in Cusco and Lima.
Communal land ownership. Ese'eja people originally from Bolivia. Mestiso originally from the Andes. Peru formalized the reserve in 1973.
300m riverfront. 60 acres. Burn 6 acres to add nutrients. Mixed crops, no insecticide. Move every 4-5 years. Rotate back to the start. Hunt in the remaining space. Semi-subsistence. S/12 for banana bunch in PM, but hard to get goods to PM. River traders buy at S/5.
Papayas plus legumes to fix nitrogen.
Grind the beans to use in cakes. Lodge buys some fruit and vegetables from farmers.
Wife and father moved to PM to educate kids. Father-in-law (Don Eduardo) tends farm to avoid reversion to the community.
Don Eduardo is studying to become a shaman.
To remove bad luck you bathe in the juice of a particular plant at 6pm Tuesdays and Saturdays. Oh, and it turns you green.
Don Eduardo uses a machete to cut and dig.
Dragon's blood is sap from trees that is used for cuts. S/20 for a bottle. Sold in pharmacies all over Peru.
occasional water bottles and sharpening stones around farm for machete.
4 kinds of banana. Each plant produces one bunch of fruit and is then cut back. New trees grow from a common root.
Banana leaves as tablecloths. Fresh papaya spritzed with lemon juice for the tourists. Yum.
Don Eduardo gets paid for the daily tourist visits by Posada Amazonas.
I was quite the attraction myself today. The Dutch were curious about my Pilot and one of Don Eduardo's grandsons couldn't decide what was more interesting: the Pilot or my beard.
Waiting at the blind by the clay lick. What I thought was another impossibly large bug turned out to be a hummingbird servicing the overhanging tree. I've never been close enough to a hummingbird to hear one, and two days in the jungle has already taught me to be credulous of incredibly large insects.
The birds are collecting above us. Parrots I think. Lots of them.
on the way back
Back at the clay lick waiting for the macaws to show up. There are a few in the trees above us now.
The two macaws this morning weren't supposed to be there. Macaws usually come later in the morning. It is, however, unusual to see scarlet macaws at the lick at any time, so we were lucky to see it at all.
The blind at the clay lick has a log where the guide writes down the number of each species of bird observed at a given date and time. The records for a study of the impact of tourism on the clay lick.
It's odd to show up at the clay lick with no birds on the clay, and just a few minutes later the birds are there mobbing the clay. It's as if there are cages full of clay-starved birds just out of sight that are flung open right after we arrive, just to make a good show. I hadn't really expected wild animals to follow such a strict schedule, but they appear to do just that.
Let's see if I can remember the three theories about the clay lick:
The antacid thing goes like this: the birds eat nuts and leaves which are protected by acids and poisons, so they eat clay to neutralize the acid and line their stomachs. The nutrient thing is a little vague, but apparently the clay has some salt in it. The last one requires no more explanation I suspect: the macaw pub-scene theory, basically.
We're literally hanging out again waiting for lunch. The 2 hour dead times before and after lunch are nice: get a cold shower, change, take a nap, read, whatever. I think we would have enjoyed Grand Cayman more if we had followed a similar schedule. It's not nearly as hot here, but it's so humid that even at 9am, the littlest exertion lands you in a puddle of sweat.
Donna is going to get a "temporary" tattoo using some sort of vegetable dye that goes on clear and then turns the skin black [Huito]. Supposedly it wears of after a fortnight.
I guess I'll go watch.
Ah, just sketching with a pen now. I'll check back when the real business starts.
Donna and I are enjoying our superman status. Three weeks living above 3000m has turned our blood into hemoglobin cream soup. Our fellow visitors at the lodge huff and puff up the stairway from the boat landing while Donna and I are looking around at the top half-hoping for more stairs.
Time to ink the sketch...
Some black vegetable fibers in a Tuperware container. Andres is carefully painting in with a twig or toothpick. Four hours until there's something to see, then time for a second coat.
Half an hour to lunch. Maybe time for a quick nap.
Back from the nerd tour.
We asked Andreas (our guide for today because Maria returned to PM with the Dutch this morning) if we could poke around behind the scenes. He arranged for Pedro, one of the workers from the community, to show us around.
The kitchen is just off the dining hall and is very organized with stainless counter tops, a couple propane(?) stoves and several sinks (one marked "vasos solo"). The office is off the kitchen with a shift calendar, a radio (in a lock box) and a computer (not in a lock box - interesting, but completely understandable priorities). Out the back is a fence and mesh room for vegetables and other food storage.
They sort garbage into paper, plastic, metal and glass and ship it back to PM.
Outside is a 15m tower topped with plastic drums. This tower supplies water pressure to the kitchen, and the guest rooms (taps, showers, and toilets). Behind the tower is a roughly 20m bipole antenna for the radio. Down the hill is a cistern and gas-powered pump that moves water from the cistern to the water tower. The operator needs to open a stop valve that prevents back flow and then start the pump. The cistern is very large (maybe a couple hundred cubic meters) and is gravity filled from a nearby spring. Such springs are rare around here. Presence of the spring was a factor in choosing a site for the lodge. Drinking water is produced by chlorination of the spring water.
Back up the hill and further away from the lodge are the septic tanks. Pits are dug into the clay and toilet waste is directed into it. There it a wood platform erected over the pit with an access panel. Every three days disinfectant is added to the brew. The pits fill in 1-2 years, and are buried. They seem surprisingly close to the spring. Clay is fairly impermeable I guess.
Also down the hill was a small gas generator to run a radio, computer, and a TV after dinner. Gas is brought in by boat from PM. The vast majority of the food also comes from PM. Papaya, yucca, and a few other local vegetables are purchased from the community.
upper forest: compact soil, puddles in wet season
seasonally flooded forest: richer soil, more humidity, off we go to the more humidity
yohi trail: yohi is Quechuan for peccary.
Strangler Fig: begins as an epiphyte, makes roots, host tree dies after 100 years. light is a critical resource. vine on a vine on a strangler on a tree.
naked tree: removes bark frequently to thwart epiphytes
palms for roofs. new leaves are reddish to appear less tasty to insects
pona palm: stilt roots,
belly palm: belly accumulates water
agouti and Brazil nut tree symbiosis
modified palm leaves that protect buds fall, catch rain water and become micro-habitats for mosquitos
lower flooded forest
varseas - permanent flooded areas with fishes - that disperse seeds
under-story very dense
poor soil: decay is very fast and nutrients are reclaimed immediately. microrisa fungus fixes valence so roots can pull up phosphors very fast.,
cultivated Brazil nut trees won't fruit without the fungus
HUGE kapok tree. bat pollenated. 6m trunk, 10m base at least. Covered in termite trails. Termites eat other trees, not the host.
big trees fall in wind, clearing is invaded by bamboo, bamboo dominates and makes soil very acidic
smell of a peccary - no other evidence
Cecropia tree with segmented stem with very hard shells on segments. Symbiotic relation with ants
Most places in the world if you have a candle on your dinner table and a moth flies into the flame, then the moth ends up as a smoking cinder somewhere on the table.
In the Peruvian rainforest the moths are much bigger. When that happens here, the candle gets snuffed and the moth moves on to the next candle.
Well, we survived the rainforest. (The land of really big bugs, as it were.)
We're back in Cusco and have regathered all our things from the clubhouse. Now we have a few days to rest, settle my stomach (tengo un poco enfermidad), repack and get organized to head home. This has been a really long but interesting trip! I am tired today, though.
We have discovered that airlines in Peru just don't run on time. So it is a good thing that each day is a different leg of our journey or we would miss a connection somewhere and get stuck. We had to be at the airport last Friday at 5:30 AM and the plane left a little after 9:00 AM. Grr. But what can you do?
The lodge was great. It was surprisingly well organized for Peru. We were picked up at the airport in Puerto Maldonado, taken to the office in a big bus with a thatch roof (photo), and after a little paperwork (give the voucher, leave your return tix) taken to a 40 foot long motorized canoe for the 2 hour trip up the Tambopata River. During the boat ride alone we saw all sorts of animals: white caymans, side-necked turtles, yellow-headed vultures, snowy and cattle egrets, black skimmers and a yellow billed tern. We arrived and were taken to the "lobby" - a large open hut with a thatch roof and then to our rooms (3 buildings like the lobby, divided into 6 rooms each with little bamboo walls. Private bathrooms with flush toilets (but, as in all of Peru, don't put toilet paper down them, they will clog)). The rooms were comfortable. No electricity or hot water, so showers were during the day when it was hot. There were hurricane lamps everywhere next to little mirrors to increase the light output. The staff would go around and light them when necessary, including 15 minutes before you needed to wake up in the morning. Very thoughtful. Also very thoughtful was the lockbox in the room for valuables and food (otherwise we would have a problem with rodents such as the bamboo rat).
The food was great. The water was purified for us so we didn't have to worry. Everyone spoke English. We had 2 guides: first Maria, for a day and half, who had been a guide for about a year and had studied tourism in Lima, then Andres, who has not been as guide for as long but is a biologist and provided us with a lot of really interesting information. We went to a jungle lake and saw giant otters, climbed a 40 m tower to view the canopy (and practically sprinted up the thing, amazing what acclimatization can do for a person), and hiked to the biggest tree in the area. We also toured a working slash & burn farm and staked out macaws and parrots at a clay lick. In between, we hung out on hammocks and slept a lot.
Everyone there said we were very lucky but we saw A LOT of animals. Here's what I can remember (other than the first boat ride): Giant otters, tamandua anteater, red squirrels, tamarin monkeys, red howler monkeys, dusky titi monkeys, scarlet macaws (rare), red & green macaws, 3 kinds of parrots, tons of parakeets, a violacious jay, a side vented dove, an osprey, 2 toucans, lots of oropendulas (weaver birds) and some other birds that prey on the nests of the oropendulas, leaf cutter ants trudging down a really tall palm tree with their quarry, tiger beetles, tiger heron, lots of butterflies, big hairy caterpillars that looked very toxic, lizards, other big beetles, and other things like that. We had a few descriptions of medicinal plants, and learned how the local community makes the roofs out of palm fronds. The lodge is 40% owned by the local community and in 20 years they will own it completely. So, right now they are learning to run the lodge by working there and being involved in all the planning and organization. It ran so smoothly, I can't believe it! There were students from Stanford who come down for the summer to do research projects, either biological or anthropological.
All in all, a great experience! We really enjoyed ourselves.
Huito: tatoo herb, soak in alcohol
Wow. Spectacular. The guides kept telling us we were lucky. I think they were afraid we'd go away and raise false hopes for future travelers. It was like the staff was sneaking around in the woods releasing animals from cages. The trees look just like they do at the rainforest places in the zoos back home, except there are a lot more of them and they are REAL, not fiberglass. I kept having to remind myself that I was in a jungle and not a theme park, "Chris, if you take a right turn off this path and walk 10 minutes you will become hopelessly lost and will probably die, this is the real thing."
The lodge is an amazing oasis in the jungle. It's owned 60/40 by the local community and some Peruvian businessmen. It was built designed by a Peruvian architect and built by the community. It's a collection of open longhouse-like buildings each serving a different purpose: lobby, dining area, guest rooms, etc. The rooms are open to the jungle, the beds are covered with mosquito netting, but there are showers (cold) and flush toilets. We actually convinced them to give us a "nerd tour" behind the scenes so we could see how the place works.
We had 5 outings total: a 40m observation tower, a jaunt on a lake, the clay lick (where parakeets, parrots and macaws come to eat clay), a tour of a slash and burn farm, and a hike to the lower-flooded forest to see a Kapok tree (HUGE). We saw several kinds of macaw, parrots, parakeets, toucans, doves, osprey, vultures, egrets, caymans, an anteater, giant otters, many many leaf-cutter ants at work, 3 kinds of monkey, too much to list (although I have it all in my Pilot).
Well, we had a very low key day today. Went to the Inca Museum this morning, which had a small but interesting collection of artifacts from pre-Inca and Inca cultures (as far back as 16000 BC). It also had some mummies (?found at Machu Picchu) on display. They are mummified in the fetal position. Another interesting display was a collection of skulls: some were molded into various shapes which were thought to be for esthetic or caste reasons. Others had evidence of craniotomies. I guess if you live on the side of a mountain, someone is bound to fall and hit their head and get brain swelling; one has to learn how to deal with it. Evidently they would place a burr hole to relieve pressure. No word on how well it worked....
Other than that, a little last minute shopping and a big lunch. Then a siesta...we're really tired. I guess a month is just enough to spend in Cusco - I'm kinda done now. Time to come home. Last night we had a great conversation in Spanish with the night host at our hostel, José. He's the only one in the hostel who has the time to talk with us. He said he is currently trying to learn English and then plans to study tourism. I never thought of tourism as a college degree until I got here.
Hopefully tonight our laundry will be back...
So, the taxi situation is starting to make more sense. There are a bunch of Darts, Chavelles, and Fairlanes clanking around with half rotten wood signs on top with destinations like "Aeropuerto" and "Ave del so and so". These have almost been replaced by a mostly new fleet of Toyota sedans and Toyota and Mitsubishi minibuses. The story goes that there were prohibitive import tariffs or some other barrier to trade that made replacing taxi fleets very expensive. Recently the situation changed.
Not much to report. We slept most of yesterday. Both Donna and I ¨tenemos un poco infermidad". Today we went to the Museo de Incas and saw artifacts ranging from 16,000 B.C. to the present, or so they say. Basically it was a collection of pre-Inca, Inca, and post-colonial art and artifacts. There were some cool mummies from Machu Picchu, but they were not accompanied by much verbiage. I was impressed with myself that I could extract meaning from the Spanish-only plaques. "extract meaning" is distinct from "read" of course.
We plan to hit the Museo de Oro and the Museo de la Nacíon in Lima. The first is evidently a completely disorganized un-labelled collection of stunning gold artifacts from Inca and colonial times. The second is supposed to be a more serious archeological museum.
Donna's parents are going to pick us up in NYJFK, so we don't have to sleep on the floor and fly back in the morning. Yay!
Today was another low key day - after confirming our tix for Lima and checking mail/news, we went to the church of Santo Domingo. This was built directly on top of the central Inca temples in Cusco. The story goes that when the conquistadors arrived, they found this huge collection of temples, made of stone but lined with sheets of gold and silver, full of precious stones and idols. These were promptly looted and the gold all melted down for the use of the Spanish...of course. The structure was given to Juan Pizzaro but he died in one of the subsequent battles with the Inca and he left it to the Dominican order. They built a church and cloister on top of the site. There are some Inca walls which still exist around the cloister and are in great shape: the temples to the moon, sun, rainbow, thunder, and stars. They have withstood 2 devastating earthquakes which basically levelled the church each time. Apparently, some Inca walls are constructed on little pivots so that they have some protection from seismic activity. The church itself had the best collection I've seen of bishops' vestments, all embroidered in gold. It also had the requisite gory images of Christ suffering and the pristine images of Mary being deified. (this is a very Mary-centric brand of catholicism)
Last day in Cusco. Re-confirmed the tickets and they claim that it's still scheduled to depart at the appointed time. We'll see.
Donna just saw someone she thinks might have leprosy.
We're in Lima. I am glad we're only staying one day here. It is overcast all the time, apparently, and very smoggy. The part of the beach we drove past is completely polluted.
We were picked up at the airport by the travel agents and had a really interesting conversation (in Spanish) about our trip and about Lima and the political situation. Things seem to have stabilized enough for the time being. It takes about 45 minutes to get to our hotel from the airport as they are on opposite sides of Lima but the hotel is in a nice area with good restaurants and a cyber café (very important these days). We checked in, locked our valuables, and took a taxi to the Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold). What a wacky place that is. First of all, it's expensive by Peruvian standards, 20 soles per person (we'd gotten used to 3 or 5 soles a person). Second of all, it is actually 3 different collections: pre-colonial and colonial gold, textiles, and weapons. Third, it is completely unlabelled. You know how museums usually only display a small percentage of their actual collection? Well, this one displayed the whole thing. I must have looked at several thousand (each) knives, swords, and guns. There were walls of spurs. A hallway of Japanese samurai armor and swords. Rooms of hats and helmets. After a little while (not very long) it was just ridiculous. Did see some very interesting Persian rifles with mosaic work in the handles....
Anyways, the textiles and the gold were exactly the same theme - everything on display and NOTHING labelled. I learned very little and I am exhausted. We headed back to Miraflores (our district) and got some lunch and here we are. Actually, the getting back to our hotel part is a little interesting - we were told to bring very little with us in Lima so Chris (unbeknownst to me) left his Pilot with all the hotel info in it in the hotel safe. So halfway to the museum, in the taxi, we realized that neither one of us could remember the hotel name and had nothing on us that would tell us. Eventually we found the business card given to us by our travel agent and called and got the pertinent information. Sigh.
Our tix for tomorrow are confirmed and we're being picked up at 4:00 am so we can check in at the appropriate time for our 7:00 am flight. Ugh. So an early night for us.
We're back at the departure lounge of Cusco airport. We came in a taxi that had - gasp - a dispatch radio! The night manager at Maria Reina called it for us. I'm not sure if that was just my first ride in a month in a radio dispatched taxi, or if it was my first ride in a month in a taxi that wasn't just a car to which some entrepreneurial fellow stuck a "TAXI" sticker.
Waiting to take of for Lima. They flattened several rows opposite us for a patient transfer. We were guessing that it was an altitude sickness patient being evacuated back to Lima. They brought on a young man breathing oxygen through a tracheotomy. Donna says they only do those for obstructed airways or for people who are intubated for long periods, so it seems our altitude sickness guess was wrong.
They laid his stretcher over the folded down seats nearest the windows and then folded the aisle seats back up to keep him in. His stretcher appears to be tied down with twine: great. He has an attendant who cleans out the tubing when he gets agitated and starts making gurgly-drowning noises. All I can say is, I'm glad I'm healthy.
Donna tells me that she's telling everyone about the Museo de Oro, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice to say that it was an overwhelming experience.
Lima in general is an overwhelming experience. Maybe if we weren't already so travel weary or adjusted to little backwaters it would be better, but it's big, polluted, noisy, and there's a thick fog that makes the city appear even larger and more forbidding than it probably is. Apparently the fog doesn't lift until November sometime. Lunch was good at least.
We are to be picked up by our travel agents tomorrow at 4am to go to the airport for our Miami flight. I guess it'll end up being an early night for us. We had half planned to go to the Museo de la Nacion, but neither of us are really in the mood.
I think we timed it just right, guys!