Throwback Thursday: A Slice of Culture

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

After leaving Peru for our next backpacking stop of Colombia, we spent our time in two of it’s major cities before having to fly back to Guatemala where Serendipity was awaiting.  There was still plenty to keep our plates full though.  From our 54 hour bus ride between Colombia and Peru where we took on armed guards to protects us against gurillas that had robbed the two buses ahead of us, to a drunken night wandering the streets of Bogota while meeting up with one of our backpacking friends from Peru.  We enjoyed Botota for a few days although Matt had come down with terrible food poisoning that left him sick in our hostel for 3 days straight.

After Bogota we bused it to the town of Medeillin, known for being the city of eternal summer and also fostering ex-drug lord Pablo Escobar.  We tried to take in as many of the sights as possible by riding the cable cars high above the town and visiting the botanical gardens and checking out the Botero Sculpture Park in the heart of town.  It seems like our backpacking adventure through South America passed us by way to fast, but we still have a million memories from our time there.  Plus if given the chance, I know we’d be back in a heartbeat.

You can find the original post here.

Wednesday September 18, 2013

9.18.13

It was kind of nice having a forced hiatus from backpacking for just a few days. A little time away from the past few weeks of sightseeing, activities, and even the drinking. But after 48 hours of watching reruns of Friends and The Big Bang Theory (those were the only shows offered in English), we realized we needed to get out. The unsavory tablets were working well enough on Matt’s stomach that we thought we might be able to get him out of the hostel for just a few hours. The destination for the day? The historic center of Bogota.

Armed with our over-sized map once more, we stepped onto a collectivo that we were sure would take us at least close to the area we wanted to go this time, with plans to abort if necessary. ‘Ok, we need to stay on Calle 7 until we get to Carrera 13. If the bus diverts past Calle 10, we get off.’ The good thing about the streets here is they are all ascending numbers of Calles and Carreras, so you’re always relatively sure of how far away you are from something. When we did incidentally have to get off at Calle 10, we knew it was only three blocks down back to where we wanted to be on 7. No Martin Luther King Blvds to get lost on here.

My main goal for the day was soley to see the church in the large city square, but as we got off the bus the sky became overcast and a light drizzle fell on us and I didn’t know how long we’d want to be outside for. We have not had one sunny day in Bogota yet and even though we are surrounded by all the modern buildings that both of us had been slightly yearning for since we left the states, I was momentarily left yearning for the sunny beaches and good friends we left in Mancora. But ever since the salad there made Matt sick, the place gets a big black X in his book. He should have listened to me when I told him to get the ceviche…

Upon entering the square we were greeted with about a hundred rickshaws that seemed to be having some kind of protest or rally. Again, because of the language barrier, they could have been there to celebrate Larry’s 50th birthday and I would have had no way of knowing. We tried wandering around the square for a bit while appreciating the architecture, but the rickshaw drivers also had horns they would not stop blowing. Apparently they were very excited about Larry’s 50th. After close to 15 minutes of this we left for quieter side streets.

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Even though we had the luxury of sitting around for the past two days with constant internet access, I had not done much research on the area and so we just walked up and down each street unsure of what we would find. The rain was continuing on and off, and during one rainy session we ducked into an art museum. The art here was focusing mostly on a Colombian artist, Botero, who I had not been familiar with but whom Matt told me was very famous. I guess he had a thing for drawing and painting very voluptuous people. Room after room there were paintings and sketches in this style, and a large focus was on nude women at the beach or in bed, or sometimes, even in the kitchen. I think Sir Mix-a-Lot would have been very impressed.

There were prints from other famous artists as well, and some of our time was also spent enjoying the works of Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Chagall. Which are always nice to admire because, as Julia Robert’s character says in Notting Hill, “Happiness isn’t happiness without a violin playing goat”.

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 We tried our hands at one more museum as well, one on the history of Colombia and Bogota, but everything was in Spanish. Most of it was more than my basic knowledge could piece together and soon it just became annoying trying to figure out what each item meant. I think a grand total of 15 minutes was spent in that museum. The staff may have thought that we’d gotten ourselves lost since we wandered back by the entrance so quickly, trying to point us back to where the exhibits, and us trying to motion that, no, we wanted to leave. At least I got a few cool postcards with the entrance fee. You can expect to get it in about three months Huong!

Having completed a giant circle of the area, we ended up back in the main square where most of the rickshaw drivers had finally departed. And I was hoping to get back there in time for cake….

Taking one more turn down a side street that would point us in the direction of our hostel, even though there was no way we would be walking the 60 blocks back, we knew it was our last day in Bogota and wanted to see as much as we could. The rain had other plans for us though. At this point we were wet, we were cold, and we were hungry. That is exactly when we saw the golden arches of McDonald’s shine down on us like a beacon. And I was finally able to get my Mc Whopper. I mean, Big Mac.

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 They have llamas!!

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Throwback Thursday: The Floating Islands of Uros, Lake Titicaca

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

This post only finds us a few days after our Machu Picchu climb (and one really cool walking tour of Cuzco), but it was just something I felt deserved it’s own throwback.  The time we went to Lake Titicaca.  An actual downfall from the sights we had been seeing but something I have to look back on and smile because it was so bad that in it’s own way it was spectacular.  A nice history lesson thrown in with a story of probably one of the worst towns we have ever visited along with knowingly falling into a huge tourist trap, all because we had two spare days of time on our hands.

What can I say though?  It may have been the bad side, but at least I’ll always be able to say that I’ve been to Lake Titicaca.  And now I have a hilarious story to look back at and shake my head whenever I’m reminded of it.

You can find the original post here.

Thursday September 5, 2013

reed boats Lake Titicaca

Does anyone remember back to their 6th or 7th grade geography lessons where you first started learning about countries other than your own?  And in there you would be introduced to funny sounding places like Zimbabwe or Uranus (ok, so that was more of a science lesson) or best of all, Lake Titicaca.  A mix of English and Spanish naughty words that you’d run home and repeat in front of your parents because you couldn’t get in trouble if you were only echoing the name of what you learned in class.  Something everyone would snicker at during the lesson and your teacher would stand up a little bit straighter themselves, and remind you to act like adults?  Yes, it was fun for us all, and I’m sure I’d be able to keep just as straight of a face during a lesson of it today as when I was 13 years old.  To give a quick history lesson though, the name itself is derived from Titi, an Aymara mountain cat, and the Quechua word caca, meaning rock.  This refers to the sacred rock on Isla del Sol which was worshipped by the Pre-Inca people on that island.

We had been warned not to come here.  Not to Lake Titicaca necessarily, that’s supposed to be beautiful.  No, we warned not to come to Puno Peru.  That it’s dirty and desolate and not worth seeing.  Our friends that had given us this information were not wrong.  They said, “Yes, visit Lake Titicaca, but be sure to see it from the Bolivian side, that’s the only part worth seeing”.  This could not work in our favor for two reasons.  The first is that we’re running on a four week schedule and already trying to cram three countries into that (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), and a fourth would be just asking a little too much.  The other is, and thank goodness I was so into reading Bumfuzzle’s adventures or I may not have known, that Americans and Americans only must procure a Visa to get into Boliva at the cost of $135 per person.  We’re still on a relatively tight budget with our land traveling, and that would have come close to breaking it.  Add in the extra bus rides, the blah blah blah.  It just wouldn’t have worked out.

But we couldn’t not go.  It would be like road tripping through Israel (as so many of us do) and coming within 30 miles of the Dead Sea but saying, “Meh.  Maybe I’ll catch it on the next time around”.  You can’t do that.  It’s something you must see, even if it’s just for the bragging right’s alone.  Plus the bus company happened to be running a special between Cusco and Puno, and that just sealed the deal.  We tried to look on the positive side of things and say ‘It can’t really be that bad, right?’ as we waited at the terminal for yet another overnight bus.  2 nights without hostels = bus tickets paid.

We should have known right away that things wouldn’t be as great as we hoped when, while sitting in the bus terminal with another set of backpackers, we all watched the local news which was showing footage of Puno from a few days earlier where the lake had frozen.  Yes.  It had gotten so cold there that the shores on this massive body of water had turned to ice.  Our groups looked at each other with shock, each of us probably wondering if our tickets were refundable.  After we had boarded the bus and were dropped off at our destination at 4:30 am we found the conditions were fortunately not quite as cold as forecast, but I was ready to check into the hostel that I had found online which advertised 24 hour reception and no check-in time.  Hooray, there might be a warm bed waiting for me soon!  We’re used to the hostels which proclaim they’re within one or two blocks of the city center to be relatively nice and in upstanding neighborhoods.  This one was not.  Our taxi sped away as we stood on a pitch black street, excitedly ringing the buzzer while we listened to what sounded like shotguns echoing just a few streets away.  It felt like forever before anyone finally came to the door.  Paying just a few dollars extra we booked a private room, and just as the sky was beginning to light we were ushered to our room which had no heat and I passed out under the covers while wearing three layers of clothes and still shivering.

Our next bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until the following night, so we spent our first day in Puno just roaming down the streets to see what we could find.  It definitely was not a classy town, and we couldn’t find much to occupy our time outside.  The Plaza de Armas was largely undesirable and there were no good spots to see the lake within walking distance.  One of the only good things to come of the day is that I found a woman selling knit goods, and Matt let me buy a llama skirt.  I really have no idea where my recent obsession for these items has come from, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the Disney flick ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’, which of course takes place in Peru.  Haven’t seen it yet?  I suggest you give it a watch.  Just as funny for adults as it is for kids.  The other thing is that we found a large shopping center with a food court, and in that food court was a Chinese restaurant that offered orange chicken.  We have not been able to find that in any of the million chaufas around.  Leftovers were brought back to our room where we enjoyed them while watching a movie on my laptop while lying in bed.  It’s the simple things in life….

Ok, now on to the reason we came.  One of the draws of Lake Titicaca is that it is the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft above sea level.  Many of the tourist visiting the lake will take ferrys to some of the nearby islands to get a feel for the local culture that has been developing here for thousands of years where the inhabitants have been worshiping the lake’s mystical powers since Pre-Inca times.  The best place to get a feel for these cultures are Isla del Sol (where the scared rock is, on the Bolivian side) or Taquile on the Peruvian side.  We were going to neither.  Our visit was going to be to the floating reed city of Uros.  Partially because a floating reed city sounded pretty cool, and partially because we didn’t get up early enough to make the 30 mile journey by water to Taquile.  We’d heard that Uros can be a little less than authentic and very heavy on tourism, but again, this trip was soley for bragging rights.  Boarding a ferry with about six other tourist and a few locals, we were off to the floating city.

ferry in Puno Peru

Looking back to Puno

Peruvian woman on ferry

 As we traveled through the narrow channel and the reeds, the water suddenly opened up and we were in a bay where the town, the boats, everything, was made from reeds.  One could only stand there awed and confounded as you wonder how this is done.  From their homes to their transportation, to the ground beneath their feet, everything was made from this material.  Having our sturdy fiberglass ship pull up alongside of one of these little floating islands, you step off and probe the ground with your feet for any secrets it might hold on how this is possible.  The pondering though, is unnecessary.   As soon as every traveler was on floating ground, we were told to gather in a circle for an introduction to the history of Lake Titicaca and the floating Islas de Los Uros.  It was a good thing that we had read up on our guidebook because the whole speech was in Spanish without any kind of interpreter.  Also, luckily for us, there were many visuals where on a much smaller scale, it was shown to us how these little islands were put together.  Since I’m sure I can’t give a good technical explanation of it, especially since it was in my second language that I haven’t quite learned yet, here’s a little excerpt from Wikipedia:

“The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months; this is what makes it exciting for tourists when walking on the island. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years.

Each step on an island sinks about 2-4″ depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there are so infiltrated with tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island. Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.”

introduction to Los Uros

reed mountain cat Los Uros

 Following the introduction to the islands, we were broken into smaller groups of 1-2 people where one of the women who resides on that particular island shows you around and answers questions.  Thankfully ours spoke English, so we were able to follow along as she showed us the hut that her family lived in, the one bed they all shared, and the two sets of clothing she owned for different occasions.  While walking past her home, she also introduced us to their pet eagle, who looked like it was eyeing Matt up and down for lunch.  When she finished talking about her day to day life, she led us to a small area where a blanket and table were sprawled out, showcasing items for sale that her or her husband had made.

This was the tough part of the tour.  How do you tell someone who’s basically living off the proceeds from tourism that, not only do you live on a boat and don’t currently have the extra space or a need for a baby mobile made with reed canoes (cutest thing ever, when I have a baby I’m going to come back here just to buy one), or that you’re living out of a backpack at the moment which is already overstuffed with the wheel of cheese you bought in Cusco and there is no room for anything new?  The answer?  You can’t tell them no.  You would just feel like the biggest jerk ever.  Matt eyed all the goods in front of him and took a fancy to a textile that showed the history of the island.  Our guide told us that it had taken her 30 days to make, and knowing that we could easily fold it down and hopefully hang it in a future home, we gave her $30 USD for it and wished her well as we rejoined the group for a ride in one of the fancy ‘Mercedes’ reed boats to the capital city.  As we pushed off, the women of the island gathered together to sing us a native song as we departed.  It was all for tourism, I know, but still kind of nice to enjoy.

Matt & an eagle on Los Uros

Uros native selling goods

fishing pond in Los Uros Lake Titicaca

reed boat, Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

Los Uros native singing us goodbye

 The capital city, we were told, was a place for the locals to join for festivities and parties, although to me it just felt like one large tourist trap on a floating piece of land.  The only thing it consisted of were stalls filled with more goods for sale, exactly like the ones we had just left, and restaurants where you could purchase the same kind of food you’d find on the streets of Puno.  There were no more stories or explanations of the culture, just ‘Please spend the rest of your money here’.  It was slightly disappointing, especially considering our stay on the previous island had been a total of under 30 minutes.  A few people wandered the stalls and looked at the goods, while the others went to purchase beverages from the restaurants.  We just sat at the plastic chairs and waited for our ferry to come pick us back up

The only interesting part of the day was where all the men in our tour group were momentarily stolen away to help launch a new, yet very basic, reed boat.  Coupled with two or three local men, the four guys in our group grunted, pushed, pulled and shoved this massive raft into the water.  Participating in local culture, see that’s what we were looking for on this visit.

As soon as this local boat was floating, our fiberglass one was back to pick us up.  We boarded the top deck and stared at the little floating cities our whole way out of the bay.  Was the trip here worth it?  It’s hard to say.  On one had we were witness to cultures and some traditions, such as their living structures, that have been in place for thousands of years.  On the other hand, they had made it so commercial that you felt though even though you were there to observe it, it was played up soley for your viewing pleasure.  A song and dance and a hand outstretched for a tip after.  So would I do it again?  Of course!  I now have the bragging rights that I’ve been to Lake Titicaca (snicker).

launching a reed boat in Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

reed boat floating in Lake Titicaca

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Throwback Thursday: Stinky & Smiling on Machu Picchu

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

It was only one week into our backpacking trip of Peru but we had already covered many miles and seen some pretty amazing things. After a few days of seeing what Lima had in store for us we hopped an overnight bus to end up at the Nazca Lines and took a full tour there before riding another overnight bus to the snow capped crests of Arequipa for a little R&R.

Before our big trek up Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu we spent a few days acclimating to the elevation in Cuzco and took in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes. I was falling in love with travel all over again.  The excitement, the unknown, and the discovery of so much that’s new to me.  If I thought my senses had been blown away before I’d even gotten to Machu Picchu, I don’t even know what word would describe what they were after.  This still ranks as the number one thing we’ve ever done in our lives and on our travels.

In some people’s, most likely those who’ve never been there, view it as a tourist trap/bucket list item that gets thrown around as a place you have to see before you die even though it isn’t all that great in person.  Trust me, this is not the pyramids of Giza and you will not be let down.  This little spot high up in the Andes mountains truly is magical.  If you only had the opportunity to visit one of the current wonders of the world, make this it.  I promise you will never regret it.

You can find the original post here.

Monday September 2, 2013

tour of Machu Picchu

*You’ll have to excuse some of the photos in today’s post.  There aren’t as many breathtaking photos as I wanted to include or that this place deserves, a lot of these pictures focus on a practical purpose to show our experience there more than the beauty.  But those pretty photos do have a time and place, so stay tuned tomorrow for Picturesque Machu Picchu. (Now up, click here!)

 

If you’ve never been to Machu Picchu before, there’s a fair amount of planning and organizing that goes into it. Tickets need to be purchased and they need to be done in advance. Find yourself at the top of this mountain without a ticket in your hand, and you’ll be told to turn around and go back home (or just back to town, really) because tickets aren’t sold at the entrance. Only 2,000 people a day are allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and if you want to climb the neighboring mountains of Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu, which we definitely did, you’d better secure those tickets weeks in advance because only 200 people a day are allowed to make that climb. So there we were, still back at Matt’s mom’s house in Michigan, frustratingly trying to get our tickets booked and subsequently getting turned down because we didn’t have Verified by Visa. After a few days and a few phone calls, everything was taken care of and the date we originally wanted to visit was pushed back to four days later because we didn’t book quick enough. That’s seriously how quickly they go.

Our whole schedule in Peru up to this point has been planned around these tickets; what cities we could visit, how long we could stay in them. In short, you don’t just drive up to the sun gate and say, “I wanna get in”. So after booking plane tickets, bus tickets, and now train tickets, we were finally ready to go to Machu Picchu.

Since our climb up Huayna Picchu was scheduled to let us into the entrance of that area between 7 and 8 am, we had set the alarm for 5:30, making sure to pack our bags before we left the hostel since we’d still be at Macchu Picchu when checkout time came and wouldn’t be able to come back to pack after. Eating the tradition free breakfast that most of these hostels offer of bread, jam, and tea, we stuck a liter of water and a couple of granola bars into my messenger bag and set off to take one final bus up the zig-zag road to the entrance. Matt had wanted to do that walk as well, possibly even just to save the $40 in those bus tickets, but I warned that by straining ourselves on that walk/climb up, we’d have no energy left for the mountain. If we hadn’t purchased our bus tickets the night before because he didn’t know about the hiking trail at the time, I doubt he would have listened to my reasoning. He usually doesn’t.

Stepping off the bus at the top we already were running behind at 6:45, and had no idea where the entrance to Huayna Picchu was. Handing over our tickets and passports while passing through a turnstiles like we were entering Disneyworld, we started quickly scrambling up random steps, trying to follow the signs for where we needed to go, until we were greeted with this.

Machu Piccu just after sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Did your jaw just drop?, because mine just did. Not only as we saw it, but as I was going back through my photos to post this as well. Imagine how it looked in person. I was awestruck. But only for a minute, because we were still running behind schedule and I was going to be damned if I missed my hike up the mountain. Stopping other early risers that were there with their tour guides, we got directions to where we needed to be and joined a line of about 50 people ahead of us. Looks like we weren’t going to miss our climb after all.

waiting to enter Huyana Picchu

One of the things we noticed as we were waiting in line was how hot it was already getting now that the sun was coming up. Almost every person we had talked to that had been here already spout on about overcast skies, mist, rain, and even snow. We thought we’d be freezing our asses off, and dressed appropriately for that. Matt was in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, and I had layered with running pants and a lightweight hoodie. Something else also occurred to me after we were given our pass and started making our way up Huayna Picchu. “Uh oh”, I glanced at Matt, “I think I forgot to put on deodorant today”. “What do you mean?”, he gawked at me. “How could you forget to put on deodorant?” I replied that we were in a rush that morning, it had been in the bottom of his bag (we keep all our toiletries together), and ooops, I must have slipped my mind as we were rushing out the door. He stared at me with some slight disgust and made sure to put a few more feet between us, as well as keep me downwind of him. I couldn’t be any worse than those people that just hiked the Inca Trail though, right? They must be going on three days now without showers.

first glances back at Machu Picchu

The groups of people that had been slightly spaced out as we began this trek now all crammed together as our path turned from wide dirt trails into steep stone steps. When the sign at the beginning listed the difficulty of this hike as ‘medium’, they were lying. It was frickin’ hard. Higher and higher we climbed at 45 degree angles, although honestly, it could have been steeper, because it felt like we were going almost vertical. Add that to the altitude of straining ourselves at over 7,000 ft, and I’m glad we spent at least two days in Cusco acclimatizing ourselves. It almost became a challenge, for me at least, to not stop. When people ahead of us would get to a small patch of dirt and stand to the side huffing and puffing while they tried not to lose consciousness, I trekked right past them with a smile and a nod, since the extra energy it would take to actually say hello would probably put me right there next to them. Each person we passed felt like a small triumph, especially since in my lack of an exercise world, I don’t think I could run a mile if you pointed a gun at me right now.

climbing the steep steps at Hauyna Picchu

After more steps than I cared to count, we made it up to a viewing area with only one need to stop and take a breath.  The request was actually from Matt, but I was happy to have a minute of deep breathing forced upon me.  Being able to stand for a few minutes without the pressure to keep moving, I’m surprised my legs didn’t give out from under me.  By now they were feeling a little like Jell-o and I had to wonder what the rest of the day was going to be like if I was already feeling this weak at 8:00 in the morning.  Realizing we needed to really slow ourselves down, we let ourselves sit and rest for awhile while taking in the spectacular views.  Matt must have grasped what a special occasion it was to be here because he even suggested multiple times that we get our photo taken together.  The same guy that I can usually only get photos of him walking away because he refuses to pose for them.  I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

overlooking Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Panoramic from Huayna Picchu

kissing in front of Machu Picchu

 From there it was only farther up.  Not quite as hard with the steep stairs we had just come from, but something that was, um, a little more interesting.  To continue further up the mountain, we had to climb through a cave.  And not just any cave, but one where the entrance and exit were just big enough to squeeze one person through at a time, but only if they were crouched down and basically crawling.  Inside was actually quite spacious, at least compared to the opening, and I believe that rituals used to take place in there.  The exit was a little more fun as it was almost vertical and felt like you were going through a rock tube.  It is definitely not a spot for those with claustrophobia, and I think there have since been other ways built around it.

entering the cave on Huayna Picchu

exiting cave in Huayna Picchu

 From there it was just a few steps up a cricketey wooden ladder, scaling up a few boulders, and we were at the very top!  The views were nothing short of majestic, and we enjoyed it in seclusion with the 20 other people that were scaling boulders next to us, shimmying, jumping, and crab crawling from one place to the next.  While this spot does afford some beautiful views, actual solitude does not come with it.  Nor does the ability to sit and enjoy those views before you for hours on end, because the person behind you wants your spot too.  We did allot ourselves 2-3 minutes on one of the highest perchable places, had another photo taken, and then inched our way across and down the boulders to make room for others.

Matt pointing at mountains

top of Huayna Picchu

top of Huayna Picchu

boulders at top of Huayna Picchu

 Now it was time for the even harder part.  Getting back down.  Those steep steps that we had huffed and puffed to get to the top of, now looked like a vertical death trap on the way back down.  I can see why they advise against climbing here during wet weather.  One slip on the slick rock and you would be a goner.  Even with the wire handrail at my side, I didn’t  trust myself, or my biceps really, to let the one hand on there be all that kept me from tumbling into the valley below.  Following in the footsteps, literally, of the people in front of us, we took their lead and faced ourselves backwards while slowly climbing down, using both our hands and feet as we scaled down it like a ladder.

stone hut on Huayna Picchu

overlooking Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu

looking down vertical stairs

 To the bottom left, you can see the stairs and people climbing down them.

vertical steps

 Here’s another view of them from a photo that Matt’s mom found online.

 

Once we got to the bottom I had no idea how my legs were supporting the weight of my body since with each step we had taken down, they’d shiver and wobble below me.  It was almost like when I did cross-country back in high school, how my legs would go numb after the first mile and a half and I couldn’t even tell I was running anymore.  Which is probably why, as our other hiking companions were crawling their way back into the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to take on Wayna Picchu as well.  Or whatever the smaller mountain there is called.  The signs here are so utterly confusing that we gave up trying to figure out which mountain was which five minutes after we got here.  It was still worth the taxing climb since this mountain is much less popular, and you are rewarded with beautiful views from the top in actual solitude.  If you ever find yourself here with a packed picnic, I suggest this is where you eat it.

view from Wayna Picchu

 Decending this smaller mountain and getting back to the ruins, we realized what a mistake we’d made about not pacing ourselves, not packing a lunch, and definitely not bringing enough water.  The 1 liter we were sharing between the two of us was now just about empty, and we still had a lot of ground to cover in the hot sun.  Following the exit signs as we left the mountains, we had no idea which was the best way to tour the ruins or if there was one spot to start that was better than the other.  For a little while we had our Peru guidebook in our hands and we leafed through the pages and tried to make sense of the map.  When that didn’t work, we tried to fall in behind tour groups that were already in place.  Big surprise of the day, even with all the gringo tourist there, the only thing we could overhear was Spanish.  I think I caught a whiff of German, and maybe even a little Polish, but absolutely no English.

You may be asking why we didn’t just spring the few dollars for a tour of our own.  We’ve heard they’re very informative and well with the money, but truth be told, by that point I don’t think we had the energy to trudge around for the next 2-3 hours while getting a full breakdown of the place.  I don’t think our bodies could handled it.  I don’t think our brains could have handled it.  At this point we were just happy to do a little wandering on our own.  In the areas we could tell held high importance, we stood around for a tour group to come by and I would do my best to pick up on a few words and translate them to Matt.  Not the most informative way to see Machu Picchu, but we still felt fortunate just to be standing there at all.

stone wall Machu Picchu

pit of death

 I’m pretty sure this translated to ‘Pit of Death’.

 

It was a very large compound, and we’d aimlessly amble up and down and left and….OMG, they have llamas!!  Excuse me one moment, I’ll be right back.

llama grazing Machu Picchu

Jessica petting llama

 Where was I?  Oh, right.  So we had no real destination, but would just walk through the paths, take random turns, sometimes backtrack, but mostly just tried to see absolutely everything there was before our hearts gave out and we died of heat stroke.  Which if you remember my last post from Cusco, yes, I can die happy now.

stone wall in front of Huayna Picchu

Matt & Jessica overlooking Machu Picchu

 Back on the bus I asked Matt how he felt now about shelling out money for those tickets instead of walking up and down like he had originally wanted.  Face still flushed and panting he replied “Best $40 I ever spent”.  Don’t worry, even though I was right on this, he still won’t listen to me in the future.

Heads resting on our seats as we gazed out the window where the ruins fell slowly out of view, we took to talking about how incredibly lucky we were to be able to come here and how it was worth every penny, including that overpriced train we were about to hop back on.  When Matt asked me what I’d remember most about Machu Picchu, I came back that I couldn’t quite choose between the sunrise over the mountains when we first walked in, or the view from the top of Huayna Picchu, or even the llamas I was able to hunt down and pet.  When I reversed the question to him, he responded “That my wife forgot to wear deodorant”.  Well, at least he’ll remember something.

 

 

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American Backpackers in Lima

Sunday August 25, 2013

Lima Presidential Palace

Looks like the security guards at the airport thought that six hours straight was enough to let us sleep on the floor in front of Radio Shack before nudging us awake at 5:30 this morning and telling us to move on.  Or at least, that’s the body language Matt picked up on since the guard was talking to him in Spanish and I was still passed out.  Honestly, I’m kind of surprised they let us stay there that long considering it was still a relatively busy area in the airport and people were constantly walking by.  Guess they’re still a little lenient with airport sleepers here in Peru, because I don’t think I could see security being ok with people sleeping right next to the food court back in the States.

Still having no idea how far away our hostel was located or the best/cheapest way to get there, we moved over to a table at Starbucks where I got a plain black coffee just to be able to access the internet and answer our questions.  The security guard was still giving us sideways  glances, probably expecting us to wait and see if he left so we could steal our sleeping spot back.  Tempting, but it now looked like we were up for the day.

Quick side note on our spending while we’re here in South America.  As not to completely break our bank and keep our monthly budget not a whole lot higher than the $1,500 – $2,000 a month we allow ourselves right now, we’ve tried to set in place some strict spending rules while we’re away.  We know there will be bus tickets and entry fees to get into places we want to see, but we’re going to try to live in the guidelines of $10/person or less for lodging each night, and $10/person or less for food each day.  Having researched many many hostels before we left, the lodging shouldn’t be much of a problem if we stick to dorm rooms.  The food?  Well, I don’t see any fancy restaurants in our future.  But this is also another reason why we began scouring the internet for cheap ways to get to our hostel downtown.  A taxi would obviously be the most expensive.  There were collectivos, similar to what took to Morales the other month, but we didn’t know if they came to the airport, and more importantly, did not know how to direct them to our hostel.  There’s also an underground metro system, but apparently you have to buy a card, and we just didn’t want to mess with that.  So, taxi it was.

We found a driver right outside the door, an English speaking one, and although we were able to talk him down about six dollars, I’m still guessing we got the much higher tourist rate for the ten minutes it took us to get downtown.  Walking up to the hostel’s door, it was locked with no sign of life inside, so we meandered through the park across the street, giving it a good hour before we went back to try again.  When the door was still locked on our second trip back, we started getting frustrated, until a person passing by on the street pointed to the buzzer we hadn’t noticed right next to the door.  Ahhh, yes.  We Americans are so very observant.

Italian Art Museum, Lima

 Italian Art Museum that was across from our hostel.

 

Getting checked into the hostel and finding out our room wouldn’t be available for another seven hours, we left our bags in a lounge area behind the desk (after having done a quick clothing change there as well) and hit the streets of Lima to see what we could explore.  My new messenger back was stocked full with our Peru guide, a Spanish to English Dictionary, my camera, and even a long sleeve shirt for me to throw on in case it got cold, but with the sun coming out and warming up the streets I had no reason to think I would need it.  Opening up the guidebook once we were outside, it said the Plaza de Armas was a spot well worth visiting.  Trying to follow the street maps given we were quickly lost and needed to ask directions.  As it turns out, the street cop that I tried my terrible Spanish on ended up speaking perfect English.  He directed us toward the Plaza and also told us not to miss out on the Basilica de San Francisco and the tour of the catacombs housed below.

home in Lima

The streets were full of homes with these enclosed balconies.  I want one!

 

When we did find ourselves dropped out into the Plaza de Armas, we were astounded.  It was huge, stunning, and not at all what we were expecting.  Besides the large courtyard with a fountain in the center, two sides of the square were surrounded by bright yellow buildings full of restaurants and shops, and the other two sides housed the Lima Cathedral, and the Presidential Palace.  Each were striking in their stature, and it didn’t even take us two seconds to run into the Cathedral to check it out.  The size itself was impressive as it stands with two large towers marking the entrance and vaulted ceilings with rows of pillars on the inside.  Lining both sides of the church and making their way up to the altar are gated off alcoves that contain sculptures and carvings that are so intricate that I could imagine someone spending their whole lifetime only completing one.

Lima Cathedral

carving in Lima Cathedral

 

Back outside we were making our way up the few blocks to the Basilica when we heard music in the streets.  Matt grabbed my arm and quickly dragged me along to where the sound was coming from.  Just outside of the Basilica, coincidentally, was some kind of parade going on.  We didn’t know what it was representing or whom it might be honoring, but it was a treat to enjoy it just the same.  We didn’t know how long it had been going before we came, but we were able to see about three different groups in costumes, dancing and parading through the streets.  One of the groups seemed more tribal, with fancy feathered headdresses and dancing in what looked to us, like Native American type moves.  Then there were woman and little girls in white shirts with very brightly colored ribbons that twirled around them as they spun in circles.  The last one, well, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.  It was mostly men with one girl in the center, and they seemed to have a ten step coreographed move that ended with the guys opening their jackets wide, as if they were about to flash innocent onlookers.  Stranger part though, was the diablo-esque masks on their face and the bottles of beer in their hands.

native dancers in Lima

Ribbon dancers, Lima

Ribbon girls, Lima beer dancers, Lima 1 beer dancers, Lima 2

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 When the parade ended we marched back up the street to the Basilica to see if we could get in on one of the tours.  For an English speaking guide we waited about 15 minutes, but then joined a group of about 20 people as we began to wander through the halls.  This church was built in the late 1600’s, and as we walked through it was pointed out that many of the tiles and paintings lining the walls  were original to the building.  For one part of the tour, we stopped in front of a painting of Jesus and the 12 disciples at the last supper, but according to this painting, the food du jour was guinea pig (a traditional Peruvian meal) served with a tall glass of pisco sour.  Maybe the margarita type drink would be ok for me to switch out with wine, but I don’t think guinea pig would be high on my list of things to eat as my last meal.

Our tour strolled through a few more rooms with just as many amazing amounts of art, architecture, and history, before we were finally led down to the catacombs below.  These were a part of Lima’s original cemeteries, which were built under churches.  Some of the guides estimate that there are over 75,000 bodies buried below Basilica de San Francisco alone, and we were about to go see them!  Only a small portion of the catacombs are open to visitors, but one of the rooms we were taken through showed how they were able to fit so many remains in there.  There was a long row made into a pit that sits next to the current walkway, and the 100 ft long area is sectioned off by stone into smaller pits that were maybe four feet wide by eight feet long.  Bodies would be placed in there, and as soon as that one filled up, they moved to the next pit, and so on.  Once it was time to start back at the beginning, those bodies would have decomposed down to bones and it made room for new ones on top.  At some point it was ‘organized’ where the bones were separated and put together in like categories.  Skulls over here, femurs over there….  Which is what we saw as we walked through.  Pit next to pit overflowing with human bones.  And since I’m a strange person that’s into gross medical stuff, I wasn’t creeped out or disgusted at all.  My mind instead wandered to things like ‘I wonder which pit of bones would be the best to hide in if an earthquake collapsed all the exits and I need to stash the granola bars in my purse before anyone finds out I have them and tries to take them.’   Cause my mind likes to wander like that.

inside San Francisco Church

 Inside the church.

Basilica de San Francisco

They didn’t allow any photos on the tour, so I could only get one of the outside.

 

When we walked back onto the streets once more, we found that the temperature had dropped dramatically.  My long sleeve shirt was soon on, along with a scarf, and I was almost wishing I had gloves on me as well.  I’m sure it was only in the mid to low 60’s, but apparently that’s how much my blood has thinned now.  I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, since we were cutting it very close on being able to catch the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, which happens at noon every day, although the friendly street cop told us to get there at quarter to.  The Presidential Palace is an impressive looking building that is the official residence and office of Peru’s President.  Here’s some interesting information I found about the palace on ‘Time – Travel’: “Back in the time of the Incas, the site had strategic and spiritual meaning, which is why the last Inca chief in Lima also lived here. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, so liked the site that he kept it for the first Spanish palace, whose construction began in 1535. Since then, Government Palace has been rebuilt numerous times; the current French-inspired mansion was constructed in the 1930s.”.

It was nice we had the guy tell us to get there early because for a few minutes we were able to walk right up to the gates, as we were the only ones waiting outside it at the time, and snap a few close up photos of the building before the crowds came.  And boy did they.  Not even five minutes later, there were hundreds of people gathering in front of the palace to watch the show that was about to start.  Guards ushered everyone off the sidewalk and into the street (which was closed to cars in that area), but luckily we were still able to keep our spot in the front row.  It started with some high kicks from guards strutting around right in front of the palace facade, and then exiting just next to them was a full marching band.  For awhile I was so intent on watching the band that I didn’t even notice any guards that might be changing.  But then I was pulled away by Matt to watch something even more interesting.  There was a little old lady at the back of the crowd that was walking by and whacking people with her purse, for no apparent reason!  At first I thought she was just trying to cut to the front, but she’d wander in and out of the people, her only mission to clobber people with her bag.  Once the police tried to escort her away, she began whacking them as well!  You could tell there were two shows going on, with half of the crowd watching the changing of the guard, and half of the crowd watching her.

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changing of the guard, Lima Peru

 By now our stomachs were growling as we realized we had not eaten anything since our airport Pizza Hut dinner last night.  Drifting through the streets and keeping an eye out for food, we came across plenty of little street vendors that were in the business of selling knit items like winter hats and leggings…and, oh my god,… llama gloves!  I don’t even know how long ago this conversation started between Matt and I, probably when I couldn’t find any winter gloves at Meijer in the middle of August, but I told him that it was likely we’d want some for this trip since we would be visiting cold places, and if we couldn’t find them in the States we’d just have to buy him llama gloves once we got to Peru.  I had been totally joking, I didn’t even know they made them.  But here they were, little knit gloves with images of llamas on the front.  It must be fate.  Although Matt, who still didn’t find them necessary at the moment, said he could live without them.  Ho hum.

Also along the streets we found little vendors selling empanadas for only $0.40 and each settled on one of those until we could find something better to eat, which, between our little dance of ‘Where do you want to eat?’  ‘I don’t know, where do you want to eat?’, can sometimes be hours.  Rounding the next street corner though, we saw what looked to be some kind of food festival going on with rows of chefs in front of one long table, all preparing different dishes.  The prices looked to be in our budget and there was definitely local fare there, so we decided to give it a shot.  Can you guess what dish ended up with?  The guinea pig.  We promised ourselves we’d try it at least once while in Peru to say that we did it, and this seemed to be as good of a time as any.  Splitting the dish since we didn’t know how we’d like it, we also got a pitcher of chicha morada (a natural beverage made out of purple corn) and brought it to an open table in the back.  The meat in the guinea pig itself wasn’t bad, kind of like eating the dark meat from a chicken or turkey, although it was kind of hard to pull it off from the body, and the little paw of the guinea pig that was sticking out at me kind of grossed me out.

Which makes the next set of events even more surprising.  We ate the toe nails.  I know, I know, eeewww!  And they were, too.  But back when we were visiting Matt’s grandma, she told us of her own time spent in Peru and how the toe nails of guinea pigs were a treat for the little kids to eat, and they’d snack on them the same way we eat potato chips.  I think they ones they got were a little more deep fried than ours, and it was definitely and experience that I can say I did once but I will never try again.

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guinea pig lunch

 Since the town center of Lima seemed to be getting colder by the minute and we were not in any way dressed for it, we started making our way back toward the hostel where we could at least visit a few museums inside until our room was ready.  On the way back we passed through one more main plaza, Plaza San Martin.  There was one thing there that I quickly wanted to take a look at before moving on, and it was something I had actually read on another cruisers website (Bumfuzzle) when they also were doing land travels through this area.  Here’s a quote from their blog:  “Right across the street was another big plaza, this one with a statue in the middle that I found pretty amusing. The statue is of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru, and when it was commissioned the artist was told to give her a crown of flames. However the word for flame is llama, just like the animal. So here on the good lady’s head sits a tiny little llama with giant flames shooting out next to it. My favorite part is that they simply left the llama on there. That takes a good sense of humor.”.   Gotta love the important information that gets shared between cruisers.

Maria Patria statue

 Not a great shot (I didn’t have my zoom lens), but you can just make out a llama on top of her head.

Plaza de San Martin

Plaza de San Martin

 

Crossing through the giant outdoor mall between us and our hostel, we purchased tickets from a kiosk to get ourselves to Nazca tomorrow, and probably made the girl at the desk wish she’d never see us again after asking a million questions and coming back three times after checking things out on the internet.  I was ready to go back to the hostel and just sit for the rest of the day, but Matt wanted to go to the art museum since it was still fairly early in the day (about three o’clock).  I managed to gather just enough energy, since I’ve only slept about nine hours in the past two days, to force myself to trudge through MALI.  The fact that the $4 entrance fee was reduced to $0.40 on Sundays, didn’t hurt either.  There were many impressive works of art inside,  with a good portion of them featured by prominent Peruvian artist José Sabogal.  The top floor of the museum was closed off for renovations, so it didn’t take us more than an hour to get through, and by then I was more than ready for some rest.

sitting in MALI

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