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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On our way back home




Up early, took a taxi to the Juliaca airport, where there had been riots and some shooting deaths only a month ago.  Took 45 minutes to get there, 80 Soles. (about the same US from our house to the airport--taxi's are cheap here).
Sitting in the internet area in Lima airport again.  Tonight, we take an overnight flight to Ft Lauderdale, and start the rest of our trek home.

As much as we live going places, there really is no place like home!

Last day of Lake Titicaca (hahahahaha)

Woke up at our family`s home, breakfast at 7:00, then back to the boat.  This was so much fun!  All the "mothers" of the families stood and waved us goodbye until the boat was gone.

On to Taquile Island. There are only about 5,000 residents here, and this is where our guide grew up.  Another hilly walkway to reach the village at the top, and a festival was getting ready to start.  We visited the booths around the square, which are very good quality goods, and not cheap.  However, here you do not bargain, because all belong to a cooperative here  These were a lot different than other textiles we`d seen elsewhere.   




The festival started with villagers carrying saint someone around the square in a procession, and incense, and a priest throwing holy water, and followed by a procession of like dressed men and like dressed women.
The mayor and all of the men in charge were in attendance, and sat on the square watching everything.  Flute players, dancers, drummers came out and danced  in several areas of the square.  Pretty awesome.  But we had to leave after a so bit so we could walk higher and higher to a restaurant noted for it`s trout.  17 Soles ($9.00).  You know how much I like fish; luckily, they also offered a vegetable omelet.  It was delicious, and I even had a bit of Johns trout.  The the tail waving at me would have made it impossible to eat!

We had reached the very top of the island, and now needed to go back to the boat, which was now on the other side of the island.  Not a problem.  540 steps down on  a rough stone staircase with no handrail.  I didn´t go down any faster than I came up!  Finally made it, no falls, no broken bones.

Back to Puno on the slow boat and to our hotel around 6:00.  John didn´t want to wait in line with me at the bank for some change, so I told him where the hotel was (only about a block away), but when I got to the room, he hadn´t checked in yet--so I went looking for him.  Found him a little later, on a street he recognized, but he wasn´t a happy camper.   Dinner (where we were the only customers--scared us a bit) but it was on the second floor, so we didn't know we'd be the only ones eating there.  We lived through that, too.  John wants a hamburger now.

Uros, Reed Boats, Amantani

Early to the port where we boarded a small boat for about 30 passengers.  Our guide for the next two days is Richard (Jesus Ricardo).  The boats here go amazingly slow, too.  What´s up with that?  There was a young woman from England sitting in front of us on the boat, we told her how much we love England, and then spoke about movies.    She said she had  been to the US a few times, but only to the LA area.  She didn´t like it.  Asked her why, she said her aunt had moved there years ago to be an actress and now lived in Malibu.  I asked her if we would recognize her aunts name, she said maybe, it was JANE SEYMOUR!

Anyway, we came to the Uros Islands, floating reed islands,  and it was pretty amazing.  They all work in a communal system, as far as tourists go, so different islands are visited on a rotating basis.   There are several hundred families all together, I´m guessing. They speak a separate language.  They make their boats out of the same reeds they make the islands, and their houses.  The "ground" is a little bouncy to walk on, and most of the uros people go barefoot.  The island we visited is made up of 5 families.  There is a president of the island.  If one family doesn´t get along with the other, the family can decide to move to another island.  They don´t really move, though, there is a big saw, and they cut themselves off  the island.   They tie rocks for anchors so they don´t float all over the lake willy nilly.    So in essence, you have many little islands in several rows.  The boats have to be built once a year.  You can start a new island whenever you want, and they showed us how.  The reeds continually rot, so they have to keep building their islands up.  If the level of the island reaches their house,which is usually about 1-2 feet higher than the island,  four men hold up the house, and they add more reeds under the house, and carry on.

We rode on one of the reed boats to another island, and they have it geared for tourists, which is about their only means of making money.  This may be the last generation  for these people, and younger people know education is their way out of poverty, and they have to live in Puno for that.












Then a 3  hour slow boat to Amantani Island.  We arrived 1:30 or so, and were handed over to our host family.  A young woman named __________ , who only spoke a bit of Spanish; this island speaks Quechua .


 We met another American couple, an engineer and a physician and their 13 year old son. The son was born here, but the parents came here in 1985 from India. He and John were a great match, and were also assigned to the same family.  We had a lot of fun with them. 

We followed our hostess away from the port, through fields, down a very stony path, and into  their yard.   They have gardens for corn, potatoes and some of the biggest begonias growing out of a hole in their dirt floor.  We had lunch, soup and vegetables, then walked back into the plaza to meet everyone for a walk to the mountaintop to see Pachamama and PachaTiti shrines (mother earth and father earth?)  I tried, I really did, but didn´t make it to the top. John had forgotten our flashlight, and the sun was going down, and I thought my heart or lungs might explode.  This was higher than we`ve ever been.  So I walked back down to the plaza, and everyone else came shortly thereafter.

Back to our families for dinner.  We ate at a skinny wooden table, dirt floors, and they cooked in a little stone alcove.  About like camp cooking, but always without propane.  No lights here; we had a candle in our room (which had a new rock hard mattress) and there were two candles in the kitchen--one to cook by and one to eat by. 

At 8:00, they brought in clothes for us to put on, and lucky guys only had to wear their hats they`d already bought, and a poncho.  Women had to wear a special embroidered blouse, a big heavy skirt, a cummerbund, and a huge scarf over our heads that went down both sides to skirt length.   I`m sure I was quite alluring on this Island of Lovers.  Then, we all walked to a little community hall with a light bulb! Some people here have small solar panels what provide enough for a light bulb or to listen to a radio, which dramatically changes their lives.

Fiesta time!!!   We all danced.  They made us.  The natives would put us into several circles and show us what to do.  Then, some young local came and asked John to dance, he thinks he's still got "it".    I think it may have been our hostess, but it was too dark to tell for sure.  Being old and unable to enjoy much of life after 9:00, we went back to our family and went to bed.  On the way back, being so dark, and no lights to speak of anywyere, we say the best view ever of the Milky Way, and also saw the Southern Star.  Awesome!

World`s Longest Bus ride


So, it took us 9 1/2 hours bus ride to get to Puno, which lies on Lake Titicaca (hahahhahah).  It was supposed to be 8 hours or so, but perhaps they were counting actual wheels turning time.  dunno.  We stopped at a few more Inca sights, some more interesting than the others.  We also stopped for lunch at some restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  One interesting note, you know the way we put crosses and plastic flowers on the roadside when someone dies there in a car accident?  Here, they build whole little houses or altars. 

Finally got to our hotel, and what a treat!  4 star, hot water, an electric heater in the room, a phone in the bano, 8th floor, and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Lake Titicaca (hahahahaha).   In the lobby, we ran into our new young friends from Philadelphia, so we went out for pizza and cervasa with them.  They had already been to Uros, and were heading out the next morning for Bolivia.


So, a good night rest in a very comfortable bed.  But, you still had to throw your T.P. in the wastebasket!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today in Puno--finally!


Alpaca with egg


Chicken, Pesto Gnochi
 Last night after I caught up on the blog, John and I went to eat our last supper at Cuzco.  Really a great town.  Anyway, we went to the restaurant with the best reputation in town; Inka Grill.  John ordered alpaca and I ordered gnochi with pesto.  Of course, we both tried each others meals, too.  Alpaca wasn´t bad, sort of a beef-ham flavor.  He also had fried bananas and TuTu, I think, which was the best thing on his plate.  It was a mashed white lima bean, with potato and yellow peppers.    My gnochi was really good.  We didn´t even finish so we´d have room for  wonderful chocolate torte with ice cream on the side.  It takes a while to get it as they only bake it when it is ordered.  Best meal EVER.

Up very early, and the girls at the hotel even made us breakfast early.  We had some gifts for them and their children-Spanish-English story book, strawberry shortcake bandanna, pencils, and a tip for the boss to disburse as she saw fit.    Our driver picked us up in front, and drove us to a bus station where we met with others going on the Inka Express Bus to Puno.  My bus driver had almost become an old friend, as well, as he was the one that picked Robyn and I up to go to the hospital, among some other outings.   After a hug for Pedro, we climbed aboard and saw------the family from New York State
that we saw on the airplane going to the jungle, on the airplane leaving the jungle, at Machu Pichu after they hiked the trail (the parents are in their later 60`s) and then again tonight at dinner.


 We thought the train ride was long, but the bus trip was horrid.  9 and a half hours.  I gotta hand it to them, they served us coca tea, coke, and we had 5 stops on the way, including a very nice buffet lunch with a rockin Peruvian group.  More Inca sites, and we also saw our first graveyards,.  John had wondered about them.  Mostly we were flying by, so I can`t say much about them here.  Bought a ceramic bird whistle for Soles 2 (about 66 cents)--may be the best thing I´ve gotten.

Finally arrived in Puno 5:30, checked into our 5star hotel, then the lights went out.  Didn´t last long, and we´re so lucky to have this luxury.  And this Puno tour was a good deal, I think, anyway.  Part of the package, I guess, or maybe because we will have NO luxury tomorrow at our home stay. 

Anyway, as we got out of the cab at the hotel, here came our Philadelphia children.  I believe they are about the right age, anyway to be our kids.  Hugs all around, and we went out for pizza and beer with them. 

A Room with a view
Well, I will be going to bed soon, and know there won´t be an opportunity tomorrow, so I´ll write more Monday night when again we have a real toilet, hot shower, lake view, and a HEATER IN THE ROOM!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Our last free day

In a different room in our wonderful B&B, there was plenty of hot water for our showers. The beds were better, all in right with the world. 






John and I took a stroll to the San Blas area, an artsy neighborhood with  steep, curvy and narrow cobblestone streets, walked around. John bought a tee shirt much different than others we´d seen.  Also a few more little gifts for our families.   Stopped at a chocolate shop run by some Dutch, had hot chocolate but they were our of dutch apple pie, unfortunately,

Wandered around some more, and ended up at a natural cafe that was really good.  John had eaten here a few days ago during my hospital trek, so he knew what to expect.  I had squash and cinnamon soup, some sweet potato medallions, and the best bread we´ve had so far, make with their most common corn, Quiona or something.  I wrote it down back in the room, so don´t hold me to that spelling.  Anyway, a wonderful meal. 

Still had almost an hour before I was to meet Robyn and her housekeeper Trinity (speaks Quechua), so we went to a chocolate museum.  Kind of like Askonoski´s, but if you make a reservation with a group, you get a 2 hour lesson and then get to make your own chocolate bar and add whatever flavor you want.  Didn´t make the reservation, didn´t make any, but that didn't stop us from buying and eating.

Then, a driver picked me, then Robyn and Trinni, and off to the hospital.  Much easier this time.  No one was getting dressings changed, the one that stole my heart also had his mother and grandmother visiting (the father stayed), the amputee was in better spirits and very much enjoyed the fact he could beat me EVERY TIME at that little fishing game that the fish turn in a circle, opening and closing their mouths, you stick a pole in and try to extract them.  He´d correct my counting in Spanish, and made sure he was ahead at all time.  I had gone to a photo lab and gotten some pictures made of the children as Robyn said they never see pictures of themselves, they are much too poor, so they were thrilled to get them.

John has spent the afternoon visiting museums  that don´t involve food and resting.  I was back early enough to catch up on the blog.

Tomorrow, we go on an 8 hour bus ride to Puno which is at Lake Titicaca (hahahahahahahaha).  We stay in a hotel tomorrow night, but there is no electricity on the islands where we stay the next night.  I´ll update when I can.   Titicaca .   hahahahahaha  so funny

Machu Pichu, John was actually excited!







Chinchilla
 Up at 5:30, breakfast, and went by bus to near Machu Pichu, hereinafter referred to as MP.  You can walk up from the town, which is part of the Inca Trail, so I guess I should have so I wouldn´t be lying about hiking it.  Oh Well, I just thought of that right now.  Besides, just walking around the site was enough to kill me.  If I NEVER climb another Inca stairway, it will be fine with me,  They are very steep, the steps are too far apart, and the Incas were/are small.  I can look them in the eye!  This is just the indigenous people, not the average Peruvian with Spanish blood.

Anyway, when we got there, we had to pay Soles /1 for the bathroom, which is fine.  That means there will be toilet paper.  But you get a receipt for it, which I think is very funny.  Is this tax deductible, or what?  Sometimes, a couple of squares are already laid out for you when you pay, so I´m very glad we bought extra and carry it in our daypack.

So, up about 3000 steps, give or take a couple thousand, which of course I take in slow motion.  When we get to an overlook (the one you see in all the magazines with the stuffed llama in the foreground) it was all in clouds, so we couldn´t see squat of MP.  However there were some beautiful mountains I could take pictures of while Xavior  told us a lot of history, etc,  Low and behold, the sun began to rise over the mountains, and with it, the clouds began to dissipate.  Just like in the movies! Within about 15-20 minutes, no clouds were left and it was beautiful!  Unbelievable! Awesome!  Just like the pictures, but 100 times more.  One of those things you just have to see.  Xavior spent 2-3 hours walking around with us showing us things and explaining different things, then left us on our own to do whatever.   I took a bunch of pictures and even got a MP sunburn on my neck! 

Made it back down on our own with our bus pass, had lunch, and shopped a bit more on the local tourist market.   4:00, we went to the train station, and started what might be the longest train trip of a lifetime.  Four hours long, less than 60 miles, only 1 scheduled stop at Ollantaytambo, then on to somewhere about 15 minutes from Cusco.  Drivers picked us up and we were back to our good old B&B 9:45 or so.  I managed to get some zzzzzz´s on the train, and after the scheduled stop, very loud music came on, and the guy in charge of our car told us we´d have a fashion show with alpcaca items.  They picked a couple from our car, and they paraded up and down, really getting into it.  It was quite funny.  Then, of course, they came up the isle,  trying to sell the goods.

By the way, I now know the difference between alpaca and llama.

Machu Pichu Prequel



Add caption
 

On our way to Machu Pichu



Early morning view from the front door of our hostal
 
My brothers twin--from Argentina, I think.  He was traveling with his father.



School girls at Aquas Calientes
 We were picked up at 6:30 AM, driven somewhere other than where planned.  The train we were scheduled to go on was some ¨problem with the rails¨, so a change was fine with me!  We were driven, I believe, to Olantaytambo which means something, I´m sure.  Everything else does.  Our train was upgraded, so that was good,.  Alas, it wasn´t the Hiram Bingham.  But we did have windows in the roof so we could watch the Andes.  Beautiful ride, and we arrived in Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Pichu Pueblo) about 12:30.  Checked into our hotel/Hostal which is owned by the tour company we booked the MP tour with.  Very comfortable.  No heat again, but it is warmer here than in Cuzco, also lower in altitude.  We could have had a free lunch at 2;00, but of course, John did´nt want to wait.

So out we went, and found a lovely little restaurant with a wood fired, clay oven and had a delicious pizza that only took about 10 minutes to cook to perfection.  I watched the oven from where I was, so that was also kinda interesting.  Then we went shopping in the market, (tourist market, no dead things) and bought more things we didn´t need,  but things that will endear our families to us forever, I´m sure.

We stood in line for a long time trying to get a map of this small town, as there is a botanical garden somewhere, but by the time we got to the front of the line, we discovered there were no maps.  We asked directions and started walking, knowing it was closing in 1 12 hours- we walked for a while, didn´t come to it and realized we wouldn´t make it in time anyway, so we went back and I TOOK A NAP!  I siesta maybe once or twice a year, so it´s kind of shocking.  Buffet dinner at the hotel/hostel at 7:30, met our guide Xavior and the couple that would be with us, a young boyfriend and girlfriend from Philadelphia.  He was funny, she was skinny, they were probably late 20´s or early 30´s, and he reminded me of someone that drove me nuts the whole time because I couldn't remember who it was.  Finally, next day, I remembered--a young Alan Arkin.  When I finally remembered, he only knew Alan Arkin as the old grandpa in "Little Miss Sunshine".  Oops.

Shower, (hot), bed (comfortable) and a great but short night´s sleep.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Nice day in Cusco

This morning, after our usual B/B breakfast of coffee, juice (papaya today) scrambled eggs and puffy bread, John and I walked to the Cuzco market.  What an education.  This was NOT a tourist market, although there were some stalls for trinkets, clothing, hats, blankets, etc.  No, no, no.  There was a food court there, lots of which were unidentifiable, and sanitation isn´t mandatory.  There were also many stalls of beautiful fruits, grains, breads the size of hubcaps, piles of escargot (orange), donkey snout, pig legs, and some sort of animal testicles still in the sacks hanging in big bundles, dripping into a bowl.  John finally had to leave the area.  
 




 
Then, we had a little time to kill, so John thought it would be a good time for my massage.  The cost is Soles/ 30 here for one hour, or $10.00 US.  Good, but no Debra (my fav massage therapist).  Plus, it wasn´t luxury surroundings.  Eight beds divided by curtains, and only room for one person on a side at a time.  They also have no heat, so instead of nice warm electric pads, you have several blankets, and hot stones are added as part of the massage.  They aren´t left on like you see in pictures, but are run down appendages by hand.  Totally worth the $10 though.

Then, I didn´t have time for lunch, so I ate some cookies from our Machu Pichu stash, and some dried peaches  from the market. 


A gentleman picked me up in the car, and took me to Robyn´s house.  She is an owner of SAS Travel, where we booked our various day tours.  She fights valiantly for two poor hospitals here.  There is a national health plan here, and everyone can buy into it, but many Quechua (indigenous people) try to live off the land in the mountains, and have no money to buy the √§ffordable¨insurance.  She took me to one of the hospitals here, Regional Hospital, and we played with children.  Many don´t have family here because they can´t afford to make the trip often, so they get sub-standard care, often because usually it's the family that feeds and sees to their daily needs.  I saw a little boy, 7, Fidel, who lost his thumb, forefinger and part of his hand because he was holding on to a cow with a rope, and something spooked the cow, it took off, and part of the boys hand with it.  There is no repairing since they live several hours from the hospital.








Another little boy, who was 9, lost his hand in a fireworks accident.  He was having his bandage changed, the first time in a week, because they have so few doctors at this hospital.  He was still in the trauma unit, meaning he had not yet been operated on yet.

His friend was injured in the same accident.  The back of one thigh was badly hurt, but had been treated.  They took him out of bed, for the first time, put him in a wheelchair (but couldn´t sit-someone had to hold his leg up in a sling go get him outside.  They got a taxi,  put the seat down, and he laid down in the back, 'but only as far as the bus station.  He still has a three hour bus ride on crappy roads ahead.

The kids were thrilled to get the bandannas I brought-- a big variety, pencils, paper, and Robyn was glad for the English/Spanish books for her 15 book library.

I know it sounds bad, but again, it was wonderful to see a lot of smiling faces, so if I managed to help a bit there, then yea!

Not sure if I´ll be able to blog tonight or not.  We´re leaving a little after 6 AM for Machu Pichu, and will be back Thursday night sometime.  If not, I´ll catch up Thursday night or Friday morning.