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Lima Alone November 27, 2006

Posted by danaslone in Uncategorized.
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I am back home now  but I had some ramblings yet to post so there they are.

About the title….Yes, I wrote that. Bad pun. Lima Alone was after a day of weirdness… I stopped making eye contact and wear my sunglasses 90% of the time, hence the ridiculous joke. People are sometimes too nice and unwanted attention is not what I am after. Lima is an interesting city…at least the Miraflores section is and that is all I can vouch for given the timeframe of my visit here. It is like Miami and South Beach, both gloss and grime, only on the Pacific side, with a brown, frothy polluted sea foam that hits the rocky beaches below. 

It’s hot and humid as Miami too. It is quite pretty though and like most places, seeing and experiencing the juxtaposition of good and bad makes the character of an unknown place more real. The avenue of beaches (long stretch of pedestrian parks and walk ways, townhouses, high-rise apartments, towers and many, many feet below, another parallel stretch of road with beach access) and Laromar (safe, cliff and ocean view outdoor mall) is a great place to walk to from the hostel for me. I have a great photo posted (see Zenfolio site) which I swear is un-staged, from the Lovers Park, a park for um, lovers… which I visited alone. Loverless.

Unable to find a shaman as I never made it that far northeastward to the jungle, I engaged in another Peruvian cultural experience, shopping. No, not the alpaca, hand-woven craft stuffs. Did all that in Cusco. This is emporium-overstocked-had-to-be-made-in-a-sweatshop shopping. New York style. You walk into a storefront where there are piles and piles of shirts, all at one price, about 15 feet high, 10 feet wide each, and 50 women digging through. I was entranced by their effortless skill reaching deep into a pile of endless crap and pull gold for less than $1.50 each. After watching for a bit I walked in and indulged, catching three in five minutes.
 

Remind me to tell you about the last day in Cusco.

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Peruvian Wramblings November 9, 2006

Posted by danaslone in Uncategorized.
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At some point I will edit these random ramblings for grammar and flow but for now…. Things to share as I wrap up Peru, granted I still have two days in beautiful Cusco and two days in Lima: 

Cusco is the base for all of the Sacred Valley of the Incas ruins and of course, the fabled Machu Picchu. And all are spectacular, I might add. Cusco is an especially Spanish-tinged and beautiful city. Narrow cobblestone streets that wind into labrythine patterns and whitewash facades. Peer into an open gateway and see the surprise of a giant courtyard to a house, a hostal, a cafe, a craft market, a junkyard all hidden behind the walls. At night, it rivals Paris as far as the city lights and views go, I think, and is a very happening city, full of gringos but also really nice Peruvians too. Cusco is a very easy place for expats from all over to get stuck in a life of leisure and no direction at low cost…I met a few…at the Irish pub.  

I defy anyone who says Machu Picchu is a let-down because of all the tourists. It is beautiful, lush and green, mist and fog, mountains and smoke, the ruins more awesome in person. Yep, dem Incas really had the astronomy, agriculture and architecture thing down. I took the Backpacker´s Train via Peru Rail from Cusco to Agua Calientes for Machu Picchu. A fantastic way to see Peru inside out.

Hackneyed prose moment: The train creaks along like a braying donkey. The whirs and whistles of metal on metal stir my soul as much as the magnificent, skyward views of emerald mountains and ancient ruins along the coursing, pulsating Urumbamba River echoing the fire of the Incas. Ha ha ha.

Ask me later about how an English guy and I tried to get into the Machu Picchu park to avoid paying the 118 soles entrance fee on our second day. Suffice to say, I did some high altitude, rock and jungle climbing. And no, we were not successful. State of a lockdown, barbed wire and gates high up in the perimeters. Inca engineering I think not. I will say we both thought our tickets were good for two days worth of entrance. Hmmph. Another travel misunderstanding.

I had lunch in Agua Calientes (the lovely, little base town above which Machu Picchu towers silently hidden in the jungle hills) after my aforementioned thwarted break-in attempt to a national park, with a charming man from Montreal, Paul-Andre. He is a 71 year-old, silver- haired architect, here in Peru for a conference, grandfather of seven, loading up on alpaca sweaters for his family and enjoying a few key sites on his own. Now I have a new friend in Montreal, just five hours from Portland.  

Not unique to Peru but more visible here than Chile is the rare species, the mountain cow. That fleet-footed bovine has nothing on the llamas. You can look up these amazingly steep mountains, all jungle flora and mystical, and voila, see a cow. The burros and horses do not even venture that high. But then again, they are not eaten here. One must adapt I suppose. I see them from the train as we wind along the Urumbamba River.

The Beatles are huge in South America. When I was in Argentina last year, Beatles´ songs, covers or originals were heard everywhere. Since being here, I could log endless hours of my encounters with the Fab Four. Songs spanning Bariloche to Puerto Piramides to Pucon and now Agua Calientes. In the past two hours alone, I heard one cover of ´Hey Jude´ on the pan flute and the actual ´Obla Di Obla Da.` Nevermind that in Puno, there was a hair salon, I am not joking, called Los Beatles, with a huge sign featuring John, Paul, George and Ringo. 

Speaking of stealing visages, copyright laws are no issue in South America and they love The Simpsons. In Santiago, there was botteleria (liquor store) with Homer in five stages of drunkenness. Here in Agua Calientes, is a restaurant with a 6 x 6 vinyl banner of Homer shilling cuy, also known as guinea pig.  It is a picture of a guinea pig, roasted whole on plate with a tomato stuffed in its mouth. Next to the plate, is a drooling Homer Simpson in a chef hat. The restaurant is called, Gringo Felize. I am not making any of this up and I have the pictures to prove it. A Simpson side note, I met the very nice Isabel and David, from Santiago on the train after he made a Nelson laugh to her and I laughed too. We practiced Spanish, French and English for three hours. In that time, he affiirmed South America´s love of Homero.

There are three things I am asked when I meet Peruvians, especially men, regardless of age:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Do you have children?

This is a trend. One man asked the fourth question…my age. I said ´treinte siete´ (yeah, okay, screw you all, you know what that is) and he said, shaking his head in a long exhale, ¨Zshewwww.¨ Or something like that. At least everyone so far has called me senorita. And one mademoiselle.

Thank you again. That´s it for now. More to come.

You may now view a smattering of photos here:

http://danaslone.zenfolio.com/

or cut and paste link
http://danaslone.zenfolio.com/p412896673/

Puno, Peru. Culture Shock. November 5, 2006

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Puno is gateway for Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,850 meters or so and the cusp of Pre-Inca and Inca civilization for Peru and Bolivia, pre-Spanish of course. Home to some of the oldest cultures (the Amayara and Quehcua) still living on the islands and shores of the (once you get out of the polluted part) deep, blue-green, crystalline, sweet waters. 

I visited Uros Islands, an amazing, ancient man-made neighborhood in the water made of reeds, or tortora. An island lasts about 30 years then has to be rebuilt. If you want to see some fascinating engineering, do visit. They live much now as they had back then, in this special world, utilizing the best of available natural resources. They are very welcoming to tourists and you literally are on their floating home island when you visit. The men hunt birds and fish, the women sell crafts and raise cuy (and children of course). They trade between the other islanders and sell crafts for essentials needed in Puno. The Footprints guide made it sound cheapened somehow and seemed unnecessarily judgemental. I found it warm and sincere.  Maybe we got a `good´island. Okay, so they have solar power and one hut on each island´of five huts has a communal TV and radio, but I´d like to see the Footprints editor spend three days out there. I have pix, yes I do, we all know that refrain.

Spent the rest of the afternoon on the very beautiful island of Taquile. This is a terraced island and a very steep and breathless climb gets you to the top. The reward is stunning view of the lake, islands and horizon. Bolivia is a stone´s throw away. They also have some interesting pre-marital customs, a very progressive but ancient practice…you can test out (but only three times) your potential mates by living together and “practicing sex” and if after while you feel don’t like each other you can go back to your parents homes and try again with someone else. But you only get three times before you have to eventually marry someone and stop “practicing.” Or you have to look off-island.

This is a very important weekend in Puno. It is the founding anniversary and thousands, I mean, thousands of folk dancers and musicians from all over Peru and Bolivia are here on parade to celebrate to the many hundreds of thousands who live here or traveled here for it.  You say, how quaint yeah. Mmmm, it ain´t no pan flute no´ mo´. The folks here love a brass band.  Cymbals and drums too. All day and all night. It is like a New Orleans funeral procession that never ends. But it has been a blast to see the wild array of costumes and dances (the young, the old, I can´t tell anymore) even if they all seem inspired by the same brash song.

What is Puno like? After eveything I have seen in my travels (except for the whole peeing-alongside-a-bus-in-line, public urination thing), I was bit unprepared for it´s ´just got nuked´ architecture. It is rough around the edges to say the least, has a distinct Tijuanana meets Shanghai chaos, complete with trici-taxis, sprawling craft and food markets in the middle of rubble and waste, and like Arequipa, there is a shocking poverty visible for the very old (and young).  The city and it suburbs (and favelas) for lack of better words, are built into the steep and terraced mountains surrouding the lake and on the shore. It is quite phenomenal. There is some of the elegant Spanish influence in architecture to be seen but that too has a tarnish of decay. Yet there is also a lot of construction (and destruction, it is hard to tell which at times) and what is here in total is a very interesting, culturally proud and rich center of heritage not to be missed. It is known as the folkloric capitol, and I happened to land right in the middle of its bountiful display. Did I mention the whistles? Argh.

Tomorrow I take the Inka Express bus to Cusco. It stops at five major points of Inca interest along the way, the highest La Raya at 4335m. Then to Cusco. I have a Sacred Valley exucursion one day, followed by two days at Machu Picchu/Agua Calientes, and maybe a horse ride through the ruins outside of Cusco at a place I forgot how to spell. The rest is, well…see below.

The Final Stretch in Peru November 2, 2006

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So much has gone on, where to begin…Chile was finished out in Santiago where I toured the Casablanca Valley for a wine story and met some fantastic, young winemakers thanks to the help of Brian Pearson. He is a resident of Santiago with a tour company and passion for Chielan wine, and in a strange coincidence, he and his wife once lived in Portland.

Then to San Pedro de Atacama, the dusty tourist pueblo, gateway to Bolivia and home to vast, lunar landscapes, brilliant blue skies, blistering heat, giant sand dunes, jagged cliffs, ancient history and modern astromony centers. An interesting place indeed and we saw much if it. Yet I am glad to be gone from the dust. Valle de Luna and Muerte Valle (Valley of the Moon and Death Valley) were worth the trip and it was a fine way to end in Chile. The altiplanos lagunas are a surreal wash of blues and greens. And, yes there are salt flats and pink flamingos… and not outside a trailer park either.

I have given up on posting photos from here, but when I get home in less than 15 days, I will get it all sorted out.

I am now in Peru. Wow wow wow and a wild adventure so far not just getting here but getting around. The terrain is unreal and surreal in many parts in the South. I took a bus from San Pedro to Arica (then Tacna, Peru via collectivo) via the Cruz del Sur bus company. They videotape the bus passengers before each trip. I asked an older lady why, in Spanish…for terrorists or robberies, and she said eh, nooo not really….accidentes. To indentify the bodies. The landscape, roads and driver were crazy and I kept thinking well if they want to help with the whole accident thing, maybe not go screwing around the corners at 70 miles an hour when the roads have no edges and inclines of 45 degree angles. They have seat belts…like that would help. Whew. I looked out the window the whole time, it was not for meak. But it was the newest, cleanset freshest smelling bus complete with a woman attendant in a Peruvian themed uniform and movies.

Getting out of Chile was interesting too on a crappy overnight bus but fun conversation with a 68 year old man from Peru who smelled of booze, had a few teeth, and slept on me. He turned out to be quite a dear and I have his name and phone number to look up his family when I get to Cusco. At first, I was mad to be scrunched in with him as he took up half my seat too. Bad me.

I have spoken more of my bad style Spanish now that I am traveling alone. Kevin is in Bolvia now and while I preferred to travel with him, going solo is important too. Though not half as fun. Back to Spanish, the accent here is more understandable than Chile. And Peru is very different from Chile and Argentina, more of an indigenous culture is dominant than the Eurofied version elsewhere. Many people dress in traditional styles of the hats and the skirts, all mixed in with the new and modern. The people I have met are all so friendly…and generally speaking, also kind of short as a population goes when you look around. I feel at home…actually I feel a bit statuesque.

I have such a nice room in a old Spanish style mansion, an oasis of a hostel in busy Arequipa, the Tambo Veijo. Stay here if you ever go, for 10 bucks a night more or less. I met two Irish girls on the bus and we have been hanging out for our stay in Arequipa, gateway to Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The Canyon is surrounded by seven volcanoes, the highest at 6850 meters, do the math. The highest I have been here so far was at an altitude of 4950 meters and ow, my head hurt for bit on the way down later. Colca Canyon is also the site of sprawling and ancient Inca pueblos, home of Chivay and Yanque, terraced agricultural marvels, llamas, burros, alpacacas, condors…yes I saw the giant condor fly. People come from all over the world for Condor del Cruz, but I admit, I had not heard of it prior.

I cannot do the place justice without photos. It is vast, so vast, steep and complicated, beautiful and breathtaking, from the derelict towns to the hot springs to the mountains. We signed up for a two day tour and when time, I will tell all the funny stories that happened to me. The short story, on our little bus from hell was a delightful, adventurous couple still in love in their late 60s from the Netherlands (when I grow up I want to be just like them), two thirtysomething married couples, one from Austrailia, one from England, two funny Peruvian women from Lima, my Irish buds and me, and the young Jolanda and Freddie, tour guide and driver respectively.

As it turned out within an hour, I wound up being recruited by Jolanda as Tour Guide Number Two to help bridge the English and Spanish gap that existed. She spoke good English of what she knew but often had trouble understanding the questions or comments from others and would ask me in Spanish or would sturggle for an English word. And the Peruvian ladies enlisted my services to communicate to the English. Like when they wanted to tell the English guy they thought he looked like actor Matthew Perry from Friends. He was not happy.

So we would converse in Spanish or English, and come up with the answer or vice versa be it tour or pleasure. It was an absolutely fascinating opportunity to learn Spanish for me and English for her and the ladies. We had a blast and made a great team. Our crew was a strange family of 13 for two days together. And I now know more about Colca Canyon and the history of the Incas and Spanish there as well as the indigenous peoples, gods, plants and animals before them than I could have ever paid for.  Just ask me.

I have eaten llama in Chile and now alpaca in Peru. Sometimes you cannot choose the food, you know and sometimes you want to try. But it has been good. Yum. I like meat. Now I have two more. They do not eat llama in Peru as it is their sacred cow, the but the alpaca is fair game. No, I will not try cuy.

We awoke to a breakfast that includes a bowl of cocoa leaves at every table. Munched on those the way up and down the Canyon for two days. It does help the altitude a bit but really just tastes like tea leaves. I have cocoa candy in a toffee and caramel form. More my style. Chewy.

Much more to tell but tomorrow I head to Puno for three days to see Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands, then to Cusco for Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley for five, then Lima for one and home.

I consider this entire 70 plus something days of traveling my practice run. Many ideas are percolating but if I was confused before I left, I am more so now. In a good way. More to come.

Many apologies for the lack of proper punctuation, but the keyboard here is not offerng me the same choices.