Friday, July 30, 2010

Yes I am alive

I know it has been a while since I last updated.  I arrived back safely in Santiago, and I hit the ground running with English classes a few days after Isabel went back to the States. 

A more detailed post (and updated past posts with pictures) will be coming soon, I promise!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just out of curiousity.....

I have been curious to see how many people are following my blog.  If you wouldn´t mind, would you please post a comment?  I realize that there may be some complete strangers that are following this, or people may not wish to identify themselves in their post, and that is ok.

Thanks in advance!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inka Express, Puno, and Lake Titicaca

So a few more days have gone by, and I've traveled a few more hundred kilometers.

On Sunday morning we caught a bus from Cuzco to Puno, and we went with a company called Inka Express.  It actually was a cross between a regular bus and a tour company, as we made stops every few hours and got to see important sights along the way.

Our first stop was in Andahuaylillas, and we got to see the "Sixtine Chapel of America".  The church was really amazing.  It was built with lots of gold inside, and there was religious art all over the place illustrating Jesus's life and the concepts of heaven and hell.  The Spaniards built it in this way to educate the natives about Christianity, and there was writing in five languages, Spanish, Latin, Checua, Amyraya, and another native language I don't remember offhand.  We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside.

After that we stopped at Raqchi, which was an Incan Temple comparable to Machu Picchu. 

Then we stopped at La Raya, which was the highest point for this part of the trip.  It was 4335 km above sea level, which is about 14,000 feet above sea level.  We only stopped for a few minutes to snap some pictures.

Around 5 we arrived in Puno.  We had a tour set up, and a guide was supposed to take us to a hostel for the night, and we were puzzled when he didn't arrive.  Isabel went to call while I watched our stuff.

Then we found out what happened.  We told them we were arriving in Puno a day earlier, and we had planned the rest of our trip based on that.  Within about 20 minutes the guide showed up, and then we faced the task of figuring out what we wanted to cut out from the rest of the trip.  We were supposed to spend a day touring Lake Titicaca and the islands and then spend a day living with a family on one of the islands, but we decided to skip the day with the family.

The night in Puno was freezing.  It must have been around 20 degrees, and we had no heat.  Isabel used her sleeping bag, and I had long johns and a few layers of blankets to help keep warm.  We were up by 6 to get ready for our tour.

First we boarded the boat and went to Uros, which is one of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca.  It is made out of reeds and is anchored in place.  You can see each end of the island when you are standing in the middle, and you felt the reeds moving under you as you stood there.  The people greeted us warmly and showed us their houses and crafts that they made.  They make their houses out of reeds also, and there were 5 families living there.  What was really interesting is that if families on the island ever got into a fight, they could simply pick up their house and move to another island. They also had solar panels that they used to help them generate electricity, and they also had running water and TV on the island.

As we boarded a reed boat to go to the capital island, the natives sang us a goodbye song.  First they sang in Cechua, then in Amayra, and then in Spanish.  As they waved their arms to the songs, they ended the last one by saying "Hasta la vista baby!"  I guess that American TV and culture permeates even the most remote of areas.

Then we had a 2 hour ride to Taquile, which is a regular island on Lake Titicaca.  The view was amazing along the way, and the weather was sunny and warm.  Once we arrived we had about an hour long hike up to the main plaza.  Along the way we saw natives selling textiles, children playing, and some livestock.

There are 32 restaurants on the island, and apparently tour groups are told which restuarant they will eat at.  They have imposed a strict rotation schedule so that all restaurants receive an equitable amount of business.  We brought sandwiches with us and my stomach was still upset, so Isabel and I just found a nice sheep-poo free spot on the grass to enjoy the warm weather.

Then we had a short hike down the other side of the island, and we boarded the boat and headed back to the mainland.  It was really cool getting to see the natives, experience the floating islands and Lake Titicaca, and visit Taquile, but I am actually glad that we messed up and are not spending another day here.  The night was bitter cold, and Isabel and I are both looking forward to being able to get hot showers and being anchored back in Santiago.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

So the past few days have been focused around Machu Picchu.

After getting breakfast at our hostel, we got picked up and went to the train station in Poroy, just outisde of Cuzco.  It was a 4 hour train rain to Aguas Calientes, but it was actually pretty nice.  We got a snack and drink included in our train ticket, and there was really nice scenery all along the way.  The train crept along at snail speed (or so it seemed), and it swayed from side to side for parts of the ride. 

We got into Aguas Calientes, and after dropping our bags at our hostel we went out to explore.  There was a parade going on, complete with costumes, music, and people throwing feathers and rice.  After asking around, we found out that we arrived just in time for the celebration of Virgen del Carmen.  I haven´t gotten to do any research to find out the specifics of the celebration, but it went on well into the night.

We had a buffet lunch, and I explored the market after that.  I told myself I wasn´t going to spend any more money, but I found some handwoven potholders that were really beautiful.  I bargained them down to a price of $6 for two.  I also found my first native South American Kit Kat.  Its wrapper is a bit different on the front, and on the back it said it was made in Bolivia and had writing in Arabic.  I saved the wrapper as a souvineer.

That night Isabel enlightened me about movies that I have never seen such as The Bourne Identity, and we packed and then turned in early. 

Then we were up at 3:30 (yes, 3:30 AM) in order to go to Machu Picchu.  We wanted to be able to get a pass to visit Wayni Picchu, which is a specific part of Machu Picchu that is limited to 400 people either at 7 AM or 10 AM each day.  It was a long morning of waiting.  We got breakfast at 4 and were in line to wait for the bus at 4:15.  The bus only left at 5:30, and we got a good spot in line (or so it seemed).  After the bus ride to Machu Picchu, it was once again waiting in line until we could get through.

Around 6 or so the line started moving, and we were able to get a pass to Wayni Picchu at 7 (we were hoping for a pass at 10).  We got inside around 6:10.

Oh yeah, I forgot to add one important detail: it started raining the night before and was raining the entire time (each time) we were waiting in line.  I took Isabel`s suggestion of putting plastic bags inside my shoes to keep my feet dry, and luckily we both brought rain jackets with us despite the weather forecast of sunny dry weather for our entire trip.  I didn`t think it would be as cold as it was, and I only had on sweatpants and a t-shirt, so I was a bit cold.

We started the tour around 6:30, and it was so foggy that you could barely see anything.  We tried to take pictures, but they didn´t turn out too well at first.  The foginess added to the mysteriousness of Machu Picchu though.  Since we would have missed another hour of the tour, we decided to skip Wayni and just follow the tour.

It was really amazing to see Machu Picchu in person, and pictures don´t do it justice.  Later on the fog cleared a bit and it stopped raining, and we got some nice pictures.  After doing a loop back to the entrance to use the restroom, we followed the path up to the Inca Bridge.  I was running out of breath and didn`t want to hold Isabel back, so I told her I`d hang out and wait for her to come back down.  After waiting about 45 minutes she still hadn`t returned, and I needed to use the restroom and wasn`t feeling well.

I decided to head down by myself, and we would find each other at the entrance.  After 10 minutes of walking or so I got sick.  Luckily some French people that spoke German saw me and checked that I was ok, and they walked with me for a bit to be sure I was ok.  As I was making my way back to the entrance, Isabel caught up with me.  We took some more pictures on the way back, and it started raining again.  I headed back to Aguas Calientes early, and it is nice to just sit somewhere inside warm and dry.

I am glad I got to see Machu Picchu, but the weather put a bit of a damper on the experience.  And just for good measure, I´m going to end with another bad pun.  I am getting sick of getting sick in Peru.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Adventures in Cuzco

So I had the day free in Cuzco, and it was awesome.

After visiting the tourist office to confirm our tour to Machu Picchu starting tomorrow, I was picked up to go to Action Valley to do some adventure sports.  More specifically, bungee jumping and a slingshot.

Action Valley has the highest bungee jump in South America, at 394 feet.  I went bungee jumping in Edmonton when I visited Amanda about 5 years ago, but I don`t think that jump was half the size this one was.  I got attached to all of the cords, and then we started the ascent up.  I was nervous, but the guide kept me talking and was recording, so that helped.

Stepping to the edge was probably the hardest part, but once I was there and he counted down I jumped.  It was an awesome feeling of falling and having the air rush past you.  When I sprang back the first time I felt it in my back, but it didn´t hurt me.
After that, I did a bungee slingshot.  They attach you to a bungee cord that is attached to a tower up in the air while you are attached to it on the ground.  It is then tightened while the Superman theme song is played, and then after a countdown they let you loose, and you fly into the air.  The feeling of getting catapulted into the air at maximum speed like that was awesome.  Oh yeah, and you wear a Superman cape to make it that much more awesome.

There were 3 other people there at the same time, and they also did bungee jumping or slingshot.  They were all from Israel, and we got to talking.  After we were all done, we got the same taxi back to Cuzco.  Two of them went back to their hostel to rest, and I hung out with the other guy after that. 

We wandered around downtown Cuzco for a bit and then he brought me to an Israeli restaurant.  He knew some of the people that were already there from his travels, and he helped me order.  After we ordered, some more people he knew came in and joined us.  I got a bread type thing filled with cheese and tomato sauce, and it was so delicious.  I wasn`t able to finish it all.  Then he told me they were getting desserts, which were balls of chocolate.  I got one also, and it was soooo good.

After lunch we parted ways.  I wandered around to explore, get postcards, and snap some pictures.  After a few hours I went back to the hostel and was unsuccessful in getting a hot shower but was nonetheless glad to be clean.  I told myself I would only lay down for an hour, but that turned into a much longer nap.  By the time I woke up it was already getting dark, and I wasn`t in the mood to wander out here in the dark.  Some people from the hostel just came back, so I think I will stay in and hang out with them and prepare for Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Life is good.

Arequipa and Arrival in Cuzco

I am now in my hostel in Cuzco after taking the overnight bus there from Arequipa.

Our free day in Arequpia was really nice.  We got to sleep in for the first time in a while, and I enjoyed a banana crepe sitting in the sun on that patio in my jammies.  I got to shave for the first time on the trip, and I was getting pretty scruffy.

We headed out to see the main two sights of in Arequipa: El Monasterio Santa Catalina and El Museo Sanctuary.  The monastery dates back to the 1500s and was the home of up to 500 nuns and their female servants.  Life as a nun wasn`t easy, as they were not allowed to have anything that would encourage vanity.  This included combs, jewelry, and mirrors.  Their conversations with others were also always being listened to, and any letters they received were screened beforehand to be sure that they weren`t communicating with a boyfriend.

The monastery was absoluately huge, and I think it was around 2 acres.  It took about an hour to take a guided tour, and afterwards it was like finding our way through a maze to get out.  Isabel bought some natural soap that the nuns make, and we had fun taking pictures in all of the different areas of the monastery.

Afterwards we saw some good prices for authentic food at a nice looking restaurant, so we checked it out.  We were surrounded by natives, and it looked like we were the only non-natives in the entire restaurant.  After we looked at the menu we realized it was an Argentinian and not a Peruvial restaurant, but we didn`t care at that point.  My grilled chicken was amazing.

Then we headed to El Museo Sanctuary, which is the home of Juanita, the Ice Princess.  Juanita was a young girl between the age of 12 and 14 who was sacrificed to appease the gods.  The Incans believed that the mountains were deities and that they had to make regular sacrifices in order to keep them happy and prevent volcanic eruptions.  Juanita was discovered in 1995 near the peak of a mountain in Arequpia, and the extreme cold weather at the top of the mountain actually left her very well preserved.  Her skin, clothing, teeth, and bones were all mostly intact when she was discovered.  They also found other children that were sacrificed, and their tombs were decorated with offerings and items to help them make the transition into the afterlife.

Unfortunately we were `t allowed to bring cameras in, but seeing the artifacts they found was really amazing.

After that, we wandered around and did some souvenieer shopping.  I got a few things and then got a delicous sandwich from a shop.  It had chicken, egg, cheese, tomato, and lettece, and it only cost me 2 bucks.

Then it was off to the bus station to get our overnight bus to Cuzco.  We went with the same company as before, so we enjoyed waving at the camera and playing bingo.  When we arrived our hostel was supposed to pick us up, but they were nowhere to be found.  We were mobbed by taxi drivers offering their services, and after waiting a bit longer we decided to just get a taxi from the mob.

It was a bit hard to find the hostel, as it turns out that in Cuzco that addresses are organized by buildings around a block.  Our address was D8, and so all of the buildings with a D at the start of the address wrapped around the same block. 

We eventually found it and are resting up now before our free day here.  I am planning on doing bungee jumping and a bungee slingshot, and Isabel wants to do shopping.  Other than that, we will be relaxing and preparing to visit Machu Picchu tomorrow.