Monday, July 31, 2006

puno, copacabana, la paz, cochabamba

the heart strings drew me back to coch. i didn{t plan to, really, but i couldn{t resist. being a mere 10 hours away by bus was too much. i convinced s. that it would be restful and good to be in our little home here, with mom and all the old friends and memories.

puno is on the peru side of lake titicaca and it was freezing. we only stayed there long enough to recover from the 10 hour train ride from cuzco and to spend a day in a sauna that we were providentially led to to steam out our dried, freezing bodies.

then we caught a bus to the other side of the lake, to copacabana. on the way we crossed the border and got bolivia stamps in our passports. ahhhhh. things are just better in bolivia.

in copa we chilled out and hiked isla del sol like tradition would dictate. i also got to make a little pilgrimage to my favorite beach of all time (all pebbles and clear water). the 2.5 hour hike back to the south end of the island nearly killed s., as she is my kindred spirit and had foolishly picked up a large rock that was truly lovely and HAD to be brought back with us.

we met some nice colombian guys that sell handmade jewelry itinerantly. sharon got to dance and i got to try to dance. a fun game of pool. some austrian lads who had stuff in common with us: one went to the same high school as s. while on an exchange to the u.s., the other lived in ecuador on an exchange the same year that i did (the year that 9-11 happened).

i had to make a run back to puno to get our bags because we had originally planned to only make a quick 2 day trip to copacabana and then continue on into southern peru and arequipa. but then the pull toward bolivia was too much so the bags we{d left at the hotel had to be retrieved. the result was that the day after i entered bolivia, i returned to peru and then returned to bolivia. as a result i spent almost the whole day (3.5 hours each way) on the bus. when i got back to puno i strangely was offered a tricycle (sorta like a rickshaw) ride by the same guy who showed us to our hotel room the day before. he remembered me and offered to take me back to get the bags. what a hair-raising ride, dodging cars, making right turns from left lanes, near misses...

so we got the bags (s. and i have been shopping too much, i guess, even though i decided against the wonderful red poncho).

back to the bus station, board the bus, but when the bus drove away, we weren{t 4 blocks out from the station when i heard a terrible crunch.

turns out we{d just hit one of those tricycles that clog the streets of puno (they{re not that common anywhere else, strangely). the driver-pedaler was knocked to the street. the cop and his dog who were the passengers were unharmed. as i peeked out the back window of the bus i saw them climbing out, unharmed, but the driver was reeling, holding his head as he tried to stand up.

our bus driver seemed to be trying to sneak away, but eventually we returned to the scene of the accident and he got out and went to talk to someone. was the driver ok? some people said that he died, others that he had been taken to the hospital. i couldn{t see anything from my seat.

i said a prayer for the poor man who had either lost his means of income, or else his life.

but i was also concerned for myself, since i was in a race against time to get back to the border before the immigration office closed.

eventually we had to return to the station and board a new bus, since the one we}d been on was held up indefinitely. the passengers were bonding and chatting as a result of this common misfortune and the disaster we{d witnessed. i liked the girls i{d been sitting by but on the second bus a guy decided that he should sit by me and get to know me even better. i responded to some of his questions but soon had to halt the inquisition by handing him the novel by mario vargas llosa that i{d just finished. he read obediently until it got dark. then i got him to explain the peruvian political situation to me.

it was dark by the time i made it back to the border. i got the peru exit stamp but on the bolivia side the officials were locking the stamps in their desks and said i would have to come back tomorrow. well, at least i was allowed to physically enter the country. i didn{t really know what the rules were.

the shared taxi from the border to copa was filled with a bunch of men, which made me quite nervous. once i felt comfortable that i wasn{t going to be kidnapped, i started eavesdropping on their conversation. i didn{t really get it but it sounded like they were just coming from some sort of lefty conspiratorial meeting. they discussed the politics and leadership of the group and their next "action" and how soon it should come.

interestingly, the next day when i travelled back to the border to get the passport stamped, the bus encountered a road blockade, which consisted of small and very large boulders pushed into the road by lots of campesinos. the taxi driver managed to talk to a couple of the people and they obliged and rolled a couple of rocks out of the way. i asked the driver what the road block was protesting, and he told me it was because the catholic leadership had forbidden smaller communities to exist independently, and made them merge into a larger unit (or something).

so i think i got to see what the "action" was that those men had been discussing the day before.

other highlights:
-finding the streets of la paz almost completely blocked by a massive, day-long parade for "la entrada universitaria"
-looking for our colombian friends in the calle de las brujas (a touristy street that was probably more famous in the past for its witchcrafty wares including llama fetuses--which can still be found for sale)
-taking a bus from la paz to cochabamba, and YES! they played a rambo movie!! and a van damme movie too!!
-there was a darling little puppy across the aisle from us on the bus and the owners let us hold him and we got doggie kisses!
-the trip was made even more adventurous by a drug bust. apparently a woman tipped off the police at a checkpoint and the next thing you know the bus was swarming with police, their drug detecting equipment, and a sniffing dog. later, i got to see the three bags of stuff get cut open and checked, too. i have never seen anything like this before.

now we are in cochabamba and it is so nice to be here. it is dusk. from this internet cafe, i can look down into the valley and see the lights twinkle. dogs are barking, and it is not very cold. in fact, i am wearing shorts because i just washed my very filthy and only pair of jeans.

(sorry i cannot post pictures--i will have a huge job cut out for me when i return to civilization. also, sorry this post is long and not terribly well-written.)

hasta luego.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

from aguas calientes

aguas calientes means hot waters and it is the town at the base of macchu picchu.

we hiked m.p. today. tomorrow, very early, we take the train back to ollantaytambo and cuzco. the following day we will be on a train to puno, on lake titicaca. by tuesday we may have bolivian stamps in our passports and be trinket hunting in copacabana. we will also be freezing.

there is this magnificent red poncho in cuzco that i keep waffling about. would i be a freak or would i look so amazingly cultural and artsy?

exploring m.p. today felt like discovering a huge castle and having the run of the place, looking for secret passageways and rooms. at one point, i went into a room which led to another and another. i sat down on a stone and relished the solitude.

then...another soul had the same idea and came upon my sanctuary. when she found me there, she was so startled that she turned and hurried away. :)

tonight s. and i were starving and ordered a large pizza. we were thrilled when a one-man band by the name of tonio zampoña came in and performed beautifully and with all his limbs! zampoña, charrango, drum, shaky things, and two percussion things i don´t know the names of. the best part was that s. got to perform with him on the charrango and guitar, and in the end even i joined in stamping one foot that had the shakers on it, and thumping the drum with the other foot. it was exhausting!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

a surprising sunday in lima and a monday arrival in cuzco

it{s hard to believe we{ve been here less than a week. we arrived in lima and spent a lot of time walking around and eating. downtown lima is charming with colonial architecture, but it{s a dirty city, with lots of cars, honking, and pollution. taking long walks was somewhat difficult, since there are always so many people to dodge on the sidewalk. being conspicuously foreigners meant that we got compliments or cat calls from passing men. our favorite pickup line was "hello! macchu picchu!" i guess they thought that was a phrase we might understand. people assume you don{t speak spanish.

this past sunday was a day full of surprises. i wanted to go to a certain church, and really enjoyed the sermon. unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the service, i heard an incredible din outside. saxophones and loud drums. finally temptation overcame me and i snuck outside to see what was up. it was a massive parade. costumes, dancing, bands. ladies in huge skirts and others in colorful peruvian outfits. a few devils scattered in for good measure. and leading the huge procession as it made its way slowly around the plaza: La Virgen Del Carmen.

i ran back to the hotel to get s., and we watched with glee all the bizarre costumes, dances, and props. this guy with a shrunken green money-seeming head got excited when he saw me taking a picture of him and he ran out of the parade and posed with s. this had us both laughing.

there were so many beautiful cholitas in matching outfits swirling their polleras in unison.

the most bizarre cluster of costumes was a bunch of guys dressed as mafiosos: leather coats, dark sunglasses, and big guns. dancing joyfully??

it all was very confusing. is this a pagan thing, or a catholic thing, or just a crazy free-for-all? but it was super entertaining.

after leaving to find breakfast in a suitable hole in the wall, we got caught up in getting s. some new glasses for about one fifth of what she would normally pay. they are very hip too! she is super psyched about her new look.

when we went back to the plaza we were amazed to find that the dance was STILL going on, with even MORE people flooding the plaza and watching and cheering. the people dancing seemed to be having a lot of fun.

we also had the good fortune on this day of meeting two VERY cute dogs. i usually don{t even notice dogs. but s. has doggie radar that spots them miles away. then i have to get the camera out and photograph them. on this day, the dogs we met were so charming and loveable. since they were pets, not strays, we petted them and got some doggie kisses. i was intoxicated with glee when the tiny little white puppy stuck out his pink tongue and kissed my nose.

later, we decided to grab a bus to Barrancos, a nearby town that the guidebook said had an artsy community with writers and poets (mario vargas llosa wrote here). we fell in love with the atmosphere there. maybe we{ll stay there instead of in lima on the return. so quiet and idyllic, with views of the pacific: long rollers coming in slowly from a long, long way out. we caught a food festival by chance, as well as a group of young brazillians demonstrating/performing capoeira, a martial art from brazil. it was mesmerizing, because they got in a circle and sang and chanted in unison while two at a time dueled with slow, elegant motions.

monday morning we had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a plane to cuzco. lucky us: a bus to cuzco would take about 24 hours, if not longer. the plane took an hour. i think after this we are going to do a lot of bus and train rides. but we cheated on this leg of the journey.

we have no plan yet of what is next. however i think bolivia is going to be part of the plan. i initially didn{t want to go the jungle, but now i think that it may well be an experience i don{t want s. to miss.

we are in cuzco now. i need another hour to write about the cuteness of the man who greeted us at our darling little hotel. it is a bit ramshackle, with a very old courtyard. we got a tip at the airport, when i insisted that i wanted a hotel with a private bath & hot water for $10 a night, not more. they balked at first (it{s busy season here--the town is packed with tourists), but then gave us a name. we were greeted by the most adorable old man, porfidio. he was wearing blue coveralls, which only added to the charm. when we filled out our forms, and he noticed it was s.{s birthday, he opened his arms wide to give her a hug! then we were offered coca leaf tea--what hospitality! i have never been greeted with a cup of tea upon arrival before. coca leaf tea is supposed to help you adjust to the altitude. i think cuzco is about 9000 feet high.

after a big nap, we started exploring. we found the non-touristy local market and have been eating breakfast there, as it{s really cheap--like $2 for hot milk and egg and cheese sandwiches for both of us. it{s the essential experience, as lots of people drop in there for breakfast on their way to work.

since it was s{s birthday we celebrated with a fancy supper of alpaca meat. even though s. is an animal lover, and we had met some beautiful alpacas earlier in a narrow cobblestoned street, we enjoyed eating it. it was seasoned with cumin, garlic, and something else i couldn{t catch. i also got to taste peru{s famous alcoholic beverage, pisco.

right now we are going to go scope out more of cuzco{s historical sites. it is hard for me to keep up with reading the guide book to find not only the typical sites, but how to do them the non-touristy way, on the off-peak days, on the cheap. cuzco is SOOOO touristy that it is kind of bad. of course we want to do all the traditional stuff and see macchu picchu. (we have heard the words macchu picchu so much from overly eager tour guides and tourists i am now calling it m.p.) but there are other less-known ruins that we want to go to. i want to try to go stay in some smaller, less touristy towns soon to get a more authentic experience.

there IS a certain appeal to getting completely immersed in the whole touristy experience, shopping for trinkets obsessively (i might buy a lovely poncho & i already got a chullo with earflaps), and watching the good-looking foreign backpackers in their hippie attire and hiking books. but part of me says, NO. i am not a gringo. i{m a true bolivian and i don{t want to be treated like a tourist.

i also have a book on the incas which i haven{t been able to read fast enough, and now we are in cuzco where it all went down. i have read several good books before but my retention is about 2%. oh well. ready or not, inca ruins, here we come!

Saturday, July 15, 2006


we are here, inhaling the polluted fumes of a city that contains about a third of peru´s population. car exhaust settles as a dark grime on the beautiful colonial buildings in the downtown area. our hotel is half a block from the president´s mansion. it costs $10 a night and we are really paying too much. other places apparently have rooms for $3 per night.

we are collecting pictures of cute dogs that we meet. we are also walking everywhere and eating as much goodness as possible. along the way, we´ve discovered lots of friendliness and cute people.

YUMMY foods eaten so far:
-anticuchos (beef heart shish-kabobs)
-choclo (corn with big white kernels)
-chirimoya (a fruit that is bumpy and green outside and creamy white and sweet inside)
-humintas, although peruvians call them humitas. like a tamale
-empanadas de pollo, which are like turnovers with savory goodness within. ALMOST as good as a salteña.
-chicha morada, which i though was api but i was confused. a purple corn drink.
-seco de pollo con yuca frita: chicken in a savory green sauce, with fried yucca on the side
-arroz a la cubana: rice with fried eggs and fried platanos on the side.
-flan, which is like custard.
-fanta: orange pop

i´m glad we are both ok with eating at the tiny greasy little joints where the locals eat, and where the food and the experience seem much more authentic than in the more expensive tourist-oriented places.

we met alex last night for supper. we are invited to a party tonight....and he was attempting to encourage us to go to the museo de la inquisition. i was resisting, but maybe i´ll give it a chance.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

the midwest sojourn... drawing to a close. i'm leaving chicago tomorrow. in the apartment upstairs, a little dog is restlessly pacing the floor. everyone else is asleep & i should be. love my family and the time with them...precious.

next week i'm off to peru for a month. the anticipation is building. little things make me eager to walk on cobblestones among old spanish buildings, breathing the high andean air. hearing quechua, feeling that indescribable something that is my south america fix.