Category Archives: Peru

Viva El Perú, week two

Day 6 of 12 – Sacred Valley (including Urubamba River Valley, Písac ruins, Ollantaytambo, et al)

05_weaving

07_llama y alpaca

This day was a really happy day because for once, I didn’t have to “gotta go, gotta go, gotta gooooo” every 5 minutes. I forgot what commercial that jingle came from, but it involved bladder control and the lack of it. I always watched it and thought “That’s so dumb. That’ll never happen to me.” Never say never.

We drove around the Sacred Valley and had pit stops in a bunch of places to roam around and explore. First, we stopped by a small village where they showed us the different types of threading material (wool from alpaca, llama, guanaco), how they dyed and spun it into weavable threads, and of course…how to weave them into hats, scarves and finger puppets. Out of nowhere, I heard this futuristic ringtone coming from someone’s cell phone. One of the weavers abruptly stopped her weaving, pulled out her cell, and immediately turned it off as she smiled in embarrassment. Haha! So much for the simple life.

And, as we were meandering around, a baby llama passed gas.

Rebecca: “The baby llama farted! Aww, I don’t know why, but it’s so cute!”
James: “What if I farted?”

Um, no.

18_Pisac

44_Pisac

After the Písac ruins, we visited another area where we tried chicha (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented maize). It comes in regular corn and strawberry flavors. Sounds more nutritious than detrimental to me…

48_chicha

51_James & Sal

This place also had a guinea pig farm – a room full of squealing stubby things, with a rogue male trying to mate with every female. Guinea P-I-M-P. They also had a game where you attempted to throw gold coins into the froggy’s mouth. The coin could also land near the frog into one of the adjacent holes. At the end, you pull out a drawer to retrieve the coins, and wherever it landed, there was a certain amount of points awarded. I could play this game all day long. I could even just sit and watch other people play this game all day long, screaming “Come on froggy, froggy, froggy!!”

67_Ollantaytambo   77_morning view

Ollantaytambo. I switched over to vertical photos, tetris style.

The view from my hotel bed was amazing – an Incan ruin above, and a bull aimlessly eating and shitting below. The night before, we were so impressed with our hotel. Crisp bedsheets, fluffy blankets, and a courtyard to relax and hang out. It was perfect luxury before we subjected ourselves to showerless days and infinite hiking on the Inca Trail. But as we were about to take our final showers, we looked up to see the ceiling speckled with black. Was it art? Was it normal staining?

Nope. Gnat infestation.

At first, there were maybe ten to fifteen of them chilling out by the bathroom light. Corrine thought it’d be a good idea to spray some of her 90% deet all over the ceiling and near the windows. Now, either deet encourages speed-of-lightning mating and birthing or, it’s a trumpet call for a televangelist congregation, because suddenly there were gnats everywheree. From the gnats and their immediate families, to their extended families times twenty. Corrine freaked out more and started fly-swatting with her flip flop.

“DIE! DIE!! Where are your friends at? Yea, they’re dead bitches.”

Days 7-10 of 12 – Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Aguas Calientes

001_group photo

015_first stop

So, before we booked this trip, I told my friends that I wouldn’t go to Peru unless we included the Inca Trail. Then, on the first day of hiking, I asked myself WHYY I thought this was a good idea. Oh, the irony! But not to worry – it was worth every gasp for air, every rain-drenched piece of clothing, every thigh-trembling bathroom visit, and every muttering of profanity. This time, I’m not being sarcastic.

029_tents

053_Day 2

Camping on the first night seemed easy. The amazing porters carried the majority of our stuff, set up our tents, placed buckets of water for hand and feet washing by the tents, made three course meals, popped popcorn and brewed tea and coffee for all of us. So much for roughing it, huh? After eating a marvelous dinner, we snacked on our popcorn and played Spanish rummy all night long.

That night, I went to the public bathroom to wash up, thinking everything would be harmless. Then, I turned the faucet to wash my hands. Twist, twist, POP! The faucet handle just burst off like a bullet, and a huge stream of water came shooting at me. When I say huge stream of water, I mean a stream thicker than that of a garden hose. My one of two pairs of jeans became completely soaked, and it pretty much never dried during the whole hot and humid trail.

I laughed it off, thinking ‘Hey, this would be a funny story to tell” only to wake up the next morning with a red visitor. Andddd, I will leave it at that. (I know, TMI but, it’s my blog and I can TMI if I want to…)

073_looking back at Dead Woman's Pass

104_Phuyupatamarka

Hiking this trail disproved my belief that I was a decently fit person, haha! High altitude + thinner oxygen + rainy season = why the F did I do this again? Please note that if you ever wanted to quit this trail, the only way back is the way you came.

The second day of hiking was the most arduous. It was about four hours of continuous uphill climbing, then after reaching the dead woman’s pass at 13,779 feet, two to three hours of continuous downhill hiking. (Note: downhill hiking includes regular upright walking and, um, slipping on wet rocks and falling on ass.)

Rebecca, Tracy and I were the last of the pack to complete the hike, and Sal stayed behind to help us along. Once we reached the dead woman’s pass, we felt bad for keeping Sal behind and told him to just go ahead but, on one condition. Once he reached the second campsite, we told him to tell the other girls that we couldn’t survive and had to turn back. (Tsk tsk.) When we eventually made it to the campsite, the girls were, first, happy to see us, then angry with Sal for tricking them. But after he revealed that it was all our idea, they turned their anger to us 😛

“OMG! We were worried about you! We hate you!”

Sounds evil, but it was funnier in the moment. Anyway, the sight of the second campsite brought jollyness and constant thanking of deity.

112_James' speech

18_Machu Picchu

Third day of hiking, the girls took their time to take photos and enjoy the scenery. You could tell Henry (our Inca Trail tour guide) was unhappy with that. Just how slow did we go? A butterfly landed on Anna small’s shoe, and we stayed still until it flew away.

The night before reaching our final destination, we thanked and tipped the awesome porters in our nifty dining tent. We woke up at 4am the next morning to catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Hard work paid off!

42_rock quarry

43_Wayna Picchu on the right

51_rocks shaped like mountains

Truly amazing and unreal…that we were finally able to bathe that night.

IMG_6039   IMG_6041

It felt damn good to dunk my body into the hot springs at Aguas Calientes, with Wayna Picchu in the distance. Bob Marley blasting in the speakers totally completed the experience.

It also felt damn good to ride a moving vehicle – the train. We were on our way back to Cusco, enjoying the scenery outside the window. All of a sudden the lights dimmed and trance music blasted in the speakers. It was a fashion show. The weirdest fashion show I ever experienced, hands down.

As previously mentioned, we were up since 4am that morning, so we decided…why don’t we stay up for 24 hours! We went clubbing in Cusco, but being the old lady that I am (ha), I lasted until about 2am. 22 hours, not bad. Right?

Days 11 & 12 of 12 – back to Cusco and Lima

It was sad saying goodbye to everyone in the airport ::cue in Boyz II Men song:: In only two weeks, I felt like everyone was part of my family. And, my sappiness will cease flow right here.

Once Corrine, Tracy and I arrived at our hotel for our final day in Lima, we’ve never before shouted with so much joy over fluffy beds, a beautifully equipped bathroom, a hairdryer, and cable television. It turned out to be a perfect morning, until we asked the front desk for any places that offered paragliding. They gave us one number to call, and a British blonde lady came to pick us up in her semi-putt putt car. Um, SHADY?

I started imagining all these things that could happen to us. Brutal murder in a torture chamber, and the like. But she ended up driving us to the coast not too far away. (Phew!) Sadly, there wasn’t enough wind for us to go paragliding. SOB. We waited an hour before calling it quits, and tried to go visit a museum and more ruins (the original ruins we wanted to see on our first day, but the hotel lady circled the wrong place on the map). Once we got to the ruins, we found out it closed not too long before. Great, we missed two things.

So, we spent the night in a very non-Peruvian way…at Starbucks. So what? It was still awesome.

Viva El Perú, week one

I miss those days when I used to write regularly. Now, I just plug numbers into excel spreadsheets. I can’t wait until retirement, or until the world ends. Whichever comes first.

On that note, I’m forcing myself to write this Peru entry before laziness completely takes over me and I end up never writing an entry at all. This is just sad. I used to be so motivated to write these entries, and would even stop everything else to finish it up. Now, I just…I don’t know…prefer scratching my butt as I mindlessly browse the web? I’m the result of accelerated depreciation, and oh my wtf…did I just publicly say that? Someone save me.

PPC

Day 1 of 12 – Lima, Peru

06_Pacific

08_Pacific

Back in New York, it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Lima? In the high 70’s! Whoooop whoooop!

And then, the whoop whoop stopped at the end of the day, when we realized…um, we forgot to apply sunscreen throughout the entire day. Corrine changed from vanilla to cherry. Tracy, from chocolate to licorice. My face was hot and fresh out of the oven, puffed like a big round ciabatta bread. You thought my eyes were small? Wait until you see my eyes after my face gets swollen. Vision impairment!

On top of that, the receptionist at the hotel circled places on a map that were worthy of sightseeing. They were supposed to be a pyramid and a museum, but the lady circled the wrong location and we basically walked around in circles while the sun’s rays were at its strongest. Fried, and refried…like beans.

Aside from the searing pain, we met our GAP Adventures tour group – 15 people in total, plus 1 tour guide. Four people were from London (Anna, Anna, Tina, Sal), six people from various cities in Australia (James, Simon, Mark, Jenny, John, Romany), two from California (Rebecca, Alanna), and then us three (me, Corrine and Tracy) from New York. What a fun bunch! James was wearing a bright yellow Inca Kola t-shirt (which is a Mountain Dew-colored soft drink, more popular than Coca Cola).

“Hey James, you’re wearing an Inca Kola shirt? That’s like the worst tasting soda ever. It tastes like bubble gum!”
“No, it doesn’t! It’s awesome, and it tastes like passion fruit!”

And thus, the big debate of our trip. Is it bubble gum? Is it passion fruit? A one, a two, a three, crunch. The world may never know.

15_church at night

We were too jetlagged from our flight (although there is no time difference), and decided to go paragliding over the Pacific when we returned 2 weeks later. Want to hear what happened? Well, you’ll just have to read the entire entry and wait until the end. Ha! Or, you can just scroll to the end. Ha…

Day 2 of 12 – Puno

We woke up at around 4am to catch our flight to Juliaca, where we then we took a bus to Puno. We walked over to the sink to wash up. Then, AHHH COCKROACH! just mindlessly roaming around the sink. For a minute, we contemplated just packing our things, leaving the room, and subjecting the rest of the group to our various morning odors. Finally, the cockroach disappeared long enough for all of us to wash up, and we jetted out of there. On second thought, what if the cockroach was really a person calling out for help a la Kafka’s Metamorphosis? Too much imagination.

03_church

06_markets

Rebecca, Alanna, James, Sal, Corrine, Tracy and I went to the markets and tested our bargaining skills (the rest of the group went their separate ways). It just so happened that the first four people would split from the last three quite a bit, and bing bam boom…they called themselves the 4 core people and us the threesome. It sounded sexual at first, but after a day, Corrine, Tracy and I found ourselves shouting “Hey! Can you take a photo of the threesome for us?” and “YEA THE THREESOME!” It became…endearing.

09_Lake Titicaca

14_pensive

We then ran over to Lake Titicaca (add some phlegm as you pronounce those c’s) to catch the sunset over the water. Too bad the mountains blocked the sun.

Day 3 & 4 of 12 – Taquile, Amantani, and Uros (then back to Puno)

19_limo rides

05_reeds

The night before each day, Alim (our main tour guide) always went through the next day’s itinerary. He mentioned that if it’s good weather, we’d be taking “limo rides” to Lake Titicaca to catch our boat to Taquile. Intriguing. In my head, I started picturing black stretch limos with glasses of champagne. Yea, highly unlikely. We woke up to see these bicycle cabs instead. Even better!

Riding on a bicycle cab is so much fun, except that one time…when I got so drunk in New York, no cab driver would take me or my friend for fear that I would start puking all over. My poor friend had to call out my brother because by then, I had passed out on some dark shady corner of a sidewalk. Keep in mind that this is at 2am, and my brother had been sleeping. So, he came to my rescue but still, no cab would stop for us. Our only choice was to take a bicycle cab. Now, in Puno, it costs about 2 soles per person. That’s not even $1. The bicycle cab in New York cost a whopping $70!!!!!!!!!!! If any of you readers out there ever visit New York, NEVER take a bicycle cab. To put that into a Peruvian perspective, that’s about 210 soles.

32_Taquile

38_gate

Going from Lima to Puno involved a major altitude change. We were now at about 12,400 ft above sea level, and my brain kept throbbing as I gasped for air. We kept walking uphill on Taquile, and Alim tried to comfort us by saying, “The Inca Trail should be fine! If you feel fine walking on this island, you should feel okay on the trail.” Um, I WAS DYING! It’s like I suddenly developed asthma and an enlarged brain (picture Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants). Luckily, we were able to drink coca tea regularly (yep, the tea leaf for cocaine).

On this island, if you wanted to take a photo of a local or with a local, you had to give them 1 sol in payment. That was all fine and dandy, until little kids started to SCHEME against you. As people were taking photos, children would run into the photo shots, and then demand money. One girl ran up to me and Tracy, and started throwing a tantrum, “UN SOL! UN SOL! UN SOL! UN SOL!!!” as she started to tear.

Well, we all got our collective revenge at this particular gateway (shown above). In our group, we had one retired couple traveling with us – Mark and Jenny. As Mark was fixing the focus of his camera on this gateway, 3 children tried to run into his photo. Alim shoo-ed them away, and as he dragged the kids away, Mark turned his camera and took a photo of the children’s backsides:

“MUAHAHA! I GOT YOU! HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW!”

Immaturity has no age limit.

After Taquile, we took a boat ride to Amantani except…the boat wouldn’t start. The engine was flooded, and we really needed to leave before the winds picked up, leaving us stranded on Taquile. As the guys rushed to the back of the boat to tend to the engine, the girls stayed inside the boat and planned out activities, Survivor style. Suddenly, we were all so giddy with excitement that the guys thought we were panicking, but really, we were secretly hoping we’d get stranded. Rebecca would be in charge of the campfire, Anna and Anna would cook our dinners, I would prepare the dessert (I had sugar packets, and planned on melting them over the fire to make caramel), etc. I forgot who was in charge of what exactly, but you get the point. After we had assigned our girl scout tasks of survival, the engine started to work. DAMMIT!

58_leaving Amantani

57_courtyard

Finally, we arrived at Amantani, where we were paired off to stay overnight at a Peruvian mama/papa’s house. If I thought I was dying on Taquile, Amantani was 50x worse. I was even more out of breath, and there was even more uphill walking. I felt happiness at the sight of mama’s house.

We introduced ourselves with the few Quechuan words we memorized on the boat ride:

Us: Allin Tuta. Iman Sutiyki? (Good Evening. What is your name?)
Mama: Sutiymi Sylvia. (My name is Sylvia.)
Us: Sutiymi Christine. Sutiymi Tracy. (My name is Christine. My name is Tracy.)

She took us to the soccer fields where people from our group played against the locals. A few girls were going to trek 20-30 min to the top to catch the sunset. Three of us were debating (nice view vs. killing my lungs), and finally I said “there’s a turn back option, right?” So we started walking up for about 2 minutes, and I declared, out of breath, “I’m already regretting this.” Yes, weak. Meanwhile, there were people running around kicking a ball. I was happy playing the sport of sitting.

Dinner time came, and we were back at mama’s house. She said she would stop by in an hour to get us for dinner. An hour passed by, nothing. Another 10 minutes, nothing. So we awkwardly walked out into their courtyard, and found a kitchen. One guy was there (papa?), and an older man and woman (grandparents?). We asked them if they needed help with cooking, and they just gestured to us to sit down. The grandma then gave us 2 bowls of food each – one thick soup, and one with rice and pasta. After the soup, I was stuffed. But looking at how much food they made for us, I felt so bad not finishing it. I had a flashback of my childhood, when my friend’s dad scolded me for not finishing the last few rice kernels on my plate.

So, I stuffed my face, spoonful by spoonful. I was dying a little bit inside with each one. Meanwhile, the papa was trying to make conversation. We already exhausted our list of Quechuan words, but luckily he understood Spanish, aided with lots of hand gestures. He asked about 9/11 (I heard him say 2001 in Spanish, and then I put my 2 arms straight up in the air, parallel to indicate the Twin Towers as he nodded), and asked if anything was being built there now. He even mentioned Obama.

By then, an hour had passed. I’m still dying, and Sylvia still hasn’t shown up. So then, Tracy and I began wondering if we were even in the right place. We kept asking the guys where Sylvia was, but we couldn’t understand their response. Finally, she came (thank goodness!). We were late for the fiesta the locals had set up for us, and needed to get dressed in traditional attire. Back in our room, grandma comes over and starts dressing me – first, with a corset. Now, you do realize I’m dying about 20 times as I’m trying to breathe. The corset nearly sealed the deal, mummification style.

But, before I got dressed, I asked for the bathroom. We walked outside of the house to a separate small building, and Sylvia just gestured to it. By then, it’s already pitch black outside, and I’m holding a hand flashlight. The only thing I saw in the room was a bucket. As my eyes laid upon that bucket, my stomach whimpered.

51_Christine & Tracy with mama

53_fiesta

We arrived at the fiesta. I’m already exhausted from all the uphill walking. I’m overstuffed, with my stomach fighting against the corset, and my bowels are crying because I refused to go in a bucket. What else can increase this pain? OH, I KNOW! HOW ABOUT SOME DANCING! Normally, I would enjoy this activity. But that night, I had to force a smile and dance with my mama. I really was thankful for her hospitality, and I showed it, unfortunately at my expense.

When we went back to mama’s house, I was determined to just go in the bucket, or wherever. So Tracy and I went back out and made sure that was the bathroom. Wah-lah! It wasn’t! We found an outhouse, with a very primitive looking toilet. I did what i could, while balancing a hand flashlight on a ledge. Still, not a satisfying experience.

At night, I started getting fevers during my sleep. Burning body, muscle aches. Next morning, I’m already rolling around awake, and I hear the strangest sound: “Eeeeee…awwwww.” Tracy thought it was me. It was the donkey.

Before we left Amantani, our mama made us a huge pancake breakfast (ugh). Normally, I love pancakes in limited dosages, but this morning was not normal. Tracy, on the other hand, can’t handle pancakes in any dosage. We both stared at it wondering how we could avoid eating it without insulting the family. Tracy is usually a slow eater, and when she was little, she would hide her food so she wouldn’t have to finish it.

Tracy: “Christine. I know this is the stupidest idea ever, but I’m thinking of hiding these pancakes in my pockets…because I can’t eat them.”
Me: “Um, that’s probably the most genius idea I’VE EVER HEARD!!!”

So the next 30 minutes involved us breaking up the pancakes into small pieces, and piece by piece, stuffing them into our pockets when they weren’t looking. SCORE!

In addition to that, I managed to alleviate my fevers temporarily with some ibuprofen. Little did I know that my condition would worsen by the end of the day =(

But before I go into the flowery details of that…

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IMG_2805

The floating reed islands of Uros. This entire island is made out of reeds. It’s anchored by big heavy blocks of reeds, then more layers of reeds are laid on top for the groundwork, then the houses are made out of reeds, etc. There are multiple islands, and if one island ever had a grudge against a next door neighbor, they could just lift their anchors and float somewhere else. Not resolving the issue and just floating away. It’s the new passive aggressive.

For 5 soles per person, we took a magical reed boat ride in the lake. I say it’s comparable to a gondola ride in Venice. (Or, Vegas. Whatever floats your boat. Pun intended.)

Then, we were back to Puno.

28_condor

26_condor

When we got back, the 7 of us (four core + threesome) decided to go see the Puma statue. Earlier, while we were on the boat ride on Lake Titicaca, the second tour guide for the day (Roger) explained to us that “Titicaca” meant “Stone (Titi) Puma (Caca).” So, when we caught a cab to go to the statue, Corrine and Rebecca said something like “Donde esta la caca?” (Where is the puma?) The cab driver seemed to understand, so the 7 of us squeezed into a small cab. Boy, was this the most maniacal cab ride or what???

After driving to the outskirts of Puno, we started off-roading on some extreme inclines and rough terrains. At one point, I thought we were driving vertically because it was such an incline. I made sure I had my seat belt on. Then, as we reached the top of this hill, the car wouldn’t move any longer because there was so much weight in the car. Half of us had to get out so the car could budge. FINALLY, we arrive at a statue (sans heart attack), and we realize HE DROVE US TO THE WRONG STATUE! It was the condor! Oh well, at least we got a nice panoramic view of Puno.

The four core went back to the car, and the threesome stayed behind to buy some snacks. We started hearing shouts, “Hey! Where’s threesome? THREESOME!? Threesome?” Haha, I loved it.

At night, we went to some reggae bar after dinner. All we did was drink beers and play Jenga. A little bit of adulthood, and a little bit of childhood mixed into one night. Awesome. (Apparently, the bar had several sets of them, but it was called something other than Jenga. Ah yes, Tumbling Tower.) I thought I was feeling good, but the fevers came back at night. SIGH.

Day 5 of 12 – Cusco

02_mountains

03_Corrine, Tracy, Christine

And thus, began the torturous 8 hour bus ride to Cusco. I was actually looking forward to this because I love staring out windows during long car rides. But this bus felt like a sauna, on top of my own body having body chills and fevers. Even more on top of that, I had um…uncontrollable, frequent bowel movements. Immodium was not doing its job.

10_Plaza de Armas

18_sun temple

So on this night, I couldn’t even bring myself to dinner. Tracy and Corrine brought me over chicken soup and 2 bottles of strawberry-flavored mineral water. I was so touched! But eating the chicken soup was so painful to my stomach that after eating just a few spoonfuls, I had to rush to the bathroom. Swallowing pills became difficult too, and I was just a mess. Finally, as a last resort, Tracy forced me to take her antibiotics and, voila! The next morning, I started to feel normal again. RELIEF! Let me tell you, a bacterial infection inside your digestive system is no silent matter.

Onto week 2…

January 5 – 16, 2009: Classic Peru