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August 26, 2006

I love Bolivia

So last you heard I was in Puno, Peru cycling along with Sarah & Richard the couple from England.

Puno however, for me, wasn't the best of places. The English couple decided that they really wanted to go it alone, which was the right decision for them and for me - sometimes everyone can be a nice person but the goals and speeds are just different. I visited the floating islands of Uros which were very close to just being a big floating tourist trap. I really only went becasue it was part of the day package to Isle Taquile. I had read about Isle Taquile in a tale of traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia and the idea of the island intrigued me, but when I finally go there myself, maybe 30 years after this man went on his journey, it too was quite touristy. There was a "festival" going on when we got there but there didn't seem to be any locals watching it which made me a little wary as to whome the festival was for - us or them. The only really saving grace to the whole trip out on Lake Titicaca (which has been a background dream of mine for years evern since I saw Michael Palin suffering from sorroche while out on the lake) was that the tour company, Allways Tours, gave a little cultural lecture at each location. That infomation helped us to attempt to understand how these cultures had been and how they were changing in the world today. Fortunately, though I had read to take my own food, because they did the tourist trap thing and tried to get you to order a higher priced lunch on the island which, from the looks of it (and the comments), wasn't nearly up to snuff.

So that was Puno. Oh wait, Puno was also where I grossly embarassed myself by accusing the hotel staff of stealing 60 soles and my document pouch. What a mistake that was. Early in the morning before the trip on the lake I had hidden it away and apparently forgot that I did so when I returned. I wrote an apology in Spanish and eveything, but that doesn't make the accusation go away and the embarassment lessen. Next time I will either check my stuff into the caja fuerte (which is often just a drawer at the front desk) or just be more careful.

The ride along Lake Titicaca was pretty amazing and the best thing was seeing the Bolivian mountains in the distance while leaving the town of Juli. The churches in this town were supposed to be great so I lugged my bike up the hill off of the Panamerican and checked them out, but lo and behold, two were closed, one was only ok, and I just didn't have the energy to deal with the fourth. But seeing the mountains in the distance with the lake in the forefront was just amazing. My pictures don't do it justice. The next town, Pomata, did however have a very impressive church. It is made out of the local red sandstone and is completely carved inside and outside. The outside has lots of little gargoyles (can I just say there are two very loud competing radios being played here right now) and the inside has a lot of ornate rosettas and the like. Everything is carved. Pretty impressive.

The Bolivian border was a breeze and the guard even gave me a nod when I asked to photograpy the monument at the border. All the guide books say that you are not supposed to take any picutres, but I asked so it was ok. The Peruvian side was a breeze, just an exit stamp which they all have to put on the same page over other stamps that are there. However, at the Bolivian side there were some issues, although not serious ones. The nice boder cops really liked my bike and asked the dreaded question "How much did it cost?" I really hate that question because all that is going through people's head is "How much could I get for this if I had it" At least that is what I think they are thinking, but who really knows and I'm not going to ask them why. They also only gave me a 30 day visa, but based on my revised travel plans (busing and training not cycling) 30 days was sufficient. There was an American guy there making trouble at the border right before I got there with my papers and he was making things worse for himself by telling the Man Behind the Desk that "You are not a nice person" and "I need consulate help" and "Does anyone here speak English" I tried to feel sorry for him, but I just couldn't with the attitude he was taking on.

Anyway, I got to Copacabana and was fortunate enough to get a room at La Cupula, a hotel I had been hearing about for ages. I didn't get one of the primo rooms as those of us traveling sola rarely get, but I got a nice room and it had HEATING!!! and the bathroom, while shared, had a hot shower. The best part about the place was the restaurant. It was a pleasure to head over there for dinner of fresh fish (I had fish both nights) and a beer. Although the evenings always started out sola, I was always joined by groups of people. The first night by a group of Australians and the second by an English sola woman traveler. I also met an very nice Argentinean guy named Luigi who had taken some amazing photographs in Bolivia, specifically, Isla del Sol and Maragua. It was a pleasant evening of good food and interesting company. I like that about traveling - there are so many types of people traveling and you inevitably find people with whom you have things in common with - and they are never who you expect.

Isla del Sol, which is traditionally visited from Copacabana, is another 3 hour boat ride on Lago Titicaca. I have to say that I enjoyed this visit far more than the visit to Isle Taquile mostly becuase you had the opportunity to walk the length of entire island. This activity takes about 3 hours and you have lots of time by yourself to just kick back, exercise, and breath some fresh air for once. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I wish that I had made the decision to stay overnight (which is always an option on these tours - you can always spent the night somewhere or customize your trip to do stuff that isn't advertised). I returned to Copacabana pleasantly tired, looking forward to a fish dinner at La Cupula and reviatalized ready to hit the town, La Paz.

La Paz - what a crazy, crazy city. The bus ride from Copacabana was my first in awhile and things went smoothly in a Bolivian fashion. I was to take the 2pm bus and then changed it to the 10am bus as I had nothing else to do in Copacabana except read and drink beer (which wasn't a good idea at 9 in the morning) so I checked out of my hotel and headed down to the bus street. While I was waiting for the following bus with my HUGE bag stuffed with panniers and the bike, the driver of the bus who, of course, was on top of the bus, called for my bike. Surprised, I looked up and figured why not. There was room on the 9am bus (which was leaving at more like 10am) so I went for it and after the bike was tied (securly!) to the very top of the bus and my luggage was stashed next to the driver I headed to the back of the bus to a pleaseant seat with a slit cushion, but fortunately no one else next to me for a short while. We headed out of Copacabana towards La Paz on a very nice three hour journey. I have to say that I am glad that I did not ride the journey. The first day would have been pretty but very difficult due to a big hill of 4000m complete with water crossing where one ferry took the buses (that was weird) and another for 1B took the passangers. The next day on bike would have been not very fun due to the increased population and the existance of El Alto. It was a lot more comforting to go through that area in a bus rather than on bike, alone. I don't think it would have been a problem, but better safe than sorry.

Arriving to La Paz is an amazing sight. If the weather is right you see this incredible mountain range, the Royal Range, in the distance and then look down from El Alto into this massive basin of humanity. There are buildings on sheer cliffs, buildings everywhere The drivers are crazy and the streets are like San Francisco only steeper. There are no discernable traffic laws and cars and trucks are always coming within inches of each other. If you can drive there, you can drive everywhere. I got into my hotel (which I actually made a reservation for) and took an investigatory walk around my immediate neighborhood. It turns out that I was right near the famed "witch's market" (Ouruo has a much better, much less touristic one, I think) and while I didn't go through it at that point, I did discover the place to buy morning bread.

Cities in South America provide travelers access to the comforts of home as there are always some sort of bar or restaurant that caters to foreigners and are usually run by ex-pat foreigners themselves. Cities are a time to regroup and a time to learn about what is going on in the world outside of traveling. I spent my evenings at Oliver's Travels "the 5th most popular bar in La Paz" eating fish and chips which were a welcome break from rice, rice, rice, potatos, potatos, and tiny pieces of unidentifiable meats. La Paz also has microbrewed beer which Peru cannot, for all it's tourism, boast. Let's hear it for Bolivia!!

The good dirt on Bolivia will come next: A bike ride down "The World's Most Dangerous Road", Nayjama restaurant in Ourou, the Salar de Uyuni, and wonderful, warm Sucre.

August 16, 2006

The Photos are FINALLY up

So after spending about three hours in front of a computer in La Paz instead of buying trinkets at the Witches Market, I have fixed the photo problem. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that there are now a lot more pictures available for your viewing pleasure.

There is, of course, so much more to write about and my blog is about 2 weeks behind, but you will have to wait because the Witches Market, and the post office and other delightful chores are awaiting me now.

Thank you for your patience and enjoy!!

August 15, 2006

On the Road Again:Cusco to Puno

****Still having problem with the photos - will try to resolve today****

Howdy everyone. David pointed out that there was a lot of duplicate info in the last two posts. I have to admit that I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was writing as I was floating in the middle of a giant pool of self pity and loneliness which I’m happy to say has now been drained and I’m off an running in the city of peace – La Paz.

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

So I have made it to another country – Bolivia – without any problems. There were some interactions with the police which were rather amusing while being daunting and at least two times I have almost burst into tears: once out of frustration and once because I heard a song that I liked and was at ~4300m and was probably a little bit irrational, but I’ll get to those little stories later.

I’m afraid that this will be a monster post as I will probably just start writing and keep on going…

So the day I was to leave Cusco after my “final feed” of delicious pancakes with carmalized bananas at Jack’s, I ran into Sarah and Richard – the owners of the Koga-Miyatas in the storage closet at Hostel Amaru. This was, for me, a conundrum. I was mentally prepared to leave but the lure of having cycling partners was strong. However, I just didn’t want to stay another day so we made plans to meet up in a few days, exchanged tips and contact info and I took off to Urcos. The ride out of Cusco was a little hectic – a lot of traffic for the first 20 km or so, but as I got farther away the riding became better and as I turned the corner for the turn off to Puacartambo (site of the infamous weekend festival of the virgin of Carmen), the terrain started to give way to houses and little plots of land as opposed to the squalor that exists at the edge of the larger towns. The ride was mostly downhill and my wobble was reduced due to my new packing system – I wish it had lasted. Along the way, Anton the 18 year old passed me heading back towards Cusco on a motorcycle – he was on the prowl for a guide and they were cheaper out of Cusco. He told me about a cuy restaurant in Urcos, my destination for the evening, and I told him about the frescos in the churches along the path. While I was interested in the cuy, he was not very interested in the churches.

I skipped the church in Andahuaylillas as I had already visited it via combi with Alexandro from Italy, but the church in Huaro was supposed to have better frescos so I pulled into the colonial town square bouncing violently over the Spanish cobblestones. Whoever though that cobblestones were a good method of pavment? The church was locked up tight and there was only an old man drying wheat kernels on the church plaza. We practiced understanding each other with questions about origin and destinations and then I asked if I could go into the church. This was one of the many excersise in directions that you have to do as a traveler who knows some of the language of the country you are visitng, but not a lot. It turns out I needed to talk to a woman who lived a few blocks down. I left my bike in the custody of the old man and headed down the street. After a few more inquisitions as to the location of this woman, another woman banged on a door. How I was to know that that was the door to bang on was beyond me, but that’s why you bring out basic words like “Quien? Iglacia?” when complete sentences don’t work.

So out of this house came a man, not a woman, holding this huge metal key. This key is apparently the original key for the church which was built in 1891. As we made our way back down to the church attempting to converse I noticed that there was a young man lurking about my bike. Now, I like to trust in people, but until I saw the old man still standing there too, I was a little worried. So off we went into the church which, yes, had pretty cool frescos which for the life of me I could not describe here as I don’t really remember what they were. The main deal with these frescos is that they cover the entire inside and that they are in the process of being restored – the work which will be completed in December. So upon leaving, the man with the key put on a stern look and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. Silly me, nothing is free, so I pulled out the s/5 that he wanted and handed over. Then he was all smiles again and was happy to pose for pictures with the key and the door. I retrieved my bike from the old and young man and bade them farewell and headed off with directions to another frescoed church up the road. I have to admit, I had no intention of visiting this church which was only reinforced by the closed door that I saw while riding by – no more goose chases for this evening.

After negotiating the market, running into Carla, my teacher from Cusco, and getting my stuff the steps of the Hostel El Amigo, I set off to get myself a cuy. The whole cuy eating thing is just weird. You are eating a guinea pig, a small rodent which many of us had as cute, albeit noisy, pets as children. But as I was leaving cuy country this was to be one of my last non-touristy chances to get one of the little critters for my dinner. So I headed up the hill to the cuyria and upon arrival (a little out of breath) I was told “Hablame” which I think means “talk to me” after I tried to explain, in gasps, my desire to eat a cuy. Once she understood what I wanted things went great. She went into great detail about telling me what the menu was and why the cuy at her establishment was the best. I have to admit, the idea of a highly herbed and spiced rodent was much better than just a rodent from the oven. She picked up a pre-cooked cuy from the over and showed it to me for approval (yikes) and then took it off to the kitchen to prepare the rest of the plate.

In the meantime, I started working on the 620ml beer that was sitting in front of me. The platter that she placed in front of me was amazing: a pile of spaghetti with some sort of sauce on it, a very piquant pepper stuffed with chicken, carrots, and peas, papas fritos (of course), and the cuy cut up into quarter – two front and two back. I dove right in and picked up a back section. Truth be told there just isn’t much on the thing and you’re supposed to be eating the skin which is chewier then squid – it’s more like shoe leather – but that was the portion with all the herbs on it so I tried. I would eat a little meat and gnaw off a little piece of the skin. How in the world does such a little rodent get such a tough skin? So – just in case you ever want to know what cuy tastes like (and it doesn’t taste like chicken) – cuy tastes a little like rabbit and, this is weird, a little like fishy meat. The rabbit parts are kinda tasty, but the fishy parts, which are the little lets, were not. I slogged my way through the entire plate leaving some fries, potatoes, and the little treats from inside the cuy. Michelle, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the little cuy heart. I finished up my huge beer and had a 30 minute chat with the proprietress about road safety, where I was staying and my future plans. I had done it – eaten the entire little rodent with no problems – just a few stray mental images of cuys playing in the sunlight.

There were adventures the next day from Urcos to Checacupe including a discussion with two highway patrolmen about riding solita , chatting with two little girls, my first glass of chichi (a fermented corn drink) and being told that the only room in town to let was “occupado” and the mean ladies sitting in the street told me to just go to the next town (that was one of the tears moments) but these will have to be written about somewhere else. The ride from Checacupe to Sicuani was relatively uneventful but I met the Brazilian, Autur, heading North. He had had a great experience in Raqchi having participated in a ceremony at the ruins the previous night. I merely visited the ruins (Templo de Vivacocha) for about 30 minutes. I’ve discovered that despite my great interest in archaeology, ruins don’t interest me much if I have no background context or am not involved in the project. It’s just another old pile of mud bricks if you don’t have any information about the site.

Anyway, the neatest thing about Racqui is the terrain. There is evidence of lava flow here with the mounds of prickly black rocks, much like the rock that makes up the island where David and I got married (the Long Island, Bahamas). These rocks have a name, but since I don’t have instant internet access you will be denied the pleasure of knowing what type of rock it is. The people who build this religious center (at least that is what they think it was) used this rock in some of the buildings which gives it a much different appearance than most Incan or pre-Incan archaeology. Another cool thing is that this complex was huge. The big mud wall that you can see from the road seems, to me, to have been shored up quite a lot in modern times, but the circular huts build from the volcanic stone, and some of the other things like the bath houses and the wells seem to be original and pretty impressive relics from a distant era.

Sicuani was nothing special but I did have a nice hot shower, saw the hippy gringa from Cusco (but she didn’t see me), ate banana sandwiches, got egg sandwiches made for my breakfast and generally prepared for my ride to the pass – Abra La Raya – the following day.

From Urcos to Sicuani I had been riding steadily uphill following along the course of a river which doesn’t have a name on either map of Peru that I own. The riding was not particularly difficult, but I don’t go very fast. This is due to the amount of weight that I am carrying and the low speed, torque induced frame wobble problem which hasn’t been resolved and probably won’t be anytime soon. But this is a problem that I do not wish to discourse upon here.

The Sicuani to Santa Rosa day was one of the best I’ve had on this trip. I left early, had my egg sandwiches and Sublime chocolate bars and lots of water. The morning started out with the same gradual uphill climb through the huge glacial valley that I had been riding through for days. It is a beautiful place to ride, with lots of little houses and communities dotting the landscape. Towards the end of the valley, on the way to the pass the terrain became more dramatic and the road grade increased. There are ancient volcano cones combined with huge road cuts through what looks like glacial deposits – an incredible site with the whitecaps of the Cordilla Apolobamba peaking though. At one point, near the public baths of another Aquas Calientes, a little girl ran alongside of me for nearly a kilometer talking to me about where I was from and where I was going. I was dying for air and she was blithely running along to the baths chatting up a storm. She asked if I was going to the baths and looked disappointed when I replied “No,” it was one of those things that I would have liked to do, but getting over the pass was more important.

From Sicuani to Abra La Raya is only 27 km, but it is 27 km of uphill. As I neared the pass the road got steeper and I broke down and pulled out the ipod. Sometimes using an ipod while riding feels like cheating, you want to enjoy the feelings that occur when you are riding, but sometimes you just need the encouragement of music to keep you going. This time however it just added to the joy of the ride. As you near passes the population drops away. There are no more farms, no more people, just you, the wind, the road and the occasional car, bus or truck that is passing you. I got to the toll booth and went through without a hitch but found out that the pass was still 5 km away. These last 5 km were difficult – the air was thinner, I was getting tired and it was quite cold. At one point in these last 5 km it started snowing. Solid little balls of iced snow landing on my black shirt melting away with my body heat while the sun was shining brightly around the dark clouds were amassing at the summit. At this point one of my favorite songs ever came on the ipod – Honky Tonk Woman - by the Rolling Stones. This brought about a feeling that is hard to describe and I almost don’t want to share. I was overcome by happiness about hearing the song in this beautiful place and I just wanted to start crying for joy, but instead of tears I just started gasping for breath. It was actually kind of funny – I couldn’t cry and breathe at the same time. A short while later, still riding on the high of song and place, I reached the summit – 14,232 ft – the highest I have ever been on a bike so far in my life.

The downhill was just a cool. I donned my Patagonia Micropuff, gloves and set off down the pass whooping it up. Just as I was gaining speed downhill the tourist train headed towards Cusco came chugging by. I waved and waved at the conductor and shouted “Hello,” to the people standing outside at the end of the train. Just another great moment of the day. The rest of the ride to Santa Rosa was nothing special, but what a great day it was. Santa Rosa offered me a trucker’s alojomiento for accommodations and later in the afternoon Sarah & Richard showed up and headed to the other hostel. That, of course, is foreshadowing of the days to come.

I rode with Sarah & Richard for the next three day from Santa Rosa to Pucara to the smog-filled capital of Juliaca and on the congested, smoggy, shoulder-less road to the tourist town of Puno. The riding was fast paced, faster than I was really able to comfortably ride, but the lure of riding with other was just too great to pass up. The first two days were some magnificent riding through the Peruvian altiplano. Here again, the ipod and also the coca leaves came in handy. The bleakness of the terrain was just beautiful and I don’t know how people could ever describe the ride as boring. The worst part about it was the wind – there was a constant head or side wind starting pretty early in the morning. There was quite a climb to get to Puno – a peak of about 4000m – which I plodded up ever so steadily and met S & R at the top to gaze down upon our destination and Lake Titicaca!

Some highlights of the ride to Puno were the policeman who informed me that since my husband wasn’t with me I was fair game. We took pictures of my future Peruvian husband, donned buffs, and rode off into the smog towards Puno. Richard got away with a warning about wearing a helmet – which of course no Peruvian wear or probably even owns – but you don’t argue with a guy holding a gun and standing in front of a tank.

The road really sucked – there was no shoulder, lots of traffic, and lots of smog. The vehicles coming towards us were virtually blinded by all the confetti on their windshields, having just been to Copacabana to be blessed. As we were rounding the bend to get our first real view of Lake Titicaca, I ran into a car that was stopped in the middle of the road in the middle of a hill and had to contain the curses that were dying to spring from my lips as I picked myself and my bike and my broken mirror up off the ground. Turns out they wanted to give me a flyer for a vegetarian restaurant. I couldn’t look at them and Sarah finally emphasized that we DID NOT want any flyers. The spill was inconsequential, but what would possess a car full of people to just stop dead in the middle of a hill and harass the poor cyclist obviously laboring up the hill shouting “vamos, vamos?” I’ll never know nor do I want to know.

All along the way there were police which is actually something out of the ordinary, but upon our descent into the city we were stopped and discovered that the reason was that the new president, Allan, was visiting Puno. How cool is that – we were passed by the presidential motorcade and upon our arrival to the Plaza de Armas we were able to see him speak. It was a little weird being in a public gathering with armed police perched high up in all the surrounding buildings in a foreign country and by all accounts you really aren’t supposed to hang around for these things being a foreigner, but there was no sign of agitation and after a bit we headed off to find a hostel.

And so ends this chapter of the Journey. Next comes Puno to La Paz and my first border crossing.

August 07, 2006

In Puno, Puru but still talking about Cusco

So I have about 10 pages of outline notes about everything that has been going on but I thought, maybe, no one really wants to read about my trip in outline format so I will attempt to fill you in – as briefly as I can – about the last few weeks.

But first...

Two sets of new photos posted (Inca Trail photos coming soon)
New Google Earth kmz file of my current route (opens in Google Earth)
New Download fileGoogle Earth kmz file of the Inca Trail Extravaganza (opens in Google Earth)
New Google Earth kmz fileof the boat trip on Lake Titicaca (opens in Google Earth)

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Last I posted was the week before David arrived (July 22nd). The Monday before he arrived I went out to a little town called Andhuyaylillas in my first combi ride (a crowded little bus) to look at the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. It was ok – the entire inside was painted with frescos. I have to admit that I didn’t look too closely as there were two French cyclists in front and I was rather more interested in talking with them then visiting the church but since Alessandro was so kind to invite me to go with him (and this was the Monday after the Paucartambo weekend which you still haven’t heard about) I went in and took a look around. Somebody had obviously done a thesis on the place as there were brochures in English, Spanish, and French. That just doesn’t happen a lot in Peru. This was the occasion where I lost my beloved hat. The hat which David, wonderful David, replaced when he came down to visit.

The next big thing before David’s arrival was the visit to the Salinares (salt ponds) and Moray. This was an adventure of the grand sort as Sam(antha) knew some of the detail and I knew others. Wednesday morning at 8am we headed to a bus station to get the combi to Ollentaytambo. The deal was that we were to get off at the turn off to Maras – a little town who’s sole claim to fame is the salt ponds and the Moray ruins. So we did –we got off. Next we had to hire a taxi without getting ripped off too much. Of course, we did everything backwards – got in the taxi before negotiating a fare, pissing off the woman who was going to take the taxi to Maras by telling the driver we wanted to go to the salt flats first. Finally, we set off, Sam, the driver (Eustuquio) and me to the salt flats. Our guide/taxi driver was very accommodating and part of the deal with the fare (which I actually managed to negotiate down!) was that he would wait for us at each place. On the way to the salt ponds Sam kept yelling “aqui, aqui” which means “here, here” when she wanted to take a pictures. It’s not so funny here, but it brought tears to our eyes as we retold the story of our adventure over beers a few days later. Sam wanted to take pictures of every local person and ever farm animal we saw. She also kept offering the driver some onion snacks as he was going around blind curves with dust obscuring what ever vision he really had.

The salt ponds were neat and have been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years. We got to taste the salt on the corn/bean snacks that the women give you as teasers to get you to buy a pack. It was salty.

The drive to Moray was much like the drive to the Salinares. Sam shouting “aqui, aqui” and saying that she wanted to make a picture and the driver obligingly stopping or trying to stop, often in the middle of a flock of animals that some poor girl was trying to get across the street without being squashed. We paid our 5 sole entrance fee and got out of the taxi. Moray is pretty amazing even only from an aesthetic viewpoint (which is most of what the Incan stuff has to be taken as since no one knows exactly what the majority of it is or what it represents – this ranges from pottery to ruins). It was thought to be an experimental agriculture center. It consists of concentric terracing built in 4 natural depressions in the terrain. There are floating stairs connecting each set of terracing – floating stairs are stones sticking out perpendicular from the walls with flat faces to step on – they are pretty cool. Sam – who is afraid of heights – would not go down into the terracing with me preferring to smoke her 18th cigarette of the day (bad Sam) but she did oblige me by taking a picture of me going down the steps. There was a group of Japanese tourists taking pictures of each other on each level of the terracing in the main circle – it was kind of amusing to watch for awhile and then I hoofed it back to the top where Eustuquio was waiting impatiently for Sam and I – we had gone over our 30 minute limit. On the way back through Maras to the bus stop Eustuquio asked if we minded picking up some of the locals along the way. Of course not, we said and picked up a local Indain lady. Then there was another one – an old woman with a big load who fitted very nicely into the. When we dropped them off in Maras, we picked up another four who crammed two to the front and two to the hatchback. Because we had paid such a high price for the service, Eustuquio didn’t let any of them into the seat section where we were. That was a little weird as there we were with all the space and everyone else was crammed on top of each other. The wait for the bus was quiet, cool, and quite windy. An empty gringo tourist bus went by with a vague guesture that apparently meant that he would have stopped for us, but as I didn’t comprehend this until he was long past and only with the help of an Indian lady also waiting for the bus, we missed the chance. Our combi ride was more fun however as there was a score of school children with us and we exchanged “tarejas” – homeworks. I did theirs and they looked at but didn’t do mine. Then we were back in Cusco each running for our respective commitments – me to get an empanada and to school to learn more past tenses and Sam to the orphanage to work with the kids.

The rest of the week flew by with various social meetings and goings about. I did some socializing, writing in the journal, and actually some GIS for a woman I met at the South American Explorers club. That was sort of fun to be helping out with the stuff I like to do most. Met Joe – a geologist – who had some interesting experiences on his rock collecting journey with horses and cooks who weren’t cooks, Vivvi and Megan two students doing a little travel before returning to Buenos Aries to back their stuff and return home after a semester abroad, and said farewell to Sam who was heading off to see other parts of Peru after a few weeks in Cusco.

And then David arrived.

He arrived on Saturday July 22nd, to a bright, cool Cusco morning with a million suitcases thanks to all of my crap that he brought. We ran all around Cusco on his very first day in town completely ignoring the “take it easy” advice everyone gives you upon arriving to Cusco or La Paz. We checked into the trek place (Peru Treks), meet my fellow students in the Plaza de Armas, went to lunch at El Encuentro, (the wonderful, cheap vegetarian joint, and went to the Dominican Monastery/Quoricancha which I may have already written about). I treat the streets of Cusco much like the streets of New York and there is no need to take a cab if you can walk. Of course a cab in Cusco costs $0.66 and a cab in New York is never less than $5. I didn’t think of that then.

That evening we met my friend Joe (the geologist) for dinner and I, attempting to find a restaurant that had Andean food decided up the Alpaca Steak House. Let’s just say that the best part about the meal were the Pisco Sours and that it was filling. The appetizers were just weird. I got a stuffed avocado which had I known that the filling of something green and chicken would be held together with a ton of mayo I would have ordered something else. David’s Papa Huancaino, which is supposed to be a great traditional Peruvian dish, was excessively dry and not even the cheese sauce could help that. The alpaca was not the vision of deliciousness that I had had a few nights previously at the Inka Grill. It was rather thin and over cooked, but I suppose that I should have expected that with a set menu. We didn’t get our tea and the postre, chocolate cake, which I had to ask for, was super dry and almost inedible. However, the Pisco Sours were quite delicious and a reasonable price, the owner was nice, and the restaurant gave a 40% discount to the locals.

We took Sunday a little easier and apart from realizing that we needed a porter to carry our sleeping bags and mats and trying to take care of that we just hung about Cusco. To take care of the porter problem I called the contacts numbers listed on the trek paper and guy who answered said “don’t worry, talk to your guide” which really just meant, get the frantic gringa off the phone as it turns out later. We ran into Anton the eighteen year old on the street and chatted for a very short while – he promised to bring by my back up bungee cords while we were one the Inca trail. He decided that bike touring was not for him and had ridden just a little more and then taxied to Cusco and was going to stay there to study drawing for a few weeks before heading back to the US and then to Paris where he managed to get into on of the high end universities. We (David and I) then had coffee and tea at Norton Rat’s and watched one of the endless parades complete with bands, singing, virgins (real and statuesque) go around and around the Plaza de Armas while singing along to some Spanish version of a Beetle’s song. We then had a good two sole lunch – I was glad we got to go to a typical place for dinner so that he could experience the meal that I usually got on the road. That evening was the cuy event for David – the consensus was that there just wasn’t much meat on a cuy, the skin was just too tough to eat delicacy or not, and it was just weird to be eating a pet. My dinner was not very good again and Joe’s was actually ok.

A little about the restaurant complaining... As you know there are good restaurants, bad restaurants and locations that are just places to eat. In Peru there are mostly just places to eat. These are establishments that have set menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and are frequented by locals or Peruvian travelers. A rule here is the more people the better and you need to ask around sometimes to find out which one the locals prefer. The “cena” (and often the “desayuno” and “almuerzo”) consists of a soup, a segundo, and a cup of tea. Some places in the cities give you a desert which is usually this awful gooey gelatin type concoction. The country places don’t bother with the desert which is just fine with me. However, in tourist places like Cusco you have better restaurants and a lot of very, very bad tourist restaurants touting local cusine – much like many of the theater district Italian restaurants in New York City. I was hoping that some of the recommended tourist restaurants lived up to their guide book recommendations because they were more expensive then the vegetarian place (which I was actually tired of eating at), and they claimed to have local food (not spaghetti or hamburgers). Unfortunately, they did not. I don’t think that alpaca is something that the locals actually eat a lot of and the cuyrias that the locals go to are located a short bus ride away from town. The high end restaurants however really did live up to their claims of good food. Inka Grill was some of the best food I’ve had in ages and is set up like a Western restaurant with silverware, linen napkins, and crystal. The food is great, the service is ok and they will converse in Spanish if you try.

That is it for this post and the next one will be the Inca Trail – I promise!! And the ride from Cusco to Puno which has been both beautiful and interesting.

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