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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.

July 20, 2006

Navel of the World - Cusco

***New Photos Posted***

It’s been over a week now and nary a peep from me except the odd email. I’ll tell you why, I’ve been more social here then I even was in New York and I sleep a lot because at night, as I believe I have already emphatically stated, it is cold. That of course is not a real excuse, but it’s the only one I have at the moment.

It was a very full week last week.

Upon arriving in Cusco there were immediate differences with the surrounding towns and even the department capitol of Abancay. Cusco is definitely a tourist town. And the tourists tend to ignore each other except at bars and occasionally restaurants. I got into town and headed directly for the Plaza de Armas to sit down and study my Footprints South America guide book to find a cheap, nearby hostel. After accosting some girls on the street to ask where they were staying, I ended up at the Hostel Casa Grande for s/.20 with three beds all to myself and a shared bathroom with no toilet paper and hair all over the shower. Not bad for the price, but just not my ideal for two weeks. After all, I am over thirty now and do like, just a little bit, the comforts of home when possible.

You know what, I’m going to cut out all the minor details and give you the drift of my almost two weeks in Cusco.

It’s expensive, at least by Peruvian terms and it’s rather small – at least much smaller than Lima. And while it’s bigger than the other towns I’ve been through it is much like a small town as most of the tourists don’t go outside of the main downtown and you begin to recognize people that are there for longer than a few days. Also, after awhile you develop the automatic “No Gracias” response to anyone walking towards you and the street vendors (painters, postcards, shoeshine, tours, massages, waxing) actually stop asking you. Paddy Flaherty’s bar has actually printed tee-shirts with “No Gracias” on the front and I just may get one to send home with David. They wear them as a uniform at Jack’s Café which is under the same management as Paddy’s.

So after doing some searching I found a place to call home for two weeks and pushed my bike up the hill on the second day to the hostel which by some standards is expensive ($10/night) and by others is quite cheap. I think it’s a good deal myself and it is a safe place to keep my stuff. While there is no heat (shall I remind you that it’s cold here at night?) there is hot water and it is family run so no complaints from me.

Language school was the next step. Since the San Blas language school is right next to the hostel (in fact they recommend the place) it seemed like the logical place to take classes. I had to take a test and apparently placed in intermediate beginning which was better that I expected – I still have a problem with complete sentences, but the opportunity to learn (don’t hold your breath here) reflexive verbs, pronouns, and some past tenses was too good to pass up. It would also give my days some structure while I waited for David.

School, like school everywhere, is one of the best places to meet people and when school is in another country it is even better because people are forced to be social. My days for the first week of school consisted of learning lots of grammar with two German students and a Dutch student in tiny unheated rooms. The afternoons were spent with Sandra – another Dutch student – walking around the city and visiting markets and museums.

One of my favorite places here is the San Pedro market. Sometimes there are lots of other gringos sometimes there aren’t but no matter what it’s fun. It is like the Union Square farmers market times 100! At the Northern entrance there are clothing stalls complete with sewing machines and everything from baptism dresses to tourist llama-wear. Then comes the meat section on one side and fresh juice section on the other. A lot of tour books reference the odd pig and cow parts that you can see in the market, but let’s be real, you can see weird animal parts in any Chinatown in any city, so it’s really not that odd of a sight, especially in a market. Sometimes you don’t want to be reminded that your dinner may be coming from the meat in one of these stalls, but that’s the risk you take leaving the saran wrapped, tasteless meats of the supermarkets at home.

The juice section has a heavenly smell. The fact that you can small anything at all in the market is kind of surprising because the cold and the altitude does funny things to your sense of smell. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking with the whole I’m-wearing-all-my-clothes thing I’ve got going right now. However, the one problem in the juice section (and the mate vendors) is the shared glasses thing. The M.O. of the juice stands and the mate vendors is that there are only a few glasses and after each use they get “rinsed”. I’m just too American to deal with this and just bring my own glass. You’re already a gringo, who cares if you look even weirder asking for the juice in your own glass. You can, alternatively, sometimes get the juice to go in a plastic baggie!

Then come the fruits aisles. Like everywhere else in the market there are vendor after vendor selling similar things. I know you are supposed to bargain, but I just am not good at it and $0.30 for 4 bananas is just a good deal to me. I’m used to paying $3 dollars for a few bananas so I’m not complaining, but if I lived here it would be a different thing. Again, there is a wonderful fruit smells of familiar fruits like strawberries (the one fruit I won’t eat), bananas (multiple varieties), and oranges and the unfamiliar smells and sights of grenadillas, cherimoyas, papayas, and huge melons that I don’t know the name of.

Moving on we get to the grains and breads. The aisles here have some sort of order but the types of things for sale seem to blend into one another. The grains aisles are especially interesting with dozens of types of corn and flours and potatoes. I don’t know what half of the things are and I’m actually too embarrassed and not fluent enough in Spanish to understand, but I did learn about Oka which is like a potato only prettier. Apparently, it is cooked like a potato and is sometimes mixed with potatoes. There is also the weird potato-like vegetable that is used in Caldo de Gaillina. And then the tiny, wizened yellow root that is ground up into a powder and added to yogurt, milk, and juices. This is called maku (?) and can be found commercially in the grocery stores too. A nice girl explained this to me after an epic pantomime session with four of us gesturing and speaking broken Spanish and English in an effort to get a sponge to clean my kerosene encrusted cookware. You try to pantomime “sponge”.

Onward to the house wares which merge into chocolates and coffees. This aisle is only as interesting as getting sponges is and the chocolate aisle has bars and bars of chocolate to be used for drinks. There is only one little bar to be eaten and it is labeled “bitter” but upon trying it was some of the best chocolate that I have ever had. It is certainly not bitter and cost about a dollar. Sorry Whole Foods this chocolate wins hands down. Next comes some more fresh vegetables, but mostly herbs in all sorts of formats. One day the air was ripe with the smell cumin and we saw a woman grinding cumin seed in an ancient hand grinder. Other stands have flowers, fresh and dried, and if you need it you can get coca leaves here for tea (I think).

Then comes the best part – the food stands. Which let’s just say there is another post with the description of my meals. I ended up at a woman named Sinforosa’s stand and had some very cheap, very filling, very good food. Some sections serve only fried fish, other serve meats and most serve the traditional soup and Segundo. The soups are amazing in their variety and everyday there is a different soup. I don’t think I’ve yet had the same soup in all the places I’ve eaten!

Other places Sandra and I visited were the main cathedral, the handcraft market (which doesn’t seem to have a lot of quality handcraft stuff just a lot of suspiciously similar items). I wanted to buy a blanket that is used at every hostel and hospedaje that I’ve been in and I cannot find one – I’m just not looking in the right place. We went to the Cusco Center for Traditional Textiles where I did buy some gifts. The quality here is much better and while there isn’t much alpaca stuff there are fantastic examples of traditional weaving with natural color dyes. There are usually some weavers weaving in the shop and there is a very informative free textile museum adjacent to the store as well. The deal with this place is that most of the money goes directly to the weavers and the prices are in American dollars. This isn’t a budget place, but it is a socially correct place with beautiful samples of textiles for sale.

Then came a bunch of beer drinking in the evenings and then the weekend to Paucartbmbo which will have to be a separate post.

This week is just rushing by as I recover from a cold and learn even more versions of the past tense. My classes are in the evenings this second which isn’t as fun as in the mornings as most of my new acquaintances have morning classes, but I have been taking road trips to towns surrounding Cusco in the mornings (instead of writing!). Monday morning was a bus trip with Alessandro, my Italian acquaintance from Nazca, to Andahuaylillas, a town East of Cusco, where the church, which was built in the 1700s (I think) is known as the Peruvian Sistine Chapel. It is a simple church, not very large, but its claim to fame is the beautiful painted ceiling and the fact that it hasn’t yet toppled in any of the earthquakes the hit the area from time to time. Instead of appreciating the church as I should have I spent my time talking to two French cycle tourists. They gave me some heads up about the roads ahead and some address of people to contact. Very nice.

Tuesday, I finally discovered the wonders of the South American Explorer’s Club – Cusco, and enjoyed a wireless network. This is something that I probably won’t see again until maybe Chile. I spent a good amount of time writing and organizing pictures and lo and behold I was talking again and met an Englishwoman who is getting her PhD in Civil Engineering and was having some trouble with ArcView, my favorite program. I am going to meet with here on Thursday and take a look at her data to see if I can help. I love it!

Yesterday, Wednesday the 19th, another Dutch friend from the San Blas school – Samantha – and I headed off on a great adventure to Moray and the Salineras de Maras. Neither one of us knew exactly what to expect, but she did most of the planning. We met after breakfast at a very early 8:30am. This is sort of early here for tourist restaurants and shops and to try to find breakfast at 7:30am is a challenge. Fortunately, Café Amaru on Planteros was sort of open and they let me order breakfast even though they were still setting up. Samantha and I met and headed down Av. Del Sol to my second bus station in three days. This station was the Urubamba station and ran a little differently from the one I used on Monday with Alessandro. At this one you had to purchase your ticket ahead of time which entailed much jostling around and trying to keep your place in line, avoiding the buses which were much like the USPS trucks in NYC in that they made no effort to avoid hitting you, purchasing a ticket for s/. 3 each which, if you were there early enough, entitled you to assigned seating, getting onto the bus with your receipt and realizing that that you had assigned seats. Sometimes the local populace gets tired of the gringos and they try to push ahead of you. I’m getting used to holding down my space and telling the nice ladies to back off. Really, all I do is just push back against them and push my money over to the ticket guy. Otherwise, we’d never get on the bus!

The ride out of Cusco was interesting as it backtracked over some of the roads that I had ridden in on, on my bike. To see the road from a bus passenger’s perspective was enlightening. There really isn’t much shoulder, but to their credit, the bus (and sometimes car) drivers are used to people and animals in the roads and they tend to make room for you. It’s awfully nice of them not to use the shoulder as part of the road when there are pedestrians because apparently they otherwise just use it as another place to drive on! Once we arrived at our intersection which really just was an intersection as the pueblo of Maras was about 2km away we were immediately approached by a taxi driver. The whole taxi thing has tourists everywhere afraid. I have to say I look at them all with a little bit of suspicion, but some of that is just not knowing the system. In many cases, the drivers wait, with maybe one or two passengers already, for more people to fill their cars up. We apparently pissed off a local woman by telling the taxi driver that we wanted to go to the Salineras first. He tried to talk us into going to Maras first, but we didn’t really understand why and the woman got out in disgust. Whatever. We were paying a hell of a lot more money then they were for the ride and sometimes when you’re paying that much you just get your little bit of privilege. The ride should have really cost a few soles, but we paid a lot more to have the driver (Eustaquio was his name) wait for us at the two sites. It was well worth it and neither of us had the time to walk the 20 or so kilometers which is what many tourist do.

So the Salineras de Maras are pretty impressive. There is an underground water source that is highly saline and bubbly. Over the centuries the Incan and now the Indians have created this crazy terraces system of salt drying pools. From what I could understand from Eustaquio, the pools take about three days to completely dry, but it seems that they are constantly monitored by guys walking precariously on the edges of the pools. There are at least four grades of salt and I wish I knew more about the actual production because while the packets that were for sale looked pretty clean the pools themselves don’t look so clean. The colors run from white to orange depending on the other minerals in the water I suppose.

The temperature where we were – which is a little higher up than Cusco - was amazingly warm. And in the is little valley with all the salt it was quite hot – wool socks and sandals was not the best choice in footwear, but, well, as it was my only choice. Also, there air is much cleaner and the air appears almost crystalline (when it isn’t full of dust from the cars). There is a lot of farming in this area and we saw some wheat fields just starting out and some hay type stuff being harvested. This area had relatively flat fields, but we could see the terraced fields in the distance on the sides of other “hillsides.” One really cool thing about the area we were in was that there was a much better view of the higher mountains of the Andes. These bare, snow covered, peaks appear to be the same elevation as the farmed hillsides, but obviously are much higher. I don’t know what causes this phenomenon except maybe distance. The part of the Andes we are in appear more rounded, but I think the scale is just like nothing I’ve ever seen. Think the Touloume meadows part of Yosemite but on a much grander scale.

So off we went from the Salineras through Maras to the cultural site of Moray. OK – this site is pretty impressive and I have found out from a cool little book called Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost, that Moray was an Incan experimental agriculture site. Using the natural depressions in the earth the Incans set up concentric terrace farming levels. Because the different terraces receive different levels of sunlight and have different temperature ranges they were able to experiment with crop growth; some think that experimentation here lead to maize becoming a high altitude crop. A very cool visual are the stairs leading from one level to the next. The stairs are made of rocks that stick out of the walls and are still very sturdy. They zigzag down from the top to the bottom and each set of stairs line up almost perfectly. It was quite a little hike back up out of the natural depressions and when we reached the top Eustaquio was waiting to take us back to the bus stop. Along the way we picked up a bunch of local Indian women. Eustaquio actually asked us if it was ok to pick up these women. Of course he could was our response. To see the loads these women are carrying would make anyone cringe. We ended up taking a little detour through Maras picking up and dropping off people. This is also where we realized that a taxi ride costs about a sol for a simple to and from.

We finally caught a bus after realizing that a gringo tour bus had sort of offered us a ride as it was zipping by. Oh well, we can ride with the locals – it’s much more interesting. On the ride back some kids and I traded Spanish and English homework. I did theirs and they did mine – it was a fun way to make friends.

Back to classes and finally dinner at which, last night, I treated myself to a really nice dinner at the Inka Grill which is a very classy (but touristy) restaurant on the Plaza de Armas that serves Nuevo Indian food. I had alpaca and quinoa (Michelle – you could make this no problem) and a warm pineapple desert cooked with chicha de jora and anisette flavored ice cream. I still haven’t had cuy or actual chichi de jora yet, but there is a time for everything!

So – I still need to document the Paucartambo Fiesta de La Virgen del Carmen weekend, but it’s just going to have to wait – that is a whole post in itself with many amusing “I’m too old for this” moments.

Take care and next week David and I will be hiking the Inca trail with 6,000 others!

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

July 09, 2006

Altitude is Interesting

***New Photos Posted***
***New Google Earth KMZ file*** File opens in Google Earth

It’s been almost a week I think since my last update and coincidentally my last shower! I write this in Cusco in my icebox room (this part of the building really never sees the light of day) dressed in long underwear, pants, a tee shirt, two long sleeve shirts and a Patagonia Micropuff jacket. Oh, I forgot the hat and the fact that I’m under the covers in bed. Besides not having plumbing system that you can put toilet paper in no one here has heat. The plumbing I can understand these building and sewer systems are old, but no heat? It’s COLD!!!

I left Curahuasi with assurances that it was all down hill to Limatambo. Let’s just say that contrary to popular belief, the locals actually do ok on distances, but terrain is a completely different story. It may be since most of the travel is done in these crowded little buses that will take you from anywhere to anywhere. In a car no one really pays attention to the subtleties of terrain anyway. People only notice a lot of up or a lot of down. Gradual inclines and descents are ignored except by truck drivers. The descent continued into the Apurímac Valley towards the river, a view which apparently (according to my footprints guidebook) inspired Thornton Wilders’ The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I can believe this vista has inspired a book, imagine the Colorado wilderness without the development. A huge snow-topped peak in the background, a winding river below and lots and lots of nothing else.

And then I was riding by the river, or actually below a little branch of it. There were little channels of water carved out in red soil within the rocks that made up the river bed. This must be a sight to see in the summertime with the rains. Now it it all dried up and people have made big triangular mounds of rocks - like Andy Goldsworthy – but with less attention to gradual change of color. This is where the gradual uphill nature of the rest of my day became apparent. Since the descent had taken me quite far down out in altitude, the heat of the day was more intense and there ware no cooling effects of elevation to ease the midday heat. Instead, there were insects.

My favorite bug of the day was a biting black beetle looking bug. This creature is at first just vaguely annoying. The bite doesn’t really hurt – less than a mosquito - but it leaves this tremendous mark that changes over the course of a few days. At first there’s nothing and then a few hours later there is a little pin prick of blood with a rosy circle around the bite. It still doesn’t itch. Then a few days later the rosy part becomes quite red and finally it itches a little. I’m sure that if you were actually warm these would itch quite a bit more. After a few more days they look like quarter inch sized red blotches. If these are bad would someone please tell me? My legs are covered with them.

Finally, I arrived in Limatambo after pushing my bike up that last hill right as school was getting out in the afternoon and with assistance found the one and only hospedaje in town. According to the little boy and girl I was conversing with later in the evening, there is one hospedaje and four restaurants. It’s a little intimidating walking into these places (this one happened to be attached to a one of the thriving restaurants) at the midday meal and ask for a room. There is really no need to ask the price or whether there is a window or not or all those things books tell you to do because there is only one place in town, it is usually clean albeit cold, and it is usually pretty cheap. In this case, it was s/. 10 which is about three dollars US. I parked my bike by the slab of beef hanging up in the back courtyard where everyone was running around dealing with the lunch crowd. I focused on not dropping my stuff into the blood on the ground and getting my gear up the steps. It takes 4-5 trips now including the bike which some places let me take to the room and some don’t.

I had a great afternoon in Limatambo eating egg sandwiches and walking around. Egg sandwiches – what a great concept. Cheap and with some protein and relatively easy to come by – makes for a great lunch or breakfast. The main square is undergoing some renovations currently with new pavement going in. The neat thing about Limatambo is that most of the roads are paved with good sidewalks and there are even benches on the sidewalks here and there. The square and church are well taken care of and obviously used. On the way back to the hospedaje there were a group of girls playing a jumping/clapping game with string so I asked if I could watch and one brought me a seat.

It was fascinating to watch this game both because of the amount of exertion needed at altitude and the variations. It is played with two girls standing across from each other essentially holding a loop of string up with their ankles. The string is held at various levels on the body: ankle, calf, knee, hips, waist, arms, shoulders, neck, eyes, above head with hands. At each level there is a different series of jumps/claps and chants to say and if you step on the string, do the wrong move, or say the wrong word your turn ends. The levels as I recall are: three motions jumping, 11 motions jumping, 16 motions jumping, two variations with the head, three motions clapping, clapping reciting vowels, clapping reciting full name, clapping reciting days of the week, and clapping reciting months of the year. Pretty cool. The crazy thing is after doing this for about an hour they all ran off to play volleyball for two or more hours. I took a nap.

After the side of beef incident I decided that chicken was more the dinner for me that night and set off to find it in one of the three remaining restaurants. I know that all the meat that I eat comes from stands on the street and is carted around in wheel barrels and the like, but I just wasn’t in the mood to be confronted with the meat that evening. It turns out I had this great polenta (or maybe quinoa) based soup and pollo dorado - chicken in a red sauce – with the ubiquitous papas and rice. It hit the spot and was following by a cup of mate. Off to bed for me as the second pass was loomig.

I’ll shorten this a bit. The ride up the second pass was much nicer as the grade of the road wasn’t as steep as the first pass. I rode up most of the pass and was followed for a bit by a really evil looking stinging insect with what looked like an inch long stinger nose. Saw a man hit his wife who was arguing with him – felt bad, but stayed out of the way. To her credit, she deflected the blows and just kept badgering him. Passed a Frenchman who has been on the road for three years and was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I guess I would be too if I had been riding for three years. Towards the top of the pass saw no people and two goats which I’m not sure were domesticated. Towards the top of this pass there were no more houses, farms, stands, anything except a mining operation and a bus now and again. The winter sun plays tricks on your eyes as it seems like the sun is setting, but really it is only 1pm. It is very low on the horizon and while it doesn’t set until 6pm or so seems to go down much earlier. This was one occasion where the locals got the distance wrong. There was a small pre-pass that I think they were all thinking of when I got distance estimates, but the really pass was a good 5-7 km beyond. Maybe they just don’t go that far often.

Something here about maps. This pass, Abra Huillique, is listed on the maps as being 4100m which is pretty high. In reality, this pass is about 3800m and the other one from Abancay has it beat by 200m. Why this is shown as a pass and the other isn’t is a mystery to me. I was planning on a really rough day and it turned out to be hard, but not nearly as difficult as the other pass. Also, they don’t mark the passes like we do in the US – you just have to guess – or use a GPS. Once over the top I stopped at a toll booth and chatted with one of the operators and his two sons. He kept calling me Jennifer Lopez once he learned that my name was Jennifer. That joke is growing old, but it is a cross-cultural one. He tried to get me to adopt one of his sons. And so off I went.

The stark change from barren rocks to beautiful fields was an odd switch but it was a beautiful afternoon and it was an easy 15 km ride into Anta in a huge glacial valley wehre everything was green and gold and you could see a huge peak in the distance. Once in Anta, a taxi driver showed me the two hospedajes in town and while on the way to check in I was almost accosted by an enthusiastic Brazilian who said that he too was cycling around Peru.

So this Brazilian was my first brush with the type of traveler who will take you for all you’re worth if they can. At first, the enthusiasm was great. He wanted to go here and there and had been here for two years when he was only planning on being here for a month. Then the stories began. His bike and all his money was stolen (two years ago) and he worked really hard to get a second-hand Peruvian bike. Then his newly recouped stuff was burnt when the house he was staying in was set afire by kids lighting fireworks at Christmas. So now he was working for a “national champion” bike racer who was a bike mechanic now in Anta. The guy really did race bikes, but I question the national champion bit. He apparently had an awful accident and did a pretty bad face plant. That ended his bike racing career. I watched him unbend a crumpled wheel and begin to put it back into shape. Most people will tell you that the wheel is not longer sound or safe, which may be true, but when you don’t have enough money to buy a new wheel you get this guy to fix your old crumpled one.

Then the Brazilian started asking me for my maps. Long story short, he started asking me for all my stuff “when I was done with it”. The GPS, the maps, the guidebook, because it would really help out his research for his book. Come on, the GPS? He was starting to act as if because I came from the US where a moderate income in US terms equated to a fortune in Peruvian/Brazilian terms that I could just give him what ever he wanted. That’s when the warning bells that were already ringing started clamoring. The next morning he actually asked me to buy him a GPS, just a $200 one and then asked me to write to companies to get sponsors for him. I, in my oh, so tactful way, told him to write to the companies himself. “I don’t have the addresses,” he said. “They are on the internet which you’ve already told me you are more than proficient with,” I responded. So on that note which, was still a good one, we said our goodbyes and I rode off into the morning light up another big incline towards Cusco.

I think I’ll save Cusco for another post as my fingers are pretty cold and I’m getting hungry.

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

Take care everyone come visit Peru!

July 04, 2006

Walking up the Andes

So the last stop was Nasca. I have covered the distance to Curahuasi in two phases: rapid and snails pace.

Getting a bus ticket out of Nasca was an exercise in patience. The first place was Imperial service only which means that for s/.100 you got a reclining seat, dinner and breakfast. In retrospect, this now seems like a good idea. They left at 8pm. When I checked in a second time the 8pm was full (mind you this was 1 hour later so it was probably full when I checked the first time). The next place didn’t go to Abancay even though the guidebook said that it did. I then stumbled across Patrick who has been cycling around Central and South America for about 7 months and is loving it. He suggested Flores, the company he rode down on, but when I tried they said that they couldn’t take my bike. When asked why the answer was that it had something to do with no one was coming down from Abancay so the luggage space was empty but going up it was full and there wasn’t much space anyway. I rode out to Expreso Wari, which was supposed to have 6 trips a day to Abancay but only had two, to check out their prices and schedule. The low end bargain had space for the bike and the best price and a decent time. Forty soles but the bus left at 11pm and arrived, supposedly, at 8am. Sold.

As it was now 10:30am I had a lot of time on my hands to kill so I headed back to town on my bike to check out of my room, load up the bike, and kill time. I had Chicharonnes sandwiches for breakfast, wrote some long emails, found the adjustable wrench I need. The wrench was more difficult than one would think. All the ferreterias have the tiny wrench or the huge monstrosity, but none seem to have any sized in between. After being shown the small one I said that it was too small did they have anything bigger. Mind you I’m looking right at the size I need which is right next to where he got the initial wrench. He’s routing around and I point it out to him. “This one?” Yeh, duh. I have a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t asking for a bigger one correctly; who knows what I was saying. What else. I tried the tuna fruit from a stall. This is a cactus fruit and they peel it for you and you eat the bright magenta colored frut pips and all. The nice lady indicated that they would pass. I bought fruit, papaya & orange juice, and cookies from street vendors. These ladies selling baked good all make them themselves and most of them are very good. I like the dulce de leche cookies. I stuffed most of this away for the bus trip later.

Onward to the square to sit in the shade. The Plaza des Armas is a great place in any of these towns where there were Spanish and the community gathers there every evening before dinner to socialize (although it seems to me that people are socializing all the time) and hang out. There are couples and kids and men and women and a gringo or gringa here and there. This was before social hour, but as I was looking around for a trashcan for my fruit detruis a couple struck up a conversation with me. It was fun and the man took to writing the question down as I could understand that better. I got all sorts of tough questions: What to you like about Peru, what don’t you like about Peru, What to you like about Peruvian, what don’t you like about Peruvians, cost of traveling to here vs Europe or elsewhere, where I was going, George Bush?, why Iraq?, Oil, what did I think about their new president (Alan-I think), Venezuela’s politics, Bolivia’s politics?. Fun stuff like that. While I know some of what is going on with the politics here and in Bolivia and Venezuela, I don’t know enough to converse on it. We parted way and I went to search out Patrick for a beer before sitting at the bus station for 2 hours.

The bus. Apparently it passed us by and the manager and a nice Peruvian backpacker of sorts help me lug the bags over to the bus. We shoved all the bags on and I went over to supervise the loading of the bike. I had learned the word side in order to say “It needs to be on the other side” The gear side needs to be on top or there is a high probability that the derailleur will get bent. Everything got loaded including myself and off we went. I ended up sitting next to the backpacker.

As we headed off into the night I realized that everyone, and I mean everyone had blankets out. I had heard that the buses got cold, but I didn’t understand until the wind started blowing in the cracks in the windows, how cold. With three top layers on I was ok, but my legs were a little cold. The bus was packed with both people and cargo. There was almost no space for the bike and there were packages in the last 3 rows of seats, the bathroom and the floor where we were sitting. You just stepped on them to get in and out of your seat. We went up for about 2.5 hours and then just stopped. In a fitful sleep, I could hear someone banging at something for about 1.5 hours and then we started off again. It could have been overheating due to the altitude as much of the climb is done in the first 2.5 hours by vehicle. Good luck Anton! Off we went for a few more hours with a bathroom break, a caldo break about 5 minutes from the bathroom break, and then the exciting road to Tintay.

By now the sun had risen and while it was still cold on the bus it was better then the night chills. We were cruising along about to pass by this rickty little bridge when the bus started slowing down. We turned and much to my disbelief, started across the bridge. Yikes, I was too enthralled to be scared. Up, up, up we went to the little town of Tintay where we unload what seemed like a department stores worth of stuff - much of it sewn into potato sacks. There were doors, baskets of oranges, garbage cans, a washing machine (maybe), and a million sacks. Many of the people got of here too. Apparently, much of the town speaks Quechuan. Back down the dusty road and onto the main highway again.

Abancay. There isn’t much nice to say about Abancay. Individuals were somewhat friendly especially at the restaurant on the square where I had a wonderful but unappreciated dish of Caldo de Gallina. This particular restaurant only sold this dish so it was finely tuned. The altitude had finally gotten to me and I had no hunger whatsoever. I made myself eat the soup anyway as it was good and nourishing. I do not recommend the hostel that I stayed in. It’s called El Sol and there are many others that would have been better, but after pushing my bike up the hill from the bus station I just took the closest one. I learned my lesson there. The outside looked ok, freshly painted with a café attached. I refused to go to the café. For some reason I decided that I did not want to have a private bathroom. I think it was because they were charging too much so I went with the 10 sole deal. A room without a view (or a window), shared bathroom (where I walked in on someone peeing in the dark), and a teen who laughed with a high pitched giggle when ever I approached and always asked where I was going. There was a concert in town the day I arrived, but as I hadn’t really slept on the bus and the effects of altitude were beginning to get to me I decided to bag it. The funny thing is about traveling so far, it is quite a bit about the journey and what you see along the way and not so much the tourist spots that you check off. This concert would have been fantastic, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open so I had to pass. After being awakened at 3am by knocking at the front door and then at 3:30 am by and alarm clock and the radio turned full blast I fumbled around for my earplugs and got a few hours of sleep. It was also this morning that I realized that besides the lethargy of altitude I had finally succumbed to the traveler problem. Oh well. I left the next day.

So now riding. Let’s talk about hills. There are hills and there are the Andes and let me tell you the Andes are kicking my butt. I rode with a mountain biker for the first few kilometers out of town up and up and up and had to stop pretty constantly. I should have actually stopped more, but I wanted to get a little farther away from the urban settlement. Finally he ditched me to ride with a friend of his and I never saw him again. The word on the street was that the pass was 30km or so from Abancay. A breeze you say, think again. Think NO DOWNHILL ANYWHERE. Bit by bit I slogged my way up the mountain(s) and got higher and higher about Abancay. From a distance it almost looks cute. The terrain is pretty dry but not desert dry. It smells of eucalyptus and reminds me of the foothills of California but higher. In the sun and with exertion you feel hot, but as soon as you hit shade you realize that it isn’t really that warm out. The sun is deceiving. I haven’t worn short sleeves since the first days out of Lima. Here I use the long sleeves as a cover up and as a social thing. I want to look as asexual as possible and I think that it is working a little bit. I don’t think that people realize that I’m female unless they see the braid or they look closely.

After about 5 hours of riding and walking I rounded the bend to hear a babbling brook and lots of kids voices. There was a field on the side of a hill with a few flat spots that was perfect and while I had only gone 18km in about 5 hours I was beat. The woman that came flying down the hill towards me was all smiles and she gladly let me set up camp even showing me where a flat spot was. The kids all helped me carry my stuff up and once I got the tent up we looked at pictures and they took turns being pushed on the bike. It was a beautiful view and both the dog and the location were tranquille (safe). Once the kids left for dinner (about 4pm) I started the delightful task of getting water and making my own dinner. Dinner here was important because part of the reason I was so beat is that I hadn’t had much to eat all day. A tostada that tasted like pork fat dipped in my mate de coca and a choclo bread which I also dipped in my tea, various fruits and that was about it. My dinner consisted of a mix of large bead cous cous, mixed with tuna and that delightful Penzeys spice called Old World. While I wasn’t hungry due to altitude it was necessary and I retreated into the tent to eat. An attempt at clean up (cooking with kerosene is not fun) and I was off to bed. It was 6:13pm. So if I ever make fun of anyone again for going to be early remind me about this one.

A word on altitude. Last time I exerted myself at this altitude (lower actually) I got awful headaches. This time it hasn’t been the headaches, but just the fact that the oxygen isn’t getting to my muscles. This problem of oxygen to muscles and just plain breathing often makes pushing the bike a suitable solution to riding the bike especially on the slightly more inclined switchbacks. There are nice gradual switchbacks and there are “what were they thinking” switchbacks. Most of this road consists of the “what were they thinking” switchbacks. Another thing is appetite. I have none and while you need to eat it’s difficult to shove the food into your mouth – you just don’t want it. It really helps to have salt and spices and a nice cup of tea in these circumstance, even if everything smells like kerosene. I was taking altitude medicine up until today (July 4th) and that may have helped.

In the morning was more kerosene cooking with a cup of mate de coca and a bowl of goopy quinoavena. This concoction is meant to be had as a drink but as it was just oatmeal I made it a little heftier and treated it like oatmeal with the addition of the absolutely necessary salt and a little sugar. Not bad and very good for you. With two full meals under my belt I was ready to start back up the hill. I knew that there were about 20km to go according to a kid whom I bought water from the day before so I set my sights on the pass and would see what happened after that. I have to admit that besides looking up at the mountains here and there and looking do at how high I had risen I didn’t really think about much other then moving forward. You could tell when lunch hour was due to the drop in traffic and about two or three people offered to take me to the top. One guy said that it was 5 km more so I figured another hour or two walking ( you lose all track of time) and when I hit kilometer 5 I was horrified to look up and see at least three more huge switchbacks. The bastard – it was 7km not 5km. The joys of a car – how was he to know exactly how many km it was to the top. People wanted to talk to me but I was too exhausted to breath much less figure out how to say things in Spanish. Oh, on the coast they call the language español, but in the mountains they call it castellano. That is the difference. The people in Lima looked at me like I was crazy when I mention castellano – that’s ok, now I know where it’s used. I passed Quechuan potato farmers, rock haulers, lots of couples or women with animals. I can’t really tell who speaks Quechuan and who speaks Spanish. You would think that the woman in the brightly colored skirts and the bowler type hats would be Quechuan, but often they speak Spanish. I gave up trying to figure out and just said Buenos Dias or Tardes or Hola to everyone. If they answered in a lot of syllables I figured it was Quechuan.

So I pushed up the last 2 km of road way and got to the top. There was a nice lade that said, “Un poco mas.” And this time she was RIGHT! At the top I tried to smile as I took a picture but I just couldn’t between a variety of infirmaries and just being too tired I was happy enough to get a picture. The top was at about elevation 13,125 ft according to my trusty GPS. Pretty good for a New Yorker. I was trying to cheat at the end and hitch a ride, but there were no empty cars around when you needed one. I’m glad that I did it myself though. And tomorrow there is another one to tackle!

The descent was fantastic. Twenty seven (27) of downhill and one tiny little hill that I, yes, walked up. Twenty seven miles. It was exhilarating even keeping the speeds low. On this side of the mountain, or in this valley I should say, there is a lot of farming. It seems to be grains rather than potatoes and there are a lot of animals. Funny think is I can’t remember what type at the moment. It’s not llamas – haven’t seen one of them yet. I think I usually see the people on the side of the road and I’m looking at them rather than the animals. Perhaps it’s cows, that makes the most sense because I haven’t seen goats recently and there aren’t that many horses. For the descent I put on my heavier shirt (on top of the other two), the shell jacket, and some mittens on top of my cycling gloves. No need for the extra warm layer as the shell shielded me from the wind chill. The hard part was breaking and controlling the wobble. I now think that the wobble is really due to over loading and it wasn’t too bad. I could head for the shoulder to beak the oscillations or as it turns out just back pedaling and moving my weight around helped. Riding into the U-turns really helped. At one point in the descent I even passed a truck. That was safer than trying to break and stay behind him because the real danger with the downhill (besides flying over the side) was having your hands cramp. After awhile you develop a rhythm that allows your hands to rest, the bike to stay at a steady speed. It was really something else.

Upon arrival at Curahuasi, I was directed towards my current location. It is a clean, pleasant hospadaje at the East end of town, where I am now happily ensconced for a rest day with a slight cold. I went to take a hot shower upon arrival and much to my dismay (shivering with no clothes on ) I discovered that there was no hot water. We chatted and for a price (which I was more than willing to pay) I got hot water but that was after three family member got involved trying to get it running. It involved a propane tank, a meter on the side of the building and I don’t know what actually occurred to make it work, but it was wonderful. I washed my hair for the first time in 5 or 6 days, brushed my teeth for the first time in two, had a toilet where I could sit down, and scrubbed the kerosene soot from my hands.

I’ll leave you with these two things. Once the dirt was scrubbed away I could clearly see the bumps and bruises from my first fall. I was going so slowly as to not be moving at all and couldn’t get my shoe out of the clip when I just toppled over into the drainage ditch that lines the road from top to bottom. I looked up to see a farmer on the hill above me looking down so I waved at him. He waved back and didn’t laugh. My plans are to try to make it to Cusco in 3 or 4 days. If I can get to Limatambo tomorrow I will have a bed to rest in before the attack on the peak, but I have a feeling that the road to Limatambo is on a gradual incline which isn’t as bad as a pass road isn’t easy. Limatambo over the pass (4200m) and down to Anta. And finally an easy ride into Cusco from Anta to try to find a hostel for a few weeks. Perhaps I can try to bargain for extended stay rates!

Feelings after the first day of ascent:
1) Estoy cansada
2) Some dogs really, really suck. I’m glad I got rabies shots
3) At altitude I understand even less in Spanish
4) People can be very nice even with a language barrier on my part
5) Falling isn’t so bad at zero mph
6) Food and water is important whether you want it or not
7) The camping gear was necessary – all of it.
8) Dictionaries rock

No photos (my connection is - and I´m not kidding - 10.0 mbps - and you thought dial up was bad).
If you´ve gotten this far here is another
Google Earth file
showing the ascent (part of the bus ride is missing but each and every glorious switchback of the pass is shown)

June 30, 2006

Google EarthKMZ - Day 1-4

I forgot to add this last night...

Google Earth KMZ file of day 1 - 4

It opens in Google Earth

Cheers,
Nif

June 29, 2006

I like trucks.

Hola –

It’s funny. With this much time on my hands it’s easy to do a bit of writing and file keeping.

I cheated.

Wednesday morning Anton woke me up and announced that he was resting in Ica for a day and also wanted to get his stuff together. I persisted in questioning and it came out that he wanted to see how things would be solo and as I had been planning on going solo anyway it wouldn’t be a problem for me. So after breakfast together, I packed up my stuff, called David and my parents, and took off alone to Pulpa.

The first 20 miles or so went just fine. The terrain was sort of green and there wasn’t much wind at all. I passed a million and one fundos which I believe are farms of sorts. I cruised through Huancachina and then Santiago. Deciding that I would most likely be camping I stopped in La Venta to pick up some cooking supplies: pasta and oil and tuna fish and continued on. Crusing along, I ran into some Peruvian guys who were cycling to the Ocucaje turnoff. There were a few stands selling soda and a dog that nipped at my heels much to the glee of everyone – the highway police tried to make the dog go away, but to no avail. Even the handy dandy Dog Dazer didn’t seem to be doing much, so I just pedaled hard. Up over a little hill and then…NOTHING. It seems I had hit the desert.

So now it’s about 11am and all the fog (neblina) has burned off and it’s scorching hot. I am wearing my jacket and this Smartwool shirt (which is worth it’s weight in gold) and I have removed the pants part of my shorts. The cycling began to be difficult as the road was going, ever so imperceptibly uphill and there was either a crosswind or a headwind coming at me. I plodded along for about 4 or 5 miles and stopped in the shade of a road sign for lunch. Four or five miles is nothing but under these conditions with the long, gradual hills and the heats it seemed impossible. After the bananas and trail mix from home I hopped back on the tank and started pedaling again. Each time I crested a hill that took 20-30 minutes to climb I expected a little down hill at least, but no, there was not really any down, just the small curve required by highway design to start the rise of the next hill. After switching my jacket for the light colored pullover (I though I had lost my sunscreen) I started off again. This is when the truck stopped.

After getting the tank going again I rode up to the truck. There was a man who had walked around to the right side (the shady side) and was smiling. It was a nice smile that said “What the hell are you doing riding the middle of the day, alone and female?” I took it as a good sign and shook the hand that was stuck out at me. After some rudimentary conversation about where we were both heading towards, I made the decision to hitch a ride to Nasca in the camion. And what a good decision it was.

After taking off all my bags and storing them in the truck we lashed the bike to the tarp rope and set off. I’m actually surprised that the bike didn’t fall off. We drove on for kilometer after kilometer of desert where there were absolutely no water stands, no tiendas, no nothing but sun and sand. There was a huge descent into Pulpa, my original destination for the evening, and an even bigger climb out with another descent at the top. About halfway from Pulpa to Nasca things started getting green again, but the road was in no way flat as it seems from a comfy bus.

The ride with Miguel was a pleasant two hour or so event and we conversed in Spanish although I was talking in the present tense only and he was describing things using only nouns and baby sentences. It worked out just fine. He works for Gloria, which is a big company although I don’t know what the focus is. He was transporting canned or boxed milk, yogurt, and fruit punches. His route for this trip was Lima, Ica, Nasca, Arequipa, and Cusco. He did invite me to go the whole way with him as my final destination was Cusco, but I declined. It would have been fun though. His family lives in Arequipa: a wife and two children – one boy and one girl. I asked their names, but since I couldn’t spell them we will have no record.

Upon arriving in Nasca we were going to lunch together, but I needed to go into the center to find a hostel but the truck couldn’t go into the center. So we said our goodbyes with a handshake and off we went in opposite directions.

I got a hotel pretty quickly and set of to inform Anton of the conditions and to email David and the parents of my change in plans. On the truck ride to Nasca, I also made the decision to bus up the Andes until Abancay. It just seems to make more sense as I will not be able to make more than 20 miles a day going uphill at altitude. Abancay to Cusco will take me at least a week. I will deal with staying in Cusco, when I get there. See everyone, I told you I would be smart about this. While I will miss the ascent and the privilege of saying that I rode up the Andes I will still have lots of time riding around in the Andes under my belt by the time this is all said and done. I will stay in Abancay for two days to try to get used to the altitude – it is at approximately 4,000m more or less. I think that is about 12,000 ft. Also, the terrain, from what I’ve heard, is pretty dry up to Abancay and after that it is verdant. I don’t know about verdant but it should be green at least.

Today I did something that I have always wanted to do – fly over the Nasca lines. Alas Peruanas books flights for $40 USD which is a fortune here for a 35 minute flight over the major glyphs. I started talking to the people in the van on the way to the airport who were from Holland, Slovakia, and Italy and we hung out and chatted while waiting about an hour and a half for our 11am flight. No matter. It turns out that they were all speaking Italian in the van as the two women from Holland and Slovakia had both lived in Rome and the guy was Italian. Even with a year of Italian I didn’t understand much. That’s ok – they were nice enough to switch to English most of the time. I envy that ability. We had all taken motion sickness pills as we had heard how many people throw up due to the heat and the tight curves, but surprisingly, we survived without throwing up. The lines and geoglyphs are amazing if only because they were made so long ago and they are everywhere. There are straight lines all over the place and the shapes apparently have shamanistic meanings. The represent shaman imagery from all of Peru: the desert, the ocean, and the jungle. We saw: the whale, the triangles & trapezoids, the astronaut, the monkey, the dog, the condor, the spider, the humming bird, the Alcatraz, the parrot and the tree & hands. They are quite far from each other and you can only wonder how in the world they were made. By the end we were all feeling just a big queasy and were all red in the face (with our pale skins). Tonight we will meet for dinner and a beer and tomorrow I will set out to find a bus ticket to Abancay.

Things eaten today:
Two rolls with marmalade
A taste of chicharonnes (meat – maybe pork, onions, corn of sorts and onions - I’m getting it for breakfast tomorrow morning!)
A cup of instant coffee
Two more rolls
A yummy pastry sort of like short bread with dulce de leche filling – yum!
An orange
A few crackers
Lots of water

June 27, 2006

Day 3 - hot and stinky

Howdy everyone. I’m in an internet café in Ica, Peru typoing on a machine that TOTALLY SUCKS so my spelling will be pretty bad.

We have been riding for three days now and things seem to be going well. The first two days we got about 35 miles and today it was ummmm, 78 kilometers what ever that is in miles. I’m beginning to think in kilometers and have set the GPS to use such. On Sunday, we took a bus from Lima to Cañete at about 6:30 in the morning and I think that even though the bus stations may be dens of iniquity, they are much nicer than any bus station that I’ve seen in the US. They are clean and while full of buracracy they function quite well. You see, everyone rides the bus here.

The first day was sort of grimy. Grey skys actually mists/fog and sand dunes made of dirt. Not very pleasant, but ok. There are a lot of buses and trucks on the Pan American highway. At mile 32 we had just descended a huge hill and there was a “resort” hostel and restaurant. Well, it turns out that the hostel was closed for the winter (it is winter here at 60-80 degrees F depending on where you are) but they let us camp. No restuarant though so Anton went down the road a bit and got some eggs, pasta and potatoes. Let me tell you, peeling potatoes with a dull knife is not a very fun task. The funny thing is I was using his Russian made knife as I could not find mine. When I did find it he proclaimed that it wasn’t that sharp. Hmmm, it is straight from the manufacture and it beats the hell out of that piece of crap without a handle. The next task was starting the stove. Cecilia and I had going on that trek to find kerosene and I’m glad we did. The stove lit, but doesn’t really work correctly, but it worked enough to cook the pasta. Oh – cooking with kerosene is stinky. So for dinner we had a delicious concotion of fried potatoes, scrambled eggs and pasta allll in one dish. It was the best food ever.

Day two was difficult. Stiff muscles and a little bit of contention between the two of us as to how to find a hostel. I was not in the mood for searching around for the cheapest dive when I had a guide book right there to tell me where to go. Oh, and I got scolded for being rude to the 3 people crowded around me shoving papers in my face telling me that they had the best hostel for us. Me, rude? The whole situation was rude, but we eventually paid the $10 (US) for a room in a recommended hostel and had a warm shower. The food this second day was great. Breakfast was some snacks and about an hour into the ride we stopped for breakfast/lunch and no it wasn’t brunch. I had a great chicken sandwich with papas. The condiment of choice is aji – chili sauce – and it is yummy. We then had cebiche which was different than the stuff I had had in Lima. It was little tiny fillets in a yellow lime juice so there must have been a spice in it. The corn looked more like our corn rather than the choclo and the requisite camote (sweet potatoes) were included. Finished our beer and water and we were on the road again. For 5 minutes.

Then Anton discovered that his derailleur was bent so we went to some back street to find the “bike shop” which was a little stand. As soon as we stopped about 7 people crowded around us and the guy wrenched his derailleur a little more in line. Then we got the hell out of there up a one way street. We are following the traffic rules about as much as the locals.

Dinner was parradilla – steak. And a damn fine steak it was with fries of sorts and a beer for about $7. Just about as much as our hostel. I also bought my first empanada which I ate along the road today (Tuesday). Delicious – even cold.

Today we covered a lot of distance and made it to Ica. The terrain has changed to mostly desert but somehow they are growing things here as there a oranges and mandarines sold all along the highway closer to Ica. And the area seems to be known for olive oil too. Today was hot and we broke out the sunscreen. I think I still got a little sun and by the end of the day we were both sapped by riding for hours in the sun. Ica is quite big. This hostel is in the $7 dollar range rather than the $10 range and the bed sags, there is no towel, no hot water (I took a hooker bath in the sink), no toilet seat and as far as I can tell no one else in the hostel. It is cleanish and we did get toilet paper and a tiny pink bar of soap. In the distance obscured by either dust or smog was our first glimpse of the foothills. They are very dry – much drier than the foothills of the Northern California Sierras. We will start up in about three days.

Some interesting things along the road:
A lion in a cage on a truck
A dog eating a dog
A donkey with a hose as a bridle and reins
Lots and lots of trucks and vans who LOVE to beep at you

I think that is enough for now.

June 24, 2006

¡Muy rico!

Today is my last day in Lima. Stacey left this morning and I am trying to pull all of my crap together into the smallest amount of bags so that I can get it all on the bus without having it be stolen. There are so many little things like lighters and pens that can get lost in the bags and for the bus ride I actually need to use my backpack as there are some expensive things that I would like to keep for at least a little while.

I am to meet Anton at 6:30am tomorrow morning at a bus station in Central Lima. Not the ideal place to be at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday, but with mucho suerte I will be just fine. We are going to call tonight to arrange for a taxi in the morning as getting one off the street at that time in the morning isn’t the best idea. I’m ok with a little more money for a lot more security.

No one seems to drink water here possibly because tap water is not potable and it either needs to be boiled or bought. Our family boils it and since Stacey and I felt guilty for constantly asking for water we bought ours. Instead of water though there is a variety of liquids at the various meals. They have this weird breakfast drink which I believe is just really, really runny, fine oatmeal called Avena. Everyone here calls it “quicker” with the accent on the quick but what they are really saying is QUAKER as in Quaker food products. Avena means oatmeal, but it’s not like that lumpy bowl of goo that many people eat for breakfast. It’s more like a thick, frothy breakfast shake. It is made with Avena mix, vanilla, milk (most likely evaporated as I have yet to see an actual bottle of milk), and chocolate. Sometimes it’s apple instead of chocolate. I much prefer the chocolate. Also at breakfast is freshly made juice from fruits that I have never seen and cannot spell much less pronounce. One I can both say and spell is grenedilla and it is damn good. I think we had papaya and mango on other mornings. So far there is juice and Avena. After those two calorie laden liquids you get a cup of coffee or tea. With all this liquid to drink we were usually a minute or two late for our class.

The coffee. Yes, coffee in Peru is as bad as they say it is. It is instant and for a culture that has no problem peeling the rind off everything that they eat for some reason feels that making a pot of coffee takes too much time. Not sure about that logic. The only thing that makes the coffee palatable is the evaporated milk. With the milk – it isn’t bad. At the school however there was no milk but there was chocolate mix. Unlike the US where chocolate milk mix has sugar in it, this doesn’t so when you make it you need to add sugar to taste. My drink of choice at the school was 1.5 spoonfuls of instant coffee, 1 spoon of chocolate mix, and 2 spoons of sugar.

Chicha moreda is the drink of choice at the big afternoon meal. It is purple and made from big purple corn. There is another chicha that I would like to try which is more like Kentucky moonshine and is homebrewed in the Andes. Can’t wait.

Finding water along the way will be a little more difficult. I think that the key is to buy it when you see it and farther up in the Andes (how exciting, THE ANDES) we will probably have to carry some extra water for cooking and drinking when camping. We can’t always drink beer and beer is in those heavy glass bottles anyway.
Finding food on the way without having stomach problems will be the next new experience (after the bus station, and the first night camping or in a hotel). Apparently, something like 70% of people have some sort of food related problem when traveling and it isn’t fun. Cecilia, my friend from the homestay, suggested the following tactics for finding good food along the road.

When selecting a place to eat look for the most populated places. She said that the townsalong the way, which are few and far between, have restaurants for the tourist buses and places like that are better than the little carts. Since Anton got dysentery (maybe) from one of these little carts I think that avoiding them is a great idea even though everything looks so good. The more people the better and the more non-tourists even better. Also, this is not just a foreigner thing; it’s for everyone traveling in Peru which was a little surprising, but rotten meat is rotten meat.

It is also ok to find a woman who is cooking for her family and ask to buy a meal from her. If the food is good enough for her family it is good enough for me. Also, this means that the ingredients have a better chance of not being spoiled – rotten meat and the like. I would have never really though of this but she said that everyone is so poor that a knock on the door means potential income. It should cost about 5 soles for dinner which is about $2.25 or so. I can deal with that.

The language barrier should not be considered a problem in my mind. Maybe that’s because I am now speaking Españinglish. No one can understand my English, no one can understand my Spanish. So there will be no difference in the Sierras where they they don’t speak Spanish or English but speak the Native languages of Quechuan and in some places Amarya both of which I’m sure are misspelled. We won’t run into this for a week or so and truthfully, I don’t see it as being a problem. Communication in foreign countries, for those of us not so luck to be polyglots, is very tiring, but it is a great conversation starter. “No habla español (fill in the language)? Where you from?” See, perfect conversation starter.

Let me tell you about my lunch today. Meals always consist of a main plate, a soup, and a dessert. The main dish was another variation of rice, papas, chicken, a pea here and there in a yummy vegetable sauce made with carrots and tomatoes – more carrots than tomatoes. The soup was when things started going downhill. Usually, we have had a light soup (also called caldo) of chicken broth with a potato or two, a little piece of chicken, a piece of chocolo (a type of corn with huge kernels) and about ten noodles. Today the soup was yellow and had something in it that looked like fish. Well, after asking, I discovered that it wasn’t fish - it was an egg. I ate my first ever bowl of egg drop soup – or at least I think that’s what it was. And no Mom, it’s not really my favorite thing. Then to top things off was dessert. I knew what I was in for today because I had “talked” with Ana Marie yesterday while she was making it. Dessert in this case was rice pudding, otherwise know as Arroz con leche. While food is one of the main things that I am very excited about learning about, I am not so excited about the desserts here. I will stick to chocolate.

Update: Dinner was a little different this evening. We had rice of course, but instead of the normal leftovers from lunch we had a delicious omelet which had tuna, onion, oregano and a little, tiny bit of flour. It was like an egg pancake. Second course was the soup again. It is actually made out of a squash call Zapallo – Crema de Zapallo. Squash soup with egg. And for dessert we had the most delicious fruits: chirimoya and granadilla. The chirimoya, with a green skin like an armadillo, can be ripened much like bananas. The flesh is a creamy white with some fibers and big black seeds. It is a very creamy and rich tasting fruit. The granadilla on the other hand has to be gently peeled like and egg. It has a semi-hard orange shell which is peeled away to reveal a white pith. Under the pith is a seed pod – similar in idea to pomegranates. You eat the seeds and the flesh around the seeds and drink what ever liquid is left. Muy rico!


Another difference is that they call nuts dried fruit. This concept caused great confusion on me and Ceclia’s walk back from a not-so-great part of town where we bought kerosene from a corner store. This adventure was necessary because having known that white gas no existe in Peru I followed the suggestion of the Footprints guide book and bought some Ron de Quemar (literally rum of burning). I pulled out the stove to try out this new fuel and much to my dismay discovered that “keys” on the pump bushing that holds the plunger in is broken – thank god for duct tape. (Guess what’s on the list for Cusco honey).

Anyway,the kerosene was in a big container by the door in a small bodega on a corner. The man put one scoop into my fuel bottle but for some unknown reason he would not fill the bottle to the fill line – he would only fill it to one scoop. No matter, the ron de quemar experiment wasn’t working so hopefully this will work better.

No photos because I was stupid and forgot the password!! Until the next internet cafe.....

June 22, 2006

¡Claro!

Lima. Peru. I arrived at the airport in Lima very early Sunday morning after having a very uneventful flight. I made the acquaintance of a Peruana Sandra who works at Ernst & Young, Lima. After telling her every word that I knew in Spanish and clapping my hands every time I understood a word she said we retired to sleep on our respective chairs. We were awakened at something like 5 in the morning after having slept for about 5 hours to a delicious breakfast meal of bread with ham and cheese. I’m not being sarcastic here – I really like bread with ham and cheese for breakfast.

It’s taken about 5 days of being timid to finally break out of my shell and just ask anyone, and I mean anyone on the street for what ever it is that we happen to be looking for. Mind you I’m saying things like “How I arrive store” for “Where is a bookstore” and “The cat” for “ice”. And Stacey is saying “Walk four pictures and turn left”. Stacey and I have taken to calling our speech “Chinese Spanish” based on my experiences with ESL students in grad school and all those tourists in NYC. All niceties are banished and sentences consist of a pronoun (sometimes), a verb & a noun. The great thing is that everyone will work with you to figure out what you are trying to say.

We were in Wong, a supermercado not a giant Chinese import store, and I was trying to find a lighter for my camping stove. I asked for a encendedor and one guy sent me with another guy and we walked alllll the way to the back of the store. Apparently, they thought that I wanted a Zippo lighter so I kept saying “No, plastico, plastico” Then we went back up to the front, in front of the register to a separate counter where I was shown the .50 sole and the 1 sol lighter – they were not accessible to the customers but kept behind the counter for some reason. I tried to ask, but could not understand the answer. There was only a slight difference in size so I got the 1 sol lighter. The nice boy carried the lighter to a register where I paid for it separately. Don’t ask me why – I don’t know. Then came the exercise of paying for my items. I wanted to use a credit card and Cindy, the register person, seemed to be telling me that I couldn’t use Visa. What she was actually saying was that if it’s a credit card they need to see identification.

The exchange rate and the prices here have almost nothing to do with each other. Costs seem to be more related to usage. Books cost about the same if not more and there are definitely less of them. Food costs a little less in the local grocery stores, but in restaurants meal cost a lot less. We had a HUGE lunch today for about $6 a piece. Now, 8 hours later I’m still not hungry and am beginning to have a stomach ache. There is a lot more to say about the type of food, but not at the moment. The deal is that the prices for us seem about normal, but for a regular Peruvian family they are super expensive. The Peruvian tourist products in Lima, like sweaters and pottery, cost a lot and I think that I can find some of them in other places for much less but Stacey does not have that luxury. Of course, I can’t actually carry anything more on the bike so it’s kind of a moot point.

This afternoon I went to the bank to get money for the weeks of cycling in the Andes and while I don’t know if I got out enough I felt like a millionaire. Anton (more on him later) thinks that he can use an ATM on the road from Nazca to Cusco, but I’m not so sure. No one here really seems to have any idea what commodities are available. I had a wad of 20 sole bills shoved in my bra, 10 soles bills in my top pocket and about 100 soles in 5 sole coins in my pants pockets. I only had about $150 American dollars, but it felt like so much more.

What else. The internet.is everywhere and it only cost $1.5 soles an hour. That is about $.50. Not bad except that I have all these intricate things that I would like to do with a flash card. Now, after about 4 trips I think that all the necessary pieces are in place. The photos are uploaded to the flash drive and named correctly for upload. I finally read the directions and got the Portable Thunderbird email program talking correctly to the internet. I did crash three computers while trying to get my USB drive to work. You try reading error messages in Spanish and then getting the blue screen of death. If all goes well there will be pictures in the Photos section to accompany this posting.

Tomorrow is the last day of school and the La Rosa sisters, Cecilia and Anita, are going to show us around Central Lima. It will be fun to get out and see some things here with our new friends. Cecilia and Anita have been so helpful and the entire family has been very patient with us and or. I’ve just begun to get my Lima legs and it’s almost time to move on.

PHOTOS ARE POSTED!!!! Michelle - there is one especially for you.

June 18, 2006

In Lima

buenos dias everyone -

Stacey and I both arrived in Lima safe and sound. In fact, I was at the airport about 4 hours before the flight was to leave and managed to drink only one beer while waiting. Stacey however didn't get any beer.

The bike box is a little squished - even with the "secure wrap" that David and I discovered at JFK. It is where these nice people wrap up your luggage with somethat looks like a blue spiderweb and is used when you are afraid that your luggage won't make the trip much like mine. Let's just say mine was well used and will not be returning home with anyone.

The bike is still in the box and I will survey the potential damage tomorrow - the blue spiderweb actually squished the box and the fork/headset had a lot of pressure put on it during the flight.

And David, you were right, up does not mean up on an airplane.

We have been well fed this evening with arroz con pollo and yes, flan. I ate flan. Those of you in the know, know just how much I like flan.

More later after we meet up with Anton the 18 year old and I figure out how to get access to a USB drive. Otherwise, there will be a lot of text entries and not many picture or GPS.

Ciao ciao.

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