November 14, 2006

Playing Catch-Up with the Past


Three sets of new photos posted and don't forget to check the archives - lots of photos lately

New Google Earth kmz file: Peru to Chile!!! Download file (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!!

Salta or Waiting for the Bike Part

I arrived in Salta, Argentina expecting to be there for a few days while waiting for a part for my bike. The bike was doing something which I referred to as “wobble” and it was driving me crazy – it was impossible to ride. It turns out that my wobble (low speed and high speed) seems to be due to some combination of materials, part selection, handlebar bag use, and total weight being carried. This baffled me as I was not carrying too much gear. In fact, there was not much extra in there for an extended trip such as this one (OK – there is a lightweight computer and a book or two – but that is only 4 lbs more). It is not a design flaw though – it is simply a limitation of the pieces. My last bike – also a steel frame touring bike – had the exact same problem (and I was carrying much less weight). As it turns out, removing the handlebar bag solved the problem for the time being but I had hoped that a stronger headset would allow me to continue using the oh-so-useful handlebar bag.

Salta is warm and welcoming place after months at high altitudes and cold weather. It is possible to wear (and I did) a tee shirt and occasionally, even shorts. No socks, no long sleeve shirts, no gloves, and last but not least no HAT! I ended up being there a week waiting in vain; the part was sent by US Postal Service rather than Federal Express and arrived three weeks later – long after I had gone. But while I waited, I sat around drinking café con leche on the plaza, listening to the bells and visiting museums – what a hard life,huh?

Salta is a place where you can begin to appreciate Argentine beef and wine. There are some very decent restaurants and bars to while away the hours after you have finished drinking coffee. Some good basic selections are empanadas, bife de lomo with papas fritas or a minuta milanesa. The odd thing is that many of the restaurants appear to be catering to tourists (mostly Argentine), but somehow they manage to serve fantastic food in a cheesey atmosphere. I have no problem with that! Also, it is here where you can get your first taste of those famous Argentine wines especially from the Cafayate and Mendoza regions!


After Salta, I headed South for a few days only to be lured in by the wonders of wine in Cafayate. As I headed out of Salta, I kept passing masses of pilgrims who were on their way into town for a huge festival. One of these lucky devils found my wallet and probably attributed their luck to the Virgin. People were traveling groups or with their families or even sometimes alone. One of the most poignant images I have of the pilgrims is one of an older man walking alone. He was at least 30 km from Salta carrying a small statue of the Virgin. Where was he from? Why did he do this pilgrimage? Did he do it every year? Oh the unanswered questions.

The two day ride to Cafayate was a beautiful one that wound through horse and farm country before becoming drier again. The temperatures are pleasant here in the early Spring and most importantly, there is no rain. The first night I camped for the first time in ages and the next morning I could see the beginnings of the Quebrada de Cafayate – another beautiful and desolate canyon area separating the fertile valley landa from those of the desert.

Cafayate is a great little town to spend a few days in. The majority of the tourists only come in for the day so the evenings are rather quiet. There is wine flavored ice cream to try – Torrentes and Cabernet Sauvignon – both of which go quite well with chocolate! And, yet again, there was delicious steak to eat – a punto – medium rare. The Torrentes grape is what Cafayate is known for, but I cannot recall all of its history right now. I believe that no one else in the world really cultivates this grape or if they do it is used in blends rather than as a varietal. But here, it is the grape of choice and makes an absolutely delightful bottle of wine to drink chilled in the hot afternoon sun.

Tourist-wise I was able to take a side trip to Quilmes – a reconstructed ancient community. It was impressive to see these beautiful stone structures tucked into a natural depression on the side of a mountain. The next day, I spent a morning going horseback riding for the first time in years. It was much as I remembered – the horses were farm horses – pulled from working to carry around tourists. I was given a gaucho hat to wear and off we went up into the hills above Cafayate. The amazing thing is that the hills are just littered with the remains of houses and structures much like those at Quilmes – only they are not reconstructed. You can see dozens of mortar holes (used for grinding grains) in the rocks and everywhere you go there are pottery fragments on the ground.

Cafayate to Mendoza and Meeting Art & Judee

The night before I was to leave Cafayate, I received an email from two cyclists – Art and Judee Wickersham – who had gotten my contact information from a mutual acquaintance in Bolivia (crazy how that works, huh?). I went out to the campground to meet them, was greeted by an energetic couple in their early 60’s, offered a cup of wine and ended up talking for over an hour. It turns out that they are on a 5 year, around the world journey on their bike and were just finishing their first year on the road. They were happy to take me on as a cycling companion for awhile and we agreed to meet the next morning.

The next few weeks were a blur of camping, conversation, companionship, and wine. Art and Judee are on a tandem and when the going got tough due to winds I would just sit behind the tandem talking to Judee or watching her head swivel from side to side as she found interesting things along the side of the road to point out to Art and I. They were the best cycling companions that I have ever had – we rode approximately the same pace, liked to camp but stayed in the occasional hotel., drank wine, and stopped to see the sites instead of just powering through. I have to say these were among some of the best weeks of my trip!

Some highlights of the weeks with them…
The pass out of Cafayate and the amazing descent from ~2,000 m to approximately ~400 m. The pass was rough going, but not the worst ever. The winds increased closer to the top, buffeting us to the point of almost knocking us over. But reaching the other side was well worth it. The descent to the warmer, fertile valley took three days/two nights. On the second night in Tafi del Valle we were able to enjoy the foods of the area and got pastries and some great goat cheese and jamon for our lunches. The main descent was after Tafi del Valle and was exhilarating. We passed from an alpine valley with horses and cows and goats, to more wooded lands with raging streams below us and sheer walls on either sides, past the “Fin del Mundo”, downwards to the fertile valley on the Western edges of the pampas with rolling hills of green, green, green and as much sugar cane as the eyes could take in.

Somewhere here a few days back into the drier, flatter, windier parts of the terrain a little bug worked its way into my digestive system. I toughed it out for two days, determined not to take any Cipro but on a cooler, windy day, about a quarter of the way up an unexpected pass, it got the better of me and I left Art and Judee to hitch a ride to Catamarca where I felt so very miserable for about two days. There are stories here about the man who gave me a ride and drove me around to look for a cheap hotel, and about trying to send emails to let people know I was ok while needing to, very urgently, run for a bathroom, seeing Art & Judee on the street in Catamarca just as I was wondering where they were, and finally about beginning to feel human again – without the Cipro. I hopped on a bus to La Rioja to meet them and we were back on the road again.

The next week or so was more pleasant riding and a patchwork of details. There were more days of even dustier deserts and heavy winds, vistas looking out over pancakes of nothingingness, the annoying Argentine habits of music at all hours - Cumbia until your eyes crossed, side trip to Valle de la Luna, tourist bus breaking down – naps in the van and then came the final moment - the separation from my beloved riding partners.

We had just spent a few days sightseeing and resting in San Agustin del Valle Fertil. Recovering from the winds, doing laundry, updating journals and lazing about reading. We packed up our stuff after finally having a quiet night at the campground, headed off – me to the hostel to drop off a book and A&J to the edge of town to wait. Judee had said something that morning along the lines of “I wish I had another day to laze about” and as it turns out here wishes were granted. On the edge of town, only meters from hitting the road – their rear hub failed.

We headed to a bike shop to see what could be done and I whipped out the cassette remover tool that I had been lugging around for months. We all stood around and watched while Art and some bike mechanic took apart the pieces of the rear wheel to see what could be done. Long story short, the wheel went to San Juan while we waited, came back in working order, we headed off into a long stretch of desert and after a night of wild camping, the morning dawned with me getting a flat and the hub failing once again but this time in the middle of the desert. I headed off South to Mendoza alone and they spent hours hitching a ride and going on an even more twisted journey that eventually led them to Mendoza on the same day as me.

The Changing Journey

I rode that day and one more by myself and hitched the last hundred kilometers, skirting a huge thunderstorm, to Mendoza. It was at this point that my journey changed drastically – from a journey on bike to one in trucks, planes, buses, and occasionally the bike. Some of this was due to opportunities that came up – Easter Island for example – but some of it was taking a hard look what I wanted to accomplish with the time that I had left and what I enjoyed doing. Two things came out of this contemplation: 1) the distances left to cover are too great to finish by bicycle in the time I have remaining and to try to do so would not allow me to enjoy the sights of the countries I was visiting and 2) I have learned enough about myself to know that when I am lonely and sad and the weather is miserable (rainy or cold and snowy) I do not want to be riding – I could, I just don’t want to.

I suppose that some would say that I have no willpower, no fortitude, but honestly, I don’t care what some would say. What is most important on a journey like this is to look honestly at ones self and to learn. It is your life, no one else’s.

And I do enjoy bicycle touring, but I bit off more that I could chew with South America. This is a big continent and in five months, I have only touched the surface. The longer I stay here the longer I want to be here. And then there is the rest of the world to explore. Bicycle touring is special – it is a slow way to see a place – to absorb the people, the culture, the terrain, the food. I love it, but right now it will not help me fulfill the goals I have set for myself.

Recollections: Mendoza and Easter Island
The Journey: Heading to the Bottom of the World

November 04, 2006

Photos from the abyss...

So this isn't really a blog entry - but it is an means to let you know that I've finally fixed the photos page and posted a whole bunch of new photos. There are 6 new sets of photos! And I have 5 more to post!!

One note of caution - please use the navigation bar a the top of the main site to get to the photos page or use this link...

I am currently on the island of Chiloe in Chile waiting for a ferry (which is now a day delayed) to take me back to the mainland and the Carreterra Austral. I have ridden one day on Chiloe and hike a good 10 miles another (for fun). I'm itching to get riding again. This will be my last bit of solititude of the trip - there are no other cyclists that I know of, David has returned home and my friends have all gone their separate ways. But I will do what I can and enjoy to beauty of the road and think about the present and the future and maybe even the past.

I know that there are so many other stories to convey to you all, but not tonight. Tonight I sleep and listen to the waves lapping outside my window as the tide rises in the night.

October 28, 2006

From the abyss...

So how far am I behind? Let me count the weeks…

There are many, many new photos, but there is a problem with the photo part of the website that dear Carl is trying to help me to fix...

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

David has just left Santiago, Chile and is most likely getting on a plane while I attempt to document the past, let’s see, month and a half – well, I actually have only documented the past week – the week in Valparaiso and Santiago with David.

David arrived last Saturday after very, very long trip which involved two planes and a taxi. He arrived in Valparaiso tired but happy to have finally arrived. We didn’t do much that evening except a simple walk around the neighbor hood and a decent dinner at the hotel. The next day though we tried to tie a little of vacation for him and sightseeing for me into a plan. The Brighton B&B is a very well-placed, but somewhat mis-run establishment. The prices for our room were advertised as $39 but we paid $65 per night. What happened there? And don’t get me started on the shower – it was about the size of a matchbox and only sometimes had hot water. But as it was located on Cerro Conception about El Plan and had a fantastic view of the harbor and the other hills. Each morning we would take our breakfast on the deck overlooking the city and eat our pancita and drink our café (which in this rare case in Chile was not Nescafe).

Sunday we got up relatively late – a treat for both David and I – and headed out to the weekly antiques/handicraft market. We took our time walking and browsing, difficult for two non-native New Yorkers. Sauntering is just so difficult. We looked at the books, and antiques, and old prints, and knick-knacks and even purchased a few things for the house and for gifts. Later in the afternoon we visited the Lukas Museo – it is a museum dedicated to the comic art of a man who went by the pseudonym Lukas – and is pretty good. The museum is located in the house atop Cerro Conception where he lived and worked. Other than the museum, the next most memorable part of the day was eating dinner and listening to a couple from the US try to decide what to eat. She was from Washington, D.C. and he was from the Lower East Side, New York. If they weren’t being so intolerant they would have been sort of fun to talk to. It seems that they had some interesting run-ins with Chileans and henceforth proclaimed all Chileans to be weird. On the beach, some man had rolled over the sand towards the woman and freaked her out, someone else insisted on speaking to her in French even though her Spanish was better (she looks Polynesian – i.e. French speaking), and then there was something that they though was weird about the dogs. The thing that made them annoying was that they were the new version of “typical Americans” – loud, judgmental, and now young and hip looking. But we enjoyed our pizza (Valparaiso has a lot of Italians in it’s history) and drinks and headed home after exchanging “happy travels”.

Monday and Tuesday were more days of walking around. Valparaiso is a great city for walking. It is reminiscent of San Francisco with the old and architecturally varied buildings, the decay, the earthquakes, the water. It smells more like Venice though, with flowers, sewage, the ocean, and food. We rode ascensors up and down the hills, visited the Naval Museum (which was only ok – lots of costumes and stuff from military ships that had sunk). I looked for cool North Arrows on the maps in the museums and David looked for dioramas and information on the battles and attacks that occurred. In the afternoon on Monday, while we were eating an afternoon snack of Camembert cheese and olives and a glass of wine (for me only – it was VERY bad wine) Art and Judee, my cycling friends appeared at the top of the stairs of the Brighton and I went running over to them with hugs and kissing and general American Beauty Pageant squealing. It was so very good to see them again after splitting up from them in Mendoza. They had had their wallets stolen and I headed off to Easter Island. We agreed to meet for dinner. Monday’s dinner was at a place called J. Cruz Museo (recommended by the loud D.C. woman) and when we walked in we were our eyes were presented with a chaotic vision of curio cabinets filled to the brim with curios and walls covered with knick knacks of all sorts Every other surface was covered with bright colored writing and graffiti, most of which was illegible. And our ears were serenade by an accordion and song. We sat down, asked for a menu and were promptly told that the establishment only sold one thing – chorrillana (for 2 or 3)– which is a sort of drunk food consisting of a huge mound of greasy fries, topped by onions sautéed with a little bit of scrambled egg, topped by a small mound of gristly, cubed meat. Since we were drunk or well on our way to getting there (Judee and I were splitting a bottle of wine, David and Art were drinking beers and we had all partaken of A & J’s wine aperitif before heading out to dinner) it was the perfect food for the moment. After that, to make a greasy dinner even lie heavier on the stomach, we headed off to find ice cream. And yes, we found it, ate it, and stumbled to our respective hotels to sleep it off.

Dinner on Tuesday was much more elegant but started once again with a wine from a box aperitif with Art and Judee – very fitting for our last dinner together given the meals we shared while riding. We ate at Café Turri - a beautiful restaurant, slightly touristy, that overlooks the ocean and the harbor. The sun was setting when we arrived and we were, as usual for us, the only people in the restaurant at 8:30pm. It was very nice to have dinner in a beautiful location, with linen napkins, real china and crystal, delicious food and most importantly, good friends. We each chose an entrée (which was rare for Art and Judee – they have been splitting entrees lately): David – Congrio (Conger Eel – famous in Chile), Me – Pastel de Jaiba (crab mush – so unlike me), Judee – Sea Bass (I think) and Art – Steak with Gorgonzola. A real treat for all of us. The wine of Chile that I have taken to drinking is called Carmenere – well the grape is called Carmenere (with some accent that I don’t know where to place) and it has a strong, rich scent and flavor similar to Syrahs but a little less spicy. Very yummy. We dined and drank and talked and enjoyed relaxing in a beautiful, comfortable setting.

The big change to Santiago came on Wednesday when we checked out of our expensive hotel and took an expensive cab ride to the big city. It was easier to take a cab than to try to figure out how to get the bike and all of our luggage into a bus – the taxi would pick us up from the Brighton and take us directly to our hotel, Chilhotel in the Provedencia neighborhood of Santiago.

A brief interlude while I watch some stupid horror movie on the T.V. in the hotel room – dead teenagers and all that.

Again, much of the first day here was spent walking about. After four months of traveling – I have found that this is the very best way to get to know an area. The first initial excursion is short – only a few blocks away from where you are staying then a return. Next, you branch out in a spiral pattern so that you don’t loose your way. After that, it’s a free for all and you can pretty much go in any direction you want (as long as you have a map). Actually, even without a map it is fun to explore and by going in circles it is difficult to become very lost.

So Santiago…the first full day was spent traipsing around the center of town. Ok. I have to say that Santiago is actually not the best city to visit if you want to spend a week in. It is not a beautiful city. The mountains are often fully or partially obscured by smog and haze. I was lucky to be able to see the Andes from the city and was able to enjoy the city without the traffic and without the people. And there are a lot of people here who just don’t understand the New York rules of walking on the sidewalk – keep moving, no groups more than 2 across, etc. They have the economy, but they have not figured out how to walk on the nice wide sidewalks yet.

The center does hold lots of attractions. The San Francisco church which was toppled in an earthquake in 1906 (I think, but don’t quote me on this) has been rebuilt with big stone walls and a beautiful (although much restored) wooden ceiling. This church is near a little neighborhood that looks a bit like some weird conglomerate European city. The buildings are a mishmash of styles but the streets are ever so quaintly cobbled – it’s sort of the pre-runner to some weird Disney version of Europe. The main peatonal of the city is a little disturbing. It is a huge shopping location with a few actual malls included and a Falabella on every corner, but the stores have the look of the 70’s – sort of rundown and seedy looking while presenting the face of a strong economy. I was shopping for a digital camera and the model are about 6-9 months behind while the prices are twice as much. I hope my camera holds out for another two months.

But the two shining stars of downtown Santiago are the Pre-columbian Art Museum and the Mercado. The museum has many of the same things that other museums of this type have, but truthfully, there is a much better selection and the special exhibit, which is about head coverings, is fantastic. They have developed a method of display that uses a shadowbox technique to show the impression of a figure on a screen wearing one of the hats. It is pretty impressive and I’m sure my description has not given it justice. In both the main and the temporary exhibit, the descriptions are given in English and Spanish, but somehow the Spanish descriptions are about two times as long as the English ones. I don’t think that it is all in the translation. However, there is usually enough information to give you the general idea of the display. The next great thing about Santiago is the Mercado. There are so many freaky kinds of fish on display and everyone in the restaurants tries to get you to come to theirs. We went to Yiyi, which was actually recommended by a New York Times article (if I were not lazy I would put a link to the article here!). It turns out to be a pretty good place with a limited but decent menu. I tried (and you would be so proud of me Michelle) Piala Maricosa which is pretty much seafood soup. There were clams, mussels, white fish, pink fish, some unidentifiable pink chewy things, and some weird gray things. The broth was surprisingly dull, with a lemongrass smell, but not a strong flavor of anything. It needed salt and the chili sauce that is on every table. But, even while trying it was something that I needed to do and I did enjoy the savor of the different types of seafood. David had fried merluz with rice and an onion/chili salad. It was great and the waiter was wonderful – he talked to me about the choices and explained all the other items on the menu. I had hoped to go back to try the other stuff, but have not, maybe in Chiloe.

The next day, Friday, we walked and walked and ended up in the Bellavista neighborhood. We had had dinner here the evening we arrived – an awful dinner at some restaurant that was supposed to be “authentic Peruvian” and “lively” and “great service” and it was none of these. The ceviche was way, way too acidic and I didn’t like the fish. But the company was great, an Englishman named David whom we met in Valpariso was celebrating his last night in Chile with dinner out and while the food was only ok, the company was great.

We took the funicular up to visit the Virgin on the hill who was happily settled amongst lots and lots of media antenna and then we took a round trip venture on some sky cars (forgive me, I cannot remember what they are really called) – ferrocarils, from one side of the hill to the other. Since the day was very cloudy you could not see the mountains, but this ride would provide an excellent view of the Andes otherwise – that is if you are fearless about the 1” gap in the doorway of the hanging car. You are pretty high up.

And then the great evening out – Astrid y Gaston – a restaurant that has garnered both yeahs and boos from the crowd. It was a great experience – the waiters put up with our baby Spanish and chatted with us in English when our Spanish failed. It turns out that the staff from Astrid y Gaston play futbol with the staff from Puento Fuy – the other great restaurant that I’ve been to in Santiago. And they trade recipes. Who knew? We had a great meal that I will describe in another post as I am now ½ a bottle of wine down, watching really bad horror movies and thinking about sleep.

Just a little update on my timeline:

Salta and waiting for the bike part
Cafayate and meeting Art & Judee
Sickness in Catamarca
Breakdowns and Flats in San Agustin del Valle Fertil
Mendoza and wine, wine, wine
Easter Island and statues and horseback riding
Valpariso & Santiago and David’s visit

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!!

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.....


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