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January 11, 2007

Antarctica Photo Alert

Well, everyone. I have returned to New York City, returned to work, returned. I think that I like travel a lot more that I could have ever imagined and after I get back on my feet financially I will endeavor to work extended travel into my future life. I think that it is possible, don't you. Vacation travel for a month every other year, for 6 months every 5 years or so, moving to another country with children for a little bit. I think that it is possible - if you can dream about it, then you can plan it.

Anyway - the photos from the Antarctic trip are up http://www.steady-as-she-goes.com/photos2 - check them out.

The writing will have to wait. There hasn't been much alone time since my return.

Empanada making for New Year's Eve - with wine from Mendoza of course.
Week 1 - Unpack and try to remember what I actually did on a daily basis: groceries, clothes, cleaning. Ick
Week 2 - that's this week and it's Welcome Back to Work week. Things have not been bad at all - I expected to feel like a caged animal, but it's not so bad. And this weekend is Michelle's wedding. And I though I was stressed!

So you see, I haven't even written one bit in my own personal journal, but all in good time. There are still photos from Buenos Aires to post and of course a little bit of info about Antarctica and Buenos Aires.

December 27, 2006

Buenos Aires to NYC

Merry Christmas everyone!! There are only a few more days left of my trip and Mom and I have been trying to do every tourist things we can here in Buenos Aires.

Her arrival here on the 19th was a little bit nerve wracking – I had been out until late the evening before and then she wasn’t there at the expected time. Not being of sound mind when getting ready to leave for the airport on so little sleep, I neglected to write down all of her flight information. I stood for two hours at the very front of the “Meeting Point” area scanning the face of every single person who arrived to EZE – the international airport of Buenoes Aires. After some time and listening to the people around me it turned out that most of us that had been there awhile were waiting for the same flight – the flight from Miami. Finally she appeared, fresh from immigrations, looking as together and mom-like as always. Hugs and kisses all around and we headed off to explore Buenos Aires together.

As soon as we arrived to the hotel and got settled in we headed out to get a little something to eat and Mom’s first glass of Argentinean wine. Then came a nap – neither one of us normally take naps but after that much travel for her and that little sleep for me it seemed like just the thing. In the afternoon it was off to 3 de Febrerio park where we enjoyed cooling off from the afternoon heat by walking in the shade of the trees on our way to the Evita museum. The museum is very well organized and helps to show, on a very human scale, a little bit about the person known as Evita. Having never seen the Madonna movie, I could say that before I went in I knew nothing about who Evita was and why people either love or hate her but after visiting the museum and seeing all of the programs that she tried to start for the benefit of all Argentineans I began to understand the sense of myth surrounding her.

The next two days we had a combination of walking tours and time spent wandering around on our own. The first walking tour was call Best of BA by www.ba-walking-tours.com and was a very informative event. Our group was split into two smaller groups of 4 and we were with 2 other New Yorkers (I’m convinced that most North American tourists are from New York – at least hear in BsAs because I haven’t met but one person from anywhere else). The two guys who run the company seem willing to help you out with just about bit of information about BsAs but they just don’t seem all that friendly. On day 2 – the “private” tour of La Boca which wasn’t all that informative - I got the same info from the guide books and by just keeping my eyes open and looking around me. We were also told by one of the guides that “tourists often have different tastes then us” when I told them about a restaurant that we were going to in La Boca. First of all, how many tourists make lunch reservations for a restaurant in La Boca and second of all, why make a blanket statement about tourists when you really know nothing about the individual. So the restaurant, Il Matterello, was fantastic – the best pasta I’ve ever had including from Mario Batali (but I think that I will go back there for a comparison tasting!!) – and there were no, let me repeat, no other tourists in the restaurant, and it was full. I don’t know, it sounds like he was being quite judgmental of his bread and butter. But as a final word, the basic tour was really good and I would highly recommend it to visitors to BsAs.

Then there were a few days wandering around on our own – Palermo Viejo, Recoleta, the Recoleta cemetery, Museo de Bellas Artes, ice cream and coffee at Freddo and then Christmas Eve and Christmas were upon us.

This Christmas Eve was the very first time in remembered history that my mother did not go to church. We were actually going to look for a church, but the hotel was having a toast (El Brindis) at 5pm that just turned into a 3 hour social event with lots of flowing champagne. Everyone actually showed up at about 5:30pm – 5:45pm but that did not bother our North American need for timeliness – we had nothing else to do and absolutely nowhere else to be for another 4 hours until dinner so why not wait. The brindis was great – we got to meet some of our fellow hotel guests including a fellow named Boris who had arrived a day before his girlfriend and there was plenty of champagne for everyone. What more could you ask for on Christmas Eve? Since Borris had nowhere to be for dinner, Mom and I decided to ask him along to our meat feast at La Cabrera Norte. We ended up having two bottles of Rutini Malbec, lots and lots of delicious grilled meat and accompaniments and some more champagne at midnight. It was a wonderful evening that lead up to a somewhat groggy Christmas morning exchange of gifts between Mom and I.

Christmas Day consisted of a woozy stroll around an almost empty neighborhood – we were checking to make sure none of the stores were open (no one should be working in a store on Christmas morning). No cafes were open either during the first stroll but later on in the day when we went to find coffee – some of them were but they were packed (it was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon). We ended up having a nice café cortado in a restaurant around the corner – we got a table but the down side of being at a restaurant instead of a café was that there was no bubbly water and no little snack – no matter, we were headed for our third and final beef dinner so we didn’t really need the calories. The dinner was delicious – we split an “appetizer” of jamon crudo, aged provolone, and olives and then we split a bife de lomo – it was more than enough food. While we drank our little half bottle of wine I watched a father and daughter devour almost all of huge omelet (really a frittata) and a milanese. I don’t know how they did it. We almost couldn’t finish our split meal. So that was Christmas Day. The first Christmas I have ever spent without a tree and without gifts under the tree and honestly, I didn’t mind. I think that perhaps next year a trip to the beach for Christmas is in order – it is a good way to avoid the consumerism.

Other than that we have filled our days with walking around various parts of the city: the ecological reserve, San Telmo, Palermo, Las Castanitas, Retire, Palermo Chico, Microcenter and fulfilling self-imposed chores. Each day we set off with a task to do and a sightseeing goal and end up walking for hours. Yesterday, we went to find me some wine to take home. The goal was to get some higher end wines (although we have been drinking a $2US white wine from the grocery store that I love) and I had decided to go to a place called Terroir based on the Time Out guide and on the fact that someone at the store posts on egullet.com occasionally. It was an intimidating place – most upscale wine stores are no matter what country you are in – but Alejandro, one of the owners, made us feel immediately welcome. We talked about shipping and how much it costs (too much for me right now but it may be an later) and about how to take the wine onto the plane. Mom is going to be my wine mule because due to the delightful new regulations controlling US flights we can no longer take wine as a carry on. I am not happy about this. Alejandro selected three wines for me based on my tastes – two of each bottle – and packed them for the plane ride.

Then, yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 26th) we began to pack the bike. This was a melancholy moment – it was the true mark of the end of the trip, this adventure. But there will be more trips more adventures farther down the line.

As Mom and I sit in a café drinking New York styled iced coffee I try to just enjoy the last few days of being abroad. I have seen so many things, talked to so many people, had many experience. My point of view has changed or more precisely refocused – things that I though were impossible before have taken on a new accessibility. So tomorrow I leave to return to what some people call “the real world”, back to work, back to routine (not that I didn’t have a routine while traveling) but I return with many ideas of my own to work on, many things to write about, and many things to share with friends.

Thank you, my friends, for making this possible. For giving me the support and the encouragement that I needed to embark on a complete this grand adventure.

December 01, 2006

Drabs and Dribbles - The Return to Argentina

So I last left you in Coyhaique, Chile. Since then I have taken numerous ferries, saw the Cuevas de los Manos, crossed the Chilean-Argentine border about three times, booked a boat to Antarctica (!!!!), hiked on a glacier in Calafate, went horseback riding with a wonderful picnic lunch, backpacked part of the famous “W” in Torres del Paine park and am now sitting in Ushuaia drinking coffee and occasionally looking out the window to glance upon the Beagle Channel – yes – the Beagle Channel. Have I mentioned how wonderful and diverse South American is?

So I finally left Coyhaique after a tense morning waiting for the minibus that was to transport me and my bike to the ferry. It was supposed to show up at 6:30 and moseyed up in front of the hostel at 7:30. This was after they locked me out of the hostel – I had to bang on the door and get them to call the transport company for me. Anyway, off I went hoping that my fellow biker, Nick, was safe and sound and out of the 4 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. I was glad that I made the decision to not ride – I would have been miserable and growing through endurance was not the frame of mind that I was in at that point. Once on the ferry, I sat in the minibus to stay out of the wind and cold and to avoid the huge waves that splashed over the side of the ferry and onto the windshields of our bus (and on my bike which they had lashed to the side of the boat). I was happy not to be out there. We landed and after a few crazy gringa woman sentences and gestures to the captain of the ferry (no one else would look at me) they finally released my bike from the boat. Perhaps someone was hoping that the bike would just be forgotten. Fat chance. Actually, to be more realistic, there was probably just some protocol and paperwork that I was ignorant of and we all really just did what we could – I insisted on my bike in baby Spanish; they insisted that I wait to have someone else bring it off the boat.

I loaded up and set out for my very short ride to Los Antiguos – back into Argentina. It felt good to be on the bike, if only for what I though was to be a 7km ride but turned out to be a 15km ride (about ½ on gravel) due to road construction. I rode on pavement, in the chilly but not rainy weather to the Chilean border – this was a stop sign (PARE) in the middle of the road – with no parking area – I guess they don’t get much traffic at this crossing. After rousing the police and aduana from their lunches I breezed through the border in about 5 minutes. Wow. Then I headed off onto what the GPS said was a secondary road toward my beloved Argentina. I pedaled and pedaled and even flagged down a passing truck to see if I was going in the right direction. I was – they had just changed the road! Breezed through the border and hopped onto an, oh so convenient bus that was headed to Perito Moreno (changed my mind about riding the next day – worried about bus schedules).

Perito Moreno was the perfect example of how open and helpful Argentinean people can be. There was one company offering travel to El Calafate (my next major destination) and while it wasn’t Chalten Travel (who didn’t bother to email me back about ticket purchases) and didn’t go down the famous Ruta 40 it was transportation, they would take my bike AND it was cheaper. The ticket seller got me a bus for the next day, called a travel agent to help me arrange a trip to Cuevas de los Manos and between the two of them discussed places for me to sleep. The travel agent piled my bike and gear into her truck and off we went to find a bed. This is about the third time that someone has driven me around city or town and helped me find a decently priced, clean bed to sleep in. I am just constantly amazed by this (and it’s all been in Argentina!!). Bed found, we unloaded my stuff, she drove me to town, showed me the banks, grocery stores, and internet and after agreeing to pick me up at 6am for the Caves, we parted.

The next morning dawned very early – somehow I had managed to stay up until midnight – packing my bags for the 20 hour bus ride that I would embark on almost as soon as we returned from the caves and read for a bit. I’m reading more again now – when I don’t stay in hostels. Hostels are sometimes dangerous places – too much socializing and not enough reflection and writing. Bad Nif (but I have met some fascinating people – and some really stupid ones too).

You know – I am leaving for Antarctica tomorrow and have realized that I would like to actually describe the events of the past few weeks in detail and I do not have the time right now, this evening to dedicate to another 10 pages of tedious detail. But, I should have time on the boat – I share a cabin with one other person. I hope that I have the self-discepline to actually focus on writing. It will be sort of like a prison; on a boat there won’t actually be anywhere to go. Ahhh, but that is not true – apparently the operations deck is open and we can badger them about navigation and GPS and all that fun stuff. I’m looking forward to it. And to all of the wildlife that I am supposed to potentially see. And to set foot on Antarctica!!!!

November 14, 2006

Playing Catch-Up with the Past

First...

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!


Cafayate

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.

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

November 12, 2006

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I am now in the depths of Chilean Patagonia, holed up in Coyhaique waiting for the weather, waiting for the ferries, waiting for the buses. This section of the world is series of contrasts: wifi in the restaurants but unknown ferry schedules to the border. Estancias accessible only by 4x4 vehicles and pdas. Low-end hostels and beautiful houses.

The last week has been a series of drastic ups and downs. David visited Santiago and Valparaiso and upon his departure and the separation from my other traveling companions of the past few weeks, Art and Judee, I was left in this beautiful, but lonely country sort of floundering. Each day my travel plans change due to mood, weather and schedules, but after a series of fortunate events I am back on track, albeit with not much riding left. I have only one month of travel time to get to Ushuaia and so much, so much to see: Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paines, the Beagle Channel, maybe even Antarctica!

Upon leaving Santiago last Wednesday October 29th (it seems so long ago) I headed to Puerto Montt on an overnight bus with the intention of getting to the island of Chiloe and riding there for a few days. After arriving in Puerto Montt and realizing that buses to Ancud (on Chiloe) left often, I bought a ticket and headed directly to the island. In Ancud I spent a day trying to see the penguin colonies at the Otway Foundation, but this was not to be owing to “malito mer” – “bad seas” or something of the sorts. We couldn’t take the boat out because the seas were rough but I was fortunate enough to be able to see some Magellanic penguins, Steamboat ducks, and sea lions with the aid of binoculars. Mission accomplished – my first wild penguin sighting and I bought a postcard to prove it.

Have I mentioned the rains yet? No, well it rains a lot here and it is the beginning, just barely, of the tourist season. This means that one gets to endure the joys of the maybe yes, maybe no seasonal ferry schedules. According to the tourist information booth in Ancud there was a ferry from Quellon, at the bottom of the island which departed on Wednsdays and Saturdays. Given that it was already Wednesday I decided to make my plans to get to Quellon one way or the other by Friday. I set off riding from Ancud south on November 1st (All Souls Day – with everyone visiting cemeteries and saying “hi” to dead people), in the rain, with a heavy heart. However, the ride was beautiful despite the rain. The island is covered with the beautiful (but malito) flower called Chaquay (maybe) that was “imported” from Ireland. The winds were from the West but the road south is sheltered by high embankments or tree cover on both sides so it wasn’t really a hindrance. The road itself is paved and had many rolling hills. I just pushed on and on, past my initial goal of a campsite (still raining), past Castro (it looked kind of dismal) and onto Chonchi where I had heard of a hostel with internet, a great breakfast, and a quirky owner. This combination drove me to ride about 110km – my best day yet and I arrived soaked through (the raingear only keeps you warm – not dry), tired and happy to have a warm stove to sit by and a kitchen to cook in.

The hostel, Esmeralda by the Sea, is run by Carlos (a Canadian) and is quite the lap of luxury in a tiny town on a relatively remote Chilean island. Luxury is relative here mind you, there are rooms with and without bathrooms and dorms, a kitchen to use, WiFi internet connection, a great view, good company, heat, a killer breakfast, all the information on the island one could use and great walk recommendations. Carlos, while a font of knowledge, does not like to tell you his information sources so a few days later when he informed us that the ferry was leaving Sunday not Saturday he would not really tell us where he got this information. But, it was of no consequence to me, I would get there, Quellon, one way or another so I stayed at the Esmeralda for a few days waiting for the ferry, happy to be someplace nice to question the rest of my travel plans and at this point my entire life. Sounds heavy? It was (and still is). The next day (Thursday) the weather cleared and I went for a nice, little 10 mile walk over to a neighboring island. It was good to go walking, talk to the birds and the cows about life, and breathe some more fresh island air. I hitched a ride from the ferry back to Chonchi and had a fantastic mussel dinner (all by myself Mom – I can eat alone in a restaurant now too!). Carlos made fun of my eating mussels with two fingers and a fork, but this is coming from someone who lives in a country where they eat sandwiches with knives and forks so I don’t know why he was making fun of me!

I spent the next two days rebuilding the Photos part of my website (so you lovely people could view all of my lovely photos) and enjoying the company of the various people who had traveled to Chonchi. We had a marvelous group dinner with salmon, merluza and a fish that one of the other travelers caught, yummy breakfasts of pancakes, and lots and lots of online computer maintenance time. Sunday morning I caught the bus to Quellon and tracked down the truck that was supposed to take my bike over the ferry for me (in order to save some money).

As it turns out this was the beginning of things looking brighter for me. The truck that was to help me turned out to be no ordinary truck, it was “The Beast” and is driven by a superbien British couple Greg and Alexis. (Please visit their website www.beastlyadventure.com to see what they are up to with their journey.) Greg stashed my bike and gear in the back and then invited me in. As we waited and waited to board the ferry (yes it left on Sunday but just a little behind schedule due to who knows what) we got to talking and the plan of the day was to breeze through Chaiten and head to some hot springs for the night – Termas del Amarillo. Since I love hot springs, I asked to come along and was surprised by the level of welcome that Greg and Alexis gave me. I don’t think that they realized how much I didn’t want to be alone, but they didn’t question anything and over the next day listened to my changing plans – they even offered to let me ride with them to Ushuaia. Anyway, we enjoyed a great evening of hot springs in one of my top ten settings and then a crappy dinner (the food of the day is another story altogether) and then three bottles of wine and an evening of playing Shithead – a card game that I actually enjoy. Finally, a card game I enjoy and cannot wait to teach everyone at home to play (if they don’t already know).

The next morning (I had decided not to ride anymore and was going to Ushuaia to see if I could get on a boat to Antarctica) we set out along the Carreterra Austral. Despite the off and on rain it was a beautiful drive and we saw one of the last great wildernesses and a few glaciers along the way. The road conditions ranged from crappy to okay (with the most crappy to come then next day!) but the Beast, while being an sturdy ex-Army Landrover with a long history, does not have the best shocks and cannot barrel over rough ground like the slick pick-ups and 4x4s that passed us constantly on the road. Finally after about 250km of driving we pulled into an idyllic campsite on the side of a lake. Standing there in the falling darkness was a guy listening to a minidisk player and drinking a cup of cocoa. As it turns out, this guy, Nicholas, was riding a bike – well you can imagine how the wheels (in my head that is) started spinning again.

We all spent a great night eating curry courtesy of The Beastlies and playing more Shithead and talking. It turns out that both Greg and Nick speak fluent French – Greg got packed off to an expensive boarding school that “changed his life” and Nick went to the Alliance Francaise in Chile – lucky guys – and I’m not kidding here. The next morning dawned (after two bottles of wine) bright and blue and with an abrupt change in heart that I am becoming used to, I asked Nick if I could join him riding. He agreed, happily and after a breakfast of yes, oatmeal; I packed allll of my crap back up and started riding. It was a glorious two days of riding – bright, beautiful – all the best one could wish for on the Carreterra Austral. We met the Beastlies about 17km down the really bad gravel road for some snacks and mate and Nick had the chance to put on his new Marathon XR tire (courtesy of me – someone should use it!) after discovering that his tire was flat.

The next two days were great. Later that first day we hit pavement (much of this area is being paved bit by bit) which was actually a good thing. Just 30km of the worst road Nick had seen was enough for my very sore nether regions (but it was worth every saddle sore!). The first day was a huge adventure: wire basket rides over the river we were following, drinking water from the river (which was later to give us both acute gastrointestinal sickness), the most beautiful camping site ever, a great dinner and good companionship. The following day – all on pavement – was more the same great scenery and a goal to get to Coyhaique. Nick had contacts here and I was jonesing for the internet (sometimes you just need to be in contact with the rest of the world). We made it in good time – over a beautiful mini pass – and one of the best moments of the trip: a TAILWIND, birds playing above my head, a beautiful vista, huge wind turbines (which I think are beautiful), and Radiohead on the ipod.

So now I have been here in Coyhaique for four days, two of which were spent quite ill due to that delicious river water that we drank without filtering and the next two (today included) were spent killing time. Now after reviewing the weather forecast for the next two days, I will disappoint Nick and all of you at home with my decision to take a bus to Puerto Ibanez. It was to be a great two day ride, but given the weather forecast of a high of 47, winds between 13 – 26 mph, and some snow and rain, why torture myself? Also, if I can get to Ushuaia before December 1st it looks like I can get a walk-on rate on a cruise to Antarctica (if there is space)!!!

Over and out from Chilean Patagonia.

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 egullet.com 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

September 24, 2006

Moving along in Argentina

Finally, finally a new entry....

But first...

Two sets of new photos posted

New Google Earth kmz file of my current route (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!!

Back to the journey...

It has been difficult in the past few weeks to try to keep up with the journal and the web site updating. Going from the Gringo Trail back to riding has been fantastic and I am now riding with a wonderful couple from Ohio/California – Art & Judy – who got a hold of me through a mutual acquaintance in Uyuni, Caroline. Riding in Argentina has been just fantastic despite the crazy headwinds that I seem to hit in every canyon. The riding has been beautiful, the people open and friendly, and the food fantastic.

The first two day of riding in Argentina were spent riding in the Puna which is the Argentinean equivalent of the altiplano. The sun is hot, the air is cold, the terrain is mostly level with a slight descent as you head south and it was very “tranquile” riding. The drivers in Argentina smile and wave and beep at me to give me support in my endeavors. It is a change from Peru where the beeping is a mechanism to a) get your attention or b) to warn you and driver coming in the other direction that there is an obstacle (me) in the road ahead. It is pleasant.

The wind started picking up on the second day of riding as I entered the Qebrada (the Gorge) and left the Puna. The scenery, beginning in Tres Cruces (along with the nice police check point) is very dramatic. The mountains have been folded into waves and over the eons the rocks have worn away to present multicolored hills topped by massive slabs of rock jutting into the sky as high mountains. The mountains are deceiving, they don’t look very high, but they disappear into the haze as the day ages and you cannot focus on them because of their heights. The Quebrada is sort of a gorge which forms the link between the Puna high altiplano and the valley where the department capitol of San Salvador de Jujuy is located. As the day progressed and I rode towards Humahuaca, the wind began to pick up and I brought out the headphones.

Normally, I don’t like to ride with headphones because you cannot hear the wind and the birds not to mention the cars behind you, but this wind, this wind was beginning to become difficult to ride in. The music can help to get your through the difficult parts as will as provide memory clues later to remind you of certain moments and the struggle that you went through in those moments. For instance DARE by Gorillaz came on as I was beginning to curse the wind, but the song gave me the urge to keep pedaling, and the there was The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, the Humpers – Live Forever or Die Trying, Johnny Cash, The Gotan Project, Dwight Yokam, and the list goes on. Each song was perfect for the part of the road that I was on - a struggle, but a good struggle. It felt good to be riding again, wind or no wind.

As I arrived in Humahuaca the afternoon had progressed to 4 pm and I sat perched on the top of the hill above town and debated descending into town or attempting to try to find a place to camp above town where there would be few amenities, the fringe element to deal with and no internet. Yikes, no internet? I headed down into town and followed the signs to Hostel Azul which was located about a mile down a dirt road – obviously not catering to tired bike tourists and…it was siesta time. There was no one at the desk and after peering through the window and seeing that a single room cost 100 pesos (about $34) I headed across the street to an International Hostelling location called Posada El Sol and got a bed in a very nice smelling, pretty dorm room. It was refreshing to have a nice smelling room even if, especially if, it was a dorm room. The next morning I had breakfast with the two Spanish women who were spending a month traveling around Argentina and the owner of hostel practicing my Spanish and learning about their travels.

Humahuaca to Puramarca was a distressing day of beautiful scenery and just incredibly awful headwinds. These were days spent alone in my head, listening to music to get me through the day. The wind must blow hard up the Quebrada all of the time – the trees grow bent – in the opposite direction that I was traveling. Another interesting thing about this stretch of road was that there were absolutely no distance signs along the way for about 50km. Normally, this would not be a problem, but with diversions needed due to the wind, it became an obsession.. As I approached Tilcara, a place where everyone suggested visiting, I realized that it was again siesta time. The archaeological museum that I had wanted to visit was closed, the stores were closed and the wind was increasing. I sat and ate dulce de leche on bread and orange and decided to push onward to Puramarca – location of “The Hill of Seven Colors” or some name like that. After a grueling 15km of being pushed backwards while pedaling downhill I reached the turn off for town. It was a brief 3 km uphill, but the dreadful wind lessened as I gratefully moved away from the main valley.

In Purmamarca, at the Pastos Chicos hostel I met the most wonderful people, ranging from the man at reception who ended up cooking all of us a delicious dinner of empanadas my second night there to Adriana and Monica, two Argentinean women traveling with their daughters. Also in Puramarca I got my first real interaction with Argentine men. As I was sitting in a little restaurant on the square, minding my own business drinking a café con leche in the afternoon after the “Day of Viento” the waiter came up to me and said something. Now, I actually understood the gist of what he said, but I decided that playing ignorant would make him stop – it’s very hard for me to take a compliment – so I had him write down what he said. Bad move. The note that I got read as follows, “Nunca vi una mujer tan Hermosa com usted.” This approximately translates to,”Never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you” Okay, very nice, but how does one handle this florid compliment gracefully? By playing dumb and saying thank you and getting the hell out of there was my method. As I said, I don’t handle compliments well, but it did make me feel good!

Anyway, upon my return I met Monica and Adriana who very kindly invited me out to dinner with them. I had a great time; they made me feel very welcome into their little group. While the dinner wasn’t so great – locro (a stew made with beans, corn, and bacon type meat) the humitos (tamales with corn and cheese) were delicious. Adriana invited me to spend the following day with her and the girls on a grand adventure to the Hot Pools at Termas de Reyes. After three days of wind I decided why not – I could just afford another night at the not so cheap hostel.

The next day really was a grand adventure. After gulping down my breakfast (the ubiquitous café con leche and round, biscuit-like crackers with mermalada) I tried to get money from the ATM, but I had none left. Unfortunately, David was out of town and could not get money into my account and my Visa secret code apparently doesn’t work - so much for setting that up ahead of time. The four of us, Adriana, the two girls, and I, headed down to the bus station to get the bus headed towards Jujuy. The deal was that we were to get off somewhere outside of town and get another bus, a micro, which would take up to the Termas. This information was only obtained through Adriana asking everyone she could find for directions to the Termas. First, we had to wait about an hour for the bus so we wandered around the plaza where at 9:30am there already were bus loads of Argentine tourists buying up everything in sight much like a bus load of American tourists at Wall Drug. When the bus finally came, we rode down into the valley looking out of the windows like a couple of kids and then we were dropped off, unceremoniously, on the side of the road at an interchange with the instructions to cross over to the bus stop and wait for the micro. Many a micro passed while we waited, none of them heading to the thermas. Finally, after getting waiting times of 5 minutes, 1 hour, 2.5 hours a cab passed and agreed to take the four of us up for the same price of the bus.

Upon arrival we secured lunch with a semi-surly man at the food stand and hit the pools. The air was cool, but the water very warm and there was a great view of the mountainside in the valley. I have to admit, it doesn’t beat my best hot springs experience ever – New Mexico in the winter, waterfall, watching the snow fall onto the mountains – but it certainly hit the spot. We swam, lunched on meat and salad, and returned to lounge in the water some more barely catching the micro headed to Jujuy. In town, we had a fortuitous connection and immediately go on a bus back to Puramarca. There was some tension for if we had missed the micro we would have been stuck in Jujuy for the evening. That evening for dinner, the guy at the hotel (I’m embarrassed that I cannot remember his name) made dinner for all 5 of us and his family (wife and a beautiful little girl) and we sat around and had some nice wine and conversation and delicious empanadas until we were all nodding off to sleep. Monica had had just as much of an adventure heading of into the salt flats near the Chilean border. She returned happy, exhausted, and bright red – her sunscreen wasn’t enough protection against the bright, altiplan sunlight. I slept like a rock that night.

The bike ride to Jujuy the next day was uneventful except for the fantastic descent into the Valley. The winds were not so bad out of Puramarca in the morning and I was battling with my frame wobble until I decided to just remove the very convenient handlebar bag. Surprise, surprise, once the bag was strapped to the back I had very little wobble. What a bummer because that meant the I would lose the convenience of the bag – camera had to be packed, snacks had to be packed, everything had to be packed, but if it would stop the wobble until I got my new headset (which finally arrived two weeks late on 23/9/06) so be it.

I don’t really know how to describe these descents from the Andes. They are incredible, exhilarating, long downhills where the wind truly whistles in your ears, you can see the terrain laid out below you, the flora changes drastically, and you just feel an incredible sense of elation as you glide around the curves keeping speed with the cars - just amazing. Once in the valley, I now knew the back way into Jujuy, thanks to the bus ride on the prior day, so I took that to avoid the freeway. As I was gazing back at the mountains that I had just descended, too quickly from, I glanced out of the corner of my eye, a couple riding North on the freeway parallel to my back road. I shouted out in English and Spanish, but they were gone. I found out later that they were most likely an American couple heading northwards.

As usual, the ride in was not nearly as sketchy and difficult as it looked like from a bus or a car and I had no problem making it into town. For the first time since I arrived, I utilized the local tourist information center to find myself a hotel. And it turns out they had all the prices of all the hotels and the one I had been planning on using had upped their prices – probably due to their presence in the travel guides (it’s a problem). I ended up in a very pleasant, not exorbitant, real hotel in the heart of the city and even got directions out for the next days ride. After showering, getting a beer and eating a sandwich and cookies, I set out to try to convert travelers’ cheques only to discover that in Jujuy, all the banks were closed to customers after 2pm. This was a little embarrassing when the men in the bank wagged their fingers at me in a “no, no, no you bad little girl” kind of way. I had no cash and David still had not been able to get my deposit through. My only option seemed to be to wait for the banks to open at 9am the next morning until I discovered a little kiosk that would change my US dollars (which I was also running out of). But money is money and the nice man fortunately, they did not ream me on commission and they really only kept a few pesos. I celebrated with a café con leche and a marathon journal writing session. The next day to Salta would be a long one, my longest yet, and I wanted to be refreshed for the journey, so I stopped worrying about calling MBNA collect (the street phones would not let me make international collect calls), stopped worrying about the headset that was to be in Salta when I arrived, and stopped worrying about money since I now had some. I relaxed and enjoyed the coffee and the hotel and the warm evening air.

September 03, 2006

New Photos and a Brief (I think) Update

Hello all. I have not gotten my massive, descriptive blog entry ready for posting but I though that I'd fill you in on a little bit of what I've been doing.

Two sets of new photos posted

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

Having given up riding for Bolivia due to altitude I decided to take some side trips. The Salar de Uyuni was a fantastic journey into the largest salt lake in the world. During the dry season, which is now, there is no water on it, but that is a good thing as we got three flat tires. Imagine how that would be in a few centimeters of water. Just last week they had a snowstorm out there with people being left at the border without food, jeeps turning over, and drivers not being able to see where they are going. I'm glad I went the week before!!

I left my gear in Uyuni and went light for about a week and traveled to Sucre which is just a wonderful city to hang out in. I saw the dinosaur footprints that were discovered at at cement factroy and are the largest collection of footprints of different species in the world. Are you noticing a trend here? Largest, highest - Bolivia has a lot of very cool things but the Bolivian people are very, very poor - at least most of them.

After chilling in Sucre for a few days I retraced my steps and visited Potosi. I have to admit that I was museumed out but did go on a tour of the mines - which is one of the main attractions in Potosi. It was a little weird seeing these men push three quarter ton carts filled with ore through the mines. They do this 10 times a day over a distance of 3 km to and from the drop off point. The conditions aren't very safe either - ladders go up and down all over the place with only a "watch the hole" to warn you. I went becasue my grandfather was a coal miner. Well, I also went because I wanted to.

The bumpy ride back to Uyuni was delayed by a day by a nationwide traffic strike so I ate my way through the day with a nice English couple, John and Lucy. It was fun. The ride back to Uyuni was pretty miserable without the nice Frenchman and his family to talk with so I amused myself by watching a woman from Buenos Aires harass the Amayran woman sitting in the aisle. The woman in the aisle was leaning on the woman on the seat which would have annoyed me too, but I probably would have grunted and made gestures and asked her to move a little bit. This woman, who even speaks Spanish, just kept shoving her packpack into the woman. It was really quite sad and I periodically glared at the woman in the seat. Wimpy, I know. Sitting in the aisles is illegal too.

The I arrived back in Uyuni, which at that point didn't have any power due, most likely, to the high winds blowing over a pole somewhere, bought a train ticket for a 2:30am (!!!) train and settled down at the Minuteman restaurant (run by a fellow American and a wonderful place to get delicious pizza, cookies, cakes and to have some good company for a few hours). While there I met Catherine (from Copacabana), Emma and a few others and we traded Salar stories and kept each other awake while waiting for the train. When the Minuteman closed we headed to the dark station to wait out the next three hours. I think we all fell asleep with out heads on the table. Emma ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor.

The train ride to the border had some great views (when I finally woke up at about 6:30 when they turned the tv on at high volumn). Once we arrived at the border town of Villazon, I collected my crap off of the train - yet again the bike made it safely and Emma and I headed to the border of Bolivia and Argentina. We breezed through leaving Bolivia, but it took 3.5 hours to get into Argentina. We could not figure out why, but we think that the immigrations guards took a siesta. The border is supposed to be open all day, but I guess you are not going to hassle an immigrations officer. When I finally got to the window I was laughing as I though that they, like all other immigrations officials here, felt the need to cram another stamp onto the only two pages with stamps on it (they actually didn't) but the official was very creepy and made fun of me laughing. Whatever. I'm in Argentina now with 90 days.

There is an immediately different feel in La Quiaca - the building are made of brick and concrete, there are stores with things in them, the bread is different, breakfast is crackers and jam, dinner is really after 8pm.

My first two days of riding have been great. I am now in a little town called Humahuaca after riding about 82km downhill, but against the wind for much of the afternoon. I found the internet cafe, uploaded pictures, did a little update and now my friend, I am going to drink a well deserved beer!

Take care.

August 26, 2006

I love Bolivia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 16, 2006

The Photos are FINALLY up

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

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

Thank you for your patience and enjoy!!

August 15, 2006

On the Road Again:Cusco to Puno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 07, 2006

In Puno, Puru but still talking about Cusco

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

But first...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then David arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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