Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur

Ok, I apologize for the lack of postings, we had a marathon exit from South America, 5 cities in 5 nights and 4 countries but we're safely tucked into paradise in Cabo San Lucas so here are a few photos and I'll post more later, honest.Angela does some shopping in the Tequila section of the local grocery store.
Fun with the underwater camera.
Booze cruise, never did it before but it was actually a lot of fun, I highly recommend it. This one included dinner as well which was a good thing and the sunset was excellent. We're off to the beach...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Huanchaco- number huan surf destination

We flew from Arequipa to Lima to Huanchaco in an afternoon and went from the mountainous Andes to utterly laid back beach life in no time. Turned out flying was a good call as the buses went on strike the next day and are only just now running again.
The first hotel we stayed in was called Huankarute but it was a bit pricey so we moved to My Friends but it was a bit too cheap and now we're at Hotel Oceano which is just right. Extremely clean, right on the beach with WiFi and just 4 other rooms. Perfect.
The locals build fishing boats out of reeds and head out each morning to fish. The boats take about an hour to build and last about 6 weeks before they become too waterlogged to be functional. They use a split piece of bamboo as a paddle and ride the waves with ease. I took one out for a spin and they float and handle much better than I thought they would. When they're first built they weigh about 70 pounds, once they're waterlogged they weigh about 300 pounds.
We've taken some more surf lessons and are improving but there is still a long way to go. Our instructor is the oldest of 3 brothers, all of whom have been Peruvian surf champions. The youngest is 15 and competing in New Zealand this week. When we came in from surfing the other day Channel 35 Peru News was waiting and they ended up interviewing us about our surfing and we were on the 6pm news. I'm sure my spanish was terrible so my apologies to all future travelers as I'm sure I added to the gringo stereotype. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arequipa - La Ciudad Blanca

The view from our room in Los Andes B&B; the city of Arequipa with the volcano Mt. Misti in the distance (5,825 meters)Leaving Puno was not hard to do. The city does not have a very pleasant feel to it and other than Lake Titicaca it does not warrant much of a stop. The drive to Arequipa was another 6 hours in a decent bus although the weather was miserable through the pass and we couldn't see anything but rain and sleet. At one point some slush was accumulating on the roadside but we shot right past it and on to Arequipa.

Plaza de Armas by night:

Arequipa is a nice city, the second largest in Peru, but it doesn't feel like it. The colonial style buildings are attractive and it was fun to walk around. We found some nice places to eat and Angela did a bit of shopping.
Plaza de Armas by morning:Then we hit a travel agency and booked a flight to Lima and then on to Trujillo. I think it cost us about $20 more to fly rather than bus. We won't get to see the coast south of Lima but we will also save 3 days. Nice.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Puno, Lake Titicaca and Arequipa- to infinity and beyond.

We caught an 8 a.m. bus out of Cusco and headed south to Puno, on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The drive was gorgeous with a stopoff at a high mountain pass to look at tables of handicrafts and baby llamas.
Our double decker bus was comfortable and air conditioned and we watched pirated copies of "The Godfather" and "Up." Something happened to the Godfather DVD and it quit about 2/3 of the way through. No one seemed to mind.Here's the faded sign at the side of the road saying 4,338 meters above sea level (14,232 feet).
And the obligatory market stop. I'm glad we didn't take the night bus, it was a gorgeous ride.The next day we took a tour of Lake Titicaca. The city of Puno is quite unremarkable so if you aren't interested in seeing the lake or some of the ruins in the area, I say skip it. We went on a 9 hour tour that started with some floating islands and ended at Taquile Island which offers stunning views and supposedly a look at isolated island people. Aside from the fact that they see 1,000 tourists a day they are wonderfully isolated. The floating islands were cool and made entirely of reeds. Angela and I went for a ride in a reed boat like the one above. I'm quite certain there were jetskis and other high power water craft hidden in the reeds but I was unable to spot them.
Here's the view from the lunch table on Taquile Island. It was a gorgeous spot overlooking Lake Titicaca but package tours are so lame it was hard to get past the herding and the prodding which I detest. "Titi" means puma and "caca" should actually be pronounced more like haha (means grey or stone colored) but the Spanish screwed it up so the sacred lake of the grey Puma does not come across so sacred anymore. If you look at the shape of the lake and turn it upside down it supposedly resembles a puma chasing a rabbit. Once again you may need to hit the coca tea before this becomes evident.The islanders are all about these stone arch ways and there are several of them as we walked from one side to the other. This little girl was gawking at all the white people, but she looked great in her traditional dress so I took this shot. It was nice and hot after lunch so I went down to the docks and jumped in the lake with two other tourists. Everyone looked shocked (the water was about 48F) but it felt great and I was surprised more people weren't doing it. I talked to the two other guys who jumped in and it turned out they were both from Fairbanks as well. Small world.
The ride back to Puno from Taquile Island took almost 3 hours but was hot and sunny the whole way. We chatted with some other travelers from Scotland, Germany and Australia and had a great time.
Today we caught an 11 a.m. bus to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. Once again we drove through a high mountain pass but this time it was pouring rain, fog and snow so we couldn't see anything. The movie on the bus was Castaway dubbed in Spanish. Who decides what we will watch is beyond me. Now we're tucked into a nice hotel on the edge of the main plaza and will set about exploring the city tomorrow. We are surrounded by 3 volcanoes and a few hours away is a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon. Probably won't check it out though as it's the rainy season and rain and canyons just don't mix.

Random travel tip of the day: Peruvian faucets do not have aerators (the little thing at the end that gives you a nice bubbling stream of water when you turn on the tap). So when you turn on the water a high pressure stream comes out, hits the sink and sprays all over your crotch effectively making it look like you have tragically embarrassing incontinence. You will do this at least 3 times before you learn to turn the faucet on slowly.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Machu Picchu- The Not so Ruined Ruins

This posting shall be a direct accounting of our assault on Machu Picchu.2 days before: purchased tickets on PeruRail from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Train is the only way into Aguas Calientes and PeruRail is happy to bend you over with their little monopoly. We booked the "Backpacker" in at 5am for $34 and the "Vistadome Valley" out for $60 because the "Backpacker" was already full. The trip takes less than 2 hours. Considering we have been paying about 30 cents an hour on all other transportation this is equivalent to getting a colonoscopy at McDonalds (unexpected and irresponsibly expensive).

Day of: Wake up at 4am, crawl down the road to train station, buy shot of heavily sweetened black coffee from 400 year old lady enroute. Get on wrong train car, wait until University of Iowa shows up (all in sweat pants), realize we are on wrong car, transfer to correct car. Fall asleep. Wake up at Aguas Calientes, stagger out of train with contacts stuck to back of eyelids. Make it to bus ticket lady first (in front of 400 sleepy gringos). Pay $15 for 15 minute bus ride. Experience colonoscopy dejavu.

Begin to wake up on bus as it ascends Machu Picchu. The wheels are inches from steep ravine into boiling river. The bus route is one lane and descending bus drivers vie with ascending drivers for space. There is no apparent right of way. Somehow we make it to the top to buy tickets. The ticket lady has NO CHANGE. Tickets are $45 each, I pay $46 dollars and say keep the change. She will not. I have to go to the toilet guy for change. He says I must use the toilet if I pay. I look around for the hidden camera crew that is obviously making a reality tv show out of me but they are well hidden. Finally we have our tickets and are inside the gate. We have been told that there is a stunning hill overlooking all of Machu Picchu called Wayna Picchu and we must climb it but only the first 400 ticket holders are allowed to do so. I tighten the laces on my Nikes and we take off at a dead sprint across the ruins. Rounding a corner I take out an entire Japanese tour group. Angela rear ends a Llama that tumbles into the ravine. We soldier on and make it to the Wayna gate on the other side of the ruins. There is mass confusion and a sprinkling of hysteria but half an hour later we are through the gate, #'s 148 and 149 for the day.It is then that we realize Wayna Picchu means "vertical rock tower from hell." Recall the scene from Lord of the Rings when Frodo, Samwise and Golem must climb the rock wall near the gates of Mordor. That was childsplay in comparison. In place of Orc's we are menaced by panting tourists from around the globe, gasping for air as they claw their way to the top. Each step is approximately 4 inches wide and made of polished stone. There are no guardrails. I use one hand to steady myself, the other to beat back the vultures that circle in the mist.

An hour later we make it to the top and see Machu Picchu in all it's glory. It is an amazing sight and we marvel its placement, construction and surroundings. To our left and right endless peaks of green are visible in the ebb and flow of morning mist. We sit and have a sandwich and a chocolate bar. Food is highly illegal for some reason and there are no bathroom facilities in the entire 10 acre site. Our sandwiches are delicious, the chocolate hits the spot. (thanks Jim and Jamelle!)An hour later we begin the descent and while I expect to see the surrounding ravines strewn with bodies they are not. We get back to the Wayna gate and sign out and head into Machu Picchu proper. It is rapidly filling with tourists but we are visiting in low season and apparently seeing only 1/3rd the normal traffic. I can't imagine what high season would be like (June-Sept.)
The ruins are spectacular and we make our way towards the Sun Gate for the view one sees in all pictures of Machu Picchu. By 1pm we have our fill of old rocks, tourists and Llama droppings. We head for the exit as the clouds fold in over Machu Picchu and a heavy rain begins to fall.Angela is losing consciousness at this point, snacks have run out and we are dangerously close to a meltdown. I fight my way to the next bus off the mountain and we clamber aboard. We hurtle back down to Aguas Calientes for spaghetti and a chicken burger. I prop Angela's head up with straws until the food arrives. We eat like starved wolf cubs and stagger to the train station.

Angela regains full function as the "Vistadome Valley" pulls into the departure gate. We step aboard oppulence and a self-proppelled single car train that seats about 100, there are barely 30 people aboard as we pull out. Two icy cold Cusquenas later and we are enjoying the mountain views. Soon music blares over the speakers and the train staff puts on a fashion show of local alpaca knitwear. (This really happened.) Then they take a cart down the aisle and try to sell the clothes. We don't buy anything but strike up a conversation with 4 americans from L.A.

We agree to share a minibus back to Cusco and so it is that 2 hours later our train pulls into Ollantaytambo, we haggle for half and hour, and end up in a plush 2008 minivan private charter for $4 each for the 2 hour drive back to Cusco. It is pouring rain the whole way and the driver tells me about all the accidents he has seen and that one should not be out on a Sunday (today) as that is considered "drunk driver day." Nice. We reach Cusco safely, the streets are running with water, we jump into a taxi and return to Bright Hostal for the night. I kick on a pirated dvd of "The Hangover" and then it's off to bed.

Next up: Escape to Lake Titicaca

Random travel tip of the day: Always travel with two (2) mix cd's for your minivan taxi or you may be forced to listen to 80's Euro Hit Parade. I think this is the real reason for South America's high road mortality rate.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Ruins of Ollantaytambo

The hardest part about this town is pronouncing the name. We spent yesterday in Pisac hiking the ruins there and then minibused our way to Ollantaytambo. O little town of PisacIt took 3 buses and 2 and a half hours and cost $1. Public transportation is crazy cheap here if you don´t mind riding with 20 people in a van that should hold 6. It´s all about the front seat next to the window. Muy importante. Ollanta is very cool with ruins right outside our bedroom window. We´re staying in KB Tambo and its a great place run by a very cool american dude. Last night we dined on wood fired brick oven pizza and when the power went out the place was full of candles and the wood fired oven kept cranking so it didn´t even matter. We just ordered more mojitos and then ran home in torrential rain. We´re off to Machu Picchu tomorrow by train and then return to Cusco in the evening and then plan to head south to Lake Titicaca.

Adios amigos!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cusco, Peru - narrow streets, little people, llots of llamas

I don't know why but I thought Cusco was going to be a seedy little backpacker slum where everyone gears up for Machu Picchu. A sort of Katmandu of Peru. I couldn't have been more wronger.
Here's Angela in Plaza de Armas as night falls on the city. We landed at the airport at 7am, went out and caught a taxi to a little place called Bright Hostal, then took off to explore the city. We went from surf level to just over 11,000 feet in less than 12 hours, not so bueno. We started drinking Coca tea and lots of water, I didn't have any affects but Angela had a splitting headache by bedtime. She slept it off though and has been fine ever since.
There are Llamas and brightly colored people that roam this ancient city and I often stop and can't believe that I am here. Cusco has done an amazing job of holding onto its past, providing an international destination for millions, and packing the streets with delicious cafes, cool bars and textile stores. Two thumbs way up.
This is the second time on the trip I paid for a picture. I cringe to do this but Llamas are much more funny looking in real life and I couldn't resist. And if my hard earned Soles go to people who walked the streets with their families and their Llamas is that such a bad thing? I think not.