Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tango, tigers and tears...

Howdy from our last day in South America!

We have been in Buenos Aires since this past Monday and have been enjoying our final week in South America. On Wednesday we went to a professional soccer game. A team called La Boca (thought to be one of the best in Argentina) played against a team named Arsenal (unfortunately not the one from England, that would have been too good to be true). It was amazing! The fans were unlike any other fans that I have ever seen. Even A & M. Soccer is their passion. It is what they love and live for. Fortunately Boca won 3-1 with some incredible goals and the stadium literally shook. We really enjoyed this unique experience.

On Thursday we were able to have a private one on one Tango lesson at the hotel that we stayed at. A professional tango instructor came to our shared living room as we moved things aside and were able to learn a little bit of this legendary Argentinian dance. The move with your arms straight out and going from one corner of the room to the other is apparently only done in Hollywood, not in Buenos Aires. It was fun and Eric was a good sport. The evening before some Australian and New Zealand friends and we went to a tango club with a live orchestra. This gathering of locals meeting to dance was called a "milango" and there were practically no tourists. One of the best and cheapest ways to see the real stuff.

The next to last day we headed out of the city limits to a town an hour and a half away called Lujuan. Once there we found the Lujan Zoo which was started in 1994 by a very wealthy man. It is more of a safari like petting zoo. We were able to get in cages with tigers, monkeys, baby lions and adult lions but we decided not to push our luck to much with them as they didn't seem to be in the friendliest mood. I rode a camel, we both went for a ride on an elephant and finally got to see a tucan! It was great! We have some incredible pictures of this visit that would never happen in the states. Too much liablity.

So the past 3 and a half months are finally coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey of inspirational monuments, mesmerizing sunsets and stunning vistas. It really does make you think just how blessed we are to be able to live in a world with such natural beauty. The experience of this trip is just that... an experience. One of many that is yet to come. But as the saying goes, "Carpe Diem!" Seize the day! I feel that is exactly what Eric and I have done. We have lived in the moment and for the moment. Each and every one. The good the bad and the beautiful.

We are heading back to the states on a plane tonight at 9 and will arrive in Austin tomorrow. We will be home for a month or so and then head back out again for a road trip from Mid September to Mid November out west through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. We will hopefully be seeing many of you during our travels. Thank you for letting us into your lives if only through pictures and words. We have appreciated your love and well wishes throughout the year. We are both very blessed to have friends and family that support us in the way that you do.

Erika and Eric

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dreams and Icons

As we continued our way south through Brazil and into Argentina the last couple weeks, I have spent a lot of time wondering about famous places. We have seen many in South America but recently in Brazil it seems to have had more of an impact. Most likely the approaching end of our trip has made me look back at all the places we have been. Nostalgic already? No, something more than that.

Throughout most of our lives we read books, magazines, watch tv, or see a movie that describes a far off place in an exotic country. Sometimes that place is a marvel of nature with immense beauty. Other times, it is a pocket of humanity and its infrastructure, somehow dropped into a dramatic setting with awesome vistas. Either way, these places take on a life of their own in our imaginations and dreams. Maybe we do actually visit and see them for our own eyes and experience their power and beauty. Often, though, it seems that they just stay a dream... to be enjoyed only thru the glossy travel section of the paper. And, it is funny how those glossy pictures transform these icons and natural wonders. We put ourselves into these perfectly staged pictures, with their vivid blue skies, empty beaches, and helicopter like perspectives. And in the picture, nobody is there. At least we view the picture as if we are the only one there, not having to sharethe beauty with anyone. The place exists just for us to enjoy.

And then we are there. But, the place is crowded with people, the sky mostly cloudy, and the perspective we had expected unattainable unless we can fly... a bit dissapointing? Hardly. Humbling is a better term. I realize that the place I had for my whole life imagined myself at, through just a simple photo, was real and I was actually there. Yes, people, cars, boats, noise, clouds, rain, flies, and peddlers are there, but the reality is... that I AM there. Looking out over Rio de Janiero, floating down the Amazon River, sitting on a rock outcrop over Machu Picchu, or getting naseaus in a plane over the Nazca Lines... I am THERE! Amazing and humbling. Brazil helped drive that home. Heading downstream on the Amazon River in a boat full of locals (some drunk) and hammocks helped me realize that. Getting pickpocketed in Belem, riding on a bus for 36 hours straight, getting stung by hornets and bitten by a pirahna in the jungle, and eating a sweetslice of watermelon on a beautiful beach while small waves swept up around us to the rocks helped me realize that. Those experiences were not promised by the photos. The reality is not in the photo, it comes from going to that special place, seeing it, and experiencing it for yourself. And that is perfect, because in pictures, Christ the Redeemer looks huge towering over Rio, but in person, He is quite slim and not as big as you think.

What is huge... what is the reality... is the craggy, steep mountain He is on, the beautiful city around Him, and the hordes of tourists spreading their arms on the steps in front for the same goofy picture. But you don´t have to believe me, just see it for yourself.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

We return to Argentina

So yes, we are finally back in Argentina. We only have one week left on our 3 and a half month adventure and wanted to catch you up on the past few weeks. They have been relaxing, awe-inspiring, and breathtaking. Beaches in Northern Brazil, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil and Argentina. We have been taking buses to all of these destinations... some okay and some that I had to say more than one prayer while we were in it. But we are doing great and enjoying the final days that we have in South America. So, the past 3 weeks...

When I last wrote we were leaving Salvador, Brazil to find some beaches. Did we find them? Absolutely. The pictures say it all. We took a bus north first to a town called Praia de Forte where the beach wasn´t that great but it was a beautiful town and had a turtle reserve. That is the picture of me touching a very slippery stingray and then the picture of a Hawksbill turtle, one of 5 different species of turtles in Brazil. Not as good as the turtle lady in South Padre Island but hey we were in Brazil! After Praia de Forte (praia means beach by the way in Portuguese) we headed south to Ilhues, Itacare, and Transcoso. The beaches were fabulous with lots of good waves that Eric body surfed and I did my best to bodysurf. The currents were very strong. But eating fresh pineapples and watermelon on a tropical beach all made for a very relaxing and refreshing time.

After the beach scene we headed farther south on a bus for 18 hours overnight to Rio de Janeiro. Again with almost no sleep on the bus, as in the other postings that I have written, we arrived in Rio at 11:30 am a week ago this past Thursday. We headed for our hostel in Ipanema called "The Girl from Ipanmea," (does the name ring any musical bells?) and our dorm room for 3 nights. We shared a room with 2 Aussies, one Brazilian, and 2 Americans (both from California). Seven of us in all, 3 of the seven (including Eric) in a triple decker. The guy in the top triple fell out one night... more on that from Eric. Thankfully Eric nor I did any falling. The hostel was nice enough on a sort of alley way with about 4 different hostels and residences and it felt like Sesame Street. We met people from all over the world and enjoyed Rio immensely. We went to both Ipanema and Copacabana beach, bodysurfed once more. We went to Station 9 (a post on that beach) where the song "Girl from Ipanema" was supposedly written and lay in the sun with all of the other Brazilians and tourists from around the world.

We also, along with half of Rio, headed up to see Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain, which means "hunchback". We took a bus and then a tram to get there. We have many more pictures of this icon but have only posted 2 of them. The view of Rio from above was stunning and you certainly feel something special standing in the presence of a 30 meter tall Christ. A definite must see should you ever visit Brazil. Another day was spent in downtown Rio and we walked around to see some (if only from the outside) historical buildings like the Municipal Theater, lots of museums, and the Imperial Palace. We went inside the Candelaria Church from 1775 which combines a Baroque façade with a Neoclassical and Neo-Renaissance inner decoration. And we visited the MOMA, Museum of Modern Arts, with a few very interesting exhibits. We both enjoyed Rio de Janeiro and all that it had to offer.

After Rio, we got on another bus for an almost 24 hour ride to Foz do Iguacu. Still in Brazil we were now at the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. We stayed in Foz for a couple nights and visited one of the most amazing falls the world has to offer... Iguazu, the largest (by volume of water) in the world. We hiked about a mile to get to some stunning views of the falls. This is another one-of-a-kind places (like Machu Picchu) that you really have to see to believe. The inspiration that I felt at the falls is something that I will never forget. The next day we crossed the border into Argentina to see the falls from that side. Two-thirds of the falls are in Argentinian territory. Although I believe the view of almost the entire falls is better from Brazil, the power that you feel while standing at the mouth of the Garganta del Diablo is unreal in Argentina. That is one of the pictures that is posted where Eric and I look superimposed. But it´s real! We spent 2 days at the park hiking trails, admiring the rainforest, animals, colorful birds, and lots of pretty butterflies.

We head back to Texas a week from today and will be happy to share our many pictures and stories with those of you who would like to see and hear them. We take a 17 hour bus ride today to Buenos Aires on a bus with a, wait for it..."Supercama!" Also called "Tetto Letto", whatever that means, must be Italian for "Supercama!" What it really means is that instead of the near zero sleep that we´ve been getting on the other bus rides we will have a big chair that reclines into a bed! Along with wine and champagne! Heaven, I´m in heaven...

We will send another update from Buenos Aires before we leave detailing our final week in South America. We hope that you are all well and will be home before you know it!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Amazon River Boats, Piranha bites and a Jungle Lodge!!!

So the title just about summed up what we have been up to the past few weeks. We have not had access to internet long enough and fast enough to update the blog. But now we do. Yeah! We are currently in Salvador, Brazil and have been in Brazil for the past 3 weeks or so. It has been... an adventure to say the least. Some good highlights and some not so good I will begin to share with you.

When we last wrote we were leaving Lima, Peru on a plane for Iquitos, Peru and heading into the Amazon River region. We stayed in Iquitos for 3 days and even found a home away from home at a restaurant called "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Too good to be true! 4 lunch/dinners later there we were old pals with the owner Gerald who hailed from Houston. He was dare I say a Longhorn. We told him we were Aggies and he threw us out of his really he was quite nice and we had really tasty meals like Chicken and Dumplings, a yummy hamburger and the best frozen lemonade I've ever had. So with our bought hammocks in hand, we headed for our boat along with about 150 other Peruvians/Colombians/Brazilians and a few Gringos for Santa Rosa, Peru/ Leticia, Colombia/ Tabatinga, Brazil. It is a tri-border. After that and a night stay in Colombia we proceeded to get on another boat headed for Manaus, Brazil.

The boat trip down the Amazon River. What can I say? It was truly an amazing experience. We slept on hammocks for 6 nights, watched beautiful sunrises (5:30 AM-I know I can hardly believe I was awake at that hour either) and sunsets, and played with most of the children on the boat, I'm sure to their parent's delight. We ate beans, rice, pasta and the meat of their choice( heart of a cow at one point!) for lunch and dinner and had bread for breakfast. Luckily we had brought a few items with us and so we added fruit to our breakfast menu. The slow ride at about 10 knots an hour was like we were in a movie. We kept looking at each other saying, "We're taking a boat down the Amazon River." We saw numerous birds, dolphins, small villages where we dropped off anything from soda to bananas and really enjoyed getting to know some of our fellow passengers. There were people from The Czech Republic, Spain, Mexico amd Argentina on the boats with us as well. We now have all of their contact information in order to visit them sometime! Talk about networking!

The experience of the trip and all that it offered was amazing but there were a few minor things that detracted from this trip. One was the hammock. Who in their right mind would choose to sleep in a hammock every night is beyond me. We ended up buying a pool float and I tried to sleep on that beacuse the hammock just wasn't very comfortable. But unfortunately that started to deflate… so it was back to the hammock. The restrooms definitely needed attention after 250 people rotated through it on a daily basis. They did seem to get cleaned a few times during the trip which I was eternally grateful for. The water in the shower was actually river water that didn’t look too great in the river but came out semi-clear through the shower head. But 6 semi-sleepless nights later we arrived in Manaus, Brazil. It was a great experience, one which I’m happy I have had but have enjoyed the comforts of a bed and clear water the past couple of weeks.

So once we get to Manaus we immediately started to look for trips into the jungle. We opted for a jungle lodge instead of another night of sleeping in a hammock which in some of the tours available that was one of their high points for tourists. But having had already had that experience we said “No thank you. We’ve had enough nights in a hammock.” So we settled on a place called Acajatuba Jungle Lodge about 3hours away from Manaus by boat. We were the only ones on the boat until 2 families from Lithuania came on board halfway through the trip. The first question that one of the young girls asked Eric once she found out we were from Texas was, “Have you ever seen a tornado?” I answered “He’s actually chased them before!” Wow! She was truly fascinated by this. Onto the lodge!

We arrived around 6 PM to this rustic, natural setting lodge in the middle of the Amazon Jungle with a Guarana drink to toast our arrival. It is a fruit that is here in Brazil. Very tasty. Unfortunately they were out of ice at the time as the typical welcome drink is the Caprianhi. But we have been able to have our fair share in consuming those by now! So the jungle lodge was great. We met people from Israel, Denmark, Holland, England and even Texas! That’s right. A lady and her daughter from El Paso arrived the day before we left. We ate well, watched some beautiful sunsets, saw some colorful birds, viewed some pink dolphins and took a canoe ride through the flooded forest amongst other things. We also did a walking tour through the jungle where our guide Roby showed us various plants and trees that they used to cure anything from a headache to rheumatism. We saw giant ants that had a vicious sting and Eric and I each ate a grub worm. Good nutrients! There was an amazing tree that we saw called the Rubber Tree that was discovered in the 1800’s and thus began the rubber boom. Roby let us put the liquid of this tree in the palm of our hand and then rub it with a finger and after a few minutes it turned into a rubbery substance.

Another highlight of the trip was piranha fishing. We took a canoe which was our means of transportation out there and fished for about an hour and a half. I caught 3 and Eric caught 2 of these legendary fish. Eric even got to take home a present from them… a bite on his finger. One got off his hook and as he tried to pick it up out of the boat it bit him! Mean little sucker. Thank goodness it was a small one and not one of the bigger ones we caught. It certainly bled a lot. I ended up eating the one that bit him for lunch the next day! We also got to take home the mouth and head of one of them as a souvenir. So it was a very fun time doing lots of excursions, hearing the sounds of nature at night (minus a bar down the way that began pumping techno music around 10 PM each night on and off) but what could we do? It was a neat thing to partake in. 4 days and 3 nights later we were back to Manaus through means of a canoe, car and ferry. We ended up staying 2 nights with a very nice family that we had met on the Amazon boat trip. They had 2 precious children and it was extremely generous of them to take us in.

2 days later we flew from Manaus to Belem, 3 hours instead of taking another boat-7 days long this time! So last Wednesday we arrived in Belem at 9 AM, did some research on how to get farther East towards the beaches and opted for taking a bus. The planes turned out to be way too expensive. So we headed for the bus station, bought 2 tickets for a 36 hour bus ride the next day at 3:30 PM and then went to catch a local bus to find a hotel. That was not such a wise decision we soon found out. I was already on the bus as Eric began to get on. Suddenly there was a guy that shoved in front of him to ask the bus driver a question and a guy behind him trying to get on. They got off and 5 minutes later Eric realized that his wallet and my passport were gone. Through a Velcro and zipper pocket! Talk about a sinking feeling. So after a few choice words of anger and frustration we spent the rest of the day with the tourist police and the US Consulate office. The US Consular was very helpful and as I began the paperwork for a new passport they received a call that a Brazilian had found my passport on the street and was bringing it to the office. I didn’t cry until it was in my hands. 30 minutes later I had it and Eric and I both knew that we were very lucky. Christine, the US Consular, said that almost never happens. They usually get sold on the black market for big bucks. So a few tears later we were on our way to finally eat something and try to enjoy the rest of our time in Belem.

The next day we were on a bus to Salvador. Talk about wanting a bed again. Those were a couple of very sleepless nights as well. But we made it and are now in Salvador where we have spent the past few days and have hung out with a nice couple Claire and Andrew from Liverpool, England that was on the same bus trip. Salvador is beautiful. It is kind of built on a hill like Valparaiso, Chile was so they have an elevator and ascensor to get to different levels of the city. The city is rich in African culture as many of the descendents of the slaves who were brought here kept a lot of their culture and heritage so there is singing and music in the streets on a daily basis, brightly dressed women, beautiful paintings and yummy food.

Today we head to some beaches and will be beach hopping the next week or so. We hope that you are all well and sorry that it took so much time to get this update to you. Hope you have enjoyed it along with the pictures! Love to you all!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The long and winding road...

Hola everyone!

So we are here in Lima, Peru (La capital) for a few days before we head to the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru next week. I thought I would take this time to catch y'all up on what we've been doing the past week or so. I also wanted to give you a little bit of insight into a few things that I've learned during our South American travels.

When I last wrote we were leaving Cusco for Nazca and the Nazca Lines. Instead of taking a 16 hour bus ride there, we decided to break it up and take our time. Our first bus ride was to a place called Abancay which Eric wrote about some in his last post. As he stated the ride was very twisty and turny and I got a bit nauseous. It was not a very fun ride at all. Although only 5 hours, it felt like double that. So we stayed the night there (I finally started to feel better after a nap) and then got on another bus the next morning to a town called Puquio. This ride was not as curvy. But along the trip Eric told me that this is the road that bandits in the past have put blockades in the way of the road and robbed people of their money and valuables. "Oh great!" I thought, "So I won't get sick this time but we could get robbed!!" He just laughed at me as he sometimes does and said
"Don't worry, we'll be fine." So I just continued watching the dubbed movie on the bus and prayed that we would be fine. Along the way the bus started to slow down... uh oh! I looked out the window and saw what looked to me like a blockade. It turned out that it was just an overturned truck with posts around it. Great! An overturned truck on this road didn't make me feel that much better. "That's Peru!" as Eric so often likes to point out to me. So we finally arrived in Puquio much to my delight and started looking for a place to stay. It was already dark and as we walked we started to notice the locals staring at us quite strangely. You see nobody and I mean nobody, especially Gringos, ever stop here. Some of them even pointed at us and said "Gringos!" Like they had never seen any before in person. I believe that some of them hadn't. So we smiled and said "Si, Gringos!" and found a hostel not far down the dirt road. Sanctuary! So we stayed the night there and then hopped on the first bus, or should I say, minibus we could find leaving for Nazca.

Here we come Nazca! I was ready to get there but wasn't quite ready for what this ride had in store for us. We were in a 15 passenger minibus along with all locals and were immediately covered in dust and dirt due to it being a partially paved road. We finally got to a better road and began our 5 hour trip to Nazca. The first few hours were actually nice and we drove through some pretty countryside. The last hour plus of the ride was another story. We found ourselves going, in my opinion and most sane people's opinion, way too fast down and around the Andean Platuea along curves that I hadn't been on before (and we had been on some pretty curvy mountains). It actually felt like we were on 2 wheels at some points during that ride. What put the icing on the cake is that about halfway down my eyes suddenly tore open (I had closed them and began praying to please just get us there safely) when we almost T-Boned an oncoming large truck. Screeeeech! Not what I needed at that point. As always, Eric smiled and offered the usual look that means "That's Peru". I said to him "Never again am I doing this bus trip! I'll fly to Nazca next time."

So we arrived in Nazca and took a taxi to the hostel that we had a reservation at. Apparently once tourists arrive in Nazca, more than most other towns, there is usually a problem of other people trying to get you to go to their hostel even to the point of saying bad things about the place... "It's dirty" or "they're mean" or "it burned down", etc. So we missed out on all of that and wound up at a really nice place with a Dutch-Peruvian couple that ran it. (Their picture is attached as well.) Quite a heighth difference between the two of them. They even had a 5 month old precious baby girl that I got to play with for the 5 days we stayed there. Such fun!

We were in Nazca a bit longer than we had anticipated partially or I guess mostly due to the fact that I got sick and couldn't do much for 2 days. I was miserable and will not go into further details. But we did watch a lot of the Euro 2008 soccer games (The final is between Germany and Spain this Sunday, !Viva España!), read in hammocks on a beautiful terrace, and played chess a few times. Last Sunday (after a call home to my parents getting medical advice about my illness) I felt well enough to get in a 5 person airplane and head out or up I should say to see the famous Nazca Lines.

These lines were made anywhere between 300 BC and 700 AD by the Nasca culture (Pre-Incan). They were discovered in the 1920's when commercial airlines began flights over the Peruvian desert. Some believe that these lines are a giant astronomical calender while others think that it is a map of subterranean water canals. Some of the figures that we saw from the sky other than geometrical shapes included a monkey, pelican, hands, hummingbird and astronaut. Pictures of 1 of these is attached as well. A few of these shapes are 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide and stretch more than 6 miles. Although seeing the lines in person was a great feeling, the feeling I got while in the plane was not. I am unfortunately susceptible to getting ill in small aircraft and even though I took an airsickness pill prior I could still feel the effects of gravity. Eric even fell nauseous and he has a solid stomach. Plus, the more than 20 plus "banks" to the right and left that the pilot did so we could get a "better view" of the figures did not help the situation. Thank you. I can see them just fine flying straight! Nothing happened I am happy to report and I was able to open my eyes long enough to get a few decent pictures. But I was happy to be back on land 30 minutes later.

We left Nazca the next day, this past Monday, made a quick overnight stop in Ica before heading into Lima where we are now. It has 8 million plus inhabitants and is huge! We've been to the Plaza Mayor, the main Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, watched a fun street performance show, and took 2 very long bus rides from Miraflores (the neighborhood we're staying in) to downtown. We hope to see one of the 10 plus museums today or tomorrow. We will stay here until Saturday or Sunday when we will fly to a city in northern Peru called Iquitos where we will get a boat and head down the Amazon river for what I'm sure will be a few adventure filled days. I'm hearing something about how we will be sleeping in hammocks...hmmm??? We'll see about that.

So for those few observations and helpful hints I mentioned earlier:

1. Toilet paper- A very necessary part of survival in Peru. Almost no places that you try to use the restroom (other than places you stay and even sometimes there you are required to bring your own) have it. Always keep a supply on you!

2. Toilet seats- A very necessary part of a toilet as far as I am concerened but not so in Peru. Apparently they are worried that you will steal it. Most places do not furnish this. Although I do have much stronger leg muscles now!

3. Electric showers- When standing under an electric shower, under no circumstances are you to ever touch anything metal. If you happen to brush up against it you are in for a nice electrifying surprise. This will ensure that you never do it again. Trust me. I know from experience. Eric got a good shock to his head in one shower in Ica... he spent the rest of the shower crouching.

4. Buses- Big, small, local, long distance... We've done them all. Just because they say they are going to leave at 10 AM doesn't mean that they are going to leave at 10 AM. They are going to leave when they want to (an hour or so late) and the staff that works will even shuffle you more than once onto various other buses hoping that one will leave soon. Which it doesn't always do. This we know from experience as well.

5. Food- I must say that I have been fairly proud of myself having ordered something on the menus and sometimes not knowing what I'll end up with. Eric can attest to this for those of you who don't believe me and know my picky eating habits. But most of the time it has turned out pretty well. Although I am fairly certain that food was the culprit of my getting sick in Nazca. But as Eric says, "Hey it's Peru!"

So that is it for now. We hope that everyone is doing well and has gotten a bit more insight into our travels through Peru. Next time we'll be writing about our adventures in Brazil! We have our visas in hand and are ready to go! Until then, Ciao!


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cusco and Machu Picchu

I`m back! Thanks to Eric for filling in on some of the details of the recent week or so. I really wasn`t that upset, although the fried chicken definitely helped to put me in a better mood pretty quickly. So let me tell y`all about Cusco and amazing Machu Picchu.

After we left Puno we headed on a bus to Cusco and found a hostel only a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas which is the main square. Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and is surrounded by Incan ruins. We walked around a lot throughout the city, visiting a few churches, sitting in the plaza watching children dance some of their local dances and enjoying the beautiful weather. There were LOTS of tourists as it is a major destination point in Peru. We found really tasty local food for incredibly cheap as Eric pointed out in the previous posting. Sometimes we end up spending more on breakfast than we do for dinner which is amazing to me. And that`s just buying fruit, yogurt, and juice. So we stayed in Cusco for 3 days and then last Saturday headed to Ollantaytambo on our way to Machu Picchu.

They certainly don`t make it very easy to get to Machu Picchu. We figured out that is was less expensive doing the trip there on our own rather than with a tour agency, as that´s what most foreigners do. The least expensive we found was $170 each for 3 days and 2 nights including entrance fees and bus rides. We ended up doing it for $245 total instead of $340. But there were 3 buses and a train involved in getting to Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. We settled into Ollantaytambo , walked around the small town that is set amongst more Incan ruins and lots of cobbled streets and went to bed early as we had to get up at 4:45 AM to catch the train to Aguas Calientes.

Aguas Calientes is the base for getting to Machu Picchu. From there you either take the bus up or walk 3 miles up. On the way there we opted for the bus. On the way back was a different story. Talk about sore muscles... So needless to say Machu Picchu was amazing. We got there at 8 AM and stayed until they kicked us out at 5 PM. It was a very long day but worth it. Some say that the ruins were made for the rich Incan rulers to party and hang out kind of like a resort for them. Others say that it was used more for religious or ceremonal purposes. Whatever the reasons, we should just be glad that we are able to enjoy the physical endeavors of what they accomplished 550 years ago. We also were able to do a hike straight up a smaller mountain called Wayna Picchu. When I say straight up, I mean straight up. Eric even went down part of it backwards like a ladder it was so steep. But what an incredible view. We looked out over the entire Incan city and hung out at the highest point at about 8000 feet. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful morning for the hike and then the clouds rolled in and we were greeted with a nice afternoon thundershower. It made for a variety of great pictures. So it was incredible and there are pictures as well to get a small perspective of it. But one truly has to visit it in person in order to experience it´s magnitude.

We are heading to Nasca as Eric said and will send further updates in a week or so. Love and hugs to everyone!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Peru !!!!

Ok, I know, this is Erika´s blog, but because I accidentally erased 45 minutes of her writing the next update (weird keyboards here in Peru)... I get to write the replacement. Though upset, she was mainly mad at the computer because it had been giving her problems the whole time. So we went and ate fried chicken at a local Pollo ala Brasa... which made her much happier and, I think, made up for my error.

The last we left yall was in Chile, waiting for the transportation strike to end. Well it did end and we were able to catch a bus to Arica, Chile and then another bus across the border to Tacna, Peru. We spent one night there and then caught a bus the next day to Arequipa. Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city, with mountains surrounding it and Volcan El Misti looming nearby. Its elevation of 8400 feet made the first day there a bit slow, allowing us to acclimate to the altitude. Plus, we had mate de coca to drink, which locals claims wards off sorroche (AMS). We spent 4 days there exploring the churches, museums, cobbled colonial streets, and cheap restaurants... plus, I got a haircut for 3 dollars! Eat yer heart out Supercuts. I also found my old friends the Diaz Corals, which had befriended me in 2003 when I was here. We had a nice visit with Verita and her daughter Jenny. Verita, as some might recall, fixed me guinea pig (Cuy it´s called, a Peruvian delicacy) last time I was here but unfortunately (not for Erika) we had to take a rain check.

From Arequipa we headed southeast to Puno and Lago Titicaca. Lago Titicaca is the world´s highest navigable lake and a must see for Erika. It was good we spent some time in Arequipa acclimating as the lake and Puno (the Peruvian city on the lake) sits at an elevation of 12,500ft... whew, deep breaths, but we didn´t pass out. The highlight was an all day tour to the Uros Floating Islands and Isla Taquile. The floating islands are the only home to the Uros people, a race that predates the Incans. The Uros use the Totura reed to construct everything... their islands, homes, boats, and trinkets for tourists. They even use it for food, which I tasted... kind of like celery.

After the floating islands, we hopped back on the boat and started the next leg to Isla Taquile, itself a throw back to an ancient culture. Clothing on the island is one of the most easily recognizable aspect of this culture. The guide asked us if we knew how to tell a single man from a married one... I piped up and said ¨the single one is still smiling!¨ as Erika glared at me. Nope he said, single men wear different colored hats and waist belts than the married ones and it is the same with females... same with the smile too I bet. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the island and marveling at the adherence to custom and the beautiful setting.

The boat trip back to Puno was quite exciting as the afternoon winds had kicked up chop and a swell of four to six feet. For the small boat of 30 people it was quite exciting as the occasional wave crashed over the main cabin. Several tourists had to hang on the rails. Not us, though, seasoned seafarers that we are!

It is good to be in Peru. Although not as organized, clean, or sanitary as Chile and Argentina, it is exciting and cheap nonetheless. We are having a much easier time staying under budget. I have convinced Erika that we can avoid the tourist trap eateries and enjoy a good dinner at the local restaurants. Now we are eating for between 75 cents to 2.50... that´s American dollars... mmm mmmm! Although we splurged last night on fried and rotissiere chicken, fries, salad, rice and a coke... for 6 bucks total! Bus travel is also more exciting, and that´s not even riding in one. This morning in Cusco, the bus company we had bought tickets with hussled us over to another company, switching our tickets for free. Then that one, evidently having their bus cancelled for whatever reason, hussled us over to another company (Palomino Bus... sounded lucky) which converted our tickets to their own and we were on our way. No luggage lost, no extra money, and only an hour late!

So now, we are in Abancay, a remote city between Cusco and Nasca. We left Cusco this morning and picked Abancay as a nice stopover to break up the long trip to Nasca (12 hours) our next ¨touristy¨ destination. It was good we stopped because the 4.5 hour trip was one of the most windy up and down route we have been on. The views were awesome but Erika was nauseous and had a headache for much of the trip. When the bus stopped at Abancay, several vendors boarded to sell travel sickness pills to the remaining passengers who were continuing the journey on to Lima... have fun.

Well, it´s getting close to that 75 cent dinner time so Erika will finish what I started... but later and with all the cool details on our journey into Cusco and up to Machu Picchu.

Take care!