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!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bus rides, boat rides and blockades oh my !!!!

So, here we are 2 weeks later and I`m finally able to write. How is everyone? We are great after finishing a 30 plus hour bus trip, on 4 different legs, that took us from Valparaiso to Iquique, Chile in the last 2 days. But that is the recent stuff. You want to hear about what has happened in between, right? Well let me tell you.

The last time I wrote we were about to get on the ferry in Puerto Natales, Chile for a 4 day sail north to Puerto Montt. What a fabulous time we had on the boat. It took a bit longer to get out of Puerto Natales than expected due to a broken cable on the ship`s elevator, but we ended up getting a free night and free meals while waiting to leave. That was fine with us as we met and visited with people from all over the world. The Irish certainly know how to drink and the French aren`t far behind. We enjoyed getting to know all of them. There was a lot of card playing, farkel rolling, reading, taking 3 hour naps, and watching beautiful sunsets and even one sunrise. We saw dolphins, penguins, seals, and also the water spout as a whale breached off in the distance. Only one day, in which we went out into the Pacific Ocean, did we feel sea sick. But after taking a sea sickness pill and a long nap, I was fine. Eric, of course, was in the bridge with the crew saying
"Here comes another one! Look at the size of that wave!" That`s the moment I had to go lie down. But all in all, it was a fabulous experience. Supposedly it is the longest ferry trip in the Southern Hemisphere and maybe even the world... 810 nautical miles. Eric is checking into this as he thinks Bellingham to Juneau is longer.

So, after being on the boat since Friday May 23 we disembarked last Wednesday the
28th at 8:30 AM and immediately hopped a bus to Pucon. Pucon sits at the base of Volcan Villarica, one of the most active in Chile. Locals told us that if the steam stops, start worrying. The last minor eruption was in 1984 and thankfully the steam kept coming and we stayed there for 2 cold nights. When I say cold, it was 44 degrees and, like I said in the picture, that was in our room!!!! I was freezing! But they had plenty of warm blankets... I think I used 5 of them. Two other couples from the ferry ended up going the same way we did and we all ended up at the same hostel in Pucon. It was nice to be with people that we already knew and we all suffered in the cold together. We also took a bus to hotsprings nearby called Los Polzones. It was a beautiful rustic setting of 5 different pools next to a river. We were the only ones there and tried all 5 of them. Some were warmer than the others and we ended up being there for 4 hours. Very nice and a bit pruney!

We left Pucon last Friday and headed north to Valparaiso on an overnight bus along with Iain and Danni, a couple from Manchester, England. We made a stop in a town called Temuco where we had a 7 hour layover and found a mall with a great food court and movie theater in which to burn those hours. Halfway through the new Indiana Jones movie (subtitled) I looked at Eric and said "Hey, this is the first movie we have ever been to in our 14 months of dating." That`s right, we had never been to a movie together in all of that time. Not something we planned, it just never happened... there were always paths to be hiked or falls to swim in. We laughed quietly and watched the rest of the movie happily, unfazed by the dating record we had just broken... Eric says we are waiting another 14 month before we see another. If you see the movie let me know what you think. Anyways, we hopped a 10 PM bus that evening and arrived at 8AM on Saturday in Valparaiso.

It is a lovely town set on 45 hills on the Chilean coast. It is built almost vertically because of the steep hills and thus has about 15 acensores to ride on to get farther up the hills instead of walking aimlessly through the maze of streets. We all stayed in a hostel with an amzing view of the ocean and the city. We walked through some of the town, at times ending up at dead ends and having to turn around but, we had fun. We also took a bus to a small town called Vina del Mar for a day and saw a giant Moai head from Easter island that Eric wanted to see. It is an island about 2200 miles off the coast from Valparaiso known for its polynesian culture and hundreds of Moai (giant statues). Unfortunately, it is too expensive to get to and this was the closest we would get. The towns were great and we enjoyed the time we had with our new British friends.

OK, now back to the 30 plus hour bus ride and our attempts to get farther north in Chile and hopefully, into Peru. But, the bus we had today didn`t run because of a nationwide truck strike, which is blocking all the major roads in Chile. So, we are "stuck" here. Hopefully, they`ll be running tomorrow. But we have enjoyed the 2extra days here, wandering around and discovering more of Iquique.

So that is it for now. We hope everyone is doing well and enjoying what seems to be the start of a hot summer. I`m finally in shorts and a t-shirt! Until next time!