Think of a canyon teaming with cars, trucks, buses, scurrying people, sidewalk stalls and thick smoggy air up to the rims on all sides and you’ve imagined La Paz. It’s insane here with no place to walk and people crushing from all sides. It’s also pretty interesting with tons of shops to look in, winding alleyways to explore and lots of good food to eat.Of course, there were the obligatory ruins to visit…these being the Tiwanaku, the ancestors to the Incans. One of my favorite things was the Luche Libre wrestling.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
After I had a snicker at the name of this place, I needed to take deep calming breaths because I was at 4000 meters and the breathing ain’t easy up here, never mind the snickering. Of course, the first thing I did was sign up for a tour where I was expected to climb a mountain to see ancient funerary tombs. I swear, somewhere, buried deep in my genes is a tiny strand of Incan DNA just dying to get closer to its gods. Sillustani was pretty interesting once I decided my heart wasn’t going to actually leap out of my chest. For over a thousand years, different civilizations built their tombs here and you can see the development of architecture as they became more proficient. These Incan tombs are some of the last ones built.We also got to stop at a local ‘farm’ to check out their lifestyle. No electricity, no gas, no running water and dirt floors seem to be the norm. It was pretty sad as the kids automatically put their hands out for tips. I’m going to be a little more careful about booking tours after seeing the impact that tourism has here.Check out the bones hanging from above the doorway. The next day I went out on the lake, thinking that I was in for a lazy day of cruising. It was pretty easy in the morning as we visited the floating islands of Uros. The islands, the houses and even the beds are made from reeds that grow around them. Whole communities float around and live unique, separate lives from the people on shore. We got to take a ride on this matrimonial boat. The newly wed couple would sit up top and go from island to island. We spent another two hours peacefully chugging out to Isla Tacile (the boats use recycled bus engines). The island reminded me the Aegean near Turkey but with more sheep and no goats. After a breathless hike 400 meters straight up the side of the island, we were fed some delicious trout (which I came to regret some hours later) and then 500 steps down the other side of the island to catch our boat and we were on our way back. These high altitude climbs might kill me but I’m getting a good workout. I’m in Copacobana, Bolivia now but I can see Peru across the glittering lake. I’m sad to say goodbye as it was a great country to travel through but tomorrow I hit La Paz and a new place to explore.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Up at 4:00am and on the train. Sliding through the misty Andean mountains. The terrain changes as we enter the Amazon and the sun comes up. Bromeliads roost on massive branches hanging over the train.Finally, our destination…wait, we have to take a bus up the crazy switchback dirt road and then hike up the side of the mountain. But then… Incredible…Astonishing…Around every corner is a new discovery. And more… I met my friend Marjorie and we spent the afternoon wandering and exploring.It was totally amazing and worth the 4:00am start.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Yesterday I took a day tour of the Sacred Valley to see three different villages and their Incan Ruins. It was only $13 for the whole day with a tour guide. What the tour company left out was the fact that, in order to live closer to their gods, the Incans built everything on the tops of the mountains. Can you say stairs…big perilously uneven, steep stone stairs with loose crumbling rocks. It was a good workout but, as you can see, totally worth it.The green down at the bottom is corn which will be harvested in January. Their corn has giant kernels that make our kernels look puny and pathetic. They also grow over 900 varieties of potatoes here. This was the beginning of the trip so I was very impressed with how lovely the Andean Mountains were…how innocent I was!The ruins at Pisac…they used these terraces until very recently and the irrigation systems still work after 600 years. Look at the view from the top….taking lots of pictures was a good excuse to stop climbing for a bit. One of the great things about Peru is that there are no ropes or signs that say “don’t touch” so we could clamber all over the ruins and follow narrow passageways to our hearts’ content…that is if your heart hadn’t given out by then. This is Ollantatamba which looks totally different with the large cut stone because it was a temple. All those large rocks would have been covered with sheets of silver and gold before the Spanish came and stole it all. 240 steps to the top…at least that’s what the guide said, none of us could keep count. After the ruins, we went to a high mountain village that specializes in traditional weaving. It’s not unusual to see women dressed like this even in the city. High Andean plateau lake. The farmers here are all still using teams of oxen to plough their fields.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
To plan my two trip into the Colca Canyon, I went to a travel agent. Our conversation went something like this;
"I would like to visit the Colca Canyon."
"You have several different options." He says with a big smile. "The first option, we will pick you up at 3:00am."
"In the morning!!!" I exclaimed in horror.
He kept smiling while shuffling his papers. "The second option is a two day trek. You know the Colca Canyon is very beautiful and also is the second deepest canyon in the world."
"Uh, how deep is it?"
"Approximately 4000 meters but don't worry, you will only climb around 2000 meters." He brightens his smile.
"Yeah, um, I don't think that's going to work out me. What's option number three?"
"Well, you will take a minibus with 14 other passengers. On the first day you will relax in the mountain hot springs and have a buffet lunch. There will be entertainment that evening...."
At this point, I'm wondering why he didn't lead with this option and quickly stop him to say, "Where do I sign", before he terrifies me with herding llamas over the edge of the cliffs.
Two days with bus, tour guide and hotel cost $50 and yes, there were hot springs but absolutely no llama herding.
Check out the adorable llama and lady…the way she’s wearing her hat down in the front indicates that she’s married…presumably not to the llama. These are vicunas which are the softer cousin to the llama…very rare and protected by the government. A kilo of their hair goes for $500…guess I won’t be getting one of those sweaters.Bizarrely, after driving through kilometres of dust and more dust, a huge bog appeared. This is where all the cool critters hang out, including pink flamingos and, apparently, pumas. The tour guide very skilfully avoided answering my question on how many of these pumas might be wandering around.
This farming technique comes from before the Incas but they improved the irrigation system so that they could terrace way up the sides. I wouldn’t want to be the unlucky farmer that got stuck up the side of the mountain. Talk about a crap commute! The canyon was breathtakingly beautiful and we got to trek along side the edge for awhile. We did see a few of the giant condors (3 meter wingspan) but they’re so damn fast and I was busy standing there with a stupid grin on my face so I don’t have a photo.
So, after eating about a ton of dust and a few guinea pig chunks (at the buffet), I’m back in Arequipa and bound for Cusco tomorrow.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Well, my ten hour overnight bus turned out fantastic. I said goodbye to my new friends, Mark and Nat and was almost asleep before we hit the highway.Natasha, Mark and I in front of the Nazca people’s aqueducts.I really like Arequipa. It’s a sunny place and all the buildings are made with white stone from the surrounding mountains or painted with bright colors. I visited the colonial mayors’ house and heard all about their lifestyle. They had two chapels. One of which was put to use as a place to lock their crazy son away until he died of dehydration….the irony of this was not lost on me. I also went to the most famous tourist draw in the city which was the Convent. It’s really a small city with tons of cool passageways, tiny houses for the nuns and countless other nooks and crannies to explore. The tour guide kept stressing how the slaves did everything while the nuns devoted themselves to prayer and, apparently sewing fancy clothes for the priests. I wasn’t sure if she was condemning or praising them so I just kept smiling and nodding my head. My last stop for the day was the museum of Archaeology to see Juanita the Ice Mummy. They showed a very touching video of how she might have been sacrificed and then a guide showed us all the things that were discovered with her. Finally, we got to view her tiny wrapped body. Poor little thing was only 12 or 13 years old and had been chosen from birth for the privilege of getting her head smashed in (they know this because her umbilical cord was found with her) but I think the museum did a great job in showing how she and her family probably thought of it as an honour. They confiscated our cameras at the front door so here’s a link to see what she looks like.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
So, this is how it works. You pay for a flight and they bring you out to the airport at 6:30am where you wait and wait and wait until the kilograms per airplane load work out for you to get on a flight. Apparently it used to be easier but the planes kept crashing and killing all the tourists so now they only let a few 'certified' airlines operate....come to think of it, that wait wasn't really so long.
Then you fly around for 35 minutes straining to see the figures out your window. It was actually pretty cool but some passengers got sick from the dipping and rolling of the plane. I got to practice my Spanish as the pilot shouted out the names and then I tried to figure out what I was looking at. Surprisingly, astronaut is the same in both languages.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Caught a very early bus out of Lima to Paracas. It was an interesting process as all passengers were scanned and videoed before departure. I had been worried about the quality of buses but was pleasantly surprised to be sitting on the luxury second floor with wifi access and a lunch served. There was also an onboard toilet which I’m going to be very happy about on my up coming 12 hour trip.
Brand new and only S/35 ($10) with a five minute walk to the downtown (note that downtown means the one street malecon). I would recommend Zarcillo Tourism after all their advice and help with everything in town. Walked around town and took in the sights. It’s mostly a fishing town with a sideline of tourism. I met a nice couple (Lara and Dominic) from Australia to hang out with and we all signed up for the next days’ tour.
This is the local specialty, cebiche (raw seafood marinated in lime) and chicharones (fried seafood). It was pretty good and some of the raw fish just melted in my mouth and bonus, it didn't kill me. A must try for the Peruvian coast. Started the next day out in a speed boat. This is the famous ‘candelabra’ which is probably a representation of a cactus or a tree, or a map to buried treasure or a landing pad for aliens. 184m tall and 50cm deep in the hard packed dirt. It’s been there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years due to the extreme lack of rain. Apparently Martians (the peruvian term for crazy people) have been walking on it so it's now a federal offence to go anywhere near it. Next, the Islas Ballastas (the crossbow islands) otherwise known as the Peruvian or poor mans' Galapagos. Tons of birds, including penguins, pelicans, vultures, boobies and seagulls but the sea lions were the best. We also saw dolphins hoping around while we waited for the boat.
The road you see going through the picture is made of salt which is found in great big chunks all over the place. Our guide, Luis, got us out of the bus to prove it, He smashed some rocks on the road and we could taste the pieces…I was just glad he didn’t make us lick the road.This beach behind me has red sand from the iron in the nearby rocks. It’s currently the icon of the park.
Had a great day on Thursday. Went paragliding with Matilda. It was S/150 ($50) for ten minutes over the cliffs of Lima. Sooo much fun!!! We couldn’t stop smiling on our way to have beer. You can see me coming in for a landing here.
Stumbled upon a fantastic dance performance after our beer. I’ve noticed that this is a very musical country with bands performing in parks, shopping centers, restaurants and on the street.Heading out of town tomorrow.