Archive for June, 2010


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well, since we were able to catch a much earlier bus from Paracas, we got to Lima in the early afternoon. After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we were ready to explore.
Lima is a huge city. Population of over 8 million. There is a lot of pollution and absolutely everyone is honking at everybody else. It is really loud. Since it is apparently also a den of thieves, I carried our passports, cards, and money in my bra, which according to David gave a great a new look. :) The city is too big to be really able to walk anywhere, so we had to take taxis. In the evening we went to see two pyramids that are in the Miraflores and San Isidro quarters and then we had dinner in restaurant overlooking the ocean. I must say the view was spectacular. I could hardly focus on the food. The restaurant was on a cliff above the beach and we just watched the waves and sunset coming in.

The next morning we did finished up our souvenir shopping, went on a tour of the second pyramid we saw the day before and headed to the center of Lima. There was a huge podium and screen set up for the World Cup right by the presidential palace. These people live soccer. The highlight of the day was going to the bullfighting museum. There was nobody else there, so David was able to ask all the questions he ever had about bullfighting. They had tons of pictures, outfits, photographs, stuffed bull heads,etc. At the end we were able to go see future bullfighters practice. Bullfighting is really a dance. A very, very manly dance. :) A bull that fights once, never fights again. The reason is that the bull learns that the fighter always steps away and that he needs to go after the fighter and not the fabric. Meaning that a bull who has fought is too deadly to face a fighter again. So, the boys are not able to practice with a bull. Instead one of them puts on a pair of horns and chases the other one around the arena while their coaches yell at them that in real fight they would be already dead 10 times over. Very interesting. They also had a pair of horns attached to a one wheel bike–but unfortunately we did not get to see that contraption in action. The arena and the museum where in  a very sketchy neighborhood and I was more than happy to get back to the center.

We finished the tour with a few churches and Plaza San Martin. Lima overall is a quite unimpressive city but Plaza San Martin was stunning. In my mind it did not fit in Lima at all. I should be in Arequipa not in noisy, busy, huge Lima.
Afterwards headed to the hotel. Our plane was at midnight.

In summary, this was an incredible trip. It surpassed my expectations by miles. My favorite was definitely the trail which was and always will one of the most incredible and surreal experiences of my life. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat and I really hope I will be able to one day.


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Ballestas Islands

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After yet another bus ride we arrived in Paracas. Since Paracas is pretty much a one-street village, I had to reserve a hotel in a nearby town called Pisco. However, it turned out that the bus station manager is building a hotel right by the station so we stayed there instead. Super convenient. Cheap yet clean.
Next morning we set out on a speedboat to the Ballestas Islands. The islands are about 30 mins from the shore and are known as a nesting ground for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The birds were SO loud and they were absolutely everywhere. We also saw penguins and sea lions. I loved the penguins! One of the birds that nests here is the cormoran, which is the main producer of guano. On these islands the guano can get up to 20 m deep. On other islands harvesters have reported up to 70 m. Again there were birds everywhere and collecting guano is still big business in south america.
After the trip we hopped on our last bus – to Lima.

Nazca Lines

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Our bus ride from Arequipa passed by fast-I sat down in my seat and woke up nine hours later: exactly 2 minutes before we pulled into the Nazca bus station.
Since we are taking the same bus company this afternoon to Paracas we were able to leave our bags there which was super nice.
FYI, there are more theories on the reasons behind the Nazca lines than wild dogs in Cusco. They range from interesting to insane including alien landing strips, giant calendar, map of the universe and march trails to appease the rain god.
We were welcomed by a passionate mob of taxi drivers yelling at us through the fence offering to take us to the airport. Sense of survival dictated to pick one really fast, which we did.
Apparently the local taxi drivers work with the airlines and we were unwillingly joined by a representative of condor air who gave us a spiel and we took a nice big drink of the koolaid.
In a moment of complete insanity We signed up for a 45 min plane ride instead of the traditional 20 min ride, because that way we could spend more time circling each formation and also see the aquaducts. That moment will always be etched in my mind as the moment I sold my soul to the devil for a bag of vomit.
Yes, dear readers: heed my warning-this gory story does not have a happy ending.
Our plane was a little bigger than a dragonfly and seated the two pilots and the two of us with our knees in our chin. Though as I was about to learn-fetal position was quite appropriate for this flight to the depths of hell. A maintanace guy standing right by our left wing gave us thumbs up which meant “get on the runway”. The pilot gave him the thumbs up back and we went on our way. Why bother with radio? The takeoff was actually very smooth and I even enjoyed myself. The bliss came to an abrupt halt when the pilot angled the plane like a freaking F-16 and we were flying on our side. I could see my poise dashing away from me but was able to hold unto it for three more seconds until we started circling each formation while still angled on our side. This was to provide us with the best possible view–as if i was looking at anything but my partially digested breakfast. I started praying to every god I have ever heard of and included some aliens just in case. I wanted to crash with all my heart – anything to get me back on the ground. I spent the last 40 minutes of our 45 minute flight with my eyes closed, a heavy plastic bag in front of my mouth, curled up against David’s masculine shoulder. I only managed to open one eye for a split second to see the lines below when the pilot said that we were flying over one of the formations. After seeing the aquaducts we finally landed. Again the landing was super smooth. I just sat in the plane on the runway evaluating my life. When I finally got out I lay down on the runway, inching toward the light at the end of the tunnel. A nice nurse lady came and gave me some alcohol to sniff. I thoroughly enjoyed that. She then let me lie down in here office since my lying on the runway was discouraging to the other suicidal maniacs.
So, there you go. The lesson is — fly only on 747s, no matter how much they charge for the second piece of luggage.

The trials to come

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The next 4 days are going to be crazy. We just checked out of our hotel, and are set to board a 10 pm bus to Nazca to charter a very small and scary plane. We arrive at 6 in the morning (our overnight hotel is named “bus”).
After our plane ride to see the famous Nazca lines, we take a 6 hour bus to Paracas, taxi to our Pisco hotel. We will probably get in about 11 pm.
The next day, we see the Ballestas Islands, then another 6 hour bus ride to Lima.
We get a hotel, sleep over, see Lima the next day, then fly out at 11 pm.
At 6 am, we hit Houston, play fun Customs games, then get back to Provo at 1 pm Thursday.

So, whirlwind tour to end, eh? Here we go!


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We got up early, took care of some computer stuff, had breakfast, packed, and headed out to see the city. And shockingly…there was a parade. This country is obsessed with parades and festivals. We have seen at least one in every city we have been in. This one was a military parade along with a lot civil organizations and scouts all around the central plaza. BTW, you should all know that we both expressed disappointment that the US army does not do proper military parades showing off its tanks, missiles, soldiers and such. The problem is that there is no good parade-friendly plaza like here. So David and I decided to move to North Korea where brother Kim is sure to accommodate us several times a day against the backdrop of starving millions. Never mind moving to the UK, North Korea it is.
The guidebooks warned that the Peruvian personal space is much smaller than what we consider comfortable but we did not experience that until today…when I was sitting on a bench on the plaza watching the parade and a greasy middle-aged man sat down right next to me – and I mean right next to me. A page out of the BOM would not fit. I waited exactly two seconds, not wanting to cause an international incident, before I was gone faster than my money at Costco. Brrrrrr.
Our next adventure was a local museum that houses the frozen mummy Juanita, discovered in 1995. She is the best human Inca sacrifice ever found because at over 6000 meters above sea level she was kept always frozen. David who has been faithfully taken pictures in every museum where photography is prohibited, got caught this time and was escorted by the security guard outside. They made him delete his pictures. Of course never having encountered a species like my honey, they did not realize that he had another camera and was also recording the audio of the presentation on the iPhone. There no words. I can’t decide if I should be proud or livid.
After that adventure we just strolled through the city and bought a bus tour. Yes, I know, (how touristy can we get) but it actually turned out to be an awesome choice because we went to parts of the city we would never get to. We got a spectacular view of the three volcanoes looming over the city–only two of which are inactive. The third one is due for an explosion (it erupts about every 500 years, and, surprise, last time was for the Conquistadores). Arequipa’s population is over a million, BTW.
Arequipa is also much more developed than Cusco, though there are apparently slums in the north part of the city.

Random Peru Trivia

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While we are always using the word inca for the whole people, inca is actually the title of the king only. Quechua is the name for the people (and their language).

All tourists wear zip-off pants, expensive hiking shoes and Peruvian hats. It is like a freaking uniform.

Toilet paper is a precious commodity. Being able to throw it down the toilet is ever more rare.

Most of the high desert countryside looks like Utah on the drive to Vegas. Brown hills. The only difference is that here they are covered with terraces and llamas. There are also a lot of areas with red soil like around St. George.

A lot of people beg, though not as many as I anticipated. It is especially hard to see the old women–so small, shriveled, and bent down. They carry the world in those heavy wraps on their back. The children that beg are dirty as can be and run around late at night. They are absolutely fascinated when David sets the timer on the camera sitting on our tripod and takes a picture without pushing the button.

Food is seriously the best I have ever eaten. I know I have said that before but I cannot repeat it enough times.

Most houses are unfinished because then they pay lower taxes. We were also told that if the house does get finished the house warming party costs more than the house.

If you take a picture of anyone in a traditional dress you have to pay.

If we can’t use the tripod, my job is to find a white cracker carrying a more expensive camera than us. David then explains his complicated and very specific photo vision and the unfortunate individual has to obey.

Most of the tourists here are Americans because it is the summer or “American season”. Europeans are more spread out throughout the year. Asians are apparently always in groups and constantly apprehensive of everything.

David’s ability to speak Spanish has made a lot of things much much easier. We can talk to random people and learn more about this incredible country.

Every city/town/village has a central plaza (square) usually called the “Plaza de Armas”.

The alcohol of choice is corn beer. When we were in the villages around Cusco they stuck out these poles with fabric/ plastic bag wrapped around them signifying the beer was ready.

I am addicted to chocolate ice cream bars called Sublime.

Colca Canyon

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At 3 am we were picked up by a minibus for our colca canyon excursion. The first hour was uneventful as we rode on an asphalt road. The next two hours was like riding a possessed mustang which was still nothing in comparison with what the ride once we got onto the canyon road. We got off the bus looking like Shakers on a pilgrimage.
Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The river features Category 5 rapids. The canyon is home to the Andean condor, and that is what we came for. The funny thing is that even my wildest imagination could think up the scene we saw; Nearly a dozen condors gliding through the valley hundreds of feet above the wild river across a clear blue sky. I just stared while my jaw dropped. It is such an awe inspiring creature; sacred to the Incas. None of our CGI creations can come even come close in beauty to what God put on this earth. On our ride back there was a condor stretching its wings on a rock by the side of the road. We all hopped out of the bus to take pics. When it took flight it was so close I thought I could touch it. It just circled around us. So crazy close.
BTW, if one of the condor couple dies, the other flies super high in the sky and commits suicide.

Coming back, we stopped for a fee minutes at a 15,000 pass; the highest point we will be at for the entire trip. David jumped out and ran to take pictures, while the guide told everyone to walk slowly and to not leave the bus if they didn’t feel well.

Interesting fact: although that area looks like the surface of Mars, there is a crazy plant that grows there; the yereta. The yareta is a plant that looks like a moss-covered rock, but is actually a plant with a hard shell that only grows to the size of 1 meter over centuries. It can only grow above 4,200 meters and can withstand tempuratures of up to -50 F!

Farther down the road we rode through a reservation of vicunas. Vicunas are from the same family as llamas and alpacas. All vicunas in Peru are owned by the goverment, are strictly protected and live only on reservations. Vicunas wool is the most expensive compared to alpaca and llama wool, and the trade is tightly controlled. During the Inca empire only the king, the Inca was allowed to wear vicuña wool. And only the most beautiful and specially chosen girls were allowed to touch the wool and weave for the Inca.

Puno & Puno to Arequipa

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We got up early. Since doing the trail we don’t seem to be able to sleep in. The crazy thing is that the night before we were able to catch Celtics vs. Lakers on Spanish ESPN. Go Celtics!!!!

After another incredible breakfast where I decimated a entire papaya grove, we caught a local tricycle motor taxi. The body of this futuristic vehicle is made of thick saran wrap with a gap under the passanger seat so that the passangers can watch the drive train and the road. I also must add that the exhaust pipe exits right under the passanger seats for further comfort. It took four attempts to cross the railroad tracks. Luckily no train came.

The taxi dropped us off at the Yavari. The Yavari was a steam boat made in the UK for the Peruvian Navy on Lake Titicaca. The boat, consisting of over 2500 pieces, was sent by ship to northern Chile, then by train to south Peru and finally on mules’ back across the Andes which took the unfortunate mules 6 years. The ship was then assembled on Lake Titicaca and served in the Peruvian Navy before it was decommisioned and left to rust. BTW, since Lake Titicaca has no coal, at first the ship ran on dried llama dung before getting a diesel engine. About 20 years ago some Brits started a foundation to restore the iron ship to its former beauty.

We spent the rest of the morning just walking around the city. The start of the World Cup was taken very seriously-there was a parade of little kids in soccer uniforms carrying flags of the participating nations; and there was also a little fight at the bus station where everyone was glued to the TV screens playing France vs Uruguay.

Our bus ride from Puno to Arequipa was uneventful. We watched movies and slept.

Lake Titicaca

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BTW, David and I want to raise a baby alpaca on our future farm. Llamas are mean because they spit, but alpacas are much nicer and their wool is better. To help you distinguish our future alpaca “cusco” from a llama – llamas are bigger, have a longer neck, no hair on their face, and there is also a difference in their ears and tail.

We started today by eating an incredible breakfast in our hotel. I drank about a gallon of papaya and pineapple juice, had an omelette, toast, and a fruit salad. David eliminated their orange juice jug. The abundance of fruit is amazing and we can’t get enough. Then we were picked up by a bus and brought to the port where we boarded a motor boat to the “floating” Uros islands about twenty five minutes away. There they explained to us how they build their reed islands.

They start with the roots of the reed which they cut into blocks several square meters in area and then they tie the blocks together. Nowadays they use synthetic rope but before they braided grass from the mainland. Then they cover the root blocks with layers and layers of reed. The roots are about a meter deep, the reed layers another one to two meters. The islands last about 18 years. But the top reed layers must be replenished 2-3x a month because the island rots. Now the crazy thing- the island we visited is led by a Mormon and president Monson visited this island a few months ago. It was really cool. The leader and his wife were able to go to the temple just a month ago. Wow!!!
Nowadays the uros live mainly off of turists selling their crafts and offering rides in their traditional reed boats. We purchased a miniture boat and took a ride in the real thing. They even let us row. Really awesome experience. Oh, BTW, Lake Titikaka means grey puma in aymaire, the local language.
We then continued to Taquile island.  This one was a real one, not made out of reeds. Interesting things: men knit on this island, there are no llamas or alpacas as it is too small so they raise sheep. On this island, single men wear red and white hat and depending on how they wear it it shows if they have a girlfriend or not; married men wear red hats, leaders were rainbow hats and a black sombrero. Men and women apparently fall in love quickly (faster than mormons!) and when young, about 17-19. Men choose their women by throwing little rocks at them. Then they move in together and have children before they can get married. Makes perfect sense. :) women used to cut their hair off to weave a belt for their future husband now they use sheep wool but they continue wearing a black scarf that was used to cover their short hair.
Lake titikaka is the bluest body of water I have ever seen. It is breathtaking. Btw we were able to see Bolivia from the island-snow capped peaks of the bolivian mountain range.
Apparently the lake is full of giant frogs over 10 inches long that taste like chicken. Right. We did eat the reed that the uros use for their islands and eat every day- it was really good. Tasted like celery. Apparently the uros use it instead of a tooth brush. They mainly eat little fish, very little meat but a ton of quinoa.
Now we are on our way back to puno. David is asleep and looks very happy. We have been really sleep deprived on this trip be ause we go from one thing to the next.
Tomorrow afternoon we leave for Arequipa.

Cusco to Puno

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Our bus to Puno was leaving at seven twenty which in Peru means eight. The bus was clean and modern – only for tourists and not as they say, a “chicken bus”. The bus made five stops on the way to Puno. It was absolutely fabulous. They were only eighteen of us and we had a private guide.

Our first stop was a huge baroque church in a super tiny village. It is called he Sistine chapel of the Americas. That is quite an overstatement but it was very exquisite. An interesting combination of Catholicism and native beliefs. When the Spaniards forced the natives to accept Catholicism and paint the murals in the church, the natives snuck in pictures of the Indian sun, coca plants and such. These symbols they understood and lived made going to catholic church bearable for them.

The second stop was a huge inca ruin with a ten meter tall wall that was the axis of an inka temple and remains of about 150 storage silos. The third stop was a private lunch buffet. The food was good but the best part was that David and I were able to feed a baby llama from a bottle filled with cow’s milk. That was super cool.

Fourth stop was a mountain pass at 4400 meters where three Andes mountain ranges meet. It was quick, but I bought an awesome alpaca blanket.

Finally we stopped at Pucara, the center of a preinca culture with a small museum.

We got to Puno at five. At the bus terminal we wanted to hire a taxi to take us to our hotel. But the first guy would not take us for the right price so I told David to yell out to all the congregated taxi drivers if they would take us for the price we wanted. In a split second the first driver was already grabbing my bag and shoving it in the trunk of his taxi. I busted out laughing. There is absolutely nothing you don’t bargain over here.

Our hotel is…Luxurious. Somehow I managed to book a suite and it is bigger than our entire apartment in Provo. It is so huge with a king size bed and a jacuzzi. David does not complain. After dinner on a terrace overlooking the main plaza David booked our boat ride for he next day which is today. I am actually typing all this on the boat on Lake Titicaca.

The coolest part about our ride to Puno was our guide. He was a young guy about our age and was the first one we have spoken to that seemed somewhat connected to reality. The whole time we have been here all we have heard is how amazing the inkas were. They did nothing wrong.

Our inca trail guide claimed vehemently that they did not know greed. They just loved each other and held hands and lived in bliss. Being me, I equally vehemently disagreed saying that they killed thousands as they conquered over thirty percent of South America. And that the 150 Spanish that arrived here were able to bring the inca empire down because so many of the supressed tribes in the inca empire joined the Spanish against the incas. I was brushed off as if I was the devil ruining his inca Disney movie.

My second major offensive came when our inka trail guide was praising the location chosen for Machu Picchu. Here I dared to point out that there are actually to fault lines running through MP and that it was therefore a crazy location. And only luck, prayers and the inla construction skills is keeping this standing. Again I got nowhere. The same was with our monastery guide who pretty much claimed that the incas knew and saw more of the universe hat Hubble telescope. It is like everyone here moved to lala land.

So it was so refreshing to talk to our bus guide who was realistic and more importantly agreed with us. It is so nice to be agreed with. We covered a lot of current issues as well but again it is too much to type on a phone. The highlight is that apparently most peple here thing that Hugo Chavez is the savior ( apparently Obama lost his title). And that things are just booming in Bolivia. State propaganda at its best. So Venezuela and Bolivia are the dream. FYI. Start packing.