A Travellerspoint blog

Last bit of Cusco, continued...

Okay, room mate story time. They are weird (just the German couple, not the Austrian girl). I am really glad to be leaving, because they are nothing like I hoped they would be. I thought I'd get some cool room mates who I could have dinner parties with, go out with on the weekends and at night, etc. And well, people I could actually talk to. They could barely hold a conversation with me in the first place. I'd ask them questions and they would only answer with short answers and not ask me anything else or comment further. I kept trying for a while to talk to them, but still nothing. One I came home at 6pm to make dinner and I knocked on the door. The German guy opened the door, stared at me, and then sat back down at the table where he, his girlfriend, the Austrian girl, and another German girl were all sitting and he continued to talk to them without so much as saying hello or asking me how my day was. So I didn't say anything to them. I took a shower and then went into the kitchen to make dinner. The German guy was in there washing dishes and his girlfriend was making hot chocolate. Suddenly he turns to me and accuses me in rapid fire German of eating his cookies and chocolate. It took me a minute to realize what he was saying since he always has answered me in English before and he was speaking so fast. He was really angry. I repeated what he said in English to make sure I heard correctly, and he answered back in angry German again. I had no idea what he was talking about and said I was sorry, but I didn't even know he had cookies or chocolate. He said well, nobody else ate them! and left the room. Then I was left with the German girl. She poured the hot chocolate into 4 glasses and then left the kitchen without saying anything to me or asking me if I wanted to join them at the table. I made my dinner and had to sit at the couch because there was no room at the table/they didn't ask me to sit with them. I ate my dinner by myself while they all ate cookies and hot chocolate and talked to each other in German for the rest of the night without even glancing back at me. Later I was watching a show on TV about rock music and the German guy was there on the couch as well. I tried again to make conversation and asked him if he liked that kind of music. He turned to me, said yes, then turned back to the TV. Then a commercial came on and I thought I'd give it ooooone last try, so I asked him how his Spanish lessons were going and what he was learning. He said ¨good¨. I asked again what he was learning, if he had learned the past or what. He said ¨Yeah, we learned the past last week.¨ and that's about it. Booooooo.

Yeah, so... that's my roomie situation. A bunch of weirdos. My apartment is also not so great... it's big and has everything I need for the most part, but at the same time the shower is usually luke warm (or scalding hot drips of water), the nights are FREEZING here (literally in the 30s) and we don't have heated rooms... and so combined with being sick with a cold, that's not really helping me get better! Plus my room is right on the pedestrian walkway (not a street) and so I always hear the 20 stray dogs barking all night (my Spanish teacher told me they see spirits, haha), and then in the morning at 7am the construction workers start yelling loudly right in front of my window, playing traditional Andean music, and banging away next door (they're building a second story or something, and they have no respect for others need to sleep!). Morning time is a nightmare, even through my earplugs. Bleh. So that's all part of the reason why I've decided to go to Bolivia with Mike and Ivan (the Canadian guys).

Last week on Friday, things somehow got worse. Much worse. It all started when I had to do my laundry. I am cheap, therefore I didn't drop my laundry off at the first place I found. They wanted 4 soles per kilo. No way! I went to a tienda (little shop that sells junk food) and saw they had a laundry sign and thought that theirs must be cheaper. Well, it was 4 soles, too. I was late for class so I just decided to drop my stuff off there and pick it up in the afternoon. I talked the man down to 3.50 per kilo, but then when he weighed my laundry he rounded up the kilos so I paid a bit more anyway. I asked him to lower the price to the correct amount and he said that because I wanted my laundry at 5pm instead of 6pm I had to pay a bit more. I told him I REALLY needed my laundry done by then because it was going to get freezing at around 5pm and I needed pants to wear at night (I was wearing a dress). He said okay. I thought, okay whatever, and left for class. I show up later at 5pm, and guess what? No laundry. There is a different guy there who has no idea what I'm talking about when I mention that my laundry was supposed to be done by 5pm. It's always at 6pm, he stressed. I kept arguing, but that didn't make my laundry show up. I asked for a discount and he refused. I begged for a discount and tried to pull the poor me little voice that all the Ecuadorian and Peruvian women are so good at (it's really annoying sounding, by the way). He still refused. He said to come back at 6pm and it would be there. I stormed off and used the internet for an hour. I show back up at 6pm and NO LAUNDRY. I beg again for a discount and he finally gives in and asks for my 10 sole bill and says he'll give me some money back. He only gave me 50 cents. At that point he had my money and I couldn't get a bigger discount, so that was a bad move on my part... especially since I then had to wait for another HOUR until my laundry actually arrived!!! It was absolutely ridiculous. It was 2 hours late, I told him that he'd ruined my plans to meet my friends for a salsa lesson, and I was about to scream I was so upset with him and his calm attitude. And all I got was a 50 cent discount. My teacher told me later I should have either not paid, or just given him 50% and walked off. That made me even more mad, because well... I clearly didn't do that. Plus, they spilled some sort of glue on the back of my fleece. Where did glue come from in a lavanderia? Okay, done with this story now, onto the next terrible one.

So Saturday I am at home alone after class, attempting to make lunch. My room mates all can light cigarette lighters, and so that's all we have to light the stove with. Previously, I had them light the stove for me, but this time nobody else was home. A few days earlier we'd had a full box of 40 matches, but the box mysteriously disappeared. Hmm.... I am convinced they hid it from me to make my cooking life more difficult. So I cut up all my veggies, beat the eggs (it was going to be an omelet lunch), and then spent the next 15 minutes attempting to light the lighter. I failed miserably and ended up with a bruised finger. I finally went outside and waited on the walkway for someone to show up. I asked a teenage guy to help me light my lighter. He showed me how to do it, with a weird look on his face, probably wonder why a grown girl couldn't light a lighter. The flame went out and I exclaimed that no, I needed him to hold it down so that I could then take his fingers´place with my own. He gave me an even weirder look but performed the trick. I grabbed the lit lighter and ran back to the kitchen, tried to light the stove, and burned my finger in the fire... all the while managing NOT to light to stove. I finally gave up and decided I'd just have to go buy matches from a nearby store. I ran up the steps to the street, bought some ¨fósforos¨and ran back to the apartment. I put my keys in the door, turned them to the right, and... nothing. The door wouldn't open. It took me a good 10 minutes of locking and unlocking the door, and even shaking the door really, really hard, to come to the realization that I was for some incredibly stupid, unfair reason locked out of my house. And my food was inside, waiting patiently to be cooked and eaten by me. And my stomach was growling. A construction guy from next door heard the door banging and came over to investigate. He tried his hand at opening it, but no luck either. I asked him who might be able to help me, like where I could find a locksmith perhaps. He shrugged his shoulders and left me. I couldn't believe it. He had to know someone who could help, I'm sure other doors in Peru behave like mine at some point. I didn't have anyone´s cell phone number from the school, and my school was closed at this point anyway, so I wasn't sure who to turn to for help. I'd never seen a locksmith much less a key store around town. I wandered around San Blas neighborhood, waiting for something to inspire me. I saw a girl in the plaza handing out Hemp Cafe flyers. She looked like she spoke English and maybe lived in the area, so I explained my situation and hoped she could help. She was nice, but didn't know anything. I decided to go to a travel agency and ask. Surely they had to know something. Turns out they didn't really, and just looked at me with blank stares. After I mustered up a very upset and sad look, they finally got out a map and told me to go to Calle Nueva street where I'd somehow ¨find¨a locksmith. It was all very vague, but they assured me it would work. So I flagged down a taxi, went to Calle Nueva, and yes! It was an entire street of just key shops. Imagine that. I picked the first one, told the guy my problem, and he said he'd try to help. I brought him back to my place where he then proceeded to try to unlock my door with what looked like a part of a hangar. Nothing was blocking the door, so then he used a hand powered drill to try to get inside the lock itself. Still nothing. At this point the Austrian girl and her Cusqueñan boyfriend had come to watch the door opening spectacle, as they wanted to get inside to get some of her cigarettes. Her boyfriend is loud, dreadlocked, and kept saying hilarious things (well, at least he thought so) and cracking up at his own jokes. I didn't quite understand. Then he started making out with Andrea. I just sat there, cold and annoyed that we were locked out and my food was still inside. The locksmith finally told us that he couldn't fix it from the outside and would either have to saw part of the door off to get to it, or break into the apartment. He chose to break in because it was ¨easier¨. He worked on the window to my room. Then once he got it off, tried to climb up the security bars and somehow fit through them through the window. Didn't quite work. Had to then saw off the security bars with a hand saw and THEN he was able to fit. It was a really amusing sight to see him climb up the bars, twist and turn like a crazy circus performer, and somehow fit through the small opening and jump down into my room. The entire time we were just hoping he wasn't going to fall and break his neck or something. He got to the front door, and... still nothing! He was in there a good while trying to actually get out. After 3 and a half hours of waiting, he FINALLY got the door open. Turns out part of the lock had ROTTED and it wasn't even my fault that the door wouldn't open... it was just very, extremely bad timing. And at around 4pm I finally got to cook my lunch!! Locksmith man then said he had to come back later to saw off the lock, take it apart, put in a new piece, and sauder it all back onto the door. This happened much later in the evening.

Well, things didn't stay good for long, however. The cable woman came by and told us we hadn't paid our bill (we aren't even supposed to pay it, our school is), and she informed us she was shutting off our TV and stormed off in a huff. I almost cried. Then, after I ate and showered quickly and went to a concert with my friends (more on that later), I came home to discover that the locksmith had fixed the lock, put the safety bars back on, but for some reason didn't reinstall my window. So for the rest of my stay in my apartment I had a 30 degree room at night. And I was still sick. ARGHHH!!!!!

Back to the concert... the night the whole lock out fiasco happened, I was supposed to meet my friend Mark (from the cafe) and his Spanish school friends for a salsa class. Well that didn't happen, but luckily I caught them in time to go out to dinner and then plan to go to a concert the next day. The concert was called ¨Caosfest¨but wasn't quite chaotic in the musical sense. The tickets said the concert was starting at 4pm so we went at 5pm thinking we'd arrive just in time for the good bands to start. Once we got there, however, we discovered that 4pm really meant 6pm. So we waited around for an hour. We didn't actually get in until 6:30 or so. Finally! Not quite. We discovered that they were still setting up the stage and just starting to do soundchecks... which they continued to do for at least 30 minutes. It was a bunch of ¨Si, si, hola, hola, si si si si, dos, tres, chao, hola, chao, si!¨. We were about frozen at this point, even though we were bundled up to the max. We drank a lot of beer and ate muchos hot dogs. After the longest wait ever for a band to come on, the show finally started. It was mostly Peruvian and Argentinian bands. The first two were okay, and I'd actually heard one of the songs on the radio. Nothing special, though. Then Lucia de la Cruz came on, an Afro-Peruvian singer with a very powerful voice and a dirty mouth. She was really entertaining and the crowd loved her, I guess she's pretty popular even with people my age. Then the rock band Los Violadores from Argentina came on. At first their lead singer didn't come out because he was suffering the effects of altitude sickness. Bad idea to fly into Cusco the day of your concert, I guess! He came out after a while, though, and all was well. At this point, though, it was almost midnight and we'd been standing for about 6 hours! I was getting tired and cold, and so was everyone else, so we headed back to the main plaza and went out to the dance bars for the rest of the evening. When I got home later that night, I could still hear the last band playing somewhere off in the distance at the arena... Peruvians are really bad at keeping the sound level down in neighborhoods and cities, haha.


Anyway... as I write this, I can officially say I've left my room mates and my apartment. Wee! I'm now in a pretty cool hostal in a different part of town and it has billiards, movies, free internet, and breakfast AND a kitten are included. All for just a whopping $7. Bolivia trip is up next with my Canadian friends in a few days.

Posted by KerriBerri 02:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

For you, Mom... Trip so far minus The Rachel

So it's been a while since I wrote. I haven't been doing anything TOO exciting since Rachel left, but I have a few interesting (and terrible and annoying) stories...

When Rachel left me in Lima, I was worried I wouldn't make any friends during the day I had to kill there. I woke up, ate breakfast alone, watched some Peruvian news about the EU-LAC summit that was going on in Lima that week (60 heads of state, 48 snipers around the city, and a lot of road blocks!), and wondered what I'd do that day since I'd already seen most everything I wanted to see with Rachel. Some guys sat down next to me and were speaking in English. Yes! A few minutes later they asked me if I spoke English, we became instant friends, and they invited me to spend the day being their Lima guide. As we were preparing to leave the hostal, we started talking to three librarians from Idaho (they are going to school for this, I swear) and suddenly our group turned into 6! I took them to Old Town where we marveled at the thousands of pigeons at the Monestario de San Francisco, were served lunch by the French nuns at L'eau de Vivre (and my Canadian friends got to practice their perfect Quebequois french with the nuns), then we headed to Miraflores where we checked out the photo exhibition in Parque Kennedy. After a while, I decided to go to the department store nearby and buy a coat for the cold weather that was awaiting me in Cusco. Bad move. This is the moment I lost everyone. I told the guys where to meet me when they were done looking at the pictures, but we never ran into each other again. I found out later that they had waited in front of the store entrance for me for a while but I guess I took too long trying on coats! I was only worried that they wouldn't make it home without me because earlier they'd said they only had a $5 bill, but when I got home I found them there safe and sound.

That night we all made mojitos in our hostal kitchen and our favorite resident hostal worker, Leonora, took us all out to the bars nearby in Barranco. We danced the night away and soon enough it was 6am... and I had to leave for the airport at 9am. Oops. The same taxi driver who had taken Rachel to the airport the evening before came to pick me up for my 45 minute drive to the airport. He took a different way than before, however, and soon we were in a slummy area that didn't look so safe. Since I was running on little sleep and I had never heard back from Rachel that she had actually arrived safely back in the US, I was convinced that he had kidnapped Rachel the night before and dropped her off in the middle of nowhere and I was going to suffer the same fate. Eek. But then we arrived at the airport and all was well. This time my flight to Cusco was not as turbulent as before, so luckily I did not have to think I was going to die on the plane alone and crash in the Andes. The airport in Cusco was filled with fun Andean pipe music like last time, what a great touristy welcome. Once everyone collected their baggage the musicians stopped until the next crowd arrived.

I had lunch at The Muse cafe in San Blas (cute neighborhood where I live and go to school). It's a really cool, artsy cafe, as are all the other places in this area. The music was even my style (I miss my music, remind me why I didn't bring an iPod and everyone else did). I was sitting alone, probably looking very awkward because I was just twiddling my thumbs and staring at the wall. A guy was also sitting alone across from me, but he looked less awkward because he was actually reading a magazine. He noticed my awkwardness and introduced himself and invited me to join him for lunch. He's a 29 year old from London who has spent essentially all of his 20s traveling around the world. We exchanged email addresses so that we could meet up later on to share more travel stories. Yay, my first friend. Went to my first Spanish lesson after lunch, which went pretty well even though I was fairly tired... I got compliments from the professor on my non-American accent!

Cusco this time around is a LOT colder than before. I discovered this that first evening after my Spanish lesson when I had to wait around in the cold, cold, cooold weather for someone to finally bring me the keys to my apartment so I could go home and sleep and put on warmer clothes (the previous tennant had taken my keys with her on accident).

Once I finally got home at around 7:30pm I was a bit annoyed at the whole key problem. I was so cold (it was at least 30 degrees outside) and I wasn't sure where anything was in my neighborhood, so I just ended up having a piece of leftover bread (from lunch) for dinner. It was a bit pathetic.

The next morning I asked my room mates (a 20 year old German couple) where I could buy some groceries so I wouldn't have to nibble at pieces of stale bread. They invited me to join them for breakfast and then on the way they'd point out where the grocery store was. Nice! Well, it didn't turn out that way. Somehow I instead ended up following them to a tour agency so they could pay for a jungle tour, then we had to walk 15 minutes down to the main road to the LAN Peru office to buy their plane tickets, but then discovered after waiting for 20 minutes that we had to walk down further to a different travel agency and buy their tickets there. After 10 minutes more of waiting around, the German guy looked at me and said, ¨Well, actually we have plans at 12pm to go see some ruins with our other room mate, so I'm sorry but maybe you should just go eat on your own now.¨ I asked which ruins and pulled out my Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket needed to visit most all museums and ruins in and around Cusco) and he pointed them out. He said he just had one day left on his ticket and wanted to us it. I said I just had one day left, too. However, he didn't invite me to come with them and just said goodbye, so I took that as my cue to leave. Nice first meeting with my new roomies. Things with them just got so much better as my time in Cusco went on... cough cough. I think all my problems with them deserve their own entry. That will come later.

At this point, I didn't have much to do and I was alone for the day. I started to wonder why exactly I'd come to Cusco on a Friday, when I had the whole weekend with nothing to do and didn't quite know anyone yet, and my 5 cool Canadian and Idaho(ian?) friends were still in Lima. Plus I apparently missed an amazing, free Mouse on Mars concert in Parque Kennedy (it's a really neat German psychadelic trance type band)! Boo. From what I remember I didn't do that much during the weekend except spend hours trying to get ahold of my friend Matan from my Galapagos trip, who was supposedly in Cusco. It's very annoying trying to make plans through email, especially when nobody is ever online at the same time. I finally decided to just walk to his hostal and hope he was there... and he was! He invited me to go to an all night, open air party an hour outside of Cusco with all his Israeli friends that night, and since I had nothing else to do, I figured it would be fun. It ended up being a fairly bad idea. My night consisted of a cold, hour long bus ride to a mystery area near Urubamba with a bunch of Israelis. Then we entered the party, and I discovered more Israelis. I listened to a lot of Hebrew that night, sat by the fire and tried to keep it going, and wondered when 6am would come around so that we could take the bus home to Cusco. I ate a cold soy burger, drank some watery hot chocolate, and watched as a 40 year old crazy man came up to Matan and demanded he give him his tea because the world was amazing and we should share everything. I also met a girl from Utah and we bonded because neither of us understood Hebrew. Fun night.

The rest of my time in Cusco has been spent going to Spanish lessons for 2 or so hours a day, and for a while when my Canadian friends were here before their Machu Picchu trek we hung out during the day and did a short hike to Sachsaywaman ruins above Cusco and went out at night to go dancing. I've gradually learned more and more complicated things in my Spanish lessons, although it's all been really quick!, but now I can say I at least have some sort of grasp on the past, future, and conditional verb tenses... and today I learn the imperative. Only thing left to do is practice mucho! My teachers all know that I like conversation, so we've done quite a lot of talking instead of just lectures and grammar. At one point I was discussing global warming, women's lack of rights in Peru, the problems in Middle East, and what I would propose to do for the US if I were a president hopeful... all in Spanish! Basic Spanish, but it is still pretty cool that I can now say more than just hola. The funny thing about my teachers is that they have all assumed that I am from Europe. One of my teachers asked me where I was from in Germany, and just yesterday another one thought I was Dutch (as did an actual Dutch woman who started to speak to me in rapid fire Dutch). When the teachers found out I was from the US, they were shocked because apparently they don't think I have an American accent when I speak Spanish. That's great to hear! Maybe it's because I was sick and had a hoarse voice? Haha. Anyway, four more hours of class today and I'm done for the rest of my trip. I actually went to the doctor yesterday and managed to describe all my symptoms in Spanish and tell him about my past history with asthma... so I think all the lessons I've had so far have been really helpful.

So back to Sachsaywaman... we hiked up a bunch of tiny Inkan steps at the back of San Blas area and after much huffing and puffing (and drinking a Powerade), we made it to the top where the ruins were. We first hiked up a different hill to a giant white Jesus statue that overlooks the entire city of Cusco. It was such a beautiful view! I even made a new friend while I was up there, some 14 year old local boy who was for some reason just hanging out up there with a jacket on and a roll of toilet paper in his pocket. He was pretty nice and must have thought I was, too, because he asked for my email address. I gave it to him, because he said he really wanted to practice his English, but he hasn't written. So sad. On the walk back home from the ruins, I was telling Mike and Ivan (Canadians) about a really hilarious dog that I'd seen in Cusco the last time I was here... it had the body of a dachshund and the head of a golden retriever and I couldn't have even dreamed up a funnier looking dog. Right after I told him, we turned a corner and saw a black version of the same dog! He tried to take a picture but the dog kept staring at him for a few seconds and then turning and waddling away right when he'd click the shutter. We also passed a few llamas and donkeys carrying a ton of long grass on their backs.

On the 22nd, there was a giant holiday celebration here in the city for Corpus Christi. I've never seen anything like it. My area of town was a bit quieter that day, but during the days leading up to the 22nd, there were fireworks going off every day, at all times of day, and often random dances at night in the streets or small religious processions. But on the day of, man was it insane. I walked down to the main plaza and discovered that it was packed to the max with thousands and thousands of people. There were bands playing in the middle of it all, dancers, floats of religious figures, and for some reason a guy was crowd surfing on a giant table (??). It took me at least 20 minutes to cross the plaza because the crowds were so tight and I had to cross a few parade lines. I almost felt a little claustrophobic. I was also getting annoyed because everyone kept bumping into me and pushing me, as if I could somehow go faster that way. I had one small woman half my size literally trying to ram me into the person in front of me. The traditional dish of Corpus Christi is called something like Chirichu (spelling is probably wrong), which is a dish of seaweed, caviar, chicken, mystery sausage meat, and fried guinea pig complete with it's hair, toenails, and teeth still intact. I decided not to try it. I walked up to the other smaller, nearby plazas and discovered that there were stalls upon neverending stalls of this stuff. It seemed to be the only thing people wanted to eat that day. Plus beer. I was all alone, though, since I wasn't able to get ahold of any of my friends via email since we were never online at the same time... it's so frustrating that we don't all have cell phones. I spent the rest of my afternoon eating an overpriced pizza at a touristy restaurant on another plaza because I was so hungry I didn't want to bother looking for a cheap place among all the crowds of people. I had about 50 people come up to me during my lunch to try to sell me finger puppets, paintings, phone calls, and more paintings. I finally got up and went to sit on the steps of the plaza to people watch, only to have a small girl come up to me trying to sell me grape candy.

....aaand more to come later when I have free time to write, but you blackmailed me so I had to post this now!

Posted by KerriBerri 12:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Pisco / Paracas... shortest entry ever

Well, the Paracas area was supposed to be our last great adventure before we got back to Lima and Rachel left... but it turned out to be pretty uneventful. There was a terrible earthquake in this area last August, it was an 8.0, and much of the Pisco and Paracas area is still compeltely devastated by its effects. A lot of the buildings here are made from adobe bricks and didn't hold up well. When we arrived in the city center of Pisco, we saw that many buildings were still just piles of bricks on the ground. It was a depressing sight, but everyone was up and about, rebuilding and doing their daily errands. Anyway, since much of the city was being rebuilt, it kind of made it hard to do anything in Pisco iself, except just hang out at our hotel. So we decided to take a combi 30 minutes south to the Paracas peninsula, where we thought we'd enjoy the beach and the Paracas Necropolis ruins nearby. However, that didn't exactly happen. After our ride squished into a tiny, falling apart van, we arrived at the port town and had some delicious ceviche (with a 10 sole discount!). After our lunch, however, things kind of went downhill. We walked a few kilometers in the hot sun (it's also a desert down there, so wasn't much shade!) trying to find a musuem listed in my guidebook as well as the Paracas ruins... finally, covered in sweat and tired, we broke down and asked for directions in a hotel, only to discover that ¨there is no museum´.... it had crumbled down in the earthquake and the ruins were off limits to tourists (? didn't quite understand why). Well then. So we grabbed another falling apart combi back into town... during the ride our driver attempted to tow another combi with a disintegrating piece of canvas rope (good guess, it didn't work) and we picked up some other people along the way, somehow managing to fit 23 people inside.

That's about all our adventures in Pisco and Paracas entailed... I told you it would be the shortest entry ever from me. Back to Lima on a 4 hour bus ride for the end of our trip together.

Posted by KerriBerri 11:53 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Sandboards and dune buggies in Huacachina!

Well that's lovely... somehow I managed to delete an entire journal entry with the push of one button. Starting over...

After our 11 hour bus ride to Ica/Huacachina, all we really wanted to do was sleep. Plus there wasn't much to do in our tiny oasis town in the sand dunes, anyway, at least until our sandboard and dune buggy tour later in the afternoon! Huacachina is essentially a tiny oasis resort town for tourists in the middle of some enormous sand dunes on Peru's southern coast. The hotels and restaurants are built around a small, smelly lagoon (but it looks pretty). The sand dunes surrounding the town go on and on as far as the eye can see towards the coast. We stayed at what my guidebook describes as a party hostal, though during the 2 nights we were there I can't say there was even a smidgen of a party going on... in fact, we were often the only ones up and about around the hostal and after dinner time the town shut down! Our first night we spent watching ''American Wedding'' at the hostal with the resident dalmation curled up on our laps, and the second night we retired to our rooms and read a bit before going to sleep early. Some crazy trip, eh?

Well, turns out it did get a little crazy... our sandboarding and dune buggy experience on our first afternoon ended up being one of the craziest and most fun things we've done on our entire trip. We were picked up at the hostal in an 8 seater dune buggy and as soon as we strapped in and put on our safety goggles (I looked like a mad scientist), our driver stomped down on the gas pedal and we were off racing through town and up and over the sand dunes. Pretty soon we were in a vast sea of sand dunes, stretching on as far as the eye could see. It was so beautiful. Our driver apparently wasn't as insane as the other ones, thankfully... though at the end of our tour we got a little taste of what crazy really was. After we raced around the dunes a bit, our driver stopped at the edge of (what we thought was) a gigantic, steep sand dune... and then told us we had to go down it on the sandboards face first on our stomachs. We thought he was joking, but no, he wasn't. Little did we know, each sand dune would be larger and steeper than the ones before it. We finally got up the guts to go down, and once we pushed off we suddenly realized it wasn't so bad... in fact, it needed to be faster! The first dune was about 100 or so feet long (a baby) and my favorite was probably about 200 feet long or more. But the last sand dune was a monster! It had to have been at least 4 football fields lengths long... and ridiculously steep. We all just stared at it in shock for a good 10 minutes before anyone had the guts to go down. One crazy daredevil in our group was a veteran sandboarder, so he just hopped on his board and FLEW down the dune like he was on a rocket. A few others followed, a couple even went down snowboard style (even more insane, in my opinion). Finally it was just Rachel and I and a few other girls left at top. After much debate, we decided to go down... at the pace of a snail. The dune seemed like it was at a 10 degree angle, though in reality it was probably less steep than we thought. We layed down on our boards and went down face first with our feet digging into the sand as hard as they could manage. At one point I almost got off my board and walked down the rest of the way... until I realized it was probably safer to stay on my board and inch along like a snail, than to possibly risk messing up and somehow tumbling down the hill. At one point I almost burst out laughing because I was thinking about how ridiculous Rachel and I probably looked to everyone else. After a few years time, we finally made it to the bottom.

At this point our shoes were weighed down with a ton of sand. Rachel took off a shoe and an entire beachful of sand fell out. Sand was in my hair, shirt, and pants, as well. We laughed, hopped back into our dune buggy and then had the craziest ride of our life back into town. This was when our sweet innocent driver decided to turn into an insane maniac. But a fun maniac :) At one point as we bounced about in the backseat and drove down a steep dune rollercoaster style (think Goliath, mom), Rachel yelled out to me between all her screaming that we'd normally have to sign a release form for something like this. I just screamed and laughed back in response. We had gone on the tour with 2 or 3 other buggies, and toward the end they started racing together... down a hill. At this point, I really did think they were insane. But it all ended well, and here I am typing this blog entry safe and sound with a great story to tell! Our driver was nice enough to stop at the top of the sanddune overlooking Huacachina for a photo op... once we finished snapping away, he raced down into town past scared onlookers on the dunes and screeched to a halt in front of our hostal. Whew!

Turns out our friend Matan from our Galapagos trip was also in Huacachina and had done the same sand dune tour... though unlike us he was brave enough to snowboard down all the dunes, and even broke his board in half on one of them. Makes him sound tough, doesn't it? Or perhaps kind of stupid, I'm not sure. We bumped into him earlier when we'd first got to town after lunch. I love randomly running into people in different countries. The really funny thing is that ever since Puno, we've been seeing this same French couple in every town we visited afterwards and in every bus terminal as well. And of course we had to see them walking around the lagoon in Huacachina.

On our last full day we decided to take a bodega (winery) tour in the nearby town of Ica. It was only about $10 for a private taxi driver to take us to the two wineries, pretty good price. The first winery was a bit disappointing... the tour was super quick, everything was really modern and all we saw was machinery, and the wines were kind of gross. The second winery was much more interesting, because it still uses the same traditional methods to harvest and produce its wines and pisco... including stomping on the grapes for the harvest each March (there is a whole festival for it!), and fermenting the grape juice in traditional clay (?) cannisters that they bury underground. We had our tour in Spanish and our guide complimented us on our comprehension and speaking skills... yay! We tried a dessert wine here, as well as pisco (the grape brandy that is Peru's national liquor), and a mixture of pisco/milk/figs that tastes somewhat like Bailey's (figs, coffee, same thing). Pisco is made by boiling the special grape juice, trapping the condensation which then swirls down a series of spiraled tubes into a bath of ice cold water, and then the condensation re-liquifies and there's the basic pisco. I really enjoyed all the old traditional methods they used for their wines and pisco.

That was pretty much the last of our trip in the Huacachina and Ica areas... next morning we woke up bright and early and caught a bus to Pisco, which would prove to be fairly uneventful, mostly due to the lingering effects of the August 2007 earthquake...

Posted by KerriBerri 15:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa & Cañon del Colca

Our trip to Arequipa involved another lovely 6 hour bus ride. The town itself is the second largest in Peru and is known as the White City because many of its buildings are made from white lava rock (sillar). Legend has it that the inca Mayta Cápac said ''Ari qhipay'' (''Yes, stay'' in Quechua) to his men when he discovered the area, hence the name Arequipa today.

As big as the city is, we haven't found we like it as much as the other places we've been... even gigantic, crazy Lima. It's a beautiful city in a dry deserty valley between a bunch of towering, active volcanoes... but other than that, we just aren't feeling it. On our first evening we walked around a bit and bought some gelato. We somehow ended up talking to a guy who was in the ice cream store and he latched onto us and ended up spending the rest of the evening with us (not quite because we wanted him to, though). At first he was nice, but in the end he turned out to be quite pushy in his desperation to be friends with us. We told him we wanted to go to see the Museo Santuy (it's entirely dedicated to the 500 year old, young Inkan girl sacrifice discovered frozen and in perfect condition atop the volcano near Arequipa). He decided he'd follow us and wait outside in the cold for us to finish our hour long tour. The tour itself was incredibly interesting and informative, and the entire museum was really well organized. Our guide told us about ''Juanita'' and what her experience was probably like as she prepared to be sacrificed. Apparently all of the most beautiful babies were selected at birth to be potential sacrifices later in life in case there was ever an earthquake, volcanic eruption, or some other natural disaster. So they knew from early on that one day they might die. Some were sacrificed as young as 6 years old, others were as old as 18. In Juanita's case, they think she was about 12. We watched a documentary that followed the man who discovered Juanita as he and his crew climbed the icy volcano she was found atop... they were looking for more sacrifices (I think they found about 3 more child sacrifices on that climb, which is very rare... guess their first sacrifice didn't apease the volcano god!). Juanita walked up the mountain in a procession of Inkans, all who wore just woven sandals to make the climb up to the top of the 20,700 ft high volcano. She had fasted the day before and then was given some chicha (alcoholic drink) before she was killed by blunt force to the head. She was then buried along with some textiles and other god and silver offerings. Since she was found frozen, her internal organs are still in remarkable condition and when we got to view her at the end of the tour (in a glass freezer so she won't thaw out!), even her skin and fingernails still looked so real... it was a bit creepy.

We ended our tour and discovered our friend was still waiting for us in the cold. He took us around town to the plaza, where we went to Mass in La Catedral because we've become Catholic during the span of this short trip. We sat in the back and discussed politics, food, and tried in vain to explain to our new friend that Jews do not believe in Jesus, but he didn't seem to understand, especially since Jesus was a Jew himself. Then, of all things, he told us that he was Mormon. A Morman Peruvian! He had like 10 brothers, too. Makes sense. We then hung out at a mall because it was ridiculously cold outside and I was still wearing my clothes that were more appropriate for the scorching hot afternoon sun. We felt like high schoolers. Then we got a set dinner menu for less than a dollar (good noodle soup, so so rice and tiny fish). Our friend was quite the gentleman, pulling out our chairs for us and getting us whatever we needed. We were still hungry so we convinced him to watch us eat a giant piece of chocolate cake and drink some hot chocolate at a cafe nearby. He refused to eat there because he wanted a specific type of cheese bread and coffee. We went home after that... he made us promise to call him once we returned after our trip to the canyon, but he was a little too pushy about it. I felt bad for him because he seemed to genuinely want to be our friend, but he was just a bit too odd.

Next day we woke up early, stepped outside into the hot sun, and I realized I'd lost my sunglasses yet again on this trip (left them at the restaurant the night before, I think). Grr! And unfortunately for me, Arequipa was not like Cusco, and there were not 100s of people trying to sell me sunglasses on the street every 5 minutes. We went to the Santa Catalina Convent for a tour and it turned out to be one of the neatest places we've seen so far. It's a giant convent that is almost like a tiny walled in city, with little ''streets'' inside that twist and turn... you could almost get lost in there without a guide or a map! It's absolutely gorgeous... some of the cloisters are painted a beautiful bright blue, others a sunburnt orange color and others just white. There are flowers and trees everywhere inside. I felt like I was in Greece or something. From the top of the church (up 33 steps, just like Jesus' age when he died) you have a really great view of the convent, Arequipa outside of it, and the volcanoes outside the city. It has a pretty juicy history for a convent... it was originally created for the Spanish women who were living in Peru after the conquistadors came. Since many of them didn't have a calling to become nuns, they didn't all live like true nuns. They had apartment style living situations with their own kitchens and bedrooms (normally convents have communal living situations). Their families would bring them exquisite tea sets, textiles and paintings for their rooms so they could keep up the same high class lifestyles they had had in Spain. The nuns who paid the most were given more privilages and could become Mother Superior, and those whose families could not pay in full were lower in class. My Lonely Planet book says that they also would throw parties and the pope finally had to send a strict nun to force them to tone things down, though our guide didn't mention this so I can't say for sure whether it's true. The most interesting thing to me is that the Spanish nuns actually had slaves... they were allowed up to 6. The slaves were supposed to be learning from the nuns about religion, but since they were black and at that time black people were considered too impure to even become Catholic, it was clear that their role was just to serve the nuns. If a slave became pregnant, the child belonged to the nun since the slave was her property... if it was a girl, it was allowed to grow up in the convent, but if it was a boy it had to be sent away to live with the nun's family. Young girls would live in the convent as novices, and they'd essentially spend their days locked in their rooms praying, embroidering, and reading philosophy and theology books. Sometimes they would even have an elder nun spy on them and watch through their windows to make sure they weren't doing anything else. There are stories of very religious nuns who followed the nun lifestyle to a ''t''... one of them supposedly journeyed to the convent all the way from Bolivia, paid in full but chose to shun all her privilages and wanted the smallest, darkest room where she could devote her life to praying. Sometimes she'd ask other nuns to tie her upside down on a cross and was often found unconscious. She died mid-prayer. The convent was eventually opened up to indigenous women and whoever else had a calling and today there are 23 resident nuns who follow a very strict schedule of praying 6 hours a day... and they don't party.

We walked around town some more and found our way to a nicer neighborhood with a great view over the entire city. On the way we bumped into a random old woman on a bridge who started talking to Rachel after she heard us speaking English... turns out she was a retired insurance worker who was now living in Arequipa teaching English for a year. And she just would not stop talking. We heard her whole life story. As we parted ways, she let us know that she'd studied business at Georgetown. And that was that.

Colca Canyon...

Next morning we woke up bright and early at the ungodly hour of 5am to catch a 6am bus to Colca Canyon... twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! VERY unfotunately for us, our 3 hour bus ride was one of the worst bus rides that could possibly exist. We settled into our seats on the nice double decker bus, unaware how quickly things would change. A few minutes into the drive, the music started blasting. But it wasn't music. It was a morning radio show with men laughing like hyenas and then talking in baby voices. It wasn't funny. We asked him to turn it down. He said ''of course!´''. Then the stupid bus ticket collector boy turned the volume UP. It was so loud the speakers were crackling. Suddenly, the sound turned off. We breathed a sigh of relief. But too soon. A minute later, the bus boy was putting in a DVD. We could have never prepared for what horrible DVD he had picked. Trumpets blared and a bunch of local families marched around an arena... turns out it was a home video of a bull fight. We were forced to watch a bull fight on our 3 hour bus ride at 6am at top volume. The same trumpet music played over and over, matador after matador waved their stupid red flags at the bulls, they shot their spears into the bulls, the bulls bled, the bulls died. And we couldn't get away from it!!! And it was SIX AM IN THE MORNING. I almost cried I was so upset and frustrated. And of course the night before I had left my only pair of earplugs under my pillow, so I had to resort to stuffing my ears with toilet paper. Didn't work. At some point, the bull fight DVD ended, and we almost jumped for joy... until the bus boy started to put in another DVD. It was the icing on the cake... an anti-abortion, male chauvenist movie from the 60s about a husband who forced his wife to have the baby she didn't want to have, and then forced her to stay at home and take care of their child because it was ''her duty'', even though she wanted to start her own business. I honestly think the bus ticket boy was stupid and I'm baffled as to why he would think those movies were a good choice for a 3 hour bus ride... yes let me remind you, at 6am in the freaking morning!!!

Anyway, finally arrived in Yanque, the first town at the edge of the canyon. Except we didn't see any canyon. This was the start of everything on our trip going wrong and not being quite what it seemed it would be. We had taken a rickety old combi (cheap shared collective transportation, or just a beat up van seemingly made from junk parts that can magically fit 20 people inside) into town from the main canyon town of Chivay where our favorite bus dropped us off. We wandered the 12 streets of Yanque looking for the hotel our book recommended, only to discover that nobody in town knew where the street was that it was on. We got an unofficial tour of the town that way. While wearing our giant backpacks. And it was hot. The town is interesting though... very tiny, built entirely around the church in the center, with perfectly layed out streets radiating out from each side of the main plaza. Each street was dirt, had a few donkeys and dogs, and on either side were mud walls with protective cacti on top (to keep animals in and intruders out). We finally stumbled across our hotel... our big splurge on the trip at about $30 each per night or something, but hey, it included breakfast, a guided hike, a sauna, and a jacuzzi! (Or so we thought... we discovered later that night after our long 3 hour hike that the jacuzzi was nothing more than 3 giant tubs filled with lukewarm water. We almost cried again upon this discovery.) We also ended up spending a bit more on our meals because as it turns out, there weren't any resturants in town. Of course. At least the food was delicious. At this point we were the only ones in the giant hotel. We thought it was a bit weird, but soon the place started to fill up...

Our hike turned out to be a highlight, at least. It was about 3 hours and we had a local guide take us up into the hills to some pre-Inkan ruins (called Uyu Uyu), complete with a gorgeous view of the town and valley below. I couldn't stop taking pictures. Rachel and I spent a lot of time talking with our guide and she was impressed with our Spanish. Nobody else on the hike knew any Spanish so we felt especially smart, and we even got to translate for them. Along the hike we passed a lot of donkeys, sheep, cows, and pastures of quinua. At one point we even came across a little girl with a baby llama. On the hike back, we discovered that our hotel had neglected to mention to us that we should bring our bathing suits so we could stop and bathe in the hot springs on the way back. We were upset, until we discovered that the hot springs were just two small, crowded swimming pools... and nobody on our tour wanted to go anyway. We hiked back up into town, at which point it was getting pretty dark... we passed some more donkeys along the way carrying some supplies uphill, and I got to pet a llama! We were oohing and aahing at a llama on the side of the road when a local woman came up to us yelling ''Mine, mine!'' and then grabbed my hand, dragged me over to her llama, and forced me to pet it. Okay, well I wanted to, too. I think ''mio!'' was the only Spanish word she knew (the locals traditionally speak Quechua in the canyon country, and until very recently the canyon area had been entirely cut off from the outside cities due to lack of a main road going in/out).

Back at the hotel, we watched a really silly traditional dance put on by some local kids. The costumes were interesting... the guys actually wore embroidered dresses and these funny, floppy hats that had straps around their chins and noses. The girls just had beautiful embroidered skirts and vests. They proceeded to shuffle around to the music for a few minutes (their traditional dance?) before one of the kids grabbed my hand along with some other tourists and we started shuffling around in circles with them while everyone else watched us, highly amused. Then Rachel got a turn to shuffle. Then it was jacuzzi time and we cried. We were the only ones in there until a French guy came in and joined us... though it turned out he was actually born in Reunion (French colonist ancestors?) and now lives and works on the island of Guadaloupe in French Guyana. He didn't speak English very well, and our French is almost non-existent by now, so we had a really hard and frustrating (but amusing!) time trying to communicate with each other.

The next morning we got up bright and early yet again to catch a 7am bus ride to Cruz del Condor, where supposedly we were going to see a family of giant condors (heaviest flying bird in the world, with 10.5 ft wingspans!) flying over our heads as they went on their morning run. After our 2 hour bus ride along the canyon edge (beautiful!), watching it grow deeper and deeper, we got to the condor lookout point. Unfortunately we were stopped by a guard who said we had to buy a $10 entrance ticket. We gave him our money, and then he said ''uno momentito!'' (just a minute) and ran away. He was gone for a good 15 minutes. We had no idea where he went, but couldn't enter because he hadn't given us our tickets yet. We watched down below as the condors (tiny specks from our viewpoint) flew just feet above the onlookers heads. The local woman next to us kept saying ''He's coming, he's right there!'' and would point vaguely down below, but we didn't see the man... I think she was just trying to make us feel better. Finally we saw him sauntering slowly up the path towards us. We were incredibly annoyed at this point, and Rachel ran to get the tickets. We ran down the path to the lookout point... only to realize that the condors had gone back to their nests. We waited and waited until we were the only ones left at the lookout, but they didn't come back out. We were furious at the ticket man. We essentially paid $10 for nothing, since his stupidity (why didn't he have tickets with him?) forced us to miss seeing the condors. At least we can say we saw them from afar. We spent the rest of the morning hiking around the edge of the canyon, which was really amazing. I can't believe it is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon... I seem to remember the Grand Canyon looking just as deep, but maybe that was because I was like 12 or so when I saw it?

After our hike we caught another bus to the nearby town of Cabanaconde where we had lunch. The bus was full, though, so I had to stand in the aisle with the local women and I bounced around for a good 15 minutes. I hit my head on the TV three times and everyone said ''ouch!'' because they felt my pain. We arrived in the main plaza, had a delicious lunch, met the most annoying little boy in the world (he tried to steal our cameras, then he lied and told me his name was Santa Maria and tried to spy on me while I was in the bathroom), and hiked to another mirador (lookout point) over the canyon. Unfortunately the mirador path was blocked off by some rocks and a rusty wheelbarrow. After walking around for 10 minutes, confused as to how to cross or whether we even should, we finally just jumped the wheelbarrow and discovered the well worn path to the mirador. We gazed down the ravine at the oasis that we had previously pondored hiking 2 hours down to (and then 3 hours back up), and then decided to just go back to Arequipa instead.

After a lovely 6 hour ride, which included a screening of the horrible scary movie ''Jeepers Creepers'' (bad, but better than a bullfight), we made it back to Arequipa. The scenery on the way home was beautiful, though... we drove up out of the canyon and got great views of the canyon valley towns below, there were some icy, moss covered rocks, I'm pretty sure I saw a viscacha, and then we passed a very creepy but cool area of thousands of rocks piled atop each other in small stacks... I am still not quite sure what that was or who did it. We descended into the Arequipa valley area at sunset and the colors of the sky were really amazing pinks and purples. There were small puddles/ponds, llamas and alpacas, and then it became pitch black as th sun set and we spent the last hour a bit bored out of our minds.

Our last day in Arequipa involved the best lomo saltado of my life (and cheapest!), which is a Peruvian dish of rice, indiscriminate cuts of beef, french fries, tomatoes, onions, and a mysterious sweet soy-like sauce. We also spent about 4 hours on the computer uploading pictures and watched an episode of Friends... until the ripped DVD died on us and we missed the ending of the episode. Then it was time for our wonderful 11 hour overnight bus ride on Cruz del Sur to Ica/Huacachina. We got the royal treatment (in the beginning) for our $28... a special bus terminal separate from the other crazy local buses, a fancy schmancy waiting lounge, baggage check (like at airpors!), meals on board, and movies. The only unfortunate part was that Rachel requested a vegetarian meal and they served her beef for both meals... and then a baby wailed the entire night long and I could hear it through my earplugs. Babies here are annoying, we've decided. In the morning we were awakened by ''The Hot Chick'' movie playing and another meal that included carne that Rachel couldn't eat (ham croissant). And then... we were there! More on Ica and the crazy Huacachina sand dunes next time.

Posted by KerriBerri 15:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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