Tuesday, November 27

How many hours before blood clots set in?

Friday night my travel buddy and I left for Lake Titicaca with high hopes and few ideas of what to expect. Writing from the middle-of-nowhere-Bolivia I cannot give pictures of my journeys yet but take my word that it is another world entirely. The first stop on Lake T.caca were the floating Islands made entirely out of reeds which they also made their homes and sweet boats out of and ate for an afternoon snack. The taste of the reeds is like wet cardboard (but I light cardboard) but could be eaten in desperation.

On the bus I have been slowly reading the Bamba (read: illegal copy) of El Fin de la Pobreza (The end of Poverty) which has brought up many questions. Over 2000 people live 10 to 30 per island in the lake and subsist on fish, reeds (in abundance) and tourism. The reed huts now have their own solar panels to help them do many things, including watching TV. There are schools, a post office, fisheries and community events. No one appears to be malnurished. Would we call them poor? Likely they would counted into the category of Moderate Poverty by world standards but who are we to judge? If a group is happy in their lifestyle and can support themselves why do we have the right to call them ignorant and lacking.

The woman of the families on the Isle of Amantaní welcomed our boat at the shore to take us to our homestay. The new rise in altitude kicked butt again and the climb up the side of the mountain was somewhat painful. But we arrived to a very comfortable room overlooking their small garden plot and THE Lake. We found out later that we were not alone in our experience but in showing us their culture they demonstrated that they in no way wanted to talk to us. I should correct myself because the husband asked what country we were from. The wife brought us our delicious, delicious local food in our room where we ate alone by candle light. That night we were treated to the most intense lightning storm ever. What do you do when given fried dough for breakfast? Dip it in your tea, smother in sugar and pretend you are eating a Beaver Tail.
We entered into Bolivia yesterday in the afternoon where I had to pay a fine because I was given only 60 days in Peru according to their system even though it was corrected in my passport. Lesson: pay very close attention to how many days they have given you in a country. Luckily Peru is pretty forgiving so we promptly set off to walk into Bolivia.

It has now been almost 24 hours on a bus with a short stop in La Paz long enough to order coffee, leave before it was served and book a night long bus ride to Uyuni where we wait for our trip to the largest salt flats in the world (not to mention volcanoes, geysers and coloured lagoons) to be left at the Chilean border.

One more thing: Peru is a bubble bath compared to the cold shower of Bolivia. It just feels different. Maybe it the armed guards at all of the gas stations. Maybe it is the ghost-town like stops every hour or two on the bus and the nauseous making dirt roads throught the desert. At 2am we stopped for food for the first time since we got on the bus at 7pm to be treated to a choice of massive hunks of cheese, hard bread and bland coffee. We could have gone across the street for the same thing but we decided to wander around the bus in the eerie and deserted town. Goodbye catering to my every tourist wish, hello communism.

Friday, November 23

Estoy hasta las narices

We had our tickets and were ready to spontaneously take off a day early for Puno. The time was tight and packing even tighter but it was an entirely reachable goal. The only thing is I had to throw my leaving party at the orphanage a bit early and be home by 6 (I mean, 6:30, how about 7?). It was hard to leave especially since I thought I would have two more weeks before I decided to end my school and explore the country. They sang me a song (heaven help them all, I sang them a song) we ate cake, a few ones I spent more time with sang a horrible translation I did of the Hakuna Matata song. We took pictures. Luckily I will visit a few more times and bring photos whenever I am in the city and not travelling.

Wait, why didn´t we go? Kate´s phone didn´t work. But to understand this we will step back in time. I´m not sure what it is about her but she has been robbed or almost robbed three or four times. I must admit that she has taken it well every time. But this was the last straw. Wednesday she placed her phone in the front pocket of her sweater and secured it while downtown. Some bold person reached in and grabbed it. Took her phone! From her front pocket! The worst part is she grabbed him, he denied the accusation and promptly took off (like any innocent person would do). He was chased by a few men on the street but to no use. How did losing a phone delay our trip?

Something you need to know about Kate is that she is a great mom to her 10 year old son back home in Wisconsin. They had never been separated before and this phone was their lifeline through text messages, she could be reached anywhere. Even that didn´t stop her: she bought a new phone assured that it would send messages to the US and receive them so off I go to my party and her to get some last minute essentials. But I come home to find out it doesn´t work. We frantically tried to fix it but the store was closed. So we bought a popscicle and a beer (I really hate beer) and home we went to chill. Tonight should be different. What frustrates me is that the phone meant so much more to Kate than to that guy. He probably couldn´t even sell it because it doesn´t function other than for text in Peru. Right now it is surely in the bottom of a sewer drain somewhere in the city. Some people.

Sunday, November 18

Just make a disgusted face

Here I am with just over three more weeks to go. My next big adventure will finally be a real trip within South America which means I will be going to the clinic tomorrow for my Yellow Fever vaccine. The Bolivian government prefers only vaccinated people and hey, it's good for 10 years so from having studied business I think it is a good investment.

The plan: myself and Kate (cool chick from Wisconsin who lives down the hall/balcony from me) will be leaving on next Friday evening to reach the famous Lake Titicaca (reknowned for being the highest freshwater lake and having some sweet sweet floating islands made of reeds). Once there we will spend a few days exploring and hopefully stay on an island with a local family. From there we will trek to Copacabana as our first stop on the Bolivian side of the border. One great thing about Bolivia: we get to divide all prices by 5! HEre in Peru it is by 3, but by 5!? I'm not sure what we will find in Copacabana but if nothing else we will get to sing that song while in the place. After we will just see how far we can get south east before we have to return for classes the Monday one week later. La Paz, Sucre, Potosi and (I hope!) Uyuni to see one of the worlds largest salt flats which becomes home to thousands of Flamingos in November.

To have a little fun we went out on Friday night to hear some live music and stumbled upon Nancy Flores at the local bar Ukuku's. THe goal of the night: listen to some good Peruvian music and maybe dance a little. Totally chill.

We had no idea we would come across the Peruvian version of 'Night at the Roxbury'. I can't even explain how perfectly these two men fit the profile but you'll have to trust me. Even though being well into their 30s they were obviously on the prowl. They consistently asked us to dance throughout the night which went something like this:

"Would you like to dance with us"
"No thank you" "C'mon. Why not?"
"Because we don't want to"
"Would you like to dance? No? That's cool, that's cool"
*stands awkwardly with friend bobbing (yes, I have to use the word bobbing) and hip thrusting to the music while scoping out the next prey

When they finally did find some women who accepted their less than charming ways they took up practically then entire dance floor. Not to mention the black lights highlighting a servere dandruff problem. At least if they had been good dancers. They were just the worst of the many who would use the trick of gradually dancing closer to us until we were technically dancing with them at which time we would promptly move away. That's the best that they have? The worst part is that we had left some coats on the couch we were sitting on to go dance but would return often to get something or sit down. The coats were there until close to leaving time but when we finally headed out they were no where to be seen. My rain coat (luckily with nothing important), Kate's raincoat (which she had bought about 3 minutes before entering the bar) and hoodie and scarf along with some money and ID. Our best guess: Chris Katan and Will Ferrell made off with them to "show us". They disappeared around the same time as the coats and would easily have known they were ours and when we were and were not paying attention. If I could go back in time I would still not dance with them to save my coat. You can come to Peru for a great adventure, beautiful scenery or even some Spanish but if it is a husband you're after I'd go somewhere else.

Tip: Kate has informed me that the most effective means of repelling unwanted and persistent suitors is to make an obvious face of horrible disgust and add an "ew" for good measure. They usually are unable to defend themselves against this

Sunday, November 11

Now I have to see the rest of the Wonders

The city of Cusco offers one of the best places for a game of 'ultimate punch buggy'. What is that? Well it hinges on the ability to locate Volkswagen Beetles and then having at least one other person nearby that is sufficiently punchable. The extreme version requires many more Beetles, a keen eye for kitsch and fast fists. My neighbourhood here is perfect as the house to beetle ratio is about 4 to 1.

This week has been a bust for blogging but with good reason: Mark came to visit so I took some time off pretty much everything. No school, I was allowed to speak english and for sures, no blogging. The week went by so quickly although for him there is still another 24.5 hours of travel before he can call the vacation quits.

Lacking time to see everything the way I have been doing it (one place at a time by sketchy bus into the valley) we did the tourist thing for a few days. The Sacred Valley (pisac, ollantaytambo and chinchero) one day, city tour (sacsayhuaman and some other ruins) another day. I must admit that while riding a bus filled with only tourists does not exactly appeal the having of a guide made the ruins much more fascinating.

One of the highlights had to be the rice pudding. Oh, and Machu Picchu. Booked in advance for peace of mind all was set for wednesday morning to leave on the train at 7am. The only hitch: our 6:20am pick-up finally showed at 7:15. Train leaves at 7, we are picked up at 7:15 to catch train...problem anyone? After my host family kindly explained to the man the error of his ways and outed his various lies about us not being there waiting, etc. etc. he drove us to the next town to meet the train and we were off! Not without me inputting my two cents about my lack of confidence in the agency after I was denied a phone number to contact our guide for the next day even though I was told earlier I could have it (this coming after the late pick-up and both tickets having the incorrect names and passport numbers). For three days according to PeruRail we were Katie Vikking and Martha Jones. I

f you are ever to do Machu Picchu by train I am going to tell you how to do it. Take the train but stay overnight to visit the ruins the next day. Wake up before 5am to catch the 530 am bus in order to enter the ruins at the 6am opening. (We happened to be on the first bus to ascend the Cloud forest mountains of emerald green). Go into the ruins and stare incredulously because not only are they fantastic but you have beat the crowds and can see it without people milling around ruining your photos. Have a look around but be at the gate for Winay Picchu by 7am. Winay Picchu is a mountain right behind M.P. with a few ruins topping it and offering a view of the entire site from above. Our motivation for climbing so early was to hit the steep steps straight up when we still had breakfast in our tummies and it ended up being the most rewarding experience of the day. Only 400 people are allowed to climb Winay Picchu daily (all before 1pm) and we entered as #23 and #24 for November 8th 2007. 45 minutes of straight-up brutalness being unable to see anything off the side of the cliffs due to the dense fog covering everything. At the top we waited over an hour to finally see the fog shift and reveal part by part the ancient Inca city far below. Later take a tour with a guide. Pet the Llamas. Take train back that evening or early the next morning. It may be cliché, maybe we held tickets for this year numbering over 766,000 but there is a reason that this place attracts so many people. Even with the guide we were lucky and were led around the ruins by a man who wrote a widely published book about M.P. Another tip: everyone has to stay in Aguas Calientes beforehand. Bring playing cards and music. There is nothing there but expensive restaurants and expensive souvenirs. Although you could pass some time in the middle of the Urubamba River on giant granite stones. You could. If you wanted to.