Thursday, February 25, 2010

Low times HIgh times

AS we are finding out there are Low times and High times up here in the Andes, and the times don´t get much lower than when Machu Picchu is closed and it´s raining quite often. The good part is that rooms are cheaper, you can always find a nice one and you are not always feeling like you are simply part of some giant qeue of tourists bussing, flying and plodding methodically from site to site, even though that might be what you are doing. We are in Puno Peru which is a pretty nice little bustling town perched on the shores of Lake Titicaca, but even here things are what you might call ¨dead¨ as touristing goes. We are liking the relative mellowness of the tourist trade, but are finding it a bit weird being the only two people in a giant resteraunt full of tables with aproned staff looking-on as we dine on Alpaca medallions (only me non-veg)and try not to talk too loudly because the place is so quiet the squeaking of the forks on our plates sounds obnoxious. I kid you not, every place we go into is simply abandoned and while our dutiful Book-Wearhouse purchased guidebook exclaims ¨crowds of locals and tourists alike rub shoulders in this friendly and bustling room while delicious local food is served and nightly live music resounds¨ it is dissapointing to be whispering in a corner over two plates of drab food while over-dressed waiters glower at you from behind the cash desk. We have decided to simply use the guide as a way to know where the resaurants are and then find out where the crowds are eating. This has worked for us so far on this trip. I admit it was probably our fault for tying ourselves too much to the Guidebook, as helpful as it has been. It seems, just like the weather up here, tourist traffic is a changeable thing. There is also the strange element of gringoesque restaurants always having a CD changer full of some kind of early 90´s top 40 NOrth American music compilations. I can picture some restaurant manager saying to the staff, ¨Now don´t screw with this selection. This is what the tourists like. This is what they want to hear, so don´t go putting any of that Salsa or Cumbia crap on there!¨ What it ammounts to is me feeling like I will go crazy if I hear Eric Clapton singing about his Father´s Eye´s or that horrid ¨Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?¨ song again.

In this picture you will find a man who sharpens knives using a bicycle type contraption on the street. It seems he goes around to the restaurants and does their knives.

and this other picture is of me doing what a lot of people do around here almost all the time - squinting! Yes, squinting into the powerful light of the midday sun. I´ve never seen the like. You practically need to put sunblock on at night up here! If you have light complexion and do not put on sunblock and spend more than a half hour in this intense low-ozone filtered high-altitude sun, you will get a skiers sunburn that somehow gets under your chin and eyebrows like you spent the day on a glacier! It´s amazing white burning light, but it does really feel nice when it breaks through the frequent passing rainclouds. It is an excercise in extremes and it makes everyone, tourists and locals alike have this permanent Dirty Harry / Marlborough Man expression on their face, that is, unless you want to be the only one in town wearing sunglasses, which apart from military badasses, don´t seem to be that popular amongst the locals.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Up UP up...

We are heading up and more up to the area known as the ALTIPLANO tomorrow. It´s hard to imagine people living any higher up than this much less giant cities and lakes and islands in the lakes with towns on them! We shall see what this is all about when we get to the peruvian town of Puno near the Bolivian border.

Monday, February 22, 2010

1 Day in Ollantaytambo

We caught a couple of busses out of town this week and headed for the small town of Ollantaytambo for a night. It was well worth the journey! The bus ride snaked it´s way through what is known to Ancient Incans, Locals, and tourists alike as ¨The Sacred Valley¨. This is the valley where Machu Picchu and a whole host of other very interesting Ican cities were (and still are) located. It´s quite lush, a little warmer than Cusco and at times dryer. Cusco and this valley are considered the heart of the Incan empire and the whole place is littered with ruin sites and towns that still boast buildings, aquaducts, and walls of Incan heritage, probably a few people too.
The river Urubamba lays at it´s bottom and it´s this river that is responsible for raging over the rails and washing out all access to Machu Picchu. While this is lame, there are tons of other places to go here. Ollantaytambo was particularly interesting because the town itself is a former Incan settlement so the walls of many buildings and carless streets and aquaducts which guide a small stream throughout it´s fields and streets are all very very old. And as we have learned from places like Rome, Cairo, Bethlehem, etc... Old is good. Old is interesting. These cities are some of North Americas oldest continuously inhabited settlements and if you were as lucky as we were to settle there ourselves for a night, you´d know why. Ollantaytambo is a stunning little place at the juncture of two very deep valleys and surrounded by dryish peaks with a giant Incan Fortification/Ceremonial centre stepping it´s way up the mountainside.
It´s been raining pretty much every day since we got here, but it usually peters out and gets sunny by 10am, this day was drizzly though and while I was warm in my new alpaca sweater, we got soaked. It sure was fun though. It took us a few hours to exhaust this site and the next day we went up the other side of the river, where there are non-paying unregulated ruins as well.
Check these out! Incan water fountains, that still work. The whole area was crisscrossed with these little ingenious channels that I guess were the way that incans transported water around the area.
This is apparently a fort where occured one of the few succesful battles the Incans had against the Spanish. They held them off here on these battlements after retreating from Cusco. Crazy times. It´s hard to imagine rocks, arrows, and spears being chucked off these terraces at armoured spanish horsemen, but that´s what happened.

The vegetation up here on these dry mountainsides was practically as interesting as the fortress itself. Because it´s the rainy season the mountainsides were lush with undergrowth. Cacti, Maguey, crazy looking air plants, and wild flowers of many varieties were in full bloom.
This little town was really looking quite slow. There was evidence of some washout from the extreme rains and the river was swollen and roaring with debris and the color of chocolate milk, pretty dangerous looking. However, people here seemed to be carrying on as usual. The bridge to the ruins had been repaired and only really noticeable thing was the emptyness of all the businesses in town. Practically every restaurant we´ve been in, we´ve been the only people. And that goes for Cusco as well. It seems the dropoff in tourism from Machu Picchu´s closing and the sensationalist articles in newpapers may hurt the region more than any natural disasters. It´s been a bit wet and muddy from place to place, but nothing like we expected from reading the papers on the coast. The obsession with Machu Picchu is funny actually. These ruins offered a practically parallel experience from my standpoint. Points of interest for tourists become like pilgrimages over time and people can become a bit crazy I think. It´s like waiting for hours in the rain to catch a glimpse of your favourite movie star. Nonetheless, this place warrants a visit. I suggest staying a few days and chilling-out and walking the hills to some other more remote sites around here that I read about but didn´t get to. The people in this small place are friendly and there is pretty much everything here a vacationer could want. These giant stones were under construction when the Spaniards came and destroyed everything. They were quarried from a site about 5kms away! I can´t imagine how much work that would have been, but I guess as we have learned from other civilizations in those times, rock hauling was a serious priority and when you´re a king, it´s never hard to find haulers.
This was a Sapo (frog) game that they had at our hostel and it´s aparantly a popular Peruvian pastime. People throw brass coins and try to score points in certain holes with the top score being in the frogs mouth.
This is what the ¨streets¨ of Ollantaytambo are like. I don´t think they´ve changed much since the olden times, but when we hiked up the hills and past some terraced gardens you could see over the high walls into peoples little yards and houses. Some were quite old-fashioned with hog-wallows, veggie plots and chicken coops while others had manicured flower gardens. I felt like I was looking down on some old-world europe village.

Friday, February 19, 2010

We are finally in Cusco. - no kidding this time.

Well, we arrived by super-fast and comfy jetliner to Cusco the other day and now that we´ve had a chance to wander around for about three days I can safely say it´s a great place. We are lucky actually in that because of the closing of Machu Picchu and the fact that this is the low season, there are not giant busloads of tourists parading throughout the town and it has a fairly mellow and relaxed feel. You only need to glance at the huge offering of four star hotels, fancy restaurants, numerous artisan markets, and throngs of touts, souvenir stalls, and sellers of woven crafts to know that the supply right now far outstrips the demand and I´m sure in high season with the star attraction open for business, this place is pretty packed. Right now you´d never know that you were in South Americas most visited town. People here seem to be taking the bad turn of events in stride though and the town (the touristy parts anyway) has little evidence of the disastrous floods we´d read about in Lima. The previous photos with us smiling over Machu Picchu are, of course, fakes. A close inspection would reveal that we posed in front of a mural while staying in Lima. Abundant tourist trade has it´s upside as well. This is one of the only places that we´ve had a choice between many vegetarian places to eat and other, more gringo, kinds of food. I actually expected more McDonalds and Planet Hollywood kind of offerings, but Cusco is surprisingly small-scale so far.
We bumped into this guy on our way back from the ruins of Saqsaywayman which proudly tower above the city. Llamas abound here of course, and generally there are a few people in traditional dress around and next to them all too happy to pose for a pic for a few Soles tip of course. This guy seemed to have lost his way somewhere and was wandering the narrow cobbled streets sans herder.
Here is a picture of one small, almost perfectly cut little stone among thousands that were piled into the amazing ramparts of the Saqsaywayman fortress above the city. This distictive Stone-masonry is definitely one of the most impressive Incan accomplishments. It´s ubiquitous by now of course, but it´s still impressive by current days standards. As you can imagine I was just staring at this stone and thinking, ¨I´m impressed¨, and then I took a picture.
Never mind the ruins though, Cusco is a artifact unto itself! Many churches and buildings, roads, sewers and other infrastructure in Cusco was built by the Incas, and is still being used today. As you ply Cusco´s narrow, cobbled streets there are reminders of the city´s ancient past all over the place. Of course, I wasn´t there so there isn´t much to be reminded of accept some of the stuff that we saw in the Museum today which was
stuff like mummies which were paraded around and were fed and treated like kings because that´s what they were; dead kings who still get to rule the roost after death. So there was a museum with screaming mummies and other artifacts from the area.
These are the battlements of the fort above the city where the retreating Incans gave the Spanish conquerors a serious run for their money. Bloody battles ensued and finally the Incans capitulated. Only the rocks remain. Well, and their ancestors of course who still inhabit this great city way up in the Andes, llamas and all. The books don´t lie. This place is a gem in mine too.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We go the high-way but not the highway.

We are leaving for Cusco Tomorrow, by plane. What that means is that we won´t have to take a 20hr long journey on the roads of danger which may be closed, but will coast over it all in the sky at fairly great expense as we discovered that while there are deals-o-plenty for Peruvians to fly to Cusco for the weekend, they are not open to foreigners. Lame. But, well, them´s the rules and we tried to get around them, but it could not be done so we paid full tourist prices for our tickets. WE are STILL in Lima and while we have not exhausted it´s charms, we are ready to move on at any rate. The sky is hot and sunny pretty much every day and the streets are full of bustle and hustle. Nothing much new to add actually. We are beginning to feel more at home here. We know what places we like. It´s nice. It suddenly seems like Vancouver has erupted into Olympic frenzy as expected, complete with protests and arrests etc... Probably no one has time to check the news on this page. Too busy dodging rubber bullets! These are just another few spare images of the return journey to Lima from Ayacucho. We desperately wanted to jump off the bus and just walk in these Elysian fields of uber-green grass and puffy clouds but we never did figure out how to get here.

Tomorrow we will be in Cusco so I will hopefully have more to say. One strange thing we´ve noticed about Lima is the prevalence of English 90´s top 40 hits. There is noticeably less salsa and cumbia playing in restaurants and bars than in Ecuador. It seems that 90´s pop hits from the USA and Canada are pretty En-Vogue (just to add a little 90´s nostalgia to the blog). Lot´s of really bad stuff like Nickelback, that horrid ¨where have all the cowboys gone?¨ song, and onehitwonders like Dido, who did something with Eminem to her fame, we recalled. Popular music is kind of like Whack-a-Mole I guess. You hammer it down somewhere and up it pops in some other country. Wait! I hear some Cuban Son being played outside. I guess it´s still Latin America after all!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Doubling Back

We are back in Lima from Ayacucho despite the fact that Ayacucho is physically closer to Cusco and hence the altiplano of Bolivia and Lake Titicaca which is our next phase of travel, the roads in-between are dirt, scary, and have a good chance of being washed out. The bus from Ayacucho to Cusco takes 20 hours! So we decided to come back to Lima and plan our next move from here. We are trying to find out if flying to cusco won´t be too expensive. It seems this is what many people do rather than chance the rains.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finally there!

Finally there!, originally uploaded by burro come churro.
Here´s another view of this majestic place! And us in the middle of it!

Finally Made it!

Finally Made it!, originally uploaded by burro come churro.
Well. We finally got to Machu Piccu! hehe. Yeah, it's supposed to be closed, but there's nothing a few Soles placed in the right palm and a helicopter ride or two can accomplish. It's such a breathtaking place. Nothing can really match the experience of seeing the real thing with your own eyes! Especially when there's no one else around to share it with. Breathtaking...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It´s carnival week here in Ayacucho and that means lots of processions and bands and stuff going on in the street. Actually, there have been processions in many andean towns during the months of January and February. It´s kind of fun accept for the one yesterday that was a funeral procession which was more serious. We are awoken each morning and sometimes the middle of the night to the sound of andean flutes, horns and drums parading the streets which is why I still don´t have any photos of said processions, we are usually sleeping and not parading around. We did have a nice night in the park last night. Where we just sat for awhile and chilled out on a bench and watched the youths of Ayacucho hangout. Actually the people of this town are quite out and about. It seems every night there are throngs of people down in the square walking about with kids and socializing etc... People seeem to go for Chicken at night in Peru. Roast chicken is the typical cena meal maybe washed down with a few beers. We are trying to hang out here a bit and study some of the Spanish notes we got during our brief but intense classes. It´s a bit hard to study on the road when you´ve got to move on all the time.

Here´s a small square we walked to yesterday which was full of little artisan shops. Apparently this is the place to buy straight from the producers and there was some amazing craftsmanship on display. Many rugs with agaraian themes and meanings. Rugs that tell stories all hand woven from wool or Alpaca. There was of course a lot of other neat stuff too, but we are constantly battling the wanting of trinkets and stuff with the reality of weight. Backpack weight is a big issue when backpacking as you can imagine. We end up bantering and negotiating quite a bit about who carries what and who´s carrying more and all that. Every kilo counts when you´ve got to lug your pack around in the heat or heave the whole thing onto your lap on a chicken bus that bounces along some dusty road. Fortunately we´ve been able to travel by fancy bus and taxis when we´re not in the mood for roughing it so the question of weight hasn´t been too intense or contencious for that matter, which is good but I won´t surprised if I end up with some giant ceramic bull and a rug under my arm by the end of this crusade.
Most peruvian towns seem to have legions of moto-taxis to get you around. The convenience and price is great but the pollution from their little two-stroke engines isn´t. That said we´ve been using them pretty unsparingly.

We´ve been eating quite a few of these in the mornings with jam and butter. Chaplas they are called and delicious they are! They are puffed-up like pitas and a little sweeter and a little gummier than pitas but very similar. I seem to be getting a lot of vista type pictures and many pictures of food. As usual I miss out on the picture perfect moments because I´m just not obnoxious enough to whip out the camera when there´s interesting stuff going on like five old women in the market hacking up a giant side of meat while a giant, furry hound looks on from down below anticipating scraps or drippings. There is a lot going on in this busy little place, but I haven´t yet been able to photogistically capture the total Vibe yet. It´s hard. We are also constantly vigilant here as there is a tradition during this time of year for people to throw water buckets and water balloons on passers-by and Gringos are no exception. We have been hit a couple of times already, and there have been many missed attempts. Yesterday three little girls chased us down the street loaded with balloons. They pegged us in the end. It´s quite fun, but we also don´t want to be soaked every day so there´s a bit of strategy involved. Now we know the spots and times when water thrower people are most likely to lurk. Cuenca Ecuador was a little more daunting as most attacks were drive-by style and you could not anticipate as easily. It makes the day interesting at any rate. Anyone want to play ´hit the gringo´? hehe...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


We went to Trujillo and saw the slowly melting remnants of what once was the worlds biggest Adobe city. Over a hundred thousand people lived here at the site of Chan Chan before the rise of the Incas and all were gone by the time Columbus discovered the americas. It´s kind of mind-boggling. Additionally, there are these Incan dogs that have no fur and are black. A remnant of this breed was playing the waiting game for snacks outside the Chan Chan concession and we had to take some photos home. Don´t you want one of these guys for a pet?

We have left Lima for a few days after eating some amazing ceviche. Lunch is the big meal of the day here and ceviche and pisco sours are the name of the game at this busy local place on a hectic Friday afternoon. The band was in full swing when we arrived at 3 o-clock and we wasted no time getting the ceviche of the day. Yes, it comes with it´s own small crab. We also discovered people lined up at this place in Miraflores that makes amazing cremoladas and has these cookies called alfajores that are basically amazing velvety shortbread with caramel in between - yummer-do!.

Here´s the sunset of Miraflores where people make-out and make-up. Also a lot of people like to para glide here.

All in all I can say that Lima is a great city to get to know. It´s pretty hectic and crazy at times and in places, but it has many faces and the food is amazing. There is street food a plenty as well.
This collection of comedors next to our bus station in the centro had hot herb drinks and chicken with chicken and chicken and rice.
Just a little of the amazing scenery on the way to Ayacucho

Some locals near Ayacucho
Another 9 hour bus ride down the desert coast and up through some amazing countryside has brought us to the quaint little city of Ayacucho. We thought it might be a better idea to visit this place as Cusco is completely swamped in rain these days and we seem to be getting lucky with the weather so far. The ride up here on the bus was by far one of the most amazing drives I have ever been on. At first you climb up and up through giant mountains with hard and dry cliffs to high plains dotted with herds of Alpaca and sheep.
Then we descended slightly through some of the most amazing terrain. High walls of rock jut out of the valley with sharp and smooth angles like massive folding screens. The valley floor was riddled with boulders of various sizes, sparkling little rivers and ultra green grass. It was very surreal. My bus window shots do not do it justice.
Ayacucho is a nice town of around 170 thousand people and has a quiet industriousness to it. There are a lot of churches and small artisan shops that sell ceramics and weavings of high quality. The main square is pleasant and people here are pretty outgoing and seem to like their city. Our guidebook calls this part of Peru, ¨the heart of Peru¨ and I can get a small idea of what they are talking about. Here is a shot of our little hostel that we are staying at.
Ayacucho view

cocoa tea and cookie
Mostly it´s just nice to be somewhere where the pace is a little more laid back and you can relax back and have one of these to help quash the high altitude headaches and give you extra energy for the day ahead. Cocoa leaf tea! Well having said that I am feeling a moist breeze on my arm and can see outside the open door of this internet cafe that there is a nasty storm boiling off in the distance. Maybe I spoke too soon. I will post again homies! Hope all is well where you are.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Genki des Ka?

Another tidbit that I´ll add while I´m waiting for hayley to finish talking to her father in the telephone cabin is that there is a noticeable Japanese population here in Peru. There are also part-Japanese people like me! I knew for sometime that there were people of Japanese descent living here, but I was surprised at how many. The most notorious ex-pat being the disgraced former President Fujimori. Upon entering Peru through the north (through a wiley, dusty, unruley and relatively bleak border city packed full of hustlers and rustlers) I was surprised to see giant ad banners painted along factoy walls with the slogan ¨free fujimori¨ and ¨Fujimori innocent!!¨. It would appear he still has big support here from some. Hayley sat next to an interesting and rather extravagant woman on the bus from Trujillo who declared that she was part Japanese, Italian and Spanish blooded, (not the woman pictured) whatever that means. The quality of the seafood here is good enough that I can see why Japanese people decided to stay. Unfortunately this hasn´t translated into any kind of preferential treatment for me. Maybe half helpings don´t count hehe. There is also a chinatown in Lima that we tried to find but got distracted with the cream filled churros. We actually get waylaid quite a bit by the desire to eat something rather than dwell over some ruins or mummy or something. Hopefully we can see some ruins in Ayacucho of some kind. I hear it´s not ruin-land like Cusco, but ruins are overrated anyway. Maybe I´m just trying to make myself feel better about not getting to Machu Picchu. Funnily enough we have been to Ecuador without seeing the Galapagos Islands and now we will have been to Cusco without seeing Machu Picchu. Well, tomorrow we will ascend yet again into the mountains and from what I hear, things may get a bit chilly from there on in. I can finally use the wool socks and long sleeved shirts I´ve been lugging around in anticipation for the last weeks - but lugging things around in anticipation is what travelling is all about I guess. More snapshots to come...

More Stuff

Well here we are back in Vancouver just looking out our window... Actually, no we are currently in Lima, Peru and it´s one of our favourite places so far. Wow! It´s quite crazy and huge and fun, hot, pretty, sad and surprising. People are relatively friendly and maybe a bit more outgoing than in other parts of Peru that we know so far anyway. It´s a giant place. It seems people have poured in here from all parts of Peru. Getting around is pretty crazy. There isn´t really any central, easy to use transit system so we´ve been mostly cabbing it around, but we´re currently staying in the trendy, wealthy Miraflores district which is really comfortable and safe and beautiful. Our hostel is merely a block from the flat expanse of the Pacific ocean.
One of the big treats in Lima so far has been the food. Actually the food all the way from Ecuador to here has been pretty good and at times amazing. Especially the seafoods. This is an authentic spanish churro stall that we discovered downtown. Imagine fresh, hot out of a giant copper pot cream-filled churros. We´ve learned that you need to look around at where and what the locals are lining up for and simply make the line to see what all the fuss is about. Generally, the fuss is about something and something good!

Dowtown has a crazy busy feel and at times it feels as if it´s coming apart at the seams. If you venture off the well-beaten track, you immediatley see the more unseemly side of Lima. Clogged dark streets with hawkers of everything, dusty potholes, carts of produce and discount sneaker shops stretch into the dusky, smoggy distance. The traffic is practically un-regulated (there are scant traffic lights), but somehow, through honking and shunting and brute jostling, Limas clogged arteries flow.
The dowtown area has some handsome plazas and fountains and a few parks. Since arriving in Peru we´ve been sampling some of the local beverages as well. Pisco sours are strong and delicious and refreshing but don´t overdo it. The interesting thing is that people drink this one often just before a big ceviche lunch. Woah. And I´m supposed to present myself back at work after that? I will try to post some catch-up stuff. But basically we´ve been making our way down the Peruvian coast. We learned that we won´t be able to go up to Machu Picchu. It´s totally rained-out and the mountains are riddled with mudslides and basically a lot of people are flooded out and miserable. We are not sure if we want to be in the middle of that, but we´ll see how things shape up after this week. Hmmm... Uh, can´t think of more to say today. We´ll play catch up later.