Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You threw off my groove! Cuzco

I decided to head to Cuzco to see if there was any slight chance I'd be able to get to see Machu Picchu. Since the recent flooding and mud slides around Cuzco took out a large chunk of the train tracks and hiking trails leading to La Citadella, as it is sometimes called, there was no way to get into the ruins so I decided instead to go to Lake Titicaca. At 3,800 meters, it's the largest, highest navegable lake in the world!

I got a flight from Lima to Cuzco at 5:30am on Wendesday morning. Susan and I stayed up most of the night talking so I didn't really sleep before Javier picked me up to take me to the airport. I got into Cuzco and took a taxi to a hostel my friend Nikki had recommended. It was huge and the staff were great but I didn't have a bed reserved so I had to wait for my nap until the afternoon. I wandered the city a bit and got in contact with a friend of a friend who has a hotel in Cuzco. I went there and met him and Bilma, a woman who works there. I decided to stay there the next night and asked her if she knew of any good salsa places around. She told me where to go then I asked if she wanted to come and she said "Si" so we decided to meet and go dancing that night.

We started at the touristy salsa place and I had a few good dances although I was really rusty from not dancing salsa at all for about a year. Then when they stopped playing salsa she said we could go dance at a club that was really Cuzco, not a tourist place. Since I would be turning 23 at midnight I said "Ok!" and we walked over to Club Las Vegas where I quickly realized everyone was staring at the only blonde in the room...me. Well, Bilma took really good care of me and we boogied and a few guys asked her if I wanted to dance since they thought I couldn't speak Spanish, which made it easy to say no.

Dancing and several severely inebriated Englishmen sharing my dorm room made for very little sleep and the next morning I had decided to go for a tour of the Sacred Valley, which was really fun but I was exhausted and kept falling asleep on the bus. We saw a few Incan ruins and how the women clean, spin and dye the alpaca wool by hand, then of course got to buy their goods.

I had decided since Machu Picchu was out I wanted to go to see another marvel of the area: Lake Titicaca. So the next day I set out to tour the lake and see the people living on the islands there.

Lago Titicaca

The hotel where I stayed in Cuzco arranged everything for my trip to Lake Titicaca (which, for those of you still giggling, means "puma" in Quechua). This turned out to be super relaxing for me since I haven't really done anything else besides my trek in Nepal by tour.

To get from Cuzco to the lakeside town of Puno I opted to take the longer busride and stop at a few historical sites along the way. I met an Australian couple on the bus who spoke no Spanish but were really fun and we got along great and I helped them barter in Spanish. We saw a beautiful church, some Incan and pre-Incan ruins and I got to feed a baby alpaca by bottle. My goodness was it the cutest thing I ever saw! Yes, it was.

The next day I was picked up to go down to the port where we would travel by boat to three different islands on the lake. The first was Uros, the 42 man-made floating islands where natives live to this day. They depend a lot on tourism to support them so they embroider beautiful tapestries and made arts and crafts out of the reeds their islands, houses and boats are made of. They also eat the reeds, saying they tasted similar to asparagus. I got distracted and never got to taste them...oh well. They also had a small fish pond built into the island where they raised fish to eat and a tiny garden but they said the chiefs go to Puno to trade for more food.

They dive down to the shallow parts of the lake to cut huge blocks of the soil where the reeds are growing to create the bases of the islands. Turns out that soil floats when it's cut free. Then they pile layers and layers of reeds on top and anchor the islands with rocks so they don't float to Bolivia overnight. We got to see inside their houses, some of which had solar panels and electricity, which is really cool. Then we bought some souvenirs and got to ride in a reed boat to another island. I asked if I could row for a bit and they let me...until the wind blew us backwards then they asked to row again so we didn't crash into another island.

It took 3 hours to get to Amantani, the next island we visited and where we met our families who cooked for us and let us stay the night in their houses. I got asigned to a family with two other younger women who were also traveling by themselves who didn't really speak Spanish so I made most of the conversation and translated. Our room was really nice, very insulated with real beds and a nice bathroom with western style toilet outside the house, compared with most of the metal outhouses on the island it was great.

We had lunch of soup with potatoes and quinoa (keen-wa) which is a great grain I was delighted to find is a staple of not only Boulderites' diets but also the people of Titicaca. Then we took a nap and headed to the main square to meet the rest of the group to go hiking to the top of the island for sunset. It was about then my stomach started hurting and I ended up walking super slowly until I had to turn around, find my way back to the house and I just slept the rest of the day and night. Unfortunately that meant missing dressing up like the natives and learning their dances at the party they had for us, but I felt much better the next day so I guess it wasn't worth pushing myself.

We had pancakes for breakfast and then rode the wild waves of Titicaca to Taquile Island which was gorgeous in the sparkling blue waters and sunshine. Lots of terraces and people in bright clothes. Taquile is known for the handicrafts; the men knit and the women weave really delicate patterns so I had been saving a lot of money to buy gifts here. It was worth it. The men also display their marital status through the Santa-esque hats they wear. If they have a red and white hat it means they're single. Completely red means married. Pretty cool, no mistakes there!

We had lunch in the beautiful sunshine then strolled back to the boat down the other side of the mountian. I had made friends with an old French man on the boat who gave me some eucalyptus to smell when he saw me with my upset stomach. We chatted in Spanglish/French and took pictures of each other. He was very kind!

A long boat ride back in the sun concluded the trip. What an adventure! Then I packed my stuff up back at the hostel and met the girls from my homestay for dinner and shopping before a night bus back to Cuzco, caught a flight to Lima. Whirlwind!

Lynn and Paul, the Aussies from my bus. We passed them in the floating islands.
Chief and little girl eating totora
They have the coolest hats
Paddling a reed boat
Attempting to paddle. We went backwards instead...

On Taquile. Little kids love pictures and hope you pay them to jump into your pictures uninvited.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Best First Day in A Country Yet!

First of all, I'd like to send out some Love and Prayers to everyone who experienced the earthquake in Chile. Thank goodness all my friends there are alright, and I had no idea it even happened until I heard about it on the bus back from Iguazu. Thanks for all the love and support!

I am so grateful that Spencer’s mother, Patsy, put me in touch with her friend Susan who is living in Lima Peru. Susan has been so ridiculously helpful and kind from the email conversations that we initially exchanged, I felt like I had a mother in Peru even before we met.

Her Peruvian friend Javier picked me up from the airport (with a sign that had my name on it!) and we were conversing easily before we pulled away from the airport. He pointed out all kinds of really interesting things about the city as we drove toward Susan’s apartment. He works for a travel agency and brought me there to check out options for Cusco and to see if Machu Piccu is open yet after the tremendous flooding that happened several weeks ago. Unfortunately, it won’t be open until April, but I guess that’s another fantastic reason I need to come back to South America.

We carried on to Susan’s apartment where I was immediately welcomed and told Susan and Javier wanted to go that afternoon to the healing hot springs I had read about in the Lonely Planet guide and mentioned. Apparently people think they cure anything from rheumatism to infertility to acne, and probably have alien origins. It sounded fantastic to me, so we high-tailed it down the Panamericana highway through the surprisingly arid land surrounding Lima.

After 45 minutes of easy chatter in Spanish we arrived in the town of Chilca, which obviously saw little, if any, foreigners. We pulled up next to a lagoon of water surrounded by plain, dry mud about 50 yards long and 40 yards wide. Javier asked a man what the pool was supposed to heal and he casually replied “Todo”. Oh, of course it cures everything. We were herded towards the entrance by Javier who was dressed too nicely to join us in the swim but volunteered to take pictures and watch our clothes. As we paid one sol, about 30 cents to enter, we looked closer at the few people swimming around and noticed the water they were splashing was a vibrant, toxic looking green color.

Susan and I immediately went for it and to our delight found a bucket of mud on the steps into the pool which we immediately smeared on our faces. Then we waded into the water which was pleasantly warm and still noxiously green. The bottom was muddy and in some places it felt like the mud was at least two feet deep. We kept smearing mud on our faces and experienced the most buoyant water either of us had ever been in. If I didn’t want to be squishing around in the mud under the water, all I had to do was pretend to sit and I was easily floating with my head and shoulders above the water. Susan kept getting flipped onto her stomach by the buoyancy and decided just to float that way.

We made our way to the far edge of the pool to the shallow black mud pit that was filled with people absolutely covered in the inky mud just laying there soaking it in. They made some gringo jokes I didn’t understand when I flopped down in the mud with them but I just laughed and played with the mud and chatted with them. It was incredible. I mean, mud with elephants or monks is really fantastic, but this was just so silky smooth and warm and mucky, I couldn’t believe it! Javier came over and laughed and took a bunch of pictures of Susan and I wallowing in the mud, there truly isn’t a better word to describe what we were doing. It was blissful.

After about an hour of that we decided to rinse off in the green pool again, then shower and go get some dinner. Susan and I were delighted by how silky soft our skin felt, and I swear she looked about 20 years younger than she claims to be. We left the pool and immediately bought three bottles of the most amazing sweet wine I’ve ever tasted (and boy, did we taste!) for 20 soles, about 7 dollars, then decided we better buy three more since it was so amazing and so cheap. Then to top it off, Javier and Susan took me to a delightful restaurant where I had the best cebiche I’ve ever experienced (well, until the ones I tried today), an excellent pisco sour and some really great fish. I think I dig Peru!

Let the fun begin
Susan and I getting into it, check out that water!
Stressed out...NOT
Susan and I

Mud women

Clean again and ready to buy wine!
Javier and cebiche de cuatro sabores