Monday, April 19, 2004

Hola, if you want to see pictures of changing a tire and roasting a goat in the mountains of Chile, a beautiful beach sunset in La Serena, scenery and friends made in Arequipa, or condors flying over the Colca Canyon: click here.

We are currently in Cusco, Peru. If you haven´t logged on for a while Jacob wrote an entry a couple days ago about our time in Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. Our last night in Arequipa we had a riotous time hanging out in the local bar Alkarajo where we earlier met the fabulous Guido (the bartender) and a collection of his friends. We had been visiting Guido often during our two week stay and got to know him very well. He became one of the best friends we have made yet. A really good person who taught us a lot about Peru and dedicated himself to teaching Jacob Spanish. If you look at the photos, he is the one dancing behind the bar with a big grin on his face. We will miss him.

Yesterday we took a long bus ride to Cusco. Buses in Peru are a packed affair, people get on along the road and stand in the aisle if there is no seat. For half of the ride (5 hours) there were about eight people in the aisle, I felt very lucky to have a seat as uncomfortable as that even was. There was a very cute little girl dressed up as a cat in the seat across from me. At one point she said to her mother "that white girl has white eyes" and was mystified when I responded in Spanish commenting to her sister over and over "she heard me, she heard me". But soon we established a deep friendship: for the rest of the ride she would call out "white eyes, blue eyes" and I would call out "kittie cat, meow".

Cusco is beautiful so far, narrow streets of cobblestones, huge churches, really impressive and different from what we have seen so far. Crawling with tourists. We set out tomorrow for the Inca Trail! Stay tuned for a full description of hiking at 4200 meters.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

As Raegan mentioned in her previous post, we're going about our time in Peru differently than we did our time in Chile. Rather than covering close to 3000 miles, the entire length of the narrow country, in a little over a month, we're spending roughly the same amount of time in 3 areas in the southern corner of Peru: Arequipa, Cusco, and Puno. This country, as well as the way we're visiting is very different. However, the band No Doubt seems to be just as popular here as it was in Chile and Argentina... go figure.

The highlights of our first few days in Arequipa were as follows:
-- The very impressive colonial architecture. The most notable example was the convent we visited, which was built in the mid-16th century and where nuns were secluded from the outside world until opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1970. It's really a city within a city with several streets, churches and cute little apartments for the more popular nuns and their servants. Picturesque indeed.
-- Our breakfast every morning on the rooftop terrace of our $8 night (b-fast included) colonial hotel.... real coffee (a treat, thought we've gotten pretty used to nescafe), toast with all the fixins, and made-to-order juice, usually mango. One of us faced the 20,000ft peaks while the other faced the steples on a church build in 1553.
-- The 'Juanita' museum. Arequipa is surrounded by several 20,000ft volcanic peaks, and after recent eruptions several incan mummies were discovered, or rather, uncovered. 'Juanita' was the most famous, and we saw her in an icebox. Her belongings, which like her were gifts to the gods, were the most impressive. Miniature statues of Alpaca, bags of coca leaves, potery and her clothes all looked as if they has been made weeks, not centuries ago.
-- Adam. Not a mummy, but a real, live Brittish fellow. We spent a few days with him -- Raegan got a little more of his time while I was taking spanish classes -- and really enjoyed his company. On Thursday of Semana Santa, the cityfolk attempt to visit all 14 churches in Arequipa. The three of us managed to visit 3.
-- Also interesting..... The amaizing number of Daewoo taxis on the coblestone streets, and the speed at which they navigate the colonial center of town.
And just how good a 80 cent lunch can be in a small resteraunt adorned with Jean Claude Vandam posters with a dubed Little House on the Prarie episode playing on the TV.

On a long walk to the other side of town, Raegan and I saw some of the terraces built by the incas which are still being utilized by small farmers, and surprise: a few colonial churches. Later, while talking over some ceviche (yummy) and an Arequipaña, the local brew, we were lamenting the fact that we hadn't met as many locals in Peru. That night we met two Peruvian girls in a bar and made plans to play pool the next day. Later, we spent a few hours chatting to the bartender in the bar next door, and made plans with him. It's funny how staying put in one city for a while has done wonders for our social lives, not to mention our understanding of Peru. But alas, we heard the call of the open road and two days ago we headed off to the Colca canyon.

I got a little nervous by the overwhelming number of pictures of the Virgin Mary and prayers for safe passage in the drivers cabin of our bus, but we took our seats nevertheless. After the bus was full, and a very different definition of full than we were acustomed, we headed towards the peaks which have been our backdrop for the past week. Up, Up, Up, until we were at a high pass of about 15,000 feet. There were a few Alpaca, and their cousins Vicuña runnining around up there. Every once and a while we'd drop off or pick up someone and wonder how the hell they eeked out an existence on the bleak high plain. Unlike in Arequipa, women in the country-side wore fabulously embroidered hats, vests, and skirts, and usually had a bundle of something (like a child or goods for the market) slung around their shoulders. The men weren't such sharp dressers, and looked more like cowboys.

We dropped down to a more sane 11,000ft or so to Chivay. There we tried to catch our breath while visiting the market and a few nearby inca ruins. That night we walked to a hot spring and soaked for a few hours with busloads of French, British and German tourists. We spent the night in a nice $4 hotel with plenty of blankets, and woke the next morning at 4:30 to catch the bus to Cabanaconde. We stopped at several small villages on the way. The stops weren't too quick as the bus constituted the UPS, mail, and the only realy contact with the outside world for the towns. Meanwhile, the preacher on the bus just kept on preaching. We were let off the bus a 3hr walk shy of Cabanaconde at the Mirador over the deepest point of the Colca Canyon -- the second deepest canyon in the world (the deepest canyon is Cohatosi, about 40miles due north).

At the Mirador we paid $12 for the privledge of sitting at the edge of a cliff. As with the museums in Arequipa, it just seemed odd to spend so much after such cheap meals and accomidation. After sitting over the cliff for a few hours watching the air in the canyon turn to upward shooting fog as the sun rose, we were wondering if we'd see what we came to see. It was beautiful and all, but had we been fleeced. The busloads of European tourists began to arrive, their camcorders and tripods in tow, and about an our later the show began. The condors took to the air at the bottom of the canyon. They swooped from side to side riding the thermal air up towards our perch. I know I've mentioned this before, but these birds have 10ft wingspans and are an amaizing sight. Over the course of an hour we watched about twenty of these magestic birds sour back and forth from low in the canyon to right over our heads and out to the high plains. I didn't see one flap its wings. It was well worth the price of admission.

After the show we took a long, breathless walk on the edge of the canyon by countless small farmers. Some were harvesting potatoes from their inca-age terraces, others were tending to their cows, alpaca and burros, while others were just watching their maiz or coca grow. We were starving and pooped when we got to Cabanaconde. We watched another episode of Little House on the Prarie while eating our 60 cent lunch and took leave to walk the mud streets. We did our best to take some pictures of the colorfully dressed women (without being as disrespectfull as some of the tourists we'd encountered, one of which flashed a photo of every woman who got on and off a bus we were on) and the mud houses with their thatched roofs. As we were looking at some of the pictures (it's the digital age) some school children got really excited about our days work. We chated with them for a while and took their photo. They were really excited to see their goofy poses afterwards.

We returned to Arequipa last night, a little rough for wear. The city is even more vibrant than we left it. I guess the week after semana santa is the time to hit the town. We slept through the madness without difficulty. Tommorow we head to Cusco for a few days of aclimitization before hitting the Inca trail. Some have dubbed it 'the Inca trial' so wish us luck.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

We are in country number three, Peru, and I like it! We are in a city called Arequipa and I have to admit that I spent the first three days so overwhelmed by all the stimulus (narrow sidewalks packed with people, streets filled with cabs honking at you, people selling things everywhere, music, colors, and old striking colonial buildings) that I have only really started to take in account where we are. The first three days here I was desperate to find a place that sold water and didn´t even notice there are about three shops on the same block as our hostel!

It is amazing to me how much difference a line in the sand called a border can make. A week ago we got off the bus in the northern most city of Chile, Arica, and walked across the street to the international terminal to get a bus to Peru. Because we were in a border town the terminal was especially chaotic. No ticket offices to speak of, just rows of old worn school buses and tons of people milling around with large bags of goods they hoped to take across the border. All of a sudden most of the people were much darker and much shorter and I felt like a glaring blond giant.

Although we couldn´t figure out how to buy a ticket, people were incredibly helpful and just swooped us up and stuck us on the next bus. It was very crowded. There were many women on the bus who were trying to smuggle bags of rice and clothes across the border. They made their way down the aisle begging people to stuff some rice in their bag and layering up with contra band clothes until they were twice their natural size and you could see random shirt sleeves poke out from under skirts. Jacob later commented that he felt really weird having about $800 US dollars in his waist while these women were scrambling to get some rice across in theirs. When we got to the border there were huge mounds of clothes piled behind a fence and from the side lines we watched the border police remove large bundles from our bus. A lot of the women with the clothes headed back to Chile for another try, most likely working for someone, while we moved on to Tacna.

Tacna was the first town we came to in Peru and it was very nice. Quiet, beautiful plaza with a lot of green and amazing tropical plants. Really nice people. Yummy food. We were only there one night but everyone we encountered was very friendly and we noticed that most had a great sense of humor.

From Tacna we took the bus through dry hot dessert, watching more horrible violent stupid made-in-the-USA movies on the ride, to Arequipa. Arepuipa is gorgeous. About a million people live here so it is a bustling place. In the main plaza you can see men with typewriters making letters for people, women with scales charging for a weigh and people getting their fortune told by women from some kind of green leaves. You can get prickly pears, cut up for you right on the street, these really good stuffed potatoes for 30 cents and lots of fresh juice. I love trying all the local snacks and have a long list already of things I want to get to before leaving.

The center of the city is filled with very old colonial architecture. The city is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains and the buildings are made from white volcanic stone. In most any bar, store, restaurant you can look up and see huge arches crossing the ceiling and chunky walls made from white blocks. When you walk by doorways you can peak in and see beautiful flower filled and tiled courtyards. They are celebrating Semana Santa here, so every night there are long processions through the street with big religious statues and fireworks.

We have been a bit astonished by the amount of tourists here and definetly stick out as tourists ourselves whereas in Chile and Argentina we could blend in a little better. Service here is very formal so it has been harder to chat with locals but we met three really nice Peruvian guys our first night in town, talked for a long time about many things including the still bitter effects of the War of the Pacific which keeps coming up again and again. (I think Jacob mentioned it before) And we have also met, of course, some great fellow travelers who are always good for inspiration.

We are going to do less running around in Peru than other places, staying here in Arequipa two weeks so Jacob can take some Spanish lessons, and then we will be in Cusco three weeks, one hiking the Inca Trail and the other two with my parents. We will take some side trips from both places to towns and nature. It feels good to stay put somewhere for awhile, my traveler bones were getting a little weary.

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Ditto Raegan´s last entry: there is much to cover. Here is an outline (mostly for my benefit): I will first do my best to explain the Chilean mountain life we were graciously allowed to experience, then our return to the travelers circuit in Santiago, and finally on to Chile´s northern beach towns where we´ve spent the last week. I´m sure I´ll get more and more brief as I go, so bear with me.

The land we visited, called ¨Las Animas¨ sits at the end of the ¨road¨ into the Andies from Linares, Chile. After this, even a Toyota truck with a winch and a spotter cannot pass, only horseman can. Every summer, cowboys drive their goats and sheep past Las Animas into the high mountain meadows to feed. They usually leave a 16 year old there for a solitary summer tending to the animals. At the end of the summer, the animals are driven back to lower ground. The trip usually takes three days, and as it has been for longer than anyone can remember, the meadows at Las Animas are the first stop on the trip. Our entire time there, we were all eagerly anticipating the arrival of the herdsman and animals, partially to witness the sight, but mostly for the chance to buy an animal to eat some meat.

Twice a day, everyday, Manuel, the caretaker and only permanent resident of Las Animas, walks to the top of the meadow where the spring flows and moves a pile of rocks in order to irrigate a different part of the meadow. It is at the end of this meadow, at the confluence of two crystaline rivers, where Raegan and I spent our first night. After, we stayed in a large tent I dubbed ¨the Grand Hyatt¨ on another meadow about 5 minutes away.

Everyday Raegan and I awoke in the Grand Hyatt and walked to the ¨kitchen house¨ for some breakfast. (Raegan just requested that I mention that she saw a huge fuzzy tarantula while we were there, but I digress) After, we would set off for the mornings work.

The first day we set out for the other side of the river. Manuel had selected three fallen trees the day before as having the right length and width for the joists of a new structure on the land. With sheep pelts as padding, Manuel took one, David and I another, and the remaining four women took the last one to the waters edge. Once there David and I walked them across part of the river on a single plank bridge (that Manuel had build so that the animals coming from the mountain would have a safe crossing -- he charged the herders a small fee per head) and the other part hopping from boulder to boulder. On our last trip, while boulder hopping on the other half of the river, my shoes, pelt and log all made their way into the drink. I worked the rest of the day wet.

After the crossing, we went to the site of Maya and David´s future cabin squared the future site of the floor, and dug post holes in the rock-infested soil. Then, we were off to another site up the river to fill nylon bags with sand to supplement the hard-to-get cement. As exausting as this all sounds, It was a nice relief to have something specific to devote our days to, and to have a small community of (the same) people to spend our days and nights with. Besides, it wasn´t all work as we spend our afternoons hiking to different swimming holes, and took an incredible horse ride to the top of the ridge overlooking Las Animas -- I´ve never seen horses so sweaty or winded.

Already mourning our departure, we had accomplished much by the begining of our last day. The site was no longer that, but rather a future cabin. Trees had been trimmed for a patio and a fire pit had been constructed and cemented in. As the six logs -- three 20ft and three 12ft -- were being put into place our prayers were at last answered. A herdsman arrived with a small flock of sheep and goats. We all yelled ¨I got five on it.¨ As we squared the beams the cries from the $30 animal was admittedly a little distracting, but I felt a lot better when I looked into the eyes of the obviously stupid animal and felt my meat-deprived belly growl.

Later, under the shade of the grape canopy, Manuel held the goats body with his leg and its mouth with his left hand. With his right he inserted the knife into the throat, and after a good amount of red blood spilled into a bucket, he pulled the knife straight through the jugular. This is about when the heat got to me. After a few deep breaths away from the scene I returned. I can tell you more (really, I saw almost everything), but here are two observations: goats have huge stomachs and it didn´t take long for the animal to look like meat.

After the fire had been raging for some time, the entire goat was salted, butterflyed and placed on a rack over the coals. While watching the fire, we drak copious amounts of cheap red wine: about a gallon and a half (but heh, there were 7 of us). After a few hours, pieces were cut and passed around. By the end of the evening I was shocked by two sights: 1) that of what little remained of the carcas and 2) watching Raegan knaw for the remaining meat on the goats´ bones -- something I thought I´d never see.

The next day we headed down, and rode the train back to Santiago. This was the third time on our trip we were truly sad to leave (but so much road lay ahead).

We really enjoyed Santiago on our second visit -- much more than on our first -- , but it was a rude awakening to return to hostels and the travelers circuit after our time at Las Animas. Two Germans we met while in the south of Argentina, Jan and Christoff, helped soften our fall. Our second night in Santiago we headed to their apartment for dinner. All of their friends were there and they were celebrating their last night in South America. They prepared Salmon -- maybe the best I´ve had -- and we supplied a bottle of Pisco. We talked about travel, culture and a lot of politics (thankfully in english) and had a terrific night. We are really glad to have reconected with them and hope to see them again sometime on their turf or ours.

From there we headed to La Serena, a beautiful beach town with lots of old churches -- shocking, eh? Inland is the desert oasis Elqui Valley, home to world class observatories, papaya orchards, and most importantly, Pisco factories. We visited one. In Chile and Peru Pisco is customarily consumed before meals. We´re becoming quite accostomed to this custom.

Yesterday, Raegan and I unfortunately relearned about the power of the South American sun after laying out on the beach in Iquique. Today we´re laying low. This place is very interesting. It´s on the coast (of course), but is otherwise part of the dryest desert on earth, the Atacama. The landscape is mountainous and barren, not unlike Nevada, but without the slightest bit of vegetation as there has never been (a recorded) drop of precipitation in the Atacama. Iquique was a boom town and it shows. There are dozens of beautifully preserved buildings build with Oregon pine that look a lot like those in Old Sacramento.

The boom here was due to the nitrate rich soil. Thousands of years of bird doodoo without a drop of rain made it easy to extract damn good fertilizer. Some german guy invented a process for creating nitrate in the end of the 19th century, and the bottom fell out. Now the area, which for remoteness feels like a Chilean version of Las Vegas (plus a beach and port), is trying to boom again as duty free zone and beach resort. It´s got a ways to go, but Raegan and I are enjoying our time here. (Oh, and it was once part of Peru... look up the war of the Pacific, something I knew little about before the trip. Bolivia was the big looser in the war and thier Navy is now stationed on Lake Titikaka) Unfortunatelly, Raegan and I won´t have a chance to visit the springs and petroglyphs in the surounding desert as tommorow we´re heading to Peru. Tata

P.S. All but one South American we´ve met uses the word ¨loco¨ to describe our President. The other chose stronger language.

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