Monday, December 29, 2008

Lima - Life is what happens ...

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. Once again I have to quote John Lennon ;-)

Yesterday night I took the night bus to Lima with the intention to getting my tickets today (Thomas sent them to the Travex Agency in Lima) and fly to Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. The flight looks good so I didn´t expect any problems...

But when me and Couchsurfing friend Enzo arrived at the Travex Agency this afternoon they didn´t know anything about the tickets. They said they don´t even offer the service of receiving mail for Amex customers. I went back another time but no chance, they told me that they had no idea what I am talking of and don´t have the tickets. So it seems as I will spend new year in Lima, which actually doesn´t seem too bad at all ;-) Weather is perfect and there are lots of things to do around here! And I have met someone at the Plaza de Armas - like in Ecuador you won't be alone for long on Peru - and we went for a walk and a game of table football tonight and he seemed very happy about my misfortune ;-)

Moche, Chimu and back to the future

After spending two days lazing around in Trujillo and Huanchaco beach I finally overcame my inner temptation and went on a tour to visit the archeological sites around Trujillo. Usually I don´t like tours and also this time I got a bit pissed as we spend too much time waiting for people, having lunch in a bad restaurant and so on. But the sites we visited definately "valen la pena" - are worth it.

In the morning we first visited the Moon Temple. The Moon Temple belonged to the capital of the Moche empire, build and inhabited between 100 BC and untill around 800 AC. The Moche worshipped nature and most of all the sun and the moon. The sun and moon, day and night, represented to them the duality of nature, the positive and the negative side. The Moche accepted both sides and tried to find harmony and balance between the two. They also represented their Gods both smiling and angry in various pictures to represent this duality.

The buildings of the Moche empire are all made of mud bricks which braved the winds and rains - but unfortunately not the various attacks and worst of all, lootings. Today you can still marvel at part of the mural paintings which have been excavated and restored but the graves of the Moche rulers and their treasures have been looted by the Spaniards. Unfortunately the treasures can´t even be found in Spanish museums anymore because the Spanish melted them down into gold coins. In their greed for gold the Spanish even changed the riverbed of the Moche river to flood the Sun Temple - which used to be the biggest pre-Columbian building in the Americas before this happened - to make the water wash out the treasures of the tombs and chambers.

Somehow it made my really sad to learn about all this - so much beauty and craftmanship lost forever! And even though the human sacrifices of the Moche sounds very cruel - their admiration for nature is something we could learn from today and its a pity that there is not more left to study their culture. But yes, the human sacrificas which are also depicted in the murals are quite scary. For example they used to drug prisoners and push them from a rock close to the city whenever there was a storm or other indication that "the Gods where angy". This ritual was depicted on some ceramics excavated at the site and later confirmed by bones found at the bottom of the rock.
After visiting the Moon Temple we went back to Trujillo to have the usual lunch break - too long as always - in a typical tourist restaurant. The best way to spoil any nice tour... but ok, I survived and we went to visit the Rainbow Temple, a Temple belonging to the city of Chan Cha, the capital of the Chimu culture which successed the Moche culture and was finally conquered my the Incas. In the Rainbow Temple the murals depict mythological creatures and human sacrifices - especially children. Our guide explained that they usually sacrificed the most intelligent and brilliant kids. We where all wondering what future a society can have that sacrifices the most promising of its children... Maybe that´s why in the end the Incas took over.

After the Rainbow Temple we went to the main Chan Chan excavations and visited what is left of one palace and the burial grounds. But also here the site has been looted so many times that absolutely nothing has been found by the archeologists. Some Spanish texts exists about when the Spanish found the site - at that time they still found some beautifully dressed mummies wearing exquisite jewlery - but by the 1950s when the archeologists started excavating the site everything had disappeared - what a pity!

One witness of Chima times can still be found at the site - the naked Peruvian dog! Ugly as sin but worshipped as son of the moon by the Chimu. The Chimu used these dogs in religious ceremonies to ask the Moon to send rain. Nowadays the Peruvian dogs just laze around and pose for tourists taking pictures ;-)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tranquilo in Trujillo

On December 25 I took the bus to Trujillo. I had chosen a daytime bus beause I wanted to see the landscape but then ended up sleeping most of the way as there was not much to see - the region between Piura and Trujillo is desert like with only a few villages and Chiclayo as the only bigger town inbetween.

Trujillo itself is very charming - just the right size to walk around the town in a day or two, visit the many stunning colonial churches and buildings and test the numerous little cafes along calle Pizarro.

I used the first day to relax a bit and make the usual "pit-stop" of checking my mails, looking for a "lavanderia" (laundry) and - getting my nails done! During the last weeks and months this has turned into one of my favourite pasttimes (besides going fishing ;-)). Its a great way to meet girsl - as usually as a gringa you will mostly meet men - and have a chitchat about life in general and particular. And then of course I got many compliments for my untypical backpackers hands and feet ;-) Today I was especially lucky in my choice of "sala de belleza" - the girl doing my feet was very good in her job and also well liked by the others, I guess, as they sat down next to us to have their lunch break. I stayed at least one hour and we covered subjects from the economic state of the US to the affect of family planning on Peru´s society. The girls were really sweet and definately much better educated and informed then you´d expect from the average esthetician.

So, next time you think of paying for a Spanish class in Antigua or Cusco - save up the money and better invest in a pedicure in Trujillo ;-)

I rounded up this nice and sunny day with a yummy dinner of avocado sandwhich and fruit salad at a lovely Italian restaurant-café planning my adventures for 2009 :-)

This is the view from my hostal, Hostal Colonial Trujillo at sunset...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Actually Roberto and I had planned to go camping for christmas and spend "Noche Buena", the night from December 24 to 25 on the beach. But then I got the mail from Thomas telling me he would be in Rio de Janeiro for New Year. So I decided to hurry up and leave Puerto Lopez before christmas - which, I have to be honest, I do regret now, even though I had a nice christmas in Piura.

As I didn´t know anybody in Piura I was expecting to spend christmas in a hostel, reading or sleeping. But - how so often on this trip - I was lucky and met a fellow "Northern Light", Martin from Hamburg. He had seen in the hostal register that I was from Mainz and when we later met in a cyber café we started talking... and decided to have christmas dinner together. Later we went to mass in the cathedral which was really beautifull and breathtaking. The church was so crowded, people were standing outside on the sidewalk. Only when "Silent night, holy night" was playing I got a bit homesick... but Martin with his wonderfull northern accent managed to cheer me up quite soon. Actually we had a great time later on as to most kids we were by far a much bigger attraction then the different Santa Clauses offering to pose for a picture ;-)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We will always have P...uerto López!

After 10 days in Puerto López it was really hard to say goodbye. If I hadn´t Bill and Thomas waiting for me in Rio de Janeiro I would have stayed for at least another 10 days, definately! Another 10 days of fishing, cooking and playing "Shitty Head" ;-)

Puerto Lopez is a place where you leave your cellphone and wallet at the beach to go for a run and when you come back it will still be there. You can also leave open your door at night - which makes it easier for your friends to come in in the morning and kick you out of bed ;-) I will miss all of this.

But most of all I will miss Roberto who made my stay in Puerto Lopez so relaxed and memorable, always giving his best to show me the beauty of the place, tasting the best local food and meeting the nicest people. He took me fishing, running, cycling, snorkeling and taught me dancing on the beach, we went to mass and to the circus, we had coffee and "cachos" in the afternoon and wonderfull dinners at night... and he even accompanied me all the way to Guayaquil and made sure, I got on the right bus to Piura, which meant he had to stay over night at the bus staion and wait 5 hours for his bus to go back. I guess a friend like that is the best christmas gift one can get :-) And when he told me the same thing just before I was leaving I decided that I will be back to Puerto Lopez in 2009 - not only for the whales :-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Piratas and Patacones

If you want to visit the beaches and islands around Puerto Lopez and do outdoor sports you can book a tour at one of the many agencies at the "Malecon". Or you can have a drink at one of the beach huts, hope you´ll meet a former tourist guide and spend the money on food and drinks ;-). I, of course, did the last one and it worked out perfectly. While I was enjoying my papaya and mango juice I got to know Roberto, who used to work for one of the agencies a couple of years ago but now owns a bar and is free untill 8pm to play sports and relax on the beach. We went to play beach volley and were lucky enought to have a French guy in the opposite team who played worse than me and made it easy for us to win - and for me to get accepted in the team. Later on Roberto offered to take me kayaking, snorkeling and surfing and of course, my new passion, fishing on the following days! In the evening we went dancing at the beach and I got another salsa lesson - barefeet in the sand next to a camp fire - que vida boa (oups, buena!)! ;-)

(And I got to see some extraordinary wildlife when I went to the outhouse of Roberto`s bar last night - there was a huge spider sitting right in the toilet bowl! Thank God I am not one of those persons who flips out when they see a spider - I was just a bit concerned about its choice of habitat ;-))

Today we met at 10am for an "expedition" - a surprise, Roberto didn´t want to tell me more. Just that I had to take some drinking water, bikini and a towel. We went off by bus and then hiked down to a little hidden beach which has beautifull rock formations and caves (where according to Roberto pirates used to hide and now dwarfs live) . From there we climbed over the rocks to some larger beach and walked maybe half an hour, an hour to the end of the beach. Roberto kind of reminds me of Forrest Gump - he is really cute and doesn´t say much. But if he says something is pretty cool and you keep wondering if he is joking or not. Like when we saw some snails I told him that the French eat them. He didn´t say much and I was not sure if he got it. But then when we spoke about the French guy and how bad he played volley, Roberto just said its because he eats snails. I am still not sure if it was a joke or not, but I´m liking it. He can also go hours without talking which is kind of relaxing. From the end of the beach the original plan was to take a kayak to the island of Salango where you can go snorkeling and watch sea birds. As the kayaks where a bit expensive we asked some of the local boys to take us to the islands by boat. On the way to the island Roberto spotted the diving boat of one of his friends who takes tourist to dive and snorkel. We entered the boat like pirates and went snorkeling, too. It was just amazing - we saw many beautifull fishes, yellow and blue striped ones and one that reminded me of the Alzheimer-fish in "Finding Nemo". Actually I had to think of the movie all the time and guess I´ll watch it again when I get to Rio ;-)

We went back with the boat to Puerto Lopez and headed for the market where we bough fresh tuna and vegetables and platanos. Roberto asked me to cook something and actually it turned out to be quite yummy. He also showed me how to prepare "patacones", one of my favourite food here in Ecuador. As we used the kitchen in his bar we had the soundsystem on full volume all the time - listening to Jack Johnson, Bob Marley, Orishas... how much better can life be :-)

After dinner we went to play and watch volley, swim and run on the beach. I see a chance of losing my traveling-belly, caused by yummy south American food ;-) Tomorrow we will go fishing in the morning and later mountain biking... guess I will get stuck here for some more days ;-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

La vida loca in Puerto Lopez

Actually I came to Puerto Lopez to relax a little bit before starting the long way "back home" to Rio via Peru and to visit the Machalilla National Park. The Isla de la Plata is considered "Galapagos for the poor" as it has some of the species found on Galapagos but is way more "economico". Puerto Lopez itself is a little beach town (village!) north of the surfer´s paradise of Montañita and looks pretty laid back (which translates into "dead" ;-)) - on the first view!

I arrived on saturday morning at 6am with the night bus from Quito, took a Ecuadorian version of a tuktuk to my Hosteria Itapoa (which I chose because its Brazilian owned and therefore possible to speak Portuguese ;-)) and slept until noon.

So yes, my primary reasons for coming to Puerto Lopez where to relax and visit the national park - but, as one wise man said (was it John Lennon?) Life is what happens whilst your making plans ;-) So far I have neither relaxed nor visited the national park ;-)

On saturday evening I went out to have dinner and check my mails and on the back happened what my parents feared most on this trip - I got kidnapped by the Colombians! I resisted their attemps to fill me up with Vodka but couldn`t free myself from having to dance salsa and reggaeton until 3am in the morning. Thank God the randsom only consisted of a minor donation for more vodka and at 5am I finally arrived at my cabaña. So much for relaxing...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Quito - I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

So many people tried to scare me off from going to Quito - so I was already sure that I´d love it ;-) The so called dangerous and ugly places are usually the best ones ;-) And I was right - I have only arrived about 5 hours ago but I have already fallen for Quito and the Quiteños!

Described as "cheap and non-touristic" in the Lonely Planet I chose the Grand Hotel in the old city center for my 3-4 nights in Quito - and it is perfect! The hotel looks pretty gloomy from the outside but once you´re in you will be welcomed by the sweet staff and old-time charme. The reception is kind of 50ish, there is a cafeteria, a tv room and even one with a ping pong table! The room is clean, has a creaking wooden floor, a white metal bed and a beautiful view, especially at sunset. Oh yes, and there is even a cat that shows up from nowhere and races around the long corridors. A wonderful old fashioned athmosphere without being dusty or smelly - just love it! The street it is in is also perfect - a bit off the old city center it is full of cheap restaurants, internet cafes and little grocery shops.

After congratulating myself on chosing this pefect place to stay I took off to explore the city - and once again have been rewarded for my choice :-) I sat down in a simple juice bar to have a pineapple juice and consult my Lonely Planet - and this cute guy asks me if he can sit down with me and treat me on a cake. So why not? Turns out his father owns the place and he treats me for another coffee and an ice cream and then offers to show me the city tomorrow. This is not the first time someone just invites me on a coffee or icecream and offers to show me around. I guess Ecuadorians have just pushed the Dutch from my personal number one of sweet people ;-) I already know that it will be hard to say goodbye next week... lets hope, Peruvians can keep up with their neighbours ;-) So far my CS contacts seem wonderful, so I am not too worried...

More on Quito soon! :-)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Devil´s Nose Train - Riobamba to Alausi

On Wednesday morning I finally took the famous Devil´s Nose train from Riobamba to Alausi. It was freezing and I arrived about one hour before arrival but still - the "good" places on the roof where already occupied by my dear countrymen ;-) Guess they must have been camping at the train station in order to get the best seats. Well, Germans have been infamous for occupying deck chairs at 5:00 am with their beach towels and the like, so I was not too surprised and used the time until departure to get coffee, croissants and bananas for the trip. Actually it turned out to be much better inside the train at for the first two hours even in there it was freezing cold.

The train ride definately is scenic and the Devil´s Nose part of the track really impressive - but then again the train is purely touristic and quite overpriced (11USD). Most bus connections in the highlands are equally impressive and scenic and less pricey.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My route 2008

Time flies! We are already in December and I had to decide on how to get back to Brazil to spend the holidays with my one and only carioca, Bill :-) So tomorrow I will leave Riobamba and continue North to Banos and Quito. From there I will travel down the coast to check out the Ecuadorian beaches and pick up my bag in Guayaquil before heading to Peru. I hope I will have the time to stop in Trujillo to visit the Chan Chan ruins and then continue to Lima and Cusco. Around December 20 I will try to get back to Rio on a stand-by ticket with Lan Peru.
For 2009 I am planning to travel to Minas Gerais, the South of Brazil, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Paraguay, Iguassu falls, and maybe via Bolivia, Peru and Brazil to Venezuela. I haven´t decided on a fix route yet and am open to suggestions if anybody is traveling in these parts of the world :-)

Monday, December 1, 2008

On the road to Riobamba

On the bus to Riobamba I met Robert from California who has been traveling for 5 years! We spoke about the joy of being on the road, the wonderful encounters and the great feeling of never knowing what the next day will bring... He told me that traveling now comes natural to him and he can`t imagine to settle down in the future. Somehow I fear I might end up like him - an eternal traveler ;-) We shared some travel stories and most of all we had a good laugh about all the warnings you receive - especially from people who have never left their home towns or countries. Those in particular will tell you how dangerous the country is you are currently traveling in and how high chances are to get robbed, raped, killed, what ever! Sure, you have to be careful wherever you go but we both agreed that until now - thank God - the positive encounters outweigh the negative experiences by far. Still, we also shared some tips on traveling save and I was happy to hear that so far I have done exactly as he - as a far more experienced backpacker - does too. Robert also recommended me some interesting books on South America, especially about the history of the continent and we ended up trading travel guides - my Footprints South America Handbook against his Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring :-)

Riobamba is smaller then Cuenca but it is also far less touristic and therefore has its own charm. Once again I have been blessed with a great Couchsurfing host, Fausto. He showed me around, we cooked, watched a movie... once again it feels like being with an old friend - the joy of Couchsurfing :-)

Mama Negra - Latacunga

I actually came to Riobamba to take the famous Devil`s Nose train on Sunday.
But then my host Fausto told me about the Mama Negra celebrations in Latacunga (about 2hrs North of Riobamba) and as this fiesta takes place only once a year and the train goes 3 times a week of course we went to see the Mama Negra. By chance, Geovanny from Guayaquil also happened to be in Latacunga for a mountain bike race so we all met up there and had a great time.

"The Fiesta of the Mama Negra, which takes place in the city of Latacunga is one of the most fascinating cultural events in Ecuador. This public celebration of civic pride rivals Brazil’s festivals as an emblematic “melting pot” of wildly divergent cultural traditions: Spanish, Incan, Aymaran, Mayan, African, and most recently, gay.

The fiesta has its origins with the colonization of Latacunga by the Spanish for its rich mineral resources. The native inhabitants were forced to convert to Catholicism, but the conversion was not entirely pure, with the result that indigenous elements, such as a polytheistic belief in “spirits” became part of the new religion. The Spanish conquerors brought in additional populations from Bolivia, Guatemala, and ultimately, Africa as slaves, and they too, brought their own beliefs and traditions to Latacunga.

What set the holiday in motion was the eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano in 1742. The citizens of the region petitioned the “Virgin of Mercy,” who had been designated the patron of the volcano, and when Latacunga was spared, an annual celebration was set in place to honor her.
The festival was traditionally held during the last weekend in September, but was on the verge of dying out in the early 1960's when Cotopaxi Governor Virgilio Guerrero proposed saving it and making it coincide with Latacunga's official celebration of its founding on November 11th. The now-official holiday had the ironic effect of reviving interest in the traditional religious celebration of the "Virgin of Mercy," which also features the Mama Negra, but the larger and more colorful celebration is in November. Dates vary from year to year- sometimes coinciding with Latacunga's founding and sometimes with the days surrounding Day of the Dead- so be sure to ask around.

The event constitutes a parade of characters, such as the Angel of the Stars, the Moorish King, as well as Los Huacos, who represent Latacunga’s pre-Colombian heritage, and the Camisonas, colorful transvestites, in a parade that attracts many, as well as dancers, musicians, and marching bands, all culminating in the arrival, on horseback, of the Mama Negra, the Black Mother, a combination of the Virgin with African deities. The Mama Negra, bearing dolls representing her “children,” is elaborately costumed and from a container sprays milk and water on the parade goers.

Candy and wine containers are also tossed to the crowds, and restaurateurs all feature Latacunga’s most famous contribution to Ecuadorian cuisine, Chugchucaras; deep fried pork, pork rinds, popcorn potatoes, maize, and plantain."

(Borrowed from Ricardo Segreda;