Monday, August 10, 2009

Back in Mainz

I finally made it! After 10 months abroad (5 more than actually planned) in 7 countries (5 less than planned) I am back in Mainz.

And ´a saudade bate forte´...

It will take some time to get used to
- having normal furniture and not sleeping on couches, on the ground, in sleeping bags...
- not carrying all my belongings in my backpack...
- paying more than 1€ for lunch or dinner...
- not having to think twice which language to speak...
- not having to worry where I´ll sleep tonight...
- not being able to jump into the Atlantic after breakfast...
- not being told how to pronounce certain words by a 5 year old...
- being on time...
- using my mobil phone...
- not seeing, eating, doing something new everyday...

And the list goes on.

Anyhow, being back in Mainz, looking at my pictures, talking to my new friends from all over South America on skype I can say that these last 10 months were definately the best ones of my life and I will not forget a single day or a single encounter. Its not so much about the places I visited but the friends I made - just like the Mastercard commercials goes, 500€ to fly to Rio, 1€ for a deck chair on Copacabana beach, 2€ for a Caipirinha - making new friends and having fun - priceless ;-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beach & Bikes

For the last two days Melanie from Couchsurfing stayed with us in Recreio. Yesterday we had some beers, a good laugh about Luis Claudio and his ´gay cow shoes´ (pink cow skin loafers!) and a late-night cake that tasted more like chocolate bread.

For today we had planned to go to the Burle Marx site but when we phoned this morning we found out that you have to book the guided tour in advance. And ufnortunately the tour is fully book for the next week. So we decided to cycle a bit and show Melanie the beautiful Parque da Prainha and the trail going up to the ´Mirante´ platform. Later we cycled to Grumari, where we had a great lunch-dinner of crab pastry, fish, rice and salad. We completed this perfect day at the beach in front of our road and a good hot coffee at home! Here are some of our many pictures!

Click to play this Smilebox scrapbook: Beach & Bike
Create your own scrapbook - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox scrapbook

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Magical Museum and Many Mosquitos


Yesterday we took a bus up to Alto da Boa Vista to visit the Museu do Acude. The museum is located in a beautiful villa and enchanted gardens, former residence of the late entrepreneur and art collector Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya (1894-1968).

Unfortunately the museum is closed on Tuesdays, which we only found out on arrival. But the friendly guards let us visit the gardens, showed us some information on Castro Maya´s life and achievements and told us about the history of the museum and the surrounding atlantic rainforest reserve of Floresta da Tijuca. It seems that they don´t receive many visitors and obviously felt sorry for us that we made the long way from Recreio only to find the museum closed, so they tried to show us as much as possible.

I absolutely fell in love with the museum - the light coming through the leaves of the huge old trees and the hidden statues gives the place an enchanted athmosphere. And the presence of the former owner of the site and founder of the museum, Castro Maya, can be felt in any tasteful detail and arrangement. The mosaics, the swimming pool, the garden arrangements... From what we learned from the guards and informations, Castro Maya was born in Paris as the youngest son of an engineer and an heiress of a traditional family of miners. He was brought up in Brazil but returned various times to France and always had great interest in France and French culture. An example of his love for French culture where i.a. the fancy dress parties he organized in the Vila do Açude. They were inspired by paintings from the Louvre and accompanied by music by Debussy. Walking around the enchanted garden of the villa you can imagine the magic of those parties and might wish to travel back in time.

After studying law Castro Maya became a successful entrepreneur. His company Industrial Carioca Cia., was dedicated to the vegetal oil production, being known for its more popular product, the Carioca coconut oil. The guard told us that many older visitors still remember the famous Carioca coconut oil. Besides being a successfull businessman, Castro Maya was a dedicated sportsman and supporter of sports, pioneer of ecological issues, author, art collector and founder of museums and cultural societies.

In 1943 the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Enrique Dodsworth, invited Castro Maya to co-ordinate the reconstruction and remodelling of the Tijuca forrest. For a symbolic wage of one dollar, earning him the nickname of ´one dollar man´, he directed the reform and urbanization of this area, a former coffee plantation. Soon the new urban park became a very popular weekend get-away for the cariocas, reaching up to 5.000 visitors per weekend in the late 40´s.



These numbers seem to have decreased as we found the park deserted! We walked up to the lovely Taunay waterfalls where we took the mandatory pictures and had a coffee in the oldfashioned little restaurant ´Bar da Cascatinha´. We completed this perfect day with another coffee and bolinho de bacalhau in the traditional restaurant on the main place of Alto da Boa vista, but had to leave soon due to the mosquito attacks. They are so numerous - and aggressive - that the staff of the restaurant put a bottle of repellent on your table even before taking the orders!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rio - the Tourist Circuit


After nearly three month in Rio I decided that it was time to leave Recreio and the beaches and get to know more of Rio. I had obtained the desired suntan and bikini mark so now it was time to do something for the mind and soul. As Bill hasn´t seen much of the usual tourist sights and museums neither, we made a list of ´what to visit´. Our first target was the Fort in Copacabana, housing the Museum of the Fort and the History of the Brazilian Army Museum. We went on a very warm and sunny day and the best thing about the fort definately is the great view over Copacabana beach, sugar loaf and Guanabara bay.

The museum of the fort is interesting but seeing that it was build in the same year as my home in Mainz, namely in 1909, much less ´historic´ than I thought it was ;-)

The fort is especially know for the ´18 of the Copacabana fort revolt´ in 1922. In the 1920´s young army officers asked for reforms in the power structure and a social modernization, calling for agrarian reform, the formation of co-operatives, and the nationalization of mines. This movement became known as the Tenente (lieutenant) revolt and came to public notice on 5 July 1922 when a group of young Brazilian Army officers began a rebellion against the Old Republic at Fort Copacabana. A group known subsequently as the ´18 of the Copacabana Fort revolt´ were led down Avenida Atlântica by Antônio de Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes to confront the army loyalists. The eighteen made a last stand on the beach, where sixteen were killed and two, Gomes and de Siqueira Campos, survived. In the aftermath, the government imposed a state of emergency, 1,000 cadets were expelled from the army school and many officers posted to remote garrisons. More successfull revolts followed in 1924. The actions and ideas that grew out of the revolts inspired other individuals, such as Getúlio Vargas, to lead the 1930 revolution against the Brazilian Government and bring down the Old Republic.

In the History of the Brazilian Army Museum we travelled back in time even more. A small but interesting exhibition shows the history of the army from the first landing of the Portuguese and battles with Indians as well as other colonist nations to the fight for Independence and forming of the modern state. I especially enjoyed the lifesize mannequins wearing historic uniforms and weapons. Some wore less clothes and represented the local Indians. We tried to pick out Bill´s ancestors and thought we found them in the first scene, depicting the first landing of the Portuguese and trading with the locals ;-).

For more Indians we visited the great Museu del Indio in Botafogo. The signposting to the museum was bit misleading but we knew when we turned into the right street when we saw four Indians in full war paint walking towards us. Thank God they were not on the warpath but called it a day after presenting some dances and rituals in the museum.

The museum is housed in a colonial mansion in Botafogo and usually shows two or three different exhibitons. We visited one on ceramics and one titled ´The presence of the Invisible´, showing the traditions, believes and artworks of the Oiapoque indians living in the Nort of Brazil, close to the border with French Guyana. I especially enjoyed the legends of the Indians explaining the genesis of the world, the origin of humans and development of their traditions. The legend I kept in mind is about the emergence of body painting used by the Oiapoque:

One day the King of the Lizards saw the beautiful daughter of the chief sitting next to a river after taking a bath. He transformed himself into a human to talk to her but the typical pattern of his lizard skin stayed on him even after this transformation. When the daughter of the chief saw his beautifully painted body she fell in love with him and they met again and again and again. One time the King of the Lizards took her to the djungle and not able to contain himself he climbed a tree and turned a lizard. The daughter of the chief got so scared that she called her brothers who killed the King of the Lizards with bow and arrow. When dying he turned a human again, but still with the beautifully painted skin of a lizard. Impressed by this the Indians of the tribe started to paint their skin just like a lizards. Until now they still paint their skin with patterns and colours inspired by nature.

We watched a video about the indians painting each others skin. It was incredibly cute to see the smallest kids barely able to stand on their little legs but already painted in geografically patterns!

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Piranha


Getting ready for a crazy week of Carnival!

The Deaf Train

Nobody actually knows why the notorious ´Death Train´ actually bears this name. Lonely Planet offers a couple of explanations, from people falling off the train to getting stuck for days... Anyhow, we expected an adventure! But... as I have discussed with many fellow backpackers, it seems that the golden days of travelling and braving adventures are over!

We arrived at the train station about one hour before departure - well prepared with 2 liters of water each, sandwiches, cookies, apples... We had even worked out a plan of who would watch the baggage so the other one could sleep - or go to the toilet ;-) Unfortunately - the Deaf Train no longer merits is name!

Before boarding the train you have to check-in your baggage, just like on an airport. Once on board a nice attendand helps you to find your seat (all numbered, mind you!) and turns on the video screen providing on-board entertainment.

And this is where I discovered why nobody actually knows why the Death Train is called like that! It´s a pure misunderstanding - it shouldn´t be Death Train but Deaf Train, as after 11 hours of blaring salsa music you won´t be death but deaf! So forget about taking bottles of water and survival kits (you will be served dinner and breakfast) but make sure to bring quality earplugs - you will need it!

From Sucre to Santa Cruz

Spoiled by the comfortable Peruvian overland busses (they even had a Bingo-game on board!) it was quite a shock to find out, that none of the busses going from Sucre to Santa Cruz had ´semi cama´ seats - and even worse, none of them had on-board toilets! 15 hours on unpaved country roads without a toilet! The no-toilet-but-trip to Colca had left me traumatized! I considered flying but as the ticket prices where very high, connections rare and I was running out of time and money I decided to take the bus. I stopped taking any liquids hours before departure and braved myself for the next 15 long hours in the rusty old bus. I just hoped that the seat next to me would be left free or at least not be occupied by a snoring, overweight or strangely smelling fellow passenger.

I was lucky. My seat neighbour was a short guy about my age who instantly fell asleep when we left Sucre. I put on my iPod and followed his example. When I woke up some hours later with the first signs of toilet deprivation he was already awake and as it turned out - he felt the same needs as I did! We bonded immediately and when we finally stopped and he let me go to the toilet first, our friendship was sealed! His name was Augustin, he was an chemical engineer from Santa Cruz and had visited his sister in Sucre. He turned out to be a really nice person and took good care of me - waking me up at toilet-stops or interesting sights on the way, giving me information on Santa Cruz and the train to Brazil... Thanks to him the 15 hours passed quickly and I arrived in Santa Cruz pretty relaxed and full of information. We exchanged numbers and mail addresses and he promised to take me to some sights and typical restaurants later on that day.

When I finally got my (very dusty and dirty!) backpack out of the baggage hold I spotted a fellow ´gringo´ looking up hostels in the Lonely Planet. I asked him which one he had picked and it seemed that we where heading to the same place. We shared a taxi to the hostel and later had breakfast together. He also didn´t know how the trains worked exactly - Lonely Planet says you can´t get the tickets in advance only the first class ones and via an agency - so we decided to look up the travel agency listed in the guide. When we finally found the listed address it seemed that the agency had moved. Nobody could tell us exactly where to... As it was raining pretty hard we decided to take a bus to the train station and try our luck there. We expected more confusion but apparently you can buy the ticket in advance for any given date and we got out tickets for the notourious ´Death Train´ on the other day.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bombed in Sucre

Carnaval in Sucre means water - a lot of it! Waterbombs, squirt guns, water pistols... the die hard carnevalistas even use shaving foam to dive-bomb their victims. I got hit by 2 water bombs, which wasn´t too bad as bombing gringoes seemed to be an extra fun for the locals. But they didn´t count on Martin! ;-)

When some little boys threatened us with their water guns Martin overpowered one, got his gun and chased him all over the place. Exactly in that moment three Spanish girls walked by... one of them had accepted a drink from Martin the other night in the "Joyride Cafe" but was too arrogant to say hello when she met us in the market in the morning. Martin had been really disappointed by this behavariour and now had his chance to satisfy his thirst for revenge! He aimed and full throttle shot the water on her! She even was too arrogant to react and we couldn´t stop laughing! As it seems the Bolivians around us enjoyed it too!

Here is a picture of crazy Martin in full action! I really hope we´ll keep in touch and will meet again sometime somewhere - with Martin you can´t be bored, not for a second ;-)

Sucre - "wer noch niemals in lauschiger Nacht..."


On Thursday afternoon Susanne and Ryan left me to go to Uyuni. I would have loved to join them but time is running and didn´t want to risk being late for my flight to Rio. I accompanied them to the bus terminal, we said goodbye and agreed to meet up in Berlin and Seattle, accordingly. Its always great to travel with nice people for some time but then its also sad when its time to say goodbye...

I decided to stay one more day in La Paz but couldn´t decide whether to go to Santa Cruz directly or stop in Sucre for a day so I tossed a coin: heads-or-tail - and Sucre won and I bought a bus ticket for the 15-hour bus ride to the South.

On my last day in La Paz I went to the Coca museum (pretty boring), had a lot of coffee and good food at "Alexander Coffee", tried to get my nails done (not a good idea in La Paz!) and continued to read Paulo Coelho´s account of his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I made it to the fifth or sixth chaper but was pretty disappointed by it: the persons and incidents he encounters on his voyage seem to perfect and too much of a coincidence, it doesn´t sound very realistic - more like he had planned out the pilgrimage at home at his writing desk or as if he interpretes the encounters according to the principles he wants to point out. I put the book aside and decided to swap the book at the next hostel or bookexchange...

When I ran into one Argentinian guy I had met in a hostel on a rainy afternoon in Cabanaconde just one hour before leaving to Sucre I had to make a little concession to Paulo Coelho: there are a lot of coincidences when you travel and yes, they might seem unrealistic! If I had known what Sucre had in store for me... ;-)
After a long but unspectacular bus ride I arrived in Sucre on saturday morning and went in search of a nice hostel. The first one looked ok but there was no free room before noon. The second was not very nice and also quite far from the center... and the third one smelled of old ladies. Not the nice grandmother smell of fresh cake or old fashioned perfume but the one you encounter on old ladies at the doctors or at church. My back started hurting from carrying my heavy backpack and I decided to forget my budget limits for a day and checked into 4 star "Premier Hotel". After refreshing a bit I took off to explore Sucre. On first sight it looked nice but calm, if not to say boring. It is said to be the most beautiful city of Bolivia but if you´ve seen Cuenca en Ecuador or Arequipa in Peru, Sucre is just one more colonial city. I checked out the Ethnografical museum - very similar to the one in Peru - the exhibition of masks is very well done but unfortunately they closed at noon. Around 2pm I had seen most of the streets and churches (all of them locked) and as the city still seemed very quiet I started to wonder if I should go to the bus terminal and look for a bus very early the next morning...
Just when I was thinking of this I saw someone sitting on a bench on the main plaza, the face and blong hair looked kind of familiar... when I got nearer the person got up, smiling - and I saw that it was "mi amigo navideño" Martin! Martin, with whom I had spend a great christmas eve in Piura, whom I had met in Cusco by chance and whose boat has sunk on the Amazon! For the third time on our trip we´ve met - without planning to do so, pure coincidence! I will never ever critizise Paulo Coelho - traveling has its own laws and unbelievable coincidence definately is one of those.
Very happy about this unforeseen "Wiedersehen" we sat down on a bench and tried to catch up on our travels. Unfortunately the little show shine boys, too, thought that it was very interesting. They sat down in a circle around us and wanted to know if I was Martin's girlfriend. When he told them that I was just an "amiga" they told him off everytime he put his arm around me or touched me on the legs. High morals, those little guys ;-) When obviously he wouldn´t stop touching me - Martin is a very warm and outgoing person - they requested a "kiss, kiss" and burst into laughter. One of the little guys knew all capitals of the world by heart - quite impressive, but still we refused to buy them food or give them money. There are so many of them and if you give something to one you have to give it to all or a fight will break out. When they wouldn´t leave us alone we retreated to one of the lovely cafes near by with balconies overlooking the plaza. Martin asked me what my plans were for the night and I said I haven´t any he decided to stay one more night in Sucre to celebrate our unforeseen encounter. We both agreed that somehow our positive energies kept drawing us together, no matter where and we should seize the opportunity and "rock the capital" ;-). (Even though La Paz de facto serves as capital, sleepy Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia!)
We got our bus tickets for the next day, enjoyed a huge fruit salad, some fresh chese and bread in the market and then went back to our hostels to get ready for a big night out :-)
By the time we met again, most restaurants already looked deserted - Bolivians or South Americans tend to eat earlier than Europeans, it seems. We found a pizza place that looked nice and not too empty. Martin ordered red wine - but bad lack, all used up. So he opted for beer and me for a water, which they had. I asked for a veggie pizza without cheese - no problem in Germany or Italy, but not possible in Sucre - "the pizza would burn without cheese". Ok. So pasta with pesto, please. Half an hour later the waiter reappeared, without pizza but with the news that the veggetables for the pesto were used up, too. Even though Martin's pizza allegedly already was in the oven we paid the drinks and left. So far for service mentality in the Bolivian (contitutional, but still!) capital. The night before Martin had an equally unpleasant experience with the waiters in gringo-ridden "Joyride Cafe" but as it seemed to be the only place around the plaza that wasn't about to close we gave in and ordered the 4 person "tapas table" - just delicious! And we did our best to smile and say a lot of "gracias", "no se preocupe" and even managed to get some smiles back from the waiters.
Around midnight we decided to have a look upstairs, to the dancefloor... and stayed untill they closed ;-) We met the "Taxi Schisser" or cap wimps - a group of 3 Germans who arrived on the same bus as Martin and asked him if it was save to take a taxi. When we arrived they were sitting in a hook, true "Taxi Schisser"-style - but after they saw Martin rocking the place, they got up and joined us. Hopefully they will meet a lot of Martins our their trip would be very boring indeed!
From the "Joyride" we shared a taxi with Fernando, the one and only tall and hansome Bolivian, an Irish guy and an Englishmen with a broken arm to another disco. As the taxi didn´t have a radio we agreed to sing. Martin and me of course performed an unforgettable version of "Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins..." in combination with an instrumental "Hey Jude" from the guy with the broken arm. We stayed at the second place until it closed, too, and I walked back to my hotel with Fernando, and Martin, who wasn´t in for much walking, took a taxi. I got home by 6:00 and considering I only slept like 3-4 hours this hotel really became the most expensive one of my trip ;-)
Martin and me, "nordish by nature" in the colonial city center of Sucre...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lost in Translation

Bolivia provides good entertainment by translating Spanish signs into English. On the border you get invited to "to go the toilet" in big red letters on the public toilet. In Copacabana's main street you can "rent biking". But the best translation could be found on this menu: "Drunk at once" ;-)

La Paz Packages and Zebras


There are definately a lot of things in Bolivia that need improvement (restaurant service, transport...) - but there is one thing that I hope will never change: the central post office in La Paz! I went there at 8am this morning with 4kg of clothes and gifts to send home. I didn't have a box, neither packing material and had no idea how this would work out... I arrived shortly after the post office had opened and a friendly lady at the information send me downstairs to the "señora" wo does the packing and who was just having her breakfast. In Germany they would have ignored you until was brakfast over, in Hungary maybe killed you right away. Not so in La Paz, "Come in, Mamacita Linda, how can we help you, amiguita?" All smiling she put her breakfast aside and took my stuff. Her colleague, equally smiling, joined her and they started packing my stuff into a big box. They wrapped the fragile stuff in my sweaters without me telling them to. I didn't know what to say anymore - the post office staff I've met so far did an outstanding job on surviving the work day without once using their brain cells. Anyhow these two ladies managed to pack my stuff, joke with me and sing and laugh... I haven't met so lovely and happy people at work for quite some time! When they packed my big woolen jumper from Peru they asked if it was for my boyfriend to keep him warm while I was away. No, I said, its for my parents. "Oh, disgrace, you aren't sending anything for your boyfriend" - they joked. "Not even a kiss?" They reminded me of Peruvian taxi drivers, whose favourite subjects usually envolve around boyfriends, kissing and romance. Alberto and I usually were a big disappointment to any taxi driver, as we wouldn't kiss or provide romantic details. I did my best not to disappoint the wrapping ladies and promised to send a kiss or two. And as it seems, sending gifts to the "padrecitos" was valued as well.

When I went over to the cashier with my perfectly wrapped package he greeted me with a smile and a "Buenos dias, princessita" from afar. I have been called all kind of names in German post offices, but never anything close to "princessita" ;-).

Unfortunately I do not have more stuff to ship home - I would love to go back to these friendly and happy people anytime! Maybe I should apply for a job there ;-)

But... there is also another cool job in La Paz that caught my eye: the Zebra!
To regulate chaotic traffic situation and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street, peple dressed as zebras stop the traffic and help you cross the street. They could do it in a serious and business like way, like a traffic police officer, but they do it dancing, shaking theyr striped behind, waving to the drivers... When we first saw a zebra on our way to the hostel we couldn't stop laughing and our taxi driver had to explain to us the concept of zebra traffic regulation!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bolivia is Titi!


Even though guide Eddy had tried to hammer into us that Peru was "Titi" and Bolivia "Caca", we all agreed that it was definately the other way round! Copacabana definately is Titi - which should become our battle call for our stay in Copacabana! ;-)

When we arrived in Copacabana, the sun was shining, the lake was turquoise blue and the whole town was decked out for the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria. The cars were decorated with flowers and ribbons to be blessed by a priest in front of the cathedral and it seemed that everybody was dressed in festive dress. I especially fell in love with the busy little beach full of food stalls, paddle boats and Bolivian families having a picknick. All afternoon there was music and dancing in the streets and when the sun set it got really crazy. People of all ages where drinking and dancing and the whole town was one great party! Of course we joined the dancing and soon met many fellow backpackers from France, Denmark, Argentina... and the Chilean history teacher! Making out with a girl he had obviously just met! Who would have thought that of the quiet history teacher - still waters run deep ;-)

Around 2pm the music stopped and I went back to the hostel thinking the party was over. But a soon as I was in bed the music started again. When I woke up around 7am it was still playing or playing again. I have no idea if had stopped at all. When we went down to the plaza to have breakfast there were still people drinking on the street and the music and dancing went on. We took a little break from it and hiked to a little village called Sicuani from where we took a boat to the Isla del Sol. After dinner, of course, we joined the party again. As it seemed, most people had kept on drinking and it got definately more rough then on the first day.

When we were walking down to the plaza we saw women in full festive dress peeing on the streets and children trying to pull their parents home. The plaza was flooded in what seemed a mix of pee and beer and even though it was not later than 9pm most people seemed to be really wasted. And the Chilean history teacher was making out with another girl. Ryan suspected that he had eaten the first one. Judging by the way he was kissing her this seemed very likely and we agreed on calling him the Chilean Cannibal.

Ryan was keen on making some local friends and finally found some lovely ladies from La Paz who willingly shared their beer and hats with us. Unfortunately they were dragged home by their daughters soon after... Around 2pm we also made our way home through drunken people, beer and pee and tried to get some rest to be "en pleine form" for our last day in Copacabana - and the bull fighting that was scheduled for this day!
When we heard about the bull fighting we were a bit sceptical at first - would it be a cruel spectacle like in Spain? Would they hurt or even kill the bulls? Or would it be like the Pamplona bull race? We decided to give it a go and went to the ring at 3pm. People had told us that it would start at this time but the stands were still in construction and neither bulls nor spectators to be seen. Ryan, Susanna, Ellen - a German girl we had met at breakfast - and I sat down to enjoy some prickly pears and watch how the stands were being constructed. Very adventurous and nearly as entertaining as a bull fight ;-) At 3:30pm they were nearly ready and for 7 Bolivianos we got a seat in the front row. Slowly, more and more people kept coming and the stands filled up. The "toreros" also arrived but thank God they were nothing like the ones you know from Spanish bull fighting. They were dressed in jeans or sport clothes and most of them pretty drunk ;-) We asked one young and pretty sober guy to take pictures of us on the stand and that was when the fun really started ;-) The young guy took one picture with Ryan's camera and then went away. I wanted one with camera, too, and a really, really drunken guy accepted. He was so drunk he could barely stand but he was determined in taking a great picture. Shaking and babbling he directed us to smile and the whole stand, maybe the whole stade was watching and laughing. He even spoke some English ("Very good", "Welcome", "One- two -three") and we were in tears! I was scared that he would drop my camera but he took a great picture of us ( see above) and I got back my camera save and sound! Susanne was not so lucky - he dropped her camera and then half jokingly pretended to throw it up to the stand! After this comical introduction we already had a feeling that this bullfight would be more about killing beer cans than bulls. At various times completely sloshed men would stumpled into the ring, doing all kind of strange moves, falling to the ground, babbling and the spectators would call "torro, torro" (bulls, bulls) and burst into laughter. When the first bull was let into the ring somew of the drunken guys more or less jumped on him and got turn to the ground. But most of the time the bulls just wanted to go home and where not very enthusiastic about fighting. This caused yells of "Take home the sheep", "We want bulls with balls" or aimed at the wasted "toreros" - "Don't fall in love with the bull" or "Kiss the bull" ;-).
The best scene was definately when the bull turned his back on the heroic "toreros" and slowly walked towards the ice cream guy, not to attack him, more in a curious way. The ice cream guy just waved him away and kept on selling ice cream. So far for the dangerous bulls of Copacabana ;-) The bull fighting here definately is more about beer than about bulls and I bet that toreros got hurt worse than the bulls - by stumpling over or beating up each other. Definately a very entertaining afternoon!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Estou chegando, amor! :-)


Bill, falta pouco - so 2897km :-) Estou chegandoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! :-)

Taquile, island of the knitting men

On Taquile our guide Eddy definately was in his best form as a kindergarden teacher and we felt like on a school trip. He explained us the origin of the name "Titicaca" - Titi Kharka - Rock Puma - and kept on saying that the lake was "Titi" in Peru and "Caca" in Bolivia ;-) And his passion definately was the local traditional costume - telling us a least ten times how to tell from a man's bobble hat if he was "marriage" or "single" ;-)
After lunch we went back to Puno... the lake calm we enjoyed the sunshine and blue sky from the deck! Our little group agreed to meet later that night for a couple of drinks on the Plaza de Armas and Ryan and Susanne went to buy the bus ticket to join me on my trip to Copacana for the Fiesta of the Virgin de la Candelaria!

An island called Amantani


Arriving in Amantani we were allocated to the different host families and our guide Eddy once again acted the kindergarden teacher - we had to meet him at 4pm and not to forget drinking water, sun blocker, jacket etc. ;-)

I ended up in one family with Susanne, Ryan and the Japanese guy. The house was a two storey house in a beautiful setting on a hill, many roses, sheep and two green outhouses ;-) Unfortunately the family consisting of two elderly women, a younger one and a girl of maybe 10 or 11 didn't seem to communicative. I guess, they have had their fair share of tourists staying with them and just saw us as an source of income, not as "guest". I had hoped the homestay would be a bit more interesting but thank God my little group was ok and we didn't get bored. At 4pm we met the rest of the group and hiked up to some temple ruins. As usual Eddy did the kindergarden teacher and bored us with telling the same thing first in English and then in Spanish. Like most Peruvians he seems to think that Peru is unique and he told us about the shamans, medicinal herbs and terrace system as if it we had never seen a thing like that before. So we got a bit bored... but the view from the top of the hill where the temple ruins are compensated us for the kindergarden lesson. An enterprising couple of locals had set up a small outdoor café serving the very tasty local muña tea, coca tea, coffee and picarones and we sat down with backpackers from all over the world to enjoy the sunset over the Titicaca - a very beautiful and decidedly mediterranean panorama!

After the sun had set we stumpled back down the hill to enjoy the dinner, our host ladies had cooked for us - soup and rice with vegetables, simple but tasty! After dinner the real fun started - we were dressed up in local clothes to join the rest of the group for a little party. The best part of it was getting dressed in the tiny kitchen of our hosts, taking pictures - and trying to go to the outhouse with torch in hand and too many skirts and scarfs to hold up ;-)!

The party itself was pretty boring as not all had dressed up and most seemed to be tired and went home pretty soon... and our "local hosts" took off at 10pm sharp... so unfortunately it was one more point of the touristical and commercial programm. But we had enjoyed ourselves and once again nature had a surprise for us in store - the starry sky over Amantani was the most beautiful one I've ever seen! It even topped Guyana! There were so many stars that we couldn't even make out the star signs! Amazing...

On the way to Amantani...


The way to Amantani took about 3 hours but the time passed fast as I had nice company. A Chilean couple, a Chilean history teacher, two German girls who were volunteering in a Peruvian orphanage, two American girls who also volunteeered, a gay hairdresser from Barcelona and his friend, a Japanese who spoke little Spanish and English but made an effort to communicate, Susanne from Berlin and Ryan from Washington state... we all met on the roof of the boat and exchanged travel stories, plans, suggestions...

Our guide seemed a bit of a kindergarden teacher, telling us to use sunblocker, drink water etc. but he was friendly and enthusiastic about the lake and the traditions and I decided to join the group on the programm.

The last half an hour was pretty shaky, the waves got higher and everybody felt pretty bad... We had to leave the roof of the boat and go downstairs - which made it even worse. Everybody was relieved when we finally arrived on Amantani - and island that from the lake looks pretty mediterranean! Greek or Croatian... you wouldn't guess it is in Peru :-)

Chilling on the boat with Jorge, the hairdresser and Rodrigo, the history teacher...

Kamisaraki, turista :-)

My trip to the Titicaca islands turned out to be an up and down of very good and very bad experiences. The boat to the reed islands left around 9:30am from the port in Puno - where a bunch of ladies tried to sell us candy and pencils to give as a present to the children on the reed islands. Would have been a nice thought if we had gone to some remote jungle village but the reed island beng about 20min from Puno and visited by many tour boats daily I thought it amusing ;-) I was wondering what the kids are doing with so many pencils... maybe sell them back to the ladies at the port to keep the buisness flowing ;-)

I think that I was the only one going "alone", everybody else had booked a 3 hour trip to the reed islands. I met some nice people from Ucayali, Peru and one American guy who is traveling nearly all of South America in 3 months. It was quite amusing how he explained me his plans and how convinced he was that he was getting to know lake Titicaca really well in 3 hours and Rio in 2 days. I didn´t tell him that 5 weeks in Peru still left me with a feeling of only knowing a tiny part of the country, the culture, the people...

Unfortunately there is no boat going straight to the island where my lodge was situated, so I had to stop with the tour group at another reed island first. I called it the island of the fat people as everybody seemed to be overweight. We all had to sit down in a circle and our guide and the fat locals explained how the floating islands are made from the "totora" reed, what else you can do with totora and last but not least they sang some songs. Some of the tourists actually gave the candy to the fat people - I thought it was hilarious and sad at the same time. I couldn´t wait to leave and jusat hoped that "my" island would be better. From the fat peoples island we went to "my" island in a reed boat - had to pay a 6 soles extra each. Two little kids from the fat peoples island went with us and kept on singing songs in different languages - or at least that´s what they thought they were doing. A few times you could actually understand a bit of the lyrics - but not always. They tried French, Hebrew, Japanese... and a hilarious version of "Twinkle twinkle little star". Of course they went around with their heads after arriving on "my" islands. And they tried to sell some of their drawings as well. All in all the visit to the first island was horrible - very touristic, fake and commercial. It was starting to rain, too, and I wasn´t sure anymore if this was going to be an adventure or just a desaster...

Thank God "my" island seemed much nicer. The inhabitants where younger and in better shape and there even was a little cafe and restaurant. I found Ruben, the guy running the lodge with whom I had mailed before. He is about my age and seemed ok. He introduced me to all his family members living on the island and showed me my home for the next two days: a little reed hut with a bed, nothing more. No bathroom, no electricity... there is just one toilet on the whole island and it is very basic: a kind of reed outhouse, it doesn´t even have a roof! But adventure was what I was looking for, so I didn´t worry about the toilet too much.

After the tour group had left life on little "Kamisaraki" island calmed down. I met my "neighbours" - Alejandro and Juliano from Argentina:
They had traveled from Argentina overland to Lake Titicaca and had decided to spend one night on "Kamisaraki" island to get some rest. Sounded good to me. We had lunch together and then wanted to set off in a little rowing boat that Ruben had offered us to visit some of the neighbour islands. Alejandro and I where already sitting in the little boat, trying to figure out how the oars worked when Juliano came running from the reed huts, just dressed in his swimming trunks and sreaming jumped into the cold lake. Everybody from the island came running to see what had happened and poor Alejandro seemed to be really embarrased by his friend ;-)

The first island we visited was much smaller than ours and we only stayed a short time as everybody was leaving for a reunion on a different islands. Juliano had not come with us to the island and had taken a nap in the boat. When we called to him to pick us up he lost one of the oars and a kid from the island had to rescue him with his boat - it was pretty funny, Juliano in his swiming trunks, trying to get back the row, screaming in his thick Argentinian accent and everybody looking... once again Alejandro who is the opposite of his outgoing friend seemed very ashamed. Finally Juliano got back the oar and we went to the next island. When we were "landing" a women in traditional dress came to help us tie the boat to a pole and greeted us with the Aymara "Kamisaraki" - "How are you"? She showed us her island - the nicest one we had seen so far. They had planted flowers and vegetables and there even was a little model of a reed island with boats and dolls and all floating on a little "lake" inside the island. I took a liking to her when she showed us the guine pigs and when asked how to prepare them started laughing and said that they were just pets and would never be eaten. Finally! :-)

And then little Nathalie arrived: huge rubber boots on her feet, wearing a pink dress and trying to walk with the help of a huge stick. She is 2 years old and the sweetest thing you can imagine! The kids on the islands seem to lead a pretty free and fun live - when we went back to the main "square" to talk to her mum, little Nathalie and her friends undressed and went swimming.

Nathalies Mum asked us to sit down with them and converse a bit. She is a warm and friendly person and it was great to finally meet some locals who are not singing for money or begging to buy their craftswork!

After the tourists have gone live is back to normal and very calm... so I guess Nathalie's mum and her family also enjoyed to have some entertainment in form of a German girl and two Argentinians - one with an antique camera and the other one in swimming trunks.

The ladies enjoyed to play with my hair and to dress me up. I had to try on some hats and finally the whole typical outfit. The pompoons they braided into my hair were so heavy that after one hour I got a headache ;-) The skirt is very heavy, too, but a good protection from the cold, I guess.


Soon one of the guys joined us, too and asked me to teach him a bit German. I taught him how to say hello, ask the name etc. And then he and the ladies wanted to know how to say "Please, buy my work" or "Please, take home a souvenir" ;-) To my surprise they knew a German children's song ("Alle meine Entchen") - but they didn't know what it meant and I had to translate. They burst into laughter when I told them it was about the little ducks which had their little heads under water and their... here I had to use sign language, as I didn't know the Spanish word for tail - sticking out of the water ;-)
Unfortunatly a thunderstorm was coming up and we had to row back to our island. Nathalie's mum asked the two Argentinians to leave me with her, again, but as I had already booked and payed the night on Kamisaraki I left with them.
Before leaving I took pictures with all the cute little girls who just loved to see themselves on the little screen of my camera! Wish we could have stayed longer!
Back on Kamisaraki we had dinner and a lot of coffee, as it was getting more and more chilly. At around 9pm everybody had gone to bed and only the Argentinians, me and Rubens brother-in-law where still up. When Juliano wanted to go to the toilet he told us it was locked. Thank God the Argentinians weren't keen on using the lake as a bathroom and a little rebellion broke out until Ruben's brother-in-law helped us to break open the door to the toilet. He also supplied us with candles and matches and we retreated to our little reed cabins.
The night was chilly and a heavy thunderstorm passed in the early morning hours but inside the cabins it was nice and warm - atleast inside the sleeping bag and under 3 woolen blankets ;-) I slept very well to the sound of the waves and the slight movement of the island...
Next morning we all got up very early as the sun was already very strong. We had breakfast, bought some crafts (we were more or less blackmailed by Ruben's sister ;-)) and I got picked up by my boat to Amantani...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lake Titicaca - stone willies and knitted jumpers


When I was in elementary school, lake Titicaca definately was one of the highlights of our geography classes. Not because of its unique location at more than 3800m above sea level, making it one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world neither by being the largest lake in South America - it was its name that made it so popular! Titicaca in German sounds pretty indecent for a first grader and of course we enjoyed it to the full! I never actually thought that I would ever travel to the shores of this indecent sounding lake or even staying on one of its islands! But that's exactly what I'm going to do tomorrow!

After two days of "market research", at the port, online, consulting my Lonely Planet and fellow travelers I finally booked a tour to the floating islands and two other islands on lake Titicaca with "Juan from the Port", a funny guy from Uros, the floating islands, who speaks a bit of German, French and Portuguese and non-stop called me Señorita Beatriiiiiiiiiiz. I got his contact from his cousin, who runs the reed lodge on Uros and whom I had contacted via mail. It seems that at this time they don't receive many mails and when I arrived at the office everybod knew about Señorita Beatriiiiiiiz and her arrival. So tomorrow morning I'll go to the floating islands of Uros and stay there one night in the reed lodge, from there I'll continue to the island of Amantani where I'll stay with a local family and on the third day I'll visit the more touristic island of Taquile and get back to Puno. For boat transport, accomodation, meals and entrance to the islands I paid 95 soles, about 31 USD - as far as my research shows this price can't be beaten.

Puno itself has not much to offer in terms of sights and activities but it is a welcome relief after touristic Cusco - its a "real" Peruvian town with a lively market district businesses of all kinds and not just an "open-air museum" of fake-Peruvian culture. There are a lot of places with cheap internet access, cheap handycrafts and knitted stuff and of course laundries and "salas de belleza"to get your laundry and yourself back in shape. I especially like the central market hall and the street market near to the port - for a couple of cents you can eat your way through prickly pears, chese empanadas, peaches and a lot of other Peruvian "fast food". And for a few dollars I bought a thermos flask, a handknitted fluffy alpaca wool jumper, sock and gloves to prepare for my trip to the islands - it does get pretty cold at night here!

After spending about one week in Cusco, just one gringa among many, I have to get used to standing out in the crowd again here in Puno ;-) The "holas", funny comments and smiles on the street are back - but definately in a nice and funny way.

Yesterday I visited the Temple of Fertility in Chucuito. To get there you have to take one of the collectivos, stopping every 500m to take on or off passengers and their belongings - fishes, gas flasks, paint... The temple is pretty small but unintentionally very funny! It consists of a small walled patch of land full of stone willies of all kinds of sizes and shapes. The biggest and most explicit one is at least 1,60m high. You have to pay 5 soles entry and a little kid will show you around and tell you the history of the temple. As it seems those kids have learned the stone-willy story by heart and recite it with incredible speed, picking up pace, swalloing letters and words and giving each others signs on who will go where next. I had a very hard time keeping a straight face - the stone williescombined with the little girl and her breakneck speed version of the williehistory were just so much more fun then Machu Picchu ;-) I managed to ask her to take a picture of me and the super willie and then had to leave not to burst out laughing on the sacred site! If we had known in elementary school that lake Titicaca not only sounded indecent but also had stone willies on offer - I guess we would have blackmailed our teacher to take us there on our next school excursion ;-)

In the afternoon I wrote some postcards, send home some stuff by mail, picked up my laundry, did some research on bus tickets to Bolivia and continued reading "El Peregrino" by Paulo Coelho... one of those typical "pit stop days" I usually do when arriving in a new city :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Machu Picchu - one of the seven world wonders?

A little more then 2,200 years after the ancient Seven Wonders of the World were declared in 200 B.C. by a single man, Philon of Byzantium in Athens, more than 100 million votes from people from every corner and country in the world, elected the official new Seven Wonders of the World: on July 7th, 2007 the results have been officially announced in Lisbon and Machu Picchu has been declared one of the "New 7 Wonders".(http://www.new7wonders.com/classic/en/n7w/results/c/MachuPicchu/ ).

So ever since I started planning my trip I was excited about going to Machu Picchu - and also curious if it deserved the title "Wonder of the World".

On Sunday morning I got up at 4:45am to take the first train from Ollantaytambo at 5:30am to Cusco. I set my alarm clock and even left the light on not to oversleep as the train tickets are not refundable and 30USD ist quite some money in a poor backpackers budget! I shouldn´t have worried about oversleeping as the whole hostel seemed to get up at around 4:30 to get the train. From the little Plaza I took a motortaxi. The 10min. ride over cobble stone streets had the same effect as taking the famous-notorious Ayahuasca tea - hallucinations and heavy vomiting but at least I made it to the station in time to buy some hot coca tea and take some pictures.

I boarded the train and guess who had reserved the seat next to me? A blond guy whom I had met the night before in Ollantaytambo in search of a cheap hostel. He was looking for a hostel closer to the train station so he didn´t stayed in the one I did. I thought that he was French by the way he acted and most propably gay - but very nice! Funny coincidence we ended up sitting next to each other on the train! And, other coincidence - he was Brazilian - the second Brazilian I met on my way from Cusco to Machu Picchu - must have been a sign ;-)! We both enjoyed speaking Portuguese, especially as it was so early in the day. We chatted a lot about traveling and he told me he wanted to go to... Scotland! Why Scotland? Because of Nessy, "o monstro da lagoa" ;-) In Aguas Calientes he went in search of his friend (boyfriend?) and I bought some breakfast in the market and queued up for the (expensive!) bus up to Machu Picchu. You can also hike the steep climb but as my toe was still inflamed I chose the bus - and when I later saw a German couple arriving at the entrance, sweating and puffing, very red in the face - I was happy that I had taken the bus.

The entrance to Machu Picchu is very well organized and well commercialized - public bathroom, baggage storage, overpriced cafeteria, restaurant, a shop with high quality - and high priced - Alpaca clothing...

I left my backpack in the storage, changed in the bathroom, because it was already getting very hot and took off to explore one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! I wanted to go without guide but then gave in to Berta, a 29 year old guide from Cusco. She seemed sweet and serious (not like most of the male guides - horrible show-offs and first-class gringo hunters!) and we agreed on a decent price for the whole circuit. We went through the entrance gate without problems - yes, they accepted my expired German student card, yippieh - and I got my first view on Machu Picchu - amazing! The view from the entrance is exactly like on the postcards - just a bit steeper and smaller! The stone buildings, houses and temples are interesting - but the really beauty is the setting!

Unfortunately my guide Berta soon switched on her "automatic guide modus", guess I would have been better off with my iPod and an audio book on Machu Picchu! She didn´t tell me anything that I didn´t knew before and always managed to escape my questions - it was very tiring! At least she offered to take pictures of me, which I otherwise wouldn´t have had, traveling alone... Anyhow, I was pretty relieved when the "tour" was over and I had time to explore the ruins by myself. I sat down on some unfinished stone walls and read a bit in my "Machu Picchu" book by Hiram Bingham who discovered and whom most Peruvians hate, claiming he didn´t discover it but stole most valuable objects, especially gold... I guess the truth lies somewhere inbetween. If not for him, Machu Picchu might still be "lost" and Peru would be lacking its major tourist attraction. But on the other hand I do understand that Peruvians are pissed that the objects found in Machu Picchu are now in some museum in the US and not in Peru.

The ruins where so crowded and the sun was getting very hot that I took refuge to the path leading to the "Inca Bridge". The path is quiet and shadowy and full of orchids, birds, bromelias and the view over the Urubamba valley is stunning! Unfortunately when I arrived at the bridge there where two German guys enthusiastically explaining the use of anti-avalanche-backpacks to a red faced Englishmen - terminado el camino tranquilo ;-)

So, Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World? Maybe... to me, the ruins where interesting but the real beauty lays in the setting, in the steep hills, dark valleys, lush green cloud forest... As a man-made Wonder of the World I´d rather chose the Louvre or the Sixtian chapel, but yes, the prices at the cafeteria at the entrada definately are a Wonder of the World ;-) - 5 soles for a coffee and 15 for an empanada! (For comparison: a full menu in a veggie restaurant in in Cusco near Plaza de Armas is at 4-6 soles ;-)) It´s all about marketing, isn´t it?

And visiting Machu Picchu definately proved to be an excellent possibility to study the different nationalities...
My Germans compatriots: communicative as ever ;-) Example: three girls, maybe 20-25 years old, experimenting with a tripod and delayed-action shutter release instead of asking someone to take their foto!!! And that in Machu Picchu - population density of about 6 tourists per square meter ;-) I took pity in them and offered to take their picture. At first they where very reluctant but then agreed and even managed to say a polite thank you.
The French: francocentric as ever ;-) A 60ish French guy asked me to take a picture of him and his wife, "Pourriez vous prendre un foto de nous, sil vous plait?". Of course I did and he gave orders in French on what should be on the picture and what not. And he was not the least surprised that I did understand and even replied in French! Guess they expect the whole world to speak French, bien sur!

The British and American, polite and funny... the British getting rosy cheeks first from the sun and later on the in the train from the beer. They where the only ones who ordered beer on the overpriced train! (The Germans looked longingly but as usual where to stingy ;-)).

The Japanese: always in groups, some with matching hats, taking pictures of the llamas and chatting and smiling :-) Very easy to satisfy! And of course they are very efficient - after half an hour they where gone again!
The return of the Inca? No, this was a Japanese tourist in full-blown Peruvian outfit ;-)

Before taking the train back to Cusco at 5pm I wandered a bit around Aguas Calientes, drinking one halfway decent but cold espresso and a better "americano", eating corncob and browsing the craft shops... Aguas Calientes definately is touristic - can´t think of a place more touristic, but it is nice. Now that there aren´t so many tourists the restaurants and shops are pretty deserted and people have time to chat... it´s definately not as bad as the Lonely Planet says ;-)

The train ride back was nice and relaxing... I sat next to a Peruvian family from Lima who ofeered to share their cheese sandwhiches and many travel tips with me! After about one hour we all fell asleep and only woke up at one station about one hour from Cusco where a bus was waiting to take the impatient once back to Cusco in 15min. I followed the Peruvian family and we arrived in Cusco just in time to buy backpack before the shops closed!

A long day - definately worth the hassle - but Wonder of the World? I guess I have to see the other candidats to compare ;-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On the way to Ollantaytambo


Some people are so efficient even when traveling that they make me feel bad. They manage to visit all the ruins in and around Cusco in one day, then hike up to Machu Picchu on the Inca trail, bike down and arrive just in time for a bungee jump.

I have been in Cusco for more than four days and haven´t seen any one of the ruins or museums. So yesterday morning I decided to finally do some sightseeing and went to the little adobe church of San Blas. Lonely Planet said it has beautiful wood carvings. When I arrived mass just had started and as they had a lovely choir I decided to stay. So much for sightseeing. Then I went to the train station to get my tickets but it had closed... so I went to the market, tried some juices, chatted with the juice lady... and just when I was about to do some more sightseeing it started to rain. I went to my favourite internet cafe, the "Trotamundos" right on Plaza de Armas and - got stuck chatting to Fred. Fred has been working in the Trotamundos for about 1,5 years but his passion is his country -history, archeology, traditions, legens, fauna and flora... He is studying to be a guide - like every second person in Cusco - and he can tell you everything about Cusco, Machu Picchu and many other interesting places in the region. So instead of going out there to see these things myself - in the rain and cold - I enjoyed many cups of coca tea and listened to Fred :-)
For today I set my alarm clock to 6am, determined to finally do some sightseeing on my last day in Cusco. I even had some plans on going to Pisac... and getting to Ollantaytambo on time to visit the ruins...

But it seems I am not one of those efficient sightseers ;-) First of all I got sidetracked by the cute little "Coca Shop" near Plaza San Blas - they have cookies, chocolates and many other things made of coca. The owner is very friendly and you can try everything and eat your way through all these yummy coca goodies! I left with a coca cookie and some chocolates filled with coca and cereals like Quina, Kiwicha... they where meant as an emergency ration for my early morning trip to Machu Picchu but didn´t even make it to Urubamba :-( From San Blas I went to the station to finally get my train tickets and from there to the INC to by the entry to Machu Picchu. Of course INC had closed 10 minutes before I arrived so I went to the market again to drink some juice (with coca poweder!) and chat with my new friend, the juice lady. She asked me about work and studies and advised me to buy warm clothes before going to Puno! From the market I went to Trotamundos... and spend another two hours chatting to Fred! He showed me pictures of Ollantaytambo on the net and told me many legends of the region... mainly of Inca princesses or Apus - mountain Gods - turned into stone and still to be seen... He knows so much that I could have stayed for hours but I had to get my entry ticket and still had some plans of going sightseeing. But... on the way to the bus to Ollantaytambo another trap - Cafe Brasil! I ordered some typical Brasilian food and the owner was so happy to have someone around that spoke Portuguese so he joined me for lunch. He is from Espiritu Santo and has been in Cusco for 8 months. He didn´t say it directly but I got the impression that he didn´t like it there. He said that he would go back very soon... Later on his little friend Pamela, 15, joined us, too. Pamela is a really sweet girl and it was a pleasure to talk to her. She dances Marineira and told me that this dance has been created by the slaves in Northern Peru and that´s why the women always dance barefeet. Depending on weather the man presents another slave or the slave owner, he dances barefeet or in shows. It must have been 3-4pm at least before I finally got to the bus station.

Pamela and me in front of Café Brasil.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Coffee with Che

Someone knocked on my door. At 6:30 in the morning. It was the reception guy of my hostel, informing me that my little friends, Juan and his sidekick, where waiting for me to go to the ruins. I told him that before 9am I would definately not be available and went back to sleep. When I went out around 9am they were already waiting for me in the internet cafe in front of the hostel. That´s stamina. I told them that I couldn´t go with them as I had to meet Karl. Juan got all sully and huffy and questioned me on when and for how long I would meet my friend and if I couldn´t take them to the white cross overlooking the city or go horse-back riding. And of course he wanted another "Bembo´s" burger. This is really sad, once you are nice to somebody here in Cusco they can´t get enough of it - even the kids are already trained in the art of gringo milking. I had to think of my little friend in Sao Luis who was so different to them, smart, polite and cute. And from the speed with which he ate the meal we got for him he was really starved. These kids here in Cusco are just send out by their parents to get some extra income for the family, I guess. Sure, by European standard they are definately poor, but compared to their Peruvian or South American contemporaries in less touristic places they are definately well off. I was happy when Karl arrived and we went off to the market in search of breakfast. Like me, Karl is not an early bird and not very communicative before getting his first coffee, as it seems. We should get along very well :-)

For lunch we met up with Alvaro and checked out another vegetarian restaurant. There are quite a lot all over Cusco but unfortunately the food is very similar in all of them. The menu usually consists of a vegetable soup and is followed by a rice dish. Nothing special but for 5-6 soles its ok. Its a pity but everytime the thre of us are together, Alvaro goes quite. He speaks very good English so I am not sure why... its a pity as he usual is very good company.

After lunch Alvaro took us to a little cafe where Che Guevara used to have his coffee when he passed through Cusco. The coffee was not revolutionary, but much better than most Peruvian coffees, that is Nescafe. Of course I had to check out the bathroom, too - what a revolutionary experience to use the same bathroom Che Guevara had! Thomas, if you are reading this - you missed a magic moment of my bathroom travel experiences ;-)

After this historical experience Karl, Alvaro, his friend Elizabeth and I went to San Sebastian, a little village or suburb of Cusco. Karl had heard that there was a fair going on and we went to check it out. Unfortunately Elizabeth turned out to be a real b... When I asked her where she was from she snapped back "Peru". In the wild I would have snapped back that I could have deducted that from her being so short but I pulled myself together and asked her which place. She then asked me back which places I knew and I told her about the places I had visited in Peru so far. She just replied that I didn´t know anything. I would have loved to tell her that I spend more than a month in her lama-infested, gringo-milking country, left a lot of money here and definately read more about the culture and history than most of my fellow travellers did. And I doubt that she has ever been to Europe or knows anything about my country. Out of respect for Alvaro and also for Karl I kept quiet. Even though San Sebastian is a nice place and the fair was interesting too, for me the afternoon was spoilt. What a pity.

We sat down next to the local football pitch and Alvaro and the witch shared a beer. Karl took some great pictures, landscape and portraits. He already took quite a lot of portraits of interesting faces, usually old people or people with a very expressive face... he seems to be a talented fotographer! I had my moment of sweet revenche when the witch got up and stumbled over the beer bottle, spilling the beer all over the place.

An old little lady with a very wrinkled face walked by. Karl wanted to ask her for a picture so we followed her down the road and over a make-shift little bridge. Unfortunately she refused to pose for a picture - I guess she felt ashamed or thought we were making fun of her. But only a couple of minutes later she came back, crying. What a sight to see such an old person cry. I asked her what happened and she replied that she had lost her little dog. She didn´t have any teeth left so it was hard to understand her. Both Karl and I felt very shocked and didn´t know how to react. We offered her our sincere commiseration but where both pretty helpless... Alvaro and the witch weren´t of any help either. So the little old lady sat down on the steps leading down to the bridge and kept on crying. Later on Alvaro told us that the witch was afraid of the little wrinkled old lady, suspecting her of having the evil eye. If not for my friends I would have told her whom I was suspecting of having the evil eye! ;-)

The fair was very cute - we bought popcorn and watched a professional cardplayer cheat. We saw some very cute kids on the merry-go-rounds and some interesting faces for Karls portrait collection...

On the way back we saw a little girl dressed in traditional clothing - mostly likely one of the little girls posing with lamas - changeing dollars into soles. She got back coins, so I guess it was just a dollar, but she was so happy she was running-jumping down the street, her braids and plaitte skirt jumping too. A very cute little scene and typical of Cusco, a mix of tradition, commerce, tourism...

As soon as we got back to Cusco I escaped the witch and later met up with Karl. I would have loved to spend some more time with Alvaro as he knows a lot about cinema and especially about latin and Brazilian cinema, but I was not ready to spend more time in the company of his snappy bitchy friend. What a pity.

Karl and I went in search of falafel, which I thought I had seen on my first morning in Cusco. Strange enough I couldn´t find the place again. Slightly pissed by all the "massaaaaaaage" offers we decided to respond everytime with a "Falafel?". Finally, finally we found an israely restaurant serving falafel and hummus. Yummy. For a "postre" we later went to a place serving "picarones", deep friend sweet potatoes with syrup. We also booked a hostel in Puno and planned to travel together to the Peruvian and Bolivian islands on Lake Titikaka. Karl is funy, intelligent, political and very easy-going. And he knows where to find the cheapest food, best picarones and managed to go to Macchu Picchu on an economical alternative route. A perfect travel companion. ;-)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Deja-vue on the Gringo Trail

The Incas called Cusco the "navel of the world", and they were right. Cusco is the kind of place where you will meet about everybody you have met on your trip through Peru and eventually also your neighbour, local postman, whatever.

Yesterday night fellow couchsurfer Karl and me were walking up the hill to my hostel in San Blas and... guess whom I met? Martin. My christmas friend from Hamburg! I didn´t expect him to be here as he had planned a different route when we last spoke and indeed, he had lived some real adventures: he had booked a boat trip on the amazon river and two days after taking off his boat hit a tree - and sank! He was in the toilet when it happened and the way he told it - in a mix of English, German and Spanish and in his typical loud voice - it was hilarious! Unfortunately he had unpacked his backpack and the divers could only rescue the backpack itself and two jackets. So he had to buy everything new in Peru! But, being Martin, he laughed it off and will fly back to Iquitos tomorrow to give it a second try ;-)

No 5 minutes later - the second "recontre" - Marcos, an Argentinian circus artist I had met in Manuel´s shop in Arequipa about two, three days ago. He had booked a tour to Macchu Picchu and later will travel via Bolivia back to Argentina. I told him that we where going to Brazil and he asked me which part of Brazil I am from - once again it seems that my Portuguese accent didn´t get lost on my way through the Andes ;-) Bill will be happy - especially as he is making fun of me for always mixing Spanish and Portuguese ;-)

Today, in the same street... we were on the way from the hostel to an internet cafe - Kaliz - the crazy Venezuelan "artisano"! He is quite some character - funny, smart, charming - it just would be nice if he took a shower every now and then ;-) This was the third time we met or actually the fourth. We had met twice times in Lima, once in Arequipa and now again in Cusco. And it looks like we´ll meet again as he will travel the same route that I have planned to travel ;-) The first time we met he had a bandaged hand - both Alberto and me suspected that he broke it in a fight. Today it was still swollen but it looked much better. And he had obviousy taken a shower and looked quite nice with his long curly dark hair. Guess he will join the local gringo hunters - and might be quite some competition as so far I haven´t seen many black Venezuelan guys with curly long hair ;-)

Not a real "rencontre", but later on today I spotted some dutch guys who where in our hotel in Pisco and went with us to the Islas Ballestas...

I am quite curious now, whom I´m going to meet next ;-)

Last night I was ready to bet with Karl 5 USD that we would meet his neighbour from Portland, Oregon. But he was fair enought to tell me that he lived in his grandmother´s guesthouse and that she was not planning on leaving the States anytime soon. So I saved my 5 bucks. Anyhow, I would still bet 5 USD that we will meet some more travel companions or people from back home.. lets wait and see ;-) All roads in South America lead to Cusco, gringo capital of the new world!

Children´s Day


On my second day in Cusco the sun was shining and I decided to have my breakfast of Cicciolina's Italian coffee and French croissant on the plaza de Armas. I had also brought some books and was looking forward to a quiet and sunny day...

Contrary to the Plaza de Armas in Lima no gringo hunters seemed to be on the stalk and I enjoyed my coffee and took this cute picture of an old indigenous lady and her little granddaughter. Just a moment before I took the picture the little girl was firmly holding her grandmother´s hand in both hands - they seemed to be very close and very fond of each other. A very cute sight in commercial and hectic Cusco!

Hola, a little voice said, and woke me up from daydreaming. Hola, señorita! A little guy of about 12, 13 years sat down next to me and offered me his services as a guide. He told me that he didn´t have any money to go to school and that he hadn´t eaten all day long. The usual story, I guess. But as I hadn´t any other plans we kept on chatting. An old man in full poncho-outfit walked by and handed me a leaflet of a children´s art museum - the "Irq'i Yachay", Quechua for "Wisdom of the children". It belongs to an organization or project of art teachers who travel to remote indegenous Andean communities, painting and doing handicrafts with the children. I asked Juan to guide me there and he wanted to join me in visiting the museum. Some of the paintings of the kids are shown in the museum - really lovely! They also show a movie about the project and both the children and their works are just wonderfull! (http://www.aylluyupaychay.org/) Little guide Juan also seemed to enjoy the museum and in return for guiding me to the museum I invited him to a burger in "Bembo´s", his choice, a cusqueño Mc Donald's-style fast food chain right on Plaza de Armas. It was raining so we sat down on the balcony and enjoyed the view over Cusco. Juan is a nice little kid but as it seems very corrupted by money and material things. Be it his parents or the society - he lost the childlike and naive way of other children his age and just keeps on talking about how poor he is and how hungry... ("Juan, do you like football?" - "Yes, but I don´t have a ball, and I don´t have money to buy it..." and so on...) I didn´t believe much of it and decided to leave. I called Alvaro, a couchsurfer I had contacted via mail because he had a very interesting profile and he was free to meet me for lunch.

Alvaro studied cinema in Rio de Janeiro and speaks perfect Portuguese - what a relieve! :-) I had spoken to Bill on skype and was more on Portuguese mode than Spanish. We chatted about Rio, Brazil, movies, Cusco... and had lunch in a nice little place off the Plaza de Armas. After lunch it started to rain and we Alvaro took me to an interesting little cafe-restaurant, the Aldea Yanapay restaurant, part of the Aldea Yanapay social project, where "the decorations take you back to your childhood". ( http://www.aldeayanapay.org/) I taught Alvaro "Shitty Head" and he agreed that it is highly addictive! Later on we went to the market for a juice and had some coca tea at his place, swapping lists of Brazilian movies against East European ones. Karl, Alvaro´s Couchsurfer from Portland, Oregon, soon joined us and we went to have dinner at a vegetarian place together. Karl is about 2m tall, has curly blond hair, blue eyes and wears glasses. He is very gringo from the outside but a very nice and interesting person :-) He said that he is of Swedish and Southern Italian descent - seems to be a very cool mix ;-) Unfortunately it seemed that Alvaro was not too happy about us bonding and he left after dinner for another CS meeting, not inviting us to join in. We went up to San Blas to the famous gringo haunt "KM 0" and shared a drink and good conversation....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The navel of the world


Yesterday was definately one of the sadest days on my trip so far - I had to say goodbye to Alberto, Arequipa and our lovely routine of internet, coffee and Iberica chocolates. We have started into a very promising 2009 together and during the last 3 weeks shared many laughs, exoperiences, meals and also serious conversations. I usually prefer to travel alone to be more independend and meet the locals but Alberto turned out to be such a lovely, easy-going and understanding company that I really enjoyed spending time with him and now miss him a lot! I already had some coffee today - but even though it was much better than most of the coffees we had in Arequipa I couldn´t really enjoy it on my own...

So yesterday we shared some last coffees and the obligatory "last supper", which turned out to be very hectic because it was already 7:15pm when we ordered in our new favourite "La Boveda" at the arcades of Plaza de Armas and my ticket was for the bus at 8pm. From there we rushed back to the hostel, got my stuff (a lot - after shopping in Arequipa ;-)) and took a taxi to the bus terminal. I had postponed my trip to Cusco twice, had a whole day to prepare - but still we arrived to the terminal on the last minute. Alberto provided me with water and our favourite Iberica chocolate for the trip, we sad goodbye and agreed to keep in contact and meet somehow somewhere - but as soon as possible :-)

Alberto will stay in Arequipa for some more weeks to start his filmproject of the "Alphabet of Dreams". He already started working yesterday with the children from "Casa Verde". I am very curious how it will develop but have faith that he will do a wonderful job and the result will be very touching!

The trip to Cusco was not very delightful - my seat neighbour was a Chilean girl of about my age who made "Ugly Betty" look great. I tried to strike a conversation but with no success. Later on she fell asleep and started snoring and falling over to my side. I deeply regretted having chosen the more economical lower floor as my knee started hurting and the only way to stretch my legs was to sit-lie vertically on the regular seat (no "semi-cama" business class seats as upstairs!) and put my legs into the ail. At 5am we finally arrived to rainy Cusco and I took a cab to Hostal de los Niños, the hostel most recommended by the Lonely Planet. Even though its low season now the hostel was fully booked and I took of with all my bags into the rain to find another place to stay. I usually don´t like to book in advance but prefer to see the place before I make a commitment. I tried some other hostels around Plaza de Armas but either they were booked or way out of my budget. As the rain wouldn´t stop I took a taxi up to the Bohemian neighbourhood of San Blas and tried my luck there. The second hostel - Andes de San Blas - turned out to be a good choice. The official rate for a single room with private bathroom and breakfast included being 19USD I got the rpice down to 35 soles - around 11 USD. The rooms is cozy and smells of wood fire smoke. The owners, a lovely couple of around 60, are very welcoming and even though they saw my German passport stick to the idea of me being Brazilian ;-) Guess I still haven´t lost my Brazilian "sotaque" ;-)

After finally getting some real, horizontal sleep I took off to explore rainy Cusco. First I had a yummy lunch of quinua vegetable soap, avocado sandwhich and lots of mate de coca in one of the tiny but gorgeous restaurants in San Blas. Of course prices here are much higher than in Lima or Arequipa - but that didn´t come as a surprise. For a "postre" I went over to the Lonely Planet recommended bakery of "Buen Pastor". The proceeds from this bakery go to social projects and its a typical Lonely Planet-toting backpacker kind of place - but one of the nicer ones. The croissants are nice and the coffee won´t kill you - immediately. Unfortunately one hairy gringo with a flute tried to intonate "El Condor Pasa" for about 10min - with no audible advancement. I escaped to a close-by internet cafe - from the frying pan into the fire, as the music of choice here was a instrumental, heavy on the panflute version of Bruce Springsteens greatest hits. So back into the rain.

Cusco, the ancient Inca capital (1200s-1532) and "navel of the world", (the meaning of "Qosqo" in Quechua), definately has a lot to offer in terms of culture, history and archeology. When the Spaniash arrived in 1533 Francisco Pizarro reported to the Spanish king that "We can assure your majesty that (Cusco) is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would even be remarkable in Spain." After the Spanish conquest a kind of cultural and architectonical recycling took place: the Spanish build a new colonial city on the foundations of the old Inca city, replacing temples with churches and palaces with mansions for the conquerors. (Obliged to tradition, 500 years later the gringo invadors did the same - building a Mc Donalds on the foundations of the colonial buildings around Plaxa de Armas ;-)).

Nowadays Cusco is a universe in itself, a kind of "Peru light" - you can enjoy the legacy of the Inca as well as the colonial history without giving up take-away bean coffee and French croissants. And actually that´s what I´m doing right now, too - I provided myself with the blessings of European culinary tration at stylish "Cicciolina's Bread & Breakfast" and took off to the navel of the gringo-backpacker universe. All around the Plaza de Armas you find stylish coffee bars and restaurant, internet is fast and the bookstores have more English books then Spanish books. Which actually is a pity - I am trying since Lima to find Che´s Motorcycle Diaries in Spanish - no success so far. One of the nicest places caterin to traveler's needs is the "Cappuccino Cafe" in the arcades around Plaza de Armas. Coffee, cakes and fast internet. I opted for mate de coca, as for the first time in Peru my belly is not as its usual bests. Maybe its the lack of the usual bacteria in the gringo-friendly food of San Blas ;-)

For dinner I went to "Govinda" - you can guess it, another veggie restaurant playing Hare Krishna music and selling books on vegetarian cuisine. I am not sure why, but there is at least one veggie spot called "Govinda" in every self-respecting South American town. This one is at least the third one I tried out. I wonder why they are called "Govinda" - maybe it is the Hindu God of good cooking or a Hare Krishna-style Ronald Mc Donald? It's definately not the Godess with the 4 or 6 arms as service is usually on the slow side - but smiling. The simple menu at the Cusco "Govinda" was ok, nothing special, but the fig and coco balls for "postre" are definately worth it.

Hm, its amazing how much you can write about without actually doing anything usefull... ;-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Coffee with the Yacumama

On sunday Alberto wanted to "practice" the story he wanted to tell his Casa Verde children on Monday and he asked his new Peruvian friend, Manuel, for help, that is suggestions, corrections, opinion... Manuel works in a little shop selling T-shirts, smoking paraphernalia, souvenirs... He is originally from Cusco, had lived in Spain for some time and the more you get to know him the more "secrets" you will find out. He is an anthropologists and now studying to be a tourist guide. He knows a lot about Peru, history, traditions... and he can tell stories, very well!

So on sunday afternoon we all met at the "La Boveda" café, a lovely place on the Plaza de Armas, serving real coffee, recommended by Manuel. Alberto told his story about Giacomo, the little Italian boy who can´t tell a lie and turns transparent. Everybody can see his thoughts and when a mean dictator takes over the country and discovers Giacomo's dislike he throws him into prison. But Giacomo´s transluscent body shines out of the prison and eventually even the dictator shows some compassion and frees Giacomo. Of course this is just the essence of the story and Alberto can tell it much better. Manuel helped him with some Spanish or typical Peruvian expressions, making it easire for the children to relate to the story.

Somehow we got from this stories to stories and legends in general... and it turned out that Manuel is a gifted story teller!

I asked him if he knew the legend of the jung boy living in the jungle whose feet point backwards. He usually seduces and misleads travalers by his enchanting song and you can only free yourself by distracting him - be in with a fire or a little puzzle... I have heard this story with little variation in both Brazil and Ecuador... and yes, Manuel had heard about it, too. He then told us another legend of the jungle, the legend of the Yacumama. The Yacumama is a giant boa, the spirit of the "selva" (jungle), that weeps at night... Manuel claims that he had heard her weeping one time when he was accompanying his Dad to a gold claim deep in the jungle near Pucallpa...

Another story he first didn´t want to tell us because he prefered his Mum to tell us was the sad and touching story of his aunt Blanquita. When his mum was still a little girl and living in a village close to Cusco, one day, her sister Blanca didn´t return home for lunch. They searched for her but couln´t find her. She returned at night, crying. When her mother tried to wash her tears of she discovered that they were blood... Little Blanca than told them that she had met a beautiful lady, all dressed in white in the fields. The lady had counted her hair and asked her, why some of it was missing... Blanca thought that this lady was her really mother and at night went out to find her. When she returned later on and went to bed - she died. This, Manual said, is the true story of his aunt Blanquita, who met the Virgin Mary in the fields and died the same day... it gave us creeps!

Of course we wanted to hear more stories and Manuel told us about Padre Santo of Cusco, a priest who gave money, food and drinks to all who asked him, nobody knew where he got it from... he kept it all under his soutane! Another true story, Manuel swore, is the one of a man who got lost in the catacombs of the San Domingo church in Cusco and reappeared during mass carrying a huge lump of gold - then breaking down and dying right there from the ammonium evaporating from the gold...

Both Manuel and Alberto knew stories of haunted houses and bewitched places, carrying negative energies dating back to crimes and misfortunates of centuries ago...

We could have stayed in "La Boveda" for hours sharing legends, stories... but Alberto had to prepare for his big day at Casa Verde and Manuel was still suffering the aftermaths of the weekend. Alberto and I went for lunch and both agreed on how lucky we were to meet an interesting and open person like Manuel!