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!

Frogs, fog and football


Unfortunately on my third day in the Colca valley it was very cloudy, foggy and also pretty cold. I spend the morning and early afternoon reading in my room - Elisban checked on me every now and then and send some hot coca tea :-) I started reading my new book on Macchu Picchu and it was amazing as some things around me seemed to make more sense once I read about them. For example the terraces around Cabanaconde date back to pre-Inca times and are build exactly as described in the book with different layers of soil and walls and canals to keep them from slipping during rainy season. Also the architecture described in my book can still be found in Cabanaconde - windows which are wider at the base than at the top and niches in the walls used for storing goods and tools... It seems that the legacy of the Inca can still be found - not only in the ruins of Macchu Picchu and the like but in everyday life all over Peru. Its very fascinating reading about it and then discovering traces of this legacy close to you!

After lunch I went down to the Plaza de Armas to buy some water and write some mails in the only cyber cafe. I read my mails and started to chat a bit on msn when Jeremy arrived. Jeremy is 6 years old and veru curious. First he wanted to know with whom I was talking and then he wanted to see pictures. I showed him some pictures of me and my friends in Brazil but he didn´t seem to be satisfied. "Is this your bofriend?", "Where is your boyfriend?" - only 6 years old, little Jeremy already asked the typical question of all Peruvian men I´ve met before. But Jeremy was not only interested in romantical issues - he also showed great interested in the economical side of life: "How much did you pay?", "How long will you stay in the internet and how much will you pay?". He kept on counting my open windows and then closing them, deleting the things I wrote and requesting more pictures of friends, family and most of all the "novio". Unfortunately little Jeremy also suffered some severe "winds", which made his presence a bit undelightful ;-) We chatted a bit more about his school and his friends and then I gave up on using the internet and went back to my book.

In the evening Elisban recruited the kitchen staff for another round of volley and later on, football - one of the guys still wearing his waiter uniform of white shirt and black pants and vest. The football pitch looked quite professional, as they had small iron goals and put on a little floodlight to lighten up the backyard. Unfortunately it was so foggy that at times even with the floodlight you couldn´t see much. Right next to the hotel is the local public phone and usually around 6-7pm there are usually little groups of people calling their loved ones outside the valley or waiting for incoming calls. Most of the women wear their beautiful embroidered dresses and woolen blankets against the cold. It was hilarious to see how they kicked the ball back when it ended up in their direction! It reminded me of a documentation I had seen on arte where Bolivian women in fluffy dresses and bowler hats played football! But they also enjoyed our game very much, especially when the cook fell in the flowerbed or the ball woke up the decrepit dog.

After a more entertaining than athletic match the guys suggested a round of "sapo". The sapo or frog game is a typical Peruvian game from the Andean reagion dating back to the times of the Inca. The legend says that the game envolved from members of the royal Inca family and their court throwing golden coins into the lake Titikaka. Frogs were known for their magical powers so the players hoped to attract one´s attraction. The Incas believed that if a frog came to the surface of the lake and took a golden coin in its mouth, the player would be awarded with a wish and the frog would turn into solid gold.

The Sapo Game nowadays consists of a wooden box with holes on top. Some of those holes have metal spinners on top. In the middle of the top of the box sits the golden frog with an open mouth. Each of the holes lead to a different "drawer" - each of them having a different score. The mouth of the frog leads to the maximum score of 5000 points. Each player gets 12 metal tokens and the goal of the game is to throw these tokens into the holes reaching a maximum pointage.

The game is really entertaining but due to the cold my fingers where so numb that I barely managed to hold the tokens - not to think of throwing them anyway near the frog! ;-) The kitchen staff team won (a bottle of beer) and we went inside to unfreeze and have dinner. Elisban and I stayed up until midnight sharing "chistes picantes" (dirty jokes) and discovering that they were the same ones in Peru and Germany only with slight modifications. Later on we turned to more serious subjects like relationships, families, destiny... As I had to get up pretty early the next morning to catch the bus back to Arequipa we skipped the Chuchuhuasi and I went to sleep in my warm and confy room :-) Once again I congratulated myself on my decision to switch hostels - but also knew that it would be sad to say goodbye the next morning as I had not only found a warm and safe place to stay but also nice company and a good friend for life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blessed


The next morning I woke up at 6am, totally refreshed and rested. In the reception area played classical music and together with the cold air it felt like christmas. Elisban joined me for breakfast and promised to take me to some "miradores", watch points to see the canyon, in Cabanaconde. I asked him about horses for rent and he said he would take me there after breakfast.

In the morning sun Cabanaconde looked much friendlier than the day before. There was a lot of business going on - little girls taking their sheeps to graze, grandmothers carrying logs home from the hills... I was thinking of taking some pictures as they really looked very pituresque, just like the Peru you see on the cover of guide books! But then I decided not to do it - I guess I would not have been happy myself if some peruvians with cameras sneaked into our office in the LAC and taking pictures of us at work! So I decided to be respectful and just save the pictures in my head.

When we got to the guy who rents out horses Elisban ordered two horses and a guide. When I asked him who the second person would be, he said that he would come with me. We used the time they needed to get the horses ready to go to the first mirador - the view on the canyon is just amazing and I was lucky to see a condor sailing on the thermics of the canyon. I didn´t know that they can´t actually fly - they sail just like a glider! So if you have any passion for flying you can´t help but be amazed of this majestic bird. Its just incredibly beautifull. The view on the canyon and the condor left me speechless and I felt very blessed. Especially as I had the possibiliy to enjoy this scenery in a nice company and not with a hundred gringos taking pictures around me. Yamil had told me that in the high season up to 100 tour busses arrive at the Cruz del Condor - resulting in about 200 gringos per condor, I guess!

Half an hour later the guide arrived with the horses at the hotel and we took off to a two hour ride around Cabanaconde and to another view point of the canyon. There where some clouds moving towards Cabanaconde from the other side of the canyon and you could thunderstorm in the distance - "the soundtrack of nature", as Elisban put it. The athmosphere was just incredible! We were lucky that it didn´t start raining and enjoyed wonderfull views of the canyon.

After lunch we decided to play volley with the kitchen staff. We put up a rope as "net" and drew a field with chalk on the ground in front of the hotel. It was quite foggy and started raining - but we kept onplaying. After a couple of games we where still at tie so we had to play one more, just another more... at the end we where all soaked and dirty - it must have been quite a funny sight! Unfortunately the ball fall into a barbed wire fence or some kind of spike and was losing more and more air. When it was too weak to play anymore we decided to make use of one of the empty superior suites and jumped into the whirlpool to warm up and relaxed. As we didn´t know that you have to fill itup with water first we put on the whirl function too early and covered the whole place in foam and water. So it was not very relaxing - but very funny :-)

Later on we played cards, forgot the time and I was locked out of the main building, where the reception and my room was, and had to sleep in the staff room.

All in all a perfect day - nearly too much for one day! Only 24 hours earlier I had arrived in a cold and foggy little village having no idea what to do and now I had made new friends, seen so much beauty and feeling very much at home. I just felt very, very blessed!

Welcome to the Hotel Condor

Well, when I wrote "What a day" - the day was not over yet - the best was yet to come. When I got back to my hostel room the air was freezing and damp and the windows didn´t really close. I inspected the blankets and they didn´t look like they would be much of a help. Even worse, when I closed the curtains to block the cold air a bit off a family of flies came rushing out of the crinkles of the curtains. I decided that I would not stay the night in a place like that and risk pneumonia or some kind of pig flue, so I took off to find a better place or take the last bus back to Arequipa. I remembered that Rossio from the travel agency in Arequipa had given me a brochure of a nice looking 3 star hotel, the Kuntur Wassi and I went off to try my luck. The hotel happened to be right around the corner but looked very dark and out of order. When I was about to leave and go back to the bus station someone came out and asked me if I needed help. It turned out that he was the manager of the hotel and sure, they had free rooms. I told him that I had a big problem with the cold and he promised me a little electrical heater and additional blankets. As the rooms are very big and nice I decided to stay the night, even though the price of 35 USD was way over my budget. But the Kuntur Wassi is a very nice place, rustic and homely, I decided that it was a better option than taking the 9pm bus back to Arequipa - another 6 hours on bumpy roads and arriving in the middle of the night.Especially after Yamil had showed me an article in the local newspaper saying that there have been 3 muggins of foreigners in pirate taxis in Arequipa!

The hotel manager, Elisban, invited me to join him for a drink and I accepted. The hotel also has a kitchen and I ordered some soup to warm me up. I was joined by Marco, the former cook of the Kuntur Wassi and business man, who has various restaurants in the valley and Elisban. They told me a lot about the Colca valley, its traditions and history, the local fiestas, dances, drinks and food... I especially liked the story of a dance called Wititi where the men dress up as women. The dance goes back to a legend of a poor peasant who fell in love with a rich man´s daughter. Of course the father of the girl was against the union and so the guy dressed up as awomen to dance with the girl in the local fiesta. (I found the dance on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytFuMkQW1i8&feature=related )
Elisban also gave me a lot of information on Cusco and the Titikaka region - on roads less travelled and community tourism. I will definately make use of these recommendations!

When I told them that I would leave the next day, Elisban invited me to stay some longer - offering me a 50% discount of the room price, because I, as he put it, "adorned the hotel". It seemed that there where not many guests right now and I was the only girl - apart from the staff, of course.

We talked and talked... about cultural differences, genetically modified food, respect for nature, pachamama and spiritual places in Peru... I absolutely enjoyed the conversation and congratulated myself of my decision to change hotels.

Elisban then invited us to a drink from the jungle region of Peru, made of a tree bark and supposedly having medical powers. It tastes like tree but quite nice actually. I think its called something like Chuchuhuasi. I wrote it down but lost the paper ;-) The funniest bit was, that the drink who was homemade by Elisbans aunt came in a huge bottle of about 5 liters - the biggest bottle I have ever seen. We joked about waking up the next morning with a huge headache and saying "my, it was just one bottle" ;-).

Around midnight I finally went back to my room, put the heater next to the bed, put on my hooded sweater and went to sleep.
The Kuntur Wassi Hotel from the "mirador" tower of the second building:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Colca - Condors and Coca

What a day! I just got back to my hostel in Cabanaconde after approxmately 8 cups of coca tea, two bowls of hot soup and a short walk through the thickest fog I have ever seen! Its pretty cold in the internet cafe but there is this cute little boy with a woolen hat and dirty face that helps me press "enter" and warms my heart :-)

This morning I left Arequipa by bus at 6:00. The first hour on the bus was pretty depressing - a lot of rubbish on the side of the road, no green, houses that seemed to going to break down any minute... but after leaving the greater Arequipa area and entering the mountains everything changed! On the right you could see the snowtopped El Misti vulcano and on the left side I spottet the first vicuñas - the wild cousin of the llama! The mountains got higher, the villages smaller and less frequent... the view from the bus alone was worth the trip! Unfortunately I really had to go to the toilet but there was none on the bus, neither did it stop for a bathroom break. I was already contemplating all possible solutions - from getting of the bus and waiting for the next one to just letting my bladder explode. Thank God the beautiful landscape destracted me a bit and I made it to the town of Chivay without accident! The second the bus door opened I raced to the "servicios higienicos" of the bus terminal - and still made it back to the bus before departure. From Chivay on I enjoyed the landscape much more ;-). And not just the landscape seemed to be out of a Peru tourism brochure - also the people seemed to be paid by the local tourism industry: women in colourfull embroidered hats, velvet vests and big skirts boarded the bus - some of them with a pretty baby in a scarf on their back. Others were working in the fields or riding donkeys, nearly all in traditional clothes! The trip to Cabanaconde is quite exhausting - 6 hours on pretty bumpy roads (which seem even bumpier if you suffer from a full bladder ;-)) - but definately worth it!

Stil, when I arrived in Cabanaconde I was pretty tired and too lazy to look around long for a hostel, I picked the first one I found on plaza de armas. Its not the Ritz - but at 10 Soles (not even 2,50 Euro) there is nothing to complain about. And it has a great view on the pig stall and its inhabitants - "vista del chancho",in Spanish.

After refreshing a bit I took off to explore Cabanaconde. Its a tiny village - its only difference to other villages on the way is its proximity to the Canyon and to the Cruz del Condor, the famous view point from where you can see the condors fly over the Canyon. There are no restaurants or cafes so I was happy to see that one of the hostels, Hostel del Valle de Fuego, offers food and drink as well. I went in - its quite rustic with an open fire and a stone bar - and decided to have a mate de coca and read a bit in my new book about Macchu Picchu. There was one more guest - a Swiss guy who spoke German and told me about their disastrous attempt to climb the Ampato - a 6000m peak near Cabanaconde. They left yesterday but decided to give up the ascent as the material supplied by the tour agency was desastrous - both tents collapsed and flooded and the food they had taken tasted of cat food or worse. He told me about some other tours they had done in Ecuador and in Peru - and he explained in detail how the wife of on e of their guides had prepared cuy for them. He was also able to anwer my question of how they get the hair of the furry cuys - just soak them in hot water and the hair will fall out. Not very appetizing but it stilled my curiosity - I had always imagined the indigenas shaving the cuy!

After the cuy story I felt that I needed some more coca tea and also asked the guy at the bar about what the time would be best to see the condors and avoid the crowds. From the subject of condors we got to the canyon, to Cusco, to stupid guides, to gringas falling for the wrong peruanos... Yamil is about 35 years old, has shaggy dark hair and a beard and is pretty funny! He told me how the Cusqueño guides all invent cooler Inca sounding names, usually Quechua words for Sun, Moon Wind and how this impresses some of the "gringas". It started raining and I spent the whole afternon chatting to Yamil, helping him lite the open fire and drinking heaps of coca tea. Yamil has this really quirky senseof humour: when thefoggot thicker and the open fire started smoking he commented "Looks like London,right", adding some seconds later "...after the Germans bombed it, ofcourse". Later on some Spanish and Czech tourists joined us and decidedto have a litteparty later on. The place is pretty nice and I think I will move there tomorrow for my second night in the Colca Valley.

Oups, my dirty little friend is not happy any morw with pressing the enter button and started deleting what I just wrote. I'll get some rest now and then get back to the other hostel - Yamil promised me fried bananas and some stories of his life. Both sound promising!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Encounters

Yesterday when we were looking for a simple and cheap place to eat we stumpled over a chinese restaurant offering all kinds of soups, rice dishes and "aeropuerto". According to the Spanish-English dictionary an "aeropuerto" of course is an airport. But how does it end up on a menu? We suspected it to be a roasted flight attendents butt in a cerosene sauce or something the like - not very yummy, by all means! If somebody knows what it is - please enlight us!

Apart from the aeropuerto there have been so many funny and strange encounters during the last two weeks - Alberto is writing hours and hours everyday in his notebook not to forget any of these. But it seems that he can´t keep up his writing - every night he stays up later to fill page upon page of his (3rd!) notebook. It´s a pity he writes in Italian - I would love to copy some of his accounts - I guess they must be hilarious!

One of the cutest encounters was definately meeting Pablo and his Mum in Lima. On our last night in Lima we were looking for a bus going to Miraflores and asked a young Mum for help. She happened to go to the same direction and as we had to wait quite some time for the next bus she asked us about our experience in Lima and recommended us many museums and places to visit. Her little son Pablo, 4 years old, a bit chubby but very cute, wearing a jeans overall and a red cap just looked us with big brown eyes. When his Mum told us about a theater in downtown Lima he said "I like theaters". That was the only sentence he said - so it must have been very important to him! Alberto gave him a red clown´s nose and Pablo kept it on all the way. A very serious little guy - but very cute!

An encounter of a very different kind was meeting Paul, an 40-50is tall and blond American living in Medellin. Alberto had met him in one of the - or I guess it was in THE bar in Pisco, as there is just one, after our tour to the Ballestas and Paracas. He must already have had a couple of piscos and cervezas and by the time he got to our hotel to pick us up to go out at night he was "bien mareado", as the lovely gentleman who runs the hostel put it. Unfortunately he immediately took a liking to me and told everybody about a hundred times that he thought "the German girl" was the best, the hottest and whatever. Our host got really worried about Paul and suggested us to call one of his friends who has a taxi and send him back to his hostel which happened to be in another village, 10km from Pisco. Thank God Paul had his key with him - he himself had no idea where he was staying! And Pisco being infamous for its crime rate we didn´t think it to be a good idea to leave him to himself. When we walked to the city center together the fresh air and exercise sobered him up a bit and he told us of his Colombian wife who was in his words a "f... nut" due to hormonal imbalance and refusing to take any medication. He also told us about his work and guess what - he had been a controller and auditor before moving to Colombia 4 years ago. Thank God I gave up being a controller - who knows, I might have ended up like Paul, drinking my way through South America and telling everybody about the greatness of "that German girl" and the nutritional value of German beer! Anyhow, after telling us some funny stories about living in Colombia and some more beer he fell asleep on the table, snoring, and we decided to call the taxista our host had recommended to ship him home. The next day everybody at the hostel told us that this was the right thing to do as any other taxista for sure would have dumped him somewhere and left with his camera and money. So meeting Paul was definately one of the "encounters" Alberto spend sleepless nights over writing it down!

And then there was Pepe. Pepe and his Heart. But thats a story for tomorrow, otherwise I´ll end up like Alberto, spending sleepless nights writing down "encounters" ;-)

The Art of Traveling

After visiting the amazing Santa Catalina Monastery this morning I was so full of impressions that I decided to spend the afternoon as "tranquilo" as possible and prepare for my next destinations. I bought a small backpack for 1-day hikes and a jacket against the cold and rain I fear I have to face in order to see the marvels of Macchu Picchu and Lake Titikaka. Later in the afternoon I went in search of the local post office to ship home some souvenirs I bought during the last days and which I didn´t want to carry all over South America. The lady at the post office was a model of inefficiency but after a lot of back and forth my hand woven wool blanket and knitted little llama are now on their way to France :-) Not to forget 10 GB of pictures ;-)

Next I wanted to get my bus ticket to Cusco which I had decided to change form the 15th to the 16th to spend two more nights in the Colca Canyon. On the way to the travel agency a very well assorted little book store caught my eye... and 10 minutes later I left with 100 soles less - and very happy, looking forward to hours and hours of happy reading!

The first book that caught my eye and immediately convinced me was "The art of traveling" (but in Spanish, mind you ;-)) on how to be happy while traveling. Even though I think I pretty much master the art of traveling this book still comes in handy ;-)

The second book I bought is "The pilgrim" by Paulo Coelho - a book I have wanted to read for a long time. Every journey is a pilgrimage - or can be one if you open your eyes and heart. So I guess this book is good travel literature, too.

The third book somehow jumped on me while I was already paying for the other two ones - Hiram Binghams account of the discovery of Macchu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. I guess reading this classic will make a big difference to my upcoming visit and will prove more valuable than going on one of the usual "mass rapid tours".

I spend a good part of the afternoon in the "Casa Verde Cafe" we discovered on our first day in Arequipa and then went in search of bus tickets to the Colca canyon. There a re a million of tour agencies in the historic center of Arequipa and I was a bit reluctant to enter one being afraid that they would want to sell me a all inclusive tour instead of just a bus ticket. I have heard so many accounts of aggressive guides and tourist traps in Peru that I was kind of expecting the worst - but should learn just another lesson of "The Art of Traveling".

A little travel agency called "Alpacactus" in calle Jerusalem had a sign outside saying that they sell bus tickets to Chivay and Cabanaconde in the Colca valley and I decided to try my luck. The girl at the counter, Rossio, about my age, was all smiles and very chatty so I was expecting to be confronted with some glossy leaflets on tours and hotels soon. But I was so wrong - she advised me to just book a bus ticket and then ask around in Cabanaconde for a local guide or someone who might like to show me around for a tip. She gave me heaps of information on the Colca canyon, on how to get there, what to bring, how to save money... She collected all the maps and brochures she could find in the office and recommend me a lot of lovely things you can do and see for free. She was so helpfull and nice I would have loved to book anything with her but she told me, it would be much cheaper to go to Cabanaconde and book it there with a local. She gave me one of her winning smiles and told me that I should not worry about spending much and that "it is all about conversation and interacting" - so true! I guess with all her good advise in mind I will have a great time in the Canyon.

I will leave tomorrow morning at 6am to arrive around noon and then spend the afternoon hiking or relaxing in the hot springs. On Friday I would love to see the condors and maybe spend another day in Chivay, capital of the Colca region. On Saturday I have to get back to Arequipa to take the night bus to Cusco.

Today definately was a day full of lessons on the "Art of Traveling" - and another step on my pilgrimige - to Macchu Picchu and to being happy :-) Can´t wait to get back to the hostel to enjoy my books - just have to decide where to begin! :-)

Monasterio Santa Catalina


Today we visited the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a cloistered convent which is like a city inside the city. It consists of various buildings, courtyards and alleys and you can spend hours and hours walking around, contemplating the various murals and paintings or just sitting down and enjoying the silence in one of the renovated cells or little backyards. It was build only 40 years after the Spaniards arrived, in 1580 and was enlarged in the 17th century - now measuring over 20,000 square meters.

The founder of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter religious service, and the convent accepted only women from high-class Spanish families. Each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the convent, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's entrance to the convent, and the dowry owed to gain the highest status, indicated by wearing a black veil, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to US$50,000 today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.

In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of remaining as nuns or leaving. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant, and amazingly of the skeleton of a baby being discovered encased in a wall. This, in fact, did not happen in Santa Catalina, and there are rumours of the same story in the nearby Santa Rosa convent, as well.

The convent once housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. It was opened to the public in 1970, when the nuns opened their doors to tourism to pay for the installation of electricity and running water, as required by law. The restoration has been done very well - just enought to preserve the beauty of the place without being too touristy or "Disneylandish".

We were lucky as the sun was shining all the time and the convent became a "kingdom of light" as Alberto put it - perfect for taking pictures and enjoying the colours, paintings and shadows of the various alleys and courtyards. We also enjoyed a "real" espresso at the little cafe of the monastery - which has a great menu of cold and hot "sins" and "temptations" ;-)


Charlie and the Mariachis

Since leaving Nazca Alberto´s fame as Charlie Garcia has abruptly stopped. No more stares, no more shouts of "Hey Charlie" on the streets and no more jokes about his ressemblance to the Argentinian rockstar. Even though Alberto had been a bit pissed off about the many admirers at first, I now had the impression that he was missing his fame and the jokes and conversations that accompanied it. We were also wondering if Arequipeños don´t know Charlie Garcia, don´t notice the likeness or just don´t bother enough to voice it...

Yesterday night when walking back to the hostel after a yummy late night dinner I decided to check if our usual internet cafe was still open and if so look up some information about the Colca Canyon, tours to the Manu reserve and maybe write a couple of emails. Alberto offered to accompany me. When we reached the internet cafe we saw that it was still open but that the staff was having a party, music drinks and a band of Mariachi included. The girl who usually works there waved us in and when we stepped in to see if the intrenet was still working one of the Mariachis shouted "Hey, Charlie Garcia" and everybody started laughing and asking for a song! But I guess the ones who laughed most where Charlie, oups, Alberto and me! Just when we had given up on Charlie he had been saved by a Mariachi ;-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Running to Rio

Well, since yesterday there is another reason for me to run to Rio as fast as possible ;-) Bill bought a longboard for me and finally, finally, finally one of my longtime dreams and items on my "things to do before I get fat and old" (even fatter, I mean ;-)) will come true: learning to surf!

I have the teacher, the longboard and the waves all waiting for me in Rio- so I guess its just me, who is missing ;-)

Arequipa, city of good coffee

This morning we arrived very early in Arequipa, the "white city" in the south of Peru. We picked a hostel from the Lonely Planet recommendations (Tumi de Oro) and it turned out to be a good choice - close to the Plaza de Armas and full of character. The decorations in my room definately give room for thought - peruvian artefacts and a tennis racket on the bathroom wall!? I am still trying to make a connection - after the Nazca lines this should be an easy one ;-) It is run by an elderly couple - actually they are so old that I suggested to Alberto that we might ask them about the Nazca lines. And without kidding, when the lady asked me if I had already visited the mummy "Juanita" it sounded like she was talking about a friend. Her husband, a very lovely elderly gentleman, immediately took a liking to Alberto when he heard that he is from Italian. He told us about his love for Italy and Italian music, especially Paganini! So Alberto got his first hug of the day and we took off to explore Arequipa!

Our first destination was the "Cafe Casa Verde", part of a social project helping street kids and orphans. Alberto is planning a film project about those kind of projects and therefore was very interested in this place. And it was definately a good starting point for exploring Arequipa - very comfy and quiet and with the best chocolate cake in South America or maybe even the whole southern hemisphere ;-)

Anyhow, I have to confess that on the way to the Cafe Casa Verde we got side trapped in one of the numerous craft shops and I ended up buying a scarf and two embroiedered belts and Alberto bought a little bag for his camera and a hat. Well, and I reserved a handwoven blanket which would look very good on my couch... guess I´ll get it tomorrow, even though my backpack is already looking very pregnant! ;-) Another menace to the wellbeing of my backpack are the numerous and very well assorted book stores...

After hanging out at the internet for some time we spend the better part of the afternoon in a little restaurant called "Fez". Its in a typical colonial building and has a very lovely backyard and even better food! We enjoyed yummy hummus and warm arab bread, falafel and an incredible delicious crepe with apples and para nuts for "postre"! And real coffee - the one which is made of real coffee beans and smells and tastes like coffee ;-) Not the Nescafe instant thing that only shares the colour with real coffee. And it should not be the last coffee of the day - we soon stumbled over "Cusco Coffee", a peruvian version of Starbucks, laid back and high quality coffee! We are muy feliz and contento :-)
Actually we both like Arequipa that we think of staying for longer. Alberto would love to find out more about the Casa Verde project and I´d love to improve my Spanish in one of the many Spanish schools. I´d like to improve my grammar but hope not to lose my Portuguese accent which makes everybody think I am from Brazil ;-) Somehow the prejudices one encounters are much nicer that way ;-) Taxi drivers usually will ask you if you dance samba and waer g-strings on the beach. If they think you are from good old Germany they usually assume you are loaded and / or a cheap skate. Some know about Bayern Munich and many think Germany is full of racists who enjoy beating up latino students on the weekend. So you will understand that I am not planning on giving up my Brazilian accent and prefer the g-string version to being a rich racist ;-)

So "Adeus" for now, I will go back to the hostel now and practise some samba moves ;-)