Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 16 and FINAL: From Suasi to Lima and Coming Home

Saturday, August 9, 2014

While Genene and Greg slept snugly in their warm beds at Suasi Island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, I went out early chasing the morning light. I am still a rank amateur with my camera, but I am learning that one key to getting a good shot is being willing to wake up early and stay out late. Morning light and evening light can be magical. On this morning, I was rewarded. The morning colors were even prettier than last night’s sunset. I was all alone on the walking path, and it was a good morning to commune with nature.

I was greeted on the path by a chinchilla:

The sunrise filled the sky with pinks and oranges:
I love the way the sunlight danced on the neighboring islands:
I heard something make a noise that was almost like a whistle. I turned to look and saw the vicuña sticking its head out of the tall grass:
Then I saw two:
And then three:
And finally four! They looked at me.
The looked away.
And they headed out.
It was a treat just for me. Chalk up another point on the plus side of being an insomniac!
I headed up toward the high point of the island, just as we had all done as a group the night before.
The sun continued to rise, casting warm colors on the island and the lake waters.
 
The sleepyheads continue to snore down below:
I am all alone on the path back to the hotel:
I wish there had been more time to explore the flower gardens…..
and lounge in the chairs….
The lobby where we spent a delightful evening telling riddles and jokes with our new friends:
Everyone must have retrieved their phones and iPads from the chargers as last night wore on.
The hotel is beautifully constructed using locally available materials:
I went back to our room to find my sleeping beauty still snuggled with Andrea the Andean alpaca. (Greg was there too but doesn’t look nearly as pretty while sleeping.):
The view from our bedroom window was beautiful. I wish there had been more time to spend here.
 

 

Our trip to Suasi Island was truly a whirlwind. We had breakfast at the hotel and were packed and ready to go at 9:00 AM. We traded emails and Facebook contact information with Bob and Cynthia and the kids and wished them well. We also visited with a couple who live in Thailand. We are already thinking of next year’s adventure. Genene wants to knock another continent off her bucket list, and we are thinking that Angkor Wat in Cambodia may be next summer’s destination. The couple from Thailand gave us some tips on a travel agency and a suggested itinerary. By the way, I am quite proud of Genene and jealous of her too. I did not take my first airplane ride until I was on a callback interview my second year of law school. At age 10, Genene has been to four continents and nine countries. She’s quite the traveler!

Our tour operator had arranged for us to have private transport off the island and back to the Juliaca airport, but we did not realize exactly what that would entail. The hotel guide told us that our transport had arrived and so walked back down the hill while the staff brought all our gigantic bags via the 4-wheeler. At the water’s edge, one last surprise was waiting: our private transport off the island was a zodiac! Greg was instantly excited and exclaimed, “Far out!” (This is exactly the same expression he used when my water broke with Genene. He is truly an old, reformed hippie.) The zodiac made me smile because I remember having to carry one on our shoulders when we were all in SEAL PT together years ago. I can remember Jack Walston saying, “You better not drop my boat!!” It was about a 15 minute ride across the smooth waters of Lake TIticaca to the mainland.

The bags rode up front while we people took the back:
Greg smiled all the way:
Land Ho!! You can see the pier and above it, our car awaits:
Greg and Genene had to touch the water. It was very cold. How cold was it? My Arkansas friends will understand this reference: it was colder than the Little Missouri at Camp Albert Pike.
The boat pilots and driver manhandled our bags down the pier:

It was a two hour car ride from the shore to Juliaca. We drove through several small villages. I knew this would be our last drive through the countryside of Peru, so I pretended to be a photojournalist and tried to capture the people and scenes.

People keep alpaca in their yards:

Sheep and cows walked in the road.

Getting ready to fish:
We saw politicians’ advertisements painted on the sides of buildings, walls, any flat surface….
She stared at me. I stared at her.
Everyone is going about their day. The old….
The young….
When I was a kid, vacations were road trips in the good old USA. I was prone to car sickness, and so my parents tried to keep me looking forward and out to the horizon. One of our favorite road games was called, “See It!” The object is to be the first to spot the diamond-shaped yellow highway signs and shout, “See it!” Each sign is worth a point, and if you call one incorrectly, a point is deducted. We have introduced Genene to the game, and she begs to play it any time we are all out on the open road.
See it!
See it!
It is election season in Peru. We were amazed at how many buildings were painted with political messages. “Alcalde” (seen below) means “Mayor.”
People use all kinds of transportation:
 
“Born to be wild!”
“Looking for adventure! Whatever comes my way!”
Not all the lakes and streams were pristine. Can you see the trash floating in this water? Can you see the people sifting and sorting through it?
It was market day in this village.
 
The people of Peru have cultivated potatoes for hundreds of years. There are 3,000 varieties grown.

 

Our driver dropped us off at the Juliaca airport with plenty of time to make our flight. The hotel had packed us a hearty boxed lunch, which we enjoyed while waiting for takeoff.

 

 

I have tried many drinks that are flavored with passion fruit, but I do not recall ever having tried a passion fruit until now. Each of our box lunches contained one, and we had to ask the guy sitting next to us what it was. It was easy to peel and very sweet and refreshing and wet. The inside reminded me of a pomegranate with all the seeds, but these seeds were edible. I love discovering new things to eat!

 

Greg and Genene had seats together on the plane, while I was sitting a few rows back beside a Belgian family. I struck up friendly conversation with them. They were also ending their trip and going home. They had hiked the Inca Trail and had their fair share of problems. Of their group of nine, every single one of them got sick at some point during the four-day journey, mostly with gastric issues. (I would be angry at the tour operator if I were them.) One of their daughters had to be carried off the trail on the back of a mule and did not complete the journey. The father was glad they had done it and felt some sense of accomplishment, but I am not sure the experience lived up to the billing for him. When we were cooling our heels with Carlos in Cusco, he had told us that in his 10 years of acting as an Inca Trail guide, he had to carry clients out ON HIS BACK more than once. I cannot imagine it. Carlos was not a big man. I feel a little wistful that we missed the trail, but when I hear stories like this, I smile and think of how much I enjoyed that train ride to Machu Picchu!

We got to Lima on time at 3:00 PM. We had an 8 hour layover in Lima and did not want to hang out in the airport. We had called rock star operations director Carla and asked for help, and as usual, she delivered. She had arranged dinner reservations for us in Miraflores, the oceanside neighborhood in Lima. The Enigma representative was waiting for us at the airport in Lima. He helped us store our bags at the Ramada, the same hotel where we began our stay when we arrived. He put us in a cab bound for a restaurant named Cala and advised us to be finished with dinner by 8:00 PM and start heading back.

We got to Cala very early and took a walk on the breakwater. The day was gray and cloudy but the temperature was very comfortable.

 
Greg got the brilliant idea that he wanted Genene to “touch the Pacific” since this was her first time to see it. Greg and Genene began to clamber down the breakwater to get to the water. For once I did not nag, even though it was crystal clear to me that this was a dumb idea. I simply watched as those two knuckleheads scrambled down to “touch the Pacific.” They didn’t touch it. It touched them! As soon as they got down to the water’s edge, a huge wave broke over the rocks and soaked Greg.
They quickly rejoined me at the top.
Brilliant, Greg! Now you have to go to dinner and ride the airplane in that!
The view of Cala from the breakwater.
 
 
 
Genene wanted to try again to touch the Pacific, and this time, she went to the shore to get it done.
She got splashed again!
We watched the surfers riding the waves.
“Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world!”
I am still trying to learn to take pictures of birds on the wing.
This fellow sat on the lifeguard stand and scanned the water.
Genene carried Andrea everywhere.
Teenagers doing what teenagers do on the beach:
We are ready to have a classy dinner at a nice restaurant.
Having gotten our fill of the sea air, the sea sand and the sea foam, we headed inside Cala. We really cut a dashing profile. Greg and Genene were sandy and wet, and they were both hauling daypacks loaded with gear. I had my safari camera daypack, which weighs a ton and is about the size of a Fiat. It was hard to tuck all that gear away under our table so that we did not trip other dining patrons.
Genene enjoyed an Inca Cola, and we had a great view of the Pacific out the dining room window.
 

Cala is a seafood restaurant. Lima is known for ceviche, and we indulged. I chose a classic recipe with the lime cooked fish. I took the photo with an iPhone, and I am annoyed because it’s blurry. I’m including it anyway because this was the most delicious thing we had.

We also got some seared fish, beautifully prepared.

 

Greg got some octopus. Everything was fabulous, and it was all fresh from the sea. (My friend Melissa Kilpatrick once had a waiter whose response to any question about the freshness of the seafood was “Oh yes. It slept in the bay last night!”) Greg decided to abandon any notion of moderation on this evening. He even drank a beer. What the heck!

I got a healthy energy drink for dessert.

Our Enigma representative told us that the restaurant would be happy to call us a cab, and they were. However, a little confusion ensued. When we told our cabbie that we wanted to go to the airport, he pawned us off on another cabbie. The second guy charged us 70 soles to take us back to the airport. (Our ride from the airport had cost 55 so we knew we were getting the tourist treatment.) Then the guy tried to claim he did not have proper change and tried to give me back 20 soles change on a 100 sole bill. No sir. We dug around until we found the exact change. No tip for you, man!

We made it through all the security checks and immigration stops with plenty of time to spare. Our flight left at 11:50 PM, and we were tired and ready to settle into our seats. For once, I was the good sleeper. I think I was just relieved. I wasn’t worried about Greg anymore and we were headed HOME. Greg got about 2 hours of sleep on the 6 1/2 hour flight, and Genene got at least 4 hours.

We arrived in Houston at 6:30 AM. Thankfully the line through immigration was short, and we got a very friendly officer for a change. She even noticed that it was Greg’s birthday and wished him a happy day. We are suckers and always answer the questions on the customs forms truthfully. There’s a question about whether you have been in close contact with livestock, and since we rode horses, we had to answer that one “yes.” In the past, that answer has usually gotten us sent to a special room to have our shoes decontaminated, but this year, they waved us through without any of that.

We caught a cab, and the guy nearly had a wreck messing around with his Garmin before we even left the airport. It would have been a little ironic to go around the world, have medical adventures, go ziplining, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and hiking and then have a car crash on the way home! Anyway, he kept it between the ditches (just barely) and got us to our front doorstep by 7:30 AM.

Genene ran upstairs immediately and found Senior. She brought him downstairs and put him on the kitchen counter beside Andrea, so that Andrea could tell Senior about all that he missed. I spent all day washing clothes and unpacking. I must return to work tomorrow, so the house must be ready.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

I like to wrap up my blog with some parting thoughts. I try to journal everything, but invariably things get left out and I try to slip them in at the end.

I know I have alluded to the coca leaves and coca tea, but I am not sure I have really talked about them. I was a little bit afraid to say too much while I was still in Peru, for fear that some overzealous customs person might read the blog and give me a hard time on re-entering the country (I know that sounds paranoid, but on the other hand, you never know who is watching these days.). Coca leaves in all forms are banned in the United States because coca leaves can be processed into coca paste and then into cocaine. Coca leaves are perfectly legal in Peru and can be found everywhere. Coca tea is served at breakfast in every hotel, and coca leaves sit in baskets on most serving tables so that you can add them to your tea or chew them. The coca leaf is a mild stimulant, much like caffeine. Peruvians swear by the leaves as a remedy for altitude sickness, although our American travel doctors had cautioned us that they could not recommend it. I think the travel doctors are required to spout the party line and cannot recommend anything that is not legal in the states. The people of Peru have been using them for centuries. When Greg first became ill, Carlos stopped in the market in Ollayantaytambo and bought a huge bundle of leaves and eucalyptus oil. He instructed Greg to tuck 20 leaves betweeen his cheek and gum and suck and chew on them for 20 to 30 minutes. The eucalyptus oil was to be rubbed between his hands and sniffed deeply. Of course, neither of those remedies helped Greg, and he could not really work up any ethusiasm for tucking leaves into his gums. I am an old Arkansas girl, and my grandmother dipped snuff all her life, so I was ready to try anything. On the first morning when Greg was really down for the count, I tried the 20-leaves remedy for myself. I was not sick, but as I watched Greg struggle, I knew that I did not want to GET sick and that we could not both afford to be flat on our backs. I tucked that mound of leaves between my cheek and gum and commenced to chewing. It was the only time I felt something akin to a buzz. About 15 minutes after I made my chaw, I felt a bit lightheaded. After that, I confined myself to drinking the tea and chewing a few leaves off and on all day. I never felt any altitude sickness, but I cannot say for sure whether it was the leaves, the medicine the travel doctor gave me, or just good luck.

One thing that became a running gag with me and Genene was the Simon and Garfunkel song “El Condor Pasa.” I kid you not. We heard it every day, and by the third or fourth day, it became a source of amusement. We would listen for it and give each other the ribcage elbow when we heard it played. Greg was not much help in this game, as he is tone deaf. I am reminded of the story about President Ulysses S. Grant, who was also tone deaf. He once told a reporter, “I know only two tunes; one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the other isn’t.” Greg could have said that himself. (He is only allowed to sing one song in our house–Happy Birthday.) Genene and I would be snickering in the airport because we would hear the tune, and Greg would wonder what the joke was about. “Hey, Genene, would you rather be a sparrow or a snail?” I began to suspect that this song was really not a Simon and Garfunkel original work and so I did a little research (What did we do before Google?). The tune is actually an old Andean folk song which was turned into an orchestral piece in 1913 by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles. Paul and Art changed the lyrics and covered it on their 1970 album “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and now you can hear it every day in the airports, trains and streets of Peru.

The people of Peru are smart and industrious. Even the kid in the papoose on Plaza de Armas is trying to make a buck. Their work days are very long by American standards. There is a long siesta break in midday, but work does not end until 8:00 PM. Tourism is a major industry, and Americans and Canadians are the biggest customers. The Peruvians love our dollars, but they don’t seem to know or care a lot about us. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They just seem blissfully ignorant of Americans. Their world does not completely revolve around our movies and culture, as it seems to do in so many other parts of the world. For instance, when we were in Rome and in Tanzania, we would say we were from Houston, Texas, and the response would be immediate recognition of some sort: “Texas, Yee Haw!’ or “Isn’t that where the space shuttle takes off?” or “Didn’t they shoot Kennedy there?” In Peru, when we mentioned Texas, we often got blank stares or the question, “Is that in the United States?”

The people of Peru take great pride in their Inca heritage. On more than one occasion, Greg tried to make a joke about the aliens assisting with Machu Picchu and was met with firm correction. The Peruvians do not think such jokes are funny. The Inca built these incredible structures, and their descendants are understandably proud of the accomplishment.

We loved the food, although Greg did not get to take full advantage of the wonderful spicy delights. The prices were extremely reasonable by American standards. We just got our credit card bill for our trip so we can see the conversion from soles to dollars. Our dinner at Cala, at which we ate like a king, queen and princess, respectively, cost us about half of what it would have cost in Houston and was just as delicious.

The weather on our journey was so variable. Our guides steered us right when they told us to layer. When the sun was out, it was quite warm, but that could change in a moment. When the sun went behind a mountain or cloud, it could become instantly chilly. Until now, I have never been in a place where the sun can burn you through your clothes. I often wore a long sleeved shirt all day and came home to find my back and shoulders red with sunburn. The Andean sun can be brutal.

For my shutterbug friends, I want to mention my camera gear. I carried my behemoth 50-500mm safari lens all the way to Peru and back and never put it on the camera. The much lighter 18-300mm Nikon lens served me well on the entire adventure. I never took it off the camera, except to pack and stow. The Blackrapid strap is still worth its weight in gold, and I recommend it to anyone who intends to schlep a DSLR camera around all day.

Speaking of photos, this is the last one. Genene is sleeping with Senior AND Andrea now.

I would be remiss if I did not throw one last hearty, enthusiastic shout-out to Enigma Travel http://www.enigmaperu.com/. They went above and beyond in every way. I have already described their heroic efforts elsewhere in this blog, so there is no need to repeat them here. If you are looking for a tour operator in Peru, I recommend them wholeheartedly.
Likewise, I have to give praise to World Nomads travel insurance department https://www.worldnomads.com/. Within 30 minutes of sending them an email about Greg’s health problems, they sent me forms that would be needed if we decided to leave the country early, and they put me in touch with their medical department. Their personnel called immediately and calmly guided us and reassured us that the clinic we were using was competent to treat Greg. I will be forever grateful to them for their assistance and plan to use them in all our future travels.
This trip will always been tinged with the faintest whiff of “what if.” We were all disappointed that the Inca Trail was not in the cards, and I don’t know when or if we will have the chance to try again. There’s a whole world out there, and a lot of places to see. I do not know when we will get back to Peru. That said, did I mention how much I enjoyed the train ride to Machu Picchu?! (Yes, Lori, about 50 times.) The day in Cusco with Carlos and his family was rewarding and something we will always remember fondly. We have a terrific cocktail party story about Greg’s endoscopy and have already been telling it to great hilarity. (It’s funny now!) It would have been great to come through that Sun Gate at sunrise, but we saw plenty of sunrises and sunsets along the way. We all made it home safely, something I will never take quite so easily for granted again. I blog to preserve the memories. I know that few people are interested in what we ate or how big the bathtub was. But for me, these are details that I do not want to lose with the passage of time. I can take a few minutes from my workday to read one of these blogs, and in a moment I am back there, slurping up the sweet juices of the passion fruit or savoring a deliciously roasted guinea pig or zip-lining down a mountainside or listening to Greg gag on the endoscopy tube (now that one, I could forget!).
Peru is a magical, spiritual place. One of the guides told Greg that his health difficulties were the result of the “mountains trying to cleanse him.” As we say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Greg is stronger now. Our family is stronger now. It did not turn out as expected, but it was still a great trip! Take it away, Paul and Art!

“I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes I would
If I could, I surely would……

I’d rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes I would
If I only could, I surely would…..

Away, I’d rather sail away
Like a swan that’s here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground
He gives the world its saddest sound, its saddest sound……

I’d rather be a forest than a street
Yes I would
If I could, I surely would….

I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet
Yes I would
If I only could, I surely would……”

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 15: Lake Titicaca, the floating Uros Islands, Taquile Island and Suasi Island

Friday, August 8, 2014

Insomnia has its positives and negatives. The negative part is easy to understand and needs no explanation. On the positive side, I get a lot of work done in the middle of the night. I also get to see some spectacular moonrises at 3:30 AM when everyone else is sleeping.

 

We really did not want to leave Puno. Our hotel room was the nicest one yet. There was a big full bed for Genene and a king for Greg and me. There was a small fireplace in the room and a huge hot tub in the bathroom. It was bliss. However, we had plans to see Lake Titicaca, so we enjoyed the room for the little time we had there.

Greg admires the views of Lake Titicaca and Puno from our window:

 

Departure time was 7:05 AM, and the boat would pick us up at the hotel’s private pier. The hotel staff carried all our heavy bags and loaded them on the top of the boat. We walked down the pier with our daypacks:

The boat was something like a ferry.

 

It held 24 passengers inside, and the luggage rode up top. I’m not a very good sailor, and I kept my eye on the horizon at first. I should not have worried. The lake was like glass, and I had no trouble on this day.

Some views from inside the cabin:

A sister boat traveled alongside us:
After we got out into open water, we were allowed to go on the top, four at a time. It was brisk. We took our turn once but were never tempted to go out again.
Traveling light:

 

We met a very nice family in the seats behind us. Everyone was headed to the same destination, Suasi Island. We struck up a conversation with them and shared sunscreen and candies. Bob and Cynthia and their kids Malia (15) and Jonathan (12) were from California. They have an older daughter who is going to meet them back in Cusco, where there will be a very happy family reunion. Both of the kids were a bit older than Genene, but she soon attached herself to them anyway. Anything to get away from her boring parents! It was good to hear them giggling and comparing notes about school, computer games and other good kid stuff.

Our guide Gilbert explaned that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet above sea level. The lake covers 3,340 square miles and at its deepest is 925 feet. It holds about 3 percent of the world’s fresh water. The lake borders with Bolivia. He gave the presentation in English and in Spanish.

Our first stop was at the famous floating Uros Islands. The people of this area have built and lived upon the floating islands made by reeds since pre-Inca times. We got a presentation from the “President” of the island. Every president serves for a year, and both men and women serve as president. The island we visited was probably smaller than a football field. There were several houses, and about 35 people live there.

I took a few candid shots of the people as we sat and listened to the presentation:

The people sell and trade fish (as well as souvenirs):

 

The President explained how the island is built, and Gilbert translated into Spanish and English. The base of the island is a giant sod root ball, which must be acquired from a site 6 miles away. It’s hauled into place by motor boat. The sod ball floats like a cork because it is comprised of 80% roots and organic matter, 10% soil and 10% gases.

The sod must be cut into manageable sizes for the journey: 30 feet long by 15 feet wide by 6 feet thick.

Once in place, the sod segments are tied together with rope. In olden days the rope would have been made from reeds or other organic material. Now it is made from nylon. Because the root is still alive, it will grow and bind back together within six months. Reeds are planted to help bind the root ball together.

On top of the base, reeds are placed, in a criss-cross fashion, three feet thick:
The reeds must be compacted, and the island residents play soccer and other games on the top of the island to tamp down the reeds. The reeds must be replenished every 16 days! The houses on the island are small and can be easily lifted and moved to one side so that the new reeds can be placed under them.

The President dug a small hole with his hands to show us the soft, wet rootball under the reeds:

On the right is a replica of the original pre-Inca hut, which is no longer used. Now the people live in the more square dwelling on the left:
The kitchen is placed on top of a stone, so that they do not set the entire island afire:

At the end of the presentation, the President asked us what else would be “needed” on this island. We shouted out various answers: food? water? money? schools? No, no, no, no. None of these was the correct answer. Finally, one of the men said, “Anchor?” Of course! A man-made floating reed island needs an anchor or it will float away. The President and our guide demonstrated how the island is anchored to the lake floor, and the anchor ropes are weighed down with rocks so that the boats can pass over:

 

The people speak Aymara (not Quechua). Most are Catholic, although the Seventh Day Adventists coverted at least one island and built a school there. There are between 55 and 70 floating islands. Their numbers are actually on the upswing, mostly due to income potential from tourism. An island will last about 30 years, after which the residents set it on fire and build another in its place.

The white-stalk end of the reed is edible, and we all got a taste. They were very moist and refreshing and about the consistency of celery with a slight cucumber taste.

 

The reeds are also broken open and used as cold compresses.

 

They are also used for handwashing.

 

Best of all, when you are finished, just toss it down on the ground. It’s part of the island.

The president showed the various reed boats that are used for fishing and transportation.

 

They loved to joke about the one called the “Mercedes Benz.”

The real Mercedes Benz reed boats are made with 2,000 plastic water bottles inside, the ultimate in recycling.

The president showed us his duck gun and success from the morning hunt:

 

After the demonstration, we were split into groups and taken into different huts. Our hostess immediately began showing us her work, simple tapestries. I found something I liked and asked her the cost. She took her fingernail and scratched the number onto her other hand. I bargained a bit, and it was mine. I’m not sure what I am going to do with all the things I have bought on this trip.

We are inside the hut getting the sales pitch:

Bagging up my purchases:
The view of the hut. I am not sure whether anyone really lives here or this is just the sales showroom:
The doorway is small:

 

Our guide asked if we wanted to take a ride in one of the reed boats. Of course, everyone did. For the price of 10 soles ($3.50) each, we piled into the reed boat, and an old man sent us gliding along in the reeds and shallow waters of Lake Titicaca, using a long pole for propulsion.

The floating island we just visited:
 
Hey, how come their boat has a nice serpent head and ours doesn’t? I wonder if their ride cost more soles.
Ah ha! A speedboat.
Jonathan, Greg and Genene shared very bad puns and jokes (groaners) along the way.
It’s probably pretty easy to fill your stew pot with duck meat around here:
There are plenty of reeds around for replenishing the islands:

Our reed boat “driver” had an interesting, rugged face:

 

The ferry met us in the middle of the water and picked us up, and so we were off again.

We motored along for another hour or so until we got to the island of Taquile. The people came down to meet us at the gate and give a traditional greeting:

 

The people of Taquile Island are known for their textiles. The intricate weaving and knitting is done by both men and women, and they maintain the cooperative lifestyle of their ancestors. The island is still run today by the ancient Inca moral code: “Ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla.” (“Don’t be lazy. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.”) Not a bad code for any society.

 
This bag carries the coca leaves, which are traded by the the islanders in greeting:
Trading coca leaves:
Their shoes are made from used tire rubber:

 

We got a demonstration on their weaving techniques. Married people wear a marriage belt (see below), which attaches two different types of weaving. The hard belt (black and white) is made by the men, while the fine weaving of the softer belt is made by the women. The belt also serves a useful function. The people must carry a lot of heavy items long distances, and the belt serves as a back support. It is cinched low and tight across the lumbar.

The next photo shows a Taquile calendar, which can take three months to make. Gilbert went through the significance of each month of the year: festivals (Catholic and Inca), planting, harvesting, crop rotation, Independence Day (those celebrations last a month). We learned some interesting, random facts about their culture during this presentation. The depth of the fish eggs is used to predict rainfall and plant crops. It is considered to be bad luck for human figures to be placed on the calendars and other weaving, so humans are represented by birds. Couples live together for 3 years before marriage, unless the babies start coming, in which case they get married immediately. Marriage lasts forever. There is no divorce. December is a time of celebration in their culture as in ours. Relatives come home for Christmas celebrations, bringing money from the mainland and gifts for the children.
“Mom, fix my sleeve!”
The pompon on the hats is large and colorful for single men and smaller for married men. It is worn on the right side of the head if looking for a girlfriend and on the left side if taken. On the back means “not interested right now.” A married man’s woolen cap is woven so tightly that water can be carried in it. The leader’s cap has all the colors of the rainbow, like the Inca flag. Married women wear a red shirt.
They demonstrated how they make a kind of soap out of a native plant. When they crush the tree leaves, it looks almost like guacamole. It makes suds just like soap, and it is used to clean wool.
 
Makes me want a bowl of chips and a margarita:
Suds:
Wool is added:
and scrubbed:
Rinse:
Before and after:

They showed us other native plants used in their daily living. Genene particularly loved the smell of the Andean mint, which is rubbed between your hands to release the oils and then sniffed to clear the head and help with sinus problems, altitude sickness, etc.

We got a music show. These men and boys will never make American Idol, but the performance was musical, heartfelt, entertaining and interesting.

They marched this way:
And that way:

They showed us their garden tools. They called this the “Andean tractor.” It looks like a hand plow to me.

This is a sod buster.

My dad would call this one a grubbing hoe.
The implement is tied to the handle with leather:

 

The ladies continued to weave.

A blanket like this can take up to four years to finish!
I love watching their hands. Look at the fine, intricate detail work that must be done.
Is that a bone she is using to separate the threads?

 

Of course, they wanted to sell us their wares, which were carefully laid out:

 

I wanted one of the calendars, but I saw only one, and the price was too high. For once, I paid attention and got lucky. A lady wandered up late and began unwrapping her wares. I went directly to her and found a Taquile calendar. Her price was reasonable, and it was mine! More stuff!

Greg wanted a chullo, the traditional Peruvian wool hat you see with the ear flaps. In the end, he wouldn’t pay the price for it. Probably a wise choice anyway. How often do you get to wear a big woolen cap in Houston?

This lady flashed me a winning smile just before we left:

 

After the second stop, we had another 90 minutes or so to get to the hotel on the island. I think everyone on the boat except the skipper went to sleep.

Land ho!

 

We arrived at Suasi Island about 12:45 PM and docked. Suasi Island is a private 106-acre island on Lake Titicaca. There is only one hotel on the island, the Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel. It has only 45 rooms and is designed and built with local materials, such as stone, adobe and tiles. Terraced gardens overlook the lake. It is a beautiful, serene place.

We were met by the hotel guide and told the walk to our hotel would take about 10 minutes, and the trail went straight up the hill. That was a wake-up. They used four-wheelers and trailers to haul all our gear up, so at least our load was light. We were all huffing and puffing.

 

Lunch was barbeque and buffet. We all had the alpaca, and it was tender and delicious.

 

After lunch, the kids found the game room and were soon laughing away as they played foosball and pool. Genene needs some pool lessons from her Uncle Alan, who used to be quite the shark in his day. She would not take any advice from us, as usual.

We took a quick rest and then met the guide for a walk to the top of the island for sunset.

The kids strike out ahead:
We passed the alpaca pen. Our guide told us a sad story about how an alpha male alpaca had knocked down a lady tourist and was “sacrificed.” I don’t know the details, but the lady probably had it coming.
All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!
We were lucky enough to see vicuñas on our walk. The vicuña is a camelid native to Peru, and they are not domesticated. It is a relative of the llama and is believed to be its wild ancestor. Vicuñas live in the high alpine areas of the Andes. They produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years, and has to be caught from the wild. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña’s wool is very soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments. At one time they were endangered, but conservation efforts have put them on the comeback trail. The vicuña is the national animal of Peru; its emblem is used on the Peruvian coat of arms. When we spotted them, I popped into safari mode and got a shot of this one on the run.
Genene and Jonathan jousted with their walking sticks:
 
Our guide kept apologizing because there was rain falling afar (not on us), and he said there would be “no sunset.” He tried to turn us around before we began the climb to the top, but we were not to be deterred.
The kids went out front:
 
The view from the top was very nice.
It was cold at the top:
Our hotel can be seen at middle right:
A view of our private island:
Probably discussing Minecraft:
Lake Titicaca is vast:
Family portrait:
Our guide was right. It was cloudy so the sunset was not spectacular on this day, though I can imagine that on another day, this vista might rival the Serengeti sunsets. It was still beautiful, and I enjoyed watching the light change minute by minute. It was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

Greg was COLD.
Genene and Jonathan played together all afternoon.
As in Machu Picchu, I found myself taking the pictures of the same vista over and over, because the light changed each minute. My apologies for the photo overload, but I love the clouds and the changing hues of pink, orange, blue:
As the last light faded, we made our way back down the hillside:
The lights in the village on the mainland began to flicker on:
Our hotel beckons:
Last one:

Before dinner, we sat in the main lobby area and shared riddles and jokes with Bob, Cynthia, Malia and Jonathan. One of the great things about traveling is making new friends. Dinner was buffet-style at the hotel. Genene still does not like the quinoa, but we found plenty of things to love on the table anyway.

The hotel is an ecolodge, which means it has a low environmental impact. The hotel was solar powered, and there was no heat in the rooms. There were fireplaces in the common areas. Everyone in the hotel charged their iPhones and electronics at one big charging station in the lobby. There were not-very-bright lights in the rooms, but the solar powered electricity went completely off after a certain hour. We had a candle in our room for light in the middle of the night. It was rustic and charming and cold! We had heavy, fine bed linens, and they tucked a hot water bottle into the bed. It was too cold to sit around in the room but toasty warm in the bed, so after dinner we all climbed under the covers and turned out the lights at 9:00 PM. It had been a long day filled with a lot of travel. Getting to Lake Titicaca and the islands was not easy. However, I am pleased that we included them in our itinerary. I found the people of the Uros floating islands and Taquile Island fascinating, like a living museum. It was worth the effort to visit this beautiful place.

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 14: Leaving Cusco and Heading to Lake Titicaca

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We are leaving Cusco today. We saw more of it than intended, but we could have easily stayed longer. It is a nice city and a good base of operations to see the Sacred Valley and many archaeological ruins.

Our plane did not leave until 2:30 PM, so there was no need to wake up at the crack of dawn. We slept until 7:00 AM, got up, and started packing. We spent three nights in this hotel, so we had time to spread our gear to kingdom come and back; packing took a while. Also, we had bought some souvenirs, just enough to take each of our bags to the 50 pound limit. We had to keep weighing the bags and taking a little out of one and putting it into another before we got all three under the limit.

Last views from our terrace:

This was our view of the hills of Cusco from the bedroom window:
 

Check-out was at 10:00 AM, so we tucked our bags into storage and went down to Plaza de Armas just to sit on the park benches and relax.

Down the hill we go. Look at the Inca stonework on the left:

Plaza de Armas:
Blanco Cristo sits on the edge of Sacsayhuaman:
The street light posts use the sacred puma motif:
Beauty Contestant No. 1, the Catedral, on the left; Contestant No. 2, Compañía, on the right (those naughty Jesuits!):
Which do you like? Catedral?
Or Compañía?
Catedral?

Compañía?

Catedral?!

Compañía?!

Catedral?!
Compañía?!
Catedral?

Compañía?!

Catedral?
 
Compañía?

Hey look! A Starbucks! We can all agree this doesn’t belong on the plaza.
I’m no Pope, but I point at the Catedral!

 

Genene creates a bit of a sensation here. The first time we observed it was with Carlos on the day trip to Ollayantaytambo last week. Families want to have their photos taken with Genene. I am not talking about the people who dress in traditional garb and try to get you to pose with them and their lambs or llamas and then ask for money. These are regular Peruvian people in street clothes. It looks like they are on holiday themselves, with cameras dangling from their necks. Many of them politely ask if they can have a photo with Genene. Carlos explained that her blonde hair and blue eyes are what the people find interesting. Anyway, today in Plaza de Armas, Genene was like a rock star. She quit counting at the 13th request for her photo. Entire families would crowd to the bench. They would sit their smallest children down next to Genene. A couple of times we saw people “sneaking” pictures. They would ease around behind the park bench and pretend to put the cathedral in the shot, but you could see the photographer and the subject communicating as if to say, “Get closer to the girl.” Genene said that she did not like it, but I was flattered on her behalf. It also makes me stop and think. I often sneak photos of local people myself. I try to use the telephoto lens and capture them without their knowing. Is it rude? I don’t know, but we experienced a bit of turnabout in the plaza today.

Here’s a stealth picture in progress. The lady sat down on the park bench and her friend is snapping. Greg ended up striking up a conversation with them, so they ceased their ruse and got some posed shots later.
I spent some time walking around the plaza getting candid shots of the people.
This old guy was selling his photographs to people. I am not sure how he did it, but he would take snapshots and then run down the plaza and get printed copies. I like his suit.
We always felt very safe on the streets of Cusco. Police officers were everywhere.
This next sequence of shots is among my favorite from the day. This lady and her little boy are trying to sell little dolls and trinkets on the plaza. There are many people like them in the public areas. As a rule, they were much less aggressive and annoying than, say, the Roma people you find in Rome and Paris, who hound you mercilessly and try to shove things into your hands. A simple “no, gracias” is usually enough to send the Peruvian hawkers away.
She gets out her dolls. “I want to help, Mommy.”
“That one!”
“Got it. Thanks, Mom.”
Helping Mom sell the dolls….
We lingered in the plaza as long as we could, taking in the sights.
We strolled back up the hill to our hotel. Along the way, we stopped to say goodbye to Hatunrumiyoc, the famous “stone of 12 angles.” We had passed it each day on our walks to and from the plaza, and it always drew a crowd. There is usually a volunteer guard posted there who admonishes people not to touch the stone. No one was there today, and we got away with a tiny touch. The original use of the building is unclear, but the common opinion is that the building was the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Sapa Inca who ruled sometime around 1350. There are many mysteries in this country. There was a major earthquake in Cusco in 1950, and it unearthed Inca walls and ruins that had been covered over by Spanish construction for centuries. The original use of many of these structures is unknown to us now. Cusco is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Touching Hatunrumiyoc:

How in heaven’s name did they carve a stone like this and fit it into this wall?

Last looks at the hill we trudged up each day:
Genene and Greg haul it up:
This hill really took it out of us every time we climbed it:

 

We got back to the hotel and sat in the lobby, waiting for Carla and drinking coca tea. Carla arrived on time and gave us our paperwork for the next part of our journey. Today, we will be traveling to Juliaca via airplane, then to Puno and finally to Lake Titicaca. She gave us our plane tickets and told us that she would be turning us over to a colleague in Juliaca for the remainder of our journey. Carla has become a daily fixture for us. We will miss her calm presence. I still cannot believe that she sat in that endoscopy room with us, translating and taking care of us. She is phenomenal. We took our picture together at the hotel before departing.

The commute to the airport was an easy half hour. Carla took us all the way to the security/boarding area, a luxury we lost in the states after 9/11. There were hugs all around, and she told us that she would call us tomorrow and the next day to make sure we were still doing okay. I will be forever grateful for what she did for us when things went wrong in our journey. That is the true measure of a business or a person. It’s not how we get things done when they are on track and easy: our true colors are demonstrated in how we rise tothe occasion when things go wrong.

The airport in Cusco was clean and bright. We were able to get a light lunch of ham and cheese croissants for all three of us for 18 soles (about $6.31). I dare you to do that in an American airport. While standing in the line for the croissants, I got annoyed with an American lady ahead of me in the line. She was asking 20 questions about how the various croissants were prepared: did they have meat? did they have cheese? I mumbled some ugly words under my breath, “@#$@#$, lady, it’s a croissant. This isn’t fine dining. Just order something!” A young Japanese man just ahead of me in the line starting laughing. I apologized to him for saying ugly things and he quickly replied, “No, it’s okay. I feel the same way.” I forget sometimes that English is spoken and understood by many, many people throughout the world.

It began to rain in Cusco, and the weather had everything backed up. Our flight was delayed by an hour, so we did not get to Juliaca until the late afternoon. Our local guide and driver were waiting for us, and it was easy to get our bags and get on the road.

The drive to Puno took about an hour, and we really feel as if we are at the edge of civilization. Juliaca looked much more “rustic.” The buildings were smaller and built more like shanties.

Our hotel is on the edge of Lake Titicaca. We arrived at night. We are leaving early for Suasi Island, so we will not get much time to enjoy this beautiful place.

A few quick views of the shores of Lake Titicaca, as seen from our hotel:

This hotel room was by far the most spacious and luxurious, as far as the physical features go. (Nothing can compare to Sanctuary Lodge’s service!)
We had a delicious dinner at the hotel and retired back to our room.
Genene jumped in the big bathtub and did not want to get out:
For the price of a few soles in his palm, the bellman came and lit a fire in our room. The place was toasty all night long.

We sail at 7:00 AM tomorrow, so there is not much rest for the weary. Lake Titicaca awaits!

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 13: Morning at the market and afternoon on horseback

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We were supposed to start our day with a horseback ride. Carla met us in the lobby at 9:00 AM with some bad news. Our guide was ill. She offered to reschedule the event for afternoon with another guide. That worked for us. It simply meant inverting our plans for the day.

We decided to spend the morning at the souvenir market. We also had an errand to run. The medical clinic had promised to drop off all Greg’s test results at the hotel last week, but that never happened. The clinic was close to the market, so we thought we would drop in and take care of it. After all, who wants to have a second endoscopy?

On a lark, Greg decided to check in the front lobby of the hotel where we had stayed on our unscheduled visit in Cusco last week. Voila! The test results were waiting there for Mr. Gregory Gordon! We were so pleased that it was that easy. It will be interesting to see if our local doctor in Houston is resourceful enough to translate the results into English.

We strolled on to a large enclosed market and wandered from stall to stall. Different proprietors have different styles. Some leave you alone to look. Others start jabbering at you as soon as you get close to their wares and push things into your face. I wonder if that really works on anyone. I find it off-putting and leave quickly when I get that sort of bum’s rush. Genene found some earrings that she wanted, and I found several souvenirs. The trinkets are very reasonably priced, and bargaining is expected. I am not very good at that and always end up with the same annoyed feeling that I get when buying a new car. I usually confine myself to making one counter-offer and then meeting them in the middle.

We ambled back to our hotel loaded with our bags of trinkets and ate leftovers on the terrace outside our room. We all settled in for an afternoon siesta, and I worked a little on my blog.

Our guides met us at the hotel at 2:00 PM and drove us to Sacsayhuaman. We previously visited that site on the first afternoon with Carlos, but the ruins cover many acres, and we were headed for a totally different area today.

Our guide, Grimaldi, rode horses with us, and a young man followed along beside our horses. He carried a small switch and he made noises with his mouth and hands to encourage the horses to move. I was glad that he stayed very close to Genene’s horse the entire journey. Genene has taken riding lessons and sits her mount well, but I was grateful for the “insurance” of having someone nearby in case of trouble.

The horses were Criollo, which is a small horse native to Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Our guide told us that the big Peruvian Paso horses, known for their smooth gaits, were worthless in this high mountainous area. He told us that they would “just die here from a heart attack.” The Criollo horses are not much to look at. They are small, even scraggly looking. They are said to be among the best endurance horses in the world, giving the Arabian a run for its money. They are known for their ability to live in harsh conditions and are frugal eaters. I felt a little sorry for my mount because I thought he seemed to small for my ample American self. I should not have worried though. The little horse was as sure-footed as a mountain goat and walked easily up and down steep hills. None of the horses had shoes, but their hooves were sound and strong. We rode with Western tack, and I had a silver saddle horn, which made me feel very Spanish.

We posed before the ride started. Putting our helmets on over our boonie hats and baseball caps only adds to our glamour:

The cowboys discuss their mounts:

 

We rode some on the road and and on dirt trails:

Genene enjoyed climbing in the rocks:
 
Grimaldi forges ahead:

 

Our first stop was at the Temple of the Moon. The temple looks like a large hill from one side, and there are caves in it.

It looks like this from the “back side”:

When you go around, you find the temple and caves carved into the rock:

There are altars inside the caves, and cracks in the sides and top allow moonlight to fall inside. At least one of the crevices is aligned so that the moon can be seen during solstice.
There are carvings in the face of the rock. What went on here is a mystery lost in time. It is likely that there were rituals and sacrifices and offerings. Grimaldi told us that people still sneak into the caves at night to make offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth).

There were also a great number of tunnels and caves around the site. In Quechua, the tunnels are known as “chincanas,” translated as “a place to get lost.” Some people claim that Inca mummies were secreted in the passages. Others claim that the Inca hid their treasures from the Spanish in the underground mazes, and that the treasures are so well hidden that they have never been found. Grimaldi repeated the local claim that the tunnels go all the way down the mountainside into Cusco and were used by Inca to hide treasure and travel secretly. We could go a little ways into each of the tunnels before being engulfed in complete darkness. Grimaldi told us that the Peruvian government has blocked all the tunnel entrances for protection of people. He told us that “several years ago” a group of young people had tried to navigate the tunnel system, never to be seen again. I tried to verify the story on Google and could not confirm whether this actually happened. What I did find was a lot of other similar legends about people being lost in the labyrinth. My favorite one is this one I found on another blog:

“A treasure hunter slipped into the tunnels outside Cusco. In his search for riches, the man became lost and wandered through the maze of tunnels for several days. One morning, about a week after the adventurer had vanished, a priest was conducting mass in the church of Santo Domingo.The priest and his congregation were suddenly astonished to hear sharp rapping on the stone floor of the church. Several worshippers crossed themselves and murmured about the devil’s demons. The priest quieted his congregation and directed that a large stone slab be removed from the ancient floor. The group was astonished to see the treasure hunter come up out of the tunnels carrying a gold bar in each hand.”

Searching for Inca gold:

 
The vistas were stunning. Cusco was laid out below us in all its glory:
Genene followed Grimaldi into the crevices and tunnels without hesitation. I found some of the spaces tight, to my dislike. A couple of years ago, I had a shoulder MRI and discovered that I do not do well in confined spaces. I never balked during this tour, but I was always happy to come back out into the sun.
 
Can you see the serpent carved into the rock wall here?
What is that white spot in the field?
Oh, it’s some hippies. Wonder what they are up to?
 
 
I am not sure how this topic came up, but Grimaldi wanted to tell us a little about the native people of the Amazon rainforest. We are not scheduled to see this area of Peru. Perhaps we will get it done on another trip. Anyway, Grimaldi was trying to tell us about the tribal people. It took a while for us to understand because he pronounced the word tribal as “tribble,” and I kept having visions of the prolifically fertile little furry creatures from the long ago episode of Star Trek. How absurd. I KNEW he couldn’t be talking about that! When we finally understood his meaning, we were able make a little more sense of the story. Grimaldi told us that the tribals like to have many wives, and he leered as he told us how lucky the tribal men were. He asked if we had anything like this in our country, and Greg said, “Yes, we do. We call them Mormons.” I had to mop clean-up on that and tell Grimaldi that not all Mormons practiced polygamy and that in the United States, polygamy was illegal. Grimaldi looked a little wistful. I think perhaps he wishes for the days of old, or maybe he just wants to be a tribble.
We finished our tour of the ruins and got back on our ponies. I was impressed with the scruffy little horses. As we rode through the eucalyptus groves, they picked their way with ease. When the hillsides were steep, they chose to switchback on their own, without any guidance from us. They knew exactly what to do.

I wanted to mention how variable the weather is at all times. When the sun is high in the sky, it can be very warm. In fact, the Andean sun burned me right through my clothes. On several nights, I came home to find my back and shoulders red, when I had worn long sleeves all day. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the clouds or a mountain, it quickly becomes cold. As we rode into the late afternoon, the wind picked up and it was quite brisk.

We finished in the late afternoon and took a last couple of photos with our mounts and guide:

We got back to our hotel in San Blas as the sun was going down. I took a shot from the terrace. I love the warm terracotta colors of the roof and the pots.

We were all a little tired of the Peruvian spice and went the “comfort food” route. Our guide books gave a glowing review to a nearby pizza joint, La Pizza Carlo, and so we walked down the steep hill in search of chow. We found the place, and it was charming. There were only four tables in the restaurant.

We ordered a Hawaiian pizza and watched as the cook cut open the fresh pineapple and loaded all the toppings. The wood burning oven was in the dining room with us, so we could keep warm and watch our meal cook:

We couldn’t take away any leftovers because we travel tomorrow, so we sucked it up and ate every single bite. Sacrifices!

On the way back up the hill to San Blas, we bought some souvenirs from a shop we had gone into several times along the way. There was a little mirror that I had my eye on, and in all our shopping in Cusco, we never saw another one like it so I had to pounce.

We will be sad to leave Cusco but are looking forward to seeing Lake Titicaca. Doesn’t everyone love to say “Lake Titicaca”?

 

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 12: A Mountain Bike Ride

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Our pickup was at 8:00 AM this morning. Carla met us in the lobby with the necessary tickets, introduced us to our guide for the day and wished us well. Our guide was Marco Aurelio (gotta love that; we called him our Roman emperor). Our driver was piloting a very large van, on top of which were five mountain bikes. We would be touring the countryside by car and bike and visiting some archaeological ruins along the way. Our chef, Wilbert, also rode along, as did a bike mechanic, Jonathan. Enigma does an excellent job in providing fully staffed adventures. I had no idea that the three of us would be traveling each day with so many other people to help us.

On the way out of town, we stopped at the same market as the whitewater rafting guides had used. Marco told us that it was a favorite stop of many guides because there was easy parking out front and a bathroom inside. On the drive out, Marco explained the adaptions of the local people to the climate in which they live. He pointed out to Genene that he has high cheekbones and a pouch of fat under his eyes. This helps protect his eyes from the harsh Andean sun. It was interesting to hear him discuss adaptation in terms of human beings. In Genene’s science class this year, they studied the same issue as it relates to animals. Genene loved studying about the cheetah, with its teardrop stain under the eye to help it spot prey in the strong Serengeti sunlight. It is fascinating to see how all of us adapt to our surroundings.

Our first stop on the tour was at the Inca ruins at Tipon.

We immediately saw a large hummingbird, a good omen.

 

The Inca ruins had been ceremonial place–a huaca (sacred place) for the worship of water. The terraces are fine and elaborate. Many spring-fed aqueducts were built throughout the grounds, and all are still running today. The spring runs from the sacred mountain that looms over the site, Pachatusan (in Quechua this means “cross beam of the universe.”) Waterfalls were nestled in the walls and corners, and channels are cut through the grounds. The whole place sounded like rushing water. Marco explained that the Inca did not really recognize four seasons as we do. Instead they divide the year into two seasons: 1) the rainy season, a time for planting, tending and harvesting the fields; and 2) the dry season, a time for construction. It is still so today in Peru. We are here in the dry season, and all kinds of construction can be observed everywhere. People work on the roads, on their houses, on their animal shelters, etc.

Can you see the water tumbling at the corners of the walls?
 

The woman in the terraced fields gives you perspective on how large this place is:

The aqueducts are uncovered in certain areas so that we can see how the water flows:

We climbed back into the van and headed out.

These are the kinds of hairpin turns we navigated all the time:

 

Our second stop Oropesa, a village devoted to the making of “pan chuta” breads found only in this area.

We went into a family compound through this door:

 

The inside looked like this. Notice the eucalyptus wood stacked up all around. It gives the bread a nice flavor:

 

We stopped near the oven and got a demonstration on how the bread is made.

We saw the wood burning oven:

 

The bread is put into this warm room to rise:

 

My mom has a mixer that looks about like this, just a little smaller:

The equipment was not quite state of the art:
 

We bought loaves from this lady:

 

The bread was very fine, sweet and delicious. We tried two different kinds. One was a wheat bread, only with the consistency of cake. The other loaf was more yellow, and I think a perhaps corn flour was used. Each family marks its loaves with a particular pattern of raisins, olives, slashes or other distinctive feature, so that their customers know whether they are getting the real deal. The bread is a point of family and community pride, and contests for best bread are held each year. Competition is fierce.

Breads are also specially designed for events:

Loaves are stacked up for sale:

Genene said that she wanted to have a birthday party and serve nothing but this cake. It was a geat mid-morning treat.

Marco explained that the people of this village can be seen on the streets of Cusco, selling their bread. They wear this particular uniform and hat so that purchasers may know that they are from Oropesa:

According to Marco, the people of Oropesa are “mixta,” a mix of Spanish and Inca. They bake a mean loaf of bread!

 

After this stop, we drove a little ways and parked on a dirt road and unloaded the bikes. Marco was our guide, and Jonathan rode along in case there were mechanical issues on the bike. The van shadowed us as well. We rode on dirt roads and on tarmac. We encountered people moving their cattle and sheep from place to place and had to stop our bikes until the livestock could pass. Everyone on the road wished us a good day and a good journey. Greg was wearing a GoPro, and if we ever figure out how to download it, I will do a supplemental home movie blog.

Greg is feeling much better by now. I’m glad that Carla “didn’t cancel nothing.”

 

We rode our bikes around the edge of Huarcarpay Lagoon, where we saw people fishing and many birds on the wing. There were reeds at the lake’s edge, and the sound of the wind in them rushed like running water. The total ride was less than an hour and was fairly easy, although there were a few small hills and the occasional strong wind.

We stopped at a couple of points along the way to watch the bird life:

We saw people fishing:
More fishing below. At one point on the road, we saw a young boy wearing nothing but a shirt and underwear. I think that was his “fishing attire.”
Sculling on the lagoon:
We got to our “camp” at around noon and took a short break. You can see the camp from across the lagoon in this shot:

 

While the chef fixed lunch, we rode in the car up to the archaeological complex of Piquillaqta (little city), a pre-Inca trade center. Marco explained that there was a strong, highly organized civilization before the Inca. These people, called the Huari, had controlled the area between 500 and 1000 AD, many centuries before the Inca showed up. They built much of the road networks and aqueducts that the Inca would later use, though the Inca and their descendents do not like to admit it. The Huari controlled the area and all the goods supplied. From this centrally located village, they could control the flow of goods from the Amazon, the coast, and the mountains. The site is spread over about 116 acres.

The floors and walls were made of mud and stacked stone and were covered with plaster. They would have gleamed white in the Andean sun.
Marco explained that this is the fruit of the molle pepper tree. We had several dishes that were flavored with this tasty spice. Greg was not supposed to indulge, but sometimes he did so anyway.
The Huari were an advanced civilization, but the Incas ran them over and not much is known about the Huari culture. Depending on who you ask, Piquillaqta translates as “little city” (a name the Incas would have given to minimize the Huari accomplishments) or “place of the flea.”
Can you see the horizontal lines in the side of the mountain? These are old, non-functional aqueducts:

 

By the time our short tour was over, lunch was ready. Our chef today was a genius. He made a special meal for Greg, with less oil and spice. Genene and I got the full complement of spice and grease, for which we were appreciative. There was a beautiful salad, with fresh tomatoes and avocadoes. There was a tender cooked chicken with spicy sauce, quinoa salad with carrots and raisins, potatoes and eggplant, and pasta salad with broccoli. It was all to die for. For dessert, Genene was thrilled to have the tres leches cake.

I annoy Genene again by getting her photo outside the toilet tent. Moms can be so aggravating:
Yikes. More rolls than a bakery here:
Greg won’t smile if he is posing for a photo, but I managed to catch him giggling with Genene:
My world traveler, with a map for a do-rag:

 

We felt like beached whales after that lunch. The staff rushed to pack our camp site, and we got back into the car and headed back to Cusco. I wanted to try the chicharrón, fried pork skins found in one of the villages outside of Cusco. We had passed by on the way out of town.

Marco got us a small sack full from a street vendor:

I enjoyed the snack but was surprised that Greg did not. Genene was asleep and missed the chance to savor the crispy skin, which was akin to a potato chip.

We got back to our hotel at 4:00 PM, washed up and rested.

Here’s the view from our terrace at the hotel:

Can you read the quote on our wall? It’s something akin to carpe diem, I think:

After our afternoon rest, we strolled down past Plaza de Armas in search of dinner. I took a few night shots along the way.

Everyone told us that this guy, situated outside a shop near our hotel, was “good luck.” We could have used him earlier in the trip!

The Catedral in the Plaza de Armas was built on top of an Inca palace using blocks removed from Sacsayhuaman:
 
 

Almost every night we heard fireworks in Cusco. There always seems to be a party going on.

 

Marco had recommended that we try some Chinese food. He told us that Peruvian people love to eat and love spicy things, and like in any place, even the ethnic food takes on the flavors of the area. He told us that the Chinese food would have a Peruvian twist. He recommended La China, and we had a wonderful meal there, although I cannot say that I noticed any particular local twist. It was simply excellent Chinese food. I had a salmon baked on a plank with ginger and garlic. I also had two mixed drinks called La China Hypnotica. Genene had a chicha morada, a drink that Marco recommended “for energy.” It was sugary, purple and delicious. Greg had a glass noodle dish with squid rings and vegetables. He claims it was not spicy. Genene had shrimp and noodles.

We waddled back to Plaza de Armas and headed up the hill toward “home.”
This is Iglesia de la Compañía, built by the Jesuits in 1573. It sits just across the plaza from the Catedral. It was also built atop an Inca ruin. It rivals the Catedral in beauty and prominence in the plaza, which was intentional on the part of the Jesuits. The archbishop of Cusco did not like this competitor to the Catedral and asked Pope Paul III to arbitrate the squabble. Of course, the pope sided with the Catedral, but by the time the decision reached Cusco, Igelsia de la Compañía was almost finished, and so it stands today.
You can see Greg and Genene at the Catedral here:
Can you see how the street goes sharply up, up, up to San Blas?
We stopped often on the steps, huffing and puffing our way:
Back to our hotel, carting the leftovers (because you know we are not going to waste any food!):

It was a great day filled with exploration and adventure. It was good to have Greg back in the bike saddle and feeling good again. Genene, as always, was a trooper and ran us all into the ground. I don’t know what was in those China Hypnotica, but I was feeling no pain for the rest of the evening!

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 11: Whitewater Rafting!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Today was a real treat. We were “back on task, back on mission” (as Genene’s old school principal Mr. Bowyer would say). After all the drama of the medical procedures, we were ready to get back on our scheduled itinerary. The doctor who performed the endoscopy had told Greg that he should not do anything on our tour except perhaps the horseback ride. I knew that Greg would not be happy just sitting around, and we had said so to Carla. Carla said, “Don’t you worry, Mr. Gregory. I’m not going to cancel nothing!”

Greg felt up to it, so we resumed our normal vacation activities. Today’s planned event was whitewater rafting on the Urubamba River. Carla met us at our hotel at 10:00 AM and introduced us to our river guide, Jack; our driver, Kiko; and our kayaker Nacho. The drive to the put-in was about 90 minutes, so we had plenty of time to settle in, put on sunscreen, and just relax.

I took a few street scenes but not many. I did not want to risk getting any water damage to my Nikon, so we took Genene’s point-and-shoot.

 

We made a bathroom and supply stop at a grocery on the way out of town, and Genene and I loaded up on chocolates and toffees. We offered them to Jack, Kiko and Nacho, and they readily accepted. We were all soon happily munching along. I think that Peruvians have a sweet tooth, so Genene and I would fit right in. Greg has never really enjoyed sweets, and the doctor told him to avoid chocolates anyway. He won’t have any trouble with that, but saying no to salt and grease and spice and beer will be more of a challenge.

We got to the put-in, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were on a private tour. Somehow, I had gotten the impression that we would be meeting others, as we had done on the via ferrata/zip line. Instead, we simply pulled over to the roadside, and Jack said, “Give us about 5 minutes to blow up the boat, gather the gear and get the dry bags, and we will be off.”

I don’t have one kid. I have two:

 

We were issued wet suits, helmets, life jackets, and one paddle each. The instructions were basic: forward, backward, stop and get down in the boat. If you fall out, lay on your back and point your feet downstream. Greg and I sat up front and Genene sat behind Greg. Jack was the boat pilot in the back. Nacho manned a kayak, which he would use for scouting and in case of a water rescue. Kiko would drive to the pull-out to get us.

Our chariot awaits:
Jack is suited up and ready to pilot us down the river:
 

Jack noticed that we had a GoPro, and he offered to mount it on his helmet. We readily accepted. If I can ever figure out how to download and make youtube videos, I will share them on a supplemental blog. I do not have much patience for videos. Still camera photography is enough for me.

 

The experience was awesome. We went through Class I, II and III rapids. Jack maneuvered the boat with precision. He commanded us on how and when to paddle, and he did all of the steering. We just provided some motor support. I was amazed at how he could put that inflatable boat in just the right places to go through the rapids with ease. He told us he has been doing this for 10 years. During his off time, he is studying to become a chef. Gordons and Ayletts love food, and so we all had plenty to talk about!

We went about 5 1/2 river miles downstream, and it took about two hours. There was plenty of whitewater, and we got wet. Genene cackled with glee, as did her parents. The ducks flew along beside us and skimmed the river’s surface. We also saw seagulls. There were many people tending cattle and sheep along the riverbanks, including little boys and girls. They would wave to us from the banks and call, “Hola!” There were construction workers on the river as well, and they shouted words of encouragement (or perhaps they were jeers and mockery; I don’t speak Spanish).

We never fell in, so thankfully we never got to test Nacho’s rescue skills. I enjoyed watching him paddle his kayak with ease through the swift water. A good kayaker almost puts one in the mind of a ballet dancer. There is a lot of grace and power in the sport.

We got out of the water at 1:00 PM or so, and it was a short drive to our picnic lunch. We had been told we were going to have lunch beside a lake. I had been expecting an ordinary sack lunch, but what a surprise! Jack began talking about a “chef,” and we arrived to find a tent on the lake bank.

There was a handwashing station:

There was even a toilet tent! Now that is a luxury!

Inside the tent, a camp picnic table was set for three. Carla had advised the chef to alter his recipes to accommodate the doctor’s recommendation for Greg to cut down on spice and grease. We did not miss either! Lunch was delicious. We started with an avocado with dressing, following by quinoa soup. The main course was lomo saltado, a tradional Peruvian dish of beef, tomatoes, potatoes, onion, garlic, peas, soy sauce and vinegar. (It normally would be made with red wine or pisco, but the chef avoided these ingredients.) Dessert was a tangerine and a banana. Fully leaded Coca-colas and various flavored teas rounded out the menu. It was absolutely delightful.

 
Our lakeside view:
I was hanging around outside the toilet tent annoying Genene by taking her picture:
After lunch, it only took the crew a few minutes to break everything down and pack up:
One last look:
On the drive back, everyone except the driver and me collapsed into afternoon siesta.

We were dropped off at our hotel door at 4:00 PM, and we immediately showered off the river water and sat in our fluffy robes for a while, relaxing.

By 7:00 PM, we were ready for some more chow. The altitude really seemed to stimulate my appetite, and Greg was also feeling stronger and stronger. We struck out from our hotel in search of grub, one of our favorite pasttimes! It was three easy downhill blocks to Plaza de Armas, and Carlos had recommended Inca Grill. We thoroughly enjoyed it. This restaurant could easily make it in Houston, a town where people appreciate good food and won’t stand for something that is trendy but not tasty. I had a pepper stuffed with quinoa and spread with goat cheese, while Greg had mashed potatoes stuffed with olives, raisins and cheese. That was just the appetizers. Genene had a pizza slathered with basil. For the main course, I had a traditional poached chicken dish (aji de gallina) that put me in the mind of chicken and dumplings (although there were no dumplings; that was just the taste of it). Greg had gnocchi with a basil cream sauce and pounded flat and breaded chicken breast. Oh yeah, and I had a pisco sour and followed it with a coca sour. Drinking those two cocktails made me feel lit from within like a furnace, which is not a good thing when it’s time to go to bed. We waddled home from the restaurant.

One piece of advice we keep getting in Cusco is this: “Walk down; drive up.” It’s a bit of a joke, but it’s not a bad concept. It was very easy going down, down, down the steps to Plaza de Armas to eat. It was a bit more of a challenge to haul those full bellies back up the hill.

It felt good to be back in adventure mode today!

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 10: A Day in Aguas Calientes

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I had chased the light yesterday morning, so I just decided to sleep until breakfast. It felt very nice.

I love how peaceful she looks when she is sleeping. When she wakes up, she’s off like a rocket!

 

We had breakfast on our terrace again, wearing our plush white robes and slippers. It was quite an indulgence.

We went for another quick walk on the trail down to Aguas Calientes. We promised our friend Jamie Johnson that we would take some pictures in his t-shirt, since we trained with him for weeks to prepare for the trail. It would have been nice for him to be able to tell people that his training got a family up the Inca Trail, but it just didn’t work out. Hey, the pictures will look nice on his website anyway!

The Sun Gate mocks us from above:
I take a moment to rep the Hogs:
 
Genene ran ahead of us on the trail. I really think she could have done the whole Inca Trail:
Bus after bus after bus stopping to unload the Machu Picchu pilgrims:
The line to get into Machu Picchu is seen here:
 

Hotel check-out was at 11 AM, so we got ourselves packed and organized and left the magical delights of Sanctuary Lodge. It certainly was aptly named.

The lodge concierge told us there was no need for us to carry our big bag down the mountain. They gave us a claim check and told us that a representative of Sanctuary Lodge would be at the train station to give us our bag and help us to board the train. Everything they did was first class. Maria, the lady at the front desk who tended to our every need, told us that we were a wonderful family and that she would remember us in her heart forever. What a charming thing to say. I’m sure she will not remember us, but we will remember her.

We rode the bus down the switchback path from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (hot springs) town. I admire the bus drivers. They meet in the curves and all along the roads, and it is a delicate ballet for them to cross in just the right place so there is room for each to pass. They actually drove very smoothly down the hillside. The cab ride into Cusco was much more nausea inducing. Perhaps it had to do with the lower speed of the bus.

We walked around the town and I took street scene shots.

We saw trail porters lugging their client’s gear right up the main streets:
 

We went into a real grocery store, filled with fresh fruits and meats.

We shopped for souvenirs from a vendor in the bazaar. She told us the pillow cover was handmade by her grandmother. What a shameless tale! I don’t believe it for a second, but I bought it anyway. I just hope it wasn’t made in China.

We took the obligatory photo in the main square:

 

Our travel book was in our bag in Cusco, and wifi/cell phone service was non-existent, so we were a bit at loose ends as to what to do for lunch. The town is small, so we walked over to the train station, met Victor from Santuary Lodge, made sure our bag was secure, and asked for his recommendation for lunch. He steered us to Toto’s House, where we had a delightful, leisurely buffet.

 

The cook prepared the meat over an open flame:

 

Dancers performed for tips.

Rooftop musicians:
 
 
Somewhere during the lunch buffet, I noticed that my Fitbit was missing. I figure that it must have come unclasped somewhere on the bus ride down the mountain. There are so many buses and no way to tell where it might have dropped off, so I did not want to spend any fruitless efforts searching for it. I like to imagine that a porter is wearing it now, getting in his 10,000 step goal and sending taunts to his friends.

 

We walked around the town some more. The water rushes through the town center:

 

 

There are thermal springs here, for which the town is named. Many people come here to bathe in the healing waters. I chose to skip that part of the show. I’m an Arkansas girl. I grew up less than 100 miles from Hot Springs, Arkansas and have taken thermal baths there. I figured it would be a similar experience.

We saw lots of “dressed up” dogs:
 

Our train was to leave at 3:20 and everyone told us to be at the station 30 minutes early. We were content that we had seen the town and headed for the station early. (Prontosaurus). In the bazaar, we ran into our Machu Picchu guide Antonieta. It’s strange to have bumped into her that way. We exchanged pleasantries, and even she told us to make sure to get to the train station. The train waits for no man.

We found Victor again, and he did not just give us our bag. He carried it as he escorted us to a special lounge for the guests of Sanctuary Lodge. To my surprise, we would not wait in the train station with everyone else. We would sit on leather couches and be attended by Sanctuary Lodge staff. It was one final delightful perk from our stay. They brought us Coca-cola and water, and our waiter told us, “I will make sure to tell you when your train is here and assist you with boarding.” This is the life!

Watching the trains come in:

The Sanctuary Lodge private lounge at the station:
My “pocket-sized Indiana Jones”, feeling much better:

 

As promised, our waiter told us as soon as our train arrived, carried our bag, secured it, showed us to our seats, settled us in, and told us that he hoped we had enjoyed our stay at Sanctuary Lodge. We told him that indeed we had. The level of service at the hotel was like nothing I have ever experienced. We were greeted by name everywhere. Every need was attended to with understated grace. I enjoyed the pampering!

The train was more crowded than the one we rode up. The cars have several banks of four seats each with a table between them; think of them as tables for four. We had the fourth seat to ourselves on the ride up, and we assumed it would be so on the way back. We had our gear all spread out when our seatmate came up. Alas, we would have to share. She said simply, “This is my seat.” I began to try to organize and consolidate our gear. She waited about 20 seconds and asked me to move my bag (which was under her seat). I would have done without being asked, if she had just given me a second! She settled in, and it was clear that she wanted to pretend that we did not exist. Fine by me. She never said a word to us in 3 1/2 hours. I only know that she was a Canadian because I saw her put her passport on the table. I guess it could have been worse. She could have talked our ears off for the entire ride.

We had already experienced the same scenery on the way up to Machu Picchu, so we allowed Genene to play her DS and iPod, which she quietly and happily did. Greg napped some while I caught up on writing blogs.

 

They served a snack, which was hearty and delicious. There was something like a vegetable empanada, fresh gooseberries, and a pastry. After the snack, a clown who came through the train car, dancing and entertaining. It was a fun diversion.

Look at the detail on the costume:

Here’s another view of the clown, along with the snooty Canadian who pretended to read for 3 1/2 hours so she wouldn’t have to speak to us:
 
Later, some of the staff of the train put on a mini fashion show, modeling alpaca wraps and coats and then trying to sell them.

We arrived back in Poroy at 6:30 or so, and Carla was waiting for us at the train station. She showed us to our car, and we went through heavy traffic to get back to our hotel, Casa San Blas in the heart of Cusco. We were exhausted with the long day of walking around and riding the train. The bags we had left in Cusco when we went to Sanctuary Lodge had safely made their transit and were waiting for us at the hotel. We dug out some fresh clothes, washed our faces and went to dinner at the hotel downstairs. The dining room was very small, and service was slow. We probably could have done better just getting out on the streets of Cusco, but we were looking for convenience.

It was a long day. We hit the rack without even taking a shower. Tomorrow, we will whitewater raft.