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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.