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……”

One thought on “Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 16 and FINAL: From Suasi to Lima and Coming Home

  1. Thank you for sharing your families journey…..quite an adventure in so many ways. I have more than one favorite. The photos and blogs were delightful, and sometimes worrisome, but very enjoyable to say the least. Very happy you l made it back safely and stronger for it!!

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