wayfaringwordhack: (web)

On our world trip, while in Santiago, Chili, J and I took great pleasure strolling around, photographing some awesome graffiti. I always meant to put up a wonderful quote that I found that day and the accompanying art, but I never got around to it. I took a photo at the ornithological reserve in Le Teich the other day that will do the trick now because the Santiago pic is on a hard drive, packed away.  Somewhere.



The whole flock trembles when the black sheep eats the wolf. ~~Unknown 

Speaking of sheep, Soëlie, Manou (or Madame la Maman, as I call her), and I went for a walk in the woods this afternoon, on the flank of the Black Mountains, and part of our path ran alongside the back of a sheep pasture.  I've been doing the obligatory animal sounds* with Soëlie, and she was maa-maaaa'ing her heart out, trying to get the sheep to come to us. Sadly not a one obliged her. :P

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*It's been several months, at least three, that S meows, and in Le Teich, she learned to click her tongue to call horses. 
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 Still trying to catch up on South America.

Our trip into the Salar (or Salt Flat) began true to our South American RottenLuck(TM). The first "site" on our tour is a visit to a train cemetery.  "You have 8 minutes," the driver tells us as we pile out of the 4WD in front of a line of decrepit, rusting train engines and gutted train cars. Liar (the lady from the dreaded To-Be-Avoided Blue Line Services) said that there were very few tourists at the moment and we wouldn't see more than three or four cars at any given site.  There were closer to 30 Toyota Land Cruisers there at the dump site.  I stopped counting after 24.

Julien muttered that he hoped we weren't going to be treated like children for the whole tour as we meandered over to watch swarms of tourists getting their picture taken with the rusted carcasses.  Trash blew around our feet escaping the piles where it had been dumped on the surrounding plain.

More like ten minutes later--eight too many for me--we climbed back in the car and raced off in a streak of dust for the entrance to the salt flat.  We stopped in a little po-dunk town that was supposed to have a museum where they explain the process of gathering and preparing the salt.  The museum was a store selling sweaters, bags, and hats where they charge you to take pics of statues carved out of salt blocks.

And then you had all this waiting outside for you:




We were granted a whole 15 minutes there.  Julien had the sense to wander off "behind the scenes" with his video camera and got some good shots of people cleaning and bagging the salt. (Thinking about all the little irksome details is making me cross, so here are some pictures and basic commentary to keep me from having to rehash all the things that chapped my hide about what should have been a beautiful, blissful visit.)

Then it was back into the Land Cruiser for what we really came to see, the giant salt pan. Our first stop was a ten-minute photo break near the edge of the pan where workers shovel the salt into mounds so it can dry:




The scenery was gorgeous once we started to leave the town and plains behind us.



We stopped to see the* Salt Hotel.  No one is allowed to stay there because it would pollute the salt, but they do allow you to enter and look around for a fee.  I did an about face when I read the sign about the fee and took a pic of the salt furniture instead.



We stopped for lunch at Isla de Pescadores where amazing, 1000-yr cacti grow on an island of ancient coral.  This forked one here is about 6 meters tall, the tallest was over 9m:



We then did a shoot of silly perspective photos, a seeming must on the incredibly flat salt pan:



We finished up the 3 (two) day trip with visits to volcanos:



and "lagoons" with pink flamingos:



Sorry for the boring commentary, but I don't feel like getting my blood boiling again.  More volcano talk--and possibly more pics--later.

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* There were actually several Salt Hotels, and we slept in one on the first night.

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It isn’t only the numerous car and cyclist fatalities that give El Camino de la Meurte (officially known as the North Yungas Road) its sinister reputation. From the road’s inception, it has had ties to morbidity and death. It was built by Paraguayan war prisoners, many of whom died during the construction.

War criminal Klaus Barbie, The Butcher of Lyon, fled from French justice* and hid in the Bolivian jungle, where he is said to have helped the Bolivian regime with their torture techniques. He sold and shipped wood from his forest to La Paz and the road had to be maintained for its transportation.** His old house sits right on the Death Road. Sadly our guide told us this information only after we were safely imprisoned in the bus, heading back uphill, otherwise we might have had to defecate on his property.***

When we began the downhill ride, our guide stopped us to explain the upcoming curves and dangers. The first sharp curve had a monument on it dedicated to the "Martyrs of Democracy." In November 1944, Gualberto Villarroel took five of his political opponents to this 3100 ft cliff and threw them off.  

Now that the new, wider, paved road has been built to Coroico, El Camino de la Meurte gets much less traffic, but the old road is still shorter and faster.  That, along with all the thrillseekers and adventuresome souls who tackle it by bike, will assure that Pachamama continues to get her libations, whether they be in alcohol or blood.

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* SHAME ON YOU, AMERICA, for helping the sadistic @#$+%&!!!!

**  Our guide told us that the road was built for/because of Barbie, but the Internet gives the 1930s as its construction date, which was before Barbie's arrival in South America.

*** Probably a good idea to only tell us afterwards since Barbie was finally extradited, tried, and imprisoned back in the early 80s.  It is no longer his property and whoever owns it now doesn't need that happening to their house and land. 
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 Er, wait, I've said that before, haven't I?  But, well, original or not, that's what we're doing.  We're about ot get on a flight from Santiago to Auckland, upon which we will celebrate the New Year several times over as we cross numerous time zones.

We won't be able to wish you a happy one "en live," but we'll raise our glass to you...over and over again.

May 2010 be filled with all the greatness and goodness you can possibly wish fo.
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That’s the subtitle they use for El Camino de la Meurte, the dirt road that leads down to Coroico. It is dangerous; one year alone, when the road was still heavily used by regular traffic, over 320 people died on it. Since the first company started the downhill mountain biking, 20 cyclists have passed on to the Great Beyond. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Camino de la Meurte is the most dangerous ride, or the most difficult, technically speaking.

It is dangerous. Twenty deaths and numerous injuries can attest to that, but it isn’t out of reach for someone who is ridiculously useless at biking....in other words, moi. Which means that it is likely, er, very likely, you can do it, too.

However, if you do want to try it out, go with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. They are serious about safety, and their motto can be pretty much summed up in one word: respect.

Respect your brakes (they're good, really good; you can trust them).
- Respect the road (20 deaths, only one with Gravity, but it was apparently a heart attack and not truly due to the road)
- Respect others (only Gravity riders have the courtesy to let others know they are passing).

For those that want a technical ride, Gravity does the Ghost Ride and and a Secret Single Track that are more likely to please, but the Most Dangerous Road is still a satisfying descent with gorgeous scenery. Worth doing.

I'm almost positive that this cross was put up in memory of the first cyclist's death on the road:


(the diagonal line or break in the vegetation above the cross is the road...)

Postcard curve:


Not as scary as it looks, but that is a 800ft drop there.  :P
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(This post is out of chronological order, but I already have it written because I just had to record the misadventures right after they happened...)

And I don’t mean the bus going to Sajama. You can miss that one with no problem and probably be a lot better off.



If you haven’t guessed yet that Sajama (pronounced “Sahama”) did not enchant me, read on, and you’ll soon see why )

Sajama faded behind us, and I let out breath after breath, gaze fixed on the gorgeous volcanoes we came to see, trying to remember that there is beauty even in the ugliest of places and the adventures we remember the most are the ones that made us suffer just a bit...

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*Although NOWHERE NEAR AS BAD OR WEIRD, Sajama reminded me of the terribly creepy, sicked-out village in the freaky, dark French movie, “Calvaire.”

** Two such starches, a healthy meal do not make!
wayfaringwordhack: (christmas quail)
 
Santa and his elf thought of you while they were in Machu Picchu. Just so you know. ;)




Have the Merriest Holiday Season EVER!
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(sorry for the length, but when I put pics behind a cut, no one looks...and Machu Picchu deserves better than that, even if I'm not giving you the best photos)


6:30 alarm so as not to start the day too late. After breakfast at the hotel, we put our bags in storage and catch a cab to the address where the minibuses wait to take passengers to Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.


As our cab turns onto the street in question, about ten men rush out in front of us and flag us down, shouting, “Urubamba 5 soles! Ollantaytambo 10!”


One man, more brazen than the rest, slams Julien’s door as he is trying to get out. Not a good way to get Julien to agree to take the guy’s minibus, let me tell you. Julien glares at him and shoves the door open again as he says, “Calm down, young man, or we aren’t going to be friends.” The guy is almost old enough to be Julien’s dad, but he backs down with a sullen look.


It feels a lot like Madagascar to have so many people trying to hustle us into their vans, trying to convince us to give them our business, but once we choose a van, the men back off and go back to flagging down passing cars. The minibus won’t leave until it’s full. We watch and root for our driver, happy to see he is jovial about his work, not overly pushy or belligerent.


Thirty minutes later, we pull out of the parking lot and head slowly through the streets, the driver’s assistant hanging out the open sliding door, trying to lure one or two more passengers into the bus.


No one bites. She slams the door and off we go to Ollantaytambo. The minibus climbs out of Cuzco, and the mountains and valleys open before us, showing us another, more pleasant, visage of Peru: red earth and green, green crops, plots of land going up vertiginous mountain faces, terraces here and there, eucalyptus trees swaying above it all. Rooting pigs, grazing cattle, donkeys. Only one llama.


IMG_2931
(taken from a zooming, swerving van; please be kind :P )


 
Julien and I are in the front seat, and our driver kindly points out some sites--Inca terraces there, a lake here--all the while speeding down the road, honking, and passing other cars. I begin to understand the prayer hanging from his rearview mirror. With the way they drive, the Peruvians need all the looking after they can get.


IMG_2904



An hour and a half later, we pull into Ollantaytambo, the Inca ruins towering over the village. We tip the driver two soles for his impromptu guide work. His eyes shine with surprise and pleasure, and he can’t stop calling us amigos and giving us advice we can’t quite understand.


We buy our train tickets to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village) and then go in search of lunch, finally settling on a mediocre tourist-trap style place just because all the other tourist traps look pretty sketchy on the hygiene front--we actually left one that looked like food poisoning waiting to happen.* Neither Julien nor I want to go another round with ol’ Montezuma and his Revenge. Who wouldn't want revenge if I ate "friend trout"?



 



By time we eat our lunch, afternoon gloom has settled over the ruins. It was a mistake to eat first and miss out on the clear morning. It is quite a hike to the top of the ruins, and we stop once or twice to get our breath, pleased to see Peruvian tourists doing the same. We feel a little less like sissies.





The views are spectacular and the stonework even more so. The Inca town must have been a sight at its heyday. It’s not hard to imagine backs bent, sowing seeds in the terraces, men grunting under a load of superbly-cut stone, the hammer of tools and orders as the massive blocks of the sun temple are set in place. We climb to smaller ruins at the top of the mountain to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s ascension to Machu Picchu.



A look at our watch tells us it is time to hustle down to the station. Don’t want to miss our train**...





The ride is good because the clouds clear up as we are pulling out of the station. We travel along the river valley, impressive peaks towering over us on both sides, the highest ones, snowcapped. I chat with a young American couple, and Julien goes a few seats back to speak with a French couple who have just come up from Bolivia.


Our arrival in Aguas Calientes is not so smooth or pleasant. We aren’t in the same hostel as the group we are supposed to be meeting up with, we have a hassle finding our guide, when we do find him, he ignores us, not even telling us hello, leaving us to stew alone for an hour...the whole affair is very disorganized and leaves us fearing for the morrow. To top it off, Julien is served rotten fish. Not a very good end to what has been a great day.


I sleep poorly, afraid we are going to miss our 3:35 am alarm. I’m wide awake before it goes off, but I stay in bed, trying to rest up for the hike to Machu Picchu. When the alarm sounds, Julien and I bound out of bed and throw on our clothes. The hotel receptionist knocks on our door just as we are shouldering our bags to tell us that she has unlocked the door for us.


Aguas Calientes is quite and gray in the early morning hours, all the bright tourist traps and restaurants shuttered and barred; we don’t even hear music from the five or six discotheques that are supposed to exist in town. We are the first at the rendezvous point. A few minutes later our guide shows up. We tell him we are going to leave right away because I’ll have to hike slower due to my twisted ankle still paining me. He points us on the right path and goes back into the hostel to make sure the others are getting out of bed. Apparently, he had to nursemaid them a bit on the trek.


The town lights illuminate the low-lying clouds that enshroud the sheer mountains thrusting up from the Urubamba river. Finally, they fade behind us and our eyes adjust to the darkness. We follow the pale road to a neon-lit shrine that sits before two bridges. We take the one on the right for pedestrians and are just making our way up the first stairs when some members of our group pass us.


It is slow going for me, and Julien waits patiently as I have to catch my breath every 30 or 50 feet. Group after group passes us, but I don’t care. I’ll make it to the top, more slowly, yes, but I’ll make it. Machu Picchu must be earned to my mind, and I haven’t done much to deserve it just yet.


The dawn breaks, and we arrive at the top after climbing for an hour and fifty minutes, ten minutes before the gates open to let in the masses. There are over 200 people already waiting. The first bus arrives just after we do, and out spill the tourists not up to climbing and not adverse to spending $7 for a one-way ticket to the top.


The entrance is not what I expect. I thought we would arrive above the site, able to see the ruins spread out in terraced, plunging glory before us. Not so. We make our way through several checkpoints and take a largish path around a wall and some reconstructed houses before we glimpse Machu Picchu fighting to shrug off the morning fog.


Our guide herds us up some terraces and sits us down to give us an hour long lecture on what we will be seeing. It isn’t passionate, but it does give the clouds a chance to lift.





 
And when they do lift...WOW. Machu Picchu is without a doubt a place that lives up to the hype. Magnificent, stupendous, mind-boggling. I love it.


IMG_3459



Julien and I spend the day there, not even leaving when the afternoon clouds come back, bringing a rain shower.


Going down the mountain is tricky--the steps are slick and uneven--but we make it in time to pick up our train tickets at the hostel. I could leave the visit there, but I did title this how to make a very tired Miquela, and sadly we aren’t magically whisked back to Cuzco.


The train ride back is good; I even doze a bit. But the disorganized adventures begin again once we get off in chilly, dark Ollantaytambo. The person who was supposed to be waiting for us (and three other girls) isn’t there. No one is holding a sign with our names on it like our guide promised. There are plenty of taxi drivers who try to sell us their services, but we already paid for our transportation back to Cuzco and we shouldn’t have to pay again.


Finally, a drivers says, “Your names aren’t right, but I’m supposed to be picking up five gringos and there are five of you. Come along.” In the meantime, his assistant is on the phone trying to figure out the mess so that they’ll be able to collect their pay.


The ride back to Cusco is bumpy and tight and four types of music are audible for the first 20 minutes. Slowly the noises quiet as people doze. We arrive in Cuzco without incident and are summarily dumped in a town square that has nothing to do with ANYTHING, not the tour office, not our hotels, nothing.


A man from the tour company is there, though. He pays the driver and offers no apologies for the mix up. We glare at him and leave without a goodbye, thankful that our hotel is within walking distance. The three other girls have to pay a taxi to take them back to their hotel, which our zoomed past, not letting them off because he had orders to deliver them downtown.


Next morning, alarm again at 5:30 so we don’t miss our flight to La Paz, Bolivia...


Yes, I am one tired Miq, but very happy still. Machu Picchu is worth every pain it took to see it.

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* Sadly, [livejournal.com profile] frigg , I could not find “friend rice” on the menu, only “friend chicken.”


** Go with Inca Rail instead of PeruRail. IR is a locally-owned company, while PR is British and the profits go to England instead of staying in Peru. The IR trains are better and cheaper. IR says the ticket is $40, but if you moan nicely, they’ll tell you that they just happen to have a special that day for $30, one dollar cheaper than PR for a really, really great train.
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If I survive The Death Road here in Bolivia, I'll tell you all about Machu Picchu.

If I don't survive, farewell to you all. It's been a blast...
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We had a leisurely breakfast with our new German friends, C and M, then together went to the bus station for tickets to Lima for J and I and to Chachapoyas in the north for C and M. We met up with E from Wales at the Huaca de la Luna (the Huaca del Sol is right by it, but not excavated or open to visits).

This temple was made by the Moche, ancestors of the Chimu Empire, but they didn't worship the moon like the Chimor were supposed to have done. The Moche temple was misnamed based on the Central American ruins where there was often a bigger pyramid for the sun and a smaller one for the moon.

This pretty fellow was the Moches' god Ai Apaec:

IMG_2589

The Beheader God, as our guide so charmingly named him. The Moche practiced human sacrifice to ensure the fertility of their valley.

With time, the temple got bigger and bigger at its base as the people built more and more levels. Row upon row of adobe bricks were placed over the previous facade to receive a larger load on top. Archaeologists have excavated the original walls, where the pigments survived.

IMG_2619


According to our guide, the workers don't restore the paints; they just fix them with a clear sealant so they won't deteriorate further now that they've been re-exposed to air and sun. Nor are they repairing the bas-reliefs, just bringing them to light:

IMG_6557

After our visit, we had to rush back to town for C and M to catch their bus. Luckily, there was a collectivo (bus-taxi) waiting in the temple parking lot. A much better bargain than a private taxi:

IMG_2627

E, J, and I walked around Trujillo's city center and ate guinea pig and a kind of red corn pudding while waiting for our late-night buses...

Next up: Cuzco.
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Sad to say, but we only have graffiti pictures to show for Lima. The sky was gray--we didn't even see the sun until we had been in Peru for 3 days--the air polluted. The Plaza des Armas was colonially colorful with yellow buildings, a towering cathedral, and a herd of cow sculptures, each decorated by a different artist. But it was also clogged with loiterers, moneychangers, and police. Not an atmosphere that fired one with the desire to pull out a big camera.

Click for pics, but only one of graffiti :P )
I'll make a separate post for the Huaca de la Luna, which is also in Trujillo.
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*They even advertise with landscaping! You can see major brand names written in flowering plants along the road between Miraflores and downtown Lima. On a related advertising note, sponsoring companies have their logos and ads plastered larger-than-life behind the contestants on game shows. Very strange.

**Each king had a palace. At his death, his wife, servants, and about 40 of his advisors, etc. were drugged and then buried alive with him (not in the same tomb, but in holes around his). The palace was then deserted, becoming a tomb, and king's eldest would have his own palace, which had been in construction for several years in preparation of his future reign.
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In Peru, one must haggle. That’s easy enough for my Frenchified American mind to wrap itself around. When it comes to taxis, in markets, when dealing with tour operators. It’s a little harder when it comes to stores and specifically pharmacies. And yet, haggle you may.

Yesterday, we were trying to buy some meds to combat my diarrhea because, well, 8 days is too long to be putting up with that. However, we only had a little more than 20 soles on us. The pharmacists said that the price was 48NS. Disappointed, we asked if there wasn’t another brand. He didn’t have one, but he offered to lower the price to 45NS. And so on and so forth until he was trying to sell me only three days worth of pills for 25NS.

We found the same product in a pharmacy a few blocks away for only 28NS for the whole box, which we took without trying to haggle.

Today, after the doc’s visit, I went back to that cheaper pharmacy. On a whim, I divided my money when the pharmacist wasn’t looking. When she announced the total (145NS), I pulled out the wad that had the closest amount to what she was asking, 130NS. I made a show of patting myself and reaching into my other pockets and coming up empty.

“Please, senora, is it possible...?” I asked, waving helplessly at the money I had fanned out on the counter. I counted it again in front of her.

She looked at it, glanced at the pill packets, face scrunched in calculation, and nodded.

Bam, 15 soles ($5 US) off the asked the price.

What the heck?
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Just before lunch time, Julien’s medication wore off and he was seized by chills again. The very kind hotel staff at San Blas Hostal let me make him a soup and, at my request, called a doctor to come check on him. We had planned to go to the clinic, but it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs, and I just couldn’t see J having to go out in that, endure a taxi ride, and then wait only the saints know how long until a doctor finally got around to seeing him.

Doctor’s verdict: The flu. The normal, seasonal kind, but one that is coupled with a gastrointestinal infection.

In regards to my case, he says the diarrhea’s cause is likely parasitic to have lasted so long, and he prescribed me meds, too.

We’re hoping that Julien will kick his fever enough to allow us to go to Machu Picchu. It may seem a frivolous thing, but I ask, if you’re willing, that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

As [livejournal.com profile] kmkibble75 said in comment to my last post, we must have wronged Peru somehow for all this to be befalling us here. *sigh*
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Last night, over supper, I told Julien that I was ready for this morning to roll around so that we could be on our way to our trekking adventure. I had a nervous feeling in my stomach that something was going to go amiss. Having been scammed by a guide before* and just having dealt with the &*^%$! moneychanger, I guess that apprehension could be considered normal.

However, trouble didn't come in the form of our guide (who was 15 minutes late this morning, so don't you know the suspicions were aroused!); it came from Montezuma's Revenge (food poisoning for Julien and diarrhea and early morning puking for me). Julien went to bed not feeling so great. He woke up about an hour later with chills and a fever, just after I had booked our non-refundable plane tickets to La Paz.**

The plane tickets weren't really that big a deal, but add them to our trek, which we already paid for, and we are out a pretty penny. I didn't burden Julien with the plane business, but he still worried about missing the trek this morning. He didn't need to be doing that with his fever, but like me, he could stop the worries. I watched over him while he fitfully dozed, catching a total of 30 minutes sleep myself.

When he vomited, I felt relief that it was most likely food that didn't agree with him rather than the H1N1 flu. But we've shared all of our dishes, and I wasn't sick to the same degree and didn't have a fever. He vomited again about an hour later, but he was still hot to the touch.*** I kept checking the time, wondering when it would be okay to try to call a doctor. My Spanish being so limited, it was a real dilemma.

This morning, he felt a bit better, but there was no way, after being ill and spending a sleepless night, that we were up for 5 hours of biking, albeit downhill, followed by two days of hiking through the jungle.

We went to our appt with our guide to tell him we had to cancel, and surprise, he wasn't there. As I mentioned, someone did show up but over 15 minutes late. The guy told us we probably won't get any money back, but we still have supper and one night in a hostel in Aguas Calientes (otherwise known as Machu Picchu village), our tickets to see Machu Picchu on Saturday and the train/bus fare back to Cusco. All is not lost; just a big chunk of it. We also have the joy of coordinating our late arrival in Aguas Calientes with the group that just left, as well as having to re-book the plane to Bolivia.

Joy. All we've done in Cusco is waste our time on such things.

Sometimes traveling is fun; sometimes it... I'll let you complete the rest of that.

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* I know I meant to post about this after our Madagascar trip, but I never wanted to dig into all the rage and disappointment again. Long story short, we paid a guide 2/3 of our tour fee, and he never showed up. Julien worked with the local police and caught him, but we never got our money back. Well, we did get back about a 1/3 of it. The whole experience really colored our view of Madagascar, but, on the brighter side, it did make us more wary and world-wise, and gave us a truer picture of the island.

**Found out this morning there was a problem with my reservation, and the company cancelled it. That's all good, but we still have to go book it again.

***Our thermometer mysteriously went missing from our first-aid kit along with some of medicines, most notably our intestinal infection pills...
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If all goes according to plan, tomorrow begins our 4-day bike/trek trip to Machu Picchu. Next time you hear from us, we'll likely be in La Paz, Bolivia, where we will be flying Sunday morning.

Take care; I know we are trying to...
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Yesterday was a pretty blah day. It began with a missing pair of underwear and went downhill from there. I'm only going to talk about the abyss here, though, and save the rest for another post.

[livejournal.com profile] mana_trini and I had some euros that we needed to change, and like all tourists do, we set about looking for the bureau with the best rate. "Bureau" is a big word for the tiny money booths that clutter the city sidewalks with their loud fluorescent orange and green signs. On Aviendo El So, we split up, J going to one cambio and I to another.

I asked the guy for his rate, and he pretended not to understand the amount I was saying. He wanted to me show him my bills and like a fool I did. Well, Mr Slick took one of them, put his hand UNDER his desk and then put another bill back on the top. At first glance, it looked like a 50 euro bill all right, but I knew I had just been scammed.

My hands started shaking, and I demanded that he give back my bill. He pretended, yet again, that he didn't understand what I was talking about, but luckily Julien came along just then. As a policeman, he's taken lots of classes on how to ID fake money, and he saw right away that the bill was fake. I was too worked up to really look at them. I just wanted my bill back and I wanted it right then.

Well, the guy acted all huffy, but he gave us a real 50. J stayed there to watch him, and I ran off to fetch a police officer. Woe is me, but the first one I found was a young woman, probably not very experienced, who did absolutely nothing.

So, long story short and minus all the rage and frustration, the jerk got to keep his fake bill to pass off on the next unsuspecting tourist. For your information, this is his ugly mug:

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When you want to change money, go to an official change bureau or bank. The guys on the street may (only sometimes!) have a better rate, but your chance of getting cheated is much greater.

And, as a side note, today in San Blas, a hip quarter of Cusco, I found a 5 soles coin on the church steps. I was rather tickled and pocketed it. Well, we tried to pay our lunch with it, and it was a fake!

Be aware, be very aware, in Cusco...and just anywhere when money is involved.
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In Peru, you can voyage in style on long-haul buses for pretty darn cheap. And you want to be in style when the majority of trips are over 6 hours long. We’ve taken three bus rides so far (9 hrs from Lima to Trujillo with another 9 for the trip back, and 21 hrs Lima-Cusco) with two different companies. Both companies have seats far superior to those in economy-class planes.

With the exception of one (and I don’t know its destination/distance traveled), the buses I’ve seen in Peru are double deckers. The first level is 1st class, but sometimes the whole bus is considered first class, especially if it is a night bus. All the seats recline, but not all reclining seats are created equal. Many a company claims to sell “cama” seats--or bed seats--but few are the ones that recline a full 180Ëš.

Cruz del Sur sells their best class as VIP, but I’ve yet to see the 180Ëš seats on their buses. They do travel with 2 drivers and have all sorts of safety measures that they take (satellite monitoring, laser road-sweeps to identify obstacles in the bus’s path...), so you feel pretty good in their hands. They are a little more expensive, but I appreciated their drivers a lot more than those of Movil Tours, the company we traveled with for our return to Lima. On the Movil Tours bus, I was woken several times in the night by the driver swerving or hitting his brakes.

Something to keep in mind on the long trips is food and drinks. The buses do have a concession service, but like anywhere, you’ll pay more for it than if you bring along a few provisions yourself. Meal servings are usually generous in Peru; not so on the buses. And the quality...meh...leaves a lot to be desired. If you don’t find colored bread (fluo green, frex) amusing, be afraid.

In our experience, it’s been pretty much a joke when the company (Cruz del Sur, in this case) asks your meal preference. “Chicken, beef, or vegetarian?” they asked for our Lima-Trujillo trip (90 NS*/person), and out they brought tuna sandwiches with one slice the aforementioned green bread and another of white with brown swirls, a ham roll on whole wheat, and a cream & fruit tartlette that was actually quite tasty. That was at 10:20 pm, and there wasn’t anything for breakfast.

For our 21hr Lima-Cusco (180 NS/person) leg, Cruz del Sur didn’t bother asking what kind of supper we wanted, and everyone got lomo saltado with chicken (typical Peruvian dish of stir-fried meat and veggies heaped over french fries and served with rice. Yum; starch!). Breakfast was a strawberry yoghurt, a pastry with ham and cheese, and the most god-awful muffin I ever tasted. I had to spit out my first and only bite.

Movil Tours (65 NS/person) didn’t ask what we wanted and served a pig in the blanket, a savory cookie, and a kind of sweet pastry. Nothing for brekky, but we kept the supper and had it in the morning, with the exception of the pig in the blanket. You can’t pay me to eat things like that. Yes, [livejournal.com profile] frigg , that is my food snobbism coming out.

If you are traveling by bus (anywhere, not just Peru), think about asking for a seat as far away from the toilets as possible. It may seem like common sense to do that, but when you are in a country where your grasp of the language isn’t all that great, you may forget to ask. You (ok, I ) tend to just smile and nod when the agent points to a chair on the seating chart. DON’T do that. After just a few hours on a bus, even the cleanest toilet is going to start smelling ripe. Which brings me to my next travel tip...

Take something--think hygenic wipes, hand cream, a hanky dabbed with essential oils, or, my personal favorite, Tiger Balm--to help you combat any nasty odors that might arise. Those toilets I just mentioned or, perhaps, the reak of vomit from the lady puking into a plastic sack just behind you. Having the Tiger Balm to inhale seriously kept both Julien and me from gagging when we were surrounded by those icky odiferous exhalations.

Motion sickness pills are handy to have along (I was this > < close to taking some), as is a pair of earplugs (actually needed them in a of couple hotels, but that’s another post).

_______________________
*NS = nuevo soles about 3NS to $1 or 4NS to 1€.
wayfaringwordhack: (Default)
In general, "the facilities" in Peru are not the cleanest I've ever been in. Many a Peruvian woman seems adverse to flushing the toilet after she's made water.

The restrooms also lack toilet paper and toilet seats.

However, sometimes you only think there is no paper when, in fact, it is in a dispenser outside the stall or, in one case, completely outside the restroom. I bet many a tourist wish he, but especially, she would have noticed before dropping his or her drawers...

Moral of the post is: Always keep some TP in your pocket and do lots of squats in preparation of a visit if you plan on coming Peru way.

This friendly bit of advice brought to you from a bus station in Lima, where we've spent the morning waiting on our bus to Cuzco. Expcet the next bit of travel wisdom/observation tomorrow.
wayfaringwordhack: (Default)
What we've been up to will have to wait for another post, but...

I know we (but especially I) went silent these past few weeks. Never fear, all is well, and [livejournal.com profile] mana_trini and I landed safely in Lima at 10:30 last night. We're off to see the capital this arvy, and we'll see where we go from there.

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