As I said in the post below, made earlier today, we are back in Lima. We didn’t post on the blog for the past five days because we’ve either been running around crazy or in a place without internet, or even electricity in some cases. Here is a quick rundown of what we’ve been up to recently:
Sunday – Toured Cuzco’s Sacred Valley.
Monday – Missed our train to Machu Picchu, so caught up on rest.
Tuesday – Took an early train to Aguas Calientes (town outside MP), and ate/shopped all day.
Wednesday – Went to Machu Picchu and took the train back to Cuzco.
Thursday – Took a plane from Cuzco to Juliaca, then a combis van to Puno, found a hostal and then signed up for local tours around Lake Titicaca.
Friday – Took a tour boat to the floating islands of the Uros people and went for an overnight stay on Isla Amantani in Lake Titicaca.
Saturday – Returned on a local boat to Puno, took a tour of Sullastani, flew back to Lima, and saw Hubert off for his flight home.
Sunday – Got some laundry done, played on the internet, and generally just relaxed.
I had asked my pop to write about the Sacred Valley tour and for Jean to write about our Lake Titicaca tour. It took my dad 5 days to piece his together, and Jean spent a good amount of time writing earlier today. I am posting below this little blurb both of their stories as they wrote them, but I may have made typos as I had a hard time reading my dad’s cursive and I was rushed to type Jean’s because I was running out of time on the computer. It may be out of sequence, but at least the blog will tell about what we’ve done this past week in more detail… I’ll be posting about Machu Picchu once Jean and I get home on Tuesday.
Bone-da-knees (“Buenos dias” as Fred Sanford says),
Matt y Jean
Sacred Valley Tour — written by Hugh Bland
Sunday – 4/8/07
As we eagerly awoke on Sunday, we readied ourselves for a full day of sight seeing by renting a brand new Toyota Yaris from Eric’s Adventure.
The night before we were enthused by the price of renting a car that included insurance, plenty of miles for what we wanted to cover, and the freedom to go at our own pace. Having read from books about the area among the 3 of us, we knew we were prepared. Despite all the good signs, Eric’s rep seemed a bit shyster-like.
The first thing out of the adventure rep’s mouth on Sunday morning (Oh, I forgot to say that the brand-new Yaris belonged to the sales rep’s brother-in-law…) was “Oh sorry but my brother-in-law can’t let you rent his car today because something came up at the last minute. Not to worry! I have a great car coming with very low miles and it will be here very shortly.”
After about 15 minutes a white Toyota station wagon rolled up in front of the office. I went out to see the miles and reported it had 78,000. When the agent was confronted by this untruth, he just smiled. Within 2 minutes he’d printed out a contract with the following points or non-points:
1) Renter is responsible for all problems with the auto (forget what I said last night about a $500 deductible to cover all problems, and never mind about switching from a new Yaris to an old clunker)
2) Yes you may have a credit card to pay for the rental (and you must waive all rights to refute anything we do to you hereafter, especially you are not to challenge anything we do to you after signing.)
We laughed and we left.
Mattie went one block down the street and negotiated.
When we waited in the souvenir store – travel agency – money exchange place to meet our English speaking guide that Matthew hired based on his great English speaking skills, Carolyn and I eyeballed everyone who entered the store for 15-30 minutes.
When the fellow who entered and appeared to be the “guide”, Carolyn reported to me that our driver may only have one arm, to this, at the time, seemed a problem due to the straight shift car, but we found out in just a few minutes that we actually had both a driver named Jonathan (who had two arms and one heavy right foot) and a guide named Ruben (who’s second arm we never viewed in over nine hours).
We were set to go!
In less than five minutes, I knew our investment in a native driver and guide was genius! Mattie rules!
The path Jonathan, the drive, was given in Spanish by Ruben, the guide, led to multiple turns that had us out of Cuzco in less than 15 minutes. (Would have taken us an hour or more to get out after reading our 4 books and just possibly have at least 2 or more opinions of where to go…)
Immediately, I was impressed with Ruben’s spectacular English that Matthew had assessed in a one minute phone conversation before bringing him aboard.
Secondly, he started in Incan, Andean, and Peruvian historical events, characteristics, people, etc.
I am confident those of you knowing me and Matt can fathom our INTERRUPTING him with our own questions. Every time we’d get him off track by telling us why rural houses mounted on the roof two bulls and a crucifix, or something he’d say “Now back to the history…”
Ruben took pride in the “Andean people” both today and yesterday. He explained their work ethic, their customs, Catholicism, Spanish rule, and how he became a guide. At college he studied what I’d call “tourism”. At the time, in the early 90’s, this was a cutting-edge line of study. He explained that for many years, Peruvians felt ashamed of their culture due to a comparison to other S. America and world cultures that appeared far advanced than Peru. In 1992, a college professor of culture/tourism had an intellectual upheaval to prove to the people of Peru that the Andean people, especially and other Peruvian cultures, compared favorably to those of the Greeks, Romans, and all other esteemed people from any historical period.
He told us he’d worked as an Incan Trail guide for 8 years when he’d do 40-45 4 day tours a year. Now that he’s married, with two children, he is a free-lance tour guide.
Jonathan never uttered one line to the three of us, but he did have the Cusco soccer team’s game bellowing out of the Toyota’s radio for most of our trip.
Though I could brag about Ruben appearing not to be as interested in our money as some other locals, he actually took us to all the local spots for tourists.
He explained to us that he was going to take us to a craft co-op where the indigenous people got 30% of the profit (at the time that sounded pitiful though he was bragging, but after seeing the co-op’s prices and others around Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and Puno, maybe 30% was good).
For sure, to me, the crafts at this place were the best in all of Peru: hats, bags, rugs, etc. No others, except for a co-op in Cuzco, compared; however, their prices were 100%-1000% more than other places, with no more than 10-15% negotiating room.
Mattie bought a beautiful hat that others marveled at (both the quality and price he paid) it for the rest of the week. I saw a couple of rugs I wanted to buy, but the prices were way too high.
One of the best pics of the week was taken here. Carolyn caught Matthew running from a biting llama. My son was fast enough to save his finger, despite being spit at by this large animal in a petting zoo on the way to the artisan’s co-op shop.
The rest of the week when we were around alpaca and llama experts, Matthew asked more and more in depth questions about how much danger he could have been in and what to do the next time!
Pisac’s market in all our tour books was noted as one of the largest in and around Cuzco, especially on Sunday. So, for sure, it was on Ruben’s list for our next stop. Not only did he get a cut of everything sold to us, he was most interested in the little flour filled delicacies fried & sold in a hidden area where buses & guides parked.
When we arrived the woman greeted Ruben by his first name & he explained to us the various kinds of “empanadas” sold there. There was quite a few kinds but Carolyn and I got the traditional, while Mattie wanted a ham and cheese. On a scale of 1-10, the hot “traditional” scored an easy 8-9. It was outstanding.
This was our first major bazaar area to walk through in Peru! Carolyn was in love with the place and bought the first of many hats, here.
Matthew was a patient consumer and decided not to purchase anything here having bought a hat at the co-op for 600% more than Carolyn’s Pisac hat, but remember the “quality”.
I ended up buying two things: wall hanging & a marble hand, each after bargaining and walking away. This was a strategy Carolyn & Matthew taught me in Morocco & one they had even further developed in the world tour.
Though mostly historic, Mattie opened his wallet, again, but Ruben didn’t get a cut.
Just as we entered the Pisac Market mentioned as the largest in the area, we’d spent our allotted time entering the area. (Carolyn’s hat, my hand & hanging & the empanadas)
As we walked into this gigantic market, Ruben said it was time to go to the Pisac ruins. (Before we left, Ruben returned to buy a full large bag of empanadas for his mother! Go Ruben!)
We went almost straight up the mountain, up a dirt road that was not marked. We laughed that had we worked out the rental car experience without a driver and a guide that there would never have been a possibility of our finding this place.
This was the 1st time in a week filled with exhausting steps up 60 degree inclines, with the 3 of us panting & heaving, then stopping & demanding our guide, leader, or group wait for the 3 gringos with the faces looking like they were ready to die.
Here we found that Incan villages were divided into three areas: agricultural, spiritual, & political. Each area was distinctive. Though all three were magnificently engineered, the spiritual area was always the best; the political was mid-level but nothing like the spiritual or agricultural; and the agricultural was always the largest, but the rock and engineering work in the area was less impressive.
Ruben was like a college professor on this stop:
1) He explained history;
2) He spoke of culture & looting of this particular site over the years;
3) He compared & contrasted the Incan culture to other Andean’s and the Spanish
The entire time we were being hypnotized by Ruben’s knowledge & delivery, an Andean native dressed in his native culture was playing a flute that filled the mountains and valleys for miles.
Yep, you’re right; Matthew bought a CD from this native on our way out of the mountain after a hour of being students.
It’s now time for lunch, so we end up in Urubamba at a place where our driver & guide sit with a table of other guides and drivers. Carolyn and I order a la carte & Mattie decides to participate at the end of a long Sunday morning – early afternoon buffet (he blows the Pepto Bismol plan to the wind).
Though our waiter messes up Carolyn & my order multiple times, he was enthusiastic. After listening to our redirections, he would smile, shake his head affirmatively, & jog happily away to mess up once again.
After about one hour, all three of us had finished our meals, when an “authentic” Peruvian band set up beside our table. After three songs, we were accosted by a band member to buy the band’s CD, he left one on our table. Since he & the band were in cahoots with the waiter, our driver, & our guide, we were not getting out bill, yet.
After each of the three Americans seated at our table demanded our checks & finally settled our eating bills, one of the band members was back in my face requesting $ for the CD I had placed on a table next to ours.
As I stand up to leave, he demands payment, and I continue walking away, just like I’ve already done to Peruvian sales persons at least 100x already in just two days.
On the road again: To see real Incan engineering & to realize how pitifully out of shape I am! As each of you who have been reading this blog over the past months, I am sure at some time you’ve been impressed with Matt’s mastry of names of the places he & Carolyn have visited. Well, for my $ this next place we traveled to where he pronounced correctly all week is spelled: Ollaytaytambo!
I give him an A+! Who would have known in second grade that his pronunciation skills would be world class someday.
Ruben explained to the three of us multiple times why the Incan’s steps were so steep & high most of the time & at other times why they were separated by space & shorter in height. Later in the evening when the three of us were recuperating from climbing some 600 steps, most of them 12-16 inches in height, we all concluded that not one of us knew why the Incan steps were so steep.
A short lesson in Peruvian breathing. We entered Peru at Lima (sea level). We flew from Lima to Cuzco (10,000 ft). Denver is at 5,200 ft. Matthew & I both knew someone who exerted themself while working out near Denver & died! It’s hard to breath that high up despite being served coca tea, seeing ads for altitude pills, etc. So, our weak winded efforts at Ooly Bombay as I pronounced it, may be considered heroic by some.
Anyway, seeing the way the Incans put together these gigantic stones & placing them hundreds of feet above the ground without any modern devices amazed us all. I am sure Matt will post a pic of the gigantic stones placed at the top. This was preparation for what we would later see at Machu Picchu.
Again, like at Pisac, we saw three distinctive areas that served the Inca community in the 1500s.
Amazing – the Incan’s engineering skills & Mattie’s pronunciation skills!
Parteeee! The regional (if not national drink) is an alcoholic drink called chicha. Throughout the day Ruben had laughed when telling us different stories about chicha. He mentioned that many laborers and farmers drink it during the day and it gives them endurance to keep doing hard work throughout the day.
One morning at 7:00AM in a busy area of town, we saw a traditionally dressed Andean woman with no shoes walk up to a chicha wagon & throw back a red and then a yellow chicha. This woman who looked like a pauper started her day like a Peruvian champion.
Back to the tour: we ended up at a Peruvian distillery where chicha was made fresh daily. Of course, there were several buses there when we stopped, so we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could enter the one room bottling house. While waiting, we watched tourists play a game of FROG (the precursor of corn hole). Additionally, (you’re not going to believe this) we were shown a small corral of guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are often held in ones yard in preparation for special events. Having a roasted guinea pig for your family & guests on Easter Sunday is a honor and expected.
When we were finally able to enter the room where the chicha was made daily (it looked like Kennett’s distillery artifacts he had out on Springfield Rd.), we had the opportunity to buy sovenirs, etc. None of us bought anything.
Like chicha – JMB
Not like chicha – CJM & JHB
Last Stop: For History & Retail
From Chicha Land we had a long ride cross country. It was some of the most spectacular farmland I’ve ever seen. In and around Cusco, at 10,000 ft, where it never snows, they enjoy a semi tropical climate. The farmland was rolling hills with small patches of different crops, colors, textures, heights, etc. It looked like a painting from some great Italian master. It went on & on for miles.
During this part of our tour, Ruben began telling us how Peru had & was evolving politically. He felt that Peru was moving toward democracy, even though 35% of the population voted socialist during the last election.
I asked him about local elections: city, county, state, etc. What he told us next shocked all of us. He said that all the farming areas (and for that sake all rural areas) are run by an elected local president. The land and crops are farmed by ALL the people. Regardless of whether you like your neighbor(s) or not you are required to help the community when someone needs help.
He went on to tell us a story that happened just recently where two people had a conflict with a party who thought they had been wronged. Without any due process as we might know it in the states, the two persons perceived as being the wrongdoers were killed. Nothing was done about this.
When I asked Ruben if this system could be corrupt, his answer was, “Yes!”
About the time the sum was going down we arrived at the 1700 Catholic Church in Chinchero, where outside was a large sales area (surprise – NOT). After a short tour of the crowded, dilapidated, and small church, I was exhausted.
I went to the entrance of the sales area (church grounds) and waited for Carolyn, Matt, and Ruben. Even though I am confident that Ruben has seen many variations of how to respond to sales pitches, I was later told be my son that Ruben was surprised and laughed often when he watched how Carolyn & Matt worked the various sales ladies pitching their goods.
FINALLY, we were off to our hostel: a 45 minute drive. We learned of Ruben’s estimate of each S. American country’s strengths & weakness and we shared our US understanding of its relationship to S.A.
A great day with a great driver and guide.
A great Easter Sunday!
Lake Titicaca Tour — written by Carol Jean
On April 13, which was Friday the 13th, we left Don Julio Hostal for our tour. The tour consisted of the Floating Islands and Amantani Island in Lake Titicaca.
The boat ride was long and slow. The boat was a tourist boat, but it looked like a local boat with seats against both sides of the wall and outside. There was only 20 life vests and about 25-30 tourists, not including the tour guide and two other guys that were operating the boat.
After arriving at the first Floating Island, we all got out of the boat and sat down on a bundle of reeds. It was shaped like logs. The tour guide had talked to us about their history and also got us each individual reeds from out of the lake to eat. Oh, by the way, the lake is “only about 15% polluted”. The tour guide said it is good for the teeth and stomach (for altitude sickness), and it tasted like celery. We did not care for it and from the looks of it, no one else did either. After eating some reed, the tour guide showed us how they build their island, homes, and boats. Everything is made out of the same reeds, and they grow in Lake Titicaca.
The family we visited was very nice and had some souvenirs to sell and grandma was sitting outside on the reeds grinding some wheat for bread. She would let you take a picture of her while she ground the wheat, but when you finished taking the picture she had a little bowl wanting some soles (Peruvian currency).
After the history lesson, the group got a chance to ride on a reed boat to another floating island. We declined the ride because the seats are actually the edge of the boat, and black people can’t swim and the other island was too far to jump to – white people can’t jump. So, we met the group at the island by riding the tourist boat.
On the next floating island, the guide talked about why their skin is so dark and why their cheeks are darker than the rest of their face, because they are out in the sun and the high altitude. They never get skin cancer or sick from the sun though. There was also a cute little girl named Maya, playing with everyone. She was so friendly, letting tourists hold, tickle and play with her. They also had a small museum with about 20 different stuffed birds and a coyote.
After a quick stop there, we pressed on to the Amantani Island. It was a three hour slow going boat ride to the island. Everyone nodded off to sleep on the way there. When we arrived at the island, we had to walk up a steep hill. Mind you, we are all out of shape and on top of that, oxygen is very thin at that altitude, so we were dying going up the hill. We couldn’t find an Incan anywhere in sight to carry us up the hill.
We finally stopped where the town people were standing to greet us. The tour group consisted of about 10 individual groups, so each group was assigned to a family to go stay with. Our family included a grandmother, grandfather, and two granddaughters. Thank God Matt knew some Spanish because we would have been in bad shape. After we got paired up with a family, we had to walk up more hills to get to their house, and it seemed like it was taking forever.
We were dying for oxygen and of thirst, but Marissa (granddaughter) was on cruise control going up the hill. I would say everyone else made it to their family’s home before us. We finally made it to the house and we met her family. Marissa was 19 years old, and the first female president of her community, a kindergarten teacher, owned a neighborhood store and was the host for tourists in her home. She is a busy lady.
After meeting her family, she made lunch for us. Lunch included soup, cheese omelets, Indian carrots and about 5 different potatoes. After lunch we walked farther up the hill to the soccer stadium to talk about more history. There were some girls from the neighborhood with hats, scarfs, and handbags for sale that were all hand made. Some of the girls continued knitting while the tour guide talked to us about the history of the island. After the tour guide finished talking, the group walked up another 500ft to see the sun set, but remember that we are already at over 12,000ft above sea level (that’s 1/3 the height of Mt Everest). Matt and I just walked around and took pictures of the sunset while the group hiked up the hill.
Matt met an old guy and the guy was so friendly. He stopped and talked to Matt for about 10 mins. He told us that we could go across other people’s property to take pictures of the lake and sunset. We also saw snow capped mountains in Bolivia, so we were very close to Bolivia.
After taking pictures we walked back to the house for dinner, and it was made up of soup and a rice and potato gravy. It was good and filling. After dinner, the tourists and town people had gone to the community center for a party. We were too tired to go. They dressed the girls in a traditional Peruvian outfit and the guys wore ponchos. We could hear the party from our family’s home and it sounded like they were having fun. We stayed in the house and went to bed because we had to get up at 6:00am for the local boat ride back to Puno.