As some of you know, the Spanish class left on Saturday
leaving behind only Joe, Joe, Dugan and I. Needless to say, we
were all a little depressed to see everyone go, but soon got over
it. We spent Sunday at the mall playing games in the arcade, eating
at McDonalds, and watching movies in DTS surround sound. Oh, and
for all of you who haven't seen the new Star Wars movie preview:
On Monday, we hauled ass over to Latacunga to try to set up a
climb up Cotopaxi - which we figured was over 19,300 ft. Juan,
our guide from before, couldn't take us because we didn't reserve
his equipment, but he set us up with another guy, Fernando. Fernando
was okay, but we ended up paying more than I'm willing to admit.
Part of that was because we almost HAD to do it that same night
- otherwise Joe and Dugan would have had to change their tickets
again. Fernando agreed but cautioned us that we might not have
enough time to practice with our equipment and acclimatize at
the refuge (4800 meters). We ignored him and we started out from
Latacunga very late - after 7pm. We arrived at the refuge at about
9:30, ate dinner, and slept 'til about 1am. At 1am, we suited
up and started up the rest of the mountain.
I can't describe to you how every part of this climb went. This
is partly because there is so much to tell, and partly because
I went through periods of walking unconsciousness during the night
(no kidding - at least I didn't get sick repeatedly like another
climber from Juneau that we met did, nor did I experience the
tingling arms and silver sparkles dancing in front of my eyes
like Joe did...). At over 5000m, the altitude does some very strange
things to you. Keep in mind, too, that we were at sea level just
4 days before. It probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world
Anyway, Rick was right. It wasn't fun, and it wasn't easy, but
it was very rewarding. We arrived at the summit an hour or so
after sunrise and saw everything laid out below us. The day was
very clear with only a few clouds along the horizon (we were so
lucky!) and you could see forever. Surprisingly, walking down
was just as hard as going up and when we arrived back at the hotel
at about 10:30 we all wanted to die.
Anyway, I wouldn't recommend that hike (or others like it) to
anyone in good shape. You have to be in GREAT shape to not be
miserable. I remember when I was thinking to myself after the
first hour of the climb that I just COULD NOT make it, I asked
our guide how much farther we had to go. He told us about 5 hours.
Now I know that my willpower is stronger than my body, but not
by much. I think if any of us had said "I don't want to go
on," we would have stopped right there. We were just too
damn macho (read: stupid).
Well, once we conquered that, we needed to get back to Quito
so that Joe and Dugan could fly out the next morning. We arrived
a little late, and had to wake up the owners of the Hostal Marsella
so that they could get their tickets from the safe. Oops. But
everything worked out... except that Dugan could never get any
more money from his account and had to borrow a ton of sucres
to leave the country ($25 export tax and $75 to change his ticket).
And then there were two. Joe and I are still in Quito. We plan
to talk with Diego one more time to see if he has any suggestions
on places to go. Other than that, we're looking and El Nariz del
Diablo and Cuenca before heading off to pick up Joe's brother,
Karl, in Peru. Who knows, though. We haven't decided anything
Anyway, we'll be in touch, and a lot of you can probably expect
to get postcards soon. Now that the group's gone, we have time
to write 'em!
Nariz del Diablo
Well, I believe I left off last time with the time Joe,
Dugan and I pulled off that 5897 meter stunt called Cotopaxi.
After what seemed to be a very short time, Joe B. and Dugan had
to leave, and that just left Joe S. and I. (A 3 HT with G on the
So, Joe and I stuck around Quito only long enough to make some
arrangements for the future. Diego, at the Colonial Spanish School,
was an incredibly valuable resource there. He helped us finalize
our Galápagos trip and booked reservations for our necessary
flights throughout Peru (Peru is HUGE compared to Ecuador. Taking
busses everyone is NOT an option!) Anyway, we ended up withdrawing
over 12 MILLION sucres from ATMs to pay for all this - actually,
we shut down at least two of the ATMs and STILL didn't have enough
money. Joe had to use his credit card (which is 10% more tacked
on). You want to talk nervous? Try walking down the streets of
Quito with a wad of cash like that in your pocket. Maybe we should
have taken it to the Hilton instead of Diego...
Anyway, after studying the LP Ecuador book a lot, we decided
that we wanted to spend our time south of Quito instead of North.
Our first plan was to make for Riobamba - no problem. We spent
the night there and got up (very bright and early - at 5:30am)
and hopped on the train. We rode inside until we got to Alusí
where we climbed up with the rest of the gringos to experience
El Nariz del Diablo. It really is a spectacular descent! In some
places there's no other way for the train to go down the canyons
except by going to the end of a piece of track, switching the
rails behind them, and then BACKING the train up for a couple
of kilometers until they can reverse the process farther down!
At any rate, we couldn't complete the entire "Devil's Nose"
run because the tracks were out past Huigra, where we got off.
Oh, and we were just DYING to visit the birthplace of Lorena Bobbit,
too. That's in Bucay for all you trivia majors...
After all that excitement, we took a nice LONG journey back to
Riobamba and our hotel. We spent the night there and then jumped
on a bus bound for Cuenca. That bus ride was...interesting. We
were in the VERY front of the bus, actually farther forward than
the driver! A great view, but those of us with legs would like
a little more room to move around, ya know?
Cuenca was pretty laid back and cool. Perhaps that was because
we arrived there on Saturday night and saw most of it on Sunday,
though. Mental note: Try not to arrive in a town on the weekend.
Everything is closed and there's nothing to do/see! So, we made
the best of a decent situation: We walked a lot. Our main destination
was a nice, tall hill that overlooked the city. The view (and
soaking in the sun) was worth the sweat it cost us to get up there.
The way back to our hotel was fun, too. We got to dodge all the
water balloons thrown at us from the cars. Carnival. Gotta love
We also spent half of Monday checking out a decent museum there,
too. They also had some ruins in the back... but, as the book
stated, they're really only of interest to archeologists. Nothing
like what we saw in Mexico or that we're going to see in Peru.
So we left Cuenca bound for...Machala. Anyone ever heard of it?
Machala is...interesting, too. (Note: from this point, through
the next week, I could count the number of gringos we saw on one
hand. Not that I use my fingers to count, mind you.) Okay, Machala
may have been a bad decision (mine) but we made the best out of
it. We saw more banana trees than all of you have seen, combined.
Um, it was quite hot (95 degrees most days) and very humid. Hmmm...the
streets were perfectly square and most didn't have street signs.
You wouldn't believe how often and how badly we got lost in that
town. We checked out Puerto Bolivar with the intention of catching
a boat to a small, beach-island-thing, but it was pretty cloudy
and we blew it off. We were pretty disappointed and ready to leave
for Peru the very next day...
Anyway, so what's to like about Machala? Well, we ran into this
older guy from Delaware while we were having dinner one night
and we ended up talking for hours (another gringo quotient example:
He's been coming to Ecuador for AT LEAST 1 month out of each year
for the last 6 years - always to Machala. He'd only seen another
English-speaking gringo once before!) So, we were talking, right?
He told us that Jambelí, the beach, is worth going to EVEN
IF it's cloudy. It's that good - something like 80 km of unoccupied
(at least on the weekdays) clean beach. Well, he was very convincing.
We stayed another day... just to check out that beach.
It was worth it. The next day dawned very clear, and very hot.
We hopped a boat to the beach and basked in the sun. The beach
was, in my opinion, better than that of Puerto Lopez (but not
La Playita!), but the waves were sorely lacking. Very calm, really.
One interesting incident - we were given a free meal by one of
the restaurant owners! It was a very sweet, natural cereal containing
only fried bananas and milk. It was almost too rich to finish!
Anyway, he talked with us for the better part of two hours about
all sorts of things. We were switching constantly between Spanish
and English so both parties could practice... it was fun!
Well, we returned to our air conditioned rooms and spent one
more night in Machala. The next day we (or at least I) wanted
to return to the beach, but the clouds were coming in again. At
that point we still had enough time to make a break for the Peruvian
border (about 2 hours away). We intended to just trade beaches
- a little town called Máncora was supposed to be a surfer's
paradise. First, though, I had to try to mail a package back home.
I was getting tired of carrying so much junk around in my pack,
I thought it'd be worthwhile to send it back. Well, now I'm not
so sure. It cost about $20, they opened it and searched it, and
I had to fill out forms in quadruplicate! I hope it arrives in
So, where was I? Ah, yes. The border. Crazy. No, that's not strong
enough: It was insane! First, we were dropped off by our bus a
few kilometers from Huaquillas - the border town. The bus driver
was trying to tell us what was going on, but we were having a
hell of a time understanding him. Finally we just jumped off the
bus with our packs...
Some helpful cabby (who obviously wanted our fare) pointed us
in the right direction. We entered immigration, got our exit stamps
with a bare minimum of hassle (we actually had to HAND him our
passports!). We then grabbed that cab... which, it so happened,
broke Rick's rule of getting into a cab with more than one person
in it. There were 4 Latinos in there - apparently friends. One
of them, who could speak about as much English as we can speak
Spanish, became our self-appointed guide and began to tell us
everything we needed to know about getting into Peru. By the time
we got to Huaquillas, our heads were swimming.
First, the cab dropped us off some 5 or 6 blocks from the border.
As we followed our "guides," the crowds and booths became
thicker and thicker. Before long we were accosted by tons of money
exchangers waving their calculators in our faces. Luckily, our
guides shook most of them off for us... and took us right to their
buddy. Now, we changed a little money there and got screwed, I'll
be the first to admit it. But I only risked $20 US - enough to
get us across the border and into a hotel in Tumbes. I actually
half-expected the money to be old, outdated currency, so when
we found out that we were only shorted about 30%, I was more relieved
So, with Nuevo Soles in hand, we were whisked across the bridge
and into Peru. Strangely enough, there's nothing you need to do
when you cross the border! Instead, our guide left us with a MOTO-TAXI,
Peru's answer to the ever-present, private urban transport system.
Basically it's a motorcycle with a couple extra wheels and bench-like
chair mounted on it. We where then taken about 4km down the road
to Peru's immigration: Not a single problem there...we got our
30 day passport stamp in no time.
We left immigration in a "taxi" to Tumbes. Now, taxis
are strange in Peru. Almost none of them are yellow, nor do they
even have something to indicate that they are, indeed, taxis!
Our particular model (like MANY of the cars in Peru) looked like
a 70s muscle car. It worked, though. We arrived Tumbes, got a
room, then sat at an outdoor restaurant bordering the central
plaza and watched many, many people get saturated with water balloons.
We're still dry, though!
Tumbes was left behind the very next day... We had more important
things to do on the beach. Things like laying motionless for long
periods of time and such. Máncora was pretty cool. It was
small, infested with Brazilian surfers, and cheap. My personal
favorite thing about Máncora was the waves: Bigger, more
consistent, and just more fun than in Puerto Bolivar and Jambelí!
We spent a day and a half there - and I even saw a baby sea turtle!
We left Máncora just a couple days ago in the best bus
so far. If every bus in Peru is like that one, I'm going to enjoy
traveling here. The roads are pretty darn good, too. Get this,
though: In Peru is seems as though the bus drivers are not allowed
to stop to let passengers on or off EXCEPT in the terminals. Now,
in reality, it still happens from time to time, but it sure is
nice not to have people shoving past you ALL THE TIME! Okay, so
even though we had a long, 4 hour bus ride, we arrived in Piura
in pretty good shape.
Remember what I said about arriving in Cuenca on a weekend? Same
thing applies here: Don't do it. Everything was closed... we actually
found an internet place (with one whole computer), but it was
closed until Monday. Oh well. We walked about a bit in the 90+
degree weather looking for something to do... The only thing of
note was some sort of military parade/demonstration thing in the
Plaza de Armas. Pretty interesting, I suppose. Note: Take off
your hat when they play their national anthem to avoid having
the military police blow their whistles at you.
The next day we spent waiting for our plane to Lima. We got screwed
at the airport, though. We were assured when we bought our tickets
in Quito - at least, we THINK we were assured - that we wouldn't
need to pay anything more in Peru. Not true. They tacked on an
18% tax... we're still not clear on what it's for, but it amounted
to about $35 each. Joe paid with his Visa, though, and if we can't
get a straight answer from the central AeroPeru office in Lima,
he's gonna cancel it.
Okay, then. Our flight was nice. A normal, big jet. They even
(tried to) speak English on the plane, but it was easier for us
both to listen to the Spanish part because the accent was SO bad.
Oh, and we saw a spectacular sunset just before landing. So far,
Lima isn't all bad. We were going to spend the night in the airport
doing our internet stuff there, but apparently the only internet
cafe is beyond the international section and we can't go in there.
We talked to a cab driver, and he was nice enough to drive us
about 40km away to the ritzy section of Lima (where things apparently
are open on Sundays). Anyway, we found an internet cafe place
open to 1:30am and that's where my ass is planted right now.
We're getting ready to leave, so I'm going to wrap this up. In
my next message, I'll let you know if McDonald's was still open.
Hasta la vista,
So, yes. McDonald's was open at midnight! And Joe and I, forgoing
the McD.L.T., had the distinct pleasure of trying the McFiesta!
Ahhh, now I've eaten at McD's in FIVE countries. Here I come,
Well, the rest of our night in Lima wasn't nearly so exciting.
We caught another expensive cab back to the airport and waited.
And waited. Would you believe that an international airport like
Lima's wouldn't have a lounge? At least it had a 24 hour restaurant
- were we were able to nurse a single drink for 4 hours.
At about 6am, we were ready to leave (well, we were ready to
leave a lot earlier than that, but we needed a plane). Listening
to boarding calls in Spanish, over crappy speakers can be an interesting
experience. Especially after you've been up for over 24 hours.
But we found our plane - although I almost wish we hadn't! There
was almost no leg room, and since our bags (carry-on, remember)
couldn't fit in the overhead compartments, we had to put them
under the seats. I actually had to slide my bag, on the floor,
from the aisle to the window because I couldn't possibly fit it
down there from above my seat. The flight was mercifully short
- maybe because I slept through 99% of it.
We arrived in Cusco and soon after did nothing exciting. In fact,
it took all our energy to hail a cab, get a hotel, and go to sleep!
We ended up sleeping that first day away (until about 4pm) only
to wake up to torrential rains. Besides my wonderful trip to Puyo
on a bike, I hadn't seen that kind of rain down here! I guess
this is what they mean when they say "wet season!" So,
without much to do or see in town, we just grabbed dinner and
did a little window shopping.
The next day started bright and early (5am) when we had to pick
up Karl at the airport. He was only a few minutes late, and luckily
wasn't crippled by the altitude (Cusco is at something like 3300
meters). We got him back to the hotel, but instead of letting
him sleep, we forced him to follow us as we viewed some small,
Incan ruins and tackled some errands.
Which brings us to the big news: A landslide took out the train
tracks to Machu Picchu the day before we got to Cusco. We talked
for awhile with a few different tour groups to find out what our
options were. 1) Hike the Inca Trail. 2) Take a train to the Inca
Trail head and hike along the tracks to Aguas Calientes (about
25 to 30 km). Or 3) Fly round trip by helicopter.
Although the most appealing option to me would be to hike the
Inca Trail, there were just too many problems. 1) Karl had NO
time to acclimatize, 2) It's REALLY wet down here, and 3) it would
take 4 days before we'd even see Machu Picchu (MP) and that would
make us miss something else on our trip (either Lake Titicaca,
Nazca, or Bolivia). Hiking the tracks seemed possible and cheap,
but there were just too many questions no one could answer: Like
how bad the break in the tracks were, how long it'd take, etc.
That left us with the helicopter ride...
Our first look at a price indicated that it would cost $455 round
trip, PER PERSON! Screw that - we didn't need a tour group to
book us! We headed on down to the airport to see what we could
find out, but only the helicopter mechanic was there. He sent
us to the Helicusco office to inquire about tickets. We arrived
there at 4pm only to find that they were closed (they were supposed
to be open until 6pm!). But, there was a woman would could speak
a little English, and she told us that there were people there
and that we could find something out soon.
I don't think I can accurately convey how chaotic the next 2
hours were. As we waited for them to open their doors, the crowd
behind us grew to about 2 dozen people, all clamoring for the
VERY few tickets left to MP. Luckily, they handed out numbered
cards, and we got #3! While waiting, we listened to many of the
people at the front of the line who seemed to know what was going
on. They assured us that we had a good chance to get on a flight,
but there were always others telling us that we should forget
it (or try the Air Force ´copters!). Believe me when I tell
you that our Spanish skills were tested to the limits that day!
Finally, we got into the Helicusco office around 6pm. They had
these huge pieces of paper taped together with their reservations
handwritten on them. As each flight filled (24 people), they would
just write "full" next to it. As you can image, it was
a mess. I managed to tell the lady there that we wanted to leave
as early as possible the next day, and return as LATE as possible
the following day. The first thing she did is shake her head "no."
I asked her to try, and, with the help of another person, 10 minutes
later we had something like what we wanted. The only problem was
that we couldn't fly out of Cusco, we had to fly out of Ollantaytambo!
Luckily, while we were paying for our tickets, a guy who was
in the line with us asked us if we'd like to ride with him to
Ollan. He was going to charge US $5 for each of us, but at least
we wouldn't have to deal with the bus at 6:30am. The only catch
was that we'd have to be ready and waiting on the corner of the
Plaza at 5:30am because they had an earlier flight to catch! Still,
it sounded better than a crowded bus... so we took them up on
their offer. We spent the remaining part of the evening congratulating
ourselves and winding down from all the excitement at Helicusco.
The next day started much too early, but we were ready and waiting
when they showed up with their van. We had a GREAT ride though
the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I'll can tell you that they may
not cultivate their farms so high up the mountains as they do
in Ecuador, but in this area at least, the patchwork-view is incredible!
It must be one very fertile valley - it seems as though every
square foot is part of a farm.
Two hours later, we arrived at a nondescript fútbol
field in Ollantaytambo that had been converted into a landing
field. At least 200 (if you count the vendors) people were waiting
for the first flight to arrive (fog-delayed). Since we still had
hours before our flight, we decided to check out the Incan ruins
in the area which were easily visible on the hills.
When we got there, there was no one at the door, so an old lady
told us to just go right on in. Not wanting to argue (nor spend
money), we did. This particular set of ruins was one of the only
places where the Incas were able to hold off an invading force
of the Spanish, and you could easily see why. It was a temple
(fortress) set upon dozens of terraces on the side of a dusty
mountain. We ended up having to climb to the top with our full
packs (because we were planning on spending the night in Aguas
Calientes...) and the altitude sure didn't help any. From up there,
we were able to examine a lot of Inca stone work, the helicopters
landing, and not much else. After an hour and many photographs
later, we decided to head back to the field to check in early.
I think Helicusco actually means chaos. The first thing I tried
to do was find someone that actually WORKED for them on that field.
I had to ask around to find that out. When I finally talked to
the woman, she assured me that we would get on the 3rd flight...
a wait of about 1.5 hours. Not true. When we went back 2 flights
later to get our boarding passes, we found out that we had been
bumped to the next flight. We were disappointed, but Joe told
them that as long as we get to Aguas Calientes that same day,
we'd be satisfied.
Finally, our ´copter arrived. It was... less than we expected
(the flight, I mean). We were quickly herded onboard, grabbed
a seat, and watched the terrain slide by for about 20 minutes.
Although the mountainsides were pretty spectacular, there really
wasn't much else to see. At least they served us a Dixie cup worth
of Orange Crush.
As soon as we arrived at the field (well, the grassy area next
to the train tracks) in Aguas Calientes, I tried to check us in
on our flight on the next day. No such luck. They set us up with
a "guide" who was about 13 years old. They gave him
a note (as if we couldn't communicate our needs to the office
in town) to take to Helicusco and then we followed him down the
train tracks. (Aguas Calientes has only one road - it goes from
the town to Machu Picchu. And, as far as I could see, there were
ONLY busses. No cars. No trucks.) Luckily I had bought a $1 plastic,
touristy poncho because it started to pour before we arrived in
town. Joe and Karl loved to make fun of me when I was wearing
the stupid thing, but at least I stayed dry!
So anyway, this "guide" takes us into town. We talked
to the Helicusco guy and he tells us that all we need to do is
check in sometime the next day after noon and up until 1 hour
before our flight. Fine, that's done. Off to find a hotel. We
weren't too picky because we were in a hurry, so we grabbed the
first one in view (luckily it had a GREAT shower). And, since
we missed breakfast completely, we grabbed a quick, small lunch
at the internet cafe. Yes, even Aguas Calientes, a one-street
(one track, actually) town has internet access.
After that we quickly headed to the bus station to grab a ticket
for the bus ride up to Machu Picchu. It was expensive ($6 US for
a 6km ride) AND we had to wait awhile, but at about 2pm we finally
started up the mountains towards the park.
And that's where I'm going to leave you for now. I promise that
the next message will be an attempt to convey to y'all the impact
Machu Picchu had on me. Some of you will undoubtedly be lucky
enough to see my pictures when I get back... that will help. Words
really can't do it justice.
Entonces, hasta luego,
Picchu -- The Experience (Day 1)
Okay, let me try to put into words what really can't be put into
Machu Picchu (MP) is impressive. Those of you who have seen Palenque
in México will have an idea of what MP is like. There are
a lot of differences, though. First, Palenque beats MP hands down
in the size-of-a-single-building-or-temple category. There are
a few big structures in MP, but nothing like the Mayan pyramids
or palaces. MP is bigger as a park, though. I know, I know. There's
supposed to be a lot more to Palenque that they haven't unearthed
yet, but, for now, MP stretches out farther. Also, (and I didn't
notice this until the second day) MP doesn't have any plaques
telling you what the structures are. I, personally, liked this
aspect of the park. It made it seem just a little less touristy.
Not much, but a little.
Part of the "bigness" of MP comes from the fact that
it was a self-sufficient city in it's time (or so I gather). One
of the first things you notice when entering the park are the
huge terraces of the agricultural section. The main agricultural
section must have 300 meters (high) of the mountainside covered.
Each of those terraces stretch out about 100 meters to each side
and are maybe 5 meters wide.
Enough background. I should just start at the beginning (my beginning,
anyway). As I said in the last message, we arrived at the park
at about 2:30pm. . . And bought our tickets. Joe and I were lucky.
There was a 50% student discount so we only had to pay $5US for
each day. Karl was less fortunate - he had to pay $10US on the
first day (but only $5US for day 2). From the ticket counter you
really can't see much of MP except for maybe a couple tall buildings
and Huayna Picchu which is that towering, steep mountain in the
background that you see in all the postcards. As we entered the
park, it looked as though we were going to be lucky: The rain
had stopped for the moment and it actually looked as if the sun
might make an appearance.
The first structures you come across are a couple of restored,
thatched-roofed, stone houses blocking your path to the main section
of the park. We took a right to check out the scenic outlook (read:
big cliff) that gave a great view of the Urubamba River and Aguas
Calientes set underneath a sheer mountain face at least one kilometer
high. After the necessary picture taking, we decided to head up
to the agricultural section instead of into the city proper.
The climb up to the top of the terraces wasn't too difficult
even though we were somewhere around 2500 meters at that point.
Actually, I should speak for myself - Karl really didn't have
much time to acclimatize, and he needed a couple breaks... Anyway,
after a short time we emerged on a scenic outlook of almost the
entire park. It's one of those places in which you could easily
sit all day... and it was only going to get better.
After admiring the view for a few minutes, we continued to the
top of the agricultural section. There's a small house (only one!)
up there and, if I remember right, it's called The Caretaker of
the Funerary Rock's House. The Funerary Rock is a small, stone
alter dedicated to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) which is set a little
behind the house. Around the house were three, docile, photogenic
llamas. Of course we took pictures of them.
The view from Caretaker's house is one of the best in MP. Besides
the mountain Huanya Picchu, it's the highest point you can get
to. (Well, that's not EXACTLY true. Where the Inca Trail emerges
over MP there's probably a good, slightly higher view as well,
but we didn't have time to check that out. The Caretaker's house
is much closer to MP, anyway... you can see the city in much more
detail.) While Joe and Karl went to explore the last few terraces
above us, I spent some time sitting on a nice rock that overlooked
almost all the ruins.
After 5 or 10 minutes, I decided to move on. This was due in
no small part to the bugs which were biting my sandal-clad feet
- for the first time, I really sympathized with Patience and all
the bites she had on her legs. These suckers ITCHED! So, leaving
Joe and Karl to defend for themselves, I headed off in the direction
of the upper city.
The city is different from any ruins I've seen before. Again,
for those of you who went to Palenque, especially those of you
who when to explore the waterfalls below, you might be able to
get a feel for the city ruins of MP. Then again, there are a lot
of differences, too. The city of MP is much better preserved than
the house-like ruins of Palenque (not the temples of the main
park). Although there are no roofs remaining, the walls usually
stretch all the way to where the rafters where. You find yourself
walking among high walls, through rooms, and emerging from time
to time in small, open areas.
You've probably heard about the famous Incan stonework. Rumors
of the fact that you can't even slide a razor blade through the
cracks between the well-cut stones. Let me reassure you that this
is indeed correct in many places, although from what I saw, MP
isn't the best place in Peru to view that particular kind of stonework.
Most of the city is built out of oddly-shaped, but still very,
very solid rock walls - just not square-cut, like many of the
famous temples. When I entered the city itself, I suppose I was
a little disappointed when I didn't see every wall built just
like that. I shouldn't have worried, though. When I reached the
temple, there was more than enough to appreciate there.
Still waiting for Karl and Joe to catch up, I sat myself down
at another site with a great view of the central courtyard of
MP. There happened to be a gringo down there, all by himself,
playing one of those pan-flute things. It was...interesting. He
was playing okay and all, but it somehow disturbed the silence
of the ruins. While I was sitting there, though, a guide came
along with his group and started lecturing about certain parts
of the park. What I learned by eavesdropping was that the Incans
of MP had actually carved parts of the mountainside into the likeness
of a condor and a puma. It was pretty vague-you needed to use
your imagination-but it was there.
Before they left, I did, and headed for the temples. These basically
occupy the highest section of the city and are a gathering place
for the, shall we say, "spiritual" people that come
to MP. There were a few people scattered around the high point
meditating, smoking, etc. To each their own. Before I made it
to the top, I stopped to examine the REAL Incan stonework of MP.
There were a couple rooms and walls that really impressed me.
First, there was a three-sided temple that had one wall that was
just about ready to fall... and STILL it looked solid. The other
two walls were perfect. They'd have passed the razor-test.
Directly behind that temple was a room that was created with
exacting detail. You could pick a horizontal line made by one
layer of rocks and trace it all the way around the room. Most
of the rocks were bigger than my torso (at least!) and they were
lined up more even than bricks (without mortar, too!). I believe
that small, unassuming room was one of the most impressive things
in the whole park.
I spent some time looking down the other, very steep side of
MP where, almost on the side of a cliff, the Incans had constructed
more terraces. At that time in the evening there were hundreds
of LBBs (Little brown (and blue!) birds) swooping back and forth
along the terraces, presumably eating bugs. More power to 'em.
Anyway, while watching them I also overheard a guide talking to
another group about a rock I was standing next to. Apparently
the Incas knew how to find magnetic north because when he placed
his compass on that rock, the four corners pointed north, south,
east and west. Pretty cool.
After that, Joe and Karl finally caught up to me as I was about
ready to ascend to the tall temple. (I'm sorry I don't have the
proper names for all you ruins buffs out there. Perhaps Joe will
fill in the blanks as he had a booklet which he would consult
at frequent intervals. I preferred to wander and wonder. Maybe
later I can find the time to actually look up the names of the
buildings!) We climbed those stairs and sat up there by the alter
for awhile. It was nice... the sun was coming out and we had the
whole park laid out in front of us.
It was getting late, though. The park was going to close at 5:30pm
and it was about 4:30. We really didn't want to have to climb
on the very last bus, so we decided to start walking back towards
When we crossed the courtyard to walk though the actual, urban
section of the city, we came across a gated Trail head up Huayna
Picchu. Up until that time, we didn't know that you could even
climb it. There are terraces on the top of that jagged looking,
sheer cliff-like mountain, but it didn't occur to us that there
would (or could!) be a trail. We talked to the guard and he told
us that it could be hiked in the mornings and that it wasn't TOO
difficult. Joe and I resolved to tackle that the next day.
From there we wandered back through the urban section which was
filled with house-sized buildings without roofs. We walked pretty
quickly through there because we knew that we'd be exploring them
in-depth the following morning - we didn't want to spoil it for
Soon we found ourselves back in the parking lot waiting for our
bus to fill up so that we could leave. Once we started going down
the hill, and interesting sideshow started. A Quechua kid, about
14 years old, started running down the stairs that crossed the
switchbacks in the road. At each passing of the bus, he'd be on
a different side, waving and YELLING "Aaaaaaadioooooooos!"
and on the other side "Goooooooooooodbyyyyyyyyye!" I'd
guess that the road is about 5km long and he actually beat us
down to the bottom. Of course, he got on the bus at the end for
That's pretty much it for day 1 at Machu Picchu. We returned
to Aguas Calientes and had dinner before Karl and Joe returned
to the hotel and used up all the hot water. I spent some time
at the internet cafe... watching The Beastmaster in Spanish! What
Okay, I gotta run again, but I'll try to type up MP Day 2 soon!
Picchu -- The Experience (Day 2)
Okay, Day 2 started nice and early. Like at 5:30am! We
got our stuff together, left it in the hotel manager's room and
went out to grab some breakfast. As you might imagine, NOTHING
WAS OPEN! Oh, well. We grabbed some fruit and water from a sidewalk
stand and went over to the bus station. The first bus leaves at
6:30am, and even though we got there at 6:15, it was already full.
Luckily there were enough people waiting to immediately fill a
second bus. Off we went!
Arriving at the park in the early morning is a very good idea.
Even though there were already at least 60 people there, it seemed
as though the park was almost empty. Just after we bought our
tickets, the sun made its appearance over the tall peaks around
MP and started burning off the mist. And there was a lot of mist
to burn off! Or maybe you'd call them clouds... they seemed to
be there, off and on, all day.
Knowing that we were going to have to leave around 2pm to catch
our helicopter flight back to civilization, we went straight to
the sections that we skipped the day before. Actually, Joe and
Karl went to the upper city, I think that's what it was called,
while I explored the prison section and lower city. I really enjoyed
walking through the ruins that morning - The organized tours start
in the agricultural section and move through the upper city first,
ergo: I had an entire section of the park to myself for at least
an hour. I took a lot of pictures, crawled into dank caves, and
generally just did a lot of wondering.
After some time, Joe and Karl caught up with me and I spent a
little time showing them all the nifty things I had found. At
this point, it was about 9am and the mist/clouds over Huayna Picchu
didn't look to be thinning at all. Since Joe and I were going
to climb that sucker, we wanted to give the sun as long as possible
to give those clouds the boot. No breakfast = hungry hikers. We
started to work our way back to the hotel at the entrance. On
the way, though, we kept getting sidetracked. At one point we
spotted a pair of "Incan rabbits" which seemed to live
in a pile of rocks in one of the ruins. They were pretty cool,
and I'm pretty sure if Indra were there, she would have done a
great job mimicking the sounds they made.
Finally, we made it to the restaurant. Here's a tip for anyone
planning a day trip to Machu Picchu: Pack a lunch! For a continental
breakfast (bread, coffee, juice) we're talkin´ over $5.
For lunch (which did look quite good, I have to admit) you're
going to pay $16. Not too bad if you're in the United States,
but remember that lunch at this hotel would cover the cost of
3 nights in a Peruvian hotel!
We caved in, though, and ordered breakfast. Mostly it was because
we needed to wait out the clouds over Huayna Picchu... Joe and
I decided to give them until 10:30 - then we were going to go
no matter what. In the meantime, it was time to play the official
card game of Rick Bellagh's UAS Trips: Shithead!
When 10:30 rolled around, the mountain still looked pretty iffy...
but at least we could see some of it! Karl decided to stay in
the restaurant and we would just meet him there when we got back.
We signed ourselves into the climber's register at the Trail head,
(Hey, they make you bring identification with you on this hike
- is that in case they need to identify your body if you fall
to your death or something?) and started up at 10:40am.
The climb was, well, not too difficult. Sure, the altitude affected
me and I was winded, but I think I could have made most of the
hike without a break - Maybe I'm just jaded after the climb up
Cotopaxi, though. It took us about 50 minutes. The trail itself
wasn't so bad. They had ropes and cables set up in most places
to prevent the balance-impaired from falling off the kilometer-high
cliffs. There were a LOT of rocks stairs, though - some of them,
I assume, were placed or cut by the original inhabitants of MP.
About 5 to 10 minutes from the top was great lookout over MP
and the mountainside. I think I saw Canada from up there. Anyway,
Joe and I snapped a few pictures of MP laid out before us before
continuing up to the top.
The next part of the climb was actually pretty interesting. The
very top of the mountain was terraced (like everything else in
Perú!). We climbed stairs, walked under arches, passed
through small tunnels with more stairs, and finally arrived at
the top. Let me tell you, we were very lucky to get those pictures
10 minutes before. By the time we reached the peak, we were completely
inside the clouds that had formed. It was raining pretty hard
and once again I was glad that I had my dorky poncho... it kept
my camera nice and dry. So, Joe and I stood on top of the highest
boulders, looked around to see more boulders disappearing about
20 meters away in the mist, and got rained on. We started back
down soon after.
It continued to rain on us the rest of the way down the hill.
When we checked back into the register, it was only 12:15pm or
so. We walked back through a deserted park... or so it seemed.
Everyone was huddled under all the buildings with thatch roofs.
We caught up to Karl who was still at the same table in the restaurant
(which was now very full!) playing solitaire. We thought to wait
out the rain and see some more of the park, but it never really
let up. At about 1pm we decided to head back down to Aguas Calientes
and get everything squared away with our helicopter tickets.
The bus ride had the same entertainment as the day before. A
native boy (different one, this time) beat us down to the bottom
of the mountain yelling "adios!" and "goodbye"
at every corner. Personally, I didn't think he had the style that
the first kid had.
Well, afterwards we did all sorts of normal things in Aguas Calientes
that don't have anything to do with Machu Picchu; like eating
lunch, getting our bags, and checking with Helicusco. So I guess
that's pretty much all there is for this update.
Next time: Lake Titicaca and Bolivia!
¿Dónde está Lago Titicaca?
Well, that's enough about Machu Picchu. Let me tell you what was
We fought tooth and nail to get back onto a helicopter! Well,
it wasn't that bad, but for awhile there it looked as though we
were going to have to spend ANOTHER night in Aguas Calientes.
From this point on in the trip, we had budgeted our time exactly
so that we could see everything that we wanted. A delay of a day
would most likely have bumped off the Nazca lines from our list...
The problem was that the flights were running late and that the
weather tends to get a little foggy at night. If the fog set in,
there would be nothing we could do about it... they would just
cancel the last flight(s) of the day. Guess which flight we had.
After talking with the Helicusco people, though, it looked like
things were going to be okay. Because enough people didn't show
up for the last few flights, we were bumped to an earlier flight.
Now, it seemed that this particular flight would be going to a
tiny little village some 2 hours away (by bus) from Cusco and
we were going to have to make other arrangements to get back there,
but at the last minute we got clearance to fly all the way to
Cusco. Ahhhh, problem solved. On the way out of Aguas Calientes
the pilot graced us with a Machu Picchu fly-by... too bad the
sun was right in our eyes! The rest of the 30 minute trip was
mostly spent flying over the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Also
pretty cool - especially if you had a window seat!
The next day was spent puttering around Cusco. We did all the
normal tourist things: We left our bags in a safe room in the
hotel, had our laundry done, took goofy pictures, developed them,
and sent a few of them to y'all. By the time that was done we
were ready to get on our nightmare, overnight bus to Puno.
It wasn't really ALL that bad. There weren't any chickens on
it. But it was still annoying because we stopped in Nowhere, Perú
for TWO HOURS in the middle of the night. I sure hope it was because
the bus driver was too tired to continue. Any other excuse would
piss me off too much.
We arrived in Puno around 6am and I got my first view of Lake
Titicaca. Let me tell you: It's the biggest, highest, most navigable
lake _I've_ ever seen! As soon as we got off the bus, we were
instantly assaulted with people trying to sell us tours and take
us to hotels. We picked one and checked it out. Decent. It had
beds. We took it and crashed until about 2pm before even thinking
about checking out something else in Puno.
When we got up, the very first thing we had to do was to make
reservations in another hotel. Why? Because ours didn't have cable
TV and the Superbowl was the next day! The hotel we selected had
"Fox Deportes" and we figured that would be good enough.
Besides, we had to try out one of those "luxury" hotels
that were so expensive. We paid $10 each.
The rest of that day was pretty uneventful. We were still pretty
Day two in Puno was more interesting. After dropping off our
bags at the new hotel, we wanted to check out the festivities.
You see, Candlemas was just beginning to get underway, and there
was a lot going on. We headed for the stadium where traditional
folkish dances were being performed by groups of people from the
neighboring villages. The stadium was pretty full, though, and
although we could see the patterns they danced on the field, we
couldn't see much detail. Before we left, we watched an interesting
group called Los Uros who are from the floating islands of Lake
Titicaca. They had costumes made almost completely out of reeds
and stood out quite well from the 80 or so other groups.
After that, we took a cab up to one of the local parks that offered
a good view of the city and Lake Titicaca. Not much to do there,
though, so we snapped some pictures and left in search of an internet
place. (By the way, internet cafes are a great way to assure your
parents that you're still alive. Much cheaper than long distance
phone calls, too!)
While we were there, we met a guy about our age from Florida
and invited him to watch the Superbowl in our hotel (if it was
on). We grabbed dinner and headed back there to see. Yep. It was
all in Spanish, but at least we got to watch it. The only bad
thing was that the Broncos won. What's next, the Bills?
We still had another day in Puno, so we decided to book a tour
of some of the parts of Lake Titicaca. (The lake is about 100
miles long... there's really no way to see all of it in a short
amount of time!) We did get to see two different islands, though.
The first was the floating islands of Los Uros. Very interesting.
The islands really are made up of reeds that are constantly being
replaced on top as they rot away on bottom. From time to time
you'll spot whole reed boats below your feet that were added to
the island when they had outlived their usefulness. There were
also those reed boats in the water, too, and most of them had
ornate, puma heads built into the bows. The only thing spoiling
the islands were the vendors trying to sell stuff. You can't walk
10 meters without someone saying "buy something from me!"
After that, we had a nice, long ride to the island of Taquile.
Hint: Bring a book on Lake Titicaca tours. We spent about 6 hours
on the boat that day... Once on the island, we had to climb up
some 500 stairs to get to the village at the top. (Karl was heard
to remark more than once: "Nobody said anything to ME about
stairs!) Remember, we're at about 4000 meters (almost 12,000 ft),
here. It'll kick your butt.
At the top, we were allowed to wander around the town a little
bit, and while we were eating at a small restaurant, our guide
told us about the customs of the local people. They were interesting.
You could tell their marital status and sometimes even their moods
by the clothes they wore. I think that the tourism (even though
they control it) is starting to take it's toll on the inhabitants
of Taquile, though. Many of the kids are running around offering
to pose for your pictures (for a few soles, of course) and trying
to sell you friendship bracelets.
At about 3pm, we left them behind and started our long, slow,
windy, rainy voyage back to the Puno. By the time we got off that
boat, we were really ready to get off that boat. It didn't help
that they had packed on about 10 more people from Taquile before
That night in Puno we met with Steve again and we were introduced
to another girl from the U.S. which he had met-Alice. After having
dinner with them, we pushed through the tide of humanity which
had gathered in one of the plazas to see what was going on. Basically,
it was a marching band (a staple in Puno's celebration of Candlemas!)
playing while fireworks were launched into the sky from the center
of the plaza. It was great! Every 10th firework explosion would
rain down little rockets on the crowd! Good thing we were upwind...we
never got hit.
Alice and Steve left soon after, but not before we exchanged
e-mail addresses and prospective hotels for La Paz, Bolivia. Since
we were leaving to La Paz the next morning, and Alice in 2 days,
we thought we might meet up again. We headed back to the hotel
and I managed to write some postcards before going to sleep. We
had to get up early the next morning to catch our 8 hour bus ride...
I suppose some people get used to waking up early on vacations,
but I don't think I'm ever going to get used to it. The bus ride
to Bolivia was about an 8 hour ride, and since the border is open
only during the day, you can't really take a night bus... This
means you have to leave in the morning. Wonderful.
So we left in the morning. Actually, the bus ride really wasn't
all that bad! After about 2 hours of watching the view of Lake
Titicaca and farmlands pass by, the bus stops at a casa de cambio
so you can change your soles (or dollars) to Bolivianos. A few
minutes later they let us off at Perú's immigration to
get our exit stamps. No problems, quick and painless. Then we
stroll across the border (which is signified by an arch in the
road) and get our entrance stamps on the Bolivian side. We were
each given 60 days without any questions. Too bad we had only
planned on having 4 days in La Paz.
The bus continued on to Copacabana, a small town on the shore
of the lake. We ate lunch there before catching our next bus,
but it was a quick lunch - about 30 minutes.
The bus ride through the next section of Perú was nice,
but I managed to sleep through some of it. One interesting note:
We had to cross the lake at the narrowest point - about 400-500
meters. We got off the bus and onto a boat while the bus just
drove on down to a barge that was barely big enough to hold it.
I guess they knew what they were doing. Our bus was waiting for
us when we arrived on the other side.
Now let me tell you about our first glimpse of La Paz. As you
drive near it, you're on what they call the Altiplano, or "high
plain." There's a lot of flat farm land to drive through
up there... As you approach La Paz, it really doesn't look all
that big -- just a group of somewhat shoddy looking set of brick
buildings that seem to line a section of the horizon. They don't
even appear to have any depth.
Once you drive between them, there doesn't seem to be much more
to the city, either. There are streets, cars, and all that, but
it doesn't look like a CITY. And what you do see looks pretty
And then it happens. The highway you drive along takes a turn
and suddenly the Altiplano drops off into a huge, bowl-shaped
canyon. On every side - all the way to the top! - buildings and
houses line the walls. I got some great pictures, but I don't
know if they're going to show how amazing it really is.
When we got to the city, we felt a little lost. This was the
first place we had gone without a Lonely Planet guide, and we
realized quickly how much we missed having it! Although Steve
let us flip through his before we left Puno, we never did get
a chance to photocopy the section on La Paz - not even a map!
At least we wrote down a few prospective hotels. We found one,
took it, and set out on a quest to find dinner.
Our buddy Karl was smitten with the idea of eating at McDonalds.
Joe and I had a hunch that there would be one in La Paz, but we
didn't know for sure. We grabbed a cab, and I asked him to take
us in the direction of a good cinema - I'd noticed that the high-tourist,
and that means McD's, usually has those good theaters in them.
Sure enough, the Prado was the place! By that time it was already
late afternoon, so we grabbed a bite to eat and checked out the
Ever since I saw Titanic in a Mexican movie theater I've never
had high expectations for others in 3rd world countries. I'm starting
to change my opinion, now. We decided to see El Truman Show in
one of the two theaters in the Prado and it was great! First,
we selected some balcony seats - front row, dead center. And while
we were waiting for the movie to start, they had four television
sets mounted on the walls of the theater (at least 50 inches each)
playing something from the Discovery channel to entertain us.
They turned them off when the previews started... and when the
previews ended, they played up the DTS surround sound logo by
killing the lights at JUST the right time. Someone enjoys their
Day two in Bolivia wasn't very exciting. Karl managed to break
the frames of his glasses that morning and we had to spend a large
portion of the day waiting for them to be repaired. We walked
around a lot, checked out a couple internet spots, booked a tour
and our return tickets, and generally got familiar with our little
section of the city.
We had a goofy goal for day three, though. We were going to play
golf on the highest course in the world! No such luck. After a
$10 cab ride to the golf course, we were told that to just walk
past the club gate we would have to pay $50 (US dollars!). It
would be another $25 for clubs, balls, caddies, etc. Well, on
a student budget, we just couldn't justify that kind of money.
Besides, none of us could play golf anyway - we just wanted to
Instead we had our cool cab driver take us to the Valley of the
Moon. While he ran to get some gas for his car (and some cokes
for us), we wandered around taking some pictures of the strange
rock formations. Joe made the comment that it looked like a dirt
After that, the driver took us to a park high above La Paz so
that we could get some panoramic pictures of the city. It wasn't
as good a spot as when you first see it from the highway, but
it was still pretty good. Finally we got back to the Prado but
we didn't really have anything planned for the rest of the day.
We tried our hands at pool (billiards) on Bolivian tables, but
the pockets are MUCH smaller than on American tables and we found
it more frustrating than entertaining. After that, we located
an expensive(!) bookstore that sold books in English for Karl.
He wasn't interested in picking up one of the Spanish books Joe
and I offered him. Go figure.
Day four, our last day in La Paz, was going to be spent at the
ruins of Tihuanaco. Karl and I still went, but Joe was sick and
wanted to spend some more time in bed. I'm glad I went, but it
really was kind of a let down after seeing Machu Picchu. The Tihuanacos
were pre-Incans and although they had similar buildings and temples,
the certainly didn't rival the style and size of the Incan ruins
we had seen. I'm sure this park would have been more interesting
to someone with an interest in archaeology, though. One cool thing,
when we got back to La Paz, they stopped the bus so that we could
take pictures for the best look-out over the city. It was sunny
We finally met up with Joe again at an internet place... that
night we checked out a another movie in another theater - Rush
Hour. The theater was about as good as the other one... too bad
the movie wasn't.
Day five sent us packing back to Perú. We basically repeated
the process in reverse. Copacabana for lunch, cross the border
without problems, change our money, etc. We got back to Puno that
evening but were really too tired to check out the ongoing celebrations...
But we knew that the next day was supposed to be bigger and better
On our last day in the Lake Titicaca area, we were split in the
things that we wanted to do. We wanted to see the burial tombs
in Silustani and we wanted to watch the parades in town. It turns
out that the tours to Silustani start at 2:30pm and usually don't
get done until 6pm. Since we already had bus tickets FOR 6pm,
we didn't think that would be the best idea. Instead we decided
to skip a tour and just go out there ourselves. We found a cab
driver willing to take us, and took off at 10:30am.
Silustani is pretty cool. There are all sorts of burial towers...
some no more than a ruined ring of stones on the ground, some
that are over 10 meters high and built with the traditional cut-stonework
of the Incans. I'm not sure, but I think that the Silustani were
pre-Incan also... although the Incans took over the sight and
even made some of their own burial tombs there as well. I could
be wrong, though. We didn't have a guide.
We bought a few trinkets and doo-dads at the site, skipped the
museum, and headed back to town. Although the parades had started
about an hour earlier, they were still going strong (and would
continue going strong at least until we left at 6pm!)
The parades of Candlemas in Puno are incredible. They break up
into groups of about 25-50 people - all decked out in very elaborate
costumes - and dance their way through every street in the city.
A typical parade would be made up of the following: A banner carrier
at the front, 4-8 beautiful girls dancing behind them, next comes
either a group of dancing men in devil costumes or older women
with noise-makers, finally followed by about a 20-piece marching
band. Oh, and some of the groups had a bunch of dancing Yeti,
too. The parades are truly amazing. Each group goes on for hours
and hours, and carries energy with it where ever they go! When
a parade enters a street, if you're on it, you CANNOT leave until
it's over. There's no room to sneak past the gathered spectators.
And there were 80(!!) different parades going on that day! It
puts our 4th of July parade to shame.
Finally, we had to leave. At 6pm we started our long series
of bus rides that would finish out Karl's trip and get Joe and
I back to Quito just in time for our Galápagos trip. We
didn't have a whole heck of a lot to do in between, though.
So let me tell you about Arequipa and Nazca. Hmmmm...Arequipa.
We grabbed a hotel, slept through some of the day, found a place
to eat lunch, looked (but didn't buy anything) through some bookstores,
and just killed some time until the next bus.
Nazca was cool. Well, it was really, really hot, but it was
neat. How's that? We stepped off the bus at about 6am and right
off the bat we found a good deal for checking out the Nazca lines.
We booked a flyover for 8:30am and it cost us about $30 each.
In the meantime we grabbed breakfast and a shower. That was a
mistake. Breakfast, not the shower.
When we got to the airport, we found out that we were going to
fly in a four-seat Cessna. Very cool. I called shotgun and got
it. Our pilot spoke a little English, but not very much. Basically
he was able to say stuff like: "There. On the right. You
see? Monkey. Monkey. There... You see it? 110 meters! Monkey.
... Monkey." He was sorta annoying, but the lines weren't.
They're a little harder to see than I had imagined, but they're
still very impressive. And the HUGE desert landscape is covered
On the way back to the airport, the pilot asked me if I wanted
to try flying. Yeah, baby. YEAH! I gave it a shot... and although
I was feeling a little motion sick before grabbing the wheel,
(okay, yoke...whatever!) the feeling INSTANTLY transferred to
Joe when I took over. :) I chickened out, though. I wanted to
ask the pilot if I could fly in circles for awhile, but I just
did what he told me to do - keep it level at 2700ft and fly towards
the airport. Easy enough to do, although I was surprised at how
difficult it was to keep at one altitude...
Anyway, I think Karl and Joe were glad when we landed... (And
we found out that in another plane, a tourist from our hotel DID
toss his groceries! No more breakfast before flying!)
After that we still had the day in Nazca. We booked another short
trip to the Nazca cemetery and while we waited around we reserved
our bus tickets for that night. The cemetery was amazing! It was
in the middle of a vast, dry desert and there was almost nothing
there! About 10 tombs had been excavated, all with skulls and
mummies displayed inside... But what was more amazing was what
was all around: Bones (human), fabrics, shards of pottery. All
this stuff was from the result of grave robbers - or so we were
told by our guide. Apparently the park has almost no support and
the people of the area are not as superstitious as those in the
mountains. For many years the tombs have been robbed and the valuable
items sold off to collectors on the black market. In fact, I lost
a lot of respect for a really cute English girl that was on our
tour when she put a rib bone in her backpack...
The tour continued when we went to the home of a guy who specializes
in Nazca pottery and then to a site where people are still working
to extract gold from the surrounding mountains. These parts of
the tour were informative, I suppose, but I got the impression
that we were just being taken to help out the family friends of
our guide. *shrug*
We killed the rest of the day in Nazca at a nice restaurant while
it rained. Apparently the town was pretty surprised. It almost
NEVER rains there. As you can imagine, we were pretty ho-hum about
Now we're in Lima - A city that everyone has told me is terrible,
but that I kind of like. Maybe it's because we're in Miraflores,
a pretty upscale section. Maybe it's because we're eating at McDonalds
and watching movies again. Or maybe it's just because there are
THOUSANDS of really beautiful women around here and some of them
have been blowing me kisses. Nah. Couldn't be that.
Anyway, we dropped off Karl at the airport last night and he
should be back in the states by now. Joe and I are about to head
back to our hotel and get our bags before heading to the airport
ourselves for our flight back to Piura. We've got a lot more traveling
ahead of us (see above), but I think we'll have one more shot
at checking our e-mail again before going to the Galapagos in
on the 14th. From there, though, we'll likely be out of touch
for 2 full weeks. What a great way to end all these damn bus rides!
Hopefully my next update will be chock-full of Galapagos stories.
I'll bet you can hardly contain yourselves.
Hasta la próxima,
The Beginning of the End
Here's a tip for all you would be travelers: Don't bus in Perú!
It's not that the buses are bad (actually, they're pretty good),
but the distances you have to travel are... too much!
Joe and I successfully left Lima behind and flew to Piura. We
were desperate to get back to Quito on the 13th (it was the 11th)
so we'd have at least a day to get things ready before going to
the Galápagos. Because of that, we decided to take a car
instead of a bus to Piura. Talk about 4 hours of hell... we were
crammed into the back seat with two other people! This, I don't
suggest. (One good thing did come of this little ride: It gave
me time to puzzle out Rick's riddle: A 3HT with G on the M. Here's
a "hint" he gave me: A 3WT with M and R in E. Good luck!
It took me a couple weeks...
Okay, so we arrived in Tumbes and spent the night there - we
were getting worried, too. The first two hotels we checked were
completely full. Anyway, the next morning we got up early and
headed for the Perú/ecuador border which is only a half
hour away. Passing through was easy enough, even if we did have
to flash our passports a half-dozen times.
A bad, bad thing happened to me there, though. In Perú
they have "moto-taxis" (that are basically 3-wheeled
motorcycles) to move people around. Well, I threw my bag on the
back of one and instead of checking the dangling straps carefully
myself, I relied on the judgement of a boy riding on back that
said "Every thing's okay back here!" Well, it wasn't.
A shoulder strap got caught in the tire and before I could manage
to get the driver to stop it had torn the whole thing loose. Do
you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to CARRY a backpack
around everywhere? Oh, I was pissed. But what could I do? I haven't
mastered "mad Spanish" yet.
We continued on. We had at least 3 more buses ahead of us and
the border town was not a place we wanted to stick around looking
for a place to get my bag fixed. We took a 2 hour bus to Machala
and then found another bus to Cuenca that took 4 hours. Once we
got there, we needed a break, so we made reservations for a bus
at 9pm (about 4.5 hours later) and ran some errands.
I got my bag fixed in 20 minutes once I finally found the place
to have it done! They only wanted about 5,000 sucres for the job
(about 75 cents or so). Hah! I thanked them profusely and gave
them a 20,000 bill. It was worth it to me (and they did a great
job, too!) Joe and I also had our first real drenching in Cuenca
that night. They were celebrating Carnaval and it was CRAZY. Here's
another tip: If the sidewalk in front of you is drenched during
Carnaval, cross to the other side. You will likely avoid getting
pitchers of water poured on you. Not that that was the only way
they'd get you. I saw plenty of big water pistols and the air
was filled with water balloons - I even saw a pickup truck with
a water CANON mounted in back. God help the cute girls in that
The 9pm bus to Quito was the last (thankfully!) and I am so glad.
I was REALLY ready to be done with buses! We arrived at 6am and
decided that sleep would be the best thing to do. So we did. BTW,
for those of you who left early, you can count yourself lucky
as far as the weather is concerned. It was COLD when we got back
to Quito. And RAINY! Well, I guess Juneau isn't any better...
We ran a bunch of errands that last day before going to the Galápagos.
Stuff like getting our tickets seemed pretty important at the
time. I also had to spend some time arranging for my flight to
Los Angeles - I'm so glad you can book tickets over the internet.
I shudder to think how much it would have cost to do that from
an Emetel office. (And before you all say "You can call a
1-800 number!" you should know that Joe's calling card was
charged over $100 when Joe and Dugan used it to call American
and Alaskan Airlines´ 1-800s!)
Archipiélago del Colón
So. The Galápagos. How can I give y'all a clear picture
about how our next 13 days went? I'm not going to give you the
blow-by-blow because we basically spent the first 8 days on a
boat tour that stopped in at least 2 places each day... Here,
I'll just try to give you the highlights of the whole Galápagos
First, you have to get up REAL early to catch the plane from
Quito. Other than that, it's like any other flight - except that
they don't have assigned seats... pretty weird on such a big jet,
I thought. Also, when you arrive at the Galápagos airport,
you have to get your passport stamped and you have to pay $100
just to enter the airport. Crazy.
Our guide met us at the gate (that's THE gate) and we met up
with most of the other members of our group: 2 Italian guys, a
German couple, and a Japanese couple. We waited around for our
bags, changed into shorts, and then took a 5 minute bus to where
our boat was waiting.
Our boat, the Mabell, wasn't hard to pick out. Among all the
yachts, sailboats, and catamarans, ours was the tiny little, I
don't know, "boat" anchored among them. We were on the
student budget! It wasn't so bad, though. We all had cramped rooms
and a dining area almost big enough to sit everyone comfortably.
We also met the remaining two members of our tour, Jaseng and
Guy, she was from LA, and he was from Israel. Joe and I actually
hit it off pretty well with them...
Right from the start, we headed for the first stop: A beach on
Isla Santa Cruz. But I'm going to lump all the tours together...
Let me tell you about our routine, first.
We started out on Sunday, Joe and I. Not everyone had the same
length tours... Guy and Jaseng were doing an 8-day trip, but they
had already spent 3 days on the boat. Everyone else was going
to get off in Puerto Ayora 5 days later... Joe and I would be
the only leftovers at that point. We also had a crew that changed
(although that's a different story!) We had a captain, a cook,
an engineer, and a skiff-boy as well as our guide. A good bunch.
Each day we would wake up at sunrise and get a huge breakfast
at 7am. Then we get tour #1 - usually a walk along a trail of
an island. Then, usually, snorkeling for awhile. Huge lunch, then
the boat moves on. Repeat first part. Eat huge dinner, sleep.
So each day had two walks and two swims, give or take.
Um, wow. The wildlife in the Galápagos is everything they
say! I have pictures of iguana and birds so close that I had to
stop moving forward because my lens can't focus any closer than
5 inches! You're never allowed to touch any animals, but they
can (and will) touch you if you let them.
Let's start with the sea lions. They're on almost every beach
and are usually pretty friendly. You can walk among them and usually
they won't even bother to move out of your way. They just open
their eyes, maybe move their neck a little, check you out, then
go back to sleep. The young ones, and some of the females, though,
will come right on over to you. Some want to play, most just want
to smell ya. You do need to watch out for the males that patrol
the beach, though. They can be dangerous when protecting their
The giant tortoise. Wow, they're pretty big alright. But we only
saw them in the Darwin Center - a zoo of sorts. We saw the tiny
newborns and the 500 pound adult males, including Lonely George
- the last of his species. And there's actually a funny story
where one adult "chased" me and pinned me in a corner...
The iguanas. They're pretty cool if a little... reptilian. There's
marine iguanas on most islands and a couple places have the land
iguanas. They're both very tame, and I had a land iguana follow
me up a trail once. I sat down, a few inches from him and took
a nice, close-up picture of the pores on his nose. Hope it comes
The blue-footed boobies. Okay, everyone's favorite Galápagos
bird, I guess. I don't know... they're funny and all, but to me
weren't all THAT interesting. I did get some pictures of their
Speaking of birds: There's also the ubiquitous frigate birds,
pelicans, and finches (as well as an occasional heron, hawk, and
pink flamingo). The frigate birds are very agile... you should
see them snag things out of the water with their beaks (or out
of the mouths of pelicans!!) without ever touching down. We had
ample opportunity, too, because every time the cook threw something
out the window, the birds would SWARM! Pelicans are...well, pelicans.
I've seen 'em before. I suppose it is interesting to see them
"fish." And the finches are, well, cute, I guess. There's
a lot of them too. Did you know that they're endemic?
What else is on the land:
Lots of interesting lava formations, cactus forests, and dry,
hot weather. There's a smattering of other animals (especially
birds), but I think I hit on the exciting ones (for me, anyway).
Now, what about underwater?
Glad you asked. I actually liked the snorkeling far more than
the land trips. That's even considering that my single, biggest
complaint was that the water was, for the most part, very murky
on this trip. People blamed it on the rough ocean, spring tides,
and the rainy season. Whatever, it was still great!
The highlight: Swimming with the sea lions. Wow. It's incredible
how interested in you they are... they'll play with you in the
water for hours if you let them. And they come SO close! Within
inches of your snorkeling mask... I would recommend going to the
Galápagos for this alone. Just remember to head the other
direction when the possessive males show up.
Sharks: Have you ever seen a shark's face two feet in front of
yours? Do you want to? You, too, can have your heart jump into
your throat! Actually, the big joke down in the Galápagos
is that all the sharks are vegetarians - no one has been attacked.
They even have hammerheads down there, although I only saw one
and it was from the boat. But I DID see plenty of white-tip and
black-tip reef sharks. And yes, sometimes THAT close. I really
didn't care for it.
Stingrays, you ask? Well, the claim to have all sorts of rays
in the Galápagos, but I didn't see any eagle-, manta-,
or other- rays. Just bunches of normal, everyday stingrays. Still,
I got to follow one that was bigger than me for awhile... Bite
your head off, man.
Marine iguanas: I don't know... I got way too much enjoyment
out of watching them swim above me. Call it a personal quirk.
It was also really cool to see them clinging to the bottom of
the ocean, eating seaweed.
Other seafood: I also saw an eel, a lobster, thousands of multi-colored
fish (some in HUGE schools!), sea cucumbers, sea urchins, more
fish, coral, etc. etc. It was good.
So, barring the minor details like sunburn, seasickness among
the other passengers, daily morning swims, etc., that's pretty
much how our first 8 days went.
Half way through those 8 days we stopped in Puerto Ayora and
had just about everyone changed. We had a new group to get used
to and an old group of semi-friends to miss. Actually, that day
in P. Ayora Joe and I broke from the tour and spent the day with
Guy and Jaseng. We rented some kayaks for 3 hours and did some
snorkeling around some cliffs and a shipwreck. Fun, but tiring.
We met the new members that evening at dinner and before leaving
that night around midnight, we joined Mikel, a German, and Miron,
another Israeli for drinks at a bar. It turned out that as we
were saying goodbye and exchanging addresses with Guy and Jaseng,
we were meeting new friends that we would hang out with later
(and would say goodbye to and exchange addresses with)!
Well, with the tour over, Joe and I weren't quite ready to leave
the Galápagos just yet. We found a great hotel (with the
best showers in Ecuador!) for a whopping $6 a night and settled
down for a few days. They went by quick, though. Here's some highlights:
Tortuga Bay. What a great beach! Too bad you have to walk an
hour in the equatorial sun to get there. Hmmm... maybe that why
we practically had it to ourselves!
Sitting on the roof of our hotel. Nice place to get sunburned
if you aren't careful. I spent many an hour up there watching
iguanas, sea lions, pelicans and frigate birds while writing postcards.
Hanging out with new friends. Mostly Miron and Mikel but we also
spent some time with some Italians, Norwegians, British, and American
There were also a bunch of little things we did there. Nothing
too exciting, though. Basically we were just winding down our
vacation time before going home. No more rushing to see things!
Well, that leads us to the flight back to the mainland. Did I
mention that we had to pay an extra $15 to change our tickets?
It seems that Diego made a mistake when making reservations for
us and didn't get us "open" tickets.
Well, that's about it for the Galápagos! There's still
a few more pictures I want to share, though. In no particular
order, here they come...
So, we flew back. We spent one day in Quito, which was enough
by then. We had to check our e-mail to make sure that all our
flights and stuff were in order.
The next day we traveled to Otavalo for the Saturday market.
Wow! Those born to shop would love it there. Too bad so many of
you on the Spanish trip didn't get to go... I managed to fill
a duffel bag full of stuff and I don't think I even spent $50
US. Maybe that's because the exchange rate was around 10,000 sucres
per dollar, though. Anyway, we shopped quick and headed back to
Quito. Not before having lunch with Miron, 2 Norwegian girls,
and a Brit that we had met in the Galápagos.
So, with 4 more days left in Ecuador, we decided to spend them
in Baños. We did a whole lot of nothing there, so I won't
bore you with the details. Plantas Y Blanco is a nice place to
Now, with almost exactly 12 hours to go, we're back in Quito.
We spent today tying up all the loose ends: Buying a gift for
Diego for all his help, paying Diego extra money because of a
mistaken exchange rate when we bought our tickets, a little last
minute shopping and mailing, and, of course, one last trip to
an internet café.
Tomorrow we head home. I'm going to miss being down here a lot,
but it's also going to be nice getting back to the states. If
only I can stop myself from ordering food in Spanish...
That's going to be it for the updates, folks. If y'all want extra
information on something or just want me to ramble some more in
your directions, let me know. Those of you in Juneau, I'll see
you soon (after I spend a little time in Los Angeles) and I should
have TONS of pictures... if I can afford to have them developed,
Take care, y'all, and keep in touch.