Puno / Lake Titicaca

The past weekend was a trip to Lake Titicaca in the eastern part of Peru.  It´s my first experience with an overnight bus as well as going to a completely different area of Peru (since Pisaq is in the province of Cusco).  Let me tell you, when they said it was gonna be friggin colder than Cusco, I almost didn´t believe them.  I´m glad my homestay family did not let me out of the house without a proper fleece sweater and winter jacket.

The ride there was atrocious.  It was 7 hours and I was freezing cold during the night, especially since I sat by the window.  We arrived at the Puno termino terrestre at about 5am and were met up by a guy named Marco who took us to his apartment while we waited for the bus to the boats.  That was weird.  He had a small one bedroom apartment and there was about 13 of us cramped in his sala.  So we sat for 2.5 hours, watching Big Daddy in Español (which had the funniest voiceovers since Adam Sandler had a deeeeeep voice). I was mostly weirded out by being at this dude´s apartment and many of the others were half jokingly questioning the legitimacy of the trip.  However, at 7-ish, we were ushered into a bus and headed to the boats that would take us to the islands of Lake Titicaca.  But, before we set sail, there were several visitors on our boat.  Most were selling things, which I didn´t mind. However, there was one who came in with his chiranga and wind flute tied to his neck.  He serenaded us with several delightful (sarcasm) renditions of Andean folk tunes.  Normally I´d be interested in this cultural experience… however, since I had barely slept in the bus the night before and had to be up very early, I was ready to throw orange peels at him.  But finally he left and we were off.

Our first stop were the floating islands of Uros.  These islands were really interesting because they were made out of the reeds that grew on the banks of Lake Titicaca.  Apparently someone had beef with them or something and they decided to make up their own islands to live on, on that is pretty mobile if they forget to properly anchor it.  The reeds were also used for eating and helped kept the islanders healthy.  As interesting as it all was, I didn´t like how very touristy these natives were made to be.  I mean, they sang ¨Vamos a la playa¨ when waving us off on this big reed boat that we had to pay 10 soles to be on.  And I ended up buying a pillowcase from the person who showed me her house because I dont know how to say no to nice poor girls.

Anyway, after that was a 3 hour boat ride to Amantani, which is the island we were to spend the night on.  Mind you, if the boats had put a little more gas in it, the boat ride might have been cut in half.  But then again, I had a suspicion that these boats were really up to code and would probably fall apart if they were to go any faster.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the three hours because I sat in the back with my favorite Dutch, relaxing in the sun and taking a nap.  Granted, the smell of gas had made me nauseous.. but I heard it was colder in the other parts of the boat.  But… the smell, coupled with the altitude and cold from the trip served to hinder my climb up the steep slopes of the island as I headed to my place for the night.  I was the last one up.. along with my friend.. and when I got to the place, I was so sick that I ended up just sleeping and missed the excursion up the hill to see the sunset.  I even wondered if I had a fever since I had some chills.

However, I managed to get myself up in the evening as my host family dolled me up in their traditional attire and we danced away the night.  Of course, very touristy.. and I wonder if the families get tired of doing this every night with new tourists.  But I guess it helps them make a living. In general, I was just happy we didn´t have an outhouse for a bathroom!

The next day, we headed to Taquile.  If I thought Amantani was steep.. this was worse.  It was pretty.. but at that point, I had it with climbing up mountains.  And plus, we ate at a restaurant for 20 soles and the food wasn´t that good.  but I enjoyed learning about the different ways they wear hats to signify whether their married, single, looking or a player.  Then, we climbed back down and headed 3 hours back to Puno.  Our ride back on the boat was funny because once we got closer to coast guards, our boat people had us put on life jackets and climb down from the top of the boat.  Were we doing something illegal?  Yea…….. 

Anyway, the town of Puno wasn´t very interesting.  We had 5 hours and spent about 4 hours of it at a restaurant by the plaza de armas…. with 3 hours of playing Never Have I Ever with no alcohol.  Yes, we were that bored.

That´s more or less the excursion for the weekend.  When i remember more things, I´ll add it.

Las fiestas de Inti Raymi

The biggest fiesta of the year in Cusco occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Theoretically, Inti Raymi occurs only on June 24th (originally June 21st) as the Incans celebrated their god, Inti (sol, sun) on the winter solstice.  However, Cusqueñans don´t seem to believe in celebrating for just a day.  All of June seemed to have some celebration or other occuring at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

Little did I know what I was in for this past week, until I returned from Pisaq to a Plaza de Armas filled with people, parades and random gigantic floats.  Since then, there is a daily parade that lasts through most of daylight, plenty of random fireworks going off and tons of people milling about the area.

Of course, it was difficult not to get sucked in when the air of excitement emanating from the city.  When there was a chance to be part of the big parade the night before Inti Raymi, I signed up. My friends and I spent two nights rehearsing, which resulted in much hilarity.  It was even funnier when we practiced at the plaza because the locals were laughing as they watched foreigners attempting their local dance.  Since we were not taking ourselves too seriously, there were only good times all around.

The day after rehearsals was even more interesting. I had to buy a pair of jotas (sandals made out of car tires… yes really!) to go with the costumes.  However, when I tried to get to the mercado, there was a parade (another one)!  I detoured through the streets with other tourists and saw a plethora of just stuff being sold on the street and sidewalk.  To top it off, there was a 5 year old who (out of nowhere) pulled down his pants and peed on the street exactly where he stood.

I had to ask around to find jotas. Everyone pointed me to actual shoes.  When I told them I needed jotas, they looked at me quizically, likely wondering why I would want those type of sandals. Finaly, I was pointed to a certain direction, which I followed until I finally found the special footwear.  I tried on the size 5s, which were too big.  When I asked the kid for 4s, he thought I meant price and countered with 4.50.  So I ended up getting a pair (in the right size) for only 4.50 soles!

At about 6:30, we all met to get our traditional Peruvian clothing on.  It was a skirt and sandals on a winter night!  I was afraid of freezing to death since the parade lasts til 2am! But, the teachers took care of that problem.  When we got to our places, they handed out shots of ron y coca-cola and bottles of cervezas for the duration of our walk.

The part that I found most amusing was that we actually were allowed (almost mandated) to drink while walking in the parade! It was how they keep warm. To top it off, my Dutch friends had been pre-gaming and therefore completely drunk for most of it.  They began an Amauta School chant in Dutch and would randomly chant-sing-yell something or other.

When we arrived at the plaza, we were ordered to chug the beers so that we could start our performance.  There were so many people who all cheered us along.  The announcer made a point to mention that we were comprised of people from around the world and everyone seemed to enjoy our dance.

After that amazing experience, we hugged everybody and went out to grab some dinner (it was midnight at that point).  Since the rest of Cusco was partying, we had to do the same and headed out to one of the discoteca after eating.  My friends back home would probably be surprised to hear this, but I do enjoy dancing.  And somehow, the discotecas here were more fun than whatever I encountered at home.  We danced until around 3 in the morning.

After that night, I had 3 hours of sleep before heading out the next morning to catch the Inti Raymi celebration, which was a steep uphill climb from the main square.  There were so many people when we arrived and all were pushing for space.  It got nasty though when some people pushed their way in and didn´t have space to sit because the people behind were yelling for them to sit and started throwing things at them.  At first, it was a little more innocent with fruit peels being thrown, but it slowly turned to bottles and even pebbles.  It got a bit scary being around those people.

After a while, we decided to head back down the mountain for a late lunch and I walked back home with my friend for a nap.  This was very much necessary since my other friend would be returning back to town this weekend (after traveling around Peru) and we needed to celebrate.

So, this is a long account already. I´m tired and really need a siesta ahora!


Never get lost in a mountain after dark

Last night was the first time I thought I would die… or at least hurt myself rather badly.  It was probably the most frightened that I have ever felt.  It all began when my friends and I decided to climb the mountain by the school.  We had set off at a decent time, 2:30pm, aiming to hit a rock that we could see from the bottom.

the mountain by our school

Already, the path was tough and most of the time, we were creating our own trails through grass that were taller than me as well as some nice prickly surprises.  In addition, it was mostly a steep uphill climb.  We finally made it to an area here thre was some wheat being farm.  It was pretty amazing to see someone´s farm that high up and on the side of a mountain.  At that point, my friend, Missy, decided to hang out there and journal since her foot was hurting a bit.  Creighton and I continued on with a mission to reach that top of the mountain.  It became even tougher as we hit an area with a mudslide and we had to do some rock climbing on some precariously stuck together mud.  There was a moment when I was stuck at an area for a good few minutes since I did not know where to go and I tried a step somewhere and ended up sliding down a little before finally getting out of it.  After more of that type of ordeal, we made it to a relatively flat area where we sat, took pictures and enjoyed the few.  Sadly, we could only sit there for a few minutes as we realized that the sun would set in an hour and we still had to figure out a way down.

When we finally started down, we saw a path below and made our way there.  The thing with running into a trail midway is that you have a choice, go left or go right.  To the right, we saw the rock that we originally meant to be on.  However, we thought that the trail ended there and we would end up doing what we did climbing up, except going down.  Therefore, to be on the ¨safe¨ side, we headed left.  The logic was that the trail on the left, longer though it may be, is likely to head straight to town and therefore may be a safer way down than attempting to climb down the way we came.

Unfortunately, choosing that path led to the scariest situation I´ve ever been in, and yet, I guess the best and most adventurous story I could tell, though I do no justice in this retelling.  Also, trying to relieve those moments still frighten me and therefore will try to be as succint as possible.  Basically, we followed that road, crossing over some parts that have crumbled down.  However, no matter how fast we attempted to quickly walk down the trail, it continued on for a long while, winding up or flat, with few downs, around one mountain to the next.  At that point, the sun had set and the moon was starting to be the only one to light our path.  Still we continued to follow the road until we heard rushing water. We crossed a mini stream and realized that the path had stopped.  It was too dark to search for another and at that point, we basically decided that going straight down the mountain as much as we possibly could would be the best since it would be faster and because we don´t know what else to do at the point.  There were so many possibilities that went through my mind, from being found by wild animals or wild people to sleeping on the mountain for the night to falling off a cliff.  Basically, just to end this already long story, we ended up at a couple of dead ends, one being at a cliff with a 15 foot drop and us debating whether or not to climb down the tree beside it. In fact, because of this, I ended up holding on to a rock for the next time we reach a cliff which I ended up bleeding all over at one point from sliding down through the brambles.  I think I´m gonna bring this rock home.

Finally, we found a semi aqueduct that we slowly slid down (in case it ended in a cliff).  It was quite steep and we definitely fell on our butt as well as hit and grabbed and landed on spiky plants.  Finally, after about 3.5 hours stuck on that mountain in the dark, we made it on flat land.  I could barely believe it.  Even walking to the Plaza de Armas in Pisaq felt like a dream!

behind me is the area of the mountain where we finally made it down

All in all, I am sooooo glad to have made it safely down and the first thing I did was tell my family how much I loved them.  You really do realize what matters most after situations like that.  I think I´m pretty good on adventures at this point.  No more craziness for a while. 🙂


Rusticating in Pisaq, Peru

I am having the absolute best time in this quaint little town. Where can I even begin?  We arrived last Sunday, driving from Cusco, over the mountain and then descended upon this place in the Sacred Valley.  Our school house is at the edge of town, at the base of one of the mountains and my room has a balcony.  Huzzah! 🙂  Classes are in the morning for my friends and I, which means we can actually go do things together.  Thi was put to good use the last couple of days when we were able to do with our time as we will after the set activity for the day.

Yesterday, we visited Salineras by Maras, which are basically salt mines on a terrace.  The salt apparently comes from the mountains and they are sold for animal feed.  It was quite the hike going up and I totally wasn´t expecting it.  I ended up being last and completely overwhelmed with the amount of energy I expended.  However, the place was a beautiful sight and it was fun just to be part of that scene.

Later, we caught a taxi to Moray, which is an archeaological site where Incas apparently used to plant things on a terrace because of various temperature.  The nice ladies by Salineras called their peeps to get us a ride and we went offroading to get to the circular terraces. We hiked down and wandered through the terraces, pondering the real use and being awed at the handiwork of the Incas.  Then we caught the taxi back to a bus stop and took a couple of them to make our way back to town.

Today was an even more amazing day.  I ended up hiking around the Pisaq ruins for about 4.5 hours.  It was a lot of up mountain, down mountain, and even going off the beaten paths with my friends.  There were points when I was basically standing on a rock and a 360 degree view of the Andes Mountains that surrounded me.  It was an amazing feeling to be so up high like that and just be surrounded by awestriking beauty.  It´s so hard to describe, but climbing up by all those different ruins on the different side of the mountain was just unbelievably wonderful.

On our way back down, my friend and I went to another ruin right  on a part of the mountain that was out of the way from the usual tourists.  It was funny cuz here were these ancient stones and then someone went by one of the walls and laid a big one… or according to my friend, someone ¨pinched a loaf¨.  Yes, disgusting.. And in one of the caves was hidden toilet paper.  I guess this is the ¨real¨side of these mysterious ancient ruins.  On our way down as well, there were 2 ladies waiting to sell us things.  We were the last ones down and I felt so bad I ended up buying a bracelet… which I lost.  Ah well.  By the time we made it down, the sun had set and we decided to stop by a little hole in the wall for some empanadas.  Overall, it was definitely one of the best days.

Tomorrow was supposed to be another activity day, but there´s a strike by people in transportation, I think regarding gas.  Therefore, it´s a nice free day.  We´re probably going to climb up the mountain by the school.

And here comes the weekend…

It has been officially 8 days since I´ve arrived in Peru.  I still trips me out when I think about where I am, but I have gotten accustomed to certain things.  It also helps that I have met a great bunch of people to share new adventures with.  =)  One of our bigger bonding sessions was during our salsa class on Friday evening.  Watching everyone learn to salsa, most especially the guys was fun.  Then the instructors handed us their cards including a club where they teach every night.   So, after eating at an Indian buffet, which made me nostalgic for my appendage and her people., we ended up at Zazu.  For a Friday night, it was pretty dead.  After seeing the empty place, we figured we´d just go in for cervezas and watch the few people dance.  However, since our instructors remembered us, we weren´t getting off easy.  We joined in for their lesson which involved dancing in a circle and switching partners every few beats or so.  Since I was still getting used to the altitude and I had some beer, I was a little winded.  At the end of the lesson, I sat down for a bit before the instuctor came back and asked me to dance.  Little did I know what I was in for.  We danced for an entire song (which was pretty long) and he put me through the paces with twists and turns.  Though I was really tired at the end, it was a lot of fun.  I felt bad thugh cuz after, another guy asked me to dance and I had to turn him down cuz I needed a rest.  Apparently I held my own very well, wich was good to know that Filipino debut dancing paid off. lol.

the trio @ Zazu for salsa

Over all, that was good times.  Unfortunately, we didn´t end upo sleeping til late and we had planned a hike the next day.  SO when Saturday morning rolled around, we were not in the mood for much movement, particularly me.  After a night of dancing and a beer, climbing steep uphills is a challenge.  But, I was with a group of cool people and luckily we found a guy who offered to take us horseback riding to the places we wanted to visit.  All we had to do was endure the long hike into their ranch by Sacsayhuaman.  🙂  As tough as the walk was, the view was gorgeous.  It was also a perfect day to ride because the sly was blue and the sun was shining brightly.

After visiting the Temple of the Sun and monkeys, we headed to see Cristo Blanco and admire the beautiful view of Cusco from above.

Then, we went back down to visit the Temple of the Sun and admired the architecture and design of the Incans, whose walls still stood at the temple.  We also got a preview of the Inti Raymi celebrations as the performers practiced on the lawn and in the Temple.

ANyway, that´s it for now.  I´m in Pisac and the internet is annoying me, so I´ll end it here.   🙂

un mes de celebraciones

     June is a very special month in Cusco as they celebrate their founding and the god of the sun .  Basically, it means there´s a lot of parades, bands, dancing, fireworks and traffic.  This morning, I decided to join in a little on the fun.  First order of business, attending mass at The Cathedral at 8:30am.  This way, I don´t have to pay money to see a church.  Normally, tourists are not allowed at this time, but as long as you are respectful and even go there to worship with them, it´s okay.

     Now, this was a particularly interesting experience because I am not Catholic, nor do I understand that much Spanish.  However, I enjoyed observing the worshippers and shaking their hands during the passing of peace.  After mass, I walked around the cathedral to view the old colonial paintings and gilded sculptures.  In many of these different areas, people would sometimes kneel in front or even touch a painting in prayer, which I did not really understand.

     Inside the churches were huge sculptures of saints that were carried by several men.  Apparently, last week was Corpus Cristi when the saints were taken from the churches to be paraded.  Now, they were being paraded again so that they could be returned to their churches.  It seems that the cathedral was home to them during the past few days.

     I followed them outside and listened to the brass ensembles that accompanied the procession.  There were also dancers in traditional costumes and fireworks.  Managed to catch some on video before sitting on a bench at the Plaza de Armas to rest and listen to the bands play.  If this is how they party for this, I wonder how it will be like when they have their major celebration.

    Anyway, that´s it for now.  Salsa class in a few.  Ciao.

Finally, a day to relax

I definitely had been attempting to cram too much in the two days that I have been here.  This took a small toll on me yesterday and ended up feeling slightly nauseated, barely ate and could hardly climb up any sort of incline for the latter part of the day.  Nevertheless, it was still fun-filled and we didn´t return home until late, again. 

looking down the hill from my school

First thing in the morning, we had to take a placement test at the school.  My housemate and I were kind of late, but at least we weren´t the only ones.  The written part of the test was okay.  The front had easier sentences to complete but the back was much more difficult.  There was a short essay portion and I definitely wrote some English words there just to explain myself. haha.  All in all, I think I did not do as badly as I thought I would on that.  However, when it came to the speaking part, I was terrible!  I thought the speaking part would ask questions that I would know, but she made it hard, I guess to get the right idea of how much I knew and not just what I memorized from a book.  I ended up at a beginner class, but with students who had already been there for a week… so at least it´s not the absolute beginner.  🙂  I guess it´s slightly cheating that Filipinos have a grasp of some Spanish vocabulary because it´s part of our language. 

My class ended up being in the afternoon which is sad because my other housemates had theirs in the morning.  I spent the morning chatting with other students and went around the city to get water.  In the afternoon, I took a taxi alone for the first time, which was pretty painless.  Although I told him to drop me at the street where the school is but he dropped me at the plaza and said he couldn´t go up there.  Ack.  I ended up having to climb up that darn hill again!  Nevertheless, I felt better when class started.  The other students were fun and we just had a lot of laughs together.  Plus the view from my classroom is amazing.

When class finished, we ended up playing bullshit on the terrace.  It went on for a while until one of my classmates won in epic style… with 4 of a kind.  After that, we wondered about a presentation that was supposed to happen.  Turned out we were at the wrong place.  However, since we were the audience, the person waited for us and all we had to do was move to the classroom. 

It was an interesting presentation about a bridge that is rebuilt yearly from grass in the pasture by the eldest son of the eldest son etc. etc. etc. from Incan times.  After, we went to our welcome dinner and got our first taste of pisco sour.  It was not bad but not amazingly good… but enjoyable. haha.  Then a group of us decided to wander around and ended up at a Mexican restaurant for a jar of horchata and for them, cervezas.  Overall, another fun evening.

By the way, the stars here are amazing.  We are so much closer to the sky and the air is so clear that the stars can be seen so well.  Hopefully, I can do some stargazing while I´m here. 

Anyway, today, I ended up catching up on my sleep, trying to adjust to the altitude and new environment.  Also, I don´t want to spend on a taxi twice since I don´t have much small coins on me.  Better get ready for lunch.

Later gators.

In one of the longest days ever…

Actually, maybe this is only second to my 2004 visit to the Philippines (23 hours of travel + 4 hrs for a family reunion immediately after).  Neverthless, on June 6, I was in the air at 12:00am EST and did not return to my homestay until 11:30pm, Cuzco time.

So this is what went down: (Apologies in advance if some things don’t make sense since I am running on little sleep).

When I arrived in Lima, I went through the usual immigration procedures.  Running on 4 hours of sleep on the plane, I accidentally told the officer that I would be in Peru for 8 months (ocho meses) instead of 8 weeks (ocho semanas).  When he told me, in Spanish, that I could only stay 6 months without a visa, I was really confused.  Thankfully, he was very understanding of the blunder and simply smiled when I corrected myself.  The rest of my layover was interesting. I attempted to bring my check-in up to the gates, ended up buying agua con gas which exploded on my pants, got a whiff of some awful fish stench (Lima is by the ocean) and  met 3 girls who were also traveling alone and going to Cuzco to volunteer.  Unfortunately none of them were in my school, but it was nice to know that I wasn´t alone.

arriving at the airport in Cusco

Arriving in Cuzco was thankfully painless.  There was a porter who helped with my bags and we were able to immediately find my ride.  Unfortunately, my ride was waiting for other people and I was waiting in a car for an hour and a half with the driver who only spoke Spanish, but nevertheless entertained me with Peruvian music.  Finally, 2 more passengers from England arrived who were very nice. We chatted until we were dropped off at our home stay in different parts of town.

My host family extremely friendly and welcoming.  They speak very little English and encourage using Spanish at the house.  I met their other homestay person who is from Germany and had been in the house for 3 weeks.  My homestay mama had me drink mate de coca immediately and fed me a delicious meal of egg soup, a special Cuzquenan dish with potatos and cheese, chicken with an unknown sauce and carros, beets and platanos all doused with lime.  After that, I took a cold shower (misunderstood directions on how to get hot water) and went to sleep with wet hair (my blowdryer didn´t fit the adaptor).

I woke up to the sound of a guy, who kind of sounded like my sister´s boyfriend, which threw me off.  He was a third homestay-er and from Utah.  It was good that he was around because my homestay mama was able to send us into an unofficial taxi without fearing for my life.  Since it´s only 3 soles to get to the main plaza (a little over a dollar), we went there and trudged up the hill for a block and a half to get to school.  Let me tell you, 10,500 ft is no joking matter on your first day on an uphill hike.  But.. I managed without too much huffing and puffing and arried at the school where we met many different people from other countries (though many seemed from Holland and the U.S.).

They sent us out on a walking tour with a guide.  Why they have us walking so much on the first day in high altitude is beyond me.  Though, it was nice to see and hear more about our city and chat with the others along the way.  Cuzco is such a beautiful beautiful town. I mean, I heard this before. However, I didn´t realize just how much until I came here.  Halfway through our tour, my housemate managed to smell churros and had it in the brain for the rest of the tour.  So of course, when the tour was done, we rounded up some other classmates and went on a quest to find the churro stand.  We finally found after a very roundabout way and only had to pay .50 soles which is approx 20 cents.  It was amazing.  After, we had the others in the group lead and we ended up towards the more artsy district and had some drinks at El Nomade.  By that time, it was past 8.  We waved goodbye to the group but since my housemate hadn´t spoken to his family in ages, we decided to find an internet cafe.  We stayed for an hour or so and only spent 4 soles (just under 2 dollars)!  I´m really loving the prices in this town!

After, we decided to find food and returned to the churro stand in search of a burger.  Sadly, it closed, but there was a nearby pizzeria.  I tried Inca Kola for the first time. It was not too sweet and definitely tasted like sweet fruity chewing gums do, but it was enjoyable.  We took our pizza and sat in front of the cathedral… chatting about politics, which was happily a painless conversation.  We finally decided to leave because it was getting cold!

Overall, I think a lack of sleep is a small price to pay for fun times with good people.  Now, I am just waiting for my Spanish class to begin.  It isn’t until the afternoon.  Boo hiss.. but whatever.  I will find something to do. 🙂


Journey to Cuzco

I am now currently in Cuzco, Peru in one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had.

Cusco viewIt began when the pilot turned the cabin light on at an ungodly hour of about 5 in the morning.  Since I was sitting at a window seat, my first instinct was to lift the window shade and see what I could find outside.  At that time in the morning, it was still dark, but after a moment, my eyes adjusted and was greeted by a striking view; far out in the horizon was a thin glowing line where the sun would later rise.  Above it, the midnight blue sky still held some stars and the ever present light of Venus. Below was this expanse of darkness.  Land.

The sheer vastness of black had taken me by surprise.  Though I´ve flown over the States several times during the night, I usually see large clusters of orange glow or the omnipresent line of a highway.  However, during this time, below me were small, faint orange clusters.

This was the moment that it really hit me.  I was flying over South America. The realization was overwhelming… though in a heart pounding kind of exciting way.  When I was young, I would look at maps and globes, dreaming of all the places that I wanted to visit.  South America was just a distant land then that I meant to visit but knew very little about or really had no concrete plans to visit. Now here I was.  And for a two month stint!  I can´t wait to see what adventures this land holds for me.

Well, these are my initial thoughts.  I have to go back to my homestay.  But there will be more to come.