Published: November 16th 2007August 4th 2007
No excuses for the extremely tardy journal update on tales from South America in July/August 2007. Rest assured, we thrived and survived...but certainly not without some hard challenge and life's uncertainty staring us in the face a few times.
The draw of Latin American flavor, Spanish language, ancient civilizations, Andean Mountain splendor, new cultures we've never experienced, and the imminent chaos innate in the developing world...were all plenty enough to send us packing to Peru. We had limited time in this prideful nation, which showed us several different faces: The Spaniard influence, Incan indigenous peoples, and the many tourists that come to see the country that is host to incredible natural diversity and of course the owners to one of the newly elected "7 Wonders of The World" in the ancient Incan civilization of Macchu Pichu. While we weren't able to actually trek the Inca trail, we got the gist as we spent most of our time in and around Incan ruins and trails near the city of Cuzco. Upon our arrival in the Pacific coastal capital of Lima, we caught our breath from the somewhat frenetic pace of life that was our Spring and Summer around DC. Finding good
eats at bargain prices and experiencing culture through the revelry of foodstuffs is very much a possibility in Peru. If you know how I roll, you know that feasting was a top priority. We repeated on the delicious Pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) which is always decked out with french fries, salad, and some saucy creamy goodness. We also had to go for Lima's famed seafood delicacy of Ceviche: Uncooked whitefish, squid, shrimp, onion, tomatoes, and cilantro all cured by lime juice that produces a cold (but safe) raw fish effect. The signs all advertised this food, Ceviche, by it's Castilian phonetic pronunciation of CEBICHES
, but you can imagine where Martha-Alice and I took this to another level and created a new expletive. We used other expletives when a motorcycle came crashing through the garden style partition that protected the outdoor restaurant section where we were having lunch in one day. Perhaps the most impressive element of Lima was it's rugged coastline of Miraflores. We were met with cold and dreary rain, but very friendly locals near the wharf and surf spots. As soon as we were 10 minutes outside of the capital, we came witness to the underdeveloped
side of this land as we rolled through Shantytowns. The 20 hour busride southwards to Cuzco would've been self inflicted pain if it wasn't for the great company of Martha-Alice and the amazing Andean landscape that we came upon.
This impressive stone laden city has Spanish appeal and charm which was literally built on top of the ancient Inca Empire capital by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. Both influences (Spanish and Indigenous Natives) were present throughout the southern parts of Peru that we visited and onwards to Bolivia (where I continued on solo). The local Native Americans wore colorful threads, usually accompanied by alpaca (llama) and their woolen products, spoke the Quechuan dialect, and were visibly on a lower socio-economic strata than their Spanish neighbors. Mixed bloods of European and Amerindian descent, also known as Mestizos, make up about one-third of the Peruvian population. As pretty decent Spanish speakers, Martha-Alice and I had fun working our way around with success. The only thing we couldn't master was the diarrhea that plagued us both. Mixing that with some serious altitude (Cuzco sits at 3500 meters), made for dizzying walks around natural surroundings that still managed to seduce by saying "walk me".
We hit it right on the Independence day of July 28th, which made for what seemed like days of fireworks and festivals. The surrounding villages and cities of Urubamba and Moray made for an awesome foray on an enduro motorbike (see pictures). We zoomed through Andean mountain villages, fended off dogs, discovered mountain dirt trails into nowhere, and encountered very few foreigners all the while. The motorcycle freedom, while not the safest way, was our dance with danger and beauty at its best. Trying to average 100 kilometers an hour in a rush back to Cuzco meant blitzing through the roads winding down the Sacred Valley of the Incas...but we were not alone as millions of gnats met their end on my face-shield right around dusk. Fighting daylight, we got lost around ruins while traversing the winding roads with only a weak headlight and thankfully the moon guiding the way. Cold, dirty, and braving the heights, we were still awash with excitement...these are the challenging types of moments that justify our travel. The feelings here would foreshadow and prepare me for the solitary weeks to come in Bolivia. One of the most surreal moments of beauty in our time in
Peru came atop the city of Cuzco. Many blessings of altitude (once you can acclimatize to it) are the views that arise as a result of your hard work. A "Cristo Blanco" statue of Jesus Christ, similar to the iconic "Christ the Redeemer" of Rio de Janiero, towers above the city of Cuzco. Here, with arms and palms wide open, embracing the city below, we stumbled upon an epic view: Cristo Blanco, the bowl and sport-like arena of the city buzzing far below, a spectrum sunset sky, a full moon rising, and illuminated mountains far in the distance. It is hard enough to find any of these elements alone, but to have them collide all in one view was otherworldly and purely romantic. This came all while walking about and keeping our footing on the grounds of ancient Incan ruins named Sacsayhuaman (Pronounced Sexy-Woman!). We sorted out our emotions and buzzed senses to an Andean staple drink and stimulant...coca tea. This is the same coca-plant that makes Whitney Houston's favorite white powder...but the tea isn't illicit, but rather a necessary and spiritual tradition that soothes the effects of altitude and the pangs of cold and hunger. For us it was
the equivalent of a hot cup of green tea, with a little more novelty. Later in Bolivia, I would discover it's reviving qualities as a hand and belly warmer on the side of a mountain while attempting to summit close to 20,000 feet. Unfortunately, our Peruvian adventure was put on hold as Martha-Alice was handling a family emergency back home. We trailed back to Lima in a hurry and she hopped on a flight back home. It was hard to carry on without my confidante and best amiga, but it was necessary and thankfully all worked out and is now fine. I took a quick hop down to Juliaca, Peru on an Aerocondor flight and started to get a sense of the South American persona of adventure, through the pilot's insane flying acrobats. These pilots are military trained and love to show it on your commercial flight...thanks senior's for nearly making a mess in my shorts! I wasted no time heading towards Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian border with a picturesque scene of a sunset along a desolate strip of this majestic lake. The 3rd world really emerged at the border, as walking across country lines with all of your
possessions on your back never really feels comfortable. Thank you's to Peru and all of the smiling faces that greeted and welcomed us....see you again someday :-)
There are more photos below