Up close & personal with the Andean sun

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June 8th 2010
Published: June 9th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Una Mujer en La CalleUna Mujer en La CalleUna Mujer en La Calle

A woman in the street in Chivay
Things here are going great - I´m writing you now from Puno, a city in the south of Peru near Lake Titicaca, which will be the site of my next few excursions. But first let me rewind a few days:

3/9 - Me and my canadian posse left our bags at the hostel and boarded the bus with the rest of the crew joining us on this two-day canyon trip. THe crew includes: me,2 canadians, 2 columbianos, 1 venezuelan, 2 argentines, 4 peruvians including one who spents ten years studying in the US and lived in brooklyn for a while, and 3 israelis (you cannot escape them here).

Our tour guide (eng/sp) told us abouthe trip as we started off,explaining that we will be going to very high elevations (the highest point was over 4,300 m above sea level - like 13,000 ft or a bunch of miles!). So the first stop was a cafe to buy coca candies and drink mate de coca, these both are made fromt he coca leaf - which peruvians chew here for a few reasons and is completely legal. It does give you a little energy but if you are
Los ninos bailan tipico en la plazaLos ninos bailan tipico en la plazaLos ninos bailan tipico en la plaza

The children do a traditional dance in the plaza.
worried - it gives WAY less than a cup of coffee or a shot of espresso. it also helps with altitude sickness. THe leaves are pretty gross, the tea is okay with sugar and the candies taste like sugar candies mostly. I don´t feel much of a buzz from them at all but i did take them as I started to feel light headed or headachey, and I think they did help a little.

The trip took us to a place for lunch but it was overpriced and not great, which we had presumed so the day before we went food shopping and got sandwhich materials. We stopped a few times for breathtaking views and photo-ops, including the highest point on our trip when a few people got winded and almost passed from the quick altitude increase. We got to Chivay where we would spend the night, checked into our hotels and had a litle time before we would meet again to go to thermal baths. I had forgotten a bathing suit so i headed to the market intown to findsomething to swim in. I found adidas-knock-off shorts but i couldn´t bring myself to buy them...it felt so
Awkward picture of me and the canyonAwkward picture of me and the canyonAwkward picture of me and the canyon

Why awkward? Well, to be honest, the canyon said ´¿que tal?'(whats up?) and I couldn´t remember his name. It was so embarrassing, he obviously remembered mine from the last time we stopped the van for a photo op.
stupid becuase I didn´t want the shorts or to spend money on them, so i went withmy other brilliant idea. I purchased a traditional peru blanket which is beautiful and will be a great thing to bring home and wore itlike a skirt to the baths later (sorry,no pictures here).

THe baths were really nice and open air and we relaxed in them,sharing travel stories with the israelis who has been in south america for months already.

We returned to hotels to change and collected again to a place for dinner.Even though the dinnerprices were like double hostel prices, we stayed because dinner included 'traditional music and dancing'. If this raises your 'exploitation-dar', you are correct. The music was nice and the dancing was.. interesting but it didnt feel particularly traditional (maybe it was the electric bass guitar?) and I couldn´t help but feel bad for the people in the show. There are argument for and against this instinct but I´mjust reporting how I felt. Tomorrow we would go to a similar show and the feelings persisted. The dinner was okay but was very expensive and I couldn´t say no when the musicians asked for tips, or when the dancers ask for tips, nor when the waiter was collecting the money.THey all worked hard and i knowmy overpriced meal money isn´t goingto them but I hope in the future to avoid places who use the word 'authentic' in their advertising. When someone says they offer something 'authentic' it probably isn´t or they wouldn´t need to make the claim.

After a very early wake up,we headed on our way further into the mountains. First stop was the town of Yanque, which features every morning in the main square the young children of the town dancing in traditional clothing in circles around a fountain. Oh,and a hords of tourists taking photos. Beep beep beep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep goes the exploit-dar. I felt powerless to help in any way other than tipping (which sort of only encourages the parents to use their children this way). I did speak tomy tour guide about it and asked about their schooling. She promised that they goes on for one hour every morning and they are in school the rest of the day. I told her that i worry about the effect tourism has some communities, she understood (?) but said this was not the case here. I took pictures. Why? Because they are cute kids in cool traditional clothing and they were doing it whether I took a photo or not. Is this just a lame excuse? Maybe. Probably. I told myself I´d avoid these prepackages trips again and avoid 'folk shows' and 'authentic' signs. And then I snapped more photos and boarded the van.

THe next stop was the highlight - Canyon de Colca, the second deepest canyon int he world (the deepest is 12 hours away) and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. THe views are breathtaking (so is taking three steps at that altitude). We got to sample a fruit from the cactus , i forget the name, but its like kiwi but sour. ANd we spent a long time watching the Andean Condors soaring not-that-high above our heads. The condors are incredible animals- adults average wing span is 3 m (9ft!). THey are one of the few animals that have one partner for life, they also have one egg at a time and only every two years. This mirador (lookout point) was excellent, as was our timing, and we got to see as many as 8 or 9 condors soaring in circles through the canyon. It was pretty incredible - I have a video but the photos will have to do for now because of my slow internet connection.

We returned to chivay, had a few small stops along the way for photos, etc. Skipped the group lunch for my DIY meal and enjoy the long, bumpy ride back. We bought bus tickets for the next day - we were all going to Puno, although for them it was merely a stopover on the way to La Paz, Bolivia. Next I grabbed dinner solo because they had other priorities (showering? ha!) and food was my number one. I went to a peruvian chinese place and got a big cheap yummy plate of veggies in some kind of dough thing over a big pile of rice. ´Tienes comida veheteryano?´if they say ´si´, then I say ´si quiere este´. (do you have vegeterian food? yes, I´d like that).

Once back int he room, i learned from them mirror that I had gotten badly burnts that day - I forget that when you are at high altitudes its likely to be chilly and the sun is still super strong. My head pounded from my headache through my shower, my time on the internet and guide book time. I got in a few minutes on the phone with Sara (yay!) and passed out pretty hard.

In the morning we caught a bus with no problems, watched a really intense and sad but well done movie (Those Lovely Bones) and some crappy one about horses. We arrived late, which was fine for me but not for my friends and so as soon as we got in, we had a very abrupt goodbye and I was solo. I wandered for a while, found my way out of the bus station and passed the taxis offering rides to the Plaza de Armas (center plaza - most towns and cities have these) for S3 (1 dollar) thinking 'i can walk, ive been such a luxurious tourist recently. Then I passed a taxi who offered S2 and I said 'wow thats cheap' and got in. He dropped me off in the area he called the Plaza de Armas. I took out my guide book map and was unable to get my orientation - eventually I figured out where I was (NOT the Plaza de Armas, thanks jerk) and reminded myself that people who offer lower prices usually give sub par services. I make my way up a big hill (barely made it) to a really nice hostel and check in. Talk about luxurious - this has a private bed, bath and warm shower! For S15 (5 dollars more or less).

(Hang in there, we almost caught up!) AFter shower and washing some clothing in the sink and hanging on the clothelines on the roof, I took my map in hand and went in search of an organization called CEDESOS (no idea what it stand for). I read about it in Lonely Planet, it is a community non profit organization that can help tourists volunteer in local communities. They arent an agency, they don´t have amenities or charge any money - I´ll be paying money for food and stay directly to my host family. After a long, difficult BUT SUCCESSFUL conversation with the guy in the office (ALL IN SPANISH!!) I understood him and he understood me and I had planned to go to a rural communities on the shores of Lake Titicaca, stay with a family and work on a farm. He will accompany me there to make sure I connect with the family but I´ll be onmy own after there. I think they grow potatoes. Otherwise I´ll live and eat with this family. He asked that I pick up rice and cooking oil as gifts for the family because they are difficult to get there.
Ok, I guess this is enough talking about something I haven´t done yet but I´m pretty excited and if it goes well, I´ll do a similar program right away on one of the islands on the lake.

Random closing thought:
I forgot how funny it is to spend so much time with people who don´t speak english as a first language. First of all, my english skills decline to meet theirs and so I can speak in fewer, more direct words. Karine, my canadian friend, enjoyed learning American idioms so I taught her a few when they popped into my mind. She particularly enjoyed ´there is more than one way to skin a cat´´a horse of different color´´birthday suit´and ´don´t yuck my yum´(i don´t know if other people actually say but my friend taught it to me at rutgers and I like it. I also got a few french idioms my accident when she tried translating them directly. The only one that comes to mind is ´do you have bugs on your legs?´AFter a confusing exchange, i learned this is the french expression equivalent to ´pins and needles´which isn´t really less weird.

Wheh, that was a long one. Thanks for sticking with me and thanks for your comments of support and greetings - I like getting these, I just don´t usually have time to respond. Sorry!
Until next time!

(ps. i just spend an hour uploading photos and only three of them worked. oh well, sorry more next time if i find a better internet place)


9th June 2010

OMG good update, happy to hear about it but the best part was "don't yuck my yum". how have you not told me that yet? its hilarious. there is one like that in Hebrew- roughly translates to "don't say ichs on food" sounds better in hebrew because ichs and food (ochel) both have out beloved ch sound. ANYWAY, i love the english one you just taught me and im going to use it all the time! you're a genius, as always! miss you
13th June 2010

Keep the news coming
Hey there Mark - I really einjoy your adventures!

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