Friday, June 19, 2009

on cow patty fires - they don´t stink as much as carrying wood.

It has been great having Mel here, getting lots more adventures in. It really is amazing to have a new perspective on stuff and hers is always fantastic. It´s nice to have someone to talk with about the differences in stuff and where my brain is at that understands what it is like at home and can see what it is like here. We go on lots of walks that I have been meaning to take but aren´t as interesting by myself. We went to Machu Picchu yesterday and had a great time. We ended up getting an amazing deal on a guide just for the two of us and he was fantastic. Last time I was there - as you may remember - I didn´t take a tour of the ruins after being too exhausted after climbing Waina Picchu.

I am starting to feel really shocked about how quickly time is going by. I feel like I am starting to really hit a groove here and wish I were just independently wealthy and didn´t have to make decisions like where in the world to live based on whether there is any money in my account. I am also really looking forward to seeing everyone at home though too, so maby more than independently wealthy, I wish I could be in more than one place at a time. I realized today that I haven´t had a job in over a year and it is hard to imagine how I will ever be able to go back to work and have to be on someone else´s time, you know? Maybe I will sell tupperware.

We were going to go to Puno (Lake Titicaca) and Aerequipa (Colca Canyon - twice as deep as grand canyon with condors flying) last week but due to country wide strikes we didn´t make it. The governement passed legislation opening up the Amazon in the norther part of Peru to mining and drilling and such a while ago and the indigenous folks there have been protesting since then. I have asked people about it here but because the media is government controlled, nobody knew anything about it. Then about two weeks ago, there was a huge clash in a small town where at least 34 people died according to government (25 police and 9 indigenous) although the cops were using semi-automatic weapons and the local population was using spears. According to the families, over 250 people are missing. Anyway, the whole country went into protests and strikes so we weren´t able to take our vacation. Just as well cause it was getting sketchy down there. Ollantaytambo is safe and the strike isn´t in the state of Cusco so while we didn´t get to the cool places, we are feeling safe here. I will definitely keep an eye on all of it and get out if I need to. For now congress has suspended the legislation for three months to continue talks about it and give the country time to calm down.

I am going to copy Mel´s posts thru today as well cause she´s got lots of good fun details that I just forget to relate.
love you!

June 11: traveling
we finally left Ollantaytambo for more than a day trip last night... we were planning to leave this morning, but we heard there was a strike planned--this means the roads are closed right now. we were lucky that our hostel had open beds for us a night early... we heard about the strike and then left so quickly after that we didn´t have time to call them. after getting checked in we went for a walk... the architecture here is astonishing. we stopped at a touristy bar for drinks--I had my first Pisco sour, which is one of Peru´s national beverages.

Today we checked ut the plaza a little... today is Corpus Christie, so there are religious processions and ceremonies in the center of town all day. there were literally thousands of people crammed into the area... we snapped a few photos and then went in search of less crowded places. ate more touristy food... I had a real english breakfast (sausage, bacon, baked beans, cheese, toast, eggs, and coffee) for about $5. I wanted to eat more traditional foods while I was here, and that is MJ´s usual custom (especially having a Peruvian boyfriend), but I worry about a relapse of my stomach troubles... and besides, I think MJ likes an excuse to eat more familiar foods. (the peruvians tend to eat soup followed by meat and potatoes for every meal.)
I think more than anything the interactions with MJ have been a real bonus. She is a good friend, but we haven´t always been exactly close... now we have been together for a week solid, and two weeks yet on the horizon means we are talking about all kinds of things. I´m so grateful that she is my traveling companion and willing guide... even though she hasn´t been to the parts of Peru we are visiting this week, she speaks pretty good spanish and has an extremely easy manner... it makes a huge difference to have someone like that on your team the first time you go on a serious out of country journey. Hell, I´d take her with me anywhere!

Tomorrow we are hoping the strike has lifted so we can get on a bus bound for Puno... we´re planning to spend one night out on Lake Titicaca, then travel on to the Arequipa area (to visit some petroglyphs, see some mummies, and check out one of the deepest canyons in the world!)

June 12: street food and strikes

for a country that grows so much corn, it´s incomprehensible to me that corn dogs would not be wrapped in cornbread. Instead it was some sort of egg batter, and the whole thing was cooked in a sort of waffle iron instead of deep fried. Interesting.

MJ and I are still in Cusco. The strike came on as scheduled, and though these things are sometimes resolved and shut down quickly, this one has continued for the full 48 hours. Apparently things in Puno got rather violent, and the roads to that area are still shut down until tomorrow. We went to the bus station this morning to find out when we could go... one company was sending a bus anyway, saying they were going to "go around" the strike, probably on extra-sketchy gravel back roads--NO THANK YOU, especially because they wanted almost double the going rate for that trip. Instead we bought tickets for an early bus tomorrow and spent the day puttering around Cusco once more.

The strikes... I feel like I should say something about their cause, but frankly I don´t know much. Apparently the president recently opened the Amazon in northern Peru up for mining, and the indigenous people are being forcibly removed & slaughtered in many cases. It´s a gross show of power and a brutal attack not just on the rainforest but on human rights for all Peruvians (not that they have many to begin with.) MJ says the president´s decision has to do with free trade requirements, but I really don´t understand how it works & I won´t pretend that I do. All I know is the pictures I saw posted in the square today were gruesome, and many Peruvians are incredibly angry--one poster called prez Alan "Satan´s abortion"... the weight of such a thing and my own powerlessness against it made me emotional as we walked along the line of protest banners.

On a lighter note, we finally made it into one of the many many many museums in Cusco. Most of the more well-known ones are ridiculously expensive, and we weren´t particularly attached to any of them. MJ found a Cusco-specific guidebook at the hostel, and it recommended the Admiral´s Palace... a Spanish admiral had this mansion built during colonial times, and it has since been turned into an Inca museum. For 10 soles (about $3) we saw a plethora of pottery remnants, some examples of Incan burial (I believe these were real skulls and remains--kinda gristly, actually... most of them had been arranged in fetal positions and occasionally bundled in a basket or large urn before burial.) There was also a collection of european-style paintings of Spanish-sponsored Incan king-surrogates and an entire room dedicated to the use and history of coca plants.

We went to the bank to withdraw & exchange some money... ATMs only give large bills, and street peddlers and restaurants alike often have a hard time making change... but the banks will break your large bills down for you, free of charge. We took a number, DMV-style, and watched blooper clips while we waited our turn. After lunch we caught the tail end of a procession of children´s costumed dance troops parading out of the main square and walked to the market to get some snacks for our 8-hour non-stop to Puno tomorrow morning. On the way to the market a young man tried to get us to check out his clothing store... MJ talked to him for a moment to find out about a tattoo artist she´d heard of in the area, and he pointed her to a neighboring shop. As we prepared to walk away, he introduced himself... "Call me Angel Dust--I have everything you want. Everything." Real subtle, guy. Peru haz a flavor.

June 14: no one needs more than three cookies

so, the rainforest in northern Peru was recently opened up for mining, and there has been a lot of violence reported there... the government claimed yesterday that 2 dozen cops are dead while only 9 natives have been killed, but since it´s guns against spears I´m somewhat skeptical--unofficial reports say that as many as 250 indigenous people have gone missing & are believed to have been brutally murdered. I want you to know that this is a long long long way from where I am, but it has impacted my trip. MJ and I were planning to visit Lake Titicaca and canyon country further south of Cusco, but a countrywide strike against the activities in the rainforest (as well as some previous anger about water rights being sold to a Chilean company that wants to privatize) turned pretty nasty down there and has now lasted more than a day longer than planned. Buses weren´t going down there without taking sketchy backroads, and there is a rumor that the strikes will have an illegal resurgance next week. Also there was an earthquake yesterday in one of the towns we planned to visit... in short, we decided against the side trip altogether and have come back to nice sleepy little Ollantaytambo. MJ has many friends here, and if things turn serious nationwide we´ll have the most options and resources. I´m honestly pretty disappointed, but I´d rather not get caught up in a political struggle or trapped in an unfamiliar region by a strike that has gotten out of hand... besides, I´m still in Peru, and there are plenty of things in this region that we haven´t done or seen yet (including Machu Picchu.) Just wanted you all to know what´s up, in case you heard anything scary. I´m safe and staying put, and everything is fine.

June 17: HaKooCheece MaCha: Why not Tuesday?

I obliterated the spelling on that, but Quechua isn´t a written language anyway... It says "let´s go get drunk." Most useful thing I´ve ever known.

So, since my last posting I´ve been doing a TON of hiking and drinking. We took a 7-hour round trip to the ruins at PumaMarca, which are pre-Incan and actually pretty impressive... mostly it was about climbing almost straight up and then following the terraces around mountains for a couple of hours, followed by a picnic and a long walk back down. I was totally wiped out afterward!

The night before we´d gone to the blues bar, which is owned by MJ´s landlords... many of Roger´s family members were about, including a few young cousins and a much older uncle who apparently lives in Brazil... he kept telling MJ, our american friend Marico (who is 20) and myself that he wanted to take us to Brazil. The men here are like that... a little pushy. It took forever to get him to leave us alone!

Today we went to the nearest larger town and hit the market... MJ is cooking the whole family spagetti tonight, and there´s only one place to buy ground beef in this area. The markets here are incredible--the meat sections are particularly eye-opening. But the variety of produce is terrific--I´ve tried several new fruits and drinks. Plus I just like calling the little women mommy--it´s polite. And everywhere there are dogs and kids more or less running loose, what an experience.

this will crack you up. The other night at the bar the boys started telling us ghost stories... apparently if you die and the spirits won´t let you into heaven, you come back as a zombie and climb to the glaciers in order to pay your penance. Also there was a man who was killed when a train hit him, and now he´s made a deal with demons that he´ll ride at night blowing a magic dust in your face and then stealing your butt after you fall asleep. You heard me right--he sucks the blood and fat out of your ass (because it´s powerful medicine, apparently) and then you die a few weeks later. Joking aside, some of the things they told us were downright scary--this place certainly has enough history and magic to scare the bravest Andean Superman.
We wanted to take a trip to some of the little town´s south of Cusco (since the trip to Puno etc was thwarted) but apparently the strikes are still keeping things tenuous enough that even this simple journey is too filled with uncertainty to take... looks like Ollantaytambo will eat my vacation, and that´s honestly not so bad.

Tomorrow I go to Machu Picchu, which is a 1 hour train ride followed by a shuttle followed by lots of hiking. It´s probably the most expensive thing I will do this entire trip.

June 19: Machu Picchu

you know, going to see one of the wonders of the world is a mixed blessing. For a simple daytrip from here, we ended up spending well over $100 each. 200 soles for the train tickets, 42 soles for the shuttle, 124 soles for entry... throw on another 30 soles for our guide and 10 soles for lunch = 406 soles EACH, and the exchange rate is roughly 3 soles to the dollar. Also it was crowded with tourists (surprise surprise) and the nearby town felt artificial to me...

still, there´s a reason it´s so crowded and expensive. The ancient city is MASSIVE and filled with oddities like reflecting pools, sun dials, and the king´s private toilet. plus the surrounding hillside is breathtaking... as it turns out, the Andes are big. Plus that region is in the high jungle--it´s mountains are covered with lush vegetation, which is particularly shocking compared to the dry barrenness of the sacred valley.
in short, it was fucking incredible.

Today we´ve done some laundry and cleaned our room (mostly MJ, actually... I´ve been writing postcards.) Tonight we go to the disco, and tomorrow we go camping to a lookout where we´ll apparently see something amazing for the solstice sunrise.

Wish you were here!

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