Colca Canyon, I learn once again you get what you pay for

Terry and I decided we wanted to take a bus trip to Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world. Peru is also home to the largest canyon but Colca has gotten better reviews. We weren´t very discriminatory and we visited a young lady who was manning a bus trip booth in downtown Arequipa.

The travel tour sales lady seemed nice enough and described a 2 day trip including a tour of the canyon, 1 night´s hotel, one breakfast and all transporations and guide. All this for an unbelievable low price of $25. This was low even by Peruvian standards. Being the cheapskates that we are we immediately handed over the money and only afterwards did we share a second thought.

The next morning a minibus arrives at our hotel chock full of other unsuspecting tourists, mainly from Spain and a few from England. Things start off well enough but we found out too late that the roads from Arequipa to Colca are almost nonexistant. We looked lovingly at the large tour buses with good shocks on them as they passed us. The other tourists on the bus seemed nice enough but they could definitely outshine me, which is hard to do, when it comes to the nickle and dime routine. I have never seen anybody shave fractions of Solas down to the tenth on every single restaurant purchase.

Our tour guide claimed she had a handle on english but much of what came out her mouth sounded liked: "The terrorists in the mountains have trouble with adequate immigration" when she actually meant "The mountain terraces are difficult to irrigate." The entire trip I though Osama was behind the bus.

The hotel wasn´t bad, if you don´t mind mice waking you up every 10 minutes but it did have agua caliente which is a rare find in this neck of the woods. We had 2 lovely hikes in the mountains on this trip, one brit and one spaniard was faster than me, I need more practice. I finally got to realize my dream of soaking in a thermal bath which was nice.

I fly home tomorrow in the PM, I will have my last $10 massage from Miguel right before the plane leaves. I hate to leave that man. I will post some more pics when I get home because these computers in Arequipa suck.

Copacabana, Bolivia y Arequipa, Peru

Hola amigos:

Last we spoke I was on my way to try the Guinea Pig frito in Puno. They skinned me a nice one and it had a gamey flavor, sort of like bunny. The next morning we got on a bus and headed for Bolivia. We got some lovely stamps on our passports courtesy of the immigrations department at the border so now I have Bolivia, Peru, Jamaica and Brasil on my passport. I think the US immigrations people will think I am either a drug mule or serious partier.

Bolivia was wonderful, in the spirit of sounding like my mother, you have to hear about this place. We picked the best hotel in town, it was top of the line Ocean City quality with a beautiful view of the lake. Get this folks, including breakfast it cost us 70 Bolivars per night which works out to under $9 per night. Of course, during our stay we took the boat ride from hell to the island d'el sol y la luna. The little boat only went about 3 miles per hour, I could have kayaked faster. It was miserably cold, I had my winter gear, everyone else was dressed for summer and you could see them shake. When we arrived at the island we felt obligated to hike to the top, probably a difference of 1000 feet but we only had 1 hour to enjoy the island so we scrambled very fast. All you mcom hikers probably think that shouldn't have been so painful but we were starting out at 12,500 feet hiking up to 13,500 feet...needless to say I got a little winded. I was too miserable to take any pictures.

The little town in Bolivia didn't have too many tourists, of the few they had none were Americanos which was nice. We ate dinner at Cafe Bistrot where we had a spirited conversation about satanic Jorge Bush with owners Fatima and Roberto. Roberto used to live in the US and broke down in tears when he spoke about the situation in New Orleans. On a side note, I would tell you all exactly how I feel about that Idioto Supremo en la Casa Blanco but I don't want Homeland Security stopping me a la Cat Stevens when I try to reenter the US. I will save that for a later time.

The next day we crossed back into Peru and got on the local bus back to get to Arequipa. The guidebook said the Arequipa was unsafe and to beware, but everyone has been very nice and we haven't had any concerns, knock on wood.

This computer is not allowing me to upload my images easily so I am going to have to save the pics for another time, I have a great picture of Bob's lago, the mountains outside our hotel room and a rather blurry picture of my GPS showing 13,500 ft but I will post it anyway. Arequipa is a large city that is very business oriented. There are no Quechuan people here and I am watching everyone operate at a business pace for a change. There aren't that many tourists and we will stay here through tomorrow and then head out for a very touristy tour of Colca Canyon.

We also visited the Taca airline offices today and managed to change the airline ticket for the flight we missed in Lima to one for Arequipa to Lima on the night we need to leave so we didn't lose any money on that snafu. We felt pretty proud of ourselves to be able to navigate this entire mess while speaking espanol. So far since landing in Cusco I figure I will have spent maybe $300 for the two weeks here in Peru, including hotels, travel, restaurant meals 3x day and various tours. I would have spent more breathing air in my living room in Baltimore. Mom, Dad, friends, family, don't expect me to hang around in the Estados Unitos when I am ready to retire on my measely social security check in a few years. The Republicans always tell us that if we don't like it here we can leave.....thank you, I think I will.

I am at Bob´s favorite place....Lake Titicaca

After I finished the last blog entry I went in search of Terry on the main square Pisac. Terry had found a bunch of global expats holed up in Ulrike´s Cafe. We had a long talk with all of them, they all seemed to be seeking refuge from their busy lives back in Europe and Canada. We had a long chat with Birgithe Vestergaard from Denmark, she was cafe sitting while the owner was traveling. She was given free room and board to watch the place, this doesn´t seem like a bad deal to me, I am going to have to check into this hostal/cafe/business sitting option in foreign countries, it sounds like fun.

In the morning we got up and strolled around Pisac. This is a picture of the colorful wares available for sale. There were a lot of stalls, but not many customers, I don´t know whether these folks actually earn any money.

I had convinced poor Terry that the local bus was the way to go when it came to trans-Peru travel. I don´t think Terry was ready for what was to come. We made it from Pisac back to Cusco on a packed local bus, Terry was not pleased that a baby spat up on him. We then maneuvered to the bigger buses for transport from Cusco to Puno. We paid extra for the panaromic view seat at the front. The 6 hour bus ride cost a little over $6 each. I have also discoverd who the badly behaved travelers are and its not the Americans, it´s the Australians. In Pisac a group of young Australian women decided to wear tank tops instead of long sleeves like all the Peruvians, I thought that was a little inappropriate. But when they sat down at the outdoor cafe one of them took the cake, her thong was showing above her pant waist, with her fat ass cheeks hanging out....disgusting. If she had been American I would have given her an earful.

Now back to the bus. Peruvian bus seats are assigned. When our seater on the bus showed us our seats, there was an Australian man already sitting in them. He refused to leave. Begrudgingly he agreed after a few minutes of spirited conversation. He took the seat behind us complaining every minute, then was upset because there was no bathroom on the bus, then he complained that he couldn´t open the window. He just wouldn´t shut up. Again, had he been American I would have reemed him a new asshole. The Peruvian seater kept on moving him to the back, the Australian got what he deserved.

I think the beating the US is getting globally is having a positive effect on American international travel behavior, or perhaps we are in such a remote place the ugly Americans just aren´t here. The other American tourists here are extremely polite and most are attempting to speak espanol.

Terry was complaining that we weren´t doing enough touristy things and I was spending way too much time making him run up and down mountains, so I reluctantly agreed to go on a tour of Inca ruins near Puno called Sillustani. Puno is on Lake Titicaca and it has had a number of different tribes/societies/conquerors including the Incas and Spaniards. These ruins are on an island on a lake near Puno. After our tour of the ruins our guide asked us if we wanted to visit a Quechuan farmhouse.

At the farm we met Maria, pictured here. Her clothing is indicative of the way most of the native women dress, I´d say at least 25% of the women in Peru look like this. She is pictured cooking on her little stove, she uses alpaca dung as fuel and she doesn´t wash her hands after she puts some in the fire. The best part of Maria is her teeth, look at these beautiful chompers! Maria does not eat any sugar, coffee or tea. She is twenty years old and has never brushed her teeth, they are beautifully white. Many Quechans drop dead with the most beautiful set of teeth, very impressive.

Regarding my meals. I have decided that if I recognize a food option on a menu, I won´t order it. So far I have eaten something called "jumped back" which was delicious. Last night was a fish dish called Jerreny, I think. This morning we ended up in a hole-in-the-wall, our server spoke no Spanish, just Quechan, but she brought us something that I think was called Cornado (I think), a giant pile of carne, huevos and arroz for $0.60, delicous. Tonight I want my cuy frito.

Tomorrow we head to Copa Cabana, Bolivia on Lake Titicaca. Terry wants another stamp on his passport and will jump through hoops to get it. I have no idea whether Bolivia has Internet but we will find out.

One word for the Andes: Steep

Today we are in Pisaq. We were hoping to spend the night in Laray but the only hostal there was closed. So we moved west by taxi to Pisaq which is slightly touristy but not overwhelming. My espanol is getting better and some of these folks are actually understanding me which is nice.

We rode the bus from Urabamba to Laray and saw that since winter is almost over the oxen are busy plowing the fields. Pisaq is nestled in among a bunch of very steep mountains and we choose to hike a gradual rise which was a lot tougher than I had thought it to be. You can see the hiking trail running a diagonal in this picture.

Here is me on the hike.

The dogs enjoy the middle of the street as a ideal place to nap.

Tomorrow we head back to Cusco to immediately catch a bus to Puno and head west. We plan to take a two day bus trip to get there which should be fun. I find the local bus to be very relaxing.

Blowing off Machu

Today we did something drastic and decided to blow off our visit to Machu Picchu. We hear it is a great place but between the train schedule, 2 mandatory days to be spent in Aguas Caliente, and an unbelievable transportation charge, we felt our time might be better spent elsewhere. We are in the Sacred Valley right now and my camera is not cooperating so I don't have any pics to post.

Although Cusco was nice, I was happy to leave because it is really set up for tourists and I don't want to be seeing other tourists, I want to see the real Peru.
So we left this morning and took the local bus to a place called Urabamba which is at the foothills of some beautiful high mountains with glaciers. There isn't much to do here but we are the only tourists in the little town. The local busride here took over 1 hour and cost $1. We have taken the best hotel room in Hostel Urabamba and it cost us a little under $10. I got my hair cut for $0.80.

We spent a lot of time talking to Mike, the proprietor over at Macha Wasi who recommended some things for us to do and see. We may stay around here for a couple of days then take the bus to Puno.