Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, my leg is on fire

Ho ho ho! Sort of. Due to the warmish weather and general total-differentness of Christmas season in Peru, I repeatedly forgot about Christmas this year. But there it was, and I enjoyed it!

They typically celebrate la noche buena (Christmas Eve) much more than the 25th, so I decided when in Rome.. I accepted a dinner invitation last night to go out with my 12 Argentines who I´d met on the Inca Trail, plus 5 more of their friends, plus the other honeymooning Argentine couple I met while stranded in Aguas Calientes after finishing the Inca Trail. So yes, I was out with 19 Argentines, making me the crazy gringa rounding things out to 20 people. We went to a nice place right on the Plaza de Armas in downtown Cusco and I ordered a traditional feast, which involved coca sours (pisco sours with coca), champagne, a stuffed turkey dish, and a quinoa dessert... all was delicious, albeit slightly strange (note: quinoa doesn´t make very good dessert, just sayin´).

At midnight we headed out into the plaza to check the fireworks, and I swear I have never seen anything like it. It´s like the 4th of July on crack. There were so many fireworks exploding at once all around the city that it sounded like a war was going on, and the sky was filled with explosions and smoke. Also there had been an artisan fair in the plaza all day long, and vendors had left trash around, so kids were going around setting piles of trash on fire, so it really looked like a war zone And just to make things extra exciting, the local hooligans thought it was hilarious to not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES throw their fireworks directly at us after setting them on fire, and so they kept exploding at our feet and we´d have to run away as they went off!!! Kind of scary... but also funny in retrospect! I´m just glad my leg didn´t get blown off, so yay for that.

Tonight I´m overnighting back to Arequipa, and will arrive tomorrow morning at Kieran´s once again. The plan is to make a huge Christmas feast and drink beer. The perfect December 26th. Merry xmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Yesterday I finished the 4 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! I will just come out and say that it was one of the most difficult and rewarding things I have ever done. I am so, so happy I did it, and just feel so lucky to have had the opportunity!

I was in a group of 17 people. That´s a bit sketchy because supposedly there is a 16 person limit, and most are 7-10 people, but mine was 17. It was 12 Argentines from Cordoba, all 19-20 year old Scouts traveling together, then a French couple and an American couple. Everyone was pretty cool, though I could have done without the French (sorry, it´s true, they were anti-social and wierd). There was a bit of a language barrier, as the American couple didn´t speak Spanish and none of the Argentines spoke English, but you know me, I was happy to chat with everyone and play translator. We also had a team of 3 guides and about 10 porters, the guys who carried the tents, food, and equipment. They are incredible! It´s just insane how fast they an go carrying so much weight. We, however, all carried all our own stuff, like clothes, water, sleeping bags, mattress pads, and snacks. Wooooo it was heavy!! But hardcore, and you know I love being hardcore.

So we set off on Thursday morning bright and early form Cusco. In another sketchy turn of events, our group was thrown together so last minute that there were no official camp spots left for us that first night, so we had a really short day 1, which meant we had an insanely long and difficult day 2. Day 1 we walked only about 2-3 hours, then arrived at a camp area next to a river, before even entering the national park area, and just chilled out for the evening, enjoyed the first of many delicious meals prepared for us by the cook (each meal begins with a soup, always yummy, and then we usually ate rice with chicken or meat and some kind of vegetable, plus coca tea-- and pancakes!!-- in the morning and herbal tea before bed), and then headed to bed at 8. My first night I shared a tent with 2 of the Argentine girls... the other two nights I was thrown into a tent with 2 of the boys, the two biggest ones no less. What a spectacle we were, 3 of the tallest people on the trip! They were super nice though, so we had fun and made it work.

On day 2 we woke up at 5:00 am and began the longest and hardest day of the trek. We climbed from 2,400 meters all the way to the highest point of the trek of 4,200 meters, and then we climbed all the way back down to 2,800 before stopping. It was by far one of the most physically challenging days of my life, especially given the altitude, which makes it harder to take in air. I´m thankful that I never felt sick though, as others weren´t so lucky. But I will tell you that after 4 continuous hours climbing thousands of stairs, my legs were absolutely killing me and I thought my lungs would explode. I never stopped eating the entire day, and still was ravenous at the end. All day I snacked on nuts and granola bars and fruit and drank tons of the water I was purifying (don´t drink the water in Peru!!) and just tried to stay motivated. It is an incredibly psychological trek, and requires you to really WANT to finish. I really, really did, and pushed through the pain. Arriving at the 4,200 meter summit was so amazing I almost cried. We all hugged at the top once everyone had made it and were so proud of each other. However we still had about 3 more hours of hiking DOWN the steps before we could camp. And I must say, going down thousands of steps is in many ways harder than going up. My knees were killing me, and my legs were shaking, but we made it.

Along the way we saw so much gorgeous scenery and many ruins, and our guides gave short explanations, though I´ll admit they weren´t very helpful. I mostly just enjoyed taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying being in a place so green and bright and fresh. It´s rainy season right now, but we were so lucky it rained very little. The gods were on our side!!! Or as the guides told us, La Pachamama (Quechua for Mother Earth) liked us. It was cold on the second night, but other than that the climate held out pretty well, and I was fairly comfortable with my t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and one hoodie. I actually packed very well, especially for me, who is a notorious over-packer. Knowing I had to carry it all for 4 days helped a lot...

Day 3 was very tough too. It was a lot of climbing again and then hours and hours of decending. One section involved over 3,000 stairs going down, so you can imagine how that was on the knees. Couldn´t stop thinking of my dad, we just had knee surgery last week to have his knee replaced. Oh man, it´s a killer, but I did it! Just thankful I don´t have any existing injuries. The scenery and fresh air makes it all worth it though, and the company was great too. I became friends with everyone on the trip and we all motivated each other a lot. Plus it was nice to have yummy food to look forward to 3 times a day. Honestly I was surprised at how well organized everything was.

The third night, everyone on the Inca Trail, which is about 400 people or so, all camp at the same big campground, which has a bar and showers. I was weak and paid 5 soles for a shower, because I smelled soooo bad and it was so tempting. I also had a couple beers because, well, they were there and sounded delicious. We were treated to the best dinner of the trip that night too, a smorgazborg of beef, chicken, rocoto relleno (a traditional peruvian dish of stuffed hot peppers), rice, pasta, yucca, and grilled vegetables. I ate myself silly before passing out at a less reasonable 10pm.

Bright and early at 3:45 we had our wake up call for the final day. I forgot to mention that each morning our guides brought us coca tea in bed in our tents, which was sooo nice and so helpful to wake up. Such service! In the dark we all scrambled out of our beds and got ready for the final push. Had a big breakfast of pancakes and bread with jelly and coffee and hot chocolate, and then made our way to the main gates. At 5:30 they opened, and after all showing our passports and tickets we headed in for about a 2 hour hike up to Machu Picchu. We arrived at the Puerta del Sol (the Sun Gate) around 7:00 am. It´s supposed to be one of the best views of Machu Picchu, but we waited around for a while and the clouds never cleared away. In the rainy season it gets very cloudy, and I was nervous we wouldn´t end up seeing anything, that it would just stay foggy all day. Bummed, we left the Sun Gate witout seeing anything, and continued maybe another hour to Machu Picchu.

Along the way the clouds began to lift and I could start to make out some forms in the distance... it was it!! I started getting really excited and I could feel my feet moving faster. It felt like out of nowhere that suddenly, after 4 long days of walking, Machu Picchu was there in the distance, nestled between us and the bigger Wayna Picchu mountain. The clouds started to disappear and I suddenly had a perfect view of Machu Picchu below. I couldn´t believe my eyes. Was that really it?? It was huge and beautiful, and so much better than any picture I´d ever seen. We came in high above it and enjoyed one of the best views I´ve ever seen in my life. I took a bunch of pictures of course, but mostly just had a moment of giving thanks for my life and how special it has been. I thought about my family and my friends in that moment and wished you could all be there to share such beauty with me. I really was taken aback by the whole experience, and just appreciated every little detail... the clouds lifting... the crisp morning... fewer tourists during the low season... and no rain... 4 days of walking was absolutely worth it, and I´d do it again in a heartbeat.

I wish the story ended there, but it doesn´t. That´s the good part. After taking a tour of Machu Picchu and learning more about the area, the idea was that we´d walk 45 minutes downhill to Aguas Calientes, the city that lies below, and then would have lunch and take a train back to Cusco. However, when I finished the tour I was informed that my tour company never bought my train ticket. Errggggggg!!! So I walked all the way to Aguas Calientes in the rain.. yes right at that point it finally started raining.. and when I got there the guide told me he´d been calling the company over and over but that they weren´t answering the phone, and that I´d probably have to buy another train ticket. Which I´d already purchased. The best part is that I was about 20 soles short of the cost of the ticket, so I started worrying that I was stranded in this lame, overpriced, tourist town of Aquas Calientes. I had planned on enjoying the afternoon before the train ride soaking in the hot springs there, but instead I spent the entire afternoon calling the agency over and over and finally (you know me, I make things happen) getting someone to fax me a train ticket. Problem solved! I made it back to Cusco fine, although I lost the afternoon and came back much later than expected. The good news is that it was an adventure, and I also made some new friends while waiting around, a really nice Argentine couple on their honeymoon (it´s like Argentina is following me!!) and another cool American guy on the train who is teaching English in Peru. So of course I made lemonade out of lemons and all was well in the end.

Overall I had an absolutely amazing experience, and I would recommend the real deal Inca Trail to anyone who has the opportunity. It´s hard and it´s not glamorous, but it´s beautiful, fulfilling, inspiring, and will whip your butt into shape, and in the end you are rewarded with Machu Picchu. This is something I have wanted to do my whole life, and I´m just absolutely humbled by the experience. Yay for my life.

I´m back in Cusco and planning on staying here through X-mas, and then heading back to Arequipa to be with Kieran for the 26th and 27th... we´re going to have a Christmas celebration together then. Today I am taking it very easy, had a pedicure and an hour long massage this morning for a whopping 35 soles total (about $12 USD) and have just been hanging out today enjoying this gorgeous city. Can´t wait to see what Christmas festivities they have! Peruvians tend to celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas (actually I think that might be all South Americans), so I think the 24th there will be a lot going on in the city. I hear there is a big craft market that day and fireworks at night. Also, apparently everyone goes out that night, so ¨when in Rome¨!! It´s my first Christmas out of the U.S. and in summer, so I´m sure it will be interesting, and I´m looking forward to seeing what happens. I will miss you all at home very much though, and will be thinking of you. xo

Friday, December 18, 2009


I arrived in Cusco yesterday morning after a 13 hour bus ride (puke-free, I´m glad to announce) from Arequipa. I am happy to report that I haven´t suffered any altitude sickness, and have actually been feeling great. Just lucky, I guess!

I have fallen absolutely in love with this city!! I really adore it, and I´m so glad I don´t need to rush away too quickly, because even after 2 full days of exploring, there is still so much to discover. It´s truly a magical place, so rich with history and culture. There are many people speaking Quechua and wearing traditional clothing, and it just feels so surreal to walk these streets. Every so often I just burst out laughing, literally, because I am just so happy to be here and to experience this place. I have never been anywhere like this before, and it didn´t take long for me to fall in love. Frankly, I could see myself living here for a while.

Yesterday while wandering around I met a Peruvian photographer from Lima named Ivan who is also touring around, and ended up making plans to go on a hike with him today. We met up this morning and spent all day today hiking in the hills surrounding Cusco. Simply incredible. Cusco is a city of winding cobblestone streets and endless stairs up up up! It´s the perfect place to get lost, which is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I love just exploring, mapless, and ending up somewhere beautiful. Today Ivan and I began our adventure by first heading up to the Cristo Blanco (the white Jesus), a statue of Jesus that sits high up on a hill overlooking the city. It was a tiring walk up many streets and a lot of stairs, but very much worth it. Then we became ambitious and spent the next 4 or 5 hours continuing to wander through the hills, visiting the ruins of Saqsaywaman (sounds a lot like Sexy Woman, I know) and Q´asqo, an also el Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon). It was all simply breathtaking. So incredible, in fact, that I spent a large portion of my day staring in wonderment at these ancient structures, touching their cold stone surfaces, and just being thankful to be there. Everywhere I went I found ancient stone ruins with a backdrop of the gorgeous city of Cusco to one side and the mountains on the others. There are alpacas and llamas and horses and sheep wandering around everywhere too. It´s really something so special that it can´t be described. My day was perfect, everything I wanted it to be. I took a million pictures, and I promise when I can to go back and upload pictures onto my blog.

Anyway, now for the most exciting news of all-- THE INCA TRAIL to Machu Picchu! I´d been told that you need to book the Inca Trail months in advance, and it can be incredibly expensive, running anywhere from $300-500 for the 4 day trek. I didn´t want to spend so much, and also didn´t plan that far in advance, so arrived thinking Í´d do one of the many cheaper alternative treks to Machu Picchu, which I´m sure would still be a great experience. However, coincidentally yesterday at a travel agency, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I ended up getting the very last spot on the Inca Trail FOR THE REST OF 2009! Not sure how I got so lucky, but he also gave it to me at a discount, so I paid a lot less than normal. Sweet! I feel so incredibly lucky.

I leave tomorrow morning at 6:30am! I´d write more on this blog, but I have a lot to prepare. The hike will be 4 days long, and I´ll be camping out the whole time. I ended up randomly in a group of all Argentines who know each other. Very random, but also very cool, because we automatically have something in common, and they are people who won´t look at me funny for having an Argentine accent in Peru! Hopefully I´ll bust into their posse nicely and we can enjoy the experience together.

Anyway I´m off to pack-- I´ll be carrying all my own stuff, so I´m keeping it as minimal as possible. I can assure you I will take a million pictures, and will try to get some photos up after Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, it´s looking like I´ll be spending it here in Cusco at the hostel. I´m actually really excited about it and think it will be a nice time with other travelers. Besides, I am happy to have some extra time in this amazing city.

I´ll be MIA for 4 days while on the Inca Trail, but will report back afterward! Visiting Machu Picchu has been a dream of mine for many, many years, so I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and plan to live it to the fullest.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bus from hell... here at last.

This is going to be a really graphic blog post, but I feel like you guys can handle it.

So I´m the idiot for deciding that spending 90 soles (about $30 USD) on a trip all the way from Trujillo to Arequipa was a good idea. You know me, I love a good bargain, especially while traveling. Coulda paid more than double for a fancier bus, but I figured, how bad can it be?? Classic case of famous last words.

After a super relaxing and wonderful last day in my new favorite beach town, Huanchaco, I rallied over to the Trujillo station to meet my 10:00pm bus to Lima. 9 hours, leg 1 of 2. It didnt´t seem so bad, although the fact that I was virtually the only tourist on the bus was a small bad sign. The woman who´d sold me the ticket promised me a window, but of course I had an aisle. And though should couldn´t promise me a skinny person next to me, it would have been cool if she didn´t put me next to the large man carrying a sack of what looked like leaves and sticks. Whatever though, no problem. 9 hours isn´t so bad.

Hours before, I´d realized run out of Dramamine on the last bus ride, and had frantically gone to 2 pharmacies, only to be told that they had none. However, a very nice girl at the hostel gave me 5 pills of something alled Mareaol, which she said had helped her a lot with sea sickness. How different can that be?

SIDE NOTE to those who don´t know me or have never been in a car with me-- I get really freaking car sick. It´s just one of those annoying things about me. How I turned out to be such a traveler with such travel sickness is just bad luck I guess. There are very few members of my family who haven´t been puked on at some point in my life, though that was mostly when I was a little kid, and it´s been years since my last vomit-fest on a bus.

But anyway. I popped 2 Mareaol for the journey, inflated my new best friend the inflatable neck pillow, and went to sleep.

5 hours later I woke up with the sytmptoms I am all too familiar with. I was sweating and nauseaous and felt like if I didnt open a window I would die. The bus´s windows of course didn´t open though, and I found myself scrambling in my bag for something to puke in. I found a plastic bag, grabbed it, and made it aaaalmost to the bathroom before I just threw up into the bag. Okay, mostly in the bag. Okay-- shameless, graphic blog post-- okay, I threw up a little bit into the bag and mostly on myself and the floor of the bus. Hour 5 of 28 and I´m now covered in vomit. I tried to wash myself off in the bathroom but it didnt accomplish much. Anyway I felt a lot better so I just went back to sleep and tried to act natural...

I arrived in Lima at 7:00am... I was supposed to have a 2.5 hour layover at this point, but I got bumped right onto a 7:15 bus, which was fantastic because it meant a 2 hour shorter trip, and horrible because it left me no time to change. I ran right onto the next bus, and this time was literally horrified by what I found. Dirty seats and no overhead storage. A bathroom with no sink. Seats that literally went back maybe 2 inches, AKA nothing, and ZERO LEGROOM. Even a midget would complain. This was to be my home for the next 17 hours.

I immediately wanted to die. I popped 2 more Mareaol, although they clearly didn´t work, based on previous experience. Everything about this second bus was horrible except for 2 critical details-- 1. it had windows that opened... although mine didn´t.. but the one behind me did.. and 2. there was no one seated next to me. And frankly, who would want to be seated next to me anyway.

Hour 1: Crazy Catholic Jesus guy preaches and preaches and preaches and preaches. No I mean, he talked for 45 MINUTES about Jesus. And he was shouting, so there was no rest for the weary. He explained the basics, like that Michael Jackson died young because he dyed his skin white, and that´s a sin, and that men who sleep with men also die young, as in the case of some guy named Mauricio. And he kept pointing at me, and explaining in Spanish to the other passengers that even though the gringa tourist couldn´t understand a word he was saying (which I unfortunately could), that Jesus loved me anyway. God is in Peru. Jesus is from Peru. I don´t know, my attention went in waves. He then explained that we will all be protected by God in our lives--amen-- if we just believe, and pray--amen--and on this long journey he will protect us--amen--and we should BUY HIS CHOCLATES FOR 1 SOL EACH because that is the Christian thing to do. Yes, after 45 minutes and talking he tried to sell me something. These crappy chocolates! And just wait til you find out how I found out they were crappy! He came around to every seat and asked for money, and when someone bought one, he´d say loudly to everyone on the bus, ¨this wonderful person has a heart and god bless them,¨and when they didn´t buy them, he´d say, ¨this person doesn´t care about Peru or about Jesus or about the starving babies something something...¨ yes, he actually talked about starving babies at one point. He then made it to my seat and said to everyone, ´this tourist doesn´t understand a word I´m saying, but let´s see if she cares about the people of Peru and the babies of the world¨, after which all the heads in the bus were turned toward me, the baby hater. Here I am, covered in my own vomit, hating babies and Peru and who knows what else, and all I could think of was to dig into my pocket for a sol to buy the chocolate and get the guy the hell away from me. Oh, the look of shock on his face! An actual tourist who doesn´t hate babies! I half expected the entire bus to erupt into applause as he announced that the crazy confused tourist did, in fact, have god in her heart, but thankfully they didn´t.

Hour 2-3: The baby directly next to me WAILS and SCREAMS and CRIES for almost 2 consecutive hours. I mean, it was impressive. I felt bad complaining because the poor mother was much more stressed out about it than me, but I still secretly wanted to kill her.

Hour 4: After finally getting to sleep after the crying baby extravaganza, I awake from one of my many awkward positions to that feeling again... sweating... hot... gonna die... and all i can think of is the open window behind me. I had to puke NOW (Mareaol be damned!!!) and ended up standing up and leaning out the window of the guy BEHIND ME, much to his horror, and throwing up about 3 times, until some guy tapped me on the shoulder to alert me that there was, in fact, a bathroom. I barged into the bathroom and found it occupied by a woman with her pants down, and, of dear god, all I could do was shoo the man next to me out of his seat and puke out HIS window.

Yes, everyone´s favorite passenger. I know, this blog post is disgusting, but I figured I may need these details recorded someday if I ever write my memoirs or a horror movie script.

Hours 5-11: No more puking. My stomach had finally decided to let me and the rest of the passengers chill for a while. I bend and fold my body into unhuman positions, feet hanging out into the aisle, head hanging into the aisle. I figured at this point, everyone on the bus already hates me, so might as well try to get some sleep.

Hour 12: An adorable little old man carrying a huge basket gets on the bus (yes, the discount bus makes 5 million stops) and chooses to sit down next to me. I look at him with imploring eyes, but he doesn´t budge. So I say, ¨You can sit there, but you should know I have been throwing up frequently.¨ He moves.

Hour 14: Three hours short of arrival and the driver wants a dinner break. I´m eating peanuts at a roadside restaurant. The restaurant is simulaneously playing reggaeton on the radio, a loud variety show in which women have their clothing ripped off on the tv, and the Christmas tree has singing lights that repeatedly sing Silent Night. I resume wanting to die.

1:30am: Two hours early, I role up to Kieran´s house, a back-aching, vomit-encrusted shell of my former self. He´s nevertheless happy to see me. God bless the Irish.

UPDATE: 24 hours have passed. My stomach cramps have subsided and my back isn´t too bad. Had a great day in Arequipa exploring the city center, various markets, and learning about all the crazy animals and their parts that can be thrown in a soup. Kieran and his roommate have another couchsurfer here named Stef that I hung out with while Kieran was working, and that´s been great. Super glad to be catching up with my old friend, and to have a couple days to relax. Arequipa isn´t the most exciting, but it´s a very pretty city (only slightly white though, despite its name The White City) and is keeping me entertained. Doesn´t take much, honestly.

Despite the traumatic experience, I bought a slightly less discounted bus ticket to Cusco for tomorrow night. I´ll be there by Thursday morning. Can´t wait!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bonfires and buses

It´s my final day in Huachaco, and it couldn´t be more relaxing. I arrived Friday night around 11'30 and didnt have a hotel reservation, so I asked the taxi driver to recommend something. I ended up at a hostel called Hostal La Suiza, which has turned out to be great. Cheap, really nice and helpful staff, and lots of young travelers. Within 30 minutes on Friday night I´d made friends with a group of girls (a couple Norwegians who have been here for 3 weeks doing absolutely nothing, which is admirable I suppose, a DJ from NYC, and 2 crazy girls from Detroit). We ended up somehow assembling a posse of locals and us and heading to the beach to build a bonfire. It was a ton of fun!! This town is so cool because it´s right along the beach, so there´s a big beach culture and every night there are bonfires and music. This is the kind of place I needed to be.

Glad I came when I did and didn´t spend another minute in Chiclayo! Wow that city was a bust. Although my day on Friday was great. As planned, I took a combi to the nearby city of Lambayeque where I visited the Museo del Señor del Sipan, which was super interesting (he was buried under about 25 layers of gold and silver jewelry covered in precious stones, textiles guilded with gold, etc, not to mentioned buried with a couple concubines, a bunch of guards, a llama, a dog, and one main guard who´s feet had been severed, to symbolize that he would stay there forever guarding) and so the museum is just packed with all the crazy jewelry and treasures that were found in his tomb. How one man can wear so many necklaces is beyond me. You know me, I was totally fascinated by the stone and metal work, and the insane earrings that everyone wore, which were made of metals and stones and were about 5 inches in diameter literally, must have weighed a ton!! Anyway, after that museum I also took another combi to the nearby town of Tucumé, where I hiked up a million steps and got a spectacular look at some ancient pyramid ruins.

On the way back from the pyramids I took a mototaxi back to the highway, and got to talking to the driver. Turns out he´s a shaman, as are many people in the area, and when I expressed interest, he offered to show me the whole shamanism area of his house. I couldn´t refuse. I met his wife and one of his kids, and then he took me to a small area closed off with tapestries behind the house, with a blanket on the floor covered in herbs and potions and animal skulls. I of course took a million pictures, being the raging tourist that I am. Anyway, he put on his pancho and his hat and asked me a bunch of questions about my love life, because he says he specializes in working with lovers. Since I´m single, he seemed slightly stumped, but still he selected a bottle of what smells like jasmine and some other herbs, and poured the oil allover my hands and had me rub them together. As I did, he started drinking from the bottle which I thought was very strange, and before I knew it he was spitting it back all over my face in a spray. He says it will bring me good luck... I think he means with love, but I´m secretly hoping it will just help me not get robbed or abducted by guerrillas in the jungle.

Up next... tonight at 10pm I will be beginning a horrendous 29 hour bus journey on a budget bus, no less, all the way to Arequipa. 9 hours from Trujillo to Lima, then waiting 3 hours, and then 17 hours to Arequipa down south, where I will meet up with my friend Kieran, an Irish guy I met during my TEFL course in Buenos Aires who is now teaching in Peru. Wish me luck, because I have a feeling that I will need it!! I will be hopping on the bus with dramamine, snacks, and possibly a classy box of wine, just in case. Anything to help me sleep.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peeing under a banana tree, and other Peruvian adventures

I spent 2 nearly perfect days in Mancora... it is a beautiful beach in a small, sandy little town with one main street. It apparently gets very crowded in the summer, but the mobs didn´t seem to have hit yet, so it was actually very mellow. Jano turned out to be a fantastic travel buddy, we got along great and had so much fun doing basically nothing.. lounging on the beach, eating fresh ceviche (omg i LOVE) and drinking mosquitos, which are mojitos made with pisco instead of rum. Yesterday we rented horses and rode them all along the beach, and I swear I felt like I was in paradise. We also checked out another similar beach just north called Punta Sal, had some sort of bizarre set menu beef stew thing with the locals, lounged under a palm hut in the sand, and then headed back for more relaxation. I know, life is tough.

Today I feel like my trip has officially begun, because for the first time, I am now traveling alone. I managed to stick with people, first Chio and then Jano, until this point, so today feels like a relatively important moment. Its a bit scary, honestly, but also more exciting than words can describe. Not knowing what will come next is part of the thrill of it all.

That being said, Ive managed to have a pretty ridiculous day. I bought a bus ticket yesterday for a 9:00am bus to Chiclayo today from Mancora. On schedule I arrived at the bus stop this morning, and waited around for what felt like forever. Around 9.30 (please excuse the faulty punctuation, I cant figure out how to use this computer) a bus pulled up, kind of slowed to a stop, dumped one person off, and kept driving. I figured it wasnt mine, but the bus company employee started screaming at me that I´d missed my bus, then grabbed my backpack and started running after it. When the bus kept driving he threw my backpack in a mototaxi (these adorable 3 wheeled taxis they use all over the coasts here) and basically threw me in after it and instructed the driver to follow the bus. Meanwhile he jumped on the back and proceeded to scream and whistle and bang on the mototaxi. I of course had no clue what was going on, but kind of went with it. Apparently we were in hot persuit of the bus, although at quite a disadvantage, given that we were in a vehicle that has a maximum speed of probably 30 miles/ hour. I kept saying, hey its fine, I´ll just wait for the next one, but no this guy was in quite a mood and shushed me repeatedly. Finally we arrived 15 minutes later to the next town, a crazy little fishing town called Los Organos, the bus nowhere in sight. After a heated argument between the bus employee and the taxi driver, we then headed all the way back, where I waited for the 11:00 bus. It was royally annoying, but the whole time I kept reminding myself how the pure entertainment factor made it worth it!! It really was hilarious!

Anyway I took the 6 hour bus ride to Chiclayo and arrived around 5:00. Was befriended on the bus by quite a crazy character named Victor, a completely broke travling bohemian type who apparently snuck onto the bus for free somewhere mid trip and sat down right next to me and planted a kiss on my cheek, then proceeded to act like he was drunk or just totally lost for the next 2 hours. Turns out he´s one of those guys who runs out in front of cars at traffic lights and juggles for money. He claims he´s going to teach me to juggle but I doubt it... I´m very uncoordinated! Anyway the bus itself was a relative nightmare. Worst seats I´ve ever sat in, dirty curtains, and most critically, NO BATHROOM. After the 2 hour wait this morning for the second bus I´d put back a few coffees and had to ask the guy twice to pull over. The first time I ended up peeing in a gas station... the second time I was not so lucky, and ended up next to the highway under a banana tree. Oh bodily functions be damned! The scenery was nice though. Mostly sandy hills at first and then it becomes huge expanses of dunes. You go forever without seeing any houses and then suddenly these bizarre little shantytowns pop up out of nowhere, corrugated tin roofs and brick walls and all. I´d be curious to find out how they make their living. I snapped pictures but ughhh it´ll be a while before I get pictures uploaded, sorry blog readers.

So yes, back to the story. In Chicalyo, Victor the crazy juggler got off too, and I´m too nice and offered to take him into town in my taxi, seeing as he had literally no money and was planning to juggle his way there. I guess that´s my good deed for today. He also followed me to my hostel, and while I paid for my room, he somehow bargained his for free. Not fair! Anyway he´s gone now, off juggling in traffic I´m sure!

Finally alone, in the past few hours I´ve had some time to explore this city, and I´m going to be honest... this is going on the list of lamest and least worth it cities ever. I thought it would be more of a town, but it´s a bustling city chock full of all the budget hoochie clothing money can buy. Since, thanks to the bus fiasco, I arrived too late to check out the ruins of Sipan or Pimentel beach (though both are now my plans for tomorrow! yay!) I wandered over to the recommended medicinal herbs market, where shamans sell you strange herbs and concoctions made with hoofs and tongues and who knows what else, to cure your diabetes or your arthritis or your broken heart. I, being the raging sucker that I am, walked away with what appears to be a bottle of worms and flowers stewing in a ´love perfume´ and topped off with a miniature doll, supposedly a representation of the man of my dreams. Apparently if I carry this bottle around with me long enough, good luck will follow me. And for 3 soles (the equivalent of about a dollar) I figured I can use all the luck I can get! ;-)

Other than that though, the city and the rest of the market have been quite unpleasant. So unpleasant, in fact, that instead of being outside enjoying it, I am writing an incredibly long blog in an internet cafe. I am glowing more than usual here with foreignerness, my height and hair throwing everyone in my vicinity into a wild tizzy. They want to sell me EVERYTHING and are persistent to the bitter end. I received more marriage proposals today than I have received combined in the rest of my life. One of which included a tiny, slightly deformed man running after me with the plastic-wrapped meat cleavers he was selling in his hands, screaming, ´Soy feo, pero de corazon sincero!´(I´m ugly, but my heart is sincere!) and promising me that if I marry him, he is able to provide me with 2 meals a day and my own room in his apartment. What more could a girl ask for?

I´m looking forward to tomorrow, planning to get up early and go to the ruins of Sipan and still have time in the afternoon to take a bus to Pimentel for the day. Not that I need more sun, I´m a bit red, but I have to get my base tan at some point, and the clock is ticking. Tomorrow night or Saturday, depending, I´ll head to Trujillo and Chan Chan, and then Sunday or Monday to Arequipa. Adventures abound!

I am now going to go search for dinner, and it is likely that I will finally succumb to the temptations of anticucho, grilled beef heart on a stick. I hear it´s delicious.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mancora, Peru... life is good

I´m in a beautiful beach town in the very northern coast of Peru called Mancora. I arrived in Lima safely on Saturday, and was greeted as planned by Jano, a friend of a friend in Buenos Aires. The 2 of us went by combi (little crazy van buses that drive like maniacs) to my couchsurfing host´s house in Surco. Rocio and her family were the best hosts I could have imagined, took me in, made me a yummy lunch of arroz con pollo and gave me my own room. My first night I went out with Rocio and Jano in Miraflores for some delicious pisco sours. Explored Miraflores and the beautiful coastline malecon with the rest of my time in Lima... when I got back towrd the end of my trip I will explore the towntown historical areas. Yesterday went with Jano to Fiori, a wild bus terminal in the north of Lima to take a 17 hour bus ride to Mancora. Wasnt too bad considering it was a budget bus. The whole experience of the bus terminal was loco in itself, all the different buses lined up and bargaining bus fare.. anyway, here I am now at the beach, planning to stay here until Thursday and then begin going back south, first to Chiclaya and then to Trujillo, and then start heading down to Arequipa around the end of the weekend. I´m having a really fun adventure so far, and will update when I can, Peru is beautiful!!! So I´m sure no matter what I do it will be an incredible experience. Love to all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Leaving Buenos Aires

I am leaving Buenos Aires for 4 months of travel in 8 hours! I'm home packing like a maniac, the classic Erica move because I notoriously leave everything until the last possible minute.

Anyway I had a lot of other blogs I wanted to write about Argentina, and I hope to be able to write those and back-date them at some point, but for now, off I go on new adventures! First stop is Lima, Peru, and then... beyond! I'm couchsurfing in Lima for the first couple days, and have a friend of a friend picking me up from the airport... not a bad start, considering my utter lack of organization.

I plan to blog at least a couple times a month, and hopefully much much more. Please keep in touch and check in on the blog! Knowing someone is actually out there reading it inspires me to keep writing.

Love to all! Next time you hear from me I'll be in Peru. Besos!!!