Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Almost time to go home...

But before I end my wonderful time in the traveling world, I still have a few days to kill...In a few hours I will be hopping on a bus to get to Lima, which I´m sure will be my last long overnight bus ride for awhile...I still have time to wander around the streets of Arequipa for a little bit longer.

Over the weekend we went to Colca Canyon, which is supposed to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. I guess they can call it that deep because it is surrounded by 14,000 foot Andean mountains! We opted to skip the tour and do it ourselves, knowing that we´d like to be on our own time schedules instead of a group of strangers. I´m glad we did it that way. Although we didn´t have much time there, we did a great hike down to the bottom of the canyon and back up in one day. Whew, was it steep!!! On the way down we really mosied along, walking slow because it was pretty slippery and steep-and even then I still took a digger :) At the bottom was a nice oasis with pools and we just relaxed. Funny enough, we were a little quicker hiking back up the steepness then hiking down! The town of Cabanaconde was really nice...A quaint little village made of rocks and giant stones held together by mud, with some of the nicest Peruvians we have encountered. The area was really beautiful, and if we´d had more time it would´ve been nice to spend a few days trekking through the canyon. Maybe next time...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Machu Picchu!

Yesterday we spent our day touring the site of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was a city built by the Incas in 1490 high up in the Andes of Peru, but they lived in the city for only about 100 years before the civilization fell to the Spaniards. Archeologists only have a few theories of what Machu Picchu actually was, but that does not take away from how impressive it is. It's a sight that many people make as their life-long goal to see, and it certainly was up there on my list. Machu Picchu was a major destination that we put on our list to see during this trip, and it's cool that we finally made it here. We have seen so many amazing things along the way, but there have only been a few of those that we knew about before hand that would be a must-see, of course this being one of them.

We got up super early to get on the first 5:30 a.m. bus up the road to the site from the town below. I awoke with disbelief when the alarm went off to hear rain hitting the hotel roof.. There is a pretty loud river right outside the hotel, so I hoped that's what I was hearing...Nope, it was raining.. The one day when I am finally here, and about to spend the whole day exploring this amazing site-it's raining! It was a bummer of a start but I was hopeful that the rain wouldn't last very long. When we got to the site, the fog was just about the only thing you could see...We started walking through the ruins but not really seeing anything. A few of us slowly walked together, following a path through the ruins but not really being able to take anything in, as the fog made us really disoriented.
As it started raining harder, we stumbled upon a few covered huts towards one end of the ruins. We bunked down here for one hour, trying to wait out the rain and fog. It really didn't look good for a while, but since we had gotten to the site so early in the morning, we had time to wait. Finally the rain slowed to a light sprinkle and we had had enough of not exploring. We decided to hike up to the nearby peak of Wayna Picchu in hopes that the weather would start cooperating and we could get great views of Machu Picchu. After a quick but steep hike we got to the top and the clouds parted. The people already up there had been waiting 3 hrs. for the clouds to move, and we timed it perfectly to get sweeping views of the whole city of Machu Picchu. There were even ruins built up on this peak, so we spent about three hours up at the top fooling around and checking out the ruins and views. After that we hiked down and started to explore the rest of the ruins. It was impressive to almost see the whole site appear out of the mysterious fog. Even having been to many ancient ruins now, these sites never get old. I was in continuous awe of the place as we walked through it.

To make the day even more enjoyable, we met a few other people that we toured the site with and had a good time chatting along the way. Our crew consisted of Juri from Amsterdam, Jocelyn and her mom Penny from Alaska, and Alex from Colorado. Adrian and I always enjoy ruins and taking in this old history, and this time it was nice to be around others that shared our awe and amazement of Machu Picchu.

Later that night we met our new friends out to celebrate Christmas Eve. Jocelyn and Penny had gone out of their way and made us sandwiches and bought us wine and beer- so nice of them! We went back to their hotel bar and chatted and had some drinks. In Peru, it seems that Christmas Eve is the big night of celebration. They celebrate by going out into the main square and lighting off firecrackers and fireworks at midnight. We went down amongst the firecracker throwers to join in the festivities, and although there weren't very many of us-we had a great time celebrating Christmas Eve with our new friends.

It is a little tough being away from home on the holidays. I miss seeing family and friends, and just the whole feeling of Christmas at home. For part of our Christmas celebration, we ate at McDonalds! I know, it sounds weird...But it's American, and it is food that tastes familiar and therefore reminds us of home...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peru-sing through Peru...

I know- so cheesy, but I couldn´t resist :) But, it is actually almost true. Since leaving Mancora earlier in the month I feel like it has been a whirlwind tour of Peru. Maybe that´s just because the bus journeys have gotten longer, and more frequent, as my time winds down. Having a deadline of a flight home is great stimulant to get your ass moving, but at the same time is a frustrating contradiction of the way we have been travelling.

Since leaving the dusty town of Mancora, we stopped at another beach town called Huanchaco. We ended up going there on a whim, because when we arrived in Trujillo in the morning the city didn´t look that cool, and we thought we´d give it a try. We made the right choice! Huanchaco was cute and very well-groomed, very different from many beach towns we have seen. I immediately loved that there was a boardwalk that went all the way down the stretch of the beach. We spent a few lovely days there and even took some time to see some ruins nearby. Who knew that right there was the largest adobe city in the world? Yes, that´s right...A little place called Chan-Chan. I wanted to go check the place out but we really had no idea what was in store for us. We were blown away by how huge the sight was, and that only a very small fraction is even restored. Walking through the restored section was pretty impressive. Giant adobe walls arranged in a maze-like pattern surrounding big open squares and even a pond! Carved into many of the adobe walls were intricate patterns and drawings of animals. It was pretty damn cool...

After enjoying the beach for a while it was then time to get back into the mountains, so from Huanchaco we went to a mountain town called Huaraz. The surrounding towering snow-capped peaks of the Andes really make this town. The main thing to do there is hiking and trekking, so we did a few day hikes on our own. The hike up Lago Churup was difficult and crazy, but beautiful. The final altitude of the lake was about 4400 meters (14, 435ft.), and because we got off trail towards the end of our hike we actually ended up on a peak looking down at the lake. So, technically we were higher then that...The altitude usually makes one pretty breathless, but this time my reaction was a bit different. My legs felt like lead that just couldn´t be persuaded to move, and my chest just felt all heavy. At one point I really thought I was going to pass out. I for sure thought this was a sign that I should turn around, but Adrian´s drive to reach the top and his motivation pushed me on. I fell for the ¨Let´s just hike to that tree and rest...Let´s just hike to that rock and rest¨. In the end I was very glad that he pushed me on, because I did get past it and eventually felt better and reached the top. The whole hike was pretty stunning- I have never done a hike where huge snow-capped rocky peaks are just off in the near distance.

After Huaraz we pushed on to Lima for one day, and then on to Cusco- just a short 22 hour bus ride! The bus ride was not as bad I was expecting, and we arrived in the very high city of Cusco a few days ago (3300 meters). Deciding to get to Machu Picchu and be back in Cusco for Christmas, we decided to move on the next day. Tomorrow we go to the site of Machu Picchu nice and early...I am very excited to see it, so I hope it will be impressive!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


So we have made it to country number 11...Oh ya!! It was a strange border crossing for us. The Ecuadorian immigration building was just located on the side of a busy, dusty highway and the bus just dropped us of (we were the only 2 that got off the bus to go through immigration) and pointed us at the building. We quickly got our Ecuadorian exit stamp and then were wondering how we get into Peru, and where do we get our entry stamps? It turns out the Peru immigration building is about 6km away, so we had to take a taxi there! A bit strange-most countries we have been in you just walk from one building to the other and you´re done. So we hopped in a taxi, were taken to the border of Ecuador and dropped off in a market. They just pointed and said over there...It looks as if we are just in the middle of a busy city on market day and there is no immigration office in sight. As we started walking another taxi driver comes to us and says he will take us the 3km to the immigration office and then onto the bus terminal. Alright, I prefer than then walking in the hot sun with all my stuff. At the same time I am thinking how strange this border is...

As we start the ride with taxi number 2 we are talking with the taxi driver about this strange border crossing and how much the taxi ride will cost. Adrian says, don´t worry, we just changed a bit of money at the Ecuadorian border, it will cover what this ride costs. The taxi driver tells us that we the money changers there frequently give fake Peruvian money! We exchanged about $26USD and they gave us a 50 soles bill that looked very real, complete with holograms and watermarks (Adrian even checked when he got the bill!). So Adrian takes it out to show the cabby, and low and behold- it´s fake! Doh! It looked very real, the only way you could tell was that the number 50 on the bill was not an irridescent color. Now we know...Luckily we didn´t change much money and the fake 50 is only worth about $16USD.

We get to the Peruvian immigration and get our entry stamp and are back in the taxi to go to the bus station. Subtracting our counterfeit money from our stash, we realize we have just enough money to get us to Mancora, our destination beach town. Luckily, I had a few soles coins that I had traded with a guy in Montañita for some Colombian pesos that I had leftover...Those coins got us there on the bus! Whew...

We were pretty annoyed about getting some fake money and thought it was a lost cause. But later that night, I was able to buy some drinks at the bar with my fake note. We just picked the most wasted bartender and waited for him to help me. There was no chance this wasted dude was going to examine the bill to see if it was fake :) Good times...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving at the beach

I guess it´s been a while since I´ve posted an update-sorry! We´ve been bopping around Ecuador and have spent time in Baños, a cool mountain town with tons of adventure things to do and tons of beautiful waterfalls to see; stopped to see the beautiful Quilotoa crater lake in the mountains; and finally made it to the beach here in Ecuador. It took us a couple of days to make it here from the mountains in the center of the country, and in our journey we spent one night in the worst place yet. We got into this town called Portoviejo late at night, and didn´t seem to have many options in a safe neighborhood-so we ended up at Hostel Pacheco, for $3.50/night. It was horrible...Yucky bathroom with no toilet seat lid, no shower curtain (and you had to ask for tp), cot beds, dirty walls and a broken window...Good times! We stayed out a bit late trying to avoid spending an unneccesary amount of time in the room, but this town didn´t have much happening. We got up the next morning and we on our way, thankfully! We will just mark that place as our ¨worst place we stayed´, and move on...

Now we are in Puerto Lopez, a dusty little beach town on the coast of Ecuador. It´s a cute little town with not much going on. It´s been very nice to chill and relax here after the journey here and after being in mountains for a bit. The beach is nice and long and is great for a long walk or a j
og. We spent our Thanksgiving here walking on the beach and eating seafood (a little different from all my previous Thanksgivings!).

Today we went to an island close by called Isla de La Plata (or otherwise known as ¨The Poor Man´s Galapagos). Since we can´t afford the Galapagos this time around, we figured this was a must do. It took about 1 hour and 20 minutes to get there on the boat, and the island looked quite nice from afar-tall cliffs dropping down to the ocean. When we started walking around we noticed how arid and desert-like it was. After a bit of a walk we started to see some of the cool birds-mostly the Blue-Footed Booby and the Frigate Bird. The cool thing was that these birds were all just sitting along the side of the trail,
or sometimes on the trail-so we got a super closeup look at all of them. Many of the birds were sitting on just laid eggs, or warming about newly hatched baby birds. As we walked we started to see baby birds at all stages of growing, so that was pretty cool. The birds didn´t seem to mind our presence too much, but we would get a good sqwack if they thought we were too close. We walked for a couple of hours and saw more birds, but no other animals. After the walk and lunch we went snorkling but the visibility wasn´t very good. I enjoyed myself on the tour, but it was a bit overpriced for what we did. It was worth maybe $25, not $40...Oh well! I´m glad I saw the Blue-Footed Booby, check him out!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time in Tunibamba

The other night A and I went to stay with a local family in the community of Tunibamba, about 30 minutes from Otavalo. We were told there would be ¨activities¨ and we would get to know how the locals lived here in Ecuador. When we arrived we met Carmen, the woman of the house, and after a few minutes of chatter, she said she needed to go get some beans- so of course we followed. She took us to one of their fields, where they were growing frijoles and corn. Such a good use of space, they planted the frijoles in between the corn so they would have both. She showed us which ones were ripe and we helped her pick some and just asked all these questions about the farm. It was great to finally get some answers about why and how they do things on the farm. After picking the beans we helped shell them all for dinner later while Carmen told us about the traditions for Day of the Dead, which happens immediately after Halloween. Families bake bread in the shape of animals for the people in there life who passed away in a way of honoring them, and keeping away the evil spirits. They spend all Saturday baking the bread, and then visit the cemeteries on Sunday. It is a pretty big event here, so it seems.

After shelling beans we relaxed a bit. I saw Marco, the 8 yr. old son playing soccer in the yard. I couldn´t resist going over to play with him-and he loved it! I love that just playing with a kid can cross all sorts of language and cultural boundaries. Before we played soccer he was a little shy, but that definetly broke the ice. Even later that night he asked me to play again, after we took the cow to drink water and put her away for the night...I had to let him win- so he gloated over dinner, saying that Ecuador beat the United States!

In the afternoon the husband, Alfonso, came home and took us for a walk. We went to see the community potato field. Such a good concept, they have a few fields that they grow crops for the people in the village. If you participate in harvesting the crops, you get to take some home for your family. ¨Working for Food¨ is really the motto here. Alfonso explained that they have 3 or 4 days to collect all the potatoes, and they have to do it when it´s not raining. There were about 40 people there when we arrived, all taking a break. Before we knew it, we walked into the field and were handed a bag to start collecting potatoes! Of course, this brought a few rounds of giggles from all the locals, but we tried our best. Adrian and I filled about 3 huge bags of potatoes, and then everyone was done for the afternoon-except for the loading of the potatoes into the tractor. I left that to Adrian, as the bags easily weighed 70 to 90lbs!!! Good times.

We had a lovely dinner that night and we chatted with Carmen and Alfonso. It was really interesting and we had a great time. The two were really involved in their community and thinking of ways to improve it. They were trying to establish an animal market in the town in addition to their weekend vegetable market, and she also volunteered to help people with medical problems in the community. Who knew that goat milk cured so many things?!

I really enjoyed our day there, it was nice to catch a glimpse of how the Indigenous people of Ecuador live. It was great of them to open their homes to us and share their lives with us, if even for a short time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exploring Ecuador with my Mom

It´s exciting to be in a new country!! And even better to pick up your Mom at the airport and explore a little of it with her...We met up in Quito and were off to a town a few hours south called Baños. Baños is located at the base of an active volcano, and it is a beautiful setting for riding bikes around and checking out the beautiful scenery. I lost count of how many gorgeous waterfalls we saw on our bike ride ...We cafe hopped and shopped, and chatted about everything. From Baños we hopped back up to Quito and met up with A. We explored the Old City of Quito and then went the the Equator!! There is a museum and monument there with an actual painted line on the ground to tell you your latitude and longitude. We couldn´t resist taking some corny pictures straddling the line between the hemispheres...

Since we were cramming a lot in in one week, we then went north a few hours to a town called Otavalo, which is where I am now. There is a really great market there on Saturdays, and we had just enough time to check it out. What a great market!! So many beautiful crafts- sweaters, blankets, purses, hats, jewelry...Oh, my! The products were hand-made in this region, and often you could see people at their stand knitting more wool hats or scarves. We could not get over how beautiful the fabrics were, and how cheap everything was...It was a bit painful to not be able to purchase gorgeous blankets, tableclothes, and other things for decorating my home-since I don´t even have one! I did manage to find myself some a few little things, most of which I sent home with my mom. It would almost be worth it for someone to buy a plane ticket and come to the Saturday market at Otavalo just to outfit your home and fly back with a new bag of goodies.

It was so fun to have my mom here, to catch up and to just spend time with her. I like that she gets to see that I´m doing well and am happy being on the road, but having someone from home with you is just so nice and comforting at the same time. It was so fun to have my mom fall in love with the non-U.S. things that I have become so accustomed to, like the people that get on the bus at random places and sell food and drinks. This has been happening in most of Central America and here in South America too, and I think it´s a great idea. Just picture, you left early in the morning and are on a long bus ride. Three hours into the trip you start to get hungry but are not even close to your destination...No need to worry, someone will get on selling chips, ice cream, peanuts, banana bread- you can always find something to get you through the trip! Why can´t we do this in the U.S.?! Well, I know why-but I think we should rethink that policy.

My mom is always up for anything, and we had a blast! I was so happy she came for a visit. So, if anyone else is interested, come on down- I´ll find some great things for us to see!