Sunday, January 31, 2010

Playing Catch Up

Well dear blog, I have been remiss with my postings. So here's to playing a game of Catch Up...

Lima-- I really didn't see much of Lima. Flying in was delightful. It was interesting to have the world's worst bus trip one day-- cramped, hot, bumpy-- and then be escorted unexpectedly into first class on a flight the next. I relished the dichotemy and used it to greatest advantage, scurrying away snacks, sodas, and even the fleece airplane blanket. Waste not whatnot, after all. I did feel fairly out of place, wearing the same shorts and shirt the third day in a row, smelling, etc. But I spritzed some Salvatore Ferragamo on in duty-free (I have never appreciated perfume so much before), and stopped caring.

I scored a spot on a couch at a full hostel (love that because it is half price, and essentially the same as sleeping in a dorm except I got the whole living room to myself), and promptly came down with a flu. So I took it easy in Lima, or tried to as the hostel was having a big free party, after all. I spent many hours at Starbucks with a hot tea in one hand, and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo in the other. I could tell Peru would be a challenge for my bank account as the crafts here are gorgeous. I spent a day with a friend from Belize and Guatemala, remember crazy Eddie? Yup, we reunited and watched a couple of movies. Up in the Air may not have been the best choice for a solo traveler...

I was a little bit stressed in Lima as there was a land transportation strike in the works, and it was fairly unpredictable when it would end. I had two days to wait until I would have to find an alternative route to Cusco for my Inca Trail Trek-- a plane. Well I'm glad I waited it out because I got on a 24-hour bus to Cusco on the 23rd, just in time to acclimatize before heading into the mountains.

24-hour bus ride. Need I say more? Was delayed because in several areas, half the road had fallen into a raging river. And at one point, the entire road had fallen into the river. Oy vey, Peru has some repair work to do.

Cusco-- Beautiful. Seriously. Most beautiful city I've been in on my entire trip. Winding alleyways whose sides are still made of ancient Inca walls (the stonework really is impressive). Tons of gorgeous crafts everywhere you turn. Cathedrals that caused my jaw to drop. Great landscaping. Mountains (THE ANDES!!!) Hills. Whitewashed walls. Alpacas (so cute, why aren't there more in the world?) Colored, ancient doorways. Cobblestone streets. Just exceedingly charming. Really cold though. And my hostel was on a hill, so I got a fair amount of exercise every day climbing it 3 or 4 times.

I was totally ready to stay in Cusco for a month, working at a hostel. I was slightly worried about getting antsy, as I was so so ready to leave Antigua after only two weeks. And I was also worried about time slipping away without my doing enough with it, you know? It would be easy to work in the hostel and stay there too much of the time. But the city has so many alleyways to explore, and its access to the surrounding mountains is excellent, so I was determined to settle myself into a steady, healthy routine of walking, exploring, reading, practicing Spanish, etc.

So. Day before my departure on the ultimate adventure, the Inca Trail. I meet my guide, the other two couples I will be hiking with (of course, 5th wheel), and pay up. I am all set to wake up at 5 the next morning and head into the Andes. I have gotten over the flu just in the knick of time, I have bought a hat to hopefully combat the unexpected cold, and I am so ready to sink into bed early in preparation. When I hear the news trickling through the hostel. There's been floods, maybe landslides, treks are cancelled, Machu Picchu is closed. Well, everything was hearsay, so I call up my trekking agency who gives me the runaround. Saying things about alternative treks. But I am not paying all that money for not-the-Inca-Trail. So I show up the next morning and tell them that, and you know the rest of that story.

What actually happened up in those mountains? Lots of rain led to lots of flooding and landslides. A few people died in said landslides (can you imagine sleeping in your tent, and having it just be swept off the mountain?!) Most tourists were stuck in Aguas Callientes, the town right by Machu Picchu where the train usually would take them back to Cusco. But the tracks had been badly derailed due to said flooding and landslides, so 2000 or so were stuck up there. I would have LOVED to be one of those people! What a story! There was free food and water, and then they got evacuated by helicoptor. What a great bonding experience, and what an unexpected and dramatic ending to your trek! Don't get me wrong, I feel for those who were injured, and especially for those who met their ends on that trek. That is certainly horrifying. I am not making light of this situation. But it would be a great story to be one of the last people to see the ruins before they were shut down. It is my expectation that they will be shut down for quite some time, there hasn't been serious damage done to the ruins themselves, but the transportation there is in a bad way. As I said before, Peru has a lot of repairing to work on in the near future.

Now this was not all clear-cut in Cusco. The communication therein could have been vastly improved. Nobody knew exactly what was going on, it was exceedingly frustrating. You know my story there. I eventually got my money back except for the deposit. Ah well. And after a brief bout of frustration with my circumstances, I did pick myself up and say What next? Because I am in South America, after all, and there are plenty of other things to see and do.

I spent a day wandering the town, met up with a friend. San Pedro market-- GREAT produce market! Juiced it up, of course. Climbed the mountain just outside of Cusco to the giant Jesus on top. Great view. Unbelievable sunset. So sad I didn't bring my camera. At this point I was thinking i could climb up any number of following days with said camera. Cusco. Sooooo beautiful.

That night I got to thinking, with a couple of new Australian friends. Redid some math, investigated some plane tickets online, and I came to the conclusion that the best use of my time and money would be to continue on through Bolivia and Argentina before returning home in mid-March. New game plan, and GO!

The next day Emma (Australian) and I headed out into the Sacred Valley. We saw firsthand some of the flooding (it really is surprising how little international attention this whole situation has been given-- I understand that it pales in comparison with Haiti, but there is a national crisis going on here). The Sacred Valley was gorgeous. A patchwork of different vibrant shades of green on the rolling valley floor, with snow-capped Andean mountains in the background. Lots of sheep, wildflowers, traditionally-dressed women. Blue skies with cumulus clouds. You'd never know it was the rainy season. We also saw a super-charming town, Ollentaytambo (or something...). The town is walled throughout, with so many growing things crawling all over them. We climbed up to some ruins on the mountain and overlooked the valley and the towering Andes. I had some of those moments. You know, the ones when I can't believe I'm really here? And I realize how lucky I am? And so grateful I kept going? I can't imagine a time of turning back, it would be ludicrous to give this all up. We sat high up on the mountain, legs dangling over the edge of an ancient Incan wall, and watched the evacuation helicoptors pass back and forth through the valley, still transporting tourists out of Aguas Callientes 4 days after the big collapses happened.

And that night we got on a bus heading, eventually, for Cabanaconde. In Colca Canyon. A huge canyon, more impressive than the Grand one. A town lacking internet, which partly excuses my lack of updates the past few days. And I will tell you all about those adventures in a couple of days. Tomorrow I am off to find where the sun was created, in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I'll be back the following day. So until then...