Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is there anyone out there 'cause it's getting harder and harder to breathe

Back to Peru.

I wasn't too torn up about leaving Cusco because I know I'll be back. It's such a lovely town and I will be happy to return at some future date to successfully complete the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu. So Emma, Nikki and I began our arduous journey to Arequippe and the Colca Canyon. Emma and I took 3 different buses, maybe 20 hours of travel to a very small town by the name of Cabanaconde. It's perched on the edge of the canyon and is a tiny, dusty, dry mountain town. No internet, no ATMs. That bus trek was... not the most pleasant. I had a couple of people threaten me with calling the tourist police because I wouldn't buy a tourist ticket that I didn't need. Seriously, 25 minutes of intense discussion-argument over this ticket. I've never felt so berated in my life. A Peruvian woman sitting next to me eventually stuck up for me, and I was ever so grateful.

We stayed at a nice hostel that had a very...interesting... receptionist. The guy could certainly 'waffle on' as Emma aptly put it. The pizza was GREAT. I was exhausted after our buses, and it was pretty cold after the sun went down, so I headed straight to bed after some chamomile tea.

The next day Emma was up and raring to go. I was not quite so perky. But we walked 20 minutes from the town to get to this canyon. It's bigger than the Grand Canyon, and I've got to say, quite impressive. The Andes here are desert Andes, they remindeded me of Utah, though bigger. Desert mountain isn't my favorite kind of mountain, but it's mountain nonetheless, right? There is tons of ancient terracing around the area from the Incas as well. It's pretty impressive how fertile the ground can be in such an arid climate. And how LONG those terraces have lasted! They are everywhere in Peru and Bolivia. Emma is a champion trekker. I am not so much. I headed into the 3 hour hike to the bottom of the mountain, the 'Oasis', with little trepidation. I should have been much more wary. It was 3 hours of constant downhill, concentrating on where you put your feet so you don't cause a small avalanche and land on your bum. It was a beautiful view, but a never-ending trail! By the time I FINALLY got to the bottom I was completely pooped, and could barely imagine the ascent up this mountain I was supposed to undertake within 2 hours. I was hot, hungry, exhausted, and was being bitten by flies. I was not a happy camper. Emma, however, was quite happily perched on a log underneath some trees enjoying her lunch. (Local flatbread, avocado, tomato, peppina- a melon-like local fruit, delicious). I jumped staright into one of the spring-fed pools in the Oasis, hoping to ease the exhaustion in my legs as quickly as possible.

Too soon we started the hike back up the mountain. It was going to take me approximately 5 hours to get to the top. 5 hours of unrelenting incline. And let's not forget the altitude here, it's very high, meaning it's more difficult to breathe. Emma marched straight up. I made it halfway up in 2 and a half hours, and gave up and jumped on a mule for the rest of the way. The views from atop that mule were delicious. I definitely wouldn't have appreciated them as much if I were struggling on foot. And no, of course I didn't take any pictures. I was too busy being miserable, or holding onto the mule, egging it on. Awesome.

What really was awesome were the people I met coming up that mountain. Tons of locals going down who paused to chat for a moment. Always asking me why in the world I wasn't going the other direction to attend a fiesta that was happening that night... one old man, who was completely unintelligible around his mouthful of coca leaves, (OH, maybe that's what I needed to get up the mountain!) even forcefully pulled me a few feet down the mountain. I was pretty surprised by how strong he was, and how seriously he tried to get me to go to that fiesta. All the old women could talk about was the dancing! What a friendly mountain and crew of locals.

Will I miss it when I go back to NYC and stop greeting everyone I pass? Maybe.

FINALLY made it to the top. Gorgeous sunset. Collapsed on couch in hostel for a few hours, ate more pizza, and back on yet another overnight bus, this time headed for Puno and the border with Bolivia!

Puno is like how the name sounds. Kind of poo. We hung out at Lake Titicaca for a couple of hours while waiting for our next bus. Pretty, but it was about to get so much better!

Had a little bit of an experience at the border. I was the only American on board the bus, and as it so happened I got the special seat at the very front of the bus because they'd overbooked the vehicle. So I was sitting in that little seat made for the busdriver's assistant. Interesting to be right at the front. I could see every single pothole (I think Peru wins for worst roads), before we hit it, and got such a view all around me. So anyway, I made special friends with the driver. Now, Americans have to pay an exorbitant fee to get into Bolivia (because the US charges the same of Bolivians), and we require some special paperwork, photos, copies, etc. So, as this driver was concerned with getting to La Paz ASAP, he hurried me off the bus and to the right offices immediately. Where I had everything I needed, I was very well prepared, of course. BUT when I handed over my $135, my $100 bill, which I had extracted from an HSBC ATM in Lima, was deemed unacceptable by this Bolivian official. It had a serial number on it, a series that Bolivia does not accept. I look at this man kind of blankly, saying I'm sorry, that's all I have. 'Bolivia doesn't accept this.' Blank look, 'Well, how was I to know that before I got here? This is all I have.' He sent me to the Peruvian side to exchange the bill for Bolivianos. Back to Peru I go! Past the dogs and kids and vendors. Peru doesn't accept that bill either. Back to Bolivia I go! The driver pops up, very concerned that I have not finished yet, it is time to be moving on! He tells the driver I will just have to go to Copacabana, take out more money, and return with another 100 in the morning. The Bolivian official doesn't exactly answer this proposal with an affirmative or a negative, which the busdriver takes as a yes. 'Excellent! Let's go!' and he rushes out to the bus.

Now, I have been an illegal alien in South America before, and it didn't go over so well, so I am not thrilled with this option. Though it is better than driving 3 hours back to Puno and staying in Poo-no for a night. I also feel more than a little nervous about leaving my passport with this Bolivian official. So I ask him if he is sure. He studies me silently for about 30 seconds, then says 'Give me your 100'. 'This one? With the serial number?' 'Yes, give me your 100. It could create problems for me.' So I happily hand over my bill, get shorted by $5 on the change, but don't complain, and get the rest of my stamps taken care of while the driver unrelentlessly honks for me.


On to Copacabana, beautiful, breathless lake town at the top of the world.