Saturday, December 24, 2011

A turning point in Cusco

Well, I cried a little bit when I left Cusco. I lived in that beautiful corner of Peru for about three months, and it was much too short...

In and around Cusco I:

- hiked, rafted, and otherwise found by way to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Sacred Valley, and other ancient Incan marvels.

- had a great time with the fantastic students, teachers and staff at Proyecto Peru. Below is a shot of me measuring the size of one of my teachers at her baby shower. As you can see, it was hot work.

- took Spanish classes at Proyecto Peru and became slightly more proficient in Spanish


- finished my my thesis project, and turned in all the work for my master's degree work.

Yes, I am pleased as punch to announce that, barring the unforeseen, I have qualified for an MBA in Sustainability from the San Francisco Institute of Architecture. I won't be sure until the final review of my final project, but the response from Professor Phil, my adviser, was more than positive.

Since getting the sustainability degree was the reason for this whole unsustainable journey. it is now time to pack it up and head for the States. To find a Home, get a Job, start a new Life.


But first, a few celebratory weeks in my beloved Cusco!

Here are some pics from Tahmina's going-away party. This was at a dinner show, which as you can see includes some dancing, some goofing around, and laughter with friends...

Friday, December 16, 2011

The town of Puno, the lake of Titicaca

The trip to Lake Titicaca, one of the highest-elevation lakes in the world, was a weekend excursion organized by Proyecto Peru, my beloved Spanish language school. When I signed up, I wasn't aware that it entailed two all-night bus rides in the space of three nights. For me, unless I have an anesthesiologist along for the ride, I cannot sleep on a bus, or pretty much any moving vehicle.

I spelled anesthesiologist correctly on only my third try! Woo-hoo!

So this trip broke a cardinal rule for me: Never go on a trip where the bus/plane/car/boat ride is more than half as long as the time spent at the destination.

But I'm glad I went anyway. I got a chance to hang out with Jonas from Belgium, Takhmina from Canada, Ramon from Spain, AnnaKarla from Brazil, and Maija from Finland, all students and volunteers at Proyecto Peru.

And anyway, sleep is overrated. I've slept before, and I knew I would sleep again, so missing a night or two wasn't the worst thing. Missing three days of showers, however, that was tougher...

After a fabulous all-night bus ride, and a bleary-eyed hour or two at the Puno Bus Station, the trip ground to a halt at the home/office of our Puno travel guide, where we languished for another three hours, apparently waiting for the day to become pleasant enough for the upcoming boat ride.

Here some of the gang is leaning against a wall. That was a lot of fun.

Here is a picture hanging up in the office. Note the photo on the lower right of the "speed boat". No wonder things are taking a lot of time...

Finally out on the water (in a boat with an actual motor, we were whisked to the floating islands. These islands are man-made, of mud and bamboo-like plants. The islands are soft and squishy, appropriately soft for laying down anywhere.

We sat through an explanation of the islands and the way life is conducted there.

We also got a chance to wander the island and meet locals, and of course were urged to buy the local crafts...

We took a ride in the cat-boats, termed "mercedes" by the tour guide because they are so elaborate.

After the island of Uros, we got back on our boat and made for the island of homestay. Here we were paired up with a local family for the rest of the day and the night. After a lunch of home-grown veggies we hiked around the island, and in the evening, after a dinner of home-grown veggies, we donned the local costumery and danced the silly dances.

Bright and early the next morning, we were treated to even more home-grown veggies, but at least this time they were disguised in a kind of pancake wrap. I was thinking that you can't think ill of the locals for serving the same thing over and over - the closest grocery store is about four hours away by boat - then I found out that some of the other host families served fish - two different kinds - to their guests. I guess our host family wasn't the fishing kind...

We hiked and toured Taquila island that day, and then sat down to a luncheon.

At the lunch, our trusty tour guide explained some of the local customs, including the wearing of hats and pom-poms that signify amorous interest or disinterest...

And then a long boat ride back to the port city of Puno, a pizza-fueled five-hour wait for the bus, and a sleepless overnighter back to Cusco. Well, not everybody was sleepless...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Part IV: the thing itself

I woke at 4:30 the next morning, in order to be at Machu Picchu at sunrise. There were a few other hikers like myself along the twenty-minute road to the base of the mountain, bouncing along in semi-darkness. At the base of the mountain, you prove you have a ticket, cross the river, and then begin climbing. As you go up, you cross a number of switch-backs, with tourist buses lumbering along them. They'll beat you to the top, get in front of you in line, but they will not have the essential pilgrim experience of hiking straight up for an hour and a half. You can see in this picture all the switchbacks leading up to Machu Picchu. Buried in there somewhere is a hiking trail that goes straight up.

There are more pictures of Machu Picchu on my facebook page, and I think that's open to anyone, even if not members of the facebook community. But these are some of my favorite...

Thanks for reading! See you on the road to Lake Titicaca!

The Machu Picchu trip, part III

Just think, part three, and only the first day of the trek! How exciting for you, the reader!

Quick recap: First was the brutal bus trip to Santa Rosa, then an unintentionally meandering trek to Santa Teresa, which I am still on as the story unfolds. If I do make it to Santa Teresa, I will overnight there, then walk the next day to Aguas Calientes, and the next to Machu Picchu.

After leaving the insect killer, the trail was mercifully level for the next hour. I found what I think is the Perez Hacienda by following ducks - so far ducks and barking dogs presaged every human outpost. This place was no exception - ducks, dogs and cats lolled in various shady locations, but no Perezes or any other humans were in evidence. I wandered through the rather extensive compound, peering into windows and open doorways as I passed, but there was absolutely no one about.

No big deal, I guess, but I would have liked to confirm that this was indeed the Perez Hacienda. And maybe get another hand-drawn map for the collection...

At the Perez boundary, there were three clearly-marked trails. I had guessed wrong on about 50% of my trail guesses so far, and it would be dark in a few hours. I had no idea how far Santa Teresa was, and I had last seen a human about an hour ago.

According to my Argentinian friend back in Cusco, the trek from Santa Rosa to Santa Teresa took only two or three hours. I had been at it for more than five hours. Of course, the bus trip was only supposed to be three hours, and cost 15 sols. In reality, it was five hours and 30 sols. I had my doubts about the Argentinian...

Later, when I arrived back in Cusco, I talked with my landlord about the Argentinian. He related that they have a saying in Peru and no doubt in other Latin countries as well: If someone is loud, brash, and has no idea what he is talking about and speaks English, he is an American. If the person is speaking Spanish, he is an Argentinian. (No offense, he said to the American. It's just a story. Uh-hunh, I said, loudly and brashly...)

The left path went down steeply, the right went up steeply, so I picked the middle path. After about four hours of walking uphill, I had become a big fan of level ground.

The unnerving thing is to be on a trail, find a clearing, and see off in the distance, on a different mountain, another trail, actually populated by hikers.
Whereas on the trails I had chosen so far, there had not been a single other hiker. Uncanny that...

A bit distraught that I should need to get off my mountain and traipse up that other mountain in the distance, I trudged on. Screw those other people. I'm sure they're lost. That group with the guide.

Well, as it turns out, there're more than one way to skin a cat (sorry Midnight, Elmo, Sammy, George, Tica, et al). The trail I chose, the very Buddhist middle way, turned out to take me to a real road, well, a dirt road, but a road nonetheless, and within a kilometer, a weather-beaten sign that said "Santa Teresa 3". It was already 6:30, the sun had already hid his face behind the mountains, and I was overjoyed to find that I could rest my weary bones in three kilometers. I just hoped that a zero or a five hadn't fallen off the end of the sign...

As I stood there gazing stupidly at the sign, a family in a station wagon - different family - stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. So I got a little bonus, a little rest, and in minutes I was in Santa Teresa, a medium-size village surrounded by hills and mountains.

I found a hotel, asked for a quiet room, and was given one that looked out on the local high school futbol field, where band practice was currently underway. I'm not sure what "tranquilo" means in the local dialect; one can assume it means "loud as hell". But anyway I was dog-tired and slept through the evening's band practice - at least it wasn't an inventory of any kind, as far as I could tell.

Thankfully, the hotel's rules and regulations were spelled out in this sign.
I had to quell my urge to throw the door and fasten the television for sleeping.

The next morning, I awoke to early-morning band practice. It turns out there was an important parade this coming Saturday, and all the local children were in training to make this the noisiest parade ever!

Day two, I'm sorry to report, was spectacularly uneventful.

I walked along a road, then along a railway. The road and the rail tracks at times followed a river. As I got closer to Aguas Calientes, I passed mountains on my right, one of which housed Machu Picchu. This one has the flag of Cusco atop.

The hike from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes took about four hours. (Two if you're from Argentina.) It was pleasantly flat, and peopled, and direct, and there was a lot of vegetation. A pleasant stroll.