A Travellerspoint blog

DONE the Incan Trail

Next Stop: Bolivia!

sunny 18 °C

Well after 14 hours of sleep and some breaky here I am... your usual chipper Sarah! I actually went to bed at 7 pm last night... isnt that halarious?

So next I am off to Bolivia. I am going to take an overnight bus from Cusco to La Paz, I think, but also may schedule stops in Puno (On lake Titicaca, Peru) or Copacobana, Bolivia, which is still on the Lake Titicaca but is apparently cooler. I hope to climb a mountain in Bolivia, it is cheaper and there are tons of tour places in and around La Paz. Once I get back to Peru I plan to climb El Misti... if I do, I will have climbed higher than anywhere in North America. Cool, huh?´

Oh and out of the hundred(s) or so people doing the Incan trail, and we all left more or less at the same time... I arrived 11th at the Sun Gate yesterday. And the 3rd girl! I ran most of the way, in the dark, along the path that plunges down on one side to the Urumbamba river, up and around stones... it was crazy. When I got to the gate it was just beginning to get light. I have found I have a huge competitive side to me... I was also the first girl in our trek group (total people was 16) to reach the top of Dead Womans Pass, the highest spot on the Incan Trail. And it was HARD.

Well I know this is not in the style of my usual blog...but I have much to do before I catch that 330 train from here in Aguas Calientes back to Cusco. I will write about the Inca Trail later...


Posted by SJS 10:36 Archived in Peru Comments (1)


Four days till my Incan Trail hike!

sunny 14 °C

Hi all;

Writing to you from Cusco. Its been good here, met some great people so far. It is a different city from most anywhere in South America- you can buy gucci watches, begels and cappucinos. But some of the streets have Incan stonework and are truly amazing.

Moved hostals today because the other one I was in was too expensive- everything cheap was booked for the festival, Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun. Its Peru´s biggest festival and people carpeted the hillsides to watch the play, performed in Quechua. Of course, we couldn´t understand a word of it. But the costumes and actions were amazing. And sitting on a hillside for five hours with friends and hundreds, likely thousands of Peruvians wasn´t half bad either.

I´ve made friends with a bunch of people who are taking Spanish classes here at a school in Cusco. I´m actually proud of myself that my spanish is comparable to theirs- they have been intensively been studying for two months and I have only been travelling. Every day I feel a lot more confident.

Gotta go now meet my friend for lunchy lunch. ç


Posted by SJS 11:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Now in Cusco

22 hours from Lima, 12 from Chiclayo

sunny 15 °C

Well, after three days and two nights of travelling, here I am. Cusco. From where I was in Cabo Blanco, it was about 2500 km. Isn´t that crazy! Peru is bigger than it looks. And going from Lima to Cusco was 22 hours of winding thru the Andes. But this morning when we woke up... the sun was shining on the hills and there were trees everywhere, and green terraces and the clouds were both above and below us. Like a fairy tale. In my love affair with the sea, I forgot my love for the mountains.

But I got here to the Loki hostal and they´re working on a waiting list. Which means I am just lurking around for a bit until 1;00 pm which is checkout time. Hopefully someone leaves. If not, I´ll go elsewhere. Not a big deal, but some friends were going to meet me here.

What I really want is a long, hot shower. I did two night bus trips back to back, with about 4 hours yesterday to hang out in Lima. I went to the Lima Museum of Art and it was cool even if it really didn´t have much. But I have been in the same clothes for two days and my hair needs a good scrub too. SIgh.

Then I think I want to go see the Incan museum in town today. Then to sleep, in a real bed, super early. Tomorrow is the festival of the sun! The whole of Cusco parties.

Bye for now!

Posted by SJS 10:51 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Harrassment, Moccachinos, and the Witches Market

Chiclayo, Peru

sunny 17 °C

I woke up this morning in Chiclayo, a fairly large city on the Pan American highway. I know that cities are part of South America, but I feel more at home in the rural, indiginous or out of the way places.

It was the first morning in more than a month that I didn´t wake up with the ocean out my window. My habitual morning run instantly became more complicated. I love running along the beach, the sand feels great, the air is cool, and first thing in the morning, there are no people. And I don´t have to wear shoes.

The city changes all that. First, I have to wear shoes. And socks. And its no longer hot, so a long sleeved shirt. The city also adds another dimension. Running along the streets leaves the possibility that I might get lost. So, I draw a basic map and bring some change for a cab if I have to. It jingles in my running shirt´s back pocket as it hits my keys.

I emerge into the bright sunshine and am shocked to see the number of people on the street. Like I said, for the past month I have been on the coast, and in small towns. Towns so small that everyone walks and there are no cars or cabs. I walk a bit from the hostal, trying to escape the clutches of the sidewalk crowds. No luck, I´ll just have to manouever around them.

I run for a bit, on the sidewalk, on the road, dodging obstacles when it hits me. This is really easy. I had forgotten that running on sand is much more difficult, and as a result my legs are stronger than I thought they were. I finally reached a long park, and circled the perimeter before starting back. I love running.

After my (hot! yay...) shower it was time for breakfast and to find a laundrymat. Maybe it´s because Í´ve been in so many super relaxed towns, or what, but all the catcalling hit me hard. It seemed like every car was honking at me. Men walking solo, with friends, with their wives, driving cars or working in shops, hooted, hollered, hissed or whistled at me. They called me lindo, guapa, or other terms meaning beautiful. I can´t remember how many times my butt got grabbed. One guy told me he wanted to make me his wife. God what an honour that would be, right? One little girl, not more than two and half feet tall and probably 4 years old, tapped my arm and tried to sell me some gum. Four hours later, walking along the another street, she appeared again. Her big dark eyes were pleading, and she chattered non stop trying to sell her gum. I wondered where her mother was. She followed me for a full block, I am not kidding you, after I said "No, gracias" a dozen times. I wish I could have helped her, but buying something would only encourage her mother to keep her on the street. What a life.

I decided to head up the street to check out the large market. Apparently it has a huge section catering to witches and shamans, and sells every type of herb and animal part you can imagine. After walking past a million shoes and clothes, I got to the food section. Dozens of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. By meat I mean hacked apart animals. I saw chunks of a pig´s head, the hairs bristling in the sunshine, sitting on one woman´s table. Here, in restaurants, when you order something like chicken, it doesn´t come in neatly recognizable peice like at home. There´s no drumstick, wing, breast, thigh, etc. Most often you get a chunk of a part of a chicken, like they just chopped a hunk of the bird with an ax. Which is probably not far from the truth. Most of the time I can´t recognize where it actually came from.

I am always wary in markets, as it is crowded, and easy for criminals to get away. I had my camera with me but in my bag, which was securely across my chest and in front of me. But the plethora of fruits and vegetables where glistening in the sunshine. Anyone who´s been with me to an outdoor fruit and vegetable with me knows... I love photographs of the produce. There´s a ton of them in Florida, too. It must be the artist in me.

I glance around, and bring out my camera. I ask the vendors if it alright to take a photograph. I usually ask, to be polite, and have not once yet been refused. A few photographs and a friendly looking middle aged woman comes up to me. She looks concearned. At first I thought I wasn´t supposed to be taking photos. But she goes on and on, and I glean from my meager spanish that it is dangerous here. I thank her and slip it back in my bag. I spy a store selling yarn, and duck inside. I need a crochet hook; I am making some necklaces.

Suddenly two obviously American men, one old and one younger, appear. "Do you speak English?" they ask me. I was standing behind the counter at the time, so I replied "yes, but I don´t work here."
They proceeded to explain to me that the woman across the street had asked them to come and talk to me, since the older gentleman spoke fluent spanish. Apparently there were some men outside who were waiting to rob me of my camera. Great. They told me to be careful, and left. I quickly bought my hook and dashed after them. "Do you mind if I walk with you for a bit?" I´m pretty independant and feel I can fend for myself, but being told there were actually guys outside with the intention of robbing me was a bit unsettling. Better safe than sorry. The older gentleman was an anthropologist working in Bolivia. Dave Holden. I shall read his stuff. Shortly afterwards they had to leave and meet a friend, but okay. I was at the witches market.

It was just like I imagined it. Bunches of herbs hung from every available rafter and lay in piles on the floor and tables. Hunks of animals, skins, and even testicles dangled from the the corrogated steel roofs. Shells, crystals, antiques, cards, candles, feathers, vials of oils, incense, and innumerable odds and ends completed the picture. And I just had to have one. A picture that is. The people here seemed friendly and the "aisles" were smaller. I felt I could safely bring out my camera for a couple shots. I just HAD to!

I wandered up and down the row, looking at everthing. It was pretty facinating, and the vendors were more than willing to show me various things, with very little of the usual pressure to buy. They were just interested in showing stuff to someone so obviously facinated. I was looking at this one vendor, at some of the antique stuff. This younger (28? 30?) man was showing me a few peices. Suddenly he beckoned. To the back room. I knew instantly what was going on. I had showed interest in the archaeological stuff, and he had some in the back. It´s illegal to sell or buy pre-colombian artifacts in South America, but that doesn´t stop the grave robbers. There´s always a buyer.

I thought for a second, and looked him in the eyes. He looked at me right back. I am a pretty good judge of character and I read honesty there. He was not going to rob me. I stepped behind the display and he motioned for me to sit on a stool facing him. And then he drew the curtain leaving us in semi-darkness. He brought out artifacts one by one or in small boxes. They lay jumbled, with no thought of damaging them or preserving their integrity. There was jewelery, whistles, trinkets of every kind. I recognized some things from the Moche and Sikan cultures. Both civilizations were pre-Incan.

We must have spent close to an hour back there, looking at various things. He introduced himself as Alex, and put on an "English" cd, the soundtrack to That 70s Show. It was surreal to be holding a 1000+ year old shawl pin and listening to Gloria Gaynor´s "I will survive". I knew I probably shouldn´t, but even as Wade Davis once wrote, if I didn´t buy it someone else probably would. I settled on three large beads, two with identical etchings. They were made of some sort of very heavy grey stone and had designs carved into them. I recognized the pattern. And surely, it is possible, as my Mom later said, that they were fakes. But the work required to carve such dense stone into that shape and then do the etchings... its not likely. Its much easier for them to rob graves, and thats what they do. There were three bronze pins, for lack of a better term, that I really wanted. They were flat as a peice of paper and each had the figure of a Moche person on them. They were about the size of the palm of your hand and blue-green with age. Alex said they were worn one on the front of each shoulder, and one in the middle of the chest. He didn´t look like the reading type, I was sure they were taken off of a dead body. Turning them over, bits of cream-coloured, loosely woven cloth still clung to them.

I eventually left with my beads and escaped the clutches of the market. I needed to go back to the hostal and pack, then find lunch.

Sorry, JUNIO, to do this again... but TO BE CONTINUED. I have a lot to write but it takes a long time!

to be continued

Posted by SJS 15:10 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

"Been riding through the desert on a horse with no name..."

Cabo Blanco to Chiclayo, Peru

sunny 10 °C

I left Cabo Blanco, the fishing town today, heading South. I am to be in Cusco for Saturday night. Sunday is the Festival of the Sun, celebrating the solstice. Its one of Peru´s biggest festivals and has been going on since Incan times.

I actually cried a little when I left Cabo Blanco, winding up the desolate, barren slope to El Alto, the fishing ships looking smaller and smaller below me, bobbing in the waves. I loved that place. The dusty streets, the friendly children, even the adults. Once suspicious and ignoring me, they had become friendly, protective, and sometimes mothering.

People kept asking me, "Why Cabo Blanco?" It is so far off the beaten path, and no gringos go there. That´s precisely why. And in the five days I was there, I experienced a myriad of emotions. I showered in public showers. I went fishing, and caught many fish. I partied at an 80th birthday party, and drank chicha, the saliva fermented alcoholic corn drink. I swam in the pacific ocean, under the shadow of a giant oil rig. I participated in the filming of a movie, ate, drank, and sunbathed with cast and crew and got paid for it. I slept in an extra room in an old fisherman´s house, and laughed along with his gap-toothed grin at Simpsons in Spanish. I met the Old Man as written about in Hemmingway´s The Old Man and the Sea, and dranks beers with his grandkids. I ate fish barely an hour out of the sea. I posed with locals for photographs. I sunbathed on a boat moored out at sea. I played soccer in the streets with the children. And every morning, while the air was still cool and sweet, I ran along the beach beside the pounding surf. Life doesn´t get any better than this; this is why I chose a tiny fishing village.

Right now I am in Chiclayo. I travelled 8 hours through the desert to get here. I wish I could describe the desert in a way that did it justice. Near Cabo Blanco, it was hot. The hills were etched with the power of sudden rainstorms. The locals told me it only rains once every 12 or 15 years, when the clouds pile up and come over the mountains. But it comes in torrents, and the loose sand and stone on the hills bear the scars. In town, channels are built under the road for such rare but monumental events. The only vegetation to be seen is te occasional scrubby shrubs, more black than green, that exist only on the flat valleys. Some valleys are giant, dominating the landscape, a thousand meters deep. Surely, at one time, water flowed here. Or maybe, it still does, during the rainstorms.

Soon the hills disappear as does the vegetation. I´ve seen the prairies, and thought it was flat. This is something else entirely. Not even an undulation disturbs the flat, ochre surface. Winds wisp sand and grit in waves along the surface. Tavelling further, the sand organizes into dunes. Real, migrating sand dunes. A whole field of them. For countless miles. I sit high in my seat, mesmerized. I remember from Geomorphology. Slip faces. Rates of movement. Orientation to the wind. They are beautiful, like perfect crescents from the ideal bakery. I want to run my finger along the peak of each one.

Hours have passed, and the desolation continues. Suddenly out my windows, I see green trees, palm trees. Green! Its been too long. I think my eyes actually twitch. I can´t fathom the reason. To my left, green trees. To my right, desert. I think I see a stream but I must be dreaming. It gets greener, and I see grass. GRASS! It´s been more than a month since I´ve seen grass. Montañita, too, was on the coastal desert in Ecuador. Something is going on here.
The explanation arrives, but only brings more questions. A giant river. Wide, wide, much bigger than the Ottonabee at home. A huge river running through the desert. Will wonders never cease?

Soon it´s Puira and time for my transfer. Its 1:30- the bus for Chiclayo leaves at 2 pm. Three more hours of desert, tiny black shrubs breaking up the landscape, but no more dunes. THen its Chiclayo. I knew it was going to be so, but it is now cold. I shiver in my shorts. I´ve gone too far south now. I must don pants and shoes for the first time in a month and a half. Horrors.

Well I am going to go now. Almost 9 pm here. Going to go to the market tomorrow am! Shall be fun.

Love and miss you all!

Posted by SJS 18:21 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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