Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Biggest Market, the Center of the World, and My Last Week in S.A!!

After my brother left, I spent a few days hanging out in Quito. I had a decent hostal right near a bunch of old churches, and although I was a little lonely, it was fun to see more of Quito. The more I saw of the city, the more I liked it, especially in the older part. I also indulged in seeing a chick flick at the theaters, another pleasure denied while ushering around one's older brother.
A few days of hanging out, and I headed to Otavolo, known for having one of the biggest handicrafts markets, and markets in general, in all of South America. I got there on Friday, after a slight mishap on the bus. On the way to the bus station, we witnessed a huge fight--five guys against one, and pretty violent--so I insisted my cab driver call an ambulance or something. He didn't seem very concerned or anxious to do so, but hey, I can nag well, even in Spanish! After this he dumps me at the foot of a bus about to drive off, and they literally throw me on. At least I was on....right? Until I almost missed Otavolo thanks to passing out on the shoulder of a random old man (one easy way to make friends) but luckily, he was a kind gentlemen and woke me up, and they let me off on the Panamerican. I somehow got into town, by way of bus and cart and taxi, and found a cheap room in a nice hostal--and the room was cheap for good reason, although it had hot water and a TV with a bunch of Spanish channels, it was absolutely tiny! Hardly any room to manuever around the bed. At least the view was gorgeous, with a balcony right outside my window!
The next morning I got up bright and early for a visit to the small animal market, full of guinea pigs and bunnies and chicks and puppies, generally crammed tightly together in crates. I hit the produce market next and viewed mind-boggling arrays and amounts of fruit and vegetables, followed by face-numbing stink from the dead flesh displays. From there, it was handicrafts time, a.k.a. finally time to shop! I'd been waiting weeks to stock up on souvenirs for me and my friends and family, and had quite a good time haggling and exploring in the boiling sun (pretty sure my shoulders are still peeling!)
After many hours of this adventure, I stopped in a famous little pie shop for a nice slice of some sort of fruit pie and a tuna-y sandwich, tuna-y as it did not taste like any tuna I had ever eaten. There I chatted with two older fellows from South Africa, and we had a good interesting chat, and even exchanged emails. They had many horror stories of their trip so far, making me feel lucky that the worst things to happen to me were generally amusing anecdotes for the folks back home--besides the demise of my dear camera.
My last day in Otavolo I spent sick in bed, and departed the next day, headed back to Quito. My last days in Quito I spent enjoying Old Town and buying more gifts for the folks back home. I also made it to the impressive monument to the Equator, called the Mitad del Mundo, or Center of the Earth to most of you. It was quite a hassle to get there, including taxis and buses and getting off at the wrong stop, and then getting picked up by a different bus going the wrong direction...but it was fun nonetheless to look around the fake little colonial village, and of course, to straddle the Equator! I can officially say I've been in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres--at the same time!
My last days in Quito were also a bit stressful thanks to the upcoming election chaos! The current president, Rafael Correa, won handily, but it's quite jarring to be woken up in a known-to-be-volatile South American country by loud booming, at five in the morning. Thankfully just fireworks--but let's just say after a few nights of that I was thankful to get back to southern California!
My trip back to Cali was weirdly uneventful--in fact my bag didn't get searched until I flew from Salt Lake City to Bozeman, go figure. Stay tuned for a few more adventures from California and my reflections on actually making it back alive to my home state! xoxo

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Quito, a Cloudforest, and Farewell to my brother!

We arrived in Quito early on Easter Sunday, tired and freezing but ready for the day´s festivities! We thankfully had a room booked at a decent hostal, so we hurried there in the cold rain for some rest and a shower!! Our hostal was in the new part of town, which, as usual, was absolutely dead--it´s weird feeling like you´re the only person there in a city full of millions of others.
After breakfast and a nap, we headed out into what seemed like a dead city--we stopped by a church, went to the empty bullring, and ended up at another movie, something about mountains and witches.
We were still in search of a crowd, and ended up in the middle of beautiful, and people-less, Old Town. It was gorgeous, all lit up at night, and we snuck into a beautiful cathedral for the end of a service. At that point, it was pouring rain, so we ran to a little restaurant near another church. We had a delicious dinner, including interesting Colombian booze and goat stew! A much quieter Easter than we had expected--I think we left all the crowds on the coast--but a good one nonetheless.
The next morning we got up very very early to catch a bus to the cloudforest of Mindo. After an argument with the cab driver (apparently the bus station for Mindo had moved in the last year) we hopped on and headed over. It was a thankfully short bus ride, and Mindo was beautiful! We found a great hostal, made completely out of wood, with a pretty view of the river and the surrounding mountains.
After resting, we explored the town a little, found some decent pizza, and went hunting for a butterfly farm. We were unsuccessful, although we did find a pretty pond full of jewel bright hummingbirds.
The next was quite exciting--we went canopying over the jungle and hiking to some sweet little waterfalls. Canopying was amazingly fun, and our guides were quite entertaining. The group we were with, a few British folks, were cool too, although the younger one got a bad injury from the canopyline, due to the fact that he was videotaping as he was going!! It was rather gory, and despite the millions of mosquito bites I recieved, I will never forget the feeling of soaring over the jungle like a bird :)
Afterwards, we hiked a few kilometers to a little lift that took us over a gorgeous canyon, where we walked a bit longer in the humidity--thankfully with little sun, as it was a cloudforest!--to a few waterfalls. It was a long hike back down, as we were both thirsty and starving, but still an unforgettable experience!
The next morning we woke up even earlier, somewhere in the vicinity of 5 a.m., to catch a bus back to Quito, as my dear brother was heading home that night!! We spent that day souvenir shopping (he buys much less than I do!) and doing a few last minute Quito things. It was a bit emotional to say goodbye to him, but at that point, I only had a week left to explore more of Ecuador!!
More on my final week in South America...later :) xxxx

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sun, Sand, Seafood, Surfing, Snorkeling and Semana Santa!

After Palm Sunday in Guayaquil, we headed up the coast for the rest of Semana Santa (Holy Week). We started in the little surfing town of Montañita and from there went to Puerto Lopez, a little fishing town near a national park. Montañita was a charming little touristy town, despite the fact that half of the streets were half dug up and under construction! We still got to experience some delicious seafood and lots of time in the sun! It was so awesome to be at the beach again, just watching the sunset and wandering through the surf, which we did a lot!
We did have some difficulties finding a hostal, but we found an okay one with a balcony and a giant room--because there was a loft, we basically had our own little areas, pretty nice! If you turned your head you had a gorgeous view of the sea from our little balcony.
The first few days were pretty uneventful, but on the third day we took surfing lessons! We had two instuctors, Carlos and Ando--Carlos was obviously a very serious athlete, kind of what I always assume surf bums to be--very attuned with the waves and nature and all that stuff! Ando was more of a goof, and he ended up being my primary instructor. At first, he kept asking if me and Adam were really related, because Adam had much more balance and skill than me already! However, I soon won him over with my charm, and we had a good time, and I did manage to stand on the board quite a few times! I charmed Ando so much he tried to convince me to go dancing...oh those Latin men :) Of course Adam was still much more capable than me--I think he got the majority of the athletic genes in the family, of which there are few to begin with!!--but I still had a great time. It was great to just be out on the ocean!
That night we watched some fire dancers, basically juggling flames and doing other fun tricks with them, and we met an American who had spent some time in Missoula. Interesting hearing his ideas, and he made us both dying to go to Colombia!! Someday.
The next day we sweltered in the heat, waiting for a bus to Puerto Lopez. It was a quick bus, thankfully, accompanied by gorgeous views of the bay of the city as we drove in. Puerto Lopez was definitely one of the friendliest cities we travelled to--we met a lady who led us to our hostal right away (decent room including a balcony and a TV for five bucks a night, although no fan, so it was sweltering!!) and their neighbor happened to be Winston Churchill, our future tour guide for snorkeling and Isla de la Plata!
After arranging all that fun stuff, we hung out on the pretty although slighty dirty beach and swam with the pelicans and other seabirds circling for fish guts. That evening, we found a cheap and incredibly amazing restuarant with some of the best seafood I have tasted in my life. We frequented El Rey a lot, and I usually had amazing calamari or shrimp, and occasionally octopus or different kinds of shellfish if I was feeling adventurous!
The next day we dined at the Whale Café with delicious apple cinnamon pancakes, and headed out on our tour with Winston and a family from Guayaquil. It turned out to be the perfect day--snorkeling, fishing, and just riding around in a boat! We visited the edges of Isla Salango and Isla de la Plata, referred to as the Poor Man´s Galapagoes, as they have much of the same life, and quite a variety, but they´re closer and much much cheaper to visit!
It was our first time snorkeling in the ocean, and it was amazing! We stopped right near a pretty beach the first time, and swam in the warm water admiring tons of bright fish and the like. The highlight of that time was the giant turtle we saw swimming along!
After that, we got close enough to see a bunch of pelicans and the famous blue-footed boobies! Their feet looked like they´d been dipped in paint, it was pretty cool, and they were awesome little divers!
We fished for our lunch then, and to my surprise I caught quite a big fish! I also caught one tiny little guy, and got a few close calls--my hook got broken and completely lost, possibly from huge fish or rocks--but that was the best one! It was definitely heavy, one of the guides had to help me bring it in as I´m a weakling. He also killed it right in front of my eyes--not as traumatizing as I thought it would be for a former vegetarian! Guess South America has toughened me up a bit :).
There were a few other catches, the most memorable being some sort of eel and a pufferfish! He wasn´t puffed until our guide touched him, and then bam! They threw him back in, and he slowly deflated.
While our guides made my fish in ceviche--raw fish marinated with lime and chopped up with onion and other vegetables and fruit--we went snorkeling again. No sea turtle this time, but some sort of eel, a giant fish that I mistook for a rock at first, and tons of bright blue and yellow fish! We were right next to a bunch of caves and rocks this time, so the water had some colder currents, but it was still amazing! A whole other world, definitely inspires me to finally get certified for scuba diving!
After some ceviche--I was rather apprehensive, but it was delicious--along with amazing fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, and coconut, we circled around a bit and headed back to the mainland. It was an amazing day, but after that I was definitely ready for a break from the sun. While it wasn´t necessarily hotter, you could definitely feel the strength of the sun that close to the Equator!!
We also noticed festivities under way from Good Friday and the rest of the weekend--Puerto Lopez was becoming quite the loud little town! By Saturday it was filled with people and our little restuarant had lace under the plastic cloths and tons of people! There was a giant stage set up, and everywhere we went it was loud.
We decided to head to Quito for Easter Sunday, anticipating lots of crowds and parades and celebrations, so we took an overnight bus that evening. I was sad to say goodbye to our wonderful beach life, but my skin was definitely ready for some rain!
I hope all of you are doing well, stay tuned for an update on my brother´s last week in Ecuador!!! LOVE xx

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Mountains to River to the Coast

We left Riobamba after an interesting foray into the markets--the local food market was definitely an experience! So many people and so many weird fruit and random parts of animals all over the place. We left the pretty mountains and volcanoes of Riobamba and headed over to the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil! It was a medium long bus ride, still nothing like Perú, but around six hours or so. Entering Guayaquil, we were greeted with pretty views of the Guayas River and sweltering heat!
After bickering a bit with our cab driver, we found a decent hostal for a good price, in a rather sketchy neighborhood. However, it was nice to have a television and lots of air conditioning!! After arriving and resting, we headed down to the recently restored riverfront, the city´s pride and joy, called the Malécon 2000. It was really nice, but kind of odd to see such a clean, nice area in the middle of a rather dirty city! The river was massive, and interesting to see as it moved both ways, thanks to the tide. Guayaquil is a port town, although it´s big enough that we only saw the river. Saturday was a pretty chill day, still recovering from our bus trip, but we got a good little taste of Guayaquil I believe! It´s a different city from other South America ones that I´ve seen, at least the part we were in. It was very modern, with a lot of sketchy parts right around this area, and yet randomly there would be an old cathedral thrown in among the skyscrapers. The Malécon was also lovely, filled with parks and restuarants and interesting birds and even an IMAX--obviously very touristy! However, all of the tourists seemed to be Ecuadorian or South American--I don´t think we saw more than five other gringoes the entire time we were there.
The next day was Palm Sunday, and started out pretty slow. We were both feeling a little ill, and being in a giant sweltering city was not helping that. However, we made it to a few cathedrals, explored the Malécon 2000 some more, and, my favorite part, Parque Simon Bolivar. Also known as, Parque de las Iguanas! It was filled with tons of random iguanas, as well as a few turtles and typically hundreds of pigeons. It was so cool to see the iguanas all over the place--high in trees, swimming, and hanging out on the statue of good old Simon!
That evening, after taking a respite in our cool hotel room, we actually went to a movie--my first time in the theater for a long time! It was fun to go and gorge ourselves on popcorn while watching the not-so-great latest Underworld movie.
On the exit of the movie, we were engulfed in a giant crowd. Apparently a church service had just let out, so we went to a nearby cathedral to take in the vendors, millions of people and their fake palms and real flowers, and a priest throwing out Holy Water! It was fun to see, and hear the music under the stars! The vendors were selling interesting stuff too--at one point a lady waved what looked like dead mice in our faces! Hopefully they were fake...
The next day we left the sweaty city of Guayaquil, spent our longest time in the bus station there, and headed to the surf town of Montañita! More on that later...I´m a little behind, but I don´t want to cram all the events of the past weeks into ONE LONG blog update :) So stay tuned for more amazing adventures of our time in Ecuador! Miss and love xx

Friday, April 3, 2009

My Brother, Some Monkeys, and Baños!

A lot has happened in the last week!! I guess that´s what it´s like when you´re constantly on the road!!
My brother arrived successfully last Friday night, only about an hour and a half delayed, but unfortunately without luggage, so our plans to head to the jungle the next day were thwarted. It was so good to see him though, and we had a nice day hanging out in Quito. I had my first real meals in awhile, one at a little café called the Magic Bean, and we had some delicious seafood at a tiny, grungy hole-in-the-wall.
Quito was a much cleaner city than both of us were expecting--an interesting introduction to South America for my bro!! We wandered from New City to Old City to check out the old colonial architecture and the Basilica. It´s a gorgeous cathedral with stained glass just as lovely as stuff I´ve seen in Europe! We also found a few insanely clean parks and markets--Quito must be a rather rich city!! Even the restrooms in the park were nice, with toilet paper--practically unheard of down here!
We were given the run-around for Adam´s luggage, we called several times and were given several different instructions. Finally, we decided to go to the airports ourselves on Saturday, and after fighting a bit with the people there, we finally got his backpack!!
We checked out of our (slightly fancy) hostal quickly and headed to the near-Oriente jungle, Mishuallí via Tena. It was a gorgeous bus ride on typically crazy mountain roads, except these mountains were jungly!
The closer we got to Mishuallí, the hotter it got, and we were rewarded with about a million percent humidity when we finally arrived. It was a tiny, quiet town right on two rivers, surrounded by jungle, and filled with monkeys! The monkeys in the town are a descendant of a local tame monkey, but they of course multiplied to a bunch! They were really entertaining--I actually broke my camera because I took so many pictures of them! Still broken...stay tuned on that front.
Although we wandered and got a taste of the jungle, Mishaullí was mainly scavenging food (we´re travelling during the down season, and very few restuarants were open due to lack of business) escaping the heat, reading in the heat, and watching the monkeys! Our hostal was nice, with a balcony and a weak fan, so we spent many an hour overlooking the square and drinking the local beer, Pilsener (not nearly as good as Cusqueña I´m afraid!!).
From Mishuallí, we took a long, but pretty, bus ride to Baños, a popular visiting places for gringos and Ecuadorians alike. It was a really nice town, pretty touristy, but our hostal was great! Plantas y Blancos, it was called, with a delicious restuarant, free internet, and plants everywhere. We also had some great food in Baños--I´m really enjoying eating out!!--such as pizza, Mexican, local dishes (mostly chicken) and ice cream, of course. Adam doesn´t have much of a sweet tooth, but even he enjoyed the ice cream we tried.
The first day we were in Baños it was freezing, so we mostly wandered around the square. The next day dawned gorgeous, so we set out to find a few local waterfalls. We found an ancient bridge and some rundown trails, caught a glimpse of one waterfall, and managed to find another gigantic one along the way. It was fun wandering around the gorge and watching the river. We stumbled upon our zoo on the way back, and stopped in. It was not nearly as depressing as the zoo in Cusco, although it was no San Diego Zoo for sure!!
We saw tons of local, bright birds, turtles, local cats, and lots of monkeys. We saw capybaras, my brother´s favorite, and we even happened to come across a couple of tapirs, sleeping in a random fence or anything! Those things were not was a freaky moment turning around and seeing a giant pig/anteater thing sleeping a few feet away!! They also let the monkeys run loose a bit at feeding time--weird.
Our last day in Baños we hiked up to a statue of the Virgin Mary--preceded by the same number of steps Christ took with the cross. It was a tough, hot hike--I thought the stairs would never end!--but the views of the town and valley, as well as the local volcano, were worth it. The volcano is active, which was a first sight for both of us, and it basically looked like a mountain shooting steam! Cool sight.
Baños weirdly gets cool in the evenings, so after running a few errands (including sending a million more postcards, although they never actually seem to go anywhere--maybe Ecuador will be more reliable--) and eating yet another delicious dinner, we headed to one of the many hot springs, from which Baños gets its name! They were definitely hot--but so amazing!! Heaven to a bath-addict like me who has been deprived of said joy for the last few months. Although at least I usually have a hot shower on the road...
We left Baños this morning, and actually had to wait in the bus station for a change. We´ve been really lucky since Adam got here--we haven´t waited more than five minutes in a station! We enter, tell someone our destination, and get thrown on a bus. Adam had to stand for a bit once, and he weirdly seems to attract schoolkids on many of the buses, but otherwise, they´ve been pretty smooth.
Today we waited twenty minutes--still pretty nice--and hopped on for a two hour trip to our current town, Riobamba! Riobamba is a bit of a shock after freakishly clean Quito and cute little Baños--it´s much more like the South America I´m acquainted with. Still nice! Currently pouring rain, but we visited a few churches and parks before the torrents hit. I´m still missing my camera, but my disposable will do for now--I even made a friend in one of the cathedrals, a little old nun praying, who invited me to take a picture of her! Odd.
Well, enough random stories for now! After Riobamba, we hit Guayaquil and the coast, I can´t wait!! We leave tomorrow after seeing the famous markets...and I will keep you all posted! I can´t believe I will be back in the states in about three weeks--it´s been a long, crazy, yet quick trip! And my adventure is not over yet :) MISS and LOVE!! xxx

Friday, March 27, 2009

Huanchaco, The Valley of Immortals, and So Many Buses

Well, I have officially arrived in Ecuador! Getting here was not entirely smooth, with lots of not fun buses, but I made it alive! My last few days in Huanchaco were wonderful, I already miss the beach! They consisted of sleeping and swimming and spending time in the sand, spending time with Linda and eating delicious food! The people of Huanchaco are quite friendly too--I met one guy, Julio, who followed me around the rest of the time, taking pictures and making me bracelets! I felt quite beautiful there too--lots of comments on my looks, which sometimes was flattering, sometimes gross!! But overall, I loved it! There are so many interesting places and people there, I´m jealous of Linda, who gets to spend another two months there! I also fell in love with Wilma, my host, a fiesty old lady with millions of crazy stories.
I did not get any surfing in, thanks to some sort of toxic spill, but we were plenty busy hanging at the beach, riding the little boats called caballitos (made from reeds, yes, more reeds!) and seeing more ruins and museums. The ruins were all very different from the Inca ruins, so really cool to see--all those walls in the desert! And of course I love the beach, we spent many an hour just watching the waves or the sunset with a beer. One nice thing about being on the road, the food is much better than in Cusco, so hallelujah for that!!
After a sad goodbye to Wilma, Julio and Linda, I took a night bus from Trujillo (the biggest city near Huanchaco) to Piura, my last Peruvian city! Piura was cold and rainy, and I ended up sitting in a dark bus station for awhile--I got there before it even opened--but finally we left. It was a very long bus ride, especially since I wasn´t feeling well, but the scenery was pretty, greener every minute we got closer to Ecuador!
I successfully crossed the border, saw a few monkeys, and made it to my final stop for a day or so: Vilcabamba! The Vilcabamba Valley is known as the Valley of the Immortals, claiming that the oldest people in the world live there. This theory has been much debated, but I did see a lot of old folks running around!! I even met one lady who claimed to be 136--she looked about seventy to me, but I have always been bad at guessing ages!!
My first view of Vilcabamba was cold, rainy, and confusion. I wandered around for awhile, asking a million people for directions, and finally found my hostel, Le Rendezvous. It was such a beautiful little hostel set in a courtyard full of orchids, I was sad to leave the next day!! Vilcabamba was a charming little town, and maybe someday I will return, as I only spent about 24 hours there!! The breakfast at the hostel was delicious too--I really am getting spoiled with all of this freshly made juice and fresh fruit!!
After that, it was my marathon of a bus ride--12 hours to Quito. It ended up being more like 15--it was long, bumpy, and a pretty cold night! At about three in the morning we even had to switch buses for some reason (the accent here is giving me some trouble, so I never really found out why) and I ended up on the floor until we dropped some people off. At least this bus was warmer!!
I successfully arrived in Quito, found a decent hostel and an internet café, only to discover that all the flights out of Bozeman had been canceled!! What a bummer...but as far as I know, Adam will arrive tonight!! So I´m getting pretty anxious for his arrival!!
Quito is huge and confusing...I´ll be glad to leave tomorrow! I think we are heading to Mishuallí, a small town right on the edge of the rainforest. It should be amazing, I´m so excited--and very excited to get out of this town!! And to see my bro, of course :)
So stay tuned--the real adventures are about to begin! The McMahonimals are taking on many stories to come!! I miss you all so much, and look forward to hearing from each of you!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE xxx

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Farewell Cuzco, Hello Road

This past week and a half I finished school (although I didn´t learn much--I was a bad student and convinced my teachers to take me to the zoo, watch Spanish movies, and learn some Spanish tunes), packed up all of my junk, cleaned out my room, and said goodbye to all the great people and places I have met in the beautiful Cuzco! It was quite an emotional week, really, but still good nonetheless. Also pretty uneventful after I finished school, just lots of rest during the day and lots of fun during the evenings. We went out for pizza and dancing and drinks...we being me, my Danish buddies Anne and Pernille, and Ugly American Party of One, the other tourist staying with us. She really began to grow on me and I finally began calling her by her name...Sena. She was an older lady from Florida, and I only hope when I am that old (okay, in my late forties) that I am still travelling around the world! I enjoyed my last Pisco Sour, some Cusqueña beer, shopped around buying a few more presents and souvenirs, and stopped at all my favorite little cafe´s and the like one last time! It was a good week, and it was a relief to finish school. I was pretty burnt out of trying to learn Spanish in a classroom at that point! Now it´s time to learn it in the real world! On my final day in Cuzco, I spent the day shopping, packing, and I visited Qorikancha, a giant monastery and former Inca palace. It is still a monastery of the Santo Domingo order, and I did see some monks! Illegally, as they don´t have much contact with the outside world, but I took a wrong turn and ended up in their part of the palace. I watched one paint this odd picture for awhile, took a photo, which he heard (I can probably say he will live ten years younger because of me, considering the height of his jump of fright!!), and was chased out into their beautiful gardens. I also stumbled into the cathedral just as the monks began to sing, and it quite a moment. They all have gorgeous voices, and the cathedral itself is massive, so it sounded amazing.
I flew out of Cuzco belatedly on Thursday, and luckily, met Sena in Lima. It was so nice to have someone there to meet, as Lima is massive and scary and dirty and confusing! We spent the day together, buying my bus ticket and wandering around, getting lost. We did manage to find a gorgeous little square, Plaza San Martin, and...drumroll please...a Pizza Hut! The pizza is Cuzco was good the few times I ate out, but nothing like this stuff. I was pretty sad after leaving Cuzco and after spending a million hours with the unfeeling robots in the Cuzco airport, so I definitely needed a taste of home! One good thing about big cities is the massive amounts of globalization (well, when you´re despretely homesick it´s a good thing at least!).
I took an overnight bus out of Lima that night--I wasn´t spending a minute there that wasn´t necessary. I somehow bought a first class ticket on the bus line Cruz del Sur, which ended up being about eighteen dollars, and it will be really hard to not travel that way again! I had a huge, comfy seat, we got snacks and meals, and we even watched a movie! Granted, it was a movie nobody ever should see--Dennis the Menace and Christmas, random huh?--but at least it took some time off of the ten hour bus ride! Riding in style definitely helped that too--unfortunately the buses in Ecuador are not nearly this fancy.
I arrived in Trujillo, Perú in one piece, and immediately found a taxi for Huanchaco, about twenty minutes away. It was so wonderful to have Linda waiting for me there! And so far, I love Huanchaco, it is definitely taking the edge off my missing Cuzco. It´s a small little beach town full of surfers and cheap restuarants and bars and hostals. I´m staying with Linda at a family´s house, it´s quite nice to have hot water! Although ironically, it´s also really really hot here on the coastal desert, so I don´t even really need the hotness. That´s life, I suppose.
After I got settled in and showered a bit, I met Linda at the pier. It´s so nice to be near the ocean again! We ended up at these ruins near Trujillo, called Chan Chan--the largest adobe palace in the world. It was massive and fun to see, as it´s completely different from the millions of other ruins I´ve visited. It reminds me of Egypt, as it is Perú´s version of the pyramids. It was a nice day, it felt wonderful after the freezing rain of Cuzco.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around Huanchaco and going to a massive mall near Trujillo--I have come to love malls and other symbols of mass consumerism. Reminds me of home.
Huanchaco is a wonderful place, I will be sad to leave. I´m still reflecting on my experience in Cuzco, and I think overall it was awesome, but I´m starting to like this whole being-on-the-road thing! Even though I´ve only been on the road about two days :). I´ll be here until Monday evening, and then off on my next adventure! Stayed tuned for another update soon, and keep ME posted on all of your lives! BESOS xxx

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My (Newest) Favorite Peruvian Cities and Terrifyingly Gorgeous Views

This past weekend I made the epic pilgirmage to the famous ´Lost City of the Incas´--a.k.a Machupicchu! I have to say that it was an amazing, terrifying, inspiring experience. I woke up and caught a bus...okay, a van...out of Cusco early Sunday morning, and here comes the terrifying part: the drive. Not only was it around eight hours, but eight hours on insanely swervy mountain passes overlooking beautiful valleys a million miles below the edge of the cliff they called a road. I spent the majority of the time banging against my neighbor (thanks for the bruise dude) and the window and the ceiling...and closing my eyes and outright praying, wishing I was in our old van with the terrible shocks that I spent many an hour whining about...smooth as glass compared to this trip!!
Closing my eyes was mostly effective, although unfortunately my neighbor had a lovely gasping reflex...everytime a scary part of the road would come to pass, he would swear or let out a bunch of air...and when your eyes are closed and you are already scared to death, this is NOT helpful! As a result, I generally only saw the tiny little falling apart bridges or the gigantic trucks attempting to squeeze past and push us off the road.
We stopped for lunch in some tiny town, where I actually introduced myself to the two Danish guys sitting by me, and met another nice girl from California. Somehow, somehow, somehow we made it to the final leg of our journey for the day, the train station. Chaos ensued there, of course, when our guide immediately disappeared, and we had no one to meet us with our train tickets. I can effectively say that Machupicchu will probably be the last tour I take in Perú, as they´re very disorganized and it´s a bit freaky having all of your decisions and tickets in someone else´s hands like that!
We ended up paying for our train tickets and hoping that we would be met by someone in Aguas Calientes who knew where we would stay, and all of that jazz. The train ride was absolutely awesome: moseying through the jungle (and lots of tunnels! I love tunnels!) and nice and relaxing after that awful van ride. It was made better by the appearance of our guide, which was a huge relief: I was not looking forward to spending money I didn´t have on a hostel and the entrance fee to Machupicchu.
We arrived safely in Aguas Calientes, and I was immediately in love. Not only was it a small, charming little city with colorful buildings and flowers everywhere, but it was in the most incredible setting: surrounded by impossibly tall mountains (making the Rockies look like gentle, sloping hills) and overlooking a raging river. We got settled, and I went out to explore the little plaza, the colorful buildings, and the parks. I wandered around, taking pictures, and enjoying the feeling that I was walking around in Indiana Jones´s shoes:).
We had a delicious dinner, met our guide, and headed to bed early, for a very early morning. I somehow got up easily the next morning, despite the fact that I´m never a morning person, at around five a.m. We caught the first bus up to...Machupicchu! My other favorite Peruvian city (even though nobody lives there anymore). We arrived just in time for the sunrise, and I was absolutely in awe. It´s one of those experiences that you can´t really describe, and my pictures don´t even begin to do that place justice. A massive city high in the Andes, overlooking the Urubamba gorge, in wonderful shape...a once in a lifetime experience that I recommend for everyone! It actually lives up to all the hype and more.
The morning was incredible, watching the sun rise and the great city rise out of the mists...pretty magical. We had a few hours to kill before our tour, and I basically stared around, took pictures, and climbed around before getting seriously lost. Although there were quite a few tourists there at that point, I somehow came into a bunch of dead ends, and then couldn´t find my way out, with nobody else to be seen! A typical Amy situation...but I did find a place with amazing views, gorgeous flowers, a bunch of lizards and some sort of rabbit-looking creature halfway up a giant wall (yeah, what? must be Spiderman rabbit).
I somehow found my way back, after knocking over another tourist and sending his camera halfway down the hill (I successfully retrieved it, and thankfully neither he nor the camera were injured in any way) and rejoined my tour. Not the best tour ever, as really, nobody knows much about Machupicchu, so everything is generally speculation, besides the dates (15th century) and the sort that has archaeological evidence. We did see a few cool areas that I would have missed otherwise, such as the Tomb of the Princess and the astronomical viewpoint.
After the tour, I walked alllll the way back to Aguas Calientes, and it was about a million degrees with 80 percent humidity at that point. (Ironically, everyone told me how cold it would be...funny that I was melting the entire trip, even more so thanks to the massive backpack I was carrying full of sweaters and socks). The walk was beautiful, if a bit steep, full of weird jungle plants, giant butterflies and pretty, odd flowers. And occasionally the sweaty tourist and dramatic views of the river (possibly the Urubamba River, every map I´ve seen seems to label it differently).
The rest of the day was full of more travel, but I didn´t mind the terrorizing bus trip as much, thanks to my Machupicchu high. I barely even minded when our tire exploded twice and we stopped every five minutes. Although I did start to mind when it was quickly approaching midnight, we were stuck in the cold, and we could see Cusco in the distance...!
The trip through the Sacred Valley really opened my eyes a lot, and got me thinking about life and all sorts of fun things. It´s weird how easy it is to be close-minded about the world, and just go through life doing what you´re expected. There´s so many different ways to live! I´m also supremely grateful that I have a choice in this matter, after seeing many corn or banana farms or people who live in tiny little cities, doing what their parents did before them or whatever they can to make some moola. This country also stirs up a lot of feeling in me, from pride to sadness to disbelief. I was in disbelief at the state of the roads (although, as my neighbor pointed out, it IS South America), and in disbelief when we drove through the first waterfall (there were quite a few more) and sadness when we drove through poor little towns past injured dogs and dirty little kids. But, one thing about this country is that everyone acts like they´re friends...sometimes rude, but friendly and always stopping when a car is on the side of the road (except for taxis, they´re just plain rude.)
We did make it back to Cusco successfully, and the next day I had a panic attack, as my stomach has been bothering me for awhile, even after finishing all of my other meds, and I´ve never been very good at pushing it aside and not being a hypochondriac. At first, going to the doctor was a terrible idea--I merely went into the first clinic I happened upon on my way home. Horrible. It was dirty, and gross, and I could not commnicate with my doctor, who kept jabbing me in the stomach and attempting to stab me with a dirty needle. Luckily I can speak enough Spanish, in a decent enough accent (and at a loud enough volume) to prevent any tests from being done or needles going where I didn´t want them. At one point I was in the hallway waiting, and I noticed the guy next to me was absolutely gushing blood from his head--and nobody else even seemed to notice! I gave him a bunch of tissues and let him go first...but that awful experience was definitely eye opening as well.
My panic attack had not been stemmed at this point, but after escaping and returning to my house, I got the name of another doctor from my host sister, Anna, from Denmark. This doctor spoke wonderful English, gave me a good diagnosis and even went with me to the pharmacy. I will definitely be keeping her cell number close by for the rest of my time here!! It turns out I have some parasite (honestly, I´m not really surprised, despite being anal about washing my hands and what I´ve been eating) but I already feel mucho better after a few doses of the meds.
I´m finishing up school this week and getting healthy again before I hit the road next Wednesday! Beautiful desert beaches here I come...followed by tropical Ecuador. I will post pictures of Machupicchu soon (prepare to be really jealous!) if I can figure it out again, I seem to have technology issues.
I hope all is well for you, and that you (the millions out there religiously following my blog) are having some fun also! I love updates from anybody, so feel free to write:) LOVE xx

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Real Football, More Sickness and a few Good-byes

I suppose it has been a bit of awhile since I´ve posted, but things haven´t been too exciting around here. Last week, I contracted not only a cold but also another stomach bug type thing...very fun. I spent a lot of time lying in my bed trying not to die (I´m a bit of a hypochondriac) although I did manage to have some fun over the weekend. I went out several times, dancing and karaoking (I´m ridiculously and weirdly awesome at long as it´s in Spanish!), as goodbye parties for a few friends who left, either back home or onto their next adventure. It probably wasn´t good for my health, but it sure was fun! I tried the Machupicchu, a famous drink around here, which is multi-colored for some reason. It was good but SO sweet...I think I prefer the Pisco Sour! I also made it to the football game (non-American style!) with my family last Sunday. It was pure chaos, tons of fireworks and water being thrown everywhere (yes, more water...what is UP with that??). I even got covered in this odd red is the color of Cusco, although I have no idea WHAT that stuff was! It was a gorgeous day, although I only made it about halfway through thanks to my illness. It was fun to watch, the players were all really good...thanks in a large part due to the fact that they´ve been playing since the cradle! I think my favorite part was going with my host papa, the cutest old man ever, decked out in head to toe in RED :)
This week I missed quite a bit of school, fighting off the illnesses that refuse to leave me alone. I´m pretty sure this country is trying to kill me, but luckily I´m a fighter! It could be due to the food or the fact that everyone is much more touchy-feely...although I do really like the custom of kissing everyone on the cheek! I might have to try to transfer that to Montana, could be an interesting experiment :).
My housemate and chief translator left for Costa Rica via Bolivia this week, so that was a bit of a bummer, although we did go out for pizza, which I have been missing terribly! It´s weird how much I miss that sort of comfort food when I´m sick, guess I´m an emotional eater! It was delicious, with pineapple, Canadian bacon, and peach (who would´ve thunk? pretty decent though!).
Otherwise, this past week has been rather uneventful. My Spanish has improved a lot, although all the different tenses are getting jumbled into my head...I suppose I just need time to sort it all out! I did find ´Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban´in Spanish for twelve soles (about four dollars) and so far it´s been a great read! We also got a new tourist staying in our house who brought tons of English life has become a life of small pleasures :).
The next week or so things start to get very exciting. Not only do I travel to Machu Picchu tomorrow for a few days, but I finish my Spanish lessons in Cusco on Friday! I plan on leaving the city next Sunday, and I´ll be travelling pretty much nonstop for the next six weeks, in both Perú and Ecuador (where my brother will be meeting me in three weeks! Woohoo)! So stay tuned for my next great adventure :).
Hope all is wonderfully well with all of you! Hope to hear from you soon, miss and love you all!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The lake that birthed a civilization, floating islands, more dancing, and some sickness...

This past week I came down with some evil sickness, continued to be frustrated by Spanish, and I travelled to the famous Lake Titicaca--highest navigable lake in the world!! Lake Titicaca is gigantic and gorgeous (although the first morning that was difficult to see, thanks to the rainstorm) and it was fun to see, despite me still being in recovery mode from my stomach bug. It´s a sacred place for the Incas (I´m surrounded by those) as one of the legends about their beginning states that the sun god had his children spring from the lake to form the Incan empire. Seems like a bad way to start a civilization to me, but I guess it worked for them :)
It was also an exhausting trip--we left Friday night at ten o´clock and arrived in Puno (right on the lake) at around 5 in the morning. Ouch. It was a rather uneventful trip, except for a small incident--I was locked in the bathroom for a solid fifteen minutes. Ironically, everyone else had complained about NOT being able to lock the door. I guess I was really freaked out about somebody walking in on me, and also half asleep, so I yanked the door closed really hard. It locked all right, and I ended up knocking and yelling until somebody heard me--a little boy who was the keeper of the keys. However, his key didn´t work, so he got somebody else, who go somebody else...I finally got out, amid the cheers of the crowd that had accumulated. Oh, what adventures!!
Thankfully, I was travelling with several Peruvians, whose connections came in handy. We were picked up at the bus station by Dwight, another Peruvian, who took us to his aunt´s house, where we had tea and talked for awhile. Dwight then used his connections as a tour guide to get us a tour of Lake Titicaca and the islands for an incredibly good price--other people on the same tour were paying over twice as much as us!
We wandered around Puno for a bit before our tour, and I have to say that Cusco is spoiling me--it was a rather dirty, ugly city full of garbage and even rattier looking dogs than I´ve seen in Cusco. The lake was pretty to see--and then it started to pour. I was soaking wet for the next hour, and travelling around in rickshaws--basically a guy on a bike pushing your seat, which has a tiny little umbrella over it--did not help that situation. We did eventually make it to our boat, hoping that the rain would stop so we wouldn´t get hypothermia.
And, thankfully, it did, just as we arrived at the first island--a small little one made completely out of reeds! It was one of the famous Uros Islands, or the ´floating islands´of the Lake Titicaca. The reeds have solid enough roots that are floating for little villages to be built on them. It was pretty amazing, and my favorite part of the trip! We hung out on the island for awhile, meeting a few of the locals and seeing their (reed) houses, and trying on their traditional clothes--a common part of tourism apparently. I looked ridiculous enough that the other tourists--from Bolivia, Amsterdam, Germany and Ecuador--all requested a picture of me. I tell myself this is because I´m on of the few who actually dressed up, but it´s more likely I looked like a complete fool.
We then took a boat made out of reeds (I´m sure you´ve caught on by now to the fact that everything was pretty much made out of reeds) to another island, and explored this one, seeing some local food still alive, including cuy (guinea pig!!), Perú´s favorite local specialty. I still think they´re too cute to eat, but at some point I will get around to trying it!
From there, we took a looooooong boat ride to Isla Amantaní, where we would spend the night. The sun had come out in full force, and it was beautiful when we arrived on the island. We were greeted by the families we were to stay with, as there are no hostals on the island--or cars, or running water, or really electricity--although there was cell phone service. It was like going back in time--we did have nice, kind of comfortable beds, but the kitchen was a little dirt hut with a fireplace. The food was amazing, although I don´t have any idea what most of it was. They were pretty decent Spanish speakers, but a lot of the food only had Quechua names, the local language down here. My favorite stuff was the tea, the mix of onions and cheese and some kind of fruit, and the crepe for breakfast!
After we rested and had lunch with our families, we watched a soccer game (or played, if you had the energy and/or the skills, both of which I lack) and then went for a hike. We hiked Patchatata, one of the two peaks on the island, and got some beautiful views, completely worth the long, hot hike! I had a small crisis when I dropped Hamarabi down a small cliff, had to climb down to get him and almost fell myself, and got yelled at by some random passersby, but it was a good trip.
I was hiking with Laura, my housemate, and Indira, a teacher from my school (we were also sharing a house on the island) and we managed to get very lost on the way down. I think we were all exhausted, but it was really hilarious...except for one one of the islanders refused to listen to my Spanish due to my shining white (or pink...) face. I was rather offended, but oh well. I still speak gibberish most of the time anyway.
We eventually found our house (how we got so lost on a tiny little island is beyond me) and had a delicious dinner, followed by a fiesta which included more local clothing (Laura in their traditional hat and dancing was so funny I laughed for about half an hour) and lots of dancing, which for me was swishing my skirt around and being whipped around in a circle. I was so tired at this point, I practically crawled back to my bed and passed out until the next morning when we were rudely awakened at 6 a.m. We had a delicious crepe and jumped back onto our boat, where we headed to Isla Taquile. The boat ride there was rough, I was rather seasick, which reminded me of Ireland, the only other place I have experienced that awful feeling. We finally made it to the island, where I discovered Dramamine in my pocket and took some in case the ride back was awful.
I was exhausted and just ready for the mainland at this point, although the hike up to the main plaza was pretty (and long) and then we sat around for awhile, waiting for everyone else. The steps down the mountain were rather frightening for me, and next to Indira in her little heels I felt like a fool every time I almost tripped and injured myself. We made it back, relaxed in the sun, and a million hour boat ride later we were back in Puno. It was another gorgeous day, but we caught the earliest bus we could and headed back to Cusco, which I was so ready for!
The bus felt like hours long...especially surrounded by a bunch of smelly Quechua women with their chickens and cats, and I was so relieved to be back in Cusco!!
This week has been uneventful so far, but it´s kind of nice to have Carnivale over--I´m a lot warmer! Although on the bus from Puno I could not escape, and go silly stringed right in the face. That stuff is hard to get out of your hair!!! I went on a field trip today, to the oldest (and most chaotic) market in Cusco, San Pedro´s. It was interesting to see all the foreign fruit and vegetables, and I bought some itty bitty bananas! No plans so far for the weekend, except for a soccer game possibly, between Cusco and major plan for this week is getting healthy again! And bidding farewell to my friend Linda, who is heading off to volunteer on the coast.
I hope everything is well with all of you, and I hope my blog is entertaining somebody...and not completely boring, although I think this post takes the award for the longest so far!! What can I say, I tend to be wordy. I love you and MISS you all and would love to hear from anyone!!!!!!!!! Besos, Amy
p.s. No new pictures yet...having some techincal difficulties. But hopefully SOON :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More Ruins, More Water, and Lots of Dancing!

Well hello all you out there anxiously awaiting more news...I do not have too much more to report, but I really am adjusting well and loving it here more everyday. Last week was fairly uneventful, I went out dancing on Tuesday night with my housemate Laura and Dorien, a girl from our school. I had my first Pisco Sour--delicious!--and my first foray into the discoteca´s of Cusco. We had an great time hopping from place to place, getting free drinks and dancing to Spanish music...a few places I will have to return to, such as Mama Africa (one of the most famous clubs in Cusco for it´s dancing, although not much when we were there!) and this club that had great music and tons of soccer fans all over the place (did I mention what a big deal that is here?) However, we did get home quite late, and it took me much longer to recover from that than it normally does! Still getting adjusted, I suppose!
Last week was rather frustrating lessons-wise, but I think I´m starting to see more results. Maybe not as quickly as I would like, but results just the same! On Thursday there was also a gigantic fiesta, part of the Carnivale celebration. San Blas, the neighborhood my school is in, is the oldest neighborhood in Cusco, and one of the last to celebrate ¨Compadres¨ in addition to the rest of Carnivale. It was fun to see, the street was full of people and music and dancing, and presents were falling from trees and vines strung up above the street. Of course it was pouring, so I didn´t stay long, but I was amazed that one family in the neighborhood paid for everything--music, candy, toys, food, beer...lots of expense! I guess it rotates every year, but still!
Speaking of Carnivale, it hits it´s peak this weekend, and you can definitely tell--I don´t think I´ve been dry in a week! Everyone else now is starting to experience it, the men and boys who are mostly throwing the water tend to target whities (like myself, although I´m more of a bright pink these days) and attractive females. I don´t know how much I´ll be venturing the streets this weekend if it´s cold, because apparently the entire city is dripping! The little boy I live with, Rodrigo (who I learned is my host sister´s son), proudly showed me his collection of water balloons and massive squirt guns.
This past weekend was eventful, full of dancing, ruins, walking, and even an earthquake! Which I did not feel as I was dancing the night away in another discoteca--this one called Muki, which looks like the inside of a cave. Me and Linda, my favorite travel buddy, hiked up the mountain to Saschyhuaman (which always sounds to me like ´sexy woman´ slightly slurred), famous Inca ruins right above Cusco. They are massive and gorgeous, and apparently a famous hideout of Franscico Pizarro´s during an Inca rebellion. I learned that Inca architecture is so sturdy for four reasons: the giant stones on the bottom, the smaller rocks on top, the trapezoidal shape of doors and crevices, and the fact that the wall is always larger on the bottom. Pretty interesting, and pretty cool to see all this in a pretty field overlooking the valley. I even found some channels leading down from the altar that used to carry maize beer!
From there we walked over to Q´enqo, and old Inca cemetery, where everything was carved out of rock--seats, walkways, stairs, tunnels, and caves! I slipped into one cave briefly and had a panic attack as I stepped on a twig and broke it, thinking it was a bone...overactive imagination, a great help as always!
After Q´enqo we wandered up to Tambo Machay, the worshipping site of a water cult, where it appropriately started to pour. It was cool to see the old Inca baths and man-made waterfalls. Just below there was Pukapukara, a site probably used for storage of goods and animals. The view was the best part, although we found a few carvings of flowers and animals on the rocks. I was getting a little tired of ruins at this point, but it still rocked (haha)! We caught a collectivo (small bus/van) down the mountain because taxis up there were waaay overpriced (at about four dollars) and we wandered around Cusco for awhile, visiting my favorite bakery near my house and the like. AFter this, we headed off to finish up our rip-off tourist tickets, to see the Monumento Pachacuteq (the ninth Inca, and the one accredited with glorifying Cusco) which wasn´t much but had a great view!
Then the dancing began--first in the form of traditional dancing and costume and Cusco´s cultural center, which was very fun to watch, although all of the woman had terrible voices...seriously, the most nasal I had ever heard! We ate a decent and super cheap meal and Linda´s favorite vegetarian restuarant, and from there we met Laura, my host brother Paul, and some other people from our school for a night out!
It happened to be Valentine´s Day--much more toned down, but the first place we went still had petals lining the stairs and balloons everywhere. We met some more people there, had a few drinks, and then headed out dancing! We danced and danced until around four a.m...which canceled most of my Sunday plans! Still a good time, and nice to meet some more people!
This week has been fairly uneventful, although I did discover the tea I´ve been inhaling by the gallons is actually made from cocaine, which probably explains most of my ´altitude´ sickness...good to know that my Spanish is improving enough for me to understand that! I also figured out that the ´stray´dog is actually my family´s, named least I am slowly learning! I also went over to the contraband market to buy some movies (they sell everything from music to movies to shoes to microwaves to cameras...)--I scored a few new ones in Spanish that will hopefully be a big help! I can catch about every third word now, woot!
I am beginning to discover more food that I like, and the school takes an hour out of classes every Friday for a cooking lesson! I still need the recipe for the first week, as it remains a delicious mystery, but this last Friday we made Pisco Sours. My family continues to overload me with the soup, but I´ve discovered a few great bakeries, a coca shop, and some snack foods that I like. Eating most of the soup is quite painful--although I do enjoy the squash soup! We also have interesting dessert, one jello type thing that was made from corn (I think) but inexplicably purple...Hopefully as I continue to improve in Spanish I will figure this stuff out!
Well here´s the end of my news! Here´s hoping my Spanish is beautiful SOON, Adam buys his plane ticket to come visit (!!) and the endless rain stops...although I do manage to get sunburned every time the sun comes out! Love you all mucho and hope things are well wherever you are!! xoxo

Monday, February 9, 2009

Water and Sun, Temples and Churches

I´ve spent the last week or so getting adjusted to Cusco and my crazy new surroundings! My Spanish has been improving quickly (although not as quickly as I would like) and I can now successfully hail a taxi, give him directions he can understand (my teacher´s are impressed at my progress--I got many compliments on my accent, but also many comments on how I mostly spoke gibberish) and travel from one end of the city to another. I´ve been exploring some of the old Spanish cathedrals...gorgeous! Although oftentimes they have really creepy dolls at their altars, dolls of Jesus and Mary and the like...I know, I´m speaking pure blasphemy probably, but they truly look alive! I can´t look at them for very long.
I´m getting to know my host family a little better as my Spanish knowledge increases, and they really are a great family. I´m pretty much in love with my host papa--he has to be the cutest old man ever! He always makes sure to eat with me, and usually he breaks out the atlas and/or his Spanish-English dictionary. The oldest son, Paul (I´m 95% sure that is his name!) is an engineer, and spends a lot of time at Machu Picchu for some reason, although the careers and names of the rest of the family elude me, except for the little boy, Rodrigo. Although I don´t know how he fits into the family yet...I´m still trying to figure out all the dynamics! Thankfully I did find the shower, although the water is rarely hot, and only slightly lukewarm...hence I´m much smellier here than I was at home. Not to mention crazier hair, if you can even imagine that! There is also a spider that´s been in my room that I´ve been trying to set free, and today my teacher told me that it´s one of the most venomous spiders in the world...knowledge I would have happily lived without! It´s just a teeny little thing that shows it´s face usually right before I go to bed...hopefully I catch it or I might never sleep!!
I´m slowly adjusting to the altitude, although some days I still am very weirded out by it--the city is pretty hilly, and when I go exploring I can definitely feel it! I like the city more and more every day, (still on the hunt for a bookshop!) although it´s tiring to constantly be harassed by little kids trying to sell stuff. The little boys seem to be even more persistent, and will follow you until you jump into a taxi or a shop! I feel bad about not giving them any money, but after the first few days of caving, I realized I´d better stop or soon I´ll be trying to sell postcards right next to them!!
Last week was rather uneventful when I look back on it, although every small thing feels like an adventure to me now! Just walking around the city is still really exciting--and I love it when I can actually find my way!
It´s Carnivale in Cusco right now, which as far as I can tell, mainly consists of random cars and people throwing water, candy, manure, and who knows what else at passersby! I seem to be a popular recipient of the water--much more than anybody else I´ve talked to, of course--as I´ve been drenched a few times! I´m definitely a big fan of the candy throwing--a rare occurance unfortunately...but thankfully not as rare as poo throwing! That only happened to me once, and I dodged successfully (and surprisingly--they had good aim!).
I´m still getting used to all the cultural differences, such as the millions of dogs, dancing in the street, and soccer playing everywhere, as well as the little beggar children and their llamas, and the food!! Too much soup! Although I love this vitamin milk they have, and leche con arroz (milk with rice) is delicious! We also have this delicious bread with fruit in it every night, that only comes around at Carnivale. That´s mostly what I´ve been living on, although I go to the grocery store quite a bit to buy new random treats, some of which are great, some just plain weird!!! The music is also different--my host sister plays the Backstreet Boys nonstop, and they´re all big fans of ABBA and other bands from the 80´s. I feel like I´m back in fifth grade when she has the Boys on repeat!! I like it best when they play salsa.
I haven´t made many friends, although I did make one in the form of a dog! I´ve christened him Señor Perro, and he follows me to the corner every morning! I accidentally let him into the house once, and since then he´s never left, and tries to sneak back in occasionally, although as far as I know he´s never been fed there!
I was planning on just hanging out in Cusco this weekend, but I ended up buying a tourist ticket that gets you into tons of cultural sites, mostly archaeological stuff, although some museums and churches are also included. The ticket is only good for ten days, so I signed up for a tour of the Sacred Valley this past weekend.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba River Valley, is gorgeous and full of old Inca sites! Our tour visited C´orao and it´s market, as well as the world famous Pisac market, and the ruins at Pisac, called Pisaqa by the Incas. Pisaqa was amazing--so high up in the mountains!! I got way behind taking pictures and had to run to catch up, generally a bad idea, but apparently the Andes are turning me into a mountain goat:). There were lots of terraces and temples, and at the very top we could visit some Inca tombs--awesome!!
We also visited Ollantaytambo, more Inca ruins, and Chichero, which has a church that´s a combined Inca wall and Spanish church, like much of the ruins around here. It seems that the Spanish merely used whatever was left of the wall and built up from there. It was an amazing day, including a lot of hiking in the Andes (I have a vicious sunburn as a result of that) and wandering around the old ruins. We also stopped a few markets, I picked up a few items here and there. Linda, the lady from my school I was travelling with, was quite impressed with my haggling ability--I can sometimes almost cut an item´s price in half! I should probably just suck it up and pay the soles, considering the price is usually decent anyway, but I´m kind of addicted to haggling at this point!
In Urubamba, right before we were to stop for lunch, there was an explosion on the bus right beneath me--two of our tires had burst! The driver was in awe; apparently he´s never seen both explode at the same time...I think I might be bad luck... We had a slight delay, but eventually we got our lunch and headed to Ollantaytambo. There we hiked up past the agricultural terraces used by the Incas up to the top, and a gigantic piece of rock in the shape of a puma, along with many temples and the like. There was lots to see and many stories from our guide (only half of which I understood, as my Spanish still sucks!), but it was still a fun hike! We went back down past the old Inca aqueducts which still successfully run water, and visited a temple of the water.
I got briefly lost in Chinchero while buying some postcards, and ended up wandering the streets for a half hour while the rest of my group was in a textile demonstration. For about half of this time, a little girl was following me, begging me to buy her stuff--and if she had been selling anything else but finger puppets in the shape of fish (pescado pescado bonita senorita!), I probably would have caved!! I eventually made my way back, and we headed back into Cusco, a few hours later than originally planned, but oh well! It was an amazing trip, and I can´t wait to see more of the ruins on my little tourist ticket!
I think I am adjusting quite well, and I get a little less homesick every day. It would be fun to have people with me, so come visit!! (Adam!) Carnivale is supposed to get crazier in the next few weeks--I hope that doesn´t mean more manure!! I also hope the weather gets better, I´ve gotten spoiled with all the sun this past week! I spent tons of time in parks and in plazas and near fountains (I even fell in one and got on a few tourist guy from Germany proudly showed me his footage) but today it is pouring down rain! Ah, the unpredictable weather...seems to follow me wherever I go! Keep in touch! Loooove....

Monday, February 2, 2009


Well, I successfully made it to Cuzco, Perú. I´m walking around in a daze, pretending that I know Spanish, while throwing in random German, French, and even Italian (I can´t get ¨scusi¨out of my head!) phrases. I start school tomorrow thankfully, so that will help! The trip here was fairly stressful--it was rough leaving L.A., and then we had a pretty rough flight from Houston to Lima. Besides the bumpiness and an unfortunate overdose of candy hearts, we landed just fine and I embarked onto foreign soil. The Lima airport in general was pretty traumatic, what with me getting interrogated in customs for filling out the forms wrong (so brilliant I know) only to discover when I was finally cleared that my backpack was not going to Cuzco without my help!! It was quite a big deal, and I ended up getting escorted by three security guards back through customs to claim my luggage. As soon as I found my pack, they deserted me, leaving me to attempt to finagle my way back through customs without any of the necessary papers. Between my rudimentary Spanish and their rudimentary English I somehow got back through!!!
I departed quite early from Lima for Cuzco, although I was not informed that we would stop in two other cities on the way, making a typical hour-long flight into four. The other ¨cities¨were shacks in the desert, and I was getting pretty nervous for Cuzco after that, but it´s much prettier!! Very green (especially since it´s rainy season, which for some reason I didn´t know) and hilly and full of monuments. It is a third world country (or maybe second?) and I´m not quite used to that. Does anybody ever get used to poverty?? I guess I hope not!
Today I rested and then was taken all over town by my host brother, whose name still eludes me. We went to the school, which is kind of sketchy in some random ladies house, but it still has a nice courtyard, and is really close to the main square. I start classes tomorrow, if my finances go through that is!! The transportation system here is really freaking me out--basically you can catch these crazy buses or get stuck in a tiny little taxi whose driver thinks you can fit anywhere! I´m pretty far from the school, which is a bummer, but my house is much nicer than it was expected...although I still haven´t asked about a shower!! I have my own little room and my own set of´s pretty nice. The food is still a question mark--my stomach has been acting up a bit, but I have no idea what we had for lunch! My host mother doesn´t speak much English, and all I know is that the soup we had was pretty gross with random squishy and chewy and crunchy things...but hey, try new things right??
I´m still pretty tired and overwhelmed--I can´t imagine that I´ll ever find my way around!! Although I made it successfully to this internet cafe a few blocks from my good start! If I can push through these next few days of homesickness (sorry Mom!) I think I´ll be just fine here in Cuzco! It´s still kind of unreal that I´m in South soon as I get situated I´ll be sending loads of postcards and letters!! It´s a lot colder here than I bargained for, so I´ll be investing in some warm clothes soon! I was all excited for alpaca wool until I tried to pet one of the cute little guys and got a nice solid bite!! My host brother (someday I will learn his name!) got quite a laugh out of that one...
As soon as I get settled I´ll fill you all (so many I´m sure) of what´s goin on! Hopefully I will soon be able to jump onto a bus or hail a taxi and be able to ask what I´m being fed!!! Hope everything is going well for all of you--keep in touch!! I´m dying for mail :) xoxo

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Beach, Sweet Baby Ray, and A Lot of Hummus...

I spent the majority of the last week bumming around San Diego (Point Loma University) with my cousin Courtney...hanging out on the gorgeous campus, watching the ocean pretty much whenever possible, driving her roommates crazy with my mini-explosions of stuff and by gawking at their drama, and pretty much becoming my cousin's other half. It was such an awesome week kicking it true California style (I swear it really seemed like all the movies...the ones at the beach that is) that it's much harder to head off on my next adventure than I thought! Point Loma is probably the prettiest campus I've ever been to, and I spent lots of time wandering around, tripping over my own feet after being mesmerized by the ocean. The weather was fairly chilly at first, including on the night we decided to try sleeping on the cliffs over the waves...good idea, but next time I'd definitely take a sleeping pad!! Brrr. I spent quite some time down at Ocean Beach, the hippiest part of S.D. and therefore my cousin's favorite, exploring the shops and tide pools and the farmer's market. On Wednesday I had my first memorable surfing experience...I came out a little bloody and battered but still alive! I even managed to enjoy the sunset while flailing around on my board, and am pretty convinced I need to become a surf bum when I come back from S.A. Although I may want to practice more...I stood up for all of one second before somehow coming painfully face-to-face with my lovely foam board!
After a beautiful sunrise over the bay (Mission? San Diego? Harbor?) from a cemetery, on Wednesday night I went with Loma's Homeless Outreach Program, which I was kind of dreading but turned out to be really fun. My favorite guy was Ray (yes, Sweet Baby Ray!) who is absolutely adorable and completely infatuated with my cousin. My other cousin came down from Orange County the next night for some dueling piano bar fun in Downtown San Diego, and we managed to have a good, inexpensive time, even though the pianists were pretty painful to listen to! Invest in some decent singers Shouthouse!!!
I'm back in Temecula, already missing the beach, and cramming all of my stuff--including a mini pharmacy and about five hundred t-shirts--into just two bags. I'm pretty sure my cousin's roommates were cheering when I finally stopped sleeping on their floor, and I swear I will be on one's blacklist forever for eating her hummus (I swear I didn't!!!) I left Loma amid some drama--I probably won't be welcome back again thanks to my big mouth--but it was an awesome time anyway!! Who knew a Christian school could be so fun?? (Just kidding!!)
I fly out of L.A. tomorrow (eeee!) at around 9 A.M. Pacific time. I'm pretty freakin' nervous right now, worried about money and my Spanish. I made the discovery when sitting in Hannah's Spanish class this week that if I were thrown into prison for accidentally transporting drugs or happen to get sold into white slavery, I can confidently ask what I'm being charged for and where they're taking me...but will I understand the answer?? Chances are slim at this keep your fingers crossed that I make it to my first class so I can remedy this issue!
I hope all of you many, many avid readers of my blog out there (haha) are doing wonderfully--and I hope you all keep reading and keep in touch :) I'm so glad to have been here in SoCal and I'll miss everyone here (even the hummus-hater) so much! But one must go onward.......

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On my way!

I left Bozeman with a great send-off, a giant backpack, a carry-on completely stuffed, and an extremely bulky wedding present that caused me much trouble and many an annoyed look from fellow passengers (especially the older man whom I wacked in the face with it--thankfully, they're just sheets in the box so not too heavy--as I was attempting to cram it in one of the godforsaken overhead bins). My first flight was fairly smooth, although breaking through the clouds and leaving Bozeman below was a surprisingly emotional moment. We landed in Denver successfully, and I loafed around the airport while they fixed our plane. The next flight was okay--I promptly passed out on my (cute) neighbor and drooled all over his shoulder...charming I know. It was incidentally a conversation starter, and we were getting on famously until we hit some turbulence and he proceeded to upchuck for the next hour! Despite this unfortunate (and gross!) issue, we made it safely into John Wayne airport, and from there I headed to Ralph and Annie's rehearsal dinner. The next day was filled with wedding details and lots of family members, with the usual confusion, drama and some laughs thrown in there. My little cousin Luke is adorable, Annie and Ralph were happy and gorgeous, and I had a lot of fun! I'm hanging out in SoCal in balmy 60 degree weather with various family members for the next week or so, and I fly out next weekend to...drumroll please...beautiful Cuzco, Peru, smack dab in the middle of the Andes! That is if I ever get my flight confirmation email! I'm already getting homesick for all my family and friends back in Bozeman, but so far it's great to be in Cali mooching off family! I still have a few details to figure out before I head down to South America, but hopefully all will go smoothly and then ALL of you can come visit! Hope you find my blog entertaining or at least something to read when you need a break from school or work--and keep in touch! I love sending emails and letters and postcards, so just get me your address and you won't be disappointed :) Love!