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 Lima...my 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 Beetlejus...at 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 tapes...one 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 keys...it´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 house...so 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 America....as 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