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!