A Travellerspoint blog

6.18.10: Lake Titicaca, Peru

The Islands of Lake Titicaca (The Peruvian Side)

This morning I woke up, packed my stuff and set out for the islands of Lake Titicaca.
Titicaca for all you dirty minds out there means Gray Puma... Titi = Puma and Caca = Gray.
Our first stop was a small floating reed island, part of the Uros islands.
This particular island had five families living on it with a total of 23 people.
Our guide explained how they make the floating islands, starting first, with compact reed roots. They use the reeds for most everything including their islands, houses and boats.
They use the dry, dead reeds as kindling for cooking and they also will peel away the first layer of the fresh reeds and eat them like a banana. It´s healthy and it keeps their teeth clean. They passed around some reeds for us all to try... yummy.
They taste like lettuce and cucumber.. so in other words they taste like nothing.
They showed us their houses and they type of fish that they catch and Max played soccer with some of the young boys.

Then was our 2.5 hour boat ride to the next island.
After a nice hour and a half nap and a boat ride that seemed to teleport, we were at our next Lake Titicaca island, Amantani Island. There, the group was divided up into 2´s, 3´s and 4´s to stay with a host family. The woman who greeted us was Norma.
We were going to be staying with her, her husband, and their two young girls. When we got to their home, a short parade up from the lake, she showed us to our sleeping quarters. The door to our room was about waist high and the ceilings were no higher than 5´5.
It was a pretty good sized room with three beds and a desk that I exploited for my journal entries. The view from the room was amazing, with a perfect view of the vast Titicaca.

We explored a little before lunch and took some pics of the area. Around 2:30 Norma came and got us for lunch.
The native language of the Island is Quechua, however, a lot of people know some Spanish too, so our method of communication was chopped-up Spanish and smiles. For lunch we ate at a table set in their kitchen where we watched Norma finish preparing the meal as we devoured our first course of Quinoa soup.
Traditionally, the host family does not dine with their guests, so we knew not to wait. We were famished from only having rolls and jam at 7am and the soup hit the spot! The next course was potatoes, veggies, and a corn\egg pancake-looking creation (everything fresh from their land). It was probably the freshest, healthiest meals I have ever had.
After the nourishment we had fresh mint tea, which is traditional at most Peruvian meals and is also said to help combat altitude sickness. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and is even higher than Cusco.

After the grub I bonded with Norma´s 4 year old daughter.
We took pictures and I showed her how to use my camera. She was very intrigued at seeing her image instantly on the screen and looked and pointed at the screen like it was some sort of aberrant phenomenon while giggling relentlessly.

We came back to the room for a little reading and writing time, until our hosts knocked at our Alice In Wonderland sized door with their arms full of handmade goods for sale. She had alpaca scarves, beanies, socks, and more. When she told me that the scarves were 25 soles, more than twice the price than in Cusco, I decided to pass, but still felt obligated to buy something so we invested in a nice pair of knit socks that, I´m certain, will come in handy some day during the trip.

Then it was time for us to go meet us with the rest of our group.
We trekked up the mountain for about 45 minutes, until we reached the tip top.
Wonderful 360º views of Peru with the faint, flurry-filled Bolivian mountains in the distance underneath the brilliant salmon sun-setting sky. It was stunning.
At the top of the mountain sat a temple that we were forbidden to enter. No locals or tourists, only holy elders were permitted.
Our guide did tell us that it is an aged belief that if you make a wish and walk, silently, around the temple 3 times, while thinking about your wish, it will come true. The first lap you are supposed to reflect on the past, the 2nd lap you focus of the present, and the 3rd and final lap you will the future. I decided to partake in this tradition and succumb to superstition... I need all the help I can get.

By this time it was getting dark, so we put on our headlamps and descended down the mountain until we met up with our hosts again for dinner.

Dinner was a cream of corn type soup, all made fresh, and a plate of white rice, pasta, and potatoes. Now correct me if I´m wrong but, I´m pretty sure that only covers one food group- starch. But nevertheless, I was hollow and the food was good. After dinner we went back to the room for a little bit. By now it was completely dark and, as staying on an island with no electricity goes, we were operating by candlelight. It was a blast from the past, for sure. It was actually a trip to think about. Just a few weeks ago I was living in Dallas, editing a television reality show, and now, somehow, I´ve found myself staying on a primitive island in the middle of a Peruvian lake with people who, not only, don´t speak English, but barely speak Spanish. I had to laugh... Livin´the dream huh? This is a far leap from the typical spa resort, suntanning vacations of most ¨normal¨people my age.

After dinner the family came and summoned us for a traditional dance celebration they have on the island. When she knocked on our doll house, I opened the door to see her standing there holding a pile of clothes. She pointed to the clothes and pointed at us. Apparently it was time to play dress up. Max got off easy with a poncho and beanie,
but they had something even more ¨special¨planned for me. The first layer (of many) was a white embroidered Peruvian style shirt. The next layer was a, too bright for human eyes, yellow under skirt. Yes, apparently one skirt is not enough. She tied it so tight I lost a dress size. Next layer was another skirt, this one purple. Once again, another dress size lost. Then to, literally, tie it all together she strangled my stomach with a rainbow striped belt that was just what I was hoping for. But for the cherry on top, a black headdress with multicolored embroidery that the ends.
I´ve never been so sexy.
We headed up to the dance-a-thon where I got serenaded by my very own Peruvian flute band and we boogied the night away with the natives.
If it wasn´t for my tan less, blinding-white skin, I don´t think you´d be able to tell the difference.
We went back to the casa, where it took me about 20 minutes to get me out of my Peruvian attire. 5 minutes for me to try to pry the knots apart, 5 minutes for max to try, 5 minutes for me to loosen it with a pen (which broke and exploded in my hand) and 5 minutes to break out the pliers and heave me free from my vibrant-patterned prison. Thank God too, because about ten minutes into the undressing endeavor, I was prepared for this dress code to be my new globe-trotting uniform.

After that fiasco it was time for a treat. I had bought a sublime bar earlier in the day (Peruvians version of Hershey's chocolate with almonds) which was just the reward I needed, read by candlelight for a while and snoozed....

Quote of the Day: If there is no struggle, there is no progress.¨

Posted by emichele 14:24 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

6.16.10:Puno, Peru

Cusco to Puno

We set out this morning about 730 for a seven hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno. It was a comfy bus with reclining seats, pretty spacious. The bathroom though was a toilet that you could look down into and see the lines of the roads whizzing by... interesting.
The bus got a little warm after a while and the seat I was in did not have access to open a window. I just sat and prayed that someone would get as hot as I was and crack a window for a glimmer of freshness.
Finally the bus arrived in Puno.

Besides the beautiful lake Titicaca, Puno is kind of a shithole town. Not much to do.. just taking it easy before heading out for the lake islands...

¨If you dont like something, change it. If you cant, change your attitude¨
-Maya Angelou

Posted by emichele 14:53 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

6.15.10: Finally in Machu Picchu


Woke up at 430 this morn to make the first bus to Machu Picchu at 530. I dont know if it was the excitement of this long awaited attraction or what, but I felt loads better! Got up to Machu Picchu in time to watch the sun rise.
It was breath taking... simply stunning. We climbed to the top and looked down over the whole city and walked around all day I even caught a little nap atop of it all. The temperature was perfect and the skies were gorgeous with brilliant stonework all over. It really left me speecheless so ill just let ya´ll enjoy the beauty....

We took the bus back to Aguas Calientes and watched some world cup soccer as we waited for our train back to Cusco, which was scheduled to leave at 4pm. We got to the station at 330 and found out that there was no 4pm train. Apparently someone had forgotten to notify me... of course. There was only at 530 and a 7o´clock train. We crossed our fingers for the 530 train...

In the words of Devin the Dude:
¨Either by bus, plane, train, 15 passenger van,
another show that we must go lets get there fast as we can...¨


luckily made it on the 530 train outta there. It was a 2 hour ride to Ollyanta and then (because of the flooding in February) we had to take a 2 hr, 15 person bus from there to Cusco. We finally made it back, grubbed down and passed out smiling...

A quote for you:
¨Grasp your opportunities, no matter how poor your health, nothing is worse for your health than boredom.¨

Posted by emichele 14:26 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

6.14.10: Trek to Machu Picchu

3rd day of trekking

Today was tough. Still stick from last night, I now have to stick to a strict diet: no milk, no meat, no fat, no fun. Only fruits, veggies, bread. Sucks. As everyone ate a delicious breakfast omelette, I ate fruit. Fruit is not a meal, it is a side dish. Meaning that it should come on the side of SOMETHING!

This day sucked. It was the easiest of all the days but it still sucked. Any movement was too much for me and my fragile stomache. The hiking was easy, thank god, cause I was running on empty. Only about 4 hours of hiking til we got to Augas Calientes (the small town at the base of Machu Picchu).

I took a nap when we got there, watched ¨Pearl Harbor¨in spanish (turns out, its not great in any language) ate some soup and passed out again. Didnt want to over exert myself cause the next day was Machu Picchu...

Posted by emichele 12:45 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

6.12.10-6.13.10:Journey to Machu Picchu

Machu Piccu Trek Days 1 and 2

Today was the first day of the trek and to say it was brutal would be a dramatic understatement! The first part was biking.
They drove us to our highest point of the trek and we biked for 2 hours through the snow-capped Andes mountains. It was pretty damn cold but the amazing views made up for it. I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road instead of the scenery so I didn´t eat it over the side of a cliff. We were on a main mountain road, so we had to move over for busses and cars, but it was pretty safe. We stopped for lunch at this shitty little shack after about 2 hours of biking. The toilet was a hole in the ground in an outhouse and our lunch was a piece of bread and cheese, an apple, a chocolate bar, juice box and a powerade. Nothing special but shitty fuel is better than no fuel.

Then it was time for the dirt path. There was an uphill and a downhill portion of off-roading and it was nuts. I felt like my knees were on fire and my ass hurt so bad from the bike seat, I felt like I´d been violated.

Finally, we got to our hostel and picked our rooms. There were only 3 or 4 beds to a room so we roomed with a cool Canadian couple. After biking they gave us an option of either staying in the hostel and relaxing or going white water rafting. We were tired but could not pass up the opportunity. We were the only two of the whole 20 person group who opted to go and I´m so glad we did cause it was awesome! There were 3-3.5 rapids and we were soaked. Our guide was super cool and taught us how to do tricks in the raft. He gave us the option to ¨body surf¨ the rapids and we said yes before he even explained what it meant. At this one part in the rapids, the water makes a really intese hole type shape in the wake, similar to the trough of an ocean wave and we had to paddle really hard toward the hole and on his cue we were to jump out of the raft and hang onto this rope with an arm. Kind of hard to expain but it was great. As I jumped I had a sudden epiphany of what a dumbass I am. Here I have 3 more intense days of hiking ahead of me and I risk getting really, unnecessarily, beat-up by jumping into rocky, fast-moving rapids. I´m not the brightest crayon in the box but it was awesome. I got a little banged up on the rocks but war-wounds are always acceptable.

When we were through, I shivered all the way back to the hostel, changed and went with the group to grub down. It was a satisfying meal but nothin special. Then we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep for the long day ahead of us... this was easier said than done...even with ear plugs in.

The chatty girls in the next room over would not shut the hell up, so I had to listen to their loud, pointless conversation for 2 hours. Then about 1 am this rabid dog started incessantly barking... I mean, he did not take a breath! I even contemplated riffling through my bag to get a granola bar just to throw at him in hopes of him shutting up for just a second! Finally the dog grew hoarse and my prayers of sleep were answered... only for the next hour or so though until this damn rooster started cock-a-doodle-dooing at 4 am! He didnt shut up til it was time for us to wake up at 630. We got up, with no shower (because there was no running h20) and went down to breakfast on our second day of hiking and I ran into that rooster on my way. I was really tempted to kick him in the face but we had a nice chat about politeness instead.

We had a nice breakfast (chocolate pancake, tea, coffee, and fruit) before we set out for the 2nd day of trekking. This was the 18 mile day and by far the hardest! My ass hurt so bad from the day before I could barely sit down and my knees felt like jello (this was all before starting the 2nd day).
The first two hours were intense up hill climbing and I literally wanted to hurl myself off the side of the mountain. I didn´t sign up for this shit. When I paid money to go on a ¨jungle trek¨, I was thinking more along the lines of a jungle stroll or perhaps a promenade. That is not what I got!

Wheezing my way up the mountain, we finally got to this remote cottage looking villa called ¨The Monkey House¨, most likely because of the monkey living there.
He was a cool little dude. He kept jumping on my head trying to steal my head band.
There was also this giant gerbal looking creature called a Picarro who drank gatorade from a bottle. He was also a sight to see.

There were puppies and kittens running around too. One particular kitten took a liking to me and curled up in my lap for a cat nap.
The house that we stopped at was the home of some all-natural agricultural farmers whose main crops were cocoa, coca, and coffee.
Our guide taught us all about the processing of the coffee bean and we got to sample some of their home grown... delicioso! They taught us about the cocoa plant and we tasted some 100% cocoa that they had made... some of the most bitter, disgusting ¨chocolate¨ever. He told us all about the coca leaves, their origin and the government probelems they having regulating the buying and selling of the plants. The farmers go through a lot of crap so the government can make sure that it is not going to cocain manufacturers. He also taught us about this plant, whose name slips my mind, it looks fuzzy on the outside and when you break it open it has a bunch of little red seeds inside. The red seeds contain a type of dye that is actually used in a lot of cosmetics, hair dye and dye for textiles. Our guide broke it apart and used it to paint our faces.

Max got a heart on both cheeks and a line down the middle.

I got two classy football stripes under my eyes.

After our much-needed break, we were back to hiking and hating life again. Not much to say.. great exercise...lots of sweat..great views...lots of pain..not enough agua.
Then we finally got to the highest point of our hike. Our guide stopped us, broke open a bag of coca leaves and told us each to pick three full leaves. He lead us in a traditional ancient inkan ritual where you held the leaves up to different coordinates around the mountain and recited the name of the mountain which was supossed to be praying for protection during our journey. When we were done he threw the leaves in a little fire.
We went on with our hike again, still very aware of my blisters, until lunch. We stopped at this little hut in the middle of no where and this local family prepared a heavenly meal for us. We had a chicken salad type appitizer, a traditional peruvian soup, chicken with potatoes and veggies and jello for dessert. Everything was great!

More hiking..more wanting to die...more lovely scenery.
Finally our hostal! There IS a God!!!
We got in and got settled and took a much needed shower.. no warm h20, but at least there was h20. As I laid down before dinner and started to write in my dear ol journal, I realized, suddenly, that I was not alone.. Actually I was surrounded, military style, by ants. They were taking over and I was their prisoner. I understand the strategy of power in numbers so I try a counter attack with my only weapon- 100% Deet. I sprayed the crack they seemed to be living in and I thought I was taking back control. Boy, was I wrong. I just pissed them off and they came at me with full force... .ants everywhere! I went and asked our guide if he had any bug spray, but when he came to look at the situation, he told me that there was just too many of them and that I would have to switch hostels to one down the street because ours was booked.... ok... the ants have won this round.

I decided to wait til after dinner to switch rooms. Dinner was great. Soup (peruvians always eat soup), guacamole and traditional Peruvian chicken. Delicious... until..my tummy started rumbling... I had to make a break for the bathroom and up came all that yummy food. I didnt know if it was the exertion of the day, altitude sickness, or a bug, but it was not good. I left dinner to switch hostels to this crap hole down the street. The lady who managed it was a total bitch, obviously pissed that she had to shell out another room to a different guides group and I am barely holding it together as she gives me my keys, trying not to puke on her scowling face. From dinner at 7 til about 10 I threw up about 7 times. Since there were shared bathrooms in this hostel, I was mortified and felt like everyone could hear me puking up a lung. This was actually true. The manager did hear me. She asked me if i was ok and if i needed medicine. She didnt speak a word of English and at this point, Im not even trying to speak spanish. I asked her if she had medicine for sale and she said ¨Si, Doctor¨. I didn´t want to see a doctor, just some Pepto or something. ¨No, no doctor¨I replied. We went back and forth like this for about 3 mintues until she pointed me in the direction of, what I thought was, a pharmacy. When I arrived, looking green and haggard, I found out that by ¨Pharmacy¨she meant ¨Doctor¨. Ok.. I give up. Doctor it is. I found out that through some of the delicious food I´d been consuming, I´d contracted a parasite that had caused an infection in my stomache and given me a fever. They gave me pills upon pills and sent me to bed with warm tea.

Posted by emichele 12:25 Archived in Peru Comments (3)

6.11.10: Cusco, Peru

Cusco Day Three

Today we woke up, made breakfast in our hostel and went to the spot we made the reservation for the Machu Picchu Trek to pay and get all the info for the next day. He walked us through everything we needed to know and I am super stoked!!! Our destination for the day will be to the small pueblo, Santa Maria (1,430 mtrs high). rolling hills and snow capped peaks of the Vilcanota Mountain Range that we will bike for four hours with an option to white water raft at the end. Day 2 we will be entering the outer jungle . We will even have a chance to visit a local Coca Plantation on the way. This day is the hardest and we will be hiking for 18 miles.
Day 3 will be an even more tropical climate still as we draw nearer and nearer to the ancient city. We will walk for 5 – 6 hours by the truck road to Hydro-Electric Power Plant, where there is a sacred ceremonial site, IntiHuatana waiting for us, from here we will get Aguas Calientes trekking by the rail way. And day 4 we wake up around 530 for our day in Machu Piccu!! SOO STOKED!

We went to eat lunch at a little joint up the street which was not great, but not every meal can be spectacular and we went back to the market for some fresh squeezed juice again. The lady remembered us from yesterday, probably not too hard to remember two gringos, two days in a row, but it was flattering.
We bought some wine and cheese from the market. The cheese which would have easily cost us over 20 bucks in the states was two dollars and was sooo much better.

We went out to dinner that night and ordered some AWESOME filet minon. Probably the best filet I´ve ever had, went back to the hostel and ate some wine and cheese with a really cool couple from England and passed out for some good rest before our big trek.

Posted by emichele 09:24 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

6.10.10: Cusco, Peru

Cusco Day Dos

Today I woke up, ate breakfast at the hostel and headed out into town. The first stop of the day was the mueseum of precolumbian-era art which was pretty interesting. Lots of pots, carvings, war staffs, stilver and gold, with a special section dedicated to erotic vases, which was, of course, the highlight.

Went to the Mercado Central (central market) which was amazing!!!! So many people had set up booths with everything from fruits and veggies, to cuy (guinea pig) and chicken, different grains and spices, alpaca fur and more.
It was one of the coolest things I´ve ever experienced. I bought a coconut and they punched a hole in the top and put a straw in it for me to drink right there and after I was finished they threw it on the ground, cracking it apart so I could eat the coconut inside.
Max got a plate of pork, beans, potatoes and veggies from a street vendor and we had fresh fruit juice that was squeezed right in front of me. Two whole glasses each for about 40 cents! Beats the hell outta Jamba Juice!
We shopped for gifts and postcards, grabbed a bite to eat, drank some inca cola (peruvians version of cream soda)
and headed out to the Plaza De Armas and, unexpectedly, ran into a street festival. Turns out it was the festival of Corpus Cristi.

The streets were filled with people and floats of different patron saints. It was pretty neat.

We came back to the hostel, drank some coca tea, relaxed and read a little on the balcony as the sun set over cusco.

Then we set out for dinner.. intent on eating some traditional cuy (guinea pig). We ordered a glass of cabernet, had a chicken and herb stuffed avocado for an appitizer and waited for our cuy.

It came out looking just like you would expect fried guinea pig to look like.... not very appitizing.
I dont like my food to have a face and I kept thinking that he was just staring at me...judging me. But I showed him who´s boss.

The meat tasted like pork and was pretty good but there was not a lot of it, mostly bones. I wasnt thrilled and couldn´t get over him looking at me like a savage. But I tried it.. yay me! Went to a cool little bar after dinner, had the national Peruvian drink, Pisco Sour (Pisco is grape brandy), which was alright and passed out.

Posted by emichele 09:20 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

6.9.10: Cusco, Peru

Cusco Day 1

Cusco is an AWESOME city! I woke up in Lima and caught a plane to Cusco. Peruvian planes and airports are great. I didn´t have to take off my shoes to go through security, they let me bring outside coffee onto the plane with me too! The airport seats were really comfy and the plane was really spacious. Much better than american planes that pack you in like sardines. Two thumbs up Taca Air!

We cabbed it to the hostel, The Samay Wasi Youth Hostel, and it is AMAZING! Our view is incredible. We could see the whole city beneath us from our window!

We drank coca tea.. no high.. not illegal, but its said to combat altitude sickness, because Cusco is so high up.
We got warmed up to our new surroundings, we actually liked his hostel so much we cancelled our reservations in the other hostels we were supposed to stay in Cusco.

We set out to explore Cusco and all it had to offer.. which turned out to be a lot! It is a walkable city although you are either going up or down hills the whole time. Good training for the Machu Piccu hike to come. The streets are so small it reminds me of what I´ve seen of Venice.
Cars race up and down the streets honking their horns to let you know to move ... and you better move fast! No joke, I was one step away from being road kill and the driver was unphased.

That´s another thing- Peruvian drivers drive so freakin close to each other, I mean within inches. I am constantly thinking that were about to get in an accident, but they seem to have it down.

For lunch we stopped in on a tiny little place on the outskirts of town where we saw only Peruvians eating inside. We sat down and were immediately greeted with two huge bowls of soup that we didnt order but readily enjoyed. We chose one of the three menu items- Lomo de Saltado (beef,peppers, onions, and rice) good, not great. Cost about two bucks. Not bad.

We went to the center of town, known as the Plaza de Armas. A beautiful park, architecture, and fountains.
Surrounding the fountain in the middle is the beautiful Santo Domingo Church, shops, restaurants, etc. The town is really neat with shops, bars and restaurants all over. The shops sell everything from Alpaca items, silver, rugs, and lots of cool art.

The city is really secure too, not so much the residental area, but where we are is pretty safe. A lot of places have barbed wire over their fences, but as we were walking, we also saw the tops of walls lined with cacti and broken glass bottles... pretty ingenious i say.

For dinner we went to this really cool small restaurant with only about six tables inside and you could see them roasting the food on the fire.
IMG_1017.jpgFor six bucks each we got a 5 course meal with red wine. I tried Alpaca meat for the first time and it was really good. A little over salted for my taste but the meat was yummy.

Posted by emichele 15:37 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

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