Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Musings on Indonesian crafts and food

Eventually, D replaced her broken thongs. All in all, in the space of a few days in Solo and Yogya, D bought three pairs of thongs and one set of sneakers, for around Rp120000 in all. The great worksmanship meant that only one pair of the thongs remains. The rest has fallen apart, while the sneakers' inner sole was so well made that she walks on a wide spaced plastic grid that cuts into her feet by now. Our two tries to buy portable water heating spirals met with similar disaster when the plastic handles (allegedly bakelite) melted during first use - we got two lukewarm cups of water out of them. My first batik shirt has no buttons and is starting to unravel at the buttonholes, the second one is coloring any water it comes into contact with as well as my sweat so blue I'm surprised the colors are not all gone yet. I'm afraid that if you want something to keep, I must advise you not to buy Indonesian - unless there's some trick we've not found out yet.

Food on the other hand, is quite good even at street level. In fact, the best gado gado we've had are from street vendours. One restaurant in Yogya was too busy arranging the veggies in a pretty tower to not overcook them, or to make a decently hot peanut sauce. The live jazz band was a nice touch, though. The only drawback is the preponderance of fats and oil in everything. Also, unless they're used to westerners, the only vegetarian option is often nasi or mie goreng (fried rice or noodles), which is rather monotonous and, of course, oily, with time. My usual standby in these cases was bakso, chicken meatball soup, until I got fed up with it during the long trip from Jakarta to Bukittinggi.

It can be surprisingly difficult to get fresh fruit, considering that banana, coconut, mango and other fruit trees are everywhere. It is often necessary to find a market, which could as well be impossible when you're staying in some small village.

By now, we've also started eating at tourist restaurants, especially at Liberta Homestay in Tuk Tuk (my blog'll get there, sometime), and enjoying such things as vegetable tacos (taco means fried canneloni-like dough in Indonesia) and avocado salads, and I'm also quite happy with those.It's especially nice to have something that seems like breakfast (omelet or porridge), since Indonesian breakfast is usually leftover nasi goreng. Only bubur ayam, rice porridge with chicken, even remotely seemed like breakfast to me.

The most interesting food must be Padang cuisine, which is basically an assortment of mystery dishes (Indonesia speakers could probably find out what's on the plates) that are arranged before you, and you choose which ones you're willing to try.

Fresh juices are great, and often available. I think I've written of es kelapa (iced coconut juice with strips of coconut flesh, syrup and, if you're lucky, lime), jus apocado (avocado juice, made with milk), jus melon. We've also had good mango juice, and passion fruit juice. The local beer, Bintang, is all right, but rather expensive at Rp 20 000 - 30 000.

Central Java and Yogyakarta


We moved on to Solo and Yogyakarta., where we generally did the tourist trek: Candis (temples) Sukuh and Cetho,  the two kratons (palaces, though only one is really called kraton, the other usually pura), and the museum in front of the excavation area where a couple of homo erectus skeletons were found in Solo. In Jogja, we checked out the kraton, and the two massive temple complexes of Prambanan and Borobudur. I also bought some cheap batik shirts to complement my wardrobe. One's falling apart, the other loses color as quick as I can sweat into it, which is quite fast around here. The last stop near Djogdja was climbing Gunung Merapi, another Volcano.

The kraton is the old palace of the sultan of Surabaya (= Solo), who moved here and founded the  city in 1750-something because of divine guidance - Allah had obviously decreed this a most auspicious place.  The sultan, however, died within a few years, and his son immediately lost half the sultanate to familial infighting: the old sultans nephew managed to get the dutch, Indonesia's colonial overlords, to give him the rest, which is the reason for the two  palaces built inside the city within 10 years. The kraton is rather shabby and run down, and having perhaps rashly turned down the offer of a guide, we found the grounds and the collection of sultans europeanized carriages, dishes, silverware and indigenous wayang puppets that are labelled "museum" rather unimpressive. The most remarkable piece of architecture is the meditation tower, mixing styles of dutch houses and a light tower, of all things.

The pura, built by the naughty cousin of the hapless second sultan, is much better in shape, and stylistically at least somewhat more Javan - it seems even independent minded autocrats dared not show their independent streak too much, and the required guide got a bit flustered when I asked why the portraits showed this freedom fighter in European garb, after she had just told us the reason for the split had been the cousin's rejection of the dutch. It can't have been to strong though, if he got them to sign over half the kingdom to him... With the guide, this palace, was far more interesting, though the part where she had to show us the old Belgian crystal dishes and  french silver bowls was a bit tedious. In all, well worth the couple of thousands  of rupia the guide book recommended as a tip.

The prehistoric museum at Sangiran was a dud, though. Because of renovation (we weren't warned at the entrance, they just happily pocketed our money), only one of the three rooms of the museum was open, featuring empty displays, some fossilized bones (a fragment of a mastodons jaw featuring most prominently, lying around in the middle of the room) and mainly badly made plastic dioramas of "prehistoric scenes", naked people hunting and gathering. A guide attached herself to us, so we had to politely admire a row of hominid skulls with Indonesian only inscriptions, two of which had to do with the place. Any Naturkundemuseum in Germany will give you more complete information on the subject, and we did not even see the digging grounds. Still, I should probably honor their efforts, after all, one reason the museums in Europe are so much better is that european scientists walked away from here with the fossilized goodies. What  made the trip worthwhile was the adventures of getting there and away. Good backpackers that we are, we spurned the ease and (probably only moderate.) expense of a taxi or ojeks, and took the bus to Kalijambe, from where we walked to Sangiran. We had to be insistent, though: the ojek drivers in front of the station tried to tell us there was no bus, we had to take two of them. Even a group of officials sitting at the terminal entrance - I think collecting the terminal tax for hawkers and drivers  - supported them until we rudely ignored them and entered, where we were shown the bus immediately. On a more positive note, though, along the way from Kalijambe to Sangiran we found a warung selling not only delicious food, but also wonderful melon juice and avocado juice, something you should try here.

The two candis on the slopes of mount Lawu, east of Solo, are reached by a chain of dfferent buses. We walked the last two km (and were thoroughly drenched - it really is wet season here) up a steep hill to Sukuh, the first of the two Hindu temple ruins, which has some nice reliefs out of Hindu mythology. Cetho is the prettier of the two, because of its nicer blueprint and the view (you see the valley deep down through nine gates ), but it has fewer reliefs and is a lot harder to reach. As a bonus, there's a statue of an elephant standing on a turtle, obviously a reference to Discworld cosmology. We made the error of believing the sign marked 5km where the road goes off of the main road, and had to get an ojek after we encountered a sign proclaiming 3km after we'd walked about five. Cetho is restored, and a community of about 200 Hindus lives around and prays in it, according to my (Hindu) ojek driver, who als unsuccessfully tried to teach me some bahasa java.

Candi Cetho

The executif train to Yogya was cold and not close to as interesting as the economi one we took before, just suits and no hawkers, and an a/c on refrigerator. In Yogya, we found a basic place to stay in Anda Losmen, on Gang I in the backpacker district, where we finally got us a lonely planet Indonesia, after the rather disappointing performance of footprints Southeast Asia. Too bad some smartass ripped out the pages to Yogya and Borobudur before leaving it there...

With Anda our base of operations, during the next 3 days we explored the touristic splendour that is Yogya's Malioboro Street, its kraton, and the two large temple complexes of Prambanan and Borobudur. At the kraton, residence of Indonesia's only Sultan with political powers - thanks to his support in the war of independence - I had to buy a batik shirt, because I had put on my sleeveless one. In the end, it turned out to be too expensive, even at Rp 25000 - it has lost 3 buttons after I've worn it twice - but it got us into the palace, where we saw and heard a gamelan orchestra and puppet performance. Doro's new thongs from three days earlier broke during that visit, but since the market had closed for the day, she had to make do. 
Gamelan orchestra and puppet play

On the way back, we let ourselves be trapped: a guy started speaking to us in German, real friendly and for-old-times-sakey, and then lured us to "the real batik art exhibition". He discreetly handed us over to another guy - he left early enough so that we weren't too suspicious - and we were led, through some alleyways to the exhibition rooms - the alleys kinda gave it away, then. The studio was filled with quite nice batik paintings for prices that can only be mistaken for real ones by people who have never been to Indonesia. Everyone else must notice the discrepancy of living costs and these prices, and the vendor offered us half price without us bargaining any. Of course, we had to buy today, because the exhibition would be gone by tomorrow...

Doro on her pilgrimage to Borobodur. Don't forget to circle each of the 10 levels thrice!
Hindu Goddess of kicking ass

Crazy drug-induced elephant vision
Ganesh, Hinduisms coolest God
Prambanan and Borobudur, the two temple complexes from before the next to last turn of the millennium, were pretty neat. Foreigners are charged a lot more than locals, but get free tea, coffee and information before entering each complex. The trip to Prambanan was as painless as paying the transYogya city bus to drop is there, and after checking out three of the temples, the largest a Hindu Shiva temple, the other two Buddhist ones, we had one of the best gado gado at the last stall inside the premises, near the exit. Getting to and from Borobudur was annoying, though. We were quite obviously grossly overcharged for the bus rides (one guy asked so much more up front, we were able to bring him down to 15% of the first offer without too much trouble), and the exit is literally a labyrinth of stalls, forcing visitors to go past each and every one of them along unnecessary bends for five full minutes. I'm amazed how many people must be able to make a living here off tourists, selling exactly the same stuff.  Both places had loads of Indonesian tourists apart from a smattering of foreigners, and in Borobudur they went overboard: we were accosted many times by people asking to take pictures with us - "Photo?", "Can we please take photo?", "Again!"; in the end we fled down the least used set of stairs to be able to move for more than 10m without having our picture taken, and of course politely taking theirs, too.

One thing we learned from the reliefs on the temple: the heavenly Buddhist punishment for gossiping is being boiled alive.

We also were in Yogya for the Muslim sacrificial ceremonies. Near our hostel a number of sheep, goats and a cow were tethered for that reason, and at first we were glad  to see that Indonesians are making sure their city bred children get to meet and feed farm animals. The next day, all were gone... Another fallout from the festival was the increased energy of the muezzin. The one right next to Anda was especially ambitious: at 4 in the morning, he was first to call out, and did so the longest. Not relaxing, especially as they are not chosen for their singing abilities, or coherency of sounds they produce.

After Yogya, we went up Gunung Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia. To get there, we had to negotiate bemo rides to a string of villages and hitch a ride for the last stretch - all completely without the help of English. Lonely Planet claims there are public buses to Seto, the village we wanted to reach, but locals told us the buses have stopped ten years ago.

Seto, however, has English speaking guides, including the owner  of the first random homestay we found, which had rather oily blankets and an already full trashcan in the bathroom. The owner also drew us a - very useful - "map" - a straight line with some landmarks - for climbing Merapi, the first guide we'd met who seemed happy enough to let us go on our own instead of convincing us we needed him.

We decided to do the sunrise thing again. The basic stategy was clear: get up at 1am, hike up to the top, take a look at glowing lava and the nightly countryside while we wait for the sun to come up, and walk back down in time for breakfast. We met the first snag at one, when the alarm went off: it's raining. We decide to ywait an hour and see, and are on our way by 2:30. We stumbled up the dark, winding paths, which often split up, and sometimes get tgether again, and weren't ever really sure we were on the right track, often shrouded in clouds. Ever so often, the clouds did part, and we, had a great view of the countryside at night; looming dark mountains and the speckled lights of villages, the stars overhead. Getting a peek into tue crater for all that open lava was another difficulty: The actual cone of the volcano is a barren rocky slope, steep enough and covered in a slippery mud/pebble/rock mixture so that we often had trouble crawling up on all fours, digging in our fingers, but we did reach the summit, peeked into the crater and the depth of hissing, sulphurous steam that hid any potential lava glow. Sunrise had just happened somewhere behind the cloudy mist engulfing us, but then we did get a couple of cloudless minutes to take in the view. For the way back, we luckily found the footsteps of the local guides and had an easier way down. I think we might have been unable to retrace our own steps. On our way down, we passed a couple of guides - who looked quite disgruntled at seing us up there without any of them - and sweaty tourists slowly making their way up, a bit late for sunrise.
This gives more or less the right impression of the climb down from the crater. The way up was too steep to take pictures. The fog you see is sulphurous steam. The next cloud thankfully waited another 5 minutes before making navigation hard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

East Java highlights

29.-31.10.: Probolinggo and Ceromo Lawang

The train ride to Probollinggo from Banyuwangi took 7 hours, and we saw a lot of pretty countryside pass by. It would probably have been nice to spend a few days there, but this region is an empty, white speck in Footprints Southeast Asia. The food we packed before getting onto the train - mystery rice from the same people we drank coffee with, before - was an unnecessary precaution, because the train was regularly visited by hawkers, whose prices generally aren't above the usual street level, and who pack a variety of interesting snacks, which should cost no more than Rp3000 a bag. The hawkers navigated the already full train. It seems school's out by 12 here, as there were a lot of school girls I'd put into medium to late secondary school, age wise.

In Probolinggo, 7pm is too late for bemos, and we took a becak (bicycle rickshaw, Rp15k for the both of us, haggle hard) to get to a hotel 3km from the station, Hotel Ratna. Rp100k got us a room with fan, shower, western toilet with its toilet seat (the absence of which usually makes "western toilets" in Indonesia more unhygienic and uncomfortable than the local crouching mandis), TV (one program, Indonesian) and breakfast (kopi, almost raw toast with butter and badly made jam, hard boiled egg and a fork and soup spoon that was too large for the egg, no knife. I guess the thought counts, but I usually prefer Nasi Goreng for breakfast here, they can handle that).

Met a couple of Indonesians and two Saudis at a public viewing of the Arsenal-Chelsea game that evening, and ended up having a drink with the Indonesians. Coffee, of course, as everyone here but a small smattering around old Hindu holy places is Muslim. Their English was far better than my bahasa indonesia, so we could talk about a fairly diverse range of topics, but once again, as with Rica and Waia, the fact that Germany only has one language with dialects was a difficult concept. Indonesia has at least a dozen more common ones.

The next day we caught a bemo to the bus station of Probolinggo, a place known for inflating it's prices and the thieves on busses frequented by tourists. We wanted to get to Cemoro Lawang, a village at the edge of a giant volcanic crater turned plain in which a couple of volcanoes stand around, including the famous Gunung Bromo, a Hindu holy place (Cemoro Lawang is populated almost entirely by Hindus).

We arrived at the station around 9:30am, let us be guided into a bemo, our backpacks put on top, for the price of Rp25k. Then we waited. An waited. After half an hour, another passenger, Indonesian. Then the driver shoes us into the bus. Joy! We're finally leaving! Alas, it was a false alarm: For a reason I cannot fathom, the driver wanted us on board for picking up another tourist from a hotel a whopping 500m away, then turned around and drove back to the station. Waiting again. Met a German family (kids grown up) who had met up for Java with their daughter and her British boyfriend, who had been traveling Indonesia for two months. They also wanted to go to Cemoro Lawang, thus filling up the bus nicely, but wanted a price of Rp15k, which the driver was unwilling to give. After dithering and insisting forever, they told him they'd pay Rp25k only if he did not stop along the way to pick up passengers, effectively chartering the bus. Otherwise, they said, they'd only pay Rp20k a person. Thanks to that, we left only around 12 o'clock, although the crowd of locals that suddenly appeared out of nowhere may have meat there was enough people all along, or that the bus only goes at 12. On leaving, we had around 17 people aboard a Mitsubishi Colt, a minivan the size of a VW bus. Of course, the driver stopped, which was commented with a contented "Jetzt gibt's nur noch 20." from the Germans. The muttered "Das macht er extra!" (That's on purpose) when the bus stopped to fill up petrol was a little bit over the top though. The ride itself took 1.5hours, past hillsides continuously terraced not with rice, but with onions and cabbages.

Booked the cheapest place we could find, a 3-bed, two bedroom building with a sitting room up front, and an external bathroom, for Rp80k, a definite rise. No service, of course, but for some reason it was cheaper than single rooms, external bathroom, belonging to the same person.

Just afterwards we met two Germans, Vic and Hendrik, who had come up with the next bus (for Rp25k, must be the correct price) and just had booked another place to stay. Too late to move in with us, but we nevertheless set a date for the evening meal at the warung next to our place - right at the start of the right hand of the only branching of roads in Cemoro Lawang, when going up - the food's good.

To see the sun rise over the volcanic valley (not over Gunung Bromo itself, that point lies far afield) you get up at 3:30 to 4am, depending on your walking speed, and head up the road, ever along, past two gaggles of coffee- and snacks stands, and countless offers of ojek- and horse rides, until you reach a third group of stands, which signifies the second (and definitely better) lookout point

After the sunrise (partly hidden by clouds, but the part where the sun beams hit Bromo was pretty neat, with our coffee in our hands), we headed further up the hill - quite a climb, don't try this in thongs - and started walking around the edge of the crater, which also happened to be the ridge of a string of mountains on this side (while Cemoro Lawang lies on a plateau that falls off into the great crater). Sometimes, we even had enough of a path so we could walk instead of climb! Lots of fun, and pretty sights in both directions, into the crater and to the fertile and densely populated plain on the other, northern side. Just when the view started t get boring, we found a road heading down into the crater, and took it, passing another slew of buses and jeeps ferrying tourists back, doubtless from other sunrise-viewpoints.

After a brunch at the warung next door, we took the 12 o'clock bus down to Probolinggo, with Vic and Hendrik. Down there, we got bus tickets for a night bus to Solo (Surakarta), a big hassle, with shopping around, and bargaining hard, we got a price of Rp80k instead of Rp120k, but, unlike we were told, no a/c. The bus did drop us off at the hotel, though, a nice touch. Vic and Hendrik went east, practically skipping Bali for Lombok, Flores and so on. Since the night bus would go at 8, we started looking for supper around the terminal, where basic meals cost Rp15k - the reputation for gouging travelers is well deserved, it seems, because we got the same kind of meal for Rp5k about 500m down the road, at a tiny warung with friendly people, where the 7 year old daughter enlisted Doro for her English homework. The baby always started crying when I tried to play with her, though.

A post about Solo's next, whenever I can get it finished. No p[ics this time, although I've got them here, but this pc is infested

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Java, East, from Bali

The last post ended on Oktober 27th, on Ubud, Bali, just before we left for Java. We had the presence of mind to ask what the price for the bemos is we would need to get to Gilimanuk, where the ferry crosses to Banyuwangi on Java, and the driver, maybe because he's one of the few honest ones, maybe because he couln't profit from us directly, told us the real price: Bemo Ubud to Batubulan and Bemo Batubulan to Ubung Rp. 10 000 each. From Ubung, a bus goes to Gilimanuk for Rp25k. This may be a good strategy to find out the real price of transport, but we have heard tourist prices even then.

On the 28th, a Thursday, I believe (ups, a Friday. Rest of post edited and dates corrected), we then went to the bemo terminal of Ubud, and were offered Rp150k directly to Ubung, or R80k to Batubulan. Great. We insisted for a long time, but in the end had to pay Rp30k for the both of us to Batubulan, and then the driver didn't even get us all the way, but foisted us off on another bemo somewhere in the middle. There we luckily met Ayu, a local girl going to Gilimanuk to meet up with a friend of hers, who took us under her wings. The travel from there on went well, with Ayu interceding for us whenever the price was not right, both with the drivers and the hawkers coming onto the bus to sell food - mostly fried tofu with hot peppers and soy sauce, or peanuts boiled in salt water. The bus to Gilimanuk got pretty crowded, and it was not comfortable at all travelling with our backpacks in the way all the time, often on our laps, but the countryside, which started to exist in western Bali (as opposed to the settlements everywhere in central), was pretty. No a/c, so it got hot again, but all windows and doors were kept open all the time -- try to sit right behind a door in such a bus. There seems to be no inappropriate time to smoke in Indonesia (also no inappropriate age, today we saw a vendor selling cigs to 12 year olds), so people will smoke next to you on the bus. This is not so much of a problem because of the air circulating through the windows.

We got to Gilimanuk late in the afternoon, said our farewells to Ayu, and crossed the street to the ferry harbour, where the prices for crossing are listed, Rp6000, no haggling, thankfully. The crossing itself was uneventful, apart from Made, who talked to us in broken English. It seems his name means "second son" in Bahasa Bali, or alternately "sixth son", or "tenth son", as there are four names that go through cycles: Putu, Made, Nyoman, Ketut.

In Banyuwangi, a tour agent told us the way to a cheap hotel "700m" (closer to 1.5km) away, where we got a room with bathroom for Rp40k - in fact, this is the cheapest room we've had (up to now, Nov 14th!), and certainly one of the best. Yay for not being in a tourist-frequented region. Settled in, went out for a walk, and immediately were invited by Rika, who was on her way to pick up her son, to visit her home, where we spent the evening trying to communicate with her and later her neighbor, Waia. Apart from the language inadequacies, it was rather tiring because both largely insisted on talking to me through Doro : "And your Boyfriend, what is his name?", ".. what will he do?" and so on. Still, they tried to teach us some bahasa indonesia, and we reciprocated with inggris and jerman.

Later that evening we dined at a local Warung, where no one spoke an English word. The meal involved a lot of smiling at each other, and us stammering out the few sentences of Indonesian we had just written down, with mixed success: We only understood answers that could be communicated by "yes", "no" or signs.

On the 29th, Saturday, we hiked to the train station (stasiun kareta api), allegedly 3km from the hotel, in truth right past the ferry harbour. There, we noticed that, somehow, all clocks in Banyuwangi seem to be an hour late. This, of course, meant we had passed into another time zone from Bali to Java, which our guidebook neglects to mention... Luckily, the direction of time change meant we were two hours early instead of one, so we proceeded to have breakfast and drink coffee with the group of people sitting around a mobile stand in front of the train station, comunicating much the same as the day before. 

At least good coffee is available everywhere in Indonesia. A word of caution on Indonesian drinks (minuman) though: everything will be sweetened, unless you specifically request otherwise. Ordering kopi or  kopi susu will get you sweetened black or white (the "susu") coffee, the powder still in the glass, and our first fruit juice on Bali, the mango one, included a gratitious amount of chocolate syrup, though sugar syrup is more common for drinks. We were told to order Kopi tawa (English 'w') if we wanted it unsweetened, but in Central Java, this just confuses the poeple, and a translation site just gave me kopi hitam or kopi pahit. I'll try that next time.

Well, that's all for now, in my ongoing effort to juggle being on an interesting country where I'm trying to get up with the sun (6am is our best mark, yet) and writing about it. Time is short, as you can see: I'm writing this from Pekalongan, on the north coast of Central Java. Still a lot to catch up...

All the best from here!

Friday, November 4, 2011


25.-27.10.: Ubud

On Tuesday, we took an early shuttle bus by Perama (10am) to Ubud, another tourist paradise, albeit a qquieter one, known for its artists (including European expatriates) and unspoilt (by tourists) countryside. The wait was made nicer by free tea, coffee and wi-fi in the nice, open-walled waiting room.

The bus itself was not airconditioned, so the trip was hot and sticky. Baggage was simply thrown up front between driver and door. The trip itself was short enough, 2h.

In Ubud, we were immediately surrounded by people trying to get us into their hotels, offering rooms from Rp150k. The speed with which they accepted our demand for Rp100k told us we were still paying too much, but accommodation was infinitely better than in the Rempen: We chose Petri Inn, right next to the Perama station, with a spacious room, bathroom with shower and squatting toilet (flush by ladle from sink), a small porch with a table and wicker chairs, and breakfast (banana pancakes with honey and some pieces of banana, papaya and pineapple on the side, everything covered with coconut flakes). The people there were friendly; the owner and cook introduces herself as Ibu, which means "mother" in Balinese and Baha Indonesia.

By 1pm, we had settled in and were walking along the streets of Ubud, in no particular direction. In the city center, we found a man selling a dish of rice, tofu, soy bean sprouts and hot peanut sauce (gato-gato, but slightly a different recipe, Rp 5k), and coconut juice (with ice, some sugar syrup, and a piece of lime, delicious, Rp 3k).

We headed up the street the vendor was in, venturing into small paths going off; the houses were surrounded by elaborately decorated walls, with statues of demons (gods?) at the entries, so the whole quarter looked full of temples - only the washing lines in front of the mundane houses further back told us that people lived here (ordinary people, too, no priests, as far as we could tell. Schoolkids came home while we were there, and the grown-ups passing us seemed mundane). We also found narrow stairs down a deep gorge to a lonely temple in a rainforest-river setting.Walked out of the center, along the sparser houses, although central and southern Bali are never really uninhabited. Even if you find a road not lined, city to city, with houses, in the rice paddies the buildings are seldom more than 50m apart. Along the way we bought cooled water (1.5l for Rp4k) at one of the small shops/stalls owned by non-english speakers, which is only slightly more expensive than in the supermarket (generally, supermarkets are even more expensive for most goods in these, poorer, countries than markets or street vendors, or even hawkers in trains and buses). Each rice paddy has a shrine, almost all houses more elaborate ones, sometimes with multiple statues and small buildings, and every so often there is a fully fledged temple, with crazy statues and decorations galore. Bali is architecturally extremely interesting.

Back to the inn by 5pm, after a quick stop to get chow along the road - rice with green vegetables (beans, chili, onions) and soy sauce for D, mine had fish, egg and pressed soy beans added, for Rp5k and 8k.

Wednesday: To market, mostly touristy stalls full of batik clothes, watches, jewellery (local and international styles), and wood- and ivory carvings. Some fruit and food stalls, got a delicious meal with some kind of dark, sweet(ened?) rice.

Coconut at Goa Gajah. That's the life.

The "Elephant"

Walked 5km, more or less, to Goa Gajah , the Elephant Cave, were some obviously benighted person mistook a quite human demon face around the entrance for an elephant. The temple precinct is quite expansive, lots of pathways through the rainforest. A ten minute walk to a temple ruin in a river down a gorge is especially worthwhile.

The walk to and from Goa Gajah was interesting for the views of Bali we got, but not particularly pleasant, the traffic being heavy on the road not designed for pedestrians.

Thursday: Found good coffee and mango juice at a Warung on the way to the market (3k and 8k, respectively. Fruit juices get a lot cheaper off Bali). Visited the Sacred Monkey Forest, a small forest overrun with makaques being fed by visitors. There also are 3 temples there, with multi-day ceremonies going on right now, but tourists are barred from the temple grounds during prayer times. Nice setting, though, and watching the makaques was good fun (entry Rp20k).With their beards, they look quite human. Being used to us means they will jump at bags that contain food, and we saw several instances of water bottles being stolen. Often, they don't know how to use them, but every so often, you see a monkey that can drink in a human way. We ourselves lost a mango we just had bought from the market to a monkey while debating, in front of the forest, if we should enter with our fruits despite the warnings...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kuta, Bali

I'm kinda behind on the posts, but I want to write about something recent, so I'll skip New Zealand and Australia for now, and get back to those later. I also cannot connect my SD card to the pc here, so I'll hopefully load some pics sometime else.
23.-24.10.: Denpasar & Kuta

Sunday: Flight to Denpasar, through visa and customs, taxi to Kuta, the tourist village of Bali, for Rp80 000 (~$9) after a lot of haggling. Still got stiffed, we probably could have gotten a ride for less than Rp40 000.The first taxi driver to talk us up (he eventually passed us along to someone cheaper, he wanted $20) told us: "Germans don't like Kuta. Too busy. Germans want to see real Bali. Australians go to Kuta, for the discotheque."

Kuta is a mass (mess?) of touristy stalls along mostly small pathways, many only a span wide, all shared by scotters and pedestrians going in both directions. Te density of taxi drivers (including motorbike taxis) and massage 'spas' is incredible. The amount of ugly or downright stupid t-shirts obviously sold to drunks is amazing.

The weather in Bali is hot and humid, so that your clothes will stick to you. In cheaper hotels, air conditioning will generally double the price of a room, bu a fan over the bed is usually enough to make the night comfortable. We were pointed o a hotel named Rempen as cheap and got a room for Rp 100 000 (~Euro8.50), but we cannot recommend the place: to filthy.

From there, we walked along the streets of Kuta during the remainder of the day and the next. We ate at stalls a bit off the main tourist roads, the meals including fried banana with coconut and chocolate flakes covered in evaporated milk, gato-gato (rice with vegetables in a peanut sauce, often very spicy) and chicken curry (Rp 5k, 12k and 15k, respectively). The range of places to eat is varied, with street vendors starting at Rp 5k for vegetarian, rice-based meals, up to restaurants only slightly cheaper than in Germany.

Traffic is fluid, rules relaxed. People tend to drive on the left side, but at the slightest opening in traffic a gaggle of scooters -- they make up about 80% of traffic, unlike in Bolivia, where Buses and Taxis dominate -- will overtake slower trucks, and 50m of free space will induce your bus driver to overtake 5 scooters and two trucks. Pedestrians, of course, are far down the food chain, pedestrian crossings drawn on the street only to get rid of excess paint, I surmise. Still, it works, and the upside of this kind of driving is the relaxedness with which people get through traffic. Honking is used a a friendly, fair warning to others that you're there and need that space, unless you are a herd of tourists on motorbikes, who honked continuously because traffic generally does not allow more than 30kph, at best 40, and the mean Balinese would not clear the road for them. (Other, slightly off-topic pet peeve: I don't care how bad their English is, calling the waitress at the friendly, and cheap, restaurant [Warung]  Missy is downright arrogant)

On a final note, in Bali you can expect to find someone around who speaks English reasonably well, so communicating is not a problem. This must be different outside of the island, and we're grateful that we have the time to get used to Indonesia.

Bali is a Hindu island, and this is a very visible religion here. I'll write more on that in the next post, but there are some nice pictures from Kuta I want to share. Basically, in front of every house, you find these little prayer bowls made of banana leaves and filled with flowers and foodstuff: rice, soy sauce, crackers, chocolate... You smell incense every couple of steps. This is quite nice, the smells of the city are drowned out, and the open air (I can't say fresh, in Kuta) dissipates the incense fast enough so it does not become overbearing.

There's shrines everywhere. Many houses come as little complexes, with a shrine region in front, and I guess one larger families houses in the back. Note the demon on the right hand side of the shrine in the picture to the right.
The picture below, shows a housing complex. The roofs are all shrines, and somewhere in there a house is hidden. If the area's too crowded for such a complex, the house at least gets a small stele, as seen down below.

Sorry for the crappy formatting, but I'll not spend my time around here trying to get it right :)

Friday, October 14, 2011


29.06.-28.08.: USA

The end of june, we arrived in the US from Bogotá. The trip brought on our only stay at a midrange hotel yet, the Ft Laudedale Holiday Inn, courtesy of the inability of our airline to be even remotely on time.

Here are a couple of highlights:
-Brooklin Chinatown, which puts the touristy made up Chinatown on Manhattan to shame ( which still beats, and slowly takes over, Little Italy, a couple of roads full of expensive Italian restaurants), where stores and their wares are often labelled only in chinese.
- a spontaneous looking music circle, with lots of drums, some flutes in northern Central Park, near Harlem. 30 or 40 people where there, some dancing, including the one white woman in a colourful dress.
- the people I passing me on a coffee run in Pittsburgh around 6am, all of whom greeted me, as if P were a small village.
- our two week stay in Uniontown, where Doro's guest brother Smo got married, and we slid down the Ohio Pile until our butts were too sore. Thanks, Rockwells!
- a relaxed week at Sandy Lake, always a favorite, and spending some time with Levi and Zach, although I only got to see Lucy once. Thanks, Andrewses!
- a game night in Columbus. If we can ever get the Mainzians together for games again, I'll have some new ones. Also, we were introduced to the Bookman series. Thanks, Nellies!
- St. Louis at night, during our three night trip by Greyhound to the Yellowstone. Our longest brake was in Salt Lake City, 6h, which is also the first place the ticket attendants could actually tell us that it is possible to get there by bus.
- the last night of that trip, where we were driven to Rexburg, ID, bus station, then back to Idaho Falls, then back to Rexburg at the American Inn, where the bus was supposed to come in the morning, and we were allowed to crash in the lobby, with coffee and hot chocolate. Arrival at 2am instead of half past 11.
- hiking the national parks: the impressive Yellowstone, with its immense geysers, colorful hot pools, lake, elks and its unholy alliance of deer flies and mosquitos (all of which we saw, in the latter case in the form of constant clouds around us, everywhere, always; taking a piss was not fun in that forest); and with its undeservedly much more famous, and elusive, grizzlies, wolves, bison and moose, who kept away from us. The majestic Grand Canyon, with its manylayered red rock formations, birds soaring along the cliffs and over our heads, the capricorn along the vertical incline, its immense heat - 50° C, at the bottom, in the only hypothetically existing shade, at noon, with rocks black as mafic rocks can be; we got down and back again in one day, not one of our easiest hikes) and blissfully bug free. The beautiful Yosemite, full of views - if you're ready to climb the steep and long paths - brown bears, marmots, mountain creeks, redwood trees and glacier lakes in the Californian August.

May Lake, Yosemite Park. Here Doro had a chipmunk
stretch before her eyes.

- the park rangers, ranging (haha! ) from Yellowstones friendly helpers - "Don't worry, no one will care if your 7 days entry pass expires. Just stay a couple of days longer" - to Grand Canyons rule freaks ( "It matters to the RULES" - he had me get out of the empty bus to put on my shirt, which I had given to the freezing Doro, and gave that answer when I asked why it matters where I put it on).
- those friendly people who let us hitch a ride with them: the couple from Long Island who took us into the Yellowstone; Saf, the Indian working in Silicone Valley, who took us out again during his first roadtrip through the USA - staying away from the Canadian border, because the police there can demand his immigration papers; Lynn, oil rig manager, on his way home from North Dakota to Ogden, Utaw, who took us there after the telephone assistant from the bus company told us the bus had left West Yellowstone 2h early, since most people book their seats and no one had done so - we did not because our discover passs don't demand it; Turell and his family, Navajos, who were the only ones to stop for us after 4h on the quite well travelled highway to the Grand Canyon, and afterwards invited us to dinner in one of the posh restaurants at canyons edge; and finally Janet, who took us back to Flagstaff from Tusayan, and noted the demise of hitchhiking culture in the US.
- the ritzy Strip of Las Vegas with its flashy shows, and the imitation in Reno, falling far short, but way more friendly because of that, where a motel attendant told us to look for a room at the Sands, which costs as much as the motel during the week. We enjoyed getting up at one am to go down and loose a couple of dollars, though Doro managed to win 4 the first night. Also, longdinks for $1.50.
- the fortress-like mansions along the strait but steep streets of San Franciso; also the only Japantown I've seen yet, and the only town so far we weren't able to find a place to sleep (for less than $100) upon arrival - although Sydney came close a couple of days ago. Right around the corner of the Greyhound station is the favoite sleeping place for bums.

Indeed a hill in San Francisco. Please note the angle
of the car parked there.

- in LA, we stayed at a place alternatively described as hostel-hotel (the online ad by Howard, the owner) or as halfway house (the neighbors). 4 tiny rooms crammed with 2 bunkbeds each, two baths and a kitchen. Six to seven permanent tenants, who have to put up with tourists every high season, for the price of only $360 a month... the owner, whom we never saw, is big on cash, so as not having to pay the booking fee incurred by placing his house on hostelworld, and seems to befriend anyone on facebook for free advertisement. The people living there are some of the most interesting we have met, including an Austrian, whose business was screwed over by his wife while he was in hospital after a tank ran over his car, who is in LA so he can keep more of his invalid pension than the €900 a month allowed by his bankruptcy, a Georgian (USA) cook and self-styled redneck trying to get into comedy shows, and a hispanic admirer of bad old Adolph H ("at least", his argument went, "he stood by his pinciples and his people to the end". I tried pointing out a couple of holes both in that logic and the statement, to no avail. I think he wants someone to stand up and gather the hispanics into as close knit a community as he imagines the jews and arabs to be.). We also met a frenchman there who had, for the last 4 years, had cycled through the Sahara desert (into Ethiopia) and to Southeast Asia, and having just arrived in LA from there, set off to buy a bike and ride it to New York, in 80 days. He'll fly from NY to Lisbõa, to cycle to Paris, in order to complete his trip around the world.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Just a quick message to you all to tell you that we're still alive and well. We've been in national parks for most of the time, and otherwise when you're travelling internet is hard to come by at reasonable rates unless you have a wifi device (free wifi everywhere, internet for $24 an hour), which we don't. South America was easier by far in that respect.

I'll be writing more on our travels as soon as I get some fitting device from a used electronics store or some such. San Francisco is my big hope at the moment.

Hope you're all well, on both sides of the Great Puddle.

PS: Yes, our time out West was great, so far.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rayna Inti

22-24.06.: Otavalo

 Lodging: El Geranio, Rocafuerte y Colón, more or less. $10 a room, private bath only because the key to the room without private bath could not be found. Nice place, friendly people, headquarters of a volunteering project, where people pay to teach kids for 2 months. The money goes to stipends for rural kids, so that they can visit the better urban schools. The project just started, so the place is teeming with Americans getting their introductory Spanish lessons. They keep mostly to themselves, though.

The room is interesting: it is (or was, at the time we got there) clean, and comfortable, but a damaged water pipe in the ceiling must have been left to leak for so long that mushrooms grow on the ceiling. No, not mold.

Otavalo is famous for its artesanias market, which is supposed to cover half the city on weekends. During the week, it only fills the Plaza del Ponchos. The selection of clothes, blankets, carpets, jewellery and peculiar stuff like bone knives or small figurines is diverse, much better than in all other places we've visited.

This week, there is the mostly indigenous festival (or collection thereof) known as Los San Juanes, or less catholic, as Rayna Inti (I think). By accident, we met a fellow German, Markus, who also wanted to see the festivities. On Wednesday, the 3 of us went to Peguche, a village right outside of Otavalo. There, from 9 to 12 in the evening, there was music, dancing and a chicken exchange -- a local tradition, also done with fruit; anyone can take as much as he needs, but must give back double the amount the next year.

Luckily for us, we met Mauricio, who lives in Peguche, at the festival. He was wearing a self made mask with two faces, took us in, gave us free booze (there were some people, including us, walking around with half-liter glasses of liquor), and explained some of the rituals to us. (Also luckily, Markus just had come from 6 months of volunteering with KulturWeit in Nicaragua, and speaks passable Spanish, so he could translate.) The music was lively, mostly idigenous sounding stuff, but also some fiddles which reminded me distinctly of colonial American music.

Around 11, Mauricio led us onwards to a waterfall in Peguche, where people have a spiritual (but quite materially cold, let me assure you) bath around midnight. We watched while Mauri and Markus bathed in the ice-cold water (Markus: "I wouldn't be doing this if I weren't so drunk" -- most men and women there weren't drunk, not being such wusses as we are). We then escorted the drunken Markus and the freezing Mauri back to take a cab home.

Thursday we slept in, and had a quiet day, but I ate lots of delicious food from the stalls on the street, especially those set up for the festival. In the evening, the Plaza del Ponchos was filled with people watching dancing groups in costumes and traditional garb. To the music they themselves played -- always the men, by the way, we never once saw a women carrying an instrument -- they danced the same circular polonaise we saw the day before. The only exceptions were a dance troupe performing in front of a raised dais with what I guess were the local magnates. We watched for a couple of hours, again drinking local varieties of liquor -- though far less than the day before. Even though there were quite some stands selling drinks, and we saw people buying them by the bottle (pints of liquor, mind, not beer), the only drunken people we met where a Canadian and an Italian.

We waited for the hostel's family to start partying, which didn't happen, so we went back to the Plaza del Ponchos, where the party seemed to be ending. We nevertheless spent a delightful evening drinking beer and watching the rest of the festivities slowly die away with Moritz, a German from jena who had just spent a couple of weeks in Colombia after finishing two trimesters of physics on exchange in Caracas, with whom we of course exchanged travelling tips and stories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baños del Agua Santa

18-21.06.: Baños


Accomodations at Hostal Valverde, which offers private bathrooms with modestly warm water (but little privacy, as the "room" is disconnected from the bedroom only by a wall not reaching to the ceiling) and a kitchen we can use. $8 the room after a little haggling: Doro had the bright idea of asking another pair of tourists what they just had paid, so we saved some dollars. They all have been invested in junk food of various sorts (and of course fresh fruit, but that is a lot less expensive) by now.

Baños has a lot to offer to tourists: we walked past clubs, bars and restaurants, and there are lots of tour agencies offering rafting, jungle tours, climbing, horse riding, puenting and more. We hiked some trails around the city, including one very scenic one at night, all of which were very nice, although none offered us good views of the local volcano. We had to contend with the signs throughout the city pointung us to safe spots in the case of an explosive eruption, and the cooled lave flows Doro pointed out to me in many parts of the canyon.

On Sunday, we rented a bike for $5 (well, two bikes, all right) to ride to Puyo, approx 80km mostly downhill to the east of Baños, but with some mean upwards gradients along the way. If you pay some attention, there is a sign poitning to a small unpaved road to the left, leading into the rainforest, which is beautiful. This is also where the torrential rains surprised us, and we spent half an hour sharing the questionable shelter of a newly built chicken coop with zero chicken, but millions of mosquitoes.

On the way back, our bus seats were overbooked, for the first time in SA. This was not a problem, as other seats were free, and as an added bonus, the girl sitting on our seat offered us sticks of sugar cane to chew on, which I can now recommend: it's yummy :)

A day trip on Monday to Puyo had us trekking through the rainforest at the nearby village of Fatima. We thought we were heading towards some caves and a waterfall, but it turns out the way we took was only a path to some out-of-the-way farms. This we found out after 90 minutes of hard hiking though rainforest on a muddy path made partly passable by rock or large logs set there. Very nice route, if you've brought watertight shoes and insect repellent. Short more comfortable than jeans.

Today, which I really hope is Tuesday (it is, I checked online. Stupid windows computers here are all configured not to let anyone change time and date -- I get that, but why the hell can't they just show the damn calendar?), we took a day off to chill a bit: we only hiked for 4 hours, after the rains mentioned in the previous post, up the Las Antennas and Ojos del Volcan, which we had tried to reach on our night trek mentioned above; this time, we had the endurance to finish the trail. Also: pizzas! And Ecuadorian malt beer, which tastes interestingly different from the kinds I know.

Well, that's it for today, finally caught up with our travels. Tomorrow we'll try an early start to get to Quito and immediatly onwards to Otavalo. Afterwards, it will be a long bus ride directly to Bogotá, and our flight to the Big Apple.


Okay, I'm back at the PC. The post this morning (Ecuador time, of course) was written while it was raining (in the rainforest, I shouldn't be surprised, but we were lucky most of the time), and we got on with our treks as soon as the sun came out, for fear the weather would turn again.

15-16.06.: Cajamarca->Piura->Loja->Riobamba->Baños

We travelled to Ecuador, where our first destination was Alausí, from where a beautiful train ride should go to Riobamba. The conductor failed to wake us for the city, which we must have passed around 12am; this is rather unusual for South America, conductors are generally very conscientious is that regard. So we got off in Riobamba instead, which was supposed to be the other end of the trail.

Although "in Riobamba" is not quite correct: the bus let us out on the fringes of the town, about 6km from the city center, at 1am. We had a pleasant walk through R and the night -- cranky, tired and hurting from the badly packed backpacks. We finally, after lots of unsuccessful tries, checked in at El Liberador Hotel, 2 stars, $25 the room, but no cheaper place would open their doors at 3:30am.

The next morning at the train station, I found out that the train only runs anymore on a small stretch around Alausí, not from Riobamba, so we skipped it (it would have cost $20, and we still would have to get to Alausi and back) and went straight to Baños.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The End of Peru

13-14.06.: Cajamarca

Monday & Tuesday:
Cajamarca is the place Pizarro ambushed and captured Atahualpa, had him fill a room with gold for ransom, and then had him executed (burned, I think, at the stake on the plaza). The room is still there -- sans gold, sadly. C has a well organized tourist circuit, and it is the gateway to amzonian Peru, none of which we perused.

Entrance to the Incan room is cheap (2S, 1 for students), and includes a baroque church and an ethnological museum; unless you're really into baroque, or pre-Incan pottery, it's not really worth the time. Atuahualpa's room at least was over quickly, and you get a good idea of the amount of gold spent there.

The actual reason for us being in C was a school for mentally disabled children run by the German Bethel institution, to which D's parents regularly donate. We lodged at Las Jazmines, which is affiliated with said institution; it is expensive for Peru, at 60S a room, but proceedings go to the school. Nice place, beautiful gardens and carved doors, and an expensive cafe serving excellent real coffee (did I mention yet that all you usually can get here is instant? In all of South America? They produce coffee here, for Pete's sake, but instant is so much more modern).

Our first attempt to find the school was a horrible failure, as we decided to trust the map more than the directions we got from the administration of the hostel. Too bad two streets in C are called Cumbe Mayo. The wrong one is a very long, winding road up a hill, which took us probably 2 hours just to get up.

On Tuesday, we did find the school, and got a tour of the premises by a wonderful woman who spoke very slow spanish for us (and also proved a couple of times that she is competent in handling difficult children). The premises looked well-built and clean, and the women working there remarkably relaxed, for people who work with such difficult children: one small boy, who immediately at our arrival in class took D's hand and showed her around, threw a terrible and quite violent tantrum when she dared pay attention to the teacher explaining us her class; the boy needed two grown women to control him. Otherwise, though, the children there were often very sweet, although many cannot speak. One child was able to learn sign language.

After the visit, we got our tickets to Piura for the next day, to begin the trip to Ecuador.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some Peru

Longer update today, after the Colca- and motivation-induced absence last week. Travelling is exhausting, but more interesting than finding internet cafes :)

02-05.06.: Cañón del Colca

 Thursday through Sunday:

Ouch. Also wow, but describing that needs pictures.

We went down into the canyon with more than 20kg in our backpacks, each, taking everything, since we believed we would camp there. We also decieded to take the long route, to a village called Tapay, against the advice of the lady from the hostal, Villa Pastor, we were staying at (barely: she lured us to the hostal with promises of 20S for a room with private bathroom, but it took a long discussion to get that price once we were there, instead of double that. I missed the Spanish word for 'cheating' then). We then proceeded to follow the false -- or probably misunderstood -- directions of a construction worker, which had us scrambling steepest slopes and following cow's paths ( or maybe just general gaps in the vegetation) for 90 minutes before we found the beginning of the actual trail. 1000m altitude difference downwards, and another 600 up, we had traveled to Tapay, barely able to stand up. The sights are breathtaking -- literally, as I have a well developed respect for heights.

In Tapay, there is only one hostel, 30S for a room, ask for breakfast to be included. Also ask for dinner; I don't know the price, but it looked delicious.

A night's rest restored us enough to hike the trail to Llahuar, including great views and perilous -- but this time official -- mountain paths, which, at one point, had slopes on three sides so steep that no plants could grow there.

One of the hostels in Llahuar has hot springs (10S for a bed in a very basic dorm), which we enjoyed immensely, before setting off to Cabanaconde again on Sunday, now 1200m higher than our starting point, up quite steep mountains. Ouch again. We checked in at Pachamama's, a hostel made up with Inka-style decorations, and haggled the propritor down to 12S (from 15) a bed and breakfast, including one Crêpe; I think he got into trouble with his wizened old mom for that.

06-09.06.: Cabanaconde -> Arequipa -> Nazca -> Lima

We got to Nazca on Tuesday morning, 7o'clock. While gathering ourselves on a plaza, a man from a hostal around the corner smelled prey, and tried to offer us lodging or expensive Nazca tours, but after realizing we weren't interested, he became very helpful (Hostal       , nice people there :) and we got to the lines for 2S instead of 50.

If possible -- weather and money permitting -- it is probably better to take one of the air rides to see the lines. From the tower, we only saw two, and they are more impressive on pictures, I think. We quickly went on to Lima, where we arrived sometime in the evening.

Wednesday & Thursday:
Lima is large, and definitely more western ( or civilized, richer or whatever... more of a city you'd find in Europe or the US) than La Paz. Although for some reason, by day all traffic lights have policemen regulating traffic, without the lights being turned off...

We took lodging in the Pension Ibarra, a nice place run by a talktavie Lady, no sign, up 14 stories, no elevator, though Doro rather disliked the too familiar atmosphere without speaking the language.

If you can work up the courage, you should sample lots of street food, and drinks, which are local, delicious and have names I have totally forgotten, sold by friendly and chatty vendors.

Today, here in Trujillo, I learned that, in summer, there are some problems with Cholera, at least up here, so you might want to take some care during that season -- or always. Cholera sound a lot worse than the runs I got the next day, which I attribute not to the food but to the abysmally filthy toilet on the bus to Lima, without running water, but with lots of urine everywhere, and no chance to wash hands for hours. But I may be wrong, and I may have gotten just what I deserved -- which, in the end, turned out to be mate de coca, coca laves tea, prepared by Ms Ibarra herself, as a remedy for stomach pains. Doro, meanwhile, explored the city, which she showed to me the next day.

We took another night bus to Trujillo, named for Pizarros birthplace by one of his lackeys. The bus turned out to be a lot more comfortable than we expected, cama instead of semi, although the "dinner" turned out to be 8 Ritz and two small cupcakes, no icing.

10-11.06.: Trujillo

Friday and Saturday:
Yesterday, we walked to Chan Chan, one of the two major archaeological sites of Trujillo, from our hostel, El mochillero, in the city center. This turned out to be an all-day activity, as the site itself is quite large, but also because the ticket includes a museum and two pyramids, both of which are spread out in the city. Nevertheless, the sites and the museum (and also today's site) must be the best documented sights we've visited in south america, and left me feeling that I really learned a little bit about the Chimú people. 

Today, we walked again to the Moche (the Chimú's predecessors) pyramids, Huanca del Sol y Huanca del Luna, a little bit further but less spread out, unfortunately through a commercial zone, making the hike very unpleasant. The museum is great and very well done, and you must enter the pyramid with a guide (English, Spanish or French, included in the price of 11S, 6S if you've an ISIC card). Ruth was very informative, and we also talked about topics unrelated to the Moche (the cholera story is from her). If you ever get to Peru and are unwilling to spend the 150$ for a tour of Macchu Picchu (without a guide, although they are advertised; a fellow traveller had bad experiences), I can recommend Trujillo.

Now it's time to go to bed, after we've spent the evening tiredly pining for milk (hard to come by here), but to lazy to get out of our hammocks to buy some. By the way, El Mochillero has a comfy atmosphere, with lots of hammocks in the back yard. It's at Jr. Idependencia and Jr. Estete in the old center of Trujillo.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

La Paz, Arica, Tacna, Arequipa

30.05.-01.06.: See Title

On Tuesday, 31st of May, we arrived in Arequipa, Peru, by way of Arica, Chile and the Peruvian border town of Tacna.

The reason we took the detour through Chile are sometimes violent protests in the region around Puno, Peru, all the way down the coast of Lago Titicaca to the Bolivian border. The protests are aimed at a multinational company which wants to mine silver in the mountains on the Bolivian side of the lake, or more precisely, against the Peruvian and Bolivian governments for giving the company the needed concessions. The farmers fear environmental damage to the region, and are expressing this fear by 300km of roadblocks to prevent people from crossing the border. Many people are said to be trapped there, unable to get out on either side. We have also heard of the protests sometimes turning into mobs, destroying property and threatening people, preferentially Gringos. We've heard a first hand report by two German guys in La Paz, whom Yasmin had met earlier in her travels, who had tried to cross by Lake Titicaca -- something the three tourists we met at the Fundacion were still able to do -- but had their boats burnt by a mob before they could get on.

So, to save time and hassle, we decided on a nice and quiet little vacation in Chile. The spontaneousness of the decision meant we lost some freshly bought food to the rigourous Chilean border controls. Do not attempt to smuggle anything over that border unless you are prepared to pay a steep price: someone had to pay 300$ for forgetting to declare an apple. The controls also delayed our arrival to Arica from 7:30pm to 11. This had us checking in at a dingy hostel at the terminal for 10 000 Chilean Pesos (~7-8€) a double bed, shared bathroom, including some dirt on the sheets and a large amount of hair on one woolen blanket. We decided the time had come to break out our thin cotton sleeping bags bought to keep filthy bedsheets from touching us (recommended for any traveller: they are cheap, small and light -- smaller and lighter in silk, but more expensive, of course -- and many hostels don't allow real sleeping bags in their beds, but these don't qualifiy. Also, bedbugs don't nest there, since they are too thin for their taste, which really reassured us, as Doro had some bugbites of unknown origin that night.

The next morning, we gave our best effort to spend the rest of the chilean money on junk food and drinks, after getting the bus ticket to Tacna for 1500 Pesos + terminal tax.

Tacna is a nice town with a pretty central plaza, which we got to see because it also has an amazing amount of malfunctioning ATMs (4 of the 6 machines we saw).

The trip to Arequipa was lenghty, and the bus spat us out at the terminal, 4km from the city center, after dark. Because guidebooks warn about the crime here, we took a taxi  for the first time in SA. The driver told us that the two cheap hostels in our guidebook where closed -- this may or may not be true -- and offered to show us a cheap hotel he knew of, Hotel Yaravi, where he negotiated us a price of 40Soles, ~10€, for a double bedroom with private bath and "hot" (not quite ice cold) showers.

This time, the room really was clean, and the mattress comfortably firm, although today, after paying for another night here, we saw a "Grand Hostal" offering doubles for 15S, or not quite 4€. Both lodgings are on Calle Alvarez Thomas, on blocks 5 and 4, respectively.

Today (well, yesterday by now) was spent gathering information on and provisions for our trip into the Colca Canyon, at 3 191m the worlds second deepest. We also found an excellent vegetarian restaurant on Calle Jerusalén, between Morán and Mercadores (plus or minus one block). Definetely check it out if your're ever in Arequipa. It's 6S for the menu ejecutivo with three courses including two drinks, both of us were stuffed.

Tomorrow, we'll go to Cabanaconde, for 2-3 days of trekking the Colca. Food, water purifier ans a map ( looking suspiciously as if made with the Windows 95 version of Paint, including these old grey-crosses-on-white patterns) are packed.

Niñaes Obrajes, Tiwanaku

28-29.05.: La Paz

Visited the girls orphanage of the Fundacion Arco Iris, Niñaes Obrajes, in the district Obrajes in the Zona Sul. Got a second breakfast with wonderful baked goods from their own bakery, and watched a film about the Fundacion, together with three other German-ish (two were actually Swiss) tourists.

The Niñas Obrajes houses street children and puts them through school; it also offers (at least some of them, I don't know the numbers) a training position. We were shown the bakery, where the master baker teaches Bolivian street children, of whom he was once also one, to bake German bread, an art he learned in Germany. The pride of their bakery is real German Mehrkornbrot (multi-grain bread), but the breakfast table was laden with chocolate croissants, Puddingstueckchen and Nussecken.

Afterwards, we toured the [tailory/sewing room?] where mainly Alpaca wool is turned into cothes for export, and orphans from the Fundacion are trained at the machines.

As it was the day after mother's day, of course a sad day for the children, but unavoidable in Bolivia -- decorations where everywhere -- there was a volleyball tournament going on, and after the tour, we sat down next to the field and practised our Spanish with some of the girls there. Note to self: Clothes donations are most appreciated, and both writing material and games were also recieved well.

On the way back, we ran into a large group of musicians and dancers in traditional dress of all age groups (curse the fact we currently can't upload pictures, this would be much easier to describe) . All of them seemd to have much fun, the youngest showing off their dance moves, the older ones drinking beer on the by, holding up the traffic. We never found out what the dance was about, the next big festival is in mid-June, not now.

Went to Tiwanaku, the major archaeological site of Bolivia, which was quite nice, although reconstructions there seem quite... freely interpreted. The site was much better organized and explained than El Fuerte, especially the museo ceramico, which included historical explanations and informed me that western South America was indeed in the bronze age when the Spaniards arrived, not the stone age.

Monday, May 30, 2011

More La Paz

27.05.: La Paz

Spent basically the entire day walking through the city, beginning with a search for the mercado negro, which probably means the same in Spanish as in our Germanic based languages. From noon on, we searched for the orphanage of the Fundacion Arco Iris, which was founded by a Priest coming from the village next to Yasmin's, so she wanted to pay a visit.

Google maps was feeling rather unhelpful -- it is generally quite bad for La Paz -- and sent us off literally 180º in the wrong direction. So it happened that we walked up one side of La Paz, finally were told the Fundacion was on the other side of the valley, walked down to the tourist info for directions, and from there through the city to the hospital Arco Iris, arrival time 5:30. A very helpful staff had us waiting for half an hour for a doctor who speaks German -- he knows Darmstadt rather well -- who then informed us that the Fundacion is strewn all over the city, and the girls orphanage, for example, is in an entirely different part of town. We nevertheless got a tour of the hospital, generally acclaimed by the populace -- exemplified by the two fine, probably drunk gentlemen who had sent us in the correct general direction -- to be the best in La Paz, and which showed quite European standards; the doctor was, for example, proud to tell us every room has a heater.

After the tour, we were taken to the director, who then proceeded not only to tell us where to find the Niñas Obrajes and how to get there, but also to make an appointment with a German girl (of South American descent) working there, who would show us around.

This unbelievably friendly welcome -- we suspect it may have something to do with German donations being the main income of the Fundacion -- was followed by a hike home through the dark city.

View Larger Map

In all, we spent around 8 hours trekking the city, time well invested: We saw many different parts of the city with diverse characters, from market laden streets between Plaza Murillo and the Cemetery district,and the poorer people's living quarters up the hills (around destination B), to the modern skyscrapers south of Plaza del Estudiante (C) and the SUV-laden rich people's living quarters around Avenida Busch and the Hospital. Plaza Murillo, at the end of our odysee, houses some (or all?) government buildings, so we also got to see some monumental buildings with grand flags, and a statue proclaiming "Gloria", "Fuerte" and "Unidad" for Bolivia.

More sometime else, the cafe is closing...

Friday, May 27, 2011

La Paz, day one

26.05.: La Paz

In Cochabamba, we had the luck of making the acquaintance of Mercedes, a native woman travelling on the same bus, also to La Paz, where she works as transporter. Of what, we didn't understand, maybe a taxi driver. She steered us towards the terminal (we didn't arrive there), and immediately found a guy trying to fill up his soon leaving Cama-bus (the most comfortable class) with passengers for 30Bs a seat. I think, although I'm not sure, that the usual price was between 60 and 90Bs!

The ride was, of course, infinitely more comfortable than the one before, with the two (totally different, not part of a series) Scorpion King movies being shown, one in Spanish, one English. However, along the ride, the bus started falling apart: The toilet was not working from the start, but somewhere on the Altiplano, the cover of an emergency exit came off, and the cold wind from 4000m height streamed in. Later on, after a break, it took half an hour to repair something down in the motor case of the bus.

Found the hostel Dom & Georgie recommended, called Jach'a Inti, at 35Bs a night in a three bed room, with a shared kitchen, and next to a vegetarian restaurant doing a very tasty and copious menu del dia (soupa y segunda) for 8Bs.

After dinner, when we all were complaining about overful bellies, we strolled through the streets of La Paz, and immediately found lots of stand selling lama foetuses.