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.