Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Part one, Jessie + I try and find a post office.

Claudia needed to make a phone call and my brother and John needed to sleep, so Jessie and I took to the streets of Ollantaytambo to find a post office, where I could by some stamps for my painstakingly written postcards:

Hi Matt + Kat!

This postcard is a picture of the main square in the city of Cusco (on the way to Machu Pichu). We got attacked by small children with water balloons and raspberry flavored foam. It was funny at the time but sucked later when we had to sit and eat dinner soaking wet.
I'm going to try and stay longer, but John will be back on the 25th.


Ollantaytambo is in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and has a huge fortress at one end. We had spent the morning wandering around the fortress in very strange weather. Blustery winds would blow one moment and then you'd turn a corner into hot sun and sprinkling rain. Behind the main fortress was a long trail that lead us along the side of the mountain and gave us a good view of the valley and all the subsistence farms that were dotted along the road, complete with plows pulled by oxen and Quechua farmers with sun leathered skin and work roughened hands.

By the time we had got to the very top of the mountain and found another ruin, seemingly separate from the fortress, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. John had neglected to put on any rain gear and I was getting a little hungry for more than just the Oreo cookies and plantana chips that we had packed. Also Claudia had to make that phone call. So we went back down along the mountain trail, pointing at the other hills and trying to decipher all the words that people had scraped into the hillside as well as remarking on all the other ruins we could see. There were striations across the other mountains, evenly spaced lines running across the whole mountain, looking almost like stretch marks that had occurred as the mountain had pushed itself forth from the ground.

Hi Miss Margeauxbee!

We are on a bus home from Machu Pichu. It was unbelievably breathtaking, it made me realize a lot about a lot of things. Nothing like sitting in a room built by someone thousands of years ago to make you feel both insignificant and yet unbelievably happy. Hope you and David are well. Squeezes and tickles to Freddy + Santi. Miss you!


At the main fortress after the hike, we rested and then decided to continue along a different path, other than the one we had used to climb up, to get down to the bottom. It was a stone path with a wall between you and the side of the mountain although every once in awhile there was a window that came all the way to the ground and you could stand there and think about leaping through and flying across the hillside, all the way back to town.

We followed this stone path until we came to a thatched house, sort of stuck inside of the mountain. The path lead above the roof and then steps went down next to it and along the front where there were two openings to the inside. It had clearly been used as a toilet by any number of stray dogs and stray people.

There was a path that lead the rest of the way down the hill, but it was marked very clearly in Spanish:


It seemed safe from where we could see, standing on the side of the hill. The steps back up to the top seemed so steep and after as many steps as we had taken that day and the day before, the path peligrosa down the hill seemed so invitingly downhill. Jessie went first, followed by John. Jessie disappeared a little as she found exactly where the path became so peligrosa, a sheer drop with only a few footholds in the rock between us and the next portion of the path. John forged ahead, finding it less difficult than it looked. We all followed suit and soon we were hiking again on a nice solid path for a little while, until it became treacherous again. John and I were in the lead at this point and we discovered that once you climbed down a short little way, you came upon two very long, very smooth rocks, one set on the other at a right angle. These gave way to another very smooth, but much larger rock that sat under the other two like a giant lip sticking out. Once at the end of this rock, a few stones lay and then the green, grassy ground.

John stepped carefully down, clutching onto his blue bag that he bought in Colombia, containing his small five dollar guitar and not much else. I decided that sliding down would be much more fun, seeing as the smooth long rock looked so very much like a slide.

Claudia's voice came from around the hedges that hid all of this from view:

"Is it safe?"

We called back:

"Yeah, it's really easy from here."

"Great. You know, this really wasn't that bad at all. Although I can see why they wouldn't want people going this way."

She and her maroon jacket appeared around the hedge, just after Jessie. She was wearing an orange scarf that she had bought in the market in Cusco tied around her hair, leaving her bangs at the front and the ends hanging down her back, coming from underneath the rest of her hair. Jessie and I had both admired and envied the scarf, Jessie trying it on and me buying my own, but in green.

Hi Robert,

We are in a coca leaf shop drinking tea. The walls on the front of this card were built by the Incas and then built on top of by the Spanish (you can see what a crappy job the Spanish did, the Inca rocks can't fit a knife between them!). I may stay longer, I don't know, it's really easy to be here away from everything.


My brother came last, by the time he rounded the hedge, I had already begun sliding down the big rock underneath the right angled ones. John was already at the bottom. The others followed suit with the sliding. My brother tore the seat out of his trousers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

7. cafe con leche

The market that we found my last morning in Cusco was so many things.

It was like the markets I was taken to as a child, clutching my mothers hand and wandering through stalls of fish, vegetables and bright fruits some of which, to my enjoyment, I didn't recognize. One looked like a white tomato with purple streaks lightening bolting through it. When I picked one up, it felt like an apple. Green gourd like round things are next to the grapefruits and strange brown woody roots are in buckets on the ground. Around one corner a man was selling bicycle parts and next to him another stall filled with bright South American candy. The awnings over the stalls were so low but not too low for me or Jessie.

Small women sit on the ground and in wavering thin, tired voices ask us if we would like corn:

"Choclo? Choclo?"

We were trying to find an open travel agent at 7:30 am. In a panic, my brother had stumbled into our bedroom, his pants half on, urging me to go and take care of the business of my lost ticket. He was mostly asleep and so were we, so asleep that neither Jessie nor I had bothered to think about whether or not anything would be open this early.
Once awake and walking down the congested, polluted street of El Sol, in Cusco, we both realized that finding anything open, even somewhere to buy a cheap cup of Peruvian instant coffee that comes as a syrup you pour into your cup of hot water, was futile.

We thought we were finding the bus station where we had been the day before, but really when we turned into the doorway made by two sheets of corrugated steel, we discovered the market full of all these magical things. Partially covered by plastic and tarpaulin, partially out in the open, and partially tucked neatly into the side of a building, it was bustling at 7:30.

At one point, we turned a corner and crossed out of the tarpaulin covered part, across a sort of division and inside a giant white room, full of animal carcasses and women making fruit smoothies. On the way in, we passed a Quechua woman handing out bowls of sopa, clearly made by boiling the head of some kind of animal.
The white room had a pungent, salty smell that a little more than I could handle, but as we crossed through the room and to the next part of the market, the first stall outside was big beautiful flowers bursting out of their respective jars.

We started thinking about coffee and breakfast. After Jessie spoke to the bicycle man about buying some mud flaps for her bike, ones with something on them that I can't quite remember at the moment, and explaining to the man that she couldn't bring her bike to him, because it was in La Paz, we made an effort to find a place. Lots of little holes in the walls and funny little stands under the stall appeared to be serving something. A lot of them were empty though and we wanted a place with people.

The people were mostly Quechua, the women were wearing their wide, knee length skirts, brightly colored sweaters and fedora hats on top of jet black hair worn in two very tight braids down their backs. Quechua is the language that was spoken by the Inca, and is still spoken by at least 3,200,000 people in Peru, according to the 1993 census. The Inca were the high class warriors, diplomats and politicians. People today who still speak this language call themselves Quechua. It is apparently a much happier language than Spanish.

The market was lined at one end with a building that had an open side to it. This mouth opened up into the market and was divided in the back into little kitchens. Some were empty and some had busy women, cooking and serving.

We chose one and ordered two huevos con pan y cafe con leche for 1.50 soles each which is about 50 US cents. The bread (pan) everywhere, including at this market, came fresh and about the size of a cd. She fried up the egg and cut the bread in half, slipping the egg in between the two slices, handing it to you along with a small salt shaker. The cafe con leche, was made by pouring a little bit of coffee syrup in with a few spoonfuls of powdered milk and sugar and then adding hot water. While we ate, we watched her prepare the other customers meals. There was a strange lumpy soupy thick drink called ponche that was burnt cream colored and spent most of it's time before being served sitting in a boiling vat. A tiny girl with purple, sunburned cheeks sat next to me and had this drink, dipping her pan into it and chewing it slowly. A group of men sat and ordered it over and over again, also dipping their pan into it.

After this we got up and wandered through the market some more, before discovering the exit and feeling the need to get some real coffee.

Friday, February 23, 2007

6. Machu Pichu and Aguas Calientes

It has been a few days. We are in Cusco again after a trip to Aguas Calientes (literally Hot Springs. Well if you want to be absolutely literal, it should be Luke Warm Springs That Smell Like Rotting Onions, but you know, that'd be too long probably).
Aguas Calientes was like a Hollywood movie set. It felt really safe and comfortable, but was a lot like Fisherman's Wharf in SF. This is probably because it is the jumping off point for all the tours to Machu Pichu and unless you want to pay 70 dollars a night instead of the 5 dollars at the hostel, you stay there.

I cannot begin to describe Machu Pichu. It was magical and awesome and humbling and incredible. I spent a lot of time sitting alone and aborbing the sheer emptiness but total completeness of the entire space. It´s surrounded by huge mountains that appear to shoot out of the ground in an almost urgent manner, were it not apparent that they had been standing for millions of years.

We also hiked to the top of Wayna Pichu, another ruin on top of one of these mountains next to Machu Pichu. There were stairs almost the whole way up, chiseled out of the rock and worn smooth from use. So smooth that in the rain, and standing on what felt like the edge of the world it was exhilarating and terrifying.

When we got to the top, we chose the highest stone to sit on, all five of us, were we stayed until it started raining harder than it had been.

With the taste of coca leaves and oreo cookies on our tongues, we descended back to Machu Pichu.

Monday, February 19, 2007

5. Boiled corn and tiny people

I´ve found the most noticeable thing when you travel is the different smells. Cusco is certainly no exception.

Apart from the obvious difference in the air that comes from it being an entirely different country on an entirely different continent, walking up and down the tiny cobblestoned streets, avoiding tiny cars hurtling towards you at break neck speeds, you walk in and out of pockets smells.

Some are delicious like boiled corn on the cob or some strange spicy dish. Some are not so delicious - The sewers are open air so the pungent smell of human shit will also hit you when you turn a corner occasionally and when it started raining, all the urine from the people who piss in the streets started running down the hill and the smell rose up from the ground.

Occasionally I smell sweet whiskey or a flowery jasmine smell. Smoke and diesal from the pocket sized taxi cabs filled full of pocket sized people; they really are tiny, tiny people. The women wear fedoras and alpaca sweaters; their thin brown legs look like they are wooden sticks peaking out from under their very wide and colorful skirts that come up to just above the knee. Some of these tiny indigenous women lead Alpacas, hoping that you will take your picture with them for a few soles. The Alpacas have a woolly dusty smell and a very soft eye with long lashes.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

4. I finally try Coca Tea

Cusco is an amazing town with stray dogs, tiny people and corn on the cob that tastes like potato and had kernals the size of throat lozenges.

Mango con leche, Andean coca and mint tea and a hookah.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

3. Suits and Beer

We are sitting in a bar in the Centro De Bogota called Moulin Bleu. After walking all over, it was time to sit, so here we are, with 11 beers between us.
The seating area is really just a lot of cushions, in turquoise, pink, red and yellow on the floor. Everyhing seems very orange and beautiful people are sitting around us in pairs. I think we´re in the make out room.
One couple, a man in one of these fantastic suits that are everywhere and a woman with amazing long black hair clipped back are kissing and cuddling across from us. People are very expressive here.

The fantastic suits are straight out of the 70´s and are very well fitted. The ties are the best part, fat and multicolored. The striped ones are the best. I really want to buy a tie but I don´t have anyone to give it to, we stopped in a shop that was a small white room in the side of a building that had tiny rolled up tie sized shelves - they were so bright it looked like candy.

Earlier, we met Angie, who in her own youth of 20-on-Wednesday, kept exclaiming "wow you are so young" to our respective 27, 25 and 33.

A man just set up with his guitar next to us and it sounds great. For all I know, he´s just playing pop covers - the girl next to us, when she´s not necking with her friend, keeps singing along- but it sounds great to me.

Our plane for Lima leaves in a few hours but we keep putting off getting a cab, not because we don´t want to leave but more because it feels so right to be here.

Love to all.

Friday, February 16, 2007

2. Onwards and Upwards

So far, I´ve had no problems with the food. I say this because everyone has been afraid I was going to get sick. I did have to eat a fish today though, which was strange.

(I guess "no carne" didn´t mean what I thought it would. I was sort of expecting it though)

We got to SFO really early and then almost missed our flight because John + I were drinking mini-bottles of airport wine.

When we got to our airline at LAX there was a two man samba band. They had a flute and a Yamaha home organ, which, when they took there ¨set break¨, they just left on some random automatic beat thing. It was very surreal, almost Lynchian especially because the Avianca Air staff were wearing straw hats and plastic leis, which they were also giving to us. I kind of thought they would show up with cutesy sugary umbrella-y drinks and start telling us how they were the "cool" airline. But it didn´t happen.

Instead they mangled my brother´s bag. When it slid out on the baggage claim thing, it was in a giant plastic bag. Someone had scrawled ¨happened in LA¨on some piece of tape that was holding the whole thing together. It was a little disheartening.

Now we are in Bogota, having gone the Museo d´Oro, eaten lunch or dinner or whatever the hell time of day it is. Tonight we´ve the last leg of our journey, to Lima and Jessie. Hopefully between the airport and hostel, we´ll find her.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

1. Jobless and Leaving

I'm getting ready for my trip to Peru this morning. By getting ready I mean sitting at the computer in my pink pajamas and a sweater that little Maya Nagaraj brought me back from the Galapagos.

Oddly enough, the sweater smells like my house in Santa Barbara, despite the fact that it never lived there. I found it this morning at 6 am while digging through boxes in the garage. This was after I had sat straight up in bed, in a cold sweat and realized I had no idea where my US passport was.

I contemplated for a bit the consequences of traveling on my EU passport instead:

On the one hand, I'd get to Peru but I would have a terrible time getting back into the US. On the other hand, I'd get to Peru but I would have a terrible time getting back into the US.

So this sweater was sitting amongst other clothes I'd forgotten about and has apparently absorbed the smoky adobe smell that had permeated the rest of my Santa Barbara belongings.

The same Maya who gave me the sweater gave me a Valentine/Going Away Card yesterday. It reads:

Dear Alice
Have fun in Peru!
Are you going to climb
Machupichu? I've heard that
it's a great place to visit,
along with the ancient Mayan
(hint-hint!) ruins.


The underlining was all her, too.