January 30, 2008

Colca Canyon

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 7:00 pm

After we did some of the tourist sites in town for a few days, we took a bus the Cañon de Colca, which is the world’s second deepest cañon. It’s about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, even though it’s not as impressive in pictures because the walls aren’t as sheer. Most people who go here go with a guided group, but we read enough people’s reviews on South American Explorers that we knew it to be possible without a guide. The problem is that all the Peruvians you encounter will tell you that it’s too dangerous or too hard without a guide. That’s bullshit and we got really tired of hearing all the lies. From what we heard from some other travelers a bad guide can make it more dangerous – more on that in a bit.

We took the bus straight to Cabanaconde, passing herds of llamas, alpacas and vicuñas and the touristy town of Chivay. In Cabanaconde some guy tried to get us to by a 35 sole (about $12) boleto turistico, which you only need to buy to get admission to sites in Chivay through the Condor Lookout. Fortuneately we knew better and headed straight down into the canyon. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to the bottom, descending about 1000 meters), and San Galle, also known as the Oasis because of all the pretty greenery and pools there. We camped at one of the newer pools called El Eden for 5 soles each, which was very nice, except that in the morning when I had hoped to go for another swim they had drained the pool to clean it. The people there were very nice and wanted us to mention them as they’re less well known than the other spots at the Oasis, so they gave us an avacado as an advertising bribe :-)

From the oasis we climbed the other side of the canyon to a little village called Malata before heading down the canyon to some hot springs called Llahuar. On the way we saw a couple pairs of condors, one time even being startled as a giant shadow passed over us. This was about a 6 hour hike with our full packs, so by the time we got there we were tired and really sore, so we setup camp for 8 soles and soaked in the hot water for probably close to 3 hours. The hot springs are our favorite so far in Peru because there’s a pretty hot pool and it’s all right next to the river and outdoors.

At the hot springs we met a girl who we had seen in our hostel in Arequipa before leaving, and she told us that she had come down with a guide, but that the guide had shown up 3 hours late so they ended up hiking down in the dark and an extremely steep, rocky trail. She also said the guide didn’t even stick with the group, but walked ahead quickly with headphones in. When guides actually make the trip more dangerous it makes me very angry. There are many good guides in Peru that can make trips safer and more interesting, unfortunately there seem to be just as many, if not more, really awful ones.

Anyway, the next day we soaked again in the morning and started the hike out which was more than 1000 meters of climbing. We made it about 2/3 of the way out of the 5 hour hike at a pretty good pace before I got really sick. I hadn’t eaten a lot for breakfast, so I was just dry heaving and felt incredibly tired. I ended up stopping frequently to rest before staggering up a few more feet. At one point I drank some water with a vitamin packet in it that helped perk up my energy, until I threw that up too. It ended up taking about 7.5 hours to get back to Cabanaconde where we spent the night at Valle del Fuego, which had dirty rooms but a good vegetarian menu. Thankfully I felt a lot better the next day, but still a bit weak, which was okay since all we had to do was sit on a the bus back to Arequipa.

January 29, 2008


Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 7:27 pm

We’ve been loving Arequipa. I’d say it’s our favorite city in Peru hands down. There’s great food (we’ve eaten falafel, stuffed peppers, and had great cheap vegetarian menus), it’s so much more organized, and quieter (taxis aren’t honking constantly) than other big Peruvian cities. It’s a little touristy, but that’s great after so much time surrounded by only Peruvians. We’ve immensely enjoyed swapping travel stories with other gringos (foreigners). We’ve even enjoyed seeing all the touristy clothes and trinkets that they’re selling everywhere. I think we were a little disappointed that almost all the clothes and souveniers available in Northern Peru are made in China, so being here where there’s high quality alpaca and Pima cotton goods is nice. Even the custom sweater Kim got in Leymebamba was made from acrylic yarn since they didn’t have any nice yarn for purchase in the area. It’s just good to see a local product that is actually worthy of some pride.

We spent a day and half in the city before heading to the Colca Canyon. That was a detailed trip, so it gets its own post. After getting back from the Canyon we rested our sore muscles for one night at the the same hostel we’d stayed at before and liked, Home Sweet Home. Unfortunately we got a room next to a woman with a baby who spent the night crying. Also, a fuse blew and the breaker box to flip the fuse was in the room with the woman with the baby – and she was sleeping late. All that drama caused us to get a late start, and then we realized it was Sunday, which means nothing is open when you need it. We had planned to leave that day for Puno, but we didn’t really want to take an uncomfortable night bus, and all the nice buses leave in the morning. So we stayed another day.

Since he had some more time we really wanted to see something related to Alpacas, especially after spending hours trying on super expensive and oh so soft sweaters, and we had read about a place in Arequipa that did tours called Mundo Alpaca (Alpaca World). Unfortunately, we the website is all flash and you have to click through every stupid screen to find the address. It took us a while to realize this, but once we got the address we didn’t have a detailed enough map to find the place. In general, anything in Peruvian cities outside of the very center may have an address, but it’s essentially worthless for finding the place since streets make very little sense. We actually walked right to where the place is by guessing the general area, but we didn’t see the building. We asked two taxi drivers if they knew where it was and they didn’t. Finally a police officer asked what we were looking for and pointed across the street. If anyone is looking for Mundo Alpaca just follow Santa Catalina from the Plaza de Armas north about 7 or 8 blocks until it ends.

Anyway, Mundo Alpaca is a very nice touristy thing to see. They have the usual gift store, but what’s more they have a few different kinds of Alpacas that you get to see up close, including some newborn babies which were 4 or so days old when we saw them. They also have a great demonstration of how the Alpaca hair is sorted, turned in to yarn, weaved, processed, and turned into sweaters. It’s all free too. Oughta be in the guidebooks if you ask me. They even have a little art gallery at the end that’s kind of nice.

January 20, 2008

Back Down Peru’s Coast

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:03 pm

After that horrible bus ride from Terapoto to Mancora, we chilled a few days in Mancora. It was HOT. Mancora is described in the guidebook as Peru’s worst kept secret, and it shows as such as the first few hostals we went to were full. There didn’t seem to be that many people, but it was busy. The surrounding countryside isn’t very pretty, just your average Peruvian coastal desert. The beach is nice, but nothing compared to stuff in the Carribean or Hawaii. We tried surfing and the waves were much bigger than we were ready for. I got just pounded by waves after gasping in surprise at how fast they were. We also got sunburned. We put on SPF 30 sun block, but 3 hours in the sun and water were too much without reapplication. On the second day we also went to the hotsprings, which are barely developed for tourism. It’s really just a muddy hole with warm water and some bamboo huts for changing rooms.

From Mancora we returned by overnight bus to Huanchaco. It was strangely comforting to go back to somewhere we knew so well. I can only imagine how nice it will be when we go back to the US! We said hello to everyone we knew, ate at Otra Cosa, and surfed in waves we could manage, even if we felt like we had lost a lot of our ability. It was good to see David again and do a little work on the Espaanglisch web site. We also picked up our camping gear which we left behind, so no we can finally start doing some longer hikes. From there we took the luxury bus to Lima, and man oh man was it nice. I’m not sure I can go back to taking regular buses. The luxury bus was like first class airplane seats, and most importantly, the fellow passengers are quiet!

Anyway, now we’re in Lima and gonna drop off some stuff including the laptop so we can travel lighter and faster. We’ll be heading toward Arequipa and then in to Bolivia and Chile. It’s strange, but even with close to 3 months left (April 15th) it feels like our deadline to return to the US is looming. I’m pretty sure by the time that date comes though we’ll be ready to go back.

January 17, 2008

Hell Bus Ride

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 12:50 pm

I’m on a 19 hours long bus trip from hell from Tarapoto to Piura at the moment so I thought I’d rant! We took Sol Peruano since they were the only one with a final destination of Piura, but I think it would have been much more comfortable and faster to take Movil Tours to Chiclayo and then transfer toward Mancora from there. This bus was supposed to be a semicama, meaning almost like having a bed, but in reality is about as comfortable as your average airplane seat, even with a little less room. To top it off, it’s filled with Peruvians, who as a possibly unfair generalization, are fairly oblivious to being considerate of things like noise, garbage, and personal space. I never would have taken this bus if I had know that it would be uncomfortable, crowded, stop frequently, and have no overhead lights or curtains. At least it’s got a bathroom, one you’re only supposed to pee in, but a bathroom nonetheless. I’m sure you could get away with pooping in it though since it’s just a hole that opens directly onto the road. Fortunately I’m mostly recovered from my flu that I’m just getting over, so the bathroom isn’t as essential as it would have been a day or so ago.

Don’t think we didn’t ask a few questions before buying tickets. The problem is, people here can’t communicate about details to any useful degree. Honestly, at first I just chalked it all up to a language barrier thing, but now we’re sure we understand most people and they’re just awful at communicating. If you ask them yes or no questions, like “is it a semi-bed type bus?” they’ll almost invariably say yes whether it’s true or not. It seems like people just answer yes because they think it will make you happy to hear what you want. We have to remember to refrain from asking yes/no questions in the future. Also if you ask for descriptions of time or distance you will ALWAYS get a drastic underestimate usually with fairly vaguely infurating words. For example, ahorita is the diminuitive form of ahora which means “now”. However if someone says something will happen ahorita, it could mean anywhere from 5 minutes to tomorrow. It’s a fairly meaningless word. As is “cercita”, which means close. To say that the waterfall you’re walking to is cercita could mean it’s another 5-10 miles away. People often just guess information they don’t know, but they answer as if they did.

As I’m writing this someone is loudly puking. He could just be hocking a loogie as this is done frequently and very loudly by most everyone all the time. Earlier a little girl (adults do this sort of thing too and more often) got up and walked over to the stairs and spit ON the stairs. I never really thought that considering spitting on the floor gross could be considered differently depending on the culture. I’m hoping this puking sound is in the bathroom, but it’s hard to tell with the baby and mother behind me making never ending noise. Did I mention there’s no light so people on this double decker bus can’t see to walk down the stairs or while in the bathroom?

Of course the lights do go on every time we stop, which is close to every hour. With every stop about 5 or 6 people get on the bus to sell whatever crap they have, usually gelatin, which they try to sell by loudly announcing repeatedly what they have. This makes sleeping fairly impossible for more than a few minutes at a time.

Did I mention that there’s a small child and a gigantically fat woman with the cell phone sitting behind me? You really can’t avoid traveling with children unless you rent your own car, and that’s really not a good options considering the roads are full of crazy drivers and in terrible shape. This bus recently had to drive through a shallow stream because the bridge that goes over it is not wide enough for the bus. Many sections of the road are washed out and incredibly bumpy. They are doing a lot of construction to improve the roads, but construction here goes oh so slowly because so much work is done by groups of men with shovels. Imagine trying to create mountain passes through the Andes with hand tools and it’s fairly obvious why it takes so long. The roads are frequently shared by all types of transport moving at all speeds: motorcycles, double decker buses, cars, semi-trucks, farm trucks, horses, donkeys and people walking.

The adults on trips can often be much worse than the children though. It’s like a bad Saturday Night Live skit where people can’t control the volume of their voice. There’s also people with this lovely new cellphone technology and I think everyone here is still in the mindset that you have to talk much louder on the phone than you ever do in person. There’s definitely people like this in the US too, but I swear there’s more here and the biggest thing is nobody local ever asks them to shutup. In the US if you’re one of those people sooner or later somebody will ask you to shut the hell up and everyone will applaud or something. Here nobody says anything, even if they’re annoyed , and we’ve met a few people who are annoyed, and say all their fellow countrymen have bad manners. If we ask these people to be quiet they ignore us or laugh since we’re foreigners. People just don’t seem to demand in any way that those around them behave well. People just seem to put up with everything, and I’m often unsure if they’re oblivious or just unwilling to confront anyone.

Another habit people have that nobody ever says anything about is throwing garbage out this windows. Everything goes out the window while you’re driving. This applies during long distance bus trips and in the cities in taxis. Plastic bottles, empty beverage containers, candy wrappers, dirty diapers, food scraps and more just get tossed whenever you’re done with them. I think people expect that someone who works for the government should clean it up. However, even if they stopped littering in some places and put stuff in trash cans, the garbage just gets hauled to be dumped in the local river anyway. This is what they did in Leymebamba anyway and I’m sure most other small towns. I’m not sure what they do with garbage in the larger cities, but whatever they do there’s plenty of it in the streets. Sometimes I think they just dump it in abandoned lots.

At least one thing they DON’T have on this hell trip is blaringly loud cumbia music. They did play cumbia for a few hours but I don’t think they could get it loud enough so gave up on it. Someone in Huanchaco the first week we were here said they only thing that matters to a Peruvian when buying a stereo is how loud will it go, and then I thought that seemed an unfair generalization – now I don’t. They have speakers wired up here, but no lights. If you haven’t heard a lot of latin american music before, you probably won’t be able to tell cumbia from salsa (cumbia usually has a rhythm more like a horse’s clip-clop-clip). Either way, salsa or cumbia, it’s not something I would consider worthy of listening to for 5 hours straight, especially since they there’s a group here called “Grupo 5″ that is so popular I think most people really do just listen to them for 5 hours on repeat.

Phew, I’m finally off that bus. I actually managed to sleep for a few hours despite the crowing rooster someone carried on. Of course it took longer than expected, something just short of 21 hours. We’re now sitting in another bus terminal in Sullana, which really doesn’t look like it has anything interesting, waiting to catch another bus to Mancora. From here on out we should start seeing a lot more foreign tourists, which I’m actually quite ready for. Being around almost exclusively Peruvians for the last month and half has definitely shown me I could never live comfortably among them. I don’t think I mentioned staring. There’s two little boys who are just staring at me as I write this. Children and adults do this equally and nobody seems to think it rude, and asking them to stop usually only works for a few seconds before they’re back to just openly staring. They’ll stare even if we’re just sitting still, reading a book, even in areas where I know they see a lot of tourists.

OK, that’s enough for now. I could probably go on, but I’m exhausted and fed up. Hopefully the world looks better after a decent sleep.

January 12, 2008

Into the Jungle

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 4:58 pm

Leaving Leymebamba and heading into the jungle we thankfully didn’t have to spend much time in Chachapoyas. It was Sunday so the highway wasn’t closed between Chachapoyas and Pedro Ruiz, but we did have to take a LOT of different shared cars and do a little stint in Chacha. Our journey went Leymembamba to Yerbabuena to Chachapoyas to Pedro Ruiz to Nueva Cajamarca to Moyobamba.

We spent a few days in Moyobamba enjoying being back in a city where you can buy more types of food than potatoes and rice. We found some pretty good vegetarian Lasagna at La Olla de Barro. We also saw the miradores, which are lookout points to see the muddy river that winds into the rain forest. We also saw a really cool orquidium that had something like 400 species including four that the owner had named himself. Nearby we went to the hot springs, which were pretty nice since they were pools outside, but the water wasn’t that hot and you’re sharing the pools with all the local families blasting cumbia music.

The highlight of sites around Moyobamba was the waterfalls in Lahuarpia. About a half hour out of Moyobamba there’s a little trail out of the village that’s actually well maintained, with garbage cans and a bathroom, that leads to three waterfalls that you can swim in. There’s even signage about the local animals and plants. Apparently not many travelers make it here, which for now makes it even nicer as we had the whole place to ourselves. We could have spent more time there, but we got there in the afternoon and didn’t leave until dark.

From there we wanted to head directly to Tarapoto, but after dark it’s hard to pick up transport, so we went back to Moyobamba and then to Tarapoto. We’ve been in Tarapoto a few days now and been pretty lazy, which has been nice. One weird thing about these hostals in the jungle is even the cheapest ones have cable TV’s. Most don’t have hot water, but TV’s are essential. We’ve been watching sitcoms in English more than we should because of this. Every night we eat pizza from a place called Cafe d’Mundo that’s AMAZING. It’s not the best in the world, but after some of the food people here try to pass for Italian food, it seems like it. The coolest thing we’ve done here was rent a moto scooter for a few hours and ride around the city. It’s a rush getting around in traffic here. There really are almost no rules, but everyone seems to be paying attention pretty well, so once you get used to it there’s a flow to it.

Unfortunately now I’m a bit sick with the flu. We’re in a nice hostel watching movies to pass the time and I just found out there’s wireless internet. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow and from there either do some more touristy stuff in the area or head to the coast for some fun and sun. Something interesting about all the cheap hostels here is they have cable TV, even if they don’t have hot water. I just thought of that because tonight we splurged, and got one with hot water.

January 6, 2008

La Laguna de los Condores

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 4:46 pm

Before leaving Leymebamba we went on a three day trip to the Laguna de los Condores. It was really an adventure. We went with Stephanie and Elena, so both our guides were women, something the men in town seemed concerned about. It was about 11 hours on horseback and hiking to get there. This included lots of treacherous rock slopes, swamps where the horses sank up to their bellies, drenching rain for hours and a 12,000 ft mountain pass. Kim got a little altitude sickness at the pass, and we arrived at the cabin drenched and tired. One of the nice things about arriving in all the rain is the surprising quantity of waterfalls all around the valley. I didn’t take any pictures of them though because it was raining too hard!

The cabin is pretty basic with no running water or electricity. The cooking is done over a wood fire as well as the drying of clothes. The land around the cabin is used for cattle. You can’t see the lagoon from the cabin, but it’s not far to where you can see it. It gets really cold at night so we slept with our small sleeping bags and a couple of blankets each.

The next day we woke up early and waited for the rain to subside a bit as it was pouring. Fortunately as we set off for the hike to the mausoleum’s on the cliffs above the lagoon, the sun actually poked out for a bit. The hike to the mausoleum’s actually makes you feel like you’re in the jungle, which I guess technically you are. To get to the cliffs there was a lot of ladders to climb and we walked through a few small waterfalls. There’s a few skulls left over in the houses built into the cliffs, but most of the remains have been moved to the museum in Leymebamba. I don’t know how anyone ever found these cliff tombs or why the Chachapoyas built them where they did.

Going back was a quicker trip (maybe 9 hours?) since it didn’t rain as much and Kim breezed over the pass thanks to chewing coca leaves, drinking some booze and eating chocolate. There were some exciting parts where the horses sank into the mud really deep, but they got out after a lot of shouting at them. We arrived back at our lodging in town dirty and tired, so thank goodness there was running water for a shower when we got back.

We met the new volunteer the next day and gave her the info she needed to continue the classes. We said all our goodbyes and left the next morning.