E-mail Update - 2006-07-17

Floating Islands and Deep Canyons

Hello from Arequipa, Peru:

Well so far Peru has been quite the mixed bag. It is a beautiful place & the Andean Mountains are amazing. It has the deepest canyon´s in the world & snow covered peaks everywhere you look. It also has people begging everywhere, thieves & every type of pollution. Almost everything is a tour here, they really restrict what you can do on your own. For me it is also especially difficult as I try to learn enough Spanish to get by.

Last Thursday night I said goodbye to Nina at the bus station in Arequipa. She went on to the Nazca Lines, to Lima & on home. I decided to stay in Arequipa for a few more days before moving on. I was to have been climbed Mt. Chachani today (which is 6075 Meters or just over 20000 Feet high), but the other person in the tour backed out last minute so I am stuck in Arequipa for another day. Now my plan is to see if they have a tour for tonight. If they do I will do it as a one day hike, leaving at midnight & getting back to Arequipa around 4pm tomorrow. They take you to the 5000 meter mark in a 4WD, which is how you can do it in one day. It requires the full mountain gear & temperatures are around 15 below Celsius (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit) depending on the day. If they do not have someone for today I am going to leave for Nazca tonight, because I have waited 3 days for a tour already. In Nazca they have these lines made by civilizations thousands of years ago (or aliens depending on your take), that look like giant animals. You do a flight which last about 30 minutes over them.

Picking up where I left off in the last message, after the 5 day trek we were pretty tired so we spent the first day in Cuzco sleeping in, doing the laundry, buying a battery charger that worked in Peru & the normal everyday things. We also watched Germany in the semifinal of the world cup, but they sadly lost to Italy. Later in the day we tried to get a tour to Manu National Park, but it cost too much money ($800 for 5 days) so we decided that we would go to Puno the next day. We even tried meeting our tour guide from the last trip but she was not licensed to go to Manu & you have to go with a licensed guide (my take on this is that it is a rip off).

Either way the next day we had breakfast with Roman since we thought it would be the last time we saw him. Nina got up early & prepared a big breakfast for all of us, it was really nice. The most of the rest of the day was spent on the bus to Puno. On the way we saw this city which was like it had been hit by a natural disaster, but it was just that way naturally. It is not the type of place that you want to stay for sure.
Once in Puno we stayed at the lovely Hostel Uros. Right around it in Puno is not very bad, but Puno is also a dirty ugly city, even though it is right near Lake Titicaca. We got our next 2 days booked through the hotel which would be 2 days, 1 night in the floating islands & then the night bus to Arequipa after that & even our place booked in Arequipa. It was quite far for us to plan ahead as we like going day-to-day, but it worked really well.

The next morning we got picked up & taken to the boat, then loaded on as part of the big tour to the Floating Islands. After about an hour we were to the first island, which is made of reeds & floats. We were greeted by the ¨locals¨ when we got off. Although to be honest I am not sure anyone really lives on the commercial 2 islands we saw. They gave us a talk where the tour guide totally lost his credibility by telling us that people of the floating islands lived on average to be around 90 & that one guy had been 120. I think the first thing they teach you in Peruvian tour guide school is to make up answers. Saying you don´t know is obviously not an option. Every other tourist, except Nina & I paid 5 Sol to do the ¨unique¨ boat ride on a reed boat to the next island. It did not look unique at all just another type of boat really, so we chilled out, then took the free boat & still beat the other people to the next island. The tour guide was surprised we did not do the ride, he almost seemed hurt.
Before the unique boat ride we had a chance to ¨look around¨ which in tour guide speak means buy crafts. I actually did look around & found a bird stuffing room, heron & saw a 5-6 year old kid peeing on the unique boat.
The second island was mostly the same as the first. Although I took a picture of a lady working with wheat, of course then she wanted money, which I declined because she didn´t say anything about that before I took the picture. We did get our picture taken in front of one of the houses (picture called floatingislands). After that we did the 3 hour boat ride where we listened to my MP3 player, read & caught up on our journals.
Once at the island we were split into groups (Nina & I were one group) & we got our family for the home stay we were doing. We got Roberta, who showed us to where they lived. It was a nice little house, which had very little doors & where you ducked going into most everything to avoid getting knocked out. They had made lunch for us which was nice. Since we don´t speak Spanish we did not get to talk to them much, although it was a little better when we met the whole family for supper. Then we were able to learn some things about them & tell them a little about ourselves. In between we climbed to the highest point on Amantani (which is not a floating island). It was a nice view but very cold so we got some tea & warm bread to warm us up a little, then headed down before sunset. That night we got dressed up (Nina in about 5 skirts & a few shirts & myself in a poncho & hat). The dancing was fun but since neither of us felt very well we did not stay long.

The next day we went to Taquile which is a communist island in the sense that they split all of their resources evenly amongst the community & it is very poor. It was not really that beautiful & was rather depressing in the sense that everyone was there selling us stuff, even kids who should have been in school. The guide told us the story that the government built a water tube for the village at one point, which saved them hours each day retrieving water from the lake. But once they had to pay a little money to maintain it they stopped because they could not afford it, so now they go all the way down to the lake again. The kids try to sell you bracelets for 1 Sol which I didn´t want. But instead of just saying no I decided to buy a bag of crackers & give them each a big cracker when I said no. It was nice since I got a smile out of them when I did that & they were obviously hungry. We had more time to ¨look around¨ which I mostly didn´t use, then caught an expensive lunch that was not part of the tour before getting the boat back to Puno. I did actually buy a bracelet on the island, but it was a much nicer one that cost 8 Sol. I saw it on the way back to the boat, it was pretty intriguing. Once back in Puno we loaded onto the buses, while doing this I hit my head very hard. The bus ride to Arequipa was cold & neither of us slept very well due to the frequent stops, but we made it & even got a taxi to the hostel.

The next day we spent as another errands day & we booked our trip to Colca Canyon & our climb to El Misti (which we did not end up doing due to sickness). We did Internet, I bought a small sleeping bag & fleece lining for it, we got money to pay for the trips & watched part of the Germany third place game for the World Cup, which they won. At one point we split up since we needed to do separate things. The bad part about this was that it allowed these 2 men to steal Nina´s camera. They ran up behind her & pulled the camera so hard that they broke the strap & ran away before she had a chance to react. So she spent time at the police station giving a report (and her fingerprints even though I am not sure why). It was quite a mess & the really bad thing was that she had not yet burned her pictures to CD so she lost all her pictures from Machu Picchu up to that point. She had burned one CD & I gave her all my pictures which helps, but it is not the same.

The next morning we started our trek to the Colca Canyon, the world´s second deepest canyon at 3191 meters or about 10,500 feet deep (first is the canyon next to it which is 163 meters deeper, but it is not as picturesque & takes 5 days to hike). The bus ride there took about 5-6 hours & I got some sleep. Once there our guide took part in a game of soccer with the other local men who I would guess were between 20 to 40 years of age. The young kids were playing a game that looks like marble´s, but with bottle caps & stones. It was fun to watch. After lunch we started off. We got information from Jose, our guide, about the surrounding area & about the walk we would be doing. We were lucky right away as we saw condors walking to the canyon. We would end up seeing them all 3 days of the trip. We stopped at a lookout at the start of the canyon (which is the picture called colcacanyon). The walk was all downhill but quite long since we followed the hill to the right as we walked. The trek is a circle & you do about 1/2 of the circle on the first day, even though it is almost all downhill. I did not feel very good for the first half of the walk, which made me tired for the rest of it. Once down to the bottom we took a break & then made the mistake of skipping across the bridge, which took our energy we had just saved. It was about 30 minutes uphill for the last part which really made us struggle. Probably a good point to mention that I had a cold for the first 12 days I was in Peru, I guess the change of temperature did not do me good. This seemed to hamper all my walking efforts. The place we stayed the night at was called Gloria´s & was really cool. It has outside showers with water at the perfect temperature (outside tank heated by the sun). You could see mountains all around while you showered, it was the best view I ever have had for a shower ;) There was also an orange tree & the huts were really cool. They were mud-brick, with stone floors & a thatched roof. It was so appropriate for the area we were staying in. We also were able to have a candlelight dinner & we got to learn a lot about Peru from Jose, who seemed to be the first trustworthy guide we had. It was such a special night & it was nice to just be Nina & I on this tour, even though I had originally desired other people to go with.

The next morning we got up to have breakfast & leave. Nina felt very bad but she made it up the first tough part to the village where we had some tea & took a rest. The next part was flat walking though the villages & Jose showed us more plants, most of which it seemed like the use was for drug purposes (not the good kind of drug either). It was an interesting & scenic walk. Eventually we went back down the hill to the bridge to cross back over the river (at a different point though). On the way down we saw the Oasis which is the green part of the area & several nice waterfalls.
Once at the Oasis we got a 3 hour break. I went to the pools to do a little swimming & shower, plus read & got lunch prepared by the guide for me. Nina took a big nap, hoping to feel good enough to do the afternoon´s uphill hike. When we started out around 2:30 that afternoon, but soon after the start Nina knew she was feeling to bad to make it so she got a mule from the local village to take her to the top. It was the first time I had ever seen her not make it, but she felt so bad there was really no other way. I was ahead of the group on my own while they got the mule & was walking very fast even though I was going uphill because I was worried about making it by dark. When they caught up to me Jose told me it was 1 1/2 more hours which made me feel really bad & I lost the energy I had because I though I was getting close. The next 45 minutes for me were tough & I really didn´t think I was going to make it. I was also running low on water. Eventually I got to the lady on trail who sells water, at that point Jose told me it was 30 minutes to the top & shortly after that I could see the trees which signaled the top. Then I had renewed energy which was enough to make it just as sunset was starting. It was such a tough walk, but not as bad as Salkantay, since it was lower & easier to breath. Once at the top we got some pictures then went to the hotel. The third day required no walking so we had done the tough part & felt very good about that.

The next morning we got up, had breakfast & left for Cruz del Condor.
When we tried to leave that is, since the bus we were set to take had mechanical issues & did not leave. There was another bus there & no one was really sure which bus it would be so we stood in line waiting for the one bus. It ended up being the other one & we were pretty far back in line so we were worried, but Jose got on the bus quickly & got us 2 seats which was great. Sometimes it is nice to have a guide especially when you do not speak the language. This delayed us around 45 minutes as we waited, plus it was cold, but it was ok since we got on a bus eventually, delays are just part of traveling. Once at Cruz del Condor we sat at the lookout & saw some condors in the distance, but nothing great. We decided to leave on the next bus that came through & walked through the vendors (ladies sitting on the ground selling things) to the bus stop. Just then the condors started coming close to the point where we had been. We rushed back over & I got the picture that is attached (called condor). It was really nice to see them up close :) After that we caught the bus to Chivay. Once there we got a tuk-tuk (that is what it is in Thailand anyways, not sure of the name here) to the center of town. Jose showed us around Chivay a little which included showing us tire shoes, which are shoes made from old tires. I hear Firestone is the brand every kid wants now! Next we caught a nice big buffet lunch at a Gringo only restaurant.
It was a nice way to end the trip. Then we caught the 3 hour bus back to Chivay & on the way saw 80´s videos, some of which were rather weird.
Back in Arequipa we got our bags moved to a hostel away from where Nina had gotten robbed, she got the sticker she needed to make her case official & we went to Colca Trek to cancel the El Misti hike due to our condition. After that we did Internet, had supper & a drink then settled in to our hostel for the night.

The next day we had to move hostel´s again, because the one we were in was booked solid, since it is a a nice place. After that I did laundry, Internet, burned CD´s & did everything else that I needed. Nina did some sight seeing & got everything planned for the next day. She decided to do a day hike, but I did not go with since it was expensive & I wanted to do a similar hike but up Chachani. It was a rather uneventful day.

The next day Nina left for her hike. I moved back to the other hostel since I could get into the dorm room & since Nina was leaving. I also moved her bag & got myself all settled in at the new location. The rest of the day I spent going to the Museum, Monastery & walking around the town until just after Nina got back. I also did shopping & Internet. The last thing of the day was going out to supper with Nina & then going with her to the bus station. It was tough to say goodbye, but we had some great times & more memories to add to the collection so that always helps. After that I came home & went to sleep.

Well I need to get going to see if I am going to be able to attempt Chachani tomorrow, wish me luck :)

During the next installment I will tell you about stone drawings, nice Peruvians & my time in Arequipa.

Love & Peace