Sunday, November 8, 2009

Arequpia Day 2

From November 1

Halloween night was happening in Arequpia. No lie, I havent seen that many people packed into such a small space since the Inauguration! There were a solid 6 to 8 blocks where you just couldnt move. Almost everyone was in costume, some very creative ones, and its fair to say that the lion share of the partying took place not in the discos but in the streets! I did go into one of the parties though, after a long wait and a 15 soles cover charge. Overall, turned out to be a fun night.

The next morning I woke up pretty early and went to the bus station to buy my ticket back to Cusco for Monday. Luckily that turned out to be pretty easy, so I left from there and began to ask people how I could get to the small town of Yura, about an hour outside of Arequipa. Yura has hot spring, but they are less well known and certainly less touristy than the ones in Chivay where they take the tour buses. After hoping from combi to combi (combis are the little vans they pack tons of people into that travel along popular routes) I found my way there for less than 2 soles. The aguas temales, or hot springs, were kind of a dissappointment. They were medicinal hot springs, each little pool with a label for what ailment they help cure. However, they werent that hot! Most were room temperature, 80 to 82 degrees at the warmest. The funny part was watching the Peruvians get in as if the water was 105 degrees or something. Different conception of hot water I guess... Anyway, it was ALL Peruvians, no gringos in sight. I then walked down to the pueblo of Yura to take a quick look before heading back to Arequipa.

Following the advice of my fellow teachers who have been away from home much longer than I have, I took the afternoon in at the gigantic mall and movie theater! They told me before leacing for Arequpia that even if I dont miss it now, I shoudl go while I have the chance, since Cusco has no movie theater. The mall was gigantic, with a food court complete with KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, etc... a huge American style department store, and the movie theater. I saw District 9 which I have been wanting to see for a while, and I wasnt disappointed. Definitely recommend it. After the food court and movie I seemlingly stepped back into Peru for the trip back to my hostel. I had a nice quiet evening, relazing on the terrace watching the sunset before eating dinner in the main plaza, the plaza de armas, and then taking about an hour walk around town. Now I am back at the hostel. Tomorrow morning I head back to Cusco on the 9 hour bus at 7 am. I am not looking forward to the ride, but certainly to the views, which I didnt get to see on the way here since I took the overnight bus. Tuesday...back to work.

Trip to Arequipa Day 1

From Oct. 31st

I left on the bus from Cusco to Arequipa at 8:30 pm last night. The beginning of the bus ride was really fun, there were some nice people around me so we talked for a while, and some fun kids that were playing around. But before long everyone passed out. It took me a while to get a to sleep, and I didn{t get that much sleep over the 10 and a half hour ride to Arequipa, but the two hours or so that I got intermittently was enough for now. They warned me before I got on the bus that you need to guard your things because there is a lot of theft, but that makes it pretty hard to sleep. Anyway, my bag and all of that was cradled in between my legs the whole way, but unfortunately sometime just before leaving the bus someone stole my watch, which I had taken off and put in my pockert for safe keeping. Unfortunately it fell on the ground, and by the time I realized it and ran back into the bus, it was too late. Anyway, minor loss since Maximo gives us a 25 soles allowance to buy a watch since they want us to stay on time, so I will do that next week.

Around 6:30 in the morning I woke up to someone saying Bienvendios a la cuidad blanca de Arequpia! Its called the White City because many of the buildings are made from the volcanish ash from nearby by El Misti! I went straight to my hostel, Hostal Sol de Oro, slept for one hour, and then headed out. Just by wandering the city, which I tend to be pretty good at, I found a lot of the things I wanted to see. I found the museum with the forzen Incan Juanita, who was found about 15 years ago on a discovery mission to the top of the volcano. It turns out she had been burried there, and frozen for the last 500 years or so. The museum had an interesting documentary and plenty of artifacts also found along the way. The body is amazingly in tact, all of the organs still present, and after transporting the body to Johns Hopkins in the U.S. they were able to determine the cause of death, a blow to the head, most likely during the sacrifice ceremony. They found over time many more frozen bodies on the same volcano, accompanied by intricate pottery and other sacrifices to the same God. I also went to an Archaeological museum and a museum with furniture from Incan times, which was pretty interesting since so much of it was accompanied by trap doors and secret spaces, etc... After the museums I walked back to the hostel, but got the Arequipa specialty, helado de queso, cheese ice cream on the way back. I wanst expectign much, but it was surprisingly delicious! Then I took a nap for about three hours to catch up on sleep before heading back out to a couple of spots outside the city for viewpoints of both the city of Arequpia and the mountains and nearby volcanoes. The trip was worth it. The views were decent from the top, but I decided to walk down and found some even more amazing spots along the walk. And just by chance I ran into the Arequpia Gastronomic Festival! That never would have happened if I hadnt walked back from the top, so I was very pleased so discover this new part of town and also solve my dinner plans! The plaza where th efestival was held was gorgeous with a fantastic view, beautiful churches, palm trees, and dozens upon dozens of food stands, cooking classes, and more. That made for a great evening. After I had completely stuffed myself, I walked back over a bridge with a great view of the plaza de armas, back into the central part of the city. Who knew that they celebrated Halloweeen in Peru? I figured there would be some parties hosted by tourists and tourist bars, etc... but it turns out, here in the second biggest city in Peru, there were trick or treaters abound, hand in hand wtih their parents collecting candy in plastic pumpkins! Now I am back at the hostel and getting ready to go out to some halloween related nightlife events. I will write more tomorrow before I head back to Cusco!

Tour of the Sacred Valley

FROM From October 25th!
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For the second part of the Boleto, the full tour of the Sacred Valley, I did a tour with a local tour company here in Cusco. Recovering from the Halloween party the night before, I had to wake up early for the 8:30 am departure. Once we were all on the bus we headed out for the first site in the valley, Pisac. On the way we stopped at a little market basically to encourage us to buy from these local artisans, they also had llama’s and alpaca’s at the market who were being fed by the most adorable young girl, who I took a picture with- also on facebook. We arrived in Pisac at the market, which only occurs on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. The market was gigantic, and with only a 30 minute stop I couldn’t see nearly all of it, but the handicrafts, especially the jewelry, clothing, and blankets! After the market we headed to the Pisac archaeological site which was overwhelming. I had no idea it was going to be so expansive. The only way to explain it is with the pictures, but even they don’t do it justice. I heard some call it a “mini- Machu Picchu”, we hiked for about 20 minutes to the temple of the sun and religious sector of the ruins, and had some time on our own to explore there before heading back. Pisac is said to be set up in the shape of a Puma, like the city of Cusco. After Pisac we stopped in Urubamba (actually it was outside of the town) for lunch at a very expensive buffet, which was not included in the tour. So two others on the tour and I decided to make the most of the 45 minutes we had there and rush into town on motor-bikes, find a nice cheap menu place to eat in the actual town, and actually have a few minutes to walk around and see the main plaza and surrounding area of this sacred valley town.

After Urubamba we ventured on to Ollantaytambo at the edge of the sacred valley. As you climb up the ruins there you get a fantastic view of the town of Ollantaytambo, and also the king carved into the mountain. There is what very much resembles a man’s face carved into the mountain with a crown on his head. Of course it could very well be a coincidence except that they say it was supposed to represent the God of the Sun, and every single year at the winter solstice the sun shines directly on his face, which our guide explains is why they carved it in that spot. Legend has it that the white bearded god Viracocha entered the town, and blessed the people, and they honored him by carving his profile into the nearby mountains.

On our way back to Cusco we stopped at sunset at the small site of Chinchero, where we saw a small but beautiful church, and I had a few minutes finally to purchase some local handicrafts. Chinchero means town of the rainbows in Quechua and got it’s name because it is the fabled birthplace of the rainbow. We arrived back in Cusco at around 7:30 pm, just in time for me to watch the Sunday night football game at a sweet British bar.☺.

Tourist Ticket- the Cusco area


Wow…what a day! It all started at 11 am…haha, because that is when I woke up after a very fun Saturday night. But I got right to it, made a big pancake breakfast for Claire and myself, and then headed right out. Yesterday I bought the “boleto turistico” or tourist ticket which covers almost all of the major sites in the Cusco area and the Sacred Valley. Luckily I got it for just 70 soles, the student price, instead of 140 the adult price, since I have an old student ID with no expiration date! My plan was to do Cusco areas sites today and take a Sacred Valley tour next Sunday. So I walked, about 45 minutes or so, very far uphill, to the first site called Saxsaywaman (yes…it does sound a lot like “sexy woman.”)

All of the sites are Incan archaeological sites, used for different purposes, but all of them included temples. I didn’t have a guide so I was just discovering on my own, next week for the Sacred Valley I will definitely do a full guided tour. As I climbed through the rocks of Saxsaywaman I was thinking, you know, every step I take is probably the highest elevation I have ever stood at in my life. My mind thought that was pretty cool, my respiratory system was not as pleased. Speaking of my respiratory system, I was lucky not to initially have too many adverse effects of the altitude, but I haven’t adjusted well. My nose has been stopped up for a month and a half and I can’t stop coughing, and it never seems to go away. Not sure if that has to do with the altitude or the massive amount of dust or what. So I stayed at Saxsaywaman for a while because it is absolutely huge site and you can walk all over it and find spots with amazing views.

Anyway, after Saxsaywaman I had a quick lunch at a cheap place on the the walk to the second site Q’Enqo, which was mostly used as a hospital. It even had a little cave and you could see the spot where they would lay bodies down and treat patients on the very very cold stone. At Q’Enqo I ran into a guy who told me he was a chaman. Chamanism is pretty common here, and he offered to show me a little bit and promised he wouldn’t ask for a dime, so I thought, why not. It was pretty cool, and he was an honest guy, never asked for any money, said he was just doing it because he believes in natural healing. Anyway, he “analyzed” my energy and then took me to a few different spots at Q’enqo to do what was basically meditation mixed with pressure point healing. It was kinda fun! My energy is now restored! Maybe its psychological but I totally did feel like I had a lot of energy after that. The next stop was 7 km away, so I jumped in a “combi” which is a small van where they cram in tons of people and go up and down certain routes charging very little for the lift. The next site was Puka Pukara which has just spectacular views of the region and the mountains in the distance. I met some other tourists while I was there and they took some pretty good pictures for me, which I’ve posted on facebook. My last stop was Tambomachay, a smaller site, but again with amazing views over the area. I finally caught a combi for just 2 soles all the way back into Cusco.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


A google map of some of my spots around Cusco so far.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Arrival in Cusco

Wow! What a plane ride! As we took off from Lima and ascended through the clouds, it was as if the Andes Mountains rose with us. As we passed through the clouds I saw the tops of the mountains, many covered in snow. The ride provided magnificent views all the way to Cusco. I was warned, but still not prepared for the descent. Of course we only had to descend about half of the distance that we ascended, but since Cusco lies in a valley completely surrounded by towering mountains, the plane has to circle around the area and then very quickly swoop on down into the airport That part was scary, but also beautiful. Once I landed I was picked up by a travel company associated with the school I am going to work at. They took me directly to the school so I could look around. It is a very nice space, with the office, copy room, etc.. downstairs and upstairs the classes, a café, an internet lounge, and on the third floor, the teachers space. After a quick tour they took me over to my home-stay, a little further from the center of town. The condo is gorgeous. My hosts the Salazar’s seem to be pretty well off. The place has gorgeous views of the city out the window. I have my own room, wireless internet , and cable TV! I will be here for just five days forever and in that time I need to find my own apartment (surely won’t be as nice). Tomorrow I have orientation at 9 am. I seem to be adjusting pretty well to the altitude although it is certainly much more difficult to breath, but I am not super sick or anything. I am going to go for a walk with my host Dad now. Ciao!

Day 5 Last Day in Lima

Today I went to a smaller town just outside of Lima called Chorrillos. Chorrillos is a wonderful little town right on the ocean, which you can see from other parts of Lima because it has a huge cross that lights up at night on the water. The town was so alive! It seemed like the entire town was one big market, and at every turn, another long street full of fruits, vegetables, meats, and small restaurants. I had a drink made from sugar cane, he cut the cane right in front of me and squeezed out the juice. It was delicious, and apparently pretty healthy! I spent a few hours there and had some great Criolle food for lunch. After returning to the hostel around 4 or 5 pm, I spent most of the rest of the day at the hostel, but went out for a nice past dinner with a chocolate desert! This is the end of my time in Lima. Tomorrow morning I head to the airport for my trip to Cusco. I’ve been on these altitude pills for a couple days now, so here’s hoping I do okay once I am on the ground in Cusco!

Day 4

Today I just took it easy. I had seen most of what I wanted to see in the city so I decided to chill out at the hostel with Natalia, who by the way works at Mount Snow in Vermont during the winter. We watched some tv and she taught me a lot about Peruvian culture, like how the education system works here and how the health care system works (they just passed free universal health care this past year). In the evening I went out to Parque de Aguas, a huge fenced in park full of beautiful water fountains. As it gets dark they all light up in bright colors and there were literally thousands of people there, mostly couples and families, awaiting the huge light show that happens every night. Before hand people were having fun running through some of the fountains, kids dashing through as the water dies down, and one of the fountains is a series of arcs where the water rises and then falls on the other side of you as you walk (or run) through. Shortly the water show started and it was spectacular. I have some videos and pictures to upload. They actually project words and images on the water as the show goes on, lasers project colors on the fountains and it’s all set to music. After that I went back to Miraflores, got some dinner, and headed back to the hostel so I could watch the Video Music Award’s with the hostel staff. Green Day won 3 VMA’s (every one they were nominated for), including Best Rock Video for 21 Guns, and of course it’s nice to know there are Green Day fans here in Peru!

Day 3

Today I stayed closer to the area where my hostel is and visited two huacas or mud pyramids, that date back as far as the 4th and 5th centuries. The city of Lima was eventually built on top of them and they developed on top of most of them but preserved just a couple and now have museums there. You can see how they made the pyramids by building the mud bricks and how they divided their small communities into the centers for worship and other areas for work and production of goods and beautiful pottery and such that they only made for the purpose of breaking it all as a sacrifice, and then burying it in the mud pyramids, which is how a lot of it is preserved, since they found it during excavation. At night I went out with one of the guys who works at the hostel, Jhony, and a friend of his. We went bar hopping around Miraflores. We went to some pretty nice places and I ended up doing quite a bit of dancing at the final club (they played all the Salsa songs, and reagatton that I am familiar with)!

Day 2

Again I explored El Centro, downtown Lima. I went to the Catacombs under La Iglesia de San Francisco. They have literally thousands of bones, they say 25,000 people were buried there since it was literally the first organized cemetery space for the city of Lima. There was one skull in the large pile of skulls that looked bright and new and I was joking with the group that that was a tourist from the last tour who used his camera (since that wasn’t allowed), but it turns out they put that there just for our amusement. I walked around a few more neighborhoods of the city and just discovered as much as I could of the area by foot. At night I checked out the very interesting Bohemian neighborhood of Barranco.

Lima- Day 1

Today was a great reminder of both all of the joys and perils of travelling by foot in search of an adventure in a foreign city! I am always pretty big on the philosophy that the best way to discover places is to it by foot and to not have any specific destination in mind when you set out unless you are in a time crunch. With 8 days in Lima, I am certainly not in a time crunch. So this morning I somehow woke up at 6:45 am after a very long day almost entirely without breathing real air, moving from plane to airport to plane. Anyway, since my hostel didn’t serve breakfast until 8 am, I wandered outside to the main square, Parque Kennedy, and found a nice café that was open and had a simple breakfast. I wanted to make sure my hostel was the best one I could find in the area, so I toured a couple others, realized mine was the best place to be, and then returned. By that time breakfast was being served and I had some delicious squash pancakes. Then I gathered my things and set out for the city. My goal was to get to “El Centro”, the center of the city, from Miraflores, a pretty far trek. I wanted to do it the local way, and save money, so I spent a good 20 minutes observing locals board the buses and figuring out which ones went where. Eventually I figured out that all the collectivos (old buses that feel like they are about to die, packed with people) travelled down each of the main avenues for only 1 sole, or about 30 cents. So I figured out which one went to El Centro, and hopped on. Well, the system wasn’t smooth, and it took 3 collectivos, and about 2 miles of walking to get to where I wanted to go- the center of it all, Plaza de Armas. I finally arrived, very hungry, just in time for lunch. I had a great lunch looking out at the square (although I skipped over the drink the waiter handed me that he said was “like juice made from weed”). Then I toured a great cathedral on the square where the remains of Francisco Pizarro, the Conquistador, are “buried”- in reality they are simply scattered all over the property since the very violent earthquakes have really shaken that Cathedral and prompted many re-constructions. Luckily, they kept his head in a separate box!

Now it gets interesting. I guy approached me in the main square and introduced himself, explaining he was a teacher in a small town in Northern Peru and was selling maps and such to fundraise for his students to be able to buy medicine. After some talking I told him I was also in Peru to teach, and would be going to Cusco in a week to start. So he gave up the sales pitch and offered to show me around a bit. He goes into Lima twice a month for this purpose, so he knows the city very well, and he studied here as a kid and young adult. Anyway, over the course of the next 5 hours, he showed me probably half of the tourist attractions on the map in El Centro and Rimac. Rimac is by the river and next to what are called Pueblo Jovenes (which translates directly into young town) but really means shanty town’s. They are town, now apparently throughout Peru and other Latin American countries that are built out of very basic materials and often built outside the city rising up on the mountains. They carve out rough raods up the mountainside to get to the areas. We also walked around Plaza Muralla, where there is a wall of murals down by the river and a nice are for people to hang out and play games and such. When we came back into Central Lima he said we should try some Alpaca and Pisco Sour for dinner. So I agreed to go with him, knowing he would probably make me pay for most or all of it, but meals are generally very cheap. To make a long story short, he went over the waitress at the bar so I couldn’t hear and ordered two HUGE Pisco Sour’s and a plate of food straight from a Peruvian wedding buffet. It was gigantic. As soon as they brought it out later I told him I couldn’t pay for all of it, I only had something like $20 or 30 US dollars on me. I asked the waitress for the check. It was, after the conversion, $100 US, which is unheard of in Peru, even in fancy hotels. So I told the waitress the guy was trying to scam me and I told him I couldn’t pay before. She was in a tough spot so she told me I could pay half and go. Nonetheless, that was a bad ending to what was otherwise a good day. I salvaged the night a little bit by going out and dancing some Son (a Cuban variation of Salsa) before going back and crashing.