Tuesday, May 11, 2010


We found Robin and Laurie a little frazzled. After waiting outside Pisac Inn for 3 hours (the hotel told us that they had not yet checked in), we checked our email to find a frantic message from Robin saying that they needed to buy train tickets to Aguas Calientes but couldn't finalize the deal until we gave them our passport numbers. GOOD! we said. The train tickets were expensive and we had heard of a slew of other ways to get to Aguas Calientes.

Unfortunately, the email from Robin had been written from inside the inn. The tickets were already paid for... in cash, and just as expensive as we feared. We spent the evening calling the travel agent to try to give her our passport numbers and then spent the next two days chasing them around ("They'll be delivered tomorrow at 11, no wait, 5, no wait, you weren't at the hotel so we took them to Ollantaytambo, they'll be at a mini-market there waiting for you.") In the end we got the tickets the night before the train ride. So we won't be able to tell you the full proof layout for how to get to Aguas Calientes without paying $125 return tickets on the train. But the advice that we can give is this: go to Pisac or any of the surrounding towns and ask around. Most of the people who live there will offer suggestions. The bill will probably go down to 10 soles (although everything costs more than people say it will).

Despite the stressful introduction, we all had a wonderful evening together. We paid way too much for a hotel in Pisac (and yet, still much less than any hotel in the US would have cost - $80 USD for all four of us), reserved by Courtney's mom, that turned out to be the most comfortable and amazing hotel experience Chris and Courtney had ever had. Tea service with delicious brownies, breakfast with eggs and fresh papaya/orange juice, soft beds with QUALITY linens and down comforters (as opposed to thick heavy wool blankets) and a beautiful courtyard. We showered, washed clothes and ate dinner together. Laurie even footed the bill for the hotel.

Pisac is famous for the Incan Ruins on the hillside above. One can take a taxi there or walk up the mountainside for 5km. Chris and Laurie took the taxi. Courtney and Robin opted for the hike. The scenery was beautiful and the ruins were impressive. High above the river valley, complete with classic Incan terrace work. The site wasn't very populated with tourists so we had a nice quiet time. Chris, Robin and Courtney summited the mountain and we were all very proud. The view was fantastic.

The Incas loved to use terracing on the mountain sides. It looked like this.

The name Pisac originates from the word pisaca or partridge and is laid out to resemble a bird from an aerial view. It was once a great Inca city including a temple and a military zone. The different zones were identified by the levels of stone work - rougher stones used in every day home building and more intricate interlocking stonework for the military and upper-class zones. The Temple was built with perfectly sized and polished interlocking stones. They had a connection to the land that is somewhat zen - utilizing existing rock formations and the shape of the land to create their city. The Incas often incorporated these formations as part of the structure of the buildings they were erecting - as a wall or the foundation etc. In the Temple zone the formations were left natural and seem to have spiritual significance. Another example: there were 3 tunnels in the pathways through the city that were made from natural clefts in the mountainside. The Incas were a tiny people so it was difficult even for Chris to crawl through them.

One of the tunnels that we had to squeeze through in the Pisaq ruins.

Laurie posing with a few amazing rocks: perfectly polished and formed (both Laurie and the rocks).
These stones are not just sitting one on top of the other. They are the original LEGO. They are formed to fit one inside the other. No two rocks are the same. Amazing.

Their burial technique was extremely interesting. Set in the walls of the opposing mountains were thousands of burial caves. The caves were hollowed out by the Incas and important figures were mummified and placed in the caves looking outward toward the city. Burying them this way allowed the dead to watch over the city for eternity. Eternity wasn't that long however. Since there is no evidence of pre-Inca life on this site, it's assumed that the site is only 600 years old. About a century after it was built, the Spaniards came and destroyed the site along with everything else in their path.

Because we are slow, as a general rule, we got to the entrance of the ruins after the sun had set and there was little chance of us finding a taxi to take us home. We walked about half way to Pisac (5km) before finding a couple of "taxi drivers" (In a mini-market hanging out with their friends. Most likely they were just guys with a car who thought, "Hey, we're going to Pisac anyway, we might as well make 15 soles out of the deal." But Courtney talked them down to under 10 soles and away we went.) We bought fruit and pastries and ate dinner in the hotel. We had moved to the hotel around the corner for less than a third of the price of Pisac Inn. It was a really nice place as well and came with a bonus: a fruiting fig tree right in our courtyard! Yum.

The plans for the following day were elaborate and therefore didn't work out quite as we had hoped but we all had a fun time anyway. We had bought a ticket that let us go to any of four sites in the valley. Since we had the option to go to two of the ruins that were on the way to Ollantaytambo, we worked out a place and time to meet in Urubamba, the big city near the ruins. Chris and Courtney biked while Robin and Laurie "took the bus." Evidently the bus never came. They were offered a taxi for S./30 and a nice local lady helped them talk the driver down to S./3 per person. Due to the delay, they were an hour and a half late meeting us. Instead of seeing the ruins we ate lunch in Urubamba - paying Argentina prices for pizza. But, unlike in Argentina, the pizza was delicious.

Then Chris and Courtney continued on to Ollantaytambo by bike and we convened once again. We got a hostel with a scorpion for a roommate at a great price and then went to the ruins that loomed above the city. The mountain sides are a popular place to visit Inca ruins. The Incas had an aversion to the valley below (flooding, perhaps?) and built all of their cities of the sacred valley high up. We arrived a little late but still had enough time to see the whole site, although we were the last people to leave and the guard had to usher us out.

Courtney and our scorpion roommate. Ollantaytambo, Perú.

Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, the conqueror of the region. Pachacuti died before the conquistadores arrived but the estate was left to his family clan. Manco Inca, leader of the native resistance against the conquistadores was using Ollantaytambo as a temporary capital. In 1536 he successfully fended off the Spanish invaders who termed the city "the fortress" even though this was not it's original function. The name stuck. It is known as the fortress even by the locals. Rightly nicknamed too. It would be difficult to defeat an army inside those walls. Some of the stones we saw in the ruins were the size of SUVs. Plus, having built their cities in the sides of the mountains, the Incas definitely had the high ground.

Courtney getting cozy with some of the enormous and well formed rocks that made up a wall in the ruins at Ollantaytambo.

The Fortress. Ollantaytambo, Perú.

Early the next morning we got on a train to Aguas Calientes, the town outside of Machu Picchu. The town is surprisingly difficult to navigate and it took us an hour just to find our hostel - once again reserved for us by Courtney's mom. Laurie had come all this way to fulfill the life long dream of seeing Machu Picchu so he bought tickets for 2 days. The rest of us bought tickets for 1 day and decided to see how we felt after seeing it the first time. There was a perk to going a second day. Wayna Picchu, the mountain one sees in the background of every picture of Machu Picchu, is hikeable, but only to 400 people per day. If we went a second day, we could get up at 4 am to hike up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, then run from one side of the ruins to the other in order to get in line before the other several hundred people, all doing the same thing, and maybe get to hike up to the top.

Our steed. The train that brought us to Aguas Calientes.
A much nicer experience than the ride back to Ollantaytambo. Leather seats, fancy snacks and chocolates...

Fun on the train.

On this day, however, we arrived at the ruins by bus. They were not very crowded, so Chris, Courtney, and Robin made their way to the entrance to Wayna Picchu to see if they would be let in. At 12:45pm we were numbers 363, 364, and 365 to enter the hike. Que Suerte! From a distance, Wayna Picchu looks like a steeply angled cone. To ascend, one climbs many stairs carved into the rock, sometimes with the aid of modern railings and ropes. At the top are more very small steep stairs that circle the peak and give access to the ruins there.

Hey look! It's us (Robin, Courtney, Chris) at the top of Wayna Picchu!
Altitude: 2634 msnm. UTM: 766050E 8544183N

Chris standing perilously at the top of one of the steep stairwells leading to the summit of Wayna Picchu.

One more excellent example of the use of natural rock formations as a foundation in the building of the Inca cities.

The view is not bad. Machu Picchu is in such good condition because it is very remote, and was undiscovered until 1912. High above the river valley, there are no obnoxious modern constructions to interfere with the zen feeling (aside from the entrance where one finds a cafeteria, gift shop and hotel - rooms starting at $825 per night and going up to $1400 (champagne on arrival, massage and full board) - but these are not visible from the ruins). The clouds that hang over the surrounding mountains create a serene, safe atmosphere. Walking through the mostly pristine ruins, a feeling of inner peace is tempered by a recurring ambition to take the perfect photograph.

Here's one.
Once more, a great example of a pre-existing rock being used as a wall in Machu Picchu.

In the end Machu Picchu was not as amazing as it was built up to be. It is certainly the most impressive of the three ruins that we saw and very well kept. But is it worth the $125 train fair, $15 bus ride and $45 entrance fee? For us this is a stupid question because the money is spent and the ruins were seen. No un-doing that. The best part of Machu Picchu for us were the hikes we did - to Wayna Picchu and to the Inca Bridge - quiet, really beautiful landscape and folliage. The views were amazing. The ruins - well we had seen a lot of ruins at that point. Very impressive, but just ruins all the same. Machu Picchu was a city of rich people on the top of the mountain. This was their resting place - their spa. The people were no more or less exotic than us, just people trying to eat, breed, sleep, build, survive - and obviously doing a good job if they managed to reach the level of spa treatment in their civilization.

As is our M.O. we were the last people to leave the ruins. We decided at the last minute to go see the Inca Bridge. The Incas had built stones up the side of the mountain to create a pathway along a cliff wall. Amazing architecture. We were running back from the hike and emerged from the starting point to find a completely empty Machu Picchu - a breathtaking sight.

The Inca Bridge. The hand built wall goes all the way across the photo. Built up from the cliff wall up to the ridge that the Incas walked on back in the day. Now it's blocked off as "unsafe." Probably not true since most other Inca structures outlasted all of the Spanish buildings through a few different earthquakes.

Did we mention the llamas that are scattered about the grounds of Machu Picchu?

Robin and Courtney in front of an otherwise empty Machu Picchu.
Wayna Picchu is rising up just behind the ruins.

We had planned to hike down to Aguas Calientes instead of taking the bus, but because we were so late, the sun had begun to set so we paid for the bus. Before resting we made a trip to the most expensive mercado in all of South America and prepared dinner in the hotel.

Laurie spent the following day at the ruins in the rain while Courtney, Chris and Robin relaxed - we had summited 3 mountains in 3 days and were very sore (It turns out that biking is very different from hiking). Robin, however, was fine. She walks to and from work every day and has great hiking legs. We took the train back to Ollantaytambo in the evening and stayed at the same hotel - no scorpion this time - and were reunited with our bicycles. And in the morning we wandered the streets of the city. Ollantaytambo is unique because the Spaniards did not destroy it. The modern city is built on the foundations of the Incan ruins. It was beautiful. The streets were narrow straight lines with water canals running along the sides, just like in the ruins above the city.

The street-side canals in Ollantaytambo, Perú. You can see from this picture
how the modern structures are built on top of the stone Incan foundations.

In the afternoon we took a bus to Cusco and had a fun night without water due to the street construction outside. After they lied to us over and over about when the water would be turned back on, we informed them that we were going to pay half price (S./40 - an above average price for Perú but a good price for Cusco) and they did not argue with us. After dark we walked around Cusco to see the many many churches and plazas. The city is most beautiful at night. The buildings are lit up and magical. Plus, at night one can't see the haze that hovers over the city.

Courtney and Robin in the main plaza in Cusco, Perú by night.

The next day we took a tour of the Temple of the Sun or Qorikancha which, after the Spaniards moved in was turned into a Catholic church. We got a tour guide and he gave us an hour tour (for a very small space. It was chalk full of fun facts). The site had been hit by 2 enormous earthquakes since the Spaniards had built their church. The Inca structure had been undamaged while the Spanish Church had been destroyed.

The following 40 hours were a blur. We bussed from Cusco to Lima, then Lima to Trujillo, with only a brief 6 hour layover in Lima which was filled with the task of getting ourselves and all our stuff from one bus station to the next.

Courtney and Laurie on their way to scope out a hotel for our stay in Trujillo.

Trujillo is a large cloudy city on the north coast of Perú. The second largest city in the country. We spent our final 4 days there. In Cusco Provence we spent too much time traveling around so instead of driving up and down the coast we picked a spot on the map and settled in. While our primary goal was to eat lots of Ceviche (spelled Cebiche in Perú) and relax by the beach, there are more, easily accessed ruins near the city.

For our first outing we went to Huanchaco, a beach town nearby. We rolled around in the sand and swam a bit. The water was pretty cold - we were a month into Fall at this point. But the sun was warm and Robin and Courtney walked around looking at crafts and drying off. All together we ate a huge feast of cebiche (fish marinated in lemon juice, served with peppers and onions. Yum), chicharrones (deep fried anything, but in our case, seafood) and Pisco Sours (the national drink consisting of pisco, sour and whipped egg whites). Very touristy, also DELICIOUS.

The Huanchaco Beach.

We made our way back: Courtney and Chris by bike. Robin and Laurie by bus. Robin, Courtney and Chris wandered the streets looking for more cebiche for dinner but learned that it's a lunch food, so we were out of luck. We had a long day ahead so we got some take out and went back to the hotel.

The day we had planned was a trip to the Ruinas de Chan Chan. Chan means Sun. The double Chan Chan is supposed to mean Great Sun or Resplendent Sun or something of that sort. The sun obviously played and important roll in for the Chimú (the people who inhabited Chan Chan). Perhaps it was easier for them to accept Inti (the Inca God, also the sun) as their supreme god once they were conquered (along with the rest of Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador, Northern Argentina and many other parts of South America).

The ruins are actually of an entire city. They make up the largest adobe structure in all of Latin America (the 2nd largest in the world). The Architecture is what makes Chan Chan so interesting. The detail work in the adobe is amazing. The diamond-lattice patterns in the architecture represent fishing nets, giving us an idea of how important fishing and the sea was to the Chimú people of Chan Chan. Designs of fish swimming in one direction show the normal direction of the Humboldt Current. A very short section at one end of the fish lined corridor shows them swimming in the other direction. This represents the short time when the Humboldt Current runs in the other direction: El Niño. Obviously, the recent floods in the Sacred Valley are on a long list of important events caused by El Niño.

Diamond-lattice pattern in Chan Chan

Water also played an important roll for the Chimú. This is evident in their intricate water system. The portion of the ruins that had been restored (the portion we were shown) even had a small reservoir which is all that is left of the aqueduct system that the Chimú had built. When the Incas decided to conquer the Chimú they simply destroyed the aqueducts. Today, due to floods and need for a better water system, the people of Trujillo are considering restoring the highly advanced water system of the Chimú.

So after a fun day exploring the ruins we went on a search for food and found that everything was closed due to a mysterious festival that we never did understand completely. Finally we ran into a couple of guys who told us about a mercado right in the center of town that would still be open. We rushed over to it to pick out some treats for dinner and discovered that it was the fanciest mercado we'd ever seen. All sorts of nice cheese and olives. Chocolate and fancy nuts to choose from. A juice bar that also sold flan. We sat at the juice bar for quite some time, waiting for Chris to return from the wine store and had cup after cup of delicious papaya, apple, orange juice.

Chris had been chatting with the two men who directed us to the mercado and made friends. They wanted some help with their English so he met them in the plaza later. It turned out that they just wanted to hang out, write a sentence or two in English and then drink beer. Oops, they only had a S./ 100 note so Chris bought the beer. One of the guys made sure that Chris would pass on the message that Robin was cute and could be his American girlfriend.

After dinner we wandered around Trujillo at night, enjoying the lights and pretty architecture. Not quite noble but colorful and slightly European, just the same. Beautiful iron balconies, courtyards, trees... The Plaza is a pretty sight at night too. It's backed by a yellow church. Not remarkable compared to many churches of Perú but it complements the rest of the town in its simplistic style. In truth, it was very beautiful.

Courtney in front of Trujillo's main plaza by day. The Church is in the background on the right.

Early in the morning we rose to visit another site: Huacas del Sol y de la Luna: The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. This was also an interesting place. The Moche people were living in the valley before the Chimú and are an early version of the same civilization. The Moche are known for their pottery and their love of human sacrifice. The Tumi, a national symbol and a recent addition to the S./ 1 coin, is actually the traditional sacrificial knife that was used by the Moche people during their religious ceremonies.

Their city was also made of adobe but most of it is still being restored. On either side of the residential area is a pyramid. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk around inside the Huaca de la Luna. It was beautifully built around the contours of the land. There is a huge stone on the top level that is probably something of a support beam throughout all the levels. This stone is the very stone used in sacrificial ceremonies. The pyramid does not come to a point. With each empire a new level is built and the lower level is filled and covered. The outside of the pyramid shows a different colorful mural for each level: 8 in all (Oddly, the lowest level is the smallest. As each empire grows, the levels become wider. The pyramid is upside down on the inside BUT each new empire builds the walls out to create what looks like a normal pyramid from the outside. Hard to explain... but because of this crazy upside down/right side up pyramid nonsense, one can see levels and levels of older murals underneath the outer most layer. Very complex. Very interesting.)

Tumi himself. Do you feel the power?

The murals that decorate the outer walls of the pyramid.

So that was it. On a recommendation from a local we went straight to a cebiche restaurant and ate some delicious food. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the mercado to get a few things and drink some more juice and flan. The ladies who worked there were delighted to see us again. And then we readied ourselves for the bus ride to Lima.

Our delightful last lunch in Trujillo. Cebiche in the bottom right corner.

We had a few hours to kill after we arrived in Lima. We filled our time well. We stayed mostly near the main plaza and never did get to see the super touristy part of town: Miraflores. We did get to see the river and ran some errands (buying big bags to consolidate our panniers). Looked at crafts, drank coffee, had a final cebiche meal (during happy hour). We had gotten a donation from Jeff Walls (a friend from Chris's School, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor) to go out with a bang: a final meal in Peru. We were instructed to drink too much. We didn't. But it was fun all the same. We ate good food and had some more Pisco Sours and talked about our favorite things. We walked around and saw some sights too. Mostly big fancy buildings. Very grand. We watched the changing of the guards on the Plaza too. A lovely marching band performance for the most part.

We can still get excited about Inca Kola even after an all night bus ride.
Also about directing traffic.

This stand was one of many stationed in the streets on our walk into Down Town Lima.
Quinoa - Maca Drinks helped revive us after our long bus ride.

The big city (and its traffic)

The things you learn in Lima: Pooping is more expensive than peeing.

The final days of travel with Laurie and Robin had been wonderful, if not a bit rushed. We all felt the stress of too many hours of buses, hauling bikes around but not riding them, moving place too often (which is not as satisfying on a bus as it is on bikes). But we also saw many many beautiful things and had a great time. So knowing that, we all headed to the airport together. Laurie and Robin's flight was at 11:30pm on May 5th while ours was at 6:25 in the morning. So we piled in a taxi with the bikes strapped to the top. Only after we had been driving for a while did the taxi driver say, "Oh, it's illegal to drive with anything on top of the car in Lima. And they probably won't let me into the airport like this..." but we had no problems. Robin and Laurie got all set to take off and we said goodbye. We could hear their flight being announced over the loud speaker. Good bye Robin and Laurie!

Chris and Courtney spent the entire night in the airport. We had packed some food and ate at the food court then went over to the all night desert restaurant and took turns involuntarily falling asleep. Then we ordered ice cream at 3:30am: Chocolate, Lúcuma, Mocha. At 4:00am we hauled our bikes down to the lower level and got in line to check in.

Two days prior we had called ahead to ask what the bike policy was. Both the internet and the woman at the other end of the phone assured us that we only need to take the peddles off, and turn the handle bars to the side. Wrong. Or at least American Airlines at the Lima Airport would have nothing to do with it. After talking to several different people (time ticking) we finally convinced them that there was no way we were going to get back to Lima, find a box (let alone 2) for our bikes, pack them, get back to the airport and fly out in 1.5 hours. So they let us wrap our bikes in saran wrap, which set us back $40 and then they charged us $135 per bike instead of $100. So that was frustrating.

The fun part was, once we convinced the saran wrap guy that we were pretty much broke, he decided we were his friends and not just some rich white kids. The man we were talking to rallied the troops and got our bikes wrapped for $40 instead of the initial suggestion $60. The machine only lets out a certain amount of wrap per charge of $10 so we were pulling used plastic from the garbage to cover the tough spots then wrapping the bikes twice instead of three times. Then, sweating and grinning he gave Courtney a big hug, having accomplished the job.

TrueStar team to the rescue!

The not so fun part was the huge bag of extra toxic PVC plastic that we ended up with after unwrapping our bikes at home. And while the baggage wrapping industry is expanding, no one seems to be talking about its environmental effects. Adding to the landfill, among the many single use products that we use today. Since we're two people who care a lot about the environment, this really upset us. So we're going to shamelessly promote the reduction of single use products right now. It is the farthest thing from sustainable but the easiest thing to overlook in the household. In addition to maxing out our landfills rapidly, we're also running out of the resources with which to make disposable items (and when that happens, we also won't have those resources for anything else). Here's an article about why we should reduce our usage of these products (there's a wordy bit about the population in China but it has a point). And here's a few helpful websites to get you started.

My Green Side - very basic household list

Reduce.org - a little more in depth: from office to travel to shopping etc.

Back to the point:
We checked the bikes and 2 bags but were told that this time our bikes counted as bags so we weren't able to check our 3rd bag which happened to be our tools, some of which were confiscated later. (Didn't really think it through when we said "Fine! Fine! no problem, we'll take it as carry on!" .. Maybe we could have removed the "harmful items and check them) Then we ran to our gate and made it just in time.

We didn't take the moment to reflect on the fact that we were leaving Perú.

We got on the plane and flew away.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Entering Peru in our Final Days

The morning after the last post Chris woke up ill from something he ate the night before. The mystery to these illnesses is that we always eat the same thing, but generally only one of us will fall ill from it. Courtney was fine, but after struggling through our goodbye breakfast, in which Cristian and Dorothy came all the way to Cristian´s house (he sleeps atLuisa´s, his girlfriend and co-cafe owner, 3 km farther south) to join us, Chris went back to bed and we resigned ourself to another day in beautiful La Paz. Courtney went back to the cafe to help out for the evening. There she found Dorothy and spent the evening sharing a bottle of wine with a friend from Holland, Spain, and Germany. The mutual language was English, not Spanish.

The next day was a no go as well. Chris was feeling better but by the time we were feeling good enough to leave town, it was already the afternoon. We tried to go back and help at the cafe but there wasn´t much to do. Cristian closed early and we all went to Luisa´s for ¨Grand Comida¨ (dinner). This turned out to be Courtney and Chris cooking while the rest of the party sat by the warm fireplace with glasses of wine and beer. But the dinner was lovely and a great goodbye.

Our REAL farewell breakfast was at the cafe in the morning. A blast from the past: peanutbutter. Dorothy, also a cyclist, is convinced that all she needs for energy to bike all day long is a peanutbutter breakfast. So she shared with us to prove her point and to help us along with our day. We ate plenty, enjoying the taste that we hadn´t experienced since California. It turns out that she was right. We biked straight through the day and weren´t hungry until dinner. This may also have been the parasites that were filling our stomachs with gas. But we´ll never know. Our search for peanutbutter has yet to be realized in order to make a second test.

The original plan was to get up in time for a 5 am bus, but we had gotten to Cristian´s late the night before and we´re not very good at giving up sleep. Plus, by avoiding it, we got to eat breakfast with Dorothy. This was a good thing anyway because the straight up the canyon ride from the cafe to the bus stop took almost an hour. We thought to take the bus in order to avoid a ride straight up the canyon since Chris´s illness set us back 2 days. But every direction in La Paz is straight up.

The bus took us to Huarina, a town just on the edge of Lago Titicaca, about 60km from La Paz. The ride was beautiful and we were feeling better. The road took us along the coast of the lake (something compareable to the great lakes: complete with islands and at times you can´t see the other side for it´s vastness.) It was a great re-introduction to riding after several days off the bike. The first half was flat, and the scenery amazing. Afterwards we gently climbed up through the mountains weaving along the waterside like HWY 101 on the coast of California.
Lago Titicaca from the road. The snow capped mountains in the background. Lago Titicaca, Bolivia.

We descended back to the water´s edge at Taquina where we took the big wooden car ferry across the straight connecting the two massive portions of Lago Titicaca. That night we took advantage of the hospitality of the Naval Guard. They were very friendly but when we went to bed at 7:30 after it got dark the Guard was just beginning their evening drill which consisted of them playing hide-and-go-seek in the camping ground. ¨Stomp stomp stomp¨ with the big black boots, then ¨whisper whisper whisper¨ behind the trees and in the shadows. To make matters worse, it was Courtney´s turn to get sick. She was up and in the bathroom 3 times in the night getting strange looks from the Marines as she returned to the tent.

The barge that carried us from Taquina to San Pedro, Bolivia.

Things continued to get better, however. We were still able to ride the rest of the way to Copacabana the following day. The ride was just as gorgeous. We climbed up to a pass at 4300m but the roads this far north are much easier to manage. They are well planned. None of the ¨follow the valley until you hit the mountain then throw some switchbacks on there, ascend, descend down the mountain, and do it all again for the next valley mountain combo (of which there are many)¨ that was so present in southern Bolivia. Another interesting part of what made the trip so enjoyable was the evident lack of interest the dogs had in us. They noticed us go by and didn´t try to kill us. How pleasant.

We arrived in Copacabana early enough to get changed and then walk down the beach for the sunset. We enjoyed a beer on the waterfront at one of the many kioscos set up for just such a purpose. We ran into a friend from Tupiza who was on his way to the Isla del Sol. Then we did the touristy thing and got dinner at the Hosteling International Restaurant which was good but not great. Tasted like Argentina. The place we stayed at was incredibly friendly and right on the water front. They´ve painted their cabins beautifully and we got to play with the really tiny puppy that invited itself into our room.

The boats made of reeds, floating in the port of Copacabana. Nearby there are entire islands made of the same reeds. Copacabana, Bolivia.

The time had come to cross the border into Perú. After our experience in Bolivia, this border crossing was incredibly easy. On the way out of Bolivia we chatted for about 2 minutes with the authorities. On the way into Perú we exchanged no words. Stamp and go. The most immediate differences between Bolivia and Perú is the way they call you Gringo (with more gusto, sometimes coming from very small children learning to discriminate early) and the presence of millions of motorcycle and bicycle taxis. Later we would begin to notice that the level of friendliness went up considerably.

The boarder.

We were hoping to make it to Puno in 2 days. Our present pattern was to travel between 20 and 37 miles a day (20 on the unpaved roads 30 to 37 on the paved) Chris said ¨I keep waiting for the day that we go more than 30 miles since we used to go twice that¨ Well the land provided. Instead of struggling through dirt roads or climbing the altiplano (or both at the same time) like we´re used to, the road became flat and the wind wasn´t pushing us backwards with it´s normal force. We biked 40 miles, then 50 then 60.

The first push got us to Juli. The little Rome, they called it. It looked nothing like Rome. On our way we got our first taste of Peruvian Ruins. Stopping for lunch in a small town we were told to go to the Chullpas - tombs of the rich. They were under restoration but it was Saturday so all the workers were just taking off for the rest of the day. We still were able to get a brief explanation from the archeologist in charge. She was friendly and excited that we had stopped to visit. She even insisted on taking pictures with us.

The Chullpas, Chris and our Archeologist friend. North of Yunguyo, Perú.

But we were able to get a batch of antibiotics for the parasites that had been ailing us since our first day in Bolivia. Our first day out, we hoped we could rid our selves of the stomach pains for the last 20 days of the trip. The pharmacist told us that we couldn´t eat any of our normal foods except bread. She suggested we eat anis to restore the natural flora in our stomachs after the antibiotics killed them all. Luckily there was such a thing as anis bread in the town. It was delicious. We prepared a final meal to eat all of our fresh vegetables (only cooked vegetables for 3 days after the antibiotics) and other food we weren´t going to be able to eat and started the new routine in the morning.

We made it all the way to Puno the next day. The ride was beautiful and fairly flat. Max, the local host for all the bicyclists that come through Puno, biked to the edge of town to show us around. Took us to a hostel that gives discounts for cyclists and then met us for ¨dinner¨ which really meant taking us to his work where he sat with us a bit, worked a bit, and we ate pizza and tried the famous Pisco Sour, the national drink of Perú. It got late and we got tired, but we were in bed by 9:30, even after being accosted by a group of Argentine motorcyclists staying in the rooms next door. They were friendly and energetic, sharing mate and showing a ¨cyclists affinity¨ towards us.

In the night Courtney threw up the pisco sour but felt fine in the morning. We cooked vegetables in the hostel´s pressure cooker and scoured the town for peanut butter. They told us to try the pharmacy, so we bought peanuts and left. On the way out we met Mill, a touring bicyclist from Eugene, Oregon, riding a Bike Friday folding bike, trailing it´s rolling case behind him. A brilliant idea, making it easy to put the bike on the bus. He did mention that the frame broke and had to be replaced though.

After a good chat we headed north to Juliaca. The day was short since we were so late leaving Puno but the ride was completely flat and beautiful. Since we skipped riding in the altiplano of Bolivia, we were happy to have an easy ride for our last few days of the tour. Juliaca was discribed as a pit by Mill but it wasn´t too bad. It sports the highest theft rate in the country, being the main train hub of this area (connecting Arequipa to Puno and Cusco). We were lucky to not get robbed and stayed at an alojamiento for about $4 US which could best be described as ¨like a prison without showers.¨ But we slept well and were able to cook dinner on the hostel floor.

We liked Juliaca. The best part was probably the morning traffic. Not only was it traffic, something we hadn´t seen in a very long time, but it was bicycle taxi traffic. A street filled to the brim with bicycle and motorcycle taxis all fighting to get past the occasional delivery truck that was blocking the way. This is a picture directly taken from the ideal San Francisco Market Street Scene described the ¨Golden Wheel Award¨ keynote address in 2009. Acheived with ease here in Perú.

Morning Traffic. This was taken after the taxis had thinned considerably, but it was still impressionante. Juliaca, Perú,

After Juliaca we biked north to Ayaviri, a small and crowded town with a huge market by the plaza. The roads were not great. Flat but full of holes. ¨Hueco¨ they called it. The first half of the day went by smoothly but then the nice pavement moved off to the right and we continued straight north. It was fine. Better than ripio (dirt roads). We still made it about 100km (60miles) for the day. On our way to Ayaviri we stopped for lunch and were joined by a flock of sheep and several cows. Shortly after a woman came over to chat with us and told us all about how she had 7 sons and they were all doctors. How did this sheep herder put 7 sons through medical school? We didn´t find out.

When we left in the morning we passed the first kilometer sign that we´d seen in Perú. It revealed, not only kilometers estimated to the hundreth (usually they´re rounded to the nearest 5km), but also that we could, in fact, bike to Cusco in the time that we had. We had been assuming that we would have to eventually take a bus the last portion of the ride. By biking the distances that we had been we could actually even take a day off at Aguas Calientes, the hotsprings just south of Sicuani.

Only 244.60km to Cusco! Ayaviri, Perú.

Although we had been going rather far every day, we were a little wary of the 4300m pass that we were going to have to go up and over before the day was through. Our reward was going to be 10km of down hill and then a hotspring. Perú gets brownie points for the way they handled the climb. For the first 50km we rose about 100m, after that we went up at a somewhat steep angle (slowing us down but not to 5kph, more like 10 or 15kph. Not making us feel like dying) for 2 hours and then we were at the top. Magical. No walking the bike, no switchbacks, no sudden dirt road thrown into the side of a mountain. We were happy.

The mountain pass. The mountain behind us is full of gold but the Peruvians like it just the way it is. La Raya, Perú.

For our reward, some truckers who had stopped at Aguas Calientes as well, showed us the natural hot pool outside the hotspring resort and we camped right next to it. It was warm and very nice. We got to see the sun set from the water and then woke up at 5 am to climb back in and watch the sun rise. ¨Es la vida¨ we were told by an envious truck driver in the morning who didn´t have time to bathe, just to rinse off. We were joined by another truck driver later in the morning. Apparently this is the place to stop and get refreshed on the circuit from Cusco to Arequipa.

The sunset and the train tracks. The view from the hot pool. Aguas Calientes, Perú.

We decided not to go into the resort and get mudbaths and went, instead, to Sicuani for lunch and then biked a little further to Tinta. On our day off we still managed to go 66km. En route to Tinta, we stopped in San Pedro for another hotspring experience. ¨We´re only camping at hotsprings, from now on!¨ we decided. But San Pedro didn´t have a hotspring. It had ¨medicinal water,¨ which usually does mean a hot sulfury bath. In this case it was a cleansing yard. Water filters up past a volcano, collecting a host of minerals, comes out a fountain, and hundreds of people come on the weekends to drink around 20 glasses and spend the day lying down and using the toilet. It cleans the stomach, intestines, organs, etc. We came late and could only drink 4 glasses; the first 4 glasses of unfiltered water we´d had since Argentina. We think we got some medicinal benefits out of it, without expunging our whole digestive systems.

Some of the 100 bathroom stalls at the Aguas Medicinales. San Pedro, Perú.

As we left we were told to visit Raqchi. It was the ¨Inca Residencial,¨ a standing wall that once held up the largest roof in the Incan Empire. It is surrounded by hundreds of stone huts, separated by small walkways, flanked by fields. It was worth the visit. The gate keeper even gave us a discount. Our second set of Inca ruins. We were a little more impressed with the first, the tombs that we happened to stumble upon a few days earlier, but part of that might have been the rapidly setting sun and our lack of place to sleep that was taking away from the experience.

The Incan Ruins of Raqchi. The remaining wall. Raqchi, Perú.

Luckily Tinta was just around the corner. We rolled into the plaza and got to stay at a hostel. A little too expensive for the lack of services and the Señora´s ability to play dumb so that she didn´t have to answer questions. Still only about $5 US.

The Spanish Church in Tinta, Perú.

With only 2 days left until we were supposed to arrive in Pisac, we had to push to make it to and past Urcos the following day. We were unsure about the distance to Pisac on the unpaved road that cuts Cusco out of the route. We wanted to make it most of the way to the turn off just in case the last day would be difficult and long. Pisac is in the Sacred Valley, which would mean climbing up and over the large mountain range separating Cusco from the Valley. Unpaved usually means unplanned as well, and therefore more difficult (not following the easiest, but maybe the most direct route). We slept in Andahuaylillas after biking close to 100km. In the evening we tried to see what we were told was the only ¨Cistine Chapel¨ in America but it was closed. In the morning we didn´t bother and ate a huge breakfast instead (a celebration for our last day of bike tour).

After being told by every person we asked that the road was flat and then biking up and over a pass first thing in the morning, we were not optimistic. At the top of the pass, however, was an Incan and Huari Aquaduct which was enormous. One can climb to the top, following the classic Incan steps that jut out of the sides of the walls of their structures. While we were viewing the aquaduct, a Peruvian and Australian couple told us that the pass we had just crossed brought us into the Sacred Valley. We made it!

The aquaduct. Valle Sagrado, Perú.

As it turns out, the unpaved road that was going to go up and over the mountains, was paved and all down hill. The scenery was indeed sacred, following the big Urubamba river through a narrow valley until it opened up into fields of deep red amaranth. We stopped just around the corner from Pisac for lunch and then biked into town to meet up with Robin, Courtney´s sister, and Laurie, Courtney´s dad.


Monday, April 12, 2010

We're consistently asked why we're touring. Nikos has an answer.

¨Greece was torn by jealousies, hatreds, civil wars. Democracies, aristocracies, and tyrannies exterminated one another.... Then suddenly, every four years, garlanded heralds, the spondophoroi, set out from this sacred valley in summertime and ran to the farthest boundaries of the Greek world. They proclaimed the hieromenia, the ¨sacred month¨ of the games, declared a general truce, and invited friends and enemies alike to come to Olympia in order to compete.... No other people comprehended sport´s hidden and manifest value so perfectly. When life has succeeded by ding of daily effort in conquering the enemies around it - natural forces, wild beasts, hunger, thirst, sickness - sometimes it is lucky enough to have some abundant strength left over. This strength it seeks to squander in sport. Civilization begins at the moment sport begins. As long as life struggles for preservation - to protect itself from its enemies, maintain itself upon the surface of the earth - civilazation cannot be born. It is born the moment that life satisfies its primary needs and begins to enjoy a little leisure.¨

Nikos Kazantzakis ¨Report to Greco¨

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Casa de las Ciclistas! La Paz

Well, after the ride to Potosi destroyed our bodies we took a few days off. First in Potosi - which is a beautiful city, colonial and very old - then at El Ojo de las Incas - a hotspring just 25 km outside of town. The ride there was beautiful and mostly down hill since the city of Potosi is at 4000m and the rest of the altiplano is between 3400m and 3900m. The Ojo is a spring that the Incas of Peru used to travel to in order to bathe for medicinal purposes - natural salts and sulfur in the water are great for one's health. We still weren't feeling 100% but we moved on.

A little rest after our ascent to the Ojo de Las Incas, Bolivia

The Ojo (spring) at sunset.

Typically, we skipped the easiest riding. From the Ojo, we got a ride with some really friendly Portenos (people of Buenos Aires) who had also spent a couple nights there. They had constructed a mobile home (prefabricated but with their own design) and were working their way up north eventually to the United States. We all went to Oruro together. Courtney and Chris got a hostel and they went off to the place that mobil homes go when they are in a city. The car ride did not fair well for Courtney, we aren't accostomed to motor vehicles at this point. So, this combined with the cold we got as we ascended the mountains, kept her in bed for the night, while Chris made her spicy potatoes to clear the sinuses.

The view back as we left Oruro, Bolivia

In the morning we were all excited to bike to La Paz but the boring flat road didn't appeal to us. So we hitched a ride with a truck driver who was going to leave in a few hours. A few hours later, however - right around the time when it is getting much too late to bike - he informed us that he wasn't leaving after all. He would be getting minerals from the nearby mountain and then heading north the next day. Another night of alojamiento for us. Fortunately, outside the city center, the hostels cost half the price - about $5 for us to share a room. The woman who owned the place was very nice and excited to have clients. She has the only alojamiento in the area but it's newly opened.

The next day we failed in getting a ride out of the city and the polution was driving us crazy. So we finally shelled out 40 bs (another $5) for a bus to La Paz. Buses in Bolivia are much easier to navigate when it comes to bikes than in Argentina. No one cares that the bike is big and bulky. Throw it on, they say. We will see what happens in Peru.

So we made it to La Paz! We got of the bus 10km outside the city in the satalite city of El Alto - 300m higher than La Paz - so we could ride into the city and see the stunning view from up high. Paul, one of the two Belgian cyclists that we spent a couple weeks with, had suggested this. he was right to suggest it. The view is stunning.

The city, the altiplano looming above, and the mountains. La Paz, Bolivia

Once more, the city with the mountains above Remember that the city is at 3600m, the mountains tower above at 6 and 7 thousand meters tall The first snow capped mountains we´ve seen since Argentina. Stunning. La Paz, Bolivia

Unfortunately, just as we began to descend the canyon that is La Paz, it began to rain. And then hail. We have one pair of gloves between us and had to stop several times to warm our hands on our necks and stomachs lest they fall off. But we made it down the canyon and and into the hands of Cristian and Luisa of the Casa de las Ciclistas. We stayed last night at Cristian's house and spent today wondering around La Paz - a really fantastic beautiful and old city. One of two capitals of Bolivia. Sucre still holds the judicial power, but La Paz has usurped all the rest. We walked by the great buildings of government today and then moved on to the great markets of illicit goods.

The city at night. The lights of the houses tumbling down the canyon resemble stars in the sky, La Paz, Bolivia

Now we learn the ropes so that we can help out at the cafe. Cristian is sure that we will stay much longer than we intended because ''everyone seems to stay twice the amount of time they think they will'' but we're anxious to get on the bikes tomorrow and head toward Lago Titicaca and the Peru! 12 days and counting of bike tour, then we meet up with Courtney's dad and sister in Cusco for the final 12 days of travel (maybe some riding without all our luggage?)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Road Up

Tarija is at about 1850 meters, Potosí is at 4000m. Along the way we had to climb up over 4500m a couple times. The first time was in the section of rode described as ¨muy fea,¨wherein we were to climb to 4600m in 35KM. We spent the first day mostly pushing our bikes through detours roughly hewn from the mountain, or sometimes made of sand. We asked everyone we saw (very few people) if we were getting close, but no. When we camped for the night, the terrain was leveling off and Chris was feeling optimistic. Turns out the rest of the mountain was shrouded in clouds, so we flagged down that rare pickup and loaded our bikes into the back, where Chris also sat, fearing for the bikes and his own life as the truck sputtered up the awful, steep switchbacks. The view was pretty incredible.

We climbed this road. Far in the distance you can see Tarija and the Lago San Jacinto, Bolivia

A view from the first day. We were happy that we didn´t have to climb this road. There are unfortunately no photos of the crazy switchbacks up to the very top but one might picture something in between these two.

The drivers left us in El Puente and we stood in the shade eating ice cream cones, a bit dazed back in the lower, hot country. After 10 minutes we were invited in to rest with the Familia Tapia, blowing up balloons for the Añera that evening. The first birthday is the biggest in Bolivia, and we were invited. Of course then they were getting out the clown clothes and Chris and Courtney were drawing straws. Chris chickened out and Courtney put on the payazo suit and red nose.

Self explanatory. El Puente, Bolivia

By 8pm, the kids had eaten 3 courses of sweets and were sent home. The adults brought out the coca leaves and lemony singani drink, which is served family style out of a pitcher into one rotating glass. For dinner we had fricase, which is big boiled corn kernels, with potatoes, pork, and oily sauce. And then of course we watched some of the people make faces as they sipped their wine before mixing it with coca-cola or fanta. We went to bed while they had a dance party.

In the morning they were opening the presents and drinking beer, passing one glass around the room. They asked us to stay longer, then they asked us to come back one day, then they said ¨you´re doing what? biking to Potosí?¨ Yes, you only asked 4 times.

We found the paved road about 10KM away and felt good, cycling in a beautiful rolling red canyon. We camped high over the river and saw a beautiful sunset behind the mountain. The next day the road continued, beautifully paved in cement. We arrived in Camargo and stocked up at the giant central market, and ate a big fresh lunch in the lush plaza. Again, we were approached and asked to stay, this time at the Parrochia, where one of the fathers is German and welcomes foreigners to stay. Of course, the people of the city were inviting us, so we had to ask at the church, where the people were not quite as friendly as in the street. It was very strange to sleep in separate dorm rooms.

Our sunset. The road was hard but the views were breathtaking. South of Camargo, Bolivia

It was good to stop in Camargo because the pavement ended on the way out of town, because the road started to climb. For one thing, we were told that in Southern Bolivia they don´t get any of the money, which all goes to La Paz for distribution, getting lost in the corrupt government. The way people describe the Evo Morales government is ¨less corruption.¨

So they don´t have much in the way of paved roads in the south. There are sections of pavement, usually leading into or away from a city, never both. And all the worst sections of road are unpaved, made of sand, gravel, small and large rocks, usually littered with rocks the size of a fist; these are the roads that climb in straight ragged lines up the sides of mountains. One theory we came up with is that they didn´t pave these sections because they intended to bring in the earth movers and actually build a planned, gently sloping route, but never got around to it.

We had set out from Camargo and hitch hiked for the second time, gaining about 30KM and a basket full of peaches on the way to a peach orchard. We lunched and set out again up a steep paved bit of road. Then down, a turn, and we looked up at a big mountain covered in switchbacks. We felt a few rain drops, then heard an enormous thunder crash from the top. High comedy, straight from cartoons, which come evidently straight from Bolivia. At the top of the mountain it started to rain and we found a grouping of 3 houses made of earth. Two were abandoned and we had found our dry campsite.

From that point on, our legs were slightly more used to the terrain and we wanted to make a bit more progress each day. But every time the road got a bit flat, or went downhill, it turned into a washboard, or was strewn with rocks the size of our heads. Then we started to get flat tires. Chris went too fast down one hill, hit a big rock, spilled over and took an arm full of little cuts. At the bottom of the hill Courtney´s tire and tube received a big gash, so we camped.

The next day we climbed up to a big flat section of pampa and saw another beautiful sunset. Only one flat tire that day. In the morning we each had an inexplicable flat, due to moderately paced leaks. Mid morning we stopped to re-inflate and a valve exploded, giving Chris the opportunity to try out a tube whose valve had broken at the base and been fixed with a mixture of shoe goo and jb weld. Amazing fix!

We were now feeling masochistic, stopping only to fix tubes and groaning slowly towards the asphalt we knew to be close. In the evening we achieved the asphalt and got a tire and tube fixed at the Gomeria, camped behind the gas station, and had tea before bed.

Some kids that thought Chris was really cool as he fixed one of the many many flats we got along the way.

Our hearts were full of happiness, but our bodies were so exhausted we could barely keep our breakfast down. We climbed what we guess was 1000m over 35KM on the way into Potosí, before descending 500m into the city. The city is very pretty, with the ¨mountain made of silver¨ looming above.

Steep, cobbled, and colorful city streets. Potosí, Bolivia

The view of the city from the roof of our hostel, Potosí, Bolivia

Our day of rest here, Easter Sunday, and election day, has been beautiful and sunny. We took a walk and some Koreans, living here to build wells for the Bolivian govt, invited us in for coffee. ¨In Bolivia they have very fertile soil,¨ they said, ¨in Korea we don´t have good soil, so we study very hard.¨ They added that they don´t like Evo who they see as a dictator. When asked if they liked Bolivia, they replied ¨yes,¨ that they make a lot of money, and gave a classic hmm and haw to the question ¨what else do you like?¨ When we got back to our hostal, Chris layed in bed for a few hours while Courtney made him spicy soup to ease his sore throat.

During our Easter day walk we sought out the defunct train station, Potosí, Bolivia

What to do from here? Were going a short distance north to have another day of rest at Miraflores, a hot spring area.