Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Old West, Bolivian style

Tupiza another quaint, friendly town like Rurrenabaque, with wide streets and good food. It's nestled in some of most beautiful scenery I saw in Bolivia. The low mountains are a dark, rust red. The murky river is full of the smoky sediment, and it snakes leisurely through the gorge. The red is set off by the surrounding emerald green fields and the bright, cobalt blue sky.

After a gorgeous but funny walk inducing two day horse back riding trip, Roisin and I, along with a couple other gringos we picked up along the way, hired a tour agency to take us up to the small mining town of San Vicente to see where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were a couple of cowboy outlaws from Utah. Butch (who Roisin swears is the spitting image of Manchester United footballer, Wayne Rooney) was from a nice Mormon family. The pair were part of a gang of outlaws eventually called The Wild Bunch, who robbed banks and trains in the early 1900s. When the heat from the police got to be too much, Butch and Sundance, along with Sundance's wife Etta (whom the documentary reports was either a school teacher or a prostitute) relocated to a ranch in Argentina. They were soon in trouble with police again - not being able to help themselves from stealing. Etta left for San Francisco and was never heard from again. The boys rode into Bolivia to hide out where they passed through Tupiza and somehow found the tiny village of San Vicente high up in the mountains. The Bolivian policia, like bloodhounds, found them and surrounded the two outlaws in a tiny adobe hut. Instead of being killed by the police or being dragged to a horrid Bolivian jail, Butch shot his friend in the head and then turned it on himself.

San Vicente is a four hour jeep ride into the middle of nowhere; eight days on a horse, if you are so inclined. The mountainside between Tupiza and San Vicente is unpopulated save for large herdes of llamas. It's a tiny Canadian owned mining town, populated only by miners and their families. We visited the hut where the men died, which hasn't changed in a hundred years, but we weren't allowed to go inside on account of a family lives there. We also paid our respects to the cemetery where their bodies were thrown into - they did not get proper caskets and their remains have never actually be found.

Finally, we went to look through the tiny museum dedicated to the two Banditos de los Estados Unidos. While waiting for someone to bring the key, we were very formally greeted by a few of the townspeople and photographed for some sort of Bolivian tourism magazine. It seems as though not many tourists make the trek up there. Once inside the museum, they continued to photograph us looking at all the artifacts and the man who appeared to be in charge gave a long explanation of whose bones were in the casket in the center of the room. I had asked, because the story was that the remains were never found. Evidently, when they were trying to exhume the bodies, they came across remains that were of European bone structure and possibly could have been Butch Cassidy. Upon examination it was determined that no, it was not Butch. It was a German miner who was buried on top of the outlaws. For whatever reason they keep the German miner's remains in the museum.

When we returned to Tupiza we watched the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Perfect ending to a great day.

The following morning, Roisin and I said goodbye to Tupiza and shortly afterwards, goodbye to Bolivia. Bolivia's farewell to us was another imaginary bus. On the Bolivian side of the border we were sold tickets to a bus heading to Salta, Argentina. Upon reaching the Argentine side and consulting the bus company we were informed that a)they weren't real tickets and b)that bus didnt exist. Thankfully before our heads exploded in frustration, the ticket man just shook his head and snorted, "Bolivia!" and then printed us out tickets for an actual bus, at no extra charge.

Thus concluded my one and a half month stint in Bolivia. I really did not expect to stay as long as I did, but as they say, life happens while you're making plans. And I'm so happy my plans were tossed out -- Bolivia was amazing.

And now onto the land of wine and steak; gauchos and Peronistas: Argentina!

Imaginary Buses and Underground Devils

I was in Sucre, Bolivia's capital, for about two weeks. I spent about equal amounts of time laid up sick in the hostel (turns out my immune system isn't invincible. darn), dodging through political marches for the December 6th presidential elections and watching various sporting events for the Boliviano games (an Olympic style competition between six latin american countries). Despite the delirious gauze of fever, I found the colonial flavor of Sucre to be a nice, relaxing change of pace from the hectic bustle and screech of La Paz. I certainly got used to the concept of a daily siesta from noon to four.

Before leaving Bolivia, I decided to make one more stop on the way to Argentina, in a small town called Tupiza. I had met a fun Irish girl called Roisin (sounds like Roa-sheen) in Sucre who was going the same way, so we arranged to take the bus together. Every tour agency I had asked the day before assured me that there was a 6:30 bus going to Tupiza every day. Upon arrival at the bus station, we were informed that no, there was no 6:30 bus. The last bus of the day had left already.
Exasperated but not overly surprised (this is Bolivia!), we decided to go somewhere that was en route, seeing as how we were already packed and ready to go. The only seats available on any bus were to Potosi, the highest city in the world.

Potosi is a desolate place; cold, rainy and the lack of oxygen can produce all sorts of fun symptoms, from feeling like you've run a marathon after walking a block to headaches to nausea. The locals constantly chew coca leaves and the toursits leave quickly.
The only thing to do there is tour the mines. Potosi used to be an incredibly wealthy city due to the veins of silver running through the mountains. They say the streets of Potosi were once paved with silver. Today, the wealth has trickled away. There isn't much silver left, although they still mine zinc and a couple other metals. Bolivia is a country rich in resources, but unfortunately the people don't see much of that wealth.

Walking into the mines is like disappearing into a black hole. Its cold and dark and eerily silent until you stumble across a miner, dirty and sweating with exertion, coca wad lodged firmly in his cheek. They don't eat while on shift - anywhere from six to twelve hours - so they chew coca leaves in order to stave off hunger and keep up energy levels. The first miners we saw were pushing a large cart which they would fill to the brim with rocks and then push back out. When they set off dynamite somewhere in the bowels of the mountain, it felt like being inside thunder. At the time of the usual 12:00 detonation, the tour group had climbed a series of ladders down a small hole. One guy in our group was asking the guide about a mineral he had found in the walls when the explosion went off and a storm of dirt and particles came rushing through the corridors. The guide yelled, "Forget the mineral-- RUN!"

Before we left, we visited a shrine to the devil. The mines are an absolutely miserable working environment. These men start working when they are just teenagers, 14 or 15 (official tour story, but I heard rumors of boys as young as 12 working in the mines)and they work basically until the mines kill them, either in an accident or from the inevitable health problems. The miners worship a devil called Tio, because there is no god in the mines.

The Tio sits in a small alcove, covered in offerings of coca leaves, 97% pure alcohol (what the miners drink) and cigarettes. He's painted a bright fire engine red and his head is adorned with a wild cascade of multicolored paper hair. He sits impishly in the corner and looks at you with wild eyes and a grotesque grin. On Fridays, the miners come here to give the Tio offerings and to drink and have a party. We paid our respects as well and - thankfully - climbed out of the mountain and back into daylight.

That night, Roisin and I managed to find a bus to Tupiza that actually existed and we left at nightfall for the sunny, old west style town.

Monday, November 9, 2009


A word on Bolivian transportation:

There are three things that are guaranteed to occur on an overnight South American bus trip. One, a crying baby. With a maliciousness beyond its years, the child will usually wait until everyone is trying to sleep to begin its wailing. Two, at least one guy who snores, who will compete with the cacophony of scary mechanical sounds the bus makes. And three, the road will be in terrible condition, with potholes the size of jungle cats and enough dust to make you feel like you're wearing an extra layer of clothes. The bus will rattle and bump and shake the entire time, so that sleeping means knocking your head against everything. Stepping off the bus at your destination feels like emerging from battle: weary, sore, irritable and dirty.

Someone told me that he saw a sign in the La Paz bus terminal that says: "We never know when we're going to leave and we never know when we're going to arrive." True to form, our 11:30 bus from La Paz to Rurrenabaque remained quite stationary at our supposed departure time, and the driver was no where to be seen. Yuval sighed and said, "I guess we're not leaving on time then."
Another Israeli guy who was taking our bus replied, "Oh no, we'll be right on time. 11:30 on the nose - Bolivian time." he laughed, "do you know how you can change your watch to Bolivian time?"
"Break your watch."

From La Paz, the bus to the small northern jungle town of Rurrenabaque takes anywhere from 17 to 20 hours. It used to be that the route was via the infamous Bolivian Death Road- three and a half feet wide, a sheer drop into the canyon, tales of vehicles disappearing over the sides. But they've since closed that road to vehicles, although there are bicycle tours down it now - if you manage to stay on the road the whole way, you get a t-shirt that says "I survived the Bolivian death road".
The new road is slightly less dodgy. Still said to be the worst bus ride in Bolivia (and that's saying a lot; competition is fierce) and the road is still not wide enough to accomodate both directions of traffic. Every time an oncoming car approaches, one of the vehicles has to back up into the nearest shoulder. It's best not to pay too much attention, or the inefficiency of it all will drive you beserk.


The bus rolled into Rurre at 4:30 in the morning. Why so early? The same reason the roads aren't built to accomodate both lanes of traffic, the garbage cans don't have bottoms, and why during a parade I saw children dressed up like lettuce. This is Bolivia.
Not having slept at all, stepping off the bus into dark, heavy humidity felt like walking onto a different planet. One where bugs the size of household pets hide in the reeds and have strange sound making contests.

We then spent a leisurely day of orienting ourselves with the town. And by orienting I mean drinking pina coladas poolside. The pool is top of a hill overlooking the river valley. Gorgeous AND an antedote to the crazy heat. Successful first day.

The following day we went on a three day tour of the pampas - the marshy savanna outside of Rurre. It's incredibly touristy to be sure, but more than worth it. After being jostled around in a Jeep for four hours, which was actually sort of nice despite not being able to see out of the windsheild for all the dust, because the open windows provided a bit of air conditioning. The next leg was a three hour slow roast in a wooden, motorized canoe. By the time we got to the lodge, we were probably cooked enough to eat. The scenery was great, though. Loads of alligators, caimans (giant, aggressive black crocodilians), turtles, pink dolphins, capybaras (world's largest rat; adorable, looks like a cross between a bear and a cuy), all sorts of birds from cormorants, eagles, falcons, goofy looking pampas condors, ostriches, and birds that we dubbed 'prehistoric chickens' (looks exactly like it sounds). We arrived at the lodge - a very basic wooden number on stilts with cold showers, no electricity, and best of all: hammocks - and chilled out in the hammocks watching red howler monkeys play in the trees before dinner. The food was spectacular beyond expectations. Not even the oppressive heat couldnt stop us from eating until we felt like bursting.

It was halloween the day we arrived. I joked that I was going as Jane Goodall and would befriend the monkeys. Which didn't end up being far from the truth: I found a spider monkey hanging around the restaurant we stopped for lunch at. He was curled up with a sleeping pig and was more or less friendly. Obviously really used to humans: he grabbed my hand, we had a little interspecies bonding moment... and then he tried to pull me closer to see what I tasted like. I averted the bite, but am thankful that I got that rabies shot before I left!
Fun fact: I heard that Jane Goodall had visited Rurrenabaque a couple weeks ago to meet one of her heroes that lives here.

That night, Halloween night, we went out in the boat again to look at the alligators. When you shine your flashlight on them, their eyes glow pink and yellow. We found a huge nest of baby alligators and it looked like the lights of a city.

The first half of the next day - and let me put this in the most positive way I can - sucked. We went for a four hour walk through the marshes looking for anacondas. It was blisteringly hot, there was very little for shade and the anacondas weren't up for playing with the gringos (can't blame them). The cold shower at the end of that ordeal was fantastic.

After that was nice, though. We went fishing for pirhanas with little bits of raw chicken. Fishing for pirhanas is significantly less boring than Canadian fishing. For one, there's no waiting. As soon as you drop the chicken in, they are all over it. What's frustating is that they're wily. They eat it in a split second and you come up with an empty hook. I caught a few sardines, who also apparently like raw chicken. The only one who caught any pirhanas was our guide, Alec, who reminded me of what Mowgli from the Jungle Book would look like in his early 20s.

The next day we were supposed to go and swim with the pink river dolphins. We'd seen glimpses of a few on the way to the lodge, but they're hard to see because the water is so brown with mud and silt. If the group of dolphins is large enough, they can be playful with humans, but on this particular day they were being shy and elusive (again, in no mood to entertain the gringos. and fair enough). So we wound up swimming with the alligators instead. The alligators are actually quite timid but they definitely kept a close eye on us.

The night we got back to Rurrenabaque, we ran into Alec at dinner and he invited us out to play pool and have a couple of beers with him, his cute Israeli date and some of the other guides. Had lots of fun. Alec made fun of me for being so miserable on the anaconda search, telling the rest of the guides what a wimpy Canadian I was. So I joked that I wanted a refund for one: promising but not delivering the anacondas, and two: for being mean. We played a game of pool instead and that was just as well.

Fun times at Kilometer 25:

Not wanting to leave the jungle just yet (La Paz is just so cold and far away!) we began to search around for other things to do. There's a cafe that serves pricey but wonderful breakfasts that we ate at before we discovered the to-die-for french bakery. Paranthetically, we've been eating like Kings: chocolate croissants right out of the oven in the morning, freshly baked bread, homemade italian style pizzas, large catfish steaks smothered in tamarin sauce, cups upon cups of ice cream and fresh fruit milkshakes. I may or may not need to buy another seat for the plane ride home.
Anyway, there was a poster in the cafe about a wildlife rehabilation center about forty five minutes outside of Rurrenabaque where they were accepting volunteers. Sounded like a good experience, and I'm all for giving back to this crazy-amazing country. So we hopped on the boat that crosses the Beni river and into a minibus that dropped us off literally in the middle of nowhere, beside a sign that said "KM 25".

We were greeted at the wildlife center by a malnourished hippy from Jersey, with a giant wad of a coca leaves in his cheek and teeth stained bright green. He had, evidently, gone to great lengths to escape from Jersey. He talked a mile a minute, generously peppering his speech with profanities that seemed really out of place in the jungle; explaining the program, the people, the bugs, Jersey... pretty much everything under the sun. We helped make lunch and ate, and still, he talked and talked. There were around 15 people working and living there, but the only two animals on residence were a couple of older pumas. The center was still in its infancy, and they needed volunteers to built it. At the time we arrived, they were collecting palm leaves with which to build a fumidor, so they could smoke in the shade. We weren't allowed to see the pumas. Only a small number of people, who were staying for at least three weeks, got to work with the pumas. And their job was to essentially take the cats out for a walk in the jungle for most of the day. Everyone else did construction under the blazing hot sun, with the worst bugs I have encountered to date. I helped the hippy from Jersey hunt down more palm leaves after lunch and the tall grass sliced up my legs like a razor blade. After three hours there I looked like a Freddy Krueger victim with chicken pox. Jersey took us for a quick walk into the jungle and was surprisingly knowledgable about it.
He said the two rules of the jungle are as follows: try not to touch anything. And if you do touch something, look at it first. Quite true: we were climbing up a steep incline and I reached out to grab a tree to steady myself, but looked at it first and it was covered in spikes. Other trees, you'd brush and be left with a stinging burn on your bare flesh.

At the end of the day, we decided the cause didn't quite grab us enough for manual labor in 45 degree weather to be worth it. Plus, the hippies were pretentious at the PETA level and that didn't work for me either. We stayed the night and decided to leave in the morning. It was a torturous night. There were cockroaches in the sheets and my mosquito net had holes. I resigned myself to putting in my ipod so I couldn't hear the incessant whining of the mosquitos. But there was nothing I could do about the biting.

Dawn was a shimmery, promising silver the morning of our escape. Clouds had rolled in over night; a brief shroud before the heat of the day pierced through. We waited until all of the hippies had gone for breakfast (a measley two slices of bread. we figured if we got back to town early enough, we'd be in time for the croissants to come out of the french baker's oven), left money on the bed with a note and snuck out onto the road. We debated over whether or not to actually talk with Jersey and explain that it wasn't for us, but from the conversations the night prior, it seemed fairly likely that he'd argue and try to guilt trip us into staying. No one needs that sort of awkward unpleasantness at 7 am. So we left, undetected, and waited on the road until an oversized pick up truck stopped for us. The primary method of transportation on the backroads if you don't have a motorbike is to hitchhike. Our truck picked up other loads of other travelers - Bolivians, going to town to sell fruit or taking their children to school. It wound up being quite fun. The Bolivians were, as usual, very friendly. An old man insisted that I take the best seat and shared his fruit with me.

It was a well executed escape: we were back in Rurrenabaque just in time for the bakery to open. There´s nothing like post escape pastries to start another great day in the Jungle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bring on Bolivia

The Floating Islands

On October 18th, a sunny but brisk day on Lake Titicaca (Peru-side), I woke up in a tiny hut made of reeds. The wake up call was brought on by a warm and sweet old lady (I call her my Island Abuela), who lived with her husband on the Uros islands a.k.a the Floating Islands. This string of tiny islands have been constructed entirely out of the reeds that grow in the lake. Everything on the islands is made of reeds, even the tiny hut for the reed-fed cuy.

Our Island Abuelos (grandparents) were gracious enough to let Yuval and I stay with them for the night. It was 7:00 in the morning when Abuela swung the reed door open with a smile and a bright, "Buenos dias!". She disappeared briefly and re-appeared with breakfast: sweetened tea, homemade bread and two dishes piled high with rice, fries and a large fried egg. I shook the sleep out of my eyes and said to Yuval, "you know, I don't think I've ever actually been brought breakfast in bed before." He replied, "well I doubt you've ever slept on an island made of reeds, in a hut made of reeds either." Touche.

We caught the dilapidated wooden boat that sputters its way from the Islands back to Puno, the small city on the shores of Lake Titicaca, after spending a sunny morning relaxing on the spongy, tiny island. It feels like walking on a slightly crunchy trampoline, but the reeds are incredibly comfortable to lay down on - I sat for a minute and almost fell asleep.

By nightfall that same day, we arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia. That's one of my favorite parts of traveling: one day can take you to all kinds of places. I wasn't actually planning on visiting Bolivia at all. Not for any particular reason, but it just wasn't on the original roster. However, after returning from Machu Picchu and deciding what the next step would be, it felt like a good choice.

In Which We Are Stranded in the Bolivian Altiplano:

Yuval had heard great things about a small town cradled in the mountains a few hours north of La Paz, called Sorata. It was purported to be a cute little oasis of a town that sucked travelers in, Cusco-style. So, we caught the bus that was going to La Paz and had the driver drop us off in a town called Huarina to catch a connecting bus to Sorata.

A few words on Huarina. It's a barren, windswept town placed as if by accident in the middle of the desolate altiplano, boasting only a smattering of lonely looking brick buildings. The only visible life was a handful of Aymari ladies running small snack shops, rough looking dogs and people waiting for buses. The buses - the ubiquitous collectivos - rumbled through the dirt road in quick succession but most were full. None were going to Sorata. For hours we stood on the street corner, shivering in the biting wind; waiting...

Finally an Aymari lady instructed us to get into a collectivo, promising "Sorata, Sorata!" She expressed a great surprise that we could not speak Aymari, but spoke to us in Spanish anyway, if a little begrudingly. The driver took us to another, less desolate town and instructed us to wait for the Sorata bus there. Patience and optimism were wearing thin, and we consoled ourselves with the tiny happy fact that if we should get stuck here, at least this town had a hostel.

Luckily the Sorata bus did come and rescue us from the frigid altiplano. The only downside was that it was already full so we had to squish ourselves into the space between the front seats and the first bench, balancing precariously between knees and large bags. It was a long drive to Sorata.

All that effort - erm, I mean, adventure - wasn't entirely for naught. Sorata was cute. Small, with palm trees waving cheerfully in the central plaza and streets lined with Italian pizzerias. But not exactly the oasis that was promised. The only activities available were hikes up to dizzying altitudes (not appealing to me as the high alitude still makes my heart whir like a blender on high) and kamikaze bike rides from the tops of the surrounding mountains.

The hostel we stayed in was an old Colonial number that looked and felt like something out of Pan's Labrynth. It was beautiful once, with high ceilings, alabaster white walls and courtyards teeming with plants and bright flowers, giant bees and hummingbirds. Time had crumbled the walls and imbued the rooms with a draughty, creepy atmosphere as though the ghosts of the Conquistadors were sitting beside you in your room, drinking coca tea and discussing strategies against the Incas. It was commandeered by an intimidating old lady who seemed to disappear into the walls after she was finished talking to you. I had the strangest dreams that night.

Side Note: Lonely Planet has strange recommendations. All of the hostels we've chosen via the Lonely Planet guide have either been a complete dump as the one in Puno (I don't even want to discuss it) or ancient, creepy and haunted. Sometimes I feel like the writers enjoy 'surprising' travelers with these odd and crumbling places. Har har, joke's on us!

Now we are in a much cuter, much friendlier hostel in La Paz (took the recommendations of one of Yuval's Israeli websites...).

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Machu Picchu - the DIY way

Deciding to forgo the guided tours to Machu Picchu - which are a dime a dozen, expensive and more of the toursit herding that I am growing to despise - my Israeli rafting friend (heretofore called by his actual name, Yuval, instead of 'my Israeli friend') and I left the hostel early-ish in the morning with hastily scribbled directions from other Israeli's on how to get to Machu Picchu.

The Road to Machu Picchu:

Part one: For the four to five hour drive from Cusco to Santa Maria, we found a collectivo a.k.a. a cramped, rickety van stuffed to the brim with Peruvians, with a crate full of ducks strapped to the top, for good measure. They shunted "Los Gringos" to the very back seat, which wasn't quite attached to the floor, and the driver took off on the dusty road that twisted round the moutainside. Machu Picchu here we come!

We changed vans in Santa Maria, this time into a rickety tin can full of very friendly Chilean students (a couple of whom we ran into later in Cusco, and they tried to take us to a Peruvian strip club. Noooo gracias!), and were taken via slightly dodgy, narrow gravel road that hugged the sharp cliff sides through Santa Teresa and onto the hydroelectric station. In order to pass oncoming vehicles, the van had to back up into a small turnout and wait. Not quite the infamous Bolivian death road, however, and once we got used to it, it wasn't that bad. The best strategy is to close your eyes and hope you make it one piece.

Luckily, we did make it one piece, and were dropped off at a hydroelectric station nearby the train tracks that lead to Aguas Calientes (town at the base of Machu Picchu). You do, of course, have the option of riding the train to Aguas Calientes from just outside of Cusco. I've heard good things about it. Yuval, the Chileans and I, however, took the cheap and scenic route and walked along the train tracks, like hobos, for about 3 hours to Aguas Calientes. The Chileans were hilariously ill equiped for the walk: they had brought their giant suitcases and garment bags for their nice clothes. What they needed nice clothes for in MP was beyond me, but the poor things had to walk along the tracks with their suitcases uncomfortably perched on top of their heads.

The walk through the jungle was very scenic indeed, with bright green parrots swooping in and out of the trees, screeching happily and other invisible birds making sounds I've never heard before. The only downside was that we were plagued by hordes of tiny ravenous bugs (excellent reason to shave your legs in Machu Picchu: to give the bites a really good scratch). To pass the time, Yuval and I played his noun-song game, wherein one person picks a noun and the other has to come up with as many songs containing that noun as possible. Two songs in particular have become my Machu Picchu theme songs: Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me (Yuval insists that Frank says 'come fly with me to Peru'. I disagree. We remain at a standstill at time of writing).

We arrived in Aguas Calientes just as night was falling in the jungle; the horrid tiny bugs finally abated their onslaught and went to sleep, and were replaced by flickering fireflies, lighting the way.

For some reason, the Lonely Planet people hated Aguas Calientes. Both Yuval and I, however, found it to be adorable. Touristy, of course: Machu Picchu is a world wonder, after all. But for whatever reason, we did not spend much time with other gringos on the way to and from MP. Perhaps it's worse if you go on one of the tours. But Aguas Calientes is certainly not the hell hole Lonely Planet painted it out to be. Quite the contrary; its quaint, with loads of restaurants - for some reasons hordes of Mexican joints, a cute central square, and an atmosphere of happy anticipation.

The Swedish Wake up call:

After an excited pre Machu Picchu night in Aguas Calientes, we forgot to set an alarm for the following morning. Fortuitiously, right at 5 am (when we had planned to get up) a Swedish couple knocked on the door, looking for the front desk. Happy coincidences like that happened the entire time we were there. Thanks, Incas!

Stairway to Machu Picchu:

The mountains surrounding Aguas Calientes at 5:00 in the morning were swathed in clouds, the air was crisp but heavy with moisture, and the jungle was making its murmuring, shrieking noises, as though to encourage us. There's a tourist bus that climbs the last stretch of hill up to the ruins, but we, naturally, took the walking tour: 80 bajillion stairs straight up the mountain side. It took about an hour or less to crest the top - finally, after dodgy collectivos, crazy dirt roads,horrendous bug bites, 5 am Swedish wake up call, more stairs than I care to talk about - we were at Machu Picchu.

There is an additional Inca site open to tourists, at the far end of the Lost City, called Waynapicchu, on top of a steep mountain overlooking the ruins. It's where most of the iconic MP pictures are taken from. Up to 400 tourists a day are allowed to climb the mountain and visit the additional ruins. We were numbers 165 and 166. For about another hour we climbed yet more stairs, some of them so small and so steep, falling off the side of the mountain seemed like a inevitability. The climb and the dizzying heights were well worth it: the view was nothing short of spectacular. We were literally at the top of this popsicle shaped mountain, sitting among old inca ruins with the lizards sunning themselves, looking out over all of Machu Picchu.

After the precarious climb down from Waynapicchu, we wandered amongst the ruins; the heat of the day rising, sweltering, and the tourists all milling about. Despite the hundreds of pink gringos, MP has a magical feel to it, a peaceful hum that seems to come out of the rocks themselves. A tour guide that we eavesdropped on said that MP is a major magnetic center of the world, and a few of the spots have healing properties. At the very least, our spirits were high that day. I highly recommend the trek.

We returned to Aguas Calientes in the early afternoon, more than ready for lunch, a shower and a siesta. Instead of making the trek back to Cusco right away, we decided to take the afternoon to relax, the evening to visit the hot springs (Aguas Calientes' namesake) and return in the morning.

The Way Back:

The walk along the train tracks was quieter than the way there, and a little melancholy. Leaving a wonderful place always seems to be that way. The van we took from Santa Maria back to Cusco was just terrible, though. The guy who was "driving" - if you can call it that - seemed to have never been behind the wheel of a vehicle before. The van jerked back and forth like he had a hornet in his pants. He dodged invisible rocks, braked for no apparent reason, and drove at breakneck speed around curves he should have slowed for. The drive was two hours longer than it should have been because of his spotty driving, and his constant stopping to pick up other passengers and snacks - he literally ate the entire six hour drive. We arrived in Cusco cold, frustrated, and our ears ringing with the same CD that he had played over and over and over again.

We arrived back at the Loki hostel, and the bar was in fine form: a bunch of guys were dancing shirtless on the bar, singing and hugging each other in an inebriated haze. Ahh home again.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


October 11, 2009

So, technically, I'm traveling alone, right? However, since I've left Canada, I've hardly ever actually been alone. The hostel I'm staying at in Cusco - the infamous social hub, Loki - is buzzing with backpackers and travelers from all over the world. You'd have to be the most unpleasant, antisocial person in the world to not make friends here. Each time I come back is like a little homecoming, a chorus of different accents asking, "how was your day?". Almost everyone hangs out together in the lounge or the bar, eats and drinks and shares their stories with each other. People that you've known for an hour become fast friends.
Oh, and for those of you who are a touch worried about me traveling alone, almost every other girl I've met at the hostel is traveling alone as well.

In the mornings, I've been waking up relatively early, as soon as the light comes through the windows and my dorm mates start rummaging around. I make plans for the day while getting ready and these plans are almost always shot as soon as I go down for breakfast. Why do laundry or talk to the pushy tour agencies when I can do it manana? Instead, I wind up wandering around town with a hostel friend, exploring the markets and eating at random little food stands that may or may not include the parasites for free.

Cusco in Quechua means "navel of the earth". To me, it has been a carnivorous navel, swallowing travelers whole and keeping them here long after they planned. A benevolent carnivorous navel, to be sure. But nevertheless, I had planned to stay for 5 days and now I have been here for a week and I have no concrete leaving date as of yet. Not that I'm complaining. Quite the contrary, I'm loving every minute of Cusco. It's an adorable european-style hotpodgeof Peruvians, Quechua and visitors from all over the globe. Most everyone speaks english but you'll hear a mulitude of different languages.
The Plaza del Armas is Gringo central, with hawkers of every shape and form peddling clothes, paintings, tours, and massages, among other things. Wandering outside of the center brings you into a more Peruvian experience: old Quechua ladies reading coca leaves on the sidewalks, endless tiny shops packed to the rafters, taxis zipping around at breakneck speed on the cobblestone roads. On Saturdays there is a thieves market, where Cusco sells it's pilfered goods. You can get literally anything you want here, from car parts and tools to cell phones and ipods, to socks and underwear, clothes, shoes, music, movies, food; everything. Makes me think all of the pre-trip shopping I did was for naught; I could have got it all here, for much cheaper.

I participated in the requisite gringo activities that Cusco has to offer: the Sacred Valley Inca ruins (Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero). The city tour: Saqsaywaman - sounds like "sexy woman" but nothing sexy about it, Q'enqo - the Inca labrinth with (my favorite in this tour) and Puka Pukara, an administrative and road control center, and the Qorikancha Museum, a Spanish monastery/convent that was built right over top of an Inca temple, with some of the Inca walls still intact (the ones the Spanish didn't completely destroy).

The Sacred Valley is gorgeous, with ruins high up on the mountains, terraced farming and endless stairs. The Incas must have had a thing for stairs, and for making their buildings staggeringly difficult to get to. Probably a good defensive strategy, but now, even a million stone stairs can't keep the hordes of gringos away. Out of breath and complaining though they may be.
Ollantaytambo looks like a giant's stair case. As our tour group jumped out of the van and looked up at the second round of physical activity before us, you could hear a collective groan. (It is, of course, worth it in the end, but they really do make you work for it). A German guy in our group said, "Oh don't worry, there's an escalator over there". Before thinking, I said, "really?"with an excited smile on my face. In my defence, the tour began at 8 am and I had been out dancing with the hostel people until 4:30 am.

Our tour guide left a little to be desired. He lectured like a dull history teacher in grade school. He'd ask questions like, "Why do you think this rock is here". Um, is that a rhetorical question? A couple of us (myself, the german escalator comedian and an irish guy) eavesdropped on another tour guide who was wildly and excitedly explaining Inca construction methods, arms waving in the air; he looked like he was about to kiss the giant, perfectly chiseled stones. The Irish guy dubbed him the "Steve Irwin of Archeology".

Inca ruins, the good: The ruins themselves are spectacular. The Incas were brilliant, and insane. The sheer amount of work that went into their construction is amazing and mind boggling: Rolling masive rocks from one mountain to another, carving them laboriously and perfectly and piling them on top of each other. They must've been the most physically fit people ever to have lived. I got tired just thinking about it.

The Bad: being herded around by an unenthusiastic history teacher like camera toting cattle, with tons of other simiarly bovine tour groups milling about. All in all, though, sunburnt swarms of gringos aside, the ruins are still quite magical.

My Israeli Safari:

After returning to the hostel one night from another bout of cattle imitation, I agreed, very last minute, to sign up for a three day rafting tour with a friend from the hostel, starting early the next morning. Three days white water rafting and two nights of camping on the Apurimac River (Quechua: God of the talking river), navigating class 3, 4, and 5 rapids. Why not?

Unexpected randomness: the rafting group was comprised of me and 20 Israelis, with the Peruvian guides, who spoke a little hebrew themselves and even cooked kosher versions ofeach meal on the trip. It was like traveling to Israel while being in the middle of thePeruvian mountains.

The trip was fantastic; the river and the canyon were beautiful, the adrenaline rush from the rapids kept energy levels high (not that Israelis have any trouble with that), and each night we camped on the beach, under the stars, next to the talking river and ate Peruvian/kosher food. I learned a lot about Israeli culture, even a few words in Hebrew and told stories of Canada. They made fun of me for being the worst Canadian ever - I was the only one who was ever cold.

When I got back to Cusco it was sort of strange to understand the languages again - Spanish soundedmore familiar than it ever has before.

In a few hours, my Israeli friend and I are heading up to Machu Picchu. We decided against booking it with a tourgroup - I am very much over being herded and rushed through these things - and are going to take the bus on our own, stay the night in Agua Calientes and walk up to the ruins early in the morning.
To lower the admission price (machu picchu is crazy expensive) we both got student cards through an Israeli friendly travel agency (there are so many Israelis that come through here, that there are a handful of tour agencies that cater to them, Israeli run hostels and restaurants and even some of the 60 year old Peruvian ladies speak Hebrew) and they put my nationality as Israeli... so I guess after my three day crash course in Israeli culture, I get to be an honorary Israeli!

Well, I'm off to Machu Picchu! And afterwards, I will try to extricate myself from the Cusco vortex and continue on...

Love and miss you all,

Friday, October 2, 2009

Walking with the Dead

San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs

In downtown Lima, yet another religious building takes up another city block. This time, the San Francisco Catacombs, housing some 25 thousand skeletons (or what's left of the skeletons) as well as present day Franciscan monks. The tour, I'm sad to say, was too short. We barely spent any time at all in catacombs, and didn't get to go in very far. I did, however, see my fair share of old, crumbly, dark skulls and long, hardy bones like femurs. The monastery/church part was quite nice as well. There are frescos on the wall were someone has removed the heads of all of the people - must've been ugly people! My favorite piece of artwork was the Last Supper, Peruvian style. As a main dish, Jesus and the 12 apostles ate cuy/guinea pig and were surrounded by children and dogs.
Fun fact: in both the Lima Cathedral and the San Francisco, the tour guides have said that there may or may not be tunnels connecting the crypts and catacombs under the churches and right underneath the crazy streets of Lima. The official story is that they dont know - its too dangerous to look because the structure is unsteady.
The unofficial story: Sergio's grandfather was commissioned to rebuild some of Lima's roads downtown and sure enough, he found these hypothetical tunnels. The reason the Church is vague on the subject is because the nuns used to go into to the tunnels to have and discard their babies. Evidently, abstinence-only education doesn't even work for nuns!

Continuing on in this macabre vein (started it, may as well finish it!), the next night we took a tour of Lima's oldest cemetery. We rode on the roofless top of a double decker tourist bus (bright red, so that everyone knew we were tourists) and were driven through downtown - beautiful at night - and through some neighborhoods few would dare to venture into on foot and/or alone.
With the San Cristobal cross keeping watch on a nearby hill, the cemetery is a staggering 20 acres and chock full of Peruvian history, literally: Presidents, famous artists, heros and more have all been laid to rest here, with their families, in gorgeous mausoleums. The artwork is eerily breathtaking - rivaling or even beating anything you'd find in a gallery. The heady feeling of so many important figures all buried in one place makes it a mecca for any history buff.

By the time the bus pulled up in front of the wrought iron gates, it was dark and coupled with Lima's perpetual fog, it was the perfect setting for either a zombie movie or a thriller tribute.

Flashlights in hand, tour guide chattering away into his megaphone, we explored. The cemetary is so large, and especially in the muggy dark, you can't see the end of it. It appears to go on, statue after statue, crypt after crypt forever.

Those who were not important enough to get an intricate mausoleum, crypt or statue were laid to rest in a manner that reminded me of a library. Above ground, the coffins, with face plates stating the who and the when and sometimes a poem, were stacked five high into a white wall that ran on into the night until it disappeared. Like archives of Human Beings Past.

The largest, most intricate mausoleum was for Peru's heroes. 300 of Peru's best and bravest were all buried in the same monolithic mausoleum. Unfortunately, it is owned by the Army and therefore locked. So we could only peer through the chained gates and glass to see the first floor. Which, naturally, was awe inspiring.

After walking with the dead, our faces cold with the wind and the kisses of spirits, we went to Barranco - the bohemian/bar district - to have a warming pisco and listen to some very much alive Criollo (afro-peruvian) music.

Lima's Huaca Pacllana:
Before getting on the bus to Cusco, Sergio wanted me to see one of Lima's intra-city huacas (ruins from old old civilizations, right in the city!). This particular huaca is quite close to Sergio's house in Miraflores and is surrounded on all sides by houses and buildings. It was uncovered in the 1980s. Before that it was just a large mound of dirt, that building construction used to dump their discarded dirt onto.
The huaca dates back to 500 A.D., and was built by the Lima civilization (200-700 A.D.). The religious section is large trapezoidal pyramid made of vertical adobe bricks and mud mortar. The bricks are structured into trapezoids as well and have withstood Peru's earthquakes since they were originally built.

The remains of between 20 and 30 young women have been found- sacrifices to the sea and moon gods (female dieties). The Limas used to make sacrifices when undergoing some sort of change in their society. Women were considered pure and symbols of fertility and all that, and so they got to be the lucky sacrifices. The whole village would gather to watch the young woman be beaten around the head with sticks and rocks.
If they wanted to thank the gods for something, the priest would smash pottery with religious insignia on it.

The huaca's ongoing excavation is partially funded by a portion of the proceeds of a restaurant that looks directly onto the ruins. Dinner in front of thousands of years of history, anyone?

October 2nd, 2009 (Today)

Arrived in Cusco after a 20 bajillion hour bus ride. Am officially on my own now, which is a little daunting, but I'm so excited to explore Cusco, this city is adorable.
I haggled with my first taxi driver, and probably still paid more than I could have, but this haggling concept seems to impinge on my polite canadian sensibilites. I'm sure I'll get over that though.
My hostel is on a steep hill a few blocks away from the Plaza del Armas. So the walk down to the plaza was fine, but the way back was wretched. Hill + out of shape + altitude = rough walk. I decided to take it easy the rest of the day, allow myself to acclimatize to the altitude, and catch up on some sleep!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lima and The Peruvian Jungle

Tuesday September 29, 2009

As it turns out, Peru is pretty distracting. I hadn't even finished talking about the food and a million other things have happened. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

So, back to the first day: Afer lunch, Cathy went to teach her history class at the Catholic University, and Sergio and I went to the conveniently nearby zoo. I had my first, albeit somewhat artificial, glimpse of alpacas, llamas, vicunas (llama type animal; all three are really difficult to tell apart), jungle cats, and, my favorite, penguins. I cannot wait to see penguins in their natural habitat. They are the funniest, most awkward animals I have ever seen. Luckily for me, Peru, Chile and Argentina all have penguins wobbling around in certain areas.

That night, I went with Sergio, Cathy and Juan Luis to Brisas del Titicaca, which was presenting a handful of traditional folklore dances and music. I say only a handful because the city of Puno alone has over 700 dances. They covered all sorts of genres, from jungle dances, to the dance the Spanish used to teach the Incas about good and evil, using scary diablo costumesto denote evil and having the angel in white come out the victor. Another dance, in an unusual twist, the bull kills the matador, and then a girl with 16 skirts enchants the bull. The 16 skirts are representative of wealth. Although not material wealth, rather, the more family you have, the wealthier you are. The poor girl with the 16 skirts almost fainted when she was finished dancing. Wealth can be heavy! My favorite dance was of the Incas mocking the Spanish. They made fun of their outfits by wearing Spanish looking skirts, made fun of their weapons, and their way of dancing.
Between each couple of dances, the band would play a song or two so the audience could dance. There was a class reunion there from 1959 and all these little old ladies and one old guy were up dancing and drinking pisco sours until 2 in the morning.

The next day, we went downtown and wandered around, checking out the architecture and the plazas. The buildings are gorgeous, some as old as 16th Century, some made out of mud and a type of straw found in the Andes, some classic colonial style, some baroque and dizzyingly detailed.

The main is called the Plaza del Armas, and it's structured like every other plaza in a city/town that has been conquered by the Spanish. The government palace where the President lives is at the front, complete with a changing of the guard at noon. The current president is Alan Garcia, who ran the country into the ground between 1985-1990 but was re-elected because his opponent was even worse than him. To the left, City Hall. And to the right, is the seat of the Church; the cardinal's residence and the Cathedral of Lima, the Archbishop's headquarters. In the center of the plaza is a statue of San Martin, the man who liberated Peru in 1821 from the Spanish (as well as Chile and Argentina). On the front of his statue is the likeness of a girl, or an angel. She was supposed to have a crown of fire, but the artist got the word for fire mixed up and instead she has a baby llama on her head.

We took a tour, in English, of the Cathedral. The guide said it would take a mere 30 minutes, but it took over an hour. Sergio was incensed: "she lied to us, and in front of God!" The audacity!

Anyway, it was very interesting tour. Old school Catholic Churches are delightfully macabre. Underneath the actual church part, is the crypt where all the old important clergymen are laid to rest. There is one woman buried there; her and her archbishop husband somehow negotiated her a spot in the crypt. But, it is typically an (very) old boys club. In the center of one of the rooms, there's a glass covered hole in the ground where you can see tiny, infant sized wooden coffins. Very simple, unmarked. This is where the unknown babies of the congregation (and according to unofficial sources, some of the nuns' babies) were buried. The tomb goes down five metres. Five meters of unmarked baby coffins. There is also a glass of water set next to the wall in the tomb, for when the spirits get thirsty. Towards the end of the tour, the guide asked me if I wanted to make a Confession. Evidently, I look like a sinner. I wonder how she knew!

Afterwards, Juan Luis and I went to the second annual gastronomic festival in Lima. In which there was tons of food, contests for best cooking (Juan Luis' friend's restaurant won for best causia, which is an incredible potato dish), and all sorts of food related things for sale. I had read in my guide book that you can find guinea pig in Peru - called cuy, and I decided that I would find it. Well, it sure didn't take me very long. Walking through the vendors, there was a table piled high with skinned, headless, eviscerated cuy carcasses. Now I just need to find the cooked version so I can eat it.

Later that night, in a beautiful bar out on the pier in Miraflores, with the ocean crashing and laughing all around us, a bartender named Yave (another name for God) gave me a lesson in Pisco. The liquor is made from grapes and has many different types, depending on what you are going to use it for. A lot like wine, actually. There is a rivalry between Chile and Peru for who has ownership of the original pisco sour. Peru has the one up on Chile, however: there is a town in Peru called Pisco but not in Chile, Peru exports their Pisco to Chile but not vice versa, and perhaps most damning, Chileans make the Pisco Sour completely differently, so in fact, they are not even the same drink.

The Jungle:

On Saturday, we drove into the Central Highlands, through the Andes into the jungle. It's a six hour drive from Lima, and the road crests the highest mountain pass in Peru at a whopping 4818 metres above sea level. On a related note, coca leaves make for a great altitude sickness remedy.
The landscape from Lima to the Jungle is like a slideshow of climate types: from dusty desert it becomes the sierra and then, the patchwork quilt-like farms in rust and sepia tones (it's dry season) suddenly burst into a plethora of intense greenery and the squawking of a thousand birds and ginormous bugs. The air changed from crisp, chilly mountain air into humid, heavy, jungle air. Delicious.

Most of the small towns we drove through in the mountains were centered around either mining or farming. One town in particular has a heart breaking story. The people live and work in the refinery where all of the mines process their minerals. Among the waste products is a heavy concentration of lead. The mountains in this area are a strange marbled grey color, from the acid rain. Nothing grows on them and they look anemic. The lead in the air and the water has a devasting effect on the people: their life expectancy is 40 years old, they are very short, and they suffer a gambit of lead related health disorders. However, if they do not work in the mines/refinery, they die tomorrow and if they do work in the mines, they die in 20 years. Out of the fire and into the slow cooker. The mining company is from the United States and they refuse to adapt their environmental policies.

Our hotel was in San Ramon - which is not in my guidebook, so we certainly veered off the beaten path. Not all that far from where we stayed was a Shining Path cocaine operation. Needless to say, we didn't bother with that part of the jungle.

After a quiet night having dinner, taking a dip in the pool under the stars and then going to bed early, we signed ourselves up for an 11 hour tour on Sunday. The tour was lead by a 12 year old boy, who was surprisingly bossy for someone so young. He conducted the tour in Spanish so I relied on Sergio's translations and the few words I could pick up. Mostly I probably looked like a lost tourist.

We visited a bridge with a rusty, tenous hold on life. Somehow, vehicles still make it across, not without some praying or choice epithets though, I'd bet. The river we so precariously swayed over was the Chanchamayo. Mayo being Quechua for river and chancha meaning burnt embers or coals from the fire. The aboriginals used to fish at night, in the moonlight and the rocks looked like embers glowering underneath the water.

The 12 year old took us to one of the remaining aboriginal tribes, where they dressed us up in their traditional clothes, put red face paint on our cheeks, told us their story and then we all danced the healing dance to drums and flutes. Afterwards, they had jewelry and other crafts for sale, and one of the older ladies who was working the stand saw that I had a few spider bites. I noticed the bites right when I got off the plane in Lima, so I blame san Salvador airport. Anyway, her and a few of the children made a big fuss over me; "oww amiga!" and the lady put some green salve on them. And wouldn't you know it, the following day the bites were almost gone. The old lady healed me!

After being healed, we went to two waterfalls, got to jump around in the pools of water; a much needed respite from the heavy heat. I probably lost 20 pounds that day. Sergio said he felt like he was sweating out his soul.

Traditional jungle fare for lunch followed: a mixture of river fish ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime), fried fish, fried bananas, yuca, and pig meat that tasted a lot like bacon but was thicker cut, not as greasy and was not bacon.

The tail end of the tour included a short trip in a tin can with a motor that they calleda boat down the Chanchamayo and a trip to the coffee factory. Peru grows spectacular coffee, and imports most of it to Europe. Peruvians, much to my surprise, don't really drink a lot of coffee. More for me, then!

Today was spent driving back through the mountain pass, and then to dinner at a fancy fusion buffet. There was so much food, I nearly exploded. They had the central buffet table that was of a typical buffet style and size. But then, they had 4 stations where they cooked food for you: argentine steak, peruvian-chinese food (chifa), peruvian sushi, and italian pasta. And for desert there was a chocolate foundation, with local Peruvian chocolate. Like I said, almost exploded.
Oh, and the men's bathrooms were hilarious. On the wall above each urinal was a picture of a hot girl pointing and laughing. one of them even had a measuring tape. Priceless.

Friday, September 25, 2009

First Days in Lima

Friday September 25, 2009.

Since arriving in Lima, Peru two days ago, I have been spoiled absolutely rotten. A good friend of mine, Sergio, picked me up from the aiport after my 24 hour trip/exercise in patience (if it is indeed a virtue, I should be cannonized). We immediately went to catch the last hour or so of the Charly Garcia concert. Charly Garcia is an Argentine rock legend. He began his career in the '60s, but had dropped off the scene for the past 5-6 years, on account of heavy and diverse drug use and subsequent rehab. This concert, dubbed the "Say No More" tour (alluding to the appropriate response from a man when his wife/girlfriend is nagging him), was the kick off of the first tour he's had in 5 or so years, since the unpleasant drug debacle. Charly fans were ecstatic.

The concert was held outdoors, in a large dirt field beside the city's stadium. The team owns the stadium and doesn't like to share, so other events are not allowed to be held inside. This isn't a bad thing however - if you can't afford a ticket, you can stand outside the gates and still see and hear everything. Charly, dressed in a Peruvian poncho, sang his heart out, pounded on the piano and gave the crowd exactly what they wanted. Charly's moodiness came out in the third and final encore. He sang a song that essentially told the fans that he'd had enough of them and to go away and leave him alone. Then he threw down his mic and marched off stage. The crowd was nonplussed; they continued to chant, "ole, ole ole, charly, charly!", all to no avail.

Sergio introduced me to his friends and his girlfriend, Cathy and we all went to grab something to eat, then went back to Sergio and Cathy's apartment to have a really late supper. Their hospitality was amazing. We toasted first with purple chicha (a drink made of purple corn. Same color and consistency as a cabernet sauvignon, but tastes like, well, corn...with sugar in it) and then with Argentine wine. Great introduction into Lima.

After a well needed sleep (on an actual bed, instead of airplane/airport seats: win!) I woke up to the ocean right outside the large windows in Sergio's living room. His apartment is in the district of Miraflores (literally: look flowers), and incidentally, is absolutely gorgeous. Hardwood floors, spectacular view of the ocean - I certainly lucked out having a friend to stay with. Pictures to come.

We spent much of the day driving around parts of Lima. Driving is not for the faint hearted. There aren't so much rules as guidelines that nobody really follows. The city is perpetually covered by a white-gray fog. The locals call it the Donkey's Belly. And you certainly do feel like something is standing over top of you, in a protective way. That's right, UV rays, try and give me cancer through the Donkey's belly!
I'm already in love with this city (although, I already told it that I couldn't be exclusive - there's many more cities to see and fall for). Lima itself is very flat but is surrounded by hills, bordered by the ocean and dotted with old Inca ruins. There a very large cross that I can see from the apartment, that lights up every night and shines brightly through the fog. The story behind it goes like this:

In the 80's and 90's, Peru was terrorized by a group called The Shining Path. They were quite an unpleasant sort (killing thousands and thousands of civilians) and one of their terror tactics was to destroy electrical towers. So, you'd be sitting in your apartment and suddenly all the lights and electricity would go out. And stay that way for a few days. Once the government had the Shining Path quelled, they erected this cross out of pieces of the destroyed towers and they light it up every night as a reminder. Bad guys, defeated. Hurrah.

We had lunch on the rooftop terrace of a restaurant in the shopping district of San Isidro. Sergio, Cathy and their friend Juan Luis decided to order three of Peru's signature dishes, so that I could them all. As well as the national alcoholic beverage, the Pisco Sour.
The food was nothing short of sublime. Peruvians know a thing or two about fish, potatos and corn. The first dish was two types of ceviche (strips of fish in sauce), and octopus with a slightly spicy purple sauce.

Interrupted! Going for brunch and then to a food festival for more Peruvian dishes! Mmm!