Sunday, September 3, 2006

Report # 15

Another Sunday Arvo, this time from pretty Cusco. And I have done the Machu Picchu thing!!! - which was the primary site I wanted to see - more later.

Primero , saludos a Yovana Quispe Mamani, una guapa chica que es tambien muy cariñosa, y me ayudó mucho. Mis gracias a ti Yovana, y que todos tus amigos estén celosas de ti que tienes tu nombre en el internet - de un guapo jovencito que se enamoró de ti !!!! Que seas feliz toda la vida tuya.

Well, I left Nasca last week for Arequipa and was supposed to leave at 2100 but did not leave till 2300 and then it took 9 hrs instead of the promised 6!! (bloody liars). SO was not a good trip, but found a lovely little hotel with family atmosphere and settled in happily. Had whole day to arrange things. Booked tour to famous Colca canyon. Not expensive really at $24 for the whole deal - not including meals and entrance to park and thermal baths.

I talk a lot about heights here because once you get above 2000 mts the weather and temp is very much affected by height. For the next week or two I will be in high country so will give hts a lot. Above about 3000 mts also one can suffer serious altitude problems. Fortunately I have not had any - because I am fit(question) - no question mark on this keyboard!!!!

Arequipa is 2300 mts and so quite ok. Colca is about 3200 but to get there we have to go to 4800 mts - that is 15800 ft. Depart 0900 Wed see vicuñas, llamas and alpacas which are all sort of related, vicuñas look like deer, llamas are taller and long necks and often have brown wool, alpacas are small and cream. Once above 3600 mts yo start to get grass and shrubs even though it is still arid. And springs start to appear. Snow usually only stays above 6000 mts. We got to 4200 and had a stop for mate which is tea from coca leaves. Instead I chewed the leaves that someone gave me. From there we climbed to high point of 4800 and stopped to look at piles of stones that the locals build to honour sun god. The higher you are the closer to the god you get so obviously at that point there were lots of piles of stones. Like the piles of stones on the camino for those who have seen our camino pics.

Got to the town of Chivay which is at start of canyon and stayed night there but had thermal springs for over an hour - man, that was beautiful!! temp about 38-40C which is at or above body temp. Marvellous. After that we went for typical meal and folkloric dance/songs. Lovely, from local Quechua group and I bought a CD. GIrl got people up to dance and of course chose the handsme one - me - for two dances, but I tell you at 3200 I ran out of puff very quickly and legs went to jelly. But great fun.

Next day we moved along the canyon to the condor lookout where the canyon is 1200 mts deep - further along it is 3400 mts deep. We saw several condors which are vultures and have wingspan of 2.8 mts. At 8 yrs of age they get white on wings and neck. Then back home to Arequipa after a local lunch. The terracing that is in that valley is immense and amazing - most of it dates from the incas. They terrace up slopes where I dont think I could even walk/climb.

LOts of local Quechua indians in all the towns around there - there are two races, and I forget their names - one is cavanas I think - whose women wear white hats generally handmade. The other race wear multi coloured hats usually of darker colours. That was to distinguish themselves and keep the races pure but there has been a lot of intermarrying so things are getting mixed.

Interesting that this is the seco side of the Andes so that is why there has been no grass or trees for weeks. Once you cross to the Amazom side you start to get forrests - and I guess rain and snow. However here on the dry side once above 3600 mts yo get grasses and shrubs and that is where the vicuñas live.

Above 4200 mts the trees and shrubs and grassses change including a sort of moss thing that grows on rocks at about 1-2 cms per yr ans the locals harvest it for a tea and for burning fuel. By the way at 4800 mts the night temp drops to 10C below zero!! fortunarely we did not stay there. At 4200 mts where we stopped for mate it was hot but they told us by 14.00 there would be a fierce wind that cuts right thru you.

Not far from Colca is another canyon called I think Cotahuasi, which is the deepest canyon in the world -3440 mts question - and twice as deep as Grand canyon. Colca is only a few mts less.

That night -wednesday - departed for Cusco which is enrty for Machu Picchu. About 10 hr trip and was a cama-bus so very comfy and I slept whole way. Great. Arrived about 0500. The guide boook is a bit vague in my opinion about the whole MP area - you have to get from Cusco to a town called Aguas Calientes and it mentions a very expensive train and local buses in Aguas Cal.So when I arrived I asked a bus company lady if it was possible to get a bus to A-C and she said yes of course and sold me a ticket. So then I said I would visit M-P and come back next night to go to Puno. So I bought another ticket. Bus departs 2 hrs later so go to get on and it says Puno, so I ask guy if it also goes to A-C and he assures me yes and a lady passenger confirms. So on I get and after 2.5 hrs bus breaks down and during the wait I ask about M-P. The passengers are amazed, I am going in wrong dirrection!!! there are two A-Cs - one at MP and the other 250 kms away towards Puno. So 30mins more to next town and get colectivo back and front the girl - whom I believe did it deliberately to get a sale - she says stiff cheddar and could not do anything about it except make my Puno ticket open dated - which is what I will use tonite. She says it the best joke of her life and she will remember me always!!

So I had to get a hotel here and chose Casa Grande where I met Yovana. She was very sweet and sympathetic. Helped me get taxis and get train ticket for next day etc. Made up for the other bitch called Flos. However I am now over my anger and can laugh about it all. Have even forgiven her. The MP venture was far far more expensive than the book says all prices have at least doubled. Train from Cusco is $80-100 depending on class, The guy in Perrail was brilliantly kind and arranged a cheaper option. Bus to half way - Ollantaytambo - and night train to AC have full day in MP and then early morn train back to Ollan- and bus to Cusco. That I did and was only $50 all up and gave me a total day in MP.

I cannot describe it adequately. It is awesome and fantastic and has an atmosphere - for those who have a spiritual side! There were only about 500 incas there to start and probably finished with 1500 but hte buildings are fantastic. About 30% are rebuilt and contain mortar - all the rest do not and are original. There are still water channels carrying water all thru the city and there are llamas to keep the grass under control, and they drink from these drains - fotos included in those sent home. I walked almost every inch of the place and spent almost 7 hrs there but you could do it in 3-4 if you wanted. I went to a place called Inca Bridge wher thye built a stone bridge about 1 mt wide across a vertical cliff face!!! and they made a track around the hill to get there. The track has almost vertical drops of 500 mts below so be careful! pics included.

Ther is another track they built about 2.5mts wide which goes to Cusco about 120 kms away. You can climb this track to the Door of the Sun if wish. 45 mins. I did not. There is also a steep hill behind the main city wher they built steps to top and yo can climb that too 1.5hrs up and 1 hr down. I did not!!

The city is basically agric area first - up side of steep hill, then to the left the residential area and kings rooms and temple then further on to the right is the industrial area. There was also a quarry behind the residential area. The inca bridge is behind the hill behind the agric area.. Main plaza is between resid and indust

Had a good hotel and cheap because few tourists now (but still very crowded), hottest water I have had in whole trip! - new bldg new plumbing etc.

By the way, water and fruit etc in AC is twice the price of Cusco and water at MP itself is 7 times Cusco price, so take lots of water and maybe fruit. Meals at MP are outlandish prices. Another point be slow to ask questions of any bus company employee or travel agency. As I found to my woe, they all lie thru their teeth. I have not had one bus employee in any city tell the truth about times prices, arrrivals etc. And locals often just give any direction just to get you away - especially if they are working class. Educated people are more responsible. So if possible ask a policeman or security type person in uniform.

Back to Cusco this morn and have filled in day doing this and other internet stuff and left mochila with Yovana. Have fruit and chocs for tonites trip. Will be in Bolivia within a day or two at most.

Basically the last few weeks have been visiting set sites with famous things to see. Apart from the salt lakes in Bolivia, from here on I will just be seeing towns and cities, primarily in Argentina. Have now changed my itinerary so will be home by early October - depends when Lanchile can get me a seat. Also the cost of travel is at least 25% above the book prices and some of the sites such as MP have been way over the top so that has all helped to blow my budget to hell. So will be limiting my CHile visit to just the Atacama Desert. Then the last few weks in Argentina.

Cheers from the Latin traveller. Hope Mary and Paul can get some pics on internet for yo all to see - especially MP.

Hugs to all. Nobby