This morning started with us waking up early despite the fact that for the first time in almost a month, we had no reason to get up early at all! We had done most of the packing last night and knew that we had plenty time to get all organised.. So we tied up all the loose ends, watched a bit of tv, played a bit on the computer until we could stand the inactivity no more, and went out to breakfast and then out for another walk around town. I could not get enough of all the little nooks and crannies to be seen here and there always seemed to be something happening...
So off we went. It was lovely to just wander around with no real time limit - we ambled down streets that we had not been before, getting ourselves totally lost and taking many breaks along the way. Being a Saturday, the town seemed to have come alive with little cook-outs happening all around town right there on the sidewalks. There were a good many tourists around, but the organised tours are normally in the afternoon so the town square and streets were totally free of all the busses - lovely, and us tourists all wandered around with an air of slowed down awe. Even the locals were not pushing their wares as determindly as normal.
I sneaked a few photos of those beautifully, brightly dressed ladies without them catching me and demanding payment. They are very insistant and even the kids will demand payment if they deem that they were in a photo one takes. It gets kind of irritating, but hey, its their way of making a living..and they do spend all day long in very hot looking clothes carrying little llama or sheep around for the photos. After a good long wander around, we headed back to the hotel to wait for our pickup. Neither of us was hungry at all - chewing coca leaves does that to one, apparently. We had had a cup of coca tea and taken the advice of everyone around there and chewed the leaves too. It really helps for the walkarounds.
While we were sitting there in the hotel lobby, surrounded by new people coming in to the hotel, I started watching life passing by the window.... The road right in front of the hotel is a very narrow road, built in the 1800's with rock that was cut into the shape of bricks and that road is still going! The traffic along this road is very heavy and each time anyone needs to be picked up or dropped off at our hotel, all traffic stops until the transfer is done. It really is amazing that there is no impatience about this - its just a fact of life and there are no furious honking of horns or yelling at all. Nice. The very narrow pavements suggest that when a bus or bigger car comes up that road, that you turn sideways to stop getting clipped........ very narrow. But the life walking by that window is fascinating.
There are the normal working groups - all in a hurry to go somewhere, others just amble by lookiing at everyone sitting inside looking out at them..... the cars keep on bouncing up that little road, mostly taxis crammed full with people all going somewhere. Sometimes it felt rather like that movie - the one where everyone is an actor, except the one guy who has no idea that his whole life is a movie...... sometimes it felt as if this was all just a play. And then a splash of color came bouncing into the frame - a brightly dressed lady with a very proud looking llama! And they slowly waltz on by, hoping to catch someone who wants to take a photo of them so that she can make a few dollars.........and then a very character-lined farmer, all bent over, dusty and carrying a huge coil of rope..... then more and more taxis... and then all of a sudden - nothing! uh oh - something must be wrong...... but no - instead of cars screaming up that little alleyway - there now came music..... a band playing and much laughter being pushed up that narrow road. So I grabbed the camera and went to the door to see what was going on. Another celebration - this time in honor of Oktoberfest. No one seemed to know why this was being celebrated, but boy was it done with much gusto and enthusiasm - tall, tall stilts and all in beautiful green costumes...... and then the traffic came back as the music slowly disappeared around the corner.
We sat gently watching the world go by for about 2 hours..... it was lovely and gentle and very very relaxing and totally fascinating. And then someone ran in the door, said something, the receptionist pointed at us, we were showed to come quickly - and we did. Off to the van that would take us to the airport. This is how it normally goes - a name that sort of fits ours is muttered and everything happens at high speed. A few times I said to Frank that we might be busy being kidnapped, for all we knew.....but we were ok to go along for the ride - it was something different anyway and there really was no point in asking for ID or anything - it simply does not work this way here in Peru or Ecuador. Not for a moment have we felt unsafe here or in Ecuador - not when we were in the tourist parts nor when we were walking around the 'real streets' of these towns. Yes, it makes sense to be careful, but I walked with my bag and camera and never even had an inkling of feeling even uncomfortable at all. We have been consistenty met with smiles, willingness to help, friendliness and kindness.
After being picked up from our hotel, Casa Andina Koriancha in Cusco and trasferred to the airport there, we were not to leave airports until we ran for the shuttle bus in Atlanta, back on USA soil. The flight from Cusco to Lima was smooth and lovely and those mountains were just as glorious as the first time we saw them.... then we had about 7 hours in Lima before the international flight to Miami. Those hours went slowly and I finally managed to sleep some on the airplane........... Frank did not. We had small seats and they simply dont lend themselves to comfortable sleeping. In a way, I am glad that it was a night flight, or I would not have been able to sleep at all - and I needed to. I found myself quite emotional coming into Miami..... it looked just like the very first time I came to this country - it was the same time of the morning and the lights were all twinkling, spread out from near to way over the horizon. I remembered so clearly all the fears and hopes and dreams and wishes that flew in with us that morning in 1994, but I could never have imagined that I would be flying in again under such wonderfully amazing circumstances. I had to wipe a tear or three from my eyes - I even thanked the customs man for making it so easy this time!. Maybe I was just overtired.
Customs went smoothly and the relative boredom of life, by comparison to the past 28 days, was just wonderful! We had plenty of time between flights, lots of time to do things slowly, plenty of English being spoken around us and we also had learned to recognise more Spanish words now that they were not a constant hum around us all the time. And this all gave me plenty time to start the reflection of this incredible journey we have just finished.......
I dont know how many miles we traveled, but I do know that it was one of the most incredible months of my life... The pace was punishing at times and the constant input of information sometimes put us in shutdown mode, which is a pity, but I know where to get the details I want to find again... A good few people have already asked which part of this trip was our best.... and neither of us can answer that. At first, before we even left home, I fully expected the Galapagos Islands to be the absolute best of it all.... but it was not....... The Amazon riverboat trip was unexpectedly beautiful and that week touched me in ways that I know will be ongoing for a very long time..... but was it the best? And then Machu Picchu - that was awesome in a way that I also did not expect. We had sort of tacked that on to the end of the trip as a kind of afterthought and well, simply because it was there and not because it was a part of any lifelong dream or anything. The different cities - Quito, Lima, Cusco, the towns on the Galapagos Islands and the many other little towns and markets that we drove through and stopped to briefly explore all wove themselves into a part of my heart that seems to vibrate with a special sort of life.
"The more you look at the world, the more you appreciate what really matters to people." These words were along that walkway you walk when getting on and off airplanes in most airports and they have stuck with me...... its so true. The little school kids along the Napo River who are so keen to learn that they will literally walk for hours to get to school, only to have to walk back again that afternoon, the ladies who sit making necklaces out of only plant products of the jungle, or those that weave the most incredible patterns into cloth that we could buy in all the markets, the enthusiasm of all our tour guides who explained their land, their history to us in such detail and with such obvious passion and the family of four all scrunched up onto one small scooter so that they can go and visit..... these are just a few examples of what really matters... its not money, its not possessions - its the passions, the talent the art and the inner music of people who really have so very little by comparison to what we have.
We have a much larger appreciation of what we have at home... firstly, after Cusco and its thin air up at nearly 11000 feet, we are so grateful to be able to breathe, then to be able to get rid of the ever present dust and those blue fumes...we are so spoiled with the luxuries of tv and internet and phones and roads where we have a full lane all to ourselves! Maybe 'spoiled' is the right word as in many ways, with all these things - we so often miss what really matters.... I know that this trip made both Frank and I realise with a deeper sense what matters and it has also given us the opportunity to make a difference to some people far away from our comfortable living.
So - back to the question..... which part of this past month was our best... Well, that seems to change with each memory, with each picture that now plays on a bigger screen on my home computer. It changes as I remember the smells, the heat, the jungle rain or feel the burn of my throat from those petrol fumes. Each time a new photo plays, I honestly feel that that second was simply the best. Oh those reflections of the jungle waters, the see through butterflies, those incredible churches, the history of the different towns, the sight of the people of the jungle fishing on the river islands in the sunset and the incredible treees that lined those rivers. The orange sand beaches in Galapagos and just the thought of where we stood! The incredible contrasts of the Sally Lightfoot crabs on the pitch black lava rocks, the huge tortoises, Darwin finches,or the looks on the faces of others when they saw something that awed them. That bus ride up the side of the mountain to Machu Picchu really made swimming with the piranas a breeze and seeing just how much work and passion and trust and belief an ancient tribe of the Incas did to build that incredible mountain city. The naturals like the sunset between the islands, standing silently in the jungle in the pitch dark of night while listening for life, the huge blue mountains with their white snow tips, the fairyland view of stunning evening clouds and those incredible trees, cute monkeys, colorful birds, swirling butterflies....... aaaah.........all of it.
It was all simply the best. All of it was our favorite and it was all unforgettable - there is not a moment that I can say we did not enjoy and will not treasure. How amazing is that?
I will post many photos in this coming week and will let you know when they are up there. So many of you all came along with us as constant companions, both mentally and emotionally and created some lovely moments just thinking of you from the mountaintop, kissing a huge stone for you, leaving a bit of you hair in special places along the way or in the way you just popped into my mind at different times - each day made me chuckle or smile or outright laugh as one of you joined us for a minute or ten. It was great..........thanks!
And I want to do this - a huge thanks to Alan from South American Vacations.... www.savacations.com. When I first started looking at planning this trip, I bumped into Alan from an advert on a website and I have to say that I am so thankful. We were met at all the airports, except for one easy one, by a guide, we were transferred to hotels, to city tours, given private tours and generally so very well looked after that we are absolutely amazed at how efficient everyone we came into contact with, was. We were given plenty time on our own, to walk around, to gain the confidence we now have to see ourselves through cities and airports, through learning how to communicate with others when there is no common language or culture.. to gain the confidence to plan another trip sometime in the future where we will need less guidance and planned days. Alan organised every step of the way for us - and it was a huge, fantastic success! Thank you so much, Alan - you and all your team here in the USA, Ecuador and Peru - Klein Tours and Viajes Pacifico, were just wonderful.
Our guide in Quito, Ecuador - Gustavo, was absolutely wonderful. He has a passion that I have not seen in anyone for a very long time. He has been in the USA to learn English and is hoping to come back for a year with his new bride - but he is adamant that they will only come here with the understanding that they go back to Ecuador. They will not consider living anywhere else but their country - it was easy to see that he would be lost without Ecuador - its in his soul and literally pours from him as he told us as much as he could in the short time we were there.
The guides on the Manatee Amazon Explorer on the Napo River were simply amazing.... Ernesto, Marco and Raol are so at home on that river, with the people of the jungle and the wildlife. They have a sparkle and sense of humor, a zest for life and a love for this jungle that so obviously runs soul deep, a gentleness and sense of fun that made this part of our journey simply lovely and totally unforgettable. They are a big part in my realizing that we can make a difference to people of a different world - a possible dream. All the crew on the boat were just absolutely wonderful and each of them made a huge and positive impact on this part of the trip.
On the galapagos Legend we were divided into groups of about 16 and allotted a very knowledgeable guide. Ours was born on the Islands and been a guide for the past 14 years and so obviously loves it there! I dont know how he managed to keep all that information in his head, but I do know that he had a really great way of sharing it all. His bounce, sparkle and way with all of us of all ages was very easy and fun. He was patient, joking, serious and a really good person to have to teach us all about this incredible place on our planet. All the crew on this boat were also just the best - really great!
The guides that we briefly met and who drove us to and from airports were all very kind, polite and knowlegeable with a good understanding of English.... Updon, who took us to the Sacred Valley of the Incas was one of the best too and the way he made history come alive, really stunned me. The way he explained things, made it all come out of the past and into the very moment, was just lovely and I just know this is the start of more leaning for me..
We really did expect to have at least a glitch or three, but not one! Not a single thing went wrong at all! No major flight delays - 35 minutes at the most, no missed connections, no lost luggage, no damaged stuff and even the weather was absolutely the best - from the Amazonian downpours to the beautiful days we were handed everywhere along the way. Everything was just perfect
This has been a simply incredible trip that will live in my heart and mind forever. We are so fortunate, blessed and simply darned lucky to have the opportunity to have been to these places - a journey through a good many different cultures, beliefs, religions, countries and unending stunning beauty.... an incredible journey.
Thanks for riding, flying, sailing and walking along with us once again.......All of you that came with us and all those we met along the way made this so very special.
And U3, we have spent more of your inheritance, but have left you with dreams to dream of for yourselves. I hope you get to live these, and much much more. Thanks for being everything you are - you are such a huge part of what matters to me - each one of you.
love and light
till next time
Annie and Frank