Sunday, October 18, 2009

An incredible journey......

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.... 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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ancient Andean Mountains and Macchu Picchu......

Today started bright and early, but I want to start this email almost at the end of the day as we were careening through the darkening skies of inland Peru in a little tourist van driven by a guy who was obviously trying to make up for lost time somewhere along the way.  It's best not to look forwards and see what is coming at us, so I leaned back and took control of my side window........and what a view it delivered.  The clouds rose high into the sky, almost wanting to become storm clouds and the sun set somewhere far enough away so that we were given only the soft and gentle hues that tipped the tops of both the mountains and the clouds and turned the rivers into molten silver.  As the sun set lower, we could see many fires burning all over the hillsides and the smoke gave a lovely dimension to the photos. 
And then it was dark and we were hurtling along this road with me holding on to the bottom of my seat to stop myself falling off.  Frank was in the seat behind me, pretty much doing the same thing.  But as I looked outside and saw the incredible towering and now pitch black mountains against a deep grey sky, I felt like the luckiest woman alive.  We had just had the most incredible day and here I was in a place I never dreamed to be, watching the stars pop out, one by one, creating the milky way just for us to see!  Totally amazing.  We drove through the darkness, every now and again finding a spot of light gently glowing in the darkness - the single light bulb in someones home.... and then it was gone again - back into the darkness.  And I thought about the day we have just been given.....
It started at 5am with the horrendous sound of a wake up call and a mere hour later found us in a bus on the way to Poroy Station happily chewing coca leaves - they say it really helps with the altitude and I was really happy to try it - I swear it works too!  How much can we bring home?  Anyway..... after about 30 minutes we arrived at the PeruRail Station and found our blue train with the windows in the roof - Vista Dome.  We were given seats a few rows apart from each other, but Frank remedied that by simply moving next to me....... I was not moving - I had a window seat :)  The horn blew and we were on our way to a three hour journey through the most incredible scenery that I have seen.
Oh wait, the inside of the train - each seat sat two people with a table in front of us, like a little resturant, and soon out came some cute little cups and glasses and plates and we were served a second breakfast of the day..  The orange juice was outstanding.
We started off through the rural areas, passing literally feet from kids and dogs playing, tied up cattle and donkies and farmlands everywhere with the mountains surrounding it all..... Then we found the grown up mountains and they were absolutely amazing - they were more peaked and darker in color - blue-ish with almost a foreboding feel to them.  Only very few mountaintops had any snow on them but the views with the valleys, mountains and Urubamba River was just glorious..... the camera clicked continuously.  At one point, the mountain is just too steep for the train and a switchback system has been designed to deal with this issue.  So there we are, trundling along happily and see another track leading in to the rail.... our train goes a little way past the meeting of these two rails and then backs up, reverses, down the second track till it finds yet another one going in the original direction again...... think of a zigzag/switchback road - its the same idea, just very interesting to do while on the very edge of a cliff.
And further down we were taken, the scenery became very green and those Andean mountains!  Well, they sort of bring tears to my eyes. And then there we were, back in the jungle again!  Lush green, deep shrubbery and strange trees and plants and flowers all over the place.  I saw two beautiful blue birds but was too late to catch them with the camera..  The train passed only inches from the side of the mountain on one side, our side, and on the other the river showed her glory in the early morning sun.  Right then I became determined to sit on the other side on the way back. 
The deeper we got into the jungle the more those mountains grew.... now they were not the 'adult mountains' anymore - now they became "The Ancients" in my mind...They seemed to peak in such a majestic way - to reach right up to the sky and shake hands and become one with it.....  I thought of that movie Neverending Story and its mountains and realised that this is definitely a different kind of world.
I wonder why on earth anyone, ancient Inca or not, would even wander this far into this place..... Its miles and miles from anywhere and quite intimidating.  But, obviously they did. 
After the absolutely fascinating train ride, we were taken to a plush bus for the ride to the top, and Macchu Picchu...  The valley we were in was beautiful and full of tourists and sellers and colors and noise and building and ..........well, it lived!  And so we headed for the bus, promising ourselves time here on the way back down later in the day.....  the bus ride - now that was something too!  Those switchbacks, zig zag roads you see on google earth? Yup - thats the road we drove!  Its a narrow, dusty, no barrier, two way path that zigged and zagged us up, sometimes only millimeters from certain death if one of the wheels went off the path.  A good many times we passed other busses and all of us on the bus sucked in our hips to make space for it to pass by..  But that view!  As we wound our way up that mountain, the train station became smaller and smaller and the view more spectacular.  All along the mountains we could see other smaller ruin and agricultural sites and we were in awe of what the Inca's had achieved.
And then we came to Macchu Picchu and ten million people.  We were terribly disappointed and we were shuffeled, elbow to elbow,  butt to face, up the steps and along the path to the entrance.  I could almost not bear to share this experience in such a crowd..and then we passed through the entrance way and it all opened up! 
Macchu Picchu is absolutely stunning!  Our guide was brilliant at keeping us away from the crowds and taking us other ways around to get to the great vistas and views without even realizing how many people were around.  But - back to Macchu Picchu itself......  It's totally unbelievable that people of so many years ago created this all...... those huge steps you see in all the photos is acutally the agricultural part of the ruins...there they grew all thier crops to feed the people.  There are many normal sized stairs all over the place linking the different levels, houses and worship places.  It's quite a maze and it was totally fascinating to walk through there, touching those ancient stones knowing that each and every one of them was hand carved, moved, polished to fit and placed right there.... its totally wonderful. 
The "common workers" lived in houses separate from the chosen, the rich and the upper class....and in an area closer to the crops too.  Its really beyond words to describe this place..  When we see a house today, whether built from wood or brick, we can almost see the truck bringing all the building supplies right to the building site...... and its all level and cleared off and neat and tidy too.  Not here - many of the structures are built around huge bolders, natural geographical faults and especially around the sun. Yes, many of the main buildings were lined up with the sun, summer and winter solstice being critical to the Incas.  Other mountains, in conjunction with the sun,  were used to find the right dates and the sun would shine at just the right angle through a small space and then the celebrations could begin or the planting of the new set of crops.  And none of the stone or soil arrived by truck - it was all hand done.... every stone hand picked, carved, shaped, polished and made to fit exactly with its mate, with no cement of filler or anything most times.
All the steps are slightly angled sideways or down to help with the drainage during the six months of rainy season and there are natural water gathering places where the water is then directed to fountains for different uses.  The Incas could not look at thier gods in the sky directly, so they had stones made round and flat in which they then poured water to use as a mirror to look at the sky and stars....Pachamamma, Mother Earth, is of absolute importance and even today, in town, when one of the Inca people open a bottle of water, the first few drops are given to Pachamamma, sprinkled on the ground. 
High up on this mountain, the Inca's had incredible views and could see for miles around if anyone was approaching.  The Inca trails can still be seen and a new one was just discovered just two months ago!  Just a few months before Macchu Picchu was discovered, another group of people mapped out this area, the valley and the mountains, but they totally missed the fact that there were any ruins up there!  It was all so totally overgrown.  A little while later Hiram Bingham found this place and the cleaning began.  Him and his crew took all the pottery, all the utensils, anything that could be moved - he took it all to the USA.  Its all still at Yale and there are some attempts to get it back to Peru.  In my opinion, this is where it belongs - in Peru!  After seeing this place and feeling the spark of history interest raising its head again, I honestly feel that these treasures much come back home.
Macchu Picchu took 100 years to build and it was never finished - the Incas left before it was all done - the reason for leaving is still not clear - probably never will be.  But what they did was to leave behind an incredibly special place. The design is brilliant, the agricultural trellises totally amazing and the feeling of wandering through those ruins, even with many other people, was just incredible.  A good many times I would stand at one of the many windows and look at the view and wonder what those ancient Inca's thought of when looking at the view...... did they see the wonders of those towering, ancient, all knowing mountains or did they simply see them as a measure of time....  With all the building of this place, was there even time to think about the surrounding beauty? 
Huge boulders hand carved and shaped, rooms with views at all angles, stones placed just so for reasons that no one really knows, but seem to each have a function of sorts.  Tiny narrow rock staircases everywhere and the soil for the crops brought in from the Sacred Valley, many miles away.  There are temples to the Condor and the Sun - these are huge boulders and other rocks shaped to compliment the whole effect - I will post one of the Condor - its magnificient.
People of all ages wandered over these ruins, mixing in with the llama who happily wandered just where they wanted to... Everyone carried the look of awe that this place creates and cameras never stopped clicking.  There is no way to fully capture the feeling or the vision of this place.... It would be stunning to be here when there is no one else around.   Occasionally we would get into a section that we could not see or hear anyone and that was so special!  It must have been one glorious place in its day.
And then, all too soon, it was time to go.  We had spent almost three hours wandering through the ruins, soaking in the views and total awesomeness of this place..... there is nothing quite like it and still, no photo I have seen can fully explain what it is.  It was much easier to walk around here than we expected.. no harsh climbs or very long stairs - lots of resting places and always a wonderful view to admire - neither Frank nor I had much of a problem at all.  There was a breeze too which helped cool everyone down too. 
This is definitely somewhere to see - all the way from Cusco, the train ride, the bus and the crowing glory, literally - Macchu Picchu!  I have briefly gone through some of the photos - and WOW........I cant wait to see them on a screen bigger than 10 inches!
And so off we went to lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge..... it was good but we did not stay long as we wanted to spend some time at the market at the station - we still had soles to spend.... that does sound weird.  And so we headed for the bus and back down that hair raising road!  We really got close to the edge at times and I could feel myself breaking out in a sweat..... but it was part of the big picture that I would not have missed for anything.  I do think that swimming with the piranas was less risky though.
We stimulated the economy at the market to a goodly extent, and caught the train back home - this time with us on the river side........what a joy that was!!  We only took the train half way home and all got off at Ollytaytambo station where the mini vans took us the rest of the way - I have no idea why, but hey - it was fun too.  So, about 4 hours after leaving Macchu Picchu behind, and that glorious night drive back home, we were stuck in a wonderful traffic jam in the center square of Cusco, so bad that I had plenty time to hop out and take some night pictures of the two main Missions on the square... just lovely.
It was truely one of the lovliest days today... the awe started early and just never let up.  We got back to the hotel with very full cameras and have just finished copying them all to the computer........ We also went through all the goodies we have bought along the way, packed our bags, showered all the Peruvian dust off and are ready to start the long road home..  Check out time here is around 11.30am but we are only getting picked up around 3.30pm for the flight back to Lima.....This gives us a lovely few hours to wander around town, gently and with no rush and see what else there is to see.  We have about 5 hours in Lima airport to wait for our overnight  flight back to Miami, Atlanta and then a short two hour bus ride back home again..... its going to be a long couple of days.
What a trip this has been........ I feel another email coming on, but probably only after we have landed home again... I need to wrap all of our adventures up and think about them and savor them and try to soak them up - maybe the long flights will help with that.
Its been totally amazing.... and its not over yet.
love and light
especially to U3
Annie and Frank

Friday, October 16, 2009

First, Cusco.....

I dont really know how to begin to descibe this totally amazing little town and its surrounding areas...  but, as you know by now, I am going to give it a darn good try :)  I am just going to ramble as things come to mind - there are so many different aspects to this place and I really wish we had more place here.  There are the huge and very ornate churches, or Missions, as they are called, bells hang from many little turrets all over town, crosses stand erect on many buildings, old and new and also on many houses is a little statue thingymabob consisting of two bulls, a ladder and a cross.  this is all to do with the strength of the bull, the hope to climb to higher success, the ladder, and their religeon which is very often a mix of the Catholic and Inca religeons.  Many of the roads are built way back when the old buildings were built - sometimes in the early 1800's.  They are made from the stones of the mountains and are still in excellent shape - this is something everyone should do - no road repairs or potholes......sounds good to me.  These roads are mostly incredibly narrow - no, no, narrower than that even and have doors every few feet along the way.  Some lead to banks, shops, eateries, or simply lead way back to someones house.  The color is incredible and vibrant and the noise is constant - not too bad a noise at all - I quite like it...... horns honking, people talking louder than the others so that they can be heard, whistles being blown by frantic traffic cops with no chance at all of keeping any order.
Tonight on the way home, a cop told a car to stop and it did not, so he ran after it and made it stop by blowing that poor little whistle into another dimension!  Then he looked back at the mess he had just left, shrugged and waved his hands around in about 4 different ways indicating that we should all just keep on sorting out the traffic mess ourselves.  Even the driver of our van just burst out laughing!  Earlier we got into the most incredible traffic jam imaginable........  it was a small area that we were headed out of and other vehicles were coming in - all mixed in with huge tour busses, tiny three wheel taxis, ordinary cars and tour vans.... somehow, everyone managed to get totally locked up and even the locals stopped trying to sell their wares and just stood laughing along with all the rest of us.  After about 10 minutes, one car, somewhere where we could not see, moved and the puzzle started unlocking.
The houses are mostly adobe style houses, but none seem to be finished, all have numerous dogs hanging around them, at least two pigs, a donkey, llama and chickens and the ever present cow or bull too.  The houses are so often built with a comon wall and on the hills they are literally staggered up, seeming to be one on top of each other with a set of impossibly steep steps all the way to the top every now and again.  Washing hangs in the back yards and from some unfinished roof tops, creating a wonderful splash of color all over the place.   Outside many of these places are bicycles with a big enough basket to hold a complete fruit stall.....
As we were driven through the countryside, outside Cusco, we noticed that all the cows and bulls are tied up and have someone watching them.  Mostly these are the native women in their beautifully colored outfits.. the man of the house is out working so she takes care of the cows and that means sitting outside with them for hours while they graze. 
I realized tonight what it was about this place that I really liked..... in many ways the kids have the free style of upbringing that I had.  In no way did we grow up in the poverty of this area, but I am talking about the playing outside, the school uniforms, the common sense, the playing ball in the street, the cars honking their horns to get you out of the way as they come screaming down the road.  The ability to walk alone down the road - even after dark!  Many children, small ones, still walk around alone after dark without a problem, or so it seems.  I realize that it always looks better from the outside, but this freedom to be a kid is everywhere here!  Along with this comes the obvious chores so many of these kids are doing too - its all part of life as a family, a necessity in order to survive in these harsh conditions.
The markets we went to, both in Quito, Ecuador as well as the one yesterday, were not just markets for the tourists at all.  They were filled with things that are used every day by the locals, the colors as vibrant as those sold to the tourists and many very un-touristy things everywhere.  It was really lovely spending time away from the organized tourist places and tomorrow we are going to wander around town a bit more and explore some more of those fascinating little allieways all over the place.
This town has grabbed my attention in many ways..... it calls for a good long time to wander around, get to know the locals and a good black and white camera!  Its a town that has such lousy beer that you have to have two, just to make sure that it really is that bad.  It has water that is labelled 'sin gas' and 'con gas' and when I asked what the difference was, I was told that the one was on one side of the fridge and the other type on the other side. Ok then.  The bread is simply delicious and the fruit unbeatable - no guavas here though.  There are ''bicycle fruit stores" all along the roads in town and everywhere, where you can buy all sorts of fresh and simply delicious fruits and other things.  And on almost every corner is a magazine shop too that also carries sweets, chips and other stuff that we still have not figured out what it is.  It is a place that no matter where you look, there is almost too much to see to be able to take it all in at one look.  It's a place that has such an incredible mix of old and new, rich and abject poverty, color and adobe drab......and I love the adobe style. 
Oh, the doors of this place... and the balconies - everywhere!  The doors are sometimes huge, but with only a part of it actually opening, so it looks a bit like stepping into a storybook when you duck into one of these 'small doors'.  The balconies and odd and old windows have really captured my attention too.  The balconies are on almost every upstairs window or door and so often very ornate, all carved from wood and even on the poorest looking houses.  They just caught my eye. The window frames have also got so much character..  a cross of wood often squifly nailed over them to act as safety bars and all different from each other.  Can you tell that I like this place?
Most of the fields are plowed by two oxen and a hoe between them - or simply done by hand.  The hills are just too much at an angle to even allow for a tractor and even if they were flat, I dont think that most of these places could afford a tractor at all.  The most seen crops here are potatoes and maize.  There are a surprising number of different types of potatoes and we tasted abotu 7 of them yesterday at lunch.
Al Paca's and llama's are everywhere - some of them in back yards and others in areas where we as tourists can walk through, see and touch them and see the women actually weaving some of the works of art that we buy so casually at the markets.  Each weaver designs her own work and then puts it all together with natural dyes..... and it way outshines the synthetic stuff that is everywhere.  I fell in love with every piece of work I saw and would easily have taken them all home with us.. but we made some careful choices of old and new stuff and have a goodly selection.
The local people are very different from the tribal people..... well, they are not really tribal, just Inca, but also not pure Inca anymore apparently..  The local people are very much modernized and go about life in ways that are more familiar to us all.  The Incas dress in traditional clothing, look very austere and if you photograph them they will quickly hold out their hand and demand payment.  I took a photo of a very narrow alley way yesterday and only afterwards realized that there was a lady waaaaay at the other end - she was huffing and puffing her way to us with outstretched hand.  Their kids are totally beautiful and also dressed in the amazing fabric - especially the little girls - it pulls in a lot more money and even more when they carry tiny llamas with them to really tug at tourist heartstrings..the huge dark eyes of the kids hold so much laughter and mischief.. I would love to spend some time with them and a camera and a project.......
Cusco has become one of my favorite towns, despite the altitude, and I hope to come back here one day sometime.
Now, let me move on to Macchu Picchu and today........ in another email.
love and light

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Over the Andes into Cusco

The flight over the Andes was just beautiful.  We were crunched like sardines into a tin can in the airplane, but I had a window seat again.  At first we were set to be in vastly different rows so when we checked in I put on my pleading face and asked if we could 'pretty please' be together - and that a window seat would be just lovely.  And we got no complaints at all.  There was not much snow at all on the mountains, but what was there, was beautiful!  There are little towns dotted in totally impossible places all across the mountains and my camera just would not stop clicking away, trying to zoom in really close to try and figure out just why people would live up there.  We found out later that there is actually a road from Cusco to Lima but that its very steep, curvy and takes at least 20 hours to drive it....... no Frank!  The motorhome is NOT going here.....just imagine what Blondie would do to us.
Anyway, it was only an hour flight to Cusco and really strange to drop down low inbetween the mountains well ahead of any site of houses or landing strip.  We were quickly met by..... oh heck, his name has left me..... and taken to our hotel where we were quite happy to lay down for an hour or two.  We found ourselves both totally exhausted by the thin air way up here at around 11000 feet in the sky.  After a good cups of coca tea that they say helps with altitude issues, we headed out to see what there is to see........ Oh boy.  This is lovely.  The road that the hotel is in, is very narrow.  Only one car fits between the sidewalks and the walkers are wise to turn sideways when the cars pass by......and they keep on coming!   There are the most delightful little shops and stores and resturants all along this road - with beautifully colored cloth and clothes, caps and so many other hand made crafts. We were almost literally pulled in to some of these stores as we walked along, the owners trying to sell as much as they can.  Now we have learned a very difficult thing for us to do...... no eye contact at all!  If you make eye contact, you might as well get your purse out.  And on we walked to the main square which is only a few blocks away..  We walked slowly, breathing heavily and swearing to exercise more once we get home again.... many stops were made to admire something or other - even clouds, at times, just so we could catch our breath.
The town square of most places we have been is the main hub of beautiful and majestic buildings and this time was no different at all.  The presence of security guys is great here too and this time they all had pepper spray and some other goodies too as there was a gathering or protest on the opposite side of the square.  It was not rowdy or anything, just a lot of people with banners and things and loud chanting.  We walked past them trying to figure it out, but never did.  Up and down a good few more roads, in and out of many more shops, even into a money exchange to get some souls - no no, not that type!  The currency is 'soul', pronounced so-ool.  3 souls to a dollar.  I dont think we bought anything that first day here and soon headed very out of breath and feeling a tad tender, back to the hotel.  On the way, we saw a resturant that looked good and inviting and we shared a lasagne and three scoop icecream - simply delicious.  We were laughed at as we shared the meal, but hey, thats all we wanted.  Then back to the hotel for another much needed rest before the afternoon city tour.
The first thing we noticed on coming outside again was the smog...... almost all the cars belch out a blue haze of differing deepness and it swirls behind them only to be chased away by the next blue cloud...and on and on.  Our throats literally burn from this and I am almost willing to find a mask to wear, but I dont think they have them here.  And so the afternoon Cusco City Tour started with us being called out to the bus that waited in this single lane, holding up all the traffic for us.  We jumped onto the bus only hearing "meester fwank? go dis way!", and off we trundled once again to the square we had walked to earlier.  Here we were to be sent to the English group of about 18 altogether, led by a short and very straight guide.  Someone complained about the size of the group and he promptly said that he was not the complaints department - just our guide.  He firmly said that he was not in charge of any arrangements we had made as to which tour we joined, any tickets that we should have or anything other than guiding us along a pre-determined route.  There was a short but absolute silence, then two people walked to the 'complaints dept' who stood with big eyes three feet away and the rest of us clapped.  Maybe mean, but the complainers were not nice in the way they spoke to him. 
By now both of us felts as if we could just go beck to the hotel and go to sleep - easily, but we wanted to see all the things there were to see - so we stayed on the bus.  We went through a few other churchs and its sad that one can only see so many churches before the upper case 'oooh' wears off to be replaced by simple awe.  They were really lovely and its sad to see just how much has been destroyed by fires, earthquakes and humans.  In many cases, the churches have been repaired, but not to their full glory.  Any church with paintings in it, forbids photographs, with or without a flash and my finger gets a swerious case of the itches all the time we are there.
We went to the main Cathedral in the square, to the Koricanchs (site of gold) and four of the ruins that surround the city.  The Koricancha has been stripped of all its glorious gold and silver, but some of the hand carved ceilings remain and many of the huge paintings have been restored and still hang all over the place.  It was interesting to see how the original walls and buildings were constructed and the huge stones they used are just mind bending in size.  They all fit together without anything other than a good fit and lots of polishing.  Then off we went, in much of a daze by now, to Sacsayhuaman - pronounced 'sexy woman'... seriously.  Its got nothing to do with a woman though, but everything to do with a puma and ruins and a gazillion steps and the most amazing stone work.  This is all set in a huge, huge gently undulating field that overlooks the town of Cusco.  In the middle of this field were a team of about 8 young boys in incredibly colored clothing with very strange and beautiful instruments playing the most amazing music...  Camera finger went into multispasms as I tried to capture all their expressions as they entertained us with not only the music, but beautiful smiles and mischieviously twinkling eyes... and then they came crowding around with their hats ready for the tips we were all only too happy to part with.  It was simply beautiful.
And then there was another set of steps that from the top, delivered a tremendous view...  with an already pounding heart and shaky legs, I left Frank on an ancient yet comfortable rock below and crawled my way upwards...yes, the view was worth it....... definitely.  I found another way off that hill that did not involve steps and met up with Frank at the bus again.  We went to a few other places, but sadly I have to admit that my enthusiasm was buried in a pillow back at the hotel by now.  I did go with the group to see what I thought they said was a waterfall - you know me and waterfalls, just cant pass them up.... but it was not quite what I thought and I swear I almost know what a heart attack feels like!  I was determined though, especially when the kind gentleman in front of me hung back and walked all the way to the top with me, pretending to huff and puff just as heavily as I did.  On second thoughts - maybe he needed a reason to slow down :)  The top delivered another amazing ruin with still flowing ever clear water, but in three tiny strands.  If you wanted twins, you drank from the first trickle...... pass!  If you wanted to live forever, drink from the second trickle - pass again - I just was not interested in that at all right then.  The third trickle had another promise that I dont even remember and the big pool delivered all three promises.  I walked back down that mountain with a dry mouth - not taking any risks at all!
By the time we got back to the hotel, we were both ......well, sick.  The tour lasted almost two hours longer than it should have because people kept wandering off from the guide, getting lost, getting sick and generally creating a lot of waiting time.  I think its a combination of being very tired after everything we have done this trip, the altitude and the heavy thick blue fumes from the cars everywhere, but last night was no fun at all.  We huddled shivering under a heavy down duvet and other blankets, with the heater on as high as it would go, visiting the bathroom for all the wrong reasons way too many times.
But.......this morning we both felt up to todays tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.... and it was glorious.  Our tour guide, Updon, was fantastic and the driver, Louis, did a better job than I could imagine in this traffic.. just how he stayed so cool and collected is beyond me.  And so the day started with a gentle drive of about 45 minutes to the Fortress of Ollantaytambo.  Oh this place is really something else.  Everytime you blink you see some more steps and then some more even higher up.  Franks mouth fell open in protest and he did go up with us the first 30 steps or so, but was not going to make it any further.  I was happier that he went back down, found some shade and another soft rock to enjoy the view from.  I, of course, being just plain damn stubborn went all the way to the top.  Some steps are nice and low while others are as deep as your knee is high - boy those are the tough ones!  But with the gentle and slow climbing of Updon and the many stops along the way, I was treated to a simply amazing experience.  The steps we were climbing on were inbetween the many terraces that were used to grow crops on many years past.  And then we walked across the top of all this to the temple which was built with absolutely enormous stones brought in from a quarry seven miles away over the river and way up on another mountain!  I have never been one much for history - flunked it badly in school - but this sort of got my mouth hanging open in awe and wanting to know more.  Huge stones were carved out for ceremonial chairs and .....well, it was sort of overwhelming to see this place from up here.. the views were totally perfect and beautiful and the number of years and the amount of work put into this temple of the sun was just incredible and it just went on an on!
We could see Frank laying back on a rock waaay below - he later said that the rock was perfectly made for him and was totally comfortable.  We saw him taking a good many pics and a really quick scan of them tells me that he is starting to get like me!  No wonder we have close to 15000 photos already....
And then off to a true Peruvian lunch which was delicious and then off to the market.  I just love driving around here - the roads are all narrow and winding and most of them built with the stones of the mountains and the adobe style houses are everywhere, often dotted with the original Inca buildings that are still being used.  All of the original houses built in Ollantaytambo are still being lived in!  Some of them needed repair, but the original layout of the rooms is still there - I find its awesome that they are all still being used.  Anyway.. the drive through the little towns is just fascinating - the color of the clothing, the brightly painted doors, the kids playing in the roads and life just as if should be.  I really like all this natural living without all the 'be carefuls' or potential lawsuits laying around.  I know it always looks better from the outside, and I am sure I would not enjoy living here full time. 
The market was just amazing - again, the colors, the different things, the materials and everything........... we did not have enough time to wander around there at all, but did manage to spend some money and have a wonderful time..  One of the places in the market had cooked guinea pig, which we politely declined, and we got to see another part of the original old town - and there was the most rediculous chicken and a house full of live guinea pigs just waiting to become dinner!  They were all cute and the lady of the house gave me some grass looking stuff to feed them...  I did silently apologize to them as I ripened them for the waiting pot.  I could have spent hours at that market, mostly just looking around at the incredible stuff for sale. 
And then we headed home, with just one more stop along the way at a place with Llamas and others.... they were all pretty and interesting but it was time to come home again with our many packages, happy memories of totally amazing places and a good many photos again.  Today we were at an altitude about 2000 feet lower than the hotel we are in, and we could definitely feel the difference as we headed back up the hill.  So now we are being two lazies again, Frank has been asleep for a good few hours already and I tired myself out just going down stairs for the beers!
Tomorrow is Friday, our last full day here and we have a 5am wake up call so that we can go to Macchu Picchu which is in the middle of the cloud foret overlooking the Urubamba River (find it mom!).  Its about a 30 minute drive to the Poroy train station, then a 3 hour train ride through these incredible mountains and I just know another gazillion steps wait just for us!  I will go to the top.  I will. 
It's been a really good day - thanks largely to Updon and Louis who were really great!  After we got back into our room, the phone rang and Updon had come back because I had left one of my market buys in the car!  That was really special.
And now, off to bed - its going to be a looooooong and wonderful day again tomorrow - at an even lower elevation.  I am already practising my slow and even breathing for those many many steps...... I will make it!
Love and light
especially U3
Annie and Frank.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

oooooooooooh :(

We are SO sick - both of us.  I am puking and feeling absolutely awful and Frank has it all except the puking.  Apparently it is altitude sickness and we both got it good.  Damn!  We did the city tour today but did not enjoy it at all what with feeling so lousy and it was a big group on a bus so we could not even get them to bring us home early! 
The buildings are beautiful, the churches are amazing, the views stunning the town fascinates the heck out of me but ........going to greet the toilet bowl again!
Ok - thats it for tonight - a miserable little "we are definitely sorry for ourselves" email.  Hopefully we can sleep this off and enjoy the tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas tomorrow - its at about 2500ft lower than the 11 500 we were at today.
love and light (just a dim little one tonight)
Annie and Frank

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Clouds to Catacombs.......

And so we left the Galapagos behind us, flew to Guayaquil (pronounced why-a-quil) where we split off from everyone else and headed to the international lounge for the flight to Lima.  The flight from the islands to the mainland was smooth but we had a Dutch guy behind us with one very serious case of verbal diarrhea!  Both of us took turns in holding the other down so that we would not jump up and tell him to be quiet just for 15 seconds!  He spoke loudly, very loudly to his friends and sometimes punctuated his remarks with a blow to the back of my seat...... very irritating and we were glad to get off there.  On the boat, he was fine, but I guess that we were never that close to him for that long a time.   When we checked out baggage in at Guayaquil to go to Lima, thinking only to get rid of our heavy luggage, we were told that we had been put in the Business Section for this next flight and were also handed a ticket to the VIP lounge for a free lunch and beers...  Oh it was a wonderful surprise - comfy chairs, ice cold beer - a quiet and gentle place where the hours melted gently past.  But it was funny walking in there ........ As I said in the last email, I stood in fresh sealion pee right as we got off the zodiac at the Galapagos (funny how many people laughed at me then) and my other shoes were in the checked in baggage and well........ the smell had ripened somewhat seriously.  So there you have two very tired and now very smelly people, looking rather haggard and walking into the VIP lounge.  Noses were wrinkled up, eyes shot open in slight surprise and chins were hastily pulled inwards as we  passed by.....and we had a very hard time keeping a straight face..... but what was I supposed to do?  I bet no one here had smelled ripened sealion pee before!
After sitting down and realizing just how bad it was - and being totally ignored by all the waiters, I went to the ladies room to see if I could at least rinse some of the smell away.  I was not going to spend $100 on a new pair of shoes at the airport.  The basins in the VIP bathrooms simply dont lend themselves to shoe washing at all - I need to talk to them about this!  So I did what any self respecting Business Class Person would do - I decided to wash the shoe in private.  I locked myself in the toilet, flushed to check how high the water level rose and also to make sure that the water in there was as clean as clean could be, and then....... yes!  I dipped my foot into the toilet, swished it around being very careful to only wash the outside and bottom of the shoe off.....  It worked, so I repeated it twice more, did the other shoe too seeing as I was having such great success,  and then used a good dollop of toilet paper to dry off so that I would not leave tracks back to our table!  It must have worked because when I sat down again, Frank actually remarked that I had stopped stinking!  LOL....  I think everyone was very relieved.... and the shoes got a really good wash here in the hotel room and are drying in front of the air conditioner right now. And we even got served beers and coffee after that....
We had the most glorious clouds on the flight to Lima - it was like a fairlyland, like a different dimension and I could almost feel the stories weaving themelves into existance just by looking at those clouds! I taped a good many minutes of it, wanting to share the experience with my grandgirls - maybe they will find the stories hidden in there.   The sun was setting and the different layers were different colors, moving in different directions with strange patterns, shapes and just beautiful fluffy formations.  Orange sunset lit up the windows on the other side of the airplane as the sun gave the most amazing display as it set over the clouds - I just could not work up the courage to lean over others to get those photos..... so hopefully it will happen another day.  Anyway, this was a perfect flight - champagne and nuts to start off with even before take off, a good movie of my choice, reclining chair and only faintly stinky feet faaaar away and a really great take off and landing - now this is what I call flying - I could get to looking forward to it even.  We had first class seats on the flight to Galapagos too, but just did not fully appreciate it as the excitement of going there was still too great.  Also no champagne on that flight..... ah well.
On landing in Peru we sailed through the customs and immigration a whole lot easier than we have in the USA and headed out to get our luggage and then on to find our guide for this part of our stay..... and there he was and tall guy holding a paper with our name on it.  I had to laugh - there stands a whole row of very hopeful, very tired looking guides, all hoping their clients are on time and the relief in the face of our guide, Ruben, was a beautiful thing to see.  He quickly led us outside and we started the most incredible drive of my life.  I thought Ecuador was bad, but that is cheese by comparison!  "Pare" means stop and is pronounced "par-ay", and is totally ignored - totally!  We asked why they even have the signs there and he just shrugged in response, together with a laugh.  Its a suggestion.  Maybe, if you feel like it, which no one ever does......  When approaching a stop street, the trick seems to pick up speed so that you can get your front bumper to the line before the guy coming from the other side, then you honk the horn just once in gentle warning that you are coming and again, louder and longer, if the other car seems to challenge you.  By this time my molars have cracks the size of canyons in them and the sweat is starting gently at my temples, creating a new water source for the city.....  The white lines in the roads - you know, the ones that you are supposed to stay between?  Well, they are not even suggestions, merely white lines that happen to be in the road for some reason.  Most of the time there are at least two cars trying to get in the same lane, and again, it seems to be a bumper law here - if your front bumper is a mere 3mm ahead of another - you have right of way..... even to randomly swing across two lanes to turn to the right after being in the far left lane...  There is no yelling, no screaming and no gunshots at this behavior - also no crunching of metal on metal - apart from that in my head...  I swear there is only a hairs width between cars most of the time and pavements are there to be driven over, parked on and generally used to bypass someone that is taking too long.  The constant honking of horns is amazing... the taxis give one sharp honk to ask if you want a ride, as do those wanting to go over a stop sign.  Two or three honks say something a tad more urgent - its like a very loud, very constant secret language around here.  Only the red light is slightly respected, if there is nowhere urgent to get to and if the traffic is really heavy and if a slight feeling of obligation happens.  Mostly it seems that all the cars just go, and keep going, until another one pushes inbetween and eventually everyone will get where they are going to.  I will never, ever drive in this country - I think I could easily cause a national disaster by doing so.. 
The smog in Lima is absolutely horrible.  This morning we had a good many free hours and used them to walk to the bay area and then across town to a very pretty park.  There are many little shops along the way but they are all geared to the tourist and very expensive.  Crossing the roads, even at the pedestrian crossings, is a dicey deal and the cars just keep coming - but we made it.  After a few roads one tends to learn how to pull your butt in quickly or huddle with the other people dashing across the road.  As the day wore on, the air became thicker and thicker and by this evening when we got back from the city tour with the guide, our throats were burning.  After walking a ways to the resturant tonight for supper we both drank a goodly amount of water to sooth our raw feeling throats....
Anyway - this afternoon we had a city tour with a guide - part of the package, and even had a separate driver for the day..  They showed us some simply beautiful places around here and again, the churches were the best for me.  There are so many old buildings around and a good many of them are empty.  When I asked whether they were abandoned, Ruben was quick to say that they were not - they were just waiting for better days......and a multi-millionaire to fix them!  Many of the older buildings have balconies, lovely elaborate and very decorative balconies - just a pity that no one uses them any more.  We went into two huge churches - one we were allowed to take photos, the other not.  They were both just beautiful, so ornate and rich in color and warmth and the carvings were just totally amazingas were all the glass work.  The one that we were njot allowed to photograph had many original paintings which apparently get damaged with the flashes from all the cameras, so they have banned all photo taking.  It was in this church that we were taken to the catacombs.  Katie - it reminded me of Yotgrot - minus the bones, of course!  Oh there were tons of bones and skulls all over the place, mostly neatly piled up for public display and oohing and aahing but sometimes they were piled 32 foot deep!   These were not people that were killed, but rather those that naturally died and were buried under the church.  It was quite amazing and also, surprisingly, not morbid, weird, spooky or horrible in any way.. just a part of life as it was back then.
We also visited the bay area again where they took us to the Park of Love where there is a huge statue of a kissing couple in a very passionate embrace and beautiful mosaics of little tiles all over the place together with a beautifully laid out lawn and flowers...  The ocean did not smell like ocean, come to think of it and we could not get to it as there is a huge motorway between the area we were in and the water.  Its really pretty though and our view was from fairly high up as there is a huge bank dug out and the city starts from the top of this hill area...  Apparently it has not rained here since the 1980's when it rained for three days solid... Today's guide (who's name we still did not catch after asking 3 times) said that he had not felt a drop since then, but Rubin from yesterday said that he felt about 5 drops about 6 months ago...... There is a lot of mist around from the ocean and quite a water problem apparently with the glaciers receding in the Andes and the city water being reliant on the rivers from those glaciers.  Many areas around town have green grass and flowers and there are names made out of different grasses or from flowers within these pieces of grass..... these are advertisements.  If a company pledges to take care of that patch of grass, they get to 'write' their name on it too.  Quite a unique idea and actually very pretty as there is quite a bit of competition to make each as beautiful as possible. Many of the signs around town that we took to be road and directional signs are actually advertisements - its very strange to have an advert right next to a stop sign and I wonder which is more often noticed!
Most of the buildings, shops and houses have serious burglar bars/safety bars around the properties as well as over the windows and doors of the buildings.  These are often very serious spikes and glass and other metal things that one really does not want to mess with - often together with electric fences above those too.  It's only been a very few years ago since this area was plagued by really big problems and the Shining Path terrorists sort of ruled the area.  This is not forgotten at all and the police presence is really heavy everywhere. They stand at every corner, and inbetween, with bullet proof vests and full body size shields at the ready.  They are all relaxed and greet one happily, but we are not sure whether this is comforting or reason to be more aware than we are.  We have learned that no place is totally safe but we did not feel unsafe here at all - we both carried our camera's and never for one moment felt targeted or scared at all, but all this police presence reminds one to be a tad more vigilant which is not a bad thing at all.  We did make a point of getting back to the hotel tonight after dinner, before dark - even though we did see a good many people walking around last night on our way here.... its just not worth pushing it - not anywhere.
As you gather, we have had internet here and I have managed to catch up a bit. Tomorrow morning we leave here around 6.15 for our flight to Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Macchu Picchu.  I am not certain if we will have internet while we are there - but it is way too slow to upload any other photos anyway.  So you will have to wait till early next week for those.
I just found a huge black spider walking on the bed and hope that I killed him when I swatted him with the city map!!    I really dont feel like crawling around on my hands and knees looking for him and Frank is not being helpful by reciting 'Inky Pinky Spider"  from the opposite side of the bed!   And then there appeared an inch worm, slowly creeping upwards towards my pillow......... aaaaaarrgggggghhhh - now everything itches and I know I am going to be awake a million times tonight and dream of all sorts of creepy crawlies!
It's lovely to be here, it was lovely to wander around town, surrounded by the swirling masses of people who live and work in the city, to hear the sounds and feel the pulse of life here.  It was great to be away from tourist places and its weird to sit in a resturant and not hear a word of english for hours at a time.  It's lovely that no matter that there is often not a single common phrase or word between us and the Peruvian people, we can make ourselves understood, find our way and even buy a twirly whirly icecream in the middle of Lima, Peru.  These are such incredibly special days.
I had a lovely chat with both my girls on instant message tonight - what a treat!  Now just to get Steven online and up to speed before next time we go somewhere!  And now, off to sleep.   We have not yet packed up our bags so have to do that before leaving in the morning too.  I am even looking forward to the flight :)
Till Cusco.....hopefully
love and light
Especially to U3
Annie and Frank
ps - Welma, I left your note at the Charles Darwin Center - I hope they contact you!
and Bea - a part of you is still in the Business Class section of that aircraft - happy travels :)

l - Tunnels and Tortoises........ and more goodbyes

And so our last full day on the Galapagos Islands started early again.... The breakfasts are glorious with fresh watermelon, huge pineapple pieces, melon and even guava juice!  There is a wonderful spread of things to choose from - its always a buffet for breakfast and lunch and then we are served dinner....... Always way too good.  And then we are off to the zodiacs, lifejackets firmly clipped and camera strung around my neck with a waterproof bag over it.  this morning the swells were really showing their thing and we really had to time the short hop to the inflateable very carefully.  Some of us made some really interesting steps and landings, but all stayed dry.
The island was Santa Cruz and the town Punta Aroya, a fair sized town where most of the guides live.  The harbor is home to a good many very delapidated boats of all shapes and sizes.  Most of them have hand painted names on them.  The sealions pick a boat to lay on for the day and hop right on up, sometimes apparently tipping the boat over!  There were two really big three masted ships in there - they were probably really pretty in their heyday, but would take a millionaire to even start thinking about fixing them up.  It was lovely taking a slow wander through the harbor and getting a close up of the boats. 
Then it was onto shore and ito busses where we were taken to the Charles Darwin Center...... It was all closed up, but we were able to walk around outside and see the tortoise breeding center and get really close up to some really humongeous tortoises!  Lonesome George was there, looking really sad and tired..  He is a lowlands tortoise so does not get as big as the others we saw, but his shell was still as high as my knees!  He is the last of his type of tortoise and is around 90 years old.  there is a hunt on for a mate for him, but they are not very hopeful..... In the meantime there are efforts going on to breed him with another type that is really close to his dna strand and they should know in the next two weeks whether those eggs are fertile.  Lonesome George still has a good 70 - 80 years ahead of him, but he sure looked as if he could do with some livening up!
The other tortoises there were also really huge and surprised us that they could move as fast as they do.  The one male was making eyes at a female and the race was on!  She waited till he was exactly on the opposite side of the tree and then she kicked herself into gear and headed out into the forest with him screaming behind her.... we stood and watched for a few minutes and then as they reached the first set of trees, a full 10 feet away, we all left and gave them some privacy...  Many tortoise eggs from the different islands are collected, successfully bred and the babies raised till around 5 years old and then they are released back to their own islands.... In the breading center the little tortoises wander around with color coded numbers on their backs so they can be easily identified.
And then we were left to wander around the town for a couple of hours.  Most of the shops along the main road are tourist shops with widely varying prices on all the same type of stuff.  The really nice stuff is really pricey and .......well, we bought a few little knick knacks for the grandkids.  It was good to wander away from the group and not be organized for a while and explore  a good few of the side roads. I gather this is not often done as the locals seemed surprised that we had wandered away from the main drag.  This is the only way to see the Galapagos Islands...... all tourists here are in groups that are led by licenced naturalists.  No one is allowed to independantly roam the islands, unless you are born on the islands.
The afternoon excursion was again back to the same island, Santa Cruz, but up to the highlands to see the really really big tortoises!  What a beautiful drive that was.  The bus kicked and screamed, moaned and groaned all the way up to the top - sometimes slipping gears and a few times we felt as if we should get out and help push, but she made it.  The highlands of this island is so absolutely and totally different from the lower levels...... that is all brown and dry and hardly ever gets any rain, but a mere few miles up the road and everything changes.  The trees grew tall and the spanish moss hung from everything that was more than a foot off the ground.  The grass grew in huge lush rich green tufts all over the place and the bushes and ......well, everything was just amazing.
And then there we were with this huge field in front of us with the most beautifully rounded boulders dotted everywhere..... only they were tortoises!  And we thought the others were big - these were just purely incredible.  They moved around slowly and surely, knowing that this land is their land.  Even the farmers around here have to leave a big enough gap under their fences so that the tortoises and roam free.  As we approached them, they just lift their heads and watch us looking incredibly like ET.  i got some really lovely close up photos of them looking straight at the camera as well as with them happily munching on the abundant greenery that was everywhere.  It was almost surreal to see these fields of slow moving tortoises that weighed hundreds of pounds each, and really lovely to see them so protected.
Too soon it was time to head out of there - but I was keen to see the lava tunnels and they were not too far away.  These are huge tunnels that the lava used to run down to the ocean in.  It was totally incredible!  We went to a part of one tunnel that was just under a mile long and we could walk through for a fair way. This particular one was discovered only 40 years ago when a farmers cow fell into the entry hole.  Now there are stairs to go down and some soft lighting so that we could see where we were going.  I just loved it!  The tunnel was very high - I dunno - 60 feet high maybe and it curved around corners pulling me down its length until the guide, Roman, told us to come back.  Water dripped through from the ceiling and sides, keeping everything damp the ground all wet.  Some people were scared to be in there, but it really fascinated me and I was sad to have to leave there.  We had spent longer at the giant tortoises than intended and had to get back to the Galapagos Legend before dark. 
After a really interesting ride down the mountain at high speed and us all spotting giant tortoises along the way, we safely boarded the ship for our last briefing and instructions for leaving today.  It was sad, but also time for us to move on to the next stage.  And so the goodbyes started - happy goodbyes and lots of hugs and handshakes.  I went to sit and chat to the Sri Lankan's and really enjoyed chatting with those ladies - what a sense of humor they have!  And then, to the tune of the song "Its time to Say Goodbye", we all boarded the zodiacs for the last time and headed for shore........
The sky was cloudy and we did not have a good view of the islands as we flew off, but I did get to stand in sealion pee for the last time as we jumped onto shore, and we had to walk really carefully past the big ones guarding the walkway and steps... We stood outside looking around, right before going into the airport building, which is not a closed building at all... and we thought again about just where we stood, what we had seen and how incredibly fortunate we have been.  During the past week, it was easy to be so busy and tired that you kinda forget where you are.  Everything just moves along with very little time to reflect, which is also why we passed up the last shore excusion to Bacchus Beach early this morning.  In stead, we packed and spent the last few hours on the boat, just wandering around enjoying the quiet, the birds and the ocean breeze.  It was lovely.
We have come away with some incredible memories and hopefully many good photographs too - it will take a few days for it all to sink in and for me to really put into words what it meant to be at the Galapagos Islands.... it was beyond incredible, totally special, unforgettable and so much more!
And now, here we are in Peru - but thats a whole story in itself...... and for tomorrow, hopefully :)
nighty night
love and light

Sunday, October 11, 2009

k - Good, good days.....

The days are screaming past and we do so much that its impossible to stay awake long enough to describe it all.  We are woken up at 6.45am every day and breakfast is at 7am, then we get onto the zodiacs at around 8am headed for the island of the morning.  Normally I wake up somewhere between the Galapagos Legend and the landing on an island.  Fortunately I have not fallen or made a total ass out of myself - yet, while getting on or off these little boats that bounce around precariously on the ocean waves.  Somewhere around 16 of us are perched on the soft cusions of the the zodiacs, all squished together with our bags at our feet.  If we have a wet landing, then there seem to be tons of shoes littering the floor of the little boat, and it takes some co-ordination to pick them all up or else there would be a massive bumping of heads..  So far so good.
We have walked on islands that are literally barren, where it is strange to see even just a few green leaves...  The cactus seem to thrive here and the iguana are fat and healthy too.....these are the land iguanas.  And then other islands are much greener or just almost totally sand and lava.  Today we spent some time walking through the tide pools at Egas Point on Santiago Island.  That was just lovely - there were the normal little tide pools, littered with the bright orange and blue Sally Lightfoot crabs, iguanas and lounging sea lions and then there were those pools that were still connected to the ocean and each wave brought a whooshing sound, a spray of foam and water and very often a sea lion with it.  It was already quite warm this morning and most of the sealions just lazed away in the water, bobbing around with the waves and swells, just popping their heads above water to breathe occasionally...... sometimes it looked as if they were dead, they were so relaxed!  We have to be so careful where we walk as the iguana, land and water iguana, literally lay all over the place and only move if they really have to.  Some seem to have a bit of an attitude, despite the permanent smile on their face - funny how a smile definitely looks like a smirk at times....... a "come on, make my day!" look.  We try not to!
The pelicans, sea iguanas, LYB's (little yellow birds), boobies, crabs and yes, even a (say it softly please!) mocking bird, or two, are everywhere.  That was funny - first thing this morning, literally as we hit the first corner of the path we were walking, the Sri Lankan gentleman behind me asks "is that a mockiing bird??"  I nearly screamed!  Fortunately the guide quickly told them that it was an Ani and not a mocking bird and they let it go at that.  Later in the day, Frank spotted two of them, the MB's, at the waters edge and started to point them out to me with a grin on his face..... he was heavily threatened and not even allowed to point at them in case that was seen too!  I am getting mean, but.....
Anyway - the walk this morning on the rocks was lovely - we watched as the pelicans dove to catch the fish right next to the rocks and it was not too long before we found a pelican that has misjudged and hit the lava........ natural selection is hard to see sometimes.  There are many little lava lizards running around and ...... well, most of us have decided that everything here carries the names of either Darwinian, Lava, endemic, Galapagonian or rare......Many jokes are made about the different names.  This is a fascinating place, its totally humbling to stop and think of where we stand and walk and what we are seeing - but everyone agrees that its very different from what we expected.  No one can quite nail what it is that we expected, but still.  The guides are very passionate about their islands and rightly so and its got to be very scary to be so totally reliant on the tourist trade in the world's economy of today.  The government of Ecuador is not 100% focussed on what the Islands need to survive and many of the aspects of protecting this amazing piece of the world are just not functional.   The tourist industry here is very controlled and apparently has very little impact on the islands - and this certainly seems to be the case.  As a matter of fact, the more tourists come here, the more money will come in and the better the Islands can be protected.
This afternoon we had another chance to snorkel and we passed on it again.  The water water was choppy, it was overcast and I still have the sniffles which would just not work at all in a mask.... so instead we went on a hike around Rabida Island.  This island has a red sandy beach that is liberally littered with sealions - the colors make for some lovely photos with lovely contrasts.  The male sealion patrols the waters just feet from the beach, barking at all his ladies and little ones.  Occasionally he will come rushing out of the water to make his point and we all back off really quickly.
Most of the people on the boat now have not seen the pink flamingo's, the blue footed boobies or the red breasted male frigate birds, or the albatross.....  Wow, we have been so fortunate to have done that first set of islands too!  Tomorrow we go to the Charles Darwin Center where all the scientists work away at trying to figure out at least some of what goes on here (I will give them your note, Welma, and hopefully you will hear from them).  We will see the huge giant tortoises as well as have time to walk through the town and buy some goodies and maybe even have a beer or two.  We then get to walk through genuine lava tunnels..........but I will tell you more about all that in the next email.
This afternoon when we got back on board there was an ice cream fest going on which was just lovely - except that I was being kind, trying to make up for my Sri Lankan lapse, and let another couple go in front of us and, yes, they got the last of the chocolate icecream!    And then tonight, after crossing the equator 4 times in two days, we had the King Neptune Party.  That was really sweet.  They were all dressed up, lights flickering and deep voices booming and the King was appeased and the dancing began.  It was fun.
I love the evenings when the boat is moving and the wake races past my window that is choc a block full of twinkling stars, and she rocks us to sleep.  I love the sound of the ocean and the cold breeze when we walk outside late at night.......We have not had many good sunsets as there always seems to be a bank of cloud right on the horizon that spoils those final moments of the light dancing across the waters, but the colors have been great and its just lovely to sit and watch the day come to an end like that.
Except that tonight was different in that aspect too.  After finishing our icecream and warming up with a shower, we headed back outside to see what we could see.... and there were three of the crew with a broomstick and some wires attached to it, trying to make the stick stand up straight by hooking it into some of the ropes of the dingys that were now stored on the bow of the Galapagos Legend....  We wondered what that was about - until we got to the stern, where about 80% of the crew were gathered around a huge tv screen.  On the deck right above them was the most magnificient contraption I had seen in years......... two broomsticks joined together to make a tall stick, a cross bar all wrapped with tinfoil, with wires and cable sticking out from all angles and....... well, you will just have to wait for the pictures.  This was an antennae that the crew had made to try to find a tv signal for the big inter-country football game!  It was just hilarious - but they got a signal for a good part of the second half of the game - each time the boat swung on its anchor and the signal was lost, one of them would dash up to the top deck and swirl that fancy piece of artwork until the snow disappeared on the tv and the game began again.  It was sad, but Ecuador lost to Uruguay and the mood was somewhat somber for a while.    And the sun set while we sat with our beers and watched the crew have some downtime while the game was on. The crew watched the game and us passengers watched the crew.
And so another amazing day ends.with my window full of stars, music still playing upstairs and the promise of another good day ahead.
love and light