Like a prayer?? (Cusco: Ruins and Dehydration)

After suffering the overnight bus, we finally made it to Cusco early in the morning and hiked our way up to our hostel in San Blas, Cusco’s “artisan quarter.”  We devoted a moment of reflection to September 11th, passed around a sleeve of galletas, and decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant in Cusco.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of Peruvian understanding of vegetarianism, Emily and I ended up paying twice the amount that Charles paid… for half the food.  It was probably just a ginger bias-incident… even so, the cream of corn and cream of asparagus soups were fantastic: smooth, creamy, warm flavor in a bowl.

San Blas

There are many ruins around the Cusco area—it’s not just Machu Picchu—and it’s possible to buy a boleto turistico/pass to see all of them.  While in line for Machu Picchu tickets, we met a couple from Washington.  A couple hours later we saw them at Templo del Sol… and then we saw them everywhere else we traveled until we left for Puno.

After Templo del Sol, everyone was feeling pretty exhausted.  We still hadn’t slept. It seemed like nobody was too excited for the night of clubbing we had planned (I know, can you imagine?  Emily, Gabrielle, and Charles not excited for clubbing?). We bought groceries and headed back to the hostel, thinking we’d eat dinner and rest up before going out to walk around Cusco a little.  Neither of those things happened.  I tried an unfruitful attempt at reading some sociology while Em and Chaz talked, and before we knew it, we were all sleeping.  I woke up for a couple minutes around nine to Charles turning off the lights, and after an exchange of two or three words, we decided that dinner wasn’t happening and returned to sleep.

Don’t Drink the Water

I was awakened to Charles whispering, “Brie! Brie! Emily is calling you!” I,thoroughly confused, could scarcely reply, “What? Where is she?” before I heard a faint, pathetic groaning from the bathroom down the hall… “Gabrieeelllle…gabrieeellllllle…”  Apparently Charles had called back to her, and she had responded only with moans for me (there’s a special bond inherent in being in an open-relationship on facebook with someone).

I found her, distraught for her life, on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. She was worried that she had become sick after consuming contaminated food or water.  At this point, I was in a difficult situation.  It was difficult to see her like this, convinced that she was going to die, but at the same time, I knew that we had eaten and drunk almost nothing besides an over-priced lunch.  And it was hard not to laugh at the ridiculous situation.

I brought her a water bottle from the room and told her to drink it—she was dehydrated, and the altitude was only making it worse.  After a few moments of suppressing laughter while I convinced her that she could drink the water, she abided… sure enough, she felt better and wandered back into the room with a headache—easily cured with Charles’ “aspirin.”

At 5 am, when I realized that I’d been sleeping for around 10 hours, I was ready to start the day… the others weren’t.  And so I sat up and watched the city of Cusco grow right out of the ground—something about the earthen, adobe roofs and the way the houses are molded to the landscape… as if Gd himself reached down to form the ruddy clay and breathe life into it.  But at night, what wonder!  As if someone cracked open an egg of liquid light and let it splash down into the valley and creep up the mountains’ crevasses.Houses growing out of the earth

Once we did start the day, the hostel started us off the right way with a delicious breakfast: bread, jam, coca tea, crepes, fried eggs, and passion fruit juice.

Cusco’s Ruins

We packed our lunch and scaled the staircases that lead from the city to the cerros, where the ruins and Cristo Blanco awaited us (with open arms, apparently).

Our first ruins experience was “Sexy woman,” spelled Saqsaywaman.  For me, its primary purpose was setting the base layer of sunburn that I continued to build up the rest of the week.  It was also exciting to see so many worlds intersect: the Incan civilization overlooks the entire modern city of Cusco; the pagan religion is juxtaposed with Christ’s careful watch of the city;  locals mix with South American, Asian, North American, and European tourists in a jumble of languages; and finally, the contrast between the tourists’ lifestyles and that of the people supported by tourism, whether it be through providing tours, selling artesanía, or walking around in traditional garb with a child on your back and an alpaca on a leash, offering to pose for pictures… which also reflects the disparity between social and economic classes.  But perhaps the least tangible, most intuitive and powerful contrast is that of nature and civilization.   The view from above the city is astounding.  I’ve never seen a city or mountains colored like this, painted with the reds, browns, greens, and purples of the earth.  Yet from the adobe roofs to the dry, sparsely vegetated mountains, there is a continuity, a feeling of connectedness that I’ve never felt in a city like Boston.Crosses next to Cristo Blanco

We said goodbye to Sexy Woman after finding some amazing natural slides and joining some children in playing on them.  From Saqsaywaman, we hiked up to the Templo de la Luna, where a man briefly explained to us the symbols and other attributes of the temple: the puma, condor, and snake (which represent the realms of the cosmos), the altar where gold was stored and llamas were sacrificed, and the room’s llama-shaped entrance.  We picnicked above the temple and fled the growing storm clouds… funny, they say it almost never rains in Cusco.  Not until we roll on in.  He's got the whole world in his hands

We rushed through Q’enco and hopped on a colectivo to Ollantaytambo, the town where tourists take the train to Aguas Calientes… next stop Machu Picchu!


Survival Checklist: Peruvian Bus Edition

Here we are, driving on the wrong side of the road...

Here we are, driving on the wrong side of the road…

  • Tickets—check. Good, they’re not for Bolivia.  Oh no, are these for the front seat? That’s going to be freezing, right next to the ever-foggy windows… good thing I brought my
  • Blanket—and other warm clothes.  This will prepare me for the 30- or 40-degree drop in weather.  And it will make those blankets that the indigenous women rent out much less appealing…
  • Extra jacket—so when I lend mine to Charles, I won’t have to try to fit my entire body underneath my scarf.
  • Sense of caution, appreciation for common rules of the road…wait, how did that get in there???  No, I definitely don’t want to bring that; the bus will be speeding the entire time and will probably disregard any semblance of a center line or “No passing” sign.
  • Bedtime stories—I’m not going to get any sleep, and at least these will distract my limbs long enough for me to put them to sleep before the really uncomfortable positions they’re forced into do.
  • H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds—After I put the legs to sleep, I might as well have a little reading material… besides, nothing short of an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians using tripod fighting machines will prepare me for the tricycle-motored, carriage-like, insect-alien-robot vehicles that swarm the bus at each random stop.
  • Crowbar—gonna need that to force open the bathroom door… solo orinar?  Traveling in South America is not for the faint of heart, but it may be for the faint of olfaction.
  • Rope, carabiners, harnesses and any other form of climbing gear that might be able to keep me upright while maintaining minimal contact with the bathroom walls
  • Children’s floaties—maybe I can improvise a toilet seat with these… there don’t seem to be many of them in Peru.
  • Hand sanitizer, windex, anointing oil, anything to get the ungodly bathroom filth off of me.  There probably won’t be any water, nor a square inch of space that isn’t teeming with life…
  • Passport.  Obv.  That’s just practical.  But I’d like to not have to use it so much so, I’ll bring
  • Wigs, sunglasses, and dark foundation—this way they won’t realize that there are Americans aboard, and maybe we won’t have so many late-night stops with police boarding and demanding my passport.
  • Earplugs—I wouldn’t want the yelling to wake me at every random stop… or maybe if I’m hungry I won’t wear them; I wouldn’t want to miss out on all that corn they’re yelling about!
  • Sardines—I mean, just for the irony. By 2 am I’ll wake up with someone’s head on my arm and discover that the bus is so packed that the aisles are full of sleeping Peruvians.  And maybe when I bust out this can of sardines, the smell will give me a personal bubble again.

Oh, I almost forgot my BFFs Charles and Emily.  They look a little upset about being bound hand and foot, but I think they’ll get over it once the tranquilizer pills kick in.

Poisoning Pigeons in Peruvian Plazas de…pArmas*… Spring Break!

Plaza de Armas at night

After so much time (sorry it’s been a month! I’ll try to catch up by the end of the week…), I feel overwhelmed by the task at hand: to share with the world the fantastic and absurd adventures of our spring break in Peru.
It starts on September 9th in the Santiago airport as we await our 4 am flight to Arica, the northernmost city in Chile, from which we plan to cross the border into Peru.  The flight was lovely, except I missed out on the little cookies LAN hands out instead of lame snacks like nuts (thanks, Piñera!).  Anyhow, upon arriving in Arica, we had no time to process where we were before being swarmed by the taxi, colectivo, and bus drivers that stood around yelling their destination and animatedly pursuing their next customers.  We were swept away to a colectivo to join a young German man, Temme (we’re now friends on facebook), in the journey across the border.
We arrived in Tacna, Peru at the bus station, bought tickets to Arequipa, the first city on our list, and had a bite to eat with our new friend, Temme.  By this point, as drinking tap water is out of the question in Peru, Charles and Emily began their steady decline to dehydration-induced delerium (more on that to come), and I ate an entire fish.  Sliced in half, battered, fried, head, tail, and all.  Or better said, I ate around its bones.

Arequipa, a city you don’t want to miss

The bus ride to Arequipa was not particularly interesting or picturesque; much of northern Chile and southern Peru is desert.  The transformation from desert to the second-most-populated city in Peru started with an unimpressive thread of water in a river bed, which quickly developed into a lush valley and POOF!  White buildings, women walking around in traditional clothing and carrying babies on their backs with woven rectangles of cloth, and three distant, snow-capped volcanoes that cut into a perfect blue sky.  We made our way to the Plaza de Armas, found our hostel, and I quickly fell in love with this city.  If you have the chance to be in Peru, go to Arequipa.Note the volcanoes in the background

We spent the night in a hostel very close to everything we wanted to see: Plaza de Armas, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, and the artisanal market near San Francisco.
Plaza de Armas: Every city that’s ANY city has one.  But Arequipa does it better with buildings made of sillar, a gorgeous, white, igneous rock that is used in the city’s remarkable architecture.  We arrived in the evening to see the Plaza lit up and shining… the sillar buildings seemed to carry their own glow.  (We weren’t expecting to see around 300 pigeons there the next day, nor did we expect Charles intense hatred for them.)  We decided to search around for “authentic” food. After wandering the shopping center in search of authentic Peruvian cuisine, we found that if we didn’t want to eat half of a chicken with French fries, we’d have to settle for some quasi-pizza place… but it had chicha morada = legit.Chicha morada... work that boy scouts hat!
El Monasterio de Santa Catalina–The next morning, we woke early to beat the tourists to the monastery.  After four hours of exploring the enchanting town behind those walls, Emily and I had some serious conversations about becoming nuns…  As you can imagine, for three college students to spend that much time in a nunnery, it is either a fantastic site, or they spent the entire time acting out both Sister Acts from start to finish.  This is a must-see.A street in Santa Catalina Monastery

Mercado Artesanal: The biggest regret I have from this trip is not buying more things in Arequipa.  We assumed that there would be more opportunities to buy things like sweaters, hats, and mittens from alpaca wool, but this market turned out to be much better than the very touristy ones we encountered in Cusco.  It took a while to get used to the expectation that we barter down prices, but when in doubt, Emily and I could always call Charles over… he has a way with these things.

Next to come, the bus ride from hell.

Walking down one of the streets inside the monastery

* Hey! I noticed those words start with the same sound!  I think that’s interesting.