New Year and Colca Canyon

We arrived in Arequipa on New Year’s Eve at about 9pm. We had trouble hailing a cab but soon found two lovely police officers who were happy to do it for us. They also recorded our country and the driver’s info. This is all very comforting in a “if I end up dead in a ditch there is a mild chance the guy might go to jail” kind of way. Our cab driver did a pitch perfect imitation of the mini scene from the Bourne Identity. I was sitting up front so I got to see my impending death with perfect clarity. The man could give me a run for my money on the highway and those of you who have driven with me know that it is not a feat easily acomplished. We arrived with just enough time to brush our teeth before we had to meet the guys from San Francisco.

We met up with three other women as well (2 from Costa Rica and 1 from Colombia). They weren’t big fans of Anne nor I. We imagine it’s because they thought we were encroaching on their meal ticket. There isn’t really a polite way to say “we turned your meal ticket down two towns back” so we were just extra nice to them until they simmered down. They finally warmed up enough to show us their yellow underwear. This is slightly less weird than it sounds. It turns out that in Latin America you wear yellow underwear for New Year and much like the scots and their kilts…if someone asks to see….you have to show. We didn’t ask but they were awful keen to show. The men in that restaurant owe Anne and I some major favours.

We ended up at a posh nightclub with its own waterfall and rang in the New Year dancing to terrible music and guzzling champagne. It was delightful. Also, I have now done the macarena in Latin America. I don’t know why that seems like an acomplishment, but it does. Also, one day someone is going to explain to me why DJs take perfectly good songs, rip out the best bits and then shove in the same “ins-ins-ins” beat to EVERY song. Why? Why? The cigarette smoke was giving me a massive headache so we headed back to our hostel to get ready for bed…only to find that our hostel was a nightclub. If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em so we settled in to listen to live acoustic covers of 90s grunge; sung in Spanglish, naturally. The singer was phenomenal and the decor was catholic S and M which made for an interesting evening.

We hung out in Arequipa for two more days soaking up the sun when it was out and listening to the woman outside our hostel shout “paraguas, paraguas, paraguas” for hours on end when the sun went into hiding.

After that we headed out on a tour of the Colca Canyon which got off to an inauspicous start when an older gentleman sucummed to altitude sickness and passed out on the bus. Anne got up to take a look at him and I followed in the vain hope I might be able to help. With the extensive medical training I’ve accrued from watching reruns of ER: Turns out there were three medical students on the bus, one of whom shoved me out of the way while shouting “I’m a doctor”. Next time I’m in the ER I hope that the doctor does that before s/he treats me. It inspires great confidence in both bedside manner and competency.

The Colca Canyon was nice, if a bit foggy and our hotel had a spa. With bubble bath. I’ve never taken a bubblebath with 10 strangers before so I guess I can check that one off the to do list. Our hotel was run by a poorman’s Gerard Depardieu who refused to speak Spanish or English to us even though he clearly spoke both. French only. Way to keep the stereotypes alive. We met a nice Finnish couple (sorry Maria). The second day we saw flocks of condors and had a snowball fight at 5000M. Just for the record, I am officially done with altitudes over 2000M. Nothing like violent nausea and crushing headaches to convince me that my ass belongs at sea level.

That night we caught an overnight bus to Huacachina for few days of relaxing by the pool and, of course, sandboarding.

Bolivia

When I first learned to drive and used to lose my car in parking garages, and parking lots, and on the street and in various other locales…I used to joke that I parked the car in Bolivia. We will not mention that if pressed to find Bolivia on a map I probably would have started looking somewhere east of Slovakia. Anyway, now I’ve been there ‘cause it was there and I could, which is a good a reason to do something as any in my book.

We spent a night in Puno because Anne caught the flu that has been aflicting every third traveller in Peru. So she spent the night in bed and I read three books. After that we caught the bus to Bolivia and arrived in Copacabana to find, lo and behold, sunshine! That’s right folks, I got to finally take off my toque, base layer and winter coat. Hallelujah. We spent a lazy day in the sun appreciating the hip bones and limited English skills of 20 something Argentinian men. For dinner we eneded up in a restaurant that played a nonstop loop of 80’s ballads coupled with original music videos. Air Supply, anyone? I’ve also heard the pan flute version of the Titanic song, approximately 20 times. We also discovered that Copacabana is home to South America’s worst food. The food was so bad that when our food is actually edible we say “well, it’s not Bolivian”.

We didn’t realize that there was a time change when you entered Bolivia so we literally missed the boat for our tour. We ended up taking a half day tour instead which turned out to be the perfect length of time. There were a ton of kids on the boat who were playing clapping games so I tried to learn the Spanish versions of Stella Stella Ola, Hot Potato, Roller Coaster and Einey Meaney Miney Mo. We managed to take a tour of the island in Spanish, which Anne and I were both really proud of. Thank the lord for slow speaking guides.The Isla del Sol was gorgeous and the weather was beyond perfect. We had a fantastic time on the island and enjoyed soaking up some heat on the boat ride back.

They next day we headed back to Puno to stay one night before heading to Arequipa for New Years. Our hostel was dirt cheap, had flourescent lights streaming through the window, a cacophany outside the window and shower water that smelled as though it only made it through Stage 1 at the sewage treatment plant. Also, it got so cold in the room at one point that I woke up crying. Good times. Puno is a bit of a hole but we were both still so miserable from the altitude that we didn’t notice much.

Finally it was time to get on the bus to Arequipa. First we pass through a bag search, a metal detector wand search, and two video cameras. They weren’t kidding about safety on the bus. The bus seats were ten times nicer than most of the hostels that we have stayed in and it was a good sign for our upcoming adventures in Arequipa. :)

Next up…..New Year!

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Christmas in Cusco

So I think that this is the first time that I ever ended up clubbing on Christmas. Here are some highlights:

We spent the 24th in the Christmas market in Cusco. People come from the neighbouring towns, plus all the locals and tourists, to do their Christmas shopping, eat street food and attend mass. Probably in that order. The market was packed and we met up with Nico to have a wander. One of the coolest things was the way they create their nativity scenes. People come and buy the moss and twigs etc on Christmas Eve and then go home to create a nativity for one night. A third of the market was folliage. We met up with our Inca Trail group at 10pm and had dinner in the world’s highest Irish pub (according to the sign above the door). At midnight the fireworks started and lasted for a good 30 minutes. I swear that every household in Peru bought fireworks. The hills looked like a boxing day sale on Christmas lights. The square itself put on a pretty good show as well. The fireworks were beautiful but the execution looked like the “don’t” version of an educational video on firework safety. If the fireworks don’t go off, don’t hold it up to your face to see what went wrong. Also, don’t aim the fireworks at other people. Or give them to the under 5 set once they are lit.

On the 25th, we decided to do a Sacred Valley tour which resulted in the most miserable Christmas Day in recent memory. We got up to pouring rain and hauled our asses onto the bus of national embarrassment. It was full of the kind of Canadian tourists you hope people will assume are from other countries. The 4 UBC students who refused to get off the bus and an older couple who kept complaining that everything  in Peru is too “dirty”. We head to the Sacred Valley where we begin our tour in a freak snow storm. The snow storm wouldn’t have been such a big deal if we weren’t already soaking wet from the morning rain. The real kicker came when we asked them to turn on the heat and we’re informed that it was broken. We spent the next two hours watching our breath freeze in the air. We arrive for lunch and are so very excited about getting warm and dry when we discover we will be eating in an “open air” restaurant. I cried. A little. We ended up chatting with two Aussie guys, one of whom is a teacher (who kept distracting us with his Daniel Craig eyes) and the other who runs adventure camps for kids. We got back on the bus and headed to a slightly lower elevation where it was a bit warmer. We ended up getting a demonstration of wool dying and weaving  and by the end of the trip we were having a slightly merrier Christmas.

For Christmas dinner we met up with my friend Bri’s friend and her husband, Nirzhan and Chad. We had a lovely chat with them and then met up with some of their friends for dinner. We had a fabulous conversation over dinner  and figured out that the two guys from San Francisco were going to be in Arequipa for New Year’s so we made plans to meet up there. First, however, they wanted to take us clubbing for Christmas. We ended up in two bars, met up with Nico, Kate and Matthew and had a fabulous time dancing until 3am. At which point, I hit the wall and had to be put to bed. Everything is worse at altitude…this includes hangovers.

We took it easy on the 26th and spent some time in museums. I would not want to be a Spaniard on vacation in Peru. They are still really bitter about the whole conquering thing. In fact, they are a little bitter about the whole foreigner thing. This is the 100th anniversary of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by foreigners who used the knowledge of local people. All of this is completely true but is repeated with such conviction by every person, sign and tour that is has become slightly comical.  We also drank our third cup of real coffee (hallelujah) at Starbucks. Ostensibly so we could get a caffeine fix, but in reality so that Anne could amuse herself watching me and our coffee guy flirt. Turns out I can flirt in Spanish. I guess all that studying was worth it.

We were supposed to meet people for dinner but the timing didn’t work out so we ended walking to a restaurant. Along the way we got offered a “Full Service Massage” by two local touts which had the two of us in hysterics. The touts in Cuzco are pretty intense. Every where you go, you are offered products made from “baby alpacca”. We’ve been told that if you listen really closely you can hear them say “maybe alpacca” which is probably far more accurate. The whole thing made me wonder what they do with all the “grown up alpaccas”. I asked a guy in jest and he responded “we eat them”. Ah. Well, mystery solved then. We also stopped off for our last “Yajuu” juice and tried to keep straight faces while Anne ordered her favourite juice (Guanabana) which she cannot pronounce to save her life.

Next up….Bolivia.

The Inca Trail

We decided to do a 4 day hiking/camping trip to get to Machu Picchu. It turned out to be a pretty amazing adventure. The trip was 50 km and each day looked like this:

Day 1: Hike 14km from 2400 Metres to 3100M in elevation.

Day 2: Hike 12km from 3100M to 4200M, then down to 3500M then up again to 4000M and then down again to 3400. This is affectionately known as “Dead Woman´s Pass” and 3 to 5% of people don´t make it up every day.

Day 3: Hike 16km from 3400M to 4000M, then down to 2700M

Day 4: 3am wake up call to hike hte last 7km to Macchu Piccu. 2700M to 2400M.

Our group was pretty small. We had the Honeymooners (Kate and Matthew from NYC), the French Phantom (Nico from Baritz, France), and the Boys (Michael from Colorado and Ryan from Michigan). Our guide was named Hilber and was a character. His favourite saying was “Take it easy. Hold your llamas”. Apparently it is the Peruvian version of hold your horses. He also kept comparing me to an Amazon which kept him in my good graces.

Hilber had a rather unique speech pattern and loved to emphasize syllables. (Macchu Piccu City was SIT -EEEEE and La Veronica was LAAAAAAA Veronica). I am very grateful to him for his help though because I got a rather terrible case of altitude sickness, which meant that I had an asthma attack approximately 4 times a day. Climbing at altitude is a lot like trying to do the Grouse Grind while breathing through a straw. With a head cold. On top of the thin air, there were also the headaches, blurred vision and nausea to contend with. I was very grateful for Anne and here lovely nursing skills and also for our guide Hilber who carried my pack when I was really bad, force fed me cups of coca tea (I was up to about 10 cups a day and they delivered the first one with our wakeup call) and baptised me regularly in Agua de Florida (a local remedy). Also, for my doctor who insisted I take an inhaler and gave me a perscription for a ridiculous amount of altitude medication. The medication made my extremeties go numb and I never thought I´d be so grateful for that, but as soon as I couldn´t feel my hands, I knew it was working. I wasn´t the only one with altitude sickness and there were marathon runners who were being lapped by chain smokers. It was pretty frustrating to not feel tired and to want to go faster but not have enough air to do so. It was a great practice in mindfullness. All of this sounds pretty dramatic and on the 2nd day with the really high climb it sure felt like it, but overall the trip was amazing. By the 4th day of the trip we were back down to a more reasonable altitude and I felt pretty great. I´m excited to try the Grouse Grind when it opens. If I can do a vertical kilometre that ends at 4200M, I should be able to tear up that thing at sea level.

Our group was pretty competitive, so the boys who weren´t having issues with the altitude ran up the hill but the rest of us took it nice and slow. Nothing makes you more bitter though than reaching the top of the hill and seeing the 24 year old chain smoker (The French Phantom - so called because he had uncanny stealth powers) lighting up his third cigarette while you sit on a rock and sound like Darth Vader. He´s moving to Vancouver next year and Anne and I both excited to see “Sunshine” when he arrives.

The camping was pretty fantastic. It is actually pretty fun to camp when someone else cooks and sets up your tent. Even if you have to take cold showers in mountain temperatures. The food was amazing and our group bonded over the boys “business plans” to start a waterslide, a put-put golf course and a parachute icecream business. They also taught us how to play the card game Euchre. We all had very sarcastic sense of humour which helped when it poured rain for most of our third day and we marched along like little ants in our rainbow coloured rain ponchose. We also had a few rousing rounds of “That´s what she said” which might be the world´s most universal joke except that the French don´t get it.

We saw some amazing things on the trip. I can now definitely tell you that despite what you may have heard llamas do NOT actually wear pajamas. They will, however, pee on your backpack if you are not careful. Anne took pictues of every single rock, flower or animal on the trail. I believe she may be recruited to do a catalogue for National Geographic. I also have lots of pictures of weird bugs for the kids at the school. Ryan was my bug finder and would call me over at least three times a day to hold up a weird bug for me. We also met some really interesting people on the trail. Australian/Canadian Barbie and Ken, a woman with the thickest south carolinian accent ever, 3 guys who loved to talk Canadian with us, a fabulous couple from Sydney who offered us a free place to stay anytime either of us is in Sydney. Also, an Australian guy who was obsessed with my ass. (I made a joke on a particuarly difficult part of the trail that all these stairs were going to give me the best ass on the West Coast and so people kept asking me how my ass was doing along the trail and it became a running joke amongst a whole group of people). Anne caught the eye of one of the guides (who as a side note was super hot) and he spent a good portion of the trail giving her Spanish lessons. ;)

We arrived at Machu Picchu on the fourth day and it was definitely the highlight of a great trip. It completely surpased my already grandeous expectations.

As a final note, if you are going camping for four days with no way of being contacted, you should tell your family where you are going in case they think you are dead.

Amanda in Wonderland

Anne and I have arrived and after an appropriately girly squeel fest, we have arrived in Cusco to aclimatize to 3500 metres before we head to Maccu Picchu. To give you some idea what 3500 metres feels like, it is a lot like having your internal organs put in a compression tank. I feel drunk all the time. Today we walked 4 blocks. Then we took a 2 hour nap because we were to exhausted to move. Also, I was cranky. 

Cusco (or Cuzco depending on who you ask) is about 1000 years old. Also? Built for Peruvians. 1000 year old Peruvians. I feel like Alice in Wonderland where they shrunk everything but me about 30%. The sinks come up to just above my kneecaps. 

Anne and I have checked into our hostel which is in a colonial building in the centre. Our room looks like it was set dressed to be used in a porno version of the Flintstones. Also the bed is tilted. We have photos. Not of the porn version of the Flintstones. That´s what the internet is for people. 

I stand corrected on the scariest phrase you can hear on an airplane. The scariest moment on a plane is when you realize that you have been flying in a very weird pattern for a while and then the captain comes on and the only words you understand are plane, broken, and losing fuel. Turns out the flaps on our plane were broken and they had to go off course to dump fuel and anything else they could to lighten the plane and then make an emergency landing. I convinced the hyperventilating woman behind me that everything would be fine and I´m glad I sounded convincing because I wasn´t entirely sure we weren´t going to die in a fiery explosion upon impact. Apparently, neither was the airport if the number of firetrucks on the tarmac were any indication. What is it with me and firemen this trip?

Some further random observations about travelling:

  • All alleys everywhere smell like stale urine. It is both gross and comforting.
  • No matter how gross you feel after 36 hours on a plane with no shower, you will invariably be the cleanest person on the bus if the bus is full of backpackers.
  • You know you need to spend less time at the beach and more time on your hair when a guy asks you how long you´ve been working on your dreads for. (For the record - I do not have dreads)
  • My Spanish is progressing to the point where I can talk to cab drivers about the weather and traffic. Even if my favourite phrase is still the Spanglish ¿Es Okay?. 
  • When you order food in another language, you never really know what you ordered until it arrives. 
  • Once upon a time I trusted Lonely Planet. Then I trusted Lonely Planet, except for their maps. Now, I don´t trust them at all. I just want my damn IPhone. 

Mama says…

I stayed in a hotel last night that was run by this pint sized women who refused to let me leave the hotel without her husband as a chaperone. She called me in the morning to wake me up for my flight and then called to yell at me when I was late for breakfast because it would get cold. It felt just like being a kid who refused to get up for school (not that I ever did that). Did I mention that this was all in Spanish? My Spanish is getting better and better everyday. 

I have never been so “overprotected” as I have been in Ecuador and Peru. People won´t let me out at night on my own and insist on walking me everywhere. It is sweet and also an affront to my bad-assery. I am willing to be less of a badass on this particular trip. Kindness of stranger and all that. 

Wolverine

Tonight I both got hit on by and received a chiropractic treatment from Wolverine. My life is weird. That is all.

A smile will get you in as much trouble as it gets you out of

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I’ve been at the beach for a week and pretty busy so internet hasn’t been a priority. I am, contrary to the belief of my dear parents, not dead.

So I thought I’d just share some highlights.

I had a fabulous time in Montanita. Spent a lot of time catching up with Francesca and meeting some new people. Met a Quebecois girl who reminds me of Emilie right down to the way they walk, a Swedish guy who’s name is Pear (not actually spelled that way), an Israeli who was impressed with my Hebrew accent, and an American guy who I had a really nice connection with. Also an Ecuadorian-American guy who took me to an outdoor Cumbia concert one town away and showed me some local colour. Some highlights:

  • Explaining to aforementioned 22 year old Israeli, at 3 o’clock in the morning, that I would not be sleeping with him. My response when he asked why? “Listening to you bang 2 different girls every night for an entire week will generally make women who had to listen less likely to sleep with you, not more.” I think he might have missed the subtle insult but perhaps I gave him some insight into the female brain?
  • I had a sunburn that was so bad that it was still hot 5 days after I got it. Then it peeled. Underneath? Another burn. Yep. Sunburn on sunburn.
  • Even with a sunburn that bad you can still see when I’m blushing. I want to you imagine the colour I turned when guy I’d known for two days turned to a group of acquaintances and announced “Don’t worry. She likes it rough.” (We were trading massages).
  • I provided a feast of flesh for every insect in a 5 km radius of my sleeping mat. My torso looks like I’m having a bout of leprosy.
  • Brushing your teeth with tap water is the lap of luxury.
  • You should always, always, always carry your own toilet paper.
  • I am continually astounded by my capacity to get, and stay, dirty.
  • I’ve been keeping my money in a small case that I tuck into my bra. I fear that when I return to Canada I will unconsciously touch my left breast every time I go to pay for something.
  • All conversations with other travellers start like this:
  1. Where are you from?
  2. How long have you been here?
  3. How long is your trip?
  4. (Much later) Oh yeah. What’s your name?
  • When forced to evacuate from you hostel in the middle of the night because of a forest fire, always take the time to put on pants. I repeat: put on pants.
  • When a firefighter tells you to “make your own decision” but follows it up with a promise that he and his family will pray for you…your decision is kind of already made.
  • It is terrifying when the only words you can translate out of a Spanish PA announcement are “for your safety” and “very important”.
  • Latin men really need to have a different whistle for “I think you are sexy” than they do for “you are about to be mowed down by a Mack truck”.
  • I, according to reliable sources, have the perfect lips to be a flautist.
  • If I spend enough time with people who have English as an additional language, I eventually start to sound like a foreign exchange student.
  • You never really know a man until you hear how he talks with his friends.
  • When I am truly frustrated I will, unconsciously, stomp my feet.
  • This morning I talked feminist theory with a woman who works for the United Nations. Then we shat the shit about men for an hour. Who says Feminists can’t be fun?
  • Being an ideal is weird.

I miss you all. More when I can.

Always keep your tetanus up to date kids….

So here I was thinking that I was not going to have any good stories to tell you all about this trip. Turns out I underestimated my ability to attract drama.

(Please forgive all the missing apostrophes! I can not figure out punctuation on this keyboard! Jesus - email me? I tried googling but no luck.)

I am in Montanita right now on the southern coast of Ecuador. It is a tiny little surf town filled with tourists and a pretty good time. I have been practicing doing nothing and have been moderately successful. Francesca and I have been catching up and spending some time at the beach. I have the worlds worst sunburn on my chest which, in addition to being incredibly painful, gives me the words weirdest cleavage.

We spend the day at the beach and then went back to our hostel where we met this American guy who lives in Cuenca (a town about 4 hours away). We went out for dinner and then he took us out to show us the best bars in town. He even offered to help me get a teaching job at the school he works at. (I am coming back to Vancouver but I will not say it wasnt damn tempting).  Everyone here speaks Spanish to me, which is both stressful and very, very good for me. There are a bunch of musicians who hang out on the corner and play together so we listened to them for a while and met a bunch of guys from Colombia. Then we got introduced to Roosevelt, the worlds smallest Ecuadorian and mixer of cocktails that could give the Pourhouse a run for its money. Then we all went dancing.

You know how people joke about leaving their blood, sweat and tears on the dancefloor? I can now say that I have christened the floor of a Montanita bar with all three. We ended up at this bar that has sand for a dance floor and a band that plays Spanglish covers of Soul and Reggae standards. It was pretty great. At one point my friend Francesca decided to go back to the hostel to take out her contacts. Imagine her surprise to find one of our roommates (we are sleeping on an open air roof deck) masturbating while watching porn on her IPhone. She, unsurprisingly, comes back to the bar to wait for me to come back with her which was good because…

We are dancing and all of a sudden I feel a sharp pain in my right foot. We stop and all look around and can not see anything in the sand but now my foot is really hurting. I hobble to the side of the dance floor and check the bottom of my foot and am surprised to find a 2 inch nail imbeded in the bottom. Thinking I can not possibly make it out of the bar without pushing it further into my foot I pull it out only to discover that it is actually a 3 inch nail that has been very deeply imbeded in my foot. Also, as any idiot with first aid can tell you (myself included, supposedly) you are not supposed to pull imbeded objects out of wounds. Which I remembered when I started spurting blood all over the dance floor. I make it out of the bar, leaving a trail of carnage in my wake, and find myself outside standing in an ever growing pool of my own blood and feeling a little woozy. Thankfully, a tall blonde standing in a pool of blood is still a novel sight here and people came from all over to take care of me. I ended up being taken care of by an EMT from NYC named Franklin (With a full on Bronx accent to make it all the sweeter). My wounds have been pretty thoroughly cleaned with alcohol, disinfectant, polysporin and some heavy duty antibiotics. I just have to stay off it today and can not walk barefoot on the beach for about a week. All in all, a small price to pay. Also, my friend Francesca got a Cuban salsa dance from one of the many people who came to help. So someone got something good out of it. (I drew a big crowd…possibly it was the screaming…or the blood…or the force of my charming personality…but I would not put my money on the latter in this case).

So, moral of the story kids? Always keep your tetanus up to date (which mine is, so you can stop worrying Mum).

More soon…

Alive and kicking…

…but the wimpy kicks of the exhausted. I arrived in Quito at mudnight and spent the night in a place of questionable repute and dubious cleanliness. We shall add it to the list if places I have slept that I can never tell my mother about.

During my 6 hours in the Edmonton airport I met a guy who is originally from Ecuador. He gave me a ton of tips and offered to show me around. Unfortunately the timing doesn’t work but he made me feel much better about my somewhat sketchy border crossing later this month.

In other fun news, I can still sleep sitting up with one eye open. That’s a life skill I hope to never lose.