Saturday, May 22, 1999

Greetings from Arequipa Peru!

When I last wrote, we had just crossed the border into Peru and were in a place called Trujillo.
It seams like we’ve been on the bus almost the whole time. After Trujillo, we went up into the Cordillera Blanca (Huarez) where we had planned to do some river rafting:
Well it was WAY TOO F-ing cold, so we opted to climb one of the local peaks instead. 17000 feet plus. SKINNY air. WAY Skinny air. Good thing the guide came equipped with Coca leaves or we would have likely passed out. For those of you who are curious, yes they are legal, and no they don’t get you high (any more than a cup of coffee does) and they look like bay leaves, but taste like shit.
After I trudged (SGK rented a horse) up to the snow line (some of the locals brought skis!!!) We then hiked to a cave in the Glacier - way cool.
The next day, we went to a town that had been destroyed in an earthquake, killing 25,000 inhabitants, sparing only 90 souls. You see, this town is right between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra, and the earthquake happened during a world cup soccer match, so every one was inside listening to the game. Well, it only took 3 minutes for a huge landslide to cross the 35 miles or so from one mountain range to the other, burying the town some 40 feet under mud, snow and rocks. 3 MINUTES! that’s just barely enough time to get up from in front of the TV, walk outside to see what
the noise is, then realize that you are DEAD. Wow. We met one of the survivors, and the passion with which he told the story would put an evangelical minister to shame.
That day for lunch I finally had Cuy – that’s right, I ate Guinea pig! It was actually very tasty, and I enjoyed it immensely. Pet lovers in San Francisco do not have anything to fear once I return though, as I didn’t find enough meat on the darn thing to make it worth eating.
After Huarez we took the night bus to Lima. What a nightmare of a bus! It was a new Pullman bus, but they had stuck way too many seats in it - My calves were too big to fit between my seat and the one in front of it! So I ended up sitting sideways. SGK also had difficulty - the man behind her kept kicking her seat until I had to threaten him with my superior size and louder voice and better Spanish. (the last bit mattered when the bus personnel wanted to know what the problem was) No sleep at all so we opted to skip Lima and just jump on the next 6 hour bus to Nasca.
Nasca - Home of the mysterious lines. When I was 12 years old, a friend of mine named Tom Chavez (who has since become a priest) brought to school a book called “Chariots of the Gods” which was a hair brained book by some drunk Norwegian who believed among other things that Space aliens had painted these huge geometric figures on the desert floor in southern Peru. Well, Ever since reading it, I have wanted to see these things. You can’t see them from the ground: not only are they just too big, but the color of the lines is virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding dirt unless you are directly overhead!! AMAZING!
These things are really cool. The flight over the desert in a Cessna 152 made SGK a wee bit sick to her stomach (The people at the hotel: knowing that this was our honeymoon, kept asking if the sour stomach was because she was newly pregnant!(which she’s not) So, while SGK slept, I headed out into the desert with Fiona, (Our Scottish friend who had been following us ever since we met her in Ecuador)to a Nazcan graveyard. Morbid! The Desert floor is covered with 1000 year old textiles, hair and bones from these mummies that have been sitting here from ever since the lines were
drawn. Creepy.
After Nasca, we headed to Ariquipa on yet another night bus, where I GOT ROBBED AGAIN!!!!! You see, this bus "got a flat" and stopped for about 45 minutes, ostensibly to change the tire, but in reality so that the bus driver could go through the gringo’s bags: he didn’t get away with much: only $25 cash and $60 in travelers cheques, my Amex card (I just reported it(, and some souvenirs (the smallest denomination bill from each country, value about $10 (But it still sucks).
Tomorrow we are heading out to see the Condors in the Canyon de something or other, then an overnight train ride to Cusco.

Cheers for now!

Thursday, May 20, 1999

Travels with SG: Ecuador to Peru

Hello Everyone!!!

We absolutely loved Ecuador!!!
Would go back in a hot-blooded second!!! Straddled the equator, spent time soaking in the hot mineral baths of Baños, caught the movie "Trainspotting", had our lonely planet ripped off (luckily for us, our friend Nick, a great English Chap, gave us his as he was heading back home...did you go back with your parents???)....
had a harrowing 8 hour bus ride to Rio Bambo through the mud slides that had wiped out the roads prior to our arrival, not to mention a bus 24 hours before...
We finally arrived in Vilacabamba on May 8th...Vilacabamba is a cute, quaint village, surrounded by mountains...
We had wanted to come here since first entering Ecuador (after our tear-gassed boarder crossing from Columbia) It has the typical town square, a couple of mom and pop stores, and very nice and friendly people...
We had seen signs about a "quaint" place to stay called Ruinas...breakfast, purified h20 and juice all day, pool, Jacuzzi, hot showers, pool tables, ping-pong, movies...sounded too good to be true!!!
And all for 10$US...
Well, it was too good to be true!!! We arrived at 8am...the manager of the hotel (10 room hotel...most are dorm rooms) asked if we really wanted to stay there, as 25 Israeli men, and 6 women were already staying there...
We thought that the Ecuadorian manager was being a bit prejudiced (we would rather stay in places with a mix of people from all over the world)...
little did we know that he was trying to warn us...
as it was Michael, me and another woman from Sweden) We love to meet people from all over the world, and thought staying here would be no exception!
The were many problems, and here's a short recap...
Our room was right next to the lobby...
where the computer that is used for internet (free), the main TV and the control to the satellite dish. There is a television in every room (we thought we would be able to catch up on CNN/and whatever else is going on in the real world) However, the control for the TV was at the front desk, you could not change the channel in your room...
The remote should have been under lock and key!!!...
well, let's just say that I do not like to be woken up at 3am in the morning to the Playboy channel, let alone being woken up at all!!!
All day long you could hear when they were SEX-SURFING!!! There are signs posted in every bedroom, bathroom, by the pool, that "quiet" time is starts at 10pm (should be 11 or 12am)....
It never was quiet!!! Shouting, when they could have a conversation with a person 10 feet away...
not just during the day, but at 4am in the morning...
jumping in the pool at all hours of the night!!! Yelling about the email that they just received at 2:30am (when the computer is supposed to be off at 10pm.)
And just plane RUDENESS!!! We encountered one chap, who did not understand part of a movie that we were watching that dreadful evening...
he asked his friend in Hebrew what something meant-No Problem!!! However, I did not hear what was said next, in the movie...
I asked M what happened, he told me...
then this PRICK-ASS has the GALL to turn around and give us the evil eye, because we were talking!!! Being the demure, IRISH woman that I am...I told him that he did not own the whole frigging world and to turn around and watch the movie, that if he was going to talk, than, I could too!!!
The owner of the hotel partied with them, and could not have given a SHIT, that there were 3 others staying in the hotel...
M got up several times that night to tell them to keep it down, before finally exploding at them at 3:30am!!! It was quite a sight!!!
M got up at 6:30am secured us a lovely place up in the mountains...
only 4 cabins, no electricity, 10 minute hike to our cabin from the restaurant/lobby-NOTV!!! And only a 50 minute hike down to town!!! Gorgeous white, yellow, and green fire-flies (I have not seen them since growing up in VT)
We have been cruising through Peru...
Trujillo one night, Huarez 3 nights, where we did a couple of day tours, one to a 17,000 foot mountain in the snow...
our tour guide encouraged us to try the Mate de coca tea, and coco leaves...It helps relieve the headache at that high of an elevation, and makes breathing easier...
Me, I prefer the tea...tastes like chamomile!!! M has run out of chewing tobacco, you can guess, he likes the leaves better than the tea (NO it does NOT get you HIGH)...
We saw several Alpaca's-gorgeous creatures, look similar to Llama's, but are nicer!!! We are now in Nazca, Peru after 2 grueling bus rides...the first, a night bus, a mere 8 hour ride-where this man kept kicking my seat, (he wanted me to keep my seat up for the duration of the ride, because he was tall...Hell, he was not much taller than me) Michael threatened him with bodily harm, and the SHIT finally stopped!!!
Off at Lima for one hour, and on another for 6 more hours!!! Very hot ride...into the desert...
I spent yesterday, and much of last night recovering from our flight over the Nazca lines-in a very, very, very, (did I mention VERY) tiny Cessna 152 plane(3 passengers)...over the hot, dry, desert!!! At 8:45am, it was already boiling hot!!! I will say, that it was definitely a "once in a lifetime" experience!!!
And after our 5 passenger flight to the San Blas Islands in Panama, I "threatened" never to get on a plane that held fewer that 30 passengers!!!
I think the problem was, me having breakfast before the flight...every time the pilot tipped the wing so we could see the impressions in the sand, I was looking straight down on the ground.
We had to change our bus departure from last night to tonight...another night bus...only 8 hours (to Ariquipa to see the condors) I sure hope I get a SHORT, nice, old lady behind me tonight!!!

all for now!!!
luv, SG

p.s. as always, would love to hear what "adventures" you all are having!!!

Friday, May 14, 1999

Greetings from Trujillo Peru!

Hello All!

When I last left you, I was standing astride the Equator with Nick's parents. Well, from there, we FINALLY got access to the South American Explorer's club, and picked up my VISA/ATM Card! Yippee!!! It still didn't work though. Those damn Ecuadorian banks are just F@$%ed up.

From Quito, we headed to Baños to soak in the natural hot springs, when DISASTER STRUCK!!! I was sneak theifed on the bus, and they got away with my Guatemalan bag that I spent hours haggling over. But, more importantly what was in the bag? Well, besides the set of travel games that my brother Doug gave me for Christmas (Sorry Bug!) the worst of possible things; THE LONELY PLANET SOUTH AMERICA BOOK!!!!! Shit! Just how the F$%^ are we supposed to find hotels, buses, etc without it??!! (those of you who have been on the road will know just what a disaster this really is) Well, after getting off the bus, we scoured Baños for a bookstore. We saw lots of alpaca shops, and Cuy Bar-B-Ques (That's Guinea Pig for those of you not versed in South American lore) But book stores?? There just ain't none, so bag weary from trotting about town with our packs on, SGK remembers that she wrote down the name of the Hotel that Nick was going to stay at, and we headed there.
The proprietor informed us that Nick and his parents had checked in the night before. Yea!! We could at least now photocopy the pieces that we needed (our other alternative was to buy a 6 year old copy of the Lets Go Guide in German) We then headed out for a much needed Beer. Who was at the restaurant? But Jolly old St. Nick himself! Yes, I called him St. Nick, because just like Santa Claus, he decided to GIVE us his LP (he was going home in a few days anyway).
Now we could soak in the springs under the waterfall without worries!!!!

After Baños, we were off to Cuenca, The supposedly colonial architectural gem of Ecuador.
It didn't hold a candle to Cartegena. And Our hotel kicked us out after one night. The only good thing about Cuenca was that my ATM card decided to work here for some unknown reason!! We decided to boogie on down to Vilcabamba, to stay at a place we'd been hearing about called Las Ruinas de Quinara.

The LP says that the ride from Cuenca to Loja is 4 hours. 10 hours after leaving Cuenca, we finally arrived in Loja. Our bus had been detouring around mud and rock slides that whole time. Entire stretches of road proved impassible. We had to turn around several times to search for alternate routes. At one point, we even headed through some farmers field! (in a brand new Mercedes Coach!) Needless to say, we decided to spend the night in Loja before heading out to Las Ruinas.

******** Las Ruinas De Quinara *************

In every budget hotel, restaurant, and Internet Cafe in Ecuador is a poster advertising this hotel. The photos look lavish, and the description looks even better, they claim that for a measly $10 a night, you get: Breakfast, Juice all day long, Mineral water all day long, Dinner, Clean relaxed and FRIENDLY atmosphere, Comfortable accommodation, Cable TV/Music in all rooms, Hot showers all day long, hiking map, tourist information, a safe, heated swimming pool with slide, poolside music, sun lounges, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, Basketball, football, volyball, ping pong, pool table, large screen TV with video library, and internet access, and THEY PAY YOUR WAY FROM LOJA TO THE HOTEL!.
Sound Good? We sure thought so.

********* The RUINED reputation of Las Ruinas ***

Well, the didn't pay for our bus ride, but we forgave them for that. There was no fruit juice in evidence (only koolaid at dinner) but again, a small transgression. The "Cable TV" meant that all of the TV's were hooked to one channel only, controllable at will by whomever wanted to change it. But the BIG problem was that the place was
full of 35 Israeli's in their early 20's. When we checked in, the bellhop asked us if we really wanted to stay their, as "Hay 35 Isrealitos aqui"
I was shocked! Anti-Semitism in Ecuador????
Well, the real problem was not that they were Israeli, but that there were 35 of them fresh out of national service. 35 young men of ANY nationality would be a chore to handle. Here's what they did to ruin Las Ruinas:
Constantly flipping through the CD collection, so that a single song never finished at the "poolside bar"
Constantly changing the channel on the TV so that PORN was always playing in our room
Jumping in the pool at 12:30AM
Checking their email at 2:00AM (right in front of our room!)
Playing pornos at top volume on the big screen TV ALL NIGHT LONG!
Just being RUDE and NOISY 24 hours a day.
Needles to say, I got up at 6:30am (I really didn't get any sleep) and searched for a new hotel. As I woke up hoteliers all over town, they asked me where I stayed the night before (the first bus into Vilcabamba being at 9:00am) and when I told them they all said "Ah! Los Isrealitos! No hay Isrealitos Aqui!" What a bad name these guys were giving their country!!!
SGK wanted to pull a runner and skip out without paying, but we got caught, and after an argument, he only wanted 1/2, and we got our beers for free.

We moved to Cabinas Rio Yambala, in the cloud forest. Beautiful! Secluded!! Quite!! Lovely!! After a few days of this hermitage (and a hike to the top of a waterfall at 12000ft ) We were off to Peru.

We arrived in the border town of Macara at about 8:00pm, and the border didn't open till 8:00am, se we found a CHEAP hotel ($1.50 a night!) and guess who was staying there? but KO, the intrepid Japanese traveler that we originally met in San Pedro, Guatamala, then again in Panama City!

The next day (Yesterday!) consisted of a blur of 5 different buses to 4 different cities before we crashed for the night in Trujillo.

Where do we go from here?
Tonight is a night bus to Huarez, where we will do some white water rafting, then on to Lima to change buses to Nazca where we will fly over the famous lines, then back into the mountains to Cusco to acclimatize for the 4 day hike up the Inca trail to Machu Pichu. After Machu Pichu, we'll cut across to Titicaca, Copacabana (Bolivia), And La Paz. After La Paz, we head down into the Bolivian Amazon to Rurre for a Jungle trek, then back to La Paz for the famous La Paz to Arica (Chile) railroad. Down the spine of Chile through the great salt desert to the Maipo vally (Wine Country!) then Skiing on the Andes in July!!! Then we will fly from Santiago to Miami and home!


Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Travels with SG: Columbia to Ecuador

Hello all!!!
After spending some time in Cartegena, Columbia,we flew to Bogota (on April birthday, for those of you who forgot!)...elevation 2800 meters and tons of pollution!!!
When we got off the plane, thereon the floor was Patcraft Carpet, style Incognito, color green (I worked for this company for 5years, and this was 3 jobs ago) Can’t believe that my old carpet made it to Columbia!!! Anyway, the only saving grace about Bogota was their Gold Museum, and Cerro de Monserate (you take a tram up a mountain another 1500 meters...gorgeous view of the city, no cars, buses, only nature, a nice church-a very nice escape from the big city!!!)
On the 28th (Michael’s birthday) we caught a private car to the airport (all transportation within Bogota was on strike-taxi’s and buses...this should have been our first clue that today would be one to remember!!!) and we flew to the boarder town(still in Columbia) called Ipialis (It was much cheaper to fly to a boarder town within Columbia than fly directly into Ecuador)...we arrived in Ipialis (gorgeous green hilly town,) and caught a taxi to the boarder of Ecuador...about a mile and a half away from the boarder there was a police road block...they would not allow any taxis to drop off passengers at the border, so we threw our backpacks on our backs and hiked to the border (good thing we wear our hiking boots on travel days, as we never know how much walking we will be doing with our packs on our backs, and mine weighs a hefty 50 lbs)...luckily it was all downhill...but alas, we were not alone on our descent!!!
The Columbian police were also walking down to the boarder, with AK47´s (not loaded, YET)...we spoke to one of the police on our descent (we always make conversation with the police, in situations such as these...)We asked him (in Spanish) why no Taxi´s were allowed to go to the boarder...his reply, "you can catch a taxi on the Ecuador side..." How naive we were!!! We finally get to the boarder, (many more police) where we see tires burning in the middle zone between Columbia and Ecuador, and a bamboo worries???!!! We get our "get out of Columbia" stamp in our passports and ask some people what is going on???
The teachers/professors from Colombia were protesting as they have not been paid by the government in 1-3 months!!! They started to burn tires at 6am, and would not let anyone through to either side till noon.....We arrived just before the police started to break up the demonstration-11:30am...The teachers were not happy with this, as this was an "organized" demonstration that was to continue till noon...SO, the teachers (being the educated lot that they are) started throwing small pieces of bricks at the police...The police with AK47´s and tear gas, "retaliated" by gassing the teachers!!! I was shaking in my boots!!! I have never seen such a site, and hope to never again!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Luckily for us, we met a nice businessman from Columbia who took us under his wing, a student from Ecuador(who studies in Columbia) and a woman from Sweden...we hung out with them, at the boarder. The police wanted us to exit the "customs" area and walk back up the hill...Our new businessman friend, told the police that we all had to get to Ecuador TODAY!!! So the police let us wait... ...after some time, when things SEEMED to quiet down, the 5 of us and an Ecuadorian family, made a mad dash for ONE of the boarder entrances (there are two entrances each about 175 yards long. The one to the left, over the bridge where all the police and teachers were, and the one to the right-where the Columbian police told us to cross) On our way to the right boarder crossing, we all held tissues to our noses, as tear gas was still in the air...when we got to this entrance, it was closed!!!! .....SO, we had to backtrack and go over the bridge, working our way between all the Columbian police, and demonstrators... ...YEAH!!! We made it!!!!! Just when we got in the Ecuador immigration office, the police let more tear gas fly...What a day!!! From the Ecuador boarder, we caught a van with our new friends to a small town where we were going to catch a bus to the bus station, we had the pleasure of seeing 2 men, from different bus companies, duke it out because they wanted our business...oh, what a life!!! Our bus ride to Otavalo was spectacular!!! A beautiful drive through the Andes!!! What a day!!! To top off, that evening we had a lovely dinner at a Pizza joint that had live Ecuadorian music...Our waitress took a liking to Michael (a robust woman in here 40´s, with twinkling eyes) and had the band play Michael "Happy Birthday" in part Spanish, part English....
A spectacular ending to a nerve racking day!!!
We spent 3 lovely days in Otavalo!!!
This where one of the largest markets is located of South America. Alpaca, Lamb, Llama Sweaters for 6$US, hats, gloves, livestock, produce!!! SO CHEAP!!!!!! I must say that Ecuador is one of the nicest countries that I have ever been to...very friendly people, great food, and very CHEAP!!!
On the first of May we caught a bus to Quito, where we ran into our friend Nick who we met in Bogota (he had the displeasure of waiting in Bogota, for many days, for a new passport, as his old one was "misplaced" on a bus ride) strange how we keep running into people that we have met along our travels...
Today, (May 2nd) we went to Mitad del Mundo (the equator) with Nick and his parents...
lovely day!!! and took pictures of us straddling the equator!!!...very cool!!!! Tomorrow we head to Baños, a small town for more relaxation!!!

Sunday, May 2, 1999

Greetings from Quito Ecuador!

When I last left you all, we were headed to the mud
volcano outside of Cartegena. It was a hell of a good time.
We got the 8 people together necessary for the trip, and off
we went. The "Volcano" is really an 18 meter high mound
about 5 meters across, full of lukewarm mud that percolates
from some geothermal source far below.
You jump in, and then an attendant parks you. The mud is
so viscous that it is impossible to immerse yourself fully -
you can’t get below your shoulders. For the first 1/2 hour,
we had the place to ourselves, then the Bermudan national
Soccer team joined us. It got way too crowded, so we hoofed
it out, and some of the local villagers took it upon
themselves (for a tip of course) to wash the mud off of us
in the nearby lake. Good fun!
After arriving back at our hotel, the whole group of us
(and some new arrivals) started to part hard, led by a
Norwegian named JP, and we partied until the little hours;
getting the hotel staff upset at our belligerence. If you
are headed to Cartegena - I highly recommend staying at
Holiday on Calle Media Luna - Cheap great atmosphere, right
in the old town.
Cartegena itself is a GEM! Very picturesque, crammed with
history (just about every English and Dutch and French
pirate of the Spanish Main managed to sack it at one time or
Guess who else showed up in Cartegena as we were about to
leave - but Max from San Pedro in Guatemala!
So, we left Cartegena, splurging on a plane fare for
Bogota - we wanted to avoid the possibility of being
attacked by guerrillas - they attacked the town of Sapsurro
the day we were almost let off the boat there.
Bogota has nothing to recommend it except Herman at the
Platypus hotel. He should be canonized for the aid that he
gives to travelers - St. Christopher incarnate. He bailed
out at least two people that we know of who were robbed and
lost all of their money and passports, as well as having a
wealth of knowledge about South America that he is willing
to pass on to anyone - he saved us $100 in airfare by
recommending a different airport to fly to get to Ecuador -
and he booked it for us too!
And who was here? But Debbie and Matt from Cartegena! So,
we flew from Bogota to Ipialles - a town in Colombia right
on the Ecuadorian border. The day we left Bogota there was
a strike of Taxi Drivers and Bus drivers - so there was no
way to get to the airport - so Herman had his wife drive us
Ipialles is a beautiful town, but we had a bit of a
nightmare at the border crossing – The military had blocked
off the access road, so our Taxi couldn’t take us all the
way - after the soldiers confirmed that the border was open,
we hoofed it the last 3 KM to the border. If the tank
blocking the road for our taxi wasn’t enough of a clue, we
should have figured that the 100´s of AK47 toting soldiers
lining that last 3Km to the border spelt trouble. And then
when we spotted thick, black smoke coming from just around
the corner, we should have turned around, but no, we were
stupid and kept on going. Once we completed the formalities
of leaving Colombia, we saw what the problem was.
About 1000 striking teachers had blocked the bridge with
barricades and burning tires. They were throwing BRICKS at
the cops, who were retaliating with tear gas grenades.
time too late however, as we had already exited Columbia,
and couldn’t be readmitted without first having entered
somewhere else.
There were 3 other people similarly trapped - one
Columbian, an Ecuadorian, a Swedish girl and us. We all
banded together and made a run for it through the mob during
a lull in the battle and just made it into the Ecuadorian
customs building as the grenades started going off again.
VERY SCARY! And before you say it Glenn, YES YOU TOLD US
We then caught a bus for Otavalo - the bus drivers got
into a fight over which company was going to take us!
Fists, bloody lips and all! WAY too much excitement for one
Otavalo is a picturesque Quecha town at 9000 ft- VERY
skinny air, but we had had 3 days in Bogota at 8500ft to
acclimatize. The Market here is amazing - Alpaca wool
sweaters for $5.00US. Being as it was my birthday, we
splurged by going to a Pizza place with live music - an
Andean band with Pan pipes that played me "Feliz Cumpleanos"
(Happy birthday). This was one of the more expensive
restaurants in Otavalo, and the three of us (SGK, Malin the
Swedish girl from the border crossing, and I) all ate, and
drank copious quantities of beer for all of $10.00US total!
This place is almost as cheap as Indonesia (do you hear me
Jo and Stephen?)
After a fewe days in Otavalo, we decided to head for Quito
to pick up my new ATM card (the old one does not work in
Ecuador), only to find that the South American Explorers
club was closed for the weekend! (That’s where my card was)
So we checked in to a cheapie (though not as cheap as
Otavalo) to wait out the weekend and who do we see - but
Nick, the guy we met in Bogota who wanted to buy a Fax
machine. We just spent the day with him and his parents,
going to the Equator monument. Now I have a photo of me at
0 degrees Lattitude to put next to the one of me in
Greenwich at 0 degrees longitude.

Where do we go from here?
Well, tomorrow after picking up my mail at the SAEC, we
head to Baños, which boasts hot springs on top of a volcano
at 10500ft where you soak and watch the sunrise, then to
Cuenca, another market town, then Villacabamba where we will
relax in a hotel that boasts a swimming pool, Satellite TV
in every room, and live poolside music for only $10US a day
including Breakfast, Dinner, and free Coffee, fruit juice
and mineral water all day long! Then on to Peru where Chris
Scheffler will meat us for the trek up the Inca Trail to
Machu Pichu.

Buena Suerte!

All content including images copyright 1999-2014 © SaraGrace Keenan and/or Michael Alessio Permission to use only granted with permission