Saturday, September 18, 2010

Zebras, Witches, and Coca...Oh My! La Paz, Bolivia.

Upon arrival in La Paz, Bolivia we made our way to our lodging for the next few nights, the very nice Hotel Fuentes, conveniently located near the city center and just steps away from Calle Sagarnaga, locally know as "Gringo Alley," since most of the shops and restaurants cater to the tourists. (Speaking of tourists, we have run into quite a few on our journey, however we see almost none from the good ole´US of A.) Here you can buy all sorts of handicrafts, exchange money, book tours throughout the countryside, or eat at a Thai fusion restaurant. And, you will most certainly be offered fake fossils from a shady looking dude. Honestly, the street was both comforting and a little annoying, being that it is a pseudo-cultural experience.

Since we´ve been here I have been offered marijuana once and cocaine twice. And the guys making the offers are none too discreet either. The first dude just spotted us walking amongst the locals and shouted out, "Hey man. Are you smoking the joints?" When I replied I wasn´t he retorted: "Cocaine?" We kept walking.
On the second occasion we were just chilling out on the curb, eating some American junk food (consisting of Pringles for the lady and Snickers for myself) when a dude walked by and said, "Cocaine?" rather loudly, amongst a small crowd of locals and within earshot of a local police officer. And this was in broad daylight! Luckily, he kept walking when I shook my head. I guess it´s nice that neither of the guys were taking the high pressure approach.

As most of you know, cocaine is a processed stimulant, with one of the critical components being the coca leaf. Well, we wanted to learn a little more about this leaf, which has been demonized in the west and used for centuries as an important herb in South America. So, where to? That´s right: The Coca Museum. The museum is a small, but very informative, place which gives a very objective and balanced view of coca...and cocaine.

Coca leaves, for example, serve to aid the human body in numerous ways: to reduce pain, assist in digestion and (perhaps most importantly for the gringo) to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Almost all Andean people use coca leaves and some cultures (e.g. the people of Taquile island in Peru) greet one another with the exchange thereof, rather than a handshake. The plant has been used by indigenous peoples for more than 4,000 years and the first opposition appeared when Europeans arrived, and attempted to subdue the natives. The Catholic Church Council of 1569 decreed that the plant should be eradicated because it had Satanic powers. This was quickly reversed, however, so the users of the plant could be taxed.

Many centuries later, Western scientists were able to isolate the cocaine alkaloid from the leaf, creating a much stronger drug, which became used for many medical purposes. Freud wrote of the drugs wonders. Ernest Shackleton used cocaine on his way to Antarctica. It was available for purchase in pharmacies on Beale Street in Tennessee. But, only five years later the drug was made illegal by the US government after a member of the Pennsylvania pharmaceutical board claimed that, "most of the attacks upon the white women of the south are the dirtect result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain."
Despite its illegal status, and our government´s so-called "War on Drugs," the United States is one of many countries which LEGALLY produces cocaine. Stepan Company imports around 100 metric tons of coca leaves every year, in order to extract cocaine (for pharmaceutical companies) and the sell the cocaine-free leaves to Coca-Cola and Red Bull. Many other Western nations have legal cocaine operations too, all the while the DEA is destroying clandestine manufacturing plants throughout South America. It is just a bit hypocritical...don´t ya think?

After we left the museum we walked through the Mercado de Hechiceria, otherwise known as the "Witch´s Market." Here you can get your standard witch fare of soapstones, talismans, llama fetuses and aphrodisiacs. The fetuses are prominantly displayed and typically buried during the construction of new buildings, as an offering to the goddess Pachamama, or "Mother Earth."
Oh, and I have to mention the zebras...

In order to combat the crazy drivers on the streets of La Paz, the city has begun implementing zebras to help pedestrians cross the streets. People are in zebra costumes throughout the city center, assisting people at crosswalks. The more enthusiastic ones will dance in the street, push cars out of the way and give a "thumbs up" to the curious onlooker. It´s a great way to keep people safe, and maybe put a smile on a face or two as well.

After La Paz, we left for Cochabamba on a rather boring 7-hour bus journey, which ran us about $6/pp. Cochabamba is a bustling city which doesn´t see many tourists, and so it doesn´t have a lot to offer, in terms of cultural centers, etc. (But good food is cheap as a result!) We came here as it is a jumping off point to our animal refuge near Villa Tunari, a few hours away.
While here we did stop at the Palacio Portales, a beautiful home constructed by Simon PatiƱo, the "King of Tin." The man was a self-made millionaire and wanted to flaunt his wealth to all in his hometown of Cochabamba. Sadly he died before completion of the place, and it was made into a museum. His great-grandchildren still run the foundation (and live off of his hard-work) which oversees maintenance of the joint. For about $1.50/pp we got to tour the magnificent structure, which has intricate woodwork throughout, paintings replicating those in the Vatican and a garden that would make Martha Stewart blush.

Tomorrow, we´re off to Villa Tunari and Inti Wara Yassi for two weeks of fulfilling volunteer work...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Island Life...and Border Madness

Puno was our last sop in Peru and a rather unimpressive town at that. The main reason travellers make a stop there is to book a tour of some of the islands on Lake Titicaca. At 12,500 feet above sea level, it is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, and 21st (globally) among all lakes in size. The lake is home to more than 40 islands, not all of them natural, and reaches depths greater than 900 feet.

The lake is spilt between Peru and Bolivia, which means one can only visit certain islands from each side. Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun, is the largest island on the lake and has spiritual significance for the Andean peoples but is reached from Copacabana in Bolivia. It sounded interesting, but the tour from Peru took us to three different islands with significantly different cultures on each one, so we opted for the latter.

We booked a tour for just over $20/pp, and that included boat transport to the islands, guide, 3 meals and a family stay on one of the islands. Not too shabby!

Our bus picked us up at 7:30am. We were the first on and tooled around the city for another 40 minutes as we picked up two dozen other travellers, hailing from Israel, Australia and Germany, as well as a strong French contingent. We all loaded on to a rather rickety looking boat and headed out to the Uros Islands, which were, by far, the most fascinating.

The Uros Islands are a series of manmade islands which have been on Lake Titicaca for more than five centuries. The Pre-Incan Uro peoples fled the mainland in order to get away from the much more powerful Inca Empire. They created the islands from reeds in the lake. The dense roots of the reeds act as the base of the islands, and are both thick (about 6 feet) and bouyant. Next the reeds themselves are laid on the base, in perpendicular layers. Finally, reed homes are placed on the islands, which are anchored in nearly 90 feet of water with ropes, rocks and the like.

It was fascinating to visit the Uros Islands, although much of the culture has died out and little remains, except for the Uros who maintain existence on the reed islands in order to satisfy curious tourists. The few others maintain themselves through fish farming. They have gardens and ponds on the little reed islands and it is really quite interesting. Our guide said that a number of years ago there was an effort to educate parents on teaching their offspring how to float even before walking, as a handful of young children died when they fell off the edge of the island. We were on the islands long enough to snap some photos and buy some souvenirs, if we were so inclined.

From there we hopped on the boat for a slow and steady three hour tour to Amantani island. The 6 sq. mile island is home to about 800 families in six villages. About six years ago they began the practice of hosting tourists in family homes for overnight stays, as there are no restaurants or hotels on the island. As it is so far from the mainland, electricity is powered mainly through solar panels which adorn almost every corrugated steel roof on the island.

Once we reached the island we were introduced to our families and taken to our respective homes for a little lunch. From our bedroom we had a beautiful view of the lake and everything was very serene. The incessant horn-honking and carbon emissions from the mainland were replaced by the baahing and poop of the numerous sheep on the island. After a short rest our meal was ready: a simple yet divine combo of soup, one egg, some tomato slices and cooked tubers, including your basic potato and some other unidentifiable, yet similar, food.

Next we went for a hike to the peak of Pachatata, which means "Father Earth" in Quechua. The island is also home to Pachamama, or "Mother Earth." Both peaks have temples at the top which are home to annual religious ceremonies for the local people. The rest of the year tourists make the treks to snap photos and -you guessed it- buy souvenirs. After we climbed down we were met by one of our host sisters, shown the way home, and fed a lovely meal of soup, rice and a noodle dish. Once again, we had no meat but the food was very good and quite filling.

Around 8pm our host sister, Emily, knocked on our door. She came in with a handful of traditional clothes for Heidi and I to wear at a little dance put on for us tourists. Playing dress up was lots of fun, albeit a bit odd. (Would I have been laughing and having a good time had this been for a powwow hosted by Anishinabe peoples in Shakopee?) At the village hall we danced for a spell while some local guys played some traditional music. After three or four dances we had had our fill, as had our host mother (going through this numerous times every week), so we suggested leaving. Well, we started a trend and the fiesta was over less than an hour after it started.

The next morning we were fed a very basic breakfast and hopped on the boat for a very rocky one hour ride to Taquile. This island is unique in that it is based on an ancient Incan moral code of collectivism and is, for all intents and purposes, a truly communist society. There are no police on the island and all grievances are addressed every Sunday by a weekly meeting of the 25 jefes, or bosses, who are chosen in annual elections. The bosses determine which restaurants the tourists will visit and establish fixed prices for all goods being sold, including meals. Every Monday the money is divided amongst all families.

The people also have a distinctive style of dress, and one can garner much information solely based on the style of one´s clothes. Women typically wear numerous skirts at once, as larger size is a sign of beauty in the culture, in stark contrast to the "waif is beautiful" traditions in many western cultures. Also, women choose their beaus and give potential suitors the nod with a wave of a colorful pom-pom on their clothes at semi-annual fiestas.

After finishing the tour we bought bus tickets for the following morning and got a hostel right across from the terminal.

Our bus pulled out at 6am and by 9:30am we were in the first of a few lines crossing the border into Bolivia. In this first line we merely had our passports stamped with the exit stamp from Peru. A walk of a couple hundred meters and we were herded into the Peruvian Police station. They wanted to check us for any contraban. That went smoothly except when one of the officers found a piece of paper, jammed in our tour book, folded in a manner often used to transport drugs. He gave Heidi a questioning look and she replied in kind, also not knowing what it was. They were both relieved to realize it was only a stack of passport photos, for obtaining visas at border crossings.

From there we walked across a bridge into Bolivia, where we filled out one form and notified someone we were Americans. (The US is, I believe, the only state which must pay a $135 visa fee upon entry into Bolivia. It is President Evo Morales´way of returning the gesture that the US extends when Bolivians wish to visit my homeland.) We were shuffled to another desk, and given another form. We also shelled out three Benjamins to satisfy the fee. The lady quickly returned. Something was wrong with one of our bills. (I´m still not sure what it was.) They really are quite picky about getting pristine tender. We took out another Benjie and she accepted, returning a little later with our change. She then put visas in our passports and brought us to another desk. There another woman took our forms, stamped our passports and instructed us to get copies of the passport and visa at a shop across the street. We hustled over, accomplished our task, and headed back to her, elbowing our way through the motley crew which all wanted stamps in their passports. She gave us a little slip needed for departing the country and we headed for the bus. Given the process is so arduous for Americans, everyone else was already at the bus, waiting for us. After a couple more passport checkpoints on the road we arrived in La Paz...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colca Canyon: A Spectacle Indeed, But Not Grand!

After Machu Picchu we stopped back in Ollantaytambo for a night before taking a two-hour ride on a colectivo (basically a mini-van that acts as public transport) back to Cusco. From there we hopped in a taxi and went to the bus station, where we bought tickets for an evening bus ride to Arequipa. The ride would leave at 9:30pm, which saved us the cost of a hostel, so we sprung for the fancier, fully-reclining seats. We chose not to go with Cruz Del Sur, because they are so damn expensive, and this alternative, CIAL, seemed competitive: dinner, bathrooms, fully-reclining seats and en-route films. So, we bought the tickets and killed 6 hours walking around Cusco, doing the internet thing and looking at souvenirs.

As the bus loaded I stood outside, ensuring our bags would be loaded on the bus, going as far as to tell the 10-year-old luggage boy not to overlook our gear. We hopped on and the bus rumbled away from the terminal. It became clear shortly thereafter that this was no comparison to the quite ritzy Cruz Del Sur. Although the bus was similarly equipped we had no trays for our food, the meal was pretty nasty, and there were no jacks for everyone got to listen to Clash of the Titans in Spanish, like it or not. Well, I watched the movie (with English subtitles) before falling asleep...for about three hours. Around 4am both Heidi and I were brought back from our slumber due to the frigid temperatures on board the bus! It was darn near freezing. I could, quite literally, see my breath. (In fact, Heidi got annoyed that I kept showing her that I could make my exhalations visible.) Unlike Cruz Del Sur (which gave some pretty pluch coverings), we were all given very thin fleece blankets for the ride. I was in short sleeves and even my toes were cold. Eventually, Heidi and I rounded up two extra blankets from empty seats and did our best to stay warm. Apparently, some of our fellow passengers had been through this before, having brought heavy jackets and thick blankets. Even so I heard one (presumably) Peruvian woman complaining that she, too, was frozen. As we arrived at the bus station the following morning the sun has risen and the heat of the day was beginning to return.

We checked in to our hostels and just got some shut-eye, beneath thick blankets, for a number of hours. Afterwards, we got up, got our fill of meat at an Argentine steakhouse and started looking for Colca Canyon tours. (Colca Canyon is the second deepest and longest in the world. There is a deeper one in Peru and the Grand Canyon is longer. It is also about 4 hours from Arequipa and you, pretty much, need to be on a tour to get there.) We consulted our Rough Guide on South America for suggestions of some tour operators and checked them out. The "basic" tour was typically two days and one night and consisted of numerous stops while on a tourist bus. We found one operator we both really liked, offering a 4-day tour that was very environmentally concious and seemed the tune of $400/pp. We ended up going with the standard tour with an outfit called Wasi, which we just happened upon. They quoted a price of 65 soles/pp (or $23), about half of the next closest quote.

The day before we were to leave Heidi got pretty sick and spent the day in bed. I went out, had a burger, and got some bread and bananas to try and settle her stomach. The next morning she wasn´t 100% but agreed to go to on the tour, more than likely because she didn´t want to hear me complain if she asked to stay in bed (leaving us out 130 soles for the tour). The bus ride took us to nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, and did a number on Heidi´s already ailing body, despite sucking on coca candies along the way. The tour was going to some hot springs after a short rest in our hotels, but we decided to forego that, in the hopes Heidi would be better in time for the dinner and show put on for touristas later in the night. Well, she was still sick and insisted I go anyways. So, I went to the restaurant in Chivay solo. I took a seat at the group table and felt a bit like an ass, all alone. Eventually, a Spanish family (as in from Spain) started chatting with me a bit, asking about Heidi, and making me feel a little less awkward. The dinner was very overpriced (which I expected) and the show seemed a little contrived. That all said, I had an okay time. I did do a little dancing (as did everyone else) and tasted alpaca for the first time (nothing to write home about).

Heidi wasn´t sure if she would be well enough for the next day, which consisted of being in the bus for 12 hours, more or less, with stops at certain viewpoints along the canyon, and at "indigenous" villages along the route. (The "indigenous" villages were little more than contrived tourist traps, rife with souvenirs and animals willing to pose for pictures..for a price, of course.) But, the next morning she said she felt much better and agreed to go. Unfortunately, I had come down with some intestinal issues, but I wasn´t going to let that stop me from going on something I already paid for. A little after 6am the bus arrived to pick us up and we were off.

After stops at a number of little towns for 15 minutes at a time we arrived at the highlight of the tour: The Cruz Del Condor viewpoint of the canyon. From about 4,000 feet above the canyon floor hordes of tourists take endless snapshots, in an attempt to capture photos of the Andean Condor, which has the largest wingspan of all land birds, stretching up to 3.2 meters (or about 10.5 feet). Well, Heidi & I were certainly no exception. After hanging out at the viewpoint for a while, we all hopped on the bus and drove for a couple of minutes before disembarking once again, this time for a 40 minute walk (which Heidi declined). The endpoint of the walk was a viewpoint which was renamed for a young woman who got a little too close to the edge and took a fatal 4,000 foot plunge. After that we headed back to Chivay for lunch, where Heidi and I snuck off to a restaurant other than the one the touristas were herded into, saving about 50% on our bill.

On the 4-hour drive back to Arequipa we simply retraced our trail, stopping only twice: once for the toilet and once at Patapampa, a viewpoint nearly 3 miles above sea level. There we had a view of numerous volcanoes and Mismi Mountain, where the great Amazon River starts as a little trickle. We were surrounded by the obligatory ladies peddling souvenirs, as well as thousands of little rock formations which act as offerings to the mountains, from both the travellers and indigenous peoples alike.

When we got back Heidi was not up to another long bus ride to Puno that day, so we returned to our hostel, checked in, and then headed out for some drugs (for soroche/altitude sickness and motion sickness) and dinner. We had some grub at a nice little cafe which seemed very western, in comparison to most of the joints which offer the standard fare of rice, french fries and chicken.

Arequipa seems like a much cleaner town than most other metropolitan areas we´ve visited in Peru, and I wish we would have been able to check out the town a bit more. I even scoped out a few Radio Shack stores in town! That all being said, the town was crawling with tourists and I think Heidi and I are ready to get away from all of the fellow backpackers for a spell. That will happen in about a week, when we head to a wildlife refuge in Bolivia in order to volunteer for a couple of weeks and get VERY close to some wild beasts. (Quite frankly, the whole idea is both intimidating and exhilarating.) But first, we´re taking a two-day tour of the Peru side of Lake Titicaca, where we´ll visit the manmade Uros islands (which have been inhabited for hundreds of years) and spend the night with a family on another island. Then to La Paz, and finally big cats and hard work!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Head is in the Clouds (Literally): Visiting Machu Picchu

It´s no easy task getting there without a tour guide, but walking in the gates of such an ancient wonder, while the sun is just starting to peek over the mountains, makes it all worth it.

It all began back in Cusco, where we hopped a glorified passenger van for a two-hour ride to Ollantaytambo. O-Town is the closest place to Macchu Picchu which can be reached via motor transport, as there are no roads to the ancient site. From there you have to either pay hundreds of dollars for a guided 4-day trek down the Inca Trail, walk (illegally) down the tracks for 9 hours, or take the train which, as mentioned in the previous blog, is controlled by a monopoly, thus allowing Peru Rail to gouge tourists on the prices. By driving to O-Town, and not taking the train directly from Cusco, we saved more than $100, and got to stay in this groovy little town (where we are, once again, as I write this blog). After spending a night here we took the cheapest tourist train to Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, to the tune of about $65/pp round-trip. (Peru Rail also provides a, presumably, much cheaper train available only to locals. If you board that puppy and the policia see you they will give you the boot. After all, Westerners all have oodles of cash, right?)

We were supposed to be greeted by a representative from our hostel at the train station upon arriving in town, but they were nowhere to be found. (I should add here that we were in the train station for about an extra 15 minutes after disembarking, as Montezuma had come to visit my tummy that our greeter probably got sick of waiting and went back to the hostel.) So, we walked to the information center and got quick directions to our hostel. After walking uphill for 6 blocks we arrived to the least impressive lodging we´ve had thus far. As this town is geared towards touristas, prices are considerably higher, so I convinced Heidi to stay in a dorm with bunks for a significant savings. The dorm had five beds, consisting of two bunks and a single, and nothing else. The two available bathrooms were unimpressive, if not downright dirty, although hot water was abundant (and this is very important to the weary & stinky wanderer). Our stay there only got worse, as I rubbed my fleece against a wall with wet paint (which wasn´t labeled in any language). Thankfully, Heidi helped me get some of the yellow paint off my sleeve.

As you walk up the main street (which is eerily free from cars, as the only ones in town are buses to Machu Picchu and cops) you are inundated by people hounding you to try their restaurant, or get a massage from them. We chose a nice looking restaurant which proudly advertised meals for 15 soles outside. Well, it was another bait and switch. Upon sitting down we were given the other menus, with mains ranging from 25-50 soles. When I asked for the menu economico the server´s mood quickly soured, despite us being the only people in the joint. Nonetheless, we had very nice two course meals for 15 soles. We would´ve returned too, had it not been for the attitude of our server.

We grabbed groceries for breakfast and lunch (having read that the only options at Machu Picchu are quite expensive) and turned in just after 8pm, as we planned to wake up at 4:30am, in order to get on one of the first buses to MP. (If you ever do this be sure to buy your bus and MP admission tickets the day before, as the bus line is quite long in the morning and MP tickets are available only in town and not at the site itself.) We munched on our breakfast while in a rather long line, especially considering it was only 5am and still dark outside. The buses started loading at 5:30am and we boarded about the fourth to leave. (Some people choose to walk to the site from Aguas Calientes, but it is a 1-3 hour trek up a very steep trail, so we decided it was worth forking out $7/pp one-way, with the hopes of walking the trail back down from the site. In fact, one woman who made it about halfway up gave up and tried flagging down our bus from the side of the road, to no avail.

Before entering the gates a man asked if we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, the peak often seen in the background of Machu Picchu in photos. It´s about 1,200 feet higher than MP, and only 400 people are allowed to scale it per day. We said we wanted to go at 7am, and got our tickets stamped as such.

Once inside I was in such a tizzy about getting to the gates of Huayna Picchu that I didn´t really even stop to enjoy the site or take it in. We arrived at the gates to Huayna Picchu about 20 minutes early and just chilled out. As soon as the gates opened we lined up, showed our stamps and signed in with our name, nationality, and time in (so they could come looking if we didn´t sign out later in the day). The hike up Huayna Picchu is said to be possible by anyone moderately fit, and is also said to take about an hour. The first part is certainly true, although it can be challenging at times, as the stone steps can be steep and wet, and there are a few rock formations at the top you have to really squeeze through. As for an hour, that´s probably only possible if you are in tip-top shape. For us, it took about 90 minutes, but we weren´t in a race at all. Getting to the top of Huayna Picchu, tears began to swell up in my eyes. I´m not sure if it was the result of our accomplishment, sinuses, or something mystical. Nonetheless, if was quite a sight to behold: looking down on MP among the clouds. Sadly, the peak is rather small and gets cramped quite quickly, with people vying for specific spots for their Facebook photos (myself included). We stayed at the top only long enough to catch our breath, snap some photos and chomp down on some cardboard-like granola bars.

The way down is, obviously, much easier, although the first 15 minutes is quite steep and a number of people, Heidi included, were a little nervous and went down very methodically. (Again, it wasn´t a race so I didn´t care about anything more than the two of us making it down to the bottom in one piece.)

By the time we made it down it was 9:30am so, naturally, we left the ruins for some lunch. (Food is, technically, prohibited at the site, although this rule didn´t appear to be enforced. I suspect it´s just a means of getting people to pick up after themselves and not act like pigs amongst centuries-old ruins.)

After grubbing on some tuna fish sammys, oranges, peanuts, water and chips we went back to explore the ruins a bit. We walked around, shot some photos and then started for the Inca Bridge, which we knew little about. (It should be noted here that we were blessed with a beautiful day. It rained the three days prior to our visit and I heard a guide say she has only seen the ruins half of the time she has been there, as the result of cloud cover and showers. We got nothing but sun, and our skin even got a tad bit burnt as a result.) Little did I know that the bridge was so far from everything else. It took about 45 minutes to get there and wasn´t all that great once we arrived, but the walk did get us away from the throngs of tourists which were beginning to overtake the site.

Upon returning to the main portion of the ruins, we were both getting a bit tired, so we just walked around a little more and shot a couple more photos before calling it a day at 1pm. Seven hours is probably more than enough for anyone at MP. I didn´t feel we were there too long, but it was certainly time to go. We stopped on a bench to rest a bit, and then got our passports stamped in order to prove we´ve been to the sacred Inca city. We had planned to hike back down to Aguas Calientes, but Heidi desperately wanted to take the bus, as the day had taken its toll on each of us. So we forked out another $14 and took a comfy ride back down to the city.

I thoroughly enjoyed MP, despite the multiple ways in which they jack the tourist who chooses to visit the place. That being said, if you plan to go I highly suggest: (a) you go early and (b) you climb Huayna Picchu (if you are physically able). Getting to the top is so rewarding, even if there are a bunch of Israeli jackasses up there hogging all of the picturesque viewpoints.

After a rather unimpressive dinner (at 4pm) we soaked our weary bones in the town´s hot springs. As Heidi put it, they certainly aren´t Sandals´caliber. In fact, they are a bit nasty and a shower afterwards is imperative. (And, watch your step as they serve beer in glass bottles and shards on the ground aren´t unheard of.) That being said, it was rather relaxing and we had a really nice chat with a couple from Australia that has spent the past five months touring South America on their bicycles. As they put it: there´s always time for work later on.

From here we head back to Cusco, and then to Arequipa. I don´t know much about that area, except that some of the people see themselves as altogether separate from Peru, even carrying Arequipian passports. It is also not far from Colca Canyon, which is more than twice the size of the great fissure in Arizona, so that should be something to see...

Time for a side note: Heidi came across a great little spot to eat here in Ollantaytambo called Hearts Cafe. It´s run by a British lady and she funnels 100% of the proceeds to sustainable projects for the local communities, such as clean water and birth control. Beyond the great things she is doing the food is really tasty too, although prices are closer to western standards. Anyways, if you have a little room in your heart, and some spare pocket change, consider making a donation here and tell them a gringo (named Heidi) who was passing through suggested it.