Arrived Puerto Iguazu

Posted in My Life on July 16, 2009 by kritter

We’re in Puerto Iguazu. We got a hostel with some people we met on the bus. An American and a German girl and a British couple. The bus ride ended up being 25 hours because about 2/3 of the way, we hit a motorcyclist! I honestly can’t tell you what happened because Tim and I slept through the whole thing. He was injured but not killed. We sat and waited for another bus to come for over an hour and a half and we didn’t even know. I had in ear plugs and was in pure REM. Strangely the ride wasn’t terrible though. Argentinian buses are more similar to Cruz del Sur Peruvian buses. Bolivian buses suck. No bathroom or heat.

Anyway. I also scored hugely by reserving seats 3&4 of a double decker. This puts you sitting right in front, above the driver in a complete panoramic. It also let us put our semi-cama seat back a little further. At the end of the ride when we started hanging out with this group, we pulled out our guitar and played a little. Good times.

Now we’re having drink from the supermarket and eating snacks. Heading to dinner soon. We are two hours ahead of the midwest now and four to California. Tomorrow is supposed to be a bit rainy, but we will likely still go to the falls. We hear we can go a second day then for half price. We are still looking into traveling to the Paraguay and Brazilian sides.

We will be at this wifi hostel tonight and tomorrow, so we will be around. Love to all!


Potosi Mines

Posted in My Life on July 9, 2009 by kritter

We somehow made it to Potosi. True, we just got a bus ticket headed for there, but it’s never quite that easy. We were the only gringos on the bus, and the bus stopped often along the way. We were afraid we wouldn’t know when we reached Potosi. It turns out they let us know, but we were the only ones exiting there. Also there was a very cranky native woman behind me who wouldn’t allow me to enjoy the semi cama I had paid for. That’s just the seat going back a smidge so you can maybe sleep. Did I mention the bus also had no toilet? For an 11 hour ride? Our driver hauled ass though, and we arrived in Potosi at 4 in the morning. Uh…. we thankfully found a taxi driver to take us into the center of the city where more hostels were. Still, our option was limited to paying for a triple room. Most other places were full or expensive. Or not answering their doors at 4 a.m. We still don’t know if we are paying for a full second night, even though we only slept in the room 4 hours earlier. Whatever. We needed more sleep after the bus trip. Overnights are not always worth it. You know, saving the night’s room fee.

Today we did make it into the famous Potosi mines. The Spanish started mining here in the 16th century- back when the mines yielded almost pure silver. Now, the miners come out with a compound that would be more like 8% silver 5% zinc and 3% lead. The miners work in families, and entire families work in the dangerous mines. There is no other product in this region. They are too high up for agriculture, and their river is tainted by the waste of the mines.

About 5000 men and boys work in the mines around the city. They do not work as a cooperative but each own their own sections to mine. It is obligatory and expected to work in the mines. Our guide, who mines during off tourist season, was told by his father to not be a sissy. That his brothers were waiting for him in the mines. He started working there at age 13. This is when he learned to handle explosives, which you can buy off the street here. You know if you go to work in the mines and do not leave that you will be dead by 55 from lung maladies. Our 30 year old guide had already worked in the mines 17 years. Once there over 25 years, you know you will die. Another 40 or so miners die each year in accidents. Drinking is rampant and dangerous in the mines. Most of the men work 6 days a week from 12 to 18 hours a day. Some work 7 days a week, and since headlamps are the only light, some will push even longer. The more time in the mine, the more money. The amount of money makes all the difference. A bolivian working in a restaurant or internet place like I am in, might make 350 Bolivianos a month. There’s about 7 bolivianos to a $1. The miners might make up to 1200. Most boys only have three years of school or so. They all speak their first language, Quechua. Here most are bad Spanish speakers and few learn English. The miners have between 5 and 7 children and are stuck in the lifestyle. Our guide’s grandfather was one of 11. Many parents say their children will only work in the mines a year or two and then they will send them on. But it rarely happens. They stay, and then start families of their own.

We went into the mines today, but it is not a place for tourists. It is a working mine. Though the one we went into is 500 years old and surely safer than others. We were in full gear with overpants, jacket, heavy duty headlamp on our helmets, knee boots etc. I wore a mask for the dangerous dust, though our two hours in the mine is nothing to their 25 years. A tourist has never died in the mines. The Death Road in La Paz would be so much worse. Still, we were walking through mud, crawling on hands and knees at times, moving out of the way for mining cars, avoiding falling into shafts etc. Between the altitude and the mines, it was hard to breathe sometimes. On the 4th level down, it got very hot. They did have a crude ventilation system. Before going into the mines, we bought gifts for the miners: dynamite, soda, and coca leaves. The men chew coca to stave off hunger. Eating in the mines makes them ill. We were strongly discouraged from buying alcohol or cigarettes, both of which is awful for their already short lives. Our guide carried the gifts and each time we stopped to talked to the miners, he would offer them something. So we were able to talk to the miners through a translator and ask questions. It was pretty intense.

After we got out, our guides rigged up some dynamite for us, let us hold it and watch and then ran down the road to set it off for us. Crazy!

Tomorrow we hope to catch a day bus to Uyuni where we will see the infamous salt flats. Though 4-day tours are common, we will opt for a 1-day most likely so we can get on to Argentina. As usual, we will be in touch when we can.

Love to you all! I hope this email makes sense. It’s always hard to write so fast and furious in the small amounts of time we have.

Greetings from La Paz!

Posted in My Life on July 4, 2009 by kritter

Hello to you all! Thanks for any well wishes you sent our way. The strike in Peru had actually ended, and we had no problems getting a bus out of Cusco. We decided to pass on Puno since we were so eager to get out of Peru and move onto Bolivia. Country 14 for me! Woohoo. Instead we headed straight to Copacabana, which is on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.

We may have missed some of the larger reed cities, but we did see some on the Bolivian side. They were smaller and more to show tourists what the cities had been like. But just 5 of us, Tim, me, and some people we had met on the bus from Cusco, were being shown by a local in a completely non-tourist area. He took us out on his own boat, and while out there, showed us his trout nets. Later he introduced us to his cows and sheep and showed us how his daughters and wife made little dolls to be sold in town.

That was the major thing we did our first day in Copa- in an outskirt town I can’t guess how to spell. Tim was finally over his fever, but now I had come down with a decent chest cold, including a constant drip, deepening cough, and fading voice/sore throat. It’s actually quite amazing how many travelers are sick. Not surprising with the weird manifestations of altitude coupled with dramatically changing temperatures and pushing one’s body to extremes. During our route to Machu Picchu, we had slept outside in freezing temps at the foot of Salkantay and trekked through the jungle getting bitten by flies and mosquitoes. (Side note to say we saw and held a monkey at one of the campsites on the trail. It was a highlight for both of us!!) One would also be surprised at what level of cleanliness they can become accustomed. Don’t worry, mine is still decent but I avoid cold showers at all costs.

Our hostel in Copa is our record low at $12 a night for both of us with a private room and bathroom. It was actually an awesome room with two windows on one wall and one huge one on the wall viewing Lake Titicaca. I watched morning break and the sun set through that window.

After a lot of sleep, we headed to Isla del Sol, an island out on the lake that held significance for the Inca. I believe the first Inca came from here and that the sun and moon would rest at the sacred rock on the island. Our tour was not very good, and it was mostly a long walk across the island. But the views were beautiful. The visit included an 90-minute boat ride both ways that was pretty cool as well. That was yesterday, and Tim and I got a lot of sleep again last night. We’ve both really needed it.

Today I feel a bit better, though my voice has taken flight. We woke early this morning, and I had time for three cups of tea before we headed out. We walked to Cerro Calvario, a small mountain overlooking the town on which the stations of the cross are set. Pilgrims climb the rocky path and stop to pray. The natives would buy a bag of small rocks or corn (? it was hard to tell) at the bottom of the hill and then toss one onto each cross statue as a remembrance of their prayer. There were gorgeous views of the lake and the town and mountains at the top. Tim and I said a rosary together. Following the lead of locals, we bought a small candle and put it in an alcove with a prayer for our marriage and future.

Then we got on the bus and came to La Paz! We are excited to be here, but are taking it easy tonight. We went into a hotel right where the bus dropped us off in the middle of town. We had decided to splurge on a nicer hotel while the prices would be so low, and we are quite contented. Our hotel has a space heater, very hot water, wifi, cable tv, and warm beds. All for $22. I promised everyone we would splurge from time to time, it being our honeymoon and all. Tomorrow we will root around the capital city a little.

I should also mention the border crossing before I finish up. It was wild. We were on a bigger, nice bus for 12 hours or so before being let off and into a smaller collectivo van heading to Copa. The bus was headed to Puno. It stopped at the border where we went through an exit process with Peru. Then we walked with our things across the border. Tim and I had been aware of the extra Visa fee Bolivia charges to just Americans, but the price was $135 each not $120 like we somehow thought. We were a few dollars short and took borrowed money from busmates. We were still concerned over whether they would take it, as some of our bills had small tears and creases. You would be amazed how they treat the dollar. It has to be in perfect condition. They did end up taking the money, but they also insisted on copies of our passports and yellow fever inoculation cards. The guy reluctantly let us slide by without presenting photos of ourselves on a red background for them to keep. Oops, I guess we hadn’t thoroughly read through the crossing instructions. But do note, they didn’t ask for passport copies from any other nationality. So when you go to Bolivia, remember they don’t just rip you off, they also nitpick like crazy. I know they do this because of something Americans require of them, but the $270 we paid to get into the country is A LOT of money down here. No comprendo completely.

Happy Independence Day!

25 Junio

Posted in My Life on June 25, 2009 by kritter

To save time when I am online, I will sometimes copy and paste from singular emails, just to try to keep people somewhat informed. The first part of this I wrote to our German friend Thomas, with whom we have been traveling. He got back from the traditional Inca Trail, and we had dinner with him last night, went dancing, and then had breakfast this morning. Then parted ways.

—————————————————————————————- Tim and I laid fairly low today. We priced flights for next Thursday, but they are too expensive. I am looking online now too. We may have to hope for the strike to be over and otherwise rely on Juan´s help. I am a bit anxious to move on as we have dallied too long and need to move on badly. We may skip Puno. Well, the flights were to La Paz, which is only a nice 1.5 hour ride to Copacabana, which I really want to go to and which is also on Titicaca. But I don´t know that it is going to end up that way. While I support the strike, I think I might stop saying Viva la Paro.

We had our briefing for Salkantay tonight, and it was kinda lame. They weren´t able to tell us our guide´s name or who else was on the trail with us. I figure this is because, like last year, multiple agencies work together to form a group with up to 11 people and one shared guide. I think it will be ok, but more than that, I believe Tim and I can handle nearly anything at this point.

————————————————————————————– Some of you may have seen on Facebook, but our first night in Cuzco, I ended up throwing up from an allergic food reaction. It was pretty cruddy. This was ironic because last year I threw up my first night here. Though that was alcohol and altitude related. I am totally fine now. Unfortunately, then Tim got ill- throwing up and a fever. He is recovering but is not fully well yet. He has kept down dinner tonight though, has had no fever all day, and has had more energy. HOWEVER, we start our Salkantay hike tomorrow. Tim is tougher than most people, so I have little doubt he will make it, but a few prayers are good. All types of people go, and they will wait for us if for some reason we need to go slow.

It´s a 5 day hike and we will be primarily totally off line. We get picked up at 430 tomorrow morning, and I am up WAY too late. It´s been a low key day though, and we will sleep on the bus to Mollepata where the hike begins. It will be utterly gorgeous, but not entirely easy. Happy thoughts and prayers appreciated. We will share the beauty with you as well as we can when we return. Blessings!

21 Junio

Posted in My Life on June 21, 2009 by kritter

It took 2.5 days to get to Cuzco. I will write more soon. The lines of protest stones across the roads lasted up to 50 km. We walked up to 25 miles with our packs on. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, as psycological as physical. Every time we came to another town we thought we might find real transportation or the end of the strike lines. But no. We took motorcylce cabs, regular motorcycles, bike carts, local trucks, and finally a bus. We were adopted by some Peruvians also trying to get to Cuzco that we met on one of the local buses. We never really felt in danger, other than by the darkness and unknown. We slept one night in an outside restaurant and awoke at 3 a.m. to keep walking. It is truly an experience we will never ever forget. Romantic in many ways, once you forget the complete pain and despair that happened throughout. We felt very lucky to travel with our German friend Thomas. We will stay in Cuzco for a while to let our feet heal before even considering walking for fun on the Inca Trail. There is no way out of Cuzco but to fly or walk again anyhow. Thomas left for the Inca trail today and we pray for his blisters.
Cuzco is overwhelmed with visitors for the largest festival of the year, Inti Raymi. It will be fascinating to see the indigenous event, but the crowds are really annoying.

More soon!

17 Junio

Posted in My Life on June 18, 2009 by kritter

We are back from the Colca Canyon bus tour. It was very fun as we had a cool group of people. About half of the group of 18 or so really got along. Tim and I were the only Americans. Three Germans, including Thomas our travel buddy, two Danish girls, and a Peruvian Canadian. There were some Brazilians on the trip, as well as a French couple, more Peruvians, and two older Japanese women. Our guide was very good. He explained a lot and had good English. The roads were very bumpy so most the busing was rough, but the views were gorgeous.

They say the Colca is 2x deeper than the Grand, but it is such a different type of Canyon, I am not sure how to compare them. It’s much more like a deep canyon between two mountains, not the steep cliffs of the Grand. But all the hillsides were terraced, originally by a people who preceded the Inca. The Inca then made it more high tech by actually employing subtle micro-climates between the terraces. It might be a half degree warmer on one, so they would grow the corn there instead of the potatoes. Pretty amazing, and all extremely beautiful. We saw many small cute towns, and stopped today for an hour to watch condors. Our guide said there are only 105 wild condors in Peru, and only 270 maybe in South America. Many more in the zoos, but that is obviously not the same. It was somewhat annoying that the tour made us eat at nicer restaurants without cheaper choices, but the hostel we stayed in was very nice. We all stayed in different hostels based on whom we booked our tour. Altogether it was a very good time.

Here’s the hard part we have hit. There is a strike in Peru, I think about eco land support; I don’t know all about it. Anyway, the strikers have set up a perimeter around Cusco so that no buses can get through. None. Only one airline flies from Arequipa to Cusco, and all the flights are booked, or we pay to fly through Lima, which is $380. So we are attempting another route. We are going to take a bus to a town about 85 km from Cusco, where the buses can no longer get through. We will see if we can walk through and take a collectivo (cheap local bus) the rest of the way (3 hours). Thomas is coming with us. It’s either that or we stay in Arequipa for another week or skip Cusco all together. But Cusco is a main place we want to go, of course, including hiking to Machu Picchu. The strikers are hurting the government by blocking tourism. The worst that can happen is that we get to this town (which won’t cost too much) and find out we can’t go further. Then we make a new plan. Tomorrow morning we will go to the bus station and see what we can find out. I will be in touch. Prayers are good, but don’t worry. Tim and I won’t do anything to jeopardize our health and safety. We are taking very good care of each other.

We are still having a wonderful time, and Tim is truly seeing the allure of travel. The more cool people you meet, the more stories you hear, and the more places you want to go. I am very tired, and we are attempting the bus station very early. Blessings!

16 Junio

Posted in My Life on June 16, 2009 by kritter

It’s only just the 16th, but I feel lucky to know the day even. We haven’t been traveling all that long, but without any real schedule or connection to anything, it is easy to lose track.Especially after our half day in a bus station, followed by a 16-hour overnight bus ride. We chose not to pursue the Nazca Lines, which are outside of Nazca, not Ica as I said before. Ica is on the way to Nazca. Regardless, it was cloudy, and the only way to see the lines is by a plane ride. We figured there’d be nothing to see. We later found out they won’t even fly when it is cloudy. It was Tim’s decision, as he was the excited one. Similar to me deciding not to pursue Iquitos.

The bus from Lima to Arequipa was long. It was fairly high class though. The seats were semi-beds, and I slept quite well. Tim did not, and at times we were both a bit sick to our stomach. We were also on the second level of the bus, which may not have helped. Still, they provided blankets and pillows, fed us dinner and  breakfast, handed out headphones for the movies, and gave us single-use toothpaste with a little brush. We even played BINGO. Man it was hard to follow the numbers so quickly.

We met Tomas from Stuttgart, Germany, while waiting in line getting on the bus. When we got off, we said hello, found out he had a phone, and that he was interested in the same hostel as us, oh and that his Spanish was way better too. So he called and booked us all the hostel and then we shared a cab, He was eager to take advantage of his day in Arequipa; we’d arrived at 8:30 a.m. His excitement was infectious, and we went along with him. We came up with the game plan as we sat having tea looking over the main plaza from a balcony coffee shop. This was the way the Lonely Planet guide suggested starting the day. We enjoyed it enough to follow the next suggestions.

We went to the Museo Santury, where I learned I was dead wrong about the Incas not doing human sacrifice. Even after my three weeks in Cuzco last year, I had this wrong. They sacrificed unblemished children to the gods, to mollify natural disasters. They have found at least 18 burial sites at the tops of mountains, where children were killed in response to something like a volcano eruption. We say the frozen ice princess Jaunita today, One such child who was found in very good condition due to the way the temperatures worked.

Then we went to the Monasterio de Santa Cataliina, which was expensive but amazing. It was a whole endless city inside a city almost. A rich woman founded the cloistered community, but the vow of poverty was laughable because the cells were  huge and nice. Apparently later another nun came and stopped many of the crazy practices like saying no one nun could have more than one personal servant. Anyway, it was very impressive. I saw the cell of St. Ana, who was canonized in 1985 when JP2 came to Arequipa. There was a rooftop view where we could see the amazing snow-capped mountains on the side of the city.

After a siesta this evening, the three of us went out to take night pics around town, and to get a drink. In a bar I don’t know the name of, we met an Irishman from Tipperary named Simon. He is a secondary school science teacher. Tim and he got into quite an animated conversation about science and religion and certainty and uncertainty and faith and axioms and etc etc. Tomas and I participated from the periphery.

Now I am up too late because we are leaving at 8 or so tomorrow to tour the Colca Canyon, which is said to  be two times deeper than the Grand, and simply an amazing site. The trip is two days with a stay out near the Canyon. We had quite a decision this afternoon since there are so many versions of the trip. We had decided to look with Tomas, so there was a third person involved. But I was also dealing with concerns for my foot, which I do not want to hurt so that i cannot hike to Machu Piccu, Anyway, we stuck to a bus tour instead of trekking down into the canyon and back up. Sounds like a nasty, easy way to hurt my foot.
I hope we will be happy with the decision.

So all continues to go well. Thank you for your thoughts and time here,