25 September 2003
Greetings from South America…
We’ve done a lot of traveling in the last month and thought it would be better to send an update now versus waiting ’til the end of the trip and sending out a short novella.
For the last month, we were in Italy for the Borsetti’s 50th wedding anniversary and then in Peru—Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and Lima. If you go back to our last update, we were in northwest Australia at the end of August so it was no small feat for us to get to Italy. Let’s just say that by the end of this trip not only will we be able to write a book on all the places we went to, but we will probably be able to give our own version of Consumer Reports on the conveniences / inconveniences of world traveling—airlines services, flight policies, shipping companies, credit card services, ATM card replacement policies, etc. Just buy us a drink when we’re back and we’ll give our free advice. ;‑) Now on to Italy…
When we arrived in Italy we continued with what has become our honeymoon tradition—touring the wine country for, what else, more food and wine. We took a day off to drive down to Barolo and as expected, enjoyed ourselves tremendously. There were no worries of driving on the wrong / right side of the road, but someone could have just rolled us home. There have been some parts of our honeymoon where we’ve been a little, just a little, over-indulgent with food and wine and this was one of those times! After the Barolo experience we headed off to the Ligurian coast to celebrate Mike parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure with family, celebrating the anniversary in the same town where his parents spent their wedding night (with more great food and great wine), and the following day we retraced their steps by touring San Fruttuoso and lunching in Portofino. Amazingly enough, it was Mike’s first time to Portofino, so we did what any other tourist would do…take many, many pictures. And where else would we have them but on the website.
After Italy we headed back west and went down to Peru. Of course, we were just a little too confident with our ability to endure continuous changes of planes, time zones, and locations, but we wanted to make it to Machu Picchu for a full moon (remember this fact). Our first full stop was Cuzco, which is the main tourist drop-off point for Machu Picchu; its elevation is 3,300 metres / 10,900 feet. As a general travel tip for those who want to go to Peru some day, ease yourself into the altitude; do not go into it with full force. Luckily neither of us got altitude sickness, but for a couple of days everything was slow motion, and we did wonder how many locals laughed at us when simple feats like climbing multiple levels of stairs became such a hard thing for us to do.
We stayed in Cuzco for two full days and on the third day we took a train to Machu Picchu. The train ride is a great thing to do—you literally zigzag your way out of the Cuzco valley (the train switches directions every few kms) and then go through wonderful terrain before getting to Aguas Calientes, at the base of the Machu Picchu (Machu meaning mountain). From that point we took a bus up another 300 metres / 1,000 feet to the entrance of the archeological site. To our surprise, this entire area is a well-tuned tourist machine, although mostly geared to tour groups. Our hotel was conveniently located at the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins (the only one up there), so we could go in and out of the park at any time, including at night to view it—yes—in the moonlight. That afternoon we explored the ruins, took many pictures, and headed to the hotel for dinner with the intention of returning for a visit under the full moon. We decided to celebrate the magic of the place with a bottle of champagne on our terrace, and the combination of alcohol, altitude, and general tiredness from all of our traveling led us to simply “forget” to head out after dinner. Luckily the following morning we rallied to get up at 6am to view the sun rising over the ruins, and it was just magical.
After spending another half day in Machu Picchu we took the train back to Cuzco; and although the newness of the experience made the slow four hour ride on the way there enjoyable, on the way back we were yearning for a more modern, quicker mode of transport to Cuzco (say a bus on the parallel road) and three hours into the ride we got that option. We were told of a bus service that for only 5 soles each (about USD 1.50) would take us from the last train stop into town in 15 minutes instead of the 1 hour of the train. We were delighted, but unprepared for the scene that would wait for us: the bus turned out to be a tiny 9 seat van, and dozens of people were vying for it. We darted from the train and made the van with 5 seats still unoccupied; however, a South American couple was insisting to save them for her friends still on the train. KB, standing in the van, would not budge, and neither would the couple. KB then used her Italian (not that it makes too much of a difference in a Spanish speaking country) to loudly yell at them, which startled them and they had no choice but give us the seats. Yippee…
We left Cuzco for Puno, a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water at 3,800 metres / 12,500 feet, straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia. We took a tour on the lake, and our first stop was one of the water villages (Uros), literally built on a floating island made out of layers of reeds (large water weeds) over 2 metres / 6 feet deep. More reeds are added weekly to the top of the island to replace those who rot underneath, and all traditional houses as well as boats are built out of these versatile reeds, which are also used as food. These islands were originally created by people escaping the conflict between the Collas and the Incas hundreds of years ago, and are still inhabited to this day. It was an interesting, primitive site to see, but through the acts of tourism and ex-President Fujimori, they now had modern conveniences such as solar panels and TVs. After visiting Uros we visited Taquile Island, a picture-perfect place where about 3,000 Peruvian Indios.
We really enjoyed the distinctiveness of Puno itself, even if the only thing to see in Puno is the beauty of the lake. But before we move on to our next destination, let us tell you of a story of our boat trip on the lake.
For the small, nominal tourist fee you pay to go on such a wonderful trip, the tour boat has all the signs of luxury: there are only 18 life jackets for the 25 tourists + 4 crew; there is no radio to call out for help—only a cell phone for which in most of the large body of water there is no coverage; the boat engine can be started from the front, but changes in speed and shutting off the engine is on the engine itself, located in the back; and the temperature gauge for the engine is not with the driver in the front, but in the back for all tourists to see—luckily. So we were about 30 minutes away from Puno, back into the weeds of the water villages, when one of the tourists notices that the temperature gauge was in the red zone. This gentleman notified the driver, who came back to open up the engine door. Note—at this time an 18-year old tour guide, with no boat experience, took over the steering wheel. When the driver opened up the engine door, black smoke came pouring out and he decided to cut the engine. Now with the tour guide at the wheel, we also steered our way into the weeds. Hmm… what do you do now? Mike continued to read his Economist while KB was thinking about the techniques she learned as a lifeguard realizing that the digital cameras were more important in saving than the people. Regardless, we were not in danger of sinking and after thirty minutes of the driver pouring water on the engine, replacing pipes, and our boat becoming the spectacle for all other tour boats, we continued onto Puno. True excitement in the high altitudes of Peru.
We left Puno for Arequipa the following day and enjoyed being at the elevation of around 2,300 metres / 7,600 feet. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and is just absolutely beautiful. The climate is dry, almost desert-like with warm temperatures during the day. There were definitely some picturesque sites around Arequipa, such as Mt. Misti—a 6,000m / 20,000ft volcano—and Colca Canyon whose gorges are deeper than the Grand Canyon, which expect us on our next trip to the region.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, there was one common element that we were truly getting annoyed with in Arequipa, Puno, and Cuzco… the panpipe bands. While Peru is known for these “Amerindian” bands, too much of it just drives you a little stir crazy. You go to a restaurant, are enjoying a nice lunch or dinner, and in walks in the band playing five or six tunes before asking you to buy their CD and beg for a donation. Same thing every time you arrive or depart from an airport, and even in hotel lobbies. This goes on every day, every night. By the nth restaurant on the nth day of your trip, you’re sick and tired of listening to El Condor Pasa (Listen) (adapted by Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence), and all you wish for is some way (at times violent) of shutting them up. Mike often thought of “buying” the band out for the evening so he could tell them to get lost. By the end of the trip our main criteria for selecting a restaurant was the absence of yet another annoying band; we were successful on our last night, but paid handsomely the following day at lunch—not only there was there a pushy band playing Sounds of Silence, but an (awful) adaptation My Way and Yesterday for the panpipe! Frank, John, and George all must have been rolling in their graves!
Having escaped the altitude and the panpipes (after, of course, another dose of yet another band in Arequipa airport gate area), we are now in Lima and are enjoying it immensely. We’ve been catching up on sleep, finding restaurants without panpipe bands, and have a couple more days of seeing the sites here before heading off to Chile and our final month of traveling.
KB and Mike