Per-ew and Colombia too
Mom, Dad, and other people less concerned about my safety: I know you haven’t heard from me in a couple of days, but fear not. I am still alive and well in the land of fried guinea pigs and women in bowler hats. I am writing this from the Lima, Peru airport after six action-packed days in the glorious country of Peru, so because we have a 4-hour layover and I haven’t blogged in awhile, this might be long. I’m also a couple of posts behind Joe’s videos so I’ll throw his last two ones in at some point on this blog.
We spent our Fourth of July learning to love America more than we ever had before by traveling for about 24 hours on buses between Chile and Peru. It was the grossest experience of the trip to that point (although the coming days did give it a run for its money). After an overnight bus from the Atacama desert in Chile to the Chile/Peru border, we felt so exhausted and disgusting that we figured we’d rather press on and take another bus to Cuzco, Peru rather than spend the day at the border and ride another night bus.
At first, everything seemed as if it would work out perfectly. Sasha found a bus company that she had used before and was pretty nice that had a bus leaving in 15 minutes for Cuzco that had open seats, so we bought tickets. When it came time to load the “bus” we found out that our ticket actually covered the cost of a taxi across the border to a bus station in Peru where we’d actually board the bus. We met our taxi driver Juan and the adventure began. The first thing Juan did (after angrily arguing with the man who sold us our tickets about something we never understood) was ask for our passports and then disappear. After fifteen minutes of standing in the parking lot wondering whether or not we would ever see him again, Juan returned, tied half of our luggage to the roof of his car and put the rest in his trunk, which he refused to close. We still didn’t know where our passports were and before we could ask Juan disappeared again. Perfect. Eventually Juan returned with our passports in hand, and we squeezed into his car and headed for the border. We successfully went through customs, crossed into Peru and drove 20 minutes through the empty Peruvian desert. When we arrived at a town, we figured we must be at a bus station, but instead Juan told us that we needed to change cars because his Chilean car could go no further. We loaded all of our stuff into a Peruvian taxi, and Juan hopped in the back on top of the luggage. For the last leg of the journey, Juan chatted with us over our shoulders about his love for “John Wine-ay” (John Wayne). When this second taxi finally dropped us off at the bus station, Juan kissed Sasha and I goodbye and warned us to watch our bags and trust no one because “Peru is dangerous.”
Relieved that our hour-long ride in two taxis actually got us to a bus station instead of to an early death, we prepared to settle into the bus and try and sleep a bit, but this soon proved impossible. At first I was very impressed with the service on this bus. The steward came through and told us all to fasten our seat belts and handed out candy. Then, he pulled out some sort of ukulele/mandolin type instrument and a flute and did a little one-man band show; however, we were confused when he came through the aisle and demanded money in return for the candy he handed out 15 minutes before. We didn’t have enough Peruvian currency to pay him, so he demanded we give the candy that we hadn’t eaten back. Shortly after that, the bus stopped to let him off, and it was then that we realized he didn’t actually work for the bus company.
The trip continued to be a bit confusing. Once we all got off and switched onto a significantly smellier bus for no apparent reason. Shortly after that they asked everyone to get off the bus and walk through a building where we all got back on the bus on the other side… really efficient transportation. Once we stopped and the driver let out anyone who needed to go to the bathroom, so we got to watch as half of our fellow passengers did their business right beside our window. Several times we’d stop and people would come on the bus and walk up and down the aisles selling various goods from cups of jello to bags full of meat and mushrooms floating in some unidentifiable liquid. The woman behind me bought and ate something that appeared to be a piece of meat with the fur still on it. Most of our fellow passengers seemed to be locals, and (not to be mean… they mostly seemed like delightful people) you could really smell the difference. The odor, combined with the fact that the man sitting on the seat across from us had a bad cold and continually spit onto the floor made us not really want to touch anything, so the ride became a bit wearing. Joe thought he might need his tailbone digitally fixed again after so many hours of sitting. Sasha confessed that she was so bored that she started to pray, although she never really decided to whom or what she was praying. The general smelliness and unidentified slime in our surroundings had us feeling pretty stuck up. And then God saw fit to smite my pride.
I had been feeling a little sick for a couple days, and every hour on that bus seemed to be longer and more painful than the last. I don’t know if it was the stale air, the motion of the bus, something I ate (well we hadn’t eaten anything other than a piece of bread all day, so that probably wasn’t it), the change in altitude, my slightly higher than recommended doses of Chilean cough syrup, or the fact that my body hates me and likes to pull these sorts of stunts, but about 3 hours from our destination I told David that I was probably going to throw up at any minute. I was able to hold out for awhile, but about an hour and a half later I became the smelliest person on the bus. Joe had given me a plastic bag in which to toss my cookies if the need arose, but when the time came, I discovered that the bag had several holes in the bottom because my jeans and sweatshirt were instantly soaked in vomit. About this time, we heard several children scream and felt two distinct bumps as the bus tires ran over something. Our driver didn’t slow down. Joe told us not to look backwards because he was fairly sure we’d just killed a child, but the woman behind us assured us that we’d hit a dog and the kids playing with the dog had gotten out of the bus’s path just in time. I managed to hold my next wave of ralphing in until I was sure I wouldn’t throw up out the window onto the kids who were crying over their dog. The rest of the ride I spent shivering in my soaked clothes while David was incredibly sweet to me and rubbed my back and stroked my hair even though I smelled, looked, and felt like Oscar the Grouch.
When we finally arrived in Puno, Peru, we decided to stay in a real hotel (and not a hostel). I got to sleep in a room with only Sasha and in my own bed. We had a television and our own bathroom and ordered room service. It was glorious.
The next morning, we took a boat out on Lake Titicaca and visited the floating islands. Because I’d been recycling the contents of my stomach on the bus ride the day before and wasn’t feeling chatty enough to ask the others where we were going that morning, I actually thought we were going to see islands that naturally floated. Actually, the floating islands are made from soil and roots that naturally float to the top of the water during the rainy season and people tie them together and stack reeds on top to form islands where family’s live and a whole community and culture exists. It was actually pretty amazing and one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. The family whose island we visited had just cut their island off from their former neighbors’ island and towed it over to a new location. They were really friendly, taught us about various aspects of their culture, took us on a ride in a boat made of reeds, and sold us some handicrafts.
The next day, we took our final (and significantly more comfortable) bus ride from Puno to Cuzco. When we first arrived in Cuzco it seemed that we’d finally arrived in a city that was less beautiful than America. The area around the bus station and the train station was the first place on our trip that reminded me more of Tanzania than Europe, so we figured we wouldn’t try too hard to find a nice place for lunch and ended up having an adventurous meal at Wally’s Polleria. The restaurant seemed to be run entirely by children under the age of 12. When a 10 year-old boy took our order he informed us that our options for lunch were either ¼ or 1/8 of a chicken. Every order automatically came with an appetizer of soup that was broth with a chicken’s claw floating in it. Fancy. Right after lunch, we walked up a couple of blocks and discovered that Cuzco is actually a very beautiful city with several lovely squares and cathedrals. After a night in Cuzco, we took a scenic train through the mountains of Peru to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Pichu. The town is almost entirely a base camp for tourists visiting Machu Pichu, so every building is either a hotel, a restaurant, a souvenir shop, or a massage parlor. After settling into our lodgings and purchasing our tickets to enter Machu Pichu the next day, we decided to all get massages. For about $13 each, we all got hour long massages. Mine was absolutely delightful, so I was a little confused when everyone else came out looking like they wanted to cry. Apparently the kind of massage that everyone else got might be illegal in the states. For whatever reason, my lady spared me the more violating parts of the massage potentially saving me thousands on future emotional therapy. For a post-massage cleanse, we decided to go to the hot baths for which the town is named, but the baths ended up being just about the only thing that could’ve made us feel dirtier. There were about 2 people per square foot in luke warm baths that were about the color of a yoohoo. We could only stay in for about 15 minutes before getting so grossed out that we went back to the hotel to shower.
The next morning, we got up at 4 am to hike to Machu Pichu. It was about an hour long hike on a steep uphill to the ruins and then we got tickets to hike another hour up to the top of a mountain with more ruins overlooking the main site. They only let a limited number of people up to this highest point overlooking all of the other ruins, which is why we started hiking so early. I was (unsurprisingly) the weakest link and was feeling rather nauseous and dizzy, so I spent a solid chunk of both hikes wondering how it would effect the campaign if I fell as a result of dizziness and slid down the mountain and died. I guess we’ll never know. When we got to the top, it was totally worth it, and we got to see breathtaking scenery and old famous rocks.
We took a train back to Cuzco that night and Joe left us the next morning to head home. Sasha, David, and I had one more day in Cuzco, which we spent eating, shopping, eating, getting another massage (Sasha was very clear this time with the people about how far was too far), eating, and watching a parade of traditional Peruvian folk dancers. And then we ate again after that.
Because I didn’t actually post this after I started writing it, I am no longer in the Lima airport but actually in a courtyard in Bogota, Columbia trying to hide from all the pot smokers in our hostel. Columbia has been way cooler than we expected. When we were driving from the airport to the hostel, David said, “This looks like Houston,” but to be honest, parts of it look nicer than Houston. Don’t tell him I said that. In certain parts of the city you really do forget you’re not in America though. I didn’t expect to be driving down a busy street full of yellow cabs past a Blockbuster and a sports arena in Columbia. There are some really beautiful old parts of the city and quirky bohemian areas as well, but all in all I’d say Bogota has been a lot less different than we expected. I am once again feeling as if I’m going to vomit at any second, so this has not been my best day, but we’ve still had a good time. David took a bike tour of Bogota today in a group comprised entirely of gay guys from New York and led by a very liberal Rasta dude. He felt right at home. I wasn’t feeling up to biking, so Sasha and I saw many various types of treasures at both an outdoor market and the Museum of Gold. It was a beautiful museum with lots of cool jewelry that I wanted to steal. They also had Pre-Colombian gold vessels for holding old school cocaine, which I wanted to steal less but were still interesting to see.
Ok, its now actually another day again (no worries Mommy, I am not feeling sick anymore)…. I keep not posting this and then feeling like I have to add more so its up to date. We spent most of the day today with Sasha’s friend Luis. He took us to an underground cathedral carved into salt mines, which was really interesting. Luis’s maid cooked us lunch at his apartment, and then we toured the city and went to a museum of Botero paintings and sculptures, which was a real boost to our self-image.
I may get Sash to ghostblog for me about Bogota more later, but right now I am really tired, and we’re getting up in 6 hours to fly to the airport and go back home! To be honest, Mom, I’m sure you’re the only one still reading this at this point anyway. Sorry its so long!