Monday, February 1, 2010

The Middle Month

It already seems like a long time ago, but here are the middle two months of our journey. This is of course a very quick overview, so many stories didn´t make it in. And please forgive typos, I wrote this in one long go.

When I left off we had just finished a four week stint in the cloud forest of Peru with a great host family. This left us in Cusco. We took our time slowly and stayed in a haunted community arts center with creaky floorboards and hot water that only worked for Elise. I´m pretty sure we were the only people staying there. We could hear rehearsals for some super dramatic play going on in the room next to us. We enjoyed our time back in civilization, although in comparison to the beautifully slow pace of the jungle it felt very big and busy, rusty brown tile roofs everywhere, churches on every corner, we had good timing, getting in to almost every one of them. We ate set menu vegetarian lunches and enjoyed some heavenly spicy sandwiches, espresso coffee, an enormous old saggy dog with huge milking tits, the windy steep neighborhoods of San Blas, some old Inca stones, way too big to move without cranes, an incredible Brazilian wannabe Jesus statue, rain, rainbows, a bustling marketplace complete with a wrinkley old lady who made us huge delicious fruit juices each morning and where I ran into a guy who I lived in the dorms with and hadn´t seen, let alone thought about, in 5 or more years.

Rainbow over Cusco, leading the Spanish to the Inca gold. Too soon?

Elise´s view over Cusco

I couldn´t get enough of this. I refuse to grow up.

We high tailed it on a night bus that I almost missed because of a last minute banos trip and had the privilege of listening to a large lady snore into an voluptuous chest through what seemed like a juice box straw of a mouth. I met eyes with the poor skinny teenager next to her and he and I shared a moment of pain together.

We arrived in Arequipa, South Peru, and immediatley got a taxi, a hostel, and then caught up on the sleep that the lady kept us from. When I woke, refreshed, we took the town by storm, wandered through the immense European-like Cathedral, ran into a town meeting, complete with some epic characters in a sqaure, and then spent the afternoon wandering around the very bizarre monastery. After snacking on some soft-serve we got interviewed by some medical students in the main plaza and passed the time by people watching next our new best, if silent, friend. Right at sundown we chanced upon a huge American Wal-Mart wannabe and just sat there and gaped at all that we had left behind. Clothes, toys, processed foods, the works. I find it ironic that as we are stuffing our passports in any and every orifice to keep them safe from theives, we are shamlessly followed through this megaplex by a pistol clad security guard...

Cool Christmas decorations in the hot hot South of Peru

The next day we are on to Colca Canyon the (second, it is neigbored by one that is slighty deeper but much harder to get to) deepest canyon in the world. The bus ride takes us across nowhere and back again just for a second look before we descend into a beautiful valley which then turns into the canyon, complete with Inca terraces, still in use by the native people today. At a stop to pick up random peoples on the side of the road, a few ladies, dressed in wonderfully elaborate costumes, or maybe their everyday dress, stuff a few adolescent llamas underneath in the luggage compartment next to our backpacks. The baby ones were still too fragile for that, so they took them onboard and the baby llamas sat in the ladies´laps, meowing peacefully.

They were unharmed. Don´t worry.

We found a hostel right away and enjoyed some Australian soaps on TV with our dinner. Love Actually was on that night and it was getting toward the holidays, so I stayed up and watched it. Shame on me.

The next day we hiked down to the river at the bottom of the canyon, down down down a terrible trail, having quite a hard time finding a spot to actually access the river. The water turned out to be way too cold anyways. We spend a few hours laying in the shade, letting the little flies have a feast of our legs. I passed the hours reading The Prophet, my new favorite. On the trail back up we were graced with the graceful prescence of the elusive condor. It was truly amazing to see. Gliding silently, looking for nothing, not moving a muscle, just using the thermal air to manuver.

Cholas in the canyon, they are everywhere!

An uneventful bus ride back through the barren landscape of purgatory took us to Arequipa once again. We quickly caught a night bus out of there. They played the children´s movie Apocalypto, from Mel Gibson, at full blast. The fun, sweet romp through a playground of happiness. I feel so sorry for the people who were actually trying to get some sleep, I had learned better than to fight it at this point.

We arrrived North along the coast in Nazca, another beauty of a town where every man is a taxi driver and every woman does, oh I don´t know, everything else that there is to do to run a town besides drive taxis. After a heck of a time finding a hostel, we finally settled down in our first room with a TV. You know what they have in Peru? They have Fox News, streaming in from the good ol USA, commercial FREE. That´s right. When they go on commerical break in America, they have special segments to show the Peruvian people about how cool it is to be American and such. So, needless to say, we were hooked. Oh, and they had House, and Monk, and American movies, in ENGLISH!!! It´s a miracle that we unglued ourselves.

We did leave the next morning though to take a flight over the famous Nazca Lines. It was so worth it. I don´t care what anybody has to say about taking a super touristy flight over a barren desert. Those drawings and shapes in the earth are beautiful. Really beautiful. And huge. So BIG. Elise and I were able to hold our stomachs in the 6 seater plane, the poor girl behind me didn´t have such luck.

Getting out of town was a hassle. A bus to Ica, where the nicest young man took us what felt like was clear across town to make our connecting bus, and then we bombed up the coast to find ourselves in Lima just long enough to find the closest supermarket, get some snacks, watch a lady dig her purse out of clear down in her crotch, and catch the next bus outta town.

Some sort of strike or another. Bus couldn´t get through. Donkey carts full of weeks could.

We arrived in Trujillo, caught a bus to the beach at Huanchaco, were greeted by the wonderful smell of the ocean, set up our tent in a cute little backyard area, and took a nap. We wiled away the hours in Huanchaco, splitting our time between the beach, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, meanderings about town, and the shady hammocks with books in hand. It was getting close to Christmas and we could feel the festivities build, lots of music blasting from squares, a few cute elves running around in red tights...

Exploring the cemetery in Huanchaco

On our way out of town, a day later than we had hoped because of the holiday backup of transport, I got a sweet new Peruvian mohawk. My early Christmas present from Elise. Thanks dawg.

An uncomfortable overnight bus left us bleary eyed at a ticket counter, trying to buy passage into Ecuador with US dollars, when Elise realized that her purse was missing. She had had it when getting on the bus the evening before. It dissapeared somewhere in between. We told the lady to hold her horses and went back to the other bus station. They ¨tried¨to help and searched the bus and turned up nothing. I thought it would be a good idea to go to the police station to get a report so when we made the traveler´s insurance claim we could have some sort of official looking document. A very nervous ride in the cab of a truck with two police officers, one with an AK47, my mind racing with all the converstaions about how corrupt the police are in Peru, left us in a room full of monkeys (police) draggin their knuckles on the ground, banging the keyboards of their ancient stone computers with bricks, and giving us very little help. An hour, and several tears later, we had a police report in hand, and went straight to the nearest phone booth to cancel a debit card, call the parents, and the insurance company. Cancelation went well, parents were there and sympathetic and did everything in their power to help, insurance company didn´t cover this sort of thing, sorry. Great.

A sticky sweaty bus ride finally took us across the border to Ecuador where we saw how we, Americans, get all of our bananas. I know a million is a large number. We passed a million bananas. Easily. Hundreds of thousands of banana trees, hour after hour they wizzed by. Green, stocky, banana trees, as far as I could see. Sooooo many. Bananas.

Guayaquil bus station. Wow. I almost felt like I was back in America. McDonald´s, KFC, bathrooms with toilet paper, the North Pole with a white bearded Santa and attractive elves and carols playing over the loudspeaker. We stayed just long enough to eat in the food court, grab some coffee and get on the road again. To Bahia.

We spent a lot longer than we had thought we would in Bahia, I got a nasty fever which left me in bed for 24 hours. Bahia is that sort of place though. We were staying in a hostel owned by an Australian lady and it was a bit of an Ex-Pat hotspot. Old salty white guys sailing their boats around the world had gotten trapped by the thick lazy air of Bahia. The friendly people. The feel of an eternal weekend. Nothing seemed to move here. Nothing seemed to get done. We spent five nights, instead of the one or two intended. We spent Christmas here. Santa brought Elise a Chola sack. This is a plastic blanket that can be used for everything. Fixing a car? Don´t get dirty, lay on your Chola Sack! Did you just pick a fresh bunch of bananas? Tie the corners together and you have a banana bag! Bleeding? Use it as a turniquet! Falling from an airplane? Parachute! You name it, the Chola sack does it! Then we got a crappy milkshake in the morning, went to the market, watched a small person wrap presents on a table the height of her head, and ate a BBQ dinner at our hostel with a bunch of other Gringos stuck in Bahia. Home Alone was on TV, a must.

The Chola Sack, in beach blanket mode. Five minutes later it made a wicked fishing net.

A ferry and a bus took us up to Canoa, just right smack underneath the Equator. Like, if you jumped high enough and swatted with one outstreatched hand from Canoa, you could hit the Equator. One of my favorite stops of this whole trip. A long long sandy beach with bathtub warm water, great sunsets, a cheap secure spot for our tent, old friends from Bruno´s farm in Bolivia, new friends that they brought along, dollar beers, good fish, The Scottish Prince whiskey, ice cream sandwiches, an ill-fated hunt for a monument which sits on the Equator (the Ecuadorian people are oblivious to the fact that the Equator passes right through their country) a New Years celebration with bonfires, and effigies, and fire dancers, and drums, and a late night skinny-dip in the ocean, it was all so wonderful and perfect.

The first and finest of our Canoan sunsets.

And then we took the incredible bus journey of 2010. A bus from Canoa to San Vincente, a ferry from San Vincente to Bahia, a bus from Bahia to Guayaquil, a bus to Tumbes, a bus to Lima, a night in a hostel, and then a bus to Tacna, and then a heck of a five hour border crossing with striking Chilean agricultural workers, and then Arica to Santiago on a 30 hour bus ride.

The five hour line at Chile´s border. Elise sits on a chola sack.

We found our brother David at a sidewalk cafe with two beautiful women he had met on the airplane. And thus, the two weeks with Dave began...