Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beautiful Quito-Ecuador!

¡Hola todos! Dad and I have been in Quito, Ecuador for the past four days, since 21st of September. We came from our very brief stay in La Paz, Bolivia where the shopping was cheap and the traffic plenty.
On arrival at Quito airport we weren´t sure if we´d be greeted by anyone in the family. Upon our exit from customs we didn´t see anyone from the family so we were quite disappointed. Dad then proceeded to go to one of the phone booths at the airport when I noticed a young man with aviation sunglasses walking towards me with another lady beside him. I was my cousin Carlos Alberto who had come to Australia to study a few years ago with his mother Susanna! Some of our family was there!
We were so happy because it turned out that a lot of our family had come to the airport to see us! About 10 people! I just wish I knew a lot more Spanish because most of them don´t speak English. I´ve been trying to speak in Spanish most of the time. It´s been quite trying and funny at the same time.
We´re currently staying at my tia (aunt) Lupe´s house in Quito. She has a lovely house right in the city not far from the city´s (old town) where there are many beautiful museums, parks and wonderful examples of colonial architecture. Her family is wonderful too! Lupe, Tito Fernando, Ismael (17yrs), Samantha (15yrs) and Veronica (30yrs) who lives nearby.
My uncle Oswaldo and aunt Lupe has been showing us around town so far which has been great!
We´ve been to the contemporary art museum where we saw some beautiful religious artworks and an amazing wax museum of people who were important figures in the history of Ecuador.
Two days ago we made our way to Otavalo (3 hours by bus) with my aunt Lupe. Otavalo is Ecuador´s most successful indigenous arts and crafts city. The Saturday markets are the best there and lucky for us we went on a Saturday! The market is amazing there! The colours, music and the political representatives in the Quechuan speaking community was very lively.
Shopping there was very cheap and excellent! I could have been there for days just admiring everything and possibly buying everything!
Yesterday we made our way to my Uncle Carlos Alberto´s place just outside of Quito. His house and property is HUGE! Soccer fields, pool, tennis and volley ball courts lent for some great choices of active sports!
Almost the whole family gathered for the day to have a late lunch and play some exciting games of soccer! I made a pretty good goal before lunch which felt so good! lol However after the beautiful lunch with the family it was a mens game. Dad, my cousins, uncles and family friends shared in a friendly and thrilling game of soccer. It was so exciting to watch! My family are really good soccer players!
Today was a rather easy day strolling through one of Quito´s parks which is up on a hill where you can wee a 360 degree view of Quito. A very tranquil place away from the bussle of the city.
I haven´t been feeling all that well the last few days because I caught the flu from my temporary brother Yoni from Lake Titicaca and haven´t managed to shake it off. Hopefully I´ll wake up tomorrow feeling a little better because there´s so much here that I want to go visit! The Galapagos Islands and the Amazon are on the top of the list. We´ve got some tourist info now so we´ll be booking these trips very soon. So stay tuned for further posts.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Day 15-18 Cuzco Day 18-19 Puno & Lake Titicaca

Our trip through Peru has almost come to an end. Tomorrow we leave Puno and make our way to La Paz in Bolivia. I am feeling very sad yet happy at the same time because we´ll be meeting the family very soon.

Ok I better get typing! The last few days have been great! From visiting Cusco´s local archaeological sites; Sacsaywahman, Tambomachay, Quenqo, Puka Pukara to shopping in the local markets to experiencing the wonderful nightlife clubbing in Cuzco....it´s all been amazing! Cuzco is a very busy city and there always seems to be something happening everyday. In total we spent 4 days in Cuzco and we saw two parades which celebrated two of the 400 saints that Cuzco regularly celebrate down the streets of the Plaza de Armas (the Main Square). On the last day in uzco there was another parade. This one was a Marching Parade that is held every Sunday through Cuzco´s main Square. It starts with the Military Band followed by a series of different groups like schools, hotels, environment protectors, dancers.....lots of different groups! Cuzco was certainly a great place to hand out.
The nightlife was pretty amazing too! Dad and I went to three different clubs in the main square, Mama Africa, Mythological, and Extrem. All had different music but al were catchy in their own way. Mama Africa with Rythm n Blues/R 'n' B, Mythological with a mix of everything rock/dance/trance/heavy/classic/rnb/pop and Extrem where all the more younger crowd hung out played popular reggaeton/rnb music. We stayed in Mythology for most of the night though. Many tourists hung out there as well.

From Cuzco we took a very very long bus ride to Puno. From 2-10pm. The average speed of the local bus was probably about 40km/hr. The driver had to dodge all the pot holes along the way. Daniel you´d have freaked out to see the size of some of them I reckon! But at least the bus ride over provided some great on board entertainment! Some provided by the upset locals wanting to sit down but most of it came from the shonky but hilarious Indian movie that played on the tv inside the bus. The cinamatography was a classic! There were a lot of bulls used in the making of the movie which was just hilarious! We´re on a mission to find out the name of that movie too, we´ve asked Nicolas our tour guide to help us out! lol He just laughed.

The last two days we visited beautiful Lake Titicaca! Before we boarded the boat at the port we bought groceries and stationary for the family we would be staying with on Island Amatalia. After that we took a very slow boat ride (about 3 and a half hours) to Isla Tequile where we ate beautiful Quencha soup for entree and Trout with rice and chips for the main. The people on the island spoke Quechua and were all helping each other out in removing the corrigated iron roofing from one of the buildings-even the women. The women have to be very strong there because the community operates like a communist one where everyone helps out.

From there we took our boat again to Isla Armantani where we would be meeting our local family that we would be staying with. Our young mama wasn´t a mum at all. She was 17 and single and her name was Amelia.
She took us to her beautiful large house which was near the port where we arrived. Later that day we played football (soccer) with the local kids! That was soooo much fun! Unfortunately our skills were no match for them though. They beat us 4-1! We put the blame on the alttitude though since we were almost 4000m above sea level.
After the ame we headed back to our families´places to eat dinner.
Dad and I were lead back by Yuni (brother of Amelia who was 13 years and in 2nd year High School). He appeared quite shy. When we reached the house we joined mum (Ancelma), Amelia and Yuni in the kitchen and chatted in Spanish to the children who knew how to speak Spanish. They were interested in finding out more about us and what we did for a living. The family were very friendly and kind. After dinner we presented them with the groceries that we had bought earlier in the day adn they were extremely happy and it gave us such a nice feeling.
The cooking smelt great and tasted absolutely devine! We had yummy vegetable soup followed by vegetable pasta with rice. The people on the Island are veetarian so it suited us quite well since Dad and I mostly eat vegetable back home in Oz.
The itchen was very small but cosy. It was very smokey inside too and the smoke was stinging my eyes but I didn´t mind too much since we were with the family and in a warm place. It gets quite cold on the island.

After dinner we headed up to our room and was later presented with traditional outfits that we were had to wear to the party that was going to take place up on the hill. Ancelma helped me get dressed in a beutifully embroidered and highly decorative outfit. There were I think 6 pieces in total! When Ancelma wrapped the belt around me it felt so tight like a corset! The skirt was very heavy too!
Dad´s outfit was quite easy, he only needed to wear a big poncho. :)
So after dressing up we walked up the hill to the party which had already begun. No one was dancing yet though. Everyone in our group looked amazing! The girls looked so beautiful and the men quite macho in the ponchos!
The music was typical music of the Andes with Flutes, drums and vocals. Yuni (brother) was the drummer in the band! He played very well.
I was asked top dance by one of the local men there by the name of Hover, pronounced whober. He was a good dancer and spoke very good English which really surprised me!
The rest of the night went very well with all of us dancing and joining hands with other tours groups to form one huge chaing that raced through the room.
What a great night we had.

The next day we had to farewell our family who had been so nice to us. I bought the chullio (beanie) which was given to me to wear whilst we were on the Island.
We headed to the Isla Uros where we visited some of the communities that lived on floating reed Islands! It was incredible to come off the boat and jump on the soft reeds. Lucio our local tour guide gave us a history lesson of the place and it´s people as well.
We took a reed boat across two of the floating islands which was very relaxing, not like the one we had experienced coming over to Isla Tequele and Amatalia.
After visiting the reed island we made our way back on our regular boat to the port at Puno.

We´re back in Puno and had quite a relaxing day just wondering the busy streets and organising some of our photos to be printed for the family we stayed with. I´m going to post it to them from here in Peru. The fotos turned out much better than expected too!
We ate at another great restaurant tonight which Nicolas brought all of us too. Our last dinner in Peru. Tomorrow we head to La Paz where we finish our tour. It´s been a great ride and experience.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Day 10-Cuzco Day 11-15-The Inca Trail

So much has happened in the last week that it{s going to be very difficult to type it all up in the space of an hour but I'll try my best.
After flying up from Arequipa to Cuzco we had an easy day in Cuzco. We just wondered the local streets soaking up the culture and atmosphere of this huge city. It's the 3rd largest city in Peru (I think) with 300 000 people. Later that afternoon we met with our local Inca Trail guide called Coco who ran through what we'd be doing on the Inca Trail over the next 4 days. He English was pretty good so it was easy to understand him, he was also an easy going guy.
The next day we had to be ready for 6:30am to be at 82km (the start of the Inca Trail) for 7:30am. It was a beautiful day for hiking. We hiked for 14km the first day which was mostly up hill. Along the way we passed many houses with goats, horses, pigs and chickens. The hike was extremely tiring for me and I really regretted not doing any active exercise before leaving Oz. The majority of our group did really well, with dad ploughing ahead and keeping up with the front of the pack.
We had so many porters on the hike too. They all helped carry our gear, food, water and camping equipment. The youngest was 18 years! It was truely amazing to see the strength, balance and endurance of these guys. They would leave the camp sites after us and then overtake us along the hike! Each man carried about 30kg on their backs.
After the gruelling first day it got easier from then on. The food on the Inca Trail was soooo good too! The chef, Ilario was an expert in preparation and received many complements from everyone. Every meal of the day had three courses!
On the 2nd day we were introduced to all the porters in the morning; 15 of them! They introduced themselves, how old they were and if they were single. It was very funny. Our group also did the same but of course I mentioned I wasn't single. :) When it came to Coco's turn he was reluctant but after some pressure from Joe (the funny Aussie guy in our group) he gave in and said he was 28yrs and single to which Joe then jokingly ran to him! lol
Before we headed off on our journey we shook hands with all the porters, including one I won't forget who had one hell of a crushing hand shake which left all the ladies holding their hands in pain! :) Funny yet painful at the same time.
We headed off on our trek once again, and began uphill. With stiff legs from the previous day it was difficult to get them working again. I took my time near the back with Julia (one of the lovely English girls in our group) who acted like my first aid kit whilst dad wasn't nearby. We had to stop three times along the way.
The first to remove my thermal singlet which was making me extremely hot and exhausted, I forgot to remove it at the campsite. Julia acted as my shield from being seen from the male guide behind called Jemil. After that we stopped another two times; one to take an Imodium tablet (as soon as we left the camp site I was busting to go to the loo!) and the other to put on some insect repellant. It was all my doing.
By the third stop we were quite a fair way from the majority of the group so we took our time. We climbed to about 4000m bove sea level at one stage. At that point of time the coca leaves really helped me out. I left poor Julia behind with Jamil and Colette (her friend, also English) to race up the last steep mountain climb that day. I was cheering when I reached the top.
The rest of the journey we proceeded downhill to get to our second campsite. Dinner was beautiful once again with dessert being a flamming hot presentation from the chef himself. Quite spectacular!
After dinner Coco shared some stories with the group, most of which were scary stories of experiences on the Inca trail. Many of the girls didn{t want to go to the toilet on their own that night thanks to Coco.
The 3rd day was an easier day as the majority of the trek was Inca flats. I stayed near the back though to take loads of pictures of the changing scenery and beautiful orchids along the way. The scenery had changed to jungle now and everywhere we looked you could see abundant moss, butterflies, and birds. The temperature also ranged from 12 degrees to 30 degrees in the same day. The majority of the trek was downhill and my left leg and knee wasn't coping well at all. I was struggling quite a bit and was one of the last to arrive at our 3rd campsite at 2:30pm for lunch.
Jamil had some good laughs calling me an old woman the day before and today once again. I really felt bad though and a little ashamed about how unfit I was.
At least today we had our chance for a refreshing shower at last! :) After this I felt a lot better.
The evening was also very exciting. It was our last supper and the final farewell and thanks to all the porters who played a huge part to such a successful trip. We had all made it this far and everyone was feeling quite good at this stage. The first 2 days maybe not so much. :)
After dinner the porters sang in Quechua and Julie (elderly Aussie lady) and I were plucked from our seats to dance with two of the porters. Very fun and the dance was very easy which helped! :)
The 4th day started at 4am for the main reason that we had to be one of the first to get to Machu Picchu. There were several other groups with us, all eager to be the first in line at the checkpoint. We were the second group in line at the checkpoint at 5am. At 5:30 they opened the gates and it was a mad rush up the gradual ascending inca flats, to the Sun Gate which overlooks Machu Picchu.
The pace was extremely quick and the troublesome leg I had was pretty much gone this day so I was racing up with dad ahead of me.
In about an hour after scaling the 55 vertical monkey steps to the top where the sun gate was we waited for the morning clouds to clear to see magnificent Machu Picchu.
It was beautiful and really made our hike so much worthwhile. It was another 20 minutes down to Machu Picchu where we took several photos, including group shots. Coco and Jamil being the paparatzi, holding all our cameras. It was very funny to see!
We finally made it after an incredible 4 days. Machu Picchu, one of the most beautiful sites in the world was right there waiting for us. After about 10 am there was a flood of tourists who came in so photo opportunites were a little more difficult. However that didn{t stop me from snapping away. My only regret was not taking a panoramic shot from the top. Ah well. I still have some great shots which I will share with you all very soon.
There were about 30 llamas in Machu Picchu as well! One nearly bowled me over when I was caught by surprise after shooting a video of one of them! It stepped on my toes though, it didn't hurt though. Coco gave us a two hour tour of Macchu Picchu;explained the Inca culture, the Beliefs, founder of Machu Picchu and several temples within the magnificent place.
Thanks to Coco and his team for taking good care of us all, this experience was hard but incredibly satisfying at the end. It was truely unbelieveable and I'm so happy that I undertook this journey to Machu Picchu.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Days 7, 8 and 9 - Arequipa, Chivay & Colca Canyon

After a lengthy evening bus ride to Arequipa from Nazca which took around 8 hours, we all had a free day to wonder around this beautiful city. Arequipa is called the white city due to many of the buildings being carved out of lava and soil from a volcanic erruption that happened in the past. It´s one of the most beautiful cities we´ve seen so far and the atmosphere is a buzz here.
The following day we made our journey to Colca Canyon, our local tour guide Fernando was great and very knowledgable about the area. We stopped at many vantage points along the way to Colca Canyon. The mountain terraces (flat planes in the mountain side used for farming) are incredible, although these days aren´t widely used. Mining is the main source of income for a lot of the people. We went to the highest point in the region which was 4971m (or there abouts), there we found many small rock towers that people had constructed as an offering to the mountains to let them have a safe journey. Quite spectacular! Altitude sickness was kicking in but sucking on the coca leaves helped quite a bit. :)
We went for a late afternoon walk after we reached another wonderful hotel, this time in the Colca Canyon! The view was incredible! On our walk up the mountain close to the hotel we passed many local children who were hanging out in the mountains. They were very friendly and really liked us taking pictures of them :) it made them very happy. The most joy we had though was when we all purchased some simple girts; pencils, books, bread, stickers from a local store to give to the children in this poor village. It was so nice to see how happy it made them and the gratitude they gave afterwards was unlike any other. Extremely overwhelming it did bring a tear to my eye.
Later that night, most of us made our way to the local hot spring. Another new experience for me. It was a great way to relax in the warmth whilst watching the moon creep over the mountains.
After the relaxation at the Spring, we made our way to a local Peruvian restaurant where we witnessed a fantastic live Peruvian music and dance performance by a young traditionally dressed Peruvian couple (about 20 years old). At different points it looked quite violent where the couple we picking each other up and dropping each other. :) Maybe that was a mistake! Later on they chose some poeple from the audience to dance with them. That was quite entertaining also. How I wish I brought my camera with me.
That night I was quite ill from wearing my wet swimmers the whole night but the following day I was fine.
The next day we travelled to the Colca Canyon but specifically the Condor Pass where many tourist come to see the magnificent condors! After some time at the local look out we saw one souring right above us not to high in the sky! :) Rob, one of the people in our group managed to take a great shot that filled the screen on his digital camera. I wish I´d used digital zoom too.
After the Condor Pass we made our way back to Arequipa to relax. Tomorrow we head out early again 6:45 to make our way to the airport for our flight to Cuzco. There we will go to the Sacred Valley and then start our four day Inca trail, so you may not hear from me until afterwards.
Till next time.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Day 5 & 6-Pisco and Nazca, Peru

Today has been another adventurous day in Peru. I´m absolutely knackered!
Early this morning we all made our way to the local airport to have a one hour flight over the Nazca lines; it was absolutely amazing experience. It´s really hard to describe it, I guess it´s just one of those things where you have to be there.
However I forgot to bring my tea tree oil to sniff because if anyone knows me well I have terrible motion sickness. I was ok for most of the flight but when we landed back at the airport the pilot did one fast hairpin turn and that was enough to make me bring up all my delicious breakfast...I felt so awful and gross. Lucky there were bags there. Sorry for the ones back home who have just finished eating!
I´m so glad we stayed on the ground afterwards. We visited a local cemetery of the Nazca people. It was extrodinary to see these open graves that had a whole family together as well as some of their possessions in order to bring it with them in the afterlife. We also visited demonstrations of pottery making and mining which was a great insight into the local professions. Our local guide said mining pays a lot more money than anything else in Peru but is the most dangerous.
For lunch we ate at a lovely restaurant in the heart of Nazca where I tried the Peruvian Ceviche, which is a seafood or fish dish cooked with lemon. One of the poor English girls in the group took a bite out of what she though was a pepper (capsicum) but in fact was an extremely HOT chilli. It took quite some time before here scarlet red face turned back to white. I had some too and WOah....the hottest thing I ever tasted! But the dish was absolutely delicious! Chris is you´re reading this I wish you were here, you´d love the food so much. But don´t worry I´ve been taking pictures of all the mouth watering dishes so maybe I can ask them how they cook it.
The rest of the day we went to the local Nazca Museum, strolled around the streets of Nazca and cooled ourselves down by taking a dip in the hotels swimming pool.

Just briefly yesterday was a more active day; went to Ballestos Islands, and went to the Sand Dunes in Huacachincha. The sand dunes was the most exhilirating part of the day. We went riding in a V8 vehicle of the dunes which was soooo much fun and then got to ride down the slopes on boards. I tried lying down as well as standing. I loved lying belly down head first and shooting down the slope! I wish I had one of these dunes in my backyard! :) It´s the first time I´ve ever been to a dessert and I loved it. It wasn´t that hot either! Today was much more hotter, 32 degrees.
Ok dinner is waiting for me so I better join the others. Take care and hasta lluego!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Day 4- Pisco, Peru

Yesterday we met the people in our tour group and funnily enough the majority are from Australia. :) About half Oz, one Japanese, two English, and one Canadan. The majority of the group are quite young with the oldest going to 55years or there abouts. We also met our tour leader Nicolas who has been doing this profession for about 4 months but has been a guide in other things for 4 years. It{s amazing that he's only 22 years old!
Right now we're in Pisco, Peru and relaxing after our bus ride from Lima which was about 4 hours. Our hotel is beautifully furnished and adorned with Peruvian arts and crafts. It's very homely and has a wonderful atmosphere.
Before arriving here though, it was hard to believe that such a nice place could be in the midst of very poor neighbourhoods.
On our way here we passed two funerals which were street funerals; massive crowds follow a car adorned with flowers and the procession is quite amazing. Music is played and from what I saw the people also sang.
After dinner this evening we had the pleasure hearing some wonderful live traditional Peruvian music; music of the Andes. Amazing that such beautiful music can be made with just 4 people. We bought the groups' CD for 20 soles. I can't wait to listen to it when we get back home. If I stumble upon a new computer in a local internet cafe I'm going to try to get it on my iPod! It would be lovely to listen to it when I'm hiking in Macchu Picchu.
Tomorrow morning we're heading to the Ballestos Islands bright and early at 7am so I better go get some rest aye?! Bienos noches till nest time!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Day 3 - Friday 1st of September. Lima - Peru

Yesterday dad and I had a very late night in Lima-Miraflores trying to fix my iPod at a local Internet cafe (they operate 24 hours a day which is great!).
The problem I was having was that I couldn´t download photos from my camera and the iPod also had photos on there that weren´t showing on the menu. The only solution I could see was to re-install the iPod updater. This would mean I´d lose all the songs I put on there, which was probably only 3 albums, so that was not much of a sacrifice.

Well I´m very happy now because now I can download the pictures directly from my camera again after installing the iPod updater from the PC here in Lima. :) I´m hoping the iPod behaves itself for the rest of the trip.

Anyway later today we are meeting our tour guide to discuss our 3 week tour through Peru. We met Nicholas (tour guide) briefly this morning to meet him and to find out what was happening because we only had notice today about our tour. Very late notice. So we´ll find out more later.

This morning dad got his hair cut a a local hairdresser, he also got a hair treatment and head message there too! The product is called Plecenta Vital (placenta of the llama) it sounds pretty disgusting but trust me it smells pretty good and for 5 soles it was worth it. (about 1.5 US dollars)
Check out the photos! :) We´re also drinking the Mate de Cocoa (Cocoa tea) which should help us relax, lol

Alright we´ve finished here at the internet cafe now so I´ll leave it there and chat to you again next time.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Day 2 in Lima

It´s been a very long day so I´ll keep this short.
Dad and I went on the Lima City Tour today and saw many great places including a tour of the Cathedral of the Francescas and the Catacombes. Quite amazing! It was the very first place where the religious believers were practicing and were buried since there were no cemeteries.
I´ve had terrible issues with my iPod but it may be fixed now. I have to go but I´ll try uploading some photos before we go. My poor dad is sleeping in the seat next to me as I´m typing this it´s 1:25 am