Wednesday, August 26, 2009


After the disappointment of terrible guide at Sacsayhuaman, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a guide who was so eager to share his knowledge of Sacsayhuaman and Inca culture. Surprisingly he did not ask for a tip; he said he teaches from the heart and if I wanted to help, I could donate money to his school and village where they teach Inca ways and Quechua. He told me that the schools in Cusco discriminate against the poor indigenous villagers. Within ten minutes, he taught me more than the first guide did in an hour. He did a sacred blessing for me in these amazing tunnels at the Sacsayhuaman site.

After the blessing, it started hailing so I ran and hid under these two huge rocks for cover. A little girl was looking for cover too, so I told her to come under cover with me. She laid down her plastic bag for us to sit on. We kept each other warm and dry and talked for a little while until the storm passed. Vanessa is her name. She is 9 years old and grew up in the hills in Cusco. Everyday she comes to Sacsayhuaman to collect plastic bottles. Even though they do not officially recycle plastic here, there are women who buy the bottles and reuse them or resell them. Tourist places are a great place to collect plastic bottles.

Vanessa and I played together while she collected bottles and I took in the ruins. We had a great time climbing the huge rounded rock hills and sliding down on our bums. She taught me how to slide on my bum and on my front side. We wandered around, she collected more bottles, I took more pictures, and she taught me things about the huge rocks and Inca architecture. She is a very smart and resourceful little girl. I asked her how she knew so much and she told me that she has a huge book on Sacsayhuaman that she reads every night before bed. I really enjoyed Vanessa and I think she enjoyed me.

As always, there is little a voice in your head that wonders if people here are being friendly because they like you or whether they want something from you. I do not want to think that, but it is not uncommon for someone to show you around and then expect to get paid. So, I asked her whether we were friends or whether she expected a tip. I was so pleased to hear when she answered ´´somos amigas´´ (we are friends).

Monday, August 24, 2009

A little bit about Cusco

I arrived in Cusco one week ago yesterday. It was a bit of shock coming from Ollantaytambo which is a small rural village surrounded by the Andes and Inca ruins. My first night in Cusco, I stayed in a nice hostel that MJ recommended. Most of the travelers that stay in Yanapay are volunteers of some sort, helping children in schools, etc. The hostel had a good vibe but I just wanted a shower, a chat with Scotty, and some sleep, so I did not socialize much. The next day, was my first day at Spanish school. After class, I met my Cusqueno padre. His name is Tomas and he is a very enthusiastic man. Miluska is his wife, and Pilar, his daughter, who is a darling 11 year old. Their home is a typical Peruvian middle class home. I have my own room and bathroom but the shower is crazy. Most people who have hot water heat it with electicity. There is an electrical contraption attached to the shower head. My showers happen to be either freezing cold or blistering hot. Supposedly when you turn the water pressure on high the water becomes tepid. This is not true. But, I have devised a tactic for showering now that involves a little bit of electrical shock and a lot of patience. I have my showers down to less than 6 minutes.

My family is very pleasant. They feed me and watch out for me and they make it clear that I should make myself at home. We have discussed a few of the things that I find disturbing about Cusco. One of which is the smog. Even though people generally do not own their own cars, there are hundreds of taxis and buses. Each weekday, I walk Avenida Sol which is a commercial street - all the banks, tour shops, and business reside here - I have to cover my face with my scarf in order breath. I wonder about the health of the people who live here. Their lungs must be terribly damaged. After 3 days, I was coughing and I have problems with my nose. Smog is icky, really icky.

Cusco is a beautiful cosmopolitan city with a really interesting history. The architecture is amazing. In the Plaza de Armas there are these huge ornate colonial churches built on Inca foundations. Although the Spaniards destroyed a lot of the Inca architecture, there are still prominent signs of Inca history throughout the city. The big ruins above the city, Sacsayhuaman, are still somewhat intact. Althoug, I have read that much of it was destroyed. The Incas believed the llama, puma, and serpintine to be sacred animals. Much of the architecture contains images of these animals. Cusco was actually designed to be shaped like a puma. From the mirador, I could not really tell that it was shaped like a puma though. Despite the smog, hords of people, and the pushy vendors, I am starting to see the beauty of Cusco.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mummies, Ruins, and Nevada Veronica

Last Friday, a dear friend of Maryjane, Guillermo, led us on an amazing hike. We rose early from a good night of sleep so that we could get the Canteras before dusk. The hike goes along the Urubamba river and up into the mountains where Guerillmo grew up. MJ teases Guillermo because he is like a goat in these mountains, jumping from rock to rock and scaling up the hillside. In these mountains, some kids walk upwards of 3 hours to get to and from school.

Guerillmo knows a lot of the Inca legends and pre Inca ruins. Along the way, he pointed out tombs used by the pre Incan people. The are built with smaller rocks than the Incas used and are cylinder forms. Scatterd about the hillside, they are evidence of people who were here long before the Incas and Spaniards.

Two special treats on this journery were: standing face to face with the Veronicas and seeing the undisturbed mummy tomb. The Vericonas are illusive behind a camera lens with the bright reflection of the sun but when you hike way up into the mountains, you are rewarded with an amazing view. I was getting very tired of climbing uphill when Guillermo offered to show me a mummy tomb. I did not actually believe that they were there. These types of archeological treasures usually end up in museums or stolen by ladrones. I hauled my butt up the rocky hillside to see said mummies. Sure enough, there was a tomb containing at least 6 mummies. What a powerful sight. Some of the mummies were preserved well enough that you could see skin and tonails on their feet. They were very small indicating some of them were children. Their skulls were also oblong from intentional mutation. I am not sure if they did this for asthetic reasons, spirtual or other.

We continued on and made it almost to the canteras where there is a doorway to the sun through which you can view the Veronicas. I was sad that we did not make it all the way up but so thankful that we were treated with one of the best evenings I have had on the way down. We stopped in the tiny village of Cachicata where Guilleillrmo grew up and still has relatives. We drank Chica (homemade corn beer) and played with the local kids who took photos with our cameras of the entire evening. The kids were so friendly and affectionate. They wanted us to stay and play and hug so bad. It was beautiful.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thank God I didn´t break Ollantaytambo

For those who are shy or have weak stomachs, read at your own risk.

I was so worried last night when I came home and the toilet was plugged and the water didn´t come out of any of the spickets. Like many developing countries, the waste water system cannot handle toilet paper. After you are done going potty, you have to toss your paper in the trash basket. Well, as you can imagine this is not an easy habit to get into. I´ve done well about 99 percent of the time. But yesterday, I tossed the paper in the toilet and realized it too late. When I came home and the toilet and spickets didn´t work, I thought for sure I broke the whole system with my 4 squares of paper. I attempted to fix the plumbing by pouring my used laundry water in the back of toilet and fiddling with the parts(see Zoriada, used laundry water is good for something). I also fished out the remains of the paper and threw them in the trash. My efforts were futile. I saw my plans to come back to rent a room from this famliy go down the toilet (pun intended). My imagination went wild; all I could imagine was that I broke Ollantaytambo and this lovely family had no water because of me.

As you know from my blog title, I did not break Ollantaytambo. It just so happens that the water gets shut off frequently at night; this is normal.

What did I learn from this? Worrying is really useless. Most of the time, the things I worry about never come to fruition, like breaking Ollantaytambo. Also, I can handle some pretty gross situations without puking.

There´s the gringa way and there´s the right way to do laundry by hand

Zoriada taught me how to do laundry in a bucket yesterday. I have washed and item or two by hand in the sink before, but this was the real deal. Zoriada is a wonderful Peruvian señora that rents a room to Maryjane. They welcomed me for the 10 days in Ollantaytambo. It was kind of like having my grandmother teach me how to do laundry except even my grandmothers had machines at some point in thier lives. Zoriada says the machines don´t get the clothes as clean. So if you want to know how to hand wash your clothes, here are the steps:

1. Pour fresh clean water into a bucket (do not reuse water from previous washings)
2. Add laundry soap
3. Once the clothes have soaked a bit, use your hands or the washboard and brush to scrub the clothing. Do the colors first, keeping them seperate from the whites.
4. Don´t worry about the freezing cold water from the Andes springs, you will get used to it.
5. Fill the sink with fresh water and rinse three times with the running water. Three times, this is very important.
6. Ring each item out well. This means that your hands might get chapped but no worries, you will get used to this too.
7. Hang each item carefully on the clothes line, putting them inside out to avoid fading from the sun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the Sacred Valley to the Jungle

One of the reasons I came to Peru is the geographic diversity, and diverse, it is. Maryjane and I just came back to the Sacred Valley from our trip to Quillabamba in the high jungle. We took a 7 hour bus ride over the Andes. It was breathtaking and worth the bus ride alone. On the way, there were stone houses scattered about the hillsides and some herds of llamas and sheep. The views of the Nevado Veronica were stunning. This is a mountian pass that we can see from the Urubamba river. As the river meanders around through the valley, the mountain peaks out from in between other ranges. It was amazing to see it a bit closer with its snow capped peaks. As we proceeded down into the jungle my ears were plugged up and I started getting a serious headache. The loud music blasting out of the speakers didn´t help, and neither did the smell from the bathroom when someone left the door hanging open. As we entered the jungle, the road was no longer paved. It was a seriously bumping, twisty, white knuckle ride. Just in case I needed to vomit, Maryjane handed me a plastic bag.

We arrived at the bus station and went straight to the store to buy aspirin. A cold shower and strong aspirin took most of my headache away. In the morning I felt great and was able to enjoy the wonderful people and market of Quillabamba. The open market has many fruit and vegetable vendors selling local fresh food. I´ve never seen papayas so big! The meat market was fascinating. They use all of the animal, especially the cow. Cow guts, cow hooves, cow heads, cow tongues, cow brains - usan todo la vaca. It didn´t smell too bad without refridgeration because it was fresh.

The people in Quillabamba were wonderful. A bit different then the Andean people. They seem a bit happier. Mabye it´s the warmth, maybe it´s the lack of tourists, I don´t know but I loved those people.

Maryjane and I caught a ride in the back of a pickup to go up to the waterfall (the name escapes me now). It was a short nice walk to the pools and falls. Some locals were swimming and one of them had a bamboo stick. Maryjane thought maybe they were fishing so she asked them. I missed the conversation about the deep hole next to one of the pools. Just when Maryjane was about to warn me as I was stepping, I fell in the deep hole. No, I did not plan on swimming but it happened anyway. The locals go a kick of it for sure. They were laughing and we were laughing hysterically.

All in all, I loved the trip to Quillabamba. Crowded white knuckle bumpy twisty turny bus rides are worth it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

more on inca ruins

it takes a long time to download photos so i may as well use the time to tell you more about my adventures. pardon the spelling and typos, these keyboards are hard to get used to and i haven´t figured out how to use spell check in english.

the place i am staying is ollantaytambo. it is a small rural town in the sacred valley. there are over 200 discovered ruins and possibly hundreds more buried by chakras (small farm plots). the giant andes surround ollantaytambo and when looking up from the center of town, there are two mountains slopes containing ruins. it is amazing to imagine how the incas built these ruins without machinery. some of the rocks in the walls are at least 10 feet by 10 feet and bigger. there are agricultural terraces built into the side of the mountain and irrigation systems that fed the crops with water from the mountain springs.

the inca buidlings are very mysterious though. no one really knows exactly what went on at these sites. some say machu picchu was a retreat of sorts, a very mystical place for inca elite. there are bath houses for the princesses - the chosen girls - to bath and make themselves beautiful for the inca men. many of the buildings have 3 doorways and 3 windows. but the doorways don´t always have openings which is intriguing. it is amazing how they built ruins in accordance with the moon and sunlight so that at certain times, such as solstice, the light shines directly on the eye of the llama in the side of the mountain. the views are spectacular, you can see some of the snow capped andes such as the veronicas (see photos). hovering over and protecting one of the major ollantaytambo ruins is the condor which represents heaven and is the messenger of the gods. the incas say that these sacred animals and the inca spirits are in the sides of the mountians.

inca ruins under the full moon

after a long walk along the urubamba river and dinner, mary jane´s friends took me to explore some amazing ollantaytambo ruins under the full moonlight. we climbed all the way to the top to reach the sun temple where we layed on huge slabs of rock looking up into the sky. i felt like i could touch the moon and the stars if i reached far enough. we were the only people in the ruins because it is closed at night. it was so serene and magical to explore the ruins without a camera and tons of tourists. i feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

the beginning of my journey in magical peru

i arrived in lima around 11 tuesday night, august 5. a crazy taxi ride to hotel españa in central lima was a great start to my trip. the taxi driver almost took out a motorcycle and a dog. i got to my room and realized that i had just left all the comforts of home. the next morning, i caught a church service in the amazing and opulent san francisco church and then walked around exlporing all the beautiful colonial architecture in the plaza de armas and its surroundings. everyday at noon there is a changing of the guards at the president´s palace and i was able to catch most of it. there are police armed to the hilt all around the plaza de armas. they are a little intimidating until you smile at them and their eyes light up.

i met an american in the hotel and we got some food together, alpaca and pisco sours, and then we helped each other get plane tickets to cusco. it´s amazing how my comfort level instantly changed when i met someone who speaks my language and understands my culture.

maryjane met me at the cusco airport on wednesday, august 6. she was a sight for sore eyes. i had a huge lump in my throat on the plane and when i saw here the tears of joy released and streamed down my face. we got right down to business and took a bus to urubamba, and then a taxi ollantaytambo. maryjane is fluent in spanish and knows the area pretty well so the transit went smoothly and we arrived safely in ollantaytambo where maryjane has been living for almost 5 months. i couldn´t believe what i was seeing on the bus ride. the pictures and guide books don´t even come close to conveying the grandness of the andes and the beauty of the valley. there are family farms scattered all throughout the valley surrounded by the andes where people work without machinery to grow food to sell at market and for subsitence. there are many women who dress in traditional clothing with baby´s on their backs wrapped in colorful textiles. some the men dress in traditional clothing as well. i want to take many pictures of them but i also want to respect their desire not to be photgraphed. maybe i´ll have to use my telephoto lens so they i am not so obvious.

the moon was almost full last night but you could still see the amazing stars lingering above the peaks of the mountains. it is weird to look into the sky and expect to see the stars all the way to the horizon but there are dark silouhettes of the mountains. it really is magical here.