On style, serendipity, and spontaneity

Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
Trip End Jun 10, 2011

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Friday, November 26, 2010

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu


One might think that Adar and I have a detailed plan while traveling, but they would be incorrect, we have no plan other than to enjoy our travels, each other and the cultures and cuisines we encounter.  We actually only have the airline tickets into and out of continents and without a guide book, we are open to let the winds push us where they will.  Yes, I said without a guide book.  Several fellow travelers have been quite surprised that we will enter a country, let alone a continent, without a guide book.  "Wow!", "Are you crazy?" and "Really?!?" have been but a few of the exclamations.  We can think of a couple of you back home that might be thinking the same while reading this.  In actuality, traveling without a guide book is both invigorating and not as hard as one might think but sometimes, as you can probably imagine, it is really, really frustrating.  In dire need, we have the website tripadvisor, which has proven quite good if the planning ahead mood strikes us and while in route we are often able to borrow someone's book to gain our bearings if necessary.   Of course we lose some minor details that we often pick up in other ways: a bit of local information (Lima has 8 million people over half of which do not have running water or sanitation) or the local precautions (for example, local prison tours in Potosi are in fact illegally organized by the guards and inmates and if you are caught you may spend more than an afternoon there and the mine tours are extremely dangerous).  Every once and a while we get completely lost because we lack a detailed map and forgot to draw our own when looking up the area.  Even with a map getting lost sometimes occurs because the streets either have no names or the numbering scheme employed is completely incomprehensible.  This is both entertaining when wandering aimlessly around town and frustrating when we are searching for our hostel.  We figured out later in one city that the arrows on the signs referred to the direction of traffic and not the order of the numbers.  Thankfully, the people are very friendly and on multiple occasions have helped us find our way.  Our main reason for not carrying a book was the fact that we would need one for every continent (we are visiting five) or one for over 15 different countries.  Through Costa Rica and now in Peru and Bolivia we have managed well by talking with fellow travelers, discussing our options with the locals, or planning ahead and researching options on the internet.  However, most of it has been fly by the seat of our pants traveling which speaks to the style of traveling that allows for spontaneity.   While it would drive some crazy, there is something exciting about not knowing where you will be in 12 hours, what you will be eating, and where you might be sleeping.  Not knowing takes out preconceived notions and allows you to experience the location from the present perspective.  There are no expectations because there is no prior knowledge to sway your concept of a location.  This is nice in two ways: first, it brings you into the moment and forces you to perceive and observe your surroundings firsthand and second, it helps you realize how little you really need in life and how simple life can be.  When it comes down to it, you need family, friends, and other people.  Traveling has helped us realize just how important the human connections are in our life and how much we appreciate each other, our family and friends.  A big Thanks to all of you reading this.         


With these thoughts in mind, Adar and I entered Peru with only a desire to visit Cusco and Machu Pichhu.  Instead of flying directly to Cusco, Adar and I took a night bus from the capital city of Lima.  This was primarily to be cost efficient but also to see the countryside.  We knew it was far but did not fully appreciate the fact that it would require 20 hours of sitting in a bus seat.  This is roughly how long it takes to drive from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles, California.  Thankfully we choose bus semicama or a bus with reclining seats instead of what is essentially a torture chamber in chair form.  I say this because the average Peruvian is about 4'-3" and the bus seats are sized accordingly.  Now I don't want to convey that this was a huge mattress with large comfy pillows, but it was better than the torture chair option.  Joking aside it was 20 long hours which would make any seat uncomfortable.  The bus company fed us two decent meals and entertained us with bad American movies at night and two solid hours of Peruvian dancing in the morning.  This would not have been that bad if Peruvian music had more than three notes and more than a single rhythm.   I am exaggerating slightly but the last hours on the buses where full of desperate tears to just make it stop.  We could do little as the monitor was immediately in front of us and the speaker was blaring over our heads.  We can still hear the beat and pan flutes in our heads.  Anyway, we came into Cusco on what would be our first of many adventurous bus rides.

Cusco is a large city, strewn with narrow, winding cobblestone streets, large spanish style cathedrals, sprawling open markets, wandering street dogs, and savvy locals trying to get you to buy everything from tours, dinner, massages and drugs.  At one point my answer to: "Massage?", which was asked about every 20' along the main square, was "No thank you, I have my wife for that" which usually elicited a smile.  Something that we could not pass up even as we were falling into the trap was the young girls dressed up in traditional clothes that thrust a white baby alpaca into Adar's arms and insisted that I take picture of them.  Adar turned from slight hesitation into total bliss and had that silly "I have no care in the world because I am cuddling a soft and warm baby animal" grin that was quite a sight to see.  Of course, the girls hustled us and demanded an extraordinant amount of which we bartered down slightly amidst many frowns and batted eyelashes.  The food in Cusco was quite good and Adar and I spent Thanksgiving in a small restaurant overlooking the Plaza de Armas and its two large cathedrals.  Adar had a simple salad and I had grilled trout with passion fruit and mint, quite unusual, but very delicious.  For dessert we split a rich cheesecake with raspberry purée.  We had much to be thankful for.   


From Cusco, we made our way through Ollantaytambo (where for dinner we dined on grilled alpaca with rice and vegetables and split a chocolate flan for dessert - yummy! - here alpaca is more than a cute wool producing animal and a marketing trick used by local girls) to catch the train to Aqua Calientes, the kicking off point for Machu Picchu for those not hiking the four day Inca Trail.  We chose not to hike the trail as we were planning to hike in Chile and because we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, the peak in the background of all the pictures on which there is a limit of 400 people per day.  We were up exceedingly early and endured much chaos as the uncertainty about the process forced us to purchase the bus and entrance tickets at the last minute, i.e. at around 4:30am.  This was one of those times where having a book would have been helpful.  It was all worth it as we were in the first 300 people through the entrance gate and were able to get our permit stamp to climb Huayna Picchu.  The early arrival had the added benefit that the mountain top ruins were nearly deserted and with misty clouds shrouding the nearby mountain peaks, the scene was magical.  The ruins were much larger than we expected and we spent several hours coursing through, up and down, and around the many hundreds of rooms, some the size of a closet, others the size of a small house.  An interesting surprise was when we rounded a corner and came face to face with an adult alpaca.  It turns out there is a small herd living in the ruins (they keep the grass down and obviate the need for noisy power mowers) and they added immensely to the overall experience.  The climb up Huayna Picchu was just that, nearly straight up countless stone steps, but awarded us with an incredible view over Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains.  

On arriving back into Cusco we stayed at a nice hostel and immediately began talking with a local guide who told us about an overnight trip on Lake Titicaca.  Spontaneity strikes again and we jumped on the offer for both a tour of the lake and easy transport to La Paz, Bolivia.  We completed some last minute souvenir shopping in the local markets in which we found an incredibly soft alpaca doll.  After bartering down the price and deliberating for almost an hour, we asked the stall keeper for a typical Quechua name and she suggested "Chaska", which means star and taught us the Quechua word for Thank You - "Yusparasunqui".  

From Cusco we headed south to Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca where we headed out by boat to visit the floating islands.  The "Uros" islands are approximately 200' x 200' blocks of what is essentially peat moss, topped with reeds anchored in about 45' of water in the middle of the lake.  The amazing thing is that 4-5 families live on each of these islands on which everything (houses, beds, boats) is woven/tied/made of reeds.  The people even eat them as a source of fresh water.  Also fascinating was that there were about a hundred of these islands in a large floating community.  The families there traded dried fish, dried birds and reeds with the people in Puno for potatoes, coca leaves, and corn.  There seemed to be little money transfer and women would ferociously barter their goods with each other.  It was interesting to watch when you were able to see it.  Most of the women carried their bartered goods and other belongings in sacks on their backs and often the sacks were larger than the women (not too hard when you are 4' tall).  From Uros, we headed to Isla Amantani to stay with a local Quechua family.  We were met at the dock by a small Quechua woman in traditional clothes (colorful skirt, white blouse and black shall) named Benitia.  She took us and a father and son from Mexico to her simple mud brick house half way up the hill.  She lived there with her husband who we did not interact with, her mother who was very quiet and her three very interactive children, Ronaldo (9), Ynette (8), and Elvis (1.5).  Ynette was very cute and we played with her a lot.  Benitia cooked us three delicious meals over a wood fire in what could best be described as a smoke filled shack with a fireplace at one end and a table at the other.  The cuisine was simple, but delicious: a quinoa soup with vegetables and potatoes, ocas (a tasty sweet potato), and cheese.  All meals were served with local mint and coca tea.  At night the locals had a "fiesta" in which they got most of us to dress up in the local clothing and dance to live music (pan flute, guitar, and vocals).  In the morning after a simple breakfast of pancakes with jam, Ynette walked us to the pier and we set off to Isla Taquile, another of the many islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca.  There we hiked up and over the island through fields of vegetables, low stone walls, through stone archways, past shepards and their flock, and enjoyed the views of the crystal blue waters below.  We had a great lunch of quinoa soup and grilled trout and learned some of the local customs.  Each island is its own community separate from the other islands.  Here the local dress, architecture, and people were slightly different from that of Isla Amantani.  A favorite custom, on this island, was the tradition of the bride cutting off all her hair and weaving a large belt with alpaca wool for the husband to wear as a wedding band around his waist.  Asking Adar if she would do the same for me returned a look which could only be interpreted as "you must be crazy".  It is ok, I like my ring.  
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Kace on

I love reading the events as they unfold each day and seeing pictures of my beautiful sister (and you too, Jeremy). But I am glad to see you adding pictures of people you encounter included in this entry. It is very interesting to see their culture in their faces, dress and food. I am so proud of the both of you! This journey is amazing and I am so glad you are taking it! Bravo, to you Jeremy, the pictures are amazing!

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