Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
Trip End Sep 05, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, May 6, 2006

We have been joined in Cuzco by my mom as well as our good friends Tanya, Dom (collectively known as Domya) and Hillary. Yesterday morning, everyone bounded off their various planes full of energy and ready to explore the city. Unfortunately, by midafternoon, the combination of altitude, lack of sleep and Peruvian bureaucracy had conspired to bring everyone back to earth. At lunch, Tanya and Dom were close to passing out in their soup. My mom has been laid low by some combination of altitude and Peruvian tap water. (Like many New Englanders of her generation, she has a mental block about paying money for something that 'should be free' like water. That attitude may work in New Hampshire but is not recommended for travel in the third world.) Hillary remains physically unscathed but her luggage is trapped somewhere in the great maw of Peruvian baggage handling. She is convinced she will be sharing clothes with Kia all week.

Tomorrow morning at dawn we set out to hike the Inka trail to Machu Picchu. It turns out that this will be a bit of a challenge. The trail starts at 8000 feet and climbs to 14,000 feet in the first day and a half. Fortunately, we have all had the wisdom to hire porters who will schlep 10 kilograms (22 lbs) up the trail for each of us. Tanya quickly calculated how much wine we can bring if we share toiletries and minimize spurious changes of clothes. Sounds like a very smelly high-altitude hangover to me.

Cuzco is a truly beautiful city and we have enjoyed exploring for the past few days. The city contains magnificent Inka ruins as well as impressive colonial architecture and churches. There are a great many tourists and for the first time, most of them are from the states. The outsiders fall into two main demographics, 20-something backpackers and 55-plus retirees. Hmmm... Do 40-somethings with kids not get to travel to exotic destinations? This may be something to consider.

We had a quite difficult drive to Cuzco from the Colca Canyon. We have a couple of Peruvian maps as well as our GPS, each of which showed a fairly large road that covers the 300km in a direct route. Unfortunately, Peruvians are probably the world's worst cartographers. (Bolivians are not far behind.) We have learned to inquire about routes before setting out. When we asked about the direct route, the locals looked at us as if we were asking about the road to Japan. We have learned that when a Peruvian tells you the road is bad, they mean it. (I am sure the Jeep could handle the route, but driving 200km of heavily potholed dirt at 15 MPH is both tedious and bone jarring.) We took the long way around and spent 11 hours dodging potholes on the 'good' road.

Navigation in Peru is no picnic either. It is quite rare for the maps to agree with each other or with the GPS. Towns, roads and landmarks are all in different places. Kia is forced to juggle each information source (as well as the compass) to come up with some sort of consensus on the correct route. Peruvians, in general, don't believe in road signs. I estimate there is one road sign every 50 kilometers or so and most of these are covered with advertising. Local graffiti artists also find great amusement in repainting signs to change their meaning. One must look closely to see if an arrow was repainted with a brush. The one saving grace can be the lack of good roads. If the pavement appears to be younger than Kia, then we can be pretty sure the road leads somewhere important.

Given these difficulties, I have decided to temporarily suspend the rule against asking for directions. (As you probably know, most men find asking for directions equally emasculating as purchasing tampons for their wife. Theoretically, it can be done, but you just don't want to go there.) Going forward, if you find yourself in a third-world country with bad maps and no road signs, please feel free to roll down your window and ask a local to point you in the right direction.


I am greatly disturbed with what I have read about Bolivia's 'nationalization' of their energy industry. The NY Times makes it seem as if the Bolivians are genuinely surprised that the Brazilian energy company, Petrobras, has decided to suspend all investment after the government decided to rewrite the existing contracts. I think the government understands that they have neither the capital nor the expertise to develop the fields, but the country seems to have an overwhelming need to blame their problems on outside forces. This is going to continue to get worse.

I will be off the air for a few days while we are on the trail.
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