The Lima airport is in a very (v-e-r-y) poor area of town, but i had a 5 hour layover there and had to get some sleep before catching leaving again at 4:30 for a flight to Chile. I booked a night at Lima's Hotel Victor since they are 5 minutes away from the airport and offered free pick up and drop off. They picked me up right on time in an old deisel mini-van. You know, the kind that starts up 2 out of 5 times, and shakes violently up and down whether its moving or not. The buildings look like something you see on TV where they're partially bombed out, and partially standing. People are living in them here where the roof is still attached. The driver knew some English and kept his sense of humor, as I was also trying to do. He´d turn the key half way to start the van, then bow his head and just pause. I asked him if he was praying and he said "Si". So I let him have his moment of silence just in case it worked. He got it started, drove a few minutes, and pulled up to an area that was locked with an iron gate. What was inside the gate didn´t look any better than what was outside the gate. I had to seriously question whether they really needed the gate as I looked back and forth. Criminy, people live in there? Oops, that´s the hotel inside the gate. The room was tiny, but the sheets looked ok. Better keep one layer of clothes on....just in case. I was too tired to care about the pack of barking dogs outside and fell asleep. I got my wakeup call the next morning and my ride back to the airport. Without their punctuality, I would never have made that flight by myself, so I recommend their services. Once i land in Chile, i'm only there one day before catching another flight to Easter Island (Rapa Nui).
Easter Island 8/25/03
Arrived at Easter Island (Rapa Nui)! 5.5 hours in the air from Chile. There are 2 flights a week to this island, period. I'm renting a car for $50 a day--a jeep (stick). There's only one paved road in town and it makes a loop around the island a good distance from the shore. All the statues (Moai) are right up on the ocean for the most part, which means you take miles of pot-holed, dirt roads to get to them. Some of the pot holes are so big my butt leaves the seat like in white water rafting•but this is the dry version. The natives here know the dirt roads so well that they don´t need road signs. They forget the tourists do. I've taken every fork in the road possible in my quest to find the true path. There´s no way to know if I'm going in the right direction until the road comes to an end with success, or failure. There appear to be hundreds and hundreds of these statues all over the island. In most cases, I've been alone at the monuments without another soul in site.
My hotel is cute, but no A/C or television. Not much grows here on lava rock, and the original inhabitants cut down all the trees so it´s quite barren. People should come to this island just to see what over-logging does to the land. Now its just grassy area for cows. The story goes that the original inhabitants had clan wars, used all their resources (cut all the trees down), allegedly may have resorted to cannibalism after all food resources were depleted, and then were raided by slave traders who brought diseases. There was only a hundred or so left of them near the end. Today, only a couple thousand people live here. They are very poor and pay top dollar for necessities since it's all flown in from Chili. Despite all that, they are very cheerful to one another, and the handful of tourists that come to visit.
Took a drive down various dirt paths to find the Moai and Ahu (platforms). Most of them are toppled over and any that are standing were raised in recent years. The highlight was going to a volcanic crater (dormant), which is now filled by a lake, and has 1/2 finished Moai sticking out of the ground all over. Most are done and buried up to their necks on the side of the crater, poking out of the ground at different angles. Some are in initial carving stages still stuck in the rock. Most are facing inland to protect the island. There's only so much variety. But they sure are cool every time you see them.
After the 3rd day of my 4-wheeling adventure, I'm the proud owner of a brand new jeep tire valued at the inflationary Rapa-Nui cost of $90.00. I refused to take a local guy with me in my jeep on my last day of Moai discovery, and that night, he slit my tire with a knife. So much for the friendliness of the locals. I also think i might have run over a chicken, but I didn´t see any feathers in the jeep grill when i pulled over to look. Between the road-crossing cows, horses, street dogs, chickens, and children, this is a dangerous place to drive.
Yesterday, I visited their beaches--they only have 2 with sand. Both are pristine, and at one, i was the only one there. It was paradise. My feet hardly made foootprints since the sand was so fine and hard packed. Behind you is a high black lava cliff, and in front of you is a little lagoon with blue ocean water. (Not green like Florida). The water is shallow and COLD. It´s crystal clear and refreshing (once your body numbs). The next beach nearby is much bigger and there are a few people on it, and usually someone on a horse. The water was just as nice and there were many palm trees to park your towel under. There is no pollution here in the air, land, or water, so it is really pristine, and the locals don`t litter at ALL. Or, maybe the street dogs are eating the garbage. Whatever system they have, it's working.
Pisac, Peru•a one sheep town 8/30/03
Back to Lima now, via Santiago Chile. Onward to Cusco to get to Pisac. I arrived in Pisac from Cusco by bus. I could never have found the bus without help from a local child who offered to show me the way. Bus tickets were 50 cents•for a minibus with a TV up front hung high so everyone can see it. I'm the only tourist in the bus and it fills up quickly with locals in traditional, colorful, clothing. The men wear most western clothes, but outrageously colorful hats with pom poms hanging down on the sides. The women are the fashion statement. They wear pleated A-line skirts that stick way out from their hips, and sheer hose rolled up to their knees. Of course you can see where the hose is rolled up since the skirt is not long enough to cover it. This seems to be how it's supposed to be. They finish off the outfit with black flat matronly shoes (like a Catholic nun wears) and a derby hat (that looks too small) perched on their head. Some of the women have colorful blankets wrapped around their shoulders with a baby sticking out of it, also wearing some variety of colorful knitted hat. The more colors you have on, the better. The bus gets all packed up and I've got a baby and mom next to me. The driver stops at every chance and picks up more people who stand roadside, who fill the aisle. Whenever the bus stops, locals thrust their wares through the windows at you and start selling.
Once the bus dropped me off, I got comfortable in my room. I think the blankets (thick and heavy) are made from llama something, because I woke up the next morning with allergies as if a cat had been in the bed with me. The only problem I am having with the room is that the doorways are only 5 feet tall. So every time I come out of the bathroom into the bedroom I knock my head on the doorway. I'll either learn to duck, or be knocked unconscious. The breakfast everywhere here is bread, and coffee or tea. I asked for coffee which means instant Nescafe 100% of the time. Can't Columbia cough up some real coffee beans for the rest of S America?!! It took forever to get some leche for the coffee. I think they went out the back and milked something because this milk was on the thick side, and had something floating on the top that looked like melted butter. It also didn't really change the color of my coffee either. Hmmm… I drank it anyway. I'm counting on my Stomach-Like-Dog genetics to keep me well.
Today I hiked the Pisac Incan ruins. I was adopted by a guide (against my wishes) who called himself "Pisac". I would have called him "Smells-Like-Billygoat" but I was able to keep far enough away to avoid that issue. The ruins are magnificent, centered around 3 major areas about 3600 feet up. They are complete with houses, working aqueducts with flowing water, temples, sundials, etc. All trails have drop-offs of thousands of feet, plus there are 2 footbridges, and a rock tunnel (cave) to pass through.
The Peruvians really do have a hard life. Pisac told me that there were 12 farming communities living up in the mountains still farming on the terraces. I can see them marching down with blankets on their backs full of produce like potatoes. The women look about 3.5 feet tall all permanently hunched over•maybe 4 feet standing straight. The men are not much taller and also heft the stuff on their backs. Teeth are rare. They march their goods all the way down to the market, and at the end of the day, take it all back up. Oh yeah, roasted Guinea Pig is a delicacy here (as it has been since ancient times), and on every menu. In my hotel serving area, I tried a "coca" drink thinking it would be hot chocolate. What arrived was tea made from coca leaves (as in cocaine), with all the whole leaves still in it. It´s supposed to be good for altitude, and other minor ailments. Cusco and Pisac are at 11,000 feet. Well, it had me up most of the night rearranging the contents of my suitcase....just so. No more coca tea. Customs will not let you take any out of the country, and the US wouldn't let it in anyway.
Macchu Picchu 9/1/03
I took the bus back to Cusco and stayed in an Ok hotel near the train station so i could catch it at 6am. The neighborhood was pretty rough but they locked the guests in the hotel up at night with big iron gates that closed over the front door. Not exactly fire code compliant. Yikes!
From Cusco, I took the Macchu Picchu train which zig zags up the mountain to gain altitude and arrives at a little town called Aguas Caliente where i am staying at Gringo Bills. A bus takes you up the rest of the way to the ruin site (or you could choose to hike it, but I wouldn't recommend that). The bus ride up seemed like a sister companion to Disney's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Every night, at Gringo Bills, i spend about 15 minutes killing all the mosquitoes and other bugs in the room. I'm sure i spotted Mothra in my room (of Godzilla fame).
I spent days exploring the buildings and architecture of Machu Picchu among the llamas wandering around. In the mornings and afternoons (after 3pm) you'll have the whole place to yourself. The fountains still work with water pouring forth. They have also discovered more Inca trails, fountains, and cemeteries in the nearby mountains, but it's all being excavated. Such a pleasure to sit among the grass, read a book, and watch the sun go down on Macchu Picchu.
Today I hiked up the Huyanapicchu mountain, which is that famous peak right behind Macchu Picchu in all the post cards. I tormented over whether I should do it or not since there's no medi-vac to come pick me up if i want to get down. There's actually a little brick house up there at the peak, and more terracing. The hike is the original stone stairs that the Inca put there, plus some rocks with footholds carved out, and the park staff was nice enough to also put some ropes on the trail to hang on to. In some places, it is necessary to pull yourself up with the ropes, or hang on to them on the way down (i loved those ropes). As you get right up to the peak, there are tiny little stairs at a 75 degree angle about the height of a 3 story building or so. Everyone had to go up those on hands and feet like a ladder. I did it like a ladder coming down as well, and going very slowly. The stairs were only 6 inches wide. From the top, you get the view of Macchu Picchu city with the mountain of Macchu Picchu behind it (which is not in the postcards). When you are back on Macchu Picchu's grounds, you look back up at that mountain and it seems unreal that any trail to the top could exist. But it does.
I also took another (shorter) hike to an Incan drawbridge. The Inca would take it out when they wanted to block access to their city from that route. How cool is that.
Now I'm in Cusco, and my hotel is awesome. A nice change•very close to the main Plaza, and it's huge. It has 2 separate bathrooms for some reason. It's like an old Spanish Palace, so it has lots of beautiful architectural features, and art inside. It's gorgeous. I have also learned from the kids here a bit about their lives. Some little boys have befriended me and we've talked about life in Cusco. The kids with money get to go to school during the day, and wear uniforms. The kids without money go to school at night and don't wear uniforms. It's very sad when you see the poor kids watching the uniformed kids come out in a group when they are released from school. There's definitely a class distinction, and they know it. During the day, those poor kids are working in the streets trying to sell tourists postcards, paintings, finger puppets, you name it. They have to bring the money home, of course. One little boy is staying with his friend's family since he comes from a farmer village, so he's under extra pressure to bring home the bacon. They're as young as 7 & 8, to 13. But they soon forget about money when you start talking to them about things that interest them•history, space, American celebrities, etc. Every one of these kids can tell you the capital of the US, and the current president and the past president. They have it memorized to impress you. They speak 3 languages, English, Spanish, and something phoenetically sounding like Catch-you-on (something native to Peruvian Indians). They are genuinely interesting to talk to, and they enjoy having some adult attention and someone taking an interest in them.
In one of the churches here, they have a carved wooden pulpit that is supposed to be the finest carving in the world, and they are correct. There is also a wooden carved choir that is the finest in the world•it stops you dead in your tracks because you can't believe it's wood. I got snarled at by a nun (?) sitting next to me in a pew who caught me trying to discretely snap a prohibited photo inside the church. (No, I didn´t know she was a chuch official when I sat next to her•she was in street clothes, maybe operating under cover). Then I tried to bribe her with a donation in exchange for the photo, and she actually stopped to seriously think about it before continuing to tell me it was prohibited. Then she started to pray more devoutly. She kept her eyes on me afterwards as I walked around to look at the paintings.
Today I thought I would try the "spa" experience at my hotel since I had some extra time. Their "spa" looked very similar to a dentist's office---all white. I thought highlights in my hair would be nice since their price menu said $12.00 and I would pay about $80 in the USA. I think we had a language barrier. They washed and dried my hair thinking they were finished, but I kept saying "highlights", "highlights", wondering when they were going to do them. So they brought in a female desk clerk to interpret. The font desk clerk's English was not much better than the beautician's. I looked away from the books and pointed out "h-i-g-h-l-i-g-h-t-s" on their own spa menu. They flipped the card over to see the Spanish translation. "Ohhhhhh, illuminacions!", they said. Then she asked me in Spanish what color I wanted and I pointed to my head at the more blonde parts. The beautician pulls out a plastic cap from a drawer and my eyes get wide and I shook my head "no" rapidly and I said ALUMINUM FOILS. She goes over to a drawer and pulls out these little teeny tiny pieces of foil that are all crinkly like they've been used a thousand times to wrap up someone's lunch cookies. They really look old and worn, but it's all she's got. She mixes up some developer in a dish and calls on the telephone for yet another interpreter (a taxi driver). So this man comes in and they talk for a while, and he tells me that she wants to remove all the color from my BLACK hair first (yeah, she said black), then put the highlight color back in. That if she doesn´t do it this way, my hair will be gummy and will melt because it's sooooo dry. So now I am thinking that this is not a good idea for any price with 2 beauticians, the front desk clerk, and the taxi driver all looking at my head trying to figure out how to do this. I tell the gentleman to tell them that maybe I will wait until I get back to the USA for the highlights. They all looked relieved and no one tried to talk me out of my decision. My BLACK hair will live to see another day.
Lima, Peru 9/7/03
Back in Lima now. I did see a few of their best museums which are filled with Inca gold and treasures that the Spanish didn´t melt down. The museums have plenty of textiles, gold jewelry, masks, crowns, noserings, mummies, and lots and lots of ceramics. One museum has a collection of "erotic" Incan pottery among their 55,000 ceramics--they hand you a flyer advertising it at the front door. I went thru the whole museum and didn´t see anything that looked like the flyer pictures. Actually, they followed me around and turned on the lights for me as i entered each display room, since I was the only person in the museum. When i asked about the flyer pictures, they directed me to the naughty X rated building (completely separate from the rest of the museum collection) where it kinda felt like an Incan pottery peep show. This pottery all looks like anatomically correct, rounded, happy cartoon characters having a really good time.
The nicest part of Lima looks like the worst part of Miami, and this is supposed to be the area where the rich people live. The nicest houses here all have a 6 foot fences around their property made of steel bars with big criss-cross spikes on the top so no one can climb over--it makes the whole street look like a prison camp since every house has it. The alternative fence style is a 6 foot concrete wall with an electrified wire fence above that with a sign warning the intruder of shock. Some of those houses also have a live security guard standing in the front patrolling (all security guards and police wear bullet proof vests). There are no front yards or greenery, its all concrete and you just park your car there. Of course, these houses have the same crap view of Lima that everyone else has. And those more expensive houses look like they need a bit of work to fix them up, or at least a new paint job.
I was talking to a student (who was learning English) who told me that the unemployment rate is about 50%. Another student i met teaches English to kids and also serves as a guide for tourists and he makes $4 a day. I talked to a bartender (also learning English) and he makes $6 a day. They know they will never have enough money to really go anywhere because they know it´s more expensive in other countries, like Europe and America. We are lucky lucky lucky to be in America.
I'm out of cash, except to pay the airport tax, so it´s a good time to come home. I am actually looking forward to Delta coffee on the plane.