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Wehrell-ed Travel

Cuzco, So We Meet Again.

Well, we have survived.

Ten hours on a bus from Arequipa to Cuzco—and I’m still here to tell about it. Okay, so that’s a tad over dramatic, but hey—you all know me.

The reality of the situation is that riding Cruz Del Sur means that any bus ride in Peru will be as comfortable as a bus ride in Peru can be. Yes, it’s worth the extra money. No, don’t skimp on it and take a budget bus. If you’re not a poor college student traveling on your semester break than there’s no reason NOT to splurge and spend $10-$20 more for a good bus. I’ve traveled on buses of all kinds, in countries of all sorts, and I’ve finally moved into a stage of my life where comfort trumps all else. Two bathrooms, blankets, large and reclining seats, beverages, and temperature control have moved to the top of my list in this world when it comes to long distance bus travel. I've done the chicken buses, old American school buses, collectivos, tuk-tuks, and just about anything else on wheels that can transport you (and handfuls of others in a fun game of "let's see how many we can fit."). I'm over it.

We boarded at 9 p.m., took our seats, and got ready for a long night. Zac would surely not sleep, this is a given. He can’t sleep on moving vehicles, but me; I’m like a baby who gets slowly rocked to a deep slumber. I can sleep just about anywhere under any circumstance…at least, up until we took our flight from LA to Lima. Suddenly I was unable to sleep on the plane for the entire flight despite my exhaustion. I must admit, this left me psychologically damaged. Yes, damaged (and yes, over dramatic AGAIN). Maybe things have changed for me. Maybe I’ve lost my super hero sleeping powers.

No, I still have them.

I slept for most of the bus ride. My zune is out of batteries and Zac forgot to pack his for me, so I was awoken frequently on the bus by our sickly aisle neighbor who coughed his grossness all over the tiny cabin, which, for the record, smelled like a teenage boy’s bedroom. Yes, the cabin smelled like a particularly pungent combination of sweaty feet, farts, and bad breath.

But, like I said, we made it.

So now we’re back in Cuzco, relaxing at our hostel, happy to have found a place with such a wonderful host who allowed us to check in at 6:30 a.m. because he had our rooms ready. Oh, Coco. He’s been one of the nicer Peruvians we’ve met on this trip, opening his bar for us, trusting us not to pay until the last leg of our trip (this is our third stopover in Cuzco and we still haven’t paid for our previous four nights), and shooing away pesky cab drivers who think we owe them more money.

When we arrived at the bus station we picked the wrong cab, apparently. Everywhere in the main city center of Cuzco should cost you s/3, nothing more. That’s s/2.50 for the cab, and s/.50 for a tip. Never negotiate, and never ask how much it will cost you. Just get out of the cab, retrieve your belongings from the trunk, and then hand the driver the s/3. Do not give your money before you collect all of your things, and if a driver demands more money you walk away. This is a given in Cuzco. You pay s/20 to get to the train station in Poroy, s/60 to get to the market in Pisaq, and s/5 to get to the airport. That’s really all you need to know. The rest can be negotiated, if need be.

This morning our cab driver tried to demand s/8 for the cab ride. EIGHT? He surely had to be shitting us. The cab ride was literally three minutes. We had all of our belongings, I handed him the s/3, and he stood demanding another five. Not in this world. We all said no. He continued to try and get the money. At this point I just said “no, it’s always three, you know it’s three, you get three.” We all walked off.
By the time we were settled into our hostel and napping, the cab driver came back. This time he talked to Coco, trying to get him to get the money from us. Coco, being the awesome host that he is, told the cab driver we were sleeping, there is nothing he could do about it, and that it only costs s/5 to get to the airport, which is much further away. The cab driver tried to say that he was transporting four of us and our bags, but Coco waved him off.

Coco was a lawyer in Lima until he moved to Cuzco several years back, wanting to spend more time with his family. He decided to change careers to accomplish this. Money isn’t everything, he says, though he admits it certainly does help make things better. You don’t come by many people who live by these ideals. Most of us say that money isn’t everything, that there is more to life, yet we continue to strive for financial success. I think Coco is one of the few people I’ve met who actually has taken action to align himself with his belief. And sure enough, his entire family can be seen at the hostel at various times.

Post cab shake down, after our naps, and following gloriously hot showers we walked to the Plaza de Armas to do some more exploring of the San Blas neighborhood. The San Blas is considered the artsy neighborhood of Cuzco, and one of its most frequented by tourists. The narrow cobblestone streets are worn down from centuries of foot traffic, and the surrounding Incan walls that are still standing and providing a foundation for many of the neighborhood buildings reminds one that those same foot paths were used by the Inca centuries before.

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Most of the early afternoon was spent shopping around, looking at art, and eating lunch. We strolled down to the Plaza de Armas afterward to people watch. People watching is a great pass time in Peru. Our favorite game is the “not okay” game in which we all spy people wearing completely unacceptable clothes, and then point them out to one another. One of the most frequently spotted “not okays” is stretch pants. Peru is big on stretch pants, and often big Peruvians are big on stretch pants. To be fair, though, we see people of all persuasions in them. I don’t know when people began thinking that it’s okay to wear stretch pants without shirts, tunics, or dresses long enough to cover their asses, but apparently someone got some confusing message about it. I also don’t know when anyone ever thought it was okay to wear jeggings.

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Not all of our people watching has been horrifying to the eyes, though. We have been fortunate enough to see several parades (as I’ve mentioned before). Today we also saw an outdoor band playing some salsa music on an open stage as the clouds parted and sunshine broke through. The weather in Cuzco—so crazy.

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My favorite part of people watching today took place as crowds of kids passed through the busy plaza, dressed in uniforms and happily running along as they clutched their belongings tightly under their arms. School was out! Hooray!

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It was a low key day, to say the least. We’ve spent the remainder of the day playing games, eating food, and relaxing. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day in Cuzco before heading back home. Vacation passes so quickly, yet so slowly. It doesn’t feel like it’s time to come home, yet I feel like I’ve been gone for ages.

We’ve all been talking about what we’re going to eat when we get home. We’ve all unanimously agreed that vegetables are what we’re craving. We’ve avoided most veggies on this trip, at least those that aren’t cooked well. Zac and I consume a lot of vegetables normally in our diet, so the change to mostly carbs has left me dreaming of leafy greens. In fact, I’ve joked many times this trip that my getting so sick hasn’t been because of bacteria or a parasite, but rather because I’m suddenly eating high amounts of carbohydrates. My body is engaging in its own “low carb diet” by flushing it all out.

Tomorrow will be a bittersweet day. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, having a richer diet, and washing my hands with hot water and soap, but the idea of going back to work and having to pay my bills does not sound appealing. It does, however, leave me day dreaming about where I’ll be going next…

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Posted by JorieW 20:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Wehrell-ed Travel

Arequipa, The Cliff Notes...

Tonight I will be boarding a night bus to Cuzco. This situation proves precarious for a number of reasons, highway robberies aside, because I’m still sick. Yep, still sick. Fortunately I’m feeling much, much better than I was previously, and I’m now feeling a bit more human-like.

While my initial intention was to write a blog for each day in Arequipa (as you can see) this did not happen. I was tired, I was unmotivated, and I was lazy. These combining factors meant laying my head down onto my pillow at night in lieu of picking up my laptop. So, here we go:

Arequipa, Chapter 1:

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On our first full day in Arequipa we switched hostels. Not because our first was gross, mind you, but because we had reservations elsewhere after coming in a day earlier than originally planned. Our second hostel has not been as nice as the first, at least in terms of noise level and hot water, but we have a beautiful terrace that overlooks the city.

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We are tucked perfectly between mountains and volcanoes, with the expanding new city in the distance and the cathedrals and shops of the historic district to our backs. Sunsets are beautiful, and the colors that dance along the mountain peaks as the last light folds into the blanket of darkness--nothing seems more relaxing than sitting in the midst of it with a beer and some yucca chips.

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We got a late start on the morning due to shuffling around and we were still slightly recovering from the trauma that was Puno. We needed to make a plan for the day, and what better way to do that than over empanadas? We found an amazing empanadita house that was truly one of the culinary magic moments of my trip. From there we all had strength and motivation to continue onward for the day.

The Santa Catalina Monastery was our big activity of the afternoon. Founded in 1579 (the city of Arequipa itself was founded in 1540), less than 40 years after the Spanish arrived, this monastery is really a convent. No answer has been given to us as to why it’s called a monastery when it’s really a convent, but we can gloss over that fact for now. For nearly 400 years (391, to be exact) this monastery was kept private, and outsiders were not allowed in. It has recently been opened for tours, though, and we happily paid to see what was once isolated from the busy life around it. The monastery itself is like a small city, complete with its own streets, and continues to be used to this day. The older sections of the monastery have been converted into a museum, but it still houses nuns ranging in ages from 18-90.

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The architecture of the monastery is beautiful (for lack of a better or different adjective). Constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone that gives Arequipa its name of the White City, the monastery has suffered through earthquakes and tremors throughout the years. This has clearly damaged the structure of the complex. Nonetheless, walking through the stoned alleyways, exploring the nun’s cells, and admiring the bright paint and beautiful architecture made me understand why the Santa Catalina Monastery is one of Arequipa’s highlights.

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After the monastery we grabbed some grub and got some rest. We had a big day ahead of us coming up.

Arequipa, Chapter 2:

How much would you pay to spend a day doing something you hate? Me? $57.

Let me start off with a bit of history, for those unfamiliar. It goes like this: I hate horses. Horses hate me. Every time I go on vacation I think “maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time I will like them,” and I book a horseback riding trip. Every time I get on one I feel like an idiot, who can’t seem to learn from lessons of the past.

This day was no different. Jenna wanted to do a full day horseback riding tour, and I was willing to do a half day horseback riding tour. We compromised and settled for…the full day horseback riding tour. Everyone else wanted to do a full day tour, which seemed weird to me because, again, horses are horrible animals. However, I was willing to go with group consensus, even though I knew that being on a horse for a full day would be miserable.

We were picked up in the morning by our guide, a friendly yet creepy man who was happy to talk and entertain…with Karolyn and Jenna. Learning that I was married meant that I clearly am not worth talking to, and he spent the afternoon encouraging Zac to look at other women and “apologizing” to me for being a bad influence. Of course I didn’t care if my husband looked at another woman and found her attractive—he’s not a robot, and each time I tried to explain this to the guide he couldn’t seem to comprehend it. He thought he was being devious, and this annoyed me more than anything else.

Our horses were, apparently, defective in some way or another (the guide’s words, not mine). I’m not sure what my horse’s defect was, but I do know that he walked like a puppy with paws he hadn’t yet grown into, flopping his big ol’ hooves down and tripping frequently (yes, tripping). His name was Ricky Martin, and he was by far the best looking horse of the bunch. Karolyn’s horse, Angel, was an ancient old beast, clearly on his last leg of life. Zac’s horse, Pedro, was simply crazy. Jenna’s horse, Maneulito, was the outcast of the group. Together we formed one sad looking bunch of cabelleros.

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The first part of our trip was riding through the outskirts of Arequipa through lovely neighborhoods with friendly faces (sometimes too friendly, as the whistles and cat calls would attest). Though riding a horse on concrete isn’t the most comfortable of journeys, it was fantastic to see a part of Arequipa we would otherwise not see.

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We galloped (or in my horse’s case, slowly strolled) through town and down through some beautiful farm lands before stopping along the shores of the Chili River to eat some fresh fruit we picked up along the way and snap some pictures.

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After our much appreciated break we saddled back up and rode to the house (literally a house with a farm in the small backyard) where our horses were kept (in the middle of the city) and stopped for lunch. The food was good and the company uncomfortable (our guide and his French friend). Our guide bought us two rounds of pisco sours, which seemed generous, but I discreetly passed mine along to Zac. Pisco and my medication likely didn’t mix, so I opted to skip it.

At this point I was not wanting to get back on my horse. Ricky Martin was nice enough, I mean, he was certainly not the sour bitch horse I had in Costa Rica (Lupita), but my legs were aching, my back hurt, and my butt bones (isn’t that the medical term for them?) were so sore! The last time I went horseback riding I was 30 pounds heavier and had more cush on my tush. I wasn’t prepared for these bones hurting—I didn’t even know I had them!

I had what seemed to be three options: 1. Stay back at the house farm and pet the cats while waiting for everyone to get back, 2. Pay to take a taxi cab back to the hostel, or 3. Suck it up and get on that goddamn horse.

I sucked it up.

The second half of the day could have been skipped all together. The rundown is as follows: took horses down dusty roads through vegetable crops; crossed busy four lane highway while fearing for my life and imagining me and my horse as a mixed taco sauce on the pavement after colliding with a car; falling behind because my horse is so slow and receiving gross propositions from passing locals as the solitary rider; Ricky Martin freaked out and took off down a side road after seeing a…baby carriage, which he apparently has a fear of; sun going down and the temperature dropping; freezing cold and chattering teeth; lots of barking dogs chasing horses; and finally making it back to the house farm, unable to walk because I had been on a horse all day.

It was mostly city riding, the guide was hitting on Jenna and Karolyn like crazy, and I hate horses. Did I mention how much I hate horses? This hasn’t changed.

Our guide offered to take us (more specifically Karolyn) salsa dancing, and we all politely declined. It was wonderful having him drop us off, and while the humor of his desperate attempts at meeting an American woman to marry (his words, not ours) was entertaining for the first half of the day, it grew old by the end of it.

None of us had energy to do much else. Zac and I had dinner before going to bed early. The prospect of sleeping in late the next morning was enough to leave smiles on our faces as we tucked warmly into a soft bed for the night.

Arequipa, Chapter 3:

And here we are; the conclusion.

I mentioned sleeping in—which did happen this morning, and it was glorious. Zac and I grabbed some breakfast before Karolyn and Jenna woke up. We then met up with them and went to an archeological museum to see Juanita, the 500 year old “ice maiden.” Discovered in 1995, Juanita is a well preserved young girl, sacrificed by the Incas on Mount Ampato in Southern Peru. Unlike other bodies found, Juanita was not mummified. Her organs were perfectly preserved, and her entire body was well preserved too, given the fact that she’s 500 years old.

The Incas believed that the mountains were alive, and as such, believed that natural disasters or changes in the weather were attributed to these gods of the mountains (or sun, or volcano, or moon, etc). Approximately every 4-7 years (or after a natural disaster), a young Incan was sacrificed to these gods to appease them. Juanita was one of those sacrificed, and like those sacrificed, she would have been chosen at birth, raised in a separate home with other children for sacrificing, taught many talents and crafts, educated, fed the best foods, and adorned with the best attire. The belief being that these children would be the most pure and best representations of the Incas to go and be among the gods. Often the children selected to be sacrificed from those picked at birth were the most attractive. Children were sacrificed between the ages of 8-15. It was believed that Juanita was between 12-14 years old when she was sacrificed.

She likely began her journey 160 miles away from the mountain in Cuzco, walking the entire way. She was accompanied by priests until they were more than 16,000 feet above sea level at the peak of the mountain. Here she was given sedatives before receiving a fatal blow to the head.

Seeing the body up close was…creepy. And interesting. But definitely creepy. Empty eye sockets, hair still remaining, and even a preserved arm with visible skin and finger nails—all on ice, and all on display. A small dehydrated body is all that remains of who this girl was, a girl from centuries ago, and it was right in front of me.

Cryptic or not, we all went out to lunch after the museum.

We don’t leave for Cuzco until 9 pm, so we’ve spent most of the day walking around and enjoying the sunshine and warm weather that has been afforded us in Arequipa. This has been my favorite city in Peru, and I’m glad we chose to come here.

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The End.

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Posted by JorieW 15:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Wehrell-ed Travel

The Epic Battle

Relief—sweet, sweet relief!

Puno is a thing of the past, my friends, and I am one happy lady. I left the town with a smile on my face and my middle fingers raised. Screw you, Puno. You suck.

Unfortunately Puno wasn’t going to give up without a fight. I can’t say I blame it. Misery loves company, isn’t that what they say? And few places I’ve been are more miserable than Puno.

The fight began from the near beginning. We were supposed to leave town on the 8 a.m. bus to Arequipa on a line called Julsca. We hadn’t heard of Julsca, but there are numerous bus lines in Peru and we just assumed this was just a budget line.

Oh, budget line indeed. You won that round, Puno.

The bus itself was rundown. The seats did recline, which was a benefit, and Zac and I were the first seats on the top, also a benefit. There was one bathroom (on a full double decker bus), which apparently had a woman and her child stowed in it until after tickets were finally checked (about an hour and a half into the bus ride). There were several unauthorized stops that allowed anything from fly by passengers (for a mere s/10, pocketed, of course), to stops picking up random people trying to sell a variety of items (a wheel of cheese, anyone?). Two men got on the bus soliciting money from passengers; the first trying to sell special “jewels” with healing powers and the first fifteen people to raise their hands would get a great discount (he had seven hand raises, surprisingly and sadly). The second was a man with some sort of handicap or medical problem who was simply trying to get donations “from people who want to go to heaven.” He begged and pleaded for people to reach down into the bottom of their hearts (and backpacks and purses and luggage) and give him some money. Again, surprisingly and sadly, people did.

I stared straight ahead. Nobody messes with the white people. They pretend we don’t exist unless we have to.

Now, by this point I was fed up. The bus ride was six hours, in a crowded, stuffy bus with no free flowing air and not so much as circulated air through the overhead. It smelled like onions, shit, and cigarette smoke (from someone smoking in the bathroom), and our bus driver was either drunk, stoned, or stupid because he was doing all kinds of horrifying and hilarious maneuvers on the road. At some points I could only close my eyes and tell myself that surely the bus driver wanted to arrive just as much alive in Arequipa as I did (though I wasn’t always convinced).

Puno, you dirty bitch, you again win this round. Combined with the disgusting (and too often frequented) bathrooms, I had no desire to use the bathrooms on the bus. It was like Puno was doing everything in its power to destroy me in my attempt to leave its evil clutches.

Now, here’s where I began winning:

Fortunately I ingested a pharmacy prior to leaving Puno and my stomach was under control and my dehydration allowed me not have to pee during the six hour ride (one of the only times this trip when dehydration has worked in my favor). The sinus medication was kicking in and while I’m a snotty mess, my head is finally feeling normal.

The scenery along the drive was surprisingly beautiful. I say surprisingly because I had read a lot of reviews from people saying it’s better to fly from Puno to Arequipa because you don’t miss much (a flight would cost $190 one way, our bus ticket cost about $12). We were still high above sea level (yet surrounded by mountains—what a trip), cruising by dessert and lakes, and even saw vicunas (small llamas) and FLAMINGOS! YES, I SAW FLAMINGOS! CAN YOU TELL HOW EXCITED I AM ABOUT THIS?!

Coming around a corner, having just finished my book, I happened to look up and out at a small lake we were passing. There, in the middle of it, was a large pink flock of one leg standing, long beaked flamingos. We passed another small lake with three more flocks! I didn't get a picture, so let's just close our eyes and imagine it.

Here’s where I really kick Puno’s ass, though: I got out. Puno can never leave Puno, but I can leave Puno, and despite its best efforts to destroy me, I prevailed.

Now I’m comfortably resting in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, and the most beautiful I’ve seen so far in Peru. It’s a city tucked in between mountains and volcanoes, providing a stunning backdrop that would get even the laziest outdoorsman’s heart pumping. The Plaza de Armas is gorgeous by the standards we’ve seen so far in Peru. Arequipa is called the white city, aptly named because of the white stone buildings in the plaza, which surround a tree lined center and large waterfall in the middle of it all. Children chase pigeons around, parents sit and drink coffee, tourists stand in awe and snap pictures (at least these tourists). The city is busy, but not the noisy busy that we’ve seen before. No, controlled intersections mean less cars honking and much quieter streets (something Cuzco may want to take note of).

We arrived at our hostel for the night, having booked it last minute because we were traveling to Arequipa a day earlier than planned on our original itinerary and having skipped the jungle. That meant we’d be checking out the next day and walking to our hostel for the remainder of our stay in Arequipa. Our one night stay has been pleasant. We met a couple from Oregon who were fun to talk with and commiserated our experiences of Puno. They felt exactly the same way (shock!). They also felt the grips of Puno as they left town on their shoddy budget bus, which apparently locked the only bathroom and no one even had the option of using it.

Let’s not think about that anymore, we’re over it. Let’s not mention Puno again, okay? Okay.

We explored around the plaza, ducking into shops and cathedrals and just admired the beauty of the city as the sun began to set, casting a lovely pink and orange hue around the mountain tops. We stopped at a supermarket (yes, super market) and picked up some cookies (our favorite food to buy every variety of to test out) and beer, and made it back to our hostel to hang out on the deck space just before the final light faded in the distance.

All felt right in the world.

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Posted by JorieW 06:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Wehrell-ed Travel

I Wanna Be Sedated

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This is how I spent my day.

There is always a certain expectation that accompanies traveling, and one of these expectations is a little tummy discomfort as your body adjusts to new food and new environment. It just happens. Anyone who travels knows this. It's the dirty little secret about traveling to third world countries that is only briefly mentioned in your Lonely Planet guide. I feel like there should be chapters dedicated to the discomforts of traveling, so I'll lead by example.

I was supposed to get on a boat this morning at 6:30 a.m. to spend the day cruising around Lake Titicaca and exploring a couple of islands in the lake. One of these islands, Uros Island, is made up entirely of reeds. The islanders have made a floating island that must be repaired frequently, anchored down, and candles avoided and instead replaced with solar panels. There are several reed islands, some with live stock, some with agriculture, and even a bathroom island (say whaaaat?!).

My sleep last night was restless and consisted of me throwing the blankets off of me while simultaneously attempting to pull them over me. I just couldn't get comfortable. The overwhelming need to vomit came quickly and frequently, but with no result. My sinuses were painful, and I had to take some pain killers in a desperate attempt to sooth them.

Wake up at 5:30 a.m.? Yeah, not likely.

The reason we came down to Lake Titicaca was to check out the islands, so I was going to do everything I could to make the tour. I hate this town, and I don't want to have spent all my time in it for no reason. I told myself I would take a shower and eat breakfast before deciding whether or not I would go.

I didn't even make it past the shower. I stood in the steaming shower, groaning and trying not to throw up. I could hardly stand, and I didn't even make it past the shampoo stage of my shower. I had to get out, but I had absolutely no energy or willpower to do so. Part of it was my lack of sleep, part of it was my exhaustion at spending the previous evening up tossing and turning, part of it was needing to vomit (from my mouth or my butt, I wasn't sure--but something had to come out from somewhere). Whatever it was, I somehow stumbled out of the bathroom and collapsed on the floor in our room, curled up next to the garbage can.

Jenna knocked on our door a short while later, saying she had also spent her night up vomiting from one end or the other and she wasn't going on the full day tour, which included six hours on a boat. Good call.

My wonderful husband offered to stay back as well, but Puno sucks, and I wouldn't subject him to spending his day in the hotel room, missing out on the only reason we came down here, and having to sit in a room that smells like dying, rotting human. Instead he went with Karolyn to the islands, which as it turns out, wasn't really all that great. He liked the Uros Island tour, which is a thirty minute boat ride, but the additional 2.5 hour boat ride from that to Taquile Island apparently wasn't worth it.

My day was spent curled up in bed, curled up next to the toilet, curled up on the toilet, and just over all miserable. My sinuses were throbbing and I couldn't stand without getting dizzy from dehydration despite my attempts at replacing my liquids. I ran out of water early in the day and had to crack into the mini bar (which my still wonderful husband went to the store and bought a replacement bottle for much cheaper so we don't get charged our first born for it).

I'm now loaded up on ciprofloxacin to treat whatever bacteria is destroying my system, and Zac and Karolyn picked me up something called iliadin to treat my sinuses. I've had a great deal of liquids, minimal food, and am feeling much better than earlier.

Here is what I realized. One, everyone is a cesspool of disease, just waiting to infect you with something. Someone is always coughing, sneezing, being gross, and spreading it all over the place to be picked up by those who come in contact with them. Two, whenever I prepare for trips by getting vaccinations or proper medication I get sick. When I just go into it with a "whatever" attitude, I don't get sick. Thirdly, today I felt really appreciative that I get to go home to proper sanitation practices and flushing my toilet paper.

Getting sick can easily take a day out of your plans, certainly. Hopefully tomorrow I will be okay for the six hour morning bus ride to Arequipa. I'm packing plastic puke bags and spare underwear, just in case. No one prepares you for the horrible and draining illnesses that can accompany traveling. I always forget it until I'm in the moment. Today someone should have just sedated me until my body recovered.

Posted by JorieW 20:00 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Wehrell-ed Travel

Keep on Keepin' On

Today I woke up in Puno (also called Pun-hole by Zac because Puno is a shithole) to the wonderful sounds of traffic, shouting, fireworks, and noisy hotel neighbors. These hotel walls are cheap, as Paul Simon might say.

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To be fair, Puno isn’t really as bad as I’ve described it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not a great place, but it’s okay. I think I’m a bit cranky with my ears STILL being unable to equalize, combined with a head cold, and an overall feeling of being run down. I get even crankier as I walk down the busy streets, dodging both cars and people (sometimes getting in the way of one in an attempt to get out of the way of another), and it makes me miss being somewhere quiet, like Aguas Calientes, even if it was a tourist town.

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We all took our time getting ready this morning, ate breakie, and then headed out the door to do a little bit of exploring. We walked in circles for quite some time in search of a balcony that Karolyn wanted to see (I’m still not sure what that was about, so I may be poorly representing it), but couldn’t find it and gave up. Instead we found ourselves a Ricos Pans and ducked in to get ourselves some pastries. Ricos Pans was not joking around with their name. Their bread is indeed delicious.

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The rest of our morning was spent securing bus tickets to Arequipa for our travels in a couple of days and booking a tour of Uros Island and Taquile Island for tomorrow. A day on Lake Titicaca sounds good to me. Since we didn’t have anything else planned for the morning, and since Puno doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to offer, we decided to book ourselves a tour for the afternoon. The only thing available on such short notice was an afternoon tour to Sillustani, a pre-Incan burial ground for chiefs and kings that rests on the shores of Lake Umayo, a lake that is actually at a higher elevation than Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world).

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Sillustani consists of several Chullpas, which are tower-like structures that were used by the Colla people until the Spanish invasion. The cemetery is 4,000 years old, and only a small portion of it has been excavated for study. Our guide informed us this was because Peru simply doesn’t have the budget to pay for such endeavors, nor is there the level of expertise to do so. The government doesn’t simply want to uncover these sites, they want to do it in a way that will preserve the artifacts and maintain the dignity of the land.

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Many of the towers had signs of Incan architecture, and that is because the Inca did overpower the Colla. Our guide reports that the Inca were “respectful of the cultures they were absorbing.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but in any event many of the chullpas had large stone walls surrounding them, walls with the traditional Incan ashlar craftsmanship.

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The tombs often housed multiple mummies (at least for what has been currently excavated). The land was a sacred burial ground for Colla chiefs and kings, and once they died their close family was also sacrificed. The belief being that there is no heaven or hell, only a continuing journey. Sacrificing close family meant that they could go on the journey with the king. Many of the tombs were filled with families, all mummified with a process of organ removal similar to the Egyptians, then wrapped in llama dung (for the acid) and curled into the fetal position.

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The chullpas themselves are all round in shape. According to our guide this was to represent the roundness of pregnant women, and thus the circle of life. This is also why the mummies were always placed in fetal position.

After the death of a king and his family, pottery of the king was broken and scattered about the burial site. Walking through the paths and stone quarries we could still see remnants of these scatterings.

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The tour itself was very interesting, and certainly more interesting than I’d initially expected it to be. The mountains surrounding the shores of Lake Umayo are beautiful and pristine. The small village at Sillustani is quiet and peaceful. I didn’t need to ask why this spot had been chosen—it seemed fairly obvious.

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During the tour we met a couple from Brussels and struck up a long conversation with them. They seemed surprised that not only had we been to Brussels, but that we knew that Brussels was a city, not a country (apparently they’ve encountered many Americans who believe Belgium is the capital of Brussels…). It became even more humorous (or maybe concerning) when they revealed that they were surprised to learn we were American because they imagine all Americans as being fat, and none of us are fat. The wonders of traveling—meeting new people and getting a slap of reality when stereotypes are reflected right back at you.

After the tour we caught a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel, where we’re resting now. We have to be up early tomorrow morning for a 6:30 a.m. pickup and a full day on Lake Titicaca. I’ll give you one guess who thought this starting time was okay…
It’s almost time to move on to Arequipa, and for that I am excited. Puno (means “sleepy”) is not the place for me. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Probably because I keep saying it.

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Posted by JorieW 07:28 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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