November, 2002 Diary excerpt
“After an assortment of buses, cabs, planes and airport floors, I am finally in Lima. I sit relaxing on a terrace that is indoors, but has no roof. I am surrounded by vines and flowers, chattering birds, painted cement floors and impossibly tall wooden doors. After a walk around the corner in the center of this city, my belly is full of mysterious things from a menu that I could not understand. Lima is both beautiful & terrible. The ceaseless honking of horns, the near impenetrable smog & grime and the poverty that is everywhere. The buildings and the distant hills, and the faces of those around me however, are stunning. Walking around, it seems that some of the buildings are standing on sheer willpower alone. Crumbling brick & stone strung with drying laundry like bright splashes of colour amid the decay.”
Flipping through my travel journal it has become apparent to me that this post will have multiple parts- no matter how much I edit my 3 months in South America. This means that you have a graceful exit should you tire of my endless going on…….. I like to supply people with an easy out. Whether Mr.C’s request for stories from my trip was serious or not appears to have no relevance to me. Any excuse to reminisce about travel……..
22 hour bus through the Andes to Cuzco. 4 stops of 5 minutes, 1 stop of 20 minutes and no bathroom on the bus. When picking up new passengers in the middle of the night in the sleepy villages of the Andean highlands I often had to run out of the bus to pee, squatting right in the headlights to ensure the driver didn’t leave. He wasn’t pleased. Old converted school bus- no shocks & a couple broken windows. Long cold ride through the dark, sheer cliffs on one side, rock face on the other. Terrifying to pass another speeding bus on the narrow track through the mountains. When daylight finally broke with astonishing speed, there were cactus trees as wide as a man is tall, sparse grasslands and with the altitude, it appeared as though you could reach out and grab the clouds.
Hidden in the lush mountains of the rain forest lays the great Inca city of Cuzco. Am taking a week to acclimatize to the altitude until moving forward through the jungle to Macchu Piccu. Traditionally dressed villagers, wonderful markets in the narrow streets and fresh made empanadas stuffed with rich meat from the street stalls. A short day trip to Pisac, a mecca of Inca ruins and a market that stretches further than you could possibly navigate in one day. Coffee in the sun beneath a mossy green mountain peppered with the crumbling remains of Inca farming terraces. I am seeing almost no other tourists thus far which suits me- traveling in the rainy season has it’s advantages.
Manchu Picchu is utterly indescribable. Anything that I say will not begin to do it justice. The stone work is breathtaking and baffling. The intermittent drizzle makes the surrounding mountains seem unreal- it’s like walking through someone’s dream. I get dizzy when I touch the stones, painstakingly shaped so long ago. I spent the first day lost amid it all. Rather than board the bus that heads down the crazy winding 1000meters from the site, I hiked the path, comprised entirely of stairs. Sore knees, but saw flowers and vegetation that I couldn’t even begin to name. Camped the first night at the base of the mountain along the Urubanba River. A white face among the sherpas that haul gear for tour groups making the Macchu Picchu hike. Dinner in the dark with lightning bugs throwing flashes of light from across the river. Day two at Macchu Picchu included a terrifying hike along the mountain side to an Inca drawbridge. Only saw 3 other people and I can understand why- the path in some spots was no wider than 2 feet with a sheer drop forever on the other side. I spent a great deal of time hugging the rock face to the left of me for fear of never being heard from again.
On the shore of lake Titicaca in Puno. Am dining almost exclusively from the local street vendors and eating on the curb with the locals which is always an adventure. Have only been burned by this habit once… was served what I presume to be some time of fried organ, encased in its own layer of fat. I did the best I could then covertly wrapped the rest to feed to the feral dogs later. Spent the day at Uros, an island in the lake made entirely of reeds. It’s almost spongy when you walk. Met some local children who seemed fascinated by the snake tattoo on the top of my foot. I drew one on all of their feet and left them with every pen that I owned. When I boarded the little wooden boat to go back to Puno, they were all busy writing on each other and I’m quite sure their parents now hate me. It seems so weird that I still have more than 2 months in South America as it feels like I have already seen so much. On my way to Bolivia.
Crossed the boarder with little issue- a small border strike which is apparently common. Men blocking a bridge that was the only option for the bus. I have heard that they can last days, but this one was over in 4 hours. There is a bathroom on the bus which despite its smell, seems like the ultimate luxury. The bus had to cross the enormous, never ending Lake Titicaca and did so on a raft pushed by men with large wooden poles. Was dropped in downtown La Paz, a short walk from the hostel in the witches market that I intended to stay in though it was unfortunately full. On the street in this city with a giant backpack is like having a bulls eye on your back. I was “sprayed.” Liquid thrown on me (which later turned out to me mashed up cookies and water) The ruse being that an English speaking person rushes to your aid after witnessing “such an offense.” “Take off your pack, I will help you clean it off.” Of course, as soon as you do, your pack is gone. Luckily, this scam is universal and I disappointed the guy offering to help (repeatedly, with growing frustration) by telling him to fuck off. Ended up having to splurge on an actual hotel in the downtown core just to get off of the street with my pack. Though dirt cheap by our standards, it still breaks my budget and means only bread and the fresh salty cheese from the market for tomorrow.
Have learned to expect one violent downpour everyday, usually around noon. It doesn’t cool things down, just bumps up the humility. Am now, after several days in several random villages, in Uyuni. It’s a weird place, a perfect square of a town in the middle of nothing, with an impossibly blue sky. Went to the salt flats “The Salar del Unyuni, which is an amazing site. Drove for hours across the blinding white ground, comprised entirely of salt. It was like you should feel cold, like it was snow. Ended up on a tiny island (Isla Pescado) in the middle of the salt that was covered in 10 to 20 foot tall cactus, which happened to all be in bloom. It was an amazing site and I was thankful that the only building on the tiny island was a beer stall. Thank fuck for small favors. No bank machine in Uyuni. Haven’t hit one since Potisi. Pushing on to Argentina in a few more days.
Part 2 to follow…….