Monday, March 31, 2008

Turning Northwards

Chile proved to be a fantastic land of surreal desert ripped from Dali s imagination. We took a bus from Arica to the Peublo of Putre, higher in the Mountains and inland towards Bolivia. A dusty town, with lots of sun and bordering snow-capped mountains- just beyond the dry yellow, grey and red hills on the horizen. We hired a guide to take us to Parque Lauca (not having a guidebook, internet, or a better comprehension of the Spanish languge it was neccessary, as we could figure no other transport into the Parque Nacional). Fancisco was pleasant enough for a stranger, and we had him all to ourselves, so we didnt have to aim the camera shots away form other touristos profiles, and he bent to our every whim. We spent the day in the hilly mountain plains only 2 km from the Bolivian frontera (what torture! As we hadnt prepared ourselves with $150 visas ahead of time). I saw the object of my first animal report at age 6, the Pika (kind of like a large mouse-rabbit). There were also four types of camiliads who grazed along the roadway 11, and moved high into the hills by late morning. There were shades of flamingos, many other varieties of birds, and endlessly amazing reflections against the still pools of Northern Chile´s desert.

Then, painfully, we headed back to the Peruvian nightmare border. We hitched a ride with our guide as the bus was not due until the following afternoon. Train tickets sold out, we decided to find a bus to Tacna, as this border is vast and uncrossable on foot. The station was a nightmare of untrustworthery persons who wanted our passports in their charge, so we hiked it back to where we thought there was the PanAmerican. We waited, tapped our feet, counted our meager amount of remaining Pesos, disdained the coming darkness, and saw hope in TACNA ARICA buses heading our way- in the wrong direction, yet we it ws a good sign we were on the right route. A bus coming the right way, too fast to read its sign clearly, was flagged easily enough. I popped my head inside, ¨Queremos viajar frontera...¨I explained. The driver motioned to hop in, ¨Frontera,¨I confirmed. Yeah- tough luck. He took us into the slums, away from the parallel line to the ocean. I jumped off the bus with matter- of -fact protest to not paying his fare.

We were lost.

The dark was flying overhead.

Cars rushing.

No guidebook. A small map of the city center from information in the happy- safe- bright- beautiful-joyful part of Arica.

We werent on the map.

$8 by Taxi to the border. Sigh of releif- but no. The windows are not marked salida or entre. There is frenzy in the air. Taxi drivers are waving papers in our faces, telling the immigration staff who knows what. We breeze faltingly around from window to window until one man makes a motion to give us an exit stamp. We are famished- tired and hungry. No he says- we need proof of transport first. A bus rolls into veiw, and a kind woman mentions no more than 800 Pesos in passing. GREAT. Thats all we got left.

Then- people are trying to rip our passports out of our hands, the immigration officer stops me from buying a ticket. I insist I have my passport. At last it is stamped, yet the bus driver has unsurprisingly raised his fare to 1500 Pesos each. Tears involuntarily stream from my eyes, Im trying to handle this, trying to hold it together and bargain him down. Somehow pity is given, and we are on the bus, fighting with the bus attendant in resist to his claiming our passports for entrance stamps. I WILL not give it to him. He is flaming mad, gripping the seat, yelling, other people are worried, chiming in- yelling at us, one woman (I tihnk the one who gave us the tip earlier) tells him its Our passport- leave us alone. We get it stamped ourselves, and then wait for the rest of the bus to reclaim their belongings. This is an impracticle thing. Chaos rules the immigrations- woman are clutching at their purses as they exit the scanner belt, officials are litterally ripping them from their hands, throwing it aside. Straps are tearing, people are wailing, suitcases are falling open upon each other into a massive lumpy pile, and then the citizens are released to sort through it all and find their belongings- hurridly stuffing it back together and panting. Our items roll through the conveyer belt and I hear, ¨No. Esta touristas,¨and it is thaknfully handed over peacefully.

Tacna, again. Why didnt we check back into our old hotel?

Then, 7 30 AM bus to Puno. It takes 12 hours ot reach the shores of Lake Titicaca. This is the hightest navigable lake in the world. We are tired, and unimpressed. We leave the following morning to the dock. A wait. W wait for a very slow boat to leave port, eventually, at noon. We are gliding over the dark, deep waters. We pass the floating islands of the Uros culture. I watch the duckings paddle through the watery reeds. Quechua woman sit indside performing their immaculate weavings in their full skirts and woven wraps. Dark, long hair with black alpacha tassles bulking at the ends.

The boat is having trouble. Actually, it stops. I look towards the penninsula. At least, where I think the penninsula is, and try to gage where Llachon is. I know I can swim it ( I remember swimming out in to the heavy waves of Carribean ocean. Everyone else turns back, and I am one of three people to make it to the San Blas island), but it is very cold, and deep- and I cant bring my belongings.

Eventually the engine is restarted, and after three hours in the open water we are ashore, wandering through the prettiest peublo in all of Peru. We are accompanied by Kuan who brings us home with him and his new door, which is lifted above his head. His beautfiul Quechua wife feeds us well, and we are warm, confortable, serene, and immersed in the beauty of a fully self sustained cultured with no need for money or the outside world aside from general curiosity. We spend a long time that evening chatting, laughing, learning some Quechua lingo, and I sleep well for the first night in a long time.

Now- we are in Cusco. The journey was long but forgivable as we had the help of Kuan and blessings of the nearby spirits. The city is built on Incan ruins, and they line the streetways. Our hostel is high up in footpaths and cobbled stairways. Everything is expensive, and I am looking forward to beginning our independent journey to Macchu Picchu in the morning. First stop, Pisac.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chile! Pais numero 8

Chile! We thought not to make it this far, but- oh! yes we have. It is a glorious place (all 15 km I have so far explored). With a lot of trouble, we took a rickety old, wooden train from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile last night. The locals were mighty hesitant to let us aboard and tried many distractions as reasons for us not to purchase our tarjetas. However, after much persistance, hours, help from the local tourist agency, and depression (since we had traveled hundreds of miles and spent much money for this purpose) we finally succeeded in our 7th form of crossing borders.

Among these methods are: by plane to Guatemala (not very original), by shuttle into Honduras (not reccomended), by bus through Nicaragua and into Costa Rica (mediocre), by sail boat to Cartegena, Colombia (eventful), by foot into Ecuador (surprisingly easy), and by Riverboat into Peru (exceptional).

In the hustle of tourism in Miaflores I felt constantly flustered, confused, and lost. Manuel was sick with the after effects of bad food and dehydration, and the only thing I remotely enjoyed was the small freedom of roaming a foreign city on my own for the first time. I chatted with many artesan merchants, bought a few things I didnt really want (urgh), and was constantly romanced by Peruvian men. After four nights of this, and with the completion of St. Patrick´s day festivities, we had a plan. To take a bus to Pisco (South, on the coast of the Pan American highway) and then hop another bus to Santa Ines, half way East towards Ayacucho. From there we wanted to take the back roads South-East towards Cuzco, and hopefully bipass the Santa Semana maddness. Turns out, we were shit outta luck.

Pisco has had a devestating Earthquake. It is littered with refuges and rubble. Everything in it has tumbled down. And there are no morning buses towards Ayacucho. And we got food poisening, again.

So we jumped a Southbound bus to Ica (thanks for the pills Debbie!), then another (running after it, then jumping, actually). Ended up in Nasca. Not such a bad town. Blistering hot, with dark rocks of desert, mountains, and the infamos Nasca lineos. We stayed at The Way Inn with pretty piscina, yummy frutas desayuno, and very friendly staff (whom I expect had a bit of desert spirit and magic in their blood). We bypassed the offers of flying over the desert with a tour guide, and instead opted to see the lines from the mirador built by a woman who dedicated her life to decocding the reason behind these massive works of art. As it was now the end of Semana Santa buses were becoming difficult to come by, and we ended up paying Colombia standard fees to 15 hour journey to Arequipa, the Southernmost large city of Peru.

The bus was not clean of course, and the service was not accountable for our outragesly priced tickets, but in a way it was fortunate to awake throughout the night as the full moon was reflecting along the coastal desert beach. Illuninating the crash of waves upon the red sand in the still and lonely looking night.

After a lengthy and loud dissagreement with the PERRA at Tambo Viejo hostel (NOT RECCOMMENDED), we found ourselves wandering cluster-fucked streets of Easter touristos in the heart of Arequipa. Then came upon the Hostal Regis, with friendly enough Peruvian host in a four story victorean house. It was prime spot to ignore our hell of being stuck in a city overrun with shoppers and religious fanatics. It was also a beautiful veiw of the nightly procession of Jesus on the cross, the local preist and accomplises, and the Virgen Mary and the whole town of morning locals and candles.

It was another six hour journey across the desert to Tacna, at the border of Chile, a pleasant enough town where we enjoyed our afternoon Easter feast of Chocolate cake and Pina Coladas to the waitress´s tsk tsk tsking. There is a nice Plaza de Armas, with fountains and vine covering canopies. And the 5 sole train museum is absolutly wonderful as I got to climb around on decomposing cabooses and box cars; Peek inside 1930´s dining cars; Open the coal gate to the steam engines; I even found a rotting cat (but I dont think that was part of the display).

Upon our entry into Chile, I immediately noticed the change in scenery. The rocks of the desert were bigger, the ocean flowed nearby, and the peublos bordering Arica are much more enchanting. Instead of the dusty, half- finished haze of concrete, and protruding-skyward steel rods, of Peruvian villages: there were grids of widely spaced picket fenses. The houses had rooftops, and there were gardens, channels of palm trees, eucalyptus, and and flourish of hibiscus flowers in every color!

The Peruvian woman across from me in the tiny passenger carriage, made me well aware of the nightmarish culture I was fleeing; With her disapproving sneer, and overly dramatic protest to my knee against her skirt, and refusal to awknowledge my existence with my initial attempt at ¨Hola¨. Immigration was done at the train stations, so everything went fairly smoothly (aside from Uely-s missing tourist card, found only a little late) and we were out on our first Chilean street before dark.

We marched across the highway a little apprehensive (since someone had stolen 100 soles from me amidst the chaos of the mornings train station attempt) and flagged a taxi driver. We have very little information on Chile (aside from my own hurried notes jotted down off other traveler´s blogs), let alone any understanding of the city Arica´s layout. The Cabbie was extremely kind (as has been every Chilean cabbie since), and when I pointed to my scrawled handwriting and simultaneaously pronouced , ¨Calle Maipu o Sotomayor, Por favor¨, he was kind enough to let us know that we needed no taxi and pointed us the 2 blocks in the right direction. We stomped along, hustling for fear of the darkness approaching, and found ourselves as audience to yet another kind Chilean. Upon our remark of ¨muy caro, neccesito 5 mil para noche¨to her US dolar priced establishment, she recommended us to a Hostel Americanas not half a block down the street. It is a colorful, fair priced, family-run establishment with cocina, television (yeah, starting to miss that stuff again), and hot water in a private bathroom. My reccomendations.

In our first hour of exploring Chile we had already encountered more friendly, helpful, and caring people than our full month stay in Peru (excluding the Jungle which is farther from civilisation and a different region from Peru in my mind). There is a wonderful balance of tipico style restaurantes and markets in Arica, juxtaposed by a full walking strip -free of cars- and lively with European style cafes, streep performers and and salads galore! It is such a shame that our return ticket is out of Lima, as we are down to 2 weeks remaining until departure, and not one tiny bone in my body wants to set foot back in Peru (despite having skipped the renouned Inca cities of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chicha Morada Recipe

  1. Wash the corn and place it in a pot with the water, the clove, the cinnamon, the chopped quince, the pineapple shell and the chopped apples.
  2. Let the mixture boil until the grain of the corn bursts open, then remove it from the heat and strain it.
  3. Let it cool to room temperature and sweeten it with the sugar. Then add the mandarine juice.
  4. Serve it thoroughly chilled, with finely-chopped fruit.

Trails End

Only moments ago I stepped into the raucous of Lima, Peru. After adventuring in the jungle for nearly a month, being back on a bus for fifteen hours was tortuous. Ah! The crisp fresh air of a lancha at sunrise, and the beauty of lightning storms through plump la selva clouds. The monotony of hiking through mud ridden- mosquito infested forest, and coursing back and forth over flooder river terrain. We were paddled up stream though one of the longest rains of Lagunas ´reckoning. Seven straight hours the drops pelted out of the sky, natives conjecturing, ¨mucho lluga, mucho!¨and then smiling at me listfully with the pride of the forest in their forceps and mind.

We left Iquitos on a Thursday evening after spending the previous night on the town with my friend Nara (a local to Iquitos whom I met on the Rio Napo) walking the Plaza de Armas, admiring the fountains along the river, feigning some interest in street performers and Michael Jackson impersonations, and questing through the Artisans market for an old shaman with porcupine quills and Siete Reices. We feasted upon a tipica jungle chicken dinner, fire roasted and served with a multitude of sauces. Then, later a welcomed visit with her family. Sitting in the dirt on a noisy sidestreet in the warm late night air. Discussing English and Spanish phrases, a tearful goodbye amongst a friendly invite to return with full lodging and meals included. Then, spending Thursday fully stocking up for a pleasant boat trip downstream to the small village of Lagunas on the border of the Picaya-Samiria reserve.
We had Uely´s daybag stocked on rum, local beverages, pineapple juice, peanut butter, jam, knife, lighters, bowls, cups from Popayan, spoons, my mother´s spanish dictionary from college, our South American Handbook for inspiration, and his journal for memories sake. We lounged quite giddy and content, as this boat was a palace compared to the one on the Napo. It towered a full story higher, and another lancha longer. It had space enough for my stretching and dancing in the early mornings. The bathrooms were usuable and there were even shower heads.


IT WAS GONE. From right under our hammocks. Urgh. Rattas. Theifs. Everyone around us saw it happen, and no one said a thing. Shrugging their shoulders, laughing at my horrid gringa-speak as I inquired, ¨Rattas tomar nos bolsa- Por que no dices me?¨Not a friend in sight.

Hence, a grim, but adventurous journey to Lagunas, we spent our time trying not to sulk as we kept full guard over our remaining belongings and shared a melancholy mediocre book for distraction. And tried not to think about Uely´s irreplaceable journal and the Peurto Rico rum that walked away (it is a brilliant solution to killing whatever lives in the river water cuisine served on board). Also, we had positioned our hammocks on the top deck with only a tarp cover above us. The nightly storms raged at all angles, and we were glad to have our luggage wrapped in a heavy duty garbage bag with 15 liters of water on top for better keeping.

We found ourselves in Lagunas late Saturday night, and were immediately befriended by Clever, who happened to not only have been raised in an indigenous village in the surrounding jungle but was wise with medicinal knowledge carried on from his father. We hired him as our guide a very agreeable rate that is unheard of in Iquitos. He took us into the forest for three days and two nights. Which was more than enough time for me in the deep jungle. Mostly because I got another bout of food poisoning. Can you imagine the misery of my being sick on a tiny three person paddle boat for 6 hours? Yet, this was still an experience to remember the rest of my life.
The beauty of the small silent crevices penetrated by the slow dipping tempo of the wooden paddles. The bright jungle birds, large eagles, black vultures, soaring in the air. Plantain palms, huge Ceiba trees, root masses protruding out of vines and flourishing like chunks of snarled witch hair in the water current. The brown river growing steadily higher, the night sky overreaching our heads, the sky lighting up with thunder. The exotic smells and sounds of unhindered wilderness. Monkeys of their many sizes colors and shapes constantly darted through the treetops. Us- turning our heads at the sound of kerrrrpluunck! and crrrraack! to see them stuffing their faces in sublime satisfaction of lazy siesta haze. The constant threat of piranhas swimming in swarms below. The caimen, turtles, tarantulas, and oh yes- about fifty varieties of mosquitoes. There were the obstinately hungry ones, appearing like those in California, yet more vicious and desperate. Cunningly clever in their achievements on my flesh. Then in the heat of the afternoon they flew grandly about my face in hysteria. Larger, with bright blue and yellow coloring. The evenings were infiltrated by armies of these beasts in every shape and size. My legs are quite a pocked wonder.
Clever, I think, was sad to see us go, though his ego said otherwise to his friends and family. Small side gestures and laughing of ¨touristas¨¨gringos¨you´d think I would be used to it by now. However, Clever decided to join us at the docks with rum and mandarin treats. He saw us off like a true Father figure, helping with our bags, waving, and one last offering for aiuawska, which we have not partook in.

Uely had decided to splurge and surprised me with first class tickets to Yurimaguas. A whole new world with dinner served at a table with plates and cutlery, even tea cups. We decided it would be best to make headway for Lima as we are missing some futile supplies (try hiking through a hot, dusty foreign town slum with no address of where to go, and taxi drivers who cant understand your accent ¨hospedaje-hotel-hostel-residencia-resturante-catedral, por favor?¨). The journey to Lima was not uneventful. However, the only part I feel worth mentioning is the collectivo from Yurimaguas to Tarapoto.

The usual- being pulled by multiple persons in different directions before I have even climbed out of the tiny motortaxi. "Tarapoto!Tarapoto!Tarapoto!Tarapoto!" they exclaim. I give a tiny, discreet nod of my head, while glancing sideways to see what Uely makes of this. We had been headed for a bus station....Our bags are hoisted- flung- onto the top of a pile of other cargo. The usual chickens, parrots, cola, and square-plaid-waterproof bag covers. One man even carries baby turtles in his pockets, which he occasionally spits on for comfort. The children are gathered around him, guessing prices he might fetch for them at market in Tarapoto. The drive is somewhat paved to begin with, but our truck was not in such good condition. There was first a long wait for someone willing to pay twice as much for indoor seating before we could leave, then a flat tire, then another half hour wait for the construction of a toll booth. Then an hour and a half stop to replace the damaged tire in some small sleepy jungle town with an excellent restaurant that actually served us beans! All this in the first 60km.
On the road again- no more pavement now, though there is definite progress underway as the construction was so fresh the red dirt wasnt even a smidgen compacted on the ´roadway´.´We twisted and turned, I practicing patience, bending my knees to keep steady on the bumps and twists, reminding myself that I was about to embark on a series of bus journeys, so I should be ecstatic that I am doing pli`es in the back of a dusty Toyota pickup truck. The canyons stretch a good 100 feet below us in a flurry of green and red jungle abyss. Above was the other 200 feet of mountain about to crumble back down and heal her wounds. I could hear my Dad telling me no when I was five, ¨no, it isn't safe to ride in the back of a truck.¨ The beauty of tropical waterfalls falling through the roadways, under makeshift cement bridges, then cascading the rest of its way down the canyonside. All around, the rich red earth freshly exposed and breathing the misting sun spotted air. Out ahead, a long caravan of traffic; Many collectivo pickups, vans, freighter trucks with multiple cars too large for California laws; A flourishing rainbow of bananas, red jungle fruits, Peruvians, soda pop, and personal baggage in baskets, coffee sacks, and bamboo structures. If only I had my camera ready and also a third hand- to steady the jostle! Past every group of construction workers a large holler, whistle, ¨hey! Gringa!¨Uely got a ¨Buy a sombrero¨ for his T shades in harsh, vowel-laden, Peru-Inglais. I griped the unsteady rail so hard that I got blisters, yet found myself safe and bored in a dusty dry town called Tarapoto before two in the afternoon.

Two long bus rides overnight, and lot of waiting, and additional hassle having no guidebook for addresses to give cabbies, I now find myself in a gringo infested abode in the heart of Miaflores, Peru. Here is where there are DVDs, internet, traffic, and bitchy girls who give me smack for ordering a beer at one in the afternoon. As if I know what time it is after all that! Heh.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Clearing in the Bush

I left this saga last, in the jungle town of Coca, where we departed Ecuador on the Rio Napo to Puerto Rocafuerte. The speedboat was full with 70 people, a lot of bananas, oranges, eggs, a generator, and other thick bulsas of various cargo. It took 15 hours to reach our port, and we stumbled into a half organized mass of habitations with old broken lamp posts lining the few streets. We found ourselves lodged in a small, filthy room with a peruvian military immigration guard on leave, hammocks, mosquitos, rats, cochroaches and a chorus of dog fights all night long. Upon early rising the next day, and a fried fish and papas breakfast, we nearly emptied our pockets to pay for the gasoline to get us the hell out of Ecuador and into Pantoja where we could get a Peruvian entry stamp in our passports. This ride was brisk, and our driver Juan Carlos drove us purposfully into some river bushes numerous times to collect small fruits which look like green beans and taste like sugar water in cotton, mmm. As we were occupied in the bushes, with VERY big braches looming around our heads- so that we had to dodge under, over and around as the river current pulled us along- a storm rolled in and Chuzo (Juan Carlos) pushed the motor to the metal as we screeched into Pantoja around noon.

Pantoja has no streets. Being so far upstream on the Rio Napo, there are no vehicles, and villagers were working hard at carving their canoes on the shore. We hiked up a long hill to immigration as the rain came pouring down. We have more luggage now than ever because of all our ¨neccessaries¨ (primarily 20 liters of agua and crackers) which really arent all that neccessary for the jungle after all (rubber boots, mosquito nets, pots and pans, bowls, cups, towels). We found ourselves sleeping on the Lancha which had only just arrived a few minutes before us. This was lucky in some regards. Sometimes travelers wait weeks for a ride to Iquitos. Also, it was a free place to sleep. BUT the banos are in horrible condition, and by the time the Jeisawell set sail on Thurday morning, I was already sick of her. One day I awoke at first light to someone sweeping, only to realize in my groggy-headed haze that they were pushing blood maggots off the floor and overboard, sort of. Those nasty critters were EVERYWHERE, including my socks which I had lazily left on the floor the previous night.

As we sailed southwards, the lancha stopped at every jungle establishment for cargo. Cargo in the jungle means pigs, pigs, pigs, chickens, turtles, corn, bananas, pigs, pigs, Oxen, ducks, roosters, pigs, and pigs. The smell was overwhelming. The screams of the animals was horrifc. I tossed in the cold jungle air enlessly through every night. Hammocks were crammed one right next to other, I had not two, but four sleeping partners. A person on every side of me, spooning my head, shoulder, hips, and feet. Food was served in the gallows near the pigs, and right across from the mess of a bathroom. Fish guts and maggots littered the floor, and even local villagers made clear their protests by refusing to eat those meals cooked of river water on the worst lancha in the Amazon.

I spent my time drinking aguardiente mixed with an orange crush type soda or citrus tonic water. I would climb onto the roof (though it was speedily filling up with chickens in cages, and the metal was too hot on their feet to avoid their rampant rejections of squakings and cockadoodledoos). I took pictures, observed cargo loading methods (nothing like watching a village full of men, plus the ship crew, and captain haul an oxen across a small wooden plank suspended 4 feet in the air above the river from the grassy bank), talked with my friend Nara from Iquitos who is a biology major at University, crochet with llama yarn bought at the Latacunga, Ecuadorian market, read Mary Oliver, and then mixed another drink.

We evacuated the lancha on Saturday evening just aftersundown. It was a nice farewell. Nara and I sat on the roof, looking at the vast variety of stars in the southern hemisphere, and chatting together of Spanish and English phrases.

Santa Clotilda is another jungle town, smaller than Coca, and larger than Pantoja. There was a single motorcycle who navigated these streets among the scattered ramblers of the sidewalks of the evening town frollick. We stayed for free with our hammocks in the loft above a wonderful little family restaurant. They fed us well, and we spent a day taking pictures, exploring the networking pathways through palms, old fountains, covered bridges, along the river, and around a plaza in the hot hot sun. The evening held magic for me as I found some neighborhod children to play at dancing with, and then a friendly face from the lancha to meander a bit down the main strip with her three small children.

From Santa Clotilde we found ourselves disembarking on another speedboat, smaller than the rapido out of Coca, but much larger than the hand carved canoe from Nuevo Rocafuerte. This trip was 5 hours to Masan, and I sat next to a large spider.

Masan was an unintersting little town, hot, and covered with some kind of workforce who were singing near the docks. This is where I met Anderson. He is a driver of a mototaxi. A motorcyle with a trailer attached at the back for a seat. He took us on one of the funnest rides Ill ever have. It was winding sidewalks, poorly maintained with potholes and half paved with rocks and dust. The 20 minutes we held on to our bags in the back of his cab were spinning with banana trees, jungle ferns, thatched huts, and villagers, then a darker part of the forest, into sunlight, and around a bend to Indiana where I saw the Amazon river for the very first time, flowing strongly, and pushing huge masses like islands along in her current.