Arequipa - Day 1
January 10th, 2008
A brief walk from the square provides access to many wonderful architectural and historical delights. One such delight is the Williams house, the home of a former territorial governor. It still for the most part exists in the state it was when it was occupied with the exception of the items the Williams took with them when they returned to England. The house remains adorned with religious icons and imagery, including one that attempted to tackle the quandary of mixed races.
During any part of the walk you are constantly bombarded with the imagery that cements the fact that this is still a third world country. While there are those who are in actually need, just like
anywhere there are those who seek to exploit the kindness of the tourist and fake being in dire straits.
I'm not fully sure of the details surrounding our next stop and can hopefully add to today's entry tomorrow after I've had a chance to confirm a few things. I'm including it simply because the architecture was stunning.
Also within a short walking distance of the square are La Compania. From the outside it is a stunning piece of architecture. Unfortunately, we were unable to venture in to see the opulent splendor, but it was closed for cleaning.
The final stop before calling it a day and getting a bite to eat was the mercado. It's a wonder that any of us had an appetite after that. I think food is one of those key elements truly highlight the cultural differences. With items on the shopping menu such Guinea Pig, Mountain Oysters and the worst of all... Jugo de Rana... which is essentially frog juice. I will spare you the gory details and call it a night.
Arequipa - Day 2
January 11th 2008
Upon leaving the sanctuary of the monastery, we were greeted with the beginning of a protest/march to the plaza. This being an eco/ethno tourism trip we were intrigued and followed the group. Unlike the previous day of sparse relaxation, today the plaza was alive with electric energy. Most of the group there was praising a new agreement that apparently benefits farmers from Chile, but leaves domestic farmers out in the proverbial cold. The group protesting the agreement was significantly smaller and with the exception of banners and chanting, their presence was hardly felt. The police were out in full force in their riot gear to quell any rumblings of disorder, just the same and luckily there was none. By this time the daily ran had begun, so it put an end to most activities.
Arequipa - Day 3
January 12th 2008
Sometimes it's the oldest sayings that hold the most truth... The early bird gets the worm. In this case the worm was a magnificent view of Misti, one of the larger volcanoes in the Arequipa area.
Several of our prior day activities made mention to Misti, but we had yet to see her. I guess if you've been hiding and want to make an entrance it might as well be a grand one.
Almost as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. This is the rainy season after all and
the clouds quickly rolled in to shroud Misti till another day.
The rest of the day was a random jumble of churches and a picturesque milling town. I suppose town is probably generous, but it was indeed beautiful.
Drive to Puno Day 4
January 13, 2008
If not for the chill and the pending motion sickness being narrowly kept at bay, I'd say that our journey was a continual panorama of beauty. That beauty was only interrupted by the insipid
banter and formulaic plot line of "The Marine" which was shown on the bus. The view was of course full of fabulous mountain vistas, but the llama herds were also pleasing to see,
in light of the fact that you rarely get to see
such a sight with indigenous North American animals. Occasional small villages also would appear and offer a small, but brief look at the local way of life.
Arrival in Puno provided great views of Lake Titicaca, which will be tomorrows destination. I must admit that Puno is much larger than I expected, and seems to go on for miles when viewed from higher elevations. It seems to be a quaint small city with lots to see in the way of local culture. There are definitely more individuals here that dress in the traditional local garb which I was hoping to see. I guess that means on Tuesday when we return here, I should probably capture a few images to share.
Isla Taquile & the Floating Islands Days 5 & 6
January 14 & 15, 2008
Is there a way to allow cultures to be experienced without being destroyed? I hope so. There are too many cultures that have been crushed under the weight of "development" and have completely disappeared. For most this isn't an issue, because they see it as the processed of becoming civilized, a phrase in its self that lacks a clear definition. Who's to say what it is to be civilized? There is always talk about invasive species when it comes to plants, animals and insects, but what about people and cultures?
Putting the soap box and personal moral issues aside, I guess the one thing that it should really boil down to is, are they happy... Their smiles and hospitality say for the most part they truly are.
Puno Day 7
January 16, 2008
Today was a light day in terms of sites to visit or photographs. A few of us just wandered around to get a good look at the culture within the city and to do a bit of shopping. There are definitely deals to be had if you know what you're looking for and are willing to haggle with some of the prices. Your goal is to get the item or service for as little as possible while theirs is to get as much as possible. That being said, tomorrow may be light as well, as we are heading to Cusco and will be traveling on and off for 9 hours.
Trip to Cusco Day 8
January 17, 2008
There isn't a lot to report today having been on the road for 9 hours from Puno to Cusco. However the question from yesterday still lingers in my mind. A slight twist was added to it today. That is the thought of turning the tables as they say. How would we feel if our lives were a tourist destination? Would it be a sense of intrusion or would we accept it as they seem to have done. I suppose that is one of those questions that cannot be sufficiently answered by one person. Updating the site over the next few days may be difficult as the connection here is quite slow.
Cusco Day 9
January 18, 2008
It's late and I'm tired of sitting here listening to the bloody British invasion yammering on about biscuits, bangers and penguins... whatever those are... as if there is no one else in the room. That being said I am cutting my own yammering short tonight and simply uploading a few pics. Of course if my life were that simple I would be done doing this and in bed already rather than sitting here listening to them attempting to sing various commercials, American songs and TV themes such as the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire... Oh what I wouldn't give right now for either a fast internet connection or a level of rudeness equal to theirs so I could tell them where to put their bangers. :) By the way, the contact form is now working again... Thanks for the heads-up Steve.
Cusco Day 10
January 19, 2008
Today would have been a great day if not for the mishap of one of our members being stepped on by a horse and then subsequently falling off the horse... That and the rain. Beyond that however, the views and sites today were marvelous. It's always nice when you can get a overhead perspective of an area. It sheds a new light on it when you can see it in completion. Today's opportunities provided such views over Cusco as we as a few archaeological sites. The ruins here are beautiful and offer an in-depth look at the life and culture of the Incas. They truly were a brilliant civilization. That brilliance is one of those things at which many should take a serious look. Many seem to marvel in the intelligence of modern man without considering the accomplishments of those who came before us and had much less to work with, but still manage to construct monuments that will outlast us. We are off today to Machu Picchu and I am unsure of internet connections in the area. As such we may have a few days here with no activity. I will endeavor to update the site again as soon as possible.
Trip to Pisac & Ollantaytambo Day 11 & 12
January 20 & 21, 2008
The drive to day was uneventful. As we arrived in Pisac the same question from the previous days stilled nagged at me. I watch the moments pass with the question lingering in the back of my mind in search of the elusive answer. After about a half a day of observation and soul searching, it finally hit me that I had the answer all along... Respect! It all boils down to it. It's the way I try to live on a daily basis and the solution to the question here. Not only respect from the tourist, but also respect from the tour guides and locals. This solution was made abundantly clear in the first set of ruins we visited. I observed broken bottles littering the stairways and graffiti on the cactuses that shadowed our path. How can a culture, let alone a lifestyle survive if there is no respect? Our tour guide was very informative with us and made sure that we understood the importance of preserving the ruins. For me it was statement that simply did not need to be uttered. For others it was apparent that their tour guides did not view their stewardships as a position of importance, or a matter of the groups simply not listening. Stepping in to such a historic site simply demands respect. One must only sit quite enough to listen to the voices long silenced to know that all should be approached with awe and reverence. Unfortunately however, that silence is frequently broken by those who never receive the quiet communiqué and only visit the location for a photo opportunity to say, "I was here". They dance and contort themselves into awkward position for their next mySpace picture and climb on walls ignorant of the irreparable damage they cause. Sometimes you start to wonder if the Incas had it right and the thought of ritual sacrifice actually makes sense.
Ollantaytambo is a quiet sleepy little town reminiscent of the old west. The stage coaches have been replaced by the motorized tri-taxis and the tumble weeds by the numerous stray dogs that roam randomly for a spot to lie down only to move again within minutes. As you walk down the streets, you're frequently assaulted by the non-stop gauntlet of food purveyors and street vendors selling practically the same wares as the vendor which proceeded. The slow pace is a welcome respite for the fast pace of the larger towns which we've visited. The area river has been sliced skillfully into various aqueducts that flow through and under the streets providing a nice ambient white noise and a convenient location for the numerous strays to wet there whistles. Like most westerns, there is an oasis somewhere to be found and our Hostel did not fail to provide. The garden of the hostel provided not only a peacefully lush place to relax, but also the beauty of vibrantly colored flower that attracted several of the local humming birds as well.
Aguas Calientes Day 13
January 22, 2008
What can I say... This is the epitome of what I have been saying all along. This town was, is and will always be a tourist town. It was built exclusively for the tourist of Machu Picchu. All sense of local tradition or culture is absent here save for the statue of an Incan king in the square. The roar of the aggressive Rio Aguas Calientes permeates all activities and as our hostel overlooks it, it cannot be escaped but for the moments of unconsciousness. Directly across the river from the hostel sits the handy-craft market which due to the accent of our tour guide frequently sounded like handycrap and definitely lived up to that name. In previous location, we may have been duped in to believing the sales pitch of "its handmade" and were comfortable to be blissfully ignorant, here there was not that option. Every stall in the market sold the exact same thing as the stall next to it and what we've seen throughout our trip just for about three times the price. I became completely disgusted with the whole market environment after I studied the entomology samples for sale at one of the stalls. It contained several brightly color butterflies of various sizes. "Great, how beautiful" I thought.. and upon closer inspection... "how absolutely fake". Each sample case contained a large blue butterfly with a distinctive vein in its right wing, the same at every other table as well. Top that off with frequent calls of "special price for you" or "you like, it's made of silver"
Machu Picchu Day 14 & 15
January 23 & 24, 2008
There's that idea of ritual sacrifices again. Somehow natural selection seems to be really sleeping on the job somewhere. There are so many idiots roaming around here it's ridiculous. From the backpackers who seem to feel they have some special claim to the area because they've taken the time to do the 4 day hike of the Inca trail to the other tourist who miss the signs of respect and silence. This time they are not the metaphysical signs I mentioned earlier, but real signs... It's even printed on the back of the tickets. Again it's that same sense of holy shit that should make them shut up, but alas it does not. I don't understand that and never will. For me it was so overwhelming that I could only stare in silence as I strolled through the mist shrouded ancient walls, being angered by each inconsiderate disruption. It is a very mystical, almost religious experience and the lack of respect shown by other visitors illustrates how little they get it nor can see anything or anyone beyond themselves.
Lima - Day 17
January 26th 2008
Today marked a significant change from the unique rural cultures of the past to the overwhelmingly western and modern. I say that, not out of indifference or malice, but the fact that the culture
here seems to have been homogenized and processed to the point where there is little left of the identity save for the language. This of course is a snap observation based on little to no
interaction with the people here. However, when you go over two weeks without seeing a McDonald's, Pizza Hut or Starbuck's you tend to get sickened at the site of them... at least that is
the case for me. They are so ubiquitous in the States that you start to relish the idea of not having one on nearly every corner. As stated before though, progress will happen despite one
man's obsession with clinging to the past.
Speaking of the past we did have an opportunity to see some of that today as well... in museums to which it has been relegated. Unlike the churches and museums in the more rural areas we've visited, here you are allowed to take pictures in most areas. Although one of the more beautiful monasteries which we visited recently changed their rules regarding photographs and it is no longer allowed. It's a real shame though, because there were some beautiful sights I would have loved to capture and share. All that aside I was able to get a few that I hope you enjoy.