Thursday was the only day I'd be able to see the city since our tour started at 1:30 instead of early morning so I grabbed my camera and Jade and went to discover Cusco. It was hot and extremely hard to breathe but we marched on. Just to get out of the hill climbing with no oxygen situation Jade begged me to take him to the Inca Museum which was full of pre-Spanish artifacts. The museum wasn't bad but we really weren't in the mood for artifacts we just wanted to escape the situation. We continued along the path outlined by the Let's Go guide which took us to the Pre-Columbian Art Museum which had more of the same. It was about time for lunch so we headed back to the mains street between the Plaza and San Blas to meet Mo and Natalya. We had lunch in the Plaza and headed for our city tour. I didn't really care for the city tour that much but it was going to take me to Sacsayhuaman which is a large wall of stones built by the Incas. It's one of my favorite places because it's pronounced “Sexy Woman”! It's the wall that you usually see when pictures of Cusco come up. We went to several other places like Koricancha which is the old Incan temple that the Spanish built their church on top of. The city tour really isn't that interesting but it did solve the problem of getting to Sacsayhuaman because it's above the city. I guess I could have taken a taxi though. We were completely tired of South American food so we ate at an Italian place which was pretty good. Maybe South American food is good to South Americans but to someone who's traveled a bit it really isn't all that great.
Our first day in Cusco started out with Mo being sick. The rest of us went on the tour of the Sacred Valley. In Inca time the Sacred Valley was the center o there agricultural production. The valley was so rich and the Inca's put so much value on agriculture that they named it the Sacred Valley. In the base of the valley is the river Urabamba which the Inca's used for irrigation. What's amazing is the amount of terraces the Inca's built and what's even more amazing is how many are still there on the hillside. They converted as much land as possible for agricultural use. All the cities were built on land that had very little agricultural value. Quite contrary to how we live. We live on the best land and try to farm what's left. Part of the tour was to go to the Pisac indigenous market where we bought many gifts for the folks back home. We also go to see the ruins there above the city. When the Spanish took over they moved the Incas from the city of Pisac on the top of the mountain to the valley floor because it was easier for them to collect taxes. Funny that they moved an entire city so the tax man didn't have to climb the hill. The ruins of Pisac reminded me a lot of the pictures of Machu Picchu but more modest. The climb up the mountain to the ruins was quite painful considering the altitude. It's really hard to breath at 11,000 ft. The trail to the ruins was a 2-3 foot wide rock staircase a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. Q
I woke to Mo knocking on my door raving about a poisonous jungle frog on the loose in her room. I don't know what kind of frog it was but the image of me spending my last day(s) in a Amazonian veterinary clinic posing as a hospital gasping my last breath didn't sound appealing so I used one of my small travel bags to capture the frog and put it out. Chances are the poisonous jungle frog was probably an ordinary tree frog with a complex created by the unwarranted discrimination by ignorant gringos like us. With the frog in his natural habitat and the security of the known civilized world restored we headed for breakfast. Not satisfied by the punishment and humiliation we had the previous day we returned to Lucy's to order food without a menu. A young guy was there and thankfully he had a sense of humor. If we ate chicken for lunch because didn't know the Spanish word for anything else that meant we were eating eggs for breakfast for exactly the same reason. We all had eggs with French fries because of our limited vocabulary. He brought bread and jam as well and we enjoyed our simple breakfast while watching one of the original Superman movies with Christopher Reeves. We then went to the laundry an hour early while hoping they'd done our laundry the night before. I told them we'd be there at 9 but it was only 8. They did in fact get them done the night before which proves how much different they are than I. I would have waited until the last minute and the other I (the one catching the bus) would have missed it. I'm glad others are punctual. We boarded our bus and headed for Quito once again. The ride back was just as amazing as the ride over but it took longer because Jaun Manual Fangio apparently had the day off. Six hours later we arrive in Quito. Thirty minutes after that we're at the airport getting ready to leave for Peru. My whole life I've wanted to visit Peru and in a few hours I'd be there.... We flew on LAN Peru which proved to be a nice airline. They gave us decent food for a 2 ½ flight which never happens in the states anymore. We landed in Lima at 10:00 and met our driver after waiting for nearly 40 minutes for him to arrive. It was Christmas eve and it looked like the city had a party because there were piles of garbage everywhere and some were even on fire. Later we learn that this is the way Lima always looks. As soon as we reach our hotel we hit the hay. We only have the next morning in Lima and I wanted to walk around to get a feel for the city.
Our original plan was to head back to Quito and spend a night there before we fly to Lima but we really didn't like Quito that much, didn't have accommodations there and liked the Jungle so we decided to just take the bus in to Tena and camp out there for the night and go to Quito the day we needed to fly. Normally I'd never risk traveling on a bus the same day our plane flight but we weren't scheduled to fly out of Quito until 8:30 and it only took 5 hrs by bus from Tena leaving us plenty of time. One of the Kishwa men took us via canoe to Puerto Barantilla so we could catch our bus. I took a video of the entire boat ride so we could remember it.
Thankfully it wasn't raining at all. The bus came about 5 minutes early which never happens at home. That also means you need to be at the bus stop earlier than you think as the schedules are more of a guideline than any sort of structure to follow. I've heard stories about these buses being overly crowded but Andy said we wouldn't have a problem today. We boarded, paid our $6 for all and found a place to stand (thanks Andy). There were no seats empty but the money taker motioned to Mo to sit up front with the driver. We stopped at many more stops and picked up people.
When you travel there are two types of big things. A big thing is something that you mention and people exclaim. Big things are what influence you or others and get a reaction. An example of a big thing would be Venice. Just tell someone you've been to Venice and they'll be all ears. Another would be the coliseum in Rome or the Sistine Chapel. Sometimes big things don't exist before you find them. Dubrovnik is a big thing to me because it's such a magical city but I didn't think it was a big thing until I went there. It's also one of those big things that doesn't get a reaction because nobody knows about it. So there are two types of big things, those that exist before you travel and those you discover on the way. Some of them will only be big things to you. You can talk about them until you're blue in the face all you get back are yawns. This is unfortunate but a fact of traveling. Let me tell you about the Amazon. Before I came here I thought it was important because ever since I was a kid people have been preaching the “We can't chop down the rain forest” religion. Yes, I thought it was important but it didn't really have to do with me. After a while we just become callused and don't hear the message anymore. In a way the Amazon is sort of a medium thing. Yes, it gets reactions but most people don't know what to think. Out of the two big thing categories the Amazon fits in the second because to me it was just a check box on a list of things I wanted to see before I die. Now things have changed. The Amazon is a big thing, maybe a really big thing. I'm sure when I get back home and tell people they will yawn and wonder when I'll talk about something interesting and you may already be doing that now.
Today we went to the island where the Quichua people live. Their houses are built on stilts about 6 feet off the ground. Chickens run loose and there are things growing in the ground. On the island are plantain and corn plantations. It was neat to see bananas growing on trees and of course we'd seen corn before. We also saw and ate fruit that I can't pronounce nor did I recognize. We saw mangoes and papaya trees and yuka plants. The rain started again as we were trudging through the banana plantation but it was ok because the wide leaves make great cover form rain. After the walks through the plantations we returned to a Quichua family home.
I woke to the sound of a rooster crowing before the sun even came up. When you go to bed shortly after sundown you wake up really early. I lay in bed for about another hour before getting up for breakfast. We had granola cereal, fruit and eggs. At 9:00 we headed out for our jungle walk. They said we needed rubber boots and they were right. They provided the boots and the Amazon provided the mud. It was raining again pretty hard but we were told that was good because when the sun comes out the water from the ground evaporates and it because unbearable humid. I'll take their word for it.
orning came to soon and I'd not gotten a lot of sleep. We also would be missing breakfast because we were leaving too early so I went out to find Internet and some emergency food and water for the bus ride. The Internet cafes were closed but I did find an assortment of rolls and water for the trip. We left anyway. The way I figured it we could go to Tena and either find Internet there or just rent a hostel and stay the night. Having gotten down the straight armed hand shake I hailed a taxi. He took a really round about way to the bus station which alarmed me for a second. His response to my pointing to the map was “No problema”. We rounded the corner and I saw the great statue on the hill and knew I was near the terminal. He pointed to the traffic going the other way and I understood. We arrived at the station 30 minutes early and headed for the shady restaurant on the bottom floor. We bought various types of chicken and a sandwich and headed for our gate. On the way the guy that sold us our ticket yelled at us and exchanged our ticket for a different one on a different bus company. I don't know why and couldn't ask because of the language barrier. He told us which lane to stand in and which bus number so we waited. When it pulled in we got on and waited another 30 minutes before it pulled out. During that 30 minutes he boarded the bus to tell us not to put our bags in the overhead racks and to hold them. Later in the trip I noticed that everyone else was holding theirs as well. Crime is rampant here. I sat on the side of the bus there our luggage was so I could see if anyone was trying to steal them which they didn't.
The roads around Quito are a mess and it took us 1 hour just to get out of the city. Most of the outer edges of Quito are these little concrete block houses with corrugated metal roofs of very poor people. Once we get a little ways away we crested a hill and we saw what looked like Beverly hills with nice villas and such. Obviously the rich live in the suburbs.
I've heard great things about this ride over to Papillacta Falls and our jungle excursion started out as just and excuse to take this trip. I'm glad we did as the Andes are beautiful mountains and greener than any that I've seen in North America. Our bus climbed through strange looking forests, high cliffs with amazing waterfalls, and finally entered the clouds. Visibility was about 30 feet or so. At the crest there was another bus heading for Quito stopped on the road. They were changing a tire. I'd noticed when we were in the bus terminal that
all buses had two spare tires on the roof. The fact that the other bus got a flat told me a bit about the upcoming road. The pavement changed to dirt, rocks and mud for about the next 3 hours. The bus would swerve toward the 200 foot drop to avoid potholes, take the outside line around curves and bomb down hills so it could maintain it's speed. We got to one place where the mud was really deep and we thought we were going to get stuck then we came upon another bus slogging along through the mud even slower (and at higher risk of being stuck) so our driver decided in order to maintain momentum we'd have to pass it. It was like watching a snail race with both busses spinning their rear tires in the mud and ours slowly gaining on the other one until we got a head of it. We were honestly going about 5 mph up the muddy hill. The other bus we never saw again. As far as I know it may have never made it.
We arrived in Tena and deboarded the bus. Immediately a taxi driver approached us but we were really most interested in toilets so we all ran off to find them. I motioned to the taxi driver to stay put and we'd be back. Upon returning he was still waiting for us and a man who spoke English said the taxi driver was Quichua (not Quechua/Inca) and spoke no Spanish. I told him Puerto Barrantilla and he nodded his head. I also mentioned I needed a Bank machine so he stopped at an ATM for me since where we going only took cash. The taxi was a 4 door Suburu brat looking "truck" that had no problem getting air on the many hills along the road. We arrived 20 minutes before our scheduled time. Puerto Barrantilla is nothing but a small road going to a residence and a path that extends from there into the Jungle to the Rio Napo. We followed the path and stood next to the river in the pouring rain - waiting. About 15 minute later an indigenous man arrived in a gas powered canoe and grabbed our bags two at a time and put them in the canoe then motioned for us to climb in. No words were spoken. Ten minutes later we pulled up to a wooden staircase leading from the rivers edge up to a wooden hut.
A young guy named Andy came to get our bags and took them to the large circular building with no walls. This was to be the reception desk and dinning hall. It was nothing but hay roof, wood floor and wood poles holding the roof up. There was a large hole in the center with trees growing in it. He sat us by a small fire and explained the program to us. A Swiss lady married a Quichua man and they started a reserve in the Amazon to help hurt animals. They later started a hotel and the Liana Lodge.The lodge helps pay for their work and buying more land. So far they have 1300 hectares of land and want to buy more to protect it. After we got the spiel he took us to our “rooms” which were also hay roofed huts with screens for walls. There was one real wall and that is between the two rooms. the outside lower wall is wood and the rest of the building is screen. The thatched roof is vaulted and open inside. There is no heat, Internet or electricity on site. This meant I couldn't charge camera batteries so my little cameras are getting a workout while my G7 sits because I only have one battery for it (later I found out they have a car battery they take to town and charge up on occasion just for the purpose of charging camera batteries). Outside the back door of the hut is a large patio with hammocks that were great to relax in. The rain persisted and we just hung out and relaxed in our hammocks while listening to the rain on the flora of the rain forest. Dinner was at 7 and was pretty decent. They serve three courses of soup, entree and dessert. A lot of it is junglish like strange fruits, cinnamon from the Amazon etc... Usually one meat and the rest vegetables or potatoes. They cook with gas but we use candles for all light sources including the reception desk and dining tables. We also use candles to light our huts. They don't put out a lot of light but your eyes do get used to them. Sleeping in the hut at night was real nice because you could hear all of the jungle sounds clearly. The cicada get a little irritating but we can hear an occasional toucan. There are squirrel monkeys that hang around the lodge and are great fun to watch.
Breakfast time came and went before we got up the next day. Having missed breakfast we took to the streets figuring there'd be something there. The area that we were in is called New Town and the main street is Amazonas. If we headed south on Amazonas we'd eventually end up at Old town after cutting through two parks. Old town is the old Spanish built Quito and comprises of mostly colonial buildings. I've heard that old town Quito is very pretty and is on the UNESCO list of protected areas so I was anxious to see it. The weather was warm (but cooler than Guayaquil) and it wasn't raining. We found a small shop run by black ladies that offered Empanadas and yogurt with fruit. Mo stood her ground on not eating doughy things with meat in them so Natalya and I had empanadas and Jade and Mo had yogurt.
Both were very good. The empanadas cost 75 cents each and the yogurt with fresh fruit cost about a dollar. I didn't try the yogurt but she said it was very good and not like the kind at home. I can understand this as the yogurt we had in Poland was much better than the stuff we have at home. With that we headed toward old town. On the way we passed through a large park with an indigenous market where I bought a shawl. Don't ask what I'm going to do with a pink alpaca shawl because I don't know. Maybe give it to Piper because she likes pink. It was really pretty and the alpaca wool was so very soft. This isn't like the course scratchy wool in Mexico. The cost – 7 dollars! Shawl in hand we continued and found in the next park a spiral staircase that let us get up high enough to see the surrounding mountains. Quito if you don't know is at about 10,000 feet and rests in the inter-andian valley so it's surrounded by even higher mountains that are very green and the tops of them disappear in the clouds they're so high. We change to Agost (August) street and continue our trek to old town.
On the way it starts to rain. Jade didn't bring a coat so Mo loaned him her rain parka and at some point it got so bad we decided to go inside and get something to eat. For $6.70 all four of us ate more food than we could stuff in our mouths. We got chicken, rice, peas, soup and drinks. Not great food but ok and darn cheap too. A couple blocks later we're at old town and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I've seen plenty of colonial Spanish towns and I don't think Quito stands out among them. Sure the main plaza is pretty but they have about 10 restored buildings and that's about it. We took pictures and then started climbing Chile street since that's where the locals were going. Along Chile street is store after store selling everything from shoes to stereos. This is apparently the Quito outdoor mall. When we got quite a way above the city we headed south once again on a deserted cobblestone street. I didn't really know where we were going or where we'd end up I was just curious. All over the city we'd been seeing indigenous people wearing the typical Ecuadorian hat, shawl and tons of necklaces. I don't know why they wear 30 necklaces but some of them are really pretty.
I haven't figured out how I'm going to take their picture yet. We walked past one indigenous lady and she smiled real big which I noticed. As she got past us she stopped in the middle of the street , turned and just stared while smiling. I too turned and to watch her and she started walking again only to look over her shoulder to smile some more. Apparently there was something humorous about a white haired lady, two kids and a gringo man walking around in untouristed Quito. On the way down the hill toward the main plaza again we heard a lady in one of the stores talking about the gringos. Quite the spectacle we are. We still don't see hardly any tourists.
The rain started to really drop on us so we spent about 30 minutes hiding under a ledge. Our new mission was to find the bus station so we could head to the Amazon the next day. Our original plan was to take a taxi since their cheap but my map said we were only about 10 blocks away so we decided to walk it to see what we could see. We found it soon after and my first Wizard of Ozian impression of it was that we weren't in Mexico anymore. In Mexico the bus stations look like airports and the buses are very nice. In Ecuador the bus station looks like a turkish market with people yelling out their destinations and prices. It was dirty and dilapidated. We did find someone that was selling tickets to Tena our jump off city into the Amazon.
Here is another impression that I'm sure Ecuadorians won't appreciate is that the people here try to rip you off at every opportunity. People say that about Mexico but I think it's far worse. I think they're as bad as the Turks. Anyway if you don't complain here the price will climb as you're talking then they'll try their hardest not to give you any change. In order to get them to give change you have to pry it from their fingers. That is if they don't outright steal your stuff in front of you. Anyway my Spanish is bad, Mo's is only slightly better and the ticket guy knew 20 English words. I had to communicate to him that we had to leave Tena at 2:30 so we could get to the lodge at 4:30 where we were being picked up by a canoe on the Napo river. The best I could do was to tell him we had to leave at 8:00. He had a bus at 8:30 that would get us to Tena at 1:30 according to him which didn't quite add up to me.
We bought the tickets for $24 and headed out to find a taxi. I've learned how to hail taxis in Ecuador to. You just stick you hand straight out toward the street and shake it like you're saying “so so” and the taxi will pull over and pick you up. I showed the taxi driver the address and he had no idea where it was. I showed him the map and he still had no idea. He stopped and asked another taxi while the crowd of cars behind us honked their horns impatiently. The other driver gave him some directions and off we went. Confused he just went north. We got to Agost street and I knew from there how to get home so I directed him. Quite strange that I a gringo that had only made the trip from New Town to Old Town once knew the way and the taxi driver didn't. We got to our one way street (that went the wrong way) so he let us out on the corner. Immediately 4 little kids about 8 years old came up trying to sell us chicklets. They were very very insistent and followed us while we walked. They swarmed around us like little hornets and we finally got rid of them and got a block down the street Mo noticed her camera was gone. By then they had disappeared and we went into our hostel to get ready to leave. This act impacted Mo considerably and she even decided to go home so she wouldn't be a bother to us. I've a very logical rational person so that wouldn't have ever occurred to me at all. To me we were down one camera but nothing else changed. Tired and hungry we went out to find food and get on the intenet to get the directions to our Amazon lodge.
We ate at this really trendy but pretty pink restaurant. I could try to describe the decor but a picture is worth a thousand words so I'll leave it to the picture. I ordered the Ecuadorian croquette type things that were quite good, Natalya had Moussaka, Mo had salmon with a cinnamon spice from the Amazon and Jade had rosemerry sea bass. All was real good. For an appetizer I ordered some brandy and ham empanadas. Mo insisted on being stubborn about her no meat in dough policy but I insisted on her trying one and she loved it. Maybe later when we get to Peru she'll try a larger empanada. The feeling of not being ready for the next day was growing in my stomach so we left to find an internet connection. The problem was that I'd written down the times we were supposed to catch our buses but no real directions. I'd scribbled the times down solely for the purpose of buying our bus tickets and not to travel with so I needed to get to the Internet and write more thorough instructions on how to get from Quito to Tena then from Tena to Puerto Barantilla and the lodge. I walked the others home and headed out to be enlightened by an Internet connection only to find that all had closed down for the night which didn't help much. Beck at the hostel I found they had a computer with Internet. It was an old old machine with 64 megs of ram and Windows 98. After 20 minutes of trying to get it to do anything ( I mean anything) I gave up. I didn't sleep a lot because I didn't like not having decent instructions. As much as it may seem from the outside that I take risks with my kids this isn't true. Every place we go and every decision we make is over researched and thought out. This traveling with two lines of arrival and departure times wasn't how I did business and it bothered me. I would try again to find Internet inthe morning.
On the way back to the hotel we ran across an outdoor market which we just had to wade through because the experience of a Latin American market is one not to be missed. Mo got her first taste of the way these things work. She also got her first taste of heat in December as it was over 90 degrees. Back at the hotel I ask attempt to ask for a taxi and write down 1:00 on my scratch pad and she says si and motions to the front door. What arrives in 10 minutes was actually a regular car driven by a man that was probably the cousin of the receptionist! Anyway he got us back to the airport for another $5. I didn't know what to expect of the local Ecuadorian Airline TAME because I'd heard stories that made it sound like a bus company, first come first serve type of organization. We got there two hours before the plane was scheduled to leave which was what the guide books recommended of us. The lady at the counter spoke English and said she could just put us on the next flight which would be leaving at 2. But since I only had a reservation and had not paid for tickets I'd have to go to the next counter and purchase tickets. As luck would have it we got in the slow line and didn't get our tickets in time for hte 2 o'clock flight. We did however, happen upon a deal and got our tickets for $45 each instead of the $60 that the website listed.
While waiting for the plane we picked up some water, got on the internet and picked up some Chilean Empanadas. We were very excited to see the empanadas and they weren't bad but didn't measure up to Julia's in Adams-Morgan district of D.C. Security was a breeze. Apparently there is a shortage of ignorant fear in Ecuador that is so common in the States. Maybe we should pass it around a bit so we could get to the point of being able to carry more than 3 ozs of toothpaste with us on the plane. Heaven forbid we be able to brush our teach while on vacation. It's for our safety you know. Anyway the Ecuadorian security process isn't like this at all. The entire time we were in the airport there wasn't any lines and that includes the security check. We put our stuff in the bins and walk through the scanner and off we go to our gate which at this point was still unknown to us. Our boarding pass lists our gate as Puerto 0 and I ask a uniformed man and he just laughs and babbles in Spanish as if he thought I were born in Madrid. Since there was no Gate 0 I fell back to plan B. If you can't understand the language do what the locals do. I wandered through the crowd looking at other peoples tickets and found one that was the same as mine. The man spoke some English and said that they would announce the gate. Little did he know I was no longer interested in their announcements because I found someone to follow and follow we did. When they moved, we moved. As we were walking down the aisle to board the plane we heard the plane and gate announced in English. Now we know for next time.
The plane at best was 1/3 the way full which was great as we had nobody sitting next to us. It was an Airbus A320 which had more legroom than any plane I'd ever taken. It even still had that new airplane smell. Either it had just been made or the captain had picked up a “That new airplane smell” deodorizer from 7-11 on the way to work and had it hanging from the rear view mirror.
The in flight snacks were great too, little homemade sandwich things made from flat bread. No commercially packaged pretzels for TAME. We reached cruising altitude for about 10 minutes then started to descend again showing how small this country is. The Quito airport is even smaller than the one in Guayaquil and the signs even less clear. We followed the crowd again which appears to be a good practice to get into. At the exit there was a taxi booth which made me happy because I wouldn't have to deal with the corrupt taxi problem. We paid our $5 and loaded are gear in the taxi.