Saturday, November 29, 2008

Harmon's 14th Birthday Party

In honor of my very special boy, I wanted to post his birthday party pictures. November 6, 2008 marks three wonderful years since he's come home, and I wanted to do something special to commemorate the day. A good time was had by all!

Harmon's 14th Birthday Party 11/9/08

Denver with Mason

I snuck in a weekend trip to visit with my very favorite nephew, Mason. He's so cute (unbiased opinion, of course!) I got to go on a great hike with my brother as well. We had planned to go sledding, but the storm missed the mountains. I'm sure I'll be hitting my snow quota there soon enough!

Mason in Denver


Mason in Denver
video video

Back to Boston

This trip started as my musings of what I'd like to do for my birthday, and became a wonderful week reconnecting with my friends in New England. I spent time with my best friend Tom, his crazy dog Becca and his wonderful roommate (who made me a birthday cake!) I visited with Kristin (college), Lauri and Fang (worked with both of them).

I also spent time in my New England "Happy Places": Boston, Newport, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport, and Amherst/Northampton. My birthday was wonderful! I got to spend it with Katya, whom I used to mentor when she was in high school. We kicked around Boston, had lunch at my favorite restaurant in the North End (Assagio), enjoyed a cannoli in an italian bakery, then I high-tailed it up to Maine where my other birthday wish came true: I dipped my toes in the sand in Ogunquit. Had a wonderful day up there as well. I got to see the Nubble Lighthouse, walk the marginal way (Ogunquit) and the cliffwalk (Newport), and dine in my favorite restaurants in Northhampton and Amherst, as well as fit in a quick driving tour around my former college campus.

Then I had a special trip to meet Sheryl, whom I've been chatting with through the Best Friends network for quite a while. I met her and her husband Chris, as well as her furry crew of four cats (Teazer, Bailer, Jewel and the very special "Sammy the Serpent.") We had a beautifully crisp fall day and had a great time talking in person!

The trip was really wonderful and I'll admit to being the tiniest bit homesick for New England..

Trip to Boston 11/08


Trip to Boston 2

NYC pics

NYC

October 2-6th: NYC with the Ya-Yas!!

It's been two years since the last Ya-Yas and Ya-Yits (Ya-Yas in Training) adventure, so I jetted across the country to meet up with them. It was a smaller crew, Carol (aka. Buffalo Woman), Chris, Lisa and me, but that didn't stop the fun!

Lisa and I got there a day before the rest, so we walked the city a bit and then enjoyed a night on the town. We had a fabulous dinner at 21, followed by Wicked on Broadway. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, and it was a lot of fun. We did lots of walking, shopping and of course, eating! I got my two favorite Manhattan things: pizza (of course, the way it's supposed to be made!) and a macaron, to enable me to reminisce of my Parisian adventure a few years ago. Breakfast at our favorite diner around the corner then back off to the airport. Just a long weekend but it was a great time!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pictures!!!

Peru

Peru: Last Day

Last day in Peru

We decided to spend our last half day exploring the cute neighborhood of San Blas. Plus, I had ordered a pair of shoes that were being made, and we needed to pick them up. They are very comfortable and interesting leather shoes (thanks to Laura and Amparo for the idea, as they got some too!!) I did a little more shopping, and we found the textile place that we went to yesterday so Barb could buy another gift for someone. I saw some rather interesting looking ceramics that would probably make readers of the Kama Sutra blush! We ended up talking with a man who was in there, who said he made ceramics. He invited us two doors down to his shop to show us his work.

He did some beautiful things, both wood and ceramic. He showed us some beautifully painted Inca calendars, and I bought a couple I liked them so much. He then parted a blanket hanging towards the back to show us his 3 week old daughter, nestled in blankets sleeping! I was so surprised as he was at the other shop for a good ten minutes with us! He was such a nice man and very proud of his daughter and his work. He even showed us a brochure which showed him in “action” and allowed us to take his picture. That was another wonderful thing.. many of the items I purchased for people, I also have a picture of the person who made it!

Barb sat in the square in San Blas soaking up the sun and talking with the locals while I walked around a bit. They were so funny how they congregated around her trying to sell things, and then talking with her. An additional observation that I forgot to mention earlier, is that it was pretty cool to be in a place where I was relatively tall!!! Many of the people there are short of stature, so I was as tall as many of the men that we met and taller than many of the women!

I really do love this place.. the people are so warm, open and friendly. They have so little, but truly believe that they have much. They take a lot of pride in their people, culture, country, their work and their families. While we are blessed with so much in the United States, I don’t think we see that. It really was quite beautiful.

We stopped in a pastry shop that Laura and Amparo recommended and got spiced chicken empanadas, and a chocolate dessert that was very rich and good. We made our way back to the hotel, and while we are looking forward to going home, it was with some sadness that we leave!

The guy who helped Barb with the reservations online has been wonderful to us, and gave Barb a big hug when we were leaving. This is what I’ll remember about Peru.. that such an ordinary thing, like someone helping us make hotel reservations, became such a wonderful and warm moment.

Now that I’m back in the States, I definitely feel appreciative for all that I have. I am craving a big salad (since we didn’t want to risk eating produce!) and sushi, though perhaps not in that order! Peru is not a trip for all—it’s not a place of refinement and luxury. The poverty everywhere is tough to see as well… But for those who can look past the inconveniences, and look in the faces of the people to see the true happiness and beauty radiating from them, Peru is a majestic, mystical and enchanting journey.

Peru: Machu Picchu

Finishing Cusco pre-Maccu Picchu

During our travels for the Inti Raymi festival we found a cute little side street off of our street with lots of restaurants. It appeared to be a tiny Jewish section (who would’ve though we’d see that in Peru?) We went to a place that had a little upstairs balcony, and sat looking over the street. There was a bar across the street with music playing, which was a nice touch. It was cold, but beautiful. I got the best glass of the warm spiced wine (vino caliente) I’ve had, and Laura and Barb got mediano cusquenas (double-sized cerveza bottles). The food was great and ambiance even better. Amparo was really tired and just stayed in bed.

On the way back we stopped to get bottled water, and a girl was sitting on the sidewalk playing with her younger sister who was just adorable. The older one looked up at us and said “un sol” laughing. She was trying to sell us her sister! Well, of course we had to bargain, and offered cinquenta soles (50 cents) which set them both in fits of giggles that we joined in with.

We were early to bed as we were getting ready for the BIG DAY. And we had to get up at 4:30 to take the train...

Machu Picchu

We woke again to the dogs running around the neighborhood barking-not sure if I’ve mentioned that yet, but they woke us up yesterday too. Barb R, I almost felt like I was at home!) It was 2 am when I woke, and I think I was too excited to sleep. Oh well.. who needs sleep anyways?

The train began with some interesting switchbacks getting up the hill to leave Cusco. We noticed a lot of houses made of the dark brown “earth bricks.” Many weren’t painted like in the center of the city. Some were covered in plaster and painted, often in bright colors like turquoise or pink, and others were just white. Usually only the front of the house did have any color, if at all. Some holes in the wall had these bricks stacked up in them without mortar. There were lots of houses right by the side of the train track with what appeared to be no electric or water. We’d call them shacks by our standards, and many of the buildings hardly looked solid. The few people we saw all waved at the train smiling. There were big puffy clouds accenting the high mountains, and the day was gorgeous. For that matter, every day has been. It’s very cold in the morning, but heats up during the day so layers are a good thing!

We arrived to Aguas Calientes with a little bit of excitement making it around the town to get our MP tickets and bus tickets. We got directions, but after no sleep and walking through a crazy crowded market, it was all a bit overwhelming. We got all of the required tickets and rushed to the bus. The bus ride was quite impressive! We rode up and up a mountain on switchbacks so narrow that busses could mostly only go one way at a time. When one approached, the other had to actually pull over incredibly close to the ledge. The drivers have nerves of steel! We also saw stairs going up, so you could hike if desired. Not sure I’d want to come that close to the busses given their speed on the narrow switchbacks!!

The train appears to be the only way in and out and Aguas Calientes is in the middle of the forest. There’s little to see in the small village, but it wasn’t quite as bad as we expected based on what we’ve read. It’s very touristy though, and filled with restaurants and hotels (no McDonalds though!). It’s very easy to see how MP was swallowed by the forest and jungle, as it’s thick and everywhere surrounding the village.

We picked a guide named Rodolfo and started off. He tried to charge us extra for his english speaking, which was enthusiastic but needed work. We actually helped him a bit with some words and grammar, and he was very thankful. He came from Cusco, and stays in AC for several days doing tours, which he started a month ago! So, armed with our hiking sticks, we approached the entrance.

Rodolfo promised us the “best view in MP” so we eagerly climbed. And climbed, and climbed. He didn’t disappoint. The view from the Guardhouse was spectacular and gave us the entire view of MP. The land is simply amazing and so rugged—it’s amazing that hundreds of years ago MP was build high on the mountain. MP simply needs to be described by pictures, and I’ll be sure to post lots. We toured all around the site, including the houses, terraces, temple an even a bathroom! It was simply amazing!!!

Of course on our way out, I had to meet the llamas. I was able to get right up to them and got some fun pictures. I did get near one who looked quite pissed off so I backed off quickly, hoping to not get spat at -- or worse!!!

We ate a late lunch with two really tasty chicken dishes. I got Arroz con Pollo and Barb got a dish that was flavored by vinegar we think. Both were very good and we were absolutely starved! We went back to our hotel to get off our feet and rest for a bit. Our hotel was just fine- not very nice but clean and decent. The perfect part was it was right on the river, so we fell asleep to the sound of the rushing water.

We went back to Cusco for our last couple of days, and decided to go back to the cute neighborhood of San Blas. We walked around the hippie area and did some shopping. They sell these gorgeous stones with braided twine in the shape of bracelets and necklaces. They have bracelets of silver too, and lots of beautiful things. Also there’s the tapestries of alpaca and llama, scarves,hats, etc. I was cracking up over some t-shirts which are the Peru equivalent of “life is good” shirts. One showed a guy with a big hoop in front of a kettle, trying to get guinea pigs to jump in! Ick. We bought a bunch of gifts for people and then something really funny happened that we’re still laughing about. A beggar woman approached barb for change, which she was going to offer but realized that she didn’t have an single sol (Peru dollar). The beggar actually opened her bag to show all the change that she collected, and offered Barb change for the money she gave!!! Never seen that before.

Needing a break from the “lady. good price lady”, we escaped into a really cute place called Muse. It was very cute and reminiscent of places in Northhampton MA, which I loved. Bright colors and funky. We talked with a group of students from Switzerland (I thought they were speaking German and recognized it, but realized that I was having a really hard time understanding what they were saying. It was “Swiss German!”), and they were wonderful. We then met up with Amparo and Laura to find a place for dinner, and had a wonderful meal of traditional Peruvian food. I’ll definitely miss the food here, which is quite good! Lots of quinoa, alpaca, avocados.

A few observations to end with:

1. What I’m looking forward to:

-seeing my furry critters

-my own bed

-Taking a nice, long, hot shower that’s consistently hot and long enough that I can rinse all the shampoo out of my hair.

-Not hearing “hey lady. hey lady.. good price”. (though that may depend where in Phoenix I go!) Some of them were funny knowing little bits of English, and when you said no thank you their reply was “maybe later”. One person last night actually said in espanol “maybe in your next lifetime!” We cracked up.

-I’m thankful for not being a female dog in this city. None of the dogs are neutered, and being a female dog... wouldn’t be fun.

-I’m very much looking forward to thinking about all of the wonderful memories, and sharing them! This has been an incredible trip. I love the country, love the people and have enjoyed everything about it. I’m ready to go back home, but will be thinking of this for a long time to come! And if Laura does eventually move here, I’d love to visit again!!

Hasta la vista,

Sam

Peru: Cusco- Inti Raymi Festival

Inti Raymi (Solstice Festival-New Year)

Pardon the language, but holy crap! I have never in my life seen so many people!!!! We ate breakfast then walked down to some ruins just off the Plaza de Armas (main square),where we were told the festival begins. We were told to get there at 8, however it didn’t start until after 9:30. We did get a great spot to stand in, right up front. We stood at the edge of the ruins area.. there is a huge stone church, which is resting on top of an Inca ruin. There is a large grassy yard, and we were right on the edge of that. Everyone was quite nice and we talked and mingled a bit. We even met a lady from Phoenix who is a teacher! Talk about it being a small word. Amparo and Laura are both teachers in Flag, so there was a lot to talk about to pass the time.

The show itself was simply amazing. With the beat of drums, flutes piercing the air and chanting, people dressed in the most intricate, colorful and beautiful clothes came out. There must have been several hundred people including warriors, women with offerings of corn, men with sheaths of grain, children, a priestess and a priest. The priest spoke to the crowd and then sang a beautiful song. It was incredibly crowded and the street was packed and blocked off, but very worth seeing.

Then the people started marching towards the square for the second part of the event. We started walking there but it was literally a wall of people. The closer we got, the more cramped it was and we finally decided to stop for coffee and head up the hill to the ruins-Sacauayan (which I’m probably spelling differently each time as I keep forgetting to look it up while I’m on the computer!!) We got a wonderful spiced chicken empanada to munch on, and just enjoyed being out of the sun and the swelling crowds.

Then we decided to brave the walk, and who do we run into, but the woman from Argentina that we met on the hike to Pisac! In a city crowded with at least hundreds of thousands of people, and possibly over a million, we run into her twice in two days! What made it even funnier, is that I commented to Barb that we hadn’t yet seen her. We walked with her and her husband a bit, but she was having trouble breathing and decided to try to find a cab. The walk was very steep and we walked up a really impressive staircase with stones worn smooth from footsteps. I felt like an ant following the progression-- I don’t think we could have changed direction or stopped often if we tried! We climbed and climbed.. it was a 2 km walk up a hill that wasn’t much less steep than Squaw Peak. The sides were lined with vendors selling everything from candy apples, dried beans (which are quite yummy and like a different version of popcorn), weavings, jewelry and (ick!!) grilled cuy (guinea pig) complete with head, tail and claws. If I had even considered trying it, I definitely won’t be!

We got into the ruins area in a swell of people, and somehow found Laura and Amparo who had gone their own way. They had gone to the top of the hill, but it was SO crowded with people that they changed their mind and decided to leave. There was some seating set up for paying customers, though we figured tickets were long gone. We all decided to head out and it took quite a while to make it down the hill given the crush of the crowd going the other way. Somehow we did make it and managed to stay together. I’m actually watching the festival show on tv as I type this, and it’s much more pleasant. The costumes, dancing and chanting is really beautiful.. I’m not sure the pictures will do it justice, but I did my best! Took a bunch of videos too but had to stop to make sure I have enough room on my memory stick for Macchu Picchu!! We must have passed ten thousand people coming down that hill, and would have been packed like sardines (hot, sweaty sardines) had we stayed! On the way back I noticed people selling chi cha in large jugs (oh, the American health system would have a field day with what they do here!). Given that it was very unlikely that it was purified water, and it looked rather disgusting roasting in the sun, we passed!

We ducked into a cute little place for a snack and headed back to our hotel. We’re all exhausted from the sun, heat and braving the crowds! I truly have never seen so many people in my life!

Forgot to mention the flag of Cusco is a rainbow! They are everywhere, which strikes me as funny given the significance of the rainbow in the US.

Heading out to MP tomorrow morning on a 6 am train. It was our only option but given the craziness of today, I suspect we’ll all be early to bed tonight anyways. Thankfully we’re coming back here and can just check out suitcases. We’ll just bring small packs with a change of clothes for the trip. I’m so very excited!!! Not sure if we’ll find, or have time, to email from there, so it will likely be when we’re back in Cusco. I’m glad we picked up hiking poles as I figure we’ll need them!!!

Sam

Peru: Cusco

Cusco

Tomorrow starts the Inti Raymi festival, which is an all day event. Apparently at 9 it starts at some ruins in the city, and then they march through the city and up to the Saqusayan ruins where they do a reenactment of the solstice festival. It’s at a big ampitheater, and the Peruvians sit on one side, and tourists on the other. I think we’ll likely join in to see what it’s all about. Today will be a slower day.. we’ve kept up a fast pace and we’re dragging now. I think we’ll just blame the elevation!!! Oh, we did try some coca tea at breakfast this morning and it was surprisingly good!! Barb has a headache so hopefully that will help.

We’re going to go to the pre-columbian museum today, and there’s a swanky restaurant in it that Barb wants to eat at. Then we’ll walk through the San Blas neighborhood, which is a pedestrian only artsy neighborhood and supposed to be worth seeing. I’d like to the two churches in the square (go figure!) and we may hit the Sasqusayan ruins this afternoon if we’re up for it. Otherwise, we’ll just see them tomorrow.

6pm--

We walked around Cusco much of the day and apparently the festival is a several day process! We noticed our street was blocked off towards the square, and found quite a procession going on! There was someone talking over loud speakers, and a parade that went on forever going through the street! The music was amazing, the costumes simply magnificent-- both brightly colored tapestries woven, as well as tribal outfits. Each new group brought a new level of excitement, so we stopped to watch for a while. Then Barb caught a guy with antlers on his head, an interesting looking headdress covering his chest, and no pants! It felt like we were walking in the echoes of the past, with people from hundreds of years ago all around (most did have pants on, though).

As we wandered through the crowd, there were a ton of people trying to sell items. They were a bit pushier than in the surrounding towns, and quite en masse. As we watched the parade, we happened across something quite amazing.. out of the tens of thousands here, we ran into the woman that we met hiking to the Pisac ruins!!! She was the argentinian who was scared of the heights as I was, and we had to pass each other! We talked with her for a bit and then made our way to the museum where we planned to meet Laura and Amparo.

We walked down a street- the name escapes me at the moment- but it has walls from the original Inca buildings in Cusco. They had large rocks so expertly carved they needed no mortar. And we got to see the 12 sided rock as well, which is famous. We made our way to San Blas, to the Museo de Arte Precolumbino and sat on the square for a while.

The museum was gorgeous and very well done. There were many descriptions about the ancient tribes with art dating back towards 100 BC through inca times around the 1400s. Many pieces were gorgeous. There were also many quotes from more modern artists commenting on the timeless nature, skill, etc of the artwork displayed.

We left there really hungry and wandered the neighborhood for a local place for lunch. I had read that San blas was pedestrian only, however cars were driving down a very steep and narrow road, that was heavily trafficed by pedestrians. It was amazing to see the volume of people in such a tight space with cars whizzing by! We found a cute little place and went in, and right after that, the waiter put a glass door on the entryway! It was interesting.. we assume it was due to the temperature, though maybe a the restaurant was mostly full. We all ate local fare including alpaca, quinoa soup, chicken salad in an avocado and a steak and onion dish..all were very good.

Then we walked around San Blas, which is an artistic neighborhood. The square had lots of people with their work displayed for sale, mostly weaving, stones, jewelry and things like that. It was the hippie corner, and a really interesting place with people ranging from locals, to Rastafarian types, to people who were very hippie!

Many women were walking around today walking llamas to get you to take pictures of them. Others carried baby goats..we couldn’t believe how long they sat in the women’s arms!! Quite a schtick, and I wonder if they can make a living doing it. Tons of children were out too, selling finger puppets, postcards, etc.

As we passed back through the square, the festival was still going on full till.. It is such an exciting atmosphere. We are going to take part in the festivities and march tomorrow, so we’re just going to do a local dinner and get to bed early. Everything starts at 8 am when they begin marching from a small ruin through the square, up to Sasquayaman where they do the reenactment. We’re not sure how long it lasts, but it should be an amazing time. Then Wed am Barb and I head for Macchu Piccu (yay!!!) and Laura and Amparo will tour the sacred valley before taking a bus to Puno to see Lake Titicaca.

This country continues to amaze us.. the people are so friendly, so honest (Barb left her walking stick in the square and it was returned!!!) and so beautiful. It definitely feels like walking through the past..

Sam

Peru: Pisac, Awancahara, Cusco

Pisac, Awancahara, Cusco

Our driver, Wilbert, who brought us from Cusco to Ollanta, picked us up at 9 to go. While we were waiting, we found a little alpaca stable behind our hotel, and went to feed them. I took some pictures and they were really fun! Then we left the beautiful hotel, and Wilbert stopped in Urubamba at the most incredible pottery place! It was beautiful, and we never would have known it was there had he not stopped! So we entered and we watched a video about the history of the place and the owners, then did some damage shopping. Barb bought some beautiful things for her daughters and something for herself, and I bought a couple of things as well. We then drove to the Pisac ruins, which was marked by huge terraces and several areas of ruins.

There must have been 50 busses on the small ledge near the ruins! The walk up to the ruins was steep and narrow.. I’m sure Dante wrote about this but it was my personal hell. I was determined to do it, and managed about as much grace as one can clinging to a rock wall while walking down steep steps overlooking a drop that appeared to go on forever!!! I did make it and while I didn’t actually kiss the wall, I did think about it! Another woman was freaking out as well and we came face to face.. one of us had to pass. So picture two people clinging for dear life to a wall doing a strange sort of dance. Yeah, it was grand.

The views were gorgeous as were the ruins. On to the Mercado (market)! It was busy and very crowded by souvenir booths, selling silver, leather goods, weavings and food. We bought a couple of things and then went to lunch in a really rustic place. We’re not sure what we ate, but it was some kind of potato dish with a yellow sauce, rice and chicken. It was quite good. We also had a kind of empanada with cheese and onions. The food area had the most amazing women, wearing the native weavings. While it’s impolite to take pictures without permission, I took a ton of them of the market and got some amazing shots of people there. The pictures will hopefully be as magnificent as the view.

We then left for Awancahara, which is a weaving center that is run to keep alive the traditional textile arts. They have four animals, including llamas and alpacas, and a guide introduced us to them so we could feed them. The history of the place was very interesting and the animals were great. We did manage to leave without getting spit on, though one guy really seemed hot to do it. He spat several times at his buddies but never at us. Good thing.

We saw the weavers making the most incredible tapestries and took some beautiful pictures. Each does a different pattern for their family or tribe. Then we went into the store and each was marked with the woman who did the weaving, and the tribe she was from. The work was stunning, and while expensive, it was wonderful to support their work!! We also saw the dying area and the natural items that they used to develop the colors. It was really interesting!


Cusco

We headed on to Cusco, passing some ruins. The name escapes me at the moment, but it sounds like “Sexy Woman.” That’s actually even what it said in the guidebook! It’s where the Inti Raymi (winter solstice) festival is as well. The drive into Cusco was quite a decline which was a surprise, given the elevation of the city at around 11k feet. The air is definitely thinner, but we didn’t have much of an issue. We had a little trouble finding the place but did eventually. It was very cute, and just a quarter of a mile off the main square! Yay! Laura and Amparo were waiting for us and we shared our adventures. We got a four bed place, ad it was quite cute with an upper and lower level.

We walked down to the square and they had made reservations for 7. With two hours to kill and some thirst.... ahem, we wandered around and found a cute little tapas bar where we got cerveza, tinto and tapas. Then we headed over to the restaurant, which was recommended by a couple that they had met while hiking the Inca trail. Sure enough, we saw them there! They are “kiwis” from New Zealand, and just wonderful. In the restaurant a woman staggered in and was immediately seated. The wait staff then pulled out a little oxygen tank for her! Apparently not an unusual occurrence! Our meal was great and after we headed out to find a place for coffee and sweets with them. We did find a place, and on the way passed a festival group marching by! We watched it for a moment then headed in for sweets.

I’m looking forward to exploring Cusco tomorrow. There’s two gorgeous churches on the square, a pre-columbian historic museum with a restaurant inside that we have been told we must try! Probably will take it a little easier given the pace, but there’s so much to see! This city is very interesting and we are really looking forward to checking things out.

Well, need to catch up on emails and hit the hay. Hasta manana!!

Sam

Addition from Pisac

I forgot to mention a couple of funny observations in the market. First of which is the industrious children there are here. They dress up in their finest, beautiful brightly colorful weaves. Most of them carried puppies with them, and would track down touristas to take their picture for a fee! They are quite persistent and it was funny. One of the girls had this poor puppy curled under her arm by the neck!!! Poor scruffy looking thing, but I’m sure they made quite a good living off of it!

The other was the music.. I heard this beautiful flute playing, with very soothing tones. Something rang quite familiar about the song but didn’t seem to make sense to me. I thought about it for a minute and then realized that it was because the tune was familiar.. the man was playing ¨Hey Jude¨ by the Beatles! Seemed quite out of place in Peru!

Peru: Ollanta, Ollantaytambo y Maras (Salineras y Moray)- Days 2 & 3

Ollanta, Ollantaytambo y Maras (Salineras y Moray)

Today we explored Ollanta and the ruins, Ollantataymbo. We were really early to bed last night, given that we had little sleep the night before. I woke at 6:30 or so, and Barb a little later. It felt good to not rush around! We had breakfast at the hotel, desperately needing to find some good coffee (without success!) The instant stuff at the other hotel wasn’t what we had in mind! We called our driver from yesterday, Wilbert, to schedule for him to take us on our excursion tomorrow. He wouldn’t quote us a price until he picks us up, though Barb told him he’d better not charge too much! We confirmed the ride for today at the restaurant then went off to explore the ruins.

Thank goodness for my new camera and memory card with well over a thousand pics, as I made a good dent today!! The hike up the ruins was magnificent, though it did occur to me that the steep climb up the uneven but picturesque stairs wouldn’t be quite so fun on the way down. Yeah, my fear of heights is a wonderful thing! But I threw caution to the wind, aspiring to the amazing views that we did see! It was simply magnificent! The ruins were in the side of the mountain.. a fortress from long ago that was taken by the Spaniards.

We saw some very long, flat stones that appeared to have been altars, and cutouts in the walls that appeared to be windows, however they didn’t go all the way through. (We found out later from our guide in MP, that these were used as shelves for holding decorations!) We met a wonderful couple from Germany, one from Switzerland as well. Barb does a wonderful job going in and out of different languages. Thankfully, I can understand enough of Spanish to get the gist of what people are saying, though I really have a hard time speaking in the languages.

The views were simply amazing, as Ollanta is in a valley surrounded by very high mountains. There are fields all around that are a patchwork of beautiful colors, and a very cute town. We could see our hotel from the top, as well as several other small villages. There was also a little grazing area with two bulls. One I got up pretty close to for a picture, then realized they were not fenced in. I decided to not push my luck, but Jason, you know I had a momentary thought of you while looking at the bull!!! (vamos a Palomba!!!)

We took a path around part of the mountain and found another way down from the top of the ruins. No, I didn´t go down on my butt, though I´m very glad that Barb did me the courtesy of not filming my graceful descent.

We found a coffee shop and ahhh... (sound of angels singing) had a wonderful latte that hit the spot. We’re exploring Ollanta a little bit, will grab lunch, hopefully at a local place and not a touristy one! Then we will find our driver for the second part of our adventure. Hasta luego....

Maras y Moray

Walked around Ollanta a bit more, and got lunch at a quaint local place. We got what we thought was a crepe, but it was actually a very thin pancake.. bananas and chocolate. Yum! What better lunch. When we went to find the bathroom, we went through a true jumgle.. trees, and lots of vegetation in the middle of this house, and a little animal kingdom of parrots, cats and dogs. The woman there was drying maize on a mat as well.

Quick bathroom observation-they don’t want you to flush paper here, and have little trashcans by the toilet (I’m assuming they have a septic-like system). Very few toilets actually have seats, and it’s a good practice to carry tissue paper with you just in case the opportunity is required!! Oh, and antibacterial gel, as some of the sinks don’t run with water or have soap either!! Better than Paris with the 2x2 bathroom with a hole and foot pedals though, but definitely not for the faint of heart!!

Anyways, back to Ollanta. We walked down a side alley to check things out, followed by a quite friendly dog. After all of Barb´s admonishments that I was NOT allowed to pet any animals here, I actually caught her petting this dog! She claimed he looked ok, but I dunno.. The alleyway is apparently where the locals live. It was marked by small doors, cobblestone streets, lots of dogs. Everyone was incredibly friendly, as they have been throughout the trip, and not one local passes without saying “buenos dias!” “Buenos tardes” etc. They are such friendly people here. The kids seem to have a great time playing and life seems good.

We met up with our driver and headed out. On the way we saw a bus coming very fast down the narrow streets, and a car was coming the other way! The bus blared the horn and the car backed up quickly, and off they went! It was pretty funny. People drive very fast for the roads.. windy, narrow, potholed.. pretty well paved for the most part though. The other observation is the amount of honking! People honk to say hello, at people in the street.. without slowing.. and on the side of the street to warn them not to enter it.

The drive through the mountains was gorgeous and we noticed lots of terraces carved in the side of the mountains. Miguel told us they are potato farms. The drive to Salineras, the salt mine, was very steep. Miguel pulled over to the edge .. the road was very narrow.. for us to take pictures. We almost had a heart attack, but decided to take advantage of the opportunity! The salt is mined by a co op of women, and they sell some of their items on the way in. We each bought some salt, and I bought these dried maize which were quite yummy. Almost like unpopped popcorn, but not as hard as that. The salt mines were simply gorgeous.. just gridwork squares of white over an expansive landscape. It looked like snow and was just gorgeous. I’ll let the pictures describe this, but it was our favorite thing so far. The pathway through the field was only a little wider than a balance beam, maybe two feet at the most in parts though mostly a foot wide. We saw the water source and dipped a finger.. it was the most salty thing I had EVER tasted! As a salt-a-holic, I still thought it was way too salty! They fill the squares of water which evaporates, and in three weeks it’s mostly hard. They mine it every three weeks.. the top layer goes to the animals, middle to the locals and bottom to the tourists. It was just beautiful and amazing. The workers collect the salt barefoot so as not to contaminate it.

Then we were on to Moray, through fields of hops and grains. There were a lot of schoolchildren walking down a long rocky dirt road on the way, trying to hitch a ride. When we didn’t pick them up, one thumped the car! There was livestock crossing the road several times, and we drove right up alongside a large bull as well! Moray was interesting. We looked down on the large concentric circles, which was used for agriculture in the Inca times. They used it to test growing abilities of different plants. There was a little market and Barb spoke with a couple of the women there. Both had young children with them who were just gorgeous! The children here and beautiful as are the people! While I know enough Spanish to get by (I can somewhat understand basic Spanish, and can get my needs across) it’s been wonderful being with someone who’s fluent. It’s enabled me to meet some wonderful people and get to know them a little—tough to do if you can’t speak the language!

Being here makes me appreciate all that we have in the US, but there’ s a charm and raw beauty all around. The landscape is just amazing, and the people are simply wonderful. More speak English than I´d expect, though not many do. We drove back listening to what sounded like the Peruvian equivalent of Cat Stevens on the radio. Several times again stopped by people walking donkeys, cows and sheep.

We ate dinner at a beautiful place in Ollanta and watched the dozens of busses go by from the train station through town, leaving from Aguas Calientes/Macchu Piccu, to Cusco. Of course, being the pied piper of animals, a cat seeked me out and was rubbing up on my legs trying to tempt me to feed him. It was actually spotted, which was interesting. Barb leaned over to pet it, and got busted by the waiter who tossed it out. Just as well I guess! We had a wonderful dinner with a pasta, and andean ravioli- alpaca with a red creamy sauce that was incredible. We decided to get a ride back to the hotel.. not sure I’ve mentioned the three wheeled carts that drove all around, but it was a fun way to go back!!!


Peru: Sacred Valley- Days 1 and 2

Hello everyone, from the magical beauty of Peru!! Most of you requested that I note my travels again. Added a few folks that I thought might enjoy them. Please let me know if you’d like to be removed from the list!

Travel adventures and mishaps

It wouldn’t be an adventure without the customary flight delays! We were held up in Houston for an hour due to a thunderstorm, which produced the most amazing lightening show! Then we get onto the plane to discover that there’s something wrong with the engine and we wait for the news... We then disembark to load onto another plane! Three hours later armed with ice cream (for energy, of course!) we take off. Not too bad, considering.

Our pickup at the airport went smoothly (I’ve never done this, but it makes quite a difference not to try to figure on a cab and to figure out where you’re going in a place you’ve never been!!) We didn’t get in to the hotel until after 2 am or so, though Juan, who picked us up, was in good spirits. Thankfully Barb understands Spanish, as my brain shuts down when I’m that tired! After only sleeping about three hours the previous night, I was a bit exhausted. We got in, settled and to bed at around 3 am.

Thankfully I have a great internal clock, as I woke up at 7 am with a start. We had an 8:55 flight and the hotel said we could leave at 8 am. Wasn’t feeling very comfortable as we were a good 20 minutes from the airport, so I was glad I woke up. We never did get a wake-up knock (there was no phone in the room)! We rushed around and were downstairs for a quick breakfast, then waited on the car. I was quite entertained by a gorgeous but chubby chocolate lab that the owner had, who was aptly named “fatty” in Dutch!!! She was very happy for the attention and of course, since I’m already missing my crew and Barb laid down the law that I am not allowed to pet dogs when I’m in Peru (they’re rather scruffy and Peru does have an issue with rabies), I figured I’d take advantage!!

The airport was jammed and we started to stress. Barb marched right up to the business class desk and asked what we could do-- we had already checked in and just needed to drop our bags. Not knowing that we only had a few hours of sleep and were not quite confident of our Spanish (that would be Barb-- me, even less so!) the lady at the counter thought she’d have some fun with us and said we needed to be in the longest line, which wrapped around a significant piece of the airport!!! Of course, her humor escaped us (and not only due to the language!) though we did have a good laugh once we got on the plane and realized she had just messed with us!! The flight to Cusco was uneventful, except that we passed by this incredible snow capped mountain! It seemed close enough to touch, and was an impressive way of arriving!!

Skipping ahead a moment to address the travel mishaps: when we checked in and unpacked, I found that not only had something in my toiletry bag leaked, also an entire new bottle of moisturizer broke and.. I´ll save you the description but made quite a mess. I am a huge fan of my little LLBean toiletry bag however, in that only a little escaped it!! Yikes.

The drive

We decided to go straight to Ollanta in the Sacred Valley to avoid some of the altitude sickness issues, and a driver took us to the hotel. What an amazing place this is! Now, I know that everytime I go away I claim that it is the most beautiful country that I´’ ever seen, but this definitely ranks among them! It was even more gorgeous than the sweeping green patchwork hills in Ireland! First, the mountains were majestic and went on forever.. they seemed to reach right into the heavens with their ripples in shades of green, brown and yellow. Then the landscape was so diverse! Hills, mountains, farms, haystacks, livestock.. it was just so amazing that I can’t begin to describe in an e-mail, but wait until you see the pictures!!

The houses were what I expected.. rather dilapidated and run down. some brightly colored in the midst. Some were made of handmade bricks, which were rather picturesque when they were eroding. Our driver was fantastic and stopped several times.. once in a little market, and three times to take in views of rivers, mountains and snow capped mountains.

Ollanta

This town is just gorgeous, with its cobblestone streets and square. And the ruins, Ollantaytambo, loom above it. One thing I did forget to mention about Cusco is that I’ve never seen so many stray dogs in my life.. it was just heartbreaking. Ollanta was no different though most seemed in fairly decent shape. I walked with my hands in my pockets some of the time to avoid a scolding from Barb for petting one of them!!

The hotel is GORGEOUS and we are thrilled. What made it really special is the lush, beautiful gardens sprinkled with so many vivid colors. There are 4-5 buildings, all painted a rich terra cotta. We actually walked down to the other hotel we were reserved at, and cancelled for another night here! The other was right on the train tracks and while less expensive, it just wasn’t as nice.

Had lunch at the hotel as we were starving- it was 2 or so when we arrived and we hadn’t eaten much. We walked into town, walked around the market, got a boleto touristico- ticket to get us into the ruins as well as many of the Cusco sites. The ruin is very high, and we weren’t up for the hike, so walked around the town instead. Picked up some bottled water (for the obvious reasons, as in South America, like in Mexico, you don’t drink the water!!) and explored. Very cute!!!

Today we go to the ruins, walk around the town more and then go to Salineras and Moray. Salineras is the salt mine in Maras, which our driver pointed out on the trip from Cusco to Ollanta, carved high in the mountains. It’s supposed to be an amazing thing to see. We had planned on the busses but apparently they don’t run all around the valley. The guy who offered to drive us was very nice, and worked in the restaurant where we had dinner last night. The drivers seem to be a bit aggressive-pushy, and this guy seemed ok. We actually scheduled for the driver who took us to the hotel from Cusco, Wilbert, to drive us tomorrow to Pisac, Awanacahara, and back to Cusco. He’s a good driver (which, given the narrow windy roads, is an important thing!) very nice, willing to stop to let us take pictures, and is reasonably priced.

In case anyone goes to Peru and wants his contact information: 984961035 phone, maco854@hotmail.com. He doesn’t speak any English, so you’d need at least a basic understanding of Spanish. He lives in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley, but drove us all around the valley with pick ups and drop offs in Cusco. For $40 US he’ll drive from one end to the other, and for $75 US he will make stops and spend the day. This isn’t the cheapest quote that we got, but as I mentioned, he’s a great driver and a wonderful person. We’d highly recommend him!

Oh, Tanya, last night I had a pisco sour. I remember years ago, in your Stamford apt, I think, you made these. I didn’t remember what they were like but that I enjoyed them, so it was a nice reminder of a fun time in the past!!

Time’s up so I need to run.. oh, one other funny thing. We stopped a woman in the most gorgeous woven outfit to take her picture (con permiso, of course!) She had a baby strapped to her back in a woven blanket and the colors were beautiful. She asked for money, fine, but then said that we didn’t pay her enough!!! We had no more change (one sol here are change).. and after giving her a sol already, we apologized and left. It was a great picture though, that I’ll be sure to share.

Adios! I’m so excited for our adventures today and tomorrow...

Sam