Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last day in Lima

Wow! So much to tell! I do not yet have pictures (hopefully before the weekend!).

The Inca Trail / Macchu Picchu was simply amazing. Incredibly challenging, but amazing. We started hiking around noon on Friday, hiked from about 6 am until 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday and hiked 4am until arriving at Macchu Picchu at 7:30 am on Monday.

Macchu Picchu itself is jaw dropping. But it meant even more for us trekkers because, well, we weren't just trekkers. It felt like we were pilgrims (since we walked the pilgrimage trail). So that was pretty awesome.

So much to tell, but I will have to stop here (the computer spell check is set to Spanish so every word I type has a red underline...for those that know me, you can imagine how upsetting this is. haha)

Anyways, Veronica and I are heading home on a midnight flight. We should be back home in 24 hours. Until then, we'll be dragging our blistered, aching bodies all over Lima. Yay!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hello, Peru -- Our time in Puno

With heavy hearts, Veronica and I said goodbye to Bolivia. We took a bus to Puno, Peru (the border crossing went smoothly...hurray!) and arrived in Puno Tuesday around 2:30 Chicago time. We spent the rest of the day adjusting to our hotel, the new city and our upcoming days.

On Wednesday, we kicked off the day with a trip to The Floating Uros Islands. We knew going into the trek that, once upon a time, there were a group of people living in the Puno area who fleed to Lake Titicaca to avoid the violence between tribes on the mainland. These people literally built their houses and communities on floating reeds.

Sounds cool, right? Sadly, the whole thing was a load of bull. Okay, that was a little harsh. They are kind of like a working historical society. You know, the ones that have people dressed in old clothes churning butter? Once we arrived on our island, we were shown demonstrations of how these islands were built, operated and maintained. Then we were kind of stuck there for a painful 20 minutes while the fake locals tried to sell us cheap tourist trinkets.

Interesting but a bit of a bummer.

But we ended the day on a definite high-note. We visited a historical ruins site called Sillustani (see-you-stah-ni), which is home to these huge ancient ritual sites and burial grounds. Puno is 3,800 meters elevation, but the site was over 4,000. It was quite breathtaking, both literally and figuratively.

After an hour hike up (with several breaks along the way) we came to the top of the site. See the pic below (it just does not do it justice)

There were several masses of rock scattered across the site similar to the one in front of me in the picture. These are tomb markers. The tombs on the highest peak (like the one pictured) are actually for children. Kind of sad, but I suppose I would choose no other place to be laid to rest.

On our way back home, we stopped at a typical country farm. Once again, like The Uros Islands, this was more of a sample museum; no one actually lived there. They showed us where they plant stuff and where they cook stuff and where they sleep....then they showed us.....

The guinea pigs!!!!!!!!!!!!! They had llamas and alpacas, too, but you can bet that I was busy fawning over these Domino look-alikes. (I wanted to set them free, but Veronica held me back).

So, overall, nice day in Puno. I do not like Puno as much as Copacabana, but had a great time all the same. Tomorrow we take an early and lengthy bus to Cuzco. The bus is kind of a tour and makes several stops at ruins along the way. From Cuzco on Friday, we will start hiking the Inca Trail! Wish us luck!

Happy thanksgiving to everyone at home! We will both be thinking of you!

Pics from Copacabana & Isla del Sol

Here are some pictures from our time in Copacabana:

This is at the big cathedral in Copacabana. The cathedral is home to ¨The Virgin of Copacaban,¨ who is revered as the Virign Mary who is dedicated to the Sacred Valley (area around Lake Titicaca). The altar for this virgin is insane! We couldn´t take pictures, which is a shame. The altar was just stunning. An entire cathedral wall of gold and ornaments.

On day 2 of Copacabana (Monday), we visited Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). The island lived up to the name. Once we arrived to Isla, we walked about 5km to ancient ruins. Here is a pic of Roni at a lookout point along the way. Fun tidbit -- We learned that Lake Titicaca was originally Titicalka, but took on the name Titicaca when the Spanish invaded.

Back at Copacabana, I snapped this shot on my way back to the hotel of the sun setting behind mountains on Lake Titicaca. Our hotel room looked out at this view.

This is what I had for breakfast the day we left Copacabana. From left to right: Orange juice, coca tea, (behind the coca tea) toast with butter and jam, pancake with chocolate sauce and (in the far corner) fried eggs. Yum!!

Hope you enjoyed! The pictures I post here are the ones that I take on my phone. I have so many more on my camera (especially from Isla del Sol), so be sure to check them out on Facebook when I get back. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Copacabana and the Island of the Sun

Picking right back where I left off, Veronica and I traveled by bus from La Paz to the border city of Copacabana on Sunday morning. The bus ride was simply stunning.

La Paz city is kind of in a valley. The trip to Copacabana was on the ¨Altiplano,¨which is the super high-altitude plateau surrounding La Paz. Honestly, words cannot even describe. I have never seen a sky so big. We were literally on top of the world. And the! It was as if I could reach up and swipe my fingers through them if I had a good enough jump. I have pictures but, due to technology restrictions, I won´t be able to post here. Check Facebook in a day or so.

Copacabana is a city that sits right on Lake Titicaca. It is quite rural, which is a wonderful change of pace from bustling La Paz. So quiet!

After checking into a really cute (and...ahem...rustic) hostal, Veronica and I headed to Copa´s main attraction: a huge, stark white cathedral. I´ve got some awesome pictures of that, too. The Cathedral is the home to ¨The Virgin of Copacabana,¨which, from what I´ve pieced together is a big deal. Apparently, a piece of wood washed up on Copa´s shores with what appeared to be a lady carved on it. Despite the Spaniard´s attempt to discredit this artifact, many Bolivians today believe that the virigin specifically watches over Bolivia. We haven´t actually seen the virgin yet because there was a mass in service when we were there. We´re hoping to go back tomorrow before our bus to Puno, Peru.

We finished the rest of the day with a hike up to a ¨wishing¨altar on top of a mountain. Sounded like a good idea while we were standing at the bottom of it. Several puffs of the inhaler later, Veronica and I were sitting atop, making wishes (due to come true in a year).

I wish that this story had a happy ending that did not involve Veronica getting a nasty case of food poisoning (we suspect a meal of trout is the culprit), but...that wouldn´t be very South America-like. While she recovers, I wonder if I shouldn´t make another trip to the top of the wishing altar to wish for my health.

But she is a true champion. Today (Monday) we took a boat to the nearby Isla del Sol to look at, besides amazing views, old Inca ruins. Incans believe that their god was born on the island and created the sun and moon here. Again, words cannot describe. Pictures are only marginally better. Hopefully I will be able to post pics tomorrow once we arrive in Puno.

We´ve hiked a lot the past couple days (of course the Isla del Sol ruins were on top of another mountain), so we´re hoping the next couple days leading up to our Inca Trail hike will be restful.

Side notes: (1) The hot chocolate here is unbelievable. They literally grind chunks of cooking chocolate into a steaming cup of milk. (2) Pepto-Bismol is a godsend. (3) Listening to a tour guide describing a sacrifical ceremony in a foreign language is equally as challenging as entertaining. (4) The weather has been outstanding. (5) The sun is 500903479 times stronger up here -- Copacabana is roughly 3,800 m above sea level.

Can´t wait to get back and tell you more!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I know, I know. I´m not in Korea anymore...

Hola from Bolivia...not Korea anymore!

By posting a blog from Bolivia, I´ve officially made this my travel blog. Veronica and I made it safely to Bolivia. We arrived very early Thursday morning (4:30 a.m. Chicago time, 6:30 a.m. local) and spent most of Thursday drinking obscene amounts of water and being tired.

La Paz is roughly 4,000 meters above sea level, so our number-one goal was to avoid altitude sickness. We decided that the best way to do that was to sit around and drink water and coca tea - a native drink used to reduce the affects of the altitude - like it was our job. I have to admit, as soon as the plane landed and turned off the pressurizers, I felt like I was going to hurl. I felt dizzy and disoriented and thought, with a sinking heart, ¨Oh no, I´m one of the unlucky ones with an affinity for altitude sickness.¨

Don´t worry! After spending a few minutes repeating to myself, ¨You´re fine, you drama queen, you.¨ I was better. We sailed through customs, caught a cab to our hostel, walked breathlessly up two flights of stairs (We had to stop to catch our breath midway up) and spent the next two or three hours drinking water and tea. The tea is an absolute godsend. It completely wiped out all traces of discomfort.

Hungover with fatigue from the sleepless overnight flight and trying to convince our bodies that the lack of oxygen was OK, we spent that entire first day napping and drinking water and tea. We walked around La Paz some but...the hills!!! Couple the hilly terrain that puts San Francisco to shame with the lack of oxygen and you get two tired gringos (gringo essentially means white tourist).

We slept like babies Thursday night.

Friday we spent getting a handle on the city that is La Paz. Mastering the bloody hills, we found our way to the central plaza where La Paz´s main government building (attached to their main cathedral) is. I would say that the highlight of our day was the Art Museum. The museum featured Bolivian art from the beginning to the modern day. It was very cool, and the museum itself, once a palace, was stunning. (Pic of the courtyard of the museum below)

Saturday, we kicked off the day with an authentically local breakfast. We sat elbow to elbow with La Paz natives and feasted on Api tea (a purple corn tea flavored with ginger and other and ¨pancakes¨(basically a funnel cake without sugar). (tea pictured below)

We spent the afternoon in the Contemporary Art museum (Since we know nearly no Spanish, art museums are the only types of museums we really don´t need English translations to understand), which was cool, but not nearly as cool as the first art museum.

Tomorrow we are saying goodbye to our lovely hostel (which has an internet connection, free coca tea and sells water by the gallons) and La Paz and are taking a bus to Lake Titicaca. Should be fantastic! I will keep everyone posted as the internet access allows.

The weather has been awesome! Sunny and blue skies, typically around 65 to 70 degrees. Today a front moved in in a matter of minutes and dropped the temps to 40s with wind, clouds and rain. Thankfully, Veronica and I were back at the hostel in our new Bolivian sweaters (so warm! Made from alpaca fur...NO ALPACAS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF MY SWEATER.) :)

Until next time...