Jul 132013
 

Cusco

We were on our way to the Inca capital of Cusco. There was not much sleep to be had on the 15 hour long bus trip. The bus was slowly circling its way up steep, winding mountain roads, all the way up to 4500 meters altitude then down again to 3000 meters altitude. I got ready to sleep (without falling asleep) at 01.00, and at 06.40 the brilliant bus guys put on the most annoying lambada music imaginable. It was even more annoying that a mindless (smoked too much marijuana?) rastaman behind us began to sing along to the songs.

Cusco

Cusco

Every hope of sleep was crushed at that moment. I thought maybe the bus guys woke us because breakfast was ready, but it did not arrive. I'm not impressed. The best about the bus trip was that we sat on the second floor of the bus with the large panorama window in front of us with views over the landscape. Since then we have tried to get these seats on all of the buses we take. , In fact I am now sitting and writing this blog on a bus with panoramic views of the Atacama desert in Chile. We stopped along the road by a small shed where some locals made local breakfast. Me and Torunn chose to starve rather than eat fried pig fat served with guts. We had a cup of tea for breakfast (they had no coffee of course) while we looked at all the guinea pigs that were running across the kitchen floor to get some salad on the other side of the room. We arrived to Cuzco at 1 in the afternoom and went straight to the hostel where we were sleeping for the rest of the day. The philosophy to "save" a day by taking the night bus does not always work. Our hostel was great. It was located on the hillside in San Blas, with views across the old town from a giant window in the dining room. There were several days where we just sat all day in the dining room and read books while we gazed out at the view.

Cusco at night seen from hostel

Cusco at night seen from hostel

It was a lovely view, that simply never gets old. Cusco was just as infected by gringos as I had expected. We did not encounter a single other backpacker that had not been, or was going to Cuzco. Anyway, we had no illusions about anything else before arriving. One of the days we were there we were on a so-called "free" walking tour. There were about 30 other tourists who had been thinking the same, so it was a bit like queueing behind a guide who played reggae music from a portable speaker so that none of the herd would get lost. It was slightly embarrassing to be a part of the herd. It was not the most impressive city walk; He took us from one shop to the next, where he shamefully promoted the wonderful products they sold. We visited one place that sold lamas made of silver, a shop selling various lama / alpacca / Vicuna clothing, 3 restaurants that gave us samples and explained how good and cheap the food was, a chocolate parlor that gave us tastings, a liquor museum and a tattoo parlor. We did not learn very much about the city, However, he had added a couple of stops with some details about the Inca. And at the end of the trip there was a semi-mandatory tip, and we were informed that only banknotes (of which the smallest is worth about 30 Norwegian kroner(14$) ") was accepted. The next time we will probably go on a city walk that actually costs money…instead of a commercialised trip that costs a fortune in tips. We ate a lot of alpaca steak, and even an alpaca burger at a place. It was absolutely lovely meat, almost as tender as the ostrich steak we had in South Africa last year. Although most restaurants in the city operate at tourist prices it is possible to find a good deal. We had a meal that started with a glass of wine and a large portion of meat soup, continued with alpaca steak with garnish and then pancake with honey and freshly squeezed lime juice for dessert. The whole thing cost 35 Norwegian kroner(14$) ".

Lovely grilled guinea pig

) Lovely grilled guinea pig

The next day we found a reasonably cheap place to have compulsory Peru meal - roasted guinea pig ! It took a small eternity before the partially charred rodent landed on our table. Those who have said that they resemble a rat on the plate are right. It was served with a little salad, and some bad pastry with some nasty stuff inside. The guinea pig was a bit small for both of us, but we had ordered some other Peruvian dishes as well. I started the carving job, and Torunn and the staff there were very impressed by how gracefully I parted the animal (hmmmm….. red.adm). It was an amazingly small amount of meat on it, and what I did eat was tough, and not particularly good (Torunn disagrees, it was delicious! red.adm). To get a little more taste I went into the belly of the guinea pig and ate a good portion of the green chili sauce that was everywhere (Smart guy… red.adm). It was even more disappointing as it did not taste of anything, at least not like chili. It was then Torunn found out that it actually was not chili sauce, but half-digested grass that had spilled out of the intestines. After that my appetite was not as good. The waitress said there was chili inside! Rip-off! Or maybe she meant that it was the pastry that was served next to the guinea pig that actually had some chili stuff inside. It cost most than 100 kroner for the guinea pig dish, but it was not really worth it for me. It's something you try, just to try it, but I am not tempted to try it again.

Macchu Picchu- Salkantay trail !
We booked the Machu Picchu tour through the hostel. We were very glad that we booked it in advance, as the prices we had seen online was well over twice as much as what we paid. We booked the trip the day before, and it was no problem getting a spot on the tour. It is only the so-called traditional Inca Trail which must be booked months in advance ,as they only allow 500 people per day. We paid only 200$ for a tour called the Salkantay trek. It takes 5 days to reach the ruins. There is another one called the jungle trek, which includes cycling, rafting and ziplining, but that one is only 3 days. We had to get up at 03.30 the first morning just so that a bus could drive us for 3 hours to the start of the path. The bus was loaded full of people who were divided into 2 groups, Luckily we ended up in the smallest group of 13 people.

Salkantay Pass

Salkantay Pass

It was still more than the 8 which we had been told, but promises are broken fast in Peru. The first day we walked uphill for 7 hours before we arrived at the first camp. It was a tricky terrain with green forests one moment, and snow-capped peaks in the next. The only thing we saw of animals were bulls grazing along the road all the way up to the camp. The sun shone all day. The world seems better when the sun shines. We were pleasantly surprised when we found out that they actually sell large beer bottles in the kiosk at the camp, one can not say no to a little party at 3900 meters above sea level after a long day of trekking. We got to know the rest of our group, some jovial, some not so much. There were 2 Canadian girls, 1 Spaniard, 4 British teenagers, a Danish and Swedish couple of medical students and 2 super-cheerful British students in their mid-20s. We were the oldest on the trip, 5 years older than the second-oldest. It gave me a bit of a granddad-feeling, not a feeling I particularly like. We could at least communicate with them entirely at their level, at least I think so. We had the most contact with the two brits Joe and Rob, and with the Danish-Swedish couple Peter and Hedvig. The teens were a little shy and did not say much, which Joe and Rob worked tirelessly to change. Much of the effort was supported by alcohol intake. The second group was much larger than our group; about 19 people. They always arrived long after us to the camps. We felt infinitely happy to be in our group as our guide was pretty laid back, almost a little too laid back. The second group were doing "team building" all the time as if they were participating in the Olympics or something.

Sean and the gang on the roof

Sean and the gang on the roof

There was always lots of group hugs, slogans and clapping from their side of the camp, pretty LAME… We were told that the second day was going to be the toughest day of them all. We had to walk from 3900 meters altitude to 4600 meters early in the morning. It was a good trip with lots of nice scenery and tall mountains with snow. We walked past a giant valley that looked a little out of place. The guide told us that there used to be a glacier there, but not anymore due to global warming. It was very steep, which was quite tough considering that we were on 4000 meters . We beat "team Awesome" to the top by a mile. Along the way we saw lots of little curious furry animals. They were very cute, a close relative of the domesticated chinchilla. There were also many wild horses grazing in the tundra at 4300 meters altitude. After we had reached the top it was 5 hours of walking downhill, which took us down to a so-called "cloud forest". After 9 hours of trekking we were pretty tired and limp when we finally arrived at our camp. It was a pretty idyllic small lawn on top of a green valley. The sun set in a color explosion while large flocks of green parrots were swarming above our tents. We had a well earned giant beer as this campsite fortunately also had a small pub. We got to know our group, and found that we were in a very jovial crowd, especially the brits. Very early the next morning we were awakened by a Peruvian that opened our tent and served us coca tea in bed. After we had packed our bags yet another delicious Peruvian breakfast awaited us. It consisted mostly of pancakes, bread, jam, coffee, tea and sometimes a nasty cake. Day 3 was not too tiring. It started by walking past the "Team Awesome" while they were in the middle of a group hug and motivational speech. Our group was not walking together, everyone walked at their own pace, which is actually the easiest. We walked along a gravel road that was full of landslides. The mountains in this area consists almost entirely of soil and gravel, there are not much mountains really. The consequence of that is that every time it rains a bit the soil collapses and falls into the river in the bottom of the valley.

Salkantay gang together

Salkantay gang together

I walked with Joe the brit, and Peter the Dane. Time passed quickly as we had many interesting discussions. We discussed religion, which is always fun, especially considering that the Dane had quasi-religious naive views on things, while me and Joe are atheists. I have read the bible, while the Dane had not read it, and does not know how much nonsense it contains. After a while it seemed like he was a little unsure of what he really believed in. After a few hours of walking we arrived to the bottom of the valley where we found lots of fruit trees with bananas, passion fruit, oranges and other delicacies. After we had been served a decent Peruvian lunch we were driven in a jeep to the camp site. Me, Joe and Rob insisted on sitting on the roof during the 1 hour long ride through the jungle. It was a pretty unforgettable experience. We had a contest to see who managed to pick fruit from one of the many wild fruit-trees that we passed. There were bananas, avocadoes, oranges and coffee beans. There were many times that we almost fell out of the jeep when we stretched out for the fruit, but it was just for fun. Our camp was in a small village which was sheltered from the Andes. There we visited some hot springs that were right by the dirty river. It was really great after many days of hiking, and many days of sweating. There were many tourists, almost exclusively people from Salkantay and people from the alternate Jungle Adventure Inca route. We saw a group of gringos coming down a path from the jungle trip, and then straight to the pools. Joe was very quick to leave our group and jump across to the other pool where the girls from the jungle tour was. One of the girls was tall, blonde with huge siliconboobs. She had barely gotten her feet in the pool before Joe honed in on her and turned on the charm. It was not long before Rob was also in place, chatting up her friend. They arranged to meet at the local disco later in the evening, but both Rob and Joe were so drunk that they fell asleep on the couch at the disco. Me and Torunn had a few beers around the fire at our camp site, and then we went to bed tired after a long day. We were, after all, the oldest in the group, which is a slightly depressing thought. The next day we started by walking 3 hours in a valley that took us to a hydropower plant. When we arrived to the checkpoint we found Joe sleeping on a lawn, and our guide, Jorge, sleeping on a bench. Both had a hangover after the party at the disco, and both had hitchhiked to the checkpoint. We had already found out that Jorge was a liar. He claimed that he never drank anything other than water and milk, although we saw him with both beer and liquor the night before. He claimed that he had gone to bed early the night before, even if the others in our group said he was still at the disco when they left at 4 in the morning.

Joe hungover and Rob in position

Joe hungover and Rob in position

The third lie was that he had done a shortcut…even if we had actually seen him sneak away from our group and into a car at the very beginning of the trek. He was at least nothing like the guide of "Team Awesome" who always walked with the whole group, screamed motivational slogans, and encouraged sing-alongs at all times. We were definitely more like the 'team shabby' or 'team dubious'. After the hydroelectric plant we walked along the train tracks until we got to Aguas Calientes, which is the last town before Macchu Picchu.

På tur til Agua Calientes

På tur til Agua Calientes

It is a very expensive city where virtually all of the locals are living on tourists. The prices for both food and shelter are well over twice as much as the rest of Peru. The morning after was the day that we were finally going to Macchu Picchu, the holy city of the incas. We got up at 4 to meet the rest of the group at 4.20. Since no one was there we decided to just start walking on our own. After all we knew the way, and we needed no guide. At 4.45 we came to the beginning of the mountain we had to climb. There was about 300 other people who were waiting for the guard to open the gate before the actual path to the ruins. They had a pretty idiotic scheme were they did not open the gate until 5, and the first bus leaves at 5.15 from Aguas Calientes. They made it so that the lazy tourists who take the expensive bus to the top of the mountain will arrive before the ones sweating and struggling to get to the top, those who really deserve to arrive to the ruins first. Me and Torunn went straight ahead of the 300 other people who were there as there was no queuing system. We were the first to get on the trail when the guards opened the gate. We were so happy not to have to queue up the narrow path, like the ones behind us had to do. It was still pitch dark outside, but we had headlamps.

The only surviving picture of us at the ruins..

The only surviving picture of us at the ruins..

We walked quickly up the trail and arrived to the door within 35 minutes, even if they had said it would take an hour. Thanks to our high pace, we actually arrived 5 minutes before the first tourist bus, and 10 minutes before any of the others who had walked. We had to wait at the entrance for 20 minutes before they opened Macchu Picchu. By that time about 500 people had gathered behind us in the queue. When they finally opened we sprinted up to the top of the ruins. The 14th of April 2013 me and Torunn had Macchu Picchu to ourselves for 5 minutes, something that I had never thought that we would be able to do !

Macchu Picchu seen from Wayna Picchu

Macchu Picchu Picchu surveyed fra Myna

The ruins lived up to all expectations, pictures can not describe how cool these ruins are when one actually sits on an Inca staircase and gaze out across the whole place. We have seen many ruins on this journey, but none are as well-kept and majestic as Macchu Picchu. After a while the rest of our group turned up and we got a very quick guided tour with Jorge, who seemed like he was quite happy to get rid of us when he was done. Rob and Joe had a gram of cocaine each that they had decided to take to celebrate that they had arrived to the ruins. They seemed quite sober when we talked to them, so I think they had chosen to save the fun for later in the evening.

Macchu Picchu!

Macchu Picchu!

Me and Torunn spent 8 hours there, so we got to see the legendary Inca city from every angle imaginable. First we walked up to "the sun gate», then we went to the top of Wayna Picchu, which is the big mountain that lies just north of the ruins. It was actually a lot of work to climb up there, but it was so worth it for the amazing views we got from the top. Luckily we managed to get past all the groups of older people who walked super slow up the staired path. The best lunch ever was when we sat at the absolute highest point on the mountain and enjoyed the view of the fabled Inca city with my feet dangling off the edge. On top of Waynu Picchu were even more ruins, and many steps with grass where they could grow various vegetables. How they managed to carry the stones up there is pretty incomprehensible, the Inca were certainly not lazy people. When we arrived back down to Macchu Picchu we were extremely exhausted, so we slept on the grass with the lamas for an hour, before we started the walk back to Aguas Calientes. We were totally knackered when we returned, this had definitely been the toughest day of the whole trip.

Cute little Inca-lama

Cute little Inca-lama

We had some beer and an overpriced meal before we took the tourist train back to Cusco. The locals take another train that runs half an hour earlier and costs 1/5 th of the price. We met Joe, Rob and the British teenagers on the train, and on the bus we had to take after the train. They were in the process of drinking large amounts of rum, and started singing lots of jovial drinking songs and loud discussions which the rest of the people on the bus did not appreciate. The worst part was when they had to pee and decided to stick their dicks out the window of the bus and pee out. Not a good day to drive in the other lane.

2 typical things in Peru one image!

2 Typical Peru things in one picture!

Torunn felt pretty bad when we arrived to Cusco, so we decided to drop the party with the rest of the gang. The next day we hardly even bothered leaving the hostel. It was a whole day of just relaxing, no sightseeing whatsoever. In the evening we jumped on a nightbus to Arequipa, a town that is located 10 hours south of Cusco.

 Posted by at 10:41 pm
Jun 252013
 

Huacachina was something special. It was just like a place straight out of a Donald Duck Adventure; a desert oasis with palm trees surrounded by sand dunes on all sides. There are a few houses, the occasional restaurant and some hostels. First we met our Canadian and Finnish friends from Lima. They took us to a pretty nice (and expensive) hostel with a swimming pool. Within 10 minutes we had already decided to stay there an extra night. The prices of both food and housing was well over twice as much as other places we had been to in Peru.

Stig ready for sandboarding

Stig ready for sandboarding

We went there only to try "sand boarding" which is just like snowboarding, only on sand. It was quite good exercise to climb up the sand dunes around the oasis. For each step you go your legs sink just as far into the sand. We reached the top of the sand dune, watched the sunset and surfed the sand back down. It was really steep on the way down, yet I did not go very fast. If it had been snow, I'd probably be dead (.., .!).
The morning after we were just at the pool drinking delicious Peruvian beers, but in the afternoon we went into the dunes with a "dunebuggy»- a car specifically built for driving on sand.
It was just like a roller coaster; up and down with crazy speed between the dunes. Our driver was pretty crazy, so much so that we feared for our lives at certain points. He would decide to drive full speed straight up a 200 metres tall, and super steep sand dune, only to go full speed down 80 degrees inclination on the other side.

Torunn ready for action!

Torunn ready for action!

Lots of tourists sandboarders

Lots of tourists sandboarders

It caused a proper adrenaline rush. It was extra scary considering that the seat belts were not working.
It was excitingly fun, proven by the screams of joy by all passengers in the car. The car stopped at 3 different places where we got the opportunity to revel in the sand with the sandboards that we had with us. It began with small hills, but they turned gradually into slopes that were several hundred meters straight down. It was actually a bit scary. I was doing relatively good, but had some proper falls, usually right after I reached max speed. It's better to fall on snow, one is somehow not as full of bruises and abrasions afterwards. In the penultimate hill we were warned that we should preferably lie down on the board instead of standing, or if we wanted to stand we had to go zig-zag. The guide said that if we did not do so it was easy to die. It sounded like a challenge to me. The slope was insanely long and steep. I was down in the take-off position, and it went relatively quickly. In the middle of the slope I fell on my face of course, but the guide was full of bullshit because I am still alive!

Norwegian sandboarding team!

Norwegian sandboarding team!

In the last hill, I tried to lie down on the board. That was actually even scarier because it was absurdly fast with no way to break. Torunn kept her mouth open as she went down the slope, which she soon found out was a bad idea. Sand in the mouth and throat is not very nice.

Ironically, we come from Norway and have never tried snowboarding, but sandboarding is something we really know!
We went on to Nazca in the quest for wisdom and culture. What can we, 2 simple veterinarians learn from the Nazca people's infinite wisdom? Not very much, it would prove.
The Nazca made 300 geometric structures, 70 figures, and 800 lines in the sand for well over 2000 years ago. The most popular is a large monkey with a curly tail, a spider, and a shape similar to an astronaut.

Spaceman in Nazca

Spaceman in Nazca

No one knows what was the point of making them, although they have researched it since they were found by a plane 1939.
A German mathematician named Maria Reiche is about as popular as the Nazca lines in Nazca town.

The hummingbird

The hummingbird

There are photos and drawings of her everywhere. She dedicated all her life to try to solve the riddle of what was the point of making lines. She had various theories that it was a kind of calendar, a representation of constellations through geographical lines, or images made to the gods. Some believe it was a message to the aliens. After 50 years of wandering around the desert without sunscreen it was no surprise when Maria died of skin cancer 13 years ago.
We had yet another wonderful couchsurfing experience because we actually stayed with Edgardo, an astronomer who specializes in Nazca lines. He invited us to one of his lectures in the city's planetarium. It was interesting and free (for us). The only thing that was disappointing was that it was cloudy, so we were not able to see Mars (or whatever planet we were supposed to have seen through the telescope).
Edgardo gave us a very nice bedroom in his big house. We went along with 2 other couchsurfers, from Peru and Poland, and hired a taxi to drive us around the area. There is much more to see than just the Nazca lines. We went out to a place in the desert where more ruins, skeletons and mummies had been discovered. A few years ago all the skeletons and mummies were strewn around the desert after grave-robbers had run off with

Incredibly well maintained Mummy

Incredibly well maintained Mummy

valuables and thrown away the skeletons. Everything was systematized and made into a small exhibition later on. We arrived at a building that was the size of an average toilet. the sign said "Museum" . There were 2 glass cases with some well-preserved mummies. There was a lady with long hair and an incredible amount of detail. You could see the eyes, the skin around the face, and the skin covering the bones. She was a bit shrunken, but that is to be expected after a few thousand years in the desert. She was even wearing a nice dress, dressed nicely for the afterlife. In the other glasscase there was a young girl that was equally well preserved.
There was a trail in the surrounding desert that went among the many ruins of houses of a village that once was located there. In every house there was 2 mummies side by side. All with long dark hair, visible facial structures and fine clothes. It was cooler than your average skeleton. Halfway through the ruins I saw a cool desert tree that I wanted to take a picture of, so I walked a little off the beaten path. I went over to the tree and noticed that something crunched under my feet, not typical sand-sound.

Skeleton of Nazca person

Skeleton of Nazca person

I was standing on top of a human chest! There were bones everywhere in the sand, 2000 year-old human bones. It was a bit surreal to be able to study the bones this close as it otherwise is something you only see in well-protected glass installations at the museums. Some had even tried to build a person in the sand out of the different bones, just like a puzzle. They had missed a little, but maybe they did not have any background in anatomy. For us it was pretty cool because we actually have studied comparative anatomy, and have a certain interest in such things. It was very easy to act out Shakespeare's "to be,or not to be» scetch.

Random 2000 year-old bones that we found in the sand

Random 2000 year-old bones that we found in the sand

We also visited a place where the Nazcas had built some very special wells, and a series of water channels or "aqueducts" as it is called. Instead of simply being a hole in the ground these wells were constructed with circular paths down to the bottom where the water is. It works very well even today, 2000 years after they were built. The water flowed through the well in the channel, and tasted great.

A vertebra that we found in the sand!

A vertebra that we found in the sand!

We visited some other ruins also, just because it was included in the ticket we had already paid for. At one place we saw some Nazca lines after we climbed a mountain.

Torunn wandering around the ruins

Torunn wandering around the ruins

The Nazca lines depicting a weaving-machine might not be the best known . They reminded me a little of the time my mother bought a weaving-machine for me for Christmas when I was 12. I seem to remember that it was a pretty miserable Christmas Eve.
All lines of Nazca are made in a rather simple way; they just turned the rocks in the desert so the bright side was turned up. Most of the lines had been relatively inconspicuous after 2000 years, but Maria Reiche and her team have fixed them up in the 50 years they were there.

Stig carrying Torunn in a large well

Stig carrying Torunn in a large well

Those who had shared the taxi with us jumped off at the airport to try to find a cheap ticket with a small plane to see the Nazca lines. We decided to skip it because it had become much more expensive than we expected. . 2 years ago it cost less than 50$, Now it costs 100$. The Peruvian government knows how to exploit tourists to the limit. The most ridiculous example of this was the sand dunes of Huacachina; we had to pay a tax to be allowed to go to the sand-dunes. It is something that they can do because they know that tourists want to see the desert, but it is incredibly stupid.
We took a bus from Nazca to go to a tower that is set up for people who do not want to get up in an airplane. It is a lite tower where you can see some lines in the sand. It was not very impressive, but we did not have much else to do that afternoon anyway. We were also on top of a small mountain near the tower. There we saw the sunset over the eternal long Nazca lines.
In the evening we took a bus inland to the mountains. We were on our way to the Inca capital of Cusco.

 Posted by at 2:16 in the morning

Part 27 – Lima- one of the largest cities in the world

 Peru, South America  Comments Off on Part 27 – Lima- one of the largest cities in the world
Jun 202013
 

We arrived to Lima at 4.30 in the morning, tired as hell. The idiots who worked on the bus woke us up 40 minutes earlier to inform us that we had arrived to Lima. We packed our stuff, put up our seats and got ready to get off, but when we asked whether we were in Lima town centre we were informed that we were not. We were in some slum on the outskirts of town. Thank you very much for that! Waking us up in the middle of the night for nothing..

Torunn in Lima

Torunn in Lima

We arrived at the hostel at five o'clock in the morning, and ended up sitting in the sofa in the common area watching movies for 5 hours before we could check into the dorm.
Lima is the fifth largest city in the whole American continent with its 9 million people. It is a giant city, with twice as many people as the whole of Norway. Going to Lima was never a particular goal,

Lots of paragliders in Lima

Lots of paragliders in Lima

but we thought we had to make a stop there as we were heading south. Large cities are somehow not what we're looking forward to most when we are traveling, we are a bit more jungle, forest and mountain people. In Lima we settled ourselves in the nicest part of the city called Miraflores. All the expats of Lima live here, and most of the tourists stay here. Everything is very different from the rest of South America and the rest of Lima. Everything is clean and modern, no trash, no houses of clay and lots of gringos everywhere.
The downside is that everything is much more expensive there too. We visited some malls selling branded clothes for Norwegian prices.

Lots of paragliders in Lima

Lots of paragliders in Lima

Miraflores is located right by the sea, and it is very nice to walk along the promenade while enjoying the view from the top of the cliff down to the beach where hundreds of surfers frolic in the waves. Along much of the cliff top there are parks where the youngsters are lying on the grass making out, while old people are sitting on benches feeding vultures, or pigeons. I have never seen so many paragliders together in a small space before. There were at least 20-30 chutes in the air at the same time, and all were only meters apart. It is unbeliveble that they don`t crash…but I can imagine that it happens from time to time. A 10 minute flight over the promenade is not something I bothered to spend 400 kroner doing, not considering how much fun you can have for that price in Peru.
We visited a sushi place to treat ourselves to a little luxury. It turned out that the Peruvian sushi is something very different than Japanese sushi, and not in a good way. They had put cream cheese inside the makis, and the rice tasted horribly sweet. That was the first time I had sushi and was dissatisfied.
There was a very good atmosphere at the hostel and we got to know a whole bunch of people from America, England, Germany, Canada, Finland and Austria. Just to get a little culture out of the way while in Lima we visited a huge ruin in the heart of the Miraflores district. It was built by the Lima culture long before the Inca arrived on the scene. There they had a nice little town where they farmed chili and bananas, were fishing and sacrificing virgins, of course.
It was exceedingly hot to walk around in the shade-free ruins at midday. I felt a bit sorry for the poor Lima-people.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
We also had a trip to the city center as there is some culture be had there too. Plaza de Armas in Lima is worth a visit. It has large space with a relatively impressive fountain. The fountain is the oldest building in the lima with its 350 years, the rest of the buildings fell down relatively frequently due to earthquakes.

Torunn in Lima

Torunn in Lima

Around the plaza you will find all of the buildings that the locals are most proud of; the presidential palace, a medium-sized cathedral and the Archbishop's residence. The cathedral was built in the mid 1500s, but has been destroyed a number of times since then. Not even Gods house is left alone when He rages the city with a wave of earthquakes. There are tons of museums in the city, but we were not in the museum mood that day, and they were also somewhat overpriced. We were given a guided tour of a monastery called "San Francisco Monestary», but it was mostly to see the skeletons in the catacombs. Before we came to those, we got a tour of the interior, and of all the religious artwork that they had there. I'm really fed up for life when it comes to religious art. They all look the same, no matter what century they were made. Always some angels, and Jesus, and maybe the occasional flying baby. Not so easy to take it seriously. If I never see a bleeding Jesus on the cross, it's not a day too soon. There are at least 3 such in every church in South America.
The only thing that was fun to see was the painting of Jesus and the disciples when they had their last meal. On the table they served ceviche and fried guinea pig. Typical Peruvian food, but not likely that they had that in the Middle East 2000 years ago. In addition, the devils are portrayed with conquistador helmets, which is ironic as it was actually the conquistadores that introduced the catolisism to South- America. The catacombs were the most interesting part because it was about 15 000 skeletons there. It was only 2 of the skeletons were intact, the rest were sorted by bone type; all the femurs in one chamber, all of the humeruses in another, etc.. In one well they had put about 100 human skulls in a pattern. In the 1800s, only the wealthiest had the honor of being buried in the catacombs. They paid a high price to be buried in holy soil. Maybe they had not done so if they had known that their bones would become a tourist attraction.

People in the fountain walkway

People in the fountain walkway

We were getting tired of culture, So when it started to get dark we wandered from the center to a slightly different attraction; a fountain park. There was at least 20 different giant fountains, some with lights and music, others with complicated water mechanisms. One fountain was made to go through, and another had water splashing up from the ground at random places where hundreds of kids were running around.
The next day we visited a market where there were thousands of stalls where they sold all sorts of things; T-shirts, Shoes, jackets, DVD's, tv`s, cameras and much more at bargain prices. We bought 2 North Face jackets which were identical to those we saw at the mall, only 1/6 price. They both looked genuine and new.
After 3 days in Lima we were quite satisfied, and jumped on the first bus to Huacachina; a desert oasis south of Lima.
We saw another side of Peru from the bus; dry desert terrain and sand dunes. So far we had only seen green valleys and forests of northern Peru.

 Posted by at 11:10 in the morning
Jun 162013
 

reed boats and ruins in Huanchaco

We arrived tired and exhausted to Huanchaco, which is a small coastal village just outside Trujillo. They are best known for their "surfboats" . These are some boats made of a special type of reed, that the local fishermen use.
They have used the same type of boats for 2000 years, and are all very proud to have been able to keep the tradition.

Tourist gets lucky in reed-boat

Tourist gets lucky in reed-boat

Nowadays, almost no one uses their boat for fishing. They are mostly a gimmick for tourists. You can pay 10 kroner (2 dollars) to be able to go in the boat and surf on the waves for 10 minutes. The boatmen steer them out into the waves and surfs for a short distance before returning. It seems like a bit of a stupid touristy thing, so we did not bother to do it. But I had rented a surfboard to work on my skills. It turned out that the aforementioned skills were non-existent. Huanchaco was a particularly frustrating place to surf because it was fucking impossible to get out.

Stig surfing

Stig surfing

I lay on my board and paddled like a hero, but for every meter I moved forward I was thrown 2 meters back. It was not fun, and I decided that I really do not like surfing. Torunn was the smart one that day as she laid on the beach catching some sun instead of stressing like hell in the icy water.
We also spent some time hiking in the desert areas between Huanchaco and Trujillo. In these areas the “Moche”-people built a civilization from 200-600 AD. Then came “Chimu”-people and took over from 600-1000 AD. After only 1,5 weeks in Peru, we had found that there were quite a few more notable early cultures in Peru than the Inca. They were just the latest in a long line before the greedy Spaniards came and destroyed them all.

Moche wall

Moche wall

We walked through the blazing desert sun in the quest for some Moche ruins called Chan Chan. There is a dirt road through the desert leading to Chan Chan, but we were determined to find the ruins ourselves instead of taking a tour bus or taxi. The vultures were circling above us, and tourists who drove past in air-conditioned minibuses looked at us like we were absolutely crazy. That`s a look I'll take as a compliment. It was luckily not too far into the desert until we found the vast ruins. There were actually ruins everywhere as the desert area we found ourselves in was once a massive Moche-city.
They were nice ruins, but the walk to find them was at least as interesting as the ruins themselves.
As if that was not enough culture, we went to Trujillo the next day to find some other ruins that supposedly were impressive too; Huaca of the Sun and Moon - Sun og måne

Torunn reading on the beach

Torunn reading on the beach

Temples. They were built by the Chimu people who arrived after the Mocha. The Chimu were good at making pots. Generally speaking, I have seen enough pottery on my travels, since every city in the world has a museum with ancient pottery, but the Chimu-pottery was actually quite impressive. Some had sexual motives, while others showed scenes from the daily life of Chimu. The museum was a bit stupid in that they had photo ban. Torunn was filming me for 2 seconds before a guard came running. No one had said that we could not film , but the guard threatened us with the police if we did not delete the movie right there and then. Stupid.
Outside the moon temple we met our first Peruvian hairless dog.

Crazy Peru-dog

Crazy Peru-dog

This is a special breed that exists only in Peru, thankfully!
It is one of the ugliest dogs we've ever seen, uglier than even Chinese hairless dog and English bull terrier. They are some pretty powerful dogs with a small tuft of white / gray hair on their head. Many of them are similar to the gremlin "Strip" from The Gremlins 1 (a reference for us who grew up in the 90s).
I petted the monster, but they seem quite antisocial. In Peru, they were traditionally used as thermal blankets. Peruvian hairless dogs have very hot skin, about 1 C warmer than other dogs. They might be handy in the cold desert nights.
We were given a guided tour of the temple. There were quite a few stylish murals. Most of them were of the god of Chimu, which is a cat head with octopus arms. God knows how they came up with that, but it is much more entertaining than Christianity's god who is an old man with a white robe and long beard.
The disadvantage of this god is that he demanded human sacrifice, so the Chimu were sacrificing all the time, Mostly little girls.
In a particularly long dry period there were very many victims, but it would still not rain, so they decided to sacrifice even more children. After ever so many sacrifices there was finally a rain shower, and nobody considered it might be random.
There was not much to see in Trujillo, it is an average town. We got to see a Downs Syndrome parade, which is quite special. Disabled people in Peru have absolutely zero support from the government, and this parade was by a charity that helps them. It was quite fun to watch as downs syndrome kids had dressed up in silly costumes and danced and pranced in the streets.

Altitude-high in Huaraz

After 4 days it was time to move on, so we took a night bus back to the Andes, this time to a mountain range called Cordilleras. We arrived in the town of Huaraz at 5 in the morning and were freezing our balls off when we jumped off the bus, it was freeeeezing cold!

Torunn in Huaraz

Torunn in Huaraz

Huaraz is on 3000 meters , and is thus cold both morning, evening and night. Only at midday when the sun is out it gets hot. We arrived there in the middle of the rainy season and soon found out what that meant. Every day at exactly 15.00 there was lightning and thunder, and heavy showers.
We settled at a relatively cheap and poor guesthouse where we were given a room that was as cold as it was outside. There was no oven, and the owner said that we did not need it because according to him it was nice and warm in the room. Insulation of houses is a complete foreign concept in Peru, and in South America in general. Although it was almost freezing outside there was still a 10 cm crack above the windows, where both rain and cold had free access to our room. There were certainly many other cracks that we saw. In addition, wafer thin windows, and cold as heck. We slept with 3 layers of clothing and 4 layers of blankets (more like rugs for some reason), but was still cold. I have been camping in Norway which was more comfortable than this.

Dream Team to new heights

Dream Team to new heights

Huaraz was not the perfect, quiet little mountain village that we hoped for. There was a lot of traffic, many ugly concrete houses and it was cold enough to make your blood run cold in the veins. There were fortunately almost no tourists since we were there in low season - the rainy season. Even though we were not quite acclimatised we decided to book a tour the following day. A trip to a glacier at 5000 meters altitude!

The mountains of the Cordilleras

The mountains of the Cordilleras

I woke up very early in the morning and laid there for half a minute, staring at frosty mist that came out every time I exhaled.
Then we had a hot cup of coca tea, which according to rumors is very good for altitude sickness. The bus picked us up at seven o'clock, and drove us to a larger bus that was full of other tourists. From Huaraz we drove for 3 hours, from 3000 meters altitude to 4600 meters above sea level. We made a stop in the mountains to look at a rare plant which is only found here and nowhere else in the world. It is a relative of the pineapple plant, only that it does not grow any pineapples on the, and it is about 10 metres tall. Stylish plant, as far as a plant can be stylish.

Special Pineapple-related plant only found in Peru Mountains

Special Pineapple-related plant only found in Peru Mountains

In that same area we also found something that I've never seen before; natural soda water! We saw a boiling lake in Dominica, but this was water that looked like it was boiling, but actually was cold. It did not taste as good as sparkling water though.
When we arrived to 4600 meters we had to walk for about an hour to get to the glacier lying on 5000 meters altitude. The trail was not steep, but I was still totally exhausted after 5 minutes. I have never experienced such thin air before, and almost started to hyperventilate to get enough oxygen to the muscles. Although we walked slowly I got quite dizzy. I felt simply intoxicated, a little tipsy if you want. I felt like lying down or faint, but pushed myself to stay conscious, I would not want to miss the glacier.
The glacier was quite nice, but a little dirty, full of smog from the city of Lima. Our guide told us that the ice had retreated several hundred meters only in the last 5 years. And there are still some idiots that claim that global warming is not true. We've been hearing the same at all the places we've been where there used to be snow or ice.
On the bus on the way down, I was very happy to finally have gone to 5000 meters , a cross off of my bucket list. Since I'm always looking for new challenges, I already decided on the bus back that 5000 meters are not good enough. It was just too easy. 6000 meters however, THAT would be a challenge worthy of Stig. The Cordilleras region of Peru is the place in the world with the highest number of tall mountains, there are more than 50 peaks that are over 5700 meters above sea level. In North America there are 2. Unfortunately, none of the ones over 6000 meters are possible to climb for a person who does not know anything about climbing. That must be a goal for later.
After a night in Huaraz, we had decided to move on to a slightly smaller town called Caraz. The hope was that it would be our ideal version of a Peruvian mountain village. Caraz was better than Huaraz, but still not what we were looking for. No small kitchen with lots of guinea pigs running around, no streets without cars. On a small walk up in the mountains around the town, it resembled a little more our Peruvian village; pigs, ducks, dogs, cats and donkeys running around everywhere, the houses were made of clay, and the people there made a fire to boil water for a shower.
We visited some halfway excavated ruins that were relatively unimpressive, but at least we were the only tourists in the area.

Stig by lake 69

Stig by lake 69

On our second day in Caraz we decided to do one of the best mountain hikes in the Cordillera region, a trip to "lake 69». The only way to get to where the path began was to hire a taxi for the day. We hired a taxi in Yungay for 180 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". To begin with, we thought that was quite expensive, but after we had seen what the car actually had to go through, we began to think that it was actually ridiculously cheap. The road was muddy, but not like a normal comfortable dirt road. It was bumpy with big rocks and deep, wet clay. Since it was rainy season, we came to several places where the car spun in the mud at one meter per minute. It was a small miracle that we did not get stuck. After 1500 meters uphill the road began to level out, and we drove past beautiful green valleys, turquoise lakes and steep canyons. On the road we had to drive past dozens of stubborn bulls, waterfalls crossing the road and marshes. The car was pretty well beat up for the 2 hours it took to get up to the trail.

Lake 69

Lake 69

The walk up to "Lake 69" was relatively tough, but incredibly nice. On the 2,5 hours it took to go up there we passed hundreds of cows with personality, and walked more than 1000 meters uphill. It was a bit like hiking in Norway, green and beautiful, waterfalls and rivers everywhere and light rain all the way. When we finally got to the top and saw the lake for the first time we were shocked; it was absolutely gorgeous. A bright turquoise lake at 4850 meters surrounded by snowy mountains is not something you see every day. It was definitely worth the long and hard journey to get there. It was a very quiet and hypnotic place to enjoy a delicious packed lunch.

Typical peru-lunch - banana-bread

Typical peru-lunch – banana-bread

The trip back was not quite as wonderful. On the way down the rain started to pour down, and none of us had proper rain gear. I think I've never been so cold before. Soaking wet and freezing, we continued to walk downhill from 4800 meters altitude to 3500 meters where our taxi driver had waited patiently for us for the last 5 hours.

Stig in the mountains

Stig in the mountains

Then we were sitting shivering for 2 hours on the bumpy road back to Caraz. At one point I had to get out of the car to push the piece of scrapmetal through 50cm of mud, while Torunn was sitting and enjoying herself in the back seat. As we arrived to the area where the corn growers and pig farmers lived, our driver began to let local people aboard. There were no boundaries to how many people he would press into his box of a car. At one point we were 10 people inside the regular car; 5 adults and 5 children, including one that was sitting in the trunk. All the women we met were real Peruvian women. With that I mean short women with identical dresses and little white or brown hats. It's pretty sweet, but not always functional. Some of the hats are 30 cm high, so one lady did not manage to get into the car because the hat was so tall. It's nice to see that they keep their traditions anyway. I bet Norwegian women wore something similar a hundred years ago.
We were very tired, dirty, wet and cold when we finally got back to Caraz.
The next day we relaxed in Caraz and went for a little walk in the neighborhood. In some random village we sat down at a local restaurant to share a beer.
It was not long before one of the locals approached the Gringos. It was only 1pm and he was already quite tipsy. He tricked us to continue to drink, and after 2 hours we were all 3 quite tipsy.. He did not speak a word of English, but we managed to keep the flow of conversation in Spanish,

Torunn and Stig with new Peruvian friend

Torunn and Stig with new Peruvian friend

Even with our relatively poor Spanish. He was a funny guy. He insisted that we had to remain in Caraz and work for him. He had a dog, he believed that was reason enough to employ 2 veterinarians full time. When I put down my requirements of 300$ per day for each of us, he said that was okay. 300$ is more than an average Peruvian earns in a month. We staggered back to our hotel and cursed this man who had tricked us into getting drunk just a few hours before we were going on a nightbus with questionable toilet facilities..

 Posted by at 1:22 pm
Jun 122013
 

After 5 days it was time to move on to Peru. It would prove to be anything but simple. The journey from Vilcabamba in Ecuador to Chachapoyas in Peru was going to be the worst journey we have had so far on the trip.
It began with a nightbus that drove across a narrow dirtroad high up in the mountains towards Peru. It was genuinely scary to look at "the road" as it was hundreds of meters straight down,

Landslide in the road

Landslide in the road

and the driver drove like a madman around every corner of course. It lasted for 6 hours, and it was impossible to sleep. It was a very doubtful chicken bus. I had to constantly keep an eye open to make sure that no one tried to steal our stuff lying under the seat.
When we arrived at what was really just a small jungle village, we were pushed into the next bus. It was a converted truck with wooden benches.
Border transport to Peru!

Border transport to Peru!

We were stuck there for 2 hours with half the village including most chickens and dogs. Then we arrived to the border of Peru. From there we travelled through 4 different cities in 4 different uncomfortable vans until we finally reached Chachapoyas. It took 22 hours and 7 various means of transport to get there. It was the most tiring journey we've had since we started the trip.
The first day in Chachapoyas we hardly bothered to leave our room. It rained all day, and we were seriously tired. In addition, we had a TV with channels where people actually spoke English. Chachapoyas is a medium sized city by Peruvian standards. Like all other cities in South America there is a "plaza de armas" in the center with a cathedral or church in the most central location. It's a nice little plaza, which is quite devoid of tourists. That's why we wanted to go to Chachapoyas; it is far away from the so-called "Gringo-trail». "The Gringo trail" is the route that 99% of the tourists in Peru follow, and includes Lima, Huacachina, Nazca, Mancora, MACHU PICCHU(Naturally!) and various other cities in the south. There are few who bother to go to "the northern highlands", although there are quite a lot of nice stuff to see there.
Cow herder in Peru

Cow-herder in Peru

Cow with personality(hairstyle)

Cow with personality(hairstyle)

We had plans to see a ruin called “Kuelap” which reminds you a bit of Macchu Picchu, although it was built over 1000 years before the Incas existed.
The day we had booked a trip to see the ruins the road southwards collapsed due to several landslides. We decided to go north instead. North of Chachapoyas there is a waterfall, the third tallest waterfall in the world, called Gotcha falls. Just as we were heading out from the hostel we were informed that the northbound road was also blocked by landslides. We were isolated in Chachapoyas with nowhere to go.
In our hostel we met a a small bunch of Germans and Austrians who had also strayed to the inaccessible northern Peru in the middle of the rainy season.
We were determined to get something out of the day, so we allied with the Germans and took the first bus up to the mountains surrounding the city. There we spent the whole day walking around with our new friends, and we actually got to see beautiful valleys and views of the mountains. We also found an overgrown ruin that very few tourists ever go to.
Out walking towards a rain cloud..

Out walking towards a rain cloud..


When we got back to the hostel we met 2 relatively dirty and bearded Americans. They told us that they had gone to see Gotcha falls the day before. When they were on their way back to Chachapoyas, several kilometers of road had been covered by landslides. They tried to go the opposite way to the nearest village, but they did not get far as the rain had formed a powerful river crossing the main road. When we met them, they had just returned after spending a cold, wet night in the middle of a small isolated part of the main road with massive landslide danger.
The next day we were told that it was now possible to go on the 3 hour drive to Kuelap. It was a reasonably scary and adrenaline-surge activity. "The road" was unpaved, bumpy, wet and muddy. In one area the road was at the same level as the river, only a few centimeters of mud protected our minibus from the extremely powerful rapids, and certain death. After the river the road began inclining. Not only a little upwards, but about 2000 meters of climbing in the matter of 2 hours. I sat by the window facing the valley, and genuinely feared for my life. There were about 800 meters drop straight down to the river in the bottom of the valley, and the only thing standing between us inside the bus and free-fall was a blob of mud.
I kept my eyes fixed on the wheels of the minibus in a vague hope that I might see the accident as it happened, and then swiftly bring Torunn with me and jump out the window before the car crashed into the cliff.
Kuelap

Kuelap


The wheels kept turning, constantly about 3-5 cm from the edge of the cliff, and all the time on wet, unstable mud. After a while we came to a place where a mudslide had covered the road and continued down over the edge. There we had to leave the car as it was impossible to pass. On the other side of the slide there was another minibus waiting for our group. The road continued in the same way as it had before the slide, just as scary. Incredibly, we reached the ruins as planned. Other buses were not that lucky. We read about another bus a few days later that had driven on a similar road a bit further south in Peru. In their case the dirt road had collapsed and all 33 the passengers had died.
We hoped that the ruins were worth risking their lives for when we walked up the path that led to Kuelap. They proved to be some nice ruins, but they were not worth dying for. In their defense it must be noted that there are very few ruins that are worth dying for, possibly none.
It was well done by the Chachapoyas people to build such a massive structure at 3000 altitude 1500 years ago, 1000 years before Macchu Picchu. The sight that greeted us was a giant wall that was 25-30 meters high and reached several kilometers around the summit it was built on. It was a very secure fortress using only 2 gates, one for the nobility, and a slightly more pathetic one for ordinary people. The fort was quite impenetrable for enemies, which the Spaniards discovered. They came to the region to conquer all they could conquer in an inexhaustible thirst for gold and other precious metals. The Spaniards could not get into the fort, but they stayed outside the fort until the dry season when the Chachapoyas had to go outside to find water.
Typical round Chachapoyas house

Typical round Chachapoyas house

Us in the entrance of Kuelap

Us in the entrance of Kuelap


Me and Torunn wandered a bit away from the rest of the group. We walked up the entrance of the nobility, but then we had to walk back down to find the entrance of the normal people where the rest of our group had entered. Our group was about 10 people, and we had the whole Kuelap completely to ourselves. It is certainly nothing like Macchu Picchu. Our guide spoke only in Spanish, but luckily we had 2 Americans to translate everything for us. It was a bit embarrassing to be the only tourists in the group who did not speak Spanish, but it made me even more determined to learn the language.
The Chachapoyas lived in round houses with thatched roofs, a bit like «The Flintstones». When someone in the family died they dug a hole in the floor of their house and put them into the hole. They believed that their soul would protect the house from evil spirits.
They were generally not particularly fond of bad spirits.
Untouched ruins in northern Peru

Untouched ruins in northern Peru

When someone was sick they also blamed it on evil spirits, but luckily they had found a clever solution. The guide showed us the building that was the "medical room" of the Chachapoyas. Here they used a sharp instrument to carve a hole in the skull of sick people. It was a good way to let out all the evil spirits that were stuck inside your head. Archaeologists have found lots of skulls with identical holes in them.
We saw several llamas that grassed around the abandoned ruins. Llamas are unfriendly animals. I have found out the hard way.
Kuelap is a pretty nice place to visit, impressive ruins, history and location. Thankfully they have not yet reached "the Gringo Trail".
We went on the hair-raising ride back to Chachapoyas and began to plan new adventures. We skipped our plans to go further south than Kuelap to see various other mountain villages, ruins and mummies. We had had enough of risking our lives on roads that are not made for anything other than horse and cart.
We took a night bus to a town on the north coast called Trujillo. Ironically, just like the bus that 2 weeks later plunged off a cliff and killed 35 out of 40 passengers. Safe roads here are just an illusion.

 Posted by at 10:41 pm