Saturday, December 7, 2013

As long as we're on the water, it's all good

Lest you all think that our lives are no longer sea-bound, let me set the record straight by taking a break from writing about our land based travel hijinks, and get back to the boat.  The countdown has begun….

For 2 years, while traveling south from Canada, to the states, to Mexico, and into Central America, inevitably when you meet fellow cruisers, the question is asked, “so where are you off to next, and what’s the long term plan?”  I had happily told every one of our plans.  Apparently, they were MY plans, but not my captain’s plans.  According to ME, we were headed down to Panama, would spend a few months there, and then cross through the canal, first heading right to experience the famous San Blas Islands, and then retrace our footprint to head north along the coast, to sneak into Rio Dulce, Guatemala as our hurricane hole.  We had just crossed over the Costa Rica/Panama frontera, when Ron turns to me and said, “You know, I really don’t have any desire to head left, to the Caribbean.  I think I’d rather turn right and go across to the South Pacific."  I was stunned, as this was the first I had heard about it.  

After a moment, I realized I didn’t care.  I had sailed in the windward islands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, and had chartered in the BVI’s.  I was looking forward to heading back over there in my own boat, but….I had never been to French Polynesia, or any part of Oceania, so I had no problem with the change in plans.  

We DID end up spending a few months in Panama, 6 to be exact, but the lightning was on the way and Panama is not a good place to be during the July-December time period so we thought that a few months of traveling in South America, basing ourselves out of Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador would be a good stopping point in the journey to head west.   It WAS really good.  So good in fact, that we have decided to postpone our Puddle Jump ‘til 2015.  Another winter in Panama didn’t seem like a hardship to us, with a return here to Bahia next summer for another 5-6 months.  There is still the Amazon rainforest to conquer, and I desperately want to see Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego.  Not to mention that we’ve only scratched the surface of Ecuador, (and the obscure countries of Uruguay and Paraguay may be fun) and it seemed like it would be folly to leave South America until we had explored a bit more.  

And so we will.  

But back to the countdown.  We hope to start the journey back north within the week.  We had a new bracket for the new wind instruments made and it’s now installed at the top of the main mast.  We had a new keyway broached in our generator pulley, and it too is installed.  The fuel tanks are almost full, but we need another 75 gallons to top them up (at a cost of $1.03/gallon for diesel, there is no way we are leaving here without the tanks overflowing!!!).   A bit of water, our second propane tank filled, a short provisioning list completed, and we should be set.  The usual crap floating around the salon is pretty well put away, and even better, the v-berth is completely clear, save the asymmetrical spinnaker ready for deployment.   


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Main Event

So if you think you are going to get a religious experience visiting Machu Picchu, think again.  The first time I visited was in 1987, and I can still recall the goosebumps I got while overlooking this most ancient and mystical of citadels.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I knew I was in one of those “power places” on earth.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that this time I went, but I still have those memories, and while not mystical, it was almost better this time because I got to share it with people I loved.  

We had chosen to visit Peru in September for a very specific reason.  It was at the end of the high season, and as such we thought that perhaps the sites we wanted to visit would be less crowded.  Combined with still good weather (it would be cool, but still not much, if any, rain), we also anticipated not needing to make any accommodation reservations.  This scheme was good, and it frankly worked out great in the rest of Peru, HOWEVER this was the big MP, and apparently every tourist decided to go there at exactly the time we did.  

A word about the weather….if you are planning on visiting, consider your dates carefully.  Thinking you are tough, and don’t mind a bit of wet, coming in the rainy season can be fraught with drama.  In January, 2010, the Rio Vilcanota inundated the town with flood waters, forcing 2500 people to be airlifted by helicopter out of the valley.  The train tracks had washed away.  (Upon our return, we sat on the tracks for several hours, due to a landslide the day we were heading back to Cuzco, and this was with only a bit of drizzle).  
We had made our reservations at the Cuzco office for PeruRail, as arriving by train is the only way to get there, unless you want to walk.  
Pretty deluxe!

These reservations for trekking the Inca Trail DO need to be made months and months in advance, as they only allow 200 (! – only?) per day to begin to walk.  Coming from Canada and the wilderness we are accustomed to hiking, this seems like an insane amount of people.  Of course, this was before we got to Aguas Calientes, the town located at the base of Machu Picchu. 

Aguas Calientes
Upon arrival, we headed to the office which sold tickets, not only for the site itself, but also for the bus that would get us to the top.  We contemplated walking up (oh, for a very brief 5 seconds) before we happily forked over the cash to get up there the 21st century (or lazy) way.  The tickets for hiking up Huayna Picchu were sold out!  Only 400 per day (again, ONLY!)  This is the mountain featured on every photo you see of Machu Picchu, and we figured it would be a great place to see the sun come up.  Oh well.  

Although town looked pretty empty, and we knew there were other people around, we wanted to head up first thing in the morning to avoid the majority of crowds.  This meant waking up at 5am, and being in line for the first 5:30am bus to the top.  Getting to the bus stop that early, we were confident we’d have the site to ourselves for a time, but we were stopped in our tracks when we saw the lineup.  Suffice it to say that 1000+ people had crawled out of every nook and cranny and had gotten in line before us.  

Our new traveling companions
Perhaps not a religious experience
I’ve talked about how busy it was, but don’t let me dissuade anyone – this is a place that everyone should visit.   

And a celebratory Pilsen to mark the achievement of visiting Machu Picchu.  

Plan your visit to Peru, and this newly added Wonder of the World, but do it sooner rather than later, as there will just be more people there in the future.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Sacred Valley and its Sacred Bebida, not Buddha

As you can see, my Spanish is coming along nicely.  If not 100% grammatically correct, we at least can make ourselves understood, and we can now even go into a bar to hang with the locals. 
Perhaps my example of a bar is a bit of a stretch, but “when in Rome…..” or maybe it should be “when in Peru…..” 

So here are the “back of the bar, liquor supplies”….

And here is the bartender…

 The other patrons and their drink of choice.  Just another pick-up joint…. 

And Ron with his first glass of chicha.

This was a chicha house.  A few select women in the villages around Peru, are the designated chicha brewers.  I’ll leave you to do your own research as to technique, but suffice it to say that this is corn beer, and takes 3 days from production to glass.  When a batch is ready for quaffing, the brew meister will put a bright red plastic bag on a long pole, extending from the house into the street (in the past, it was a bunch of bright red flowers) to let passersby know that the chicha is ready and on tap.  We sat there with the woman and man of the house for a few glasses, and they proceeded to laugh hysterically at us (or WITH us, as I’d prefer to think of it).  Ron has declared that he’s not giving up his farourite pilsner in exchange for chicha – he thought it was reminiscent of drinking out of a silo.  The photo above was taken BEFORE the first sip – see that smile still on his face?  Me, well, I mustered up the good manners to finish off a glass without making too much of a face (or maybe that’s why they were laughing so much).

Friday, November 29, 2013

My blog has a mind of it's OWN - whaaaaaaaa

I'm anal, I admit it, but I'm giving up.  The blog post below is all wonky, with big gaps, terrible design, etc., etc.  I have now spent 4 hours trying to fix it.  I'm done.

I go back to my earlier assertion - this is like work.  I remember being this frustrated "back in the day", but now I don't have to do that anymore, so I'm not going to. 

With any luck, the next posting will look better.  Sorry folks. 

We've arrived at the Handle

So the bucket list item we’ve come to visit here in Peru, is Machu Picchu.  Arriving in Cuzco is essentially like grabbing hold of the handle of that bucket.  As far as we were concerned, Cuzco and the Sacred Valley should be considered the whole bucket….there is so much to see and do.

Cuzco Plaza de Armas
If altitude is not your thing, then you may want to give this a miss.  If you are game, then a “take it easy” kind of attitude early on will help you to enjoy your stay.  The city is located at 3,400 m (11,200 ft), and the air is a bit “refined”.  As the city is also very steep, it’s a perfect storm of conditions for travelers on foot who consider themselves fit.  Coming from San Diego, (the folks) and Ron and I from the ocean (it too is at sea level – hahahaha) we either needed to reason with the altitude, or it was going to flat out kill us all.   When we were dropped off at the top of the sidewalk and needed to navigate the steps STRAIGHT DOWN to the front door of our hostel, we all took several very deep breaths, and squared our shoulders.  Troopers, everyone!
I’ll get to the “must-see” sites in a bit, but we had some pretty good eating while we were in Cuzco.  Because it’s the entry-point to the most interesting Inca and Pre-Inca ruins around, international folks are everywhere, and as such the dining opportunities are fantastic.  Ron and I wouldn’t call South American cuisine our favourite, but the folks at Fuego, a burger joint just off the main square was like hearing a siren song of North American food.  Burgers, no make that BURGERS and ONION RINGS, were amazing.  Note the ever-present Pisco Sour.  

Burgers for EVERYONE
Now those are ONION RINGS
Everyone capitalizes on the altitude thing….

It’s not too often you show up in a city and say, “let’s go look at building materials”, but everyone who knows anything about the Inca and their building techniques (thank those Ancient Aliens again), know that they were renowned for puzzle-piecing massive rocks perfectly into position.  800 years later, bone rattling earthquakes and freezing temps notwithstanding, you can see that they still fit.  And all without mortar!  It baffles everyone that sees them, and this rock is the most famous of all, with 12 sides perfectly matched to its neighbors – not possible to slip even a piece of paper in the joints.  It was a treasure hunt to find its location, on a smallish side alleyway.  We were instructed by the modern-day Inca warrior standing guard not to touch the thing.  
Not touching the 12-sided rock
Rather than take a tour, I was determined, despite the altitude, for us all to walk from site to site.  We took a taxi to highest location (at 3700m) and furthest from town, and were able to walk downhill, visiting sites along the way. 

First stop…Tambo Machay.

Highest to date
Outdoor Incan Shower
Peruvian Friends
A short walk away, we hit Pukapukara.  Meaning Red Fort, used for hunting parties and travelers, it has fantastic views overlooking the valley.

Strategic Location
Q’enqo was reached via a wander through the fields of grazing llama and alpaca, and came complete with rock etchings and the obligatory sacrificial alter. 

Q'enqo Cutouts
Meaning “Satisfied Falcon”, Saqsaywamán’s pronunciation can be remembered by the mnemonic “sexy woman”.  For us, it was the highlight of the day.  For those traveling in our wake, this is a place that can easily take an entire day to explore.  The main site, shown below, is only a small portion that most visitors see, as littered throughout the hillsides are additional evidence of the enormity of the past Inca empire in the area.   

Saqsaywaman Approach
We have hundreds of photos, but here are a few notables. 

Incan Zig Zag

Pyramid Doorway to the sky
Ron holding up HIS wall
Taking a break
The next day we were off to Pisac.  The locals kept telling us that it was “better” than Machu Picchu.  We’d be the judge of that!
Tunnel to the other side
Pisac Panorama
On the blustery edge
No wonder they chewed so much coca
Precision Joinery

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bugs, Bones and Bah Humbug

In every trip, there are bound to be a few glitches.  Sometimes the things you anticipate seeing the most…..well, suffice it to say that sometimes you don’t see those things.  Take Nazca for example.  

Every trip to Peru, if it is going to feature the highlights, will include a trip to Nazca to see the famous lines.  We had all watched the documentaries, we had done the research, we had committed to paying; the LINES were going to be another tick on our bucket list.  Of course, Mother Nature is a fickle woman and every so often she makes sure that we all remember who is REALLY in charge (besides the Admiral).  Having owned a small plane in the past, I’m well aware that visibility is critical to flying without instruments, and if we were going to see anything the visibility needed to justify going up. 
We arrived at the airport at 8am, and proceeded to wait.  

Patiently waiting

Apparently, the visibility was crap the day before, so all those people that had signed up then were now hogging our air time.  After hounding the flight desk, (after all, as tour leader “Marge in Charge”, it was my responsibility to do what I could to get us up in the air), we were finally given the go ahead at 11am.  

NOW I'm ready to go
All systems GO!
And......NOT gonna happen

This monkey drawn in the sidewalk at our hotel in Paracas, and holding our precious Pisco Sours, was the closest we got to see the lines, as seconds after the shot above was taken the airport was shut down and we were out of luck. You can only do what you can do.

All was not lost.  We had a full afternoon of touring to do, which of course included bones.  Chaucilla Cemetery was not really a “must do”, but as we had started the trip with bones and skulls, it seems fitting to return to the theme.  As you can see from the landscape, it’s brown, and windy.  We braved the dust and saw lots of mummies, skeletons, skulls, and bones.  The upright, seated pose is the preferred burial position, taking up less space.  

Not sure I'd like this location as my final resting place

Archaeology or Tomb Robbing?
Mummy Condos
Mummy Dreads
A tour to the still working aqueducts demonstrated how serious the Inca were about water.  In the center is running water, coming from……somewhere, and connecting to the rest of the aqueducts all in a row in the middle of this field.  Given the landscape we had seen so far, we could understand why.

Ancient Aqueducts

A unique crop that we saw all over Central and South America – it’s not the cactus, it’s the bugs ON the cactus.  Cochineal is an insect that is used to make red dye for food colorants and the carmine used by painters around the world.  The farmers scrape the leaves 3 times in a year, and then they need to replant as the cactus is all “used up.” 

Cactus Field
Healthy Crop of Bugs