Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arequipa to Huacachina and back

While Kate tells some of the strange anectdotes of our trip, I´ll give a picture summary of the last week. On our last day in Arequipa last week, we went to the market, which was gigantic. There was all kinds of food, but we are always impressed with the sheer number of types of potatoes available. There are hundreds of types local to the area, and the market is full of them:There was also a church and monestary whose cloisterwalk had been converted into an upscale shopping center and cafe location. Most everything was closed, but we enjoyed walking around:
At the end of the day, we wondered how we might get a photo of El Misti behind the cathedral in the town square. There are restaurants all around the square, so we randomly chose one that was in line with the cathedral and the mountain. When the waiter saw us taking pictures from the table during sunset, he asked us if we wanted to go up to the rooftop for a better view. of course we took advantage of that offer, and we took a whole bunch of photos, but here´s one with Kate:
After we came down to pay, the waiter directed us into the kitchen and started explaining things to us. We had seen before that the restaurant called itself "pre-incan" food, but we just had a salad, chicha (local maize beer that tastes somewhat like vinegar and smelly feet), and some pudding that we had never heard of before, so we didn´t really know what we were eating. He explained to us that the owner had researched indiginous pre-incan food and he used only ingredients and methods available to those people. No cooking oil, no metal pots, no garlic or other european food. It was quite interesting. He started by showing us the diversity of potatoes again:
Here you can see them cooking in earthenware pots, and on the other side they had a charcoal grill covered with large round stones:
it was a pretty neat dinner experience, so we vowed to go back for a real meal one of these days. But first, we had to catch our night bus to Nazca, which is about a 9 hour drive or so. We went first class (about $30 or so), which was kind of this funny capsule on the downstairs part of the bus with cushy reclining seats. It was not a good sleep on a bumpy bus, but it made for good smiles when we started out:
We did a whirlwind tour through Nazca the next morning. We did not do a flight because they are expensive, somewhat dangerous, and I´ve seen all the pictures already--I mostly wanted to see what the natives saw when they made their famous drawings. The famous Nazca lines were formed in the desert by removing the top rocky and oxidized layer of the desert floor. It´s actually pretty easy to make very visible lines due to the geology there. You can see the effect very well from a hill that we used as a lookout over the desert:
Because the slightest path creates a very visible line, the government has rightfully outlawed all ground access to the archeological site, which covers hundreds of miles of the driest desert you can imagine. They get less than a centimeter of rain a year here, so any line made in the ground lasts for thousands of years. And last they did. The Nazca people covered the desert with amazingly straight lines, some of which still remain a mystery. Certainly some would have been used for travel or transport, but others seem to align with the stars, perhaps as a form of a calendar, or perhaps as part of religious beliefs:
The most famous and perplexing part of the desert, though, is where the pre-historic people drew figures in the ground, some only visible by airplane, without any high-tech help. We went to a lookout tower to see a few of them. Below is the tree:
It´s actually hard to see it´s a tree from the photo, but it was quite striking in person. There are also other crazy figures, like monkeys, hands, and even the so-called astronaut, which we did not see.
Instead of spending more time in Nazca, which is honestly quite a dusty and depressing little city, we went to the resort of Huacachina, which is nestled in a field of huge sand dunes. Here´s Kate traversing the very steep side of one of the biggest ones, on the way down to our hotel:
Of course, we took a cab to the hotel, but we played on the dunes afterwards. It was actually quite a vertigo-inducing experience, since the leeward side of a dune is very steep and one of the largest dunes dropped down leeward right onto the edge of our hotel. I eventually got the courage to climb to the top, which was about 1000 feet above the resort. There are a bunch of hotels around this little lagoon there, we´re in the one that has the blue pool right touching the edge of the closest dune in this picture:
And from the top of the dune, you look out over a sea of seemingly endless dunes. They apparently go for about 70 kilometers until they meet the Pacific Ocean. There are apparently some very untouched beaches at the end of the dunes here because it is only accessible by a long ride on a large dune buggy. We did not do that ride, though.
Instead, we tried out sandboarding! First, we took a few practice runs by walking up the dune next to the resort (that´s me boarding down the dune):
The next day, we went on a dune buggy tour where they drove us in a group to the top of the dunes. Kate is showing off her sandboard here:
I took a video of Kate doing a belly board down a big dune (, and then one of our fellow tourists, Brenna, showed us just how fast you can go ( and ended up with some skinned elbows at the end and a lot of sand in the face. As our luck would have it on this trip (remember our radiator blowing up on the Uyuni trip?), we blew out a tire just before heading up to view the sunset:
It almost knocked the tire off the rim, so we had to call in another buggy to bring us a spare.
Although we missed the proper sunset, our guide gave us an extra hour after the tour, and we got to do some more sandboarding in the twilight. Here´s me with my board:
Our last day in Huacachina, we took a private taxi tour to two vinyards in the town of Ica. Ica is not much of a pretty town, but it has a lot of agriculture, especially wineries, and it is famous for its Pisco, which is a type of brandy that is clear since it is not aged in Oak. Did I mention that all the while in Huacachina and Arequipa we´ve been enjoying the local specialty, Pisco sour? Well, we got to see how they make their wine and Pisco here. Here´s one of their stills for distilling the wine:
They had a warehouse full of big oak barrels that are not used anymore. I believe they were 10,000 liter barrels. They also showed us their modern concrete-lined 100,000 liter containers, but the warehouse full of them was not as photogenic.
Kate posed in front of the newer-style barrels for aging wine, and in the background are the clay barrels that they used for fermenting the grapes. The newer vinyard that we saw did everythign on an industrial scale, so they only have them as museum props in the background, bu the artisinal vinyard we saw still made everythign the old-fashioned way.
Our last day in Huacachina happened to be July 28, which is a huge independence day festival for Peru, so there were parties everywhere. There was a big party at the vinyard, and Huacachina was gearing up for another party. We saw them inflate a giant beer bottle at our hotel as we were checking out to catch another night bus back to Arequipa:
That was yesterday. After a long and half-sleepless bus ride (and smelly too, because someone did not hear the directions that the bathrooms in the bus are for "urination only"), we made it back to Arequipa for a lazy day of catching up on sleep and internet updates. We have a couple days left here to see some museums and enjoy the beautiful weather before heading up the mountains to Cusco on Saturday (another night bus). Then we will make ourselves at home for another 3 weeks of Spanish lessons. We´ve been using Spanish as much as we can here, (did all our tours of the winery and Nazca lines as well as restaurant and hotel stuff in spanish), but our last few weeks have nonetheless been somewhat touristy, so we will be back to hard work again in a few. But there´s lots to see in Cusco, too, so we´ll keep the updates coming. Hasta la proxima!

The randomness of Bolivia and Peru

While Jeff discusses the news of our last week or so, I´ll fill you in on some of the more random stuff from our trip. We take a lot of pictures of things that make us go hmm, but when we go to write up a blog post, we generally overlook most of the more random things - so here´s a blog post dedicated to just them. At least, just those since La Paz, since the pictures from before La Paz are on memory cards that are no longer in our cameras since they are full. We take a lot of pictures...

A quick note - the pictures of the very weird are often taken through car windows, from far away, or on the sly. The quality of the photos is not quite to the standards of what we normally put on our blog, but it´s more about the subject than the picture when you´re trying to hold the camera still while laughing.

One of the major subjects of randomness are signs and company names. For example, the bus in front of ours in this picture is named "Aroma." I´m sure it had one - that of deisel exhaust - but do they need to call that much attention to it?


A trend I noticed in Tanzania (and really, there, how could you not) was that of custom stickers on rear windows. The trend is continued in Bolivia and Peru. Although not as common, it is often just as random:

Apparently, this guy really likes his Toyota, but mostly because of its sound system. Which is not surprising - many of the cars around here have sound systems that are worth two or three times as much as the vehicle. Reminds me of high school.

Some of the more touristy places don´t seem to hire very good translators before spending a lot on a fancy sign:

Are they making soup from the bones they discover, then? ...and...

They even have weird signs advertising companies that make signs. Why, exactly, does this sign need a chick in a bikini? It´s for a sign-making company, not a bikini-making company. This is one of the more, um, modest of the "gigantografias" (big-sign-making company) signs we saw.

Then there are the signs that I wish more people would pay attention to. The drivers here love their horns, so much so that a couple different taxi drivers have mentioned it to us on their own. It´s insane how much they honk - as bad as Chicago, actually. They don´t really have traffic laws here, per se, so the general agreement is apparently that whoever honks first gets right-of-way in an intersection. Really. I guess whoever lives/works at this intersection got tired of it:

Of course, there are -things- that are just weird, not just signage. For example, a recent trend in regional entertainment around La Paz, Bolivia, is a twist on the WWE-style wrestling that has been around for some time. Now Cholitas, women in traditional dress (skirts with petticoats and double braids), are entering pro-wrestling, with all the campy showmanship and fake characters and storylines to go with it. And tourists can go see!

The food here is mostly carbs and mostly fried, but they do like to fry chicken, as well. The most common name for fried chicken is pollo broaster, which one place translated to - you guessed it - Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That actually didn´t surprise me much, since whenever people ask us which state we´re from and we say Kentucky, they say fried chicken. (Of course, whenever we say Washington, they say DC or Obama, and are -very- confused when we say no, the state... Not that that´s any different than most of the US).

Another cultural oddity is the proliferation of saints. They have saints everywhere - restaurants (in the little shrine next to Jeff - also note the weird sofa he´s sitting on - it was supposed to be a model of a woven reed boat, since it was in Copacabana on Lake Titicaca):

... wineries (the statue of the saint is inside the giant wine barrel):

...on the top of pretty much every hill, in most pay-parking lots, etc, etc, etc. Some of the more important, public shrines have little plaques thanking the saint in question for "favors received." Well, then.

Then, there are the brand names. They have their own soft drinks down here, including a copy of Coca Cola that´s called Coca Quina.

This one´s for my Battlestar Galactica obsessed friends - you know who you are (Janet!). Just fyi - Frac cookies are actually very good.

On the you-know-who-you-are track, this one´s for Gina:

And this one´s for the lunch crew in Huntington. I almost wanted to go in and order the pollo ranchero, but I´m not sure they had it:

We´ve mentioned a couple times our obsession with taking pictures of the dogs down here. We keep saying we´ll spare you the pictures, and then put one or two in because they´re hilarious - just like now:

Dogs aren´t the only funny animal here. Check out the fancy hotel´s lawn service in Copacabana:

There were a lot of donkeys on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, and so there were a lot of donkey herders. This guy was chilling while on guard, and must have been playing some game on his cell phone for how long he was on it:

I don´t know why I find the mix of traditional and technoligical so funny, but that one struck me as a little funny. I guess I was tired that day or something.

We have previously included a few of the weird pictures, like the llama fetuses for sale. Here´s a new take on the llama fetus:

Sorry for the crappy photo quality - hope you can see what´s going on. If you can´t, it´s mariachi llama fetus. Very nice. I guess it brings good luck to that particular market stall...

Speaking of market stalls, we often wander town for hours trying to find some particular thing. Today, we looked for bread for some time, and never did manage to find the cheese. I´m sure at some point, we´ll find a street totally covered in cheese venders - but as it turns out, we managed to find a street completely covered in alcohol venders:

I still haven´t totally figured out how the supply and demand system works here, since each stall has a different vendor, but they all sell the same thing for the same price.

Vendors are, of course, everywhere. Including right outside the most impressive ruins we´ve seen, Tiwinaku. Pre-Incan monolith with a hoard of vendors not 20 feet away...

The graffiti here is also very interesting. Most of it is political, but occasionally you get one that´s not as easy to figure out:

That particular graffiti got a round of earworm songs stuck in my head.

This one is for Aaron Walters, if he ever sees it:

Speaking of Che, we saw a strange sculpture of him through a bus window in La Paz:

I have lots of pictures of statues from here, but most are to show the sheer number of pigeons. Coming from an area with not many pigeons, it´s pretty amazing:

A few last pictures. Last Saturday, we were wandering Arequipa, and notice that there were an awful lot of weddings going on. Every church (and there are a lot of churches here, all very grand) had fancy-decorated cars outside and crowds of people. Occasionally, we´d get a glimpse of the bride and groom, but generally, flower-bedecked cars were enough to know what was happening. In this case, though, they were a bit skimpy with the car decorations compared to the others:

That boquet is slapped on there with packing tape. Awesome.

Oh, and on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, I was noticing how much stuff was made of the reeds that make up the famed reed boats and floating islands of the lake. Well, we got a new idea for their use when we got to our hotel:

One other random thing I´d like to rant about a bit - I thought Tanzanians had interesting taste in movies and music for buses. I mean, Celiene Dion´s live video for hours? Yuck! Anaconda wasn´t too great, either. But they´ve got nothing on Peruvians. Our first day in Peru, we were treated to one guy who apparently thought that his horrible taste in music (crappy Peruvian rap) was worth sharing with the rest of the bus passengers via Ipod integrated speakers (I´d really like to have a talk with the Mac engineers on making it so easy to play Ipods out loud, rather than on earphones. Not such a great idea, guys), but that wasn´t all that unusual. When the bus finally filled up, we got treated to a movie. Child´s Play. Yeah, the 80s horror flick with the psychotic doll, Chuckie. Anyone who knows my taste in movies knows that´s about the worst choice possible. I don´t do violence, I don´t do blood, I don´t do any of it. When the movie finally ended and I was able to take out my headphones that I had up loud enough to drown out the screaming from the movie, we got treated to ... the same movie over again! When it ended the second time, guess what? They started it a -third time-! Fortunately, someone had enough sense to turn it off about a half hour into the third round. Welcome to Peru, Kate and Jeff! Then, last night on our ride back to Arequipa from Ica and Huacachina, we got to see a Denzel Washington (okay, could be worse, I´ll admit) bloody thriller as a bedtime story, and were awoken to the fundamentalist Christian movie, Fireproof. (If you don´t know about it, look it up.) Never figured I´d actually see that one. Of course, I´d spent quite a lot of my life not having seen Chuckie, so you never know what new experiences you´ll have when you travel in Peru.

And finally, here´s the picture that got deleted from the Lake Titicaca post of the path we followed:

So it doesn´t fit well into this post. At least it´s pretty.

Hope you all are doing well! We´re having a great time, when not having to watch really bad movies on long bus rides...