Peru

August 8, 2008

Lima, Peru

August 5, 2008

Ink-A-Dink-A-Dink-A-Dink-A-Dink-A-Dink-A-Do

Jimmy Durante

Rama-Llama-Llama-Llama-Llama-Ding-Dong

The Edsels, covered by Sha-na-na

And now for something completely different…..

Argentina and Peru, despite being neighbors, couldn’t be more different. Argentina (should be) a first world country which seems always to be trying to become a third world country. Peru is a third world country stumbling to become a first world country. Argentina is European, Peru indigenous.

Our Peru trip was the first arranged trip we have ever had. It was a whirlwind tour of central Peru. We visited Lima, Puerto Maldonado (in the Amazonian rain forest), Cusco (the capital of the Incas at their height), the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Ica (Nazca lines). It was all Inka, all the time. It was a great trip, but boy, are we tired (the altitude sickness and turista didn’t help).

Lima is a fairly typical capital city, with an urbane center and atrocious shanty town slums surrounding the center (like a lot of Latin American cities). The interesting thing is, Lima is the largest desert city in the world. The coast of Peru is a complete desert (it almost never rains there), but it’s cool, like SF, almost always enveloped in fog.

Puerto Maldonado is a wild west town on the Rio Madre de Dios in the Amazonian rain forest, used as an embarkation point for trips to various ecohotels on the river. For some reason, everybody with us knew what was coming, but we didn’t. At the embarkation point, the guides made all of us consolidate our stuff into one bag (our allotment), which caused a frenzied scene of people unpacking their unmentionables (“hurry, my friend, hurry!”). We were then herded into a motorized canoe for a 2 hour trip down river to the lodge, which was beautiful the way it blended in to the jungle scenery, but not in the fact that our room had 1 dim bulb (which was shut down at 10 PM) and a very cold shower. The jungle was interesting, but I wouldn’t want to live there. We did see lots of monkeys, caimans, parrots, turtles, tarantulas, and an anaconda (I thought they were all mechanized props, but the guides swore they were real.)

Cusco is a great town at a very high elevation (about 3500 meters). It’s an international hang out, full of tourists from all over. It was the capital of the Inca empire, with numerous Inca ruins, colonial stuff, etc. The Cusquenos (people, not beer) are very proud of their Inka heritage, and most even speak the Inka language (Quechua).

The Urubamba River flows through the Sacred Valley from Cusco to Machu Picchu. There are numerous Inka ruins and colonial sites. I think we saw all of them (“It’s included, my friend”). Our guide in Machu Picchu was Charlie Evans, who is also masquerading as an emergency doc in Ukiah.

We could have skipped Ica (the Nasca Lines).We were awakened at 3am, to take a bus to some town south of Lima, then a car to an airport in the middle of nowhere, to wait 4 hours for a flight on a single engine Cessna that lasted 30 minutes, to see lines scratched in the desert (“now, now, look my friend, under the left wing, the parrot, the parrot!). I don’t believe the whole thing. I’m sure the lines were made by extraterrestrial taggers, or Walt Disney.

The highlights of the trip were, of course, numero uno, one of the 5 most important tourist sites in the world, the “lost city of the Inkas”, damas y caballeros, I give you Machu Picchu. This is one of the few places we’ve been to that actually looks way better in reality than in the glitzy tourist brochures. It’s too wonderful to describe, so I won’t. You just have to go see it yourself.

Also wonderful was Lake Titicaca. It’s very high (allegedly the highest navigable body of water in the world), looks like Lake Tahoe in winter, although it’s way bigger, is in Peru, not California, and has lots of amazing stuff to see, like reed boats, and inhabited man made floating reed islands, that are anchored to the bottom. Puno, where we stayed, is a frenetic little town, inhabited by, in addition to Peruvians, almost every conceivable nationality. We had drinks in a very Peruvian bar, where they were playing Jimmie Hendricks and Bob Dylan, and the bartender, who spoke little English, kept on calling me “man”. Far out!

I also fell in love with Andean music. If you think you’ve never heard it, you’re probably wrong. I was wondering why every time we heard an Andean band, they were playing the Simon and Garfunkle song that goes “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail, Yes I would, If I only could……”. The song is “El Condor Pasa” and is typical of the flute, bamboo pipes (zampona), guitar and drums of Andean music (for some reason, they also always played “Guantamanero”, which is Mexican, and “Yesterday” which is Beatles; anything for the tourists). I even bought a zampona, which I intend to drive Phyllis crazy with. Here’s an important personal historical aside: my first ever date, in the sixth grade, was with Karen Garfunkle, Art’s sister.

The other custom which “turned us on” (one of us more than the other) was the free use (in fact encouraged use) of coca, which is the plant used to make cocaine. The Incas chewed the leaves to get energy for working in the thin atmosphere (smart cookies, those Incas). Nowadays, it’s still used freely, in tea (mate de coca), candy, soda (Inka Cola, which is what Coca Cola was before our puritanical forebears banned it), etc. One of us became so enamored of it, that he or she drank about 20 cups a day (it’s available in every hotel lobby). He or she hasn’t stopped talking since we got to Peru. Oy!

Peruvian, or more specifically Andean, people are shy but friendly, honest, hardworking and reliable, unlike some other people we know. Those characteristics are typical of the Incas, and formed the cornerstone of their philosophy. The kids are completely adorable in their “typical” clothing (which they really wear in normal life), holding baby llamas or alpacas, posing for pictures for “un sol, senor”. They are the actual descendants of the Inkas, speaking the same language. Before I visited Peru, I had only vague ideas about the culture and history of the Andes. The Inkas were the greatest, but also the last, of the Andean empires. Their civilization lasted from the 13th to the 16th century, when they were conquered by Francisco “Franky” Pizarro and his band of merry men and not so merry priests. Franky was one of the many lovable Spanish conquistadors who destroyed the various Mexican, Central and South American civilizations in a quest for gold, more catholics, cute Inka girls, and gold. The Inkas, despite their many admirable qualities (they were great engineers-see Machu Picchu), were not such good guys themselves, having conquered much of South America, not always by being good arguers. However, they had a knack for incorporating the civilizations that preceded them, thus improving on a good thing. There are pre-Inka temples that are as old as Egyptian pyramids. This is (to me at least) seriously interesting stuff, but I better stop with the history lesson, already. What does all of this have to do with sailboats?

On the negative side, I am bummed out by the Peruvian government and tourist industry’s abominable exploitation of tourists, and of the Andean people themselves, who they seem to use as a colorful backdrop to suck money out of tourists. Here are some examples: the entrance fee for Machu Picchu is 122 soles (pronounced soul-ace), plus a 30 soles bus ride, per person, for a day ticket. By contrast, Yosemite National Park charges around $10 or $15 for a 7 day pass. Plus, they charge 1 sol to use the toilet, and, you have to bring your own toilet paper and seat, and you’re not allowed to throw the used paper in the toilet (don’t ask). This could cause serious problems for those of you with obsessions in this particular arena, so make your travel plans carefully. There is a hotel right at the entrance to the park, which looks like a bad Holiday Inn, that charges $1000 dollars per night, for their cheapest room.

We stayed at a hotel that charged 6 soles for bottled water from their mini-bar, which one could buy on the street next door for 1 sol. That’s a 600% mark-up (actually, 1200%, because they buy it for 0.5 soles)! The tour book we used, Lonely Planet, was published in 2007, presumably with 2006 information. Everything had least doubled, in 2 years. Things may not be as expensive in non tourist areas, but, by some bizarre coincidence, the tourist areas are where tourists go. Despite what you may have heard, Peru is not cheap. I intend to sue the government of Peru, the Peruvian Tourist Association, my travel agent, Franky Pizarro, and the Inkas.

For reference, $1= 2.7 soles, a Peruvian pensioner gets about $80 per month, a laborer makes about $8 a day. The colorful indigenous people one sees mostly live in serious poverty. The whole thing made me very uncomfortable. (Interestingly, after my terminally ill girl poem gaff, I’ve been accused of suddenly developing spirituality, perhaps from schlepping all over Machu Picchu. Not true. I’ve always had spirituality [I was a Sufi in my youth, but that was probably just to be able to hit on naked girls]. I think I had to suppress my spirituality in order to counter balance all those oppressive liberals surrounding me in Northern California). Write your congresspersons!

Despite all the above kvetching, our trip was really fun and interesting. I give it a B+.

We decided to give this trip to ourselves as a thirtieth anniversary present. Because it was so expensive, we now have no money to spend on our actual anniversary, which is October 14. Can you imagine-30 years of unrelenting bliss. Gifts (particularly money) will be cheerfully accepted.

Next up is “home” to Antares in Puerto La Cruz, a couple of weeks of boat work and lazing around the pool in the marina, another (short) land trip to Merida, Venezuela, then back to sailing the seas, to Isla Tortuga, Los Roques, Las Aves (all Venezuelan Islands where it’s supposed to be safe, presumably because, being so far offshore, there aren’t many Venezuelans there).Then on to Bonaire, Curacao and maybe Aruba (the Netherlands Antilles), where we’ll probably stay for a while, in particular for the great scuba diving. We expect to be in Cartegena, Columbia, around mid November, and stay at least through the first of the year. Hey, somebody has to do it.

Two monkeys in the jungle

Beautiful Baby

Catacombs in Lima

Cusco

Dance judges Lake Titicaca

Eco-lodge Rio Madre de Dios

Finally Made It

Machu Picchu

Floating Island, Lake Titicaca

Flute player

Pre-Inka Funeral Tower, Sillustani Site

Goodbye

Huachuchina Oasis

Inca Chief

Packers on Inca Trail

Turtle sex

Lady in Lima

Lady with llama

Love

Machu Picchu

Market in Aquacalientes
Market in Aquacalientes
Monkeys in jungle
Monkeys in jungle

New Friend

Old man
Old man
On the road to Titicaca
On the road to Titicaca
Paternal instincts
Paternal instincts
Peruvian baby
Peruvian baby
Peruvian kitchen with guinea pigs (for dinner)
Peruvian kitchen with guinea pigs (for dinner)
Rare vicuna
Rare vicuna
Reed boat and floating island
Reed boat and floating island
Sillustani site
Sillustani site
Sky King and Penny over the Nazca lines
Sky King and Penny over the Nazca lines
the albatross!"
“Under the left wing: the albatross!”
Steet musicians in Aquacalientes
Street musicians in Aquacalientes
a train on the street!
Aquacalientes: a train on the street!
Sun god at the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu
Sun god at the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu
Tall American, short Peruvian
Tall American, short Peruvian
The climb to the top of the jungle canopy
The climb to the top of the jungle canopy
View from the canopy
View from the canopy
Traditional custumes (Lynn Meadows on left
Traditional custumes (Lynn Meadows on left
Too much mate de coca
Too much mate de coca
Aqua Sueno
Aqua Sueno
Butterfly Kisses
Butterfly Kisses
Mate de Coca
Mate de Coca
Show Your Work

Show Your Work

Argentina

August 8, 2008

Buenos Aires

Argentina

July 18, 2008

Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina

Evita

(Boy, it was tough sailing here.).

We thought we had died, and gone to restaurant and service heaven. Buenos Aires has, by far, the best combination of great restaurants and impeccable service we have ever experienced. Coming from Venezuela, the contrast was especially striking. Perhaps the whole country was like this…. Pero, no!

More about Buenos Aires later. Here are a couple of “cute” stories. The first is called “La Gran Aventura del Acondicionador de Aire de Iguazu” (the great Iguazu air conditioner adventure).

We took a side trip from Buenos Aires (BA) to Puerto Iguazu, near the superb Iguazu Falls at the triple border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Right away, there was tsouris. Aerolignea Argentina, the national airline, has not paid its employees for several weeks. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work so well. Our flight left 5 hours late (even though it was listed as on time before we left the hotel). Not only that, but they killed us with small tortures, changing the departure time and gates every 1/2 hour. Not only that, but one of their other flights to Iguazu, that was scheduled to leave after our flight, left before ours (you can tell I’ve discovered how to use the underline function in Word; now I’m going to have some real fun).

We stayed at the 4 star Hotel Esturion. Upon checking in to our room, the bellhop went through the usual ritual of showing us how everything worked, including how to turn on the air conditioner (as many of you probably already see where this is going, and, in interest of fairness, I’ll point out that Puerto Iguazu, being in the southern hemisphere, is in winter, but has a delightful spring like climate {high seventies}). It was a little hot and stuffy in the room, so the next morning, I reported to the front desk that the air conditioner wasn’t working. The unfriendly front desk person, dressed as they all were in identical faux safari outfits, made a big show of taking my room number, indicating it would be fixed quickly, perhaps even faster than I could get back to my room. Instead, we went out for the day. Upon returning, we noted the air conditioner wasn’t working. I spoke to the very same explorer at the front desk. He explained, with a straight face, that the air conditioner only goes on about 9 or 10:00 PM in the winter (of course, this makes no sense, as it’s hotter in the daytime than at night, even in the Southern hemisphere). However, trying to be good emissaries for our country, we accepted this explanation in good spirits.

As you might guess, it didn’t go on at 9, 10 or any o’clock. The next morning, I cheerfully approached the very same clerk, who this time explained (with the same straight face) that the air conditioner does not work at all in the winter. I calmly asked to speak to the gerencia (manager). He graciously listened to my story, and asked incredulously, why I didn’t say something to him sooner, so that they could put a fan in our room, which they did.

There’s a humorous follow up to all this. After our first comfortable night, the maid came in to make up the room. There’s another funny long story (that I’ll spare you) about how they deal with electricity, but the short version is that they turn it off (inconsistently-some do and some don’t) when they make up the room. So, when we got back, the fan didn’t work. I didn’t realize the electricity was off. I asked the maid to show me how to turn the fan on. With a pitying look (these stupid Americans), she turned on the electricity, and, like a miracle, the fan went on. On her way out, she asked “Why don’t you just use the air conditioner”? I didn’t have an answer.

The second story is called “La Grand Adventura de la Piscina Iguazu” (the great Iguazu swimming pool adventure). We had decided to ignore the standard advice that “Iguazu is only worth 2 or 3 days” (it’s “worth” much more than that), and stayed for 5, planning at least one day lazing around. The hotel has 2 parts: the main hotel (with pool) and a second, mysterious “lodge” somewhere, also with pool. The main pool was being repainted when we got there, but we weren’t ready for our down day yet, so it didn’t matter. We were told the pool would be available “manana, (that dreaded word) en la tarde”. A few manana’s later (I refuse to bother putting a tilde where it belongs) we were ready. I asked my explorer friend at the front desk if we could use the pool. “Of course, senor”. Unfortunately, the pool “boy” (about 82 years old), told us we couldn’t. There were no towels there, and, the water was “fria”, because it was just pumped in from the river. “Use the pool at the lodge”. He pointed across the street. Dutifully, we packed up our stuff, and went across the street to find the other pool. Nothing appeared to be across the street. A taxi driver asked us where we were going. He indicated that it was down the street towards town, on the same side as our hotel. We walked about a block, and found another pool. Unfortunately, it was in another hotel. We almost used it anyway. Instead, we went back to Jungle Jim, who decided to escort us to the pool. Incredibly, it was across the street, through a huge, ancient, unmarked gate, and down a long jungle path, the nerve shattering scream of jaguars clearly audible nearby. By the way, there were no towels at that pool either, and the water was the coldest we’ve ever swam in (this from someone who has stupidly swam in the Pacific Ocean, temperature 68 degrees). It was a beautiful day, though.

Iguazu Falls is in a national park, at the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The falls are breathtaking (Eleanor Roosevelt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, or someone like that, upon seeing them said “poor Niagra Falls; it makes them look like a kitchen faucet”). The surrounding park is full of exotic plants and animals. We were lucky enough to be there on a full moon, so we also took the excursion at night, only available 4 nights a month. Wow!

The town is charming, and in spirit reminds me of Healdsburg (around the same size, with lots of interesting restaurants). If it weren’t for Tarzan, we’d give the whole trip an A.

BA is also wonderful. We went there because a very charming man we met from Montevideo , Uraguay (how’s that, Hector?) told us not to miss it. “It’s the best city in the world” (he’s been around). I already mentioned the restaurants. Portenos (people from BA) are obsessed with good food and service. We stayed in a charming neighborhood (Palermo Viejo) which reminded me of Greenwich Village, North Beach and the French Quarter. Small, tree lined, cobblestone streets, with great restaurants, shops and green squares everywhere. We walked all over the city, also using the easy to understand subway system. The Portenos, despite their reputation, are friendly, and very attractive and stylish in an understated way. I have no idea how they stay so thin, the way they eat. The national dish is parrrilla, which consists of a huge plate of several dead cows and pigs. Restaurants don’t even open until 8PM at the earliest. Then, everyone goes out to boogey until early in the AM, and still manage to get up to go to work.

Even the corny touristy things were fun, like the tango show we went to, and the Evita museum (an historical note: after she died of ovarian cancer, Eva Peron was embalmed. Her corpse was stolen, and hidden in Spain for 14 years. During that time, her face was smashed in and she was raped [that’s after she was dead]. After her husband Juan Peron died, his hands were cut off and stolen. The magistrate who has been investigating the case had his office broken into just a few days ago, and all his records were stolen. These people know how to do politics). If you like shoes, leather coats, dogs, little children and wine, you’re in the right place. BA is very European, like Paris.

Here are some shameless commercial plugs: the Hotel BoBo, where we stayed, was wonderful, particularly the 3 chicas lindas at the front desk, Vanessa, Belin and Gabriella. The travel agency we used to arrange our Peru trip was equally great (Mawa Travel on Malabia). Our favorite restaurant (a tough choice-they were all good) was Don Julio (probably the best for the money I’ve ever eaten in). Malbec wine from Mendoza is delicious. Try it.

Next up is Peru, and all the usual suspects, like Machu Pichu, Cuzco, and, that perfect name for all of us with a 12 year old boy’s mentality, Lake Titicaca. More later.

Puerto de Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Cematary

Coatamundes at Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Falls with Rainbow

Fresh Produce

Public Display of Affection

We have their CD

Palermo Viejo

A great restaurant on every corner

No speaka the signish

Tango

Tango 2

I give you the 15…oops….10 commandments

Three corners: Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay