August 8, 2008
August 5, 2008
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
Catacombs in Lima
Dance judges Lake Titicaca
Eco-lodge Rio Madre de Dios
Finally Made It
Floating Island, Lake Titicaca
Pre-Inka Funeral Tower, Sillustani Site
Packers on Inca Trail
Lady in Lima
Lady with llama