Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bussing back to Bogota--7/23-26

Other than my one hour flight back from Cusco to Lima at 11:30am on Star Peru, I saw that flights elsewhere in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia were not very cheap. It was over $600 to fly from Lima to Bogota where my July 29th departure on American Air to Seattle was waiting for me. With all of that, I decided I would take buses back to Bogota.

The Star Peru plane was again late to depart at noon instead of 11:30 am so I still had time to bet to the Civa terminal by 3:15pm. My bus trip from Lima to Bogota started up a little rough when my airport taxi driver dropped me off at the wrong Civa bus terminal. I was leaving from the deluxe Civa bus terminal instead--and not the ordinary one. Fortunately the Civa rep got me on a taxi to the right place just in time for my 3:15pm departure on the 23rd to the Peru/Ecuador border.

It was a comfortable first class ride complete with two full meals as we traveled about 1200 km in 20 hours over a fairly smooth freeway. Cabs and minibuses got me to and through both borders of Peru/Ecuador and Ecuador/Colombia.



Panamericana ticket office in Huaquillas, Ecuador, where I got my ticket to Quito

I call this bus ride to Quito my disco bus because of the strange lights they turned on whenever we were coming to a major bus terminal.
When I got to Quito dawn was breaking as I was dropped off on the southern terminal called Quitumbe and had to catch the trole bus to the northern terminal called Carcelen. It was about an hour ride from one end of town to the other where I would have to catch a connector bus from the Terminal Y to Carcelen. I then was able to book a bus that would take me to the Ecuador/Colombia border in Tulcan.
Since I had about a half hour before my bus, I had a breakfast of two fried eggs, a ham and cheese sandwich and two cups of cafe con leche at this outdoor terminal cafe.

Both bus rides in Ecuador and Colombia were the twistyist and most harrowing rides I have ever been on with scary passing of trucks on blind corners---blinking left turn lights for OK--and very steep dropoffs with few guard railings.

No wonder my last bus ride ended up with a broken transmission just 4 hours from Bogota. It took 3 hours for a replacement bus to rescue us.

I enjoyed riding the bus with my seat mate Myrian since she helped me improve my Spanish as we travel this bus for about 25 hours. She joined me at both meal stops and told me her daughter was fluent in English.
After the 3 hour roadside wait, we got a replacement bus that was even better than the last because the wifi worked well and we had individual movie and music screens where we could pick out the shows we wanted to see. On the last ride, they played Hunger Games Mockingjay. I chose to watch Divergente and was spared watching Fast and Furious 6 for the fourth time. I also selected the salsa music after the movie was over.

When we first started out on our original bus, the drivers stopped shortly after leaving the terminal, and quickly and furtively loaded about 6 big bags of potatoes on our bus, money was exchanged and we were off. Now with the replacement bus, the two drivers of the broken down bus hustled to load the bags of potatoes on to the replacement bus. Apparently the new drivers agreed with this operation after much exchange of words and telephone numbers. If they had loaded these potatoes slowly, I would have thought that the bus company was just hauling freight rather than making some side money.

At a police checkpoint, the police boarded the bus and took one guy off for questioning that stalled us for over a half hour.

The total trip took 72 hours on the journey from Lima to Bogota with 4 taxi rides, 5 colectivos and urban buses, and 4 long distance buses. A great adventure topped off with a strong hot shower and private room at the Chocolate Hostal in Bogota on the 26th.

I saw a few more sights here in Bogota like the fabulous Museo de Oro and another Botero Museo. These are some of the best museum I have seen in South America.

A gold conch shell.

A death mask and one of many on display. Just imagine all of the other gold items the Spaniards melted down rather than retained in their original state.
Although I I am not posting any Botero pictures here, you can see many at my Medelling blog report. I think he got his inspiration for voluminous people and things from these kind pre-Colombian objects.

At the Museo de Oro, I spotted this large picture of a Quechua man holding his cocoa jar. This is the same guy I saw during my Ciudad Perdida trek. How amazing is that.

This South American adventure ends for me today as I fly home, and get back to Seattle on the morning of the 30th. It has been a great adventure.

Charming Chinchero--7/22-23

I was looking forward to returning to Chinchero since I was last here in 2005 before they had finished the Minka Hostel. I had brought with me the photographs I had taken then of the people working at the weavers cooperative. I was especially interested in seeing the two children on just a year old at the time and the other 4 years old. Vilma and her daughter, Rebecca are telling Heidi and Alexis about some of the people in the pictures I brought.

This is Evelyn who was just a one year old baby strapped to her mothers back in 2005 and now look how beautiful and friendly she now is. The 14 year old will arrive here after I leave and I am hoping that Gary can get a similar picture of her holding her 10 year old portrait.
Vilma and her coop partners gave us a demonstration on how they prepare the finished products beginning with how they clean the dirty wool with a natural root product shredded in water. The table below shows some of the natural ingredients they us in making all of the natural colors you see in woven products.
On the left Vilma is showing how the conchinella bugs found on cactus can make a reddish purple dye. These bugs which look like little pill bugs are dried and then added to the hot water. To turn this reddish purple dye into an orange color, they add salt to the mixture. On the right, Rebecca is dying the wool green by putting certain green leaves into the hot water. Different hues are achieved by increasing the concentration of the dye material and lengthen the time of dying in the hot water.
Vilma is demonstrating the different natural materials that create the different colors of the wool which is either from sheep, lambs, or alpacas. They use no artifical dyes or yarns to make their beautiful products. Ten years ago, I bought a 5' by 18" green patterned table runner that fits in well at our home in Loreto, MX.
Vilma is applying some conchinilla "lipstick" to Malu. At first it was a brilliant red and then it turned black---yikes! Instead of using the dried conchinilla bug, Vilma just squashed a live bug in her hand and then applied the "lipstick". I don't think Malu will be able to get these live bugs past Agriculture Inspection when she returns to NYC.

Some of the colorful dyed yarns are drying out.
The women each take about three hours at a time to work on this table runner. They do not have any of the pattern schemes written down, but rather it is all in their head. Since childhood they have been doing this and Vilma said that a three hour stint at weaving these patterns is about as long as they can do before mistakes occur.
This Chinchero Cooperative is a very popular visiting spot for large tour groups and we heard their spiel while we were in the back room area. Lots of humor and jokes about their work. One I remember is that when they showed a pointed bone about 6 inches long they use to tighten the weave, Vilma remarked that " This bone is from a tourist who did not buy any of our woven products."
In the picture below, the women have killed the cuy---guinnea pigs--and they have put them in boiling water so they could easily scrape the fur off before gutting and cooking them. As a part of the group tours, they offer the visitors a sample of the cuy and some small boiled potatoes.

I found this bowl of cuy as I went to the refrigerator to get some milk for my coffee. A bit of a surprise. These are either for the tour groups or for tomorrow night's dinner here.

After the weaving demonstration, I went over to the plaza, church and Inca ruins to see if the flute seller I had met 10 years ago was still there. After showing some of the vendors his picture, I was led to Jesus along with his family. Last time I was here, you can see I bought a reed flute and instruction book from him, and this time I bought an alpaca bone flute with a puma etched into it. He offered 80 soles and I countered with 40 and we settled on 50 soles. He wanted me to return in a couple of years and wanted me to bring a down jacket with me like I was wearing. I said perhaps we shall meet again.
The following day Gary and Heidi met up with him, and bought a couple of flutes as well.
We were younger back in 2005, and I still can't play the flute.
Here is a view of the courtyard and the church beyond.
Here are the Inca ruins that they are currently excavating.
Here we are having a standard chicken, rice, potato dinner. However the cilantro sauce livened up the chicken. That is a good sauce to make in the future. Vilma and her daughter, Rebecca, are eating with us.
Steve returned to Lima before we got here to join up with his family. He was beginning to get homesick to see his wife who is doing Spanish immersion to help her as a college professor back in the SF bay are, his two boys are in local Catholic schools doing their own immersion and in their spare time they go out surfing with Steve.
Faustina is Vilma's mother and I am holding the picture I took of her 10 years ago. These three generations of women seemed to laugh and be happy all of the time we were with them.
Well I did not want to end up as a weave tightening bone for Vilma, so I bought some beautiful things from her for my family back home. Some alpaca wraps with the one for Tani made from the natural wool colors of the alpaca--white, brown, and black. I got woven hats for the others that are hand made with natural dyes.
Gary and Heidi and Malu are continuing on the explore more of the Sacred Valley and then head to Machu Picchu for their final days of their Crooked Trails adventures with me. I really enjoyed their company on this unique adventure which was something they had not experienced before in their many travels. We got to know each other better and are pleased with how we did on this most strenous adventure. Here is our farewell photo with the Inca calendar wall hanging behind us.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Challenging Choquequirao Trek--7/15--7/21


This trip evolved around the Crooked Trails description of Choquequirao---pronounced Cho--kee-coral---as the Cradle of the Inca Gods, a recently discovered Inca ruins that when totally unearthed will be larger than Machu Picchu. It is also located in the area described as the Sacred Valley.

Here is a view from high above the discovered ruins and the physical challenge of getting there was quite an accomplishment.


My my travel partners in this adventure are, Steven Smith--an American who is living in Peru with his wife and two young boys--surfers at that, Gary and Heidi Holliday--friends of ours from Loreto, Mexico who enjoys our many hikes in the arroyos of the Baja, decided to follow one of my adventures rather than read about it, Malu Alvarez--a New York City photographer for New York Times, the New Yorker, Travel + Leisure among others with roots in bothTexas and Mexico, and Alexis Bonoff--our Crooked Trails guide who has lived and traveled throughout the world and loves her times in Peru.

Our local Quechua guide is Juan Carlos kept our spirits up all along the way. He also gave us quite an insight into how he and his family have lived off the land while respecting the Panchamama culture--a life in balance with nature. He and Alexis gave us quite a lot of Inca history as we made our way up and through the Choquequirao ruins.

He was helped by his brothers: Raoul, a professional chef from the hotel at Machu Picchu who took some time off to join us and be with his family; Christian--Chris, who was on a break from his college studies in Tourism management and was a horseman and camp worker; and Wilbur, the older brother who was our main horsemen. The four horses carried our packs, including Malu's big tripod, our sleeping, dining and cooking tents, food, and gifts for his Mom where we would be staying one night and having lunch on another.

We took a mini van driven by Alberto from Cusco to Cachora where we would stay the night at Tres Balcones hostel and begin our hike the following morning. It was a four hour twisty ride along part of the Sacred Valley.

Apparently a double yellow line in Peru means that it is OK to pass other cars, but it is dangerous. Sometimes you did not want to look as Alberto passed some trucks around blind corners. Just like in the Baja, the edges of the highway drop off quickly so a mistake would roll the car----sometimes down a very steep cliff.

Our last half hour or so was in the dark down steep, twisty, gravel road rutted with occasional washouts and then we got to the darkened village and our hostal at about 9000 feet.

Upon our arrival, Raoul and Chris got busy in the kitchen for our late dinner before heading to bed. I tried out the shower while waiting. At first I felt lucky since the instant heat shower was hot as I soaped up, but the the circuit blew out, and I had to rinse off in the very cold mountain water which gave me a brain freeze--it was that cold.

The fried fish filet with tomatos, rice and potatoes dinner was delicious as we all ate quickly, warmed by a nearby fireplace and our down parkas. The temperature dropped down to the high 40s and this hostal had no other heat. Fortunately our beds must had been covered by about 6 wool blankets. We slept comfortably under these blankets that felt like we were swaddled like babies.

At daybreak, I got my first view of the Salkantay and Hunantay snowcapped mountain ranges that provided a backdrop to our Choquequirao trek.

In the morning, we were warmed by ample cups of hot coffee, tea, and chocolate along with a gourmet breakfast of quiche and oatmeal with slivers of apple before heading out with our day packs with goodies, cameras, and water. We left our other gear for the two horsemen to load on to a three wheel truck that would meet us at 11 KM marker which was the end of the road. We walked the 11km on a trail that ran through the village, farmland, and along a river until we met up with the end of the road at 11km where Raoul would prepare our lunch while the horsemen--Wilbur and Chris--would load up the horses for the journey to our campsite at 19 km.

We are in front of Tres Balcones Hostal just beginning our trek. Standing from left to right: Alexis, Heidi, Gary, Malu, and kneeling from left to right me, Juan Carlos, and Steven.

As soon as we left Cachora, Juan Carlos stopped us to make an offering and wish to Panchamama that our journey be safe and enjoyable. He is taking three cocoa leaves from the bag of cocoa leaves that Malu is holding. He then chants some Quecha words and then puts the three leaves on the soil and we begin our trek. He continually referred to us as "mi familia", and sincerely meant it.


The view from this lunchspot was spectacular. We first the Apurimac river valley which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon that we would descend and then ascend on our way to Choquequirao. Juan Carlos pointed out where Choquequirao was on one of the mountain tops in the distance, but we could not see any ruins from there.

Again Raoul showed us his culinary skills by preparing a beef dish smothered in onions, other vegetables rice and potatoes, after we had a bowl of delicious quinoa soup.


After lunch we began our descent to our first campsite at 19 km. It was all down hill with big switchbacks on fairly open, and arid vegetation with occasional cactus and yucca plants. Near our campsite, about 2100 feet below our lunch spot, the hillside leveled off and we walked through some bushes and trees that were nourished by the water captured in the leveling ground and that is where we came to our camp. The camp had a coral area for the mules and horses, a tienda, four laundy sink tubs lined up against the flush toilets---where does this waste go?---and shower---brain freeze cold. There were both cooking areas and dining areas made up of wood and bamboo. They set up our three tents along one of the five grass terraces along with our dining tent since the other dining areas were filled with other trekkers.

For dinner we had a chicken dish with vegetables mixed in with noodles along with the usual soup at the start of the meal. Again very tasty and nutritious for our journey ahead the following day where we descended another 2,500 feet to the new bridge that crosses the Apurimac River and then we climbed about 4,500 feet to our second campsite at Juan Carlos' home called Mama Panchitas that was just about 3 kms from the Coquequirao ruins.

We needed to wake up at 4:30am to avoid the hot sun on our 4,500 foot hike up from the Apurimac river. Raoul again provided us with quiche, and hot quinoa cereal along with coffee or tea. We hiked a bit as daylight was breaking on our descent to the bottom of the Apurimac valley There were so many switchbacks down this arid slope only broken up near the bottom when we passed through this spooky forest of bare trees that were festooned with bromiliad plants that looked like large spiders ready to pounce on us.


Gary emerged as the fastest hiker followed by me and Alexis and others came down shortly after we had crossed the bridge. You could see where the old bridge use to be before it was washed away during a big storm several years ago along with the cable for the trolley that was used to transport people across the river while the new bridge was under construction. There was a plaque honoring the three men who died during the construction.



The trail up from the bridge was well maintained and climbed at a fairly steady angle, but the number of switchbacks we climbed through was incredible---it just never seemed to end. There was nothing like this assent on the Pacific Crest Trail unless you doubled or tripled the hike out of Milk Creek in Washington state.


A view of the trail we descended to the Apurimac River. Notice all of the switchbacks across the valley.

Whenever Juan Carlos would hike with us, and we would pass the local villagers, he would greet them and spend some time talking with them. It turned out that most were either his relatives or close friends. I stopped at a small tienda on the way up and bought a cup of chicha---slightly fermented corn juice---from a woman that turned out to be his aunt. I had given Juan Carlos an article about the Choquequirao trek which featured a woman who was drying out corn on a blue tarp and it turned out it was her. She was delighted to get the article with her in it.

Around noon we all finally got to Mama Panchita's and met Juan Carlos's Mom along with some other relatives. The horsemen got there about the same time so the family had a reunion as they unloaded the horses for the day and Raoul got busy preparing lunch for us.

Raoul preparing our lunch.

Both Alexis and Malu began doing a series of complicated yoga poses while the rest of us just did the yoga corpse pose. Chris tried to do a handstand while Malu was doing a yoga handstand that lasted for what seemed to be about 10 minutes. Chickens pecked around all of us while we rested both before and after lunch.






Juan Carlos and Rebecca and her one year old girl gave us a tour of his parents farm. We saw two buildings that housed guinnea pigs---cuy--and chickens and the one that was smoking had a new batch of chicha brewing. He pointed out that when the farmers had chicha available for sale they would put a colorful plastic bag on top of a long pole----a chicha for sale sign.

As we climbed over a fence to the garden below, we saw lots of different herbs growing like orageno, clilantro, parsley and vegetables along with some alfalfa for the animals---pigs and cows too. We pulled up some carrots for our dinner along with some chard, and then returned to our grassy tent area with a spectacular view of the entire area including the village across the valley where the proposed tramway from the village to this farm would have gone in. For now that plan has been scrapped.


The great meals just kept coming as we prepared for a colder night while looking forward to tomorrow's short 3 km hike to the Choquequirao ruins where we would spend the day and camp over up there as well.

It was a beautiful morning with whisps of clouds passing below us in the Apurimac valley.

After a frittata breakfast along with some fruit and hot quinoa cereal, we quickly began hiking to the ruins and were greeted by a ranger who had us fill out the register. I looked over the entries of hikers who had stopped by this year and saw that there was only one other person who was in their 70s like me. Juan Carlos said that I was the oldest trekker he had ever guided. Nice compliment and personal achievement. Heidi said that she was the oldest woman hiker in the register---I didn't ask her age though.

The hilltop in the distance is a round gathering area of the ruins which is about 300 meters diameter. The terraced areas below are the agricultural terraces used to grow a variety of foods in the microclimates there.


Another spelling of Choquequirao--Choquequirau--Choq'ekiraw---transliteration attempts on the Quechua pronunciation. Alexis is agreeing with this as she rests behind me.

This is one of the first terraced walls we came to. Juan Carlos indicated that they designed these terraces to allow water to irrigate the crops yet when floods came the water flowed down through the topsoil to gravel and then to larger rocks near the bottom of each terrace and then down to the next. The flooding never damaged the terraces because they had designed the water flow so well.


We are in the large level area and the structures in the back were for the chieftain, his family and close advisors.



We are at about the highest area that has been excavated and you can see the serpentine water course running down to the main plaza.




Gary and Juan Carlos are re-enacting a battle between invading tribes (Gary) and the Quechua (Juan Carlos).

Gary and Heidi are standing in front of the other structures just below the round meeting mountain top.

Again, Raoul brought up a hot meal of stir fried vegetables and chicken, with a salad along with a fruit drink so we were able to picnic in style among the Choquequirao ruins---in the chieftains area no less.
After lunch we then headed to the Ascensio de Llamas. It was a bit of a hike down to it where we first rested right by the white serpent design and a few llama designs marked by the white rocks in the rock works.
A jagged white serpent
Here are some of the 24 llamas found on these terraces.
See if you can find all 24 llamas on these terraces. We are at a lookout area about 1/4 mile from these terraces.

Gary, Juan Carlos and I took the never-ending stair challenge rather than the trail we came down.

Juan Carlos is below me resting on the stairs back up to the major ruins.

After our tiring climb up these endless steps, we headed up to the round table top where we had this view of the chieftains structures, the open market area and the structures above before heading down to our campsite in the Choquequirao ruins area.

Juan Carlos showed us some of the ruins that had not been restored and currently there are no archeological restoration projects here or planned. He commented that his father was one of those who worked on the restoration back in the '80s with the Peruvian archeologist that led the project. He remembered accompanying his father to this work site as well. He showed us some pottery shards he had secreted in one of the unrestored walls on our way down to the campsite and then put them back for the next visitors.

We reached camp just as the sun was beginning to set. This was the most used campsite we have been to and the grass was all mushed up with mud oozing through. It began to get pretty cold as we freshened up for dinner. Another brain freeze shower awaited those brave enough to try.


Our dining tent was now divided between the cooking area and our dining room table which made for some cozy eating. The inside of the tent, was much warmer than outside as we finished off dinner and our one liter carton of wine.

The following morning we headed down to Mama Panchita's where we would have a late lunch before continuing on to camp one that was on the other side of the valley. We would descend over 4,500 feet to the bridge and then climb up about 2,500 feet of switchbacks to our first camp.

Gary decided to continue on to camp one rather than hanging out for several hours at Juan Carlos' family place and then relax there waiting for us to join him.

We again had a good rest while waiting for the most elaborate meal of our trip. The lunch started with soup followed by meat wrapped vegetables, rice, pototoes

Frittata with olives, mushrooms and other vegetables

Tomatoes, cheese,and fresh basil leaves.

Complete plate with meat wrapped vegetables, rice, frittata and cheese, tomato, basil.

Such a bountiful feast---hope Gary enjoyed his power bars and Crystal light.

By taking this long break, Juan Carlos, his brothers and his mother had a chance to have a rare family meal together. Only the father was missing because he was down in Cachora arranging to purchase some more horses.

We figured how hard could it be to hike down 4,500 feet and then up another 2,500 feet to our campsite. It turned out almost as hard as walking up. We thought we would never get to the bottom of the valley since there was so much downhilll walking. I took advantage of a couple of chicha stops on the way back down.

We all kind of hiked our own hike down and occasionally joining up to walk or rather stumble down with each other.

We pulled into camp just as the sun was setting and settled our sleeping bags and stuff in our tents before heading down to dinner in the dark. Gary was tired from the hike, but was glad to have rested in the afternoon waiting for us. However, at dinner while waiting for dinner, he fell asleep at the table. We did likewise shortly after dinner and climbing into our tents and sleeping bags.

On our last morning we eagerly headed out knowing that at the end of our 19 km hike up another 2,100 feet, we would be heading back to Cusco for hot showers, soft beds, laundry for our very dirty clothes and dinner.

Here is our afternoon hike back up to the mirador at the12 km marker as we traversed the many switchbacks.

Heidi climbing through the last of the spooky trees.

Alexis looking for that last switchback

Steve just getting into his hiking stride.

We met up with our horsemen at 11 km where we had our first lunch and where a truck would hauled our backpack and other supplies back to the Tres Balcones where we would have our final lunch.

Gary is standing where we first began our journey to Choquequirao and Juan Carlos made the Quechua blessing for a safe and fun journey.
As we came in to Cachora is was alive with lots of market stalls. Apparently on this day the governement issues a 200 soles stipend to all of the Quechua residents. This gives them a reason to gather together for a bit of a celebration and a way to sell and exchange goods.

We ended our trip by giving Juan Carlos and his three brothers our favorite chant that Malu taught us:

a la bio-- a la bau--- a la bim- bom- bam-- los hermanos, los hermanos ra ra ra!