Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The “Railway-Inca Trail” Trek and the grand Machu Picchu


Spontaneously deciding to abandon the Salkantay trek to Aquas Calientes, Me and Lee joined Chris to a "walk" along the railway that leads to the little and quiet town of aquas calientes, which is also called Machu Picchu Pueblo. On the way we past Inca ruins, bulls, and little by little penetrated more and more into the tropics till we reached Aquas Calientes after an exhaustive 9 hour walk. I have walked up to the magnificent site at sunrise with clouds and some rain accompanies me some of the way (up and down). The way back to Cusco was an adventure on its own, as you will read in just a bit…

Arranging, packing and setting early to Aqaus Calientes!
We came back to Cusco around 5 pm, quite tired from the ride and with quite of things to arrange: packs, some food and information. I have finished my arrangements around 1 am when I knew I had to get up around 5 am. Damn.
We arranged our self and managed to take the 6 am bus to Urobamba (again). The bus at that time was full of locals and we dozed several times due to our tiresome traveling in the past days. Coming to Urobamba we switched to a combi (as we already done before), not before having a light meal (Chris eating a huge Bee size Croissant..). Coming to Ollantaytambo, we went to have some morning coffee and looked for transportation to the end-of-the-road town, Chilca. We found one guy with a combi waiting in the main plaza (which I will see in couple days again at midnight, unbelievable..) and that was willing to go to Chilca for 25 soles immediately (or we will have to wait he will fill the combi, a process which will take an hour at the least!). We managed to lower him a bit and got into the car. The driving time was around 30 minutes, which on the way a train full of tourists were on their way to Aquas Calientes. Oh, we gonna see that train so many time that day! Finally, we stopped near the train station in Chilca, on a dirt and dusty road that continued on and on. We were at Km 80, and we had to walk no less than 30 km till Aquas Calientes at the same day! (The km distance which is indicated along the railway is counted from Cusco). It didn't take us too much time to understand that this was a foolish mistake to do it in a one day walk.
We arranged our packs, put some sun screen and started walking. The day was nice and we were at mid morning, which was a bit late to start this walk (around 10 am). Walking along the dusty path numerous busses full of tourists headed to the end of the road, the famous Km 82, the start of the pricy Inca Trail. We waved the dust out of our faces and continued headlong with the Rio Urobamba at our left, splashing and slashing at stones and vegetation in a mighty and remorseless strength. It took us an hour but finally we saw the greeting signs for the Inca Trail trekkers near the train station. We went to have the last glimpse of a bathroom and also a last sip of beer for a long time and watched the groups of trekkers getting ready for the hike. We hoped they were not going our way (a very naïve thought, as almost NO ONE walks that way) but quickly we saw the porters, cookers and guides coming down after them and realized that there is now reason to be worried. They were heading for the Inca Trail. Good.

Police? What Police?? (km 82-92)
Last cigarette and we were back on the move, only this time walking on the rail toward west, along the rail. Walking on a rail, as it seems at first as a not too difficult path, is actually a very good way to get feet blisters, the gravel crunching at your feet sole with out any remorse. We saw some locals walking along the rail and also the Inca Trail porters walking on the other side of the river.
Somewhere after one km or so, I have stopped to take a picture of the rail and when I walked back to my companions I noticed they were talking with a couple of travelers. The couple, man and women, were speaking Spanish and seem to be travelers rather than locals, according to their outfits and equipment. It seems, from what I understanded (and my Spanish is far from good), that there is a police blockade at km 88 and that they don't let anyone pass through them because it is illegal and dangerous to walk on the railway (well, no shit!). They had a look of desperation and the man asked his companion how much they had to go further. We were also getting depressed as we were cut short with out any way to go around that. As I was trying to calm my sle find a way that we could continue on, I saw two locals walking on the rail and then walking up on the slope beside the rail. I wanted to hear someone else too before Im casting the white towel into the ring and go back to Cusco. I ran like a maniac shouting and waving till they stopped short and looked at me puzzled. Amazingly, they actually walked up an Inca terrace with an Inca ruin settled right next to the rail. I asked them if they saw any police blockade at km 88.
OK, so is it possible to go to Aquas Calientes on the rail?
No problem with police?
Si. It is dangerous to go on the rail, the man added and pointed ahead to a path climbing from the rail path, but you can walk the Inca Trail.
Damn, there is more than one Inca Trail in this valley! I was glad that I actually found a way around the problem and thanked both of them warmly. I waved Lee and Chris to join me and surveyed a bit of the Inca ruins, feeling my spirit rising with every passing second.
Climbing up the stairs to the ruins, Lee had a desperate look while saying she thinks we should go back if there is police. No police, Lee, no nothing. She looked at me puzzeled and I explained my self and what I have been told.
But we don't know were this path leads, Lee commented justly. True, I said, but we can check it out. If we see the path starts to take us afar from the rail and river, we gonna go back to Cusco. All agreed to this idea and we headed for the trail that went up steeply us to a terrace five meter above the railway. From there we saw that indeed the path continues on in parallel to the railway, so we continued walking, a bit alert of any police checkpoint or policemen. We walked like this for some time, passing through several neglected Inca ruins while the Rio Urobamba splashes on our left and in between, the rail continued on and on. We knew that there might be a problem at km 88, so we made an effort to identify our location so we could be careful before coming to the checkpoint. Around 1 pm we made a stop near a big carved stone for water and a cigarette. We still don't know what was this stone used for, as it had several steps and a big flat carved area (in an afterthought, in Machu Picchu there is the Funeral Rock, which is very similar to that rock). Sitting on this fine carved rock, we chilled out a bit and looked at the rumbling river below us. Checking the display (I know you`d like it, Chris), we saw that our progress was not at its best: we were around km 87 and we had to speed up the pace. Chris started with a quick pace and soon we passed more Inca ruins, funny looking trees, a bridge, sneering dogs and even couple of bulls, which made us very careful when we passed them. That point was km 88, and we could see from the terrace the checkpoint of the Inca Trail down below us, where a bridge made it possible to cross the river. At that point Lee commented that she is not having fun, almost running in order to keep up with the pace, and both of us (me and Chris) agreed to that, and decided that whatever time it takes, we walk at a moderate pace, so we could actually enjoy the views we see on our way. We continued on while passing a double tunnel (which is prohibited by law..). Soon the valley curved and revealed far tropical mountains. Eventually, after loosing the path in a little village, we found ourself looking at a big complex of ruins located on a little hill over the rail. Approaching the complex, Torontoy, which looked totally deserted, we had to cross waist deep grass and muddy lawns till we reached the site. At that point I had a feeling of exploration, like we were the first to be there, to find this site. Except for couple of log strategically located at key points to prevent the collapse of the Inca walls, nothing in the site revealed any modern involvement. As we didn't had too much time on our hands, we explored the site hastily and after 5 minutes we were already looking for the path that leads toward our destination. This aim, we soon realized, was not an easy one, as there was no visible path that continued in the desired direction. After passing through a forested section of a nearby slope, we found that our path was actually below us on the left side of the rail. We made our way back to the ruins and immediately found the path that lead to the railway. At that point Lee told us that she prefers to walk on the rail and to abandon the path. As we were only at km 92 (around 3:30 pm), me and Chris agreed it is time to speed up things, so from that point on we walked only on the rail.

Walking the rail, an arduous walk (km 92-110)
For those of you who haven't yet walked on railway, I can tell you it is not a walk in the park, especially if it is long. The gravel, crunching under the footstep makes your foot slip couple of centimeters back or forth, and by doing so, slides the socked feet inside the boot to some extent, scrubbing the sweat feet against the wool or the sock, and leads, eventually, to blisters. And we had some blisters! My situation at that time was not that bad (I felt the blisters forming as time passed) but much later we all felt the long walk in our feet condition. We did our best to walk beside the rail (safer and less gravel), a path which was strewn with some gravel, trash thrown out of the train and of course, dirt.
We continued walking like this for an additional half an hour (around 4 pm) in silence, each one of us was buried with his own thoughts untill Lee asked that we stop for a rest. She was feeling dizzy and me and Chris were not that surprised: she didn't ate anything all day long and almost didn't drank anything, even after encouraging her to do so. We decided that at that point we going to have our lunch. And right there, in a ditch one meter and a half from the rail, we made our lunch, one of my best field lunches I have had since the start of this trip. It might not sound like a gourmet dish, but a mixture of Tuna fish with mustard and several squeezes of fresh Lemon all pasted on a roll of bread was all we needed at that time. Not only we were so happy to have this meal, but we also felt stronger and had the vigor to step up after 30 minutes and continue walking like we were not already walking around 6 hours. One thing for sure: we picked a very good place to have lunch! While Chris and Lee had their "after-lunch-cigarettes" we heard the rumbling of coming train, and only when the train driver pulled the honk for a mere long 10 seconds, it came to our mind that we ARE sitting beside the rails which 60 km/h trains pass regularly. Chris managed to shove himself much closer to the rock just in time when the train passed us in a long thunder, spraying droplets of oil and water, and shaking the ground under our feet.
Coming back to her feet, Lee took the lead and marched in great pace, all determined to get to Aquas Calientes. Tough girl. I already had felt my blisters in my foot fingers, and I knew that both Lee and Chris suffered from their feet: Lee had blisters in her feet, and Chris had sanded his ankle back side to the glistening reddish flesh, a very painful sight and obviously, physical pain as I could tell from Chris face when he touched it. Even so, we didn't had any choice, as we continued and only passed the km 96 sign, relieved on the one hand but on the other hand, gripping that almost all the way we did thus far we had to do again. It was a depressing moment, but we continued on in silence, trying to see the half full glass, knowing that only 14 km are needed to be walked till we get to the town. We already had our wishes once we reached it: Lee wanted a coke (almost from the start of the hike, actually) and me and Chris longed for a glass of Beer and wine, to celebrate the end of this arduous hike. While we were discussing the different options of celebration, I saw more and more tropical vegetation on both sides of the rail while the daylight was getting scarce minute by minute. On the way we passed some nice waterfalls and some wild horses grazing the fields near the river. Around km 98 we saw in the distance camp site tents, and no sooner than the whole camp was revealed to our eyes, we saw that it was a camp of Peruvian workers with policemen sitting by.
We stopped immediately and lowered our voices. The Policemen were with their backs toward us and occupied with their lunch. The thought of getting caught and back course our way was a very unpleasant thought. Chen, we have to do something before they see us, Chris whispered to me and we scanned the area where we can walk beside the rail and not on it. I saw a little path passing into some thick vegetation five meters from the rail, and started toward it, signaling Lee and Chris to follow me. I tried to maintain a cool walk that would be the fastest I could allow my self. Just before I entered the bushy path, I took a glimpse of the policemen, noticing them watching us in curiosity mixed with indifference. We walked briskly through the path and after less than a minute found our self back on the tracks, with the camp hundreds of meters behind us. PPHHHEWWW…we passed that one. It might not been that important, and even if we had walked on the tracks the policemen might not have stopped us and questioned our intentions.
Walking and walking, eventually it got dark and we searched for our headlamps. Lucky for us, we found a night sky lit by a ¾ moon so part of the way we returned the headlamps back to the packs. We walked like this for another hour, passing on the way the well lit dam on the Urobamba without alerting the preoccupied guard that guarded the complex. Getting back into darkness, the valley walls gotten narrower and mountains peaked into the darkness like arrows into the sky. We walked like this, all too exhausted and with ache feet, something that reminded me of all the night marches I had in the army, when only the moon lit the path and you never know when you gonna finish this nightmare. Suddenly, Chris cried that he see lights in the distance, and looking up, we all saw the gleam of a nearby town, Aquas Calientes. We were all happy, hurrying to get into town and get our feet out of our boots and socks.
Eventually, at 7:10 pm, we came to a large sign that declared: "Beinvenidos A Machupicchu Pueblo". We were so happy, I told my friends that I have to take their photo, standing there beside the large sign. We continued afterwards and five minutes later we sat on the cold tracks beside a fancy restaurant at the entrance to Aquas Calientes. After we all had a good coke to refresh our souls, we discussed our next move: I wanted to first get into a hostel and only then go and find a place to chill out and eat something. Chris and Lee wanted immediate satisfaction and only after some negotiations, I managed to convince them that finding a hostel is more important now than looking for a place to eat (belive me, I wanted to eat something even more than they wanted!). So, after finding a place for a reasonable price, we dropped our packs and headed for the center of town, where a fiesta was held in honor of the virgin Carmen (Fiesta de la virgin del Carmen). A band of very drunk and very bad orchestra tried to play something audible, but except for pure noise, nothing significant came out of their playing instruments. We got into a restaurant and ordered our meals, raising a toast for our lives and the ending of this 30 km hike. After we feasted and chilled out in the restaurant (including taking of my shoes and ventilating my sore feet), we went back to our hostel to take a good shower and go to sleep.

Chilling out in Aquas Calientes, literally!
The next day we woke up around 8 am, and that was only because the damn band was starting playing again, without any improvement from the last night. Seems the wine was yet strong in their blood…
We didn't do too much that day, mainly eating, drinking and playing pool while limping from one establishment to another. Our plan was to wake up early the next morning, walk to the steps and climb to Machu Picchu. In order to have a good start next day, Me and Chris decided to see where is the path to Puente Ruinas, the bridge that crossed the Urobamba to the Inca stairway up to Machu Picchu. For some reason, we had to wait with this walk till 9 pm. At first we walked the tracks and after 5 minutes we noticed that there is another path that is going directly underneath us in the same direction. Only when we reached the train tunnel we gripped that we are walking wrongly: we were so accustomed to walk illegally till Aquas Calientes that we forgot that from here on, it is a tourist path, which tour busses take tourist up the mountain to the site. We walked back and then descending to the path, we made our way back toward Puente Ruinas. We found the bridge and the staircase that led up into darkness and walked back to Aquas Calientes, preparing ourself for early wakeup and long walk. Well, plans..you know what they are worth of, right?
The next day, at 4 am, the clock buzzed and after yawning a bit, I went to the shower to wash the sleep out of my eyes. I didn't noticed what Chris noticed, that there was a hush sound outside. You think it´s raining? Ask me Chris, and I answered, full of confidence, that it is the hum of the river. Well, just to be sure, I walked outside and no sooner than I took 5 paces, that I smelled the all familiar smell of fresh rain. Taking a look outside confirmed Chris assumption: the streets were wet and a little dripple came down in consistent hum. Damn!
I returned to our room and announced my findings. 5 minutes of discussion, and we went back to bed. I set the clock for 6 am, hoping that later the weather would improve.
Waking up at 6 am, we noticed that the it was still raining and the skies were painted in dull gray. Not the best day to hike up to Machu Picchu. Lee stayed in bed while Chris and me went out to have an early breakfast. The streets were soaking wet and little people were walking the streets. Vendors sell colorful nylon ponchos and when we passed the bus station for the site we saw a long line of colorful tourists, all look miserable under their water resistant jackets and ponchos. At first we didn't understand why to bother getting up to the site and visit when the weather is so bad, but then again, when you pay 65 USD to get to Aquas Calientes, you better get up there no matter what happens.
We passed the day similarily to the previous one: eating, drinking and playing pool. We planned to check out the weather tomorrow and if the rain stops, and it might be sunny, we gonna go up. We also checked our option to get back to Cusco. I had a plan how to get back to Cusco cheaply, but we checked the regular train in any case. After we saw the price (38 USD to Ollantaytambo, 56 to Cusco) and the time line (only the day after tomorrow), Chris and Lee abandoned any plans to take the tourist train. The train I suggested was leaving everyday at mid day, so we decided to wait another day in any case. Time was very expensive in Aquas Calientes, and if we don't go up, we might as well save some sols.
Well, I had another surprise waiting for me as the day went by and dusk came. Returning from buying some rolls of bread for the next day, I found Lee and Chris sitting in the room, debating. Well, I was announced that both of them wont go up to the ruins: Lee had already been to the site and didn't want to waste money only to be in the site when it is soaking wet and grimy. Chris also didn't want to go up to the site when the weather was far from perfect. Well, I had to take a decision if I am going to do it alone or to pass it. This thought had a very short residency in my brain and my next thought was that I hoped it wont to muddy or slippery to walk up the stairs. I was full of anxiety, not knowing if the path up will be dangerous due to the rainfall. In addition, the path to the Inca staircase was in total blackness at that early time of dawn, and walking alone at night was never been my favorite way to get to my destination. I thought of maybe taking a tour bus, but this thought also had stayed little time in my brain. I will do it, as dangerous as it will be (turns out, of course, that my fears were a waste of energy and brain space). I went to sleep while my friends went to have some beer before getting to bed. Before they went I told them that I will probably return by 11 am so we could catch the train to the Hydroelectric station. I wanted to stay up there all day, I must admit, but not only I knew the full details how to get back to Cusco, I wanted to do it with Lee and Chris.

Stairs, stairs and…more stairs
For the second time in two nights, the alarm clock buzzed at 4 am. This time, I was full of spirit. I darted out of the room and checked the situation outside: semi wet, with overcast over head. Well, at least it doesn't rain I comforted my self. A lady passed in the streets and I asked her about the weather. Somehow, I had the feeling she might know, living in this town for over 40 years (or maybe not?). She told me that it might rain around 8 or 9 am. With that, I returned to the room, arranged my stuff and getting ready to move. Chris woke up and asked me what is the situation outside. Not raining with an overcast and it might rain at 8 to 9 am, I told him. I didn't heard any reply and assumed he drifted back to his dreams. I didn't tried to converse anymore – time was short, and I wanted to move. Before leaving the room I wrote a note, asking them to leave the key at the reception (actually, at the shop down stairs that also belonged to the owner) and to write me down where are their whereabouts. Signing the note, I added that if Im not back by 12 am, they should call for help. With that, I left the room and headed for the dark streets.
I went fast, pushing hard, to do it as fast as possible as I hate walking t night alone. On the way I saw a couple of girls looking for the path. I didn't mind them too much and continued on the already well known path down the town center to the dirt path. It took me 15 minutes to reach Puente Ruinas, passing several couples and a group leaded by a guide. Once I have reached the base of the staircase I took out my headlamp, looked up the dimly lit stairs, and following a deep breath, started the walk up.
3000 steps. That's what they say, anyway. I didn't bother counting, of course. Like in any other tropical area, it was heavily humid and I could see my warm and humid breath puffed outside of my mouth every step I took up. It wasn't hard as I expected it to be, as it was a long going up.The Inca stairs are cut several times by the dirt road that enables trucks and bussed reach the top of the mountain, and as a consequence, I had several times look for the continuing path going up. At a certain point light rain started going down on me and I thought again that I was so foolish to leave my rain jacket in Cusco, but then again, I was sweating very much and putting on a full sealed nylon on me will not keep me dry from the inside, in any case, so it is preferred to just walk as fast as I can and hope it wouldn't rain heavily.
After 50 minutes of climbing without almost any stop (to eat and to take one picture), I reached the site gate. I wasn't alone, even though there were no more than other 4 people at that time (5:30 am). I waited impatiently for the workers to open the gates, and then, at 6 am a line was formed in front of the gates and tickets were sold. As I moved to take my place, a bus`s engine roared behind us and it´s human content spilled and dispersed in a colorful wave, that immediately formed a line toward the end of the already long line. After buying the ticket and passing the checkpoint, I was in Machu Picchu.
So many people wrote and said so many things about this place, so I would not spill my poetry in this web page. But, I was surprised that I was not as excited as I thought I will be. It might be because it was awfully cloudy and grayish or it might be because at the end of things, it was a huge complex of stone work overplayed over couple of hundreds of meters. But once I got into "work" (i.e. starting shooting), I found this site mesmerizing, with the low clouds shrouding the site and making it even more mysterious than I imagined. Wandering around in the site, I found my self walking toward the northern end of the site, passing the beautiful plaza on my right and the Principal temple up on my left. Eventually, without even knowing it, I came to the Sacred stone, located between two huts and overlooking the valley below. This stone is the first to be dedicated to the village before erecting the first building in the Inca village. Once I finished my shooting in the site I have noticed a small wooden gate, partially open, and the Huayna Picchu, the young peak in Quechua, looming over from a far. I took me one second of delay before I entered the unguarded gate and went down the Inca stairs to the path that leads up to the peak. I didn't had too much time (it was several minutes before 7 am) so in the next junction that leads to another proximate peak, I continued toward the highest peak.
Gigi and Tim told me that this was THE site to see the grand ruins, as it was less visited and also, gave a fascinating view of the ruins and the valleys that surrounded it. They mentioned it was a difficult climb, and looking from the stairs, it loomed high and powerful.
The stairs first went up over a slope arm and then dropped down to a saddle and then, went up straight to the peak, with jumbled staircase, all wet and slippery, with steel cables anchored to the side of the rock that made the climb easier and much safer. It was hard but not as hard as I would expect it to be, and after 40 minutes or so of climbing, I reached the first ruins located directly under the rocky peak. I took some shots and continued on walking up to the top, where four trekkers were already enjoying the amazing view of the site laid on a palm of a rock giant. Low clouds shrowded from time to time several parts of the site and the surrounding valleys, which made the spectacle a mysterious one. I sat couple of meters below the peak and while writing my log, had some simple breakfast (bananas and apples). Apart from the talk of the people, it was quiet and tranquil, as we could see the already bustling tour groups buzzing down the site, some 300 meters below us. Like colorful ants, they stopped at one point, and then moved on in a fine line toward the next attraction. After 30 minutes on the peak, it started to rain lightly in a persistence tempo, and I closed my notebook in decisive movement of finishing a chapter. It was time to go down.
Going down was slower almost as getting up there, as it was very slippery and some parts were very steep to go down without using some brain cells and flexible movement. As I got lower and lower, I saw more and more people puffing their way up, asking me from time to time how much more they have to go till they reached the top. The lower I got, the easier it was to handle the slope degree and stairs, and by the time the clock stroke 9, I was already back on the site's soil, strolling around with the sole purpose of reaching the starting point and reading a bit about the site from Lonely Planet guide. The skies started to clear up a bit and I could see a patch of blue peeking from the mass of the clouds. I went to visit the Funerary Rock and Hut, and after that made my way to the collapsible Inca bridge, which was on the other side of the site. It was already a jumble mass of people walking all over the site, and numerous people were already could be seen sitting on top of Huayna Picchu. Returning back from the bridge, I knew I had to hurry up, so I could start my descent at 10 am and reached the town around 11 am, as planned. I reached the gate and left the site, while visitors were keeping on streaming into the site.
Going down was a bit faster than going up, but not too much, as I was afraid for my knees and after 40 minutes of going down (and seeing other people going up) I reached Puente Ruinas. 20 minutes afterwards, and I was climbing the hostel stairs and knocking on the door of our room. It was 11:10 am.
A gust of cigarette smoke flowed over my head and through my face as the room interior cleared up just to reveal the faces of my two friends, all worried and full of anxiety. Turned out they didn't remembered my announcement that I will be back by 11 am, and they didn't know if to wait for me and too see if I return back (and miss the train) or to go for the train, no matter if I returned back. I know for sure they wouldn't have left if I hadn't showed up before 12, and by doing so, missing the train. I explained my self (and also asked for their forgiveness as I made them worried). We quickly discussed our next moves: we had to catch the 12 pm train that leaves for the Hydroelectric station, so we had to check out and buy tickets. Talking with the owner, I understood that the tickets are bought on the train, so we quickly arranged our stuff and left the hostel.

The long way back to Cusco: trucks, cable crossing and an all night ride
I was hungry but time was short and we didn't want to miss the train. We found the train in no sweat and boarded it. Apart from us, another group of 8 Israelis boarded the train and also some brits. The train was suppose to leave at 12 but eventually around 12:30 the train started moving, and not for long. With too many stops on the way, a ride which suppose to take 20 minutes took around a full hour (!) and finally we came to our stop, at the Hydroelectric station, the last station. As the tourist went down the train, we saw all of them running to catch the Truck that waited at the end of the rail. Lee, Chris and Me took our time walking, especially after we saw that the truck, Camineta, was full and stacked with human bodies. The truck left with it´s load all getting wet in the rainfall and we hurried to take shelter in a nearby restaurant. After one hour the truck came back, full of other human cargo and, finally, after 20 minutes we boarded the truck and left with sunshine over our heads. That 20 minutes ride was a nice refreshment, seeing the Urobamba valley in a different way, with the cold wind blow our hair and feeling free. since this train from Aquas Calientes fares only once a day, we had all the back of the truck for ourselves. We came to a little settlement with three high palm trees and a kid that worked with the truck driver showed us where we should cross the river. Going down to the river bank, we saw a cable that stretched across the river some 5 meters over the white water with a little cart attached to it. I was expecting something similar, but NOT that little cart. Surprisingly, both the kid and Lee didn't had any problem sitting on it and crossing the river successfully. Chris pulled the cart back to our bank, and the both of us climbed it while the kido on the other side pulled us to the other side. It was a short but a fun ride, looking at the Urobamba from a very unusual position, when only 5 meters of air and a steel cable separating us from the wild white beast that roared underneath us.
Once we were on the side of the bank, we walked an additional 20 minutes to the little of Santa Theresa. On the way the kido asked me if we want an hostel for the night and I told him that we are continuing to Santa Maria. Here the kido surprised me when he told me that the only combi that runs to Santa Maria is leaving only at 3 am (!) and that there is no other transportation out of Santa Theresa. Lee and Chris didn't like the bad news I delievered, and I went into a little infirmary to ask somebody else about this thing, as I suspected the kid is trying to get some sols out of us by staying half a night in a hostel. Talking with a nurse, I got a similar picture, only she suggested that we should go to Quillabamba and from there take the bus to Cusco. In any case, we had to stay the day at Santa Theresa, and only the thought of staying there made us desperate to find some other way out of that little crappy town. While we were trying to find some other transportation, we entered the little dirty plaza and apart from a supply truck, no other vehicle was visible. While we were thinking and assessing our possibilities, we heard somebody calling us in Hebrew. Turning around, we saw hand waving to us from a slit in the truck´s back cabin, between the rain cover and the wooden bar that surrounded this cabin. For an instant, this picture reminded me of the poor Jews locked in the trains in WWII. We came to the opening of the truck only to find there the same 8 Israelis we saw on the train. Seems that they were also got stuck in Santa Theresa, and after checking around they found this truck with it's generous driver that agreed to take them to Cusco, as this was also his destination. They also commented that it is free as they didn't talk about any kind of payment. The truck driver agreed to take us three also and after 20 minutes (around 4:30 pm) the truck doors were locked on us and we started our journey back to Cusco. And it was a journey, I can tell you that!
At first I tried to talk English, but soon I gripped that I will be the only one beside Chris and Lee that will talk English, so I gave up on it. I didn't feel good that Chris wont understand what everybody are talking about, but then again, I didn't had to much of a choice. We didn't know exactly how much time the ride will take, so everyone took his place on a sack of Bananas and tried to find a comfortable position (who would have believed that Bananas can be SUCH a pain in the ass??). At first the ride was going well, going on dirt roads and after an hour we had a stop for "Nature Bathroom". At that stop the truck driver asked us if we have warm clothes because its gonna be very cold. We were all surprised that he asked us and insisted that we have warm clothing, but we dismissed this insistence as a plain concern for our comfort. Well, we didn't knew what was in front us, that was for sure.
Following an hour and half of a ride, when darkness was already a dominant presence, we came to a stop in a little town, as we could see from the only slit that was in the back cabin. The doors opened again and the driver announced that we are in Santa Maria and here we can have a dinner before the long drive. We entered a local restaurant running away from the rain shower and ate a nice meal, small talking it with each another. We came back to the truck while rainfall continued to fall down on us and some fellas arranged the sacks in such a way it would be possible to sleep on them (yeah, right!). Again we climbed on the back cabin, and set out into the night. The time was 8 pm.
At first I didn't noticed that it was getting cold, as Santa Maria is settled in the humid tropics and it was a bit chilly but no more than that. But, slowly everyone covered themselves with layers and tried to go sleep. Well, we three tried to get some sleep, the others were all to occupied by taking pictures and flashing one another with their digicams. At a certain point, they went to sleep and all the ride we all did our best to find shelter from the cold and comfort for our backs and asses. The cold turned to be the major nuisance, as the cabin was open in one point by a broad slit that enabled us to see where we are (less than more) but also enabled the circulation of hot and cold air in the cabin, which meant that the cabin was mostly cold than warm.
Somewhere on the way, I dozed into a restless sleep when suddenly the truck came to a stop around midnight. Before we could apprehend where we were, the doors slung open and a flash of light accompanied by a gust of freezing wind rushed inside the cabin. The two drivers were smiling to us, all covered with clothes, and behind them, behold, piles of SNOW!
Popping my head outside the cabin, a magnificent sight was before me: We stopped on a muddy-snowy road with piles of snow piled on both sides of the road with a little church all covered with enormous amounts of snow standing by the road. The lights of the truck illuminated the snow with a bright yellowish color and the whole scene was looking like another world. With all the cold and inconvenience, I took my camera and snapped a photograph of the church. It was irresistible, just stopping there over the high snowy pass. After couple of people went to nature, we all cuddled back into the truck, trying to get warmer as much as possible. The truck continued on, passing down into the snowy valley and even though we went down, the cold persisted, if not increasing. From that point on, the four girls were keeping wining every 10 minutes or so how cold they are. The four guys tried there best to keep them warm, but the winnig continued (Chris was already a sleep and me and Lee just kept silent, biting our lips wishing the cold to go away). The ride continued on and on and we dozed again for couple of hours till the truck stopped again and the truck driver opened for us the doors so we could go and relief ourselves. We were back at a wide valley, the ¾ of a moon shone and lit all the area, revealing an-out-of-the-world scenery that I wished I could a picture of it, but I knew everybody gonna kill me if we gonna be stuck there because of my photographic enthusiasm. The ride continued on and around 4 am we made another stop in a little town. Looking out of the slit I saw a familiar fountain with double bird statues.
Damn, that was a long ride to get there, but there we were, smack on the main plaza. We waited there for an hour or so and then continued on. At that time, my feet were frozen and I suffered from cold pain, as blood almost didn't circulated in my cold feet. I tried to move my toes, but it was a painful act that didn't made the situation any better. I wished we gonna be back in Cusco, and as soon as possible. I dozed again, and then, I heard the voice of Chris whispering me to wake up: "Its Cusco, Man! We got to Cusco!" waking up and peering out of the slit I saw ole Cusco at sunrise, cold and a bit foggy. It was a wonderful sight at 6 am and I felt my self happy that this long and cold ride is going to end finally! The other people started talking, all frozen, and soon we stopped on the main road, near a police checkpoint. We came down from the truck, stiff and dizzy from a sleepless night. Arranging our stuff, we decided that each one of us will donate 5 sols for the drivers for their generosity. However, once the driver counted the money, he commented that money is missing because have to pay a fare of 20 sols. At that, the Israeli gang mumbled something and trotted toward the waiting taxis. While I was trying to explain the driver that he should have told us about the pricing BEFORE we set out, I saw the Israeli stuffed taxis dashing into the morning traffic, gone without even saying goodbye. How typical of them. I had to explain and negotiate the unsatisfied driver till his friend took him aside and bed us farewell, shaking our hands. I was cold and tired, and the last thing I wanted is to have a quarrel with an already tired and cold truck driver, especially that I didn't arranged this fare from the start.
On our way back to the hostel I couldn't not think of the runaway group. We owed them the fact that we were actually in Cusco at that point of time, but, all the same their behavior was of a child, running from responsibility toward locals and other people.
When me and Chris went to have our morning coffee and writing our diaries, I gripped that our trip in the truck was indeed a remarkable experience. As all our communication to the outside world was through our drivers (both verbally and visually), we were like locked in a Limbo, which only a slit gave us a feeling of the passing time. Stopping at different points on our journey the drivers gave us a unique way to see a small part of their country, in one long ride. One time it was a tropical town, in another instance, a view of a wide valley at midnight, and in another, a snow covered high pass in the middle of nowhere…Even though it was a rough ride, it was also a very interesting and well worth experience. And for that, I am content.

Couple of days after this ride, we parted from Chris (also nicknamed "El Schmokler", the smoker), as he had to catch a flight from Sao Paulo (Brazil) in three weeks and he had to leave to Bolivia as soon as possible. We all agreed that we meet again in a month or so, hopefully, and will tour Argentina together.
Chris, take care in your journey!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Going back to the historic Peru: Inca Pisac & Ollantaytambo


Cuzco, laid in the middle of the Sacred Valley, was very attractive looking for all of us at first glance. But, after a week in this heavily tourist laden city, we longed to see some locals that are not dressed similarly to the Incas, only a mere of 500 years ago. We took a deep breath, and set off to Pisac, an hour bus ride north of Cuzco where we saw the famous Sunday market and also saw the spectacular Inca Pisac when the sun has just started warming up the Valley. Ollantaytambo, another famous Inca site located further west of Pisac was our next destination, where we decided to go for the next adventure

Plaza de aramas, Cuzco – The highest place in the world to be harassed!
Sometimes it is amazing how time can slip out of your fingers when you don't watch after it.
As we landed in Cuzco on Wednesday, we took our time even though we had our plans for the next few days. Adi and Lee wanted to check out the option to learn Salsa dance and Spanish while Chris wanted to chill-out and see the ruins in the vicinity. And what about me? I wanted to grasp as much as possible of Cuzco and without tearing my pants off. This, I found, is VERY hard when you travel in group with different budgets and level of every day consuming. As everyone had its own plans, I found that I don't have any other choice but to make some excursions on my own. I wanted to visit Pisac and the four ruins close to Cuzco. My plan was a simple and straightforward: going to Pisac on Saturday to hang out there, then on Sunday visit the market and the day afterwards, walk up the steep path to the Inca ruins above Pisac. On the same day I would also visit the ruins on my way back to Cuzco. But, plans change as I have stated here several times. Chris was ahead of me, and already on Friday he went to check out the ruins, only he forgot to take with him money to pay for the entrance (OOUCH!). So, talking that evening, we decided that we gonna go on Saturday to see the ruins and then the girls gonna meet us at market the next day (shopping, dah??). We planned to wake up at 4 am, take the bus at 5 am and be there at sunrise. Nice plan. Plans change, don't they?
That evening we went to have a drink at a touristic place called Mama America (written also in Hebrew, unbelievable) and to meet with a Hungarian guy that Chris met in Pisac and was in Columbia. As both of us thought about going there, we wanted to hear his stories and to get some info about the place.
Well, one thing to tell you about Cuzco, especially, about the main square, Plaza De Aramas. It is FULL with restaurants and agencies, but even more, with locals standing outside the establishment, pushing free fliers at you, calling at you and harassing you in every way they can as long as you enter their place and leave couple of soles on the way out (preferably, US Dollars, of course). They will talk with you Hebrew, call you AHÍ, catch you by the arm (that guy almost got a slap from me!) and will give you "FREE DRINK" fliers to their place (hoping, of course, that you will drink more). From earlier experience that week I got the full picture: FREE DRINK, is actually, a Cuba Libre cocktail, a favorite Coca-Cola mixture with Rum. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, when they use a 10 sol Rum (Havana club costs around 40), you can understand what kind of shit the tourists consume in large amounts. And all this to get the piss (i.e. drunk).
Well, me and Chris got into the Mama America joint, only to realize that it was the time for Salsa lessons…WHAT THE FUCK?? Now, there is also a joint called Mama Africa (how original that is?!) and Chris was not sure that the Hungarian guy said Africa or America. In addition, a nice Israeli guy name Arik, was also supposed to meet us there, so we could not leave until we know where the hell is the Hungarian guy. So after checking out the other place, I returned with no conclusion. We drank our drinks (I had "nice" stomach cramps so I had only coke) and finally Arik came in with a kiwi and his Peruvian girlfriend. It was nice and we more or less abandoned the possibility of seeing the Hungarian guy again. Around midnight we went to check out the Mama Africa, as the music there suited us more and we hoped we might find the Hungarian guy still pist off there. Full packed with international tunes in the loud speakers, we didn't found anything but partying, so we stayed a bit more, Chris getting pisser and pisser by the minute. Eventually, we left that joint in the direction of our hostel, only then more and more harassers came and offered dear old drunken Chris more and more drinks and even movies (at 1:30 am? What the shit you are talking about??). I tried to pull Chris out of that honey-like trap, but he wouldn't budge and just look at me with his drunken face, all smiles, drifting from one sales man to another, trying to decide what is best for him. I gripped that either I pulled him out of there (which was quite hard as he is a tall and was also drunk as hell) or stay with him till he falls drunken flat on the floor. Or, and that was not easy for me to do, was to walk away and leave him with vultures. And that was exactly what I have done: I told him that Im going and I advise him to join me (advise to a drunk guy..what the hell I was thinking for my self??). He still looked at me with his same drunk face, and I decided that Im going.
I felt like shit, leaving him like this to have more and more drinks, in a foreign city that is known of some petty crimes and pick pocketing. But eventually I understand that I don't want to have more drinks or even to stay in those joints. I went back into the room and went to bed, all feeling bad and worried. Eventually, around 4 am the guy got into the room, not to drunk by the way, and went head long to a long sleep.

Pisac Sunday market and the Inca Pisac ruins
So, we were supposedly had to wake up at 4 am, right? Well, I woke up only at 9 am that Saturday, so I gripped that we are not gonna do what we panned in the first place. After everybody woke up, we decided that we gonna go to the market in Pisac the next morning (as early as possible), and maybe visit the ruins there after being in the market.
The next day we set off a bit late (around 9 am) and went on the bus on a hour ride up north. Pisac is located in the sacred valley (like other towns build on Inca ruins or near them) and is towered by a high hill and an enormous mountain protruding high into the sky. Pisac Sunday market is a famous event, drawing many people from all the area. When we came into town, it was already full packed with tourists, vendors and the like. The center plaza was full of covered stands, selling from artisans crafts of Pumas to food and drinks. It was a total mess. Adi and Lee went straight for the kill, looking for souvenir for the family, while Chris went wandering around. I popped out the camera and started snapping shots at the different crafts and merchandises, as well as some pictures of the whole plaza. It is a little town, and after half an hour I finished my camera tour, and went for a stroll just to feel the environment of this small and not so peaceful town. At a certain point I have met with Chris and went into Ulrikes café to have some coffee and talk things over. We met with the girls (which wanted to have some lunch) and went again into this cafe. Around 3 pm we made our way back to Cuzco. I and Chris decided to go the next day again to visit the Inca site at first light and the next day we woke up at 5 am and got on the 6 am bus to Pisac.
This time, the town was quite and still sleepy, the plaza all vacant and grayish in the first sun rays of light. We had a quick coffee and then made our way to the ruins. Usually, most people take a taxi to the other side of the ruins, and from there continue on the ridge back to the little town of Pisac. As usual, me and Chris had to find the harder way to go. Going up fast, we came to the first battalion in 30 minutes and observed the amazing view of the Sacred Valley spreads right beneath us, with the agriculture terraces spilling down on our west side. On the east side, on the other hand, we saw modernization typified by a soccer field and a modern asphalt road (which also leads to the other side of this ruins site). We surveyed the ruins, noticing that those ruins where without any rails or anything to prevent someone from falling 50 meters down to the slope below. Even so, we were actually happy that those precautions were not present, as it left the site original and at its best. We continued on, climbing on the ridge, discovering with each step another ruin or a battalion long abandoned. Finally, we came to the ceremony site, with its accurate fitting which is what makes the Inca culture so famous of. We continued on walking and climbing over rocks and small peaks that nobody is supposedly suppose to go there, but we just had to go off the beaten track. Of course, at this time of day (8 am) nobody except for the workers were there. Eventually, around 9 am we came to the backside battalions and ruins of Inca Pisac, noticing the start of the tourist stream into the site. As we thought Adi and Lee would join us later on, we chilled out on the top of the ruins and had our nice little breakfast. Around 11 am an American couple (father and daughter) came up the stairs and we had a nice conversation with the two, ranging from traveling to politics, and eventually we met them again when we were back at Pisac.
Around 12:30 we decided to go back to Pisac, only not from the way we came, but from another different way, which is through one of the valleys that surrounds the ruins. While we were doing our way down, we noticed numerous holes in the side of the valley, and went to investigate them. We were not sure they were tombs that were robbed as the Lonely Planet stated so we went to check it out. After crossing the valley and starting to climb the opposite slope, we came to several of the holes, most of them empty but some held some remains of bones, not human as we could tell. Then we noticed that someone was shouting at us and gesturing with his hand that we should return back to the other side. When we returned, we found two guys sitting on a rock, their body language beams with anger. You should not have gone there, it is the cemetery, it is forbidden to go there, they told us. I asked them who are them and they answered that they are there to keep that no tourists go there (great, fellas, do your job first, then complain!). Well, we didn't stayed too much to argue and get their angry stares at us, and went away. All the way back to Pisac I had heavy heart that I have disturbed the peace of the death, even if I told my self that I should stop believe in superstition.
Coming back to Pisac, we gripped that the girls stayed in Cusco and that we might as well return back too, after a lunch in Ulrike`s place. Over lunch we already planned our next moves: Chris wanted to see Ollantaytambo and afterwards come back to Cusco and taking a bus to Puno and then Bolivia. His time was getting short, and he had to kick fast as possible as it gets. Machu Picchu? Ha, it is so full of tourist, so he would skip it. The first person I heard saying something like that, but I respect him and also understand where this decision comes from. We took the next bus back to Cusco.

Ollantaytambo and the spontaneous decision!
Our plan as to go to Ollantaytambo around the afternoon, stay there for the night and then the next morning wake up really early and visit the ruins. At Ollnataytambo there are actually two sites: the city itself perched on a low slope, and the fortress, on the opposite slope, perched even higher. We wanted to visit them both.
So, in order to get there, we needed first to take a bus to Urubamba, a small town settled on the Urubamba river (going all the way up the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu and even further away) and then take another combi (a small van) to Ollantaytambo. So, we (Lee, Chris and Me) set off around 1 pm and done our way to Urubamba, with the beautiful snow peaked Veronica Mountain in the view some part of the ride.
In Ollantaytambo we squeezed into a combi and did the 30 minutes ride to the quiet town, with the statue of an Inca warrior facing the Fortress. We found a nice place to set our heads down, and went back to the plaza to have some lunch. The town, by the way, was packed with tourists, most of them coming with organized tours, all walking with bamboo sticks that can be bought all over town (and even Lee bought one the next day…). So touristy…YAC! We passed the evening drinking wine and playing game cards (shit-head and YANIV) and went to sleep in order to wake up early (5 am).
Waking up was hard, but eventually I dragged my self to the bathroom to wash my face and teeth. The whole town was quiet and grey, so eventually we took off around 6:30 am to have some early coffee. Because only the old town is closed with a gate (the fortress is not), we decided to see those ruins first and then move to the survey the fortress ruins, which were much more problematic to access. It happened to be a wise decision.
When we crossed into the site, a guy stopped us and told us we should buy the Boletico Touristico (a damn expensive card that enables the entry to several Inca sites all around the Sacred Valley and expires in ten days). However, the guy that sells the cards was not there yet (how typical) so we told him we can pay when we get down.
Going up the terraces to the old town, workers were working hard taking sacks filled with earth up the steep terraces to the site. The first light of the sun has not yet been over the north eastern hills and the site was quite and tranquil. We surveyed the site for an hour and then moved onward toward other sections of the site.Finding a narrow path that leads up, Chris started walking up and called for us. After a half and hour climb we reached a high perched ruins, that it seems not to many tourist visit. The view over ancient and modern Ollantaytambo, as well as the view over the sacred valley were amazingly beautiful, and we decided to chill-out there for couple of hours.
Looking toward the west, suddenly Chris said that he is so close to Machu Picchu, so maybe he can walk at the same day to Aguas Calientes (the little town near the ruins; also called Machu Picchu Pueblo). I told him that he should be prepared for such a trip, especially if he plans to do it in a day, and that we would join him (I didn't felt like trying and arranging the mules and all the trek, and most importantly, I wanted to see the ruins with Chris). After discussing our possibilities, we agreed that we gonna go back as soon as possible, arrange our stuff for the next few days, and the next day make our way to Chilca, a town which is the end of the Sacred Valley road.

Ollantaytambo ruins, fortress and Percy
So, after we decided what is the time line, we hurried to get down to town and to check out the other ruins on the other side of town. Walking in town, at first it was hard to find the path that leads up, but a man getting out of his house showed us a path that leads up from his backyard..nice.
Walking up we had a nice view of the ancient ruins and moving on, we mistakenly chose the wrong path and by no time we found our self trying to cut down to the main path through cliff hanging dried vegetation and crumbling rocks. Suddenly, while I was doing some effort to cross a narrow and non existent path, I have noticed a boy running up the path below us and directing us to the best path we can take in order to meet the main path. Finally, after negotiating some rocks and vegetation we finally got to the path and to the small ruins at its top. Unfortunately, it was the end of the path and from now on, it is a harsh climbing up to the ruins above our heads. As we knew we didn't had too much time to spend, we decided to stop here and have our wine with some bread. We talked with the boy, Percy, which was already 12 years old and reminded me of my nephew, Raz, which had his Bar Mitzva only a couple of days before. We shared with him some wine and couple of rolls of bread ("Chen, he is 12 years old, you wanna get him drunk??") and after been there for 20 minutes (and photographing with him) we made our way back to town. We had a long day ahead of us, and even longer the day afterwards.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Arequipa: A colonial architecture queen surrounded by pawns


My first steps in Arequipa were not as smooth as I would want them to be, and I didn't even know where I am getting my self into. Colonial architecture is almost everywhere, Arequipa is also jewelled with a colorfull monestary and faboulos plaza, overlooked by three volcanos. In the background, blockades and midnight effort to go on a bus to the famous Colca canyon ended in frustration and a return to over packed hostel. Luckily, three nice people (two Israeli girls and one German guy) offered me to share their room and since then I am travelling with these happy folks back to an old city, Cuzco, hopefully I could go back to Arequipa in the near future

Arequipa, a city under siege
I have decided to stay only one night in unattractive Puno, and the following morning I left the hostel Los Uros and boarded the 8:30 bus to Arequipa, without even knowing what I am getting my self into. The drive was suppose to be 5 hours, but eventually we left only on 9:00 am and by the time the clock stroke 14:00, the bus stopped abruptly and the conductor declared that there is a road block and all passenger must pass the blockade by foot. AGAIN?? I didn't believe it, after all I have gone through in Bolivia, and it repeats itself, only under a Peruvian production. I have mounted my heavy backpack on my sorry ass back (believe it or not, 21.5 kg…) and started walking down the road toward a town near Arequipa, which the strike was held in middle of the main road. Crossing the blockade I felt it was quite safe so I took out my camera and snapped some shots. The local people asked that I will take their picture, and because I was still un aware of the exact situation, I replied with a smile that I ran out of films, and the crowed roared with laughter…While the locals returned to their own business, a guy approached me and asked me if I am looking for a bus to Arequipa. I said yes and he led me toward an already waiting bus that numerous tourists and locals were just getting off it. Seems that this was the bus that was headed for Puno, and those tourists must have caught our bus back to Puno. An hour later, and I was in the central station, heading for a hostel, not the cheapest one I would say..In any case, I went to eat something and headed straight for the main plaza, Plaza De Aramas (for some reasons, almost all the main plazas in Peru are named Plazza De Aramas, only god knows why..).

Plaza De Aramas ordeals
The beautiful plaza is overlooked by not less than three active volcanos, El Misti (5822 m), Chachani (6075 m) and the less high, Pichu Pichu, "only" 5571 m. The main plaza is boardered on its northern side by the beautiful main cathedral, all white from the special volcanic rock that it is build from (called sillar). On the other sides, two floor balconies (with colonial arches) boardered the rest of the plaza, making it one of the most beautiful plazas I have saw in South America. I wandered around in the plaza, and wanted to take some pictures from the second floor of the balconies, but the stairs were blocked by a heavy gate. After doing some inquiring, I have managed to find the working manager of the site, and he courteously opened the staircase to the second floor. While I climbed the stairs in double paces, I called that I need only five minutes. The scenery was beatifull, when the mighty El Misti and Chachani volcanoes peek behind the double towers of the cathedral. I snapped several shots as best as I could, as I knew I would not have another chance, and then went down. The gate was closed, and surprisingly, I found my self locked behind bars waiting for the manager to unlock me from the spacious cage I have put my self in. People peeked in curiously, not understanding what the hell I'm doing there, sitting on the stairs with a bored look on my face. Once I was freed, I noticed that there is another place I can take shots of the plaza, from a roof diagonal to the cathedral, so I have made my way to that side, gripping that I have lost the last rays of light. Seems that the roof top view belongs to a restaurant that occupied the whole two floors. I asked one guy that advertises the restaurant if I can go up to take a look, and he said no problems and going up the stairs, he met with a nice girl that works there named Anna. While I was doing my photographic thing on the roof, we had a nice conversation (my half broken Spanish, her half broken English) and it turned out that her father owns the place, which serves dishes cooked in the old ways, i.e., the Inca way. So, after organizing back my photographic equipment, she invited me to check out the kitchen, to see how things are done in the old way. In a two-room kitchen I saw the clay pots and cookware, the grill which was made of smooth volcanic stones placed over hot coals. It smelled great, and looked even better than great. While she was explaining the different techniques of cooking, her father came in, over fifty with a nice gut and very pleasant smile. Somehow, the whole aura around him reminded me of my father, which had a similar aura of authority and wisdom. "Welcome home" he greeted me and after seizing my puzzled look for that comment, he laughed heartily and for the next 15 minutes he gave me several examples of English and other languages words that were similar to the old Quechua language, used in the pre-Inca period. What he tried to prove to me was that once, before the land separated into different continents, there was only one language, Quechua, one of the oldest languages in the human history. I was impressed, but I knew that I need to dig a bit before I am gonna take that as truth from Sinai (as the saying goes..). I told him that I am gonna try his specially prepared cuisines in the next days, and went outside. Outside, the guy that advertise the restaurant (Jamil, if I am not mistaken) asked me for my name and where I came from. When he heard that I am Israeli, he greeted me in Hebrew, and after five minutes of talk he invited me to join him and his buddy much later (he promised a lot of girls, or as he put it, "you are a gringo, you gonna have easy life finding a girl.."). I was not sure if this is what I was looking for at that time, but I agreed to his invitation in any case. Later I have done some arrangements and looked for a cheaper hostel, which I found not far from mine, La Reyna, which costs almost half than my first hostel. I reserved a place and went back to my hostel to arrange my self for the upcoming night.

Partying Arequipa
I found Jamil and his friend waiting for me on a bench near the fountain in the main plaza. We talked a bit (he showed me his little notebook where were so many sentences and words in Hebrew). After ten minutes we looked for a place to sit down and have a beer, and after we passed several places, we came to a place close to my next hostel. We entered the place and found mainly Peruvian groups talking over loudly music. Jamil`s friend recognized there a friend of his that was sitting with two girls, and they talked a bit, and then that other friend asked me if I want to meet his two friends and I, in my naïve ideas, joined him not knowing was behind it. I ordered more Pisco with sprite jug, and we talked as much as we could, as all of them had a bad English (beside one of them, that through her I have done most of the conversation). We had some laughs (the two girls were already half drunken already) and then we looked for a place to dance. We went to one joint, The Blue Bar if I am not mistaken, but they charged there five soles for entry. Then we went to another one, The Deja bu, with free entrance, great music was with lots of place to dance. It was Saturday night, the best night for clubbing in Arequipa. The girls went upstairs for the bathroom and me and this guy sat beside one table. He asked me if I like the girl that I walk with (named Kelly), and I said she was nice. Coming down, the girls split: the other one went to the table, but Kelly went straight for me, with her hand stretched in an invitation for a dance. I got a feeling what she was up to, but still I was surprised. We started dancing and all, and almost immediately I noticed she was dancing dangerously close to me, smiling and all (forget about all my partying in Israel, this was something totally different, for me in any case). Well, it didn't take too much time till we kissed and amazingly, this dirty dancing lasted for two hours! In that time I checked to see if we can go further down the road, but after she mumbled something about she don't know (?!), I abandoned that idea and just enjoyed my self. And MAN, it was sure as well nice after so much time (and people, you KNOW how much time passed since my last time..). Around 2 and half in the morning, I was already tired from the long day, and we found a place to sit down (and kiss more, of course..). I knew I would never see her again, and frankly, I didn't want to. She found her niece (the other girl..) and we went outside, where a long line of taxis waited for the clubbers. We parted and that was the end of that night for me. I went straight for my hostel, sleeping till only 7 am, as I had some plans for that day…

Arequipa highlight: A special museum and one fabulous Monestary
Waking up so early was for a reason, of course, and it was for no Desayuno…I wanted to see the city at an early time, when the sun has just painted orange the white sillar stone of the buildings. It was Sunday, all is quiet on the streets, and the piegeons were just warming up for a long day of flying from one place on the plaza to another. I was still quite in thoughts after the following night and its experience.
After doing some phone calls home and contacting the family, I remembered that I should check in the hostel, La Reyna. So, arranging my stuff quite quickly, I paid my bill and hauled my pack to La Reyna. That hostel was definitely a backpacker's hostel, with signs about touring several places around Arequipa. I knew that I want to climb one of the peaks surrounding Arequipa: El Misti or Chachani, but I knew also that I need to be fully acclimatized for such a climb, over 5500 m each. Another attraction in the area is the famous Colca canyon, with the Condor scout point at Cruz del Condor. Usually most people do the organized tour, but I preferred to save on the dollars and spend more quality time at this place. That was actually one of the reasons that I moved into the La Reyna: Packed with backpackers looking for adventure. Turned out, that most people there were either been there already, or going to tour the canyon using a tourist agency. Great! I thought that in the meantime, that I was still a bit acclimatized in Bolivia and Puno, I could do one of the climbs, El misti preferably. BUT, the cost (50-60 USD) combined with the fact that I was not acclimatized enough, made re-think this all over. At the end, I waited one more day with all those plans and chilled out in the nice city.
La Reyna sits near the famous Monasterio de Santa Catalina, and has a faboulos view of the surrounding with all kind of porches protruding to the streets and into the sky.
After I got into the room, I went outside to eat and to visit the rich neighborhood, Yanahuara. In the midst of this neighborhood is an old and beautiful church which dates from the 18th century…It was a nice break after my lunch, that`s for sure.
In my room two beds were already occupied already two guys: Andy, a brit and a South African guy, that I forgot his name (not for the first time, as you can see). Andy was in Colca canyon at the moment and at the same evening I went with the SA guy to see the Gurre del los Mundos (Steven Spielberg version of "War of the worlds" of H.G. Wells). It was nice and very realistic, if a bit disappointing at the end (watch it your self and tell me what you think about it).
The next morning, when I gripped that I could visit Colca canyon with a tourist agency, or not to visit it at all, I booked myself a tour in the group that goes to the Canyon on Tuesday. In the meantime, I went to check out the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which is probably the only museum in the world that preserves the body of a 15th century 12 year old girl named Juanita. We watched a film done by the National Geographic Society about the rescue of another two bodies of other sacrificed children dated from the Inca empire. Afterwards a guide showed us some of the exhibits found near the body, at the summit of the Ampato volcano (6380 m) and also more exhibits that were found on another expedition to the summit of this mountain.
Dreadfully, every time the volcano erupted, the Inca priests interoperated it as sign that the gods are angry with them, so they have to sacrifice a child to the god, on top of this volcano. The children, it seems, were chosen for this holly cause when they were born, and were trained as well. They were regarded as the best children in the community. Apparently, after a long trek to the mountain (remember, this IS a very high mountain which requires winter equipment to master and, of course, to be highly acclimatize and in good shape), the children were probably exhausted and also hungry. They were drugged with a strong alcoholic drink and then a blow was sent to their right side of their head. They were then buried into the ground with gifts to the gods: metal work, garments and clay pottery. It was a good tour, and a professional guide that answered almost any question (a 10 year old kid made her life a bit tough with very intelligent questions..).
I then visited the famous monetary, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which was built at the 16th century and is, according to the Lonely Planet, a 20,000 square meter complex. Big. Entrance was pricy, but worth it! Built in a colonial style, the maze of streets and alleys lead to small colorful plazas, fountains and gardens. I could have stayed a whole day, but I wanted to capture the bueaty of this architecture under the best light condition, thus entered the monetary only around 2 pm. I shot close to a roll in that monetary, so it can give you all an appreciation of the uniqueness of such a place, getting the feel of what is like to live in a monetary couple of centuries ago. Amazing!
Pictures are available here: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/cookielida/album?.dir=3ecc&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/ph//my_photos
Wandering around, I found the cafeteria that the Lonely Planet guide mentioned, and tried their apple pie with couple of sips of tea. After my rest, I went on to the courtyard that was also part of the cafeteria. Looking around, I found an American tourist, Ariel, reading her book. We have stumbled one another in the different alleys of the monetary, and now was time to talk and share impression. We indeed talked for an hour or so realizing I am talking with a 21 year old girl, that her father is Jewish and that her trip was on the last leg. We parted near the exit of the monetary, and I returned to tour the complex till the place was closed.

Colca canyon o no canyon colca canyon?
I returned to the hostel, as I understood that due to the strikes, the tour would leave at 2 am instead of 6:30 am, as it regularly do. I went to pack some stuff needed for the tour and waited for the guide for last minutes updates about the departure time. Meeting with him, I have realized that the departure will be earlier, around 12:00 am, as the strike is getting stronger and stronger. Well, as I thought about it, it will be a waste of time to go to sleep for one hour or so, so instead I walked around in the city and entered couple of bars. At one of them I met with Adrian (if I remember correctly) which is the owner of a bar near my hostel. As the bar was empty, we sat together and talked over beer about lots of things, as we had good chemistry. The guy, a Canadian, has a Peruvian girlfriend (fiancé, actually) and he is in partnership with another Peruvian big guy nicknamed Bu-Bu. Bu-Bu is well known in town (you should have seen the chicks that came to visit him often..). After an hour I had to leave as time was pressing and I needed to lock my stuff and put them in deposit for the next three days.
When I walked back to the hostel, I saw three travelers walking toward the hostel. Somehow, I got the feeling that they were Israelis, but I wasn't sure. After they talked one with the other in English, I knew that they were Israelis. Well, actually only the two girls, the guy was from Germany. Lee, Adi and Chris were traveling together for two weeks, and they were quite a funny lot, I can say. They returned from Colca canyon (touring it independently) that day and had some dinner before going out for a beer, in Adrian`s joint. I bid them goodbye before they went to dress up for the event.
Coming back to the room, I found quite a lot of backpacks and one British girl sitting on one of the beds. Turned out that no less than 18 (!!) young high school lads organized a tour to Peru for a month, all supervised by a school representative and a British tour Agency. Some school trip, isn't it?? (I don't want even to think what a headache is to take those 17 year old kids to such a place). Due to the fact that there was no room for all of them, they stuffed the hostel over it capacity and a lot of them slept on the floor (at least they got a decent price). I towed my stuff into the deposit room and paid the bill, and waited for the guide. Turned out, that it was not the same guide but another one (a good one, it seems) and we all climbed into the Minivan. OK, so we drove through the streets of Arequipa and surprisingly reached the bus station. Then it hit me: we are going public! I was sure we gonna go by our own, but then again, it will cost more. I cursed it one more time why, why the hell it is so difficult to find some adventurers in Arequipa??
The bus station was a mess, even though quiet. And no wonder: suspense was rich in the air, as nobody knew if actually busses will actually could get out of town. Numerous travelers were dotted among the desperate locals, all equipped with out-of-the-world gear, talking in strange languages to the quechua and Spanish speaking locals. It was a bizzar view, to see that even though the aim is different, all travelers if locals or foreign, were desperate to get out of town, even for several days. We waited patiently while our guide did flip-flops to get the best info he can about the situation outside Arequipa.
As I understanded earlier, a representative of the bus station was waiting at the blockade and sending info via FM radio if the blockade is active or not. Suddenly a buzz went through the crowd, and a commotion was held near our place we were standing. Soon we understand that we were unlucky: no one can pass that night. The guide sprayed thousands of apologize, saying that the situation might be better tomorrow night. And who can blame him? All this blockades only fuck with his business. While we were doing our way back, I was already gripping that I might have no place to sleep, as there were two brits lying on the floor when I left the room, and one of them will occupy the bed. Justice or not, I am not gonna kick out of my bed any person in deep sleep.
When I arrive to the hostel, I didn't had the chance to see the room, as there were no keys for the room, they were all locked in the room upstairs. Great! Am I gonna wake the whole bunch?? I had thoughts of that, when I met the Israeli-German lot again, just returning from Adrian`s place. I told them the situation, and Adi, kindly, offered me that I can use the fourth bunk in their room for the night. After five minutes my stuff was already inside.
Adi and Lee, 22 and 26, are both from Eilat, while Chris, 21, is from Munich. We had good laughs, each one with his own specialty. We went to sleep and I thought that I might try to go for the tour the next night. Well, this is the way of traveling alone – you never know where the hell you gonna be in the next day!

Cuzco? But what about Colca Canyon??
Yep, I didn't thought about it when I opened my eyes, but yes..plans change. Around 10 am we dragged our asses to a Turkish restaurant for a coffee (not Turkish, how surprising) and thought what to do. Outside, the demonstrators were making a lot of noise, and thoughts were moving toward leaving town as soon as possible. Only, you can't really. Not by bus, that is. So, it was either walk 400 km over mountain ranges with all your shit, or take a flight. AGAIN?! Not that I don't like flying, of course, but damn, those little luxioruis costs a good damn load of money! This lot had their time in Arequipa and were anxious to leave to Cuzco, but me? Well, I started to think it might be wiser to go to Cuzco, acclimatize there for couple of weeks (trekking and the whole shebang) and once the blockades are cleared off (I hope), move straight to Arequipa and book a tour to Chachani or El misti ASAP! Yep, that sounded nice and also I could have some fun with this gang in Cuzco. PERFECTO! So, reaching an agreement, we went to look for flights to Cuzco ASAP. We went to the agencies and found that it costs 66 USD. Damn! In one agency, one of the agents told us that we should book it now, because the prices could rise in any moment due to the protestors. Yeah, right! I thought, a clear marketing trick, to make you stressed and hand out the cash. We left to another couple agencies, and the story was the same. So, seeing no other possibility, we draw our credit card for payment. Suddenly, the price jumped to 76 USD! WHAT THE FUCK?! A minute ago it was 10 USD less! Damn! Adi stayed in that agency to book us, and I and Lee ran back to the other agency, hoping they have a malfunction with their computers. On the way, a protest parade blocked the whole street, from one sillar wall to another, and we had to find our way through the loud protestors. Luckily, they were peaceful, making only a lot of noise and no more. We reached the agency and asked to book a flight. I asked for the price, and got a lower price than 66. THAT was fishy..since when prices are going down?? I didn't had the time to re-think it over, and ran out of the agency back to the former agency, to cancel our reservation and to get Adi. Reaching the agency, Adi was already in process of purchasing a ticket. A miss! But, before we could arrange a cancellation, I saw Lee running down the street with disappointment. Turned out, the computers in that agency were fine. Same price, 76. OK, that was it! We purchased our tickets at that agency and at least felt better that we have a flight the day after at 14:30. "You should leave to the airport no sooner than 7 am, as there are blockades also to the airport" said the agent after finishing the transaction. 7 am? Damn…this was serious. Well, if she says, who are we to argue?
That evening we went to celebrate our departure from lovely but siege Arequipa at a local bar, not other than Deja bu (familiar?). While we were taking our last bits, a screen on our right turned alive and no other than the "Motocycle Diaries" film was screened! Wonderful, I wanted to see this movie again, now that I am in South America. So, I and Chris stayed there while the girls left for the hostel to pack everything. We returned to the hostel to pack and afterwards left to Adrian`s bar for a last drink. Bu-Bu was there, and due to the fact that his English is like our Spanish, we were mostly talking with each other. It was a nice conversation, as Chris told me some stories of his life in Germany, which were interesting. We returned back to have our sleep before we wake up at 6 am!

All passengers flying out of Arequipa should pass the blockade on the right, please!
No joke, we had some interesting events that day also.
We were out of the hostel by 7 am or so, and we started looking for a cabi that will take us to the airport. Easy? Well, not actually. Most of them didn't want to take the fare, saying the road is block and nobody can pass. Finally, we found two little taxis that took us some 2 km before the entrance to the airport, and a mere 500 meters from the blockade. At first, it looked intimidating: Around 100 people standing in the street and totally blocking the way. The police was there and let some car pass, and eventually we saw quite a lot of cars passing through. In any case, even though the ground was flat, it took us some effort to go into the airport. Arriving there at 8 am, we had quite a lot of time to spend before the flight was departing. I have written a bit in my diary and listened to music, similarly to what the others did. Finally, we boarded the plane at 2 pm and by the time it was 3:00 we were already in Cuzco, looking for a cab. Tim recommended me a good place to stay, but after walking up the steep stairs (with all our gear, it was not easy I can tell you that..) we found out that the place was full. The owner recommended several proximate hostels, and we found another one (cheaper it seems) named San Cristobal Hospedaje. I managed to bargain down the price and we received a 4 people room with private bathroom. After rearranging our stuff, we went out to the main plaza (Plaza de Aramas, of course) to eat something at Café Bagdad, a restaurant with various food styles, but none of them is related to the middle east, not to mention Iraq cuisines (not even the coffee..). At least they have a very good (and also very expensive) Pizza.
That's it, fellas…Tomorrow I'm going to explore the four ruins near Cuzco: Sacsayhuama, Qenco, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara and the day after I will go to the famous market in Pisac and visit the Inca Pisac ruins.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Final partings, a foolish adventure and finally, Peru!


After me and Itai finished our different arrangements and partings from Hanna and Gigi, we climbed on the bus to Copacabana Thursday morning. We both didn't expect the following developments and less than 24 hours later, I am in Puno, Peru, traveling solo.

Last arrangements, insights and parting from Hanna and Gerald
Days past fast when you enjoy yourself. Itai was suppose to get his stuff ready by Tuesday, and assuming that it will be ready in the morning (very optimistic assumption, btw) he could ship all his presents (LOTS of them!) back home through the El Lobo restaurant arrangement. Turn up that his man was behind schedule and he received all his stuff only on Wednesday noon, enough time to go the Lobo and ship all the presents back home. That day started quite bad, as I have forgotten so stupidly my synthetic down coat in an internet point. Coming back after half an hour, and the coat was gone. Damn! I was so pist about myself, how could I have forgotten such an important item in an internet point?! Returning back I have met with Itai, going to have a tea in a nice café, and he tried to encourage me ("well, actually I didn`t like this coat in any case"). His comment, even though it had a good reason behind it, didn't mend my feeling of self guilt and temper. I had no choice but to go quickly and order a fleece. The positive thing about this event (and always there is a positive in all this kind of shit) is that I could sew my own fleece, the way I like it and with my own design. Mom, don't ask about the colors, you gonna flipped out…
Two hours before the coat was ready (and this time, he was on schedule) I decided that it is time to get a haircut. WHAT?! IN BOLIVIA?!?! They gonna butcher my head, for sure, I thought to myself…Well, I walked around and found a nice place, on calle Murillo. The barber, Pedro, 23 year old Bolivian, had a 10 years experience (do the arithmetic and be amazed!) and showed me some pictures of all kinds of hair styles. I dropped it aside and explained him with my broken Spanish what I want. He understanded, and in a very Bolivian way, he started to work on me, rough and quick. And damn, he did a well good job! There are pictures (not developed yet!) of me before and after…I hope im gonna find an internet with Photoshop, and I will align both pictures one next to the other, just for the comparison. I will just say that the whole thing cost me tenth (!!) of what usually I pay for my barbers. Well, it is hard to compete with the cheap and quality of the Bolivian hands.
I had only 30 minutes to wash my self and get back to the shop to take my fleece (it was closing time already). Coming back with my brandish fleece I have met with Hanna, who has just returned with Gigi from Chulumani, a nice little village hidden between cloud forests and numerous Coca leaf plantations. We decided to go out later, even tough Hanna could not join us as she was sick from some sort of drink she had there (if you are interested, Im sure she has written something about it in her blog..).
We went to the famous El Cubano, a restaurant I have visited over ten times (!), which says a lot about it. At first, we had a nice conversation, but at some point, I felt that my speech was blocked by Itai`s speech. Im not sure what exactly I said (I have a reputation for such kind of things), but suddenly I found that I was out of the picture. What the hell? So, I kept silent and listened. After ten minutes, which I saw that the conversation continues without my presence, I finally got the feeling that after all, me and Itai would not get along so well. This feeling was there only a day before, and I had some thoughts about it, but nothing firm. I had some doubts about it only a day before the restaurant incident, when I gripped that Itai wants to do the alternative Inca trail without any mules, when we had our first dispute.
Due to the fact that it is a 4-7 day hike (depend how much fit the traveler is), the amount of food that should be taken is very large (hence the weight of the pack on the back). In addition, Itai is a fit guy, that consumes large amounts of food (believe me, he eats a cow per day..), we would have to carry even more than usual. Even though I have done not too many treks above 4000 meters (similar to the alternative Inca trail path), I knew enough that the height has an enormous effect on the ability of a not too acclimatized person to carry out a long trek appropriately. That was the reason I preferred to hire donkeys which will carry most of our equipment and thus will enable us to look at the scene and not at the passing ground beneath our feet. Itai was stubborn, though. He was sure that we can make it, and it will be fun (even though he never has done treks in high altitude). I actually belive that he can do such trek (and also enjoy it) but I was more worried about my abilities to enjoy such a trek. He was very firm with his opinion and decision, and as things looked at that point, it will happen as he wants. I tried to explain him all the above (and more) but he was stubborn: we can do it, and we gonna have fun doing it that way. I decided not to push on that subject more, and wait till we get to Cuzco and hear what everybody think about the trek path etc.
So, back at the El Cubano, the two kept of talking, and some how discussed compromises (if im not mistaken) and Gigi gave an example of saying "no" to a suggestion of another traveler to join him on a specific tour. I will not compromise in this trip, he said, there is no reason to do such a thing. And I found my self thinking, how amazingly some marks are sent to me, and all I should do is listen and act. But I didn't. Eventually, I have mingled with the overall talk, knowing what I should do but cowardly not doing anything about it.

Copacabana and the foolish decision
The next day, after we parted from the Hanna and Gigi the night before, Itai and I took the micro to the Cemetery district, and from there took another little van to Copacabana. Our plan was to stay one night in Copacabana and then move on to Cuzco through Puno (another night there).
We reached Copacabana and after a nice meal, we went straight to the coast. We walked along the coast until Itai stopped and sat. Thinking for a while, Itai suddenly offered that we gonna take a paddle boat and sail to Isla Del Sol. At first I though he was joking and teased him, but he was stubborn, as he always was. It is only 20 km away, we can do it, he insisted. Well, I told him, I don't think we can and it is too difficult (and it will be very pricy also). Finally he said, come on, if you feel like turning back, we will turn back. You are the anchor. I accepted to this proposition (still not 100 % with our plan) and we found a lady who rented us a two-person paddle boat for a good price. We boarded the "vessel", and started to paddle toward the port exit, toward Isla Del Sol.
At first we felt the difficulty of such an effort, and also we noticed that we sail VERY SLOW. But then, we felt better, and continue to paddle for and hour and half (4 pm). On the way we both noticed, to my embarrassment I must admit, that im not paddling strong enough most of the time, and actually itai made most of the effort. On the way, we argued whether we can do it or not. I knew it was impossible, especially because we ran out of light time (the sun was due to set at 6 pm), and we made little progress. I also told him that if he wants to do this sailing thing, he can do it himself (he was the dominant of us paddling, in any case). I am not enforcing you to do things you don't like, so why you are trying to do the same thing to me?, I asked. Itai, on the other hand, was stubborn and said we can do it, and tried to find excuses that we can sail even at night (!!). Only three hours later, he stated that he was just playful, and of course it was an impossible cruise to do. I will give him that credit, not without an effort…
Shamelessly, with only my backpack and not arranged properly, we found ourself pressed for the piss, but no where to do it but into the lake. In this entire charade, this was the most appealing and embarrassing act I have done. We didn't have any plastic bottle to piss into apart from our water bottle (which was already half empty, and good thing we didn't drank it all), so we had no choice. I know, Tim, this a shameful thing to do, but I had no choice. When we returned to our seats (itai was "behind the wheel"), I offered that we return to Copacabana, so Itai would have a chance to see the sunset from cerro Calvario. He thought for a minute, and declared "To Isla Del Sol!". I paddled, pondering what I am gonna say when we gonna reach our last turning point (around 4:30, exactly half of the time we had till the sun will sunk under the lake). I knew I had to be firm. This is my fuckn life, not a game.

In deep shit
When the clock in my watch stroke 4:30, I told Itai, lets go back. He was silent for a while and asked if I want to take the wheel. I said that I don't have any problems taking the wheel, as long as we turn around. He kept silent, paddling. I waited for a while and then asked if we gonna do it in our life or on our next. He asked me again if I want to take the wheel. This time I was firm, even aggressive, because I lost my patient. He was acting like a kid, and I was pissed about the entire situation. And more importantly, I got my conclusion, the one I was pondering over and over the past days. At that point, I didn't give a fuck what he thinks about anything. I had had it with him!
I told him, that if he will not turn, I will take the wheel and do what is needed to do. At that, he abruptly turned the boat 180 degrees, toward to Copacabana. It was obvious he was agitated by my request, and in an after knowledge, by the way I have put it.
For the first couple of minutes I was too occupied by the thoughts of what are my next moves to notice what itai noticed quite clearly. We are not moving, he declared suddenly. I took a look around, and indeed, we were grinding water, as the saying goes. It didn't take us too long to comprehend our very tricky, and even dangerous, position we were stuck in. We were several kilometers from Copacabana, and couple of km from the proximate shore, not to mention the fact that the sun was going down on us and we had only one litter of water as provision. I knew that if we are not on shore by night fall, we are doomed. First, we tried to aim the boat toward the nearest shore, but it didn't help. We tried the best as we can, and still we were moving only millimeters a minute. We knew we managed to move forward, but it was painfully slow, and painfully difficult, as we had to paddle at our maximum strength. Quickly we comprehended that we have no choice but to hail for help. I knew that several tourist ships are passing in our vicinity every hour, and they could haul our boat to shore. But, after waving with our red safety coats and even utilizing my camera`s lens as a signal mirror, we grasped that nothing helps. The ships, km or more away, continued with their original course, oblivious to our trouble leaving us desperate and frantic to find a solution to hour serious situation. We both managed to stay cool, even though I could see already all the dreadful possibilities that awaited us. Except for the boat lady, nobody knew our whereabouts and we couldn't continue to paddle at that pace with that speed, not to mention the fact we had less than a litter of water for both of us. It was obvious that we will need too much time and energy in order to over come the current, which was strong and was directed back to Isla Del Sol, around 15 km behind us. I am not sure whether Itai was serious or not when he offered that we sail to Isla Del Sol, but I didn't pondered to much on his seriousness: I was upset and piss off of the entire situation to give him other answer than "NO!". I was keeping asking myelf how I managed to tangle myself in such a foolish act of egoism, and why I didn't told itai yesterday that im canceling the all plan to go with him to Cuzco. I was too naïve to believe things will change. Well, they haven't.

While we were discussing other possibilities, we noticed a row boat not far away from us, maybe 500 meters. Even tough it didn't seem likely that a row boat can haul us back, we knew that it can at least call for help. I have started waving with the red safety coat and called out Ayuda!, help in Spanish. At first we got the impression that the two people on board where oblivious to our presence and our call for help, similar to the tourist boats. But, then we noticed that the boat was little by little getting near us, until I managed to identify the number on the rower shirt. And indeed, after ten mintues the sail boat (and not row boat) came to contact with us with its rigs naked of any sail. Talking with the fishermen, itai manage to explain our situation. The fishermen grinned a bit, and demanded money for their effort. We didn't argue, of course.
After the fishermen finished organizing their bait, they moved on to tie our boat to theirs, and also fitting the sail to the rigs. The blue silk waved in the cool wind, and I had the passion to take a picture. But I didn't, as I was to upset about the entire situation. I vowed that I will never ever compromise my trip for the sake of a partnership. Never!
With the rower working on and the sail fitted tightly, we were sailing quickly back to Copacabana, the descending sun on our right, painting the all scenery in deep red colors. Even so, I was not in a romantic mood, nor in a mood to talk with Itai. When we got nearer to the port, he suddenly asked me not to put this charade in this blog. I was so piss off with him, that I bluntly answered that Im putting what ever I want in my blog. I knew that I was very harsh, so I added that in any case little as non read this blog (well, actually I hope I am mistaken! :) ). He kept silent after that.
When we reached the little lighthouse, at the opening of the port, the sailor waved us that this is as far as they gonna go. We tried our best to ask them to lead us to port, as we felt that the current will do us trouble, only 500 meters from shore (and we were right as hell!). They insisted that they cant, and asked for the money. I was about to pay them already when Itai, in a very good move, told them that we will pay them only on shore. Not before. Eventually, they gripped that we are serious, and asked for an addition ten Bolivians. We agreed and the boat changed course back toward to Copacabana. Eventually, four hours after our departure, while the sun sprayed her last rays of light, we were on the shores of Copacabana. I never thought I would be so glad to walk again. We paid the lady and headed toward the main street of Copacabana. Now, I had another matter at hand. A difficult move, a necessary one.

A difficult move, a necessary one
Walking back to center Copacabana was mainly held in silence. Itai threw a joke which fell on a not very sympatric ears ("sport in Copacabana is so pricy!") but apart from that we didn't talked. At some point Itai said he is going for a tea. I said goodbye without looking back, only seeing my next moves. "You don't want to join?" he asked and I blurted a straight "No". I had to much things to do, and in any case, I was not in a mood to talk.
I went into our hostel, took my stuff and explained the situation to our hostel manager. He demanded the money even though I didn't sleep in the room, and loosing my patience, I gave him the little Bolivians he asked for and left the place. It didn't took me too much time to find an alternative option (twice as pricy) but I didn't care. I wanted to get over with it.
Once my stuff where in my new room, I headed to the café to tell itai what are my plans. I found him, as usually, reading philosophy and listening to his music on the headphones. I thought it would be short, but it wasn't. We sat there and talked for hour and a half and I even invited him for a dinner (!). My conscience just write checks I cant pay (sorry for the poor translation). He wanted to know why im doing this, he criticized my impulsive act (which was not) and also criticized some other things he didn't liked about me, sometimes without giving any reason as to why he poured the criticism. At one time he said that if I want to understand what im doing wrong, I might as well join him and I will understand while we tour together (!?). Why I was there to listen? Because I wanted to hear what he says, to hear what he thinks about me, as I am a person who cares how he acts in public. Sometime I agree, sometimes I don't. Most of the time I didn't agreed with him. But at least I learned some stuff about my self and also about him. At the end of the day, we didn't even say goodbye.

Crossing into Peru
Not surprisingly, we met again at the border checkpoint. I wished him lots of enjoyment in his trip, he mumbled something, and that's about it.

The crossing was smooth and easy, and after 3 hours I got to Puno, Peru. I leave Bolivia, amazing and wild, into a different country, full of different adventures possibilities and different rich history. Im a bit sad to leave Bolivia, with all the good (and bad) memories, knowing that I might never knock on her gates ever again.

Goodbye Bolivia,
Hello Peru!