Friday, September 18, 2009

Fromage sans Chocolat

(Sorry for the bad writing. Hana wasn't with me to type this last entry :)


On June 25th the day after Hana left Michael Jackson died. In Peru, everybody was talking about it too.

The day Hana left "Inti Raymi", the Festival of the Sun, was happening.
The biggest of the Inca festivals celebrates the winter solstice on June 24th, attracting thousand of Peruvian and foreign visitors every year.
The ceremony was interesting but a little slow and only visible from far away. But the location, up in the Ruins of Saqsaywaman (Sexy Woman) overlooking Cusco, was beautiful,
Hana didn't miss too much. The most interesting part of this festival were the colorful parades happening everyday in the street the week preceding the Inti Raymi.

Dancing in the street video

We spent 2 more days in Cusco and did 2 instructive visits:

- "La Catedral" is joined with 2 other churches, Iglesia Del Triunfo and Iglesia de Jesus Maria. It is located on the main plaza, and outside of being a pretty building it also holds an impressive collection of colonial art. Most of the religious painting were created by local artists who integrated their own believes and specific Peruvian elements.
The virgin Marie is always painted in a big wide dress which represent a mountain, La Pacha Mama (Mother Earth).
In 'The Last Super", the food on the table is only composed of Peruvian fruits and a Guinea Pig replaces the sheep.
There are also an impressive Altar all made of silver from Potosi (Bolivia) and a black Jesus, El Senor de Los Tremblores (The Lord of the Earthquakes). the Earth quake of 1650 "miraculously" stopped after the people paraded with it.

- "Qurikancha" once the richest temple in the Inca Empire, was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors and now forms the base of the colonial church and convent of Santo Domingo. It is amazing to see multi angle stones fit perfectly together.

We spent the rest of our time shopping for presents and drinking too much while listening to a cool Peruvian Band at "Km 0", a cool bar in the popular neighborhood of San Blas.


After the insane journey from Arequipa to Cuzco we already had decided to go to Nazca with the most comfortable bus possible whatever the price was. So we did with Cruz del Sur.
During the 15 hours bus ride Kevin slept like a baby.
As we were getting closer to the coast, the landscape was so dry, hilly and treeless. The ocean was covered with fog.
According to plan, we would get of the bus in Nazca, jump onto a taxi and go straight to the airport for a half hour flight over the famous Nazca Lines (The lines were first discovered in1939 by the North American scientist Paul Kosok). But when we arrived in Nazca the sky was completely overcast. It was 9 am. There was no flight before the sky starts opening up. Yeah!
After being cheated into buying overpriced tickets and waiting for a couple hours we finally entered the 5 seater plane.

It was a pricey but a great experience. Not only because of seeing the lines for real but also because of the surrounding landscape, lunar like and covered with "strings" of water ways.
The line themselves were impressive and mysterious but smaller than I expected, my favorite being "The Hand" for its simplicity and probably its cartoony look.
Being confronted to those ancient artifacts reminded me of Bundi where we saw the prehistorical wall painting.

Nazca video


Nazca doesn't have much else to offer. So after landing, we headed for Huacachina, the oasis. On our way, we were passing through towns filled with half finished building and houses. We had not seen this poorer side of Peru yet.

Haucachina is an interesting place. An Oasis surrounded by gigantic Dunes. Once a popular and expensive resort, it is now ran down with broken sidewalks and destroyed buildings.
2 years ago it was hit by a powerful earthquake (8.4) which destroyed a big part of the oasis and the towns along the coast.
A long time ago it was a very popular place for rich people. But one day the water disappeared and people stopped coming. Then a crazy guy showed up and digged deeper into the ground and the water came back. Now the place is making a big come back.
When we arrived in Huacachina, we thought that the place was just an Oasis with a couple of gigantic Dunes around. What a spectacle it was when we reached the top and realised that we were surrounded by a sea of sand dunes going on forever in the horizon. So Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!

The main attraction in Huacachina is sand boarding. I wanted to give it another try since the Argentinian experience wasn't so great.
So on our second day Kevin and I got onto a buggy for a great Sand boarding session.
I didn't know that sand boarding was only one part of the tour. The other half was actually riding the dunes like a roller coaster. This was so wrong on a environmental level but it was SO MUCH FUN!
It was like we were in the Road Warrior movie (Mad Max II) riding those crazy looking cars. I wonder if our driver really controlled everything...


Kevin's video 01

Kevin's video 02

Kevin's video 03

On our last day in Huacachina we made a quick visit to Paracas, little Islands of the coast filled with wild life and totally covered of bird poop( every 5 or 6 years they collect the guano to sell it as fertilizer). The amount of birds living there and the smell of their "left over" is impressive.
We also saw sea lions and funny looking penguins. This was probably the most touristy thing we did so far.

We really enjoyed Huacachina. We relaxed so much there, staying in bed late, then going for breackfast to "La casa de Bamboo" and relax some more. after we would walk around a little, go back to the guesthouse and sit by the pool. Finaly, we would hike up the dunes (our exercise of the day. Damn it is hard to walk in the sand!) and sit for a couple of hours to enjoy the amaizing view and the sunset over this magnifisant landscape.
This breack was much needed. Peru had been a little difficult. We enjoyed this country a lot but the protests and the constant lies made this part of the trip physicaly and mentaly demanding.

Looking back at it I think I liked travelling in asia better. The culture difference was stronger and also the crowd of traveller was older and more interresting. South America seemed to be filled mostly with very young travellers.

LIMA: Bye Bye Kevin!

Lima was a quick stop, a day and a half. I didn't see much of it and didn't really feel like it either. Just
another big western looking city, modern and full of american chains, starbuck (Kevin tricked me into one, bad Kevin) , Macdonald, etc...
Lima was Kevin last stop before returning to San Francisco. At his arrival he would meet up with Hana for the annual camping trip to Yuba river.
So for our last evening together we went to see the best movie ever: Transformers 2!
What a piece of s... Sorry Kevin :) Kevin had worked on it between our trip in Laos and his return with us in Peru.
The whole evening felt like we were back in San Francisco. And knowing that it was his last day in Peru, I couldn't stop thinking of my own return. I was really scared of going back. Even if I was excited about seeing everyone again, I was also afraid to feel like this past year was just a beautiful dream, that it never really happened.

On July 2nd Kevin left. I had such a good time travelling with him again.
A bientot Monsieur Bell!

Adios Kevin's video

Now I was starting my trip alone. I was exited about spending the last 10 days on my own. It was going to be interresting... Well, I hoped. I didn't know what to expect. Finaly, I was getting out of the touristy path, the gringo trail or the coca cola trail like Ryse the owner of "La casa de Bamboo" called it.
Kevin was going back to SF, I was going back to the jungle.


After 9 hours in a night bus followed by another 9 hours butt cruching ride in a pickup I arrived in Puerto Bermudez.
All together it took me 19 hours to get there! Out of all the roads we used throughout this trip, this one was the hardest and the most physically demanding. For 9 hours in the 4 wheel drive pickup, we were constantly shacking and bouncing around going through rivers, muddy and rocky sections. Likely I was in the cabin, the people sitting outside in the back of the pickup were covered of dust.
The beautiful and relaxing the guesthouse "Albergue Humbolt"was so welcome! Between the house and the garden, the colors vary from brown to red, green, yellow and purple.

I was the only guest at the guesthouse and the only tourist in town.
The area reminded me a lot of Laos and Cambodia. The houses were made of wood and a lot are on stilt. The street are dusty or muddy. The air was hot and humid. I liked it!

Jesus, the owner of "Albergue Humbolt", is a Spanish man from Pampluna. He has lived in Puerto Bermudez for the past 12 years. Before settling there he was traveling all over South America for 20 years, writing books and making documentaries. He runs a radio show every week to educate the population and complain about the corruption in Peru. He seemed very disillusioned about Peru and Puerto Bermudez. Apparently when he moved there were buses and small planes coming. But the road slowly deteriorated and never was fixed. The same with the air strip. As the rest of the country seemed to be moving forward, Puerto Bermudez seemed to be moving backward.
As I was spending my first night alone in the little paradise of Albergue Humbolt listening to the loud crickets outside I was thinking of Hana, Kevin, Kelly and the WF girls spending 4th of July at the Yuba river. Happy 4th of July!

Everything is really basic there. All of the houses are made of wood. Of course there is no pavement on the road and the electricity is inconsistent. I felt really isolated and I liked it.
Everything is slow. Nothing ever happens on time. Tomorrow means a year later. As we learned since we arrived in Peru people only tell you what you want to hear :)
Like Jesus says, people there live to live/exist. They have no goals like us Occidentals who always need a purpose. Us who work, work, work to make money so we can get new things, useless things, the latest I pod or cellphone, a new car, just because.
Unlike us people there don't think of tomorrow. They don't plan the future. Too much work :)
I wonder who has a better life, us or them. It might be them. They take life as it comes, no worry , no stress. Bad things happen, they react (probably too late because, like Jesus says, they don't anticipate) and they move on.

I went to Puerto Bermudez to visit the Ashaninka communities of the Central Amazons. For 2 days I waited to see if other tourists would arrive to organise a 3 days tour and share the coast. Unfortunately no one showed up, probably because of new protests about to block transportation for few days again.
So on day 3 after 2 very nice days walking around the village hearing "Hey Gringo!" every once in a while, I decided to go alone and embarked onto a boat with Aquile, the guide, and his helper, a kid named Hugo. I would have to speak Spanish because no one spoke any English.
For 2 days we followed the river and stopped at villages along the way.
On the river we kept crossing other boats of locals, people fishing, kids hanging out on the river bank. Again this reminded me so much of Laos and Cambodia.
On the way, Aquile was fishing for lunch. The same way we did in Nong Kiaw back in Laos by throwing a circular net in the river. We caught only one fish and grabbed another killed by dynamite. Like in Cambodia, it seems that some locals don't bother and just blow up fishes and everything else around it.

Even if it gave us a second fish to eat Aquile was pretty pissed of by the use of dynamite. In every village we visited he would talk to the villagers and try to educate them about the issue and how it will benefit them to respect and take care of their own environment.
Aquile is really attached to the reforestation programs in the area and the respect of the nature. In each village there is a covered garden where small trees are growing. If I understood correctly the rule is for one tree cut ten are replanted.

People were a little shy with me and Aquile would always present me as a friend visiting communities. He was taking pictures for me so the villagers wouldn't mind, allowing me to really observe and have a better contact with the people.
They really live in the most basic accommodations. A simple hut, usually on stilt. Like in Cambodia and Southern Laos, people sleep in the walled upper part, and eat and socialize in the opened bottom part where it is cooler during the days.
There is no electricity or very little powered by small solar panel. But most of the people don't have one.
They don't have electricity but each village has a big soccer field :)
And some have a radio station. Radio is the way people are connected to each other, all along the river and deeper in the jungle. They use it make general and personal announcements, like Hana was doing to communicate her family who stayed in Sarajevo during the war.

If you look closely, you can notice that only 2 kids have shoes on. They are the teacher's kids.

People are really poor. The kids look really dirty. And families of 8 kids are so common that the entering each village it feels like only kids live there. Parents go to work and the oldest girl takes care of the rest of the "tribe". This was the case where we stayed for the night.
This stop overnight was the best part of the trip. We stayed in a simple house of 8 kids from one single family. The parents were not around and never showed up ( I guess they were stuck somewhere else). I spent the evening talking to Aquile and playing soccer with the kids. We listened
to music from the batteries powered radio. The girls were dancing and made me dance for about one minute (an exploit! ). They were so fascinated by my little Spanish/English dictionary that I ended up improvising a mini English class with 3 of them.
At the end of the trip I gave my dictionary to Hugo who loved looking into it. He was learning English at school butt didn't have a dictionary, too expensive for him.
After a night sleeping like everybody else on bare wooden floor we left this friendly little family to visit a couple more villages and a school before returning to Puerto Bermudez.

Each village elects a chief that wear traditional clothes only for meeting with the others communities chiefs and special events. If we had ventured deeper in the jungle we could have visited communities who still wear traditional clothes and almost don't speak Spanish.

When I came back to "Albergue Humbolt" my ankles were covered with red spots made by microscopic insects which crawled under my skin...

...And the house was full, 3 girls (2 Spanish, 1 germ an) and a Peruvian engineer. It was really nice to spend 2 more days with everybody. After 6 days I said goodbye to crazy Jesus (we are still in touch) and Puerto Bermudez to go spend the few days I had left on the coast.

Puerto Bermudez was such a highlight of my trip in Peru. The whole experience of getting to this isolated place being almost alone amid the locals, having no choice than to use the little Spanish I knew, and meeting Jesus, Aquile and those communities brought me closer to the people and the reality of the country.
Hana would have liked it too. Traveling without her was weird at first. We had been together 24 hours 7 days a week for the past 10 months. We had such a good time together. It felt strange to be separated. But in the same time it was very exiting.
It was a really different experience, a lot more internal. On one end it was more simple because decisions are more spontaneous, but on the other I was missing sharing those experiences and feelings with Hana sometimes.
But I loved this part of the trip. I was new, different, and I would love to redo it again one day.


After another butt crushing pickup ride from Puerto Bermudez to La Merced where I waited 6 hours for another 8 hours overnight trip to Lima, I jumped onto a fancy bus to travel 9 more hours up the coast to finally arrive at my very last destination: Totally foggy and overcast Huanchaco, a little fisherman village turned mini Surf resort.

So much for the sunny and warm beach time before the frightening return :)
There, I met up with Pedro (from South Africa), a fellow traveller with whom I did the descent of the
infamous Death Road.
Surfing is the main attraction, but the other specificity of Huanchaco
are the narrow reed boats the fishermen have been using for 2000 year. I is possible to ride them and go fishing, but Pedro and I had so much fun surfing and body boarding we skipped it.
(I couldn't surf because of a bad pain on my ribs cause by a beautiful fall surfing in the sand dunes of Huacachina, broken rib?)

Even if the sun and the blue sky were not there I didn't regret having gone there. Pedro was a really nice guy to hang out and surf with.
The waves were small but so clean, regular and so long that each ride lasting forever. I had so much freaking fun and adrenaline rushes playing cat and mouse with the waves. AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRrrr.....SO GOOD!!!!

I envied Pedro who was traveling for 4 more months. I wished I could have kept going to surf with him along the Peruvian coast up to Ecuador. This will be another trip ;)
Peru wasn't the easiest country to finish with, but I ended these extended vacation on a good note. Like Bolivia Peru has so much to offer, so much history, so many different and beautiful landscapes.

On July 12th I said goodbye to Pedro and took the bus back down to Lima.
That was it. On Monday the 13th of July 2009 at 10:15 pm I left Peru.

What an awesome year this was. The best time of my life so far...