Monthly Archives: March 2012

Breakfast in Oruro

Api, tojori, bunuelo, pastel

(Here is another out-of-order post; we have had slow, dodgy, or no internet access lately, so we have written some posts with the thought of uploading when the connection is good enough. We were in Oruro after La Paz and before Sucre; as I write this, we have arrived in Potosi.)

Our hotel in Oruro, the Residencial 21 de Abril, costs 130 bolivianos (about $19) a night. The bathroom is across the hallway, but it seems we are the only people in the hotel, and the room has beds for five and windows along two walls. Breakfast is not included, and so when we go wandering off looking for food at 7am, we are told that the market is the only place to go at this hour. The market is about four blocks away, an entire block of little stalls selling everything from produce to socks to car parts. In the center are the places to eat. There are a few with signs advertising coffee and hot chocolate, but they are not open yet. We round a corner into an open area and immediately three women are yelling at us: “Pasen! Pasen! Pasen por aca! No, por aca! Adelante! (Come this way! No, this way! Forward!)” Unsure where to go, we choose a table with a friendly looking old guy already sitting. He proves to be a helpful guide to the breakfast options, of which there are four: There is api, a hot, thick, sweet drink made of corn, which comes in purple, yellow, or a mixture; tojori, a stronger, spicy version of api with more corn pieces floating in it; pastel, a fried bread with the strong Andean cheese inside (this cheese, like some goat cheese, has the scent of the barnyard to it, and I am the only member of the family still eating it); and bunuelo, which we call an elephant ear in Indiana, and which is a close relative to Pennsylvania funnel cake. These last two are served with a shaker of powdered sugar. We get one of everything. We are pleased to see later arrivals, clearly Bolivian but perhaps not local, similarly stymied by the yelling match that passes for advertising. Eventually by some random process they find spots, and settle down to (on average) 1.5 bunuelos apiece, a staggering amount of fried dough by our standards. Anna and Zeke would have had more api and bunuelo, but we head out, still lacking caffeine but more than full enough. Breakfast costs 18 bolivianos, or about $2.60, for the four of us.

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Morning in Sucre

Sucre, early morning, March 23.

I slipped out of our apartment at 6:15 this morning in search of early coffee and a small adventure on my own. The streets had one or two people on them looking like they were walking to work. In the block around the market were many people in orange jumpsuits sweeping the streets and putting the debris either in piles or in wheelbarrows. I head across the plaza where a man is sitting on a bench feeding pigeons. I find the cafe that the guidebook claims is open at the crack of dawn, and as suspected crack of dawn isn’t this early contrary to what the sky might say. I walk on to another plaza noting that streets are either filthy or litter free, the orange crew must have been through some of these streets earlier. I stop in the plaza and write a postcard. Walking in the streets and now sitting in the plaza I notice students studying or reading as they walk. Above the plaza is a white church bell tower. I head back to the cafe walking around an extra block and find the lights on but the morning cleaning won’t be done until 7:30. I go back through the first plaza, many more people are on their way places now, I assume mostly to work or school. As I consider whether to stop at the market for coffee it starts to gently rain. (We have found markets to be the place to go for early breakfast, but this morning I was hoping for a more European coffee experience.) The block around the market is not completely clean but the people in orange are no longer here. Back home I find Zeke ready for breakfast, Paul asleep, and Anna happily reading The Prince and The Pauper which we found last week at a book exchange. Zeke and I have granola and yogurt together and I get the computer out to write this. In a bit I will head out with Zeke and some of his schoolwork and we will have some juice and good coffee.

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Isla del Sol

Bienvenidos a Bolivia (Kasani)

(Here is another out-of-sequence blog entry. As I write this we have been in La Paz for a little over a week and will leave tomorrow for Oruro.)

We left Copacabana for Isla del Sol on a rainy morning. The boat we rode in had a few broken windows, some replaced with plastic (you might know this as a Hoosier window) and some not, a leaky roof which made several seats untenable, a motor which sometimes seemed about to give out, and about a foot of water sloshing around in the bottom. About 15 minutes into the 90 minute journey, the crew had us all move toward the front of the boat “to make the boat go faster”. Leticia thinks it was to keep the water under control. But we arrived safely in Yumani, at the southern end of the island. Travellers arriving in Yumani are faced with the Inca Steps, about 200 steps leading up to a spring, then leading a trail which climbs higher up to Yumani itself.

reed boat on Lake Titicaca

After a bit of looking around, guided by one hotelier and then three local kids, we found a place to stay with beds for three and a window with a great view looking east over the water toward Isla de la Luna and mountains on the mainland. There are no vehicles at all on Isla del Sol, and Yumani has one main “street” that winds its way up the mountainside. Along the street are tons of hotels and restaurants of varying quality. We only met the owner of our place once, when he stopped by to give us a towel and toilet paper. We did not learn the best feature of our hotel until the next morning, when we found a llama and an alpaca tethered right outside our window and three donkeys just across the yard. Anna and Zeke loved this, as well as the countless other llamas and donkeys we ran into along the way. For me, the defining sound of Yumani is that of donkeys braying.

Zeke with adoptive grandmother

What did we do on Isla del Sol? Mostly we walked, first along terraced fields to the ruins of the palace of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, and the next day a hike of seven or eight miles to the north end of the island. There is an Inca road that follows the ridge of the island for almost its entire length, with incredible scenery the whole way and more Inca ruins at the north end.

Anna and Zeke headed toward Challa'pampa

Anna and Zeke had the added motivation of knowing that if we didn´t keep moving, we would miss the boat back to the south end of the island and would need to walk. We should mention that all this takes place at an altitude of about 13,000 feet, but we had been at altitude for a few weeks and hence were OK.

Looking west to Isla de la Luna and mainland

We happened to be on Isla del Sol for our twelfth wedding anniversary, and found an isolated restaurant in the woods above Yumani. We had pizza and a pretty good bottle of Bolivian wine (and water for Anna and Zeke). This place doesn´t have electricity, so it really was a candlelit dinner. Afterward we picked our way in the dark along the terraces above the western shore of the island before finding the main road again.


It rained a lot on Isla del Sol – a local joke is that in February it should be called Isla de la Lluvia – and the main road often turned into a river with small waterfalls at each step. One night, though, the clouds cleared enough for amazing views of the mountains to the east and, if one walked up to the ridge, the sunset over the mountains in Peru to the west. On our last night there Leticia and Anna went up to see the sunset while Zeke and I stayed in our yard, he drawing the donkeys and me playing music for the llamas, donkeys, a neighborhood boy, and the tourists walking by. And then, cold, we went inside and got under our three layers of wool blankets to sleep, watched over by camelids and donkeys.

Our hotel, with Anna and staff

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Leaving La Paz

tomorrow we plan to leave la Paz and head south. It seems that despite the traffic, noise, crowds, and lack of place to really run the children we have all been a little enchanted by this place.  It is difficult to pin down why we are all sad to leave. Admittedly it may be in part that people are extra friendly to us because blonde children are so rare here. It is definitely partially that we have found good restaurants and been well fed here. Also I always love exploring geographically contained cities where I can wander without worry of getting truly lost and that is true here, (if disoriented you head downhill until you know where you are.) We were also very ready for staying still in one place and having less that we wanted to see for a bit. I feel though that there is something special about this place that I can’t quiet capture. As we continue to travel in Bolivia I am curious if we will continue to feel some of the same magic or if it belongs to this place.

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Reading Zeke's birthday card

Zeke with cake

Zeke with one of his presents

Cake, Adventure Brew B&B, La Paz

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La Paz

We arrived yesterday in La Paz from Copacabana, Bolvia, near the Peruvian border. The bus ride here included a short ferry ride where the bus got on one ferry and the people got on another. Zeke sat on the the lap of a woman in indigenous dress much to both of thier delight. On the bus ride I noticed that more buildings were made of mud than cement or brick here and that the only buildings that were painted seemed to be those advertising cell phone companies. As we got into the edge of city (solid walled in lots and occasional patches of potatoes on dirt roads in all directions), slowly more buidings were painted and mud was slowly less often the building material. At some point the bus took off of the paved highway and picked its way through rough and at times narrow dirt and mud roads parallelling the highway. Eventually we cut back to the highway only to find a traffic jam and soon we were on challenging roads to navigate again. Once we got back on pavement it wasn’t long before we stopped in El Alto the city above La Paz to drop off a group of indigenous women and from under the bus their open five gallon buckets of 2 inch fish from Lake Titicaca (maybe 30 buckets in all?). I was grateful our backpacks were stowed slightly higher than the fish though somehow this location ment that one got a bit of gasoline on it instead. A bit later we came to a steep edge and there below us filling up a valley was the city of La Paz itself.

We have decided to stay at least a week here partially because we feel we need to slow down a little (I think we haven’t spent more than 4 consecutive days in one place since leaving Lima about a month ago.), and partially so Paul can visit a university here. My first impresion was of slight claustrophobia and wishing we weren’t committed to staying so long. Once we were settled into our hotel and had eaten some food we went out to explore a bit. As we wandered around it felt like we were in one big busy market except that cars crowded the streets too. I came home exhausted it was all a bit overstimulating. I fell asleep with the children for the third night in a row resulting in me being awake at 3 am but gratefully I slept again from 5 to 7. Today it became apparent that we happened to wander streets particularly heavy in vendors and that during the business day the city is much calmer than evening or lunch time. It feels manageable and fun. People here also make eye contact and smile more than I am accustomed to in a city so big and crowded so I am happy to pause here a bit and begin to find our places here. We are feeling the tension between wanting to make sure we have plenty of time in Argentina without rushing our trip back north to Peru and wanting to spend enough time in Bolivia to really get a feel of places. Our initial plan of staying 10 days to 2 weeks most places just isn’t how we are deciding to go. There is too much we want to see and not enough time but perhaps we can see enough to have some sense of where we may want to explore more extensively at some future point. Once again I find myself amazed that life is so rich and content that we really can’t possibly experience all that we might find interesting or worthy of our time. 

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More Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, 9:20am

Anna, totally not bothered by rain

Just as one travelling near Cusco has to visit Machu Picchu, one blogging about travelling near Cusco has to blog about Machu Picchu. So I start like this: Machu Picchu could have been a bit disappointing, given that the Inca structures at Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo are so impressive, as well as much less expensive and less crowded.

Zeke and Leticia


The bus ride up to Machu Picchu goes up at least ten switchbacks. The road is mostly one lane and occasionally busses have to back down to let other busses by. For those who have seen too many disaster movies, it is sometimes better not to look out the window. After being on and off the Gringo Trail a bit, Machu Picchu is a shock – there are just so many people there. Many are in large groups with tour guides who stop in the middle of the only way to get from one spot to another. There are some places where we say “Wow, that looks neat, but we can’t get there right now.” It is raining, and Leticia and I are preoccupied with making sure the kids stay dry enough and warm enough. We are also preoccupied (at least I am) in making sure Zeke doesn’t wander off a terrace into the abyss. Early on, Zeke says “I’m tired of ruins.” There have been a lot of ruins in the last week. Anna doesn’t seem brought down by the weather or the crowds, though, and gradually the magic of Machu Picchu – the location, the scale, the amount of work and craftsmanship required to create it – win out over the downers. I have brought along a copy of Peter Frost’s book Exploring Cusco, which I have been reading religiously for the last week, and am using it to explain things as we go. At one point a professional guide says to Leticia, “you have a good guide!” (This was also the guy to whom Zeke said “Incas love niches!”)

Photogenic llama

Still, at our lunch break outside the gates (food isn’t supposed to be consumed inside, though we broke that rule) we are a little let down.We decide to hike upthe Inca Trail to the Intipunku, or Sun Gate, said to be a 90 minute hike. Already things are better – as we pass above Machu Picchu, the clowds have cleared a bit, and we can see Huayna Picchu (the hornlike mountain that towers above the ruins) for the first time. Even better, there are llamas, and one is standing still so that people can take pictures with it. Actually, it is pooping. Nothing I know can raise the spirits of damp children like the sight of a llama pooping above one of the wonders of the world.

At the Intipunku

Machu Picchu from the Intipunku

The Inca Trail is itself impressive, and for the most part I am happy with it, as it goes above terraces, or at least has some plant life around it instead of the naked vertical drop I survived at Pisac. At some point Zeke decides he is ready to rest, so he and Leticia stay behind at a set of ruins and Anna and I continue on. The trail gets a bit narrower, the dropoffs a bit more vertical, but it is so foggy you can’t really tell what is to your left. I am thankful that a) Zeke is not with us (I love Zeke dearly, but he is a bit out of control at times. That is, he is five) and b) that Anna is so calm and steady. We reach some steep twisting stairs that make both of us a little nervous, but the Intipunku is close, so we keep on. The last few minutes have a little more narrow path, but soon we are past and at the sun gate – us, ten friendly Japanese, and the fog. So we take pictures for the Japanese and they of us, we have a little snack and think about the way back, and then there is a collective “ooooh!” from all ten Japanese tourists, and we hurry back up to see the clouds have blown off and there is Machu Picchu below us. I have read in a few places that the Inca Trail seems to have been designed specifically to create these “oooh” moments, bringing various sites into view from dramatic locations. I believe it.

Back side of Temple of the Sun

at the far end of the plaza

the royal tomb - they think maybe Pachacutec's mummy was kept here

So Anna and I make our way down, very carefully at first and then more easily. We find Leticia and Zeke right where we left them – Zeke has been happily playing with plants in a small puddle for the last 45 minutes. We have more great views of Machu Picchu, and when we get back to the main ruins we find them both clear of clouds and almost deserted. Machu Picchu closes at 5pm; it is now about 3:30, but the people doing a day trip are already down the mountain and perhaps on the train in order to be back to Cusco by supper time. The guards who five hours ago were asking us to keep going in a clockwise direction are either not around or they let us go whichever way we want. For a little while, we just stand at an overlook, soaking in the silence and the views. We go and see almost everything we saw the first time, spending more time highlights like the Sun Temple, and we see things that were too crowded to see the first time. We find more grazing llamas, and by the time we leave, we are truly satisfied, though Anna wants to come back the next day.

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