Monthly Archives: June 2012

Last Days in Lima

The tube of toothpaste we bought in Argentina is almost gone, but we manage to keep squeezing out a little more each night. In the same manner, we are doing as much as we can with the last few days in Peru. We got to Lex Luthor’s House in Lima on Wednesday, after what we all knew was The Last Bus Of The Trip. (Well, the city busses don’t count; if you want, this was the Last Bus From One Place To Another With All Our Stuff.) This is the hostel where we first stayed in January, and the place where we landed three weeks later after the crash near Huancavelica. Luis (the owner) and Victor (the taxi driver who helped us through much of the insurance maze) are here, we have run into a number of people we met back in January and February, and we also have our friend Dylan – who we met a few weeks ago in Arequipa – at the hostel as well. Also, the people at the nearby store and the laundromat remember us and are friendly.

not what it looks like

Yesterday the four of us and Dylan took a city bus into the center of Lima, about four miles away. The bus ride was great, with Zeke sitting next to a friendly grandmother who sprinkled us with well-wishes and candy. On the radio were great songs of my teenage years, like, in short succession (sorry in advance if this doesn’t mean anything to you) I Ran, Major Tom (the Peter Schilling song with the German version on the B-side), and Close to You by the Cure. I had all these songs on 45 or cassette, and hearing them on a bus in Peru takes me right to in my bedroom in Greentown. Aaah. Meanwhile, on the bus, the grandmother keeps talking about how nice the kids are, how good that we are here, and guys keep getting on the bus selling pens or small sewing kits. On the return journey is a guy selling candy to support his church’s outreach efforts, and later another guy playing the recorder.

with Dylan in central Lima

We get off near the center of Lima, and very soon stop at a stand on the sidewalk to buy churros, small fried dough bits with sugar on them. Then Leticia wants to introduce Dylan to pacay, which looks like a green bean, except that it is about two feet long and two inches wide. You open it up and, instead of beans, there are about 10 cottony-looking seeds, which you can pop in your mouth and eat. They are sweet, and after some enjoying you are left with a seed the size of a lima bean, which you can use to impress your kids by spitting it into a trash can as you walk by. (My favorite fruit of the trip, though, is granadilla, a hard orange fruit that, when you open it, has green gloopy fruit with crunchy seeds inside. Sooooo good.) We make it to the Palacio de Gobierno in time for the noon changing of the guard, after which the military band comes to the front of the gate and plays three or four songs, more danceable than anything a military band in the States would play. Then to a restaurant that has a menu del dia (the lunch special) with soup, beef, rice, and split peas for the kids, and arroz al cubano (fried egg and fried plantain with rice) for me. We ordered more split peas to go with the rice, and had a good lunch for four of us for 14 soles, or about $5.20. We visited a monastery with catacombs below and a few stores with artesanias and found a bus home, getting off when traffic got bad enough that we felt we could walk home faster. A good outing, and more fun with Dylan along.

Anna in Cusquena dress eating granadilla

Today we spent the morning in Chorrillos, a neighborhood to the south of Miraflores. Today was the festival of saints Peter and Paul, and Peter is the patron saint of fisherman, and Chorrillos was historically a fishing village, so there is a huge parade and street festival. The parade had tons of marching bands, unions of fishermen, members of government and military, the tai chi club (elderly ladies in track suits), lots of mototaxis, and, thankfully, not a single fire engine blaring its siren. We walked back along the ocean.

One more enjoyable thing about our return to Lima is that Anna and Zeke are in such better walking shape (and no one is sick or hurt), so that places that were too far to walk in January now seem fairly close. I am a counter, and so I can tell you that this is day 179 of our 182 days in South America. It still is hard to grasp, that after bus rides of 12, 15, or 22 hours that only get us from one part of a country to another, a 10 hour flight will get us all the way to Newark. In that sense (and in our experience), Newark is closer to Lima than Huancavelica, Arequipa, or Cusco are.

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Islas Ballestas

Islas Ballestas

The boat tour from Paracas to the Islas Ballestas is one of those standard things travellers do when they pass through the southern coast of Peru. Many do it without spending a night in Paracas or nearby Pisco, but we stayed for four nights in El Chaco, which 30 years ago was a fishing village with less than ten houses. Now there are a few huge beautiful hotels that cost 150 to 300 dollars (not soles, dollars) per night, and several smaller simpler places, like the very friendly Paracas Backpackers House.

Humboldt penguin

Guano is a quechua word for bird poop, and the Islas Ballestas are a few of the guano islands. It is an interesting bit of history that there was a guano boom in the late 1800s (guano makes great fertilizer), the Guano War was fought over these islands, and when the boom ended the islands were 90 feet lower than before. Now the Peruvian government harvests the guano sustainably, only 2 guards live on the islands, and there are thousands upon thousands of birds.

A little like at Machu Picchu, one can get turned off by the number of people involved. We found ourselves in the last row of seats on a speedboat that seated about 40, right in front of the loud outboard motors. The boats go fast to get out to the islands in about 25 minutes, and the wind is cold. As the islands get close, though, they cut the engine and you see the islands are covered with birds – gulls, cormorants, terns, and the occasional Humboldt penguins. The islands have arches that have been opened by water, and the waves crash through impressively. They would be intimidating islands to be swept upon. The boat weaves between rock outcroppings, and there are the remains of the guano industry, and then sea lions. We have seen sea lions before, waiting for fish to be thrown their way in Arica, but this is a bit more exciting, even if the sea lions are mostly busy just lying there.

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We have been staying in Paracas the past few days. Paracas is a small fast growing coastal town. It sits on a bay and and historically was a fishing village. The main reason tourists come here is to take boat tours around Islas Ballestas which are guano islands nearby to see birds (including humboldt penguins) and seals. We took that boat tour yesterday and it was fun but that is not what I am going to write about.

 South of town there is a peninsula with a natural reserve. One can take a tour but we have opted to explore on our own, mostly on foot and it has been a delight. Two days ago we walked to the reserve and got a ride with the rangers on the back of thier pickup truck across the peninsula  to another bay edged by cliffs, a small fishing/tourism village, and beaches with small red pebbles that come from the cliffs. We then headed west along a beach and then across desert in the direction of a place where you can look down upon a colony of seals. We were working with decidedly little information the maps we had were rough at best and our verbal attempts to figure things out were conflicting. We had heard the seals were close and that they were far. We had heard they were 4 kilometers from various points.  So we climbed what looked like dunes but were really more like sandstone until we could see the open ocean and the adults felt we best turn around. We skipped a stop at a secluded beach on the way back, stopped at the village to pick up water and walked across the desert back to town. There was a nice cool late afternoon breeze on our backs and it was good to be mostly alone in a big landscape. There was a point when I wasn’t sure we could keep Zeke going but then he found a beer can and spent the next 2 hours kicking it down the road and every few minutes filling it with a bit of sand so it was a little heavier. (I have never been so grateful to someone who littered.) We stopped at the park visitors center (which had lots of beautifully presented information) briefly as it was closing. Then we went down to the bay to look at flamingos a little before heading on towards home. As we walked we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the water. We got home after dark with two kids who probably walked farther than they ever have before in a day. (and Paul points out Zeke probably walked the furthest despite being carried a little because he zigzags all over the place so much.) 

Today we took a taxi to the beach we passed by last time, and enjoyed hours with a small beach to ourselves. Swimming, sandplay, watching oystercatchers hunt and other birds fish etc. Eventually we headed back towards home and ended up walking most of the way here keeping going by singing songs together. We were passed by many trucks carrying rebar from the port by the fish processing plant on Image the peninsula. In front of the Hilton at the edge of town we caught a ragged minibus back to center. 

I am grateful for this chance to explore and this time together.   Image

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Lazy Sunday in Arequipa

El Misti, from the balcony of our room at Yunta Wasi

On Sunday afternoon, the residential part of Arequipa is incredibly quiet. You can walk down the middle of the street for minutes at a time, and there are barely any pedestrians out either. The security guy walks the neighborhood slowly, blowing his whistle every minute or two to let people know he’s there. There are mourning doves, and something that sounds like a cicada imitating a duck. There is also the horn of the ice cream bicycle who passes by once or twice during the afternoon. The city center is about a 15 minute walk away, far enough that traffic there – if there is any – can’t be heard here. Above the houses are the snow-capped mountains and volcanos, many of them almost 20,000 feet high.

Anna and Zeke in Arequipa, June 18

Our only ventures outside the house today have been a trip Anna and I took to the weekend market, where we bought apples, mandarin oranges, granadillas, carrots, garlic, cucumber, pastaa, and a half pound each of olives and cheese, all for 17 soles and 40 centavos, or about $6.70, and later a solo trip to the nearby bodega, where they have an amazing variety of stuff in a store that feels crowded with 5 customers inside.

kitchen hodown, Yunta Wasi, Arequipa

We are this low-key in part because Zeke had some throwing up, some diarrhea, and some fever last night through today. He, like Anna, takes being sick in stride, and hanging out with him is even pleasant and relaxing. At this point in the trip – 5 1/2 months from the start, and just over 2 weeks from the flight home – we are much more concerned with enjoying our time than seeing everything that should be seen. I will give a talk at the Universidad Nacional de San Agustin (the UNSA, not to be confused with the UNSa in Salta) on Thursday, so we will be here for over a week in total. This hostel is run by Raul, the brother of Luis, who runs the hostel where we spend our weeks of recovery in Lima in January and February, and like that hostel, it has a great community, here made of family, a number of volunteers at an NGO, and a good rotating cast of fellow travellers.

(Update: as of Tuesday, Zeke is pretty much himself again.)

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San Pedro de Atacama

Here comes another out of sequence post – don’t be confused. In case you are reading this without an atlas in hand, you can think of our six-month route as a very wiggly Q. In the upper left is Lima, Peru, from which we started heading clockwise in January. The crash set us back to Lima, and we started around (clockwise again) in February. La Paz, Bolivia could be the upper right corner of the Q, and the trip south through Bolivia and into northern Argentina goes down the right side. Cordoba is where the line intersects the circle. I like to make a Q with part of that line going into the middle – that is the back and forth from La Falda, where Pat, Hector, and Felipe live – and a long long line going out to the right, which was the out and back trip to Uruguay and Buenos Aires, where Daniela, Luis Maria, and Acabi (bienvenidos al mundo, Acabi!) live. Now we are headed up the left side of the O through Chile, with 20 days left to get back to the starting point in Lima. I could have just put up a big map, but wasn’t this fun?

The road up the Andes from Purmamarca, Argentina

From Salta, the bus ride takes about 12 hours, including stops at Argentine and Chilean border controls. It goes from 4000 feet of elevation, up over the Paso de Jama at nearly 14,000 feet, and down to San Pedro de Atacama, at about 8,000 feet. In between Susques in Argentina and San Pedro in Chile there are 180 miles of road with salt flats, high mountain passes, desert, a few scattered abandoned houses, and the Argentine border control, but no settlements.

Licancabur from the Chilean side

San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis in the Atacama desert, and the first town you come to in Chile when you cross the Andes at the Paso de Jama in the northwest of Argentina. It is also very close to Bolivia, and we could see the other side of some of the same volcanic mountains that we saw on the jeep trip in Bolivia in April (now you see just how wiggly the Q is).

Morning in San Pedro de Atacama

We had read that San Pedro is over-touristed, an adobe-Disneyworld in the words of one book. And, it must be said, the streets have plenty of tour agencies, artesan shops, and expensive restaurants. All that is not all bad, though, and San Pedro is small enough that you can walk out of town into the desert and the mountains. We walked up the riverbed a few kilometers to Pukara de Quitor, a thousand-year-old fort built by the Atacamenans to protect against other nearby peoples, later defended against the Incas and the Spanish. This is amazing landscape, and somewhat familiar from our time in Peru and southwest Bolivia. It was also a signal that we are headed toward Lima again.

One benefit of a tourist town – good breakfast

We could have happily spent a few more days in San Pedro, but I had a talk scheduled in Antofagasta, a 5-hour bus ride away on the coast. And so we moved on, through more desert, near the largest copper mines in the world (and a whole region centered around mining), down through the mountains, until finally fog above the mountains ahead told us the ocean was near.

Upriver from Pukara de Quitor, Chile

Pukara de Quitor, an Atacamena fortress from about 1200AD

Above Pukara de Quitor – the mountains in the background are on the border with Bolivia.

Anna and Zeke, above Pukara de Quitor

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Arica, June10

It is before breakfast and I am finally risking trying to get a post out after starting several in my head in the past few weeks and never finding good writing time. Risking because Zeke will be up at any moment and being with him may be more important than writing and it is frustrating to start having my thoughts together and then be interrupted, but at this rate writing won’t happen so here we go.

We arrived in Arica, Chile, two mornings ago from Antofagasta. I slept better than normal on the overnight bus here except for a bit in the middle of the night where we kept hitting the rumble strips of the road every few minutes… After what felt like a long time of me getting more and more tense I finally woke up more fully, decided the road was just very narrow here and was able to go back to sleep…. or maybe the road got wider or we had a switch of drivers who knows…anyway sleep was in 2 rounds but better than normal bus sleep.

Our first impression of Arica was unfavorable, it was fogged in and seemed dirty and drab and unsafe (we were each warned by the security guard at the bus station to keep a look out for thieves as the other went to the bathroom, a courtisy not usually bothered with … it is possible that we have gotten more complacent with all this travel behind us and that we looked tired and unobservant but other evidence also seems to confirm a higher rate of crime here..) Late morning having had a good breakfast at our hostel, a walk on the beach, a little sunshine, and some time watching sea lions where the fishing boats come in Arica was looking much better.

It is mid afternoon now Anna got up… Zeke needed breakfast and the family day needed to start. Paul is giving me a couple of hours of time alone this afternoon so one thing I will do is write. I have been amazed that I have not often felt a strong need for time alone on this trip. Being together as a family of 4 is pretty easy, but this past few weeks Paul has worked a lot putting me much more on with 2 kids one of which is very ready to go home and now I feel I need a bit of space to myself.

Yesterday we did school work in the morning and in the afternoon hung out for a while at the close beach allowing Zeke and Anna to get wet and sandy. We also had a strategic decision to make. Our plan was to head north into Peru on Monday but the border will be closed on Monday due to a transportation strike. The question was do we try to get out a day early or do we wait it out. We decided to wait it out, we are tired and ready to be still and this isn’t a bad place to hang out, and the transport strike is unlikely to last more than 3 days. It is kinda fun letting things completely out of our control decide when we can head north and taking advantage of the time until then.

tomorrow an international surf competition starts here. So after breakfast today we headed south of town to watch a bit of world-class surfing. It is really fun to watch people who know what they are doing navigate big waves. Anna watched patiently waiting for the next big wave and thinks she won’t be a surfer because the big waves scare her a bit. Zeke was more interested in what he could find in tidal pools “I am really interested in animals especially sea animals,” and is sure that he will be a surfer when he grows up.It will be fun to see what each of them will grow into! Eventually as the tide came in the waves weren’t as good and we explored a bit more on the coast and had mandarin oranges by a lighthouse before catching a bus home for a lunch of burritos. At home (in PA) burritos are a staple of our diet the standard “I don’t know what to cook” meal. We have been able to find tortillas several times during this trip but the added treat in Chile has been salsa. Lunch today was excellent beans, salsa, avocado, cuke, cheese (that is not weird), cilantro and lime and everyone ate well which is always a victory for this cook.

Speaking of home at the beginning of the trip I remember wondering how long it would take for us to call where we happened to be staying home. I don’t know when the transition happened but it feels long ago. Now as we reach the end of our time traveling we need to clarify if we are speaking of home meaning our long-term home or where we happen to be staying. Changing where home is so often has been far easier than I expected. It is the effort and time of moving so much that I am ready for a rest from, and I am ready to reconnect with friends. At the same time one of the gifts of this trip has been all the friends I have made along the way.  I have been giving some thought to how these connections have happened and how much has to do with traveling and how much has to do with the warmth of the culture where we have been. One thing I hope to take back with me is more openness to small chances to connect with people and share in their lives.

I feel my thoughts are getting a little rambly and could use being more fleshed out and edited but instead I will post this because otherwise it may forever stay in our draft box.

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More about Salta

I write this on our last night in Salta, and our last night in Argentina. We have been here for a week, allowing me four days of visiting at the Universidad Nacional de Salta.

Salta is in northwest Argentina, and many of the travellers we run into are either on their way to or from Bolivia or Chile. It is about 4000 feet high, with mountains to the east and west. Today for the first time I saw snow on a mountain to the northwest, an exciting preview to tomorrow´s crossing of the Andes into Chile. Salta is a city, with over half a million people, but it still manages to feel relatively relaxed. Travellers like it in part because the climate is nice – not too hot in summer, and even now with winter approaching, days are in the 60s and 70s (warmer than normal, we are told) – and because there are picturesque churches and colonial-era buildings in the middle of town.

We have been quite happy here, for two main reasons. The first is our hostel, Salta Por Siempre, which has a kitchen, a lovely courtyard, and a dining room with foosball (called ¨metegol¨ here) and a pingpong table. Breakfast is included, and the kitchen means less time in restaurants, which saves money and gives A & Z more free time. Just as important, the staff is friendly, there is a constant stream of interesting travellers coming through, and the public spaces make it easy to strike up conversations. We have had the treat of crossing paths with a few other families (from Spain and Belgium) who were travelling with children, and a few days in which we had planned outings instead turned into chances for Anna and Zeke to hang out with other kids. There is also a dog named Luna and two turtles for Anna and Zeke to play with. So, in general, we have a lovely community here, and when people leave, others come. On Tuesday night there was a band called Acullicu – 2 guitars, a bombo, or big drum, a charanga, and cane flutes – playing music folclorica at the hostel, and we learned that this was just a rehearsal for the following night, when they would play for the asado the hostel hosts twice a week. After getting the kids to bed Leticia and I went back to find the guys sitting in a circle, playing just for fun. This was even better than a performance. The next night, we woke Anna and Zeke up at about ten, when the music started, and asked if they wanted to get up (this is our routine for New Year’s Eve as well). After a few questions like “Huh? What music?” they wanted to go out. The band was happy to see them, though they (A&Z) didn’t dance like they had the night before. We stayed for a bit and then put them back to bed. This was one of those things that remind me why we are travelling – hearing good live music with a kid on my lap, drinking wine the guy next to me gave me, knowing bed is only 30 meters away.

My visit at the university has been fantastic. This, is, in part, to the letter of reference from Leandro, a friend from the math department in Cordoba.   The university is 4 or 5 miles from here, but someone from the department has picked me up and brought me home every day. The department is friendly, almost familial, and I have had interesting and warm conversations with many professors. There is again a question of self-image – to me, I am just this random guy who wanders around giving math talks, but here (and especially with a letter of recommendation) I am a professor from the States who can actually speak Spanish and give interesting talks about mathematics. In any case, during this week I visited four different classes, and gave two talks of two hours each. The talks seemed very well received – I will blush if I say much about the comments – and they even paid some of my travel expenses (common, I think, for important people, but not for me). I hope to pass through again.

It is a recent tradition to go for a reasonably long run on my birthday, and so on this one I went up Cerro San Bernardo, the mountain that is about 800 feet above the city. There are three ways to get up – the teleferico (cable car), the steps, or the auto road. I opted to run up the 1070 steps, helpfully landmarked with the 13 stations of the cross, evenly spaced so you can gauge your progress. Up top I took a moment to relish the view, bought a rainbow-colored indigenous flag like you see over lots of highland Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, and went down the auto road. A lovely run of a little over an hour.

By the time I am finishing this post we have reached Chile (I’m a few days behind), taking an all-day bus over the Andes to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in the Atacama desert with spectacular views and hiking opportunities. We will only be here two nights, as I have a visit to the university in Antofagasta (5 hours away on the Pacific coast) later this week.

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Ashley, Anna, Zeke, fruit salad, Victor, Leticia

Anna, torta de cebolla (gracias Victor!), brownie cake, Paul

futbol in the park until dusk

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Salta (May 30)

Zeke with resident of Hostal Salta Por Siempre

Anna in San Lorenzo, near Salta

We are in Salta. When we were in Punta del Diablo, we saw a dead stringray. Where we are staying in Salta there is a kind of young dog that is sometimes in the main area so we play with her. Zeke plays with her more than me. This hotel has two turtles and a bunch of cacti in pots. It’s a nice place. Paul’s going to the university a lot this week.

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