It’s A Small World

June 27, 2008

6.27.08 It’s A Small World

We got up at 6 am this morning and quickly got dressed. Weather-wise, this island is amazing! The days are warm with a light, cool breeze, but the nights are freezing! Our guide told us that it might snow last night, but luckily it just got cold. We each had a ton of blankets on our bed and joked that it was like sleeping under the dental blanket they use when they take x-rays.

Our host family was up bright and early and had nothing but smiles for us. I wish I could stay longer and really get to know the people in this community. Everyone seems very kind, gentle and soft-spoken, and it would be very easy for me to dive into a glowing description of their lives and personalities. The truth is, though, all I know of them is what I have seen in the last 24 hours. They are a tight-knit community with old-fashioned, traditional values. They seem to laugh easily and smile a lot. And they treated us very, very well. Staying on this island with our host family was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

After a breakfast of crepe-like pancakes and hot muna tea, we gathered our things, exchanged kisses all around and headed back down to the port. This mornings activity is sea kayaking, and I know you are tired of hearing it, but I am still too sick to kayak. So, it is another lazy morning on the boat, relaxing to the swells of Lake Titicaca. Ahhh, life is hard. 

After a nice long nap, we arrived at our lunch destination… a floating island! There are a whole bunch of these islands that are made of reeds. We are in the middle of a National Preserve which looks like fields of grain as far as the eye can see. Except, the “grain” is reeds and all of this is in Lake Titicaca. So imagine taking a whole bunch of reeds….a serious whole bunch.. and building an island on them! Each island houses about 5 families, and the kids row across the water to a school building each day. Everything is made of reeds… their homes, boats, beds, chairs, etc. It is very neat looking, but does look a bit like Disney World.  So, humming “It’s A Small World” under our breaths, we jumped off of the boat onto the island. It feels like we are walking on a big, straw mattress, and all I can think about is what happens if you fall off?! 

We had lunch in a reed hut, sitting on big rolls of reeds and it was great. Soup, fish, quinoa and hot tea…I was really impressed! After lunch, they took us on a reed-boat ride between the islands before putting us back on our big boat one final time.

An hour later and we are back at the hotel for one last night. I am loving this trip, but I am ready to come home, so packing everything up feels really good. One final drink with Deb and our last group dinner is all that stands between me and the trip home. Have I mentioned that life is great? 
Anna aka Mud Butt

Lessons Learned

June 26, 2008

Lessons Learned

Well, I woke up today sick, sick. And depressed, frustrated and upset.  I
couldn’t sleep last night because of my coughing and I woke up thinking I should
just go home. There are only three days left, and the next two are on a boat and
island, so if I go, I am stuck. I had kind of decided to find a ride to the nearest
airport, (one hour away), when Arturo and the girls insisted that they call a doctor.
Thirty minutes later and I have been seen by a doctor, (a house call for 25.00,
no less!), given an un-named orange pill, and told that I have bronchitis. Two
prescriptions later and I was on my way to the boat.
All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry. I can’t hike, or do anything
strenuous. That stinks when you are on a trip like this.
So, we boat across Lake Titicaca for three hours and everyone leaves the boat
for a hike. I climb up on the roof of the boat and stretch out for a nice little
bout of self-pity and journaling. After a while though, I notice that the self-pity
is not helping near as much as I thought it would. I was journaling about the different
things I have learned on this trip, and when I looked up between thoughts, it hit
me hard….. I am on a boat, laying under a blue sky and a warm sun. I am in Peru,
on a beautiful lake with friends that I adore and that adore me back. It sure would
be a shame to waste all that by feeling sorry for myself! I get to choose….I can
feel awful or I can feel happy and blessed. I choose happy and blessed! 
After everyone returned to the boat, Julia and I rode alone on the roof to our
next island. We laughed and joked as we got closer to our home for the night.
This is an island where the locals offer up room in their homes for the night. We
are met by about 30 women in traditional clothes, and by some mysterious process
of selection, a woman named Mama Elsa stands up out of the group and takes the four
of us to her home.
The walk to her home is long and uphill and I cannot breathe. To my horror,
one of the guides insists that Mama Elsa carry my way-to-heavy backpack! After lots
of protesting, I give it to her and she easily carries it home. We are at the highest
point of our trip, about 14,000 feet, and I can barely breathe, but she isn’t
even panting. I tell her she is very strong in Spanish, and she just smiles at me.

When we arrive at her home, we meet her husband and two children. I pull out
the frisbee I have been carrying for three weeks, and before you know it, Deborah
and I and three young boys are throwing like crazy to each other. There are many
cries of, “Aqui, aqui!” and “Ahhh muy mal!”. Every now and then,
the dad joins in and we all have a blast.
Their home is made of mud bricks, and they have little plots of bean plants
surrounding it. There is an outhouse, and a small separate room that is the families
kitchen. Deb offers our help for dinner and before we know it, we are sitting on
logs, shelling beans as Mama Elsa stokes up the cooking fire in the corner of the
kitchen. The room is dark and cozy, and the smoke from the fire gives everything
a softness.
There is no electricity on the island, and the sun goes down shortly
after 5 pm. Julia and Sharon come back from their hike, and we all congregate in
the tiny bedroom that Deb and I are sharing. It is simple and clean, with walls
painted different pastels. There are two twin beds and a table with a single candle
on it. We discuss the fact that our bedrooms are much nicer than the rest of the
house. Having tourists stay with them is obviously a major part of their income,
an they have done everything they could to make it nice for us.
At 7:00, we went into the kitchen for dinner. The family gives us the table,
while they eat by the fire. We have brought toys and gifts from the US, as well
as bags of groceries for the family, and we take this opportunity to give them out.
I think they were a big hit, but the toys were definitey the most popular! Eight
year-old Ronnie was in heaven!
Dinner was a fantastic potato soup, followed by rice and beans, (which Deb and
I proudly announced that we helped prepare). Afterwards, we had fresh Muna tea,
which had been picked off of a bush in the yard. It was pungent and warming and
left us all ready to face the rest of the night.
Tonight there is a fiesta, and Mama Elsa comes into our room with an arm load
of traditional clothing. After layering us in vibrant skirts, blouses, belts and
scarves, she leads us down the hill to the community center. There is a Peruian
band in the corner, and a vibrant mixture of locals and tourists twirling around
the room. The music was contagious, and I couldn’t help but throw myself into
the dancing throngs. Unfortuately, one song was all I could last before uncontrollale
coughing forced me to the sidelines. But I enjoyed being a bystander just as much!

After several traditional dances, we finally made our way back up the hill to
our cozy little room. On the way, Deb said, “Look up.”. Above was the
greatest display of stars I have ever seen. The deserts of New Mexico, the steppes
of Tanzania, and the vastness of the Artic Circle…… all of these had what I
thought was the greatest display of stars on the planet. But now I know, if you
want to see the most stars ever, come to Lake Titicaca, in Peru. I guarantee that
it is worth the cost of the plane ticket.
I am laying in bed with the sounds of the music and dancing calling out from
the community center. I am really grateful for this life I have and for the lessons
I learned today. Can you imagine how differently today would have turned out if
I was still in my self-pitying funk?  
Only two days left of my Peruvian adventure!
Love, Anna aka Mud Butt

Desert Travels

June 25, 2008

Well, today is the first and last day that we actually spend the majority of in a bus. First off, I should tell you that I do not play well with others! In fact, of the four of us traveling together, none of us is into this tour thing!!! The only reason that we are part of this tour is that it is the only way you can hike the Inca Trail these days.  Luckily, this is a very loose tour, with only 8 of us at this point. However, one of the other guys on the tour accused the four of us of trying to have an independant travel experience on a group tour. I laughed and laughed and told him that he was exactly right! We didn’t tell him that we came very close to blowing off the rest of the tour and renting a car so that we could go tearing across Peru!  But we decided to stick it out, so….that brings us to todays 7 hour bus ride!
We are heading to Lake Titicaca for a few days of sea kayaking and hiking. Today’s trip started out calmly, with us driving through beautiful countryside. It looks so much like Arizona and New Mexico that I accused Arturo of spiriting us back across the border when we weren’t paying attention. 
The hills are craggy and brown and there are occatillo and yucca plants everywhere. We are constantly dodging sheep, cows, pigs, dogs and the occassionl llama. Little mud brick buildings dot the landscape and women in tall hats and skirts watch over the herds of sheep.
In keeping with the ‘active’ part of this trip, we stopped for a 15K bike ride on the way to the lake. I have bronchitis and cannot breathe, so I rode in the van and watched the others pedaling. Afterwards, we sat on the grass on the side of the highway for our lunch. Omar’s mom made us spaghetti and pork for lunch. (Omar is the guy in charge of our bikes). I tried to entice a local dog with my pork, but he waited until we were all in the van before he braved it. The best part of lunch was this little boy who walked across the field and stood about 100 feet away staring at us. I dug out the chocolate covered raisins they gave us for a snack and asked Arturo if I could give them to him. He said yes, and called the little boy closer. I threw the treat across the ditch that separated us and his face split into the widest grin I have ever seen! I swear his face lit up the whole area and he turned and ran as fast as he could back across the field. It was great!
Now, things are a little crazier. We are literally tearing down a tiny, two lane highway at top speed, dodging potholes, other vehicles and, of course, the animals. Most of the vans occupants look rather green and after our third near-miss involving screeching brakes and swerving, I decided to stop watching th road. In this case, ignorance is definitely bliss!  The sun is setting and we are entering Puno, the city on the banks of Lake Titicaca. If all goes well, this time tomorrow I will be on an island with a local family. Keep your fingers crossed!
Love, Anna aka Mud Butt

Inti Raymie

June 24, 2008

6.24.08 Inti Raymie

This morning we slept in til 6:30 before heading back to Port Maldendo. As the
boat started up, I saw the driver cross himself. It occurred to me that when you
are navigating a giant, swift, treacherous river full of electric eels, sting rays, and piranha, being a man of faith might not be the worst thing! And I made sure to extra-thank him when we got to our final destination.

After arriving back at the Port, Albert took us to the local market, where he wanted to show us the different medicines that come from the jungle. He already demonstrated his knowledge this morning when Aurturo came to breakfast with a bad toothache. Albert ran outside, came back in with a handful of leaves and told him to chew on them, (but not swallow). After a few minutes, Aurturo said that his tooth felt better!

When we got to the market, Albert took us to a booth of medicines run by a little old lady. She had the most amazing face, kind and wise, and she and I totally bonded.

After Albert showed us possum oil and porcupine quills, both for asthma, she and
I just kept clasping hands and grinning at each other. She told Aurturo that I had a happy heart, but I think she had the happiest heart I have ever seen: 

We went from the market to a snake place where I got to hold a baby anaconda.
Cool, huh?! It was great, but before we knew it, we had to head for the airport.

After a packed-full flight, we arrived back at Cuzco. Today is Inti Raymie,
a giant celebration. If the Summer Solstice last week was big, this is gargantuan!!

The highlight of the festival is the sacrificing of a black llama up at Saucsay
Wayman, the ruins we hiked to on our first day here. I will not be going to the
llama sacrafice, however! Our mountain biking trip this afternoon has been cancelled due to road closings, so we are going to watch the festivities in the square. I have a terrible cough and can’t breathe at all, so biking is not the best thing for me anyway. 

After spending a quality afternoon drinking lattes at our favorite
cafe, the four of us had a nice dinner and headed home. I should explain that real coffee is very rare here. Everyone just serves Nescafe…..blech! So the fact that we found a place that does serve amazing lattes was a miracle. It will probably be the last real coffee we see till we get back to the states, so we had to enjoy it!

As we walked back to the hotel, Inti Raymie was in full swing in the square.
Lots of different drum and flute circles were playing and dancing, all in beautiful feathered costumes. Each group was playing a different song in a different key and tempo, so it was like a magical, musical cacophony! It was a great last impression on Cuzco. Tomorrow we head towards Lake Titicaca!

Love, Anna

Dancing Monkeys and Hammock Dreams-Inca Trail Cont’d

June 23, 2008

6-23-08 – Dancing Monkeys and Hammock Dreams

We were told that we would wake up to the sounds of Howler monkeys this morning, but alas, at 5:00 am, they were not awake yet! We, however, had a busy day ahead of us, so breakfast was served at 5:40 and off in the boat we went!

Our first stop of the day was Sandover Island, where we hiked 5K
into the jungle, stopping to look at various animals, bugs and birds. Albert is our guide, and he is a soft spoken, handsome young man who was born here in the jungle. He is incredible! We call him the “Jungle Whisperer” and tell him that he needs his own television show. He knows every little thing about life in the jungle and he is so excited about everything that you can’t help but feel the same way. He showed us palm trees that walk and ants that kill all plant life around their host tree. It was very cool!

At the end of our hike, we came to a canal with a long, thin, very tippy looking boat, and in we went. We spent the next couple of hours looking for caiman (alligators that are native to this area and yes, we saw one) and exotic birds.

This place is an absolute heaven for bird watchers. They atr every shape, size and color and have names like “Donkey bird” and ” Stinky Chicken”. 

After turning the lake inside out looking for cool stuff, we hiked back to our original starting place. On the way, we saw the coolest thing! An anteater!! He was so neat and we watched him climb around the tree for awhile, eating termites. This is definitely something I don’t see everyday in the suburbs of Atlanta! We boated back for lunch and before I knew it, I was waking up to the sounds of my own snoring as I swung in a hammock.

Later in the afternoon, we boarded our trusty boat and headed off to “Monkey Island”. We ran the boat up on a beach and walked across the mud flats and into the jungle. This is the thickest, greenest jungle I have seen yet. It is lush and beautiful and as we waded through waist-high reeds, I felt like I was truly in the Amazon.

All of the sudden, Albert held up his hand, shhh-ed us and pointed. Capucian monkeys were jumping from limb to limb toward us. I was completely captivated! Albert threw bananas to the alpha male and periodically asked us to back up when the monkeys showed aggression. All three of the guides had giant sticks and Albert had a machete, so I knew that these animals were to be respected. We watched them for a long time before the sun started going down. We hiked back through the jungle with parakeets and macaws singing in the twilight, as the monkeys went off to sleep in the canopy.

We boarded the boat once again and went off in search of White Caiman. These alligators can be very small, (2-3 feet long) or very big, (12 feet long!). It is pitch black on the river and our boat is equiped with a spotlight that they hook up to a car battery. Albert sweeps the light along the banks of the river in the brush looking for Caiman.

Sure enough, we see several during the evening, sometimes even running up into the brush to get closer. They are very cool to see and don’t seem scared of us or the light at all.

The day ended with a slow boat ride back to the lodge. It is very dark on the river, and with the soft thrum of the engine, I could be asleep in seconds. Tomorrow we leave the jungle and head back to Cuzco for one final time. I did not find Tarzan here, but fell in love with the jungle nontheless.

Love, Anna aka MudButt