Monday, May 21, 2007

Further Travel Adventures

Terry sometimes remarks that "travel" and "torture" come from the same root ("travail", perhaps?)

After seven relatively uneventful days in Cuzco (well, uneventful apart from a case of E. Coli and other relatively minor misadventures, mostly bathroom-related) our group divided, amoeba-like, into two groups. One group went off to hike the Inca Trail (4-day stairmaster with ruins) and the other group went off to explore a more roundabout, but wheeled, approach to Machu Picchu.

Everyone spent the night here at my parents' house since we had an early-morning wake-up call and were going to be picked up en masse. But then the taxi-drivers association started threatening to strike and block roads starting at 5 a.m. Thursday, the day we were scheduled to leave. There was some talk of canceling the strike on the part of the union president, but even so our tour agency decided to preemptively reschudule our departure for 4:30 a.m.! Which we did... and then the strike was cancelled anyway.

I went with the non-hiking group. We had a leisurely two days exploring the Sacred Valley, seeing such fascinating sites as this and this, and thoroughly exploring Ollantaytambo.

Then we caught a bus at 9 p.m. headed for the small high-jungle town of Santa Teresa. Only we had to change buses at around 4 a.m. in Santa Maria. Two guys from our tour agency met us on the bus. One of the students described the ride as "interesting," in the most euphemistic sense possible! Another student reported that she was praying the whole time to die quickly rather than prolonged suffering as result of the accident we were certain to have. I found out later that this was the same road I took last time (2 years ago) to Quillabamba, and it's honestly not all that bad. It was just dark out, and all you could see was the winding dirt road, about 1.5 lanes wide, rock cliff face on one side and sheer darkness on the other. The girls were carsick and v. tired; I think myself I might have slept about 20 minutes. At least that's what it felt like.

At 2 a.m. I asked the guy next to me where we were; "not there yet," he said after looking out the window. A block later I saw a sign that said "Santa Maria public bathrooms" (in Spanish). Hmmm.... I thought. A little later the guide asked the driver where we were, next thing I knew we were piling off the bus and looking for a way to get back since we'd, actually, passed it. (Our guides were a little inexperienced.) Fortunately we found someone with a car to drive us back, about 20 minutes, and caught our next bus.

Two sleepless hours later, dawn happened as we rolled into Santa Maria, a tiny little high jungle town crawling with grungy backpacker types avoiding (like we were) the expensive train to Machu Picchu by going the long way around. We had breakfast there (pancakes and eggs) and then chilled out before heading to some absolutely beautiful hot springs to relax for several hours. I fell asleep by the pool and got a little tan! Sorry I don't have pictures - I don't carry a camera, I just rely on other shutterbugs.

In the afternoon we made our way by van and train to the ramshackle jumping-off point of Aguas Calientes. It was relaxing - in fact, three of the girls fell asleep on the train despite the stunning scenery. You could even see the back side of Machu Picchu from below - I had never come this way before so was pretty impressed!

We got a hotel in Aguas Calientes, and the minute I said "this is our room," one girl fell into bed with her glasses on and was instantly asleep. It was pretty hilarious.

Further adventures forthcoming - Terry is wanting to go into town here and do some errands or something.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Interesting Times!

Look at my new socks! They have come with me to Peru and kept my toes warm in the mountains.

So... we have definitely been having some adventures:

Item 1: The day before leaving the US, one of our students did not have her passport. She ended up going in person to the National Passport Center in DC at 7:30 a.m. and getting in line. By 9:00 she had her passport in hand and was able to join us at the airport 90 minutes before our flight!

Item 2: Once we arrived in country, Terry and I made an optimistic change of plans - to take the night bus from Huaraz to Lima in order to catch our flight to Cuzco a few hours later that same morning. (The original plan was to take the day bus, spend a night in Lima, and head out in the morning.) But our optimism was to be sorely tested!
- 2a: Our bus, while quite comfy, got TWO flat tires during the night! I was astonished at the speed of repair, but even so my heart was in my throat during the whole night as I wondered if the delays would mean missing our flight. However, fate was smiling upon us as we reached Lima with a generous 2 1/2 hours to spare. Which we would end up needing, because...
- 2b: When we went to check in, quite early, we learned that our travel agent had made a mistake and changed our reservation at the last minute from the the 9th to the 12th!!! HOW does this happen, you ask? It´s another long story, but it took the better part of an hour to straighten it all out. I pretty much flipped my lid which doesn´t happen too often. This left us just enough time to pay the airport tax, go through security, find our gate, with 15 minutes to spare for the students to get some kind of breakfast.

I have to say, our group is really good. They have kept up quite positive attitudes and good spirits despite the laundry list of the following:
- sunburned lips that blistered and provoked fever
- a running total of about 5 unanticipated hours of uphill hiking, some with luggage
- a lost (new) digital camera with photos of graduation still on it
- sunscreen spilled all over the interior of a bag
- honey spilled all over the interior of a backpack
- a pretty steady diet of potatoes, broad beans, soup, and bread for 3 days in a rural village
- a case of amoebas
- three cases of wool allergy (sleeping under wool blankets - had to swap out for other people´s sleeping bags)
- one case of exercise-induced asthma

That´s all I can think of right now... I feel like I´m not taking very good care of my kids here!

On the other hand, we have had some quite wonderful times as well:
- incredible beauty: green mountains with snow-capped peaks, cold mountain streams, rocky outcroppings, little patchwork fields
- spending time with Quechua farmers in their homes
- eating fresh honey harvested the same day from the hive
- chewing on corn stalks (almost as sweet as sugar cane here, without the chemical fertilizers)
- experiencing a pachamanca (earth oven) celebration with dancing
- hanging out with our local guide, Jhonny, who impressed the students with his detailed knowledge of local history
- being erroneously but persistently identified as Cornell students :-)
- seeing the incredibly bright and clear stars through the thin mountain air

Now we are in Cuzco and Terry and I are a little more relaxed now we´ve shuffled off the kids to various host families. Today we went to Sacsayhuaman where there were actual condors that someone had caught and domesticated hanging out there (I´m really not sure I quite liked that, actually). Tomorrow is a free day but everybody´s going to a local soccer match - even me!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

running amok

Yesterday I:
- was a bad immigrant activist and missed any and all May 1 protests / celebrations / demonstrations, etc.
- showed the apartment to a potential sub-letter. Five hours later I moved out, and she moved in!
- attended my last class of the year at CU
- turned in 3 of my 4 final papers and sundry reading responses
- drove to VA and packed for Peru
- finished a knitting project (sorry no pictures yet)
- planned the orientation for the Peru students

Terry, bless his heart, drove to NY to pick me up Monday night, then we returned together. He drove the whole way back, too, while I slept for 3 hours.

Today we:
- oriented the Peru students (everything you need to know, in 2 hours!)
- did crisis management for one student whose passport isn't here yet (we leave at 11 tomorrow)
- ran around like crazy tying up the thousand little threads of paperwork etc that need to get done (like, I had to fill out another I-9 form at EMU)

Spring is in full bore here - flowers, flowers, flowers, and leaves everywhere - dandelions galore - my yard is FULL of weeds. That will have to wait until we get back, however!

But I think we're in good shape, so far...